Ecuador Travel: Macalester College Alumni Association Dynamic Group Trip

Ecuador Travel

About three months ago the Macalester College Alumni Association embarked on an incredible adventure to Ecuador. This twelve-day trip highlighted incredible Andean landscapes and fascinating indigenous cultures in mainland Ecuador and included a luxurious six-day small ship cruise around Darwin’s Galapagos Islands which are full of fascinating endemic species and beautiful volcanic landscapes.

Especially fun, was getting a detailed look at this group’s Ecuador travel experience at the Midwest Mountaineering Expo in April. Knowmad traveler, Kimerly Miller, shared breathtaking photos and an honest and engaging account of this dynamic group trip. It is always rewarding to hear about a trip through the perspective of the traveler. The different ways in which each person reminisces about their journey gives the listener a glimpse into their passions and personality. The Macalester Alumni Association planned a truly wonderful trip, take a look at their full Ecuador travel itinerary below.

Ecuador Travel Experience Ecuador Hiking Trip Hiking in Ecuador Galapagos Islands Travel Ecuador Travel - Group Trip

Macalester Alumni Association Ecuador Travel Itinerary Highlights

  • Cruise the Galapagos Islands aboard a luxury class yacht with less than 100 passengers
  • Enjoy naturalist-led excursions to discover myriad endemic species and unique landscapes
  • Explore Quito, Ecuador’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site for its striking colonial architecture
  • Explore some of the most beautiful sections of the Andes Mountains and walk to a gorgeous volcanic crater lake
  • Enjoy lavish meals at historic haciendas (ranch properties)
  • Visit Julio Toaquiza’s ceramic workshop and learn of highland folklore
  • Tour a rose plantation
  • Browse and shop in an authentic indigenous market well off the beaten path
  • Meet Andean chagras (cowboys) and learn about their fascinating history and culture
  • Do it in style! This luxurious adventure highlights carefully selected accommodations in a variety of settings such as restored colonial mansions, a working ranch and an expedition yacht



DAY 1 USA – Quito

A recommended flight will be supplied closer to travel time. Upon arriving most likely in the late evening, the group will be met and transferred to your accommodations situated in the historic district of Quito.

Day 2 Quito – Cotopaxi Volcano

Ecuador Rose Tour

Setting out after breakfast we’ll head south through the city and down the valley below Pichincha. Enshrouded by clouds, the valleys of the famed Avenue of the Volcanoes open up as massive Cotopaxi (meaning ‘neck of the moon’ in the ancient tongue) comes into view. Our first visit will be at Nevado Roses, a flower plantation where we will tour the facilities learning about flower cultivation and exportation in Ecuador, one of the world’s predominant rose exporters. After a delicious lunch we’ll visit the stunning Quillotoa Crater where we’ll take a relaxing walk downto the shores of the dazzling, emerald-green lagoon at the crater’s center. This is a true natural wonder. From here we will return back up by foot or horseback to enjoy the view. We will then visit a nearby indigenous community to learn about the areas culture and lifestyle before continuing on to the ever so charming Hacienda Alegria for dinner and a relaxing evening.

Day 3 Cotopaxi Area

Ecuador Travel

Driving out into Andean countryside we’ll pass sheep and llamas grazing before arriving to the highland town of Pujili and La Victoria which are renowned for their artisanal ceramics. Our first visit will be to the bustling, off the beaten path market of Pujili. We’ll then visit a local ceramics workshop to see their ancient production techniques and final products. You’ll also have a chance to create your own ceramic memory. In Tigua we’ll visit local artist Julio Toaquiza’s workshop where he paints colorful scenes of highland festivals and folkloric characters typical of the region on sheep skin in the naïf style. Having worked up an appetite we’ll visit a charming local restaurant before returning to the hacienda for a chagra show.

The introduction of cattle and bulls into the Andean highlands by the Jesuits gave birth to a rich cultural phenomenal still iconic of the region today; the chagras, or Andean cowboys. Chagras were the first indigenous groups at the time allowed to ride horses and for centuries the chagras have carved out a unique and enviable identity in the region.

  • B, L, D – Hacienda Alegria or similar

Day 4 Cotopaxi – Antisana – Quito
After a filling breakfast we head south through the main square at Pintag wher you’ll learn about the clash of the Inca and Caranqui civilizations. After a taslte of exotic local fruits like cherimoya we’ll arrive to some of the best preserved paramo, or highland moor, in the world. As we wind our way up through the paramo, a relatively young lava flow path will lead us up to the Antisana Volcano and what used to be the famous Hacienda Antisana. We will leave the bus at Antisana River Gorge, a small high-altitude stream of glacial melt from the volcanoes glacier. We will enjoy an hour or so walk north past the base of Chuzalongos, three peaks formed by an ancient horseshoe crater and named after an indigenous legend speaking of mountain goblins.

Walking to seasonal lake Santa Lucia it is possible to see highland animals and the great Andean condor. Enjoy a box lunch during this hike before returning to the van. We will then make the hour and a half drive back to Quito.

  • B, L, D – Patio Andaluz or similar

Day 5 Quito

Step back in time walking through picturesque neighborhoods of quaint cobble-stoned streets lined with colorful colonial houses en route to the historic town center where our first stop is La Basilica, a fascinating architectural building. Continuing on we pass The Seven Crosses Street, an important Inca route from times past that was transformed with the arrival of the Spaniards and Christianity. From here we arrive to the cities central Independence Plaza lined with the oldest cathedrals in South America and the sacred heart of the city: La Catedral de Quito. Here we see the Presidential Palace, the Metropolitan Cultural Center, a museum home to a great oil paint collection, and more. Enjoy lunch on this historic plaza.

