In early July, I got some good news. The Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador and the Adventure Travel Trade Association were teaming up to put together a familiarization (“fam”) trip for adventure tour operators — including Southwind. The emailing began, and now I’m getting my bags packed and leaving next week!
This feels a little bit like Christmas and a birthday back-to-back. What started out as a 12-day mainland Ecuador trip has doubled into an extra ten days of Galápagos Island exploration. Here’s what I know about the itinerary so far:
Sept 20 – Oct 1: Andes and the Amazon with the FAM
Thursday, September 20:
Arrival in Quito. Transfer airport-hotel J.W. Marriott. Overnight Marriott hotel.
Friday, September 21:
Breakfast at hotel. Late Arrivals to Quito- Airport transfer to JW Marriot. Lunch. Afternoon break. Welcome Dinner at The spectacular Restaurant “El Ventanal” overlooking the historic center. Overnight Marriot Hotel
Saturday, September 22:
We’ll have breakfast at the hotel, then spend the first part of the day exploring the Equator & the Intiñan Museum. In the evening we’ll tour the historic center by Chiva and on foot. Overnight in the charming Casona de la Ronda in the historic center.
Sunday, September 23:
Breakfast at hotel. Travel by train to Boliche. Horseback riding and lunch in the lunar landscape of Cotopaxi at Hacienda El Porvenir. We’ll pop in for a quick visit of Hacienda San Agustin del Callo then head to Baños for Dinner and overnight in the Spectacualr Samari Hotel & Spa.
Monday, September 24:
Breakfast at Samari. Mountain Biking, and hiking to the awe-inspiring Pailón del Diablo waterfall on our way down into the Amazon. We’ll stop for lunch amongst Orchids, and then visit the community tourism project in Cajabamba II to see Carbon offset in practice. Overnight in Shandia Ecovillage.
Tuesday, September 25:
Breakfast in Shandia. Shamanic cleansing in Waysa Yaku. We’ll receive a special welcome by local Kichwa indigenous women in Misahualli then board a canoe to Shiripuno indigenous village for an afternoon of jungle culture and a typical lunch with the community. We’ll have the chance to Pan for gold, practice with a blowgun, or build abalsa raft on along the Napo river and then visit an artesenal cocoa farm, for chocolate making and tasting before heading to our accommodation in Huasquila Lodge.
Wednesday, September 26:
After Breakfast in the lodge. We’ll have a full day of fun on the water: Rafting on the Rio Hollin or Lower Misahualli – picnic lunch followed by an Amazon Cultural Night and delicious dinner. Accommodation Huasquila Lodge.
Thursday, September 27:
We’ll make an early star to visit the Sumaco Biosphere Reserve after breakfast in the lodge. There we’ll spend the day Trekking: hiking, bird-watching and marveling at the amazing flora and fauna of this- the world’s most bio-diverse country. A great lunch will await us at Sumaco Wildlife. Transfer to Yachana Lodge. After dinner we’ll take a nighttime walk in the Rainforest to see Caimans, insects, and reptiles. Accommodation- Yachana Lodge.
Friday, September 28:
After yet another early breakfast in the lodge, we’ll travel by canoe down the Napo River to the city of Coca. Land transfer to the waterfall of San Rafael for a short hike and an Ecuadorian fruit-tasting. Then head up into the highlands to the amazing Termas de Papallacta Hot Springs for a chance to relax and recover from our Jungle advenutres. Dinner and overnight in Papallacta.
Saturday, September 29:
Breakfast at Papallacta. Head to “La Compañia” Hacienda and Rose farm for Lunch and a visit to the farm the off to Otavalo where we’ll visit the Indigenous market. Before heading to our home for the evening- Hacienda Pinsaqui.
Sunday, September 30:
After breakfast in the cozy breakfast room of the Hacienda, we’ll head for the incredible Lakes of Mojanda and have the chance for a hike and to visit an indigenous community La Calera for an Andean Cultural day. In the afternoon we’ll return to the city of Quito and Overnight in Casa Gangotena.
Monday, October 1:
After breakfast at the hotel we’ll head to Cumbaya for a Travel Workshop. After spending the morning talking shop, we’ll pop in at the Chaupiestancia Vinyard for a little wine and cheese- Ecuadorian style. We’ll return to Quito and our hotel for a short rest and then head to the lovely Hacienda Rumiloma Overlooking Quito for a very special farewell dinner. Overnight in Casa Gangotena.
Oct 2 – 3: Free time in Quito
Oct 4 – 5: Land-based Galápagos
Oct 6 – 12: Galápagos Islands tour on
‘Treasure of Galapagos’ Catamaran
SATURDAY Oct 6: Charles Darwin Station – Santa Cruz
AM: Baltra: Transfer in to Puerto Ayora
PM: Charles Darwin Station: Lunch at noon. Dry landing, activities: hiking educational visit to the Charles Darwin Station (giant tortoises, Opuntia cactus, etc.). Degree of difficulty: easy Duration: 2 hours, dinner at night.
SUNDAY Oct 7: Tintoreras – Wall of Tears – Isabela Island
AM: Tintoreras: The islet is Located south of Puerto Villamil. It has a small bay of calm turquoise waters, where you can appreciate sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, rays, etc. The bay is connected to a crevice of crystal clear water, that’s shallow and when the tide is low, the entrance closes. In this crevice, you can see how reef sharks swim along with other small fish and sea lions. Difficulty: Moderate Duration: 2 hours. Lunch at noon.
