Day 1: Arrive in Quito; transfer from airport to hotel in Historic Quito (-/-/-)
A friendly face will be at Quito’s airport awaiting your arrival with a sign. Quito is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the western hemisphere, separated into the old colonial centre, where your hotel is located, and the newer more commercial centre. The long, skinny city sits almost directly on the equatorial line, nestled among volcanoes, at over 2,800 meters (almost 10,000 feet) above sea level. You may feel the altitude a little right away, so take the opportunity to acclimatize. The natural remedy of coca tea is at your disposal in the hotel lobby, as needed. The old city is full of beautiful historical buildings, squares, and churches, many of which are a very short walk from the hotel.
Day 2: Guided Walking tour of Historic Quito & Visit Botanical Gardens (B/L/D)
Enjoy breakfast with a view of the city’s iconic statue, el Panecillo. Then it’s time to get to business: a detailed orientation of all of the wonderful sites and activities the week holds in store, as well some more boring items, such as health and safety tips and other trip logistics. Then it’s time to put on some sunscreen before heading out on foot to explore some of the city’s most beautiful sites – the reason this was the first city in the world to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of the city’s finest historical squares and churches are right in the area of the hotel, and your knowledgeable tour leader will be able to tell you all about them and other aspects of the culture. Today is Sunday so street theatre will be alive in the squares as you stroll through Plaza Grande (also referred to as Independence Plaza) and by the Archbishop's Palace. Finally, walk to La Ronda Street and pass by La Compaňia de Jesus and San Francisco churches. In the afternoon you will head to Carolina Park to enjoy a stroll through the beautiful Botanical Gardens there, taking all the time you want to breathe in the lush fragrances before heading back to the Ronda (the pedestrian walkway around the corner from your hotel) for dinner.
Day 3: Flight to Coca & Motorized Canoe to Deep Amazon’s Sacha Lodge (B/L/D)
Early this morning you will be transferred to Quito’s airport for your flight to Coca. Your guide will assist you with any paper work at the counter. After an easy 25-minutes flight from Quito and a two-hour journey up the Napo River in a motorized canoe leaving civilization far behind, by early afternoon you will be in a hammock listening to the chatter of the tamarind monkeys. After arriving at Sacha Lodge and meeting your guide, you will take your first excursion into the forest. Once you have returned and had dinner, you will set out for your first nighttime adventure.
Sacha Lodge, is an easily accessible 5000-acre private ecological reserve. The astounding biodiversity of this pristine rainforest provides the opportunity to encounter incredible wildlife, including 600 different species of birds. This Sanctuary is the perfect destination for those people who wish to experience and view the wildlife in its natural habitat and learn about the neo-tropical ecosystems from our knowledgeable native Kichwa guides.
Days 4 & 5: Deep Jungle Exploration (B/L/D)
A typical day at Sacha begins at sunrise or earlier, taking advantage of the cool morning hours when the rainforest’s animals are most active. Each group agrees on a wake-up time, when their guide will knock on their door. Breakfast will begin half an hour after that. Wherever the destination, excursions proceed slowly in order to appreciate the fascinating details that our guides point out around you. You might begin the day paddling dugout canoes along tannin-rich black-water creeks and lakes, where vines, orchids, bromeliads and palm trees thrive. It will astound you how your guide is able to spot animals in the distance, from the tiny pygmy marmoset to the feared ocelot or puma (if you’re really lucky). Then, you could board the motorized canoe for a short ride along the Napo River to visit the community of Yasuní, learning about their jungle way of life and cooking techniques, stopping to watch the parrots gather at the clay lick along the way.
You will return to the lodge in time for a 1PM lunch. In the time between lunch and your afternoon adventure, you will be free to enjoy the lodge, lounging on sun chairs with a book or doing a little more exploring on your own. Activities begin again between 3:00PM and 4:30PM and often continue into the evening, when the nocturnal insect and frog chorus begins. An afternoon excursion might see you trekking through pristine Terra Firme forest, where 150-foot kapok trees tower above and roots form huge buttresses to give trees support. Your guide will point out wildlife and other points of interest along the way, pointing out the crest owl territory and calling to the howler monkeys. You could then climb 94 feet (30 meters) up to the Canopy Walk, a 940-foot (275-meter) bridge across the treetops from which you may be able to spot dozens of animals and birds.
