Ecuador is a compact country with enormous cultural and natural diversity. Its bio-diversity includes the extraordinary Galápagos Islands and its cultural legacy encompasses the descendants of Spanish conquistadores and many distinct indigenous communities, markedly different in dress and lifestyle.
The beauty of this tour is that it encapsulates this great variety without the need to cover long distances, including four nights on a private charter yacht, Solaris, in the Galápagos, all at an ideal time of year in the company of naturalist tour leader, Jan Beccaloni. Jan will also give specialist talks ranging from butterflies and spiders to Darwin and Wallace, giving context to your visits along the way.
There is an optional excursion into the Amazon after the tour.
Travel from stunning colonial Quito, the second highest capital city in altitude in the world after La Paz in Bolivia, into the enchanting cloud forests of Mindo with its jewelled hummingbirds and unique eco system for two nights. Continue into the Andean highlands to the thermal hot springs of Papallacta and see condors soaring over magnificent snowcapped mountain scenery. Visit a traditional Andean market and continue to the jewel in Ecuador's bio-crown - the Galápagos Islands.
Sail on an exclusive private charter yacht for four nights, visiting a wide range of islands, each offering a unique experience. The remote island group is a land of cool lava landscapes, cactus forests, lush green highlands, turquoise coves and perfect white sand beaches, and is the only place in the world where it is possible to swim with penguins and tropical parrot fish at the same time.
Fly back to Quito after the cruise, where there is the option to take an extension into the unspoiled Amazon forest to stay at a luxury eco lodge.
Jan Beccaloni is a museum curator specialising in spiders and their relatives and a respected natural historian. She is the Meetings Secretary of the British Arachnological Society, the former Secretary of the Wallace Memorial Fund and the author of the acclaimed book “Arachnids’. Jan is an experienced and popular tour leader who enjoys travelling and has conducted scientific fieldwork in the UK, Brunei, Madagascar and Costa Rica.
Day 1 (Fri, 28 April) Quito: Arrive Quito and transfer to the Sheraton Hotel. Welcome dinner.
Day 2 (Sat, 29 April) Quito: Explore Quito on a guided tour. Walk through the attractive, palm- shaded Plaza de la Independencia, visit the gorgeously ornate 16th century church of La Compania de Jesus and visit Monasterio de San Francisco, one of the oldest churches on the American continent. Dinner at Urku – a modern Ecuadorian restaurant.
Day 3 (Sun, 30 April) Quito / Mindo: Drive to Mitad del Mundo - the ‘Middle of the World’ – and straddle the equatorial line. Drive up to the rim of the biggest volcanic crater in South America, the extinct Pululahua Volcano, for wonderful views and lunch. Lunch by the crater with spectacular views. Continue to Mindo cloud forest, where you will stay at the Lodge, and take a nature walk. Talk: “The Beautiful World of Butterflies” – JB.
Day 4 (Mon, 1 May) Mindo: The cloud forests are a unique ecosystem fed by the misty clouds sitting on the slopes of the Andes. Rise early the following morning to watch an incredible variety of birdlife, including hundreds of species of jewelled hummingbirds. Visit the Mariposario Mindo Butterfly Farm. Take a cable car high above the cloud forest valley and the Rio Nambillo below. Walk with a naturalist guide along trails through delicate clusters of wild orchids, ferns and waterfalls wreathed in silver mists, amidst swarms of vivid birds and butterflies. Take a night walk to see spiders and other nocturnal creatures. Talk: “An introduction to spiders and their relatives” – JB.
Day 5 (Tues, 2 May) Mindo / Papallacta: Rise early again to spot the early bird activity in Mindo. After breakfast drive to the high Andes of Ecuador, into the paramo and the montane forest, rich in unusual flora and fauna such as the rare, gnarled Polylepis tree - one of the oddest and rarest trees on the planet. Continue to Papallacta, a thermal area high in the Andes where hot springs bubble up next to the Papallacta River. Check into Termas de Papallactas thermal resort, where the waters reputedly have healing properties.
