Ecuador is a country with incredible landscapes where walking tours are one of the best ways to visit the main highlights as well as off the path attractions. You can walk around Ecuador and enjoy views of snowcapped volcanoes that line the Andean skyline, colonial cities with cobble stoned streets and living art galleries, tropical rainforest both in the Amazon basin and Pacific coast lowlands, transition zones with cloudforests and an impressive line of secluded and pristine beaches; a wonderful combination with geographical variety. You add in live cultures with ancestral traditions and rich folk art present in everyday life. A unique wilderness destination due to the immense biodiversity in plant, animal, bird and insect life.
Walking around Ecuador is to walk above the clouds, walk in the clouds and below the clouds unveiling one of South America´s most picturesque countries, discovery happens every day as time as has gone by slow and allowed Ecuador to stay untouched.
Our walking tours are well paced out and are suited for all levels of fitness. Usually they include a nice combination of natural and cultural visits with easy walks to immerse yourself into the heart of this Andean country.
Below is a sample itinerary for a walking tour in the Andes of Ecuador.
We arrive this evening to Ecuador's Andean capital, Quito, set in a narrow valley between rugged volcanic peaks, at an invigorating 9,350-foot elevation. We are met at the airport and transferred to the comfortable, Hacienda La Carriona , a built over 200 years ago and located just 30 minutes outside the city, in the beautiful valley of Los Chillos.
Following breakfast, we drive through the fertile Los Chillos Valley, once the breadbasket for Quito. We head south for a 2-3 hour hike in the Pasochoa Protected Forest. This nearly 1,000-acre Andean forest is administered by the nonprofit Fundacion Natura (a World Wildlife Fund affiliate) and is located at a brisk 9,000'-elevation in a steep, untouched gorge. It is the only remaining primary Andean forest in Ecuador’s central valley, and home to orchids and an abundance of birds, including partridges, turtledoves and some of the more than 120 species of hummingbirds recorded in Ecuador. We have lunch at a historic hacienda. W e continue driving through patchwork countryside to the Hosteria La Ciénega,
belonging to the descendants of the Marquis of Maenza of the 17th century, and one of the valley's nicest inns. There may be time for strolling the quiet country lanes before dinner. Driving time: 2 Hours
After breakfast, we cross the valley to Cotopaxi National Park, home of the world’s highest active volcano. Cotopaxi’s cone-shaped peak (19,350') dominates the landscape for miles around. We drive toward the base of the mountain and walk near Limpiopungo Lake, enjoying an abundance of birds and scenic vistas
of nearby Ruminahui peak. After lunch, we have the option to approach the glaciers near the Jose Ribas Hut. The dominant ecosystem in this area is the humid páramo. We can observe typical grasses such as stipa-ichu and pajonal, as well as unusual species of flora like the puya, senecio (rabbit ears) and chuquiragua, and alpine-like wild flowers such as gentians and lupines. As we hike, we should have nice opportunities to photograph Cotopaxi's summit. Later in the
afternoon, we return to the valley and stop at the San Agustin de Callo, one of the oldest haciendas in the Andes, built on the foundations of an Inca fortress. Ruins dating back over 500 years can be found nearby. A short drive brings us back to the Hosteria La Ciénega and its country house, built in 1580 and preserved in its original state and now considered a historical monument. A delicious 4-course dinner is served this evening in the Hosterias’ dinning room. Driving time: 2 Hours
Today we drive north along the Avenue of the Volcanos, named for the eleven snow-capped, volcanic peaks that line either side of the central valley. En route through Quito, we enjoy a brief guided tour of the colonial capital. Strolling along cobbled streets, beneath whitewashed adobe walls and ornate balconies, we visit the beautiful La Compañía and San Francisco churches with their ornate, gold-plated altars and collections of colonial paintings. After a local style lunch, we head north through the twisted canyons of the Guayabamba River toward the fertile valleys of the Lake district and Lake San Pablo, where we find the charming Hacienda Cusin, a renowned farmstead that will be our home for the next two nights. We enjoy dinner together this evening in the cozy dining room. Driving time: 3 ½ Hours
Today we can relax and enjoy the amenities of the Hacienda Cusin. We may opt for guided activities walking on nearby trails and discovering the charm of the backcountry. There is great birding and unique flora to discover or you may prefer to get to know the local residents in nearby villages. Some guests may prefer to simply read or relax in the library by the fire. This quaint inn is one of the oldest
haciendas in the country, dating back to 1602. Seven guesthouses with private baths offer views of the beautiful gardens. Situated just 12 miles north of the equator, this area is known for sunny days and a climate described as an “ever- blooming spring.” This evening we enjoy the Cusin’s delicious menu of
Ecuadorian and European food.
