By special arrangement, we have chartered the lovely yacht Encantada for three special winter holiday departures in late December 2017. Includes flights and national park passes!
On this Galápagos Islands Sailing Tour, you travel aboard the charming 70’ yacht Encantada, with just 12 passengers in total. This is an ideal trip for those who want to explore the Galápagos Islands with a small group of like-minded, curious people. Each of these unique sailing itineraries is different and visits different islands. They can be joined together for those wishing to spend more time in the Galápagos and visit even more of this fabulous National Park. These special winter-vacation departures offer an excellent value during an ideal time of year to visit the Galápagos Islands.
Virtually untouched for centuries, the Galápagos Islands is home to some of the most fascinating wildlife on earth. You spend your nights on board the beautiful Encantada with a trusted captain and our professional Galápagos National Park Service guide. While many boats ply the waters of the Galápagos, few are as small or charming as the sailing boat Encantada. While her cabins are not as large as some you would find on a catamaran, she has other attractions. A friendly crew and excellent chef, along with the romance of traveling on an actual sailing yacht add to the fun. The itineraries include some of the better-known Galápagos Islands’ highlights, but in addition, you also visit hidden coves where large ships cannot take you.
On this adventure, there is plenty of opportunity to snorkel in crystal clear water as well as swim with playful sea lion pups. Every stop is unique and as you explore in the water and on land, you learn about the animals, plants, geology and other natural history from our own Galápagos Park Service guide that travels with you aboard the Encantada. There is also time to relax on deck in the warm island sun. Wake each morning to the songs of Darwin finches and end each evening to the gold and red hues of sunset over the Pacific. Meals include local and international dishes artfully prepared by our excellent on-board chef.
As you contemplate your Galápagos vacation, we invite you to sail the Galápagos with Galápagos Unbound and journey across the same waters that great explorers once sailed. Darwin himself would love this adventure.
The Western Loop: Dec 18-25 including six days in the Galapagos
December 18 – Monday: You arrive in Guayaquil, Ecuador and met outside the customs and immigration area at the airport and escorted to the luxurious Wyndham Hotel (or similar).
December 19 – Tuesday: Transfer from the hotel to the airport and fly to the Galapagos. You land on the island of Baltra where the U.S. Air Force built a runway during WWII to strengthen U.S. presence in the Pacific. Upon arrival you are met by Encantada yacht staff and drive from the island of Baltra to the Itabaca Channel where the Encantada is waiting. We board the yacht, settle in to our cabins and enjoy lunch. Then it’s a short ride to the north side of Santa Cruz Island for a wonderful hike at Dragon Hill. This is one of the longer trails in the Galapagos and offers a good variety of flora and fauna. We hike to the top of a small hill, past a brackish lagoon where there may be flamingos and pintail ducks and walk along a trail where we encounter our first land iguanas. There’s time for our first snorkeling in the clear waters of the Pacific before we return to the boat to enjoy sunset over the Galapagos. Later in the night, we begin our voyage across the sea towards Isabela Island.
December 20 – Wednesday: Isabela is the largest of the Galapagos Islands and also one of the youngest, so there is still volcanic activity. The most recent eruption was in October of 2005. We anchor in the harbor of the small town of Puerto Villamil and take a dinghy a short distance to Tintoreras Island. The island is a stark, rocky place with sharp volcanic rocks that shelter hundreds of marine iguanas. We walk along a narrow trail and peer into a small lagoon filled with white-tipped reef sharks. Further along the trail we are likely to see sea lions lounging and perhaps a Galapagos penguin or two. We return to our small transport boat, travel a short distance and then snorkel near the island. Snorkeling is always a highlight as the sea is filled with fishes, sea turtles and rambunctious sea lions who love the play. The more you dive and twist, the more they will follow suit. After this exhilarating experience, we return to our cozy yacht Encantada for lunch.
