Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands

On this adventure, you will explore the lush cloud forest of Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve and travel into the highlands of Ecuador to the historic Hacienda Zuleta. Explore the Tulipe Archaeological Site, originally built by the Yumbo people between 800 and 1660 CE. Enjoy a five-night cruise of the Galapagos Islands aboard the M/C Athala II, and encounters the endemic wildlife from iguanas to seals both on the volcanic islands and in surrounding waters. Savor an island stay at a safari camp and see one of the few Scalesia forests that remain almost intact. This is a spectacular journey for nature lovers.

Country Information

Ecuador & The Galapagos Islands

Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands Enrichment Series

(Countries Visited)

Ecuador & The Galapagos Islands

(Interest Type(s))

Romantic Getaways


Sustainable Travel


Safari Tours


Adventure Travel

(Tour Length)

14 Days

Tour Highlights

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  • Explore the lush cloud forest of Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve and discover life in the tree tops, trek along trails, listen to animal calls, and bathe in pure waterfalls
  • Travel into the highlands of Ecuador to the historic Hacienda Zuleta to encounter local cultures and bike, hike and horseback ride through the lush landscapes
  • Take in the Tulipe Archaeological Site, originally built by the Yumbo people between 800 and 1660 CE, who may have migrated to the Amazon basin after the Pichincha Volcano erupted in 1660
  • On a five-night cruise of the fabled Galapagos Islands aboard the M/C Athala II, savor close-up encounters with the unique and amazing wildlife from iguanas to seals both on the volcanic islands and surrounding waters
  • For another perspective, stay on Santa Cruz Island at a safari camp and visit collapsed twin craters and one of the few Scalesia forests that remains almost intact as well as meet the tortoises wandering around and see the stunning finches and vermilion fly catchers flitting about

Day 1: Quito, Ecuador
Welcome to Ecuador! Upon arrival and once your baggage is collected, you will be welcomed by your Big Five Representative and proceed outside where your private vehicle and driver will be waiting for you to transfer you to your hotel. During the drive to your hotel, 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. Beautifully- and eclectically-appointed, the hotel invites its guests to explore and to 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. Sophisticated and eclectic, historic yet contemporary, at Casa Gangotena style, passion and service blend seamlessly and delightfully. Casa Gangotena’s rooms are arrayed across all three of its floors. Due to the property’s heritage character, rooms vary in size, although all are comfortably ample. All benefit from the mansion’s elegant, tall ceilings, drawing the bright Andean sunlight into their interiors. Their decoration plays off rich carpets, towering window frames, flowing curtains and Art Deco-style furniture such as desks, armoires, tables and armchairs.  CASA GANGOTENA

Day 2: Quito / Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve
This morning you can take your breakfast at the hotel restaurant enjoying the colonial ambience. Then, drive north to Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve in the cloud forest, where you will spend the next days. Mashpi Lodge is set within a 1,052 hectares/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 the private reserve of protected forest. Mashpi Lodge was designed as the ideal springboard for exploring the biodiversity of its reserve. It combines the highest standards of comfort, service, guiding and cuisine that today's most discerning travelers expect. The Mashpi experience is about discovering 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
Spend today enjoying the lodge and its varied activities. Walk or hike in the forest along trails that lead to cool waterfalls, where you can break for a refreshing swim. Go into the forest to experience a reforested area, and meet some of the local inhabitants, including butterflies. You can enjoy the delightful butterflies and frogs at the exhibition center. An area here has been designed for observing many species of amazing hummingbirds. Your escorts for these excursions are experienced, including both naturalist guides and local guides, who will accompany small groups throughout your stay. In the evenings, guides will give presentations and briefings for a deeper understanding of the forest’s ecosystem and biodiversity.  MASHPI LODGE (B,L,D)

Day 4: Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve / Tulipe / Zuleta
This morning, you will be transferred in a private car in a one-hour drive from Mashpi 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 a rather important and advanced people and it is thought that at one point they may have controlled the very important trade route between the Andes and Amazon and the Pacific coast. Following your visit to Tulipe, continue onwards (approx. 3-hour drive) to Compania Hacienda for lunch. Located in the beautiful valley of Cayambe, the hacienda was built in the early twentieth century with French neoclassical style, and has belonged to the same family for generations. The family has retained objects and artifacts, among them old newspapers of the property with information on livestock and horses. The furniture, wallpaper, and carpets walls are original, allowing easy viewing of farm life in early twentieth century. The house was built in 1919, but the estate is of the colonial era. Following lunch, continue to Hacienda Zuleta, (approx. 1-hour drive).

Arrive at Hacienda Zuleta, a colonial working farm of 2,000 hectares /4,000 acres that belongs to the family of Mr. Galo Plaza Lasso, a former president of Ecuador, for more than 100 years. 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. Enjoy a relaxing evening after you have settled in.  Your host will welcome you personally at Zuleta and after checking in to your room, will chat with you in the living room. One of the owners or managers will personally explain to you about the activities the hacienda offers and will find out about your personal preferences, needs or questions while having some afternoon tea or coffee.

