Ecuador boutique travel tours of Quito & surroundings
Quito "the face of God"
Quito's origins date back to the first millennium, when nomadic tribes roamed the area and ultimately formed a commercial center where Quito is currently located. Early in the 16th century, the Incas conquered the city, hoping to further the reach of their kingdom, but upon the arrival of the Spanish in 1533, those plans were abandoned. Rumiñahui, an Inca war general, burned the city to prevent the Spanish from taking it, thereby destroying any traces of the prehispanic city. The Spanish promptly established the Catholic religion in Quito, with the first temple (El Belén) built even before the city had been officially founded. On January of 1535, the San Francisco Convent was constructed, the first of about 20 more churches and convents built during the colonial period.
Quito lies between two mountain ranges and its altitude is about 10,000 feet. It may take you a couple of days to get accustomed to the altitude.
Quito is roughly divided into two parts, the Old City and the New City. Visit the Old City if you are into very old cathedrals and public buildings. Don't miss the presidential palace. With its gorgeous colonial architecture, relaxing plazas and a stunning number of churches. If you happen to be there during Christmas or Easter, you'll be amazed at the number of events, masses, and processions that bring out the crowds
Quito is also divided between North Quito and South Quito. Most of the newer buildings and tourist areas are in the North. Most of the poorest people and the older historic buildings are in the South.
The northern part of Quito is where the main business district of the city is located. It also contains upper-middle class neighborhoods and a substantial number of buildings. It is also where the international airport and major recreational areas are located.
Parque Metropolitano with its 1,376 acres (5.57 km²) is the largest urban park in South America. (As reference, New York's huge Central Park is 843 acres (3.4 km²) large.) The park is located in the north of Quito, on the hillside, behind the Atahualpa Olympic (Soccer) Stadium. The park is suited for mountain biking, walking, or running. Most of it is eucalyptus forest with trails. There are many sculptures on display for the public. The park has 4 sites that can be used for picnic or BBQ. The eastern part of the park has a view of Cotopaxi, Antisana and the Guayllabamba river basin.
La Carolina is a 165.5 acre (670,000 m²) park located in the Benalcázar parish in the middle of Quito's business and shopping district, between the avenues known as Avenida Amazonas, Avenida Shyris and Avenida Naciones Unidas. Quiteños gather at La Carolina mostly on weekends to play fútbol (soccer), básket (basketball), ecua-volley (an Ecuadorian variation of volleyball with less emphasis on spiking to score; more of a throw and it allows using your feet like soccer), doing aerobics, flying kites, running, snacking or just observing the thralls of people just walking around. The southern part of the park has a small pond where paddle boats can be rented. Artists are known to perform on weekends at the park. In the western part of the park visitors will find the Quito Exhibition Center with different exhibits every month, the Quito botanical gardens and a Vivarium.
El Ejido is the park situated between the old part of the city and the modern section. This park is known for handicrafts available for sale every Saturday and Sunday. Local painters sell copies of paintings by Oswaldo Guayasamín, Eduardo Kingman or Gonzalo Endara Crow. Otavaleños sell traditional sweaters, ponchos, carpets and jewelry.
La Alameda park has the oldest astronomical observatory in South America. The park has a monument of Simón Bolívar and a small lake where boats can be rented.
Museo del Banco Central - Central Bank Museum
Located across from the Casa de la Cultura and adjacent to the Parque El Ejido, you'll find perhaps Ecuador's most renowned museum with different Salas, or rooms, devoted to pre-Colombian, Colonial and gold works of art, among other topics. Some of the famous pieces include whistle bottles shaped like animals, elaborate gold headdresses and re-created miniature scenes of life along the Amazon. The museum is well-organized, and it takes about 3-4 hours to see everything. Guides who speak several different languages including English, French and Spanish are available for a small fee. The museum is a also a nice stop if it's hot or raining outside.
Aerial tramway to Cruz Loma
Since July 2005, Quito has an aerial tramway, known as the "Telefériqo" from the city center to the hill known as Cruz Loma on the east side of the Pichincha volcano. The ride takes visitors to an altitude of about 12,000 feet (over 4,100 m) where they find a number of restaurants, coffee shops and stores of different kinds. The temperature there is many degrees cooler than in Quito itself. There are also trails for hiking.
Besides the aerial tramway to Cruz Loma, the Telefériqo as a whole is a visitor center that includes an amusement park ("Vulqano Park"), Go Karts, Paint Ball, shopping malls, and other attractions.
