Galápagos Islands Expedition – In Darwin’s Footsteps

Galápagos Islands Expedition – In Darwin’s Footsteps

Galápagos Islands Expedition – In Darwin’s Footsteps

Galápagos Islands Expedition – In Darwin’s Footsteps

Travel information 9 days MS Santa Cruz II
32 departures between Jan 2023 and Mar 2024
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included

Join us on a journey of ecological discovery as we travel from Quito to experience the natural wonders of the incomparable Galápagos Islands while traveling in Charles Darwin’s footsteps.

Eastern Itinerary

We offer unique expedition cruises to sail in the footsteps of Charles Darwin. Our Eastern itinerary explores San Cristobal, the first of the four Galapagos island visited by Darwin in 1835 and the easternmost landmass in the archipelago. We will also call at Mosquera Islet, see the land iguanas of Santa Fe and South Plaza, the giant turtles of Santa Cruz, and the amazing bird colonies of Española, Eden Islet, and North Seymour. The landings cover a wide array of ecosystems and spectacular landscapes. You will have great opportunities to see unique wildlife, including most of the iconic animals of Galapagos.

Your adventure begins with two nights at a hotel in Quito, one of South America’s most charming capitals. This UNESCO World Heritage City, filled with graceful Spanish-era architecture, is packed with cozy restaurants and small artisanal shops. From Quito, we pay a visit to an active volcano, embark on a nature walk among stunning surroundings, and stroll through a vibrant open-air market.

After we fly to the Galápagos, embark Santa Cruz II, our comfortable and stylish expedition vessel ideally suited for remote adventures. Take part in an unforgettable cruise and experience the very best the UNESCO-protected Galápagos has to offer. The onboard facilities are excellent. Look forward to delicious dishes prepared by our chefs, as well as comfortable cabins for relaxing after each exciting day of exploration.

When the English naturalist Charles Darwin visited here aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in 1835, he discovered that several species—including tortoises and land iguanas—evolved differently depending on their habitat. His seminal work, On the Origin of Species, proved revolutionary. On this science-oriented expedition, you’ll learn about Darwin’s discoveries and make a few of our own.

You’ll get closer to the natural wonders with the use of our small boats (RIBs), kayaks, snorkeling gear, and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs). You can choose from a wide range of included activities and the Expedition Team will guide you on landings. Safety and sustainability are always at the core of our operations, and our aim is to leave the smallest possible footprint wherever we go.

For your safety, we always sail with a Medical Officer onboard.

Galápagos Islands Expedition – In Darwin’s Footsteps Galápagos Islands Expedition – In Darwin’s Footsteps
  • Day 1
    Quito, Ecuador


    Your cruise of discovery begins in Quito, a city that straddles the equator, and where spring is always in the air. Beautifully situated at 9,350 feet above sea level in a high valley, Quito is the second-highest capital city in the world. Views of the nearby mountains are a constant reminder of your location in the Andes.

    Quito was founded on an ancient Inca settlement and today is a bustling and modern city. But you don’t need to look too far beneath the contemporary façade to find the past, and the Old Town, for example, is a showcase of classical Spanish architecture. In fact, the city’s diligent preservation of its history warranted it to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1978.

    If you have time in the evening, we recommend you visit the Calle La Ronda, an ancient pedestrian street with links to poets and other artists who have lived here. It’s full of shops and café, and there are also plenty of handicrafts for sale.

    Take in the sparkling city lights that extend into the surrounding hills and mountains at night—a truly mesmerizing sight! Experience another highlight of South America and discover the lost civilization of the Inca people, including the breathtaking mountain stronghold of Machu Picchu. This optional four-day Pre-Program before your cruise starts in Lima and ends in Quito.

    Or arrive a few days earlier to Quito and join us on a four-day-tour to a Cloudforest Lodge at the Mashpi Reserve. This area is part of the Ecuadorian Choco rainforest, known as one of the world’s greatest areas for biodiversity. This optional extension is also available as Post-Program.

    Day 1
    Quito, Ecuador


  • Day 2
    Quito, Ecuador

    Cotopaxi Volcano trip

    Today, see one of Ecuador’s natural wonders up close as we visit an active volcano and walk to a height of almost 12,800 feet.

    First, we’ll stop in at the photogenic Sangolqui open-air market, where you can sample different Andean specialties. The local indigenous people sell their produce here, and you´ll see colorful legumes, fruits, and vegetables. At the market you can also purchase clothing and other handicrafts, which will give you the opportunity to chat with the friendly stallholders.

