A Cultural Introduction to Ecuador & Galapagos

17D / 16N

Experience the ultimate cultural immersion with a luxury tour of Ecuador, exploring the
fascinating history of this colorful nation on one of the most memorable tours in Ecuador.
Journey to the center of the Earth, marvel at the historic capital city, and learn about the
world’s most curious land and sea creatures.

Take your time wandering through Ecuador’s most notable sites, including the famous “Avenue of Volcanoes” and
ancient Incan archaeological sites. Roam the poetic streets of Cuenca, an artistic hub of South America. Cruise through
one of the world’s greatest wildlife havens, the Galapagos Islands just as Charles Darwin once did. Enjoy this two-week
luxury tour of Ecuador so you can take time to cross everything off your bucket list!

BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
JUN - SEPT

IDEAL TRIP LENGTH
17 DAYS

Highlights

  • Step into the UNESCO-recognized history of Ecuador’s rich colonial capital of Quito.
  • Hop between hemispheres at the Middle of the World equator marker.
  • Mingle with local artisans and hunt for a bargain at Otavalo, the setting of South America’s oldest, largest, and most famous market.
  • Marvel at the majestic peaks of Ecuador’s Avenue of Volcanoes.
  • Unveil Incan archaeological sites and marvel at the power of this ancient empire.
  • Relax with a luxury tour of the Galapagos Islands – where Charles Darwin’s revolutionary theory of evolution was born.
  • Wander the charming streets of Cuenca, a city often dubbed the “Athens of South America” due to its cultural and artistic energy
  • Enjoy a luxury cruise through the Galapagos where Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution
  • Observe remarkable wildlife such as dawdling giant tortoises, strutting blue-footed boobies, and plenty of other curious creatures.
  • Go in search of hidden treasures as you snorkel on pristine beaches.
  • Indulge in the comfort of boutique, sustainable accommodations, ranging from characteristic lodges to luxury hotels.

Itinerary

Welcome to Ecuador! An enriching adventure awaits in Quito

Meet your Kuoda host upon arrival and head to your hotel where you can enjoy a restful evening before the excursions begin in the morning.

Explore the history of Quito

This morning, your guide will pick you up from your hotel and for a tour of the UNESCO-recognized city of Quito. First, you will explore Quito’s historic Old Town, strolling through the Basílica Del Voto Nacional, one of Ecuador’s largest churches known for its neo-gothic architecture. Continue onto the Plaza Grande, or “Independence Square” to visit the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Building, and the Archbishop’s Palace. Then head to the church of the “Compañía de Jesus” to find its impressive golden interior.

Your tour of Quito will culminate with a birds-eye view of the city from the panoramic “Virgin of Quito” monument atop El Panecillo Hill overlooking the capital. This will give you a chance to appreciate Qui­to from above, and enjoy views of the spectacular “Volcano Avenue” along the horizon.

After the tour, visit the shop of one of the best chocolate companies in Ecuador and in the world, Pacari, for a tasting experience. The organic chocolate is blended with Andean flavors like lemon verbena, gooseberry, and Andean blueberry. More traditional flavors from neighboring countries include Chile merkén (Mapuche chili) and the pink salt Maras (an ancient salt from nearby Cusco). It will certainly be a delicious afternoon, well-earned after all the walking.

From here, we will continue our journey 15 miles north of Quito to the Mitad del Mundo, or “Middle of the World”. This monument was built on Earth’s equator to com­memorate the French scientists who made history by determining the shape of the planet thanks to their studies at this location in the 1830s.

Here, you will be able to stand with one foot in each of the earth’s hemispheres and pose for an enviable photo-op. Plus, you’ll get to visit the Intiñan Solar Mu­seum and perform various unusual experiments like balancing an egg on a nail or losing weight in a second. After the visit, we will drive you back to your hotel.

Quito – Cayambe – Zuleta

After breakfast, you will head north along the Pan-American Highway making a brief stop in the town of Cayambe to visit a rose plantation and learn about the beautiful floral export of Ecuador. With over 300 varieties of roses growing here, there are plenty of amazing opportunities to see fields of this lovely floral species.

Next, you will head east until you reach the Hacienda Zuleta after an afternoon drive through lush highlands pastureland. On your way, peer out the window to enjoy breathtaking views of the snow-capped Cayam­be Volcano just a few miles away from Zuleta. After checking into your room, your Zuleta host will explain the activities offered at the Hacienda. Sip on a warm cup of afternoon tea or coffee with you together while discussing any of your personal preferences, needs, or questions.

