Ecuador | Gardens, Cloud Forests, Dry Forests, History, Culture, Otavalo Market and the Galapagos Islands

Ecuador | Gardens, Cloud Forests, Dry Forests, History, Culture, Otavalo Market and the Galapagos Islands

About this trip

From the Andes to the Galápagos, Ecuador boasts a dazzling biodiversity and a fascinating blend of Hispanic and Indigenous cultures. This tour celebrates it all while shining a spotlight on the country's rich flora across a range of ecosystems. Meander through the botanical gardens of Quito and Guayaquil, the craft market of Otavalo, and a local rose farm. Set out into the heart of the cloud forest and discover the rich floral biodiversity of the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, a collapsed volcano that harbors an abundance of mosses, ferns, lichens, bromeliads, and orchids. Culminate your journey with a four-night cruise amid the signature wildlife and scenery of the Galápagos Islands, which you’ll explore aboard a first-class expedition yacht.

Highlights

  • View the impressive collections at Quito Botanical Gardens and Guayaquil Botanical Gardens. 
  • Explore the Sachatamia Cloud Forest Reserve, known in particular for its high concentration of bromeliads, orchids, and other epiphytes.
  • Visit a rose farm and learn about Ecuador's floral industry, followed by a stop at Otavalo Market, where artisans sell traditional handicrafts.
  • Discover the hardy vegetation endemic to the Galápagos and its volcanic terrain, like the Incense Tree and red Sesuvium.
  • See iconic wildlife of the Galápagos up close, including Blue-footed Boobies and giant tortoises.
  • Hike in Cerro Blanco reserve, which protects more than 700 species of vascular plants, 20 percent of which are endemic to southwestern Ecuador.
11 Travelers

$8,495

Land Cost

Group size

Book 10 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

16 Travelers

$7,795

Land Cost

Group size

Book 15 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

Quito

Day 1

Upon arrival, after clearing customs and collecting your luggage, you will be met and transferred to the beautiful Hotel Patio Andaluz in Quito's historical district. * Please note itinerary must start on a Thursday.

Overnight at Hotel Patio Andaluz

Quito

Day 2

This morning, meet your guide and receive a walking tour of the historical district of Quito. Visit La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, a Jesuit church with an impressive interior inlaid in gold. Also see the Plaza Grande, which is surrounded by the Cathedral of Quito, the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Building, and the Archbishop's Palace. End your tour with a walk around the Plaza de San Francisco, making sure to visit San Francisco Church, the oldest and most significant Catholic church in Ecuador. Lunch will be at a local café. Then visit the Jardín Botánico de Quito, where you will be given a special tour of the garden. Located within the 165-acre Parque La Carolina, the gardens feature different environments, including Amazonian, desert, and wetland ecosystems. Highlights include carnivorous plants, roses, and orchids. The remainder of the late afternoon and evening is yours to explore on your own, and enjoy the amenities of your hotel.

Breakfast-Lunch- included
Overnight at Hotel Patio Andaluz

Otavalo

Day 3

Depart from Quito early this morning and head north toward Imbabura, known also as the "Lakes Province" for its many bodies of water. Your first stop will be at a private, 19th century hacienda to enjoy a country-style breakfast with pastries, bizcochos (traditional biscuits), and local cheese. Receive an introduction to the floral industry, one of the major economic activities in Ecuador, while visiting a local rose farm. Ecuador possesses more than 300 varieties of roses, known worldwide for their beauty and high quality. Continue to the Otavalo craft market; dating back to pre-Inca times, it is the most famous of all Andean markets. Hundreds of Indigenous merchants and artisans from surrounding communities travel to Otavalo to display a plethora of items, notably the colorful woven textiles, tapestries, and other handicrafts for which the region is known. Locals and visitors can also buy or barter food, animals, and basic necessities. Enjoy time to wander among the colorful stalls at your own pace before regrouping for lunch at an hacienda-style hotel. Next, visit Cotacachi to stroll through the canton's craft towns and their shops. The various towns feature fine artisan products such as leather and woven textiles. In the afternoon, arrive at Hacienda Cusín. This lovely property boasts beautiful gardens and a rich history. Enjoy the remainder of the late afternoon and evening exploring your surroundings.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hacienda Cusin

