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|Itinerary at a Glance
Darwin's Galapagos Islands Explorer
|2||Quito, Baltra & Santa Cruz Island|
|3||Santa Cruz Island & Floreana|
|4||Floreana & Isabela|
|6||Isabela & Santa Cruz|
|7||Santa Cruz Island & Quito|
|Quito Post-Tour Extension|
|Highlights||Quito, Santa Cruz Island, Floreana Island & Isabela Island, plus optional Quito|
Yes, you too can travel to the Galapagos Islands and experience the pristine beauty that they offer. You're adventure begins in Ecuador, one of South America's jewels that displays a remarkable collection of landscapes, animals, plants, people, volcanoes and cloud forests. From there, you'll tour the Galapagos Islands on an journey you'll never forget. More than 600 miles offshore in the Pacific, these islands are home to fascinating species of birds and animals such as marine iguanas, giant tortoises, blue and red-footed boobies, pelicans and even a few penguins.
These are the legendary islands that inspired Charles Darwin to propose his theory of evolution. They've inspired us to create this incredible touring program, which includes flights, first-class hotels and island lodges, most meals, National Park fees, and a truly fascinating program of exploration on Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela Islands.
Don't wait a moment to book our new Darwin's Galapagos Island Explorer. Space is truly very limited, and at these prices, you won't find a better value-for-money vacation anywhere.
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Deposits & ticketing: Deposit is $600 per person. Flights must be ticketed within 24 hours of booking. Additional charges for flights from cities other than Miami will be charged within 24 hours of your booking. Once issued, the tickets and these charges are unchangeable, non-refundable and non-transferrable. Please be sure to send us a clear copy of the signature and picture pages of your passport within 24 hours of booking to ensure tickets are issued properly.
We must receive photocopies of your passport(s) in our offices within 24 hours of your reservation being completed. If we have not received this information, your reservation will be subject to a higher airfare and/or cancellation.
2011 departures follow a slightly different itinerary.
Day 1: USA/Quito, Ecuador. Your exciting tour to the Galapagos begins today as you depart for Quito, Ecuador. Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Accommodations: Radisson Royal Hotel.
Day 2: Quito, Baltra & Santa Cruz Island. Transfer to the airport for your flight to Baltra on the Galapagos, where you'll be assisted and transferred via ferry to nearby Santa Cruz Island.
After checking in and enjoying lunch, the adventure starts with a visit to Garrapatero beach to enjoy the white sandy beach well known for its flamingos and finches, the perfect place to relax and among beautiful surroundings. This is one of Santa Cruz's most peaceful and tranquil settings, the 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) of sand that compose El Garrapatero Beach is a tropical paradise. Surrounded by mangrove trees, the beach is home to an incredible array of birds, most notably, flamingos and mockingbirds, marine iguanas, Galapagos penguins, oystercatchers, and patillos. There's also a freshwater lake nearby that is home to even more tropical animals, such as herons, grebes, and many of shore birds.
Enjoy the wonderful swimming and snorkeling opportunities. Briefing and dinner will be held at the Aventura Lodge. Accommodations: Santa Cruz Divers Lodge. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Day 3: Santa Cruz Island & Floreana. After breakfast, you'll set out on short, easy hike to Los Gemelos (The Twins), two enormous collapsed lava chambers—an awe-inspiring visual reminder of the power of nature. The path to the lava chambers a wonderful introduction to the great biodiversity of the Santa Cruz Highlands, teeming with endemic flora and fauna, including the remaining Scalesia Forest draped in liverwort, large and small tree finches, the adorable Vermillion Flycatcher and more.
Afterward, drive through a 600-acre private reserve where giant Galapagos tortoises freely roam, graze and sleep. Feel free to mingle with these gentle giants. As prehistoric as these creatures look, wait until you hear what they sound like! Galápago is Spanish for tortoise, and the islands were named for these amazing creatures.
Next, you'll have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the remnants of an illuminated lava tunnel. Created by lava flows, this tunnel is 1350 feet long with a ceiling nearly 20 feet high in most places, adorned with stalagmites & stalactites, mineral-colored walls, and a rippled lava floor.
Return to Aventura Lodge for lunch, then sail to Floreana Island (about 1.5–2 hours). Arrive at the main dock in Floreana, where you often have to 'shoo' sleeping sea lions from the steps. On the other side of the dock, the black lava rocks are typically covered with an abundance of Floreana's red and turquoise-colored marine iguanas.
Floreana is one of the first inhabited islands and has perhaps the most interesting history. In the 18th century, whalers maintained a wooden barrel at Post Office Bay which served as an informal post office; homebound ships would pick up letters addressed to their destination. To this day, mail is still placed in the barrel without postage, and visitors sift through to find cards and letters that they can deliver by hand in their home countries.
