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GALAPAGOS

The Ultimate Galapagos Bird and Wildlife Adventure

Birdquest's Galapagos birding tour is one of a series of Ecuador birdwatching trips that we offer. Our Galapagos tour achieves comprehensive coverage of the islands and their many endemic birds and other fascinating creatures. Few Galapagos birding tours achieve this, as most feature only a one-week cruise in the islands.

Tuesday 22nd May — Sunday 3rd June 2018
(13 days)


Ecuadorian Andes Extension: Sunday 3rd June — Friday 8th June (6 days)

Leaders: Mike Watson and a local naturalist guide

Group Size Limit: 15

Tour Category: Easy walking and comfortable accommodations

Lava Herons and Sally Lightfoot Crab, two of the many endemic species found along the stark volcanic shores of the 'Enchanted Islands' (Andy Swash)

Lava Herons and Sally Lightfoot Crab, two of the many endemic species found along the stark volcanic shores of the 'Enchanted Islands' (Andy Swash)

The Galapagos archipelago is special for the naturalist in many ways. It has one of the highest rates of endemism of any island group in the world and harbours many unique creatures, including several forms of giant tortoise, the strange Marine Iguana and no less than 29 endemic species of birds, plus a series of near-endemics and breeding endemics. It is largely unspoilt by development, its ecology has not been extensively disrupted or even destroyed by harmful introductions of alien species and it is renowned for the total fearlessness of its wildlife, allowing extremely close yet harmless approach. Moreover, it is a starkly beautiful group of islands.

The islands are also justly famous as the birthplace of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution through natural selection and the inspiration for his book The Origin of Species, formulated after his visit over 170 years ago. This world in microcosm is situated on the Equator some 1000km (600 miles) out into the Pacific Ocean off Ecuador. Here Darwin found a raw, active volcanic world that was geologically young and had never been joined to the continents. He found it inhabited by a strange, almost random, selection of plants, reptiles, birds and mammals – all of which had apparently reached the islands by chance and were in the process of ‘coming to terms’ with their new-found environment, slowly evolving into new species that would be adapted to an often harsh and demanding habitat.

Thanks to the isolation of the archipelago, its general inhospitability to man and the generations of zoologists who followed Darwin and made the world aware of the unique phenomenon that is the Galapagos, many of the islands can still be seen in a fairly similar condition to that which Darwin viewed them in 1835. Although depredations by whalers, sealers, settlers and passing mariners took their toll of wildlife in the past, the Ecuadorian government declared most of the 8000 square kilometres (nearly 3100 square miles) of the archipelago, which consists of over 50 islands, a national park in 1959. It is now carefully protected as one of the most precious of the world’s natural showpieces.

On some of the flatter islands, recent lava flows, some smooth and rope-like, others jagged and clinker-like, still await their first covering of vegetation, while older flows nearby are already thick with cacti, spiky shrubbery and white-barked Palo Santo trees adapted to the arid climate. The volcanic peaks rise to over 1700m (5578ft) and the scant soils support a thicker, lusher vegetation that benefits from a more humid climate. Along the coasts, beautiful white, black and red sand beaches contrast with mangrove-fringed lagoons and tall cliffs of volcanic cinders. Isabela, one of the more recently formed islands, is the largest in the archipelago at over 100km (60 miles) long, and at the other extreme are tiny eroded islets, remnants of old volcanic cones, that now support large and spectacular seabird colonies. This variety of terrestrial habitats combined with surrounding cold oceanic currents with their abundant marine life makes for a rich pattern of wildlife. The isolation of the Galapagos has of course stimulated the evolution of endemic plants and animals – many confined to single islands within the archipelago. This will make every day of the tour a unique experience in itself, as we sail from island to island finding new sights and new species at each.

A visit to the Galapagos provides an unforgettable, absolutely fantastic wildlife experience for every type of birder and natural history enthusiast. Our tour has been specially designed to be the ultimate in birding and wildlife tours to the Galapagos, aiming to provide an in-depth appreciation of the islands (as part of a dedicated natural history group) in a way not possible on the large cruise ships, which take up to 100 or more passengers (many with little interest in wildlife), whose much shorter periods ashore inevitably make for a rushed and incomplete experience.

We shall be travelling on an exceptionally comfortable motor yacht, allowing us to visit areas only accessible to smaller boats (and get there without spending too much time over it). The itinerary has been carefully worked out to ensure that we have plenty of time at each place we go ashore to see the wildlife and to appreciate it in our own way. It will give us an excellent chance of finding all of the islands’ accessible endemic birds and we shall also come face to face with the famous Giant Tortoises that gave their name to the archipelago (galápagos means ‘riding saddle’ in Spanish and is probably a reference to the shell shape of some of the endemic forms).

