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Classic Galapagos: The Natural Habitat Experience (8 Day, S/C Nemo III)

8 days with Natural Habitat Adventures   Rating: Deluxe

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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. Our boutique hotel is in the heart of the colonial quarter, where you may enjoy dinner on your own at one of Quito's many fine restaurants.
Day 2: Exploring Historic Quito
Embark on a day of discovery in Ecuador’s capital. Acclaimed as Latin America’s most beautifully preserved colonial city, Quito’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with elegant plazas and monuments, ornate gilded churches and cobblestone lanes. Take in the panorama of the city and surrounding volcanic peaks from the overlook at Panecillo Hill, then visit the 16th-century Church and Convent of San Francisco and wander through San Francisco Square. At the Casa del Alabado Museum, examine a private 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. After a leisurely lunch at a fine local restaurant, opt to explore more of the city during an afternoon at leisure, or visit the traditional workshops along La Ronda, one of Quito’s oldest streets, to watch artisans making everything from hats to wooden toys to chocolate. As the sun sets over Quito, enjoy a welcome dinner with one of our Expedition Leaders.
Day 3: Baltra, Galapagos Islands / Nat Hab's Tortoise Camp
Rise early for the transfer back to Quito airport where we board our flight to the Galapagos. Our second Expedition Leader meets us on the island of Baltra this morning. After lunch, travel to Santa Cruz Island and continue into the misty highlands to Los Gemelos—"the twins"—a pair of volcanic craters surrounded by lush Scalesia forest. Nearby is Nat Hab's private Tortoise Camp, providing a rare opportunity to spend a night in wild tortoise habitat. 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 en suite facilities. But the highlight of our stay is the proximity to wild tortoises, which are attracted to the area by the lush vegetation. They are commonly seen in camp from July through February, and from March to June, we visit a nearby tortoise reserve for closer views, when the tortoises migrate seasonally to a lower elevation. We can also explore a network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns near the camp.
Day 4: Garrapatero Beach / Cerro Crocker 
Head down to sea level from camp to begin the day with a short walk to Garrapatero Beach. The diverse flora is fascinating: 20-foot-tall cactus 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 other bird species. Marine life is equally vibrant, and snorkeling in the protected bay may reveal reef and pelagic fish, sea turtles and rays. Returning to higher elevations, walk near Cerro Crocker this afternoon, where the trail overlooks extinct volcanoes and dense vegetation from Scalesia and Miconia to fern-sedge zones. Look for plentiful birds including the vermilion flycatcher, paint-billed crake and elusive Galapagos rail. Back at Tortoise Camp, dinner is served, followed by time to relax by the fire and survey the canopy of bright stars, if skies are clear. 
Day 5: Tortuga Bay / Puerto Ayora—Embark Nemo III
Secluded Tortuga Bay is our destination this morning. The pristine 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 often see schools of white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and colorful fish in the aquamarine waters. A paddle in the mangrove lagoons on the bay's edge offers frequent views of sea turtles. Returning to Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz, we embark the Nemo III. This deluxe motor-sailing catamaran will be our base for three nights as we explore the islands. After lunch aboard, 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, 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, follow a rocky trail that circumnavigates the small island, which displays 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 these large yellow-brown reptiles everywhere. Marine iguanas are also abundant along the shoreline, plus an unusual hybrid, 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—plus a colony of noisy bachelor sea lions on the rocks below. This afternoon, we explore Santa Fe. On a short hike through a forest of prickly pear cactus, look for the endemic land iguanas that wait patiently underneath for the fruit to drop. Returning to our catamaran, we explore a small islet surrounded by great reef diversity, then continue along the north coast where large cliffs and sea caves are used by many species of marine birds for nesting and roosting. Look, too, for basking green sea turtles and sea lions.
Day 7: 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 8: Mosquera or North Seymour / 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 venture out on the panga 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. 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. 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.
