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The Jewel of South America • From the Andes to the Amazon
ECUADOR
Including the Galapagos Islands

OVERVIEW
Discover the great beauty of highland Ecuador—the jewel of South America—and the fascination of the Galapagos Islands, on this 17-day expedition.

Join us as we explore outstanding reserves to see the diverse plants and animals of Ecuador. Explore the western and eastern forests of the Andes, an orchid reserve, historical and UNESCO World Heritage sites, and the world-renowned Galapagos Islands.

Discover the tropical forests at Maquipucuna Reserve, at 4,000 feet in elevation, one of the biodiversity hot spots in South America. Visit the paramo at 12,000 foot Papallacta Pass. Stay in a thatched lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon, with superb birdlife, bromeliads, and tropical forest. Then fly to the Galapagos Islands for eight days on board M/V Santa Cruz.

Visits include:

  • Quito — the capital of Ecuador and a UNESCO World Heritage Site with cobblestone streets, historic cathedrals, white-washed, tile-roofed buildings, and fascinating handicrafts. See the famous 30 meter Equatorial Monument and Ethnographic Museum.
  • Loma Pahuambo Orchid Reserve — a new reserve along a steep sided stream with a moist habitat for orchids and bromeliads. See and photograph many species of orchids and ferns in this moist cool canyon. The visitor center displays many orchids from western Ecuador.
  • Maquipucuna Biological Reserve — on the western slope of the Andes between 1200 and 2800 meters above sea level. The reserve was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1987 and is now owned and managed by Fundacion Maquipucuna. The reserve is 80% primary forest, with secondary forest going through stages of ecological session: there is a small village. The reserve has been acclaimed as one of the richest biodiversity locations on earth by Conservation International.
  • Guacamayos River Valley — in the Upper Amazon Basin. Here, we will explore the Amazon rainforest at a mid-elevation level with a mixture of forest types including riverine habitat, bamboo forest, with colorful orchids and bromeliads. The bird diversity is outstanding and small colorful frogs can be found both day and night.
  • Papallacta Pass, Andean Cordillera. The pass is edged by the unique habitat of the paramo, a mixture of hardy grass, bromeliads, and stunted plants at about 12,000 feet. The pass is often windswept with low clouds. Birds range from the giant hummingbird to the Andean condor with many species found only in this montane treeless habitat.

In the GALAPAGOS ISLANDS we will explore:

  • Bartolome and Santiago Islands. See this lava landscape with cinder cones, spatter cones, and lava fields dotted with red volcanic bombs. Go ashore at Puerto Egas, an area of volcanic cones, salt crater, and tide pools brimming with sealife.
  • Tower (Genovesa) Island — One of the smallest islands in the archipelago, Tower is a bird island, with about 250,000 nesting red-footed boobies and thousands of great frigatebirds. Walk among nesting red-footed boobies with their elaborate nuptial displays, whistles and honks.
  • Santa Cruz Island & the Charles Darwin Research Station — learn about the long-term breeding program for the Galapagos tortoise and visit the Santa Cruz highlands to observe the distinctive Scalesia Zone and the agricultural areas that supported early settlers and today’s ecotourists. With 50 inches of rain per year and heavy fog, the forest is 40 feet tall with a dense understory of bushes and plants. Discover species of plants and birds endemic to the highlands.
  • Gardner Bay and Punta Suarez, Hood (Espanola) Island. Snorkel in the clear water with many colorful fish and invertebrates. Visit the nesting sites of Nasca and blue-footed boobies. These birds will be nesting just to the side of the trail and offer unsurpassed photographic opportunities.

We will travel for eight days aboard M/V Santa Cruz, one of the finest vessels in the Galapagos fleet.

ITINERARY

Day 1 Home to Quito, Ecuador.
Depart home for Miami International Airport for our flight to Quito, Ecuador. Arrive Quito, situated at an elevation of 9,300 feet at the foot of Mt. Pichincha, and transfer to Hotel Alamada Real or Hotel Quito.

Day 2 Papallacta Pass and Upper Amazon Basin.
Our expedition will begin as we depart Quito for the unique habitat of the paramo at Papallacta Pass on the north slope of Volcano Antisana. The Anitisana Reserve together with Cotopaxi National Park and the Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve are the critical central parts of the 560,000 hectare Condor Biosphere Reserve. We will walk among terrestrial bromeliads (Puya) with flower stalks 6 feet tall along with flowering asters, heaths, and colorful lichen-covered boulders. We will look for the two species of Cinclodes, giant conebills, Andean snipes, and condors that are confined to this high elevation habitat. Afternoon drive down the eastern slope of the Andes to the Upper Amazon Basin. San Isidro Cabanas (3 nights). B,L,D

Day 3 Upper Amazon Basin.
Awaken today to the sounds of the rainforest with many species of birds only heard at dawn. Our first walk will take us into a tall rainforest with understory tree ferns, Monochaetum, and large leafed Piper. We will look for the many vines of the forest like Marcgravia, Centropogon and then stop to listen to the sounds of a tropical rainforest. This afternoon we will explore an often overlooked habitat, the bamboo forest. We will look and listen for insects and birds that are specialists in bamboo. In the early evening bats can sometimes be seen eating the fruits of the Piper plants near the lodge. Evening lecture/ discussion. B,L,D