    Cotopaxi National Park, set amid gorgeous mountains, is only an hour-and-a-half drive from Quito. This mostly treeless landscape is characteristic of the Andean moorlands, or páramo—you might even see herds of llamas roaming wild. Birdlife includes the Andean Gull, several species of hummingbird, and with some luck, the majestic condor. We’ll walk to Limpiopungo Lagoon, a beautiful lake that mirrors the dramatic surrounding peaks.

    Meaning ‘Neck of the Moon’ in the local Quechua language, at 20,000 feet high, Cotopaxi has an almost perfectly conical form and is one of the highest volcanoes in the world. Its yawning crater measures 2,620 feet and features one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world. The first recorded eruption of Cotopaxi was in 1534, terrifying both locals and conquistadors alike, and the last major one occurred in 1904.

    For lunch, you’ll enjoy delicious traditional dishes prepared by some of the region’s best chefs in San Agustin del Callo. In the late afternoon, we’ll return to the hotel and enjoy a nice dinner before calling it a night.

    Day 2
    Quito, Ecuador

    Cotopaxi Volcano trip

  • Day 3
    Galápagos, Ecuador

    Your cruise begins

    After breakfast, we’ll go to the Quito Airport for our morning flight that takes us across the Pacific Ocean to our adventure. After only a couple of hours, we land at the Galápagos Ecological Airport on Baltra Island. This airport runs on renewable power and is said to be the world’s ‘greenest’—most environmentally friendly—airport!

    After landing in the spectacular Galápagos Archipelago, you’ll head straight to the port and your home away from home for the next few days: our comfortable expedition ship, Santa Cruz II.

    We start our oceanic expedition with a short, mandatory safety briefing. Check in and get settled before meeting for lunch in the restaurant, where the captain will propose a toast and wish everyone an exciting adventure. The cruise gets underway right after lunch.

    Our first stop is only four nautical miles away, at the southern tip of Mosquera Islet. This small piece of volcanic uplift sits between the larger islands of Baltra and North Seymour. A long, narrow sandbank is surrounded by lava reefs, home to one of the largest colonies of sea lions in the Galápagos.

    You’ll take a small boat (RIB) to land ashore, where you’ll see sea lions basking in the sun. This will be your first glimpse of the amazing wildlife diversity and richness of these islands, and the islet is filled with many seabirds, including Blue-footed Boobies, as well as Sally Lightfoot crabs.

    The walk is easy—only a few hundred yards across flat, sandy dunes. As we explore, you’ll learn more about the fragile marine and terrestrial ecosystems of the Galápagos.

    Day 3
    Galápagos, Ecuador

    Your cruise begins

  • Day 4
    San Cristóbal Island

    Visiting the giants

    Today we´ll dock in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the archipelago’s capital. It’s a 40-minute drive to Cerro Colorado, where you’ll visit a breeding center for the highly endangered giant tortoise. This Galápagos icon has a natural lifespan estimated at over 100 years.

    The Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve is working to boost the numbers of these giant reptiles and bring them back from the brink of extinction. They live in conditions similar to their natural habitat and are able to thrive here. The tortoises amble around under the cover of a 15-acre forest, which is also home to dozens of other endemic species, including the San Cristobal Mockingbird and the San Cristóbal lava lizard.

    In the afternoon, our small boats (RIBs) take you to Punta Pitt at the eastern tip of the island. This unusual point consists of an eroded volcanic cone. Take the trail here for spectacular views of the coastline. Punta Pitt is the only site in the Galápagos where you might see three species of boobies. The Blue-footed Boobie is easily recognized blue feet!

    Enjoy a nature walk on land or explore the coast aboard one of our small boats (RIBs). The snorkelling and swimming are excellent in the clear water here. You might see sea lions performing underwater acrobatics over the reef, so remember to bring your swimsuit and some good walking shoes.

    Day 4
    San Cristóbal Island

    Visiting the giants

  • Day 5
    Santa Fe Island & South Plaza Island

    Blissful beauty and evolving iguanas

    After breakfast, we´ll head for an idyllic white-sand beach on the island of Santa Fe for a scenic nature walk. A colony of sea lions calls this island home, as well as the endemic Barrington land iguana, which is usually spotted sitting among giant prickly pear cacti or lounging on rocks in the sun.

    The island has a blissful feeling about it, and we further enjoy by swimming or snorkeling offshore from our small boats (RIBs). If you want to get a peek at the underwater world, consider joining a ride in a glass-bottomed boat. Or, take out a kayak and explore this beautiful and wild island at your own pace.

