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adventure travel trip to Ecuador
Waved Albatross nesting on Espanola
  • Thursday biweekly departures (cruise departs on Saturday). Call for dates.
  • Duration 11 days
    Group Size 16
    Land Cost $4,950-$5,400 Details
    Single Supplement $2,475 Details
    Lodging 3 stars
    Grade I-II
    Best Time

    Aboard M/C Athala II, Southern Circuit

    Explore the Galapagos aboard this newly-refurbished high-end catamaran

    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, the surrounding volcanic mountain range, or possibly an excursion to the fabled Otavalo market.

    Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city; with its low elevation and coastal location, it is an ideal point from which to fly to the Galapagos.  The city's 1.5-mile waterfront Malecon 2000 riverfront promenade is a lovely and enjoyable place to spend an afternoon.

    *Hotel/city tour package is not included in cruise rate.

    Visit the stairstep neighborhood of Las Penas
    Meals: None
    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, La Compañía, and San Agustín, Quito’s oldest monastery. Drive through the residential section and past the Legislative Palace (Congress). Panecillo Hill overlooks the city and snow-capped mountains. The rest of the afternoon is at your leisure to explore or relax.

    Guayaquil city tour: Our first stop is Malecon 2000, an 80-million-dollar riverside complex built along a two-mile stretch of the Guayas River. The waterfront promenade features restaurants, cafes, shops, and museums with art exhibitions as well as free weekend jazz and classical music concerts. Drive through the colorful streets of 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 frequented by artists. The rest of the afternoon is at your leisure to explore or relax.

    Wander along Guayaquil's lovely Malecon
    Meals: Breakfast
    Day 3      Baltra Island/Sombrero Chino

    The flight from Quito (via Guayaquil) to the Galapagos is approximately 2-1/2 hours long (or 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 (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 on a Zodiac (panga) ride to Sombrero Chino, a small islet near the southeastern coast of Santiago Island whose name means "Chinese hat," a name that perfectly captures its unique shape. There are various interesting geological formations that make this a great place for photos, but there are also various marine species to observe, such as sea lions and Sally lightfoot crabs.  Keep an out out for different species of Darwin's finches as well.

    Back on board late in the day, attend the first of your daily briefings on the next day's adventure, then enjoy welcome cocktails and dinner onboard.

    Get your first glimpse of the Galapagos on your descent
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 4      Santa Cruz/Cerro Dragon/Rabida

    After breakfast, take a panga ride to a dry landing at a pier on the beach at Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill), Santa Cruz, named for the healthy population of land iguanas found there in 1975. After landing, hike beyond the beach to a salt water lagoon frequented by common stilts, pintail ducks, and (occasionally) flamingos. A short walk up the hill leads you to a land iguana nesting site with breathtaking views of the bay. You will have the chance to go swimming after the walk, then return to the boat for an lesson on Ecuadorian ceviche (delicious!) followed by lunch.

    In the afternoon, trabel by panga to Rabida (wet landing), a small island with red volcanic rocks surrounding a beautiful red sand beach, home to a colony of sea lions and a pelican nesting site. The trail leads to a salt water lagoon where shore birds can be seen. Rabida is considered to be one of the best snorkeling sites in the Galapagos Islands, so dive in and search for colorful fish and marine life. You also have options this afternoon for beach activities, kayaking, and panga rides.

    See land iguanas and their nesting sites
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 5      Isabela/Elizabeth Bay/Moreno Point

    After breakfast, hop in a panga for a trip to Elizabeth Bay, a natural bay on the coast of Isabela Island and one of the furthest points in the Galapagos that we will visit on our cruise. Enter a sheltered cove – a wonderful mangrove ecosystem that is a refuge for sea turtles, rays, blue-footed boobies, penguins, herons and more. Difficulty level: Easy.

    After returning to the boat for lunch, head out in the afternoon to Moreno Point, located just southwest of Elizabeth Bay on the west coast of Isabela Island and known for large populations of sea birds which can be appreciated on a panga ride along the striking rocky shores or on a hike along a path through lava rock that leads to large tide pools and mangroves. Look for green sea turtles and white-tip sharks in the tide pools. Difficulty level: Moderate to difficult.

    Snorkel among vibrantly-colored schools of fish
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 6      Floreana/P.O. Bay/Punta Cormorant

    Floreana Island is one of the Galapagos' most intriguing places, with many strange stories about its past settlers. There are many wonderful and diverse sites to visit, including Post Office Bay and the "Baroness's Viewing Point." Marine life also abounds in Floreana's coastal regions, making it a fantastic site for snorkeling. Flamingos also populate the island and may be seen during your visit. The Baroness's Viewing Point is the perfect place to take Floreana's special environment and is a great spot to learn and ponder regarding the intriguing history of the Baroness and her three lovers (yes, three!). Difficulty level: Easy.

