Mainland Ecuador is roughly the size of Colorado but bursts with diversity; think Andean peaks over 20,000’, pristine rain and cloud forests, colonial architecture, rich cultural heritage in the highlands and lowlands, and a dry coast gaining notoriety for world-class surfing. Most trips begin in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Quito, from where one can easily access the rainforest in Yasuni National Park, the highland Cloud Forests (considered one of the most bio-diverse hotspots on the planet) or the Avenue of the Volcanoes running south to Cuenca. Situated 620 miles east of Ecuador, at the convergence of three ocean currents, the Galapagos consist of 19 islands, each with distinctive fauna, as well as nearly 20,000 sq miles of protected marine habitat. While the highly specialized finches were largely responsible for Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, it is the other colorful and utterly fearless endemic birds and animals that make the Galapagos a great travel destination for nature enthusiasts and families. Explore by land and island hop between a selection of high-quality eco lodges or choose a luxury yacht or catamaran as your ‘mother ship’ base and unpack only once during a week of snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and sailing between islands such as Fernandina (marine iguanas and flightless cormorants) Santa Cruz (giant tortoises) and Española (blue-footed boobies and waved albatross). The National Park service restricts the number of times a vessel can visit a particular island. If you have certain animals or islands on your ‘must experience’ list, discuss the best options & itineraries with our Escape Specialist.
Galapagos Islands: Bird and animal species so unique and specialized that they caused one man named Charles to rethink the theory of evolution. Add in year-round pleasant weather and lots of opportunities to hike, bike, kayak and actively explore the environment and you have a no-brainer. Just go.
Yasuni National Park & Amazon: Walk among the sprawling buttress roots of giant kapok and ficus trees, wrapped in the twisting embrace of strangler figs and look up, past the bromeliads and orchids, into the canopy where a sudden rustle indicates a fleeing toucan or a spider monkey in search of breakfast. Muddy patches on the forest floor reveal prints of peccary, tapir and the occasional jaguar. This may be the most biodiverse spot on the planet, with new species constantly being discovered. The Ecuadorian Amazon is also home to the indigenous Kichwa and Waorani nations, some of whom prefer the protection of the upland Zona Intangible over outside contact.
Cloud Forest: In Ecuador’s northern highlands, moist air from the Pacific Ocean runs into the eastern slopes of the Andes and lingers here, forming the thick, swirling mists that saturate the high altitude Cloud Forests of Ecuador. Though diminutive in size, here you’ll find incredible diversity – roughly 50% of the bird species in the entire continent of South America thrive in Ecuador’s Cloud Forests. Mindo Forest Reserve is an easy day-trip from Quito but serious birders should spend three days or more.
Cuenca: Cuenca is just one of many colonial towns sprinkled along Ecuador’s Central Andean spine, but we think she might be the prettiest and are smitten with the great mountain biking trails surrounding Cuenca’s cobble-stoned streets and Spanish-colonial churches. No wonder this is a favored destination among the ex-pat set. Cuenca is also a short jaunt from Cajas National Park where llamas, Andean Condors and giant hummingbirds punctuate the high grasslands and alpine lakes.
Central Highlands: The snowy summits of the highest volcano in the world (Mt. Cotopaxi) and Ecuador’s highest peak (Chimborazo) are just a few of the mountains that line the ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’, the name German explorer Alexander Van Humboldt bestowed upon the Andean range running south of Quito. World-class trekking and mountaineering beckon adventure seekers while the thermal springs, rustically deluxe haciendas and colorful Indian markets in towns like Otovalo call to those in search of a slightly more mellow and cultural alpine experience.
Ecuador & Galapagos Traveler Review – Carrie C.
My husband and I were contemplating travelling with National Geographic, but wanted to work with a local company, so we contacted Evergreen Escapes – and we are SO glad we did. The trip that Evergreen Escapes arranged for us was more than we could have ever hoped it would be. Our guides aboard the M/Y Grace were of the highest caliber. My husband and I often commented that aside from their vast knowledge, it gave us great joy to see how much they enjoyed the experiences we all shared. We learned so much, had wonderful experiences that we will never forget, and truly got the most out of our trip.
