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Ecuador may be relatively small, but in addition to its many giant volcanoes, Amazon destinations, beach towns and cloud forest resorts, the mainland offers exclusive access to a true natural wonder of the world: the unique Galápagos Islands. Train routes pass through the dramatic highlights of the Andes, including the impeccably preserved colonial centers of Quito and Cuenca, then descending thousands of feet towards the coastal metropolis of Guayaquil.
Several points of access to the rainforest, and its mighty rivers, lead to the treasured Yasuni jungle reserve and its mega-biodiversity.
Day 1 : Otavalo - Zuleta
Day 2 : Otavalo - Colonial Quito - Quito
Day 3 : Quito - Middle of the World - Quito - Colonial Quito - Quito
Day 4 : Cotopaxi National Park - Chaupi - El Pedegral - Cotopaxi
Day 5 : Quilotoa lagoon - Riobamba
Day 6 : Alausi - Cuenca - Alausi - Ingapirca - Cuenca
Day 7 : Cuenca - Guayaquil Center
Day 8 : Guayaquil Center - Guayaquil Airport
Regions to discover
Imbabura province is famous for its beautiful collection of lagoons, the very best of Ecuador's northern Andes peaks, and towns full of diverse traditional culture. Climbing the inactive Imbabura Volcano, peaking at 4,600 meters above sea level, is a half-day effort rewarded by sweeping country views. Cotacachi volcano, departing from the town of the same name, is another option. But perhaps the most spectacular sight is the Cuicocha lagoon, with peaks rising from its center, and great panoramic vistas appreciated from trails around the perimeter. Exploration on horseback is also highly recommended. Meanwhile, the capital of Ibarra and town of Otavalo offer indigenous textile markets and many culinary specialities, thanks to a large native Kichwas population.
Quito & surroundings
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, resides high in the Andes at 2,850m above sea level, tempting visitors with even higher peaks. It is flanked by the active Pichincha volcano, accessible via cable car. Its primary attraction is a beautifully preserved historic quarter, where grand colonial-era churches and the presidential palace are all situated within a dozen square blocks of narrow streets and various public squares. Further north are Quito's best parks and a new botanical garden, while to the east is the trendy, bohemian community of Guapulo and its spectacular views down to the other valley. Also within an hour of downtown is the Middle of the World monument, right on the international Equator line.
Cotopaxi province, volcano and National Park are within easy reach of Ecuador's capital, and at 5,897 meters above sea level, the active volcano is one of the highest in the world — visible from most parts of Quito. When not billowing ash and smoke, climbers can practice in optimal conditions from December to April, with rented crampons, pick and a local guide. Spectacular summit views include many other majestic peaks, while the surrounding protected area features condors, falcons, llamas, deers, foxes, pumas and with some luck, Andean speckled bears. Latacunga, the capital of the province, and Saquisilí a short drive away, offer authentic markets, festivals, cuisine and highland culture. Cotopaxi is recommended for pure relaxation and adventure.
The Quilotoa Loop, one of Ecuador's most stunning attractions, can be enjoyed in a single afternoon's ascent, or a leisurely week-long hike around the high rim of this extinct volcanic lagoon. With an approximate diameter of 3km, the water's captivating emerald green hues (often blending with blues and yellows) combine with paranoramic views outward onto Andean landscapes and, on a clear day, the snow-capped peaks of Cotopaxi and Illiniza volcanoes.
Comfortable lodges around the volcano crater provide both rustic and luxurious facilities to accommodate hikers of all ages. Traditional highland villages such as Chugchilan and Tigua offer rich arts & crafts, as well as excellent horseback riding opportunities around scenic mountain ridges and pristine cloud forest.
Chimborazo province's greatest asset is also the national treasure: a perpetually snow-capped volcano and world's highest peak measured from the Earth's core. At a staggering 6,263 meters above sea level, "El Chimborazo" is a postcard favorite, and daily spectacle for the residents of Riobamba, the major city and nearby base camp (plenty of hotel rooms with volcano views here). To see the plethora of impressive peaks in the region, a train ride is highly recommended.
Alausí is a historic town on this train route, nestled in a valley and watched over by the giant San Pedro monument. Here, one can climb the Lluglli hill for panoramic views, explore the colonial-era buildings, or browse the Sunday market, where indigenous highlanders come to sell their wares.
Cuenca and vicinity
Cuenca is favored by expats for its mild climate, slow-paced atmosphere, and beautiful architecture. The old town's colonial splendor is enhanced at night, with lights illuminating details missed during the day. Flower markets, cafes, rivers and bridges are highlights of walking tours, while beautiful hotels and restaurants
provide welcome comfort in the evening hours. Situated high in the Andes, Cuenca is an ideal base camp to explore the south of the country. Cajas National Park, just 30km away, is a biodiverse tundra on a jagged landscape of hills and valleys, with over 250 lagoons. Meanwhile, the Ingapirca site hosts the largest Inca ruins in Ecuador, Including a Sun Temple. Nearby towns are known for their textiles and jewelry.
Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest city, port and financial center, but also features charming cathedrals, cobbled hilly streets and riverfront parks. The tropical pacific climate is manageable during the day, and perfect for walks and open-air dining after sunset. Marketplaces and cafes offer a taste of the relaxed, flip-flops culture that seems a world away from lofty Andean cities (all accessible via a convenient train line). The mighty Guayas river provides an ideal backdrop for regular
liquid refreshments. Take a stroll along the malecon boardwalk, or head to Iguana Park for reptile selfies. Visit the botanical gardens, flower markets, Santay Island, or the local mangroves by boat. And to round it all off, Guayaquil boasts excellent hotels and hospitality.
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