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Darwin's Ecuador: Andes to Galapagos

Group Tour

16 Days From $7,413

Overview

Straddling the equator on the Pacific coast, wedged between Colombia and Peru, the smallest of the Andean nations covers an area no bigger than 284,000 square kilometres.  

For all its diminutive size, however, the country is packed with the most startling contrasts of scenery, and the diversity of this tiny country is simply dazzling. Encompassing tropical islands, towering snow-capped peaks, cloud forests, and simmering jungle, visitors are treated to a variety of unique landscapes, ...

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HIGHLIGHTS

At a glance

MEALS

15 x Breakfasts
12 x Lunches
12 x Dinners

TRANSPORT

On this tour we will use minibuses, motorboat, train and domestic flights.

GROUP SIZE

Maximum: 12

CARBON CONTRIBUTIONS

A carbon-offsetting contribution to Eco Act for all bookings

EXPERT TEAM

The full services of a Wild Frontiers Tour Leader with local guides where appropriate

ACCOMMODATION

All accommodation as outlined in the itinerary

ACCOMMODATION

As an overall ethos, wherever possible we aim to use characterful accommodation that enhances the overall travel experience, not just offers a bed for the night. This can obviously vary dramatically from country to country and from trip to trip. On this particular trip we will be in hotels, eco-lodges and guesthouses. Some hotels are very comfortable, particularly on Isabela, whereas some are more basic, as in Banos. Please note that the accommodation mentioned in the itinerary is intended as a guide only and is always subject to availability.

ENTRANCE FEES

All entrance fees for sights mentioned in the itinerary

FITNESS RATING

Low / Moderate

FITNESS RATING

LOW: You should be comfortable walking around towns and cultural sites. May include some optional walks (typically 1-2hrs).

LOW/MODERATE: May be of a long duration and/or involve numerous border-crossings. May include easy/moderate day walks (up to 2-3hrs/day). You should be relatively fit and lead a generally active lifestyle.

MODERATE/HIGH: May include several easy/moderate day walks (up to 2-4hrs/day) possibly at altitude. You should be relatively fit and lead a generally active lifestyle. Previous experience of similar trips helpful.

HIGH: May involve several days of moderate hiking (up to 3-5 hrs/day) possibly at altitude. You must be a fit and active traveller with appropriate trekking experience.

VERY HIGH: May involve several days of moderate/strenuous trekking (up to 5-7 hrs/day) possibly at altitude. You must be a very fit and active traveller with appropriate trekking experience.

Map & Itinerary

Individual departures may vary so please refer to the information in the tour specific links in the Dates and Prices section below

Darwin's Ecuador: Andes to Galapagos
EXPAND ALL ITINERARY DAYS
COLLAPSE ALL ITINERARY DAYS

DAY 1: TOUR STARTS IN QUITO

DAY 1: TOUR STARTS IN QUITO

Join the tour at the hotel late this afternoon. After freshening up at our hotel, we shall have dinner out at a local restaurant.

Hotel City Art Silberstein or similar
Dinner

DAY 2: TO BELLAVISTA RESERVE

DAY 2: TO BELLAVISTA RESERVE

Departing Quito we drive northwest, taking in the views over the city. Leaving the metropolis of Quito behind us, the scenery changes dramatically becoming green and sub-tropical as we enter the cloud forest. Spending a day at Bellavista, there is plenty of time to explore the region, taking some of the well-marked trails through the forest. These span a large area around the lodge and afford us plenty of opportunity for bird watching, and learning about the medicinal plants of the forest.

Bellavista Eco-Lodge or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 3: TO CHUGCHILAN

DAY 3: TO CHUGCHILAN

We will depart Bellavista early this morning and head south, with a brief stop at the Equator monument as we cross from the northern hemisphere into the southern hemisphere. Our drive takes us along ‘the avenue of the volcanoes’ where the road is flanked by the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Andes. Passing Cotopaxi Corazon, Pasachoa, Ruminahui and Illinizas, some of Ecuador’s most impressive volcanoes, we will stop en route at the tiny town of Tigua, an important centre for local arts and crafts of the region. The final section of our journey is over a bumpy and often muddy road before we finally arrive in the Andean village of Chugchilan.

