This 12-day romantic honeymoon tour will take you to the Ecuadorian Andes, where you will stay at some of the most character-filled haciendas of the scenic highlands region.
Your itinerary begins in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, nestled beneath Pichincha Volcano at 9,500 feet (2,900 m) above sea level. Here you will find the best preserved colonial district in the Americas, declared a UNESCO "World Heritage Site" in 1978. A short drive from Quito lies the equatorial line, where it's possible to straddle the planet – with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern.
From here you will discover even more of the Andes, which run down the center of the country and are home to some of the most colorful indigenous communities, each with their own traditional attire and customs. You will see this when we travel north of Quito to the town of Otavalo, where the local people gather at the country’s most famous handicrafts market.
As we later drive the Pan-American Highway to the south of Quito, we will travel along the “Avenue of the Volcanoes" (so named because this stretch contains eight of Ecuador's ten highest summits). This this itinerary you will stay at Hacienda Zuleta – an award-winning hacienda that dates back to the late 16th century and has been restored to provide luxury accommodation for travelers who want to experience the charm of life on a working Ecuadorian farm.
On this tour, you will continue on several days more, traveling to the city of Cuenca after passing by the Cotopaxi Volcano. Cuenca is a charming colonial city with cobblestone streets, a beautiful cathedral and rivers running through its historic district. Close to Cuenca is the high-altitude Las Cajas National Park, known for its glacial lakes and trout farms.
After a few hours’ drive from there, we will arrive in the coastal city of Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador and the nation's commercial center. Located on the Guayas River, Guayaquil has a tropical climate, totally different to the cities in the Andean mountain range. Guayaquil will be the conclusion of your tour, as you will fly home or to your next destination.
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Arrival in Quito. You will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel: Casa Gangotena Hotel located in a newly-restored historic mansion overlooking Plaza San Francisco. Upon your arrival at the hotel, you will have a chance to relax and become acclimatized to the high altitude. Depending on your arrival time, there may be a chance for a briefing about your entire trip before you enjoy a welcome dinner and turn in for the night at Casa Gangotena.
After breakfast, we will tour the city’s historic district – rich in colonial and republican architecture, and possessing museums that are full of history and tradition. You will visit amazing places such as the Church of the Society of Jesus, with its interior covered with gold leaf; Independence Square, the Government Palace, the Cathedral, the Church of San Francisco; and El Panecillo Hill, with its panoramic view of the city.
After touring the historic district, we will head to the north of the city to find the place Mitad del Mundo (“Middle of the World”) complex, where the planet is divided into its two hemispheres. There, you can straddle the Equatorial line – a great photo op..!! At this complex, we will also visit the monument that honors the 18th-century French Geodesic Mission that came here to measure the roundness of the Earth and pinpoint the equator.
Later, we will have lunch at the Cochabamba Restaurant before visiting the nearby Intiñan Solar Museum to learn about the indigenous worldview of life at the middle of the world.
In the afternoon, you will be driven back to your hotel.
After an early breakfast, we will pack and leave the Hotel. We will travel north along the Pan-American Highway through astonishing mountain scenery until we reach the town of Otavalo. Here, we will visit the indigenous market. For centuries, regional markets have played an important role in indigenous life, providing regular gathering places for trade and socializing. The colorful local markets of the Andean valleys are famous for their fine handicrafts. The Otavalo indigenous market dates back to pre-Inca times and is famous for its textiles woven on back strap and shuttle looms. You will find the Otavaleños (people of Otavalo) bartering in silence, in marked contrast to the raucous noise of other markets. You will have time to visit the famous market and stroll along the narrow cobblestone streets filled with indigenous Otavalo men wearing blue ponchos, white trousers, and long braided hair. There will be an opportunity to stop for lunch in one of the typical restaurants in town. In the afternoon we will leave Otavalo and travel to the town of Cotacachi, which is famous for its shops selling quality leather goods and clothes. Later in the afternoon, we will arrive at Hacienda Zuleta where you will be shown your private room with lovely garden views. A welcome drink and typical hors-d’oeuvres will be served in the hacienda’s living room. The hacienda will serve a dinner prepared from a traditional family recipe, accompanied by the hacienda’s own organically grown vegetables.
Early risers can go bird watching or participate in the hacienda’s morning milking. After a hearty hacienda breakfast, you can take the Condor’s Trail, a moderate walk to see the hacienda’s condors, as well as tour archaeological remains of the Caranqui culture and visit the trout farm. This excursion can also be undertaken on horseback. A picnic lunch will be served, weather permitting; otherwise, lunch will be served at the hacienda. After lunch it’s possible to visit the embroidery center, part of the work of the hacienda’s foundation, and visit the hacienda’s own cheese-making factory. This evening at the hacienda, you can browse through the private library of Galo Plaza, a former president of Ecuador and secretary of the Organization of American States. After dinner relax in the warmth of the lounge fire or enjoy stargazing in the hacienda’s central patio.
