Ecuador/Galapagos (April 2013)
When you think of the Galapagos you tend to think of a cruise but you can actually enjoy the best of the Galapagos while staying at a resort on land giving you the option of deciding when you want to visit an island or enjoy the white sand beach of your own island. This program also combines a visit to the islands with a stay on the mainland enjoying the temperate climate and colonial charms of Cuenca and Quito. Our limited group size allows intimate explorations on the islands and the chance to explore areas of the mainland unavailable to a large group.
You arrive in Quito in the evening and are met and escorted to the old part of the city; in fact your hotel is located on a street that dates to the time of the Incas and was a key part of colonial Quito. After checking in take time to wander around the neighborhood which has a bohemian air much like Montmartre. Don't try anything too strenuous however since the city's eternally spring-like temperatures are aided by its 8,000 feet altitude.
After breakfast, meet your guide for an introductory tour of Quito originally settled by the Quito tribe, absorbed by the Incas and in 1534 destroyed by the Incas themselves to keep it out of the hands of the Spanish. A new city was built in the colonial style and much of that original work remains in the old part of the city. You'll visit San Francisco Church and is museum of religious art, La Compania and the seven tons of gold gilding its glittering walls. Rich in art treasures, fine woodcarvings, and flowering balconies, the historic center is the lifeblood of Quito. Lunch is at Hacienda Rumiloma which occupies a location on the slopes of Pichincha volcano and offers superb food and matching views over the city. After lunch you drive north to the Equator and the Inti Nan Museum which displays examples of pre-Columbian life in Ecuador. Returning to the city, the rest of the evening is left open. We will provide a list of recommended restaurants offering both traditional and ultra modern Fusion cuisine. Quito also has a lively nightclub scene (Breakfast and Lunch Included)
Today you are escorted to the airport for the brief flight to Cuenca, a charming colonial city founded by the Spanish in 1557. Upon arrival you are met by your guide and taken on a tour of the city. Your exploration will begin at Turi viewpoint which offers a panoramic view of Cuenca and allows your guide to put each area of the town in context. Next is the Plaza San Sebastian on the western edge of the old town. Make your way through narrow lanes to the Museum of Modern Art which features many of Ecuador's contemporary artists. Moving towards the city centre you visit Cuenca's famous flower market before arriving at the square where the "new cathedral" built in 1880 faces the "old" cathedral built in 1557. Next you will stop at the Homero Ortega Hat Factory which produces the finest toquilla straw hates in the world. Erroneously called Panama hats, they originated in Cuenca. After lunch you view the exhibits at the Central Bank Museum and complete your tour with a mid-afternoon snack at the traditional Panaderia de las Hermanis Villacis (Villacis Sisters' Bakery). Open since 1906 the bakery makes a delicious cup of coffee, perfectly accompanied by a muffin, tamale or a "mistella" a sweet made of fine sugar shell filled with whiskey or anise liqueur (Highly recommended) ( Breakfast, Lunch and " Mistella" included)
Ingapirca, meaning "The Inca Wall" in Quichua, is the most important complex of ruins existing in Ecuador and was built on the top of Canari constructions which date back to 1200 AD. The site was used as a political and religious centre until the Incas conquered the Canaris and started the construction of a temple in 1460. Upon completion it served as a site for Sun worship and as a calendar for agricultural purposes. The complex also has other important sections such as the ancient resisting place of the virgins of the sun, the Inca baths and more. There is a museum featuring artifacts from both Canari and Inca civilizations. Enjoy lunch at la Posada de Ingapirca before returning to Cuenca. (Breakfast and Lunch included)
After breakfast you will head out to Guayaquil traveling over the continental divide and taking time to visit the little-visited but fascinating El Cajas National Park. Situated in the Andean mountain range El Cajas lies at an altitude between 9,600 and 13,500 feet. Its 235 glacial lakes feed into breath-taking waterfalls, some headed towards the Pacific while others flow to the Amazon. The park is blanketed with high altitude grasslands and the chance to wander through the pristine environment is something that will stay with you. After your visit you head into the town of Guayaquil, Ecuador's main port and commercial center. Dinner is at the hotel this evening (Breakfast Lunch and Dinner included)
Today you will head to the Galapagos, a two hour flight into the Pacific but still part of Ecuador. Upon arrival at Baltra Island you will be met and taken to the ferry which will take you across the Itabaca Channel to the island of Santa Cruz. From there you will travel up to the highlands to visit the El Chato reserve, one of the best places in the islands to see the giant tortoises in their natural habitat. With the exception of man they have few natural enemies and they can grow to be over 200 years old. The tortoises are easy to spot as they lumber around eating grass and leaves ad wallowing in the small pools that are common in the reserve. During your introductory tour of the island a box lunch will be provided to allow you to continue exploring the island before arriving at your Eco hotel located on a white coral beach with hammocks just waiting for a late afternoon nap. In the evening dinner includes the flavors of local and international cuisine. (Breakfast Lunch and Dinner included)
