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Classic Ecuador: Quito + Avenue of Volcanoes


EYA10Q
12 NIGHTS
FROM £1,595
International flights quoted separately
Explore the culture and landscapes of mainland Ecuador on this holiday, starting in the old Inca capital of Quito, high in the Andes mountains. Then join a small group tour through the dramatic Avenue of the Volcanoes, including magnificent Cotapaxi and Chimborazo, staying in small haciendas. Complete your holiday in colonial Cuenca. English speaking guide, all transfers & entrance fees included.
Photo Avenue of the Volcanoes Ecuador Train Devils Nose Cuenca
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Quito
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Centre of World Monument
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Cotapaxi National Park
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Patate
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Tungurahua Volcano
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Route of the Cascases
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Chimborazo Volcano
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Riobamba
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Devils Nose Train
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Cuenca
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Quito
• 
Centre of World Monument
• 
Cotapaxi National Park
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Patate
• 
Tungurahua Volcano
• 
Route of the Cascases
• 
Chimborazo Volcano
• 
Riobamba
• 
Devils Nose Train
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Cuenca
Day 1
You will be met at Quito Airport and transferred to your hotel in this historic Spanish colonial city that straddles the equator and is today a World Heritage Site.
 
Check in and relax in this capital city in the Andean Highlands, with its many museums, monasteries and churches with golden altars. The prosperous centre of the Kingdom of Quitus during the 13th century, and later the northern capital of the Inca Empire, it has a setting that few cities in the world can match.
Day 2
This morning we suggest an optional visit to the equatorial monument that marks the Centre of the World at latitude 0º - about 16 miles (25 km) north of Quito. Here you can stand with a foot on each hemisphere and visit the Intiñan folk museum that showcases the different Native American groups living in Ecuador, their culture and traditions. There is also a colonial-style tourist village complete with main square, church, post office, bull ring and gift shops.
 
Afterwards enjoy a walking tour through the streets and main square of the historic Colonial Quarter, the largest and best preserved in South America. Take in its magnificent colonial architecture - including the Cathedral, President's Palace, Archbishop's Palace and the Municipal Building flanking Independence Plaza. You will see many mansions, monasteries and churches, and visit the Church & Convent of Santo Domingo. The city also has many cosmopolitan galleries and boutiques filled with contemporary paintings, sculptures and exquisite traditional crafts.
 
Please note: Quito walking tour is conducted at an altitude of 2,800 m and includes climbing stairs. As you will be visiting churches (except on Sundays, when this is not permitted), do not wear shorts or mini skirts as these are not allowed.
Day 3
Today we suggest an optional full day excursion northwards along the PanAmerican Highway to Otavalo, to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Andean Highlands with its dramatic mountains, lakes, waterfalls and rivers.
 
With an ancestral cultural dating back thousands of years and a rich heritage of traditions, myths, legends and customs, this is the land of the Otavalos and South America's most famous Indian fair. We leave early to arrive in good time to visit the textile market at Otavalo, with its many stalls full of ponchos, scarves, blankets, wall hangings, woven belts (fajas), hats, handbags and much more. Here Otavaleños barter in silence, in marked contrast to the raucous noise of other markets, so take your time to negotiate the best bargains.
 
Afterwards we visit the nearby Indian village of Peguche, where you can see artisans weaving in their homes and learn more about their culture and everyday life. Lunch is included at a charming country inn (hacienda), before we return to Quito in the late afternoon.
 
Note: Otavalo market is closed on a Monday. This excursion involves walking at high altitude (8,434 feet / 2,560 meters).
Day 4
Our small group tour departs from Quito this morning, as we head south through the magnificent Avenue of the Volcanoes and travel 2.5-hours to Patate.
 
The Avenue of the Volcanoes is formed by two parallel chains of the Andes Mountains that travel the length of Ecuador, rising to dramatic peaks. Eight of the highest mountains in the country are found in this spectacular region, as well as several dramatic volcanoes. The snow-capped Cotopaxi Volcano dominates the landscape and on clear days offers a magnificent backdrop. It is an almost perfect cone rising to 19,347 ft (5,897 m), making it the highest active volcano in the world.
 
We travel through the evergreen landscapes of these high altitude moorlands (altiplano) and valleys patchworked with multicolored fields. After an included lunch at a local hacienda, you can mingle with the llamas or stroll through the rose plantations. Ecuador is world-famous for its rose exports.
 
