Get ready to experience one of the premier Ecuador nature expeditions on this 10-day safari tour, perfect for honeymooners and anyone looking for relaxation and adventure at the same time. Explore colonial cities and famous markets, experience a Mindo bird adventure, and indulge in a luxury cruise around the famous Galápagos Islands for a trip of a lifetime.
The fun begins in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, filled with colonial influences and unique historical sites. Tour the colonial town center, including its first building, the San Francisco Monastery. Learn how the finest Ecuadorian chocolate is made and enjoy tasting it. You’ll also have a chance to visit the equatorial line just north of the city.
Cloud Forest and Mindo Bird Adventure
Leaving Quito, we venture further north to the Andean cloud forest and the village of Mindo. After settling into the lodge here, you’ll experience one of the most incredible Ecuador nature tours for bird lovers available anywhere. Various species of butterflies are found here as well, along with over 370 types of orchids, so you’ll have plenty to experience during your time here.
Trekking comes next, with the purpose of spotting the famous Andean cock-of-the-rock birds, usually found nesting in rocky ledges. Along the way, and while returning to the lodge, you may also see Choco toucans, Golden-headed Quetzals, and Crimson Rumped Toucanets. Hummingbirds are another treasure found here, and we’ll take the opportunity to spot them on our way out of Mindo.
Before heading back to Quito, you’ll have a day in Otavalo, a destination known for its gigantic, colorful marketplace – the largest in South America. Explore the market at your leisure, discovering the many fine fabrics, clothing, traditional wooden carvings, crafts, and various other offerings.
Safari Ecuador-Style in the Galápagos
Soon it is time to leave the mainland behind and fly to Baltra Island in the enchanted isles of Galápagos. By far one of the best safari tours Ecuador has to offer, you’ll immerse yourself in the wildlife found on these remarkable islands and soon learn why they are so incredibly special.
Once you land, you’ll be transported to your awaiting accommodations aboard the Alya catamaran. Settle into your air-conditioned cabin, complete with private bathroom with hot shower, spacious closets, and comfortable beds for restful nights while aboard. Both locally-influenced and international meals will be prepared by professional chefs and served in the cozy dining area throughout your cruise.
With daily island visits on the itinerary, you can enjoy snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking the many breathtaking sites on the different islands. Roam through mangroves, and explore shallow coves, sheltered bays, pristine beaches, and cliff tops for spectacular views. Walk along volcanic landscapes and see lava tunnels formed during past eruptions. Everywhere you turn there’ll be wildlife in view. Spot red and blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, Galápagos penguins, frolicking sea lions, and more.
A visit to the famous Charles Darwin Research Station brings the chance to learn about the crucial conservation work being done to preserve these magical islands and their inhabitants, and an end to your Galápagos journey. The experience, however, will last long in the memory.
Itinerary & Prices
Welcome to Quito
You arrive in the historical city of Quito and are transferred to your hotel in the comfort of our private, air-conditioned vehicle. Quito is the most populous city in Ecuador and the second-highest capital city in the world. Founded in 1534 by Spanish Conquistadors, it is nestled in the lower Andes mountain range, creating quite a dramatic backdrop to the colonial architecture of the center and the more modern suburbs, which sit in the rocks of the mountains themselves. Quito is located a short drive south of the equator – Ecuador is, in fact, the Spanish word for the equator, the city sits on the eastern slope of the Pichincha volcano.
Quito lies in the valley of the Guayllabamba River, flanked by volcanoes, many of which are snow-capped, and visible from the city on a clear day. Quito’s altitude is listed at 2,820 meters (9,250 feet). The colonial influence is strong in the traditional center of the city and any visit to Quito should include a stroll around this area, which was one of the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Buildings of particular interest being the Carondelet Palace, the Cathedral, the four main churches, and the Basilica del Voto Nacional. The center of Quito is the most untouched and also the biggest colonial center of any city in the Americas.
