Explore Ecuador: mountains, volcanoes, rainforests and coast. This tour features the new Tren Crucero, a 4-day/3-night adventure from the mountainous landscape of the Andes to the coastal plains, including traveling along the famed “Devil’s Nose.” Begin in Quito, Ecuador’s colonial capital; then travel to the Andes’ rainforest for a three-day stay at the fabulous Mashpi Lodge, a must for nature and bird-lovers. Finally, watch the beautiful scenery unfold as you travel aboard the Tren Crucero to Guayaquil. Extend your journey with a Galapagos cruise–a perfect add-on to this adventure!
Day 1 – Quito
Welcome to Quito and Ecuador! At the airport you will be greeted and transferred to the Casa Gangontena Hotel. En route to the hotel your driver will provide a short briefing about Quito and the country in general.
Quito is colonial and artistic, with many museums, monasteries and churches with golden altars. During the 13th century it was the prosperous center of the Kingdom of Quitus. It later became the northern capital of the Inca Empire. In the 16th and 17th centuries, colonial architects built formidable temples, monasteries and mansions, creating an urban jewel designated by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site. Quito’s artistic creativity awaits in its cosmopolitan galleries and boutiques filled with contemporary paintings, sculptures and exquisite traditional crafts.
Overnight in a Luxury Room at Casa Gangotena Hotel; taxes, service charge, & breakfast included
Day 2 – Quito (B/L)
This morning head out for a walking tour of the Old Town, the largest and best-restored historical center in the Americas. Meet your local guide, part of a grassroots NGO organization that has created a walking tour of its Quito neighborhood, called San Roque. The guide takes you through the nearby streets, stopping to meet artisans, shopkeepers, hat makers and sweet confectioners. Up the hill on Calle Rocafuerte, explore the San Francisco Market, one of the oldest in the capital. Learn about the fruit and vegetables produced in Ecuador and some culinary traditions. Meet one of the local herbal healers who have locales in the market.
From the market, walk downhill to the emblematic street of La Ronda, considered one of the flagship regeneration projects in the city. It’s a quiet, cobbled street with typical balconies overflowing with geraniums. Visit the Manos en La Ronda project and meet artisans in the workshops; then visit the chocolatier on the ground floor, where you can enjoy a snack and discover some of the finest chocolate in the world – which, of course, comes from Ecuador!
From La Ronda, walk north through the handsome streets of the Old Town to the Plaza Grande, the political heart of the city. Following a brief explanation, we stroll to the Jesuit church of La Compañía with its stunning gold-leaf interior. Returning to Plaza San Francisco, visit the church, choir and pretty patios of the Franciscan order before arriving at Casa Gangotena, on the same square, for a lunch of Ecuadorian specialities prepared by the hotel’s talented chefs.
In the afternoon, cross the street to the excellent Casa del Alabado Archaeological Museum. It houses a fantastic collection of pieces dating back some 5,000 years, arrayed beautifully within a restored 17th-century colonial mansion.
Also visit to a panoramic viewpoint to appreciate Quito in all its Andean splendor.
Overnight in a luxury room at Casa Gangotena Hotel; taxes, service charge, & breakfast included.
Day 3 – Quito / Otavalo / Quito (B/L)
Otavalo is currently considered one of the most important tour destinations in Ecuador, due to its ancestral cultural heritage, enriched by millenary traditions, myths, legends and customs together with Andean landscapes of outstanding beauty: mountains, lakes, waterfalls and rivers, which as per the Otavalo Cosmovision, possess life and energy. Note: Early morning departure required.
This excursion goes north, to the land of the Otavalos and South America’s most famous Indian fair, along the Panamerican Highway through dramatic mountain scenery to the textile market of Otavalo, where you will enjoy visiting the many stalls full of ponchos, scarves, blankets, wall hangings, woven belts (fajas), hats, handbags and much more. Here, Otavaleños barter in silence, in marked contrast to the raucous noise of other markets; take your time to negotiate the best bargains. Then, proceed to Peguche, an Indian village very near Otavalo that is home to the artisans who do the weaving in their homes; learn about their culture and everyday life. Lunch is at one of the charming country inns or haciendas of the area.
Overnight in a Luxury Room at Casa Gangotena Hotel; taxes, service charge, & breakfast included.
Day 4 – Quito / Mashpi Lodge (B/L/D)
Set out today for Mashpi Lodge, located three hours by car from Quito in the evergreen wilds of the Andes’ western slope. The sudden shift in altitude (from 2,800 to 1,000 meters above sea level) will allow us to discover the spectacular natural diversity of the Andean landscape as we travel through the dry valley of Pomasqui towards the cordillera’s western flank, into lush, misty cloud forest, and finally reach Mashpi, a nature sanctuary located in the spectacular Chocó, one of the most celebrated bioregions in the world, known for its record-high endemism, rainfall and altitudinal range.
