Longer Natural History Tours of the Galapagos Islands

Our trips are different. Most of them spend 11 days in the Galapagos Islands. About half a dozen expeditions each year spend 15 days in the islands. These are the longest regularly available tours of the Galapagos.

“It is the fate of most voyagers, no sooner to discover what is most interesting in any locality than they are hurried from it…”
Charles Darwin, 1845

Our trips are educationally-oriented and are accompanied by a Tour Leader / Biologist in addition to a local Naturalist Guide. The tours are oriented to the passenger who wants to observe and learn as much as possible about the Galapagos – the animals and plants – on land and in the water.

The tours are also oriented to photographers (although you don’t have to be a photographer to get full value and enjoyment from our trips). We do offer some light photographic advice and, more important extensive, unique, and excellent photo opportunities.

Our trips are different than most, for several reasons:

  • Most important is that we allow you to maximize and get the most out of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure travel experience. Our Workshops provide an in-depth orientation to the islands beyond the scope of most “vacation- type” tours.
  • We spend a longer time in the islands than most tour groups. We feel that 11 days is the minimum time necessary to see most of the important Visitor Sites (including the outer islands) and be assured of a maximum viewing opportunity of the significant plant and animal species. We include 3 days in the volcanically-active western islands, where we whale-watch, see penguins, flightless cormorants, and giant tortoises in the wild. For maximum enjoyment and wildlife viewing opportunities, we recommend our “2 weeks in Galápagos” program, incorporating an additional 4 days at key central islands.
  • In addition to the legally-required Naturalist Guide, we provide a Tour Leader/ Biologist who gives daily lectures on natural history. The Guide’s role is to escort people on shore, to provide some wildlife interpretation, and to make sure the rules of the National Park are enforced. Having a Tour Leader adds a serious educational orientation to the trip.
  • Our two daily island visits are longer (2-4 hours each) than most tours. We also go on shore earlier in the day (typically landing between 6 and 7am. vs. 8am for most other vessels) to enhance viewing and photographic opportunities.
  • We have each been to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands numerous times and we get tremendous pleasure out of sharing the Galápagos with a relatively small number of people each year. We look forward to answering your questions and hope we can share the Galápagos with you as well.

Saludos!

Mark, Julie, & Debbie

Galapagos Travel trips are on chartered 16 passenger motor yachts. Your floating hotel comfortably carries you from island to island and visitor site to visitor site. To maximize your time on land, longer repositioning moves are normally at night while you sleep. Frequently you’ll wake up to find the crew has magically transported you to a new island. The majority of Galapagos Travel trips are on the motor yacht TIP TOP IV or TIP TOP III, although on occasion we might also use another similar vessel.

On-board instrumentation on all yachts includes satellite navigation, radar, sonar, single sideband radio, and cellular phone. All yachts carry a VCR with a natural history video library. All cabins are air-conditioned, have ample storage space, private bathroom with hot shower, and 110VAC outlets. The yachts are very spacious, with lots of indoor and outdoor reading / lounging / viewing areas. Each boat carries a crew of 8 or 9, including the captain, first mate, engineer, 2 sailors, 2 cooks, a waiter / cabin steward, and a university-level Naturalist Guide.

Madagascar!

Much like Galápagos, this is a place that conjures up images of amazing wildlife – wildlife that is among the best in the world in terms of diversity and abundance, and in some cases is as approachable as the wildlife of Galápagos. Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island, having broken away from Africa well over 150 million years ago. This isolation makes it a living laboratory of evolution, with plants and animals found nowhere else on earth – lemurs, chameleons, geckos, frogs, tortoises, and myriad birds. …Ringtail Lemurs gathering in groups on the ground to warm up in the morning sun… The haunting calls of Indris high in the forest canopy… A glimpse of a Sifaka as it skips across the trail ahead… Radiated Tortoises, well, just sitting there… At the same time the forests and valleys are filled with wonderful birds – the iridescent Madagascar Kingfishers flitting along the waterways, paradise flycatchers, Madagascar White eyes, Giant Coua, Madagascar Scops Owl, Madagascar Fish-Eagle… The flora too is astounding, from the surreal Boabab trees, to the spiny forests of the west and south, or rainforests of the east.

The landscapes are equally as spectacular – the bright red soil of the highlands; the emerald green forest canopy festooned with orchids and other epiphytes; shades of grey in the limestone karst of the Tsingy; green rushing rivers and cascading waterfalls; white sand beaches, and all of it surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. Madagascar truly is a land of rich colors and superlatives!