Following lunch those who still have energy will head just north of the city to visit the Middle of the World complex where the equator runs. You’ll have the unusual opportunity of straddling both hemispheres. We’ll also visit the nearby Intinan Museum dedicated to the promotion and study of the cultures inhabiting the nearby areas.

  • B, L, D – Patio Andaluz or similar
Day 6 Quito – Galapagos
Galapagos Islands Trip

With a capacity of 90 guests in 43 cabins, the MV Santa Cruz is large enough to provide a calm ride and a range of amenities, yet small enough for an intimate feel and minimal environmental impact. Some ship highlights are air-conditioning throughout, a glass-bottom boat available for excursions, some of the islands best naturalist guides, and gourmet cuisine. All excursions, meals, and lectures while cruising are included in your trip cost. For more ship details please see ship specifications page.

Following breakfast we transfer to the airport in accordance with our flight to the Galapagos Islands, approximately 2 hours west into the Pacific where we will board the MV Santa Cruz for a 6-day cruise through the Galapagos Islands. During this cruise we will enjoy naturalist-led walks amongst a variety of islands as we discover the unique animal and plant life that helped inspire Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

Afternoon – North Seymour Island
This is a great introductory site to the islands and their wildlife, full of bird colonies of blue footed boobies, two species of frigate birds, swallow tailed gulls, as well as sea lions and marine iguanas.

  • B, L, D – MV Santa Cruz

Day 7 Galapagos
Morning – Punta Vicente Roca – Isabela Island
After breakfast, we explore the coast by panga (local word for small zodiac), while our naturalist guide explains the dramatic geology of the area, nesting place for a Galápagos highlight: flightless cormorants. Depending on weather conditions, we can snorkel along the cliffs of this area rich in marine life, seasonally-visited by green sea turtles and oceanic sun fish (Mola mola). Afternoon – Espinoza Point – Fernandina Island

The afternoon is dedicated to exploring the youngest island of the archipelago, Fernandina, which, having no introduced mammals, boasts a very unique environment with a very high density of marine iguanas, who share their space with sea lions, Sally light-foot crabs, hawks, penguins and the flightless cormorants.

  • B, L, D – MV Santa Cruz

Day 8 Galapagos

Morning – Tagus Cove – Isabela Island
After breakfast, we land at this cove on the northwest of Isabela. It provided a favourite anchorage for pirates and whalers over the centuries. An uphill hike takes guests to the rim of a crater, Darwin Lake, filled with salt water and to a dramatic viewpoint. After our walk, we take a panga ride to spot local wildlife, with the possibility of swimming or snorkelling.

Afternoon – Urbina Bay – Isabela Island
After lunch we disembark at Urbina Bay, the fascinating result of an uplifting of the ocean in 1954. Here we can admire corals, shells and many other calcareous organisms exposed above water. First we enjoy a snorkel from the beach, with the chance of swimming with flightless cormorants and penguins. This are is also home to a large and very colourful Galápagos land iguanas, and occasionally to giant tortoises. We return back on board for our expedition plan for Saturday and dinner.

  • B, L, D – MV Santa Cruz

Day 9 Galapagos

Morning – Puerto Ayora and the Charles Darwin Research Station – Santa Cruz Island Disembark for our visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station’s giant tortoise breeding center within an impressive giant prickly-pear cactus forest home to many land birds. These are the headquarters of scientific investigation, conservation and the National Park administration. Following our visit, we board our transport to enjoy lunch in the cooler highlands of Santa Cruz Island, a completely different ecosystem.

Afternoon – Santa Cruz Island
We have several options available for the afternoon, which can be discussed in advance with your Expedition Leader. At the end of the afternoon’s activities, we return to Puerto Ayora and embark on the Santa Cruz.

  • B, L, D – MV Santa Cruz

Day 10 Galapagos
Morning – Post Office Bay and Baroness Cove – Floreana Island
A short walk leads us to the historic barrel where postcards are traditionally left for guests from other vessels to hand-deliver to their destinations. Near Post Office Bay, we explore the north shore of Floreana along narrow channels teeming with life. Another short walk takes us to Baroness Cove where all will be revealed about the fascinating “murder mystery” on Floreana. Swimming and snorkeling off the beach is a good option. We then head back on board for lunch.

Afternoon – Champion Islet and Cormorant Point – Floreana Island
Following lunch and a siesta, we take to the pangas and glass-bottom boat to explore the underwater wonders around Champion Islet, an extinct shield volcano, regarded as one of the best snorkeling spots in the archipelago. From there, it ́s on to Cormorant Point, beginning with a landing on the olivine-crystal beach for an easy walk that includes a brackish water lagoon where bird species such as greater flamingos, pintail ducks, common stilts, herons, sandpipers, and others gather. We continue our walk over to a white-sand beach, where sea turtles emerge from the sea at night to nest (from December to May).

  • B, L, D – MV Santa Cruz

Day 11 Galapagos – Quito – Onward Home

We disembark at Baltra Island in order to transfer to the airport to take the flight back to the mainland. After arriving to the mainland we will go just a short distance from the airport to a nice hacienda to enjoy the grounds and a farewell meal before returning to the airport to catch our late-evening overnight flight.

  • B, D

Day 12 Arrive Home


Hasta Pronto, Knowmad Adventurers

South America Travel - Knowmad AdventuresKnowmad Adventures works closely with independent-minded travelers creating innovative trips to South America. Our specialists in Patagonia, ChileMachu Picchu, Peru, Argentina, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and Antarctica are eager to collaborate and create a trip as unique and authentic as you are, and our experienced South American operations team guarantees you get an insider’s perspective, superior values, and a flawlessly operated trip.