Southern Itinerary
Aboard the M/Y Letty

Our local representative meets you on arrival at the airport in Quito and accompanies you on the scenic drive to the mountain town of Otavalo, just over an hour away in the Andes 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. We enjoy a welcome dinner this evening with one of our Expedition Leaders.

Our Ecuador family 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. We enjoy a short hike to take in the dramatic views of Otavalo's volcanoes and also learn about the local flora and fauna. Artisans from local villages produce the region's famed textiles, and we'll have a chance to visit one where we can witness handicrafts in the making and learn about the residents' traditional lifestyles.

Depart early this morning for the return drive to the Quito airport and our flight to the islands. Landing at San Cristobal, we meet our second Expedition Leader 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-degree 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."

We arrive at Cerro Brujo, a breathtaking white coral-sand beach that's one of the most spectacular in Galapagos, perfect for a peaceful walk with expansive views and good birdwatching. We have an opportunity to snorkel with sea lions, kayak off the Letty, or enjoy a panga ride along the shoreline. During lunch, we cruise toward the northeastern tip of San Cristobal to Punta Pitt, a volcanic tuff formation that is one of the Galapagos' top nesting sites for seabirds, including all three types of boobies (blue-footed, Nazca and red-footed boobies), both species of frigatebird, swallow-tailed gulls and storm petrels. We also find a colony of sea lions here.

Reaching Espanola, step ashore at Punta Suarez, where we find the greatest number of endemic species in Galapagos. Sea lions greet us noisily 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 raucous 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, Galapagos hawks, and a unique species of red-and-green marine iguana. After lunch we land at Gardner Bay, with its endless stretch of white sandy beach usually half-covered by 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, as well as caves to explore by panga.

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 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 either at Devil's Crown or Champion, a shallow sunken crater colonized by a brilliant array of coral and colorful fish. Following in the footsteps of pirates, whalers, convicts and colonists, we explore Floreana's rich history of adventure. One relic of this colorful past is the 'Post Office Barrel,' established by British whalers in 1793, where travelers still leave mail for personal delivery by visitors passing through. After a short snorkel to look for sea turtles and a brief walk to a lava tube, we take a panga ride around the mangrove shores of Post Office Bay, where large bull sea lions patrol the rocky territory and reddish marine iguanas bask near the tree cacti.

Our exploration of Santa Cruz begins with a visit to the world-famous Charles Darwin Research Station located in the town of Puerto Ayora. 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 10,000 tortoises have been returned to the wild in Galapagos through the program.

After lunch, those who choose to participate in our special camping opportunity will stay on Santa Cruz and transfer to the remote highlands to spend the night at Natural Habitat's exclusive Tortoise Camp. Our private campsite, with distant views of the ocean, is tucked among lush vegetation that attracts giant tortoises (most commonly seen from July through February). 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.

Before leaving Santa Cruz, we visit a tortoise reserve at El Manzanillo, whose lush environs harbor numerous wild giant tortoises that roam freely year-round. Next we stop at Los Gemelos—'The Twins'—two deep pit craters in the scalesia forest that hold a variety of birdlife. After lunch back on board the Letty, we visit little Bartolome, where we snorkel with penguins around Pinnacle Rock. We'll also climb to the highest point of this ancient volcano for 360-degree views, passing fascinating lava formations such as spatter cones, tuff cones and lava tubes. Those who don't wish to hike can take a panga ride along the shoreline of the island, watching for rays and reef sharks just below the surface.

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 Galapagos land iguanas feeding. 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 the 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.

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 the airport in Quito to meet departing flights, or continue onward for those extending their travels to the Amazon rain forest or Machu Picchu.