Day 1: Arrive Quito
Overnight Casa Aliso
You will be met at the airport and transferred to your boutique hotel, Casa Aliso.
This 10-room gem offers all of the style and comfort of a small luxurious home, with especially inviting interiors. The use of color, fresh flowers, and marble throughout the hotel creates the atmosphere of a fine private residence (which it was, when built in 1936). In keeping with its former incarnation as a private home, Casa Aliso offers a warm welcome to travelers. One almost has the feeling of arriving at the home of an old friend.
Day 2: City tour of Quito
Overnight Casa Aliso
Ecuador’s capital is situated high in the Andes, perched on the green slopes of rugged volcanic peaks that reach close to 20,000 feet. Quito is lively, scenic, and cosmopolitan. Its one-and-a-half million inhabitants tend to be helpful and friendly. The colonial section of Quito is a living museum of grand Spanish colonial architecture; its mansions, cathedrals, and squares have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
On a walking tour along its cobblestone streets, you will have the chance to view buildings from the 16th to the 18th centuries. You’ll also visit Independence Square, where the Presidential Palace is located, and marvel at the ornate interior of the Baroque/Moorish Church of San Francisco and the golden interior of La Compañia church. The final part of your tour takes you far above the colonial section, where the guardian of the city—the winged Virgin of Quito—keeps watch over her city. The view is spectacular, not only of the city far below, but also of the Andes above and beyond. Dinner is on your own. Your guide can recommend a restaurant in the Colonial section or you can return to your hotel.
Day 3: Flight to the Galápagos
Overnight M/Y Grace
Morning: Fly to Galápagos – San Cristobal
Transfer to the airport for your flight to the Galápagos Islands, stopping briefly in the coastal city of Guayaquil. The turquoise-blue water surrounding the coast is visible from the air as you approach the island of San Cristobal. Charles Darwin reported encountering a pair of giant tortoises feeding on cactus during his first landing here in 1835.
Upon arrival in Puerto Baquerizo, the administrative capital of the islands and a sleepy little port town, you’ll pass through Park Inspection, after which, you’ll be met by your guide holding a sign for the Grace. Heading to the port, you’ll be treated to views of the harbor where your yacht awaits you below. It’s a very short ride to the harbor, and it’s not long before you will cross from shore to reach your chartered yacht – your home and adventure center for the next week. Your captain and crew will be waiting to greet you and will take care of your luggage. Now it’s time to get settled in and relax as you set out on our voyage.
Afternoon: San Cristobal – Playa Ochoa
Set out along the coast of San Cristobal heading northeast toward your first landing at Playa Ochoa. This inviting, powdery beach beside a turquoise bay is home to a small colony of sea lions. A tidal lagoon behind the beach is frequented by flamingos, Darwin finches, and the endemic San Cristóbal (Chatham) mockingbird. Playa Ochoa is a great introduction to the islands, and it offers your first opportunity to go snorkeling with sea turtles and marine life.
Overnight M/Y Grace
Morning: Tower – Prince Phillips Steps
Tower Island could serve as a film set for a secret submarine base! The southwestern part of the island is an ocean-filled caldera, ringed by the outer edges of a sizeable and mostly submerged volcano. The island sits to the northwest, slightly removed from the Galápagos archipelago. It is also known as “Bird Island”—a name that it lives up to in a spectacular way.
Named for a visit by the British Monarch in 1964, 25-meter (81-foot) Phillips Steps leads to a narrow stretch of land that opens onto the plateau surrounding Darwin Bay and extends to form the north side of the island. Red-footed boobies wrap their webbed feet around branches to perch in the bushes, and in contrast, their “masked-booby” cousins dot the surface of the scrublands beyond. Crossing through the sparse vegetation, you will come to a broad lava field that extends towards the sea—this forms the north shore. Storm petrels flutter out over the ocean in swarms, then return to nest in the cracks and tunnels of the lava field, where their predator, the short-eared owl, is a frequent sight.
