Highlands and Islands: Best of Ecuador Luxury Trip

Highlands and Islands: Best of Ecuador Luxury Trip

Immerse yourself in the diversity of Ecuador, from the colonial charm and creative local spirit of Quito to the abundant wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, to the indigenous culture and authentic hospitality of Hacienda Zuleta, a family-owned Andean farm dating from the 17th Century. This luxury, land-based exploration connects travelers with some of the finest and most unique lodge experiences in the country, places with heart that are family-owned and rooted in conservation and community partnerships. In the Galapagos Islands you'll stay at the Galapagos Safari Camp, an under-canvas experience in the highlands of Santa Cruz where giant tortoises roam beneath your elevated tent platform. Escorted by a private naturalist guide, guests explore at a relaxed pace, blending day boat-trips to snorkel and view wildlife at nearby islands with a la carte adventures like biking, kayaking and visiting a local coffee farmer. And in the Ecuadorian highlands you'll feel right at home at Hacienda Zuleta, a sprawling 4,000 acre working farm that has been owned and operated by the family of Mr. Galo Plaza Lasso, former president of Ecuador, for over 100 years. Guests are warmly welcomed in the historic home, which features antique gardens, family heirlooms, hand-embroidered linens and cozy fireplaces. A condor and spectacled bear conservation project, pre-Incan burial mounds, indigenous female-led handicraft cooperatives and a working farm are all tied into the work of the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation, supporting Zuleta's sustainable community tourism initiatives which can be explored by guests on foot, horseback, bike and vehicle.

This trip is great for adults but also especially excellent for families with younger children who want to experience the Galapagos but want more flexibility that what is available on a boat-based trip. Plus ending at a working farm with horses to ride, cows to milk, and dogs to play with is a child's dream come true.

Travelers keen on incorporating the Cloud Forest should consider a few days at Mashpi Lodge in the Mindo Cloud Forest. For logistics and trip flow, we recommend that this happens at the start of the trip, on the day or day after travelers arrive internationally into Quito.

Day Description Accommodation
Day 1 Arrive Quito Illa Experience Hotel
Day 2 Quito: Colonial Charm & Creative Artisans Illa Experience Hotel
Day 3 Journey to the Middle of the World Illa Experience Hotel
Day 4 Tortises, Lava Tunnels & Galapagos Safari Camp Galapagos Safari Camp
Days 5 - 6 Galapagos Safari Camp: Island Hopping Galapagos Safari Camp
Day 7 Santa Cruz Eastern Highlands and Beaches Galapagos Safari Camp
Day 8 Fly to Quito, Transfer to Hacienda Zuleta Hacienda Zuleta
Day 9 Hacienda Zuleta Explorations Hacienda Zuleta
Day 10 Otavalo & The Highlands Hacienda Zuleta
Day 11 Hacienda Zuleta and Departure

Day 1: Arrive Quito

Arrive Quito
Daily Summary

Quito Description

Welcome to Ecuador!

Quito, Ecuador's capital, sits high in the Andean foothills at an altitude of 2,850m, flanked by green hills and distant snowy volcanoes. Constructed on the foundations of an ancient Incan city, it’s known for its well-preserved, UNESCO World-Heritage Site colonial center, rich with 16th- and 17th-century churches and other structures blending European, Moorish and indigenous styles. The city offers visitors a vibrant culinary scene and numerous artisan shops and markets.

Upon arrival at the airport, you will be met by our representative and transferred to your hotel by private car. Most flights from North America arrive in Quito in the late evening.

Day 2: Quito: Colonial Charm & Creative Artisans

Quito: Colonial Charm & Creative Artisans
Daily Summary
  • Tour: Quito City Tour - Colonial + Market & Chocolate Tasting
  • Accommodation: Illa Experience Hotel
  • Meals: B

Quito City Tour - Colonial + Market & Chocolate Tasting

After breakfast, meet your guide at your hotel and embark on a walking exploration of Quito's dazzling colonial centre, the reason that the city was named a UNESCO world heritage site. Walking through the main plaza, the ‘Plaza de la Independencia’, you'll see the Government Palace, the Cathedral, and some of the most important churches built around the XVI and XVII centuries, including the San Francisco Monastery, a building begun only 5 days after the founding of the city. Then go off the beaten path and discover the sights, sounds, and smells of Ecuador's capital on a visit to a traditional food market. This fabulous market is known for its fresh medicinal herbs, traditional cleansings, fresh juices, and local produce. Visit a fruit juice stall to make your own juice – from the usual orange and mango to the unusual such as babaco and tree tomato. Then take part in a traditional herbal cleansing with a local “curandero” and leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for Ecuadorian food and Quito market life - essential to feeling like a local.

