Ecuador - The Land of Plenty
Ecuador - The Land of Plenty
The Galapagos Islands are world famous, but mainland Ecuador remains practically unknown to most people. On this well researched tour you will discover a different side of Ecuador; a surprisingly lush land with an abundance of ecological diversity from warm sandy white beaches, damp cloud forests, giant snow clad volcanoes, colourful markets, bright colonial cities and a part of the Amazon basin packed with amazing wildlife encounters. A perfect tour for the traveller keen to discover the highlights, alongside some hidden gems, of one of South America’s least visited countries. And why not finish your trip with an optional extension to the unique Galapagos Islands.
Fitness ●●●●○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●○○ | History ●●●○○ | Wildlife ●●●○○
- Flamboyant and tropical Guayaquil
- Searching for wildlife in Podocarpus National Park
- Enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of Vilcabamba
- Visit Cuenca, the arts and crafts capital of Ecuador
- Off the beaten track market at Guamote
- Walking on Volcano Chimborazo
- See the beautiful volcanic lake of Quilotoa with views of the Avenue of Volcanoes
Accommodation: Comfortable hotels
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: 12
Start Point: Guayaquil
End Point: Quito
Transport: Minivans & scheduled flights
Tour Itinerary Notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.
Day 1 - Guayaquil
Arrive in warm, tropical Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, which is also the financial, commercial and industrial centre of the country. Transfer from the airport to your hotel. Overnight Hostal Macaw or similar.
Until quite recently a scruffy Pacific port with a dubious reputation, Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city is a newly emerging commercial and cultural centre, showing off freshened up plazas and boulevards, a charming waterside malécon (promenade), good hotels and trendy restaurants. Always a flamboyant place in comparison with the upland cities, it has a vivacious atmosphere. The river Guayas is choc-a-bloc with boats jostling for space, some laden down with tropical fruits and sugar cane, others offering transport to distant villages. The historic quarter of Las Peñas nearby is an arty district with a tumble of toy box multi-coloured houses, galleries and bars.
Day 2 - Guayaquil to Zaruma and Loja
We leave Guayaquil early morning taking advantage of the cooler morning hours and drive south through the coastal lowlands before changing direction at Santa Rosa from where we head to the east. Driving up the Andean slopes we soon gain altitude passing the little villages of Saracay and Piñas and finally reaching the gold mining town of Zaruma. Founded in 1549, colonial Zaruma is an attractive bustling town with painted wooden buildings along steep twisting streets. Enjoy a walk before we continue in the afternoon to the little village of Catamayo and finally reach Loja, the capital of the province of the same name. Overnight Grand Loja or similar. (BL)
Day 3 - Loja to Podocarpus National Park and Vilcabamba
This morning we explore Loja on foot. Afterwards we continue the short distance to the nearby Podocarpus National Park. Created in 1982, this is the only national park in the southern Andes of Ecuador. Its 146,280 hectares comprise a wide range of habitats including highlands with lake covered mountains and even rainforests in the lowlands. The biological diversity of the area is remarkable and animals include the Andean spectacled bear, mountain tapirs, puma, two species of deer and the Andean fox. Following different trails (“The spectacled bear trail”, “The cloud forest trail”, and “The trail of the viewpoints”) we trek from around 2,750m up to 3,050m. The circuit will lead us back to the park’s main entrance where our transport awaits. From here we continue south through green mountainous scenery to Vilcabamba which lies in a wide valley some 45 Km from Loja. Overnight Hostería Izhcayluma or similar. (BL)
Day 4 - Vilcabamba
Vilcabamba is famed as the village of longevity with a reputation for a healthy climate and complete relaxation. Today will be spent at leisure. Relax in this beautiful and tranquil place or take a hike in the local area. Alternatively enquire locally about an optional excursion on horseback. Overnight Hostería Izhcayluma or similar. (B)
Day 5 - Vilcabamba to Saraguro and Cuenca
Today we will drive north from Vilcabamba to Cuenca, visiting Saraguro along the way. The Saraguro Indians were forced by the Incas from Bolivia to settle in this small Ecuadorian town, which was a typical political movement of the Incas in order to control conquered cultures and maintain the occupied ones installing themselves in their new home. Cuenca is considered as both the cultural metropolis and the arts and crafts centre of Ecuador. The city and its surrounding countryside are fantastic places to buy ceramics, embroidery, leather goods and woven baskets. Overnight Posada del Angel or similar. (BL)
