Summary : Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, surrounded by open ocean, a volcanic archipelago straddles the Equator. The Galapagos Islands, forged of black lava and named for the giant tortoises that are among its most noted inhabitants, are like no place else in the world. Home to a profuse array of unique wildlife, the islands offer an immersion in nature that feels primeval, where iguanas and penguins and blue-footed boobies share the beaches with us, unconcerned by your presence. Herman Melville called the Galapagos Las Islas Encantadas—the "Enchanted Isles"—an apt moniker for a realm that remains otherworldly, even today.
Activities : Birding, Child-Friendly, Culture, Hiking, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Dedicated Solo Cabins
NEW – Hacienda Zuleta: Select departures include a guided stay at Hacienda Zuleta, the only luxury lodge in the Andes where you can spot rare spectacled bears!
$9,595 to $12,745
Upon arrival in Quito, your local representative will meet you at the airport to accompany you on the scenic drive to the Otavalo region, just over an hour away in the Andean Highlands. In the highlands, you'll have a chance to sample the history, nature and culture of Ecuador’s mountain region. Depending on which departure you have selected, you'll stay either at Hacienda Zuleta, a colonial estate with a colorful past, or Sacha Ji, a sustainable luxury wellness resort. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner with one of your expedition leaders.
Your adventure begins with an immersion in the Andean Highlands’ striking landscape and cultural heritage. Specific activities will depend on the departure you have chosen and the location of your Otavalo accommodations.
Today rise early for a walk along the misty valley floor, passing ancient truncated ramp pyramids and burial mounds dating to 700 AD on our way to the Condor Huasi project. See rescued condors and perhaps witness a wild condor flying overhead on the thermals. Search for a glimpse of a rare Andean spectacled bear in the dense vegetation on the slopes above the valley. After lunch in the main house, visit the cheese factory to taste and learn about Zuleta's semi-aged handmade Ecuadorian cheeses, using milk from the estate’s cows. This afternoon, walk to the nearby community to enjoy coffee, tea and snacks and learn about the local “Zuleteño” way of life. Return to our hacienda for a hearty homemade dinner using local ingredients, with many sourced from the hacienda’s own garden.
Today, Sacha Ji guests will explore the region around Otavalo. The town, best known for its 400-year-old market that is the longest continuously operating site of commerce in South America, lies at the hub of this region of lakes and volcanic peaks. Enjoy a short hike to take in dramatic views of Otavalo's volcanoes and learn about the local flora and fauna. Artisans from local villages produce the region's famed textiles, and you'll have a chance to visit a studio where you’ll witness handicrafts in the making and learn about the residents' traditional lifestyles.
Depart early this morning for the return drive to the Quito airport and your flight to the Galapagos Islands. You will land on Baltra where you will meet your second expedition leader who will accompany you to the pier where your Galapagos adventure on the Ocean Spray begins. After getting settled into your cabins, you join your guides for an orientation about the ship and adventures that lie ahead.
Following lunch, you set off for your first landing at Sombrero Chino. This small island is located just of the southeastern tip of Santiago and is named after its unique cone shape formed by volcanic activity many years ago. The islet is home to a colony of sea lions that live on the white coral sand beach. A short hike takes you to rare, well-preserved remnants of fragile volcanic rock. Snorkeling reveals some of the Galapagos' fascinating marine life—including a possibility that a resident penguin will join you for a swim.
You will reach Isabela today, the largest of the Galapagos Islands. Shaped like a sea horse, it was created when six volcanoes flowed together. Beginning with an exploration of Punta Vicente Roca, choose to snorkel (where you might swim with sea turtles) or take a panga ride along a shoreline brimming with wildlife. Chances are good that you’ll see Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies, brown noddies and Galapagos fur seals.
After lunch, you will cross the Bolivar Channel as you head for Fernandina, the youngest of the islands. Keep your camera at the ready in case you spy whales and dolphins in the passage. Fernandina has one of the most dynamic pristine ecosystems on the planet. A volcanic eruption in 2009 sent a lava flow all the way to the sea. You will land at Punta Espinoza, where the rippling hardened lava landscape provides a stark backdrop for a surprising variety of life that flourishes on the black rock: flightless cormorants nest on the rocks, Galapagos hawks soar overhead, sea lions sprawl on the beach, and huge colonies of marine iguanas bask in the sun. Bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs pepper the black rocks at water's edge, a vivid counterpoint to the turquoise sea. A snorkeling excursion offers a good chance to see sea turtles and submerged marine iguanas feeding on algae.
