Experience the island chain that has enchanted explorers since Darwin first dropped anchor off its shores. Spend a week exploring the incredible wildlife of the Galapagos archipelago aboard a stylish vessel - the Yolita II. Travelling between the central, southern and eastern islands, you will have the chance to explore these islands from land and from the sea; snorkel at Devil's Crown and spot large schools of tropical fish and head to Santa Cruz's verdant highlands, to see giant tortoises in their natural environment. Please note, this tour is operated in conjunction with a local specialist company and is not exclusive to Explore customers. Your fellow passengers may come from a number of different countries although all guiding is done in English, and may include families. Seven nights cruising - around the Galapagos Islands aboard the stylish and recently renovated Yolita II Share beautiful white sand beaches - with sea lions, iguanas, and 100-year-old tortoises Hike Punta Pitt - try to find all three distinct species of booby Stop at Post Office Bay to drop off a post card - bring one home with you to deliver
Arrive in Quito, Ecuador's mountain capital and the second highest capital city in Latin America. One of South America's most beautiful cities, Quito lies in a narrow valley at the foot of the Pichincha Volcano, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and extinct volcanoes. On arrival at Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), a representative will be waiting to meet you directly in front of the arrivals section, holding a sign with your name on it. They will show you where to go to catch your transfer to your hotel. For those arriving on time, a group representative will meet you in the hotel reception at approximately 5pm for the welcome meeting. You will have the opportunity to meet other tour participants and receive information about the trip, as well as departure times for the following day. A welcome note will be left for you in the hotel so you have all the necessary information regarding the exact meeting time, though we do recommend that you arrive at the hotel by 4pm. If you arrive late, the representative will leave you a message detailing what time and where you should meet the following morning. There are no other activities planned today. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to explore the new and old parts of the city. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its rich blend of colonial architecture, imposing churches and bustling local markets. A climb to the top of Cerro Panecillo affords one of the best views across the city and the surrounding mountains, presenting you with an unparalleled vista of the encircling Andes from the viewing platform offered by the statue of the Virgen de Quito.
Today we transfer to the airport early for our flight to the Galapagos Islands via Guayaquil (refueling stop only, you will not disembark the plane). Lying on the Equator, 970km west of the Ecuadorean coast, the Galapagos National Park is a unique collection of islands, formed by volcanoes over hundreds of thousands of years and consists of six main islands, 12 smaller islands as well as over 40 small islets, supporting a distinct and unique flora and fauna, including prehistoric creatures found nowhere else on earth. This desolate and fantastic habitat was discovered in 1535 by Fray Tomas de Berlanga. One of the original designations by him was Las Islas Encantadas, the Enchanted Isles. Charles Darwin visited the islands on the Beagle exactly three hundred years later, in 1835. He observed the total isolation of the giant reptiles and other creatures, and this played a substantial part in his formulation of the theory of evolution. The Galapagos have never been connected with the continent. Gradually, over many hundreds of thousands of years, animals and plants from over the sea somehow migrated there and as time went by they adapted themselves to Galapagos conditions and came to differ more and more from their continental ancestors. Thus many of them are unique: a quarter of the species of shore fish, half of the plants and almost all the reptiles are found nowhere else. In many cases different forms have evolved on the different islands. Of the extraordinary animals to be found in the Galapagos many are reptiles, such as the great tortoise, large land iguanas, numerous lizards and three species of non-poisonous snakes. There are also several species of turtle, which come ashore to mate. Up to three quarters of a million seabirds flock to the islands, including a third of the world's blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, pelicans, cormorants, albatross and petrels. Only 35cm tall, the Galapagos penguin can be seen swimming among tropical mangroves, whilst offshore it is common to see dolphins, sea lions and fur seals playing in the water. Fearless though not tame, the extraordinary wildlife can be easily approached and the opportunities for photography are superb. The Galapagos National Park charges a visitor fee of $110 USD, payable on arrival, which funds park maintenance and supervision in the Galapagos, as well as ecological study, conservation and infrastructure development in Ecuador's other national parks. Entry fees and the funds they generate for the national park system are among measures taken by the Ecuadorian government to protect its natural heritage. On arrival, we will meet our naturalist guide. We will board our vessel and home for the next seven nights, the stylish Yolita II. This afternoon, we visit North Seymour Island, just north of Baltra Island, which is home to sea lions, marine iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, magnificent frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies. North Seymour Island is probably the most exciting island photographically. Birdlife abounds, and close to the trail you will find many nesting pairs and young chicks. North Seymour is also home to the Galapagos' largest colony of magnificent frigatebirds. Their mating ritual is an ostentatious display; males expand the red sack at the base of their throat and perch atop a bush with wings fully extended, flapping furiously. Interested females circle overhead, and if so inclined, may join the male on terra firma. Further along the trail we can observe a colony of sea lions. There will also an opportunity for a snorkel excursion among the colourful fish who call this area home.
Our first landing for the day is at Cerro Brujo on San Cristobal. The sandy beach is home to Sally Lightfoot crabs, brown pelicans, blue footed boobies and California sea lions. A short distance away and visible from shore is an island called Leon Dormido, or 'Kicker Rock', which rises hundreds of feet above the ocean and resembles a sleeping lion. It is quite striking and if conditions are right we may be able to sail through a narrow channel which splits Kicker Rock in half. An incredible snorkelling spot, Kicker Rock is home to an incredibly diverse set of marine life in the nutrient-rich water and is also inhabited by large numbers of seabirds. We will then head to Isla Lobos, explore this tiny island for great wildlife encounters. Either by foot or by panga, view the sea and shore birds nesting and feeding. Spot a small colony of blue-footed boobies as well as two species of sea lions. Snorkel the waters of peaceful Isla Lobos, amid the families of sea lions and their inquisitive pups looking to play. Spot nesting frigatebirds and the famous blue-footed boobies resting on the shore. Be sure to bring your camera to catch some snaps at this prime wildlife watching haven.
