Strike out on an adventure across Ecuador's most famous regions, from the highlands to the Amazon rainforest. It begins in Quito with a tour of the capital's UNESCO-listed colonial center and cultural monuments before hiking to waterfalls, lakes, and volcanoes in the highland Cotopaxi region. Then, explore awe-inspiring pre-Incan ruins before rounding out the adventure with canoe rides and nature hikes in the pristine Amazon forests at Yasuní National Park.


  • Embark on the most epic volcano hikes in the Andean Highlands
  • Visit famous textile markets and colonial landmarks in historic cities
  • Explore the pre-Inca ruins at Ingapirca, which include temples and tombs
  • See monkeys, macaws, and more on rainforest adventures in the Amazon

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito, Visit Casa de la Cultura Quito
Day 2 Quito City Tour, Cooking Class & Visit Mitad del Mundo Quito
Day 3 Rucu Pichincha Volcano Hike Quito
Day 4 Pasochoa Volcano Hike Quito
Day 5 Day Hike at Cuicocha Lagoon, Transfer to Otavalo Otavalo
Day 6 Visit Otavalo Market, Transfer to Cotopaxi National Park Cotopaxi
Day 7 Transfer to Quilotoa Lagoon via Lake Limpiopungo Quilotoa
Day 8 Day Hike Around Quilotoa Lagoon Quilotoa
Day 9 Transfer to Baños, Waterfall Hike & Hot Springs Baños
Day 10 Hike Chimborazo Volcano, Transfer to Guamote Guamote
Day 11 Tour Ingapirca Ruins, Transfer to Cuenca Cuenca
Day 12 Cuenca City Tour, Fly to Quito Quito
Day 13 Fly to El Coca, Scenic Canoe Cruise to Yasuní National Park Yasuní National Park
Day 14 Visit Parrot Clay Lick, Kichwa Community & Village Tour Yasuní National Park
Day 15 Rainforest Hike, Canopy Viewing Platform & Canoe Ride Yasuní National Park
Day 16 Fly to Quito, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Visit Casa de la Cultura

Relax in Quito's main square and soak up the capital's laid-back vibe

Welcome to Ecuador! This South American country draws adventurous travelers for its varied topography, diverse ecosystems, and rich biodiversity. Besides its abundant natural wonders, Ecuador also features no shortage of historical landmarks and ancient ruins—many even dating back before the Inca. This 16-day excursion covers many such highlights while putting you through your paces on some of the most epic nature hikes in the world.

It begins with your arrival at the airport in Quito and a private transfer to your hotel. Ecuador's capital is nestled high in the Andes, at 9,350 feet (2,850 m). To acclimate to the altitude, you'll take it easy during your first few days, focusing on cultural tours rather than active excursions.

In fact, art and culture are first on the agenda, as right after checking in, you'll visit the Museo Casa de la Cultura. Located near the city's historic center, this iconic museum showcases the national culture. It's a great introduction to Ecuador's heritage, with diverse exhibits ranging from traditional textiles to archaeological artifacts dating back thousands of years to artworks by some of the country's most renowned painters and sculptors. 

Day 2: Quito City Tour, Cooking Class & Visit Mitad del Mundo

Colonial City Tour, Cooking Class & La Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) Monument
Learn how to make Ecuadorian classics, such as empanadas de viento, in today's cooking class

Rise and shine! This morning, you're off to literally walk in the footsteps of history on a tour of Ecuador's historic center. This is one of the most well-preserved Spanish-colonial enclaves in the Americas, and it was actually 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 the 16th-century Iglesia 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 pedestrian street lined with cafés, live music venues, and eclectic shops. 

Around midday, you'll meet a local chef-instructor with a fun cooking class. This is your chance to enjoy an authentic Quiteño culinary experience as you prepare Ecuadorian classics, such as empanadas de viento (savory pastries), seco de pollo (a rich chicken stew), and roast cuy (guinea pig). First, you and the chef will take a trip to a market to buy the ingredients needed for each dish. Then, learn the recipes and follow the steps to create a delicious lunch to share.