Neither solely a birding or wildlife tour, nor just a cultural tour, this is a general Natural History tour – a mix of amazing wildlife, spectacular scenery and rich cultural discoveries. The people of Madagascar are amazingly welcoming. They are gracious, friendly and nearly always smiling (and quite often singing). Madagascar is an explorer and photographer’s dream in all ways!

We invite you to join us in Madagascar, on one of life’s truly great expeditions!

Antarctica, South Georgia Island, and the Falkland Islands

Offering educationally-oriented, comprehensive trips to the Galápagos Islands will always be our focus at GALAPAGOS TRAVEL. At the same time, some of our Galápagos passengers have put mild pressure on us to take them somewhere else – basically, on another great adventure.

Antarctica is truly an awesome place. A vast desert of white, holding 90% of the earth’s ice in a permanent ice cap, at times over 2 miles thick. In the southern winter its area doubles in size when sea ice forms around its margin. Antarctica is then at its most formidable – dominating and unpredictable – greater than life, and seemingly devoid of life. But, during our journey, it will be absolutely teeming with life. For we will be there during the peak of the austral summer, when the sun finally emerges from the long winter night, the sea ice melts, and life returns – to breed! With a background of glittering white mountains and blue-green icebergs, we will come face to face with incredibly large colonies of penguins; in all we will see 7-8 penguin species. We will also approach colonies of albatrosses (4 species), petrels, and shags (cormorants). We will walk and cruise among 7 species of pinnipeds, including large colonies of massive Southern elephant seals and roaring Antarctic fur seals. During our cruising time, we will be rewarded with good looks at pelagic sea birds gliding nearby and several species of whales.

The history of Antarctic exploration is legendary – names such as Cook, Scott, Amundson, and Shackleton. Each has had incredible, heroic adventures. We will go where they have gone, and we will learn what they accomplished and endured. Even in the relatively mild austral summer, we will occasionally feel the force of Antarctica, just as they did. There are times that it will be our master and control our activities. Our expedition puts us in touch with modern-day explorers as well, members of the global community of scientists working at polar research stations.

We have given it quite a lot of thought and personal travel, and feel that as with the Galápagos, most of the trips that are offered to Antarctica miss out on the best parts. We don’t want to do that! If the Antarctic Peninsula (and adjacent islands) is the heart of the voyage, South Georgia is certainly the soul. Not included on most Antarctica itineraries, South Georgia will be a key part of ours.

With the seasonal ice melt expedition vessels are able to visit the Southern Ocean from late-October through early-March. Our visit is planned for mid-season – the weather should be at its best – when the penguin and albatross chicks have hatched, yet early enough that the colonies are booming.

Traditionally we offer this in-depth expedition to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands once every-other year. To do it right, it becomes a 19-day cruise – 21 days including travel days and an overnight in Ushuaia prior to boarding the ship. We will again be aboard our favorite polar expedition vessel, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov.

Svalbard/Spitsbergen & the High Norwegian Arctic

The Arctic and North Atlantic islands and coastlines offer some of the finest scenery and wildlife experiences in the world. Visitors to the region can witness enormous colonies of seabirds thronging the cliffs and shores, and enjoy the thrilling antics of whales and dolphins at sea, and seals and walrus hauled out on the rocks and ice floes. You may even encounter the very symbol of the Arctic – the Polar Bear. Though remote and sparsely populated today, many of the places we explore have been inhabited in the last 5000 years, and thousands of unique prehistoric and historic sites are a testimony to the thriving cultures of the past.

Spitsbergen (Svalbard), with its rugged mountains, sweeping tundra, ice caps and glaciers, is a true High Arctic archipelago, and only 500 miles from the North Pole. Its abundant wildlife was once a huge draw for whalers and trappers but now discerning visitors are discovering the attractions of huge Arctic seabird colonies and the chance to enjoy and photograph species like Walrus, Reindeer, Arctic Fox and of course, Polar Bear.

Easter Island • Isla de Pascua • Rapa Nui

No matter what one may call the island, it’s sure to bring mysterious and surreal images to mind. Images of moai, the enormous stone heads/torsos that dot the landscape, oft recalled from childhood explorations through back issues of National Geographic magazines…

Easter Island is a remote dot in the vast South Pacific – at just 7 by 15 miles, with the closest people over 1,000 miles distant, on even smaller Pitcairn Island – Chile and Tahiti are each over 2,200 miles distant, in opposite directions.

Early history of the island is likely to always remain a mystery. The first colonization occurred around 300-400ad, most likely from Polynesia (based on the physical characteristics of the people, their culture, religion, and language).

