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!
$999,999,999 to $0
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. You will check in to your colonial hacienda, a warm and hospitable setting from which to sample the history, nature and culture of this mountain region. One of Ecuador's top inns, award-winning Hacienda Zuleta is the heart of a 4,000-acre working farm founded over four centuries ago. Guest rooms feature period furniture, authentic family photos, hand-embroidered linens, heavy timbers and wood-burning fireplaces. The farm’s 300 Holstein-Friesian cows are the source for artisan dairy products including fresh cheese, yogurt and cream. 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. Enjoy a welcome dinner this evening with one of your expedition leaders.
Today you will rise early for a walk along the misty valley floor, passing ancient truncated ramp pyramids and burial mounds dating to 700 A.D. on your way to the Condor Huasi project. Here you’ll see rescued condors and perhaps witness a wild condor flying overhead on the thermals. You’ll also 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, you will 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, you will walk to the nearby community to enjoy coffee and tea and learn about the local “Zuleteño” way of life. You will return to your hacienda for a hearty homemade dinner using local ingredients, many sourced from the hacienda’s own garden.
Depart early this morning for the return drive to the Quito airport and your flight to the Galapagos Islands. You land on San Cristobal where you will meet your second expedition leader who will accompany you to the pier where your Galapagos cruise begins. After getting settled in your cabin, join your guides for an orientation about the ship and adventures that lie ahead. Following lunch, you will set off for your first landing at Isla Lobos. You'll take a short panga ride and walk along the shores to watch resident sea lions and blue-footed boobies up close, and observe a frigatebird colony too. Aboard once more, you will sail on to Kicker Rock, a dramatic volcanic tuff cone that rises 300 feet above the ocean's surface. Here, depending on conditions, you'll have your first chance to snorkel in deep water to observe sea turtles, rays and reef sharks.
This morning you will return to San Cristobal, one of the archipelago’s oldest islands, for a visit to Punta Pitt. Located on the easternmost side of the Galapagos Islands, Punta Pitt is one of the only places where red-footed, blue-footed and Nazca boobies can be found all in the same place. Hike among curious old volcanic rock formations and ascend to the top for expansive views.
This afternoon you will land at Cerro Brujo. This ancient volcanic tuff cone sits next to an expanse of powdery white sand that's home to a large colony of Galapagos sea lions, as well as blue-footed boobies, pelicans, egrets and marine iguanas. Paddle a kayak or take a panga excursion along Cerro Brujo’s shoreline to observe tunnels and caves eroded by the relentless wave action, or snorkel in the turquoise waters in search of tropical fish, anemones and sponge coral. There’s time for a hike along the beach to look for sea lions, too.
This morning you will land at Post Office Bay on Floreana, one of the few populated islands in the Galapagos. The small and quiet local population lives off the land, growing vegetables and gathering water during the rainy season. But Floreana's rich cultural history is filled with intrigue. 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 via visitors passing through. Snorkel in search of sea turtles, and possibly make a walk to a lava tube, as large bull sea lions patrol the rocky terrain and reddish-colored marine iguanas bask near the tree cacti.
Back aboard the Ocean Spray, you will sail for Punta Cormorant and one of the best drift-snorkel spots in the Galapagos. On shore at Punta Cormorant you will follow a trail through a Palo Santo forest 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 silky sand beach where rays swim in the shallow water and you might even see sea turtles in the dunes in certain seasons. After a walk, you will have a chance to snorkel the submerged volcanic structures at Devil's Crown, where you will marvel at coral and hundreds of different colorful fish species and keep a keen eye peeled for sea turtles and sea lions that partake in this underwater spectacle.
Sail on to Santa Cruz, the most central island in the Galapagos chain. Accessible only by boat, Black Turtle Cove is located on the island’s north side, a shallow inlet surrounded by mangroves that offer natural protection for a variety of marine species, particularly as a nursery for their young. Cruising the clear waters in a panga, look for black-tip and white-tip reef sharks, sea turtles, golden cow-nose rays, spotted eagle rays and an occasional hammerhead shark. Pelicans and boobies gracefully dive into the water as they hunt here too.
Sailing on to Bartolome, some of the Galapagos’ best snorkeling awaits around the base of this ancient submerged volcano, an underwater playground that's home to enormous schools of fish permanently under attack by Galapagos penguins. Sleeping white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and stingrays are also common sightings. You will then make a dry landing to explore the huge sea-cooled magma extrusion that is Pinnacle Rock, one of the Galapagos’ most photographed sites, famously shown in the 2003 film Master and Commander. The beach is home to a small population of nesting green sea turtles and is a frequent gathering site for Galapagos penguins. Hike, take a panga ride or snorkel among the colorful fish and curious sea lions.
Genovesa, or Tower Island, is a collapsed shield volcano that attracts millions of seabirds to breed and nest. Inside the flooded crater, you are surrounded by red-footed boobies, lava gulls, storm petrels and yellow-crowned night herons that fill the air with a cacophony of squawks. Surrounded by the collapsed caldera’s vertical cliffs, Darwin Bay is an ideal breeding site for birds that congregate on Genovesa. On Darwin Bay Beach, follow a trail into lush mangroves where red-footed boobies nest. After the easy walk, snorkel from the beach, where sightings of rays and sea turtles are common and sea lions bask in the sun—with options for a paddle or panga ride as well.
Back on board the Ocean Spray, continue to El Barranco, also known as Prince Phillip's Steps, a steep path with stairs carved into the rock that leads to a plateau full of birdlife within a Palo Santo forest. Walk among colonies of great frigatebirds and Nazca boobies to a lava field where storm petrels nest in underground lava tubes. You may also see Galapagos doves, mockingbirds and perhaps an endemic short-eared lava owl. Following your walk, you will have the option to snorkel, kayak or take a panga ride in the waters surrounding El Barranco.
Santiago was the second island that Charles Darwin visited and the site of an inland salt mine once used by whalers and pirates to salt fish and tortoise meat. The short stretch of Espumilla Beach is now known for its tranquil snorkeling among interesting rock formations, but was once known as a prime hideout for pirates.
This afternoon you will sail to Egas Port, also known as James Bay, home to the quick-footed Galapagos lava lizards, fur seals and tide pools that make for excellent snorkeling with turtles, rays and beautiful underwater formations. Above the water, watch for Galapagos hawks, oyster catchers, marine iguanas and finches.
This morning you will make a dry landing on North Seymour, a small geological uplift where you will follow a trail that leads to swallow-tailed gulls, blue-footed boobies and endemic land iguanas. North Seymour is also home to the Galapagos’ largest colony of magnificent frigatebirds. As you stroll along the beach, you will find marine iguanas and sea lions bodysurfing the northerly swells. You may choose to snorkel among the rays, reef sharks and garden eels or peruse the coast on a panga.
After lunch, you will make the short sail to Santa Cruz to ascend into the misty highlands to an exclusive Tortoise Camp to spend the night. Your rustic private camp, which 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. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner as you relish the adventure and recount your wildlife encounters. Please note: At times, the camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions.
Continue your exploration of Santa Cruz with a short visit to a tortoise reserve in the highlands or more time spent at Tortoise Camp, depending on where you find more of these ancient creatures. Mid-morning, you will head to Baltra, where your adventure in the Enchanted Isles comes to an end as you 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.
Cabin accommodations aboard the ship; airport transfers; two nights stay in the highlands; meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 10; overnight at tortoise camp; 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; $350-$450 per child under 12 (copy of passport required).
PHOTOS: © Cassiano Zaparoli; © Carolyn O'Connell; © Colby Brokvist