Ecuador may be a relatively small country, but it is rich in beauty, biodiversity, and adventure. Alongside its many giant volcanoes, Amazon destinations and cloud forests, it is also home to historical town centres and sights of culture and history, all which make it a spectacular place for a family trip. This journey will take you through old cities and towns to explore the country’s heritage, as well as to incredible sites of natural beauty such as the Peguche waterfall. This is the ideal trip for a family looking for excitement and variety. Across two weeks, this holiday will take you across Ecuador to view a variety of the incredible sights and experience which the nation has to offer.
Welcome to Ecuador! Upon arriving at the airport, you will have a private transfer from Quito airport to your selected hotel in Otavalo. Look for a sign with your name on it when arriving.
The next day will see you explore Otavalo and its surrounding areas, starting with a tour of the town itself.
Otavalo and Surroundings
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.
Pachamanka Ancestral Culinary Experience
“Pachamanka” is a word derived from Incan times. In the indigenous Quichua language it means “Pacha” for Earth and “Manka” for pot. The Pachamanka is a ceremony performed during special occasions such as the Summer and Winter Solstices and Equinox of the agricultural calendar. Weddings, welcomings, farewells, and giving thanks to the Earth Gods for the gifts of harvest are also important occasions. The pot used during the ceremony is heated by volcanic stones and filled with foods such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, mellocos (similar to potato), beans, carrots, beets, plantains, and meats wrapped in achira leaves. The pot is then covered with a cloth and buried in the ground to cook. The mound where the pot is buried is adorned with flowers from the region, transforming into a beautiful Andean altar where everyone can give their thanks and appreciation. You will be able to participate in the ceremony just like the ancient Incans once did, and maybe learn some new things to do when you return home.
The foods are cooked perfectly in the pot due to the intense heat produced by the stones below ground. All the nutrients are preserved in this manner of cooking, and it is especially healthy as no condiments or additional fats are used. The delicious dish is accompanied by chicha, a non-alcoholic version of corn beer made from different types of maize. Overall, it is an amazing celebration and who cooks better than Mother Earth with family gathered around?
Day 3 is packed with exciting activities and visits to wonderful sights.
Cuichoca Lagoon Visit
Cuicocha is a beautiful volcanic crater lagoon near the small town of Otavalo. Cuicocha is part of the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve and is located at an altitude of 3246 meters. With the deep blue hues of the water and the two small islands in the middle it has a local nickname of Guinea Pig Lake. Cuicocha Lagoon is a feast for the eyes. Walking around the lagoon is a wonderful way to enjoy the unique biodiversity in the area and learn a little more about pre-Columbian cultures. On a clear day, you even have a panoramic view of the area, including the volcanoes Imbabura and Cayambe. Another, less demanding option, is to join the short boat trip around the lake that teaches you more about its ecosystem (not included in the price). The next stop is the village of Cotacachi, if time allows. This charming town is famous for its leather handicrafts and in the small shop you can buy everything made out of leather, from purse to jacket and from head to cowboy saddle.
After this full day of wonderful and exclusive activities, you will be taken to the Zuleta Hacienda; a historic and luxurious farmhouse located in the heart of the Lakes province.
The Condor Park is located in Otavalo, not far from the Peguche waterfalls. Driving into Otavalo you have a spectacular view of the San Pablo Lake, and the striking Imbabura volcano behind it. While you are visiting the park you can observe many species of owls, eagles, hawks, and condors, the main attraction. All the birds found at the park are rescues from illegal captivity or from inappropriate environments, the park works on their recovery in order to be released again into the wild. The bird handlers are known to put on quite a show, children and adults alike will get a thrill watching.
Middle of the World Visit
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 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. Have fun with the family taking playful photos with the monument in the background, such as the popular takes with one foot in each hemisphere or pretending to hold the monument ball in your hands! 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 next day, after staying the night in Quito, you will explore the city.
Quito Historical City Tour
During 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.
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.
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.
With interactive displays and sparkling fountains, the Yaku Parque-Museo del Agua confirms an undeniable universal truth – life cannot exist without water. Located in the historic district of El Placer, on the slopes of the majestic Pichincha volcano, this fascinating museum presents facts regarding this essential element of life in a way that is both interesting and educational. The strategic location of the museum it facilitates a special connection between nature and human activity while opening up spectacular views of the surrounding areas. This is truly a place to stop and contemplate the simple, and yet important, aspects of life – including water.
La Ronda Barrio and Traditional Toy Workshop
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.
The paths of the comfort and luxury itineraries diverge over the course of the next few days.