Every detail was carefully planned by Evergreen Escapes such that we always had a guide to meet us and create smooth transitions from place to place (we spent time in Quito, the Amazon and the Galapagos). Evergreen Escapes also went out of their way to arrange special touches as this trip was our honeymoon. We thought we would visit the Galapagos only once; however, we will be back and will definitely work with Evergreen Escapes to plan the trip.
When? Ecuador boasts countless microclimates with their own ‘best’ seasons but can be visited year round. In the Galapagos the “warm” season runs from January through April, offering the most enjoyable weather; calm seas and temperatures between 65° F-81° F. This is considered the ‘best’ time for diving by many due to the presence of rays, possible whale shark sightings, calmer seas and good visibility. The Humboldt Current brings cooler weather from May – December, when temperatures drop slightly to 60° F – 72° F. Though seas are rarely ‘rough’, they can be a little choppier during this time of year. Birders, photographers and budding naturalists should plan their visit around seasonal migrations that affect visibility and of density of certain species.
How to get there? Ecuador has two international airports, Quito (UIO) and Guayaquil (GYE). The new international airport in Quito opened in 2013 and is located about 45-60 minutes from the city center. Nonstop flights to Quito are available out of San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK) and Miami (MIA) on American Airlines and LAN. Guayaquil currently receives nonstop international flights from Atlanta (ATL) on Delta. Let our Escape Specialist connect you with Exito Travel, our preferred air wholesaler with access to excellent fares for travel to and within Latin America. The Galapagos Islands are accessed via flights from Guayaquil which are generally included in your cruise or land package to the islands.
How much time? Though shorter trips to the islands are available, we recommend a week in the Galapagos Islands with at least two nights in Quito at the beginning of your trip to explore the city and provide a buffer against potential flight delays. 7-12-days are recommended for mainland Ecuador depending on your interests and regions visited.
Who is it for? The friendly people, striking landscapes and fearless (and abundant) wildlife make Ecuador an ideal destination for families. Incredibly high biodiversity, including over 1600 species of birds as well as many mammals, reptiles and amphibians found nowhere else on the planet make Ecuador a must-do pilgrimage for nature enthusiasts and wildlife photographers. Adventure and thrill seekers will revel in miles of mountain biking, scenic highland trekking, alpine climbing and deep rainforest exploration. For honeymooners, deluxe and secluded haciendas make the perfect romantic getaway.
Visa? Travelers with a United States or Canadian Passport do not need a Visa to enter Ecuador.
How to get around? Planes, trains and automobiles! Not really. Most destinations in Ecuador are connected via short internal flights on LAN/TAM or a number of regional carriers. Highland towns are often linked via private transfers and some jungle lodges require a bit of paddling.
Book one of our favorite itineraries or use them as inspiration to work with us to build your perfect private tour!
13-Day Ecuador and Galapagos Islands Family Adventure
From $5875 per person
Explore the cultural and natural wonders of Ecuador on this family-friendly adventure that includes chocolate tasting in Quito, living like a chagra (Ecuadorian cowboy) at a hacienda in the Andean highlands around Mt. Cotopaxi, explorations of authentic Indian markets and a week of snorkeling, hiking and kayaking among the endemic wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Read more…
Looking for something different? We specialize in custom, private travel – contact us and we’ll start planning your perfect trip!
The Amazon La Selva Lodge: One of the first Amazon rainforest lodges in Ecuador, the award-winning La Selva was completely remodeled in 2012, and has since become one of the most exclusive and premier eco lodges of the Ecuadorian Amazon, welcoming guests in just 18 spacious cabana suites. Overlooking the glassy waters of Lake Garzacocha, the main lodge and restaurant is a favorite spot for many. You can watch birds and other wildlife as you sip a cocktail from the fully-stocked bar, or while enjoying the fine cuisine in the restaurant. The breezy, stylish cabanas are inspired by native bamboo designs. Many have hot tubs, rainforest showers, and lake views. Superb naturalist guides lead guests on 2-3 excursions each day ranging from short birding walks to evening canoe paddles. Nearby the lodge, a mineral-rich clay lick attracts flocks of jewel-toned parrots, allowing guests to observe the birds at close range while they gather to feed in the mornings.
