Ecuador & Galapagos Highlights 18 days

Ecuador & Galapagos Highlights 18 Days / 17 Nights

Overview

Capture the spirit and diversity of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands on this 18-day journey through nature, wildlife, history and culture. Start in the vibrant capital city of Quito, travel to the local indigenous market in Otavalo, soak in the volcanic hot springs of Papallacta and enjoy the scenic route all the way down to the best eco-destination in the Amazon. Furthermore, enjoy the outdoor town of Baños, the Avenue of Volcanoes in the high Andean mountains with the spectacular train ride to the Devil’s Nose, and finally explore the colonial city of Cuenca. Discover the wonders of the Galapagos Islands with an entertaining island-hopping experience that will bring you close to giant tortoises, sea lions, iguanas, sea turtles, penguins and more. All while, enjoying the unique volcanic landscapes of the islands and relaxing on the white sand beaches.

This is a trip of a life-time, you’ll experience the very best of this natural and cultural paradise!

  • Duration: 18 days
  • Arrival: Daily
  • Departure: Daily
  • Destinations: Quito, Otavalo, Papallacta, Amazon, Cuenca, Galápagos Island

DAY

DESCRIPTION

MEALS

OVERNIGHT

Day 1Arrival in QuitoQuito
Day 2Otavalo / Indigenous Market(B)Otavalo
Day 3Papallacta Hot Springs(B)Papallacta
Day 4Amazon tour(B) (L)Amazon
Day 5Amazon tour(B) (L)Amazon Lodge
Day 6Waterfalls(B) (L)Tungurahua
Day 7Volcano Tour(B) (L)Chimborazo
Day 8 Train to Ruins(B)Cuenca
Day 9City Tour in Cuenca(B)Cuenca
Day 10Arrival in Galapagos(B)San Cristobal Island
Day 11Galapagos Island tour(B) (L)Sea Lions Island
 Day 12 Galapagos Island tour(B) (L)Isabela Island
 Day 13Galapagos Island tour(B) (L)Isabela Island
Day 14 Galapagos Island tour(B) (L)Isabela Island
Day 15 Galapagos Island tour(B)Santa Cruz Island
Day 16 Galapagos Island tour(B)Santa Cruz Island
Day 17 Galapagos Island tour / Flight to Quito(B)Quito
Day 18Flight to your next Destination(B)

Breakfast (B)

Lunch (L)

Dinner (D)

Itinerary

Day 01: Arrival in Quito

Welcome to Quito! The biggest, and best-preserved colonial city of the America’s that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. The city is considered the Cultural Capital of South America and the second most important city of the old Inca Empire. Depending on arrival time, you may spend your day exploring the town of Quito and the surrounding area. If you desire, our team can help organize a day trip for you. In the evening, one of our trip leaders will meet you at the hotel for a welcome briefing where there will be plenty of time to discuss the details of your trip, and answer any questions you may have regarding the adventure. Our first day is an informational and acclimation day.

Day 02: Otavalo Indigenous Market

We will have an early departure from Quito and drive north through dynamic mountain scenery. On our way we will stop at a viewpoint to admire the Imbabura Volcano and Lake San Pablo. Once in Otavalo, you will have plenty of time to stroll along the narrow cobblestone streets, filled with Otavalo indigenous people wearing the typical blue ponchos, white trousers and long braided hair. You will have the opportunity to learn about their daily activities, typical food and native language. You will also explore their famous handcraft market, full of wonderful textiles, alpaca throws and rugs, knitted clothing, paintings, ceramics, jewelry, tapestries and more at bargain prices. We will then continue to Cotacachi, famous for its leather products, where you will have time for lunch. Finally, we will go to Peguche, a small village known for its waterfalls and wind instruments production.

Day 03: Papallacta Hot Springs

Today, we will drive through a unique landscape up to an elevation of 4000 meters through the eastern range of the Andes. This road is situated between two national reserves (Antisana and Cayambe Coca), both located on the high mountain Paramo, known for its short vegetation and for being the home of some incredible animals including the spectacled bear, deer puma, Andean condor and the cara-cara. After appreciating the amazing views that this landscape offers, we will arrive at Papallacta Hot Springs Resort, where bliss awaits, as you soak in the volcanic water pools surrounded by mountains and colorful flowers and birds.

