Quito, Ecuador | Prelude to the Galápagos
Arrive in Quito, Ecuador, where you are met and transferred to your hotel.
Quito | Gondola Ride to the Sky
Today, walk Quito’s historic district, visiting San Francisco Church, dedicated to Quito's patron saint and rich in art treasures, fine woodcarvings and gold-leaf altars. Continue to the Plaza de la Independencia, the city’s oldest colonial center, and admire the nearby Cathedral, Government Palace and Archbishop's Palace. Next, transfer to the edge of the city for an awesome ride on TeleferiQo, an aerial gondola offering breathtaking views over Quito. The gondola deposits you at the top of an active volcano, 12,950 feet above sea level, where you take in marvelous vistas of the area, before descending the mountain for lunch. Afterward, visit La Mitad del Mundo Equatorial Line Monument, dedicated to the 18th-century French expedition that first established the position of the equator. Next, visit the Inti Ñan Museum to see examples of pre-Columbian life in Ecuador. Stop to watch or partake in a brief soccer match with local children at one of Quito’s most modern parks (weather permitting) or at an indoor facility, before returning to your hotel. Tonight, gather for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.
Baltra, the Galápagos | On Board ‘La Pinta’
Fly to Baltra in the Galápagos Islands, where you board ‘La Pinta,’ your ocean-going home for the next four nights. After a welcome briefing, enjoy lunch on board. This afternoon, begin exploring the Galápagos, starting at South Plaza Island, its white-sand beaches and black lava outcroppings contrasting vividly with the turquoise water. Observe the native flora, such as Galápagos carpet weed, a succulent plant endemic to the archipelago, and the prickly-pear cactus, a favorite snack of the land iguanas that roam the island. Scan the coastline for colonies of sea lions on the beaches and wild birds gliding along the cliffs.
Cruising the Galápagos | Life of the Giant Tortoise
Today, discover Santa Fe Island, boarding a dinghy for a brief ride to its idyllic sandy-white beaches. Walk the onshore terrain, keeping a lookout for wild residents — a curious sea lion coming to greet you, a Galápagos hawk perched atop salt bushes or a Santa Fe land iguana sunning itself on a rock. Then, snorkel and swim along a natural wave barrier or ride in a glass-bottom boat, for a cool glimpse into life beneath the waves. Break for lunch back on board, and then disembark to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the island's capital, and drive to the breeding center for highly endangered giant tortoises at Cerro Colorado. Set in a fantastic deciduous forest, the area is also home to other species, such as the San Cristobal mockingbird and lava lizard, both island natives. Later, explore Eden Islet, with an opportunity to snorkel and explore by panga (rubber raft). Sail on to tiny Chinese Hat Islet, where you may swim amid white-tipped reef sharks and Galápagos penguins or relax on the beautiful crescent-shaped beach.
Cruising the Galápagos | Punta Pitt & Darwin’s Legacy
Land at the eastern tip of San Cristobal Island this morning and set out on a trail that ascends from the beach to a lookout offering you spectacular shoreline views. Observe frigate birds and a colony of bachelor sea lions, and, if conditions are favorable, swim from the beach and snorkel. After lunch on board, embark by dinghy to the expansive white-coral beach of Cerro Brujo and walk the same sandy shore once trod by Charles Darwin, as you watch the extraordinary birdlife.
Cruising the Galápagos | Beach Walk at Punta Suárez
Begin your morning at Punta Suárez with a fun walk on lava terrain to visit the island’s unique sea bird colonies. Depending on the time of year, you may spy waved albatrosses, boobies or swallow-tail gulls. Watch for marine iguanas, too, before returning to ‘La Pinta’ for lunch. Cruise Gardner Bay and go ashore for a short walk to observe the sea lions, mockingbirds and finches. Later, proceed to Genovesa Island to explore Darwin Bay and climb Prince Phillip’s Steps, following a trail across the island to view Nazca boobies, storm petrels and frigate birds.
Baltra/Quito | Charles Darwin Research Center
Disembark on Santa Cruz Island to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station and learn about the captive rearing program for the giant tortoises. Afterward, ferry to Baltra and fly to Quito, where you enjoy time to relax before gathering for a farewell dinner at your hotel.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport to board your homebound flight.