Join Andean Discovery in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands for a hands-on expedition that combines wildlife observation, field-based conservation, and analysis of human footprints and sustainability in these fragile ecosystems. From Mindo’s majestic cloud forest, to the Galapagos archipelago’s otherworldly desert islands, to the frenetic capital city of Quito, students gain an understanding of Ecuador’s diverse landscapes, unique wildlife, and proud culture — all while becoming versed in the ecological challenges and opportunities facing the region.
Explore lush cloud forests to the soundtrack of tanagers and toucans and learn about the threats of deforestation in one of the world’s Biodiversity Hotspots. Visit a chocolate factory that uses only the finest Ecuadorian cacao and speak with local farmers about their efforts to reach international markets.
Travel to the Galapagos Islands, where the challenge of sustainability and the quest to balance the relationships between the manmade and the natural is playing out in a microcosm of a universal tension. Learn about the development of local organic coffee farms and lend a hand to Andean Discovery’s vital reforestation project. Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, Snorkel with sea lions, hike to Tortuga Bay, and walk among pre-historic looking giant Galapagos tortoises–all while learning about their importance to the development of biological evolutionary theory.
Your Ecuadorian experience begins with arrival in Quito, a spectacular city rich in culture and rife with history. From the Kichua natives to colonial rule to the bustling capital of the 21st century, Quito’s proud people and vibrant customs are rivaled only by the stunning geography that hosts it. At 9,350 feet above sea level, the city spills through an Andean valley with towering peaks on either side. Just a few miles from the equator, it maintains a springtime climate throughout the year and a reverence for nature unparalleled in most modern metropolises. Meet your Andean Discovery Program Leader at the airport and chat with him or her about current events in the city on your way to your hotel. Settle in and prepare to discover the wonders of the Andean highlands.
Spend your first day in Ecuador getting acquainted with the country’s human and natural history. The morning begins with an active exploration of the famous cloud forests of Mindo. Travel alongside your Andean Discovery Program Leader, a native Ecuadorian, and watch the scenery transform as you descend the high slopes of the Andes into the lush green forests below, keeping an eye out for waterfalls and cascades along the way. Located in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, Mindo is home to over 300 different species of tropical birds–including toucans, quetzals, owls, and hummingbirds–and countless other plant and animal species. Catch a birds-eye-view of it all during a thrilling canopy zip-line tour, a series of 13 platforms and lines spanning over two miles across the upper levels of the forest.
After lunch, visit a chocolate factory and explore every aspect of the supply chain from bean to bar and sample some of the best chocolate in its purest state. Travel to zero degrees latitude, The Middle of the World, and engage in a series of interactive experiments that demonstrate the gravitational forces surrounding the site. For instance, with one foot in each hemisphere, will you be able to balance an egg on the equator? Take time to journal and reflect on your first glimpse of Ecuador at an evening meeting, and head to bed early to gear up for your upcoming Galapagos experience.
Meals: (B, L D)
Early transfer to the airport this morning for your flight to the Galapagos Islands.
You’re transported from a world of bustling streets and towering mountains to a desertous archipelago full of natural intrigue and otherworldly landscapes. Here, you’ll tackle some of the most pressing issues facing Ecuador in its efforts to preserve the Galapagos. Your Program Leader and local naturalist guides will help you better understand the biology, ecology, and human history of this remote wildlife wonderland, always maintaining a critical lens and an eye for cultural perspectives.
Arrive on San Cristóbal Island, the island where Darwin first went ashore in 1835, and begin with a visit to the Interpretation Center, where you will get oriented to the human and natural history of the island. From the first volcanic eruptions that formed islands, to the first settlers, and on through the modern day conservations efforts, we’ll get a sense for how coveted, and how threatened, the Galapagos really are. We then head out into the preserve for our first glimpses of blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, and cormorants during a two-mile walk through the coastal zone to Tijeretas Bay. Return to Mann Beach and cool off with a much-welcomed swim in the Galapagos Marine Reserve as playful sea lions make their way to shore.
Meals: (B, L, D)
Opt to stay in Andean Discovery’s Galapagos Tented Camp located on in the highlands of San Cristobal for two nights. Students will be responsible for cooking their own meals, and mountain tents, sleeping bags, and pads will be provided by Andean Discovery.
Spend a day learning about the threat of invasive species and aiding in reforestation efforts alongside local environmental stewards. Travel to the highlands of San Cristóbal island and visit with a family-owned organic coffee plantation. Walk the plantation with a family of farmers and learn about all stages of coffee production. Although coffee is an introduced species in the Galapagos, it is not invasive, making it an environmentally friendly alternative source of income for Galapagueños. Students will participate in the process, harvesting coffee beans, peeling them, and roasting in small-batch containers. Engage in a discussion about conservation and sustainability, including broader topics like native and endemic versus introduced species and the human footprint in the Galapagos.
