Join us in the central Azores due west of Portugal as we explore the deep blue ocean around Pico Island in the heart of the Azores. Become immersed in the quest for marine mammals with biologist Doug Cheeseman, naturalist Gail Cheeseman, our resident marine biologist and skipper of our 36-foot boat, the Reefcat. We'll encounter magnificent Sperm Whales, Pilot Whales and other cetaceans big and small. We'll swim with friendly dolphins! Stay in the small town of Madalena within walking distance of the whalewatching dock. We have a choice of fully equipped one- or two bedroom apartments. Shop for local produce at the markets and have fun preparing meals together in our kitchens or eat out to enjoy the local cuisine that features fresh seafood. Soak-up the wonderful hospitality of our local guides and other friendly people on the islands. Cultural immersion, including music and dance, plus intriguing geological, volcanic formations, are additional highlights in these Azorean islands of dramatic contrasts.
Cost: $3,490 per person, double occupancy in a two-bedroom apartment (sharing the bath and kitchen) or $4,390 per person, double occupancy in a one-bedroom apartment (private bath and kitchen). Not including airfare. Meals are not included except for our welcome dinner on June 29. Single supplement for single occupancy in a bedroom in an apartment (sharing the bath and kitchen) is $950 extra. Review lodging details. Review cost details.
Leaders: Naturalists Gail and Doug Cheeseman, an excellent resident cetacean guide, our boat skipper, and resident guides during land tours.
Group Size: 10, not including leaders.
Number of Days: 13, including estimated travel time.
Conditions: This is a non-smoking safari for people who are very interested in all wildlife and spending the maximum time in the field.
Itinerary Updated: September 2012.
1 Review lodging and meal details.
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The Azores are a widely separated group of nine volcanic islands stretching over more than 500 miles across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American, Eurasian and African continental plates meet. Pico Island is centrally located and has other intriguing islands nearby in the inner archipelago, including Terceira, Faial, Sao Jorge and Graciosa. The islands are mountainous in the forested interior, featuring alluring geo-morphological features, including hot springs and spas, stretching down to colorful harbors, long beaches and rough lava coasts. The island of Pico, the second largest in the Azores, has a lush vineyard culture dating from the 15th century and now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also has many green pastures with 45,000 cows for 15,000 inhabitants and visitors, a 2,350 meter high volcanic peak, and deep ocean all around that sustain many species of marine mammals.
Macaronesia, a collective name for several groups of islands in the North-East Atlantic off the coast of Africa and Portugal, is home to exceptional marine biodiversity with more than 27 species of cetaceans. Macaronesia consists of five archipelagos: Azores (Portugal), Canary Islands (Spain), Cape Verde (Cape Verde), Madeira, including Porto Santo Island and the Desertas Islands (Portugal), plus the Savage Islands (Portugal), administratively part of the Madeira Autonomous Region. The name Macaronesia comes from Greek for "Islands of the Fortunate". These volcanic islands are the product of several geologic hotspots. It was the German botanist A. Engler who named these islands "Macaronesia" based upon the uniformity of their flora. Some plant species that are extinct on the continents persist on these islands.
The Azores are considered a true "mecca" for viewing cetaceans (the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises). Up to 27 species (approximately 25% of the world's known species) have been identified within the Azorean Archipelago. The islands provide a natural sanctuary in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for both migrating and resident species. Whales and dolphins are attracted by the rich supply of food, which results from coastal upwellings along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Sperm Whales are the most commonly sighted species off the Azores and can be seen all year round. Short-finned Pilot Whales can be seen on a regular basis during the season also. Along with the big whale species, a variety of dolphins are frequently sighted, including Bottlenose, Common, Risso's, and Striped. Then, toward the end of June Atlantic Spotted Dolphins with their calves arrive into the area with the warm, clear Gulf Stream that also moves in during June. Atlantic Spotted Dolphins are known to be very playful and social and become the fifth species of dolphin in the area that the Azorean law permits us to swim with. They are sometimes sighted in large groups of a few hundred up to 1,000 animals. It is a thrill to witness dolphins and shearwaters in a feeding frenzy, sometimes together with tuna or swordfish, as they hunt and feed on bait balls of horse mackerel and sardines!
July brings the exciting season of the mysterious and elusive beaked whales, such as the Northern Bottlenose Whale, Sowerby's Beaked Whale and Cuvier's Beaked Whale. This also becomes a special time for watching Sperm Whales, as calves are born in the months of July and August. During this same period False Killer Whales can occasionally be seen. And if lucky, whale watching in the Azorean waters might bring us up close to the charismatic Killer Whale or Orca.
As you can imagine, every day on the water is exciting and full of anticipation and surprises because we never know what kind of marine life and action we will encounter. Early in the morning, our guides will be in contact with the resident "Vigia", Antero. He sits on top of a tall lookout tower on Pico and is the first one on land to spot the whales, seeing approximately how many are in the group and what species. Once we know the approximate location, our skipper will navigate our boat to that location.
