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Next to the giants of Peru and Brazil, Ecuador is a tiny pocket of underrated beauty. Our ambitious journey encompasses a wealth of culture and nature, taking in traditional Andean villages, snow-capped volcanic peaks, lush jungle landscapes and a fascinating colonial history.
Explore Tour Leader
3 nights comfortable guesthouse
1 nights comfortable hostel
6 nights comfortable hotel
3 nights comfortable lodge
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Tumbaco, a quiet rural neighbourhood of Quito located around 20 minutes from the airport and 45 minutes from the downtown city centre.
Ecuador's mountain capital is, at 2,850m, the second highest capital in Latin America, lying in a narrow valley at the foot of the Pichincha volcano. Arriving into the city by plane is quite spectacular as you approach over snow-capped mountains and extinct volcanoes - a window seat is recommended!
Due to the number of evening flights into Quito, your Leader plans to do the welcome meeting on the morning of day two, and will leave a message in reception with details on timings and everything else that you'll need for the day. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Quito at any time. If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Quito's Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), approximately a 10 minute drive from our hotel. Should you miss the meeting, your leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
The hotel is a tranquil, family property with a large garden and mountain views. If your flight arrives earlier in the day we recommend resting here and acclimatising to the altitude before the trip begins. It's approximately a 45 minute drive into downtown Quito, and the hotel can organise transport for you if you arrive early in the day and wish to visit the city.
Ilalo Garden Hotel (or similar)
We'll go straight to rural Ecuador today, driving north towards the small market town of Otavalo, crossing over the equator line and stopping to commemorate this at the Quitsato Equator Monument.
Set within a fertile valley encircled by imposing sacred mountains, Otavalo is well-known for its thriving indigenous communities. This area is a real introduction into the Andean landscapes and culture that make Ecuador so special.
We'll take a drive to San Pablo Lake, idyllically situated at the foot of the Imbabura volcano, and stretch our legs. It's a gentle walk at the lake before returning to Otavalo.
The afternoon is at your leisure. You may wish to spend some time discovering the local market. The Otavalenos are an incredibly dignified and assured people, proudly displaying their cultural traditions and ancient heritage through their handmade leather goods, wood carvings and weavings. After exploring the market, the visual majesty of the setting and colourful dress of the local communities make Otavalo a great place to sip a coca tea and watch the world pass by.
Hostal Riviera Sucre (or similar)
We'll drive out to the tranquil setting of Cuicocha this morning, a turquoise crater-lake located at 3,100m, approached through a wonderful landscape of alpine vegetation. We will walk on a segment of the trail that goes around the lake (an easy walk of approximately one and a half hours), and perhaps try to spot the King of the Andes - the wide-winged condors that soar high above the valleys in graceful flight.
Returning towards Otavalo, we stop at a neighbouring indigenous community, diving deep into their day-to-day activities, customers and way of life. This sharing of rural life is what makes Otavalo come alive, and we'll get a taste of this over a home cooked lunch - seasonal food will be on the menu, which could be a traditional locro de papa (potato and cheese soup), fritada (fried chunks of pork served with all types of corn), yucca or quinoa served with meat and vegetables. We'll also continue this afternoon to the village of Peguche, which is famed for its local families who make and play panpipes - a very Andean tradition. We'll get a taster of how these are made, as well as hearing a bit of this music played by the experts.
We'll enter downtown Quito for the first time today. Ecuador's capital is one of the best preserved colonial cities of the Americas, and a UNESCO Heritage Site with a rich blend of colonial architecture, imposing churches and busy markets. We will visit some of the main sites, including La Compania church with its elaborate gilded altars, walls and ceilings, as well as Quito's largest and oldest colonial church, the Church of San Francisco, built in 1553.
A climb to the top of nearby Cerro Panecillo affords us one of the best views across the city and the surrounding mountains, presenting us with an unparalleled vista of the encircling Andes from the viewing platform offered by the statue of the Virgen de Quito.