Get situated with your accommodations with a tour of the property, learning more about Zuleta’s his­tory, the private library of Ecuador’s ex-Pres­ident
Galo Plaza Lasso, and wandering through the beautiful gardens and chapel.

As the sun sets and cool air rolls into Zuleta, enjoy some wine and farm-made Ecuadorian cheese by the fireplace before taking a soothing, warm bath and resting for the night.

A day in a beautiful Andean reserve

After an exquisite breakfast of eggs, pancakes, muesli, fruit, and homemade bread, you will be able to visit the cheese factory. Here, you can learn more about Zuleta´s semi-aged, handmade Ecuadorian cheeses and how production has changed throughout history.

As mornings are usually sunny in this part of Ecuador, it is best to take advantage and use this time to take the Condor Tour, by hiking or biking to the condor reserve. You may even spot a wild condor flying by on your commute. The reserve is located 3 km from the guesthouse, in a native forest valley.

The route back takes us through pastureland where we pass between ancient pyramids of the Caranqui culture; seeing both small burial mounds dating back to 700 A.D., and giant ceremonial truncated ramp pyramids from the 13th century.

If you love horseback riding, make sure you take advantage of the hacienda’s stables. This is an activity offered at extra cost and can be booked in person upon arrival.

Mingle with locals in Otavalo and the neighboring towns

We begin today’s trip to the town of Otavalo, home to Ecuador’s largest indigenous market and one of the best known in all of Latin America. Spend a few hours wandering through these bustling stalls selling local handicrafts and delicious street food.

We will then visit a family of weavers in the nearby village of Peguche who not only have amazing wares but will ac­tually demonstrate how they weave on their traditional back-strap looms, showing you their age-old techniques for creating vibrant colors from local plants.

We will have lunch in a typical Ecuadorian restaurant before going to Cotacachi town, famous for its leather crafts, and then visit the nearby beautiful volcanic Cuicocha Lake. Take a short hike and an optional boat ride around the lake if you want the best views.

In the late afternoon, we will arrive at the famous Hacienda San Agustin de Callo for dinner and an overnight stay. From its archaeological importance to the intricately decorated rooms, arranged with fireplaces to warm the bathrooms and artistically painted walls. Llamas enliven the central patio, looking for carrots during their lunch hour. Flowery gardens frame majestic views of Cotopaxi emerging on the horizon. Most impressive, though, is the Inca site on which this lodge stands that really makes this Andean hacienda experience unique.

Explore Cotopaxi and see Limpiopungo

After a delicious breakfast, you will have the chance of witnessing the Cotopaxi colossus, covered by layers of thick snow and ice. This imposing giant is often the backdrop for the landscapes of the central highlands and possesses a history of dramatic eruptions.

The volcano is located within Cotopaxi National Park which spans across the beautiful plateau of the Ecuadorian highlands. Here, you can find wild horses grazing on vast plains or gathering to drink the calm waters of Lake Limpiopungo. A view as impressive as this one will certainly stir up a feeling of awe for nature lovers.

In the afternoon, relish the unique opportunity of taking a horseback ride in the surroundings of the local hacienda. The views are magnificent, with glacier-covered, snow-sprinkled volcanoes lining the central valley.

From Zumbahua to Quilotoa and the return to Quito

Today we will take a two-hour car journey through the western Andes mountain range, one of the most impressive areas of Ecuador. Heading south, the tour will take us to Zumbahua, a small colorful town consisting of just 40 families.

Ten kilometers farther lies the blue and green Quilotoa Crater Lake, one of the most beautiful volcanic lakes in the Ecuadorian Andes. From the crater, you can see multiple snow-topped volcanoes dotting the horizon. After a few hours of hiking down to the bank of the lake, you will enjoy a traditional lunch with spectacular views. Then, return to Quito before your next adventure.

Spectacular “Nariz del Diablo” Andean Rail journey

After breakfast, you will be taken to the Riobamba train station to begin a breathtaking rail journey through the mountains to Chanchán. The railway line was completed in 1902 and is the steepest railroad in the world -a true technical masterpiece! Chug along the beautiful countryside, before ascending the steep “Nariz del Diablo,” or the “Devil’s Nose.” You will disembark at the station in Chanchán, and from there we will travel to the charming city of Cuenca.