After breakfast you will take a yacht excursion over to the nearby island of Santa Fe where you make a wet landing on a white sand beach populated by sea lions. Watch as bulls vie for the right of "Beach Master", while smaller males posing as females make stealthy mating moves. Galapagos hawks are often observed perched atop salt bushes as you walk through a giant prickly pear cactus forest in order to find the endemic Santa Fe land Iguana, the largest in the islands. After your visit to the iguanas you can enjoy some deep-water snorkeling or swimming from the beach before returning to Santa Cruz and your hotel. (Breakfast Lunch and Dinner included)
Today's excursion will be to South Plaza Island. You'll disembark in the channel between North and South Plaza Islands. The turquoise waters of the channel contrast brilliantly with the white sand and black lava of the shoreline. The rocks have grown thick with green seaweed in places contrasting with the bright red of the sally-lightfoot crabs. Along the coastline you will find frigate birds, swallow-tailed gulls, and shearwaters gliding in the thermal air currents that form along the cliffs of this small but amazing island. South Plaza is home to one of the largest sea lion colonies in the central region of the archipelago. The island is also home to a large colony of land iguanas made up of about 300 individuals. Die to their close proximity to colonies of marine iguanas, this in the only place in the islands where you can find hybrid iguana. (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Included)
After breakfast you will visit spectacular Bartolomé Island. Here you will discover a fascinating moonscape dotted with volcanic formations such as lava tubes and spatter, tuff and cinder cones as you hike up a short yet somewhat steep trail. Along the way you will also encounter pioneer plants, lava cactus, marine iguanas and lava lizards. The view from the top is the true prize: iconic 'Pinnacle Rock' next to golden beaches and turquoise waters. Returning through dunes and mangroves you reach the north shore. Beach time is a great opportunity to see and perhaps snorkel with Galapagos penguins, sea turtles, sea lions, rays and white-tipped reef sharks among a great variety of colorful schools of fish. For many visitors this is the highlight of their water experience since the water is generally clear, the surf is gentle and the marine life abundant. (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Included)
After breakfast you leave your hotel for a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station where you have one final chance to mix with giant tortoises and learn about the conservation work being done by the scientists at the station. You will then head to the airport for the flight back to the mainland. Upon arrival you will be met and escorted to your hotel where you have an early dinner in anticipation of your early departure for the airport in the morning. (Breakfast and Dinner included)
You are transferred to the airport and assisted in checking in for your return flight to the USA arriving the same day.
Quito – La Casona De La Ronda
Upon completion of a very complex process of remodeling according to strict municipal regulations for historic buildings, this old mansion has become a spectacular La Casona de la Ronda Hotel with 22 rooms arranged around a beautiful central patio, mixing cultural, traditional and contemporary elements. Enjoy all the modern conveniences built into the original facilities; colors and stone walls that reflect the passing of time. The rooms have been designed to provide an authentic experience that reflects the true atmosphere of the unique colonial center of Quito-Ecuador. La Ronda is one of the most traditional streets of Quito, not only for being the oldest and one of the most beautiful of the capital of Ecuador (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), but for being the bohemian heart of the historic, gathering place for painters, writers and poets of the 30s. In the houses of this narrow street many of the traditional folk songs were written and on its walkways politicians, romantics and bohemians spent their time. Today, La Ronda has regained its charm with galleries, cafes, bars and shops that have moved into its historical houses.
Cuenca – Santa Lucia
Santa Lucia is a hotel unique unto itself in that it is actually one of Cuenca Ecuador's most historic antique buildings. Not only that but it is located in the Old Town district of Cuenca which is a living museum itself. Newly renovated with all modern conveniences, the Santa Lucia hotel is a gem in Cuenca's antique building collection and you can enjoy the elegant atmosphere of yesteryear in Ecuador with today's conveniences.
Guayaquil – Hilton Colon
The Hilton Colon Guayaquil hotel combines excellent service and a laid-back resort feel with a convenient location only few minutes from José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport. With 294 fully renovated rooms and suites, you can enjoy your spacious guest room and stay connected with wireless internet access. With an Executive Room you benefit from extra space, a range of special touches and exclusive access to the Executive Lounge where complimentary snacks and refreshments are served. Relax under the warm tropical sun by the side of the outdoor pool. Swim some laps or just sip on a cool cocktail from the swim-up Coco Bar. Stay active with a work-out in the fully equipped Elements Health Club or pamper yourself in the spa. With six restaurants and three bars there is sure to be something to satisfy all tastes. Choose from fine dining with an Italian influence in Portofino Restaurant, exquisite seafood and meat cuts on the grill at Vereda Tropical, fresh Japanese specialties in the Kyoto Sushi Bar, local and international favorites at Cafe Colon , the hotel's 24-hour buffet restaurant or taste delicious quick options ready to serve or take away at Sal & Pimienta.
Galapagos – Finch Bay Resort
Finch Bay Eco-Hotel is located on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. It has 27 rooms situated on its own private beach. The hotel offers a restaurant serving international food, a bar and lounge, laundry service and telephone, fax and internet access. Each room comes with individually-controlled air conditioning. The hotel provides trips to nearby islands for guests accompanied by naturalist guides. On-site activities include snorkeling kayaking bike rentals, hiking and more...