    After our excellent onboard chefs whip up a nice, long lunch, we’ll head to our next destination: South Plaza Island. On the way, we’ll pass through a channel where turquoise waters line the white-sand beaches, which in turn contrast sharply with the black lava rocks. Along the shore, we might spot frigatebirds, Swallow-tailed Gulls, and shearwaters, gliding on the breeze.

    South Plaza Island may be very small, but it hosts a stunning array of flora, particularly the flowering succulent sesuvium and dense patches of prickly pears. Land iguanas laze sleepily by the shore, while marine iguanas slip in and out of the water. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a hybrid of the two—the result of intergeneric breeding between the two subspecies—evolution in action!

    Day 5
    Santa Fe Island & South Plaza Island

    Blissful beauty and evolving iguanas

  • Day 6
    Santa Cruz Island

    Giant tortoises & island activities

    This morning we’ll head ashore at Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the archipelago, situated on Santa Cruz Island. Here, we drop in on the Charles Darwin Research Station, where over 200 scientists and volunteers are working to conserve the wildlife of the Galápagos.

    Visit the breeding enclosures where you can see baby tortoises in incubators, and look upon Darwin’s famous finches with your own eyes—the birds he used as a basis for his theory of evolution.

    You can try your hand at using a trapiche, a sugarcane grinder used to extract the juice, which you can drink or ferment into liquor. To visit the sugar–cane mill you can take a bus or ride a bicycle, if you’re feeling more active!

    Then, after experiencing the forest of Opuntia Cactus Forest, sometimes called the Galápagos prickly pear, we’ll enjoy lunch in the highlands. This ecosystem is entirely different from the coastal plains, with green foliage and a moist, cooler climate. It’s also where the most giant tortoises roam. You’ll have the opportunity of seeing these giants in their natural habitat. They are certainly not hard to spot as they lumber around, munch on grass, and wallow in pools.

    After lunch, you can continue to seek out tortoises in the region or choose from several different activities, including mountain biking or kayaking in Tortuga Bay. You could also hike the 1.3 miles to a beautiful bay and stop at Playa Brava, a beautiful snow-white–sand beach that’s a nesting site for green turtles.

    On the same walk, Playa Mansa is a secluded natural mangrove cove, with clear and tranquil waters ideal for swimming, snorkeling, or kayaking. Or simply enjoy the view from the shade of a mangrove!

    Conservation measures limit the number of guests in Tortuga Bay, so be sure to coordinate your interest in attending with the Expedition Team.

    Day 6
    Santa Cruz Island

    Giant tortoises & island activities

  • Day 7
    Española Island

    A conservation success story

    At four million years old, Española is said to be one of the oldest islands and is the farthest south in the archipelago. A magnet for birders, almost the entire world population of Waved Albatross breeds here between March and January. Be on the lookout for Nazca Boobies, Blue-footed Boobies, and Swallow-tailed Gulls, which are all present here.

    Keep your eyes peeled for the Española lava lizard, which has a strikingly red hue. You could also spot the very colorful marine iguanas, which are an endemic subspecies found only here.

    They did have some very good wildlife news here in 2020 when a rare tortoise was found to have sired over 900 children. Diego, who is over 100 years old, was on loan from San Diego Zoo, and may have almost singlehandedly saved his subspecies from extinction. His remarkable achievement earned him retirement in Española with his extended family. He is expected to live to around 150 years of age!

    You’ll also get to witness the famous blowhole, El Soplador (meaning ‘the blower’), which blasts water 75 feet into the air. The effect is caused by waves crashing into a lava fissure at high tide and blowing the water out through a crevice. Afterward, we’ll head back on board the ship for another lovely and relaxed lunch.

    In the afternoon, we visit the postcard-worthy coral beach of Gardner Bay and the nearby Osborn Islet. These are beautiful settings for observing sea lions, mockingbirds, and finches, as you take time to relax or slip into the water for some excellent snorkeling. Kayaking activities are available here, too.

    Day 7
    Española Island

    A conservation success story

  • Day 8
    Santa Cruz Island & North Seymour Island

    A small slice of Eden

    Eden Islet, off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, is a sliver of volcanic cone poking up through the sea. The wildlife here is abundant. The clear, shallow waters are great for spotting Galápagos green turtles, rays, and friendly reef sharks.

    We bring the snorkeling gear, so remember your swimsuit if you want to do some reef exploration. Weather permitting, you can also take a trip aboard our glass-bottomed boat or paddle along the coast of Eden on a kayak. Look out for the frigatebirds on shore and their characteristic rubbery red throats.

    Later, after lunch on the ship, we’ll head to the island of North Seymour. This small and mostly flat piece of land was created when a volcanic eruption lifted up the seabed, which is why it looks so smooth and eroded.