Cap off your time in the Old Town with an Ecuadorian chocolate tasting. The country's equatorial climate provides the perfect environment for growing the world’s finest cocoa - Cacao Arriba. Cocoa has been revered in Latin America for over 5,000 years and once Spanish conquistadores were introduced to it they fell in love, deeming it the ‘Food of the Gods’. You'll learn a bit about the history of cacao cultivation in Ecuador then sample an assortment of locally produced chocolates. With a bit of spring in your step, your guide will escort you back to your hotel or can recommend a local restaurant where you can have lunch at your leisure.

Day 3: Journey to the Middle of the World

Journey to the Middle of the World
Daily Summary

Intiñan Museum Half Day Visit + Casa Agave

Meet your guide and driver at your hotel and embark on a 45 minute journey northwest to the equatorial line, where you will walk the rim of the extinct Pululahua volcanic crater. Then visit the “Intiñan Museum” located right on the true Equator (which is a short distance from the large Equatorial Monument, a short distance away and slightly off!) Here you will have the chance to plant your feet in two hemispheres at the same time, wander through the totem forest and participate in various small & fun experiments like attempting to balance an egg on the head of a nail. This is an especially fun visit for kids.

Afterwards pay a visit to Casa Agave, a project that has been researching, innovating and enhancing the culture of agave andino for more than 15 years. While usually associated with Mexico, agave has been cultivated in the Andes for centuries. The agave sap is called chawarmishki in the native Quechua language, meaning "raw" and "sweet. "Learn about the plant's history and connection with cultural identity in Ecuador, walk through the botanical garden, visit the distillery and then enjoy a tasting of the fiery spirit before returning to the city.

Day 4: Tortises, Lava Tunnels & Galapagos Safari Camp

Tortises, Lava Tunnels & Galapagos Safari Camp
Daily Summary
  • Transfer: Airport Transfer
  • Domestic Flights: Domestic Flight
  • Tour: Galapagos Safari Camp Arrival Transfer
  • Accommodation: Galapagos Safari Camp
  • Meals: B, L, D
Domestic Flight
Quito - Baltra
Flight details TBD. Many flights stop briefly in Guayaquil though you will not need to deplane.

You will be met in the hotel lobby by your private driver & guide who will assist with luggage and escort you to the airport for your domestic flight to Baltra Airport in the Galapagos Islands. A representative at the airport will help you through the process of having your Transit Card and Covid-19 related documents verified before you pass through security to your gate.

Galapagos Safari Camp Arrival Transfer

Your welcoming naturalist guide from the Galapagos Safari Camp will greet you at the VIP lounge at Baltra Airport and to escort you across the Ithabaca channel on your excursion through the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. Enjoy a delicious, locally sourced lunch at a farm in the
western hills. Take in the area’s natural beauty, pit craters, lava tunnels, and learn more about the endemic Scalesia and Guayabillo forests. At the Tortoise Reserve, share some time in the giant tortoises’ natural habitat, surrounded by the abundant birdlife of the area. End your day at the peaceful Galapagos Safari Camp, with time to refresh in the pool or enjoy a sunset cocktail followed by dinner.

