Follow in Darwin’s Footsteps on a Galápagos Islands Adventure

From giant tortoises to land iguanas and the famous finches, see it all on this life-altering voyage.

One of the famous marine iguanas of the Galápagos Islands

One of the famous marine iguanas of the Galápagos Islands

Photo by Andrea Klaussner

There’s a reason why the Galápagos Islands inspired Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. On this volcanic archipelago, the renowned naturalist observed certain species of tortoises and land iguanas found only here. You’ll see them and many other “Big 15” species on this nine-day nature-lover’s expedition from Hurtigruten.

After two nights in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, you’ll fly to the Galápagos Islands and see the best of the archipelago aboard MS Santa Cruz II. This small expedition vessel designed for navigating this part of the Pacific has a maximum guest capacity of 90. With all excursions included and led by expert naturalist guides, guests explore with small expedition boats, kayaks, snorkeling gear, and paddle boards to see some of the islands’ most iconic residents.


Trip Highlight

Santa Cruz Island

Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station and see baby tortoises and Darwin's famous finches that inspired his groundbreaking Theory of Evolution. Then you’ll head to the highlands to observe giant tortoises grazing on grass or wallowing in pools in their natural habitat. This epic day finally concludes with some time for kayaking, swimming, or snorkeling in Tortuga Bay.

Trip Designer

Hurtigruten Expeditions

Hurtigruten Expeditions has been a global leader in sustainable expedition travel for 130 years. Their fleet of modern expedition ships is designed to transport guests to the world's most remote destinations in a comfortable and stylish setting. On each voyage, hand-picked experts lead guests through thrilling activities and shore landings. It's all part of Hurtigruten's mission to help protect the places they visit and pioneer a greener way of cruising.
The colorful Old Town is Quito’s star attraction.

The colorful Old Town is Quito’s star attraction.

Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen

Day 1Arrival in Ecuador

Your South American adventure kicks off in Quito, the Ecuadorian capital city and one of the highest in the world at 9,350 feet above sea level. The dramatic mountain peaks surrounding this metropolis constantly remind you of its Andean location.

The city’s rich history dates to an ancient Inca settlement. Today, modern-day architecture sits comfortably alongside classical Spanish designs like 17th-century churches and charming plazas in the Old Town, the city’s star attraction. Later in the evening, the city lights up with the view of the surrounding hills, and it’s time to explore the pedestrianized street of Calle La Ronda. Take a seat at a cafe or browse the handicrafts sold in the independent shops before retiring to your included hotel room.

You’ll have even more time for independent exploration of Quito if you arrive early. Other options include joining Hurtigruten’s four-day tour to the cloud forest of the Mashpi Reserve as part of a pre-program (also available as a post-program) to the Incan stronghold of Machu Picchu, one of South America’s most iconic attractions.
Cotopaxi is recognizable by its distinctive conical shape.

Cotopaxi is recognizable by its distinctive conical shape.

Day 2Cotopaxi National Park

Get ready to ascend nearly 12,800 feet to see one of Ecuador’s natural wonders—the active volcano of Cotopaxi, instantly recognizable by its distinctive conical shape. The day begins at Sangolqui open-air market, where local Indigenous people sell handicrafts and local delicacies, making it an ideal place to try some ceviche or roast pork and pick up a few souvenirs.

Located just a 90-minute drive from Quito, the treeless landscape of Cotopaxi National Park is typical of the Andean moorlands, or paramo, where llamas roam freely. While hiking to Limpiopungo Lagoon, a mirror-like lake that reflects the surrounding peaks, look for Andean gulls, fluttering hummingbirds, and even the mighty condor.

Cotopaxi, which means “Neck of the Moon” in the local Quechua language, is one of the highest volcanoes in the world. The crater measures 2,620 feet and features one of the few equatorial glaciers on Earth. Cotopaxi terrified both the indigenous people and Spanish settlers when it first erupted in 1534. But, as of today, it has yet to erupt since 1904.

Following the visit to Cotopaxi, you’ll stop for lunch at San Agustín de Callo, a beautifully preserved colonial hacienda built on the site of an Inca palace. Then, after trying some delicious traditional dishes prepared by some of the region’s best chefs, you’ll return to the hotel to partake in a group dinner before spending another night in Quito.
Colonies of sea lions abound in the Galápagos Islands.

Colonies of sea lions abound in the Galápagos Islands.

Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen

Day 3Depart for the Galápagos and embarkation

Today’s the day you’ve been waiting for—you’ll arrive in the Galápagos in just a few hours. After breakfast at the hotel, you’ll catch a morning flight leaving from Quito Airport and land at the Galápagos Ecological Airport, the world’s greenest airport. Located on Baltra Island, it relies on renewable energy and has implemented several environmental initiatives to reduce its impact on the fragile ecosystem of this place. A transfer awaits your arrival, and you’ll immediately be whisked away to the port to board MS Santa Cruz II, your base camp for the next few days.

Upon entering your cabin, you’ll be greeted by the soft glow of sunlight streaming through the expansive picture window, illuminating the understated elegance of the Scandinavian-inspired decor. Once settled in, you’ll make your way to Beagle Restaurant to savor a delectable lunch of locally sourced organic cuisine, carefully curated by a Le Cordon Bleu-trained gastronomy director. Then, as the ship sets sail for Mosquera Islet—a slight volcanic uplift just four nautical miles from Baltra—the Captain will invite you to raise a toast to the adventure that awaits.

