Volcanoes and Galapagos

Resort:Volcanoes and Galapagos
Operator: Explore
Destination: Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Latin America
Price From: £3160.00

Over View

Discover the spectacular highlights and fascinating cultural blend of mainland Ecuador, before exploring the ‘enchanted Isles’ of the Galapagos. Experience this wildlife paradise from a different perspective, staying on land on Santa Cruz and Isabela islands.

Avenue of the Volcanoes – Take a walk in the Cotopaxi National Park, with views to the snowcapped cone of Cotopaxi Volcano

Otavalo – Haggle over handicrafts at Ecuador’s largest indigenous market

Galapagos Islands – Spend one week getting up close to the remarkable wildlife of Darwin’s paradise islands.


Day 1 Join trip in Quito

Arrive in Quito, Ecuador’s mountain capital and, at 2,850m, the second highest capital city in Latin America. Quito lies in a narrow valley at the foot of Pichincha volcano, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and extinct volcanoes. The fascinating UNESCO Heritage site of the Old City, with its rich blend of colonial architecture, imposing churches and bustling local markets, makes for a stunning introduction to this most enchanting of regions.

Due to the number of evening flights into Quito, your Leader plans to do the welcome meeting on the morning of day two, and will leave a message in reception with details on timings and everything else that you’ll need for the day. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Quito at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to arrive into Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), approximately a 1 hour drive respectively from our hotel. Should you miss the meeting, your leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.

If your flight arrives earlier in the day, you could spend time resting and acclimatizing to the altitude at the hotel, or take a gentle stroll around the atmospheric streets of the old town, stopping for a refreshing drink of horchata and a delicious empanada.

Day 2 City tour of Quito including La Compania

We begin with a walking tour of Quito, Ecuador’s mountain capital and the second highest capital city in Latin America. One of South America’s most beautiful cities, Quito lies in a narrow valley at the foot of Pichincha volcano, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and extinct volcanoes. The fascinating UNESCO Heritage site of the Old City, with its rich blend of colonial architecture, imposing churches and bustling local markets, makes for a stunning introduction to this most enchanting of regions. We will visit some of the main sites, including the Plaza de la Independencia, the cultural heart of the colonial city, and La Compaa church with its magnificent gilded altars, walls and ceilings. At the church of San Francisco we are introduced to Quito’s largest and oldest colonial church, built in 1553. A climb to the top of nearby Cerro Panecillo affords us one of the best views across the city and the surrounding mountains, presenting us with an unparalleled vista of the encircling Andes from the viewing platform offered by the statue of the Virgen de Quito.

Day 3 Drive to Banos via Cotopaxi National Park

Leaving Quito this morning we head south, towards the Central Highlands and the town of Baos. Our journey takes us through some of the most impressive mountain scenery in the entire country, into the landscapes so aptly described by the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt as the ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’. En route we drive into the spectacular Cotopaxi National Park, where we see one of the world’s highest active volcanoes. Ecuador’s second highest mountain, Cotopaxi is a classic volcanic cone, snow covered and rising an imposing 5897m from the valley floor below. We will take some time whilst we are here to walk around the Limpiopungo Plateau (1.5 hours), where a shallow glacial lake presents us with a perfect spot to explore something of the rich flora and fauna of the pramo (high altitude Andean grasslands). Set between the imposing masses of Cotopaxi and Rumiahui, the plateau is a haven for birdlife, as well as wild horses. From here we continue to our nightstop in Banos, with spectacular views of the Tungurahua volcano.

Day 4 Explore Pailon Falls, the Devil’s Cauldron; return to Quito

First thing this morning we plan to visit (subject to local restrictions due to previous eruptions of the Tungurahua volcano) the nearby Pailn del Diablo waterfall (the Devil’s Cauldron), considered by many to be the most beautiful in the area. A walk up to the viewing platform allows us to view these impressive falls from above (1.5 hours), looking down onto the whirlpool of foaming water below.

