Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
Journey to Quito, Ecuador, and visit a city that thrived during the time of the Inca Empire. Stroll its historic plazas and discover colorful outdoor Indian markets, stocked with the creations of local artisans. Then spend three nights at a jungle lodge on the Amazon, witnessing the amazing biological diversity of the tropical rain forest, home to a vast array of birds and plant species. Travel to Galápagos Archipelago, immersing yourself in the crystal-clear waters that are home to marine species found nowhere else on our planet. Two dramatically contrasting ecosystems and glimpses of Andean and Amazonian cultures make this an exceptional journey of discovery.
You depart from the U.S. and fly to Quito, arriving late in the evening. Your OAT Trip Leader or our local staff will meet your flight at the Quito airport and help you transfer to your hotel where you'll meet travelers who took the pre-trip extension to Machu Picchu & Cuzco, Peru. Quito is Ecuador's capital city, nestled at the foot of the Pichincha volcano.
After breakfast this morning, we enjoy a moving musical performance by the Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra, whose members are physically or mentally disabled. Grand Circle Foundation is proud to provide Sinamune with financial assistance, helping to give these talented and dedicated musicians the support and encouragement they deserve.
We then explore the city paths and historic sites of Quito, a charming colonial city that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quito is South America's oldest capital city, founded by Sebastián de Benalcázar on December 6, 1534. Today we experience its delicate blend of Spanish and Indian cultural influences. As we explore the city, we'll get an introduction to sites including the La Basilica Church, Independence Plaza, and San Francisco Square. After time for lunch on your own, we continue exploring Quito with a stroll on La Ronda, a historic narrow lane where you can sample traditional candies, see work by local artists, and hear musicians. We return to our hotel and you have the rest of the afternoon free for making your own discoveries. This evening, we enjoy an included Welcome Dinner. Please note: If your return from the Amazon to Quito on Day 6 falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, you will enjoy a Home-Hosted Lunch today (instead of a Home-Hosted Dinner on Day 6).
Today, we'll travel overland across the Andes Mountains from Quito to Coca, a small town on the Napo River in the Amazon River watershed. We'll stop en route for lunch, to learn about local culture, and to take in mountain scenery including the treeless páramo at 13,860 feet. We descend to Coca and then travel to our lodge by boat on the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon. We view the tropical rain forest and glimpse the daily life of local people who live on riverfront farms and in thatched-roof homes. We will be staying at an Amazon lodge on a beautiful riverbank, where you will have a window on the environment and culture of the people of the Amazon.
In the words of writer Joe Kane in Running the Amazon: "The Amazon cannot be understood just as a river. It is a whole wilderness, a great integrated system of rivers and jungles." For three days, we'll have a rare opportunity to increase our understanding of the Amazon jungle—because it'll be our home. Competition among the plants and trees for rain and sunlight is fierce here. Ultimately, only about 5% of light from the sun penetrates the jungle canopy and reaches the forest floor. Interestingly, conditions in the very top of the rain forest are quite desert-like. In fact, many plants at this upper canopy level are actually cacti. This unique climatic variation in such a compact space is one reason why the Amazon Basin is home to such phenomenal biodiversity.
Our rain forest lodge is our home base in the Amazon. Here, you can explore trails that take you into the surrounding forest, take siestas in your own private hammock, and enjoy meals of fresh local fare while enjoying beautiful views of the nearby Napo River. After we arrive, we'll have an orientation briefing followed by dinner at the lodge.
Before breakfast, you may join an elective birdwatching walk. The early morning is a good time to see the local birds at their most active. Following breakfast, we’ll visit a local school (when in session) and meet some of the students. Then we'll visit the home of some indigenous people and learn about their crops and handcrafts. It’s an intimate encounter that gives us insight into the daily activities of the people from the Amazon basin. All of these experiences bring us closer to understanding the rain forest and its native traditions. Today we'll also join a local family for lunch.
Afterwards we’ll have time to rest or have a siesta. Later in the afternoon, we'll head for a local lagoon around sunset. We'll watch for wildlife at the time of day when many animals become active, including the caiman (a small crocodile). We have dinner at our lodge this evening.
You can elect to rise before breakfast for early-morning birdwatching again today. After breakfast, we'll take a nature walk in the rain forest, then return to the lodge for lunch and time to relax. Later in the afternoon, we'll explore the forest further to learn about medical plants and see an example of primary forest. We'll stay out until sunset, which we'll watch from a wooden observation tower, and then have dinner at the lodge this evening.
