Day 1: Quito. Evening arrival in Quito. Private transfer to Patio Andaluz, a charming boutique hotel just once block from the main plaza. Located in a historical building in the Colonial section of the city, the hotel has the perfect location for visiting the cathedrals lining the Calle de Siete Iglesias. The hotel is ideal for families, offering several suites with upstairs lofts and twin and king-sized beds. Quito is just 22 kilometers from the Equator, but it has a mild, spring-like climate that makes it perfect for exploring the beautiful Colonial section of the city and the surrounding Highlands. Hotel: Patio Andaluz. Includes: None.
Day 2: Otavalo Highlands. The nearby Highlands around the village of Otávalo reveal beautiful landscapes, in the full majesty of the Andes. Tonight, after your transfer to the Highlands, you will stay at Hacienda Cusín, This lovely, first-class hacienda, has guest rooms with views of the garden or mountains. Guest rooms have fireplaces, beamed ceilings and antique reproduction furniture and Andean crafts. Along with the historic ambiance, the Hacienda has modern amenities. Activities around the property include horseback rides, biking, and visits to nearby villages and lakes. Hotel: Hacienda Cusin. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 3: Otavalo Highlands. Today you’ll spend the day in and around Otávalo’s famous market. Take in the sounds, smells and colorful sights of this traditional craft market. All day long, the whir of cotton candy machines, Andean pipe music, and Quichua, the native tongue derived from the Incan tongue, drift across the square. A blinding maze of colored textiles spills from the square out across town, encompassing the area between Quito and Calderón and Bolívar and 31 de Octubre. As you stroll the streets you'll find everything from jumpers to armadillo shell guitars, wall hangings to ceramic fried eggs. Later this afternoon, you'll visit Peguche, a village famous for its textiles, and Cotacachi, home to Ecuador’s finest leather craftsmen. Hotel: Hacienda Cusín. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 4: Quito. After breakfast and a leisurely walk through the beautiful countryside to visit a renowned local witch doctor, you'll transfer back to Quit, where you will have the rest of the afternoon at leisure. Consider joining your guide on an optional walking tour and take in such sights as the Legislative Palace with its impressive stone murals and Independence Plaza, the town's oldest colonial centre that is bordered by the cathedral, Government Palace and Archbishop's Palace. Stop at La Compania, a Jesuit Temple with a spectacular gold-leaf interior as well as the historic San Fransisco Convent. Hotel: Patio Andaluz. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 5: Santa Cruz, Galapagos. Transfer to the airport for your flight to the Galapagos Islands. Once there, you will be met and transferred to the Sol Y Mar hotel, situated on the water with a bay view and surrounded by endless iguanas, pelicans, birds, sea wolfs. Enjoy lunch in the hotel restaurant, before heading into the town of Puerto Ayora with your private guides to begin your Galapagos visit at the Charles Darwin Research Station, where you’ll see a variety of giant tortoises and learn more about Darwin’s theory of evolution. Hotel: Sol Y Mar. Includes: (B), (L).
Note: Since this trip is designed as a family trip, we have based the Galapagos portion of the itinerary out of a hotel rather than a small ship. We will still see many of the surrounding sights and islands on day excursions on small vessels, but we will not have to contend with confined spaces and sea sick or stir crazy children.
Days 6 - 9: Santa Cruz, Galapagos. We have planned a wide diversity of excursions to provide the most insightful and comprehensive experience of the islands. The specific daily details will vary depending upon weather and local conditions:
- Highlands of Santa Cruz: Explore lava tunnels and caverns and then hike through El Chato, a local farm. El Chato has wild tortoises throughout the property. You will also visit Los Gemelos, the twin craters, where the rare escalesia forest grows. After lunch you will visit Academy Bay. Once aboard a private chartered boat the captain takes you towards the lighthouse at Punta Estrada to view swooping blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, herons and frolicking sea lions. Continuing into Shark Bay you can spot rays and sea turtles and observe white-tipped reef shark. At the entrance to Academy Bay, off a small islet, you’ll have the opportunity to snorkel with playful sea lions.
- Bartolomé Island: A small island that offers beautiful white sand beaches fringed by luxuriant green mangroves. The eastern end of the island has volcanic cones and lava tubes. Climb to the summit of the island for a breathtaking view. Pinnacle Rock is Bartolomé’s famous landmark, and at its foot is a beach for swimmers, snorkelers and a small colony of Galapagos penguins.
- North Seymour and Bachas Beach: This is a generally flat island that is strewn with boulders. There are nesting sites here for the magnificent frigate birds. Blue-footed boobies perform their courtship dances in the more open areas, and swallow-tailed gulls perch on cliff edges. Sea lions haul out onto the beach and can be found together with marine iguanas.
- South Plaza and Punta Carrión Beach: This is one of the smallest islands. A large colony of sea lions, numbering about 1,000, occupies the rocks. The small cactus forest is populated by land iguanas, which can be seen sunning themselves or feeding on Opuntia pads and fruits. Along the cliff edges nesting swallow-tailed gulls are the predominant seabirds, along with tropic birds and shear waters.
- Santa Fe Island: This is one of the most picturesque anchorages within the archipelago. Its beauty is best appreciated from the trail that climbs the fault cliff overlooking the southern half of the bay. This plateau is also the best place to find the large land iguanas that are endemic. Often they can be seen beneath the imposing Opuntia cacti. The two beaches are sleeping ground for sea lions, and snorkeling near the small island by the bay’s entrance is rewarding.
- Floreana Island: Pirates, whalers, convicts, and a small band of somewhat peculiar colonists—a Baroness among them—have all lived on this island. Today approximately fifty Ecuadorians inhabit the island. In 1793 British whalers set up a barrel as the island’s Post Office, to send letters home on passing ships. Drop a post card into the barrel without a stamp – the catch is you must take a post card from the barrel and see that it gets to the right place. Punta Cormorant offers two highly contrasting beaches; the strand where the yacht anchors is composed of volcanic olivine crystals, giving it a greenish tint that glitters in the sun. From here a trail crosses the neck of the isthmus—that rises to form a cinder cone—to a beach of very fine white sand, formed by the erosion of coral skeletons. Between the two beaches is a salt lagoon frequented by flamingos, pintails, stilts and other wading birds. Seen 250 meters north from the point is an old submerged volcanic cone that has been worn down by waves. Devil's Crown is home to a myriad of marine species including a variety of corals, pencil sea urchin, wrasses, angelfish, amberjacks and many other creatures, making for some of the best snorkeling in the Galapagos. The eroded crater walls form a popular roosting site for seabirds including boobies and pelicans.
- Island Ecology: Head into the heart of the Santa Cruz highlands to a working farm run by the Ecology Project International. Roll up your sleeves and tackle projects such as harvesting seeds, habitat restoration and working on evolving renewable energy programs, as well as examining issues such as introduced versus endemic species, island bio-geography, etc. Hotel: Sol Y Mar. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 10: Santa Cruz Island/Quito. After breakfast, you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to Quito, where you can catch your international flight home. Includes: (B).
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