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 into your boutique hotel in the heart of the colonial quarter and enjoy dinner at your pleasure this evening at one of Quito’s many fine restaurants.
Day 2: Exploring Quito
After breakfast, embark upon a full day of discovery in Ecuador’s historic capital. Heralded as Latin America’s most beautifully preserved colonial city, Quito’s Old Town is filled with cobblestone lanes, elegant plazas and monuments, and ornate gilded churches and monasteries. Your tour of the historic quarter, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, may include the 16th-century Church and Convent of San Francisco and the baroque splendor of La Compañia Church with its gleaming gold-leaf interior. Along the way, we'll pause for a leisurely lunch of traditional Ecuadorian food in a classic local restaurant. Visit Independence Plaza, the original center of Quito from which we view the Archbishop’s Palace, Cathedral and Presidential Palace. And take in a sweeping view of the city and surrounding volcanic peaks from the overlook at Itchimbia or Panecillo Hill. As the sun sets over Quito, enjoy a welcome dinner with one of our Expedition Leaders.
Day 3: Baltra, Galapagos Islands / North Seymour
Rise early to make the return transfer to the 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 we transfer to the jetty to board to the Nemo III. This deluxe motor sailing catamaran will be our home base for the next week as we travel 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 find marine iguanas and sea lions bodysurfing 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
This morning we land at Isla Lobos, where our adventures begin with a shallow-water snorkel with the resident sea lion colony, plus a chance to look for feeding marine iguanas below the surface. Then, a short ride by panga (motorized inflatable raft) along the shoreline offers a look at a frigatebird colony, prior to a walk inland. Back on board the Nemo III once more, we sail on to Kicker Rock, a dramatic volcanic tuff cone that rises 300 feet above the ocean's surface. Here, depending on conditions, we have our first chance to snorkel in deep water to look for sea turtles, rays and reef sharks.
This afternoon the Nemo III lands at Cerro Brujo, or "Wizard Hill." This ancient volcanic tuff cone on San Cristobal Island 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. We explore along the shoreline of Cerro Brujo, observing tunnels and caves eroded by the relentless action of the waves. Later there's time for a hike along the beach to look for sea lions. 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.
Day 5: Española—Gardner Bay / Punta Suarez
Española is one of the most prolific wildlife sites in the Galapagos. On a excursion along the island's north shore this morning, we 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—keep an eye out for gentle hammerhead sharks that often swim in schools near here.
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 Española 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.
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 the Nemo III, 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 and a brief walk to a lava tube, we explore by panga around the mangrove 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, the largest island in the Galapagos. The day begins as we head into 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, we 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 a little time to explore town and lunch back on board the Nemo III, we ascend into the misty highlands of Santa Cruz to arrive at NHA's private Tortoise Camp. This exclusive setting offers a rare opportunity to spend a night in wild tortoise habitat, and these ancient, amiable 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, who are attracted to the area by the 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. Nearby, we can also explore a network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns. 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 the highlands with a stop at either El Manzanillo or El Chato tortoise reserve to view more tortoises in the wild, where we find them year-round. Returning to the Nemo III, we 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 basking green sea turtles and sea lions.
Day 9: Bartolome / Sombrero Chino
Sailing on to Bartolome, 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 enormous schools of fish permanently under attack by Galapagos penguins. Sleeping white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and stingrays are also common sightings. We then make a dry landing to climb to the island's highest point for 360-degree views, passing intriguing geological formations 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. Over lunch, cruise to nearby Sombrero Chino, which really does look like a Chinese hat! A panga ride takes us along the Bainbridge Rocks, shaped like a string of floating mushroom tops, reveals more of the Galapagos' fascinating marine life. During a final snorkel in the channel, we hope the resident penguin family will join us. Back on board, it's time for cocktails and a convivial 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'll venture out on the panga in search of fur seals lounging on the rocks along North Seymour. 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. Transferring to Baltra, we board our flight back 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, and friendly sea lions play with us in the turquoise water while penguins and turtles glide past. Author Herman Melville, who visited the Galapagos in 1841, a few years after Darwin, 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.