Galapagos Islands with Pete Oxford Expeditions
Join renowned photographer and Galápagos expert Pete Oxford for a one-of-a-kind Galápagos experience aboard the superb S/S Mary Anne.
Join renowned photographer and Galápagos expert Pete Oxford for a one-of-a-kind Galápagos experience aboard the superb S/S Mary Anne.
The Galápagos archipelago, on everyone’s bucket list, is one of the planet’s last wild and incredible places. For this expedition we have chartered the S/S Mary Anne, one of the best boats operating in the national park. Our two itineraries, an eastern and a western route (see images and descriptions of each below), both offer the chance to walk on bare lava, come face to face with boobies and watch displaying frigatebirds, wander the highlands in search of giant tortoises, and be amazed by hundreds of unique marine iguanas basking at our feet. We will swim with penguins and sharks, interact with curious sea lions, snorkel alongside green turtles, and be surrounded by yellow-tailed surgeonfish. Each day we will enjoy a range of activities that give you maximum exposure to this spectacular environment. Trips are family-friendly for ages 12+.
Take $500 off when both itineraries are done back-to-back!
2019: Dec 13–21 (western route). From $7,350 / person.* Group limit 14.
* Trip prices do not include international airfare to/from Guayaquil or between Guayaquil and the Galápagos (however these will be made by Oceanic Society / Pete Oxford Expeditions as part of a group block). Limited single supplements are available for a fee of $700; please confirm availability prior to booking. Click here for our full expedition terms and conditions.
If these dates do not work for you, check out our Classic Galápagos Islands Cruises, available year-round.
The Galápagos Islands are one of the greatest natural history destinations on Earth and have been a staple of our expedition offerings for more than 40 years. This remote archipelago 600 miles off of Ecuador’s coast provided the seeds for Darwin’s theory of evolution. Its uniquely adapted flora and fauna continue to provide visitors with a living classroom of evolution and natural history.
The Galápagos offers intimate encounters with wildlife and unparalleled photographic opportunities. On our trips, you can snorkel with penguins, sea lions, marine iguanas, and sea turtles, and walk amid giant tortoises, iguanas, boobies, albatross, and many other species found nowhere else.
New in 2019, we are partnering with Pete Oxford Expeditions to offer specialized Galápagos cruises on select dates. Pete Oxford is an award-winning conservation photographer and former Galápagos naturalist guide who has been leading trips in the Galåpagos since 1987. Pete and his wife Reneé Bish, also an experienced tour leader, have written four books on the Galápagos. Pete and Reneé have partnered with Oceanic Society to charter their favorite Galapagos ship, the S/S Mary Anne, on select dates in 2019, and they are excited to be able to share with you the islands that are so dear to them!
Pete Oxford works in some of the world’s most pristine and remote wildlife and cultural destinations as a full-time professional photographer. His images have appeared in major magazines including National Geographic, Time, Outdoor Photographer, and Smithsonian, and have been featured ten times in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards. Pete and his wife Reneé also lead expeditions to some of the world’s richest cultures and most biodiverse areas of our planet.
Galápagos Naturalist Guides accompany every trip. Since 1975, all visitors to the Galápagos must be accompanied by a certified naturalist guide. Guides undergo intensive training to assure their deep knowledge of Galápagos history, nature, and conservation, and skills as environmental interpreters and safe trip leaders.
Choose from one of two 9-day itineraries, a western and and eastern route, or do them back to back for the ultimate Galápagos experience (and $500 off)! Note: these itineraries are subject to change at the discretion of the Galapagos National Park Service.
Day 1: Guayaquil
After arriving at the José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil we will transfer to the hotel for the night (hotel this night is included in the trip cost). Dinner is on your own.
Day 2: Baltra Island, Santa Cruz Island Highlands & Charles Darwin Research Station
After breakfast in our hotel we fly to Baltra Island: the gateway to the Galapagos. On arrival, we immediately transfer to the dock to board the S/S Mary Anne to settle in and for our introductory briefing. Our first activity begins after lunch as we travel across the island of Santa Cruz towards Puerto Ayora to visit the Charles Darwin Station. We will be making a stop along the way to find wild tortoises where we will come face to face with these 600lb (270kg) prehistoric giants in the lush highlands, a remarkable first encounter! Tonight until the morning of day 8 we eat and overnight aboard our vessel the S/S Mary Anne.
From the archipelago’s largest town of Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, we visit the world-renowned Charles Darwin Research Station to learn more about the history and science of the islands. Finches are easily photographed in this area as we explore the station. Returning through town we have a chance to shop for souvenirs or continue photographing the juxtaposition of the abundant wildlife in the urban environment.
