Discover the best of Northern Ecuador on this diverse six-day itinerary. Offering a mix of outdoor adventures and cultural excursions, the trip starts and ends in Quito, where you'll get to know the capital city on a guided tour. The journey also features kayaking on San Pablo Lake, visits to Andean towns, shopping in the famous Otavalo Market, a hike around a stunning lagoon, a coffee farm, and more.


  • Get lost in Quito's bustling Otavalo Market
  • Paddle across beautiful San Pablo Lake
  • Take in spectacular views of Cuicocha Lagoon
  • See how coffee beans are grown and processed in the Intag Valley 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito, City Tour Quito
Day 2 Transfer to Otavalo, Paddle San Pablo Lake & Visit Otavalo Market Otavalo
Day 3 Transfer to Apuela via Cotacachi Town & Cuicocha Lagoon Apuela
Day 4 Hike in the Intag Valley Apuela
Day 5 Explore the Intag Valley on a Coffee Tour Apuela
Day 6 Transfer to Quito, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito, City Tour

Basilica of the National Vow, Quito
A view of the Basilica of the National Vow in Quito

Welcome to Quito! You'll arrive at the airport and meet your driver, who will transfer you to your hotel in the city center. After taking some time to get settled in, explore the historic center today on a guided city tour. This UNESCO World Heritage Site stands at an altitude of 9,350 feet (2,850 m) and welcomes visitors with its picturesque plazas between mountain peaks.

Stroll through its narrow streets and visit some of the city's most important churches, such as the Baroque La Compañía, with its incredible gold-covered interior, and the neo-Gothic La Basílica. Take a walk down La Ronda, one of the oldest streets in the city, then head to Panecillo Hill for incredible panoramic views.

Day 2: Transfer to Otavalo, Paddle San Pablo Lake & Visit Otavalo Market

A great variety of spices at Otavalo market
A great variety of spices at Otavalo Market

This morning, your driver will pick you up at your hotel in Quito and take you to Otavalo, an Andean town located in the northern province of Imbabura. The drive takes around 1.5 hours. A day of adventure starts when you arrive at San Pablo Lake near Otavalo. Receive a safety talk from your guide and start paddling across the beautiful lake, enjoying views of local towns and the impressive Imbabura Volcano.

After approximately one hour of paddling, the group will continue to the famous Otavalo Market, where you can spend some time shopping for locally made handicrafts. Lose yourself in the sights and sounds of the market, where the past is preserved through native language and local traditions.

Day 3: Transfer to Apuela via Cotacachi Town & Cuicocha Lagoon

Hiking around Cuicocha Lagoon
Views while hiking around Cuicocha Lagoon

Visit the beautiful Cuicocha Lagoon at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano today. On the way there, stop in Cotacachi, a picturesque town famous for its leather production and shops. 

Continue to the lagoon. It was formed by a massive eruption approximately 3,100 years ago and contains two forested islands in the middle of the lake. With your guide, follow the trail along the crater rim that leads to various viewpoints. If you're up for it, you can hike around the lake, which takes between four and five hours. The journey leads you into the lush green Intag Valley in the afternoon. You'll spend the night in Apuela.

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Day 4: Hike in the Intag Valley

Hiking in the Intag Valley
Hike in the Intag Valley, in the heart of the Ecuadorian cloud forest

Wake up in the Intag Valley, a beautiful, biodiverse, and off-the-beaten-path destination in the heart of the Ecuadorian cloud forest. It's part of the South American Chocó Biological Reserve, one of the most biologically important zones in the world.

During a hike in this area, observe different ecosystems and wildlife. Keep your eyes open for toucans, mountain tapirs, jaguars, and spectacled bears that call this region home. Hikes vary in length and difficulty level, so the activity can be adjusted to personal preferences.

Day 5: Explore the Intag Valley on a Coffee Tour

Coffee plantation in the cloud forest
A coffee plantation in the cloud forest

Today's excursion features picturesque landscapes, scenic farms, and Ecuador's coffee culture. The Intag Valley is known for its coffee production, home to many small coffee farms that are part of the AACRI organization (the region's coffee cooperative). While driving through the valley, you might see coffee beans drying by the streets or next to small houses.

Visiting one of these farms, you'll learn more about how coffee is grown in the region and how important it is to local agriculture. Afterward, visit a coffee processing site to see how coffee is weighed, examined, and roasted. 

Day 6: Transfer to Quito, Depart

A bike lane in downtown Quito
The trip comes to an end today. Your driver will take you to the airport in Quito. Safe travels! 

More Great Ecuador Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Ecuador? Check out these other Ecuador itineraries, explore different ways to spend six days in Ecuador, or discover the best time to visit Ecuador.


Map of Highlights of Northern Ecuador - 6 Days
Map of Highlights of Northern Ecuador - 6 Days