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Tailor-made tours

Ecuador Natural Selection

Ecuador, Galapagos Islands

11 days

Summary

Contours Travel has put together a fantastic tour of Ecuador for you. It allows you to experience the best of what Ecuador has to offer in comfort and style. While in Quito, stay at the prestigious Casa Gangotena situated in the heart of this charming UNESCO listed colonial city. Quito, at an altitude of 2,850 m., has a setting that few cities in the world can match. During the 13th century, it was the prosperous centre of the Kingdom of Quitus. It later became the northern capital of the Inca Empire. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Colonial architects built formidable temples, monasteries and mansions, creating an urban jewel designated by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

After a few days in Quito,  escape to the mystical Mashpi Lodge situated in a mega-biodiverse private forest reserve located within the Metropolitan District of Quito. Only a three hours drive from Quito. Its privileged location in the Choco cloud forest provides an opportunity to witness the incredible biodiversity. This, together with the impeccable service and superb dining experience, makes Mashpi Lodge a Unique Lodge.

Lastly, experience the ultimate luxurious adventure in the fascinating Galapagos Islands onboard the Santa Cruz II cruise. Or if preferred, you can take La Pinta or Isabela II instead. Every island in the Galapagos is different one from the other, but in all of them, you will see fascinating wildlife. Taking a cruise in the Galapagos island will let you enjoy white sand beaches, swim with sea lions and see the famous Giant Galapagos Tortoises. However, these are only a few highlights, there are many more, depending on the itinerary you choose!

Highlights

  • Step into the elegance and luxury of a bygone era at Casa Gangotena Boutique Hotel in Quito, an experience of its own
  • Explore the Cloud Forest and enjoy excursions including Gondola Adventure, Trails, Night Walks, Observation Tower, Waterfalls and Aerial Bicycle
  • Appreciate firsthand the wildlife in the Galapagos Islands onboard the luxurious Santa Cruz II Cruise
  • Mashpi Lodge is a National Geographic’s “Unique Lodges of the World” and Casa Gangotena is a member of Relais & Chateaux

Inclusions

  • Accommodation in the selected room/cabin
  • Casa Gangotena includes exclusive visits to Carmen Alto Museum, Quiteno Chocolate tasting, Visit to the Patios and Brewery of San Francisco church, Choir and Belltower of San Francisco church.
  • Guided activities and excursions within the Mashpi Reserve: walks, birdwatching and nature encounters, Sky Bike, Life Centre, waterfalls and Hummingbird Garden
  • Galapagos Cruise: All meals, soft drinks, Island sightseeing with naturalist guides, lecture services in English/Spanish, medical care on board (but not the cost of medication), snorkelling equipment, Sea kayaks & Glass bottom boat

ITINERARY

Day 1 Quito

At the airport you will be greeted and escorted to your hotel, giving you a short briefing about Quito and the country in general with valuable information you need to know.
Enjoy scenic colonial and artistic Quito, visit museums, monasteries and the golden altars of its many churches. Stand with a foot on each hemisphere on the Middle of the World memorial. The capital of Ecuador has a setting that few cities in the world can match. During the 13th century, it was the prosperous centre of the Kingdom of Quitus. It later became the northern capital of the Inca Empire. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Colonial architects built formidable temples, monasteries and mansions, creating an urban jewel designated by UNESCO/UN as a World Cultural Heritage Site. Quito’s artistic creativity awaits the visitor in cosmopolitan galleries and boutiques filled with contemporary paintings, sculptures and exquisite traditional crafts.

Day 2 Quito/Cloud Forest

The adventure begins at 8:30 a.m. Mashpi Reserve, a 1,200-hectare (3,000-acre) conservation property located within the Metropolitan District of Quito, forms a part of the Ecuadorian Choco rain forest, known as one of the world’s greatest biodiversity hotspots. The sudden shift in altitude (from 2,800 masl to 1,000 masl) will allow us to discover the spectacular natural diversity of the Andean landscape as we travel through the dry valley of Pomasqui towards the cordillera’s western flank, into the lush, misty cloud forest, and enter the magical world of Mashpi.
After lunch and a briefing, we will be comfortably settled in our room where we will be able to rest before starting with our afternoon activities. During the briefing, we will be introduced to the cloud forest and its conservation, the activities from which we can choose during our stay, and helpful tips about what to wear and what to bring to the excursions.
After a short rest, we will gather together at the lobby to head out on our first adventure exploring one of the trails of the Reserve, chosen by the guides depending on daily conditions. This walk will serve as an introduction to the ecological succession processes and the importance of forest conservation for the Chocó region. All of our trails offer the great scenic beauty, and each includes a unique attraction, such as a forest of “iron palm”, special bird watching opportunities, or other surprises.
For all our guests interested in knowing more about the cloud forest’s ecology, every evening we give a series of different lectures like the “Secret Wildlife of Mashpi, the trap camera project”, or the “Chocó, a biological hotspot”, which talk about the formation and diversity of the Chocó, and our scientific research projects. The lectures will be given by one of our naturalists or our resident biologist at 7:30 p.m.

