Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Ecuador
Welcome to the historic city of Quito, the capital of Ecuador! An MTS representative will meet you outside customs at the airport and escort you to your five-star hotel, while briefing you en route on immediate arrangements and introducing you to Ecuador. The drive takes you along a scenic route up to over 9,200 feet in altitude, following part of the route that the early Spanish conquistadors used when first traveling here to establish the city as a Spanish territory in 1534. Just before reaching the city, you’ll wind up the switchbacks of the ancient neighborhood of Guapulo, passing colorful graffiti and murals to the high plateau of Quito. The hotel staff will greet you with a hot towel and a cool glass of fresh juice to refresh you upon arrival. After settling in, the rest of the day is free unwind, take advantage of the pool’s spa services or begin your exploration of this dynamic city.
If time allows, we highly recommend starting your adventure with a visit to the historic colonial section of Quito, a short and inexpensive cab ride from the hotel. This colorful neighborhood, one of UNESCO’s first declared World Heritage Sites, is rich with Spanish colonial architecture, gilded churches, lively restaurants, the Presidential Palace, museums and small shops. At the edge of Old Town, the recently renovated Calle La Ronda offers a beautiful and educational glimpse of Ecuador’s fine artisan goods, namely chocolate and coffee. Small artisans have set up shop along this cobblestone street, providing tastings and goods for sale, and many offer fascinating explanations on how chocolate and coffee are made.
Dinner tonight is on your own to take advantage of the many restaurants surrounding the hotel.
Day 2: Quito
After taking advantage of the hotel’s fabulous breakfast buffet (not to be missed!), the day is free to explore on your own. You may choose to tour colonial Quito, visit a nearby cloud forest to view dazzling hummingbirds, or hire a driver to bring you to the famous craft market in Otavalo, a 2½- to 3-hour drive from Quito. We will provide you with information about things to do on your own in the Quito area or tours that can be arranged through our representatives. Ecuador is famous for its handicrafts, but one need not leave Quito to find them. The Mercado Artesenal La Mariscal, a 15-minute walk from the hotel through a bustling neighborhood, offers countless booths of locally made products, where you can barter with artisans and vendors on everything from silver jewelry and handmade baskets to alpaca blankets and Ecuador’s famous woven “Panama” hats. The Mariscal neighborhood also offers lively restaurants, bars and shops.
At 6:30pm sharp, the group will gather in the hotel of the lobby, where you’ll meet your MTS guide and fellow travelers for a briefing on the following morning’s flight to the Galápagos Islands. This is a great time to ask about any last minute questions you may have before setting off on our adventure.
Dinner is on your own tonight, and we recommend exploring the many wonderful restaurants near the hotel—where you can find everything from Italian fare and sushi to traditional Ecuadorian food.
Day 3: Journey to the Galápagos Islands
After another fresh buffet breakfast at the hotel, we’ll set out early for the airport for our flight from mainland Ecuador to the Galápagos Islands. Today is a long day, but a memorable one. Our plane lands on Baltra Island, where all visitors are required to pay the Galápagos National Park entry fee ($100 U.S., in cash). Our guide will meet us at baggage claim and help us retrieve our luggage, transfer to the dock in Baltra and catch the water taxi across the straight (a quick five-minute cruise) to the island of Santa Cruz.
In Santa Cruz, we’ll meet our bus driver, who will escort us across the island along the main road that will bring us into the highlands and later, to the island’s capital of Puerto Ayora, where we’ll board our private charter yacht. Santa Cruz is the second largest of the Galápagos Islands, with the largest number of settlers anywhere in the archipelago at around 15,000 inhabitants. Initially settled before the national park was established, it is one of the rare places in the Galápagos where farmland abounds. We’ll ride along the span of Santa Cruz, passing farms and fields of scalesia, the giant endemic scrub brush of the highlands. We’ll stop briefly at Los Gemelos, where we’ll see one of two twin volcanic craters, now covered in lush vegetation, before lunching at local restaurant for a fabulous three-course meal. This quiet and idyllic oasis, located in the middle of the highlands, offers delicious, fresh cuisine and an interesting collection of Galápagos memorabilia.