Following a hearty breakfast, we drive northwest into the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve for an easy, 2-3 hour hike above Lake Cuicocha (10,500'), formed in the crater of an ancient volcano. Along the way, we have good views of the snow-capped Cayambe (18,995'), Imbabura and Cotacachi volcanos. High
altitude bird species such as the carunculated caracara, cordillera snipe, Andean hillstar, páramo pipit, and Andean lapwing may be seen, as well as hawks and hummingbirds. At Cuicocha's edge, we might spot some of the waterfowl which inhabit the region's many lakes including the speckled teal, American coot,
or yellow-billed pintail. In the afternoon, we drive to the lovely Hacienda Pinsaquí, where we spend the night. There should be ample time to stroll about the grounds before sunset and dinner. Driving time: 1 ½ Hours
There is time today to explore the nearby farmlands or to learn about the unique history of this hacienda, in the Freile family since 1888. Simon Bolivar stayed here when the famous South American liberator traveled between Ecuador and Colombia. It is also here that one of Ecuador’s most important friendship
treaties, between these same two countries, was signed. High draped windows channel late day sun on ornate furnishings and chandeliers. Tiled floors and masonry walls reverberate the sounds of a working hacienda, with the peaceful ambience that can only be found in the countryside. We lunch today at another
nearby hacienda, located in a wide valley outside Ibarra at a comfortable 7,200-foot-elevation, with time to explore the area and visit indigenous villages and theri artisan shops. We return to Hacienda Pinsaquí in the late afternoon.
Today is market day. We get an early start to arrive to the village of Otavalo just as trading is getting under way. This famous weekly market dates back to before the Inca occupation when Indians from the lowland jungles would visit the highlands to trade their products. It is now one of South America's largest and best
markets. We join dozens of locals and visitors wandering through the 4 main plazas 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 will be plenty of opportunities to purchase some of the exquisite woolen products
or embroidery work for which the Otavalo weavers are renowned. Following a chance to browse through the stalls we visit the villages of Peguche and Agato, where we learn about the backstrap loom and visit master weavers of the area as well as an Andean musical instrument workshop.
Today we enjoy lunch at the oldest farm in Ecuador, Hacienda Guachala. Situated exactly on the equator, Guachala offers majestic views of snow capped Cayambe Volcano (19,107'). Visitors are treated to lively bird activity in the nearby sanctuary and arboretum. On our way back toward Quito, and time permitting, we stop at Cochasqui to visit this pre-Inca archaeological site featuring 15 pyramidal structures. In the late afternoon, we arrive at the Patio Andaluz, a colonial mansion and one of the city’s original buildings, now a beautiful boutique hotel located in the historic city center. A national treasure, this hotel holds centuries of history within its walls. In the heart of the city’s culture, travelers are treated to culinary
delights of fine restaurants and nearby churches, museums, libraries, folklore shops. Driving time: 2 ½ Hours
Today we fly accross the Andes enjoying a birdseye view of the Avenue of the volcanoes (if weather permits), our destination is the beautiful city of Cuenca, the historic downtown is a Unesco world heritage site.
Once the site of an Inca settlement, Cuenca (2648 m / 8,738 feet) today is considered Ecuador's most beautiful city. Its historical connection with Spain is marked by narrow cobblestone streets, quaint parks and romantic plazas. Charming adobe houses, wrought iron balconies, and religious art treasures capture the spirit of centuries long past. Cuenca, almost hidden away in a southern valley, was isolated until recent times; it wasn't until 1960 that paved roads were built to Quito and Guayaquil. Today Cuenca, Ecuador's third largest city, is surrounded by small villages whose citizens create intricately detailed jewelry, beautiful ceramics, and masterfully designed handwoven shawls.
This morning we have a leisurely walking tour along the main plaza, Parque Calderon, and enter the old Cathedral, renovated for the visit of Pope John Paul in 1985. We also see the Monastery of El Carmen and visit La Inmaculada Concepcion while strolling the cobbled streets.
This afternoon we visit the Museo del Banco Central, which contains a permanent collection of black and white photos of 19th and early 20th century Cuenca, as well as displays of art and archeological pieces, and ethnographic dioramas.
We also visit a Panama hat factory. In 1835 Manuel Alfaro, a Spanish entrepreneur, arrived in the port of Guayaquil in the province of Guayas. He settled in nearby Montecristi and quickly realised the economic potential of the toquilla hat setting up his own chain of production from the straw plantations to circuits of weavers. His hats were soon being exported from the ports of Guayaquil and Manta to Panama which was quickly becoming an important centre and staging post for international trade and travel. Here Alfaro opened a commercial centre selling his hats, cacao and pearls, thus beginning the association of the Ecuadorian toquilla hat with Panama.
Tonight we will stay at a boutique hotel in the downtown area, an old colonial mansion that has been fully restored to offer luxurious comfort with a historic charm.
A scenic mountain drive brings us to Ecuador's most important Inca site, Ingapirca, located in the Cañar Valley, but still at 3165 m (10,445 feet). En route we travel through the beautiful countryside worked by the Canari indigenous people for centuries.
On arrival we visit the site museum and the site itself, where we can admire the Inca's superb mortarless stonework of the Temple of the Sun. Ingapirca is a monumental complex, built up on top of other Canari ruins some 500 years ago by the Inca empire. On top of the elliptical platform was built a structure made of well finished stones. The Temple is surrounded by a labyrinth on one side, other walls, terraces and chambers in ruins, and a cliff. We will enjoy a walk around the ruins and visit the Inca Baths, a natural stone face and a small part of the Inca trail.
Return to Cuenca. Overnight in Cuenca at our boutique hotel.
We have a free morning and early afternoon to enjoy Cuenca on our own. A wonderful city to just walk around and enjoy its history (optional walking tour of Cajas National Park available - 230 boxed lakes with wonderfull birdwatching and impossing scenery).
Afternoon flight to Quito, check in at our boutique hotel in the colonial downtown district.
The above is a sample itinerary prepared for a walking trip around the haciendas of the Andes. It can be customized to fit the needs and special interests of your travellers.