Black Sheep Inn or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 4: IN CHUGCHILAN

DAY 4: IN CHUGCHILAN

Nestled in the heart of the country, this region showcases the sheer beauty of Ecuador’s mountains and is rated as one of the hidden gems of the Andes. The region is riddled with splendid hikes, traditional highland villages and indigenous people. Today is a free day to recover from the journey and take advantage of some of the activities on offer in the area. Options include treks (of varying degrees of difficulty) and horse rides. Alternatively you could take advantage of the yoga studio and board games available at the lodge.

Black Sheep Inn or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 5: TO BANOS

DAY 5: TO BANOS

After breakfast we set off from our accommodation to the rim of the spectacular Quilotoa crater lake, which offers tremendous views of the surrounding peaks of Cotopaxi and Iliniza Sur, and the green, mirror-like lake below. Here we will take time to walk into the crater (or for those preferring a less strenuous experience it is possible to trek there and hire mules for the trip back) before continuing on to Banos, where we’ll spend the next two nights.

Posada Del Arte or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 6: DAY TRIP TO CHIMBORAZO

DAY 6: DAY TRIP TO CHIMBORAZO

Today we have a free day to explore the spa town of Banos - indulge yourself in the hot springs. However for those of you who would be interested in some fairly strenuous activity your tour leader is able to offer an optional trek to the Chimborazo Volcano for a unique experience to participate in the ancient ‘Iceman’ tradition This trek is not included as part of the tour, but if interested it can be arranged through your Tour Leader at an additional cost.

Posada Del Arte or similar
Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 7: TO CUENCA

DAY 7: TO CUENCA

A very early start is required today to board the ‘Nariz del Diablo’ (Devil’s Nose) train* for a ride along the historic Trans-Andean Railroad. Travelling from Alausi to Sibambe, we pass through the most dramatic section of the railroad that once ran to the coast, where a series of steep switchbacks cut through the rock face and offer amazing views of the surrounding countryside. This afternoon we’ll visit the archaeological site of Ingapirca (15th century) - Ecuador’s most important set of Inca ruins - before continuing on to the Colonial city of Cuenca for a fairly late arrival.
*Please note that the train can be unreliable - if it is not running we will visit one of the project sites supported by Inti Sisa and travel by road instead

Hotel Victoria or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 8: IN CUENCA

DAY 8: IN CUENCA

This morning we’ll enjoy a city tour of the ‘jewel of the south’, Cuenca (declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site) visiting some of the parks, churches, plazas and local landmarks. Despite being the country’s third largest city, Cuenca retains the feel and pace of a much smaller town and is a pleasure to wander around. We’ll then have the rest of the day free to explore the museums, shops and markets, or visit one of the centres that produces panama hats and other haberdashery. Dinner tonight will be at your own expense.

Hotel Victoria or similar
Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 9: TO GUAYAQUIL

DAY 9: TO GUAYAQUIL

Heading northwest today, a 5-hour drive takes us through the El Cajas National Park, where we’ll make some photo stops and also take a scenic walk of around 2 hours. El Cajas is the lake district of Ecuador with breathtaking glacial valleys and over 200 lakes, and is also home to forests of Polylepis, the world’s highest altitude tree. We continue down through steamy banana and cocoa plantations to the city of Guayaquil, where we’ll prepare for our Galapagos adventure.

Hotel City Plaza or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 10: TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (ISABELA)

DAY 10: TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (ISABELA)

A morning flight takes us to the main airport in the Galapagos Islands. After clearing immigration we take a bus ride to Puerto Ayora where we’ll board the speedboat ferry over to Isabela. Isabela is the largest of the Galapagos Islands (4588 sq km) and home to a string of volcanoes, mangrove beaches and wildlife colonies. The boat crossing takes around 2 hours, giving us the rest of the afternoon to settle into our stunningly located hotel - our base for the next 3 nights - and relax on the white sandy beaches.

