The Enchanted Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
- Explore one of the world’s premier wildlife destinations
- Stay at inhabited islands and interact with Galapagos residents
- Visit Colonial Quito (a World Heritage site) and Guayaquil
- All meals, lodging, and on-trip transportation, including in-country flights
- All admissions, entry fees, and gratuities
- Galapagos-certified naturalist guide in the islands
|Dates||Apr 27–May 9, 2015|
|Staff||Pritpal Singh Kochhar|
"The natural history of these islands is eminently curious," wrote Charles Darwin of the Galápagos.
The Galapagos ("the Enchanted Isles") is a world-class destination! This extremely diverse ecosystem -- from lush rainforests, to deserts, to volcanic lava flows -- provides a haven for wildlife of all kinds. In fact, a full 50 percent of their species in this treasure chest are found nowhere else on earth. And the magic is: they are approachable by humans. Animals do not run off and birds do not fly away; due to their isolation from natural predators they are mostly unafraid of humans. Especially unusual is the three-foot-long vegetarian marine iguana, the only known sea-feeding lizard on earth. The Galapagos tortoise grows to six feet in length, weighs up to 600 pounds, and lives up to 150 years! The archipelago also boasts colorful Sally Lightfoot Crabs, sea lions, land iguanas, and lava lizards. A prolific bird population includes frigate birds, penguins, boobies, tropic birds, mocking birds, doves, albatross, hawks, gulls, cormorants, herons, warblers, flamingos and the world-famous Darwin finches.
Darwin, of course, was the archipelago's most famous visitor. He had sufficient material to support more than a quarter century of research. When he published the classic "The Origin of Species," it shook the foundations of biological thought and led to profound changes in man's philosophy of nature. We will visit the Darwin Research Center on the island of Santa Cruz, where we will be staying a few days. Darwin wasn’t the only one to find inspiration in the Galapagos. During the whaling era, Herman Melville made landfall here, and he perpetuated the sailor’s nickname: "The Enchanted Isles." The swirling fogs that surround the islands at certain times of the year give rise to the legend that these were floating islands.
We will be visiting both inhabited and uninhabited islands in the Galapagos. By taking "fast boats" between islands, we will have a chance to spot sea life, such as sea birds, dolphins, sea turtles, rays, sea lions -- maybe even a whale. We will even have the opportunity to snorkel to get a close look at the marine life. Fast boats are power boats, seating 18-20 people with a covering to protect passengers from the sun and splashes from the water. On land, we will observe the sere landscape with its fascinating geologic features, walk through a lava tunnel, stroll in tropical cloud forests, visit an active volcano, view the world’s second largest caldera, do some hiking and birding, or snorkel and loll around at the beach. Our days will be filled with activity, but you'll also have the freedom to just relax. An English-speaking, certified Galapagos naturalist will accompany us and help us understand the amazing relationships between plants, animals, people, and their environment.
English-speaking naturalist guides will also accompany us on our visits to Quito (a World Heritage site) and Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and sea port. Guayaquil was named by the United Nations a few years ago as the most improved city in the world. After a tour of colonial Quito, we will visit "Mitad del Mundo" -- The Middle of the World -- and stand on the equator! Attending Hacchigua (cultural dances) and visiting the world’s largest open-air market at Otovalo will provide us an all-inclusive Ecuadorian experience.
Please note: This trip starts and ends in different cities.
Day 1: Arrive at Guayaquil, Ecuador’s major seaport. Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to the hotel to relax and get a good night’s sleep. As most flights arrive late in the day, we will not meet as a group this evening.
Day 2: At breakfast we will get acquainted and have a short orientation meeting. Then we will begin our adventure by touring Guayaquil and visiting a cocoa plantation. After a stroll on the Malecon River Walk, we will enjoy our welcome dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 3: Today we are off to the Galapagos Islands! We arrive at Baltra airport and will meet our naturalist guide. We will take the ferry to Santa Cruz Island, then a short bus ride to the Highlands for lunch. At Rancho Primicias we will look for giant tortoises living in the open highland fields. We will arrive at our hotel in the late afternoon.
Day 4: We will board the Espanola yacht for an all-day trip to Santa Fe Island where we will have our first snorkeling experience in the turquoise water that teems with marine life.
