Wonders of the Galápagos Islands: A Voyage of Discovery
Sail aboard the M.V. Santa Cruz and discover every nature lover's dream come to life on the Galápagos Islands.
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- Fabulous shots from Smithsonian Journeys Expert Kirt Kempter
- Visiting Mount Fuji, by way of rural Japan
- Saturday in Pamplona
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The Galápagos Islands comprise a mysterious landscape of wonder, beauty, and the most unusual wildlife found anywhere on Earth. Each day this fascinating World Heritage site offers fresh vistas and astounding wildlife, including Blue-footed Boobies, sea lions, seals, Sally Lightfoot crabs, penguins, flamingoes, and giant land tortoises. Learn about this amazing destination, made famous by Charles Darwin, from a highly qualified team of Experts as you enjoy a five-night cruise aboard our chartered ship, which is outfitted with a fleet of Zodiacs, glass-bottom boat, and snorkeling gear. Although our schedule is dependent on weather, sea conditions, and National Park Service regulations, your Galápagos voyage will be an exciting adventure. Plus, during two days in Quito, you’ll enjoy a tour featuring the Old City, a World Heritage site, and an excursion to the Equator.
Day 1 — U.S., Quito, Ecuador
Fly to Quito, the highest capital city in the world at 9350 feet, and transfer to your deluxe hotel. Surrounded by snowcapped peaks, yet only miles from the Equator, Quito is known for its magnificent Spanish colonial architecture and lively street life.
Day 2 — Quito
Quito is a city of startling contrasts, where thousands of years of native South American tradition are interwoven with imported Catholicism, the Spanish language and European culture. Quaint family-owned shops and open-air markets are steps away from the ornate Spanish Baroque-style cathedrals favored by the Conquistadors and the gleaming skyscrapers of today. On the city tour, visit the Museo Nacional del Banco Central’s Archaeological Gallery and Golden Court and the noble, 16th-century Iglesia (Church) de San Francisco. Continue to the heart of Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and see the Moorish-influenced Catedral Metropolitana and the Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesus, renowned for its lavish interiors decorated with an estimated seven tons of gold leaf.
This evening, attend a private Welcome Reception in the hotel. (B,R)
Day 3 — Quito
During the excursion to the Equator at zero degrees latitude, stand with one foot in each hemisphere in the “middle of the world,” where an 18th-century multinational expedition located the Equator and established for the first time an accurate measurement of the earth’s size. Step inside the hundred-foot-tall monument to this endeavor and tour the Ethnographic Museum, illustrating the diversity of Ecuador’s indigenous peoples. Afterward, enjoy lunch in a restaurant with a view of the vast Pululahua volcanic crater. (B)
Day 4 — Quito, Baltra, Galápagos Islands, North Seymour
Fly to the small Galápagos island of Baltra. Embark the M.V. Santa Cruz in time for lunch and attend your first briefing by the English-speaking Ecuadorian naturalists.
Continue to diminutive North Seymour Island, a tiny sandy-shored isle home to sea lions and the world’s only marine iguanas. Observe large colonies of charming blue-footed boobies and magnificent frigates birds, whose males puff up their bright red chests to impress potential mates.
Attend the Captain’s Welcome Reception this evening. (B,L,R,D)
Please note that the m.v. Santa Cruz’s specific itinerary and cruise pattern is dependent on weather, sea conditions and Galápagos National Park Service regulations.
Day 5 — Isabela, Fernandina
Cruise along the Bolivar Channel, which offers stunning views of the volcanic peaks of Isabela and Fernandina. Spend the morning at seahorse-shaped Isabela Island, snorkeling in the waters off Punta Vicente Roca and searching the northern shores for the sea lions, penguins and blue-footed boobies that inhabit the area.
Dominated by the sweeping slopes of La Cumbre Volcano, the moon-like landscapes of Fernandina Island are the habitat of one of the densest concentrations of wildlife in the Galápagos. During an afternoon visit, observe how recent volcanic activity has reshaped the island’s topography, creating an ever-changing environment for the island’s thriving populations of marine iguanas, cormorants and sea lions. (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Isabela
Trace the west coast of Isabela, one of the younger islands, formed by six shield volcanoes, five of which remain active. Be on deck for possible sightings of orcas and dolphins breaching the waters of Tagus Cove. Take a short but steep hike to Darwin Lake, a saltwater pool within a tuff cone frequented by land birds—ground and tree finches, large-billed flycatchers and sometimes the woodpecker finch, which awed Darwin with its remarkable use of twigs as a tool for feeding.
Observe the unusual results of geologic forces at Urbina Bay, where a 1954 volcanic uplift stranded nearly four miles of coral reef 15 to 20 feet above the water’s surface. On the arid shore you may encounter the largest land iguanas in the Galápagos as well as giant tortoises and flightless cormorants. Enjoy spectacular snorkeling in the bay. (B,L,D)
Day 7 — Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Island’s pristine white beaches, prickly pear cacti, vibrantly colored flamingos and prehistoric-looking iguanas make it an essential stop during a cruise of the archipelago. Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn more about efforts to protect the island’s rare giant tortoises. Its most famous resident until 2012 was an approximately 100-year-old tortoise known as “Lonesome George,” thought to be the last member of a now extinct subspecies from Pinta Island.
Transfer to the island’s cool, lush highlands for lunch amidst mist-covered forests.
This afternoon, choose from a variety of activities at your leisure. Kayak in the clear blue waters of secluded Tortuga Bay, watching for black turtles, colorful reef fish, marine iguanas and lava gulls. Hike or mountain bike along the island’s trails or simply walk on the white sand beach. (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Post Office Bay, Champion Islet and Cormorant Point, Floreana Island
The island of Floreana was one of the first in the archipelago to be settled by European whalers and buccaneers. Walk along the brackish lagoons and mangroves near Punta Cormorant, famous for the flamingoes and pelicans that congregate here.
Snorkel or cruise via Zodiac and glass-bottom boat in the clear waters surrounding pristine Champion Islet, encountering sea horses, sea turtles, sea lions, coral hawkfish and other aquatic wonders. Scan the skies and shorelines for possible sightings of the endemic Floreana Mockingbird, common to the islands when Darwin visited but critically endangered today.
Attend the Captain’s Farewell Reception this evening. (B,L,R,D)
Day 9-10 — Baltra Island, Guayaquil, Ecuador, U.S.
Dock at Baltra to disembark the ship. Fly to Guayaquil and enjoy dinner in the deluxe Hilton Colón Hotel, with late-evening departure to the U.S., or continue on to the Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley Post-Tour Option with an overnight in Guayaquil. Arrive in the U.S. (B,D)
All program features are contingent upon final brochure pricing.