The ingenious design of medieval fortress town Cuenca sees beautiful buildings built into the jagged cliffs the city is built on. Walk through the dense and mist-laden elfin forest of Podocarpus National Park, where high-elevation results in miniature, moss covered trees. Barter over brightly coloured handwoven textiles at the Otavalo market, nestled in a valley under three mountain peaks.
Beyond the Galapagos Islands and beaches that most travellers associate with Ecuador is a land of breathtaking mountain ranges and colourful communities that live in their foothills. Run your hands over the rugged edges of Ecuador in this tour, exploring the dense forests and eden-esque valleys that comprise some of the most beautiful vistas in all of the Americas. This trip offers the opportunity to explore the essential spots, from the charming montane town of Cuenca to the lush and laid-back Vilcabamba.
Breakfast Included: 7 Lunches Included: 1 Dinner Included:
Welcome to Guayaquil, officially Santiago de Guayaquil, the coastal gateway to your Ecuador adventure. First things first, join your group and tour leader for a welcome meeting at 3 pm. If you're going to be late, let the hotel know and they’ll pass the message on. After the meeting, we will embark on a walking tour to the Malecon 2000. Afterwards, feel free to use the rest of your afternoon and evening to explore Guayaquil. Maybe take a stroll along the boardwalk overlooking the Guayas river, which is particularly lively in the evening. Here you’ll find monuments, interesting sculptures and food stalls where the humble plantain is made into everything from dumplings to chips.
Guayaquil to Cuenca
After breakfast we’ll take a 3.5-hour bus ride to what many consider Ecuador’s most attractive city, Cuenca. We arrive at approximately 12pm. See for yourself why this medieval fortress town earned a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List during a walking tour of the city. Cuenca is a study in how architecture can complement environment, where ornate buildings are built into craggy cliff faces. After the tour, the rest of the day is yours. Why not wander this imminently strollable city while munching on a skewer of cuy? This rich, roasted meet is popular all over the Americas, but is particularly renowned in Cuenca, though you might know the animal by its Western name: guinea pig!
Today is a free day to explore Cuenca. There are loads of impressive 500-year-old churches (among them, La Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción which took 100 years to finish, and its blue and white domes are a real standout) 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. You can also learn about the Cañari and Inca cultures at the Ingapirca Archeaological site, or, if nature is more your scene, be sure to check out Cajas National park (3050m-4450m). and revel in the amazing variety of ecosystems which includes 270 glacier lakes and lagoons. There are also many plant species are endemic to Cajas' coud forest and it is home to a number of important wildlife species, in particular the violet-throated metaltail, endemic to Cajas and surrounding valleys which is the largest hummingbird in the world. If you're lucky you may spot some of the fourty-four species of mammal identified in the park such as deer, alpaca, llama,fox or the ever reclusive puma. For those looking for authentic souvenirs a day at the handicraft villages of Chordeleg and Gualaceo provide ample opportunity to grab some one of a kind jewelery, textiles and pottery. 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 in the evening.
Set off for Vilcabamba, making a couple of stops along the way. Visit Saraguro, a town named after the Kichwa Nation indigenous folk who have called the area home for over 500 years, for a tour of the town and its beautiful church. Continue to the neighbouring farming village of Namarin for lunch. Although the contents of lunch will depend on the day, be prepared for rustic, hearty dishes made from potatoes – a staple of Southern Ecuadorian cuisine.Today we will explore this verdant valley town via a walking tour, wandering roads shared by tame livestock such as donkeys. This relaxed town was once named the “Valley of Longevity,” and while claims of residents extra-long lifespans have since been disproven, there’s no doubt the mineral-rich produce, clear mountain water and fantastic weather make for a happy and chilled out community.
Today, we will travel to Podocarpus National Park where you can breathe deep the heady scent of orchids and spot endemic plant species. Spend up to 3 to 4 hours wandering this biodiverse park, including natural wonders like the mist-filled elfin forests you’ll find at 3000 metres elevation.Once we have arrived back from the park, the day is as clear as an Ecuadorian summer sky. You could opt to see more of nature’s bounty at the Tapichalaca Reserve, or follow the white crosses that line the road on an invigorating 2 hour hike from the centre of town up Caraarango to the shrine of Tuku Tuku. If you’re seeking something more relaxed, why not sip a blood-red horchata (a drink infused with local roots and herbs) and then perhaps walk to the lush banks of the Vilcabamba River. This body of water was the subject of the first court battle to successfully cite Ecuador’s constitutionally protected right for nature to flourish free from man-made interference, and you can experience up all the ambiance that was protected by the ruling.
A 4.30 am pick up time from the hotel is necessary to try and make the famous craft markets of Otavalo. A boxed breakfast will ease you into the day before the journey to the airport, where the hour-long flight to Ecuador’s capital leaves at 7.20 am. Upon landing, a private van will take you on the almost 2 hour drive to Otavalo, where you can shop for dramatically patterned textiles, handwoven bags and knick-knacks.
Today we explore the epic green valleys of Otavalo, a spot so enchanting it’s no surprise local Shamans observe summer solstice here. We will visit a local Shaman before embarking on an hour-long hike of the area, visiting the Peguche Waterfalls. We then return to Quito.
Today marks the end of your adventure with Intrepid. There are no activities planned for today, though there is so much more to explore in Ecuador and beyond if you have the time. We'd be happy to book you additional accomodation (subject to availability).