Day 3: Floreana Island: Punta Cormorant, Devil's Crown, and Post Office Bay
At Punta Cormorant, on Floreana Island, we land on a beach where the sand has a greenish tinge caused by large amounts of a volcanic mineral called olivine. Here sea lions, wading birds and Darwin’s Finches all greet us on arrival. We walk through mangroves and unique vegetation, some of which grows nowhere else in the world but this island, to arrive at a saltwater lagoon where startlingly pink Greater Flamingos nest and feed.
A short repositioning of the S/S Mary Anne and some exhilarating snorkeling off the Devil’s Crown, a sunken cinder cone, is our next highlight. The coral reef in the center is perfect for attracting large schools of fish. Turtles, rays and, with luck, even some hammerhead sharks could be swimming below us on the outside of the crater.
In the afternoon, at the historic Post Office Barrel we can send a few postcards home and, in so doing, maintain a centuries old tradition. In 1793, British navigators placed a large wooden barrel here, to leave messages and mail to be carried by homebound colleagues. The tradition has continued until the present day, with the barrels being replaced when necessary over time. Visiting yachts have added their calling cards too.
Day 4: Floreana Island: Black Beach - Navigation & Whale Watching
Landing at Black Beach on Floreana we learn about the most renowned human history to come out of the islands: the story of Margaret Witmer, the Baroness, the Ritters, lover affairs and murder. Floreana was the first island in the Archipelago to be inhabited, as it has one of the very few fresh water sources. We visit the highland areas of this inhabited island looking for the Floreana-endemic medium tree finch.
In the afternoon we will navigate into the rich waters of the western islands. On the way we have a very high chance of spotting whales and dolphins. With plenty of deck space on the back of our yacht, we can spend the entire time outside birding and looking for marine mammals in comfort.
Day 5: Isabela Island: Punta Moreno & Elizabeth Bay
We now venture into the ‘wilder’ side of the Galapagos for three days, where Galápagos Penguins, cormorants, and marine iguanas flourish! Against an austere backdrop we will explore the region in all its majesty. After anchoring at Punta Morena off Isabela Island we will hike on superb pahoehoe lava flows in search of endemic plants and a brackish lagoon which is home to flamingos and Pintail Ducks, all the while with the backdrop of basaltic volcanoes.
Following the coast of western Isabela Island we will depart the S/S Mary Anne in our pangas (inflatable motor boats) to explore the more hidden regions of a mangrove labyrinth. We will see Galapagos Shearwaters, Brown Noddy Terns, Blue-footed Boobies, Galapagos Penguins and the more uncommon Flightless Cormorants. The quiet waters in the bay are a refuge for young sea lions, turtles and baby sharks. This is also one of the best places to see and photograph golden rays.
Day 6: Isabela Island: Urbina Bay - Fernandina Island: Punta Espinosa
We will begin today with a wet landing onto a black volcanic sand beach of this geologically uplifted area. On a relatively short hike we can usually observe another species of giant tortoise. We will also search for large, yellow, land iguanas and more of the finch species that inspired Charles Darwin. After our walk, we will go for a snorkel in the hopes of being accompanied by a few Galapagos Penguins.
On Fernandina, the world’s largest, most pristine island, we land directly into the heart of Darwin’s "Imps of Darkness," the marine iguana ‘capital’ of the world. As we sit or walk the shoreline, the world’s only truly marine lizard will be strewn at our feet in dense congregations. We will watch the endemic Flightless Cormorants in hopes of observing their courtship ritual all the while being entertained by jovial sea lions. Turning inland, we face a dramatic, and inhospitable vista of lava and pioneer vegetation of the archipelago’s youngest island. This is our favorite snorkeling area, as we will swim with turtles, a myriad of fish species and look for Galapagos Penguins, Flightless Cormorants and marine iguanas feeding underwater.
Day 7: Isabela Island: Tagus Cove & Punta Vicente Roca
At Tagus Cove, a hike leads us to an overview of a flooded crater, Darwin’s Lake, and onward through a stunning volcanic landscape for a true understanding of how the hot lava of the Earth’s core has molded the Galapagos Islands – geologist heaven! Tagus Cove is also an historic hideaway from which pirates would ransack the whaling fleets hunting in the area. Even today graffiti dating back as far as 1836, one year after Darwin’s visit, can be found carved in the rock face.
One of our top snorkeling sites, we take to the deep water in search of penguins, rays, turtles, Flightless Cormorants and a host of fish species, some only found in the western isles. A panga ride along the dramatic cliffs of Ecuador Volcano, straddling the equator, gives us the opportunity to photograph Blue-footed Boobies, Brown Noddy Terns and amazing geological features.