Check-in at Floreana Lodge. You'll have time for swimming and snorkeling at Black Beach. Keep an eye out for pink flamingos and green sea turtles, which nest on Floreana from December to May. Tonight, enjoy a BBQ dinner at a local restaurant, where you will sample the Galapaguena gastronomy and warm hospitality of one of the island's first families. Hear from them about the mysteries of Floreana Island. Accommodations: Red Mangrove Floreana Lodge. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Day 4: Floreana & Isabela. After breakfast, depart in an open-air bus for the highlands. En route, your naturalist guide will fill you in on the history of Floreana, the first settled island in the Galapagos. Walk up to the Asilo de la Paz (Peace Asylum), site of an artesian spring, one of the few year-round sources of fresh water in the Galapagos, which attracted pirates, whalers and later settlers to Floreana. You'll also see the Cueva de los Piratas (Pirate's Cave), where pirates carved temporary shelter out of soft stone. This was also where Margret Wittmer, one of the original settlers, gave birth to her son Rolf, who promotes responsible tourism to the Galapagos Islands through his foundation.
Continue on to Cerro Pajas (Bird Hill), where you'll see a profusion of Floreana finches, along with spectacular views of the island and the sea below. Visit another tortoise reserve, where you can watch many of the giant tortoises up close.
Set sail for Isabela (about 1.5–2 hours, weather and tides permitting). As you approach the island, experience a visual feast as you watch sea turtles, sea lions and penguins in the stunningly clear turquoise water below. Arrive at your lodge for check-in and lunch.
Afterward, you'll board a smaller craft for a tour of the bay, slowing along the shore to view blue-footed boobies, colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs, and Galapagos penguins, the only tropical penguin on earth. Walk through an intriguing jagged "AA" lava field, passing abundant colonies of marine iguanas and a small canal full of resting white-tipped reef sharks. Keep an eye out for the unique birdlife of the island, including cormorants, pelicans, Darwin's finches, Galapagos Hawks and Galapagos Doves.
Return to the dock to snorkel this warm shallow bay, where sea lions, penguins, and more of the (fascinating but harmless) white-tipped reef sharks swim amongst the gnarled mangrove roots. Return to the lodge to relax and before the daily briefing and dinner. Accommodations: Red Mangrove Isabela Lodge. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Day 5: Isabela. After an early breakfast, depart in 4x4 vehicles through the transitional zone and into the humid highlands on the slopes of Volcan Sierra Negra, the second largest volcano in the world. Hike to the caldera of Sierra Negra, a gaping 4 miles across, where you can relax and have a snack while enjoying the breathtaking views. For hardier hikers, there will be another optional hike across the lava fields to the slopes of the adjacent Volcan Chico.
Lunch today will be at Campo Duro, which offers guests an opportunity to become a "patron" of their chosen tortoise. You can name your chosen tortoise, add stories to the Patron's book, and invite your friends to 'visit' the tortoise.
After lunch, visit Las Cuevas de Sucre, a park of lush green endemic plants. Here you will find the lava tunnels of Santa Cruz, where the ceilings look as if you are walking through a gold mine. Next, visit the El Manga Mirador, named after a mango tree planted here by early settlers. On a clear day, from the highest peaks, you can view the entire southern part of Isabela Island and other islands, both near and far such as Floreana and Santa Cruz. In the evening, briefing followed by dinner. Accommodations: Red Mangrove Isabela Lodge. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Day 6: Isabela & Santa Cruz. After breakfast, drive out of town along the 2 miles of picture-perfect, white-sand, palm-lined Long Beach, the most beautiful beach in the Galapagos. As you enter the National Park, stop to walk up the stairs for astounding vistas from the top of Cerro Orchilla.
Next, you'll visit the Muro de Las Lagrimas (Wall of Tears), constructed from jagged volcanic rock carried long distances by penal colony prisoners. The path to the Wall of Tears is abundant with lava lizards - large, striped mailes and red-throated females - and you may see their nests along this trail.
As you continue your drive, you'll very likely see the largest of the Galapagos marine iguanas sunning by the side of the road. And don't be surprised if you have to wait for a Galapagos tortoise to cross the road in front of you. Isabela has more tortoises in the wild than any other island, with several sub-species, each evolving independently, separated from the others by the island's lava fields. On your way back to town, you will visit the Interpretation Center, a breeding center for the giant Galapagos Tortoises and the only place to view the rare flat-backed "tabletop" Galapagos tortoises, many of which still bear the scars of volcanic activity from Sierra Negra.
