Blanketed by lush tropical forests and home to one of the world’s most spectacular wildlife sanctuaries, Ecuador is a small country that packs a big punch when it comes to biodiversity. Visit the Galápagos to encounter the archipelago’s iconic wildlife while kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, and more. Fly back to the mainland and discover colonial Quito with a private guide. Cap off your expedition by discovering the Chocó rain forest’s breathtaking array of flora and fauna on guided nature walks through some of the country’s most pristine jungle.
Arrive in Quito, where a driver awaits your arrival at the airport. Transfer to your hotel. Enjoy the rest of the day at leisure in Quito.
Wyndham Quito Airport Hotel
Fly to Isla Baltra in the Galápagos, and meet a naturalist at the airport for your first wildlife excursion. Take the ferry to Isla Santa Cruz and travel into the highlands to the Giant Tortoise Reserve, home to the world’s largest living tortoise species. Observe these prehistoric-looking creatures close up as they forage through grassy fields and forests, and enjoy lunch at a nearby ranch. Then transfer to Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World tucked into one of Santa Cruz’s secluded bays.
Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel (B, L, D)
Enjoy two full days to sail between the isles of the Galápagos aboard the lodge’s yacht, disembarking to explore volcanic landscapes and offshore waters alongside expert naturalists. Our itinerary is determined by the Galapagos National Park service to minimize the impact on each island, which allows for intimate wildlife viewing with few other travelers nearby. You might hike across North Seymour Island, spotting blue-footed boobies and frigate birds, or stroll the sandy beaches of South Plaza to encounter Sally Lightfoot crabs and land iguanas. Swim and snorkel with sea lions in secluded coves off Santa Fe, and spot Galápagos hawks and Nazca boobies flying overhead. On Bartolomé Island, visit the towering obelisk of Pinnacle Rock and walk with Galápagos penguins along volcanic coastal cliffs.
Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel (B, L, D daily)
Spend a day exploring the otherworldly landscapes and wildlife-rich waters of Santa Cruz Island with a private naturalist. Hike through cactus groves to swim in the dramatic, water-filled crevices known as Las Grietas; and snorkel with colorful fish and sea turtles in turquoise lagoons. Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to watch its tortoise-rearing program in action, or kayak offshore to spot sea lions frolicking in the surf. As a National Geographic traveler, you will be invited to a private cooking class, where you’ll learn to make ceviche alongside Finch Bay’s executive chef or sous chef.
Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel (B, L, D)
Return to the airport on Isla Baltra and fly to Quito, transfer to your hotel, a refurbished historic mansion overlooking the Plaza San Francisco in the heart of the colonial center.
Casa Gangotena (B)
Spend the day on a private tour of Quito’s colonial old town, which earned the city distinction as the first UNESCO-designated world capital. Discover grand colonial buildings and plazas as you explore the labyrinth of enchanting cobbled streets. Step through the doors of Quito’s most beautiful churches: the Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús, known for its dazzling gilded nave, and the Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco, Quito's oldest church.
Casa Gangotena (B, L)
Travel to the archaeological site of Tulipe, once home to the Yumbos, a pre-Inca civilization. Your next destination is Mashpi Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge set in a cloud forest reserve—and your home for the remainder of your trip. Settle into your glass-walled room, and enjoy a lunch of gourmet Ecuadorian fare. This evening, take a guided night walk through the surrounding jungle, treading amid bioluminescent fungi and keeping your eyes and ears open for the forest’s nocturnal residents, including frogs, owls, and kinkajous.
Mashpi Lodge (B, L, D)
Rise early to witness the early morning activity in the cloud forest. Enjoy a steaming cup of coffee on the hotel terrace as you watch birds and other species flit among nearby trees. Take a guided walk to the Life Centre, the lodge’s research station and home to myriad butterfly species. Look for howler monkeys and a variety of brightly colored birds along the way and enjoy a picnic breakfast on the center’s deck overlooking a garden of medicinal plants. As a National Geographic guest, you’ll have the opportunity to join a resident biologist for an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of the Life Centre and a nature walk that highlights ongoing research projects. Survey the canopy from the observation tower and ride an aerial bicycle through the treetops.
Mashpi Lodge (B, L, D)
Bring your binoculars for a bird-watching walk, where your guide will help you spot some of the more than 400 species that make their home in the forest. Or hike past moss-covered trees, orchids, and coiling vines to the 150-feet-high Copal Waterfall. After lunch at the hotel, visit the Equatorial Monument, which straddles the divide between the hemispheres at the “Middle of the World,” and visit the monument’s ethnological exhibition, before transferring to the airport in Quito and catching an overnight flight home.
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