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Mainland Ecuador

All of our Galápagos programs go through Quito in mainland Ecuador. Three U.S. carriers fly into Quito: American Airlines, United & Delta. There are also a number of Latin American carriers to choose from, including LAN, Copa & LACSA. If coming from Europe there are flights on either Iberia or KLM. Upon your arrival in Ecuador, an employee of our associate company, GALAPAGOS TRAVEL PROINVERTUR CIA. LTD, meets you at the airport and takes you to your conveniently located downtown hotel. They will also reconfirm your return flights, provide all airport transfer services out of Quito, and are always there to provide assistance and guidance. This includes extension trips in mainland Ecuador.

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is a quiet, beautiful city. Flanked by the tall, snowcapped peaks of the Andes, Quito itself is at 9300 ft, yet located almost directly on the equator. On a clear day, you can see the snow cones of the volcanic peaks, giving the city an air of a mountain retreat. Based on your expectations of a bustling South American city, the serenity and the dramatic setting take you by pleasant surprise. While the population of Quito is over a million, making it the second largest city in Ecuador (Guayaquil is the largest), it has a tranquil small town feel to it (the rush hour and center-city traffic notwithstanding). The people, the city, and the setting seem to blend together, all part of the rich artistic and cultural heritage.

All itineraries include one free day in Quito, typically on your return from the Galapagos Islands. Many visitors take the opportunity to extend their stay by a couple of days, or even a couple of weeks. With Quito as your base, we offer a number of half-day, full-day, and multi-day guided extension trips. These are private or small group tours - never big bus tours. The more time you have, the greater the number of possibilities...



The following tour selections include half-day, full-day, and multi-day mainland tour possibilities. The more time you have, the greater the number of possibilities, including tours of the Andean Highlands, Indian Markets, and the Amazon; from natural history, to bird watching to adventure trips. Speaking of birds, there are nearly 1600 species to be found in this little gem of a country.

One of the delights of Ecuador is the incredible diversity that is found here - diversity in habitats, flora, fauna, cultures... all in a country roughly the size of the state of Oregon. With Quito as your base it is possible within just a couple of hours to be hiking through lush cloud forests, trekking up active volcanoes, birding the high paramo landscape, shopping colorful Indian markets, or even relaxing at a top-rated spa.

With all the major roads radiating out from Quito, the following tour options are divided by areas on the compass.

Most tours (excluding jungle and cloud forest lodges, and some adventure tours) are private excursions for just your Galápagos group. Most include a private vehicle, driver & guide. Many can be completely customized depending on your interests

While it is possible to book many day tours locally in Quito after your arrival, we suggest booking prior to departure (at times it is impossible to find guides at short notice - in addition the best guides and accommodations tend to book up early). We are more than happy to work with you in creating an itinerary prior to your departure, suited to your interests and schedule. We have toured the mainland ourselves and are ready to answer any questions you might have.

Colonial Architecture, Museums, Galleries

Here at the foot of Mt. Pichincha (15,700 ft), an active volcano, you are in the Andean highlands in what was once an Inca city. When the approaching conquistadors finally fought their way here in 1534, they found Quito in ruins - the Incas chose to destroy their city rather than surrender it. The city was rebuilt in grand colonial style architecture. UNESCO formally recognized this legacy in 1978, proclaiming colonial Quito a World Heritage Site. Thus entering the historical center, or “Old Town” as it is called, and walking down the narrow, winding cobblestone streets, one is immediately immersed in 16th century colonial architecture, by whitewashed walls, red-tiled roofs, heavy wooden doors, and fountained courtyards.

Starting at the Plaza de Independencia, a tour of Old Town takes in the Palacio Municipal (City Hall), Palacio de Gobierno (the Presidential offices), La Catedral (the site of the first church in Quito), and Palacio Arzobispal (the Archbishop's Palace), now a series of shops. Nearby is the most impressive architectural treasure Quito has to offer, La Compañia Church, whose interior is a virtual blaze of gold - it is decorated in renaissance style, and almost entirely in gold leaf - it is truly amazing! Also visit the Church of San Francisco (the largest of Quito's 86 churches). Your tour will also include a visit to Panecillo Hill, where the 148 foot tall Virgin of Quito statue commands the best panoramic views of the city.

