Ecuador’s northern highlands feature some of the most beautiful countryside in South America. Often referred to as the Lake District, it is a region of fertile rolling hills, majestic glacier-clad volcanos and lush cloud forests, dotted with centuries-old colonial villages, alpine lakes and diverse ecological reserves. The area is home to a variety of birds, including hummingbirds, caracaras, condors, Andean snipes, waterfowl, barbets, mountain toucans, finches and many different jewel-colored tanagers, as well as unique mammal species such as the Andean spectacled bear. In addition to spectacular scenery and unusual wildlife, cottage industries abound, including wood carving, leather working, ornament making and weaving. Cross-cultural opportunities with the artists, local shop owners, farmers and craftsmen are exceptional.
Designed for the novice and experienced biker alike to enjoy some of the best mountain bike touring in South America, our group is supported by a fully-equipped van to transport gear, repair kits, and on occasion, riders themselves.
Moderate Mountain Bike Touring, Grade (II): This active, inn-to-inn program features 6 days of spectacular mountain bike touring, averaging 20 miles per day on unpaved and cobbled roads over varying terrain that includes 3
passes between 10,000-11,000'.
Start / Finish: Quito, Ecuador
Cycling Conditions: 75% paved roads, dirt and rock roads can be very rough, mostly rolling terrain, with sections of long hills, high elevation.
Bike: Mountain bikes are included, please advise your size in advance.
Arrive in Quito with a warm greeting at the airport upon arrival and transferred to your boutique hotel.
After breakfast and a trip briefing at the hotel, we enjoy a short tour of colonial Quito. We stroll along cobbled streets beneath whitewashed adobe walls and ornate balconies on the way to the main square. We walk to the beautiful La Compañía or San Francisco churches with their ornate, gold-plated altars and
collections of colonial paintings.
Next, we drive northwest, out of the city, along the foothills of the Pichincha volcano to our starting point for a warm-up ride. By vehicle, we cross a pass at 10,825' on the dirt road to the village of Nono. Then, we mount our bikes for a gradual descent, with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and rugged gorges. We notice, as the descent gets steeper, that the vegetation becomes more dense and subtropical and the weather warmer as we bike toward the cloud forest of the Tandayapa gorge. After a picnic lunch in this area and the chance to observe a variety of bird species, including Sword-billed hummingbirds, grass-green or the blue-winged mountain tanagers, toucan barbets, and toucanets, we finally arrive to the village of Tandayapa. From this meeting point, we ride the sag wagon over the remaining 4-mile, steep, uphill section to Bellavista Lodge.
Upon arrival, we settle into our rooms, with time to watch the dozen or so species of hummingbirds that flock to the feeders at the lodge, before we eat dinner together.
Driving time: 45 minutes; Biking distance: 21 miles or 4 hours
Our lodge was created to educate guests about the importance and amazing bio-diversity of the Andean cloud forest and to advocate its protection. Today, we will fill the day with activities in the 1800 acre reserve (at elevations from 5,250' to 8,200') surrounding Bellavista Lodge. In the morning, we mount our bikes to
peddle the backcountry roads (dirt and paved) leading toward Santa Rosa and Mindo, with lots of rolling terrain. Along the route, we savor views of the sharp, deeply forested mountain gorges, lush trees covered with ferns, orchids and mosses, rushing waterfalls, crystalline streams, and in the distance, the snowcapped volcanos. Stopping to catch our breath, we might spot a flock of tanagers, jays or finches, or watch the elusive Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Since 320 species of birds have been identified in this area, a glimpse of a mountain toucan or masked trogon is also probable! We drive toward the community of
Nanegalito in the afternoon, with an optional 7-mile bike ride on a scenic dirt road, completing the loop back to the lodge. Once at Bellavista, we have time to relax on the terraces, walk along the nature trails, or contemplate and listen to the melodies of the birds, as we watch the clouds rising in the nearby forest.
Biking distance: 20 miles or 5 hours.
After a last chance for an early morning walk near the lodge, we drive eastward, back into the Andes, following a different and quicker route, and visit the lookout point, Ventanilla Mirador, which offers an impressive view of Pululahua's crater. From here, we continue a short distance to the Mitad del Mundo Monument, marking the equator's path through the country, and visit the site museum which houses exhibits from Ecuador’s various ethnic groups, and displays featuring typical clothing, housing styles and customs. We drive north to the town of Calderon, where we stop to visit the home and shop of a bread dough figure-maker, then head toward the fertile valleys of the Lake District.
We check into the Hostería Guachalá and have lunch. This historic hacienda, the oldest farm in Ecuador, was established in 1580 and later converted to a charming country-inn. Situated exactly on the equator, Guachalá offers majestic views
of snow-capped Cayambe Volcano (19,107'). Visitors are treated to lively bird activity in the nearby sanctuary and arboretum. This afternoon, we bike through the surrounding countryside, stopping to chat at local farms and with villagers we meet. Dinner is served at the hostería this evening.
