Galápagos — North, Central & South Islands aboard the Estrella
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 archaeology 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 marvellous 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. Warning: Please take care when wandering about the city on your own, as pick pockets and purse-snatchers are common, particularly in the Old Town. Be safe and leave your passport, credit cards, traveller’s cheques and cash you don’t need in the hotel’s safety deposit box. Most Quiteños are honest and genuinely helpful and friendly, but be safe and enjoy the city!
Day 2 San Cristóbal (1B,1L,1D)
Early flight to San Cristóbal, in the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival meet our naturalist guide who will assist with the transfer the Estrella Del Mar. After lunch we will travel about an hour to Isla Lobos. A great introduction to the Galapagos Isla Lobo is the home to a small colony of sea lions and a great beach to walk along. The bay is clam and shallow, perfect for swimming and snorkelling with tropical fish and the sea lions. Flights from Quito to San Cristobal depart between 8:10am and 10:10am depending on the day of the week. These will arrive into the Galapagos between 10:40am and 12:40pm with a 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 San Cristóbal (1B,1L,1D)
We land this morning at Punta Pitt, on the eastern tip of San Cristobal where we will see a group of eroded volcanic cones. Here we will be able to observe a mixture of different types of lava floes as well as colourful vegetation. At this point it is possible to see the 3 species of boobies as well as frigate birds, all nesting in the same area - unique to this spot in the entire archipelago. A short distance away and visible from shore is an island called Leon Dormido, or "Kicker Rock," which 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.
Day 4 Española (1B,1L,1D)
Sailing south we arrive at Española Island is the southernmost island in the Galapagos archipelago. In the morning we visit Bahia Gardner and the small islands around the bay. We start the day with a walk on the white sandy beach home to a large colony of sea lions and a great chance to see them up close. After getting your picture taken with them we head out into the bay to the islands of Osborn and Gardner, two amazing snorkelling spots. We will keep our eye out for many varieties of fish species, rays and of course sea turtles. In the afternoon we will visit Punta Suarez on the western side of Española Island. Well known for its high jagged cliffs and being home to a multitude of bird species. Follow the trail through a rookery and learn the geological history of the island from our naturalist, including its dramatic volcanic features, climate, flora and fauna. If you are travelling between April to December you will be lucky to see the Waved Albatross, during its mating/nesting season. Española is the nesting site to virtually the entire world population of this species, with more than 12000 pairs residing here. Large numbers of Masked and Blue-footed Boobies are also found here, Red-billed Tropic Birds 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 20 m (49 – 66 ft) into the air, adds to the island’s impression of untamed beauty.
Day 5 Floreana Island (1B,1L,1D)
This morning we visit the famous Post Office Bay. 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 flashlight, you can descend about 80 m (262 ft) to the point where the sea enters the cave. In the afternoon we visit Punta Cormorant on the northern part of Floreana. The landing is on a beach of green sand, coloured by olivine crystals, volcanic-derived silicates of magnesium and iron. The trail leads to a lake normally inhabited by flamingos and other shore birds and continues to a beach of fine white sand particles known as “Flour Beach”, an important nesting site for turtles. Around the point, Devil's Crown derives its name from the broken remains of a partially submerged volcanic cone. This is a perfect spot to go snorkelling from the boat, as the waters are home to a multitude of colourful fish and sea lions. Please make sure you are a comfortable swimmer, however, as despite the protection from the open sea provided by the "crown," the water here can be rough and the currents strong.
Day 6 North Seymour & Bartolomé (1B,1L,1D)
We will arrive early and go for a walk on 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 a exciting photographic island. 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. We arrive to the island of Baltra in the late morning to disembark some passengers and bring some new passengers onboard who are doing the shorter versions of this trip. Arriving at Bartolomé Island in the mid afternoon we will 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.
Day 7 Genovesa Island (1B,1L,1D)
Land at Genovesa Island, an old imploded volcano, to observe the massive colonies of Frigate Birds, Boobies and other seabirds as well as striking volcanic cliffs rising from the ocean. Well to the north of the main Galapagos Island group, Genovesa Island itself is the shape of a horseshoe given it's volcanic history. The first landing is at a place called Darwin Bay for some fantastic snorkelling opportunities within the a partially eroded crater on the south side of the island. In the afternoon we will explore a place called "El Barranco," otherwise known as Prince Phillip's Steps, on the southern tip of the island. This site is a major breeding ground for red footed boobies and masked boobies can also be seen. Other birds like various species of finches can be seen as well as the Galapagos Mockingbird.
Day 8 Santa Cruz & Santa Fe (1B,1L,1D)
Spend the morning on the north cost of Santa Cruz on the sandy Bachas Beach. Many bird specific feed on the shore lines and flamingos can usually be found in the pond behind the beach. Take a swim in the calm surf or go snorkelling off the beach keeping a looked out for the Galapagos Green Turtle that is known to nest here. In the afternoon we arrive at Santa Fé, a fairly small and dry island. Santa Fé Island is well-known as a great place for watching (and swimming with) sea lions as well as finding land iguanas in the wild. 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 9 Santa Cruz & Baltra Island (1B)
In the morning we arrive in Puerta Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island where we Explore the Fasto Illerena Breeding Centre on Santa Cruz. A corral houses adult Galapagos Tortoises, and a nursery cares for young tortoises until they are about eight years old, when their shells have hardened enough. 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. Santa Cruz is the second largest in the island group, and has the largest population, with Puerto Ayora as its main town. It also boasts the most varied of the islands’ vegetation zones: coastal, transition, scalesia, miconia and pampa. The Charles Darwin Foundation is a 10 minute walk from the centre of the town. Here, an exhibition centre displays photos of recent volcanic eruptions, charts outlining geological formations and drawings of the evolutionary development of endemic species. 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.
Day 10 Quito (1B)
Depart at any time.