On Our Intimate Catamaran-Based Odyssey, Paddle with Marine Life for an Eye-Level View
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 2-hour drive to the market town of Otavalo, home to indigenous residents of the Andean Highlands. Enjoy a welcome dinner this evening with one of our Expedition Leaders at our historic hacienda.
Day 2: Otavalo—Hiking in the Andean Highlands
The countryside surrounding the historic market town of Otavalo offers an ideal introduction to hiking in Ecuador. Mountain lakes glisten beneath broad blue skies, while two dramatic volcanoes dominate the skyline—15,190-foot Imbabura and 16,388-foot Cotacachi. We set out on a local trail to explore the landscape up close, stopping for a picnic lunch to sustain us. Artisans from local villages in the Otavalo region produce the region's famed textiles, and we'll have a chance later on
to witness artisans making handicrafts and learn about the residents' traditional culture.
Day 3: Baltra, Galapagos Islands / North Seymour
Rise early to make the return transfer to the Quito airport, where we board our flight to the Galapagos Islands 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 deluxe motor sailing catamaran will be our home base for the next week as we kayak among the islands. Once we get settled into our cabins, we gather for a safety drill and an orientation to our kayaks. Our Expedition Leaders help us get fitted to our boats and review paddling techniques and safety information.
Our first landing awaits on North Seymour, a small geological uplift where we 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. Strolling along the beach, we find marine iguanas and sea lions bodysurfing the northerly swells. Back aboard the Nemo III,
our Expedition Leaders offer a briefing about tomorrow's activities, followed by sunset cocktails and dinner.
Day 4: Isla Lobos / Kicker Rock / San Cristobal—Cerro Brujo
This morning we land at Isla Lobos, where our adventures begin with a shallow-water snorkel with the resident sea lion colony, plus a chance to look for feeding marine iguanas below the surface. Then, a short ride by panga (motorized inflatable raft) along the shoreline offers a look at a frigatebird colony, prior to a walk inland. Back on board 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. Here, depending on conditions, we have our first chance to snorkel in deep water to look for sea turtles, rays
and reef sharks.
This afternoon the Nemo III
lands 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. We paddle kayaks along the shoreline of Cerro Brujo, observing 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 Leaders, who are expert naturalists on the flora and fauna of the Galapagos.
Day 5: Española—Gardner Bay / Punta Suarez
Española is one of the most prolific wildlife sites in the Galapagos. On a paddling excursion along the island's north shore this morning, we follow 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—keep an eye out for gentle hammerhead sharks that often swim in schools near here.
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.
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, 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 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 to look 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
Santa Cruz is our destination this morning, the largest island in the Galapagos. The 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 bright orange Sally Lightfoot 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. A paddle among mangrove lagoons on the bay's edge offers a chance to see sea turtles, frequently found here.
After lunch we head into Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz, to visit the world-famous giant tortoise-rearing center 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 visit the protection pens where hatchlings are bred to help increase depleted tortoise populations, a central mission for
both the research station and Galapagos National Park. To date, more than 5,000 tortoises bred at the station have been released into the wild.
Late this afternoon we head ashore and ascend into the misty highlands of Santa Cruz to arrive at NHA'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 private en suite
facilities. But the real treat of a stay here is our proximity to wild tortoises, who 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. Nearby, we can also explore a network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns. Please note: At times, Tortoise 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, where we find them year-round. Returning to the Nemo III
, we have lunch aboard and 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 explore a small islet surrounded by great reef diversity, then set out for a paddle along the north coast. Along this expanse, large cliffs and sea caves are 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. It's 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 island's highest point for 360-degree views, passing intriguing geological formations including 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, cruise to nearby Sombrero Chino, which really does look like a Chinese hat! A 2-hour paddle through the Bainbridge Rocks, shaped like a string of floating mushroom tops, reveals more of the Galapagos' fascinating marine life. During a final snorkel in the channel, we hope the resident penguin family will join us. Back on board, it's time for cocktails and a convivial farewell dinner.
Day 10: Mosquera / Baltra / Quito / Depart
This morning's adventure will depend upon sea conditions. If tides permit, we may opt to land on Mosquera, a tiny islet that's home to a huge population of sea lions, as well as many shorebirds. Or, we'll venture out on the panga in search of fur seals lounging on the rocks along North Seymour. Too soon, our time in the Enchanted Isles comes to a close as we say goodbye to the Nemo III
, her crew
and our Expedition Leaders. Transferring to Baltra, we board our flight back to the mainland. Upon arrival at the Quito airport, travelers departing on overnight flights may choose to transfer to a hotel located just minutes away, for a relaxed layover in a comfortable day room. A complimentary shuttle will return you to the airport in time for your evening flight.
Note: See our Northern Itinerary here.
Learn more about the seasonal variations of Galapagos weather and wildlife viewing.