Trip Inspiration

15 Days: The Treasures of Ecuador

An Exploration in Beauty

Ecuador's true beauty extends far beyond its breathtaking seascapes and vistas. It also refers to the country's magnificent wildlife, lovely people and traditional culture. This trip introduces you to the all of the best pieces of Ecuador, from the Amazon rainforest, to the highlands of Quito, and of course, its crowned jewel, the Galápagos Islands. End your stay in the beautiful Mashpi Reserve where you can explore the beauty of your natural surroundings.

Trip Highlights

Locations

  • 2 nights in Quito, the city known as the ‘Light of America’
  • 3 nights in the Amazon Rainforest at La Selva Amazon Eco-Lodge
  • 2 nights in the Ecuadorian highlands at Hacienda Zuleta
  • 4 nights aboard M/C Endemic in the Galápagos
  • 3 nights at Mashpi Lodge

Activities

  • Privately guided tours of Quito and the Equator Monument
  • See the Amazon from water, ground and 120 ft above the trees
  • Cultural immersion at a working Ecuadorian hacienda
  • Wildlife interactions and stunning hikes in the Galápagos
  • Ride the “Dragonfly” and Sky Bikes at Mashpi Reserve
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 and the Galápagos Islands might look like. Let us know when we can design a trip just for you!

Day 1

Arrive Quito, Ecuador

Welcome to Ecuador! Upon arrival in Quito, you will be met for your private transfer to Hotel Illa, where you will stay for two nights, including breakfast daily. Enjoy the remainder of your day at leisure.

Hotel Illa Meals: N/A

Day 2

Quito

Today after breakfast, you will be met by your private guide for a full day Quito and Intiñan Equator Monument and Museum tour, including lunch.

Your tour begins with a trip up Panecillo Hill for beautiful views of this colonial city from 10,200ft. You will them embark on a walking tour of the city including visits to Independence square, San Francisco square, and the 17th-century La Compania de Jesus church, considered a jewel of the barroque style in Latin America.

Next you will head to the Intiñan Equator Museum. The museum has fun, interactive outdoor exhibits of astronomical geography to help explain the importance of Ecuador’s geographical location. One of the highlights is the solar chronometer, a unique instrument made in 1865 that displays precise astronomical and conventional time, as well as the month, day and season – all by using the rays of the sun!

Following your tour, you will be transferred back to your hotel. Enjoy your evening at leisure in the lovely city.

Hotel Illa Meals: Breakfast / Lunch

Day 3

Quito to Amazon Rainforest

This morning after breakfast you will be delivered to the Quito Airport for your commercial flight to Puerto Francisco de Orellana.

Upon arrival in Puerto Francisco de Orellana, you will be transferred to the city’s main dock at the Napo River for your transfer to La Selva Amazon Eco-Lodge. Accommodations will be reserved for three nights, including all meals and activities.

Your transfer begins with a two-hour motorized canoe ride, heading down river to La Selva’s main dock. Here you will experience your first close encounter with the rainforest, as you complete the final leg of the trip to the lodge in a paddle canoe.

Upon arrival, the lodge manager will greet you with a refreshing juice, snacks and a short briefing about your stay at La Selva. You will also hear from one of the Naturalist Guides, who will give basic info about the tropical rainforest and the Amazon.

Later, you will embark on a short walk along the Matapalo Trail, named for the famous Strangler Fig and one of many remarkable trees that you can find at La Selva. You will also see Mahogany trees over 400 years old and your guides will share their knowledge of the local flora and fauna along the way. Due to the time of day there is great natural light and both the diurnal and nocturnal animals are beginning their daily transitional activities.

Back at the lodge, enjoy time at the bar while getting to know your fellow travelers. A nourishing dinner will be served this evening.

La Selva Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 4

Amazon Rainforest

This morning you will take a short walk to La Selva’s observation tower. The tower allows you to climb 120 ft above the surrounding forest for views that will take your breath away! Your accompanying Naturalist and a native guide will help you spot the colorful birds of the Amazon and you may even see some of the local primates.

Before returning to the lodge, you may opt to explore the Tucaneta Trail where you will learn about some of the native medicinal plants still in use today and interesting info on the ecology and natural history of the Amazon. There is also an optional one-hour hike to visit the beautiful Mandi Cocha lagoon. The lagoon is in an Igapo Forest, meaning that the forest is temporarily flooded by black water. Different species of birds and even giant otters can be seen here.

After lunch, you will explore the Charapa Trail. Starting at the lodge, the trail is a great loop where you can see many different mammals, monkeys and birds as they come closer to the lagoon looking for food. It is also perfect for viewing a breathtaking Amazonian sunset.

This evening, enjoy an evening canoe ride. With the help of a spotlight, your guide will traverse the lagoon to spot the Amazon’s nighttime wildlife. This is also a great opportunity for stargazing!

