Galapagos Discovery: The Nat Hab Experience

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M/Y Tip Top IV Eastern Itinerary

Itinerary Map
Day 1: Quito, Ecuador
Upon arrival at the Quito airport, you are met by our local representative and transferred to our boutique hotel in the heart of Quito's historic Old Town, about an hour away. This evening, 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, 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: Quito / Baltra, Galapagos Islands—Embark Tip Top IV / Eden Islet
Depart early this morning for the Quito airport and our flight to the Galapagos Islands. Landing on Baltra, we meet our second Expedition Leader, who accompanies us to the pier where the Tip Top IV awaits. This first-class motor-yacht will be our home base for the next week as we explore the islands. Once we’re settled in, join our guides for a safety briefing and orientation to the adventures that lie ahead.

Our first destination is Eden Islet, located just off Santa Cruz Island. An ancient eroded volcano, the islet is comprised of layers upon layers of volcanic ash cemented over eons of time, with a small volcanic sand beach. The steep slopes of the old tuff cone are completely covered in Palo Santo trees and opuntia cacti that make up the bulk of the dry forest in the Galapagos archipelago. Exploring in Zodiacs, we get a close view of the islet, with the picturesque backdrop of Santa Cruz behind it. Along the shore we may encounter flocks of seabirds resting alongside marine iguanas. Since the islet’s northern side faces the open ocean, it also attracts pelagic birds such as the elegant Nazca booby and red-billed tropicbird. The opposite side of the island is sheltered by Santa Cruz, creating calm sea conditions for birdwatching from the Zodiac. We may see blue-footed boobies, brown pelicans, various herons, and occasionally we spot a small colony of Galapagos sea lions alongside marine iguanas.

Day 4: Española—Punta Suarez / Gardner Bay
Española holds some of the most prolific wildlife in the Galapagos. Hiking on the headlands of Punta Suarez, 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. Return to our yacht for lunch aboard as we sail to Gardner Bay. 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 and Pacific green sea turtles often frequent the rocky shoreline. Our first paddling excursion will take place along the island's north shore, following a cliff formed by eroded cinder cones and layers of old basalt where we observe giant cacti and many different bird species at sunset.

Day 5: San Cristobal—Punta Pitt / Cerro Brujo
This morning we call at of the archipelago’s oldest islands, San Cristobal, for a visit to Punta Pitt. Located on the easternmost side of the Galapagos, Punta Pitt is one of the only places where red-footed, blue-footed and Nazca boobies are all found in the same place. Look for all three as we hike among volcanic rock formations and ascend to the top for expansive views. Then it’s time to explore the world beneath the sea on a deepwater snorkel among many colorful fishes.

This afternoon we land at Cerro Brujo, or "Wizard Hill." This ancient tuff cone on San Cristobal 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?Tip Top IV, 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: Santa Cruz—Tortuga Bay / Darwin Station / Puerto Ayora / Nat Hab’s Tortoise Camp
Santa Cruz is our destination today. We take an early walk to Tortuga Bay, then head to Puerto Ayora, the main town on the island, to visit the world-famous giant tortoise-rearing center, run in tandem by Galapagos National Park and 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 see the protection pens where hatchlings are bred to help increase depleted tortoise populations, a central mission for both the research station and the national park. To date, more than 5,000 tortoises bred at the station have been released into the wild.

After lunch on board the Tip Top IV, we have a bit of time to wander around Puerto Ayora ascending into the misty highlands of Santa Cruz where Nat Hab's private Tortoise Camp awaits. The camp’s exclusive setting offers a rare opportunity to spend a night in wild tortoise habitat, and these ancient, gentle reptiles that are the archipelago's namesake often wander right through camp. Accommodations are in safari-style walk-in tents on raised platforms and treehouses with views of the ocean. While rustic, they offer comfortable amenities, including real beds and en suite facilities. But the real treat of a stay here is our proximity to wild tortoises, which are attracted to the area's 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 7: Sombrero Chino / Rabida
Our first stop today is Sombrero Chino, a small island off the coast of Santiago, which really does look like a Chinese hat! A paddling excursion here reveals more of the Galapagos' fascinating marine life and striking geology, as we witness the delicate lava and spatter cones on the island’s surface. The small channel of turquoise water provides a beautiful snorkeling site, particularly along the Santiago coast where it is possible to see sharks, sea lions, penguins and rays.