We'll have some time free this afternoon. You may like to visit one of the city's many museums, or discover the Old Town at your own pace. Take the opportunity to try some tasty food in one of the city's many eateries. Ecuadorian food is incredibly tasty - we'll find plenty of spicy ceviches, plantain, yuca and soups or stews on the menu as we travel around.
Ikala Quito Hotel (or similar)
Our journey today takes us through some of the most impressive mountain scenery in the entire country, into the landscapes so aptly described by the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt as the 'Avenue of the Volcanoes'. The spectacular Cotopaxi National Park is our destination - at only two hours from Quito it is an excellent day trip out of the city and an important area for bird life.
Ecuador's second highest mountain, Cotopaxi, is a classic volcanic cone, snow-covered and rising an imposing 5,897m from the valley floor. Hopes of seeing the cone in its full glory are always high, but to temper the enthusiasm it's important to mention that the peak is often covered by a tantalising puff of cloud!
This won't detract from our visit though - while we come for the splendour of the volcano, we'll stay for the magnificent, bleak scenery of the paramo (the high altitude Andean grasslands). We'll take time to walk around the Limpiopungo Lagoon, an easy high of 1.5 hours taking us around a shallow glacial lake that's a haven for waterfowl, hummingbirds and unexpected migratory species such as the Andean Gull and the Andean Lapwing, as well as wild horses.
We return to Tumbaco this evening, at the hotel where we joined our tour.
Papallacta is located in a high valley on the Amazonian side of the central Andes chain. Taking a panoramic mountain road, we'll cross farmland, trout ponds, and native forest, and on clear days we may be able to see the spectacular frozen formations of the nearby Antisana volcano.
With an altitude of 3,300 metres above sea level and a cold climate, we'll enjoy a dip at the Papallacta Hot Springs spa, which consists of five hot thermal pools and one cold one. Just behind the thermal bath complex there is a short walking trail that follows the mountain stream through cloud forest full of epiphytes such as bromeliads and wild orchids.
After some time at the hot springs, we'll continue driving into the Amazon Region, at Tena.
Jardin Aleman (or similar)
Today we'll set out on a walk with our local Amazonian guide, who will explain the typical plants of this area and their daily use. During the hike we will pass through a labyrinth of high rocks and some impressively wild cave formations. The creeping plant life and abundance of vegetation overhanging into the caves is reminiscent of a film set. We may see some poison dart frogs hiding in the foliage.
A very different scenery awaits us after lunch, as we take a bird watching walk along the Misahualli River. We'll be hoping to spot some of the Amazon's wonderful bird life in the canopy - perhaps woodpecker, toucan, oropendola or parrot.
After breakfast we set out for a canoe trip on the Misahualli and Napo River, to the protected forest reserve of Misicocha. We'll be surrounded by the extraordinary plant life and sounds of the primary rainforest. The plants here have myriad medicinal uses for the communities who live in the forest, and we'll also learn some of this from our guide.
After lunch, we board the canoe again and travel upriver to visit a local community, where we'll be able to compare life in the jungle with that of the Andean villages we've just visited. We'll find out how to make 'chicha', a traditional drink found in different forms throughout Ecuador, made from fermented cassava - definitely an acquired taste!
We'll cross back into the highlands today as we leave the Amazon Jungle behind us, driving to the town of Banos. Sitting below the active Tungarahua volcano, the lively town is a beacon for adventure and a common jumping off point for travellers heading into the jungle.
In the late afternoon, we'll drive along the 'Avenue of the Waterfalls' road, a route that takes in almost a dozen waterfalls along the Andean landscape. The Pailon del Diablo ('Cauldron of the Devil' in Spanish) is our final destination, an 80 metre drop into a swirling bowl. We'll see the falls close up before returning to Banos.
