Volcanoes, Incas & Waterfalls: a Hidden Tour of Ecuador
A unique private tour of Ecuador’s rural highlights, highland towns, archaeological ruins and hacienda life concluding with a spectacular Galapagos cruise
Personalised journeys from start to finish
Save an acre of rainforest each time you travel
Every detail taken care of
- All internal flights
- All accommodation
- Five night Galapagos Cruise
- All tours specified in the itinerary description
- Private transfers throughout
- Full support from your Travel Concierge before, during and after your trip
At a glance
This is an in-depth and off the beaten track journey into rural Ecuador to explore its sublime ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’, a route dotted with colonial highland towns, traditional culture and Inca ruins, before a luxurious five-night Galapagos cruise.
An unusual and rewarding trip for those that want to see Ecuador’s impressive landscapes and warm rural life, begin with the capital of Quito, the first city to be granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Then you’ll begin a grand tour of Ecuador’s highlands, driving with your private vehicle and expert guide south along the aptly named Avenue of Volcanoes.
From the snow-capped Cotopaxi, see the stunning waterfalls near Baños before a night in Riobamba, setting off the next morning to the Ingapirca Archaeological Complex and a rural hacienda. Board the winding Devil’s Nose Train the following morning en route to colonial Cuenca where you’ll spend two nights and get shown around the city while meeting local artisans.
One last scenic drive through Cajas National Park brings you to Guayaquil, from where you’ll fly out to the incredible Galapagos Islands for a six day luxury cruise where you’ll get to explore the famous archipelago and get up close to its resident wildlife.
stopping at Indian Markets, towns, lagoons, waterfalls of Baños and Riobamba. Explore the country’s Inca heritage and history at El Tambo and Ingapirca before heading to the colonial town of Cuenca to relax and explore. Conclude with a six day cruise of the Galapagos Islands for a wildlife adventure you won’t forget.
Example Trip Itinerary
Private transfer from Quito airport to your hotel
Accommodation in Quito
- 31 rooms
- Room upgrade will be provided subject to availability
- Box of Pacari chocolates upon arrival
Resembling something you are more likely see on a street corner of some Parisian arrondissement, the white neoclassical façades of the recently renovated Gangotena mansion stands majestically from the south western corner of Quito’s UNESCO-protected Plaza San Francisco. Removed you may think, but the hotel sits quite comfortably in this characteristically Old World part of town, and being conveniently positioned at the colonial and cultural heart of Quito its thirty-one rooms have magnificent views over the square and surrounding monuments. Inside the décor is elegantly traditional, but is kept quite minimal for a contemporary twist. Downstairs is the lobby, complete with marble floors, velvet Chesterfields, and peppered with the odd antique, as is the dining room, bar and conservatory central patio. Then via the spiral stairs (or lift) are the rooms that feature all the contemporary amenities matched to the more modern soft furnishings, but the high ceilings, mouldings, wall murals and marbled bathrooms nod loyally to the mansion’s past and the opulence of a bygone era.
- Spa (gym, sauna, massage)
- Wine Cellar
A relatively new addition to the hotel scene in Quito, the Plaza Grande is not lacking in history. Set in a beautifully converted Belle Epoque mansion of one of the city’s founding fathers. The hotel is set in a prime spot in the beautiful old town on the Plaza de la Independencia. Fitting to the setting and history of the building the hotel is decorated in luxurious and opulent style with heavy drapes, tapestries and artwork adorning the walls. As well as the traditional fittings, rooms are appointed with all of the modern amenities that one might expect from a hotel of this calibre, with 42 inch flat screen televisions, jacuzzis and sound-proofed windows installed in all the rooms. Service is excellent and the hotel has several restaurants and a well-stocked wine cellar.
- 22 Rooms, consisting of single, double and suites.
- Charming, central patio area, which is perfect for relaxing with a cup of coffee or a beer.
- Lounge area, with a fireplace.