Continuing to Rabida, we make a wet landing on the beach of maroon-colored sand. Marine iguanas and sea lions are often seen resting in the shade of the caves nearby.

Rabida is one of the best places to see pelicans, blue-footed and Nazca boobies on the cliffs above. Behind the beach is a shallow saltwater lagoon that is a seasonal feeding and breeding area for flamingos. These large pink birds feed for hours each day, primarily on pink shrimp larvae that give them their color. While we don’t always see flamingos, we reliably spot pintail ducks and common stilts that also feed in the lagoon. Following a short trail inland through opuntia cactus, Palo Santo trees and scrubby bushes, we find terrestrial birds such as finches, Galapagos doves, yellow warblers and mockingbirds. Our visit to Rabida often ends with swimming and snorkeling, which are very good here. Late this afternoon we’ll explore the shoreline of Rabida in our kayaks to admire the red cliffs as we scout for fur seals, boobies and marine turtles.

Day 8: Bartolome / Sullivan Bay
Landing at Bartolome, we go ashore to climb to the island's highest point for 360° 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.

At nearby Sullivan Bay on the east coast of Santiago, we continue our underwater exploration with another snorkeling outing, then take a dramatic walk along a new lava field to observe the hardy new plants that have managed to take root on the barren rock, like the lava cactus. The lava here is the pahoehoe type, which resembles smooth ropes. Those who wish may choose a panga ride on the bay instead, exploring the spectacular volcanic formations, relatively recent lava flows and unique geological scenery.

Day 9: Santa Fe / Plaza Sur
Rise early for a paddle along the north coast of Santa Fe where large cliffs and sea caves are used by basking green sea turtles and sea lions, as well as many species of seabirds that nest and roost here. Surrounded by a turquoise lagoon, this oldest of the Galapagos islands, dating back 4.5 million years, has one of the largest varieties of endemic wildlife in the archipelago. After breakfast back on board, we take a short hike through a forest of giant prickly pear cacti to look for the land iguanas that wait patiently underneath for fruit to drop. Then it’s time for more deepwater snorkeling as we explore a small islet surrounded by a reef filled with a great diversity of marine life, as well as playful sea lions.

Tip Top IV sails on to South Plaza, one of the smallest islands in the archipelago, which was formed from an uplifted seabed. Despite its diminutive size, South Plaza is home to a wide variety of species and is famous for its exceptional flora. The landscape is dotted with prickly pear cactus trees, and South Plaza is also home to the beautiful succulent Sesuvium,?which changes from bright green in the rainy season to red, orange and purple during the dry season. Red-billed tropicbirds and swallow-tailed gulls are some of the many birds that nest along the cliffs, and a large colony of land iguanas also resides here. Marine iguanas are abundant, and a hybrid between a marine iguana and a land iguana may occasionally be seen along the trail.?Approximately 1,000 sea lions inhabit the island.

Day 10: Santa Cruz—Las Bachas / Baltra—Disembark / Quito / Depart
One last outing remains early this morning, an optional sunrise walk to Las Bachas, a beautiful white sand beach on Santa Cruz. From here, we follow a path to look for pink flamingos that often dot the saltwater lagoons. All too soon, our time in the Enchanted Isles comes to a close as we return to Baltra where we say goodbye to the?Tip Top IV, her crew and our Expedition Leaders. Transfer to the airport to board our flight to the mainland. Upon arrival at the Quito airport, transfer to our hotel just minutes away, where an overnight stay is included. A complimentary shuttle will return you to the airport in time for your departing flight.

Our goal is to provide you with an exceptional, life-enhancing adventure. In order to achieve that goal, our Expedition Leaders are empowered to make reasonable changes to itineraries while a trip is underway. These decisions might be made to more closely follow the movements of wildlife, to accommodate extreme weather, to take advantage of unexpected opportunities, or generally to improve overall guest experience. For this reason, the above itinerary should be considered a general outline of your trip, but it is subject to change. After all, the very definition of adventure is “an exciting or remarkable undertaking involving the unknown.” In addition, weather conditions in the Galapagos can change without notice and will dictate where and when we can travel. Please be aware that we may adapt our schedule to take advantage of these changes, and local conditions, inclement weather or Galapagos regulations may prevent us from participating in any part of this itinerary, including the optional camping excursion.
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