Day 6 - Cuenca
Today we will visit a Panama hat factory for which Cuenca is famous. The Panama hat was the preferred choice for the workers digging the Panama Canal. The original name of this enigmatic hat is a Montecristi hat. Afterwards we will explore the colonial part of the city and visit its historic churches, many art and craft shops and a colourful flower market. Set amongst beautiful old colonial houses, the area has a charming atmosphere for which UNESCO declared Cuenca as a World Heritage Site in 1999. Overnight Posada del Angel or similar. (BL)
Cuenca, set in the southern sierras, is a quintessential Spanish colonial city. It has the cobbled streets, leafy plazas, baroque churches and whitewashed façades with heavy wooden doors that you’d expect, but the pale-stoned centre is particularly beautiful. This university town is also a centre for arts and crafts, notably the Panama hat, which originated here, but also ceramics, basket ware, jewellery and ponchos. A quiet, somewhat conservative place, it is the tranquil base for a number of language schools; foreign students can be spied indulging in the many cake shops and cafés. Outside town in the lake-dotted moorlands of the southern sierras is the lovely Cajas National Park.
Day 7 - Cuenca to Ingapirca and Riobamba
We continue our northbound journey to the famous ‘Ingapirca’ ruins. Ingapirca means “Wall rocks of the Inca” in the ancient language Quechua and is the most important and well preserved of Ecuador’s Inca ruins. A visit to the small museum will reveal further details of life there at the end of the 15th Century. Travelling further north the road keeps climbing up the Andes with rewarding views of Volcano Chimborazo (6,310m) on the horizon long before you reach Riobamba, the capital of Chimborazo Province at 2,750m altitude. Riobamba is known to be a cold place and is therefore nicknamed Friobamba – ‘frio’ meaning cold in Spanish. Overnight Hotel Zeus or similar. (BL)
Day 8 - Guamote and La Balbanera
Every Thursday there is an interesting animal market in the small Andean village of Guamote. This is an experience not to be missed. It has a very local feel and few tourists find their way to Guamote. On Thursday the streets of Guamote are transformed into a big market where you can buy practically everything you need in your Andean household as the locals enter the city from surrounding hamlets. In a large field outside Guamote we will see the animal market where you can buy everything from the traditional Andean guinea pig to sheep and pigs. The bull market though is separated from the rest of the market, since it´s not unusual to see a desperate bull making its escape charging down the streets with several poncho clad locals trying to catch it. Later we return to Riobamba, visiting en route the small chapel of La Balbanera, the earliest church in Ecuador dating back to 1535. Overnight Mansión Santa Isabella or similar. (BL)
Day 9 - Chimborazo – Quilotoa Loop - Chugchilan
We leave Riobamba and head north up the slopes of Volcano Chimborazo. Not only is the 6,310m extinct Volcano Chimborazo the highest mountain in Ecuador, but its peak is also the farthest point from the centre of the earth due to the earth’s equatorial bulge. Our transport will bring us to an altitude of around 4,800m. According to your acclimatisation to the altitude, your physical fitness and the climate, you will have the option to hike up to an altitude of around 5,000m. Later, travelling through a picturesque landscape; the road winds itself down, passing fields, valleys and the volcano, from the wide high plain at the slopes of Chimborazo, down to Ambato, the capital of Tungurahua Province. Every now and then we may see llamas, which are common and highly useful animals in this region. With a little bit of luck we may also see some alpacas and even the vicuñas which live in a wide reserve near Chimborazo. This afternoon we continue our journey over the Pan-American Highway, north to Latacunga where we leave the highway and enter the western Andes driving along the beautiful Quilotoa loop to remote Chugchilan. Overnight Hostal Mama Hilda or similar. (BLD)
Avenue of the Volcanoes
The aptly named Avenue of the Volcanoes is flanked by eight dizzyingly-high snow-mantled mountains striding south of Quito down the Andean spine. It passes through a valley rich with a landscape of dense forest and tiny fields plastering impossibly steep slopes. Dotted around is a mix of deeply traditional indigenous and colonial settlements with horticultural and artisan markets and cottage industries. There’s also a clutch of old estates gifted to conquistadores where the grandiose buildings are now countryside hotels. This is supreme hiking country, with trails leading to craters harbouring turquoise volcanic lakes, usually with views of the biggest peaks, Chimborazo and Cotopaxi.
