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adventure travel trip to Ecuador
Watch for soaring Frigate birds.
  • Thursday biweekly departures (cruise departs on Saturday). Call for dates.
  • Duration 11 days
    Group Size 32
    Land Cost $5,350-$6,650 Details
    Single Supplement $4,013-$4,988
    Lodging 3 stars
    Grade I-II
    Best Time

    Aboard M/V Evolution, Northern Circuit

    Cruise the islands on a 192' newly-commissioned yacht offering traditional elegance

    Day 1      Quito or Guayaquil

    Arrive in either Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador, where you will be met and transferred to your local hotel.* Quito is located in a huge valley of the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 9,455 feet; it’s a great place to extend your stay to explore the city or the surrounding volcanic mountain range. Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city and, with its low elevation and more coastal location, is an ideal point from which to fly to the Galapagos. Overnight at the Swissotel or Patio Andaluz in Quito or the Hotel Oro Verde in Guayaquil, for two nights. (*Hotel/city tour package is not included in cruise rate.)

    Meals: None

    Lighthouse at Las Penas in Guayaquil
    Day 2      Quito or Guayaquil

    Quito city tour: Stroll down cobblestone streets and through flowering plazas. Visit the old colonial center of Independence Square, the elegant cathedrals of San Francisco and La Compañía, and also San Agustín, Quito’s oldest monastery. Drive through the residential section and past the Legislative Palace (Congress). Visit Panecillo Hill south of the old town, which affords great views of the city, snow-capped mountains, and surrounding volcanos. The rest of the afternoon is at your leisure to explore or relax.

    Guayaquil city tour: Our first stop is Malecon 2000, a two-mile-long waterfront promenade along the Guayas River. The waterfront boardwalk features a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, shops, and museums with art exhibitions, as well as free weekend jazz and classical music concerts. Drive through the colorful streets of this, one of Ecuador’s most important port cities. Visit the Public Market, the waterfront, the docks, and Simon Bolivar Park, which is famous for its tree iguanas. Also, admire the watchtower, La Rotonda, Old Santa Ana Fort, and Las Penas, a charming colonial section of town occupied by artists. The rest of the afternoon is at your leisure to explore or relax.

    Meals: Breakfast

    Climb to atmospheric Capilla Santa Ana Church
    Day 3      Arrive Galapagos/San Cristobal Island

    The flight from Quito (via Guayaquil) to the Galapagos is approximately 2-1/2 hours long (about 2 hours from Guayaquil). Upon arrival at San Cristobal airport, travelers pass through an airport inspection point to ensure that no foreign plants or animals are introduced to the islands and to pay the park entrance fee, which will be pre-paid for you. Guides will meet you, collect your luggage, and escort you on the short bus ride to the harbor. Motorized rafts called Zodiacs (or pangas) will transport you to the yacht, and the crew will welcome you onboard. After a briefing and a light lunch, you'll set off for Playa Ochoa and Kicker Rock, with opportunities for easy hiking and snorkeling. Playa Ochoa is located 6 miles from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and is a lovely small beach with easy access. Here you’ll find the Chatham mockingbird and various species of Darwin's finches. Toward the rear of the beach is a little super-salinated pond where white cheek pintails can often be seen wading. The beach also provides a chance for some introductory snorkeling.
     Leon Dormido, also known as Kicker Rock, is a spectacular formation that rises 152 meters (500 feet) out of the Pacific 4 miles off the western coast of San Cristobal. It takes the form of a sleeping lion or the Sphinx if you look at the rock from the south, but from the north you can see that the rock is split, forming a colossal tablet and, piercing the sea, a great chisel ready for etching. Small vessels can navigate through the narrow channel between the rocks.  It's also a great place for snorkeling, with the possibility of glimpsing rarely-seen hammerhead sharks.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    Your Galapagos adventure begins on Baltra
    Day 4      South Plaza/Santa Cruz/Daphne Islands

    South Plaza is the southern partner of two small crescent-shaped islands that lie just a few hundred meters off the east coast of Santa Cruz. The northern island is used for scientific purposes only, while South Plaza is one of the smallest, yet richest islands in the archipelago. Only 130 meters wide (426 feet), it was formed from uplifted seabed, giving it a tilted tabletop quality. Our landing is in the channel between North and South Plaza, where the island tilts toward the water.
    The approach makes for a lavishly colorful sight. The turquoise waters of the channel contrast brilliantly with the black lava of the shoreline. The rocks have grown thick with green seaweed in places, speckled with bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs. Further up the shore, a carpet of scarlet ice plant (Sesuvium) serves as groundcover for a grove of luminescent green prickly pear cactus. Yellow-gray land iguanas sit beneath, waiting patiently for pears to drop.
    The trail follows the gradual tilt of the island to the cliffs that overlook the ocean to the south, where swallow-tailed gulls nest. Red-billed tropic birds, as well as Nazca and blue-footed boobies, ride the windy currents. The overlook is a great place for spotting large marine life, including manta rays. Nearby, the surf pounds an inlet at the western corner of the island, where a colony of male sea lions makes its home at what is referred to as a bachelor’s site. The oils from their fur leave the surrounding rocks looking polished and shiny.

