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. This evening, relax and enjoy dinner on your own.
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 the Quito airport where we board our flight to the Galapagos. Our second Expedition Leader meets us on the island of Baltra this morning. After lunch, travel to Santa Cruz Island and continue into the misty highlands to Los Gemelos—"the twins"—a pair of volcanic craters surrounded by lush Scalesia forest. Nearby is Nat Hab's private Tortoise Camp, providing a rare opportunity to spend a night in wild tortoise habitat. These ancient, gentle 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 highlight of our stay is the proximity to wild tortoises, which are attracted to the area by the lush vegetation. They are commonly seen in camp from July through February, and from March to June, we visit a nearby tortoise reserve for closer views, when the tortoises migrate seasonally to a lower elevation. We can also explore a network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns near the camp.
Day 4: Garrapatero Beach / Cerro Mesa
Head down to sea level from camp to begin the day with a short walk to Garrapatero Beach. The diverse flora is fascinating: 20-foot-tall cactus line the path, while near the beach we find poison apple trees and mangroves. A variety of wildlife resides here, including marine iguanas, pelicans and many other bird species. Marine life is also vibrant, and swimming in the protected bay may reveal sea turtles and rays. Returning to higher elevations, walk amid Cerro Mesa this afternoon, where the trail overlooks the largest volcanic crater on Santa Cruz and dense vegetation from Scalesia and Miconia to fern-sedge zones. Look for plentiful birds including the vermilion flycatcher, paint-billed crake and elusive Galapagos rail. Back at Tortoise Camp, dinner is served, followed by time to relax by the fire and survey the canopy of bright stars, if skies are clear.
Day 5: Tortuga Bay / Puerto Ayora—Embark Nemo III
This morning, visit Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz, and 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, visit the protection pens where hatchlings are bred to 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. Afterward, embark the Nemo III, the deluxe motor-sailing catamaran will be our base for three nights as we explore the islands. After lunch on board, secluded Tortuga Bay is our destination this afternoon. The pristine beach is a sanctuary for many birds, iguanas and bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs that dot the black lava rocks. In a nearby cove, we often see schools of white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and colorful fish in the aquamarine waters. A paddle in the mangrove lagoons on the bay’s edge offers frequent views of sea turtles. We return to our private catamaran for dinner, then sail toward South Plaza this evening.
Day 6: South Plaza / Santa Fe
On South Plaza, follow a rocky trail that circumnavigates the small island, which displays a combination of dry and coastal vegetation zones. South Plaza has one of the largest populations of land iguanas in the Galapagos, and we find these large yellow-brown reptiles everywhere. Marine iguanas are also abundant along the shoreline, plus an unusual hybrid, the fathers of which are marine iguanas and the mothers are land iguanas. Continuing along the sea cliffs, look for swallow-tailed gulls, frigatebirds, Audubon shearwaters, red-billed tropicbirds, brown pelicans, and blue-footed and Nazca boobies—plus a colony of noisy bachelor sea lions on the rocks below. This afternoon, we explore Santa Fe. On a short hike through a forest of prickly pear cactus, look for the endemic land iguanas that wait patiently underneath for the fruit to drop. Returning to our catamaran, we explore a small islet surrounded by great reef diversity, then continue along the north coast where large cliffs and sea caves are used by many species of marine birds for nesting and roosting. Look, too, for basking green sea turtles and sea lions.
Day 7: Bartolome / Sombrero Chino
Sail on to Bartolome and climb to the island's highest point for 360-degree views, passing intriguing geological formations along the path 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. 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 huge schools of fish permanently under attack by Galapagos penguins. Gentle white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and stingrays are also common sightings. Over lunch, cruise to nearby Sombrero Chino, which really does look like a Chinese hat! A panga ride along the island's shoreline reveals more Galapagos fascinating Galapagos marine life. Members of the resident penguin colony may join us on a final snorkel in the channel. Back on board, it's time for cocktails and our farewell dinner.
Day 8: Mosquera or North Seymour / 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 may venture out on the panga in search of fur seals lounging on the rocks along North Seymour. All too soon, our time in the Enchanted Isles comes to a close as we return to Baltra where we say goodbye to the Nemo III, her crew and our Expedition Leaders. Transferring to the airport, we board our flight back to the mainland. Upon arrival at the Quito airport, we transfer to our nearby hotel, just minutes away, where an overnight stay is included. A complimentary shuttle will return you to the airport for your homeward flight.
Learn more about the seasonal variations of Galapagos weather and wildlife viewing.