- Explore winding streets and art-filled neighborhoods in Quito
- See where the earth divides at the Mitad del Mundo monument
- Hike around an active volcano in Cotopaxi National Park
- Learn the art of chocolate-making in Mindo
|Arrive in Quito, City Tour
|Quito Views & Cooking Class
|Mitad del Mundo & Transfer to Mindo
|Mindo Waterfalls & Butterfly Reserve
|Mindo Chocolate Tour & Transfer to Quito
|Quito Urban Bike Tour
|Cotopaxi National Park & Transfer to Baños
|Baños Adventure Excursion
|Explore Baños: Canyoning & Casa del Árbol
|Transfer to Quito
|San Pablo Lake & Otavalo Market
|Cuicocha Lake, Transfer to Quito & Depart
Day 1: Arrive in Quito, City Tour
Welcome to Ecuador! Meet your driver at the airport for a private transfer to Quito and your hotel. At 9,350 feet (2,850 m) above sea level, Ecuador's capital is one of the highest cities in the world. Built following the 1533 Spanish conquest, it's surrounded by majestic Andean peaks, including the restless Pichincha volcano.
In the afternoon, explore Quito with a guided tour, and see its plazas organized among Andes mountain peaks. See Baroque La Compañía de Jesús church with its gold-covered interior and La Basílica del Voto, the largest neo-Gothic church in the Americas. Take a walk down La Ronda, one of the oldest streets in the city, then head to Panecillo Hill for skyline views. As the sun sets, find a restaurant for dinner, and if you are up for it, check out the city's nightlife.
Day 2: Quito Views & Cooking Class
This morning, see a different perspective of Quito as you ride a cable car to the slopes of Pichincha volcano on the eastern side of the city. From there, take photos of the skyline and Pichincha's highest peaks, Wawa Pichincha and Ruku Pichincha, and go for a walk through a páramo high-altitude ecosystem. Follow a path that leads to the Ruku Pichincha summit as far as you'd like, and then return to the cable car station for a ride back down to Quito.
For lunch, learn about Ecuador's traditional cooking with dishes such as locro de papa (potato stew), bolon de verde (plantain dumplings), and encocado de pescado (fish in coconut sauce). Before your cooking class, visit a market to buy the ingredients needed for each dish. Listen as a Quito chef explains traditional recipes and shows you the steps to follow to create a memorable meal.
Day 3: Mitad del Mundo & Transfer to Mindo
Start today at Quito's Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument, where you'll see the divide between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres 656 feet (200 m) north of the equator line. Next door, visit the Intiñan Museum to learn about Ecuadors' past and present culture. After your trip to both hemispheres, you can head to Casa Agave, where you'll see the process for making agave juice and liquor and how the plant is also used to create clothing and instruments. Explore a garden, museum, and distillery and taste agave in its many forms, including miske, which is similar to mezcal.
If you've worked up an appetite from this morning's sightseeing, sample traditional Ecuadorian flavors with ingredients straight from the garden at the restaurant El Patio. Look for fritada quiteña (braised pork), cuarato de cuy (guinea pig), and fanesca (soup topped with hard-boiled egg, fried plantains, and nuts) on the menu.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Mindo Waterfalls & Butterfly Reserve
Today is free to explore Mindo and its remarkable Mindo-Nambillo Reserve. First, head for Mindo's outskirts, where you can ride a tarabita cable car across a canyon. From there, hike at your own pace, with treks lasting from 30 minutes to three hours to reach waterfalls of all sizes. Depending on the weather, go for a swim in one of the waterfalls and then continue exploring.
At the butterfly farm of Mariposario de Mindo, follow a local guide to learn about these winged creatures' habitats and their life cycle. As you explore the gardens on your own, look out for hummingbirds and the parks' other colorful residents. Back at your Mindo hotel, take some time to relax and get ready to return to Quito tomorrow.
Day 5: Mindo Chocolate Tour & Transfer to Quito
Spend the morning exploring more of Mindo. Hike to waterfalls and go for a swim, grab binoculars for bird-watching, or tube on the Río Mindo. For a more relaxed day, walk around the village, or join a chocolate tour to learn the basics of chocolate-making. See a demonstration of how cocoa beans are processed to become chocolate bars and other products. Grind cocoa by hand, and taste chocolate in its many forms, picking your favorite to take home.
After your morning in Mindo, ride back to Quito with your guide, traveling about 55 miles (98 km) south. In Quito, try a new neighborhood for dinner for another view of the city's nightlife.
Day 6: Quito Urban Bike Tour
Get to know Quito's diverse neighborhoods today. Starting in northern Quito, set off on a four-hour bike tour through La Floresta, Carolina Park, and Iñaquito. In La Floresta, see how urban art is flourishing with murals, designers, and boutiques. Cycle through Carolina Park, spread over 165 acres (66 ha), and in Iñaquito, visit its market to try street food and its Isla Tortuga Park for more murals and green space.