Day 04: Hummingbirds in the Cloud Forest

Early in the morning, we will drive down a curvy road towards the Amazon rainforest; as we descend from an altitude of 3000 meters to 500 meters, you will observe how the landscape and vegetation change drastically. Our first stop will be the Guango Reserve, where we will have the unique opportunity to see different species of hummingbirds in their natural habitat. These small creatures are famous for their incredible ability to rapidly flap their wings, as well as for their bright colors. Later, we also stop at the “Guacamayos-Macaw Lookout,” located between Antisana and Sumaco National Reserves (low elevation cloud forest), to observe the magic blanket of clouds that covers the Amazon rainforest, until we finally get to the Arajuno River, where a motorized canoe will take us for 20 minutes up the river to the Itamandi Eco-Lodge.

Day 05: Amazon Canoe Ride and Wildlife

In the morning, we will take a motorized canoe down the largest river in Ecuador, Napo River, on our way to the “Amazonico”, a rescue centre sheltering a number of different animals, some in danger of extinction. We can observe different species of monkeys, capybaras, caimans, ocelots, toucans, parrots, and other animals in their natural environment at close range. Later, we will enjoy a cultural activity. An Amazonian Kichwa community will take us in and share their way of life, inviting us to see how they interact with the forest. We will appreciate the skills of the indigenous women manufacturing handmade pottery (ceramics). This little business supports the indigenous people in their daily lives. Today, we will also have the chance to learn how to make our own chocolate from the raw fruit.

Day 06: Road of Waterfalls to Baños

On day six, we will drive further south to Puyo, where we will have a quick look at the balsa carving shop. Continuing our journey, we will stop at Rio Verde, an UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Sangay National Park. It is here that we will hike down to the second highest waterfall in Ecuador, the Pailon Del Diablo, where rushing water cascades and other mesmerizing views can be viewed from a suspension bridge. You may also take an optional hike behind the falls. After a quick drive, we will arrive to another incredible waterfall called El Manto de la Novia, where we will ride in a cable car traversing the canyon of the Pastaza River. In the late afternoon, we will soak in hot springs located in the town of Baños, which is located right on the foothills of the Tungurahua volcano which has been active since the year 1999. This volcano erupts approximately every few months; many visitors are delighted with lava and steam displays that can be viewed from a number of safe view points in the region.

Day 07: Chimborazo Highest Volcano in Ecuador and Vicuñas

Early in the morning, we will drive through valleys and farming villages towards the Chimborazo Volcano, the highest mountain in Ecuador with an elevation of 6310 meters above sea level, whose summit is the world furthest point from the center of the earth. On a clear day, the majestic peak of Chimborazo dominates the view for many kilometers. The visit to this amazing national park includes a short hike for 0.9 km (0.57 miles) to reach an elevation of 5000 meters where the glacier begins. On the hike, we will spot a few of the animals that inhabit this volcanic wonderland, such as the Andean condor, cara-cara, hummingbirds, and the shy wild vicuñas. The vicuñas, once extinct in Ecuador but reintroduced and now protected, is related to the alpacas and llamas.

Day 08: Devil’s Nose Train and Inca Ruins

After an early breakfast, we will take a scenic drive to the small town of Alausí. Here, we will board the train to the Devil’s Nose, where the tracks wind through the countryside in a zigzag formation, creating a travel experience like no other. After the train ride, we will continue our visit towards Ingapirca, the most impressive Inca ruins in Ecuador. We will spend the afternoon learning about this archaeological site, notable for its unique fusion of Inca and native Cañari architecture, as well as for its religious meaning. Later, we will head up to Cuenca, known for its colonial architecture and beautiful scenery. Located in this city is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Day 09: UNESCO City of Cuenca

In the morning, we will enjoy a fantastic city tour, visiting the most important buildings and notable places in Cuenca, such as Calderon Square, the new cathedral, El Barranco, and the El Turi lookout. In the afternoon we will visit a famous Panama hat factory, where we will learn the entire process of making this typical Ecuadorian hat. In the early evening we will take a 45-min domestic flight back to Quito where we will later travel to a lovely hotel close to the airport. Here, we will get ready for our Galapagos adventure.