Day 5 Travel to Otavalo; visit Laguna Cuicocha

Following the Panamericana Highway this morning we head north, towards the small market town of Otavalo, set within a beautiful fertile valley encircled by imposing sacred mountains. The town’s regular markets attract traders and artisans from as far away as Peru and Bolivia. The Otavaleos are an incredibly dignified and assured people, proudly displaying their cultural traditions and ancient heritage, and their market is a rich profusion of goods and styles from right across the region, with jewellery, rugs, woven linen bags, woodcarvings and leather goods on display throughout the town. Add to that the visual majesty of the setting and the colourful costumes of the different peoples taking part and you have a truly remarkable cultural experience. This afternoon we take a drive out to the tranquil setting of Cuicocha, a turquoise crater-lake located at 3,100m and approached though a wonderful landscape of alpine vegetation. Located in the Western Cordillera, at the foot of Cotocachi, this now dormant volcanic caldera is a prime spot to find the Kings of the Andes, wide-winged condors that soar high above the valleys in graceful flight. There may be the option to go for a walk along a segment of the trail that goes around the lake (1.5 hours) before returning to Otavalo for the evening.

Day 6 Walks in the countryside near Otavalo

Today we have a full day to explore the locality around the town of Otavalo. We intend to drive around Imbabura Mountain passing the traditional villages of Gonzalez Suarez and San Pablo, in which area we plan a gentle walk to take in the surrounding countryside (1.5hrs). Near San Pablo you may have an option to visit a bird rescue centre that specializes in looking after Condors -the largest species of bird in the Andes. We will stop for lunch en route before moving on to the indigenous village of Peguche, famed for its local families who make colourful weavings plus others who play traditional Andean music by using several types of panpipes made by themselves. Later in the afternoon we return to Otavalo.

Day 7 Return to Quito via the Quitsato Equator Monument

This morning we drive to Quito via the Equator line, stopping off at the Quitsato Equator monument, a huge sundial spanning 54 metres across, which celebrates the crossing of the equator line at zero degrees. From this huge clock face, a compass of stones allows you to not only read the time, but also the month, while other features indicate the solstices and equinoxes. The word ‘Quitsato’ comes from the language of the indigenous Tsachilas people from the Ecuadorian coast. ‘Quitsa’ means ‘Middle’, and ‘To’ means ‘world; Quitsato therefore means Middle of the World, and it is from this word that Ecuador’s capital city also derives its name. We have lunch in a nearby restaurant before returning to Quito.

Day 8 Fly to the Galapagos; view giant tortoises in the Santa Cruz highlands

The Galapagos are an isolated chain of volcanic islands supporting a distinct and unique flora and fauna, including prehistoric creatures found nowhere else on earth. Of the extraordinary animals to be found in the Galapagos many are reptiles, such as the great tortoise, large land iguanas, numerous lizards and three species of non-poisonous snakes. There are also several species of turtle, which come ashore to mate. Up to three quarters of a million seabirds flock to the islands, including a third of the world’s bluefooted boobies, frigate birds, pelicans, cormorants, albatross and petrels. Most out of place of all the animals on the equator though is perhaps the penguin. Only 35cm tall, the Galapagos penguin can be seen swimming among tropical mangroves, whilst offshore it is common to see dolphins, sea lions and fur seals playing in the water.

Today we fly to the Galapagos island of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos and has the largest population, with Puerto Ayora as its main town. It also boasts the most varied of the islands’ vegetation zones: coastal, transition, scalesia, miconia and pampa.

We will travel through the highlands, stopping at Los Gemelos (the twins), two volcanic drepressions. Later, we will visit a ranch where we might see some giant tortoises roaming around. Here we will have lunch after which we will be transferred to our lodge in the highlands. In the evening, the lodge provides a free transfer to Puerto Ayora which you may wish to take to explore the town or have dinner there.

