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Family Ecuador and Galapagos: Amazonian tribe and wildlife encounters

13 days from £5,254pp

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Family Ecuador and Galapagos: Amazonian tribe and wildlife encounters:
Trip Dossier

Tiny Ecuador is a perfect destination for families. The country is compact and easy to get around, so journeys tend to be short and scenic. Sitting at the crossroads of the equator and the high Andes, Ecuador encompasses an extraordinary diversity of geography and climate. Here your family will have a truly exotic and educational experience, with lots of fun built in, mind boggling landscapes and trusting wildlife.

Quito sits amid a bowl of snow-capped mountains and volcanoes and is the capital of Ecuador. You get to explore the old city and also to spend a couple of days in the highlands, visiting the famous craft market town of Otavalo, your first opportunity to interact with indigenous people in a country with strong age-old traditions and customs.

Ecuador’s Amazonia sounds remote but in fact it is easily reached. Your family has a unique opportunity to meet and learn from the friendly and welcoming Quichua people, who are hoping that the influx of visitors will help their conservation initiatives in their pristine territory.

Fly to the Galápagos Islands, but instead of taking a conventional cruise you will stay on two islands  -  Santa Cruz and Floreana -   among the largest and most interesting - sleeping in unison with nature in tented camps and shoreline cottages. Marvel at the giant tortoises, swim and snorkel with sea-lions and eyeball prehistoric-looking iguanas.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Quito and transfer to hotel.

Day 2

Guided walking tour of colonial Quito.

Day 3

By air and river to the Amazon basin.

Day 4

Stay in a community-owned rainforest lodge.

Day 5

Wildlife-spotting in Yasuni National Park and community visit.

Day 6

Transfer to Ecuador's highlands.

Day 7

Visit Otavalo market and surrounding craft villages.

Day 8

Bird-watching, horse riding and visit to the local community.

Day 9

Fly to the Galápagos Islands

Day 10

Explore Santa Cruz and Bartolome islands, motor launch cruise.

Day 11

Travel to Floreana Island; kayaking and snorkelling.

Day 12

Explore Floreana highlands.

Day 13

Return to Baltra and fly to Guayaquil connect with international flight.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Quito and transfer to hotel.
 
Transfer to your hotel in the historic centre of Quito, 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 has well-conserved and recently spruced-up white-washed architecture, open air markets and graceful Spanish-style mansions and churches.
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Quito

Day 2

Guided walking tour of colonial Quito.
 
This 2-3 hour walking excursion takes in the colonial highlights of Quito - the first city ever to be named a World Heritage Site. Narrow cobblestone streets are lined with whitewashed walls and rising above, the steeples and cupolas of the city's numerous spectacularly decorated historic churches. Walk through the main plaza, where you will see the Government Palace, the Cathedral and some of the most important churches built around the 16th and 17th centuries including the monastery of San Francisco and Basilica del Voto Nacional, most famous for its quirky gargoyles.
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quito

Day 3

By air and river to the Amazon basin.
 

Now the adventure really begins.Take a short jet flight from Quito down to Coca in the depths of the Amazon jungle.

It's an exotic ride by motor canoe along the jungle-fringed Napo river to Sani Lodge from Coca. During the journey you may spot birds such as: herons and egrets. The boat trip is followed by a  short walk through flooded forest and a trip across Challuacocha lake by paddle canoe.

There is a short introductory walk in the rainforest on trails or a canoe ride with your first exciting opportunities to spot monkeys, Amazonian birds and black caimans. You have a close encounter with the exuberant rainforest flora with cedar trees, orchids, and bromeliads. Bakc at the lodge, you'll hear about Amazonia from one of the bilingual guides, while the adults among you can enjoy Ecuadorian beers, spirits and cocktails prepared by the bartender.

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Sani Lodge

Day 4

Stay in a community-owned rainforest lodge.
 