Beyond the core of Old Town Quito there is still so much more see though. A longer tour will open still more doors to the history and culture of Quito…

The neo-gothic Basilica and its towering spires are built almost entirely from locally quarried stone. The roof is ringed by elaborately carved gargoyles representing the national fauna of Ecuador.

The Archaeological Museum of the Banco Central houses the most complete collection of pieces from Ecuadorian prehistory, dating back to 12,000 B.C. Beautiful exhibits include everything from arrowheads to early ceramics, through Inca artifacts (including gold pieces and jewelry), to 20th-century paintings and sculpture. (closed Mondays)

Located 15 miles north of Quito at latitude 0°00'00", La Mitad del Mundo (The Center of the World) is one of the most important geographical landmarks in South America. It's customary to have your picture taken straddling the northern and southern hemispheres; with the drifting clouds and the beautiful mountain scenery in the background. The interior of the monument is a very nicely done Ethnographic Museum – that alone is worth the trip. In addition there is a section describing the 18th century French/ Spanish geological expedition that established the exact location of the equator.

Quito's newest attraction is the TelefériQo – a sky tram that takes passengers on a dizzying ascent almost 2 miles up the flanks of Volcán Pichincha, to the top of Cruz Loma. Views from the top (nearly 13,500 feet) are spectacular, out over Quito and the surrounding mountains and valleys.

The Vivarium de Quito is a small herpetological research center housing a collection of mostly native amphibians and reptiles. This is your chance to get up close to jungle frogs, or maybe a poisonous snake or boa (from the other side of a glass wall, that is).

Quito is also home to quite a number of wonderful art galleries as well. The three most famous galleries are Olga Fisch, Galería Latina, and Oswaldo Guayasamin.


Colonial Quito (full-day)
Our favorite option is a full-day tour of Colonial Quito and the most important surrounding sites. Visits include Old Town and it’s remarkable churches and plazas, Panecillo Hill, plus the otherworldly Basilica, the Archeological Museum, and the Mitad del Mundo Equatorial Monument and museum. This is a very complete day, including lunch in a typical Ecuadorian restaurant.

Colonial Quito (half-day)
Visit Old Town Colonial Quito, plus either the Archeological Museum or Equatorial Monument.

On either the full-day or

Equatorial Monument / La Mitad del Mundo (half-day)
This more in-depth half day tour to La Mitad del Mundo and its Ethnographic Museum also visits the lighthearted Intiñan Solar Museum. Also stop at the overlook above the Pululahua Crater.

Jacchigua Folkloric Ballet
Not a tour per se, but theater tickets: Each Wednesday evening one of Quito’s restored theaters hosts the extravagant Jacchigua Folkloric Ballet. This award winning show features the music and dance of the Andean highlands (the lavish costumes alone are worth the visit).

High Andes, Indian Markets & Handicrafts

Imbabura Province
Located north of Quito, the 2-hour drive to this exciting province offers a unique blend of natural history, dramatic mountain scenery, taste treats, local culture, and handicrafts… lots of handicrafts. Our route is north on the Pan American Highway, crossing the Equator at the city of Cayambe – on the foothills of the imposing (19,000 ft) Mt. Cayambe.

We will make numerous stops in the local villages, each with its own specialty; Calderon (noted for its traditional bread dough figurines), the Guallabamba Valley (where seasonally you will have the opportunity of tasting the exotic fruit of the region – the chirimoya), Peguche (where the best weavings of the Otavalo Indians are actually made), and Cotacachi (where you will find excellent leatherwork).

