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adventure travel trip to Ecuador
Meet a giant Galapagos tortoise in the wild, at the National Tortoise Reserve in the highlands of Santa Cruz
  • 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, Northern 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.

    Arrive in the busy waterfront city of Guayaquil
    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 the enchanting stairstep neighborhood of Las Penas
    Meals: Breakfast
    Day 3      Baltra Island/Mosquera Island

    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 tiny Mosquera Islet, home to a huge population of sea lions and many species of shorebirds. While at Mosquera, keep your eyes peeled as there are occasional reports of dolphins and orcas. Dificulty level: Easy.

    At the end of the day, return to the boat for your first daily briefing on the next day's activities, a welcome cocktail, and dinner.

    Get your first glimpse of the Galapagos on your descent
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 4      Santiago/Sullivan Bay/Bartolome

    Visit Sullivan Bay (dry landing) on Santiago Island, for some morning hiking and snorkeling. Sullivan Bay is known for its spectacular volcanic formations, relatively young pahoehoe lava flows, and unique geological scenery. Due to Sullivan's relatively recent volcanic activity, few plants have been able to take root here, much less be successful, so pay particular attention to the low-lying pioneer plant known locally as "mollugo," as well as the lava cactus.

    Return to the boat to set sail for Bartolome Island and lunch. In the early afternoon, make a wet landing on Bartolome, a small island with a two interesting visitor sites. At the first site, you can snorkel off the beach or in deep water around Pinnacle Rock, where Galapagos penguins are usually seen. Then, it's back on board for a quick change of clothes followed by a short panga ride to Bartolome's second site, a dry landing on another part of the island, for a climb to its highest point. On the way up, you will encounter different volcanic formations, including spatter and tuff cones, lava flows, and lava tubes. From the summit, you will have a wonderful view of Sullivan Bay. Bartolome's fauna and flora include sea lions, reef sharks, rays, colorful reef fish, and pioneer plants and lava cactus. Difficulty Level: Moderate, with a slow to moderately-paced walk up 375 low-grade stairs to the top of the volcano.

    For those not interested in hiking, there is the option of a panga ride.

    Trek on Bartolome's otherworldly young terrain
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 5      Isabela/Punta Albemarle/Tagus Cove

    Punta Albemarle (either a wet or dry landing, depending on locale) is located on Isabela Island's remote northern tip. After a long period of being closed to visitors, it is now open again but only for a handful of cruise yachts, including ours. Punta Albemarle was used as a radar base by the U.S. during World War II. The waters in this region are very rich in nutrients, allowing us an excellent chance to see whales, nesting cormorants, and the largest marine iguanas in the entire archipelago. You may also enjoy kayaking or a panga ride while here. Difficulty level: Easy to moderate.

    Head back on board for lunch, then head to Tagus Cove (dry landing), used as an anchoring place for pirates, buccaneers, and whalers. Here you will see the names of hundreds of ships painted in an ancient sort of graffiti on the high ridges (a practice now forbidden). You may choose to kayak, take a panga ride, or go on a hike up a trail up through an area of vegetation and the volcanic landscape of Volcan Darwin. At the top of the trail, you will enjoy an incredible view of the whole cove and Darwin Lake.

    If you took the hike, you'll still have opportunities for kayaking or a panga ride afterward, both of which provide an opportunity to see a large number of blue-footed boobies perched on cliff ledges, as well as marine iguanas, penguins, brown pelicans, brown noddy terns, and swallow-tailed gulls. Afterward, we set sail for Fernandina Island, exploring channel between Isabela and Fernandina along the way, where we sometimes encounter dolphins and whales. Difficulty level: Easy to Difficult (panga ride is easy, hike up to lake can be strenuous for some).

    Look for whales, including orcas, in the deep waters off Isabela
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 6      Fernandina/Punta Espinosa & Vicente Roca

    Fernandina Island (dry landing with hiking, snorkeling) is one of the most pristine ecosystems in the entire world and also one of the most dynamic. La Cumbre Volcano last erupted in April 2009, and also dominates the landscape, with lava fields stretching toward the ocean from its base. Punta Espinoza is a narrow piece of land where some of the most unique Galapagos species can be seen, including the flightless cormorant, Galapagos snakes, marine iguanas, Galapagos penguins, and the Galapagos hawk. Difficulty level: Moderate.