La Floresta Hotel (or similar)
Mount Chimborazo is, at 6,310 metres, the most distant point from the centre of the earth. We'll see Ecuador's highest peak today as we journey to Alausi via the Chimborazo Forest Reserve. This protected area is home to a wide variety of vegetation and animals, including alpacas and vicunas. Once in the reserve, we will drive up to the 'Hermanos Carrel Refuge' located at 4,800m. This will be the highest point on our trip, and gives us some spectacular panoramic views across the Ecuadorian Andes. Time-permitting, we'll take a short walk up here before descending and continuing our drive to Riobamba, where we will stay overnight.
Hotel Rio (or similar)
We begin the day with a beautiful visit to the Palacio Real community, at the foot of the Chimborazo Volcano. It's here in Ecuador's heartlands that indigenous farming communities thrive, and the 80 families who make up Palacio Real breed llamas that are used for farming both here and around the rest of the country. They have built this into a grassroots community tourism project by welcoming visitors to the village with walks on the trails around the remote community, a visit to their small 'Museum of Llamas', and of course the chance to be surrounded by these wonderful animals in their natural habitat.
Visiting another indigenous community is an interesting counterpoint to those that we've encountered in the Amazon and the northern Andes around Otavalo. It really gives us an idea of the very distinct differences that exist between indigenous groups even within a relatively small country.
Our trip continues south along the scenic Panamerican Highway with a stop in Ingapirca, the main Inca complex in Ecuador. We will visit its principal archeological sites before continuing to Cuenca.
Hotel Balcones (or similar)
The UNESCO World Heritage city of Cuenca is much calmer, less sprawling and frenetic than Quito, with a beautiful historical area and central market, including two cathedrals. The city has a proud intellectual tradition that has produced many notable writers, poets, artists, and philosophers, and the city's universities are some of the best in the country. It's a beautiful city to explore, and we plan to visit the various historical parts of the city, as well as the massive Diez de Agosto food market.
We'll also visit El Turi, which is a panoramic viewpoint over the peaceful city.
You will have the afternoon free, and we recommend taking a gentle stroll around the atmospheric streets, stopping for a delicious empanada.
On the scenic route from Cuenca to Guayaquil, we'll come upon El Cajas National Park, an alluring outdoor paradise with breathtaking views of jagged rocky peaks and outstretched paramo moorlands. The rich ecosystem (a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, like the Galapagos), plays home to 150 species of bird, including the giant hummingbird and the Andean condor, while locals come to fish trout in the 250 scenic lakes found here.
Walking is the best way to explore the treasures of El Cajas. There are many routes to discover, but depending on the weather we'll most likely take a one-and-a-half hour walk to Llaviuco Lake, before continuing our drive to Guayaquil. The largest city in Ecuador and its principal port, Guayaquil has a bustling, lively atmosphere. 20 years ago several areas of the city had a somewhat edgy reputation, but after years of regeneration, community safety drives and cultural projects, it has been transformed into a really likeable, characterful destination.
Unipark Hotel (or similar)
This morning there is time for a tour of Guayaquil before the trip ends. We'll discover the administrative centre of the city and the 'Parque de las Iguanas', where colonies of land iguanas bizarrely roam. We will also walk to the Malecon, or seafront, and visit the bohemian neighbourhood of Las Penas.
You will be dropped off at the airport at approximately 12pm once the city tour has finished, however if you'd like to leave earlier and skip the city tour you are free to organise flights at any time. If you'd like an airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Guayaquil's Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport (airport code: GYE), which is approximately a 20 minute drive from our hotel.
Temperature ranges are similar all year round. In the highlands: the dry season lasts from June to mid-September. November and December are partially dry. The rainy months are October and from January to May, but showers are short and mostly in the afternoons. Temperatures range from 12°C to 24°C. Nights are cold at altitude (4°C - 10°C). The Coastal Region: from December to May it is hot and wet. From June to November it is generally cool and misty with sudden light showers. Temperatures range from 16°C to 32°C. The Amazon Area: it is humid all year round. Temperatures range from 16°C to 32°C. From April to August the rainfall is heavier. The Galapagos: On the Galapagos, the hot season is January to April with largely sunny days and the possibility of heavy showers; the cool season runs from May to December and is generally more cloudy with much cooler seas. Please note that although it is windier from July to November the sea can be rough at any time of the year. On the mainland the dry season lasts from June to October, though September can be wet.
