Exploring the Natural Highlights of Ecuador
This two-and-a-half week trip will show you the incredible diversity in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. In Ecuador, explore the colonial city of Quito, visit the largest market on the continent, hike towering volcanoes and search for wildlife in the Amazon. Finally head to the Galapagos for a diving adventure you'll never forget.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- Explore the colonial city of Quito and visit Otavalo market, the largest in South America
- Visit Cotopaxi National Park and the turquoise waters in the Quilotoa volcano
- Canoe through Yasuni National Park in the Amazon searching for monkeys, jaguars and so much more
- Dive with friendly sea lions, schools of hammerheads and huge whale sharks around the Galapagos islands
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When To Travel
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Day 1: International Flight
Rise and shine for your morning flight to Quito via Amsterdam. The flight will take just over 14 hours, arriving in the early afternoon.
Upon arrival you will be privately transferred to your hotel. Once you've settled in to your room, head out to explore the local area. Quito was the first city to be named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO so there are plenty of beautiful buildings to stumble across. For the best bars and restaurants, check out our dossier.
Day 2: Exploring Quito
On your first day in Quito you will have a chance to explore the city with one of our knowledgeable guides.
Meander down the cobbled streets of this charming city, stopping off to explore the colonial buildings interspersed with striking churches and cathedrals. Stroll through the tree-filled Plaza Grande, overlooked by the Palacio de Gobierno, the seat of the Ecuadorian presidency, before grabbing some lunch at a local restaurant. Take this chance to sample some of the local cuisine - guinea pig, anyone?
The country of Ecuador is so named due to its location on the Equator, which slices right through Quito. There is a monument to celebrate this, however the monument was unfortunately built in the wrong place. Incidentally, the actual line runs through an area just down the road, which your guide will take you to so that you can be in two hemispheres at the same time.
Towards the end of the day take the teleférico (cable car) up to Pichincha Volcano, where you will get to soak in the wonderful views over the city. Be careful not to walk too fast, the altitude is just under 4,000m so the air is rather thin!
Day 3: Explore South America’s Largest Outdoor Market
Today you will head to the town of Otavalo for South America's largest outdoor market. From fresh fruit, veg, and live chickens to handicrafts, ponchos and scarves, there is something for everyone in this lively market town.
After a two-hour drive from Quito, you will arrive in the town with your guide who will show you around the various parts of the market. Start at the animal market which is full of chickens, goats, guinea pigs and alpacas. From there head to Plaza de los Ponchos, where there is a good selection of artisan artefacts including textiles, ceramics, woodcrafts, silver, leather and metal products - perfect for buying souvenirs.
When you're shopped out, head to the beautiful Peguche Waterfall via a picturesque path through the woods. On your way back to Quito, stop off at the nearby Parque Condor to look out for its namesake bird, as well as eagles, owls, falcons and hawks - all endemic to this region.
Day 4: Avenida de los Volcanes
After a relaxed breakfast, you will be privately transferred to your Hacienda in the highlands via the Avenida de los Volcanes (Avenue of the Volcanoes).
Keep your camera at the ready during the journey, as the name suggests, the views are spectacular with mountains and volcanoes on either side. You will stop off at several indigenous markets in small towns along the way which will give you a peek into traditional life in Ecuador.
On arrival at your hotel, settle into your room in this traditional Hacienda and relax in the picturesque gardens before enjoying a delicious dinner.
Day 5: Cotopaxi National Park
Today you will venture south from Quito to Cotopaxi National Park and the highlands. The park is named after the stunning snow-capped volcano in its centre, which is Ecuador's second highest peak at 19,347ft.
Drive around the park, exploring its lovely lakes and vistas while looking out for wildlife, including condors, deer and Andean foxes. If you are feeling more active take a hike through the park with your guide, who will point out the various flora and fauna found in the region.
Day 6: Quilotoa Lake
Today your guide will drive you through the mountainous countryside to the rim of Quilotoa volcano.
The volcano last erupted in 1280, leaving behind a huge caldera which is filled with bright turquoise water. The view from the rim of the caldera down to the lake is truly spectacular. From this point you can walk all the way around the rim in four to five hours, otherwise you can walk down into the caldera to the lakeside. At the lake there are mules available to take you back to the top which will save you a tough, breathless walk back up.
On the way back to the Hacienda you will pass through Andean towns and markets, all with the backdrop of the nearby mountains and volcanoes providing some great photo-taking opportunities.
Day 7: Welcome to the Jungle
This morning you will head back to Quito in time for your flight to Coca, the gateway to the jungle. During the hour-long flight, watch as the mountains and volcanoes, including Cotopaxi, make way for the greenery of the rainforest.
On arrival into this small town you will be taken to the river where you will board a small boat to the heart of the rainforest via the Napo River. The start of the trip will be in a motorised canoe until the river gets too narrow for these when you will change into a traditional dugout canoe for the rest of the journey to your lodge, which is based in the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve. During the boat trip look out for a range of birds and monkeys in the trees, as well as caimans and the elusive giant otter in the water.
Day 8: River Cruising
This morning you will cruise the waterways surrounding your lodge in dugout canoes looking for wildlife with your eagle-eyed guides.
