Ecuador - Astride the Equator

Ecuador - Astride the Equator

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 14 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


Take an exciting journey astride the equator through the rugged landscapes of the Andes Mountains and the lush rainforest.  Observe the diversity of cultures from the Otavaleños and Afro-Ecuadorians in the north, to the Quichua and Shuar in the rainforest, and finally to the Kichwa in the central Andes at the foothills of the mighty volcano Chimborazo. On our journey visit vibrant markets, marvel at the impressive highland scenery on leisurely walks and enjoy the flora and fauna of the jungle. And why not finish your trip with an optional extension to the unique Galapagos Islands.

Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●● | History ●●●○○ | Wildlife ●●●○○

Tour Pace


Tour Highlights

  • Enjoy the atmospheric and vibrant highland market of Otavalo
  • Enjoy walks in magnificent Andean scenery and the Avenue of the Volcanoes 
  • Observe the practices and customs of indigenous communities
  • Sit back and enjoy a scenic train journey from Ibarra to Salinas
  • Relax in a rainforest lodge and observe tropical flora and fauna
  • Explore the incredible biodiversity of the Galapagos on our post tour extension

Tour Essentials

Accommodation:Mix of comfortable hotels, lodges and guest houses
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: 12 – Note you may be joined by clients from other tour operators 
Start Point: Quito
End Point: Quito
Transport: 4WD or Minivans depending on the size of the group
Country Visited: Ecuador
Optional Extension: Post tour extension to the Galapagos Islands

Tour Itinerary Notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour. On this tour, we have a combined driver/guide for groups of three or less.


Day 1: Arrival in Quito (Ecuador) (Approx driving time today 1 hour)
Arrive in Quito and transfer to the hotel. Depending on your time of arrival, you may have time to explore the city. Overnight Casa Sol or similar. No meals are included today.

Quito has long been a city of two halves. Occupying a highland valley flanked by volcanoes, the setting of its historic centre and adjoining modern quarters is breathtaking. The formerly dark and run-down colonial heart has been magnificently restored. Cobbled lanes and whitewashed façades, scrubbed up churches and renovated theatres now gleam and echo with the sounds of the everyday life of its traditional inhabitants. Beyond are the skyscrapers and broad avenues of the contemporary commercial city, with flashy shops, offices and restaurants, where busy young workers flock to the many bars and nightclubs.

Day 2: Quito – Otavalo (Approximate driving time today 2 hours)
This morning explore the colonial old town of Quito (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Visit the major colonial churches and monasteries including La Catedral, El Sagrario, La Compañia and San Francisco. Later, visit Independence Plaza flanked by the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Building and the Archbishop’s Palace. Continue to the Church of San Francisco, one of the greatest religious buildings in South America. Its impressive façade and atrium lead to an opulent gold interior, a Baroque influence with the winged Virgin of Quito at its main altar. Visit the historic colonial quarter of Quito, resplendent with its churches, gilded altars and religious sculptures and paintings dating from the 17th 18th and 19th centuries. The tour continues through narrow streets, ancient colonial houses with Moorish-style arches and mysterious patios to El Panecillo, a vantage point for a stunning view of the city. This afternoon, drive from Quito north to Mitad del Mundo (literally middle of the world) where the Equatorial Line Monument is located. Here you can stand with one foot in the Northern, and one in the Southern hemisphere. Leaving Quito behind, continue to Otavalo. Overnight Hotel Santa Fe or similar. (BD)

Day 3: Otavalo - Cuicocha Lagoon – Cotacachi – Otavalo (Approximate driving time today 1 hour)
This morning, we explore the surroundings of the Cuicocha Crater Lagoon during an easy to moderate grade 4-5 hour hike through the flora of the Andean highlands. After a traditional lunch in Cotacachi, visit a small archaeological museum. This afternoon, stroll through the Otavalo market and perhaps try the exotic fruits and vegetables. Overnight Hotel Santa Fe or similar (BL)

Note – Alternatively it is possible for clients to take a boat tour of the lagoon instead of doing the hike.

