Southern Highlands & Amazon Jungle Ecuador Tour
This Ecuador tour focuses on the remarkable Amazon rainforest and the beautiful southern highlands. We pass through the stunning city of Quito and its historic district before departing for the incredible Amazon rainforest of the Yasuni National Park, an area classified as a World Biosphere Reserve due to its rich biodiversity. Here we’ll take part in a variety of activities to explore the region, including day hikes and canoe trips through the jungle. After our stay in the rainforest, we’ll head to the beautiful city of Cuenca where we’ll visit several communities and enjoy the area’s natural beauty. We’ll visit this historic city and the surrounding communities of Gualeceo and Chordeleg, traditional villages known for their production of leather shoes, panama hats and gold and silver jewellery. We’ll also visit the amazing Cajas National Park, a high altitude mountain region of beautiful lakes and paramo grasslands. From there we continue on to Guayaquil, where we’ll have some time to explore the city centre and the city’s famous Malecon (waterfront).
- Explore the wonderfully preserved historic centres of two of Ecuador’s major cities, Quito and Cuenca, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Straddle the equator and have fun trying to balance things on the line
- Hike and canoe through one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet – an area of pristine Amazon rainforest protected by local communities
- See a salt lick where 11 different species of parrots, parakeets and (during certain times of year) macaws gather
- Experience and learn about the traditional Kichwa culture and the communities’ life in the Amazon
- Explore radically different environments – from the Amazon rainforest in the east, to the coast in the west, and up to 4000 metres altitude in the high Andes
- Observe cayman in the wild
- Learn about the traditional crafts of Ecuador – see how they’re made and have the chance to buy some souvenirs
- Experience a brief introduction to the cultivation and processing of cocoa
This is a private tour (small-group during the Amazon rainforest) and you will be accompanied by an English-speaking local guide during all excursions, and throughout your time in the Amazon. The price displayed is per person based on two people sharing. All tours can be tailor-made to suit your interests and requirements.
If you are a chocolate lover, you should not miss out on the 6 day Cocoa Tasting tour! And for those wanting to undertake the challenge of a lifetime, we also offer climbing tours to both Cayambe and Chimborazo volcanoes. Don’t forget to read about Guardian travel writer, Kevin Rushby’s, attempt at reaching both volcano summits.
We can also organise a visit to the Galapagos Islands (cruise and/or island hopping) before or after this tour. There are direct flights to the Galapagos both from Quito and Guayaquil.
Quito, Ecuador is not only the highest official capital city in the world (Bolivia has two capitals; if La Paz is considered its capital, Quito would be the second highest), but it also has one of the largest and best preserved historic centres in the Americas. It was one of the first World Cultural Heritage Sites, declared by UNESCO in 1978. Rich in both culture and history, Ecuador’s second largest city has much to offer.
Among its attractions is the Mitad del Mundo (Centre of the World) monument and museum; the monument was constructed in the early 1980’s to commemorate the first Geodesic Mission of the French Academy of Sciences, which, in the year 1736, placed a small monument at the site which they had experimentally determined to be the equator. Thanks to modern GPS, we now know the real equator line passes about 240 meters to the north of the monument, and tourists can participate in experiments on the equator line itself.
From Quito, you’ll travel to the edges of the Yasuni National Park, possibly the most biodiverse place on earth. Over 600 species of trees have been documented on only one hectare, along with 550 species of birds, 80 species of bats, 105 species of amphibians and 83 species of reptiles. For centuries, the Kichwa people (one of the indigenous groups that call the Amazon region home) have developed the means to survive in the forests, with a strong spiritual connection to the natural world which sustains them. We visit two lodges – the first offering an insight into the Kichwa culture of the region, and the second located on a beautiful lagoon in a pristine area of jungle.
The city of Cuenca, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its many historic buildings, has a beautiful colonial centre with plenty to explore. The nearby communities of Guanaco, Sigsig and Chordeleg are known for traditional crafts, including musical instruments, leather goods, jewelry made from gold and silver, and panama hats. Cajas National Park is a stunning landscape of high altitude paramo (grasslands) dotted with about 270 lakes and lagoons, and home to over 100 bird species including the South American Condor, an endangered species. We’ll spend a few days exploring this amazing region of Ecuador.