  • 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 Letty and the Ocean Spray
  • Snorkeling gear and wetsuit
  • Services of Natural Habitat Adventures professional Expedition Leaders
  • Most gratuities, taxes and service charges
  • An In-Depth Island Experience: Our flagship itinerary is an immersive exploration of the Galapagos, with a full week aboard privately chartered motor yachts that carry just 14–16 guests
  • Diverse Wildlife Encounters: Snorkel with sea lions, swim with turtles, sunbathe with iguanas, scout for whales, and spend a night with wild tortoises at our private camp in the highlands of Santa Cruz
  • Multiple Guides on Each Departure: Travel with the most highly trained naturalist guides in the Galapagos—each trip is led by two Expedition Leaders, for the best guide-to-guest ratio in the islands...and three guides on photo departures
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
Guided Machu Picchu Adventure
6 Days / Year-Round, From $4195 (+air)
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 $1695 (+ air)
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.
  • Cabin upgrades are available. 
  • Group Size: 14–16 Travelers.
  • Internal Air Cost: $550 per person for adults, $400 per person for children 11 years old and younger.
  • Internal air cost includes: Round-trip flights between Quito and the Galapagos.
  • Permit Fees: $120 per person for adults, $70 per person for children 11 years old and younger. 
  • Permit fee includes: Galapagos National Park permit and transit card fees, through 2019. Starting in 2020, the Galapagos National Park permit and transit card fees are included in the trip price.
  • Not Included: Travel to and from the start and end point of your trip, some alcoholic beverages, some gratuities, passport and visa fees (if any), optional activities, items of a personal nature (phone calls, laundry and internet, etc.), airline baggage fees, airport and departure taxes (if any), required medical evacuation insurance, optional travel protection insurance.
  • Physical Requirements: Easy to Moderate. Our Galapagos adventures feature a full agenda each day, with early mornings and long days filled with various activities. Activities primarily include island walks, swimming and snorkeling. Trails are often rough and uneven, crossing sharp lava fields and loose rocks and gravel. Walking over slippery rocks is sometimes necessary when stepping ashore. Passengers must be able to walk a minimum of two miles to participate in this trip, walk up and down stairs, and be able to get in and out of motorized pangas (rigid inflatable rafts), which can be very unsteady in rough water. A few wet landings, where we disembark from the panga directly into the water and walk up onto the beach, are required. Itineraries that feature a visit to Bartolome include a walk with more than 300 wooden steps to reach the viewpoint at the top of the island and itineraries that visit Española include a 2-mile hike on a trail made of primarily lava and rock. Snorkeling is a big component of this trip, with excursions offered nearly every day, sometimes twice a day. While no snorkeling experience is required, prior practice is recommended, and travelers should be comfortable swimming in moderate currents and in deep water where you can see the bottom but cannot stand up. Our Expedition Leaders will also offer instruction for those in need of additional snorkeling guidance. Travelers are not required to participate in every activity.
  • Elevation: Please note that our first two nights are spent in Quito at an elevation of 9,300 feet. The relative lack of oxygen at this elevation 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.
  • 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.
  • We welcome children ages 7 and older on scheduled departures. However, while some 7-year-olds are well suited for our Galapagos adventures, others may not be ready for the requirements of group travel. We believe it's best to consider this minimum age limit 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. 
  • Since the areas you will travel to on this trip are remote and wild (that's why we go there!), we require medical evacuation insurance for this program. If you decline the medical evacuation insurance coverage offered by Natural Habitat Adventures, we require that you send us documentation of the independent coverage you have selected. We recommend that your chosen independent insurance plan includes at least $250,000 in medical evacuation coverage. Please note that we will add the cost of Natural Habitat Adventures' medical evacuation policy (currently $48 per person) to your tour invoice until you provide our office with proof of coverage including your insurance company's name, phone number and your individual policy number. 
  • Arrival: Arrive in Quito any time on Day 1. Departure: On the final day, you are free to depart from Quito after 9 pm.
  • 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.