Before your Galápagos adventure, delve into the lesser-known wonders of mainland Ecuador. Explore the dazzling colonial churches and bustling traditional markets of Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site, from the comfort of historic Casa Gangotena on Plaza San Francisco. Then immerse yourself in the Ecuadorian Chocó cloud forest—one of the world’s top five biodiversity hotspots—at Mashpi Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World.
Day 1: Quito
Fly to Quito and transfer to Casa Gangotena, a refurbished historic mansion overlooking the Plaza San Francisco in the heart of the capital’s colonial center.
Day 2: Quito
This morning, walk among the dazzling churches and monuments of old town, the largest and best preserved colonial center in the Americas, which also holds the distinction as the first world city to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Discover a revitalized traditional market with representatives of a local nonprofit. Enjoy lunch and the rest of the afternoon on your own. Then gather for a welcome dinner at the hotel’s Restaurant Cedrón, which serves Ecuadorian cuisine with a modern twist. (B,D)
Day 3: Mashpi Reserve
After breakfast, cross the Equator and pass through dramatic Andean valleys on the 70-mile journey north to Mashpi Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World. As you descend from the highlands, admire the changing scenery, and stop at the archeological site of Tulipe, once home to the Yumbos, a pre-Inca civilization. Arrive at Mashpi—set in a cloud forest reserve at 3,000 feet—in time for lunch. Then join resident naturalists on a nature walk through the rain forest. After dinner, head back into the forest in pursuit of its nocturnal inhabitants, including the endemic Mashpi torrent frog and bioluminescent mushrooms. (B,L,D)
Day 4: Mashpi Reserve
Wake up to views of the forest coming to life through the glass walls of your suite. Spend the day immersed in Mashpi’s tropical surroundings, exploring as you choose. Traverse the tree canopy in an aerial tram or by pedal power on the lodge’s “sky bike.” Follow well-maintained trails to stunning waterfalls and swim in their natural pools. Visit the busy hummingbird feeders, and learn about the region’s 200 butterfly species on the expansive deck of the Life Centre research station. No matter how you choose to experience the cloud forest, keep an eye out for howler monkeys and Chocó toucans as well as other endemic birds such as mountain tanagers, trogons, and motmots. (B,L,D)
Day 5: Mashpi Reserve/Quito
Rise early to take in the morning activity in the cloud forest, perhaps joining a sunrise bird-watching session on the lodge’s rooftop terrace. Spend the morning soaking up the sights and sounds of the forest at your leisure. After lunch, travel back to Casa Gangotena in Quito. Enjoy the afternoon and evening at your own pace. (B,L)
Day 6: Quito
Early this morning, transfer to the airport for the flight to Guayaquil. Continue to the Galápagos with the main group. (B)