During our voyage through this magical archipelago we plan to visit Seymour (or North Seymour), Genovesa (or Tower), Santiago (or James), Isabela (or Albemarle), Fernandina (or Narborough), Floreana (or Charles), Española (or Hood), Santa Cruz (or Indefatigable) and San Cristóbal (or Chatham). Cruising amongst the islands is an intensely exciting experience, yet at the same time wonderfully relaxing, with time between landfalls to watch this strange world (and some fine seabirds!) pass by, and whilst at anchor, get into the water and snorkel amongst beautiful tropical fish and ever-curious sealions. Of all the wildlife journeys we make on this marvellous but threatened planet of ours, we rate our Galapagos voyages amongst the most amazing and most memorable experiences.

In recent years the Galapagos National Park authority has greatly tightened the regulations affecting landings. All yachts and larger vessels now have a rigid timetable of landings, which cannot be modified (whatever the charter companies or tour operators tell potential guests, hoping to lure the unwary onto their boats!). As a result, for anyone with a keen interest in birds, it is vital to select a yacht which has an authorized itinerary that includes all the key islands, and in particular Genovesa (or Tower), deservedly renowned as the very best of the Galapagos ‘enchanted islands’ and the only accessible place in Galapagos for the endemic Sharp-beaked Finch and for Red-footed Booby, never mind the finest seabird spectacle in the entire archipelago!

Our handsome first-class motor yacht, the Tip Top IV, has the necessary permissions to achieve the perfect 10-night itinerary for keen birders. No current 7-night cruise, to the best of our knowledge, can deliver this. It costs a lot of money just to get to Galapagos (and a lot more to sail around the islands, especially if you want to do so in comfort), but we are firmly of the opinion that only a 10-night charter on a really first-class motor yacht can provide visitors with the finest Galapagos experience, never mind all of the accessible endemic birds! For full details and photographs of Tip Top IV, one of the best and most modern yachts available in the Galapagos (more a floating boutique hotel than a typical yacht), have a look at www.tiptopfleet.com: you are surely going to be impressed!

Tip Top IV has 10 cabins available for either twin or single occupancy (the twin beds can be modified to create a double bed for those guests who prefer) and takes a maximum of 16 passengers. The pleasant and roomy cabins are air-conditioned, have ample storage space, a private bathroom with hot shower, and 110v AC electrical outlets (with USA-type sockets). On-board instrumentation includes satellite navigation, radar, sonar, single sideband radio and cellular phone. Tip Top IV is a very stable boat (minimal chance of seasickness unless you are unusually prone, or there is atypical weather for this time of year!) and is very spacious overall, with lots of indoor and outdoor viewing/lounging areas, and an attractive interior that features a library/conference room (with VCR and a natural history video library) and a spacious dining room. The boat carries a crew of nine, including the captain, first mate, engineer, two sailors, two cooks, a waiter/cabin steward and a university-level naturalist-guide. If you want the ultimate in Galapagos birding and wildlife adventures, this is surely it!

After our Galapagos adventure ends there will be an optional extension to the west slope of the Ecuadorian Andes, where we will explore the bird-rich cloudforests of Yanacocha and the famous Mindo area. These cool forests with their host of colourful species, including numerous very approachable hummingbirds at the many feeders, will come as a startling contrast to the islands. Just to add to the magic, we will visit Angel Paz’s now famous ‘antpitta forest’ where Giant, Ochre-breasted and Moustached Antpittas have been habituated to emerge from the recesses of the forest in order to eat provided earthworms!

Birdquest has operated tours to Galapagos since 1989.

Juan Carlos Calvachi will be the local guide for the Ecuador Mainland Extension.

Accommodation & Road Transport: For our cruise in Galapagos we shall be based on our first class motor yacht with twin or double berth cabins (available for either twin or single occupancy) with private bathroom. The hotel in Quito is of good standard and the lodge at Mindo and the guesthouse near Quito airport during the extension are of medium standard. The few roads in the islands are of variable quality, as are those in the Quito region. Road transport will be by small coach or minibus (and ‘truck-bus’ on Floreana).

Walking: The walking effort in the islands is mostly easy, but some nature trails on the islands are over rougher terrain where some agility, or a stick, are required. The walking effort during the extension is easy or moderate.

Climate: From sea-level to moderate altitudes in Galapagos it is predominantly warm or hot all year. Sunny and overcast conditions tend to alternate, but rain is only likely at these elevations between January and April, when the humidity is rather high. Conditions in the highlands are similar but cooler and there can be rain showers at any time of year (with frequent rainfall between January and April). From May to December, low cloud often shrouds the highlands, but the lowlands are usually sunny. Conditions in the Ecuadorian Andes are similar to those in the highlands of Galapagos, but it is typically cool in the early morning (even cold at Yanacocha).

Bird & Wildlife Photography: Opportunities are outstanding.