Day 4 uacomayos River and Valley.
The Amazon rainforest has had millions of years of relatively stable temperature and precipitation. This has allowed time for forests to become exceedingly complex with many different micro-habitats and niches. Where we find tree branches that have fallen to the forest floor, we will look for ferns, mosses, liverworts, bromeliads, orchids, and a surprising number of Peperomia plants. We’ll explore micro-habitats within walking distance to see ferns, flowering plants, butterflies, amphibians, and birds. Guyacomayos is the local name of the macaw, the largest member of the parrot family. We will continue our exploration of riparian forest habitats and look for the many species of colorful tropical birds, butterflies, and flowering plants. B,L,D

Day 5 Amazon to Lomo Pahuambo Orchid Reserve and Maquipucuna.
After an early morning walk, we will drive over the Andes to Lomo Pahuambo Orchid Reserve. The Reserve is located in a narrow canyon with canopy trees overhead and a waterfall at the upper reaches. Many species of orchids are growing naturally and the Visitor Center displays many others found on the western slope of the Andes. Arrive at Maquipucuna and the Umachaca Lodge (3 nights). B,L,D

Day 6 Maquipucuna Biological Reserve.
The reserve has three different life zones, humid premontane forest, humid lower montane, and humid upper montane ranging from 1200 meters to 2800 meters. Nearly 2,000 species of plants are found here, including over 200 species of ferns and about 250 species of bromeliads and orchids. The prevalence of aroids at Maquipucuna is especially notable, with 70 species. Look for Erythrina, Hibiscus, Cecropia, strangler figs, and many species of Heliconia. There is also a very high diversity of birds, with more than 325 identified thus far, including saltators, 15 species of tangers, flower-piercers, many species of flycatchers, and Andean cock-of-the-rock. The mountain and valleys are bathed in mists with species diversity that rivals the best tropical lowland forests. Leaf-cutter ants can be seen busily carrying their leaf parasols across our trails and colorful butterflies will be seen in the sunny gaps in the forest. We will have a night walk to discover insects feeding while predatory birds are sleeping. B,L,D

Day 7 Maquipucuna.
We will take a dawn walk to hear the sounds of birds and insects at the start of the day. After breakfast explore the trails or you may choose to sit quietly by the grove of heliconia plants and see the hermit hummingbirds that feed on nectar and then pollinate these yellow flowers nearly hidden by bright red bracts. After lunch, we will look for purple Meriania and the red-tipped Columnea. Our local guides will assist with the many species of canopy-growing Guzmania. Evening lecture/ discussion. B,L,D

Day 8 Maquipucuna to Quito.
After an early morning walk, we’ll drive to Quito and see the Equatorial Monument and Ethnographic Museum. We will also explore the UNESCO World Heritage site of old Quito. Walk through the central plaza, government buildings, massive churches, and local markets. The Museum displays the ethnic groups of Ecuador with life-like displays of their villages, utensils, foods, and artwork. Hotel Alameda Real or Hotel Quito. B

Day 9 Galapagos and San Cristobal Island.
After breakfast we will transfer to the Quito airport for the flight to Guayaquil and on to the Galapagos Islands, the 20th province of Ecuador. We will land on the island of San Cristobal, the capital of the Galapagos Islands. We will board the M/V Santa Cruz, settle into cabins, have lunch, and begin our voyage with a cruise around Kicker Rock. In the afternoon, we will explore the shoreline near Cerro Brujo and snorkel. This was the first location Charles Darwin visited in September 1835. Captain’s Welcome Social followed by dinner and a briefing on tomorrow’s activities. B,L,D

Day 10 Bartolome and Santiago Islands.
Today we will visit the small island of Bartolome near Santiago. Bartolome is a lava landscape with cinder cones, spatter cones, and lava fields dotted with Chamaesyce and Tiquilia. The scene gives one a very good idea of the way the islands looked before the first plants established themselves. Santiago is a central island with many species of plants and animals. This afternoon we will go ashore at Puerto Egas, an area of volcanic cones, salt crater, and tide pools brimming with sealife. Walk inland and be surrounded by Palo Santo trees that are used in Easter celebrations for their aromatic quality. The region was browsed by goats in the past. Now we can see the new growth of Opuntia getting taller and developing its trunk-line appearance. Watch playful fur seals swim in the clear water, seemingly without a care in the world. Take a walk inland and you will be walking in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, who spent two weeks collecting here. B,L,D