Ecuador is noted for its native markets, a tradition that predates even the Incas, to a time when agricultural products were first carried down from the Andean Highlands on the backs of llamas and traded for goods from the Amazon region, which were also transported to the "marketplace." Of these markets, none is more famous than the one at Otavalo. This handicraft market overflows the confines of the main square in town with everything from ponchos, blankets, scarves, sweaters, belts, tapestries, and rugs, to jewelry, paintings, wood carvings and beadwork. Bargaining is the rule and transactions are in cash. Lunch at a local hacienda. This very thorough 1-day trip is probably the most popular of the tours. (daily, skipping Peguche on Saturdays, when the weavers are at the market)

Imbabura Trails
A full day visit to the Imbabura Province, with the focus of the morning being the famous Otavalo Indian Market. Following lunch at a local hacienda it is time to slow the pace down a little. Options might include a nature walk to the local Peguche falls, or maybe a stroll through the rural villages and along the shores of Lago San Pablo. Savor the fresh air and quiet beauty of the high Andes this afternoon before returning to Quito. (daily)

Imbabura – the Markets of Otavalo
Enjoy the same countryside and scenery as the Imbabura Province tours, but with the touring focus more on the varied markets in Otavalo. In addition to the better known handicrafts market in Otavalo, the town is home to 2 additional marketplaces geared towards the local population. A traditional covered market features vendors of produce and foodstuffs. Also, every Saturday, all eyes are on the animal market on the outskirts of town – everything from llamas to sheep, cows to horses, pigs to chickens, is available. Following lunch in a local hacienda enjoy a relaxing visit to a neighboring village before returning to Quito. (Saturday only; 6:30am departure)

Imbabura Province (2 days)
Similar to the one-day tours of the area, this tour allows for a more relaxed look at the local culture, plus visits to several additional villages, including San Antonio de Ibarra (known for its artistic woodcarvings) and Iluman (traditional style felt hats). Delve into the nature of the province with visits to the beautiful crater lake of Cuicocha plus the falls at Peguche. This is a fully escorted two-day tour including all meals and an overnight at one of several haciendas or hosterías in the province. Return to Quito late afternoon on the second day.

Imbabura Province (2 days; semi-independent)
Start with any of the three 1-day Imbabura tours, plus an independent stay at one of the lovely local haciendas that evening. Enjoy a free second day in the area to spend any way you wish – hiking, biking, shopping, returning to a favorite village by taxi, or just relaxing at the hacienda. Late afternoon on the second day a car and driver will transfer you directly back to Quito.

Hacienda options:

High Andes, Volcanoes, Indian Markets, Inca Ruins, Rafting

Cotopaxi National Park
The trip begins with an early morning departure from Quito; the driver will take the Pan American Highway south for about 95 miles along the Central Valley, flanked by two parallel ranges of high mountain volcanoes (most are still active). This is the famous "Avenue of the Volcanoes", aptly named by the German explorer, Alexander von Humboldt. Cotopaxi (an Indian word meaning "Throne of the Moon"), at 19,700 ft, is one of the world's highest active volcanoes and is considered one of the most important ecologic reserves in Ecuador. If you have the time, it is definitely worth a look. The park, established in 1975, offers spectacular views of lava fields, colorful highland flora, llamas, deer, wild horses, and mountain birds, including an occasional glimpse of an Andean condor. If the clouds decide to part you will be treated to a beautiful sight - the higher slopes of glaciatic blue ice and the snow-covered peak, a perfect cone if ever there was one. This is a full day tour and includes a lunch at Hacienda La Cienega, a beautiful 300-year-old estate now functioning as a country inn.

Highlands of Cotopaxi
A trip similar to the regular 1-day Cotopaxi tour, but for the more adventurous. This full day complete tour via 4-wheel drive will travel farther and higher into the park (including an optional hike to the to the hikers' refuge at 15,000 feet). Traveling the dirt/ gravel roads up the mountain offers spectacular views, seldom seen by most tourists. The best opportunities for wildlife viewing are also found deeper in the park. This trip is only recommended for people in good physical condition due to the altitude. Box lunch included.

Cotopaxi National Park/Zumbahua Market (2 days)
This is an expanded version of the standard Cotopaxi trip. One day will be dedicated to a longer visit to the national park, while the other day will take in the colorful Zumbahua Indian Market and the Quilotoa Crater. Overnight at Hacienda La Cienega or one of the other classic haciendas in the area.