Days at Sacha Lodge do not end with the fading of the light – or even with dinner. Night walks and canoe trips, with the aid of flashlights, often reveal creatures seldom seen during daylight hours. Caimans (of the alligator family) and giant insects rule the jungle after sunset. Do you dare search for them?
*Please note: activities are subject to weather, though forest walks, the Kapok Tower, and the Canopy Walk are all a central part of the Sacha Lodge experience.
Day 6: Return Flight to Quito & Travel to Otavalo (B/L/-)
Wake up early to catch the wildlife at their peak before heading back to civilization. The jungle is most magical when the sun is rising and setting. After breakfast, you will take the canoe back to the bay, and you will then be transferred to Coca’s airport for your return flight to Quito. You will arrive in Quito around 18:00 pm, and your English-speaking guide and driver will be waiting for you to travel to your next destination, the small Indigenous city of Otavalo.
Otavalo is located in Imbabura province, 110 km north of Quito, at 2,530 meters over sea level. Its cultural traditions are mostly what draw people to the area, as the inhabitants maintain a strong Indigenous identity, reinforced by myths, legends, customs and strong tradition. Otavalo is currently one of the primary tourist destinations of Ecuador, surrounded by mountains, lakes, rivers, and streams that contribute to the pleasure of being here. Otavalo is known worldwide for its famous handicraft Indigenous market, where you can find millions of items made by hand, in cotton, wool, leather, wood, ceramics, etc.
Day 7: Trip to Cotacachi, Peguche & San Antonio de Ibarra (B/L/-)
Today you will visit the town of Cotacachi, located between the cities of Ibarra and Otavalo - Cotacachi is known for its leather goods and wool, and one of the retirement hotspots for Canadian expats. The long main street is lined with leather stores as far as you can see, well priced for the amazing quality of the products. Note: some items, such as leather jackets, can be tailored to a perfect fit within an hour.
Next you will visit Peguche Waterfalls, which sit beside the small village of Peguche, just a five-minute drive from Otavalo. Peguche Waterfalls are a sacred site for Shamans to celebrate summer solstice, measuring 18 meters in height. You will also stop here to visit a family of instrument makers and hear a little live music.
Finally, you will travel to San Antonio de Ibarra, located 6 km from the provincial capital and known for its handicrafts and wood-carved sculptures. When you get back to the hotel, you may choose to just relax or head back to the centre of town for the market before it grows in size tomorrow. Tonight you may want to head to Mi Otavalito for dinner to enjoy some live music while you dine. Let your guide know if you would like a reservation with lots of warning.
Day 8: Otavalo Animal Market & Travel to Mindo (B/-/D)
Otavalo is famous for its markets, and today you will start out by visiting the animal market, which only takes place on Saturday mornings. You will encounter hundreds of people there in beautiful traditional dress, often representing various provinces, who gather to buy, sell, and trade animals of every variety. Next you will head back to the centre of town to explore the vast market of handicrafts, which will have exploded to more than double its size since the day before, as it is Saturday. Based on how much time you feel you want to keep shopping, arrange to meet your guide later, and you will meet back at the hotel to pack up and move onto Mindo – just under a four-hour drive away.
Mindo sits on a mountainous watershed on the western slopes of the Andes, where two of the most biologically diverse ecoregions in the world meet: the Choco Lowlands and the Tropical Andes. Keep your eyes and ears open while here, so that you don’t miss any of nature’s surprises, such as catching a flock of parrots passing noisily overhead. After settling into your rooms, you will head to Fuera de Babylonia, where you will receive a lesson on how to make traditional wind empenadas, a hot doughy treat with cheese in the middle that is deep fried. There will be lots to eat, but depending on how hungry (or a lack of sweet tooth), you are, you may want to order pizza from the wood-fire oven there. Many past EarthTrekkers claim it’s the best pizza they’ve ever eaten. Today is the national holiday called “Dia de los Difuntos” or in English “Day of the Dead”, so if you feel up to learning the local traditions, Alison will take you out to find a cup of the hot purple corn/berry juice called “Colada Morada”, along with some “Guaguas de Pan” or bread babies.
Day 9: Butterfly Garden & Chocolate Tours (B/-/D)
After breakfast beside the river, you will head to the Mariposario, or Butterfly Farm, to experience the exhilaration of butterflies flying all around you and witness a variety of species at every stage of life. Let’s hope for a sunny morning, as that’s when butterflies are most active. Don’t miss the wonderful gardens out back that include birdwatching towers and hummingbird feeders.
