Your journey begins once you board your flight to Quito. Upon arrival this evening, you will be escorted to your elegant hotel which is on the La Ronda, one of the most traditional streets of Quito, not only for being the oldest and one of the most beautiful of the capital of Ecuador (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), but for being the bohemian heart of the historic, gathering place for painters, writers and poets of the 30s.
Enjoy the enchantment and comfort that this elegant boutique hotel offers. Decorated with stylish wooden furnishing and parquet floors, rooms at La Casona de la Ronda are very bright. Around the hotel you will find plenty of tiny restaurants and bars nestling under the Baroque architecture, as well as quirky shops, art galleries, and the local museum. Overnight at the CASONA DE LA RONDA HOTEL.
Your morning is at leisure. This afternoon embark on a tour of Quito’s colonial quarter, the largest and best preserved of South America. With over 400 years of history and a strong Spanish heritage, you will see sublime colonial flavor in the architectural masterpieces such as private buildings and mansions, the cloisters and churches, museums and public buildings. The stroll starts at the Independence Plaza, flanked by the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Palace and the Archbishop’s Palace. Visit the temple of La Compaňia de Jesús and its awesome gilded interior. Continue on to the Monastery of San Francisco, one of the great religious buildings of the New World, with its impressive façade and atrium that lead to its Baroque interior influenced by Moorish style, with the winged Virgin of Quito at its main altar. Visit Academia Latinoamericana before you return to your hotel where the rest of the day is at leisure to further explore the city and shop. Tonight enjoy a welcome dinner at your hotel. Overnight at the CASONA DE LA RONDA HOTEL.
Today, en route to Otavalo you will stop at the Equatorial Monument, 16 miles north of Quito, which marks the exact Middle of the World, latitude 0º, where you can stand with a foot on each hemisphere. Visit the Ethnographic Museum inside the monument, which shows the different Native American groups living in Ecuador. Beside the monument there is a colonial-style town, complete with main square, church, post office, bullring, cafeterias, restaurants and many gift shops with postcards and souvenirs. You will get a certificate for having crossed the Equator.
Continue with your drive north of Quito, along the valleys of Guayllabamba and Cayambe, with their dairy farms and rose plantations. Arrive at Hacienda Cusin, where you will spend the next two nights.
Hacienda Cusin, a restored 17th century Andean estate at 8,500 feet is 90 minutes north of Quito and 20 minutes south from Otavalo. The surrounding mountains offer great horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking and bird watching. Within a few miles from Hacienda Cusin there is a condor preserve, 1,200-year-old pyramids, artisan villages and historic, rooftop railroad ride into the Chota desert. Overnight at the HACIENDA CUSIN.
A memorable experience will be a visit to South America’s most famous Indian fair, the Otavalo Market, centered on ‘Poncho Plaza’. The best day of the week to hit this famous and friendly corner of the Andes is Saturday – the biggest market day for visitors and locals alike, but a mini market is offered daily. All day long, the sounds of Andean pipe music, and Quechua, the native tongue derived from the Incan language, drift across the square. As you stroll the streets, you’ll find everything from sweaters to wall hangings to fresh produce to intricate jewelry.
“Market Day” has been an essential part of the Ecuadorian life for centuries. The Indian’s economic life relies very heavily on this tradition, and this is where they can exchange gossip and learn of important events. Agricultural products and handicrafts go on display, serving as the main venue for social gathering, and giving friends a chance to visit, exchange ideas and gossip. A colorful gathering greets you when you arrive in Otavalo. Natives are dressed in ponchos and hats indicative of their regions. The Otavalo Indians are master weavers and were at their looms long before the Spaniards – or even the Incas – arrived. Ponchos, sweaters, belts and blankets are the staples of the natives of this region and also the favorite purchases for visitors. They are ambitious and prosperous crafts people. The market offers everything from handcrafted jewelry and leather, to beautiful woolens and ponchos. The Otavalenos bargain with you in their own quiet way, always treating you with courtesy.
Overnight at the HACIENDA CUSIN.
After breakfast, say farewell to Otavalo and travel to your next destination, the thermal pools of Papallacta located in the Andes Mountains. The Papallacta hot springs located at 10,491 feet above sea level, are well known for their therapeutic properties, and their origin gives them a unique mineral concentration that will help you to relax and relieve any type of muscular or joint pains. In the afternoon relax and soak away life’s aches and pains. Revitalize your body and soul in Papallacta’s medicinal hot thermal spring pools, and experience the notable, restorative effects of the crystalline thermal waters (sulfate alkaline terreous). Submerge yourself in the warm water and take advantage of its curative properties in rheumatic, arthritic, digestive and respiratory processes. The water is odorless, crystalline and ever changing.
If you prefer you can also take a short hike in the surrounding paramo and enjoy the charming landscape of this idyllic place. Papallacta is ideal for birdwatchers, with more than 160 different species of birds, including many hummingbirds and tanagers. Also visit the Exploratory Research and Interpretation Center, which offers audio-visual information on those species only found around Papallacta.
En route to Papallacta visit Guango Lodge, where you will get a taste of the beautiful Andean temperate forests. Colorful mixed flocks with birds such as Lacrimose and Hooded Mountain Tanagers, Blue-backed Conebill, Black-capped Hemispingus can be seen around the lodge. Here you have possibilities to spot rare birds like the Mountain Avocetbill, the stunning Gray Breasted Mountain-Toucan, Andean Guan, and Northern Mountain Cacique.
