Galapagos / Ecuador
Mindo, Quito, Otavalo, Galapagos Islands
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Ecuador's charms softly cascade from Andean peaks to surreal islands, as this handcrafted Ecuador and Galapagos tour for senior travelers takes you on a journey of natural wonder and cultural intrigue. Enjoy six days of elegance on the mainland: haciendas, cloud forests, bird watching, colonial cities, colorful markets, and cute villages. Then, a 7-day luxury cruise unveils the intimate mystique of the Galapagos Islands, providing easy excursions to some of nature's most resplendent wildlife sites.
Quito – Andean Welcomes to Ecuador
Andean peaks rise across Western Ecuador, glistening from the plane window as you touch down in Quito. This spine of mountains hides a chest of cultural and natural treasures, providing a tranquil six days that blends the country's heritage. You're picked up at the airport and transferred privately to Mindo, a journey that takes you down the slopes to a lush and mystical cloud forest. Dozens of hummingbird species fly around the garden while endemic parrots sporadically squawk from the trees. Your room overlooks the thick green landscape, and rare hummingbirds continually visit your balcony. Enjoy a traditional Ecuadorian dinner with your guide, and rest at the lodge, hearing nature's harmony echo from the trees.
Mindo – Birdwatching in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest
Mindo's forests are a haven for birdwatching and seeking out the unusual. As a little bonus to the itinerary, there's an optional early start this morning that illustrates this inimitability. The Andean cock-of-the-rock performs outrageous mating displays just after sunrise, and it can be seen with a 15-minute walk from the lodge. After breakfast, visit a butterfly sanctuary where thousands of vibrant wings flutter around and land on your fingers. A very gentle walk takes you through the cloud forest, where colorful beaks indicate endemic species in the trees. In another slice of the landscape, you'll find an orchid garden featuring over 300 species, some local, others sent from admiring gardeners around the world. There are half a dozen bird reserves within an hour's drive from your lodge, and the guide will fully customize the day according to your interests and energy levels.
Quito – Indulging in Old-World Opulence
Quito's cityscape is like a treasure hunting map. Descending into the city, you spot the ornate domes and rising spires that suggest 17th-century Spanish influence. Churches and palaces are dotted amongst the urban landscape, and the concentration of ancient architecture increases as you drive into the heart of the city. There is opulence to the streets; majestic townhouses, colorful courtyards, palaces built from the elegant stone of yesteryear. Your lodge stands on the old city square, with the stone of its foundations dating back to way before the Spanish or even the Incas arrived. After the 90-minute drive into Quito, you enjoy lunch at a restaurant on San Francisco Square, before the rest of the day is at your leisure. You're staying in the center of the World Heritage area, and most of the city's historic treasures are within easy walking distance.
Quito – Relaxed Day in the Ancient City
Look closer on Quito's treasure map, and you must open doors to unveil the city's untamed wonder. Head into La Compania and discover a church completely laced in gold. Enter the courtyard of a bishop's palace to find wonderful artwork from another era. Explore the homes of conquistadors, then admire the intricate balance of architectural styles that inhabits the 17th and 18th-century churches. Now wander into the Presidential Palace, to find another juxtaposition of eras. After lunch at Plaza de la Independencia, you visit the Colonial Art Museum, where a fabulous array of prints and portraits stretch back almost four centuries. There's a poignant sense of how indigenous and imported styles clashed yet also merged over the years. The evening is at your leisure.
Otavalo – A Colorful Day in Latin America's Oldest Market
Centuries-old artisanal practices continue to thrive in Otavalo Market, a historic town tucked beneath a towering volcano. Villagers come from miles around, carrying their produce by donkey cart or even on their heads, bringing oodles of color to fill the stalls of Otavalo. This is Latin America's oldest continually-used trading space and the atmosphere is one to savor; traders' calls waft down lanes of endemic fruit, ponchos hang brightly beside hammocks, traditional clothes and jewelry provide an endearing focal point to a photo. It's a 90-minute drive from Quito to Otavalo, where the morning is spent leisurely exploring the large market. After lunch, you transfer to a nearby hacienda that's about to celebrate its 400-year anniversary. The dignitaries of Ecuador have been coming here for centuries and you can feel the opulence of their history. The rest of the day is at your leisure, and the hacienda's broad grounds are a destination in of themselves.