This afternoon, we’ll pop next door to the restaurant for a short walk among the Galápagos’ iconic giant tortoises—our first glimpse of these large, slow-moving and ancient creatures, thought to have evolved very little since their pre-Jurassic beginnings. After learning about the conservation efforts to restore the giant tortoise populations to their original islands, we’ll continue on to the bustling town of Puerto Ayora, where we’ll board pangas, or zodiacs, which will take us to our private charter yacht for the week. After settling into our private staterooms, we’ll enjoy the first of many memorable dinners together.
Day 4: Punta Cormorán and Post Office Bay
Every day begins early, starting with a delicious hot and cold breakfast buffet and the option of eggs cooked to order. After breakfast, we’ll suit up for a wet landing at Punta Cormorán on Floreana Island, locally known as “Green Beach” due to its volcanic olivine crystals. We’ll walk along a salt-water lagoon, observing flamingos and other wading birds to the trail’s end at “Flour Beach,” an extremely fine, white-sanded beach where sea turtles nest. After our walk we will take a short panga ride to Champion Islet for a fantastic snorkeling excursion. Champion’s half-submerged crater located just off the island makes this an ideal spot for snorkeling, allowing us to see large schools of surgeonfish and Panamic sergeant majors, multihued parrotfish, sea turtles, and occasionally a shy hammerhead in deeper water. If luck is on our side, we may even have the chance to swim with curious and playful sea lions—a true highlight of the trip!
After a fabulous three-course lunch (a daily occurrence onboard the yacht!), we’ll have some time to digest before taking a short panga ride to Post Office Bay. Centuries ago, whalers came here to drop their mail in a barrel for other passing sailors to retrieve and deliver back home. We’ll also have a chance to participate in this seafarers’ tradition by leaving our mail in the famous Post Office barrel and picking up other travelers’ mail to hand deliver, as was the custom so long ago. We’ll then travel by chiva, a locally made open-air passenger vehicle, up a long dirt road into Floreana’s highlands, where we’ll visit a giant tortoise restoration project and learn the mysterious history of the island’s eccentric early settlers.
Day 5: Punta Morena and cruise to Elizabeth Bay
We’ll begin our day on Isabela Island, the largest island in the Galápagos, made up of a series of active volcanoes. We’ll make a dry landing on this wild island at Punta Moreno, a vast lava field of pristine pahoehoe lava formations, surrounded by giant shield volcanoes and views of Alcedo and Sierra Azul. Here, we’ll have a chance to view flamingoes, gallinules, cormorants and ducks in the island’s brackish ponds and lagoons, flanked by pioneer and endemic vegetation. Keep on the lookout for penguins, which come here for the cooler waters.
After lunch, we’ll have some time to rest before heading back to the island to snorkel among sea turtles, Galápagos penguins, rays and possibly some white-tipped sharks. We’ll then change clothes back on board and head out for a scenic panga cruise to Elizabeth Bay’s Mariela Rocks, a hotspot for Galápagos penguins. Our pangas will cruise into a cove surrounded by a red mangrove lagoon, where the largest grove in the Galápagos grows. In this quiet lagoon, we may see green sea turtles poking their heads out of the water, penguins chasing fish, as well as eagle rays, golden rays, brown pelicans, flightless cormorants and small sharks feeding.
Day 6: Punta Espinosa
Our journey once again begins on the island of Isabela, where we’ll head to shore via panga for a wet landing at Urvina Bay. We’ll begin with an easy walk through a thicket of native and endemic plants which shelter large Galápagos land iguanas, giant tortoises, Galápagos mockingbirds and cuckoos. Once back at the beach, we’ll have time to snorkel along the 50-year-old geologic uplift, allowing us to spot coral heads and other rare marine fossils, as well as sea turtles and marine iguanas.
This afternoon, we’ll briefly depart from the coastline of Isabela and make our way to Fernandina Island’s Punta Espinosa—said to be the largest pristine island in the world and another highlight of the trip. Upon landing, we’ll walk on massive fields of hardened black lava, where we are likely to see countless marine iguanas, colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs and Galápagos sea lions lounging enviably along its lovely lagoons. A population of sperm whales and several species of dolphins inhabit the nutrient-rich waters of the archipelago’s northwest corner and can sometimes be spotted near Fernandina, so keep your eyes peeled.
