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Signature Ecuador: Volcanoes to the ocean

10 days from £2782pp

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Signature Ecuador: Volcanoes to the ocean:
Trip Dossier

Ecuador sits right on the Equator, but its landscapes and climate are governed by altitude: from the sultry tropical coast to the dizzy heights of ice-mantled volcanoes at over 7,000m above sea level, there's huge diversity. It's a tiny country, you can travel from one highlight to another on relatively short, scenic drives or short domestic flights. This holiday of just over a week takes you on an amazing road and rail trip through the Andes, visiting indian villages  where the inhabitants, who still wear their colourful fabrics, maintain a lifestyle little-changed since Spanish colonial times. 

The colonial period is not neglected: you'll stay on one of the haciendas originally granted to the Spanish conquistadors, the restored historic core of Quito and Cuenca, a quintessential example of colonial grace and grandeur.  

Travel first to Ecuador’s highland capital,  visit the world renowned artisan craft market at Otavalo, and travel south by road and rail along the Avenue of the Volcanoes via the Inca ruins of Ingapirca to Cuenca and the upland wilderness of Las Cajas National Park.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Quito and transfer to hotel.

Day 2

Guided walking tour of colonial Quito.

Day 3

By road to Otavalo in the Andean highlands, visit Otavalo market overnight in hacienda.

Day 4

Guided excursions to Lake Cuicocha

Day 5

By road or rail down Avenue of the Volcanoes; visit Cotopaxi National Park, overnight at an hacienda.

Day 6

Visit local artisan markets, overnight in Riobamba.

Day 7

Take the train down the Devil’s Nose, continue via Ingapirca ruins to Cuenca.

Day 8

At leisure in colonial Cuenca, Ecuador’s second city.

Day 9

By road down to the tropical coast of Guayaquil via a stop at Las Cajas National Park.

Day 10

Transfer to the airport for your international flight

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Quito and transfer to hotel.

Transfer to your hotel in the Quito, the Andean capital of Ecuador. The active volcano Guagua Pichincha, to the east, glowers over the dynamic city which, at 2,850m, is one of highest capital cities 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.


Day 2

Guided walking tour of colonial Quito.

Guided walking tour of old Quito. Visit 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 important churches built around the 16th and 17th centuries, including the monastery of San Francisco.

Quito old town

Day 3

By road to Otavalo in the Andean highlands, visit Otavalo market overnight in hacienda.

By road through rolling highland moors to Otavalo, a prosperous town set in a pretty landscape of lakes and volcanoes. The town hosts one of the largest and most vibrant indigenous markets in South America. Stalls are laden with tapestries and woollen goods, some intricate, some brash, and all in a breath-taking array of colours, as well as traditional musical instruments and leather goods. You're bound to find something to take home.

Overnight in a traditional colonial hacienda, adapted to receive visitors but retaining many of its historic features.

Otavalo market

Day 4

Guided excursions to Lake Cuicocha

Morning at leisure on the hacienda, which has lovely flowery grounds in which to relax. In the afternoon, drive to Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve for the start of a 3hr hike on the volcanic rim around Cuicocha, a deep-blue crater lake with an island marooned in the centre set on the southern flanks of Mount Cotacachi. Enjoy fine views of the surrounding volcanoes Cayambe and Imbabura.

The countryside is extremely pretty, with adobe farmsteads sheltering under columns of silvery eucalyptus shading ancient cobbled lanes and tracks. Birdlife that can be spotted includes ruddy ducks, giant hummingbirds and silvery grebes. After the hike, stop at the picturesque colonial town of Cotacachi, famous for its leather work before heading back to Quito.

Cuicocha Lake

Day 5

By road or rail down Avenue of the Volcanoes; visit Cotopaxi National Park, overnight at an hacienda.

If you are travelling Monday to Wednesday, head south by road out of Quito on a spellbinding journey along the aptly-named Avenue of Volcanoes. From Thursday to Sunday, you can make the journey south from Quito to Cotopaxi National Park down the Avenue of the Volcanoes partly by train.

Originally an important artery of public transport this railway is now designated solely for visitors, with musical entertainment and an explanatory commentary by a local guide. There are regular refreshment and toilet stops and the trip also takes about 2 hrs. Either way, as its name implies, the route passes an imperial guard of conical snow-draped volcanic cones, surrounded by lush pastures pitted with colonial market towns and tiny indigenous villages.

Visit Cotopaxi National Park, dominated by the superbly photogenic volcano of the same name (5,897m), a (very) occasionally active peak of shimmering ice surrounded by rumpled skirts of highland moor with a tundra-like vegetation of altitude-resistant shrubs and flowers. The park is inhabited by over 90 species of bird from pocket-sized hummingbirds to giant condors and a variety of hardy mammals including deer, rabbits, Andean foxes and puma, which shelter from view in the lacy veils of frequent swirly mists. You'll visit the interpretation centre and have the opportunity to walk the trail surrounding the stunningly reflective Lake Limpiopungo, ringed by bird-filled reed beds. If inspired to hike some more, you can climb towards the Cotapaxi snowline for bird's-eye views over the Andean peaks.

