Our Exclusive Small-Group Nature Immersion Led by the Islands' Most Experienced Guides
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Day 1: Quito, Ecuador / Otavalo
Upon your arrival in Quito, our local representative meets you at the airport and accompanies you on the scenic drive to the town of Otavalo, just over an hour away in the Andean Highlands where we sample the history, nature
and culture of this traditional mountain region. Depending on which departure you have selected, you'll stay either at Hacienda Zuleta or Hacienda Cusin, colonial estates with a rich past, or Sacha Ji, a sustainable luxury wellness resort. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner with one of our Expedition Leaders.
Day 2: Exploring the Andean Highlands
Our Ecuador adventure begins with an immersion in the striking landscape and cultural heritage of the Andean Highlands. Specific activities will depend upon the departure you have chosen and the location of your Otavalo accommodations. For details, please click here
for Hacienda Zuleta, click here
for Hacienda Cusin, or click here
for Sachi Ji.
Day 3: Quito / San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands—Board M/C Petrel
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 second Expedition Leader who accompanies us to the pier for the start of our Galapagos cruise aboard the Petrel.
After settling into our cabins aboard this stylish luxury catamaran, join our guides for a welcome briefing and safety orientation. Following lunch aboard, we set off for an easy hike to the top of Frigatebird Hill where we’re rewarded with spectacular views of the coast, Kicker Rock, and the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Seabirds soar overhead, and we may see the namesake frigatebirds with their distinctive red chests.
A visit to the National Park Interpretation Center offers an ideal introduction to our voyage ahead as we learn about the history, ecosystems, geology, flora and fauna of the islands. Here, we might also see giant tortoises roaming through a semi-natural habitat. Back at the ship, we enjoy dinner on board. As we cruise off into the sunset, already we can see why Herman Melville called this archipelago the "Enchanted Isles."
Day 4: Española—Gardner Bay / Punta Suarez
The island of Española is one of the most prolific wildlife sites in the Galapagos. In the morning, we visit 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. Later, 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 where curious Hood mockingbirds sometimes peck at our shoelaces. Cruising to the other side of the island, we step ashore at Punta Suarez, where we find the greatest number of endemic species in Galapagos. From April to December, the waved albatross, found only on Española, performs its raucous mating ritual. Colonies of blue-footed boobies show off for potential mates while red-billed tropicbirds take shelter on the cliff walls. We also find Darwin's finches, Galapagos doves, Galapagos hawks, and a unique species of red and green marine iguana.
Day 5: Floreana—Punta Cormorant / Devil's Crown / 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 Petrel
, we sail a short distance to Devil’s Crown, an eroded volcanic cone that is a roosting site for boobies, pelicans
and frigates. Here, we snorkel above the sunken craters that are colonized by a brilliant array of corals and colorful fish. Sharks, rays, sea turtles, hammerhead sharks and sea lions are also common visitors.
Floreana's rich cultural history is filled with intrigue, including tales of pirates who once hid out here. At Post Office Bay, we learn of one relic of this colorful past, the "Post Office Barrel." Established by British whalers in 1793, it's still a means for travelers to leave mail for personal delivery via visitors passing through. Here we can also enjoy a short snorkel right from the beach in search of for sea turtles, rays and possibly penguins.
Day 6: Santa Cruz—Puerto Ayora / Natural Habitat's Tortoise Camp
We spend the day exploring Santa Cruz, the main island in the chain, with several options to choose from. An easy 3-mile walk to Tortuga Bay (about an hour and 15 minutes one way, plus return) reveals a large, wild beach that is a sanctuary for the many birds, iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs that dot the lava rocks. Guests who wish may spend free time browsing the colorful waterfront town of Puerto Ayora, filled with open-air cafes and shops. Or visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, which operates in tandem with Galapagos National Park to preserve and protect the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Galapagos. At the center's 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.
