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Family Galapagos Adventure

An Exciting Marine Odyssey with the Most Family-Focused Fun in the Islands!
S/V Nemo II Itinerary
Please note: This itinerary offers a more active exploration of the islands, with extended opportunities for kayaking and hiking. Our Expedition Leaders are skilled at tailoring excursions to the group's collective abilities and desires, however, and can arrange outings suitable for varying ages and physical capacities. 

Day 1: Quito, Ecuador / Otavalo
Arrive in Quito, where our local representative meets your family at the airport. Your Ecuador adventure begins with a two-hour drive to the ancient 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, each with a log fireplace 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. Dinner is on your own this evening, in order to enjoy the inn and its surroundings at your leisure.

Day 2: Otavalo / Andean Villages
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. 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 watch handicrafts being made 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 early tomorrow morning.

Day 3: Otavalo / Fly to the Galápagos / Board S/V Nemo II
We rise early to make the return transfer to the Quito airport, where we board our flight to the Galapagos this morning. Our Expedition Leaders meet us as we land on the island of Baltra, then transfer to the marina to board to the S/V Nemo II. This first-class sailing catamaran will be our home base for the next week as we explore the islands. After settling in to our cabins, we'll have an orientation to our kayaks, with an introduction to technique and safety. Our Expedition Leader helps us get fitted to our boats, then leads us on our first opportunity to try paddling in the channel.

Back aboard the Nemo, we set off for the island of Santa Cruz, arriving at our landing point by late afternoon. Here, we'll leave our boat behind temporarily in order to ascend into the misty highlands, stopping to explore Los Gemelos – 'The Twins' – two deep pit craters in the scalesia forest that hold a variety of birdlife. Soon, we'll arrive at NHA's exclusive Wild Tortoise Camp, where we spend the night. Our private campsite, which offers accommodations in safari-style tents and treehouses with distant views of the ocean, is tucked among lush vegetation that attracts giant tortoises. 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 Wild Tortoise Camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions, in which case we will remain aboard the Nemo II for the night, though all sightseeing inclusions will remain the same.

Day 4: Santa Cruz Highlands / Darwin Station or Tortuga Bay
As we wander the environs of our camp this morning, we'll expect to see more wild tortoises. Then, it's off to Lava Java, a local organic coffee plantation where we learn about how the crop is produced and harvested and have a chance to sample some of the fine brews. We continue to Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz, where we'll visit the world-famous Charles Darwin Research Station. Here, international scientists conduct research dedicated to conserving the unique habitats and species of the Galapagos. At the tortoise-rearing facility we'll see the tiny babies that are bred to help increase the depleted tortoise population, a central part of the station's conservation mission. After lunch, a hike along a trail to secluded Tortuga Bay offers a chance for a swim in the aquamarine water, or just relaxing on the pristine white sand beach. Another alternative is free time on your own in town, where you'll find a nice selection of shops, cafes and seaside bars.
Day 5: Cerro Brujo / Kicker Rock / Isla Lobos
We begin our day exploring the area around Cerro Brujo, or 'Wizard Hill,' an ancient volcanic tuff cone on San Cristobal Island 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. Setting out before breakfast in the early light of morning, we paddle the shoreline along Cerro Brujo, observing the tunnels and caves eroded by the relentless action of the waves. After breakfast we have time for a hike along the beach to look for sea lions. Then we sail aboard Nemo II to Kicker Rock, a dramatic volcanic tuff cone that rises 300 feet above the ocean's surface. Here, those who wish can snorkel in deep water to observe and swim with sea turtles, rays of various kinds, and gentle reef sharks. By early afternoon we're bound for Isla Lobos, where we look for feeding marine iguanas and enjoy a delightful swim with the resident sea lion colony. There's nothing like getting kids and young sea lions face to face for a delightful encounter! 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 6: Espanola
Espanola is one of the most prolific wildlife sites in the Galapagos. We hike to the headlands of Punta Suarez where birdlife abounds, with Hood mockingbirds, blue-footed and masked boobies, magnificent frigatebirds and Galapagos hawks. Espanola is also the world's main nesting site for the enormous waved albatross. In the afternoon we relocate to Gardner Bay. First we'll relax at an idyllic white sand beach where sea lions laze by the dozens and Pacific green sea turtles frequent the rocky part of the shoreline. We then set out for a sunset paddle along the north shore of the island, along a cliff formed by eroded cinder cones and layers of old basalt, observing giant cacti and many species of birds. Afterward, our catamaran awaits us in the quiet bay.

Day 7: Floreana
On Floreana, we hike through a Palo Santo forest to a brackish lagoon that's home to flamingos. Then, we travel aboard Nemo II a short distance offshore to Champion islet, one of the best drift-snorkel spots in the Galapagos. As the current floats us past the steep walls of these underwater volcanic formations, we'll spy large schools of colorful fish as we're followed by playful young sea lions. 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. Late this afternoon, pending conditions, we make a paddle 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.

Day 8: Santa Fe / South Plaza
On Santa Fe, we do a short hike through a forest of prickly pear cacti, looking for the endemic land iguanas that wait patiently underneath for fruit to drop. Returning to our catamaran, we go snorkeling around a small islet, a natural aquarium with great reef diversity. For those who desire, a longer paddle awaits is an option this morning, following Santa Fe's north coast to reveal 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. By noon we'll be sailing for South Plaza, one of the smallest islands yet vibrant with diverse flora, land creatures and marine life. We ascend a trail among colorful plants to look for a completely different species of land iguana than we've seen previously, skirting scenic cliffs with dramatic views of the ocean. Overhead, red billed tropicbirds and Galapagos shearwaters fly in large numbers from nearby nests.

Day 9: Sombrero Chino / Bartolome
Sombrero Chino Island, our destination this morning, really does look like a Chinese hat! Our day begins with a longer paddle through the Bainbridge Rocks, shaped like a string of floating mushroom tops. We then snorkel in the channel, hoping the resident penguin family will join us. 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 also 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 we enjoy a panorama of the surrounding islands and Pinnacle Rock, famously shown in the 2003 film Master and Commander.

Day 10: Santa Cruz / Return to Quito
Returning to Santa Cruz, we explore the mangrove ecosystem of Black Turtle Cove. An early morning tender by panga, or dinghy, takes us inside a mangrove lagoon where spotted eagle and golden rays swim in schools, white-tipped reef sharks rest at the bottom, and sea turtles bask. Birds abound, too, and we'll likely see pelicans, herons and egrets feeding in the cove. Too soon, our time in the Enchanted Isles comes to a close—we say farewell to the Nemo II, her crew and our Expedition Leaders this afternoon as we return to the Baltra airport for our return flight to Quito, where we meet departing flights or continue onward for those extending their travels to the Amazon rain forest or Machu Picchu.

Physical Rating: Moderate

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