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Albatross: Ecuador's highlands and Galápagos

16 days from £4427pp

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Albatross: Ecuador's highlands and Galápagos

16 days from £4427pp
 

Group Journey

 

UK clients depart arriving Quito, Ecuador, the same day
 

Day 1

Transfer to hotel in Quito, overnight in the capital.
 
Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met by the tour leader or local representative and escorted to the group hotel in the Andean capital of Ecuador.

The active volcano Guagua Pichincha, to the east, glowers over the dynamic city which, at 2,850m, is one of highest capital cities in the world. Quito is divided into two contrasting districts. The modern zone is characterised by towering glass buildings and houses banks, international companies, hotels, shops and restaurants, while the central colonial area where your hotel is located has well-conserved and recently spruced-up white-washed architecture, open air markets and graceful Spanish-style mansions and churches.

Day 2

Guided tour of the city and the Equatorial Monument.
 

Your guided city tour includes a visit to the equatorial line at Mitad del Mundo, a short drive north of the city. It's not a spectacular site in itself but you can pose for photographs with a foot in either hemisphere and there is an interesting museum nearby, as well as some wonderful views over the surrounding volcanoes.

Quito

Day 3

Optional excursion to Otavalo and its market.
 

At leisure to further explore Quito or there is an optional visit to Otavalo, which hosts one of the largest and most vibrant indigenous markets in South America. Stalls are laden with tapestries and woollen goods, some intricate, some brash, and all in a breathtaking array of colours, as well as traditional musical instruments and leather goods. You're bound to find something to take home.

Day 4

Travel through the Avenue of the Volcanoes to Alausi for the Devil's Nose train ride.
 

Head south out of Quito on a spellbinding journey along the Avenue of Volcanoes towards the town of Alausi. Once there we board the train for the exhilarating journey down towards the Devil's Nose, named after the shape of one of the mountains as it rises steeply from the bottom of the valley. This part of the track drops dramatically in altitude, the train descends on a series of switchbacks as you slowly leave the crisp mountain air and scenery for the warmer tropics of the lowlands. (The rail track is sometimes closed due to severe weather conditions.)

Cotopaxi

Day 5

Continue by bus to Cuenca.
 
Continue by private vehicle to Cuenca, via Ecuador's principal Inca ruins of Ingapirca. The remains of the buildings in this raised site date back to the end of the 15th century, before the Spanish conquistadors took hold of the region. The architecture bears all the hallmarks of Inca construction, with some fine mortar-less stonework and typical trapezoidal niches and doorways. Archaeologists believe that the main structure, known as The Temple of the Sun, was used for religious and ceremonial purposes. Today, however, it simply provides welcome shade for grazing llamas and the occasional tourist.

Cuenca is a beautiful 16th-century town, built on the site of an ancient Inca settlement, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

Days 6-7

Explore Cuenca, optional visits to Gualaceo and Chordeleg.
 
Tour the city as you wander the narrow cobblestone streets, marvelling at the architecture. The colonial centre has been beautifully restored; colourful flowers tumble from ironwork balconies and the whitewashed houses have grand wooden doors. The climate here is temperate and you'll enjoy relaxing with a coffee in a leafy square.

Cuenca is a great place to wander or relax in but if you want to get out of the city you could visit the nearby market towns of Gualaceo, Chordeleg, and colonial Sigsig, set in the foothills of the western cordillera. En route there is a chance to stop and barter for silver and gold filigree jewellery, and to see craftsmen making guitars and using nimble fingers to weave Ecuador's most famous export, the Panama hat.

Cuenca

Day 8

Drive from the Andes to the tropical coast at Guayaquil. Stop on the way at Las Cajas National Park.
 
Today we travel from the mountains down through the tropical lowlands to the port city of Guayaquil. It is a spectacular drive that truly contrasts the scenery in this small country, as you pass from Andean villages to banana plantations. On the way we stop at the Las Cajas National Park. Beautiful trails pass through this rugged, high-altitude wilderness of grasslands, jagged hills and glacial lagoons. You will be sure to pass herds of serene, grazing llama, and perhaps spot a spectacled bear, a puma or a tigrillo (relative of the ocelot), all of which inhabit the area, as do many species of bird, including the Andean condor and, at the other end of the scale, the tiny hummingbird.

Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, is situated on the banks of the River Guayas, and has gone through something of a transformation in the last few years. The expanse of waterfront has been made into an outdoor architectural showpiece, and restoration work has taken place along the city's main thoroughfare and in the historical neighbourhood of Las Peñas. Time permitting, you can take a walk from the frenetic, noisy open market at La Bahia, and past the colonial naval shipyard to the Malecón (the waterfront promenade), Guayaquil's crowning jewel. Stroll past tropical gardens, markets and street cafés, and head to Santa Ana Hill and Las Peñas, a district of brightly-coloured wooden houses and ramshackle streets dating back to the 16th century.

Day 9

Fly to the Galápagos Islands, embark on your motor cruiser.
 
You say goodbye to your Journey Latin America tour leader, who will take you to the airport for an early morning flight to Baltra Island (105mins), part of the Galápagos archipelago. Once you've paid an entrance fee, your naturalist guide will be waiting to take you to Puerto Ayora, around 40mins away, and here you board your motor yacht.

The Galápagos Islands emerged 6 million years ago after a spate of volcanic activity, and have become home to unique animal and plant species. The islands were the inspiration for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which formed the basis for his revolutionary book 'The Origin of Species', published in 1859.Although geologically these islands are constantly on the move, they remain suspended in time, with giant tortoises, iguanas, penguins, numerous bird species and a wealth of rare flora all thriving there. For many, the fascinating and unique wildlife and natural beauty of the islands are matched by the thrill of being at sea. Find a spot on deck as you make your way through the ocean, trailed by flocks of birds and playful dolphins.

The boats  are relatively small, creating an informal atmosphere, and the service is of a high standard; the crew is attentive and the food very good. Cabins with en suite facilities are compact but comfortable for your seven nights on board. There are common bar / lounge areas as well as a sun decks. Beach towels are provided, and basic snorkelling equipment can be borrowed.

Days 10-15

Land excursions from the cruise around the Galápagos Islands
 
The itinerary for your days in the Galápagos is subject to change for operational reasons and according to the rules of the Galápagos National Park authorities. There are normally two landings a day, which will usually include chances to snorkel, on which you are accompanied by your guide in search of the different wildlife that inhabits the islands. Below is a summary of the islands that you visit on this journey, and the animals and birds that can be found on each of them.

Santa Cruz (Indefatigable): This island has the largest human population of the five inhabited islands. Some 4,000 residents are distributed between the cattle farming communities in the lush highlands and the coastal town of Puerto Ayora, which is mainly dominated by tourism. The Charles Darwin Research Station here is staffed by international scientists conducting biological research and conservation projects.

Fernandina (Narborough): The island is one of the world’s most active and impressive volcanoes, having erupted at least 10 times in the last 150 years. The lava fields offer a ‘land without time’ landscape and the island is home to a huge colony of marine iguanas, flightless cormorants and some penguins.

Isabela (Albemarle): The largest island in the archipelago, it has 5 volcanoes forming a chain down its spine. The most famous sites are situated on the western side, such as the impressive and spectacular inlets of Vincente Roca, with its high cliffs, lava formations and wonderful marine life. Urbina Bay offers an impressive array of birdlife including finches, warblers and mockingbirds, whilst Elizabeth Bay lined with mangroves is home to turtles and rays.

James (Santiago): The island is one of black rocks and little shade, and the western coast is pitted with lava pools and caves which are home to a wealth of marine life. You may well see herons and oyster catchers as well as Galápagos fur seals playing in the deep, cool water pools, and marine iguanas grazing on algae beds alongside colourful Sally Lightfoot crabs.

Rabida Island (Jervis) is unique because the red colour of the rocks and sand. The volcanic material in this island is very porous and external factors as rain, salt water and sea breeze have acted as an oxidizing agent. A short walk along a trail lead us to a coastal lagoon behind the beach permits the observation of land birds as finches, doves, yellow warblers and mocking birds. At the lagoon there is a colony of flamingos.

Bartolome Island (San Salvador) has an altitude of 114 meters, from where you can observe one of the most beautiful sceneries of the Galapagos Islands such as: Volcanic cones, lunar like craters, lava fields, and the famous Toba formed pinnacle eroded by the sea. There is very little vegetation on this island. It has two breathtaking beaches where marine turtles exist and at the base of the pinnacle, as well as a very small colony of Galápagos penguins.

 

Galapagos

Day 16

Fly to Guayaquil, connect with your extension or your international flight home.
 

UK clients arrive home the following day, Saturday.
 

16 days from £4427pp

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