Afternoon: Tower- Darwin Bay
Landing on the white coral sands of Darwin Bay and walking up the beach, you will be surrounded by the bustling activity of great frigate birds. Puffball-chicks with their proud papas—who sport bulging scarlet throat-sacks—crowd the surrounding branches, while both yellow-crowned and lava herons feed by the shore. Farther along, you will discover a stunning series of sheltered pools set into a rocky outcrop, forming another natural film set. A trail beside the pools leads up to a cliff overlooking the caldera, where pairs of swallow-tailed gulls – the only nocturnal gulls in the world – can be seen nesting at the cliff’s edge. Lava gulls and pintail ducks ride the sea breezes nearby.
A brief panga ride brings you to the base of those same cliffs to reveal the full variety of species sheltering in the ledges and crevices created by the weathered basalt. Among them, red–billed tropic birds enter and leave their nests trailing exotic kite-like tails. This is also an intriguing place to go deep-water snorkeling, where the truly fortunate swimmer can spot one of the giant manta rays that frequent the inner bay along the cliff walls. You might also see rays at the surface as the sun sets on your first full day in the Galápagos.
Day 5: Overnight M/Y Grace
Morning: Isabela – Tagus Cove
Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago, accounting for half of the total landmass of the Galápagos at 4,588 square kilometers. Though narrow in places, the island runs 132 km, or 82 miles, from north to south. Isabella is formed from six shield volcanoes that merged into a single landmass. It is also home to the highest point in the Galápagos, Wolf Volcano, at 1707 meters (5,547 feet), and calderas of up to 20 kilometers (12½ miles) across.
On the way to Tagus Cove, the boat will sail through the Bolivar Channel. These are the coldest, most productive waters in the Galápagos – the upwelling of the Cromwell Current, where dolphins and whales are frequently seen. Tagus Cove, named for a British naval vessel that moored here in 1814, was used historically as an anchorage for pirates and whalers. One can still find the names of their ships carved into the rock – a practice now prohibited, of course. The cove’s quiet waters make for an ideal panga ride beneath its sheltered cliffs, where blue-footed boobies, brown noddies, pelicans, and noddy terns make their nests, and flightless cormorants and penguins inhabit the lava ledges.
From your landing, a wooden stairway rises to the trail entrance for a view of Darwin Lake – a perfectly round, saltwater crater, barely separated from the ocean but above sea level. The trail continues around the lake through a dry vegetation zone, and climbs inland to a promontory formed by spatter cones. The site provides spectacular views back toward our anchorage in the bay, as well as of Darwin Volcano and Wolf Volcano to the north.
Afternoon: Fernandina – Punta Espinosa
At 1495 meters (4,858 feet), the big news on this youngest and westernmost of the islands is La Cumbre volcano, which erupts frequently – most recently in May, 2005. Fernandina sits across the Bolivar Channel from Isabela. The destination is Punta Espinosa – a narrow spit of land in the northeast corner of the island, where a number of unique Galápagos species can be seen in close proximity. As your panga driver skillfully navigates the reef, penguins show off by throwing themselves from the rocks into the water. Red and turquoise-blue zayapas crabs disperse across the lava shoreline, while herons and egrets forage through the mangrove roots. The landing is a dry one, set in a quiet inlet beneath the branches of a small mangrove forest. A short walk through the vegetation leads to a large colony of marine iguanas resting atop one another in friendly heaps along the rocky shoreline, spitting water to clear their bodies of salt. Nearby, sea lions frolic in a sheltered lagoon. This is one of the few places you can glimpse iguanas grazing on seaweed underwater.
Farther down this stretch of shore, the world’s only species of flightless cormorants have established their colony near an inviting inlet frequented by sea turtles. Because these birds evolved without land predators, the cormorants progressively took to the sea. They developed heavier, more powerful legs and feet for kicking; serpent-like necks; and wet, fur-like plumage. Their wings are now mere vestiges. Back toward the landing and farther inland, the island’s black lava becomes more evident, forming a quiet, inner lagoon. Galápagos hawks survey the entire scene from overhead.
