Trip Inspiration

14 Days of Eco-Exploration in Ecuador

Explore + Conserve Ecuador's Ecosystems

Perfect for travelers interested in exploring the Galapagos by land while also learning about the country's incredible conservation initiatives. From traversing the canopies of the Mashpi Reserve to walking the jungle trails in Yasuni National Park, these 14 days provide a unique window into the various ecosystems of Ecuador. You will see first-hand the country's rich biodiversity and feel inspired by the local efforts to protect its beautiful landscapes and unique wildlife.

Trip Highlights

Locations

  • 2 nights in the Ecuadorian highlands at Hacienda Zuleta
  • 3 nights at the Napo Wildlife Center in Yasuni National Park
  • 2 nights at Mashpi Lodge located within the Mashpi Reserve
  • 1 night in Quito
  • 5 nights at Montemar, in the Galapagos

Activities

  • Visit a condor rehabilitation center
  • Horseback ride, cycle, and hike in the Ecuadorian highlands
  • Explore Yasuní National Park, the most biodiverse area in the world
  • Traverse the rainforest and cloud forest canopies within the Mashpi Reserve
  • Swim, snorkel and kayak alongside Galapagos marine life
  • Engage in numerous conservation initiatives throughout Ecuador
What does “Trip Inspiration” mean?

At Travel Beyond, we believe your trip should be designed just for you, not for the masses. Our travel consultants create a custom itinerary for each client, offering recommendations for places and experiences that best fit your style. The itinerary below was planned for a past client, but we’re sharing it for travel inspiration and as an example of what a trip to Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands might look like. Let us know when we can design a trip just for you!

Day 1

Quito to Hacienda Zuleta, Ecuador

Welcome to Ecuador! Upon arrival in Quito, you will be met and transferred to Hacienda Zuleta. Accommodations will be reserved for two nights, including all meals and activities.

You will arrive at Zuleta after a lovely drive through lush pasture lands. With some luck you will have stunning views of the snow-capped volcano, Cayambe, which is just a few miles away from the hacienda. Once you are settled in your room, one of the family owners or managers will personally share information about the activities on offer. They will help plan your stay according to your personal preferences and interests.

You will then be shown around the main building to learn about Zuleta’s history, see ex-President Galo Plaza Lasso’s private library, visit the chapel and wander through beautiful gardens. As the sun sets, it gets chilly at Zuleta, so enjoy some wine and cheeses in front of the fireplace prior to dinner.

Hacienda Zuleta Meals: Dinner

Day 2

Hacienda Zuleta

Enjoy the activities available at the hacienda, such as hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, cooking classes, a visit to the cheese factory, carriage rides, embroidery lessons, and bird watching.

Start your day with a leisurely walk around the property, keeping your eye out for some of the bird species that are attracted to the hacienda’s spectacular grounds.

Many guests choose to ride or hike to Condor Huasi, the condor rehabilitation project, located about 3mi from the house in a valley surrounded by native forest. At Condor Huasi, the only reproduction and liberation site licensed by the governmental condor protection agency in Ecuador, you will be able to observe eight condors in captivity and, with luck, wild condors flying above you or even landing on the aviary.

You are also invited to visit the organic garden to learn about permaculture and to discover the origin of your lunch ingredients. Within three hectares, Hacienda Zuleta grows seventeen different kinds of vegetables, five different kinds of fruit, and several herbs, spices, and medical plants. Everything is produced without chemicals and the fertilizer comes from the hacienda’s own worm farm.

Know that your stay at Hacienda Zuleta directly supports the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation. Operated by Hacienda staff, the organization focuses on multiple aspects of Ecuadorian life, including community development and conservation. Beyond the condor initiative, the Foundation supports a Spectacled Bear Sanctuary, established a local library, and offers scholarships to community children. It runs embroidery classes within school and the profits from all embroidery goods sold at Zuleta’s shop go directly to the women who have created the products.

Hacienda Zuleta Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 3

Hacienda Zuleta to Napo Wildlife Center

This morning you will be met for your private transfer to the Quito Airport for your commercial flight to Coca. Upon arrival in Coca, you will be transferred to Napo Wildlife Center, your home for the next three nights. You have the remainder of the day to spend at leisure or participating in an organized activity.

