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  • 1

    Start Quito.

    Those on group flights arrive in Quito this evening.

  • 2

    City tour of Quito.

    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 2800m 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.

  • 3

    Fly to San Cristobal; afternoon at the Galapagos Visitors' Centre.

    We transfer to the airport this morning to board our flight to the Galapagos Islands, which makes a short stop in Guayaquil en route. On arrival in San Cristobal, we settle into our hotel and have a light lunch in the small town before spending some time at the Galapagos Visitors' Centre. This afternoon we will also hike to the cliffs at Las Tijeteras to see colonies of frigatebirds, and there will be time for snorkelling close to a sea lion colony.

  • 4

    San Cristobal highlands walk; snorkelling at Puerto Chino.

    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.

  • 5

    Boat to Kicker Rock; walk along Playa Ochoa beach.

    This morning we take a boat to the picturesque Manglaralto Beach. There is time for snorkelling before we navigate around Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido), an impressive lava tuft formation, where we can observe several species of nesting sea birds, including frigatebirds, 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. Here we take a short walk along the sand amongst the marine iguanas of Playa Ochoa beach.

  • 6

    Sail to Floreana; afternoon visit highlands, caves and sealion colony.

    We board our boat this morning for the 3-hour navigation to Isla Floreana keeping our eyes open for whales, dolphins and sea birds en route. Upon arrival on Floreana, we have lunch followed by a walk to discover the black volcanic beaches, which are home to red iguanas and sea lion colonies.

  • 7

    Visit highlands of Floreana; sail to Isabela; visit the islets and lava channels of Las Tintoreras.

    After an early breakfast we visit the highlands of Floreana, where one of the few sources of fresh water in the entire archipelago exists. We visit lava caves once used by pirates who based themselves on the islands and see a large enclosure of Giant tortoises. Just before midday we navigate to Isabela, stopping at Tortuga Island, a huge eroded marine crater where thousands of sea birds such as Blue-footed and Nazca boobies, pelicans and frigatebirds 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 on Isabela island.

  • 8

    Start Sierra Negra Volcano trek.

    Today we begin our three day trek around the Sierra Negra Volcano. With its 9km diameter, the caldera of the Sierra Negra is the second largest in the world after the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. After loading our vehicle with all of the equipment and supplies that we need for the next few days, we will drive 45 minutes into the highlands to reach the start point of our walk to the volcano on the east side of the island. Our campsite will be pitched up close to the entrance whilst we start our trek towards 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 where we can observe steam fumaroles and a variety of lava formations.

  • 9

    Continue trek and camp on the rim of the crater.

    Today we walk to Volcan Azufre (Sulphur Volcano) whilst our gear is carried on horseback. The trek takes us alongside pastureland which soon changes into highland vegetation with many ferns and interesting plants to see en route. We camp close to the rim of the crater in a remote area at 900m. With good weather, there are excellent views of neighbouring Volcan Azul (Blue Volcano).

  • 10

    To Puerto Villamil via Giant tortoise breeding centre.

    After breakfast we descend into the crater to see the sulphur deposits, the fumaroles and the bizarre landscape. Our walk returns 100m uphill to the crater rim and then back to the entrance to the Sierra Negra where our vehicle will be waiting to return us to our guesthouse in Puerto Vilamil. On our way back we stop at a Giant tortoise breeding centre, which is home to tortoises of all ages and sizes.

  • 11

    Visit the historical 'Wall of Tears' on Isabela.

    Today begins with a trip to the Wall of Tears, a sad reminder of Isabela's very different past when the island was used as a penal colony. Between 1946 and 1959 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. After this sobering visit we 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 are likely to encounter several on our walk. The afternoon is free for snorkelling, walking or just relaxing on one of the lovely beaches around Puerto Viallamil.

  • 12

    Sail to Santa Cruz; visit Tortuga Bay.

    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, 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 located.

  • 13

    Explore Bartolome, North Seymour or Plazas Island; optional Charles Darwin Research Centre visit.

    Today we will visit either Bartolome Island, Plazas Island or North Seymour (depending on the National Park restrictions). 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 frigatebirds. 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 the Charles Darwin Research Centre which is home to the headquarters of the Charles Darwin Foundation. This 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 a day earlier or later, depending on timings.

  • 14

    Fly to Quito.

    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 for our last night in Quito.

  • 15

    End Quito.

    Those on group flights will be transferred to the airport for the return journey to London.

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