On the way, you will stop at the famous archaeological site of “Ingapirca” which is Kichwa for “stonewalls of the Inca”, the most important and best-preserved Inca ruins in Ecuador. Here, you can wander around this fascinating site and visit the small museum. Afterward, we will drive for another two hours until reaching Cuenca and your hotel.

Private tour of Cuenca and its neighboring towns

Enjoy a pleasant breakfast before you begin a tour exploring the colonial center of Cuenca. Considered the artistic and cultural center of the country, a walk through the historical district will give you a chance to see the remarkable colonial and republican architecture, as well as its sacred art museums and markets, particularly the flower market. Cuenca is an excellent shopping destination if you’re looking for a “Panama” hat. These hats are sold at fair prices in several government-approved franchise shops in town to prove authenticity. Cuenca is also a good place to buy ceramics, embroidery, leather goods, and baskets.

In the afternoon, visit Chordeleg, meaning “waterfall of gold”, where you’ll learn about the production of fine filigree jewelry as well as handmade ceramic pottery. While in Gualaceo, you’ll have the op­portunity to wander through local fruit and vegetable markets brimming with fresh produce, learning about the delicious fruits grown only in Ecuador.

Another highlight of this day trip is a visit to Ecuagenera, the most important orchid-growing laboratory in Ecuador. Take time to marvel at hundreds of exotic species — from the exquisitely tiny to the outrageously colorful — as you tour the facility and learn about the propagation and preservation of these magical plants.

Visit Cajas National Park on the road to Guayaquil

This morning we will drive from Cuenca to Guayaquil, stopping to visit Cajas National Park on the way. Here, you will find a network of around 200 lakes left over from the Ice Age. Today these form part of an extensive recreation area high above sea level. Connecting these lakes is a series of small rivers that flow far distances into both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans.

Arrive in Guayaquil in the afternoon and head to the Boutique Hotel del Parque, a historic build­ing standing elegantly in the city wrapped in a vast botanical garden. Sitting on the waterfront, the hotel’s restaurant, Casa Julián, specializes in the fin­est seafood and freshest fish. Having embraced the local culinary tradition of soups and stews, its chef is also known to skillfully play with the flavors and textures of avocado, banana, and cocoa.

Guayaquil Private City Tour

After a delicious breakfast, discover the charm of Guayaquil, the gateway to the Galapagos. The city has been trans­formed over recent years with its newly restored historic neighborhood characterized by centuries-old houses and narrow lanes.

Spend some time wandering the colorful streets of Las Peñas, the city’s oldest district before traversing up 444 steps to the summit of Cerro Santa Ana for panoramic vistas of the city. There is a multitude of exciting activities you may want to include during your day tour. Visit a stately cathedral, explore Iguana Park, or visit the modern Malecon 2000 which hugs the Guayas River and is home to the towering Moorish Clock Tower! Wander the botanical gardens and Chamber of the Rotunda, a monument that marks the historic meeting between Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin in the 19th century. Sprawled over eight hectares and flanked by the Babahoyo and Daule Rivers, the Guayaquil His­torical Park is a fascinating window into the wildlife, architecture, and history of Ecuador.

Fly to the Galapagos Islands and explore Bartolome Island and Pinnacle Rock

Today you will begin an unforgettable tour of the Galapagos Islands, one of the world’s most incredible natural spectacles. Early this morning we will escort you to the national airport in order to board your flight to the wondrous Galapagos Islands (approximately 2.5 hours). Upon landing, a member of your ship’s crew will then welcome and accompany you to your ship: the Ocean Spray motor vessel.

After docking on Bartolome islands, you will start with a hike to the island’s summit for striking views of the surrounding islands, Sul­livan Bay, and the towering Pinnacle Rock. Some of the best snorkeling in the Galapagos are here at Pinnacle Rock, where you can study marvelous underwater life swimming gently alongside you. You can also spot some speedy Galapagos penguins darting in and out of the waters here, joined by harmless Whitetip reef sharks sunning in these waters.

Visit Genovesa Island to explore Darwin Bay and Prince Phillip’s Steps

The destination of the day is Genovesa Is­land, one of the wildest and most pristine islands in Galapagos National Park. Nicknamed “Bird Island,” Genovesa is the only place where you will be able to see Red-foot­ed boobies. After landing at Genovesa Island’s Darwin Bay, you will walk along a short path leading through the nesting sites of boo­by and frigatebird colonies. On the beach, you can watch how frigate birds try to rob the prey of the different species of boobies.

