Special Interest Group Travel to Ecuador: Knowmad Adventures and The University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

 Places to Visit in Ecuador
For professional travel planners a special interest group trip is exactly that – special. Whether it’s a student trip to Peru so young people can study Spanish or archeology and anthropology, a university alumni group with varied interests, or a yoga studio seeking wellness and renewal, trips seaming a unique focus with well-rounded travel experiences are a chance for the travel specialist to flex their planning muscles, expand their knowledge, and create entirely unique itineraries they never would have imagined otherwise.

One such travel group that will forever be special to me is the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Together we’ve done three trips to South America that take in the best of the area, but also tie in a focus on plants and gardens.

This year’s trip to Ecuador and Galapagos was no different. We hunted for rare orchids, took walks in the lush cloud forest, visited sixteenth and seventeenth century haciendas with vast gardens, toured a massive rose plantation and enjoyed a great botanical garden. Of course this was in addition to an awesome cruise through the Galapagos Islands, exploring Quito’s historical architecture and colonial past and other Ecuador highlights.

 Quito Ecuador

Ecuador Ecuador Travel Galapagos Islands Vacation Special Interest Group Travel Giant Tortoise

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Are you a teacher planning a school trip to Peru, a wine club or liquor store owner wanting to offer a wine-focused trip in Argentina or Chile for your patrons, a university alumni travel group director, or anyone who has a an involvement with a special interest and loves to travel? Almost any group can be strengthened and draw in new members by offering well-planned group travel to South America. By specializing in just South America as opposed to claiming expertise worldwide, Knowmad Adventures has the knowledge to build and deliver the most innovative trips for your group, school, club or organization.  Nobody does special interest group travel to South America as well as Knowmad Adventures does. Call 1-877-616-TRIP or email me at [email protected] today to learn more about group travel in Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina and to discuss options!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Check out some more great photos and a detailed itinerary from this trip below.

Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Itinerary

Day 1: Minneapolis – Quito, Ecuador

The bulk of travelers will fly together from Minneapolis to Quito. Upon arriving most likely in the evening, the group will be met and transferred to your accommodations situated in the historic district of Quito.

Day 2: Quito

After breakfast we will visit the Metropolitan Park, an over 1,000 acre area surrounded by a variety of trees and gigantic art works, and home to the Ashintaco Gorge where it’s possible to see over 70 species of birds and that are nesting, some of which are in danger of extinction.

After departing the park we will 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. We will enjoy a lunch nearby to one of Quito’s most historic plazas.

  • B, L, D – Patio Andaluz

Day 3: Quito – Mindo Cloudforest
Ecuador Vacation

Ecuador      Ecuador

Driving north from Quito we will pass through ‘The Middle of the World’ where the equatorial line divides the hemispheres. Passing by small towns and villages, we descend the Pichincha Volcano and enter dense cloud forest.  Visiting the 1,500-acre Pahuma Orchid Reserve we will walk amongst epiphytes, bromeliads, orchids, mosses and ferns. We will also watch for birds (Ecuador contains more hummingbirds than any other place on earth) as well as vast other species. On this walk we will also see spectacular waterfalls. 

After Pahuma, we continue on to Mindo Cloud Forest with it’s over 400 species of birds, abundant endemic butterfly species, and lush vegetation. Enjoy the evening in a comfortable lodge nestled in the cloud forest (average daytime temps in high 70s and cooler evenings). In the afternoon you may take shorter walks to see orchids or longer hikes to waterfalls.

  • B, L, D – Septimo Paraiso

Day 4: Mindo Cloudforest

ecuador wildlife cloud forest

Walking from our lodge in the early twilight we will hike to a waterfall hidden in the forest on an ornithology focused exploration, also learning more about the vegetation of the cloud forest. Enjoy a hearty lunch back at the lodge and a relaxing afternoon, or choose from a range of easy to more challenging hikes.

  • B, L, D – Septimo Paraiso

Day 5: Bellavista – Otavalo

Ecuador Culture Ecuador Cultural Festival      Ecuador Festival

Today we will depart the lodge at approximately 6:00 a.m. and head out of the cloudforest making our way north (approximately 3 and a half hour drive), descending into the valley of Guayllabamba, where cherimoya (custard apple) and avocadoes grow and the road opens to Andean Highlands. Here we will stop at La Compania Hacienda constructed at the turn of the 20th century. Enjoy a typical hearty highland breakfast before strolling the grounds of the hacienda visiting its Jesuit chapel.  We tour a neighboring flower plantation and learn how the roses are cultivated and selected for exportation around the world.

From here we drive a bit farther north and arrive to Otavalo, home to the biggest and most important indigenous markets in all Latin America, a true feast for the eyes and ears. After enjoying the market we will have a delicious lunch full of regional dishes in at Hacienda Pinsaqui. Built in 1790, its storied past includes a stay of revolutionary leader and liberator Simon Bolivar, one of the most important figures in South American history.

ecuador vacation hacienda

After lunch, visit Peguche town known for its textiles and handicrafts where we learn ancient techniques from local artisans. From here we continue on to our Hacienda accommodations with beautiful grounds and gardens.

  • B, L, D – Hacienda Cusin

Day 6: Otavalo – Quito

After breakfast we depart the hancienda and visit Cuicocha Lake, which is a volcanic crater with a diameter of over 2 miles with a lake filling its center. This beautiful crater and area contains unique plant life including a variety of medicinal plants which we will see while walking along a gentle trail on the crater’s rim. In the afternoon we will return to Quito, enjoy a special farewell mainland Ecuador dinner, and enjoy a good night’s rest.

  • B, L, D – Patio Andaluz

Day 7: Quito – Galapagos

Blue Footed Booby

Following breakfast we transfer to the airport in accordance with our flight to the Galapagos Islands, approximately 4 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 8: Galapagos
Ecuador Galapagos Islands Wildlife

Ecuador Wildlife

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 9: 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 10: 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 Centre 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 11: 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 12: 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 fly onward home on an evening overnight flight.

Day 13: Arrive Home


Big views, Jordan

South America Travel - Jordan HarveyJordan is a Co-Founder of Knowmad Adventures, a company dedicated to creating unique, private and custom trips in South America. He was recently honored by Travel & Leisure as an A-List Top Travel Specialist for South America. Jordan just returned from a trip to Ecuador and Galapagos with Knowmad’s University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum group.
“Travel brings me incredible experiences and challenges, highlighting the world’s natural beauty while connecting me with inspiring people. I am convinced that travel makes us better people, and better people make a better planet.” Read Jordan’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.