We then descend to the town of Patate, to spend the night at a 300-year old hacienda hidden in the mountains, where the afternoon mists descend. Check in for dinner and overnight.
Day 5
This morning we travel the spectacular route along the gorge of the Pastaza River to the town of Baños (meaning 'Baths'), situated at the foot of Tungurahua Volcano. This is the source of the hot thermal springs that give this town its name.  
 
We drive along the Route of the Cascades to the Devil's Cauldron (El Pailón del Diablo), where you can appreciate the sound and force of this waterfall from a lookout point. If you are adventurous, you can descend to see the cascades up close, surrounded by tropical foliage and orchids. After lunch at a local hacienda enjoy a short stroll in Baños, where the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Holy Water is a local pilgrimage site.
 
From here the route to Riobamba ascends through cloud-filled mountains and high paramo (alpine tundra), where vicuñas graze and scamper. The imposing Chimborazo Volcano, the highest mountain in Ecuador, is found here. On a clear day, seeing Chimborazo Volcano outlined against an amazing sunset is spectacular.
 
We continue to Riobamba, a small town surrounded by five volcanoes and known as the "Sultan of the Andes", where we check in for dinner and overnight.
Day 6
This morning we depart early and travel 2-hours to the small town of Alausí.
 
Here we board a restored 100-year old train, in a tourism initiative designed to involve the local Indian communities. The highlight is the thrilling 2,630 ft  (800 m) descent of the Devil’s Nose, via a series of zigzag switchbacks cut into the rock. At the bottom is the newly renovated Sibambe Station, where we visit the local Puñuna Condor museum run by the Nizag community, with its display of local handcrafts, fruit and medicinal plants. The train whistle will call you back on board for the return journey to Alausí Station.
 
We continue driving south passing through stunning Andean landscapes, before reaching the Inca Fortress of Ingapirca - the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. Lunch is served in the area.
 
After exploring the ruins, we drive 2-hours to the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca.
Day 7
Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador, yet retains a pleasant provincial air with its red-tiled roofs, cobblestone streets, flowery plazas and museums. The centre of the city is a World Heritage site.
 
This morning enjoy a tour of this beautiful colonial city, including the Plaza of San Sebastian - a colourful artisans’ market where handicrafts are sold.  We also visit the Museum of Modern Art and the Flower Market at the small plaza in front of the carved stone entrance to the church of El Carmen de la Asunción. From here it is a short stroll to the main square, surrounded by the imposing blue-domed Cathedral, the Court of Justice, the Municipal Palace, the Governor’s Palace and the Church of El Sagrario.
 
We then drive along the Tomebamba River to admire the riverbank houses of this city. Enjoy lunch at one of the excellent restaurants in Cuenca, followed by a visit to a ceramics handcraft shop and a Panama Hat factory, to observe the process of making these famous hats of high-quality toquilla straw.
 
Afterwards you will be dropped off at your hotel in Cuenca at the end of your tour.
Day 8
At leisure to independently explore the old colonial city of Cuenca.
Day 9
Today we travel 4-hours from Cuenca to the port city of Guayaquil.
 
Along the way we stop at El Cajas National Park, a protected area starting at 10,000 ft (3,000 m) above sea level. This tranquil region, with its stunning landscapes, shows the remains of intense volcanic activity and glaciation. Although the wind and drizzle can make it very cold, the scenery surrounding these 235 lakes is splendid for walking and observing flora, fauna and bird life. The cold lakes are full of trout and the dwarf forests of quinua trees (a high protein grain) are home to many species of birds, including hummingbirds and gray-breasted mountain toucan. The highest point is reached at Three Crosses watershed, from where rivers flow into either the Pacific or the Atlantic Ocean. A jacket and good walking shoes are essential today to explore this region.
 
We continue downhill to tropical Guayaquil on the Pacific Coast. Here the vibe is Caribbean, in marked contrast to the Andean region. Check into your hotel in this important port, that is the largest city in Ecuador.
Day 10
This morning enjoy a half day tour of the cosmopolitan port of Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador. This prosperous city has a rich historical background, wonderful museums and a modern shopping district with many good restaurants.
 
You will see the splendid Moorish Clock Tower and La Rotonda, a historical monument on the waterfront walkway. Santo Domingo church, built by Dominican friars, is the oldest in the city. Also view the Las Peñas neighbourhood, the artistic centre of the city, and beautiful Guayaquil Historical Park on the waterfront walkway, which is a haven for wildlife, history and architecture.
 
