On this superlative adventure, you leave the typical cruise-based trip to someone else and authentically experience the islands on a land-based, lodge-to-lodge adventure that tours both the Galápagos Islands and the Amazon rainforest and highlands in the Andes Mountains. You'll stay at beautiful local lodges during your vacation and experience a perfect, shorter alternative to our award winning Galapagos Unbound adventure.
Few places on earth allow for such close contact with wildlife as does Ecuador. It's true, all you need is Ecuador to quench your thirst for vacation. Words simply cannot describe the intense wonder you experience while exploring these oceanic islands, Amazonian rainforest and Andean highlands, where the birds and animals have little fear of humans.
Play in the water with sea lions, get within a few feet of blue footed boobies, marine iguanas and the giant Galápagos tortoises. Watch pelicans and boobies dive for fish, snorkel in transparent water rich with sea-life and even swim with sharks if you dare. Walk to the peaks of Cotopaxi or discover an ancient world in the Amazon jungle. Nothing can prepare you for the life-changing experience you have while visiting Ecuador on this tour fit for royalty!
Galápagos Unbound and parent company ROW Adventures pioneered land-based travel to the Galápagos and has been featured in the New York Times on several occasions for our work in Ecuador. We've also been named Best Tour Operator in the World by Travel + Leisure Magazine and Best Tour Operator on Earth by National Geographic.
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Arrival on Baltra: The tiny island of Baltra was a military base during the Second World War and has been the Galapagos’ principal airport for many years. The good news is that to protect the local environment the airport has been rebuilt, this time using the most advanced environmental techniques to reduce emissions and energy use. This is the first ecological airport in the world.
At the airport you will be met by our expert local guide who will give you useful background information before we transfer to Santa Cruz which involves public transport (no private vehicles permitted) overland to the Itabaca Channel and a short crossing on the public ferry. Now our journey really begins, with a visit to the impressive Los Gemelos craters and a look at the highland Galapagos tortoises.
At mid-day we enjoy a tasty specially prepared boxed lunch en route to the town of Puerto Ayora where our private speed boat will be waiting to take us on a two hour ride to the island of Floreana.
This peaceful island is home to the Galapagos’ smallest population, only 150 people, and is also the least developed and most natural of the four inhabited islands. Once a pirates’ lair, Floreana was the first inhabited island in the Galapagos and descendents of the original population still live here together with the mysterious tales and legends that surround their ancestors.
On Floreana we will be hiking, learning about the fascinating history of the local people, and seeing some of the Galapagos special wildlife (giant tortoises, frigate birds, Darwin's finches, sea lions, and petrels).
We check in at our lodge overlooking the Galapagos’ most beautiful and secluded bay. After that we will walk for 30 minutes towards La Loberia (a sea lion breeding ground) and then for our first marine encounter, snorkeling and swimming in the warm bright water with sea turtles, sea lions, spectacular rays and lots of shimmering fishes
In the afternoon we return to the lodge for a nice warm shower and dinner in the village.
Night Activity (weather permitting): star gazing
After breakfast we leave to explore the Floreana highlands on our open-air bus (chiva), an unbeatable, historic, and comfortable way to see the island.
On the way our Naturalist Guide will point out the wildlife and give us an idea of the colorful history of some of Floreana's first inhabitants, such as the Wittmers (whose descendents still live on the Island), the ‘Baroness’, and the pirates that once visited here. They will also tell you about the "Enigma of Floreana", involving the mysterious deaths of several of the Island«s inhabitants, a riddle that has never been solved.
After driving into the highlands, we reach Asilo de la Paz (Peace Haven) where our hike begins. We walk up to this historic site, explore pirate caves, and visit the freshwater spring that provides water for the entire Island. Along the way, you can expect to see giant tortoises lumbering around in the vegetation or even on the trail. We leave Asilo de Paz walking down through a rural area where the local people grow produce for their own consumption: this is a fascinating example about how these island people survived in this remote place and over the years were able to develop an understanding of the local environment and now work to preserve their unique agricultural knowledge. Once back on the coast we will be able to watch the extraordinary behavior of the frigate birds who ‘dance’ as they wash their salty wings in the fresh water. With a little bit of luck, we may be able to see males puffing up the red pouches on their chests in an attempt to attract females.
