Galápagos — Central Islands aboard the Xavier III
Day 2 Baltra / Santa Cruz (B,L,D)
Transfer early to the airport for our flight to the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival meet our naturalist guide, who will assist with the transfer to the Xavier, moored in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island. Visit a tortoise ranch in the Santa Cruz highlands and get up close an personal with these ancient creatures. Flights from Quito to Baltra depart between 6:40am and 9:40am depending on the day of the week. These will arrive into the Galapagos between 9:30am and 12:30pm with a short refuelling stop in Guayaquil (you will not disembark the plane). You will generally arrive onto the boat in time for lunch on Day 2 before your afternoon activity. The Galapagos Islands are located about 1000 km (620 miles) off the Pacific coast of South America. The archipelago is comprised of 13 major islands and scores of islets that served as a living laboratory for Charles Darwin, the renowned evolution theorist. Long before Darwin arrived in the Galapagos, seafarers knew these isolated islands as home to some of the strangest and most wonderful wildlife imaginable, including birds that could swim but no longer fly, aquatic iguanas, dragon-like lizards left over from prehistoric times, and the giant Galapagos tortoises for which the islands were named. Covering nearly 5000 square km (3100 square miles), the Galapagos Islands are now a National Park. The Galapagos National Park is the institution that controls the preservation of this environment, assisted by the Charles Darwin Research Station. Inaugurated in 1964 and based in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, the Charles Darwin Research Station is the one place where visitors can easily see the famous Galapagos Tortoises, which may live up to two hundred years. This is also the training centre for naturalist guides who accompany all visitors landing at more than 40 approved sites on the islands, and members of the international scientific community often come to study at the station. The National Park charges a visitor fee of $100 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.
Day 3 Chinese Hat / Black Turtle Cove (B,L,D)
In the morning the boat arrives to a small little island off the southern tip of Santiago called Chinese Hat, for it's unique shape. Here it is often possible to see Galapagos penguins and the marine life is fantastic for snorkelling. There is also a large sea lion colony here as well as many marine iguanas that can be seen on our guided walk amongst the volcanic scenery, with good views to the cone of the island's volcano. In the afternoon we take an excursion by "panga" to Black Turtle Cove, to witness the extensive mangrove system and interesting waterway canals. Sea Turtles and different species of rays can often be seen in this cove, offering a peaceful and fascinating glimpse into the diversity of the area.
Day 4 Cerro Dragón / Daphne (B,L,D)
In the morning we will visit Cerro Dragón, on the west coast of Santa Cruz Island. Here we will see land iguanas as well as a salt water lagoon frequented by flamingoes and other species of birds. Visit Daphne Island in the afternoon, located between the islands of Santa Cruz and Baltra. Here we will see much birdlife including a number of finch species, Masked boobies, Galapagos Martins and frigate birds. Take the opportunity to go snorkelling in the afternoon to observe the diverse variety of marine life, and hope to see sea turtles, rays or even sharks.
Day 5 South Plaza / Santa Fé (B,L,D)
Set sail and reach South Plaza Island in the morning. One of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, South Plaza has one of the largest populations of Land Iguanas. Walk along a path through a cactus forest and view a combination of dry and coastal vegetation. In the afternoon, we explore Santa Fé Island, a fairly small and dry island. Also called Barrington, Santa Fé Island is well-known as a great place for watching (and swimming with) sea lions. Along the island's northern shore you can view the forest of giant Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia). Santa Fé is also home to a number of endemic species which have bounced back from various threats to their survival. You may get a chance to see the Galapagos hawk, Galapagos snake, a variety of finches and the Galapagos mockingbird.
Day 6 San Cristóbal / Quito (B)
Reach San Cristóbal in the morning. San Cristóbal is the easternmost island of Galapagos and one of the oldest. Its principal town is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos. Disembark after breakfast then we visit the interpretation center, and transfer to the airport for our flight to Quito. Transfer to our group hotel upon arrival, and enjoy one last night on the town. Flights from San Cristobal to Quito depart between 11:30am and 1:30pm depending on the day of the week. These will arrive into Quito between 4:00pm and 5:40pm with a refuelling stop in Guayaquil (you will not disembark the plane). You will arrive back at the hotel in the early evening in time for dinner.