Join us for this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime voyage to experience firsthand why Charles Darwin made this keen yet simple observation of the Galápagos Islands. Today, the archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with 95 percent of its natural biodiversity, first encountered when a Spanish ship drifted off course in 1535, still intact. Home to the amazing exotic birds, plants and animals that inspired Darwin, this “living laboratory of evolution” continues to offer the excitement of original discovery to every visitor.
A team of multilingual onboard Ecuadorian expert naturalists will share their in-depth insight and knowledge about the Galápagos’ distinctive ecosystem during daily excursions and natural history lectures. The ship provides a glass-bottom boat to observe marine life, Zodiacs for island landings and excursions, complimentary snorkeling equipment and a nighttime stargazing program.
Monday, Day 1
Fly to Quito, the highest capital city in the world at 9,350 feet, and transfer to the HILTON COLÓN HOTEL. Surrounded by snowcapped peaks, yet only miles from the Equator, Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known for its magnificent Spanish colonial architecture and lively street life.
Tuesday, Day 2
Quito is a city of startling contrasts, where thousands of years of native South American traditions are interwoven with imported Catholicism, the Spanish language and European culture. Quaint family-owned shops and open-air markets are steps away from gleaming skyscrapers and ornate Spanish Baroque-style cathedrals favored by the Conquistadors. This morning, the panoramic tour through the heart of Quito features a visit to the noble, 16th-century church, Iglesia de San Francisco, the Moorish-influenced Catedral Metropolitana and Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesus, renowned for its lavish interiors decorated with an estimated seven tons of gold leaf. Visit Casa del Alabado, a private museum of pre-Columbian art housed in a colonial mansion built in the 17th century, which displays 500 of the 5,000 archaeological pieces owned by the museum. This evening, attend a private Welcome Reception in the hotel. (B,R)
Wednesday, Day 3
This morning, visit the Equator and stand with one foot in each hemisphere in the “middle of the world,” where an 18th-century multinational expedition located zero degrees latitude and established an accurate measurement of the earth’s size for the fi rst time. Step inside the hundred-foot-tall monument to this endeavor for spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and tour the Ethnographic Museum, illustrating the diversity of Ecuador’s indigenous peoples. The remainder of the day is at leisure to explore Quito at your own pace. (B)
Quito/Baltra, Galápagos Islands/Santa Cruz
Thursday, Day 4
Fly to the small Galápagos island of Baltra and embark the SANTA CRUZ II in time for lunch. Attend your first briefi ng by the ship’s English-speaking Ecuadorian naturalists while cruising to Santa Cruz Island. Pristine white beaches, prickly pear cacti, vibrantly colored fl amingos and prehistoric-looking iguanas make Santa Cruz Island an essential stop during a cruise around the archipelago. Aboard Zodiacs, explore the shores of beautiful mangrove-lined islets and seek out charming blue- and red-footed boobies, brown pelicans and magnifi cent frigatebirds, whose males puff up their bright red chests to impress potential mates. Make a dry landing in a small lagoon favored by elegant pink flamingos, and ascend Dragon Hill for spectacular views of the western islands and the chance to observe land iguanas. Attend the Captain’s Welcome Reception this evening. (B,L,R,D)
Friday, Day 5
Cruise through the Bolivar Channel, showcasing stunning views of the volcanic peaks of Isabela and Fernandina. Spend the morning at seahorse-shaped Isabela Island, one of the younger Galápagos islands, formed by six shield volcanoes. On the island’s arid shore you may encounter the largest land iguanas in the Galápagos as well as giant tortoises and flightless cormorants. You may snorkel in the waters off Punta Vicente Roca or search the northern shores for blue-footed boobies, Darwin’s finches and penguins that inhabit the area. Dominated by the sweeping slopes of La Cumbre Volcano, the moon-like landscapes of Fernandina Island are the most pristine and untouched of all the Galápagos Islands, home to the famous flightless cormorant, sea lions, marine iguanas, pelicans and penguins. Explore how recent volcanic activity has reshaped the island’s topography, creating an ever-changing environment for the thriving species found only in the Galápagos. (B,L,D)
Saturday, Day 6
Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn more about efforts to protect the island’s rare giant tortoises. Transfer to Santa Cruz’s cool, lush highlands for lunch amid mist-covered forests. This afternoon, choose from a variety of leisure activities. Swim in the clear blue waters of secluded Tortuga Bay, home to black turtles, colorful reef fish, marine iguanas and lava gulls. Walk through the island’s trails or simply stroll along the sparkling white sandy beaches, the perfect avenues to experience Santa Cruz. (B,L,D)
Post Office Bay, Floreana/Champion Islet/Cormorant Point
Sunday, Day 7
Floreana was one of the first islands in the archipelago to be settled by European whalers and buccaneers. At Post Office Bay, peruse the mail in the wooden barrel “post office,” established by whalers to transport letters home on passing ships. Discover a piece of mail to hand-deliver to its final destination, or leave a message to be delivered by a future visitor. Snorkel or cruise via Zodiac in the clear waters surrounding pristine Champion Islet, encountering sea horses, sea turtles, sea lions, coral hawkfish and other aquatic wonders. Scan the skies and shorelines for possible sightings of the endemic Floreana mockingbird, common to the islands when Darwin visited, but critically endangered today. Walk along the brackish lagoons and mangroves near Cormorant Point, famous for the flamingos and pelicans that congregate here. Attend the Captain’s Farewell Reception this evening. (B,L,R,D)
Monday, Day 8
Dock at Baltra to disembark the ship and board your late-morning flight to Guayaquil. Enjoy a day room in the HILTON COLÓN HOTEL. Depart late this evening for the U.S., or continue on the Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley Post-Tour Option. (B)
Tuesday, Day 9
Arrive in the U.S.
Please note that the itinerary and cruise pattern are dependent on weather, sea conditions and Galápagos National Park Service regulations.