The Ecuadorian highlands offer a captivating blend of scenery and culture. Here, imposing Andean volcanoes are juxtaposed with historic haciendas, bustling textile markets, and impeccable colonial architecture. Only two to four hours by car from Quito, you'll find scenery expected in Tuscany and the Alps. A retreat to the northern highlands offers an opportunity to explore thriving indigenous communities, along with remnants of colonial rule, and to enjoy traditional yet stately accommodations that feature expressive architecture and superb Andean cuisine. The southern highlands are home to Ecuador’s beloved city of Cuenca, the once-glaciated landscapes of Cajas National Park, and valleys dotted by towns, weaving workshops, and orchid and rose gardens.
The Highlands: Otavalo
Day 1: Quito to Hacienda Zuleta • Day 2: Otavalo market • Day 3: Cuicocha Lake.
The Highlands: Otavalo Market
Day 1: Otavalo market and visit to Peguche village.
The Highlands: Cotopaxi
Day 1: Quito to San Agustin de Callo • Day 2: Pujili market and Quilotoa Lake hike • Day 3: Cotopaxi Volcano Refuge.
The Highlands: Cuenca
Day 1: fly from Quito to Cuenca • Day 2: Cajas National Park • Day 3: Gualaceo and Chordeleg Valleys.
Few places conjure up such vivid imagery, such rugged mystique and caprice, as the Amazon jungle. With intriguing biodiversity, much of it still unknown, and tribes that have interwoven their survival with the rain forest over thousands of years, the Amazon is unmistakably like no other place on earth. In Ecuador, La Amazonia covers nearly half the country’s surface area yet contains a mere 5 percent or less of the population.
Our preferred starting point for exploring this jungle is the town of Coca on the Napo River, a major tributary of the Amazon. Journeying down the Napo, you might spot river otters, potoos, kingfishers, hoatzins, jacamars, hawks, and monkeys, while taking in the sights and sounds of these fabled wilds. Venture out from your jungle lodge to explore the treasures of the rain forest by foot or dugout canoe. Watch for birds such as parrots, herons, toucans, and osprey. Hike the forest trails, marveling at the intoxicatingly rich array of plant species. Visit indigenous local communities, ascend wildlife observation towers, and tour a butterfly breeding house or canopy walkway.
Day 1: fly from Quito to Coca • Days 2 & 3: Amazon rain forest exploration • Day 4: return to Coca, fly to Quito.
Mashpi Rain Forest
The Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve is merely two-and-a-half hours northwest of Quito, within the Tumbez-Chocó-Magdalena “hotspot” of biodiversity. Based from the eco-friendly Mashpi Lodge, which features upscale amenities and personalized service, the 2,600-acre private reserve is yours to explore. Follow walking trails through the cloud forest and become acquainted with countless species of plants and animals—this area is home to everything from otherworldly insects and birds, to monkeys and even puma. There are nearby waterfalls, rivers, and lagoons to discover (great swimming holes), as well as a stroll-worthy orchid garden. The soon-to-be-completed aerial tram will reveal an unparalleled view of the forest canopy.
Day 1: Quito to Mashpi • Days 2 & 3: rain forest exploration • Day 4: return to Quito.