Despite its distinction as one of the smallest islands in the Galápagos, Mosquera Islet is home to a diverse collection of wildlife, including one of the islands’ largest colonies of sea lions. Hurtigruten’s expert guides will share their deep knowledge with you as you observe these enchanting creatures from the safety of small expedition boats.
The famous blue-footed boobies of the Galápagos Islands

The famous blue-footed boobies of the Galápagos Islands

Photo by Dennis Ballesteros

Day 4San Cristóbal Island

You’ll arrive this morning in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galápagos archipelago. Then, take a 40-minute ride to the breeding center for the endangered giant tortoise at Cerro Colorado. These magnificent creatures are a symbol of the Galápagos and can live for more than 100 years in their natural habitat. The specialists who work at this reserve, which covers upwards of 14 acres of forest, are working hard to increase the tortoise population.

Later in the day, don’t forget to bring your swimsuit and comfortable walking shoes before boarding a small expedition boat to reach Punta Pitt, a peculiar strip of land formed from an eroded volcanic cone and located at the eastern tip of the island.

After disembarking, you’ll follow a leisurely walking trail leading to breathtaking coastal views. This moment will likely be the first of many chances to see three different species of boobies, including the easily recognized blue-footed boobies. The clear water also makes it an excellent spot for snorkeling, swimming, or watching sea lions congregate around the nearby reef.
Santa Fe Island is ideal for taking a ride in a glass-bottomed boat.

Santa Fe Island is ideal for taking a ride in a glass-bottomed boat.

Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen

Day 5Santa Fe and South Plaza Islands

This morning you’ll take a scenic nature walk along the lovely white sand beaches of the island of Santa Fe. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a few sea lions or the rare Barrington land iguana lounging on the rocks or among the giant prickly pear cacti. The beach is also ideal for swimming and snorkeling, or you could opt for a glass-bottomed boat ride or a kayak trip to explore the island from a different perspective.

You’re guaranteed to have worked up an appetite by lunchtime, so you’ll return to the ship around midday to enjoy a delicious meal as MS Santa Cruz leaves for South Plaza Island. As the vessel passes more white sandy beaches dotted with black lava rocks, keep an eye out for frigatebirds, swallow-tailed gulls, and shearwaters gliding along the shoreline. And upon arrival, you’ll likely spot land and marine iguanas sunning themselves among many species of succulents.
Snorkeling in the Galápagos Islands.

Snorkeling in the Galápagos Islands.

Day 6Santa Cruz Island

This morning, MS Santa Cruz II will anchor at Santa Cruz Island. Then, you’ll go ashore to Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galápagos, to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, where scientists work tirelessly to preserve and protect the wildlife. You’ll get to see the breeding enclosures, baby tortoises in incubators, and even Darwin’s famous finches that inspired his groundbreaking Theory of Evolution.

Then you’ll go by bus or bike to a sugar cane mill to learn to use a trapiche or sugar cane grinder to extract juice. Afterward, you’ll head to the cooler highlands to experience an altogether different ecosystem. Finally, you’ll have lunch while observing mature giant tortoises grazing on grass or wallowing in pools.

After eating, you’ll be itching to get active. Choose from options like kayaking, swimming, or snorkeling in Tortuga Bay or mountain biking. Alternatively, you could hike a 1.3-mile trail and stop at Playa Brava, a sugar-white beach that’s a seasonal nesting site for green turtles.
The Galápagos Islands are a paradise for birdwatchers.

The Galápagos Islands are a paradise for birdwatchers.

Photo by Andres Mesias

Day 7Española

Today you’ll explore Española, the most southerly and oldest island in the archipelago. The island’s most celebrated resident is a more than 100-year-old tortoise named Diego, who’s on loan from the San Diego Zoo. He’s perhaps single-handedly saved his subspecies from extinction by fathering upwards of 900 children. As he’s expected to live another 50 years, he’s now spending his golden years on this beautiful island—a fitting reward for a job well done.

This island is also a haven for birdwatching since it’s home to almost the entire world population of waved albatrosses that breed here between March and January. Swallow-tailed gulls and two different species of boobies are sometimes spotted in this area too. Also, look for the endemic subspecies of the marine iguanas, and red-hued Española lava lizards found only on this island.

Your last stop on Española will be a visit to El Soplador, a blowhole that blasts water 75 feet into the air. After returning to the ship for lunch, you’ll visit the gorgeous coral beach of Gardner Bay and the nearby Osborn Islet to swim, snorkel, or kayak while observing sea lions, mockingbirds, and finches.
Male frigate birds are one of many species that are unique to the Galápagos Islands.

Male frigate birds are one of many species that are unique to the Galápagos Islands.

Days 8 and 9Eden Islet, North Seymour Island, and the expedition concludes

This morning, you’ll have some extraordinary snorkeling opportunities in the clear waters surrounding Eden Islet, a slender volcanic cone off the coast of Santa Cruz Island. This area teems with Galápagos green turtles, rays, and docile reef sharks. Or you could watch for frigatebirds, easily recognizable by their rubbery red throats, as you explore the coast of Eden Islet by kayak or glass-bottomed boat.

After lunch onboard, the ship will depart for North Seymour, a small island with flat terrain created by a volcanic eruption. Blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, and swallow-tailed Gulls abound here, as do sea lions and marine iguanas.

The following day, you’ll say goodbye to the Galápagos when the expedition ends at Baltra Island, and you disembark MS Santa Cruz II. Then a transfer will take you to the airport for a flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador. From there, a representative will assist you with your international flight connection. Alternatively, you can continue to Quito to catch your international flight.

You’ll also have plenty of options to extend your adventure—Hurtigruten offers two different post-programs to explore more of Ecuador, including the Ecuadorian Amazon and the Mashpi Reserve. Or you could start dreaming about your next trip. Hurtigruten Expeditions has an array of itineraries with seven ships cruising to destinations around the world, including Antarctica, Greenland, and Alaska.
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