UNESCO is a pretty good judge of character, right? With its colonial architecture, plazas, churches and colourful local life, there’s a reason they’ve listed Quito’s Old Town as a World Heritage site. There’s nothing like munching on a red tomato from an Ecuadorian market, eh? Saunter (yes, saunter) around the Otavalo Markets and find yourself smack bang in the middle of Souvenir City, population: you. Visit the colonial city of Cuenca. Get your adrenaline kicks in Banos – or just plonk yourself in a hot spring
Traipsing through jungles? Check. Turning into a prune in hot springs and waterfalls? Check check. Balancing on floating islands made out of reeds? Hiking ancient mountain trails to long-lost cities? Exploring two of South America’s (nay, the world’s) most exciting destinations for three whole weeks? Abso-freakin’-lutely. That’s what it’s all about on this epic Peruvian and Ecuadorian adventure, amigos. Kicking off in Quito, you’ll scramble over ruins at Ollantaytambo, wander the cobblestone streets of Cuenca, explore the Amazon by night, peruse some markets in Peru and just have mucho amounts of fun. Vamanos?
Welcome to Quito, Ecuador. Things kick off today when you meet you leader and new travel mates at a welcome meeting at 2pm. Double check with the hotel reception for the exact time and place. Insurance details and next of kin information will be collected at this meeting, so please have this on hand for your leader. If you’re going to be late, please let the hotel reception know. Quito’s a pretty amazing place surrounded by mountainous volcanoes, but it’s not just the view that can take your breath away – Quito is way up at 2,800 metres above sea level and it can be common for travellers to experience some adverse health effects due to the altitude, regardless of age, gender or fitness. Please check out the ‘Is This Trip Right For You?’ and ‘Health’ sections of the trip notes for important information about altitude sickness before and during your trip. There’s plenty of stuff to do in Quito if you get here early – hit up the Old Town, the Plaza Grande and the Plaza San Francisco to get a feel for local life, then head to El Panecillo (The Little Bread Loaf) for awesome views over the city’s white houses and mountains. After the meeting tonight, maybe dine with your new buddies – grab some empanadas for sure.
Otavalo / Quito
How good’s your Spanish? You’ll find out this morning when you catch a local bus to the famous Otavalo Market (approximately 2-3 hours). This is the perfect chance to (try to) chat with the locals and maybe get some tips on the best stuff to pick up. This day trip will give you loads of time to squeeze your way through the streets that surround the Plaza de los Ponchos and check out the rainbow of stalls that make up Ecuador’s largest indigenous market. Once a week it feels like every villager from the surrounding countryside has descended on the town to buy everything from handmade crafts to fruits, vegetables, and even livestock. A bit further out of the city all types of animals are up for trade, from llamas to masses of (edible) guinea pigs. This is the perfect place to stock up on some souvenirs – silver jewellery, a poncho, wooden carvings, a Panama hat (which actually originated in Ecuador) – and practice your bargaining skills. And that’s not to mention the great, colourful photos you’ll get. In the afternoon, hop back on the bus and return to Quito. Maybe grab some dinner and drinks with the group, then try Old Town’s strange ice cream flavours – morocho corn or quinoa anyone?
Say bye to Quito as you take a private transfer to the bus station. From here you’ll hop a local bus to Banos, the adventure capital of Ecuador (approximately 3 hours). Location, location, location, that’s what Banos is all about. It’s got a subtropical climate and from town you can see waterfalls crashing down green hills and the occasional eruption of the Tungurahua volcano. This is a great place to get into some small town vibes and explore the Ecuadorian great outdoors. The town might seem quiet during the week, but at night and the weekend Banos really kicks off as a party town. The rumbling volcano means hot water bubbles up out of the ground here so, if you have time after you arrive, maybe head to the hot springs of Las Piscinas de la Virgen. This is the perfect way to relax after your bus journey and get your body ready for tomorrow's adventures.
