Ecuador & Galápagos

Ecuador is often recognised as a stepping stone for the Galápagos Islands & this is certainly an incredibly valid reason for visiting the shoulder of South America. But the birthplace of chocolate, centre for early Spanish settlers & one of the uppermost reaches of the Andes has much more to offer than simply an active port for Galápagos departures.

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activities & experiences

From the pinnacle of the Andes, across glaciers, through cascading waterfalls, in and out of Incan ruins and onto the exquisite beaches of Salinas, Ecuador is a country of many faces, and many adventures. Plunging into the northwestern fringes of the Amazon before setting sail for the Galápagos, the country truly is a nature lover’s dream, and much more besides.

Like Peru’s Machu Picchu or Egypt’s pyramids, the Galápagos, despite being some 600 miles off the coast, is Ecuador’s star attraction, but by adding additional time to your itinerary and lingering on the mainland for a week or so, you will uncover a wonderful country of warm hospitality, steeped in history… and chocolate!

  • View the spectacular caldera lakes of Ecuador’s inactive volcanoes 
  • Snorkel with sea lions, penguins & myriad fishes in the Galápagos
  • Visit the Galápagos’ Tortuga Bay, one of the top 10 beaches of the world
  • Take a trip on the Devil’s Nose, reputedly the most difficult railway ever built
  • Drift through the Amazon, on the Amazon!
  • Experience the living history of numerous historic towns
  • Zipline through Mindo Cloud Forest & spot a wealth of birdlife
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Quilotoa

destinations

Ecuador is a land of surprising and spectacular contrast, from thick Amazonian jungles to pristine beaches, snow-capped mountains, historical cities such as Cuenca and Quito, and, of course, the Galápagos archipelago. Exploring this wonderful country will uncover far more than imagined, and what began as a stepping stone to an island wildlife experience will swiftly become a far more extensive adventure.

Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve


For an Amazon experience – both the river and the jungle – Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is a superb place to start. Though quite a trek (a short flight from Quito followed by a 60-mile (100km) drive, it is well worth the effort, with anacondas, pink river dolphins, caiman, capybara and the unjustly feared piranha all in habit the river, while on land, jaguar and dozens of monkey and bird species fill the trees. This is also home to the descendants of the encabellados, the Sionas to the north and to the south, the Secoyas, offering opportunity for immersive cultural experiences.

Mindo Cloud Forest


The town of Mindo is a wonderful, rustic destination in its own right, and here you will find one of the most informative cacao tours. With cacao sourced from local Mindo families, the interactive tour shows how the cacao bean becomes rich, delicious chocolate. After this brief and highly enjoyable excursion, the cloud forest will offer a complete immersion into Ecuadorian nature. Whether you hike to the numerous cascading waterfalls, drift along the river system or ziplining through the canopy, you will find myriad birds and butterflies, as well as lizards, bats, spectacled bears, puma and and the adorable kinkajou. Mindo is also home to one of our favourite Ecuadorian accommodations, Mashpi Lodge.

Ingapirca & Cuenca


While Peru is most famous as the home of the Inca, Ecuador, too, played host to the vanished peoples. Part of the UNESCO-listed Inca Trail actually runs through Ecuador, and several historical ruin sites can be found along its 25-mile (40km) length. Among these, Cuenca hosts the ruins of what is thought to be the Cañari city of Tomebamba that the Inca took over to use as a fort. But best preserved and most renowned is the ancient town of Ingapirca, with its impressive Sun Temple standing in almost perfect condition at the trail’s southern end.

Quilotoa


Ecuador has many active and dormant volcanoes that are simply breathtaking to hike. Of these, Cotopaxi is probably the most recognised, though strictly for the committed. Several though hold a little secret. Among a handful of caldera lakes, Quilotoa near the town of Quito is probably the most spectacular. You can take a bus to the summit of some other volcano lakes, but Quilotoa takes a little more dedication and is well worth the effort. Spanning almost two miles (3km), this thrilling caldera is thought to be over 800 feet (250m) deep, and filled with a crystal clear turquoise lake.

Santa Elena


Both a town and a province, Sanat Elena boasts some spectacular beaches and vibrant coastal communities. Salinas is the premier coastal destination, well developed with luxury hotels, stunning seafood restaurants and bustling streets. For something a little more laid back, Montañita has a more relaxed atmosphere favoured by surfers and backpackers. A thriving nightlife makes it a little bit of a party town, but it has plenty to offer visitors of all kinds.

The Galápagos


Though they speak for themselves, no guide to Ecuador is complete without mention of the Galápagos. Inspiring Charles Darwin to write The Origin of Species, the Galápagos are home to numerous species found nowhere else in the world. With predation incredibly low, wildlife is abundant, and much of it quite at ease with its human visitors. Penguins, sea lions, iguanas and giant tortoises can be found on land, hammerhead and whale sharks, turtles and manta rays in the ocean, and in the air, hawks, frigate birds and the loveable tap-dancing blue-footed booby. The best way to enjoy the Galápagos is aboard a yacht, staying on board and travelling throughout the archipelago, diving in the clear, warm ocean and taking trips ashore from your luxury floating accommodation.

Ecuador
Pailon Del Diablo Waterfall, Ecuador

accommodations

Like its landscapes, Ecuador offers a wide array of accommodation options, though the country is no stranger to luxury and premium quality. More major cities host recognised hotel chains, but also refurbished historical buildings, evoking decadence of the Spanish colonial style. As you venture further afield, the accommodation alters accordingly, seamlessly complementing the scenery and landscapes.