    There’s a small forest of silver-gray palo santo trees (also known as Saint’s Wood) just above the landing site. These trees are typically leafless and remain dormant for half of the year, waiting for the rains as their cue to burst into bloom. The wood is famously used to make incense—see if you can detect the scent!

    This is a great site to observe colonies of Blue-footed Boobies, frigatebirds, and Swallow-tailed Gulls. Sea lions and marine iguanas also call North Seymour home—they are more than happy to feast on the sealife found in the rich waters here. When a young Darwin first laid eyes on marine iguanas, he described them as ‘clumsy lizards’ and ‘hideous-looking’. We beg to differ, but see for yourself!

    Day 8
    Santa Cruz Island & North Seymour Island

    A small slice of Eden

  • Day 9
    Baltra Island, Ecuador

    End of the expedition

    As your expedition cruise comes to a close, it’s time to bid farewell to the bounteous wildlife and amazing scenery of one of the world’s most incredible nature destinations. It’s also time to say farewell to the wonderful crew and Expedition Team as we disembark at Baltra Island.

    You’ll be transferred to the airport. Your flight will bring you to Guayaquil. Upon arrival in Guayaquil, a representative will assist with your international flight connection. Or, you can continue from Guayaquil to Quito to catch your international flight from there.

    We hope that you’ve had amazing experiences that will provide lifelong memories. We’d love to welcome you aboard again.

    Tack on extra days and explore more of Ecuador with one of our optional Post-Programs. Join us to the Ecuadorian Amazon and its heart, the Napo River. Fly to Coca and spend three nights in a lodge surrounded by the beautiful Amazon rainforest. Observe and learn about its flora and fauna through different activities.

    You could also travel from Quito to the Mashpi Reserve, a unique habitat and ecosystem. Enjoy a three-night stay in a luxurious Cloudforest Lodge and discover the breathtaking aera from there (also available as Pre-Program).

    Both post-programs include two nights of hotel in Quito.

    Day 9
    Baltra Island, Ecuador

    End of the expedition





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Available Promotions on This Itinerary:

  • Save up to 20% + $500 Air Credit

    Book an expedition cruise aboard the world’s first hybrid electric-powered expedition ship or any of our other ships to destinations, and you’ll save up to 20% as well as receive up to a $1,000 air credit per person!
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What's Included

Included in Your Expedition


  • Two nights of hotel in Quito before the expedition cruise, including breakfast and dinner on day 2. 


  • Roundtrip flights in economy class (from Quito to Baltra, and Baltra to Guayaquil).


  • Transfer from the hotel in Quito to the Quito Airport before the expedition cruise, and transfers between the Baltra Airport and the ship


  • Full-day nature tour to Cotopaxi National Park, including lunch


  • Galápagos Islands National Park admission fee
  • Transit control card for Galápagos Islands
  • Access to the airport lounge at the Guayaquil or Quito airport upon return from Galápagos Islands

Expedition Cruise

  • Expedition cruise in a cabin of your choice
  • Breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the Aune restaurant, including beverages (house beer and wine, sodas, and mineral water)
  • Complimentary tea and coffee
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi on board. Be aware that we sail in remote areas with limited connection. Streaming is not supported
  • Complimentary reusable water bottle to fill at onboard water refill stations
  • English-speaking Expedition Team to guide activities and provide educational information, on board and ashore 
  • Welcome and farewell cocktails

Onboard activities

  • Use of the ship’s Science Center, which has a library, microscopes, and samples
  • The Citizen Science program allows guests to contribute to current scientific research projects
  • An onboard professional photographer will give tips and tricks for taking the best landscape and wildlife photos
  • Use of the ship’s hot tubs and gym

Landing Activities

  • Landings, hikes, coastal exploration, and activities that include kayaking, snorkeling, and our glass-bottom boat
  • Complimentary wetsuit rental

Not Included In Your Expedition

  • International flights
  • Travel protection
  • Baggage handling


2 people kayaking in front of the ship Santa Cruz II.
Your Ship

MS Santa Cruz II

Year built 2002
Year of refurbishment 2021
Shipyard ASENAV Shipyard (CHL)
Passenger capacity 90
Gross tonnage 2,664 T
Length 236 ft
Beam 44 ft
Speed 10.5 knots
2 people kayaking in front of the ship Santa Cruz II.

When you are exploring the Galápagos Islands with us aboard the Santa Cruz II, you’ll enjoy a relaxed atmosphere in premium surroundings. The ship’s small size (with a maximum guest capacity of 90) offers a cozy yet sophisticated environment. It’s easy to feel at home on board.

Read more about MS Santa Cruz II

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