Day 1: Depart U.S. for Quito, Ecuador We arrive late this evening in Ecuador’s capital and transfer directly to our hotel. As guests’ arrival times may vary greatly, we have no group activities or meals planned.
Day 2: Quito After a briefing this morning with our Odysseys Tour Director on the journey ahead, we set out to explore the city of Quito. Nestled in a valley surrounded by Andes volcanoes, Ecuador’s capital sits at over 9,000 feet above sea level and is said to be one of South America’s most beautiful cities. Its mixture of pre-Columbian, Baroque, Spanish, Moorish, and Flemish architecture prompted UNESCO to declare colonial Quito a World Heritage site, the first city (rather than individual site) to be accorded this distinction. Highlights include Plaza la Independencia in the Old City; La Compañía, Ecuador’s most ornate church (some say the gilding here required seven tons of gold); Carondelet Presidential Palace, with iron balconies from Les Tuilleries gardens in Paris; San Agustín Church, burial site of many of Ecuador’s war heroes; and the 16th-century Monastery of San Francisco, Ecuador’s oldest church. After lunch together at a local restaurant, we visit the Middle of the World Monument at latitude 0° 00′ 00″, the spot where an 18th-century French expedition determined the exact location of the equatorial line and where we have the opportunity to straddle two hemispheres. Tonight, we gather for a welcome dinner at the hotel. B,L,D
Day 3: Quito/Otavalo Today we travel to Otavalo in the Andean highlands to visit one of the largest indigenous markets in Latin America. As we wander the busy lanes here, we have time to marvel at the expertly woven textiles, leatherwork, musical instruments, and more on display. During our time in Otavalo, we also visit stunning Peguche Waterfalls, and spend time with a local musician. We enjoy lunch at a local restaurant then return to Quito, arriving late afternoon. Dinner is on our own tonight in this city with a vibrant restaurant scene. B,L
Day 4: Quito/Cuenca We transfer to the airport this morning for our flight to Cuenca, a UNESCO site in Ecuador’s highlands. Upon arrival, we begin our tour of this charismatic colonial city boasting cobblestone streets, graceful wrought-iron balconies, and flower-filled squares. Among the highlights of our tour: the New Cathedral, whose magnificent sky-blue domes are a symbol of the city; the Old Cathedral, used for worship during the days of Spanish colonization and now renovated as a museum; and the city’s romantic Tomebamba River. We enjoy dinner together tonight at a local restaurant. B,D
Day 5: Cuenca Cuenca owes much of its bohemian culture to a flourishing local artisan scene, and we dive into this world on today’s visits to different artists and their studios. We call on a ceramics designer to learn about the different techniques used to create pottery, household ornaments, and other handcrafts, and also meet a local jeweler who uses centuries-old methods to fashion earrings and other traditional silver filigree pieces worn by indigenous women during special celebrations. At another stop, we learn about the interesting history of the famed Panama hat, which despite its name, is native to Ecuador. At a local workshop, we watch workers as they weave the traditional hats from the local toquilla palm. On our final stop, we visit an orchid laboratory to learn more about these special plants. After lunch at a local restaurant, we return to our hotel late this afternoon. Dinner tonight is on our own. B,L
Day 6: Cuenca/Cajas National Park Today we travel west of Cuenca to Cajas National Park, known for its cloud forest, glacial valleys, some 270 lakes and lagoons, and stunning waterfalls. During our visit, we take in the natural beauty, while hoping to spot some local wildlife, including Andean condors, the curiquinga (raptor), and giant hummingbird, among local birdlife, and animals such as coatis and puma. After our excursion here, we stop for lunch at a local restaurant then return to Cuenca, where the remainder of the afternoon and evening is free for independent exploration and dinner on our own. B,L
Day 7: Cuenca/Guayaquil We leave the Andean highlands today for coastal Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second largest city and main port. Enroute to the coast, we stop at a local hacienda to learn more about the cacao, the seed from which chocolate and cocoa derive and for which Ecuador is well known. Here we enjoy lunch then descend from the mountains to Ecuador’s tropical coastline and vibrant Guayaquil, known as the “Pacific Pearl.” Upon arrival, we embark on a city tour, visiting Seminario Park to see the famed land iguanas, the neo-classical Palacio Municipal de Guayaquil, and the Malecon 2000 waterfront district. We continue on to our hotel then are free for dinner on own tonight, with multiple options at and nearby our hotel. B,L
Day 8: Guayaquil/Baltra/Santa Cruz Island This morning we fly from Guayaquil to the Galapagos island of Baltra, where we board a bus and then a boat for the short ride to Santa Cruz Island, our home base for exploring the Galapagos. Then we transfer by bus to our well-appointed hotel set on 370 lush, unspoiled, and secluded acres in the Santa Cruz highlands. After lunch at our hotel, our first excursion takes us to the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center where we see and learn about the iconic giant Galapagos tortoises being bred here for later release in the wild. These celebrated Galapagos inhabitants can weigh up to 900 pounds and live to be more than 150 years old; the famous Pinta Island tortoise Lonesome George – last of his subspecies and for a time the world’s rarest creature – lived here until his death in 2012. Here we also have a chance to see Darwin’s finches, Galapagos flycatchers, great blue herons, and yellow warblers. After our visit to the Research Station, we have some free time to enjoy the town of Puerto Ayora, the beating heart of the Galapagos with over 12,000 residents. We also may wish to head to Academy Bay to spot brown pelicans, golden rays, Galapagos sea lions, and boats of all shapes and size. After a chance to freshen up, we gather for to a briefing on tomorrow’s excursion, followed by dinner together at our hotel. B,L,D
