Ecuador Cultural Adventure can be experienced over 8 days or 14 days duration, experiencing the cultures of Ecuador is a great way to support the local communities. The activities within the tour provide the most stunning and awe-inspiring connections with Ecuador’s colourful kaleidoscope of traditions and customs. As you experience each new day, you’ll find yourself connecting to the local heritage, tasting new foods prepared in the original ancestral way as hundreds of years before, learning about the farming methods that produce these foods, and witnessing the vibrant costume of the different indigenous cultures found in various regions of the country.
After arriving, you will have a private transfer from Quito airport to your selected hotel in Otavalo for 2 nights. Look for a sign with your name on it when arriving.
You will first visit the town of Otavalo, famous for its indigenous market that is held every day, with the largest bargains and traders present on Saturdays. The market is an ancient tradition and cultural exchange site among the Otavalo community. Furthermore, you can visit the peaceful town of Cotacachi, famous for its leather products such as shoes, purses, coats and belts. You can browse the products and meet the local craftsmen who create these beautiful pieces.
Kawsaymi is an indigenous, community based project located in Otavalo. The restaurant was born from the belief that you must enjoy the important moments of preparing every meal. You learn their methods of thanking and appreciating the foods that are on the table, the precious moments of sitting with loved ones while enjoying ancestral practices and flavours. Otavalo’s rich gastronomic scene combines the diverse foods grown in the highland region with the ancestral knowledge of indigenous Andean culture.
Today, a special experience awaits you: a traditional cleansing ceremony, as the indigenous people of the Andes have done for many centuries. Traditional medicine has a long history in Ecuador, and especially in rural areas. To get to know this important part of the Andean cultures, you will visit the small crafts town of Ilumán near Otavalo, where many registered traditional healers live.
Many people know South America’s traditional healers as ‘shamans’, but the Ilumán community prefers the word ‘yachak’ that means ‘the one who knows’ in the native Kichwa language. First, you learn about the yachak’s role in a community and how deeply he is respected, after which you go to the place where the ceremony will take place. The yachak will start the ritual by using medicinal plants, like nettle and ‘chilca’, mixed with water. Subsequently, you will be invited to enter a small pond to get rid of the bad energies and open up for positive ones.
Indigenous Villages and Cuicocha Lagoon
On this tour you will visit several indigenous villages in the Northern area of the highlands. Here you can learn about different kinds of artisanships and how they are made; for example mats made of totora reeds, musical instruments, weavings made from sheep wool and jewelry made of seeds. The tour also includes a visit to the Peguche waterfall, a ritual site known for its healing powers and where locals sometimes bathe to prepare for spiritual festivals such as Inti Raymi. Finally, you will head to the spectacular Cuicocha Lagoon within the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. There is time for a short hike to fully experience the diversity of the lagoon, take photos, and on clear days, you can appreciate the views towards Otavalo and the impressive Imbabura Volcano, and even the peak of Cayambe in the distance.
After your day activities you will head on to Quito for your stay at your chosen hotel for 2 nights.
Middle of the World Visit
Today you will head North of the city to visit the Monument in honor of the 18th century French Geodesic Mission, led by the French scientists Condamine, Bouguer, Godin and the Ecuadorian geographer Pedro Vicente Maldonado, who studied the curvature of the planet and determined the location of the Equator.
Middle of the World Monument
A must-see stop during your visit in Ecuador is the Middle of the World. Here an Equator Monument was built to honor the 18th century French Geodesic Mission, led by French scientists Condamine, Bouguer, Godin and the Ecuadorian geographer, Pedro Vicente Maldonado, who studied the curvature of the planet and who determined the supposed location of the equator. This unique place allows you to be a part of a historic landmark in what was once thought as the exact equator line, and of course you can’t miss taking your picture with the monument in the background with one foot in each hemisphere! Additionally, the complex offers an Ethnographic museum, a planetarium, artisanal stores great for picking up souvenirs, coffee shops, and restaurants that serve local food.
The Intiñan Museum is a smaller, but highly interactive museum located right next to the Mitad del Mundo Monument. Even though the monument features the division of the equator, when technology improved, geologists and cartographers realized the real equator line was just a bit off. It features outdoor exhibits of astronomical geography and explanations of the importance of Ecuador’s geographical location. One of the highlights are the solar dials, fun experiments that can only be done here, like balancing an egg on a nail, and many more activities, as well as reconstructed native homes found all over Ecuador.
