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Albatross: Ecuador's highlands and Galapagos

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Sitting at the crossroads of the equator and the high Andes, this small country encompasses an extraordinary diversity of geography and climate, and this comfortable journey takes you to its contrasting landscapes, lifestyles and cultures. The trip begins in the capital, Quito, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, which sits amid a bowl of snow-capped mountains and active volcanoes; and continues south, along the Avenue of the Volcanoes via the Inca ruins of Ingapirca, to the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca and the upland wilderness of Las Cajas National Park.

Leaving the mainland behind, fly 1,000km west over the Pacific to the Galápagos archipelago. This small cluster of islands is home to a wealth of birds and beasts, many of which are ancient and endemic, and your 8 day cruise will introduce you to the highlights of one of the world's most remarkable ecosystems.

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart arriving Quito, Ecuador, the same day

Day 1

Transfer to hotel in Quito, overnight in the capital.

Day 2

Guided tour of the city and the Equatorial Monument.

Day 3

Morning in Quito. Head down the Avenue of the Volcanoes to Riobamba.

Day 4

Continue south to Alausi for the Devil's Nose train ride.

Day 5

Continue by bus to Cuenca.

Days 6-7

Explore Cuenca, optional visits to Gualaceo and Chordeleg.

Day 8

Drive from the Andes to the tropical coast at Guayaquil. Stop on the way at Las Cajas National Park.

Day 9

Fly to the Galápagos Islands, embark on your motor cruiser.

Days 10-15

Land excursions from the cruise around the Galápagos Islands

Day 16

Fly to Guayaquil, connect with your extension or your international flight home.

UK clients arrive home the following day.

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What our experts say

This tour offers you a balanced, in-depth holiday to mainland Andean Ecuador and the Galapagos islands. Discover not only historic Quito but also colonial Cuenca, travelling the switchback down the Devil's Nose by train and exploring high altitude Las Cajas National Park before flying to the Galapagos for a full week's guided cruise of the wildlife-rich archipelago on a small and intimate first class yacht. 

Hannah

Hannah Donaldson

Travel Consultants

Places visited on this holiday

Albatross: Ecuador's highlands and Galapagos

Back to list of places visited
Quito

Quito has long been a city of two halves. Occupying a highland valley at 2,850m and flanked by volcanoes, the setting of its historic centre and adjoining modern quarters is breathtaking. The formerly dark and run-down colonial heart has been magnificently restored. Cobbled lanes and whitewashed façades, scrubbed up churches and renovated theatres now gleam and echo with the sounds of the everyday life of its traditional inhabitants. Beyond are the skyscrapers and broad avenues of the contemporary commercial city, La Mariscal, with flashy shops, offices and restaurants, where busy young workers flock to the many bars and nightclubs.

When to go

The capital is an all-year destination. Lying at 2,850m on the Equator, Quito has a year round spring-like climate.  Most days have a sunny morning but there may be rain in the afternoon. Feb-Mar are the wettest months, Jul the driest.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency
Ecuador uses the US dollar. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. 
Time difference

GMT -5 hrs.

Combines with

A visit to Otavalo market in the northern highlands, 58km (1-2hrs by road); the bird-filled cloud forest in the Mindo region, 100km (1hr 40mins by road); the Avenue of the Volcanoes, 77km (2hrs by road); the Galápagos Islands, (2-3hrs by air).

Getting there

Average flight time is 15 hrs. There are no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador, popular routes to Quito involve a change of plane in Amsterdam, Paris or Madrid.

Key events

Dia de Quito: Quito, 6 Dec. The city’s own festival is actually celebrated from 1st Dec, with parades, street music and bullfights, right up until the fiesta’s climax on 6th. It can be quite boisterous.

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Avenue of the Volcanoes
Avenue of the Volcanoes
The aptly named Avenue of the Volcanoes is flanked by eight dizzyingly-high snow-mantled mountains striding south of Quito down the Andean spine. It passes through a valley rich with a landscape of dense forest and tiny fields plastering impossibly steep slopes. Dotted around is a mix of deeply traditional indigenous and colonial settlements with horticultural and artisan markets and cottage industries. There’s also a clutch of old estates gifted to conquistadores where the grandiose buildings are now countryside hotels. This is supreme hiking country, with trails leading to craters harbouring turquoise volcanic lakes, usually with views of the biggest peaks, Chimborazo and Cotopaxi.
When to go

The central highlands have an all year round spring-like climate with temperatures averaging 21°C.  The best time for a visit is Dec-Jan, while a lot of rain can be expected Mar-May. Jul-Aug are the driest months.  Visit Saquisili on a Thursday to see the market. Other towns have different market days.