- Hotel restaurant; serving local dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Welcome card with box of Ecuadorian sweets upon arrival
Step back into Ecuador’s fascinating history, with a stay at this charming historical hotel in the centre of Quito, which has quite rightly been awarded UNESCO status. Situated amongst the narrow, cobbled streets and baroque architecture this hotel is located in a restored colonial mansion, with 22 beautifully decorated colourful rooms, replete with décor from the colonial era. For some peace and quiet from the bustling bohemian streets, you can sit back and relax in the hotels central patio, carefully designed to represent the importance of Quito’s historical past and the present, modern day. Outside of the hotel you will find some of Quito’s most beautiful historical monasteries, churches and a splendid collection of art shops, cafes and restaurants. At the weekend this area is a very lively with a fantastic atmosphere, a great place to be to be immersed into Quito’s culture.
- 21 rooms, 11 suites
Patio Andaluz is just steps away from the main square of Quito’s UNESCO-protected colonial quarter and many of the attractions can be reached on foot. The hotel has been built in a converted old building set around a central patio ensuring that there is plenty of light in the day and spacious communal areas. A protected historic building converted to a hotel, every room is slightly different. Some of the larger suites have windows onto the front and are spaced over two levels with a connecting spiral staircase. Other smaller rooms have limited window space with light coming from the well-lit internal area of the hotel. Decoration is in the period style and the rooms are quite spacious and comfortable. Dining is in the central patio and the restaurant is among the better ones in the area. Staff are friendly and very helpful making this one of our favorite hotels in the historic area.
You will have time to enjoy some of Quito's historical sites, there are many beautiful old buildings, plazas and streets to explore with some particularly beautiful old churches among the highlights.
This brings alive the capital’s historic quarter, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, to go beyond the mere ‘bricks and mortar’ and allow guests to get a true feel for quiteños and the lives that make it such a fascinating place.
The first part of the tour includes a neighbourhood walk in the company of a local guide who will share their first-hand insights into the history, livelihoods, traditions, stories, beliefs and cuisine of their city. Experience the lively market of San Francisco and wander down to the restored and revitalised street of La Ronda, meeting artisans at work and find out more about the art of chocolate-making from a Swiss-Ecuadorian confectioner family.
A lunch of Ecuadorian specialities is served inside the elegant Casa Gangotena hotel dining room. The afternoon is divided between a visit to the Casa del Alabado archaeological museum and a trip up to one of the city’s viewpoints to fully appreciate its Andean setting from on high.
Travel south through the ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’ to Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world (5,897m/19,349 feet). Discover the flora and fauna of the National Park with a good chance of seeing the Andean condor, the world's largest flying bird and enjoy a hike surrounded by fabulous Andean landscapes. After lunch at a local restaurant, continue on to your accommodation.
Accommodation in Cotopaxi
- Inca House (main house): 5 rooms (2 suites & 3 standard bedrooms)
- Callo Lodge : 3 bedrooms
- Cotopaxi House: 2 large bedrooms
- Restaurant & bar
One of the most unique lodging options in Ecuador, Hacienda San Agustin de Callo is brimming with character. The building itself is a converted monastery built on top of an Inca temple, offering a real combination and reflection of Ecuador’s history as architecture from both styles is present in the hacienda’s structure. Rooms are individually decorated with great personality with both Inca and colonial influences. Food is of a good standard with much of the produce grown on the hacienda’s own grounds. Activities available include horseback riding, hikes and tours of the local area.
Spend the rest of the day hiking in the beautifully scenic Cotopaxi National Park, named 'Avenue of the volcanoes' by Alexander von Humboldt. Take in the magnificent vistas of snow-capped summits and stunning lagoons whilst on a hike at your leisure.
This private tour takes you to the town of Baños which is famous for its thermal baths and as the gateway to the Amazon Rainforest. The drive here offers amazing views of the town and its surrounding area, when you arrive in Baños you will have the chance to wander around the streets and visit local artisans. You will then be driven along the route to the Devil's Cauldron waterfall. During the drive you will pass by little waterfalls before arriving at a lush forest setting where the sights and sounds will amaze. Enjoy the awesome vision that is the Devil's Cauldron, one of the world's largest waterfalls, from varying spots including the hanging bridge.
