MS Santa Cruz II
With carbon-neutral operations, MS Santa Cruz II is environmentally-sustainable and socially conscious with the local community.
Join us on a journey of discovery, taking in UNESCO-listed cities, a towering volcano and the natural treasures of the Galápagos Islands.
Explore Quito, one of South America’s most charming capitals and a World Heritage city of graceful Spanish-era architecture, cosy restaurants and small artisanal shops. Taste delicious Ecuadorian specialities and stroll through colourful markets brimming with local handicrafts. You’ll also visit an active volcano and go on a nature walk in stunning surroundings.
Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galápagos Islands aboard H.M.S. Beagle led to his seminal work On the Origin of Species. On your science-oriented expedition, you’ll follow in Darwin’s footsteps, learn about his discoveries and make a few of your own.
Your Galápagos expedition features handpicked landings where you’ll see wildlife in a wide variety of ecosystems. See sea lions basking in the sun on Mosquera islet and giant tortoises in San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz. Gaze at the famous land iguanas of Santa Fé and South Plaza and discover the colourful bird colonies of Española, Edén Islet, and North Seymour.
MS Santa Cruz II’s crafted itineraries give you some of the best island coverage and wildlife viewing opportunities in the Galápagos. Many excursions take place at exclusive visitor sites, meaning we’ll often have entire areas to ourselves. Having multiple naturalist guides aboard Santa Cruz II also means you’ll be able to choose from a wider range of activities each day.
Your ship is also one of the few vessels operating in Galápagos that comes equipped with a full range of exploration tools, including dinghies, kayaks, snorkelling gear and paddleboards. There's even a glass-bottom boat. Of course, safety and sustainability are paramount throughout your cruise, and there’s a 24-hour Medical Officer onboard at all times.
We'll help you plan where to go, when to visit and how long to stay
Your journey of discovery begins after you fly from Germany to Quito, a city which straddles the equator and where it feels like spring is eternally in the air. Beautifully situated in a high valley, at 9,350 ft this is the second highest capital city in the world, and the views of the nearby mountains remind you at all times of your Andean location.
Quito was founded on an ancient Inca settlement, and today it’s a bustling and modern place. But you don’t need to look too far beneath the contemporary façade to find the past, and the Old Town is a showcase of classical Spanish architecture. In fact, the city’s diligent preservation of its history caused it to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1978.
After arrival at Mariscal Sucre Airport in Quito you´ll be transferred to your centrally-located hotel in the city.
As night falls, take a look at the sparkling city lights that spread up the surrounding hills and mountains – truly a mesmerising sight! You’ll spend your first night in South America at your Quito hotel and wake up rested and refreshed for the journey ahead.
After breakfast, we´ll take you on a full day tour of the city in which we’ll explore the lives, beliefs, cuisine, and traditions of Ecuador’s capital. The tour is all about living Quito like a local’, visiting shops, exploring markets, meeting local herbal healers, learning skills from artisans, and enjoying some amazing Ecuadorian cuisine as we lunch at the sophisticated Casa Gangotena Hotel.
We’ll head out for a walking tour of the beautiful Old Town, intent on understanding more about the people who live in the largest and best-preserved historical centre in the Americas. The guide will take us to see old streets and churches, stopping to meet artisans, shopkeepers, hat makers and sweet confectioners. On the way we’ll sample some delicious chocolate made from finest Ecuadorian cacao.
In the afternoon, we’ll cross the street to the excellent Casa del Alabado Archaeological Museum. It houses a fantastic collection of pre-Colombian exhibits dating back some 5,000 years, all arrayed beautifully within a restored 17th-century colonial mansion.
The tour also includes a visit to El Panecillo – a 600 ft high volcanic hill offering panoramic views over Quito in all its Andean splendour. Later on, you’ll enjoy dinner at the hotel, and you can reflect on your day’s discoveries or perhaps head out to see some more.
Today you’ll get up close and personal with one of Ecuador’s natural wonders as we visit an active volcano and walk to a height of almost 12,800 ft.