Hotel Abermarle or similar
Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 11: IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (ISABELA)

DAY 11: IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (ISABELA)

This morning we’ll take a walk in the National Park to see the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre and investigate the plant and bird life en route in the mangrove wetlands. After lunch we will take a short boat ride to visit the small islet of Las Tintoreras, where a colony of white-tipped reef sharks can often be seen resting in the black-lava canal. This area is also famed for an abundance of marine iguanas, birdlife and sea lions, and we’ll take time to snorkel in the crystal clear waters before returning to Isabela for the night.

Hotel Albermarle or similar
Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 12: GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (ISABELA)

DAY 12: GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (ISABELA)

A full day’s trekking on Isabela Island takes us to the top of the Sierra Negra Volcano (1,124m) – a geological feature that is the second widest active crater in the world and dates back approximately 535,000 years. Spotting various wildlife en route including Darwin finches and warblers, our walk up to the crater is a moderate trek of around 2½ hours (taking 1½ hours for the return journey) and on a clear day we’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the island. For the less energetic there are mules available for hire to take you up to the crater, or a relaxing day at the hotel and beach.

Hotel Abermarle or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 13: GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (SANTA CRUZ)

DAY 13: GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (SANTA CRUZ)

After breakfast we’ll take a boat back to Santa Cruz, where we’ll spend the next two nights. The remainder of the day will be free to explore Puerto Ayora, whose highlights are Tortuga Bay Beach, the Fish Market (the sea lions and pelicans cause quite a spectacle!) and shopping for souvenirs (the best boutiques/souvenir stands in the Galapagos!). Your tour leader will be able to assist you with further recommendations. Dinner tonight will be at your own expense.

Hotel Mainao or similar
Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 14: IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (SANTA CRUZ)

DAY 14: IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (SANTA CRUZ)

Today we will take a day trip by boat to nearby South Plaza Island. South Plaza has one of the most concentrated sea lion colonies in the islands, with about 1000 shifting around as males continually vie for “harems” of about 20 females each. The island is also rich in bird life, specifically red-billed tropicbirds, swallow-tailed gulls, brown pelicans, and the odd frigate bird, and it is also possible to see both land and marine iguanas here. There is a cliff trail which we will follow and offshore you may spot Audubon’s shearwaters, Brown Noddy terns and schools of mullet and surgeonfish. The vegetation of the island belongs to the arid and littoral zones; half the island covered with saltbush, leatherleaf (Maytenus), and thorn scrub (Scutia pauciflora). The side with the trail is treeless, but covered with a rock-garden-like mat of the endemic sea purslane. This is a good place to get started on recognition of Darwin’s finches; only the medium, small and cactus ground finches live here. We will explore the island with our naturalist guide, who will explain about the wonderful wildlife we encounter en route. Also this afternoon there will be time to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station with our guide to learn more about these unique islands. The centre is responsible for conducting a number of important scientific research projects on the flora, fauna and geology of the islands and houses an informative museum, as well as a number of famous Galapagos tortoises and a hatchling centre. It should be noted that today’s planned visit is subject to National Park guidelines and it may be necessary to visit an alternative island. In addition, depending on the final group size, this may be a shared tour.

Hotel Mainao or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 15: GALAPAGOS - QUITO

DAY 15: GALAPAGOS - QUITO

A morning flight today sees us return to Quito on the mainland for our last night in Ecuador. Quito was recognised as the very first World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO, for its beautifully ornate and well-preserved architecture, forming an important part of Ecuadorian colonial history. You will have the evening free to explore this picturesque city at your own pace, and perhaps taking in some last minute souvenir hunting. Tonight we’ll head out into town to enjoy a final group dinner together.