Accommodation in Riobamba
- 11 rooms
- Dining room
- Laundry service
With a warm, personal service from its English/Ecuadorian owners, this well-restored colonial urban mansion and family-run hotel is the best place to stay and explore Riobamba. Located in the city-centre, the Mansion Santa Isabella is close to Parc Sucre, Riobamba Cathedral and the Estadio Olimpico. The accommodation is clean and simple, and the service is friendly and efficient. The buffet breakfast includes some Ecuadorian specialities, with local fruits such as uvilla and cherimoya, as well as bread baked fresh in the building and local cheeses and hams. Later in the evening, dine on the restaurant’s fusion menu then drink cocktails in the brilliant underground bar, once used as a tunnel connecting local churches and monasteries.
Discover the 'Valley of the Volcanoes', as Riobamba is otherwise known, as you wander the streets and markets of this vibrant city. Surrounded by four of Latin America's largest volcanoes, there is much to explore here.
Enjoy a private tour of the Ingapirca Archaeological Complex and the on-site museum. Explore the stone fortress, which sits high above the Cañar valley, that is typical of Inca design.
Accommodation in Ingapirca
- 22 rooms
- Dining room & bar
- Fireplaces & electric heaters
- Laundry service
With good service, great local food and a location just 500m away from the Ingapirca ruins, the Posada is easily the best lodging in the area. Rooms are simple, rustic and come in three sizes, single, double and triple, although a handful of suites are also available. As a converted 200 year-old Hacienda, colonial antiques are scattered throughout the property and original features, such as the quaint well found in its manicured grounds. The stone-walled lounge and more ornate dining-room are perfect to relax in after a days’ excursion into the surrounding area. Just a fifteen minute walk away lies the Ingapirca complex. Other attractions include the Cara del Inca, massive natural rock formations carved by water, and weekly indigenous markets.
Depart from your hotel at 5.30am and travel to Alausi train station where you journey starts. Take the train in a switch-back rail road, down to the famous 'Devil’s Nose'. During the ride you will be able to see amazing landscapes and colourful Indian towns that take you back to the past times.
Accommodation in Cuenca
- 11 rooms, 3 suites
- Restaurant & bar
- Library & garden
- Turkish bath
Experience the best of Cuenca’s colonial architecture in this sophisticated boutique hotel with some excellent service. Located almost directly in the centre of Cuenca, this restored mansion has eleven opulent rooms decked out with fine antique furniture, poster beds and views into the overflowing jasmine-flower garden or courtyard. Alternatively choose a suite for more modern design, king-sized beds and spacious lounge areas. The restaurant, Casa Alonso, extends the hotel’s old-world aesthetic with seating in the garden conservatory. Dine on both international and Ecuadorian cuisine in what is by far the best restaurant in town. The Mansion also feature a sophisticated bar, serving cocktails and specialty drinks in an intimate atmosphere.
The third largest city in Ecuador and boasting a rich heritage, Cuenca is packed with historic landmarks. Luckily this is complemented by the abundance of cafés and galleries tucked into its cobbled streets, perfect to dip into after a long day sightseeing.
Enjoy your full day of the beautiful city of Cuenca. A walking tour of the old town will take you through magnificent churches such as the blue-domed cathedral built on the XIX century and the old colonial cathedral built on the XVIII century (now open as a museum), beautiful old buildings with wrought iron balconies and carved wooden doors, flower and handicrafts markets, art galleries, workshops and all the wonders that Cuenca, with its colonial style and pleasant atmosphere, offers its visitors. The visit also includes a ride along the Tomebamba River, while admiring the ancient houses perched on the river bank above as well as a drive through some modern neighborhoods and a panoramic view of the city from the vantage point of Turi. If time permits, visits to the flowers market, the Pumapungo Archeological site, a small black ceramic workshop or a Panama hat factory can also be included.
Your excursion starts with a visit to one of the most traditional family workshops that produce the famous toquilla hats - commonly known as Panama hats. You'll continue to the more modern part of the city and visit a ceramic workshop and participate in the making of a piece representative of the local culture. After a trip to the top of Turi Hill, which offers great views across the city, you'll enjoy lunch prepared in ancestral clay pots and cooked on an open fire. You will then explore the city by foot, visiting the neighbourhood of Todos Los Santos, know for its production of bread, and visit the church and convent. You'll also visit the City Hall, Parque Calderón, the modern cathedral and the flower market.