Day 10 - Lake Quilotoa to Cotopaxi and Quito
After a short drive from Chugchilan we encounter the brilliant turquoise waters of the volcano lake at Quilotoa with it´s amazing scenery. This is one of the most beautiful volcanic lakes in the Ecuadorian Andes. From the crater and on a clear day you can see the different snow topped volcanoes on the so-called Avenue of Volcanoes including Illinizas, Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. Afterwards continue the scenic Quilotoa circuit, crossing the Pan America Highway entering the Cotopaxi National Park where we drive close to the slopes of the perfectly cone shaped Cotopaxi Volcano, a true Ecuadorian icon. We will eventually make a stop at the visitor centre Limpiopungo. During our visit in this extraordinary national park we get to appreciate the typical vegetation of the Andean highlands and watch out for the local birds, such as the Andean Humming Bird, the Cara Cara and the majestic Andean Condor. Later in the afternoon we continue to Quito, Ecuador’s beautiful colonial capital. Overnight La Cartuja or similar. (BL)
Quito has long been a city of two halves. Occupying a highland valley flanked by volcanoes, the setting of its historic centre and adjoining modern quarters is breathtaking. The formerly dark and run-down colonial heart has been magnificently restored. Cobbled lanes and whitewashed façades, scrubbed up churches and renovated theatres now gleam and echo with the sounds of the everyday life of its traditional inhabitants. Beyond are the skyscrapers and broad avenues of the contemporary commercial city, with flashy shops, offices and restaurants, where busy young workers flock to the many bars and nightclubs.
Day 11 - Quito and Mitad del Mundo
This morning we explore Quito. We visit the major colonial churches and monasteries including La Catedral, El Sagrario, La Compañia and San Francisco. Later we visit Independence Plaza flanked by the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Building and the Archbishop’s Palace. Continue to the Church of San Francisco, one of the greatest religious buildings in South America. Its impressive façade and atrium lead to an opulent gold interior, a Baroque influence with the winged Virgin of Quito at its main altar. We visit the historic colonial quarter of Quito, resplendent with its churches, gilded altars and religious sculptures and paintings dating from the 17th 18th and 19th centuries. The tour continues through narrow streets, ancient colonial houses with Moorish-style arches and mysterious patios to El Panecillo, a vantage point for a stunning view of the city. In the afternoon we drive from Quito north to Mitad del Mundo (literally middle of the world) where the Equatorial Line Monument is located. The monument reminds the French-Spanish expedition from 1763-1744, which, under the leadership of Charles de la Condamine, determined the position of the equator. Here you can stand with one foot on the Northern and the on the Southern hemisphere. We visit the adjacent park with leisure facilities, which feature a typical Spanish style colonial village, before stopping at the Museo de Sol where we can learn about the culture and traditions of the Incas. Overnight Hotel La Cartuja or similar. (BL)
Day 12 - Depart Quito
Free time at leisure until your transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)
Arrival and departure transfers
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Any airport taxes