Ecuador lies across the imaginary line of the Earth’s equator—from which the country got its name—but it is hardly a “middle ground” for anything. Ecuador is a land of extremes, from the sharply pointed peaks of the Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world, to the lowlands of the famed Galapagos Islands, where you’ll find some of the most robust, natural and original biodiversity anywhere.
This extraordinary place of giant tortoises, fearless-of-people birds and singular swimming iguanas calls for an uncommon way to see it. On our untraditional, land-based, guided group tour in Ecuador, you’ll delve into the ecologies of three islands—Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz—on a deeper level than most Galapagos visitors are afforded.
Land-based trips, where you stay in lodges instead of on a ship, allow you to deeply immerse yourself in a few, select islands. They make energetic days of hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and even stand-up paddleboarding possible. You won’t have to worry about seasickness or the sometimes-awkward process of getting off a larger boat onto a smaller one for “wet landings” at the beach. And your journey will be as local of a choice as you can make, with the most direct economic benefit going directly to the communities in which you stay.
On your Off the Beaten Path Ecuador adventure tour, you’ll visit a giant tortoise-breeding center and hike the Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabela Island. On San Cristobal Island, you’ll walk through a frigatebird nesting colony and swim in the warm Pacific Ocean, investigating an underwater world that bursts with life. On Santa Cruz Island, you’ll stop at the famous Charles Darwin Research Center and commune with long-lived giant tortoises on a reserve.
Have us help you design a private, custom tour in Ecuador, and you’ll access even more unique ways to get to know this one-of-a-kind place. You could start your Ecuador adventure travels in Quito, the republic’s capital in the heart of the Andes Mountains. Built more than 500 years ago by Spanish colonialists on the foundation of an ancient Inca city, Quito is an extraordinary blend of Flemish, Italian, Moorish and indigenous influences. Wander its historic streets, gazing at stately, 17th-century facades and picturesque plazas. Pull open enormous doors to tiptoe into gilded churches. In its Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, scope out the overflowing market stands operated by traditional artisans.
Discover the natural side of Quito with a stay at a Mindo Cloud Forest hideaway near Mashpi, a planetary biodiversity hot spot. Ride the “sky bike”—a self-propelled contraption suspended from a sturdy cable—and you’ll come face-to-face with animals living in the upper canopy.
Spend some time along the Avenue of the Volcanoes, a 200-mile-long road south of Quito that runs between two mountain ranges that sport peaks more than 17,000 feet high. The route is in view of Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. In this region, you can climb, hike or white-water raft before sipping coffee on the sweeping porch of your relaxing, gracious and historic estancia.
From Quito, continue your adventures by flying to the renowned Galapagos Islands. Instead of the typical cruise ship, choose to travel by way of a 16-passenger-only catamaran. You’ll not only engage with land iguanas on pristine Fernandina Island, observe the red-footed boobies on Genovesa Island, watch blue-footed boobies “dance” on North Seymour Island, meet giant tortoises in the Santa Cruz highlands and walk the volcanic landscape of Santiago Island, but you’ll get to lesser-known sites, such as Mosquera Island, which holds one of the largest populations of sea lions anywhere.
If your idea of an adventure in Ecuador means an Amazon odyssey, we’ll set up a very personal and immersive encounter with the Huaorani of Quehueri’ono. After landing on a grass airstrip in the village, you’ll meet your private guide who will help you gain rare insights into the aboriginal residents’ lives. You’ll float downriver in an authentic dugout canoe and learn how the Huaorani people use arrowleaf palms to make spears and blowguns. You’ll watch as they employ jungle vines as ladders for climbing high into the forest canopy.
Plan your travels to Ecuador with Off the Beaten Path. There certainly won’t be anything middling about them.