The landscapes of Ecuador's mainland are as varied as the people who live there, and you'll get to experience both nature and culture on this 14-day itinerary. Meet the locals who call these regions home and learn about their history, way of life and relationship to Ecuador's landscapes. From the Otavaleños and Afro-Ecuadorians in the north and the Quichua and Shuar in the rainforest to the Kichwa in the central Andes, you'll dive deep into everyday life and explore Ecuador's nature. 

Highlights

  • Learn about local cultures, like the Shuar and Quichua
  • Hike along volcanic lagoon
  • Spot rare and unique wildlife in the Amazon rainforest
  • Bargain for crafts at traditional Andean markets
  • Explore Quito's UNESCO World Heritage Old Town

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival to Quito Quito
Day 2 Quito Historic Center, Middle of the World Tour, & Transfer to Otavalo Quito
Day 3 Cuicocha Lagoon Hike & Otavalo Market Otavalo
Day 4 Mountain Train to Salinas & Afro-Ecuadorian History Otavalo
Day 5 Otavalo Market & Drive to Hakuna Matata Rainforest Lodge Archidona
Day 6 Rainforest Hike & Pacari Chocolate Tour Archidona
Day 7 Rainforest Adventure: Parrots, Quichua Food, & Almuerzo Archidona
Day 8 Animal Rescue Center & Rainforest Drive Macas
Day 9 Shuar Waterfall Hike & Atillo Lagoon Guamote
Day 10 Guamote Market, Andean Kichwa Community, & Train Ride Riobamba
Day 11 Chimborazo Volcano Hike Latacunga
Day 12 Zumbahua Market & Quilotoa Lagoon Hike Zumbahua
Day 13 Hacienda La Cienega & Cotopaxi National Park Hike Quito
Day 14 Depart from Quito  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival to Quito

View of Quito and the Cotopaxi Volcano
View of Quito and the Cotopaxi Volcano

Welcome to Quito, the capital of Ecuador! Arrive at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), where your driver will meet you to transfer to your accommodation in the city center, a one-hour trip. Along the way, you'll get a short introduction into Quito´s history and a quick briefing on the next day's activities.

The entire city of Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, standing at an altitude of 9,350ft (2,850m). It welcomes visitors with its picturesque plazas situated between mountain peaks. The city has an abundance of market stands, shamanistic healers, and fourth-generation hat makers, as well as a vibrant and sophisticated culinary and nightlife scene.

Day 2: Quito Historic Center, Middle of the World Tour, & Transfer to Otavalo

Quito: Governmental Palace
Quito: Governmental Palace

The human occupation of Quito dates back thousands of years. Prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistadores, the main cultures in the area were the Quitus, as well as the Inca, whose empire spread across vast stretches of South America. The city was colonized by the Spanish and recognized as a city in the mid-16th century. In 1978, together with Kraków in Poland, the entire city became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

After breakfast at the hotel, visit the old town and meander down romantic narrow streets to see the colonial  Churches of San Fransisco, La Compañia, and other historical landmarks. 

In the afternoon, visit the Equator Monument, which highlights the exact location of the equatorial line according to the Franco-Spanish mission that determined its approximate location. It's also the location of the Ethnographical Museum that showcases the indigenous culture and ethnography of Ecuador.

In the evening, transfer to the city of Otavalo to the north. 

Day 3: Cuicocha Lagoon Hike & Otavalo Market

Cuicocha Lagoon
Cuicocha Lagoon

In the morning, stretch your legs with a hike around the crater lagoon of Cuicocha. On the trail, your guide will explain to you the high altitude flora and fauna and the history of the once active volcano. Alternatively, enjoy a short walk and take some photos, or ride in a boat around the two islands. 

In the afternoon, return to Otavalo. The city is the home of the well-known indigenous market where artisans come to sell colorful textiles and other traditional goods. Snack on fruits and other snacks while you browse the stalls for paintings, carvings, handpainted bowls, and much more. 

Enjoy some street food (try the salted mango or fritada con mote—fried pork with cooked corn, then continue to the nearby town of Cotacachi for some free time and more shopping (the town is famous for its leather products).

Day 4: Mountain Train to Salinas & Afro-Ecuadorian History

Afro-Ecuadorian community learning center
Afro-Ecuadorian community learning center

Explore culture and nature on a full-day train ride through the Andes today. Start in Otavalo, then continue to Salinas, where you'll learn about the culture and history of Afro-Ecuadorians. Along the way, the train will make plenty of stops at community learning centers. 

You'll leave with a deeper understanding of the history, music, food, art, and scenery of the northern Andes. 

Return to Otavalo for the night.

Day 5: Otavalo Market & Drive to Hakuna Matata Rainforest Lodge

Artisan market of Otavalo
Artisan market of Otavalo

Start the day with an early-morning walk through the streets of Otavalo to see the market and buy breakfast at Plaza de Poncho

Later, head over a nearby pass (crossing over 13,330 ft/ 4,050 m) to reach a valley, where thermal springs feed one of the country's most idyllic spas. 

In the afternoon you'll reach Hakuna Matata, a cozy rainforest lodge in the middle of private, protected rainforest. Stop here to spend the night, and relax into the nighttime sounds of the jungle.

