Ecuador Excursion Itinerary

Fly to Quito! We’ll make reservations for you from the nearest large airport in the States. You’ll also get a full list of what to pack and what to expect after you book your trip.

There’s usually at least one layover, which I always look at as part of the adventure. A chance to pop into another country! Many flights go through Panama City, a nice airport with lots of shops and restaurants.

Last year flights left in the morning and arrived in Quito at 5:30 pm. Upon arrival, you’ll be met at the airport by Steve. As much as possible, we’ll have people arriving at the same time so we can do this in a group.

On the 60-minute drive from the airport into the city, you’ll feel like you’re in another world, and you are! You’re at an altitude of 9,300 feet, and you’ll see beautiful mountains, valleys, and gorges, before we get into the urban parts. (The sun sets about 6:30 pm, so how much we see before dark depends on the arrival time.)

First stop – your hotel for the first four nights. We’ll be staying in first class, authentic Ecuadorian-style accommodations (not U.S. chain hotels), in the heart of Quito and close to the action.

We’ll aim to get settled in the hotel by 7 pm, grab a late dinner at 8 pm, and get a good night’s rest for a full first day on Saturday.

There’s generally no jet lag since Quito is the same as Central Daylight Time in the U.S. We’re traveling directly south, not east or west.

After a full breakfast at the hotel (included in your trip cost), we’ll tour El Centro Histórico, the original part of the city dating to the 1500’s and built on ancient Incan ruins. The first city named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978, Quito is amazingly well-preserved.

Hang out and enjoy the ambiance of Plaza de la Independencia (also known as Plaza Grande). It’s the main square in the old town, and a great spot for people-watching, strolling, or enjoying some Ecuadorian street food.

The nearby La Compañia de Jesus was started in 1605 and finished in 1765, 160 years later. You’ll see why it took so long. It’s the most ornate church in Quito, covered with gold inside, and the most beautiful in the entire country.

You’ll have the afternoon to yourself if you want, or join us for more exploring in El Centro Histórico. A quick drive up to El Panecillo will give you an amazing view of the city from its highest vantage point.

We’ll do dinner on La Ronda, the oldest street in Quito and a must-see spot.

Sleep in, enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel with good coffee, or come with Steve and Emida to EFC Quito, with the most eclectic mix of people from all over the world in one place on a Sunday morning.

Whichever you choose, we’ll all connect around noon.

“When in Rome…” we’ll do what Ecuadorians do on Sundays…hit “the Central Park of Quito” (that’s what I call it, anyway). Boat rides with the majestic Pichincha volcano as a backdrop, kids and adults playing soccer, and street food like you’ve never tasted before.

Then back to the old town area to soak up more of the history, architecture, and charm of Quito.

Day trip to the Cloud Forest! Mindo is only an hour away, but it feels like a completely different place. If you thought Quito was a new experience, wait until you get to Mindo.

This is one of the most bio-diverse parts of Ecuador in one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet. More plant and animal species per square kilometer here than anywhere else, and we’ll see a lot of them.

In and amongst the abundant natural life, we’ll have some fun! You can canopy through the trees or take a leisurely tube ride down the river (if you choose), enjoy the waterfalls, and take a cable car across two mountaintops. We’ll see the butterfly garden and hear the Lago Mindo Frog Concert (a Trip Advisor Top 10).

Back to Quito that evening.

Off to the equator! We’re in Ecuador, so we have to go to the official spot, called La Mitad del Mundo (“the half of the world”). It’s only 16 miles north of the city, and like so many things on this trip, unlike anywhere else in the world.

You’ll get a perfect photo opportunity with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere, one in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a pretty cool feeling to be right on the equator, one of only 13 countries it passes through.

In fact, the highest point anywhere in the world on the equator is in Ecuador. Volcán Cayambe has an elevation of 15,387 feet, and is the only place on the equator where snow lies on the ground year-round.

Nearby, we’ll buzz over to Pululahua, one of only two inhabited volcanic craters in the world. This is one of the most surreal places you’ll ever see – people actually living and farming inside a caldera!