City Tour & The Equatorial Line
A trip to Ecuador encapsulates a mix of history, fascinating indigenous cultures, slow winding rivers, and lush tropical forests, spectacular snowcapped volcanoes, and some of the most exciting wildlife on earth.
Our starting place today is the ‘Mitad del Mundo’, a site located just 45 minutes north of Quito, where a monument marks the equator at its closest point to the city. Archaeological evidence shows that both pre-Inca and Inca civilizations recognized and celebrated the equinox, the day the sun is directly over the equator. We make the 45-minute journey northwest to the equatorial line, where we will walk the rim of the extinct Pululahua volcanic crater. From there we visit the “Ciudad Mitad del Mundo” a group of buildings designed to explain the significance of the site, as well as the Ethnographic Initñam Museum, located right on the Equator. Here you will have the chance to plant your feet in two hemispheres at the same time!
Back in Quito, after lunch we will visit the city’s impressive colonial center, the reason Quito was the first city to be named a world heritage site. First on the agenda is a walk through the main plaza, the ‘plaza de la Independencia’, where you will see the Government Palace, the Cathedral, and some of the most important churches built around the XVI and XVII centuries, including the San Francisco Monastery, the first building built in the whole city. We wind down from a busy day’s sightseeing with an excursion all about chocolate! Ecuador’s unique equatorial climate provides the perfect environment for growing the world’s finest cocoa – Cacao Arriba. Cocoa has been revered in Latin America for over 5,000 years and Spanish explorers loved it so much they called it the ‘Food of the Gods’. Our chocolate experience starts with a guide explaining the history of cocoa in Ecuador, followed by a chocolate tasting.
Meals (B, L)
Highlands To Cloud Forest
Mindo is a village in the Andean cloud forests north of Quito. It is famous for its numerous species of birds, butterflies, and orchids (more than 370) found in the reserve. Along the route, we will visit a butterfly garden, where we will have the opportunity to observe numerous species, learning about the four stages of their life cycle. We will also see a rich collection of orchids, some with blossoms so small a magnifying glass is required! It’s not uncommon to observe hummingbirds buzzing around the area, jostling for a few moments at the feeders.
Upon arrival at the lodge, you will be welcomed and shown to your rooms. After a short introduction, you will be taken on an exploratory hike along the Rio Mindo, enjoying the lush surroundings.
Meals (B, L, D)
The Elusive Cock-of-the-Rock
Today, we will have an early start as we head out in search of the lekking location of the Andean cock-of-the-rock. Named after its preference to nest in rocky ledges, and widely considered to be one of the most beautiful birds in the world. We need to be very quiet and patient, as the lekking ceremony happens rather quickly, and only when the birds feel completely unthreatened.
Our hike takes us along the heights of the Cordillera San Lorenzo, a ridge of the fertile forest where one can often observe Golden-headed Quetzal, the Choco toucan, crimson rumped toucanet, amongst others. It is a day full of adventure and enjoyment as we allow ourselves to be consumed by the richness of the surroundings.
Meals (B, L D)
From the Clouds to the Andes
After breakfast, we pack our bags and say goodbye to Mindo. On our way to Otavalo, we make a stop at ‘Tony’s House’ an excellent location to observe numerous species of hummingbirds, where up to 19 different species can be seen in a single day!
Otavalo, known throughout South America for its enormous and colorful market, and one of the most interesting towns in Ecuador. Still heavily populated by the local Kichwa indigenous culture, the roots and modern development of the local community can be clearly seen. Here our guide gives you some history of the town, the people, and the market before allowing you to explore in-depth the market. Be sure to keep an eye out not only for the fine fabrics and clothing but also the traditional wooden carvings particular to this area of Ecuador. To help you finds your way around we provide you with a map of the market so you can be sure not to miss anything. The market sellers adopt a bargaining stance, so do remember to practice your negotiation skills when buying handicrafts. The market itself, known colloquially as “Poncho Plaza”, is situated at the foot of the majestic Mt. Imbabura and once on the outskirts do take a moment to appreciate the striking surrounding landscape.
