Ecuador delivers massive doses of natural beauty and rich culture. Dive deep into both on this 16-day journey, starting on the coast, from the tree-lined waterfront in Guayaquil to the mangroves of ecological reserves. After exploring the coast, travel inland to see ruins, colonial landmarks, and national parks around Cuenca, then venture into the Amazon to visit native villages and enjoy rainforest adventures before winding up in Quito to browse the historic Otavalo Market.

Highlights

  • See exotic birds and monkeys in the wetlands around Guayaquil 
  • Hit the legendary surf beaches on a trip up Ecuador's coast
  • Hike around the crater lakes and volcanoes in Ecuador's highlands
  • Explore nature reserves by foot and canoe in the verdant Amazon rainforest

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Guayaquil, City Tour Guayaquil
Day 2 Visit Churute Mangrove Reserve, Transfer to Montañita Montañita
Day 3 Transfer to Puerto López, Stop in Ayampe Puerto López
Day 4 Boat Tour to Isla de la Plata, Transfer to Guayaquil Guayaquil
Day 5 Transfer to Cuenca via El Cajas National Park Cuenca
Day 6 Tour Cuenca & the Ingapirca Ruins, Transfer to Guamote Guamote
Day 7 Chimborazo Volcano Hike, Transfer to Baños de Agua Santa Baños
Day 8 Visit the Pailón del Diablo, Transfer to Quilotoa Quilotoa
Day 9 Hike Quilotoa, Overnight Transfer to Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve Quito
Day 10 Canoe Ride in Cuyabeno Reserve Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
Day 11 Day Trip into the Amazon Rainforest Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
Day 12 Visit the Seoqueya Community, Explore Laguna Grande & Igapó Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
Day 13 Sunrise Forest Walk, Transfer to Quito Quito
Day 14 Quito Guided Walking Tour, Transfer to Otavalo Otavalo
Day 15 Visit the Otavalo Market & Peguche Waterfall, Transfer to Quito Quito
Day 16 Quito City Activities, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Guayaquil, City Tour

Admire the pastel-colored hilltop homes in Las Peñas

Welcome to Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador! The country's main port sits on the Río Guayas where it meets the ocean and is known as the "Pearl of the Pacific." You'll spend a lot of time exploring Ecuador's beautiful coast, and there's no better place to kick off the adventure than this dynamic metropolis and commercial hub. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the ride to your downtown hotel.

After checking in, you'll receive an introduction to Guayaquil with a guided city tour. It starts with a visit to Seminario Park, where you can spot iguanas scurrying about and relaxing in the sun. After visiting the park's neo-Gothic Metropolitan Cathedral, you'll stroll down the famous Malecón, a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) boardwalk along the river. Then, continue north to Las Peñas, a colorful neighborhood that dates to the 16th century and is famous for its cobbled streets and pastel-colored hilltop homes. At the tour's end, your guide/driver will take you back to your hotel.

Day 2: Visit Churute Mangrove Reserve, Transfer to Montañita

Churute Mangrove Reserve: Immerse Yourself in the Natural Splendor near Guayaquil
Churute Mangrove Reserve is a haven for exotic wildlife, like howler monkeys

Leave the city this morning to discover the wonders of the Ecuadorian coast on a visit to the Churute Mangrove Reserve. Located an hour south of Guayaquil, this 86,589-acre (35,041 ha) protected area is home to Ecuador's largest red and black mangrove reserve. Hop in a canoe upon arrival and set off with your guide through the area's many mangrove swamps and lakes. Expect to see various animals and aquatic birds, like tortoises, anteaters, howler monkeys, herons, and woodpeckers.

At the end of this full-day exploration, your driver will transfer you about three hours to the Pacific coast and Montañita, a village famous for its surfing and laid-back vibe. After checking into your hotel, you can try surfing, then grab dinner at one of the many thatched-roof restaurants and bars. Or, dance the night away at one of the nightclubs in the area.

