Day 1: Quito, Ecuador
Welcome to Ecuador! Upon arrival, after your baggage is collected, you are welcomed by your Big Five representative, who escorts you to your private vehicle. Your driver will be waiting for you to transfer you to your hotel. During the drive, your guide will go over your schedule for the next day and answer any questions you may have. Situated in a newly-restored historic mansion overlooking Plaza San Francisco, the three-story Casa Gangotena Boutique Hotel harbors 31 rooms, a showcase of eye-catching style, contemporary design, antiques, fine furnishings, modern technologies and quintessential comforts. Beautiful, eclectically appointed, the hotel invites you to explore. Relax, whether in the dining room, glassed-in patio, garden redolent with the perfume of native flowers, wood-paneled library, or else atop its panoramic third-floor terrace. Casa Gangotena
Day 2: Quito / Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve
After breakfast, you set out to the north on a drive to the cloud forest, about 900 m/3,116 ft above sea level, where you will spend the next days. Here in the Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve you are surrounded by lower montane rainforest and cloud forest that host a profusion of plant species, from ferns and bromeliads to hundreds of orchid species, many newly-discovered. Some 500 species of bird – including some 36 endemics – are estimated to inhabit the forest. Monkeys, peccaries and even puma make their homes inside the reserve that is crisscrossed with waterfalls. Mashpi Lodge is set within a 2,600-acre private reserve. As you pass the Equator you climb out of dry valleys before gently descending towards the Pacific, the vegetation around you becoming ever-more verdant and abundant with every turn of the road. Incredibly quickly, you find yourself surrounded by forest and tumbling mountains on all sides, as the road winds downhill towards a private reserve of protected forest. Mashpi Lodge was designed as the ideal springboard for exploring the biodiversity of its surroundings. It combines the highest standards of comfort, service, guiding and cuisine that you expect. Discover life in the tree tops, trekking along trails, listening to animal calls, bathing in pure waterfalls, or simply relaxing with a view of clouds playing hide and-seek with the forest. Mashpi Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 3: Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve
Explore your magnificent surroundings with activities suited to your interests. Your guides help you discover the forest during walks and hikes in the forest along trails. Due to Mashpi’s mountainous topography, trails are rarely flat. The Howler Monkey (mainly primary forest) and Cucharillo (mainly secondary), although short, are steep. Both trails have been specially adapted to make walking easier, using embedded recycled plastic crates to create steps and firm paths. Take a dip in refreshing waterfalls; visit a butterfly and frog exhibition center; head to a reforested area for wildlife observation; or an area designed for observing dozens of species of amazing hummingbirds. These activities are complemented by the knowledge and enthusiasm of naturalist and local Guides, who will accompany the small groups throughout their stay. In the evenings, guides give presentations and briefings for a deeper understanding of the forest’s ecosystem and biodiversity. Mashpi Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 4: Mashpi / Tulipe / Zuleta
This morning, you transfer by private car in a one hour drive to Tulipe Archaeological Site, originally built by the Yumbo people who lived in the valleys and mountains surrounding Quito between 800 and 1660 A.D. No one really knows what happened to these ancient people, but it is surmised that they might have migrated to the Amazon basin after the Pichincha Volcano erupted in 1660. The various finds and their relative positions point to an advanced people, who may have, at one point controlled the important trade route between the Andes and Amazon and the Pacific coast. Following your visit to Tulipe, continue on (approx. 3-hour drive) to Compania Hacienda for lunch. Located in the beautiful valley of Cayambe, the hacienda was built in 1919 in French neoclassical style, and has belonged to the same family for generations. Following lunch, continue to Hacienda Zuleta, a colonial working farm encompassing 2,000 hectares/4,000 acres that has for a century belonged to the family of Galo Plaza Lasso, a former president of Ecuador. It was chosen as one of the world’s “Top Ten Finds” by Outside magazine and named as one of the best Ecuador Hotel by National Geographic Traveler. Your hosts welcome you with some afternoon tea or coffee. After planning your stay, you learn about the hacienda’s history, see the ex- President Galo Plaza Lasso’s private library, the chapel and beautiful gardens. As sun sets it can get chilly so you are invited to enjoy some wine and farm-made Ecuadorian cheese beside the fireplace. Learn about their horse-breeding business or about the local culture of Ecuador in the highlands. Hacienda Zuleta (B,L,D)
Days 5/6: Zuleta
