Expedition Galápagos - June 26, 2018 - Atlas Obscura Trips

Galápagos, Ecuador

Expedition Galápagos

In the autumn of 1835, HMS Beagle reached the Galápagos archipelago, with a certain scientist on board. While it would be decades before Charles Darwin articulated the theory of evolution by natural selection, it was there, over two months in the Galápagos, that many of his scientific insights took root in his mind.

On this immersive and action-packed five-day adventure on these storied and breathtaking islands, you'll see, as Darwin once did, that each island has its own unique community of wildlife. Get a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into Darwin's world by exploring three of the most impressive islands in the group: Santa Cruz, Plaza Sur, and Floreana.  

"The archipelago is a little world within itself," Darwin wrote in The Voyage of the Beagle. "I never dreamed that islands, about fifty or sixty miles apart, and most of them in sight of each other, formed of precisely the same rocks, placed under a quite similar climate, rising to a nearly equal height, would have been differently tenanted.”

This isn’t your typical Galápagos tour. With the help of local guides and expert wildlife biologists, you’ll enjoy a tropical island experience beyond compare. On this trip, you'll get up close with the islands' marine critters by snorkel and kayak, have a chance to observe some of the world's rarest species as you hike the islands' volcanic crags, and get a living lesson on ecology and conservation in one of the planet’s most historically important habitats. 


  • Snorkeling and kayaking: Snorkel among hundreds of types of tropical fish, rays, and even sea turtles, and kayak with an eye out for birds and sea lion pups.
  • Island hikes and cave explorations: Set out on foot to discover freshwater springs and shadowy caves, while hearing the tales of the pirates who once passed through.
  • Unique lodges: Enjoy the accommodations at two of the world's most distinctive eco-lodges, with private access to lava tubes, black sand beaches, and the best stargazing around.
  • Giant tortoises, iguanas, and much more: See some of evolution's rarest creations up close—most of which exist nowhere else in the world.


Dr. Jason G. Goldman is a science journalist and wildlife reporter who covers animal behavior, wildlife biology, conservation, and ecology around the world. He’s collared foxes on California’s Channel Islands, gotten sneezed on by iguanas in the Galápagos, tracked lions in South Africa, and traveled deep into the Peruvian Amazon in search of social spiders. He's written for Scientific American, The Washington Post, and the BBC. He also cofounded SciCommCamp, a science communication retreat and workshop series, and contributes to Scientific American’s “60 Second Science” podcast.

Phil Torres has been bitten by an anaconda, tackled a tiger shark, and gotten lost in a forest full of quicksand … all in the name of science. As a researcher and science communicator, he spent two years living in the Amazon and has worked in Mongolia, Venezuela, Sweden, the Bahamas, the Arctic, and the bottom of the ocean. Phil has made several significant discoveries as a field biologist in South America including the decoy spider, a thieving butterfly, and silkhenge. He is the creator and host of The Jungle Diaries and has hosted more than 70 episodes of TechKnow on Al Jazeera. His research and wildlife photography has been featured by National Geographic, Wired, and the BBC.


Update: For those joining after March 26, the full trip payment will be due upon signup ($4,490). The deadline to join is May 9, 2018.  This will cover all fixed costs, including all accommodations, meals, and activities listed in the itinerary below. 


If you'd like to book this trip in combination with Ecuador: From Cloud Forest to Rain Forest (June 20–25), you'll receive a $300 discount on your final payment. We'd love to have you along for both!


Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, or payment.

