Best of Ecuador
This 22-day program covers the absolute highlights of the Ecuadorian Andes, the Amazon and the coast! In three weeks’ time you will discover stunning colonial city centers, breathtaking Andean landscapes, meet indigenous communities as well as visit both the Amazon and the coast. We included the must-do activities for you that you definitely shouldn’t miss out on and are leaving it up to you to choose the activities that you feel like doing on your free days. The convenience of using private transportation throughout the whole trip makes that you can really focus on enjoying your holiday without having to worry on how to get to the next destination. Plus, with the help of our personally put together welcome package you will always know where to go for lunch and dinner and what to do and see at every destination. Let the Best of Ecuador amaze you!
Day 1: Quito airport – Otavalo
Upon your arrival at the airport in Quito, you will be welcomed by your Spanish speaking driver. You will start your journey by discovering the landscapes of the Imbabura region during a 2-hour drive. You will spend the night in the indigenous city of Otavalo where you will encounter a lot of townspeople dressed in their traditional indigenous clothing, in which especially the Otavalo women stand out with their dresses and golden accessories. In your welcome package you will find all detailed information about your trip, tours and background information on the places that you will visit. Because of the elevation (2500 m /8,202 ft) we recommend to take it slow today.
Day 2: Otavalo (B)
After your breakfast you will have the whole day to get to know Otavalo and its surroundings on your own account. Otavalo’s market is known to be the biggest Andean artisan market of the continent. Every day, the main square Plaza de Ponchos is filled with stands selling all kinds of handicrafts, wool clothing, jewelry, souvenirs and food. Wednesdays and Saturdays are especially recommended as more vendors are present in the town and all streets around the plaza become part of the market too. You can also decide to visit the nearby village Peguche and its waterfall, the town Cotacachi, which is famous for its leather products or the Cuicocha crater lake. You will spend a second night in Otavalo.
Day 3: Otavalo – Mindo (B)
Today, after lunch you will you will leave Otavalo and head towards Mindo, a quiet village surrounded by a beautiful cloud forest. You will notice that the climate is very different here than from the other places in the Andes. This is because in this area two of the most biologically diverse ecoregions in the world meet: The Chocoan lowlands and the tropical Andes. It is the perfect place for bird watching (especially hummingbirds), adventure activities and hikes. You will spend the night in Mindo.
Day 4: Mindo (B)
Today you will have a free day in Mindo. Although Mindo is a rather small village, it offers a great range of activities. Spend your morning surrounded by colourful species of butterflies at the mariposario where you can observe the four stages of a butterfly’s life. Or maybe you want to learn more about the process from cocoa bean to chocolate bar, then a chocolate tour is perfect for you. For those who are looking for a bit more adventure, you can take the tarabita (cable car) and hike to the nearby waterfalls, go canopying over treetops or tube down the river. You will spend a second night in Mindo.
Day 5: Mindo – Mitad del Mundo – Quito (B)
This morning you will still have some time to enjoy Mindo before you will leave for Quito. On the way, you will make a stop at the Middle of the World (Mitad del Mundo), located just at the north tip of Quito. Here you can visit either the equator monument (and its ethnographic museum) or the Inti Ñan museum. Both offer interesting experiments with the purpose to explain the scientific differences between the two hemispheres. Afterwards, you will be brought to Quito where you will spend the night.
Day 6: Quito (B)
Today you will have free time to explore Quito on your own. Located in the Andean mountains, Quito is the world´s highest capital city with an altitude of 2850 m (9,350 ft). Its well-preserved historical center was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Besides wandering around the old town you can also visit one of the many city parks, or take the cable car up to the Pichincha volcano for a unique view over the city. You will spend a second night in Quito.
Day 7: Quito – Lago Agrio – Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve (B, L, D)
This morning after breakfast you will be brought to the airport to start your adventure in the Ecuadorian Amazon. After only a 1-hour flight you will arrive in Lago Agrio where your naturalist guide will be waiting for you to transport you and the rest of the group to the Cuyabeno bridge, the entrance of the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. From here you will embark the motorized canoe for the two-hour canoe ride over the Cuyabeno river to the lodge. During the canoe ride you will get a first glimpse of the amazing plants and wildlife found in the jungle. Along the beginning of the river you can observe some species of monkeys and birds from up close because this part of the river is narrow. Once arrived at the lodge, the staff will show you around the lodge. After dinner your naturalist bilingual guide will give you a briefing on the upcoming activities for the next few days and about the area.