Head out for a hike to learn about the plants, animals and people of the Amazon. Discover medicinal uses of the rainforest's many plant species, search for impossibly small species of frog and startlingly large insect species while keeping a watchful eye out for primates high in the forest canopy, all the while learning about Sani culture.

After a full morning, enjoy a picnic lunch in the forest then head to the lagoon system and set out on kayaks for an afternoon of paddling. A stop at Sani Lodge's observation tower is a highlight. So much wildlife has been observed in the area: over 565 species of birds including macaws, toucans, honeycreepers, tanagers, flycatchers and hummingbirds. You may have a close view of  howler, squirrel monkeys swinging through the trees Tarzan-fashion or sloths resting on the canopy. Later walk back to the kayaks for a  recreational paddle back to the lodge.

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amazon wildlife

Day 5

Wildlife-spotting in Yasuni National Park and community visit.
 

Head back to the Napo river to board the boat and visit the parrot-clay lick at Yasuní National Park. Here you'll have  a view of hundreds of parrots jostling for space to land and seek nourishment from the clay. You may spot the dazzling plumage of yellow-crowned, orange-winged and blue-headed parrots. You then head off on a hike to the south of the Yasuní National Park, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Here, your family  may be observant enough to spot golden-mantled tamarins, spider monkeys and blue and yellow macaws.

Afterwards, set off to the Sani Community Centre to learn about the life of this indigenous community, including their women's project and the community turtle breeding work. If you like, you can take part in a cooking class; spending time with the Sani women in the kitchen, followed by lunch enjoyed in the heart of the community. The cultural interaction and exploration continues with a hike back to the lodge on a community path. Here your family gets an insight into local life while the Napo river flows alongside, learning about the local architecture and watching simple farming activities.

In the evening there’s a night walk close to the lodge.  Look for wildlife such as bats, owls and insects – along with caiman alligator which reveal their presence by the bright red reflection of their eyes in the torchlight. One of the revelations of a visit to Sani Ecolodge is the night sky and the clarity of the stars on a clear night is breath-taking.

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Sani Community, Ecuadorian Amazon

Day 6

Transfer to Ecuador's highlands.
 

After breakfast head back to the Napo river to board your river boat. Continue back to Coca for your flight to Quito.

When you arrive you'll be whisked off into the volcanic mountains and grassy plains north of the city en route to the picturesque region close to Otavalo, home to the country's most famous for its huge outdoor market, which dates back to pre-Inca times. Based at a warm and friendly American-owned lodge in the countryside, you can explore the countryside on gentle trails. There's a waterfall to gawp at, and a stroll around the rim of a volcanic crater, filled with a deep blue lake.  

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mojanda

Day 7

Visit Otavalo market and surrounding craft villages.
 
 Today you'll head to the vivacious Otavalo market, either on foot (a one hour hike) or by car. This is a wonderful place for people-watching as well as shopping for handicrafts and textiles. As well as the crafts market and stalls brimmed with exotic fruit, there is a food section to which the indians - dressed in their very distinctive traditional costume - come down from their tiny farms in the mountains to sell their farm produce and buy their weekly supplies.
 
In the afternoon you have a guided tour of a few of the villages which pepper the countryside. Pop in to artisan workshops where you can observe the techniques used to make the intricate textiles and crafts on sale in the town. Later visit the Raptor Rescue Centre to view up close birds of prey including the Andean condor, whose wing-span can reach three metres, and learn about its close association with Andean cultures. Or, if you would like to do something more active, you can venture out onto tranquil  lake San Pablo in a kayak to view Mount Imbabura and observe the goings-on in the local communities on its banks.
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Otavalo and the Northern Highlands

Day 8

Bird-watching, horse riding and visit to the local community.
 

An optional early morning bird watching hike  - the sight and sounds of the birds at dawn is magical - will be followed by your departure from the lodge with a short walk to visit the local community.

There is there is an opportunity to ride on well cared for horses, some suitable for younger riders or those with little or no previous experience. Experience the local mountain trails as you weave through the landscape offering panoramic views of snow-dipped volcanoes and Otavalo.