If you’re up for a challenge, you can actually hike down to the bottom, where you’ll get the full effect. It takes a good hour down and an hour back, so some of the group can chill and have lunch if we decide to do this. There’s a restaurant below that serves up pizza, along with a ping pong table I’ve played on.

Have you noticed? We’re packing a lot in! I want you to see as much of Ecuador as possible in a short trip, but I also want you to have some quiet down-time if you choose.

One of the things I love about Ecuador is that it slows me down and gives me a sense of peace, a chance to pause and reflect, and get away from the hustle and bustle of life in the States.

You’ll feel it the moment you land, and it will stay with you long after you return home. So much, that you’ll probably end up coming back, like I have. J

Back to our hotel that night, where you can do dinner on your own or with the group. Emida and I will probably head back to La Ronda, our favorite part of the old town, for anyone who wants to join us.

Pack your bags that evening, because we’re heading to the jungle tomorrow…

We’ll hit the highway down the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Destination: Baños! It’s a four-hour drive filled with spectacular scenery, winding mountain roads, and a glimpse of the way everyday Ecuadorians live.

Passing through small towns and countryside, you’ll get a better feel for the simple life of Ecuador. We’ll stop for lunch along the way, and when we round the turn into Baños, you could mistake it for a small Alpine village.

First stop, the Sangay Hotel and Spa, our home for the next two days and nights. I’ve stayed here twice before, and it’s a perfect location to enjoy the city’s hot thermal baths across the street, and an easy walk to the downtown area filled with lively shops and restaurants.

Baños is a popular spot for adventurers who come to Ecuador from all over the world. Considered the “Gateway to the Amazon,” it’s a launching-off point for day trips into the Amazon River Basin area, which we’ll explore tomorrow.

Relax, enjoy the healing properties of the baths, take in the shops downtown, buy some sugar cane (sold everywhere in Baños), and take a nap. You’ll want to be fully awake for our 9 pm volcano ride!

Up to the top of Tungurahau we’ll go, an active volcano where you might get a glimpse of some lava flowing. The twisting, turning drive alone is worth the price of admission. Tungurahua is the cherry on top. On the drive up the mountain, we’ll stop for some scenic shots, including the requisite Facebook picture photo-op at the “swing at the end of the world.”

The Sangay Hotel and Spa includes a huge breakfast buffet spread, all-you-can-eat. Enjoy some good coffee, too, to fuel up for the day’s adventures ahead. (Coffee is one of Ecuador’s biggest imports, by the way.)

We’ll head into some uncharted territory, or at least it will feel like that. If you’re a brave soul, you can canopy across the canyon, stand directly under a waterfall (without getting wet), or take a cable car across the gorge (similar to the one in Mindo).

Depending on time, we may venture as far as Puyo, the largest jungle city in Ecuador, and between Puyo and Baños you’ll see as many as 60 waterfalls. This is truly an off-the-grid part of the world very few people ever get to see, and the landscape is unbelievable.

Much of this area was completely undeveloped and undiscovered until the 1970’s, and it’s still largely untapped and pristine. We’ll stop by villages where they don’t use electricity or running water, and live the same way they’ve lived for hundreds of years.

We could stay overnight in the jungle, but you’ll probably prefer a real bed and indoor plumbing and all, so back to Baños it is for the night.

Another filling breakfast at the Sangay, then a quick jaunt a few blocks over to the neo-Gothic Basilica Reina Del Rosario De Agua Santa.

It’s a long name for a famous pilgrimage site for Ecuadorians. Devout Catholics believe the Virgin Mary is responsible for many miracles which have happened here, displayed in art work on the walls of the church.

Mary also allegedly appeared at the base of the 260-foot waterfall called la Cascada de la Virgen. See it and decide for yourself if it’s true.

Grab some snacks and local goods, and we’ll hit the road by late morning for Otavalo. This is the reason I suggested bringing an extra, empty piece of luggage to Ecuador!

On the drive there, like everywhere else on this trip, we’ll take in the majestic Andes Mountains, verdant valleys, and picturesque villages.

