This exceptional holiday to Ecuador & the Galapagos, staying in the very best properties and on a seriously stylish expedition cruise ship, lets you discover colonial history and hidden corners in Quito before setting course for the cloudforest, staying in Mashpi Lodge, a design-led treehouse in the heart of a rainforest reserve, to explore the canopy, uncover the variety of flora and come face to face with the birds and creatures living here. Your final port of call in Ecuador is the Galapagos Islands, where you’ll cruise through the archipelago on a Galapagos expedition, 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 a wildlife adventure and Galapagos 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 carry 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.
Ease into your holiday by immersing yourself in everything that Quito has to offer. Spend your day exploring downtown Quito in the company of a top guide, discovering the colonial treasures, art and architecture hidden here, taking in the colonial quarter, cathedral, Presidential Palace and Monastery of San Francisco. 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. Later, return to the hotel where you might take part in indulgent chocolate tastings led by a chef or enjoy Casa Gangotena’s classic Quiteno equivalent of traditional afternoon tea. Treat yourself to an Andean-style spa treatment performed by a local traditional medicine expert before a gourmet evening meal and culinary tour of the country via a delicious tasting menu.
Next, 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.
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.
A final stroll to see flocks of feeding birds brings your rainforest adventure to a close. We’ll then take you down from the cloudforest and return you to Quito. Spend the day admiring the white-washed houses adorned with intricate balconies, strolling the cobbled Calle de la Ronda and pausing at art galleries, artisan craft shops and inviting pavement bars and cafés. Perhaps you’ll really get under the skin of the city with an exclusive visit to the beautiful church and convent of San Francisco, hosted by a monk.
We’ll fly you to San Cristobal in the Galapagos 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 Galapagos 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 Galapagos, including the iconic Pinnacle Rock, a towering obelisk at the edge of the ocean on Isla Bartolomé. Board a Zodiac boat to zip ashore and stroll along the beach in search of Galapagos Penguins; sink underwater and snorkel to see them ‘flying’ in their natural habitat. Trek inland through arid vegetation in search of giant palo santo trees and Darwin’s famous finches. Or perhaps you’ll navigate your way to Buccaneer’s Cove, once a haven for pirates and today the perfect place to snorkel with a kaleidoscopic array of tropical fish, whitetip reef sharks, fur seals and even eagle rays. Retire to the ship and relax ahead of the next adventure. Immerse yourself in your destination by attending an insightful talk by a leading expert or reading up on Darwin in the library. Replay the day’s adventures by scrolling through your photos in the Explorer Lounge or swap stories with your fellow passengers over a perfectly balanced martini.
Drifting towards Isabella, the largest and youngest island in the Galapagos, 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 Galapagos 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 Galapagos by cruising across the Bolivar Strait to Tagus Cove on Isabella Island. Step foot ashore for a guided nature walk with a naturalist, looking out for yellow warblers and Galapagos 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.
Silversea Galapagos will sail you to Floreana for the chance to visit a thriving sea lion rookery. 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. As you navigate along the coast keep a watchful eye out for eagle rays and marine turtles taking shelter in the mangroves. Swap to a kayak to stealthily explore without spoiling the sense of solitude and get closer to creatures than you ever thought possible. 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. Fit in some snorkelling as well as the waters off Floreana team with fish. Muscles feeling a little tight after the excursion? Sign up for a massage back onboard Silversea Galapagos 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.
Finally, explore Los Gemelos, the second largest island in the archipelago, where there is a substantial wild tortoise population. Trek to two giant sinkholes, the ‘twins’ the island is named after, in the heart of a forest of tall scalesia trees, endemic to the islands. Your naturalist guide will look out for rare land birds such as the Galapagos Martin. In the afternoon, meet the conservationists at the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, partr 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 Galapagos sunrise and leisurely breakfast, disembark Silver Galapagos on Baltra Island. We will convey you to the airport for your return flight to the mainland, landing in Quito, from where your onward flight home will connect.
"This is a Galapagos holiday with an added introduction to what Ecuador has to offer. Begin by soaking in the rich history of Ecuador’s capital, Quito, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site renowned for its colonial architecture and majestic settings. Next, venture into 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. You’ll soon realise that this is just a taster for what’s to come as you set sail to the Galapagos where wildlife spotting is plentiful and natural landscapes are awe-inspiring. And, don’t forget to take advantage of the Silver Galapagos’ on-board spa!"
High Season from: £8,895 pp
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