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adventure travel trip to Galapagos
See eye to eye with a Blue-Footed Booby.
Dates
  • 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 Details
    Lodging 3 stars
    Grade I-II
    Best Time

    Aboard M/V Evolution, Southern 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

    Arrive in Guayaquil and admire the waterfront
    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

    Stroll Guayaquil's Malecon
    Day 3      Arrive Galapagos/Bartolome 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 Baltra 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 your first landings.  The first is Whaler Bay, a beautiful green sand cove at the base of Dragon Hill and, after that, you'll head to Eden Islet, home to a great variety of seabirds and marine iguanas and also a great snorkeling site.

    After these visits, get ready for the welcome cocktail hour and first briefing before continuing to dinner.

     

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    Say hello to the M/V Evolution, your home for the week
    Day 4      Isabela & Fernandina Islands

    Located near the northwesternmost point of Isabela Island is Punta Vicente Roca which, on a map, looks like the head of a seahorse. Here the remnants of an ancient volcano form a cove with a bay well protected from the ocean swells. The spot is a popular anchorage from which to take dinghy rides along the cliff where a partially sunken cave beckons explorers. Nazca and blue-footed boobies as well as brown noddy terns perche along the point and the sheer cliffs, while flightless cormorants inhabit the shoreline. The upwelling of cold water currents in this part of the Galapagos produces an abundance of marine life which, in combination with the protection of the coves, makes Punta Vicente Roca one of the archipelago’s most interesting dive spots. This place is also good for practicing some kayaking. The entire area of Punta Vicente Roca lies on the towering flank of 2,600-foot Volcano Ecuador, the island's sixth largest volcano, half of which has slid into the ocean, leaving a spectacular cutaway view of its caldera.

    Fernandina is the youngest and westernmost island in the Galapagos, sitting across the Bolivar Channel from Isabela Island. Our destination is Punta Espinosa, a narrow spit of land in the northeast corner of the island, where a number of unique Galapagos species can be seen in close proximity. As our panga driver skillfully navigates the reef, it's not unusual to see penguins swimming near the dinghy. Red and turquoise-blue Sally Lightfoot crabs disperse across the lava shoreline, while herons and egrets forage among the mangrove roots. The landing is a dry one, set in a quiet inlet beneath the branches of a small mangrove forest. A short walk through the vegetation leads to a large colony of marine iguanas, a schoolyard of Godzilla's children, resting atop one another in friendly heaps along the rocky shoreline, sneezing out saline water to clear their bodies of salt. Nearby, sea lions frolic in the sheltered coast line. This is one of the few places you can glimpse iguanas grazing on seaweed both underwater and above.
     
    Dominating this landscape, Las Cumbres volcano looms high overhead, at 1495 meters (4,858 feet), one of the most active volcanoes in the world, reporting seven eruptions from its 6-kilometer-wide caldera (mouth) since 1968. Along the coast line, the world's only species of flightless cormorants has established a colony near an inviting inlet frequented by sea turtles. Because these birds evolved without land predators, they progressively took to the sea, developing heavier, more powerful legs and feet for kicking, serpent-like necks, and wet, fur-like plumage. Their wings are now mere vestiges. Back toward the landing and farther inland, the island's black lava flows become more evident, forming a quiet, inner lagoon. Galapagos hawks survey the seascape from overhead.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    See the blue-footed booby's comical mating rituals
    Day 5      Isabela/Urbina & Tagus Cove

    Urbina Bay is directly west of Isabela’s Alcedo Volcano, where we will make a reasonably easy wet landing (a hop into a few inches of water where waves break onto the shore) onto a gently sloping inorganic beach. In 1954, a Disney film crew caught sight of this gleaming white strip, and on further investigation found pools of stranded sea creatures! To their astonishment, three miles (5 km) of the marine reef had been uplifted by as much as 13 feet (4 meters) in moments. Now visitors can walk amongst the dried coral heads, mollusks, and other organisms that used to form the ocean floor. A highlight of this excursion is tracking down the very large land iguanas that live in the area, whose vivid and gaudy yellow skin suggests that dinosaurs may have been very colorful indeed. Giant tortoises inhabit this coastal plain during the wet season before migrating to the highlands when the lowlands turn dry. Our landing beach also provides opportunities to snorkel among marine creatures, or just to relax on the beach. Here we must take care not to step on the sea turtle nests, which are dug carefully into the sand.
     
    Later in the afternoon, visit Tagus Cove on another part of Isabela Island. A wooden stairway rises to the trail entrance and continues around Darwin Lake through a dry vegetation zone, and ends in a promontory formed by spatter cones. The site provides spectacular views of our anchorage in the bay, as well as Darwin and Wolf Volcanoes.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    Investigate coral heads well inland, the result of volcanic uplifting
    Day 6      Bartholome & Santiago Islands

    In the morning we visit Bartolome Island (easy, wet landing), famous for Pinnacle Rock, where we will see Galapagos Penguins and sea lions. We will also hike a trail to Bartolome’s summit (moderate), where you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Pinnacle Rock and our beach, where the crystal blue waters of the bay cradle the yacht. After lunch, head out on a visit to James Bay on Santiago, for a wet landing on a black beach with intriguing eroded rock formations. A trail (moderate difficulty) leads to a series of crystal-clear grottos formed of broken lava tubes, which are home to sea lions, fur seals, marine iguanas, and tropical fish.  Snorkeling is also an option at this afternoon anchorage.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    Whales (here, an orca) are often found around the western islands
    Day 7      Santa Cruz/Bachas Beach & Dragon Hill

