Those on group flights arrive in Quito this evening.
This morning, we have a short guided tour of the main sights of Quito. It is the second highest capital in the world, standing at 2,850m on the western cordillera of the Andes, and one of the smaller and more attractive of the colonial capitals of South America. Because of the altitude, visitors to Quito are advised to take it easy at first.
We transfer to the airport this morning and board a flight to the Galapagos Islands, with a short stop in Guayaquil. On arrival in San Cristobal, we walk to our hotel and after a light lunch in the small town of Puerto Baquerizo, visit the Galapagos Visitors' Centre. This afternoon we will also hike to the cliffs at Las Tijeteras to see colonies of Frigate Birds, and there will be time for snorkelling close to a sea lion colony.
After breakfast we drive to the highlands of San Cristobal. A short 1 hour walk brings us to the fringe of El Junco Lake, one of the few permanent freshwater lakes in the Galapagos. We may see White-cheeked Pintail Ducks and the endangered Chatham mockingbird near the lake. The San Cristobal highlands offer panoramic views across the smaller islands lapped by the Pacific. Afterwards we visit a reserve where the famous Giant Galapagos tortoises roam free, before snorkelling in a nearby bay. In the evening, the Loberia is the perfect place to unwind surrounded by colonies of sea lions and marine iguanas.
This morning we sail to the picturesque Manglaralto Beach. There is time for snorkelling before we sail around Kicker Rock (or Leon Dormido), an impressive lava tuft formation, where we can observe several species of nesting sea birds, including frigate birds, blue-footed and masked boobies. We then continue to Playa Ochoa, which is dominated by a large sea lion colony as well as being home to many birds and marine iguanas. Take a short stroll along the sand amongst the marine iguanas of Playa Ochoa beach, and take a dip in the ocean for snorkelling with the playful sea lions close to Isla Lobos.
We board our boat this morning for the 3-hour navigation to Isla Floreana and watch for whales, dolphins and sea birds en route. Upon arrival on Floreana, we have lunch followed by a walk to explore the black volcanic beaches, which are home to red iguanas and sea lion colonies.
After an early breakfast we explore the highlands of Floreana, where we can see one of the few sources of fresh water in the entire archipelago, visit lava caves once used by pirates who based themselves on the islands and see a large enclosure of giant tortoises. At around 11 o'clock, we navigate to Isabela, stopping at Tortuga Island, a huge eroded marine crater where thousands of sea birds such as blue and nazca boobies, pelicans and frigate birds nest. We arrive at Puerto Villamil for lunch, then in the afternoon sail out of the town to the islets and lava channels of Las Tintoreras, one of the best places in the islands to see white-tipped reef sharks, as well as penguins and sea lions. We spend the night in a small guesthouse.
The Sierra Negra Caldera has a 9km diameter and is the second largest in the world after Ngorongoro in Tanzania. We load our vehicle with all the equipment and water and drive one hour into the highlands where we begin our walk to the volcano on the east side of the island. Our campsite will be pitched up while we start our trek toward Volcan Chico. The walk takes us across stark lava-strewn highlands punctuated with miconia shrubs and other vegetation. The otherworldly landscapes are incredible, and we pass many volcanic features along the way. Here we can observe steam fumaroles and a variety of lava formations. We camp at a place close to the entrance of Sierra Negra.
Today we walk to Volcan Azufre. Our gear is carried on horseback. In the afternoon we descend into the crater to see the sulfur deposits, the fumaroles of Volcan Azufre and the bizarre landscape. We camp close to the rim of the crater at 900m in a remote area with good views of neighbouring Volcan Azul (Blue Volcano).
After breakfast we walk across lava fields and after approx. 4 hours walking, we reach the entrance of the Sierra Negra. After a packed lunch we walk down to rejoin the vehicles for the drive back to our hotel. On our way back we stop at a tortoise breeding centre, which is home to tortoises of all ages and sizes.
We will start the day with a trip to The Wall of Tears, a sad reminder of Isabela's very different past. The island was used a penal colony and between 1946 and 1959 the convicts were forced to build this wall from huge blocks of lava simply as a form of punishment, which combined with the harsh conditions, led to many deaths. We will then hike back to the town through the mangroves, wetlands and along sandy beaches of the coast. This is one of the best places on the islands to view migratory birds, including Wilson's phalarope, the Blue-winged teal and if we're very lucky, even osprey. This region has also seen the reintroduction of giant tortoises from the breeding centre into the wild and we hope to encounter some on our walk. The afternoon is free for snorkelling, walking or just relaxing on one of the fine beaches around Puerto Viallamil.
This morning we navigate to Santa Cruz, where we arrive in time for lunch at one of the local restaurants. Our destination this afternoon is Tortuga Bay, a 1km stretch of white sand regarded as one of the best beaches in the Galapagos. The trail leading to the beach is paved and takes between 45 minutes to 1 hour, with possibilities to observe Galapagos finches and lizards along the way. The beach is scattered with marine iguana's, who lay amongst the clusters of black rocks or stroll along the sand. In the waters, marine turtles can sometimes be seen. Swimming is not recommended here due to strong currents. After a relaxing afternoon, we'll hike the same route back towards the main town of Puerto Ayora where our hotel is.
Today, according to park restrictions, we will visit either the Bartolome Island, Plazas Island or North Seymour. South Plazas Island has a remarkable vegetation of succulents and cacti that provide a unique habitat for land iguanas. The iguanas form small colonies at the base of the tall opuntia cacti, waiting for their flowers and dead pads to fall to the ground so they can feed on them. The island's rocks are home to swallowtail gulls, shearwaters and sea lions. North Seymour is a flat, boulder-strewn island and is a major nesting site for frigate birds. It's also a good place to see blue-footed boobies performing their courtship rituals, as well as sea lions playing in the powerful surf. Bartolome is a spectacular scene of dramatic lava cones, perfect clear turqoise sea and affords perhaps the most famous view of the Galapagos Islands, looking across the red cinder cones to the recent black lava fields on James Island. After our return to Puerto Ayora, there will be time to visit to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. The headquarters of the Charles Darwin Foundation, the station is the main research centre on the islands and many visiting scientists come from all over the world to study the flora and fauna. Please note that our schedule for visiting the Charles Darwin Centre is flexible and it may be more convenient for this visit to take place on day 12 or 14, depending on timings.
After breakfast this morning we drive to the airport at Baltra. We fly to Quito around midday, with a stop in Guayaquil, and transfer to our hotel. The rest of the day is free to explore Quito.
Bedecked with traditional handicrafts, the market in the small town of Otavalo is a great spot for last minute souvenirs. The distinctive textiles have been weaved by Otavalo Indians for generations, who often wear their traditional dress. We have lunch at a nice hosteria and afterwards visit Parque Condor, a rehabilitation centre for Andean birds of prey including condors and owls. Many of the birds in the park were rescued from illegal captivity or inadequate housing, and the project's aim is to eventually release them back into the wild. Traditional materials and plants have been used in the park to recreate the natural habitat of the birds as closely as possible.
Those on group flights will be transferred to the airport for the return journey to London.