Galápagos — Central Islands aboard the Xavier III
Day 1 Quito
Arrive in Quito at any time. There are no planned activities, so check into our hotel and enjoy the city. A G Adventures representative will greet you at the hotel and brief you on the various aspects of the tour. If you are not able to attend the welcome meeting, our representative will leave all important information at your hotel’s reception indicating what time to be ready on Day 2 of your trip. If there is any confusion on arrival, please do not hesitate to call the contact number listed in this dossier. Located 2850m (9348 ft) above sea level, the Ecuadorian capital of Quito enjoys a wonderful spring-like climate, despite the fact that it is only 22 km (14 miles) south of the Equator. Nestled in a valley flanked by mountains, on a clear day several snow-capped volcanoes, including nearby Pichincha, are visible from the city centre. Add to its beautiful location a rich history and well-preserved colonial district, and you begin to understand Quito’s appeal to thousands of tourists every year. In 1978 UNESCO declared Quito a World Heritage site, and any new development in Quito's old town is now strictly controlled. Life in Quito tends to be peaceful, though the drivers are fond of using their car horns! There are approximately 2,000,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area, but the pace is relaxed and the residents hospitable. Since pre-Columbian times, the site of Quito has been inhabited by the Quitus, the Shyris and the Puruhas. The Inca reached this city before the Spaniards, but levelled it to the ground rather than give it up to the Spanish. The present capital was founded by the Spanish on December 6th, 1534. Quito is separated into two basic sections, the old and the new cities. The old city is full of historical buildings and churches. One of the more noteworthy is the Catedral de Quito, located on the Plaza de la Independencia. Built between 1550 and 1562, it was one of the first neoclassical works in Quito. La Compañía de Jésus Church is considered one of the most beautiful in the Americas. The decorations in the Compañía contain approximately one and one-half tons of gold, and construction of the church took 170 years (1605-1775). There are several excellent museums scattered throughout the city. The Casa de la Cultura Ecuadoriana has an interesting display of traditional musical instruments and Ecuadorian traditional dress, a large art collection, and a small natural history museum. For archeology the best museum to visit is the Museo del Banco Central with its well displayed pottery, gold ornaments, skulls showing deformities and early surgical methods, a mummy and many other objects of interest. The small, rounded hill dominating the old town is El Panecillo or 'the Little Bread Loaf,' a major Quito landmark. From here there are marvelous panoramic views of the entire city and surrounding volcanoes. You can easily take a trolley (streetcar) or a cab between the Old Town and New Town. Quito’s large foreign population and steady stream of travellers have given it a varied and vibrant nightlife, and salsotecas and other dance clubs abound. For a real Ecuadorian experience though, be sure and drop by a peña if you can; these are great places for meeting locals and dancing, as well as enjoying local cooking. Just a couple of hours south of Quito is Parque National Cotopaxi, home to Cotopaxi Volcano (5897 m/19342 ft). the beautiful cone-shaped, snow covered volcano is Ecuador’s second highest peak and the highest active volcano in the world. This is a great spot for a days hiking (up to the refuge on the glacier’s edge) or mountain biking (downhill all the way). True enthusiasts attempt the climb to the summit (overnight excursion). Allow yourself an extra day or two in Quito, before or after your trip, if you want to conquer Cotopaxi.
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 (B,L,D)
San Cristóbal is the easternmost island of the Galapagos and also one of the oldest. Its principal town is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos. Visit the Interpretation Centre on San Cristóbal to learn about the fascinating history of not only San Cristóbal Island but also the entire archipelago. Take time to explore the town and go shopping before visiting Isla Lobos in the afternoon to see the slumbering sea lions and stroll along the beach.
Day 7 North Seymour / Mosquera (B,L,D)
Set sail for North Seymour, just north of Baltra, home to sea lions, marine iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, magnificent frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. Seymour Island is probably the most exciting island photographically. Bird life abounds, and close to the trail you will find many nesting pairs and young chicks. Seymour is also home to the Galapagos’s largest colony of Magnificent Frigate Birds. 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. Afternoon excursion to Mosquera Island to stroll on the beach and see the vast sea lion colonies.
Day 8 Isla Santiago / Bartolomé (B,L,D)
Visit Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island in the morning to witness the striking and fascinating giant lava formations. Very few plans have managed to survive on this island due to the harsh environment and relatively new lava floe. Enjoy a walk along the lava formations before coming to a white coral sand beach, where plentiful sally lightfoot crabs and sea lions can be seen. Bartolomé Island (also called Bartholomew) has 2 main areas of interest. A hike to the summit of the island provides a clearer perspective of the islands' not-too-distant volcanic origins, and the panoramic view is one of the best among the islands. From here are visible the double-sided beach of Bartolomé directly below, the volcanic tower rising out of the water next to it, and Santiago in the distance. After the summit hike, stop at the beach to relax in semi-tropical tranquility. There is great snorkelling among the submerged volcanic rock and around the base of the tower. A short hike to the beach on the opposite side is worth the minimal effort. It is not unusual to see sharks in these shallow waters, and marine turtles nest here from January through March. In the afternoon we go to Cerro Dragon.
Day 9 Santa Cruz / Baltra / Quito (B)
In the morning we arrive in Puerta Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island where we visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. Following this we transfer to the airport on Baltra Island for our flight to Quito. Transfer to our hotel and spend the rest of the day at leisure. Enjoy one last night in historic Quito. Flights from Baltra to Quito depart between 10:00am and 1:00pm depending on the day of the week. These will arrive into Quito between 2:30pm and 5:30pm 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.
Day 10 Quito (B)
Depart at any time.