In July/August 2016, working as an Expedition Leader for World Challenge Expeditions, I lead an expedition to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
Our itinerary includes working with a local community, a five-day mountain trek, visit to the Galapagos Islands, white-water rafting and a visit to the equator line, ‘El Mitad del Mundo’.
For photographs of this expedition see Ecuador & Galapagos
This expedition is arranged by World Challenge
Jul 15, 2016
Arrive in Quito. Our first glimpse of South America as our plane comes in to land is the city of Quito, shrouded by volcanoes. Once we clear immigration our pre-booked minibus takes us to our hostel where we stay for our first night in Quito.
Sprawled across a valley surrounded by Andean peaks, Quito is home to 1.5 million people. Founded as the capital of the northern part of the Incan Empire, modern Quito’s two halves are the perfect blend of old and new Latin America. Rest up tonight and get ready to start our Ecuadorian adventure tomorrow!
Jul 16, 2016
Orientation Day in Quito. We wake up to the sights, sounds and smells of a typical latino capital. Jostle with the crowds in South America’s best preserved colonial “old” town, a UNESCO Heritage Site, and explore the new town which is affectionately known as “Gringoland”! Take it easy today as Quito, at 2,850m, is at mild altitude and so we may start to feel the effects as soon as you touch down. Whilst in Quito we have our first opportunity to try the local cuisine and get used to the highland climate and different culture visible around us.
Our adventure has just begun!
Jul 17, 2016
Acclimatisation Trek: Ilalo Peak. Time to get active! Today we experience for the first time what it is like to trek at high altitude by summiting Ilalo Peak (3,200m), just south of Quito. This small peak is set in the shadow of the much higher peaks of Illiniza Norte, Illiniza Sur and the snow-capped Antisana andwe are treated to some spectacular views from the summit.
We catch two local buses to reach the village of El Tingo where the trail starts so we familiarise ourselves with the route in advance.
Jul 18, 2016
Travel day. We ensure that all our plans are in place as we travel to our next phase today. We purchase some snacks in advance of our journey.
Jul 19, 2016
Project Preparation Day – Today we make final preparations for our project phase beginning tomorrow including stocking up on provisions. We travel to our project site this evening.
Jul 20 – Jul 24, 2016
Highlands Community Project. The community engagement phase of our expedition offers a unique opportunity to immerse ourselves in a community, giving an insight into the rich Ecuadorian culture. The language, daily routine, activities, facilities and cultural sensitivities are all new and different to what we are used to. Cultural exchange works both ways and, although we are guests for a short time, we share our culture with our host community with photos of our school, community and our families as well as songs and dance routines. We cook a meal for the community, invite them to a sports match and host a party. This provides an opportunity for real interaction.
We explore local development challenges and become involved in important maintenance tasks as well as contributing to ongoing longer term projects that is aimed at meeting an important community need. The team’s financial contribution and un-skilled labour efforts are appreciated by our community, but at the heart of the experience is the chance to learn new skills, share an experience and make new friends.
We take the opportunity to spend time with local children and the wider community and by organising fun, active and educational activities such as teaching English.
The project will provide us with the opportunity to learn about some of the environmental challenges facing these small highland villages and we make a genuine contribution to the needs of the local community.
We live and work alongside the Ecuadorian community for the next few days with everything that entails: waking at dawn to the calls of various farm animals, learning to make traditional indigenous dishes, keeping the local children entertained despite the language barrier, being taught Spanish by our hosts and, of course, rolling up our sleeves for some serious DIY!
Jul 25, 2016
Rest & Relaxation in Quito. We take the opportunity to explore the highlights of Ecuador’s capital city. We wander the streets of the historical centre known as the “old town”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978.
We get up early and take a taxi to the high point of Quito to marvel at the breathtaking views of what was once a major Incan city. We visit the equator line, ‘La Mitad del Mundo’, which is approximately 1 hour north of Quito and visit the small Museo Solar Intian located a few hundred metres from the neighbouring official equator complex.
