Ultimate Galapagos: Central Islands (Grand Daphne)

When it comes to encountering wildlife up close and personal, a voyage to the Galapagos Islands really is an experience like no other. Head underwater off Isla Santa Cruz, Bartolome or Isla Isabela and you'll be snorkelling with sea lions, white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and penguins. Look to the skies in North Seymour or Cerro Dragon and you'll spot frigatebirds, boobies, pelicans and more soaring above. Head out for a wander across the volcanic landscapes of Punta Espinosa and you'll see land iguanas and flightless cormorants. This 10-day sailing expedition through the central islands of the Galapagos is an adventure waiting to happen.

10 days, from


per person


16 people max


Trip code: GMDD
Style: Comfort
Print itinerary


Countries Visited:  Ecuador
Accommodation: Hotel (2 nights), Overnight boat (7 nights)
Transportation: Boat , Plane , Bus , Zodiac (Panga)
Meals: 7 dinners, 9 breakfasts
Group size: Minimum 1, Max 16

  • Experience the benefits of small group travel aboard your vessel, M/Y Le Grande Daphne, sailing through the natural beauty of the Galapagos, day and night.

  • Explore the remote west coast of Isabela on a small panga boat, and venture to the far-west Fernandina, home of the highest density of marine iguanas.

  • The old pirate haunt of Buccaneer Cove has something for everyone – soaring birds overhead, striking cliff faces framing the bay, and the tales of Darwin remaining to this day.

  • Encounter the unique Galapagos wildlife in their natural habitat, from giant blue-footed and masked boobies, pelicans and frigate birds to iguanas, sea lions and turtles.

  • Las Tintoreras is like one big wildlife party. Snorkel among the iguanas and turtles and spot sea lions, penguins and frigate birds at every turn.


Show Full Itinerary

Day 1: Quito

Bienvenidos! Welcome to Ecuador. This country might be smaller than its heavyweight South American neighbours, but it stakes a legitimate claim as the continent's most complete package, blessed with interesting cities, perfect beaches and the remarkable Galapagos Islands. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 5 pm or 6 pm tonight. You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive at the hotel by early evening, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).

If you arrive early, get out and explore Quito (2,850 m), one of South America’s most attractive cities. Stroll around the Old Town, and be sure to visit the majestic Monastery of San Francisco if you have time. Alternatively, check out Cotopaxi volcano, the Cloud Forest, the local hot springs or the Equatorial Monument.

Day 2: Isla Santa Cruz

Transfer to Quito Airport for your early morning flight to the Galapagos Islands. Keep in mind that you may leave the hotel as early as 4:30 am (a boxed breakfast will be provided).

Your flight to the Galapagos Islands will make a stop in Guayaquil to refuel and pick up other passenger (total flight time is around 3.5 hours).

On arrival in the Galapagos, you’ll be met in the arrivals hall by your naturalist guide and transferred to your boat, M/Y Le Grande Daphne, which will be moored close to Isla Baltra. Once on board, you’ll meet the crew, be assigned a cabin and enjoy a delicious lunch with your fellow travellers. Try on the snorkelling gear to ensure it fits, before your first snorkelling session. Wetsuits can also be hired at an additional cost.

Sail from Baltra to Las Bachas, on the north shore of Isla Santa Cruz, which is a nesting site for the Pacific green turtle. You may also see some marine iguanas. The sand here, made of decomposed coral, is particularly white and soft, and the nearby rocks make for an excellent snorkelling spot, where you might see some of the many Sally Lightfoot crabs on the island. A saltwater lagoon just near the beach is home to flamingos, whimbrel and great blue herons.

Estimated travel time/distance:
Isla Baltra to Las Bachas: 30 minutes; 4 nautical miles

Day 3: North Seymour - Bartolome

Sail from Baltra to North Seymour, one of the most visited islands of the Galapagos. First up is a walk around the island to spot some blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls. Boobies and frigates have an interesting relationship, sharing the same nesting area on North Seymour. Blue-footed boobies nest on the ground while the frigate birds nest just above them in the saltbushes. As you walk, look out for land iguanas, marine iguanas, Galapagos sea lions and the endemic incense tree. After the walk, cool off and go snorkelling and encounter a great variety of fish and perhaps some white-tipped reef sharks, rays and sea lions.

Next it’s off to Bartolome – a spectacular volcanic landscape full of spatter cones and lava flows, and home to Galapagos penguins and lava lizards. Bartolome is a relatively new island in the archipelago. Put on your walking shoes and climb up 360 wooden steps to the summit, where an amazing view of Pinnacle Rock awaits. This is one of the photographed sights in the Galapagos – an abrupt jag of rock protruding from the earth like a tooth, providing a focal point for two nearby bays.

