In celebration of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, Cruise West, one of the world’s leading providers of small-ship exploration cruises to the most fascinating destinations on earth, has updated its popular Galapagos itinerary. During the 2010 season, the 10-day/9-night cruises will journey throughout Darwin’s inspiring islands on the elegant, 100-guest Galapagos Explorer II, sister ship to Cruise West’s Spirit of Oceanus. The itinerary to this UNESCO World Heritage Site has been rearranged, ensuring that visitors receive maximum exposure to the Islands’ diverse wildlife and spectacular scenery. Save up to $600 per person by booking and paying in full by May 22, 2009.

Ecuador - a remarkably varied country with mountains, jungle, coastal areas and islands - is home to one of Latin America’s prize jewels, the Biosphere Reserve of the Galapagos Islands. Traveling 650 miles west of the mainland, guests will sail the waters that gave birth to revolutionary scientific theories, explore multi-colored volcanic islands, and interact with thousands of animal species including giant tortoises, pink flamingos, blue-footed boobies and Galapagos penguins.

More than 9,000 feet above sea level, the Ecuadorian adventure begins in the charming colonial town of Quito, once the northern capital of the Inca Empire. After a historical walking tour of the city viewing Baroque art, strolling cobblestone streets and enjoying a birds-eye view of the metropolis from observation point El Ventanal, visitors will savor renowned Mediterranean cuisine at the Theatrum Restaurant & Wine Bar in the National Theater.

Guests will fly from Quito to San Cristobal Island to board the Galapagos Explorer II, a 293-foot vessel that includes a Jacuzzi, marine observation deck and reading room. Experienced naturalist guides will also board the ship, poised to lead expeditions in search of wildlife and to provide invaluable local and historical insight both on-ship and off. First day highlights in the Galapagos include snorkeling, swimming and strolling along the beach near San Cristobal Island, a haven for Darwin’s finches, brown pelicans and yellow warblers.

The following days at Hood, Santa Cruz, and Rabida islands will feature: indigenous wildlife viewing (tropical fish, lava lizards, Galapagos dove, white-tipped reef shark, Sally Lightfoot crabs and more); a visit to the Charles Darwin Station to learn about on-island research and to view the Galapagos tortoise breeding and rearing center; a meander through Puerto Ayora, the largest town on the islands; and climbing lava cliffs to glimpse seawater spraying high into the air through precarious fissures.

The ship will then sail to desolate yet breathtaking Bartolomé Island, offering 360 degree views of the archipelago as well as an extinct volcano with a variety of red, orange, green and black volcanic formations. The next stop is James (Santiago) Island, the only location Fur Seals can be found in the Galapagos. The following morning, guests will witness marine iguanas basking on every plausible surface of Fernandina Island - snorkelers can watch them feeding underwater on clear days. On the northwestern tip of Isabela Island, approachable only by dinghy, intrepid sea-goers can snorkel at a cave renowned for its dazzling array of marine wildlife.

The Galapagos sojourn ends with a 45-minute bus ride through changing vegetation zones in the Santa Cruz Highlands, where guests can quietly approach the 40 giant tortoises native to the region. After breakfast, guests will disembark the ship and fly to Guayaquil for departure home, or head to Lima to begin a fully guided, post-cruise land excursion of Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Historians-at-heart will uncover ancient Incan mysteries for six days in Peru, first exploring the lively markets and significant monuments of Cusco, then relaxing on a comfortable train ride to the charming Inkaterra Machu Picchu Hotel where guests stay for two nights. Gazing up from the base of the Andes, Machu Picchu is entirely hidden from view - exactly as its 14th century artisans intended. A fully guided tour (or independent tour, if desired) whisks travelers to this hidden perch, recognized as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The post-cruise excursion ends back in Cusco with tours of the Inca Fortress, Citadel of Ollantaytambo and the circular terraces of Moray.

Galapagos cruises depart March 29 and April 5, 2010; prices begin at $4,999 per person, double occupancy. Three tiered early booking and final payment savings are available - book and pay in full by May 22, 2009 and save $600; by July 16, 2009, save $400 and by September 11, 2009, save $200 per person. The cruise plus optional six-day Peru land tour starts at $9,499 per person. Travel Agents are encouraged to participate in Cruise West’s live online training programs. To view upcoming training classes visit http://www.cruisewestagents.com/training.