Explore three of Ecuador's most wondrous ecosystems on this two-week jaunt across the country. First up are the Andean highlands, home to snowcapped volcanoes, crater lakes, Indigenous culture, and Spanish colonial history in the capital of Quito. Then venture into the misty cloud forests of the Mashpi Reserve, where you'll spend your days on nature hikes and bird-watching before hopping aboard a luxury cruiser for five days amid the beauty and wildlife of the Galápagos.


  • Dine at Ecuador's best restaurants and take a cooking class in a convent
  • Soar the highlands in a balloon and spot exotic birds in the cloud forest
  • Ride horses around snowcapped volcanoes and tour rose plantations
  • Do like Darwin and set sail on a multiday Galápagos adventure

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito, Dinner at Kriollo Quito
Day 2 Quito City Tour, Convent Cooking Class Quito
Day 3 Visit Mitad del Mundo, Transfer to Otavalo, Indigenous Market Visit Otavalo
Day 4 Dawn Balloon Flight, Lagoon Hike, Transfer to Mashpi Mashpi
Day 5 Mashpi Cloud Forest Activities Mashpi
Day 6 Transfer to Quito, Chocolate Tour Quito
Day 7 Transfer to Cotopaxi National Park, Sunset Dinner Cotopaxi
Day 8 Rose Farm Tour, Cotopaxi Horseback Ride, Transfer to Quito Quito
Day 9 Fly to the Galápagos, Isla Santa Cruz Highlands Tour Cruise Ship
Day 10 Cruise to Isla Isabela: Moreno Point & Elizabeth Bay Cruise Ship
Day 11 Explore Isla Isabela: Urbina Bay & Tagus Cove Cruise Ship
Day 12 Cruise to Isla Fernandina & Espinoza Point Cruise Ship
Day 13 Cruise to Isla Santiago: Egas Port & Espumilla Beach Cruise Ship
Day 14 Cruise to Isla Santa Cruz & Dragon Hill, Transfer to Isla Baltra, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Dinner at Kriollo

Let the adventure begin! Your vacation starts in Quito, Ecuador's historic capital 

Welcome to Quito! Ecuador's grand capital is the perfect spot to kick off an adventure around the country. Nestled in the Andes at 9,350 feet (2,850 m), it was one of the first major settlements by the Spanish when they arrived in the New World in the 16th century. Many of these colonial landmarks remain and form Quito's Old Town, which has earned UNESCO World Heritage Status.

You won't have to go far to see these architectural wonders, as you'll be staying right in the historic center at Illa Experience, a 4-star hotel located in the San Marcos neighborhood. Housed in a beautifully restored colonial-era mansion, it features luxurious rooms with plush beds and baths with rainwater showers. Highlights include a spa and wellness center (ideal to take the edge of your flight with a massage) and a rooftop terrace offering panoramic views of the city and its famous surrounding hills.

After settling in, you'll enjoy a very special welcome dinner at Kriollo. Also located in the old town and run by Michelin-starred chefs, this chic restaurant specializes in Ecuadorian cuisine, emphasizing traditional flavors and ingredients while presenting them with a modern twist. Within the cozy ambience, you'll dine on exciting plates of jazzed-up favorites, like ceviche de camarón (shrimp ceviche), locro de papa (an Andean potato soup), and seco de chivo (goat stew). The tempting dessert menu features Ecuadorian classics like tres leches cake, flan, and helado de paila (fruit sorbet).

Day 2: Quito City Tour, Convent Cooking Class

Marvel at the lavish interior of La Compañía 

After breakfast, you'll meet a local guide and embark on a private walking tour of Quito's colonial center to see firsthand why it's listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Admire the intricate stone carvings of the Baroque La Compañía church and wander the 16th-century Iglesia San Francisco cloisters. Wrap up the historical center leg of your tour with a walk down La Ronda, once a pre-Columbian walking trail, now a romantic pedestrian street full of cafés, live music venues, and eclectic shops.

Another tasty activity is in store later when you visit a historic convent dating to the 17th century. This gastronomic adventure takes place in one of Latin America's oldest sacred kitchens, which exudes enchantment and intrigue. Here, you'll embark on a historical journey guided by a private chef who will immerse you in the essence of Ecuadorian traditions and timeless recipes, many of which are as old as the convent itself. 

