Travel aboard the
For those seeking to explore the Galápagos in true style, the 18-guest Grace is a classic historic yacht with a distinguished past from World War II service in the British Navy to private ownership by royalty. This 8-day cruise explores several well-known islands as well as some smaller, more exclusive islets. With three decks, the Grace provides a rejuvenating environment with sundeck, a sizable Jacuzzi at the bow of the ship, full entertainment center and onboard boutique. Relax in the comfort of elegant, spacious cabins. At sunset, gather in the sky lounge bar for happy hour and prepare for an exquisite fine dining experience.
Baltra Island / Daphne Major and Minor Islands
Catch your flight from Quito to Baltra Island where your guide will greet you and take you to the dock. Climb aboard a panga with your carry-on luggage to make the short crossing to the Grace. Meanwhile, the crew will transfer the rest of your luggage to your cabin.
On board, settle into your new home for the week as the engines fire up and set off for the Daphne Islands. Daphne Minor, formed by volcanic ash, is a tuff cone that sits off the north coast of Santa Cruz Island. This is the island where the husband-wife biology team, Peter and Rosemary Grant, have been conducting a 20-year field study on the Galápagos finches and how they relate to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Their work is chronicled in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Beak of the Finch.
Take a front row seat as the Grace navigates close to the shores where you will witness bustling colonies of blue-footed and Nazca boobies, magnificent frigate birds, short-eared owls, and red-billed tropicbirds.
As the sun sets on your first day in the Enchanted Archipelago, toast the voyage ahead with a handcrafted cocktail made from local fruits and liqueurs.
Santa Fe Island / South Plaza Island
This morning, we will anchor in the turquoise lagoon off Santa Fe Island, one of the oldest islands in the Galápagos. Step onto a sandy white beach next to one of many sea lion colonies. Hike an ascending trail leading toward the cliffs where Galápagos hawks perch atop salt bushes and one of the largest species of land iguana lives. At the top of the cliffs, find one of the biggest forests of giant prickly pear cactus in the Galapagos.
Return to the beach to snorkel or swim in the calm waters of the bay with playful sea lions, sea turtles, and tropical fish. For the trained kayaker, the island offers a route along its northern shore leading to its hidden sea caves.
This afternoon, stop at the small yet richly verdant South Plaza Island. Just a few hundred meters off Santa Cruz Island, South Plaza features a grove of luminescent green prickly pear cactus surrounded by friendly yellow land iguanas waiting for lunch to drop. Hike a trail to the top of the island’s cliffs overlooking the ocean. Spot manta rays, swallow-tailed gulls with red banded eyes, and the many sea lions down on the rocks.
Tower Island / Genovesa Island
Tower Island, or Bird Island, boasts a stunning visual landscape with a tremendous population of birds. The southwestern part of the island is an ocean-filled caldera ringed by the outer edges of a submerged volcano. Prince Philip’s Steps, named for a visit by the British Monarch in 1964, is a 25-meter (81-foot) stairway leading up to a small plateau where storm petrels and short-eared owls inhabit the bushes, and many cavities and holes inside the lava fields.
After the two-hour hike, prepare to snorkel or kayak one of the best sites in the islands. Large tropical fish are everywhere, including oversized parrot, unicorn, angel, and hogfish. Schools of perch, surgeon fish, and various types of butterfly fish also hide within the rocky shoreline that drops off into the caldera. See a rainbow assortment of wrasse, basslet, anthias, and tang. The center of the caldera attracts hammerheads and large manta rays that sometimes patrol the western edge as it opens to the sea.
Take a luxurious stroll after lunch along the white coral sands of Darwin Bay. Great frigate birds with bulging scarlet throats, and yellow-crowned and lava herons feed along the shore. Find stunning sheltered pools set into a rocky outcrop where marine iguanas, lava lizards, and Galápagos doves blend with the trail. Above the caldera, pintail ducks, lava gulls, and swallow-tailed gulls nest at the cliff’s edge. Get an even closer look at the full variety of bird species aboard a panga ride to the base of the cliffs where red–billed tropicbirds nest inside the crevices of the rocks.
Fernandina Island / Isabela Island
In the morning, ride the panga to Punta Espinosa, a narrow spit of land on the northeast corner of Fernandina Island, the youngest and westernmost island of the Galápagos. A number of unique Galápagos species reside in this area, including penguins, Galápagos hawks, red and turquoise zayapas crabs, and great blue and lava herons forage through mangrove roots. Take a short walk leading to a large colony of marine iguanas sunbathing along the rocky shoreline, while nearby, sea lions frolic in a sheltered lagoon.
High overhead looms La Cumbre, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Farther down this stretch of shore, the world’s only species of flightless cormorants have established a colony. The island’s black lava flows form a quiet, inner mangrove lagoon where you can spot rays and sea turtles gliding just below the surface.
Snorkeling off Punta Espinoza features an ocean bottom covered with troughs formed by lava, while sea turtles swim past, marine iguanas munch on algae, and penguins zip by. This is one of the best place in the Galápagos to see dolphins and whales, such as the melon headed whale and the elusive sperm whale.
This afternoon, walk amongst the boulder-sized dried coral heads, mollusks, and other organisms that once formed the ocean floor at Urbina Bay. Giant tortoises inhabit this coastal plain during the wet season before migrating to the highlands when it turns dry. Snorkel amongst tropical fish hiding amongst the rocks or just relax on shore.
