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 nowhere else in the world. Home to a profuse array of wildlife, the islands offer an immersion in nature that feels primeval, where iguanas and penguins and blue-footed boobies share the beaches with you, unconcerned by human 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, Photography, Snorkeling, Triple/Quad Cabins
$7,495 to $8,995
Upon arrival in Quito, your local representative will meet you at the airport and accompany you on the scenic drive to the mountain town of Otavalo, just over an hour away in the Andean Highlands where you'll have a chance to sample the history, nature and culture of this mountain region.
Depending on which departure you have selected, you’ll stay either at Hacienda Cusin, colonial estates with a colorful past, or Sacha Ji, a sustainable luxury wellness resort. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner with one of our expedition leaders.
Your Ecuador adventure begins with an immersion in the striking landscape and cultural heritage of the Andean Highlands. Specific activities will depend on the departure you have chosen and the location of your Otavalo accommodations.
Today, Hacienda Cusin 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.
This morning, Sacha Ji guests will make a day trip to Hacienda Zuleta, a 4,000-acre working farm founded more than four centuries ago. Preserving the native flora and fauna is a priority for Zuleta's multi-generation family owners, who have established a foundation dedicated to conservation. The estate's extensive wild land has become an important sanctuary for Andean wildlife including rare spectacled bears, pumas, condors and various owls.
With your Expedition Leader, 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 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 local community to enjoy coffee, tea and snacks and learn about the local “Zuleteño” way of life. Return to Sacha Ji for a lavish chef-crafted dinner sourced from fresh, local ingredients, surveying the view of Imbabura Volcano through the panoramic windows as we dine.
Depart early this morning for the return drive to the Quito airport and your flight to the islands. Land at San Cristobal where you will meet your second expedition leader who will accompany you to the pier where your Galapagos cruise begins. Settle into your cabin and discover the incredible views from the topside observation deck. Join your guides for an orientation to the ship and the adventures that lie ahead. Following lunch aboard and an initial safety drill, set off for your first landing at Punta Carola and an easy hike to the top of Frigatebird Hill. You'll be rewarded at the top with spectacular views of the coast, Kicker Rock, and the rooftops of the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Seabirds soar overhead, and you may see the namesake frigatebirds with their distinctive red chests. Head back to the ship for dinner, and cruise off into the sunset. Discover for yourself why Herman Melville called these the "Enchanted Isles."
Genovesa Island, also called Tower, is a collapsed shield volcano whose flooded caldera attracts vast numbers of pelagic seabirds that come here to breed and nest. Inside the submerged crater, you will be surrounded by thousands of great frigatebirds, red-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, Galapagos storm petrels and yellow-crowned night herons that rend the air with a cacophony of squawks. Anchor at Darwin Bay, formed thousands of years ago after the collapse of the volcano's roof to form a huge caldera. Surrounded by vertical cliffs, the bay is an ideal breeding site for the more than two million land and sea birds that congregate on Genovesa. Following the trail up Prince Philip's Steps, walk among colonies of great frigatebirds and red-footed and Nazca boobies to a lava field where storm petrels nest in underground chambers and lava tubes.
After lunch, enjoy the option to do some kayaking, followed by a landing late this afternoon at a coral beach to swim and snorkel.
Land at Las Bachas in the morning, a beautiful white sand beach on Santa Cruz Island. Snorkeling in the azure water reveals a kaleidoscope of fish, while the powdered coral sand is a favorite nesting site for green sea turtles, and pink flamingos often dot the saltwater lagoons. Continue to Cerro Dragon ("Dragon Hill"), one of the best places in the islands to see large land iguanas. Scientists have been working diligently to protect Santa Cruz's native land iguana population from invasive species, and it's not uncommon for travelers and researchers to cross paths on trails among the cacti and Palo Santo forest in the area. Great views are available from atop the small hill, where visitors may also see a variety of birds.
Isabela is the largest of the Galapagos islands, created where six volcanoes flowed together. This morning, explore Punta Vicente Roca, a small promontory on the island's northern side with two coves that lie on either side of the eroded remains of a tuff cone made of volcanic ash. Cruise around the point by panga (motorized raft), observing large numbers of blue-footed and Nazca boobies that nest on the sheer cliffs, while flightless cormorants are seen along the shoreline. Snorkel in one of the protected coves, laced with water-filled subterranean passages. Marine life is abundant, and you're virtually assured to see green sea turtles swimming gracefully beneath the surface.
At Urbina Bay this afternoon, step ashore on a white sand beach to 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, exposing 1.6 square miles of shoreline. The coastline was driven three-quarters of a mile farther out to sea, exposing coral and stranding marine organisms on what is now shore. Urbina is also home to a colony of some of the largest land iguanas in the islands and the iconic Galapagos tortoise.
