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Organized ecotourism or adventure-travel packages, arranged by operators in either the United States or Ecuador, are a popular way of combining varied activities. Bird-watching, horseback riding, biking, and hiking can done in conjunction with visits to national parks or indigenous communities.

Traveling with a group has several advantages over traveling independently: Your accommodations and transportation are arranged, and most (if not all) of your meals are included in the cost of a package. If your tour operator has a reasonable amount of experience and a decent track record, you should proceed to each of your destinations quickly, without the snags and long delays that those traveling on their own can occasionally face. You'll also have the opportunity to meet like-minded souls who are interested in nature and active sports. Of course, you'll pay more for the convenience of having all your arrangements handled in advance.

In the best cases, groups are small (8-15 people), and tours are escorted by knowledgeable, bilingual guides. Be sure to ask about difficulty levels when you're choosing a tour. Although most companies offer "soft adventure" packages for those in moderately good, but not phenomenal, shape, others focus on more hard-core activities geared toward seasoned athletes or adventure travelers.

U.S.-Based Adventure Tour Operators

These agencies and operators specialize in well-organized and coordinated tours that cover your entire stay. Many travelers prefer to have everything arranged and confirmed before arriving in Ecuador, and this is a good idea for first-timers and during the high season.

Abercrombie & Kent (tel. 800/554-7016 in the U.S. and Canada; www.abercrombiekent.com) is a luxury-tour company that offers upscale trips around the globe, and it has several Ecuador tours on its menu. It offers a selection of Galápagos cruises in combination with attractions on the Ecuadorean mainland or in Peru. Service is personalized and the guides are top-notch. The cost begins at around $6,500 (£4,333) per adult for an 11-day Galápagos tour, not including international airfare.

Backroads (tel. 800/462-2848 in the U.S., or 03/4622-848; www.backroads.com) is a U.S.-based adventure-tour operator specializing in hiking and biking tours that combine active endeavors with varied cultural pursuits and stays at plush inns and bed-and-breakfasts. Their Ecuador multisport outing includes biking, hiking, and kayaking in the central and northern Sierra, as well as in the Galápagos Islands.

Butterfield & Robinson (tel. 866/551-9090; www.butterfield.com) is another company specializing in the very high-end market. One of its most interesting options is a Galápagos cruise designed for families with children over 8 years old. The trip provides a wealth of activities and adventures for parents and children to enjoy both together and apart.

Holbrook Travel (tel. 800/451-7111 in the U.S. and Canada; www.holbrooktravel.com) is a small, Florida-based company that specializes in ecotourism and educational tours in Latin America. They offer several Ecuador options ranging from traditional Galápagos cruises, starting at around $3,000 (£2,000), to an 18-day package that combines the Galápagos with the highlands and Amazon basin, which costs around $6,000 (£4,000) per person.

Latin Trails (tel. 800/747-0567 in the U.S. and Canada; www.latintrails.com), of New Jersey, specializes in adventure and off-the-beaten-path tourism of Ecuador and other Andean nations. They offer a selection of Galápagos cruises as well as overland adventures and Amazon expeditions at competitive prices.

Nature Expeditions International (tel. 800/869-0639; www.naturexp.com) specializes in educational and "low intensity adventure" trips tailored to independent travelers and small groups. These folks have a steady stream of programmed departures, or they can customize a trip to your needs.

Overseas Adventure Travel (tel. 800/493-6824 in the U.S. and Canada; www.oattravel.com) has good-value natural-history and "soft adventure" itineraries with small groups and naturalist guides. They offer 11-day packages in the Amazon rainforest and a package that combines the Amazon with the Galápagos Islands; prices range from $2,795 to 3,795 (£1,863-£2,530).

In addition to these companies, many environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club (tel. 415/977-5522 in the U.S. and Canada; www.sierraclub.org) and Smithsonian Institute (tel. 877/338-8687 in the U.S. and Canada; www.smithsonianjourneys.org) periodically offer organized trips to Ecuador.

Ecuadorean Tour Operators

Because most U.S.-based operators subcontract their tours to established Ecuadorean companies, travelers can sometimes save money by booking directly with those outfitters in Ecuador. Packages may be 20% to 30% less expensive this way, but still not cheap -- you still pay for the convenience of having all your arrangements handled for you.

Scores of agencies in Quito offer a selection of adventure options, ranging from white-water rafting to mountain climbing to bird-watching at a nature lodge in the Amazon basin. Although it's generally quite easy to arrange a day trip at the last minute, longer tours often leave on set dates or when there are enough interested people. So it pays to check websites or call companies before you leave home.

Safari Ecuador (tel. 02/2552-505; www.safari.com.ec) offers various Galápagos cruises, an array of Amazon adventures, Andean camping safaris, and mountain climbing.

Surtrek (tel. 866/978-7398 in the U.S. and Canada, or 02/2500-660 in Ecuador; www.surtrek.com), one of the country's best tour operators/wholesalers, offers everything from mountain-bike tours to white-water rafting, and can customize combination tours.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.