Madalena, at the north end of Pico Island, is the most convenient base for marine mammal excursions, as we can easily go to the south end of Pico and north to Faial Island, so we have more flexibility than staying in Lajes, for example. At the south end of Pico is Lajes where we will enjoy lunch during some of our full days out on the ocean. There the drop off from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is very close to the coast and a favorite place for cetaceans to feed. Other ports we may stop at for lunch and a mid-day break are Faial, the island very close to Pico to the north, Velas on Sao Jorge, and Sao Roque in the northern part of Pico.
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Note: Please expect itinerary changes based on weather conditions. Flexibility is a wonderfully inherent element in our style of travel. Our day-by-day itinerary will ultimately depend on sea conditions and with nine days at the very best time of year for good weather, we will have plenty of time to enjoy and photograph the amazing marine mammals of the Azores. If weather prohibits an ocean trip on any of these days, we have equally interesting land alternatives.
June 28 - 29, Friday - Saturday — Travel to Madalena on Pico Island in the Azores
After arrival on Pico Island, a greeter will meet us and escort us to our apartment lodging conveniently located in the town of Madalena. Review lodging details.
We hope to arrive in time to have some of the afternoon for exploring the vicinity and getting organized for nine action-packed days. Our welcome dinner on June 29 is at the Parisiana Restaurant, nearby our lodgings. Our resident marine biologist will join us to give us information about the current cetacean groups in the vicinity, our daily expedition schedules, and the expected weather.
June 30 - July 5, Sunday - Friday — Quest for marine mammals for six wonderful days
On the first full-day, we will meet at 9 AM at the whale-watching base then spend approximately six hours on the water. Our route will be tracked with a GPS and data will be collected on the different species encountered, including group composition and numbers, and behavior. We'll try to take photo IDs to record the individuals within each group. After a lunch break in a port, we will return to sea for the afternoon before returning to Madalena.
The second day, we'll head where Antero, our Vigia (cetacean spotter), directs our skipper, staying out with whales and dolphins for four hours. We'll hope to swim with some dolphins, so do plan to bring or rent a wetsuit and snorkel and fins if you would enjoy this opportunity. We'll return to the port of Madalena for a break and later in the afternoon visit Antero in his lookout. The Vigia system was started to hunt whales during the old whaling days but now is used to spot whales for whale watching and study. We are directly contributing to whale conservation with these pelagic trips. This afternoon we also plan to visit nesting Cory's Shearwaters, located close to the Vigia's house.
On the third day, we will continue to track our route with a GPS and collect data and photo IDs. Enter a port after about three hours for a lunch break, then continue our afternoon search for new cetaceans and to search for groups we already encountered.
On the fourth day, if all goes according to plan, we'll have a full four-hour morning cruising for cetaceans in our boat. Perhaps today we will have good luck finding a pod of dolphins that will allow us to swim near them, so again wear a bathing suit under your field clothes and keep a wetsuit handy. Wetsuit rentals are available for five Euros per day if you do not bring your own. There are five dolphin species here that we might encounter: Bottlenose, Common, Risso's, Striped, and Atlantic Spotted. We'll also always keep our eyes out for Loggerhead Turtles that frequent these waters in the central Azores. After returning to Madalena for lunch, visit the Malcolm Clarke Whale Museum to learn about the physiology and behavior of Sperm Whales and more. Dr. Clarke devoted his entire career to the study of Sperm Whales and their favorite food, deep-sea giant squids. Visit another museum, The Whaling Museum, in the town of Lajes do Pico that features a short film on the history of whaling in the Azores and whaling exhibits ranging from carved whales' teeth to a collection of sailing boats and artifacts of the whaling industry.
The fifth day is the Fourth of July, and we hope we will again have the good weather expected at this time of year for a full-day "research expedition", spending approximately six hours on the water. As on other days, we will eat lunch in port for a midday break. We will continue to track our route with a GPS and collect data and photo IDs.
On day six, we will enjoy another four-hour morning out in our boat and again expect to find a pod of dolphins to swim with, so remember to wear a bathing suit under your field clothes. After lunch take a walk in the Pico Island Vineyard Culture, a UNESCO protected area. Also visit the longest lava cave in Europe, the "Gruta das Torres", a geological formation of volcanic origin formed from the flow and cooling of subterranean magma rivers. It is the also the largest lava tunnel known in the Azores, approximately 5,150 m long, with a main tunnel that is more than 15 m high in places and smaller secondary tunnels where it is sometimes necessary to crawl. Accompanied by an experienced guide, the tour lasts for about two hours and explains the geological and geographical origins of Pico and the Azores in general. Bring a flash for your camera, a light jacket and wear sturdy shoes.