Otavalo is the home of the largest open-air market in all of South America. Stock up here on top-quality (and inexpensive) alpaca wool jackets and scarves, jewelry, clothes, blankets, hammocks, Panama Hats and much, much more.

On Friday afternoon, after we check into our hotel (a one-night stay here before heading back to Quito Saturday evening), we’ll visit la Cascada Peguche, the local waterfall surrounded by lush forests and hiking trails.

In town, check out the many cafes, shops, town square, and overall ambiance of this wonderful little place. You’re likely to hear native Andean music wafting through the air and a local band playing on the street.

Oh, and for the entire trip, dress like it’s late May in Wisconsin. Cool at night, warm and sunny during the day, but never above 75º F, except maybe a little warmer in Baños.

You won’t see locals wearing shorts, ever, and most tourists don’t either. Dress to fit in and be comfortable, and bring a spring jacket along.

The Saturday market brings indigenous Quechua people down from mountain homes into town to sell their handmade goods. They’ve actually become world-famous, these small, quiet, friendly people, descendants of the ancient Incan empire. You’ll understand why when you see the market.

Bargaining is expected, but even if you don’t, you’ll be sure to get some great deals.

On my first trip to Otavalo I bought a black alpaca wool jacket for only $20. It’s the only winter jacket I’ve worn since, and it’s held up remarkably well. Same goes for wool scarves (at $3 a piece I bought a bunch of them, and they’re light so you can pack your suitcase with them on the way back).

If you ask politely, the Otavaleños will agree to a picture with you (especially if you pay the going rate for a $3 scarf or a $2 piece of jewelry).

Photo opportunities abound at the market, and for the entire 10 days of your Ecuador Excursion. Prepare to see your Facebook engagement go way up, as friends follow the journey they wish they were on. J

Whether you’re a hat person or not (I’m not), my Panama Hat is one of my prized possessions.

Made famous by Theodore Roosevelt and tied in with the history of the Panama Canal, all Panama Hats are made in Ecuador, and the hat weaving traces back to small villages along the Pacific coast back in the early 1600’s.

More than the shopping and the quintessential Ecuadorian small-town feel, it’s the people that make Otavalo what it is. It’s the people who make Ecuador what it is, and why I keep coming back, again and again. I hope you fall in love with it like I have.

Saturday night we’ll drive back to Quito for two more nights in the capital city.

We’ve been on the go for nine days, and there are a few more things to see…still, you may need a slower-paced day. Catch up on sleep in the morning, catch up on any cathedrals or 500-year old buildings you missed in el Centro Histórico, or head back to the Central Park of Quito (Parque Carolina).

Emida and I will play tour guide for anyone who wants to see one last spectacular view – from the top (almost the top) of Pichincha, the active stratovolcano right in the city.

We’ll drive over to the base, then take El Teleférico, the gondola, up the mountainside. One of the highest aerial lifts in the world, the 20-minute ascent rises from 10,226 feet up to Cruz Loma, the lookout point, at 12,943 feet.

From there, if you have some wind left at this elevation, you can hike (in decent shoes) even further up. People brag about climbing 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. You’ll be able to say you did 15,000. Bring a hat and gloves for this! It’s a little nippier at that height, but nowhere near freezing temperatures.

Stay and enjoy the view, and be sure to take a ton of pictures from here. In all my world travels, I’ve never seen a better cityscape than from this vantage point. You’ll get the full picture of how spread out Quito really is in the valley below.

There’s a restaurant at the top, a church that actually gets used, and if we’re lucky, some llamas on the foot trail for…more pictures.

Back down below, play like a kid again at the world’s highest go-kart track. Fun times, and other rides, too, at VulQano Park (“Volcano Park”) amusement park.

For our last evening together, I have a special dinner planned.

Time to say good-bye to Ecuador. We packed a lot in, and hopefully whet your appetite for more.

Ecuador and its people will get in your heart, and the memories here will last a lifetime.

If you’re like me and most people I know who’ve come, your first trip won’t be your last.

Depending on your flight time, there may be time to squeeze in one or two last-minute stops, or you may prefer to relax and wind down for the trip home.

Either way, Emida and I will help you get packed up, and will accompany you back to the airport to send you off.

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