PM: Wall of Tears: This is an historic part of Isabela because during the years from 1946 to 1959 there was a penal colony on the island; during which to punish the prisoners were forced to build a wall with enormous blocks of lava are about 100 meters long and 7 meters high. You can reach the top of The Wall of Tears through some steps, where you can have a panoramic view of the place. In the place you can still see the concrete foundations where the Americans had their wooden houses in the Second World War. Difficulty: Moderate Duration: 2 hours. Dinner in the evening.
MONDAY Oct 8: Punta Moreno, Elizabeth Bay – Isabela Island
AM: Punta Moreno – Isabela: Dry landing, Punta Moreno is located on the north coast of Isabela Island. The route of the trail is approximately 2100 meters. The main attraction in Punta Moreno is the coastal lagoons in the middle of black lava flow where there are several species of birds. It has a view of 3 volcanoes, the most actives in the Galapagos; Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul. Difficulty: Moderate Duration: 2 hours, Lunch at noon.
PM: Elizabeth Bay: Is located on the west shore of Isabela, at the Perry Isthmus, Elizabeth Bay is a marine visitor site (no landings are permitted). As you visit Elizabeth bay panga Galapagos Hawks soar overhear and schools of Pompanos and Dorados can be seen swimming underneath you. Difficulty: Moderate Duration: 2 hours Dinner in the evening.
TUESDAY Oct 9: Punta Mangle (Fernandina Island) – Urbina Bay (Isabela Island)
AM: Punta Mangle: Wet Landing, is a new destination opened up for 2012. The island of Fernandina has no foreign species living on it and therefore it is one of the world’s most pristine island ecosystems. This island is dominated by volcano “La Cumbre” which gave birth to the island and has lave fields reaching the ocean. Some of the attractions are the Flightless Cormorant nesting site. This area provides great opportunities to see the Galapagos Hawk. Flightless Cormorant, Marine Iguanas, Sea Lions, Sally Lightfoot Crabs. Difficulty: Easy Duration: 2 hours, Lunch at noon
PM: Urbina Bay – Isabela: Wet Landing, Urbina Bay is located at the base of volcanoes Alcedo and Darwin, west of Isabela Island. Here you can find corals, shells, and many other organisms exposed above the water. This area is also home to large and very colorful Galápagos land iguanas, giant tortoises and the famous population of Alcedo Volcano. Difficulty: Easy Duration: 1 hour, Dinner in the evening.
WEDNESDAY Oct 10: Puerto Egas (Santiago Island) – Rabida Island
AM: Puerto Egas – Santiago: Dry Landing, Puerto Egas is located northwest of Santiago Island, fascinating place to visit because it had a great volcanic activity in the past. Puerto Egas is one of the most popular sites in the Galapagos Archipelago. It has a beautiful black sand beach where you can see its many inhabitants as sea lions, chameleons, lizards and herons. Difficulty: Easy Duration: 2 hours Lunch at noon.
PM: Rabida: Also known by the name of Jervis in honor of a British Admiral John Jervis, Earl of St. Vincent. Rabida is located 5 km south of Santiago Island and is commonly regarded as the geographical center of the Galapagos Islands. It has an area of 4.9 km ² and a maximum altitude of 367 meters. It has a high iron content, which causes that this place has a distinctive reddish color. Its main attraction is the salt lagoon with flamingoes, pelicans and boobies place where they build their nests. Difficulty: Easy Duration: 2 hours Dinner in the evening.
THURSDAY Oct 11: Chinese Hat Island – Cerro Dragon (Santa Cruz Island)
AM: Chinese Hat: small islet located nears the south-east of Santiago. It’s shaped like a Chinese hat when seen from afar. It is an island consisting of a cone type “Splash” (lava ejected as droplets and falling close to where it came out, which forms a cone angle) that forms the top, and lava tubes that run down to the coast. In the west you can see lava formations, which are an indicator that the flows were formed under the sea and have been raised towards the exterior, reason why coral heads on lava can be seen. This visit provides an excellent opportunity for the interpretation of geologic features such as lava tubes and lava flows. Difficulty: Easy Duration: 2 hours, Lunch at noon.
PM: Cerro Dragon: The site visit Cerro Dragon is located in the northwest of Santa Cruz Island, and consists of a path that runs for three different environments in just 1,600 m in length.
FRIDAY Oct 12: Las Bachas – Santa Cruz
AM: Las Bachas: is a beach about 1 km in length. With white sand beach, deserted and where you can see flamingos, and migratory birds. In the vicinity of the Las Bachas beach can observe predominant vegetation of the coastal zone. Las Bachas beach represents one of the main nesting sites of sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) on Isla Santa Cruz. Las Bachas is a very popular practice of snorkeling, swimming. Difficulty: Easy Duration: 2 hours, Transfer out to Baltra`s Airport.
This might be the most exciting part about the trip. The first 12 days I’ll be accompanied by a dozen other travel industry pros. Most of us have already gotten acquainted by swapping online bios via email. As I read through these, I’m starting think that this is not a fam trip at all but rather an intervention for travel addicts. What amazing people!