Galápagos — West 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 & Las Bachas (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 boat, the San Jose. We visit the Bachas beach 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. 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 (B,L,D)
After a snorkelling excursion in the morning to "Las Tintoreras," we will explore the islands wetlands which are an extensive system of lagoons and mangroves that provide a home to the aquatic bird colonies. In the afternoon following lunch, the boat we will make a stop at a Giant Tortoise breeding centre to learn about the incredible animals and see them in various stages of development. 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 4 Isabela (B,L,D)
This morning we will visit Punta Moreno on the southwestern side of Isabela. The landscape is pristine and desolate with impressive black lava floes and a unique system of brackish lagoons, which are a magnet for wildlife. From here there is a spectacular view of 3 volcanoes that are so distinctive to Isabela Island: Alcedo, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul. This newly opened visitors site allows us the opportunity to see Darwin’s finches, Galapagos doves, penguins, blue-footed boobies, mockingbirds and flightless cormorants as well as unusual vegetation. In the afternoon we will visit Tagus Cove, located west of Darwin Volcano on Isabela Island, which is a small bearing inscriptions dating back to the 1800s. The site's name originates from a British warship that went through the islands in 1814 with a crew that were looking for Galapagos Tortoises for food. This cove was a favorite spot for pirates and whalers over the years, which is evident from the inscriptions of the various boat names. We can hope to see various land birds and will be able to identify the characteristic vegetation of the arid zone. Land iguanas are ocationally spotted here.
Day 5 Fernandina Island & Isabela (B,L,D)
After breakfast we will visit Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island, which is a narrow ledge of lava and sand extending from the base of the nearby volcano to the sea. This place is famous for its large colonies of marine iguanas and as the habitat of unique species like the flightless cormorant, Galapagos penguin, Galapagos hawk, Galapagos snake, among others. It is an ideal place to observe the lava cactus (Brachycerus nesioticus), which grow on young lava and survive with little water. 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. In the afternoon we return 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.
Day 6 Santiago Island (B,L,D)
Morning excursion to Playa Espumilla, one of the most idyllic beaches in the Galapagos islands, with thick mangroves along with flamingo and sea turtle nesting sites. Continue to Buccaneer Cove to witness the towering cliff wall rock formations before reaching Puerto Egas to see the salt crater as well as a dark sand beach and tidal pools. Santiago Island has seen it's share of human activity from whalers and pirates over the years, and despite the introduction of goats to the island many years ago, the wildlife of Santiago has flourished otherwise and provides outstanding viewing opportunities. The island boasts marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles among others, which provide great wildlife viewing both on land and in the water.
Day 7 Rábida Island & Chinese Hat (B,L,D)
In the morning we will make our way to Rabida Island, where we land on a red sand beach. From here a short trail leads to a salt water lagoon, often home to wading flamingos. Another trail goes past the lagoon to the interior, where the revered palo santo trees grow. When burned, the branches of this tree give off a pleasing aroma and ward off mosquitoes. Back on the beach among low-lying bushes nest the prehistoric-looking pelicans. This is the best area for close viewing of these nesting birds, and it's a rare treat to watch parent pelicans return with gullets full of fish for the squawking youngsters. In the afternoon 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.
Day 8 Santa Cruz Island (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 have the opportunity to visit the highlands and hopefully see giant land tortoises in the wild. There will be free time to explore the town and go shopping.
Day 9 North Seymour Island, Baltra & Quito (B)
Visit North Seymour in the morning to see the observe the birdlife, including frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. Disembark at Baltra and transfer to the airport for our flight back to Quito.
Day 10 Quito (B)
Depart at any time.