Day 4: Otavalo – Excursion on the Andean Train – Otavalo (Approximate driving time today 1 hour)
Enjoy a train ride full of contrasts taking you through Imbabura today. Starting in Ibarra, travel to Salinas and back where you can enjoy the culture and history of the Afro-Ecuadorians. Along the way the train makes many stops, where you will get insights into the history, music, gastronomy, craft, and above all the spectacular scenery of the northern Andes. Hotel Santa Fe or similar. (BL)

Day 5: Otavalo – Papallacta – Archidona (Approximate driving time today is 5 hours)
Enjoy a walk early this morning through the streets of the Andean town of Otavalo to observe the lively market activity in Plaza de Poncho and the Andean culture of the Otavaleños. Continue over an Andean Pass of 4050m altitude into a valley at 3300 m where thermal springs feed the most beautiful Spa in the country. This afternoon we reach Hakuna Matata, a cosy rainforest lodge in the midst of a private protected forest. Overnight Hakuna Matata Lodge or similar. (BD)

Day 6: Archidona – Hike in the rainforest and Pacari chocolate experience
This morning take a hike through the protected rainforest of the lodge. Your nature guide will point out interesting medicinal plants and talk about the wildlife in the area. The destination of the hike is the small village of Santa Rita, where a delicious jungle lunch awaits you. Afterwards, the experts from Pacari show you how to make delicious chocolate from the local cocoa beans. After returning to the lodge, enjoy the rest of the afternoon at leisure. Overnight Hakuna Matata Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Day 7: Arajuno River – Quichua Community – Misahualli
Early this morning head to the Arajuno River, take a canoe trip to a clay lick, where you can observe hundreds of parrots and parakeets. Continue by canoe to the indigenous Quichua community of Santa Barbara to taste many local dishes in a typical jungle buffet with the community. Later continue to the small jungle town of Misahualli for a typical “Almuerzo” (Lunch). After a small walk through the village and its surroundings, return to the lodge. Overnight Hakuna Matata Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Note – Those that do not wish to do the canoe trip can opt out and stay by the Hakuna Matata Lodge taking some small walks and enjoying the jungle directly from the lodge.

Day 8: Puyo – Macas (Approximate driving time is 2 hours)
After breakfast, travel through the rainforest to Puyo where we visit an Animal Rescue Centre to observe tropical animals of the Amazon region and meet some monkeys face to face. From here, continue deeper into the rainforest to the small jungle town of Macas. Here there will be some time to relax at leisure in the afternoon in a nice rainforest Hosteria. Overnight Luzcelinda Hotel or similar (BD)

Day 9: Macas - Shuar Waterfall – Lagoons of Atillo – Guamote (Approximate driving time is 3 hours)
A short drive, takes us to Shuar territory. Take a round trip of walk of around 3 hours through the forest to a sacred waterfall, where we participate in the spiritual waterfall ceremony of the Shuar, after which enjoy a soak in the waterfall and taste the typical food of the Shuar. Later, continue to the Atillo Lakes, crossing the Andean highlands to Guamote. Overnight Inti Sisa Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Day 10: Guamote – Andean Kichwa Community – Riobamba (Approximate driving time 1 hour)
Visit the traditional Andean Market of Guamote early this morning. After visiting the market, take a train ride over the “Devil’s Nose”, zigzagging through the valley up to Sibambe. After a short visit, return to Guamote. Later this afternoon, explore the area of Guamote and visit one of the surrounding small villages to get an insight into the life of the Kichwa population. This afternoon, travel to Riobamba, surrounded by the mountains of Chimborazo, Carihuayrazo, El Altar, and Tungurahua. The city is considered to be the most important agricultural centre of the Ecuadorian Andes. Overnight Mansion Santa Isabella or similar. (BL)

Day 11: Chimborazo Volcano (Altitude: 6,267m) – Latacunga (approx driving time 1h 50 min )
Today travel from Riobamba up to the heights of the mighty Chimborazo volcano. On the way, stop at one of the Indigenous Kichwa Communities that live here at an altitude of over 3000 metres. From here, continue to the mountain hut Hermanos Carrel at an altitude of 4800 metres altitude. The adventurous can then hike from here to the Whymper hut at over 5000 metres altitude. Later this afternoon, arrive at the small town of Latacunga situated at an altitude of 2800 metres. Overnight Villa Tacunga or similar. (BL)

Avenue of the Volcanoes
The aptly named Avenue of the Volcanoes is flanked by eight dizzyingly-high snow-mantled mountains striding south of Quito down the Andean spine. It passes through a valley rich with a landscape of dense forest and tiny fields plastering impossibly steep slopes. Dotted around is a mix of deeply traditional indigenous and colonial settlements with horticultural and artisan markets and cottage industries. There’s also a clutch of old estates gifted to conquistadores where the grandiose buildings are now countryside hotels. This is supreme hiking country, with trails leading to craters harbouring turquoise volcanic lakes, usually with views of the biggest peaks, Chimborazo and Cotopaxi.

