Classic Galapagos: The Natural Habitat Experience (10 Day, S/C Nemo III)
10 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: Quito, Ecuador
Upon arrival at the airport in Quito, you are met by our local representative and transferred to the historic Old Town about an hour away. Settle in to your boutique hotel in the heart of the colonial quarter, and enjoy dinner on your own this evening at one of Quito’s many fine restaurants.
Day 2: Exploring Colonial Quito
After breakfast, embark on a full day of discovery in Ecuador’s historic capital. Heralded as Latin America’s most well-preserved colonial city, Quito’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with cobblestone lanes, grand plazas and monuments, and ornate gilded churches and monasteries. Take in a sweeping view of the city and surrounding volcanic peaks from the overlook Panecillo Hill, then visit the 16th-century Church and Convent of San Francisco and neighboring San Francisco Square. Make a brief exploration of the Casa del Alabado Museum, a private archaeological collection of pre-Columbian artifacts dating back to Ecuador's oldest indigenous cultures. Marvel at the baroque splendor of La Compañia Church with its gleaming gold-leaf interior, and visit Independence Plaza, the original center of Quito from which we view the Archbishop’s Palace, Cathedral and Presidential Palace. Along our way, we'll stop for a lunch of Ecuadorian food served with a contemporary twist. Spend the afternoon at leisure in the city or visiting traditional workshops along La Ronda, one of Quito’s oldest streets, where the artisans making everything from hats to wooden toys to chocolate. This evening, join your one of your Expedition Leaders for a welcome dinner.
Day 3: Baltra, Galapagos Islands / North Seymour
Rise early for the return transfer to 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 the Nemo III. This deluxe motor-sailing catamaran will be our home base for the next week as we cruise among the islands. 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 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
On Isla Lobos this morning, our adventures begin with a walk over the rocks to look for blue-footed boobies, nesting frigatebirds and endemic lava lizards from San Cristobal. Returning to our catamaran, don snorkel gear for a shallow-water swim with the resident sea lion colony and marine iguanas, followed by a short ride by panga (motorized inflatable raft) along the shoreline to look at a frigatebird colony. This afternoon we land at at Cerro Brujo, or "Wizard Hill." This ancient volcanic 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, we have a chance to swim with them, too. 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 Nemo III once more, 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 sun sink below the horizon.
Day 5: Española—Gardner Bay / Punta Suarez
Española is one of the most prolific wildlife sites in the Galapagos. Along the island's north shore this morning, 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, looking for abundant tropical fish, rays and marine turtles. 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, with a wingspan of 7-8 feet.
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 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 7: Santa Cruz—Darwin Station / Natural Habitat's Tortoise Camp
Santa Cruz is our destination this morning. Begin with a visit to 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, 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.
After some time to explore town, followed by lunch back on board the boat, we ascend into the misty highlands of Santa Cruz to reach 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.
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 a network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns adjacent to Tortoise Camp. Returning to Nemo III, we'll 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 cruise 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 by basking green sea turtles and sea lions.
Day 9: 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 through the Bainbridge Rocks, shaped like a string of floating mushroom tops, reveals more of the Galapagos' fascinating 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 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 may take a panga ride 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 say goodbye to the Nemo III, her crew and our Expedition Leaders. From Baltra, we board our flight 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.
All This Included
Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, surrounded by open ocean, a volcanic archipelago straddles the Equator. The Galapagos Islands, forged of black lava and named for the giant tortoises that are among their most noted inhabitants, are like no other place on Earth. Home to a profuse array of unique wildlife, the islands offer an immersion in nature that feels primeval. Iguanas and blue-footed boobies share the beaches with us, unconcerned by our presence. Friendly sea lions—and sometimes inquisitive porpoises—play with us in the clear turquoise water, as Galapagos penguins dart by and sea turtles glide past. Author Herman Melville, who visited the islands in 1841, shortly after Darwin's momentous visit, called them the "Enchanted Isles"—an apt moniker for a realm that remains otherworldly, even today.
Quito: Patio Andaluz
Cruising: Cabin onboard M/C Nemo III
Santa Cruz: Natural Habitat's Tortoise Camp
Quito: Wyndham Quito Airport
Pre and Post Add-ons
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* The prices shown are U.S. dollars per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability. Prices quoted for land/cruise arrangements are subject to increase without notice. Once we have received your deposit, land/cruise prices are guaranteed. Air prices quoted via phone or email are subject to increase and are guaranteed only from the time that full payment is received. Also, air prices or air promotions mentioned on this site or on the phone do not include baggage fees imposed by airlines.