Our trip begins in Quito, Ecuador. Arrive by 4pm, pass through customs, gather your luggage and transfer on your own to our hotel. An orientation and group dinner will be held at 6:30pm. Dinner included.
Following breakfast at the hotel, we transfer to the Quito airport for a flight to the islands, located 665 miles offshore. We land on San Cristobal Island where we spend the next two days hiking, swimming and snorkeling. After lunch overlooking the ocean, we head out for an afternoon of exploration. Our first stop is the impressive San Cristobal Interpretation Center to learn about the volcanic formation of the Galapagos archipelago and the unique evolution of life on the islands. Our walk takes us along trails of lava rock into dry forest of cacti, acacia, palo santo, Galapagos cotton, and other endemic vegetation and features splendid views of the rugged coastline. As we approach Frigate Hill, be on the lookout for blue footed boobies, frigate birds, Darwin finches and much more. On our way back to our lodging, we may stop for a refreshing dip at Carola or Mann Beaches. In the evening you have the option of exploring the small town of Port Baquerizo Moreno. All meals included.
Hiking: 3 miles, about 2 hours. Optional snorkeling and swimming.
We begin the day with a kayaking excursion from Wreck Bay to Playa Ochoa. This beach is frequented by sea lions; watching their underwater antics as you snorkel is a wonderful and highly entertaining experience! Following lunch aboard a private motor cruiser we'll head to Kicker Rock, Cerro Brujo or Punta Pitt (location depends on park permits) and take to the water with our snorkels in search of Galapagos sharks, eagle and golden rays, as well as dozens of species of tropical fish. With a little luck we may also swim with hammerhead and white-tipped sharks. Our last stop before returning to our hotel is a trip ashore to explore beautiful white sand beaches backed by button mangroves. Swim, stroll the beach, and keep an eye out for marine iguanas and White-cheeked pintail ducks. All meals included.
Kayaking: 2-3 hours; Snorkeling: 2 hours.
A morning flight from San Cristobal brings us to Isabela Island, the largest island in the archipelago. Isabela was formed by six volcanoes - Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra and Wolf. Five of these volcanoes remain active, making this island one of the most volcanically active places on earth. This is a remarkably beautiful island and one of the youngest in the archipelago. We begin our explorations with a boat ride to Las Tintoreras, a small island within Isabela Bay, to walk the otherworldly landscape of lava rocks and snorkel the waters surrounding this wildlife-rich environment. Marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, whitetip reef sharks, marine turtles and penguins are typically seen here. In the mid-afternoon your guide will lead you on an optional mountain bike ride to El Muro de las Lágrimas - the Wall of Tears. This historic site dates between 1946 and 1959 when Isabela was a penal colony. The wall was built by prisoners using huge blocks of lava for no other reason than to keep the prisoners busy from the madness of isolation. Guests that opt out of the cycling will have the afternoon free until dinner; swimming, snorkeling, or renting a surfboard are just a few of your options. All meals included.
Walking: 1-2 hours. Snorkeling: 1 hour. Optional cycling: 8 miles; Terrain: sand and gravel with a few short, somewhat steep hills. Optional water activities, some may incur an additional fee.
We begin our hike to the rim of the Sierra Negra Volcano (3,688'), the second largest intact caldera in the world after Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. The trail can be quite muddy and wet, or dusty and hot depending on the season, but the walk is well worth it as the vantage point from the rim offers fantastic views of the six by five mile wide lava-filled caldera as well as the other volcanoes beyond and the surrounding coastline. After catching our breath, we can choose to continue along the trail to Chico Volcano (2,821'). With its puffing fumaroles and striking lava formations, it offers good examples of the dramatic geological events that have forged the Galapagos Islands over millennia. The remainder of the afternoon is free for rest or optional water activities. All meals included.
Hiking: 6-9 miles, up to 5 hours. Terrain: Uneven trails that may include slippery, muddy or rocky sections. Cumulative elevation gain ~ 1,260'. Optional water activities, some may incur an additional fee.
We transfer by boat (~3 hours) from Isabela to Santa Cruz Island. Upon reaching Santa Cruz we check into our hotel and change into hiking clothes before heading to a charming hacienda in the highlands for lunch. The afternoon is spent at El Chato Reserve in the upper part of Santa Cruz – the natural habitat of the Santa Cruz tortoise, the largest in the Galapagos. The most recognized symbol of the Galapagos, the tortoise weighs over 500 pounds and may have a shell measuring almost five feet! While seeking out these lumbering giants, we'll keep our eyes open for pintail ducks, egrets, flycatchers, finches, and frigate birds bathing in freshwater lakes. Returning to Puerto Ayora, there is free time to shop and explore this lively waterfront town before dinner at our lodging. All meals included.
Hiking: 1-3 miles, up to 3 hours. Terrain: Flat, possibly muddy trails through tall grass.
