This exciting vacation lets you sample the natural wonders of Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. Enjoy guided sightseeing in Quito, have your photo taken at the “Center of the World,” and visit the Giant Tortoises Reserve. Spend two nights on Santa Cruz Island at the Finch Bay Hotel, where an expert Naturalist introduces you to indigenous plant and animal species found only in the Galápagos. Choose from a menu of à la carte activities to make this experience special to you. Then, embark on an exciting 4-day cruise among various Galápagos Islands. Have your camera ready as your Naturalist points out colonies of sea lions, pelicans, boobies, several species of Darwin’s finches, marine iguanas, flamingos, masked boobies, blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, storm petrels, short-eared owls, and other birds. Also visit the Charles Darwin Research Station—a remarkable adventure!
Day #1 Arrive in Quito, Ecuador. Welcome to Quito!
Day #2 Quito. An included sightseeing tour showcases Quito’s treasures: the historic stone murals of the LEGISLATIVE PALACE, Independence Plaza and the 16th-century SAN FRANCISCO MONASTERY, the Jesuit’s LA COMPANIA CHURCH with its stunning golden altars, and the impressive paintings at the WORKSHOP & MUSEUM of Oswaldo Guayasamin. Have your photo taken in front of the EQUATORIAL MONUMENT, the “Center of the World.” This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner. (B,D)
Day #3 Quito–Baltra–Galápagos Islands–Finch Bay Hotel. Take a morning flight to Baltra, one of the remote Galápagos Islands. Upon arrival, transfer to the highlands of Santa Cruz, where your Naturalist introduces the island’s lush and vibrant landscapes. Visit the giant tortoise RESERVE for a chance to see the famous Galápagos tortoises in their wild habitat. Next, see the Twin Pit Craters, great depressions of volcanic material formed by a long process of slow sinking of the ground, where exceptional Scalesia trees, ferns, mosses, and orchids can be seen in the surroundings. Later this afternoon, visit the CHARLES DARWIN RESEARCH STATION, established to help conserve the Islands’ natural habitat and protect the famous giant tortoises. While here, learn about the tortoise-rearing program. (B,L,D)SPECIAL FEATURE: Named after the famous Darwin’s finches abundant in the surroundings, the Finch Bay Hotel offers a private seaside location surrounded by mangroves. Amenities include a bar, lounge, restaurant, outdoor pool and Jacuzzi, and beachfront access. Guests can enjoy daily boat excursions to various Galápagos Islands, kayaking, snorkeling, bicycle rides in town, and viewing the local flora and fauna.
Day #4 Galápagos. Finch Bay Hotel. Outings today include a list of activities that allow you to have a “Galápagos à la carte” adventure. Perhaps take a hike over the lava rock formations past gigantic cacti to Las Grietas, a unique swimming hole created by lava flows. Or, choose a walk to Tortuga Bay, a 6-mile-long coralline beach; mountain bike up in the highlands; or swim, snorkel, or kayak right off the beach at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Day #5 Galápagos Islands (Embarkation) Cruising: Santa Cruz Island. Today, board the sleek Santa Cruz for five days of CRUISING among various Galápagos Islands. Each day, travel ashore to the remote islands with your expert Naturalist, who introduces you to the unique fauna living free and fearless of man. Visit LAS BACHAS on Santa Cruz Island, where abandoned WWII military barges can be found. Today, it is an important nesting area for the East Pacific green sea turtle. You will also see brackish lagoons just steps away from the sea and white-sand beach, which is a feeding ground for various wading birds, from stilts to flamingos. Return to the ship for a briefing on the next day’s adventure, followed by a Captain’s welcome cocktail and dinner. (B,L,D)NOTE: The ship’s itinerary may vary according to Galápagos National Park policies and regulations, weather conditions, and seasonal changes to create the perfect cross-section of sites visited.
Day #6 Galápagos Islands Cruising: James Island. After breakfast, join your Naturalist for a coastal exploration along the impressive cliffs of BUCCANEER COVE on James Island. Learn about the history of the island, its relevance for the whalers, pirates, and early researchers, including Darwin’s epic voyage in 1835. The cove is home to a large number of marine birds, sea lions, and inter-tidal organisms, which makes this is a great site for snorkeling, too! This afternoon, land at PUERTO EGAS on James Island, known for its black-sand beach and a landscape of tuff-stone layers and lava flows. This is a great opportunity to see land and marine birds as well as a colony of fur sea lions, marine iguanas, and Sally Lightfoot crabs. You have the chance to snorkel or swim from the beach, or ride on the glass-bottom boat. (B,L,D)
Day #7 Galápagos Islands Cruising: Rábida & Bartolomé Islands. Disembark at RÁBIDA ISLAND on a red-colored beach, formed from the unusually high content of iron in the volcanic material. Stroll along the beach of this small island as your Naturalist points out large colonies of sea lions, pelicans, boobies, yellow warblers, and several species of Darwin’s finches. Very close to the beach, hidden behind a strip of green saltbush, is a salt pond where, at times, greater flamingos migrate. This is a wonderful place to snorkel from the beach, due to the unique combination of underwater species like the Galápagos dolphin and submarine landscapes. After lunch, en route to our next island, dolphins are often spotted. At BARTOLOMÉ ISLAND, hike to the summit for a stunning view of two beautiful bays and fascinating formations of lava flows and spatter cones, including the iconic Pinnacle Rock. You will also have the chance to snorkel and possibly see Galápagos penguins in tropical waters and even some sharks and rays! (B,L,D)
Day #8 Galápagos Islands Cruising: Tower Island. Upon arrival at TOWER ISLAND, your visit to Prince Philip’s Steps begins with a scenic panga ride along the cliffs to see the large number of nesting colonies of Nazca boobies, red-footed boobies, and shore and seabirds in the cliffs’ ledges. Disembark at the base of Prince Philip’s Steps and climb up the stairs to a trail where birdlife abounds. A walk with your Naturalist reveals large colonies of masked boobies, blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, storm petrels, and even short-eared owls. In the afternoon, disembark at DARWIN BAY to observe thousands of birds—mainly frigatebirds, red-footed and masked boobies, gulls, herons, finches, and mockingbirds. Return to the beach for swimming and snorkelling at this beautiful natural harbor. The more adventurous can snorkel below the cliffs. (B,L,D)
Day #9 Galápagos Islands (Disembarkation) San Cristobal–Quito. After breakfast, depart for SAN CRISTOBAL, where Charles Darwin first set foot in the Galápagos back in 1835. Visit the GALAPAGUERA at Cerro Colorado to see the breeding program of giant tortoises and learn about this endangered species and its promising recovery. While here, watch for the Chatham (San Cristobal) mockingbird and Chatham lava lizard—both species are endemic to this island and seen nowhere else in the Galápagos. Head to the airport for your flight to Quito, where you will have free time this evening to prepare for your return flight home tomorrow. (B)
Day #10 Quito. Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning. (B)