The Zumbahua Market, located well off the Panamerican Highway, may not be the best known of the rural markets, but many consider it to be the most unique and interesting. It has retained its traditional character; here llamas and riding horses are still traded, goods and products are still bartered - currency is generally not part of the transaction process. The colorfully dressed Indians and the thatched houses add to what is already a great photographic opportunity. Continuing farther afield visit the crater lake of Quilotoa – it is hard to decide what is the most striking feature of Quilotoa; the magnitude of the crater, the stark lunar-like setting, or the vivid green lake.

Zumbahua is a Saturday market, with alternate markets visited based on your schedule.

Saquisili Indian Market
Located about 2 hours south of Quito, just past Mt. Cotopaxi, along the Avenue of the Volcanoes. This crossroads community is host to a vibrant once-a-week Indian Market (Thursdays only). Very much a locals market, with each plaza or street having a different focus or specialty (everything from farm animals to fresh produce, weavings to housewares, fabric to furniture). As this market is not oriented towards tourists expect to find few handicrafts. However, if your goal is to experience the sights, sounds and smells of a bustling market, then this is a wonderful choice. Lunch at Hacienda La Cienega.

Other Indian Markets
Many towns and villages throughout the Andes have weekly markets. While some are daily, most are just one or two times per week. The Latacunga and Pujili Indian markets are similar to Saquisili but on a smaller scale (all 3 towns are located south of Quito). The Latacunga Market is on Tuesday and Saturday, and Pujili operates Sunday.

Cuenca is considered by many to be the most beautiful city in Ecuador. Not as crowded as Quito, without the extensive high-rise business district, Cuenca offers the rich flavor of colonial history and traditional architecture. This trip is highly recommended for those that have 3 days to spend and have a cultural orientation - especially those who were interested in seeing Machu Picchu in Peru. Two hours north of Cuenca, one can visit the most significant Inca ruins in Ecuador - the Ingapirca Fortress. No, it's not Machu Picchu, but it's more logistically feasible, and much less expensive.

Your 3-day visit begins with a morning flight from Quito and includes a half-day City Tour of colonial Cuenca. In addition to viewing cathedrals, museums, and pre-Columbian ruins, you will have the opportunity to visit one or more of the factories where "Panama" hats are made. On the second day, you will visit the beautiful Las Cajas National Park. Cajas is named for the series of box lakes dotting the high mountains (the park straddles the continental divide of the Andes). This is a day of hiking and enjoying the scenic and varied landscape of the lake country - the flora, fauna, and birdlife of the region. The third day is spent at Ingapirca, the Inca fortress complex, where each wing (built around a central structure called an usnu) was designed to offer the inhabitants a direct visual and religious orientation to the sun at a particular time of the day. An on-site museum displays local artifacts relating to the Incas, as well as the Cañar Indians who first inhabited the area. After visiting the Ingapirca ruins, you fly back to Quito. This 3-day tour includes round trip flights, hotels (typically the river-side Hotel Crespo), and most meals. (daily)

Cuenca by Train
This is a 4-day excursion combining the best of several trips. The first day you will travel south by car (with a driver & guide), visiting either a local market (depending on the day) or Cotopaxi National Park – the choice is yours. Following lunch at a local hacienda, continue south along the Avenue of the Volcanoes to the town of Riobamba. Following an orientation and check-in at your hotel the guide and driver will return to Quito. After an overnight in Riobamba, there is an early morning independent start the following day on the train for El Nariz del Diablo (the Devil's nose), the famous achievement in train construction along a sheer mountainside between Alausi and Sibambe. Following disembarkation in Alausi you will meet your new guide and continue by a car to Ingapirca, the best-preserved Inca site in Ecuador. The 3rd day will be a full day of exploration in Cajas National Park. The last morning will be spent touring Colonial Cuenca prior to transferring to the airport for your afternoon flight back to Quito. Tour includes return flight, hotels and most meals. (Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday starts.

