Ecuador and the Galápagos
Ecuador straddles the equator on South America’s west coast. Its diverse landscape ranges from Amazon jungle, Andean highlands and the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands. In the Andean foothills at an elevation of 2,850 metres lies its capital Quito.
Overshadowed by the dramatic Pichincha volcano, Quito is a fusion of Spanish and indigenous influences. Set against an impressive backdrop, the capital proudly possesses one of the most extensive and best-preserved historic centres of Spanish America, with its largely intact Spanish colonial center decorated with 16th- and 17th-century palaces and religious sites like the ornate Compañía de Jesús Church. Pretty cobblestone streets, colonial-era architecture and huge plazas are all overlooked by the Virgin of Quito, a statue atop the Panecillo Hill. It isn’t hard to see why this attractive city was the first in the world to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
North of the city, visitors flock to pick up souvenirs at the colourful market of Otavalo and to stand with one foot in each hemisphere at the Mitad del Mundo. As Otavalo is famous for its textiles, many of the nearby villages and towns are famous for their own particular crafts. Cotacachi, for example, is the centre of Ecuador's leather industry. In San Antonio, the local specialty is wood carving. Away from the bustling market, be sure to visit local artisans in their workshops. Beautifully restored traditional haciendas make the perfect place from which to explore it all, and we particularly recommend this region for anyone interested in riding.
The central region of the Andes Mountains run straight down the middle from north to south, forming a string of some thirty volcanoes. These snow-capped peaks and rumbling volcanoes form the aptly named Avenue of Volcanoes, Ecuador’s indigenous heartlands. Cotopaxi National Park, around an hour south of the capital, surrounds the world’s highest active volcano. Dotted around the eastern flank of the park, traditional haciendas host annual cattle round-ups which are an attraction for intrepid riders. There are also several important markets in the area, such as Saquisilí, Pujilí and Zumbahua.
As Ecuador’s Andean backbone ends, lofty volcanoes give way to a softer, gentler landscape of lower elevations and warmer, drier climates. The chief urban areas here are Guayaquil and Cuenca. The iconic rail journey aboard the Tren Crucero is one of the best ways to travel from Quito to Guayaquil exploring some of Ecuador's charming towns en route. Cuenca, retaining its old colonial atmosphere is one of the most attractive cities in Ecuador, its historic centre contains churches dating from the 16th century. West from Cuenca is the Cajas National Park, whose glacial lakes are set amongst breath-taking scenery, making it an excellent area for walking and bird watching. The impressive ruins of Ingapirca, Ecuador’s most important Inca site lie a couple of hours north of Cuenca.
Two hours north-west of Quito sits the small town of Mindo, high in the moss-draped, mist-shrouded cloud forest. Here the 35,000-acre cloud forest, which ranges in elevation from 1,400m to 4,780m, is excellent for birdlife as well as butterflies and orchids. Although close enough to the city for a day trip, there are some simple yet comfortable lodges and walking trails to make a longer stay worthwhile. Slightly further afield deep in the cloud forests of Ecuadorian Chocó, Mashpi, Ecuador’s first ‘design’ jungle lodge allows for a luxury, immersive experience where guests have exclusive access to a large private reserve.
A short flight to the east of Quito brings you down into the Amazon basin. The Amazon boasts of the highest concentration of plant and animal life of any region on the planet, and while Ecuador's borders contain a small slice of the Amazon, the Ecuadorian rainforest is highly diverse, with quiet blackwater lagoons, raging chocolatey rivers, dense tree canopies and flooded forests. The wildlife here is both plentiful and diverse and with a number of comfortable lodges to stay at, guests can enjoy the unspoilt wonders of the forest.
For those who prefer to explore deeper into Ecuador’s unique slice of the Amazon by riverboat, there are a few vessels in the region. The 148 ft-long Anakonda Amazon, built in 2013, is the only luxury boat plying Ecuadorian waters and the perfect choice for those who wish to experience the Amazon in style.
