Ecuador & Galapagos Highlights

Best time to visit
January, February, March, April, May, September, October, November, December

Ecuador’s raw beauty showcases nature’s evolutionary splendor, cascading from fiery volcanos to treasured flora and endemic fauna. Whether cruising through the Galapagos islands or getting immersed in the Amazon, the natural show is always iconic and authentic. Peel yourself from these two majestic destinations and there’s also a kaleidoscopic blend of cultures and landscapes to discover. This experience showcases the best of what’s on offer.

Day 1 - Quito

Plaza de la independencia, municipio, palacio arzobispal, monumento a los héroes del 10 de agosto, escalinata de la Catedral

Quito Tour With Historian Guide

Ecuador

Golden churches and evocative 16th-century palaces dominate the heart of Quito. Streets of cobblestone and intrigue suggest a time of the early Spanish colony, while lanes evoke more indigenous styles. Quito’s old centre was officially the first ever World Heritage Site. You will explore with a local historian, discovering eclectic imported styles and an astonishing quantity of gold. Sights like La Compania and the Presidential Palace are among your stops. This is a city with a very living history and almost every street offers a hidden surprise. A morning will reveal iconic highlights in the centre, then the afternoon can be tailored to your historical and cultural interests.

Plaza Grand Hotel, Quito

Ecuador

An integral part of the very first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Plaza Grand marks the very heart of Quito. Across from the palace and cathedral, it was formerly the grandest mansion in the Americas, then the grandest hotel in the Americas. After a period of neglect, the Plaza Grand was refurbished and reopened in 2005. You can smell the history here, such elegance and opulence on every floor. It’s boutique, but not pretentious, just glorious in its ode to heritage. This is comfortably Quito’s finest hotel and the location is unbeatable for exploring the city’s main highlights. You will literally be staying inside the history.

Days 2 - 3 - Into the Valleys

Closeup of an indigenous woman's hands together, Chimborazo, Ecuador

Andean Shaman Ceremony

Ecuador

Traditional shamans continue to operate all over the Andes. There’s a hub of them throughout rural Ecuador and you can do more than just meet one. Travel designers can arrange traditional ceremonies, where you can ward off evil spirits and explore the culture behind shamanism. Note that it’s very rare to have photos of such an experience. This is a travel moment about memories, not Instagram posts.

Full View, Mashpi Lodge

Stay at Mashpi Lodge

Ecuador

High in a cloud forest, only 100 kilometres from Quito, Mashpi Lodge evokes the very essence of nature. This is a place of harmony, where life and the wild merge into one. Lie back in a suite and watch the wildlife show, a staggering array of animals occupying the surrounding forest. Lounge in the spa, savour some of Ecuador’s finest cuisine, and cruise the surroundings in a dragonfly canopy gondola.Awarded the best eco lodge in South America back in 2017 and a member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, Mashpi Lodge is a memorable embrace with nature. There’s so much to do here. And you can only discover it all when you arrive.

Days 4 - 8 - Galapagos Islands Discovery

San Cristobal's Cerro Brujo beach, Glapagos

Galapagos Islands Catamaran Charter

Ecuador

The ultimate way to discover the Galapagos islands, a private catamaran charter and an itinerary that can be adapted to your group’s interests. Naturalist guides will lead you on land and marine excursions, connecting the islands and visitor sites you most want to see.Every Galapagos cruise, even a private charter, must stick to a fixed schedule. This is to prevent overcrowding at wildlife sites and help fully preserve all the unique nature. With any group cruise you don’t have control over this itinerary. For a private charter, your travel designer will help arrange an itinerary that meets your interests.From exceptional diving in the north to the best places to kayak or snorkel, then all the finest land sites for sea lions, birds and reptiles, this can be your own version of the Galapagos.

Unique photo of a huge fully grown Galapagos Giant Tortoise in wildlife. Highlands, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Nikon D810. Converted from RAW.

Giant Tortoise Spotting on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Ecuador

Tortoises arrived in the Galapagos on driftwood from mainland South America. 15 species evolved separately on different islands, each with a shell shaped to match the island’s volcanic structure. On Santa Cruz you will encounter dozens of wild Santa Cruz tortoises grazing and resting. They’re much bigger and faster than you may expect. And the longer you watch the more unusual behaviour they display. After encounters on the island’s highlands you will visit Fausto Llerena Tortoise Centre, where you can see different subspecies. They have been brought here as part of a breeding and conservation program, yet remain wild.

View of Pacific Pelican in flight off the coast of San Cristobal Island, Galapagos, Ecuador.

Galapagos Wildlife Safari at Kicker Rock and Punta Pitt

Ecuador

Of all the islands and all the wildlife, there are two Galapagos sites that perfectly summarise the safari experience. These are both on San Cristobal and you will discover them in one day with a private guide.First Kicker Rock, a dazzling snorkel or dive site, where sharks and manta rays gather in an abundance not seen elsewhere. Boobies and sea lions hang out on the cliffs above the dive site and you can often find them on the water besides you. Pungent aromas and squawking sounds fill the atmosphere at Punta Pitt, home of the islands’ biggest bachelor sea lion colony. You cannot get close to them. These sea lions are violent and you’ll witness plenty of quarrels. Instead, circumnavigate the colony to the only place on the islands where you can see all three species of booby in one place. Red-footed boobies, blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, and then frigate birds plus marine iguanas to complete your private wildlife safari.

