During this trip you will discover the real essence of Ecuador and its charming Andean towns. This journey will bring you to the monument of the Middle of the World. Then, to Cotopaxi National Park, where you will enjoy its biodiversity as well as its majestic volcano. A visit to the Otavalo craft market will show you the fine art of the Ecuadorians’ artisans. Cuenca city, a jewel of the colonial architecture is also a hot spot you will visit. Thermal baths and museums with treasures of the colonial times will complete this experience.

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SHARED EXPERIENCES

Day 01 Quito

Reception at the airport and transfer to the selected Hotel.

Overnight at JW Marriott Hotel

Day 02 Quito

SCENIC TOUR AND MIDDLE OF THE WORLD:

A 4 hours visit to downtown Quito to relish in this urban jewel and its treasures of art and architecture. Quito’s colonial quarter, the largest and best preserved of South America, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The visit starts at the Independence Plaza, flanked by the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Building and the Archbishop’s Palace. Visit the temple of La Compañía de Jesús and its awesome gilded interior. Continue on to the Monastery of San Francisco, one the of great religious buildings of the New World; its impressive façade and atrium that lead to its Baroque interior influenced by Moorish style, with the winged Virgin of Quito at its main altar. Then continue to the Equatorial Monument, 25 Kms. (16 miles) North of Quito, which marks the exact Middle of the World, latitude 0º, where you can stand with a foot on each hemisphere. Visit the Ethnographic Museum inside the monument, which shows the different Native American groups living in Ecuador. Beside the monument there is a colonial-style town, complete with main square, church, post office, bullring, cafeterias, restaurants and many gift shops with postcards and souvenirs. You will get a certificate for having crossed the Equator.

Overnight at selected hotel

Included: Breakfast

Day 03 Quito

QUITO - COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK - HACIENDA SAN AGUSTÍN
    DE CALLO – PATATE

Early departure from Quito by motorcar on the Pan-American Highway to the south, to visit the Cotopaxi National Park, an ecological sanctuary of 88,920 acres, around the magnificent Cotopaxi Volcano, which rises 5897 meters (19,347 feet) above sea level. The evergreen landscape of the Ecuadorian highlands is one of the main attractions, along valleys and mountains covered by multi-coloured fields. After an hour and a half, the entrance to the park is reached and then it’s up hill on dirt road for approximately one hour. Upon arrival to the park there is an introductory briefing about the habitat of the Andean paramo or moorlands, its flora and fauna at the small Interpretation Centre.

Travel along valleys and mountains to the magnificent Cotopaxi Volcano, for an up-close view of the Andean paramo habitat and its unique flora and fauna; a number of high-altitude birds can be observed around Limpiopungo Lagoon, and occasionally, wild horses. On clear days, the perfect snow-capped cone of the Cotopaxi Volcano is quite a sight! At the foot of the volcano not far from the National Park is a charming hacienda, where lunch is served in a room with Inca walls, perfectly preserved through the centuries -a truly archaeological jewel. After lunch, mingle with the llamas of the hacienda and stroll along a rose plantation, many varieties, many colours, ready for exportation. From here, descend towards the town of Patate, to spend the night at a 300-year old hacienda, hidden among the mountains, a magical ambience, where as the afternoon mist descends, This place is full of stories about those who left in search of the treasure of the Incas in the nearby Llanganatis mountains - and never returned..., dinner and overnight.

Overnight in Quito

Included: Breakfast, lunch and dinner

Day 04 Quito

BAÑOS - ROUTE OF THE CASCADES - AMBATO - EL ARENAL –     RIOBAMBA

After breakfast, take a spectacular route along the gorge of the Pastaza River to the town of Baños (Baths), right at the foot of Tungurahua Volcano, from where the thermal waters that gave it its name emerge. Drive along the Route of the Cascades to El Pailón del Diablo (the Devil's Cauldron) -the most adventurous will descend (medium difficulty) to observe the impressive cascade up close, surrounded by subtropical vegetation and orchids. The force and sound of the waters can also be appreciated from a lookout point without descending. Lunch is served at an hacienda / hostel in the surroundings, and in the afternoon a short stroll along Baños -a town with an international pulse, full of people from all over the world as well as many locals who pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Holy Water. From here, the route to Riobamba is up the mountain, to where the clouds can be touched, alongside the massive Chimborazo, the highest mountain of Ecuador, on the high paramo where vicuñas graze and scamper - this is a protected Faunistic Preserve. On the hillsides, where the land is worked beneath the plow, one might think the farmer's true objective was to paint the hills in fascinating patterns, not just to till the dark, fertile soil. Great photo ops on this route! Arrive to Riobamba for dinner and lodging.