Hike to the top of a once-active volcano and enjoy superb views across to Bahia Sullivan on nearby Isla Santiago. If you’re in luck, you might catch a glimpse of the Galapagos hawk. There’s also the chance to go snorkelling among the colourful marine life.

Estimated travel time/distance:
Baltra to North Seymour: 45 minutes; 5 nautical miles
North Seymour to Bartolome: 2.5 hours; 18 nautical miles

Day 4: Isla Santiago

Head to Puerto Egas, a black-sand beach on the west side of James Bay, northwest of Isla Santiago. It’s home to some amazing volcanic tuff formations. Take a stroll along the beach with the native marine iguanas, pelicans, finches, mockingbirds, oystercatchers, Galapagos sea lions and Galapagos fur seals. You can see the amazing tidal pools, formed from ancient lava flow, providing a home for sponges, snails, hermit crabs, barnacles and fish. You might also end up snorkelling with a Galapagos fur seal – they’re always looking for a friend!

After Puerto Egas, sail to Espumilla Beach, located on the northern coast of Santiago. Espumilla has soft sands, tranquil waters and the chance of some large waves, making it a favourite among beach lovers. Not only is this island a nesting site for marine turtles, it’s also a place to see ghost crabs, blue-footed boobies (often plunging for fish), brown pelicans and Galapagos hawks up close. It is also well known for its palo santo forest and some extraordinary lava formations.

Head to Buccaneer Cove and witness its spectacular geology of volcanic ash (tuff). Here you might find the remains of objects used by pirates in centuries past. This is where Darwin camped for nine days while making his study of the islands and their wildlife. If conditions are favourable, you can enjoy some more snorkelling.

Estimated travel time/distance:
Isla Bartolome to Puerto Egas (Isla Santiago): 4.5 hours; 35 nautical miles
Puerto Egas to Espumilla Beach (Isla Santiago): 45 minutes; 5 nautical miles
Espumilla Beach to Buccaneer Cove (Isla Santiago): 15 minutes; 2 nautical miles

Day 5: Isla Isabela - Isla Fernandina

You’ll take an overnight sail from Isla Santiago around to the western shores of Isla Isabela. Wake up near Tagus Cove, where pirates and whalers used to collect tortoises for their travels. Enjoy a short visit here (approximately 2 hours), perhaps snorkelling or checking out the graffiti on the walls (the oldest of which is from 1836). Witness flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies, a variety of waterfowl and the most northerly penguins in the world. You will walk to a lookout point for a stunning view of the north of Isabela Island and Volcan Wolf (Wolf Volcano).

This morning, you will also visit nearby Fernandina Island, the youngest of the Galapagos Islands. It’s also volcanically active and the most westerly island, making it one of the least visited. The absence of introduced mammals gives it a unique landscape, and it boasts the highest concentration of marine iguanas in the archipelago.

The northeast tip, Punta Espinosa, is a narrow ledge of lava and sand extending from the base of La Cumbre volcano. Take a walk around the beautiful peninsula, which boasts such wildlife and plant life as lava cacti, marine iguanas, barking sea lions, tiny penguins and Sally Lightfoot crabs. Keep a lookout for that marvellous Galapagos predator hunting from the treetops: the Galapagos hawk. Top-notch snorkelling opportunities await in the clear waters, and turtles and sea lions can be seen swimming around and feeding on the shore. This is also a great spot to see flightless cormorants drying their atrophied wings on the rocks.

Estimated travel time/distance:
Buccaneer Cove to Tagus Cove (Isla Isabela)/Punta Espinosa (Isla Fernandina): 9 hours; 77 nautical miles
Punta Espinosa (Isla Fernandina) to Elizabeth Bay (Isla Isabela): 4.5 hours; 37 nautical miles

Day 6: Isla Isabela

Today you will land at Isla Isabela: the archipelago's largest island. Here you will take a panga (Zodiac boat) ride along Elizabeth Bay, which is located on the west coast of Isabela and does not permit landings. Keep your binoculars and camera at the ready to photograph the second-smallest penguins in the world. You might also spot blue-footed boobies perched on the islets or diving for their next meal. Then head for the mangrove forest to see sea turtles, sea lions, penguins, lava herons, rays and plenty of colourful fish, like pompanos, dorados and mullets.

In the afternoon, head to Punta Moreno on Isabela’s south-west coast. This coastline has some of the most beautiful blue lagoons and rocky terrain in the Galapagos, with a backdrop of three active volcanoes, myriad flamingos and incredible lava formations. Landing is impossible here too, due to the delicate ecosystem. Depending on the season, you can see brown pelicans nesting on top of the mangroves, lava and candelabra cactus, plus lava lizards. You’ll pass brackish water lagoons, covered with several different plants, where pink flamingos, ducks and black neck stills rest.

Then jump aboard once again and head out for a snorkel, keeping an eye out for the elusive sea horse. An overnight sail will then take you to Puerto Villamil, on the other side of Isabela.

Estimated travel time/distance:
Elizabeth Bay to Punta Moreno (Isla Isabela): 2.5 hours; 18 nautical miles
Punta Moreno (Isla Isabela) to Puerto Villamil: 8 hours; 64 nautical miles

Day 7: Isla Isabela

This morning, visit Las Tintoreras, a small peninsula at the entrance of Isla Isabela port. Here there’s a viewing walkway from where you can look down into the narrow channel to see a colony of white-tipped reef sharks swimming and sleeping, plus the occasional sea lion among them. Blue-footed boobies, penguins, marine iguanas and crabs also make their home here.

Enjoy a nice long walk on a gravel path, heading through lava flows and spotting plenty of marine iguanas. Locally, these white sharks are called ‘tintoreras’, hence the name of this spectacular site. This is where everything comes together for one big marine and wildlife party. Without trying you will see sea lions, penguins and frigate birds.

After breakfast, take a bus to Sierra Negra Volcano where you will see the crater and explore with a moderate hike (approximately 1.5 kilometres) to a viewpoint over the area. This volcano last erupted in 2018, and so is an interesting active site. In the afternoon, you will visit the Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center to see the giant tortoise, and the wetlands of Isabela, Los Humedales. You’ll reach the wetlands via a complex trail which winds around for some 6 kilometres. Upon arrival, you’ll find an unusual spread of flora and fauna, including some flamingos (fingers crossed).

Tonight, sail to Cerro Dragon.

Estimated travel time/distance:
Puerto VIllamil (Isla Isabela) to Cerro Dragon (Isla Santa Cruz): 5 hours 45 minutes, 45 nautical miles

Day 8: Isla Santa Cruz

Wake up this morning on Santa Cruz's north coast and visit Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill.) From the dry landing, walk to a brackish lagoon that’s frequented by birds such as stilts, pintail ducks, sandpipers, sanderlings and occasionally flamingos.

Further inland, the trail offers a beautiful view of the bay and the western area of the archipelago. This area is a nesting site for land iguanas and is constantly monitored by the Charles Darwin Research Station. The arid-zone vegetation makes for some fine birdwatching. Darwin's finches, Galapagos mockingbirds, Galapagos flycatchers and yellow warblers are all regulars here. The path can be challenging, but the reward is a spectacular view of the bay.

In the afternoon you will visit Punta Carrion in north-eastern Santa Cruz. First sail to the Isla Baltra dock to refuel and then to Punta Carrion. This is a shallow and protected cove, ideal for snorkelling and swimming. Wildlife is plentiful here – keep your eyes peeled for blue-footed boobies, Galapagos herons and great blue herons. Go swimming among the rays and white-tipped reef sharks. Afterwards, sail to Puerto Ayora.

Estimated travel time/distance:
Cerro Dragon to Baltra (Isla Santa Cruz): 2.5 hours; 18 nautical miles
Isla Baltra to Punta Carrion (Isla Santa Cruz): 1 hour; 6 nautical miles
Punta Carrion to Puerto Ayora (Isla Santa Cruz): 4 hours; 30 nautical miles

Day 9: Isla Baltra - Quito

Flights to the mainland from Galapagos depart mid-morning, so it’s an early start for your last morning on the islands.

You will visit the Santa Cruz Highlands. Travel through the agricultural region and into the misty forests where you can see the unique scalesia cloud forest, dome-shaped giant tortoises in the wild, different species of Darwin finches and possibly the world-famous woodpecker and warbler finches. You might also glimpse a vermillion flycatcher.

Then it’s time to bid farewell to the archipelago and head to the airport for your mid-morning flight back to Quito for the last night of the tour. This flight takes approximately 2.5 hours with a transit in Guayaquil. Upon arrival at Quito Airport, at about 4 pm, you’ll be transferred back to your hotel for an overnight stay. A local Intrepid representative might stop by the hotel this evening to get your feedback on the trip.

Day 10: Quito

There are no activities planned for the day so we are able to depart our accommodation at any time. If you have not spent time in Quito beforehand, we recommend you stay on a few days as there are many fascinating things to do, such as the Cotopaxi volcano, the Cloud Forest, hot springs, the Equatorial Monument or perhaps city tour of the fascinating Old Town. If you want to spend more time, we'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability) and can also assist you in booking a departure transfer to the airport.

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