Day 3: Visit Mitad del Mundo, Transfer to Otavalo, Indigenous Market Visit

Browse quality handmade garments and textiles in Otavalo

After breakfast at the hotel, meet your driver and travel just north of Quito to Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World), a park dominated by the 98-foot-tall (30 m) Monument to the Equator. It marks the precise location of the equator, the invisible line that divides the Earth into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. You can straddle the yellow line here, which means you'll have one foot in each hemisphere. Later, visit the Planetarium, which houses a small-scale model of Quito, and various exhibitions.

Afterward, continue driving two hours north to Otavalo. This highland town is famous for its Indigenous market, where, among other things, locals sell beautiful handcrafted textiles and garments. You'll be staying in style at La Mirage Garden Hotel, located just north of town. Perched on a hillside, La Mirage occupies a historic hacienda and features expansive guest rooms, many with canopy beds and fireplaces. There's an indoor pool if you feel like taking a dip, and you can also stretch your legs with a stroll around the lush gardens abounding with bougainvilleas, hibiscus, roses, and orchids.

Once you've settled in, you'll head over to the famous market. It's busiest on Saturdays, but you can find vendors, primarily Otavalos, the region's Indigenous people, throughout the week. The Otavalo are best known for their colorful, hand-woven textiles, and many market stalls offer tablecloths, blankets, scarves, and more. If you like, you can pick up some items to take home as souvenirs.

Day 4: Dawn Balloon Flight, Lagoon Hike, Transfer to Mashpi

Check in to your lodge and soak up the extraordinary rainforest views (photo courtesy of Mashpi Lodge)

Rise and shine! Your day begins at 5 am, but the early start is well worth it, as waiting for you is the adventure of a lifetime. You'll leave the hotel and transfer to the shores of Lago San Pablo, where you'll hop in the basket of a hot-air balloon. Then, around 6 am, you'll ascend into the sky and marvel at the sprawling Andean landscapes as they come alive with the first rays of the morning sun. The private flight lasts about 30 minutes, after which you'll land back on the lakeshore.

Afterward, lace up your hiking boots for your first nature hike in Ecuador. Transfer north of Otavalo to Laguna de Cuicocha, a volcanic crater that was filled with water after an eruption and features two iconic islands. Stroll along the shore to admire its midnight blue water and beautiful flowers as you listen to the flutter of hummingbirds.

Later, you'll hit the road again on a three-hour transfer into Ecuador's cloud forests. Your destination is Mashpi Lodge, a luxury accommodation within the Mashpi Reserve. This famous ecotourism destination spans over 3,200 acres (1,300 ha) of biodiverse forest, home to thousands of plant species, hundreds of birds, and dozens of species of mammals. When you arrive, you can enjoy a relaxing soak in the Jacuzzi or massage at the on-site spa—there's even a yoga deck where you can enjoy a tranquil retreat after a long day exploring the forest.

Day 5: Mashpi Cloud Forest Activities

A zipline ride is one of many fun activities you can enjoy in the cloud forest

Get up early for a full day of adventures in the cloud forest, which you can tailor to your interests. After breakfast, perhaps visit an observation station in the forest. From its 98-foot (30 m) high deck, you'll observe the macaws, hummingbirds, monkeys, and other animals congregating around the treetops. After snapping some photos and enjoying the views, you can hop on a bike for a 20-minute ride over the forest canopy on suspended pathways. When the bike ride is complete, there's the option for a thrilling zipline ride.

After a break for lunch, you can set off on a forest hike in search of exotic wildlife like howling monkeys and rare bird species, such as the Andean cock-of-the-rock. Your naturalist guide will share insightful information about the surrounding flora, including medicinal plants that Indigenous residents have used for centuries. Eventually, you'll arrive at a serene oasis that offers prime wildlife viewing. Enjoy dinner back at the lodge, followed by a short lecture detailing the fascinating scientific research projects in the area.

