Lodge-Based Galapagos Adventure
Day 1: Quito, Ecuador
Arrive in Quito, Ecuador's capital, where you will be met at the airport by our Natural Habitat Adventures representative and transferred to the Hotel Patio Andaluz in Quito's historic Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the best-preserved colonial city in South America. We've left the evening open so you may rest and relax after your long flight, with dinner on your own to try one of the many excellent restaurants nearby.
Day 2: Quito / Galapagos – Santa Cruz / Tortoise Reserve
We depart very early this morning for our 3-hour flight to the island of Baltra in the Galapagos, where we meet our Expedition Leader and embark on a full afternoon of activities. We cross the canal to Santa Cruz, the highest island in the archipelago, where our exploration begins with a drive into the lush highlands to Los Gemelos, "The Twins," two massive pit craters created by the collapse of ancient subterranean magma chambers. Here in the scalesia forest we'll also see a variety of interesting birdlife.
After lunch, we visit the Tortoise Reserve to observe the most famous icon of the Galapagos—the giant tortoise—in its natural habitat. These ancient creatures weigh up to 600 pounds and can live to more than 150 years old! We're able to get exceptionally close photographs, revealing every detail of their patterned shells and wizened faces. Our day's adventures conclude with a lighted walk into a cavernous lava tunnel, more evidence of the islands' volcanic origins. Navigating this spectacular geological work of art via specially constructed bridges and stairways, we have a rare opportunity to witness the dawn of the island, which occurred 2.5 million years ago.
Tonight's accommodations at the Galapagos Safari Camp are reminiscent of the African tradition in which guests enjoy total comfort under canvas surrounded by nature. Bordering Galapagos National Park in the highlands of Santa Cruz, this luxury tented eco-camp sits atop a ridge with sweeping views of the ocean and seven other islands. Take a stroll around the adjacent farm while you listen to warblers and mockingbirds and look for white egrets, or take a dip in the infinity pool before enjoying an excellent dinner in the dining cabana.
Day 3: North Seymour
After breakfast, we take a boat excursion to North Seymour, an uplifted island that is largely flat and strewn with boulders. During mating season we find nesting sites for a large population of magnificent frigatebirds, and blue-footed boobies perform their courtship dance in the open areas. We may also find large Galapagos land iguanas up to three feet in length, which display an unusual yellow color that becomes more intense during mating season. Swallow-tailed gulls find their perches on the cliff edges, and despite the tremendous surf that can pound the outer shores during the winter, sea lions haul out onto the beach and can be found together with marine iguanas. We have our first chance to snorkel among colorful fish and marine life off the white sands of Bachas Beach before we return to camp late this afternoon.
Day 4: Isabela — Puerto Villamil
This morning we transfer via speedboat to the island of Isabela. The largest island in the Galapagos, Isabela was formed when several volcanoes merged into a single landmass. We stay in Puerto Villamil, the island's main town with a population of 1,500. This laid-back fishing village, with its sandy streets and tree-trunk street lights, is flanked by two lagoons often frequented by flamingos. Arriving in port is always a visual delight, with turquoise water so transparent we can see swimming turtles and sea lions as though looking through glass. Penguins are often spotted from the main dock, as they zip through the crystal-clear water. Upon arrival, we check in to Isabela Lodge, where we'll have lunch.
A broad white sand beach is all that separates Isabela Lodge from the sea. Its eight oceanfront guest rooms have two queen beds, en suite baths and air conditioning. The lodge also has a BBQ area and charming wooden porches with views of the sea that invite relaxing. This afternoon, we visit the lush mangroves of Humedales and the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, home to 330 Galapagos tortoises. Another snorkeling opportunity awaits in the clear waters of Concha de Perla, as we swim among sea turtles, schools of tropical fish, and friendly sea lions.
Day 5: Isabela — Volcano Hike or Excursion to Las Tintoreras
For avid hikers, there’s an optional all-day excursion around the rim of Volcan Sierra Negra today. This challenging 7-mile round-trip hike allows a chance to peer into the vast caldera of the volcano, one of the largest in the world at four miles across, with breathtaking views from the rim. Those who prefer a less challenging outing will visit Las Tintoreras, an islet within the bay surrounded by fissures and canals where dozens of gentle white-tipped reef sharks— tintoreras in Spanish—rest along the shallow sea bottom during the day. Along the fringes, marine iguanas warm themselves in the sun while Galapagos penguins dart in and out of the water looking for food. We'll have a chance to see blue-footed boobies, too, before snorkeling with sea lions and sea turtles.