Note: Our Galapagos tour is a shared departure with our Wild Images wildlife photography division. Landings are of set duration in Galapagos, the great majority of visiting Birdquesters are keen to take good photographs while in the islands, and so on this particular cruise it is easy to cater to the requirements of all.

Prices are provisional

Tour Price: £5860, €7330, $8200 Quito/Quito. Ecuadorian Andes Extension: £1230, €1540, $1720.

Price includes all transportation (including the Quito/Galapagos/Quito flights), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants ashore, leader services.

Galapagos national park fees/Galapagos entry taxes of US$110 (subject to change) are payable like a ‘visa on arrival’ by the individual passenger at passport control in Galapagos and are not included in the tour price. Gratuities on board the yacht for the naturalist-guide and crew are not included in the tour price. The staff work very long hours to make such cruises a success, including a great deal of night sailing, and we are told that most passengers give gratuities of between US$165-220 for such an 11 days cruise.

Single Room/Cabin Supplement: If you would like guaranteed single occupancy of a cabin on board the boat, a few cabins are available for an additional charge of £1000, €1250, $1400. Please note that if you opt to share you will not have to pay the single occupancy supplement even if you do not end up with a cabin-mate. Single room supplement in Quito: £101, €126, $142. (Please note that if you are sharing a cabin on board ship but there is no room-mate available at Quito, then you will have to pay the supplement for a single room ashore.) Extension: £152, €190, $213.

Deposit: Main Tour: 25% of the tour price (including any single supplement). Extension: £150, €200, $200.

Kindly note that the balance due will be invoiced around 5 months before departure for payment not later than 120 days before departure.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

Blue-footed Boobies display right in front of visitors and are completely fearless of man, just like almost all Galapagos creatures, a humbling experience for most visitors  (Mark Beaman)

Blue-footed Boobies display right in front of visitors and are completely fearless of man, just like almost all Galapagos creatures, a humbling experience for most visitors (Mark Beaman)

An extraordinary lack of fear of humans is characteristic of the Galapagos and helps to make it one of the most extraordinary and rewarding bird and wildlife journeys on our planet. This Galapagos Hawk was photographed with a standard camera lens!  (Mark Beaman)

An extraordinary lack of fear of humans is characteristic of the Galapagos and helps to make it one of the most extraordinary and rewarding bird and wildlife journeys on our planet. This Galapagos Hawk was photographed with a standard camera lens! (Mark Beaman)

Marine Iguanas are as unwary as the birds, sunning themselves in the middle of the nature trails on Fernandina  (Mark Beaman)

Marine Iguanas are as unwary as the birds, sunning themselves in the middle of the nature trails on Fernandina (Mark Beaman)

Talk about prehistoric-looking creatures...  (Mark Beaman)

Talk about prehistoric-looking creatures... (Mark Beaman)

The most famous birds of Galapagos are the drably-coloured but extraordinarily diverse Darwin's finches, the group that more than any other led the great scientist to formulate his Theory of Evolution. Large Ground-Finch is the biggest-beaked of them all  (Mark Beaman)

The most famous birds of Galapagos are the drably-coloured but extraordinarily diverse Darwin's finches, the group that more than any other led the great scientist to formulate his Theory of Evolution. Large Ground-Finch is the biggest-beaked of them all (Mark Beaman)

Seabirds are one of the glories of Galapagos and the huge Waved Albatross is the king of the islands  (Mark Beaman)

Seabirds are one of the glories of Galapagos and the huge Waved Albatross is the king of the islands (Mark Beaman)

Watching the albatrosses display on Española (or Hood) is utterly fascinating  (Mark Beaman)

Watching the albatrosses display on Española (or Hood) is utterly fascinating (Mark Beaman)

Nazca Boobies watch as the strange Homo sapiens wander through their territory  (Mark Beaman)

Nazca Boobies watch as the strange Homo sapiens wander through their territory (Mark Beaman)

The Swallow-tailed Gull is one of the more beautiful and unusual members of the Laridae  (Mark Beaman)

The Swallow-tailed Gull is one of the more beautiful and unusual members of the Laridae (Mark Beaman)

And they are even more striking in flight  (Mark Beaman)

And they are even more striking in flight (Mark Beaman)

Magnificent Frigatebirds allopreen in between frenetic displays by the males during which they inflate their bright red gular pouches  (Mark Beaman)

Magnificent Frigatebirds allopreen in between frenetic displays by the males during which they inflate their bright red gular pouches (Mark Beaman)

The Flightless Cormorant is surely one of the more unusual Galapagos birds  (Mark Beaman)

The Flightless Cormorant is surely one of the more unusual Galapagos birds (Mark Beaman)

The Galapagos is one of the last places on our planet where Giant Tortoises survive  (Mark Beaman)

The Galapagos is one of the last places on our planet where Giant Tortoises survive (Mark Beaman)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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