The first people in the Americas to settle where the Valdivia – right on the Ecuadorian Coast. One of their most famous artifacts which you can see in many different forms in various museums throughout the country is the Venus of Valdivia. On this Archaeology Tour Ecuador you learn about the many pre-Columbian cultures that lived in Ecuador through the centuries. Included are interesting sites on the coast, archaeological ruins in the highlands, and several interesting museums in the bigger cities.
Highlights: looking for traces of ancient life, discovering ruins and artefacts, exploring the rich history of Ecuador's coast
Number of days: 15 or more
Regions: Andes, Coast
Interests: Cities, History, Indigenous Culture, Nature & Wildlife
Total CO2 emission, in lb (per day for cruises): 987
Click on the icons to see details about each visited place.
Day 1: Arrival in Quito
Upon your arrival in Quito, your English-speaking guide, who will be with you during the whole tour, will meet you at the airport. He will bring you to your hotel in Quito’s beautiful historic center.
Day 2: City tour
Your day starts with a city tour in the wonderful historic center of Quito, which is the best-preserved of Latin America. Since 1978 it has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Your guide will show you great places including historical churches and buildings.
In the afternoon you will visit the National Museum (formerly known as Museo del Banco Central), which is one of the most important museums in Ecuador. It offers an excellent introduction to the history and culture of this country. In the archaeology hall you can see a lot of artifacts, from the first settlers to the Incas, while the gold hall, as the name suggests, contains numerous treasures of gold, such as the famous golden sun mask. The third hall offers colonial arts with some gems from the famous Quito School.
Day 3: Rumipamba, La Florida, Casa del Alabado
Today you will first visit Rumipamba. It is an excavation site with a small exhibition. Archaeologists assume that people settled here about 1,500 BC. In the afternoon you will visit the gravesite “La Florida” which is located north of Quito. Here, 10 graves with 55 skeletons, as well as ceramic and gold pieces from the Quitus-Culture (220-640 AD) were found.
Afterwards you can visit the private museum Casa del Alabado. It has an interesting exhibition of pre-Columbian pieces in a beautifully restored house.
Day 4: Catequilla, Rumicucho, Tulipe
Today you will visit three important archaeological sites. Catequilla is a hill with a 360° view of its surroundings and the only place in the Americas that is exactly located on the Equator Line. It probably belonged to the Quitu-Cara culture.
The next stop is Rumicucho, built by the Incas. It was actually part of a whole system of forts, called pucaráes. It is believed to have served astronomic and religious functions as well as military purposes. It consists of five stone terraces in the form of a pyramid that form three different area. It seems that each area had different functions, with one for ceremonies, one for rituals and eating and living quarters in another one. As the construction was built very close to the equator, it can be assumed that important rituals took place here. On the complex there is also a historic colonial church and a museum.
Travel on to the holy valley of Tulipe. This was a very important ceremonial place for the Yumbos who lived there about 1200 years ago. The artifacts that were found imply a wide knowledge in astronomy, geometry and architecture.
The main area consists of eight structures made of stone, connected with aqueducts. They were used for astronomical observations, cleansing rites and adoration of the gods. There is also a very interesting museum, where you can see a multimedia exhibition about the archaeological work for over 25 years.
You spend the night in Mindo.
Day 5: Jama
Today you will travel to the coast. The Ecuadorian Pacific Coast is the most interesting region of Ecuador concerning archaeology. Here, relics from the first sedentary tribe, the Valdivias, were found. Other important cultures of the so-called Formative Period (4000 – 300 BC) were the Machalilla and Chorrera. During the Period of Regional Development (300 BC – 800 AD) these large and growing communities lost influence and smaller communities newly formed smaller quasi state-like entities. The cultures on the coast were the most advanced at this time and had a relatively high standard of living through their very active exchange of goods with other regions. One of the regional cultures are the Jama-Coaque who lived in the south of Esmeraldas Province and in Northern Manabí. If possible, afterwards you will meet the artist and archaeologist Ricardo Alcivar, who knows a lot about the early history of the coast. His work as an artist is heavily influenced by archaeological findings and the Jama-Coaque esthetic.
