The Ecuadorian highlands offer a captivating blend of scenery and culture – imposing Andean volcanoes juxtaposed with historic haciendas and bustling textile markets and impeccable colonial architecture. Only two to four hours by car from Quito, you will find the kind of scenery that one might expect to find in such places as 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 is home to Ecuador’s beloved city of Cuenca, the once glaciated landscapes of Cajas National Park, and valleys dotted by curious towns, weaving workshops, and orchid and rose gardens.
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 rainforest 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% 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. You will venture out from your jungle lodge to explore the treasures of the rainforest by foot or dugout canoe – watching for birds such as parrots, herons, toucans, and osprey; hiking the forest trails; marveling at the intoxicatingly rich array of plant species; visiting indigenous local communities and wildlife observation towers; and touring a butterfly breeding house or canopy walkway.
The Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve is merely two-and-a-half hours northwest of Quito, within the Tumbez-Chocó-Magdalena “hotspot” of biodiversity. The contemporary Mashpi Lodge resides on a 2,600-acre private reserve that is yours to explore. Walking trails wind through the rainforest, allowing for close contact with countless species of plants and animals – with everything from other-worldly insects and birds, to monkeys and even puma. There are several waterfalls, rivers, and lagoons to swim in, and there is also an orchid garden. The aerial tram allows visitors to see an unparalleled view of the forest canopy, and the lodge itself boasts not only sustainable construction and operations, but also upscale amenities and intimate service.
The Highlands: Otavalo
Day 1: Quito to Hacienda Zuleta • Day 2: Otavalo Indian market • Day 3: Cuicocha Lake.
The Highlands: Otavalo Market
Day 1: Otavalo Indian market, with 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.
Day 1: Fly from Quito to Coca, • Days 2 & 3: Amazon rainforest exploration • Day 4: Return to Coca, fly to Quito.
Day 1: Quito to Mashpi Rainforest Reserve • Days 2 & 3: rainforest exploration • Day 4: Return to Quito.