Day 6: Overnight M/Y Grace
Morning: Isabela – Urbina Bay
Urbina Bay is directly west of Isabella’s Volcano Alcedo, where you will make an easy, wet landing (a hop into a few inches of water) onto a gently sloping beach. In 1954, a Disney film crew caught sight of this gleaming white strip, and upon further investigation, found pools of stranded sea creatures! To their astonishment, three miles (5 km) of the marine reef had been uplifted by as much as 13 feet (4 meters) in moments. Now visitors can walk among the dried coral heads, mollusks, and other organisms that formed the ocean floor. A highlight of this excursion is the giant land iguanas, whose vivid and gaudy yellow skin suggests that dinosaurs may have been very colorful indeed. Giant tortoises inhabit this coastal plain during the wet season, before migrating to the highlands when it turns dry. The landing beach also provides opportunities to snorkel among marine creatures, or just relax on shore. Take care not to step on the sea turtle nests dug carefully into the sand.
Isabela – Punta Vicente Roca
Punta Vicente Roca is located at the ‘mouth’ of the head of the sea horse, which forms the northern part of the Isabela. Here, the remnants of an ancient volcano form two turquoise coves with a bay well protected from the ocean swells. The spot is a popular anchorage from which to take panga rides along the cliff, where a partially sunken cave beckons explorers. Masked and blue-footed boobies sit perched along the point and sheer cliffs, while flightless cormorants inhabit the shoreline. The upwelling of coldwater currents in this part of the Galápagos give rise to an abundance of marine life which, in combination with the protection of the coves, make Punta Vicente Roca one of the archipelago’s sought-after dive spots. One cove is only accessible from the sea, by way of an underwater passage. The passage opens to the calm waters of the hidden cove, where sea lions like to laze on the beach. The entire area of Punta Vicente Roca lies on the flank of the 2,600-foot Volcano Ecuador – the island’s sixth largest volcano. Half of Volcano Ecuador slid into the ocean leaving a spectacular cutaway view of its caldera.
Day 7: Overnight M/Y
Morning: Bartolome – Pinnacle Rock
This Island is famous for Pinnacle Rock – a towering spearheaded obelisk that rises from the ocean’s edge and is the best known landmark in the Galápagos. Galápagos penguins—the only species of penguin found north of the equator—walk precariously along narrow, volcanic ledges at its base. Sea lions snooze on rocky platforms, ready to slide into the water to play with passing snorkelers. Just below the surface, shoals of tropical fish dodge in and out of the rocks past urchins, sea stars, and anemones. A perfectly crescent, pink-and-white sandy beach lies just to the east of the pinnacle. Sea turtles use the beach as a nesting site and can sometimes be found wading in the shallow water near the shore or resting in the sand to recover from the arduous task of digging nests, and laying eggs.
Penguins dot the nearby rocks of the next landing site, less than a kilometer along the eastern shore. Here the submerged walls of a tiny volcanic crater give the impression of a fountain pool. This dry landing is the entrance to a 600-meter (2000-foot) pathway complete with stairs and boardwalks leading to Bartolome’s summit. The route is not difficult and presents a museum of vulcanology – a site left untouched after its last eruption, where cones stand in various stages of erosion, and lava tubes form bobsled-like runs from the summit. At the top, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Santiago Island and James Bay to the west, and far below, Pinnacle Rock and the beach, where the crystal blue waters of the bay cradle your yacht.
Afternoon: Santa Cruz – Bachas Beach
Las Bachas is a sandy white-coral beach that is a major egg-laying site for sea turtles. The name Bachas refers to the remains of landing craft left here at the end of WWII. Apparently, the locals couldn’t correctly pronounce what the US military called “the beach of the barges.” Instead, the local fishermen and others started referring to the beach as Las Barchas and later that name devolved
into Las Bachas. Ashore, marine iguanas mingle with flamingos and other wading birds in another of the many super saline lagoons found in the Galápagos.
Day 8: Overnight M/Y
Morning: Santa Cruz – Puerto Ayora
Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galápagos and something of a hub for the archipelago. The small town of Puerto Ayora in the southwest of this large, round volcanic island is the economic center of the islands, with the largest population of the four inhabited islands (approx. 10,000). Tourism—including refurbishing and resupplying yachts—along with fishing and boatbuilding, are major sources of commerce.
Santa Cruz Highlands
A highlight of any trip is a visit to the Santa Cruz Highlands, where the sparse, dry coastal vegetation transitions to lush wet fields and forests overgrown with moss and lichens. Your destination is the Tortoise Reserve, where you will have chances to track and view these friendly ancient creatures in their natural setting. This extends to the adjacent pasturelands, where farmers have given tortoise safe quarter in exchange for allowing paying visitors to see them. The best times to see tortoises here are during the cool dry season from June through December. Another attraction close by is a very large lava tube. A wooden stairway descends to the mouth of its arched entrance and continues underground to the narrow passage that marks its exit.