Back at Isabela, you will spend the morning in Tagus Cove, where you may find penguins and pelicans along with graffiti dating to the 1800s, when pirates and whalers carved their ship names into the rock above a historic anchorage. Spend the morning in the water, kayaking or snorkeling. Then, choose between a hike among the volcanic tuff cones for a closer look at the island's geological history, with views of Darwin's Lagoon, or a panga ride, where you're sure to see blue-footed boobies perched on the cliff ledges, as well as brown pelicans, brown noddies, flightless cormorants and Galapagos penguins.
Landing this afternoon at Urbina Bay, you will witness one of the best examples of geological uplift in the Galapagos, a phenomenon that occurs when molten rock beneath the surface suddenly shifts. In 1954 the shoreline was uplifted nearly 15 feet, exposing coral and stranding marine organisms above the water on what is now the shore. Urbina is home to nesting sea turtles and a colony of some of the islands’ largest land iguanas, iconic Galapagos tortoise, penguins, flightless cormorants and a variety of Darwin's finches. After a walk you can snorkel right from the beach, hoping to see grazing sea turtles and Galapagos penguins.
On the southern reaches of Isabela, you will venture into Elizabeth Bay to explore a sprinkling of islets, a lagoon frequented by sea turtles and surrounding red and black mangroves filled with birdlife. On a panga ride you’ll search for resting and feeding sea turtles along with lava herons, Galapagos penguins, rays and flightless cormorants. In the afternoon, you will head farther west to Punta Moreno, home to several endemic species known only to the area’s seemingly barren lava flows. The point is located between two volcanoes, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul, and you will step ashore to walk atop the hardened lava. At first glance, the corrugated rock landscape appears lifeless. However, the smooth, ropy black surface is dotted with numerous coastal lagoons harboring a wide variety of birdlife. Commonly seen species include flamingos, paint-billed cranes, white-cheeked pintails, herons and cormorants. You’ll also see endemic Galapagos flora taking root on this young, barren lava flow, including giant opuntia cactus, Palo Santo trees, carob trees and lichens. The protected waters of Moreno Bay are surrounded by mangroves, creating perfect habitat for sea turtles, which you may spot from the pangas or as you snorkel.
On Santa Cruz this morning, you will visit the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, which operates in tandem with Galapagos National Park, to learn about the efforts by scientists, guides, rangers and park managers to preserve Galapagos as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the tortoise-rearing facility, see tiny babies bred to help increase the depleted tortoise population, a central part of the station's conservation mission. To date, the program has returned more than 10,000 tortoises to the Galapagos wild.
Late this afternoon you will ascend into the misty highlands of Santa Cruz to arrive at an exclusive Tortoise Camp, where you'll spend the night. Your rustic private camp, offers safari-style tents and treehouses with distant views of the ocean, is tucked among lush vegetation that attracts giant tortoises (most commonly seen from July through February). You'll have a chance to view these ancient, amiable creatures in their natural setting—and they often amble right into camp. Nearby, you can also explore a network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns. Please note: At times, the camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions.
Continue your exploration of Santa Cruz with a visit to a tortoise reserve in the highlands or more time spent at Tortoise Camp, depending on where more of these ancient creatures are found that day.
Return to the Ocean Spray and have lunch aboard, then sail for Santa Fe, home to a large population of sea lions, lava lizards, the unique Santa Fe land iguana and the Opuntia cactus. On a short hike through a cacti forest, look for the endemic land iguanas that wait patiently underneath for fruit to drop. Returning to your catamaran, you will go deep water snorkeling around a small islet, a natural aquarium with great reef diversity, followed by a paddle or panga ride along the island’s northern coast, where large cliffs and sea caves are used for nesting and roosting by many species of marine birds—as well as basking green sea turtles and sea lions.
Española is one of the most prolific wildlife sites in the Galapagos. Estimated to be about four million years old, Española is far enough away from the other islands that it is home to the most endemic species along with awesome landscapes created by millions of years of erosion. During the morning at Punta Suarez, you will hike on the headlands in search of abundant bird life, hoping to see Hood mockingbirds, blue-footed boobies, nesting swallow-tailed gulls and Galapagos hawks. Española is also the world's main nesting site for the huge waved albatross.