Included: Breakfast, lunch and dinner

Day 05

RIOBAMBA - ALAUSÍ - DEVIL'S NOSE - ALAUSI - INGAPIRCA –     CUENCA

After an early breakfast depart by road, skirting the flanks of the Andes, an astonishing ride, twisting and turning, along bridging ravines and river gorges. Ride through Indian villages and cultivated fields; here is where most of the cereals in Ecuador are grown, among them, the quinua, considered the perfect grain for its nutritional value. After about 2 hours, arrive at the small town of Alausí, the beating heart of the rehabilitation of the Ecuadorian Railway Company in the last years. Great effort has been made to restore the 100-year old train to its old glory and romance. Stations have been renewed, railways and sleepers replaced, engines and classic coaches renovate, and, most important, the project involves the local communities along the route in the rail operation. The highlight is the thrilling 800-metre (2630-foot) descent on the zigzag cuttings on the rock of the Devil's Nose. At the bottom one finds the newly renovated Station of Sibambe. Here there is time to visit the local museum "Condor Puñuna" built and run by the Nizag community, see the display of local handcrafts, fruit and medicinal plants and try the local coffee. The train whistle calls guests back on board for the return to the Station of Alausí, where a light snack is served to regain strength. Continue exploring the Andean world by motorcoach to the south, visiting the Inca Fortress of Ingapirca en-route.

Lunch in the area.

Arrival to Cuenca for dinner and overnight.

Included: Breakfast, lunch and dinner

Day 06

CUENCA A WORLD CULTURAL HERITAGE SITE

Cuenca is Ecuador's third largest city; yet it still retains its pleasant provincial air. Its red tiled roofs, cobblestone streets, flowery plazas and museums make it very special. This comprehensive visit includes the Plaza of San Sebastian, a colorful artisans market, where handicrafts are sold. Then, visit the Museum of Modern Art, featuring an excellent collection of contemporary fine art. Next is a visit to the flower market at the small plaza in front of the carved stone entrance to the church of El Carmen de la Asunción. From here, a stroll to the main square, surrounded by the imposing blue-domed Cathedral, the Court of Justice, the Municipal Palace, the Governor's Palace and the Church of El Sagrario. Then, a drive along the Tomebamba River to admire the city's overhanging houses. Lunch is at one of the excellent restaurants in Cuenca, and in the afternoon, drive for a short visit to a ceramics handcraft shop. Then, observe the whole process of making the famous Panama Hats of high-quality toquilla straw. The Spirit of the Andes adventure ends at the airport - to take to flight to Quito or Guayaquil. Air ticket is extra.

Flight from Cuenca to Guayaquil.

Transfer from the Airport to the selected hotel.

Included: Breakfast, lunch

Day 07 Guayaquil

SCENIC CITY TOUR

The 5 hours visit includes the main attractions of the Port of Guayaquil, starting with the Centennial Plaza that honors the heroes of Guayaquil’s independence, and then along 9th of October Boulevard to the heart of the business district of the city with the Plaza of the Administration and the striking Government and Municipal Buildings. A short stroll takes guests to the famous Moorish Clock Tower and Bolívar Park, with an equestrian statue of South America’s liberator, Simón Bolívar. The latter is also called “the park of the iguanas”, as here they roam undisturbed and perch on the treetops, blending perfectly with the green leaves. Beside the park is the neo-gothic Metropolitan Cathedral. Then drive to the southern end of Guayaquil’s ravishing Malecon 2000 to see the Crystal Palace, the Integration Square, the Plaza of the Flags and the Plaza Olmedo, which are together, at the beginning of a 2.5 Km. (1.5 mile) waterfront, running parallel to the River Guayas and featuring historical, cultural and entertainment areas. An easy walk, past decorative elements featuring the four elements: earth, fire, water and air, leads to La Rotonda, which commemorates the meeting of Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin, the liberators of South America. Then on to Barrio Las Peñas, one of the oldest neighborhoods of Guayaquil, whose wooden constructions have been beautifully restored, housing many art galleries. Drive past Guayaquil’s cemetery with outstanding marble sculptures by famous Italian artists on to Urdesa residential area to end at Malecón del Salado, the latest urban regeneration project of the city. Then enjoy lunch at a restaurant with Ecuadorian specialties. Private Service.

Overnight at selected hotel

Included: Breakfast, lunch

Day 08 Guayaquil

Transfer from the hotel to the airport.

Flight from Guayaquil to Galapagos.

MONDAY
BALTRA ISLAND

Morning arrival to Baltra Island by plane and immediate transfer to the dock to board the M/V Santa Cruz. Welcome introductory briefing and lunch.

LAS BACHAS (SANTA CRUZ ISLAND)

After WWII, US military barges were beached and abandoned here. Locals referred to the beach as the barges beach, a name that morphed to “Bachas”. Today it is an important nesting area for the east Pacific green sea turtle. Located on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island, it is a glorious white beach (wet landing), with several brackish lagoons only a few steps away from the sea. These lagoons are the feeding grounds of various wading birds, from stilts to flamingos. This is a great opportunity to get acquainted with snorkeling gear and techniques.