We first stop at the middle of the world monument and then in Pululahua Crater and its lookout point, where we can marvel at the unique scenic beauty of a collapsed volcano where people live and farm, taking advantage of the fertile volcanic soil. Also visit the archaeological ruins at Tulipe, said to have belonged to the ancient Yumbo civilization of pre-Inca Quito, set in a magical forested location. Here, taste delicious Ecuadorian appetizers and fresh-brewed coffee prepared by members of the local community before the final one-hour descent into Mashpi Reserve.
Around 12:30 PM, arrive at the Hummingbird Station. Mashpi boasts 32 hummingbird species identified to date, many of which inhabit different altitudinal ranges, with around 19 species considered common at its specially designed feeder station. Observe hummingbirds of all kinds, as well as toucans, tanagers, squirrels and more. The site is located at a natural viewpoint, which, on clear days, provides breathtaking views of the reserve’s forested hills. This is a veritable photographer’s paradise, regardless of your level of expertise.
After settling into your room at Mashpi, you are introduced to naturalist guides who will briefly speak about the cloud forest and its conservation, the activities you will be offered during your stay, and helpful tips about what to wear and bring to the excursions. This will take place before lunch at the library.
This afternoon, enjoy a trail walk. The trail is named after the Cucharillo Tree (Magnolia dixonii), which in Spanish means ‘little spoon’, an Ecuadorian endemic that is common at Mashpi, although otherwise threatened throughout the country. The trail requires some physical condition due to its steeper portions, but has been made less demanding thanks to recycled plastic crates that have been used to form steps and make paths firmer. At the end of the trail find a large waterfall and rocky riverbed with beautiful ponds and smaller waterfalls. The excursion takes about 2 hours to complete.
The forest transforms by sunset: the sounds and smells intensify and other senses are awakened. Discover the evening croaking of nocturnal frogs and incessant buzz of insects. Turn off your flashlights and observe sparkling fireflies and feel bats zipping by. And on the ground, discover the faint glow of bioluminescent fungi all around. As you continue exploring, owls and other nocturnal birds may call into the night, while the rustling of branches above ay mean that we’re in the presence of kinkajous (Potos flavus), an arboreal mammal relative to the raccoon, making their way through the trees in search of ripe fruit. The excursion begins at 7 PM and takes about 45 min to an hour. Return to the lodge to enjoy a delicious dinner.
Overnight at Mashpi Lodge
Day 5 – Mashpi Lodge (B/L/D)
The forest always rewards the “early birds,” as the dawn light lures a variety of fascinating species in their search for food. A good place to find birds is right at the hotel’s terrace, with a cup of fresh coffee, tea or hot chocolate in hand – enjoy not only the beauty of the forest but also the many species that come to feed on insects and fruits at nearby trees. The guides will help you spot what’s around, offering a peek inside their telescope for a close-and-personal view of the incredible bird richness at Mashpi. This activity begins at 6:30 AM and lasts about an hour. Enjoy breakfast at the hotel restaurant.
Depart around 8:30 AM to the Sky Bike and Observation Tower (a 15-minute walk from the hotel). Looming above the treetops, Mashpi’s observation tower allows guests to enjoy the protected forest in all its glory. At 30 meters (100 feet) above the ground, this is an ideal site for nature lovers, allowing you not only allows to appreciate the forest’s complex structure, but also the incredible species richness that thrives throughout the canopy (70% of the forest’s biodiversity is found here). Climb 162 steps to reach the top.
The aerial bicycle makes for an original and exciting way to explore the canopy up close. Designed for two people to use at once, one person pedals the bike along a cable stretched between two points, around 200 mt (655 feet) apart, crossing a gorge and river. Silent, easy-to-use and fun, it’s an activity that provides guests with yet another vantage point to experience Mashpi’s lush natural world.
Walk back to the lodge along one of the many trails. One takes you to San Vicente waterfall, a 45-to-60 minute steep hike that demands good physical condition. You can also hike the Oxibelis trail that leads to a small waterfall en route to the lodge. The combination of activities (sky bike, observation tower and hike) can take between 2 to 4 hours, depending on the trail. At the lodge, a refreshing natural juice and fresh towels will be waiting before a varied and delicious lunch is served the hotel restaurant.
This afternoon, head to Life Centre along the “Howler Monkey’s trail.” This path crosses primary forest dominated by many ancient trees, the “copal” (Dacryodes cupularis) the most emblematic of them. Occasionally you can hear rare birds, such as the Rufous-fronted Wood-quail (Odontophorus erythrops) or the Rufous-crowned Antpitta (Pittasoma rufopileatum). Mashpi guides are keen on noticing every sound that comes from the forest deep, hoping to reveal colorful birds or elusive howler monkeys, while the naturalist explains the habitat’s ecology; both share their extensive knowledge on forest plants and their medicinal uses.