Capilla del Hombre Museum
Oswaldo Guayasamín was a talented painter and sculptor who dedicated his life to works of art of Kichwa and Mestizo heritage. He was given a prize for “an entire life of work for peace” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. He is still lauded as a national treasure. In 2002, three years after his death, Guayasamín’s masterpiece, La Capilla del Hombre (“The Chapel of Man”), was completed and opened to the public. The Chapel is meant to document not only man’s cruelty to one another, but also to inspire the potential for greatness within humanity. It is located in front of Guayasamín’s home overlooking Quito.
Quito Historical City Tour
Durng the historical city tour of Quito, you will explore the best preserved colonial centre of all of South America. As one of the first World Heritage Sites, it will be an unforgettable experience as if you were stepping back in time. The first stop is the Basilica del Voto Nacional. Due to its size and style, it is considered the largest neo-Gothic temple in the Americas, and the most important piece of neo-gothic architecture in Ecuador. You will continue to the Plaza Grande, or Independence Square. Admire the historical buildings surrounding the square and it’s important history! Located here is the Presidential Palace, the Catholic Cathedral, and the Archbishop’s Palace. Another visit you will enjoy is the most impressive of all churches, the San Francisco de Quito. The church houses masterpieces of talented indigenous artists from the famous methods of Escuela Quiteña, “Quito School”, which are the artistic traditions associated with the 17th and 18th centuries. Walk through the lively colonial streets of the old town to visit other historical highlights such as the Panecillo, from where you will have an amazing 360 degree view over the city.
The second part of this tour will take place at the Teleferico (Cable car), located at the Eastern end of the city.
The Teleferico is a thrilling visit riding a cable car up to high slopes of the Pichincha Volcano. From here you have an amazing panoramic view of the city and on a clear day from right to left you can see the peaks of Mojanda, Cayambe, Rumiñahui, Cotopaxi and Ilinizas. There is lots of fun and excitement to be had on the Pichincha Volcano. There is a swing where you feel like you’re hovering over the city, and further along the trail you might find horses available to ride for an extra cost.
La Compania Church
One of the highlights of the city tour is the visit to La Compañia Church, considered to be a Baroque masterpiece. The facade is made of volcanic stone and the interior is all covered with gold.
Domes of Compania de Jesus Visit
You will have the opportunity to explore the beautiful domes of this church. An elevator and stairs bring you to the highest point of the church, in order to enjoy a stunning view of the San Francisco and Independence Squares, and the rest of Quito’s beautiful historical centre.
La Ronda Barrio & Traditional Toy Workshops
La Ronda is a historical and emblematic neighbourhood of Quito. Long before the Spaniards arrived and before the street of La Ronda bore the name it has today, it was used by the Incans to access water from streams coming down from Pichincha. The Spaniards then came during their conquest and converted this area into buildings, similar to those of colonial Spain. In the late 19th century “La Ronda” became known as a neighbourhood where artists, writers, bohemians, poets, the misunderstood and even priests would meet. Over time the area was left scarce as the city expanded and it began falling apart and eventually became a desolate area nobody dared to visit. However, its demise became it’s salvation. Since the neighbourhood was left untouched, so were its colonial era buildings built by the Spaniards. Nowadays, it is a beautiful and vivacious street lit with lanterns and decorated with floral balconies; offering a romantic and lively ambiance. La Ronda is easily one of the crown jewels of Quito’s best kept cultural secrets.
Walking down the street you can see multiple art galleries, museums, artisanal goods, and traditional crafts and workshops and delicious traditional foods. One workshop in particular specializes in the spinning “trompos” or old-fashioned wooden spin tops. The workshop owners will show you how to spin the tops, how they are still hand-made, and may even tell stories about their own childhood and how they used to play in the old and historic streets of Quito.
San Francisco Traditional Market
Enjoy this opportunity visiting the traditional San Francisco Market, a vibrant and colourful place where you can observe the locals in their routine. This is the first of all Quito markets, opened in 1893. It is located in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Quito, a neighbourhood called San Roque. This is a varied market where locals come to buy all the different fruits and vegetables you can imagine, piled high are also dried and fresh herbs, barrels of grains, and bunches of freshly cut flowers. You can also find poultry and meats. One of the unique identities of this market is that you can still find healers who practice ancestral medicine with different spices, herbs, and plants; it is a perfect place for a spiritually cleaning!
The Altamira Experience it is located in the heart of the historic centre of Quito, in a renovated colonial house just one block from the beautiful San Francisco Square. The restaurant offers you an authentic and interactive cooking class where you will be the protagonist. Become a chef, prepare your own dishes and delight yourself with them; a true experience to share with your partner, family or friends!
Nevado Roses Plantation
Close to Latacunga, in the small town of Salcedo, you will find the Nevado Rose Plantation. Here we can observe how one of Ecuador’s main exports is grown, treated and harvested. The plantation is a family owned company now focused on the production of ultra-high quality roses.They produce the best quality, high-altitude roses in the country.
Cotopaxi National Park Visit
Today’s adventure starts early in the morning when you drive south through the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Today’s destination is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world and one of Ecuador’s most popular highlights: the elegant Cotopaxi Volcano, with an altitude of 5897 meters above sea level. This impressive, snow-capped volcano stands proudly in the middle of the beautiful national park that bears its name.
Upon arrival at the entrance of the Cotopaxi National Park, your guide will explain about the unique flora and fauna of the area, and about the history of the volcano. Subsequently, you’ll continue to the Limpiopungo Lake (altitude: 3850 meters), to enjoy a hike through the stunning “paramo”, or grassland, landscape where you can see hummingbirds, wild horses, and other wildlife. All this time, the imposing Cotopaxi Volcano is just a few steps away and on a clear day you can admire its full glory. In the afternoon you head to your hotel located close to the Cotopaxi National Park.
If you choose the 8 day itinerary, you will stay in either Hacienda Santa Ana or San Agustin del Callo.
Visit to Saquisili Market
You will get up early to visit the Saquisili, a small town with a huge market, where locals of the entire region come together, not only to sell or buy products, but to attend this social event, where they also enjoy their local cuisine and converse.
Quilotoa Crater Lake and Tigua
You will leave in the morning to visit the beautiful Quilotoa Crater Lake on top of the extinct Quilotoa volcano; it is one of the most spectacular places in the Ecuadorian Sierra region. Its name comes from two Kichwa words “Quiru” which means “tooth”, and “Toa” which means queen due to the shape of the lagoon.The mineral-rich waters of the lake are an emerald green, which can vary to bluish green or almost yellow depending on the season. It also has a large quantity of carbon dioxide mixed with hydrogen sulfide and is not suitable for human consumption. You can hike down to the lagoon and then back to the top of the crater (you can either hike or rent a mule).
On the way back, you will stop in a little village that is famous for its local paintings and masks, called Tigua. Painting demonstration is included.
Salasaca Community Visit
Salasaca is located in the Tungurahua Province in the centre of Ecuador, halfway along the road from Ambato to Baños. The Salasacas speak Spanish and Kichwa. Their main economic activities are agriculture, livestock and handicrafts. Local craftsmanship includes items such as tapestries, which are woven by hand using antique looms, and, the designs they depict mostly represent different aspects of their daily lives. There is a market in the central plaza of Salasaca called “Plaza of the Arts”.
The next day is your final day in Ecuador. The day will begin with a visit to a nearby Archaeological site.
Rumipamba Archeological Museum
You will also visit an ancient site that is hidden in the middle of Quito. Rumipamba is an archaeological site, re-discovered by archaeologists in the 1980s, when they found these remains of a Quitu community. The Quitus were the pre-Incan inhabitants of the area where Quito is located today. This interesting park includes ancient trails, walls, canals, and the foundations of Quitu dwellings. It is an interesting place to learn about the ancient cultures of the area while enjoying a little oasis in the bustling capital of Ecuador.
Following this, you will transported to the airport for your departing flight out of the airport.
For the 14 Day option you will enjoy the same activities as the 8 Day option above, however you will have a different choice of hotel, between Spa Samari Resort and Sangay Spa Hotel, and a different Day 8.
Day 8 begins with a tour of the beautiful Banos de Agua Santa area.
Baños de Agua Santa and Waterfalls Tour
Baños de Agua Santa is a small and vibrant city, located at the base of the Tungurahua Volcano. This picturesque town is surrounded by rivers and beautiful mountains. You will start the tour visiting one of the city’s highlights: the Route of the Waterfalls. On this route you will find several waterfalls, such as the Agoyan and the Manto de la Novia (Bride’s Mantle). The king of them all is the Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron), waiting for you at the end of the route. A short trail downhill leads to this impressive waterfall that can be admired from a small bridge or from the viewpoint, where you have to be prepared for a natural shower!