But first, we’ll stop in on the photogenic Sangolqui open-air market, where you can sample different Andean specialities. The local indigenous people sell their produce here, and you'll see vibrantly-coloured legumes, fruits and vegetables. Food aside, clothing and other handicrafts can be purchased here, and it’ll give you a chance to chat with the friendly stallholders.
Cotopaxi National Park, set amidst mountainous splendour, is only an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Quito. This mostly treeless landscape is characteristic of the Andean moorlands, or paramo, and you may see herds of llamas roaming wild here. Birdlife to look out for 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, 19,393 ft-high Cotopaxi has an almost perfectly conical form and is one of the highest volcanoes in the world. Its yawning crater measures 2,620 ft, and features one of the few equatorial glaciers anywhere. 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 be tasting delicious traditional dishes prepared by some of the region’s best chefs in San Augustin del Callo, and in the late afternoon we return to the hotel and enjoy a nice dinner before calling it a night.
Following breakfast, we’ll head to Quito Airport where our morning flight waits to take us across the blue Pacific Ocean to adventure. After only a couple of hours we’ll land at the Galápagos Ecological Airport on Baltra Island – which runs of renewable power and is said to be the world’s greenest airport!
After we’ve landed in the spectacular Galápagos archipelago, a transfer will take you straight to the port where your home-away-from-home for the next few days is docked – our comfortable expedition ship Santa Cruz II.
We’ll start our oceanic expedition with a short, mandatory safety briefing to ensure you’ll be safe sailing with us. You can check in and get settled before we meet for lunch in the beautiful restaurant, where the Captain will raise a toast and wish everyone an exciting adventure. Your cruise gets underway straight after lunch.
Our first stop is only four nautical miles away, at the southern tip of Mosquera Islet. It’s a small piece of volcanic uplift that sits between the larger islands of Baltra and North Seymour. A long and narrow sand bank is surrounded by lava reefs, and this is home to one of the largest colonies of sea lions in the Galápagos.
Hop aboard a small expedition boat and head ashore, where you’ll see the sea lions basking in the sun. This will be your first glimpse of the amazing diversity and richness of these islands, and the islet is thronged with many seabirds, including Blue-footed Boobies, as well as Sally Lightfoot crabs.
The walk is easy, only a few hundred yards across flat and sandy dunes, and you’ll learn more about the fragile marine and terrestrial ecosystems of the Galápagos from your guides as we explore.
Today we´ll dock in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the archipelago’s capital. It’s a 40-minute drive to Cerro Colorado, where you’ll get to visit a breeding centre for the highly endangered giant tortoise. It’s a Galápagos icon with 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. They live in conditions that are similar to their natural habitat and are able to thrive here. The tortoises amble around under the cover of a six-hectare forest, which is also home to dozens of other endemic species including the San Cristobal Mockingbird and the San Cristobal lava lizard.
In the afternoon, our small expedition boats take you to Punta Pitt at the eastern tip of the island. This unusual point consists of an eroded volcanic cone, and there’s a trail here that provides 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 recognised for its, well, blue feet!
Enjoy a nature walk on land, or explore the coast aboard one of our small expedition boats. Snorkelling and swimming are excellent in the clear water here, and you might see sea lions performing their underwater acrobatics over the reef, so remember to bring your swimsuit and some good walking shoes.
Straight after breakfast, we´ll set foot on an idyllic white sand beach on the island of Santa Fe and go on a scenic nature walk. The island is home to a colony of sea lions, as well as the endemic Barrington land iguana, which can usually be spotted sitting among the giant prickly pear cacti or lounging on rocks in the sun.
The island has a blissful feeling about it, and we might relax by swimming or perhaps snorkelling from our small boats. If you want to get a peek at the under-water world, you could join a trip in our glass-bottomed boat. The kayaks are ready too, so why not discover this beautiful and wild island at your own pace.