Day 7: Tagus Cove and Punta Vincente Roca
Today we’ll explore Tagus Cove on Isabela, a calm and popular harbor among early explorers and pirates. Upon landing, we’ll view the cove where early visitors carved graffiti into the cliffs—usually the names of their ships and the date they landed. We’ll slowly climb uphill to Darwin Lake, a saltwater crater lake surrounded by tuff (a type of porous soil formed from volcanic ash). From the end of the trail, we’ll be able to see the vast lava flows that connect the volcanoes of Northern Isabela. We’ll then return to the cove and suit up for a kayaking and a snorkeling excursion along the cove’s surrounding cliffs, where we’ll see flightless cormorants, Sally Lightfoot crabs and possibly some Galápagos penguins.
This afternoon, we’ll disembark for an unforgettable panga cruise along the dramatic cliffs of Punta Vincente. This breathtaking ride puts size into perspective quickly as we ride forceful swells beneath the cliffs and into caves in search of sea birds perched on the rocks. We’ll return to our yacht in time for a memorable cocktail hour as we cross the equator back into the Northern Hemisphere, the perfect ending to a perfect day.
Day 8: Espumilla Beach, Santiago and Puerto Egas
This morning, we’ll board the pangas for a wet landing on Santiago’s soft, sandy Espumilla Beach, which takes its fine texture from volcanic ash. We’ll walk along its lagoon and beach in search of the endemic Galápagos hawk and ground finch. We’ll then return to the boat and suit up for a kayak and snorkel along the cliffs of Santiago. Perhaps our finest snorkel of the entire trip, we’ll be able to see a fabulous array of colorful marine life, including bump-headed parrotfish, angel fish, rays, sea turtles, sergeant majors and white-tipped reef sharks, to name a few.
After lunch, we’ll make our way to Santiago and land on the dark, sandy volcanic beach of Puerto Egas. The trail follows the rocky coastline, offering some of the best opportunities to explore tide pools—home to sponges, snails, hermit crabs, barnacles, and fish including the world’s only four-eyed blenny. Small groups of sea lions bask on the rocks, along with large numbers of marine iguanas and shore birds such as plovers, oystercatchers and herons. At the end of the trail, we will visit the grottos—natural lava collapses that are home to a colony of Galápagos fur seals. This colony at Puerto Egas is one of the few places on the archipelago where you can get up close and personal with this endemic species. Galápagos hawks are common in the area as well, so keep your eyes on the skies for this beautiful raptor.
Day 9: Bachas Beach and North Seymour Island
Las Bachas is a beautiful, white-sand beach on the northern side of Santa Cruz, not far from Baltra and Caleta Tortuga. Here, we’ll encounter sea lions, and may have the chance to go swimming and snorkeling. In the tiny lagoon behind the beach, we sometimes see flamingos and great blue herons. Sea turtles also nest here from December to April, so we may see hatchlings’ footprints leading from the nest to the water’s edge.
After our last delicious lunch on board the yacht, we’ll disembark by panga for another snorkel and walk along the cliffs of nearby North Seymour Island. The island is known for its colonies of magnificent frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies, and on land, we’ll have a chance to spot huge land iguanas—the largest examples of this species found in the Galápagos. If conditions allow, we may even witness the courting rituals of these iconic islanders and possibly some surfing sea lions. Back on the boat tonight, we’ll enjoy a festive farewell cocktail hour and dinner with the crew and our fellow passengers, a fitting send-off for this unforgettable adventure!
Day 10: Return to Quito
This morning, we’ll have a leisurely breakfast on board, before saying goodbye to the yacht crew and returning by panga to Baltra for our flights back to Quito. Today is a perfect transition day for finding our land legs again after being out to sea for a week. Once back in Quito, an MTS representative will meet us and transfer us to our hotel, where we’ll bid our guide and fellow travelers a fond adios. We should arrive at the hotel around 3:30pm, allowing us a little extra time this afternoon for last-minute souvenir shopping, local sightseeing or some well-deserved rest. Dinner is on your own tonight.
Day 11: Depart Ecuador
After another fabulous breakfast at the Swissôtel, an MTS representative can pick you up and transfer you to the airport for your flight home, or you may elect to join one of our extensions in Ecuador or Peru.