After lunch we head into the small town of Puerto Villamil, a fishing village with sand streets and a laid-back feel. Our destination is outside of town to a place called the Wall of Tears. From 1945 to 1959 there was a penal colony here and part of the forced labor program was constructing a huge wall some 65’ high. It’s an interesting part of the human saga of life on the Galapagos Islands. From here we head to a nature trail that takes us to an inland lagoon with mangroves and shallow water creating the perfect habitat for various birds including flamingos, common stilts, gallinules, pintails and whimbrels. The trail ends at one of the Galapagos National Park tortoise breeding centers where the local ranger explains the mission of the center and their success in helping increase the tortoise population on Isabela.
December 21 – Thursday: We wake up near Elizabeth Bay and Moreno Point on the west side of Isabela Island and go ashore for a hike through a lava rock landscape. The mix of mangroves and tide pools make for an area rich in life and diversity. We see a number of birds during our walk, then, those who wish to snorkel are likely to view sea turtles, white- tip sharks and flightless cormorants.
After lunch on the boat we had to nearby Elizabeth Bay that has a number if islets that we visit by dinghy. There are penguins and blue-footed boobies along with other birds and sea life.
December 22 – Friday: We arrive early at Fernandina island, the youngest and furthest west of all the Galapagos Islands. Fewer boats make it this far and it’s the least-visited of all the Galapagos Islands. For some, Fernandina is the highlight of the trip as there are literally thousands of marine iguanas, along with almost incredulous numbers of other animals. We land to walk along a lava trail on Punta Espinoza. Here we have another invigorating snorkeling experience! Wildlife sightings include the flightless cormorant, hawks, tortoises, herons of varying species, crabs, sea lions (of course) and more! Because it is so remote, this is the most pristine of all the Galapagos Islands and no species of mammals were ever introduced here.
After lunch on the boat we cruise a short distance to Tagus Cove on Isabela Island. This cove has been used as a sheltered anchor point for ships since the 1800s. We disembark for a hike to one of the most spectacular views found anywhere in the Galapagos. At the end of our hike we’re perched on a cinder cone with views down to Darwin Lake, a small saline lake within a volcanic tuff cone. Along the way we’re likely to see Galapagos hawks and flightless cormorants. We return to the water’s edge with time to snorkel and discover more of the wondrous aquatic world of the Galapagos.
We return to the Encantada to watch the sunset and with any luck, perhaps see some dolphins and whales. The water in this area is some of the coldest in the Galapagos, coming from cold Antarctica and bringing rich nutrients. These in turn feed a wide variety of wildlife including the Galapagos penguin which is more numerous in this area than anywhere else in the islands and is a big reason our chances of seeing whales near here are better than in many other parts of the islands.
December 23 – Saturday: We wake up at Santiago Island in James Bay. British buccaneers came to this bay to anchor in the 1600’s and later and found it a good source of firewood, water, tortoises and salt. Indeed our anchorage is near the old salt mine of Puerto Egas. No people live here now of course, but there are sea lions and brown pelicans among other creatures that offer welcome. We land on shore on a black sand beach to explore and walk along a shoreline where marine iguanas bask, land iguanas saunter along and Sally Lightfoot crabs scatter from us. Then we walk about an hour along a dusty trail through of scattered forest of Palo Santo trees. We ascend to the edge of a crater with wonderful views of a salt lake and mine below us. Upon our return to the water’s edge there’s time for snorkeling to see a wide variety of tropical fish and perhaps some playful sea lions.
We return to the boat for lunch, then head to Espumilla Beach, an excellent snorkeling location. Hundreds of Sally Lightfoot crabs live here, providing food for herons and other shorebirds. While snorkeling you may see eagle rays, eel and reef sharks. We continue to Buccaneer Cove, a favorite of the pirates and a place with steep cliffs and many birds. There’s another chance to put on your mask and snorkel and explore the underwater world.
