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adventure travel trip to Galapagos
Pinnacle Rock on Bartolomé Island is one of the most photographed sights in the Galapagos.
Dates
  • Thursday biweekly departures (cruise departs on Saturday). Call for dates.
  • Duration 11 days
    Group Size 18
    Land Cost $5,880-$6,800 Details
    Single Supplement $4,410-$5,100 Details
    Lodging 3 stars
    Grade I-II
    Best Time

    Aboard the M/Y Grace, Southern Circuit

    Cruise the islands on an historic ship offering luxury service and appointments

    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, it is an ideal point from which to fly to Galapagos. Stay at a local inn in Quito or Guayaquil for two nights. (*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 cobble stone 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: Your first stop is Malecon 2000, an 80-million-dollar riverside complex built along a two-mile stretch of the Guayas River. The waterfront boardwalk features a myriad of restaurants, cafes and shops, and museums with art exhibitions as well as free weekend jazz and classical music concerts. Drive through the colorful streets of Guayaquil, one of Ecuador’s most important port cities. Visit the Public Market, the waterfront and the docks, and Simon Bolivar Park, which is famous for its tree iguanas; admire the watchtower, La Rotonda, Old Santa Ana Fort, and Las Penas, a charming colonial section of town that is occupied by artists. The rest of the afternoon is at your leisure to explore or relax.

    Explore the stairstep neighborhood of Las Penas
    Meals: Breakfast
    Day 3      San Cristobal/Isla Lobos/Kicker Rock

    Today you will fly from Quito via Guayaquil to San Cristobal Island (2.5 hours from Quito, or about 1.5 hours from Guayaquil). Upon arrival at San Cristobal airport, you will pass through an inspection point to ensure that no foreign plants or animals are introduced to the islands, then your guide will meet you and escort you on the short bus ride to the harbor. Motorized rafts called pangas will transport you to the yacht, where your crew will welcome you aboard. After a briefing and a light lunch, you will head up the coast from Wreck Bay and Puerto Baquerizo, where you will see Isla Lobos across a small channel off the coast of San Cristobal. This basalt island outcropping lives up to its name of "Sea Lion Island," with its noisy population of frolicking and barking beasts. It is also a nesting place for blue-footed boobies and an excellent spot for snorkeling.

    See Isla Lobos (Kicker Rock) in its sunset splendor
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 4      Espanola/Punta Suarez/Gardner Bay

    Espanola, or Hood, Island is the southernmost island of the archipelago, and is one of the most popular due to the breathtaking variation and sheer number of fauna that greet the visitors. The giant tortoises, although 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 in the 1990s and since then their numbers have climbed. This effort counts as one of the National Park's greatest success stories.

    On the northeastern shore of Espanola, Gardner Bay 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 off-shore, 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 lazily swim by.

    The quantity and variety of wildlife at Punta Suarez is remarkable. Sea lions surf the waves beyond the breakwater landing, and tiny pups are known to sniff visitors' toes upon arrival. A few steps inland you will find the most peculiar population of marine iguanas in the Galapagos. They bear distinctive red markings, some with a flash of turquoise running down their spine and legs, and they nap in communal piles. The trail 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 the trail 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 huge 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 constitute 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.

    See the Galapagos hawk, one of few island raptors
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 5      Floreana/P.O. Bay/Punta Cormorant

    As reflected in its many names, Floreana has had a colorful history of pirates, whalers, convicts, and a small band of somewhat peculiar colonists, a self-proclaimed Baroness among them, who chose a Robinson Crusoe-like existence that ended in mystery and death. Today, roughly 100 Ecuadorians inhabit the island. 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. The catch is you must take a post card destined for your home town from the barrel and see that it gets to the right place. That is how the system began and continues to this day. Some claim it works better than the official Ecuadorian post office!

    Punta Cormorant offers two highly contrasting beaches; the strand where we land is composed of volcanic olivine crystals, giving it a greenish tint that glitters in the sun. From here, a trail crosses the neck of an isthmus that rises from behind a small cinder cone to a beach of very fine white sand known as "Flour Beach," formed by the erosion of coral skeletons. Between the two beaches is a highly-salinated lagoon frequented by flamingoes, pintails, stilts, and other wading birds. Some 250 meters (700 ft) north from the point is an old submerged volcanic cone that has been worn down by waves; Devil's Crown is home to myriad marine species, including several species of coral, sea urchin, and many other creatures, including a great number of fish species, making this place one of the best snorkeling sites in the Galapagos. The eroded crater walls form a popular roosting site for seabirds including boobies and pelicans.

    Participate in tradition at Post Office Bay
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 6      Santa Cruz / Darwin Research Station

    There are dragons in the Galapagos in the form of bright yellow land iguanas that inhabit the northeastern shore of Santa Cruz. The large spines on their backs resemble their legendary cousins, and they thrive around the hill that was named in their honor, Dragon Hil.  The lava flows that reach out from the shore of Cerro Dragon form black reefs that an excellant spot for snorkeling at high tide.

    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 the remaining 14 tortoises 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 ET-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 lichen. 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 allow visitors into their farms. The best times to see tortoises here is during the cool or dry season from June through December. Another nearby attraction are the highlands' 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 one's 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, but bring along non-slip footwear and perhaps a flashlight.

    Look for land iguanas at Dragon Hill
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 7      Santa Cruz/Bachas Beach/Black Turtle Cove

    At the north end of Santa Cruz is Las Bachas, a  sandy white-coral beach that is a major egg-laying site for sea turtles. The name Bachas refers to the remains of landing craft left here at the end of WWII. Apparently, the locals couldn't correctly pronounce what the US military called "the beach of the barges," so they started referring to it as "Las Barchas," which later devolved into "Las Bachas." Ashore, marine iguanas mingle with flamingos and other wading birds in another of the many super-saline lagoons found in the Galapagos.

