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Your adventure begins with a flight to Quito. Upon arrival you will be met and transferred north to Otavalo and your charming, colonial hacienda. A charming working farm set at the heart of the Avenue of Volcanoes, the property has been in the family of former president Mr. Galo Plaza Lasso for over a century.0
You will find at your fingertips a wide variety of activities to enjoy in the surrounding area. You could go hiking along winding mountain trails, explore the countryside on beautiful Zuleteño horses, ride mountain bikes through scenic valleys or take a bird watching excursion. Cooking and embroidery classes are also on offer, as well as complimentary cheese-tastings each evening.
Stay: Three nights at Hacienda Zuleta – full board
This morning you will begin your Amazonian expedition with a short flight to Coca. From there you’ll cruise down the Rio Napo in a motorised canoe, before branching off into a jungle creek in a traditional dugout canoe. Within 20 minutes you’ll arrive at your lodge on the edge of Lake Garzacocha, surrounded by dense tropical jungle.
This is the Amazon Basin, so you can expect to see – and hear – an incredible variety of wildlife. This includes 500 different species of birds including toucans and trogons, jacamars, tanagers, antbirds, hummingbirds and macaws, as well as rarities like the zigzag heron and around 20 different types of parrot.
You’ll hike along jungle trails both in the day and at night, accompanied by expert naturalist guides who will share their vast knowledge of the rainforest with you. You’ll take canoe journeys into the interior, kayak across a stunning lagoon and watch wildlife from a 37 metre high canopy tower. Your lodge has its own butterfly breeding farm and you can even go with a local guide to fish for piranha.
Stay: Three nights at La Selva Jungle Lodge – full board
Today you bid goodbye to the rainforest and take a motorised canoe back to Coca for your flight to Quito, where you will be spending one night.
Stay: One night at Casa Gangotena – bed & breakfast
From Quito you’ll set off to experience the riches of the Mindo Cloud Forest. A three hour drive through takes you up to your lodge perched high on the western slopes of the Andes. Your rainforest experience will include wandering through 1,200 hectares of untouched reserve; hiking along forest trails to discover a staggering variety of plants, birds and wildlife.
You’ll discover sparkling waterfalls and crystal clear rivers to bathe in. You’ll stroll through gardens full of orchids and take in the view from above the canopy on an aerial tram. Ecuadorian guides will show you cotinga, cock-of-the-rock and umbrella birds – plus numerous other species – from three different bird watching hides. And when you need to recharge, why not enjoy a specialist massage or make use of the spa and open Jacuzzi.
Stay: Two nights at Mashpi Lodge – full board
Transfer back to Quito. In the afternoon enjoy a guided tour around the Old Town, a designated World Culture Heritage site filled with impressive churches, monasteries and mansions.
Stay: One night at Casa Gangotena – bed & breakfast
A short flight down to San Cristobal Island kicks off your Galapagos adventure. You’ll board the M/V Origin – a purpose-built, luxurious sailing vessel carrying just 20 passengers – and be shown to your cabin. After lunch on board, you will make your stop at the breeding centre for giant tortoises on Cerro Colorado, learning more about their origin and evolution at the visitor centre.
The following day will be spent exploring the bird watcher’s paradise of Genovesa Island, home to red-footed boobies, storm petrels, swallow-tailed gulls, frigates and the elusive short-eared owl. After lunch you can choose to go kayaking or paddle boarding around the island’s cliffs in search of the red-billed tropicbird, and at Darwin Bay you can even swim with sea lions. The next day brings you to Las Bachas, home to wonderful snorkelling opportunities, scenic viewpoints and lagoons filled with greater flamingos.
Day four includes a zodiac tour of Punta Vicente Roca, one of the best places to snorkel in the Galapagos. During lunch you’ll sail through the Bolivar Channel – head to the deck to watch whales and dolphins riding the bow wave. You’ll arrive at Urbina Bay on Isabela Island where you’ll find colourful land iguanas, marine iguanas, Darwin’s finches, brown pelicans, flightless cormorants and the occasional giant tortoise.
The following days are filled with wonderful sights and discoveries. At Fernandina, the youngest of the islands, you will be met by a spectacular volcanic landscape and the largest marine iguana colony in the archipelago. You’ll visit Tagus Cove – a popular anchorage site for pirates and whalers in centuries gone by – and stroll along Rabida Island’s famous red-coloured beach, observing Darwin’s finches and yellow warblers.
Day seven sees you disembark at Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, where you will visit a tortoise reserve, the Twins (a pair of craters) and the Tunnels – the largest lava tubes in the archipelago. In the afternoon you’ll visit the renowned Charles Darwin Research Centre, before returning to the boat for dinner. The following morning you will visit the Interpretation Centre on San Cristobal, before heading to the airport to catch a flight back to mainland Ecuador.
Stay: Seven nights aboard the Origin – full board
Today you will fly back to Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador, where you will be transferred to your beautiful boutique hotel in the elegant Samborondón neighbourhood. You can choose to simply relax after your cruise, or enjoy experiences such as chocolate tasting, coffee roasting and wildlife walks in the tropical grounds.
Stay: One night at Hotel del Parque – bed & breakfast
Transfer back to the airport in time to board your international flight home via Madrid.
It was a complicated and very individual trip, and several changes were made by me during the planning. None of this seemed to worry Ayesha and everything went according to plan.- AM, India