The lowlands between Cuenca and Guayaquil are mostly agricultural, but also a zone where some of Ecuador’s finest cocoa is cultivated. On our way to Guayaquil, we’ll stop at a hacienda for a brief demonstration of cocoa cultivation and the first phases of chocolate production.
Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city and main port, and home to much of Ecuador’s industry. The Malecon, or waterfront, is a beautiful area for leisurely walks; the parque historico includes not only historic buildings but also a zoo; and the old neighbourhood of Las Penas offers restaurants, craft shops, and a lively environment with great views of the city below. All of these attractions are close to one another in the city centre.
Day 1: Welcome to Ecuador (-/-/-)
Upon arrival our representative will meet you at the airport and take you to your charming hotel in a well-located part of Quito. On the way to the hotel, our guide will give you all the tips and recommendations you need to make the most of your stay in Ecuador. The rest of the day is yours to explore the city or acclimatise and relax after your flight.
Day 2: Free day in Quito (B/-/-)
Optional activity: After breakfast, pick you up from your hotel, and transfer to the base of the Pichincha volcano where we’ll board the Teleferico (cable car) for a trip up the slopes of a mountain. On the way up, if the weather permits, we’ll have great views of the city of Quito below and some of the surrounding volcanoes. At the top, 4100 metres above sea level, we will have some more time to enjoy the views before descending again to the base of the Teleferico. We'll then head to the Old Town district of Quito, home to the best-conserved historic centre in Latin America. Here we’ll visit the principal squares, churches, and historic streets. Our first stop will be the Basilica Church with its beautiful views over Quito’s colonial centre. After walking through the colonial streets, we'll stop at the Independence Plaza to admire the Cathedral and the Government Palace from the outside, before visiting the cathedral. We'll also visit the Church of the Society of Jesus (la Compañía), Church of Sagrario and Plaza San Francisco. Finally, we'll head to the most famous hill in Quito, the Panecillo, from where you'll be able to observe the contrast between colonial and modern Quito.
Day 3: Quito to Coca – Amazon Tour (B/L/D)
Today your Amazon tour begins. After breakfast, you will be picked up and transferred to the airport for a 45-minute flight to Coca. Your next 5 days will be spent in the region of the Yasuni National Park, a World Biosphere Reserve that's home to more biodiversity than nearly any other place on the planet. Indeed, there are more species of trees and plants here per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world!
The tour begins at Yasuní Kichwa Ecolodge, a project of the Kichwa Añangu, created as a way to sustain the community’s lifestyle and identity through tourism, offering visitors the opportunity to share the Amazon life and culture. During your stay, your guide will take you on various walks and hikes into the rainforest and show you the local way of life in a Kichwa village. Yasuní Kichwa Ecolodge is located on the south bank of the Napo River, the largest Ecuadorian tributary of the Amazon. When you arrive to the Coca airport, you will be met by a representative from the lodge. The journey begins with a 2-hour trip in comfortable motor-operated canoes, during which time refreshments will be provided. You will see birds such as herons, kingfishers, terns and other Amazonian shorebirds as well as beautiful riverside landscapes. Upon arriving at the ecolodge, visitors are warmly welcomed with a refreshing traditional drink and taken to their cabins amidst the wilderness. In the afternoon, you'll enjoy a short walk down to the Napo riverbank to enjoy a beautiful sunset on the beaches and natural islands. You'll return to the ecolodge for dinner and rest. All activities take place in small groups.
Day 4: Amazon rainforest (B/L/D)
After an early breakfast, you'll depart in a canoe to visit an amazing parrot clay lick that brings visitors face to face with approximately 11 species of parrots (including parrotlets and macaws), depending on the season, weather conditions and general good fortune! We end the morning with a visit to the “Kuri Muyu” Interpretation Centre run by the women of the community. Here we have the chance to get to know the Kichwa culture, their crafts, traditions and use of natural resources directly with members of the community. We'll then return to the lodge for lunch and rest. In the afternoon, we'll walk towards the Añangu stream to observe different environments including wetlands, upland forests and seasonally flooded forests. We will board a small canoe and head down the river on an adventure through the forest, with opportunities to look for caiman and listen to the sounds of nature at its purest. You'll then return to the lodge in motorised canoes, where you will be served a traditional dinner.
Day 5: Amazon rainforest (B/L/D)
Today, we'll get up very early to share one of the ancient customs of the Kichwa culture: making wayusa to energise the body, and listening to kichwa songs whilst thinking about important issues in a peaceful and unique way. We'll return to the lodge for breakfast and you'll then be picked up in a canoe to travel to the next destination on this Amazon adventure, Sani Lodge. This is a community owned and operated ecolodge set on a beautiful lagoon. After a short trip (about 15 minutes) down the Napo River in a motorised canoe, you will stretch your legs during a short walk, before boarding a paddle canoe that will take you to Sani Lodge (20 minutes). The lodge is located at the edge of the Yasuni National Park. Once settled in, you'll have the chance in take part in a morning activity before sitting down to a delicious lunch. Your local guide will then give an introductory talk about the Amazon region, followed by a 2-hour hike around swamp trails. After dinner, those who wish can go with the guide to look for cayman!
Day 6: Amazon rainforest (B/L/D)
After an early breakfast you will board a canoe for a 45-minute trip across the lagoon, enjoying the morning activity of various birds and monkeys. This will be followed by a 3 to 4 hour hike deep into the Amazon Rainforest. Lunch will be followed by fishing for piranhas, after which you will return to the lodge for dinner and a night hike, looking for nocturnal wildlife.
Day 7: Amazon to Cuenca (B/-/-)
After breakfast, it’s time to say goodbye to the rainforest. You’ll be taken back to Coca by motorised canoe (approx. 2.5 hours) for a mid-day flight to Cuenca (3.5 hours total approx., including a stopover in Quito). Upon arrival in Cuenca, you'll transfer to your well-located hotel in the city centre. Free evening.
Day 8: Cuenca (B/-/-)
After breakfast, you will go on a private half-day city tour of Cuenca. We will visit the Plaza de San Sebastián and the Museum of Modern Art, continuing to the Cruz del Vado, the Condamine, and the market of 10 de Agosto. We'll also walk through the San Francisco Market and Parque de las Flores, and on to the visit the Catedral Inmaculada Concepción (the new cathedral), the Catedral El Sagrario (the old cathedral), Calderón Park, and the Palace of Justice. We'll finish the tour with a visit to the Panama Hat Factory of Cuenca, where you can have a hat made specially for you (not included). After the tour, you'll be transferred back to your hotel for a free afternoon and evening.
Day 9: Tour of Gualaceo, Chordeleg and Sigsig (B/L/-)
After breakfast, pick up at your hotel for today’s private tour. We begin with a stop at the town of San Bartolomé where we’ll visit an artisan guitar workshop and learn about how these instruments are made. We'll then continue to Sigsig, where we'll visit the Women's Toquilleras Association, "María Auxiliadora". Next stop is Chordeleg, a town famous for its gold, silver, filigree, wood, and ceramic crafts. We’ll visit the Museo de la Candonga and you'll have the chance to visit the shops here too. Our next stop is the town of Gualaceo where we'll visit the town's two markets, the fruit market and the food market. After lunch at a beautiful hacienda, we’ll visit a craft shop where the famous “Macanas” or shawls are made - the typical clothing of the “Chola Cuencana.” The artisans will explain the elaboration process of these famous and unique weavings.
We'll finish the tour with a visit to the Ecuagenera, where you will see some of the most beautiful orchids of Ecuador. After the tour, you'll return to your hotel for the night.
