Ecuador & the Galapagos
|Resort:||Ecuador & the Galapagos|
|Destination:||Ecuador, Latin America|
With magnificent wildlife, awe-inspiring architecture and striking scenery, Ecuador is an incredible adventure for lovers of natural beauty, history and culture. A place that often goes unsung, Ecuador is an under-appreciated destination with wonders around every corner. Although the Galapagos islands feature high up on most peoples bucket list, the mainland is a surprising and fascinating place to visit in its own right. On this inspiring tour, youll be able to see some of the worlds highest volcanoes, buzzy colonial cities, wonder at the beauty of hummingbirds in tropical cloud forests, travel on spectacular trains and stay in historic haciendas all this before youve even stepped ashore in the Galapagos!
We take a drive along the Pan-American highway, probably the longest road in world, connecting Alaska with Patagonia. We trail the impressive seven peaks of the Avenue of the Volcanoes, before arriving at Cotopaxi National Park. Here we’ll wonder at the striking, snowy Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano on the planet. As if this wasnt enough natural beauty to behold, we take in the beautiful roses of the region and hop on the Devils Nose Train through steep, craggy gorges.
When we reach the Galapagos, you will be truly spoilt by the sheer sights of natural beauty, well-preserved terrain and exotic wildlife. For years, the only way most people could visit the Galapagos was to sail from island to island on small motor-yachts a great way to travel, but also very expensive. Our tour avoids this by offering an island-hopping itinerary which means you actually get to stay on two of the most interesting islands. To get the most out of your visit to this extraordinary wildlife destination, its important to be fully mobile and be able to snorkel so you can discover the amazing marine life, something that even Charles Darwin was never aware of! You will also have the opportunity to explore Santa Cruz at your own leisure, an island famed for sea turtles, giant tortoises and marine iguanas, as well as the calm, white sand beaches of Tortuga Bay.
These incredible volcanic islands are home to a vast variety of flora and fauna, most of which are endemic species. A dream destination for wildlife enthusiasts and nature photographers, we will tour both land and sea to witness the sights of this magical archipelago.
The cuisine of the region takes natural inspiration from the sea and abundant organic produce of the area. Unsurprisingly, much of the dishes are made up of locally caught seafood, such as tilapia and halibut, and put intoviche(soup) andarroz marinero(seafood rice). Be sure to try the famouscerviche, a dish made from fresh, raw fish and served with a refreshing salad of onions and tomatoes. The fruits of the land are strikingly unusual too; with speckled banana passionfruit, tropical cherimoya, tomato-like naranjilla and peanut butter fruit, which is said to taste just like the popular spread.
Whether you are looking forward to the wonderous wildlife, breath-taking landscapes, the colonial charm or all three and more this unique destination and its welcoming locals are awaiting your adventure.
You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Quito via Bogota.
ARRIVAL IN QUITO
Welcome to Quito! The largest, best-preserved colonial city of America, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Considered the Cultural Capital of South America, its located just south of the equator at the foothills of the Pichincha volcano. Our tour of the city includes the leafy Independence square, overlooked by the Presidential Palace, cathedral and Archbishops Palace. Just a short walk away is the baroque Jesuit church of Compania de Jesus, with its incredible gilded interior. Another of Quitos gems is the church and convent of San Francisco, the largest religious complex on the continent.
We stay one night at the impressive five-star Swissotel with breakfast.
CROSS EQUATOR LINE
Embrace the once-in-a-lifetime experience of standing on both the north and southern hemisphere. Here youll learn about the interesting history of the Equator line and physics of the location.
We then continue to the little town of Mindo, set amidst lush forested hills.
Stay two nights at the charming three-star superior Septimo Paraiso Lodge, with breakfast, surrounded by the exotic cloud forest.
MINDO CLOUD FOREST
Today we explore the pristine cloud forests and hike along waterfalls of the area. At an altitude of 1,300m, Mindo lies between Ecuadors lowlands and highlands and has a year-round mild climate. This, and the plentiful rainfall, mostly between January and April, has created lush forests, perfect for a wide variety of birdlife with an incredible 140 species of hummingbirds recorded.
Our hotel is surrounded by the forest and has several marked trails around the property, ideal for birdwatching.
You may also try out the optional zip-line tour or learn about how the famous Ecuadorian chocolate is made.
