Not long after landing in Ecuador, most people rush off to the Galápagos. Admittedly, it’s an archipelago of otherworldly proportions but why should it have all the fun? This sixteen-day luxury holiday in Ecuador shows you the mainland also has plenty of jewels of its own.

If you were in any doubt of Ecuador’s capacity to amaze you, you’ll begin in Otavalo, where indigenous locals from over 70 villages come to host a gigantic Saturday market. Once you’ve finished browsing its craftwork, clothing and carvings, you’ll hop from the island-pocked crater lake of Cuicocha to Ecuador’s capital Quito for a guided tour of its cobbled colonial heart and crayon-coloured buildings.

Squeezed in between the mountain peaks of the Andes, Quito is blessed with constant reminders of Ecuador’s larger-than-life landscapes and now’s the time to make a make for the great outdoors. First, you’ll respond to the call of Cotopaxi National Park, famous for its snow-speckled namesake volcano and grass-covered prairie patrolled by Andean condors, white-tailed deer and Andean foxes. Then, you’ll wind past the waterfalls that seep from the Pastaza River gorge and the steaming Chimborazo volcano, before taking on the Devil’s Nose, a dramatic rail journey that switchbacks its way up and down a sheer rock face.

Over the following few days, we’ll take you on a hop, skip and a jump through Ecuador’s culture, history and wildlife. Ponder over the pre-Columbian ruins of Ingapirca, learn how to make a Panama hat in the colonial streets of Cuenca and spy Andean toucans, condors, llamas and pumas among the lakes and páramo of El Cajas National Park.

After a week exploring mainland Ecuador, you’ll be bound for the mystical Galápagos Islands. The best way to explore this otherworldly biodiverse archipelago is by boat and you’ll do it in style aboard a luxury expedition yacht. You’ll spend a week island-hopping to best soak up the Galápagos’ most beguiling treasures. Start by visiting a giant tortoise breeding centre on San Cristóbal to understand the good work going on to safeguard the future of this endangered species, before hopping over to bird-rich Genovesa Island where you’ll be toggling your binoculars to spy red-billed tropicbirds, great frigatebirds, Nazca boobies and more.

Next up is Santa Cruz with its flamingo-speckled lagoons, snorkel-worthy waters and Dragon Hill, a vantage point granting an island-wide panorama. You’ll mix signature sights with some of the Galápagos’ hidden wonders, spending a morning swimming with penguins and spying the crab-freckled caves of Vicente Roca Point before meeting the land and marine iguanas on Isabela island’s blackened volcanic landscapes.

Your final few days of this luxury Galápagos holiday will be spent hopping from the basking sea lions of Fernandina to the terracotta-hued beaches of Rábida and then the great blue, yellow-crowned and lava herons of Santiago. You’ll finish back in Santa Cruz to explore its volcanic features and witness cutting-edge research and conversation work at the Charles Darwin Research Station, before bidding farewell to this eye-opening chain of islands.


Experience highlights

  • Visit Otavalo Market, Latin America’s largest market and the most important for Ecuador’s indigenous community. For centuries it’s been the most important market in the Andes and the place to be to pick up some authentic handicrafts.
  • Enjoy guided walking tour of Quito’s colonial core with its pastel-hued houses, under the watchful eye of the aluminium Virgin statue atop El Panecillo hill.
  • Hike the grassy páramo of Cotopaxi National Park under the gaze of its namesake volcano, walking past wild horses, red brocket deer and Andean condors gliding overhead.
  • Take a ride on the Devil’s Nose, a railway that is as much a staggering feat of engineering as it is a breathtaking experience, with several dramatic switchbacks carved directly into Andean rockfaces for a train journey like no other.
  • Pay a visit to Ingapirca, Ecuador’s most well-preserved archaeological site. You’ll stroll its jumble of ruins, culminating in the most impressive: the Temple of the Sun.
  • See the rewarding work going into safeguarding the future of endangered tortoises with a visit to the Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Centre on San Cristóbal. Learn about their evolution and the threats they face before witnessing the breeding programme first hand.  
  • Go birdwatching on Genovesa, where your guide will point out red-footed boobies nesting in palo santo trees, storm petrels in blackened lava fields and red-billed tropicbirds from a stand-up paddleboard. You might even spot the elusive short-eared owl.
  • Take a walk up Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz island, where you’ll see a flamingo-filled lagoon, land iguanas, mockingbirds and Darwin’s finches before regaling in the widescreen view of the island.
  • Enjoy a Zodiac boat ride to Vicente Roca Point, where you’ll see Sally lightfoot crabs clinging to cave walls and have the opportunity to swim alongside inquisitive Galápagos penguins.
  • See the Galápagos’ ecosystem at its most pristine on untouched Fernandina, where you can spy basking sea lions and the largest colony of marine iguanas in the archipelago.
  • Finish your trip with a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, named after the man who based his book On the Origin of Species on his findings there. Witness valuable conservation work in action, including a breeding programme for giant tortoises, bringing your Galápagos adventure full circle.
Plan your trip to Ecuador & the Galápagos

