Naturalist - Southern and Central Islands
8 Days - M/Y Aqua
Over 8 days explore the northern islands of the Galapagos Islands on board the M/Y Aqua. Discover the diverse flora and fauna of these famous islands including giant tortoises, blue footed boobies and playful sea lions.
Home » M/Y Aqua: Naturalist – Southern and Central Islands
- Visit North Seymour which is teeming with birdlife including blue-footed boobies and frigate birds
- See the large population of both marine and land iguanas on South Plazas
- Stop by Santa Fe, home to a number of endemic species including the Galapagos Hawk, Galapagos snake, Galapagos mockingbird, rice rats and of the the two species of land iguanas of the islands
- Snorkel with playful sea lions and tropical fish
- Learn about the famous giant tortoise at the Fausto Llerena Breeding Centre
Itinerary in Brief
- Day 1: Baltra Airport arrival - North Seymour
- Day 2: South Plazas - Santa Fe
- Day 3: Fausto Llerena Breeding Centre - Cormorant Point
- Day 4: Dragon Hill - Chinese Hat Islet
- Day 5: Cowley Islet - Albany Islet
- Day 6: Egas Port - Sullivan Bay
- Day 7: Rabida Island - Bartolome Island
- Day 8: Mosquera - Baltra Airport departure
Day 1: Arrival and North Seymour Islands
Upon arrival at Seymour Ecological Airport, a check-up is carried out first, to ensure that no foreign plant or animal species are introduced into the islands. Furthermore, your TCC (Transit Control Card) is stamped; this must be kept safe during your trip, as it has to be presented again on your return flight. In addition, entrance to the Galapagos National Park is due for entry (US $100), if this has not yet been paid. Your guide will meet you at the airport, assist you with the luggage, and accompany you on the short bus ride to the harbour of Puerto Ayora. Here you will climb aboard the M/Y Aqua! After greeting the crew and the captain, your cabins will be assigned to you and then you will enjoy your first lunch on-board.
North Seymour is one of most visited sites, and it is teeming with bird life. An easy circular path takes you through the archipelago’s most extensive colonies of blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. At the beginning of the breeding season, adult frigate bird-males blow up their vivid red pouches to impressive football-sized balloons. This is one of the few spots where you can compare the magnificent and the great frigate bird breeding next to each other.
Day 2: South Plazas and Santa Fe Island
South Plaza is located at the east of Santa Cruz Island, and forms part of two islands known as Islas Plazas. Despite its small size, some of the most interesting and outstanding species of the Galapagos are found here. The Plazas land iguanas are smaller than their relatives found on other islands. There are several hybrid iguanas, a result of crossing a male marine iguana and a female land iguana; they are unique, recognisable at first glance by their black/grey color, with a land iguana's crest, but face and tail of the marine iguana. The large population of iguanas is due to the presence of tuna, their favourite food. Swallow-tailed gulls nesting in the rugged cliffs are seen along with other seabirds such as Audubon shearwaters, red-billed tropic birds, frigate birds and brown pelicans.
Located in the south-eastern part of the Galapagos, Santa Fe island was formed from an uplift rather than being of volcanic origin, which is why it is mostly flat. There are some theories which claim that this could be the oldest island in the Archipelago. Santa Fe is home to a number of endemic species like the Galapagos Hawk, Galapagos snake, Galapagos mockingbird, rice rats and one of the two species of lands iguanas of the islands.
After disembarking into the beautiful and clear waters you will be in contact with one of the many sea lion colonies. Along the trail, many salt bushes can be seen as well as the giant prickly pear cactus - gigantism is a characteristic of oceanic islands. There are many possibilities to snorkel with playful sea lions and tropical fish.
Day 3: Espanola Island and Cormorant Point
After discovering and learning about the difference of Espanola Island tortoises with those from other islands, you will have the opportunity to take amazing photographs of the tortoises at the breeding center!
The tour starts at the information booth of the GNP. The trail continues to the Van Straelen interpretation Center, the breeding center and from there will be a path- this is where you can see the tortoises of Española Island, ending in the tortoise exhibit corral. Tortoises of this corral are accustomed to humans; it is an excellent spot to be photographed with them!