In the afternoon we will go ashore at a crater wall where Prince Phillip’s Steps are located. These stairs were carved in the stone wall, leading up to a wide plateau where you will find nesting places of great frigate birds, red-billed tropic birds, Bahama ducks, lava seagulls, and fork-tailed seagulls. During this stroll, we will cross a little scalesia wood where you can see the short-eared owl and, if you’re lucky, watch the courting strategies carried out by various species of boobies.

Explore Santiago Island and see Espumilla Beach and Puerto Egas Beach

This morning we will land on the fourth largest island in the Galapagos: Santiago Island, also known as “James Island” or “San Salvador Island.” The old rusted machines and run-down buildings of former salt mine workers still stand here, though the last attempts to populate Santiago Island were given up on forty years ago. Explore Espumilla Beach, where marine iguanas relax and sea turtles nest. While snorkeling in these waters, you may find octopuses, morays, and many types of tropical fish. There is also a Palo Santo forest close to this beach.

In the afternoon you will be able to roam the dark sand beach of Puerto Egas, home to an abun­dance of marine iguanas. After a short walk of about 2 km along the coast, we will reach the rugged lava coastline. On these shores are natural pools where you can find sea lions, herons, and other sea birds. The surrounding area is also a good spot for observing colonies of red Sally Light Foot crabs, lava lizards, Galapagos buzzards, and lava herons.

North Seymour Island and Santa Cruz Island: The Highlands

After landing at North Seymour Island, enjoy a little coastal walk for a morning of wildlife spotting, looking for Swallow-tailed gulls, sea lions, and Cliff crabs. This part of Seymour Island is also known for being a major nesting site for Blue-footed boobies and the largest colony of magnificent frigatebirds.

Once you’ve restored your energy with a delicious lunch, you will visit the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, where lush green fauna is a welcome contrast to the arid scenery of the smaller, lower islands. On the way, we will cross through different vegetation zones – from the dry lower region full of cacti to the scalesia woods in the highlands. There, one can find two small agricul­tural communities that grow the renowned Galapagos coffee. While in the Highlands you will have the option of visiting one of two tortoise breeding centers: El Chato or Rancho Las Primicias. Both allow you to see the majestic gentle giant in peaceful conditions.

El Chato Tortoise Reserve was founded in 1964 to allow visitors to observe the island’s huge Galapagos turtles and white herons in their natural habitat. The site also provides access to nearby underground lava tunnels formed during volcanic eruptions.

Alternatively, Rancho Primicias is a great place to see about ten to fifteen Galapagos giant tortoises in the wild. In addition to being able to view the ocean from this location in the Highlands, you can walk through a lava cave that was formed by a volcanic eruption.

Departing Galapagos for Quito

Start your final day in the Galapagos with a tour of Mosquera Island where long narrow stretches of white sand converge with rocks and small lagoons, the home of many relaxed sea lions. This is one of the best places to take photos of these aquatic mammals. A stroll down the beach also permits views of brown pelicans and blue-footed boobies.

Savor one last look at the Galapagos Islands as you board the plane at Baltra Island airport for your return flight to the Ecua­dorian mainland. Once you arrive in Quito your guide will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel where you will spend your last night in Ecuador.

Return home

Going home is the worst part of any trip, but at Kuoda, we’ll do our best to make it as smooth and hassle-free as possible. Your host will meet you at the hotel and transport you to the airport for a relaxing start to your journey home. ¡Buen Viaje!

PRICE & INCLUSIONS

Each journey is tailored to your specific needs and desires, and so our prices vary depending on the number of people
traveling, level of accommodations desired, and activities included, among other factors.

Our travel designers will curate a journey specifically for you. If you have a budget you want us to work with, please let
us know, and we will do our best to achieve it.

PRICE INCLUDES

  • Personalized itinerary planning
  • A Kuoda host to assist you in every location
  • The majority of meals in the itinerary
  • Daily activities and excursions as indicated in the itinerary

NOT INCLUDED

  • International flights to and from your home country
  • Travel insurance
  • Meals not specified
  • All gratuities

ACCOMMODATIONS

From luxury properties to boutique hotels, our staff handpicks your ideal stay to ensure you get the ultimate comfort during your travels.

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