Day 1 Quito
Arrive in Quito at any time. There are no planned activities, so check into our hotel and enjoy the city. Located 2850m (9348 ft) above sea level, the Ecuadorian capital of Quito enjoys a wonderful spring-like climate, despite the fact that it is only 22 km (14 miles) south of the Equator. Nestled in a valley flanked by mountains, on a clear day several snow-capped volcanoes are visible from the city centre. Add to its beautiful location a rich history and well-preserved colonial district, and you begin to understand Quito’s appeal to thousands of tourists every year. In 1978 UNESCO declared Quito a World Heritage site, and any new development in Quito's old town is now strictly controlled. Life in Quito tends to be peaceful, though the drivers are fond of using their car horns! There are approximately 2,000,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area, but the pace is relaxed and the residents hospitable. Quito is separated into two basic sections, the old and the new cities. The old city is full of historical buildings and churches. One of the more noteworthy is the Catedral de Quito, located on the Plaza de la Independencia. Built between 1550 and 1562, it was one of the first neoclassical works in Quito. La Compañía de Jésus Church is considered one of the most beautiful in the Americas. The decorations in the Compañía contain approximately one and one-half tons of gold, and construction of the church took 170 years (1605-1775). The small, rounded hill dominating the old town is El Panecillo or 'the Little Bread Loaf,' a major Quito landmark. From here there are marvellous panoramic views of the entire city and surrounding volcanoes. You can easily take a trolley (streetcar) or a cab between the Old Town and New Town. Quito’s large foreign population and steady stream of travellers have given it a varied and vibrant nightlife, and salsotecas and other dance clubs abound. For a real Ecuadorian experience though, be sure and drop by a peña if you can; these are great places for meeting locals and dancing, as well as enjoying local cooking.
Day 2 Papallacta Hot Springs (1B)
The morning is free explore Quito on your own. In the afternoon take a bus trip through the heights of the Andes en route to the Amazon. Stop for the night in Papallacta, and relax in the natural mineral hot pools. The village of Papallacta sits 60 km (37 miles) southeast of Quito, over the Andes and on the outer rim of the Amazon Basin. This small village, surrounded by cloud forest on the road between the highlands and the Oriente, has arguably the best thermal springs in all of Ecuador. It is the perfect place to spend a relaxing evening soaking in the mineral hot springs, while enjoying the great natural beauty of the area.
Days 3-4 Amazon Homestay (2B,2L,2D)
This morning we descend into the Amazon jungle region. Notice the scenery change dramatically as we leave the mountains and enter the lush, tropical Amazon rainforest. Stay with a Quichua family and enjoy the hospitality of these wonderful people, and experience life in the jungle first-hand. In the 16th century, Spanish conqueror Francisco de Orellana ventured from Quito into the eastern jungle, in search of El Dorado, a mythical stash of Inca gold hidden away in the jungle. While he didn't find gold, he did discover Ecuador's Rio Napo, which along with Peru’s Marañón, combines to create the mighty Amazon. He followed the Napo into the Amazon mainstream and travelled all the way through the dense jungle to the Atlantic Ocean on Brazil’s coast. Consider the variety of mammals living in Ecuador's Amazon: armadillos, honey bears, sloth, 60 varieties of bats, tapirs, peccaries, jaguar, monkeys, manatees and much more. Birds are the richest group of Amazon vertebrates, at approximately 1000 species. Visitors will see hummingbirds, toucans, macaws and tanagers on land, and darters, herons and gulls on water. If fortunate, you may catch a glimpse of the prehistoric looking Hoatzin, with its brightly coloured feathers and sharp talons. Over 500 species of trees per acre have been recorded in the jungles of the upper Amazon. If this doesn’t seem particularly astonishing, consider that this is ten times greater than either Europe or North America, and you will begin to appreciate the significance of the conservation of this area and others like it. The rainforest is also the traditional home of many indigenous communities, whose traditional homelands and way of life are threatened by the encroachment of 20th century industries like mining, petroleum exploitation and large-scale cash-crop farming. Among the most representative are the Siona-Secoya, Cofan, Huaorani, Shuar, Ashuar and Quichua. We spend four days of the Inland & Amazon itinerary in the Ecuadorian Amazon, near the Napo River. Our home for two of these days is with a Quichua family near the community of Cando, where we will learn their traditional beliefs and customs, their many practical uses for the jungle’s wealth of natural products. The family is friendly and over the years they have met countless visitors from around the globe. It is a great opportunity to make new friends, while experiencing a completely different way of doing things—one that may give you a different perspective on life. Approximate Distance: 95km Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Days 5-6 Jungle Lodge (2B,2L,2D)
Today travel to a jungle lodge located on the Napo River, one of the Amazon’s two major tributaries. We explore by foot and canoe to learn about the natural history of this area. There is also an option for an exhilarating whitewater rafting trip on the Napo! Please note that wildlife viewing in this part of the jungle is limited for a number of reasons, and that this is more a cultural learning experience.
