Ecuador - Amazon and Cloud Forest

From glittering Andean peaks and balmy cloud forest, to emerald Amazonian rainforest and avian-abundant mangroves, the diversity of landscapes and wildlife in Ecuador belie the country’s tiny size, as does its ethnic make-up. The country is home to Kichwa-speaking indigenas, Afro-Ecuadorians and mestizos, and on this tour, we explore all of its major ecosystems, spending time with traditional communities along the way.

We travel north-east to the Amazon rainforest to spot a variety of birds and monkey species by day, and nocturnal creatures by night, spending time with local communities and meeting a shaman who shares his knowledge about the remedies of the rainforest. Then we head to the Andean highlands in the north, where we dive headfirst into the bustle of the huge, indigenous market at Otavalo and hike around Cuicocha crater lake.

Moving on, we travel into the steamy realms of Ecuador’s cloud forest and the Santa Lucia Reserve. We spend three days exploring this pristine forest that is home to 400 bird species including the Cock-of-the-rock, and then we make the journey down into the southern Andes, to Ecuador’s highest volcano and the highland plains of Chimborazo Reserve. Here we can see Andean wildlife such as alpacas and vicuñas, and possibly even hawks and condors.

We stay in a local guesthouse in Guamote, visiting the Inti Sisa educational centre and the home of a traditional weaver, and we travel through the Andes on one of the most complex train tracks ever constructed, leading us to Cajas National Park with its 200 lagoons, varying altitudes and ecosystems and onto and a family-owned hacienda where cacao and mangoes are grown.

No trip to Ecuador would be complete without a visit to the colonial centre of Ecuador’s dizzying capital Quito, Guayaquil’s colourful neighbourhood of Las Peñas, and the elegant city of Cuenca. But this is equally a tour for nature lovers, visiting some of South America’s most pristine regions with excellent opportunities to spot wildlife. Some of the most memorable moments however, will undoubtedly be made during our time spent with the local people.

Toucan in rainforest - Ecuador itinerary

Highlights

  • Venture into the depths of the Amazon
  • Visit Otavalo’s colourful market
  • Look for wildlife in the cloud forest
  • Meet the indigenous people of Guamote
  • Ride on the Devil’s Nose train
  • The colonial architecture of Cuenca

Day 1 - Quito

Arrive into Quito and transfer to hotel. Overnight Hotel Patio Andaluz or similar.


Day 2 - Quito

We explore the city and its old, colonial centre today. We visit the Basílica del Voto, Plaza Grande, also known as Independence Square, the presidential and Archbishop’s palaces and Compañia Church with its splendidly gilded interior. After visiting the city’s most important religious buildings, we make our way up the famous Panecillo Hill for a panoramic view of Quito. Overnight Hotel Patio Andaluz or similar. (BD)

Quito

Sitting high in the Andes at 2850 metres above sea level and hemmed-in by snow-capped volcanoes is Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Quito was founded by the Spanish in 1534 on the ruins of an Inca city and it possesses one of the best-preserved and most extensive historic centres in Latin America. The monasteries of Santo Domingo and San Francisco, and the Church and Jesuit College of La Compañia are remarkable examples of the blending of indigenous and European artistic traditions in this part of the world.

The city has a population of more than 2.5 million people and the centre of the city is divided into two parts. The ‘centro histórico’ is a real highlight with its church-lined cobbled plazas, narrow streets, monasteries, mansions, and vibrant balconied houses. This historical centre is awash with some of the most beautiful Spanish colonial architecture in South America and its streets are alive with throngs of energetic mestizos and indígenas. Neighbouring the old town is the new town, which in contrast, is home to numerous shops, hotels, restaurants, banks, bars, and beautiful parks.

Day 3 - Cuyabeno National Park

Fly to Lago Agrio and drive to the north-eastern part of the Sucumbíos province, passing beautiful rivers and small villages as we venture deeper into the rainforest. We continue to Tapir Lodge in Cuyabeno National Park, travelling downriver by canoe. Overnight Tapir Lodge or similar. (BLD)


Day 4 - Cuyabeno National Park

We explore the unique ecosystem of Laguna Grande by canoe and navigate through the ‘flooded forest’ then head to dry land for a hike, with the chance to spot a variety of birds including macaws and toucans, as well as various monkey species. In the evening, we navigate back to Laguna Grande to watch the sunset and there will be an optional night hike to look out for nocturnal wildlife. Overnight Tapir Lodge or similar. (BLD)


Day 5 - Cuyabeno National Park

We canoe up the Cuyabeno river to visit a local community and learn about their daily life and customs. We visit the community shaman at his house, learning about the natural remedies he uses to heal people then in the afternoon, we meet a local family and learn to make traditional cassava bread. Overnight Tapir Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Cuyabeno National Park

The Reserva Faunística Cuyabeno encompasses over six thousand square kilometres of rainforest and is one of Ecuador’s largest reserves. Cuyabeno protects areas with species that survived the last ice age and harbours over 500 species of birds and plentiful aquatic wildlife, including pink freshwater dolphins, turtles, frogs, toads, anacondas, black caimans, manatees, giant otters and 350 species of fish.

The reserve contains a huge network of lakes and lagoons, among which are two main black-water lake systems, the Lagunas de Cuyabeno and Laguna Grande. 307 tree species have been found in a single hectare alone. The reserve is less accessible to colonisers than recent years, due to its size being tripled, following incursions by oil companies and settlers in the western areas. It is protected by politically active indigenous communities such as the Kichwa, Cofán, Secoya, Siona and Shuar, but they are struggling to defend their cultures and territory against further oil company encroachment.

Day 6 - Quito

Canoe to El Puente and return to Lago Agrio. Fly to Quito. Overnight Hotel Patio Andaluz or similar. (B)


Day 7 - Otavalo

Travel to Otavalo city, famous for its indigenous market and a great place to mingle with local people. We continue to Cotacachi – famous for its leather – to meet the local craftsmen, and to Cuicocha crater lagoon for a short hike. Overnight Hotel Otavalo or similar. (B)

Otavalo

Situated at 2325m above sea level between the peaks of Cotacachi and Imbabura, is the town of Otavalo. The town is world-renowned for its huge

Saturday market – the largest and most colourful on the continent – which has seen indígenas from surrounding villages travel down the hills and flock to the town to sell their crafts and produce for hundreds of years.

Otavaleños have been accomplished weavers since pre-colonial times and used to trade textiles for cotton and a red dye called achiote with peoples from the Oriente. When the Incas took control of the region in 1945, they brought alpacas and llamas with them and the wool was much easier to weave with than cotton. They also brought silk, the spinning wheel and treadle loom so the Otavaleños could start producing larger quantities and supplying Spanish aristocrats all over the colonies. However, they exploited the skills of the Otavalaños, introducing forced-labour sweatshops and this went on for around 500 years.

When the industrial revolution in Europe developed mass production of textiles, the sweatshops went into decline and weavers began working on a small scale again to satisfy local demand but under an oppressive system called the ‘huasipungo’ and with little change in living conditions. In 1917 with the adaptation of new techniques, the Otavaleños started to make Scottish tweeds and new fabrics, which rekindled their industry. When the law was reformed in 1964, the huasipungo system was outlawed and they could finally profit from their talents and own land too.

The locals adopted Inca clothing throughout the time of Inca rule and this can still be seen in the traditional dress of native women in the region today. The clothing that the ladies wear resembles Inca dress more closely than that of any other indigenous people in the Andes.

The Otavalo market is most famous today for its colourful weavings found mainly at the Plaza de Ponchos and you can find everything from carvings, clothing and craftwork, to ceramics, musical instruments, vegetables, grain and even live animals on sale. Tourism really benefits the Otavalo valley and has opened it up to the outside world. A once oppressed group of peoples are now one of the most well-travelled and prosperous groups in South America thanks to the success of the weaving industry. They’ve also become a political and cultural voice for other groups in the country who are under-represented.

Day 8 - Nanegalito – Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve

Drive to Nanegalito for a two hour hike through the cloud forest to our lodge. Upon arrival, we hike a trail in the orchid garden and learn more about conservation at Santa Lucia. In the evening there is the option to take a night walk to try and observe nocturnal wildlife. Overnight Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Lodge. (BLD)


Day 9 - Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve

Today we hike through pristine primary forest, past thundering waterfalls and with the opportunity to swim in a natural rainforest pool. Or, there is the option to rise early at around 4am for a hike to try and spot the Cock-of-the-rock and see its mating ritual. Overnight Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Lodge. (BLD)

Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve

The Santa Lucia Reserve is a community-owned ecotourism project that helps to fund the conservation of 6.5 square kilometres of communally owned cloud forest. The vast majority of the reserve is primary forest and is home to 400 bird species including the Cock-of-the-rock and many types of hummingbirds. Pumas, ocelots and Andean spectacled bears also live within the reserve.

There are several forest trails to walk including the pre-Columbian path that links Santa Lucia to the neighbouring village of Yunguilla, which you can hike in 6 hours. Projects in the reserve are supported by volunteers and include conservation monitoring, reforestation, organic farming, trail clearance, agro-forestry and English lessons.

Day 10 - Nanegalito – Lasso – Latacunga

We hike down through the forest in the morning, then follow a pre-Inca trail, made and once used by the Yumbo people as a trade route. Much of the trail is in the form of a deep trench called a ‘culunco’ and we may spot tracks of wild pigs and the elusive puma. Travel back to Quito and on to Latacunga. Enjoy a free afternoon in Latacunga or its surroundings, such as the Cotopaxi Reserve. Overnight Hacienda La Cienega or similar. (BL)


Day 11 - Chimborazo Wildlife Reserve – Guamote

We visit Ecuador’s highest volcano today, Chimborazo. The volcano is 6268 metres in height and is surrounded by a wildlife reserve. For a spectacular view of the Ecuadorian Andes, we hike (optional) up to the Hermanos Carrel Refuge, located at 4800 metres, or the Whymper Refuge at 5000 metres. Overnight Hotel Inti Sisa or similar. (BL)

Chimborazo

Volcán Chimborazo is the highest peak in Ecuador. At 6268m, the upper reaches of the volcano are permanently covered in snow and ice and the summit was once imagined to be the highest in the world. The base of the volcano spans approximately 20km and although not the tallest in the world from base to summit, the summit of Chimborazo is the furthest point from the centre of the earth and the closest to the sun.

The volcano is situated in the Reserva Faunística Chimborazo, along with Carihuairazo, a volcanic caldera with a height of 5020m. The reserve – created in 1987 – covers 58,560 hectares and is a haven for llamas, alpacas and wild vicuñas. Around the time of the conquest, vicuñas disappeared from the wild but after a very successful reintroduction programme, there now more than 2500 in the Chimborazo Reserve.

There are two mountain refuges on the slopes of Chimborazo volcano, the lower Refugio Hermanos Carrel which can be reached on foot or by car and the second Refugio Whymper which sits at 5000m and can only be reached on foot. The refuge was named after the British climber Edward Whymper, who made the first recorded ascent of Chimborazo in 1880.

Day 12 - Guamote

In the morning we visit Guamote’s massive Thursday market, where hundreds of local farmers fill the streets. Later, we visit the educational centre at Inti Sisa where they teach sewing, computer technology, English and traditional Andean music. We also visit the house of a traditional weaver, and an indigenous family in their traditional ‘choza’ house, and take part in a cooking workshop. Overnight Hotel Inti Sisa or similar. (B)

Guamote

Located in the Chimborazo province of Ecuador’s central highlands, is the attractive, yet down-at-heel and rather sleepy town of Guamote. Situated at 3050m, the town sports handsome timber buildings from the railway era of the twentieth century, with wooden pillars and characteristic balconies. Guamote is a town where Kichwa-speaking elders gather in the main square to pass their afternoons and share tales.

The town comes alive on a Thursday morning with its rather large market and if you head for the field behind the Iglesia de San Vicente, you’ll find the chaotic animal market where ducks, chicken, piglets, sheep and guinea pigs that are ranked among the most delicious in the country change hands.

Inti Sisa

Inti Sisa, meaning sunflower in Kichwa, is a community project located in Guamote, one of the most traditional regions in Ecuador. 95% of the people in Guamote are indigenous (the original population) and in 1999, the Inti Sisa foundation opened the doors of its educational centre, offering educational support to the underprivileged local people in Guamote, especially women and young girls.

The project was founded by two Belgian volunteers who started out with just a handful of motorbikes, which were used to travel into the local mountain communities to help the local teachers, but now the project has grown into a thriving educational centre in Guamote village.

A variety of workshops are available at Inti Sisa, including computer classes, sewing, music and English lessons. Every day 40 toddlers are cared for at the kindergarten and children from around the neighbourhood are helped with their homework. Inti Sisa also has a guesthouse which funds the majority of the activities and lessons offered at the centre. Through the project, more jobs have been created in a village that has few job opportunities on offer and today, 15 people work for the Inti Sisa Art Guesthouse and Inti Sisa Foundation, including cooks, guides and teachers, who all get paid an honest wage, now have social security, and see Inti Sisa as a second home for themselves and their families.

Day 13 - Devil’s Nose Train – Ingapirca – Cuenca

Aboard the Devil’s Nose train, we journey through untouched Andean landscapes, from snow-capped volcanoes to agricultural zones where traditionally dressed locals work their land. In the afternoon we arrive in Cuenca, visiting the Inca complex of Ingapirca en route. Overnight Hotel Boutique Santa Lucia or similar. (B)

Ingapirca

Located between the central sierra town of Alausí and Cuenca, the main city of the Southern Sierra, is Ingapirca, an impressive Inca ruin displaying extraordinary mortar-less stonework for which the Incas are renowned. The site was built towards the end of the fifteenth century during the Inca expansion into Ecuador, on a site that had been occupied by the Cañari people for over five hundred years. The Incas destroyed most of the Cañari structures, apart from one burial site that still remains, and replaced them with their own elaborate complex which is believed to have functioned as a fortress, place of worship and ‘tambo’ or way-station on the Inca Royal Road that connected Cusco in Peru, to Quito.

Although many of the buildings were later dismantled by the Spanish colonists, who hauled away the stones, the main structure in the centre of the complex – the Temple of the Sun – is still intact and dominates the whole site. The rest of the site consists of low foundation walls which are possibly the remains of stone houses, a great plaza and other curiosities such as ‘Cara del Inca’ or Inca’s Face, a hook-nosed, human profile hewn into a huge rock face, and the ‘Casa del Sol’ with its circular, supposedly astronomical carvings.

Day 14 - Cuenca

Today we explore Cuenca city and its colonial centre, a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. We take in the highlights of the city including the cathedral and the Turi viewpoint for a splendid view of the entire city. We also visit an artisanal Panama hat factory. Overnight Hotel Boutique Santa Lucia or similar. (B)

Cuenca and Cajas National Park

Built upon the ruins of an Inca city once said to have rivalled Cusco with its splendour, the Renaissance town of Cuenca is one of Ecuador’s most beautiful colonial cities and its ‘centro histórico is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With a laidback and serene feel, much different to the pollution and overbearing crowds of Quito, the city does however share many architectural features with Quito’s old town, including balconied houses with interior courtyards, gleaming white churches and narrow, cobbled streets.

Cuenca is also known for its Panama hats. The hats, contrary to belief and what the name suggests, are produced in Ecuador. Made from Paja Toquilla palm leaves and depending on the quality and size, it can take weeks or even months to produce a handmade Panama hat.

About 35km northwest of Cuenca, lies Parque Nacional El Cajas, a wild, primeval landscape spread over 290km of high paramo with varying altitudes of 3000-4500m. Characterised by craggy hills and glacial valleys and studded with 235 lakes, the park offers a real sense of solitude and sees few visitors due to the fog and rain that frequently occur.

However inhospitable the environment may seem, the park harbours more flora and fauna than one might think. It is home to pumas, deer, wildcats, spectacled bears and a variety of birds including mountain toucans, Andean condors, hummingbirds and woodpeckers. More commonly sighted though, are llamas, rabbits and ducks. The gnarled and twisted branches of native quinoa trees flank the rivers that wind through the park and many species of flowers and shrubs – such as the orange-flowered chuquiragua – survive on the moorland, having also adapted to the harsh climates.

The tract of dense and humid cloud forest within the park is scattered with bromeliads and orchids, and there are also human relics present, including pre-Hispanic ruins believed to be former shelters for those travelling between sierra and coast, and a 4km section of the Ingañán, an old Inca road which has been remarkably well-preserved.

Day 15 - Cajas National Park – Guayaquil

We travel to Cajas National Park today. During our hike we may be lucky to see llamas, rabbits, wild cats and the largest hummingbird in the world. Later we drive to the vibrant city of Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, situated on the banks of the Guayas River. We explore the main sights including the colourful 16th century neighbourhood of Las Peñas and the Seminarian Park, a city park that is oddly inhabited by curious iguanas. Overnight Hotel Wyndham or similar. (B)

Guayaquil

Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, has a population of more than 2.3 million people and was once considered as one of Ecuador’s most dangerous cities. Thanks to a complete reform, with major regeneration programmes, an overhaul of public transport and public safety campaigns, the city has improved dramatically and is now a likeable and unthreatening place with a great natural energy.

The most charming district in the city is the historic Las Peñas, and the once-dangerous slum that is Cerro Santa Ana, with brightly its painted homes dotted on the hillsides, has been reinvented as a beacon of urban renewal and is linked to the Malećon 2000, a gleaming riverside development. Guayaquil also has several upmarket, gated residential suburbs that reflect its status at the country’s wealthiest city. This is due to its massive port that handles major national exports including coffee, cacao and shrimp. And although Guayaquil is richer in money terms, it has nowhere near as many historical attractions as Quito, with most of its colonial buildings having been destroyed in the 1942 earthquake.

Out of the centre you’ll find another waterside development, a historical park that provides an enjoyable exploration of the city’s regional environment and past, and a botanical garden with a collection of orchids. There is also a new cycle route around the forested wetlands of Isla Santay in the Guayas estuary and further afield, the mangroves of La Reserva Ecológica Manglares Churute.

Day 16 - Manglares Churute – Cacao and Mango hacienda - Guayaquil

We travel to the Manglares Churute Reserve for a canoeing adventure through the mangrove forest to observe many species including ghost crabs, different types of birds and with some luck, crocodiles. We also explore on foot, on the lookout for howler monkeys and White-fronted capuchins. Later, we head to a traditional, family-owned hacienda, visiting their fields and orchards to see the abundance of crops being grown. We learn about the growing of cacao plants and we skin and roast the cacao beans, grinding them up to make our own chocolate. Overnight Hotel Wyndham or similar. (BL)

Manglares Churute

Attached to the Guayas estuary is the 500sqkm Reserva Ecológica Manglares Churute. The reserve protects the mangrove swamps from being cleared for shrimp farming and also harbours a great variety of other wildlife including Chilean Flamingos, sighted from Jan-Feb and bottlenose dolphins sighted from June to November.

The best way to explore the tangled mangroves is to take a boat ride along the labyrinthine channels that thread through them. These channels are part of a unique ecosystem that provides a vital nursery for many crustaceans and fish. There are also four different walking trails that wind through the humid and dry tropical forest ranging from a short walk to a 3-4 hour hike. Highlights of the trails include a cascading waterfall, lake and estuary views, and the chance to spot howler monkeys.

Day 17 - Guayaquil

Transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)


Colonial architecture in Cuenca - Ecuador itinerary
Colonial architecture in Cuenca - Ecuador itinerary
Traditional women in Ecuador

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    You will be accompanied by an English-speaking guide.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again. Please note that when meals are included, sometimes these will be in hotels, as often these are the most appropriate option, and will sometimes be set menus. Local restaurants are often lacking in variety, as well as the capacity to cater for groups. Drinks are not included and are at your own expense.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If, however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Most nationals including all citizens of the EU, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand can visit Ecuador without a visa. You may be asked about your reason for travel and to provide evidence of a return or onwards flight ticket, as well as proof that you have enough money for the duration of your stay.

Other nationalities should check with their nearest embassy or the visa agency with which they will apply.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Please note that Yellow Fever is a compulsory vaccination for entering Ecuador if you are arriving from countries with a risk of yellow fever transmission. You must bring your vaccination certificate with you, otherwise you may not be allowed to enter.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover, which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The official currency in Ecuador is the US dollar. ATM machines are widespread in the cities and larger towns, though less so in remote areas.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to Ecuador.

We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in Ecuador. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Update July 2019

Colonial architecture in Cuenca - Ecuador itinerary
Colonial architecture in Cuenca - Ecuador itinerary
Traditional women in Ecuador
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
05 September 2021
Price (PP) -
£3,499
Single Supplement -
£350
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
04 September 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,599
Single Supplement -
£350
Trip Status -
Available