Hear that? That’s adventure calling! If you didn’t get too into the nightlife yesterday, rise early to catch a sweet sunrise over the mountains before breakfast. Then it’s decision time. How will you explore this outdoor playground? Get on some sturdy shoes and hike through the lush forests visit the near-by Devils Cauldrom waterfall!
If you're feeling cruisey, hit up the hot springs and spas for some chill out me-time. Other stuff to explore in town includes the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Agua Santa (a basilica dedicated to the Virgin of the Holy Water) and the artisan markets. If you didn’t get enough stuff at Otavalo, then negotiate for leather goods, jewellery and carvings. Tonight, swap stories of your adventures while you get into the regular carnival-like atmosphere.
Let’s be straight – today is a long travel day on local buses. This is your chance to catch up on few Z’s after partying and adventuring in Banos, to get to know your travel buddies better, to write in that journal or read that book, or to just press your face up against the glass and watch Ecuador go by. You’ll take a local bus to Riobamba (approximately 3 hours), where you’ll swap buses and head south to Cuenca (approximately 5 hours). Is Cuenca the best-looking city in Ecuador? Probably, with UNESCO sticking it on their list of things they love. There are loads of impressive 500-year-old churches and colonial buildings, made out of marble and decorated with stunning woodwork and ironwork. It’s the country’s third largest city but still has a small town and Old World air, and it’s great for just wandering around and exploring. Think you can pull off a Panama hat? Well Cuenca is the home of the famous headwear, and if there’s time you could visit a factory and pick up one that fits perfectly. Cuenca is also a university town, so all the students give it a buzzing nightlife, and there are some good bars and restaurants to choose from. Add in an evening stroll around the Plaza and you’ve got the perfect end to your first day in Cuenca.
Meet up with your leader this morning and get to know Cuenca better with an orientation walk. Trundle along cobblestone streets and check out colonial parks, buzzing markets, and stop by the monumental cathedral at the centre. La Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción took 100 years to finish, and its blue and white domes are a real standout. The rest of the day is free to explore Cuenca and the surrounding area. If you’re feeling cultural, maybe head to the Museo Pumapungo, which features an impressive range of artistic, historical, cultural, and ethnological exhibits (including a collection of real shrunken heads from the Shuar civilisation – for the strong stomached only!). Otherwise, maybe get out of town to El Cajas National Park, home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. 70,000 acres shelter everything from cloud forest to rocky lunar landscapes, but it's the lakes (more than 200 of them) scattered among jagged peaks that are its best-known image. Feel the solitude while hiking or trout fishing. Look out for the reintroduced wild llamas that roam around, as well as elusive spectacled bears, pumas and tigrillos. There are also hummingbirds, toucans and Andean condors flying about the park. El Cajas is a simple one-hour bus ride from Cuenca. Once there, pay the entrance fee, hire a native guide and start hiking around the beautiful lakes. Tonight you might want to get to bed early, in preparation for a very early start early tomorrow morning.
Tumbes / Lima flight
Peru takes a bit of getting to, so strap in once again for a long day of travelling – just look forward to that first sip of Pisco sour this evening. At approximately 3am start off with a taxi to the bus station in Cuenca, then take a public bus south east towards the coast and the town of Huanquillas, which sits on the border of Ecuador and Peru (approximately 5-6 hours). Get all the boring border stuff out the way, then cross into Peru and make your way to Tumbes airport (approximately 30 minutes). Say bye to your Ecuadorian leader, then hop on a plane for an included flight to the Peruvian capital, Lima (approximately 1 hour 45 minutes). Touch down and meet your Peruvian leader, who’ll take you to your hotel in Miraflores, which sits along the coast, offering easy access to beaches and Pacific sunsets. Get that Pisco sour tonight, washing down some fresh ceviche.
Today is a free day in Peru. Your tour leader will give you some suggestions of things to do and there are plenty of optional activities available.
At around 2 pm there will be a meeting for the next portion of your trip where you'll meet any new travellers who are starting their trip in Lima.
