Nemo III 8-Day Itinerary
Arrive in Ecuador's capital city, where our local host meets you at the airport and joins you on the drive to Quito's historic Old Town, about an hour away. Our boutique hotel is in the heart of the colonial quarter, where you may enjoy dinner on your own this evening.
Day 2: Exploring Historic Quito
After breakfast, embark on a full day of discovery in Ecuador’s capital. Heralded as Latin America's best-preserved colonial city, Quito's Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with cobblestone lanes, elegant plazas and monuments, and ornate gilded churches. On a guided city tour, take in a panorama of the city and surrounding volcanic peaks from Panecillo Hill, visit the 16th-century Church and Convent of San Francisco, and wander through San Francisco Square. Marvel at the baroque splendor of La Compañia Church with its gleaming gold-leaf interior, and survey Independence Plaza, the original center of Quito from which we view the Archbishop's Palace, Cathedral and Presidential Palace.
We also visit an artisanal chocolate shop featuring products handmade from Ecuador's finest aromatic cacao. Ethically cultivated by a women's cooperative using traditional organic techniques, this rare cacao is prized by the great chocolatiers of the world for its heady aroma and unique flavor. We'll do a chocolate tasting, pairing different varieties with craft beer also made of cacao. Following lunch, the afternoon is at leisure to explore the city further on your own or visit the traditional workshops along La Ronda, one of Quito's oldest streets, where artisans craft everything from hats to wooden toys. This evening, we gather for a welcome dinner with one of our Expedition Leaders.
Day 3: Baltra, Galapagos Islands / Nat Hab's Tortoise Camp
Rise early for the transfer back to Quito airport, where our flight to the Galapagos awaits. Our second Expedition Leader meets us once we land on the island of Baltra later this morning. We're then off via road and ferry for Santa Cruz Island, winding up into the misty highlands to land at Nat Hab's private Tortoise Camp. This exclusive setting offers a rare opportunity to spend a night in wild tortoise habitat, and these ancient, amiable reptiles that are the archipelago's namesake often wander right through camp. Accommodations are in safari-style raised platform tents and treehouses with views of the ocean. While rustic, they offer comfortable amenities, including real beds and en suite facilities. But the true treat of our stay is the proximity to wild tortoises, which are attracted to the area by the lush vegetation. They are most commonly seen in camp from July through February. From March to June, we make an excursion to a nearby tortoise reserve for closer views, as they migrate seasonally to a lower elevation.
Day 4: Lava Tunnels / Embark S/C Nemo III / North Seymour
After a hearty breakfast at Tortoise Camp, we set off to explore the network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns that lace the camp environs, including a lava tunnel large enough for our group to walk through. Then it's time to leave the tortoises behind and head to the north side of Santa Cruz where we check out more fascinating geological features—a collection of sink holes surrounded by Scalesia forest, creating a dense ecosystem lush enough to sustain orchids and finches. Continue back down to the coast to the Itabaca Channel where we board our yacht, the Nemo III. This deluxe motor sailing catamaran will be our base for the next three nights as we kayak and hike in the islands. Following lunch aboard, our first landing is at North Seymour, a small geological uplift where we follow a trail leading 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. Along the beach, look for marine iguanas and sea lions bobbing in the northerly swells. Back aboard ship, our Expedition Leaders share a briefing about tomorrow's activities, followed by sunset cocktails and dinner.
Day 5: San Cristobal
On Isla Lobos this morning, our adventures begin with a walk over the rocks to look for blue-footed boobies, nesting frigatebirds and endemic lava lizards from San Cristobal. Returning to our catamaran, don snorkel gear for a shallow-water swim with the resident sea lion colony and marine iguanas, followed by a short ride by panga (motorized inflatable raft) along the shoreline to look at a frigatebird colony. 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. After a walk on the beach to scout for sea lions, with a chance to swim, too, we paddle kayaks along the shoreline of Cerro Brujo, observing tunnels and caves eroded by the relentless action of the waves. At every turn, our discoveries are enhanced by the in-depth knowledge of our Expedition Leaders, who are expert naturalists on the flora and fauna of the Galapagos. Back aboard the Nemo III once more, we sail on to Kicker Rock, a dramatic volcanic tuff cone that rises 300 feet above the ocean's surface. Circumnavigating the rock, look for marine life as we watch the setting sun sink behind the horizon.
Day 6: Española
Española is one of the most prolific wildlife sites in the Galapagos. A paddling excursion along the island's north shore follows a cliff formed by eroded cinder cones and layers of old basalt where we observe giant cacti and many different bird species. Next, we do some deep-water snorkeling at one of the offshore islets in Gardner Bay, looking for abundant tropical fish, rays and marine turtles. 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. Return to our catamaran for lunch 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. Española is also the world's main nesting site for the huge waved albatross, with a wingspan of 7-8 feet.
Day 7: Floreana
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, look for pintail ducks, common stilts and bright pink flamingos. As we wind our way past a wide 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 ship, 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 to look for sea turtles, we paddle around the mangrove-lined 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 8: Puerto Ayora—Disembark / Baltra / Quito / Depart
Nemo III returns to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz this morning, where we disembark. From here, we ferry over to Baltra to board our flight back to the mainland. Upon arrival at the Quito airport, we transfer to our nearby hotel, where an overnight stay is included. A complimentary shuttle will return you to the airport in time for your departing flight.
Learn more about the seasonal variations of Galapagos weather and wildlife viewing.