Get off the beaten path on this 11-day adventure around southern Ecuador. Begin the trip in Guayaquil, then base yourself in Cuenca as you explore El Cajas National Park and the Yunguilla Valley. Move onto the coffee-producing capital of Loja, side-tripping to Podocarpus National Park, and ride horses in Vilcabamba. Visit an Indigenous community and learn about native customs to finish the itinerary.


  • Take a stroll along the waterfront in coastal Guayaquil
  • Spot wildlife in the biodiverse Podocarpus National Park
  • Explore Vilcacamba on a horseback riding excursion
  • Shop at ateliers and handicraft shops in quaint Cuenca
  • Witness a spiritual ceremony in the Indigenous Saraguro community

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Guayaquil & Get Oriented Guayaquil
Day 2 Tour the City, Transfer to Cuenca via El Cajas National Park  Cuenca
Day 3 Travel to Girón Waterfall & Yunguilla Valley Cuenca
Day 4 Discover Cuenca & Nearby Villages  Cuenca
Day 5 Transfer to Loja, City Tour Loja
Day 6 Day Trip to Podocarpus National Park Loja
Day 7 Transfer to Vilcabamba, Horseback Riding Vilcabamba
Day 8 Hike Mandango Mountain Vilcabamba
Day 9 Continue Exploring Podocarpus National Park Loja
Day 10 Visit the Saraguro Community & Transfer to Cuenca Cuenca
Day 11 Depart Cuenca  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Guayaquil & Get Oriented

Malecon, Guayaquil
On the waterfront in Pacific Guayaquil
Welcome to Guayaquil! The largest city in Ecuador features a beautifully revitalized riverfront, excellent museums, and historic hillside neighborhoods. The tropical atmosphere, seafood-focused cuisine, and intriguing history make Guayaquil a fascinating city to visit. You'll transfer from the airport to your hotel and have free time to start exploring.

Day 2: Tour the City, Transfer to Cuenca via El Cajas National Park 

Spend the morning among the colorful architecture of  Guayaquil

Explore Guayaquil on a guided tour. At the Parque Histórico, discover some native species, such as sloths, monkeys, and parrots, in a park recreating the natural mangrove habitat. The next stop is the Cementerio General, an early 20th-century cemetery where artistic tombs are reminders of the prospering cocoa trade of that time. Finally, walk the historic cobblestone streets of Puerto Santa Ana and the busy boardwalk Malecón 2000 along the Guayas River.

In the afternoon, travel to the Andean highlands. On the way there, visit El Cajas National Park. With its countless lagoons, valleys, and peaks, the park is an excellent place for hiking. You might spot endemic or endangered species like the Andean Condor, the spectacled bear, or the giant hummingbird. Continue to Cuenca, where you'll spend the night.

Day 3: Travel to Girón Waterfall & Yunguilla Valley

Take a scenic nature walk to Girón Waterfall, near Cuenca

Leave Cuenca for a day trip. Your first stop is the small town of Girón and the impressive Girón Waterfall. The short walk to the waterfall leads you through lush green surroundings. The next stop will be Casa de Los Tratados, a historical museum.

Continue the journey into the green Yunguilla Valley. The area is known for sugar cane production, and you will pass a few old mills along the way. You will also get to taste jugo de caña, sugarcane juice, and its alcoholic relative, aguardiente. Before returning to Cuenca, visit the dry forest and desert of Jubones, which hosts a valuable ecosystem with many different birds and plants. 

Day 4: Discover Cuenca & Nearby Villages 

Panoramic view of Cuenca
Discover more of historic Cuenca today

Explore Cuenca's beautiful Old Town, with its narrow streets, big squares, and colonial architecture. Join your guide on a stroll through the city, visit Calderón Park and the cathedral, and see how the famous Panama hat is made. Top off the tour with stunning views from the Turi viewpoint and a visit to a famous pottery workshop.

Just outside Cuenca, you can visit some quaint villages in the afternoon. In Gualaceo, stop at an orchid farm that breeds thousands of varieties of this beautiful plant. If you are more into shopping, you should check out the town Chordeleg, filled with artisans selling handcrafted silver jewelry.

Day 5: Transfer to Loja, City Tour

Loja City Tour
Take a tour of the city of Loja and its colonial landmarks
Plan your trip to Ecuador
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Your private driver will take you from Cuenca to Loja today, where you will explore the main tourist attractions of this beautiful city. Highlights include the colonial architecture of the historic city, the main square, an impressive cathedral, the Church of San Sebastián, and the theater, among others. Enjoy the atmosphere while strolling through the Old Town and enjoy this lesser-visited part of Ecuador.

Day 6: Day Trip to Podocarpus National Park

See remarkable biodiversity on display in Podocarpus National Park

Podocarpus National Park is a stunning area with several ecosystems and incredible biodiversity. It's home to approximately 3,500 species of plants and more than 800 species of birds—a paradise for nature lovers and bird watchers! Visitors can also find pumas, deer, Andean foxes, spectacled bears, and much more.

During a guided hike, you will pass by the La Poderosa Waterfall and the Bombuscaro River, and your guide will point out local flora and fauna. You will enjoy a delicious lunch at an inn, and then, if you like, you can visit a local bamboo forest.

Day 7: Transfer to Vilcabamba, Horseback Riding

Saddle up to explore Vilcabamba on horseback
Travel to the Valley of Vilcabamba, also known as the "Valley of Longevity." The name comes from the myth that its inhabitants usually reach a very advanced age. The valley's moderate climate and the surrounding mountains make it an excellent place to connect with nature. Explore the town and the breathtaking surroundings on horseback. During the riding excursion, you can absorb the tranquility and beauty of this lost paradise. 

Day 8: Hike Mandango Mountain

Follow a hiking trail to reach the twin peaks of Mandango Mountain

Hike Cerro Mandango (which means "God Lying Down" in Kichwa) one of the most visited places in Vilcabamba because of its impressive cliffs. The trail heads to the mountain's two peaks. Its second peak offers a 360-degree view of the Vilcabamba Valley and its surroundings. Then enjoy a free afternoon in paradise. Relax at your hotel, do a bit of yoga, take a dip in the pool, or take a stroll through town.

Day 9: Continue Exploring Podocarpus National Park

Keep an eye out for Andean foxes in their natural habitat 

Today, you will explore the part of Podocarpus National Park that is closer to Loja. Following the Spectacled Bear trail and other trails, you will discover the park's biodiversity and learn about local flora and fauna. After a delicious lunch, your guide will bring you back to your hotel in Loja.

Day 10: Visit the Saraguro Community & Transfer to Cuenca

Shop for handicrafts at the local markets of Loja

You can't leave Loja without tasting the local coffee! Loja is famous for its coffee production, so use this opportunity and enjoy a cup of delicious, freshly-brewed coffee before continuing your trip. Then you will make your way back north toward Cuenca, stopping at the Indigenous community of Saraguro on the way. Take part in a spiritual ceremony focused on the purification of bad energies through medicinal plants, smoke, and fire. The ceremony will be conducted by one or several yakchas (similar to shamans).

Then take a stroll through town and visit a few local handicraft shops and ateliers. The local people of the Saraguro community produce ceramics, jewelry, and cheese, to name a few. After one more stop at a beautiful waterfall and a viewpoint, leave Saraguro and continue the journey northwards, arriving back in Cuenca in the afternoon. 

Day 11: Depart Cuenca

A street vendor in Cuenca
The trip comes to an end today. Your driver will pick you up at your hotel and escort you to the airport. Safe travels!

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Map of Highlights of Southern Ecuador - 11 Days
Map of Highlights of Southern Ecuador - 11 Days