Sachatamia

Day 4

This morning, depart Otavalo and travel to the Ecuadorian cloud forest, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. En route, stop to visit the Pululahua Crater, one of the few inhabited volcanic calderas in the world. The crater covers an altitudinal range of 5,900 to 10,800 feet, creating a variety of micro-climates, and Pululahua has been declared a Geobotanical Reserve to protect the wide variety of floral species found here, including many Andean endemics. After lunch in the area, continue to your accommodations at Sachatamia Lodge. Check in, and then take a walk with your guide to become acquainted with the area before dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Sachatamia Lodge

Sachatamia

Day 5

Enjoy a full day exploring the flora and fauna along the trails of the Cloud Forest Reserve. Observe the lush cloud forest vegetation and its fascinating adaptations to life in this special environment. Species found within the private reserve's 2,000 acres include a high concentration of bromeliads, orchids, and other epiphytes, as well as colorful birds like tanagers, toucans, and hummingbirds. After lunch, relax and admire the view; olinguito and kinkajoo often visit feeders near the dining room. Return to Sachatamia Lodge in the afternoon, with time to explore on your own before dinner. Your guide will be available for a night hike later, should you wish.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Sachatamia Lodge

Puembo

Day 6

Take one more walk in the forest with your guide this morning before traveling to the town of Puembo, just north of Quito and only 20 minutes from the airport. You will have the remainder of the late afternoon to relax and enjoy the amenities of the quaint Hostería Rincón de Puembo as you prepare for your early flight the next morning.

Breakfast- included
Overnight at Rincón de Puembo

Galapagos

Day 7

Early this morning, head to the Quito airport for your flight to San Cristóbal Island in the Galápagos. Upon arrival, you will be met by the naturalist guide of M/Y Coral I or II and taken to the pier to board the yacht and set sail! (Please note cruises start on Wednesday.) This afternoon, visit the Interpretation Center in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, capital of the Galápagos province. The center is an excellent place to learn about the islands' natural and human history. Learn about the volcanic origin of the islands, their remoteness from the continent, ocean currents, climate, and the arrival of different species, among other points of interest. The human history is also showcased chronologically, narrating the most significant events related to the islands' discovery and colonization.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at M/Y Coral I or II

Galapagos

Day 8

This morning, make a wet landing on San Cristóbal Island at Cerro Brujo, an eroding tuff cone composed of a'a lava formations; it is close to a beautiful white sandy beach that is great for snorkeling and sunbathing. Nearby there is a lagoon ideal for migratory bird species; often sighted are Black-necked Stilts, Ruddy Turnstones, Whimbrels, and White-cheeked Pintails. Cerro Brujo offers beautiful views of Kicker Rock, a massive tuff rock that juts almost 500 feet above the ocean surface and serves as a nesting place for many sea birds. This afternoon, travel to Punta Pitt, also on San Cristóbal Island, for a wet landing, followed by a moderate-intensity hike on rocky terrain. The steep trail takes you approximately 300 feet, leading from an olivine beach up a path that climbs to the top of a volcanic tuff, through several magnificent viewpoints. The trail offers a closer look at the hardy vegetation such as the palo santo (Bursera graveolens), also known as the incense tree; tiny, colorful cacti; and in the dry season, carpets of red Vesuvius. This is probably the only site where the three booby species of the Galápagos can be seen together, as well as two species of frigatebirds and a sea lion colony.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at M/YCoral I or II

Galapagos

Day 9

Land at Punta Suárez on Española Island this morning. Geologically, this is one of the oldest islands in the archipelago, and it has a high percentage of endemism due to its isolation from the rest of the islands. The great variety of wildlife makes this one of the most attractive spots in the Galápagos. It's possible to explore volcanic formations and see large colonies of sea lions. The trail cuts through salt bush (Cryptocarpus pyriformis), and bird species include the Española Mockingbird (endemic to this island), Nazca Booby, Red-billed Tropicbird, Galápagos Dove, Galápagos Hawk, and Swallow-tailed Gull. From April to December, the world's largest colony of Waved Albatross is a special highlight, and you may be able to observe their special courtship display. The marine iguanas on this island are noted for their turquoise and reddish color during the breeding season. Also look for lava lizards and colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs. A somewhat lengthy hike brings you to nesting grounds that sometimes overlap the trail. Admire the island's dramatic backdrop, featuring the famous "Soplador," a seaward blowhole that shoots water up to 75 feet into the air. Return to the vessel for lunch, and then travel to Gardner Bay on the northeastern side of the island. There are no trails here, so visitors stay along the shore of this beautiful white coral-sand beach, spotting lava lizards, marine iguanas, the Galápagos Hawk, American Oystercatcher, Galápagos Dove, Española Mockingbird, Yellow Warbler, and three species of Darwin's finch: the Large Cactus-Finch, Small Ground-Finch, and the reclusive Gray Warbler-Finch. Swimming and snorkeling in the shallows of the bay offer a great variety of Galápagos marine wildlife, including king angelfish, creole fish, damsel fish, and parrot fish. Green sea turtles may be found gliding through the water or hauling themselves onto the beach for a rest or nesting (Jan-Mar).