Day 10: Travel Day to Galapagos Islands (San Cristobal Island)

Today we get ready to explore the most amazing archipelago in the Pacific coast and the place where Charles Darwin based his theory of the evolution off of. We board a morning flight from Quito, to the island of San Cristóbal. Once we arrive, we will go to our hotel located in the town of Puerto Moreno. Here, we will have a short briefing about the next days, before the adventure begins. In the afternoon we head to “La Loberia,” which is both the main beach and nursery for large Galapagos sea lions. We can spot them jumping over rocks or just laying lazily in the sand. We also get to see yellow warbler birds, frigate birds, and several species of Darwin finches along the beach. In-between the rocks we can find marine iguanas, which you can only see in Galapagos. We also have the time to go for a refreshing swim, explore the waters with our snorkel equipment and enjoy the beach.

Day 11: Snorkel at Kicker Rock and Visit to Isla de los Lobos (Sea Lions Island)

In the morning, we will take a speed boat to Kicker Rock, also known as the Sleeping Lion (Leon Dormido) because of its resemblance. This site is located off the coast of San Cristobal. The remains of a lava cone eroded by the sea, two vertical rocks rising 500 feet above the ocean, form a small channel that is navigable by small boats. This Galapagos Islands natural monument has become a favorite sight due to the many tropic birds, frigate birds and boobies that fill the sky in this area. Beneath the sea, the crystal waters offer a brilliant show of colorful tropical fish, such as rainbow fish, and sharks, like hammerhead-, reef- and white tip sharks. After lunch, we visit Sea Lions Island (Isla de Los Lobos). This appropriately named island is ripe with noisy, frolicking, jolly sea lions who will welcome us to their home with open fins. This island also offers great snorkeling opportunities as well as the chance to see blue-footed and Nazca boobies.

Day 12: Isabela Island Exploration

In the morning, we take a short flight to Isabela Island, the largest island in the archipelago and the place where the most volcanic activity in the Galapagos is reported. The island is formed by six shield volcanoes; Alcedo, Cerra Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra and Wolf. Five of these volcanoes are still active, and therefore the island is one of the most volcanically active places on earth. During our island crossing, we will be on the lookout for dolphins and whales (July to October). In the afternoon, we explore the incredible ecosystem and wildlife of the island, enjoying great views of flamingos and marine iguanas in the salt water lagoons, white sand beaches and mangrove forests. This area is filled with bird life, including American oyster catchers, herons, flamingos, finches and many shore birds, as well as the ubiquitous sea lions and marine iguanas. One of the highlights of today is the Tortoise Breeding Centre, where we will see the giant tortoises in the various stages of development, from eggs to small hatchlings, to juveniles to sub adults. We will also visit the Wall of Tears, a massive wall built with lava rocks. This site dates back to the ‘50s, when Isabela was used as a penal colony and prisoners were forced to build the wall to keep them from going mad, because of the isolation they experienced. After dinner we can enjoy a breath-taking sunset on the beach of Puerto Villamil.

Day 13: Snorkeling in Tintoreras

Today we will visit Tintoreras Islet, located at a short distance from Puerto Villamil and home to a great variety of wildlife. We will have a fantastic snorkeling experience in its turquoise, crystalline waters, inhabited by white-tipped reef sharks, Galapagos Penguins, marine turtles and sea lions. Later, we will take a walk to explore the islet beaches, surrounded by mangroves. This is one of the few sites where marine iguanas can reproduce successfully.

