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. Hotel Illa offers a unique cultural experience in Quito’s warmest and most welcoming traditional neighborhood. Something beyond brick and mortar, bed and breakfast. For generations, San Marcos has been home to artists, writers and musicians. Its present-day charm owes much to the tight-knit community of residents. This historic house represents the exquisite style of the mansions of Quito from the early 20th century and will enchant you after a day exploring this UNESCO World Heritage City. Hotel Illa Experience
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 four-night cruise aboard the Yacht La Pinta. 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.
Although an itinerary of the daily cruise schedule is provided here, 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.
Baltra Airport: Following your morning arrival at Baltra Airport, you transfer to the Itabaca Channel, taking a small ferry across the Channel to the north shore of Santa Cruz Island. You board your bus to the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, where you’ll learn about the unique montane ecosystems and biodiversity. Lunch is served at a local restaurant.
Note: please dress with comfortable shoes and clothes, bring a small backpack with any medicine you might be taken, sunblock, insect repellent and anything you need during the excursion as you will go onboard Yacht La Pinta and the end of the day.
Highlands (Santa Cruz Island): After lunch, you travel by bus to the highlands of Santa Cruz, one of the best places in the archipelago to see giant tortoises in their natural habitat. The tortoises are easy to spot, lumbering around, eating grass and leaves and wallowing in the small pools. There are several lava tunnels in the reserve, too. A short bus ride takes us down to Puerto Ayora to board yacht. Aboard Yacht La Pinta (B,L,D)
Day 8: Galapagos Islands
Eden Islet (Santa Cruz Island): After breakfast, a panga ride takes us to Eden Islet, located off the coast of Santa Cruz, where we can observe blue footed boobies diving into the water, reef sharks and frigates. There’s a chance to snorkel and, if weather condition permits, ride in the glass-bottom boat.
Sombrero Chino Islet: The tiny island of Sombrero Chino gets its name from its appearance: a Chinese hat. This islet, only formed fairly recently, makes a beautiful visit as one explores the wildlife along its 400-metre long trail, which begins at a crescent-shaped white sandy beach. The cove offers excellent swimming and snorkeling opportunities with white-tipped reef sharks and Galápagos penguins. Aboard Yacht La Pinta (B,L,D)
Day 9: Galapagos Islands
AM: Bartolomé Island: This morning, a Galápagos icon awaits: Bartolomé Island. A great way to start the day. A steep climb up a wooden staircase lead to stunning views - worth the climb. Following the walk, you take to the dinghies for a ride around colossal Pinnacle Rock, followed by time to enjoy the beach and some snorkeling. You can also take a ride in the glass-bottom boat for great views of the underwater world.
PM: Sullivan Bay (James Island) After lunch, you board a panga to land at Sullivan Bay on the east coast of Santiago, a white coral sand beach great for swimming and snorkeling. There is a trail over a lava field that flowed here less than 100 years ago. This is the perfect place to see and feel the volcanic origin of Galápagos while observing its wildlife. Aboard Yacht La Pinta (B,L,D)
Day 10: Galapagos Islands
AM: Prince Philip Steps (Tower/Genovesa Island): The morning starts with a panga ride along the cliffs of this dramatic island, followed by landing with a steep climb (90 feet) up some stairs to reach a flat plateau. Along your walk, you can observe large colonies of Nazca boobies, red footed boobies, great frigate birds and storm petrels. Those not wishing to disembark can enjoy a longer panga ride along the cliffs (depending on weather conditions). After the walk, you can snorkel along the dramatic cliffs, where you may spot a variety of fish, including hammerhead sharks.
PM: Darwin Bay (Tower/Genovesa Island): In the afternoon, land at this beautiful beach to enjoy some swimming and/or snorkeling. Following your dip, take an easy stroll to observe hundreds of birds, mainly frigate birds, red footed and Nazca boobies, gulls, herons, finches and mockingbirds. There’s an optional walk over sharp lava and uneven terrain for dramatic views, or you can return to the beach. Aboard Yacht La Pinta (B,L,D)
Day 11: Galapagos Islands / Quito
Today you disembark at Baltra Island. 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 experience 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 12: 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 13: 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).