Following a nice, long lunch rustled up by our excellent onboard chefs we’ll head to our next destination, South Plaza Island. Going there, we´ll pass through a channel where the turquoise waters are offset by the white sandy 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 is very small, but it hosts a stunning array of flora, in particular 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, which are the result of intergeneric breeding between the two sub-species - evolution in action!
This morning we’ll head ashore at Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the archipelago, situated on Santa Cruz Island. It’s here that we’ll 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 - these are the birds he used as a basis for his theory of evolution.
Next, try out using a trapiche – a sugar cane grinder used to extract the juice which is then either drunk straight away or fermented into liquor. To get to the mill you can hop on our bus, or go by bicycle if you’re feeling more active.
After experiencing the Opuntia Cactus Forest we’ll enjoy lunch in the highlands. It’s an entirely different ecosystem from the coastal plains, with moist green foliage and a cooler climate. It’s also the place where the most giant tortoises roam. You’ll have the option of seeing these giants in their natural habitat. They are easy to spot, lumbering around, munching on grass and wallowing in pools.
When lunch is over, instead of spotting tortoises you could choose from several different activities, that could include mountain biking or kayaking in Tortuga Bay. You could also hike the 1.3 miles to this beautiful bay, and stop at Playa Brava, a beautiful snow-white beach that’s a seasonal 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, snorkelling or kayaking. Or you could simply enjoy the view from the shade of a mangrove!
Due to conservation measures, numbers are limited in Tortuga Bay, so be sure to coordinate with the Expedition Team.
Said to be one of the oldest islands at four million years, Española is also the most southerly in the archipelago. A magnet for birders, almost the entire world population of Waved Albatrosses 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.
Also keep your eyes peeled for the Española lava lizard, which has a strikingly red hue, as well as the highly coloured marine iguanas which are a particular endemic subspecies only found here.
Speaking of wildlife, there was good news 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. Because of his remarkable efforts he now lives in retirement on Española with his extended family and is expected to live to around 150.
You’ll get to witness the famous El Soplador - meaning ‘the blower’ - blowhole blast water 75ft into the air here. The effect is caused by waves crashing into a lava fissure at high tide and blowing the water out through a crevice. Afterwards, we’ll head back on board for another lovely and relaxed lunch.
In the afternoon, the postcard-pretty coral beach of Gardner Bay and the nearby Osborn Islet provide beautiful settings for observing sea lions, Mockingbirds, and finches as you take your time to simply relax or go for a dip in the water for some excellent snorkelling. Kayaking activities are available here too.
Eden Islet, off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, is a sliver of volcanic cone poking up through the sea. There’s an abundance of wildlife here, and in the clear, shallow waters we’ll hope to spot Galápagos green turtles, rays and some friendly reef sharks.
We’ll bring the snorkelling gear, so remember your swimsuit if you want to do some reef exploration. If weather permits, you can also take a trip aboard the glass-bottomed boat or paddle along the coast of Eden on a kayak. Look out for the Frigatebirds on shore with their characteristic rubbery red throats.
Later, after a well-deserved spot of lunch aboard the ship, we’ll head over 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-grey 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, happy to feast on the sea life in the rich waters here. When a young Darwin first laid eyes upon marine iguanas, he described them as “clumsy lizards” and “hideous-looking”, but we beg to differ, and we’re sure you will too!
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. We’ll also say farewell to our wonderful crew and Expedition Team as we will disembark at Baltra Island.
A transfer will take you to the airport, where your waiting flight will bring you to Guayaquil. Upon arrival in Guayaquil, a representative will assist with the international flight connection back to Amsterdam.
As you sit and reminisce about your recent adventure, we hope you are left with some amazing memories, newfound. friends and the urge to explore more in the future. In fact, we hope that we’ll be welcoming you aboard again before too long.
Flight arrival in Germany
As you reminisce about your adventures in South America, you’ll be left with that elated feeling of having been to one of the most culturally relevant and beautiful places on earth. Your sense of adventure awakened, you’ll undoubtedly be planning your next journey to one of the far-flung corners of the world. You’re one of us now, see you on board soon!
Take a closer look at our ships typically used on this expedition
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