Ecuador holiday, Darwin's Ecuador

“Discover the unique and diverse landscapes of Ecuador, from cloud forests to volcanoes and tropical islands. You’ll also spend several days in the Galapagos Islands, visiting the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre. ”


Quito | Mindo orchid & butterfly farm | Bellavista Reserve | Avenue of Volcanoes | Chugchilan | Quilotoa crater | Banos | Hot springs | Chimborazo Volcano | Devil's Nose train | Ingapirca | Cuenca | El Cajas National Park | Guayaquil | Internal flight to Galapagos Islands | Ferry to Isabela | Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre | Boat trip to Las Tintorereas | Sierra Negra Volcano | Santa Cruz Island | South Plaza Island | Charles Darwin Research Centre | Internal flight to Quito |

Description of Ecuador holiday, Darwin's Ecuador

Ecuador may not be a very large country, but what it lacks in size, it sure makes up for in looks. The contrasts in scenery that you’ll encounter on this two-week small group Ecuador holiday are simply incredible. From the effervescent capital, Quito, you’ll drive out to the Bellavista Reserve, a cloud forest with an immense number of bird species and many beautiful orchids.

Crossing the equator (and pausing to take your photo of course!) it’s on to the staggering Avenue of the Volcanoes, flanked by the Andes, and a picturesque mountain village where you’ll spend a few days trekking, horse riding or simply basking in the views.

Day six of the itinerary is a special one. You can opt to relax in the Banos hot springs, or trek up a volcano, guided by an ‘ice man’ who makes his living collecting ice from the glacier. Other highlights at this stage include a ride on the Devil’s Nose, a breathtaking section of the Trans Andean railway that zigzags around a mountain, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cuenca.

After a drive through the cocoa and banana plantations of El Cajas National Park you’ll reach Guayaquil, and board a flight out to the stunning Galapagos Islands. The wildlife here inspired Darwin’s theories of evolution, and for the most part the islands remain almost pristine. A few days of scenic island-hopping follow, as well as visits to two must-see Galapagos locations: the Charles Darwin Research Centre, and the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre where you can see many of these iconic animals, the largest reptiles on Earth.
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05 Oct 2019
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25 Jan 2020
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Holiday type
Small group holidays
Small group travel is not large group travel scaled down. It is modelled on independent travel – but with the advantage of a group leader to take care of the itinerary, accommodation and tickets, and dealing with the language. It’s easy to tick off the big sights independently – but finding those one-off experiences, local festivals, travelling markets and secret viewpoints is almost impossible for someone without the insider knowledge gained from years in the field. If you’re heading off on a gap year your, perhaps – but for those with a two-week holiday, a small group tour will save valuable planning time.

The leaders are not guides – they’re not there to shepherd you around. Instead, they’ll let you know which local restaurant serves great value food – without running the risk of travellers’ tummy. They’ll allow you to avoid hour-long queues at train stations and attractions.

We like to think of small group travel as the Goldilocks option. It is independent travel without the fuss, worry and bunk beds – and organised travel without the coaches. And it’s cheaper than a tailor made tour. It’s sits somewhere in the middle – and we think it’s just about right.
What are the main benefits?
Big experiences
Have big, life-enriching experiences that would be impossible to organise without lots of time and insider knowledge.

Make the most of your holiday time by letting someone else do the hard work and boring logistics!

Peace of mind
Small group tours take care of the security aspects – and provide a safety net should anything unexpected happen.
Who is it ideal for?
Travellers who are short of time
If you don’t have three months to spend exploring, small groups trips let you cover more ground in less time. Your days are not spent queuing for tickets or finding hotels – so you can squeeze more into your holiday.

Solo travellers who’d like company
Likeminded travel companions plus peace of mind for those travelling alone. Single supplements are usually available – providing privacy if you want it.

Less confident travellers
Stray from the tourist trail without worrying about getting lost, and meet local people without dealing with the language barrier.
“I won’t get any privacy!”
Couples and friends have private rooms, and you can choose to eat alone or not. Single supplements give solo travellers their own room.

“There won’t be any free time”
Free mornings or afternoons let you explore on your own, or just relax.

“The accommodation will be basic”
Trips are as high or low end as you like. Though off the beaten track destinations won’t have luxury hotels, this is all part of the adventure.

“I won’t like the other travellers!”
Tour operators try to create groups with a similar demographic – age, families, activity levels... Chances are, you’ll even make new friends.

“Will we be following an umbrella?”
Meet a group leader
As well as taking care of all the day-to-day practicalities, your group leader is the one who will turn your trip into an adventure. Leaders are extraordinary characters – the kind of person who has spent 14 Christmas days on the slopes of Mount Everest, runs marathons wearing tiger suits to raise funds for their conservation and thinks nothing of leading an overland trip in Sudan or Afghanistan. Fearless and inspiring, group leaders are as important as the destination itself.