Sail into Gardner Bay, an excellent swimming and snorkeling site. Head to Punta Suarez on Espanola Island. The southernmost island in the Galapagos archipelago is home to several wildlife species, including masked and blue footed boobies. A hike to the top of the cliff makes for spectacular photo opportunities. Punta Suarez on the western side of Espanola Island is spectacular: gargantuan waves break on jagged cliffs and large bird colonies thickly populate the interior of the island; there is a distinct feel of desolate wilderness here. The waved albatross is seen here from April to December during its mating/nesting season. This bird leaves land between January and March each year to make its annual odyssey far out to sea. Amazingly, Espanola is the nesting site of virtually the entire world population of this species, with more than 12,000 pairs residing here. Large numbers of masked and blue footed boobies are also found here, red-billed tropicbirds dash madly through the air, and both marine iguanas and sea lions are common. A huge blowhole, where the surf is forced through a natural rock formation spouting seawater 15 to 20m into the air, adds to the island's impression of untamed beauty. We follow the trail through a rookery and learn the geological history of the island from our naturalist guide, including its dramatic volcanic features, climate, flora and fauna. Then in the afternoon, we sail to Gardner Bay, an excellent swimming and snorkelling site. Strap on your snorkel and if conditions allow, see an abundance of sea life including; young sea lions and large schools of surprisingly big tropical fish, including yellow-tailed surgeonfish, king angelfish, and bump-head parrot fish.
After breakfast this morning we head out to explore Sante Fe island, giving us a chance to mingle with the iguanas. We continue onto South Plaza Island, one of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, South Plaza has one of the largest populations of land iguanas. A large colony of noisy sea lions, numbering about 1000 bulls, cows and pups, has its prime habitat on the smooth rocks. We will walk along a path through a cactus forest and view a combination of dry and coastal vegetation. The small cactus forest is populated by land iguanas, which can be seen sunning themselves or feeding on opuntia pads and fruits. Swallow-tailed gulls, which nest on the rugged southern cliffs, are usually seen, along with tropicbirds and Audubon's shearwaters. During the rainy season you can see the red sesuvium turn bright green and the leafless evening-blooming portulaca burst into large yellow flowers, which are loved by the iguanas.
In the morning we arrive in Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island. Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos and has the largest population, with Puerto Ayora as its main town, which you will have some time to explore. It also boasts the most varied of the islands' vegetation zones: coastal, transition, scalesia, miconia and pampa. The Charles Darwin Research Station is a ten minute walk from the centre of the town and has been responsible for conservation projects within the islands since 1959 (the centenary of the publication of Darwin's book the Origin of the Species). Here, an exhibition centre displays photos of recent volcanic eruptions, charts outlining geological formations and drawings of the evolutionary development of endemic species. The Research Station is also the training centre for naturalist guides who accompany all visitors and members of the international scientific community often come to study at the station. Visit the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, a great place to observe many species of tortoises and land iguanas in captivity. A corral houses adult Galapagos tortoises, and a nursery cares for young tortoises until they are about three years old, when their shells have hardened enough to resist attack from feral dogs. In the afternoon we may have the opportunity to visit the highlands and see giant land tortoises in the wild.
The history of Floreana Island has gradually evolved to reach near mythic proportions. The story begins when a baroness and her two lovers, a German doctor and his mistress, and a German couple and their young son all came to settle on this land. Their dalliances and disasters, shrouded in mystery, were chronicled in John Treherne's book 'The Galapagos Affair'. Descendants of the German family, the Wittmers, still live on the island in the small community of Puerto Velasco Ibarra. Mrs. Margaret Wittmer has also written a booked entitled 'Floreana' and this can be purchased at the airport in Baltra or at a local bookstore. In the morning, snorkel at Devil's Crown, a coral reef surrounded by an eroded volcanic crater and the perfect home for marine life. Look out for small sharks, rays and schools of tropical fish. Later in the afternoon, we stop at Post Office Bay which has a lot of history. A barrel was placed here in the late 18th century by English whaling vessels to be used as a post office. Passing ships would stop to leave mail for loved ones, collecting at the same time any mail destined for ports on their itineraries. Today the box is used mainly by tourists, who may drop off and pick up unstamped letters to be carried to far destinations. The remains of a Norwegian canning factory are the only evidence of the island's history prior to its designation as a protected area. A short hike up past the post barrel takes you to an interesting lava cave. With the aid of a torch, you can descend about 80m to the point where the sea enters the cave.
In the morning the boat arrives to a small little island off the southern tip of Santiago Island called Sombrero Chino or 'Chinese Hat', named for its unique shape. Chinese Hat comprises of a tilted cone and lava flows that run down to the coast. Here it is often possible to see Galapagos penguins and the abundant marine life, including rays, turtles and sea lions. We head to Cerro Dragon in the afternoon. Here, you will have the opportunity of some excellent birdwatching.
Explore the mangrove lagoon at Black Turtle Cove. In the afternoon, we will transfer to the airport for our flight to Quito via Guayaquil (refueling stop only, you will not disembark the plane). On arrival back on the mainland, we transfer to the hotel for our final night in Ecuador.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Quito. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart at any time. We recommend spending extra time in Quito, particularly if you wish to go on some of the optional day trips that are bookable locally, or if you are looking to book on our Amazon extension package (trip code: AE). Pick-up times for your airport transfer to Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) will be re-confirmed locally in your welcome pack. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at the hotel.
9 Break Fast(s) 7 Lunch(es) 7 Dinner(s)
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