Ecuador: Cotopaxi and Galapagos
Fly in/out: Guayaquil, Baltra and Baltra to Quito
Recommended ages: 10 and up
Ball Park Price: $4,000/person up to four travellers (airfare not included)
Best Season: December through May air and water is warmer, June through November the currents are stronger but great marine wildlife watching.
Time: Mountain Time Zone
DAY ONE: Start this one of a kind adventure on a marathon first day flying in to Guayaquil (GYE) with a connecting to Baltra Island (GPS). Upon arrival to the airport at Baltra Island, be met by a guide from Finch Bay Eco Hotel and take a ferry across the Itabaca channel to Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. Take a bus to the highlands of Santa Cruz Island for a visit to the Giant Tortoises Reserve in their natural habitat. A stop is made at the Twin Pit craters, great depressions of volcanic material where exceptional Scalesia trees ferns and mosses can be seen. Drive and check in to Finch Bay Eco Hotel.
DAY TWO: Explore North Seymour Island on a one day yacht excursion. Hike through the island and observe Palo Santo trees and colonies of blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls and frigate birds. Head to the other side of the island and watch the ocean crash against the rocks and sea lions surf in the waves.
DAY THREE: Hike South Plaza Island (also known as Barrington Island) and watch fascinating wildlife at sea and along the cliffs with sea lions, land iguanas, swallow tailed gulls, cacti and vegetation that changes colors.
DAY FOUR: Leave the hotel early in the morning for a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, home to many giant tortoises. Then, overland transfer to the airport in Baltra to take the flight back to Quito, Ecuador, the capital of Ecuador. With a private driver, arranged by Hacienda Hato Verde, explore Old Town Quito and then drive one hour out of the city to the equator. Check into the working farm Hacienda Hato Verde.
DAY FIVE: Drive a 2 hour scenic drive for a 1.5 hour river-rafting trip in Banos. Explore the beautiful valley with amazing waterfalls. Go to local artisan markets.
DAY SIX: Drive to Laguna Quilotoa, an unbelievable huge caldera with magnificent views surrounded by a mountainous valley. An option to hike down and rent kayaks is available but you have to be able to handle the altitude and navigate the tricky hiking trail. Travel through unbelievable mountains and come across a lot of indigenous villages to get there.
DAY SEVEN: Hike and explore Cotopaxi Volcano National Park. The volcano is the 26th highest in the world with a 19,000 foot elevation so hike at a moderate pace.
DAY EIGHT: Spend the last day on New Years Eve and take part in Ecuadorean traditions and festivities.
DAY NINE: Drive to Quito and head home.
SUGGESTED DO OVERS:
- Skip the Charles Darwin Research Station and instead spend a day at Finch Bay Eco hotel kayaking or snorkeling.
- We loved the river-rafting excursion but wish we had opted for a longer trip which we found out later was an option.
Galapagos Islands Map
- Galapagos Islands are an ecological wonderland of largely native wildlife. They are known for inspiring Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection where he spent years studying. Off the coast of Ecuador coast, the Galapagos archipelago consists of 13 big islands, 6 small islands and 40 plus islets. Most tourists travel by boat and explore the islands on either a small or large cruise ship. After some planning, we found a land-based option.
- For this trip, we were looking for a way to travel through Galapagos without having to stay overnight on a boat. We were happy with our land-based option and felt we got to see some of the best parts of the Galapagos. We began in Galapagos in Santa Cruz which is the most populated island with it’s main town, Puerto Ayora, the home base for the Finch Bay Eco Hotel. Our first excursion was over to North Seymour which has colonies of breeding Magnificent Frigatebirds that are relatively close to the path. We saw land iguanas and sea lions laying on the beach who will engage in a friendly staring contests or even pose for pictures. Our next island, South Plaza Island also took us on land for a hike, to find land iguanas and one of the biggest sea lion colonies in the archipelago. Our last day as part of the Naturalist Program with Finch Bay, included a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station which we probably should have skipped. It wasn’t as interesting and was a little too “cheesy” as a tourist site. While on Finch Bay, we walked to Tortuga Bay and kayaked. Only a 45 minute walk from Puerto Ayora or you could grab a ride for $1. We rented kayaks and enjoyed a pristine beach. Also a short walk from Finch Bay is Las Grietas. A beautiful sheltered place to swim with lava rock and fissures that creates two layers of water: saline and fresh. This was really cool. Go early to beat some crowds.
- We spent a day in Quito with a guide exploring the “Old Town” a World Heritage Site, which is a colonial complex and square with churches, museums and plazas. Travel with the guide to just outside of Quito to the Equator line and see the “Middle of the World” Monument. Quito is a busy and poor town with a population of 1.6 million. It was a little shock to our system to go from the serene and tranquil Galapagos to the noisy and crowded town of Quito.
- Just a couple of hours south of Quito is Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, home to Cotopaxi Volcano (19342 ft). the beautiful snow covered volcano is Ecuador’s second highest peak and the highest active volcano in the world. We selected the working farm in Ecuador as the spot for taking day trips for hiking, river rafting and exploring beautiful Quilotoa Caldera. By staying on this farm, our family built a relationship with the owners and local farmers and we were able to enjoy the people and culture of Ecuador.
Places to stay
- Finch Bay Eco Hotel, a newly renovated hotel located at the south side of Santa Cruz Island. It is a self-sustaining eco-friendly hotel with beautiful scenic views and pool. The service is impeccable and the food and dining were wonderful. We requested two adjoining rooms which were small but we spent very little time in the rooms. This small boutique hotel has an understated elegance.
- The working farm, Hacienda Hato Verde. It is a great spot in the in the middle of nowhere near the Cotopaxi Volcano. This place is amazingly warm and the host and hostesses took care of our every need. They scheduled tours for us and arranged for a private driver that was very educational. We had breakfast and dinner there (Ecuador is not known for their restaurants). The meals were really great and we got to sit with other guests that traveled all over the world. The kids really like being a part of the conversations and loved learning about new cultures. Really a highlight about staying at this place. There is also a bull fighting ring on the farm. Such a unique experience. We got picnics packed for us during the day for our full day excursions.
We mostly ate at our hotels the Finch Bay Eco Hotel had excellent food with a beautiful ambiance. The working farm had family style dinners with other guests to relax and enjoy which was one of our highlights for the trip. To learn a little about the Ecuadorean food and customs, review this Frommers link.
- Simplify the first day and spend the first night when you first land in Guayaquil. Do this to avoid one of the longest travel days involving 8 different modes of transportation. Most flights from Quito land in Guayaquil any way on the way to the Galapagos Islands.
- If you are interested in seeing the majority of the Galapagos Islands, then taking a boat cruise is a recommended option. (See Gems of Galapagos). But this was a great land based option.
- There are no easy solutions for adjusting to the altitude in Quito, Ecuador and Cotopaxi Province. With Cotopaxi Province being at a high elevation of 11,000 feet above sea level and Cotopaxi Volcano at 19,000, even small hikes in the thin air can be taxing. We tried to use our last day to adjust to the altitude to take a hike in the Cotopaxi National Park, but it was difficult.
- Do not drink the water in Ecuador. Between the warmth and the altitude, make sure you have bottled water for your whole family at all times.
Before You Go
A valid passport is required for travel to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Travel documentation also needs to be provided by the boat company and/or hotel to enter National Parks and travel throughout Galapagos.