- Feel the pulse of nightlife and the equatorial divide in Quito
- Drive through seven towering volcanoes in Cotopaxi National Park
- Soak in healing mineral waters in Baños
- See a city crisscrossed by four rivers in Cuenca
|Day 1||Arrive in Quito||Quito|
|Day 2||Free Day in Quito||Quito|
|Day 3||Drive to Otavalo & Cuicocha Lagoon Hike||Otavalo|
|Day 4||Drive to Cotopaxi & Cotopaxi National Park||Cotopaxi|
|Day 5||Drive to Baños, Hot Springs & Waterfalls||Baños|
|Day 6||Free Day in Baños, Ecuador's Adventure Capital||Baños|
|Day 7||Drive to Riobamba & Explore Chimborazo||Riobamba|
|Day 8||Drive to Cuenca & Hike Ingapirca Ruins||Cuenca|
|Day 9||Explore the City of Four Rivers||Cuenca|
|Day 10||Drive to Guayaquil||Guayaquil|
|Day 11||Guayaquil Neighborhoods Tour||Guayaquil|
|Day 12||Depart Guayaquil|
Day 1: Arrive in Quito
Welcome to Quito! Upon arrival in Ecuador's capital city, you'll pick up your rental car to start your road trip adventure—traveling at your own pace as you explore Ecuador from north to south.At 9,350 feet (2,850 m) above sea level, Quito 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. After picking up your rental car, drive about one hour from the airport to reach your hotel in the city center. Then, get out and walk through Quito's picturesque plazas, markets, and stores with locally-made hats and other products. As the sun sets, find a restaurant for dinner, and if you are up for it, check out the city's nightlife.
Day 2: Free Day in Quito
In the morning, explore more of Quito. Visit the historic Old Town to discover the colonial churches of San Francisco, La Compañia de Jesús, and other landmarks, or head to the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) to see the monument where the Earth divides into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. There, you can also visit the Ethnographical Museum to learn more about Ecuador's history.
If you're feeling adventurous, ride one of the highest-elevation cable cars in the world up the slopes of the nearby Pichincha volcano for dazzling views over the city from 12,942 feet (3,944 m). By night, chat with local Quiteños at a restaurant or lounge bar in La Floresta or La Ronda.
Day 3: Drive to Otavalo & Cuicocha Lagoon Hike
Your road trip through Ecuador begins today as you drive north 55 miles (90 km) from Quito to Otavalo. In Otavalo, explore a market of colorful textiles, paintings, carvings, hand-painted bowls, and other traditional products. Snack on street food such as salted mango or fritada con mote (fried pork with cooked corn), then continue to nearby Cotacachi, which is known for its leather products.In the afternoon, take a walk along the shores of the volcanic crater lake of Cuicocha Lagoon, where you can spot its high-altitude flora and fauna and even take a boat ride around its islands. After your lake tour, drive to a hacienda in Otavalo to spend the night.
Day 4: Drive to Cotopaxi & Cotopaxi National Park
Your next destination is Cotopaxi National Park, traveling south approximately 43 miles (70 km) through the "Avenue of the Volcanoes" with its eight towering mountains. The park's eponymous active volcano has a more than 19,347-foot (5,897 m) symmetrical snow-capped peak—the second-highest summit in Ecuador—so be sure to bring plenty of layers to prepare for a change in weather and altitude.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Drive to Baños, Hot Springs & Waterfalls
Baños de Agua Santa, about 81 miles (131 km) south of Otavalo, has natural hot springs, dramatic waterfalls, and access to hiking trails. On the way there today, take another picturesque drive along the "Avenue of the Volcanoes." Stop at the Pailón del Diablo (Devil's Cauldron), which is considered one of the most important waterfalls in Ecuador. After a hike down to the falls, get the full view of their height—approximately 262 feet (80 m) or 24 stories high. Then, take a ride on the Swing at the End of the World at Casa del Árbol, a tree house on a mountain overlooking Baños.
At the end of the day, settle into your Baños hotel, maybe taking an evening dip in a thermal mineral bath before or after dinner.
Day 6: Free Day in Baños, Ecuador's Adventure Capital
Baños de Agua Santa is named for its healing hot springs, and today is yours to relax in their thermal waters, walk around town, or head into the mountains and jungle for an adventure. Pick from rafting, canyoning, bungee jumping, hiking, or mountain biking excursions, depending on your level of thrill-seeking, and be sure to dress for all weather conditions.
