Sitting on the Equator between Peru and Colombia, Ecuador is the smallest of the Andean republics, but despite its diminutive size, the country is packed with dramatic scenic contrasts, encompassing snow-capped volcanic peaks, palm-fringed beaches lapped by the warm Pacific and the tropical rainforests of the Amazon basin. Ecuador is also home to a diverse population, including a wide range of indigenous groups, while many of its towns and cities boast magnificent colonial architecture. The cream of Ecuador’s attractions are the Galapagos Islands, the famous archipelago whose unique and extraordinary wildlife played a key role in shaping Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution. It is to this extraordinary and charming Latin American country that Somerset Tours invites you to join them on a fully escorted tour in September 2006.

Departing from South Africa on 08 September and flying via Amsterdam on KLM, the group will spend a day exploring Quito, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its colonial temples and monasteries.

From Quito, a short flight will take the group over the high Andes to the Amazon frontier town of Coca. Known as the Oriente, this is a place of endless virgin rainforest cut by fast-flowing rivers and inhabited by jaguars, ocelots, anacondas, monkeys, tapirs, fish-eating bats, piranhas and more than 450 species of birds. From Coca we will travel by motorized canoe two and a half hours down the Napo River, followed by a short walk through thick palm forest to Sacha Lodge, our home for the next three days.

Our days at Sacha Lodge will be filled with discovery. During jungle excursions, the group will have its own native guide and bilingual naturalist. Native guides carry a lifetime of knowledge about the medicinal and functional uses of rainforest. Naturalists educated in biology and ecology translate for native guides and compliment excursions with explanations of the scientific workings of the rainforest.

The itinerary then returns to Quito for a night before flying out to the Galapagos islands. Here we will board our expedition ship the M/V Santa Cruise for a week’s sailing through this archipelago of unrivalled beauty, mystery and amazing creatures. A trip to the Galapagos Islands is an unforgettable experience. The islands are world-renowned for their fearless wildlife but no amount of hype can prepare the visitor for such a close encounter with Nature. Lying on the Equator, 970 kilometers west of the Ecuadorean coast, the Galapagos consist of six main islands which are the peaks of gigantic undersea volcanoes. The Galapagos have never been connected with the continent, however, gradually, over many hundreds of thousands of years, animals and plants from over the sea somehow migrated there and as time went by they adapted themselves to Galapagos conditions and came to differ more and more from their continental ancestors. Thus, many of them are unique; a quarter of the species of shore fish, half of the plants and almost all the reptiles are found nowhere else. Charles Darwin recognized this speciation within the archipelago when he visited the Galapagos on the Beagle in 1835 and his observations played a substantial part in his formulation of the theory of evolution.

From Galapagos, the tour will return to Quito before flying back to South Africa on 23 September to arrive on the 24 September.