Plan your trip to Ecuador
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Rainforest Hike & Pacari Chocolate Tour

Learn how to make chocolate from bean to bar
Learn how to make chocolate from bean to bar

Start the day with a hike through the protected rainforest which surrounds the lodge. Your guide, a certified naturalist, will point out various plants and animals as you hike: from medicinal plants to camouflaged frogs hidden in the dense foliage. 

Your hike destination is the small village of Santa Rita, where a delicious lunch awaits you. In the afternoon, the experts from Pacari Chocolate Company will show you how to make delicious chocolate from the local cocoa beans. 

Return to the lodge and spend the rest of the day relaxing.

Day 7: Rainforest Adventure: Parrots, Quichua Food, & Almuerzo

Preparing Yucca
Preparing Yucca

Early in the morning, meet your guide and head to the small river of Arajuno, then canoe to a local clay lick where hundreds of parrots and parakeets come to eat minerals from the earth above the water. 

Continue in the canoe to the indigenous Quichua community of Santa Barbara where you'll get the opportunity to taste a variety of different local dishes. After snacking on the community buffet, drive to the small jungle town of Misahualli for a typical Almuerzo (lunch). 

In the afternoon, go for a walk through the village and the surroundings, then return to your lodge for the night.

Day 8: Animal Rescue Center & Rainforest Drive

Squirrel Monkey
Squirrel Monkey

After enjoying breakfast to the sounds of the rainforest in the morning, drive to Puyo to visit an Animal Rescue Center. Here, you'll learn about how injured and orphaned animals are rehabilitated and spend some time with the rescue center up close. You'll even get to meet some of the center's monkeys face to face. 

After your visit, continue deeper into the rainforest, to the small jungle town of Macas. Spend the afternoon relaxing here in a peaceful and comfortable rainforest Hosteria.

Day 9: Shuar Waterfall Hike & Atillo Lagoon

Waterfall ceremony in Shuar territory
Waterfall ceremony in Shuar territory

Today's short morning drive takes you into Shuar territory, where you'll go for a hike through the rainforest to reach a sacred waterfall. Here, you'll participate in the waterfall ceremony of the Shuar. 

Afterward, refresh with a dip in the water and try the local Shuar food. Later, continue to the Atillo Lakes, crossing the Andean Highlands to Guamote.

Day 10: Guamote Market, Andean Kichwa Community, & Train Ride

Guamote's weekly market
Guamote's weekly market

In the early morning, visit the traditional Andean market of Guamote. Later, you'll explore the surrounding area and visit one of the nearby small villages to learn about the culture of the local Kichwa population. In the afternoon, travel to Riobamba, which sits in the shadow of the Chimborazo, Carihuayrazo, El Altar, and Tungurahua mountains. The city is considered to be the most important agricultural center of the Ecuadorian Andes.

In the afternoon, there's an option to take a train ride through the nearby mountains. Make your way to the small train station of Alausi, where you'll board the famous train. The tracks run through the nearby Devil's Nose, an incredibly steep and twisting section that rises 330 ft (100 m) to Sibambe in the valley. After a short stay, return to Alausi and drive back to Riobamba for the night.

Day 11: Chimborazo Volcano Hike

Chimborazo
Chimborazo

Today's trip takes you from Riobamba to the heights of the mighty Chimborazo Volcano. On the way, stop at one of the several Kichwa communities that sit in the volcano's shadow at over 9,800 ft (3,000 m). From here, drive up to the Hermanos Carrel mountain hut, which sits at 15,700 ft (4,800 m). 

The adventurous can hike from here to the Whymper Hut, located even higher up at 16,400 ft (5,000 ft). By late afternoon, you'll reach the small town of Latacunga, where you'll stop for the night.

Day 12: Zumbahua Market & Quilotoa Lagoon Hike

Quilotoa Lagoon
Quilotoa Lagoon

In the morning, a short drive takes you to the village of La Victoria, which is famous for traditional ceramics. Continue to the Zumbahua market to browse for gifts, then head to the Quilotoa Crater Lagoon, a lake located inside of the crater of the Quilotoa Volcano.

Find a family-run cafe for lunch, then choose between hiking around the crater rim or kayaking on the lake for a quiet afternoon.

Day 13: Hacienda La Cienega & Cotopaxi National Park Hike

Hacienda La Cienega
Hacienda La Cienega

Start the day with a drive to the 400-year-old Hacienda La Cienega, where you'll enjoy fresh coffee in a stunning landscape. Afterward, visit the nearby flower farm to see how local roses are grown, then head to Cotopaxi National Park

Enjoy an easy afternoon hike around Limpiopungo Lagoon, learn about the flora and fauna of the Andes mountains and, with good weather, take in the views of Cotopaxi.

Head to the Tambopaxi Mountain Hut for lunch in the shadow of the Sincholagua and Cotopaxi mountains, before returning to Quito.

Day 14: Depart from Quito

Cathedral La Basílica
Cathedral La Basílica

Today you are free to explore Quito on your own and shop for souvenirs before your flight home. At the designated time, meet your driver at the hotel for the transfer to the airport.

Map

Map of Culture & Nature in Ecuador: Quito, Otavalo, Amazon, Chimborazo, & Cotopaxi - 14 Days
Map of Culture & Nature in Ecuador: Quito, Otavalo, Amazon, Chimborazo, & Cotopaxi - 14 Days