Day 1
Arrive in Quito
  • Today, fly into Quito through the Andes Mountains. Make sure to look out the window as you approach to get a glimpse of the dramatic peaks! At around 10,000 feet above sea level, Quito is the highest capital city on earth, and the closest to the equator—as well as home to the "Middle of the World."
  • Upon arrival at the airport, transfer to our group's Quito hotel, where we'll gather in the evening for a brief welcome and our first dinner together.
  • Head to bed for a full night's rest before tomorrow morning's domestic flight.
Day 2
Magic Galápagos
  • After breakfast, we'll transfer to the airport for our flight to Baltra Island, around 2.5 hours, with a brief layover in Guayaquil.
  • Upon arrival in the islands, we'll jump right into action! Beginning with kayaking in the Itabaca Channel, between Baltra Island and Santa Cruz Island, we'll get our first glimpses of local wildlife.
  • Afterward, once we reach Santa Cruz, we'll head into the highlands for lunch and a giant tortoise viewing expedition on a private wildlife reserve. The only places in the world you can find giant tortoises today are in the Galápagos and on the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean. In fact, these reptiles are the namesake of the islands themselves. Early explorers referred to the creatures by the old Spanish word galapago, meaning "saddle," due to the shape of their shells. We'll learn much more about these fascinating animals during our visit.
  • Next, we will head to Galapagos Magic, our Santa Cruz lodge in the highlands. This is the only place on the island where you can sleep in the wilderness, with clear views of the Milky Way, while tortoises silently graze outside your room. Some of us will even get to stay in their treehouse lodges.
  • After settling in and getting a tour, we'll relax from the busy day before enjoying a delicious, three-course dinner.
  • After dinner, equipped with top-of-the-line Coast headlamps, we'll take a short walk to a natural lava tube for a night cap. Phil will brief us on the incredible biodiversity we'll be witnessing over the next few days and his life as a tropical biologist as we watch the stars begin to light up the sky.
Jason Goldman
Day 3
Iguana Expedition
  • This morning after breakfast at our lodge, we'll head to the town of Puerto Ayora, where we'll board a motorized yacht for a day trip around the archipelago. Our destination for the morning is Isla Plaza Sur (South Plaza Island)—though it's hardly an island at all. Plaza Sur is a tiny speck of land, barely 25 acres, with its highest point rising just 75 feet above sea level. It also happens to be home to one of the world's rarest of animals: a hybrid land-marine iguana. These iguanas are distinct from both of their very distant cousins—the land-based and marine iguanas—and Plaza Sur is the only place in the Galápagos where you'll find them. (Read more about them in Jason’s BBC Earth feature.)
  • We'll see lots of marine and land iguanas, and if we are very, very lucky, we might see one of the handful of black-and-yellow hybrids that live on this island. The island is also a great place for birds and Galápagos sea lions (including, potentially, some pups!).
  • In the afternoon, we'll take our yacht to Punta Carrion, off the coast of Santa Cruz, where we'll have the chance to snorkel among hundreds of colorful tropical fish, as well as possible rays, white-tip sharks, and green sea turtles.
  • After our full day outside surrounded by island wildlife, we'll return to Santa Cruz and spend another night at Galapagos Magic. After dinner, our group might be joined by lodge owner Polo, who will regale us with stories about his life as a Galapagueño and the changes he's seen since tourism took off in the 1990s.
Day 4
Tortuga Bay & Floreana Island
  • After breakfast, we'll head to Puerto Ayora, where we'll set off on a hike to the beautiful, secluded Tortuga Bay. Along the 1.6-mile walking path, we’ll keep our eyes and ears open for Darwin’s famous finches and the unique Galápagos lava lizard as we learn about the unique flora of the island. Around Tortuga Bay— where swimming is prohibited to protect the wildlife—we’ll look for marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs, brown pelicans, and other Galápagos seabirds. In a nearby cove (where swimming is allowed), there is always a variety of small fish. We might even see whitetip reef sharks or tiger sharks.
  • After a refreshing dip in the sea, we’ll reverse our hike and head back to Puerto Ayora, where we’ll visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. There we’ll learn about the incredible research still being conducted in the archipelago, and may even have a chance look in on the captive-bred iguanas and tortoises that are central to the station’s conservation efforts.
  • After lunch, we’ll head to the dock to transfer to Floreana Island, a 2-hour journey by speedboat. Of the four islands with permanent human populations, Floreana has the smallest, with just 150 residents, making it the most natural and least developed of the inhabited islands.
  • Upon arrival, we'll take a quick open-air bus ride to Floreana Lava Lodge, just steps from one of the most secluded bays in the Galápagos. After settling in, we'll walk, kayak, or stand-up paddle across the bay to explore "La Loberia," a sea lion breeding ground. Once there, you'll have the opportunity for more wildlife observation, swimming, and snorkeling.
  • After returning to the lodge, we'll enjoy another tropical sunset and head to the village for dinner. Tonight, Jason will lead participants in a discussion on the conservation challenges facing the Galápagos, and the ethical tightrope we walk when we encourage tourism in a place as delicate as this.
Day 5
Floreana: Pirates & Unsolved Mysteries
  • After breakfast at the lodge, we'll explore the Floreana highlands by open-air bus. Along the way, our local guides will tell us about Floreana Island's sordid history—mysterious tales that include pirates and unsolved murders. While we listen, we'll be sure to keep our eyes peeled for more iconic giant tortoises.
  • The destination of our morning drive is a place called Asilo de La Paz, where we'll begin our hike. We'll visit the freshwater spring that supplies water to the entire island and explore the caves used by pirates of yore. Our hike will continue through a rural area where the island's residents grow their own produce. Our guides will explain how the residents balance agriculture with conservation, and how they now work to preserve their community's unique forms of cultivation.
  • On the way back to the lodge, we'll stop at lodge owner Claudio's farm, where, if we're lucky, we'll witness the behavior of frigate birds as they "dance" in the freshwater lake. We'll also see how Claudio grows the fruits and vegetables served at the lodge. On the bus ride back, we'll enjoy more breathtaking views and opportunities for birdwatching.
  • After a barbecue lunch at the lodge, we will a free afternoon to rest, swim, snorkel, kayak, or wander around in search of wildlife. (The island's main dock is a great place to photograph marine iguanas.)
  • Tonight, we'll share one final dinner together in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Day 6
Farewell & Departure
  • After breakfast, we'll take the speedboat back to Santa Cruz, and then transfer to Baltra Island. There, we'll board our group flight back to Quito, where participants can catch return flights home or, perhaps, stay and explore on your own for a few extra days.
  • Until the next adventure!
The Fine Print


