This exceptional holiday to Ecuador & the Galápagos features the very best properties and a seriously stylish expedition cruise ship. Set a course for the cloudforest and stay at Mashpi Lodge, a design-led treehouse in the heart of a rainforest reserve, teeming with incredible wildlife. Next, discover the colonial history and hidden corners of Quito, with an included night tour during your stay. Your final port of call in Ecuador is the Galápagos Islands, where you’ll cruise through the archipelago aboard Silver Origin, stopping at remote islands to snorkel with sea lions and hike along lava tunnels. Admire the courtship rituals of the Blue-footed Booby, step over iguanas basking in the sun and watch bellowing bull elephant seals challenge one another in a spectacular display. It is not only the abundance of wildlife, whether in the jungle or among the islands, but their fearlessness that makes this Galápagos island cruise such a nature lover’s dream.
Following a chauffeur-driven transfer to the airport, you will fly to Quito, capital of Ecuador. Upon arrival, we will transfer you to your luxury hotel, Casa Gangotena, in the heart of the colonial district on Plaza San Francisco, which makes for a great stay.
The smartest address in the city, Casa Ganotena with its colonial era charms, elegant architecture and superbly central location make discovering Quito a delight. Climb to the rooftop terrace at dusk for sundowners and panoramic views of Quito’s church roofs, bell towers and spires.
Today, it’s into the rainforest with a journey through the dry valley of Pomasqui towards the western flank of the cordillera, where you’ll enter the Mashpi Reserve in the Choco rainforest, widely regarded to be one of the world’s greatest biodiversity hotspots. Suitably rested and following an introduction to the cloudforest, you’ll enjoy a thrilling excursion into the jungle on a nature trek led by a local guide, in search of trees festooned with orchids, hidden waterfalls and wildlife including exotic birds, monkeys, peccaries and even puma.
After exploring, recuperate with a spa session or let a masseuse work on those aches. Immerse yourself in the reserve with an evening talk on the secret wildlife of Mashpi or its conservation by a resident naturalist. Take a cocktail from the Explorer’s Bar and stand on the terrace listening top the night sounds and sign up for a nocturnal walk to see the forest from a different perspective.
Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner included
The forest rewards early risers so wake for a yoga class on the terrace or to scour the cloudforest with binoculars for birds with exotic plumage. Continue bird spotting over breakfast in the dining room where the two-story glass walls look out into the forest. You want to be out in the wild though, so, when suitably kitted up, set out on a second nature trail. Climb an eight-story observation tower to eyeball toucans, tanagers and parrots. From high on the trunk of a forest giant, glide through the treetops on the unique Dragonfly canopy ride or pedal silently through the canopy on a Sky Bike to appreciate the forest’s complex structure and species richness – undoubtedly a life moment.
Back on terra firma, explore secret corners of the forest, wade through shallow streams and even take a dip in a waterfall plunge pool. Exhilarated, return to the Lodge to swap stories with fellow guests, sip perfectly-prepared cocktails before dinner and a menu of inventive, local dishes full of spices, exotic fruits and forest-foraged herbs. Set out again after dark to spot moths as big as your hand, miniature glass and tree frogs, owls and even fox fire, a form of luminous fungus. It’s a magical world, seldom explored and ready to be discovered in expert company.
Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner included
Return to Quito, this time immersing yourself in everything that it has to offer. Spend the next two days exploring downtown Quito, discovering the colonial treasures, art and architecture hidden here, taking in the colonial quarter, cathedral, Presidential Palace and Monastery of San Francisco. Admire the white-washed houses adorned with intricate balconies, stroll along the cobbled Calle de la Ronda and pause at art galleries, artisan craft shops and pavement cafés. Perhaps travel outside the city to the Equatorial Monument and stand smack bang in the exact Middle of the World at latitude 0° – raise a glass of champagne as you straddle the hemispheres.
During your stay, a special Quito by Night tour offers a new perspective on colonial Quito. Under the star-filled night sky, you'll drive by the San Francisco Church and La Compañía Church’s Baroque façade. You'll also visit the Independence Plaza, flanked by the Presidential Palace and the Cathedral of Quito. It's all even more beautiful by moonlight.
Stay: JW Marriott, Quito
We’ll fly you to San Cristobal in the Galápagos Islands for the next leg of your journey, ready to reveal to you the wonders of this wildlife-rich region in incredible depth and serious style on a luxury adventure cruise aboard Silver Origin by Silversea, one of the most exciting and exclusive expedition vessels operating among the islands. Embarking after you’ve had a chance to meet your Expedition Team, the ship will start by circumnavigating the impressive Kicker Rock, formed of two tall towers of lava rock.
Look out for frigatebirds, swallow-tailed gulls and Nazca Boobies from the deck or balcony of your cabin. As the sun sinks into the sea, sip cocktails from the Piano Bar and hope for a spectacular sunset. Dress for dinner and enjoy a gourmet dining experience in The Restaurant.
Awake to explore some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Galápagos, including the iconic Pinnacle Rock, a towering obelisk at the edge of the ocean on Isla Bartolomé. Board a Zodiac boat to zip ashore at Bartolomé, passing through its arid volcanic landscape in search of lava lizards and Galápagos Hawks. As you climb to the ultimate high point of the island, you'll be rewarded with views across Pinnacle Rock, Daphne Major and Daphne Minor in the distance.
