Galápagos — North & South Islands aboard the San Jose
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 Island & Mosquera Island (B,L,D)
Early flight to Baltra, in the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival meet our naturalist guide who will assist with the transfer to our yacht. Board in the afternoon for an excursion to Mosquera Island in the afternoon to walk along the beach and observe the vast sea lion colonies. You will have an opportunity to snorkel late in the afternoon. 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. 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 Genovesa Island (B,L,D)
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 is the shape of a horseshoe given it's volcanic history. The island has a volcanic caldera whose wall has collapsed, forming the Great Darwin Bay, surrounded by cliffs. Lake Arcturus, filled with salt water, lies in the centre, and sediment within this crater lake is less than 6,000 years old. Our first excursion in Darwin Bay provides us some fantastic snorkelling opportunities within the a partially eroded crater. In the afternoon there will be an excursion to "El Barranco," otherwise known as Prince Phillip's Steps, on the southern tip of the island. At this place is an extraordinary steep path that leads through a seabird colony full of life, up to cliffs that are 25m high. At the top, the trail continues inland, passing more seabird colonies in a thin palo santo forest. Leaving the forest, you can overview a rocky plain. The storm petrels here are different from any others in the world because they fly around during daytime. To avoid predators, they only return to their nest holes at night. The smallest Marine Iguana in the archipelago lives here. Take an afternoon snorkel in and around the cliffs. Although no historical eruptions are known from Genovesa, there are very young lava flows on the flanks of the volcano. This island is also known as Bird Island, because of the large and varied bird colonies which nest here and the whole ecology is made of birds as only marine iguanas and no mammals or other reptiles are to be found. There are an abundance of frigatebirds and it is the best place to see red-footed boobies, masked boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, storm petrels, tropical birds, finches, and mockingbirds.
Day 4 South Plaza Island & Santa Fe Island (B,L,D)
Set sail and reach South Plaza Island. One of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, South Plaza has one of the largest populations of Land Iguanas. Also a large colony of noisy sea lions, numbering about 1,000 bulls, cows and pups, has its prime habitat on these smooth rocks. 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 bursts into large yellow flowers, which are loved by the iguanas. In the afternoon, we explore Santa Fé, 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. Santa Fe was formed from an uplift (rather than a volcano) giving the island a relatively flat surface rather than the typical conical shape of the other islands. Goats were eradicated in 1971, and Santa Fe is home to a number of endemic species, which have bounced back from the outside threat. They include the Galapagos Hawk, Galapagos Snake, rice rats, a variety of finch and the Galapagos Mockingbird. Hiking towards the cliffs along the island's northern shore you can view the forest of giant Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia). A member of the cactus family their name comes from the pear shaped fruit the plant produces. Santa Fe is home to endemic land iguanas. Once back at the beach there is normally plenty of free time to snorkel back in the lagoon. Playful sea lions pups and florescent fish make for fascinating company.
Day 5 San Cristóbal Island (B,L,D)
We pass through Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock), which is a magnificent rock in the middle of the sea, set in a shape resembling a sleeping lion. The rock rises 150 metres above the surface and is divided into two parts by a narrow channel navigable by small vessels. We also visit Cerro Brujo, where there is a chance to go hiking, swimming and snorkelling. The sandy beach is home to Sally Lightfoot crabs, brown pelicans, blue-footed boobies and california sea lions. The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal is the capital and administrative centre of the Galapagos Islands. There is a good interpretation centre here that is well worth a visit. The centre focuses primarily on the history and geography of the archipelago, from its volcanic origins to the present-day ecosystem. There will be free time to explore the town and go shopping.
Day 6 Española Island (B,L,D)
Head to Gardner Bay on Española Island (also called Hood) for a walk along one of the most beautiful beaches in the archipelago. Wander the beach to see the sea lions and bird life and take the opportunity for snorkelling in the sheltered bay. The southernmost island in the Galapagos Islands is home to several wildlife species, including masked and blue-footed boobies. Punta Suarez on the western side of Española 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. A hike to the top of the cliff makes for spectacular photo opportunities.
Day 7 Floreana Island (B,L,D)
Make our way to 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. Later in the afternoon we stop at Post Office Bay has an older 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 flashlight, you can descend about 80 m (262 ft) to the point where the sea enters the cave. The history of Floreana Island (also called Charles) 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.
Day 8 Santiago Island & Bartolomé Island (B,L,D)
Visit Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island in the morning to witness the striking and fascinating giant lava formations. Very few plants 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.
Day 9 Baltra & Quito (B)
Take an excursion by "panga" to Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz Island 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. Disembark in Baltra. Transfer to the airport for the flight back to Quito.
Day 10 Quito (B)
Depart at any time.