Day 1 - Quito
Welcome to Quito, Ecuador. Things kick off today when you meet you leader and new travel mates at a welcome meeting at 2pm. Double check with the hotel reception for the exact time and place. Insurance details and next of kin information will be collected at this meeting, so please have this on hand for your leader. If you’re going to be late, please let the hotel reception know. Quito’s a pretty amazing place surrounded by mountainous volcanoes, but it’s not just the view that can take your breath away – Quito is way up at 2,800 metres above sea level and it can be common for travellers to experience some adverse health effects due to the altitude, regardless of age, gender or fitness. Please check out the ‘Is This Trip Right For You?’ and ‘Health’ sections of the trip notes for important information about altitude sickness before and during your trip. There’s plenty of stuff to do in Quito if you get here early – hit up the Old Town, the Plaza Grande and the Plaza San Francisco to get a feel for local life, then head to El Panecillo (The Little Bread Loaf) for awesome views over the city’s white houses and mountains. After the meeting tonight, maybe dine with your new buddies – grab some empanadas for sure.
Day 2 - Otavalo / Quito
How good’s your Spanish? You’ll find out this morning when you catch a local bus to the famous Otavalo Market (approximately 2-3 hours). This is the perfect chance to (try to) chat with the locals and maybe get some tips on the best stuff to pick up. This day trip will give you loads of time to squeeze your way through the streets that surround the Plaza de los Ponchos and check out the rainbow of stalls that make up Ecuador’s largest indigenous market. Once a week it feels like every villager from the surrounding countryside has descended on the town to buy everything from handmade crafts to fruits, vegetables, and even livestock. A bit further out of the city all types of animals are up for trade, from llamas to masses of (edible) guinea pigs. This is the perfect place to stock up on some souvenirs – silver jewellery, a poncho, wooden carvings, a Panama hat (which actually originated in Ecuador) – and practice your bargaining skills. And that’s not to mention the great, colourful photos you’ll get. In the afternoon, hop back on the bus and return to Quito. Maybe grab some dinner and drinks with the group, then try Old Town’s strange ice cream flavours – morocho corn or quinoa anyone?
Day 3 - Banos
Say bye to Quito as you take a private transfer to the bus station. From here you’ll hop a local bus to Banos, the adventure capital of Ecuador (approximately 3 hours). Location, location, location, that’s what Banos is all about. It’s got a subtropical climate and from town you can see waterfalls crashing down green hills and the occasional eruption of the Tungurahua volcano. This is a great place to get into some small town vibes and explore the Ecuadorian great outdoors. The town might seem quiet during the week, but at night and the weekend Banos really kicks off as a party town. The rumbling volcano means hot water bubbles up out of the ground here so, if you have time after you arrive, maybe head to the hot springs of Las Piscinas de la Virgen. This is the perfect way to relax after your bus journey and get your body ready for tomorrow's adventures.
Day 4 - Banos
Hear that? That’s adventure calling! If you didn’t get too into the nightlife yesterday, rise early to catch a sweet sunrise over the mountains before breakfast. Then it’s decision time. How will you explore this outdoor playground? Get on some sturdy shoes and hike through the lush forests visit the near-by Devils Cauldrom waterfall!
If you're feeling cruisey, hit up the hot springs and spas for some chill out me-time. Other stuff to explore in town includes the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Agua Santa (a basilica dedicated to the Virgin of the Holy Water) and the artisan markets. If you didn’t get enough stuff at Otavalo, then negotiate for leather goods, jewellery and carvings. Tonight, swap stories of your adventures while you get into the regular carnival-like atmosphere.
Day 5 - Cuenca
Let’s be straight – today is a long travel day on local buses. This is your chance to catch up on few Z’s after partying and adventuring in Banos, to get to know your travel buddies better, to write in that journal or read that book, or to just press your face up against the glass and watch Ecuador go by. You’ll take a local bus to Riobamba (approximately 3 hours), where you’ll swap buses and head south to Cuenca (approximately 5 hours). Is Cuenca the best-looking city in Ecuador? Probably, with UNESCO sticking it on their list of things they love. There are loads of impressive 500-year-old churches and colonial buildings, made out of marble and decorated with stunning woodwork and ironwork. It’s the country’s third largest city but still has a small town and Old World air, and it’s great for just wandering around and exploring. Think you can pull off a Panama hat? Well Cuenca is the home of the famous headwear, and if there’s time you could visit a factory and pick up one that fits perfectly. Cuenca is also a university town, so all the students give it a buzzing nightlife, and there are some good bars and restaurants to choose from. Add in an evening stroll around the Plaza and you’ve got the perfect end to your first day in Cuenca.
