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Essential Galapagos Islands

Extraordinary wildlife, clear turquoise waters, stark lava fields, giant mangroves, volcanoes, and forests of cactus… the Galapagos Islands are all this and more. Walk in the footsteps of Darwin, dive into Ecuadorian culture, and enjoy locally caught seafood. You cannot help but be enchanted by this astounding archipelago.


Day 1 - Arrive Quito, Ecuador

Welcome to Quito! This historic city has the distinction of being a UNESCO world heritage site because it is one of the best-preserved colonial cities in the Americas.

Day 2 - Quito

Following breakfast, we head out to explore Quito. Our city tour of Quito includes the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Basilica del Voto Nacional, the largest neo-Gothic Basilica in the Americas, and the baroque Jesuit church, La Compañia with its beautiful, gilded interior. We will also visit San Francisco Square, one of the most iconic destinations in Quito’s historic center. Here we will see the picture-perfect whitewashed San Francisco Church set against the dark green Pichincha Volcano.

Another stop is the Plaza Grande, which is surrounded by four historic buildings including the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Cathedral of Quito, and the Panecillo, a statue of the Virgin of Quito that protects the city.

Leaving Quito, we travel to the middle-of-the-world, Mitad-del-Mundo. At 0 degrees latitude, you will have the once in a lifetime experience of standing with both feet in each hemisphere. We have some free time this afternoon to explore the delights of Quito before our included dinner this evening at the hotel. (B,D)

Day 3 - Quito - Galapagos Islands

Quito – The big day has arrived when we head to the fabled Galapagos Islands. We land at Baltra Airport and take a short ferry ride to Santa Cruz Island where our Naturalist Guide from the Galapagos National Park Service, will be waiting for us. The government of Ecuador has designated 97% of the area of the Galapagos Islands, as a National Park, Ecuador’s first. The remaining 3% includes the inhabited areas of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Baltra, Floreana, and Isabella. The Galapagos National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today we will tour the Charles Darwin Research Station, a nonprofit organization that works with the Galapagos National Park and the Government of Ecuador to preserve the biodiversity of these unique islands. We will explore the Exhibition Hall with its rotating photography exhibit, natural history collections, and marvel at the impressive skeleton of a Bryde whale.

A fascinating aspect of this visit is to learn about the important projects the Station is involved in with its partner organization, the National Park. One of the projects includes a program to protect native species from foreign invasive species. Another important program involves the reproduction of the legendary giant tortoises in captivity, which is so important to keep this species flourishing. After learning about the ecology of the islands we will visit the station’s giant tortoise hatchery. Afterward, we will take a walk through a forest of giant cactus and other plants in search of wildlife. Our guide will assist us in spotting endemic Darwin finches, as well as flycatchers, and mockingbirds.

Wildlife Highlights: Galapagos giant tortoise & land iguanas breeding program, Darwin finches, Galapagos mockingbirds, Galapagos flycatchers, and yellow warblers.

Trail: 2 km / 1,2 mi

Day 4 - Isabella Island

Shaped like a seahorse, Isabella Island is one of the younger islands formed by the joining of six volcanoes. The first thing that will catch your eye is the extensive lava fields and the nice views of three of the most active volcanoes in the Galapagos, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul on Isabella Island and La Cumbre on Ferandina Island.

At first glance, the landscape looks lifeless but as you head inland you will come upon oasis-like lagoons where you will find abundant wildlife such as flamingoes, gallinules, ducks and herons. Along the shore, look for penguins, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies, sea lions, oystercatchers, and other shore birds.

Wildlife Highlights: American flamingoes, ducks, gallinules, penguins, flightless cormorants, marine iguanas, sea lions, Galapagos mockingbirds, Darwin finches. Look for seahorses in the long seaweed and go snorkeling in search of sea turtles, flightless cormorants, and many species of fish.

Our second excursion of the day is to Elizabeth Bay, located on the east coast of the island. It is a beautiful, sheltered bay that is surrounded by large mangroves that give way to lava fields making it the perfect habitat for wildlife to thrive.

Our visit here is by dinghy because this is a marine site without a trail and no landing area. We will explore the bay’s many channels, pools, inlets, and coves that are teeming with wildlife. This is one of the best locations to see Galapagos penguins, but don’t expect to see thousands of them, as their entire population is estimated at only 3,000. Other birds you might see are Flightless Cormorants that tend to nest here, blue-footed boobies, and brown pelicans. Elizabeth Bay is also home to a fascinating array of underwater life. Keep your eyes peeled for green turtles, white tip sharks, golden rays, and eagle rays. On this trip, an underwater camera is a plus.

Wildlife Highlights: Galapagos hawks, sea turtles, rays, Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants, herons.

