Sternberg Outbound: Galapagos

BySternberg Museum

Sternberg Outbound: Galapagos

Tortuga Bay, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos

Galapagos Islands and Ecuadorian Cloud Forest
June 3rd – 14th , 2017
10 days total, $5000 per person

All participants must be age 21 or older at the time of the trip.

(Trip cost includes hotels, guides, most meals, and transport on the Galapagos Islands and the cloud forests. Trip cost excludes cost of airfare to and from Quito, Ecuador. June 3rd and 14th are travel days; Activities in Ecuador and the Galapagos islands start early in the morning on June 4th. For more information, contact Sternberg Museum Education Director David Levering at, or by phone at 785-639-5249.)

We will be opening full registration and updating the details of this trip soon. To get on our information emailing list, which will include an alert when our online registration system opens, please email Sternberg Education Director David Levering at

In June 2017, the Sternberg Museum of Natural History will be leading a 10-day adventure trip to South America. Our first three days will be spent exploring the cloud forests of Mindo and Alambi, near the city of Quito, Ecuador. There, you will get to explore gorgeous forests full of amazing wildlife, including an incredible diversity of hummingbirds! Other activities for the three day Mindo/Alambi portion include a visit to a butterfly farm, an orchid garden, and tube-rafting down the Mindo River. If you love wildlife and breathtaking scenery, you will have the time of your life in the cloud forests!

Rufous Hummingbird

Following your adventure in the cloud forests, you will depart for the Galapagos Islands for a 6-day adventure full of snorkeling, beachcombing, and sightseeing.

This Galapagos land tour will keep you busy, snorkeling at Kicker Rock, hiking Sierra Negra Volcano and kayaking in a bay off the coast of Isabela Island. You can expect to be immersed in the wildlife each day, while having the chance to connect with the inhabitants of the islands during your free time exploring towns like Puerto Ayora and Puerto Villamil.

Lounging sea lions, gliding rays and plenty of tropical fish and sea turtles may greet you in the water, while the lava lizards and iguanas will entertain you on land. If you’re seeking a trip that offers a mix of adventure and culture, this is for you. Each island you visit has a historical site worth visiting to learn about the human history of the Galapagos and the importance of sustainable tourism in this fragile environment.The Interpretation Center on San Cristobal, the Breeding Center on Isabela and the Charles Darwin Station on Santa Cruz will help you gain a deeper understanding of some of the most unique Galapagos animals – giant tortoises!

Galapagos giant tortoise

Optimizing your time in the Galapagos, you’ll spend your first two days on San Cristobal before flying to Isabela Island the next two days. You can expect to visit a range of ecosystems from beachside mangroves to lush forests in the highlands. Your Galapagos land tour will finish on Santa Cruz, after enjoying a boat ride from Isabela, where you may spot dolphins or whales along the way.

As busy as this Galapagos tour is, you’ll still have enough free time for souvenir shopping and enjoying a few cold drinks by the beach. But if go-go-go is more your style then the optional activities like diving and surfing may be of interest!

After your trip to the Galapagos, you will have most of a day in Quito, Ecuador to explore the city before catching our flight back to the United States. This is your opportunity to check out the local sights and culture, including the Basílica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow), and sample some Ecuadorian cuisine.

Kicker Rock

This trip will be led by Sternberg Museum of Natural History Director Dr. Reese Barrick, and Sternberg Museum Chief Curator and Paleontologist Dr. Laura Wilson.

Dr. Reese Barrick
Sternberg Museum Director

The Galapagos Islands are a bucket list must see travel adventure for anyone with an interest in natural history, specifically me.  As a child, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom featuring Marlin Perkins sparked the passion for learning about life all over the planet.  My first fossil (a trilobite), given to me by my brother Neil, made me wonder about life in deep time and how it is all connected with everything alive today.  The distribution of animals and plants on islands around the world (island biogeography) has a prominent role in the development of evolutionary theory.  The great adventurer, Alfred Russel Wallace developed his theory on the origin of species while studying life on the islands of Indonesia.  The Galapagos Islands are a centerpiece Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory of natural selection.  The idea of adventure around the world and seeing things never seen by others was (and still is) an exciting prospect.  It is why paleontology was a strong calling card when choosing a direction in my life.   I was born too late to be the first to see an island but finding an 80 million year old fossil allows for a bit of that excitement without the general risk to life and limb that many of the earlier explorers faced.  As an undergraduate studying both biology and geology I had the opportunity to study evolution from both a perspective of ecology and genetics as well as that of the fossil record.  Both paths led back to Charles Darwin and his Voyage on the Beagle.  The idea of taking the opportunity to add to our knowledge of the evolution of life is why I chose to pursue a PhD in paleontology.  The opportunity to travel to one of the places featured prominently in Darwin’s travels and critical observations is one I have always dreamed of.
The Galapagos Islands are unique in that they are extremely isolated from both South America and other larger island chains.  This has resulted in the unique evolution of the parent species that arrived on the islands long ago and can be found nowhere else on the planet.  The most famous of these include Darwin’s finches and the giant Galapagos tortoises.  The thermophysiology of the giant tortoises was an important jumping off point in my graduate research on dinosaurs.  I have always wanted to see them in their natural environment.  The currents from the Antarctic and North Pacific cool the climate of the islands that just happen to straddle the equator.   Thus you will find penguins on the islands as well as the Galapagos fur seal (the smallest eared seal in the world).   Flightless cormorants and the marine iguana are endemic there and fully half of the world’s population of Blue-footed boobies breed there.  National Geographic specials are wonderful however this trip to the Galapagos Islands will be the adventure of a lifetime.

Dr. Laura Wilson
Sternberg Museum Chief Curator, Paleontologist

As a paleontologist, geologist, and evolutionary biologist, the Galapagos Islands are my Graceland. Charles Darwin’s original studies of the rocks and animals on the Islands changed science and changed the world, and the subsequent century and a half (plus) of research continues to refine our understanding of speciation and evolution. To get to go to a place that has such a huge impact on me personally and professionally is a dream.  And to get to share that with others, makes the experience even more special.  My career is built on education, and this trip provides a unique combination of getting to further my own education while sharing my knowledge and passion with others.
Islands in general are biodiversity hotspots, and the Galapagos Islands are no exception – especially since they are surrounded by cool, nutrient-rich upwelling waters. I am most excited to see the vast diversity of plants and animals, in their natural habitats, that I have read about so much.  Birds and sharks of are particular interest to me, and the Galapagos have exceptional populations of both. I have also spent time studying modern penguins, so having the opportunity to see wild penguin populations is amazing!  Considering the rate at which animal and plant species are going extinct, and unique environments are being destroyed, it is important spread appreciation, understanding, and conservation ideas of such habitats while they are still here.

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Video highlights of the 2016 Fort Hays State University student trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.