This itinerary showcases Ecuador's dazzling array of natural wonders and indigenous cultures. Experience Quito and Cuenca; charming cities of cobbled streets, picturesque plazas flanked with colonial architecture and ornate churches. Explore colourful indigenous markets and witness brightly dressed locals trading their wares, meet local artists and craftsmen and gain an insight into the Ecuadorian way of life and its rich cultural heritage.
Don't forget, even though Ecuador is South America's smallest country it certainly packs in a punch with its tremendous natural wonders. From snow-capped volcanoes, shimmering crater lakes, soaring Andean peaks and lush patchwork of ploughed fields; experience it all as you travel down through the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Not to mention riding the “Devil's Nose” train, one of the world's most famous rail journeys and an incredible hair-raising feat of engineering.
Who needs the Galapagos? (Please enquire if you do want to add them on!)
Day 1 Depart the UK today on your overnight flight to the Ecuadorian capital of Quito via Bogota.
Day 2 Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to your hotel in the heart of the old town. This UNESCO World Heritage area is the perfect location to stay with its maze of steep cobbled streets, picturesque plazas flanked with colonial architecture and ornate churches.
Day 3 Today on a private city tour, explore the highlights of Colonial Quito. This is a city of narrow cobblestone streets lined with whitewashed walls , the city's many steeples and cupolas rise above the numerous ornate historic churches. Quito has one of the best preserved colonial centres in all South America, and it was declared a World Cultural Heritage site in 1978. For fantastic views of the city and the encircling volcanoes and mountains, visit the El Panecillo lookout point, instantly recognisable by the Virgin of Quito statue at its summit.
Day 4 Today drive to Otavalo and spend the next 2 nights at a traditional Hacienda. Otavalo and the surrounding region is made up of soaring mountain landscapes, high Andean peaks, shimmering lakes and traditional villages. Gain insight into the local way of life, rich cultural heritage and local traditions dating back centuries.
Day 5 Visit the Indian market in Otavalo. Famous for its craft work, it is a must for all visitors to the northern Andes of Ecuador. Here, under the watchful gaze of the majestic Mount Imbabura, visitors will find a sense of quiet and harmony primarily associated with this Quichua speaking region. The market is held every day on one of the town squares at the foot of the majestic Mt. Imbabura. Visit local handcraft workshops in Agato and Peguche. After lunch, visit the Cotacachi-Cayapas ecological reserve and enjoy a wonderful view of Cuicocha lagoon, a deep-blue crater lake on the lower southern flanks of Mount Cotacachi. Stop at the colonial town of Cotacachi, famous for its leatherwork.
Day 6 Depart Otavalo to Cotopaxi National Park today. Weather permitting you will be able to see the snowcapped summits of the Cotopaxi and Antisana volcanoes. Learn about the history of this spectacular volcano’s major eruptions, as well as the local flora and fauna. Visit Lake Limpiopungo and explore the surrounding area on foot. For the more active; a 2-hour walk is possible to Mt. Cotopaxi’s J. Ribas refuge (4,800 m) where you will be able to enjoy spectacular views of the volcano and the surrounding Andean peaks. Spend a night at a lovely lodge within the area.
Day 7 Depart Cotopaxi today to Riobamba. Visit the Indian market towns of either Saquisili, Pujili, Zumbahua or Latacunga (market day dependent). These markets are as authentic and non-touristic as can be found today in Ecuador today. Visit the Quilotoa volcano crater to appreciate the crater’s serenely mysterious green lake. There is an option of a short walk of about 1.7 km along the crater's rim. Visit the art galleries in the community of Tigua, to admire paintings representative of the folklore of this special part of the Andes. Meet a local artist and learn about his work and life in the high Andes.
Day 8 Today is the day for one of the world’s most exhilarating train journeys down to the ‘Devil's Nose’, called by some the "most difficult train route in the world". The railroad was originally built to connect the Andes with the coast, and the route climbs up steep slopes, rolls down into river valleys and negotiates a truly massive wall of rock called the ‘Nariz del Diablo’, or Devil's Nose. In the afternoon, drive south to Ingapirca, Ecuador’s most famous Inca ruin; an observatory and fortress. Spend the next 2 nights in the beautiful city of Cuenca.
Day 9 One of the first things to notice when entering Cuenca is the magnificent skyline marked by brilliant church domes. Cuenca’s winding rivers, graceful ironwork balconies and beautiful gardens, are part of the pleasant atmosphere of this historic city, declared a Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999. Walking along Cuenca’s cobblestone streets and watching the people go by in the town square dominated by the great cathedral is the best way to explore. This city is considered by many to be the most beautiful city in the country due its architecture, surroundings and small-town ambience. Cuenca is traversed by four rivers and surrounded by green valleys and its people create some of the finest crafts in the country.
Day 10 Depart to the Pacific port city of Guayaquil and en route stop at Cajas National Park. The National Park contains everything from cloud forest to rocky lunar landscapes. However, it is the lakes (more than 200 of them) scattered among jagged peaks that best characterise the reserve. In Cajas there is a good chance of seeing the wild llamas that were reintroduced to the park in the late 1990s. The park’s other animal inhabitants, such as the spectacled bear, puma, and tigrillo, are more elusive. The long list of birds that can be seen here includes hummingbirds, toucans and magnificent Andean condors. Spend the night in Guayaquil.
Day 11 This morning is at leisure before an evening overnight flight back to the UK. If you would like to continue on to the Galapagos Islands, please enquire for details.
This trip has no fixed departures but restrictions may apply - check operator website
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