Welcome Cocktail, expedition plan for Tuesday and dinner.

Overnight at M/N Santa Cruz Cruise

Included: Breakfast, lunch and dinner

Day 09 Galapagos Islands

TUESDAY BUCCANEER COVE (JAMES ISLAND)

After breakfast, enjoy a coastal exploration along the impressive cliffs of Buccaneer Cove. Learn about the history of Santiago Island, its relevance for the whalers, pirates and early researchers, including Darwin’s epic voyage in 1835, and the conservation projects aimed at eradicating feral species (a fence stretched along the rocky outcrop is visible to save native plants from the once existing enormous goat population). Today the island is free of feral goats, and the cove is home to a large number of marine birds, sea lions, and inter-tidal organisms. Enjoy fantastic natural formations such as the “Elephant Rock”, “The Bishop” and an impressive natural cave. This is a great site for snorkeling too! Lunch on board.

PUERTO EGAS (JAMES ISLAND)

Wet landing for a mid-length walk. Most of the landscape is tuff-stone layers and lava flows. This is a great opportunity to see land and marine birds. At low tide, marine iguanas graze upon the algae beds and there is a colony of fur-sea lions. Opportunity for snorkeling and swimming from the beach after the walk.

Expedition plan for Wednesday and dinner.

Overnight at M/N Santa Cruz Cruise

Included: Breakfast, lunch and dinner

Day 10 Galapagos Islands

WEDNESDAY
RÁBIDA ISLAND (JERVIS)

Disembark at Rábida Island (wet landing) on a red-coloured beach, due to the unusually high content of iron in the volcanic material. A gratifying stroll along the beach of this small island (1.9 sq. mi.) allows the observation of a large colony of sea lions, marine iguanas, mockingbirds, yellow warblers and several species of Darwin’s finches. Very close to the beach, hidden behind a strip of green saltbush, is a salt pond where at times greater flamingos migrate. This is a great place to snorkel from the beach, both for beginners as well as for experienced snorkelers, due to the unique combination of underwater species and submarine landscapes. Non-snorkelers will enjoy a ride on the glass bottom boat. During navigation to our next island, dolphins are often spotted. Lunch on board.

BARTOLOMÉ ISLAND

Disembark at Bartolomé Island (dry landing) for a hike to the summit. This is a moderately steep climb aided by a wooden staircase resting platforms and handrails; the view from the top is worth the effort. Dinghy ride around colossal Pinnacle Rock, then time to enjoy the beach (wet landing) and some snorkeling, possibly with Galápagos penguins, or else a ride in the glass-bottom boat for great views of the underwater world.

Expedition plan for Thursday and dinner.

Overnight at M/N Santa Cruz Cruise

Included: Breakfast, lunch and dinner

Day 11 Islas Galapagos

THURSDAY
PRINCE PHILIP'S STEPS (TOWER/GENOVESA ISLAND)

The morning starts with a panga ride along the cliffs of this dramatic island, followed by landing with a steep climb (90 feet) up some stairs to reach a flat plateau. Along our walk, we can observe large colonies of Nazca boobies, red footed boobies, great frigate birds and storm petrels. Those not wishing to disembark can enjoy a longer panga ride along the cliffs (depending on weather conditions). After the walk, we can snorkel along the dramatic cliffs where there are chances of spotting lots of fish, including hammerhead sharks. .

DARWIN BAY (TOWER/GENOVESA ISLAND)

In the afternoon, a wet landing for an easy stroll observing hundreds of birds, mainly frigate birds, red footed and Nazca boobies, gulls, herons, finches and mockingbirds. Optional walk over sharp lava and uneven terrain for dramatic views, or else return to the beach to enjoy swimming and snorkeling at this beautiful natural harbour, or join us in a Glass Bottom boat ride.

Farewell Cocktail, departure briefing and dinner.

Overnight at M/N Santa Cruz Cruise

Included: Breakfast, lunch and dinner

Day 12 Galapagos Islands

FRIDAY
PUERTO BAQUERIZO MORENO (SAN CRISTÓBAL (CHATHAM)     ISLAND)

After breakfast, optional departure to see the breeding programme of giant tortoises at Cerro Colorado. Learn about his endangered species, and its promising recovery. This site is 45 minutes by bus, on the south shore of San Cristóbal Island. Return to town and transfer to the airport to take the flight back to the mainland.

Flight from Galapagos to Quito.

Reception at the airport and transfer to the selected Hotel.

Overnight at selected hotel

Included: Breakfasl

Day 13 Quito

Transfer from the hotel to the airport. Private Service.

Included: Breakfast

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