Ecuador general information and map
Getting there: There are no direct flights to Quito from the UK, but there are regular flights with major airlines via several European cities including Amsterdam and Madrid. Flying time from Madrid to Quito is approximately 11 hours.
Time: GMT minus 6 hours.
Try not to miss: The fertile valleys and lush green vistas surrounding Otavalo to the north of Quito, including the lovely Zuleta valley, famous for hand embroidery. This region is home to stunning colonial haciendas, the oldest ones dating from the 17th century where herds of dairy cows and fighting bulls are raised on rich pastures. Most of the haciendas used by Wild and Exotic have courtyards festooned in colourful flowers, beautiful gardens, antique décor and open fireplaces in the bedrooms. Many of these prestigious and historically important haciendas are still home to the noblest of Ecuadorian families. The bird watching here is spectacular, with a huge variety of birds from the mighty Andean Condor to tiny hummingbirds and bright scarlet flycatchers. Whilst in Otavalo don’t miss out on a visit to the market, where locals dressed in traditional costumes sell crafts and home grown produce.
Head south across the Equator and into Cotopaxi National Park and the avenue of the volcanoes, overlooked by the spherical white cone of 5897 metre high Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. Using high altitude haciendas as your base explore the high paramo, not dissimilar to Exmoor, where herds of wild horses and fighting bulls roam a landscape of rolling hill and rocky outcrops studded with glittering lakes. Ride or walk along the ancient Inca highway that linked Quito with Cusco in Peru, and spend a night at the most important Inca site in Ecuador, Hacienda San Augustin, where the rooms are arranged around a perfectly preserved Inca square.
The Amazon jungle on the eastern side of the Andes. We recommend a stunning eco-lodge overlooking a lagoon on the Napo River (a tributary of the Amazon) where you can swim with giant otters, watch flocks of gaudy parrots flight into clay licks each morning, see snail kites at work and go spotlighting caimans at night. Other Amazon wildlife surrounding the lodge includes wild pigs and monkeys.
The Galapagos Islands are a series of volcanic outcrops on the Equator some 600 miles from mainland Ecuador, world famous for being stuck in an evolutionary time warp and home to many unique indigenous species of wildlife. The best way to experience these islands is to join on a cruise lasting from 4 – 8 days, or better still ask Wild and Exotic about chartering a cruise boat (the smallest are for just 10 passengers) for the exclusive benefit of your party. During your tour there will be visits to many of the islands on foot, talks by qualified naturalist guides and opportunities for scuba diving and snorkelling,
Visas: No visa is required for visits of up to 90 days for UK citizens.
Why Ecuador: For her rich colonial heritage and superb examples of well preserved colonial archeicteure, her unique avenue of volcanoes and the world famous Galapagos Islands.
Wild and Exotic Ecuador and Galapagos sample itinerary
Day 1: Depart London Heathrow late evening.
Day 2: On arrival at Quito Airport you will be met by a representative of Wild and Exotic and transferred to Swissotel (swimming pool, spa & several restaurants) for an overnight stay on bed and breakfast basis. The day is at your leisure in Quito.
Day 3: You will be met by a bilingual guide and driven north to hacienda Pinsaqui, once frequented by the great South American liberator, Simon Bolivar. On the way you will visit the famous Otavalo market on one of the busiest days of the week. As well as the bustling craft market and stalls with exotic fruit, there is a food market where the locals, dressed in their very distinctive traditional costume, come down from tiny farms in the mountains to sell their farm produce and buy weekly supplies.
You will have lunch at hacienda Pinsaqui, which has courtyards, ornate fountains, terraces and gardens with citrus, palm and monkey-puzzle trees. After lunch the riders embark on a three hour introductory ride to hacienda Cusin. During the ride you will see friendly locals in traditional dress working the fields that cover the slopes of the Imbabura volcano with hand tools or cattle. These tiny fields are surrounded by stone walls and earth banks topped with sisal plants and an array of wild flowers. Both riders and non-riders will also be able to observe a master weaver using an ancient back strap loom.
Non riders: In the morning the non riders will enjoy the fascinating Otavalo market with the rest of the group. After lunch the non riders can discuss their preferences with their private guide. There are several options, including visiting villages that specialises in selling leather goods and exquisite woodcarvings. Master weavers still use the pre Inca back strap loom, taking up to six weeks to complete some of the pieces, and you can also observe the carding, spinning and dyeing process. Afterwards you can be driven by your guide into the foothills of nearby Cotocachi volcano to visit the Crater Lake and take a walk across the unique high paramo grassland, where panoramic views stretch to San Pablo Lake and the surrounding ring of extinct volcanoes. Later you will walk through a tranquil valley en route to hacienda Cusin, where beautiful and extensive gardens await, full of fascinating plants and bird life. The group will spend the night at this charming hacienda with its flower filled verandas, lovely terraces, and fireplaces in most rooms, which was built in 1602.