The peninsula of Cormorant Point forms the extreme north cape of Floreana, which formed from smaller volcanic cones, covered by tropical dry forest (palo santo). At the landing beach, you will be welcomed by a small Galapagos sea lion colony. The green sand on this beach contains a high percentage of glassy olivine crystals which have been blown out by the surrounding tuff cones. The ‘flour sand’ beach on the southern side of the peninsula is made up of even finer white coral sand which feels very smooth on the feet. Parrotfish have pulverised it, grinding the calcareous skeletons of living coral. You can spot schools of stingrays who love the sandy bottom to hide themselves. During the first months of the year, Pacific green turtles come ashore to bury their eggs.
Day 4: Dragon Hill and Chinese Hat Islet
Dragon Hill boasts two key-species which are very likely to be seen during every visit to the Galapagos, though not too commonly distributed throughout the islands: Galapagos land iguanas and American flamingos. You will climb a hill with giant opuntia cacti where these ‘dragons’ feed and breed. Although they are quite shy and elusive, you stand a fair chance of seeing the success of this project with your own eyes.
The short walk crosses the coastal vegetation zone, as well as the somewhat higher arid zone with vulnerable tropical dry forest. In the warm and wet season in the first half of the year everything turns green. Evergreen giant prickly pear cacti with internal reservoirs used a different survival tactic in this dry climate to the leaf dropping palo santo trees; in the end both were successful. Moreover, this is a very photogenic spot as well, with breathtaking panoramas over the bay and towards an intriguing steep volcanic spout of red lava that overlooks the area. Dragon Hill has become popular because of its saline lagoons behind the beach; these contain algae and shrimp and attract seasonally foraging American flamingos. Dragon Hill is the best location on Santa Cruz to observe them.
Chinese Hat is a 52m/170ft high volcanic cone, forming another islet right off the rocky coast of Santiago, where a small colony of Galapagos penguins have settled. Approaching Chinese Hat from the north, you will understand the meaning of the name. This is an excellent place to learn more about volcanoes, lava bombs and lava tunnels.
You will arrive just in time to witness how this barren islet is colonised by pioneer species that have begun to sprout! Beautiful beaches of white coral sand and holes in the eroding lava fields are filled up with lava sand, which enables rooting. Galapagos sea lions and countless marine iguanas contribute to fertilisation, and altogether create many favourable options for newcomers, such as saltbush and the sesuvium carpet.
Day 5: Cowley and Albany Islets
Cowley islet, located coast of Isabela, is a popular diving site due to the many incredible species located in the waters here. You will encounter a range of shark species, Galapagos sea lions, stingrays, green sea turtles, cormorants, penguins, manta rays, and more! And if you’re lucky, you can encounter sea horses!
Albany Islet is an amazing sloping rock located off the Northwest Point of Santiago. This is a great site to observe tiger nudibranchs, sea turtles, Galapagos black coral, barnacles, Galapagos sharks and golden eagle rays.
Day 6: Egas Port and Sullivan Bay
We will have a “wet-landing” at Egas Port and take an easy walk along trails and on the beautiful shoreline of the black-sand beach, where you can see birds, sea lions, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, marine iguanas and Galapagos Fur Seal. During the walk you will be able to see some of Darwin’s finches, yellow warblers and many other beautiful and unique animals!
The arrival in Sullivan Bay is like a moon landing. The desolate, sprawling fields seem to be mostly lifeless, but this island, which is particularly popular among photographers, still offers a lot to see. There is even some life! Green sea turtles burrow in the small white sand beach, where you can also find crabs, blue herons and oystercatchers.
Day 7: Rabida and Bartolome Islands
After a ‘wet landing’ on the remarkable red beach of Rabida, there are two short guided hikes. Oxidised iron particles give the rocks and sand their rusty colour. The beach wall holds a shallow green-fringed lagoon; this oasis is the most fertile place on the otherwise arid islet, which is overgrown with leaf-dropping palo santo trees. The salty pool attracts all kind of aquatic birds, like pintails and sometimes American flamingos. Between the evergreen foliage of the surrounding mangrove bushes many species of songbirds hide and breed. One of the most outstanding attractions is the major breeding colony of brown pelicans, the only ones in the world that plunge-dive.