In the Amazon, you will find intimate jungle lodges, in national parks, more contemporary venues that place you amongst the canopy. Smaller towns provide boutique hotels and, while you can stay on land in the Galápagos archipelago, it is highly recommended to stay abroad a luxury motor yacht, with sumptuous private cabin, a full suite of facilities and world-class chefs to provide every meal as you drift through the island chain.

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ECUADOR & GALÁPAGOS ESSENTIALS

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BEST TIME: May-June and Sep-Oct

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CLIMATE:
MAINLAND: 61-85ºF (16-29ºC) year-round
GALÁPAGOS: 68-87ºF (20-30ºC) year-round OCEAN: 72ºF (22ºC) Jul-Nov / 79ºF (26ºC) Jan-Apr

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SEASONS: WET: Jan-Jun / DRY: Jul-Dec

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BEST FOR: Hikers, wildlife enthusiasts, adventurers, historians

As the ersatz t-shirt might read: Go for the Galápagos, Stay for the Mainland. The islands are a primary reason for visiting Ecuador, and rightly so. Truly fascinating, wonderfully captivating, despite covering far less territory and far fewer experiences than the mainland, we recommend dedicating half of your Ecuadorian vacation to the Galápagos. However, this should not be the only part of Ecuador you consider for your South American adventure. With so much more to see, taking the same amount of time for the volcanoes, trails, beaches and towns of the country is strongly advisable.

HOW LONG SHOULD I SPEND IN ECUADOR?

Two weeks will give you a packed but complete itinerary, though a little longer – perhaps 18 days – would be ideal and allow you a more relaxed journey. Taking 6-8 days to explore the Galápagos is ideal, while on the mainland, you could quite happily spend 7-10 days exploring the different perspectives of Ecuador, from mountains to beaches, lakes to jungles.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT?

While Ecuador lies on the equator and temperatures vary little throughout the year, rains can be significant. For the mainland, this makes July to December the better months. However, this coincides with strong trade winds, bumpy oceans and cooler water temperature in the Galápagos, where January to April are often considered the better months.

Because of this disparity, the shoulder months of May to June and September to October are recommended for those wishing to take advantage of both aspects of an Ecuadorian journey.

WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM ACCOMMODATION IN ECUADOR?

Accommodation is of an excellent standard, but also incredibly diverse. Superb lodges, boutique residences, premium hotels and private villas can be found, but you won’t find a Hyatt on the banks of the Amazon. For this reason, your expectations in venue style should be somewhat flexible, though the standard of quality, comfort and service need not be. For the Galápagos, land-based accommodation of a reasonable standard can be found, but boarding a luxury motor yacht is, in our opinion, the only way to visit the islands.

OTHER DETAILS:

An eight and a half-hour flight will land you in Quito from either US coast. From here, numerous options are available for further travel. Private drivers, train journeys and onward flights to the Galápagos make exploration easy, but expert advice and organisation necessary. Your travel designer will always consult with you to arrange the optimal travel options, combining convenience and speed with the more experiential side of travel.

US citizens don’t require visas for entry to Peru, though other nations may. It is always best to consult your Travel Designer well ahead of time to confirm visa requirements. Likewise, inoculations aren’t generally required but a travel medicine specialist will be able to inform you fully.

Spanish is the national language of Ecuador and some basic Spanish will definitely be useful, particularly in the more remote areas. That said, English is widely spoken, particularly in the hospitality and tourism industries, your accommodation staff, guides and so on will likely be fluent in English.

WHAT OUR CLIENTS SAY

Wow, wow, wow!! We are back in LA now, recovering from jet lag and still in shock and awe regarding our experience. From the moment we landed in South Africa to the moment we touched down in LA, our experience was seamless and amazing. 

- Amy Lundberg

We were thrilled with the trip. It was as good as or better than described at every turn. The prep, attention to detail, willingness to make changes and ensure we were ready and prepared was outstanding. Our Travel Designer was awesome! 

- Betsy Robertson

Choosing a safari expert is never easy given the choice and lists upon lists of "top suppliers"....but we made the BEST choice for us....why....because above all, Rothschild listened ....really listened to what we wanted to experience.

- Dawn Jacobs

It was a well organized trip. It was easy to get around since we were guided through all of our itinerary. Everyone was pleasant and very helpful. This is an excellent way to travel. Rothschild Safari did very well and brought a fantastic African experience to us.

- George Kowalski

My trip was beyond AMAZING! I truly enjoyed every moment. The itinerary allowed me to experience a variety of different activities all of which I enjoyed! When I originally thought of going to Africa I was just thinking of safaris. This trip opened my eyes (and my family/friend's) to so much more Africa has to offer.

- Jackie Smith

Trip was PERFECT!! Every single detail was planned out and the accommodations and people were wonderful. This trip exceeded all of our wildest expectations. Every place we stayed was just lovely and each each camp had a different vibe, which was really neat. Everyone we worked with was outstanding. 

Jamie Scarlett

On behalf of the Moravec’s and the Stone’s……thank you for arranging a trip of a lifetime. Every detail was accounted for and all the recommendations were perfect. It honestly could not have gone any better.

Joe Moravec

Meggan Woody and Kim Killick were extraordinary at crafting THE PERFECT safari for our family of 8. They both listened (actually 'read' my email) to EXACTLY what we wanted, within the budget that we needed, and miraculously pulled off miracles in obtaining the properties that we wanted! 

Kim Mather

Every aspect of my trip went according to plan and the plan Rothschild's help me to orchestrate was magnificent! I loved every lodge that I was blessed to be in! They were all very different yet all high end and very accommodating.

Lisa Anderson

It was the most exciting, scenic, inspiring trip we've ever taken. To say it was a trip of a lifetime doesn't begin to capture our experience. Pam Langhoff and the Rothschild team did an outstanding job of helping us plan this trip.

Mary & Rob Johannigman (& family)