Route San Cristobal, Ecuador - Kicker Rock, Ecuador - Isla Bartolome - Buccaneer Archipelago - Punta Vicente Roca, Isabela, Ecuador - Punta Espinoza, Fernandina, Ecuador - Tagus Cove, Ecuador - Elizabeth Bay, Ecuador - Postbüro, Floreana, Ecuador - Champion Islet, Floreana Mehr
An impressive tuff cone has been carved by erosion into an outstanding natural sculpture, being a resting place for marine birds such as blue-footed bobbies and brown pelicans. One of the most beautiful white sand beaches of the Galapagos (swim or snorkel). View sea lions, sally lightfooted crabs, blue-footed bobbies. Behind the dunes, you find a coastal lagoon, which was visited in the past by the locals to extract salt, today it is home to some shorebirds such as stilts and plovers.
The vegetation (as it is one of the oldest islands) shows some endemic species such as Scalesia incisa (flowering plant) only found on this island.
Bartolomé Island is a volcanic islet in the Galápagos Islands group, just off the east coast of Santiago Island. It is one of the „younger“ islands in the Galápagos archipelago
Set off the coast of Western Australia, the Buccaneer Archipelago is one of the Kimberley’s finest secrets. The Archipelago, 50 k2 (19 sq mi), is made up of around 800 islands and protect the mainland from the huge 12 metre tides and astonishing speed of the Yampi (or, in traditional Aborigine, “Yampee”) Sound. The speed and power of the water many not make for pleasant bathing, but do however result in fantastic natural phenomena. One fine example is the horizontal reversible waterfall in Talbot Bay. The tidal pull is responsible for the “reversible” nature of the falls, however, this also hides narrow gaps between the islands, making for treacherous sailing conditions. Isolated graves of sailors and divers are testimony to the danger. William Dampier sighted the Archipelago in 1688 but it would not be until 1821 that the Archipelago would become known as Buccaneer (a term coined by Captain Phillip Parker King) „in commemoration of William Dampier’s visit to this part of the coast „. Commander John Lort Stokes also noted the area in his 1838 record. Enterprising individuals were initially attracted to the Buccaneer Archipelago in the 1800s due to the superior pearling as well as the rich iron ore deposits. Pearling conducted by luggers in the 1880s was concentrated in Cygnet Bay, Cascade Bay, Cone Bay and Strickland Bay. More recently, mining operators established open-cut mines on Koolan Island on the east side of the Sound. Some of the richest iron ore in the world is extracted here to this day.
Punta Vicente Roca is one of the marine sites Isabela Island has to offer. On the southern side of Ecuador Volcano, the tip of land on the western end of Isabela is named after Vicente Ramon Roca, President of Ecuador from 1845-49, who as Prefect of Guayas had proposed the Ecuadorian annexation of the Galapagos Islands in 1831. The geological formations, the underwater caves and lava tubes offer fascinating views of the coastline. View less
The South Equatorial Countercurrent hits this part of the archipelago from the west and the water offers abundant food sources for different marine life and seabirds. It is normal to see Pacific green turtles, but sharks, rays, whales and dolphins can also be expected, apart from a small colony of fur seals. Blue-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, Brown Noddies and other seabirds nest in the cliffs and both the endemic Galapagos Penguins and Flightless Cormorants have established small colonies nearby. Marine iguanas also like this area because of the rich variety of seaweeds growing underwater along the western coast of Isabela. As a marine site, deepwater snorkeling is also possible at Punta Vicente Roca.
With the gentle slopes of La Cumbre volcano in the distance, the low, lava-forged coast of Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island is a spectacular sight. Hundreds of marine iguanas rest on the black rock of recent lava flows absorbing heat from the stone and defending their territories against one another. Galapagos sea lions and their pups also take shelter here, resting on the beach and playing in the shallow tide pools sprinkled along the coast. View less
Walk past high sandy areas where marine iguanas lay their eggs and along low, shallow mangrove ponds ringed with bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs and Flightless Cormorants drying their stubby wings in the sunshine.
Tagus Cove is bordered by a steep rocky coastline and has for centuries offered shelter for ships and yachts. The cove is named after the British frigate HMS Tagus visiting the Galapagos in 1814. Already by the 1830s other ships had their visits recorded by painting or scratching their name onto the rocks. On approach Galapagos Penguins and Flightless Cormorants –both birds mainly found on Isabela’s west coast and neighboring Fernandina- are often seen. View less From the landing a trail through an incense tree forest leads past Darwin Lake to a viewpoint on top of a splatter cone. During the hike several land birds including Medium Ground-Finches, Galapagos Hawks, Yellow Warblers as well as Large-billed and Vermilion Flycatchers are often present. Brown Noddies and Blue-footed Boobies prefer the rocks along the shore.
