Galapagos Discovery: The Nat Hab Experience

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M/Y Tip Top IV Western 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 / North Seymour
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 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're likely to see marine iguanas and sea lions in the northerly swells. Back aboard the?Tip Top IV, our Expedition Leaders offer a briefing about tomorrow's activities, followed by sunset cocktails and dinner.

Day 4: Genovesa
This morning our Expedition Leaders provide an orientation to our kayaks, helping us get fitted to our boats and reviewing paddling techniques. Our first chance to paddle awaits as we visit Genovesa, or Tower Island, a collapsed shield volcano that attracts literally millions of seabirds that come here to breed and nest. Paddling our kayaks inside the flooded crater, we are surrounded by red-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, storm petrels and yellow-crowned night herons that rend the air with a cacophony of squawks. Surrounded by vertical cliffs of the collapsed caldera, Darwin Bay is an ideal breeding site for the birds that congregate on Genovesa, including red-billed tropic birds and Galapagos shearwaters that nest in holes in the lava walls.

Our first landing is at Darwin Bay Beach, following a trail into lush mangroves where red-footed boobies nest. We may also see nesting colonies of great frigatebird, Nazca booby and huge numbers of breeding swallow-tailed gull pairs. After our walk, snorkel from the beach, where plenty of sea lions loll in the sun, and look for rays and sea turtles commonly on view beneath the surface. This afternoon, we visit El Barranco, also known as Prince Phillip's Steps, a steep path with stairs carved into the rock that leads to a plateau full of birdlife within a Palo Santo forest. Walk among colonies of great frigatebirds and Nazca boobies to a lava field where storm petrels nest in underground lava tubes. We may also see Galapagos doves, mockingbirds and perhaps an endemic short-eared owl.

Day 5: Santa Cruz—Tortuga Bay / Darwin Station / Puerto Ayora / Nat Hab’s Tortoise Camp
Santa Cruz is our destination today. Begin 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 cove nearby, where we commonly view schools of gentle white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and colorful fish in the aquamarine waters. A paddle among the mangrove lagoons on the bay's edge offers a chance to see sea turtles frequently found here.

After lunch on board the Tip Top IV, 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 visit 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.

We’ll have a bit of time to wander around Puerto Ayora before ascending into the misty highlands of Santa Cruz, bound for Nat Hab's private Tortoise Camp. This 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 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, 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 6: Santa Cruz Highlands / Black Turtle Cove
Search for more giant tortoises this morning before we return to the?Tip Top IV?for lunch and sail on to Black Turtle Cove, a sheltered lagoon on the north coast of the island. On a panga ride in the shimmering turquoise water, we hope to see white-tipped reef sharks, rays and sea turtles as we soak up the peace of this serene environment surrounded by mangroves.

Day 7: Isabela—Tagus Cove / Elizabeth Bay
As we navigate the Bolivar Channel to reach Isabela, the largest island in the Galapagos, our day begins at sunrise, keeping watch on deck for whales and dolphins. Anchoring at Tagus Cove, we set out to explore by kayak, 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 with a chance to frolic again with young sea lions. Inside the submerged volcanic cone, we find saltwater Darwin Lake. On the southern side of Isabela,?Tip Top IV?enters Elizabeth Bay to explore a sprinkling of islets, a lagoon frequented by sea turtles, and surrounding red and black mangroves. On a panga ride, search for resting and feeding sea turtles along with lava herons, Galapagos penguins, rays and flightless cormorants.

Day 8: Isabela—Urbina Bay / Punta Moreno
At Urbina Bay this morning, step onto 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 coastline was driven three-quarters of a mile out to sea, exposing coral and stranding marine organisms on what is now the shore. Urbina Bay is home to a colony of some of the largest land iguanas in the islands, plus the iconic Galapagos tortoise. We may also see bright yellow Darwin’s cotton flowers here, unique to the archipelago.

This afternoon we land at Punta Moreno, a point located between two volcanoes, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul, where we step ashore to walk atop the hardened lava. At first glance, the corrugated rock landscape appears lifeless. However, the ropy black surface is dotted with numerous coastal lagoons harboring a wide variety of birdlife. Commonly seen species include flamingos, paint-billed crakes, white-cheeked pintails and herons. We also see endemic Galapagos flora taking root on this young, barren lava flow, including giant opuntia cactus, Palo Santo trees and lichens. The protected waters of Moreno Bay are surrounded by mangroves, creating perfect habitat for sea turtles, which we may spot from the pangas or as we snorkel. Cormorants may also be on view along the shoreline as well.

Day 9: 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 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 10: Daphne Major / Baltra / Disembark / Quito / Depart
Just off Santa Cruz lies Daphne Major, which we circumnavigate. One of two small volcanic islands (along with Daphne Minor) that are a haven for multiple bird species, Daphne Major is formed of a tuff crater. It’s a noted location for bird research, especially on Darwin’s finches. Two Princeton University scientists have been conducting longitudinal studies over more than three decades, observing subtle evolutionary processes at work. Blue-footed boobies nest in the interior of the crater, while masked boobies nest on the sides of the cone and along the crater's edge.

All too soon, our time in the Enchanted Isles comes to a close as we return to Baltra and say goodbye to Tip Top IV, her crew and our Expedition Leaders. Transfer to the airport, then board our flight back to the mainland. Upon arrival at the Quito airport, we transfer to our hotel just minutes away, where an overnight stay is included. A complimentary shuttle takes you back to the airport in time for your flight home, or for your onward extension.

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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