At the 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), and even return to Casa del Árbol before going back into town. At the end of the day, return to your Baños de Agua Santa hotel to prepare to get on the road again tomorrow.
Day 7: Drive to Riobamba & Explore Chimborazo
Your road trip continues today from Baños to the Chimborazo volcano, traveling west about 73 miles (119 km). During the drive, keep on the lookout for the 20,549-foot (6,263 m) mountain, which last erupted about 10,000 years ago. Chimborazo's three peaks stretch eastward from a base of more than 12 miles (20 km), making it visible for miles. When you get out of the car, pay attention to the altitude as you walk to the refuge Carrell at 15,748 feet (4,800 m), where you can see views of the surrounding valleys and mountains and stop for lunch.
Take your time walking around the area, marveling at its natural beauty, and then continue your road trip about 30 miles (49 km) southeast to Riobamba to spend the night.
Day 8: Drive to Cuenca & Hike Ingapirca Ruins
Cuenca, 160 miles (259 km) south of Riobamba on the Río Tomebamba, is the next stop on your tour exploring Ecuador's Andes. On the way there, stop at the Ingapirca pre-Inca ruins, one of the largest archaeological complexes in Ecuador. Learn about the site's cultural influences from the Cañari and Inca and how its location at 10,498 feet (3,200 m) above sea level was strategic to control and secure entire empires. Climb through Cañari settlement ruins, and look out for llamas roaming freely.
At the end of your archaeological hike, continue on to Cuenca, traveling the remaining 43 miles (70 km) south. Rest at your hotel after a long day, as there will be plenty of time to see the city tomorrow.
Day 9: Explore the City of Four Rivers
Cuenca is officially known as Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca (Santa Ana of the Cuenca Rivers) because of the four rivers coursing through the city: Tomebamba, Yanuncay, Tarqui, and Machangara. Spend a leisurely morning or afternoon following paths and parks along the rivers, and be sure to bring a jacket and umbrella for unpredictable weather in the city at 8,400 feet (2,560 m).
To see the historic center, walk through Cuenca's central plaza, Parque Calderón, where you can visit its blue-domed Catedral Nueva and 16th-century Catedral Vieja. To learn more about the area's Inca history and the former Inca city Tomebamba, go to Museo y Parque Arqueológico Pumapungo. For lunch or dinner, visit a local market to try street food such as grilled corn and tamales. Then, get back to your hotel to pack and get ready for another day on the road tomorrow.
Day 10: Drive to Guayaquil
Ecuador's major port city, Guayaquil, is known as a gateway to the Galápagos Islands. It's also brimming with colorful houses, waterfront views, and restaurants and galleries to explore. The drive there is approximately four hours north of Cuenca, traveling 121 miles (196 km), and as you navigate along the scenic route, you'll notice the shift from dry highlands to lush coast along the way.
You'll feel the elevation shift from Cuenca when you arrive in Guayaquil, which is on the Río Guayas estuary at 13.2 feet (4 m) above sea level. Check in to your hotel and then take a leisurely walk around the city to see some of its neighborhoods. Start in Las Peñas with its brightly-colored wooden houses —the oldest part of the city—and then walk along the waterfront at Malecón 2000 to breathe the fresh sea air. Get ready for a hike as you follow the stairs up to Santa Ana Hill, stopping for a coffee or to browse art galleries along the way before visiting Santa Ana Chapel for some of the best views of Ecuador's second-largest city.
Day 11: Guayaquil Neighborhoods Tour
See more of Guayaquil by car today, visiting parks, monuments, and an island. At Seminario Park, spot land iguanas sunbathing in trees and among hidden corners. Then, see the Palacio Municipal and Palacio de Gobernacion, and in front of those buildings, look up for the clock tower La Torre Morisca, where you can climb to the top for panoramic city views. Later on, visit the city's iconic La Rotonda, a statue that commemorates a meeting between Simón Bolívar and José San Martín in 1822.Return to the 1.5-mile (2.5 km) waterfront promenade, Malecon 2000, and then cross over to Isla Santay. On the island, walk or rent a bike to follow wooden paths and be on the lookout for crocodiles. In the afternoon or early evening, go back to the city center to eat dinner on the waterfront and toast the end of your Ecuador road trip.
Day 12: Depart Guayaquil
Enjoy your last morning in Guayaquil with a walk through the city or along the water. Then return your rental car at Guayaquil Airport and head home or on to your next destination.