Plan your trip to Ecuador
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Transfer to Quito, Chocolate Tour

Learn how to make chocolate from bean to bar
See (and taste) the fruits of cacao production, from bean to bar
You'll say goodbye to the cloud forest this morning and return to the high Andes. It's a 2.5-hour drive from Mashpi to Quito, and when you arrive, you'll check back into Illa Experience. Later, a tasty treat is in store with a private chocolate tasting held at a local cacao (cocoa) processing facility. During this one-hour tour, you'll learn how Ecuador cultivates a great deal of cacao fruit and then turns its beans into decadent chocolate. Throughout the experience, you'll not only sample different types of chocolate but also learn about the history of cocoa in Ecuador.

Day 7: Transfer to Cotopaxi National Park, Sunset Dinner

Explore Cotapaxi's rugged frontiers and enjoy epic volcano views

Leave Quito this morning on a 1.5-hour transfer south to Cotopaxi National Park, a pristine nature reserve covering 129 square miles (334 sq km) in the Andean highlands. On the way, you'll stop to hike around Laguna Limpiopungo and enjoy the panoramic mountain views. During the outing, keep an eye out for wildlife—Limpiopungo is home to various birds, like the Andean condor, and a few wild horses.

Later, you'll arrive at Hacienda San Agustín de Callo. Situated in the foothills of the iconic Cotopaxi volcano, this rustic yet comfortable hacienda is built on the site of an Inca palace and later a colonial estate. It offers a variety of rooms and suites, each uniquely decorated with a blend of colonial and Indigenous styles. The rooms feature antique furnishings, luxurious linens, and modern comforts such as private bathrooms and heating. Of course, the real star is the property itself, whose gardens and trails you'll explore on a guided tour when you arrive.

More splendid scenery awaits when you sit down for a private sunset dinner at the hacienda. Marvel at the volcano and mountain panoramas through glass windows as you dine on authentic Andean cuisine prepared fresh from locally sourced ingredients. A real treat is watching the last rays of the sun descend behind the volcano's pinnacle, painting the sky with vivid shades of pink and orange. 

Day 8: Rose Farm Tour, Cotopaxi Horseback Ride, Transfer to Quito

See how Ecuador's famous rose exports are cultivated on a plantation tour

Step into the colorful world of Ecuador's renowned rose farms this morning on a private guided tour. This country is one of the world's leading exporters, and on a visit to a rose plantation, you'll see firsthand the process of cultivating these prized blossoms. Gain insight into the meticulous care that goes into nurturing these captivating flowers, known for their vibrant colors and exceptional fragrance.

Later, you'll hop in the saddle and embark on a two-hour horseback ride around Cotopaxi. Gallop across windswept plains through native forests, all with the snowcapped peak of the volcano looming overhead. Afterward, you'll leave your horse and meet your driver for the drive back to Quito and Illa Experience.

Day 9: Fly to the Galápagos, Isla Santa Cruz Highlands Tour

Settle in for a delicious first-night dinner on your luxury catamaran (photo courtesy of M/C Galaxy Sirus)

The last leg of this grand Ecuadorian adventure will take you to one of the world's most famous ecosystems: the Galápagos Islands. Return to the airport early this morning, where you'll catch a four-hour flight from mainland Ecuador to Baltra, an islet adjacent to Isla Santa Cruz, one of the 13 main volcanic islands that comprise the Galápagos archipelago. At the airport, your guide/driver will pick you up for the ride to the harbor in Santa Cruz. There, you'll hop aboard your home for the next few days.

The M/C Galaxy Sirus is a sleek, twin-hulled luxury catamaran that would be right at home cruising the French Riviera. All suites on this elite luxury catamaran are spacious, comfortable, and well-appointed; each has panoramic windows affording sweeping ocean views and a private outdoor balcony. It's the perfect place to relax and recharge after a day of discovering the Galápagos's wonders.

However, you won't be setting sail just yet. Today's adventure is on land as you explore Santa Cruz's interior highlands on a guided tour. Specifically, you'll visit El Chato Reserve, where you can spot iconic Galápagos tortoises in their natural habitat. Hiking through El Chato alongside tortoises is a bucket-list experience, but these gentle giants aren't the only residents here. You'll also spot birds like pintail ducks, egrets, flycatchers, and finches. You can even observe frigatebirds washing the salt off their feathers at a freshwater lake. Afterward, you'll return to your suite on the cruise ship.