Day 10: Free in Cuenca (B/-/-)
Optional activity 1: Go on a full-day tour of Ingapirca - the transfer will be 1.5 hours approx. Upon arrival, you will have a tour of the old Inca ruins. We'll then go to the town of Ingapirca for lunch, and learn about the different handicrafts that are made in the region. Free evening back at the hotel. Optional activity 2: Go on a full-day tour to Girón waterfall and the Yunguilla Valley - the transfer is 45 minutes approx. After breakfast, we will leave for Girón, where we will start our 1.5-hour walk to the beautiful Chorro de Girón waterfall, then 1.5-hour walk back. After the walk, we'll travel to the Yunguilla Valley where your will be able to observe the distillation process of alcohol made from sugar cane and the elaboration of panela (unrefined whole sugar cane). Free evening back at the hotel.
Day 11: Cuenca to Guayaquil (B/L/-)
After breakfast, we depart from Cuenca and head to Cajas National Park (approx. 1 hour), a protected area of high mountain paramo grasslands and small mountain lakes. We begin our private tour in the lower portion of the park, at about 3100 meters, with a short hike of about half an hour. We'll then proceed to the higher altitude areas of the park, the Mirador de Tres Cruces (4160 m), where we'll have time for pictures and explanations from our guide. From there, we'll drive on to Laguna Toreadora and the interpretation centre, and hike to the Polylepis forest of San Luis and the Lagunas “Unidas”. We'll then return to Laguna Toreadora, and have lunch at a nearby hosteria. After our tour, we'll depart for Guayaquil by car (approx. 3 hours). On our way, we’ll stop at a local hacienda for a short demonstration on the cultivation and processing of cocoa. When we arrive in Guayaquil, you'll transfer to your well-located accommodation and have a free evening to discover the city.
Day 12: Guayaquil to Home (B/-/-)
At the scheduled time, you'll transfer to the airport for your flight back home. End of tour. You can also add a Galapagos cruise for an unforgettable journey and the chance to see unique wildlife, or continue your adventures with a tour to Peru, land of the Incas!
- Trip duration: 12 days
- Countries visited: Ecuador
- Level of difficulty: Low
- Accommodation: 2 nights in a charming hotel in Quito, 4 nights in two different beautiful Amazon lodges, 4 nights in a colonial hotel in Cuenca, 1 night in a well-located hotel in Guayaquil
- Transport: Internal flights, private car, canoe
- Meals included: 11 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 4 dinners
You will be greeted at the airport on arrival by a local guide who will take you to your hotel and will be able to answer any questions, make any additional arrangements and generally ensure everything goes smoothly.
No minimum number of passengers is required and you will not be travelling with a group of people you do not know. Prices quoted are per person and based on at least 2 people travelling. You should expect a cheaper price for a bigger group.
Your passport details are required at the time of booking. For detailed information on visa requirements and health formalities, visit the FCO Travel Advice website (for UK citizens) and US Travel Advice website (for US citizens). You will need a Yellow Fever vaccination for travel to the Amazon.
Information on money changing in each destination, as well as what it is customary to tip for various services, will be provided.
This Ecuador tour, like most of the adventures through Latin America, has a low level of physical difficulty and participants can choose to do as much or as little as they like.
What to bring: Travel insurance, passport, binoculars, alarm clock, walking shoes, water bottle, daypack, sun protection, insect repellent, sun glasses and hat, swimwear, flip-flops, torch with extra batteries (headlamp), wind and waterproof jacket, a thermal shirt for layering, fleece, gloves, light synthetic/fast drying shirts and pants (for the Amazon), plastic ziplock bags, plastic bags for your luggage in case of rain.
- Best time to travel: Any time of year, for the Amazon ideally travel between May and December
- Extra budget recommended: Around £200 / $250 pp to cover meals and all other expenses not included in the itinerary.
- What is included: Welcome reception at the airport. Internal flights. Airport transfers. Overland transport. Accommodation. Entrance fees to sites of interest, museums and national parks mentioned in the itinerary. Guided activities and excursions with English speaking guides (some private, some as part of a small group). Meals as stated in the itinerary (B= Breakfast, L= Lunch, D= Dinner). Contributions to the social projects visited. Donation to help in preserving the Amazon rainforest through agro-forestry and education.
- What is not included: Flights from your country of origin. Travel insurance. Alcoholic drinks. Additional meals or snacks. Travel within and around each town. Visa fees (if any). Tips. Souvenirs.
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