DAY 1: ARRIVE TO SAN CRISTOBAL / VISIT THE INTERPRETATION CENTER / HIKE TIJERETAS & SNORKEL AT PUNTA CAROLA
After transferring from the airport to your hotel, visit the interpretation center to learn about the fascinating natural, geologic, scientific, cultural, and social history of the Galapagos. Then continue from the interpretation center on a short hike up to Cerro de Las Tijeretas. Along the walk, your guide will explain to you about the native and endemic vegetation as well as the birds and lizards you are bound to see. Tijeretas offers stunning views of both the land and the sea, and it is the point where Darwin first landed to the Galapagos. This cove offers some of the islands best snorkeling, as you will be surrounded by fish of every color, as well as sea lions and the occasional sea turtle. This is also a good spot to view sea cucumbers, sea anemones, sea urchins and other marine invertebrates
On the return walk, we will pass by Punta Carola. Lay down next to sea lions and marine iguanas on its long sandy beach, swim, snorkel, or do all of the above. After soaking it all in, we walk back to our hotel. In the evening, we recommend you take a 5 minute stroll to the end of the boardwalk to view the colony of many endemic Galapagos sea lions. (L)
DAY 2: SNORKEL LEON DORMIDO AND ISLA LOBOS / HIKE EL JUNCO
This morning, we head out on an incredible snorkeling adventure. Our first stop is Isla Lobos, where you are bound to experience one of the most amazing sea lion encounters in the Galapagos. This is also one of the best sites in the archipelago to snorkel with marine iguanas and the variety and colors of the fish species will dazzle you. We then head to Leon Dormido, two breathtaking rock massifs (tuff cones) jutting out from the sea. Above sea level, its rock walls are home to thousands of sea birds and below, to millions of fish. Snorkelers will likely see Galapagos sharks, spotted eagle rays and golden rays, as well as multitudes of reef fish, starfish, clams and marine invertebrates. There is also a good opportunity to see hammerhead sharks.
In the afternoon, we embark on a short hike to an extinct volcano crater filled with the Galapagos´ only permanent freshwater lake. The hike up provides magnificent views and an introduction to the Galapagos´ native plant species. The lake itself is home to frigate birds, common gallinules, and white-cheeked pintail ducks, among others. We will hopefully witness frigate birds washing the salt from their feathers in the lakes’ calm waters. We then leave this mist-shrouded environment and head only a few miles to a sunny beach one could confuse for paradise. After a morning under the sea and an afternoon on a volcano and beach, spend a leisurely evening enjoying your last night on San Cristobal. (B, L)
DAY 3: HIKE ISABELA´S COAST / EXPLORE WILDLIFE-RICH ISLETS
Take an early morning transfer to Isabela Island. This island, formed by 6 shield volcanoes, is the largest in the archipelago. 5 of the volcanoes remain active, making this one of the most volcanically active places on earth. After we arrive, we set out on one of the most scenically-varied hikes in the Galapagos. We will start out along the white sand beach, before continuing onto mangroves, then to a lava tunnel, followed by an alluring poison apple forest, before cutting away from the coastline and entering the territory of hundreds of Galapagos tortoises. After hiking up to a stunning lookout, we continue on to the Wall of Tears - a historic site that dates back to when Isabela was used as a penal colony. The prisoners built the wall with lava rocks for the sole purpose of staying distracted from the madness of isolation.
In the afternoon, we explore Tintoreras, a beautiful set of islets filled with wildlife. The white sands, black stones, turquoise seas, and green mangroves make for a magical setting. This wonderland is home to the Galapagos penguin, which looks so adorably out of place in this tropical environment. As we explore the many small beaches and coves, you should also see sharks, sea lions, and sea turtles. At the end of the day, we unwind in Puerto Villamil, the island´s lazy beach town with calming vibes, sand streets, and pink flamingos. (B, L, D)
DAY 4: HIKE IN AN OTHERWORLDLY VOLCANIC LANDSCAPE
Do your day packs and prepare yourself for a walk into a world of recent geological history. Hike through the highlands while taking in the gorgeous vistas until you arrive at the rim of Sierra Negra volcano, an active caldera that last erupted in October of 2005. We hike along the rim of this colossal 6x5 mile-wide (9x8 km) lava-filled crater.
We may continue our hike into the caldera of Volcan Chico. Here, you will explore incredible lava formations and puffing fumaroles. Endless hues of reds, blacks, oranges and yellows make up this otherworldly landscape. Eventually, we return to the coast to enjoy our last afternoon and sunset on the exotic white sand beaches of this tranquil beach town. (B, L, D)
DAY 5: MEET THE HOME OF LONESOME GEORGE AND HIKE WITH WILD TORTOISES
After an early breakfast, we take a fast boat to Santa Cruz Island, where it may be possible to see whales (seasonal) and dolphins. On arrival, we head to the highlands to find the Giant Galapagos Tortoise in its natural habitat. Along the hike, you will learn all about these lumbering giants, both from your naturalist guide and from your own observation. We will also encounter other highland wildlife such as finches, flycatchers, egrets, pintail ducks and frigate birds bathing in freshwater lakes. Additionally, you have the chance to walk through lava tunnels. As you explore these underground formations, your guide will tell you stories about pirates hiding Inca gold in these volcanic caves.
We then continue even farther up into the highlands to find two deep volcanic sinkholes. We walk around these sinkholes and through a forest of the beautiful and endemic scalesia tree. The forest has an almost eerie feel to it, as the trees are covered in epiphytes and ferns. Here, we are on the lookout for the short- eared owl, one of the two species of owl on the Galapagos. We then drive back down to the coast, where you will have a chance to sample the dining and nightlife of Galapagos’ largest town. (B, L)
DAY 6: HIKE CROCKET HILL, PUNTUDO VOLCANO & TORTUGA BAY
Start out your morning with a hike in Santa Cruz´s incredible cloud forest. Our goal will be to summit 864 meters Cerro Crocker, the highest point on the island. Here, we have another chance to view the giant tortoise in its natural habitat, as well as a resplendent red bird called the vermillion flycatcher. This hike also affords extraordinary views of the Media Luna crater. After a trail through endemic Miconia forest, we arrive at the summit with stunning views of the coastline far below. We will also attempt to summit a small but steep odd-looking cinder cone volcano called Puntudo.
After lunch, we take a short hike through a unique dry forest habitat dominated by an endemic cactus that has a trunk like a tree. The walk is very beautiful and will afford you sightings of many finches and mockingbirds, but when you arrive at Tortuga Bay Beach, you will be astounded by its beauty. Here, you will share the azure waters and white sands with marine iguanas and sea turtles. The beach is actually named after the hundreds of sea turtles that are born on its sands annually and must make a mad dash to the sea before falling prey to predatory birds. Return to town and spend the evening at leisure. (B, L)
DAY 7: TRANSFER TO BALTRA AIRPORT
Today, we transfer to Baltra airport for our flight back to the mainland. (B)