Drive back to Quito through the crumbling dust-bleached landscape dotted with cacti and eucalyptus to the sage green mountains of the northern sierras. Spend the night in the city.

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otavalo area indians

Day 9

Fly to the Galápagos Islands
 

It's back to the airport for your flight to Baltra in the Galápagos islands (2hrs).

1,000km off the coast of Ecuador, one of the world's most famous archipelagos, the Galápagos Islands lie in splendid isolation. They emerged 6 million years ago from a spate of volcanic activity and are home to animal and plant species not found anywhere else on earth. The Islands were the inspiration for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which formed the basis of his revolutionary book 'The Origin of Species'. They remain suspended in time, home to giant tortoises, iguanas, penguins, frigate-birds, waved albatross and blue-footed boobies as well as a wealth of rare flora.

Cruising is the most popular way of exploring the islands but the freedom and flexibility of a land-based adventure will suit most families very well. The fascinating and unique wildlife and natural beauty of the islands are matched by the thrill of taking part in active adventures: hiking, kayaking and snorkelling.

You will explore several very different islands on foot, by kayak, swimming and snorkelling, and by small motor launch, accompanied by your English-speaking guide. Travel between the islands is by boat.  Discover the wildlife for which the islands are so famous: sea-lions, blue-footed boobies, albatrosses, Darwin's finches and more, all enjoying their natural habitat. You also get to meet some interesting local people and learn about life in the archipelago. Accommodation is not in traditional hotels, rather you stay in a unique wilderness permanent tented camp, and in wooden cabins situated on a gorgeous beach. All well away from other visitors.

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Blue footed boobies

Day 10

Explore Santa Cruz and Bartolome islands, motor launch cruise.
 
Board a motor yacht, the Sea Finch, for your trip to Bartolome Island. The Sea Finch  offers outdoor seating areas and an air-conditioned dining lounge.
 
Uninhabited Bartolome Island is famous for the amazing post-card pretty view over wild volcanic hills and gold-sand crescent coves from its highest point, reached by a 600m wooden walkway. Along the way you will learn about the flora and fauna and the volcanic origins of the Galápagos. After descending,  take a dinghy ride along the coastline in search of the Galápagos penguin. These curious birds nest among fissured lava flows and dive into the crystal-clear waters surrounding Bartolome to fish. Somewhat awkward-looking on land, the penguins are a marvel of speed and elegance as they swim through the water to feed.

A wet landing on the island's deserted  beach lets you share sand with sea-lions rest and  wading birds.. The waters are calm, offering a great snorkelling experience where you might spot tropical fish, sea stars, and perhaps even penguins under water. Lunch is taken back on the yacht with views of Bartolome and Isla Santiago before you return to Santa Cruz. Along the way, you are likely to see rays, turtles and other marine life.
 
In the afternoon you may visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre to learn about the conservation efforts in the Galápagos National Park. You can view up close giant tortoises and other Galápagos wildlife. Later, head to the islands' busy capital Puerto Ayora perhaps in search of a cool drink at one of its lively restaurants or a browse through its many shops and boutiques. Return to the tranquil Santa Cruz highlands for another night at the tented camp.
 
 
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Bartolome Island

Day 11

Travel to Floreana Island; kayaking and snorkelling.
 
After a final breakfast at the tent camp, depart early for Floreana Island. It's a two hour speedboat crossing. 
 
This peaceful island is home to the Galápagos' smallest human population. Because only 150 people call Floreana home, it is the least developed and most natural of the four inhabited islands. Descendants of the original population still live here. Once a pirates' lair, the island's history is full of mystery and legends about its first inhabitants.
 