The "centro histórico", historical center, as it is called, was appointed along with the historic center of Kraków (Cracovia), Poland, as the first UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site in 1978 and has many appealing plazas (the Independence Plaza being the most important) and manierist and baroque churches, including the Cathedral, the convent and church of St. Francis, which is the largest building of the Colonial era built by the Spaniards in South America, the church of El Sagrario, convent and church of Santo Domingo and the church of the Society of Jesus, or "La Compañía" which was built after the model of the Church of the Gesu in Rome. There are also several museums, many of them dedicated to Colonial art and history; some of the most renowned are the City Museum ("Museo de la Ciudad"), the Metropolitan Cultural Center and the museum of the Convent of St. Francis. Markets are scattered throughout the area.
Museo de le Ciudad - City Museum
Wander around the Old Town, and you'll find the Museo de la Ciudad, directly opposite the Carmen Alto monastery. A lovely museum with two floors encircling a quiet courtyard, the Museo de la Ciudad provides more of a social history of Ecuador than other museums in Quito. Re-enacted scenes from daily life of Ecuador's citizens through the years include a hearth scene from a 16t-century home, a battle scene against the Spanish, and a re-enactment of the building of Iglesia San Francisco.
La Virgin del Panecillo
Adjacent to the Old City, El Panecillo is a large hill on top of which is La Virgin del Panecillo, a large statue of the Virgin Mary. It is difficult not to see the statute. It is visible from miles around. Local legend has it that she is the only virgin in Quito. Never walk up the hill, always take a taxi or a bus as the road up is dangerous.
Mitad del Mundo - Middle Of The World
Just outside of Quito is where the measurements were first made that proved that the shape of the Earth is in fact an oblate spheroid. Commemorating this is a large monument that straddles the equator called Mitad del Mundo or middle of the world. Note, however, that the true equator is not at the Mitad del Mundo monument. Through the magic of GPS technology, we now know that it is only a few hundred feet away -- right where the Indians said it was before the French came along and built the monument in the wrong place.
Inti Ñan Solar Museum
The Inti-nan Solar Museum is right next to the Mitad del Mundo monument on the other side of the North fence. This interactive museum is located exactly on the Equator according to GPS. For two dollars you can have a tour of this little museum. They demonstrate the Coriolis effect and several other interesting things. The place looks like a total dump and is at the end of a dirt road, but is much more interesting and informative than the Mitad del Mundo. When you go to the middle of the world, it is best to go with a tour, or hire a taxi driver by the hour. The hourly rate should be in the $12 or less range.
Calderón, just 15 minutes from the capital, is known for its baked bread products. These small, soft, brightly colored crafts, depicting typical Ecuadorian characters and other themes, are sold throughout the town.
Sangolquí and Conocoto
These two small towns, located just south of Quito in the Chillos Valley, are often frequented on weekends for their local dishes. Outdoor markets sell typical food such as potato cakes, roast pork, and chicha (a maize-based alcoholic drink). The Sangolqui produce market on Thursdays and Sundays is quite colorful with indigenous and mestizo people selling their agricultural goods.
Rising over the western side of Quito, the broad and beguiling emerald slopes of Volcan Pichincha, dramatically hem the city. The volcano is in fact double-peaked: Rucu Pichincha is the lower peak at 4675m, Guagua Pichincha the higher, and the active one. Rucu means 'sleeping', while Guagua means 'baby.' It is possible to trek in company of tour guides and aclimatize for more demanding climbs. Do not visit this site alone as there are areas that are dangerous and mugging has occured.
Maquipucuna cloudforest foundation
Stroll through the depths of the cloudforest brimming with life and all its secrets, feel the breath of the trees and listen to the concealed chorus of Maquipucuna. Amid the forests of Maquipucuna, any number of adventures and discoveries await, from swimming in the free-flowing rivers to enjoying a massage beneath a cascading waterfall, from observing multifarious birds flying through their kingdom to searching for nocturnal animals under the light of a full moon. Dotted with Inca ruins and the pathways of the Yumbos tribe, one can explore the burial sites and walk along ancient trails that once led to the Pacific.
Deep in the heart of the reserve, in the peace and tranquillity of the cloudforest, the lodge built by the Maquipucuna Foundation is a paragon of ecotourism. The centre gives visitors the chance to stay for a number of days and nights in this precious and bewitching, magnificent and intriguing environment.
Dedicated to the conservation of Ecuador's biodiversity and the sustainable use of the country's natural resources, the Maquipucuna Foundation was established in 1988. In 2000, the Maquipucuna Reserve was awarded the Ecotourism Showcase Prize by the Ecotourism Society. The reserve was praised for the quality of its ecotourism services, efforts in its conservation of the biodiversity and its support for local communities.
