Our unique walking tour of Ecuador’s highlights

This fantastic holiday takes in volcanoes hot springs, markets and Inca ruins.

Energetic morning walks are followed by a relaxing afternoons in beautiful locations.

We spend evenings relaxing in a cosy hacienda or hotel, leaving you refreshed for the next day’s hiking adventure.

Altitudes reached are not overly high, so this is a perfect tour for those looking to combine activity with culture.

 

More on Ecuador walking highlights tour

This week-long itinerary take in both the north and south of Ecuador.

After leaving Quito, we head north and visit the equator before visiting typical Andean towns and hiking beautiful highland lakes.

We walk around Cuicocha’s impressive turquoise crater lake and visit the famous Otavalo market.

Travelling south, we visit the hot springs of Papallacta and Cotopaxi National Park.

The tour ends in Baños, trekking beautiful and unknown trails then enjoying this lively town.



Trip Highlights

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  • Visit the top walking highlights in Ecuador with this one-week tour. Hike the best trails both in the north and south of the country.

  • Visit hot springs, Andean markets and the equator.

  • Walk around volcanic lakes and craters among dramatic scenery.

  • Visit the famous Cotopaxi National Park.

The guides on the mainland were fantastic, well informed, excellent English and enthusiastic - especially Andres. Such a beautiful and varied country. The itinerary was perfect and all the arrangements worked well.

L. Course, Ecuador

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Full Itinerary

Day 1: Visit The Equator line, Cusin to Peguche walk, hacienda (L,D)

An early start, we’ll pick you up from your Quito hotel (not included, we can book these for you if required), and travel north.

We stop at the Quitsato Museum with its unique sundial, located exactly on the equator line. Your guide will explain the importance of the line to modern and ancient civilisations.

After lunch near San Pablo lake, we walk along the foothills of the imposingly beautiful Imbabura Volcano, passing by local farmlands & through surrounding communities, observing the everyday life of the colourful Otavaleñan people and enjoying stunning lake views.

We arrive later that afternoon at Las Palmeras, our base for two nights.

 

Distance: 7km / 4.3 miles

Time: 2.5 hours

Altitude: 2,600m/8,530ft

Day 2: Cuicocha lake walk, Cotacachi & Otavalo market, hacienda (B,L,D)

Our route takes us along the rim of the striking Cuicocha Volcano, with its captivating blue-green crater lake.

Walking through Andean forest to discover orchids & bromeliads, we are also on the look-out for the endangered Andean Condor.

Incredible lake views accompany us all the way, with great views over to Cayambe and Imbabura volcanoes.

We have lunch in the leather market town of Cotacachi, and spend the afternoon visiting the famous handicraft market in Otavalo. You can shop and browse in peace here, with the bartering gentle and fair over some fantastic fabrics, silver jewelry and more.

We return to Las Palmeras.

 

Distance: 8km / 5 miles

Time: 4 hours

Altitude: 3,100-3,500m/10,170ft-11,483ft

Day 3: Papallacta lakes walk, Papallacta hot springs, lodge (B,L,D)

Today’s walk explores the beautiful glacial landscapes around Papallacta.

Papallacta is home to lots of volcanic hot springs, which locals and tourists visit to help dissolve away the stresses of modern life.

On our walk we reach the highest level of our trip at 4,000m/13,123ft.

We pass mountain lagoons and discover elfin forests where we can learn more about the distinct flora & fauna of this region.

Great views, and you start to see how Ecuador is so varied, in climate, flora, fauna and vistas.

After a picnic lunch we can relax in the thermal waters of the local hot springs.

Dinner & overnight in Guango Lodge, a rustic lodge with plenty of history and character, plus lots of humming birds that come to feed at twilight and dusk.

 

Distance: 8km / 5 miles

Time: 4 hours

Altitude: 3,600-4,000m/11,811ft-13,123ft

Day 4: Cotopaxi National Park – Pita Canyon loop, hacienda (B,L,D)

This morning we travel south to the Cotopaxi region where we undertake a circular walk through the Pita Canyon, which offers spectacular views of the canyon itself, along with the Cotopaxi, Sincholagua & Rumiñahui Volcanoes.

The hike is classed as moderate, and takes place at an altitude of 3,600-3,800m/11,811ft-12,467ft.

The first part of the hike takes us along the Pita Canyon for around an hour, as we follow the course of the Pita River. It is a soft climb which brings us up into the Cotopaxi National Park.

We then continue past a number of immense volcanic formations and pieces of debris during 90 minutes of gentle ups and downs. We reach “Pucara” – an ancient ruin of an Incan fortress – located within the National Park.

From here we loop around for another 90 minutes of gentle ups and downs along the flanks of Cotopaxi before reaching a local mountain lodge where our hike ends. Late lunch included in local mountain lodge.

Dinner and overnight in Hacienda La Cienega

 

Distance: 12km / 7.5 miles

Time: 4 hours

Altitude: 3,600-3,800m/11,811ft-12,467ft.