Day 5 - Isabella Island

Our destination today is Urbina Bay, known for an uplift event that raised 385 acres of the seabed by 13 feet in 1954. The uplift happened so quickly that turtles, fish, lobsters, and other marine life were stranded. Today coral heads are still visible. Exposed to the air and elements, the coral is deteriorating and won’t be visible much longer.

You have the choice of walking a short trail, which is less than a mile or the long trail that is just less than two miles. If you take the long trail, you will see coral heads. As you walk along the trail that takes you from the beach to the interior of the island look for small shells and corals, proof that this area was once under water.

Urbina is one of the best places to see land iguanas with their specially textured yellowish skin. They can sometimes be seen sunbathing on the trail. Along your walk you may also see wild Giant Tortoises among the bushes, Flightless Cormorants, Flycatchers, Darwin’s finches, mockingbirds, and Galapagos hawks that nest here and are often seen flying or perched on the trees. 

Snorkel: You can snorkel from the beach to observe sea turtles, cormorants, and penguins, as well as colorful fish.

Trail: Short trail: 1,2 km / 0,7 mi. Long Trail: 3,0 km / 1,8 mi

Wildlife Highlights: Brown Pelican, Darwin’s Finches, Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Dove, Galapagos Giant Tortoise, Galapagos Green Turtle, Galapagos Hawk, Galapagos Land Iguana, Galapagos Lava Heron, Galapagos Lava Lizard, Galapagos Marine Iguana, Galapagos Mockingbird, Galapagos Penguin, Great Blue Heron, Vermilion Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Our next stop is Tagus Cove, one of the places that Charles Darwin visited during his exploration of the Galapagos Islands. The Cove has an interesting history as pirates and whalers frequented this area. Today, we will walk through the dry Palo Santo Forest where we might see Darwin finches and mockingbirds. Our destination is Darwin Lake where we will see a lagoon in a crater filled with salt water. The walk is short but steep. When we reach the top ridge, we are rewarded with stunning views that are well worth the walk.

Our visit here concludes with a boat tour along the shore where we might see penguins along the cliffs, cormorants, marine iguanas, tree and ground finches, and a very unique species: the Galapagos martin, a small endemic bird which is one of the most endangered species on the island.

Snorkel: The nutrient-rich waters of Tagus Cove attract a wide variety of marine life. You may spot sharks, sea turtles, sea stars, and a great diversity of fish as well as penguins that feast on large schools of anchovies. It is also common to see cormorants’ underwater chasing fish through the reef.

Wildlife Highlights: Galapagos hawks, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, herons, penguins, sea turtles, sea stars. 

Trail: 2,6 km / 1,6 mi

Day 6 - Fernandina Island

Fernandina Island sits at the center of the hot spot that created the Galapagos Islands. It is the third largest and youngest island of the Galapagos as well as the furthest west. It has the most active of the Galapagos volcanoes and is without human population. The most recent eruption was in 2009. It is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the Ecuadorian National Park system. Our destination here is Punta Espinosa that has a large land iguana population, which nests both on the rim of the caldera and in its depths. As soon as you disembark you will be surrounded by hundreds of marine iguanas, as this is the largest colony for the species. Sea lions bask on the beach while their pups play in tide pools. Along the shore you will see flightless cormorants, which are restricted to the western areas of the archipelago.

Surrounded by cold plankton-rich waters, Punta Espinosa is home for an array of species, including herons, pelicans, oystercatchers, sea turtles, shorebird and many more. Galapagos penguins prefer the colder water and are likely to be found here to. Don’t forget to look up into the mangroves where Galapagos hawks often perch to look for their prey. The allure of this island is that it is so unspoiled.

Wildlife Highlights: Galapagos hawks, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, penguins, sea turtles, sea lions, herons, oystercatchers, shorebirds, sally light-foot crabs. 

Trail: 1.6 km / 1 mi

Snorkel: You can snorkel from the beach and explore the rocky ocean floor, which is excellent place to see fish, turtles, sea lions, and reef sharks.

Wildlife Highlights: Galapagos sea lions, Galapagos fur seals, oystercatchers, marine & land iguanas, Galapagos hawks, herons, shorebirds, Darwin finches, Galapagos doves.

Our second excursion of the day is to Vicente Roca Point. Although we cannot land here it is a great location to see the spectacular volcanic features of this landscape. There is no trail here, but you will take a dinghy tour along the shore that includes steep rock walls and a large cave. You can observe various seabirds nesting and fishing along the cliffs including flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies, and brown noddies, among others. If you are lucky, you may also see pelicans, Galapagos fur seals, marine iguanas, whales, and dolphins.

Snorkel:  This is one of the best places to snorkel with sea turtles because there are so many of them. Also look for penguins, sea lions, cormorants, rays, and many different species of fish. Look for fan corals, sponges and other invertebrates growing on the walls.

Wildlife Highlights: Marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, penguins, sea turtles, fur seals, Nazca & blue-footed boobies.