During your stay, you will be hiking, learning about local history and observing some of the Galápagos' unique wildlife.  You may see giant tortoises, frigate birds, sea-lions, Darwin's finches, petrels and marine iguanas.Upon arrival on Floreana, take an open-air 'chiva bus' to Floreana Lava Lodge, which overlooks one of the Galápagos' most beautiful and secluded bays.  Later you can walk or paddle (kayak or stand up paddleboard) to nearby Black Beach for some snorkelling. Your time in the water will whet your appetite:  walk to a restaurant in the nearby village for lunch.
In the afternoon, paddle by kayak or stand-up paddle board across the bay to explore La Loberia, a sea-lion breeding ground. Once there, you can snorkel and swim in the calm, bright water alongside sea turtles, sea lions, rays and an abundance of tropical fish.
 
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Giant tortoises

Day 12

Explore Floreana highlands.
 
 
Explore the Floreana highlands on an exhilarating ride on the open-air bus (chiva).A naturalist guide will share the colourful history of some of Floreana's first inhabitants, including the pirates who once dropped anchor here. You'll hike to pirate caves and visit the freshwater spring which provides water for the entire island.

As you cross the hillside, you can expect to see giant tortoises lumbering around in the vegetation or even on the trail. Walk back down through a rural area of subsistence farming. On your way back to the coast, make a stop at a farm to watch the extraordinary behaviour of the frigate birds who 'dance' as they wash their salty wings in the fresh water lake on the farm. With a little bit of luck, you may be able to see males puffing up the red pouches on their chests in an attempt to attract females.
 
Back at Lava Lodge you'll have a barbecue lunch, featuring family recipes. In your free afternoon you might practice your kayak or SUP skills, go snorkelling in La Loberia or simply relax and take in the beautiful Galápagos views from the lodge. 
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frigate birds

Day 13

Return to Baltra and fly to Guayaquil connect with international flight.
 

Travel back to Baltra Island and the airport to Guayaquil, tropical port on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, and transfer to the airport for your international flight home.

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Essential information

Transport

4 flights (longest 2hrs); 3 speedboat rides.

Accommodation

This holiday incorporates small mid-range hotels, a countryside lodge, a jungle wildlife/community lodge and beachside cabins.

Meals

Breakfast daily, breakfast and dinner days 6,7,9,10; full board days 3-5.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Included excursions

• Walking tour of Old Quito. 
• Otavalo guided excursion with market and visits to local craft towns.
• Walks, kayaking and horseriding around Otavalo.
• Excursions and activities from Sani Lodge in the Amazon.
• Hiking and kayaking activities in the Galápagos Islands.
• Swimming and snorkelling around the Galápagos Islands.
• Visit Charles Darwin Research Centre.

Summary of nights

13 days, 12 nights: Quito 2; Amazon 3; Otavalo 2; Quito 1; Galápagos: Santa Cruz Island 2, Floreana Island 2,

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Ingala fee.
• Excursions as specified.

Not included in the journey price

• International flights to Latin America.
• Tips and gratuities.
• Meals other than specified.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket.
• Optional excursions.
• Galápagos National Park entry fee.

Currency

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

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$35 per day per adult (less for children of course) should cover the cost of good quality meals on those days in the holiday itinerary when lunch and dinner are not included, drinks and the odd souvenir. 

How to take it

Cash machines are available in Quito. There are also ATMs in Puerto Ayora but they may not be reliable.  Taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in some 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 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, 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 welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income.

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.

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

This holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit families. 

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 January 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.

The jungle in the Oriente (Amazonia) is hot, humid and wet all year, with temperatures averaging about 30°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 for your speedboat transfers. High and Low seasons reflect demand rather than the best time to go.

Altitude

Several days are spent at high altitude (over 2.500m). You may notice the effect of high altitude; symptoms vary: most common are mild headaches and breathlessness. 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 being adversely affected.

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. 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. 

For your visit to Amazonia, in addition to lightweight clothing, long-sleeved shirts and lightweight trousers will protect you from insects. Bring shorts and T shirts. You may prefer an umbrella to a rain-jacket as the humidity is high.

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). Snorkelling equipment is available but you may prefer to bring your own. Aqua-socks or rubber sandals are useful for swimming among the rocks. 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 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.

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. 

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.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

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 digital, biometric e-passports. 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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