December 24 – Sunday: We circumnavigate Daphne Island where Peter and Rosemary Grant have done important research relative to Darwin’s finches (we highly recommend you read the book “The Beak of the Finch) and then head to the Itabaca canal. Here we say good-bye to our yacht crew and head to the airport on Baltra to fly back to Guayaquil. On arrival in Guayaquil, transfer to the hotel and overnight. Dinner is on your own.
December 25 – Monday: Return home or continue exploring Ecuador. We are happy to arrange extensions to visit the haciendas of the highlands; a jungle lodge in the Amazon or on to Peru and Machu Picchu.
The Southeastern Loop: Dec 23-Dec 30 including six days in the Galapagos
December 23 – Saturday: You arrive in Guayaquil, Ecuador and are met at the airport and escorted to the luxurious Wyndham Hotel.
December 24 – Sunday: Transfer from the hotel to the airport and fly to the Galapagos. You land on the island of Baltra where the U.S. Air Force built a runway during WWII to strengthen the United States’ military presence in the Pacific. Upon arrival you are met by yacht staff and drive from the island of Baltra to the Itabaca canal where the Encantada is waiting. We board the yacht, settle in to our cabins and enjoy lunch. Then it’s a short cruise to the north side of Santa Cruz Island for a visit to Bachas Beach. The perfect introduction to the Galapagos, we walk along the beach and you are introduced to the wonder of the flora and fauna of the islands. There are Sally Lightfoot crabs, perhaps sea turtles, various wading birds, pelicans flying, and much more. This is also the perfect place to be introduced to the thrilling experience of snorkeling and exploring the wonders of life underwater. We return to the boat in our dinghy to enjoy sunset over the Galapagos. Then, in the night, we begin our voyage across the sea towards Plazas Island.
December 25 – Monday: Plazas Island is a small island with steep cliffs. We transfer by dingy to the shore to walk along a well-marked trail, passing cactus and a number of iguanas, both land and sea. In fact this is one place where the two have hybridized. There is a large sea lion colony here and their barks can be heard during our walk.
After our visit we return to the boat and cruise to Santa Fe Island, located roughly halfway between Santa Cruz and San Cristobal islands. There is a small and picturesque bay here where we drop anchor and then head to shore to walk. It’s a lovely island for exploring, replete with prickly pear cactus and an endemic land iguana. There are many other species to view including lava lizards, Galapagos hawks, Audubon Shearwaters, brown pelicans, Galapagos mockingbirds, yellow warblers and more. There’s time to snorkel and be amazed by swimming fish, sea turtles and more before boarding the yacht to overnight in this protected harbor and enjoy the sunset.
December 26 – Tuesday: Morning finds us at San Cristobal Island. Our first stop is Leon Dormido, also known as Kicker Rock, a monolithic formation that juts from the sea in geologic splendor. It’s one of the most notable places in the Galapagos and one where past trips have seen dozens of dolphins. It’s a fantastic place to snorkel, swimming through a passage between the rocks. Colorful sea stars dot the walls, hundreds of brilliant fish swim by and we often see rays, sharks and sea turtles. After this memorable snorkeling we cruise about 40 minutes to Isla Lobos or “sea lion island.” This is a special place to snorkel and swim with playful young sea lions who seem to get as much delight from us as we from them. As we snorkel, pelicans and boobies fly overhead.
After lunch we continue on to the port town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The second largest town in the islands, it is the provincial capital of the Galapagos and the location of one of the two main airports. Over a hundred years ago this town started out as a penal colony. Today it has a lovely waterfront where sea lions lounge. Our highlight is the excellent National Park Interpretation Center which provides an excellent overview to the Park’s natural and human history. After our visit here we walk back into town and you have time to explore a bit before returning to the boat.
December 27 – Wednesday: We wake up to another wonderful day of learning and exploration at the island of Espanola. Wildlife is truly a highlight of Espanola and the best-known star is the waved albatross. Because of their large wings they have difficulty taking off and landing, and the island's steep cliffs make for the perfect runways for these large birds. From January to March they leave the islands to feed along the mainland of Ecuador, so we may not see many on this trip. There are plenty of other animals and birds to see nevertheless including a subspecies of marine iguana that changes color during the breeding season.