Depart from Cuenca early this morning and drive to Guayaquil, visiting El Cajas Lagoons Reserve en route. El Cajas is considered a paradise for hikers due to its ecological conservation and natural beauty. Take a short hike through some of its 230 glacier lakes, admiring the moorland vegetation (high Andean grassland, like moors at high altitude) with amazing micro flora, some patches of Quinoa primary forests and spectacular rock formations. Then continue on to Guayaquil for lunch at a local restaurant.
Accommodation in Guayaquil
- 11 rooms
- Roof terrace
- Complimentary WiFi
Guayaquil’s only boutique hotel, the Mansion del Rio is a refurbished early 20th-century villa of just eleven rooms still preserving the feel of a private residence. Original features and antique furnishings adorn the inside of the hotel with classically styled rooms that that look over the Guayas River. A roof terrace also makes the most of these views and the hotel’s position (especially if your room isn’t on the river side). Set into the hillside of the city’s Las Penas neighbourhood, you are moments from the Malecon and a ten minute drive from the airport. Maria, the owner, is very hands on and always ready to relay the interesting history of the house to recommending good places to eat in town. A hotel that is also monument to Guayaquil’s past and heritage, Mansion del Rio is a pleasing alternative to the city’s good business hotels.
- 294 rooms
- Outdoor pool
- Health Club and Spa
- Six restaurants
- Three bars
- Complimentary airport shuttle
Located close to the airport, the Hilton Colon is an excellent option for Guayaquil. It’s the best hotel in the city with the level of service and finish that one comes to expect from this brand. Recent refurbishment means that the interiors are elegant and contemporary. Features include a large outdoor pool area, an excellent spa and a choice of different restaurants. There is also an adjoining complex with shops and banks.
- 44 rooms and suites
Originally built as a grand charity centre in the heart of Guayaquil in 1891, it avoided demolition after being bought and reconstructed, piece by piece, in its current location within Parque Historico on the banks of the Daule River, and restored into an elegant boutique hotel. There are 44 guest rooms classically furnished with period local pieces, in subdued hues to contrast with the tropical park outside. Overlooking the waterfront, the Hotel del Parque’s restaurant serves sophisticated modern takes on Ecuadorian cuisine with a focus on fresh seafood and local ingredients.
The largest city in Ecuador and located on the Pacific coast, Guayaquil is the country's economic hub and with good flight connections, is more often than not simply a necessary stopover to or from the Galapagos. With a good selection of fine restaurants and cultural establishments, we can help you make the most of your short time here should you want to venture out.
Flight from Guayaquil to the Galapagos
Ships in the Galapagos
- Six cabins and two suites, all with private balconies
- Sun deck
- Kayaks on board
One of the newest boats cruising the Galapagos Islands, the Cormorant is a luxury catamaran with great service and a wide choice of itineraries. On board you’ll find six cabins and two more spacious suites, all of which have their own balconies. Up on the top deck is a Jacuzzi and sun loungers, below this a dining room, lounge area and bar. Luxury Galapagos cruise itineraries on the Cormorant range from a four-day introduction to the islands, up to a 15-day adventure where you’ll explore the archipelago from end to end.
- 50 cabins and suites
- Two restaurants
- Bar and lounge
- Fitness room
- On board doctor
Combining decades of experience with a state-of-the-art expedition vessel designed specifically for Galapagos exploration, the newly launched Santa Cruz II brings a new level of luxury and eco-credentials to the archipelago. The new boat is just over 70m long and features 50 Swedish-designed cabins and suites, with room for up to 90 guests. All enjoy sea views out of large windows and en-suite bathrooms. 36 cabins can be interconnected, ideal for families and small groups. Communal areas include the Sky Deck, overlooking the bow, where guests can enjoy the sunshine or exercise in the fitness room. The aptly named Panorama Deck has an elegant bar, lounge and an al fresco dining area to the stern. On the same deck, guests are also welcome to visit the bridge, featuring state-of-the-art electronic navigation equipment, to meet the crew and captain. Below this is the library, hot tubs, the Discovery Room and the Beagle Dining Room. Much of the food served on board is locally sourced, such as fish, sea food and organically grown produce, and is a combination of Ecuadorian specialities and international cuisine. You can choose to dine al fresco which lets you enjoy the stunning scenery as you eat. Aboard the Santa Cruz II, explore the Galapagos Islands in a range of ways, from snorkelling in its waters with reef sharks and frolicking sea lions, to glass-bottomed boat tours, kayak expeditions and expertly guided hikes on land that focus on birdlife, wildlife and geology. Cruise itineraries vary in length from four to ten nights, and encompass the entire archipelago.
