Darwin's Galapagos Islands Explorer

Quito and Santa Cruz, Floreana & Isabela islands plus Quito, Ruta del Sol & Cuenca optional extensions

This itinerary is for a past tour program.
Check out our new Darwin's Galapagos Islands Explorer tour program.

Overview

Itinerary at a Glance
Darwin's Galapagos Islands Explorer
Day Destination
1 USA/Guayaquil
2 Guayaquil, Baltra & Santa Cruz Island
3 Santa Cruz Island & Floreana
4 Floreana & Isabela
5 Isabela
6 Isabela & Santa Cruz
7 Santa Cruz Island & Guyaquil
8 Guayaquil/USA
Quito Pre-tour Extension
1 USA/Quito
2 Quito
3 Quito, Baltra & Santa Cruz Island
La Ruta Del Sol Post-Tour Extension
8 Guayaquil & Samai
9 Aqua Blanca Community & Montanita
10 Samai
11 Probueblo, Guayaquil
12 Guayaquil/USA
Cuenca Post-Tour Extension
7 Santa Cruz Island & Guayaquil
8 Cuenca
9 Cuenca & Guayaquil
10 Quito/USA

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. The package also includes a stay in Guayaquil, a 2-night optional stay in Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site; as well as a special 4- night optional tour to the Ecuadorian coast to La Ruta del Sol or a 2-night optional extension to Cuenca, another UNESCO World Heritage site and arguably one of the most beautiful cities in Ecuador.

Don't wait a moment to book our 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.

Detailed Itinerary

Darwin's Galapagos Islands Explorer tour itinerary 2012 departures follow a slightly different intinerary.

Day 1: USA/Guayaquil. Your exciting tour to the Galapagos begins today as you depart for Guayaquil, Ecuador. Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Hotel Oro Verde or similar

Day 2: Guayaquil, 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.

Blue-footed boobies, Galapagos 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. Santa Cruz Divers Lodge Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Tortoise 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.

Exploring a lava tunnel on Santa Cruz Island  Photo by Peter Gene 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 your 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's post barrel  Photo by Movera 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. Red Mangrove Floreana Lodge Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Cueva de los Piratas 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.

Sally Lightfoot Crab 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.

Sea lions 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 before the daily briefing and dinner. 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 an 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.

Iguana 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. 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.

Lava lizard & his dinner, Floreana Island 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 males 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.

Charles Darwin Research Station 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. Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Day 7: Santa Cruz Island & Guayaquil. Transfer to Baltra Airport for the return flight to Guayaquil. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. You may choose an afternoon optional tour of Guayaquil, visiting the Centennial Park, commemorating Guayaquil's independence on October 9, 1820. Visit the Seminarioa Park (Iguana Park). Continue through the South Market and Integration Plaza; see the Civic Plaza ad the Moorish Clock Tower, which was used in the old days to warm the inhabitants of pirate attacks; drive through Las Penas, the oldest part of the city; and stroll through Chile Street, famous for the Indian market ($45). Or take advantage of your already-included airfare and extend your stay on our optional 3 night extension to Cuenca. Hotel Oro Verde Breakfast provided.

Day 8: Guayaquil/USA: Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the USA (Passengers on LAN flights will depart in the late evening for an overnight flight, arriving in the USA the next morning). Or, take advantage of your already included airfare and continue your tour on our 4 night Ruta del Sol or our Cuenca extensions. Breakfast provided.


Quito Pre-Tour Optional Extension

Why not take advantage of your already-included international airfare to visit Quito, capital city of Ecuador and a UNESCO World Heritage site. You'll depart the U.S. 1 day before the departure dates shown.

Plaza de la Independencia, Quito  © ihana.com Day 1: Depart USA, arrive Quito. Your exciting tour begins today as you depart for Quito, Ecuador's capital city. Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to your hotel.

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. Radisson Royal Hotel

Convent of San Francisco, Quito Day 2: Quito. 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. Breakfast provided.

Equatorial monument, Quito Day 3: Quito, Baltra & Santa Cruz Island. Transfer to the airport for your flight to Baltra on the Galapagos Islands, where you'll be assisted and transferred via ferry to nearby Santa Cruz Island. There, you will meet up with the rest of your tour group at your hotel. (Please see Day 2 of the main tour itinerary above.) Breakfast provided.


