Summary : Experience an exclusive active adventure in the world's most unique wildlife destination—plus, explore the Andean cloud forest! The far-flung archipelago of the Galapagos is unique on earth—giant tortoises roam misty meadows, sea lions loll, nonchalant on pristine beaches, iguanas bask on sun-baked lava while sea turtles, rays, and penguins swim with snorkelers in turquoise waters. Paddling this primeval paradise is a privilege few visitors get to enjoy. A special Galapagos kayaking permit allows you access to remote places that guests aboard larger ships never see. The deluxe catamaran whisks you between anchorages and provides comfortable accommodations. Each day, explore a different island, either on foot or by kayak, or sometimes both. The islands are surprisingly diverse, with new discoveries at each spot you visit. This trip is a unique Galapagos experience available for travelers who are interested in (and physically capable of) getting 'out there' on foot and by kayak. In addition to land-based and paddling excursions, you'll have the opportunity to snorkel almost every day while in the islands.
Activities : Birding, Culture, Hiking, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Triple/Quad Cabins
$6,043 to $7,443
Arrive in Quito where a local representative meets you at the airport. Your Ecuador adventure begins with a two-hour drive to the market town of Otavalo, home to mostly indigenous residents of the Andean highlands. Spend the next two nights at Las Palmeras, a 150-year-old hacienda tucked into a lush mountain valley at the base of two volcanoes. Your accommodations are in cozy adobe cottages with log fireplaces to take the chill off the cool mountain nights. Within the compound's tile-topped earthen walls, towering palm trees rise above a perennial garden abloom with hibiscus, bougainvillea, orchids and more, which attract hummingbirds, vermilion flycatchers and other colorful birds. Enjoy a welcome dinner this evening with one of your expedition leaders.
The countryside surrounding the town of Otavalo offers an ideal introduction for hiking in Ecuador. Mountain lakes glisten beneath wide blue skies, while two dramatic volcanoes dominate the skyline—15,190-foot Imbabura and 16,388-foot Cotacachi. With a picnic lunch to sustain you, head off on local trails to explore the landscape up close. Artisans from surrounding villages in the Otavalo region produce the region's famed textiles, and you'll have a chance to visit a place or two where you can witness artisans making handicrafts and learn about the residents' traditional lifestyles.
Rise early to make the return transfer to the Quito airport, where you board your flight to the Galapagos this morning. Your second expedition leader meets you upon landing on the island of Baltra, then transfer to the jetty to embark your vessel. This first-class sailing catamaran will be your home base for the next week as you kayak among the islands. After settling into your cabin and a safety drill, have an orientation to your kayaks. Your expedition leader helps you get fitted to your boats and reviews paddling technique and safety information.
Set off for your first landing on North Seymour, a small geological uplift where you'll follow a trail that leads you to swallow-tailed gulls, blue-footed boobies and endemic land iguanas. North Seymour is also home to the largest colony of magnificent frigatebirds in the Galapagos. As you stroll along the beach, find marine iguanas and sea lions bodysurfing the northerly swells. Back on board you vessel, your expedition leader offers a briefing about tomorrow's activities, followed by cocktails and dinner.
After breakfast, land at Isla Lobos, beginning with a shallow-water snorkel with the resident sea lion colony and a chance to look for feeding marine iguanas. Then take a short ride by panga, or dinghy, along the shores to observe a frigatebird colony prior to a walk inland. Aboard once more, sail on to Kicker Rock, a dramatic volcanic tuff cone that rises 300 feet above the ocean's surface. Here, depending on conditions, have your first chance to snorkel in deep water to observe sea turtles, rays and reef sharks.
This afternoon, land at Cerro Brujo. This ancient volcanic tuff cone on San Cristobal Island 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. Taking to your kayaks, paddle the shoreline along Cerro Brujo, observing the tunnels and caves eroded by the relentless action of the waves. Later there's time for a hike along the beach to look for sea lions. At every turn, discoveries are enhanced by the in-depth knowledge of your expedition leader, who is an expert naturalist on the flora and fauna of the Galapagos.
Espanola is one of the most prolific wildlife sites in the Galapagos. On a paddling excursion along the north shore of the island this morning, follow a cliff formed by eroded cinder cones and layers of old basalt where you'll observe giant cacti and many different bird species. Do some deep-water snorkeling at one of the offshore islets in Gardner Bay. 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. Returning to the quiet bay where your catamaran awaits, lunch is served aboard as you sail to Punta Suarez. Hiking on the headlands, witness abundant birdlife, hoping to see Hood mockingbirds, blue-footed boobies, nesting swallow-tailed gulls and Galapagos hawks. Espanola is also the world's main nesting site for the huge waved albatross.
