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A Galápagos Cruise with Up-close Wildlife Encounters
While the first recorded visit of a human to the Galápagos took place in 1535, it was 300 years later that its most famous visitor—Charles Darwin—truly put these islands on the map. Located some 600 miles off of the coast of South America in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the archipelago’s residents provided the basis of Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection. In the behavior of tortoises and the varying sizes and shapes of finches’ beaks, Darwin saw evidence of how these animals had adapted to the unique conditions of each island.

The Galápagos have since captured the imagination of countless travelers who will find that almost 200 years later, the islands are still much as Darwin experienced them. Since 1959, a national park has included 97.5 percent of the Galápagos and a strictly enforced management program assures that its distinctive animals are protected from human contact. (The 25,000 residents are concentrated in islandtowns.) You’ll be able to get up close, though not too close, to the seals, tortoises, birds, and other species that have never learned to fear humans during the 7-day journey from Baltra to San Cristóbal aboard Silver Galapagos. It includes stops on seven islands and countless encounters with the dazzling flora and fauna of this unique corner of the world.
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    Day 1
    Before you embark on your Galápagos adventure, you may want to take advantage of one of Silversea’s pre-cruise programs: a 5-night itinerary exploring the Andean region of Ecuador; a 4-night trip to Machu Picchu in Peru; or a few days spent getting to know Quito. Whether you are drawn to the Ecuadorean capital’s colonial heart or its contemporary dining, shopping, galleries, and museums, Silversea’s partner hotels make excellent bases for exploring the city.

    On the first day of your cruise, you’ll fly from Quito to the small island of Baltra. Even before you have gotten off the plane you may have your first wildlife sighting: iguanas are common on this dry island that is a gateway to the Galápagos. You’ll head straight from the airport to a Zodiac that will take you to Silver Galapagos.

    You’ll next sail to Isla Daphne Grande, which you will circumnavigate by ship—only scientists are permitted to set foot ashore. Still, the small size of Silver Galapagos lets you get close enough to spot Nazca and blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, red-billed tropicbirds, and other species circling around this crater island that rises 390 feet above the sea.
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    Day 2
    Genovesa Island
    This horseshoe-shaped island in the northwestern part of the archipelago is named for Christopher Columbus’s hometown of Genoa, while its bay pays tribute to Charles Darwin. Your Zodiac will take you ashore at Bahia Darwin, where you can wander the beach lined with sea lions and marine iguanas, the world’s only lizards to forage for food in the sea and found only in the Galápagos.

    In the afternoon you’ll go on a short hike from the bay to El Barranco, a plateau rife with birds. The trail offers up sightings of red-footed boobies, frigate birds, Galápagos mockingbirds, Nazca boobies, and Galápagos finches. Along the shore, on the windward side of the island, you’ll enjoy one of the island’s most dramatic spectacles—hundreds of wedge-rumped storm petrels flying above the lava field that is their home.
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    Day 3
    North Seymour Island
    You’ll land on a black volcanic beach on North Seymour Island and make the short climb to its flat plateau. Here sea lions and frigate birds are common, while prickly pear cactuses cover the arid island and land iguanas roam. It’s easy to traverse the entire island—a 1.2-mile trail runs the length of it—though not so easy to access. North Seymour is one of the archipelago’s uninhabited islands and can only be visited with an official guide from the park or on an expedition cruise like your Silversea itinerary.

    You’ll spy Sally Lightfoot crabs and get a class in volcanic geology as you continue to Bahia Sullivan. The lava fields here date from an eruption in 1897 and have an unusual rope-like appearance known as pahoehoe, a Hawaiian word to describe the rock formation. If you are starting to feel like this is a whole lot of ornithology and volcanology to take in, consider that swimming and snorkeling await at the end of your walk.
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    Day 4
    Rábida Island
    Almost due west of North Seymour, Rábida Island (sometimes called Jervis Island) is one of the smallest islands in the archipelago, but it includes more than its fair share of natural beauty, starting with its rusty red color, a result of the high concentration of iron in its volcanic soil. You’ll land on a maroon-colored beach occupied by sea lions and ghost crabs. Prickly-pear cactuses and the cactus finches that feed on their yellow flowers dominate the island’s interior.

    Later in the day you’ll visit another small island, Eden, an eroded tuff cone that’s the remnant of an ancient volcano. A diversity of marine life flourishes in its surrounding shallow waters, including Pacific green sea turtles, reef sharks, eagle rays, and marine iguanas. It’s not only naturalists who are fascinated by the local sea creatures; brown pelicans and blue-footed boobies circle overhead, looking out for small fish.
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    Day 5
    San Cristóbal Island
    Giant tortoises, one of the most famous Galápagos residents, can be found on seven islands. These huge lumbering animals live for up to 170 years and weigh more than 900 pounds—hard to believe when you see baby tortoises that fit into the palm of your hand. Your journey to see the tortoises begins with a Zodiac ride to the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galápagos, where you’ll board a bus for the Galapaguera Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve in the highlands. After your visit you’ll return to town with time to wander among its shops and take photos of the sea lions lounging along the waterfront and even resting on park benches.

    You’ll spend the rest of the day in Punta Pitt, on the eastern side of the island, where cacti, red Vesuvius, and yellow shrubs set off views of the sea—with Silver Galapagos sitting just off shore. This area is also a breeding ground for all three local varieties of boobies: red-footed, blue-footed, and Nazca.
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    Day 6
    Gardner Bay
    Next up is Isla Champion, a small islet in the southern part of the Galápagos. With its clear, calm waters, it’s an ideal place to snorkel amid Pacific green sea turtles, sea lions, and a number of fish species—including reef sharks patrolling the reef wall. The spectacle includes everything from tiny minnows to enormous tuna.

    You’ll then travel east to Española, one of the most ancient islands in the Galápagos—estimated to be around 4 million years old. Though its origins are volcanic, it has eroded into one of the flattest islands in the archipelago. At Punta Suarez, the westernmost point, you’ll come across boobies and gulls. From April through December, pairs of waved albatrosses, the Galápagos’s largest seabird, return here to mate. Year round, mockingbirds, doves, and the occasional Galápagos hawk can be seen here, along with sea lions and marine iguanas.
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    Day 7
    South Plaza
    Only researchers can visit North Plaza, but you’ll have a chance to explore South Plaza, an island with a remarkably outsize array of animal and plant life. As you admire the prickly-pear cacti and the red carpet of succulents, swallow-tailed gulls, frigate birds, and brown pelicans circle. Blue-footed and Nazca boobies are common here, as are yellow iguanas— look for them among the succulents and eating the fruits of the prickly pear cacti. The succulent sesuvium changes color from bright green to red, orange, and purple depending on the time of year.
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    Depart from San Cristóbal
    As Silver Galapagos pulls into the harbor of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, you’ll be greeted by a statue of Charles Darwin. It was likely here that he first set foot in the Galápagos. There are no scheduled activities, but before you return to Quito and your flight home (or a post-cruise stay in Ecuador’s capital), you’ll get to experience this volcanic island on your own and see its geological origin reflected in the soaring peaks and rich soil of its interior.