Ecuador is one of only a handful of countries worldwide officially designated as ‘megadiverse’. It is also, by a significant margin, the smallest. Just one thirtieth of the size of Brazil, it is home to almost the same number of bird species (1638 to be exact). This staggering array of biodiversity is born from the happy coincidence of two features – the country’s equatorial location and its atypical variety of altitudes and ecosystems. Within a distance of only a few hundred kilometres you will find Amazon rainforest, Chocó rainforest, cloud forests, high altitude Andean sierras and plateaux as well as coastal ecosystems and marine habitats, each with their own unique ecology and endemic species. It is no wonder that it was this part of the world that inspired Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking 1859 “On the Origin of Species”, the work that would provide the basis for modern evolutionary biology and forever change humanity’s understanding of the natural world.
In this itinerary we have combined two of Ecuador’s best wildlife destinations in an exciting twelve-night itinerary – the Chocó rainforest and the Galapagos archipelago. The Chocó is a little-known but incredibly biodiverse region that once formed a continuous ecosystem with the Amazon basin, before being separated by the uplift of the Andes approximately 25 million years ago. This unique geological history means that the Chocó rainforest has a similar level of biodiversity to the Amazon, but it has also evolved its own unique range of endemic species. Importantly for the modern-day explorer it is also located just a few hours drive from Quito and is home to one of South America’s most luxurious eco-lodges – the wonderful Mashpi lodge.
A week on a luxury yacht sailing the Galapagos islands with an expert naturalist guide provides the perfect complement to the rainforest experience at Mashpi. The ultimate bucket list destination for any wildlife lover, 97% of the Galapagos archipelago is designated as national park. Basing yourself on a yacht means that each day will bring new landscapes together with new and unforgettable wildlife encounters. The fauna here has famously never developed a fear of mankind and includes iconic species such as giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies and marine iguanas, the world’s only seagoing lizard.
The trip also includes two nights in a luxury hotel in the charming high altitude capital of Quito, giving you a chance to take a day trip into the region known as “volcano alley” and experience yet another of the country’s emblematic ecosystems with a gentle hike in the Andean highlands.
What’s the route?
Routing your international flights in and out of Quito you would first spend two nights in the capital before taking the three-hour flight out to Baltra in the Galapagos islands. Here you will board a luxury yacht for a seven-night cruise taking in the highlights of the main islands. The
cruise ends back at Santa Cruz island from where you take a flight back to Quito. From Quito airport you have a 3.5-hour transfer to the Chocó region. This is a scenic overland route that brings you down from 2850 metres above sea level in Quito to 950 metres at Mashpi lodge, your final destination.
When you arrive in Quito international airport your guide and driver will be waiting to bring you the short distance to the city’s historical centre and your luxury boutique hotel, set overlooking the San Francisco square. You will have time to settle into your room followed by the option for a short walking tour in Quito’s historical centre that afternoon.
Today your guide will meet you in the morning to drive out of the city to the famous "volcano alley" in the shadow of Mt. Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi is the second highest peak in Ecuador and one of the most active volcanoes in South America. There will be time for a short hike in the national park here, and you will stop for lunch at a hacienda located in a fascinating historical palace that still retains original stonework dating back to Inca times.
It is an early start this morning as you head to the airport for your flight to the Galapagos. Our representative will meet you in the airport to give you your prepaid INGALA transit cards (a requirement for travellers to the Galapagos islands) to avoid having to queue before helping you check-in for the flight to Baltra. Arriving in Baltra you will be met by your naturalist guide who will take you for a short bus ride to the waterfront to board your luxury yacht via panga (motor-powered skiffs). You will have time to settle into your cabin before meeting for an initial briefing on safety procedures and the schedule for the week ahead as your yacht starts her engines and sets off to begin a once-in-a-lifetime exploration of the world’s most famous wildlife destination.
Your exact itinerary will depend on the vessel and departure dates that you choose. Dehouche’s travel experts will be happy to share their extensive experience in the region to help match you to the perfect yacht, depending on your personal interests and priorities.
Whichever yacht you choose, a seven-night itinerary on a small luxury vessel is our preferred option for visiting the islands. Over the next few days you will visit a wide variety of different islands and outlying islets, showcasing both the incredible diversity of the landscapes (each island has its own unique features resulting from the dynamic volcanic geology of the region) and the accompanying wildlife.
With a seven-night cruise you will have the best chance of seeing all of the Galapagos “big 15”, including more elusive species such as flightless cormorants (for those who visit the west coast of Isabela) and red-footed boobies (only found on the islands of Genovesa and San Cristóbal.) Whatever your itinerary though we can guarantee that you will encounter the much-loved giant tortoises of the Santa Cruz highlands, the ubiquitous marine iguanas, playful Galapagos sealions, as well as a host of marine birdlife.
A relaxed seven-night schedule also allows time for a range of leisure activities such as kayaking or snorkelling in the warm equatorial waters and during the week you will also have plenty of downtime to just relax and enjoy life on board - anyone for cocktails and a jacuzzi on the sun deck?
After your final day on the yacht you will be transferred back to the airport in Baltra in time for your flight back to the Ecuadorian mainland. Your guide will be waiting in arrivals to transfer you via a 3.5-hour scenic drive to Mashpi Lodge, perched on a jungle covered ridge in the heart of the Chocó rainforest.
Your stay at Mashpi includes all activities and a three-night stay here gives you plenty of time to explore everything the lodge has to offer. All activities are accompanied by a team of highly qualified naturalist guides who are among the best we have ever come across. They all have a staggering depth of specialist knowledge whether it’s tracking down any of the over 400 bird species that inhabit the reserve or knowing the fine botanical details that distinguish the members of a particular orchid genus.
Highlights here include the custom-built observation tower, the “Dragonfly” gondola, and the canopy level “sky bike” all of which have been designed with conservation in mind to allow you to have an up-close and personal experience of the rainforest with minimum environmental impact. There is a permanent community of scientists and researchers working at the lodge so visiting the “Life Centre” to learn about some of their research and discoveries is also a memorable experience.
With a pleasant year-round temperature of approximately 23C, this is also the perfect environment to enjoy hikes in the forest followed by a cooling-off afterwards in one of the beautiful waterfalls located throughout the reserve. Finally, the night hikes to learn about the thriving nocturnal life of the rainforest are also unmissable, so with three nights the guides can easily schedule this around the weather and your other activities to really ensure you have the full experience of the region.
Transfer back to the international airport in Quito in time for your flight home.