    Next, visit Post Office Bay, where, in the 18th century, whalers passing through the islands placed a wooden barrel for use as an unofficial mail box. The tradition continues today as visitors leave addressed postcards in the barrel and sort through left mail to deliver to their home towns after their vacations. This is one of the archipelago's most famous spots. There will be time for snorkeling or kayaking before lunch. Difficulty level: Easy.

    After returning to the ship for lunch, head to Punta Cormorant for snorkeling, kayaking, or panga rides. A great site for bird-watching, Cormorant Point has a large lagoon where everything from flamingos to stilts and pintail ducks can be observed. The beach nearby is also quite special and known as the "Green Beach," for its unusually-colored sand containing a high concentration of olivine crystals. Difficulty level: Easy.

    Participate in the traditions of Post Office Bay
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 7      San Cristobal/Cerro Brujo/Isla Lobos

    Located on the north coast of San Cristobal Island, the eroding tuff cone of Cerro Brujo offers a fantastic landscape as well as wonderful swimming, snorkeling, and panga rides. Cerro Brujo's gorgeous beach, home to many sea lions, is also the site of Charles Darwin's first landfall in the Galapagos. You'll also visit a beautiful lagoon used by the locals of Baquerizo Moreno Port for salt mining as well as two different species of halophytes (rare plants that grow in soils with a high salt content). Difficulty level: Easy to moderate.

    Following lunch on the ship, sail by Kicker Rock Islet (amazing sight!) on the way to Isla Lobos, named after its large colony of sea lions (also called “lobos,” or wolves, in Spanish). Visitors often have close encounters with curious sea lion pups, especially while snorkeling. This small islet also is home to populations of blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, and the shy and elusive Galapagos fur seal (actually a type of sea lion). Difficulty level: Easy.

    Sail by dramatic Kicker Rock islet
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 8      Santa Cruz/Darwin Station/Highlands

    After breakfast, head by panga to a dry landing on the dock in the town of Puerto Ayora. Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, where you will gain insight into massive efforts being made by scientists, guides, rangers, and park managers to preserve this UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will see the famous Galapagos tortoises that are the islands'namesake. Afterward, take a bus ride to the green highlands of Santa Cruz, where you will visit a tortoise reserve to search for giant tortoises in their natural surroundings. Return to the ship in the early afternoon for lunch and an afternoon of optional water activities. Difficulty level: Easy to moderate.

    Learn about conservation efforts at Darwin Station
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 9      Espanola/Punta Suarez/Gardner Bay

    Punta Suarez (dry landing), Espanola, is one of the most popular and attractive sites in the Galapagos. Due to its isolation from other islands, it has a high proportion of endemic fauna. A few steps inland from the landing site, groups of marine iguanas bask in the sun. Further inland, Nazca and blue-footed boobies nest near the trail, Galapagos doves peck around, unconcerned about visitors, and finches go about their day-to-day business. The trail continues toward a blowhole, a fissure in the lava where water spurts high into the air like a geyser. Cracks in the cliffs are home to swallow-tailed gulls and red-billed tropicbirds. Further up the cliff in an area of low-lying trees, you will find waved albatrosses nesting. The 15,000 to 17,000 pairs of albatrosses here represent almost the entire planet's population of this species. They perform one of the most spectacular courtship rituals of the animal world. Difficulty level: Difficult.

    Return to the ship for lunch, then head out to Gardner Bay (wet landing) and its beautiful white sandy beach, home to one of the islands' most important colonies of sea lions and also a sea turtle nesting site. Throughout the afternoon, there are also opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. Difficulty level: Easy.

    Return to the ship for a departure briefing, farewell cocktails, dinner, and your final night on board.

    Get close-up views of Galapagos sea lions frolicking in the surf
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 10      Santa Cruz/Quito or Guayaquil

    Watch and listen to the ship's naturalist's descriptions as the M/C Athala circumnavigates the small island of Daphne Major, located between Santa Cruz and Santiago Islands, a spectacular bird-watching as well as scientific research site. A select handful of scientists have long studied bird life here, especially Darwin's finches, so important that this little island became famous after many publications by well-known researchers, Peter and Rosemary Grant. From the vantage point of the yacht's decks, your guide will point out the bird life and explain some of the important research carried out here. Non-research visitors are not allowed on this island due to its very fragile nature.

    Around mid-morning, head to the 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.


    Leave the M/C Athala, your home for the week, and head for the mainland
    Meals: Breakfast
    Day 11      Quito or Guayaquil/Onward

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

    Bid farewell to Ecuador
    Meals: Breakfast

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