Blanketed by lush tropical forests and home to one of the world’s most spectacular wildlife sanctuaries, Ecuador is a small country that packs a big punch when it comes to biodiversity. Visit the Galápagos to encounter the archipelago’s iconic wildlife while kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, and more. Fly back to the mainland and discover colonial Quito with a private guide. Cap off your expedition by discovering the Chocó rain forest’s breathtaking array of flora and fauna on guided nature walks through some of the country’s most pristine jungle.
Arrive in Quito, where a driver awaits your arrival at the airport. Transfer to your hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.
Fly to Isla Baltra in the Galápagos, and meet a naturalist at the airport for your first wildlife excursion. Take the ferry to Isla Santa Cruz and travel into the highlands to the Giant Tortoise Reserve, home to the world’s largest living tortoise species. Observe these prehistoric-looking creatures close up as they forage through grassy fields and forests, and enjoy lunch at a nearby ranch. Then transfer to Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World tucked into one of Santa Cruz’s secluded bays.
Enjoy two full days to sail between the isles of the Galápagos aboard the lodge’s yacht, disembarking to explore volcanic landscapes and offshore waters alongside expert naturalists. Our itinerary is determined by the Galápagos National Park service to minimize the impact on each island, which allows for intimate wildlife viewing with few other travelers nearby. You might hike across North Seymour Island, spotting blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds, or stroll the sandy beaches of South Plaza to encounter Sally Lightfoot crabs and land iguanas. Swim and snorkel with sea lions in secluded coves off Santa Fe, and spot Galápagos hawks and Nazca boobies flying overhead. On Bartolomé Island, visit the towering obelisk of Pinnacle Rock and walk with Galápagos penguins along volcanic coastal cliffs.
Spend a day exploring the otherworldly landscapes and wildlife-rich waters of Santa Cruz Island with a private naturalist. Hike through cactus groves to swim in the dramatic, water-filled crevices known as Las Grietas; and snorkel with colorful fish and sea turtles in turquoise lagoons. Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to watch its tortoise-rearing program in action, or kayak offshore to spot sea lions frolicking in the surf. As a National Geographic traveler, you will be invited to a private cooking class, where you’ll learn to make ceviche alongside Finch Bay’s executive chef or sous chef.
Return to the airport on Isla Baltra and fly to Quito, transfer to your hotel, a refurbished historic mansion overlooking the Plaza San Francisco in the heart of the colonial center.
Spend the day on a private tour of Quito’s colonial old town, which earned the city distinction as the first UNESCO-designated world capital. Discover grand colonial buildings and plazas as you explore the labyrinth of enchanting cobbled streets. Step through the doors of Quito’s most beautiful churches: the Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús, known for its dazzling gilded nave, and the Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco, Quito’s oldest church.
Travel to the archaeological site of Tulipe, once home to the Yumbos, a pre-Inca civilization. Your next destination is Mashpi Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge set in a cloud forest reserve—and your home for the remainder of your trip. Settle into your glass-walled room, and enjoy a lunch of gourmet Ecuadorian fare. This evening, take a guided night walk through the surrounding jungle, treading amid bioluminescent fungi and keeping your eyes and ears open for the forest’s nocturnal residents, including frogs, owls, and kinkajous.
Rise early to witness the early morning activity in the cloud forest. Enjoy a steaming cup of coffee on the hotel terrace as you watch birds and other species flit among nearby trees. Take a guided walk to the Life Centre, the lodge’s research station and home to myriad butterfly species. Look for howler monkeys and a variety of brightly colored birds along the way, and enjoy a picnic breakfast on the center’s deck overlooking a garden of medicinal plants. As a National Geographic guest, you’ll have the opportunity to join a resident biologist for an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of the Life Centre and a nature walk that highlights ongoing research projects. Survey the canopy from the observation tower and ride an aerial bicycle through the treetops.
Bring your binoculars for a bird-watching walk, where your guide will help you spot some of the more than 400 species that make their home in the forest. Or hike past moss-covered trees, orchids, and coiling vines to the 150-feet-high Copal Waterfall. After lunch at the hotel, visit the Equatorial Monument, which straddles the divide between the hemispheres at the “Middle of the World,” and visit the monument’s ethnological exhibition. Later, transfer to the airport in Quito and catch an overnight flight home.
This trip has an activity rating of light/moderate and suits a range of interests and abilities. Travelers should be physically fit and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods and navigating uneven or slippery terrain, sometimes in wet or humid conditions. Excursions include a variety of nature walks and boat rides, with options for more physical activities such as hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, and riding an aerial bike. The transfer to Masphi Lodge is up to 4 1/2 hours.
Throughout the expedition, you’ll stay in accommodations selected for their exceptional quality, location, and character, including National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World: Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel and Mashpi Lodge.
Top private guides will accompany you throughout the trip, and local experts will meet with you along the way as described in the itinerary.
Other Important Details
This trip is available to children age 2 and over, however to participate in all activities, children must be 6 or older. Please contact our reservations specialists to customize this trip if your children are under 6 years. The yacht excursions in the Galápagos will be a shared experience with other guests at Finch Bay Galápagos Hotel. All other excursions and transfers will be on a private basis.
Our accommodations are selected for their exceptional quality, location, and character. Below are several of the accommodations featured on this expedition.
Mashpi Lodge – Chocó Rain Forest, Ecuador
Nature meets luxury at Mashpi Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge, a breathtaking creation of steel and glass deep in the cloud forests of Ecuadorian Chocó.
Finch Bay Eco Hotel – Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Tucked into a secluded bay on Santa Cruz Island, Finch Bay Eco Hotel, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World provides myriad ways to experience the extraordinary wonders of the Galápagos, while offering a welcoming oasis inspired by the nature that surrounds it.
Prices are per person based on double occupancy and do not include international airfare to/from your destination or internal flights during the expedition. Single traveler prices are available upon request. Internal flights are $600 per person. Surcharges may apply to certain travel dates based upon international or local holidays, as well as local events and festivals. All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars and subject to change. See the terms and conditions for this trip for more information.
This expedition is available year-round.