Enjoy lunch and a leisurely afternoon at Campo Duro, an organic farm whose owners prepare delicious dishes from locally grown fruits and vegetables prepared on a lava-rock grill. Walk along the "fruit trail" into the orchard to sample fresh produce straight from the trees, relax in a hammock, and learn about the tortoise program run here in cooperation with the Galapagos National Park before returning to Isabela Lodge later this afternoon.
Day 6: Santa Cruz — Puerto Ayora / Darwin Station / Coffee Farm / Garrapatero Beach
We return to the island of Santa Cruz where we visit the world-renowned Charles Darwin Research Station this morning. Here, we learn about the efforts of scientists, guides, and park managers and rangers to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Galapagos. On a tour of the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, we'll see tiny babies bred to increase the depleted population of the islands' iconic denizens, a central part of the station's conservation mission. To date, more than 5,000 tortoises have been returned to the wild through the program. We'll also see unique saddleback tortoises from Espanola Island. After lunch, we tour the Lava Java coffee farm in the Santa Cruz highlands, where we'll meet the owners, learn about their organic growing methods, and have a chance to sample some of the finished product.
This afternoon there's an option to visit tranquil Garrapatero Beach. A 15-minute stroll down a winding stone walkway leads to the broad expanse of white sand, nearly two miles long, edged with lush mangroves and volcanic rocks peppered with Sally Lightfoot crabs. The beach is home to a great array of birds, most notably flamingos and Galapagos mockingbirds. We may also see marine iguanas, Galapagos penguins, oystercatchers and patillos where the sand meets the clear turquoise water. A freshwater lake nearby provides habitat for herons, grebes and many shorebirds. Return to the easy-going town of Puerto Ayora to spend the night at Aventura Lodge, a first-class boutique hotel on the harbor just steps from craft shops, open-air cafes and lively bars.
Day 7: Bartolome
Today we make an excursion to the island of Bartolome. Despite its small size, it abounds with natural wonders, from spatter cones and lava tubes to candelabra cacti, lush mangroves and white sand beaches frequented by curious penguins. A hike to the top of this once-active volcano provides dramatic views of Pinnacle Rock, a prominent photographic landmark featured in the 2003 film Master and Commander, and other islands in the distance. A mating and nesting site for endangered Pacific green sea turtles, Bartolome is home to myriad sea life. On the far side of the island we may see turtles, penguins rays, white-tipped reef sharks and frolicsome sea lions as we snorkel through the tranquil waters among schools of vibrant tropical fish.
Day 8: Isabela — Tortuga Bay
Tortuga Bay boasts one of the most glorious beaches in the Galapagos. This morning we'll walk an easy three miles through an aromatic Palo Santo forest and along the shoreline to reach the bay, fringed by a long expanse of powdery white sand. Watch for pelicans, white egrets, oystercatchers blue herons and frigatebirds as we swim and snorkel in a tranquil lagoon. A short walk over a national park trail reveals a colony of marine iguanas and, on occasion, blue-footed boobies. After this last idyllic day in the islands, we return to town this evening to enjoy a final night at our harborside hotel.
Day 9: Baltra / Quito
After breakfast, transfer by bus to the Baltra airport, where we say farewell to our Expedition Leader. After checking you in for your departing flight, your Expedition Leader will say farewell at the gate to greet guests on the incoming flight. On arrival in Quito, we are met at the airport by our local representative and transferred to our hotel, which is just 20 minutes from the airport. This evening, we'll enjoy a farewell dinner together with our newfound friends.
Day 10: Quito / Home
Transfer to the airport for flights home or onward excursions to Machu Picchu or the Amazon rain forest.
Please note: This itinerary is meant as a guideline. The exact destinations and activities we are able to participate in will be determined by time of year, weather, permits and equipment availability. Island visits on Days 3 & 7 sometimes vary. A minimum number of participants may be required to guarantee private excursions throughout the trip, but all scheduled tours will include the exclusive services of a Natural Habitat Adventures Expedition Leader.