Otavalo – Shopping in the Heritage Villages of the Highlands
Dotted through the Otavalo Valley are dozens of tiny villages, each clinging to their unique artisanal specialism. In one of them, you find locals creating blankets using traditional looms. In another, there's a man crafting flutes from bamboo. Visit a town dedicated to leather, and then a historic town square flanked by dozens of wood carving specialists. Now a village that specializes in shamanism, and one where you can buy the finest alpaca wool ponchos. There are many potential stops in this valley and the guide will tailor the day to your interests. Lunch is enjoyed en route, with adorable views over the Andean peaks and the odd llama roaming around below. The late afternoon and evening are enjoyed amongst the sublime traditional décor of the hacienda.
Galapagos Cruise – A First Day of Exploring the Galapagos by Luxury Yacht
Seductive and strange, the Galapagos Islands provide a remarkable journey through natural history and evolution. These volcanic strips of land were never connected to the world's continental land mass and creatures evolved differently on each of the islands. Over the next eight days, you'll go on the best Galapagos tours through the eccentric and wonderful wildlife, encountering all the endemic wonders that inhabit these remote Pacific islands. A cruise is the best way to connect the remote wildlife sites, while still maintaining an air of tranquility. Your yacht has a capacity of 24, and your ensuite cabin has ocean views. There are indoor and outdoor social areas, plus a jacuzzi for watching the stars or looking out for passing whales.
The eastern and central islands are often recommended for senior travelers as the majority of the wildlife sites are easily accessible and there's more of a focus on land over marine exploration. The adventure continues as you fly from Quito to San Cristobal, where afterwards you enjoy lunch on board the yacht. Travel by bus to the mainland of Cerro Tijeretas, where nesting colonies of great and magnificent frigates can be found. Males inflate their throat sacks and sit on nests of twigs, hoping their healthy red colors will impress discerning onlookers; the bigger and brighter, the better in this battle for reproduction. Mating displays continue, unfazed by your presence and you start to appreciate the intimacy of the Galapagos wildlife experience. Return to the yacht for welcome cocktails and a gourmet dinner on board.
Galapagos Cruise – Incredible Birdwatching on San Cristobal Island
San Cristobal's remote sites reveal the colorful diversity of the islands. The white tone of the Cerro Brujo, is suddenly interrupted by the black of sea lions returning from fishing. A gentle walk along the beach brings many endemic birds, like Darwin's finches and Chatham mockingbirds. For the more active, a guided kayak or snorkel excursion allows you to encounter the sea lions in the water. Now some more colors at Punta Pitt. There's red and blue, the hue of the boobies' feet that crowd the cliffs. The red-footed variety is more striking, while the blue-footed variety color-codes their chest feathers for added conspicuousness. Nazca boobies shout for your attention while the boisterous grunts of sea lions flicker from the beach. The walking trail is less than one mile in length, and you keep encountering vast flocks of strange birds; storm petrels, shearwaters, brown pelicans, swallow-tailed gulls, and magnificent frigates. Sometimes in the Galapagos, you're so surrounded by life you're not sure which way to look.
Galapagos Cruise – Sea Lions, Hawks, and Endemic Waved Albatross
Galapagos cruising is tailored towards tranquility. There are very few other boats around, allowing you to really indulge in the deserted beauty of the Pacific. Twice-daily excursions take you to world-famous wildlife sites during the cooler morning and late-afternoon hours. Today it's Espanola, where the endemic waved albatross breeds in its thousands, displaying wild mating rituals that can last for four days. This dramatic scene from a documentary is only found on the cliffs you're standing on. Again, an easy walking trail brings continual wonder: Galapagos hawks, red-billed tropical birds, hood mockingbirds, Sally light-foot crabs, Nazca boobies, and now a colony of playful sea lions on the beach. Step into the warm water and it's not uncommon for the sea lions to somersault beside you then dart off into the blue.