Mindo Valley Birdwatching in the cloud forest
The western ranges of the Andes, covered in high-altitude cloudforests offer the greatest diversity of birdlife, with literally hundreds of species of hummingbirds, tanagers, flycatchers, to name but a few. There are hundreds of endemic species to be spotted high up in the green canopy and amidst the undergrowth.
Mindo, about two hours' drive west of Quito, has repeatedly one the day 'bird-count' contest held every year by BirdLife International. It's a great base from which to bird, with a handful of excellent lodges, and easily-booked bird guides.
High up on the slopes of the western flanks of the Andes, in the transitional zone between the sierra and the lowlands, Ecuador's most exciting forest habitats spread their verdant carpet. At the meeting point of the highlands and the coastal plains, the humid air magically condenses, forming wispy clouds that coat everything in warm moisture. This phenomenon creates a rich and bountiful circle of life, as clouds form, are burnt by the heating sun, ony to return the next day, in an eternal cycle of growth and decay.
Pululahua crater and geobotanical reserve
A beautiful patchwork quilt of green fields dotted with small settlements climb the wall of the crater of the extinct Volcan Pululahua. In ancient times, the cone of the Pululahua volcano collapsed leaving this immense crater, whose precipitous sides create an intriguing variety of microclimates. The fertile volcanic soil of the crater dramatically gives way to pastures of flowers that invite scores of highland birds to their sweet embraces.
The Pululahua crater is located off the main highway connecting Quito and Esmeraldas. It's under an hour by car from the Mitad del Mundo complex, from where one can catch buses to and from the village.
Rumicucho ruinsFifteen grass-covered, flat-topped pyramids stare out like sentinels over Quito as far as Volcan Cotopaxi. The ruins of Rumicucho are Ecuador's most significant pre-Incan site, built high up in the Andes at 3200m, at the foot of Mount Fuya Fuya. Their location is perfectly aligned with the white capped summit of Volcan Cayambe and with the Puntiachil site, another ancient monument. Although its actual significance is unknown, Rumicucho is a sacred site, a meeting place for the spirits on the longest day of the year.
Catequilla hillCatequilla is the site that marks the indigenous middle of the world, where no shadow is cast on the noon of the equinoxes when the sun rises to its absolute zenith. From the summit of the Catequilla hill, other sites of astronomical importance were traced and located using the path of the sun on the solstice and equinoxes.
Discover the magic of animal life and the secrets of nature at Quito zoo, home to more than fifty species of fauna from Ecuador's diverse bio-regions, ranging from the Andean plains to the tropical forests of the coast, from the Amazon down to the Galápagos Islands. Meet the rare Andean Spectacled Bear, the world's largest flying bird, the Andean Condor, and the enormous and ancient Galápagos Tortoise.
The Guayllabamba (Quito) Zoo is located in the small town of Guayllabamba, which is about halfway from the capital to Otavalo on the Panamerican Highway. It's an easy stop to make on the journey to and from Otavalo
About 15 minutes west of Guayllabamba. A park where families from Quito enjoy the surrounding nature, a train ride for children and sports facilities. Great area for birdwatching with several endemics.
The town of Otavalo hosts what is probably the most famous market in South America. Visitors from around the globe flock to its main square to bargain for the amazing goods on sale, and to enjoy the surrounding landscape of this fertile and beautiful region. Located under two hours from Quito, with flower plantations and dramatic landscapes along the way, the Otavalo region makes an ideal short trip from the capital - not to be missed!
Ecuador Rose Plantations
The fertile volcanic earth, lying directly beneath the equatorial sun, fed by natural springs and refreshed by the cool Andean nights, creates the perfect combination for some of the world's most beautiful roses. Their colours reflect every chroma of the countryside and skies, and their names are equally exotic: Black magic, Tropical Amazon, Versilia and Clear Ocean are but a few.
Discovering the roses of Ecuador is to relish the soft aromas secreted from the stem to the delicate edge of every petal, the scent redolent, lingering, floating like a petal through the air. The roses of Ecuador, roses of inexplicable beauty, in which one can uncovers the sun's energy in every petal. There are several rose plantations close to Quito that can be visited on a half day tour.
Cotopaxi national park & worlds highest active volcano
Embracing and protecting the monumental stature of Cotopaxi is its national park, the most visited in Ecuador. This vast wilderness of sweeping plains in the shadow of the volcano was established in 1975, encompassing some 34,000 hectares of wild, starkly beautiful rolling moor land, streaked with wisps of clouds and pockets of mist, home to a menagerie of interesting and unusual wildlife.
