A 15-day journey that takes you from the tropical cloud forests literally buzzing with humming birds, to Ecuador’s Andean highlands with dramatic scenery and colorful markets, then onto Galapagos for an eight day cruise on a brand new luxury catamaran launched in 2019 visiting some of the most spectacular visitor sites in this remarkable archipelago. May is our favorite month in Galapagos and the trip coincides with the time when the seabirds in Galapagos are courting most intensely with great displays.
What Makes this trip Special
- Max 15 guests
- Specially chartered private yacht in the Galapagos
- Experience some of best and easiest birding in the world
- Visit tropical forests buzzing with hummingbirds
- Immerse yourself in spectacular Andean scenery
- Accompanied every step by some of the best guides in Galapagos and Ecuador
- Stay at incredible hand-picked hotels and lodges
Join us on a 15-day journey that allows you to experience the best Ecuador has to offer.
Starting in the colonial capital Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre in its own right, you’ll move onto tropical cloud forests literally buzzing with humming birds. The next stop is Ecuador’s Andes with its spectacular scenery and vibrant indigenous communities. The final part of your adventure will take you across to Galapagos for an eight day cruise on a luxury motor yacht visiting some of the most spectacular islands in this remarkable archipelago.
This trip coincides with the time when the seabirds are courting at their most intense with great displays and is one of the best times to visit the Galapagos Islands.
The trip will be led by Santiago Bejarano, one of the leading naturalists in the Galapagos who will also be joined by local expert guides throughout the journey offering unparalleled levels of personal service to each and every guest.
COST: Price per person £5297
Includes: Fully escorted tour with services of tour leader Santiago Bejarano from 25 April, Galapagos National Park Guide during the cruise and bilingual specialist local guide from 1-8 May, all airport transfers, all transport in mainland Ecuador, all meals from dinner on 25 April until Breakfast on 9 May, flight Quito – Baltra – Guayaquil, unlimited tea, coffee and water during the cruise, 8 days on board the Tip Top V, all accommodation as detailed on a double basis (Single rooms are available also on request), US$20 Galapagos Migration Card, snorkel mask, tube and fins on yacht.
Does not include: International flights, US$100 Galapagos National Park entrance fee, alcoholic drinks and beverages and bottled soft drinks, services not detailed, tips, personal expenses, wetsuit hire (approx. $40 for the week), lunch on May
You will be met at the airport in Quito and taken to our hotel – Hotel Quito, the first hotel to be built in Quito, which has one of the best locations the city with beautiful views across Quito on one side and Tumbaco on the other. Our trip will start with a welcome dinner this evening. Overnight Hotel Quito
Quito – Cloud forest
This morning you will begin your city tour of Quito, Ecuador’s capital nestled high in the Andes. A UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its beautiful colonial architecture. Chance to see the changing of the guard at Ecuador’s Presidential Palace, before a light lunch in the heart of the old town. After lunch you will head out of town towards the beautiful cloud forests of Mindo. The cloud forest here has some of the best and easiest birding in the world that will thrill both the novice and experienced birders alike! It also has the highest diversity of epiphytes (plants that grow on top of other plants) of anywhere in the world, along with an array of orchids and other stunning tropical flora, including a host of butterflies and moths (which we get to photograph during a visit to a butterfly farm, as well as around the lodge). The lodge, your home for the next two nights sits in its own 420 hectare reserve of pre-montane and montane cloud forest which boasts some 9,000 species of plant with 322 bird species recorded in the valley near to our lodge, Septimo Paradiso. The altitude within the reserve drastically changes from 950 meters to 1650 meters above sea level. In addition the isolation of the region has created one of the most delicate, but rich and complex ecosystems known in the Mindo region. Overnight Septimo Paradiso
We have the full day today to explore the area around the lodge and Mindo. The area around the lodge itself has easy trails and a hummingbird feeding area outside which is literally buzzing with hummingbirds. Overnight Septimo Paradiso
Cloud forest – Otavalo – Hacienda Cusin
This morning after breakfast, some more time to enjoy the hummingbirds and wildlife at the lodge, before we set off to drive back towards Quito and then head North to the Andean region of Ibarra, stopping for lunch at a charming local restaurant on the way. Your home for the next 2 nights will be the beautiful Hacienda Cusin, a restored, 17th-century estate at 8.500ft/2.600m in Ecuador’s Northern Andes. The hacienda was converted into a charming country house hotel in 1990, preserving its history and ambience. The terracotta tile roofs, winding cobblestone pathways, courtyards and perennial gardens all add to the charm. There are 25 cosy rooms, suites and cottages, all with garden and snow-capped mountain views. The individually styled rooms have log-burning fireplaces, high-beamed ceilings and fine Andean Craft furnishings. There is also a bar, dining room and two acres of beautiful gardens.
