Private Journeys

Off the beaten track Ecuador: From the Andes to the Amazon

9 days from £2,590pp

Ecuador & Galapagos Islands

Itinerary

map marker Map

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel in historic Quito.

The active volcano Pichincha glowers over the dynamic city which, at 2,850m, is one of highest capitals in the world. Quito is divided into two contrasting districts. The modern zone is characterised by towering glass buildings and houses banks, international companies, hotels, shops and restaurants, while the central colonial area has well-conserved and recently spruced-up white-washed architecture, open air markets and graceful Spanish-style mansions and churches.

Your arty hotel is close to Quito’s central core, a grid of atmospheric colonial architecture where discreet refurbishment of the markets, graceful Spanish-style mansions and baroque churches has not dimmed the authentic lifestyle of its inhabitants.

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Day 2

Guided walking tour of Spanish colonial Quito.

Your guided tour is a leisurely stroll around the colonial centre of the capital, the first city ever to be named a World Heritage site. High on the agenda is a walk through the main plaza, the Plaza de Independencia, where you will see the government palace, the cathedral, and some of the most imposing churches built around the 16th and 17th centuries, including the monastery of San Francisco. While an underground train system is under construction, road traffic here is gradually being phased out, making the atmosphere even more evocative of times gone by.

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Day 3

By road to Papallacta thermal spa.

Taking one of the country’s many scenic roads, you climb out of the closely-packed city to the lip of the volcanic bowl in which it crouches, passing ice-clad Andean peaks until you find yourself in a contrasting natural environment of spidery, moss-smothered trees, orchids and giant ferns. You’ll spend the night at Papallacta Thermal Spa, which sits in a favoured position on what is exotically called the Cinnamon Trail. You’ll really feel enveloped by nature here, benign and gentle, bursting with life. In the afternoon you can soak in the delicious warm waters of the series of steaming pools, moving between water’s different temperatures. Maybe you’ll having set off on one of the marked trails on the property, which follow the valleys of tumbling streams or head into the shady forests beyond the grassy páramo (grasslands). Some are self-guided, but you can easily hire a guide to explain the secrets of the landscape.

Day 4

Drive on down to Coca in the Amazon basin.

The road then descends a valley between the crinkly mountains of two nature reserves, enriched with the dripping foliage of ever-thickening cloud forest and enlivened by the fluttering of birds’ wings.
As you plunge down towards the jungle, the vegetation and climate are subtly transformed. The road twists and turns as it descends, the vegetation fringing it becoming more and more succulent as the temperature rises.The cool cloudforest gradually evolves into an even more exuberant rainforest, clinging to the hillsides which fringe the one and only road. Potholes and the vestiges of landslides may remind you that you are really off the beaten track here: you’ll see the occasional car or jeep and a truck may come rumbling by, but nothing really obscures you magnificent views.

In harmony with a more tropical environment, local people live in thatched homes on stilts, and luscious fruits are on sale from stalls beside the road.

You have three nights at Sacha Lodge, an eco-friendly wildlife property which blends seamlessly into its lakeside surroundings, enabling you to watch giant otters duck and dive while you enjoy your meals or a drink, or observe caimans gliding under the walkways.

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Days 5,6

Exploring the Ecuadorian jungle from Sacha Lodge.

You have two days in which to enjoy a series of explorations and discoveries of the jungle environment. These are undertaken in small groups led by an English speaking naturalist guide and a native guide with expert local knowledge and you set off early in the morning when the jungle is at its most active, again in the afternoon and at night when the nocturnal insects and frogs begin their nightly chorus.

There are many different trails to follow and activities on offer, and the programme is flexible to satisfy most tastes: activities on offer include a motorised canoe journey along the Rio Napo to a parrot lick, an exposed clay bank where different species of parrot gather in the early morning. You can go paddling in dugout canoes along tannin-rich black water creeks and lakes, a silent and effective way of viewing the wildlife. Another highlight is a walk along the lodge's 300m long, 30m high canopy walkway and a visit to the observation tower, built at the top of a giant kapok tree, which provides a unique perspective of the jungle and a close-up view of the forest canopy habitat.

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Day 7

Travel to Hacienda Pimán in the high Andes.

Transfer by river to Coca airport, fly to Quito and continue to highland Hacienda Pimán, visiting a commercial rose garden en route. The fertile soil here allows for the cultivation of flowers and vegetables, many of which are exported to the wider world. Nestled in a mountain oasis close to the highland town of Ibarra, Hacienda Piman is a special highlight where you step back into a bygone era of colonial elegance.

Otavalo & northern highlands

Day 8

Guided adventure to seek out the Andean spectacled bear.

Today and tomorrow you will be encouraged to discover the indigenous culture of the region and its rural landscapes. Today, depart by road at dawn with views of the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve as daylight illuminates the rural scenery. You are heading for a viewpoint in an area of upland prairies and cold temperate woodland which is the known habitat of a family of the rare, endangered Andean spectacled bear. Here, a local farmer and his family monitor the behaviour of the bears, installing camera traps to observe their daily activities. With luck, you may be able to catch sight of these endearing animals in the flesh.

Later, visit the communities of Carmelo and Shanshipamba, where there are a number of petroglyphs (symbolic rock carvings) for you to see. Take a walk along an old Amazon trade route and then continue by road to the beautiful Arrayanes forest which is cut through with streams and waterfalls where you can bathe. Finally you visit the village Mariana Acosta embedded in primary forest where there is an old stone mill and locally woven embroidery to inspect.

Day 9

Highland train ride or explore artisan markets. Transfer to airport for international flight or Galápagos extension.

Today you have two options, depending on the day of the week and your personal choice. On Thursday to Sunday you can opt to travel on the Tren de la Libertad from the mountain town of Ibarra, crossing bridges and traversing tunnels to Salinas, a centre of Afro-Ecuadorian culture. The train is drawn by a locomotive which travels slowly through the countryside of rugged mountain landscapes and sugar cane plantations. Salinas accommodates descendants of slaves from Africa who have evolved their very own culture from this mixed heritage. There will be a demonstration of music and dance typical of the area. Visit the leather village of Cotacachi and have lunch before returning to Quito by road.

The second option also takes you to Ibarra, before you go to the village of Cotacachi, famous for its leatherwork and then on to Peguche Wasi and a visit to a workshop which displays the craftsmanship of the Kichwa people and the weavings of the Otavalan indians. Continue to Otavalo, once a small artisan village but now a thriving town with a huge square accommodating the famous indigenous market, one of the most colourful in Ecuador. Finally drive on to visit the monument of the 'Middle of the World' situated at the equator.

Transfer to the airport for your evening international flight, or stay on for a post tour extension, for example to the Galápagos Islands.

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