Day 8: Santiago Island: Espumilla Beach, Buccaneer Cove, & Puerto Egas
To the land of pirates and buccaneers! We head first to the golden sands of a turtle nesting beach and on a forested trail into the hinterland where pirates once hunted goats for food. The long, golden sandy beach has a mangrove backdrop and there are several species of Darwin’s Finches at this landing site.
Cruising Buccaneer Cove we see where ships were careened (hauled out and cleaned) back in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some of the largest specimens of palo santo trees we will see are home to friendly Galapagos Flycatchers, Yellow Warblers and Darwin’s Finches.
In Puerto Egas, also on Santiago Island, after a wet landing onto another dark sand volcanic beach we will hike to submerged lava grottos where we will commune with endemic fur seals that consider the grottos home. Along the shoreline, we can watch Sally-lightfoot crabs, herons, oystercatchers, and waders. At low tide, this is an excellent site for tide pooling. After a good long walk we’ll cool off with another great snorkel.
Day 9: North Seymour Island & Baltra Airport - Guayaquil
Following another fantastic snorkel we land on North Seymour Island. Here we will enter the habitat of another kind of pirate: the frigatebird. These birds are known for stealing the meals of smaller birds and frequently even shake boobies in mid-air to force them to regurgitate their prize. We will watch their display as the males show off their bright red pouches to attract the females. On this island we will walk through nesting Blue-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, and frigatebirds all the while encountering more land iguanas and sea lions.
After our visit on North Seymour we head back to the island of Baltra and the airport to fly back to mainland Ecuador for our onward flights home.
Day 1: Guayaquil
After arriving at the José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil we will transfer to the hotel for the night. Dinner is on our own.
Day 2: Baltra Island, Santa Cruz Island Highlands
After breakfast in our hotel we fly to Baltra Island, the gateway to the Galapagos. On arrival, we immediately transfer to the S/S Mary Anne to settle in and have lunch. Beginning tonight until the morning of day 9, we eat and overnight aboard our vessel. Our sailing ship, the S/S Mary Anne, is a three-masted barquentine, the only one of its kind in the islands.
Day 3: Genovesa (Tower) Island: Darwin Bay & Prince Philip’s Steps
We sail into the sunken crater of this isolated island where we anchor and spend the entire day. The crater walls form tall cliffs above sea level but also plunge down over 60 meters, allowing for excellent cliff face snorkeling. This island is the home to the largest red-footed booby colony in Galapagos and has a good population of breeding great frigatebirds. There are no lava lizards here and the marine iguanas are the smallest in the islands. Upon landing on the beach in Darwin Bay, finches come hopping over, sea lions feign nonchalance and red-footed boobies swirl continuously overhead. Great frigatebirds nest on the low saltbushes. We see yellow-crowned night herons, as well as swallow-tailed gulls, widely recognized as the most beautiful gull in the world and the only one that is nocturnal. After our visit we snorkel and kayak in the caldera before having lunch. On the afternoon’s landing we climb Prince Philip’s Steps to another bird spectacle. Nesting Nazca and red-footed boobies line our way as we head to a lava field, home to thousands of minuscule storm petrels on which one of our target species, the short-eared owls, have learned to feed. Our early evening sail out of the caldera is often in the company of dolphins as we say goodbye to this ‘island of birds’.
Day 4: Bartolomé Island - Santiago Island: Sullivan Bay
Now in the heart of the archipelago, we begin with a climb up a series of wooden steps to the most famous viewpoint in the Galapagos, the Pinnacle Rock of Bartolomé. The iconic view across the pinnacle to Santiago Island is spectacular and often evokes the sensation of being on the moon. The island is young and the ‘spatter’, or cinder cones, look as if they were just formed. Our chance to swim with Galapagos penguins on this itinerary is here at the base of Pinnacle Rock. A small family of penguins lives in the area and its members are easily photographed in shallow water as they ‘fly’ past snorkelers in the bay. There are also sharks, playful sea lions, rays and a host of colorful fish.
In the afternoon, we head across to Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island to a recent, barren lava field. The formations of black, basaltic pahoehoe, or ropey lava, are only 100 years old. The different lava formations, crystallized minerals and pioneer plants are stunning and highly photogenic. There’s great snorkeling here and we hope to interact with turtles, sea lions and rays.
Day 5: Rábida Island - Santa Cruz Island: Cerro Dragón
The dramatic red beaches of Rábida Island are made of sand eroded from cinder cliffs to the west, backed by large palo santo-covered cliffs and Opuntia cacti. The beach is home to several young, approachable sea lions. Hiking further inland, we look for a host of Galapagos specialties, such as the radiant vermillion flycatcher, Galapagos mockingbirds and some of the 9 species of Darwin’s finches found on this island. While snorkeling again, we hope to find large schools of black-striped salema fish and some playful sea lions underwater.