Day 4: The ride today takes you into the beautiful pastoral Zuleta Valley; along country lanes, through eucalyptus forests, and then climbs out of San Pablo Valley onto the plains beyond for some fast-pace riding. The views of Zuleta valley, the verdant gorges and the ‘paramo’ (the unique Andean habitat of high grasslands) are stunning. The ride then descends into the Zuleta meadows and on to a prestigious working hacienda, owned by the daughters of one of Ecuador’s most respected presidents, in the heart of this sleepy valley. The hacienda is a working farm with Andalusian horses, a trout farm, dairy cows, and a cheese factory. The bird watching here is spectacular, with a huge variety of birds from the mighty Andean Condor to tiny hummingbirds and bright scarlet flycatchers. The valley is famous for hand embroidery, and in the afternoon you will have the opportunity to visit locals hand embroidering, the condor project, and the other day to day activities taking place on the working farm surrounding hacienda Zuleta where you are spending the night – there are lovely courtyards and gardens to relax in.
Non riders: Will set off in their own vehicle with their guide down cobbled roads into the Zuleta Valley passing through breathtaking scenery, with views to the snow capped Cayambe volcano. You will explore part of the valley on foot, which is home to the Andean condor and many other raptors and birds of prey. You will also visit local craftsmen and the earthwork remains left by pre Inca cultures, and your guide will explain the long and fascinating history of the Zuleta Valley. Once at the hacienda, there is a working farm with Andalusian horses, a trout farm, dairy herd, and a cheese factory to explore, and lovely courtyards in which to relax.
Day 5: Today the whole group will leave the hacienda early in order to maximize the chances of good fishing. You will to be driven to San Marcos Crater Lake high up in the cayambe foothills, about 90 minutes from hacienda Zuleta and set amidst stunning scenery close to the cayambe glacier. This area is home to condors, birds of prey, and high altitude hummingbirds known as hillstars. There will be a dingy with capacity for 3 rods and fishing guide and tackle provided for 8 guests (although I strongly recommend guests bring their own fishing tackle if that is not too inconvenient – I would be delighted to advise). Guests may take it in turns to fish from the shore or from the dingy and will enjoy an elaborate picnic lunch besides the lake. After fishing, you return to hacienda Zuleta for dinner and a second night in these gorgeous surroundings. For those not wishing to fish there will be the option of an exploratory ride in the beautiful Zuleta Valley.
Day 6: After breakfast leave hacienda Zuleta by vehicle and visit La Compania, a Jesuit hacienda, for morning coffee and a look around the 17th century Jesuit chapel and flower plantation before crossing Equator line en route to hacienda San Agustin. You will break the journey by taking lunch at hacienda Las Herrerias, which is a beautiful building, complete with a fascinating collection of religious artifacts. You will arrive at San Augustin in time for an afternoon exploratory ride of the Cotopaxi foothills, whilst the non riders can relax amidst the stunning surroundings of this lovely hacienda.
Non riders: Having accompanied the rest of the group on their visit to La Compania and lunch at Las Herrerias, you can enjoy a siesta at hacienda San Augustin before being driven by your private guide to Hacienda La Cienaga, which was built in the late sixteen hundreds with a strong North African influence in the architecture. This hacienda was base to many famous explorers (von Humboldt, Condamine) and scientists, and also the scene of the first fierce battles for independence – the old bells at this hacienda are still marked by bullet holes.
Day 7: The last day of riding takes you up into the National Park to canter across the wide, barren plain at the base of the Cotopaxi Volcano (the highest active volcano in the world). Several herds of wild horses inhabit the park and you will enjoy the sight of these long-maned horses galloping freely across the rugged terrain. Although the curiosity of the young stallions often overcomes their fear, they keep a careful distance. Part of this ride follows the main Inca highway, which linked Quito with Cusco in Peru. Close by, there is a route running eastwards, along which the Incas reached the Amazon rain forest, and in the distance you can see remnants of the Inca hilltop fortress that once guarded this route. The ground is covered with tiny pumice stones and lichen on this arid plain created by lava and ash from the mighty Cotopaxi volcano. The ride passes a shallow lake on the high plains before you arrive at a small restaurant that enjoys a spectacular view of Cotopaxi. After lunch with the non riders the ride continues across an unusual lunar landscape to reach rolling grassy hills before arriving at El Porvenir, and the finish of the ride. From you will be driven into the Machachi Valley and thence back to Quito for an overnight stay at the Swissotel on bed and breakfast basis only.
Non riders will be driven into the national park for a tour of the spectacular scenery and a walk along the edge of a canyon, with excellent views of the volcano. Your guide will explain the fascinating geological features produced by a series of eruptions over the centuries. Afterwards you will visit the ruins of an Inca fortress and a small museum. Other options (which can be decided with your guide on the day) include a climb up to the mountain refuge, which sits close to the snow line, and a visit to the local market in Latacunga. You will then meet the riders at hacienda El Porvenir for empanadas and cocktails before being driven as a group back to Quito for a two night stay at the Swissotel on bed and breakfast basis.
Day 8: In the morning you will be taken on a guided tour of Colonial Quito (Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage site) with its magnificent churches and fine colonial art, including visits to several museums can be visited. The guide will discuss the various options with your group and you can decide on your preferred itinerary. After lunch (your guide will recommend a suitable restaurant) shopping tour or further museum visits. Overnight at in a hotel.