Returning to the quiet bay where your catamaran awaits, lunch is served aboard as you sail to the white sand beach of Gardner Bay and tiny Osborn Inlet. Paddle or ride a panga along the island’s north shore to see a cliff formed by eroded cinder cones and layers of old basalt, prime habitat for giant cacti and many different bird species. Osborn Islet is just one of the many stunning little islands offshore that are ripe for underwater exploration. Ashore, an idyllic white sand beach awaits, where sea lions laze by the dozens and Pacific green sea turtles frequent the rocky part of the shoreline. Back on board, it's time for farewell cocktails and a final celebratory dinner.
Back on the island where Darwin first landed back in 1835 and where the Galapagos’ first permanent settlements were founded, you will visit an interpretation center for a concluding overview of Galapagos history, ecosystems, geology and wildlife. Giant tortoises are also bred here and roam the grounds in a semi-natural habitat. At last it’s time to bid farewell to the islands and fly back to the mainland to meet departing flights.
This itinerary is subject to change. ExpeditionTrips.com is not responsible for itinerary changes.
Passengers must be able to walk two miles to participate in this trip, walk up and down stairs, and be able to get in and out of our motorized pangas (rigid inflatable rafts), which can be very unsteady in rough water. Travelers are not required to participate in every activity. This trip is quite busy with early mornings and long days filled with various activities. The activities on this trip consist of island walks, swimming and snorkeling. Trails are often rough and uneven, over sharp lava fields and loose rocks and gravel. Walking over slippery rocks is sometimes necessary when coming ashore. A few wet landings, where you disembark from the panga directly into the water and walk up onto the beach, are included. Itineraries that feature a visit to Bartolome include a walk with more than 300 wooden steps to reach the viewpoint at the top of the island. Snorkeling is a big component of this trip, with excursions offered nearly every day, sometimes twice a day. While no snorkeling experience is required, prior practice is recommended and travelers should be comfortable swimming in moderate currents, near shore and in deep water. Expedition Leaders will also offer guidance for those in need of additional snorkeling instruction.
Medical Evacuation Insurance is mandatory for this trip. Note that the cost of a medical evacuation policy will be added to your tour invoice. If you wish to decline this coverage and opt for a different carrier, you will need to provide other proof of coverage including your insurance company’s name and contact number, and your insurance policy number.
Andean Highlands Accommodations: Itinerary and accommodations on Day 1 and 2 vary depending upon departure date.
Hacienda Zuleta Departures: 1/18/2018–11/8/2018
One of the top inns in Ecuador, Hacienda Zuleta is the heart of a 4,000-acre working farm founded over four centuries ago. Guest rooms feature period furniture, authentic photos, hand-embroidered linens, heavy timbers, and wood-burning fireplaces. Located two hours north of Quito at an altitude of 9,600 feet, the historic property was chosen as one of the world’s “Top Ten Finds” by Outside magazine and named one of the best hotels in Ecuador by National Geographic Traveler.
Sacha Ji Departures: 12/20/2018
A 100-percent sustainable luxury wellness sanctuary, Sacha Ji resort is a unique combination of distinctive contemporary architecture, magnificent A 100-percent sustainable luxury wellness sanctuary, Sacha Ji resort is a unique combination of distinctive contemporary architecture, magnificent vistas, personalized service, fresh and healthy organic gastronomy, along with an array of wellness amenities.
Cabin accommodations aboard the ship; airport transfers; overnight at tortoise camp; meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 10; professional expedition guides; some gratuities; permit fees; and gear on loan (wetsuits and snorkeling gear). Subject to change without notice.
Airfare; Galapagos National Park entrance fee; Galapagos Transit Card; most gratuities; items of a personal nature such as alcohol, phone calls, laundry, etc.; travel insurance; optional activities; travel health insurance (required to enter Ecuador); fuel surcharge may apply.
Airfare between Quito/Guayaquil and the Galapagos Islands:
The flights between mainland Ecuador (Quito or Guayaquil) and the Galapagos Islands are an additional cost. To secure your seats on often overbooked flights, ExpeditionTrips must reserve these flights for you at the time of cruise booking. Approximate cost (including service fee): $500-$700 per adult; $300-$450 per child under 12 (copy of passport required).
PHOTOS: © Cassiano Zaparoli; © Carolyn O'Connell; © Colby Brokvist; © NHA