This morning visit downtown Quito and its architectural treasures. Quito’s UNESCO-listed colonial quarter is one of the largest and best-preserved in South America. Your stroll takes you through Independence Plaza, past the Cathedral and the Presidential Palace, and on to the temple of La Compañia de Jesús with its dazzling gilded interior and the impressive façade of the Monastery of San Francisco. Touring continues with the Equatorial Monument that marks the exact point of the Middle of the World. With a latitude of 0°, you can stand with a foot in each hemisphere and collect a certificate for having crossed the Equator. Next visit the Ethnographic Museum to learn about the different Native American groups living in Ecuador. Lunch is served at a local restaurant.
Overnight: Quito | Breakfast, Lunch
Quito – Otavalo – Quito. Rich in ancestral cultural heritage and set amongst stunning Andean scenery of mountains, waterfalls and lakes, the market town of Otavalo is one of Ecuador’s most popular destinations and today you will enjoy a scheduled tour and lunch. Arriving in time to fully appreciate the activity of Otavalo market, peruse the stalls of ponchos, scarves, blankets, handbags and much more. Practise your bartering skills and pick up a bargain. Unlike other Ecuadorian markets and their raucous noise, Otavaleños barter in silence. Proceed to the Indian village of Peguche where artisans weave in their own homes. Lunch at a nearby hotel.
Overnight: Quito | Breakfast, Lunch
Quito – Cotopaxi. Travelling south on the Pan-American Highway arrive at the Cotopaxi National Park, an ecological sanctuary centred around the soaring Cotopaxi Volcano. An introductory briefing at the Interpretation Centre will introduce you to the flora and fauna of the Andean paramo or moorlands. Put this knowledge into practice with a walk around the Limpiopungo Lagoon where you can observe a variety of birds and occasionally wild horses. On clear days the Cotopaxi Volcano provides a stunning backdrop. Enjoy lunch high up in the Cotopaxi before heading down to the cosy Hacienda La Cienega – home for the next two nights.
On day 5 enjoy a scenic journey to the rim of the Quilotoa crater lake. Formed by the collapse of the Quilotoa Volcano after several catastrophic eruptions some 800 years ago, the crater lake is a vivid turquoise-green colour due to the dissolved minerals in the water. Spend time walking around the rim with a lunch box provided for a picturesque picnic
Overnight: Cotopaxi National Park | Breakfast x 2, Lunch x 2, Dinner x 2
Today visit one of the colourful Indian markets in the area where men and women in native dress sell their wares from neatly piled fresh produce to brightly woven sweaters. Indian markets have changed very little in 500 years and each plaza has its own product to sell. Here you’ll find everything from livestock to esteras (straw mats), sugar cane cakes to clay-pot pans. Later in the afternoon head down into the valley to your cosy hacienda - home for the night.
Overnight: Cotopaxi | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Cotopaxi – Baños – Riobamba. This morning join a scheduled tour for a spectacular journey to the handsome town of Riobamba . The Devil’s Cauldron is the first stop, an impressive cascade surrounded by subtropical vegetation and colourful orchids. The adventurous can descend down to the cascade bottom for a closer look whilst others can appreciate the overwhelming force and sound of the rushing waters from a lookout point. Lunch is taken in a local hacienda or hotel. Continue to the town of Baños, famed for its hot springs and thermal waters. The drive finishes alongside Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador, where photo opportunities abound.
Overnight: Riobamba | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Riobamba – Alausí – Cuenca. Continuing with the group, depart early this morning for a dramatically scenic journey along ravines and river gorges, and Indian villages and cultivated fields, arriving to the small town of Alausí. Here you will board a train following the Devil’s Nose route, an 800-metre descent along zig-zagging railway line culminating at the Condor Puñuna museum run by the local Nizag community. The round trip brings you back to Alausí where you continue by coach to the Inca Fortress of Ingapirca. Enjoy lunch in the area before proceeding to Cuenca, the colonial jewel of the south.
Overnight: Cuenca | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Set above the grassy banks of the Río Tomebamba, Cuenca is an attractive mix of cobblestone streets, whitewashed buildings and handsome plazas. Today enjoy a tour of Plaza of San Sebastian, a colourful artisans market where you can pick up local handicrafts. The Museum of Modern Art features an impressive collection of contemporary fine art whilst nearby the main square is home to the imposing blue-domed Cathedral. Admire the city’s overhanging houses before stopping for lunch. In the afternoon visit a ceramics handicraft shop and the production of Panama hats at a local factory. Say goodbye to your tour group with a transfer to your hotel in Cuenca. The following day is a free day for you to explore Cuenca further independently.
Overnight: Cuenca | Breakfast x 2
Today you will discover the artistry of local communities in the picturesque Gualaceo Valley. Starting at San Bartolome where guitars are made by hand and artistically finished, continue to the small town of Chordeleg and its gold and silver jewellery stalls. Chordeleg is also known for its green and yellow pottery. Lunch is taken at a very pleasant country inn, surrounded by flowering gardens close to the Santa Barbara River. Continue to the village of Gualaceo, famous for its Sunday market, and on to the weaving village of Bulcay. The day concludes with a visit to an orchid garden before returning to Cuenca.
Overnight: Cuenca | Breakfast, Lunch
Cuenca – Guayaquil. Departing Cuenca this morning journey through the El Cajas National Park, an expanse of glacial lakes, Andean cloud forests and volcanic peaks. Stop for a stroll at Llaviucu Lake and to admire the views at La Toreadora Lake. Later continue to the coastal city of Guayaquil. The rest of the day is free for you to explore the numerous barrios, each with their own distinct flavour.
Overnight: Guayaquil | Breakfast, Lunch
Today marks the end of your adventure through the heart of Ecuador. Consider extending your stay with a Galapagos cruise. Scheduled departure airport transfer included.