Heading south on the Pan-American highway we drive along the Avenue of the Volcanoes, and into the Cotopaxi National Park for some stunning views, and at 5,900m, the highest active volcano in the world. Snow-capped year-round, the perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone is one of the greatest sights in South America.
We stay one night at the excellent four-star Cotopaxi Pungo Finca hotel with breakfast.
LOCAL MARKET & RIOBAMBA
Ecuador is the worlds largest exporter of roses and this morning well visit one of the many rose farms in the area. Well also stop at the Pujii local market to see the wonderful traditional arts and crafts of the Andes. The local indigenous people come down from the surrounding villages to sell their wares and the market here is far more authentic here than in other more touristy places.
We continue to the historic 250-year-old four-star Hacienda La Andaluza with breakfast.
DEVILS NOSE TRAIN
An early start today we drive to the small town of Alausi where we board the world-famous Devils Nose train which zig-zags its way down steep gorges and was considered a huge engineering achievement when it was completed.
After the train returns to Alausi, we continue along the Pan American highway to Ingapirca, the most interesting Inca site in Ecuador, before arriving in the amazing colonial city of Cuenca.
We stay two nights at the four-star colonial Carvallo, or the new Four Points by Sheraton Hotel with breakfast.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Cuenca is a treasure-trove of charming colonial churches, mansions and squares, which are all easily walkable. The main square is overlooked by the towns vast cathedral, said to be modelled on St Peters in Rome. The city is also known for its Panama hats, which are in fact hand-made in Ecuador, not Panama!
After our included city tour, you will have the afternoon to explore this charming town on your own.
Leaving Cuenca, we cross the spectacular Cajas National Park and descend to the warm coastal plains and the port city of Guayaquil.
We stay one night at the centrally-located four-star Unipark Hotel with breakfast.
FLY TO SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND
This morning we catch the1 hour 50-minute flight to San Cristobal island in the Galapagos. As the most easterly island in the archipelago, this was the first to be visited by Charles Darwin in 1835.
After we are settled into our hotel, we explore the wildlife along nearby La Loberias white sand beach, with a chance to swim or snorkel. You are bound to spot marine iguanas, sea lions and plentiful birdlife.
We stay two nights at the family-run three-star Blue Marlin Hotel with breakfast, ideally located close to the centre of the islands small main town of Puerto Moreno.
SAN CRISTOBAL & ISLA LOBOS
Today we board a small boat for the short trip to Isla Lobos, where we explore families of frigate birds and blue footed boobies. Although the path on the island is uneven and rocky in parts, the effort is worth it to see these iconic birds up close.
We then have an opportunity to swim or snorkel off the boat in the lagoon, where inquisitive seals may come and swim with us! In the afternoon we learn about conservation work on the islands during our visit to the San Cristobal Interpretation Centre.
SANTA CRUZ ISLAND
This morning we catch the speedboat ferry service to nearby Santa Cruz island, which should take between 1hr30 to 2hrs. On arrival, well visit the famous giant tortoises in the beautiful El Chato highland reserve an unforgettable experience! Within the grounds, you may also explore one of several underground lava tubes, left over from when the islands volcano was active.
We stay three nights at the three-star Fiesta or Silberstein Hotel, both with breakfast.
This morning we have a boat tour of nearby Academy Bay, with an opportunity to snorkel with the Galapagos exotic marine life. You may see the likes of sea lions, rays and even sharks.
We continue for a tour of the famous Charles Darwin Research Station, where you will be able to see the remains of Lonesome George, stuffed and on display. There are also pens where baby giant tortoises are looked after before being released into the wild.
SANTA CRUZ AT LEISURE
Today youre free to enjoy Santa Cruz at your own pace, where you can meander around Puerto Ayora or relax at the unspoilt Tortuga Bay. You can also personalise your trip with a pre-bookable boat trip to nearby North Seymour Island or Bartolom Island, subject to weather and availability.
North Seymour island, just off the north coast of Santa Cruz, is known for its swallow-tailed gulls, large numbers of frigate birds and colourful land iguanas. The other trip is to Bartolom island, with its iconic views over Pinnacle Rock and stunning volcanic landscape which provides the most scenic views in the Galapagos.
We say our goodbyes to the wonderful Galapagos Islands and fly home via Guayaquil and Bogota to Heathrow, arriving the next day.
Arrive in the UK with wonderful memories of a fascinating trip.