Aboard the M/Y Letty
DAY 1: QUITO, ECUADOR / OTAVALO
Upon arrival in Quito, our local representative meets you at the airport and accompanies you on the scenic drive to the mountain town of Otavalo, just over an hour away in the Andean Highlands. We check in to the Hacienda Cusin, built in 1602 as the centerpiece of a sprawling colonial sheep farm and estate. Today the restored colonial hacienda is one of Ecuador's loveliest inns, surrounded by five acres of lushly landscaped gardens, ponds and cobblestone courtyards. Each guest room is each is individually furnished with antiques and regional Andean arts and crafts, and many have wood-burning fireplaces. Dinner is on your own this evening in the hacienda's dining room.
DAY 2: OTAVALO / ANDEAN VILLAGES
Our Ecuador adventure begins with an immersion in the striking landscape and indigenous culture of the Andean Highlands. Otavalo, best known for its 400-year-old market that is the longest continuously operating site of commerce in South America, lies at the hub of this region of lakes and volcanic peaks. Artisans from local villages produce the region's famed textiles, and we'll have a chance to visit a place or two where we can witness handicrafts in the making and learn about the residents' traditional lifestyles. This evening, we gather for an orientation and welcome dinner as we prepare to depart for the Galapagos in the morning.
DAY 3: QUITO TO SAN CRISTOBAL, GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
Depart early this morning for the return drive to the Quito airport and our flight to the islands. We land at San Cristobal where we meet our Expedition Leaders who will accompany us to the pier where our Galapagos cruise begins. The M/Y Letty is our home for the next week, providing comfortable cabins and 360° views from the topside observation deck. After getting settled into our cabins, our Expedition Leaders provide an orientation to the ship and the adventures that lie ahead. Following lunch aboard and an initial safety drill, we set off for our first landing at Punta Carola and an easy hike to the top of Frigatebird Hill. We're rewarded with spectacular views of the coast, Kicker Rock, and the rooftops of the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Seabirds soar overhead, and we may see the namesake frigatebirds with their distinctive red chests. Soon it's time to head back to the ship for dinner, and as we cruise off into the sunset, already we can see why Herman Melville called these the "Enchanted Isles."
DAY 4: SAN CRISTOBAL / PUNTA PITT / CERRO BRUJO
We arrive at Cerro Brujo, a breathtaking white coral beach, considered one of the most spectacular in Galapagos and perfect for a peaceful walk with expansive views and good birdwatching. We have an opportunity to snorkel with sea lions, kayak off the Letty, and well enjoy a panga ride along the shoreline. During lunch, we cruise toward the northeastern tip of San Cristobal to Punta Pitt, a tuff formation that serves as one of the Galapagos’ top nesting sites for seabirds including all three types of boobies: blue-footed, Nazca and red-footed boobies, both frigate species, swallow-tailed gulls and storm petrels. We also find a colony of sea lions here.
DAY 5: ESPANOLA/ PUNTA SUAREZ / GARDNER BAY
Reaching Espanola, we step ashore at Punta Suarez, where we witness the highest rate of endemic species in Galapagos. Sea lions noisily greet us as we land on their beach. Curious Hood mockingbirds peck at our shoelaces. From April to December, the waved albatross, found only on Espanola, performs its wild mating ritual. Colonies of blue-footed boobies show off for potential mates while red-billed tropicbirds take shelter under the cliffs. We also find Darwin’s finches, Galapagos doves and Galapagos hawks, and a unique species of red and green marine iguana. After lunch we land at Gardner Bay, its endless stretch of white sandy beach home to a large colony of sea lions. Swim with them right from the beach, explore the bay by kayak, or just relax on the powdery sand. There’s an excellent snorkeling site off Gardner Islet with a colorful diversity of sea life near Tortuga Rock, and caves to explore by panga.
DAY 6: FLOREANA / PUNTA CORMORANT / SANTA CRUZ / NATURAL HABITAT’S WILD TORTOISE CAMP
Today we land at Punta Cormorant on Floreana, one of the few populated islands in the Galapagos. Floreana’s rich cultural history is filled with intrigue, including tales of pirates who once hid out here. We follow a trail to a brackish lagoon to find pintail ducks, common stilts and the most vividly pink flamingos in the world. Winding our way past a rich variety of plants, we reach a beach of fine sand where sea turtles lay eggs in the dunes and rays swim in the shallow water. After our walk we have a chance to snorkel at Devil’s Crown or Champion, a shallow sunken crater colonized by a brilliant array of colorful fish and coral.
