Always a winning combination, this classic Ecuador and Galapagos holiday is perfect for first-time visitors looking to discover the main highlights of Ecuador - including the iconic wildlife-abundant islands where Charles Darwin himself studied and developed his theory of evolution by natural selection. Spend 16 days soaking up the colonial charm in Quito, exploring the stunning snow-capped peaks of the Andean highlands and channelling your inner naturalist by discovering the enchanting wildlife native to the remote Galapagos archipelago.
Begin the holiday by roaming the streets of Quito, Ecuador's UNESCO-listed capital city and admire elaborate historic churches, people-packed plazas and learn more about the country's history with the museums. Beautifully located, the best way to appreciate and admire Quito's dramatic valley setting is by scaling the heights of Pichincha Volcano by cable car. Cotopaxi volcano is an awe-inspiring site, rising up to 5897m within a national park of admirable beauty, and is easily explored by hike, bike or horseback depending on your preference.
Travel further southbound through the Valley of the Volcanoes; visit Quilotoa with its deep blue crater lake and take to the rails, scaling sheer rock face on the Devil's Nose switchback train adventure. In Cuenca, soak up laid-back ambience in Parque Calderon, the city's main plaza, flanked by the giant sky-blue domes of the Cathedral.
The second half of the holiday comprises of a week long cruise discovering the wonderful wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Each day is jam-packed with land or sea-based activities. Galapagos Sea Lions lounge on beautiful sandy beaches, blue-footed boobies perform enchanting displays and flamingos dot the shallow lagoons. Discover unique wildlife and dramatically different landscapes as you sail between the islands that make up this enchanting destination.
Day 1 Depart the UK for your overnight flight to Quito, via Bogota in Colombia.
Day 2 The historic centre of Quito with its cobbled streets and well-preserved buildings is the ideal base to explore the city. Visit the magnificent Plaza San Francisco, a majestic square with whitewashed walls and the twin bell towers. Scale the heights of Pichincha Volcano by 'TeleferiQo', a sky tram which takes around 10 minutes to reach a height of 4100m. On a clear day, admire the dramatic Quito valley spread beneath you and if you are feeling active, walk to the summit of Rucu Pichincha at 4680m.
Day 3 Visit the Equatorial Monument which marks the exact middle of the World, latitude 0º, where you can stand with a foot on each hemisphere. At the “Ciudad Mitad del Mundo” you will learn about the significance of the site along with the Ethnographic Museum. After lunch, explore the colonial heart of Quito. 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 XVI and XVII centuries, including the monastery of San Francisco.
Day 4 An hour south of Quito, lies the Cotopaxi region, an area full of mountain hospitality intertwined with a dose of outdoor adventure. On arrival to the park, weather permitting, you will be able to see the snow-capped summits of both the Cotopaxi and the Antisana volcanoes. At the interpretation centre learn about Andean páramo or high-altitude moorlands and visit Limpiopungo lake for a short walk. Overnight in a traditional style hacienda, with a spectacular Andean location.
Day 5 The volcanic crater lake of Quilotoa is a magnificent sight. From the crater rim, admire the mirror-green lake 400m down and take the opportunity to walk around part of the circumference (approx. 3 hours) for spectacular views. Locals are said to believe that the crater lake has no bottom, however scientists estimate it to be around 250m deep. From this remote part of the Cotopaxi backcountry, rejoin the main Panamericana Highway travelling south to Riobamba.
Day 6 After breakfast travel towards the small town of Alausí where you will embark the 800 metre descent down the ‘Nariz del Diablo’, the Devil’s Nose train journey which goes up and down steep slopes, and river valleys. The journey ends at Sibambe Station where you can discover the local museum "Condor Puñuna" built and run by the Nizag community. The train whistle calls guests back on board for the return to Alausí Station. Continue exploring the Andean world by road to the south, passing through incredible scenery on the way to the Inca Fortress of Ingapirca, one of the most northerly points of the Inca Empire. Arrive at Cuenca at dusk for dinner and an overnight stay.
Day 7 Travel from Cuenca to Guayaquil via the picturesque El Cajas National Park. Most of this national park lies above 3000 metres altitude with hardy páramo covering the rugged terrain. Llamas were introduced to the park in the late 1990s and you can spot a host of birdlife including hummingbirds and toucans. The colonial town of Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site has enthralled visitors for centuries. If time permits we recommend spending an extra night to immerse in the city's laid back ambiance and admire the well-preserved buildings.
Day 8 Fly to the Galapagos archipelago and embark your yacht, the Eric or Letty, moored off the coast of San Cristobal Island. Once you have settle in, travel by bus to Cerro Tijeretas or ‘Frigatebird Hill’ one of two sites where you can see nesting colonies of both species of frigate birds (Great and Magnificent), as well as lava lizards, the medium ground finch and Chatham mockingbird. Walk along the trail to Punta Carola for scenic views, then return to the yacht for a briefing followed by a welcome dinner.
Day 9 We spend the morning at Cerro Brujo, a breathtaking white coral beach, with expansive views, good bird-watching and opportunities for walking or swimming with sea lions. Afternoon visit to Punta Pitt, a tuff formation that serves as a nesting site for many sea birds including all three types of boobies – blue-footed, Nazca and red-footed boobies, both frigatebird species, swallow-tailed gulls, storm petrels, shearwaters, and brown pelicans. Punta Pitt is considered one of the best sites for birds in the archipelago, and is also home to a colony of sea lions.
Day 10 Disembark at Punta Suarez on Espanola Island, home to the greatest number of endemic species found in Galapagos. From April to December, the waved albatross, found only on Espanola, perform its wild mating ritual. Colonies of blue-footed boobies engage in “sky-pointing” to show off for potential mates. We also find Darwin’s Finches, Galapagos Doves and Galapagos Hawks, as well as a unique species of marine iguana identified with traces of red and green colourings. Spend the afternoon at Gardner Bay, where large colonies of sea lions dot the seemingly endless white sand beach. Take a leisurely stroll or relax on the beach, watching for the Galapagos Hawk, Darwin’s Finches or Espanola Mockingbird.
Day 11 Step ashore at Punta Cormorant on Floreana Island, where the olive-sand beach is alive with the sounds of sea lions, lava herons, yellow-crowned night herons, blue-footed boobies, and penguins. After the walk, there is an opportunity to snorkel at Champion Islet, a shallow sunken crater colonised by a brilliant array of colourful fish and coral, white-tipped sharks, sea turtles, spotted eagle rays and sea stars. After lunch, visit one of the most famous sites in Galapagos, Post office Bay, where a post office barrel was erected in the late 18th Century to use by English whaling vessels. There is also a chance to swim from the beach with sea lions.
Day 12 Disembark at Puerto Ayora on the main is...
This trip has no fixed departures but restrictions may apply - check operator website
Sign up to our weekly Trip Finder email and get a selection of the best trips to feed your Wanderlust