Otavalo and the Northern Andes
The Otavaleños, who are the indigenous group from the area around Hacienda Cusin are skilled textile weavers, who gather at the market in the city of Otavalo to sell their products, as they have since pre-Inca times. Although the most famous market takes place on a Saturday, a smaller market is held in the main square each day with hundreds of colourful beautiful weavings and other crafts which we will visit this morning. We will have chance today to visit some of the craft villages nearby where people still use centuries old traditions and see some of the communities from this area. We will also have a chance to see some of the beautiful scenery from this province, whose name means “Lake Province”, with lunch today by one of the most famous of the lakes, Lago San Pablo. Overnight Hacienda Cusin.
Hacienda Cusin – Quitsato – La Jimenita
A leisurely morning, to explore on your own the beautiful grounds of the hacienda, then around noon we will set off back towards Quito, driving back an alternative route, through beautiful scenery, and stopping to visit Quitsato equator site, which sits exactly on the equator, and provides a fascinating insight into some of Ecuador’s pre-Incan cultures. From here we head onto La Jimenita, a charming country house hotel, which is located with great access to the new Quito airport which will be our home for the night. A pre-Galapagos briefing tonight, before the next stage of the journey begins. Overnight La Jimenita
Flight to Galapagos and the start of the cruise.
The Tip Top V due to be launched next year will be one of the newest catamarans in Galapagos, with great service and a very friendly crew, accommodating 16 passengers in 10 double cabins each with private shower and toilet. There will be a bar, dining room, library, sundeck and diving platform. Just some of the luxuries you'll enjoy on the yacht's three decks are air conditioning, a TV, a VCR, a full sound system, an inviting dining room, a fully equipped bar, a spacious sundeck, and snorkelling equipment. The new yachts itinerary which has been agreed by the Galapagos National Park is a great itinerary visiting central and southern and northern part of the archipelago, with a superb mix of Galapagos wildlife and excellent snorkelling including the two highlight islands at this time of year of Genovesa and Espanola. New itinerary will be similar to that shown in the map below. (photographs below show Tip Top II – new yacht will be similar style) Over the next glorious 8 days you will visit the following islands and visitor sites:
Day 1 (1 May)
Baltra - Arrival at the airport in Galapagos
Upon arrival to the airport you will be met by your guide and will be taken to board the Tip Top II. Time for a safety briefing, checking into your cabins and then your first visit to Bachas on Santa Cruz Island.
Santa Cruz - Bachas Beach
A beautiful white sandy beach punctuated by lava formations. The wonderfully soft sand here makes it a favourite site for nesting Sea Turtles. Here you will also see White Mangroves, one of the four mangrove species found in the Galapagos. There is a small coastal lagoon behind the sand dunes where Flamingos, Stilts, Pintail ducks and other water birds are regularly seen. Activities: Walking along the beach, swimming, snorkelling. Difficulty: Easy Type of Landing: Wet landing Highlights & Animals: World War II remnants, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Hermit Crabs, Black-necked Stilts, Whimbrels, Flamingos, Sea Turtles
A highlight of any visit to the Galapagos, a truly beautiful island thanks to the richness of its birdlife. Located in the northeast portion of Galapagos, the island is an outpost for many seabirds (as is Española in the South). Interestingly there are no land reptiles here and only very small Marine Iguanas, due to direction of ocean currents which apparently would not have carried terrestrial animals here. You will visit the following sites.