At Cerro Dragón beach on Santa Cruz, we hike inland through palo santo trees on a trail frequented by land iguanas. These iguanas were once part of the Darwin Station’s breeding program. Another target species that we are on the lookout for is the tool-using woodpecker finch searching for grubs. A saltwater lagoon is the occasional home to flamingos, black-necked stilts and other waders.
Day 6: Santa Cruz Island: Local ranch and giant tortoise viewing, Charles Darwin Station, & Puerto Ayora
We spend the day visiting Santa Cruz Island’s most famous highlights. After landing at the dock in the town of Puerto Ayora, we head up to the highlands. In contrast to the arid coastal region, here we will see lush vegetation and forest due to the humidity that gathers in the higher regions. We look for barn owls, flycatchers and yellow warblers, but our objective is the wild tortoises found roaming around the local ranches, often among the cattle. These 600lb (270kg) prehistoric giants roam free and change locations according to food availability and season; the ranch we visit will depend on their presence. Lunch is at a local ranch.
Returning from the highlands to the town of Puerto Ayora, we visit the world-renowned Charles Darwin Research Station to learn more about the history and science of the islands. The station houses tortoises from the different islands in semi-natural pens. There are also breeding pens for the tortoises and land iguanas. Finches are easily photographed in this area as we explore the station. Returning through town we have a chance to shop for souvenirs or continue photographing the juxtaposition of the abundant wildlife in the urban environment.
Day 7: South Plazas Island - Santa Fe Island
The tiny South Plazas Island has much to offer. The red carpet of the succulent Sesuvium vegetation growing between the Opuntia cactus provides a beautiful backdrop to swallow-tailed gulls, land iguanas and sea lions, all present at the landing to greet us. This sub-species of land iguana is the smallest in Galapagos and some have bred with the marine iguanas to form a hybrid species only found here. The path winds its way to the cliff top where we sit and watch Galapagos shearwaters gliding over the waves and gulls, tropic birds and frigates cruising lazily below and at eye-level on the up-draught.
Santa Fe is idyllic. It has a beautiful natural bay filled with turquoise water and two lovely white sand beaches used by sunbathing sea lions. Inland, we hike past a grove of giant, tree-forming prickly pear cacti, a different land iguana species endemic to the island and perhaps an endemic Galapagos hawk or two. We follow the land visit with some fantastic snorkeling with turtles, rays, surgeonfish, parrotfish and possibly even sharks.
Day 8: Española (Hood) Island: Gardner Bay, Gardner Islet, Osborn Islet, Punta Suárez
We snorkel around the offshore islands of Española (Hood) Island where we may find and play with curious sea lions in the water. We then visit one of the most beautiful beaches in the islands, and sit with sea lions, walk the length of the beach or find a quiet place to sit in self-reflection.
We saved one of the best sites for last: Punta Suárez is a true naturalist’s paradise! From the moment we set foot on land we are enthralled. The island’s endemic mockingbird is here, as are sea lions, finches and the archipelago’s most colorful marine iguanas. We see nesting blue-footed and Nazca boobies, Galapagos hawks and possibly some chicks of the largest and perhaps most spectacular island endemic bird, the waved albatross. We spend time and sit quietly while observing the complex courtship rituals from a cliff edge and are awed by these magnificent birds as they glide past effortlessly at eye level.
Day 9: Santa Cruz Island: Los Gemelos & Baltra Island - Guayaquil
We disembark the S/S Mary Anne for the last time in Puerto Ayora. Making our way across Santa Cruz Island, we stop at the twin craters (Los Gemelos) and some lava tubes. These tunnels were formed by a lava flow that cooled and hardened on the outside while still maintaining its fluid scalding state on the inside, leaving hollow tunnels where it passed; some of these are the largest lava tunnels in the world. From here we head to Baltra airport where our journey began, for our flight back to mainland Ecuador and international flights home.
Our expedition takes place aboard the 16-passenger S/S Mary Anne, a romantic square-rigged sailing ship with over 1000m2 of sail. The S/S Mary Anne is the only ship in Galápagos capable of traveling under sail alone, a unique experience that is ecologically-friendly and allows you to take in the views without the sounds of an engine; we will raise her sails as much as possible but may also travel under motor power to reach the next stop on our itinerary.
The Mary Anne boasts 10 double cabins with private bathrooms and air conditioning, as well as a sun deck with an open air dining table, and a spacious lounge with dining areas, a bar, and a library. She carries on-board kayaks and snorkel gear available for loan (included in the trip cost).