- Spend a day exploring the hilly streets of Quito, the oldest capital in South America
- Take several hikes including one to an active volcano with spectacular views
- Enjoy free time to swim, snorkel, and kayak on different islands and beaches
- Meet giant tortoises in the wild and their baby counterparts at a breeding center
|Arrive in Quito, Free Day
|Fly to Isla Baltra, Transfer to Cruise Ship, Explore Las Bachas
|Explore Darwin Bay & Prince Philip's Steps on Isla Genovesa
|Meet Giant Tortoises on Isla Santa Cruz, Hike & Snorkel on Isla Santiago
|Explore Wetlands & Hike to Sierra Negra Volcano on Isla Isabela
|Explore Elizabeth Bay & Urbina Bay on Isla Isabela
|Kayak, Snorkel & Hike on Isla Fernandina
|Explore Beaches & Coves on Isla Santiago, Hike on Isla Rabida
|Explore Mosquera Islet, Transfer to Isla Baltra, Depart
Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Free Day
Welcome to Quito, the capital of Ecuador! Upon arrival, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your accommodation in the city center. Surrounded by mountain peaks and volcanoes, the city of Quito stands at an altitude of 9,350 feet (2,850 m), and it bears the distinction of being the oldest capital in South America.
You'll have the entire day to explore Quito at your own pace—and given its aforementioned high altitude, make sure to drink plenty of water. A good place to start is Plaza Grande, the central public square of Quito. Take a tour of the Presidential Palace here, with a history dating back to the 16th century, and then continue walking around the UNESCO-listed Old Town with its colonial architecture and streetside cafés and restaurants.
Another option is to check out museums around the city, such as La Casa de La Cultura, the Museo Mindalae, or the Museum of Contemporary Art located in a former military hospital. You can also visit Itchimbía Park, a beautiful home for the Crystal Palace with different cultural and art exhibitions, not to mention a fantastic view of the city. Speaking of views, you can also ride the TelefériQo cable car to one of the summits of the Pichincha volcano at 10,226 feet (3,117 m) above sea level.
Day 2: Fly to Isla Baltra, Transfer to Cruise Ship, Explore Las Bachas
Now that you've had a taste of Ecuador's capital, it's time to fly to the Galápagos! At the appointed time, you'll transfer to Quito airport for your flight to the ecological airport at Isla Baltra, one of the 19 main islands in the archipelago. Upon arrival, you'll receive assistance at the airport to get sorted and then transfer to your luxury cruise ship on Isla Santa Cruz called the M/C Endemic.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 3: Explore Darwin Bay & Prince Philip's Steps on Isla Genovesa
After enjoying breakfast on your luxury ship, you'll sail to Darwin Bay, which is the only sandy beach found in the caldera on Isla Genovesa. Look for exotic bird colonies, like the male frigatebirds who exhibit their red balloon pouch to lure females in the hope of a match. In addition, red-footed boobies nest in the trees in contrast to the other two booby species that nest on the ground.
In the afternoon, you'll make your way to Prince Philip's Steps, a set of stairs that are carved out of stone. This will lead you to a wide plateau where you can observe large colonies of masked boobies, frigatebirds, storm petrels, and ducks. During this easy stroll, you'll cross a small Scalesia forest and learn about the habitat of the short-eared owl. The same path will lead you back to your boat, where you'll board for the evening.
Day 4: Meet Giant Tortoises on Isla Santa Cruz, Hike & Snorkel on Isla Santiago
Today's adventure starts back on Isla Santa Cruz, where you'll visit two sinkholes, called Los Gemelos (The Twins), that were created long ago by underground lava tunnels which collapsed. A shady trail covers the short distance between the main road and the two sinkholes. Your guides will explain the special forest found in and around the sinkholes: it is home to many Scalesia pedunculate trees, endemic to the Galápagos. You can also head to the visitor site to see finches, vermilion flycatchers, and mockingbirds.
From here, head to the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz to visit a ranch where giant tortoises can be seen in the wild. The islands were named after these friendly giant creatures that live in the archipelago, and during your visit, you'll easily spot the tortoises walking, eating, and enjoying their natural habitat. In this area, you can also see birds such as short-eared owls, Darwin finches, yellow warblers, and paint-billed crackers. You'll also walk through underground solidified lava tubes to finish the tour.
Next up is a trip to Sullivan Bay on Isla Santiago, which features a sandy shore surrounded by lava fields. The lava is relatively recent, being only about 100 years old, and guides will point out the hardy "pioneer" plants: specialized flora that is the first to colonize a lava field. After a hike, you can enjoy a refreshing swim with the chance to do some snorkeling!