Driving distance: 79 miles or 3 ½ hours; Biking distance: 15 miles or 3 1/2 hours
Leaving Guachalá early this morning, we set out for a full day of riding. First, we drive a few miles north to the traditional dairy community of Cayambe, where we might buy a delicious ice cream cone flavored with one of the exotic local fruits like Chirimoya. We continue, by vehicle, to the town of Ayora (9,515'), where
we mount our bikes and begin peddling. Our route passes huge haciendas and dozens of small farms lying in the shadow of Cayambe’s ice-covered summit, and gradually gains altitude as it follows the course of the La Chimba River, up a fertile valley dotted with a patchwork of fields. This road was originally part of the Inca highway, linking Quito with the northern reaches of the Inca Empire. We continue gaining altitude as we ride toward our first high saddle, at an elevation of 10,170', on the southeastern flanks of this impressive mountain. From this high point, we descend slightly as we bike toward the communities of Olmedo and Pesillo (9,840'). Then, it’s uphill again as we climb to the top of Tuqueres Alto Pass at 10,335'.
Finally, in the afternoon, we descend toward Lake San Pablo and the charming Hacienda Cusin where we spend the night. This quaint inn was originally a farm, converted in the 1980's to accommodate guests. We enjoy dinner this evening in the cozy dining room.
Biking distance: 30 miles or 6 hours
Today we bike near San Pablo Lake, focusing on the native culture as we visit several Otavalo communities, including Agato, Peguche and/or San Juan de Ilumán. Along our route, we can observe local Otavaleño Indians as they work their fields, wash their clothes in the river or walk into town. They are a handsome people who wear distinctive blue or grey homespun ponchos or skirts with brilliant white shirts or intricately embroidered blouses. Riding beneath the majestic Imbabura volcano (15,250'), we might also spot some of the many species of waterfowl that inhabit these highland regions, including the speckled teal,
American coot or yellow-billed pintail. Later in the afternoon, we visit a family's home and enjoy a demonstration of their fine weaving skills. Otavalo weavers refined their craft during the Inca occupation and later, when they were forced by Spanish colonialists and Ecuadorian landlords to weave for up to 14 hours each day. Their superb talent, combined with a sharp business sense, has contributed to worldwide recognition of their proficiency as weavers, and they have become one of the most prosperous of all indigenous groups in South America. Many have traveled to the US, Europe and/or other Latin American destinations to promote their weavings.
We return to Hacienda Cusin in the afternoon, eager for a delicious dinner there this evening.
Biking distance: 20 miles or 4 1/2 hours (B,L,D)
Our route today is more challenging, as it takes us uphill from the hacienda, following a seldom used dirt track to reach the top of a 10,500-foot-high saddle between Imbabura and Cerro Cusin. From here, we descend a short distance to arrive to the traditional village of Zuleta. We visit the historic Zuleta hacienda
with its small school and church, then continue biking along dirt and cobbled roads north toward Ibarra, stopping to visit with residents of some of the other small villages dotting the hillsides along the way. Near the quaint, colonial communities of Rumipamba and La Esperanza (located on the backside of the peak), we encounter bright green fields with crops irrigated by a maze of water canals.
In the afternoon, we arrive to the Hostería La Mirage (A Relais Chateaux member), located in the town of Cotacachi famous for its handmade leather crafts. There should be time this afternoon to relax in the Jacuzzi and recieve a well deserved Spa treatment, we enjoy the inn's lovely tranquil setting and gardens before dinner.
Biking distance: 25 miles or 5 hours
We return to Otavalo in the early morning to catch the weekly market, just as the trading is getting under way. Dating back to before the Inca occupation of the region, when Indians from the lowland jungles would visit the highlands to trade their products, this is now one of South America's largest and best markets. In
the town center, we join dozens of locals and visitors wandering through the main plaza where the handicraft and produce stalls are set up. We find a multitude of crafts such as wood carvings and leather goods from all over the country. There are plenty of opportunities to purchase some of the exquisite woolen products or embroidery work for which the Otavalo weavers are renowned.
Next we drive back to the colonial town of Cotacachi. From here, we bike west into Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve, whose centerpiece is Lake Cuicocha (10,500'), formed in the crater of one of the area's many extinct volcanos. Our route takes us through the Andean páramo, a unique ecological zone found only in the tropical Americas. Along the way, we have excellent views of green and gold valleys dominated by the glacier-clad Cayambe, Imbabura and Cotacachi volcanos. We may spot an Andean condor, mountain caracaras or other highland bird species.
In the late afternoon, we load our bikes onto the van for the drive back to the familiar Quito Hotel, and time permitting, stop at Cochasqui to view this pre-Inca archaeological site featuring 15 pyramidal structures. This evening, we join our guide for a farewell dinner and folk music show.
Driving distance: 110 miles or 3 ½ hours; Biking distance: 20 miles or 4 ½ hours
Transfer out for your intenational flight home. Today we have the option to join a trip extension visiting the Choco rainforest or exploring on board one of our Galapagos adventure yachts or an Amazon river cruise.