Day 6 (Wed, 3 May) Papallacta: Visit the Antisana Ecological Reserve in the central highlands, located at the feet of the 5705 metre volcano, Mount Antisana. Explore the dramatic altiplano landscapes with spectacular snow capped mountains as backdrop and look out for the various species of birds, and the Andean condor, that inhabit the area. Return to Papallacta and spend the rest of the day at leisure enjoying the hot springs. Have dinner at Guango Lodge before setting out on a nocturnal nature walk.
Day 7 (Thurs, 4 May) Papallacta: Visit the local market at Sangolqui, a pretty colonial village in pastel hues, and browse among the stalls with the locals. Talk: “Darwin and Wallace - the pioneers of evolutionary biology” – JB.
Day 8 (Fri, 5 May) Papallacta / San Cristobal Island, Galápagos: Transfer to the airport to fly to San Cristobal Island in the Galápagos and board the MY Solaris private yacht.In the afternoon visit the Interpretation Centre. Cruise to Kicker Rock, a nesting site for many sea birds. Optional snorkelling. Cruise onto Cero Brujo to walk on a white sand beach, and observe sea lions, brown pelicans, marine iguanas and blue footed boobies. Options for swimming, snorkelling or kayaking.
Day 9 (Sat, 6 May) Espanola Island: Wet landing at Gardener Bay and walk along the beach to see sea lions.Take a panga ride around Osborn Inlet and the islets of Gardner to see sea lions, corals and colourful fish including parrotfish. Land at Punta Suarez and see marine birds, including the nesting waved albatross.
Day 10 (Sun, 7 May) Floreana Island: Visit the historic site of Post Office Bay and the ruins of the house of Baroness Eloisa von Wagner. Visit the Devil’s Crown, a submerged volcano and the best site for snorkelling in the Galápagos. Continue to Point Cormorant and see the Flamingo Lagoon. Onto La Picona beach to see marine turtles. Options for swimming and snorkelling.
Day 11 (Mon, 8 May) Santiago Island: Sullivan Bay and Bartolome: Visit Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island, which is located next to Bartolome Island. This bay features an interesting recently formed lava field. We will snorkel in the bay’s calm waters. Visit Bartolome Island, which has spectacular views and interesting formations, such as the parasitic cones, formed by prior lava eruptions.
Day 12 (Tues, 9 May) Santa Cruz / Quito: Visit Black Turtle Cove, a mangrove estuary on Santa Cruz Island, naturally protected and virtually untouched by man, Black Turtle Cove is home to some truly remarkable species of animals and plants. Transfer to airport for flight back and transfer to the Hilton Colon Hotel. Farewell dinner in the evening.
Day 13 (Wed, 10 May) Quito: Transfer to the airport or take the Amazon extension.
Extension into the Amazon 10 – 14 May 2023
Day 13 (Wed, 10 May) Quito /Sacha Lodge, Amazon: Transfer to the airport for flight to Cocoa. Transfer by river to Sacha Lodge. Nocturnal guided tour.
Day 14 (Thur, 11 May) Sacha Lodge, Amazon: Take dugout canoes past bromeliads and palm trees, looking for wildlife such as the pygmy marmoset, the ocelot and puma. Trek through pristine forest, with 150-foot kapok trees and roots forming huge buttresses. Look out for the crest owl and howler monkeys. Optional night walk.
Day 15 (Fri, 12 May) Sacha Lodge, Amazon: Motorised canoe along Napo River to visit the traditional Yasuní community. See the parrot disco on the clay lick. Take the treetop canopy walk. Optional night canoe trip to see caiman.
Day 16 (Sat,13 May) Sacha Lodge / Quito: Transfer to Quito and Hotel Hilton Colon.
Day 17 (Sun,14 May) Quito: Transfer to the airport.
Tour cost is US $8,526 per person sharing a room. Tour cost is US $9,089 for a room to yourself (excluding international flights and transfers)