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 our 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
$999,999,999 to $0
Upon arrival at the Quito airport, you will be met by a local representative who will accompany you on the scenic drive to the 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 Zuleta or 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 your 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.
Hacienda Zuleta and Sacha Ji: Today you rise early for a 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. 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, tea and snacks and learn about the local “Zuleteño” way of life. You will return to our hacienda for a hearty homemade dinner using local ingredients, with 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 islands. You will land at San Cristobal where you will meet your second expedition leader who accompanies you to the pier for the start of your Galapagos cruise aboard the Petrel, a luxury motor catamaran. After settling into your cabins, you will join your guides for a welcome briefing and safety orientation. Following lunch aboard, you will set off for your first landing at Punta Carola. A short hike to the top of Frigatebird Hill rewards you with spectacular views of the coast, Kicker Rock, and the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Seabirds soar overhead, and you may see the namesake frigatebirds with their distinctive red chests.
A visit to the National Park Interpretation Center offers an ideal introduction to your voyage ahead as you learn about the history, ecosystems, geology, flora and fauna of the islands. Here you might also see giant tortoises roaming through a semi-natural habitat. 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."
The island of Española is one of the most prolific wildlife sites in the Galapagos. In the morning, you will visit 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. Later, 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 where curious Hood mockingbirds sometimes peck at our shoelaces. Cruising to the other side of the island, you will step ashore at Punta Suarez, where you will find the greatest number of endemic species in Galapagos. From April to December, the waved albatross, found only on Española, performs its raucous mating ritual. Colonies of blue-footed boobies show off for potential mates while red-billed tropicbirds take shelter on the cliff walls. You will also find Darwin's finches, Galapagos doves, Galapagos hawks, and a unique species of red and green marine iguana.
This morning you 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, you will find pintail ducks, common stilts and bright pink flamingos. As you wind your way past a rich variety of plants, you reach a beach of fine sand where sea turtles lay eggs in the dunes and rays swim in the shallow water. Back aboard the Petrel, you will sail a short distance to Devil’s Crown, an eroded volcanic cone that is a roosting site for boobies, pelicans and frigates. Here, you will snorkel above the sunken craters that are colonized by a brilliant array of corals and colorful fish. Sharks, rays, sea turtles, hammerhead sharks and sea lions are also common visitors.
Floreana's rich cultural history is filled with intrigue, including tales of pirates who once hid out here. At Post Office Bay, you will learn of one relic of this colorful past, the "Post Office Barrel." Established by British whalers in 1793, it's still a means for travelers to leave mail for personal delivery via visitors passing through. After a short snorkel looking for sea turtles and a walk to a lava tube, you will visit Baroness Lookout Point, a basaltic tuff formation located north of the island in La Olla Bay that offers panoramic views of the forest and coastline.
Spend the day exploring Santa Cruz, the main island in the chain, with several options to choose from. An easy 3-mile walk to Tortuga Bay (about an hour and 15 minutes one way, plus return) reveals a large, wild beach that is a sanctuary for the many birds, iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs that dot the lava rocks. Guests who wish may spend free time browsing the colorful waterfront town of Puerto Ayora, filled with open-air cafes and shops. Or visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, which operates in tandem with Galapagos National Park to preserve and protect the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Galapagos. At the center's 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.
Later this afternoon, those who choose to participate in the unique camping opportunity will disembark the Petrel and transfer to the highlands of Santa Cruz to spend the night at Natural Habitat's exclusive Tortoise Camp. Your private campsite, with distant views of the Pacific, is tucked among lush vegetation that attracts giant tortoises (most commonly seen from July through February). A mini bus returns you in the morning to rejoin the Petrel for the day's activities. Please note: At times, the camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions.
Your adventures on Santa Cruz continue with a visit to a tortoise reserve at El Manzanillo, where you'll get close-up photos with the numerous wild giant tortoises that freely roam these lush environs year-round. This afternoon you return to the Petrel and sail to tiny Bartolome, where you'll snorkel with penguins around Pinnacle Rock. Sleeping white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and stingrays are also common sightings. You will then make a dry landing to climb to the island’s highest point 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. Those who don't wish to hike can take a panga ride along the shoreline, watching for rays and reef sharks just below the surface.
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 thousands of great frigatebirds, red-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, Galapagos storm petrels and yellow-crowned night herons 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. Surrounded by vertical cliffs, the bay is an ideal breeding site for the more than one million birds that congregate on Genovesa.
Your second landing is at El Barranco, also known as Prince Philip's Steps, a steep path with stairs carved into the rock that leads to a plateau full of birdlife within a Palo Santo forest. You will 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.
At Puerto Egas on Santiago, make an early-morning landing on a black sand beach with eroded rock formations. Following a trail across the dry interior, see the remains of a salt mining enterprise before continuing along the coast. Tide pools are home to a variety of marine life, including sea urchins, octopus, sponges and sea stars. Bird life abounds, with great blue herons, lava herons, oyster catchers, yellow-crowned night herons and seasonal shorebirds. In the lava grottos you will find a colony of Galapagos fur seals, one of the only places in the islands you can see these endemic animals from land.
After your walk there will be time to swim or snorkel off the beach with the resident sea lions. Snorkeling at Buccaneer Cove, which was once a refuge for British pirates, offers a glimpse of underwater rock formations, sea turtles, rays and reef sharks. If time allows, you’ll also visit Espumilla Beach, where you can watch marine iguanas lounge while herons hunt for Sally Lightfoot crabs.
Returning to Santa Cruz this morning, you will visit Carrion Point, a sheltered lagoon on the north coast of the island at the entrance of Itabaca Channel. There is no place to land, so you will snorkel or take a panga ride to explore the shimmering turquoise water and meet its inhabitants, including white-tipped reef sharks, rays and sea turtles. Too soon, your time in the Enchanted Isles comes to a close— say farewell to the Petrel, her crew and your expedition leaders this afternoon. Once you disembark, head to the Baltra airport for the return flight to 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.
Hacienda Zuleta: 7/12/2017
Select departures include a guided stay at Hacienda Zuleta, the only luxury lodge in the Andes where there's a chance to spot rare spectacled bears. Named one of the best hotels in Ecuador by National Geographic Traveler, your stay includes private visits to ancient pyramids on the property and to Ecuador’s only licensed condor protection site, where you will often have the opportunity to view Andean condors soaring overhead.
Airport transfers; two nights stay in the highlands; cabin accommodations aboard the ship; meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 10; optional overnight at tortoise camp; drinking water; professional expedition guides; local guides and boat crew; some gratuities; permit fees; and gear on loan (wetsuits and snorkeling gear). Subject to change without notice.
International Airfare; Galapagos Airfare (to be added to your invoice and subject to change through day of departure); Galapagos National Park entrance fee ($120 per adult, $70 per child 11 and under; subject to change without notice); Galapagos Transit Card ($20 per person, subject to change); most gratuities; items of a personal nature such as alcohol, phone calls, laundry, etc.; travel insurance; optional activities; fuel surcharge may apply.
PHOTOS: © Cassiano Zaparoli; © Carolyn O'Connell; © Colby Brokvist; © NHA