Language

Spanish

Time difference

GMT -5 hrs

Combines with

Ecuador’s colonial southern city, graceful Cuenca, 250 km from Riobamba by road (3.5hrs) or rail and road.

Getting there

It’s a drive of 190 km from Quito to Riobamba, taking 2 hrs 40mins if you drive direct.

Key events
Fiesta de la Mama Negra, Latacunga, 23-25 Sep, a multi-cultural event with a historical narrative and costumed dancing and parades.  
Corpus Christi:  Pujili, Quilotoa Loop:  May-Jun. Masked parades, fireworks and competitions. 
Riobamba: There are several fiestas and parades, including one in celebration of Jesus in January; Holy Week, and the Fiesta de Abril on the town’s independence day, 21 Apr.

Getting local money

Ecuador uses the US dollar. There are banks in Riobamba but it’s best to take out money in advance in Quito where there are many ATMs.

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Cuenca
Cuenca, set in the southern sierras at 2,550m, is a quintessential Spanish colonial city. It has the cobbled streets, leafy plazas, baroque churches and whitewashed façades with heavy wooden doors that you’d expect, but the pale-stoned centre is particularly beautiful.

This university town is also a centre for artisan work, notably the panama hat, which originated here, but also ceramics, basket ware, jewellery and ponchos. A quiet, somewhat conservative place, it is the tranquil base for a number of language schools; foreign students can be spied indulging in the many cake shops and cafés. Outside town in the lake-dotted moorlands of the southern sierras is the lovely Cajas National Park.
When to go

Cuenca has an all year round spring-like climate with an average temperature of 20°C.  Most days have a sunny morning but there may be rain in the afternoon. Feb-Apr are the wettest and cloudiest months, Jun-Aug the driest.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency
Ecuador uses the US dollar. There are a number of banks in Cuenca. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs using a UK credit or debit card.
Time difference

GMT -5 hours. 

Combines with

The Avenue of the Volcanoes, 250 km to Riobamba (3.5 hrs by road); the port of Guayaquil, 175 km (2 hrs 40mins by road).

Getting there

Average flight time is 13 hrs. There are no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador, popular routes to Quito involve a change of plane in Amsterdam, Paris or Madrid.

Key events
Bienal de Cuenca:   Biennial painting competition and exhibition for three months Apr or Nov, odd years. Holy Week: Good Friday procession through Cuenca.
Septenario:  Religious festival prior to Corpus Christi, with masses, fireworks and balloons.
Dia de Independencia: Cuenca 3 Nov, along with All Saints and Souls days on 1-2 Nov  combines to create a three-day holiday with markets, music, dancing and parades. 
Pase del Niño Viajero:  Christmas Eve children’s costume parade.

Back to list of places visited
Guayaquil
Until quite recently a scruffy Pacific port with a dubious reputation, Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city is a newly emergent commercial and cultural centre, showing off freshened up plazas and boulevards, a charming waterside malécon (promenade), good hotels and trendy restaurants. Always a flamboyant place in comparison with the upland cities, it has a vivacious atmosphere. The river Guayas is chock-a-bloc with boats jostling for space, some laden down with tropical fruits and sugar cane, others offering transport to distant villages. The historic quarter of Las Peñas nearby is an arty district with a tumble of toybox multicoloured houses, galleries and bars.
When to go

Guayaquil is a hot, humid place where the temperature seldom dips below 28°C all year round. Heavy rainfall can be expected from Jan-Apr but hardly any outside this period.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

Ecuador uses the US dollar. There are a number of banks in Guayaquil. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs using a UK credit or debit card, but the permitted withdrawal may be a lower amount than at home.

Time difference

GMT -5 hrs.

Combines with

The Galápagos Islands, 1.5hrs by air; the southern upland city of Cuenca, 175km (2hrs 40mins by road).

Getting there

Average flight time is 12 hrs. There are no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador, popular routes to Guayaquil involve a change of plane in Amsterdam, Paris or Madrid. The city is a 50min flight from Quito.

Key events

Fiestas Julianas:  Guayaquil, 24-5 Jul.  Parades, fireworks, beauty pageants and other events to celebrate the city’s foundation and Simon Bolivar’s birthday.
Dia de Independencia & Dia de Raza: Guayaquil 9-12 Oct.  Various cultural events.

Back to list of places visited
Galapagos Islands
Sunset on the islands

The Galápagos Islands.  There’s something magical about the name - they are, of course, known as the Enchanted Isles  - and they sit adrift of mainland Ecuador in isolation in the Pacific Ocean, for centuries far removed from the influences of mankind. Up to the middle of the 20th century only a colourful array of pirates, whalers, convicts, eccentrics and fishermen dropped anchor on their shores.

