You might have thought that a holiday to the remote Pacific Galapagos islands would be prohibitively expensive. While cruising on a yacht can still be pricey, you now have the option of a land-based visit, where you can get to know one or two islands more intimately, with the option of some exciting outdoor sports thrown in. This holiday bases you at the popular Finch Bay hotel where you are free to choose your experiences from a wide menu. Hiking, biking and snorkelling are popular options, as are visits to the hilly interior of Santa Cruz Island with its giant tortoises. Choose what you fancy most and pay for your excursions locally.
Spend a few days on the mainland too, well worth exploring in its own right. Visit Quito, a colonial hacienda close to Otavalo indigenous market and the self-explanatory Avenue of the Volcanoes, dominated by the towering snow-draped mountain Cotopaxi.
Day 1: Arrive Quito high in the Andes. Transfer to countryside hotel.
As soon as you arrive at Quito’s high altitude airport you are whisked off to the glorious Andean countryside surrounding the capital. You stay at a Pinsaqui, a Spanish colonial hacienda (country estate) with an illustrious history.
Day 2: Day at leisure to explore the region.
You have a day at leisure at the hacienda. While it might be tempting just to sit back and enjoy the views from the subtropical gardens, we recommend you visit the nearby market town Otavalo, famous for its weavings and other artisan work crafted by the proud – and prosperous - Otavalo Indians who still wear their striking traditional clothes.
Day 3: Transfer to Quito, guided walking colonial city tour.
Today you have a guided walking tour of the colonial highlights of Quito - the world’s first UNESCO Heritage Site city. Narrow cobblestone streets are lined with whitewashed walls and rising above are the steeples and cupolas of the city’s numerous spectacularly decorated historic churches. Walk through the main plaza, where you will see the baroque cathedral and other delightful 16th and 17th century churches.
Day 4: Full day excursion to the Valley of the Volcanoes and Cotopaxi.
A full day trip down the Avenue of the Volcanoes one of the most picturesque routes in Latin America. As its name implies, the route passes an imperial guard of conical snow-draped volcanic cones, surrounded by lush pastures pitted with colonial market towns and tiny indigenous villages. You arrive at Cotopaxi National Park, dominated by the superb snow-tipped volcano of the same name. There are chances to go walking here, and at the Limpiopungo Lake (3,850m) with expansive views. Relax over lunch at a mountain refuge on the northern side of the national park, before heading back to Quito.
Day 5: Fly to the Galápagos Islands, transfer to hotel on Santa Cruz Island.
Drive back to Quito’s airport and fly to the Galápagos islands (2-4hrs, depending if there is a stop in Guayaquil on the way). From the airport at Baltra there’s a speedboat ride over to the archipelago's mountainous principal island, Santa Cruz, which hosts the capital, Puerto Ayora. Transfer on to your hotel, Finch Bay which is just outside the town.
Day 6: At leisure in the Galápagos, optional excursions.
At leisure at Finch Bay. Choose form a large number of different activities. You can visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, the Highlands and Tortuga Bay. There are also optional excursions by motor launch to nearby islands of North Seymour, South Plaza, Santa Fe and Bartolome (itinerary confirmed locally). There are also sporting activities you might dip into including mountain biking, introductory scuba diving classes, snorkelling, sea kayaking and hiking.
North Seymour is a small island covered in boulders and scrubby bush. Large colonies of seabirds (frigates, blue-footed) breed here and there’s always a courting, mating or nesting ritual to see.
Santa Fe is one of the most beautiful islands, with a lovely turquoise lagoon. Some of the giant cacti there grow up to 10m high. There are land iguanas, sea-lions and lava lizards.
South Plaza is famed for its lovely flora, including the prickly pear, Depending on the season, the ground vegetation changes colour from intense green to orange and purple. You’ll also see colonies of land iguana, and nesting birds such as the tropicbird.
Bartolome is a small, arid island with blue-black lava flows and white-sand beaches fringed by mangroves. You can spot penguins and go snorkelling there.
Day 7: At leisure in the Galápagos, optional excursions.
There are also sporting activities you might dip into including mountain biking, introductory scuba diving classes, snorkelling, sea kayaking and hiking.
You can also visit Puerto Ayora, a lively but laid back place bursting with shops, cafés, restaurants and banks. It’s a busy harbour, with tourist yachts and fishing boats coming and going, and the bay is full of fearless pelicans, iguanas and blue-footed boobies. Spend some time on the beach there and you may well be joined by a sea-lion or two. Nearby is the Charles Darwin Research station, where you can learn about the history of the islands and conservation projects, and Tortuga Bay, where you might spot giant tortoises and reef sharks.
Day 8: Fly to Guayaquil; connect with international flight.
Transfer back to Baltra airport and fly to Guayquil on the Pacific coast. Connect with your international flight. UK clients arrive home the following day.
OPTIONAL EXTENSION: ECUADORIAN AMAZON
The rainforest of the Amazon of Ecuador, whence spring rivers which flow down to the Amazon proper, is conveniently accessible from Quito. Following a short flight and canoe trip you arrive at Sacha Lodge to begin your jungle adventures.
Day 1: A 35min flight takes you over the snow-capped Andes to Puerto Francisco de Orellana, known locally as Coca. Please note that luggage is restricted to 20kg.
On arrival, it is a short transfer to the docks where motorised dugout canoes are waiting to take you down the Río Napo, the largest river in the Ecuadorian Amazonia. Head deep into the rainforest - with opportunities to spot an array of wildlife along the riverbanks – to the reserve where Sacha Lodge is situated (2.5hrs). You’ll then set off on a guided expedition along a raised boardwalk through dense flooded palm forest to Lake Pichicocha (30mins) before crossing the motionless black-water lagoon by canoe to arrive at the lodge.
Day 2: There’s a varied menu of activities and excursions to choose from at the lodge. They are conducted in small groups led by an English-speaking naturalist guide, and take place in the early morning when the wildlife is at its most active, in the afternoon as the sun sets leaving a mellow glow draped over the forest, and at night when the nocturnal insects and frogs join in a melodious chorus.
Day 3: Waterborne adventures include a trip to a parrot lick, where the colourful and agitated birds gather to feed. There’s also a 300m canopy walkway suspended 30m above the jungle floor, giving you a canopy-level view of the wildlife which inhabits the trees, while an overall panoramic view is available from the top of the observation tower. Go fishing for piranha, and at night, set out on the dark waters in search of alligators.