In Cotopaxi, you may be lucky enough to spot the world's largest flying bird with a wingspan of three metres (over nine feet), the Andean Condor, gliding across lapis skies, accompanied by highland hummingbirds, the Andean Hillster, the Sparkling Violetear and the distinctive orange face of the Caracara. Below on the páramo floor, an array of strange and interesting mammals roam, including the puma or mountain lion, the orange-bellied Jambato Toad, the rare Andean Spectacled Bear and one of the smallest and rarest deer in the world, the dwarf Andean Pudu.
Venturing in to the Cotopaxi National Park, one encounters lakes, ruins and smaller peaks. The Limpiopungo Lagoon lies at 3,800m, shimmering beneath the shadows of Mount Rumiñahui. When the clouds part in the sky above, the waters of Limpiopungo become a canvas for the great mountain above. Further afield, a natural spring fills the waters of Santo Domingo Lagoon, surrounded by vestiges of Inca stone walls, and beyond lie the magical ruins of Pucara, a Pre-Hispanic Incan fortress.
Haciendas of the Andes
Hacienda La Cienega
The centuries-old hacienda of La Cienaga, a highland retreat in a kingdom that once stretched from Quito to Ambato, is owned by the Lasso family. Today, the grand mansion has been converted into a beautiful hotel, an Andean sanctuary close to the Cotopaxi Volcano and National Park.
Sitting in carefully-tended grounds, amid fountains and cobbles, La Cienaga is great time-machine, its furniture and décor redolent with its colonial past. Its interior courtyard brims with bright colourful flowers, framed by its delightful little white chapel, with its carved door and stucco finery.
Hacienda San Agustin de Callo
The beautiful and little known Hacienda San Agustin del Callo lies in the lower skirts of the great Cotopaxi, close to the twin peaks of the Illnizas. It offers the traveller of today a unique doorway into Ecuador's past. The hacienda was formerly an important palace or temple, constructed for Tupac Yupanqui (Inca Emperor) in the 15th century.
The main courtyard of the hacienda is a stunning blend of styles: it brings together Incan (15th), Colonial (16th) and Republican (19th) traditions, all within a handsome square. The house has served as an Incan Fort, an Augustinian Convent, a temporary home to The French Geodesic Mission - whose scientific results helped determine the form of the planet - as well as the family home of one the country's most prestigious families. Famous visitors have numbered Alexander Von Humboldt, German scientist and forefather of modern geography, as well as the illustrious English mountaineer Edward Whymper, the first man to summit Chimborazo, Ecuador's highest volcano. Today, the hacienda ranks among the most attractive and intriguing in the country. One dines on excellent Ecuadorian dishes in an ornate dining room surrounded on all sides by Incan walls holed with their distinctive trapezoidal niches.
The "Inti Raymi" festival in June is highlight of the hacienda's calendar, and well worth catching if you're in Ecuador at the time.
Hacienda Guachala - the oldest hacienda in Ecuador
Guachala is Located on the Equatorial line, just outside of Cayambe one hour away from Quito and twenty minutes away from Otavalo. Nearby are places like the Pucarás ruins, the Cayambe refuge, the Oyacachi hot springs and others. You can enjoy a nice horse-back ride or a relaxing walk in the hacienda grounds and surrounding highlands. The oldest construction dates from 1580. Some of the historic areas of the Hacienda Guachalá include two churches, the colonial "patio", the old mill and others. There is a working farm with the following animals: horses, dogs, alpacas, llamas, geese, sheep, pigs, and a mule. Learn about the ecological Agapanthus flower plantation.
Hacienda Chillo Jijon
Ever since its construction around 1730 as the manor house of a large estate only a few kilometers away from the colonial city of Quito, Hacienda Chillo-Jijón has always belonged to the same family. Built by the Marquees of Miraflores and enlarged a century later by the Marquees of San José, the Hacienda has seen a lot of the country's history happen amongst its walls. For over 120 years, until 1975, the Hacienda was also home to one of the largest textile mills in the Andes. Today the Hacienda warmly greets a limited number of special guests who seek unique properties and the most personal attention. Hacienda Chillo-Jijón is the preferred lodging choice to visit Colonial Quito and its vicinity, with its baroque churches and its museums, the nearby Indian Markets and, in general, the Andean region.
Hacienda La Carriona
Hacienda "La Carriona" is located in the beautiful Valley of Los Chillos, a brief drive south down the highway from Quito. Constructed as an hacienda more than two-hundred years ago, "La Carriona" stands as a monument to Ecuador's colonial history. Its stone courtyard and garden hint of the exuberant Spanish Colonial lifestyle, while its name reminds us that it once belonged to the renowned Carrión family, La Carriona's thick adobe walls have witnessed significant events in Ecuador's history. In the mid 1800s, the house belonged to the distinguished family, Fernández Salvador. In 1830, the patriarch of this family, Don José Fernández Salvador , was appointed president of the first Constitutional Assembly. This Assembly laid the foundation for both the Ecuadorian constitution and nation.