Elizabeth Bay is one of the marine sites on Isabela’s west coast. South of Alcedo Volcano and north of Sierra Negra, Elizabeth Bay is found at Isabela’s narrowest east-west extension where the lava flows of these two volcanoes have connected each other. Elizabeth Bay’s shores show mangroves and specifically the easternmost part, a cove which can only be entered via a narrow channel, has red, white and black mangroves. Different animals prefer different parts of Elizabeth Bay. Las Marielas, three rocks at the entrance to the bay, are favored by Blue-footed Boobies, Flightless Cormorants and Galapagos Penguins as a resting place, while the mangrove area is preferred by Great Blue Herons for hunting or the Magnificent Frigatebirds for perching. The bay is used by turtles, rays and even sharks for feeding or resting. The shallow water and the root system of the mangroves in the small inlet allow smaller fish to hide from bigger predators.
Floreana’s Post Office Bay has received its name as the site was used to leave mail for retrieval by others who were thought to stop at the Galapagos Islands or might be heading for the addressee’s direction. First mentioned by Porter in 1813 as “Hathaway’s Postoffice”, HMS Beagle’s captain FitzRoy stated that it was not in use in 1835 as the island was already settled at that time. Floreana had been the first island to be settled by Ecuadorians in 1832. View less
Today a barrel instead of the original box is used by visitors who leave their own postcards and retrieve mail for hand-delivery. Apart from the beach and mail barrel the bay offers good swimming and snorkeling. The area holds remains of a failed Norwegian fish canning plant and settlement dating back to the 1920s. A lava tube in the vicinity can also be explored. Although Floreana is inhabited, the number of residents is reduced because of the difficult access to water. A track from Post Office Bay connects with the only road from Puerto Velazco Ibarra on the west coast to a spring in the highlands.
Champion Islet is a small islet some 700 meters off the northeast coast of Floreana. It is one of four marine sites surrounding Floreana and offers excellent deepwater snorkeling opportunities. Curious sea lions approach the snorkelers while turtles slowly swim by and sharks, sting rays, and a high diversity of colorful fishes can usually be seen. During a Zodiac cruise around Champion Islet not only seabirds such as Nazca Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, or Red-billed Tropicbirds will be seen, it is also possible to spot the rare Floreana Mockingbird.
Floreana Island’s northernmost point is called Punta Cormorant – named after the British naval vessel HMS Cormorant and dating back to the late 19th century. From the landing beach a short track leads to a shallow lagoon that is famous for its flamingos. The brilliantly pink birds skim the salty waters for shrimp and tend to chicks on the nest. The trail then scales a low hillside through scattered Palo Santo trees to reveal an idyllic white-sand beach on the other side of the point. View less
Standing at the edge of the lapping waves, you might spot mammoth female sea turtles hauling themselves out of the sea to lay eggs in the sugar sand dunes that lay high above the tide line. Before returning to the landing site your guides may also point out White-cheeked Pintails, Blue-footed Boobies, Yellow Warblers, and Medium and Small Ground Finches.
Los Gemelos (The Twins) is a visitor site in the Santa Cruz highlands. Found some 15 kilometers northwest of Puerto Ayora, the road leading from Puerto Ayora in the south of Santa Cruz to Itabaca in the north dissects the twin pit craters. Pit craters are formed when the roof of an underground void collapses. The smaller pit crater is on the eastern side of the road, while the larger one is on the western side. See from above, the two openings in the ground are not at all identical. View less Their layout might imply an elongated magma chamber or a lava tube leading further west and the larger twin actually having formerly been two small pit craters whose connecting wall collapsed as well. Trails through a Scalesia forest not only give access to good views of the pit craters, but also permit to observe some of the smaller land birds. Vermilion Flycatchers, Yellow Warblers, Galapagos Doves, Medium Ground Finches and several other finch species can often be seen there.
Cerro Dragón’s land iguanas once played an important part in a conservation program headed by the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park. When the reptiles’ numbers declined in the 1970s, some animals were taken to breed in captivity and were released back into undeveloped areas. Today, it is an honor to see the success of this program firsthand at Cerro Dragón. Walk inland on a trail past small saltwater lagoons that periodically feature flamingos, to see the reintroduced animals.
In a periodic local phenomenon, during rainier times the salinity in the lagoons drops with the inflow of freshwater. As a consequence crustacean populations decline, which in turn means the shorebirds become scarce.