La Selva Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 5

Amazon Rainforest

This morning you will board a motorized canoe for your ride to the nearby clay licks, one of the most interesting displays of the wild world. It is here where hundreds of parrots and parakeets gather to eat the mineral rich soil, an important part of their diet. Spend time watching this fun and fascinating display!

Next you will have the opportunity to learn more about the local culture. One of the neighboring Kichua women will welcome you to their community center to share stories about life and the traditions of the Kichua people in the Amazon. This is part of the Amazon experience you won’t find on a map and you will love this special, unique and personal opportunity to experience life in this remote part of the world.

Back at the lodge, you can enjoy lunch and some time at leisure before your next exursion. You will visit Garzacocha Lagoon and Ceiba Trail, one of the most beautiful lagoons in the Ecuadorian Amazon. You will have many chances to see capuchin monkeys and birds and sometimes families of squirrel monkeys join in as they look for food. The clamorous calls of the Howler monkeys can be heard in the afternoon and the smallest monkey in the world, the Pigmy Marmoset, can be seen here too. Plenty of birds such as Hoatzin, toucans or macaws can also be seen flying overhead.

This evening, go on a nocturnal walk, where you can enjoy the creatures and sounds of the Amazon Jungle at night.

La Selva Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 6

Amazon Rainforest to Hacienda Zuleta

Today you will depart La Selva and transfer to the Puerto Francisco de Orellana Airport for your commercial flight to Quito.

Upon arrival in Quito, you will be met for your private transfer 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: Breakfast / Dinner

Day 7

Zuleta

If you are a morning person, you may want to enjoy a short walk around the grounds prior to breakfast. A large variety of bird life is attracted to the gardens and they are busy in the morning light. After an exquisite farm fresh breakfast of eggs, pancakes, muesli, fruit and homemade bread, take advantage of the activities on offer at the hacienda.

Many guests 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 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 humus used as fertilizer comes from the hacienda’s own worm farm.

 

At “El Taller,” you will see a sewing demonstration of  Zuleta’s famous and beautiful embroidery work. “El Taller” is managed by the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation, a non-profit organization involved in helping the surrounding communities. The embroideries are made by hundreds of Zuleteña women who use their spare time to contribute to their agrarian family income. Francisca Carlosama, the head of the Zuleta Women’s Cooperative, can demonstrate the process, and you are welcome to buy or order tablecloths, placemats, curtains, blouses, and many other beautiful items.

You can experience a little taste of the hacienda lifestyle by participating in a milking lesson. Hacienda Zuleta has over 300 cows that support Zuleta’s milk production. Milking takes place at 3pm (or at 5am) and you are invited to come to the milking sheds to experience the process, feed the calves, see giant bulls, and talk to the vaqueros (local cowboys). If you are interested in a private milking lesson, Rosa and her cow, Esperanza, are happy to teach you to milk by hand.

 

You may opt to visit to the local community. Zuleta is a small town nestled in the northern part of the country and famous for handmade embroidery. The local language is Quichua, and a high percentage of this community also speaks Spanish. Housing is made of straw, bahareque, and tapiales. The field work is performed by men, who grow barley, quinoa, potatoes, and other crops. These products form the base of their diet. Women dedicate time to elaborate embroidery, with designs focusing on nature or patriotic symbols. Currently, many members of this community are engaged in the cultivation of flowers for export.

Other activities (with extra costs) include biking, sewing classes, guided bird watching and fishing excursions to San Marcos lagoon or Cayambe National Park.

End the day with a nice hot bath and another delicious dinner!

Hacienda Zuleta Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 8

Zuleta to the Galápagos Islands

This morning you will be met for your transfer to the Quito Airport for your commercial flight to the Galápagos Islands, via Guayaquil.

Upon arrival you will be met and transferred to the M/C Endemic, where you will check in to your cabin before an introductory briefing and safety drill. Accommodations will be reserved for four nights, including all meals and activities.

This afternoon you will visit Cerro Dragon, or Dragon Hill, on Santa Cruz Island.

Some say the rocky hill got its name because it is shaped like a dragon. Others say it is because there are so many land iguanas along the trail. Either way, Dragon Hill is a fun hike along a dusty trail winding through cacti and Palo Santo trees. Enjoy the special time to be among the land iguanas, as these magnificent reptiles were on the brink of extinction just a few decades ago! Look for birds, including flycatchers, warblers and flamingos and pintail ducks in the salty lagoons.

This visit is followed by the opportunity to snorkel offshore, before returning to the catamaran for a relaxing evening on board.

Aboard M/C Endemic Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 9

Galápagos Islands

Today you will explore a few of the beautiful sites around San Cristobal Island. Start this morning with a visit to Kicker Rock. It seems that no one can agree on what the distinctive rock formation actually looks like, as it is called León Dormido, or Sleeping Lion, in Spanish, but English speakers refer to it as Kicker Rock. You can check it out for yourself and you just may find that depending on how you squint at the formation, its shape will vaguely resemble either a lion or a boot. No matter what you see in the rocks, you will love your underwater exploration in one of the best snorkeling sites in the Galápagos. Lucky visitors may get to see hammerhead sharks, rays and sea turtles in addition to many dazzling reef fish.