Cuenca Option:  Gualaceo Valley

Baños - 2 days
This 2-day trip travels south from Quito (in part along the Pan American Highway) along the "Avenue of the Volcanoes". Starting with an early departure on the first day you will visit one of the local markets (depending on the day) or Cotopaxi National Park – the choice is yours. Following lunch at a local hacienda you will continue to Baños. Dinner and overnight at Hosteria Luna Runtún (Moon Fortress) high above the city on the mountainside. This hotel/resort was built in beautiful colonial style to blend with the breathtaking scenery. Baños is known for its beautiful scenery, waterfalls and hot springs, plus the Basilica (painted black for some unknown reason) and the Virgin of the Holy Water, and the many miracles attributed to her… the murals of the Basilica will tell many of the more interesting local tales. Towering over town is the still active Tungurahua Volcano. The town is also known for 2 very different taste treats; hand pulled salt-water taffy, and roasted cuy (cuy is the pre-Inca Andean delicacy, guinea pig). Return to Quito in the afternoon.

Toachi River Whitewater Rafting
An early morning departure from Quito towards Santo Domingo, taking you on a two and a half hour drive through the Andean cloud forest, along spectacular mountain roads. We put-in near the town of Santo Domingo and, following a safety briefing, will navigate through approximately 20 kilometers of whitewater (class II, III & IV). The river flows west from the cloud forests of the high Andes to the tropical rainforest of the Ecuadorian coast, through an area characterized by great biodiversity. Along the way you will encounter spectacular rain forests and an abundance of wildlife (in addition to many species of birds, iguanas and Southern River Otter are also possible). Depending on the water level, the trip will take us over three hours. After lunch at the end of our run, we will return to Quito, arriving in the late afternoon.

Cloud Forests, Birding, Trekking, Biking & Zip-lines


Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve;
Located in the top of the famed Tandayapa Valley, this 700 hectares (nearly 1,800 acres) private reserve is magical. The forest has an almost whimsical quality, being home to a multitude of hummingbirds, in addition to the largest diversity of epiphytes; the trees are festooned with a veritable profusion of bromeliads, orchids, mosses and more. A staggering number of bird species are found here; the area won the highest 24 hour bird count in 2006, 2007, and 2008 (including the Audubon Christmas Bird Count for the Americas). An extensive network of trails fan out from the lodge; some are fairly easy, while others may be more challenging.

Also in the Tandayapa Valley you will visit the private Alambi Reserve. Located on the banks of the Rio Alambi, the reserve enjoys a pleasant year-round climate, with gardens planted with fruit trees such as lemons, mandarins, banana, papaya, avocado and guayaba. These trees attract colorful mixed flocks of tanagers as well as toucans and motmots from the forest, plus 15 species of hummingbirds visiting their feeders daily!

Nestled snugly into the cloud forest, the Lodge at Bellavista will be your home base for adventure. Built in a rustic forest style, the lodge is a series of buildings, including a 3-story, thatch roofed, geodesic dome, situated to take the best advantage of the setting and spectacular views. Accommodations include private bathrooms and hot showers.

There are several ways to visit Bellavista, and options available, depending on your interests…

Natural History Tour (1-day):
Departing Quito at 6:30am via a group transfer directly to the Bellavista Lodge – a drive of less than 2 hours on a the direct road. Once at the lodge you will enjoy a hearty breakfast and meet the local guides. A variety of guided nature walks are possible, from easy to difficult, sure to open the doors to the wonders of this fantastical forest. Hummingbirds are so plentiful, and remarkably tame, that you will likely grow used to the sounds of being “buzzed!” Following lunch and a visit to the Alambi Preserve transfer back to Quito in the late afternoon.

Natural History Tour (2-days):
Enjoy more time at Bellavista and the surrounding area, including the opportunity to be in the reserve at sunset and sunrise! So much is possible here, whether you choose to relax and enjoy the views and birds from the elevated decks, or go on further guided nature hikes on the trail network (many trails may be explored independently, while guided hikes are also offered morning and afternoon). Overnight at the Lodge at Bellavista. 8:30am departure from Quito the first morning.