Experience highlights

Hike to the crater lake of Cuicocha, found at the foot of the still-active Cotacachi Volcano
Stroll the flower-dressed balconies and brightly coloured facades of Quito's colonial quarter on a guided tour
Spy Andean condors soaring over the grassy plains of Cotopaxi National Park
You'll be under the watchful eye of Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world
Be in awe of the towering Pailon del Diablo waterfall as it crashes on the rocks below
Enjoy lunch at a local hostería (inn) under the gaze of Chimborazo volcano
Take a ride on the infamous Devil's Nose train and feel every twist and turn on one of the world's most dramatic rail journeys
Unearth the origins of Ingapirca's ruins, an ancient citadel once used by the Cañari and Inca peoples
Sample food from each of Ecuador's seven provinces at Hotel Cruz del Vado's restaurant
Enjoy a walking tour of Cuenca's colonial highlights, including the old and new cathedrals of Abdón Calderón Square
Learn how to make a Panama hat at a workshop
Witness a wealth of wildlife among the wetlands and páramo of El Cajas National Park, including coatis, pumas, tanagers and guans
The star feature of Hotel del Parque in Guayaquil is its leady open-air patio, complete with fountains and a tranquil aura
Hop around the Galápagos aboard one of Relais & Chateaux's two luxury yachts, Origin or Theory
See how the future of giant tortoises is in good hands at Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Centre on San Cristóbal island in the Galápagos
Spot Nazca boobies, storm petrels and more on a birdwatching walk on Genovesa
See blush-coloured flamingos in the lagoons of northern Santa Cruz
Savour the panoramic island views from Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz
You might get the chance to snorkel alongside Galápagos penguins at Vicente Roca Point
Witness the rich wildlife among the volcanic vistas of Isabela
See marine iguanas basking on Fernandina's shoreline, the largest colony in the Galápagos
Snorkel among sea lions, and golden rays off the coast of Rabida
Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, named after the man who put the archipelago in the limelight, and see its world-class conservation work
See colonies of frigatebirds and San Cristóbal mockingbirds on Santa Cruz

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    Where you’ll stay

    Ecuador & the Galápagos

    Hotel Otavalo, Otavalo

    Housed in a Spanish colonial-style building, Hotel Otavalo was originally a set of apartments for indigenous Otavaleños and it stays true to its roots. It’s only a honey-coloured stone’s throw from the town’s famous market, while the rooms, all of which are situated around a bare-brick courtyard, feature hand-carved headboards and exposed stone. Even the hotel’s restaurant Sarance is named after the moniker the native population once gave Otavalo, with its menu taking you on a culinary journey through Ecuador’s seven provinces.

    Ecuador & the Galápagos

    Hotel Mama Cuchara, Quito

    Right in the heart of Quito’s UNESCO-listed Old Town, Hotel Mama Cuchara is a historic monument of its own. This whitewashed villa was once the home of Juanita Terraza Monsalve and was in its gardens that he, along with several other liberal conspirators, plotted the assassination of president Gabriel García Moreno around 150 years ago. Today, it showcases a wealth of extraordinary native art in revolving galleries as a way to support local artists, while rooms are furnished with Ecuadorian artefacts, artisan-crafted headboards and classic furniture.

    Ecuador & the Galápagos

    Hacienda Manteles, Patate

    Hacienda Manteles promises everything you’d want from a hotel in the rugged heart of the Ecuadorian Andes. Its burgundy brickwork, artisan-weaved rugs and hardwood floors offer a traditional and supremely cosy setting without distracting you from the wild scenery outside. Not everywhere can say they’ve got a steamy volcano at the end of their garden – but Hacienda Manteles can. You can soak up views of Tungurahua volcano from your room’s floor-to-ceiling, along with the sweeping cloud forest and páramo of Llanganates National Park.

    Ecuador & the Galápagos

    Hacienda Abraspungo, Riobamba

    Inspired by the traditional manors and old farmhouses you’d find sprinkled among the Ecuadorian highlands, Hacienda Abraspungo is very much in the style of an authentic ranch. The Riobamba’s rich history is illustrated in the antiques, Andean artwork and photographs bedecking the rooms, while a mix of colonial and pre-Columbian artefacts adorn the restaurant and the hotel’s other communal areas. Its lush gardens open up to views of the mountains every room is named after and Chimborazo volcano – Ecuador’s highest peak.

    Ecuador & the Galápagos

    Hotel Cruz del Vado, Cuenca

    Hotel Cruz del Vado sits in a grand mansion in Cuenca’s oldest neighbourhood and the peach-hued marble it’s dressed in evokes the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by the city in its 1930s pomp. The hotel has kept its lavish features and the rooms are decorated with artwork created by distinguished local artists. The restaurant serves up cuisine representing all seven of Ecuador’s provinces while Hotel Cruz del Vado’s rooftop bar is the place to be for citywide views and Cuenca’s amber sunsets.

    Ecuador & the Galápagos

    Hotel del Parque, Guayaquil

    Simply Guayaquil’s finest bolthole, Hotel de Parque is a tranquil retreat that serves as perfect prep (or some much-needed downtime) before or after any Galápagos adventure. Hidden in the Parque Historico botanical gardens, this elegant 19th-century building has preserved many of its opulent colonial features, with stylish furniture, illustrious artwork and an open-air patio with fountains and exotic foliage. Guests are also granted an access-all-areas pass to the botanical gardens so you can explore its wildlife-filled grounds – even after hours.

    Ecuador & the Galápagos

    Relais & Chateaux Origin & Theory, Ecuador & The Galápagos

    A pair of zero-emission ships operated by Relais & Chateaux, there isn’t a more luxurious way to explore the Galápagos Islands than aboard either Origin or Theory. Holding just twenty passengers, you’re guaranteed intimate guided excursions to the islands’ most otherworldly treasures. The diverse activities Origin and Theory provide is staggering, from glass-bottom kayaking to nature walks in search of marine iguanas. Onboard, you’re treated to engaging expert-led talks, gourmet dinners and caipirinhas on deck at sundown, so you’re recharged for the next day.

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