After breakfast, we return by motorized canoe on the Río Napo to Coca. We'll take a walking tour of the local market and dock area in Coca, then transfer to the airport for our flight to Quito. We arrive in the early afternoon and check into our hotel. You have the remainder of the day free to make your own discoveries in Quito. This evening, we get an authentic taste of Ecuador's culture and cuisine when we are welcomed into the home of a local family for dinner. While the specific menu will be up to your hosts, it will give you a chance to sample some typical local specialties. In Ecuador, highland inhabitants fight the cold of the mountains with a soup made with pork, cheese, and quinoa, a grain from the Andean region of Ecuador that is rich in nutrients. Another typical dish is seco de chivo, a stew of goat meat in wine sauce served with potato and avocado. Please note: If Day 6 of your trip falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, you will make the return trip from Coca to QUito overland today instead of flying. This adjustment is necessary because of weekend flight schedules, and ensures that you can enjoy the scenic ride through the Andes that is described at the beginning of Day 3. Lunch will be included today, and dinner will be on your own in Quito.
Early this morning, depart Quito and fly via Guayaquil to the Galápagos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Upon landing in the Galápagos in mid-morning, we make a short bus transfer to the dock, where we board our small ship. You can stow your gear in your cabin, orient yourself on deck, and enjoy the anticipation of the cruise ahead. For seven days, we explore the archipelago by ship, enjoying comfortable cabins and the services of an expert crew and our certified Galápagos naturalist Trip Leader onboard.
Here we share an adventure of Darwinian proportions in the comfort of our small group. All meals are included during our cruise, and no matter which island you call on, each of the next days will follow a similar pattern.
After breakfast onboard our exclusive charter, the sight of an island seemingly floating off the bow may send a shiver of anticipation through you. A small dinghy brings us close to the islands for wet landings, which require wading through knee-deep clear water. On shore, a gaudily colored Sally Lightfoot crab may scuttle by your foot as you watch iguanas sunning on the sands.
After lunch on board, it's off to our next island stop. Hiking across volcanic landscapes, we might marvel at 15-foot tall scalesia “daisy trees,” as Darwin's finches sing their greetings. If time allows, we might swim near our boat, sharing the playground of sea lions. We'll have plenty of tales to tell at dinner on our boat as stars fill the darkening sky. And as you sleep, you'll be cruising toward another adventure in the Galápagos.
Although wildlife sightings are unpredictable, we may see blue-footed and Nazca boobies, frigatebirds, pelicans, Galápagos doves, swallowtail and lava gulls, Darwin finches, or herons. We’ll also marvel at sea lions and iguanas throughout our travels.
During the summer and fall, the Humboldt Current moves through the Galápagos Islands, cooling sea and land temperatures, and creating a mist that covers the islands—locally known as garua (soft rain)—during the day. The Humboldt Current is strongest from July to October, delivering choppy water that surrounds the islands.
Please note: The following description is meant only as a general guide to the cruise itinerary that you are likely to follow. The selection and order of islands visited cannot be guaranteed due to the Galápagos' frequently variable weather, marine, and environmental conditions, and changes in airline schedules between the mainland and the Galápagos. This is a carefully managed park with fragile ecosystems. To safeguard them (and to ensure your own comfort), boat and park authorities have the prerogative to revise our course at a moment's notice.
For the next six days, we continue our Galápagos travel. Our Trip Leader will give us an orientation briefing, including conservation techniques suggested by the Galápagos National Park. He or she is a graduate of the elite certification program conducted at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Isla Santa Cruz by the Galápagos National Park Service. We file our Galápagos cruising itinerary with the conservation authorities of the Galápagos National Park. Park biologists periodically review it, and they have the authority to make changes to our plan to minimize our impact on the ecosystems of the islands. Our Trip Leader also provides the park with information on species behavior, and we are proud to work in cooperation with the park officials in preserving the priceless natural wonders of the Galápagos.
Today we continue our Galápagos travel. Here is a preview of the islands you may call on:
Santiago (James)—Tidal pools reveal a profusion of octopi, starfishes, and other undersea life. Rare fur sea lions that were once on the verge of extinction cavort nearby, and we often spot oystercatchers, blue herons, and yellow-crowned night herons.
