Experience the Andean side of Ecuador, a region of snowcapped volcanoes, traditional cultures, and a dramatic rail route. From local markets in the countryside to Spanish colonial Cuenca, you'll meet the people who call this scenic region home. Join us to discover more of South America's cultural and natural diversity.
- It's Included:
- Airfare from Cartagena to Quito and from Cuenca to Quito
- Accommodations for 1 night in Riobamba, 3 nights in Cuenca, and 2 nights in Quito
- 16 meals—6 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 4 dinners
- 13 small group activities
- Services of our own resident OAT Trip Leader, who speaks English and the native language
- All transfers
After your Colombia's Colonial Jewels & the Coffee Triangle adventure, you'll fly from Cartagena via Bogotá to Quito, Ecuador. Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel and check in. Dinner is included this evening.
Today we depart Quito for Riobamba, following the Pan-American Highway along the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Here we’ll see large and small farms, called haciendas, that are irrigated by rushing rivers descending from snowcapped Andean peaks. This part of Ecuador is home to more people of pure Incan and pre-Incan descent than any other part of the country. We stop along the way to visit an Indian market. We also visit a greenhouse where roses are cultivated (unless it is a weekend or holiday, when the greenhouse is closed) just before stopping for an included lunch.
In the afternoon we arrive in Riobamba, a city whose pastel-colored buildings and cobbled streets linking elegant squares give it a colonial charm. The towering Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador’s highest mountain, is visible from the city on clear days. We'll take a tour of Riobamba when we arrive, then later enjoy dinner at our hotel.
This morning, we take a ride on the Devil’s Nose (Nariz del Diablo in Spanish) section of Ecuador’s Trans-Andean Railway, where the tracks make switchbacks to work their way through steep mountain terrain. This section of the railway was a feat of engineering originally built to solve the problem of running trains from the high-altitude capital of Quito to Guayaquil on Ecuador’s Pacific Coast. Over the years, other parts of the Trans-Andean Railroad have fallen into disuse, but the tracks along the steep Devil’s Nose section continue to provide a thrilling ride. From the town of Alausi at the top, the route descends thousands of feet. The ride then returns to Alausi.
Following the train ride, we travel by motorcoach to Ingapirca. Here the Incas built a Temple of the Sun and a large fortress, which today are part of the largest Incan archaeological site in Ecuador. We’ll have a box lunch, then continue on to Cuenca to begin our three-night stay. Dinner is included this evening.
After breakfast at our hotel, we discover Cuenca and its traditions on a tour of the city, which is 8,200 feet above sea level. Cuenca has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its well preserved Spanish Colonial architecture. The skyline is dotted with church domes, and four rivers wind through the charming cityscape of gardens, cobblestone streets, and ironwork balconies. We’ll explore the Abdon Calderon Park, the New Cathedral (begun in 1885), a local market, and the "El Barranco" area in this bustling city of about 500,000 people. We’ll also take in the panoramic view of Cuenca from Turi Hill before enjoying an included lunch. In the afternoon, we'll visit an orchid breeding station. Cuenca is famous for its flowers and the orchid cultivation facility that we visit is one of the largest of its kind in the world. We'll also visit a workshop to see the hand-woven shawls called macanas being made. We return to our hotel in Cuenca afterwards; dinner is on your own this evening.
After breakfast, we ride from Cuenca into the mountains to visit Cajas National Park (Parque Nacional Cajas). Here we experience the Andean páramo—a unique high-altitude Andean ecosystem of low-growing plants, the South American version of alpine tundra. Elevations in the park range from 10,170 feet to its high point, the top of the mountain named Cerro Arquitectos, at 14,600 feet. The park offers vistas of pristine mountain scenery including 270 glacially formed lakes and lagoons, and is home to birds and wildlife characteristic of the heights of the Andes. We’ll have lunch at a local restaurant and return to our hotel in Cuenca. Dinner is on your own this evening.
This morning, we’ll visit a factory where hand-made “Panama” hats are formed into their final shapes. Worn all over Latin America, these hats are a traditional product of Ecuador. Then we’ll head for the Central Bank Museum complex, which includes collections from the pre-colonial Cañari and Inca cultures, an ethnographic museum of Ecuador’s diverse cultures, and a museum featuring historic currency. We’ll also walk through the Pumapungo Ruins, an archaeological excavation of the ancient Inca city of Tomebamba. After an included lunch at a local restaurant in Cuenca, we fly to Quito and check in to our hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening.
This morning, we'll explore Quito, where we'll visit the interactive Inti Nan Museum. Then we'll explore the city's historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with well-preserved Spanish Colonial architecture including the at the La Basilica church. We'll walk through Independence Plaza and by the Presidential Palace and La Compania church, then visit San Francisco Square with its historic church and convent. After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll visit La Ronda Street. We'll gather for a Farewell Dinner this evening, then transfer to the airport for return flights to the U.S.