El Barranco or Prince Philip’s Steps
The tour begins with a great dinghy ride along the base of the cliffs where you see Red-billed Tropicbirds trying to make a precise landing in their nest. Squadrons of frigatebirds are seen flying back and forth, whilst Red-footed Boobies perch on branches of Palo Santo trees which seemingly grow out of the cliffs. Once you arrive on land and climb to the cliff-top, you enter an area where nesting Nazca Boobies and Great Frigatebirds are found. It is also a great place to see Galapagos Doves and Vampire Finches (Sharp-beaked Ground finches) …ask your guide for the full story on the name! You will also see a large colony of Storm Petrels which attracts Short-eared Owls, often observed stalking at these small sea birds, even during the day. Activities: Hike (0.9 mi / 1 ½ km) Difficulty: Moderate Type of Landing: Dry, difficult landing Highlights: Red-footed Boobies, Great Frigatebirds, Short-eared Owls, storm petrels, Galapagos Doves, Darwin Finches.
Genovesa - Darwin Bay
This bay is actually the caldera of an extinct, partially eroded volcano, with the surrounding cliffs forming the inner portion of the rim. You will land on a coral beach, and will immediately be struck by the amount of birdlife. The trail is loaded with Great Frigatebirds (mating season from February to May), Red-footed Boobies nesting in the mangroves, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Lava Gulls, Yellow-crowned Night Herons. Your trail takes you past a beautiful tide pool area where herons try to catch small fish. Activities: Hike (0.9 mi / 1 ½ km), snorkelling, kayaking & dinghy ride Difficulty: Easy/moderate Type of Landing: Wet landing. Highlights: Nazca Boobies, Red- footed Boobies, Great Frigatebirds, Swallow-tailed Gulls, mangroves, coral pebbles beach. Snorkelling: rays, colourful reef fish and hammerhead sharks
This is the best island for observing Land Iguanas, along with Cactus Finches, tropicbirds and sea lions. One of your first stops will be through a small “forest” of Prickly Pear Cactus. The walk along the sea cliffs is a wonderful experience, with Galapagos Shearwaters and Red-billed Tropicbirds gliding by. Towards the end of the walk is a bachelor sea lion colony, with a battle-scared collection of old bulls in various states of recuperation or total retirement! Activities: Hike (0.8 mi / 1.2 km) Difficulty: Moderate Type of Landing: Dry landing Highlights & Animals: Land Iguanas, Sea lion colony, Galapagos Shearwaters, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Nazca Boobies, amazing landscape with cliffs
This is the oldest of the Galapagos islands. Its paradisiacal bay offers great possibilities to swim and snorkel in crystal clear waters. A hike inland offers a great chance to see a species of Land Iguanas (Conolophus pallidus) which is endemic to Santa Fe Island. In the same area you’ll also see a forest of Giant Prickly Pear Cactus. After your visit you can swim and snorkel both inside and outside the bay. Activities: Hiking, Snorkel Difficulty: Moderate Type of Landing: Wet landing Highlights: Santa Fe Land Iguanas, Sea lion colony, Galapagos Hawks, Mockingbirds, Giant Prickly Pear Cactus (the tallest in Galapagos). Snorkel: Sea lions, Reef Sharks, Parrotfish, Surgeonfish
San Cristobal – Galapaguera Cerro Colorado
Located in the south east of San Cristobal, this area is home to giant tortoise corral, where tortoises are kept in near-natural conditions. The site has been developed to help restore the Giant Tortoise population of the island (which was badly impacted by whalers in past centuries) and provides a great chance to see these magnificent giants up close in a natural habitat with paths covering an area of 900 meters. You will also have great chances of seeing the San Cristobal Mockingbird, Woodpecker Finch and Large and Small Tree Finches here. It is also one of the few places that you can see the delicate Calandrinia galapagosa, a critically endangered plant endemic to San Cristobal. Activities: Short hike (less than 0.6 mi / 1 km). Difficulty: Easy Type of Landing: No landing Highlights: Dry vegetation of lowlands. Giant Tortoises, San Cristobal Mockingbird, Darwin Finches
San Cristobal – Puerto Baquerizo and the Interpretation Centre