The population of the island thrived in the early years, reaching a peak of between 10,000-15,000 people. This was more than the small island could bear though. Eventually the ecosystem of the island was stretched to the point of complete deforestation, and a collapse of the society. Bloody civil war broke out between the different clans. The moai were toppled. Society was in ruins. The island’s population plummeted to near 3,000 in just a few years. The first European explorers to see the island (on Easter Sunday, 1722) report standing moai, and forests to be seen in the distant inland valleys. Captain Cook reported seeing neither just 52 years later when his ship called there.

At the society’s peak they accomplished truly amazing things. The moai, and there are nearly 1,000 of them, were carved from the tuff lava of one volcano, Rano Raraku. The red scoria top-knots for the moai were carved from a different volcano. Both parts were then transported tremendous distances to numerous locations scattered around the island, then erected. The Rapa Nui had the only written language, Rongorongo Script, in all of Oceania. Numerous elaborate petroglyphs were carved into the rocks around the island.

The island was ultimately “annexed” by Chile in 1888; Chile’s first, and only, attempt at colonization. This would prove to be another of the many trials the islanders have faced. Between slave raids and disease, the population on the island had dropped to 111 people by the start of the 20th century.

Today the island has both a governor and a mayor. There is also a council of elders who have a fairly strong field of influence. This council has one representative from each Rapa Nui family – 39 in all. There are close to 4,000 people living on the island, with about 2,000 of them being Rapa Nui. The remainder are mostly Chilean. It is estimated that another 1,500 Rapa Nui live in other parts of the world – mostly Tahiti, North America, Europe, and Chile (where many Rapa Nui teens attend school).

Midway Atoll & Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Midway is a place that most of us have heard of, typically from history class and reading about the WWII “Battle of Midway,” or maybe from the movie of the same name. What many don’t realize is that Midway Atoll is also one of the world’s most amazing wildlife spectacles!

The atoll is comprised of 3 small islands set within a protective coral reef nearly 5 miles across, located in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands; a chain of 9 islands and atolls extending more than 1200 miles out from the main Hawaiian archipelago. Today these Northwestern islands comprise the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument – one of the largest protected marine areas in the world. As a wildlife refuge the Monument is home to upwards of 7,000 species, nearly a quarter of which are endemic. These numbers are truly staggering if you really think about it.

Long closed to visitors, Midway is today the only atoll or island in the Monument that is open to any form of tourism. As much travel as we do to exotic and hard to reach wildlife locations, Midway stands alone. Here you may encounter upwards of 3 million seabirds, nearly all with no fear of man. We have never encountered another place where you are so surrounded by the wildlife, and afforded such a leisurely look at their lives, not even Galápagos or South Georgia Island.

Wildlife highlights at Midway include the world’s largest colonies of 4 species: Laysan Albatross, Black-footed Albatross, White Terns, and Bonin Petrels. Laysan ducks – the northern hemisphere’s rarest duck – are also endemic to the Monument, with their population on Midway well established. The extremely rare Short-tailed Albatross, or Golden Gooney, is also here in very limited numbers. Other species might seem familiar, but different, including Frigates, Boobies, Tropicbirds, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Noddies, Shearwaters, Terns, and many more.

Midway is at the northern limits of where coral grows in the Pacific, with the emergent reef protecting the lagoon and islands. In addition to wonderful fish (over 200 species within the reef) the turquoise waters of the lagoon support Spinner Dolphins, Hawaiian Monk Seals, and Green Sea Turtles. Snorkeling the crystal clear waters around the emergent reef is amazing!

For history buffs Midway is also outstanding. Starting in 1903 the Pacific Cable Company had a base of operations here, allowing for the first around-the-world telegraph connections. Starting in 1935 Pan Am World Airways inaugurated trans-Pacific China Clipper flying boats, with one of the way-stops here. The U.S. Navy presence also began in the early twentieth century, first with a radio station. By the 1940’s Midway was considered our second most important base in the Pacific, behind Pearl Harbor. While the majority of the navy buildings were removed in the 90’s, a number of historic structures still remain – many are listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings today. In 2010 UNESCO listed Papahānaumokuākea as a World Heritage Site, of both natural and cultural significance – the first new site in the United States in 15 years. In addition the entire Monument is of great importance culturally to the native Hawaiians.

Today Midway Atoll is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Together with FWS, the Sate of Hawaii and N.O.A.A have a hand in regulating tourism, and approving visitor permits. GALAPAGOS TRAVEL is privileged and delighted to be able to open the door to Papahānaumokuākea and Midway Atoll to our visitor groups

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