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 ecological discovery as we set out from historical Quito to experience the natural wonders of the Galápagos Islands.
Begin your adventure with two nights at a hotel in Quito, one of South America’s most charming capitals. This World Heritage city of graceful Spanish-era architecture is packed with cosy restaurants and small artisanal shops. From here we’ll journey to an active volcano and go on a nature walk in stunning surroundings, stopping to pay a visit to a vibrant traditional open-air market.
The Galápagos Islands are famed for their association with the evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin. Our comprehensive itinerary calls at the centrally-located Santa Cruz Island, the volcanic island of Fernandina, Isabela and Floreana - two of the four islands visited by Darwin - and balmy Baltra, before continuing to Santiago, the adjacent islands of Rábida and Bartolomé, and isolated Genovesa. The landings take in a wide variety of ecosystems and picturesque landscapes, and provide great opportunities for seeing wildlife such as sea lions, turtles, marine iguanas, giant tortoises, flamingos and iconic Darwin’s Finches.
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 on the equator in the lush Andean foothills. At 9,350 ft, Quito is the second-highest capital city in the world, and its main draw is the exquisite Old Town which was founded on an ancient Inca settlement. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s packed with well-preserved colonial architecture, including colourful plazas, magnificent churches and handsome monuments.
If you have enough time in the evening, make sure to visit the Calle La Ronda, an ancient pedestrianised street with links to the poets and artists who’ve lived here. It’s lined with shops and cafes, and there are many handicrafts available to buy.
After breakfast, you’ll go on a full-day tour of the city. The theme is ‘living like a local’, and you’ll visit shops, browse markets, meet local herbal healers, learn skills from artisans, and enjoy some amazing Ecuadorian cuisine as we lunch at the sophisticated Casa Gangotena Hotel.
We’ll roam the beautiful Old Town, seeing cobbled streets and churches, stopping to meet artisans, shopkeepers, hat makers and sweet confectioners, and 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 before a visit to El Panecillo, a 600 ft volcanic hill offering panoramic views over Quito.
Today you’ll visit Cotopaxi National Park, home to one of South America's most active volcanoes. But first, you’ll stop at the photogenic Sangolquí open-air market, where you can browse colourful stalls with unique handicrafts, and sample different local specialities.
Afterwards, we’ll walk to Limpiopungo Lagoon, tucked in a high valley within the Cotopaxi National Park at 12,800 ft above sea level. Spot herds of llamas on the slopes and keep your eyes open for birds such as the Andean Gull, several species of hummingbird and – with luck – the majestic Andean Condor. You’ll enjoy a tasty lunch prepared by some of the region’s best chefs before returning to your hotel in the late afternoon.
After breakfast, a short flight will take you to Baltra Island in the spectacular Galápagos archipelago. A transfer brings you straight to the port where your comfortable expedition ship MS Santa Cruz II awaits.
In the afternoon we’ll begin our exploration of the Galápagos Islands following the north shore of Santa Cruz towards the fascinating landscapes of Cerro Dragón - or Dragon Hill - where we’ll land. The first part of the walk here passes by a brackish water lagoon that’s frequented by shorebirds and American Flamingos. Further inland, the trail offers a beautiful view of the bay and the western islands of the archipelago, as well as a chance to get a first look at some land iguanas.
You’ll start your day at Punta Vicente Roca, on the north-western tip of Isabela Island. After breakfast, we’ll explore the coast by dinghy, learning about the dramatic geology of the area from our naturalist guides.
This site is a nesting place for several bird species, so look out for flightless cormorants, Galápagos penguins, and boobies. Weather permitting, you’ll get to snorkel alongside the cliffs, where you might find green sea turtles, oceanic sun fish, and even fur seals.
In the afternoon, we’ll explore Fernandina, an island with a unique environment and a high density of marine iguanas. Scan the coast for sea lions, Sally lightfoot crabs, hawks and penguins.
Today, you’ll explore Santa Cruz Island. In the morning, we’ll disembark at Puerto Ayora to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station.
The Station consists of a giant tortoise breeding centre and an impressive forest of prickly-pear cacti that’s home to many land birds. It also serves as the headquarters for scientific investigation, conservation and the National Park administration. After the visit, we’ll head up to the cooler highlands of Santa Cruz Island for lunch.
You’ll have several options to choose from in the afternoon, which you can decide on beforehand with your Expedition Leader. At the end of the afternoon’s activities, you’ll return to Puerto Ayora and re-join MS Santa Cruz II.
