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Signature Ecuador and Galapagos: Volcanoes to the ocean

16 days from £6788pp

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Signature Ecuador and Galapagos: Volcanoes to the ocean

16 days from £6788pp

Private Journey


Day 1

Arrive in Quito and transfer to hotel.

Transfer to your hotel in the 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.


Day 2

Guided walking tour of colonial Quito.

Guided walking tour of old Quito. Visit the colonial centre of the capital, the first city ever to be named a World Heritage site. High on the agenda is a walk through the main plaza, the Plaza de Independencia, 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.

Quito old town

Day 3

By road to Otavalo in the Andean highlands, visit Otavalo market overnight in hacienda.

By road through rolling highland moors to Otavalo, a prosperous town set in a pretty landscape of lakes and volcanoes. The town 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 breath-taking array of colours, as well as traditional musical instruments and leather goods. You're bound to find something to take home.

Overnight in a traditional colonial hacienda, adapted to receive visitors but retaining many of its historic features.

Otavalo market

Day 4

Guided excursions to Lake Cuicocha

Morning at leisure on the hacienda, which has lovely flowery grounds in which to relax. In the afternoon, drive to Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve for the start of a 3hr hike on the volcanic rim around Cuicocha, a deep-blue crater lake with an island marooned in the centre set on the southern flanks of Mount Cotacachi. Enjoy fine views of the surrounding volcanoes Cayambe and Imbabura.

The countryside is extremely pretty, with adobe farmsteads sheltering under columns of silvery eucalyptus shading ancient cobbled lanes and tracks. Birdlife that can be spotted includes ruddy ducks, giant hummingbirds and silvery grebes. After the hike, stop at the picturesque colonial town of Cotacachi, famous for its leather work before heading back to Quito.

Cuicocha Lake

Day 5

By road or rail down Avenue of the Volcanoes; visit Cotopaxi National Park, overnight at an hacienda.

If you are travelling Monday to Wednesday, head south by road out of Quito on a spellbinding journey along the aptly-named Avenue of Volcanoes. From Thursday to Sunday, you can make the journey south from Quito to Cotopaxi National Park down the Avenue of the Volcanoes partly by train.

Originally an important artery of public transport this railway is now designated solely for visitors, with musical entertainment and an explanatory commentary by a local guide. There are regular refreshment and toilet stops and the trip also takes about 2 hrs. Either way, as its name implies, the route passes an imperial guard of conical snow-draped volcanic cones, surrounded by lush pastures pitted with colonial market towns and tiny indigenous villages.

Visit Cotopaxi National Park, dominated by the superbly photogenic volcano of the same name (5,897m), a (very) occasionally active peak of shimmering ice surrounded by rumpled skirts of highland moor with a tundra-like vegetation of altitude-resistant shrubs and flowers. The park is inhabited by over 90 species of bird from pocket-sized hummingbirds to giant condors and a variety of hardy mammals including deer, rabbits, Andean foxes and puma, which shelter from view in the lacy veils of frequent swirly mists. You'll visit the interpretation centre and have the opportunity to walk the trail surrounding the stunningly reflective Lake Limpiopungo, ringed by bird-filled reed beds. If inspired to hike some more, you can climb towards the Cotapaxi snowline for bird's-eye views over the Andean peaks.

Overnight at a countryside hacienda. It is very much a working ranch, specialising in wild Andean fighting bulls and dairy cattle, and visitors are invited to take part in farm activities.

Ecuador volcano

Day 6

Visit local artisan markets, overnight in Riobamba.

At leisure on the ranch. There's a lot to do here – if you have a penchant for the outdoors you can go horse riding, mountain biking, zip-lining, venture out on self-guided hikes on well-marked trails or get involved in farm-based activities. Children are invited to make chocolate and help feed the animals. You might make an expedition to visit local markets.

Later, continue by road to Riobamba. If you have time you may wish to visit the town to wander the cobbled streets and relax in one of the leafy plazas.

Day 7

Take the train down the Devil’s Nose, continue via Ingapirca ruins to Cuenca.
Travel by road to Alausi and 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.

Upon return to the town of Alausí you alight and 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 conquistadores. The architecture bears hallmarks of Inca construction, with some fine mortar-less stonework. 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, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Devil's nose

Day 8

At leisure in colonial Cuenca, Ecuador’s second city.

At leisure in Cuenca. Its narrow cobblestoned streets, red tiled roofs and well-preserved Romanesque buildings give it an air of sedate and quiet respectability. It's a peaceful place to wander around, with coffee shops and interesting little shops. 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.

Cuenca weavers

Day 9

By road down to the tropical coast of Guayaquil via a stop at Las Cajas National Park.
Today you 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 you stop at the Las Cajas National Park. Beautiful trails pass through this rugged, high-altitude wilderness of grasslands, jagged hills and glacial lagoons.

Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city has gone through a transition 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 ramshacklestreets dating back to the 16th century.

Las Cajas National Park

Day 10

Fly to the Galápagos Islands, board Galápagos Sea Star Journey.

Transfer to the airport for your flight to the Galápagos Islands (2hrs) where you will embark on your luxury first-class cruiser, Galapagos Sea Star Journey (formerly named Grand Odyssey), for your 5-day cruise around the archipelago. Your naturalist guide will be waiting to take you to the quayside. It’s a sleek, contemporary yacht with plenty of light and space. There are top class facilities, furnishings and fittings and connecting cabins for friends or families.

Galapagos islands

Days 11-14

Land excursions from the cruise around the Galápagos Islands.
The Galápagos Islands emerged in the Pacific Ocean 6 million years ago following a spate of volcanic activity and, isolated from the continental mainland, have become home to unique plant and animal species. Without fear of humans, they are sufficiently trusting to allow you to approach them and observe them up close. The islands were the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which formed the basis for his revolutionary book ‘On the Origin of Species’, published in 1859.

Although geologically constantly on the move, these islands remain suspended in time, with Giant tortoises, iguanas, penguins, Frigate birds, Waved albatross and Blue-footed boobies 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, often trailed by flocks of birds and playful dolphins.

The itinerary for your days in the Galápagos will depend on your date of departure,and is subject to change. There are normally two landings a day to seek out the different wildlife that inhabits the islands.


Day 15

Fly to Guayaquil, connect with international flight home.

16 days from £6788pp

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