Departing Quito & Cruise Embarkation
AM: After breakfast, at the scheduled time, you will be picked up from your hotel and privately transferred to Quito airport, ready to board your departure flight to the Galapagos Islands!
Today you will arrive to begin your experience at Baltra Airport. Here you will be received and transferred to the cruise port. A small ride will follow as we welcome you onboard the Alya Catamaran.
PM: Your very first lunch will be served on board. After lunch, our first visit is to Black Turtle Cove which is situated in the northern region of Santa Cruz. This bay is surrounded by mangroves and is accessible by dinghy only. The shallow cove is a safe refuge for marine life. Black-tip reef sharks, marine turtles, and a variety of rays are often spotted here. We then return to the Alya for dinner.
Meals: (B, L, D)
Darwin Bay & Prince Phillip’s Steps
AM: We begin the day with breakfast before our first excursion. Our visit to Darwin Bay includes short walks, photography, swimming, snorkeling. Genovesa is a small island in the north of the Galapagos. Our unloading in Darwin Bay will be wet. Near the beach is a mangrove swamp where we will find: a colony of frigates, marine iguanas, red-footed boobies and mask boobies, the great terrestrial finch, seagulls, herons, and cactus finch. Following the land visit, our passengers can enjoy a swim in the bay. Snacks and refreshments are available. Afterward, we will enjoy lunch on board.
PM: Here, we will go for a walk on the Barranco path, also known as Prince Phillip’s Steps. On our journey, we will observe tropical birds, petrels, common frigate, red-foot boobies, mask boobies, doves, and finches. Dinner will be served back on board.
Meals: (B, L, D)
Sullivan Bay & Bartolome Island
AM: We begin the day with breakfast before our first excursion at Sullivan Bay. Virtually uneroded lava flows cover an extensive area of this island. Lava pahoehoe (basaltic lava that has a smooth, billowy, undulating, or ropy surface), hornitos, and mollugo can be seen. Snacks and refreshing beverages await you onboard the ship. Lunch will be served on board.
PM: This afternoon we visit Bartolome Island. Activities on this island include walking, swimming, snorkeling, and photography. We will follow a path to the top (114m) where we can see pioneering plants. The island has been formed by cones, lava pipes where lava once flowed. Following the wet landing at the beach, we will follow a path through mangrove swamps and sand dune vegetation, to the south beach. At the north beach, guests can enjoy swimming and snorkeling. From the top of Bartolome, we will be able to see the islands of Santiago, Rabida, and Isabela. We will see penguins in the Rock Pinnacle. Dinner will be served on board.
Meals: (B, L, D)
Dragon Hill, Chinese Hat Islet & Mosquera Islet
AM: We begin the day with breakfast before our first excursion at Chinese Hat, a small islet located near the south-east coast of Santiago. It’s shaped like a Chinese hat when seen from afar. On the west side, you can see pillow-type lava formations, which are an indicator that the flows were formed under the sea and have been raised upward. This visit provides an excellent opportunity for the interpretation of geological features such as lava tubes and lava flows. The trail is 700 m (round trip) and the minimum time it takes for this trek is 30 minutes. Afterward, we return to the Alya and enjoy lunch.
PM: Mosquera Islet is located between Baltra Island and North Seymour. Here, we find the biggest sea lion colony; it is also possible to observe several species of birds. Enjoy the white sand beach. Return to the Alya for dinner.
Meals: (B, L, D)
M: We begin the day with breakfast before our first excursion. After breakfast, we will visit Charles Darwin Station, located in the main port on Santa Cruz Island. We take a private bus to the entrance of the breeding center where we will see tortoises and land iguanas in captivity. This center is the main breeding site on the islands. Thanks to the dedicated work of several institutions, some species are being saved. Here lived Lonesome George, the famous last survivor of the giant tortoise species found on Pinta Island.
After your morning excursion, you will disembark from the Alya, and be transferred to Santa Cruz airport to catch your flight home.