Day 9: You will be transferred to Quito airport in time for Tame Airlines flight to join the Beagle, our boat of choice, for a cruise of the Galapagos Islands. We have a selection of boats to suit all pockets and tastes. On arrival at Baltra airport in the Galapagos Islands you will be met and transferred to the Beagle for lunch. Although local weather conditions dictate the exact itinerary, islands visited will usually include Seymour Norte, a low flat outcrop with the largest colony of magnificent frigate birds in the Galapagos; Plaza Sur with its crowded sea lion colony; Espanola, whose high cliffs sustain some of the islands’ most impressive and varied bird colonies (waved albatrosses, swallow-tailed gulls, red-billed tropicbirds, masked boobies etc.); Santa Cruz, home to the Charles Darwin Station and the giant land tortoise which roams the highlands; Floreana, for years one of the few populated islands and home to the postal box, the Galapagos’ unique form of communication with the outside world; Bartolome, where you can swim with penguins and climb the island’s volcano with its impressive lava fields; and Genovesa in the far north of the archipelago with its beautiful natural harbour of Darwin Bay. Although The Beagle is a schooner, she will generally motor between islands. The distances involved and the vagaries of the wind rarely allow passage under sail, although foresails will often be set to maintain stability.
Day 10 – 15: On board the Beagle or other boat of your choice exploring the Galapagos Islands.
Day 16: In the morning you will visit Caleta Tortuga (Black Turtle Cove), Santa Cruz before transferring to the airport for the flight back from the Galapagos to Quito. You will take Tame Airlines flight to Quilto You will be met on arrival at Quito airport and transferred to Swissotel for overnight stay on bed and breakfast basis.
Day 17: This morning you will be collected from your hotel in the morning and transferred to Quito airport in time for your flight to the Amazon where you will be spending the next 3 nights at the Napo Wildlife Centre Jungle Lodge. The eastern slopes of the Andes and the upper Amazonian basin cover almost half of the Ecuadorian territory. Known locally as the “Oriente”, the Ecuadorian rainforest is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world and one of the most easily accessed areas of rainforest on the continent. Covering some 13 million hectares, it is estimated that over 7% of the world’s species find refuge in the Amazon basin. One of the oldest habitats on earth, the Amazon is home to over 600 species of birds (6.9% of the world’s total), innumerable plants and insects, 14 species of primates, and over 80 other species of mammals, including the fresh water dolphin, the giant otter and the Amazonian manatee. Please note that although guests do see the larger animals it is not an everyday experience. The lodges have been chosen for the combination of primary rain forest location, a good chance of seeing rain forest fauna and the quality of guiding as well as ensuring a certain standard of accommodation and catering.
The Jungle lodge has been established in close co-operation with the local Anangu community and is situated two hours by motorised canoe down the Napo River. Guests then transfer to dugout canoes for the trip to the lodge through the backwater creeks. This trip can take between 1 and 3 hours, as guests have the chance to see Giant River Otters, monkeys and numerous bird species. Lunch is en route, and guests arrive at the lodge, sited on the edge of the lake, late afternoon. The lodge has 10 luxury cabanas, each with private bathroom, solar heated water, ceiling fans and private decks with a lake view, plus a large communal dining hall, library and well stocked bar.
Daily activities range from hikes in small groups through the rainforest accompanied by a local Anangu guide and a bi-lingual naturalist, spending time in the 19 metre observation tower, situated on a hill close to the lodge, where the guides, armed with binoculars and a spotting scope will point out the bird life and trips paddling in the dugout canoes around the large lake and two nearby creeks. A particular highlight of this lodge is the visits to the two parrot clay licks, which are part of the reserve. In comfortable and well-established blinds, visitors can hope to spot species such as mealy, blue headed, yellow, crowned, orange winged and orange-cheeked parrots among others.
Day 20: After an early final breakfast here you will begin your journey back to Quito. On arrival in Quito at approximately 12.30hrs, you will be transferred to the Swissotel for your final night in Ecuador on bed and breakfast basis.
Day 21: You will be transferred to the airport in time for your flight home.
The price includes all meals as described on the itinerary, except where otherwise stated (for example whilst in Quito the accommodation is bed and breakfast only, but the cost of all meals has been included in the riding itinerary). Alcohol is not included in the price except where stated.
Accommodation is based on double accommodation for two people. Guides will present restaurant options for your dining arrangements in Quito, book tables and if necessary arrange taxis on your behalf. Guests are responsible for paying their own taxi fares to restaurants etc in Quito.
Non riders will have their own vehicle and private guide whilst the rest of the group are riding. If requested we can procure the services of a specialist bird guide or historian to accompany the non-riders. In any event the general guides are carefully selected, professional and very well informed.
Neither Wild and Exotic nor the operators or suppliers can accept any responsibility for changes to itineraries or dates that may arise due to weather or unforeseen circumstances such as changes, disruptions or delays to airline flights for whatever reason. This holiday is subject to Wild and Exotic’s terms and conditions, a copy of which is available on this website under the general info tab.
“The holiday in Ecuador was a huge success – riding with Sally was magic – she was so efficient and arranged everything quite beautifully.”