- Galapagos Islands: Ecuador
- February through May
- 6 days, 5 nights
Imagine a zoo with no cages, an aquarium with no tanks and only then can you have a vague inkling of the incredible 6-day tour ahead of you at the Galapagos Islands. 1000km off the mainland, it’s a volcanic island habitat where anything is possible. You will walk in the footsteps of Charles Darwin himself, baring witness to mother nature’s finest work. I’ve traveled to dozens of countries and seen more than my fair share of incredible sites but nothing can prepare you for the jaw-dropping natural wonder of the Galapagos Island experience. (I highly recommend you do finger push-ups before arriving, you're going to need it for the thousands of photos you'll want to take!)
Day 1: Arrive San Cristobal, Visit La Loberia, Hike La Loberia Bird Walk
I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve, trying to sleep the night before my flight from Quito to San Cristobal. As soon as you land in the Galapagos archipelago you breathe out, your shoulders drop and the pace of life moves from hare to tortoise. We were met by our local guide and had lunch before the first activity: a hike and visit to La “Loberia”, a hang out for sea lions. We followed a little known path to a cliff teeming with birds. We had fun spotting sunbathing marine iguanas along the sandy track as we wound along the coast and finished overlooking a small, squally bay. This was our first glimpse of gulls, tropicbirds, and blue-footed boobies coming and going from their cliff-side nests. On the way back, we hung out with the sea lions, watching them play, nap and even pose for pictures! I took a quick dip here and as the setting sun illuminated the pink sky, we headed back to town. We munched down a welcome dinner of fresh fish at a small local restaurant. (My fish had the lips of Angelina Jolie – pity the waiter wasn’t a Brad Pitt look-a-like!) One day down, still five to go!
Day 2: Snorkel at Isla Lobos and Kicker Rock, visit to Interpretation Center, & Tijeretas Hike
Today was my first glimpse of the magnificent underwater world of Galapagos. We boarded a boat and cruised along the coast, spotting shore birds like the Great Frigate and famous Blue-Footed Booby. We anchored in a channel near Isla Lobos (“Sea Lion Island”) where I got my fins wet in search of damselfish, puffer fish and curious sea lion pups. The sea lions at Galapagos may be lazy out of the water but I soon learned they were capable of back-bending acrobatics under the surface. They ducked and dived, spun in circles and blew bubbles at me in the aqua blue water. From there we continued to Kicker Rock (“Leon Dormido”) to explore the final remains of a tuff cone rising 143 meters out of the ocean. Snorkel in mouth, we were on the hunt for sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, chocolate chip starfish, and luckily I saw a Galapagos Shark too. (Don’t worry; they aren’t nearly as interested in you as you are in them!) Puerto Grande, a beautiful beach accessible only by boat, was our final stop for the day and after lunch we took another dip. We had a late afternoon visit to the Interpretation Center where we learned about the history and mystery of the archipelago from its discovery to Charles Darwin’s visit and present day efforts to protect this amazing World Heritage site. To finish the day we took a short hike to Tijeretas (“Frigate Bird Hill) and had front row seats for the sunset. Dinner was on our own but the guide offers plenty of suggestions.
Day 3: Fly to Isabela, Kayak, Snorkel, Visit Tintoreras and Giant Tortoise Breeding Center
This morning started with a short flight west to Isabela, the largest island in the archipelago. From above we got to observe the dramatic coastline and lava fields of the volcanic islands. After a quick check-in, we headed to the pier for a kayak around Isabela’s protected bay in search of the Galapagos Penguin. Afterwards we got on a panga, a small water taxi, to explore the isolated islet of Tintoreras (“Shark Alley”). Its name comes from the white-tipped reef sharks that can often be found resting on the bottom of a naturally formed channel along the rocky shoreline. Tintoreras is also a popular iguana nesting site and home to hundreds of marine iguanas. Afterwards, we snorkeled in a calm bay that is home to a variety of colorful fish and winding, inundated lava tubes. Green Sea Turtles that like to rest on the calm, sandy bottom often frequent this area. On the Galapagos Islands we came face to face with reptiles from a prehistoric era and turtles that were born around the time of my great, great grandparents.
Day 4: Hike Sierra Negra Volcano and Volcan Chico, Optional afternoon bike ride to Wall of Tears
Lace up your hiking boots kiddos, we’re heading up a volcano! This is a full-day hike around one of the largest calderas in the world and into the lava fields of Volcan Chico. Sierra Negra Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in Galapagos – its last eruption was in October 2005 – and it’s the oldest volcano on Isabela. We started at the National Park Checkpoint and hiked to the perimeter of the caldera. Standing on the rim of the 9km volcanic crater, with the remnants of powerful explosions and unstoppable lava flows before me, I realized how insignificant we are in the scheme of things. We descended into the Mars-like lava fields of Volcan Chico and to a lookout with the most breathtaking views to the north of Isabela. Hard work done, we made our way back to town and my friend and I bought coconuts and made makeshift pina coladas much to the amusement of the locals. We used our free time to take a walk to the 100 metre long, 7 metre high Wall of Tears. From 1946-1959, after the Americans left this post from WW2, Isabela was turned into a penal colony and prisoners were forced to build a lava rock wall. It’s an easy walk or bike ride with stops along the way that look into the brackish lagoons and tucked away beaches.
Day 5: Boat to Santa Cruz, Visit Charles Darwin Research Station, Afternoon Visit to Tortuga Bay
We woke up to a sunrise boat ride to Santa Cruz where we had a late breakfast before going to the Charles Darwin Research Station and visiting the Breeding Center Fausto Llerena. Poor old Lonesome George sadly passed away in 2012 but the center is home to Super Diego, a giant tortoise originally from Española Island. Diego got his name after being rescued from the San Diego Zoo in 1977. Here, we learned about the center’s successes in repopulating the islands with the once endangered land iguana and several species of Giant Tortoise. In the afternoon, we made our way to Tortuga Bay, a beautiful beach accessible only by foot. There’s lots to explore like a prickly cactus forest, Marine Iguanas resting on the white sand or you can try your hand at boogie boarding or surfing if the conditions are right.
Day 6: Morning Visit to Highlands, Fly to Quito
We made one last stop on the way to the airport in the Highlands of Santa Cruz to explore an underground lava tunnel and visit a private farm known to be eating grounds for the Giant Tortoise. This is your opportunity to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat cooling off in a watering hole or munching away. It's hard to believe how much we've packed into 6 days, and the great thing is I can journey back at any time with a quick flick through my Galapagos photo album :)
Length: 6 days
Price: $1699 per person (not including flights)
Departures: Select Sundays
Sweat factor: Moderate
Comfort level: Standard
Group size: Max 15 (avg 10)
Single Supplement: $200
What to bring:
What is included:
What’s not included:
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