Bartolome—One of the youngest islands, Bartolome displays a fantastic landscape of lava formations—including the famous Pinnacle Rock. The mangroves often hide mating sea turtles.
South Plaza—Sea lions often greet us raucously as we step ashore. We also find land iguanas busy eating the opuntia cactus flowers and pads. There are colonies of swallow-tailed gulls, shearwaters, and red-billed tropicbirds.
Rabida (Jervis)—A reddish beach and steep volcanic slopes give this island its distinctive look.
Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock)—Cruise around this sheer 500-foot tuff cone formation, where blue-footed boobies and sea lions abound.
Santa Cruz—At the Charles Darwin Research Station, learn about pioneering ecological studies and the giant Galápagos tortoise-breeding program.
Floreana (Charles)—Like the other islands, Floreana has its coterie of remarkable creatures. But it’s the human stories that will engage you here as your guide tells of the first inhabitant, a shipwrecked Irishman, and the quirky “post office” in a barrel, where sailors have been leaving letters for delivery since 1793. This “post office” still operates today.
Santa Fe (Barrington)—Hike through a forest of opuntia cactus, where land iguanas doze, and then snorkel in clear water with coral reefs, manta rays, sea turtles, and colorful schools of fish.
North Seymour—Here you’ll find the largest colony of frigatebirds in the Galapagos and a major nesting site for the blue-footed booby. On the beach, sea lions ride the waves.
San Cristobal (Chatham)—The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on this island is the sleepy capital of the Galápagos province. Ochoa Beach boasts pelicans and other sea birds, as well as a delightful swimming beach. Nearby is Lobos Island, where you’ll see pelicans, frigatebirds, and a sea lion colony.
Española (Hood Island)—Sea lions, marine iguanas, and many kinds of birds are found here, including Darwin’s finches, Hood mockingbirds, and blue-footed and masked boobies. Along the southern shore, spectacular cliffs rise up from the sea. From November to April, the remarkable waved albatross, which can spend years at sea without touching land, can be seen performing their unique, perfectly-choreographed mating ritual.
Today we continue our Galápagos travel. An OAT traveler commented that, “The Galápagos are sun, sea, and a workshop in evolutionary biology.” We'll make numerous landings by small dinghies that involve stepping into knee-deep water to wade ashore. Once on land, we'll walk with our naturalist Trip Leader along trails that bring us close to the many indigenous species.
Today we continue our Galápagos travel. When we are not viewing wildlife on shore, we can swim, sunbathe, and perhaps go snorkeling among sea lions and vividly colored tropical fish. Throughout the trip, we'll see magnificent landscapes of white-sand beaches, sparkling clear aquamarine water, and black and red volcanic rock landscapes.
Today we continue our exploration of the Galápagos. As we take in their striking seascapes, we can consider how they have impressed great American writers in two different centuries. Herman Melville blended knowledge of the islands, gained from his days as a sailor, with fiction in his 1854 novella The Encantadas or Enchanted Isles. More than 100 years later, Kurt Vonnegut's 1985 novel Galápagos drew inspiration from the author's own visit to the archipelago. Unique and remote, the Galápagos Islands will no doubt continue to influence creative artists for centuries to come.
This is the last day we spend in the Galápagos, and we’ll continue to enjoy snorkeling, exploring, observing wildlife, and hiking around the islands. Tonight, we’ll enjoy a special dinner onboard during which we’ll bid farewell to the crew.
Today, we return to Baltra or San Cristobal, say farewell to our boat crew, and disembark. We fly via Guayaquil to Quito and check in to our hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening.
You have the morning at leisure to make your own discoveries in Quito; lunch is on your own. In the afternoon, we'll visit the colorful Inaquito produce market and then head to the Inti Nan Museum. Inti Nan is the Quechua phrase for “Path of the Sun,” and the museum contains replicas of indigenous sun temples and other interesting artifacts—not to mention the fact that the equator actually runs through the museum. This evening, we celebrate our discoveries at a Farewell Dinner, then transfer to the airport for our return flight to the U.S. If you are taking the post-trip extension to Ecuador: The Andes & the Devil's Nose Train, you will travel overland to Riobamba after breakfast today; the Quito activities mentioned will take place on the last day of your extension.