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Ecuador's Andes and Galapagos Islands hop

12 days from £2,909pp

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Ecuador's Andes and Galapagos Islands hop:
Trip Dossier

This is an economically priced, imaginative and exciting trip where you will visit both the Andean landscapes on the Ecuador mainland and jet off to the wildlife Mecca of the Galápagos for a stay in cheerful family-run hotels on two different islands.

Begin with a guided exploration of the exquisite colonial core of Quito then set off to explore the Avenue of the Volcanoes, where snow-draped mountains pepper a landscape dominated by the perfect cone of Cotopaxi (5,897m). Drive south, with a stop-off for a walk through pretty countryside and visits to local markets and communities, to board the train which makes the spectacular zig-zag descent of a near vertical cliff - the Devil’s Nose - and continues through tropical plantations to the effervescent port Guayaquil on the Pacific coast. Fly to the Galápagos Islands to stay in welcoming oceanfront hotels on two of the larger volcanic islands, linked by speedboat.

You’ll immediately be spellbound by the abundance of trusting wildlife, from sea-lions and iguanas to albatrosses and penguins. With a week there based at conveniently-located accommodation you have plenty of time to go out wildlife spotting, snorkelling and sign up locally for activities such as nature walks and kayaking. 

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

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

Day 2

Guided walking tour of colonial Quito.

Day 3

Drive to Cotopaxi National Park; guided river walk.

Day 4

Visit an indigenous local market and a llama museum.

Day 5

Travel by train from the Andes to the Pacific coast.

Day 6

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

Day 7

Boat trip to neighbouring islands.

Day 8

Day at leisure on Santa Cruz island

Day 9

By speedboat to San Cristóbal Island.

Day 10

Snorkelling at Kicker Rock.

Day 11

Day at leisure on San Cristóbal Island.

Day 12

Fly to the mainland to connect with your international flight.

Detailed itinerary

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.
 
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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quito

Day 3

Drive to Cotopaxi National Park; guided river walk.
 
cotopaxi

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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cotopaxi

Day 4

Visit an indigenous local market and a llama museum.
 
Market

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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Market

Day 5

Travel by train from the Andes to the Pacific coast.
 
Tren Crucero

The railway from Alausi down to the sultry Pacific coast is a feat of engineering which was once nicknamed ‘el Imposible’. In recent years – following disruption caused by landslides and economic difficulties – the service has been resuscitated, and you now have the opportunity to ride what is truly one of the great railway journeys of the world.

Board the train for this exhilarating 10 hour (ish) 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 you slowly leave the crisp mountain air and rugged scenery for the warmer climes of the coastal lowlands, passing through plantations of banana and other tropical crops.  Arriving in Durán, you are taken by road to your hotel in the port of Guayaquil.

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

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.

Essential information

Transport

2 flights (3.5hrs and 2hrs). 1 speedboat ride (2hrs). 2 road journeys. One train journeys (10 hours).

Accommodation

You'll be staying at a colonial style hotel in Quito, modern mid-range hotel in Guayaquil, a simple countryside lodge and rustic hotel  in mainland Ecuador; two small and friendly family-run hotels in the Galápagos Islands.

Meals

Breakfast daily; lunch days 3-5.

Included excursions

Walking city tour in Quito.
• Hike the Pita river canyon.
• Latacunga market.
• Visit to llama museum in Palacio Real.
• Full day trip to South Plaza Island, Galápagos. 
• Snorkelling excursion to Kicker Rock, Galápagos.

Summary of nights

12 days, 11 nights: Quito 2, Cotopaxi region 1,  Alausi 1, Guayaquil 1, Galápagos Islands 6 (Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal Islands).

Included in the journey price

• Qualified bilingual local guides.
• All land transport
• Accommodation as specified
• Meals as specified
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees
• International departure tax

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified
• Optional excursions

Currency

The unit of currency in Ecuador is the US dollar.

Budget

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses, but as most meals are included you should only need an extra $20-30 a day for drinks and souvenirs.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in Quito and Guayaquil, and 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), which you can spend as the dollar is the local currency especially in the Galápagos. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling or euros, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are normally welcomed and expected. Local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. We recommend approximately $US5-10 per person per day for each of guides and drivers, depending on the size of the group.

Insurance

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

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, fit visitors. If you have a disability, please consult us.

Climate

Lying at over 2,500m on the Equator, the highlands have a permanent spring-like climate. The rainy season in the Andes runs between November and April when there are showers most afternoons, so this departure falls in the height of the dry season when the sun is strong during the day, but at night the temperature drops dramatically (maybe as low as freezing point.). Given the proximity to the equator, altitude is the determining factor with regard to temperature. In the mountains at any time of year you should expect a variation between 15°C and 25°C.

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. 

Altitude

On the mainland you are staying at high altitude (2,800). A small minority of visitors may suffer temporarily from altitude sickness. Symptoms vary; most common are mild headaches, slight nausea and breathlessness. If you don’t recover in a day or two speak to our representatives; in very rare instances it is necessary to descend to lower altitudes. Most people are unaffected and 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 suffering any symptoms.

Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information. 

Clothing and special equipment

You should go prepared to encounter all seasons. A light fleece jacket and a waterproof waterproof/breathable shell makes a good combination for highland regions. You will need good walking boots, waterproof trousers, scarf, hat and gloves. In the Galápagos, you will encounter warm weather; summer clothing is appropriate but you may wish to protect your naked skin from the powerful sun.  

Sun screen and sunglasses are also highly recommended.

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.

Vaccinations

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

Cases of Zika virus have been reported in parts of Latin America. If you’re pregnant, or planning to be, you should follow the advice of the  National Travel Health Network and Centre

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. Clients with a different nationality should enquire or check with the Ecuadorian Consulate.

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. This must be done by you personally.

Passports must also be digital e-passports with embedded 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.
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