Day 12: Latacunga – La Victoria - Zumbahua – Quilotoa Lagoon – Chugchilan (Approximate driving time is 2 hours)
This morning continue to the village of La Victoria, which is famous for the traditional manufacture of ceramics. Continue to the Andean market of Zumbahua and experience the noisy and chaotic market before heading to the beautiful crater lagoon, Quilotoa. On a short hike, enjoy the changing views of the lagoon and the surrounding Andes Mountains. Overnight Mama Hilda Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 13: Chugchilan - Hacienda La Cienega – Cotopaxi National Park – Quito (Approximate driving time is 2 hours)
This morning drive to the 400-year-old Hacienda La Cienega and enjoy a coffee break in this nostalgic atmosphere before visiting a nearby flower farm to experience the many colours and fragrances.  Continue to Cotopaxi National Park and enjoy an easy walk around Limpiopungo Lagoon, learning about the typical vegetation of the Andes and, with good weather, enjoy superb views of the impressive Cotopaxi. Lunch is taken In the mountain refuge Tambopaxi surrounded by the impressive peaks of Sincholagua and Cotopaxi before returning to Quito. Overnight Hotel Casa Sol (BL)

Day 14: Departure from Quito
Time at leisure until your transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)



Day 1: Quito - Flight to Baltra (Galapagos Islands)
After your flight from the mainland, arrive in Baltra where you are welcomed and transferred to your hotel. Time to freshen up and depart by car to visit the Highlands to see the lava tubes and giant tortoises in their natural habitat. Later, in the afternoon, visit the Charles Darwin Station and observe the giant tortoises and land iguanas and take the opportunity to talk to naturalist guides about the diversity of flora and fauna of the Galapagos archipelago. Overnight at Hotel Dejavu or similar. (BL)

Day 2: Isabela Island and Tintoreras
Early this morning, transfer to the port to embark on a speed boat to Isabela Island. The cruise time is about 2 to 3 hours. On arrival, visit Islet Tintoreras, famed for sheltering the white tipped sharks known as Tintoreras. There is also the opportunity to observe penguins, sea lions and marine iguanas and snorkel observing the endless variety of colourful fishes and harmless shark species. Overnight at Hotel Cally Lodge or similar. (B)

Day 3: Sierra Negro Volcano – Puerto Ayora
After breakfast we depart for a 2 hour hike to the Sierra Negra Volcano. This volcano is located 13 miles from Puerto Villamil and is the second largest volcanic crater in the world, measuring 6 miles in diameter and 300 feet depth. Driving time to access the control gate of the Galapagos National Park is approximately 45 minutes, and from there we start our ascent to the top of the volcano from where we get rewarding views over the island before heading back to the hotel for the evening. Overnight at Hotel Cally Lodge or similar. (BL)

Day 4: Cabo Rosa – Puerto Ayora - Baltra
Transfer this morning to the port for an unforgettable excursion combining sea and land. First, embark on an open boat (maximum 10 passengers) during which time, we get a complete comprehensive panorama of the local marine life, encountering schools of huge manta rays. Continue to Roca Union to learn more about its history and the stay of the Nazca boobie birds before arriving in Cabo Rosa. There, take a walk in the lava tunnels along with a colony of blue footed boobies and then visit the El Finado for some leisurely snorkelling to appreciate among other species sea horses, golden stripes, marble stripes, eagle rays, penguins, sharks, multi-coloured fish, and the fascinating giant tortoises. Transfer back to Baltra at the end of the day. Overnight at Hotel DejaVu or similar. (B)

Day 5: Return to Quito
At a suitable time, transfer to the airport for your outward flight back to Quito. On arrival transfer to the hotel for your final night in Ecuador. Overnight Hotel Casa Sol or similar. (B)

Day 6: Depart Ecuador
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight (B)


Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation
All ground transportation including train ride from Imbabura and the Devils Nose
Services of English-speaking guide / tour leader - we have a combined driver/guide for groups of three or less
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Internal flights if doing the Galapagos Extension

International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance
Visas if applicable
Items of a personal nature & tips (discretionary)
National Park Fee for the Galapagos – Payable Locally on arrival in Galapagos USD 100 per person
Entrance fee to Isabela Island in the Galapagos USD 5 per person