Holidays combining Ecuador & Peru

Heather MacBrayne, the well-travelled founder of our partner Discover South America, has no hesitation when it comes to recommending her underrated highlights in Ecuador and Peru.

“Ollantaytambo,” says Heather. “It’s sometimes called a ‘living Inca town’, as the main square, pedestrianised side streets and many of the buildings people use as their homes today were constructed by the Incas. It can be hard to appreciate this during the daytime when the square is chock-a-block with tourists, but stay overnight and you get a glimpse of normal life.”

“The main town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos is also a great place to spend a few days,” Heather adds. “Head down to the fish market early in the morning to see the sea lions waiting for offcuts from the day’s catch, and you can enjoy a coffee overlooking the Pacific while giant iguanas casually stroll by.”

Charles Darwin famously developed his theory of evolution by natural selection while studying the wildlife of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. But there were gaps in his evidence. He knew evolution was at work, but he had no ‘transitional species’ to demonstrate it.  

Travelling through Ecuador and Peru today, nearly two centuries later, the magic is still often found in the spaces inbetween. The quiet evenings after the big tour buses have left Ollantaytambo and the early mornings on Santa Cruz before the cruise ships and day-trippers arrive – these are the moments when you can still feel like an explorer yourself.

Beyond Galapagos & Machu Picchu

Ecuador and Peru holidays usually mean focussing on the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu, trekking the Inca Trail. In the Galapagos, you can either cruise or opt for a land-based island hopping trip which allows you to experience life on the islands and support local businesses.

But our partners help you go beyond the islands and the ancient Incan citadel. You can explore village markets and cloud forest in the Andean highlands, see less-visited Incan communities around the Sacred Valley, cruise along the Amazon and its tributaries, be awed by Ecuador’s Avenue of Volcanoes, and admire the architectural landmarks of Quito and Lima.

Travelling responsibly on holidays that combine Ecuador and Peru means recognising that the most well-known, most sought after destinations do need to manage their visitor numbers, and that the right kind of tourism can have positive impacts on the natural environment as well as the lives of people who live close to them.
For that reason, our partners such as Discover South America will often seek out quieter campsites on the Inca Trail and – in contrast to some companies – they’ll ensure that the porters their groups depend on are not overloaded, and that they are provided with quality food, camping equipment, insurance and comfortable accommodation in Cuzco.

You’ll stay in small, often family-run accommodations throughout, where your hosts may not speak perfect English but you will definitely gain a better insight into local culture than you would in a big-name hotel. Your stay can have significant benefits in places where the magnetism of popular tourism attractions sometimes overshadows poverty and environmental degradation.

“We work with several lodges that are community-based in the Amazon,” says Heather. “All proceeds are reinvested into community projects such as renewable energy, education and health care.”

Meanwhile, Kat Dougal from our partner Andean Trails explains how their holidays in Peru and Ecuador help organisations such as Huchuy Yachaq in Cuzco: “Huncuy Yachaq is in a very impoverished neighbourhood on the outskirts of Cuzco. They provide schooling – sometimes the only education that children will receive. They place a big emphasis on working with whole families to help them improve their situation, and they’re very much a community hub. We’ve sent volunteers, but mainly we support them with financial donations – enough to pay a teacher for a year – and we help our travellers find educational resources while there that they can donate.”
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Ecuador or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Why combine Ecuador & Peru?

Visiting Ecuador and Peru on the same holiday makes sense for several reasons. Cost-wise, you’ll save on international flights. Combining the two is also ideal for those who like to visit a different part of the world every year; you can see two South American countries in one trip.

But mainly, we’d recommend combining Ecuador with Peru because these are usually long trips of at least two weeks long. Taking your time allows you to really appreciate the landscapes and culture of each.

You can add days and experiences into the itinerary wherever you like on a tailor made tour, while on small group trips, where the itinerary is fixed, there’s nothing to say you can’t add on a few days either side.

After all, Ecuador is not only about the Galapagos Islands. There is a wealth of activities available on the mainland too. How do you fancy mountain biking down a volcano, relaxing in the hot springs of Banos, or trekking and chocolate tasting in the Mindo Cloud Forest?

And there’s far more to Peru than Machu Picchu, including emptier Incan ruins easily accessible from Cuzco, stays on the shore of Lake Titicaca, and Andes trekking options beyond the Inca Trail that don’t require permits.

Plus, both countries offer routes into the Amazon with no flights required – another wildlife watching destination that’s as spectacular, if more challenging, as the Galapagos Islands. By visiting the riverside communities here you help support traditional tribal ways of life, as tourism is seen as a viable alternative to the development of land for the oil industry.

What do holidays to Ecuador & Peru involve?

Holidays are usually a minimum of 14 days long, with around a week spent in each country. A typical itinerary might see you flying into Quito, then on to the Galapagos Islands for a cruise or land-based tour, returning to the Ecuadorean mainland to connect with a flight to Lima. From the Peruvian capital, you would continue with an internal flight to Cuzco and then trek or take the train to Machu Picchu. And you can just as easily do this in reverse.
You will typically spend your first day in Cuzco or Quito with some sightseeing led by a local guide if you’re on a small group trip. That relaxed start is essential, because you’re so far above sea level that you need time to acclimatise.

Small group trips can see you journeying alongside up to around 14 other like-minded souls, and are ideal for those who enjoy making new friends as they trek, snorkel and sail their way around. All of the nitty-gritty details are handled on your behalf by a tour leader who will be accompanied by a succession of local guides on organised activities. You’ll still have plenty of time to do your own thing too.

Tailor made tours give you greater flexibility, whether that’s your travel dates, opting for more budget or luxury accommodations, or adding days onto the itinerary according to your interests.

It’s important to note that the two key destinations on most Ecuador and Peru holidays are subject to some restrictions. Permits are required for trekking the Inca trail, limited to 500 per day of which 300 are assigned to porters and guides. In the Galapagos Islands, cruise ships can carry a maximum of 100 passengers and docking slots at islands are coordinated by the national park authority. Booking organised tours means that all the logistics are handled on your behalf, no need to go chasing around online to find the information you need.

Best time to visit Ecuador & Peru

The Galapagos Islands and mainland Ecuador can be visited year-round, as the climate is fairly stable and most of the wildlife is non-migratory. For cruises, the seas are calmer between December and June, while peak breeding season for many species such as marine iguanas is between February and April.

May and October are the ideal months for trekking in Peru. You miss the peak season on the Inca Trail so permits don’t sell out as fast, campsites aren’t so busy, and the weather is usually dry and warm.

As with any ultra-popular destination, we’d always suggest going outside the peak season if you can. You’ll have a better experience with fewer crowds and can often find lower prices. The income from tourism is spread further throughout the year in communities that often depend on it too. March to June is usually the wettest period in the Amazon, but between June and September the views in the Andes are superb, with cool temperatures and clear skies.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Longjourneys] [Puerto Ayora harbour: Victor Gleim] [Inca Trail: Wendy Harman] [Quito: Andres Medina]