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
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Upon arrival at the Quito airport, you're met by your local representative who accompanies you on the scenic drive to the town of Otavalo, just over an hour away in the Andean Highlands. Check in to your accommodations, a warm and hospitable setting from which to sample the history, nature and culture of this mountain region. Depending on which departure you have selected, you’ll stay at Sacha Ji, a sustainable luxury wellness resort. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner with one of your Expedition Leaders.
Your Ecuador adventure begins with an immersion in the striking landscape and cultural heritage of the Andean Highlands.
Take 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 you dine.
Depart early this morning for the return drive to the Quito airport and your flight to the islands, landing on the island of Baltra where your second Expedition Leader is waiting to greet you. Transfer to the dock and board your floating home for the next week, the elegant Xploration. Once you get settled into your cabin, there will be an introductory briefing and safety drill, then enjoy lunch aboard as your Galapagos adventure begins, voyaging through the fascinating archipelago that Herman Melville dubbed the "Enchanted Isles." This afternoon take your first panga ride, boarding motorized rafts for a landing on Mosquera Island, a tiny islet that's home to a huge population of sea lions as well as many shorebirds. Back on board relax with a welcome cocktail before dinner.
Awake this morning to the orange light of sunrise glowing on the volcanic craters of Bartolome and Santiago islands. Your first excursion is a panga ride to Sullivan Bay on the east coast of Santiago, known for its spectacular volcanic formations, relatively recent lava flows and unique geological scenery. The lava here is the pahoehoe type, which resembles smooth ropes. Few plants have been able to take root on the barren rock, and you can admire the hardy pioneers that have, like the lava cactus. You'll also have a chance to snorkel here. This afternoon visit Bartolome where you might spot a penguin while snorkeling around Pinnacle Rock. 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.
Reach Isabela today, the largest of the Galapagos islands. Landing at Urbina Bay, 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 on what is now shore. Urbina is home to nesting sea turtles and a colony of some of the largest land iguanas in the islands, the 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.
At Tagus Cove, find penguins, pelicans and even graffiti dating to the 1800s when the names of ships were carved into the rock above a historic anchorage for pirates and whalers. Kayaking or snorkeling are your first afternoon activity options. 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 might see blue-footed boobies perched on the cliff ledges, as well as brown pelicans, brown noddies, flightless cormorants and Galapagos penguins. This evening, cruise through the Bolivar Channel en route to Fernandina, keeping an eye out for whales and dolphins.
The youngest and most active volcano in the Galapagos, Fernandina is also one of the most dynamic ecosystems on the planet, last erupting in 2009 and sending a flow of lava all the way to the sea. Land at Punta Espinoza, where the solidified rippling lava provides 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 color counterpoint to the turquoise sea. A snorkeling excursion offers a good chance to see sea turtles and submerged marine iguanas feeding on algae. After lunch on board, return to Isabela to explore Punta Vicente Roca, with a choice of snorkeling (where you might swim with sea turtles) or a panga ride along the shoreline brimming with wildlife, with good chances to see Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies, brown noddies and Galapagos fur seals.
At Puerto Egas on Santiago, make an early-morning landing on a black beach with eroded rock formations. The trail crosses the dry interior where the remains of a salt mining enterprise are still visible and continues along the coast. Tide pools are home to a variety of marine life, including sea urchins, octopus, sponges and sea stars. Birdlife abounds, with great blue herons, lava herons, oystercatchers, yellow-crowned night herons and seasonal shorebirds. In the lava grottos, find a colony of Galapagos fur seals, one of the only places in the islands these endemic animals can be seen from land. After your walk there’s time to swim or snorkel off the beach with the resident sea lions. You may also see turtles, rays and reef sharks.
Set sail this afternoon to the island of Santa Cruz, the highest in the chain. For those who choose to participate in the unique private camping opportunity, disembark at Puerto Ayora and drive into the misty highlands to your exclusive Tortoise Camp for a memorable overnight stay. This private rustic 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 the next day to rejoin the boat. 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. Returning to the coast, reach the town of Puerto Ayora, where you may choose between two activity options: 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 the Darwin Research Station, operated by 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 station visit, 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 free time in town to browse the shops and galleries before heading back to the boat to sail northward this evening.
Genovesa, or Tower Island, is a collapsed shield volcano that attracts literally millions of seabirds that come here 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 rend the air with a cacophony of squawks. Surrounded by vertical cliffs of the collapsed caldera, Darwin Bay is an ideal breeding site for the birds that congregate on Genovesa. Your first landing is at 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, there's an option to snorkel, kayak or take a panga ride.
After lunch aboard, continue to Darwin Bay Beach, following 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 there are plenty of local sea lions basking in the sun. Back on board, share farewell cocktails and a last dinner together as the sun sets.
An optional pre-dawn wake-up call rouses those who wish to enjoy one final landing at sunrise on North Seymour Island. Ashore, find yourself surrounded by sea lions, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, magnificent frigatebirds and more, for a final rendezvous with the magical wildlife of the Galapagos. Returning to your boat, enjoy breakfast on board as you cruise back to Baltra for your transfer to the airport. At last it's time to bid farewell to the Enchanted Isles 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.
Cabin accommodations aboard the ship; airport transfers; two pre-cruise hotel night in the highlands; meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 10; optional 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; $300-$450 per child under 12 (copy of passport required).
PHOTOS: © Cassiano Zaparoli; © Carolyn O'Connell; © Colby Brokvist; © NHA