Afternoon: Puerto Ayora is home to both the Galápagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station. The research station is the center of the great restorative efforts taking place in the park – a UNESCO World Heritage site. Travel ashore to visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Program run by the research station, which began by rescuing the remaining 16 tortoises on the island of Española in the 1970s. This program has restored the population of animals there to over 1,000 today. You will see many tortoises, with their sweet ET-necks and faces, from hatchlings to juveniles to large, distinguished individuals like Lonesome George – the last of his particular race of tortoise who may be 150 years old! The local color of this port makes for an attractive stop-off, with restaurants, souvenir shops, and an internet café.
Day 9: Overnight M/Y
Morning: Española (Hood)- Punta Suarez
Hood is the southernmost island of the archipelago and one of the most popular, due to the breathtaking variation and sheer number of fauna that greet the visitor. The giant tortoise was reintroduced to Hood in the 1970s and counts as one of the park’s great success stories.
The quantity and variety of wildlife at Punta Suarez is remarkable. Sea lions surf the waves beyond the breakwater landing, and tiny pups are known to greet your toes upon arrival. A few steps inland are the largest variety of marine iguana in the Galápagos. They bear distinctive red and black markings, some with a flash of turquoise running down their spine, and nap in communal piles. The trail then takes you beside the western edge of the island, where masked boobies nest along the cliff’s edge, and then descends to a rocky beach before rising to an open area and a large gathering of nesting blue-foot boobies. Galápagos doves, cactus finch, and mocking birds forage by – unconcerned by human presence.
The trail continues to the high cliff edge of the southern shore. Below, a shelf of black lava reaches into the surf, where a blowhole shoots a geyser of water into the air. Further east along the cliffs is the “Albatross Airport,” where waved albatross line up to launch their great winged bodies from the cliffs, soaring out over the dramatic shoreline of crashing waves and driven spray. In the trees, set back from the cliff, is one of only two places in the world where the waved albatross nests. In fact, the 12,000 pairs that inhabit Hood Island comprise all but a tiny fraction of the world’s population of this species. Lucky visitors can watch courtship ‘fencing’ performed with great yellow beaks and necks among the large, fluffy, perfectly-camouflaged chicks. Mating occurs year round.
Afternoon: Española (Hood)- Gardner Bay
On the northeastern shore of Hood, Gardner Bay offers a magnificent, long, white, sandy beach, where colonies of sea lions laze in the sun, sea turtles swim offshore, and inquisitive mockingbirds boldly investigate new arrivals. You will be lured into the turquoise water for a swim, but just a little further off shore, the snorkeling by Tortuga rock and Gardner Island offers peak encounters with playful young sea lions and large schools of surprisingly-big tropical fish, including yellow-tailed surgeonfish, king angelfish, and bump-head parrot fish. Sleepy white-tipped reef sharks can be seen napping on the bottom.
Day 10 Overnight Casa Aliso
Morning / San Cristobal: Today your voyage comes to an end. But before we bid farewell to the Grace and her crew, pay a visit to Leon Dormido, also know as Kicker Rock – a spectacular formation that rises 152 meters (500 feet) out of the Pacific. Small vessels can navigate through the narrow channel between the rocks.
In 1998, the Galápagos National Park Visitor Center opened for the benefit of islanders and travelers alike, presenting a comprehensive exhibit of the islands’ natural history, human interaction, ecosystems, flora and fauna. Your guide will use the exhibits to provide an illustrated overview of the natural history of the islands. From the Interpretation Center, a short trail arrives at Frigate Bird Hill, where both magnificent-frigates and great-frigates can be seen in the same colony—ideal for learning to distinguish the two bird species. Following this visit, return to Puerto Baquerizo, where you’ll have time for some last-minute island shopping.
Morning: Return to Mainland Ecuador: Return to the airport for the flight back to the Ecuadorian mainland.
Dinner on own.
Day 11: Flights home
Say farewell to Ecuador and transfer to the airport for your flight home.