Birding Tour (1-day):
For either serious birders, or just bird fanciers, this tour is highly recommended! Following an early morning (5:30am) pickup by your Bellavista birding guide you will be atop the Andes (11,500 feet) as the dawn breaks. Depending on conditions you might visit the Yanacocha Reserve prior to starting down the old Nono-Mindo Road. The old cobbled road will traverse terraced fields, take in scenic vistas, and pass small villages while descending through 3 distinct vegetation zones, until reaching the Tandayapa Valley at 5,000 feet. As you would expect in a small area with such diversity, the birding is spectacular. A hint of what you might see includes Tanager Finches and Giant Antpittas (both with a very limited range), Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Metallic-green Tanager, Masked Trogon, Turquoise Jay, Great Thrush, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Torrent Duck, Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, and Red-billed Parrot. Following a late lunch at Bellavista you will have time to briefly explore the tropical forests of the surrounding reserve. The reserve is known for its diverse hummingbird species. Also visit the Alambi Preserve on your way back to Quito (returning along the “fast road” the trip can be made in just under 2 hours). Travel is via private transportation, although you should expect to walk a good deal.

Birding Tour (2-days):
A one day visit to the area only scratches the surface of what is possible here (over 340 species have been counted in the Tandayapa Valley area). As with any area, the more time you spend, the more you will see – and nowhere is this more evident than out in nature. Enjoy more time in the 5,000 to 7,000 elevation ranges, with extensive guided forest walks in the Bellavista Reserve and surrounding areas. The forest is also at its liveliest both early in the morning and late in the afternoon, making your extended visit all the more rewarding. Don’t forget to listen and look for nightbirds from the decks and grounds as well. Overnight at the Lodge at Bellavista.

Bellavista Custom Birding Tours to other areas…
The Bellavista birding guides are also available for day trips to many other birding areas in Ecuador, including, Yanacocha, Papallacta Pass, Pasochoa and Cotopaxi. These freelance guides all specialize in birding in Ecuador. Equipped with a box lunch, binoculars, field guides and a wealth of information they are ready to show you the avian highlights of their country.

Birding the Old Nono-Mindo Road with NEBLINA FOREST (2-days):
NEBLINA FOREST is the pre-eminent birding company in Ecuador. All of their tours include both an expert level birding guide, and a separate driver, to afford you the most flexibility. This is a 2-day trip taking in the best birding areas within easy reach of Quito. We will traverse some of the old roads and out-of-the-way places enroute to the towns of Nono and Mindo. The altitude changes so dramatically (from over 10,000 feet to 5,000 feet) that we will pass through three types of forest in just a few hours: subtropical forest, páramo, and cloud forest. Dinner and overnight at Septimo Paraiso Lodge or similar. Very early (5am) departure the next morning for the Mindo Natural Reserve and our chance to see the famous Cock-of-the-Rock and many other birds including toucans, hummingbirds, mountain tanagers and raptors. Return to Quito in the afternoon.

Arashá Tropical Forest Resort & Spa:
More than just Ecuador’s top resort and spa, Arashá is a chance to experience and learn about the rich environment of the Andean tropical rain forests. The lodge is located on the western face of the Andes, less than 2 hours from Quito. Guided activities at the resort include daytime and nocturnal walks through the primary and secondary forests of Macallares, birding from a tower blind, and hiking to several lagoons and waterfalls. There are also hands-on workshops on making your own chocolate from cacao seeds, jewelry making from local products, tropical flower arranging, and yoga, in addition to wellness seminars on medicinal plants. If you’d rather slow the pace down you can relax mid-forest on the white sand beach of the Rio Negrito, or soak in the spring fed resort pool or Jacuzzis. Accommodations are in ecologically sensitive luxury bungalows, and meals are exquisitely prepared using the freshest ingredients. A wide range of spa services is available, with one treatment per person included with your visit. Either two or three-day stays are available.