    Daphne Minor, a tuff cone (giant pile of compressed volcanic ash shaped like a cone), sits off the north coast of Santa Cruz Island, west of Baltra and North Seymour islands. There are no visitor sites on Daphne Minor or Daphne Major islands, but the sights and dive spots are all very good.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    South Plaza has abundant plant and bird life
    Day 5      Sombrero Chino/Santiago

    Sombrero Chino Islet, meaning "Chinese Hat" in Spanish, is a miniature volcanic cone. This site has a beautiful landscape and a spectacular white coral sand beach where visitors can see colonies of sea lions. It is a great place to observe lava formations such as spatter cones (“hornitos”) and small lava tubes. The swimming and snorkeling are also excellent in this visitor site, and penguins are frequently sighted.

    Just across a narrow channel west of Bartolome lies Sullivan Bay on the island of Santiago. In the afternoon, you'll visit Puerto Egas, also known as James Bay (wet landing), where we land on a black beach with intriguing eroded rock formations. A trail (easy to moderate) leads to a series of crystal-clear grottos formed by broken lava tubes, which are home to a great number of shore birds and reptiles, sea lions, fur seals, marine iguanas, and tropical fish. Snorkeling here is among the best of the sites in the archipelago, with sea turtles feeding, parrot fish, damsel fish, white-tipped reef sharks, and more.  Charles Darwin spent most of his Galapagos land time near this very place.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    Visit tidal pools and the rocky coast of Santiago
    Day 6      Genovesa (Tower Island)

    Genovesa looks like it could serve as a film set for a secret submarine base, with its ocean-filled caldera ringed by the outer edges of a sizeable and mostly submerged volcano. The island sits to the northeast, somewhat removed from the Galapagos archipelago. It is also known as "Bird Island," a name it lives up to in a spectacular way. Landing on the white coral sands of Darwin Bay and walking up the beach, you will be surrounded by the bustling activity of great frigatebirds. Puffball-chicks with their proud papas—who sport their bulging scarlet throat-sacks—crowd the surrounding branches, while both yellow-crowned and lava herons feed by the shore. Farther along, you will discover a stunning series of sheltered pools set into a rocky outcrop, forming another natural film set. A trail beside the pools leads up to a cliff overlooking the caldera, where pairs of swallow-tailed gulls, the only nocturnal gulls in the world, can be seen nesting at the cliff’s edge. Lava gulls and pintail ducks ride the sea breezes nearby.
    A brief panga ride brings us to the base of those same cliffs to reveal the full variety of species sheltering in the ledges and crevices created by the weathered basalt. Among them, red–billed tropicbirds enter and leave their nests trailing exotic long tails known as streamers. This is also an intriguing place to go deep-water snorkeling, where the truly fortunate swimmer can spot one of the giant manta rays that frequent the inner bay along the cliff walls.

    Across the bay is Prince Philip's Steps, named for a visit by the British Monarch in 1964. The 25- meter (81-foot) stairway leads to a narrow stretch of land that opens out onto the plateau surrounding Darwin Bay, and extends to form the north side of the island. Red-footed boobies wrap their webbed feet around branches to perch in the bushes, and, in contrast, their Nazca booby cousins dot the surface of the scrublands beyond. Crossing through the sparse vegetation, you will come to a broad lava field that extends toward the sea—this forms the north shore. Storm petrels flutter out over the ocean in large flocks, then return to nest in the cracks and tunnels of the lava field, where their predator, the short-eared owl, is a frequent visitor.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    Genovesa is home to many birds, including this Nazca booby
    Day 7      North Seymour & Santa Fe Islands