Day 14: Lava Tunnels Exploration

Today, we explore the amazing formations of lava created by the last eruptions of the Volcanic Island along the seashore. This magical place is been featured by BBC /National Geographic for different documentaries. It is a labyrinth of lava arches inside the breakers with crystal clear water full of huge sea turtles, eagle rays, sea lions, fish, white tipped reef sharks and more. Turtles navigate their own highway from the mangroves to the open sea through “Los Tuneles.” Here, we will have the best snorkeling opportunity with all these beautiful animals, including the curious Galapagos penguin playing around. After this trip, you can enjoy some optional activities such as snorkeling at “Concha de Perla,” taking surfing lessons, or just relax on the exotic white-sand beaches of Isabela Island.

Day 15: Santa Cruz, Charles Darwin Research Station and Highlands

In the morning we embark on a fast boat ride from Isabela to Santa Cruz Island. During our island crossing, we will be on the lookout for dolphins and whales (July to October). Once we arrive, we will check in at the hotel. We will have time to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn more about many of the endemic species we met during our adventure, as well as the ongoing conservation and management efforts on the Galapagos Islands. In the afternoon, we head to the ‘El Chato’ Reserve in the highlands of Santa Cruz, home to the famous Galapagos tortoise. Hiking through El Chato’s beautiful scenery with those lumbering giants is an unforgettable experience! We also see other highland wildlife such as pintail ducks, egrets, flycatchers and finches on our hike. We can also observe frigate birds which gather to wash the salt off their feathers at a fresh water lake. We return to Puerto Ayora to spend the evening in Galapagos’ most populous town.

Day 16: Free Day in Santa Cruz

Today, you can experience the Galapagos at your pace! As an option, you can go on a self-guided exploration walk through a dry forest to Tortuga Bay (about 3 ½ miles long), a beautiful white sand beach and nesting side to thousands of marine turtles. This beautiful place is perfect for swimming or snorkeling. Alternatively, you can join any of the optional activities (at an extra cost), such as a trip to Floreana Island, Bartolome Island or a scuba-diving day trip, just to mention a few.

Day 17: Travel to Baltra Airport – Flight Back to Quito

After our final breakfast on the Galapagos Islands and taking some last photos of sea lions, we have a travel to Baltra’s airport in time to catch the flight back to the mainland.

Day 18: Departure & End of Services

International departures, end of services. Take with you memories and photos and leave a piece of your heart, as you will want to return to Ecuador soon to experience more of this enchanted land. We wish you a “buen viaje”!

Transport

Flights Route

Feel free to ask about flights, we can offer quotes at affordable rates!

  • Cuenca – Quito
  • Quito – Galápagos
  • Galápagos – Quito

Included

Included:

  • Transportation: Airport trasportation, one way flight San Cristobal-Isabela, sea transportation Santa Cruz – Isabela islands, private and comfortable land and sea transportation, train, motorized canoe
  • Accommodation based on double occupancy
  • Activities: In Ecuador mainland: Indigenous market, volcanic hot springs, encounter with indigenous people, road of the waterfalls, hiking up the glacier of Chimborazo, trekking, bird watching in the Amazon, canoeing and wildlife observation in the rain forest, Amazonian Animal Rescue Center, chocolate making with indigenous people, train to Devil’s Nose, cultural visit of Cuenca. In Galapagos: snorkeling at Kicker Rock and Isla de los Lobos, tortoise breeding center and flamingo lagoon in Isabela Island, snorkeling in Tintoreras and Lava Tunnels, Wall of Tears, Charles Darwin Research Station, hiking in Santa Cruz highlands
  • Meals: 16 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 2 dinners
  • Gear: hiking sticks, snorkeling mask and fins, life vest
  • Trip Leader: Certified expert, English-speaking adventure trip leader (minimum 4 people for this service in Galapagos), and local nature guides

Not included:

  • Your own room equipment
  • International flights
  • Airport transportation (international flights)
  • Travel insurance (mandatory)
  • Meals not described in the itinerary – estimated budget $320 USD
  • INGALA transit card: $20 USD per person, cash only (subject to change)
  • Galapagos National Park fee: $100 USD per person, cash only (subject to change)
  • $10 USD pier-use fee at Puerto Villamil (subject to change)
  • Snorkeling gear (mask and fins) for optional activities: $8 USD per day per person
  • Wet suit for rent: $10 USD
  • Gratuity







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