Later, head just north of Quito to Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World), a park dominated by the 98-foot (30 m) tall Monument to the Equator. It marks the precise location of the equator, the invisible line that divides the Earth into the northern and southern hemispheres. You can straddle the yellow line here, which means you'll have one foot in each hemisphere. You can also visit the Planetarium, a small-scale model of Quito, and museums. Afterward, you'll transfer back to Quito.

Day 3: Rucu Pichincha Volcano Hike

Hiking Rucu Pichincha Volcano
Hike amid the highland vegetation of the páramo ecosystem on your way up Pichincha volcano

Make time for a hearty breakfast at the hotel this morning—you'll need it for today's climbing adventure. After eating, you'll meet your driver and transfer to a station in the city center. There, you'll hop on a teleférico (cable car) up 12,900 feet (4,000 m) to the slopes of Pichincha volcano. This extinct volcano on Quito's west side offers excellent hiking trails and rock-climbing sites. Upon arrival, you'll hike to Rucu Pichincha, one of the volcanoes two summits.

It's a short walk from the cable car station to the trailhead, and from there, it's three hours up to the top. Much of this hike traverses beautiful páramo (alpine tundra) ecosystems, culminating with a steep rock scramble to the summit at 15,387 feet (4,690 m). Once at the top, you'll be treated to vast panoramic views of Quito and its surrounding peaks and volcanoes. After breaking for snacks and enjoying the views, you'll hike down to the station and board the teleférico back to Quito.

Day 4: Pasochoa Volcano Hike

Get lucky, and you might spot the Andean condor on today's hike 

Leave Quito this morning on a day trip about two hours south of the city. You'll arrive at the Pasochoa volcano, an awe-inspiring 13,770-foot (4,199 m) high peak. This extinct volcano is surrounded by a humid cloud forest home to over one hundred species of birds and fifty species of endemic plants.

You'll see this plant and birdlife on a 5-6-hour out-and-back hike up to the top three summits, all connected via a single trail. Along the way, you might spot other impressive animals, like wild horses and (if you're lucky) Andean condors flying overhead. The hike also offers sweeping views of other nearby volcanoes, so keep your camera handy. After hiking back down, the car will be waiting to transfer you back to Quito. 

Day 5: Day Hike at Cuicocha Lagoon, Transfer to Otavalo

Cuicocha Lagoon
If you like, hike around the entire perimeter of Cuicocha 

Say goodbye to Quito this morning and meet your driver early for the two-hour ride north to the beautiful Laguna de Cuicocha, located at the foot of Cotacachi volcano. The lagoon was formed by a massive eruption approximately 3,100 years ago and contains two forested islands in the middle of the lake.

Along with a guide, follow the trail along the crater rim to various viewpoints. If you're up for it, you can hike around the lake, which takes four or five hours. Afterward, you'll continue driving about 30 minutes to Otavalo, a highland town known for its Indigenous history and traditional craft markets.

Day 6: Visit Otavalo Market, Transfer to Cotopaxi National Park

Ecuador is famous for hand-woven textiles—and Otavalo Market is the best place to buy them

Spend the morning hitting the town's highlights, like the Plaza de los Ponchos, home to the town's world-famous Otavalo Market. The market is busiest on Saturdays, but you can find vendors, primarily Otavalos, the region's Indigenous people, throughout the week. The Otavalo are best known for their colorful, hand-woven textiles, and many market stalls offer tablecloths, blankets, scarves, and more. When you get hungry, sample some of the town's famous street eats, like salted mango or fritada con mote (fried pork with cooked corn).

After a more substantial lunch in town, you'll hit the road again on a four-hour drive south to Cotopaxi province. This area is home to Cotopaxi National Park, a pristine nature reserve that covers 129 square miles (334 sq km) in the highlands. You'll arrive at a hacienda and can spend the evening relaxing amid grand views of one of Ecuador's most ruggedly beautiful protected areas.