2 Pin Flat
Papallacta - Hummingbird garden US$10 Banos - Thermal springs US$3
Daytime clothing should be lightweight and loose fitting, but warmer clothing is needed at altitude, particularly at night. Long-sleeved lightweight clothes are useful for protection against sunburn. Bring a swimsuit, sunhat, sunglasses and a thick sweater or fleece. Lightweight waterproofs are essential. Remember that altitude can make places much colder, especially at night, so bring something to wrap up in, including a pair of gloves, hat and scarf and a fleece.
Comfortable walking boots or shoes are a good option for walks around Otavalo and Cotopaxi, while trainers or comfortable sandals are perfect for the towns and cities.
One main piece of luggage, plus a daypack. Remember, you are expected to carry your own luggage - don't overload yourself.
A torch, water bottle, insect repellent and high factor sunscreen are essential. You may also wish to consider bringing ear plugs and binoculars with you.
During this trip we stay in a range of comfortable hotels and lodges, perfectly located for exploring Ecuador's diverse nature. In Misahualli, for example, we stay at a jungle lodge that offers delicious food, a swimming pool, access to the Napo River and great bird watching opportunities.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Ecuador: Visas are not required by UK, Australian, New Zealand, US and Canadian citizens. In order for your visa to be granted on arrival, you will be required to show proof of travel insurance valid for the duration of your trip. Please also ensure your passport is stamped with the T3 permit (for 30 or 90 days) on arrival in Ecuador. Other nationalities should consult the relevant consulate. Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry; this is a strict legal requirement from the Ecuadorean government. Without this minimum validity entry to the country will be denied. Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office. USA: If your flights pass through the USA, even if only in transit, you will require either a visa or an ESTA (an e-visa). Please read on for more information. Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ESTA under certain conditions. This applies if you enter the country by sea or by air, and this must be done online via https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov, no later than 72 hours prior to travel. Travellers who have not registered before their trip are likely be refused boarding. You must have a biometric passport to apply for an ESTA. UK passports which are biometric feature a small gold symbol (camera) at the bottom of the front cover. If you have visited Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen since 2011 or are dual nationals of these countries, you cannot travel with an ESTA and instead you will need to apply for a visa from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. If you are unable to provide a valid visa before boarding flights to the US, or entering via another method, you may not be permitted to travel. You should also be aware that if you have travelled to or have been in Cuba since the 12th of January 2021, you will not be eligible for an ESTA visa waiver and will need to apply for a US visa. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which you will need. Your ESTA application will ask for Point of Contact information. Please note that if you're only transiting through the USA then this is not required. If you're visiting or staying in the USA on an Explore trip, then our USA contact information will be listed on your final documentation which you will receive approximately 3-4 weeks before departure. Entry requirements for the USA can change regularly, therefore, please ensure you have the most up to date information before you travel by checking the US embassy website. Visa applications - http://london.usembassy.gov/niv/apply.html Canada: An electronic travel authorisation (ETA) is required by British citizens transiting via Canada. For more information see the official Canadian government website: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
We recommend protection against malaria, Tetanus, Infectious Hepatitis, Typhoid and Polio. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please take preventative measures to avoid mosquito bites - these include mosquito repellent as well as long trousers and long sleeve shirts to cover up when necessary. Please note many countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean require a yellow fever vaccination certificates if travelling from infected areas. A detailed list of these countries can be found on the NaTHNaC website - http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries. Also on the NaTHNaC site there is a list of Countries (and specific areas within a country) which are at risk of infection and a vaccination is therefore recommended. Yellow fever in only recommended for those travelling east of the Andes (Amazon Extension). Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.