    In the morning, you'll visit Las Bachas (wet, easy landing), a sandy white-coral beach that is a major egg-laying site for sea turtles, on Santa Cruz Island. The name Bachas refers to the remains of landing craft left here at the end of WWII. Ashore, marine iguanas mingle with flamingos and other wading birds in another of the many super saline lagoons found in the Galapagos. Return to the ship for lunch, then in the afternoon, visit Dragon Hill (dry landing, moderate climb), also on Santa Cruz, named for the large number of land iguanas that frequent the area, and an important nesting site for iguanas reintroduced by the Charles Darwin Research Center. A short, easy walk from the beach leads to a hypersalinic (saltier than the ocean) lagoon that is frequented by pink flamingos, common stilts, pintail ducks and other species of birds. From here, they will pass through a forest of the endemic Scalesia tree. There are only around 400 specimens of the Scalesia tree left in the world. Past the forest, hike up Dragon Hill (moderate) for impressive views of the bay.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    See graceful flamingos in super-salty lagoons
    Day 8      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 Galapagos. 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. 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, somewhat alien 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

    Visit tortoises at Charles Darwin Research Station
    Day 9      Espanola/Punta Suarez/Gardner Bay

    Espanola is the southernmost island of the archipelago, and is one of the most popular due to the breathtaking variation and sheer number of creatures that greet visitors. The giant tortoises, though present on this island, reside in an off-limits area, but don’t worry—the famous giant tortoise awaits you on other islands! Some individuals were reintroduced to Espanola the 1990s and since then their numbers have climbed. This effort counts as one of the National Park's greatest success stories.

    The quantity and variety of wildlife at Punta Suarez (dry landing) is remarkable. Sea lions surf the waves beyond the breakwater landing, and tiny pups are known to greet your toes upon arrival. A few steps inland, you will find communal napping piles of the most peculiar population of marine iguanas in the Galapagos which bear distinctive red markings, some with a flash of turquoise running down their spine and legs. The trail (difficult) then takes us beside the western edge of the island where Nazca boobies (formerly known as Masked boobies) nest along the cliff's edge, and then descends to a rocky beach before rising to an open area and a large gathering of nesting blue-footed boobies. Galapagos doves, cactus finch, and mockingbirds forage nearby, unconcerned by human presence.
     
    The trail continues to the high cliff edge of the southern shore; below, a shelf of black lava reaches out into the surf where a blowhole shoots a geyser of ocean water into the air. Within this area along the cliffs is the "Albatross Airport" where waved albatross line up to launch their great winged bodies from the cliffs, soaring out over the dramatic shoreline of crashing waves and driven spray. In the trees set back from the cliff is one of only two places in the world where the waved albatross nests. In fact, the 13,000 pairs that inhabit Espanola Island are the total endemic population of this species of birds, with the exception of a very small population that occasionally nests elsewhere on the continental part of Ecuador. Lucky visitors can watch courtship 'fencing' done with great yellow beaks and necks among the large, fluffy, perfectly camouflaged chicks. Mating occurs year round. On the northeastern shore of Espanola, Gardner Bay (wet landing, easy walking) offers a magnificent long white sandy beach where colonies of sea lions laze in the sun, sea turtles swim offshore, and inquisitive Hood mockingbirds boldly investigate new arrivals. You will be lured into the turquoise water for a swim, but just a little further offshore, the snorkeling by Tortuga Rock and Gardner Island offers peak encounters with playful young sea lions and large schools of surprisingly big tropical fish, including yellow-tailed surgeonfish, king angelfish and bump-head parrot fish. Sleepy white-tipped reef sharks can be seen napping on the bottom and sometimes Hammerhead sharks are visible nearby.

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    See abundant Sally lightfoot crabs
    Day 10      San Cristobal/Quito or Guayaquil

    San Cristobal is the easternmost island in the Galapagos. Darwin reported encountering a pair of giant tortoises feeding on cactus during his first landing here in 1835. Today the airport of this easternmost island in the chain is increasingly used as the arrival point for flights into and out of the Galapagos. The administrative capital for the province is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the southwestern shore, and in 1998 the Galápagos National Park Interpretation Centre opened for the benefit of islanders and travelers alike, presenting a comprehensive exhibit of the islands' natural history, human interaction, ecosystems, flora, and fauna. It is also the place where cultural activities take place, including theater, exhibitions, and workshops. From the Interpretation Center, a three-kilometer loop trail arrives at Frigate Bird Hill, where both magnificent frigatebirds and great frigatebirds can be seen in the same colony—ideal for learning to distinguish the two bird species. A 45-minute bus ride from town takes you to "El Junco," one of the few permanent fresh water lagoons in the islands. Its location in the highlands of San Cristobal (2,300 feet or 700 meters) ensures our passage through a variety of vegetation zones. The lagoon offers a panoramic setting for exceptional bird watching including frigate birds that, in spite of being sea birds, go there to rinse the accumulated salt from their feathers.

    Return to San Cristobal'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

    Disembark the Evolution at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
    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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