La Ruta del Sol Post-Tour Optional Extension

Why not take advantage of your already-included international airfare to visit the diversity of the Ecuadorian coast. See the local communities, try your hand with some soft adventure options or relax at the spa of your hotel. You'll return to the U.S. 4 days after the return dates shown above

Day 8: Guayaquil & Samai. After a leisurely breakfast, depart for the Ecuadorian coast. Drive through picturesque fishing villages, see the white sand beaches and amazing landscapes. Hundreds of bird species live in the a unique subtropical forest and protected natural reserves. You may be lucky and even spot a humpback whale. En route, discover the local gastronomy at a local restaurant. In the afternoon, check-in at your lodge. Your lodge is built from natural materials and has been designed in harmony with the surrounding mountains and sea-side. Your hotel has a well-equipped spa for relaxation. Relax and enjoy the amazing sunset. Red Mangrove Samai Lodge Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Day 9: Agua Blanca Community & Montanita. After breakfast, depart for "Agua Blanca Community". Visit the museum and archaeological sites. Enjoy a short hike, excellent for bird watching and other wildlife such as iguanas. End your walk at a pond of magical healing waters and mud. Visit the small village, where the inhabitants today live in a way very similar to their ancestors, the Mantena Tribe, who lived in this area from the 9th to the 14th century. After lunch, continue to Montanita, a unique town where you can find local arts and crafts and entertainment. Dinner will be at a local restaurant, before returning to your lodge. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Day 10: Samai. Enjoy the day at leisure. Choose from a variety of soft adventure such as surfing lessons, horse-back riding, diving, hiking or walking/zip line through the forest canopy at Cantalapiedra. Or remain at your lodge and choose a relaxing spa treatment Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Day 11: Samai & Guayaquil. After breakfast, depart from Samai for Propueblo NGO - San Antonio, an arts and crafts center run by the local community. Here you will have an opportunity to learn about the communities and purchase some unique souvenirs and gifts. Return to Guayaquil. Hotel Oro Verde Breakfast provided.

Day 12: Guayaquil/USA: Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the USA (Passengers on LAN flights will depart in the late evening for an overnight flight, arriving in the USA the next morning).


Cuenca Post-Tour Optional Extension

Alternatively, take advantage of your already-included international airfare to visit the diversity of the Ecuadorian coast. See the local communities, try your hand with some soft adventure options or relax at the spa of your hotel. You'll return to the U.S. 2 days after the return dates shown above.

Cuenca Cathedral Day 7: Santa Cruz Island & Guayaquil. Transfer to Baltra Airport for the return flight to Guayaquil. Upon arrival, depart for Cuenca, driving through the scenic Cajas National Park. Cuenca is the capital of the province of Azuay and the third largest city in Ecuador. Hotel Santa Lucia Breakfast provided.

Day 8: Cuenca. This morning, tour Cuenca. Cuenca has been honored as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Ecuador, enjoying spring-like climate year round. The city was founded in 1557 on the site of the Inca settlement of Tomebamba, and it has preserved much of its colonial air.

Visit the hill of Turi with its panoramic view of the colonial section as well as the new commercial area of the city. You then continue to the flower market and visit the huge marble Cuenca Cathedral, and the more colorful Indian Cathedral. Its worn cobble stone streets, tile roofs, iron scrolled balconies, parks and plazas recreate a miniature old Spain. Cuenca is the most important handicraft center in Ecuador, where you will find many stores that offer embroideries, weavings, ceramics, gold artifacts and the so-called Panama Hats, which are actually made in Ecuador. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Balance of the day at leisure. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Cuenca Day 9: Cuenca. Enjoy the day at leisure to explore Cuenca on your own. Stroll through the colorful markets and plazas, or relax on the banks of its rivers. In the early evening, transfer to the airport for your short flight to Guayaquil. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. Hotel Oro Verde Breakfast provided.

Day 10: Guayaquil/USA: Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the USA (Passengers on LAN flights will depart in the late evening for an overnight flight, arriving in the USA the next morning). Or, take advantage of your already included airfare and continue your tour on our 4 night Ruta del Sol extension. Breakfast provided.


Inter-Island Transportation

Sol y Mar and Marie Anne 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.

Booking & Travel FAQs


Important Travelers Notes

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.

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