In the autumn of 1835, the HMS Beagle reached the Galápagos archipelago, with a certain naturalist on board. While it would be decades before Charles Darwin formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection, it was there, over two months in the Galápagos, that many of those scientific insights took root in his mind.
With the help of expert wildlife biologists and award-winning wildlife photographers, you'll enjoy an island expedition like no other. On this immersive and action-packed seven-day adventure on these storied and breathtaking islands, you'll see, as Darwin once did, that each island has its own unique wildlife community. Get a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into Darwin's world as you explore three of the most stunning islands in the archipelago: Santa Cruz, Isabela, and North Seymour.
This isn’t your typical Galápagos tour. On this trip, you'll get up close with the critters of the “Enchanted Islands” both above and below the waves, have a chance to observe some of the world's rarest species as you hike the islands' volcanic crags, get a living lesson on ecology and conservation in one of the planet’s most historically important habitats, and enjoy one-on-one guidance on capturing the best the Galápagos has to offer from behind your camera’s viewfinder. It’s one part vacation, two parts wildlife photography workshop, and three parts awesome.
This trip is limited to a small group of 14 explorers.
Note: If you're interested, we also offer an Amazon photo expedition from October 13–19, 2019. Click here for more information: Photography in the Field: Ecuadorian Amazon.
- Snorkeling and hiking: Snorkel among hundreds of types of tropical fish, rays, and even sea turtles, and hike along the unique lava formations of Isabela island in search of iguanas.
- Evening photography workshops: Learn from your guides as they share their creative approaches to wildlife photography, editing, and storytelling.
- Luxurious lodges: Enjoy the accommodations at two of the islands’ most comfortable hotels, including delicious food, panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, and swimming pools.
- Giant tortoises, iguanas, flamingos, penguins, and much more: See some of evolution's rarest creations up close—many of which exist nowhere else in the world.
NOTE ON PHOTOGRAPHY
This trip is designed for those with a serious interest in wildlife photography, no matter your level of experience. Those who are not interested in photography will have an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience as well, but please note that our pace and our itinerary will be dictated by photographic opportunities.
We encourage you to use whatever gear you are most comfortable with, even if that’s just your smartphone camera! However, to get the most out of this workshop, we recommend a DSLR or mirrorless camera with at least one telephoto lens (such as 70-200mm, 100-400mm, or 75-300mm). You may bring a small tripod or monopod as well. For snorkeling, you might find an underwater housing or a waterproof point-and-shoot camera handy, too. Your guides will have a variety of lenses you may take for a spin as well, all suitable for Canon mounts. Don’t forget extra batteries, chargers, memory cards, and lens wipes.
If you purchase, rent, or borrow new camera gear just for this trip, we encourage you to spend time using it before leaving for Ecuador, so you can become familiar with its basic operation. You don't want to miss precious and spectacular moments busy messing with your camera settings!
YOUR EXPERT TOUR ORGANIZERS & GUIDES
Dr. Jason G. Goldman is a science journalist and wildlife reporter who covers animal behavior, wildlife biology, conservation, and ecology around the world. He’s collared foxes on California’s Channel Islands, been sneezed on by iguanas in the Galápagos, tracked lions in South Africa, rode a yak across Tajikistan's Pamir Mountains, and searched for rare lizards in the cloud forests of Ecuador. He's written for Scientific American, National Geographic, The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, and elsewhere. He also cofounded SciCommCamp, a science communication retreat and workshop series, and contributes to Scientific American’s “60 Second Science” podcast.
Phil Torres has been bitten by an anaconda, tackled a tiger shark, and gotten lost in a forest full of quicksand … all in the name of science. As a researcher and science communicator, he spent two years living in the Amazon and has worked in Mongolia, Venezuela, Sweden, the Bahamas, the Arctic, and the bottom of the ocean. He is the creator and host of The Jungle Diaries and has hosted more than 70 episodes of TechKnow on Al Jazeera. He also hosts Ready, Set, Pet on The CW network. Phil has made several significant discoveries as a field biologist in South America including the decoy spider, a thieving butterfly, and silkhenge; this research and wildlife photography has been featured by National Geographic, Wired, and the BBC.
