This itinerary has been designed for those who want to combine mainland Ecuador’s excellent trekking with its cultural highlights. You will be able, for example, wander through the streets of historic Quito (the best preserved colonial city in the Americas) or visit the famous indigenous market in Otavalo. As much of the itinerary takes the traveler to altitudes above 2,500 meters, and there is quite a bit of traveling and walking involved, the trip could be considered by some to be physically tiring – but you’ll also find it fascinating and rewarding.
Day 1 Arrive in Quito
Day 2 Quito City Tour & Middle of the World Tour
Day 3 Otavalo Indigenous Market
Day 4 Mojanda Lakes – Papallacta Hot Springs
Day 5 Papallacta – Cotopaxi National Park
Day 6 Quilotoa Crater Lake
Day 7 Spectacular “Nariz del Diablo” Andean Rail Journey – Cuenca
Day 8 Cuenca City Tour
Day 9 Cuenca – Cajas National Park – Guayaquil
Day 10 Guayaquil – Transfer to the airport
Day 1: Arrive in Quito
When you arrive in Ecuador’s capital of Quito — which lies at 2,800 meters above sea level at the foot of the Pichincha Volcano — you will be met at the airport and taken to your hotel.
Day 2: Quito City Tour & Middle of the World Tour
On this one-day tour, we will visit the historic district of the Ecuadorian capital, enjoying this urban jewel and its artistic and architectural treasures. One of the largest and best preserved colonial centers in South America, Quito’s “Old Town” area was declared the first “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO, in 1978. We will continue on to the always vibrant Plaza Grande (“Independence Square”), which is surrounded by the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Building and the Archbishop’s Palace. We will then visit the church of the “Compañia de Jesus” to find its impressive interior inlaid in gold. Your tour of historic Quito will end with a birds-eye view of the city from the panoramic “Virgin of Quito” monument atop El Panecillo Hill, which overlooks the capital. This will give you a chance to appreciate Quito from above, and – if the weather permits – to catch a view of the spectacular “Volcano Avenue,” two parallel mountain ranges containing eight of the country’s ten highest peaks.
We will also visit the Intiñan Solar Museum, where you will have the opportunity to perform various unusual experiments like balancing an egg on a nail, losing weight in a second, or straddling the equatorial line that separates the two hemispheres.
After the visit, we will drive you back to your hotel.
Day 3: Otavalo Indigenous Market
In the morning, we begin this trip from Quito, heading north along the Pan-American Highway and making a brief stop in the town of Miralago for a superb view of Lake San Pablo. During this stop, you will also have a chance to taste delicious bizcochos, a type of cookie or bread baked in a clay oven and covered with local cheese or caramel sauce.
From there we will head to the town of Otavalo, home to Ecuador’s largest indigenous market and one of the best known in all of Latin America. The market sets up every day, allowing you to spend a few hours wandering through this bustling handicrafts center, in addition to its food stalls.
Later, it will be up to you if you’d like to go for a short hike around beautiful Lake Cuicocha or do a bit more Otavalo shopping and people watching.
We can also visit a family of weavers who not only have amazing wares but will actually demonstrate how they weave on their traditional back-strap looms and show you their techniques for making striking colors from local plants. Around the corner lives a family of musicians, where you’ll get a feel for Andean music and watch as perfectly tuned Andean flutes are crafted in minutes.
Day 4: Mojanda Lakes – Papallacta Hot Springs
After breakfast, we will leave the hotel and travel to the Mojanda Lakes, located at an altitude of around 3,500 meters. Three crystal-clear lakes (Mojanda Grande, Negra, and Chiquita) are situated in the crater of the extinct Mojanda Volcano, giving us an opportunity for a short scenic hike around the lake. From there, we will drive to the village of Pifo via the town of Cayambe and later on to Papallacta. The latter, situated at 3,700 meters in the midst of an evergreen paramo landscape (Andean high grasslands), is renowned for its hot springs. At the Termas de Papallacta resort and spa, you can relax and enjoy its pools, naturally heated by the volcanic hot springs. Also, if the weather is clear, you will be able to see the giant Antisana Volcano (reaching a height of 5,758 meters) looming above.
