Ecuador and the Galápagos
- Snorkel with playful sea lions and penguins in the Galápagos.
- Zip line above the cloud forest canopy.
- Ride horseback in the sweeping páramo landscape of the Andes.
- Work on conservation projects near Cotopaxi National Park.
Ethnobotanist Maria Fadiman will join the July 19 departure of the Ecuador and the Galápagos expedition in the Páramo.
Choose one of these projects and delve further into your area of interest:
Itinerary 18 Days
Mist-shrouded cloud forests, rolling Andean highlands, and the species-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 toucans and condors to the endemic marine iguanas and giant tortoises of the Galápagos islands. Explore Ecuador's natural wonders through an On Assignment project of your choice—Photography or Wildlife & Conservation.
QuitoDays 1-3. Located at 9,000 feet in a high-Andean valley ringed by snowcapped volcanoes, Quito is the second highest capital city in the world. Its rich colonial architecture, built on the remains of an Inca city, earned its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. 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 an ancient city plaza, where Andean music fills the air and vendors hawk exotic rain forest herbs and natural medicines.
Cotopaxi Volcano and the High PáramoDays 4-6. From Quito, head south to our next base, a working hacienda high in the central Andes. Ride horseback over the páramo, a rare ecosystem found between the dwarf forest and the snow line in the equatorial Andes. Spot Andean condors soaring above a landscape of mossy bogs and tussock grasses. Cotopaxi National Park is home to Volcán Cotopaxi, one of the world's highest active volcanoes and the Earth's closest point to the sun. Here, take part in conservation projects, such as trail sign construction or reforestation. Drive up the switchbacks of Cotopaxi, stopping to hike up to the mountain's spectacular glacier (16,000 feet).
Mindo and the Cloud ForestDays 7-10. Travel northwest to the lower-altitude slopes of the Andes and settle into the relaxed and welcoming village of Mindo. Break into your On Assignment teams, and set out on daily adventures in the region's impressive array of protected natural areas. Catch the tarabita, an open-air tram, to ride over a deep ravine into the undisturbed cloud forest of the Bosque Protector Mindo-Nambillo reserve. Swim in freshwater pools, where waterfalls cascade down cliffs overgrown with orchids. Hone your wildlife observation skills by identifying some of Ecuador's 1,500 bird species. Fly through the cloud forest canopy on zip lines, and float down the river on a tubing adventure. Get to know young Ecuadorians by playing soccer together, and spend an afternoon teaching English at the local elementary school.
Days 11-18. Set off on an island-hopping adventure to the legendary Galápagos Islands. This volcanic archipelago, cut off from humans for millennia, helped shape Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. 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. Spot fire-red Sally Lightfoot crabs sunning on the rocks alongside spiky marine iguanas—the only sea lizard on the planet. Learn about the late Lonesome George, the last member of one of the islands' 11 tortoise subspecies, and the conservation efforts he inspired. 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.
Return to Quito for the final night of our adventure, and share On Assignment projects before flying home.
We will be traveling at high elevations while in Quito and the Paramo. Quito is at an altitude of 9,350 feet and our hacienda in the paramo is at 11,800 feet. Participants should be physically fit.