From La Primavera we continue by Chiva down towards Las Palmas, where the Island’s first permanent inhabitant, the eccentric Dr Ritter, lived and is buried. Arriving in 1926, this German physician believed that with a combination of exercise and the right vegetarian diet he would live to be 150 years old. He didn't, but his story is one of the many strange episodes that still abound on the island. On the way we will see spectacular views of the Floreana shoreline, and on arrival sit down to a special BBQ.
In the afternoon, back at the lodge, we do more marine exploration, snorkeling, kayaking and stand up paddling, SUP, our newest water activity. It is lots of fun, so come and learn how to walk on water.
Today we take an early morning speed boat and transfer to Isabela Island where we will check into our hotel.
Our Isabela adventure begins with a tour of the Tintoreras, a group of small islands near the village of Puerto Villamil, that are named after the white tipped ‘Tintoreras’ reef sharks that swim in these calm waters. A Galapagos in miniature on the Tintoreras you will see almost all of the archipelago’s iconic wildlife: white tipped sharks, sea lions, turtles, rays, penguins, and of course pelicans and blue footed boobies. You will have a chance to snorkel in the bay Ð and don’t be surprised if some of the penguins or sea lions jump in to play alongside you in the water.
In the afternoon we walk from our hotel to the local giant tortoise-breeding center and on the way we may catch a glimpse of pink flamingos feeding in a lake. Once at the Center our guides will explain the process of breeding and then releasing into the wild these giant slow moving creatures whose Spanish name (meaning saddle) gave the Islands their present title. The breeding center is an important conservation tool and it is here that the islands’ giant tortoise population is presently recovering.
Volcanic eruptions created all the islands in the Galapagos, and you will get to see this geologic process first-hand as we explore Isabela, one of the youngest and most volcanically-active islands of the archipelago.
We have the whole day to explore the Isabela highlands, and we start by hiking up to the crater of the Sierra Negra volcano, and then to the rim of the Volcan Chico. This fascinating walk usually begins with some morning fog and drizzle which sometimes persists in the shadow of the volcano, adding to its mysterious character. But when we reach the rim of the Sierra Negra crater, the second largest in the world after the Ngorongoro in Tanzania, you will see why it has been worthwhile. The crater is so large, and the views so expansive, that photos don’t even do it justice, but you should bring your binoculars and camera anyway!
Later, as we head towards Volcan Chico, you may get the feeling you are walking on Mars, but while the landscape appears desolate, a closer look reveals small lizards, scurrying about amongst the rocks.
After Volcan Chico under the shade of a lovely jaboncillo tree we enjoy a well prepared picnic lunch with the chance to enjoy some spectacular views over the central and northern parts of Isabela Island. In the distance, you will be able to see Fernandina, Pinzon and Santa Cruz Islands. We then head back down to complete our day of hiking (16 km in total) and relax on the beaches of Puerto Villamil.
This morning we leave from the Villamil dock and the white sandy beaches of Isabela and paddle to Island Bay. En route we will be looking for turtles, rays, penguins, and blue-footed boobies; sea lions will probably paddle along with us as well. After watching the wildlife in the Bay, we will paddle back to the Villamil dock.
In the afternoon, we bike the Wetlands Trail where we can see marine iguana colonies and a number of different types of mangroves trees (all four can be seen here) as well as enjoying the network of trails, beaches and historic sites. At the end of the trail is the Wall of Tears, built in the late 1940’s by Second World War prisoners held at the US base on the islands. Our guide will explain the importance of the Wall of Tears, giving us a glimpse into the lives of the island’s previous inhabitants. On this network of trails you will catch some beautiful views of the village below and we will have the chance to see birds and, with luck, some wild giant tortoises.
