Our Exclusive Small-Group Nature Immersion Led by the Islands' Most Experienced Guides
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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.
Day 1: Quito, Ecuador / Otavalo
Upon arrival at the Quito airport, you're met by our local representative who accompanies you on the scenic drive to the town of Otavalo, just over an hour away in the Andean Highlands. Among these volanic
peaks and valleys, you'll have a chance to sample the history, nature
and culture of this mountain region. Depending on which departure you have selected, you’ll stay either at Hacienda Zuleta or Hacienda Cusin, colonial estates with rich histories, or Sacha Ji, a contemporary luxury wellness resort that's a leader in sustainability practices. 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 landscapes and cultural heritage of the Andean Highlands. Specific activities will depend on 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
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 and the start of our Galapagos cruise. After getting settled into our cabins aboard the Letty
and discovering the 360-degree views from the topside observation deck, join our guides for an orientation to the ship and the adventures that lie ahead. Following lunch aboard and an initial safety drill, we set off for our first landing at Punta Carola and an easy hike to the top of Frigatebird Hill. 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. Soon it's time to head back to the ship for dinner, and as we cruise off into the sunset, already we can see why Herman Melville called these the "Enchanted Isles."
Day 4: Genovesa
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 we are surrounded by thousands of great frigatebirds, red-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, Galapagos storm petrels and yellow-crowned night herons that rend the air with a cacophony of squawks. The Letty
anchors at Darwin Bay, formed thousands of years ago after the collapse of the volcano's roof to form a huge caldera. Surrounded by vertical cliffs, the bay is an ideal breeding site for the more than 1 million land and seabirds that congregate on Genovesa. Following the trail up Prince Philip's Steps, we walk among colonies of great frigatebirds and red-footed and Nazca boobies to a lava field where storm petrels nest in underground chambers and lava tubes. After lunch, there's an option to do some kayaking, followed by a landing late this afternoon at a coral beach for swimning
Day 5: Bachas Beach / Cerro Dragon
This morning we land at Las Bachas, a beautiful white sand beach on
Santa Cruz. Snorkeling in the azure water reveals a kaleidoscope of fish, while the powdered coral sand is a favorite nesting site for green sea turtles, and pink flamingos often dot the saltwater lagoons. Continue this afternoon to Cerro Dragon ("Dragon Hill"), one of the best places in the islands to see large land iguanas. Scientists have been working diligently to protect Santa Cruz's native land iguana population from invasive species, and it's not uncommon for travelers and researchers to cross paths on trails among the cacti and Palo Santo forest in the area. Great views are available from atop the small hill, where we will also see a variety of birds.
Day 6: Isabela
Isabela is the largest of the Galapagos islands, created where six volcanoes flowed together. This morning we explore Punta Vicente Roca, a small promontory on the island's northern side with two coves that lie on either side of the eroded remains of a tuff cone made of volcanic ash. We'll cruise around the point by panga (motorized raft), observing large numbers of blue-footed and Nazca boobies that nest on the sheer cliffs, keeping watch along the shoreline for flightless cormorants. Then we'll snorkel in one of the protected coves, laced with water-filled subterranean passages. Marine life is abundant, and we're sure to see green sea turtles swimming gracefully beneath the surface.
At Urbina Bay
this afternoon, step ashore on a black sand beach to witness one of the best examples of geological uplift in the Galapagos, a phenomenon that occurs when molten rock beneath the surface suddenly shifts. In 1954 the shoreline was heaved upward, exposing 1.6 square miles of shoreline. The coastline was driven three-quarters of a mile farther out to sea, revealing coral and stranding marine organisms on what is now shore. Urbina is also home to a colony of some of the largest land iguanas in the islands and the iconic Galapagos tortoise.