After lunch, depart to Santa Cruz (about 1.5-2 hours). Arrive in Puerto Ayora and check in at your lodge. Then, to a guided tour of the fascinating Charles Darwin Research Station, to meet lonesome George, an iconic character! This afternoon, you'll have some free time to browse the shops along Charles Darwin Avenue in Puerto Ayora. Accommodations: Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Day 7: Santa Cruz Island & Quito. Transfer to Baltra Airport for the return flight to Quito. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel and enjoy the balance of the day at leisure. Radisson Royal Hotel Breakfast provided.
Day 8: Quito/USA: Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the USA. Breakfast provided.
Why not take advantage of your already-included international airfare to extend your stay in Quito, capital city of Ecuador and a UNESCO World Heritage site. You'll return to the U.S. 2 days after the return dates shown.
Day 8: Quito. Quito is arguably among the loveliest of South American cities, enjoying a spectacular setting surrounded by mountains and several snow-capped volcanoes, including the still-active Mt. Pichincha. The origins of the city date back to the first millennium, when the Quitu tribe occupied the area. Later, it was an important Inca settlement, and in the mid-1500s, the Spanish founded the modern city. The real beauty of Quito is in its wonderful Old Town, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, where you'll find blocks of colonial architecture, some of it four centuries old. Vintage facades line the streets and large open plazas are surrounded by cathedrals and stately public buildings. Even more breathtaking than the exteriors, are the interiors of some of the buildings, particularly the churches, many of which gleam with real gold leaf.
After breakfast, begin your tour in the modern section of Quito and continue towards the city's historic district. Visit San Agustín Convent and its historical Sala Capitular. Drive by Independence Square, flanked by the Presidential Palace, the Cathedral, the Archbishop's Palace and City Hall. Stroll past El Sagrario Church and marvel at the exquisite stone facade of La Compania Church. Visit the San Francisco Church, built over the ruins of an Inca Palace in the 16th century. Tour the City Museum, which is housed in the old San Juan de Dios Hospital, a restored building from the 16th century.
Here you will gain insight into what life was like in Quito, from prehistoric times to the 19th century. Conclude the tour with a ride up the road to the Panecillo for a breathtaking view of Quito. Accommodations: Radisson Royal Hotel. Breakfast provided.
Day 9: Quito. Enjoy a full day of leisure in Quito, Ecuador’s captial city in the Andes. Take advantage of a number of optional tours that will be available to you locally. Breakfast provided.
The Galapagos islands are connected by speedboat taxis that take travelers from one island to another. Unfortunately, most of the boats tend to be small, and the trip from island to island can be choppy. Be patient with this means of transport, as it is not possible to enjoy the incredible experiences found only on these islands without being able to get from place to place via the water taxis. Generally the trips can last from 1½ to 2 hours. While the inter-island trips can be bumpy at times due to rough seas, you'll travel in the relative comfort of our boats, the Marie Anne and the Sol y Mar, which are among the best in the islands.
Due to the fragile ecosystem on the islands, there are very few roads accessible by motorized vehicles. Some venues within the islands may be accessed by foot &/or horseback only. When touring the islands, expect a considerable amount of walking, often on uneven terrain. If you are prone to motion sickness, we highly recommend that you bring medication to counter the effects of motion sickness. We strongly recommend that you consult with your physician regarding any concerns.
The Red Mangrove hotels on this tour are the finest properties available on the Galapagos, These are small, intimate and unique hotels, with all the necessary amenities, but accommodations are more basic than lavish, as the delicate island ecosystems cannot support large luxury hotels.
Beaches: Not all beaches are sandy. In fact, beaches often have sharp, volcanic rock that makes shoes necessary. We recommend that travelers take water shoes for walking on the beaches in order to protect their feet from injury.
Walking and hiking: On some excursions, you will have to walk relatively long distances, and in some cases, the walk can be uphill. While the level of difficulty is considered moderate, if you have difficulty walking or climbing, we suggest you consider opting out of the more strenuous excursions, particularly on Isabela Island where you can hike the Sierra Negra Volcano, the second largest in the world.
In writing our evaluation, we did not have enough room to tell you about our guide, Patricio. He was, without a doubt, the most friendly, patient, and knowledgeable guide we have had out of many tours we have taken. We hope that you will pass this information on to the Friendly Planet office in Ecuador, as we feel that he should be given special recognition for the superb representation of your company. We had two medical emergencies with travelers in our group. He was able to get doctors for them and arrange for one of them to join our trip the next day. Another time, while telling us of the exportation from Ecuador of roses, he asked our driver, Jose, to stop for a moment. He came back a few minutes later with roses for all of the women on the bus! These were just two of the many kindnesses he extended to our group. He really understands the meaning of "guest service" and is to be commended for the way he conducts a tour. We came away feeling like honorary Ecuadorians!
— Cathy and Rich Sholtanis, Tamworth, NH