Back in Quito we some souvenir shopping in the new town of Mariscal Sucre.
Jul 26 – Jul 31, 2016
Rest and Relaxation: Galapagos Tour. Today we catch our pre-booked internal flight to the Galapagos Islands. We touch down and are collected by our tour provider and taken to our first night’s accommodation. The rest of this first day is our own free time and we visit El Junco, the largest body of fresh water in the Galapagos and take a taxi to La Galapaguera, San Cristabal’s semi wild tortoise reserve.
Now we’ve settled in, it’s time to experience the wonder of what makes the Galapagos Islands so special, as we start our tour with SharkSky Eco-Adventures. Our tour gives us the amazing opportunity to visit four of these special Islands and get to know the friendly people and wildlife who inhabit them including blue footed boobies, red billed tropic birds, swallow-tailed gulls, turtles, reef sharks and iguanas.
Over the next few days we undertake many activities with the Galapagos National Park, including a visit to Floreana Island where we spot Galapagos penguins and snorkel off La Lobera beach which is home to many turtles. On Isabela Island, we hike to the Flamingo Lagoon to spot its pink inhabitants. Our final days see us hiking volcanoes and snorkelling in beautiful bays before visiting the Charles Darwin Station on Santa Cruz and then flying back to the mainland.
Aug 1 – Aug 2, 2016
Acclimatisation in El Chaupi. We take a bus to our acclimatisation phase. The village of Machachi sits just outside the Cotopaxi National Park and is the perfect place for us to acclimatise. From Machachi, we take a public bus to El Chaupi (3,250m) and plan the best way for our team to fully acclimatise to the altitude before starting our main trek. We camp at the beautifully located Chuquiragua Lodge. There are numerous treks around this beautiful area.
Over the next few days, we learn for the first time what it really feels like to walk at high altitude in the Andean Mountains, whilst admiring the stunning scenery. Whilst trekking, we realise the true importance of teamwork as we hone our camping and cooking skills ready for our main trek.
Aug 3 – Aug 7, 2016
Quilotoa Lagoon Main Trek. Get set for an adventure we begin our five-day exploration of the beautiful central highlands around Quilotoa. We see lots of villagers on the way as we trek through open farmland and pastures, pine forests, traditional highland villages and one of Ecuador\’s most staggering sights: the Quilotoa Crater Lake.
We start with an ascent from the village of Zumbahua and end the day by scrambling up the sandy canyon bank. We are rewarded with the iconic image of the perfect emerald Quilotoa Lagoon some 400m below us and the snowcapped peaks of Cotopaxi and Iliniza Sur Volcanoes towering in the distance.
After circumnavigating the crater we eventually descend into its depths before summoning up the energy to ascend the other side to the picturesque Andean village of Chucchilan.
Finally we reach the cloudforest viewpoint and see the abundant lush plant life – a very different environment to where we have just come from. We also visit a local cheese factory. Along the way we see what real Andean life is like, passing markets, schools, churches and villages.
Aug 8, 2016
Today we catch a bus to Tena. When we arrive in Tena, we can start to prepare for our up and coming phases.
Aug 9, 2016
Rest and Relaxation: White Water Rafting 25km down the Jatunyucu River on what is considered one of Ecuador’s best rafting experiences. It’s a must for the adrenalin junkies of the team and today we take the opportunity to try this in the rafting and kayaking capital of Ecuador, Tena.
Aug 10, 2016
Rest & Relaxation in Tena. Located in the Ecuadorian Oriente, Tena is a charming Ecuadorian jungle town, where many travellers find themselves staying for a couple of days after a rafting or jungle trip. There are some local sites which we visit, such as the caves at Monduyacu community, and we enjoy the gorgeous setting where we find yourselves, surrounded by jungle-covered hills.
Aug 11, 2016
Today we travel back to Quito. Stock-up on snacks for the five to six hour journey.
Aug 12 – Aug 13, 2016
Depart Quito. Sadly it’s time to start our homeward journey. Time for those last minute jobs before we pack up our kit for the final time and head to the airport for the flight back home.