Day 7: Transfer to Quilotoa Lagoon via Lake Limpiopungo

Hike up to prime viewpoints overlooking Cotopaxi volcano
Plan your trip to Ecuador
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
The great journey through Ecuador's highlands continues this morning as you transfer about two hours west to Laguna Quilotoa. As you leave Cotopaxi, you'll stop at a viewpoint at Laguna de Limpiopungo to snap perfect shots of Cotopaxi volcano's snowcapped cone. On a short walk around the lake, you can do some birding here and also spot wild horses. Afterward, you'll continue to the Quilotoa area, where you'll check into your accommodation for the night.

Day 8: Day Hike Around Quilotoa Lagoon

Alpaca Encounter at Quilotoa Lagoon
Say hello to the friendly alpacas on your way down to the shores of Laguna de Quilotoa 

Wake up for an early breakfast at your hotel. Then, accompanied by an expert guide, you'll hike around Laguna de Quilotoa, a turquoise crater lake that sits in the rugged Andean countryside south of Quito. It's a brisk three-hour hike that covers 2.5 miles (4 km) and includes an hour section downhill to the lake. Once there, you can paddle around the lagoon in a kayak or relax on shore while enjoying the views. On the way back up and back to the trailhead, you'll pass local villages and perhaps a wild alpaca or two.

Day 9: Transfer to Baños, Waterfall Hike & Hot Springs

Hike to some of the most dazzling waterfalls in the Amazon basin

Your driver will pick you up this morning for the ride three hours south to the charming town of Baños de Agua Santa. During the drive, you'll leave the highlands and arrive at the edge of the Amazon basin, a region known for its hot springs and waterfalls. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and have some time to relax.

Don't get too comfy because shortly after arrival, you'll get back in the car for a trip along the scenic Ruta de las Cascadas (Waterfall Route) toward the village of Río Verde. When you arrive in town, take a one-hour hike to one of the area's famous waterfalls, El Pailón del Diablo (Devil's Cauldron). Here, the water cascades 265 feet (81 m) down through the cloud forest. After marveling at the falls, you'll transfer back to Baños, where you can cap the day with a nice relaxing soak in one of the area's famous hot springs.

Day 10: Hike Chimborazo Volcano, Transfer to Guamote

Chimborazo Volcano at sunset
Sunset over Chimborazo volcano, Ecuador's tallest peak
There's one more grand volcano trip on this itinerary as you depart early on a day trip to Chimborazo. This dormant stratovolcano is Ecuador's tallest peak, standing an impressive 20,548 feet (6,263 m) above sea level. While you won't hike all the way to the top, you'll go on a hike up to Carrel Refuge, a mountain hut sitting at 15,748 feet (4,800 m) in altitude. Needless to say, the views of the surrounding valleys and mountains are spectacular. Afterward, continue the drive to Guamote, a small Andean town where you'll spend the night.

Day 11: Tour Ingapirca Ruins, Transfer to Cuenca

Ruins of Ingapirca
Ingapirca, the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador
After breakfast, you'll continue south on a three-hour drive to the Ingapirca ruins, one of Ecuador's most important archaeological sites. Dating to the 15th century, the site was important to the Indigenous Cañari people and the Inca, as they coexisted peacefully for many years. Among the ruins, you'll find the Temple of the Sun, ancient terraces, and a Cañari tomb. From here, transfer to the nearby city of Cuenca, the capital of Azuay province, and check into your hotel.

Day 12: Cuenca City Tour, Fly to Quito

The mountain town of Cuenca is known for its colonial cathedrals

Today, you'll enjoy a guided walking tour of Cuenca, known as the "Athens of Ecuador" due to its ancient landmarks and colonial history. The tour starts in the historic center, where you'll visit the 16th-century Iglesia El Sagrario, known as the "Old Cathedral," and the 19th-century Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción, aka the "New Cathedral." While the old cathedral has been converted into a museum, the new one is still a working church with its famous blue and white domes. After the tour, you'll transfer to the airport for the one-hour flight back to Quito.