- 8 spacious cabins with their own private balconies
- Dining room
- Several outdoor decks from which to dine and observe the sights
The only mega, luxury catamaran sailing the Galapagos, Ocean Spray is a well-equipped and very reasonably priced vessel. With a capacity for only sixteen guests with eight very spacious cabins (the top four are 32m² in size) all with their own private balconies, this is a cruiser that prizes an intimate and comfortable Galapagos experience for its guests. Enjoy al fresco dining on the deck to soaking in the Jacuzzi after your day’s excursions.
- 24 cabins, all mid-ship with large picture windows and double or twin beds
- Connecting rooms available
- Family program on select dates
- Sun deck
- Al-fresco dining area
- Bottle of wine upon arrival for 4 night cruises; bottle of champagne or wine upon arrival for 7 night cruises
One of the top expedition vessels in the Galapagos, La Pinta is an excellent choice for those looking to combine comfort with a personal, expert service and high quality guiding. The vessel has capacity for just 48 guests, striking a good balance between size and facilities. All of the twenty four staterooms are located mid-ship on the upper deck and come with spacious double or twin beds. As one of the newer boats in the Galapagos, La Pinta is kitted out with the latest equipment and has an excellent restaurant and bar, jacuzzi, and a gym. All tours are conducted with small groups of just ten guests or less with expert naturalist guides and travellers can use snorkelling equipment, sea kayaks, wetsuits and take trips in the glass bottomed boat.
- 50 staterooms and suites (100 guests)
- Two Restaurants
- Onboard team of naturalist guides
- Main Lounge
- Snorkelling Area
- Piano Bar
- Beauty Salon, Fitness Centre, Jacuzzi, & Massage Room
The latest addition of luxury cruise ships to explore the Galápagos Islands, Silver Galapagos, will sail all year round on carefully planned itineraries and is naturally suited to in-depth explorations of this spectacular region. Built to accommodate 100 guests and 75 crew, this is one of the larger boats sailing the islands but with more amenities, greater luxury, professional butlers and a maximum of 14 guests per excursion, the Silver balances its size well with attentive service and intimate guiding. Offering all ocean-view accommodations most with private verandas, a dedicated team of naturalists onboard and complimentary shore excursions at all ports, the Silver Galapagos offers intrepid adventures with all-inclusive, elegant interludes. Observe unique ecosystems, hike through lush mangrove forests and across volcanic fields, watch for wild flamingos (in season), read cave inscriptions from the 1800s, and learn about conservation efforts at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Plus there will be many opportunities to swim and snorkel with the sea-life found in the tranquil clear waters. The more you explore, the more you will marvel at the wonders of nature.
A truly unique wildlife haven, the Galapagos is perhaps the only place in the world where you can see so much nature so close up. There are 13 ‘proper islands’, only four of which are inhabited, three small islands and hundreds of islets in the archipelago, each with its own distinctive landscape and often its own endemic species. The waters between are bursting with marine life. With so much to discover, the best way to explore the Galapagos is aboard a boat.
Spend your days hopping between islands, heading ashore to hike up volcanoes, meet giant tortoise and spotting hundreds of birds amid forest of cacti. There’s plenty of beach time, usually shared with playful sea lions and sun bathing marine iguanas, incredible snorkelling and sea kayaking, all with excellent guiding.
Flight from Galapagos to Guayaquil
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Volcanoes, Incas & Waterfalls: a Hidden Tour of Ecuador
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