Day 9 Boat to Isabela Island, overnight in Puerto Villamil

This morning we leave Santa Cruz and journey west by speed boat for approximately 2.5 hours to nearby Isabela Island where we will spend the next two days. The largest of the Galapagos Islands, Isabela is formed from five volcanoes, of which two are still active. An idyllic paradise of white sand beaches and swaying palms, it is home to the second largest caldera on earth and the highest point in the archipelago. As with Santa Cruz we will base ourselves here, in the small town of Puerto Villamil on the southern coast, and take excursions out around the island. On arrival we intend to visit the Arnaldo Tupiza breeding centre, approximately a 1.5km walk from Puerto Villamil. The walk itself is a nature experience through the wetlands, where you may see heron, flamingos and many other bird species as well as iguanas, lizards, crabs and other creatures. Once in the centre you will learn an impressive amount about the background of the famous Galapagos tortoise, and the centre’s aims to restore their numbers and release them back onto the islands.

Day 10 On Isabela; walk up Sierra Negra Volcano; optional snorkelling

Our second day on Isabela affords us the opportunity to explore the island more fully and we will start by taking a walk up the Sierra Negra Volcano. Measuring an impressive 12km, the volcano dominates the southern half of the island. The walk to the top is 3 hours return, presenting us with some spectacular views across the island and towards Santiago Island to the northeast. This afternoon we may also have the chance for snorkelling at Concha y Perla.

Day 11 Optional Tintoreras Islands trip, return by boat to Santa Cruz

This morning we have the opportunity to take a small boat to the nearby Tintoreras Islands (optional) – these are formed from the lava flows from volcanoes and are fantastic for viewing wildlife. As we walk around we may see a vast array of bird life and an abundance of famous marine iguanas (only found in the Galapagos) whilst in the water giant turtles, Galapagos penguins and sea lions may be swimming around. An asset to the incredible diversity and unique qualities of the wildlife on these islands is their complete acceptance of our presence, making it possible to view birds, reptiles and mammals from as close as a few feet. We then take the boat back to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island where we will spend the next three nights.

Day 12 Discover Seymour, Plazas, Bartolome or Santa Fe Island

The plan for today is dependent on the schedule of the yachts departing from Santa Cruz. We will be taking a full day boat trip to one of the smaller islands of the Galapagos, which will be either Seymour, Bartolome, Santa Fe or Plazas Island. Depending on the island, we will be seeing sea lions playing in the water just off shore, land iguanas strolling around their land, magnificent red-throated frigate birds, blue footed boobies, swallow-tail gulls or Galapagos penguins. Time permitting we will also have the opportunity for some snorkelling or hiking about the island.

Depending on the boat schedules, we may change around the order of activities during your days in the Galapagos, and any change in daily schedule will be fully briefed to you in country by your Tour Leader.

Day 13 Visit Tortuga Bay; afternoon Charles Darwin Station visit

This morning we take a walk to Tortuga Bay (5km return walk) where we have the opportunity to swim at one of the most spectacular beaches of the entire chain, and an important turtle nesting ground. After lunch we will visit the nearby Charles Darwin Research Station which has been responsible for conservation projects within the islands since 1959 (the centenary of the publication of Origin of the Species). During our time here we will visit the centre to learn more about the unique collection of animal and plant life that resides here.

Day 14 Fly to Guayaquil on the mainland

Leaving the Galapagos behind we fly back to Guayaquil today. On arrival the rest of the day is free to explore at your leisure. The largest city in Ecuador and its principal port, Guayaquil is a bustling, lively city with a number of churches and museums you might like to visit. Alternatively you might like to wander through the old district of Las Penas, an area of cobbled streets, painted houses and cafes, where you can sit and watch the world go by and reflect on the wonders you have seen. Please note your leader may not fly with you to Guayaquil; if not you will be met by a local representative on arrival at the airport who will give you a brief for your stay in Guayaquil.

Day 15 Tour ends in Guayaquil

The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Guayaquil.

There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Guayaquil at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Guayaquil’s Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport (airport code: GYE), which is approximately a 20 minute drive from our hotel.