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Ecuador's Andes and Galapagos Islands hop

Day 1

Arrive in Quito; transfer to hotel in the historic centre.
Quito, Ecuador

Transfer to your hotel in the colonial centre of 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. Quito 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, Ecuador

Day 2

Guided walking tour of colonial 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.

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Day 3

Drive to Cotopaxi National Park; guided river walk.

Travel by road into the Avenue of the Volcanoes towards Cotopaxi National Park, dominated by the superbly photogenic volcano of the same name  - a (very occasionally active) soaring peak of shimmering ice surrounded by rumpled skirts of highland moor with a tundra-like vegetation of altitude-resistant shrubs and flowers. The park is inhabited by over 90 species of bird from pocket-sized hummingbirds to giant condors and a variety of hardy mammals including deer, rabbits, Andean foxes and puma, which shelter from view in the lacy veils of frequent swirly mists.

From the rustic mountain lodge close to the entrance to the park, where you’ll spend the night, you set off on a 5 hour guided walk along the course of the Pita river, which is fed by the glacial meltwater of Cotopaxi itself. The river runs through a humid box canyon, hemmed in by cliffs smothered in ferns, the clear, unpolluted watercourse runs over a rocky bed punctuated by a series of waterfalls and deep limpid pools where trout flourish.  You can spot a number of bird species and the guide will help you to identify them and many of the plants which flourish here.

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Day 4

Visit an indigenous local market and a llama museum.

Having set off in the morning on a long day of travel, we call in at the authentic market at the regional capital, the little town of Latacunga. Like other market towns in the area, it has a bunch of colonial style buildings and, on Saturdays, its three wide plazas host a market attended by purveyors of agricultural produce from the outlying farms and hamlets, with fruit and vegetables piled high on the street. There may be a few tourist items but this markets will give you a fascinating insight into Ecuador's rural life.

The giant Mount Chimborazo is the highest peak in Ecuador, rising to 6,268m Thousands of vicuña live and breed here. This, the daintiest breed of the llama family, with an exceptionally soft and highly- prized coat, was recently reintroduced having disappeared from the area around the time of the Conquest. Llamas and alpacas are also to be seen wandering around, grazing the coarse highland grasslands. Visit the community of Palacio Real, which has a Llama Museum, handicraft shop and llama trail.

Continue to Alausi for the night.

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Day 5

Travel by train and road from the Andes to the Pacific coast.
tren crucero devil's Nose

At Alausi, board your train for this exhilarating journey down towards the Devil's Nose, named after the shape of one of the mountains as it rises steeply from the bottom of the valley. This part of the track drops dramatically in altitude, the train descends on a series of switchbacks as the track slowly leaves behind the rugged scenery and views of snow-draped volcanoes for warmer climes. Return to Alausi where you are picked up and taken by road to;the coastal lowlands, passing through plantations of banana and other tropical arrive at your hotel in the port of Guayaquil (if travelling on Wednesdays you'd be collected from Huigra rather than Alausi). .

Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest city and 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 devil's Nose

Day 6

Fly to Baltra in the Galápagos Islands (2hrs) transfer to hotel on Santa Cruz Island.
Blue  Footed Booby

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. The islands were the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which formed the basis for his revolutionary book ‘On the Origin of Species’, published in 1859.

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.

You spend the first few days of your visit on Santa Cruz, one of the larger islands, a dormant volcano rising to 864m, with small villages and cattle farms in the interior. Your hotel, Mainao, which started life as a family home, is in a quiet part of the nowadays busy town Puerto Ayora, where you’ll find shops, bars, cafés and small tour operators. It’s just a block or so from the waterfront.

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Blue  Footed Booby

Day 7

Boat trip to neighbouring islands.
South Plaza Island The Galapagos

Today you get on board a motor launch for a cruise to one of the nearby islands, South Plazas. This tiny wedge-shape islet is low and mostly flat, rising to a cliff at one end from where there are good views down into the turquoise water below. The lava here is covered with scrubby vegetation which changes colour according to the time of year: bright green   in the rainy season give way to orange and purple in the dry.

Wildlife is profuse here: iguanas, boobies, frigate birds, tropicbirds, shearwaters vie for space. The channel between this islet and another tiny neighbor is a favourite breeding ground for sea-lions – in fact one of the largest colonies of sea-lions is resident here.

(The island visited may change at short notice depending on local conditions).

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South Plaza Island The Galapagos

Day 8

Day at leisure on Santa Cruz island
Giant tortoise-spotting

Today you are free to explore. You can relax at your hotel or book locally an excursion into the highlands or to go snorkelling or kayaking. Tortuga Bay – just a stroll from town - has a superb beach, with iguanas and reef sharks waiting to be observed. Giant tortoises roam in the volcanic highlands. There’s plenty of choice of things to do; choose something which suits your personal interests.  

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Giant tortoise-spotting

Day 9

By speedboat to San Cristóbal Island.
Alexandra Walker

You’ll travel by speedboat across the water to San Cristóbal Island (2 hours), the most fertile in the archipelago, supporting coffee and sugar plantations. Your hotel, Casa Blanca, is close to the quay in the port, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galápagos.  It’s a fishing port, but now also has a good infrastructure for visitors, with a growing number of shops and restaurants close to the waterfront. 

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Alexandra Walker

Day 10

Snorkelling at Kicker Rock.
Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock is one of the most impressive geological formations in the islands – there are in fact two rocks, jutting skywards in the form of vertical obelisks.  Not only are they awe-inspiring enough to be visited just for the sight of them but also they mark the site of one of the best snorkelling opportunities. Today is likely to be one of the highlights of your holiday.

After a practice run with your snorkelling equipment (supplied) you will be taken to Kicker Rock for some fun in the calm water. Not only is this a superb opportunity to observe an abundance of  tropical fish in their kaleidoscopic undersea theatre, but you may well catch sight of stingrays, reef and hammerhead sharks, rays and turtles. 

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Kicker Rock

Day 11

Day at leisure on San Cristóbal Island.
Kayaking with sea lions in the Galápagos Islands
Once again you have a day to spend just as you like: your hotel can help you book excursions such as motor launch trips to other islands, diving, kayaking, hiking, bike rides or trips into the interior of the island. You might well be tempted just to relax on a beach (the town beach is reserved for sea-lions, which sometimes venture into town to lounge on a park bench. There are two public beaches to the north of the town.
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Kayaking with sea lions in the Galápagos Islands

Day 12

Fly to the mainland to connect with your international flight.
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Ecuador's Andes and Galapagos Islands hop

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Ecuador's Andes and Galapagos Islands hop

12 days from £3,111pp

Price excludes international flights at the beginning and end of the trip


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