Day 3: Transfer to Puerto López, Stop in Ayampe

Explore Puerto López's beaches, including the beautiful Playa Los Frailes
Spend a free morning exploring Montañita, relax at the beach, or grab a board and catch a few waves. Later, a private transfer will take you about an hour north to your next destination, Puerto López, a small fishing village by a bay. On the ride there, you'll stop at another coastal town, Ayampe, to surf or go birding in the surrounding rainforest. Once in Puerto López, check into your hotel and spend the evening how you'd like. Hit the beach, sip on a cocktail at a seaside bar, or, if you have time, hike around Playa Los Frailes, part of the nearby Machalilla National Park.

Day 4: Boat Tour to Isla de la Plata, Transfer to Guayaquil

Snorkeling in Isla de  la Plata
Grab a mask and snorkel and reefs around Isla de Plata

This morning, board a small yacht in Puerto López to Isla de la Plata (Silver Island). This natural landmark earned its name from local lore that claims Sir Francis Drake buried treasure here. Part of Machalilla National Park, the island is home to incredible marine life like sea lions, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, and waved albatrosses. Take a stroll around the island before diving into the water and snorkeling the coral reefs surrounding the island.

On the boat ride back to Puerto López, keep your eyes peeled for migrating humpback whales and pods of dolphins—whale watching reaches its peak from mid-June to October here. Upon arrival ashore, you'll head back to Guayaquil for the night. If you feel like going out, head to the Malecón boardwalk or visit the cafés and galleries in Santa Ana Hill.

Day 5: Transfer to Cuenca via El Cajas National Park

Spot wildlife, including llamas, in El Cajas National Park
After breakfast, head southeast toward Cuenca, the capital of Azuay province. As you travel up into the highlands, you'll stop at El Cajas National Park, a 110-square-mile (285 sq km) area of hundreds of high-altitude lakes and cloud forests. Take a hike through the páramo (high Andean landscape) to visit Luspa, the largest lake in the park. After exploring this wild and beautiful ecosystem, a private transfer will take you the rest of the way to the city. Check into your hotel and gear up for another adventure tomorrow!

Day 6: Tour Cuenca & the Ingapirca Ruins, Transfer to Guamote

Spot the blue and white domes of Cuenca's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on a guided tour

A guide will pick you up this morning for a tour of Cuenca, known as the "Athens of Ecuador" due to its ancient landmarks and colonial history. It starts at the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno (Modern Art Museum) and its colorful gardens, followed by stops at the 16th-century Iglesia El Sagrario, known as the "Old Cathedral," and the 19th-century Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción, aka the "New Cathedral." While the old cathedral has been converted into a museum, the new one is still a working church with its famous blue and white domes.

Then, head north from the city toward the Ingapirca ruins, which sit at an altitude of 10,498 feet (3,200 m). Dating to the 15th century, the site was important to the Indigenous Cañari people and the Inca, as they coexisted peacefully for many years. You'll find the Temple of the Sun, ancient terraces, and a Cañari tomb among the ruins. From here, transfer to the town of Guamote. During the 2.5-hour drive, consider a stop in Palmira, a desert known for its gorgeous sand dunes. 

Day 7: Chimborazo Volcano Hike, Transfer to Baños de Agua Santa

Chimborazo
Hike partway up Chimborazo, one of the tallest peaks in the world
Lave up your hiking boots and head out early from Guamote to Chimborazo, an inactive volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. Since it's located on the equatorial bulge, its summit is the farthest point from the center of the Earth! You won't be making a summit attempt today, but you can hike up to the Carral Hut, sitting at 15,748 feet (4,800 m). From here, you'll catch incredible views of the sprawling landscape below. After exploring the volcano, it's time to travel south to Baños de Agua Santa, a charming town on the edge of the Amazonian basin known for its hot springs and nearby waterfalls.

