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Signature Ecuador and Galapagos: Volcanoes to the ocean

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An opportunity to combine a luxurious cruise in the Galápagos Islands with exploration of the Andean landscapes of their host country, Ecuador. 

Travel to Quito: Ecuador’s capital surrounded by snow-capped mountains and active volcanoes. Explore Quito and go 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.

Fly from the port of Guayaquil to the Galápagos Islands for a-6-day cruise.It was on a similar trip 200 years ago that Darwin returned to the archipelago to write the seminal book ‘On the Origin of Species’. Step into his shoes and explore the diversity of land and marine life which inhabit these enchanting islands. A holiday in the Galápagos is a totally unique experience, inevitably rewarding, richly educational, blissfully tranquil, and photogenic.

You’ll sail on a first class, compact motor cruiser offering an intimate and informal atmosphere favoured by those who prefer 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.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Quito and transfer to hotel.

Day 2

Guided walking tour of colonial Quito.

Day 3

By road to Otavalo in the Andean highlands, visit Otavalo market overnight in hacienda.

Day 4

Guided excursions to Lake Cuicocha

Day 5

By road or rail down Avenue of the Volcanoes; visit Cotopaxi National Park, overnight at an hacienda.

Day 6

Visit local artisan markets, overnight in Riobamba.

Day 7

Take the train down the Devil’s Nose, continue via Ingapirca ruins to Cuenca.

Day 8

At leisure in colonial Cuenca, Ecuador’s second city.

Day 9

By road down to the tropical coast of Guayaquil via a stop at Las Cajas National Park.

Day 10

Fly to the Galápagos Islands, board Galápagos Odyssey

Days 11-14

Land excursions from the cruise around the Galápagos Islands.

Day 15

Fly to Guayaquil, connect with international flight home.

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What our experts say

With this holiday we wanted to showcase the diversity that a trip to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands can offer. It’s a classic highlights holiday that gives you a fantastic introduction to Ecuador and its famous islands, but we’ve included a bit of luxury: the cruise in the Galápagos is aboard a first-class boat and adds an extra bit of style to your Galápagos experience.

Lina

Lina Fuller

Travel Consultants

Places visited on this holiday

Signature Ecuador and Galapagos: Volcanoes to the ocean

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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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Otavalo and the northern highlands
Otavalo and the Northern Highlands

The upland town of Otavalo, 2,573m, is world-famous for its huge livestock, vegetable and textile market, organised by the prosperous Otavaleño Indians who attend dressed in their distinctive costumes. Surrounding the town there are snow-tipped volcanoes, lake-filled craters, rolling hills, cobbled lanes lined with silvery eucalyptus, and tiny, whitewashed adobe villages each specialising in a cottage industry such as weaving, dough-ball figurines and wood carvings. Busy Ibarra, 2,225m, is populated by indigenous mountain people and others of African origin. There are leather goods to inspect in Cotacachi, 2,440m, and for walkers, a delightful stone-flagged track to the rim of Cuicocha volcanic crater lake, 3,246m..

When to go

The northern highlands have an all year round spring-like climate with temperatures averaging 21°C.  It can rain at any time in the year but most precipitation falls all year with Feb-Apr and Oct-Nov the wettest months. The main market day at Otavalo is Saturday when there are four different markets, including artisan and livestock. The towns and haciendas in the region can be busy at weekends and from Christmas to New Year.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

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

Time difference

GMT -5 hours.

Combines with

The bird-filled cloud forest in the Mindo region, 37km; the Avenue of the Volcanoes, 136km.     

Getting there

It’s a drive of a couple of hours on a winding upland road (58km) from Quito to Otavalo.

Key events
Fiesta del Yamor: Otavalo and other towns, first two weeks of September.  Music, dancing, fireworks, cockfights, bullfights, processions and boat races on Lago San Pablo. 
Inti Raymi and San Juan:  Around Otavalo, 24-29 Jun. Bullfights, regattas on the lake, costume parties.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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