Andes Mountain Trek &
On this exciting adventure, we visit the picturesque colonial city of Quito high in the Andes, trek for four days in the majestic and awe inspiring Andes Mountains of Ecuador, relax in a tropical hot spring resort, visit the Indian village of Otavalo to barter for crafts, and then visit the Galapagos Islands for seven days to observe some of the most interesting and unique animals in the world, climb volcanoes and snorkel.
First, we explore the colonial past of Old Town Quito, a World Heritage Site, and then travel north to straddle the equator with one foot in each hemisphere. Next, we travel south in our private van in a scenic high Andean valley lined by snow capped volcanoes, some of which extend to 20,697 feet, to Sangay National Park, the second largest park in Ecuador, to explore its wild, untouched beauty. We trek for four days in this World Heritage Site, camp under the starry sky, and hike to the majestic El Altar, a 17,500 foot tall volcano with a crater lake and huge icy glaciers which plunge into the lake on a regular basis, creating a tremendous splash and wave. After the trek, we relax at a tropical hot springs resort before heading north to Otavalo to barter for the best crafts in South America.
Next, we fly west for about three hours to the Galapagos Islands, one of the most unique and interesting places in the world, located in the Pacific about 650 miles west of Ecuador. These scenic volcanic islands, now a national park, have an awesome diversity of unusual animals found nowhere else in the world, and 200 years ago inspired Charles Darwin to develop his theory of evolution by natural selection. With our naturalist guide, we explore Isabela and Santa Cruz Islands for seven days, and observe and photograph animals in their natural habitat. We will have the opportunity for close observation of marine iguanas, giant tortoise, penguins, sea lions, fur seals, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, and may more. We also hike to the rim of a giant volcano to peer into the vast caldera, snorkel in the bay to discover the colorful underwater life, and boat on the bay to look for whales, dolphins, and the white-tipped reef shark. On Isabela Island we lodge in a cozy hotel on a sandy beach and have time to enjoy the tranquility of the island. On Santa Cruz Island we enjoy the comfort of a luxury hotel.
Day 1. Saturday (9/29). Depart USA Arrive Quito, Ecuador
Arrive in Quito, check through customs and be transferred to the Hotel Mercure Alameda, located in the New Town area of Quito. New Town, the modern part of Quito, has a wide variety of upscale hotels, great restaurants, and interesting shops and embassies on scenic palm tree-lined avenues. Our modern and comfortable hotel has a restaurant, bar, gym, cable TV, and direct dial telephones. In the evening during cocktail hour, we meet our guide for a briefing and discussion of the trip itinerary. We dine at a local Ecuadorian restaurant. (B,L,D)
Day 2. Sunday (8/30). Quito City Tour & Visit to the Equator
Quito’s main attraction, Old Town, has a picturesque array of churches, monasteries, and convents dating from the early days of this Spanish colony. We first visit Independence Plaza, laid out in 1534 and surrounded by the city’s most important civic and religious buildings, including the Cathedral built in 1678, Presidential Palace, Municipal Building, and Archbishop’s Palace. We visit the nearby Saint Augustine Convent which has a colonial patio, cloisters, and a vast collection of paintings showing the life of Saint Augustine. We also visit the Church of San Francisco, one of the most opulent churches in Ecuador and built in 1605.
Day 3. Monday (8/31). Quito – Avenue of Volcanoes – Hacienda Releche
South of Quito, two parallel chains of the Andes run the length of Ecuador forming a dramatic and spectacular valley with a double row of snowcapped volcanoes, referred to as the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Eight of the country’s ten highest mountains line this rich agriculturally productive valley. As we travel south in our private van on the Pan-American Highway, we have dramatic views of Ruminahui (15,455 feet), Cotopaxi (19,432 feet), Chimborozo (20,697 feet), Tungurahua (16,475feet), and El Altar (17,500 feet) volcanoes. This high Andean valley, the heartland of the indigenous Quechua Indians, has a patchwork of fields with maize, barley, potatoes, and quinoa, which form a scenic mosaic that extends up the sides of the volcanoes. Along the way we pass through numerous towns on our way to Riobamba, an old colonial town founded by the Spanish in 1534. Our lodge, the rustic and scenic Hacienda Releche, is located outside of town in the mountains near Sangay National Park at an elevation of 10,119 feet. Dinner tonight by the fireplace. (B,L,D)
Days 4-7. Tuesday-Thursday (9/1-9/3). Hike in Sangay National Park
We travel to Sangay National Park, a World Heritage site and Ecuador’s largest park. The park’s stunning mountain scenery includes three volcanoes, Tungurahua, El Altar and Sangay; 3,000 lakes; pristine paramo, cloud-forest and jungle habitats; and has spectacled bears, puma, deer, and condors. We spend the next four days hiking in the wild and unspoiled habitats of this serenely remote park and each evening return to our comfortable campsite at 12,464 feet in the beautiful Collanes Valley with fantastic views to El Altar. For the next three days we hike in the park and return to our scenic campsite.