Galapagos Cruise – Evocative History and Glass-Bottomed Rides Through the Marine World
Galapagos natural history lives above and below the surface. While the majority of the famed marine sites are found in the north and west, this eastern area still reveals the Pacific's great pelagic species; Galapagos sharks, manta rays, moray eels, the elegant cruising of sea turtles. Travel in a glass-bottomed boat around Champion Islet, a sunken crater covered in vibrant coral and speckled with eagle rays, white-tipped sharks, and sea stars. Silhouettes rise from the abyss to become evocative symbols as you watch it all through the glass. An afternoon excursion offers a human side to Galapagos history on Floreana Island. An 18th-century barrel continues to be used as the islands' post office, and there's a sense of the whaling history that inhabits the islands. As per usual here, the visit to land is accompanied by curious sea lions and a bizarre assortment of birds, including Bahama ducks, Galapagos flycatchers, and yellow warblers.
Galapagos Cruise – The Giant Tortoises of the Santa Cruz Highlands
Landscapes change as you ascend Santa Cruz Island, the barren cliffs blurring into green grazing grounds and lush indigenous forest. You have visited some desolate islands where it seems unfathomable for such wildlife abundance to survive. Now you see a fertile land that's constantly changed by thousands of giant tortoises. They graze slowly yet effectively, graciously moving across the highlands and reveling in their natural habitat. A bus transfer brings you up here, and you'll have a couple of hours amongst their 550-pound frames. These are the world's largest giant tortoises, and you can get extremely close, as long as you step gently. After lunch amidst the green, you spend an afternoon at the Charles Darwin Research Station, where giant tortoise subspecies from all the islands are part of a breeding program. The adjacent town of Puerto Ayora is the islands' largest and best place to find souvenirs. You'll have time to shop before returning to the boat in the evening.
Galapagos Cruise – Diving Penguins and Walking on the Moon at Bartolome Island
Bartolome Island kindles images from intergalactic movies or clips of lunar exploration. Lava tubes tumble down from a rugged volcanic pinnacle, sending flumes of eclectic red across a landscape pockmarked with small craters and protruding ash cones. This is the most active of the cruise's excursions, with a slow 20-minute walk taking you up steps to the island's summit. Even if you stop halfway, there are still wonderful views of a lunarscape that spills into the ocean. After the walk, you board a small boat, and cruise along the cliffs, seeking out the Galapagos penguins that waddle around and dive into water filled with tropical fish. These petite characters have an endearing comedy, often falling and tumbling as they move along the sharp lower cliffs. Sombrero Chino is equally resplendent in its interpretation of a primeval landscape; marine iguanas wander around cracked lava formation while penguins find a place amongst the volcanic rubble. As always, the two excursions are broken by a languid afternoon on the boat, and there's a calm place to anchor at night.
Galapagos Cruise – Endemic Birds and Iguanas on North Seymour and South Plaza
Completing the cruise itinerary is two of the islands' most important sites. At South Plaza, a trail leads through prickly-pear cactus trees and you stand beside huge land iguanas, each of them carefully camouflaged yet rippling with intimate detail. Various birds nest along the island's cliffs and the omnipresent sea lions join you on the beach. Then explore North Seymour, a vast breeding space for blue-footed boobies, magnificent frigates, and marine iguanas. Marvel at the colorful flapping of wings and ritualistic hopping of seabird feet as mating displays take place just meters away. Then explore the shore to see endemic marine iguanas. These bizarre little creatures have evolved to survive off seawater and expel the salt through sporadic white sneezes. Back on the yacht, you enjoy a farewell dinner with the crew and watch a slideshow of images that have been taken by the guide during the trip.