After breakfast, you’ll enjoy a dinghy ride among the channels on Floreana’s north shore, before taking in the incredible views of the island from Baroness Cove. Later on, we’ll land at Post Office Bay to visit the historic barrel that has served as a post office in the archipelago for over two centuries.
After lunch, you’ll explore the underwater wonders around Champion Islet in a dinghy or aboard a glass-bottom boat. Here, you can snorkel in one of the best spots in the archipelago.
From there, it’s onwards to Cormorant Point, where we’ll take a walk from an olivine-crystal beach to a brackish lagoon, where you can see American Flamingos, Pintail Ducks, and other birds.
Relax on board while we anchor off Baltra Island. After four days of exploring the unique nature and environments of Galápagos, it is the moment to pause for a while and recharge your batteries for the days ahead. Make us of the many onboard facilities, flick through the books on the library or exercise in the gym - it’s up to you.
In the afternoon, we’ll land at Las Bachas beach located on Santa Cruz Island. This glorious white beach with turquoise waters is a great place to spot iconic Galápagos wildlife like flamingos and sea turtles. Enjoy some swimming or snorkelling before heading back to the ship for an expedition briefing about the following day and dinner.
Today you’ll explore Santiago Island’s pristine beaches and picturesque landscapes. Take in the impressive cliffs of Buccaneer Cove on the northwest coast, home to a large number of marine birds and sea lions. Immerse yourself in the scenery through a range of water activities and marvel at fantastic rock formations such as ‘Elephant Rock’ and ‘The Bishop.’
In the afternoon, we’ll head to Puerto Egas, one of the best visitor sites on the island. You’ll have the opportunity to see a colony of fur-sea lions and exotic birdlife on an excursion. Or you could just swim or snorkel along the rocky shorelines, typically, in the company of marine turtles.
Your day starts on tiny Rábida Island, located off the southern shore of Santiago. You can go for a thrilling dinghy ride along the coast or join an excursion exploring the island’s mesmerising, red-coloured beach. Soak up the sights and sounds made by a colony of sea lions, and spot marine iguanas, mockingbirds, Yellow Warblers and several species of Darwin’s Finches.
In the afternoon, we’ll sail to the golden sands of Bartolomé Island, dominated by the imposing Pinnacle Rock. You can swim or snorkel off the beach here or discover colourful marine life from our glass-bottom boat, and spot Galápagos Penguins on the shore. Hike up to the summit of the island for fantastic views.
Today you’ll explore Genovesa Island. The morning starts with a steep but short climb – only 90 ft – up a flight of steps to reach a flat and rocky plateau. Once there, you can walk along comfortably and check out large colonies of Nazca Boobies, Red-footed Boobies, Great Frigatebirds and Storm Petrels. Afterwards or instead, hop into a kayak for some aquatic adventuring!
In the afternoon, we’ll land at the beautiful beach that fringes Darwin Bay for a swim. Following this refreshing dip, take a stroll and observe hundreds of island birds, or alternatively just take it easy on the beach, swimming, snorkelling or kayaking.
We start our last morning on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island. After breakfast, your luggage will be taken to the airport, while you visit the Tortoise Reserve. A dry landing at a passenger’s wharf and a bus ride to the loftier region of the island will provide the last highlight of the cruise: giant tortoises in the wild.
The windward slopes of the island are home to two species of giant tortoise. These lush highlands include dense forests of Galápagos daisies, orchids and bromeliads, and several endemic land birds. After this visit we’ll transfer directly to Baltra Airport for your flight to Guayaquil and home - or you’ll continue to Quito for another adventure.
Explore more of Ecuador with one of our optional Post-Programmes. Join us as we travel to Napo River, in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Fly to Coca and spend three nights in a lodge surrounded by the beautiful rainforest and observe and learn about the flora and fauna on selected activities.
Or instead, travel from Quito to the Mashpi Reserve, a unique habitat and ecosystem. Here you’ll enjoy a 3-night stay in luxurious Cloudforest Lodge and discover this breathtaking area (also available as a Pre-Programme).
Both post-programmes have two nights in Quito included.
Flight arrival in Germany.
Back home again, but you’ll have some amazing memories of your South American adventure to look back on. We hope you’ll join us again soon for another exciting expedition cruise, wherever in the world that might be.
Take a closer look at our ships typically used on this expedition
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