  • All meals and accommodation during your stay, not including alcoholic beverages.
  • Internal flights between Quito and Baltra Island.
  • Two expert guides in the field of biology, conservation, and science journalism, as well as local guides.
  • Admission to all proposed areas and activities, including kayaking and snorkeling.
  • Tips for the local Galápagos guides.
  • A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, logistical and contact information, recommended reading list, and packing list.
  • A curious group of fellow Atlas Obscura explorers, excited to discover all that the islands have to offer!


  • Transportation and flights to and from Quito.
  • Airport transfers.
  • Individual travel insurance (required).
  • Baggage charges and personal expenses.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.


We recommend you have a medium fitness level to fully participate in this trip. You should be comfortable participating in the itinerary's various water activities, which include swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking, as these are a highlight of the trip and some of the best ways to observe the local wildlife. Please contact us directly if you have further questions about health and fitness level for this trip.


  • We can offer a single accommodation supplement for your hotel night in Quito, but otherwise you should be prepared to share a room.
  • Accommodations in Magic Galapagos are all double occupancy, and include luxury safari-style tents with en-suite bathrooms (think: glamping) as well as four elevated tree houses which share a bathroom building. Showers have hot water, and there is (limited) wi-fi in the main lodge area.
  • Accommodations at Floreana Lava Lodge are all double or triple occupancy, and each room includes en-suite bathrooms and hot water. The lodge is operated by Claudio Cruz, a descendant of one of the island's very first inhabitants. Very, very limited wi-fi.


Update: For those joining after March 26, the full trip payment will be due upon signup ($4,490). The deadline to join is May 9, 2018. All reservations will be final after these dates, and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your payment, you agree to the trip's Terms & Conditions. For those wishing to have a single room and/or extra nights at the Quito hotel, optional supplementary fees will be included with the final payment. 


This trip is expensive, why?
The cost for this trip includes ground and water transportation, domestic air travel to and from Baltra Island in the Galapagos, food, lodging, park entrance fees, local guides, and all activities for a tight-knit group of 12 explorers. We chose the accommodations based upon several factors including sustainability; sustainable and fair ecotourism providers can cost a bit more. By traveling with us, you will also get the rare chance to learn from and nerd out with Phil Torres and Jason G. Goldman, both of whom are wildlife biologists, skilled photographers, and seasoned science journalists who have traveled the globe in search of gripping stories about the natural world.

Will I be sharing a room?
Space at these remote lodges is limited, which means you will be sharing a room with one or two fellow travelers. For this trip, we cannot offer a single accommodation option aside from your night at the hotel in Quito.

Do I need a travel visa?
All you need to enter and depart Ecuador is a valid passport with evidence of return or onward travel. With a U.S. passport, you will automatically receive a free 90-day tourist visa. For more information, see the State Department’s Ecuador travel page.

What is ecotourism?
The International Ecotourism Society has formally defined ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” In other words, it is an effort to combine sustainable travel with ecosystem-level conservation and the explicit recognition of and respect for the rights of indigenous people. That’s why ecotourism is more than just “nature tourism”; it has the explicit goal of benefiting local communities both environmentally and economically. By providing financial incentives through tourism, these communities can become empowered to fight against poverty, and in achieving a more sustainable sort of economic development, can better resist other more exploitative industries like mining, agriculture, ranching, or logging. Ecotourism has also motivated the traditional tourism industry in general to move towards more “green” or sustainable practices.


Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment. 

Other Trips You Might Like