Lunch is on your own today, with lots of options in town that are easy to walk to. This is to provide you with the freedom to take in whatever activity you may choose this afternoon – from adrenaline sports to sitting in a café people watching. Everyone will meet again at 5:00 for the first of two chocolate tours at our next door neighbour, the Quetzal Chocolate Factory. The artisanal chocolate tour will be followed by a Mayan chocolate tour, which you will get to participate in the chocolate making. Then dinner on site afterwards will be decadent!
Day 10 (Mon.Nov.4): Early Morning Birding, Orchid Tour & Frog Concert (B/L/D)
Mindo is one of the birding capitals of the world and there is no shortage of options for which ones to see and which guide to take you. We will discuss the options at some length upon your arrival on the first night, so that we can make the reservations that best suit the birding that your hearts desire. Depending on how early you leave and how late you get back from birding, we will plan the rest of the day’s activities at a nice pace, starting with lunch and then a gentle tour of the local orchid gardens. We will be eating dinner early tonight to be able to do a frog concert as the sun is going down – a gentle meandering around ponds where you can see and hear a variety of different amphibians, including different varieties of little tree frogs, accompanied by a glass of wine for the hike.
Day 11 (Tue. Nov.5): Pululahua, Equator Visit & Panecillo in Quito (B/L/-)
After breakfast, we will fit in one more activity in Mindo. Let’s see what you’re feeling up to and by now you’ll have a feel for what else you want to do, from a coffee tour to a hike on EarthTreks’ reforestation project to just some down time in a hammock. Then it will be time to say good-bye to Mindo and head back to Quito, with lots of beautiful scenery and a few fun stops in between. Your first stop is the Pululahua observation terrace to view down into the only town built within a volcanic crater. If you missed any shopping in Otavalo, there are some nice shops here too. Then just a few miles up the road, you will be making a longer stop at Intiñan Museum, the museum right on the equatorial line, where you will be able to take your picture with a foot in each hemisphere and do some interesting experiments that only work when you are right on the actual Equatorial line. Which direction does the water goes down the drain anyway? They also do a nice job of showcasing some of Ecuador’s cultures in the outdoor museum. Not much farther and you will be back in Quito, where before checking back into your hotel, you will go up the most famous hill in Quito, El Panecillo (the breakfast view on your first few mornings), for a view of the city in every direction. Dinner tonight is on your own with many options in close proximity to the hotel. You will also be receiving a briefing on your trip to the Galapagos the next morning.
Day 12: Flight to Baltra, Boat to Isabela & Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre (B/L/-)
Today you have a fair bit of travel ahead of you that will offer lots of wildlife viewing opportunities. It begins with an early morning transfer to the international airport and a flight of about three hours to Baltra Island, Galapagos. Once you arrive at the airport, you’ll need to purchase a Transit Control Card ($20 USD) before checking onto your Galapagos flight – this cannot be purchased ahead of time. When the flight lands on Baltra Island, you’ll go through immigration and need to pay the Galapagos National Park entrance fee of $100 USD (small bills please).
Your guide will be waiting for you to help with the transfer from Baltra to Puerto Ayora and then board a speed boat ride to Isabela Island, which takes about 2 – 2 ½ hours. This trip can sometimes be on the bumpy side (and sometimes very bumpy) – so if you are prone to sea sickness, this would be a good time to start taking medication to prevent being sick. Be sure to keep your eye out for whales and bird life the whole ride. Upon arrival at Isabela Island, you’ll need to pay an additional port fee of $10 USD. In the afternoon, your leader will take you to Isla Isabela’s Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre, where you will see giant tortoises at all stages of development. The centre has almost a thousand giant tortoises training for life in the wild, as they are raised from eggs to adolescents before being set free in their natural habitat in the highlands. Next it’s onto to visit brackish lagoons which house an impressive variety of coastal birds, where you should also have an opportunity to see the largest concentration of flamingos in the Galapagos. The Great Galapagos Flamingos are a small, isolated population (approximately 300) and do not migrate, which is why they are considered endemic to the islands. The rest of your evening is free. One recommendation: enjoy a sunset drink on the beach. Isabela’s sunsets are arguably the most beautiful of all the islands!