    In the morning, you'll visit North Seymour Island (dry landing), which is teaming with wildlife. Cliffs only a few meters high form the shoreline, home to swallow-tailed gulls. A tiny forest of silver-grey Palo Santo trees stands just above the landing, where a trail (with options ranging from easy to difficult) will take you to see sea lions, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, pelicans, magnificent frigatebirds, and land iguanas. In the afternoon, you'll visit Santa Fe Island, home to one of the most beautiful and sheltered bays of the archipelago and to some of the best snorkeling, with crystal clear water, and certainly one of the best locations to see sea turtles, swim with sea lions, and glimpse the Galapagos white-tipped shark. After a wet landing you will walk up to a nearby cliff (medium level of difficulty) to see the land iguanas in an area of Opuntia cactus.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    North Seymour has abundant blue-footed boobies
    Day 8      Floreana / P.O. Bay / Punta Cormorant

    Floreana has had a colorful history: pirates, whalers, convicts, and a small band of somewhat peculiar colonists — a Baroness among them — who chose a Robinson Crusoe-like existence here that ended in mystery and death. This morniong, a visit to Punta Cormorant (wet landing, easy walking) which offers two highly contrasting beaches — a green-olivine beach and an iron-red beach. From here, a trail crosses the neck of the isthmus that rises to form a cinder cone to a beach of very fine white sand, formed by the erosion of coral skeletons. Between the two beaches is a salt lagoon frequented by flamingoes, pintails, stilts, and other wading birds. After lunch in the afternoon, visit Post Office Bay, where in 1793, British whalers set up a barrel as the island‘s Post Office to send letters home on passing ships. The tradition continues to this day, simply by dropping a post card into the barrel without a stamp. Traditionally, visitors search post cards for any addressed to their home towns, which they deliver by hand when they arrive home after their travels. You'll also visit Devil's Crown (wet landing, easy walking), which is home to myriad of marine species, including a variety of corals, pencil sea urchin, wrasses, angelfish, and amberjacks, making for some of the best snorkeling in the Galapagos.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    Explore 18th century Post Office Bay and mail a postcard to a friend
    Day 9      Santa Cruz/Darwin Station/Highlands

    Santa Cruz is the second-largest island in the Galapagos and something of a hub for the archipelago. Puerto Ayora, located in the southeast of this large, round volcanic island, is the economic center of the Islands. It has the largest population among the four inhabited islands (approx. 18,000), which economically relies mostly on tourism—including refurbishing and resupplying yachts—along with fishing and boat-building.
    Puerto Ayora is home to both the Galapagos National Park Service Headquarters and Charles Darwin Research Station, the center of the great restorative efforts taking place in the park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here we go ashore to visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Program run by the research station, which began by rescuing 14 tortoises remaining on the island of Espanola in 1970. This program has restored the population of animals there to over 1,000 today. You will see many of these animals, with their sweet alien-like necks and faces, from hatchlings to juveniles to large, distinguished individuals. The local color of this port makes for an attractive stop-off, with restaurants, souvenir shops, and internet cafes.
    A highlight of any trip is a visit to the Highlands, where the dry coastal vegetation transitions to lush wet fields and forests overgrown with mosses and lichens. Our destination is the Tortoise Reserve, where we will have chances to track and view these friendly and ancient creatures in their natural settings. This extends to the adjacent pasturelands, where farmers make some profits by allowing visitors into their farms in exchange for payment. The best times to see tortoises here is during the cool or dry season from June through December. Another nearby attraction is the highland’s lava tubes. Some of tubes offer easy access by the means of wooden stairways that descend to the mouth of their arched cave entrances. From there one can make their way into the tubes underground along the cool, dimly lit naturally formed passages with their fascinating rock formations. The tubes make for a fairly easy and interesting hike. You should bring along non-slip footwear and some hikers prefer to use a flashlight.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    Learn about preservation efforts at Darwin Station
    Day 10      San Cristobal/Baltra/Quito or Guayaquil

    Black Turtle Cove, located on the northern shore of Santa Cruz, is a living illustration of how mangroves alter the marine environment to create a rich and unique habitat. Four species of mangrove crowd from the shore out into the lagoon, which stretches almost a mile inland. As we drift though the quiet waters in our dinghy, we are likely to see spotted eagle rays and cow nosed or golden rays, which swim in a diamond formation. White-tipped reef sharks can be seen beneath the boat, and Pacific green sea turtles come to the surface for air and to mate. Sea birds, including pelicans, herons, and egrets, all feed in the cove. This cove has been declared a turtle sanctuary.

    After this morning visit, head to Baltra's airport for your midday flight back to Quito or Guayaquil, where you will be met and transferred to your hotel with the rest of your day at leisure.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Get a last glimpse of the Galapagos as you leave
    Day 11      Quito or Guayaquil/Onward

    You will be transferred to the airport for your onward flight.

    Meals: Breakfast

    Bid farewell to Ecuador

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