Days 5 - 6: Galapagos Safari Camp: Island Hopping

Galapagos Safari Camp: Island Hopping
Daily Summary

Galapagos Safari Camp: Island Hopping

After a sunrise breakfast, meet your naturalist guide and depart for a day on the water, exploring the surrounding islands. Board a small, 16 passenger motor vessel for a trip to one of the neighboring islands: North Seymour, Bartolomé, Plazas, Santa Fé, Floreana or Isabela. Each island is an endemic treasure to explore and enjoy and you'll spend the day snorkeling, hiking and spotting the unique wildlife on the land in and the sea. Note that these days are shared small-group boat excursions with other travelers, led by one certified Galapagos National Park Guide unless requested otherwise. Privately guided boat trips, or being accompanied by your own private guide but sharing the boat can be arranged for an additional fee.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is the second largest marine reserve in the world, and snorkeling off the boat is highly recommended and you'll be fully outfitted with comfortable fins, masks and wetsuits prior to departing. Destinations that the boats visit are scheduled well in advance with the National Park and follow a strict permitting schedule. We will confirm the excursions when we have your dates.

Day 7: Santa Cruz Eastern Highlands and Beaches

Santa Cruz Eastern Highlands and Beaches
Daily Summary
  • Tour: Galapagos Safari Camp: Exploring the Eastern Highlands
  • Accommodation: Galapagos Safari Camp
  • Meals: B, L, D

Galapagos Safari Camp: Exploring the Eastern Highlands

A morning drive takes you to the eastern part of the island. At 490m above sea level, Cerro Mesa Reserve offers spectacular views of the largest crater on Santa Cruz Island, exotic plants, and seven unique subspecies of finch and the elusive vermilion flycatcher. After lunch explore Garrapatero Beach, with stunning contrasts of mangroves, black lava, white sand, and turquoise water - including a flamingo lagoon. With luck you'll spot marine iguanas swimming through the turquoise water! Kayaking and mountain biking are optional. You can bike to the beach from the Galapagos Safari Camp to the beach or the staff is happy to drop you off at the point from which the entire ride is an enjoyable roll downhill along quiet roads and paved bike paths.

Day 8: Fly to Quito, Transfer to Hacienda Zuleta

Fly to Quito, Transfer to Hacienda Zuleta
Daily Summary
  • Domestic Flights: Domestic Flight
  • Tour: Galapagos Safari Camp Departure Transfer
  • Transfer: Arrival Transfer
  • Accommodation: Hacienda Zuleta
  • Meals: B, D
Domestic Flight
Baltra - Quito
Flight Details TBD

Galapagos Safari Camp Departure Transfer

Rise early to soak up a final morning in the serenity that surrounds Galapagos Safari Camp. Relax, walk, take a brief dip in the pool or enjoy the sunrise from our observatory before departure to your next destination. (Here’s where you’ll wish you had extended your journey!)

After breakfast bid farewell to the team and depart for the Baltra Airport. Your guide will escort you back across the channel and ensure you are checked in with VIP services before bidding you goodbye. Continue with your flight back to mainland Ecuador.

Upon arrival at the airport, you will be met by our representative and drive directly to Hacienda Zuleta, arriving in the late afternoon or early evening. You'll be warmly welcomed and shown to your rooms with time to refresh before dinner. Or you may arrive in time to enjoy some of Zuleta's famous happy hour - home made cheese and a glass of wine or cocktail in front of the fire. Family members often drop in to mingle with guests and share stories of growing up with Zuleta as their family home.

Day 9: Hacienda Zuleta Explorations

Hacienda Zuleta Explorations
Daily Summary
  • Tour: Hacienda Zuleta: The Condor Project & Horseback Ride
  • Accommodation: Hacienda Zuleta
  • Meals: B, L, D

Hacienda Zuleta: The Condor Project & Horseback Ride

After a hearty breakfast served in the dining room, meet your host for a visit proper introduction to Zuleta. Enjoy a tour of the property including the fascinating library, then to the cheese factory and stroll around the organic gardens, bursting with fresh produce that adds flavor in every Zuleta meal. At the cheese factory you'll learn about the history of cheese-making in Ecuador and discover the process behind the different types of cheeses that you get to enjoy at Zuleta with every meal. Then it's time to saddle up and ride! Meet your chagra (Ecuadorian cowboy) guide who will lead your horseback excursion up the San Pedro Valley to the Condor Huasi Project. Atop Zuleta's gentle and intelligent horses, enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery as you walk, trot, or enjoy a gentle canter along cobbled pathways and across fields as you head up valley. Jan, longtime resident wildlife biologist at Zuleta, will meet you at the center and introduce you to the rich wildlife found at Zuleta, plus share the foundation's efforts to protect and nurture endangered condors and spectacled bears. Return via the Caranqui tolas - pyramids dating from before the Inca conquest - and arrive back at Zuleta in time for a well deserved lunch. The afternoon is free to relax in front of the fire, a good book in hand, enjoy a walk, explore the hiking trails or visit the embroidery workshop and taller.

