- Explore Quito's UNESCO-recognized historic center
- Ride horses in the shadow of the Cotopaxi volcano
- Tour the largest Inca ruins in the country
- Relax and unwind in natural hot springs in Papallacta
|Arrive in Quito
|Tour Quito's Historic Center & Ciudad Mitad del Mundo
|Shop at the Otavalo Market & Hike Cuicocha Lake
|Transfer to Cotopaxi, Ride Horses in Cotopaxi National Park
|Transfer to Baños via Quilotoa
|Visit the Pailón del Diablo Waterfall, Return to Quito
|Transfer to Cuenca, Tour the City
|Tour the Ingapirca Ruins, Fly to Quito
|Explore the Mindo Cloud Forest
|Transfer to Papallacta, Relax at the Termas de Papallacta
|Transfer to Quito, Depart
Day 1: Arrive in Quito
¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to Ecuador! Your flight will touch down in Quito, Ecuador's capital city. After settling into your hotel, you'll have the rest of today to explore the city independently, from the incredibly well-preserved colonial center to the lively bars and nightclubs around Plaza Foch. Take a walk through Parque Metropolitano Guangüiltagua, the largest urban park on the continent, or ride the TelefériQo to the top of Cruz Loma for dramatic skyline views.
This evening, consider joining a tour of the historic center under the streetlights. Start in Independence Square to visit the Palacio de Carondelet, the Archbishop's Palace, Municipal Palace, and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Then, check out churches like the Italian Renaissance-style La Iglesia de El Sagrario, the Baroque La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, and the sprawling Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco. Lastly, climb to the top of Panecillo Hill, a 656-foot (200 m) overlook of the city.
Day 2: Tour Quito's Historic Center & Ciudad Mitad del Mundo
Today, join a walking tour of the famous colonial center of Quito, named one of the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1978. Admire the intricate stone carvings of La Compañía and wander the cloisters of El San Francisco. Wrap up the historical center leg of your tour with a walk down La Ronda, once a pre-Columbian walking trail, now a romantic destination full of cafés, live music, and eclectic shops.
Later on, head north to visit the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo ("Middle of the World City"), a park dominated by the 98-foot (30 m) tall Monument to the Equator created in honor of the Spanish-French Geodesic Mission to find the circumference of the Earth at the equator. Stand on the yellow line marking the equator, posing with one foot in each hemisphere (though the true equator is a few hundred feet away), or visit the planetarium, a small-scale model of Quito, and museums.
Day 3: Shop at the Otavalo Market & Hike Cuicocha Lake
Today, take a ride about two hours north of Quito to visit Otavalo and nearby Cuicocha Lake. While in Otavalo, visit the Plaza de los Ponchos for a chance to shop around its world-famous market. While it's at its busiest on Saturdays, you can find vendors, primarily Otavalos, the Indigenous people of the region, throughout the week. The Otavalo people are best known for their colorful, hand-woven textiles, and many market stalls offer tablecloths, blankets, scarves, and more.
After some shopping, head into nature and visit Cuichocha Lake, a crater lake formed by an eruption of the Cotacachi volcano thousands of years ago. Walk along a path on the lake's steep shores or take a boat ride past the two islands formed by lava domes.
Day 4: Transfer to Cotopaxi, Ride Horses in Cotopaxi National ParkEarly this morning, head south from Quito for an adventure in Cotopaxi National Park. Saddle up at a traditional hacienda (ranch) and explore the Andean landscape on horseback, admiring the symmetrical, snow-capped peak of Cotopaxi. As your horse picks through terrain formed by ancient eruptions and high-altitude forests, keep an eye out for hawks, condors, weasels, and other wild animals. After a day of adventure in one of Ecuador's most iconic natural areas, relax and unwind back at the hacienda.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Transfer to Baños via Quilotoa
Head west from Cotopaxi National Park to visit another volcanic wonder: Quilotoa. This 2-mile (3 km) wide crater lake is filled with 820 feet (250 m) of mineral-rich green water. Hike along the lake's outer rim, enjoying the views from three lava domes, or follow a path to the lake itself. Hiking in the area, especially uphill, can be challenging, so consider renting a mule for some help along the way.After exploring the lake, it's time to travel south to Baños de Agua Santa, a city on the edge of the Amazonian basin known for its hot springs and nearby waterfalls.
Day 6: Visit the Pailón del Diablo Waterfall, Return to Quito
This morning, ride along the scenic Ruta de Cascadas ("Waterfall Route") toward the village of Río Verde. When you arrive in town, take a short hike to one of the better-known waterfalls in the area, El Pailón del Diablo ("Devil's Cauldron"). The water cascades 265 feet (81 m) down through the cloud forest. Then, head back toward Baños to take a dip in its thermal pools, check out its many Catholic churches, or visit the Casa del Arbol to soar on a swing placed at the edge of a mountain.
Day 7: Transfer to Cuenca, Tour the City
Early this morning, catch a private transfer to the airport for your flight south to Cuenca, where another transfer will take you to your accommodations. Once you've settled in, join a tour to better know the city, especially its UNESCO-recognized historic center.
The tour starts in the San Sebastián neighborhood, where you'll visit the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno ("Modern Art Museum") and its colorful gardens. Then head to Cuenca's famous cathedrals: the Iglesia El Sagrario, also known as the "Old Cathedral," and the Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción, aka the "New Cathedral." While the old cathedral has been converted into a museum, the new one, with its famous blue and white domes, is still a working church.
Later, visit Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla, otherwise known as the Panama Hat Museum. Yes, those famous hats are made here in Ecuador from toquilla straw. Next up, head to El Barranco, the part of the historic center that borders the Tomebamba River, to walk along verdant riverbanks. Finally, end the tour at the Mirador de Turi, an observation deck where you can enjoy stunning city views and, more often than not, catch a beautiful sunset.
Day 8: Tour the Ingapirca Ruins, Fly to Quito
This morning, a guide will bring you to Ingapirca, the largest Inca complex in Ecuador, for a day of exploring. Sitting at 10,498 feet (3,200 m) in elevation, the site was important to the Cañari people who lived there before the arrival of the Inca. Here, you'll find archaeological evidence of both cultures, as they coexisted peacefully for many years. Among the ruins, your guide will show you the Temple of the Sun, ancient terraces, and Cañari tomb, bringing these impressive ruins to life.
Day 9: Explore the Mindo Cloud Forest
Today, head into the Mindo-Nambillo Ecological Reserve to explore the cloud forest in the subtropical Mindo Valley. Its position on the western side of the Andes at the intersection of the Chocoan lowlands and tropical Andes ecoregions makes Mindo a mild-weathered and incredibly biodiverse region.
While you're here, give one of the region's most popular activities, bird-watching, a try. You'll surely spot many different species in this diverse area! If that's not your speed, you can visit a butterfly farm, go tubing on one of the forest's rivers, or taste chocolate. After all, Ecuador's ministry of tourism has dubbed Mindo the Ruta del Cacao ("Cocoa Route") for a reason.
Day 10: Transfer to Papallacta, Relax at the Termas de Papallacta
What better way to wrap up a long trip than a relaxing visit to a hot spring to unwind? Today, head to Papallacta, home of the Termas de Papallacta, a spa comprising eight natural geothermal pools. Take a dip in the warm water and let any stress from your travels melt away as you admire the views of polylepis trees and the Artisana volcano in the distance.
Day 11: Transfer to Quito, Depart
On your last day in Ecuador, grab breakfast and enjoy your morning in Papallacta before your private driver transfers you to the Quito airport for your departing flight. See you again in soon!