Downhill Mountain Biking
Ecuador is a mountainous country, to say the least, with plenty of opportunities for downhill road biking (one doesn’t want to ride uphill much at these altitudes!). While several great rides are possible, including Cotopaxi and Antisana, our favorite is the Pichincha to Nono route. All bike tours are fully guided and supported, and will use top quality mountain bikes and safety equipment, and include a picnic lunch. In all cases you should be in good physical condition to participate due to the altitude, remote areas visited, rugged terrain, and potential hazards, which could be encountered.

The Pichincha to Nono route has an early morning departure from Quito (by jeep) up the old road on Pichincha volcano. We start pedaling on the highest point of the road, over 10,000 feet, with an exhilarating downhill descent through an incredible landscape of highlands, patches of cloud forest and old haciendas and farming country. The route will be a combination of quiet blacktop roads, old cobblestone roads, and short sections of dirt road. We will likely encounter very few cars, although the area is popular with birding groups. At the end our jeep will be waiting with a picnic lunch and to take you back to the city.

Trekking up Mt. Pichincha:
Early morning (5am) departure from Quito by 4-wheel drive. After about 2 hours we reach the small lot by the hiker's refuge. From here we begin hiking to the crater rim (1 hour roughly), at an altitude of 15,650'. Weather permitting you will be greeted with wonderful views of the crater, and back down the mountain and over Quito. After descending to the jeep we will continue down the southern flank of the mountain to the picturesque valley of Lloa, where we will stop for a picnic lunch. From here we will continue back to Quito for a mid-afternoon arrival.

While no special climbing equipment is necessary, it is advised to wear hiking boots and dress in warm layers (including jacket, hat and gloves). Early morning temperatures at the summit can be below freezing. The excursion should only be attempted after having been in Quito (or at altitude) for at least a day – participants should also be in good physical condition.

If overnighting at Bellavista, an

Amazon Basin, horseback riding, spas

The Amazon River and its tributaries flow more than 4,000 miles, from the high Andes, through the world’s greatest rainforest, into the Amazon Delta, and finally the Atlantic Ocean. More water runs in the Amazon than any other river in the world – it alone drains more than 40% of South America.

One of the most formidable of the Amazon tributaries is the Napo River in Ecuador. Unlike the Amazon however, the scale is more manageable – the river is typically a couple of hundred yards wide, or less, punctuated by occasional sandbars. During longboat excursions on the river you are close enough to the surrounding forest to revel in the changing panoramas. There are a number of lodges remotely scattered along the Napo River, with the La Selva Eco-Lodge being our favorite – they are located in primary forest, and their focus is on the local flora and fauna.

La Selva Amazon Eco-Lodge:
La Selva (Spanish for "the jungle") is located .25 degrees below the Equator in the lush upper Amazon neotropical rain forest, or El Oriente. For over 20 years La Selva Lodge, awarded he "Best Ecotourism Destination" in 1992 by the World Congress on Tourism and the Environment, has consistently been amazing visitors. La Selva has been totally updated and upgraded in 2012.

La Selva offers excellent itineraries that blend guided longboat excursions, dugout canoe rides and trail walks – typically 2 or 3 outings per day. Guiding teams include both a local native tracker and a naturalist guide, typically with a maximum group size of just 8. In this way you can be assured of experiencing the most the jungle has to offer, by day and also by night. Explore the virgin forest while following rough trails and animal tracks. Enjoy the antics of monkeys in the trees, and look for sloths, tapir, deer, caiman, frogs & snakes. Fish for piranha in a stream. Sample lemon ants (a local delicacy, really). Learn about the medicinal properties of the local flora. Additional highlights include a 135-foot observation tower affording you a birds-eye view of the surrounding jungle, and an elaborate walk-thru butterfly farm.

If you're a birder you are in for a treat with perhaps the highest list in the Neotropics. They have specialized programs and excellent birding guides at no additional cost. You don’t have to be a birder (or keep a birder’s schedule) to appreciate the birds of the area though - macaws, toucans, parrots, herons and hoatzins are among the many species that can be seen from the lounge balcony.

