Experience the cultural heritage and natural beauty of Ecuador over the course of two weeks. From the urban sprawl of Quito to the serene shores of the Galapagos and everything in between, this tour will span several diverse regions and truly open your eyes to one of South America's most fascinating countries.

Highlights

  • Explore Quito, Ecuador's historical capital deemed the "Middle of the World"
  • Browse the handicraft market of Otavalo and visit the surrounding indigenous communities
  • Trek deep into the Amazon Rainforest to observe wildlife around the Yacuma Ecolodge
  • Discover the unique species and volcanic landscape of the famous Galapagos Islands

Overview

This itinerary will cover three out of Ecuador's four main geographical regions: The Sierra highlands, the Oriente jungles, and the Región Insular islands of the Galapagos. Ecuador's small size makes for quicker domestic transfers and more drastic contrasts between its eclectic regions, offering a different experience from its more iconic neighbor Peru as well as other South American destinations.

As a good deal of physical activity is required for the treks that can last up to 3-4 hours, this tour is best suited for active adventurers who are looking for an ideal balance of both natural and human interactions while reaching out of their comfort zone.

The journey will begin at Quito and give insight into both its colonial and modern legacy before continuing onto Otavalo, which contains one of the biggest indigenous markets in South America. Then, continue into the Amazon Rainforest, where Yacuma Ecolodge's sustainable tourism project will explain the flora, fauna, and native lifestyle of the area while providing communities with financial and educational support.

Finally, the last part of the tour will include a thorough excursion to San Cristobal, Isabela, and Santa Cruz, all part of the Galapagos Island archipelago. 

Route map

Route map
Route map for "The Real Ecuador" 14-day itinerary

Brief Itinerary

Day Destination Overnight
Day 1 Quito (Arrival) Hotel (Quito)
Day 2 Quito Hotel (Quito)
Day 3 Quito - Cayembe- Otavalo/Cotapachi - Quito Hotel (Quito)
Day 4 Quito - Tena/San Pedro de Sumino - Yacuma (Amazon) Ecolodge (Yacuma)
Day 5 Yacuma Ecolodge (Yacuma)
Day 6 Yacuma Ecolodge (Yacuma)
Day 7 Yacuma - San Pedro de Sumino - Quito Hotel (Quito)
Day 8 Quito - San Cristobal (Galapagos) Hotel (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno)
Day 9 San Cristobal - Isabela Hotel (Puerto Villamil)
Day 10 Isabela Hotel (Puerto Villamil)
Day 11 Isabela - Santa Cruz Hotel (Puerto Ayora)
Day 12 Santa Cruz Hotel (Puerto Ayora)
Day 13 Santa Cruz - Quito Hotel (Quito)
Day 14 Quito (Departure)  

Detailed itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Quito

Plaza Grande, Quito
Plaza Grande, Quito

Get ready to begin your adventure in Ecuador! Upon arrival in Quito, we will welcome you and transfer you to your hotel. Relax for the rest of the day and night, adjust to the higher altitude, and prepare for your first planned activity tomorrow.

Day 2: Quito Historic Center & Middle of the World Tour

Quito city center
Quito city center

We will start in Quito's old town, which includes all the main landmarks of the Colonial Center. Stroll along the beautiful narrow streets and see the colonial churches of San Francisco, La Compañia, and many more points of interest. This portion is followed by a short stop at the top of El Panecillo hill, where we can get a spectacular view and find the Statue of the Virgin overlooking and protecting the city. 

In the afternoon, we visit the Equator Monument, the Ethnographical Museum, and various colonial towns preserved from past centuries. After today's activities, return to your hotel for the night.

Day 3: Otavalo Full-Day Tour

Otavalo market
Otavalo market

Departing from Quito, we will drive north to the city of Cayambe to try some famous “Bizcocho” pastries before continuing to the city of Otavalo. Then, we will visit the well-known indigenous market that offers colorful textiles and other traditional goods for sale. This is a great chance to buy some souvenirs and work on your bargaining skills!

Later on, we will also have some free time to visit and shop in the nearby town of Cotacachi, renown for its quality leather goods. Afterward, head to the indigenous village of Peguche and spend some time interacting with the local Otavalo people. Finally, we will drive back to Quito.

Day 4: Into the Amazon Rainforest

Rio Napo
Rio Napo

Early in the morning, we will travel from Quito towards the Amazonian city of Tena, the province capital. Along the way, watch as jungle scenery slowly transforms your surroundings, making for some great photo opportunities. Once we arrive, our native guide will be waiting. We will then drive for about another hour and a half until we reach the community of San Pedro de Sumino, a small jungle town located on the banks of the Napo River, one of the main effluents of the great Amazon River.

From here, a short 20-30 minute ride will take us to the small Chontayacu River, where Yacuma Ecolodge is located. After resting for a bit, head to the “Hidden Lagoon” for your first nature hike and a little birdwatching. After returning to the lodge, dinner will be served. If you still have some energy left, you can end the day with a refreshing 40-minute night walk around the lodge. 

Day 5: Yacuma's Rainforest

Yacuma Eco Lodge
Entrance to Yacuma Eco Lodge

After a hearty breakfast, we will begin trekking deep into the primary jungle of the Yacuma Forest Reserve following a route of your choice that can span from 1-4 hours.  We will eventually stumble upon the Tutapishco "Bat" Cave, considered sacred by the locals for its spiritual energy that shamans channel for their rituals. Get plenty of opportunities to spot the many species of plants used for healing, food, and shelter by rainforest tribes.

