Day 1 Arrival in Quito
Quito. You're met at Quito airport, and transferred to a comfortable hotel for overnight. Quito is at 9,350' elevation, flanked by the twin volcanoes Rucu Pichincha and Guagua Pichincha (15,725').
Day 2 Hiking Pichincha/Into the Cloud Forest
Into the Cloud Forest. We depart early, driving up into the moorlands on the northern slope of Pichincha Volcano. We’re following the El Quinde Ecoroute, the so-called “Route of the Hummingbird”. Within half an hour of leaving our hotel, we revel in the lush greenery of the Ecuadorian highlands. We take a short hike in the paramo (moorlands) to look for hummingbirds, then continue down past the quaint village of El Nono. Soon the pastures are replaced by the steep mountainsides and mysterious cloud forest of the Mindo-Nambillo Reserve. We descend along the rushing Tandayapa River, down through the dense forest into the lush lower elevations. We rejoin the main highway and soon arrive at our lodge, located at the town of Mindo (4,200’). We include box lunch; dinner is on your own.
Day 3 Mindo Cloud Forest Reserve
We spend the morning hiking in the cloud forest, observing birds, enjoying the rich sounds and scents of the forest with its tree ferns, waterfalls and exotic plants. In the town itself we stop at a butterfly farm for lunch. You have some free time in the afternoon to enjoy some of the popular local activities, ranging from tubing to ziplines. Overnight in hotel. Lunch and dinner are on your own.
Day 4 The Equator/Quito
On our return to Quito in the morning, we take the main highway back into the highlands to stop at the Solar Museum in Calicali. This is a small, privately-owned institution with fascinating exhibits related to the Equatorial Line. We also visit the nearby Catequilla Hill, where archeological excavations have revealed pre-Columbian site which marks the Equator more accurately than the better-known and larger monument constructed on the site identified by the 18th century French Expedition of La Condamine. We continue into Quito, and settle into our hotel. In the afternoon we explore the colonial heart of Quito, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. We visit the Plaza de Independencia, the ornate Jesuit Church of La Compañia, and the San Francisco Plaza. Lunch and dinner are on your own.
Day 5 Hiking Antisana Reserve
Just to the east of Quito is a natural reserve surrounding the Antisana volcano (18,885’). Unlike the better-known Cotopaxi Park, which on most days becomes quite congested with tour buses, few people approach the Antisana Reserve. We typically enjoy the beauty of the highlands all to ourselves. We’ll hike up through moorland and bizarre high altitude scrub vegetation to close to the snowline. We frequently see condors on this route. In the afternoon we descend the mountain, and drive south along the Pan-American highway to a climbers’ lodge, the popular Estrella del Chimborazo, on the slope of Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador’s highest peak. We include box lunch. Dinner is on your own.
Day 6 Chimborazo Volcano
We drive higher up onto the “despoblado”, the vast slopes of volcanic ash and sand. We can observe troops of the rare, graceful vicuña, the undomesticated relative of the llama and alpaca. We continue up a side track to the climbing refuge, where we have the opportunity to hike to the edge of the glacier. After a superb day on the high slopes of Chimborazo, we descend to the Estrella del Chimborazo. We include box lunch; dinner is on your own.
Day 7 Indigenous Market / Quito
In the morning we visit and indigenous market in one of the towns in the Avenue of the Volcanoes. On market day, highland peasants congregate to buy and sell, to socialize, to get haircuts, to baptize their newborn, and to gossip. It is a fundamental component of life in the Ecuadorean highlands. In the afternoon we return to Quito. Lunch is on your own; we include a farewell dinner at a restaurant overlooking the lights of Quito.
Day 8 Depart for home
We provide a private transfer to the airport for check-in to your onward flight.
Included: 7 nights accommodation based on double occupancy, including breakfast & tax; private guiding with excellent English-speaking guide throughout; private airport transfers in Quito; 3 lunches, Quito farewell dinner. Entrance fees to sites, museums & reserves.
Excluded: lunches and dinners listed on itinerary as "on own" (budget an average of $15 for lunch and $20 for dinner, exclusive of bar tab;) tips to guide, driver and hotel staff; alcoholic beverages; entrance fees to sites and museums other than those specified on itinerary; insurance; long distance calls, laundry and other personal expenses.