Galapagos on a Shoestring
Day 1 Quito
Arrive 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 2-3 San Cristóbal
Fly to the Galapagos and the island of San Cristóbal, and transfer to your family homestay located in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos Islands. Learn about the cultural and natural history of the Galapagos Islands at the Interpretation Centre in town and enjoy an included hike to the lookout point of "Las Tijeretas" for some fantastic bird spotting. There will be plenty of free time for optional activities like enjoying nearby beaches and shopping. San Cristóbal is the easternmost island of Galapagos and one of the oldest. 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 4 Santa Cruz (1L,1D)
Take a morning speedboat to Santa Cruz. See giant Galapagos land tortoises in the wild then camp in the highlands at a sustainable living farm area. Santa Cruz is the second largest in the island group and also boasts the most varied of the islands’ vegetation zones: coastal, transition, scalesia, miconia and pampa.
Day 5-6 Isabela
Another speedboat trip brings us to Isabela Island, the largest and one of the most volcanically active in the Galapagos. Shaped like a seahorse, Isabela stretches over 100 kms long and is extremely narrow. Six active volcanoes dominate the island - Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra and Wolf. All of these volcanoes except Ecuador are still active, and two of them are over 1,700 metres high - Wolf and Cerro Azul. We include visits to the local attractions of the Giant Tortoise breeding centre and the 'Wall of Tears.' Hike the Sierra Negra Volcano on an included day tour. Another option could be to visit the “Tintoreras“ Shark Alley to observe the white tip reef sharks found swimming in the channels between the rocks. Get a close-up view of pelicans, frigate birds and diving blue footed boobies. Watch for manta rays and rare Galapagos penguins, of which only 800 pairs exist. Isabela also boasts some beautiful, long, sandy beaches for those who just want to relax under the palm trees, take a swim, or try your hand at surfing. 1 night will be spent camping, which will be sure to leave lasting memories and to offer a unique and special experience that most visitors to the Galapagos miss. Please note that all bedding will be provided for the camping.
Day 7 Santa Cruz
Travel in the morning by speedboat to the island of Santa Cruz and the town of Puerto Ayora, the largest settlement in the Galapagos Islands. Visit the world-famous Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about and get up close and personal with the fascinating Giant Galapagos Land Tortoise. Optional activities abound from Santa Cruz, including fabulous beaches, a visit to the highlands, and diving or snorkelling trips to name just a few. Kayaking and mountain biking are also an option. 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. Tortuga Bay is a beautiful white-sand beach, great for swimming and even surfing, lying just outside of Puerto Ayora, a little over a 30 minute walk.
Day 8 Quito
Transfer across the island by public bus to Baltra for the flight back to Quito. Upon arrival in Quito, transfer to the hotel for one last night on the town. Our representative in Quito will be able to advise you and help with some of the many day tours available in and around Quito.
Day 9 Quito
Depart at any time.