Day 13: Fly to El Coca, Scenic Canoe Cruise to Yasuní National Park

As you ride down the river in a canoe, keep an eye out for monkeys in the trees

Return to the airport this morning and board a 40-minute flight south to Puerto Francisco de Orellana, also known as El Coca. This is where the Amazon jungle portion of the itinerary begins. From El Coca, you'll transfer to the banks of the Río Napo and hop in a canoe.

Along with guides, you'll follow the waterway for two hours into Yasuní National Park, a 3,800-square-mile (9,820 sq km) protected area where the equator, Andes, and Amazon biomes converge. This wildly biodiverse region is home to thousands of species of mammals, plants, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. During the canoe ride, you'll spot plenty such wildlife on the banks, like monkeys and macaws, plus water birds such as herons, kingfishers, and more.

Eventually, you'll arrive at your base for the next three nights: a comfortable rainforest lodge in the jungle. This accommodation occupies an ideal spot overlooking the glassy waters of the Añangu lagoon. On arrival, you'll receive a welcome drink and a short briefing from the lodge manager, followed by dinner in the jungle.

Day 14: Visit Parrot Clay Lick, Kichwa Community & Village Tour

See parrots (and other animals) enjoying a morning drink in Yasuní

Get up early and venture into the jungle on a 30-minute hike along a nature trail near your lodge. The route leads to one of the highlights of Yasuní National Park—the parrot clay licks. Hundreds of parrots and parakeets flock here to eat the mineral-rich soil on the banks of the Río Napo, creating one of the most captivating displays in the birding world. Make sure to bring your binoculars, as they're ideal for glimpsing the 11 species of colorful birds that frequent the cliffside. Also, keep an eye out for the other animals that come here for a drink, like howler monkeys, tapirs, and peccaries.

Afterward, continue hiking along a forest trail to the Kichwa community of Añangu. The Kichwa are an Indigenous ethnic group that has lived in the region for centuries and has a deep cultural connection to the land. You can get a glimpse into this rich culture by taking a guided tour of the village and participating in activities organized by the community members. Then, sit down with your welcoming hosts at the Napa Cultural Center, where you'll enjoy a traditional lunch. Afterward, you'll return to your lodge.

Day 15: Rainforest Hike, Canopy Viewing Platform & Canoe Ride

Climb a Canopy Tower, Enjoy a Rainforest Hike & Canoe Rides
Climb a canopy tower and paddle along the waterways in a canoe

After breakfast, leave the lodge and hike for about 30 minutes to a canopy viewing platform deep in the forest. Here, you'll climb the top of this 12-story tower, which rises 118 feet (36 m). It's the best spot to enjoy a bird's-eye view of Yasuní, and you can snap epic photos from the platform. The journey to the top is also memorable, as when you pass the treeline, you'll see flocks of colorful birds, like tanagers and macaws, flitting about. There might even be a few spider monkeys scurrying about in search of fresh fruit.

Lunch will be served back at the lodge. Then, in the afternoon, you'll hike along another forest trail to discover more flora and fauna. Interesting specimens you may see on this jaunt include lizards, manakins, or (possibly) the golden-mantled tamarin monkey. After the hike, you can choose to explore the nearby lake and creeks by dugout canoe—you might encounter a giant otter family during the ride!

Day 16: Fly to Quito, Depart 

Evening in Quito's historic center
It's an early departure as you hop in a canoe and travel back to the Río Napo, where you'll transfer to a motorized canoe. Then, it's a two-hour ride back to El Coca. Take this time to savor the river and forest scenery, as it will be your last chance to view exotic residents of the Amazon, like toucans and monkeys (at least for now). In Coca, you'll board a plane to Quito, where you'll catch your connecting flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Hiking & Culture in Ecuador: Volcanoes, Lakes & Ancient Ruins - 16 Days
Map of Hiking & Culture in Ecuador: Volcanoes, Lakes & Ancient Ruins - 16 Days