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, Snorkeling, Triple/Quad Cabins
$9,995 to $10,995
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.
You’ll stay either at Sacha Ji, a sustainable luxury wellness resort. 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. 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. 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. Landing at San Cristobal, you will meet your second expedition leader who will accompany you to the pier where your Galapagos cruise begins. The M/Y Letty is your home for the next week, providing comfortable cabins and incredible views from the topside observation deck. After getting settled into your cabins, your expedition leaders provide 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 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. Soon it's time to head back to the ship for dinner, and as you cruise off into the sunset, already you can see why Herman Melville called these the "Enchanted Isles."
Today you will arrive at Cerro Brujo, a breathtaking white coral-sand beach that's one of the most spectacular in Galapagos, perfect for a peaceful walk with expansive views and good bird watching. You will have an opportunity to snorkel with sea lions, kayak off the Letty, or enjoy a panga ride along the shoreline. During lunch, cruise toward the northeastern tip of San Cristobal to Punta Pitt, a volcanic tuff formation that is one of the Galapagos' top nesting sites for seabirds, including all three types of boobies (blue-footed, Nazca and red-footed boobies), both species of frigatebird, swallow-tailed gulls and storm petrels. You will also find a colony of sea lions here.
Reaching Espanola, step ashore at Punta Suarez, where you will find the greatest number of endemic species in Galapagos. Sea lions greet you noisily as you land on their beach. Curious Hood mockingbirds peck at your shoelaces. From April to December, the waved albatross, found only on Espanola, performs its raucous mating ritual. Colonies of blue-footed boobies show off for potential mates while red-billed tropicbirds take shelter under the cliffs. You will also find Darwin's finches, Galapagos doves, Galapagos hawks, and a unique species of red-and-green marine iguana. After lunch you will land at Gardner Bay, with its endless stretch of white sandy beach usually half-covered by a large colony of sea lions. Swim with them right from the beach, explore the bay by kayak, or just relax on the powdery sand. There's an excellent snorkeling site off Gardner Islet with a colorful diversity of sea life near Tortuga Rock, as well as caves to explore by panga.
Today you will land at Punta Cormorant on Floreana, one of the few populated islands in the Galapagos. Floreana's rich cultural history is filled with intrigue, including tales of pirates who once hid out here. Follow a trail to a brackish lagoon to find pintail ducks, common stilts and vivid pink flamingos. Winding your way past a variety of plants, you will reach a beach of fine sand where sea turtles lay eggs in the dunes and rays swim in the shallow water. After your walk you will have a chance to snorkel either at Devil's Crown or Champion, a shallow sunken crater colonized by a brilliant array of coral and colorful fish. Following in the footsteps of pirates, whalers, convicts and colonists, you will explore Floreana's rich history of adventure. One relic of this colorful past is the 'Post Office Barrel,' established by British whalers in 1793, where travelers still leave mail for personal delivery by visitors passing through. After a short snorkel to look for sea turtles and a brief walk to a lava tube, you will take a panga ride around the mangrove shores of Post Office Bay, where large bull sea lions patrol the rocky territory and reddish marine iguanas bask near the tree cacti.
Your exploration of Santa Cruz begins with a visit to the world-famous Charles Darwin Research Station located in the town of Puerto Ayora. 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 lunch, those who choose to participate in the special camping opportunity will stay on Santa Cruz and transfer to the remote highlands to spend the night at an exclusive Tortoise Camp.The 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 you 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.
Before leaving Santa Cruz, you will visit a tortoise reserve at El Manzanillo, whose lush environs harbor numerous wild giant tortoises that roam freely year-round. Next you will stop at Los Gemelos—'The Twins'—two deep pit craters in the scalesia forest that hold a variety of birdlife.
After lunch back on board the Letty, visit Bartolome where you might spot a penguin to snorkel with at Pinnacle Rock. You'll also climb to the highest point of this ancient volcano for 360-degree views, passing fascinating lava formations such as spatter cones, tuff cones and lava tubes. Those who don't wish to hike can take a panga ride along the shoreline of the island, watching for rays and reef sharks just below the surface.
South Plaza Island is a small geological uplift with tall cliffs offering spectacular views. After a dry landing, the trail leads you through cactus and succulents including prickly pear, opuntia and sesuvium, where you often find Galapagos land iguanas feeding. Continuing onward, you will typically encounter a colony of bachelor sea lions, with the dominant bulls in various stages of recovery from battles lost over prime beach territory. You will also find swallow-tailed gulls, shearwaters and red-billed tropicbirds that build their nests along the cliffs. After lunch, you will land at North Seymour, a small geological uplift where you'll follow a trail that leads you to swallow-tailed gulls, blue-footed boobies and the endemic land iguanas. You'll also visit the largest colony of magnificent frigatebirds found in the Galapagos. As you stroll along the beach, you might find marine iguanas and sea lions body surfing the northerly swells. Back aboard the Letty, you will gather for the captain's farewell dinner this evening.
This morning you will return to San Cristobal and drop anchor at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Here you'll disembark the Letty and 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 the airport in Quito.
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.
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