Day 8: Visit the Pailón del Diablo, Transfer to Quilotoa

Hike through the cloud forest to the thundering falls of El Pailón del Diablo
Plan your trip to Ecuador
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Begin the day with a trip along the scenic Ruta de las Cascadas ("Waterfall Route") toward the village of Río Verde. When you arrive in town, take a short hike to one of the area's famous waterfalls, El Pailón del Diablo ("Devil's Cauldron"). Here, the water cascades 265 feet (81 m) down through the cloud forest.

Afterward, head back to Baños, where you can take a dip in its famous hot springs, tour its ornate Baroque/neoclassical church, or visit the Casa del Arbol ("Treehouse") to soar on a swing placed at the edge of a mountain. At the end of the day, a private transfer will bring you to Quilotoa. This mountainside village sits beside Laguna Quilotoa, which you'll visit tomorrow.

Day 9: Hike Quilota, Overnight Transfer to Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve

Explore another volcanic crater lake on a hiking tour

Head just outside the village this morning to Laguna Quilotoa, a 2-mile-wide (3 km) crater lake filled with 820 feet (250 m) of mineral-rich green water. Hike along the lake's outer rim, enjoying the views from three lava domes, or follow a path to the lake itself. Hiking in the area, especially uphill, can be challenging, so consider renting a mule to ease the burden.

After the visit, you'll transfer three hours north to Quito, Ecuador's capital. From here, hop on a shuttle bus for an overnight ride into the Amazon and the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. Spanning an area of approximately 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 sq m), Cuyabeno is one of the largest protected areas in Ecuador and is renowned for its incredible biodiversity and pristine rainforest ecosystems. Try to get some sleep on the bus—Amazon adventures await you tomorrow!

Day 10: Canoe Ride in Cuyabeno Reserve

Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife on the banks as you cruise down the Amazon to your ecolodge
Early this morning, the shuttle bus will drop you off at El Puente de Cuyabeno, otherwise known as the Cuyabeno Bridge, the entryway to the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. Then, transfer to the Río Cuyabeno and board a motorized canoe for the three-hour scenic ride down the river to your ecolodge. Keep an eye out for tropical birds, monkeys, even otters and river dolphins. Cuyabeno, like most of the Amazon, is rich in biodiversity. Once at the lodge, you can relax or take a brisk hike around the area. Have dinner at the lodge and rest up for an early excursion tomorrow.

Day 11: Day Trip into the Amazon Rainforest

Spot birds that are exotic even for the Amazon, like the plate-billed mountain toucan

Rise and shine! After an early breakfast, you'll hike into the rainforest to observe Cuyabeno's abundant wildlife, which is most active in the first hours of the morning. A guide will take you on foot or via canoe through the reserve, pointing out snakes, frogs, birds, monkeys, and other animals, as well as medicinal plants first identified by local Indigenous people.

Unlike other parts of the Amazon, Cuyabeno abuts the Andes, so it's a bit cooler and more prone to flooding. See for yourself when, after lunch, your guide will lead you via canoe into its blackwater-flooded forests. Look for birds like toucans and macaws and epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants) like orchids and bromeliads among the palms and tropical trees. 

Tonight, your guide will show you the rainforest at another busy time: nightfall. Grab a flashlight and watch for creatures that typically hide out during the day, like various species of frogs, snakes, and some mammals like kinkajous and ocelots. Then, it's time for dinner back at the lodge before falling asleep to the sounds of the rainforest.

Day 12: Visit the Seoqueya Community, Explore Laguna Grande & Igapó

Roll up your sleeves and help prepare cassava bread using traditional methods

It's another early start as you embark on an early walk through the forest to see the morning wildlife, especially monkeys and birds. Return to the lodge for breakfast, then travel by motorized canoe along the Turtle Path to visit the Seoqueya community, where several families of the Indigenous Siona group live. One of the family members will demonstrate traditional cooking techniques, and you'll try a type of yuca bread called cassava before having a go at making it yourself. Meanwhile, your guide will share stories about the community's culture and traditions.

