Today is a free day to relax and explore Quito. As the city is located 2,850 metres above sea level, you may experience some of the milder effects of altitude sickness, such as dizziness, insomnia and a shortness of breath. If so, we recommend you avoid any strenuous activity and rest today. Land Only clients should arrive at the start hotel today - there is a pre-departure meeting in the evening at 6pm when you'll have the opportunity to meet others travelling on your cruise to the Galapagos Islands.
This morning we are transferred to the airport for our flight to the Galapagos Islands. If you're following Itinerary A you will fly into Baltra, but if you're following Itinerary B you will fly into San Cristobal. On arrival you must pay the US$100 arrival tax for entry to the Galapagos National Park. This is best done using cash, as using credit cards can be time consuming. We are met in the arrival hall of the airport by our National Park Guide, and transferred to our catamaran 'M.C Queen Beatriz'. The rest of the schedule depends if you're following itinerary A or B (please ask your Sales consultant if you're not sure).
Itinerary A: Our first stop in the afternoon is Punta Carrion, located in north-eastern Santa Cruz. This is a shallow and protected cove, ideal for your first snorkel and swim in the Galapagos! Wildlife is plentiful; keep your eyes peeled for Blue-footed boobies, Galapagos herons and Great blue herons. Underwater, it's possible to see rays and White-tipped reef sharks.
Itinerary B: This afternoon we travel into the interior of the island to visit the highlands site of 'Galapaguera of Cerro Colorado' (Red Hill) where the national park has established a breeding program and information centre for tortoises. Here, we will be able to see giant tortoises in their natural habitat and learn all about their origin, evolution and their threatened future.
Itinerary A: Today we wake up on the South Coast of Isabela Island, the largest of the Galapagos Archipelago. Isabela was formed by five giant volcanic craters, all of which are still considered active. The island is located in one of the youngest geological areas in the world, having been formed less than 1 million years ago. This southern coast of turquoise blue waters has the largest area of beaches in the Galapagos. We visit Las Tintoreras, where from the viewing walkway you can look down into this narrow channel to see a colony of White-tipped reef sharks swimming and sleeping, and the occasional playful sea lion among them! Blue-footed boobies and penguins, Marine iguanas and crabs also make their home here, and the waters provide further opportunities to swim with turtles. Here we also visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre and the Wall of Tears, constructed from lava by prisoners of the penal colony here between 1946 and 1959 as punishment.
Itinerary B: Bartolomé is a relatively new island in the archipelago and traces of its volcanic past can be seen everywhere, as evidenced by the amazing lunar-like landscape. The Pinnacle Rock is one of the most photographed sites in the Galapagos - an abrupt jag of rock protruding from the earth like a tooth, while nearby two golden bays back onto each other. Here we can hike to the top of a once-active volcano and enjoy superb views across to Sullivan Bay, on nearby Santiago Island.
Itinerary A: The island of Floreana is a highlight of any Galapagos cruise, rich in natural wonders and wildlife. We go ashore at Punta Cormorant where the sand is made up of fine olivine crystals, a glassy volcanic mineral, giving the beach an olive-green colour. It is the best place to see Galapagos sea lions. Today is also one of our finest opportunities to see pink flamingos and other water birds wading in the lagoons, including Pintails and Stilts. Just offshore, the Devil's Crown is an old eroded volcanic cone and a popular roosting site for seabirds such as boobies, pelicans and frigates. Red-billed tropicbirds can also be seen nesting in the rocky crevices. The centre of the cone is an outstanding snorkelling spot, perhaps the most remarkable in the entire archipelago, full of sea lions and colourful fish. Floreana is also home to Post Office Bay, where 18th century whalers used a barrel as an unofficial mail drop. This custom continues to this day with visitors to the Galapagos - post one of your own, or see if there are any you could deliver back home!
Itinerary B: Today we visit some wonderful places. Espumilla Beach, on the northern coast of Santiago Island in James Bay, is one of the most idyllic locations in the Galapagos Islands and is an important nesting site for marine turtles. Espumilla beach is also well known for its Palo Santo Forest and some extraordinary lava formations. This morning we also visit Caleta Bucanero (Buccaneer Cove), a natural monument of rocks caused by sea erosion. This cove was used by pirates to careen their ships. It is a place of local legends and stories! Port Egas is a black sand beach located on the west side of James Bay and northwest of Santiago Island. South of the beach is Sugarloaf Volcano, which has deposits of volcanic tuff. This site is named Puerto Egas, after Hector Egas who last attempted to mine salt here. The walk along the beach offers hundreds of marine iguanas, California sea lions and Galapagos fur sea lions.
Itinerary A & B: Today we visit Santa Cruz, the second largest island in the Galapagos. The small town of Puerto Ayora is the economic centre of the archipelago, and home to the Charles Darwin Research Station. As well as undertaking vital conservation work, the station also makes for interesting exploration and offers the best opportunities for close encounters with giant tortoises. We also observe baby tortoises and land iguanas. Both itineraries return to Baltra after this mornings excursion for the flight back to Quito. If you have enjoyed the services provided by your guide and crew, a tip would be very much appreciated by them. Upon arrival in Quito Airport you are transferred back to our hotel for an overnight stay.
Our adventure comes to an end today after breakfast.