Days 7-8 Baños (2B)
Return to the mountains on our journey to Baños, a small town nestled in the hills. Take advantage of the many outdoor options, or simply relax in the thermal waters. Baños means 'baths' and there are several in and around the town. Some thermal springs come from the base of Tungurahua Volcano (‘little hell' in Quichua), others have melt water running into them from the volcano’s glaciated flanks. Locals swear that the baths are good for your health; it’s definitely worth rising early to watch the dawn creep over the mountains from a hot spring vantage point. The town is the perfect setting for outdoor pursuits, including horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, climbing and rafting in the surrounding mountains and on the River Patate. Baños is one of the most popular tourist spots in the country and you will find many Ecuadorian families vacationing here. One look at this delightfully green mountain town and you will know why. Surprisingly, it is pleasant and unspoiled.
Days 9-10 Cuenca (2B)
Today we head south by private transfer along the “Avenue of Volcanoes", through Ecuador's central valley of mountains to the colonial town of Cuenca. This is a full day trip with spectacular views along the way, stopping at the Inca ruins of Ingapirca for an optional visit, they are the largest and best preserved archaeological site in Ecuador. Explore the town and hike in Cajas National Park. Considered the most beautiful city in Ecuador, Cuenca has had an eventful history. Barely half a century before the arrival of the Spaniards, the powerful Inca Tupac Yupanqui was undertaking the difficult conquest of the local Cañari people, who struggled bravely to stem the expansion of the Inca Empire. After several years of bitter fighting, Tupac Yupanqui's forces prevailed. The Inca began the construction of a major city whose splendour and importance was to rival that of the imperial capital of Cusco. Stories of sun temples covered with gold sheets and palaces built using the finest skill of Cuzqueño stonemasons abound. What happened to Tomebamba, as the city was called, is however, a complete mystery. By the time the Spanish chronicler Cieza de Léon passed through in 1547, Tomebamba lay in ruins, although well-stocked storehouses indicated how great it had recently been. The Tomebamba River divides Cuenca in half, and south of the river lie fairly recent suburbs and the modern university. To the north is the heart of the colonial city. Although Cuenca has expanded to become Ecuador's third largest city with 165,000 inhabitants, it still retains a pleasantly provincial air and the old centre has churches dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. The earliest building is the original Cathedral, construction of which began in 1557, the year Cuenca was founded by the Spanish conquerors. Explore the city’s sights including cobbled streets, red-tiled roofs, art galleries, flower markets, shady plazas and museums. The villagers in the surrounding areas are expert milliners, creating beautiful Panama hats (which should perhaps more accurately be called Ecuador hats). The ruins of Ingapirca lie approximately an hour and a half drive north of Cuenca, through some of Ecuador's most beautiful countryside. Although it is a major Inca site, not a lot is known about its history Yet another nearby attraction is Area Nacional de Recreacion Cajas, a protected area of 28,000 ha, about 30 km (19 miles) northwest of the city of Cuenca. The terrain is quite stark, mostly above 4000m (13120 ft) in the páramo (grassy highlands), with many clear lakes and a great variety of bird life, beautiful scenery and good hiking possibilities. Approximate Distance: 321km Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
Days 11-12 Otavalo (2B)
A short flight takes the group back to Quito, where we will take a private transfer to the village of Cayambe, where we stay in a 400-year-old hacienda nestled at the base of Cayambe Volcano. G Adventures discovered this hacienda years ago and it has become special part of all our trips in the area. If you are feeling energetic, you can travel to the base of the volcano's glacier and hike back down. Rent horses and head off into the hills, or explore the beautiful property surrounding the hacienda, including an indoor swimming pool. The town of Cayambe is famous both for its dairy industry and the snow-capped, extinct volcano of the same name that dominates the town. Ecuador's third highest peak at 5790m/18991 ft, it is the highest point in the world through which the Equator directly passes — at about (4600m/15088 ft) on the south side. Hacienda Guachalá, the estate where we stay has a long and dynamic history. Originally part of an Inca outpost, the farm became an encomienda given to a conquistador. In 1647, D. Francisco de Villacis bought the sheep farm and constructed a wool factory, exporting his product to Europe. A great grandson of Pope Alejandro VI (one of the Borjas), married Maria de Villacis in 1700, and the farm passed into the hands of the Borja Family until 1832, when it was sold once again. In 1892, the farm was bought by Josefina Bonifaz, who changed the wool factory to a dairy farm. Her son Neptali Bonifaz, who eventually became Ecuador's President, divided the inherited land between his sons. Following land reform laws of the 1960s, part of the land was returned to indigenous families. Today only a small fraction of the original land, including the original house and factory buildings, remains in the hands of the Bonifaz family. Part of the family home was refurbished in the early 1990s and converted into a small hotel, the Hacienda Guachalá, where we enjoy the natural beauty of this highland area surrounded by the hacienda’s colourful history.