In the afternoon, continue by motorized canoe along the Cuyabeno to Laguna Grande. Here, you'll explore a unique rainforest ecosystem with an igapó (flooded forest) characterized by massive trees and lush greenery. After exploring the lagoon, cool off with a swim in the calm water and enjoy a leisurely sunset. Then, head downriver to see more nocturnal wildlife, especially caimans, before returning to the lodge for dinner.

Day 13: Sunrise Forest Walk, Transfer to Quito

You'll arrive in Quito in the evening, in time for dinner in the historic center

Start your final morning in the Amazon with a sunrise hike, spotting colorful birds as the rainforest comes alive. Later, after breakfast, gather your belongings and bid farewell to the Amazon. Travel back up the river to the main entrance to the reserve, where a shuttle will be waiting to transfer you to Quito. You'll arrive in the city in the evening, then transfer to your hotel. If there's time, walk around Quito's historic center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and sample the local restaurant scene for dinner.

Day 14: Quito Guided Walking Tour, Transfer to Otavalo

Equatorial Monument
Stand in both hemispheres on a visit to Mitad del Mundo

Today, join a walking tour of the famous colonial center of Quito, named one of the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1978. Admire the intricate stone carvings of La Compañía and wander the cloisters of the Iglesia San Francisco. Wrap up the historical center leg of your tour with a walk down La Ronda, once a pre-Columbian walking trail, now a romantic destination full of cafés, live music, and eclectic shops. 

Later on, head north to visit the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World), a park dominated by the 98-foot (30 m) tall Monument to the Equator. It marks the precise location of the equator, the invisible line that divides the Earth into the northern and southern hemispheres. You can straddle the yellow line here, which means you'll have one foot in each hemisphere. Later, visit the Planetarium, which houses a small-scale model of Quito, and various exhibitions.

After the tour, your driver will take you two hours north of Quito to Otavalo, a mountain town known for its Indigenous history and traditional craft markets. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and can rest up in preparation for a day of exploring and shopping tomorrow.

Day 15: Visit the Otavalo Market & Peguche Waterfall, Transfer to Quito

Browse the textiles at Otavalo Market and pick up souvenirs to take home

Spend the morning hitting the town's highlights, like the Plaza de los Ponchos, home to the world-famous Otavalo Market. The market is busiest on Saturdays, but you can find vendors throughout the week, primarily Otavalos, the region's Indigenous people. The Otavalo are best known for their colorful, hand-woven textiles, and many market stalls offer tablecloths, blankets, scarves, and more.

After shopping, head just north of the city to visit the Peguche Waterfall. Located in Bosque Protector Cascada de Peguche (Peguche Waterfall Protected Forest), the 50-foot (18 m) waterfall attracts both tourists and Indigenous locals, who soak in the pools around the falls for purification before important holidays. After admiring this natural wonder, return to Quito via private transfer for the night.

Day 16: Quito City Activities, Depart

Don't miss a trip to see the 147-foot (45 m) Virgin of El Panecillo before catching your flight
Take the morning to see any highlights of Quito you might have missed on the first city tour. Perhaps return to the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco. Dating to the 16th century, it's the oldest religious site in Ecuador. It features over a dozen cloisters, three churches, and a library holding thousands of books and historic documents. You could also head up to El Panecillo Hill to enjoy prime views. Also, here is the towering Virgin of El Panecillo statue, which stands 147 feet (45 m) tall. Finally, meet your driver for the ride to the airport in time to catch your flight home. Adiós!

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Map of Culture, Nature & Wildlife in Ecuador: From the Pacific to the Highlands & Into the Amazon - 16 Days
Map of Culture, Nature & Wildlife in Ecuador: From the Pacific to the Highlands & Into the Amazon - 16 Days