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Galapagos Hiking & Kayaking Adventure 2020 (Central Itinerary)

8 days with Natural Habitat Adventures   Rating: Deluxe

Click for Dates and Prices Day 1: Quito, Ecuador
Arrive in Ecuador's capital city, where our local host meets you at the airport and joins you on the drive to Quito's historic Old Town, about an hour away. Settle into your boutique hotel in the heart of the colonial quarter and enjoy dinner on your own at one of Quito's many fine restaurants.

Day 2: Exploring Historic Quito
After breakfast, set out on a full-day discovery of Ecuador's historic capital with your Expedition Leader and a local guide. Heralded as Latin America's most well-preserved colonial city, Quito's Old Town is filled with cobblestone lanes, stately plazas and monuments, and ornate churches. Our tour of the old 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 stop 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. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner to celebrate the start of our adventure.

Day 3: Baltra, Galapagos Islands / Itabaca Canal / Nat Hab's Tortoise Camp
Rise early for the transfer back to Quito airport to board our flight to the Galapagos. Our second Expedition Leader meets us once we land on the island of Baltra later this morning. After lunch, we have our first chance to kayak in the Galapagos as we paddle in Itabaca Canal, located between Baltra and Santa Cruz. The channel offers excellent conditions for an introduction to Galapagos kayaking, with calm waters and very little wind. Paddle past mangroves where pelicans and herons perch and rocky cliffs where we'll see blue-footed boobies, brown noddies, gulls and shearwaters. We sometimes see sea lions along the shoreline, and in shallow areas, look for white-tipped reef sharks. 

Then it's off to Santa Cruz Island, winding up into the misty highlands to Los Gemelos—"the twins" — a pair of rugged volcanic craters surrounded by lush scalesia forest. Our ultimate destination is Nat Hab's private Tortoise Camp, providing a rare opportunity to spend a night in wild tortoise habitat. 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 true treat of our stay is the proximity to wild tortoises, which 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. 

Day 4: Garrapatero Beach / Cerro Crocker Hike
We head back to sea level from camp to begin our day with a short hike to the open, sandy expanse of Garrapatero Beach. The diverse flora is fascinating: cactus taller than 20 feet line the path, while near the beach we find poison apple trees and mangroves. A variety of wildlife resides here, including marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, pelicans, flamingos and many more bird species. Marine life is equally vibrant, and snorkeling in the protected bay may reveal reef and pelagic fish, sea turtles and rays. 

This afternoon, we head back to the heights with a hike up 2,800-foot Cerro Crocker. From the summit, survey extinct volcanoes and dense vegetation from scalesia and miconia to fern-sedge zones, and look for birds like the vermilion flycatcher, paint-billed crake and elusive Galapagos rail. Return to Tortoise Camp for a second night, savoring a hearty dinner, warming up by the fire in the grate and enjoying a bright canopy of stars if the skies are clear. 

Day 5: Tortuga Bay / Puerto Ayora—Embark Nemo III
Descending to sea level again, we head to secluded Tortuga Bay for a paddling idyll. The pristine white sand beach is a sanctuary for many birds, iguanas and bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs that dot the black lava rocks. In a nearby cove, we frequently see schools of white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and colorful fish in the transparent aqua waters. A paddle among mangrove lagoons on the bay's edge offers a chance to see sea turtles, commonly found here. 

After our morning outing, we return to Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz, to embark the Nemo III. This deluxe motor sailing catamaran will be our base for the next three nights as we kayak and hike in the islands. After lunch aboard, we step ashore 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 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.

Day 6: South Plaza / Santa Fe
On South Plaza, we follow a rocky trail that circumnavigates the small island, displaying a combination of dry and coastal vegetation zones. South Plaza has one of the largest populations of land iguanas in the Galapagos, and we find them everywhere as we walk. Large yellow-brown land Iguanas feed on the fruit and pads of the prickly pear cactus, patiently waiting beneath for the fruit to drop. We also find marine Iguanas along the shoreline, and an unusual hybrid iguana, the fathers of which are marine Iguanas, and the mothers are land iguanas. Continuing along the sea cliffs, look for swallow-tailed gulls, frigatebirds, Audubon shearwaters, red-billed tropicbirds, brown pelicans, and blue-footed and masked boobies, as well as a colony of noisy bachelor sea lions on the rocks below.

