Ecuador: Spirit of the Andes

A journey full of breath-taking landscapes, cultural discoveries, ethnic encounters and culinary delights, the Spirit of the Andes itinerary takes you from Quito south through the Andes to Cuenca. Experience the sights and sounds, textures and colors, aromas and flavors of the Ecuadorian Andes.
Duration: 6 days/ 5 nights
Accommodations: Local hotels and haciendas

Trip Highlights

  • This journey by rail includes visits to historic haciendas, Andean communities, the highland moorlands of Cotopaxi National Park, the popular town of Baños with its nearby energizing waterfalls, Inca ruins and the city of Cuenca, passing through spectacular scenery, fertile valleys cultivated in a patchwork of windswept fields surrounded by snow-covered peaks. Throughout your journey, you’ll gain insights into local life, traditions and production, you’ll meet local people and you’ll marvel at the Ecuadorian Andes’ natural wonders.


Below are some of our sample itineraries, but note that we can customize the perfect Ecuador adventure that meets your needs.


Sample Itinerary

DAY 1: Arrival/ Quito ~ Upon arrival to Quito, you’ll be met for your private transfer to your hotel. The rest of the evening is yours to spend as you please. Overnight at Hotel Patio Andaluz.

DAY 2: Quito/ Equatorial Monument ~ The capital of Ecuador, Quito, brings the past to life in its museums, monasteries, carved stone facades and golden altars of its many churches. Enjoy scenic Quito during a private guided city tour. Highlights include Quito’s colonial quarter, the largest and best preserved of South America, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Independence Plaza, Presidential Palace, Municipal Building, Archbishop’s Palace, and Monastery of San Francisco, one the of great religious buildings of the New World. Continue to the Equatorial Monument where you can stand with a foot on each hemisphere at the Center of the World. Twenty-five kilometers north of Quito, the monument marks the exact Middle of the World, latitude 0º. Overnight at Hotel Patio Andaluz. (B)

DAY 3: Quito/ Otavalo ~ 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. This private excursion has been designed so that you’ll arrive early enough to Otavalo to appreciate the market’s vibrant energy and allowing time to visit the town of Peguche and where you’ll observe local weaving processes at a textile workshop. Overnight at Hotel Patio Andaluz. (B,L)

Shopping for local crafts in Ecuador

DAY 4: Spirit of the Andes (Quito – Sangolquí – Cotopaxi – Urbina – Chimborazo – Riobamba) ~ Your rail adventure starts in Quito. Heading due south, this first leg reaches the town of Sangolqui, where a stop is made to explore the traditional Andean market, full of animals, produce and people: a great introduction to the Andean way of life. Over to the east, the journey enters Cotopaxi National Park, an ecological sanctuary of 88,920 acres including Cotopaxi Volcano, rising 5,897 m (19,347 ft) above sea level.

The evergreen landscape of the Ecuadorian highlands is one of the main attractions, as you travel along valleys and over mountains patch-worked with multicolored fields. After an hour and a half, the entrance to the park is reached and then it’s up a dirt road for approximately one hour. Upon arrival at the park, there is an introductory briefing about the habitat of the Andean páramo (high-altitude moorlands). Continue on to Limpiopungo Lagoon to observe a variety of birds and occasionally wild horses and to enjoy a short walk.

Continue up and down the slopes of the famous Avenue of the Volcanoes to Urbina Train Station, high up at the foot of imposing Chimborazo Volcano. Visit a Tagua nut workshop and warm up with a canelazo and biscuits by the fireplace and, if the Chimborazo is clear, an amazing sunset can be expected. Then continue by road to Riobamba in time for dinner. Overnight at Hacienda Abraspungo. (B,L,D)

DAY 5: Spirit of the Andes (Riobamba – Alausí – Devil’s Nose – Alausi – Ingapirca – Cuenca) ~ After an early breakfast, travel by road for about 2 hours towards the small town of Alausí, the beating heart of the rehabilitation of the Ecuadorian Railway Company in the last years. Great efforts have been made to restore the 100-year old train stations, replace rails and sleepers, renovate engines and classic coaches, and involve the Indian communities in the rail operation for tourism along the route.

Today’s highlight is the thrilling 800 m (2630 ft) descent via zigzags cut into the rock of Devil’s Nose. At the bottom is the newly renovated Sibambe Station. Here there is time to visit the local museum “Condor Puñuna” built and run by the Nizag community. Enjoy the display of local handicrafts, fruit and medicinal plants, and try the local coffee. The train whistle calls guests back on board for the return to Alausí Station.

Continue exploring the Andean world by road to the south, passing through stunning landscapes before visiting the Inca Fortress of Ingapirca en-route. Arrival to Cuenca at dusk. Overnight at Hotel Santa Lucia. (B,L,D)

DAY 6: Cuenca ~ Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its red- tiled roofs, cobblestone streets, flowery plazas and museums make it very special. Your guided tour today includes the Plaza of San Sebastian, a colorful artisans’ market, where handicrafts are sold; the Museum of Modern Art, featuring an excellent collection of contemporary fine art, and; flower market at the small plaza in front of the carved stone entrance to the church of El Carmen de la Asunción. From here, stroll to the Main Square, surrounded by the imposing blue-domed Cathedral, the Court of Justice, the Municipal Palace, the Governor’s Palace and the Church of El Sagrario.

Then, drive along the Tomebamba River to admire the city’s riverbank houses. This afternoon, visit a ceramics handicraft shop, followed by a visit to a Panama Hat factory to observe the whole process of making the famous hats of high-quality toquilla straw.

Your Spirit of the Andes adventure ends at the airport. (B,L)

A wide variety of optional extensions are available.                                                                                                                                                   



Meals: B=Breakfast; L=Lunch; Dinner

Pricing from $2075 per person (double occupancy).

Package includes accommodations, guided activities on a shared basis, meals as listed, and ground transfers. A donation to support local conservation efforts will be made on behalf of all participants.

Exclusions: international airfare, Cuenca-Quito flight, passport/visa fees, travel insurance, taxis, optional activities, exit taxes, alcohol, gratuities, and items of a personal nature.

This sample itinerary is a suggested outline.  It can be customized to best suit your travel plans.