We stop at the local swimming hole where you can take a refreshing dip. When we get back to town, there will be time to relax and enjoy some swimming or snorkeling in our Galapagos paradise or if you prefer to just sit on the beach and relax.
Today we start early, catching our speedboat in the morning and heading to Santa Cruz Island. From May to November, a flight is recommended rather than transfer by speedboat due to the possibility of rough seas.
When we arrive at Santa Cruz, we will enjoy a hearty breakfast close to the docks before heading up to the highlands for a busy day of multi-sport activities.
We drive to an off-the-beaten-path area of Santa Cruz Island, and when we reach a high point on the road we switch to mountain bikes for a long downhill glide on freshly paved roads to Garrapatero Beach. On the ride, we will pass small farms and enjoy views of the ocean and the distant islands.
Once we are on the beach at Garrapatero we may see a few local families, but few, if any, tourists. We will paddle the bay in sit-on-top sea kayaks, enjoying our last day on the water in the Galapagos, while looking for sharks, rays, turtles, and sea birds. Later we will have a specially prepared lunch before heading back to Puerto Ayora and our next adventure.
Once back in the town, you will have the option of staying and shopping for souvenirs, or (if time allows) walking the 3 km boardwalk to Tortuga Bay, and checking out one of the largest and most beautiful beaches in the Galapagos. At Tortuga Bay you can walk on the beach, swim, or even snorkel a bit more.
Tonight we stay in Santa Cruz’ largest town, the small picturesque port of Puerto Ayora. Although it has the largest population in the Galapagos, Puerto Ayora is still a small, intimate place where you will find friendly local bars, shops, and restaurants, as well as places to stroll along the water's edge. There is everything you need for a mellow night in the Galapagos.
After a morning visit to the Charles Darwin Research Center, we transfer to Baltra for our return flight back to mainland Ecuador. This is the point of the trip where you choose which extension you'd like to embark on. Each extension is built into a fully guided tour after we plan which activities you'd prefer. See your options below: Finish your tour and head on home (the least fun option).
Dates & Rates
- Tour leader and local naturalist guides
- Double accommodation in Hotels
- Meals detailed in the itinerary above
- Motor boat transportation
- Fluvial transportation
- Kayak equipment
- Airport transfers
- Bottled water
- Tips for carriers and porters
What’s Not Included
- International flight to/from Quito or Guayaquil
- Tips for guides and staff
- International Airport Tax (will be included in your international ticket)
- Beverages (one non alcoholic drink is included per meal, but extra beverages are not included)
- Insurance of any type
- Personal expenses
- Cost of hospitalization and evacuation if necessary
- Flight Guayaquil - Galapagos – Quito ($550)
- Galapagos entrance fees and immigration tax ($120 per person)
FAQ & More
Where are the Galapagos Islands located?
The Galapagos Islands (or Archipelago de Colon)are a Province of Ecuador located about 500 miles (800 kilometers) west of the Ecuadorian coast and are located directly on the equator.
When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands?
Whenever your schedule allows! Because it’s on the equator, air temperatures don’t change a lot. However water temperature does fluctuate as much as ten degrees during the year. The cooler Humboldt Current comes up from Antarctica from May to September/October and the sea is cooler and tends to be rougher at this time of year. Cooler water temperatures mean you generally see more sea life because there is more food for the animals that depend on the planktons and other sea nourishment. From November to April, the cooler Panama Current flows from the north and brings warmer water. The sea tends to be calmer at this time of year. If you’re going on our land-based tour then rough water is less of a concern. If you’re doing a cruise, and you are prone to seasickness, you might want to consider coming in the November to April time frame.
What is the best way to get to the Galapagos Islands?
From the U.S. and Canada there are daily flights via Houston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York and Miami, to both Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador. If you are short on time flying directly to and from Guayaquil may save you time as our Galapagos Unbound trip begins in Guayaquil.
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