Pailon del Diablo Waterfall
Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron) is a spectacular and massive waterfall featuring approximately 80 meters high. There are two entrances to get to the waterfall and both paths go through a semi-jungle that homes different types of birds and flowers. Nearby the waterfall, there is a suspension bridge which is a great spot to take pictures.
Tree House and Swing at the End of the World
One of essential visits in Baños: The tree house! The place is a seismic monitoring station to observe the Tungurahua Volcano, which is very much active. The “tree house” was built at the edge of the mountain, which gives its visitors a breath taking view of the volcano and the mountains around Baños. However, the main attraction of the place is the famous “swing at the end of the world” which literally hangs from a tree at the edge of a cliff.
You’ll go to our local operator’s office in order to pick up your horses and begin this great trip. You will take a path which leads to the town of Puyo, and the parish Ulba, located 2 kilometers from Baños. You will visit a waterfall called “Chamana”, which descends from the Sangay National Park. There you can get a beautiful view of the majestic and active Tungurahua Volcano, one of Ecuador’s most active volcanoes.
Chimboranzo Wildlife Reserve
Today, you’ll visit Ecuador’s highest volcano, approximately an hour’s drive from the charming town of Riobamba. Measured from the centre of the Earth, the snow-capped Chimborazo is the highest mountain in the world. Of course, the official winner is Mount Everest, but the Chimborazo is still a very impressive stratovolcano with an altitude of 6.268 meters. The volcano, surrounded by a wildlife reserve, is a great challenge for mountaineers.
You can walk around a part of the reserve and admire the stunning scenery made of a mix of plains and polylepis forests. In this area you can find many wild llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas, the smaller sister of the llama, wandering around the highlands; hummingbirds, hawks, and even condors can also be seen in this area. For a spectacular view of the Ecuadorian Andes, you’ll hike up to the Hermanos Carrel Refuge located at 4.800 meters, or, depending on your physical condition, to the Edward Whymper Refuge at 5000 meters.
The Llama Museum at Casa Real
In this unique museum you will learn about the Andean camelids, especially the iconic ´Llama´, considered to be one of the most important animals in this region. The museum provides illustrative information about its origin, evolution, medicinal use and economic importance, as well as the relationship of this species with Andean culture. The place offers interpretive trails and a handicraft store with local products made with llama, alpaca and sheep’s wool.
Ingapirca Inca Ruins, and Cuenca
Today, you travel south through untouched Andean landscapes. From snow-capped volcanoes to agricultural zones where traditionally dressed locals work their land; this rural area surprises at every corner. One of today’s many highlights is Alausi, from where the famous Devil´s Nose train departs. The Devil’s Nose is one of the most complex train tracks ever constructed, which you experience while the train maneuvers over the zig-zagging tracks passing above breathtaking landscapes. Upon arrival at the station of Sibambe, you have the opportunity to visit a local museum and learn about the construction of the Devil’s Nose and other train routes in Ecuador. Back in Alausi, you head further south, to the Ingapirica archaeological site; once the most important Inca complex in Ecuador. Its Temple of the Sun, storage chambers, observatories, and other ruins offer interesting insights into the Inca Empire. In the afternoon, you arrive in the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca.
Devil’s Nose Train
Departure from Riobamba to Alausi in order to take the train; from here you start descending to the amazing “Devil’s Nose” (Train does not operate on Mondays) with an incredible zigzag part to cross until your arrival at the Sibambe station where you can visit a local museum in order to learn about Ecuador’s rail history and then return to Alausi. Then we continue to visit the amazing Ingapirca archeological site, which is known as the Temple of the Sun, storage chambers, observatories and roads, each with its own purpose. The temple is a very fascinating part of the complex and is located in the centre of the archeological site.
Cuenca Colonial Tour
Today, you have the opportunity to explore Cuenca accompanied by your guide. Cuenca is Ecuador’s fourth city, and its gorgeous colonial centre was declared a Cultural Heritage site of Humanity by the UNESCO. The beauty of the city centre is complemented by the friendliness of its people and its cozy atmosphere. With this half day city tour, you will see the architectural highlights of the city, such as the impressive cathedral. Your guide will take you up to the Turi viewpoint for a splendid view over the entire city; ‘Turi’ means ‘brother’ in Quichua, the language of the pre-colonial indigenous people. You will also visit an artisanal Panama hat factory, despite what the name suggests, Panama hats are originally from Ecuador, of which, Cuenca is one of the most important producers. These hats are made out of Paja Toquilla, palm leaves mainly found in the southern coastal region of Ecuador. Depending on the quality and size, it can take weeks or even months to produce a single handmade Panama hat.
Cuenca’s Museum of Indigenous Cultures
You can visit the incredible Museum of Indigenous Cultures, with the best private archaeological collection open to the public; this collection took about 30 years to amass! This collection was created in honor of the Indigenous peoples of Ecuador, whose history goes back some 15,000 years; having left the wonderful pieces exhibited as their testimony. Ecuador produces many small fragments of archeological remnants, so their investigation and research requires more attention because many pieces are exceptional artistic gems.
Potter Experience at Traditional Workshop
The workshop of José Encalada is one of the few places in Cuenca where travelers have the opportunity to experience the city’s traditional art of pottery-making. José works with two of his children, and together they preserve this beautiful craftsmanship that has been taught from generation to generation. First, you can observe how they make an ornament, pot, dish or other objects, after which, you can give it a try yourself! You also learn about their flagship product, black pottery, and have the opportunity to purchase very special souvenirs.
Hike in Cajas National Park
Today you will travel to the Cajas National Park, a beautiful protected 70,000 acre area, with many different types of ecosystems, varying from cloud forest to rocky lunar landscapes. Its diversity and its large number of lakes and lagoons (over 200!), make this national park truly unique. Most of the area has an altitude higher than 3000 meters, and part of it even reaches over 4400 meters; it’s this higher area that impresses the most, the barren landscapes where mountain peaks and ice rock blend with dark lakes and fields populated mainly by wild llamas.
During the hike, you might see more than only llamas, among which you can find the world’s largest hummingbird and rabbits. The duration of the hike is your choice and mainly depends on your physical condition and the available time. Make sure to wear warm clothing, because temperatures are low in the upper part of the national park. Afterwards, you return to Cuenca and your hotel.
Manglares Churute Reserve
You will start this adventure with a canoe trip through the mangrove forest. Here, you can observe many species of birds, ghost crabs, and, with some luck, even the coastal caiman, while your guide tells you about this unique mangrove ecosystem. You disembark the canoe to follow the Howler Monkey Trail. Not surprisingly, this trek offers you the opportunity to spot howler monkeys and white-fronted capuchin monkeys. During the hike, which takes about an hour and is not particularly strenuous, your guide shares his knowledge about the (medicinal) plants of this forest. There are many insects in this area, so please bring insect repellent. Subsequently, you head to a cacao farm for a typical Ecuadorian lunch and a short tour that teaches you about the process of making organic chocolate and, of course, tasting cocoa and chocolate in different stages of the process.
Cacao and Mango Farm
Today you will visit a local cacao & mango farm where you will tour the fields and orchards of a lovely family-owned plantation. The family has not only created an abundance of cacao and mangos, but also other crops like dragon fruit, plantains, lemon grass and spices. After learning everything about growing cacao plants, you will peel and roast cacao beans and then grind them up to enjoy your delicious self-made chocolate dessert.
Guayaquil City Tour
Guayaquil is the main port and the largest city of Ecuador. It is situated on the banks of the Guayas River and beaches are located less than two hours driving distance. You will feel the difference of Guayaquil and the ambience it boasts as a coastal city. What is more, in Guayaquil there is a unique mix of modern and historical buildings that create an attractive atmosphere. Your guide will pick you up at your hotel for an interesting tour of this port-city. The visit will include the boulevard located on the waterfront, also known as the “malecon”, which has just recently been renovated. Additionally, you will visit the neighbourhood of Las Peñas, dating back to the 16th century and declared as a Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO. This district of the city is located on a hill, overlooking the boardwalk and the city. Furthermore, you will also see the Seminarian Park or Iguana Park, named so after the many iguanas that inhabit the area. They are not frightened of visitors and come and go as they please. Don’t be shy to ask your guide to take some photos for you!
You will then have a transport to the local airport.