Later this afternoon, those who choose to participate in our unique camping opportunity will disembark the Petrel
and transfer to the highlands of Santa Cruz to spend the night at Natural Habitat's exclusive Tortoise Camp. Our private campsite, with distant views of the Pacific, is tucked among lush vegetation that attracts giant tortoises (most commonly seen from July through February). A mini bus
returns us in the morning to rejoin the Petrel
for the day's activities. Please note: At times, the camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions.
Day 7: Santa Cruz / Bartolome—Pinnacle Rock
We continue our exploration of Santa Cruz with a visit to a tortoise reserve in the highlands or more time spent at our own Tortoise Camp, depending on where we might find more of these ancient creatures. This afternoon we return to the Petrel
and sail to tiny Bartolome, where we’ll snorkel with penguins around Pinnacle Rock. Sleeping white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and stingrays are also common sightings. We then make a dry landing to climb to the island’s highest point 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.
Those who don't wish to hike can take a panga ride along the shoreline, watching for rays and reef sharks just below the surface.
Day 8: Genovesa—Darwin Bay / Prince Philip’s Steps
Genovesa Island, also called Tower, is a collapsed shield volcano whose flooded caldera attracts vast numbers of pelagic seabirds that come here to breed and nest. Inside the submerged crater thousands of great frigatebirds, red-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, Galapagos storm petrels and yellow-crowned night herons rend the air with a cacophony of squawks. We anchor at Darwin Bay, formed thousands of years ago after the collapse of the volcano's roof. Surrounded by vertical cliffs, the bay is an ideal breeding site for the more than one million birds that congregate on Genovesa.
Our second landing is at El Barranco, also known as Prince Philip's Steps, a steep path with stairs carved into the rock that leads to a plateau full of birdlife
within a Palo Santo forest. We walk among colonies of great frigatebirds and Nazca boobies to a lava field where storm petrels nest in underground lava tubes. We may also see Galapagos doves, mockingbirds and perhaps an endemic short-eared lava owl.
Day 9: Santiago—Puerto Egas / Buccaneer Cove
At Puerto Egas on Santiago, we make an early-morning landing on a black sand beach with eroded rock formations. Following a trail across the dry interior, we see the remains of a salt mining enterprise before continuing along the coast. Tide pools are home to a variety of marine life, including sea urchins, octopus, sponges and sea stars. Birdlife abounds, with great blue herons, lava herons, oystercatchers, yellow-crowned night herons and seasonal shorebirds. In the lava grottos
we find a colony of Galapagos fur seals, one of the only places in the islands we see these endemic animals from land.
After our walk
there's time to swim or snorkel off the beach with the resident sea lions. Snorkeling at Buccaneer Cove, which was once a refuge for British pirates, offers a glimpse of underwater rock formations, sea turtles, rays and reef sharks. If time allows, we’ll also visit Espumilla Beach, where we watch marine iguanas lounge while herons hunt for Sally Lightfoot crabs.
Day 10: Santa Cruz—Carrion Point / Mainland Ecuador / Depart
Returning to Santa Cruz this morning, we visit Carrion Point, a sheltered lagoon on the north coast of the island at the entrance of Itabaca Channel. There is no place to land, so we snorkel or take a panga ride to explore the shimmering turquoise water and meet its inhabitants, including white-tipped reef sharks, rays
and sea turtles. Too soon, our time in the Enchanted Isles comes to a close—we say farewell to the Petrel
, her crew and our Expedition Leaders this afternoon. Once we disembark, we head to the Baltra airport for the return flight to the mainland, where we meet homeward flights or continue on for extensions to the Amazon rain forest
or Machu Picchu.
9-Day Trips: A handful of 2017 departures are nine days instead of 10. Those trips will spend just one night in Quito at the start of the trip instead of two nights in Otavalo. There will still be a welcome dinner on Day 1. On the morning of Day 2, we will fly to the Galapagos to meet our Expedition Leaders. The itinerary in the Galapagos is identical to what is shown above. Please refer to the Dates, Prices & Info page to see which of our trips are nine days long.