Welcome to Ecuador! Meet your Tour Manager and travel buddies before we head to the airport for our flight to Baltra Island, Galapagos, to let the next 11 days of adventure begin. We touchdown at the airport, we'll then make our way to the cute little town of Puerto Ayora, but not before your first taste of the incredible natural habitat here - en route we'll stop to check out the famed giant tortoises in their natural surroundings, and some of the incredible old lava tunnels (some over 1km long) winding their way under the island of Santa Cruz. We'll stop for lunch before getting out on the water for our first boat ride to Isabela - this nature haven is home to land and sea life that will astound and amaze. Once we arrive on the island we’ll head to the highlands for our first night in the National Park. As you chill and get to know your travel buddies keep an eye out for the friendly reintroduced wild tortoises roaming around. After settling in we'll start the trip right, Ecuador style, where you'll get to get into the true spirit of the Island with a delicious BBQ.
This morning we’ll grab some kayaks & get out on the water around Las Tintoreras where we’ll set out in search for the Galapagos Penguin – the only penguin found north of the Equator! You’ll also have opportunity to see the popular iguana nesting site that is home to hundreds of marine iguanas. On return, spot colourful fish as you snorkel the underground lava tubes. This area is often frequented by green sea turtles that like to rest on the calm, sandy bottom, so make sure you are on the lookout for these incredible creatures as you snorkel through the clear blue water. Then this afternoon we’ll walk to the Wall of Tears. From 1945 to 1959 this place held prisoners who were forced to build this wall stone by stone. At 25m tall, it took thousands of lives during its construction. Legend has it that cries of those lost can be heard at the site.
Today we head to Santa Cruz Island where, with a free afternoon you can choose to chill or get active, it's up to you! If you feel like getting out and about, this afternoon’s optional activity is a guided trip to the gorgeous Tortuga Bay. After a half an hour stroll along a path you'll arrive at a stretch of white sandy beach where marine iguanas sunbathe. You also have an opportunity to kayak in the bay in search of sharks, rays, turtles, and great blue herons. Not ready to wield a paddle? No worries – this is the perfect opportunity to sun bathe, body surf, surf, or look for marine iguanas, lava gulls and the famous blue- footed boobies. If you aren’t feeling up for the walk, take to the streets and go local or head to town to shop for souvenirs or relax.
This morning we’ll pay a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, once home to one of the island’s most famous residents, the world-famous Lonesome George – who was 100 years old when he died. Here you’ll observe many species of tortoises and land iguanas brought back form the brink of extinction and learn about this centre and research facility. Later we're back on the boat as we head to our next island, San Cristobal. - keep an eye out for bathing sea lions that the island is known for! This island is made up of four volcanoes – all extinct – and later, we’ll head up into the highlands for a scenic downhill bike ride. Starting at a panoramic viewpoint called La Soledad, we’ll bike through the tiny town of El Progreso and five different and varied vegetation zones until we reach a beach La Loberia beach. From there you can check out some of the other locals - we’ll be able to watch cute sea lions sun bathing, playing and vying for our attention. Tonight, it’s all about relaxing over drinks at one of our favourite local spots while watching the sunset.
Today we take to the water to get our last glimpse of the famous and equally incredible underwater world of Galapagos. First we’ll cruise along the coast in our boat where our Local Guide will point out the species of shore birds like the Great Frigatebird and other native species. We'll anchor in a channel near Isla Lobos or Sea Lion Island where we’ll get our own fins wet as we snorkel to find damselfish, puffer fish, and, hopefully, curious and cute sea lion pups! From there we continue to Kicker Rock (or Leon Dormido as it’s known by the locals) the remains of a tuff cone - Kicker Rock rising a massive over 143m out of the ocean (that's about 50 floors in building terms). We’ll check out the underwater landscape as we head along the edge and through a channel of this drastic compact ash formation. Your Local Guide will keep you in the know as we look out for sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, chocolate chip starfish, and, with any luck, a Galapagos Shark or two. Don’t worry, they won’t be as interested in you as you are in them, so it's perfectly safe. Later we’ll head to Puerto Grande, a beautiful beach accessible only by boat, which is our final stop for the day. After lunch on board, spend your time swimming in the turquoise water or snapping photos of Kicker Rock in the distance. We’ll head back to town late afternoon where we'll be treated to one of the best BBQ’s in the Galapagos at one of the local’s favorite spots to celebrate a great Galapagos trip.