    Tiny Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat) is named for the resemblance it shape has to a traditional Chinese Coolie's hat. This site is off limits to larger groups, making Sobrero Chino one of the least visited sites in the central islands. Our landing site is a tiny crescent shaped cove with sandy white beach between lava rocks and the crystal turquoise water of the channel.  After a small hike to explore the island's volcanic interior, you may have a chance to swim or snorkel with the sea lions. The rockier section of the coast line are inhabited by Galapagos penguins that dart past unsuspecting snorkelers. Galapagos penguins are the only species of penguin living north of the nearby equator.

    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 a 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.

     

    Spot sea lions on the rocks around Santa Cruz
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 8      Rabida/Santiago/Sullivan Bay

    At the geologic center of the archipelago, Rabida presents a different look from the other islands, with its reddish beach and cliffs, and steep, sloping volcanic cinder cones. A noisy colony of sea lions lives on the beach, and a short trail inland is a good place to observe land birds, including finches, doves, yellow warblers, and mockingbirds. Along the beach side, it's possible to find a small colony of brown pelicans nesting atop a salt bush forest during certain times of the year. Hidden behind this little forest lies a rather small super-saline lagoon where flamingoes used to nest until some natural forces changed the habitat in 1995. Snorkeling along the rocks at the east end of the beach reveals many reef fish common to these waters.

    Just across a narrow channel west of Bartolome lies Sullivan Bay on the island of Santiago. This landing offers one of the most outstanding volcanic sites in the Galapagos. Just over a century ago, the island gave birth to a field of lava called pahoehoe (which means rope-like in Hawaiian), which gleams like a gigantic obsidian sculpture. It is stirring to imagine the once-molten lava lighting up the earth, flowing into the sea, and sending plumes of superheated steam skyrocketing into the air. The flow gave birth to new land as it engulfed vegetation, leaving some plants forever etched into the earth. Today the flow stands as a gallery of abstract shapes resembling braids, curtains, and swirling fans. Brightly colored painted locusts and lava lizards punctuate the black volcanic canvas, as does the occasional finger of lava cactus and spreading carpetweed. Looking back across the bay from the source of the flow, a cinder cone of reddish lava, you are treated to a view of Pinnacle Rock near Bartolome Island.

    Take in the views from Rabida's red sand coast
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 9      Bartolome/Pinnacle Rock/North Seymour

    Bartolome is famous for Pinnacle Rock, a towering spearheaded obelisk that rises from the ocean's edge and is the best known landmark in the Galapagos. Galapagos penguins, the only species of penguin found north of the equator, walk precariously along narrow volcanic ledges at its base. Sea lions snooze on rocky platforms, ready to slide into the water to play with passing snorkelers. Just below the surface, schools of tropical fish dodge in and out of the rocks past urchins, sea stars, and anemones. A perfect crescent sandy beach lies just to the east of the pinnacle. Sea turtles use the beach as a nesting site and can sometimes be found wading in the shallow water near the shore or resting in the sand to recover from the arduous task of digging nests, laying eggs, and covering them over.

    Penguins dot the nearby rocks of the next landing site, less than half a mile along the eastern shore. Here the submerged walls of a tiny volcanic crater give the impression of a fountain pool. This dry landing is the entrance to a 600-meter (2000-foot) pathway complete with stairs and boardwalks leading to Bartolome's summit. The route is not difficult and appears to be a textbook example of vulcanology, a site left untouched after the last eruption, where small cones stand in various stages of erosion and lava tubes form bobsled-like runs from the summit. At the top you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Santiago Island and James Bay to the west, and far below, Pinnacle Rock and our beach, where the crystal turquoise waters of the bay cradle your yacht.

    Later, visit North Seymour Island, which was lifted from the ocean floor by a seismic event.  Its origins as a seabed give the island its low, flat profile. Cliffs only a few meters high form the shoreline, where swallow-tailed gulls sit perched in ledges. A tiny forest of silver-grey Palo Santo trees stands just above the landing, usually without leaves, waiting for the rain to bring them into bloom.

    This island is teaming with life! You might have to give way to a passing sea lion or marine iguana. Blue-footed boobies nest on either side of the trail where mating pairs perform their courtship dance. Further along the rocky shore, a strand of white sand lies inland, and large flocks of sea birds mass for outstanding feeding frenzies. The trail turns inland to reveal the largest nesting site in the Galapagos of the magnificent frigatebird. These huge, dark acrobats have five-foot wingspan, and males, with inflated scarlet gular pouches, sit precariously in low bushes to watch over their equally large chicks.

    Swim with the Galapagos penguins
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Day 10      Mosquera Islet/Baltra/Quito or Guayaquil

    Mosquera is a sandy white-coral beach that is a major egg-laying site for sea turtles and a large population of sea lions.   Ashore, marine iguanas mingle with flamingos and other wading birds in another of the many super saline lagoons found in the Galapagos.

    Afterward, return to the ship to finish packing, disembark in the late morning, and head to the Baltra airport for your flight back to the Ecuadorian mainland. Transfer to your hotel in Quito or Guayaquil for your overnight.

    Leave the M/Y Grace, your home for the week, and head for the mainland
    Meals: Breakfast
    Day 11      Departure

    Transfer to the international airport for your flight home.

    Bid farewell to Ecuador
    Meals: Breakfast



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