The beautiful volcano islet of Bartolomé is among the youngest of the islands, and on a geological scale was just recently born out of fire. Although at first sight lifeless, Bartolomé offers some of the wildest landscapes and best panoramas of the entire archipelago. To enjoy the postcard view of the idyllic ‘Pinnacle Bay’ you have to climb the stairs to the viewpoint on top of the island (114m/375ft). Enter a dramatic world of threatening (though extinguished) nearby spatter cones, craters, and lightweight lava droplets that have been spewed out by fiery fountains. The Summit Trail is also ideal for witnessing how scanty pioneer vegetation such as lava cactus struggles to take root in the bare virgin lava fields.
Day 8: Mosquera and depart
Though close neighbours, Mosquera and North Seymour offer a very different experience; diverging habitats attract different residents. While North Seymour contains large breeding colonies of boobies and frigate birds, Mosquera stands out as one of the largest concentrations of Galapagos sea lions in the entire archipelago. It’s also one of the few spots inside the National Park where you can stroll around freely, without being restricted to a trail.
Galapagos sea lions are real beach lovers and Mosquera offers beautiful white coral sand beaches contrasting with the azure coloured water. This islet is just a few metres higher than a sandbank and doesn’t complicate their landing, and they can roll relaxed in the surf. For fishing they just have to enter the Itabaca Channel, which is a sort of natural place in which lots of marine life and schools of fish are concentrated.
It’s time to say goodbye to Galapagos! It’s been a pleasure accompanying you on this unique trip and hope to see you again very soon! Assisted by the naturalist guide and some crew members, the dinghy will bring you and your luggage to the Seymour Ecological Airport, where we will take the shuttle back to the airport.
Lower Deck Triple Cabin
Lower double bed and a single upper bed, portholes, private bathroom with hot shower, toilet and washbasin, biodegradable soap, shampoo and conditioner, air-conditioning, closet and towels.
Main Deck Double Cabin
Lower double bed, picture window, private bathroom with hot shower, toilet and washbasin, biodegradable soap, shampoo and conditioner, air-conditioning, closet and towels.
Upper Deck Twin Cabin
Upper and lower bunk beds, picture window, private bathroom with hot shower, toilet and washbasin, biodegradable soap, shampoo and conditioner, air-conditioning, closet and towels.
M/Y Aqua Deckplan
- Type: Motor Yacht
- Year Built: 1998 (remodelled in 2019)
- Category: Mid-range
- Length: 26 metres / 85 feet
- Beam: 5.5 metres / 18 feet
- Max. Capacity: 16 passengers
- Cabins: 9 (During the 2019 refurbishment, 1 cabin will be added)
- Crew: 8 members + 1 instructor guide and 1 divemaster guide (for naturalist cruises only 1 bilingual naturalist guide)
- Zodiacs: 2 Caribe (C-20 & C-17) with 50 HP Yamaha four stroke outboards
- Max speed: 9 knots
- Electricity: 110V/220V
- Engines: 2 x 250HP Caterpillar
- Generators: 1x 80 kW & 1x 60 kW Cummins
Please note the M/Y Aqua does not accept credit cards on board, ensure you have adequate cash for drinks and optional extras.
- Accommodation on board
- All meals, water, tea and coffee
- All excursions as described in the itinerary (subject to change) with bilingual guide
- Airport assistance at Quito airport (when flight and cruise are booked together)
- All transfers between the airport in the Galapagos and the boat (when flight and cruise are booked together)
- Snorkelling equipment
- Bath and beach towels
What’s not included?
- International and internal flights
- Galapagos National Park entry fee: US$100 per person, to be paid upon arrival, in cash
- Transit Control Card: US$20 per person, to be paid upon departure from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos, in cash
- Optional use of a wetsuit, to be paid in cash only
- Soft drinks and alcoholic drinks, to be paid in cash only
- Personal expenses and extras
- Travel insurance