Managed by the local Kichwa Añangu community, the lodge employs a sustainable eco-tourism model, with all proceeds re-invested into community projects which include renewable energy, education, and health care. Napo Wildlife Center sits within Yasuni National Park, one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Surrounded by incredible flora and fauna, the center understands and embraces its  responsibility to care for the many species of animals and plants found in this magical place.

Napo Wildlife Center Meals: Breakfast / Dinner

Days 4-5

Napo Wildlife Center

Enjoy two days exploring the incredible Yasuni National Park and participating in the center’s numerous activities.

Immerse yourself in the rainforest on one of the many jungle trails. You are sure to find numerous birds (macaws, parrots, and toucans to name a few), reptiles, amphibians, and even some mammals (monkeys, tapirs, ocelots, and so much more). Or consider spending some time at the canopy observation tower for an aerial view of the landscape. There is no better way to appreciate the scale of the trees or the impressive expanse of the Amazon than from above.

You might also visit the nearby Interpretive Center to learn about the Kichwa Anangu community. Hosted by individuals from the local area, you will gain insight into their culture and traditions through dances, rituals, food and drink. Those interested in marine life may also want to hop into a canoe. Paddling the river, you will have incredible access to the flora and fauna both in the water and along the bank.

And a visit to the parrot clay licks is a can’t miss. Here, you will find significant amounts of  minerals that attract huge populations of birds. The show starts early in the morning, when you are likely to see hundreds of vibrantly colored birds arriving to enjoy the lick. It is truly a stunning natural display.

Napo Wildlife Center Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / dinner

Day 6

Napo Wildlife Center to Mashpi Reserve

This morning you will be met for your transfer back to the Coca Airport for your commercial flight to Quito. Upon arrival, you will be transferred to Mashpi Lodge. Accommodations will be reserved for two nights, including all meals and activities.

The Mashpi Reserve perfectly showcases the lungs of our planet and the organisms that live therein. In the heart of a 2,500-acre private reserve, the Lodge is a luxurious outpost in the middle of a lush, green world, 70 percent of which is primary forest. Sitting at 3,117 feet above sea level, Mashpi provides guests with the unique opportunity to explore both cloud forest and rainforest – two types of ecosystems that are highly rich in species and biodiversity. Always accompanied by experienced and insightful guides, most of whom grew up playing around inside these same forests, you have the opportunity to engage in activities that immerse you into this incredible landscape.

The lodge itself was built using the latest techniques in sustainable construction. In order to mitigate damage to the forest, the structure was designed around the topography of the landscape and much of the building was assembled in Quito. It is also a functional research station from where biologists carry out important and ambitious projects which have led to the discovery of new species and the creation of a conservation and resource management strategy that the lodge uses to ensure continued protection of the forest.

Begin exploring this afternoon with one of the many activity options available. Dinner will be served at the lodge.

Mashpi Lodge Meals: Breakfast / Dinner

Day 7

Mashpi Lodge

Today after breakfast, spend your day at leisure to explore Mashpi and the activities on offer.

Dragonfly: The highlight of any trip to Mashpi is the Dragonfly – an exciting, open-air cable car system that carries you over, across and sometimes even directly through the forest canopy, offering guests a relaxing way to enjoy the reserve from overhead. The entire setup consists of two main stations, six towers and four gondolas. The gondolas are equidistant and separated by a distance of 1,640 feet. Each gondola moves along the 1.24 mi length of cable at a low speed of 160 feet per minute. The guides can stop the gondola at any point to allow for an extended observation of any flora and/or fauna that catches your eye. An entire circuit (roundtrip) takes about 40-minutes to complete. Gondolas can carry up to 4 guests (plus 1 guide).

Observation Tower: One of the best ways to enjoy the beauty of Mashpi is from the observation tower. From here, we can appreciate a wonderful view of the tropical forest canopy. The tower is a metal structure with a staircase that rises about eight stories (85 ft), ideal for the wildlife lovers. Species spotted from here include toucans, woodpeckers, barbets, tanagers and parrots, as well as birds of prey.