(read more about La Selva and see sample itineraries)

Sacha Lodge:
Also located inland from the banks to the Rio Napo, Sacha has been sharing the mysteries of the rainforest with visitors for many years. Located in a mix of primary and secondary forest, the lodge is slightly closer to the community of Coca, allowing for shorter longboat transfers. Sacha places a very high emphasis on their accommodations and food, with 26 native style cabins dotting the landscape. Unique to the region, Sacha offers a 940 foot long suspended canopy walkway – an unmatched opportunity to travel along the treetops and witness the wildlife from a completely different perspective. Another chance to get above the action is a 135 foot tall observation tower built around a kapok tree (the tallest trees in the forest).

Currently a Yellow fever inoculation is recommended for visits to the Amazon Basin, and you might want to consult your physician regarding malaria pills.

Papallacta Hot Springs and Relaxation:
If you are back from the Galápagos, and in the mood for a little rest and relaxation, and maybe a little pampering, then Termas de Papallacta may be just the place. A favorite of upscale Ecuadorians, the Termas (hot springs) are located less than 50 miles east of Quito, on the eastern slope of the Andes. The drive over the stark Papallacta Pass will traverse several distinct vegetation zones (which are home to numerous bird species) and afford you sweeping vistas. The resort features half a dozen thermal pools in varying temperatures (from cold plunges to “too hot”) spread through the lushly landscaped grounds. Additional spa services may also be arranged on site, including massage/ reflexology/ facials/ aromatherapy. Includes lunch at Termas de Papallacta.

Antisana Volcano:
Whether you are a geologist, botanist, birder, or just nature enthusiast, you are likely to fall in love with the Antisana Volcano (the forth largest mountain in Ecuador). This is an expedition into the wilds where few visitors go (while only 2 hours from Quito, the access is via private lands requiring advance permission). The best way to explore Antisana is via horseback – beginning at the Antisana Hacienda (12,500 feet above sea level) the route will traverse ancient lava flows, now covered with vegetation of the highlands, like chuquiraguas, mosses, valerians, straw, pillow-plants and many others typical of the region. As you approach the shores of Micacocha Lake and the surrounding valley wildlife will become more abundant, possibly including rabbits, foxes, llamas, wild horses, pumas, deer, falchions, curiquingues, hummingbirds, sparrow-hawks, condors, owls and many others. The views are expansive, taking in neighboring mountains and valleys, streams and lakes - be sure to keep an eye skyward as this is also one of the best areas to find condors. Includes lunch. Return to Quito late afternoon.

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La Selva sample itinerary & prices


Guayaquil Tour Options:
Guayaquil is, in addition to being Ecuador’s primary port and commercial center, the largest city in the country. Several half-day and full-day tour options are available – please call for further information on the area.

Create your own adventure… We are happy to help you design a custom adventure just the way you like it. You might begin with some of our side tours, then add other sights or activities you’re interested in. Maybe join two or more extensions or regions together, and do away with some of the driving (and hotel nights in Quito). Visit one of Ecuador’s flower growers – sure! Heard good things about a different jungle lodge and want to check it out – no problem! Summiting Mt. Cotopaxi or Chimborazo – cold, but doable! Intensive one-on-one Spanish classes – si! Want a bit less structure and a bit more free time on the tours – easy! Whatever you are looking for, we’ve probably done it before and are happy to help you put it together if at all possible. We encourage you to think outside the brochure – it’s your vacation so spend your time how you would really like!

Further afield in South America...

Peru • This 1-week tour takes in the best of the ancient Inca sites, from Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, to Cuzco with its rich mix of Inca ruins and colonial Spanish architecture.

View sample Peru itinerary

Easter Island • Savor the culture and history of this mysterious island, with your own private Rapa Nui guide - learn the legends and secrets the island holds to this day.

View sample Easter Island itinerary

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Special Trip: Other Destinations | Madagascar | Antarctica | Arctic | Easter Island

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