Day 10: Otavalo & The Highlands

Otavalo & The Highlands
Daily Summary
  • Tour: Otovalo Market & Local Weavers
  • Accommodation: Hacienda Zuleta
  • Meals: B, L, D

Otovalo Market & Local Weavers

After breakfast meet your private guide and driver and depart to explore the famous town of Otavalo, well known for its colorful market where the local Kichwa indigenous culture is highly visible. The town's famous craft market is one of the most visited sites in Ecuador, and with good reason as it filled with interesting, colorful and sometimes rare art, jewelry and woven goods. Do remember to bargain, but only if you're interested! The market is held every day on one of the town squares at the foot of the majestic Mt. Imbabura. After perusing the market you'll also visit the workshop of Master weaver Miguel Andrango, in the village of Agato. Miguel’s art has taken him abroad, mainly to exhibitions and fairs in the United States where the quality of his work is widely acknowledged. In the small store in the courtyard of his Tawantinsuyo workshop, the walls are covered with bright designs, most with an indigenous motif; the designs are based on Inca patterns but are the work of Miguel and his family. The workshop uses only pure wool and Alpaca; the weavers card and spin it themselves and then dye it with natural inks made from mosses (for yellow) or seeds such as ‘Achiote’(for red).

Lunch is included at a local restaurant. In the afternoon drive to the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve for a visit to the interpretation center and an outstanding view of the Cuicocha lagoon, a deep-blue crater lake on the lower southern flanks of Mount Cotacachi. After your short hike stop at the picturesque colonial town of Cotacachi, famous for its leatherwork, before returning to Zuleta in the late afternoon.

NOTE: This day is flexible based on your interests. We can arrange longer scenic hikes through rolling highland farms, private cooking class in the home of a notable local chef, or a visit at a nearby hacienda and rose farm where blooms are grown en masse for export around the world.

Day 11: Hacienda Zuleta and Departure

Hacienda Zuleta and Departure
Daily Summary
  • Tour: Hacienda Zuleta: Free Day
  • Transfer: Generic International Departure Transfer
  • Meals: B, L, D

Hacienda Zuleta: Free Day

Today you have the full day to enjoy at Hacienda Zuleta before heading to the airport in the evening, after an early dinner.

So many options abound at Hacienda Zuleta - the choices seem endless! Depending on your interests you may opt for a longer horseback ride today, up to the altiplano and mountain lakes where you can enjoy a picnic lunch. Explore the marked hiking trails throughout the property, or rent a mountain bike to cover more ground on two wheels. Embroidery lessons and traditional cooking classes can also be arranged and younger children may enjoy the opportunity to help with the farm chores! Many of these activities have an additional cost which can be applied directly to your room account. Just speak with your host about your interests and they will set everything up for you.

As most international flights departing for North America leave in the late evening, your room has been confirmed for day use today so that you can pack and refresh at your leisure before heading to the airport.

Having settled your account, meet your driver in the lobby at the appointed time to transfer from Hacienda Zuleta to the Quito International Airport in time for your departing flight. (Most flights to North America departure between 23:00 and 02:00)

Recommended airport arrival time for check-in is 3 hours in advance of your scheduled international departure. Please have all necessary Covid-19 testing documents and paperwork available for check-in by the airlines.

Illa Experience Hotel

Illa Experience Hotel

Website: Illa Experience Hotel

Hotel Illa offers a unique cultural experience for guests in Quito’s warmest and most welcoming traditional neighborhood. For generations, San Marcos has been home to artists, writers and musicians. Tucked into 17th century manor house, Illa is a 10-suite family-owned property, carefully curated to envelop guests in the local Quiteño lifestyle and spirit. The "experiences" are built into your stay and guests are invited to participate in a variety of activities, like a traditional ice cream making workshop or a guided walk through the historical neighborhood to visit neighboring shops.  Original works from local artists adorn every wall and corner and thoughtful touches place in each room, like the thermos of hot water and a vial of the herb guayusa, said to help alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. Suite styles vary from colonial to more contemporary and all are spacious, with king or double beds and deep soaker tubs. A small spa, fitness center and wine cellar are on the ground floor and available to guests only. Perhaps most exciting is the hotel's culinary concept - NESTS - an Ecuadorian culinary incubator. Under the tutelage of Juan Carlos Donoso, an Ecuadorian Chef, young people from remote communities throughout Ecuador gain valuable experience in restaurant management and haute cuisine and are encouraged, post-training, to return to their home communities and launch their own projects.  

