Explore the untamed and diverse landscape of Ecuador in this nature-focused tour of the country's South

Beyond the Galapagos Islands and beaches that most travellers associate with Ecuador is a land of breathtaking mountain ranges and colourful communities that live in their foothills. Run your hands over the rugged edges of Ecuador in this tour, exploring the dense forests and eden-esque valleys that comprise some of the most beautiful vistas in all of the Americas. This trip offers the opportunity to explore the essential spots, from the charming montane town of Cuenca to the lush and laid-back Vilcabamba.

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Terms & Conditions

Start
Guayaquil, Ecuador
Finish
Quito, Ecuador
Destinations
Style
Original
Code
GGSH
Physical rating
Ages
Min 16
Group size
Min 1, Max 16

Why you'll love this trip

  • The ingenious design of medieval fortress town Cuenca sees beautiful buildings built into the jagged cliffs the city is built on

  • Walk through the dense and mist-laden elfin forest of Podocarpus National Park, where high-elevation results in miniature, moss covered trees

  • Barter over brightly coloured handwoven textiles at the Otavalo market, nestled in a valley under three mountain peaks

Is this trip right for you?

  • This trip visits places that are at high altitude, and as a result some people can suffer from altitude sickness, regardless of age or physical health. Please see the ‘Health’ section of the trip notes for more important information on this.

  • It’s important to wear sunscreen and other sun protection, and always drink plenty of water.

  • This trip involves a lot of walking, though not much of it is overly strenuous. The trip is recommended for those with a moderate level of fitness but there are also a few different trail options to suit your interests and physical capabilities. Please bring durable footwear suitable to hiking. See the ‘What to Take’ section of the trip notes for more information.

Itinerary

Welcome to Guayaquil, officially Santiago de Guayaquil, the seaside gateway to your South Ecuador adventure. First things first, join your group and tour leader for a welcome meeting at 2 pm. If you're going to be late, let the hotel know and they’ll pass the message on. Make sure you’ve got your insurance and next of kin information handy to provide to your leader. If you’re worried about making it in time, feel free to book your flight a day earlier and we can book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). After the meeting, feel free to use the rest of your afternoon and evening to explore Guayaquil. Maybe take a stroll along the boardwalk overlooking the Guayas river, which is particularly lively in the evening. Here you’ll find monuments, interesting sculptures and food stalls where the humble plantain is made into everything from dumplings to chips.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
After breakfast we’ll take a 3.5 hour bus ride to what many consider Ecuador’s most attractive city. See for yourself why this medieval fortress town earned a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List during a tour of the city. Cuenca is a study in how architecture can complement environment, where ornate buildings are built into craggy cliff faces. After the tour, the rest of the day is yours. Why not wander this imminently strollable city while munching on a skewer of cuy? This rich, roasted meet is popular all over the Americas, but is particularly renowned in Cuenca, though you might know the animal by its Western name: guinea pig!
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
It’s entirely up to you how you spend today, though there are many optional activities you may wish to take advantage of. Located about 30 km away, Cajas National Park makes a fabulous day-trip. There are plenty of walking trails that will lead you through the diverse park, where steep hills covered in feathery shrubs meet rocky valleys and tangled forest. If you’re looking for gifts, the quaint town of Chordeleg is just an hour away from Cuenca, where you’ll find markets overflowing with the intricate handiwork of the many local silversmiths and jewellery makers. If you’d prefer to stay in Cuenca, remember that beauty lies around almost every corner of the city, making it a lovely place to lose yourself in.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Rise and continue your journey deeper into the South of the country. Private transport will ferry you to Vilcabamba, but before we arrive there will be a stop in Saraguro, named after the Kichwa Nation indigenous folk who have called the area home for over 500 years. After a tour of this small town and the beautiful central church, a typical local lunch will be served in neighbouring farming village of Namarin. Although the contents of lunch will depend on the day, be prepared for rustic, hearty dishes made from potatoes—a staple of Southern Ecuadorian cuisine.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Today we will explore this verdant valley town via a walking tour, wandering roads shared by tame livestock such as donkeys. This relaxed town was once named the “Valley of Longevity,” and while claims of residents extra-long lifespans have since been disproven, there’s no doubt the mineral-rich produce, clear mountain water and fantastic weather make for a happy and chilled out community. Later, we will travel to Podocarpus National Park where you can breathe deep the heady scent of orchids and spot endemic plant species. Spend up to 3 to 4 hours wandering this biodiverse park, including natural wonders like the mist-filled elfin forests you’ll find at 3000 metres elevation.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Your day is as clear as an Ecuadorian summer sky. You could opt to see more of nature’s bounty at the Tapichalaca Reserve, or follow the white crosses that line the road on an invigorating 2 hour hike from the centre of town up Caraarango to the shrine of Tuku Tuku. If you’re seeking something more relaxed, why not sip a blood-red horchata (a drink infused with local roots and herbs) and then perhaps walk to the lush banks of the Vilcabamba River. This body of water was the subject of the first court battle to successfully cite Ecuador’s constitutionally protected right for nature to flourish free from man-made interference, and you can experience up all the ambiance that was protected by the ruling.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
A 4:30 am pick up time from the hotel is necessary to try and make the famous craft markets of Otavalo. A boxed breakfast will ease you into the day before the short journey to the airport, where the hour-long flight to Ecuador’s capital leaves at 7:20 am. Upon landing, a private van will take you on the almost 2 hour drive to Otavalo, where you can shop for dramatically patterned textiles, handwoven bags and knick-knacks.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Explore the epic green valleys of Otavalo in the morning. Next, inspect the fine leather goods of nearby Cotacachi, where expert tailors can fit you on the spot if you so desire. If you do buy a jacket, perhaps remove it before arriving at the Peguche Waterfalls, a spot so enchanting it’s no surprise local Shamans observe summer solstice here. After a hour-long hike of the area surrounding the falls, return to Quito for a free afternoon.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today marks the end of your adventure with Intrepid, though there is so much more to explore in Ecuador and beyond if you have the time.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.

Meals

7 breakfasts, 1 lunch

Transport

Local Bus, Private Vehicle

Accommodation

Hotel (8 nights)

Dates & availability

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Important notes

NEW TRIP
Just as a heads up before you book: this trip is new to our range this year. And while we have thoroughly researched every detail of the logistics, new destinations can sometimes throw us some unexpected surprises. More often than not, it’ll be a great surprise. But every now and again there might be a hiccup. We like to think that’s what puts the ‘adventure’ in ‘adventure travel’.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.