Day 6 - Cuenca
Meet up with your leader this morning and get to know Cuenca better with an orientation walk. Trundle along cobblestone streets and check out colonial parks, buzzing markets, and stop by the monumental cathedral at the centre. La Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción took 100 years to finish, and its blue and white domes are a real standout. The rest of the day is free to explore Cuenca and the surrounding area. If you’re feeling cultural, maybe head to the Museo Pumapungo, which features an impressive range of artistic, historical, cultural, and ethnological exhibits (including a collection of real shrunken heads from the Shuar civilisation – for the strong stomached only!). Otherwise, maybe get out of town to El Cajas National Park, home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. 70,000 acres shelter everything from cloud forest to rocky lunar landscapes, but it's the lakes (more than 200 of them) scattered among jagged peaks that are its best-known image. Feel the solitude while hiking or trout fishing. Look out for the reintroduced wild llamas that roam around, as well as elusive spectacled bears, pumas and tigrillos. There are also hummingbirds, toucans and Andean condors flying about the park. El Cajas is a simple one-hour bus ride from Cuenca. Once there, pay the entrance fee, hire a native guide and start hiking around the beautiful lakes. Tonight you might want to get to bed early, in preparation for a very early start early tomorrow morning.
Day 7 - Tumbes / Lima
Peru takes a bit of getting to, so strap in once again for a long day of travelling – just look forward to that first sip of Pisco sour this evening. At approximately 3am start off with a taxi to the bus station in Cuenca, then take a public bus south east towards the coast and the town of Huanquillas, which sits on the border of Ecuador and Peru (approximately 5-6 hours). Get all the boring border stuff out the way, then cross into Peru and make your way to Tumbes airport (approximately 30 minutes). Say bye to your Ecuadorian leader, then hop on a plane for an included flight to the Peruvian capital, Lima (approximately 1 hour 45 minutes). Touch down and meet your Peruvian leader, who’ll take you to your hotel in Miraflores, which sits along the coast, offering easy access to beaches and Pacific sunsets. This afternoon your leader will take you on an orientation walk around Miraflores, one of the city's most popular districts and filled with arty markets, shops, restaurants, bars and ‘discotheques’. Get that Pisco sour tonight, washing down some fresh ceviche.
Day 8 - Lima
Today’s all about getting to know Lima like a pro – get ready to walk the walk. Stop one is the Central Market, in Down Town for snack time (we'll travel from Miraflores to Lima Down town in a taxi). Stalls are packed with fresh fruits, vegetables, fresh guinea pig meat, cheese and dried fruits. Here’s where you stock up on local Peruvian fruits and street food. Then it’s on to Chinatown, or Barrio Chino. Two per cent of the population are Chinese immigrants, and their fusion of Chinese and Peruvian flavours is so popular it’s got its own name – Chifa. Walk a couple of blocks to the nearby San Francisco Monastery, where you can pop your head inside and have a look. This almost 400-year-old Spanish Baroque-style church is part of the World Heritage-listed 'Historic Centre of Lima'. The really interesting part of it lies underground though, with a maze of catacombs where the remains of tens of thousands of people are held. This is not for the squeamish or claustrophobic – piles of bones and skulls are arranged in circular designs and stacked in ghostly walls. Back in the world of the living, you’ll take a short walk to the main square of Lima, Plaza Mayor, which is the oldest public place in the city. From here, take a taxi across town to the bohemian district of Barranco. Take a walk around to check out the place that Peru's top artists, musicians, designers and photographers call home. There are loads of options for a tasty dinner here, and if you want to try Lima’s best seafood, this is the place. After dinner head out to one of the many bars in Barranco or take a taxi back to Miraflores.
Day 9 - Lima
That’s it, you’ve done Quito to Lima, nice one! Your trip wraps up today and you can leave at any time.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
Meals Included: Breakfast: 8 Lunches: 0 Dinners: 0
The boffins at UNESCO have perfected the science of picking the world’s best stuff. With its colonial architecture, plazas, churches and colourful local life, there's a reason they've listed Quito's Old Town as a World Heritage site
There's nothing like munching on a red tomato from an Ecuadorian market, eh? Saunter (yes, saunter) around the Otavalo Markets and find yourself smack bang in the middle of Souvenir City, population: you
When humans and nature work in perfect harmony you get a place like Cueuna – colonial streets and buildings to wander and El Cajas NP’s stunning lakey landscapes to hike while looking out for llamas
Get your adrenaline kicks in the party and adventure playground of Banos – or just go for ‘me time’ and plonk yourself in a hot spring
Head out on a city tour of Lima visiting Miraflores and downtown, and join the Peruvian hipsters in the neighbourhood of Barranco
Flights, Travel Insurance, Visa, Vaccinations or Personal Spending Money