Day 6: Jama – Bahía
Discover some of Jama’s surroundings, before you leave for Bahía de Caráquez. Bahía is a laid-back small town with an interesting history. It offers many interesting sites and day tours.
Day 7: Bahía de Caráquez
Bahía is home to one of Ecuador’s best museums. Here you can see 11,000-year old tools from the Valdivia, which are the oldest pieces that have ever been found in Ecuador. Furthermore, it shows a lot about the cultures of the tribes Caras, Kamas and Coaques and also modern Ecuadorian history. Later you will visit the “Isla Corazón” (“Heart island”, named after its shape), which is located in the Chone River. In a canoe you discover the mangrove forest and look for the colony of frigate birds.
In the afternoon, you travel on southwards, to the small fishing town of Puerto Lopez. Stay in lovely cabañas on the beach.
Day 8: Whale Watching and Isla de la Plata
Today you visit the “Isla de la Plata” (Silver Island), which is located just off the coast of Puerto Lopez. The island got its name from a silver treasure, which Sir Francis Drake supposedly hid there. It is also known as “little Galapagos” because you can see some of the species that you can also see on Galapagos, like blue-footed boobies, pelicans, frigate birds, seals, albatrosses and turtles. A special highlight is whale watching. The best time to see these beautiful animals are the months from June to August, because during these months of winter in the southern hemisphere, they come from the cold Antarctic to the warmer water in the North for mating.
Day 9: Valdivia
The culture of the Valdivia is one of the most important cultures of Ecuador’s early history, because this was the first sedentary tribe. They settled on the coast on and around the Santa Elene peninsula and lived from agriculture. Today you can visit the village of Valdivia with a museum that mainly features the “Venus of Valdivia,” their most famous ceramic statue. This female figurine was made in very distinctive forms, each is different, which lead archaeologists to believe that each represents an actual women. Spend the night on Santa Elena.
Day 10: The Lovers of Sumpa
Visit today the museum of the Lovers of Sumpa, which is a reconstruction of a burial site by the Las Vegas culture, which preceded the Valdivias. Here 192 skeletons were found, some bearing witness to the rather strange tradition of exhuming and rearranging the bodies. The Lovers of Sumpa, for example, were reburied in an eternal embrace.
In the afternoon you can choose what you would like to do. You can visit the beaches of Santa Elena, the little town Salinas, or the hot springs of San Vicente, with volcanic mud and sulfur water.
Day 11: Real Alto, Guayaquil
On your way to Guayaquil, which is Ecuador’s biggest City, you will visit another archaeological excavation called “Real Alto.” It is one of the oldest villages in South America and was part of the culture of the Valdivias. The earliest inhabitants, about 50 people, probably live there 6,000 years ago. But the village grew and soon it was an important center for the culture. In 2,500 BC, there lived about 1,250 people.
In Guayaquil you will do a city tour with the most popular sights like the historical center „Cerro Santa Ana“, the promenade close to the river and a park which is the home of many iguanas.
Day 11: M.A.A.C., Cuenca
Your first visit today will be the museum of archaeology (M.A.A.C.) with more than 50,000 artifacts and about 3,000 works of modern Ecuadorian art. After this visit you travel back to the highlands. Arrive in the beautiful city of Cuenca. It is a gem of a colonial city and was declared UNESCO World Heritage in 1999. You can visit the Pumapungo Museum, which also includes the excavation site of the Pumapungo Palace.
Day 12: Cuenca and Surroundings
Visit the Museum of the aborigine cultures, which specializes on Ecuadorian indigenous cultures. It is a private collection, with about 5,000 pieces.
In the afternoon you can visit the “black cave of Chobsi”. It is 19 ft. high, 29 ft. deep and was used by hunters about 10,000 years ago. Then you will return to Cuenca.
Day 13: Ingapirca
Today you will first travel to Cojitambo, a grand complex of ruins spread out on a hill. These were inhabited from 500 BC until 1532 AD their three areas served military and religious purposes. You travel further to the Inca ruins of Ingapirca, with the Temple of the Sun as its most important edifice. The compound’s exact purpose has not yet been understood by archaeologists, but they know that at the same spot the indigenous Cañari had a similar fortress.
Spend the night on a historic hacienda close to the ruins.
Day 14: Riobamba
On your way along towards the North you will pass another important archaeological excavation site, the Chalan canyon. Two skulls were found here, which are probably from 1200 BC. Close by you also can see dinosaur footmarks. A legend says that these were left by dinosaurs in the hot lava fleeing from a volcanic eruption. For the natives this is a holy place, where they celebrate the annual “Inti Raymi”, the solstice on the 21th of June.
Your final destination for today is Riobamba. Here you have still time to visit the museum “Casa de la Cultura”, which offers 500 pieces from different cultures.
Day 15: Volcano Quilotoa
From Riobamba you drive further to the North. There you will visit the beautiful crater lake “Quilotoa” at an altitude of about 13,123 ft. You can do a one-hour hike down to the lake; if you want you can take a mule for the way back up. Also you can walk around the lake, but that takes of about six hours. After that you will drive to the Cotopaxi National Park, where you will spend the night in a lovely mountain lodge close to the Park’s entrance.
Day 16: Cotopaxi
Today you will visit the highest active volcano of the world, the Cotopaxi (19,347 ft.). On the drive up you stop by the Limpiopungo Lake, from where on clear days you have a beautiful view of the Cotopaxi, Sincholagua, and Rumiñahui volcanos. You reach the parking site and can start a hike to the refuge José Ribas at 15,750 feet, where you can warm yourself up with a cup of coffee or tea.
Very close to the volcano the Hacienda San Agustín de Callo is located, whose walls are original from the time of the Incas. Enjoy a very exclusive lunch. For your last night in Ecuador you will stay in a nice hotel close to the airport.
Day 17: Return flight
For your flight back home or on to Galapagos you will be taken to the airport.
Price per person: US$ 3,310
(based on 2 people traveling)
- 16 nights in double rooms in superior hotels, with breakfast
- professional and knowledgeable English-speaking guide
- private transportation
- license to visit Cotopaxi National Park
- international flights
- meals not specified
- entrance fees to museums, churches, archaeological places, etc. (that way you can decide with your guide each day which places you want to visit)
- personal expenses
- optional excursions and activities
- personal travel insurance
Your hotels are a nice mix of comfortable city hotels and eco-friendly lodges right on the beach:
- Quito: Hotel Plaza Sucre
- Mindo: Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo
- Jama: Samvara Lodge
- Bahía de Caraquez: Saiananda
- Puerto Lopez: Hosteria Mandala
- Ballenita: Farallon Dillon
- Guayaquil: Hotel Continental
- Cuenca: Hotel Forum
- Ingapirca: Posada Ingapirca
- Riobamba: Mansión Santa Isabela
- Cotopaxi: Hosteria Chilcabamba
- Quito Airport: Posada Mirolindo
Some interesting archaeological information can be found online, for example:
- “Archaeology of Formative Ecuador”, a collection of articles available at: http://www.doaks.org/resources/publications/doaks-online-publications/ecuador
- An interesting article about Tulipe: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/april-2011/article/archaeologists-uncovering-ceremonial-center-of-ancient-pre-incan-civilization-in-ecuador
- The Wikipedia is also a good place to start, they have a whole category about Ecuadorian archaeology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Archaeology_of_Ecuador
Also, read about our favorite museums in Ecuador.
Wondering what to pack? Check out our packing list.
If this tour is too much archaeology for you, we can of course take some parts of it and combine it with some other places you might like to visit.
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