This afternoon we continue to Santa Cruz, the highest island in the Galapagos chain. Those who choose to participate in our unique camping opportunity will disembark and transfer to the remote highlands of Santa Cruz to spend the night at Natural Habitat's exclusive Wild Tortoise Camp. Our private campsite, with distant views of the ocean, is tucked among lush vegetation that attracts giant tortoises. A bus returns us in the morning to rejoin our boat for the day's activities. Please note: At times, the camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions.
DAY 7: SANTA CRUZ / DARWIN STATION OR TORTUGA BAY
Our exploration of Santa Cruz begins with a visit to an organic coffee farm, where we'll meet the owners, learn about the growing process, and have a chance to sample some of the finished product. Next we visit a tortoise reserve at El Manzanillo, whose lush environs harbor numerous wild giant tortoises that roam freely year-round. This afternoon we return to the coast and the town of Puerto Ayora, where you may choose between two activities: a visit to the world-famous Charles Darwin Research Station with free time in town, or a walk to a pristine beach at Tortuga Bay for swimming, snorkeling and relaxing.
At Darwin Station, which operates in tandem with Galapagos National Park, learn about the efforts of scientists, guides, rangers and park managers to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Galapagos. At the tortoise-rearing facility, see tiny babies bred to help increase the depleted tortoise population, a central part of the station’s conservation mission. To date, more than 5,000 tortoises have been returned to the wild in Galapagos through the program. After visiting the station, there's still some time to walk around town. Those opting to visit Tortuga Bay will make an easy 3-mile walk (about an hour and 15 minutes one way, plus return) to a large, wild beach that is a sanctuary for the many iguanas, crabs and birds that dot the lava rocks. Snorkeling is permitted in a separate cove nearby where it is common to view schools of white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and colorful fish. Or, for those who wish, enjoy a full afternoon of free time in town to browse the shops and galleries before heading back to the boat to sail northward this evening.
DAY 8: BARTOLOME / SOMBRERO CHINO
Disembarking at Bartolome, it feels like we are walking on the moon. This small, young island, mostly a stark black lava landscape, is still inhospitable to most plants and animals. A 30-minute climb up wooden stairs leading to the summit of a once-active volcano reveals amazing views and fascinating geological sights as we pause to marvel at lava bombs, spatter cones and cinder cones. From the top, we have a panoramic view of the island and Pinnacle Rock, an eroded tuff cone famously featured in the film Pirates of the Caribbean.
Descending back to the beach, snorkel with schools of tropical fish and Galapagos penguins or choose a panga ride. After lunch, we visit Las Bachas, with its long stretch of soft white sand beach and interior lagoons where we may find flamingos. Then it’s off to Sombrero Chino—'Chinese Hat'—an island that’s shaped like its namesake. Sea lions greet us on landing, and we follow a trail into a primeval landscape of volcanic rubble including lava tubes, observing marine iguanas and pairs of oystercatchers en route. There’s a chance to snorkel at a site often frequented by Galapagos penguins. Tonight we’ll anchor in a calm, protected area nearby.
DAY 9: SOUTH PLAZA / NORTH SEYMOUR
South Plaza Island is a small geological uplift with tall cliffs offering spectacular views. After a dry landing, the trail leads us through cactus and succulents including prickly pear, opuntia and sesuvium, where we often find the Galapagos land iguana feeding on the plants. Continuing onward, we typically encounter a colony of bachelor sea lions, with the dominant bulls in various stages of recovery from battles lost over prime beach territory. We also find swallow-tailed gulls, shearwaters and red-billed tropicbirds that build their nests along the cliffs. After lunch, we land at North Seymour, a small geological uplift where we'll follow a trail that leads us to swallow-tailed gulls, blue-footed boobies and the endemic land iguanas. We'll also visit the largest colony of magnificent frigatebirds found in Galapagos. As we stroll along the beach, we find marine iguanas and sea lions bodysurfing the northerly swells. Back aboard the Letty, we gather for the captain’s farewell dinner this evening.
DAY 10: SAN CRISTOBAL / QUITO / HOME
This morning we return to San Cristobal and drop anchor at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Here we’ll disembark the Letty and visit the National Park Interpretation Center for a concluding overview of the natural and human history of the islands. At last it's time to bid farewell to the islands and fly back to Quito's airport, where we meet departing flights or continue onward for those extending their travels to the Amazon rain forest or Machu Picchu.