This wonderful tour offers all of Ecuador’s highlights in two weeks. Beautiful colonial cities, indigenous markets, and snow-capped volcanoes in the Andes and the evergreen tropical rain forest make a perfect combination for an Ecuador tour.
If you have more time, why not add a tour to Galapagos at the end? Check out the possibilities on our Tours Page.
If you have less time, we are happy to create your personal Ecuador highlights tour. Just use our contact form to let us know how many days you have available and what your priorities are.
Highlights: Quito's old town, Otavalo's market, Cotopaxi volcano, hot springs of Papallacta, the jungle, devil's nose train ride, City of Cuenca
Number of days: 14
Regions: Amazon, Andes, Coast
Interests: Cities, History, Hiking & Trekking, Indigenous Culture, Nature & Wildlife, Train
Total CO2 emission, in lb (per day for cruises): 1245
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. They will take you to your hotel in Quito’s beautiful historic center.
Day 2: City Tour
Start the day’s activities with a visit to Quito’s colonial city center. It is Latin America’s biggest and best conserved historic center and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. On a walk around the old town, your guide will show you some of the most beautiful buildings and churches, before taking you up the “Panecillo”, a hill south of Quito’s center, which offers an amazing view of the city.
In the afternoon you visit the “Middle of the World”, close to Quito (approx. 45 minutes). It is at the place where in the 18th century a group of French scientists determined the Equator to cross – they missed the actual GPS-determined Equator by only about 200 yards. In the site’s small village there is the Equator monument as well as different exhibitions and documentation centers. The museum Inti Ñan – at the site of the actual Equator – offers funny interactive experiments which demonstrate the Equator’s effects. For the night, you return to Quito.
Day 3: Otavalo
You leave Quito early in the morning for a day trip towards the North. Visit first Otavalo, famous for its enormous indigenous market. It is held every day on the Poncho Square; on Saturdays it extends and covers nearly a third of the whole town. You can find many different handicrafts produced in the surrounding villages: fine woven goods like blankets, hammocks, tablecloths, jewelry made of silver or the tagua nut (also called vegetable ivory), musical instruments, leather goods, and many other things.
In the afternoon you explore the Cotacachi Cayapas Nature Reserve. Visit the Cuicocha Lake, which is inside the crater of the Cotacachi Volcano, at an altitude of 10,040 feet. It is called “Lake of the Gods” by the local indigenous people. On a walk along the lake’s shore you can enjoy the region’s biodiversity, the view of the lake with its two small islands, and the landscape with the volcanoes Cotacachi, Imbabura, and Cayambe.
You spend the night in Otavalo.
Day 4: Cotopaxi
Today you will visit one of Ecuador’s most beautiful volcanoes. The Cotopaxi (19,347 ft) is the world’s highest active volcano. 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 Volcanoes. You reach the parking site and can start a hike to the refuge José Ribas at 15,750 ft, where you can warm yourself up with a cup of coffee or tea.
Your hotel for the night is a beautiful hacienda close to the majestic Cotopaxi.
Day 5: Papallacta – Jungle
In the morning you travel to Papallacta, famous for its hot springs. In this beautiful place high in the Ecuadorian Paramo you can enjoy a bath in a very peaceful environment admiring the beautiful surroundings. The thermal water has volcanic origin and a temperature between 97 and 104° F. Its medicinal properties have been certified by the Ecuadorian medical association.
Besides the thermal baths, Papallacta offers more opportunities to enjoy the beautiful landscape. You can follow a trail along the Loreto-Papallacta River. In about one hour you can explore the primary forest, a variety of orchids, waterfalls and birds of the high Paramo like the carunculated caracara, peregrine falcon, hummingbirds and sometimes even the majestic Andean condor.
After a relaxing bath you continue your journey into the jungle. You leave the highlands and follow the winding road into the Amazon lowlands. Your jungle lodge has comfortable cabañas (small huts) built in the traditional Amazon style directly on the Napo River.
Day 6+7: Jungle
Discover the mysteries of the rainforest. Travel down the Napo River in a motorized canoe and visit an animal rescue center that takes care of all sorts of jungle animals. The squirrel monkeys and macaws greet you as you arrive, and with some luck you might even spot (or at least hear!) some howler monkeys which have been released in the adjacent nature reserve. For a cultural experience, visit a Kichwa family who lives on the shore of the Napo. Learn how to make the Chicha, the traditional drink, how to hunt with the blowgun, and how to produce the traditional pottery.
Day 8: Baños
After breakfast you prepare for the drive back to the highlands. Today’s destination is Baños, a small town which is known for its thermal springs – whose water allegedly has magical powers (the town’s full name: Baños de Agua Santa – Baths of Holy Water). It is located at the foot of yet another volcano, the Tungurahua, whose eruption you can sometimes admire on a clear day – a unique natural spectacle, of course observed from a safe distance.
In Baños there are many fun and relaxing things to do: walking or horseback riding in the surrounding hills, biking along the waterfall route, rafting or “puenting” (bungee jumping from a bridge).
Day 9: Chimborazo
The Chimborazo is Ecuador’s highest mountain at 20,702 ft. In the Chimborazo Nature Reserve you can observe many vicuñas (similar to llamas), and with a bit of luck also culpeos (also known as Andean fox or wolf) and maybe even a condor. You can walk to the refuge, for about 45 minutes.
After this activity you will stop for a quick visit in Riobamba, a very important city for Ecuador’s history: The Republic’s first constitution was signed here.
In the evening you arrive in Alausí, your stop for the night.
Day 10: Devil’s Nose, Ingapirca
At 8 am you board the train which will take you on the famous “Devil’s Nose” route. It used to be a special (but risky) adventure to ride on the train’s roof, but nowadays you enjoy a comfortable train ride in historic coaches on the still adventurous zigzag tracks to Sibamba (travel time approx. 2.5 hours, both ways).
After arriving back in Alausí, you then travel on further South, 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.
Your last stop for the day is Cuenca, where you will spend the night. With its historic city center, it is a gem of a colonial city and was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1999. Read about the Ingapirca as part of our favorite museums article.
Day 11+12: Cuenca
You discover Cuenca’s beautiful historic center. On a tour of the city you visit for example the impressive “new” cathedral with its striking cupolas, the main square Parque Calderon and Cuenca’s oldest district, Barranco.
Take a trip to the nearby Gualaceo valley. On a scenic road through a beautiful mountain landscape with picturesque views all around you arrive in Chordeleg, a small town that is popular for its production of fine jewelry. You will find many gold and silver smiths who allow you to observe them at work.
Day 13: Cajas, Guayaquil
Before you leave the Ecuadorian highlands today, you stop by the Cajas National Park. It is situated at an altitude between 3,000 and 4,500 meters above sea level in the Paramo and is famous for its 230 lakes, most of which are of volcanic origin.
You travel on to the Ecuadorian coast (4.5 hours). Guayaquil is Ecuador’s biggest city, with a population of about 2.5 million. It is also the country’s most important port. It has a beautiful historic neighborhood, an interesting historic park, and the modern boardwalk “Malecón 2000.”
Day 14: Return flight
After breakfast you will be taken to the airport for your flight to the Galapagos or back home.
Price per person: US$ 2,415
(based on 2 people traveling)
- 13 nights in double rooms, with breakfast
- professional English-speaking guide
- private transportation
- license to visit Cotacachi-Cayapas Nature Reserve, Cotopaxi National Park and Chimborazo Nature Reserve
- train ticket Nariz del Diablo
- Entrance to the pools in Papallacta
- full board and activities with a local guide in the jungle
- international or domestic flights
- meals not specified
- entrance fees to museums, churches, etc.
- personal expenses
- optional excursions and activities
- personal travel insurance
The hotels listed here are all standard category. We are happy to offer you an alternative with superior or first class hotels, if you are looking for a bit more comfort.
- Quito: Plaza Sucre
- Otavalo: Palmeras Inn
- Cotopaxi: Los Mortiños
- Amazon: Liana Lodge
- Baños: Hosteria Chamanapamba
- Alausi: La Quinta Inn
- Cuenca: Hotel Carvallo
- Guayaquil: Hotel Continental
The Ecuador Highlights Tour is our classic tour of Ecuador’s most interesting highlights in two weeks. If you have less time, we can of course create your personal tour itinerary, which will include your personal Ecuador highlights.
Wondering what to pack? We created a packing list which can help you get started.
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