There is no better way to explore all there is to see than from the comfort of a week-long small cruise around the Galápagos, where the experienced guides will introduce you to the archipelago's unique wildlife - both on land and in the water. The Galápagos is also a snorkeller's and diver's paradise! For those less confident in their sea legs or pushed for time, there are a selection of shorter cruises or land-based programmes. The best accommodation can be found on Santa Cruz in the form of remote highland lodges.
Sample ItinerariesEcuador and the Galápagos
Sample Itinerary for Ecuador and the Galápagos
Fly into Guayaquil, the largest city and chief port of Ecuador. Whilst less picturesque than the capital Quito, the low altitude and closer proximity to the Galapagos islands make it the perfect spot to overnight before visiting the Enchanted Isles. Upon arrival you will be met by your guide and transferred to your hotel, an elegant property set in Parque Guayaquil. The hotel’s waterfront restaurant specialises in the finest seafood and freshest fish.
A two-hour flight from Guayaquil and you will arrive in the Galápagos where you will board your luxury small cruise ship – The Evolution. This yacht cruises the archipelago with the lines and style of the roaring of 20’s, while offering the finest amenities and service of modern times. Expert naturalist guides will accompany you on excursions over the next week as you discover these mesmerizing islands. As well as shore outings, sea kayaks and snorkelling gear are also available for guests to enjoy.
You will return to mainland Ecuador for one final night back in Guayaquil before catching your international flight back home or to your next destination in Latin America. Sympathetically restored areas of Ecuador’s commercial hub, such as the old district of Las Peñas and the riverfront malecón (promenade) are worth exploring.
Fly to Lima, and enjoy Latin America's gastronomic capital for a couple of days before connecting to your flight to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incas. Explore Cusco's cobblestoned streets and colonial buildings constructed on top of ancient Inca walls. Spend a couple of days exploring the Sacred Valley's Inca sites and charming colonial villages and markets, before venturing to the Lost City of the Incas. Countless photographs of Machu Picchu have been taken but there is no way to perfectly capture the moment when you first set eyes on this breathtaking place. This beautiful, magical place remains a feat in human ingenuity and architectural excellence that baffles experts to this day.
Upon arrival in Quito you will be met by your guide and transferred into the city for your two-night stay at a luxurious property in the heart of city’s colonial centre. Accompanied by an expert guide, explore one of Latin America’s biggest and most well-preserved colonial centres.
You will depart early in the morning, heading north on the Pan-American highway to Otavalo market, one of the most well known throughout the Andes. You will also have the opportunity to visit artisanal workshops in the surrounding villages. End your day at your base for the next three nights, a beautiful, working hacienda which was once the home of a former Ecuadorian president. Activities include walking, a visit to the cheese factory, introduction to the Condor Huasi Project (works for the rehabilitation of the Andean Condor) and riding. It is also a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the surroundings.
You will be driven back to Quito for the three-hour flight to Galápagos (touching down in Guayaquil en route) where you will stay for the next four nights. On arrival in Baltra you will be met by your guide and transfer by land and boat to your lodge on Santa Cruz. The property is set in between an arid savannah and a tropical highland forest just 30 minutes away from the main town of Puerto Ayora. The contemporary property carefully balances adventurous land-based activities with ocean-bound excursions. Day excursions to neighbouring islands can be taken aboard the lodge’s spacious and luxurious yacht but returning each night to your luxury base to sleep on steady ground.
Fly back to Quito and after one night in the old town you will be collected for your journey to the northwest corner of the Metropolitan District of Quito. The journey takes you westwards, downhill, following the course of the Rio Blanco as the vegetation changes with a drop in altitude. Your base for the final three nights is a remote, relaxed jungle hideaway, immersed in the Chocó cloud forest. Choose from a variety of activities, always accompanied by a naturalist guide – all at your own pace. Enjoy hikes through the forest, gliding above and through the canopy aboard the amazing Dragonfly aerial cable car or exciting air bicycle. On the final morning you will return to Quito for your international flight home.
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