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Ecuador by train and Galapagos cruise

14 days from £6,181pp

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Ecuador by train and Galapagos cruise:
Trip Dossier

The slow pace of life in rural Ecuador, a country whose Andean spine is studded with snow-dipped volcanoes and haciendas dating back to the colonial era which sprawl across upland pastures, is ideal for discovery by train. The rail network, which was once a primary means of transportation across this small country, has been revived so that visitors can enjoy a nostalgic experience travelling at a gentle speed behind steam and diesel powered locomotives. En route, you spend the night in welcoming countryside lodges and ranches.

You’ll explore the rugged uplands north of Quito: this is artisan country, where age-old crafts including weaving, wood-carving and leather work have been kept alive in small indigenous villages. A separate journey takes you south down the famed Avenue of Volcanoes, a journey of almost indescribable beauty where fertile farmland is juxtaposed with icy peaks. Ride down the dizzying switchback Devil’s Nose and end your journey in the sub-tropical lowlands close to Guayaquil, well placed to continue your holiday with a cruise around the Galápagos Islands.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Quito and transfer to your hotel.

Day 2

Guided walking tour of colonial Quito and El Panecillo.

Day 3

Embark your train, journey through the highlands.

Day 4

Along the Avenue of Volcanoes by rail.

Day 5

From Riobamba down the Devil’s Nose by train.

Day 6

By rail to the end of the line at Duran, Guayaquil.

Day 7

Fly to the Galápagos islands, board MV Treasure of Galápagos.

Days 8-12

Excursions by boat and on land in the Galapagos Islands.

Day 13

Return to Guayaquil by air to connect with your international flight.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Quito and transfer to your hotel.
 
Quito

Transfer to your hotel in 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. It 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.

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Quito

Day 2

Guided walking tour of colonial Quito and El Panecillo.
 
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. Having explored this part of the city you'll be taken up to the viewpoint on El Panecillo, the hill overlooking the city, for a panorama over the whole metropolis.

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Quito

Day 3

Embark your train, journey through the highlands.
 
Tren Ecuador Otavalo to Ibarra

Today you start your adventure by rail. 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. You, however, will be whisked off to the station to board your train.

You’ll driven by steam-powered locomotive across the plains and through the northern valleys to Ibarra, pulling up to visiting the woodcarving workshops of San Antonio, experiencing  the traditional food in Andrade Marin and a watching a presentation by musicians and weavers at San Roque railway station.

After a lunch of Andean Ecuadorian specialities at Cayembe  where you can appreciate an export-quality rose plantation, you return to Quito by bus and overnight there.

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Tren Ecuador Otavalo to Ibarra

Day 4

Along the Avenue of Volcanoes by rail.
 
tren crucero ave of the volcanoes

Board the train again at Quito station and set off on a scenic journey by rail south along the Avenue of Volcanoes, 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.

En route the train will pull up at halts and stations in places of interest. The first stop after Quito will be at Hacienda La Alegria, where you’ll witness a horse-back show performed by chagras, traditional Andean cowboys.

Board the train once more, to continue up on-to the coarse highland grasslands which cover the plains to Urbina. Bleak and isolated, this is the highest station in Ecuador at 3,609m above sea level.  There's a visit to the interpretation centre of the Chimborazo icemen to learn how these hardy men climb the slopes of Ecuador's highest volcano to mine the glacial ice for sale below.

One of these estates hosts the Hosteria Andaluza close to the market town of Riobamba you’ll spend the night at this peaceful property.  

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tren crucero ave of the volcanoes

Day 5

From Riobamba down the Devil’s Nose by train.
 
tren crucero devil's Nose

You leave the hotel early for the station at Riobamba. This is a real highlight of the journey, since this short section is normally hauled by steam power.  At Colta there's a visit to the small chapel of Balbanera, one of Ecuador's earliest.

You continue by rail to Guamote, to visit the town and its indian market. After lunch at the station, board the train for Alausí to begin the most spectacular part of the journey and, from an engineering point of view, the most ambitious section of track between Quito and Guayaquil. This is the Devil's Nose.

The track descends 200m, zig-zagging down an almost vertical wall of rock by a series of switchbacks. It's a spectacular route which drops from high sierra (2,347m) to the steamy lowlands (294m). The climate and vegetation change from temperate to tropical in 56 kilometres. Disembark the train and continue by road to your countryside hotel at Bucay. 

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tren crucero devil's Nose

Day 6

By rail to the end of the line at Duran, Guayaquil.
 
tren crucero pacific coast

After breakfast, board the train for the journey to Naranjito station. This journey takes you across a blanket of tropical rainforest pitted with banana, cacao and sugar-cane plantations. Disembark and depart by bus to a coastal hacienda, La Danesa, to visit a cocoa plantation and learn about the history of this remarkable crop and why Ecuadorian cacao is amongst the best in the world.