Day 7: Fernandina / Isabela
Just opposite Isabela, Fernandina is the youngest and most active volcano in the Galapagos. The rippling pahoehoe lava at Punta Espinoza is a stark backdrop for the surprising variety of life that flourishes here: flightless cormorants nest on the rocks, Galapagos hawks soar overhead, sea lions sprawl on the beach, and huge colonies of marine iguanas bask in the sun. Bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs pepper the black rocks at water's edge, a vivid counterpoint to the aquamarine sea. A snorkeling excursion offers a good chance to see sea turtles and submerged marine iguanas feeding on algae.
This afternoon, as we cruise across the Bolivar Channel back to Isabela, keep watch for whales and dolphins. Anchoring at Tagus Cove, we explore by panga, finding penguins, pelicans
and graffiti dating to the 1800s when the names of ships were carved into the rock above a historic anchorage for pirates and whalers. Another snorkeling opportunity awaits, perhaps offering another chance to frolic with young sea lions.
Day 8: Rabida / Santa Cruz / Natural Habitat's Tortoise Camp
Rabida is one of the most volcanically distinctive islands in the chain. The beaches here are deep maroon and the rock multicolored, products of lava eruptions from the many spatter cones that pock the island. Marine iguanas and sea lions are often seen resting in the shade of caves, while Rabida’s saltwater lagoon is home to abundant birdlife. A short trail leads to the lagoon where we may see boobies, brown pelicans nesting in the bushes and nine species of Darwin's finches. Excellent snorkeling opportunities also await over the reefs that fringe the island.
This afternoon, Letty
sails to Santa Cruz, centrally located in the Galapagos chain. Those who choose to participate in our unique camping opportunity will disembark and transfer to the misty highlands of Santa Cruz to spend the night at Natural Habitat's exclusive Tortoise Camp. Our private camp, with distant views of the ocean, is tucked among lush vegetation that attracts giant tortoises (most commonly seen from July through February). While our accommodations are rustic, the proximity they offer to wild tortoises is second to none. We'll have a chance to view these ancient, amiable creatures in their natural setting—and they often amble right into camp. Nearby, we can also explore a network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns. Please note: At times, the camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions.
Day 9: Santa Cruz / Darwin Station or Tortuga Bay
This morning, we spend more time exploring the grounds around camp in search of wild tortoises, or, depending on the season, we may visit the tortoise reserve at El Manzanillo, whose lush environs harbor numerous giant tortoises that roam freely year-round. Returning to the coast, we continue to the town of Puerto Ayora, where you may choose between two activities: a visit to the world-famous Charles Darwin Research Station and tortoise breeding center, with free time in town, or a walk to a pristine beach at Tortuga Bay for swimming and relaxing.
At Darwin Station, which operates in tandem with Galapagos National Park, learn about the efforts of scientists, guides, rangers and park managers to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Galapagos. At the 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. After visiting the station, there's still some time to walk around town. Those opting to visit Tortuga Bay will make an easy 3-mile walk (about an hour and 15 minutes one way, plus return) to a large, wild beach that is a sanctuary for the many iguanas, crabs
and birds that dot the lava rocks. Or, for those who wish, enjoy a full afternoon of free time in town to browse the shops and galleries before heading back to the boat to sail this evening.
Day 10: San Cristobal / Quito / Depart
This morning we make a final landing at Isla Lobos for a short panga ride along the shoreline to observe a frigatebird colony. Prior to a walk inland, we are greeted by the resident sea lion colony. We'll also hope to see blue-footed and Nazca boobies before returning to the Letty
to sail on to San Cristobal. Here, it’s time to disembark and bid farewell to the islands as we transfer to the airport for our flight back to the mainland. Upon arrival at the Quito airport, travelers leaving on overnight flights have the opportunity to transfer to a hotel located just minutes away, offering a chance to refresh and relax in a comfortable day room before departure. A complimentary shuttle will return you to the airport in time for your evening flight. Travelers who have booked extensions will fly on to your next destination.
Note: See our Southern Itinerary here.
Learn more about the seasonal variations of Galapagos weather and wildlife viewing.