Day 5: Explore Wetlands & Hike Sierra Negra Volcano on Isla Isabela
Today is a big day! After a hearty breakfast, you'll set sail for Isla Isabela's wetlands, home to abundant birdlife, including flamingoes, stilts, whimbrels, gallinules, finches, pintail ducks, brown pelicans, and more. If that's not enough, marine iguanas creep through the marshes as well, and an occasional giant tortoise makes an appearance. Part of the trail goes up Orchilla Hill, which offers a nice view of the nearby town of Puerto Villamil.
Next, head to Sierra Negra, a volcano that was active as recently as 2005, evidenced by the landscape's recent lava flows and fumaroles. The visit includes the main volcanic caldera and several smaller craters at the Chico volcano site. There are not many animals in the barren heights of the volcano, but hikers are rewarded with an unforgettable lesson in volcanic geology and great views of nearby islands!
Lunch will be served before you head to the Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center—a highlight of any visit to Isla Isabela. Here, giant tortoises of the Isla Isabela subspecies are hatched and cared for until they can survive on their own in the wild. Hundreds of adorable baby tortoises lumber about in raised pens designed to protect them from predators. Even the walk to get to the breeding center from town is fun, as it is connected to Puerto Villamil by a boardwalk over some marshy wetlands where sightings of flamingoes and other waterbirds are common.
Finish the day at the Wall of Tears, a high stone wall built near Puerto Villamil that offers a rare glimpse into the human history of the Galápagos. Construction of the wall was a form of punishment for the prisoners of Isla Isabela's former Ecuadorian penal colony, and some locals believe it's haunted!
Day 6: Explore Elizabeth Bay & Urbina Bay on Isla Isabela
Today starts with a panga (small fishing boat) ride to Elizabeth Bay on Isla Isabela, where you'll pass by small, rocky islets which are home to many spectacular species of Galápagos birdlife, including penguins, Galápagos hawks, Nazca boobies, finches, flightless cormorants, warblers and more. In the clear sea below, look for thriving marine life, including schools of fish, spotted eagle rays, sea lions, and marine iguanas.
Next is a trip to Urbina Bay, which was formed from volcanic activity deep underground that took place in 1954. The bay's landscape changed overnight, gaining a large section of soggy land that had previously been underwater. Visitors can still see desiccated coral formations on the trail around part of the bay. Urbina Bay is home to abundant wildlife, including land iguanas, giant tortoises, and lava lizards. Birdlife includes finches, hawks, and mockingbirds. The moderate hike, a relatively long one at 9,843 feet (3,000 m), is followed by a refreshing swim or some snorkeling in the bay.
Day 7: Kayak, Snorkel & Hike on Isla Fernandina
This morning, set sail to Tagus Cove on Isla Fernandina, where you'll take a short hike to a scenic outlook and ride a panga along the coastline to look for penguins. After the hike and panga ride, enjoy some free time to do some kayaking and snorkeling, where you are almost certain to see some sea turtles.
After lunch, head to Punta Espinoza, one of the most remarkable visitor sites in all of the Galápagos. This memorable hike includes good wildlife watching and geology, as well as many spectacular spots for taking photos. Guests will walk over recent lava flows, see a nesting colony of flightless cormorants, and step gingerly through a low maze of marine iguanas sunning themselves. Also, keep an eye out for lava lizards, Galápagos snakes, and Galápagos hawks.
Day 8: Explore Beaches & Coves on Isla Santiago, Hike on Isla Rábida
The islands of the Galápagos are so beautiful that it's possible to forget about their interesting human history. Although there is nothing left of their presence (no buried treasure – sorry!), pirates and whalers used to stop at Buccaneer Cove on Isla Santiago to repair their ships and capture tortoises for food. There is no trail here, but it is a good spot for a panga ride, snorkeling, and kayaking. As the panga cruises along the shore, look for blue-footed and Nazca boobies, fur seals, sea lions, and Galápagos hawks soaring overhead.
From here, head to a pristine sandy beach on the northern part of Isla Santiago called Playa Espumilla. At either end of the beach, trails lead through some mangroves to a salty lagoon, where lucky visitors may get to see flamingoes, pintail ducks, stilts, or other wading birds. There is good snorkeling and kayaking off the coast, as well.
After lunch, sail to the remarkable Isla Rábida, famous for its cactus groves and scenic rock formations. Finches and other small land birds are commonly seen flitting around the cacti alongside the trails. The hike starts along a red sand beach where brown pelicans nest in mangroves. Short trails lead from the beach to some lagoons where flamingoes are sometimes seen. After the hike, cool off with a swim or some snorkeling, and make sure to keep an eye out for colorful fish, marine iguanas, sea lions, and turtles.