Located in the middle of an inhospitable paramo, Termas de Papallacta is one of the best spas in Ecuador. Here, you will enjoy the superb service and the relaxing and healing power of the natural hot springs of this fascinating area. Overnight at the TERMAS DE PAPALLACTA.
Continuing south to Banos, well known for its perpetually mild climate (at 5900 feet), it is one gateway to the high peaks of the Andes. En route you will visit an indigenous market.
Banos is built on a narrow ledge between a high cliff on the south and the deep gorge of the Rio Pastaza on the north. Volcan Tungurahua literally towers over Banos. Virtually inaccessible, these mountains have been rumored as the site of the famous lost gold of the Incas. Baños, also known as “La Puerta del Dorado” (The Doorway to Gold) and “El Pedacito de Cielo” (A Little Piece of Heaven), offers several different attractions such as: natural hot springs, the Basilica de la Reina del Rosario de Agua Santa, waterfalls, and the Tungurahua Volcano.
Next morning drive toward Puyo and the Devil’s Cauldron (one of the ten most beautiful waterfalls in the world) for more spectacular scenery where the mountains meet the rainforest. Trails lead downhill to a suspension bridge over the river below the falls. Flocks of tanagers, warblers and finches are easily seen in the low trees, Cocks-of-the-Rocks are likely in the area, with other species such as Gray-rumped Swift, Napo Sabrewing, Azara’s Spinetail and Torrent Tyrannulet possible.
Your home for the next two nights, Samari Spa Hotel, is a handcrafted gem in the hot springs town of Baños. Samari,” a Quechua word meaning, “enjoy and feel at home “is a classical-colonial resort with an interesting complex of buildings. Overnight at the SAMARI SPA HOTEL.
Travel though fascinating landscapes in the provinces of Azuay and Cañar to the ruins of Ingapirca, the main Inca site in Ecuador. Sun-worshippers built this stone center on a promontory high above the Cañar valley, about 6 0 miles northeast of Cuenca and at an altitude of 10,595 feet above sea level. Upon arrival at Ingapirca stop at the on-site museum, and admire the stone fortress with several trapezoidal doorways and stone walls perfectly fit together, without mortar, of the Inca construction. There is an elliptical platform, known as the Temple of the Sun used for religious and ceremonial purposes, the barracks, the stone “Inca Face” and the zoomorphic carvings. You will have lunch at a local inn.
Continue to Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city; yet it still retains its pleasant provincial air with its red tiled roofs, cobblestone streets, flowery plazas and museums. Cuenca’s setting is a high valley, 8,200 feet above sea level, nourished by four rivers: Tomebamba, Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara. These rivers originate in the surrounding mountains of the Southern Sierra, and eventually join tributaries of the Amazon. The rest of your day is at leisure.
Located in the heart of the historical, commercial, and financial districts of Cuenca, the Santa Lucia Hotel is the perfect spot to enjoy your time in the city. Overnight at the SANTA LUCIA HOTEL.
Enjoy a full day to discover, at a leisurely pace, the beauty and charm for which Cuenca has been recognized as a World Cultural Heritage Site. Walk in the colonial downtown area, and get to enjoy the warmth and hospitality of its people, the colorful parks and plazas, religious monuments and handcraft shops. This tour includes the Plaza of San Sebastian, a colorful artisans market, where handicrafts are sold. Then, visit the Museum of Modern Art, featuring an excellent collection of contemporary fine art. The original building was the “House of Temperance” where alcoholics were once shut inside its thick walls in an effort to cure them. Stop at Plaza San Francisco, where small handcraft shops can be visited and the exquisitely embroidered skirts of the cholas are for sale. Next visit 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, a 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.
Continue with your visit to the ruins of Todos Santos, where in different archaeological strata are vestiges of the rough Cañari construction, the classical Inca stone walls without mortar and remains of Spanish arches. Drive along the Tomebamba River to admire the city’s overhanging houses and the laundry spread out to dry on its river banks and a great view of the city from the Hill of Turi. Overnight at the SANTA LUCIA HOTEL.
This morning you will begin your day with your drive to Guayaquil. En route visit El Cajas National Park, a paradise for hikers due to its ecological conservation and natural beauty. Cajas National Park has 232 different lakes that are spread all throughout its extensive valleys. This protected area starts at an altitude of 10,000 feet. The region shows remains of intense volcanic activity and glaciation. Due to its location high in the Western Andes surrounded by mountains, Cajas National Park has developed an interior system of interconnected lakes. The climate can be somewhat irregular in this region. There are frequent frosts, nearly constant drizzle, and a thin fog giving the park a very mystical feel. Famous for its array of native wildlife, the park plays host to white-tailed deer, pumas, tapirs, llamas, Andean gulls and Violet-tailed Metaltail, as well as rare species like Andean Condor and cougar, and colorful flora like wild orchids and rare bromeliads. Continue your drive towards Guayaquil.
Your home tonight, The Wyndham Guayaquil Hotel, is situated just steps from the historic Santa Ana Hill and its famous Lighthouse, as well as mere minutes to the impressive Malecon 2000 and near Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport. Overnight at the WYNDHAM HOTEL.
Time to head home to the USA with incredible memories of spectacular wildlife and incredible people.
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