Hotel Art Hotel Silberstein or similar
Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 16: QUITO

DAY 16: QUITO

This morning is your chance to discover the main historic & architectural icons in Quito’s colonial old town. The tour starts with a visit to the impressive gothic style Basilica, with great views of the old town for those who are interested in climbing up into the tower. Next, we head into the heart of the colonial centre to see the many beautiful colonial plazas and churches. We will also visit the recently restored streets of La Ronda, now filled with artistic workshops. Our trip ends after lunch, with those on the group flight being transferred to the airport.

Breakfast, Lunch

PRIVATE HOLIDAYS: DATES DON’T FIT?

All group tours can be taken on a private basis.

Additional Details

Responsible Travel

Responsible travel and sustainable tourism are fundamental ideas that Wild Frontiers has been committed to since our birth. It is our strong belief that these words should not be simply ‘tagged on’ to itineraries and websites but should be at the very core of each trip, and our adventures are therefore designed with the local people, culture and eco-system in mind. We believe that a successful trip not only delivers a unique and unsurpassable journey for our clients, but that it also benefits the peoples whose lands we are privileged to visit. For more information, please see our responsible travel page.

Giant tortoise conservation

Isabela Island (Galapagos) is home to a giant tortoise breeding centre.  By visiting you will support the breeding and rearing programme of these unique native animals.  There are a number of giant tortoise species, all of which are under threat with their status' ranging from 'vulnerable' to 'critically endangered' according to the IUCN red list of threatened species.  Conservation and breeding programmes are vital for the survival of all giant tortoise species.

Staying at eco-lodges

This tour usually stays at two renowned ecolodges.  The Bellavista Eco Lodge and Cloud Forest Reserve is a protected ecological reserve near Quito.  The reserve was set up in the 1990s and aims to protect and preserve the biodiversity, wildlife and cloudforest environment within its boundaries.  In Chugchilan you will stay at The Black Sheep Inn.  This eco-lodge is entirely operated by the local indigenous community and runs a number of eco-conservation projects in the area.  Optional tours/guides are sourced from the local community.

Supplementary Information

Iceman Trek - Baños
This unique hike, known locally as the “Los Hieleros” (The Ice Men) trek, follows the footsteps of the old ice traders.  This colonial era tradition saw indigenous men hike up the Chimborazo Volcano reaching the glacier to cut blocks of ice from the ice wall and sold at the Riobamba Market. The tradition is kept alive by one indigenous man “The Ice Man”, who will lead us on this exceptional and historic path alongside a mountain guide.

The day starts early with a two-hour drive to the remote small indigenous village on the Eastern slopes of Chimborazo where the iceman lives, please note that depending on the group size the drive may be without a guide. You can enjoy beautiful views of Chimborazo on a clear day, passing fields of potatoes and maize. The trek starts over paramo grasslands at 4000m, with a break for lunch in a small hut.  After about four hours hiking, you will reach the glacier at approximately 4800m, the last 30 minutes of the trek is over steep rocky terrain.  Here the Iceman will start work chopping the ice with an axe and spade and wrapping them in paramo grass. When the job is done, you will start the 2-hour descent and drive back for a late evening arrival in Baños. This trek is a very rewarding experience for people who want to witness a genuine tradition and to escape the beaten tourist trail and is often rated as one of the top highlights of the tour. It is, however, a long and strenuous day and involves trekking at high altitudes which is demanding. On past record 90% of people who attempt the trek are successful in reaching the glacier. To minimise the effects of altitude sickness, you will need to stay hydrated. However, if you are unable to complete the trek there is the option of returning to the refuge with one of the guides.

For this tour we recommend you take part in some training treks prior and contact your local GP to check you are suitable, before registering your interest to take part. Before departure you will need to confirm your place and pay the additional balance. The additional cost for the tour is dependent on final numbers, however a guide price for the whole group is $400 total. If you choose to attempt the trek, please beware you will miss the day touring in Baños, which has its own charms and makes for a relaxing day with waterfalls and hot springs as optional activities.