Today, the hacienda accommodates guests amidst tranquil surroundings. Located on the outskirts of the capital, "La Carriona" is a great option for those looking for easy access to Quito and the tourist attractions of the Ecuadorian Sierra. The Hostería is minutes away from the protected forest of the Pasochoa. It offers easy access to the Cotopaxi National Park and the southern part of the country. If you are interested in visiting Ecuador's highlands, "La Carriona" should be a part of your travel plans.
Hacienda La Alegria
is a family-run organic farm in the heart of Ecuador's "Avenue of the Volcanoes". We are situated one hour south of the historic colonial city of Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
We offer traditional hospitality with a touch of luxury at our beautiful hacienda. We cater for independent travellers and larger groups and can tailor a package for most requirements. Above all, at La Alegria we specialise in horseback vacations amid the majesty of the high Andes of the Equator.
Pasochoa volcano & wildlife reserve
Located South of Quito in the Machachi valley, Pasochoa is an extinct volcano with an altitude of 4.199 mts. The summit is composed of several steep peaks without snow and with little vegetation.
From the peaks to the west within the caldera, some of the most interesting vegetation zones of the Andes has developed with a great variety of species. The access to the Pasochoa is from Quito taking the road to the small town of Amaguaña. About a 40 min. drive from the city.
Papallacta thermal bathsPapallacta village is located some 67 km from Quito in an easterly direction on the road Quito-Baeza. Papallacta village is actually a rustic town. The region holds one of the best hot springs of the country "Balneario Termas de Papallacta" or Termas de Papallacta Hot Springs (located just a 100 meters above Hotel Resort Termas de Papallacta), offering modern installations and several hot thermal pools. There is a therapy followed by most people who visit Termas de Papallacta hot springs. There are a couple of thermal pools next to each other at the top end of this complex, the smaller one next to the river has a temperature of around 60 degrees (very hot). Once one has remained in this pool maximum 15 minutes (no more) then, one should bath in the river (freezing) next to it. This therapy is recommended for people who suffer of kidneys problems amongst other diseases.
The surrounding area is also idyllic for ambling down various meandering treks and the more challenging rugged ones. You can also stay here for the weekend and enjoy the spectacular settings that afford views on clear days of the snowcapped Antisana (5700m). Horse riding, fishing and other tours are also available.
Cayambe town, volcano and ecological reserve
Cayambe is 45 minutes north of Quito. This quiet village, famous for its milk and biscuit production, is the gateway to the snowcapped mountain of the same name. One of its traditions is the celebration of the San Pedro and San Pablo festival in June.
Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve
Covering over 400,000 hectares in area the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve is located in the provinces of Pichincha, Imbabura, and Sucumbíos. Its main attraction is the snowcapped peak of Cayambe volcano. Towering 5,790 m above sea level, Cayambe attracts mountaineering buffs from all over the globe. Those not bent on climbing to the dizzying altitudes of Cayambe flock to the Reserve to hike around its many lakes and through its vast forests. Moreover, the hot springs of Papallacta, which lie at the park’s entrance just two hours from Quito, are another very popular destination, especially on weekends.
Cochasqui Pyramids and archaeologyNorth of Quito lie the ruins of Cochasquí. This is an archaeological site with burial mounds and pyramids which belonged to Quito's first inhabitants. The pyramids were made of local volcanic material called cangahua. To reach the site, we take the road leading from Guayllabamba to Tabacundo.
Santo Domingo de los Colorados
Situated between the highlands and the coast, Santo Domingo, a progressive town surrounded by lovely scenery, is a great place from which to explore tropical forests, rivers, and waterfalls in addition to being a great destination for wildlife watching especially for bird life. A natural crossroads between the nation's coast and highlands, Santo Domingo has first-class roads leading to Guayaquil, Manabí, Esmeraldas, and Quito. Its population lives primarily off of agriculture, growing banana, sugar cane, and African palm, among other products. The area is traditionally known for the Tsáchilas natives(also known as Indios Colorados or Red Indians), who live there, maintaing their way of life and customs, one of which is that the men dye their hair red with dye obtained from achiote, a small red fruit native to the area, the "Colorados" are also known to be powerfull shamans. The Toachi and Blanco rivers nearby are the most popular places for white water rafting in the country.