Overnight at a countryside hacienda. It is very much a working ranch, specialising in wild Andean fighting bulls and dairy cattle, and visitors are invited to take part in farm activities.

Ecuador volcano

Day 6

Visit local artisan markets, overnight in Riobamba.

At leisure on the ranch. There's a lot to do here – if you have a penchant for the outdoors you can go horse riding, mountain biking, zip-lining, venture out on self-guided hikes on well-marked trails or get involved in farm-based activities. Children are invited to make chocolate and help feed the animals. You might make an expedition to visit local markets.

Later, continue by road to Riobamba. If you have time you may wish to visit the town to wander the cobbled streets and relax in one of the leafy plazas.

Lodge to lodge trek Ecuador Tropic

Day 7

Take the train down the Devil’s Nose, continue via Ingapirca ruins to Cuenca.

Travel by road to Alausi and board the train for the exhilarating journey down towards the Devil's Nose, named after the shape of one of the mountains as it rises steeply from the bottom of the valley.

This part of the track drops dramatically in altitude, the train descends on a series of switchbacks as you slowly leave the crisp mountain air and scenery for the warmer tropics of the lowlands.

Upon return to the town of Alausí you alight and continue by private vehicle to Cuenca, via Ecuador's principal Inca ruins of Ingapirca. The remains of the buildings in this raised site date back to the end of the 15th century, before the Spanish conquistadores. The architecture bears hallmarks of Inca construction, with some fine mortar-less stonework. Archaeologists believe that the main structure, known as The Temple of the Sun, was used for religious and ceremonial purposes. Today, however, it simply provides welcome shade for grazing llamas and the occasional tourist.

Cuenca is a beautiful 16th-century town, built on the site of an ancient Inca settlement, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Devil's nose

Day 8

At leisure in colonial Cuenca, Ecuador’s second city.

At leisure in Cuenca. Its narrow cobblestoned streets, red tiled roofs and well-preserved Romanesque buildings give it an air of sedate and quiet respectability. It's a peaceful place to wander around, with coffee shops and interesting little shops. The colonial centre has been beautifully restored; colourful flowers tumble from ironwork balconies and the whitewashed houses have grand wooden doors. The climate here is temperate and you'll enjoy relaxing with a coffee in a leafy square.

Cuenca is a great place to wander or relax in but if you want to get out of the city you could visit the nearby market towns of Gualaceo, Chordeleg, and colonial Sigsig, set in the foothills of the western cordillera.


Day 9

By road down to the tropical coast of Guayaquil via a stop at Las Cajas National Park.

Today you travel from the mountains down through the tropical lowlands to the port city of Guayaquil. It is a spectacular drive that truly contrasts the scenery in this small country, as you pass from Andean villages to banana plantations.

On the way you stop at the Las Cajas National Park. Beautiful trails pass through this rugged, high-altitude wilderness of grasslands, jagged hills and glacial lagoons.

Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city has gone through a transition in the last few years. The expanse of waterfront has been made into an outdoor architectural showpiece, and restoration work has taken place along the city's main thoroughfare and in the historical neighbourhood of Las Peñas.

Time permitting, you can take a walk from the frenetic, noisy open market at La Bahia, and past the colonial naval shipyard to the Malecón (the waterfront promenade), Guayaquil's crowning jewel. Stroll past tropical gardens, markets and street cafés, and head to Santa Ana Hill and Las Peñas, a district of brightly-coloured wooden houses and ramshacklestreets dating back to the 16th century.


Day 10

Transfer to the airport for your international flight

Transfer to the airport for your international flight. UK clients arrive home the following day.

Essential information


4 road or rail journeys.


This holiday incorporates a small mid-range hotel with character and some history and special features. 


Breakfast daily, lunch days 9, 12, dinner day 10. 


We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 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

10 days, 9 nights: Quito 2, Otavalo 1, Quito 1, Cotopaxi 1, Riobamba 1, Cuenca 2, Guayaquil 1.

Included in the journey price

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

Not included in the journey price

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


The unit of currency in Ecuador is the US dollar.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$50 per day should cover the cost of good quality meals on those days in the holiday itinerary drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the very best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

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), which you can spend as the dollar is the local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques (American Express are the most widely accepted), though these are gradually falling out of use. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.


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. 

The streets in Quito are cobbled and steep and you must be cautious taking these on at altitude (see “Altitude” below).


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.3


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. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in South America and Galápagos.


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. 


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 relevant 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 including a 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.

Clients with a different nationality should refer to our Briefing Dossier and check with the Ecuadorian Consulate.

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