Take a short visit to El Junco, the largest freshwater lake in the Galapagos, located in a dormant volcano crater, and take in breathtaking panoramic views as you enjoy your box lunch.
Galapagos Reforestation Project
We spend the afternoon supporting the Galapagos National Park’s efforts to combat invasive species and restore the landscape of the highlands to its native state. Learn why introduced species are impacting the Galapagos ecosystem and how your efforts directly contribute to a sustainable future for the archipelago. Participate in a group discussion on your role as visitors and the ways tourists can sustain the Galapagos, and the ways others can harm it. Reflect on your discussion in your journal, or share your conclusions with the group. (The species of trees and bushes that you plant are determined by recommendations from the Galapagos National Park and may include: Alternanthera, Walteria, Palo Negro, Lecocarpus, Muyuyo, Algodoncillo, Cafetillo, Romerillo, Senna, Opuntia, Calandrin, Galapagosa, Scalesia, Palo Santo, Guayabillo, Chala, Matazarno, and Uña de Gato, among others.) Later this afternoon, return to the port town and enjoy a rewarding swim.
Meals: (B, L D)
After breakfast, explore the coast by sea kayak. The slow pace of the kayaks gliding over the water and the freedom to navigate on your own makes this morning in the Galapagos a special experience. Observe birds nesting on the rock outcrops in the sea and learn about the special place their droppings, or guano, has in the history of the Galapagos. This nitrogen-rich fertilizer is so coveted for farming that countries have literally fought wars over it. Develop a new perspective on the “gifts” these birds provide to islanders.
Mercado Central Visit
Visit Mercado Central, the open-air food market in San Cristóbal and speak with the vendors about how their supply chain is affected by ever-changing government restrictions on food importations, transportation costs, and limited local agriculture. Test your knowledge from yesterday’s visit to the farmlands in the highlands of San Cristóbal to determine which products in the market are grown locally and which products are imported from mainland Ecuador.
After lunch, we hike through La Lobería, a resting place for sea lions and home to some of the biggest marine iguanas in the Galapagos. After a hike to El Barranco – The Cliff – we return to the beach for a swim and snorkel with marine birds, keeping our eyes out for the greater flamingo.
Meals: (B, L D)
This morning we continue your explorations of the Archipelago as we embark on a speedboat ride to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, the largest port town in the Galápagos. After getting settled in to the hotel, we will ascend by vehicle into the highlands of Santa Cruz. We’ll travel through several different vegetation zones and witness the landscape become increasingly lush and green by the minute. Here we’ll have the opportunity to view the islands’ most famous reptile: giant Galapagos tortoises in their wild habitat. It’s a real treat to see an endangered species roving in this lush environment! These gigantic creatures weigh up to 500 pounds and are scattered all over the highlands. Keep your eyes peeled for the beautiful Vermilion Flycatcher, which is often seen on the branches of the endemic Scalesia trees. We’ll learn about the creation of the islands as we explore an amazing network of lava tubes, underground tunnels formed by hot liquid rock. The outer part of the tunnels hardened and cooled even as the interior lava continued to flow. Eventually, the flowing interior lava emptied out, leaving hollow cave-like structures.
Lecture: Shark Finning in the Galapagos Marine Reserve
This afternoon meet with local conservationists and learn about their efforts to educate the public about shark finning and to protect one of the most important species in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
Meals: (B, L D)
This morning we’ll hike through a dry coastal forest and white sand beach to Tortuga Bay, a secluded beach surrounded by mangrove forests. This is a great opportunity to observe shore birds like Whimbrels, Ruddy Turnstones, Great Blue Herons and endemic Lava Gulls. This afternoon we will be guided on visit of the Charles Darwin Research Station, where we will learn about current scientific research on the islands and the Station’s mission to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galapagos Archipelago. The Station is also a tortoise breeding and rearing center. Observe how tortoises of different subspecies are prepared for reintroduction to their natural habitats.
Meals: (B, L D)
This morning we’ll transfer to the airport in Baltra Island in time for the morning flight to Quito. Stop along the way to view the breathtaking Twin Craters (Los Gemelos), formed by the collapse of surface material in underground fissures and chambers. Upon arrival in Quito, we will be met by our mainland staff and transferred to the hotel. A light lunch/snack is served on the plane. Additional lunch not included.
Meals: B, D)
This morning you will be transferred to the airport in time for your international flight.