Genovesa is one of the northernmost islands of the archipelago. Genovesa’s southern side of the shield volcano’s crater collapsed and a protected bay known as Darwin Bay was formed. The island is often referred to as the “Bird Island” as the numbers and species of land and seabirds on Genovesa are quite extraordinary. There are two visitor sites, and Prince Philip’s Steps give access to the flat plateau above the bay. Named after Prince Philip who visited the Galapagos on two occasions, the “steps” are mostly natural. View less The steep cliffs are home to Red-billed Tropicbirds, while Magnificent Frigatebirds, Nazca and Red-footed Boobies prefer the top. The plateau above Prince Philip’s Steps has a palo santo forest and an extensive lava field. This is an area where one of the Galapagos’ top predators, the Short-eared Owl, is hunting storm petrels. The Short-eared Owls are extremely well camouflaged and are not always easy to spot in between the rocks.
At Genovesa Island the ship tucks into Darwin Bay, an ancient volcanic crater now flooded by the sea. Zodiacs land on a picturesque sandy beach where Galapagos sea lions often rest on the fine, white sand. Explorations along the shore may reveal marine iguanas looking like prehistoric dinosaurs in miniature. By heading inland a short distance visitors could encounter seabirds of all shapes and sizes nesting in the vegetation. Scores of immature Red-footed Boobies perch on branches within an arm’s reach of the path. In addition, watch for Great Frigatebirds and Yellow-crowned Night Herons along the walk. There is also fantastic snorkeling in the waters of Darwin Bay with the opportunity to see large schools of reef fish and brightly colored sea stars.
The landing at North Seymour Island is onto black lava rock. After a short climb, visitors arrive on the island’s flat plateau where a number of sea lions nurse pups and frigatebirds nest. The island is dry, and so the predominant tree is the prickly pear cactus favored by the yellow Conolophus land iguanas that live here in number. The undulating terrain is littered with red-brown volcanic boulders and large male Magnificent Frigatebirds can be seen inflating their vivid red gular sacs in hopes of impressing females flying overhead. View less At certain times of the year, pairs of Blue-footed Boobies dance here in a ritualized mating dance that reinforces their pair bond and shows off their vivid blue feet. The snorkeling here is well-known for schools of colorful creole wrasses and parrot fish.
The lava fields of Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island will inevitably remind visitors of the surface of the moon. As brilliant red Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttle along the black volcanic shores, learn about the formation of the islands through geological forces from your guides. The lava flows here are just over one hundred years old and date back to 1897. The lava took on a rope-like appearance and geologists have adopted a Hawaiian word, pahoehoe, as the technical name for this kind of volcanic rock. View less After walking the exposed rocky terrain, it is a welcoming sensation to return to the sandy beach and get ready for a swim or a snorkel.
Among the impressive new lava fields of Fernandina Island hides a cove surrounded by mangroves. A rewarding place for bird-watching as the bay is the point where the land meets the sea, joining the two environments, with sea birds, shorebirds and land birds all in the same place. The different species of mangroves: Red, White and Black, have formed a root system that serves as a nursery for many species of fish, including juveniles’ sharks and green sea turtles. View less Snorkeling is as rewarding with some unique sightings as Marine Iguanas feeding on algae, or flightless cormorants diving for their prey.
Impressive Pahoehoe lava field that lies between two active volcanoes, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul, on the south coast of Isabela Island. The rich waters of Cromwell current wash the shores, and as a result, you can see the largest marine iguanas of the archipelago basking on the rocks, flightless cormorants and Galapagos penguins diving for food. Snorkeling can be one of the coldest of the trip, but also one of the most rewarding experiences with good chances to see penguins “flying” underwater, Green Sea Turtles, and Marine Iguanas feeding. View less During the walk you will experience, as an oasis in a desert of lava, some coastal lagoons in the middle of the field, here you can find shorebirds such as White-cheeked Pintail Ducks, Black-necked Stilts and even sometimes Flamingos.
Baltra Island, also known as South Seymour, is truly the entrance to the Galapagos Islands. Despite not being considered as part of the National Park proper, Baltra definitely offers a taste of the weird and wonderful nature that thrives on the islands. The island is located in the central part of the archipelago. At just eight sq. mi it is one of smallest islands, yet its flat, volcanic rock surface and central location in the archipelago makes it an ideal place for one of the islands’ two airports.
The airport was built by the US Air Force, who used it as an army base during WWII. As a travel destination in itself it offers few attractions, and all travellers who come here are just passing through, either on either way to or from the islands. There is no tourism infrastructure (save a few agencies that offer tours of the islands) or shops on Baltra and any purchases that you might wish to make should be done at the airport if they can. However, land iguanas and Galapagos finches are popular sights, and the iguanas are often seen running across the runway itself. As you cross the Itabaca Channel to or from Santa Cruz, be on the lookout for some other Galapagian locals: giant turtles and playful sea lions completely oblivious to the humans around.
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