For our second day on Santa Cruz, we kayak in Divine Bay and Punta Estrada, traveling through multiple lava channels of calm, turquoise waters. Within the channels, white tipped sharks and rays often patrol beneath the waves while blue footed-boobies, tropic birds, herons and marine iguanas perch along the jagged cliffs. In the afternoon we'll walk to Tortuga Bay, a spectacular white sand beach that gets its name from the black sea turtles that lay their eggs here. Behind the mangroves that frame the beach is a saltwater lagoon that is often frequented by flamingos. An afternoon of swimming, bird watching and relaxing is followed by a memorable farewell dinner. All meals included.
Kayaking: 3 hours. Walking: 3 miles. Swimming: 2-3 hours.
If time allows, we will make a quick visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station to help us understand the conservation and management efforts in the archipelago. The research station was the home to "Lonesome George", the very last tortoise of his particular species from Pinta Island. We then transfer to Baltra Island to board our flight back to Ecuador's mainland. After checking into our hotel, the afternoon is free to rest, explore and pack your bags for tomorrow's flight to Cusco. Breakfast included, light lunch on flight, dinner on your own.
Very early this morning, we transfer to the Quito airport for our flight to Cusco, Peru (via Lima). Located high in the Andes at an elevation of 11,150', this beautiful red-tile-roofed city was founded in the 12th-century by Manco Capac, the original Inca thought to be a child of the sun god himself. For almost 400 years, Cusco served as the flourishing capital of the Inca Empire and still retains its centuries-old appeal with numerous sections of original Inca stonework visible in the streets and buildings. Upon arrival in Cusco, you are greeted by your Peruvian REI representative and transferred to our centrally-located hotel for a welcoming cup of tea and a brief orientation. Breakfast included, lunch and dinner on own.
We start the day with a walking tour of the Plaza de Armas, Santo Domingo Church (built atop the Inca temple Koricancha), the barrio de San Blas, and the imposing hilltop ruins of the monolithic Sacsayhuaman fortress. Considered by many to be one of the greatest examples of stonemasonry in human history, the 60-ton limestone boulders used in the construction of the fortress walls fit together so perfectly without mortar that not even a blade of grass can be inserted between them. After our day of exploration, enjoy dinner in one of the city's highly-rated restaurants. Overnight in Cusco. All meals included.
Walking: 2-3 miles.
We drive about 1 hour to Urubamba Valley and the famous market village of Pisac, where authentic shopping and photographic opportunities abound. This region is known for high quality local crafts including hand-knit wools, ceramics, leather goods and jewelry. This afternoon we hike to the nearby Pisac ruins. One of the most important and well-preserved ruins in the Sacred Valley, our guide helps us identify the various structures at the site including the fascinating Temple of the Sun, used by the Incas as an astronomical observatory. If the trail is open, we climb to the top of the ruins to take in the panoramic views of the terraced countryside before heading down the trail to Pisac town. We spend the next two nights in the Urubamba Valley. All meals included.
Hiking: 3 miles.
A drive to Pachar brings us to our rafts and rafting guides. After an instructional briefing, we begin paddling on the Urubamba River where the gentle waters gradually begin to flow faster, leading us through a series of white-capped rapids. We roll through the waves, watching the Andean landscape slip by as we make our way towards our take-out at Wayracpunku. Back on land, we visit the small town of Ollantaytambo, whose street plan still maintains its original Incan layout. After Cusco was overtaken by the conquistadors, Manco Inca and his army of approximately 30,000 retreated to Ollantaytambo and were victorious here against the forces of Spanish commander Hernando Pizaro in the Battle of Ollantaytambo. Following lunch, we drive to the nearby village of Maras to visit the multi-tiered Pichincoto mines. These local salt mines were used by the Inca as a mineral source and are still visited by local residents today. A relaxed two-hour downhill hike from the salt mines brings us to the valley floor. We return to Yucay for dinner. All meals included.
Rafting: 2 hours with Class I-III rapids. Hiking: 3 miles.
A 25-minute drive brings us to Ollantaytambo, where we connect with the scheduled daily Vistadome train to Machu Picchu. We arrive at Aguas Calientes, located at the base of the Sacred City, and take a shuttle up to this spectacularly-perched archeological treasure. Our knowledgeable guide leads us through the center of the site, recapping Machu Picchu's rediscovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911 and explaining the current theories regarding the original purpose and significance of the city. Later this afternoon, return to Aguas Calientes to shower and relax before our farewell dinner. All meals included.
Hiking: 2-3 miles.
Perhaps the best time of day to appreciate the full majesty of this remarkable site is during the early hours, taking advantage of the soft morning light for dramatic photography or just some quiet meditation. Our goal is to ride one of the first shuttles of the day up to the complex and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere before the first tourist train from Cusco arrives. As the sun continues to climb, we can choose from a variety of different active explorations including a challenging hike to the top of Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, based on permit availability. In the early afternoon, we return to Aguas Calientes for lunch. After lunch we board the train to Ollantaytambo, connecting there with our private van to Cusco, arriving in early evening. Dinner is on our own allowing us to choose from the variety of local restaurants serving Peruvian and international cuisine. Overnight in Cusco tonight. Breakfast and lunch included.
Hiking: 2-3 miles. (Optional Huayna Picchu hike may be unguided and is steep with some exposure).
After breakfast, transfers back to the Cusco airport will be arranged for travelers departing today. Breakfast included.