Experience the Andean side of Ecuador, a region of snowcapped volcanoes, distinctive traditional cultures, and a dramatic rail route through the mountains. From traditional markets in the countryside to the city of Cuenca with its Spanish colonial heritage, you'll meet the people who call this scenic region home.
- It's Included:
- Airfare from Cuenca to Quito and Quito to Lima
- Accommodations for 1 night in Riobamba, 3 nights in Cuenca, and 2 nights in Quito
- 15 meals—6 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 3 dinners
- 15 small group activities
- Services of our own resident OAT Trip Leader, who speaks English and the native language
- All transfers
- Porterage for 1 bag per traveler
Fly from the U.S. to Quito, Ecuador today. Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel and check in.
Today we depart Quito for Riobamba, following the Pan-American Highway along the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Here we’ll see rushing rivers descending from snowcapped Andes peaks to water the farm fields of the local people. 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, and if it is a weekday, we visit a greenhouse where roses are cultivated (the greenhouse is not available on weekends or holidays). We then enjoy 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 enjoy dinner at our Riobamba hotel this evening.
After a discovery of Riobamba's lovely Cathedral Square, 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.
Following the train ride, we'll have a boxed lunch en route as we travel by motorcoach to Cuenca. Dinner at a local restaurant 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 is 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, a flower market, and the New Cathedral (begun in 1885), as well as taking in the panoramic view of Cuenca from Turi Hill.
We’ll enjoy an included lunch, and then in mid-afternoon take a short ride to San Pedro de los Olivos, where we 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 high-altitude environment 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 “Panama” hats are made by hand. 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 at our hotel this evening.
This morning, we'll explore Quito, beginning at the La Basilica church. The city's historic center is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved Spanish Colonial architecture. 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 the "Middle of the World" monument on the Equator and the Inti Nan Museum. Later, we fly to Lima, Peru to begin our Real Affordable Peru adventure.