Day 5: Quilotoa Crater lake walk, hacienda (B,L,D)

An early start this morning to drive to Quilotoa Crater Lake from where we begin today’s walk.

The journey by vehicle, which takes around 90 minutes, is extremely beautiful as we venture into the hidden side valleys of the Andes and on to the beautiful and untouched region of Quilotoa.

Our hike today takes us around the rim of the Quilotoa Crater Lake with its incredible blue-green waters.

Walking at an average altitude of 3,800m/12,467ft, with lots of ups and downs, the whole trail will take us around 5-6 hours to complete.

Keeping to the ridge of this stunning lagoon we are accompanied at all times with incredible vistas of the turquoise lake waters and the contrasting grey rocky outcrops of the mountain. Box lunch included.

This is truly one of Ecuador’s most beautiful and impressive spots.

Travel on to the Baños region in the afternoon, with dinner & overnight in Hacienda Leito.

 

Distance: 10km / 6.2 miles

Time: 5-6 hours

Altitude: 3,800m / 12,467ft

Day 6: Smuggler's Trail & Pailon del Diablo (B,L,D)

Today’s route, used in past times by smugglers, takes us along the dramatic Pastaza Canyon at an altitude of 1,800m/5,905ft.

We can enjoy great river views and vistas of the Llanganates – the remote mountains where legend says the lost Inca gold of Atahualpa is hidden.

We pass beautiful waterfalls including the breathtaking Manto de la Novia.

Then continue on to visit the Pailon del Diablo waterfall and take lunch in a local restaurant in Baños.

Dinner & overnight in Hacienda Leito.

 

Distance: 7km / 4.3 miles

Time: 2.5 hours

Altitude: 1,800m / 5,905ft

Day 7: Leito to Baños walk, then return to Quito, ends (B,L)

Today’s morning walk through cloud forests and Andean farmlands can offer spectacular views of the smoking Tungurahua Volcano and striking Pastaza Canyon.

It brings us down into Baños where we lunch before beginning our return journey to Quito (3-4 hours), where on arrival, the tour ends.

We can add Quito hotels and extra services on request.

 

Distance: 12km / 7.5 miles

Time: 3.5 hours

Altitude: 1,800-3,050m/5,905-10,007ft


Prices From $1,694 / £1,437 per person

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What's Included?

Private transportation & driver, top English-speaking naturalist walking guide, all accommodation as specified with breakfast, meals as listed, entrance fees to Quitsato Museum & Pailon del Diablo, local guides at Cuicocha & Cotopaxi National Parks, all local taxes.

What's Not Included?

International flights (we can help to look for these), personal travel insurance, alcoholic and soft drinks, extra activities at the haciendas (such as horse riding, spa treatments etc.), tips and personal expenses.


Accommodation

Mountain lodges and haciendas.

Most offer private rooms with private bathrooms with flush toilets and warm water showers.

 

Tour Staff

Tour leader throughout the tour, a local, bilingual Ecuadorian guide with many years’ experience.

Our local drivers and support staff have worked with us for many years.

Staff employed at the lodges are generally from the local communities.


Meals

Almost all dietary requirements can be catered for – please ask us for more information.

Breakfasts at hotels will feature teas, coffees and juices to drink, plus cereals, fruit, eggs, toast and jams etc.

While out on tours, we either supply a packed lunch of sandwiches, snacks, soup, fruit etc, or we eat at a local restaurant/hacienda. These are often buffet style with soups, rice, pasta, potatoes and then puddings/fruit.

Our accommodation will provide evening meals. In general, it’s a soup for starters followed by an Ecuador inspired main dish – some international meals may be available at certain lodges.

Activity Level

The majority of the trip is open to people of good mobility and health with some experience of trekking.

We build in acclimatisation and our walks aim to be 3-4 hours in length.

We grade this as an ‘easy to medium’ trek because of the high altitude and consecutive hiking days.

Trekkers ideally need to be used to walking while carrying a daypack and ideally accustomed to walking for 3-5 hours on consecutive days.

However, it is also open to first time trekkers and people who are in good physical shape.

Enquire about booking

Practical Information

Introduction to Ecuador

Ecuador is the second smallest South American country, and one of the most varied.

It comprises three main geographical areas: the coast, highlands and Amazon plus is home to the Galapagos Islands.

Because of its relatively compact size, it makes a great holiday destination as you can move from highlight to highlight fairly easily and rapidly.

Weather in Ecuador

Ecuador lies between latitudes 4º south and 2º north. Overall, climate varies according to time of year, altitude and region.

 

The Sierra 

In the Ecuadorian highlands, there is little temperature variation by season as temperature depends largely on altitude.

In Quito, shade temperatures range from 6 to 10ºC in the morning and from 19 to 23ºC in the afternoon, with cool nights. In the lower basins between mountains, it gets significantly warmer.