Tonight, while anchored in the Bolivar Channel, experience the spectacular sunset between the towering volcanoes that form Fernandina and Isabela Islands. Sunset is also an excellent time to spot whales and dolphins, all while enjoying a happy hour at the Sky lounge on the upper rear deck.
We head north along the western coast of Isabela Island, the largest island in the archipelago, to Tagus Cove. Named for a British warship that moored here in 1814, the cove was used as an anchorage for pirates and whalers. You can still find the names of these ships carved into the rocks. The cove is home to blue-footed boobies, brown noddies, pelicans, noddy terns, flightless cormorants, and penguins.
Climb a wooden stairway for a view of Darwin Lake, a perfectly round saltwater crater. The trail continues through dry vegetation, then climbs inland for sweeping views of Darwin and Wolf Volcano, the highest point in the Galápagos.
Snorkeling Tagus Cove is like looking down on a pasture of green where marine iguanas graze and sea turtles glide. For those who want to go deeper, scorpion fish nestle against the outcrops, seahorses masquerade through the seaweed, and the rare Port Jackson shark is also found here. Kayakers can paddle around the cove, finding nesting birds on the cliff walls above.
Punta Vicente Roca, located on the northern part of Isabela Island, features the remnants of an ancient volcano that now form mysterious sunken caves visible. Masked and blue-footed boobies perch along the cliffs, while flightless cormorants inhabit the shoreline. The protected cove of Punta Vicente Roca is one of the most sought after diving spots of all the islands. The area is flanked by Volcano Ecuador, the island’s sixth largest volcano, at 2,600 feet. When half of the volcano slid into the ocean it left a tremendous cutaway view of its caldera, which offers deep water snorkeling. Dive into an underwater passage where sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, and manta rays reside.
At the far northern reaches of the island lies Punta Albemarle. During World War II, Punta Albemarle’s location made it ideal for the US military to build a radar station. The remnants of the base are still evident today even though nature quickly took over once it was abandoned. Albemarle is a prime nesting site for the flightless cormorant, and large marine iguanas that can be seen munching on seaweed in tidal pools at low tide.
Today’s landing sites hold true historic significance. Darwin spent nine days at Santiago Island, collecting finches for his specimens. Buccaneer’s Cove was a favorite of pirates and whalers. Today it’s one of the more dramatic kayaking routes in the Galápagos for paddlers looking for a challenge. The volcanic cliffs surrounding the cove have created natural sculptures rising from the sea, such as Monk and Elephant Rock.
At Espumilla Beach take a short walk inland to a mangrove lagoon inhabited by common stilts, flocks of pink flamingos, and white-cheeked pintails. Pass through a sparse Palo Santo forest where Galápagos finches and vermilion flycatchers fly by.
In the afternoon choose from several different adventures at James Bay. Darwin described his visit to South James Bay in Voyage of the Beagle. Step onto a black beach with intriguing eroded rock formations as you hike a trail that rises to the rim of an extinct volcanic crater. Sea water seeps into the cracks leaving salt deposits that have been mined in the past. Another path leads south to a series of crystal clear grottos made of broken lava tubes that are home to sea lions and tropical fish. This is the best place to see fur sea lions lazing on the rocks. The third trail leads north to inland lagoons where flamingos, vermilion flycatchers, Galápagos hawks, and the tool-wielding woodpecker finch reside.
Snorkel off the sandy beach slopes that dip into a rocky bottom filled with multitudes of sea turtles, schools of golden and spotted eagle rays, plus the ever curious sea lions. Just before returning to the ship, watch the sun set over the bay, where the black lava and sand seem to catch fire against the sky.
Santa Cruz Island
This morning, visit Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Home to both the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station, this is the hub of the restorative efforts taking place in the park. See the Giant Tortoise Breeding & Rearing Program, which began in 1970. This program has restored the number of tortoises there from 14 to over 1,000.
Then explore the Wild Tortoise Reserve in the Santa Cruz highlands where the dry coastal vegetation transitions to lush forests overgrown with moss and lichen. See these ancient creatures in their natural setting. Beneath the ground are lava tubes that, over time, have created underground tunnels. A wooden stairway descends to one of these underground passages where you can walk from one end to the other along a well-lit path.
Also in this area are The Twins, Los Gemelos, two large sinkhole craters formed by collapsed lava tubes. Los Gemelos are surrounded by a Scalesia forest, home to many of Darwin’s famous finches along with the elusive and dazzling vermillion flycatcher.
Return to Puerto Ayora for some time to shop. This little port town features restaurants, souvenir shops, and internet cafés to duck into and pick up some gifts for home.
San Cristóbal Island / Departure
Rise early to see Leon Dormido, also known as Kicker Rock, a spectacular sleeping lion-shaped rock that rises 152 meters (500 feet) out of the Pacific at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Then step onto the dock at Wreck Bay. The crew will pick up your luggage at your cabin and ensure it gets to the airport while you visit the quaint port town filled with local souvenir shops, or stop in at the Galápagos National Park Visitor Centre to learn about the natural history, ecosystems, and biodiversity of the Galápagos.
Return to the airport to catch your flight home.
NOTE: The above itinerary reflects the intended program, however, should be read as a guide only. The actual itinerary will depend on weather conditions, wildlife encounters, and any unforeseen circumstances beyond the operator’s control.