Day 1: Pikaia Lodge. The Pikaia Lodge sits perched on the rim of a dormant volcano, one of the highest points of Santa Cruz Island. Its 180-degree view stretches across all the way to the ocean, with other islands scattered about in the distance. Suites are impressive, with private pools on their decks. After settling in, take a hike around the property in search of some of the island’s 6,000 giant tortoises. They ramble across the Pikaia property and wallow in its watering holes. After the hike, try a couple’s massage in the spa and sit in a whirlpool watching the ocean as the last light fades into a rising moon.
Day 2: Plazas Island. Pikaia’s approach is different from the typical, roaming Galapagos vacation. Instead of living on a boat, its guests are sped off to an island and then returned to the Lodge in time for dinner. On Plazas Island you can have National Geographic-quality encounters with dozens of sea lions (including nursing pups), land iguana, marine iguana, tropic birds, and giant gulls.
Day 3: Hiking the Santa Cruz Highlands. After a day at sea, opt for a land excursion. Start with a hike through the tortoise migration, climb through a lava tube cave, and then circle two collapsed volcano calderas. The mossy woodlands look straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie. After lunch at the lodge, visit the town of Puerto Ayora, touring the Darwin research center and shopping. Ayora is picturesque, with shops and galleries, and there’s even a fish market where birds and sea lions battle for leftovers.
Day 4: North Seymour. North Seymour is another nearby island. It’s home to the famous frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. The male frigates have a brilliant red pouch in their neck that inflates to the size of a basketball. The male boobies woo their mates with a carefully choreographed dance. You can watch both species from only a couple of feet away. North Seymour also offers one of the most exciting snorkel opportunities, a drift snorkel under its cliffs. There waters teem with fur seals, reef sharks, and thousands of fish, along with birds diving from the cliffs above. A dinghy drops you off, floats along with you, and then plucks you from the water whenever you tire.
Hotel: Pikaia Lodge
Photo tip: Giant tortoise
Photo tip: Video of Blue Booby mating ritual