    Following lunch on the boat, visit Punta Vicente Roca for its wonderful deep water snorkeling, where you can usually see turtles as well as all kinds of fish. For those who do not wish to snorkel, a panga ride allows excellent, close-up study of some of the Galapagos' spectacular geological rock formations. Nazca boobies, pelicans, swallow-tailed gulls, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, and Galapagos penguins are seen in the area. Difficulty level: Easy to moderate.

    Visit young, pristine Fernandina, and see colonnizing plants, including lava cactus
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 7      Santiago/Puerto Egas/Espumilla Beach

    Puerto Egas (wet landing) is located on the northwest side of Santiago Island. The landing is on a black beach with eroded rock formations in the background. The trail crosses the dry interior, where the remains of a salt mining enterprise can still be seen, and then continues along the coast, where tidal pools are home to a variety of invertebrate organisms, including sea urchins, octopus, and starfish. You will also see marine iguanas, finches, oyster catchers, and possibly the Galapagos hawk. The trail leads to the fur seal grottos, one of the only places in the islands where these unique and elusive animals (which are actually a type of sea lion) can be seen.

    After the walk, you will have time to swim or snorkel off the beach, where you will see sea lions, fish, and maybe some turtles, rays, and reef sharks. Difficulty level: Easy to moderate.

    After lunch on board, head to Espumilla Beach (wet landing) the northern coast of Santiago Island in James Bay. The main attractions here are a Palo Santo forest, the lovely beach, and the overall landscape. The Palo Santo forest here has some of the tallest specimens of the species in the entire archipelago. Also keep an eye out for the Galapagos hawk as well as Darwin's finches. The beach is an important site for nesting marine turtles. Difficulty level: Easy.

    Capture shots of coastal birds on a panga ride
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 8      Santa Cruz/Darwin Station/Highlands

    After breakfast, head by panga to the town of Puerto Ayora where, after a dry landing at the city docks, you'll visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, where you will gain insight into the 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, travel by bus to to the green highlands of Santa Cruz, where you will visit a tortoise reserve to search for giant tortoises in their natural surroundings. Difficulty level: Easy to moderate.

    Return to the ship in the early afternoon for lunch and various afternoon activities.

    See tortoises at Charles Darwin Research Station
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging: M/C Athala (or similar)
    Day 9      Genovesa Island/Darwin Bay Beach

    Genovesa, or Tower, Island is the northernmost island one can visit on a naturalist (non-diving) cruise. This island is extremely remote and home to literally millions of birds belonging to many different species, including the red-footed booby as well as frigatebirds, swallow-tailed gulls, and even endemic owls.

    Our first stop, a dry landing at El Barranco, also known as Prince Phillip's Steps, is a steep path with stairs carved into the rock leading to a plateau full of bird life in a Palo Santo forest. You will see Nazca boobies, Galapagos doves, mockingbirds, and petrels. With some luck, you may spot a short-eared lava owl. Around mid-morning, consider some kayaking or a panga ride along the shore. Difficulty level: Moderate.

    After lunch on board, head to Darwin Bay Beach (wet landing), whose soft, coralline white sand is merely the beginning of a spectacular excursion. A trail from the beach takes you into lush mangroves where red-footed boobies nest. Other locals include sea lions, swallow-tail gulls, frigatebirds, and more. After the walk, you'll have some beach time. Snorkeling here is a must here as sharks, colorful reef fish, rays, and tortoises are common. Difficulty level: Easy to moderate.

    Genovesa (Tower) Island is home to millions of birds, including this red-footed booby
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 10      North Seymour Island/Quito or Guayaquil

    An early-morning hike on North Seymour Island may very well be the perfect way to say goodbye to the Galapagos. Although the island is characterized by arid vegetation, fauna abounds and you will soon find yourself surrounded by sea lions, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, frigatebirds, and more. With some luck, you may even see land iguanas as well. Difficulty level: Moderate.

    Return to the ship for breakfast, then 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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