From Quito's colonial center to the volcanoes of Cotopaxi National Park, explore the best of Ecuador's mainland on this packed 10-day itinerary. Hike along the rim of volcanic lagoons, barter for Ecuadorian handicrafts at markets, and visit small mountain villages. You'll see cascading waterfalls, lush orchid farms, high altitude plateaus, and much more as you traverse the countryside.

Highlights

  • Browse for handicrafts at the Otavalo artisan market
  • Explore the beautiful historical old towns of Quito and Cuenca
  • Take in sweeping views of the Cotopaxi volcano
  • Hike to the Pailon del Diablo waterfall
  • Explore Cajas, the National Park of 200 lakes

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 Quito
Day 4 Hike & Hacienda in Cotopaxi National Park Cotopaxi
Day 5 Cotopaxi to Quilotoa Lake & Afternoon Hike or Kayak Baños
Day 6 Pailon del Diablo, Baños, & Guamote Guamote
Day 7 Guamote Market, Devil's Nose Train, & Ingapirca Cuenca
Day 8 Cuenca City Tour & Gualaceo Orchid Farm Cuenca
Day 9 Cajas National Park & Guayaquil Guayaquil
Day 10 Transfer from Guayaquil to Quito and Flight Home  

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).

Return to Quito in the evening.

Day 4: Hike & Hacienda in Cotopaxi National Park

Limpiopungo Lagoon and Cotopaxi Volcano
Limpiopungo Lagoon and Cotopaxi Volcano

After breakfast, head south to Cotopaxi National Park. Stop at Limpiopungo Lagoon for a short hike to take in the panoramic mountain views. You'll also see the El Salitre Inca Ruins, located in the park highlands. Keep an eye out for wildlife—Lake Limpiopungo is home to a variety of birds and occasionally even wild horses. 

In the afternoon, explore the national park on foot. Hike through beautiful páramo (typical Andean landscape) before enjoying the rest of the evening in front of the chimney in the cozy traditional hacienda.

Day 5: Cotopaxi to Quilotoa Lake & Afternoon Hike or Kayak

Quilotoa Lake
Quilotoa Lake

Enjoy breakfast in Cotopaxi, then head to Quilotoa 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. 

In the evening, continue to Baños.

Day 6: Pailon del Diablo, Baños, & Guamote

Scenic waterfall outside of Baños
Scenic waterfall outside of Baños

In the morning, drive along the Avenue of Waterfalls, a stretch of cascading waterfalls. Driving south from Baños, you'll follow the Pastaza Riveras it winds through the valley of the same name. Passing by a number of waterfalls, you'll reach the village of Rio Verde. Stop here to visit the well-known El Pailon del Diablo (The Devil's Cauldron) waterfall.

Afterward, take some time to visit the Baños Hot Springs or the famous Casa del Arbol (treehouse), before heading to the small Andean town of Guamote for the night.

Day 7: Guamote Market, Devil's Nose Train, & Ingapirca

Devil's Nose train ride
Devil's Nose train ride

Every Thursday, indigenous people from nearby villages gather in the small town of Guamote to sell their goods. If you're lucky enough to be in town on market day, head to the main square to see how people have traded and sold goods in this region for centuries. 

After, make your way the tiny train station of the equally small town of Alausí. From here, take the well-known "Devil's Nose Train" to Sibambe. The tracks run through the nearby Devil's Nose, an incredibly steep and twisting section that rises 330 ft (100 m) to the valley.  

To ascend the nearly perpendicular mountain, the train must climb more than 1,640 ft (500 m) over 7.5 miles (12 km) in a series of zigzags. It's a remarkable piece of engineering and a must-see if you're in the area.
 
After returning to Alausí, continue your journey southwards, stopping along the way at Ingapirca, one of the most important ruins from Pre-Inca times. Finally, arrive in Cuenca, which is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in South America.

Day 8: Cuenca City Tour & Gualaceo Orchid Farm

Parque Calderon in Cuenca
Parque Calderon in Cuenca

Spend the day exploring the colonial city of Cuenca on foot. Take a four-hour city tour, weaving you way through the old town center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to get acquainted with the city before continuing to Turi to enjoy the incredible views.

In the afternoon, head the surrounding villages to see rural life. In Gualaceo, visit an orchid farm where over 6,000 different types of orchids are cultivated, then continue to Chordeleg to see the town's famed gold and silver craftwork.

Return to Cuenca for the night.

Day 9: Cajas National Park & Guayaquil

Cajas National Park
Cajas National Park

After breakfast, depart from Cuenca and head westwards to Cajas National Park. This national park is one of the country's ecological treasures, comprising more than 200 interconnected high-altitude lagoons. The Cajas is not only the source of many rivers but even connects the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.

After a hike around the biggest lagoon, continue to Guayaquil.

Day 10: Transfer from Guayaquil to Quito and Flight Home

Farewell, Ecuador
Farewell, Ecuador

At the designated time, meet with your driver at the hotel and head to the airport in Quito for your flight home.

Map

Map of Ecuador Mountains to Coast: Andes, Quito, Cotopaxi, & More - 10 Days
Map of Ecuador Mountains to Coast: Andes, Quito, Cotopaxi, & More - 10 Days