Later, at Playa Espumilla, Zodiacs will drop you right on the beach, surrounded by a variety of incredible birdlife, including flamingos, White-cheeked Pintails, Yellow Warblers, Whimbrels, and American Oystercatchers. Trek inland through arid vegetation in search of giant palo santo trees and Darwin’s famous finches and loop back past a mangrove-fringed lagoon.
Retire to the ship and relax ahead of the next adventure. Replay the day’s adventures by scrolling through your photos in the Explorer Lounge or swapping stories with your fellow passengers over a perfectly balanced martini.
Drifting towards Isabela, the largest and youngest island in the Galápagos, you’ll get a spectacular cutaway view of the collapsed volcanic caldera. After the ship anchors in deep water right up against the cliffs, set out on a Zodiac in search of penguins and seabirds and enjoy some of the best, albeit chilliest, snorkelling at Punta Vicente Roca. Relocate to the unspoiled island of Fernandina for the chance to enjoy close-up encounters with wildlife including sea lions and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
Look out for the largest colony of marine iguanas in the Galápagos sunning themselves on the black lava shores of Punta Espinoza and let your naturalist guide pick out the rare, endemic Flightless Cormorant that makes its home here. Back on board, dress up for a sophisticated dining experience and make the most of a multi-course menu that combines traditional cruise fare with island-inspired dishes such as local lobster a la Galapaguera or Ecuadorian ceviche, prepared to perfection.
Continue to island hop through the Galápagos by cruising across the Bolivar Strait to Tagus Cove on Isabela Island. Step foot ashore for a guided nature walk with a naturalist, looking out for yellow warblers and Galápagos mockingbirds as you snake between palo santo trees and yellow cordias. Later, take to the water on a kayak expedition or join a snorkelling safari to seek out penguins, cormorants and the shy Brown Noddy along the sheltered cliffs.
Relocate to the idyllic mangrove lagoon of Elizabeth Bay to marvel at tall red mangrove trees and enjoy close-up wildlife encounters. Nose through the mangrove forest on a Zodiac in search of sea turtles, sealions and birds such as pelicans and herons that hunt here for fish or crab. Back on the ship, toast your stunning surrounds sat in the sun deck’s Jacuzzi – your butler will even bring you a top up of sparkling wine.
Silver Origin will sail you to Floreana for the chance to visit a thriving sea lion rookery and post a letter into the historic post box barrel. Amid lava rocks dotted with prickly pear cacti you’ll spot sea lions and their pups – as you approach on a Zodiac, look out for the pup’s curiosity causing them to come and investigate you. Swap to a kayak to stealthily explore without spoiling the sense of solitude and get closer to creatures than you ever thought possible.
At Isla Campion, it's what lies underwater that impresses the most. The incredible clarity here reveals everything from reef sharks to green turtles for those who choose to snorkel here.
Make land at Punta Cormorant and trek along the olive-green sand to Flour Beach, famous for its turtle nesting sites, hoping to see flamingos along the way. Muscles feeling a little tight after the excursion? Sign up for a massage back onboard Silversea Origin and let a professional soothe those aches away.
Understand the value of conservation in the course of a visit to Cerro Dragon, where dwindling numbers of land iguanas led to the introduction of a successful a breeding programme and the increase in animal numbers. Follow a trail inland in the company of a naturalist to look for the iguanas. Circle Cerro Dragon in search of their burrows and get close to these extraordinary looking creatures. In the afternoon make the most of opportunities to swim from the beaches at Las Bachas while also spotting white-cheeked pintails and flamingos at a lagoon just behind the sands. Sea turtles also favour the beach for nesting.
By now you’re comfortable with the evening routine onboard the ship but instead of gourmet dining in The Restaurant, perhaps this evening you’ll sit on the deck to sample Silversea’s signature hot-rocks dining experience, where you cook your own meal on a volcanically hot lava rock right at your table with all the ocean laid out before you.
Los Gemelos is the second largest island in the archipelago, famous for its two giant sinkholes, the ‘twins’ the island is named after. Walk along the craters' edges in the heart of a forest of tall scalesia trees, perhaps spotting giant Santa Cruz tortoises in the wild as you go. In the afternoon, meet the conservationists at the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, part of the prestigious Charles Darwin Research Station, and let them introduce you to domed and saddleback tortoises.
Spend the last evening celebrating everything you’ve experienced, forging friendships with fellow passengers and making the most of the exclusive luxury facilities on your expedition ship.
After a final Galápagos sunrise and leisurely breakfast, disembark Silver Origin on Baltra Island. We will bring you to the airport for your return flight to the mainland, landing in Quito, ready for your onward flight to the UK. On arrival the next day, you'll be met by one of our chauffeurs who'll see you safely home.
"This is a Galápagos holiday with an added introduction to what Ecuador has to offer. Begin in the rainforest with a luxurious stay in a design hotel that I have hand-picked for its floor to ceiling windows – the perfect location for wildlife spotting. Next, soak in the rich history of Ecuador’s capital, Quito, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site renowned for its colonial architecture and majestic settings. Finally, set sail to the Galápagos where wildlife spotting is plentiful and natural landscapes are awe-inspiring. And, don’t forget to take advantage of the Silver Origin’s on-board spa!"
Low Season from: £9,660 pp
— save up to £910 pp
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Regular departures from July 2021 to April 2023, price varies by departure date.