Your holiday summary

Holiday type Escorted tours
Country Ecuador
Travel type Make your own way
Price range From £3295
Travel partner Wild Frontiers
Duration 15 nights
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Darwin's Ecuador: Andes to Galapagos

Straddling the equator on the Pacific coast, wedged between Colombia and Peru, the smallest of the Andean nations covers an area no bigger than 284,000 square kilometres. For all its diminutive size, however, the country is packed with the most startling contrasts of scenery, and the diversity of this tiny country is simply dazzling. Encompassing tropical islands, towering snow-capped peaks, cloud forests, and simmering jungle, visitors are treated to a variety of unique landscapes, and many say that Ecuador manages to capture an entire continent in one country.

This trip incorporates traditional villages, bio-diverse cloud forests, colonial towns and the incredible volcanic Galapagos Islands, where the vast variety of flora and fauna will delight the nature lover and activity seeker alike.

HIGHLIGHTS • Bellavista cloud forest and eco-lodge • Crossing the Equator • Quilotoa volcanic lake and Chimborazo national park • Colonial Cuenca • Exploring less-frequented areas of Galapagos Islands on foot


  • Full services of a Wild Frontiers tour leader with local guides and drivers
  • Meal plan as detailed in the itinerary (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner) with mineral water as required
  • All transport as outlined in the itinerary
  • All accommodation
  • All entrance fees, as per itinerary
  • A carbon-offsetting contribution to Carbon Clear (if booking international flights through WF office)
Not included

  • Visas (if applicable)
  • Local airport taxes
  • Tips (always optional, but some guidance will be given in the predeparture information pack you’ll receive after booking)
  • Beverages and any costs of a personal nature
  • International flights
  • Airport transfers (unless booking suggested flights through WF office)
  • On this trip there are a number of activities available that not everyone may wish to participate in. Therefore we have decided not to include these costs within the trip price, but instead allow you to pick and choose what you wish to do and pay locally. Here are the details of the costs (subject to change): In Bellavista: Visit to “cock of the rock” for bird watching $40 Zip-line canopy $40 Horse riding $15 per hour In Chugchilan: Horse riding tour $15 Guide for trekking $15 per group Sauna/hot pool $15 per group In Quilotoa: Mule ride out of crater $8 In Baños: Spa treatments vary from $15 to $50 Other daytrips from $50 Sierra Negra Volcano: Horse-trek (instead of walking) $35
Day one: Quito (2850m)

Join the tour at the hotel this afternoon. After freshening up at our hotel, we shall have free time to wander around before having dinner. Hotel (D)

Day two: Quito – Mindo – Bellavista cloud reserve (2200m)

Departing Quito we shall drive northwest, taking in the views over the city. Leaving the metropolis of Quito behind us, the scenery changes dramatically becoming green and subtropical as we enter the cloud forest. Here we stop to visit an orchid and butterfly farm in Mindo, before continuing on to the Bellavista cloud reserve for a late lunch. In the afternoon we shall take an introductory walk into the forest with a local guide, to learn about the region’s unique ecology. Overnight at the Bellavista eco-lodge. Eco-lodge (B,L,D)

Day three: Bellavista

Spending a full day at Bellavista, there is plenty of time to explore the region further, taking some of the well-marked trails through the forest. The trails span a large area around the lodge and there is plenty of opportunity for bird watching, learning about the medicinal plants of the forest, plus the options of cycling and horse riding. For those preferring down time, there are numerous hideaways around the lodge to relax and watch the hummingbirds in an idyllic setting. Eco-lodge (B,L,D)

Day four: Bellavista – Equator – Tigua – Chugchilan (3200m)

We will depart Bellavista early this morning and head south, with a brief stop at the Equator monument as we cross from the northern hemisphere into the southern hemisphere. Our drive takes us along ‘the avenue of the volcanoes’ where the road is flanked by the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. Passing Cotopaxi Corazon, Pasachoa, Ruminahui and Illinizas, some of Ecuador’s most impressive volcanoes, we will stop en route at the tiny town of Tigua, an important centre for local arts and crafts of the region. The final section of our journey is over a bumpy and often muddy road before we finally arrive in the Andean village of Chugchilan. Community-owned eco-lodge (B,L,D)