Day 13: Penguins at las Tintoreras & Snorkeling in Concha Perla (B/L/D)
After breakfast you will be going to “Las Tintoreras” – one of the highlights of the Galapagos, where you are likely to see the rare Galapagos penguin – the only penguin found close to the equator. Then it’s onto "shark alley" where white-tipped reef sharks hang out. You can also see marine iguanas here, as this is a popular nesting site. On the way, keep on the lookout for blue-footed boobies, pelicans, sea lions, eagle rays and more You will hop off for a short walk on this isolated islet and popular iguana nesting site that’s home to hundreds of marine iguanas, where you will also be able to observe their unique ability to forage in the sea. Next you will go snorkeling in a calm inlet that’s home to a variety of colourful fish and winding underground lava tubes. This area is often frequented by green sea turtles that like to rest on the calm, sandy bottom. Even the sea turtles have no fear of people in the Galapagos, so you may be lucky enough to swim along with one of them. In the afternoon you can enjoy a little more snorkeling on Isabela at Concha Perla, an ideal place to practice snorkeling, with the bay offering shallow, calm and transparent water that allows to observe the fascinating marine fauna of the Galapagos.
Day 14: Boat to Santa Cruz & Giant Tortoises in Highlands (B/L/-)
In the morning, you make the speed boat crossing back to Isla Santa Cruz, and be sure to keep your eyes open for bird life along the way. If you’re really lucky, you may even catch the rare appearance of a massive blue whale surfacing (the largest animal on Earth by a long shot). After checking into your hotel in the small town of Puerto Ayora, the economic centre of the archipelago, you will continue on to the highlands of the island to observe the giant tortoise roaming in its natural habitat. Afterwards you will visit a locally-owned sugar cane farm to see the process of how sugar cane is made into alcohol. In the afternoon, you will have the option to make your way to either Las Grietas, which was on your original wish list, or to Tortuga Bay beach, where you could enjoy a kayak excursion in a protected bay – a wonderful spot to see marine iguanas. It was suggested this might be too much to include with the travel earlier, and some down time better to offer. Both of these activities are free, so we put them here for you to choose to include or not. Although they are both wonderful, they take about an hour of walking, and are no amazing to sacrifice any of the most expensive day trips you will be heading out on in coming days from Santa Cruz.
Day 15: Day Trip to North Seymour Island (B/L/-)
After breakfast you will embark on another day trip to the small island of North Seymour, home to many different species of animals, and the best place to see the frigate birds with their bulbous red throats. With a little luck, you will likely also have the opportunity to see the iconic blue footed boobies perform their intricate mating dance here! The island also boasts both land and marine iguanas, and Galapagos sea lions and fur seals. On a two-hour walk around this magical island you’ll also spy other sea birds like swallow-tailed gulls and shearwater, as well as many tropical birds. After the walk you’ll return to the boat for lunch, then sail to Bachas beach on Santa Cruz Island. This is a nesting area for sea turtles and there’s a small lagoon where flamingoes can occasionally be seen. You’ll also strap on your mask again for some snorkeling through the beautiful waters.
Day 16: Day Trip to Bartolome Island (B/L/-)
You will be picked up at the Puerto Ayora dock at 8:00 a.m. this morning, so be sure to get up early for breakfast. Your guide will pick you up at the hotel to walk you to the dock for your day trip to Bartolome Island – the most recognizable and photographed island in the archipelago thanks to its distinctive pinnacle rock. You’ll walk along a wooden trail to the top of this once-active volcano, seeing the different lava rock formations that were created during the formation of island on the way. At the top you’ll have a fantastic panoramic across to Santiago Island’s Sullivan Bay – look out for the surrounding plants like lava cactus, as well as Darwin`s finches. After the walk, take a zodiac ride along the island to see Galapagos penguins and likely lots of other wildlife, before disembarking on a beautiful beach for some snorkeling – a great place to see white tip reef sharks, sea turtles, many varieties of tropical fish, and maybe swim alongside sea lions. You will then have some time to just relax or explore the beach before returning to Puerto Ayora for your last night on the islands.
Day 17: Charles Darwin Research Station & Return Flight to Quito (B/-/-)
Early in the morning you will visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, offering a great opportunity to learn more about conservation efforts to preserve the unique ecosystems of the Galapagos, including the very successful giant tortoise repopulation program. After that visit, you will be going to Baltra airport to take the flight back to Quito to spend your last night in South America (for now anyway) – however you choose, knowing we are always happy to provide recommendations.
Day 18: Return Flight to Canada (B-/-/)
You will be picked up 3 ½ - 4 hours before your flight time to head to the airport, depending on time of day. Wishing you a safe trip home, hoping that you had a wonderful and magical adventure in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands!