Featuring cloudforest visit, high Andes paramo eco-zone, Incan culture, Amazon ecolodge, Huaorani indigenous experience, Galapagos 3 island stay and Avenue of the Volcanoes. You will make a connection with local people, contribute directly to conserving precious and threatened environments, help foster respect for native and traditional peoples and cultures, and support local projects that provide benefits for the communities you visit. This is the Ultimate Ecuador Eco-Zone Explorer Tour.
Day 1: Arrival to Quito
Meet your driver at the airport and be welcomed into Ecuador. From here you will be transferred to your night’s hotel.
Day 2: Mindo
This morning the first destination is in the Mindo Cloudforest. Cloud forests are at mid altitude and frequently become misty, creating a cool humid environment that supports an abundant biodiversity. You will travel through a kaleidoscope of landscapes and, upon arrival, you will have a brief introduction to the ecolodge facilities. This is a very interesting place where the owners have created a mini micro hydro site, and organic vegetable garden, a lovely main lodge with expansive sitting areas open to the cloud forest. The individual bungalows are self contained units with two bedrooms and one bathroom. Rough hewn construction, very comfortable and secure feeling. There are daily guided hikes and a tour of the facility included. (BLD)
Day 3: Mindo An optional 6:30 wake up call begins the day that starts with a guided walk to observe wildlife. You might see toucans, quetzals, parrots and sometimes small mammals, like squirrels and agoutis. After breakfast is another guided nature walk and several other optional activities: mountain biking, river tubing, zip lining, and horseback riding. Make a point to visiting the town of Mindo to try out the freshest chocolate you will ever taste at the Quetazal Cafe. They offer a free tour of the mini-plantation and show you the magic transformation from seed to elixir. Cacao pods actually originated from this region and were traded and then cultivated by the Azteca in Mexico. For many years, Ecuador was the world’s largest producer. (BLD)
Day 4: Otavalo
If you are inclined, you can take a very early morning excursion to see the rare courtship display of the cock o the rock. The trip involves a steep hike into a reserve, and then sitting in a blind to see the birds. They appear daily, but you must be quiet and unobtrusive. The display is quite riotous and colourful, although the air can also be quite misty. You come back to the lodge for breakfast. After breakfast you will travel to Mojanda, a mountainside ecolodge and organic farm, located near the town of Otavalo. (BLD)
Day 5: Otavalo (You can also read more in detail about Otavalo market by searching this blog for posts.)
Today, see the famous Otavalo market. Lunch is in a local indigenous-owned restaurant after which you will participate in a guided tour of local craft workshops, homes and nearby villages. Later, back at the lodge, you can take a walk in the amazingly beautiful hills, along foot paths adjacent to local farms. If you are lucky, you can be led by the lodge’s mascot to a pretty waterfall. (BLD)
Day 6: Cotopaxi
Today we’ll continue touring the highlands area, taking a scenic route south and east In the heart of Ecuador’s “Avenue of the Volcanoes”, just one hour south of the historic colonial city of Quito. Here travellers can choose between hiking and mountain biking in the clouds, riding horses with the local ‘chagras’ or Andean cowboys, and ziplines that will take you soaring over the spectacular mountain scenery.
Close to the truly majestic snow capped Mount Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano, visitors will experience an authentic taste of Ecuador’s colonial past during their stay in the comfortable accommodation provided by a real working ranch house built in colonial style, and nestled in the unsurpassed beauty of this region of the Andes.
Before we arrive at the lodge there will be a chanced visit to Cotopaxi National Park where the interpretation centre will give you an opportunity to get to know something about the plants and animals that populate this lush green mountain region. You will also learn about ancient eruptions of this truly majestic, snow capped, cone shaped volcano that have left an indelible imprint on the area.
