Classic Galapagos: The Natural Habitat Experience (8 Day, S/C Nemo III)
8 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
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.
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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