This morning, land at Punta Cormorant on Floreana, one of the few populated islands in the Galapagos. Following a trail through a Palo Santo forest to a brackish lagoon, find pintail ducks, common stilts and bright pink flamingos. As you wind your way past a rich variety of plants, reach a beach of fine sand where sea turtles lay eggs in the dunes and rays swim in the shallow water. Back aboard, sail a short distance to Champion Islet just offshore, one of the best drift-snorkel spots in the Galapagos. As the current floats you past the steep walls of this submerged volcanic crater, spy large schools of fish and bright corals as you're followed by playful young sea lions.
Floreana's rich cultural history is filled with intrigue, including tales of pirates who once hid out here. 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. After a short snorkel looking for sea turtles and a brief walk to a lava tube, paddle around the mangrove shores of Post Office Bay, where large bull sea lions patrol the rocky terrain and reddish-colored marine iguanas bask near the tree cacti.
Reach Santa Cruz this morning, the largest island in the Galapagos. Your day begins with a visit to secluded Tortuga Bay, where a trail leads to a long, pristine white-sand beach that is a sanctuary for many birds, iguanas and crabs that dot the lava rocks. Swimming is permitted in a separate cove nearby where it is common to view schools of white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and colorful fish in the aquamarine waters. You'll have a chance to kayak among mangrove lagoons on the bay's edge where sea turtles are frequently found.
After lunch, head into Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz, to visit the world-famous giant tortoise-rearing center located at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Here, international scientists conduct research dedicated to conserving the unique habitats and species of the Galapagos. At the facility, visit the protection pens where hatchlings are bred to help increase the depleted tortoise populations, a central mission for both the research station and Galapagos National Park.
Late this afternoon, ascend into the misty highlands of Santa Cruz to arrive at the exclusive Tortoise Camp to spend the night. The 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. Enjoy the chance to view these ancient, amiable creatures in their natural setting, and they often amble right into camp. Nearby, explore a network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns. Please note: At times, the camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions.
Spend the morning exploring the highlands, with a stop at either El Manzanillo or El Chato tortoise reserve to view more tortoises in the wild. Numbers are lower between March and June, though you can anticipate seeing tortoises year-round. Returning to the ship, have lunch aboard, then sail for Santa Fe. On a short hike through a forest of prickly pear cacti, look for the endemic land iguanas that wait patiently underneath for fruit to drop. Returning to your catamaran, go deep-water snorkeling around a small islet, a natural aquarium with great reef diversity, followed by a two-hour paddle along the northern coast that reveals large cliffs and sea caves used by many species of marine birds for nesting and roosting—as well as basking green sea turtles and sea lions.
Sailing on to Bartolome, some of the best snorkeling in the Galapagos awaits around the base of this ancient submerged volcano, an underwater playground that's home to enormous schools of fish preyed upon by Galapagos penguins. Sea turtles and stingrays are also common sightings. Make a dry landing to climb to the highest point of the island for 360-degree views, passing intriguing geological formations such as spatter cones, tuff cones and lava tubes. From the summit a panorama unfolds of the surrounding islands and Pinnacle Rock, famously shown in the 2003 film Master and Commander.
Over lunch, cruise to nearby Sombrero Chino, which really does look like a Chinese hat! A two-hour paddle through the Bainbridge Rocks, shaped like a string of floating mushroom tops, reveals more of the Galapagos' fascinating marine life. Enjoy one final snorkel in the channel, hoping the resident penguin family will join you. Back on board, it's time for farewell cocktails and a last convivial dinner.
This morning, make a landing on Mosquera, a tiny islet that's home to a huge population of sea lions as well as many shorebirds. Keep an eye out for dolphins and orcas, too, which are often seen in this area. Too soon, your time in the Enchanted Isles comes to a close—say farewell to your floating home for the past days, her crew and your Expedition Leader this afternoon as you return to the Baltra airport for a return flight to Quito.
This itinerary is subject to change. ExpeditionTrips.com is not responsible for itinerary changes.
This is a very active trip with early mornings and long days filled with varied activities. General physical fitness and mobility are required to participate in this trip. If you have no prior experience with kayaking, it is asked that you are prepared to learn and sign on knowing that your participation may be limited if you cannot meet minimum abilities. Activities include mainland and island walking, kayaking, swimming and snorkeling. Snorkeling opportunities will be offered nearly every day in the Galapagos, so it is strongly recommend practicing beforehand if you have limited experience.
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.
Accommodations aboard ship; meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 10; two nights accommodation in the highlands; overnight stay at the Galapagos Tortoise Camp; shore activities and excursions as per itinerary; services of a professional expedition leader and boat crew; some gratuities; airport transfers; permit fees; kayaking; gear on loan (wetsuits and snorkeling gear); Travelex medical evacuation insurance*. 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
*A surcharge of $48 per person for Travelex medical evacuation insurance through Natural Habitat Adventures is included in the voyage fares listed. It is mandatory to have this insurance for this trip. If you wish to go with a different carrier, you will need to show proof of coverage to have this charge removed from your invoice. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for details.