Day 5: Papallacta – Cotopaxi National Park
In the morning, after breakfast, we will leave the hotel and head south along the famous “Avenue of the Volcanes” until reaching Cotopaxi National Park. We will drive through the park from the north entrance until coming to Lake Limpiopungo, where you should have a spectacular view of the gigantic volcanic cone of the Cotopaxi Volcano, if the weather is clear. You will have time for a short walk around the lake, which is located at an elevation of 3,800 meters.Lunch will be served at the Tambopaxi acclimatization center, which has a restaurant with a fantastic view of the slopes of Cotopaxi. In the afternoon we will continue to the local hacienda for two hours of horseback riding, rest and a good night’s sleep.
Day 6: Quilotoa Crater Lake
Today we will take a two-hour car journey through the western Andes mountain range, one of the most impressive areas of Ecuador. Heading south, the tour will tak us to Zumbahua, a small colorful town consisting of just 40 families. Ten kilometers farther lies the blue and green Quilotoa Crater Lake, one of the most beautiful volcano lakes in the Ecuadorian Andes. From the crater you can see various snow-topped volcanoes in the distance. After a 1-1/2 to 2 hour hike down to the bank of the lake, you will enjoy a traditional lunch. Later we will continue driving southwards, reaching the Riobamba area in the afternoon, where you will check in at your hotel for the night.
Day 7: Spectacular “Nariz del Diablo” Andean Rail Journey – Cuenca
After breakfast, you will be taken to the Riobamba train station to begin a breathtaking rail journey through the mountains to Chanchán. The railway line was completed in 1902 and is the steepest railroad in the world …a true technical masterpiece! The train travels through beautiful countryside, with the highlight being the stretch known as the “Nariz del Diablo” (the Devil’s Nose). You will disembark at the station in Chanchán, and from there we will travel to the charming city of Cuenca. On the way, we will stop at the famous archaeological site of “Ingapirca” (Kichwa for “stonewalls of the Inca”), the most important and best preserved Inca ruins in Ecuador. Here, you can wander around this fascinating site and visit the small museum. Afterwards, we will drive for another two hours until reaching Cuenca and your hotel.
Day 8: Cuenca City Tour
After breakfast, we will begin a tour that explores the colonial center of Cuenca. The third largest city in Ecuador (after Guayaquil and Quito), Cuenca is considered by many as the artistic and cultural center of the country. This visit to Cuenca’s historic district will give you a chance to see its remarkable colonial and republican architecture, as well as its sacred art museums and markets, particularly the flower market. Cuenca is a good place to purchase another famous Ecuadorian souvenir: the “Panama” hat (which actually originated here in Ecuador). These hats are sold at fair prices in several government-approved franchise shops in town. Cuenca is also a good place to buy ceramics, embroidery, leather goods and baskets.
In the afternoon, we will visit Chordeleg (from chorro de oro, meaning “waterfall of gold”), where you’ll learn about the production of fine filigree jewelry as well as handmade ceramic pottery.
While in Gualaceo, you’ll have the opportunity to wander through local fruit and vegetable markets brimming with fresh produce, as well as learn about (and taste!) delicious fruit grown only in Ecuador.
Another highlight of this trip is a visit to Ecuagenera, the most important orchid growing laboratory in Ecuador. Take the time to marvel at hundreds of exotic species — from the exquisitely tiny to the outrageously colorful — as you tour the facility and learn about the propagation and preservation of these enthralling plants.
Day 9: Cuenca – Cajas National Park – Guayaquil
This morning we will drive from Cuenca to Guayaquil, en route stopping to visit Cajas National Park. Here, you will find a network of around 200 lakes left over from the Ice Age. Today these form part of an extensive recreation area at a height of 3,150 to 4,450 meters above sea level. Connecting these lakes is a series of small rivers that eventually flow into either the Pacific or the Atlantic oceans.
Day 10: Guayaquil – Transfer to the airport
After a late breakfast, you will be given a city tour of Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, and the nation’s financial and economic center. The tour includes a visit to the Cathedral, the famous Iguana Park (where land iguanas live in the trees), the city’s fairly recently developed Malecon 2000 riverside boardwalk, the Municipal Palace, and the oldest section of the city – known as Las Peñas. In the late afternoon we will return to your Guayaquil hotel.
Services included in the prices:
- Accommodations in selected room
- Transfers in private transportation (to/from airport // to/from hotel/train)
- Services of a professional guide
- Excursions, as indicated the itinerary
- Meals, as indicated in the itinerary
- Admissions to indicated museums and national parks
- Train tickets, in standard class
- International flights
- Travel/medical insurance
- Personal expenses
- Items not indicated in the itinerary
- Alcoholic and bottled beverages
Prices & Dates
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