You have several options to explore over the next two days. You can begin each day with one of the short hikes before breakfast and do some bird watching along the way. You can visit the cheese factory to learn more about Zuleta´s semi-aged, handmade Ecuadorian cheeses, and how the process has changed throughout history. Mornings are also the best time look for the endangered Ecuadorian condor. You can opt to huike, bike or ride horses to the Andean Condor Reserve, just three kilometers/1.9 miles from the guesthouse. You will learn about the foundation’s efforts, see rescued Andean condors in our aviary, and visit a nearby trout farm. The route back takes you through pasture land where you see ancient monuments of the Caranqui culture – small burial mounds dating back to 700 A.D. and giant ceremonial truncated ramp pyramids from the 13th century. For lunch, enjoy freshly caught trout and Ecuador cuisine. If you have coffee in the patio, you will likely see a giant hummingbird that comes frequently to feed here. You can shop for beautiful, handmade, colorful embroidery articles made by the local Zuleta women’s cooperative. Take a delightful horse drawn carriage down the eucalyptus alley to visit the foundation-run library, where local children spend their afternoons getting help with homework, reading and playing. You can choose a more challenging hike up to Condor View, which offers wonderful views of the local area and you may even be lucky enough to spot a family of spectacle bears along the way. You can visit a local shaman on the other side of Mount Imbabura to learn about ancient healing and energy balancing techniques – by special arrangement. Hacienda Zuleta (B,L,D)
Day 7: Zuleta / Quito / Baltra Island, Galapagos / Santa Cruz Island
A special adventure begins as you transfer to Quito airport and fly to the Galapagos Islands. You will then meet with a cruise representative, who assists you with check-in for your five-night cruise aboard the M/C Athala II. After an introductory and safety briefing, enjoy lunch on board before you prepare for your first excursion. Although an itinerary of the daily cruise schedule is provided below, it should be used only as a guideline. Cruise itineraries in the Galapagos are regularly affected by seasonal factors and by national park authorities’ daily directives. Your on-board naturalist-guide will give briefings on the daily excursions. Amazingly, each site is a distinct ecosystem unto itself, where you’ll enjoy a unique mix of tropical and polar wildlife. In the Galapagos, you discover flightless birds, playful sea lions, and a bounty of birds, tortoises and iguanas – each specially adapted to the specific island habitat. Time will allow for observations of the incredibly unique flora, fauna and volcanic terrain by foot, on panga excursions, guided hikes, relaxing beach walks, snorkeling and swimming! You will access islands either by wet or dry landing.
Wet Landings Wet Landings are landings on the beach rather than on the shore. Passengers go ashore by swinging their legs over the side of the panga and then stepping off into approximately a foot of water, and finally wading to shore. The process is relatively easy and is done in reverse to board the panga. Unless wearing Tevas or other aqua shoes, the wet landing is made barefoot. Then once on shore there is a few minutes to dry feet and try to remove as much sand as possible before putting on shoes and socks before the natural history walk. Bringing two towels or wash clothes on a wet landing is highly recommended. One towel is used to put your feet on while the other towel is used to dry the feet and get the sand off.
Dry Landings Dry Landings are made in areas where the passenger can exit the panga directly on to a rock or lava surface. Shoes can be worn for the duration of a dry landing. This is actually the more difficult landing since the panga continues to move while passengers attempt to step off the boat on to a slippery surface. Good balance and paying attention to what you are doing are key to a successful dry landing. The guide will go ashore first and offer you a hand. Boarding the panga is done in the same fashion the guide or a crewmember will offer a hand to everyone as they re-board the panga.
PM: Mosquera Islet This tiny islet is actually home to a huge population of sea lions and is also home to many shorebirds. While at Mosquera, keep your eyes peeled as there are occasional reports of dolphins and orcas. Difficulty Level: Easy. M/C Athala II (B,L,D)
Day 8: Galapagos Islands
AM: Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island Sullivan Bay is known for its spectacular volcanic formations, relatively young pahoehoe lava flows, and unique geological scenery. Sullivan’s relatively recent volcanic activity, few plants have been able to take root here, much less be successful, so pay particular interest to the low-lying pioneer plant known locally as “mollugo” as well as the lava cactus. This morning excursion includes a hike and some time for snorkeling.
PM: Bartolome Island Bartolome is a small island that has two visitor sites. At the first site, you can snorkel around Pinnacle Rock, where penguins are usually seen. Then, it’s back on board for a quick change of clothes followed by a short dinghy ride to a dry landing for a climb to the highest point on the island. On the way up, you encounter different volcanic formations, including spatter and tuffcones, lava flow and lava tubes. From the summit you will have a wonderful view of Sullivan Bay. For those not interested in the hike, there is the option of a panga ride. Usual fauna and flora also includes sea lions, pioneer plants, reef sharks, rays and colorful reef fish. Walk up 375 low-grade stairs to top of volcano at a slow to moderate pace. Difficulty Level: Moderate. M/C Athala II (B,L,D)
Day 9: Galapagos Islands
AM: Urbina Bay, Isabela Island Urbina Bay is located in Western Isabela, at the foot of Alcedo volcano. This is the spot where the Galapagos National Park began their successful eradication of goats on Isabela Island. After a wet landing on a beautiful black-sand beach, you may be able to observe sea turtle nesting sites. This area is also known for penguin and flightless cormorant sightings and is one of the best places to see Darwin’s finches as well as large land iguanas. Also, be on the lookout for Galapagos tortoises which like to feed within the site’s dense vegetation. Incredible view of the whole cove and Darwin Lake. Difficulty Level: Moderate.
