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Albatross: Ecuador's highlands and Galápagos

16 days from £4427pp

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Albatross: Ecuador's highlands and Galápagos:
Trip Dossier

Sitting at the crossroads of the equator and the high Andes, this small country encompasses an extraordinary diversity of geography and climate, and this comfortable journey takes you to its contrasting landscapes, lifestyles and cultures. The trip begins in the capital, Quito, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, which sits amid a bowl of snow-capped mountains and active volcanoes; and continues south, along the Avenue of the Volcanoes via the Inca ruins of Ingapirca, to the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca and the upland wilderness of Las Cajas National Park.

Leaving the mainland behind, fly 1,000km west over the Pacific to the Galápagos archipelago. This small cluster of islands is home to a wealth of birds and beasts, many of which are ancient and endemic, and your 8 day cruise will introduce you to the highlights of one of the world's most remarkable ecosystems.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart arriving Quito, Ecuador, the same day

Day 1

Transfer to hotel in Quito, overnight in the capital.

Day 2

Guided tour of the city and the Equatorial Monument.

Day 3

Optional excursion to Otavalo and its market.

Day 4

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

Day 5

Continue by bus to Cuenca.

Days 6-7

Explore Cuenca, optional visits to Gualaceo and Chordeleg.

Day 8

Drive from the Andes to the tropical coast at Guayaquil. Stop on the way at Las Cajas National Park.

Day 9

Fly to the Galápagos Islands, embark on your motor cruiser.

Days 10-15

Land excursions from the cruise around the Galápagos Islands

Day 16

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

UK clients arrive home the following day, Saturday.

Detailed itinerary

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.
 

Essential information

Transport

2 flights (longest 3hrs); 3 road/rail journeys; week-long Galapagos cruise.

Accommodation

This holiday incorporates upper mid-range hotels. The motor cruiser in the Galápagos, all air-conditioned with private facilities.

These hotels are subject to change and are dependent on availability. Address and contact details will be sent out with your final documents. 

Examples of hotels include:

• Quito: La Casona de la Ronda
• Alausi: Hosteria La Quinta
• Cuenca: Hotel Santa Lucia
• Guayaquil: Hotel Oro Verde
• Galápagos Islands: MC Galápagos Seaman Journey

Upgrade your cabin:

On board the Galápagos Seaman journey all cabins have panoramic windows, but you may wish to upgrade for an extra fee to a cabin located on a higher deck which may offer more light and air.

Meals

Breakfast daily, full board days 9-15.

Included excursions

• Quito: guided city tour
• Avenue of the Volcanoes: Devil's Nose train ride
• Avenue of the Volcanoes: guided tour of Ingapirca Inca site
• Cuenca: visit to Las Cajas National Park
• Galápagos Islands: 8 day cruise with guided land excursions and optional snorkeling everyday

Summary of nights

16 days, 15 nights: Quito 3; Alausi 1; Cuenca 3; Guayaquil 1; Galápagos cruise 7.

Included in the journey price

• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides
• Services of Journey Latin America tour leader (for the mainland sector)
• All land and internal air transport
• Accommodation as specified
• Meals as specified
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees
• Use of snorkel and flippers in the Galápagos

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified
• Galápagos National Park entrance fee
• Wetsuits at $50 for a week
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket

Optional excursions

There are a few days on this tour where optional excursions are available, which are booked locally through your tour leader once you are in Latin America. Not all excursions available will suit everybody, whilst others only operate within certain seasons, with minimum numbers or may not be included due to time constraints. 

A budget of around $120 should cover participation in the following options, but prices can fluctuate depending on the size of the party and so cannot be provided accurately until travel commences. The list below is only a guideline, so please enquire with your tour leader for any further areas of interest.

• Quito: Otavalo market day trip
• Cuenca: Day trip to the pueblos artesanos (local artisan villages) of Gualaceo or Chordeleg
• Galápagos Islands: All your excursions during your cruise are included, although you may choose to do some extra snorkelling or swimming from the boat or beaches

Currency

The unit of currency in Ecuador is the US dollar; in the Galápagos it is the US dollar.

Budget

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$50 per day should cover the cost of good quality meals on those days in the holiday itinerary when not on the cruise, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the very best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. 

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can spend as the dollar is the local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques (American Express are the most widely accepted), though these are gradually falling out of use. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are normally welcomed and expected. Local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. We recommend approximately $US5-10 (or local equivalent) per person for each of guides and drivers, depending on the size of the group.

On the Galápagos Islands cruise $10-15 per person per day for the crew and the same amount for the guide is appropriate. Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

If you would like to show your appreciation to your Journey Latin America tour leader, who you may feel has exceeded your expectations, a discretionary gratuity would be gratefully received. As a guideline we recommend an amount of between $4 and $6 per person, per day. You are obviously free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page. 

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

There are some early mornings and some fairly long days of travel. All walks are optional, as is swimming and snorkelling in and around the Galápagos Islands and you can discuss with your guide which are suitable for you. This holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit visitors.  The sea can be choppy around the Galápagos islands.

Climate

Lying at 2,850m on the Equator, the highlands have a permanent spring-like climate. The rainy season in the Andes runs between November and April when there are showers most afternoons. The dry season is June, July and August when the sun is strong during the day, but at night the temperature drops dramatically (maybe as low as freezing point.). May, September and October are less predictable, with both rainy and sunny spells. Given the proximity to the equator, altitude is the determining factor with regard to temperature. In the mountains at any time of year you should expect a variation between 15°C and 25°C. In the Galápagos, from January to April it’s hot and the sun is relentless, with some sudden showers. May to July, and October to December is cloudier; August and September it’s often cloudy and cool, and a stiff breeze makes the waters choppier. High and low seasons reflect demand rather than the best time to go. Many boats are in dry dock in September.

Altitude

Several days are spent at high altitude (over 2,500m). A small minority of visitors may suffer temporarily from altitude sickness. Symptoms vary; most common are mild headaches, slight nausea and breathlessness. If you don’t recover in a day or two speak to our representatives; in very rare instances it is necessary to descend to lower altitudes. Most people are unaffected and if you drink plenty of water and allow your body to acclimatise (don’t exert yourself or drink alcohol) in the first couple of days after arrival, you will minimise your chances of suffering any symptoms.

Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information. 

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons. Both warm clothing and a sun hat are essential at altitude; a light fleece jacket and a Gore-Tex outer shell makes a good combination. Trousers, skirt or shorts made from light, quick-drying synthetic materials work well on the Galápagos Islands and in the jungle. Long-sleeved shirts will protect you from insects.

Strong, comfortable footwear is essential and you should bring insect repellent, sun block, hat and sun glasses. You should take swimwear for ocean swimming (Galápagos). You can hire snorkelling equipment but may prefer to bring your own. Aqua-socks or rubber sandals are useful for embarking and disembarking on wet landings. Bring a light waterproof jacket in case of rain. For June to November departures, wetsuits are recommended, as the waters can be chilly for snorkelling.

Don’t forget your binoculars, camera, charger and memory cards.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in South America and Galápagos.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements such as malaria prophylactics. For admission to the Galápagos a yellow fever certificate is required for anyone over 1 year old coming from an area with risk of yellow fever transmission.  You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 

Cases of Zika virus have been reported in parts of Latin America. If you’re pregnant, or planning to be, you should follow the advice of the  National Travel Health Network and Centre

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Clients with a different nationality should enquire or check with the Ecuadorian Consulate.

Esta - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/esta.html

This costs $14 per person. This must be done by you personally.

Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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