Once at the Life Centre, enjoy a great view of the forest from the comfort of an expansive wooden deck, where wildlife abounds. Guides will identify the different birds and mammals that visit the fruit feeders. The centre was conceived as a place for learning and discovery, but also a place where guests can disconnect from the many stresses and distractions of the modern world. Explore the life of butterflies, the many species found in the Mashpi area and their metamorphosis process from egg, larva and caterpillar, to chrysalis and finally winged wonder. Discover various species of host plants that butterflies use to lay their eggs on, such as passion flowers, birds of paradise, milk weeds and other species found in the garden. Not far from the Centre, there is a “tropical orchard” where many varieties of fruit trees, including banana, manioc, cacao, hot chili pepper, coffee and wild raspberries are grown. For those interested in learning more about the Ecuadorian cloud forest, there is a lecture that sums up the different scientific research projects that take place at Mashpi. The talk lasts around 30 minutes, and will include footage from the lodge’s hidden camera traps, a great display of the astounding diversity that thrives inside the forest. Dinner at Mashpi.
Overnight at Mashpi Lodge
Day 6 – Mashpi Lodge / Quito (B/L/-)
Bird lovers can head out for an early morning activity (6:30 AM) – a walk down the road seeking out mixed-species feeding flocks: these usually feature different insectivorous bird species that move together while foraging. In a single flock, we may see over 20 different species, making these more-or-less common encounters an undeniable treat for bird aficionados. The activity takes one hour; return to the lodge for breakfast.
At approximately at 8:30 AM, head to Copal Waterfall. This beautiful two-hour-long hike features a landscape of moss-covered trees, bromelias and orchids at every corner. The trail ends at a spectacular waterfall over 50 m high. Return to the hotel by noon for check out and enjoy lunch at Mashpi before heading back to Quito, departing around 1:30 PM.
Overnight in a Luxury Room at Casa Gangotena Hotel; taxes, service charge, & breakfast included.
Day 7 – Quito / Tren Crucero (B/L/D)
Transfer to the historic Chimbacalle train station in Quito and board the Tren Crucero. The train departs at 8 AM and heads toward El Boliche Recreational Area where you’ll disembark to board transport to the wilds of Cotopaxi National Park. Take a short hike amid the rolling slopes of the volcano to enjoy its landscapes, flora and fauna.
Continue to Hacienda San Agustín del Callo, located nearby, for a delicious lunch. In the afternoon, we travel to the train station in Lasso to take part in a traditional fiesta. Today’s accommodation and dinner is at La Ciénega, a colonial hacienda full of history and charm.
Day 8 – Tren Crucero (B/L/D)
After breakfast, travel by bus to Latacunga train station to board the train and continue the journey south. En route, stop to visit a rose plantation, and learn about the growing, harvesting and post-harvest processes of the roses. Then, continue on the train to the city of Ambato, where you’ll enjoy lunch at the hotel Roka Plaza, located in a heritage house.
After lunch, continue on board the train to the Urbina station; located 11,840 feet above sea level, it is the highest train station in the country. Here visit the Interpretation Centre about the “Men of Ice” and enjoy the beauty of the landscape east of the slopes of Chimborazo, the highest volcano in Ecuador. After this visit, travel by bus to Hostería Abraspungo for dinner and overnight.
Day 9 – Tren Crucero (B/L/D)
Early morning departure from the hotel to travel to the Riobamba train station, where the train’s carriages are pulled by a wonderful steam locomotive. Continue to Colta to visit the Balbanera church, known as the first church built in Ecuador. The train then proceeds to Guamote, for a visit of the city’s attractions and indigenous market, one of the largest and most important in the country. Lunch will be at the train station.
In the afternoon board the train again at Alausí and after a short stop, continue down the famous Devil’s Nose section of track. Stop for a few minutes at the viewpoint to appreciate this important engineering work and to appreciate why the route is known as “the most difficult railway in the world.” Then continue by train to Bucay, appreciating the climatic transition between the Sierra (highlands) and the Coast. Accommodation and dinner at hotel D’Franco.
Day 10 – Tren Crucero / Guayaquil (B/L)
After breakfast, take a short walk in the forest near to the hotel to appreciate some of the typical flora and fauna of the Coast. Take in some of the plantations of the coastal region. Then visit a Shuar Indian community which, despite their migration many years ago from the Amazon to the Coast, keep their customs and traditions. After these visits, travel to Ranch San Rafael for lunch. In the afternoon, the train is once again pulled by a marvelous steam locomotive to Durán station. On the way, pass through typical coastal plantations of bananas, sugarcane and rice. On arrival in Guayaquil, transfer to the Wyndham Hotel.
Overnight in standard room at Wyndham Hotel in Guayaquil; taxes, service charge & breakfast included.
Day 11 – Guayaquil
Private transfer from Wyndham Hotel to Guayaquil airport for departure flight.
This itinerary is planned with great care, although, for operational reasons, it may be necessary to change the sequence of activities in the itinerary or the specified route, and though such cases are exceptional, in general the itinerary should be treated only as a basic guideline.
2017 Dates:Southbound trip (Quito-Guayaquil) departs most Tuesdays, April through December.
Northbound trip (Guayaquil-Quito) departs Saturdays and Sundays, April through December.
*Pricing is estimated and fluctuates based on season.