- Explore Ecuador's capital, Quito, located high in the Andes
- Kayak on the jewel-colored crater lagoon of Quilotoa
- Hike a section of Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador's highest mountain
- Take the dramatic Devil's Nose train ride through the Andean highlands
|Day 1||Arrive in Quito||Quito|
|Day 2||Hike Quilotoa Volcano, Lagoon Kayaking||Quilotoa|
|Day 3||Tour Cotopaxi National Park, Transfer to Baños||Baños|
|Day 4||Hike Mount Chimborazo, Transfer to Riobamba||Riobamba|
|Day 5||Devil's Nose Train Ride, Tour Ingapirca Inca Ruins, Transfer to Cuenca||Cuenca|
|Day 6||Walking Tour of Cuenca||Cuenca|
|Day 7||Hike in El Cajas National Park, Transfer to Guayaquil||Guayaquil|
|Day 8||Depart Guayaquil|
Day 1: Arrive in Quito
Welcome to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your accommodation in the city center. High in the Andes at an altitude of 9,350 feet (2,850 m), Quito is dramatically bordered by the steep slope of the Pichincha volcano.
The city has an impressive setting between mountain peaks, however, its altitude is only half the story. You'll also find a UNESCO-listed historic center, vibrant nightlife, an impressive culinary scene, grand plazas, shamanic healers, and craftspeople forming colorful markets.
Spend the day exploring at your own pace. Visit the Old Town to discover the colonial churches of San Francisco and La Compañia de Jesús, and orient yourself around the Plaza de la Independencia (also known as Plaza Grande), the city's main square. Climb the small hill of El Panecillo to meet the madonna who reigns over the city—the Virgin of El Pacenillo statue. Made of 7,000 pieces of aluminum, she is 147 feet (45 m) tall and is an icon of Quito.
Day 2: Hike Quilotoa Volcano, Lagoon Kayaking
Leave the city today to begin your Andes adventure! After breakfast, a driver will pick you up for the three-hour journey to the remote town of Quilotoa. Drop your bags at the hotel, then set off to discover one of Ecuador's most photogenic sights: the volcanic crater of Quilotoa and its blue-green lagoon.
A hike around the volcano rim offers the best views over the lake, and the white peaks of Cotopaxi and Illiniza beyond. You can complete the loop in about six hours—or, for a shorter jaunt, make the 45-minute descent to the water's edge, looking out for fluffy alpacas as you go.
Here's your chance to kayak on a high-altitude lagoon, at 1,285 feet (3,915 m). The jewel-like color of the lake comes from its high mineral content, and on still, clear days, the surface reflects its dramatic surroundings. Kayaks can be hired by the jetty on the lake, so spend half an hour paddling across this spectacular natural feature. Mules are on-hand to carry weary holidaymakers back up the slope and toward town.
Day 3: Tour Cotopaxi National Park, Transfer to Baños
A driver will pick you up this morning and transfer you to the small town of Baños. But first, there's another adventure to be had along the way. You'll stop to explore the expansive Cotopaxi National Park, dominated by Cotopaxi—one of the world's highest active volcanoes, with a summit of 1,935 feet (5,897 m).
Trails crisscross the turf among the snow-topped peaks, including a path that leads to Lake Limpiopungo. Here, you'll see massive rocks expelled during Cotopaxi's last eruption, in 2016. You'll also pass the pre-Inca ruins of Salitre, piles of rocks from a fortress built strategically on the hilltop. If you're up for a challenge, pack warm layers and make the ascent to the Jose Ribas Refuge, at 15,748 feet (4,800 m).
Then, you'll jump back in the car and arrive at Baños by the late afternoon. As Baños is a gateway to the Amazon basin, it's a hub for adventure-seeking tourists. Let your local expert know if you're up for an adrenaline-fueled activity, such as ziplining, rafting, or mountain biking, or if you simply want to relax at the nearby hydrothermal springs and waterfalls. Come the evening, toast with a well-earned cocktail or two in one of the lively bars.
Day 4: Hike Mount Chimborazo, Transfer to Riobamba
Early this morning, pack up your bags and begin your ride to Riobamba. On the way, you'll stop at a viewpoint to take in the glory of Ecuador's highest mountain, the snowy Chimborazo volcano, which tops 20,710 feet (6,310 m). Wild llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas (the smallest species of camelid) can be spotted roaming the plateau.
Non-mountaineers can still enjoy the majesty of this terrain on a hike around the surrounding Chimborazo Natural Reserve. Make the 50-minute ascent between Chimborazo's first and second refuge, with views (weather cooperating) from 16,400 feet (5,000 m) beside the Condor Cocha Lagoon. At the second refuge, you might even meet folk aiming for the summit. After exploring, continue the drive and check into your hotel in Riobamba for a relaxing evening.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Devil's Nose Train Ride, Tour Ingapirca Inca Ruins, Transfer to Cuenca
Today, you'll ride on one of Central America's most spectacular train rides: the Devil's Nose. Completed in 1905 after a decades-long, perilous slog, the train track is an ambitious feat of engineering. This 45-minute journey passes through the green and rocky landscape of the Central Highlands, before making a 2,625-foot (800 m) descent down an almost sheer mountain face, zig-zagging along the switchback track.
After the train returns to your starting point of Alausi, your driver-guide will take you to the country's largest Inca and Cañaris ruins, known as Ingapirca. They'll explain the stories behind the most significant pre-Colombian buildings, such as the Temple of the Sun, an elliptical stone structure that dominates the landscape. At the end of the day, they'll take you to your accommodation in the nearby city of Cuenca.
Day 6: Walking Tour of Cuenca
Welcome to Cuenca, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Ecuador thanks to its evocative medieval buildings. Meet your guide in Cuenca's Old Town, where Spanish colonial architecture sprawls out from a series of charming squares. You'll head off on a walking tour, learning about the history of the city as you visit key sights, such as the New Cathedral and Calderón Park.
Get a hit of culture at the Museum of Concepts—a display of colonial-era religious art and a permanent exhibition of photographs, inside a 16th-century convent. Pop into a see Panama workshop to see how the ubiquitous hat is made, then top off the tour at the Mirador de Turi viewpoint for a panorama of the city. This spot is equally pretty at night, so feel free to return later for dinner or drinks.
Day 7: Hike in El Cajas National Park, Transfer to Guayaquil
After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel for the 121-mile (196 km) journey to the colorful coastal city of Guayaquil. On the way, you'll stop at El Cajas National Park, a pristine and rugged landscape in Ecuador's highlands. Head off on one last hike, on trails among hundreds of lakes, and through evergreen cloud forests. See if you can spot the awesome creatures that call this landscape home, such as Andean condors, giant hummingbirds, mountain wolves, and raccoon-like coatis.
Your driver will then take you to your final destination of Guayaquil, where you'll have the evening free. You could head to the Parque Histórico, where pastel-hued colonial houses have been reconstructed around a wildlife park of native species, such as sloths and capuchin monkeys. Or, check out Cementerio General, an early 20th-century cemetery where the elaborate tombs are reminders of the prospering cocoa trade of the era. Finally, stroll along the cobblestone streets of Puerto Santa Ana and the busy boardwalk of Malecón 2000.
Day 8: Depart Guayaquil
This morning, a driver will pick you up and drive you to José Joaquín De Olmedo International Airport for your flight home. Safe travels, adios!