Lucas Bustamante is a biologist and an award-winning wildlife conservation photojournalist from Ecuador. He is the photographic director of Tropical Herping, an institution he co-founded in 2009 to preserve tropical reptiles and amphibians through tourism, photography, education, and research. He also co-founded two different NGOs focused on the conservation of threatened tropical ecosystems and on youth education: Save The Chocó and Kids Conservation Photography Workshops. His photographic work has been published in National Geographic, BBC Wildlife Magazine, BioGraphic, Ranger Rick, and many other magazines, books, photo exhibitions and articles. His imagery is represented by Nature Picture Library. Lucas is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). He’s been bitten by a venomous snake (once) and been charged at by elephants (twice).
A $500 nonrefundable deposit is required to secure your spot, as we have a very limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill up extremely quickly. The trip will cost $5,250—the $500 deposit plus the $4,750 final payment—and will cover all fixed costs, including all accommodations, meals, and activities listed in the itinerary below.
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, or payment.
Quito: Arrival & Welcome
- Today, fly into Quito through the Andes Mountains. Make sure to look out the window as you approach to get a glimpse of the dramatic peaks! At around 10,000 feet above sea level, Quito is the highest capital city on earth, and the closest to the equator—as well as home to the "Middle of the World."
- Upon arrival at the airport, take a quick shuttle to the Wyndham Quito Airport hotel to check in and rest up before an intense week of learning and exploration.
- We'll gather in the hotel restaurant for a brief welcome and our first dinner together. Then, head to bed for a full night's rest before tomorrow morning's domestic flight.
Baltra Island & Puerto Ayora
- After a quick breakfast, we'll transfer to the airport terminal for our two-and-a-half-hour flight to Baltra Island, with a brief layover in Guayaquil.
- Upon arrival in the islands, we'll jump right into action! Make sure your camera batteries are charged up because as soon as we cross the Itabaca Channel, which separates Baltra from Santa Cruz Islands, we’ll head into the highlands for lunch and a giant tortoise viewing expedition on a private wildlife reserve. The only places in the world you can find giant tortoises today are in the Galápagos and on the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean. In fact, these reptiles are the namesake of the islands themselves; early explorers referred to the creatures by the old Spanish word galapago, meaning "saddle," due to the shape of their shells. We'll learn much more about these fascinating animals during our visit.
- Next, we'll head to Hotel Solymar, overlooking Pelican Bay. Just a 10-minute walk from the famous Charles Darwin Research Station, the hotel will give us a comfortable base in the town of Puerto Ayora for our first few nights in this island paradise.
- After settling in, we’ll stroll on over to the Puerto Ayora fish market. Situated on the equator, the Galapagos lies at the confluence of the Cromwell and Humboldt currents, which means the seafood is not only delicious, but also biologically diverse. Abiding by strict regulations on when, where, and how to catch fish, artisanal fishermen leave every day to catch yellowfin tuna, groupers, scorpion fish, red snapper, lobsters, and more. Don’t take your fingers off your camera’s trigger, though—if you’re patient, you’ll probably catch a photo of a pelican or a sea lion trying to steal a fish, and sometimes succeeding!
- After dinner, Lucas will share his approach to conservation photography and explain how he combines scientific research, photography, and ecotourism to conserve Ecuador’s unique biodiversity.
Magnificent Wildlife, Above & Below
- This morning after breakfast at our lodge, we'll board a motorized yacht for a day trip around the archipelago. Our destination for the day is Seymour Norte (North Seymour Island)—though it's hardly an island at all. Seymour Norte is a tiny speck of land, barely three-quarters of a square mile, with its highest point rising just 92 feet above sea level. It also happens to be home to some of the world's largest populations of blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls.
- Also common on the island are magnificent frigatebirds, whose scarlet throat sacks can look like bright red balloons when fully puffed. The frigatebirds lack waterproofing oil glands, so they can’t dive into the water to catch fish. Instead, they evolved a life of piracy! They dive-bomb the boobies, forcing them to drop their prey. The acrobatic frigate then snatches up the food before it even hits the water! If we’re lucky, we’ll get to witness this incredible display.
- We’ll also keep our eyes open for marine iguanas, sea lions, and a growing population of land iguanas, originally translocated to North Seymour from neighboring Baltra Island in the 1930s by the U.S. military.
- In the afternoon, we'll have the chance to snorkel among hundreds of colorful tropical fish, as well as possible rays, sharks, and green sea turtles.