Just opposite Isabela, Fernandina is the youngest and most active volcano in the Galapagos. The rippling pahoehoe lava at Punta Espinosa is a stark backdrop for the surprising variety of life that flourishes here: 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 aquamarine sea. A snorkeling excursion offers a good chance to see sea turtles and submerged marine iguanas feeding on algae. This afternoon, cruise across the Bolivar Channel back to Isabela, keep watch for whales and dolphins. Landing at Tagus Cove, explore by panga, finding penguins, pelicans and graffiti dating to the 1800s when the names of ships were carved into the rock above a historic anchorage for pirates and whalers. Another snorkeling opportunity awaits, perhaps with a chance to frolic again with young sea lions.
Rabida is one of the most volcanically varied islands in the chain. The beaches here are deep maroon and the rock multicolored, products of lava eruptions from the multitude of spatter cones that pock the island. Marine iguanas and sea lions are often seen resting in the shade of caves, and Rabida’s saltwater lagoon is home to abundant birdlife. A short trail leads to the lagoon where you may see boobies, brown pelicans nesting in the bushes, and nine species of Darwin’s finches. Excellent snorkeling opportunities also await over the reefs that fringe the island.
This afternoon, continue to Santa Cruz, the highest island in the Galapagos chain. Those who choose to participate in the unique camping opportunity will disembark and transfer to the remote highlands of Santa Cruz to spend the night at the exclusive Tortoise Camp. Your rustic private campsite, with distant views of the ocean, is tucked among lush vegetation that attracts giant tortoises (most commonly seen from July through February). A bus returns us in the morning to rejoin the boat for the day's activities. Please note: At times, the camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions.
Your exploration of Santa Cruz begins with a visit to the tortoise reserve at El Manzanillo, whose lush environs harbor numerous wild giant tortoises that roam year-round. Return to the coast and the town of Puerto Ayora, where you may choose between two activities: a visit to the world-famous Charles Darwin Research Station with free time in town, or a walk to a pristine beach at Tortuga Bay for swimming and relaxing.
At Darwin Station, which operates in tandem with Galapagos National Park, learn about the efforts of scientists, guides, rangers and park managers to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Galapagos. 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, more than 10,000 tortoises have been returned to the wild in Galapagos through the program. After visiting the station, there's still some time to walk around town. Those opting to visit Tortuga Bay will make an easy 3-mile walk (about an hour and 15 minutes one way, plus return) to a large, wild beach that is a sanctuary for the many iguanas, crabs and birds that dot the lava rocks. Or, for those who wish, enjoy a full afternoon of free time in town to browse the shops and galleries before heading back to the boat to sail this evening.
This morning, return to San Cristobal, one of the oldest islands in the archipelago, and drop anchor at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the province of Galapagos. Here you'll disembark, then visit the National Park Interpretation Center for a concluding overview of the natural and human history of the islands. At last it's time to bid farewell to the islands and fly back to Quito's new international airport.
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.
Special Photo Departure: 4/20/2018
Select departures are designed to focus on nature photography. In order to help you capture amazing photos of your Galapagos experience, you will be accompanied by a third NHA Expedition Leader who is both a professional photographer and photography instructor.
Andean Highlands Accommodations: Itinerary and accommodations on Day 1 and 2 vary dependent upon departure date.
Hacienda Cusin Departures: 8/25/2017
Guests staying at Hacienda Cusin will enjoy gracious hospitality in a historic estate built in 1602 as the centerpiece of a sprawling colonial sheep farm. Today, the restored property is surrounded by 5 acres of lushly landscaped gardens, ponds and cobblestone courtyards. Each guest room is each is individually furnished with antiques and regional Andean arts and crafts, and many have wood-burning fireplaces.
Sacha Ji Departures: 1/12/2018–11/16/2018
Sacha Ji is a 100-percent sustainable luxury wellness sanctuary. The resort’s unique combination of distinctive contemporary architecture, magnificent vistas, personalized service, fresh and healthy organic gastronomy, along with an array of wellness amenities, creates an experience that surpasses more typical accommodations. Sacha Ji’s 11 private rooms are scattered throughout the property, each offering views of Imbabura Volcano and Lake San Pablo.
Family Departures: 6/15/2018–7/27/2018
Select departures are designed specifically for multi-generational travel, with a dedicated children's guide to lead a vatiery of activities designed especially for kids.
Cabin accommodations aboard the ship; airport transfers; two nights stay in the highlands; meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 10; optional overnight at Tortoise Camp as per itinerary; services of expedition leaders, local guides and crew; some gratuities; permit fees; gear on loan (wetsuits and snorkeling equipment). Subject to change without notice.
Airfare; Galapagos National Park entrance fee; Galapagos Transit Card fee; 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