Born from volcanoes thrusting their way through the surface of the waters, the clutch of alternately sun-baked and misty islands of twisted lava, jagged cliffs and scrubby forest seem an unlikely habitat for wildlife. But a phenomenal array of trusting bird and reptile species, not to mention undersea marine animals, have settled and evolved here, to the delight of visitors from Darwin onwards.

Watch the lumbering giant tortoises, nesting albatrosses, flirting frigate birds, comic boobies, wrinkly iguanas and frolicking sea-lions from a cruise or land-based adventure. Climb a volcano, kayak to a white sand beach or swim with hammerhead sharks:  so many unique experiences to get involved in are at your feet.   

When's the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands?

At any time of year some of the fauna species will be breeding, nesting or in some other way particularly active. The climate is not extreme and even in the wetter months the rain usually only comes in afternoon showers. Dec - May the weather is hot with warm, calm seas and more chance of showers. Jun - Nov it is cooler with morning mist and choppier, colder seas.

What's the official language of the Galapagos islands?

Spanish

What is the official currency in the Galapagos Islands?

Ecuador uses the US dollar. The bank in Puerto Ayora may offer advances on a UK credit or debit card but you are well advised to bring US dollars cash sufficient for your needs on the islands with you.

What is the time difference between GMT and the Galapagos Islands?

GMT -6 hours.

Which other countries combine well with the Galapagos islands?
A land tour on the Ecuadorian mainland; the Inca archaeological sites of Peru (daily flights Quito to Lima 2hrs 20mins).      
How long is the flight from Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands?

Flight time from Quito is 2-3 hours, 1.5hrs from Guayaquil. Quito flights normally touch down in Guayaquil.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

Tailor-made holiday

Our specialists have been expertly crafting award-winning tailor-made holidays to Latin America for over 37 years.
We would be delighted to create a truly personalised trip which perfectly matches your wishes and requirements.

97% of our clients rated their experience with us as Excellent or Good.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today. Albatross: Ecuador's highlands and Galapagos

  • Ecuadorian Amazon 4 days from £1,073pp

    The rainforest of the Amazon of Ecuador, whence spring rivers which flow down to the Amazon proper, is conveniently accessible from Quito. Following a short flight and canoe trip you arrive at Sacha Lodge to begin your jungle adventures.

    Day 1: A 35min flight takes you over the snow-capped Andes to Puerto Francisco de Orellana, known locally as Coca. Please note that luggage is restricted to 20kg.

    On arrival, it is a short transfer to the docks where motorised dugout canoes are waiting to take you down the Río Napo, the largest river in the Ecuadorian Amazonia. Head deep into the rainforest - with opportunities to spot an array of wildlife along the riverbanks – to the reserve where Sacha Lodge is situated (2.5hrs). You’ll then set off on a guided expedition along a raised boardwalk through dense flooded palm forest to Lake Pichicocha (30mins) before crossing the motionless black-water lagoon by canoe to arrive at the lodge.

    Day 2: There’s a varied menu of activities and excursions to choose from at the lodge. They are conducted in small groups led by an English-speaking naturalist guide, and take place in the early morning when the wildlife is at its most active, in the afternoon as the sun sets leaving a mellow glow draped over the forest, and at night when the nocturnal insects and frogs join in a melodious chorus.

    Day 3: Waterborne adventures include a trip to a parrot lick, where the colourful and agitated birds gather to feed. There’s also a 300m canopy walkway suspended 30m above the jungle floor, giving you a canopy-level view of the wildlife which inhabits the trees, while an overall panoramic view is available from the top of the observation tower. Go fishing for piranha, and at night, set out on the dark waters in search of alligators.

    Breakfast daily, full board days 1-3.

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Please note
Please note that spaces on the cruise ship are limited as we use a boat with just 8 cabins. For this reason we highly recommend booking this trip as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment.

We understand that for solo travellers the Galápagos Islands can prove an expensive destination due to the single supplements charged by the cruise companies. Where possible we endeavour to offer the option for people travelling on their own to share a cabin, thus avoiding the need to pay an additional supplement. However these are always on request and subject to strict availability. If you are interested in sharing a cabin with a like minded passenger of the same sex, then please contact us to register an interest so we can maximise our chances of being able to find you a shared cabin.

For information on all other dates or to register an interest please speak to one of our consultants.

During your Galápagos cruise there are also options to upgrade your cabin subject to availability. Please enquire for further details.

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