- After our full day outside surrounded by island wildlife, we'll return to Santa Cruz to rest up and cool off from a full day in the sun.
- After dinner, Phil will share what it’s like to be a tropical biologist and how he approaches his photography from a scientific perspective.
Snorkeling Las Tintoreras
- After breakfast, we'll head to the dock to transfer to Isabela Island, a roughly two-hour journey by speedboat. Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago, spanning some 100 kilometers from north to south. Approximately one million years old, the island was formed by the merging of six shield volcanoes. Five of these six volcanoes remain active, making this one of the most volcanically active islands on the planet.
- Upon arrival, we'll check in to our Isabela hotel, Iguana Crossing, and enjoy lunch in the town of Puerto Villamil.
- Afterwards, we’re off to Las Tintoreras, a chain of small islets south of Puerto Villamil, to snorkel with penguins, sharks, sea lions, turtles, and marine iguanas. If you have an underwater housing for your DSLR camera, or perhaps a waterproof GoPro or point-and-shoot, now’s the time! Or leave the camera back at the hotel and just enjoy an afternoon in the water.
- After returning to the hotel, we’ll enjoy another tropical sunset and a delicious dinner.
- Tonight is your chance to get an insight into the photo editing process. Watch how Lucas takes a photo from his camera and tweaks it into perfection. Bring your own laptop, if you have it, for some one-on-one pointers as well.
Giant Tortoises & Lava Tunnels
- After a hearty breakfast, we’ll hike approximately three miles to Muro de Las Lagrimas, or the Wall of Tears. Constructed by hundreds of prisoners held in a penal colony on the island starting in 1945, the wall had no real purpose other than to keep prisoners busy in the hot sun. The prison was abandoned after a revolt in 1959, but the wall remains a memorial to the thousands of deaths that occurred during its construction.
- The main purpose of our walk to and from the wall is to find and photograph the wild giant tortoises of Isabela, and the dozens of other unique animals we’ll find in the array of mangroves, beaches, and overlooks along the way.
- After returning to town and enjoying a relaxing lunch, we’re off to explore some of the most stunning lava tunnels you’ve ever seen!
- We’ll board a boat for a short transfer to our destination. Once there, you’ll have a chance to snorkel alongside sharks and sea turtles. Or, stay dry and find the baby iguanas and boobies that like to hang out around the iconic “Palo Santo” and carob trees for a photo shoot. (Or do both!) After a long day, we’ll return to the hotel to relax, enjoy dinner, and watch the stars come alive in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
- Following dinner, Jason will lead a discussion about what conservation and ecotourism really look like in a place as delicate and precious as this one, and how you can leverage your photography to help inspire conservation behaviors back at home.
Flamingo Lagoon & Las Grietas
- Following our last breakfast on Isabela Island, it’s off to the flamingo lagoon! These charismatic birds can be found on several of the islands, but the best chance to photograph them is right here on Isabela Island, as this lagoon is the main breeding site for the entire archipelago.
- Though many refer to this species as the “Caribbean flamingo,” their presence in the Galapagos makes that name obviously problematic. The proper common name for these adorably awkward birds is the “American flamingo.” The individuals in the Galapagos are considered the most brightly colored flamingos in the world, and it’s all thanks to the pigment molecules in the tiny crustaceans that they eat.
- Once everyone has gotten all the shots they want, we’ll stroll over to Playa del Amor. This is a great spot to photograph marine iguanas and perhaps some more sea lions—or just enjoy the sand and sun. This is a vacation, after all.
- After lunch, we'll take the speedboat back to Santa Cruz, and check into Hotel Solymar once again.
- If there’s time, we’ll take a walk through Las Grietas. The trail wanders through a forest of giant Opuntia cacti, also known as prickly pears. Here on the Galapagos, these plants evolved to grow taller than they do elsewhere, so they can remain safe from the jaws of hungry land iguanas and tortoises. This area is also a good place to look for shorebirds and finches, and don’t forget to find and photograph some lava lizards. They may be outshined by the larger iguanas, but these reptiles are plenty fascinating all on their own.
- Las Grietas means "the crevasses," named for a series of three narrow brackish pools situated between tall lava cliffs. You can swim the entire length of the canyon, though it will require some scrambling over rocks from time to time. If you’d rather stay dry, this is still a stunning, gorgeous short hike not to be missed.