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is home to a fantastic interpretation centre, which provides an excellent overview to the islands human history and the conservation work being done to protect it. Activities: Easy hike (0.2 mi / 0.3 km) Difficulty: Easy Type of Landing: Dry landing Highlights & Animals: Interesting information centre focused on the human history of the islands. Around the centre, finches, mockingbirds and endemic plants
San Cristobal – Cerro Brujo
The striking, eroded tuff cone was one of the first sites visited by Charles Darwin, it is has a beautiful white coral sand beach where you can take a leisurely walk (depending on time of year) visited by Brown Pelicans, Blue-footed Boobies, and Swallow-tail Gulls as well as Marine Iguanas and Sea Lions. The beauty of this dramatic area can also be explored by ‘panga’ or small dinghy where you can explore a tunnel that goes all the way through the eroded rock formation. Activities: Hike, panga ride, snorkelling & kayaking Difficulty: Easy walk along the beach Type of Landing: Wet landing Highlights & Animals: Beautiful rock formations, sea lions, shore birds, land birds: finches and mockingbirds, snorkelling: nice tropical fish, anemones, sponge coral
San Cristobal - Leon Dormido
Sometimes called Kicker Rock, Leon Dormido is a huge rock formation that is the remains of an ash cone eroded by the sea, with two vertical rocks rising over 150 meters from the ocean and a favourite spot for Tropicbirds along with Great and Magnificent Frigatebirds. You will visit this site by boat and it is a great spot for snorkelling. Activities: Snorkelling & panga Ride Difficulty: Easy Type of Landing: No landing Highlights: Deep water snorkelling: Sharks, tropical fish, turtles, manta rays (occ.), hammerhead shark, spectacular rock formations, sea birds: Blue-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies & frigatebirds. Second best place to snorkel in Galapagos.
Floreana - Post Office Bay
You will land on a beach and head to a spot where 18th century whalers placed a wooden barrel for use as an unofficial mail box. The custom continues to this day with Galapagos visitors. So, don´t forget your postcards, and don´t be surprised if the post card arrives to its destination before you even get home! Possible Activities: Short hike (less than 0.6 mi / 1km) & snorkelling Difficulty: Easy Type of Landing: Wet landing Highlights: Barrel Post Office, nice sandy beach
Floreana – Devil’s Crown
One of the highlights of this area is snorkelling at Devil’s Crown, a partially submerged crater teeming with Parrotfish, Wrasse, Surgeonfish, and Damselfish among many other varieties of tropical fish. Activities: Snorkel Difficulty: Moderate. Strong current Type of Landing: No landing Highlights and Animals: One of the best snorkelling sites in the islands, but a strong current can be a challenge for very inexperienced divers. Sea lions, reef sharks, sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, rays, many fish.
At Punta Cormorant you will walk on an olivine beach (a mineral known for its olive-green quality, that is found in meteorites, the moon and mars as well as on earth), visit a large lagoon where Greater Flamingos sometimes nest, and walk over to Flour Beach, a beautiful white sandy beach to look for Green Sea Turtle nests. Activities: Snorkelling & panga ride & hiking (0.7 mi/1.2km) Difficulty: Easy Type of landing: Wet landing Highlights and Animals: An easy walk along a coastal lagoon where flamingos are often found, along with stilts and ducks. White sand beach.
This island is one of the highlights of any visit to Galapagos. Española is the southernmost island in the Galapagos, and is also the oldest. Numerous Sea Lions are seen here, plus hundreds of Marine Iguanas basking on the rocks. Española’s Marine Iguanas are unlike other Galapagos Marine Iguanas thanks to their bright colouring, and the Lava Lizards are distinctive too. Española is home to thousands of nesting seabirds all year, including Blue-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies and Frigatebirds. Between late March and early December, the Waved Albatross, perhaps the most spectacular of Galapagos birds, returns to Española by the thousands to perform their amazing mating dance and produce the next generation. Almost the entire population breeds on this island during this time, and they spend the rest of the year at sea.