After driving slowly up through the park and enjoying the mountain we will start our climb to the Padre Rivas mountain climbers´ refuge, situated at an altitude of 4,800m (15,744 feet) above sea level. Here you will be above the clouds, and the scenery is absolutely spectacular. This is truly the land of the gods. In the afternoon we will explore some of the other interesting areas of this important national park: the beautiful Limpiopungo lagoon situated in the mountain peaks, and 15 km beyond the lake, located on a small hill, we will explore the ruins of ancient Inca fortress (pucara) of Salitre.
And at the end of day, a delicious dinner, a warm fireplace and conversation in cheerful company will be waiting for us at our Mountain Lodge.
Day 7: Horse Riding on the Volcano
After a good breakfast an expert ‘chagra’ (Andean cowboy), who will also be our local guide, will show us how to ride a horse provided by the lodge. The ´chagras´ their colourful clothes and their well groomed horses are a reminder of the days when the horse was the main form of transport in the area. Our ride starts in the foothills of the craggy Rumiñahui volcano, named after a famous Inca general who lead the first uprising against the Spanish conquistadors. During the ride our local guide will share with us his knowledge of the ancient lore and myths of the region.
We will be back for lunch at the lodge and in the afternoon we will walk around the hacienda and visit the Manto Blanco waterfall. Or if you prefer, we can relax in the Hacienda take part in some of the activities or just settle in front of the fire and relax before the evening meal. Night: Mountain Lodge (BLD)
Day 7: OPTIONAL
For the traveller interested in a more active day we offer an optional, more adventurous excursion, that will take you across these beautiful Andes highlands:
The journey starts with a visit by horse back, mountain bike, hike (or if you prefer, drive) to El Tambo, a pre-colonial Inca refuge and stockyard that hosted and supplied Inca travellers that moved from the mountains to the coast and vice versa.
The journey up to El Tambo (the word signifies Travellers Rest), is truly impressive, the mountains, the llamas, the local communities, the Quichua culture. All these we can take in on the way up and back, accompanies by our local guide who will give us some insights into the culture and this beautiful part of the country.
At night we will stay at a hacienda where you can still see the original handcrafted stone floor of the Inca Tambo. This magical place is surrounded by volcanic sand and has fantastic views of Mt. Cotopaxi.
Alternative night: El Tambo, Cotopaxi
Day 8: Ecological Reserve and Ziplines
Today we will visit the Santa Rita private ecological reserve
We make our way up to the Hacienda Santa Rita Ecological Reserve to explore the forest canopy by zipline. This system was originally used by scientists who were doing research in the forest canopy and includes five cables between 100 and 480 meters long. The zipline provides a great vantage point for bird watching and enjoying the scenery, and will give you a real adrenaline rush as you soar above the trees. After a good picnic lunch, the group will be lead by the Reserve’s park rangers as they perform trail maintenance and rehabilitation.
The reserve is located on the slopes of Mt. Pasochoa. The trail we will take crosses high mountain forest at 3,300 m (10,824ft) above sea level. During our walk we will pass native forest until we get to the open grassland locally know as paramo, at 3,700 m above sea level. From here you will be able to view a magnificent panorama that includes the Antisana, Cayambe, Cotopaxi and Sincholagua volcanoes.