After your bike tour, explore more of Quito, walking through the city center or visiting a new area, such as the northeast and hilly Guápulo, where you can follow the curvy road of Camino de Orellana. Cover more city ground by renting a bike to see Cumbayá—a neighborhood on the city's outskirts. For lunch or dinner, visit Mercado Centrale to try street food such as empanadas de viento (cheese-filled turnovers), hornado (slow-roasted pork), or cevichochos (tomato and bean soup). At the end of the day, go back to your hotel to get ready for your next destination: Cotopaxi National Park.
Day 7: Cotopaxi National Park & Transfer to Baños
Cotopaxi National Park, located 43 miles (70 km) south of Quito, is known for its eponymous active volcano, which has a more than 19,347-foot (5,897 m) symmetrical snow-capped peak—the second-highest summit in Ecuador. Be sure to bring plenty of layers to prepare for a change in weather and altitude as you explore the park to see birds, wild horses, and a mix of Andean plants and wildlife amid rugged scenery—and perhaps even a condor.In the park, your guide will take you to Limpiopungo Lagoon and point out some of the species native to the area. Then, trek to the 5,748-foot (4,800 m) Refugio Jose Rivas for the best Cotopaxi views of the day. In the afternoon, travel to Baños de Agua Santa, where you'll spend the night.
Day 8: Baños Adventure Excursion
Baños de Agua Santa, or Baños, is named for its healing hot springs that come from the Tungurahua volcano. Today, relax, walk around town, or head into the mountains and jungle for an adventure. Be sure to dress for all weather conditions, as the temperature can change quickly. Pick a trail along Tungurahua, leading to more of the area's waterfalls. You can also rent a bike and follow the 15-mile (25 km) cycling route Ruta de las Cascadas (Route of the Waterfalls) from Baños to Puyo, which will take you through seven waterfalls, including the most significant, Pailón del Diablo (Devil's Cauldron).
You could also embark on the approximately 2.5-mile (4 km) trek to Pailón del Diablo from Baños. After a hike down, get a full view of the cascades' height—approximately 262 feet (80 m) or 24 stories. For a relaxing afternoon or evening back in Baños town, take a dip in the mineral pools at Termas de la Virgen or El Refugio.
Day 9: Explore Baños: Canyoning & Casa del ÁrbolFor your second day in Baños, it's time for another adventure if you're up for it, maybe taking your waterfall tour a step further. At Río Blanco waterfall, gear up with a wetsuit, shoes, helmet, and harness for an adrenaline boost as you go canyoning with a local guide. Or, ask the tourist office for trail information for hikes, such as to Pondoa or on a loop trail to Mirador Virgen (Virgin Mary Viewpoint). Hike or take a bus to Casa del Árbol, a treehouse with a swing named "The End of the World" for its panoramic canyon views. Return to your Baños hotel in the evening to get ready to return to Quito tomorrow.
Day 10: Transfer to QuitoIn the morning in Baños, shop for gifts to take home from an outdoor market, soak in hot springs, or drink coffee at Café del Cielo for mountain views. In the afternoon, start a road trip with your guide, traveling 118 miles (190 km) north to Quito. For your last evening in Quito, return to vibrant La Floresta for dinner, or try a new neighborhood, such as La Mariscal, where you can end the night dancing.
Day 11: San Pablo Lake & Otavalo Market
Leave Quito behind this morning and travel north 55 miles (90 km) to Otavalo and San Pablo Lake. From there, get a view of the lake, surrounding villages, and the Imbabura volcano, during a one-hour tour. Back in the city, browse the local market brimming with colorful textiles, paintings, carvings, hand-painted bowls, and other traditional products. For lunch, try fritada con mote (fried pork with cooked corn) followed by salted mango.
In the afternoon, visit a hill known for its healing properties at El Lechero—the former site of a sacred tree, where you can see San Pablo Lake views. Spend your last night in Ecuador tasting Otavalo's traditional chicha del Yamor (a fermented corn beverage) and eating dinner at a restaurant overlooking Plaza de Ponchos.
Day 12: Cuicocha Lagoon, Transfer to Quito & Depart
Cuicocha Lagoon lies at the base of the Cotacachi volcano, which formed during an eruption approximately 3,000 years ago. This morning you'll follow a trail on the crater rim that leads to viewpoints, hike around the lake, or ride a boat that stops on the lagoon's lush islands.
At the end of the day, meet your driver for a private transfer approximately one hour south from Otavalo to Quito airport. From there, catch your flight home or on to your next destination. Safe travels!