July 6, Saturday — Faial Island, including the Capelinhos Volcano and Faial Caldera
TThe Caldera do Faial is 1,043 m high, two km across and 400 m deep below the crater rim, a massive stratovolcano (layers of ash and lava) with a blue lagoon on the crater flour. It is also named Cabeço Gordo, which in Portuguese means "fat mountain". On a clear day, the central Azorean islands of Pico, Sao Jorge and Graciosa are visible. The sides of the crater have some endemic plants that we could search for if time allows.
July 7 - 8, Sunday - Monday — Final two days on the water with new encounters and old friends
On the evening of July 7, enjoy traditional folklore dancing featuring the Chamarita, an old Azorean folk dance.
July 9 - 10, Tuesday - Wednesday — Departure and arrival home
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Payments and Cancellations: All reservations require a deposit due at the time of making the reservation. Upon receiving your deposit and reservation form, we will send trip materials with additional information to help you prepare for your safari. Until the final payment due date, deposits are refundable except for a cancellation fee of $150 per person. This fee may go toward another tour if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip's departure date. There are no refunds given after the final payment due date. We reserve the right to charge for cost increases that occur between now and the date of travel.
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To Make a Reservation: Please contact us (there are many methods of contacting us) to assure space availability and to let us answer your questions. Then, print our reservation form, fill out one form per person, and post it to us in the mail with your deposit. Or fill out our handy online information request and we will send you more information.
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Gail and Doug Cheeseman have been leading wildlife safaris since 1978. They find leading safaris to be a fresh way of blending a desire to observe nature with a wish to inspire travelers towards the values of conservation and education. Doug influenced the lives of many biology majors while teaching zoology and ecology at De Anza College in Cupertino, California, during his 35-year career there. He turned to leading safaris full time in 1998. Gail is a meticulous coordinator of trip logistics. One of their main interests is marine biology, especially marine mammals, which they have studied over many years of leading pelagic trips out on Monterey Bay near where they live, on the Silver Bank off the Dominican Republic, and in the waters surrounding Antarctica.
Flights: Please let us know if you would like help arranging your international flights and we will put you in contact with our excellent ticketing agent. The fares should be lowest when purchased early while there is still a good availability of seats.
Our arrival and departure connections in the Azores will be verified by the end of August 2012 when the flight schedules are announced and we will recommend the best route to you at that time.
Arrival: Arrive in Boston by the evening of June 28 to connect with the SATA Airways (partners with US Airways) flight on June 29. If the connection is quicker, we may arrive at the Terceira Island Airport, then fly to Horta Airport on Faial Island and transfer to the ferry to Pico Island that takes 25 minutes to cross between the islands. Our first choice is to fly directly to Pico, but there may be other choices that would get us there earlier in the day.
Departure: We will arrange transfers from our accommodations in Madalena to the Pico Airport on July 9 to fly back to Boston for connections from Boston home on July 10. We will recommend the flights to book once they are in the SATA schedules.
Travel Insurance: Emergency Medical Insurance is optional, but encouraged, for this tour. Read about travel insurance and our recommendations and requirements.
Lodging and Meals: The private apartments located by the sea and owned by Pico Sports are the best choice for lodging. Each apartment consists of one or two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, one bathroom and a living room. All bedrooms are double-occupancy. Two-bedroom apartments will hold four people, sharing one bathroom. One-bedroom apartments will hold two people, sharing one bathroom. If needed, we will assign you a roommate, otherwise single bedroom occupancy costs extra. Washing machine and dryer are also available. The apartments are conveniently located in Madalena near the Whalewatching Center, supermarket, coffee shops, restaurants, and the ocean! Since most meals are not included, there will be time for you to go to the market, then cook dinner in your own apartment or dine at a restaurant within walking distance in Madalena. To save time in the morning, we recommend you eat breakfast in your apartment. We will take a break each day at a local restaurant to eat lunch, all costs are on your own.
Climate: It will be cool in the early morning and in the evening and at higher elevations. Storms are very unlikely and windy days are possible, but normally this is the very best time of year for calm and clear weather. We must keep our plans flexible as climate is fairly unpredictable these days. Bring a water- and wind-resistant jacket and pants plus a fleece to layer to be flexible in case weather conditions change. In July, the temperatures range between 18° and 24°C, about 75 to 80°F. Insects are not normally a problem in the Azores, but we recommend that you bring repellant if insects bother you. Sunscreen, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and a hat are needed for sun-protection on the ocean.
Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris is registered as California Seller of Travel #2063050-40. Registration as a seller of travel does not constitute approval by the State of California. Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris is a participant in the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation (TCRC). In event of a client canceling where a refund is applicable in accordance with the schedule above, or in the event that CES needs to cancel the trip, all payments for transportation or travel service not provided to the client shall be promptly refunded, unless the client instructs us otherwise in writing. All client payments are deposited into a trust account in accordance with California law. If for any reason a valid refund is not forthcoming, the client may request reimbursement from the TCRC within six months of the scheduled end of the tour. Please feel free to ask us for more information.
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