Day five: Chugchilan

Nestled in the heart of the country, this region showcases the sheer beauty of Ecuador’s mountains and is rated as one of the hidden gems of the Andes. The region is riddled with hikes, traditional highland villages and indigenous people. Today is a free day to recover from the journey and take advantage of some of the activities on offer in the area. Options include treks (of varying degrees of difficulty) and horse rides. Alternatively, you could take advantage of the yoga studio, hot tub, sauna and board games available at the lodge. Community-owned eco-lodge (B,L,D)

Day six: Chugchilan – Quilotoa (3854m) - Banos (1800m)

After breakfast we set off from our accommodation to the rim of the Quilotoa crater lake, which offers views of the surrounding peaks of Cotopaxi and Iliniza Sur, and the green, mirror-like lake below. Here we will take time to walk into the crater (or for those preferring a less strenuous experience it is possible to trek there and hire mules for the trip back) before continuing on to Banos, where we’ll spend the next two nights. Hotel (B,L,D)

Day seven: Banos – Chimborazo – Banos

Two choices today… either head to the Chimborazo volcano for a unique trekking experience and to participate in the ancient ‘Iceman’ tradition. Alternatively have a free day to explore the spa town of Banos - indulge yourself in the hot springs, or try your hand at one of the various activities on offer. Hotel (B,D)

Day eight: Banos – Ingapirca – Cuenca (2530m)

A very early start is required today to board the ‘Nariz del Diablo’ (Devil’s Nose) train* for a ride along the historic Trans-Andean railroad. Travelling from Alausi to Sibambe, we pass through the most dramatic section of the railroad that once ran to the coast, where a series of steep switchbacks cut through the rock face and offer views of the surrounding countryside.
*The train can be unreliable - if it is not running we will visit one of the project sites supported by Inti Sisa and travel by road instead. This afternoon we’ll visit the archaeological site of Ingapirca (15th century) - Ecuador’s most important set of Inca ruins - before continuing on to the Colonial city of Cuenca for a fairly late arrival. Colonial Hotel (B,L,D)

Day nine: Cuenca

Morning half-day city tour of the ‘jewel of the south’: Cuenca (declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site) visiting some of the parks, churches, plazas and local landmarks. Despite being the country’s third largest city, Cuenca retains the feel and pace of a much smaller town and is a pleasure to wander around. We’ll have a free afternoon to explore the museums, shops and markets or visit one of the centres that produces panama hats and other haberdashery. Evening is also free to carry on exploring – dinner at own expense. Colonial hotel (B,L)

Day 10: Cuenca – Guayaquil

Heading northwest today, a five-hour drive takes us through the El Cajas national park, where we’ll make a few photo stops. El Cajas is the lake district of Ecuador with glacial valleys and over 200 lakes, and is also home to forests of Polylepis, the world’s highest altitude tree. We continue down through steamy banana and cocoa plantations to the city of Guayaquil, where we’ll prepare for our Galapagos adventure. Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 11: Guayaquil – Galapagos Islands (Isabela)

A morning flight takes us to the main airport in the Galapagos Islands. After clearing immigration we take a bus ride to Puerto Ayora where we’ll board the ferry over to Isabela. Isabela is the largest of the Galapagos Islands (4588 sq km) and home to a string of volcanoes, mangrove beaches and wildlife colonies. The boat crossing takes around two hours, giving us the rest of the afternoon to settle into our hotel - our base for the next three nights - and relax on the white sandy beaches. Hotel (B,D)

Day 12: Galapagos Islands (Isabela)

This morning we’ll take a walk in the national park to see the Giant Tortoise breeding centre and investigate the plant and bird life en route in the mangrove wetlands. After lunch we will take a short boat ride to visit the small islet of Las Tintoreras, where a colony of white-tipped reef sharks can often be seen resting in the black-lava canal. This area also has an abundance of marine iguanas, birdlife and sea lions, and we’ll take time to snorkel in the crystal clear waters before returning to Isabela for the night. Hotel (B,L)

