This itinerary was prepared on an exclusive basis by Natural Habitat Adventures. Should you choose to travel on an independent departure, your itinerary will be slightly different. This adventure is also more active and more physically demanding than our standard nature journeys. Please see the section on Physical Requirements.
Day 1: Quito, Ecuador / Otavalo
Arrive in Quito, where our local representative meets you at the airport. Our Ecuador adventure begins with a two-hour drive to the market town of Otavalo, home to mostly indigenous residents of the Andean highlands. We'll spend the next two nights at Las Palmeras, a 150-year-old hacienda tucked into a lush mountain valley at the base of two volcanoes. Our accommodations are in cozy adobe cottages with log fireplaces to take the chill off the cool mountain nights. Within the compound's tile-topped earthen walls, towering palm trees rise above a perennial garden abloom with hibiscus, bougainvillea, orchids and more, which attract hummingbirds, vermilion flycatchers
and other colorful birds. We enjoy a welcome dinner this evening with one of our Expedition Leaders.
Day 2: Otavalo—Hiking in the Andean Highlands
The countryside surrounding the town of Otavalo offers an ideal introduction for hiking in Ecuador. Mountain lakes glisten beneath wide blue skies,
while two dramatic volcanoes dominate the skyline—15,190-foot Imbabura and 16,388-foot Cotacachi. With a picnic lunch to sustain us, we'll head off on some local trails to explore the landscape up close. Artisans from local villages in the Otavalo region produce the region's famed textiles, and we'll have a chance to visit a place or two where we can witness artisans making handicrafts and learn about the residents' traditional lifestyles.
Day 3: Baltra, Galapagos Islands / North Seymour
We rise early to make the return transfer to the Quito airport, where we board our flight to the Galapagos this morning. Our second Expedition Leader meets us as we land on the island of Baltra, then transfer to the jetty to board to the S/C Nemo III
. This first-class sailing catamaran will be our home base for the next week as we kayak among the islands. After settling into our cabins and a safety drill, we'll have an orientation to our kayaks. Our Expedition Leader helps us get fitted to our boats and reviews paddling technique and safety information.
We soon set off for our first landing on North Seymour, a small geological uplift where we'll follow a trail that leads us to swallow-tailed gulls, blue-footed boobies
and endemic land iguanas. North Seymour is also home to the largest colony of magnificent frigatebirds in the Galapagos. As we stroll along the beach, we find marine iguanas and sea lions bodysurfing
the northerly swells. Back on board the Nemo III,
our Expedition Leader offers a briefing about tomorrow's activities, followed by cocktails and dinner.
Day 4: Isla Lobos / Kicker Rock / San Cristobal—Cerro Brujo
After breakfast, we land at Isla Lobos, beginning with a shallow-water snorkel with the resident sea lion colony and a chance to look for feeding marine iguanas. We'll then take a short ride by panga, or dinghy, along the shores to observe a frigatebird colony prior to a walk inland. Aboard once more, we sail on to Kicker Rock, a dramatic volcanic tuff cone that rises 300 feet above the ocean's surface. Here, depending on conditions, we'll have our first chance to snorkel in deep water to observe sea turtles, rays
and reef sharks.
This afternoon we land at Cerro Brujo, or "Wizard Hill." This ancient volcanic tuff cone on San Cristobal Island sits next to an expanse of powdery white sand that's home to a large colony of Galapagos sea lions, as well as blue-footed boobies, pelicans, egrets and marine iguanas. Taking to our kayaks, we paddle the shoreline along Cerro Brujo, observing the tunnels and caves eroded by the relentless action of the waves. Later there's time for a hike along the beach to look for sea lions. At every turn, our discoveries are enhanced by the in-depth knowledge of our Expedition Leader, who is an expert naturalist on the flora and fauna of the Galapagos.
Day 5: Espanola—Gardner Bay / Punta Suarez
Espanola is one of the most prolific wildlife sites in the Galapagos. On a paddling excursion along the north shore of the island this morning, we follow a cliff formed by eroded cinder cones and layers of old basalt where we'll observe giant cacti and many different bird species. We'll then do some deep-water snorkeling at one of the offshore islets in Gardner Bay. Ashore, an idyllic white sand beach awaits, where sea lions laze by the dozens and Pacific green sea turtles frequent the rocky part of the shoreline. Returning to the quiet bay where our catamaran awaits, lunch is served aboard as we sail to Punta Suarez. Hiking on the headlands, we witness abundant birdlife, hoping to see Hood mockingbirds, blue-footed boobies, nesting swallow-tailed gulls and Galapagos hawks. Espanola is also the world's main nesting site for the huge waved albatross.
