Darwin’s Enchanted Islands & the Ecuadorian Highlands
Rare is the traveler who returns home untouched by the magic of Ecuador. The glorious scenery, rich traditions and welcoming people of the highlands – it’s not just the thin Andes air that leaves you breathless. Witness blue-footed boobies perform a dance of seduction, while five hundred-pound tortoises lumber across the volcanic Galápagos landscape. Curious penguins swim figure eights among snorkelers, as marine iguanas enjoy a casual seaweed lunch. The unusual and wonderful wildlife that intrigued Charles Darwin when he visited the islands in 1835 is still here. To experience this land firsthand is to feel a sense of joy and wonder in one of the world’s last great wild places.
Explore highland villages, where Otavaleño Indians continue centuries-old traditions
Connect with one of Ecuador’s foremost master weavers during a tour of his studio
Visit award-winning Condor Huasi, a rehabilitation center for Andean condors
Get set for a life-altering experience as you view Galápagos wildlife up close with an expert local guide
Swim and snorkel with sea lions and, yes, even with white-tipped reef sharks!
Day 1 Trace the orchid-lined caldera rim surrounding deep-blue Laguna de Cuicocha Otavalo’s market is a colorful bustling whirl – revel in it! Musicians serenade you with handcrafted instruments Tour the studio of one of Ecuador’s foremost master weavers Soak it all in and savor every moment of your time in the Andes.
Days 2-3 Hike through quinoa fields and cloud forests as condors ride the thermals high above you Fernando Polanco, grandson of an Ecuadorian president, welcomes us at Hacienda Zuleta, a 4,000-acre working farm set amid volcano vistas and pre-Inca ruins Feast on fresh cheeses, vegetables and trout prepared using Polanco family recipes Walk or horseback ride on trails flanking Imbabura Volcano in the spectacular Zuleta Valley Visit a project managed by Hacienda Zuleta that reintroduces captive Andean condors into the wild and educates local children about the importance of preservation.
Days 4-8 Boat and fly between the Galápagos Islands Hike in the company of expert local guides as fascinating wildlife behaviors occur right before your eyes Watch giant frigate birds with six-foot wingspans soar like Triassic Period pterosaurs View marine iguanas basking on warm rocks, unfazed by the Sally Lightfoot crabs that scurry across them Marvel at fluorescent fish, sea lions and lava lizards Keep your eyes peeled for the brilliant plumage of the rare vermilion flycatcher Jump in a kayak and paddle around the islet-dotted bays around Puerto Villamil to get a closer look at penguins, seabirds and maybe even surfacing sea turtles.LESS