After an early breakfast, there will be time to enjoy some other activities at the hacienda before we leave and continue the tour. Today we will have lunch in a typical Ecuadorian restaurant. There will be the opportunity to visit a rose plantation, where you can see more than 40 different rose varieties (roses are a major export for Ecuador and they grow to around two meters in height). In the afternoon, the tour continues to the village of Papallacta, which is situated at 10,820 feet (3,300 m) above sea level in a stunning páramo grasslands landscape. With the Antisana Volcano as a backdrop, this area is renowned for its hot springs. You will be staying in the Termas de Papallacta Resort & Spa, which has its own marvelous hot spring pools in which you can relax and enjoy the magnificent mountain scenery. Dinner and overnight at Termas de Papallacta.
After breakfast, you will pack up and travel south to Cotopaxi National Park and go horseback riding or mountain biking. The park is home to the Cotopaxi Volcano, which rises majestically above the Ecuadorian Andean mountain-scape as one of the most active volcanoes of Ecuador. It’s almost perfect cone-shape is the identifying symbol that has made it a world famous picture-book volcano. Our drive will continue south to Hacienda San Agustin de Callo by way of the "Avenue of the Volcanoes." This magical route got its name from the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who came to Ecuador in 1802 and named this stretch the "Avenue of the Volcanoes" because it is surrounded by the snow-capped summits of several volcanoes. You will also pass by terraced farmlands as well as brooks and rivers running down from the mountains, and drive through small villages built of adobe. The early mythology of the indigenous peoples was nourished by this landscape and later it proved to be an incentive to the conquering Spanish to settle here. Hacienda San Agustin de Callo is located at the foot of the imposing Cotopaxi Volcano, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. You will undoubtedly enjoy the dinner here as they serve specialties.
After breakfast, we will drive to a local indigenous market in the area. Color is the essence of the century-old indigenous markets of the Ecuadorian highlands. This can be seen in the dress of both the men and women, as well as in the fresh produce, the bluest skies, the brightly colored designs of hand-woven woolen sweaters, and the brilliant paintings of the Tigua people. Later, we will continue through the western Andes mountain range, one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes of Ecuador. We will drive to the small colorful town of Zumbuahua, though it is the home to only 40 families. From here you will continue another ten kilometers to Quilotoa, the site of a shimmering blue and green volcano lake, considered one of the most attractive bodies of water in the Ecuadorian Andes. You will have a chance hike down to the lake’s shore (with the round-trip walking time around an hour and a half). From the crater you should be able to see a number of snowcapped volcanoes in the distance.
We will return to enjoy lunch at Hacienda San Agustin de Callo, after which time you will have free time to relax or return to the national park for some more activities. Dinner will be served at the hacienda in the beautiful Inca dining room.
Note: If this day is a Thursday, the market visited will be in the town of Saquisilí, but there are also some smaller, not so traditional, markets that take place on Sundays and Wednesdays in Pujilí or on Saturday in Latacunga or Zumbahua
This morning after breakfast, we will continue to drive southwards, towards the spa town of Baños, located in a valley filled with waterfalls and hot springs that are fed from the constantly active Tungurahua Volcano (reaching a height of 16,500 feet, or 5,016 meters). Baños itself lies at an altitude of 5,900 feet (1,800 meters). This small town is in a beautiful setting, has a pleasant subtropical climate, and is famous for its thermal baths and its Basilica. Tonight you will spend the night at Hotel Samari.
After breakfast, our trip continues through the town of Riobamba to the city of Cuenca. On the way we will stop at the Inca ruins of Ingapirca (Quechua for “Stonewalls of the Inca”). These are the most important and best preserved Inca ruins in Ecuador. Here we will be able to walk around the site and visit the small, informative museum. We will then travel on to Cuenca, a beautiful colonial city, where you will find churches, many art and craft shops, and a flower market. Cuenca was also declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, in 1999. Overnight at the colonial Hotel Mansión de Alcazar.
After breakfast, we will begin a tour that explores the colonial center of Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador (after Guayaquil and Quito) and considered by many to be the artistic and cultural center of the country. This visit to the old part of Cuenca will give you the opportunity to see its beautiful colonial and republican architecture, and its sacred art museums and markets – particularly the flower market. Cuenca is a good place to purchase another famous Ecuadorian souvenir: The Panama hat. In fact, there are several government-approved franchise shops here where these hats are sold at a fair price. Cuenca is also a good place to buy ceramics, embroidery, leather goods and baskets. We will have lunch at a traditional restaurant, and afterwards you'll have the rest of the afternoon free to revisit some of the sights or to look for that special souvenir of your trip.
This morning, after breakfast, we will leave the hotel and drive to Cajas National Park, which is located 9 miles (15 km) west of Cuenca. In the park there are about 200 lakes scattered around at altitudes that vary between 10,300 feet (3,150 m) and 14,930 (4,450 m). The lakes are connected by small rivers, from which crystal-clear waters flow into the Pacific Ocean. After a short hike in the park, we will continue our journey down the western slopes of the Andes to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. As the financial, commercial, and industrial center of the country, Guayaquil boasts the country’s biggest harbor. On the way you will discover plantations of bananas, pineapples, rice, sugar cane, and much more. We will make a short stop at one of these plantations to taste some of the fresh fruits there.
Today you will be driven to the Guayaquil airport for your international flight home. We only hope you have had an unforgettable time in Ecuador!
Note: It's possible extend this tour for a few additional days
in the enchanting Galapagos Islands!
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