Misty rainforest canopies and the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands have put Ecuador on the map as a biodiversity hotspot. In recent decades the country has embarked on an ambitious program of environmental conservation. Discover ecological treasures ranging from the Amazon’s macaws and monkeys to the endemic marine iguanas and giant tortoises of the Galápagos.
Located at more than 9,000 feet in a high-Andean valley, Quito is the second highest capital in the world. Spend your first night in the mountains surrounding the city, getting to know your group as we prepare for our trip into the primary rainforests of the Amazon River basin.
Rise early for our flight to Puerto Francisco de Orellana, also known as Coca, our gateway to the remote jungles of the Amazon River basin. Transfer to Yasuní National Park—considered one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, with incredible numbers of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, tree, and insect species found here. Our home base is the Yasuní Research Station, where we’ll meet a team of scientists who conduct fieldwork in the park. Hear an introduction to their research and conservation initiatives, then break into your On Assignment teams to start brainstorming your own projects investigating the surrounding primary rainforest.
Set out on daily adventures to discover what’s hidden under the jungle canopy. Follow the calls of howler and squirrel monkeys emanating from the treetops, and scan the forest floor in search of jaguar tracks and tiny insects like spike-headed katydids and kaleidoscopic butterflies. Visit a Waorani village to learn about indigenous traditions, and document the effects of oil extraction on the health of native habitats and communities. Ride a longboat down the Tiputini River with an indigenous guide, who will help us spot turtles, tapirs, and caimans bobbing at the water’s surface. Join our scientist hosts in the field for a macro photography workshop, setting light traps that allow us to capture up-close photos of some of the Amazon’s innumerable insect species. Hone your wildlife observation skills by identifying some of Yasuní’s nearly 600 bird species, including colorful toucans and the massive harpy eagle.
As you explore, develop your On Assignment project. Interview local researchers about their efforts to conserve this unique habitat, and photograph the intriguing jungle wildlife you encounter. Following your adventure in the Amazon, fly back to Quito and spend an evening near the airport before your trip to the Galápagos Islands.
Set off on an island-hopping adventure in the legendary Galápagos Archipelago. These volcanic isles, cut off from humans for millennia, helped shape Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Alongside your National Geographic expert, discover the distinct character of each island we visit and get acquainted with its incredible endemic species.
Climb to the crater of an active volcano, and explore the remarkable landscape formed by recent lava flows. Peer into a coastal canal for up-close views of sharks, and go tide pooling to spot fire-red Sally Lightfoot crabs sunning on the rocks alongside spiky marine iguanas. Go on a behind-the-scenes visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station to hear about local research on seamounts, or underwater mountains. Learn about conservation efforts inspired by the late Lonesome George—the last member of one of the islands’ tortoise subspecies—then go trekking through the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz to spot these gentle giants in the wild. Get closer than you ever imagined to blue-footed boobies; and snorkel with penguins, sea lions, and sea turtles in one of the most fascinating and fragile environments in the world. On the final night of our adventure, share your On Assignment projects. Then return to Quito for our flight home.
It is a privilege to study to the unique environment of the Galápagos—a natural laboratory for marine sciences.