From pristine cloud forests to the spectacular wildlife sanctuaries of the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador is a small country harboring an incredible range of species. Alongside knowledgeable trip leaders and a National Geographic expert, gain unique perspectives on this biodiversity hotspot—whether exploring jungle treetops on canopy tours or enjoying face time on the ground with blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and sea lions.
Arrive in Quito, the world’s second highest capital city, located at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet in a high Andean valley ringed by snowcapped volcanoes and mountains. Stroll along streets that have scarcely changed since the 17th century, past the well-preserved buildings of the Spanish Empire. Step into the bustle of everyday life in vibrant city plazas, where Andean music fills the air. Ride an aerial tramway, called a teleférico, into the mountains to photograph a panorama of the city below.
Travel to the town of Mindo, nestled in the Andean cloud forest. Hike to tumbling waterfalls and hone your wildlife observation skills as our guide helps us spot and identify some of Ecuador’s more than 1,500 bird species. Get an introduction to wildlife photography in the pristine cloud forest of the Bosque Protector Mindo-Nambillo reserve, home to exotic birds such as the toucan barbet and golden-headed quetzal. Zoom through the forest canopy on zip lines, and encounter newly discovered species as you hike with researchers amid lush foliage.
Get to know young Ecuadorians while playing soccer together; and work with a local school on service projects, including teaching English to primary students. Help members of the community with reforestation initiatives, and interview local conservationists about their efforts to preserve this unique habitat in the face of oil and natural gas extraction. Return to Quito, where we’ll spend the night at a small inn near the airport and prepare for our trip to the Galápagos Islands.
Depart mainland Ecuador and set off on an adventure in the legendary Galápagos Islands. This volcanic archipelago, cut off from humans for thousands of years, helped shape Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
Learn about the history of these unique islands and the stories of the people and species that call the Galápagos home. Discover the distinct character of the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal and get acquainted with their incredible endemic species. Spot fire-red Sally Lightfoot crabs sunning themselves on rocks alongside spiky marine iguanas. Focus your camera on dramatic sunsets over the dry, cactus-dotted landscapes.
Meet with scientists from the Charles Darwin Research Station and hear about the late Lonesome George—the final member of one of the islands’ tortoise subspecies—and the conservation efforts he inspired; then hike to the highlands to encounter Galápagos giant tortoises in the wild. Take part in beach clean-up efforts, and learn about the impact of plastics on the health of the world’s oceans and coastal habitats. Come face to face with blue-footed boobies; and snorkel with penguins, sea lions, and sea turtles in one of the world’s most fascinating and fragile natural environments. Spend the final days of your trip sharing your photos and stories with your new friends as we celebrate along beautiful Galápagos beaches. Return to Quito and catch an overnight flight home.