Day 8: Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve (B, L, D)
The days start early in the Amazon because the brisk mourning hours are the best time to see the rainforest’s thriving activity. Today you will trek into the rainforest together with your naturalist guide who shares his wealth of knowledge about the flora and fauna in this area. You also have the opportunity to learn about how life in the tropical rainforest co-exists in a fragile balance. During the hike you may encounter some species of amphibians, butterflies, centipedes and millipedes, snakes, birds, monkeys or any footprints of mammals in the trail. In the afternoon you will head out in the canoe again to find different species of monkeys and with some luck the freshwater pink dolphins. In the evening you will go on an exciting night walk in search of species of insects, spiders, tarantulas, snakes or colourful frogs.
Day 9: Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve (B, L, D)
This morning you will head out in the canoe again, navigating the river in search of different species of monkeys and birds. After breakfast you will follow the taricaya (turtle trail) to visit the Seoqueya Community, where some local families of the Siona indigenous group live. Here you will learn more about their lifestyle, local traditions and cultures from the past. Late in the afternoon you will navigate to Laguna Grande where you can admire the flooded forest. Take a refreshing dive in the lake and observe the spectacular sunset. Before returning to the lodge we venture downstream to search for caimans (alligator family) and fishing bats.
Day 10: Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve – Lago Agrio – Quito (B, L)
Today is already your last day in the jungle. After breakfast and one last morning excursion to enjoy the sunrise over the jungle and to spot different species of birds it is time to prepare your luggage for the journey back to Quito. You will embark the canoe to navigate upstream to the Cuyabeno bridge where you have lunch before you will be dropped off at the airport to take your flight back to Quito. Your driver will be waiting for you upon arrival to transfer you to your hotel in Quito.
Day 11: Quito – Cotopaxi National Park – Lasso (B)
Today you will leave Quito early in the morning and head South to visit the iconic Cotopaxi volcano, an absolute must see on your journey through Ecuador. With 5897 meters (19,347 ft) is Cotopaxi the highest active volcano in Ecuador and the second tallest mountain in the country. Once arrived at the Cotopaxi National Park, you will have a short but intensive guided hike of about an hour that will take you to the refuge hut at 4800 m (15,958 ft). You will spend the night in the surroundings of the volcano, before continuing your journey further South the following day.
Day 12: Lasso – Quilotoa – Baños (B)
After breakfast you will depart for a 2-hour drive to the breathtaking Quilotoa lake. This emerald color lagoon is located inside a volcano crater at 3800 m (12,467 ft). It’s the minerals in the water that make the lagoon a spectacle of different tones: green, turquoise and blue. You can walk down to the shore of the lake where you can go kayaking or just enjoy the landscape. The ascent you can do walking or you can rent mules. After lunch in Quilotoa your journey continues to the town of Baños de Agua Santa where you will spend the night.
Day 13: Baños (B)
During your free time in Baños you have a lot of activities to choose from. Located in a valley, this small town in the Andes is the perfect spot for both adrenaline junkies and those who are seeking relaxation. White water rafting, canopying and conyoning are only a couple of the adventures activities you could undertake here. All of them are easily booked on the spot in one of the many little travel agencies in town. If you are looking to take it a bit slower you can rent a mountain bike to ride down the waterfall route towards the impressive Pailon del Diablo waterfall in Rio Verde. Relive your childhood by going on the so-called ‘swing to the end of the world’ or have a relaxing day at the city’s volcanic hot springs, where the town’s name derives from. You will spend a second night in Baños.
Day 14: Baños – Chimborazo – Guamote (B)
After breakfast you will leave for Guamote, a small indigenous town high up in the mountains where time seems to have stood still. The guamoteños live a simple life and mainly maintain themselves with the income of agriculture and their cattle. If the weather conditions are good, you might be able to spot the snow covered peak of Ecuador’s highest volcano: The Chimborazo (6263 m / 20,547 ft). Your driver knows the perfect spot to make a short stop to admire the full view of this impressive volcano and this is also the prefect moment to take some pictures. Then your journey continues to Guamote, where you will spend the night in a guesthouse that is closely involved with local communities through their educational and social projects.
