This small Andean country hosts a wonderful array of exciting destinations. Situated in the heart of the Andes, the capital city Quito is the perfect starting point for any itinerary in this diverse country. From Quito, there are easy day trips to explore the haciendas and Andean market towns of Otavalo and Cotacachi to the north, or the dramatic volcanoes such as Cotopaxi and the imposing Chimborazo to the south, while further south Cuenca is a World Heritage city renowned for its architecture and for being the birthplace of the Panama hat.
Leaving the Andean landscape behind, the Amazon rainforest displays one of the world’s highest biodiversity rates allowing for, amongst many others, the discovery of giant otters, dolphins and 13 species of monkey. The Amazon rainforest’s interest does not stop at just wildlife, however, with the region presenting immense human interest in the form of the Cofani, Shuar, Secoya and Huarani tribes to name but a few.
Not withstanding the natural beauty throughout the country, surely Ecuador’s most famous destination is the Galapagos Islands. Located 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) off the mainland at the meeting point of three major oceanic currents, the archipelago, made up of 13 major islands, six minor islands and 40 islets, is a true natural wonder. Boasting unique wildlife such as land and marine iguanas, giant tortoises, and abundant marine and bird life, the archipelago has the highest rate of endemic species anywhere in the world. Historically the islands have shaped the way in which we now see the natural world with the roots of Darwin’s theory of evolution found here and later published in his groundbreaking book The Origin of Species. First discovered by boat, this continues to be the most effective means of exploring the islands, both on land and under water.
For those looking to combine fascinating history, breathtaking landscapes and extraordinary wildlife in one country, Ecuador is without doubt an informed choice.
Meals: None Arrival in Quito and transfer to the Plaza Grande Quito. Opened in late 2006, this incredible boutique property, located right on Quito’s main Independence Square, has quickly become the premier choice for FITs in the Ecuadorian capital. Rooms offer stunning views and unbeatable levels of comfort, and guests are literally spoiled for choice for food and drink, with three different restaurants and two bars – quite incredible for a hotel that has only fifteen suites.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Transfer to the airport this morning to board a 35 minute flight to Coca, where you will board a motor canoe that will take you up the Napo River to Napo Wildlfe Center. Set on the shores of Lake Añangucocha a short distance south of the river, the Napo Wildlife Center is a joint project between the local Quechua Añangu community and a US-based NGO. Accommodation is some of the best in the Ecuadorian Amazon, but remains rustic in character. The lodge is a particularly good choice for ornithologists – over 550 species of bird have been spotted in this 88 acre complex, and it is home to two of Ecuador’s most accessible parrot clay licks, where eight to ten species of parrot are commonly seen in their thousands. Eleven species of monkey are also present, as are jaguars, pumas, tapirs, caimans and macaws. There is also a 120 foot high canopy platform from which allows you to appreciate the wildlife of the area at tree-top level.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Visitors will be divided up into small groups, and lead by a native Anangu guide, who is also an official Yasuni Park Ranger. Your guide is an expert on the forest's secrets, learn about medicinal plants and other useful items in the rainforest, and also has a great deal of knowledge about tropical forest biology. Guides will create informative enjoyable excursions every day providing an educative fun experience. Groups and guides will tailor their excursions while taking advantage of the highest peaks of activity and weather conditions in the forest. Outings will be scheduled before dawn or at sunrise. This will maximise wildlife observation. Each group will decide with their guide how extreme and intense they want their Amazon excursion; this also applies for afternoon excursions and night outings, when an overwhelming concert of natural sounds will flood the atmosphere.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner One of the highlights at NWC is going out on a very early excursion to reach two of Ecuador's most accessible parrot clay licks along the Napo region. These parrot clay licks are part of the reserve and lodge territory. These are two of over a dozen clay licks found on Anangu territory. Our parrot clay licks can be reached by following the Giant Otter Creek downstream by dug out canoe near the Napo River. The Napo Wildlife Center has exclusively constructed well established and comfortable blinds in each parrot lick in order to provide visitors with the best viewing and high quality photo/video opportunities. Activity kicks off at main lick between 7 and 8 in the morning and at second blind after midday. Species include Mealy, blue headed, yellow crowned, orange winged and orange cheeked parrots, cobalt winged, dusky headed and white eyed parakeets, with the occasional rarities like scarlet shoulder parrot let and scarlet macaws. In best weather conditions at least 800 individuals of most species can be spotted and in other days despite the rain a few dozen can still be seen. This can be a full day excursion visiting both blinds equipped with a nice freshly made box lunch, or a half day visiting the main lick and returning for a served lunch at the lodge. Don't miss his superb natural event full of unique sounds and brightly coloured plumages.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner NWC has a large lake with two creeks that can be easily explored while sitting on a dugout canoe paddled by expert guides eager to spot and show you wildlife. The possibilities are endless in finding many species of monkeys like squirrel, saddle-backed and white fronted capuchin monkeys, or those that by natural distribution or best habitat occur only on the South side of the Napo such as the monk saki, spider, woolly and golden mantle tamarin monkeys. NWC is home to a total of eleven species of monkeys. Paddling on the creeks, there is a good chance of seeing a group of giant otters in a hurry to catch their fish for supper. Creeks have dense vegetation on both sides, with large trees overhead and calm flowing waters; no one knows exactly what waits in the next meander, a flooded forest with anaconda or a gentle easy moving three toed sloth.
Meals: Breakfast This morning you will fly back to Quito. This afternoon take a tour of Colonial Quito. Marvel at the city’s ornate churches, cathedrals and baroque architecture, and experience a long history of local culture in Quito’s Old Town. Visit San Francisco Church, dedicated to Quito’s patron saint, and rich in art treasures, fine woodcarvings and altars of gold leaf. You will also see La Compañía Church, a Jesuit church with an elaborate façade, whose glittering interior was created with seven tons of gold.
Meals: Breakfast After breakfast leave north towards the equator where you will be able to straddle both hemispheres at once. Visit the Inti Ñan Museum, where you will see samples of how life was in the pre-Hispanic times and will experience a demonstration on gravity at the equator. You will then continue northeast to the cloud forest of the Mindo Valley, which is one of the most bio-diverse places in South America. Your destination is the Tulipe Archaeological site. The Tulipe museum shows information on the Yumbos, the pre-Hispanic inhabitants of this area located in the cloudforest west of Quito.The Yumbos built springs and ceremonial areas which have recently been rescued and restored by a team of expert archaeologists.
Meals: Breakfast and Lunch Depart for sightseeing of the Otavalo area. You will drive north from Quito along the Panamericana road for your first stop at Guachalá – right on the equator. Visit a primary school near Otavalo, Unidad Educativa Jose de Vasconcelos. This school has students both from indigenous and mestizo families, which in spite of being a constitutional right are not so common to find. You will be arriving during the children’s break and will be able to meet with the school principal, who can show you the school’s facilities and talk to you about the school’s workshops and system. Continue for a short visit wih Mr. Jose de la Torre and his wife for a fascinating textile demonstration. Not only is the technique centuries old, but also traditional to the area and the local people, who are known throughout South America for the quality of their loom work. No trip to Otavalo would be complete without the opportunity to go shopping as well, but this special experience offers a look behind the scenes of the textile products found in the marketplace. Lunch at a local restaurant and continue for a short visit to the Otavalo market located at the Poncho square. Return to Quito in the afternoon.
Meals: Breakfast Transfer to the airport for your flight home.