Getting There

If you would like us to send you a quote for the suggested tour flights or on any alternative flight that may suit you better, please let us know, noting that for our US clients, we will most likely refer you to one of our preferred partners. For this trip our suggested flights from the UK (subject to change) are shown below.

If you wish to arrange your own flights you are completely free to do so and in this case we can arrange any transfers or supplementary accommodation that you may require. However please note that if you are planning on making your own flight arrangements, we recommend that you first check with us to see if the trip is guaranteed. We then suggest that you purchase flights that are flexible and ideally refundable as due to the nature of adventure travel, itineraries and destination accessibility can change at any time. For more information, please refer to our booking conditions.
 

Flight Code Departing Arriving
IB 7458 London Heathrow (LHR) 06:20 Madrid Airport (MAD) 09:40
IB 6453 Madrid Airport (MAD) 11:50 Quito Airport (UIO) 15:45
IB 6454 Quito Airport (UIO) 17:35 Madrid Airport (MAD) 11:10
IB 7461 Madrid Airport (MAD) 12:10 London Heathrow (LHR) 13:35

Visas

Visas are necessary for many of the destinations we travel to and while we aim to provide you with the most up-to-date information, requirements frequently change and as such for the latest advice we advise that you check with the relevant embassies or contact our recommended visa agency, Travcour www.travcour.com 

For this tour UK passport holders currently do not require a visa for Ecuador.

Non-UK passport holders or non-UK residents should contact the relevant embassies for individual requirements.

NB. Please note that as of January 2016 US policy (subject to change) has stated that anyone wishing to travel to or via the USA must have a biometric passport. In addition, anyone who has travelled to several countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen or Somalia since March 2011, is required to apply for a US visa (rather than just an ESTA). If you are affected by this, the process is fairly straightforward and you can read more about it here:-
www.wildfrontierstravel.com/us-visa .

Further details will be sent out to you on booking, however ensuring that correct and valid visas are obtained remains the sole responsibility of the client.

Extensions

If you have more time available, why not arrive early to adjust to a new time zone or just to get a feel for the country before your tour starts? Or alternatively you might choose to allow a few extra days after the tour to relax or to undertake some further exploration.

The choice is completely yours and we can usually arrange anything from simply additional accommodation and transfers to full tailor-made itineraries.

Below is just a small sample of what you could do. Please contact the office for more details and to discuss your individual requirements.

Amazon Jungle Trip

Stay at the Napo Wildlife Lodge in the heart of the Amazon, taking part in naturalist-guided walks in the primary and secondary rain forest, visits to the local medicine man and communities, panning for gold, night time safaris, star gazing and river cruises. Allow 4 - 5 days.

The Galapagos Islands

Explore these spectacular and unique islands further. Allow 5 - 8 days. 

Papallacta Spa & Retreat

For health, recreation and relaxation extend your stay at the Papallacta hot springs for relaxing hydrotherapy and spa treatments in a stunning setting. Allow 2-3 days.

Governmental Travel Advice

Many governments issue advice which highlights potential hazards their citizens might experience when travelling abroad. We strongly suggest you refer to your country’s particular advisory site before booking and contact us if you have any queries or concerns. Click to follow links to the advice of the British Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) or the US State Department.

Non-UK citizens should consult the travel advice of their respective governments.

Key Information

CLIMATE

Being situated so close to the equator, Ecuador is a year round destination and weather can vary dramatically depending on the region you are in. You WILL encounter rain (it’s not called the rain forest for nothing!), but the sun can also be fierce, especially at altitude, and you should be prepared for all eventualities. Quito is quite prone to experiencing all four seasons in one day!

IS THIS TRIP FOR ME?

It may sound obvious but Wild Frontiers tours are not always for everyone and it is important to us that the tour you choose is the most suitable. All our tours have a fitness rating as a guideline but you should check the day-by-day itinerary carefully. In certain instances we may ask you to complete a travel questionnaire before confirming your booking in order to ensure your suitability. Should you have any concerns about your ability to partake in any aspect of the tour then please contact the office.