Huaorani Ecolodge:The award-winning Huaorani Ecolodge is situated at the headwaters of the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest and run by the Huaorani people, nomadic hunters and gatherers who were not contacted by outsiders until the 1950s. The Huarorani believe themselves to be the bravest tribe in the Amazon and their name means ‘the people.’ An adventure to Huaorani Ecolodge is not only an immersion in the wildlife and the ecology of the Amazon rainforest but also a true cultural exchange; guests are taught to use a blowpipe, climb trees, decorate their faces with red achiote, and take a two-day meander down the Shiripuno River in a kayak or dugout canoe while observing tropical birds and monkeys. You will also listen to an indigenous leader recount the tribe’s fight against oil exploration. With a little bit of luck you may even meet Moi Enomenga, a conservation hero honored by National Geographic and the Buffett Foundation. The Huaorani Lodge accommodates just 10 people per visit in comfortable, palm-thatched cabins. All cabins are fully meshed and are spaced to provide privacy and a chance to enjoy the sounds of the balmy Amazon nights. In addition, each cabin has its own private bathroom with shower and flush-toilet, a porch with comfortable chairs, 24-hour electricity supplied by solar panels, as well as environmentally-friendly soap and shampoo.
The Napo Wildlife Center: The only lodge on the Napo River located within the Yasuní National Park (in northeastern Ecuador), the Napo Wildlife Lodge is an award-winning lakeside eco-lodge that’s owned and managed by the local Añangu Kichwa indigenous community. Built to reflect native architecture and design — but with all the modern conveniences included — the Napo Wildlife Center Lodge consists of 16 luxury thatched bungalows, a private bathroom, insect screens, mosquito nets, and lakefront and forest views. Electricity is provided 24/7 via a hybrid system of solar panels, generators and batteries so there are plenty of places to charge camera batteries. After enjoying dinner in the open-air restaurant, guests can spend the evening in the reading room or comparing notes at the well-stocked bar. Though remote, Napo also provides laundry service and internet access (charges payable on site). Despite all of the comforts and conveniences of this Amazon jungle lodge, people are really here for the wildlife. Napo guests are escorted through the rainforest by indigenous wildlife guides from the local Anangu community who share their knowledge of traditional medicinal plants and are expert trackers and spotters. From the water’s edge you may spot giant river otters, black caiman capybara and a variety of birds. Paddle the still waters, hike along forest trails or ascend to the canopy via series of towers and viewing platforms to get eye to eye with toucans and monkeys or capture the misty jungle sunrise.
Galapagos Boats and Lodges Galapagos Grand Odyssey: A luxury cruiser, the Grand Odyssey motor yacht was launched in February 2011, offering the best in Galapagos Islands tours. With a maximum capacity of 16 guests, the ship was designed especially for small groups, as it offers both privacy and comfort while aiming to reduce visitor impact on the fragile Galapagos Islands ecosystem. Suites are equipped with panoramic windows to enjoy the wonderful landscapes of the islands, and each also includes a private bathroom, hot/cold water, air conditioning with independent controls, a mini-bar and a TV. For connected and family suites, the ship also possesses twin beds and one faux queen-sized bed. The yacht offers a large solarium with shaded and uncovered areas, two jacuzzis, comfortable sun loungers and a mini-spa that provides therapies and massages. Social areas include a lounge area, a mini library and a video library and a play zone for kids (during family departures). Local and international dishes designed specially by the chef are served in the cozy atmosphere of the ship’s dining room. In addition to its 10-member crew, the Grand Odyssey motor yacht has a bilingual naturalist guide who leads daily trips onto the islands. Explore the wildlife and ecology of the Galapagos Islands on volcano hikes, island trails, mangrove forests and via kayaking and snorkeling excursions.