Day 3 Quito/Cloud Forest

The forest always rewards the “early birds”, as the dawn light lures a variety of fascinating species in their search for food. A good place to find birds is right at the hotel’s terrace, with a cup of fresh coffee, tea or hot chocolate in hand, from where we can enjoy not only the beauty of the forest but also the many species that come to feed on insects and fruits at nearby trees. Our guides will help us spot what’s around, offering a peek inside their telescope for a close-and-personal view of the incredible bird richness Mashpi possesses. This activity begins at 6:30 a.m. and lasts about an hour. Then, enjoy breakfast at our hotel restaurant.
Your guides will recommend the best daily programme for you and your group depending on your interests, your level of physical fitness and daily weather and trail conditions. Choose from our many trails and activities, including the following:
-Trails
-Refreshing Waterfalls
-Life centre and wellness centre
-Observation Tower
-Dragonfly
-Sky Bike
-Hummingbird Viewpoint
-Night Walks and briefings

Day 4 Cloud Forest/Quito

Once again, our day begins early at 6:30 a.m. in the hotel lobby and takes advantage of the fact that many bird species come to the hotel to feed. After a cup of coffee, we walk down the road seeking out mixed-species feeding flocks: these usually feature different insectivorous bird species that move together while foraging. In a single flock, we may see over 20 different species, making these more-or-less common encounters an undeniable treat for bird aficionados. The activity takes one hour; we return to the lodge for breakfast.
There is time for a short hike today or one of our other activities. Check with your guide for the best option. Check out and transfer back to Quito. You will be given a complimentary box lunch to enjoy during the drive back to Quito.

Day 5 Quito/Galapagos Islands

Today you will be transferred to take your flight to Galapagos. On arrival transfer to the dock to board the Santa Cruz II where you will receive a welcome introductory briefing and lunch.
PM: Mosquera Islet- is a small volcanic uplift between Baltra and North Seymour. The island is a long and narrow sandbank surrounded by lava reefs. Our groups will approach the island from its western shore, a long shallow reef, the perfect rookery for young sea lions. After a wet landing, our guides will lead you past the sea lion colonies, where you will learn more about the fragile marine and terrestrial ecosystems of Galapagos. The walk is easy as it is restricted to a few hundred metres of flat sandy dunes. This will also be a great opportunity for an introduction to snorkelling.

Day 6 Galapagos Islands

AM: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal Island)- After breakfast, we disembark (dry landing) at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the island’s capital, and drive 40 minutes to the island’s southern shore. At Cerro Colorado, we visit the breeding centre for highly endangered giant tortoises amid a fantastic deciduous forest, home to dozens of bird species, including the San Cristobal mockingbird, and the San Cristobal lava lizard, both island endemic.
PM: Punta Pitt (San Cristobal Island)- In the afternoon, we disembark (wet landing) on the eastern tip of the island at Punta Pitt, an eroded tuff cone, whose trail provides spectacular views of the shoreline. This is the only site in the Galapagos where the three species of boobies can be found together. We can walk or enjoy a panga ride along the coast. Opportunity for snorkelling, swimming and kayaking.

Day 7 Galapagos Islands

AM: Santa Fe Island- After breakfast, we take the dinghy over to this idyllic sandy-white beach populated by many sea lions (wet landing). The endemic land iguana, unique to this island, may be spotted during the morning walk amid the giant prickly pear cactus. Snorkelling and swimming from the panga rounds off our rewarding experience, or if guests prefer, the glass bottom boat and kayaks are available for non-snorkellers.
PM: South Plaza Island – Following lunch and a rest, we disembark (dry landing) in this channel, whose turquoise waters contrast brilliantly with the white sand and black lava of the shoreline. Beyond, a carpet of scarlet sesuvium succulents serves as ground cover for a grove of luminescent green prickly-pear cactus. Yellow-grey land iguanas sit beneath these, waiting patiently for pears to drop. Along the coastline, one finds sea lion colonies, while frigates, swallow-tailed gulls and shearwaters glide, playing with the thermals.

Day 8 Galapagos Islands

AM: Puerto Ayora and the Charles Darwin Research Station (Santa Cruz Island)- disembark (dry landing) for our visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station’s giant tortoise Breeding Centre within an impressive giant prickly-pear cactus forest home to many land birds. These are the headquarters of scientific investigation, conservation and the National Park administration. Following our visit, we board our transport to enjoy lunch in the cooler highlands of Santa Cruz Island, a completely different ecosystem.
PM: Santa Cruz Island- We have several options available for the afternoon, which can be discussed in advance with your Expedition Leader. At the end of the afternoon’s activities, we return to Puerto Ayora and embark on the Santa Cruz II.

Day 9 Galapagos Islands

AM: Punta Suarez (Española Island)- (Dry landing) An exciting walk awaits at this site, where we enjoy its unique sea bird colonies, including waved albatrosses (April-December), Nazca boobies, blue-footed boobies, and swallow-tailed gulls as well as a view of the Galapagos’ famous “blowhole”. Also, look out for red-green-black marine iguanas.
PM: Gardner Bay – Osborn Islet (Española Island)-(wet landing) In the afternoon, the picture-postcard white coral beach of Gardner Bay and the nearby islet of Osborn provides a beautiful setting for observing sea lions, mockingbirds, and finches as we relax. We can expect great snorkelling in this area. Opportunity for swimming and kayaking as well.

Day 10 Galapagos Islands

AM: Eden Islet (Santa Cruz Island)- After breakfast, a panga ride takes us to Eden Islet, a small islet located off the coast of Santa Cruz, where we can observe blue-footed boobies diving into the water, reef sharks and frigates. There’s a chance to snorkel and, if weather condition permits, ride in the glass-bottom boat and kayak.
PM: North Seymour Island – was lifted from the ocean floor by a volcanic event, and its origins as a seabed give the island its low, flat profile. A tiny forest of silver-grey Palo Santo trees stands just above the landing (dry landing), usually without leaves, waiting for the rains to burst into bloom. This is a great introductory site to the islands and their wildlife, full of bird colonies of blue-footed boobies, two species of frigate birds, swallow-tailed gulls, as well as sea lions and marine iguanas.

Day 11 Galapagos Islands

Baltra Island- On our last day, we disembark at Baltra Island and transfer to the airport to take the flight back to the continent.

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