In the trees look out for some of the ten species of monkey found nearby, you'll hear the noisy howler monkey a long time before you see it! Sloths can also be found moving slowly along branches in the trees, not to mention multicoloured macaws, parakeets, oropendolas and tanagers.
In the afternoon, go for a guided walk looking for smaller creatures including frogs, butterflies and other insects as your guide explains about the various species of trees and other plants.
In the evening go for a night cruise on a canoe to see the forest creatures which are active at night including bats, owls, scorpions, tarantulas, frogs, snakes and caimans.
Day 9: A Day of Clay
Today you will take a canoe to some of the nearby clay walls in the national park. Parrots and parakeets gather in large numbers to lick these walls to get salt and minerals.
When you return from the clay wall, go for a short walk through the forest to the observation town. Standing at 115 feet high, this is the perfect position to overlook the forest canopy and look for birds, insects and monkeys hidden in the treetops.
In the afternoon visit a local indigenous Kichwa community where you can learn about their daily way of life. They will teach you about their traditional dance and music as well as their crafts, customs and how they use the natural resources around their community.
Back at the lodge take advantage of the total lack of light pollution with some stargazing - your guide will be able to point out the various constellations.
Day 10: Onwards to Guayaquil
Spend the morning taking a final walk through the forest, or relax at the lodge with a book, before being transported to the airport for your flight to Guayaquil via Quito. The flight will take around four hours.
You will spend one night in Guayaquil ahead of your trip to the Galapagos.
Day 11: Gateway to the Galapagos
This morning you will fly from Guayaquil to San Cristobal in the far east of the Galapagos archipelago. You will be met by the boat crew at the airport and whisked away to your home for the next week in the port.
When all guests have arrived, the boat begins its voyage to the first stop, Isla Lobos. Here you will have a check-out dive in a sheltered bay to get used to being in the water again. You are likely to be joined on the dive by the playful residents of this island - sea lions. Insider tip: mimic them and they will come closer to inspect you.
In the evening, enjoy a delicious dinner onboard as the boat cruises towards Bartolome Island, your first stop for tomorrow.
Day 12: Adventure on Bartolome & the Cousins Islands
This morning pump up the adrenaline hiking to the peak of Bartolome island.
You'll be rewarded with phenomenal views over the island as well as the numerous surrounding islands, including Islas Santiago and Santa Cruz. After your hike, cool off by snorkelling with Galapagos penguins straight from the beach.
In the afternoon you will dive Cousins Rock, which is a beautiful wall dive covered in corals and macro life, including frogfish, sea horses, scorpionfish and octopus. If you can draw your gaze away from the wall, look out into the blue for schools of barracuda and hammerheads, as well as the ever-friendly sea lions.
Back on board, you will be greeted with hot chocolate as the boat heads north-west to the iconic Wolf and Darwin Islands.
Days 13-15: Dive of Dreams off Wolf & Darwin
The next couple of days will likely be the highlight of your diving on this trip.
The waters around Wolf and Darwin Islands are simply teeming with life. Pelagic fish including skipjack, yellowfin tuna and jacks hunt near the surface while mobula rays and silky sharks slink below. At Wolf island in particular, you will see hundreds of hammerheads schooling above while huge pregnant whale sharks casually cruise by, dwarfing everything around them. If you're lucky, you may even spot marlin, tiger sharks and whales that occasionally pass through.
After a surface interval relaxing on board, head back under the waves for an exhilarating night dive to see the odd red lipped batfish walking along the sea floor surrounded by hundreds of moray eels.
Day 16: Wildlife Wonders Above & Below
Different day, different location. Today you will wake up at Cabo Douglas, west of Isabela Island, where you will have one dive in the morning.
Here you will encounter bucket-list animals such as marine iguanas (these are the only iguana species in the world to forage for food in the sea), penguins and sea lions. Out in the open sea look out for large pelagics including barracuda, snappers, yellowfin tuna, rainbow runners and wahoo. There is also a wealth of smaller fish including parrotfish, filefish, box fish and creole fish.
In the afternoon you will head to Punta Vincente Roca for two dives. Here you will find a steep, vertical wall covered in soft corals, sponges and black corals which are endemic to this region. Mola mola (ocean sunfish) are also regularly sighted here so keep your eyes peeled for these massive, strange looking fish.
In the afternoon, continue ticking off wildlife wonders as you head out on the boat's pangas to see the animals living above the water, including penguins, flightless cormorants, marine iguanas, blue footed and Nazca boobies, frigate birds and noddy terns.
Day 17: Isla Pinzon and Puerto Ayora
This morning it's time for your final dive of the trip at Isla Pinzon. Here you are likely to encounter a variety of sharks, sea lions, moray eels, eagle and manta rays.
After the dive you will head out on the pangas through the Itabaca Channel to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. When you reach the island you will be transferred by bus to the highlands to see giant Galapagos Tortoises in their natural environment. You will then have a chance to walk around the town of Puerto Ayora before heading back to the boat for your last night onboard.
Day 18: Back Home
Sadly, today it is time to leave this amazing country and head back home.
This morning you will have a chance to visit the Interpretation Centre where you can learn more about the amazing environment and animals of the Galapagos before being transferred to the airport for your flight back to Quito. In the evening you will then fly back to London via Amsterdam, arriving the following morning.
Day 19: Arrive Home
Your flight arrives in London in the morning.
Emily C, Eleanor and Jacqui are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.