Days 13-14 Cayambe (2B)
Next we visit the beautiful area of Otavalo and its world famous handicrafts market. Villagers from the surrounding countryside come here every week to sell handmade goods as well as livestock, fruits and vegetables. On Day 14, return to Quito. Otavalo is justly famous both for its friendly people and its Saturday market. The market dates back to pre-Inca times when jungle products were transported from the eastern lowlands and traded for highland goods. Today's market has two different functions: the local market for buying and selling animals, food and other essentials, and the crafts market for the tourists and other interested people. There are three main market plazas in town, with the overflow spilling out onto the streets linking them. The Plaza de Ponchos is where you will find most handicraft items. You will find colourful woollen goods such as ponchos, gloves, hats, blankets, scarves and sweaters, as well as fine tapestries and a variety of embroidered blouses and shirts, shawls, string bags, and rope sandals. This market gets underway at dawn and continues until early afternoon. Remember, bargaining is expected for every purchase! If you're good you should be able to get at least 20% off of the starting price. The food market sells produce and household goods for the locals, and there is an animal market beginning in the predawn hours on the outskirts of town. Although these are not designed for visitors, they are cultural experiences to see and are definitely worth a visit. One of the most evident features of the Otavaleños' cultural integrity is their traditional dress. This is not just put on especially for the tourists at the Saturday market, but is worn throughout their daily life. Approximate Distance: 30km Estimated Travel Time: 1 hour
Day 15 Quito (1B)
Enjoy a free day to explore Quito, option to visit Basilica or explore the old town. There will be an informational meeting about the Galápagos portion of the the itinerary in the evening.
Day 16 San Cristóbal (1B,1L,1D)
Transfer early to the airport for our flight to the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival in San Cristóbal, meet our naturalist guide, who will assist with the transfer to the Xavier. In the afternoon visit El Junco Lagoon to see the diverse vegetation surrounding the largest freshwater lagoon in the Galapagos Islands. Flights from Quito to San Cristobal depart between 8:10am and 10:10am depending on the day of the week. These will arrive into the Galapagos between 10:40am and 12:40pm with a refuelling stop in Guayaquil (you will not disembark the plane). You will generally arrive onto the boat in time for lunch on Day 2 before your afternoon activity. San Cristóbal is the easternmost island of Galapagos and one of the oldest. The principal town is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos. The Galapagos Islands are located about 1000 km (620 miles) off the Pacific coast of South America. The archipelago is comprised of 13 major islands and scores of islets that served as a living laboratory for Charles Darwin, the renowned evolution theorist. Long before Darwin arrived in the Galapagos, seafarers knew these isolated islands as home to some of the strangest and most wonderful wildlife imaginable, including birds that could swim but no longer fly, aquatic iguanas, dragon-like lizards left over from prehistoric times, and the giant Galapagos tortoises for which the islands were named. Covering nearly 5000 square km (3100 square miles), the Galapagos Islands are now a National Park. The Galapagos National Park is the institution that controls the preservation of this environment, assisted by the Charles Darwin Research Station. Inaugurated in 1964 and based in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, the Charles Darwin Research Station is the one place where visitors can easily see the famous Galapagos Tortoises, which may live up to two hundred years. This is also the training centre for naturalist guides who accompany all visitors landing at more than 40 approved sites on the islands, and members of the international scientific community often come to study at the station. The National Park charges a visitor fee of $100 USD, payable on arrival, which funds Park maintenance and supervision in the Galapagos, as well as ecological study, conservation and infrastructure development in Ecuador's other National Parks. Entry fees and the funds they generate for the National Park System are among measures taken by the Ecuadorian government to protect its natural heritage.Transfer early to the airport for our flight to the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival in San Cristóbal, meet our naturalist guide, who will assist with the transfer to the Xavier. In the afternoon visit El Junco Lagoon to see the diverse vegetation surrounding the largest freshwater lagoon in the Galapagos Islands. Flights from Quito to San Cristobal depart between 8:10am and 10:10am depending on the day of the week. These will arrive into the Galapagos between 10:40am and 12:40pm with a refuelling stop in Guayaquil (you will not disembark the pla
Day 17 Punta Pitt/Kicker Rock (1B,1L,1D)
We land this morning at Punta Pitt, on the eastern tip of San Cristobal where we will see a group of eroded volcanic cones. Here we will be able to observe a mixture of different types of lava floes as well as colourful vegetation. At this point it is possible to see the 3 species of boobies as well as frigate birds, all nesting in the same area - unique to this spot in the entire archipelago. A short distance away and visible from shore is an island called Leon Dormido, or "Kicker Rock," which resembles a sleeping lion. It is quite striking and if conditions are right we may be able to sail through a narrow channel which splits Kicker Rock in half. An incredible snorkelling spot, Kicker Rock is home to an incredibly diverse set of marine life in the nutrient-rich water.
