Expert: Tom Damon, president, Southwind Adventures
Length of trip: Two weeks
Highlights: Exploring Quito's Old Town, the breathtaking Andean lake region and tropical rainforest, and the exotic wildlife of the Galápagos Islands
DAY 1: ARRIVE IN QUITO Check into the Hotel Patio Andaluz (above) in Quito's colonial Old Town and rest up from your flight.
DAYS 2 & 3: ANDEAN LAKE REGION Take a shuttle or a private car two hours north to the Lake District (above).... Stay at the Hacienda Cusin(above), a fully restored 17th-century inn. It's at an elevation of 8,500 feet, so take an acclimatization walk through the gardens before dinner at the inn's restaurant. Browse market towns like Otavalo, known for the intricate weavings and textiles created by local artists.... For lunch or dinner I like the colonial charm and crackling fireplace at Hacienda Pinsaqui.
DAY 4: ANDEAN LAKE REGION TO THE TROPICAL RAINFOREST Take in the scenery via horseback (arrange the ride through the hacienda's stable) or hike around Lake Cuicocha.... Lunch on fresh trout at El Mirador, overlooking the lake.... Drive about three hours down the western slope of the Andes, through forested mountain gorges, past waterfalls, crystalline streams, and snow-capped volcanos.... Check into the Arashá Tropical Rainforest Resort & Spa.
DAYS 5 & 6: TROPICAL RAINFOREST Arashá is an eco-friendly resort with a full-service spa and natural spring-fed mineral pools; it's also located in the region with the largest variety of amphibians in the world. There's a lot going on here, so create your own itinerary— my favorites include nature hikes through the rainforest to waterfalls, fishing (the resort will cook what you catch), and whitewater rafting.
DAY 7: BACK TO QUITO Leave the resort in the early afternoon and check back into the Hotel Patio Andaluz.... Head to dinner at Quito hot spot Zazu—the ceviche martini here is a must!
DAY 8: THE GALAPAGOS Fly to Baltra Island, in the Galápagos, where you'll then board the M/V Eclipse, a small cruise ship that will take you to Las Bachas, on Santa Cruz Island, a major egg-laying beach for sea turtles.... Look for marine iguanas and flamingos on shore, then return to the boat for dinner.
DAY 9: THE GALAPAGOS Wake up to the sunrise over Puerto Egas on Santiago Island, home to a black lava shoreline and intertidal wildlife like the Galápagos fur seal.... On Bartolomé Island, hike to a summit with a panoramic view of the nearby islands and Pinnacle Rock.... Back at the beach, snorkel among the 307 species of fish; a short walk then leads to a bay where you'll see white-tip reef sharks and marine turtle nests.
DAY 10: THE GALAPAGOS In the morning take a short walk up Cerro Dragón (Dragon Hill) for views of the bay and glimpses of iguanas.... During the afternoon disembark at Rábida, one of the best snorkeling sites in the Galápagos.
DAY 11: THE GALAPAGOS Wake up to morning light shining on the summit of Darwin Volcano.... Later, take a boat ride and spot blue-footed boobies as well as penguins and marine iguanas.... In the channels between Fernandina and Isabela Islands, you might spot whales and dolphins.
DAY 12: THE GALAPAGOS Explore the black lava fields of Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island, snorkel at Punta Vicente Roca on Isabela Island, or just relax aboard the M/V Eclipse.
DAY 13: THE GALAPAGOS; BACK TO QUITO Disembark at the town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island and tour the Charles Darwin Research Station, where you'll come face to face with some of the remaining 11 subspecies of giant tortoise found on the islands—honestly, a lifechanging experience.... Stroll the shops in town before heading to the airport on Baltra Island for the return flight to Quito.... Finally, check back into the Hotel Patio Andaluz and have a romantic last dinner at Mea Culpa wine bar/restaurant.
__ DAY 14: FLY HOME__