In the afternoon we will head further down the Avenue of Volcanoes to the town named Banos, in the shadow of the active volcano Tungurahua . (BLD)
Day 9: The Avenue of the Volcanoes and flight over the Amazon Rainforest
Getting to the Huaorani’s world is an amazing part of the experience. We drive from Banos to the town of Shell, a town named after the oil company, and we board a small plane, flying for 35 minutes to Quehueri ́ono over spectacular rainforest panoramas. A dug- out canoe will then take us to the Lodge where, after settling in, you will get your first taste of the Amazon, and explore one of the short forest trails close to the Lodge. Night: Huaorani ecolodge (BLD)
Day 10: Getting to know the Community
This is the day we get a chance to know the people of the Huaorani Community of Quehueri’ono. You will be able to join them in some of their daily activities and have a chance to share some of their history, myths and magic. Later, in the warmth of the evening we will relax in the company of the sounds of the Amazon rainforest. (BLD)
Day 11: On the Trail With the Huaorani
On the Hunting Trail. Accompanied by our guide and a member of the community equipped with lance and blow pipe, we explore the ways of the forest and the animals, entering the world the Huaorani share with them. You will be able to try your hand (or mouth) at the blow pipe and get to know more about this marvellous world that is now threatened by oil fields and palm plantations. (BLD)
Day 12: Reality Tour and Back to Quito
We travel on the Via Auca to the town of Coca (the formal name is Puerto Francisco de Orellana after the Spanish conquistador/explorer) where we will board the flight back to Quito. The journey will be revealing. The road was constructed by Texaco in the nineteen seventies as a way to access the oil fields and as we move along its eroded surface we will experience what the oil industry brochures don’t show, and appreciate why the Ecolodge is so important to the rainforest , the Huaorani and their way of life. (BL)
Day 13: Flight to Galapagos Islands
Fly to San Cristobal Island, and transfer to your hotel. After a tasty lunch, we’ll ride bikes to the Interpretation Center, and then on to the Loberia, a great spot to see colonies of sea lions. (B, L)
Day 14: Kayak and Snorkel
Today is the perfect day for taking to the water. We start with a great intro to kayaking, paddling from the Puerto Baquerizo beach to Cerro de las Tijeretas or Frigate Hill, which gets its name from the large number of Frigate Birds (Tijeretas) that live and nest there. Later we’ll snorkel at Leon Dormido, enjoy some fantastic kayaking next to a cliff filled with Galapagos birdlife (experienced paddlers can catch a big wave), and then try some snorkeling, with the chance to see dozens of harmless sharks and a colorful rock channel teeming with tropical fish. (B)
Day 15: Island of Isabela
Today we’ll take an early morning flight to Isabela Island and check into our hotel. After breakfast we’ll head to the small Tintoreras islands, a Galapagos in miniature. Here we’ll see white tipped reef sharks, sea lions, turtles, rays and Galapagos penguins. There’s also the chance to snorkel in the clear, turquoise waters of the bay, where we’ll be able to get a close up of the islands’ famous underwater life. In the afternoon we’ll visit the giant tortoise breeding centre. (B)
Day 16: Volcano Crater Hike
Today it’s time to stretch our legs. We’ll visit Sierra Negra, the largest crater of all the Galapagos volcanoes. It is a spectacular hike, and a perfect primer on the geology of the archipelago. We’ll enjoy some spectacular vistas over the island before returning to our hotel. (B)
Day 17: Wildlife and Water
This morning we’ll leave from the white sandy beach in front of our hotel and paddle to Villamil Bay, passing rays, penguins, and blue footed boobies, and watching the friendly sea lions that paddle along with us. In the afternoon we will walk the Wetlands Trail, through the mangroves and marine iguana colonies, to the Wall of Tears, built in the late 1940’s by WWII prisoners housed at the island’s US base. (B)
Day 18: Island Santa Cruz
We’ll leave in the early morning sun and travel by speedboat to Santa Cruz Island. After checking into our hotel we’ll head to the Highlands to see Giant Tortoises, and then explore lava tunnels and the ‘Los Gemelos’ a pair of giant volcanic craters. In the afternoon we’ll head to the spectacular white sand beach at Tortuga Bay where we can swim, snorkel, walk on the beach, and paddle amongst marine iguanas, sharks, and sea turtles. (B)
Day 19: Charles Darwin Research Centre and Mainland
After a morning visit to the Charles Darwin Research Center, we transfer to Baltra for our return flight back to mainland Ecuador. Of course, if you’ve fallen in love with these ‘enchanted’ isles – many people do – you can decide to extend your stay for a few days. There’s lots of scuba diving and naturalist day trips you can take to explore some of the other fascinating Galapagos islands. (B)
Day 20: Return Home
This morning the tour finishes with a transfer to the airport. You may want to extend your stay a few days and explore Quito. If so, be sure to ask about adding on some nights.