There's a sense of discovery when exploring Ecuador. Blessed with an eco-paradise and authentic local culture, it's a truly intriguing country. This 11-day itinerary takes in the capital of Quito and the rural highlands before you explore the Galapagos aboard a luxury liveaboard.
Your flight to Madrid leaves London in the early morning, arriving in Madrid two-and-a-half-hours later. Connect on to the 11-hour flight to Quito, which gives you plenty of time to get fully acquainted with Charles Darwin's On the Original of Species. Touchdown into Quito in the late afternoon and a private transfer will be waiting to whisk you into the heart of this historical city.
Your hotel for the night is a stroll away from a host of cool bars and restaurants, so we recommend dropping your bags and heading out for a night on Quito's tiles (or cobblestone streets). Our detailed Dossier lists our recommendations for where to eat and drink, and we can pre-book a table if you'd like.
After breakfast, meet your private guide who will take you to a lovely viewpoint for an overview of Quito. After soaking up the panoramic views, head down to one of the city's oldest markets to see stacks of herbs and vegetables piled high, as well as mystical natural medicines.
You can even experience a traditional limpia - essentially a healing ceremony with local herbs. Continue to the leafy Independence Square for an insight into the city's political history before heading to La Compania church, splendidly adorned with gilded domes. Next on the agenda is San Francisco church to view its dazzling baroque altar. End your day at the Pre-Columbian art museum with over 5,000 archaeological pieces and well worth the guided tour.
This morning a private chauffeur transfer will take you into the Andean highlands to visit a private rose farm. One of Ecuador's main exports (along with chocolate - bet they do a good Valentine's), you'll see hundreds of handpicked roses (across 70-odd varieties) perfectly cultivated and bunched.
Not too far away, you can explore Otavalo market's beguiling maze of textile stalls selling everything from embroidered totes to intricately designed hammocks. After a spot of shopping, you'll journey on into Ecuadorian gaucho country where your colonial farmhouse accommodation awaits.
Spend the next couple of days immersing yourself in an authentic farm lifestyle that has barely changed since the 17th century. Feeling energised? You have 4,000 acres of bucolic paradise to explore.
Hop on a mountain bike (a newer arrival) and zip through the eucalyptus forest or, even better, take a horse drawn carriage through the organic gardens. Pull on a poncho and saddle up to go horse riding in the vast grassy meadows - a highly recommended experience. Led by a chagra (a sort of Ecuadorian gaucho), you can gallop through prairies dotted with ranches and visit tiny indigenous villages hidden in the pine forests. When you're ready for a break, you can refuel on freshly baked bread, home-cured meat and gouda straight from the cheese factory. Return to the farmhouse for a glass of wine by the fire and then tuck into dinner of freshwater trout and quinoa, all locally sourced, of course.
This morning a private chauffeur will take you to Quito airport for your two-hour flight to Baltra in the Galapagos. Arrive in the archipelago in the afternoon where you'll catch the ferry to one of the main islands, Santa Cruz.
A transfer will take you into the highlands where your guide will brief you on the area's exquisite biodiversity. Stop at the giant tortoise reserve where you can marvel at these Jurassic-like creatures lumbering through the long grass. Then get ready to board your vessel and your marine home for the next four nights. After settling into your cabin, it'll be time for your first dinner on board.
Wake up to wild sea views, and after breakfast take a zodiac to Eden Island, an apt name for this prehistoric landmass. Along the sweeping volcanic coast, you may see blue-footed boobies diving into the water and iguanas perched atop the eroded lava flow.
Then it's onto the tiny island of Sombrero Chino, literally translated as 'Chinese hat' due to its conical shape. One of the 'younger' islets, you can discover its host of wildlife along a 400-yard-long coastal walk starting at a crescent white sand beach frequented by sea lions. As you navigate around the bay you'll find excellent opportunities for a swim in the sea and you may even spot a Galapagos penguin or two.
After breakfast, your naturalist guide will take you to Bartolome Island, named after the lieutenant on Darwin's HMS Beagle. A hike to the summit (at 400ft) offers rewarding views of the lunar-like terrain.
Once you've spent some time soaking up the sight, return to the water for a boat trip around the iconic Pinnacle Rock, a lava cone jutting out into the sky. Your vessel will then journey to Sullivan Bay. The water surrounding its white coral sand beach is a great place for a swim. Led by your naturalist guide, you can hike over twisted lava formations formed 100 years ago whilst spotting fascinating reptile species that have adapted to the heat.
Begin the day strolling around the horseshoe-shaped Darwin Bay, formed from a collapsed volcano caldera. Its cliffs and lagoons shelter extraordinary red-footed boobies and great frigate birds.
Those feeling adventurous can walk across the eroded lava fields or kayak below the cliffs. A short Zodiac dinghy ride will take you along the bay to Prince Philip's Steps, named after a certain royal's visit back in 1964. Climb up a wooden staircase to the top of the island where you can marvel not only at the bird's eye view but also at the large colonies of Nazca boobies, storm petrels and the elusive short-eared owls. A birder's paradise, basically.
Your voyage ends at Baltra Island, where you disembark. A transfer will take you to the airport in good time for your two-hour flight to Quito. Connect onto the afternoon overnight flight to Madrid, which takes ten-and-a-half-hours.
The flight lands in Madrid mid-morning before your final homeward leg to London, with your bags checked straight through. Arrive back in the UK in the early afternoon.