Day 9: North Seymour Island/Bachas Beach This morning we transfer to the port where we board the Santa Fe, our privately chartered yacht for exploring the Galapagos. Then we cruise to North Seymour, a flat, low-lying island covering 1.9 square miles just north of Santa Cruz. A true “deserted island,” North Seymour’s only inhabitants are the marine birds, land iguanas, lava lizards, and other wildlife we encounter today. On our naturalist-led walk, we see the Galapagos’ largest colony of frigate birds, a nesting colony of blue-footed boobies, and swallow-tailed gulls, among other bird life. After lunch aboard the Santa Fe, we head back towards Santa Cruz Island, first weighing anchor in the calm waters off Bachas Beach, one of the Galapagos’ primary sea turtle nesting sites. The beach’s floating pier serves as one of the few lasting reminders of the United States’ presence during World War II; here we find the remains of a U.S. Navy barge that sank many years ago. We make a wet landing here to see flamingo ponds, iguanas, coastal birds, Darwin’s finches, mockingbirds, and gulls, as well as both native and endemic vegetation. Late this afternoon we return to our comfortable hotel, with time to relax and refresh, perhaps to enjoy a dip in the pool, linger over a glass of wine or meet with friends in the bar prior to dinner at our hotel tonight. B,L,D
Day 10: South Plaza Island/Punta Carrion Today’s destination is small in size but rich in flora and fauna: the island of South Plaza, which lies approximately 90 minutes off the coast of Santa Cruz. Boasting abundant wildlife and carpeted with colorful Sesuvium ground cover and cacti, surrounded by turquoise waters, and edged with black lava-rimmed beaches, South Plaza ranks as one of the most popular (and colorful) of the Galapagos Islands. During our walk, we are on the lookout for such local residents as land and marine iguanas, bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs, red-billed tropic birds, Nazca and blue-footed boobies, and a male colony of sea lions (“the bachelors”). After lunch aboard the Santa Fe, we cruise to Punta Carrion, where we have the opportunity to snorkel in the calm waters of a shallow cove teeming with puffers, yellow-tailed surgeonfish, damselfish, angelfish, and parrotfish. White-tipped sharks and a variety of rays may also join the throng of sea life here in the cove. Following our excursion, we again return to the comfort of our hotel, where we have time to relax before dinner together tonight. B,L,D
Day 11: Santa Cruz Island We embark this morning on a full-day exploration of Santa Cruz itself, the second largest of the Galapagos Islands. Our excursion begins in the lush highlands with a trip to see the giant Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat, as they wallow in mud pools and chomp on vegetation. We also see Los Gemelos (“The Twins”), the huge twin sinkhole craters formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago; and Garrapatero, a secluded white-sand beach ringed by mangrove trees and volcanic rock formations where we may see reef fish, sea turtles, rays, marine iguanas, and flamingos, among other marine and terrestrial wildlife. Finally, we have a chance to explore the lava tunnels at our hotel: to literally walk inside the naturally formed tubes through which lava flowed eons ago. We enjoy both lunch and dinner today at our hotel. B,L,D
Day 12: Santa Cruz Island/Baltra/Quito This morning we transfer to Baltra for the return flight to Quito, arriving mid-afternoon. We have some time to relax and repack, and to enjoy the amenities at our hotel upon arrival. Tonight, we celebrate our remarkable adventure at a farewell dinner at a nearby restaurant. B,D
Day 13: Quito/Depart for U.S. This morning we tour Quito’s Botanical Gardens, which offer a window on Ecuador’s stunning biodiversity: the nation boasts more than 16,000 endemic plant species (more than all of Europe) and over 6,000 native species of butterfly. After our touring here we move on to the Iñaquito Market, a covered marketplace spanning an entire city block and offering every fruit, vegetable, meat, and seafood option imaginable. We then return to our hotel where we have time for lunch on our own. This afternoon is at leisure for exploring, shopping, photography, or simply relaxing in our rooms, which are reserved for our late check out. Later this evening we transfer to the airport for our overnight flight to the U.S. B
Day 14: Arrive U.S. We arrive in the U.S. and connect with our return flights home.
Please note: This trip involves considerable walking on uneven terrain and includes both wet and dry landings in the Galapagos. The elevations of Quito (9,300 ft.) and Cuenca (8,400 ft.) could pose problems for travelers with certain health conditions. You should consult your personal physician if you have concerns.
B = Breakfast included L = Lunch included D = Dinner included