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Picaflor: Ecuador on track

10 days from £2727pp

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Picaflor: Ecuador on track

10 days from £2727pp
 

Group Journey

 

UK clients depart Thursday, arriving Quito, Ecuador, the same day.
 

Day 1

Transfer to hotel in Quito, overnight in the capital.
 

You will be met at the airport by a local representative and transferred to your hotel in the centro historico of Quito. This colonial highland city was founded by Spanish conquistadores in 1534 on the ruins of Inca and pre-Inca settlements that had occupied the site for at least 1000 years. Over recent decades, colonial Quito has been given the sort of facelift - façadelift that befits its being the very first city to be declared a Unesco World Heritage site. Your hotel is located in the centre of this beautifully preserved area and your guide will accompany you to dinner in one of the excellent local restaurants.

Day 2

Guided tour of the city and the Equatorial Monument.
 

The old town, with its steeply cobbled streets and elegant plazas is a pleasure to explore and this morning you will be taken on a tour to visit the many churches, cathedrals and old world buildings that line the streets. There is also the chance to visit the equatorial line at Mitad del Mundo (which gives the country its name), a short drive north of the city. It's not a spectacular site in itself but you can pose for photographs with a foot in either hemisphere and there is an interesting museum nearby, as well as some wonderful views over the surrounding volcanoes.

Quito

Day 3

Travel to Mindo.
 

After breakfast you will leave Quito for the cloud forest, and head to the El Monte Ecolodge your base for the next 2 nights. The lodge is located just outside the town of Mindo - recognised as a world class bird watching site by BirdLife International. On arrival you will be welcomed by your hosts who will offer a short informal introduction to the area. This is not simply a place to stay and the owners are dedicated to preserving and protecting the natural beauty of Mindo, one of the most biologically diverse and endangered Cloud Forests in the world.

In the afternoon a local guide will take you on a 2 hour exploration beside the Rio Mindo, where you will find exotic birds and be taught about the many medicinal plants and their local uses.

Day 4

Bird spotting and walks in Mindo Cloud Forest.
 
An early morning start gives you the chance to go to the local ‘Cock of the Rock’ lek, a meeting place where these marvellous birds congregate to feed. The Cock of the Rocks in Mindo have bright red crests and black wings and you can see them perform their wild dances, squawking and play fighting.

You will return to the lodge for breakfast before a walk along the heights of the Cordillera San Lorenzo, where your guide will point out native animals and some other spectacular birds such as the Golden Headed Quetzal, Choco Toucan and Crimson Rumped Toucanet.

The afternoon will allow you time to relax in the peaceful surroundings, or wander the many trails around the lodge or even do some whitewater tubing should you be feeling adventurous.

Cotopaxi

Day 5

Back to Quito, stopping to spot hummingbirds on the way.
 

After a relaxing morning and lunch you will make your way back to the bustle of Quito. En route there will be a stop at ‘Tony’s House’. This is well known local place to see more than 24 species of hummingbird that come to the house to eat from the feeders strategically placed around its grounds.

This time you will experience a different side of Quito staying at a hotel located in the new town, home to lots of restaurants, cafés and bars.

Day 6

Board the Slow Train Sierra, passing magnificent volcanoes including Cotopaxi.
 

The morning starts with a departure by bus northwards to the town of Otavalo, through a changing landscape of fertile green valleys and dry yellow forest. At the station a restored steam locomotive awaits to carry you further north to the city of Ibarra. En route there are a number of fascinating stops; visiting the woodcarving workshops of San Antonio, experiencing  the traditional food in Andrade Marin and a visiting a local music and textile weaving show at San Roque train station. Later that fternoon you'll be taken back to Quito by bus.

Tren Crucero

Day 7

Continue your journey by train, passing Ecuador's highest station.
 

Early morning on day 7 sees us on our way to the newly rebuilt (in a distinctly unglamorous suburb) railway terminus at Chimbacalle. There's also a small museum dedicated to the history of the railway. It's here that we board our Slow Train Sierra, our mobile HQ for the next four days: the diesel locomotives and rebuilt carriages are capable of speed, but the track is not, so we climb gingerly southeastwards out of the city. Our highest climb today is the bank up to El Boliche [3547m]. Weather permitting, there are views of Antisana [5,758m], Corazón [4,788m] and Illiniza Norte [5,120m].

