Opuntia Naturalist Explorer
PROGRAM 6 DAYS / 5 NIGHTS
Follow in Darwin’s footsteps on this amazing wildlife and natural history program which will take you on a journey into the geological and natural history that made this park possible. Encounter the friendly wildlife that captivated Darwin and influenced his theories.
You will be escorted throughout your journey by our top naturalist guides, and afterwards, you can relax in the charming environs of the Opuntia Ocean Front lodges.
Highlights of the trip:
- Swim with penguins, sea lions and marine turtles
- Snorkel among thousands of tropical fish, sharks, and rays.
- Learn about evolution as you observe finches, boobies and other famed birds.
- Relax on picturesque white sand beaches surrounded by the native wildlife.
- Experienced guides will accompany you throughout your journey.
- Inter-island transfers include one flight and one boat crossing.
- Enjoy the privacy, ambiance and gourmet cooking at Opuntia Lodge
- Boat travel time: 2-3 hours per crossing
- Small aircraft flight time: 40 minutes
- Walking or snorkeling duration: 2 to 4 hours per day
- Season: All year
- Altitude: Sea level to 2,000 feet (600 meters)
- Average temperatures: December to May: 80ºF to 90ºF / 25ºC to 30ºC. June to September: 60ºF to 70ºF / 15ºC to 20ºC. October to December: 70ºF to 80ºF / 15ºC to 25ºC.
- Water temperature: The waters of the Galapagos Islands are a unique mixture of warm and cold water, ranging between 65ºF and 85ºF.
- Packing list: water sandals, rain jacket, flashlight, water bottle, sunblock, sun glasses
**PLEASE NOTE** This itinerary is subject to change without notice due to seasonal changes, last-minute weather conditions, and adjustments of Galapagos National Park policy.
DAY 1: Arrival to San Cristobal, visit Interpretation Center, Hike and Snorkel at Darwin Bay
We travel on a morning flight to San Cristobal Island and continue to our Galapagos hotel, Casa Opuntia, for a delicious lunch and short overview of our trip. Our Galapagos tour begins at the local Interpretation Center to learn about Galapagos’ unique wildlife, geology, natural history, and social dynamics. We walk to Frigate Hill over lava rock trails. Along the way, your naturalist guide will talk about the Galapagos cotton, palo santo, acacia, and cacti all around you. You´ll spot blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, pelicans, herons, gulls, warblers, mockingbirds, and finches among the vegetation and sea cliffs. In addition to unique endemic species, this allows for marvelous views of the rugged coastline that surround the sleepy town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. We stop for a refreshing snorkel and swim at Carola Beach, where sea turtles, sea lions, and marine iguanas roam freely. After a gorgeous sunset and dinner, we explore the friendly and laid-back town, taking a stroll down the boardwalk to admire the immense colony of endemic Galapagos sea lions. Overnight at our San Cristobal hotel, Casa Opuntia. (L, D)
DAY 2: Wildlife and Snorkel along the Northern Coast – San Cristobal Island
An incredible snorkeling adventure is waiting for us! On our way to our first site, Isla Lobos, we search coves and cliffs for sea turtles, sea lions, frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, and Nazca boobies. Once at Isla Lobos, we snorkel with sea lions, marine iguanas and countless reef fish! This site consistently proves to be the best sea lion encounter in the Galapagos – after all, Isla Lobos translates to Sea Lion Island. We proceed to Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock), two breathtaking rock massifs (tuff cones) that jut out from the ocean. Above the waters, thousands of sea birds cling to their walls, while millions of fish swim under the surface. The channel between the two rock walls is home to some of the best snorkeling in the islands. You´ll probably see spotted eagle rays, golden rays, Galapagos sharks, starfish, clams, and fish of every shape, size, and color. You might even see hammerhead sharks!
After a full day of exploration, we head back to our lovely Galapagos hotel, Casa Opuntia, for an exotic dinner and relaxed evening. (B, L, D)
DAY 3: Discover Beaches, Lagoons, and Islets in Isabela Island
After breakfast, we take a short flight to Isabela, the largest island in the Galapagos, and one of the most volcanically active spots on the planet! Our highlight today is one of the most scenically diverse walks in the Galapagos. We´ll visit “El Muro de las Lagrimas” (Wall of Tears), a towering wall of lava rocks built for no other purpose than to keep the prisoners distracted from the madness of isolation during the time Isabela was a prison colony. We continue along white sand beaches, an alluring poison apple forest, a lava tube, and dark mangroves and brackish lagoons. The area is filled with giant tortoises and birdlife including flamingos! After lunch, we explore the magical Tintoreras, a set of small islets filled with hidden coves and beaches. Home of the endemic and adorable Galapagos penguin as well as reef sharks, sea turtles, and sea lions.
At the end of the day, we retire to our waterfront hotel, Iguana Crossing, to relax in its infinity pool, hot tub, or neighboring white sand beach. After a superb dinner, feel free to take a stroll down beach or hit the sand streets of this idyllic beach town. (B, L, D)
DAY 4: Active Volcanoes and Geological History on Isabela Island
After breakfast, we drive up to the highlands until the end of the road. We grab our daypacks and hike into a world of recent geological history. We´ll admire incredible views of the surrounding volcanoes and sea. Volcan Sierra Negra is the second largest active caldera on the planet! You´ll walk along the rim of this enormous 30 square mile crater while feeling the heat of the earth´s energy. We continue our hike into the caldera of Volcan Chico, an otherworldly landscape with endless hues of oranges, reds, blacks, and yellows. Puffing fumaroles and spectacular lava formations are all around us. After a day on what seems like another world, we return to paradise on earth. Spend your last afternoon relaxing on Isabela´s stunning beaches and soaking up the island-life atmosphere. (B, L, D)
DAY 5: Tortoises, Lava Tunnels, Pirates, Sinkholes, and Endemic Forests in Santa Cruz Island
After breakfast, we take a speedboat to Santa Cruz Island. We look out for whales and dolphins on the way! Upon arrival we head to “El Chato”, a natural habitat in the Santa Cruz highlands, home to the giant tortoise. These massive prehistoric giants can live over 175 years! We´ll also see pintail ducks, finches, frigate birds, egrets, and hopefully the vermillion flycatcher – a red jewel of a bird. Walking to some incredible lava tunnels, we´ll continue our natural history tour by exploring these caverns where pirates dwelled and – so legend says – hid Inca gold! We continue to “Los Gemelos”, two deep volcanic sinkholes at the top of the island. We continue through a forest of endemic scalesia trees, and we´ll be on the lookout for the short-eared owl. The trees are covered with ferns and epiphytes that exude an almost eerie atmosphere. Towards sunset we retire to the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn Galapagos Hotel. Expect fine pampering at this first-class waterfront guesthouse privately nestled in the bay. The beautiful Galapagos hotel offers magnificent views of the bay, coastline, and town. (B, L, D)
DAY 6: Visit Santa Cruz island’s Charles Darwin Research Station and Return Flight
The Charles Darwin Research Station awaits us after breakfast. We´ll learn about the ongoing conservation efforts. The research station rears endemic Galapagos plants, land iguanas, and giant Galapagos tortoises for educational, scientific, and conservation purposes. We´ll compare diverse evolutionary paths of the various giant tortoises from different islands. We transfer to Baltra Island for our return flight to the mainland. (B)
RATES NOT INCLUDED
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