If flying Iberia or Continental, you should plan to arrive the evening of this day and head to the hotel. The group flights usually arrive this evening.
When the group flight is KLM, it will be met at the airport and transferred to the hotel this morning. At around 11:30 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. On the upper part we start a walk around El Junco Lake (approx. 1 hour) a place to observe birds, plants and, on a clear day, enjoy magnificent views of the islands. Afterwards we take our bus 30 minutes north to visit a 'galapaguera' where many of the Galapagos tortoises live free in a breeding reserve closely resembling their natural habitat. In the afternoon we continue to the beautiful bay of Puerto Chino, where we have time to snorkel, and we visit the Loberia to observe colonies of sea lions and marine iguanas.
This morning we sail to the lovely 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. We will walk on the beach and there will be some time for swimming and snorkelling with the playful sea lions close to Isla Lobos before we return to our hotel on San Cristobal.
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 colonie
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 sail 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 (700m asl) 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 walk we reach the entrance of 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.
This morning we navigate to Santa Cruz, where we arrive in time for lunch at one of the local restaurants. In the afternoon we will head into the highlands, passing through changing zones of vegetation until we reach the Santa Cruz Tortoise Reserve. Some of the tortoises here weigh up to 300 kg, and the reserve is also home to many small and colourful birds. We will also explore one of the many lava tunnels of Santa Cruz before returning to our hotel for dinner this evening.
This morning we navigate to Santa Cruz, where we arrive in time for lunch at one of the local restaurants. In the afternoon we will head into the highlands, passing through changing zones of vegetation until we reach the Santa Cruz Tortoise Reserve. Some of the tortoises here weigh up to 300 kg, and the reserve is also home to many small and colourful birds. En route we also stop at Los Gemelos ('the twins'), a pair of 30 metre deep craters created either by volcanic eruptions or the collapse of magma chambers. We will also explore one of the many lava tunnels of Santa Cruz before returning to our hotel for dinner this evening.
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 Center. 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 Center 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.
Today we have a full day visit to Otavalo, a small town famous for its traditional handicraft market. The local Otavalo Indians are well known for weaving, and the market is a great place to pick up their distinctive textiles as well as to see the Indians in 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.
The trip ends after breakfast in Quito. Those on group flights will be transferred to the airport for the return journey to London.
The group flights should arrive in London in the afternooon.