Athala: This highly acclaimed 16-passenger catamaran features eight incredibly spacious cabins on two decks – making it feel a like you’re cruising with new friends on a private yacht. The staff and naturalists have a reputation for providing superior personalized service making this a fantastic pick for groups of friends to charter privately. The Athala’s fully air-conditioned passenger accommodations consist of eight double staterooms, four with private balconies. All of the staterooms offer large picture windows and either queen- or twin-sized beds. The upper deck features a bar and a beautiful open area for relaxation and al fresco dining. It also is a great place for watching dolphins and whales or simply relaxing in the jacuzzi. Hike to some of the islands’ most spectacular spots, paddle sea kayaks, snorkel with a host of Galapagos Islands aquatic friends (penguins, sea lions and others) or simply stretch out on the beach. In the evenings you can soak in the hot tub with a cold drink or attend a lecture by the ship’s expert naturalist.
Galapagos Safari Camp: Galapagos Safari Camp borders the Galapagos National Park in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island’s “transition zone,” close to the Charles Darwin Research Center and tortoise reserve where Lonesome George famously lived for part of his 100+ year life span. The 55 hectare farm is on a ridge with magnificent views over the Pacific Ocean, as well as the western & northern islands dotted on the horizon. There is a lounge for relaxation, a cozy fireplace and an honor bar. The dining room serves local and international dishes created with home-grown produce. Following African safari tradition, the nine luxury tents are erected on wooden platforms, with custom-made furniture designed with comfort, practicality, and elegance in mind. The en suite bathrooms are tastefully designed with hot power showers and flush toilets. All the tents have a large balcony with a hammock and chairs from which to take in the wonderful view.
Andes Hacienda Zuleta: Historic Hacienda Zuleta lies in the spectacular Andean mountain range of Ecuador at 9,600 feet above sea level, just two hours north of Quito and one hour from the famous indigenous market town of Otavalo. Dating from the late 16th century, Zuleta is also a 4,000 acre colonial working ranch that has belonged to the family of a former Ecuadorian president for more than 100 years. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Andes Mountains and fertile farming valleys, Zuleta is encircled by trails through the mountains and is a great option for horseback riders and hikers. Being a colonial homestead, each room has a different shape and character. All are individually decorated with antiques, authentic family pictures and hand embroidered linens, lending the feel of a private home more than a hotel. Stroll the grounds in the morning and the local farmhands are only too pleased to show you the dairy and cheese factory and organic garden (which supply much of the delicious produce and dairy items featured in the kitchen), tree nursery, and trout farm. Hacienda Zuleta has also received accolades for a successful Andean condor-rehabilitation and breeding project on the grounds; guests can learn about conservation efforts and view these magnificent birds close up. Wonderful service, authentic hospitality and a variety of activities including mountain biking and cooking classes make Hacienda Zuleta a great retreat for a romantic couples’ holiday or families.
Mashpi Lodge: Two-and-a-half hours from Quito, Mashpi Lodge is a wondrous, modern escape in the heart of Ecuador’s Choco cloud forest. Perched at 3,116 feet above sea level, the lodge’s grounds cover over 2,500 acres of the endangered forest habitat. An incredible 500 species of birds call this home as well as monkeys, peccaries, puma and a profusion of plant species – from ferns and bromeliads to hundreds of orchid species. New species are constantly being discovered. Mashpi Lodge was constructed utilizing the latest sustainable building technology and was designed to blend with the natural surroundings. Instead of a rustic jungle cabana with mosquito netting, guests at Mashpi are surrounded by the forest but encased in floor to ceiling glass windows, granting a front-row seat to one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. Décor in the 22 rooms is minimalist with the focus being on the cacophony of trees, vines, and birds just a few feet away. Daily cloud forest excursions are led by professional guides who can take you on fascinating treks along nature trails, dips in waterfalls, and introduce you to a completely different world on nocturnal cloud forest walks.