Sky Bike: Located close to the hotel, the Sky Bike makes for an original and exciting way to explore the forest canopy up close. Designed for two people to use at once, one person pedals the bike along a cable stretched between two points in the forest, around 655 feet apart, crossing a beautiful gorge above a river flowing between rocks and trees below. Silent, easy-to-use and fun, it’s an activity for children over 1 m high accompanied by an adult, providing guests with the chance to fly over the natural world close to the lodge and even spot its denizens. The ride takes 10 minutes one-way, or 20 round-trip.

Life Center: Located west of the lodge, the Life Center was conceived as a place for learning and discovery, but also as a place where our guests can disconnect while they admire the scenery from the comfort of a chaise lounge on the handsome wooden deck – a great place to spot birds, and hear the roar of mantled howler monkeys, too! Here we learn about the species of butterflies found in this region, observing the whole process of metamorphosis from eggs into beautiful butterflies. About 300 species of moths and butterflies have been identified to date in the Reserve, and our team has reproduced 50 of these to date. About a dozen can be seen in the center itself. Most of the interpretation in the center is provided by our guides or the employees from the local community involved in the project.

Hummingbird Garden: The forests of Mashpi boast 32 hummingbird species identified to date, inhabiting different specific altitudes, with around 19 species alone observable by guests in this garden. In order to make it easier to see these amazing creatures, we placed several hummingbird feeders and fruit feeders, in front a shelter with seating providing the ideal setting. Here, apart from hummingbirds, we can also frequently spot fruit feeder species such as toucans, tanagers, squirrels, etc. The site is located at a natural viewpoint, which, on clear days, provides breath-taking views of the Reserve’s forested hills. This is a paradise for photographers, regardless of your level of experience, as well as a place to calmly connect with birds and nature. Although this is a difficult trail due to the distance, you can also reach the hummingbird garden by car in only 15 minutes.

You might also set off on one of the many hiking trails or take a swim below a waterfall. The possibilities are endless!

Mashpi Lodge Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

 

 

 

 

Day 8

Mashpi to Quito

After enjoying a morning of activities at Mashpi Lodge, you will be met for your transfer to Casa Gangotena in Quito. En route, you will stop for lunch and a visit to Guaycapi Lodge, which is a hummingbird’s paradise.

Situated in the heart of Quito’s Old Quarters, Casa Gangotena is the perfect place from which to explore the city. The former mansion offers the perfect combination of history and luxury, along with exceptional food and service.

The afternoon and evening are yours to spend at leisure.

Casa Gangotena Meals: Breakfast

Day 9

Quito to the Galapagos Islands

This morning, you will be transferred to the Quito Airport for your commercial flight to the Galapagos.

Upon arrival in Baltra, you will be met by a lodge representative and transferred to Montemar, an eco-luxury hotel, and your home for the next five nights.

Located on Santa Cruz Island, Monetmar is at the forefront of sustainability in the Galapagos, utilizing green energy, harvested water, and sustainable architecture. The property boasts its own biodynamic and organic garden, which produces most of the food consumed on site, and operates with zero single-use plastic. The villas are both luxurious and sustainable, built from local materials including lava rock, Spanish Cedar, and bamboo, which work to both blend the structures into their surroundings and provide a more natural heating/cooling system.

Reyna and Roberto, the local couple who runs Montemar, have extensive knowledge of and passion for the region. A naturalist and ecologist by training, they strive to provide every guest with authentic, transformative, and personalized experiences, that give a unique perspective of and look into the Galapagos Islands.

Once settled, you can set off on an introductory walk of the property alongside Reyna. Following the Tortoise Path, you will enjoy the company of the giant tortoises and Darwin finches that call Montemar home, while learning about the initiatives in place to protect them. Continuing on, you will get a tour of the organic coffee plantation, the garden, and see first hand the many sustainable practices in place.

Dinner will be prepared by your private chef and enjoyed in your villa. After which you have the opportunity to fully disconnect from any and all electronic devices, allowing for a more restful and rejuvenating night’s sleep.

Montemar Meals: Breakfast / Dinner

Day 10

The Galapagos Islands

After a buffet breakfast, head out on a hike to Tortuga Bay, where you will find beautiful white sand and crystal clear waters. Keep your eyes open for black marine iguanas and various shore birds.