As we approach El Boliche, the perfect snowbound cone of the still-active Cotopaxi looms into view - 5,897m. Here, alight to explore the woods and ecosystems of the area. Board the train once more, to cntinue up on-to the coarse highland grasslands which cover the plains to Urbina station. Bleak and isolated, this is the highest station in Ecuador at a dizzying 3,609m above sea level.  There's a visit to the interpretation centre of the Chimborazo icemen to appreciate how these hardy men climb the slopes of Ecuador's highest volcano to mine the glacial ice in the traditional manner, to be sold in the Riobamba markets. It's claimed by locals to have natural healing properties far superior to factory-made ice. Finally, transfer by bus to your hacienda in Riobamba.

Day 8

Travel by traditional steam train and tackle the famous Devil's Nose.
 

You leave the hotel early for the station at Riobamba. This is a real highlight of the journey, since this short section is hauled by steam power [Baldwin Consolidation N°53 2-8-0]. At Colta there's a visit to the small chapel of Balbanera, one of Ecuador's earliest.

Continue by rail to Guamote, to visit the city and the renowned indian market. After lunch at the station, board the train for Alausí. This is where, twenty years ago the line divided. Southwards, a spur carried on to Cuenca, Ecuador's third city; whilst the track to Guayaquil turned westwards and plunged into the lowlands. Only a tiny section of the Cuenca spur is scheduled for rebuilding, and so it is at Alausí that we begin the most spectacular part of the journey and, from an engineering point of view, the most ambitious section of track to be built between Quito and Guayaquil. This is the Devil's Nose (Nariz del Diablo).

The track descends 800m of a steep wall of rock by a series of switchbacks. At the bottom, beyond Sibambe station, there's a brief stop to contemplate the view of the track you have just descended.

Back on board once more to continue down the river valley. It's a spectacular route that drops from high sierra [2,347m] into Andean lowlands at Bucay [294m]. The climate, and so both natural and cultivated vegetation, changes dramatically in the 56km journey - from temperate to tropical. Here we disembark to spend the night.

Ride the Devil's Nose

Day 9

By train into the tropical lowlands, finishing in Guayaquil.
 

After breakfast we journey to Naranjito station where we depart the train, jumping on a bus to a coastal hacienda to visit a cocoa plantation and to learn about the history of this remarkable crop and its effect on Ecuadorian culture. There is also time for some chocolate tasting and a typical Ecuadorian lunch before boarding the train again. On this stretch we pass through coastal plantations of banana, sugarcane and rice en route to Yahuachi, where you transfer once more to the steam train for the final journey to the disembarkation point at the terminus in Durán and the Complejo Eloy Alvaro, where the locosheds and works are. And where, in the heyday of the line, passengers were trans-boarded onto a ferry across the estuary to Guayaquil. The ferry now sits rusting in the works yard, although both it and the yard itself are off-limits to us. The estuary and river Babahoyo is crossed by the road bridge to bustling, modern Guayaquil.

Our hotel for the night is the Oro Verde, long considered the acme of sophisticated accommodation in the commercial city, and though it's no longer the only good standard hotel in town, it retains an aura of an era when all the great and the good of Guayaquil disported here. There's an outdoor pool and a gym.

Day 10

Day at leisure before flying home.
 

We have the best part of a day in the city; you can relax by the pool, or join one of a number of optional excursions - a tour of the old city, a stroll along the sea-front malecón, or a drive out to the mangrove swamps if flora and fauna is your thing - although iguanas also live in the garden plazas of this tropical port.  

Guayaquil serves as a jumping off point for the Galápagos Islands, so please ask one of our specialists for further information if you wish to add a cruise or land based visit at the end of your tour.

Flights back to the UK leave in the early evening, arriving the next day.

Guayaquil

UK clients arrive home the following day, Sunday.
 

10 days from £2727pp

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Our small escorted group journeys are led by award-winning tour guides and follow tried and tested routes that we have been refining for over 30 years. 

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