Galápagos — West & Central Islands aboard the Evolution
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 Evolution, moored in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island. 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 Isabela Island/ Ferandina (B,L,D)
In the morning we head to Isabela and visit Punta Vicente Roca, located at the "mouth" of the head of the sea horse shape of the island. Here we will see the remnants of an ancient volcano which form two turquoise coves and a bay that is well protected from the ocean swells. From this spot we have the opportunity to a take panga rides along the volcano's cliff wall or explore a partially sunken cave at the water’s edge. Masked and blue-footed boobies sit perched along the point and the sheer cliffs, while flightless cormorants inhabit the shoreline. This site offers excellent snorkelling opportunities. Afternoon landing at Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island, the youngest in the Galapagos Islands. Witness the largest colony of marine iguanas and a variety of bird life. Fernandina Island is the youngest in the Galapagos Islands (approximately 700,000 years old) and is also one of the most volcanically active. A fascinating mix of mangroves, rocky shores, black sand beaches, and wildlife that have had relatively little human contact, Fernandina boasts some of the most diverse marine, wildlife and vegetation in the Galapagos. The Island has erupted several times in the last 30 years, which has resulted in dramatic changes to the geographical landscape, even shifting the lake in the caldera from one side of the crater to the other.
Day 4 Isabela Island (B,L,D)
Distinctively shaped like a sea horse, Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos archipelago at around 4590 sq km. that is lined with a chain of active volcanos, with the highest peak (Wolf Volcano) standing at 1700m. Not many tourists visit this Island, even though it has the largest colony of Galapagos tortoises and the beach is beautifully set with coconut palms. The main town, and the port we call on is Puerto Villamil. Isabela is relatively young island (approximately 1 million years old), and boasts fascinating geological evidence of the island's volcanic past that left it as we see it today. There is also fantastic flora and fauna, particularly on some of the island's volcanoes, which support completely different ecological zones than other islands in the archipelago. Many wild tortoises roam the highlands of Isabela, more so than any other island, and the rich waters surrounding the island provide plenty of nutrients for vast marine life, which allows for fantastic snorkelling opportunities.
Day 5 Bartolomé / Sullivan Bay (B,L,D)
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. Visit Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island in the afternoon 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.
Day 6 Bachas Beach / Cerro Dragon (B,L,D)
Visit to Las Bachas where the sand at is made of decomposed coral, which makes it white and soft, and a favorite site for nesting sea turtles. The Sally Lightfoot crabs are abundant on the lava rocks along the water's edge. These crabs will eat anything they can get their claws on. On this hike, we see flamingoes, Sally Lightfoot crabs, hermit crabs, black necked stilts, and whimbrels. The sea turtles had already abandoned their nests Visit to Dragon Hill, one of the newest visitor's sites on Santa Cruz Island. Named for the large number of land iguanas that frequent the area, Dragon Hill has become an important nesting site for iguanas reintroduced there by the Charles Darwin Research Center. Visitors will take a short walk from the beach to a hypersalinic (saltier than the ocean) lagoon that is frequented by pink flamingos, common stilts, pintail ducks and other species of birds. From here, they will pass through a Scalesia tree forest. Endemic to the Galapagos, there are only 400 specimens of the Scalesia tree left in the world. Past the forest, hike up Dragon Hill itself for impressive views of the bay.
Day 7 Santa Cruz (B,L,D)
In the morning we arrive in Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island. 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 Research Station 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. 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.
Day 8 Española (B,L,D)
Head to Punta Suarez on Española 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 Española Island (also called Hood) 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, 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. 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. Sail in the afternoon to Garner Bay, an excellent swimming and snorkelling site.
Day 9 San Cristóbal / Quito (B)
Reach San Cristóbal in the morning and visit El Junco Lagoon to see the diverse vegetation surrounding the largest freshwater lagoon in the Galapagos Islands. Disembark after breakfast, 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.
Day 10 Quito (B)
Depart at any time.