Here you can enjoy some time relaxing on the beach before having a white coral scrub & cleansing. This spa experience utilizes Tortuga Bay’s coral sand to stimulate circulation and gently remove impurities to produce newer and fresher skin. A picnic lunch will then be served followed by the opportunity to kayak or paddle board. Out on the water you can explore the mangrove forest and look for marine life, including sharks, turtles and rays.

Back at Montemar, you have the opportunity to harvest your own dinner. Reyna and Roberto will teach you how biodynamic produce is cultivated on the island, bringing you to the garden so that you can help procure the ingredients for tonight’s meal. Your chef will then explain the cooking process, revealing insights into the island’s cuisine as it is prepared. During the meal itself, you are guided through a mindful eating exercise, helping you to fully savor each flavor and to appreciate the nourishment the dishes provide.

Montemar Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 11

The Galapagos

You will spend today exploring Bartolome Island, famous for its fascinating volcanic landscapes and wildlife encounters.

After a short transfer to the harbor, you will board a yacht and set off alongside both a guide and naturalist to experience all that the island has to offer. Climb the 360+ stairs to reach the summit of Bartolome, taking in panoramic views of Pinnacle Rock with beautiful Santiago Island behind. Return to the pink and white sand beach below where you will find sally lightfoot crabs and sea lions.

Considered one of the best destinations for underwater exploration, don your snorkel and mask for a chance to see the Galapagos penguin, green sea turtle, rays, white tip reef sharks and a variety of tropical fish, including the colorful parrot fish.

Lunch will be served onboard the yacht and if time permits, you can also visit Sullivan Bay, for additional hiking and snorkeling.

Returning to Montemar in the afternoon, you can enjoy a Lava Grounding Feet spa treatment, an experience entirely unique to this property. Lava rocks, known for their ability to balance energies, are used to massage your feet, releasing tension and re-centering you for the remainder of your trip. The treatment is capped off with a pedicure, after which you can enjoy another gourmet dinner at your villa.

Montemar Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 12

The Galapagos

Begin your day with a sunrise swim in a natural pool located in the middle of a nearby lava flow. While enjoying the refreshing waters and stunning setting, learn a deep breathing technique known to relax not only your brain but your body.

From there, stop in Puerto Ayora for breakfast and then continue on, via scooter or on foot, to the Charles Darwin Research Station and Galapagos National Park Center. Walking through the compound, you can learn about the various conservation initiatives in place, particularly those focusing on the giant tortoise, as well as hear about Lonesome George, one of the Islands’ most famous inhabitants.

While in town you will also have the opportunity to visit a local artist who specializes in wood carving. You will not only get to watch the artisan at work, but actually try your hand at carving your own souvenir using the techniques and secrets the artist imparts. The shop uses only Spanish Cedar, which is a species of wood introduced to the Galapagos by the Spaniards. The end products are therefore not only beautiful, but help to reduce the presence of invasive species.

Before returning to Montemar, you will also meet with a local fisherman who will teach you about the sustainable fishing practices used on the islands and treat you to an incredibly delicious seafood barbeque, prepared with the freshest ingredients.

Montemar Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 13

The Galapagos

Spend the day exploring the nearby island of North Seymour. Alongside your guide, you can choose to participate in snorkeling or a hike on shore. You’ll stroll through the palo santo forest where you can find abundant birdlife, including the much loved blue footed boobies and an incredible colony of frigate birds who inflate their red chests to attract mates. Land and marine iguanas dot the landscape while in the water you might find sea turtles and playful sea lions. Following lunch, you will boat to Bachas Beach for swimming, snorkeling or a few hours of relaxation.

You will also meet with a local scientist from the Giant Tortoise Movement Ecology Program. Throughout the year, these creatures are studied as they migrate back and forth between the lowlands of Santa Cruz and the highlands in search of food. During this conversation, the scientist will share their findings with you and all proceeds from the activity go directly to the organization. With Montemar situated in the migratory corridor, the property understands the importance of protecting the Giant Tortoises and also does its part to support the program’s research.

Montemar Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 14

Depart Ecuador

After breakfast, you will be transferred to the Baltra Airport for your commercial flight to Guayaquil. From here, you will check in for your international flights home.

Montemar Meals: Breakfast