Day 18 Isla Santiago (1B,1L,1D)
Morning excursion to Playa Espumilla, one of the most idyllic beaches in the Galapagos islands, with thick mangroves along with flamingo and sea turtle nesting sites. Continue to Buccaneer Cove to witness the towering cliff wall rock formations. Santiago Island has seen it's share of human activity from whalers and pirates over the years, and despite the introduction of goats to the island many years ago, the wildlife of Santiago has flourished otherwise and provides outstanding viewing opportunities. The island boasts marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles among others, which provide great wildlife viewing both on land and in the water.
Day 19 Santa Cruz (1B,1L,1D)
In the morning we arrive in Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island. Santa Cruz is the second largest in the island group, and has the largest population, with Puerto Ayora as its main town. It also boasts the most varied of the islands’ vegetation zones: coastal, transition, scalesia, miconia and pampa. The Charles Darwin Research Station is a 10 minute walk from the centre of the town. Here, an exhibition centre displays photos of recent volcanic eruptions, charts outlining geological formations and drawings of the evolutionary development of endemic species. A corral houses adult Galapagos Tortoises, and a nursery cares for young tortoises until they are about three years old, when their shells have hardened enough to resist attack from feral dogs. In the afternoon we may have the opportunity to visit the highlands and see giant land tortoises in the wild.
Day 20 Chinese Hat/Black Turtle Cove (1B,1L,1D)
In the morning the boat arrives to a small little island off the southern tip of Santiago called Chinese Hat, for it's unique shape. Here it is often possible to see Galapagos penguins and the marine life is fantastic for snorkelling. There is also a large sea lion colony here as well as many marine iguanas that can be seen on our guided walk amongst the volcanic scenery, with good views to the cone of the island's volcano. In the afternoon we take an excursion by "panga" to Black Turtle Cove, to witness the extensive mangrove system and interesting waterway canals. Sea Turtles and different species of rays can often be seen in this cove, offering a peaceful and fascinating glimpse into the diversity of the area.
Day 21 Cerro Dragón/Daphne (1B,1L,1D)
In the morning we will visit Cerro Dragón, on the west coast of Santa Cruz Island. Here we will see land iguanas as well as a salt water lagoon frequented by flamingoes and other species of birds. Visit Daphne Island in the afternoon, located between the islands of Santa Cruz and Baltra. Here we will see much birdlife including a number of finch species, Masked boobies, Galapagos Martins and frigate birds. Take the opportunity to go snorkelling in the afternoon to observe the diverse variety of marine life, and hope to see sea turtles, rays or even sharks.
Day 22 South Plaza/Santa Fé (1B,1L,1D)
Set sail and reach South Plaza Island in the morning. One of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, South Plaza has one of the largest populations of Land Iguanas. Walk along a path through a cactus forest and view a combination of dry and coastal vegetation. In the afternoon, we explore Santa Fé Island, a fairly small and dry island. Also called Barrington, Santa Fé Island is well-known as a great place for watching (and swimming with) sea lions. Along the island's northern shore you can view the forest of giant Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia). Santa Fé is also home to a number of endemic species which have bounced back from various threats to their survival. You may get a chance to see the Galapagos hawk, Galapagos snake, a variety of finches and the Galapagos mockingbird.
Day 23 San Cristóbal/Quito (1B)
Reach San Cristóbal in the morning. San Cristóbal is the easternmost island of Galapagos and one of the oldest. Its principal town is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos. Disembark after breakfast, visit the interpretation center and transfer to the airport for our flight to Quito. Transfer to our group hotel upon arrival, and enjoy one last night on the town. Flights from San Cristobal to Quito depart between 11:30am and 1:30pm depending on the day of the week. These will arrive into Quito between 4:00pm and 5:40pm with a refuelling stop in Guayaquil (you will not disembark the plane). You will arrive back at the hotel in the early evening in time for dinner.
Day 24 Quito (1B)
Depart at any time