Meet a local guide
No matter how experienced your group leader, they can never make up for the knowledge gained from a lifetime in the destination. That’s why many of our trips work with local guides around the world – who invite you into their homeland with pleasure. As well as doing crazy things like climbing Kilimanjaro 100 times, they also donate their time to local projects supported by travellers – such as rebuilding Sri Lankan villages following the 2004 tsunami.

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Ecuador holiday, Darwin's Ecuador

During our stay in Guamote we are proud to support the Inti Sita community project, an enterprise set up to help the indigenous communities improve their living conditions through education and co-operative ventures. Profits from the guesthouse are used to run several educational workshops including computer classes, textile designs and music classes as well as providing a kindergarten for local children whose parents cannot afford pre-schooling.

This trip supports and stays at two award winning eco-loges all with strong community ties that allow the profits from tourism to go directly into local communities: The Black Sheep Inn in Chugchilan and Bellavista Cloud forest reserve apa.

In South America we use local ground handlers - this means that all the operational costs go directly into the local economy and helps to improve employment opportunities in remote regions. By incorporating home-stays, locally owned hotels, restaurants and the services of guides and drivers into our itineraries, we ensure that money you spend on your trip goes directly into the local economy and local communities benefit from tourism.

When you take one of our trips, we automatically make a contribution to “Carbon Clear” – an organisation who work with hundreds of organisations to measure their carbon footprint and reduce their carbon emissions.

We also support emergency relief efforts in the areas we travel to, such as the Pakistan Earthquake Fund set up in 2005 and a variety of other community benefiting NGOs around the world. We also support several other NGOs around the world such as the Hope Foundation, Tibetan schools trust and Adopt-A-Minefield, which are all carefully selected to improve the standard of living for the communities we visit.

2 Reviews of Ecuador holiday, Darwin's Ecuador

4.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 04 Oct 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

There was lots of highlights on the way but the Cloud Forest, Guamote, Cuenca and the Rainforest just seem to stand out. Eve was a great tour guide during our visit to the Cloud Forest, our walks through that old and peaceful forest were truly spectacular and our local guide Phil's knowledge was astounding. The scenery was ever changing with the formations of the cloud, the bird life was varied but I believe the humming birds stole the show, you could sit and watch for hours. An excellent start to the holiday.

Our visit to Guamote was too short, the train ride is the best way to see the countryside and have a bit of fun, a visit to the school and the Intisisa project gives you lots of food for thought and rounding the trip off with a visit to a local market without the gaggle of tourists gave some wonderful memories.

Cuenca was a jewel approximately half way through our trip, it is a very beautiful city and perfect for a two night stay, the visit to the Panama Hat factory and our City Tour was well worth the time spent and it was great to be able to let off some steam in a few bars - sets you up nicely for the long trip to the Black Sheep Inn and Quilotoa.

Our lodge in the Raingfores was Yachana all of this was a dream come true for me who never envisaged going to the Rainforest. From the moment we stepped on to the canoe it all became a bit of an adventure. Our excellent local guide Delfin brought the forest to life with his tales of the living in the forest, finding insects/amphibians and explaining plants/trees what they meant to the local people and how they made use of the Rainforest. Making the trip just that little bit special were all the other activities on offer besides the jungle walks: from showing John (Happy Gringo Tour Guide) how to throw a spear and use blowpipes, we also ensured he got a good cookery lesson and learnt how to make a basket, skills I am sure he will find useful. A little siesta time in the hammocks and at the end of the day a nice cocktail to round it all off, perfect.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Watch your packing list, it gets cold up in Andes at night ensure you have long trousers and a couple of fleeces plus a warm jacket you will need them. Otherwise go with an open mind and just enjoy everything on offer.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

We used local guides at every location and certainly at Guamote we stayed in Intisisa accomodation which is a great project set up for the local people. Our lodge in the Amazon is also another local project that is helping the local people, they have a fantastic website which is worth visiting before you book the trip.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Reviewed on 28 Feb 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The whole holiday was very very good and hugely enjoyable! The time at Bellavista cloud forest reserve was exceptional for me especially as I was able to go back for a few days after the group tour finished and do more walks on my own (saw a sloth even). The rainforest visit was interesting as we had an indigenous guide and saw community school/projects whilst there, unlike most visits. We also visited a school in the Andes and ended up being asked by the children there to teach them some games...not your usual event! The tour operator has a good mix of wildlife and connection with local communities in the places visited.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

No problems really as the pre departure info is very clear and good. This was a "recce" trip i.e. the first one in Ecuador, so we knew to be more flexible, however even when things went ostensibly "wrong" we ended up by having an even better or more interesting time than expected!!! (So THANKS again John!) Travelling in Latin America is always best with an open mind and flexible attitude anyway!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, much more than most trips that claim this, and so I felt more involved and less a spectator than I have previously when visiting local projects. Also we stayed at places where it is obvious that we are supporting the local community.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It is one of the best group holidays that I have taken, as where possible I do like to travel independently with a friend. I was lucky as there was a very small group on this holiday and they and the guides were great, so it felt more like travelling with a small group of friends!! I would definitely recommend them and would not hesitate to travel with them again.

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