Day 5: In the morning we will visit the Charles Darwin Research Station with its collection of giant tortoises from all the islands. We will learn what scientists from around the world, together with the Galapagos National Park and the Marine Reserve, are doing to keep "The Enchanted Isles" pristine and ecologically viable. In the afternoon we will transfer on a speed boat from Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island to Puerto Villamil on Isabella Island. We will visit the Arnaldo Tupiza Research Station to see giant turtles and the lagoon where flamingos strut and marine iguanas pose.
Day 6: We will visit two of Isabella’s six volcanoes. At Volcan Sierra Negra we will view the world’s second-largest caldera. On Volcan Chico we will feel the volcanic activity as we observe fumaroles. After hiking and a picnic lunch we will return to our ocean-front hotel to swim, snorkel, or relax at the beach.
Day 7: We will explore the lava tunnels extending out of the water, forming arches, at Cabo Rosa. We will snorkel here to observe the diverse marine life. This is a good spot to look for the flightless cormorant, sea lions, marine turtles, and penguins!
Day 8: We will transfer from Isabella Island to Santa Cruz Island in the morning, then spend the afternoon at Tortuga Bay Beach, where we can relax and enjoy one of the most stunning expanses of white beach in the Galapagos -- home to prehistoric-looking marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and pelicans.
Day 9: We will spend the day on Floreana Island, where we will see the pirate caves, visit a tortoise reserve, and have our last snorkeling adventure.
Day 10: After breakfast we must say farewell to our islands and transfer to Baltra airport and fly to Quito. It will be a busy afternoon checking into our hotel, having an early dinner, and going to an evening performance of the Jaccigua Ballet. This is an exuberant, colorful, and moving presentation of Ecuadorian folk dances with lovely costumes and live music.
Day 11: Today we will have a tour of colonial Quito, the capital of Ecuador and a World Heritage site. Then, at "Mitad del Mundo" we will stand on the equator and visit the Ethnographic Museum. Dinner will be at a local restaurant in Quito.
Day 12: We will travel the Pan American Highway to the world’s largest open-air market at Otovalo. Not only will be have the chance to purchase local handcrafted goods at incredibly low prices, it will be a cultural experience because the people of Otovalo wear their native dress and men do not cut their hair. The market is extremely colorful and photogenic! In the evening, after our return to Quito, we will have a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. Typically, local musicians serenade us.
Day 13: We bid goodbye to this wonderfully diverse country and its people, at least for now. Transportation to the Quito airport is provided. Soon, we will to return to the "real world" and our normal lives -- much richer than when we arrived.
Occasionally, changes may be necessary in this itinerary -- either in advance or during the trip. Please be aware that we will make every attempt to stay within this itinerary. However, if weather, equipment, Galapagos National Park Services or any other condition, circumstance, or situation causes a change, please be flexible and respect the decision of the leader. The safety of the group is our number one concern. While wildlife on the Galapagos Islands is tremendous, we cannot guarantee that you will see all species listed as examples.
You need to arrive in Guayaquil, Ecuador on or before day one. Our trip ends in Quito, Ecuador. Many airlines fly to both cities and allow "open jaw" excursions into one city and out of another. Contact the leader before making your final arrangements. The flights to and from the Galapagos Islands are included in the trip price. Tickets for these flights will be issued to you at the airport when you leave for the islands. Your passport must be valid for at least seven months from the date of your entry into Ecuador. If you don't have a passport, apply for one as soon as possible.
Accommodations and Food
Although this is not a luxury trip, we will stay in charming, locally owned modern hotels. Rooms are double-occupancy with private bath; if you come alone we'll arrange for a roommate of the same sex. We travel by comfortable busses and fast boats. The food will be delicious -- a mix of local and continental dishes, with a variety of tropical fruits and vegetables. Vegetarians are welcome.
All meals and lodgings are provided. Breakfast on day two will be the first meal of the trip. Breakfast on day 13 will be the last meal included in the trip price. If you chose to have any meals at different restaurants, that cost will not be covered.
This is a moderate trip and can be undertaken by anyone in good health and physical condition.