After planning your stay you will be shown around the main building, you will learn more about Zuleta’s history, see ex- President Galo Plaza Lasso’s private library, the chapel and beautiful gardens. As sun sets it gets chilly at Zuleta, so enjoy some wine and farm made Ecuadorian cheese beside the fireplace while reading our information folders and books, learning more about our foundation, Galo Plaza, our horse breeding business or about the local culture of Ecuador in the highlands. HACIENDA ZULETA (B,L,D)

Day 5: Zuleta
If you are an early morning person you might want to enjoy one of our short hikes before breakfast and try to catch sight of the countless birds we have at Zuleta. After an exquisite breakfast with eggs, pancakes, muesli, fruit and homemade bread you will be able to visit the cheese factory and learn more about Zuleta´s semi-aged, handmade Ecuadorian cheeses and how the process has changed throughout history. As mornings are usually sunny throughout the whole year, it is best to take advantage and use this time to take our condor tour. Visit by hiking, biking or horseback riding to our Andean Condor reserve. In the mornings, you are most likely to spot an Ecuadorian wild condor flying by.

The reserve is located 3 km from the guesthouse, in a native forest valley. You will learn about the foundation’s efforts, see rescued Andean condors in our aviary, and visit the nearby trout farm. The route back takes us through pasture land where we ride between ancient monuments of the Caranqui culture; seeing both small burial mounds dating back to 700 A.D., and giant ceremonial truncated ramp pyramids from the 13th century.

At lunch time you can enjoy freshly caught trout and our exquisite Ecuador cuisine. Then have coffee in the patio whilst admiring the giant hummingbird that comes frequently to feed here.

In the afternoon you can buy or order countless beautiful, handmade, colorful embroidery articles from the Zuleta women’s cooperative. Coming out of the shop our horse drawn carriage is ready and waiting for you and will take you down the eucalyptus alley to visit the foundation run library. This is where local children spend their afternoons, getting help with homework, reading and playing. You can also decide to do 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 end the day with a nice hot bath. HACIENDA ZULETA (B,L,D)

Day 6: Zuleta
Today, you can enjoy different activities in Zuleta region and/or visit to shaman friend on the other side of Mount Imbabura to learn about ancient healing and energy balancing techniques – by special arrangement. You will also be able to enjoy Ecuador’s famous “colada morada” that is only served during these days made from blackberries, corn, pineapple and other fruit and served with the eatable “bread-doll”. HACIENDA ZULETA (B,L,D)

Day 7: Quito / Baltra Island, Galapagos / Santa Cruz Island
A special adventure begins as you transfer to Quito airport and depart to The Galapagos Islands. You will then meet with a cruise representative for the Athala II (Ocean Adventures) who will assist you in your 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 affected regularly by seasonal factors and National Park authorities issued daily. Your on-board naturalist-guide will give daily briefings on the daily excursions. Each visitation site is a distinct little world unto itself, where you’ll enjoy a unique mix of tropical and polar wildlife.

In Galapagos you will find flightless birds, frolicking sea lions, and a bounty of birds, tortoises and iguanas specially adapted to their particular island habitat. Time will allow for observations of the incredibly unique flora, fauna and volcanic terrain, both on foot and on panga excursions. The reason that you travel to Galapagos is to experience the islands and their unique fauna. Your program will allow you to perceive Galapagos from different perspectives: guided hikes, relaxing beach walks, snorkeling and swimming! You will access the various islands during your voyage by wet or dry landings.

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 is the key to a successful dry landing. The guide will go ashore first and offer you a hand. Use the help! The guide will tightly grip your hand so you can balance while trying to find your footing. 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.

Afternoon: 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
Morning: 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.

Afternoon: 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 will 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. Difficulty Level: Moderate. Walk up 375 low-grade stairs to top of volcano at a slow to moderate pace. M/C ATHALA II (B,L,D)

Day 9: Galapagos Islands
Morning: 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. Difficulty Level: Moderate

Afternoon: 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 an incredible view of the whole cove and Darwin Lake.

The brisk “power-hike” is 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
Morning: 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, and also 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

Afternoon: 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
Morning: 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 background. The trail crosses the dry interior, where the remains of a salt mining enterprise can still be seen, and then continues 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

Afternoon: Espumilla Beach, Santiago Island
This afternoon’s visitor site is on 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
Morning: 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 will 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 will experiment total darkness and learn about the formation of these fascinating islands in the lava tunnels and your tour ends 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 8 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: The Galapagos Islands
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. The distance from Bellavista to Media Luna is 5 km and from there to Puntudo and Cerro Crocker close to 3 km. 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 then to the USA.  (B)

Land price, per person, double occupancy: From US$800 per person per day.

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