Our hikes are near the 17,500 foot El Altar, a volcano which erupted centuries ago creating a large crater which now has a lake. The crater is open on one side and provides easy access to Lake Amarilla, at 14,110 feet, which is surrounded by nine tall, jagged peaks with large glaciers that regularly plunge into the lake creating huge splashes and icebergs.
Day 4 Hike. Today we hike a well worn trail up the Collanes Valley and on the way pass through a patchwork of tilled landscapes on the lower slopes of the mountains and then pass through interesting native vegetation on our way to our campsite below the magnificent El Altar. Along the way we will likely see condor, hawks and other interesting wildlife. (B,L,D)
Day 5 Hike. Today we hike up the Collanes Valley to the beautiful, Lake Amarilla, surrounded by glaciers on the tall peaks and with floating icebergs. We pass through native high Andean forests consisting of Polylepis and Quisuar trees with mirth shrubs and wildflowers. We relax on the rim of the lake before proceeding to a ridge at 14,694 feet, which provides amazing views of El Altar and Lake Amarilla. We return to our campsite for a hearty dinner and view of the equatorial sky. (B,L,D)
Day 6 Hike. After breakfast, we hike to the north ridge of El Altar and pass through paramo forest, moorlands and rocky areas. From the ridge we have spectacular views of the awesome Chimbarazzo, Cubillin and Quilimos Volcanoes and will likely see condors. In the afternoon we return to camp. (B,L,D)
Day 7. Friday (9/4). Collanes Valley – Riobamba – Papallacta
After breakfast, the mules are loaded with all our equipment and we hike down the mountain to Hacienda Releche and then drive on to Riobamba, a handsome colonial city with stately squares, pastoral colored buildings, cobbled streets and sprawling markets. From Riobamba we proceed north on the Pan-American Highway in the beautiful Avenue of the Volcanoes to the Papallacta Spa and Resort, a tropical paradise located in Papallacta, a quiet highland town at 10,824’ about 40 miles east of Quito, and the entrance to the Amazon Jungle. We can relax in the beautifully designed thermal hot springs, steam room and sauna, explore the nearby Canyon Ranch or the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Preserve, or get a massage. From the comfort of the thermal springs we can see the 18,886 foot tall glacier capped Antisana volcano. (B,L,D)
Day 8. Saturday (9/5). Otavalo Indian Market
After breakfast, we say goodbye to the relaxing tropical paradise and drive north for two hours to Otavalo, a picturesque Indian village in a valley surrounded by the Imbabura, Cotacachi and Mojanda volcanoes and the site of the best Indian Market in South America. For hundreds of years Indians from the surrounding villages have brought their crafts and produce down from the mountains for a day of frenzied sale and barter. This market is famous for its traditional and colorful woolens as well as local handcrafts.
After shopping, we drive to the beautiful Lake District home of the Otavalenos and have lunch at a typical hacienda. Next, we visit the small village of Cotacachi, the center of Ecuador’s leather industry for still more shopping. In the afternoon, we drive to Quito and the comfortable Hotel Mercure Alameda. (B,L,D)
Day 9. Sunday (9/6). Flight Quito – Baltra – Isabela Island
In the morning we are escorted to the airport for our flight to the Baltra in the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival at Baltra we pass through an airport inspection to insure that no foreign plants or animals are introduced to the islands and pay the park entrance fee of $100. Guides meet us, collect our luggage and help us continue by a small Cessna to the Island of Isabela (only 22 pounds of baggage per person allowed). Upon arrival we will be transferred to the Isabela Lodge in Puerto Villamil. Our comfortable lodge has ocean-front rooms with wooden porches, a private bathroom, and a broad white sandy beach.