- You may also like to stroll through the town of Puerto Ayora as this is your last chance to pick up souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home. (Ask Jason and Phil where to find the best—and only—artisanal chocolatier on the Galapagos, and where to pick up some local, sustainable coffee beans!)
- After dinner, the conversation with your new best friends will likely continue in the hotel bar as we squeeze the most out of our last night in paradise.
Farewell & Departure
- We’ll begin the day with breakfast in the hotel. Then we'll re-cross the Itabaca Channel to Baltra Island and board our flight back to Quito, where participants can catch return flights home or, perhaps, stay and explore on your own for a few extra days.
- Until the next adventure!
YOUR ATLAS OBSCURA EXPEDITION TO THE GALÁPAGOS INCLUDES
- All meals and accommodation during your stay, not including alcoholic beverages.
- Internal flights between Quito and Baltra Island.
- Inter-island transfers.
- Two trip leaders who are experts in the field of biology, conservation, and science journalism, as well as a local guide who is an award-winning wildlife photographer.
- Admission to all proposed areas and activities.
- A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, logistical and contact information, recommended reading list, and packing list.
- A curious group of fellow Atlas Obscura explorers, excited to discover all that the islands have to offer!
TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR
- Transportation and flights to and from Quito.
- Airport transfers.
- Individual travel insurance (strongly recommended).
- Baggage charges and personal expenses.
- Additional meals, snacks, and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
- Additional tips for trip leaders, guides, hotel staff, and boat crews, as appropriate.
We recommend you have a medium fitness level to fully participate in this trip. You should be comfortable participating in water activities, which include swimming and snorkeling, as well as hiking several miles at a time, as these are highlights of the trip and offer some of the best ways to observe the local wildlife. Please contact us directly if you have further questions about health and fitness level for this trip.
- A single accommodation supplement for your Quito hotel night is available for $70, but otherwise you should be prepared to share a room.
- Accommodations in Magic Galapagos are all double occupancy, and include luxury safari-style tents with en-suite bathrooms (think: glamping) as well as four elevated tree houses which share a bathroom building. Showers have hot water, and there is (limited) wi-fi in the main lodge area.
- Accommodations at Floreana Lava Lodge are all double or triple occupancy, and each room includes en-suite bathrooms and hot water. The lodge is operated by Claudio Cruz, a descendant of one of the island's very first inhabitants. Very, very limited wi-fi.
You will be charged a $500 deposit to hold your place. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The final payment of $4,750 will be due by July 22, 2019. All reservations will be final after these dates, and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the trip's Terms & Conditions. For those wishing to have a single room and/or extra nights at the Quito hotel, optional supplementary costs will be included with the final payment.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
This trip is expensive, why?
The cost for this trip includes ground and water transportation, domestic air travel to and from Baltra Island in the Galapagos, food, lodging, park entrance fees, local guides, and all activities for a tight-knit group of 14 explorers. We chose the accommodations based upon several factors including sustainability; sustainable and fair ecotourism providers can cost a bit more. By traveling with us, you will also get the rare chance to learn from and nerd out with Phil Torres and Jason G. Goldman, both of whom are wildlife biologists, skilled photographers, and seasoned science journalists who have traveled the globe in search of gripping stories about the natural world.
Will I be sharing a room?
Space at these remote lodges is limited, which means you will be sharing a room with one or two fellow travelers. For this trip, we cannot offer a single accommodation option aside from your night at the hotel in Quito.
Do I need a travel visa?
All you need to enter and depart Ecuador is a valid passport with evidence of return or onward travel. With a U.S. passport, you will automatically receive a free 90-day tourist visa. For more information, see the State Department’s Ecuador travel page.
What is ecotourism?
The International Ecotourism Society has formally defined ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” In other words, it is an effort to combine sustainable travel with ecosystem-level conservation and the explicit recognition of and respect for the rights of indigenous people. That’s why ecotourism is more than just “nature tourism”; it has the explicit goal of benefiting local communities both environmentally and economically. By providing financial incentives through tourism, these communities can become empowered to fight against poverty, and in achieving a more sustainable sort of economic development, can better resist other more exploitative industries like mining, agriculture, ranching, or logging. Ecotourism has also motivated the traditional tourism industry in general to move towards more “green” or sustainable practices.
Please email us at trips@or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.