How to Experience an Adventure-filled Luxury Tour of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands
The editors of Travel + Leisure have teamed up with Black Tomato—a company known for securing insider experiences—on a series of one-of-a-kind journeys around the globe. Plus: the must-see experiences and sites in each destination that are so unique we’ve designated them our new wonders of the world.
This trip spans the entire country, from Quito, with its cobblestoned streets and 16th-century cathedrals, to Pasochoa, an extinct volcano in the Ecuadoran Andes, and the Galápagos Islands. Stay in atmospheric hotels along the way, including the historic Casa Gangotena, in colonial Quito, and Chimborazo Lodge, at the base of the Chimborazo volcano—our New World Wonder. Plus: An intimate talk with the director of the Charles Darwin Research Station, who will discuss the foundation’s ongoing conservation projects in the Galápagos.
Read the full trip outline below, and when you're ready to speak to an expert, get in touch with our luxury travel partner, Black Tomato.
Day 1: Quito
Arrive in Quito and check-into the Casa Gangotena, a hotel that mimics a Renaissance palace and overlooks the cobbled square of the Plaza San Francisco in the heart of the city. This renowned mansion is host to a selection of charming rooms that have been decorated in a combination of Ecuadorian antiquity and contemporary style. Not only is the hotel a historic gem but it's working to maintain the tradition of the city as well with its sustainable features, using solar panels for energy and all local produce in its restaurant.
Day 2: Quito
The place to start exploring Ecuador is Colonial Quito: a city of narrow cobblestone streets lined with whitewashed walls and framed by the steeples and cupolas of the city's many spectacularly decorated historic churches. The city has one of the best preserved colonial centers in all South America, and this integrity was assured in 1978 when the United Nations declared Quito a World Cultural Heritage site. This morning, we will walk through the Main Plaza, where you will see the Government Palace, La Compañía, and some of the most important churches built around the XVI and XVII centuries, including the San Francisco Monastery which was started five days after the founding of the city in 1534. Then, we’ll stop by the city’s famous La Ronda street to learn about traditional work in Colonial Quito. For our last stop, we will also be visiting the ‘Panecillo’, the hill that dominates the South of the city to admire the famous statue of Our Lady of the Panecillo and enjoy spectacular views of Quito.
Day 3: Quito, Pedregal Valley
At almost 14,000 feet, hiking Pasochoa Mountain is a good warmup in anticipation of the second part of today’s adventure. Access is not difficult, and our hike to the peak will take about three hours over grassland trails. From Pasochoa you’ll get a spectacular view of the mountains surrounding Quito, inspiring scenery of the volcano’s crater, as well as the impressive surrounding mountain crests. The second part of the day consists of the descent to the Pedregal Valley, a downhill walk of another three hours through more grassland, ending at cozy Chilcabamba Eco Lodge. The hotel lies in a gentle valley surrounded by high volcanoes. The Andean highlands environment offers a pristine frame for the rustic style of the lodge, built from local and recycled materials. After a strenuous day of rewarding adventure, it’s a treat to curl up with cozy ponchos and thick duvets that keep the mountain chill at bay. And the views from every room makes the most of the mountain setting. At night, sit by the campfire and gaze at the stars.
Day 4: Cotopaxi
Today, we continue our journey along the Pita River Canyon. Here, though, the scenery changes as we enter the flatlands on the Eastern side of Cotopaxi. The journey will take about five hours, through a landscape that varies between grassland and stony plain. Along the way you may see the wild horses that run in the area, as well as some of the better known birds such as the Curiquingue and, with a bit of luck, the giant Andean Condor. Afterwards, check into the Hotel Hacienda Abraspungo.
Day 5: Mt. Chimborazo
After breakfast, hike a particularly scenic section of the Camino Real that traverses the southern flank of Mt. Chimborazo. You will have the majestic sight of the mountain’s heavily glaciated summit (Ecuador’s highest) over your right shoulder throughout the walk. The trail we are on originally led from the coast to the highlands, and some of the exotic goods brought to the highlands in past centuries include coca, cotton, chili pepper and sea shells. The next stage is to cross the “Gran Arenal” of this extinct volcano. The Arenal is a harsh semi-desert comparable to the Bolivian altiplano, and composed of volcanic debris on Chimborazo’s flank. We then descend from the highest point (14,100 feet) of the trail, passing through different villages along the way to finally arrive at our vehicles for the drive back to the lodge.
After the hike, check-into the Chimborazo Lodge, a cosy hotel located at the base of Chimborazo volcano. Two buildings make up the property, each with four twin rooms and shared facilities. Llamas can be found roaming the grounds, and on a clear day the view of the towering volcano is spectacular. Home-cooked meals are taken in the restaurant in the main house, which also has a wood-burning fireplace.
Day 6: Mt. Chimborazo, Cerro Chalata
Today, you will do an acclimatisation hike to Cerro Chalata (at 13,776 feet) which is highly recommended. Its summit is the best spot in the area, with stunning views of the surroundings as well as Chimborazo’s southwestern face, the Altar and Sangay volcanoes in the Amazon.
Day 7: Mt. Chimborazo, Cerro Chalata
Early this morning, we will ascend to the Whymper hut, located on the western slope of the mountain. This will take an initial one hour drive by motor vehicle, then will continue the excursion on foot.
Day 8: Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Transfer to Mariscal Sucre Airport for your flight to Baltra Airport. Check-into the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel, which is just a few steps from the white sand beach of Punta Estrada. It’s a refuge of tranquillity that offers an unforgettable experience during your time on the Galapagos Islands. The hotel is infringed by lush tropical gardens, with an outdoor pool, bar and lounge and a restaurant that offers fresh seafood and handpicked favorites from across Latin America.
Day 9: Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
This morning, take a walk through a deciduous forest to reach El Garrapatero beach. From here, you’ll pick up your kayak. Spend an hour paddling around the bay to find pink flamingos.
Afterwards, visit the Charles Darwin Research Station and the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service. The indispensable conservation management and biological research of this unique archipelago and its surrounding waters are directed from here. During your visit, you’ll have an exciting opportunity to see the successful breeding center and the enclosures which house the giant tortoises for whom the Galapagos archipelago is famous and which is thought to have inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The Executive Director of the CDRS will give you a welcome talk and explain about the ongoing projects and objectives of the foundation in the Exhibition Hall of the Station. You will then have a tour of the Exhibition Hall and gain expert insight into the area and its natural history collections.
Day 10: Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Embark on a motor yacht to enjoy a day of navigating around the remote islands in comfort and with a few crew members and knowledgeable naturalist guide. You'll visit North Seymour and Bachas, South Plazas, Santa Fe Island or Bartolome, and Sullivan Bay. Along the way, you might see leaping rays or other sea life while taking in the vastness of the Pacific. The yacht tour lets you see the Islands and their wildlife in their most pristine state. In the morning, head back to Quito for your connecting flight home.
From $6,700 per person for nine days. To enquire about this trip with Black Tomato, click below.