Grab a final few hours in the sun before our flight back to the mainland where we'll kick off the land section of our trip. Tonight we stay in Guayaquil, known as the "Pacific Pearl" and home of the famous Las Peñas district. Check out Malecon 2000, the boardwalk that runs along the Guayas River and take in views of nearby hill top favelas. See the La Rotonda monument, the statue that depicts the meeting of two of Ecuador’s famous leaders and learn the story of their historic secret handshake. Later maybe head out for dinner at a favourite local spot to try classic Ecuadorian dishes like cebiche and gear up for tomorrow’s drive to Alausi and the Avenue of the Volcanos. Due to flooding in the area tours will currently have a boat cruise on arrival to Guayaquil. Due to severe flooding in the Alausi area, the bridge to the Devils Nose train is closed so on Day 7 the tour will go direct to Banos. This change will be in place until the bridge re-opens
This morning we head to Alausí and board the Devil’s Nose Train which navigates the steep terrain up switchbacks dropping over 1,000m in altitude. The views here are incredible - this is the most famous train ride in Ecuador and known as a must do when you visit, being world renowned for its steep nature and spectacular views of the surrounding mountains - so don't forget to have your camera charged! Get in the know with the facts: Ecuador's railway line was slow to develop - not surprisingly, since it was known at the time of building as the most difficult railway construction in the world due to the sheer rock wall known as the Nariz del Diablo, below Alausí. Plans were started in 1874, but work only began in 1899 on the coast in Guayaquil with the train zigzagging up to Alausí in 1902. The Devil's Nose is so steep that in parts the train has to reverse up alternate bits of the zigzag track in order to climb the 800m up to Alausí. The view is incredible, passing villages and farmlands, before the endless vistas of the surrounding landscape, making for a stunning backdrop. After our train ride we’ll continue through the province of Chimborazo, where you'll see Ecuador’s highest mountain standing at an impressive 6,300m above sea level, on our way to Baños nestled under the still smoking and active Tungurahua volcano, also known as "The Black Giant", where we'll spend the night.
Situated in a valley of waterfalls and hot springs, Baños has become a mecca for international travellers seeking year-round temperate weather, a small town atmosphere, and a base for exploring the great Ecuadorian outdoors. The town offers hot springs, horseback riding, trekking, rafting, climbing and mountain biking so it's a haven for the explorer. With a free day, get into the action the way you want - outdoor revellers amongst us will love the network of trails criss-crossing the mountains surrounding Baños. You could walk half an hour to the Virgin Monument, ride horseback to a waterfall, or try canyoneering down waterfalls - the choice is yours. Tonight, grab your dancing shoes because tonight its time to salsa! Get a taste of the addictive Latin American dance phenomenon. Learn the essential Salsa steps, in a fun & energetic atmosphere with our expert locals giving you a taste of how it’s done. The rhythm of salsa music will take over your body & by the end of the night you’ll be salsa dancing with style & confidence. Then we finish up with a tasty local feast.
Today we head north along the Avenue of Volcanoes via the sleeping giant and third highest active volcano in the world, Cotopaxi. A spectacular drive through the ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’ takes us to Cotopaxi itself, at 5,897 meters, it’s one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, so keeping your camera handy is an absolute must! We’ll visit a museum in the park and hike around the Limpiopungo Lagoon at the bottom of the volcano to learn about the different kinds of flora and fauna found at this altitude. Later today we continue to the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.
Get in the know about Quito on a day city tour with our local guide that leads you through the new and old town of Quito. As you meander through the city's most famous museums and churches, your guide will explain the history of the Inca Empire and the Spanish invasion. You see the Palace of Congress, the Presidential Palace, Independence Square, and the Churches of San Francisco, La Compania and La Catedral amongst other local spots along the way. Your last stop will be the Panecillo, a lookout point in the old town, which affords one of the best views of Quito and the surrounding snow-capped volcanoes. After the city tour you’ll head to the Equatorial line – one of Ecuador's famous attractions located 45 minutes away from the city. You can wander between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres as you visit the local shops, La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) and check out the views. We’ll also visit the Inti-Ñan local museum where you can see different experiments that prove you really are at the Middle of the Earth. Tonight we’ll toast the trip with a farewell drink and dinner at a local nightspot. We'll make sure you keep it moving, tonight we're heading out for a Salsa lesson, before we hit the dance floor to practice our moves with the locals!
Make sure you swap email addresses with your Tour Manager and travel buddies as your tour ends after breakfast this morning. If you're not catching a flight out and are planning on staying on, ask your Tour Manager about what else is on offer in and around Quito, like jungle excursions to the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest, or hook up with our Brazil & Argentina Highlights trip.