If you have health or walking concerns, here is more information that will assist you in evaluating this trip. The expression "OSHA hasn't been here" applies. As you know, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates safety standards in America. There is no OSHA in Ecuador. Even a walk in a progressive, busy city like Quito can be an adventure in itself. The Quito streets are uneven and hilly. You will find sidewalks with unmarked holes, exposed wires and pipes that often will trip residents as well as visitors. Steep stairs may not have hand rails. This is not unusual in foreign countries.
For the Galapagos Islands, it is common to find the trails uneven, hilly, and rocky. Some are on loose lava. Even visits to the Charles Darwin Research Station will require walking on dirt trails and boardwalk.
You must have the ability and agility to handle transporting your own luggage to and from buses, airports, and boats. Hopefully, this is incentive to pack light! You will need to maneuver sufficiently to board boats, ranging from smaller shuttle boats and water taxis to larger boats. We will go to shore in pangas (rubber boats) and land where there are no docks. We get out of the pangas in a few inches of water and walk to the beach.
You must be reasonably steady and sure-footed enough to negotiate the various transitions and walks this trip uses to experience this unique environment. Walks can range from a few miles to 5-6 miles on uneven terrain and rocky surfaces. While we will stop often to view wildlife, you will need to have a walking pace that's steady enough to keep up with the group.
Although we will be traveling just at the beginning of the dry season, rain can fall at any time and will not restrict our movements or our enjoyment of the Islands. It is always a good idea to carry rain gear and an umbrella. If there is rain during our hikes in the islands, some trails might become slippery. Negotiating these trails will require good boots with sturdy soles. It will not be cold except in Quito. Quito is one of those places, because of high elevation and proximity to the equator, where if you walk in the sun it is warm, but in the shade it is cool. At night, it can be cold and you will need a sweater or jacket. The average land temperature on the islands will be about 70-80 degrees. Quito, at 9,400 feet of elevation, will have cooler temperatures, and light showers are normal. The sea water temperature remains a fairly constant 70 degrees.
The minimum age for this trip is 12.
Equipment and Clothing
No special equipment is needed. However, binoculars and a camera are highly recommended. We do have opportunities for snorkeling, and rental gear (mask, fins, wet suit & snorkel) is available for approximately $50, payable in cash only. To assure the best fit, you should consider bringing your own mask. A wet suit will help with comfort and warmth while snorkeling. General, casual clothing for warm-weather hiking and boating between the islands is the recommended dress. Your leader will provide a comprehensive packing list well in advance of the trip.
The leader will carry a first-aid kit for emergency use. You should provide your own personal first-aid kit for minor needs such as bandages, moleskin, insect repellent, sunscreen, etc. You should consult your physician for recommended current immunizations.
- Moore, Yui DeRoy, Galapagos Islands Lost in Time. Penguin Books.
- Brower, K., Galapagos: The Flow of Wildness. Sierra Club/Ballantine Books.
- Darwin, Charles, The Voyage of the Beagle. Doubleday Books.
- Darwin, Charles, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
- Harris, M., Field Guide to the Birds of Galapagos. Taplinger Books.
- Schichor, Michael, Michael's Guide to Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela. Inbal Travel Ltd.
- Rachowiecki, Rob, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands: A Travel Survival Kit. Lonely Planet Books.
- Jackson, Michael H., Galapagos: A Natural History Guide. This is the best general guide to the history, geology, and plant and animal life of the islands.
- Melville, Herman. The Piazza Tales. Darwin wasn't the only one to find inspiration in the Galápagos. As mentioned before, during the whaling era, Herman Melville made landfall here, and he perpetuated the sailor's nickname: Los Encantadas or "the Enchanted Islands." Melville delivers a metaphor-rich, almost hallucinatory account of the archipelago's history, filled with misstatements, speculation, and poetry.
The Sierra Club is an environmental organization concerned about conservation and sustainability, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers, aided by a salaried staff, with grassroots involvement. On this trip, we'll have the opportunity to see the effects of real conservation in a country committed to protecting, rather than exploiting, its natural resources. We will learn about Ecuadorian conservation issues, and how those issues are related to environmental concerns in our own neighborhood, region, and nation.
Notes for Sierra Club Outings
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