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at M/Y Coral I or II

Galapagos

Day 10

Today begins with a wet landing on the olivine green beach of Cormorant Point on Floreana Island. Hike from the black mangrove beds to a brackish lagoon, which usually holds a large American Flamingo population. This island features some endemic plants such as the threatened long-haired scalesia (Scalesia villosa), white (Laguncularia racemosa) and black (Avicennia germinans) mangroves, palo santo (Bursera graveolens), cutleaf daisy (Lecocarpus pinnatifidus), and Galápagos milkwort (Polygala sancti-georgii). The trail continues to a beautiful white sandy beach, an important nesting site for Pacific green sea turtles. From the beach, watch for sea turtles, Blue-footed Boobies plunging into the water, and small reef sharks floating along the shoreline in search of food. A small colony of penguins resides on Floreana and can sometimes be observed as well. Next, head offshore to Devil's Crown, an eroded volcanic cone that's a favorite site among snorkelers. You'll be able to swim among large schools of yellow-tailed surgeonfish, salemas, and creole fish, and with luck you may see turtles, spotted eagle rays, parrotfish, and even hammerhead sharks! The jagged "crown" rising above the surface is a roosting area for boobies, noddies, tropicbirds, and frigatebirds. This afternoon, travel to Post Office Bay on the north side of Floreana. The bay was so named because in 1793 Captain James Colnett installed a wooden barrel that served as an informal post office for sailors passing through. Today, visitors continue the tradition by placing unstamped postcards inside the barrel, hoping that some other traveler, going to the letter's destination, will take it back for free. Here you may encounter Darwin's finches, Yellow Warblers, and lava lizards. Great snorkeling opportunities are available, with possible sightings of the green sea turtles and playful sea lions.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at M/Y Coral I or II

Guayaquil

Day 11

Disembark on Santa Cruz Island this morning and travel by bus to the central highlands, which offer the best opportunity for seeing Galápagos giant tortoises in the wild. Take a short walk among these massive, 600-pound reptiles while keeping an eye out for highland floral species, especially the Scalesia forest and numerous ferns. Afterwards, continue to the airport on Baltra Island for your flight to Guayaquil. Upon arrival, you will be met by your new host for the next few days. Check in at the modern Unipark Hotel overlooking the Parque Seminario, then take a guided tour of the city's public gardens and stroll along the Malecón boardwalk. Return to the hotel to freshen up for dinner at one of the city's lovely restaurants.

Breakfast-Dinner included
Overnight at Unipark Hotel

Guayaquil

Day 12

Your last day in Ecuador will be spent exploring gardens and natural areas surrounding Guayaquil. On the way out of the city, stop for a quick visit to Lineal Park, a small but charming park with ornamental and endemic species that are found in this region. Continue on to the Cerro Blanco protected forest, a 15-acre reserve within the tropical dry forest ecosystem of the Ecuadorian coast, located in the extreme southwest area of the Chongón-Colonche mountain range. The ecosystem of lush native flora is home to 54 mammal species, 221 bird species, 8 amphibian species, and 12 reptile species. In addition, there are more than 700 species of vascular plants, 20% of which are endemic to the southwest of Ecuador. After your time in the reserve, have lunch at a typical restaurant, and then visit Jardín Botánico de Guayaquil. The garden sits on a hill overlooking the Guayas and Daule rivers. Development of the garden began in 1979, and it was opened to the public in 1989. There are approximately 324 plant species that can be observed in their natural habitat, as well as timber and fruit trees, ornamentals, and exotics. Orchids are the main attraction. Return to your hotel; dinner is on your own. Should you have a late night flight this evening, you will be transferred to the Guayaquil International Airport for your flight(s) home.

Breakfast-Lunch- included
Overnight at Unipark Hotel

Guayaquil

Day 13

Early this morning, you will be transferred to the Guayaquil International Airport for your flight(s) home.

Breakfast- included