Isabela, the largest of the Galapagos Islands, was formed by six large volcanoes. Much of the island is impassable, due to fissures, lava flows or dense vegetation. Puerto Villamil, which sits under the cloud-draped slopes of the huge Sierra Negro Volcano, has only 1,500 inhabitants, most of them fishermen. Villamil is a small, quiet village with sandy roads and simple houses with fences of woven branches and cactus, and a pleasant off-the-beaten-tack place not visited by the large tourist boats. After lunch, we have the afternoon free to relax on the beautiful palm-fringed beach or explore the town and enjoy the tranquility of this peaceful and relaxed island. Dinner at our lodge. (B,L,D)
Day 10. Monday (9/7). View Wildlife on Island Las Tintoreras – Snorkel
In the morning we look for sea lions, pelicans and penguins as we take a short boat trip through the Harbor basin on our way to the small Island of Las Tintoreras. The island has bizarre lava formations and an abundance of wildlife including marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, sea turtles, and more. Manta rays, penguins, whales and dolphins are common in the nearby bay. We hike through the lava formations to a Galapagos Penguin colony where we see one of the smallest penguins in the world, and the only one to breed in the tropics. There are only about 1,400 of these endangered penguins remaining in the world. The island has a huge iguana colony and large numbers of sea lions rest lazily in the shade of the mangrove trees. The bay is a popular resting place for the white-tipped reef shark. Later in the day we visit the mangrove forest at La Concha Perla Bay, to snorkel and discover the colorful underwater life. Lodging and dinner at the Isabela Lodge. (B,L,D)
Day 11. Tuesday (9/8). Hike to the Sierra Negra Volcano
We head up to the highlands in our van on a picturesque journey through farming areas and different vegetation zones until we reach the boundary of the National Park. At this point we start our six mile hike on a moderate uphill trail to the 4,887 foot tall Sierra Negro Volcano. We hike through dense shrubs and then walk through a barren landscape on the cooled and solid lava flow to the very rim of the awesome crater, six miles across and 456 feet deep. Once on the rim, the heavy clouds dissipate to reveal the huge gaping black crater, the second largest caldera in the world. Further along the trail at an overlook, we have fantastic views of the Alcedo, Darwin, Cerro Azul and Wolf volcanoes, as well as the coastline of the island and enormous lava formations, some from recent eruptions. After the hike, we have lunch at a typical highland farm before returning to Villamil. This day will help us understand how volcanic activity formed this archipelago. Lodging and dinner at the quiet and relaxing Isabela Lodge. (B,L,D)
Day 12. Wednesday (9/9). Boat ride to Cabo Rosa – Snorkeling – View Wildlife
In th e morning we take a small motor boat along the south coast from Puerto Villamil to an amazing underwater site known as Cabo Rosa, which consists of underwater lava tubes resulting from the fast cooling of lava flows coming from the Cerro Azul Volcano. This site provides perfect locations for bird and sea animals to relax. When we snorkel we will see colorful schools of fish and encounter other colorful inhabitants of the coral reef along the way. With a bit of luck, we will also bump into one of the giant creatures of these parts, like manta rays or sea turtles. In the afternoon we return to our lodge in Puerto Villamil. (B,L,D)
Day 13. Thursday 9/10). Flamingos – Giant Turtles
In the morning we take an excursion to a remote part of Isabela Island where flamingos lazily fish crustaceans in a large lagoon. In this marshland we can also observe black-necked stilts, herons and Galapagos pintails. Next we visit the Giant Turtle Breeding Center where work is ongoing to breed the island’s five unique tortoise subspecies, each based around the five largest volcanoes. We will see the rearing pens for the tiny hatchlings, and corrals for the adult tortoises taken from the wild. Next, we hike through a diverse flora to the beach and then to our hotel. Dinner and lodging at the Isabela Lodge. (B,L,D)
Day 14. Friday (9/11). Santa Cruz Island – Charles Darwin Research Station.
Day 15. Saturday (9/12). Santa Cruz Island – Baltra – Flight to Quito
In the morning we travel by private van to the Highlands National Park to visit the double crater referred to as the Caldera de los Gemelos. These are actually sinkholes and not craters, and they are surrounded by a magnificent and interesting Scalesia forest with over 300 species of ferns. We will also likely see the Vermillion flycatcher, the elusive Galapagos rail, the paint billed crake, as well as many other unusual birds.
After visiting the park, we have lunch and take a boat to the Island of Baltra and fly back to Quito. In Quito we will be transferred to the Hotel Mercure Alameda. Our guides take us out tonight for our Farwell Dinner. (B,L,D)
Day 16. Sunday (9/13). Return to the USA
Morning transfer to the airport for the return flight to the USA. (B)
Land Cost: 4-6 travelers – $3,300 per person/double occupancy; 7-9 travelers – $3,100
Cost Includes: All transfers between arrival and departure in private transportation, English speaking guide, accommodation in the above mentions hotels in double rooms, (on the treks in two men tents or in mountains huts), all meals, all camping equipment except for sleeping bags, qualified naturalist English speaking guide for the Altar trek equipped with altitude sickness first aid kit, cell phone and radio, entrances and National Park fees, not including Galapagos.
Land Cost Does Not Include: International airfare, flight from Quito to Galapagos (about $414), travel insurance, alcoholic beverages, international airport tax ($44), Galapagos National Park fee ($100), Galapagos Transit Card ($10), telephone calls, excess baggage fees, and gratuities to local guides.
The highland portion of this trip is rated as moderate to difficult due primarily to the high elevations of the area visited, and the Galapagos walks are rated as easy. Our highest hike, which is optional, takes us up to an elevation of 14,694 feet.
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