KEY ASPECTS TO CONSIDER

Anyone in a reasonable state of health, with an open mind and a sense of adventure should be perfectly able to cope with this tour, as many of the activities are optional. Please be advised that on this trip vegetarians can be catered for but the selection and variety may be limited. 

THE NATURE OF ADVENTURE TRAVEL

We feel that it’s worth pointing out that while we will always strive to stick as close to the stated itinerary as possible, it may be necessary from time to time to make changes to our itineraries or services (due to weather, political and religious influences etc.) and this can happen with little or no notice. This unpredictability can be one of the most exciting aspects of adventure travel and for many of our clients often leads to unexpected highlights as the tour-leader necessarily adapts the tour to the changing conditions. However we are aware that this lack of assuredness may not suit everyone. As such, with the greatest respect, if you are someone who needs to know that everything will happen exactly as planned, we would kindly suggest that perhaps our tours are not for you. Adventure travel can be infectious and once you’ve caught the bug, it is likely to never leave you, but especially if this is your first such tour we would strongly urge you to give us a call if you have any concerns whatsoever about your suitability for this trip.

TRAVELLING SOLO AND SINGLE SUPPLEMENTS

As a company approximately 70% of our clients are solo travellers, so it’s very unlikely you’ll be alone!

Our prices are typically based on twin-share accommodation but single supplements are not compulsory for any Wild Frontiers tour. If you prefer not to pay a single supplement we’ll pair you with someone else of the same sex for you to share with throughout the trip.

On this trip, if you do opt to pay for a single supplement then please note that it will cover you for all nights of the tour.

Please note that paying a single supplement entitles you to lone occupancy of a single room. In many cases these rooms will be of the same size as a double/twin room, but in some cases they may be smaller.
 

INSURANCE

Insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all tours. You should be aware that due to some of the geographical areas visited and some of the activities included on certain of our trips some standard insurance policies may not always provide adequate cover. As such we strongly recommend that you purchase a policy that adequately covers your trip. If you choose to purchase the Wild Frontiers bespoke policy through Travel & General (currently available to UK residents only) then please note for this trip the minimum required level of cover will be the Standard policy. Please see the Insurance section for more details.

General Information

TOUR PRICE

All our tours are priced on a land-only basis, giving you maximum flexibility when deciding how to get to and from your tour.

DEPOSIT

A £500 (or equivalent) deposit is required to confirm your booking. In addition, due to the particular nature of this trip, an interim deposit of £600 (or equivalent) per person will be required within 30 days of booking a guaranteed departure, or subsequently within 30 days of receiving confirmation from us that the trip has been guaranteed. 

PROTECTION FOR YOUR MONEY

For further details please see our travelling with peace of mind page

WILD MILES

This tour will earn you 11462 Wild Miles

WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED

We believe in a completely transparent approach to pricing with no hidden extras. As such, please note that the following are not included in the cost of the tour.

Visas & Travel Insurance: Visas will always be tour/nationality dependent but travel insurance is mandatory
Tips: Always optional but some guidance will be given in the pre-departure information documents
International Flights: Please ask us for an obligation-free quote for flights which originate in the UK
Beverages & any costs of a personal nature: This will include items such as laundry and souvenirs

WILD FRONTIERS COMMUNITY

If you’re still not sure if this trip is right or just want to see get some different perspectives, then why not have a look at the wide variety of resources we have on our website? Browse our community section to read our blogs, watch videos and find out about our events. 

WHY WILD FRONTIERS?

We are frequently asked what makes Wild Frontiers different from other tour operators. Visit our Why Wild Frontiers page to find out.

INSPIRATION

WF SIGNATURE VIDEO

In this short film Wild Frontiers founder and MD explains the ethos behind the award-winning travel company.

REVIEWS OF THIS TRIP