This afternoon we land at 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 paddle 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 7: 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 2-hour paddle through 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 8: Puerto Ayora / Baltra / Quito / Depart
The Nemo III returns to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz this morning, where we disembark. From here, we ferry over to Baltra where 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
The far-flung Galapagos archipelago is unique on Earth. Giant tortoises roam misty meadows. Sea lions loll, nonchalant, on pristine beaches. Iguanas bask on sun-baked lava while sea turtles, rays and reef sharks swim with snorkelers in aquamarine waters. Paddling this primeval paradise is a privilege few visitors get to enjoy. We pioneered kayaking in the Galapagos, and our special paddling permits allow us access to places most visitors never see. Our privately chartered deluxe catamaran whisks us between anchorages and provides comfortable accommodations. Each day we explore a different island, on foot, by kayak, via snorkeling, and sometimes all three—you won't sit around on deck on this adventure! The islands are surprisingly diverse, with new discoveries at each spot we visit.
  • Activities, accommodations and land transportation as detailed in the itinerary
  • Airport transfers when using our preferred hotels
  • Meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on the final day
  • Drinking water throughout the trip
  • Soft drinks (soda, coffee, tea and juice) at meals
  • Local beer and house wine with dinner aboard the Nemo III
  • Snorkeling gear and wetsuit
  • Services of Natural Habitat Adventures professional Expedition Leaders
  • Most gratuities, taxes and service charges
  • A one-of-a-kind active adventure in the world’s most unique wildlife destination—meet marine life at eye level as we paddle in more remote areas where others can't go
  • Discover wild wonders on a diverse mix of nature walks, snorkeling and tropical sea kayaking—we hold a special paddling permit from Galapagos National Park
  • Sleep comfortably aboard our chartered sailing catamaran in en suite cabins as we cruise overnight between the islands...and spend a night at our private Tortoise Camp!
Quito: Patio Andaluz, Hacienda Cusin or Wyndam Quito Airport
Cruising: Cabin onboard S/C Nemo III
Santa Cruz: Natural Habitat's Tortoise Camp
Pre and Post Add-ons
Extra Day in Quito, 2 Days / Year-Round, From $435
Begin your Galapagos adventure with an overview of Ecuador's historic capital, including a tour of the magnificent Old Town, South America's best-preserved colonial quarter.

Guided Machu Picchu Adventure, 6 Days / Year-Round, From $3,995
Journey through Peru's Sacred Valley to the "Lost City of the Incas" where our guide unveils this remarkable archaeological phenomenon.
Amazon Lodge Extension, 4 or 5 Days / Custom, From $1,595
Journey to Ecuador's Amazon Basin where we stay in secluded jungle lodges and explore the rich biodiversity of the rain forest on foot and by traditional dugout canoe.
  • Group Size Limit: Approximately 14 Travelers.
  • The itinerary provided is meant as a guideline and is subject to change without notice. On rare occasions, it may be necessary to deviate from our regular itinerary for reasons beyond our control. In these instances we will provide the best available alternative.
  • Not Included: Round-trip transportation from your home city to Quito, Ecuador, round-trip flight between Quito and the Galapagos (added to your invoice), items of a personal nature (phone calls, laundry, etc.), alcoholic and other beverages (other than those described above), Galapagos National Park Fee ($100 for adults, $50 for children 11 and under) and $20 per person Transit Control Card (added to your invoice), some gratuities, required medical evacuation insurance, travel insurance, airline baggage fees, optional activities.
  • Physical Requirements: Moderate to Difficult. This is a very active trip with early mornings and long days filled with varied activities. General physical fitness and mobility are required to participate in this trip. If you have no prior experience with kayaking, we ask that you are prepared to learn and sign on knowing that your participation may be limited if you cannot meet minimum abilities. Activities include mainland and island walking, kayaking, swimming and snorkeling. Snorkeling opportunities will be offered nearly every day in the Galapagos, so we strongly recommend practicing beforehand if you have limited experience.
  • Elevation: Please note that the first two nights of this adventure are either spent in the Otavalo region in the foothills of the Andes Mountains at elevations between 8,500–10,500 feet above sea level or in Quito at an elevation of 9,400 feet. The relative lack of oxygen at these elevations may manifest in altitude-sickness symptoms that can include headaches, dizziness, tiredness and nausea during the first few hours or days spent at elevation. Hydration and rest usually help symptoms to resolve, though participants may wish to talk with their doctor about taking along a prescription for a medication such as Diamox to better manage potential physical reactions to high altitude.
  •  Arrive in Quito any time on Day 1. You are free to depart from Quito after 9 pm on the final day.
  • NHA recommends a minimum age of 12 years old given the demands of the activities and nature of the boat. We believe it's best to consider this age recommendation a guideline—you, as a parent or guardian, are best qualified to decide whether your child would enjoy the experience without compromising the comfort of others. We strongly encourage you to speak with one of our Adventure Specialists about the specific requirements of the trip so you can make an informed decision. We do not permit children younger than seven on our scheduled departures due to safety regulations, physical limitations and concerns regarding group dynamics.
  • Please ask your Vacations To Go travel counselor for more information.
Terms and Conditions
For Natural Habitat Adventures terms and conditions, please click here.

* 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.