Quito – Departure from Galapagos
A last morning and there's still a chance to learn more about the islands. Disembark at San Cristobal and visit the Interpretation Center, which gives a rounded overview of both the natural and human history of the islands. After the last seven days, it's a confirmation more than a revelation, yet it's also an opportunity to further celebrate the natural wonder of the Galapagos. From here, you'll be transferred to the San Cristobal Airport by bus for your flight back to Quito and to your international departure.
- Explore the Galapagos with a 7-day luxury cruise through accessible wildlife sites on the southern and central islands
- Land on white sand beaches filled with sea lions, take short walks alongside stunning seabird nesting grounds and admire the elegance of giant tortoises
- Discover the iconic natural wonders of the Galapagos, and immerse yourself in a world of penguins, dolphins, seabirds, iguanas, and much more
- Start the vacation in the mystical cloud forests of Mindo, where dozens of hummingbirds and endemic tropical birds welcome you to Ecuador
- Indulge in the ancient opulence of Quito, the first ever World Heritage Site and a treasure chest of art, culture, and tradition
- Marvel at the colors of Latin America's oldest continuous market, Otavalo, then explore a sequence of traditional villages
- Sleep in some of Ecuador's most famous haciendas, traditional boutique accommodations in heritage buildings, with views of the Andes
Ecuador's charms are surreal to the eye and linger in the soul. The flamboyant mating displays of waved albatrosses, 17th-century markets of cobblestone and intriguing haciendas engulfed by fluttering hummingbirds... it's a country seemingly tailored for seniors' travel, with diverse enchantment packed into a small accessible corner of South America. In just an hour, you can drive from a historic capital to a mystical cloud forest. With a luxury cruise, you can tranquilly connect dramatic displays of natural history. Ecuador is serene and quick to pull you into its easygoing rhythm. Nothing is rushed. The important things are savored, like coffee on a terrace, or dinner that lingers through the evening. On the first six days of this Ecuador and Galapagos tour for senior travelers, you explore three destinations in the Western Andes: Quito, Mindo, and Otavalo. Then a 7-day luxury Galapagos cruise completes this handcrafted itinerary. Consider reading some of our travelers’ Galapagos cruise reviews, and see for yourself why it is the perfect way to explore the Galapagos.
Hummingbirds welcome you to Mindo, a quaint town nestled amongst the cloud forest. Dozens of them flutter across the hacienda's garden, as you settle in the country. Discover the area's mystique as you encounter thousands of butterflies and a parade of rare tropical birds. Quito then provides a cultural paradigm, as you spend two days immersed in the first ever World Heritage site. Art galleries, historic squares, golden churches... it's a city that imbues the finest of the continent's colonial history. Next up is Otavalo, where South America's oldest continuous market brings dashes of eclectic color to the itinerary. Soak up the old-world atmosphere, visit a myriad of traditional villages nearby, and lounge in another of Ecuador's fabulous haciendas. These boutique hacienda accommodations are destinations in themselves, exemplars of history that reflect the opulence of a distant era.
Serene and sublime, the luxury small-boat cruise allows you to discover the dazzling natural wonder of the Galapagos. Lounge on the sundeck as you sail through the Pacific and wallow in the tranquility of evenings spent docked beside uninhabited islands. Twice-daily excursions reveal the archipelago's famous wildlife, with each day taking you to a new island. The southern and central islands offer the most accessible sites for senior travelers, as the walks are mostly flat and short, plus there's less focus on snorkeling compared to the western islands. Discover stunning bird nesting sites like Punta Pitt and North Seymour, marvel at endemic species like the waved albatross and marine iguana, bask on beaches beside sea lions, and have lunch in the highlands surrounded by giant tortoises. Again, there's nothing to rush. Experiencing this remarkable realm means going slowly, taking in the 360-degree panorama, and admiring the intricate detail.
$10,495 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
- Expert trip planning
- 24x7 support during your trip
Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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