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Watch hummingbirds battle for nectar as you sip your morning coffee in the cloudforest and seek out giant river otters as the sun sets in the Amazon. Mingle with the crowds at a thriving indigenous market and find solitude at a majestic crater lake, seen by few. Experience it all in the company of our wonderfully engaging partners, who help you make sense of the beauty, drama and local culture that surrrounds you.
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Fly from the UK to Quito today.You should arrive in the Ecuadorian capital early this evening. The city is quite high, so take it easy and drink plenty of fluids, and you should be fine by the morning. Transfer to your comfortable hotel, located in one of the quieter parts of the city.
Your guide comes to the hotel this morning to take you for a full day tour. Quito is positioned on the flanks of the Pichincha Volcano, and is home to perhaps the best-preserved colonial centre in Latin America (now UNESCO-listed). Explore the historic centre to learn about the city’s colonial past, perhaps dropping into the Government Palace en route.
Have you ever seen clouds form as they drift off the forest canopy? Well you will today as you fly into the Amazon and head downriver to your secluded lodge. This part of the Amazon has been proven to be the most biodiverse place on the planet, with an extraordinary diversity and abundance of birds, insects, trees and plants. The lodge comprises six double cabins dotted around the lakeshore. All rooms have en suite facilities (hot showers), ceiling fan, electricity in waking hours, and even a private terrace looking over the water. The lodge is owned and managed by the Kichwa people, with all profits going to back into the community.
Begin to explore your surroundings, in the company of your local Kichwa guide and a biologist / interpreter. Your lodge is ideally situated on the shores of a large lake. Before breakfast you'll be guided around the interconnecting waterways in the canoe, the ideal time to look for birds. The most common sightings are kingfishers, parrots, hoatzins and horned screamers - but there are many more besides. Head into the forest mid-morning and perhaps back out into the canoe before sunset.
Typically you'll head into the rainforest in the morning, following one of the various trails which begin from the lodge. Monkeys are always a highlight, with 11 species to spot. But of equal interest are the vividly-named trees and plants you'll find here, with equally vivid stories to tell. The small scale of the lodge allows greater autonomy and flexibility over each day's activities, and fewer visitors means better wildlife opportunities. After lunch you might head out onto the lake again looking for the family of giant river otters, which can often be seen around this time. Birds also begin to become active again.
Choose from a range of walks, which can be more or less tailored to learn about the wildlife, or the local culture and traditions. You have a very different Amazon experience after dark. Heading out into the forest, flashlights in hand, reveals an extraordinary wealth of unusual frogs, spiders, grasshoppers, moths, butterflies and even small snakes. Keep your eyes peeled for night monkeys and elusive owls too. A surprising highlight is the sight of thousands of leafcutter ants hard at work - learning about the complexity of their society is utterly fascinating.
Rise early to head back upriver for your flight back to Quito. It is a scenic two-hour drive to Mindo along a paved road which winds past steep mountainsides covered with high montane cloudforest. Tom and Mariela's eco-lodge is set apart from the town, very much in the heart of the environment, and was built using only sustainable local materials. There are six ensuite cabins, just beside the river and the main open-sided lounge area encompasses the kitchen, dining area, bar and two “fogatas” or fire pits.
Whilst at the lodge it is up to you how you spend your time, perhaps walking, or simply relaxing. The atmosphere is very laid back and the emphasis is on nature, relaxation and peace and quiet, though the lodge also offers various excursions. Mornings are typically spent on guided walks to observe the cloudforest canopy as it comes to life. If you are lucky you will see toucans, parrots and maybe the beautiful Andean Cock of the Rock. Hummingbirds are ubiquitous.
Watch the cock of the rock strut their stuff at dawn, choose adventure or something more gentle. If you have the appetite for a pre-5 AM start then a visit to the Cock of the Rock lek will be one of the most memorable moments of your time here. There are always more walking trails to explore and more birds to spot. Active pursuits such as tubing, riding or biking are available if you like the sound of an adventurous afternoon. Relaxing at the lodge is equally appealing, especially when the rains come down.
You'll be collected by your guide for the two-hour drive into the rural highlands. The landscape shifts dramatically; deep cloudforest has been replaced by volcanoes, farmland and high altitude páramo. Today we'll hike around the barely-visited, but movingly-beautiful Laguna de Cuicocha. It's a 10km walk in total, lasting around five hours, or you can just head up to a viewpoint. Continue on to Otavalo to settle you in to your wonderfully welcoming lodge, set apart from the town, in time for dinner by the roaring fire.
Each Saturday, Otavalo hosts the most important indigenous market in South America. Most visitors are encouraged to visit to experience highland culture, but are only exposed to the tourist market. You’ll walk out of the lodge with your guide and through a small valley surrounded by farmland to arrive at the animal market early enough to watch locals buying and selling their livestock and bartering for goods. In the afternoon you could visit a multi-generational weaving family in their intimate village workshop. It’s a world away from the mass-manufactured goods of the market.
