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. Join us to discover more of Ecuador’s cultural and natural diversity.
- It's Included:
- Airfare from Cuenca to Quito
- Accommodations for 1 night in Riobamba, 3 nights in Cuenca, and 1 night in Quito
- 13 meals—5 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 3 dinners
- 13 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
Having concluded our Machu Picchu & the Galápagos adventure, 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 discover the bustling indigenous markets for which this region is famous. Some specialize in traditional crafts like items made from wool and leather; others offer the local crops or flowers. All give us the chance to encounter local people and truly experience the culture and the landscape of this Andean region. 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 enjoy dinner at our Riobamba hotel this evening.
This morning, we visit Cathedral Square, the central plaza in Riobamba. Then 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.
Following the train ride, we travel by motorcoach to Cuenca. We’ll have a boxed lunch en route. 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, a flower market, the New Cathedral (begun in 1885), and the Calle Larga—a historic street—in this bustling city of about 500,000 people. We’ll also take in the panoramic view of Cuenca from Turi Hill and visit an orchid farm. Cuenca is famous for its flowers and the farm we visit specializes in the cultivation, reproduction and sale of many kinds of orchids.
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 unique 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 on your own this evening.
You have the morning at leisure to make your own discoveries in Quito; lunch is on your own. In the afternoon, we'll visit the colorful Inaquito produce market and then head to the Inti Nan Museum. Inti Nan is the Quechua phrase for “Path of the Sun,” and the museum contains replicas of indigenous sun temples and other interesting artifacts—not to mention the fact that the equator actually runs through the museum. This evening, we celebrate our discoveries at a Farewell Dinner, then transfer to the airport for our return flight to the U.S.