Regarding the amount of wildlife, this is one of the best trails in the whole islands. Despite the difficult terrain, the walk is an absolute marvel, as from the beginning to the end you will see large quantities of sea lions, Marine Iguanas, Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies, gulls, Galapagos Hawks and during most of the year, Waved Albatross. There are spectacular views of flying birds from the cliffs. Activities: Hike (1.2 mi / 2 km) Difficulty: Difficult Type of Landing: Dry Landing Highlights & Animals: Hood Mockingbird, Nazca Boobies, Waved Albatross, Red-billed Tropicbirds, lava lizards, Galapagos Hawk, Blue-footed Boobies, blow hole, amazing landscape
This beautiful bay is nestled between Gardner islet and the beautiful coral sand beach in Española. You will visit a spectacular white sand beach, home to one of the largest sea lion colonies in the islands, where you can also see endemic Española Mockingbirds and with some luck, Galapagos Hawks. Activities: Snorkelling, panga ride, kayaking, short hike (0.6 mi /1km) Difficulty: Easy Type of Landing: Wet landing Highlights & Animals: White sandy beach, sea lions, mockingbirds. Snorkelling: colourful fish, sea lion nursery
Santa Cruz Island - Santa Cruz – Highlands
The highlands of Santa Cruz are home to fascinating geological features, like lava tubes and the twin sinkhole craters of Los Gemelos, which are home to some 300 different fern species as well as a forest of Scalesias, a relative of sunflowers. This is an excellent area to look for some elusive endemics like the Woodpecker Finch (one of only a few bird species in the world to use tools), Small Tree Finch, Vegetarian Finch and Galapagos Rail. The highlands of Santa Cruz are one of the best places to see Giant Tortoises in the wild. Activities: Hike (0.9 mi / 1 ½ km) Difficulty: Easy /moderate Type of Landing: Highlights & Animals: Pit craters, Scalesia Forest, Darwin finches, Warblers, Flycatchers.
Santa Cruz - Charles Darwin Research Station
The Charles Darwin Research Station offers a great chance to learn about the work being done to conserve and protect the islands wildlife. For some visitors (depending on the time of year) this is the only time to see Giant Tortoises and certainly the closest range opportunity. It is also a great chance to see the Tortoise Rearing Centre. Activities: Walking (1.2 mi / 2 km) Difficulty: Easy Type of Landing: Dry landing Highlights & Animals: Giant Tortoises, Land and Marine Iguanas, Mockingbirds, Darwin Finches.
Santa Cruz - Black Turtle Cove (Caleta Tortuga Negra)
A beautiful mangrove lagoon on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island. The yacht anchors just outside the cove and you will enter on a dinghy, paddling through the calm waters of the lagoon, which is a resting site for Green Sea Turtles. A wonderfully quiet journey, through a beautiful and unique habitat. With good luck as well as Marine Turtles you will see different types of sharks and schools of Golden and Eagle Rays swimming just below the surface, whilst Yellow Warblers sing from above. Activities: Boat tour in a lagoon, wildlife observation. Difficulty: Easy Type of Landing: No landing Highlights & Animals: Lagoon surrounded by mangroves. Sharks, rays, sea turtles, pelicans and Blue-footed Boobies An early morning visit, this morning before we take our flight to mainland Ecuador, to the coastal city of Guayaquil. A steamy tropical port city, Ecuador’s commercial capital. Our hotel for tonight will be one of Guayaquil’s newest 5* hotels which has all the comforts you would expect from a hotel of this category including a choice of restaurants inside the hotel and a swimming pool. What we really like about this hotel is its location next to the River Guayas and close to places of interest that we can visit.
Guayaquil – Home
This morning after breakfast, we will take a walking tour of the city with a top local guide. The hotel is just a short walk from the Las Peñas District, the oldest of the city, and it’s currently fully regenerated to its former glory. It is historically the most important district of Guayaquil, whilst the houses are only around 100 years old, their structural characteristics are very similar to those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Each house has its own history and housed many famous artists and presidents of Ecuador and even Ernesto "Che" Guevara was passing through this district and served as a paediatrician for free among the people! Return to the hotel to check out at noon. Lunch is free on your own (the hotel has a restaurant or several local restaurants a short walk). Then later in the afternoon (depending on flight times) we will meet up for our transfer to the airport for the flight back to the UK (usually late afternoon flights based on current schedule).