MS Santa Cruz II
With carbon-neutral operations, MS Santa Cruz II is environmentally-sustainable and socially conscious with the local community.
South America Expedition Cruise - Machu Picchu & Galápagos
The first part of the adventure takes place on land as we visit Lima and the capital of the Inca empire at Cusco, Peru, before travelling up the Sacred Valley to the enigmatic lost city at Machu Picchu. In Ecuador you’ll get to explore Quito and visit Cotopaxi Volcano before we fly out to the next stage of our adventure.
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
On arrival at Jorge Chávez International Airport, you´ll be transferred to your hotel in the upmarket Miraflores district of Lima to freshen up and get your bearings.
Close to the hotel, you’ll find the oceanfront boardwalk with its many restaurants, cafes and shops if you need to buy anything ahead of your expedition cruise.
Lima is considered the food capital of Latin America, so be sure to try local dishes like ceviche, which is raw fish marinated in lime juice with onion and chilli.
While here, Lima´s historical centre is also worth a visit. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is packed with elegant Spanish colonial architecture from monasteries to mansions.
In the morning, you’ll take a flight to Cusco, the so-called ‘navel of the world’. A local guide will take you to check in at your hotel, before inviting you on a guided tour of this enigmatic city.
You’ll see impressive Inca structures contrasted with ornate buildings from Spanish colonial times. Visit the 15th century ceremonial compound of Sacsayhuaman, or admire the architecture of the Spanish Santo Domingo church, a convent built on the ruins of Koricancha, the Inca Sun Temple. After your tour of the highlights of this cultural and architectural gem, we’ll return to the hotel for dinner.
An early morning transfer will take you to Ollantaytambo to catch a train along the narrow-gauge line to Machu Picchu, passing through stunning highland scenery.
After around two hours, you’ll stop at Aguas Calientes and take the short bus ride to Machu Picchu - the Lost City of the Incas.
You’ll enjoy a guided tour of this once-hidden city, marveling at the giant walls, terraces and ramps that are carved into the mountain. You’ll love the peaceful atmosphere of Machu Picchu as you gaze at the lowland jungle from this city in the clouds.
After lunch, we’ll return to Cusco where you’ll enjoy your final night at the hotel.
The day begins with breakfast at your hotel. We’ll then drive to Cusco Airport for the morning flight via Lima to Ecuador. You´ll arrive in Quito in the afternoon.
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, 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.
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.
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 blowhole El Soplador - meaning ‘the blower’ - blast water 75 ft 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. 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.
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 to Germany - 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
Learn more about what you can experience when going with us
Expedition Cruise to the Galápagos Islands
15 departures between Jun 2022 and Dec 2022 - 10 days
MS Santa Cruz II
From Machu Picchu to the Galápagos Islands
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MS Santa Cruz II