Travel by roads flanked by volcanoes to a charming lodge on the edge of Cotopaxi National Park. Along the backroad south is the magnificent 80m high Condor Machay waterfall. The Rio Pinta tumbles over the edge in a natural amphitheatre at the end of a vast river canyon, carved out by repeated historic eruptions of Cotopaxi itself. Despite the name, you are unlikely to see a condor here. To stand the best chance of seeing this majestic creature, you can instead go via Antisana Ecological Reserve. You stay in a small hacienda on the slopes of Rumiñahui Volcano. The roaring stove and hot water bottles which heat up your room are most welcome.
At nearly 5,900m, Cotopaxi is one of the world’s highest active volcanoes. The national park which covers the skirts of the mountain is home to a wide variety of birds, as well as llama, wild horses and deer. Today you'll explore the park with your guide. If you have blue skies, the views are glorious. Either way, the best way you to see the top of the volcano is to drive up its slopes and walk the final few hundred metres to the lively refuge and then the glacier line. There are also small ancient ruins, coal springs, a bird-filled lagoon and walks through the forest.
Assuming an evening departure, you can afford a leisurely start, or head out for another hike or perhaps a bike or horse ride this morning, before your transfer north to Quito later. You are collected at the appropriate time to arrive at the airport and check-in for your homeward flight, an SD card full of photos and some wonderful memories on which to reflect.
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Watch hummingbirds battle for nectar as you sip your morning coffee in the cloudforest and seek out giant river otters as the sun sets in the Amazon. Mingle with the crowds at a thriving indigenous market and find solitude at a majestic crater lake, seen by few. This immersion into the hidden corners of Ecuador takes you into the heart of the country, and all that its landscapes and people have to offer.
This holiday is not overly demanding physically though being tailor made, we can tweak the level of exertion on mainland Ecuador to some extent – longer walks, horse rides and hiking Cotopaxi National Park are always possible. However, the journey has been conceived to introduce you to the landscapes, wildlife and people of Ecuador at an enjoyable pace.
You should be aware that the altitude of your overnight stays in Quito and the Andean highlands ranges from 2,800m-3,000m above sea level, going much higher on certain days. Acclimatisation is factored into our itinerary, but if you have a history of difficulty at altitude, please let us know in order that we build in extra time for you.
In the cloudforest, you will tend to walk into the surrounding areas on bird watching excursions, nothing too demanding. You can rent mountain bikes here or even ride an inflatable down the river in order to be more active. Down in Cotopaxi, you stay in some comfort at night but days are spent exploring the high crater lakes and mountains. Because you have a private guide, you can set the pace which best suits you.
The weather in Ecuador’s highlands is at its rainiest in February, other than that, this trip works well at any time of year – after all, Ecuador is on the equator and therefore fairly steady in terms of weather. In the Amazon, you should expect rain, heat and humidity at all times of the year.
Ecuador is a melting pot of a country, almost bewildering in its diversity. For that reason, the first thing we do with you when you get there is give you a day with our guide in Quito. He takes you into the heart of the city to give you a sense of the place from an insider's perspective.
Up in the cloudforest, the lodge we use is built entirely of materials sourced from the surroundings. It could hardly be more integrated into its surroundings, both physical and community. The staff, cooks, guides are all dedicated to this precious cloudforest ecosystem.
In the Amazon people expect the wildlife but generally forget the human aspect of the rainforest. Our favourite lodge is owned and operated by the Kichwa community of the region, so most of your guides are indigenous to the area, and therefore able to interpret and translate an environment impenetrable to the average outsider.
Travelling through the highlands around Quito brings you to snow-capped volcanoes, Andean villages and the occasional 17th century hacienda. It's hard to imagine a more contrasting way of life than these surroundings with the first part of your trip in these surroundings. We are careful how we share Otavalo Market with you. Whilst almost every other traveller is introduced to the tourist market in the centre, we lead you on a walk from your lodge through farmland to the livestock market. The sights and sounds are vivid, and it is the biggest weekly social event in the highlands.
We have a detailed itinerary for this trip, as set out above. If you would like a copy, please get in touch and we can email it over to you.
Ultimately though, this is a tailor made trip, so we would love to have time to talk to you in order to send the most appropriate proposal to you.
In the form set out above, the holiday price includes good quality hotel accommodation, guiding and transportation, activities, excursions and entrances as per our detailed itinerary. Naturally, on each and every one of our holidays, we include Pura’s expertise, local contacts, support and advice throughout, along with the reassurance of our financial protection and safety auditing.
Flights are quoted separately for this holiday. Best flight routings are to fly into and out of Quito (airport code: UIO).
Departs on a date to suit you, throughout the year.
Contact us today to start planning your own personal adventure
The described itinerary is just a taster of what this trip could involve. We would work with you to tailor your personal trip.
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