Espanola's remote location helped make it a unique jewel with a large number of endemic creatures. Secluded from the other islands, wildlife on Espanola adapted to the island's environment and natural resources. The subspecies of Marine iguana from Espanola are the only ones that change color during breeding season from a reddish hue to a shade of green. The Hood Mockingbird is endemic to the island and these birds have no fear of people, sometimes landing on the shoulders or heads of visitors. As we visit the Suarez Point landing site, we see all this plus lava lizards, various finches, blue-footed and masked boobies and more. There is also a spectacular blowhole where ocean waves are forced into a narrow opening and blow into the sky.
From Suarez Point we cruise to Gardner Bay for an afternoon of more exploration. There’s a lovely beach here as well as good snorkeling. With any luck you snorkel with sea turtles, sea lions and naturally, dozens of colorful fish.
December 28 – Thursday: An overnight cruise takes us to Floreana Island and a stop at the famous Post Office Bay where 18th century whalers left messages in a wooden barrel as an unofficial mail box. This is another fantastic snorkeling location. Then we drop anchor in the small port town harbor and transfer to an open-air bus to ride into the highlands of the island where we learn about the island’s intriguing human history. From the interior there are panoramic views of the coast and landscape.
We return to the sea and cruise to Punta Cormorant where we go ashore for a wonderful walk along a sandy beach and visit a lagoon where pink flamingoes along with other shore birds wade and feed. The beaches are very special here as well. One is a green sand beach, created from olivine crystals that come from silicates made up of magnesium and iron. Another beach is known as “flour beach” with powdery white sand.
We then continue to the small islet called “Champion” which is considered one of the top snorkeling spots in all the islands. With masks and fins you explore an underwater wonder world and are likely to be snorkeling with sea turtles, many colorful reef fish, white-tipped reef sharks and possibly even Galapagos penguins.
Back on board the Encantada we enjoy the sunset and dinner. Later in the night the engines start for a cruise north to Santa Cruz Island.
December 29 – Friday: We wake in the harbor of Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz, the largest town in the Galapagos Islands. A short walk takes us to the Charles Darwin Research Station and an opportunity to learn more about conservation work in the Galapagos. This is the most important tortoise breeding center on the island from which young tortoises are reintroduced into the wild. After a relaxed morning in town we transfer across the island by bus, across the Itabaca canal by ferry, and then another 10 minutes by bus to the airport on Baltra. A two-hour flight gets us to Guayaquil.
On arrival in Guayaquil, transfer to the hotel and overnight. Dinner is on your own.
December 30 – Saturday: Return home or continue exploring Ecuador. There are many excellent extension possibilities including visits to the haciendas of highland Ecuador; jungle lodges in the Amazon or on to Peru and Machu Picchu.
December 28 – Thursday: Arrive Guayaquil, Ecuador. You are met outside the customs and immigration area at the airport and escorted to the luxurious Wyndham Hotel.
December 29 – Friday: Transfer from the hotel to the airport and fly to the Galapagos. You land on the island of Baltra where the U.S. Air Force built a runway during WWII. Upon arrival you are met by Encantada yacht staff and drive 10 minutes from the airport to the Itabaca channel where a five-minute ferry ride takes you to the island of Santa Cruz. From here you travel across the island, stopping to see some of the giant Galapagos tortoises at a nature preserve along the way. Upon arrival in the seaside town of Puerto Ayora there is time to visit the Charles Darwin Research Center. Later in the afternoon we board the yacht and settle in to our cabins. After dinner in the harbor, we pull anchor and begin our travels towards the island of Genovesa.