PM: Tagus Cove, Isabela Island Tagus Cove was historically used as an anchoring place for pirates, buccaneers and whalers. Here you will see the names of hundreds of ships painted on the high ridges (a practice now forbidden). On the hike, the trail goes through an area of vegetation and the volcanic landscape of Darwin volcano. At the top of the trail, you will enjoy a brisk “power-hike” followed by kayaking or a panga ride, where you will have the opportunity to see a large number of blue-footed boobies perched on the ledges of the cliffs, as well as marine iguanas, penguins, brown pelicans, brown noddy terns and swallow-tailed gulls. While exploring the channel between Fernandina and Isabela Islands, we sometimes encounter dolphins and whales. Difficulty Level: Easy to Difficult (panga ride is easy, hike up to lake can be strenuous for some). M/C Athala II (B,L,D)
Day 10: Galapagos Islands
AM: Fernandina Island Fernandina Island is one of the most pristine ecosystems in the entire world and also one of the most dynamic. La Cumbre Volcano last erupted in April 2009. It dominates the landscape, with lava fields stretching towards the ocean from its base. Punta Espinoza is a narrow piece of land where some of the most unique Galapagos species can be seen, including the flightless cormorant, Galapagos snakes, marine iguanas, penguins and the Galapagos hawk. Difficulty Level: Moderate.
PM: Punta Vicente Roca, Isabela Island Punta Vicente Roca is a wonderful snorkeling site, where you can usually see turtles as well as all kinds of fish. For those who do not snorkel, a panga ride will give you the opportunity to study some of the Galapagos’ spectacular geological rock formations. Nazca boobies, pelicans, swallow-tailed gulls, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants and penguins are often seen in the area. Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate. M/C Athala II (B,L,D)
Day 11: Galapagos Islands
AM: Puerto Egas, Santiago Island Puerto Egas, or James Island, is located on the northwest side of Santiago Island. The landing is on a black beach with eroded rock formations in the distance. The trail crosses the dry interior, where the remains of a salt mining enterprise can still be seen, before continuing along the coast. Tidal pools are home to a variety of invertebrate organisms, including sea urchins, octopus and starfish. You will also see marine iguanas, finches, oyster catchers and possibly the Galapagos Hawk. The trail leads to the Fur Sea Lion Grottos, one of the only places in the islands where these unique animals can be seen. After the walk, you will have time to swim or snorkel off the beach, where you will see sea lions, fish and maybe some turtles, rays and maybe some reef sharks. Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate.
PM: Espumilla Beach, Santiago Island This afternoon’s visit is to the northern coast of Santiago Island in James Bay. This is a wet landing. The main attractions here are a Palo Santo forest, beach and the landscape. The Palo Santo forest at Espumilla has some of the tallest specimens of the species in the entire archipelago. Also look out for the Galapagos Hawk as well as Darwin’s finches. The beach is an important site for nesting marine turtles. Difficulty level: Easy. M/C Athala II (B,L,D)
Day 12: Galapagos Islands / Santa Cruz Island - Galapagos Safari Camp
AM:Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island After breakfast, you will disembark the Athala II for the last time. You are then transferred to the Charles Darwin Research Station, accompanied by a guide. After a quick and informative visit of the Research Station, you will be met by your naturalist guide from Galapagos Safari Camp who will accompany you for lunch and a complete tour of the highlands. You visit Los Gemelos, collapsed twin craters that were formed by a series of eruptions when the island was still active. This area is one of the few where the Scalesia forest is almost intact. Tortoises wander around, finches and vermilion fly catchers can also be seen. You experimence total darkness and learn about the formation of these fascinating islands in the lava tunnels. Arrive at Galapagos Safari Camp for a sunset drink and dinner. Galapagos Safari Camp is a 55-hectare farm in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island bordering the national park, 30 minutes from the sea. The farm is rich in birdlife with finches, warblers, mockingbirds, galapagos doves, egrets and owls — tortoises also make frequent visits. The farm has many local species of trees, such as scalesia, guayabillo, and palo santo which are rapidly regaining a foothold after years of cattle farming. The camp has eight luxury safari tents perched on a hill, providing comfort and privacy in the wilderness. All tents have a balcony with views of the park and the ocean — they are spacious, attractively decorated, and each has a private bathroom, with hot shower and loo. Guests can gather by the fireplace in the main room to view the sunsets, taste our chef´s creative dishes that cater for the international palate in the panoramic dining room or enjoy the tranquility of the infinity pool with fabulous ocean scenery. Galapagos Safari Camp (B,L,D)
Day 13: Santa Cruz Island - Galapagos Safari Camp
The trail begins at the village of Bellavista and takes you to some of the biggest hills of the island: Media Luna, Puntudo and Cerro Crocker. Ornithologists will thrive in this area as there are several bird species that can be observed such as rails, finches and petrels. Galapagos Safari Camp (B,L,D)
Day 14: Galapagos Islands / Guayaquil / Depart
This morning you are transferred to Baltra Airport to board your private plane to Guayaquil, and connect to your international flight out. (B)
Land price, per person per day, double occupancy: From US$1100 per person, per day (includes National Park fees, internal air and fuel surcharge).