Day 10: Cruise to Isla Isabela: Moreno Point & Elizabeth Bay

You'll likely sport sea turtles and schools of colorful fish on a snorkeling expedition 

And the great cruising adventure begins! In the morning, the ship will cruise to neighboring Isla Isabela, the largest island in the Galápagos. Today's itinerary includes activities, starting with your arrival at Punta Moreno (Moreno Point). Lava eruptions many years ago left craters here that formed crystal tide pools. These are now habitats for birds like pink flamingoes, white-cheeked pintails, and common gallinules. Peer deeper into the pools, and you may see white-tip reef sharks and sea turtles.

In the afternoon, you'll head over to Elizabeth Bay, on the east coast of Isabela. This area contains many rocky islets you can cruise around by Zodiac as you search for penguins and blue-footed boobies. Also, with abundant marine life and clear water, the area is perfect for snorkeling amid schools of colorful fish, sea lions, and even sea turtles.

Day 11: Explore Isla Isabela: Urbina Bay & Tagus Cove

Walk alongside Galápagos penguins at Tagus Cove

Continue your exploration of Isabela's east coast this morning with a visit to Urbina Bay. This is another fascinating area formed by volcanic activity, resulting in fascinating rock and coral formations. During a walk, you'll see the area's abundant wildlife, including land iguanas, giant tortoises, and lava lizards. Birdlife includes finches, hawks, and mockingbirds. The moderate hike, a relatively long one at 9,843 feet (3,000 m), is followed by a refreshing swim or snorkeling in the bay.

The bird sightings and adventures continue at nearby Tagus Cove. Here, you'll stroll along the sea cliffs searching for penguins, flightless cormorants, and other aquatic birds. You can also hike to a viewpoint overlooking Darwin Lake, which has a saline content higher than the sea. You can also spot several volcanoes from this location. During the hike, notice the graffiti on the surrounding cliffs and cove—it's been written over the centuries by pirates, whalers, and buccaneers.

Day 12: Cruise to Isla Fernandina & Espinoza Point

After a day's exploring, unwind in the Jacuzzi before a sundowner on deck (photo courtesy of M/C Galaxy Sirus)
In the morning, the ship will cross the Bolivar Channel that divides Isabela and Fernandina, the third-largest island in the Galápagos. You'll land at Espinoza Point and, after disembarking, hike past colonies of marine iguanas and sea lions on your way to a nesting site of flightless cormorants. This cormorant is one of the many animals that inspired Darwin's theory of evolution, as, over time, the environment forced its wings and feet to adapt more to water. This famous area also provides an excellent opportunity to see the noble Galápagos hawk.

Day 13: Cruise to Isla Santiago: Egas Port & Espumilla Beach

Today, you'll make friends with fur seals

You're in for a wildlife treat today, as in the morning, you'll travel to Puerto Egas on Isla Santiago. This is the best place in the archipelago to observe Galápagos fur seals, though if you're lucky, you may also spot marine iguanas, crabs, and various birds such as herons and hawks.

Later in the day, you'll cruise a short way north to Playa Espumilla. At either end of this beach, trails lead through mangroves to a salty lagoon, where lucky visitors may see flamingoes, pintail ducks, stilts, and other wading birds. There's good snorkeling and kayaking off the coast here, as well. At the end of the afternoon, you'll return to the ship and celebrate your last night in the Galápagos with a farewell dinner on board. 

Day 14: Cruise to Isla Santa Cruz & Dragon Hill, Transfer to Isla Baltra, Depart

Travel to Dragon Hill, the best place to see iguanas in the Galápagos

This morning, the boat will cruise to the northwestern side of Isla Santa Cruz and Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill). This aptly named boulder-strewn slope is one of the best places on the island to see land iguanas. Watch these prehistoric-looking creatures sun themselves on the rocks as you wind through a trail between cactuses and palo santo trees. Nearby is a lagoon with pintail ducks, flamingoes, and endemic birds like flycatchers and warblers.

When the time finally comes to say goodbye to the Galápagos, you'll transfer back to Baltra and catch a flight to the mainland to connect with your departing flight. Safe travels!

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Map of Ecuador's Luxe Trio: Andean Highlands, Cloud Forests & the Galápagos - 14 Days
Map of Ecuador's Luxe Trio: Andean Highlands, Cloud Forests & the Galápagos - 14 Days