December 30 – Saturday: We arrive in the morning at the island of Genovesa and have a dry landing at El Barranco, or Prince Phillip’s steps where a steep, rocky path leads to the top of a high cliff. There are spectacular views from here and the opportunity to observe red-footed boobies, short-eared lava owls, Galapagos doves and Galapagos swallows. Back at the water we have our first snorkeling adventure. Then, we return to the boat and continue to Darwin Bay to find a white- sand coral beach and a half-mile trail that winds through mangrove trees filled with various birds. We should see Nazca boobies, red-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls among other birds. There are also tide pools to explore and an opportunity to snorkel in the bay and enjoy fascinating interactions with curious, playful sea lions.
December 31 – Sunday: We arrive at the island of Bartolomé, a small island formed by two tuff cones attached to Santiago Island. On this extinct volcano we find fine-particle ash hardened into shades of red, black and green. This is the home of the iconic Pinnacle Rock and we climb a trail of stairs to the summit of the volcano for panoramic views across the island and to distant islands. We return to a golden-sand beach to enjoy the sun and a perfect place for snorkeling. With luck we may see Galapagos penguins and perhaps even have a chance to snorkel with them! Then we continue to Sullivan Bay where there is a large lava field of fascinating patterns, the result of explosions of gas or water coming forth from the once-molten lava. There’s another chance to snorkel in crystal clear waters.
January 1 – Monday: Today we visit Bainbridge Rock, just off the coast of Santiago Island. A trail follows the coastline where there are tide pools and grottos filled with sea life. This is an excellent chance to see the Galapagos fur seal bathing in the sun. We then take a panga (dinghy) ride in Chinese Hat which is a place of fairly recent volcanic activity and a few intact lava tunnels. This is another place to snorkel and swim in tranquil blue waters, watching colorful fish and playing with young sea lions.
After lunch on the boat we head to the northern part of the island of Santa Cruz to visit Caleta Tortuga Negra, a small bay surrounded by mangroves and only accessible by dinghy. It’s a safe haven for marine life such as white tip reef sharks, sea turtles and various rays such as manta rays and eagle rays.
January 2 – Tuesday: Our last day on the Encantada has still more discovery. We go to the official visitor site of Seymour North where there is a large breeding colony of frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. The trail leads up among their nests while you watch your step as there are also land and marine iguanas. There’s also time to snorkel along the island’s rocky coast. It’s a special place to end our Galapagos adventure and then return to the Itabaca Channel for a short transfer back to the Baltra airport and a flight to Guayaquil.
On arrival in Guayaquil, transfer to the hotel and overnight. Dinner is on your own.
January 3 – Wednesday: Return home or continue exploring Ecuador. We are happy to arrange extensions to visit historic haciendas of the highlands; a jungle lodge in the Amazon or on to Peru and Machu Picchu.
Dates & Rates
|Dates||Adult (USD)||Child (USD)|
|Dec 18, 2017 to Dec 25, 2017 |
8 Day Itinerary
|Dec 23, 2017 to Dec 30, 2017 |
8 Day Itinerary
|Dec 28, 2017 to Jan 03, 2018 |
7 Day Itinerary
Dates in bold are confirmed departures.
PRICES INCLUDE FLIGHTS TO THE ISLANDS AND NATIONAL PARK FEES ($600+ VALUE)
8 Day Itinerary
- Departures: December 18; December 23
- Adult Price: $3645 Includes flights to the islands and Galapagos National Park Fees
7 Day Itinerary
- Departures: December 28
- Adult Price: $3395 Includes flights to the islands and Galapagos National Park Fees
Images & Videos
FAQ & More
Each day is filled with a variety of activities and off-boat time! Most of the cruising is done at night, so days are replete with exploration and learning. We go ashore at least twice each day and also have one or two opportunities for swimming and snorkeling each day. Your Galapagos Park Service-certified guide is a wealth of information and always available to answer your questions and share his or her knowledge of the natural and cultural history of the islands.