Galapagos Safari Camp

Galapagos Safari Camp

Website: Galapagos Safari Camp

Inspired by the stylish tented safari camps of Africa, but located roughly 620 miles from the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Safari Camp is perched in the wild highlands of Santa Cruz Island, with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and Galapagos National Park. Giant tortoises roam freely beneath the raised tent platforms and a variety of native birds, including Darwin's famous finches, flock in the surrounding canopy of endemic trees. The camp is family-owned by Stephanie and Michael Mesdag, who have raised their children in the camp and welcome guests of all ages. They have pioneered the concept of "approachable luxury" and prioritize treading lightly  on the landscape while sharing this incredible environment with guests. A stay at the Galapagos Safari Camp is fully customized and flexible and especially good for families. Embrace all that the island has to offer, right at your fingertips.

Hacienda Zuleta

Hacienda Zuleta

Website: Hacienda Zuleta

Cradled in an Andean valley at 9,600' above sea level and only two hours north of Quito,  historic Hacienda Zuleta offers guests a raw and authentic experience steeped in four centuries of Ecuadorian history and tradition. The working farm sprawls over 4,000 acres and has been owned and operated by the family of Mr. Galo Plaza Lasso, former president of Ecuador, for over 100 years. Guests are warmly welcomed in the historic home, which features antique gardens, family heirlooms, hand-embroidered linens and cozy fireplaces in each of the 21 guest rooms. A unique Andean Condor and Spectacled Bear conservation project, pre-Incan burial mounds, indigenous handicraft cooperatives and a working farm, are all tied into Zuleta's sustainable community tourism initiatives, which you can thoroughly explore on foot, horseback, bike and vehicle.

Price Includes

- 3 Nights Illa Experience Hotel, 4 Nights Galapagos Safari Camp, 3 Nights Hacienda Zuleta
- All private transfers and privately guided touring as noted
- Meals & Non alcoholic drinks as mentioned
- Purified water and snacks during day trips*
- Galapagos National Park Entrance Fees & Transit Cards (Total Cost $120 per person)
- Two days of small-boat excursions in Galapagos National Park with shared naturalist guide
- Hosted Property Walk, Horseback Riding + Condor Project Visit at Hacienda Zuleta + access to property's hiking trails
- Late Check-Out on Last Day at Hacienda Zuleta with Evening Departure

*Please bring your own refillable water bottles to avoid the use of plastic

Price Excludes

- Meals not noted
- Roundtrip Flights from Quito-Baltra (From approximately $650 per person)
- Alcoholic drinks or bottled beverages
- Additional Activities at Hacienda Zuleta (horseback rides, mountain biking, embroidery and cooking lessons)
- Covid-19 tests required for destination arrival or return home (can be arranged locally upon request)
- International Airfare
- Recommended Travel Insurance

Outlier Journeys designs thoughtful, immersive and personalized global adventures for the modern explorer.  We specialize in custom journeys to destinations we know well and where we have developed close relationships with a vetted network of partners.  These individuals are leaders in the world of responsible and sustainable tourism and offer our travelers unrivaled insight into their home environs while leveraging tourism to drive conservation and social enterprise within their communities.


  • Locally Led: Expert local guides grant our traveler's insider perspective and personal insight into the culture, history, politics and socio-economic facets of a destination. 
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With a special focus on Latin America, Africa and Asia plus select European destinations, we collaborate closely with our travelers to guide their trip vision to life, seamlessly and with great care. The result is full-service custom travel planning with an intentional eye towards how our travelers move through and interact with a destination, and where their travel dollars will have the greatest positive impact. 

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