Day 15: Guamote (B)
Today you will take part in a guided tour through Guamote and its surrounding communities. You will visit the kindergarten and educational center of the guesthouse, where they teach sewing, computer and English classes. Afterwards you will take off for a beautiful ride by car through the mountains while learning more about the history of this region, the indigenous culture and traditions. You will make a stop at a primary school where children – on school days – will tell you about the daily school life. Next you will go to the house of a traditional weaver who will show you how they make their typical ponchos from sheep and alpaca wool. At last you will visit an Indigenous family and see their authentic housing (choza) to get an idea about how people live in the mountains. On Thursdays, the tour is combined with a visit to Guamote’s animal market, where people from all surrounding towns come to buy and sell their livestock. With very few tourists around you will get a very authentic glimpse of this weekly spectacle. After the community tour, there will be time left to walk around the general market where mainly food and clothes are being sold (Thursdays only). You will spend another night in Guamote.
Day 16: Guamote – Ingapirca – Cuenca (B)
Today the journey continues towards the southern Ecuadorian Andes. Along the way you will make a stop at the Ingapirca archeological site, which contains the most and best-preserved Inca ruins in Ecuador. Back in the days Ingapirca was an important religious, political, scientific, military, and administrative center. You will learn about the Cañari and Inca cultures that lived peacefully together here, which was a very uncommon situation. After this guided visit, you will continue your trip until Cuenca where you will spend the night.
Day 17: Cuenca (B)
Today you will have free time to explore Cuenca on your own. Cuenca is the third largest city of the country and according many by far the most beautiful. Enjoy the day wandering around the churches, museums and markets in the charismatic city center that, just like Quito, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its well preserved colonial buildings that are in abundance. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Panama hat factory to observe the complete manufacturing process of the iconic Panama hat that has its origins in Ecuador. You will spend a second night in Cuenca.
Day 18: Cuenca – El Cajas National Park – Guayaquil (B)
After breakfast you will leave for the El Cajas National Park, where you will have a moderate guided hike through the paramo of approximately 2 hours. El Cajas is formed by wetland from glacial origins with more than 200 lakes and lagoons that make for beautiful views. The area is home to a large variety of animals, some of which are endemic or highly endangered such as the South American condor. After the hike your drive continues to Guayaquil, while you can witness a great change of scenery. You will pass from the Andean mountain landscapes to the banana fields, cocoa fields and shrimp ponds of the coastal region. You will spend the night in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city.
Day 19: Guayaquil – Puerto Lopez (B)
Today you will have a free morning in Guayaquil to visit the city’s main attractions. Walk around the colonial neighborhood Las Peñas or visit the Iguana Park to take photos of very easily approachable iguanas that reside here. Walk over the modern Malecon 2000 boulevard along the Guayas river for a pleasant breeze in this humid and hot coastal city. After lunch you will depart to the little fisher’s town of Puerto Lopez where you arrive late in the afternoon. You will spend the night here.
Day 20: Isla de la Plata (B, L)
Today you will go on an excursion to Isla de la Plata. This nearby island is also known as Poor Men’s Galapagos, due to its comparable ecosystem and fauna. Here the blue footed boobies, masked boobies and frigate birds can be spotted. During whale season, which starts in June and ends in September, you can spot humpback whales on your way to island. These big mammals are found in Ecuadorian waters during their migration. After the hike on the island there will be some time to snorkel and explore the underwater world, to observe tropical fish and hopefully encounter some sea turtles. You will spend a second night in Puerto Lopez.
Day 21: Puerto Lopez (B)
Today you will have a free day to enjoy the beach. You can also decide to pay a visit to the pristine beaches of Los Frailes inside the Machalilla National Park near Puerto Lopez. To get here you can either rent a bike or travel by public bus and tuc tuc. Taking surf lessons or simply rent a surf board in town is also possible. You will spend a third and last night in Puerto Lopez.
Day 22: Puerto Lopez – Guayaquil airport (B)
Today your holiday will come to an end. Depending on the departure time of your flight you might still have a free morning to spend in Puerto Lopez before you will be transferred to the airport in Guayaquil for your international flight back home.
Price & Inclusions
Budget & Standard accommodation
USD $2348 p.p. (based on accommodation in double room)
Standard & Comfort accommodation
USD $2594 p.p. (based on accommodation in double room)