Next you will see the tuff cone hill called Cerro Brujo, or Witch Hill. The site gets its name from the Pájaro Brujo, or witch bird, better known in English as the Vermilion Flycatcher. Visitors are charmed by Witch Hill’s white coral beach, which is perfect for relaxing in the sand or to use as a launching spot for snorkeling or kayaking in the gentle surf. Panga rides will take you past some interesting rock formations along the island shore.

After lunch on board, you will visit Isla Lobo, also known as Sea Lion Island. The name definitely describes this island which is home to a large colony of sea lions. Isla Lobos is a long islet, parallel to the coast of San Cristobal. This creates a calm channel perfect for beginning snorkelers and is a great place to practice your kayak skills if you’re rusty! Keep an eye out for who the resident sea lions who sometimes splash into the water and frolic with their visitors.

Enjoy your evening on board swapping stories with your fellow travelers and enjoying a great meal.

Aboard M/C Endemic Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 10

Galápagos Islands

Today you will discover Española Island, beginning with a visit to Bahía Gardner, also known as Gardner Bay. This is one of only two sites on the island where visitors are allowed to land. Gardner Bay is a gorgeous, white-sand beach where you can lounge and get some sunshine, right alongside sleeping sea lions, or snorkel in the gentle surf off the beach.

After lunch, you will head to Española’s Punta Suarez Island. An amazing visitor site, Punta Suarez is the personal favorite of many veteran Galapagos guides and is the only place in the islands where visitors can reliably expect to see the majestic Waved Albatross from May through December. Punta Suarez is also home to Nazca Boobies, Blue-footed Boobies, Red-billed Tropic Birds, marine iguanas, mockingbirds and more.

Return to the boat for dinner and a relaxing evening on board.

Aboard M/C Endemic Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 11

Galápagos Islands

Today you visit Santa Fe Island. This is a small island, but it has two trails which wind their way on the island. The first trail takes you to the tallest Opuntia cactus in the Galapagos, while the other takes you into the highlands where land iguanas can be seen. After a long walk, the opportunity to swim in calm waters or snorkel with playful sea lions will refresh you after your hike.

This afternoon you will enjoy a special visit to the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, which is also known as the Charles Darwin Station. The Breeding Center is home to hundreds of baby tortoises of different sub-species. These babies are raised until they are large enough to be released and over the years, thousands of tortoises have been released into the wild. You will learn about the tortoises and other critical Galápagos conservation programs run by the prestigious Charles Darwin Foundation.

Enjoy your last evening on board with a delicious dinner and some stargazing on the deck.

Aboard M/C Endemic Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 12

Galápagos Islands to Mashpi Reserve

This morning you will visit South Plaza Island, a low, rocky island populated by cacti and a healthy population of land iguanas. This is always a favorite among Galápagos visitors as the island is home to the Sesuvium plant, which is a bright red at certain times of the year. This color gives the area an otherworldly look and makes it one of the most picturesque sites in the islands. Land iguanas are easily seen from the trail, frequently under the shade of cactuses, waiting for a prickly pear to fall. Enjoy your hike and keep your eyes open for boobies diving for fish just offshore!

Later this morning, transfer to the Baltra Airport for your commercial flight to Quito. Here, you will be met for your transfer to Mashpi Lodge. Accommodations will be reserved for three nights, including all meals and activities on offer. Activities will be shared with small groups of fellow lodge guests.

The Mashpi Reserve perfectly showcases the lungs of our planet and the organisms that live therein. Mashpi Lodge sits at 3,117 feet above sea level. Nestled between lower montane rainforest and cloud forests 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. 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. From the roots of the trees all the way up and over the canopy, guests will always be accompanied by experienced and insightful guides, most of whom grew up playing around inside these same forests.

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

Mashpi Lodge Meals: Breakfast / Dinner

Days 13-14

Mashpi Reserve

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.

 

Hiking Trails: Trails throughout the Reserve cross various types of terrain, ranging from the earth and gravel of the main road, forest paths carpeted by leaves and wading through rivers, while some have been specially adapted to make walking easier by using embedded recycled plastic crates to create steps and firm paths. There are many options available. The best trail for you depends on your interests!

 

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.

 

Waterfalls: Water is key to life in Mashpi, and there’s nothing like a refreshing dip full of nature´s energy at the end of a hike! The water temperature is between 64 and 68°F. Don’t forget your swimming suit if you want to swim! Waterfall trails range in difficulty and you can choose trails best suited for you based on your interests and abilities.

 

Dinner will be served at the lodge.

Mashpi Lodge Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner

Day 15

Depart Ecuador

Today after breakfast you will be met for your transfer to the Quito airport. Upon arrival in Quito, you will make your way to your connecting flights home.

Mashpi Lodge Meals: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner