Private Journeys

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

9 days from £2,590pp

Ecuador & Galapagos Islands

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Overview & Highlights

This adventurous holiday visits colonial Quito, the thermal springs at Papallacta, the Amazon jungle and the Otavalo region in the Andes.

Ecuador packs an astonishing array of landscapes, flora, fauna and human cultures into an area the size of Britain. This short holiday exposes this agreeable little country’s diversity, from snow-smothered Andean volcanic peaks to luscious Amazon rainforests. You’ll discover where to spot an abundance of wildlife, interact with indigenous communities and discover a traditional Andean way of life.

Few experiences have as much awe-inducing power as being surrounded by the untamed beauty of the Amazon rainforest. Ecuador’s share of the Amazon basin is the most accessible — you can get there easily by road. But before plunging down from historic Quito’s lofty Andean setting, you’ll spend a night surrounded by succulent cloudforest at Papallacta’s thermal spa.

The winding road starts its lonely descent, delivering you to your jungle Sacha Lodge in an ecological reserve on the banks of the Napo river, an Amazon tributary. Wildlife-spotting opportunities from a variety of viewpoints abound, local residents include toucans to alligators, spider monkeys to macaws. It’s a trip by river and air back to the Andean highlands where you head north to a colonial hacienda, Piman, set in wild prairies and cool forests, the home of endangered spectacled bears. From there, a train ride or visit to a traditional market enriches your experience.


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.


Tour info


Four scenic road journeys; one domestic flight (1hr).  


This holiday incorporates a smart, arty superior mid-range hotel with character in Quito, a comfortable eco-friendly lodge with private facilities in the Amazon  and and a colonial style hacienda in the northern Andes.


Breakfast daily, lunch day 9, full board days 4-8. Some lunches are packed lunches. 


We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 30 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Summary Of Nights

9 days, 8 nights: Quito 2, Papallacta 1; Amazon lodge 3, colonial highland hacienda near Ibarra 2.


The unit of currency in Ecuador is the US dollar.

How To Take It

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. 

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance). Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. 

Daily Spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$50 per person per day should cover the cost of good quality meals on those days in the holiday itinerary where they are not included, drinks and the odd souvenir. Other expenses include petrol probably no more than about $US100) and tips (see separate paragraph), optional excursions and entry fees.


Tips are welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income.

Most service industry workers will hope for a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 – 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.


Travel insurance is essential. Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance pages.

Airport Taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey Grade

This holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit visitors. 


Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the Ecuadorian consulate.

APIS and ESTA – important flight information:

ESTA – if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online at

This costs $14 per person, and must be applied for by you personally.

Passports must also be e-passports with an embedded digital chip. Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS – Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.


Lying at 2,850m on the equator, the highlands have a permanent spring-like climate: altitude is the determining factor with regard to temperature. The rainy season in the Andes runs between January and April when there are showers most afternoons. The dry season is June, July and August when the sun is strong during the day, but at night the temperature drops dramatically (maybe as low as freezing point). May, September and October are less predictable, with both rainy and sunny spells. In the mountains at any time of year you should expect a variation between 15°C and 25°C.

In the Andean foothills and rainforest you can expect temperatures of up to 30°C. It may be misty or cloudy in the cloud forest, and rain can be expected at any time but, in contrast to the highlands, the wettest months are from June to August.


Several days are spent at high altitude (over 2.500m). You may notice the effect of high altitude; symptoms vary: most common are mild headaches and breathlessness. If you drink plenty of water and allow your body to acclimatise (don’t exert yourself or drink alcohol) in the first couple of days after arrival, you will minimise your chances of being adversely affected.

Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information.

Clothing And Special Equipment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons. Both warm clothing and a sun hat are essential at altitude; a light fleece jacket and a waterproof/breathable outer shell makes a good combination. 

Strong, comfortable footwear is essential and you should bring insect repellant, sun block, hat and sun glasses. 

Don’t forget your camera, charger and cards.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts.


Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 

What's included in the price

  • Services of our team of experts in our London office
  • Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides
  • All land transport within Latin America
  • Accommodation as specified
  • Meals as specified
  • Excursions as specified

What's not included in the price

  • International flights to Latin America
  • Tips and gratuities
  • Meals other than specified
  • Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket

Real Latin America Experts

  • Carrie Gallagher
    Carrie Gallagher - Travel Consultant

    A former JLA tour leader, Carrie brings a wealth of on-the-ground experience to our London-based Escorted Groups team.

  • Mary Anne Nelson
    Mary Anne Nelson - Travel Consultant

    Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made team.

  • Paul Winrow Giffen
    Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Consultant

    After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.

  • Hannah Waterhouse
    Hannah Waterhouse - Travel Consultant

    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

  • Sophie Barber
    Sophie Barber - Travel Consultant

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia.

  • Evie Oswald
    Evie Oswald - Travel Consultant

    It’s hard to believe that Evie has had time to cram so much in to her life so far. Having lived as a child in the Americas and Europe she found herself immediately attracted to Latin America.

Meet the team