Following the meeting your leader will take you on an orientation walk of downtown Lima, including the city's historical centre. Flanked by streets of ornate mansions, palaces and churches, Plaza Mayor is the best place to start any exploration of Lima. Take a walk through the old streets to get a feel for colonial life. On one side of the plaza is the Cathedral of Lima, which houses the remains of Lima's founder, Francisco Pizarro. Nearby is the San Francisco Monastery, with its catacombs containing some 70,000 human remains. There will be time for you to go inside if you wish, however the entrance fee is not included in the tour price. The city tour will finish in time for dinner, you may choose to head out for dinner with the group. Why not head to one of Lima's many seafood restaurants to try one of the nation's favourite dishes, ceviche.
Puerto Maldonado (Amazon Jungle lodge)
Take a flight to Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon Jungle, where you'll be staying for two nights. Upon your arrival, the lodge staff will take you to their office in town. Here you can leave most of your luggage in safe storage and continue travelling with a small pack with just the necessary items for your next two nights in the jungle. You’ll then take a motorised canoe upriver to your jungle lodge in the Madre de Dios area. There will be time to unpack and unwind once you get there. The next two days are packed with activities. Your full day in the jungle includes a trek which lasts approximately half a day. At times the paths can get quite muddy and some people can find the trek a little exhausting. Along the way there will be regular stops, and you'll encounter magnificent fauna and flora in their natural habitat. You might spot everything from macaws and monkeys to peccaries, jabirus, otters and thousands of butterflies. The guides can also teach you about the medicinal properties and practical uses of the plants. For lunch you will return to the lodge.
For your night-time excursion, you will venture out in the dark in search of caimans on the Tambopata River. The naturalist guide will use a spotlight in order to locate them on the banks of the river, so you can observe them from a respectable distance.
Notes: We stay at two different lodges in the same area. The activities may vary slightly according to which lodge you are at. Depending on which lodge you are staying at, the included night excursion may be on the night of Day 1 or Day 2. As both of our lodges are in the same area of the jungle, you will see the same wildlife and your overall jungle experience will be the same in either lodge.
Say farewell to the jungle today and fly to Cusco, which takes just under an hour. Spend the next day trying to acclimatise to the high altitude of this location (i.e. no strenuous activity).
After dropping your luggage off and having some lunch, your tour leader will take you on a walk around downtown Cusco. You’ll visit the facade of Qoricancha temple, the local San Pedro market, the main square, past the 12 Angled Stone, Regocijo Square and San Blas Square.
The order of visiting these locations, may vary according to hotel location and your tour leaders preference.
In your free time may want to book some of the optional activities available in Cusco. Please speak with your leader about this.
Manos Unidas Cafe
In your free time in Cusco why not stop & check out the Manos Unidas Cafe? This café and pizzeria in the centre of Cusco it’s the first vocational training site for young adults with special needs. Manos Unidas’ core purpose is to improve the quality of life for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities through vocational training, education and parent advocacy, leading to successful inclusion within a society in which they had traditionally been ostracised from.
The food is all natural, prepared and baked by the students on site and students are trained across all aspects of hospitality so this is a great way for our travellers to interact with locals and in doing so, give a young adult who would normally be isolated from society the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and hone their skills.
Sacred Valley / Ollantaytambo
Today takes you a little closer to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Unwind on a private bus for around two hours through the Sacred Valley, which is on the fringes of Cusco. Known as Wilcamayo to the Incas, the lush, fertile valley has long been the main source of food for the high Andes. Head to a community in the valley to learn about the local lifestyle and activities, and hopefully your visit will coincide with market day (Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday). Comb the stalls in search of hand-painted beads or warm ponchos, and master the local Quechuan language (a few words will be deemed a success). Continuing on, drive 20 minutes to Ollantaytambo. Later in the afternoon, perhaps head out to visit to Ollantaytambo’s awesome Incan ruins. You’ll spend the night at a hotel in Ollantaytambo, ready for your early morning start on the Inca Trail.