Day 7 - Santiago & Rabida Island

Santiago Island is known for its interesting history and its stunning volcanic formations formed by two overlapping shield volcanoes and, for its basaltic lava flows. From the pirates and buccaneers of the 1700s and 1800s to Charles Darwin, who used Santiago as a resupply base in 1835, this island has a long and interesting history. Our destination today is Puerto Egas, where we will see a few remnants of the last attempts to colonize the island during the 60s and an astounding array of wildlife. Our trail today follows the coastline that is alive with wildlife. Look for marine iguanas basking in the sun, Galapagos sea lions, herons, oystercatchers, and many other shorebirds. This island’s beaches are important nesting sites for Green Sea Turtles. They lay their eggs in January with babies hatching in May.

A highlight of today’s walk is a place called “the grottos.” It is the best place to get up close to cute Galapagos fur seals. A recent conservation victory in 2019 was the reintroduction of land iguanas that have been extinct extinct here for more than a century.

Snorkel: You can snorkel from the beach to see fish, turtles, sea lions, and reef sharks that inhabit the rocky bottom of the ocean floor.

Wildlife Highlights: Galapagos sea lions, Galapagos fur seals, oystercatchers, marine & land iguanas, Galapagos hawks, herons, shorebirds, Darwin finches, Galapagos doves.

Trail: 2,3 km / 1,4 mi

Our next stop is the small island of Rabida, which is famous for its reddish lava rocks that are rich in iron. The deep red shade of the sand surrounded by luxuriant green foliage makes Rabida one of the most photogenic landscapes in the archipelago. Expect a warm welcome here from the resident sea lion colony, flamingos feeding on shrimp, and ducks frolicking in the brackish saltwater pool behind the beach. Our walk today takes us inland for beautiful views of the beach and the lagoon. Along the way, look for Darwin finches, flycatchers, and mockingbirds. In the cliffs and along the coast you might be lucky enough to spot Nazca & blue-footed boobies, brown noddy, herons, marine iguanas, lava lizards, and two species of sea lions: Galapagos and fur seals. 

Snorkel: You can snorkel from the beach and explore a sheltered rocky area, which is an excellent place to see fish, sea lions, green sea turtles, eagle rays, eels, and reef sharks.

Wildlife Highlights: Red-sand beach, Galapagos sea lions, Galapagos hawks, flycatchers, Darwin finches, Galapagos mockingbirds, ducks, flamingoes. 

Trail: 2 km / 1,2 mi

Day 8 - Santa Cruz Island - Quito

Today we return to Santa Cruz Island. Our final excursion is to Black Turtle Cove, an estuary that is home to some remarkable species of animals and plants. It gets its name from the abundance of green see turtles found here that are called “tortugas negras” by the locals. Landing is prohibited on this scenic boat cruise but there is plenty to see in the shallow channels and small coves that are surrounded by beautiful mangrove forests. Green sea turtles use this cove for mating and lay more than 200 eggs here in January. Other species you might encounter include blacktip reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, eagle, golden, and mustard rays, pelicans, and boobies. As boats must turn their motors off during this cruise, so you will rarely hear more than the sounds of nature, as you quietly say goodbye to the Galapagos Islands and its wondrous wildlife.

After our on the water excursion, we will transfer to the airport for our flight back to continental Ecuador where our tour ends.

Wildlife Highlights: White-tipped and black-tipped reef sharks, green see turtles, rays, herons, blue-footed boobies, and mangroves.

Tour Details

Hotel / Lodging
(or similar)

2-Nights Quito
5-Nights First Class M/C EcoGalaxy

JW Marriott Hotel Quito

Elevate your Ecuador adventures at JW Marriott Hotel Quito providing a premier location amidst enchanting destinations such as Santo Domingo Church, the House of Ecuadorian Culture and Old Town, known for its cobbled streets, colonial churches and historic plazas.

M/C EcoGalaxy

Explore the “Enchanted Islands” on board the M/C EcoGalaxy a First Class Catamaran, built for sailing the Galapagos Islands while preserving its fragile ecosystem, and of course its beauty.




18 Meals: 7 Breakfasts | 5 Lunches | 6 Dinners
Welcome Cocktail
Unlimited Purified Water, Coffee & Tea

Trip Highlights

Local Assistance in Quito with a Tours of Distinction Concierge
Incredible Wildlife Encounters
Opportunities for Snorkeling and Kayaking
Charles Darwin Research Station
Elizabeth Bay, Moreno Point, Urbina Bay, Tagus Cove, Espinoza & Vicente Roca Points, Egas Port, Rabida and Black Turtle Cove

Upcoming Departures

Tour DatesAvailabilityDeparture Points 
Check back soon for upcoming departures, or call us at 1-800-426-4324 for more information!

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