Afternoon is at leisure to relax or explore more of the city on your own.
Day 11
Transfer to Guayaquil Airport for your flight home.
Day 12
Rise early today to be ready to depart from our hotel by 07.45. We cross Academy Bay by boat and board a bus in Puerto Ayora - travelling overland to the Itabaca Channel on the island’s north shore. Here we board our yacht and sail to either North Seymour or Bartolomé Island.
 
North Seymour Island was lifted from the ocean floor by a seismic event, and its origins as a seabed accounts for its low flat profile. Cliffs only a few meters high form the shoreline, with swallow-tailed gulls sitting among the rocks and ledges. A tiny forest of silver-grey Palo Santo trees stand just above the landing, usually without leaves, waiting for the rains to burst into bloom.
 
This island is teaming with life. You might have to give way to a passing sea lion or marine iguana; blue-footed boobys nest beside the trail and mating pairs perform their courtship dance. Further along the rocky shore, large flocks of pelicans mass for a dive-bomb feeding frenzy. The trail then turns inland to reveal the largest nesting site in the Galapagos of the magnificent frigate bird. These huge dark acrobats have 2m (6 ft) wingspans. The males, with puffed up scarlet throat sacks, perch in low bushes as they watch over their large chicks. This is a walking excursion, involving a dry landing on uneven rocky terrain.
 
Afterwards relax on Bachas Beach on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island. This glorious white beach, with several brackish lagoons only a few steps away from the sea, is an important nesting site for the east Pacific green sea turtle. The lagoons are the feeding grounds for a variety of wading birds, ranging from stilts to flamingos. Here you can enjoy fantastic snorkelling and swimming, or simply relax and enjoy the white soft beach.
 
Bartolomé Island is famous for Pinnacle Rock, a towering spearheaded obelisk that rises from the ocean’s edge and is the best known landmark in the islands. Galápagos penguins —the only species of penguin found north of the equator — waddle precariously along narrow volcanic ledges at its base and sea lions snooze on the rocky platforms. Just below the surface, shoals of tropical fish dodge in and out of the rocks past urchins, sea stars and anemones. A perfect crescent-shaped white sandy beach lies just to the east of the pinnacle. Sea turtles use the beach as a nesting site and can sometimes be found wading in the shallow water near the shore, or resting in the sand to recover from the arduous task of digging nests, laying eggs and covering them over. We snorkel from this beach, following a wet landing.
 
Penguins dot the nearby rocks of the other landing site, less than a kilometer along the eastern shore. Here the submerged walls of a tiny volcanic crater give the impression of a fountain pool. A dry landing leads to a 600-metre (2,000-foot) pathway complete with stairs and boardwalk leading to Bartolomé’s summit. The route is not difficult and presents a museum of volcanology, left untouched after its last eruption with cones standing in various stages of erosion and lava tubes forming bobsled-like runs from the summit. At the top you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Santiago Island and James Bay to the west, and far below, Pinnacle Rock and our beach, where the crystal blue waters of the bay cradle our yacht. We return to our hotel travelling by road across the highlands of Santa Cruz Island.
Day 13
We depart from our hotel at 09.00 today to explore Santa Cruz Island, including a visit to Tortuga Bay or Cerro Mesa and Garrapatero Cove.
 
Tortuga Bay is reached along a 2 km (1.3 mile) fairly flat and straight trail from Puerto Ayora. This is a great birding walk through an arid, deciduous forest. You don’t have to worry about a day-pack, as you only need to carry the very immediate essentials: hat, sunscreen, binoculars, camera and your water bottle. Anything else you may need for the rest of the day can be sent to the end of the trail by boat. When you reach Tortuga Bay, you will understand why this is often referred to as Ecuador’s most beautiful beach - with over one kilometre of snow-white sand and turquoise waters, with the never-ending sound of swells caressing the island.
 
Protected by a natural lava barrier, this large calm bay is surrounded by a gallery of mangroves that provide habitat for may different marine and terrestrial birds, as well as young sharks and rays, who spend their youth in the protective, mildly brackish conditions. These are also nesting grounds for the green sea turtle and you should see foraging marine iguanas. Our day boat will meet us at Playa Mansa, with a packed lunch. Activities here include swimming or sea kayaking in these calm clear waters.
 
We return to our hotel for lunch and to freshen up, before visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station in the afternoon. Accompanied by a guide, stroll through the grounds of the research station with its famous giant tortoise breeding programme that includes celebrities such as Diego (now the world’s most famous giant tortoise, following the death of Lonesome George in 2013). Land iguanas are also a highlight, with the opportunity to learn more about their conservation.

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