Return to the hacienda for a chocolate tasting in the gardens followed by a typical Ecuadorian lunch after which you rejoin your train, heading for Yaguachi through tropical plantations of rice, bananas, sugar and pineapple. There your engine is switched to a steam locomotive for the final section of the trip to Duran, the end of the line. Disembark and continue by road to the port Guayaquil on the Pacific coast.

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.

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tren crucero pacific coast

Day 7

Fly to the Galápagos islands, board MV Treasure of Galápagos.
 
Bartolome Island

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.

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.

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Bartolome Island

Days 8-12

Excursions by boat and on land in the Galapagos Islands.
 
Frigate Bird

You’ll sail on a compact, modern motor catamaran  - just nine cabins - offering an intimate and informal atmosphere reflecting the laid-back approach of smaller craft. You will have ample opportunity to make new friends among people with shared interests. In addition to landings on the islands you will have the opportunity to snorkel or swim with sea-lions.

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 which inhabits the islands. 

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Frigate Bird

Day 13

Return to Guayaquil by air to connect with your international flight.

Essential information

Transport

2 flights (longest 2hrs); 6-day cruise.

Accommodation

This holiday incorporates both modern hotels with excellent facilities in the cities and countryside haciendas and lodge of varying standard, chosen for convenience of location and friendly ambiance. Medium class 18-passenger motor catamaran in the Galápagos.

Meals

Breakfast daily, full board days 3-6 (some lunches are box lunches) and 7-12.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Summary of nights

13 days, 12 nights: Quito 3, Riobamba 1, Bucay 1, Guayaquil 1, Galápagos 6.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified.

Not included in the journey price

• International flights to Latin America.
• Tips and gratuities.
• Meals other than specified.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket.
• Galápagos Park entrance fee.

Currency

The unit of currency in Ecuador and the  Galápagos is the US dollar.

Daily spend

Most of your meals and all your accommodation is included on this trip, so you just need funds for a couple of meals in Quito and Guayaquil; drinks; souvenirs and tips.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, including Quito and Guayaquil, so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. 

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused.

Tipping

Tips are welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.


Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance pages. 

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

This holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit visitors. 

The streets in Quito are cobbled and steep. Remember you will be flying into Quito where the altitude is 2,850m so you may feel a little breathless at first.

Climate

Lying at 2,850m on the equator, the highlands have a permanent spring-like climate: altitude is the determining factor with regard to temperature. The rainy season in the Andes runs between January and April when there are showers most afternoons. The dry season is June, July and August when the sun is strong during the day, but at night the temperature drops dramatically (maybe as low as freezing point). May, September and October are less predictable, with both rainy and sunny spells. . In the mountains at any time of year you should expect a variation between 15°C and 25°C. The coastal plain will be hot and humid throughout the year with temperatures of up to 30°C throughout the year. Rainfall is heaviest January to March.

In the Galápagos, from January to April it’s hot and the sun is relentless, with some sudden showers. May to July, and October to December is cloudier; August and September it’s often cloudy and cool, and a stiff breeze makes the waters choppier. High and Low seasons reflect demand rather than the best time to go. Many boats are in dry dock in September.

Altitude

Several days are spent at high altitude (over 2.500m). You may notice the effect of high altitude; symptoms vary: most common are mild headaches and breathlessness. If you drink plenty of water and allow your body to acclimatise (don’t exert yourself or drink alcohol) in the first couple of days after arrival, you will minimise your chances of being adversely affected.

Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information.

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons. Both warm clothing and a sun hat are essential at altitude; a light fleece jacket and a waterproof/breathable outer shell makes a good combination. Trousers, skirt or shorts made from light, quick-drying synthetic materials work well on the Galápagos Islands. 

Strong, comfortable footwear is essential and you should bring insect repellant, sun block, hat and sun glasses. You should take swimwear for ocean swimming (Galápagos). Snorkelling equipment is included but you may prefer to bring your own. Aqua-socks or rubber sandals are useful for embarking and disembarking on wet landings.

Don’t forget your binoculars, camera, charger and cards.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in South America and Galápagos.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements.

For admission to the Galápagos a yellow fever certificate is required for anyone over 1 year old coming from an area with risk of yellow fever transmission. 

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/esta.html

This costs $14 per person, and must be applied for by you personally.
Passports must also be e-passports with a digital chip. Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

Clients with a nationality other than UK should refer to our Briefing Dossier and check with the Ecuadorian Consulate.
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