Summary : 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—plus, explore the Andean cloud forest! The far-flung archipelago of the Galapagos is where giant tortoises roam misty meadows, sea lions loll on pristine beaches, and iguanas bask on sun-baked lava while sea turtles, rays, and penguins swim with snorkelers in turquoise waters.
Activities : Birding, Culture, Hiking, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Triple/Quad Cabins
$7,943 to $8,243
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 the group once you land on the island of Baltra, then transfer to the jetty to board the Nemo III. 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 partaking in a safety drill, you'll have an orientation to the kayaks. Your Expedition Leader helps everyone get fitted to the kayaks and reviews paddling technique and safety information.
Set off for Las Bachas, a beautiful white sand beach on Santa Cruz. Snorkeling in the azure water reveals a kaleidoscope of fish, while the powdered coral sand is a favorite nesting site for green sea turtles, and pink flamingos often dot the saltwater lagoons. Back aboard the Nemo III, your Expedition Leader offers a briefing about tomorrow's activities, followed by cocktails and dinner.
Genovesa, or Tower Island, is a collapsed shield volcano that attracts literally millions of seabirds that come here to breed and nest. Paddling your kayak 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 vertical cliffs of the collapsed caldera, Darwin Bay is an ideal breeding site for the birds that congregate on Genovesa, including two species of sea swallows that nest in holes in the lava walls.
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.
After lunch aboard continue to Darwin Bay Beach following a trail into lush mangroves where red-footed boobies nest. You may also see nesting colonies of common frigatebird, Nazca booby and huge numbers of breeding swallow-tailed seagulls. After the walk, snorkel from the beach, where plenty of local sea lions loll in the sun, and sightings of rays and sea turtles are common below the water’s surface.
A special kayaking opportunity awaits this morning as you circle the island called Sombrero Chino, or "Chinese Hat." It really does look like a traditional Chinese hat. enjoy varied vantage points on it as you paddle through the Bainbridge Rocks, shaped like a string of floating mushroom tops, while more fascinating Galapagos marine life is revealed at eye level.
This afternoon set sail for Santa Cruz. Leave the boat behind temporarily to ascend into the misty highlands. Soon, arrive at the exclusive Tortoise Camp to spend the night. This rustic private camp, which offers accommodations in safari-style tents and treehouses with distant views of the ocean, is tucked among lush vegetation that attracts wild giant tortoises. View these ancient, amiable creatures in their natural setting, and often they amble right into camp (seen most commonly from July through February). Nearby, you can also explore a network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns.
Please note: At times, the Tortoise Camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions, in which case you will remain aboard the Nemo III for the night, though all sightseeing inclusions will remain the same.
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. Continue to Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz, where you visit the world-famous giant tortoise rearing center at Charles Darwin Research Station. Here, international scientists conduct studies 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 population, a central part of the missions for both the research station and Galapagos National Park. After lunch, a hike along a trail to secluded Tortuga Bay offers a chance for kayaking in mangrove lagoons where it is common to see sea turtles. You can also swim in the aquamarine water or just relax on the pristine white sand beach. Or choose free time on your own in town, where you’ll find a nice selection of shops, cafes and seaside bars.
This morning land at Punta Moreno on Isabela, the largest island in the Galapagos. The point is located between two volcanoes, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul. Step ashore to walk atop the hardened lava. At first glance, the corrugated rock landscape appears lifeless. However, the wavy black surface is dotted with numerous coastal lagoons harboring a wide variety of birdlife. Commonly seen species include flamingos, paint-billed crakes, white-cheeked pintails, herons and cormorants. See endemic Galapagos flora taking root on this young, barren lava flow, including giant opuntia cactus, Palo Santo trees, carob trees and lichens. The protected waters of Moreno Bay are surrounded by mangroves, creating perfect habitat for sea turtles, which you may spot from the pangas or on a snorkel.
At Urbina Bay this afternoon, step onto a black sand beach to 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, exposing 1.6 square miles of shoreline. The coastline was driven three-quarters of a mile farther out to sea, exposing coral and stranding marine organisms on what is now shore. Urbina is home to a colony of some of the largest land iguanas in the islands and the iconic Galapagos tortoise, and you may also see bright yellow Darwin’s cotton flowers here, unique to the archipelago.
This morning awake at Fernandina, the youngest and most active volcano in the Galapagos, erupting most recently in 2005. The rippling pahoehoe lava at Punta Espinoza is 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 counterpoint to the aquamarine sea. A snorkeling excursion offers a good chance to see sea turtles and submerged marine iguanas feeding on algae. Fernandina is home to a number of rare and unique Galapagos species such as the flightless cormorant, Galapagos penguin, Galapagos sparrow hawk and Galapagos snake, among others. You’ll also see fascinating lava cactus, which grows on young lava flows with virtually no water.
Cross the Bolivar Channel to reach Isabela this afternoon, keep watch for whales and dolphins. Anchoring at Tagus Cove, set out to explore by kayak, finding penguins, pelicans and graffiti dating to the 1800s when the names of ships were carved into the rock above a historic anchorage for pirates and whalers. Another snorkeling opportunity awaits, perhaps with a chance to frolic again with young sea lions. Inside the submerged volcanic cone you'll find saltwater Darwin Lake.
At Puerto Egas on Santiago, one of the most volcanically active islands in the Galapagos, make a morning landing on a black sand beach with eroded rock formations. The trail crosses the dry interior where 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, land doves, finches, mockingbirds and seasonal shorebirds. In the lava grottos, find a colony of Galapagos fur seals, one of the only places in the islands where these endemic animals are on view from land. After your walk, there may be time to swim or snorkel off the beach with the resident sea lions, and you may also see turtles, rays and reef sharks.
This afternoon, sea conditions permitting, stop at Playa Espumilla, located on James Bay. It’s an exciting site for snorkeling, with an interesting array of marine life on display. Look for moray eels, marine iguanas, sharks, octopi and rays hiding on the sandy sea bottom. Orange Sally Lightfoot crabs speckle the rocks, attracting herons. You'll have a chance to kayak here, too; watch for sea turtles cresting the water’s surface as you paddle.
Just off Santa Cruz, stop to circumnavigate Daphne Major. One of two small volcanic islands (along with Daphne Minor) that are a haven for multiple bird species, Daphne Major is formed of a tuff crater. It’s a noted location for bird research, especially on boobies. A pair of Princeton University scientists have been conducting longitudinal studies over more than three decades and have been able to watch subtle evolutionary processes at work. Blue-footed boobies nest in the interior of the crater, while masked boobies nest on the sides of the cone and along the crater's edge.
All too soon, your time in the Enchanted Isles comes to a close, as you say farewell to the Nemo III, her crew and your Expedition Leader. This afternoon return to the Baltra airport, and board your 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; $350-$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.