Arrive Quito an overnight.
Catch an early flight to San Cristobal Island to begin your action-packed Galapagos tour. After lunch, start your adventure with a visit to the San Cristobal Interpretation Center to learn about the fascinating natural history, island formations, species and how it all relates to Darwin's evolution. You'll explore the dry forest, dotted with cacti, as you hike towards Frigate Hill along trails of lava rock. Splendid views of the coastline and the cheerful town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno accompany you on your walk. This will be a good time to enjoy your first encounters with local wildlife such as magnificent frigate birds, blue footed boobies, brown pelicans, gulls, herons and Darwin's famous finches. On the way back to town, you'll stop for a refreshing swim in the ocean.
Today, drive up to El Junco Lagoon, a freshwater lake located in a collapsed caldera at 2,300 feet (700 meters) of altitude on the San Cristobal Island highlands. The lake and its surroundings create a beautiful Miconia forest landscape, where you will find frigate birds washing off salt from their wings, Darwin’s finches, and mocking birds. You'll continue on to La Galapaguera in Cerro Colorado, a new facility operated by the National Park to breed and protect the subspecies of giant turtles endemic to San Cristobal (Geochelone chathamensis). On your way back, you'll visit El Cafetal, a historic hacienda that has been harvesting a special class of coffee bean named Bourbon since 1875.
This afternoon, you'll slip into your ocean kayak and pass the time paddling along the coast, past Playa Carola, exploring the coast line to Darwin Bay, the site of the first landing of the HMS Beagle. You will explore and snorkel in Darwin Bay which is home to sea lions, marine turtles, blue-footed boobies, and frigate birds.
Travel by boat to San Cristobal's northern coast. Depending on the weekday and Galapagos National Park regulations, you will visit Leon Dormido (the iconic "Kicker Rock"), Punta Pitt, or Cerro Brujo. Enjoy excellent snorkeling at any of these sites, and there are great chances of seeing Galapagos sharks, eagle and golden rays, as well as dozens of species of tropical fish, clams, starfish, and marine invertebrates. If you are lucky, you may spot hammerhead and white-tipped sharks as well. After this full day northern coast excursions you'll return to port where you will enjoy dinner and your last evening on San Cristobal Island.
After breakfast, you'll take a small, private plane from San Cristobal to Isabela Island. Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago, formed by 5 shield volcanoes: Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Sierra Negra, and Wolf. Four of these volcanoes remain active, making this island one of the most volcanically active places on Earth. Here, you visit the Galápagos Tortoise Rearing Center, to learn about tortoise development and conservation. You will then explore the bay for wildlife and follow a trail along the coastline to observe dramatic lava formations and meet a large colony of sea lions. In the afternoon you will prepare your gear for a mountain bike ride to El Muro de las Lágrimas (Wall of Tears). There will be spectacular views as you ride along the coast through mangroves and salty lagoons that are home to the mangrove finch, endemic to Isabela. You can also spot American oyster catchers, herons, flamingos, and many other shore birds. You pedal to the Wall of Tears, a historic site that dates back between 1946 and 1959 when Isabela was a penal colony. On your way back you will ride by and relax on exotic white sand beaches. The evening is spent in the tranquil port town of Puerto Villamil.
From Puerto Villamil, you will journey to the highlands for a 6 mile (9 km) hike near the rim of the Sierra Negra Volcano. Sierra Negra is an active volcano which last erupted into a blazing show in October 2005. From this altitude, you will enjoy a fantastic view of the 5 mile-wide crater, and the Perry Isthmus and the other volcanoes beyond. From here you will continue to Chico Volcano, with its puffing fumaroles and striking lava formations. Isabela offers an out-of-this-world environment and exemplifies the dramatic geological events that have forged the Galapagos Islands. In the afternoon, return to Puerto Villamil for dinner.
After an early breakfast, travel by boat from Isabela to Santa Cruz Island (two hour boat trip). Once you arrive you will travel to El Chato, the natural habitat of the largest tortoise in the Galapagos. As you seek these lumbering giants, you’ll also come across pintail ducks, egrets, flycatchers, finches and frigate birds bathing in fresh water lakes. Lunch is served at a traditional highland hacienda where you can also explore lava caves with incredible volcanic formations. After lunch, you'll pick up your kayak to travel around Divine Bay and Punta Estrada, paddling through multiple lava channels of calm, turquoise waters. Within the channels, white tipped sharks and rays swim beneath the waves, while colonies of blue footed-boobies, tropic birds, herons and marine iguanas perch along the jagged cliffs. Once in Puerto Ayora, prepare for your farewell dinner. Later in the evening you are free to explore nightlife alternatives in the Galapagos’ most populous town.
In the morning, visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about conservation and management projects in the archipelago. The research station gives you the chance to see giant tortoises from all over the islands. Transfer by bus to Baltra Island to board your flight back to the continent. Overnight in Quito.
$1,140 single supplement