Afterward, we will return to the camp for a delicious lunch made with local ingredients. Then, take a quick break before visiting one of the homes in the Kichwa Chontayacu community. Experience the local lifestyle and observe the various secondary jungle crops grown in the Napo Basin. If time permits, you can even go kayaking or tubing in the river. At nightfall, we will head back to camp for an evening bonfire full of food, music, and fun.

Day 6: Life in the Amazon

Panning for gold on the Rio Napo
Panning for gold on the Rio Napo

Today, embark on a 3-hour jungle hike along the Chontayacu River, which flows through the cabins of the Kichwa community based around the lodge. Traverse miles of scenic Amazon landscapes as the terrain becomes increasingly dense and complex. Finally, we will reach a breathtaking waterfall upstream.

Return to the lodge for lunch, rest a bit, then start the afternoon with a variety of educational activities. Learn about gold panning in the river, how to use a blowgun, and the process of making chocolate with sustainably-grown beans. By the end of the day, you will be able to whip up a fresh, high-quality cup of hot chocolate that will be sure to impress everyone back home! Enjoy your last night in the Amazon with a farewell dinner and bonfire.

Day 7: Yacuma to Quito

Parrots in the Amazon
Parrots in the Amazon

Rise and shine early by 5:30 AM and head up to a nearby vantage point to watch the canopies of the Amazon come alive. If you wake up even earlier, you can get a chance to go birdwatching for different species as the sun begins to peek over the trees. Return to the lodge for breakfast, say goodbye to our new friends, and board the canoe back to San Pedro de Sumino. For the rest of the day, we will travel back to Tena and then Quito with the help of our guide.

Day 8: Quito to the Galapagos

San Cristóbal Island, Galapagos
San Cristóbal Island, Galapagos

After breakfast, we will transfer to the airport and fly to the Galapagos Islands. Once we arrive at the small city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island, we will then stop by at our hotel. Enjoy a group lunch before heading to the Interpretation Center of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

Here, learn about the islands' natural and human history, unique geographical situation, and future plans for conserving the fragile ecosystem. Next, we will find the trailhead to the point of Cerro Tijeretas, where we can get a scenic view and observe colonies of nesting frigate birds. 

Afterward, choose from two options to finish off the day: the gorgeous Cabo de Hornos for some swimming and snorkeling, or Playa Carola for a chance to encounter sea lions in their natural habitat.

Day 9: San Cristobal Island & Isabela Island

Puerto Villamil
Puerto Villamil

After starting your day with breakfast in the hotel, head to the airport to catch a flight towards Isabela Island, the biggest in the archipelago. 40 minutes later, we will arrive in charming Puerto Villamil, one of the most beautiful coastal towns of South America. From the pier, we will head to the hotel and take a break for lunch. 

In the afternoon, visit the Humedales Wetlands and walk along an elevated wooden path surrounded by flamingos, seagulls, ducks and many other species of marine birds. The path ends at the Tortoise Breeding Center, where we can interact with tortoises of all sizes and subspecies and learn about the center's initiative. Our transport will then take us back to the hotel, where you will have the rest of the afternoon free to enjoy this scenic town.

Day 10: Isabela Trekking: Sierra Negra Volcano & Volcan Chico

Sierra Negra, Galapagos islands
Sierra Negra, Galapagos islands

Isabela is known for having the world's second largest volcanic crater, Sierra Negra. In the morning, we will visit this massive natural formation born out of the volcanic eruptions that created the islands. Our transport will leave us at a checkpoint, from where we will hike up to the rim of the crater. If the weather cooperates, the whole diameter of the crater (6 miles/11 km) will appear right in front of your eyes. 

Observe lava flows, learn about the site's formation, and if our group is feeling up to it, hike for another hour and a half to Volcan Chico, a moon-like landscape that faces north to the other volcanos of Isabela and Fernandina. Alternatively, we can head back to town and take part in a shared tour of Las Tintoreras, home to turtles, marine iguanas, penguins, and sharks. Finish off the day by winding down at the beach.

Day 11: Isabela Island & Santa Cruz Island

Galapagos Island giant tortoises
Galapagos Island giant tortoises

Depart Isabela in the morning and head to Puerto Ayora located on Santa Cruz Island by around 10 AM. If you are lucky, you might even spot some dolphins swimming alongside our boat! After lunch and some free time to settle in, visit the world-class Charles Darwin Research Station, where scientists will introduce us to the various research and conservation efforts taking place within the Galapagos.

The rest of the afternoon is open for you to explore this quaint, lively town: try some delicious locally-sourced seafood, listen to some live music, or just relax.

Day 12: Santa Cruz Island, the Highlands, and Tortuga Bay Beach

Twin Craters, Santa Cruz island
Twin Craters, Santa Cruz island

In the morning, we will make our way to the highlands of Santa Cruz, where we will visit a local farm and hike around the area. This will be a truly unique experience full of incredible sights, from the fascinating tortoises roaming freely among pastures of tall grass and other vegetation to the ancient lava tunnels that remain from earlier geological periods. Then, we will return to Puerto Aroya to rest and eat lunch before heading to beautiful Tortuga Bay.

Tortuga Bay is known for its soft coral sand and heavenly scenery. Reaching it will take about an hour to an hour and a half, after which you will approach the mangroves along its coast that contain colonies of marine iguanas, boobies, and various marine birds. By the end of the afternoon, we will return back to our hotel after a day full of natural exploration.

Day 13: Return to Mainland Ecuador

Today is our last day in the Galapagos. We will check out of the hotel and head to the airport, stopping by the incredible Los Gelemos "Twin Craters" near the Itabaca Canal. After checking into our flight and returning to Quito, we will transfer to a hotel and have time left for some final activities in the capital.

Day 14: Transfer Out

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your departing flight and say goodbye to Ecuador.