Day 13: Galapagos Islands (Isabela)

A full day’s trekking on Isabela Island takes us to the top of the Sierra Negra Volcano (1,124m) – a geological feature that is the second widest active crater in the world and dates back approximately 535,000 years. Spotting various wildlife en route including Darwin finches and warblers, our walk up to the crater is a moderate trek of around two and a half hours (taking and a half hours for the return journey) and on a clear day we’ll be rewarded with views of the island. For the less energetic there are mules available for hire to take you up to the crater, or a relaxing day at the hotel and beach. Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 14: Galapagos Islands (Santa Cruz)

After breakfast we’ll take a boat back to Santa Cruz, where we’ll spend the next two nights. The remainder of the day will be free to explore Puerto Ayora, whose highlights are Tortuga Bay beach, the fish market (the sea lions and pelicans cause quite a spectacle) and shopping for souvenirs (the best boutiques/souvenir stands in the Galapagos). Your tour leader will be able to assist you with further recommendations. Dinner tonight will be at your own expense. Hotel (B,L)

Day 15: Galapagos Islands (Santa Cruz)

Today we will take a day trip by boat to nearby South Plaza Island. South Plaza has one of the most concentrated sea lion colonies in the islands, with about 1000 shifting around as males continually vie for “harems” of about 20 females each. The island is also rich in bird life, specifically red-billed tropicbirds, swallow-tailed gulls, brown pelicans, and the odd frigate bird, and it is also possible to see both land and marine iguanas here. There is a cliff trail which we will follow and offshore you may spot Audubon’s shearwaters, Brown Noddy terns and schools of mullet and surgeonfish. The vegetation of the island belongs to the arid and littoral zones; half the island covered with saltbush, leatherleaf (Maytenus), and thorn scrub (Scutia pauciflora). The side with the trail is treeless, but covered with a rock garden-like mat of the endemic sea purslane. This is a good place to get started on recognition of Darwin’s finches; only the medium, small and cactus ground finches live here. We will explore the island with our naturalist guide, who will explain about the wildlife we encounter en route. Also this afternoon there will be time to visit the Charles Darwin research station with our guide to learn more about these unique islands. The centre is responsible for conducting a number of important scientific research projects on the flora, fauna and geology of the islands and houses an informative museum, as well as a number of famous Galapagos tortoises and a hatchling centre. It should be noted that today’s planned visit is subject to national park guidelines and it may be necessary to visit an alternative island. In addition, depending on the final group size, this may be a shared tour. Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 16: Galapagos – Guayaquil

A morning flight today sees us return to the mainland where our trip ends. (B)

NB, most international flights departing Quito make a stop at Guayaquil on their way out of the country, hence our reason for finishing the trip there. However for those without onward flight connections on day 16 we would encourage them to return to Quito, which is a more enjoyable overnight destination.


Arrive early to adjust to a new time zone or just to get a feel for the country before your tour starts. Explore the country after your tour on a bespoke Wild Extension or just allow a few days to relax afterwards. Maybe choose all of the above and get cheaper flights mid-week?

A sample of what you could do…

Amazon Jungle Trip:

Stay at the award winning Yachana lodge in the heart of the Amazon, taking part in naturalist guided walks in the primary and secondary rain forest, visits to the local medicine man and communities, panning for gold, night time safaris, star gazing and river cruises. four and five day packages available.

The Galapagos Islands:

Explore these spectacular and unique islands further with a five or eight day cruise.

Papallacta spa and retreat:

For health, recreation and relaxation extend your stay at the Papallacta hot springs for relaxing hydrotherapy and spa treatments. one and two night packages available.
On this trip we will be staying in hotels, eco-lodges and guesthouses. Some hotels are very comfortable, particularly on Isabela.
This offer has no departures. [NEED SOME CONTENT HERE].