The Encantada is a “tourist class” yacht and the nicest in this category in the Galapagos. She was refurbished in 2003 and has been well-maintained since then. As a tourist-class boat her cabins are small and certainly not as large as those you’d find on a catamaran or some of the larger ships that cruise the Galapagos. There are six cabins and each has an upper and lower bunk bed along with a private bathroom. While she is a sailboat she generally motors so as to cover the distances needed. If the conditions are right the captain may put up the sails during the trip but it is not guaranteed. The crew is excellent and friendly and the food is carefully prepared and features both local and international styles of cooking.
The Galapagos Islands are located on the equator and thus the temperatures are fairly warm and constant most of the year. The warmest time is generally from January to April with average temperatures ranging from a low of 70F to around of 84F. Weather is mostly impacted by ocean currents with cooler water temperatures coming from the Humboldt current from June to September, and then warmer currents coming from the Panama current during October to May. The variance between these two times is around six to nine degrees Fahrenheit. While there is officially a “wet season” and a “dry season” (April to December) our experience is that these seasons don’t in fact make a lot of difference in terms of the impact to your trip. It is true that the seas are generally rougher during the June to August period and this may be a more important consideration for many.
Whenever your schedule allows! Because it’s on the equator, air temperatures don’t change a lot. However water temperature does fluctuate as much as ten degrees during the year. The cooler Humboldt Current comes up from Antarctica from May to September/October and the sea is cooler and tends to be rougher at this time of year. Cooler water temperatures mean you generally see more sea life because there is more food for the animals that depend on the planktons and other sea nourishment. From November to April, the cooler Panama Current flows from the north and brings warmer water. The sea tends to be calmer at this time of year. If you’re going on our land-based tour then rough water is less of a concern. If you’re doing a cruise, and you are prone to seasickness, you might want to consider coming in the November to April time frame.
For an month to month comparison of weather and wildlife check out our Galapagos Calendar.
From the U.S. and Canada there are daily flights via Houston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York and Miami, to both Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador. If you are short on time flying directly to and from Guayaquil may save you time as our Encantada trip begins in Guayaquil.
We do not arrange international air travel but we do have a great air travel specialist we refer you to if you’d like.
Yes. When you book a tour with us we add your Ecuador flights to your invoice. Flights to the Galapagos depart several times daily from both Quito and Guayaquil aboard Boeing 737’s or Airbus 320’s or similar. Our partners in Ecuador hold space on the flights so we are sure to be able to accommodate you (as long as you sign up far enough in advance).
Ecuador uses the US dollar which was adopted as the official currency in 2000. Be sure to bring cash bills in good condition because bills with markings or tears won’t be accepted. There are also ATM machines in the larger towns although weather and timing may prevent us having time to stop at these places - best to bring cash with you. It’s a good idea to alert your bank that you’ll be traveling to Ecuador so they don’t stop the transactions you do get a chance to make.
We have been running trips in Ecuador since 1992 and know the country well. We have plenty of ideas for extending your trip whether it be to the Amazon, the Cloud Forest, the highlands in the north or south, or whatever might be your special interest. We can also arrange extensions to Peru and Machu Picchu.
There are a lot of arrangements to be made for a custom trip like our Galapagos adventure. It’s very helpful with our planning if you book 4 to 12 months in advance. However, if you can’t plan that far ahead, then it’s usually not a problem to book up to about two months in advance. If you find yourself looking for last-minute space just call us and check!
There is an opportunity for snorkeling almost every day on this trip and the underwater life is a true highlight of visiting the Galapagos. Our trip offers more opportunities than most, and on some days we stop at two or three locations to snorkel.
If you’ve never been snorkeling we highly recommend you practice before the trip. It’s best to buy your own mask and snorkel (around $20-$45) so that you have a good fit and for better hygiene. Fins are less necessary but are nice to have in terms of going a little faster.
Yes you can - The Encantada has snorkel gear for most sizes including kids.
No, a wetsuit is not necessary, but most people appreciate the extra warmth. These are available to rent on all of our trips or you are welcome to bring your own.
There is no opportunity to dive from the Encantada however separate scuba diving extensions can be arranged at an extra cost. Contact us for details.