The Comfort option sees you travel on to San Isidro Lodge, where you will stay and enjoy activities.
Once you arrive in San Isidro Cloud Forest Reserve, you will be shown to your accommodations and around the premises. You will have an official welcome with a toast including tradition “canelazos”. These are essentially hot toddy’s or teas made with cinnamon, varying fruit juices like the “naranjilla” and usually with an Ecuadorian liquor; however they can be made without the liquor and are just as delicious with the same warming effect. Enjoy from this exciting activities that the lodge offers:
Night walk: This is especially thrilling because you never know what you will see in the forest during the night. You will be in search of owls, strange and amusing insects, nocturnal animals, and any other creature that may come along!
Birdwatching: If you are interested you can get up early with your guide and go searching for the early morning bird activity. You will spend the morning activity watching trogons, woodcreepers, flycatchers, and tanagers flying throughout the forest. Continuing on you will venture on a trail nearby to try to watch the White-bellied Antpitta, an extremely beautiful South American bird. Afterwards you will return to the lodge for breakfast.
Archeological ruins: The ruins are what is left of the “Curisetas”, or the Goldsmiths. They inhabited the region during the pre-colonial period and were never conquered by the Incas, interestingly. There is not much known about their history, it seems as if the small group of natives faded away quietly. They were known for mining and molding gold into jewelry and using large rocks from distant areas and placing them as directional monoliths. In the river near the lodge you can still find small relics of pottery. At the end of the trail you will return on a peaceful road until returning to the lodge for lunch.
The Comfort Option of this itinerary will take you on a 4 day adventure exploring Casa del Suizo.
Day 1: La Casa del Suizo Welcome
While traveling, you will see your surroundings slowly change into stunning views of green valleys and waterfalls as the landscape transforms into the rainforest. Your final destination is Punta Ahuano, a small port town on the northern banks of the Napo River – a main tributary to the mighty Amazon River. Here there will be canoes waiting to take you the rest of the way to Casa del Suizo, a beautiful oasis to enjoy your time in the Amazon where you can enjoy the spa services, excursions, pool, bar and delicious food.
Day 2: Casa Suizo Rainforest Hike and Rescue Centre
In the morning you will board a canoe that will navigate for about 20 minutes down the scenic Napo River. This is a great opportunity to see what the Amazon river ecosystem looks like and provides a fun adventure for the whole family. Finally you will reach Cosano, here you will walk with your guide on a trail discovering flora and fauna together. After some time on the trail you will return to the lodge for lunch.
In the afternoon, you will have an excellent time at the AmaZOOnico Rescue Centre. Here you will see only wounded and/or displaced animals from the rainforest that are in various recovery phases. Many of them will be released again into the jungle if they successfully recover. It is an interesting and interactive way to learn more about the animals of the rainforest, their significance, and the importance of protecting the wildlife in this unique place in the world. It is possible to see different species of monkeys, tapirs, wildcats, birds and other jungle animals. When the visit is complete you will return to Casa del Suizo for the rest of the evening.
Day 3: Amazon Community and Butterfly Centre
Today you will visit an Amazon community to experience the local lifestyle of this unique area. Women of the community show you around and tell you and the rest of the group about the crops they grow, such as yucca (cassava), coffee beans, tropical fruits and cacao. Also, you can witness how these Kichwa women produce pottery and other traditional, domestic skills.
Later on, members of the community show you the traditional methods of searching for gold and fishing on the shores of the Napo River. This activity is not just about listening and watching; you will have the unique opportunity to become a part of these traditions! In the afternoon you will return to the hotel where you can enjoy its facilities and enjoy a delicious lunch. In the afternoon you will venture out once more to an island on the Napo River for an interesting walk through the jungle. Wandering through this area is an incredible experience. You will also be able to visit a butterfly centre, commonly known as a “Mariposario” where you can observe colorful butterfly species. Upon returning to the hotel you will have time to relax at the swimming pool or in the surroundings of the hotel before dinner is served.
Day 4: Departure
In the morning you will get ready to depart the Amazon Rainforest to your next destination.
The Luxury Option of this itinerary will take you on a 4 day adventure exploring Misahualli while you stay at Hamadryade Lodge.
Day 1: Arrival
You will arrive to Hamadryade Lodge in the afternoon after making your way down towards the Amazon Basin. The lodge is located near Puerto Misahualli and has a wonderful climate and access to primary rainforest. For ages old and young, there is so much to explore and discover with both land and water activities available.
Day 2: Lodge Activities
Today, you and your family have three different options to choose from to enjoy the surrounding areas of Hamadryade Lodge.
Option 1: Native Community
You will begin the day leaving the lodge for a hike in primary forest to discover the local flora and fauna. Eventually you will reach an indigenous Kichwa community where you will have lunch. While you are visiting with the community you can learn about their foods and diet, ancestral medicinal plants, learn how to use a blowgun; among other interesting things like the discovery of plantations and how chocolate is processed with cacao beans from this area.
Option 2: Waterfalls
You will be provided transportation leaving the lodge to discover enchanting waterfalls hidden in the rainforest. Bring along your swimsuits as there may be a chance to enter the waters. You will return with enough time in the afternoon to prepare for some river exploration on the Napo river. Later, you can also visit a nearby lagoon called Paikawe to observe native birds and monkeys from the area.
Option 3: River Rafting
A full day of river rafting is an exhilarating family activity that is best taken advantage of this area. The rafting will be done in the northern section of the Napo River in the upper Amazon, which also means “big water” in the Kichwa language of the Amazon. This section of the river is great for both experts and beginners. It has a great combination of calm pools, jungle scenery, and fun and exciting rapids of II and III classes. The river here is great for families looking for a memorable experience.
Day 3: Lodge Activities
Again, on Day 3, you will have a choice of the above three activities to partake in.
Day 4: Departure
In the morning you will get ready to depart the Amazon Rainforest to your next destination.
Baños de Agua Santa and Waterfall 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
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.
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”.
Cotopaxi Ropes Adventure Course
Get ready for an exciting afternoon on a ropes adventure course near Cotopaxi Volcano. There is fun for all ages here as everyone will have the opportunity to practice climbing techniques in an active way. It is great for both children and adults as you can enjoy the course without any prior experience in climbing. Of course, safety is first and all the highest quality gear is provided, including helmets, safety harnesses, safety briefings, and the support of a specialized guide. The adventure is made possible with ladders, nets, swings, ropes, wobbly bridges, swinging logs, and other fun surprises. The lower course, only about 4 feet off the ground is perfect for younger children. The higher course is about 20 meters above ground. The entire course is located near the Cotopaxi Volcano standing out in the background at a hacienda near their gardens.
Day 12 sees you visiting Cotopaxi National Park, and taking in the spectacular wildlife and scenery.
Cotopaxi National Park Visit
The 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.
This is a great hands on cooking class perfect for your family, especially if you really want to experience the regional culture, highland family traditions and the use of antique cooking instruments in a friendly environment. The fun and all-inclusive cooking class is given by native women who will inspire and teach you their culinary secrets and techniques that have been passed down, generation to generation. Travel through history while learning about the most representative crops in South America and how to use ancient cooking tools. Examples of some dishes you might make are “Empanadas de Viento” known as cheese empanadas and maybe some “aji”, a hot chili sauce made all over Ecuador with many varieties depending on the area and culture. Enjoy the dishes with some traditional “canelazo” after learning how to make this old as time hot tea, made especially to warm up your soul in the coldest areas of the Sierra.
Your penultimate day is then filled with adventure, as you ride horses and visit the Papallacta Hot Springs.
Visit to 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.
The tour starts with a brief riding lesson from one of the guides before we set out on our horses. Wearing the typical dress of the chagra (Ecuadorian cowboys), we ride out across the slopes of the extinct volcano, Rumiñahui. A legendary chagra from the area will come with us and share some of his deep knowledge of the country life. The ride lasts for approximately 2 hours.
Papallacta Hot Springs
You will continue over the North Eastern Cordillera, up to an impressive altitude of 4065 meters, before arriving at the small town of Papallacta (3300 meters). On a clear day, you get amazed by magnificent views of the Antisana Volcano and the surrounding paramo highlands. In this beautiful region you can spot birds, wild horses, and even spectacled bears, with some luck. It is a breathtaking and mystical area.
Upon arrival in Papallacta, you visit the thermal hot springs of Papallacta that are naturally heated by the volcanic activity in the area. Thanks to the volcanoes, this water contains minerals that make bathing here benefiting your mind and body. With this tour you will experience ultimate relaxation in a beautiful environment.
After staying in Papallacta, your final day allows you one last chance to soak up the wonder of the hot spinrgs.
Papallacta Public Hot Springs
Papallacta hot springs are naturally heated by the volcanic activity in the area. Thanks to the volcanoes, this water contains minerals that make bathing here benefiting your mind and body.
After this, you will then receive a private transfer to Quito airport for your departing flight.