Day 11 Tower (Genovesa) Island.
Today we visit one of the smallest islands in the archipelago, Tower. Tower is a bird island, with about 250,000 nesting red-footed boobies and thousands of great frigatebirds. The sky may be filled with red-footed boobies returning with their crops full of fish only to be harassed by frigatebirds, causing some to give up their catch to the predators. The birds nest in Bursera trees and Cryptocarpus bushes and the Jasminoceres cacti are picturesque standing on a lava spine. Afternoon visit to North Seymour to walk among nesting blue-footed boobies with their elaborate nuptial displays, whistles and honks. The magnificent frigatebirds will be nesting too if the ocean currents have engulfed the islands in cool water from the Peruvian Current. B,L,D

Day 12 Charles Darwin Research Station and Santa Cruz Island.
The Charles Darwin Research Station has a long term breeding program for the Galapagos tortoise and has successfully returned hundreds of animals to their respective islands. You will hear of the problems with introduced animals and the efforts of the Station and the National Park Service to limit the adverse effects or eliminate the feral animals. The Station is actively working with local and mainland schools to educate the children about the uniqueness of the islands. Lunch at the Hotel Delfin. Then travel by bus to the Santa Cruz highlands to observe the distinctive Scalesia Zone and the agricultural areas that supported early settlers and today’s ecotourists. This habitat has 50 inches of rain per year and is engulfed with thick fog for many months annually. The forest is 40 feet tall with a dense understory of bushes and plants along the road. It will be cool, and you will discover new species of plants endemic to the highlands. B,L,D

Day 13 Tagus Cove and Punta Espinosa.
Overnight cruise north of the Equator and and south again to reach Tagus Cove on the largest island of Isabela. While cruising in small boats we will look for flightless cormorants, Sally lightfoot crabs, and penguins. We will then walk up a cinder cone described by Charles Darwin in the Voyage of the Beagle. The short walk will give another opportunity to see the many species that so impressed Darwin: finches, lava lizards, Crotons, Acacias, and Cordia. Midday cruise to Fernandina Island and one of the most photogenic locations on the islands, Punta Espinosa, a long lava spine jetting out into the channel. Marine iguanas use the point to bask in the equatorial rays after feeding under the sea on algae. The beaches nestled in the black lava are the nesting ground of the marine iguanas and special care must be taken to avoid the nests. Evening of stargazing after dinner, weather permitting. B,L,D

Day 14 Urbina Bay and Punta Moreno, Isabela Island.
Before breakfast, cruise the scenic Bolivar Channel looking for whales and dolphins. From this channel you can see all of the active volcanos in the islands. Our first stop will be Urbina Bay, a region uplifted about 20 feet in 1954. See coral heads bleached by the sun with skeletons of marine invertebrates still in protected crevices. We will walk inland looking for giant tortoises, land iguanas, and finches. This afternoon walk on the unweathered lava flows of Punta Moreno. The lagoon will have three species of mangroves, ducks, and possibly flamingos, too. B,L,D

Day 15 Gardner Bay and Punta Suarez, Hood (Espanola) Island.
Gardner Bay is a long straight white beach and the frequent resting location for sea lions and inquisitive mockingbirds. Snorkeling is wonderful in the clear water with many colorful fish and invertebrates. This afternoon we will visit the nesting sites of Nasca and blue-footed boobies. These birds will be nesting just to the side of the trail and offer unsurpassed photographic opportunities. You can sit quietly just a few feet from displaying and nesting birds who seem undisturbed by your observations. Boobies go through elaborate nuptial displays to develop a pair bond to keep the pair together for the nesting season and for life in some species. B,L,D

Day 16 San Cristobal to Quito.
The M/V Santa Cruz will arrive at the Puerto Baquerizo Moreno dock on San Cristobal Island in the morning. Transfer to the Interpretation Center. Late morning transfer to the airport for our flight back to the mainland. We’ll return to Quito and the Hotel Alameda Real or Hotel Quito. Farewell dinner in celebration of our journey. B,D

Day 17 Quito to Miami and Home.
After breakfast transfer to the airport for our flight to Miami. Take connecting flights home. B

What to Expect:
This expedition is planned for the travel enthusiast who would enjoy exploring the Galapagos Islands on board the excellent cruise ship, M/V Santa Cruz. The voyage will be an exceptional opportunity to explore the Andean and Amazon zones, the Galapagos Islands, and to learn about the evolution of plant life in tropical forests. See and photograph the abundant wildlife of the Galapagos, including blue-footed boobies, Galapagos fur seals, and marine iguanas; Darwin’s finches, flamingoes, and Sally lightfoot crabs. Travel is by motorcoach, ship, scheduled flights, and skiff, with daily outings on foot of one-half to one mile at a leisurely pace suitable for observation and nature study. Rainforest trails may be wet and muddy; some trail in Galapagos are over rugged lava. There is also swimming and snorkeling. Binoculars are suggested. Typically, it will be in the 70’s to 80’s in Galapagos, in the 50’s to 60’s in highland Ecuador, and in the high 80’s in the Amazon. We will travel to 12,000 feet in elevation. If you have any questions, please consult your physician before you register. (No smoking in vehicles, during lectures, or meals, please. Also, per National Park regulations, no smoking is allowed on land in the Galapagos Islands.)

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