Rainfall depends on whether an area lies closer to the eastern or western Andes. To the west, June-Sept is the dry period and Oct-May the wet (with often a short, dry spell in Dec or Jan).

The best period to visit Quito and trek and climb volcanoes such as Cotopaxi is the west Andean dry season of June-Sept and Dec/Jan. This is also Ecuador’s high season. During the Oct-May wet season, most rainfall is in the afternoons.

To the east, Oct to Feb are dry and Mar-Sept are wet. Overall, the southern highlands are drier than the northern highlands.

 

The Coast

On the Pacific coast, rainfall becomes less from north to south. The coast can be enjoyed year-round, although from June-Sept mornings are often grey with the garua mists.

Jan-May is the hottest and rainiest time of year.

 

The Amazon

In Ecuador’s Amazonian region, rain can fall at any time, but Dec-March is usually the driest season and Mar-Sept is usually the wettest period.

 

The Galapagos Islands

Galapagos can be visited at any time of year.

The warm season is Jan-Jun, bringing calm, warm waters (around 70°F) and sunny days (72-9°F or 22-32°C), February and March being the hottest and sunniest months with blue skies and sunshine.

The islands receive slightly more rainfall during these months, occasional heavy bursts in the afternoon. Great for snorkelling and you can spend a lot of time in the water without wetsuits, with great, clear waters.

The dry ‘garua’ season is Jun-Dec an it’s a great time for marine life. August and September are the coolest when you may need a jacket in the evenings and the sea can be choppy and temperature drops around 15-24ºC on average.

There can be mist on the islands in the mornings (garua) which usually burns off by midday leaving overcast skies or a sunny afternoon.

Sea temperatures may drop to 60°F- 72°F (15-22°C) during this time and snorkellers will want a wet suit for prolonged periods in the sea.

 

Altitude

Being at altitude, especially in the tropics, is usually a pleasure as it isn’t so hot, there are few insects and the air is clear.

However, when gaining altitude, air pressure drops and the amount of oxygen reaching the lungs is reduced. Although we build plenty of acclimatisation time into our itineraries, certain ill-effects are possible. Nevertheless, all of these can be minimised or prevented if care is taken.

On reaching heights above 2,500m (approx. 8,200 ft), especially when ascent has been straight from sea level, heart pounding, mild headache and shortness of breath are normal, especially on exertion.

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a syndrome known locally as soroche, whose symptoms can include of bad headache, dizziness and nausea).

To avoid AMS, you should:

  • Rest for a few hours on arrival at altitude and take it easy for the first couple of days. Note: you may feel fine on arrival and tempted to exert yourself as normal. Don’t be fooled: you might be benefiting from oxygen brought in your blood from sea level.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (altitude is a diuretic). Coca tea (mate de coca) helps alleviate symptoms.
  • Eat light meals, with high carbohydrate and low fat and protein content. Dine early, allowing digestion time pre-sleep.
  • Avoid over-exposure to the strong highland sun (UV rays are very powerful) – especially in the early stages – making sure you wear a broad brimmed sunhat. Apply lip-salve to prevent chapped lips.
  • Avoid or minimise consumption of cigarettes and alcohol. Avoid sleeping pills.
  • If you do get AMS: Rest, take non-aspirin painkillers (for headache) and coca tea. Symptoms should subside after a day or two.
  • Pregnant women, people with a history of heart, lung, kidney or blood disease or blood pressure problems, should consult their doctor before traveling to high altitude.

Quick facts about Ecuador

 

Official name: Republic of Ecuador

Country population: 15,000,000

Capital city: Quito (2.51 million)

Largest cities: Guayaquil, Quito, Cuenca, Machala

Languages: Spanish (official), Quechua

Latitude/Longitude: 2º S, 77º 30 W

Official currency: US dollar

Major industries: bananas, shrimp, oil, gold, roses

Time zone: GMT-5 (Galapagos GMT-6)

Responsible Travel - our ethos

Andean Trails believes in Responsible Travel and actively supports several community projects.

Please see Our Advice and Our Ethos for more, and learn about the Projects We Support.

We operate the Inca Trail, our treks and tours with local firms.

We make sure that on our tours and Inca Trail we employ local staff, who are paid fair wages.

With the Inca Trail, We provide free life insurance to all of our porters. Tented accommodation and meals are provided for all trekking staff as well as foam mats, sleeping bags and rain ponchos. We have also provided the staff with trekking shoes. We ensure our porters carry a maximum of only 20kg. We offer them backpacks and they generally use back supports.

Clean burning fuel is used to cook the meals on the Inca Trail and porters carry gas stoves and butane bottles. We use biodegradable detergents when washing the cooking and eating utensils. If any part of our tour or trek is operated by another company, we try to ensure that high standards are maintained.

Our additional support helps the Huchuy Yachaq project which supports children and families in one of the poorest communities in the district of Cusco.

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