Day 6: Floreana—Punta Cormorant / Post Office Bay
This morning we land at Punta Cormorant on Floreana, one of the few populated islands in the Galapagos. Following a trail through a Palo Santo forest to a brackish lagoon, we find pintail ducks, common stilts
and bright pink flamingos. As we wind 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. Back aboard the Nemo III,
we sail a short distance to Champion Islet just offshore, one of the best drift-snorkel spots in the Galapagos. As the current floats us past the steep walls of this submerged volcanic crater, we spy large schools of fish and bright corals as we're followed by playful young sea lions.
Floreana's rich cultural history is filled with intrigue, including tales of pirates who once hid out here. 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 via visitors passing through. After a short snorkel looking for sea turtles and a brief walk to a lava tube, we paddle around the mangrove shores of Post Office Bay, where large bull sea lions patrol the rocky terrain and reddish-colored marine iguanas bask near the tree cacti.
Day 7: Santa Cruz—Tortuga Bay / Darwin Station / Natural Habitat's Tortoise Camp
We reach Santa Cruz this morning, the largest island in the Galapagos. Our day begins with a visit to secluded Tortuga Bay, where a trail leads to a long, pristine white-sand beach that is a sanctuary for many birds, iguanas and crabs that dot the lava rocks. Swimming is permitted in a separate cove nearby where it is common to view schools of white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and colorful fish in the aquamarine waters. We'll have a chance to kayak among mangrove lagoons on the bay's edge where sea turtles are frequently found.
After lunch we head into Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz, to visit the world-famous giant tortoise-rearing center located at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Here, international scientists conduct research dedicated to conserving the unique habitats and species of the Galapagos. At the facility we'll visit the protection pens where hatchlings are bred to help increase the depleted tortoise populations, a central mission for both the research station and Galapagos National Park.
Late this afternoon we ascend into the misty highlands of Santa Cruz to arrive at NHA's exclusive Tortoise Camp to spend the night. Our private camp, which offers safari-style tents and treehouses with distant views of the ocean, is tucked among lush vegetation that attracts giant tortoises (most commonly seen from July through February). We'll have a chance to view these ancient, amiable creatures in their natural setting, and they often amble right into camp. Nearby, we can also explore a network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns. Please note: At times, the camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions.
Day 8: Santa Cruz Highlands / Santa Fe
Spend the morning exploring the highlands, with a stop at either El Manzanillo or El Chato tortoise reserve to view more tortoises in the wild. Numbers are lower between March and June, though we do anticipate seeing tortoises year-round. Returning to the Nemo III
, we have lunch aboard, then sail for Santa Fe. On a short hike through a forest of prickly pear cacti, look for the endemic land iguanas that wait patiently underneath for fruit to drop. Returning to our catamaran, we go deep-water snorkeling around a small islet, a natural aquarium with great reef diversity, followed by a two-hour paddle along the northern coast that reveals large cliffs and sea caves used by many species of marine birds for nesting and roosting—as well as basking green sea turtles and sea lions.
Day 9: Bartolome / Sombrero Chino
Sailing on to Bartolome, some of the best snorkeling in the Galapagos awaits around the base of this ancient submerged volcano, an underwater playground that's home to enormous schools of fish permanently under attack by Galapagos penguins. Sleeping white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and stingrays are also common sightings. We then make a dry landing to climb to the highest point of the island for 360-degree views, passing intriguing geological formations such as spatter cones, tuff cones and lava tubes. From the summit a panorama unfolds of the surrounding islands and Pinnacle Rock, famously shown in the 2003 film Master and Commander.
Over lunch we cruise to nearby Sombrero Chino, which really does look like a Chinese hat! A two-hour paddle through the Bainbridge Rocks, shaped like a string of floating mushroom tops, reveals more of the Galapagos' fascinating marine life. We'll then enjoy one final snorkel in the channel, hoping the resident penguin family will join us. Back on board, it's time for farewell cocktails and a last convivial dinner.
Day 10: Mosquera / Baltra / Quito / Depart
This morning we make a landing on Mosquera, a tiny islet islet
that's home to a huge population of sea lions as well as many shorebirds. Keep an eye out for dolphins and orcas, too, which are often seen in this area. Too soon, our time in the Enchanted Isles comes to a close—we say farewell to the Nemo III
, her crew and our Expedition Leader this afternoon as we return to the Baltra airport for our return flight to Quito. Here, we meet departing flights or continue onward for those extending their travels to the Amazon rain forest or Machu Picchu.
Note: See our Northern Itinerary here
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