Saga Tour: Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, and his wife report on their experiences on a Saga Tour of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Saddleback Galapagos Tortoise
Saddleback Galapagos Tortoise

We had chosen a similar Saga Holidays tour three years ago, but that had been cancelled twice due to Covid. Third time lucky and overall it turned out to be a wonderful experience.

The tour consisted of three parts: Quito and the Andes; the Amazon; and the Galapagos Islands.

The early morning KLM flight from Heathrow took us to Amsterdam. Here we transferred to the twelve hour flight to Quito, where we arrived early evening and transferred to the Hilton Colon Hotel.

Quito and the Andes

Quito from El Pancillo
Quito from El Pancillo

The following morning we embarked on a Quito city tour.

The first stop was a viewing point at El Pancillo which has a magnificent 45 meter high statue of the Virgin Mary with wings. We had excellent views over the city and the surrounding volcanoes.

This was followed by a walking tour in the Old Town taking in the Catholic Cathedral, the Plaza de San Francisco and a Jesuit Church.

We arrived at the Presidential Palace at noon to see the pomp and splendour of the changing of the guards, both on foot and mounted.

The walking tour ended with a chocolate tasting session on the terrace of the Pocari factory in the La Floresta neighbourhood.

Presidential Palace in Quito
At the Presidential Palace in Quito

We left Quito for an early evening drive to Otavalo, where we stayed two nights at the Hacienda Pinsaqui. This was an old house converted to a hotel with spacious rooms and a large garden.

The following morning we took a ten mile coach trip to Lake Cuicocha and walked for about 500 yards with many steps to the rim of the volcano overlooking the lake. The scenery and views from there were superb, as was the scenic path alongside the lake.

Returning to Otavalo, we explored the market, main street and main plaza. Lunch was near the town at a house where the food was cooked in a traditional way over volcanic stones, before burying the pots in the ground. In our opinion, edible but not the best of meals!

Lake Cuicocha
Lake Cuicocha

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a family run workshop that makes traditional musical instruments such as panpipes being made.

The next day we visited the local colourful market with an enormous variety of flowers fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, before returning to Quito.

The journey was broken first by a visit to the Parque del Condor, which has a good collection of rescued birds in very large cages, including owls, eagles and condors. The second stop was on the line of the Equator.


El Coca, the gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazon, was reached by a 35 minute flight from Quito. Here we transferred to a fast motorised 24 seater narrowboat.

Narrowboat on the Napo River
Narrowboat on the Napo River

Despite the warmth, the speed of the boat made it feel cool and this was accentuated by a couple of very heavy rain showers. It took two hours to reach the Napo Cultural Centre Lodge at Yasuni in the Amazon National Park, where we stayed for three nights.

That afternoon we took a walk through the jungle to a very high observation platform which provided excellent views above the tree level. Some of our group decided against attempting the steps.

The following morning a canoe ride led to a ‘salt lick’ where large number of parrots licked/ate the clay containing salts, which neutralise toxins they have ingested. A twenty minute jungle walk led to another salt lick. Later in the day, we took a one hour stroll through the jungle with a guide who provided information about the plants and insects.

Blowpipe Demonstration
Blowpipe Demonstration

A further canoe boat journey the following morning up the Napo River was followed by a small eight seater canoe trip up the small Ananga Creek. From this canoe we observed a wide range of birds, monkeys, a caiman alligator and a couple of snakes.

After returning for lunch we attended a community project at the Lodge run by the Ananga women who demonstrated dances and cooking and we were invited to try our skills with a blow pipe aiming at a melon!

The following day we flew back to Quito, where we took a coach trip to the small village of Papallacta, located in the Andean Highlands. It is famous for its thermal springs. The temperature here was much cooler at a mere 13°C .

The overnight stay was at the Termas de Papallacta Hotel, before heading off in the morning to Quito airport. The hotel had thermal springs which many of our your party members enjoyed,

Galapagos Islands

A number of formalities were required at the airport, including special passes, a surprise $100 fee, and bag and suitcase checks, before the two-hour flight to Baltra Island in the Galapagos Islands. We were delighted to reach warmer weather at last with temperatures during our stay on the Islands being 25 to 30°C.

Galapagos: Puerto Ayora Harbour
Puerto Ayora Harbour and Solymar Hotel

A public ferry boat then took us to Puerta Ayora on Santa Cruz Island where we checked in to the Solymar Hotel which overlooks the harbour. Later that day we viewed a large blow hole and visited a Centre for the giant Galapagos tortoises.

The day’s itinerary ended with a brief visit to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. This contained much interesting information for visitors and was also a breeding centre for tortoises.

On our first full day on the Galapagos Islands we took a two hour boat ride to the uninhabited island of Bartolome. This smallish boat (15 passengers) slowed down midway to Bartolome and toured slowly around another island, so that we could observe the birds on the rocky coastline.

Galapagos: Bartolome Island
Bartolome Island

At Bartolome many of the tour party walked the mile long, 400 step, footpath to the Lighthouse at the top of the island. From here there were excellent views of that island and surrounding ones. After a cooked lunch on the boat, masks were provided with the option for passengers to snorkel. In addition to swimming amongst the fish some dolphins joined the snorkellers.

The following day we took a two hour speedboat ride to Isabela, the largest of the Galapagos Islands.

We arrived at the Albermarle Hotel in Puerto Villamil mid-morning and almost immediately left for a boat tour around the bay and to the island of Tintoras. A knowledgeable and humorous guide informed us about the blue-footed boobies, sharks and iguanas we saw along the way

We declined the five mile hike next day to the Sierra Negra volcano, as did most of the group. However the guide had apparently exaggerated the slope, temperature and difficulty, so in hindsight we regretted our decision not to take the hike. Instead we explored the small town of Puerto Villamil.

Unexpected Hotel Guest
Unexpected Hotel Guest

The following morning, before departing from Isabela Island, we were taken to the Arnaldo Tupiza tortoise breeding centre where they breed saddleback Galapagos tortoises. This was followed by a wetland walk where we learnt more about the geology of the island, but saw very few animals other than the frequently seen sea iguanas

That afternoon we took the speedboat back to Santa Cruz Island for our last two nights in the Galapagos Islands.

On our final full day before flying back to the UK, we had breakfast in the open air dining area enjoying the views over the bay and watching the wildlife (including blue-footed boobies!). We spent the afternoon strolling around Puerta Ayora, shopping and relaxing.

 Overall Impressions

Quito and the Andes had mild, dry weather and provided interesting city visits and mountain views. The Amazon jungle was a mixture of dry weather with heavy showers, warm in general, but also feeling cool at times. The walking and boat rides through the jungle were peaceful with informative guides and many sightings of wild animals. The Galapagos Islands were warm and sunny with visits to several islands and views of a wide range wonderful animals – all unafraid of humans.

To summarise, it was a busy and very varied holiday with many early starts (6:30 am) and with a number of walks, a few of which proved arduous to some in our tour party. Overall it was a demanding but brilliant holiday.

Previous Saga Holidays we have undertaken that have been reported on this site, include:

Contrasts of Central America Saga Tour
Heart of the Silk Route: a Saga Tour of Uzbekistan
Jewels of Croatia – Saga Dalmatian Coast Tour
Moghuls and Palaces – Saga India Tour
Saga Cruise: Wonders of the Canary Islands
Saga Dominican Discovery Tour
Siam Island Adventure – Saga Thailand Tour

Unveiling Burma – Saga Holidays Myanmar Tour