A beautiful marine iguana is standing still on the rocks enjoying the sun bath at San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands Ecuador.

Reptile Safari on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Ecuador

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the Galapagos capital and is one of only two airports here. At least half of all Galapagos trips pass through the small town and it’s not just a dull layover. A local guide will take you out on a reptile safari, a fitting first or final wildlife moment on your archipelago adventure. Admire giant San Cristobal tortoises in a Tortoise Reserve, where the remarkable reptiles move at astonishing speeds. Look away and it’s amazing how fast a tortoise can disappear into the grass!Lava lizards dot the trail as well as enormous iguanas that blend expertly into the rocks. After the safari you can stop at the Galapagos National Park Visitor Center, which provides insight into a conservation history from Darwin to the present day.

A cinder cone is visible in the volcanic landscape on the side of the Sierra Negra volcano on Isabel Island in the Galapagos.

Hike Sierra Negra and Darwin Crater on Isabela Island, Galapagos

Ecuador

Six volcanic domes stretch across Isabela Island. They appear as mystical summits from on high, suggesting how this island is still to fully evolve. Isabela is the youngest and largest Galapagos island and these six volcanoes continue to erupt regularly. Fields of lava stretch across the landscape and you walk upon them, on a hike to Sierra Negra and Darwin Crater. A local guide leads the way and you settle into the finest hike anywhere on the islands. Sierra Negra is a harder hike, to be expected given it’s the world’s largest volcanic caldera. Darwin Crater is easier, although a travel designer can also arrange for you to reach Sierra Negra by horseback.

Full View, Pikaia Lodge

Pikaia Lodge, Galapagos

Ecuador

Giant Galapagos tortoises roam the grounds outside your suite. A private pool overlooks distant white beaches and the Pacific. You’re up in the highlands, immersed in the birds and life of the archipelago.Pikaiai has long been considered the finest luxury lodge on the Galapagos islands. It’s a Relais & Chateaux property, high in the hills, expertly situated for exploring the island’s unusual wildlife. From here you can take twice-daily land and water excursions to a breathtaking range of wildlife sites across the islands.

Day 9 - Back in Quito

An essential overnight stop as you change ecosystems.

Plaza Grand Hotel, Quito

Ecuador

An integral part of the very first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Plaza Grand marks the very heart of Quito. Across from the palace and cathedral, it was formerly the grandest mansion in the Americas, then the grandest hotel in the Americas. After a period of neglect, the Plaza Grand was refurbished and reopened in 2005. You can smell the history here, such elegance and opulence on every floor. It’s boutique, but not pretentious, just glorious in its ode to heritage. This is comfortably Quito’s finest hotel and the location is unbeatable for exploring the city’s main highlights. You will literally be staying inside the history.

Days 10 - 13 - Into the Amazon

Amazon River Boat

Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest Cruise

Ecuador

Pink dolphins pirouette in the Napo River. Monkeys howl from the rainforest canopy. Noisy parrots can be heard through the day and toucans swarm a salt lick. Ecuador’s Amazon is home to more than 500 species and on a single day you can identify more than 100 of these. The Ecuadorian Amazon is also very accessible. Cruising through Yasuni National Park and Limoncocha Biological Reserve, you will spend four days immersed in one of nature’s wildest outposts. Any cruise here means a complete submersion in the Amazonian world, but also plenty of comfort and luxury. Just sit back and watch the wildlife unfold.

Two traditional wooden canoes at sunset in the Amazon River Basin with the tropical rainforest in the background inside the Yasuni National Park, Ecuador, South America.

Kayak the Amazon

Ecuador

Silence. Just the soft sound of a paddle in water. Now a monkey hooting from the treetops, piercing the still dawn air. You paddle further, deeper into the Amazon, deeper into a land without roads. You’re in the land of the Huarani, a hunter gatherer tribe you have helped preserve nature for centuries. You are their guests and you will stay at their villages, as you spend a three or more days kayaking the Amazon. It is possible to do a shorter kayak, as part of a Amazon cruise or lodge stay. This experience is more adventurous, a multi-day journey into the very heart of the rainforest.

Deluxe Bungalow, Hamadryade Lodge

Hamadryade Lodge, Ecuadorian Amazon

Ecuador

With just four private bungalows in a wild Amazonian environment, Hamadryade Lodge offers an experience for all the senses. Strange aromas dominate the world’s largest rainforest. Sounds echo through day and night, including unusual birds and monkeys. You can walk, raft and canoe around the local area. Or you can sit back and watch animals appear close to your room. Hamadryade is the closest luxury jungle lodge to Quito and does not need a flight. It’s a great choice if you are scared of the rainforest and don’t want to venture deep into all the insects and wilderness.

Day 14 - Departure

This experience was created by
Stephen John
Show more from Stephen