Itinerary

Day 1

U.S. / Guayaquil, Ecuador

Fly independently to Guayaquil and spend tonight at the Hotel Oro Verde. (Meals Aloft)

Day 2

Guayaquil / Manglares-Churute Ecological Reserve / Cuenca

Drive to the Manglares-Churute Ecological Reserve just 25 miles from Guayaquil. The reserve encompasses two distinct ecosystems: mangrove and tropical dry forest. Mangrove swamps provide food, nesting and nursery areas for many animals, including fish, reptiles and amphibians, mammals, birds and young marine animals which we may observe during a boating excursion. The mangroves at Manglares-Churute contain natural salt flats that are popular feeding spots for a variety of shorebirds like the roseate spoonbill, osprey, egrets and laughing gulls. Surrounding these mangrove areas are dry areas of balsa and oak trees, home to orchids, bromeliads and the spectacular horned screamer. Continue to Cuenca and spend three nights at the Mansion Alcazar. (B,L,D)

 ecuador tour tanager

Day 3

Cuenca: Cajas National Park

Drive into the Andes to Cajas National Park. Rolling paramo grasslands, wild quinoa, rosemary and over 150 species of birds such as the Andean condor and giant hummingbird characterize Cajas National Park. Journey through lush cattle land and past glittering streams to Tushipungo Valley. Explore a cloud forest trail along the shores of one of Cajas' 230 glacial lakes set in a deep valley surrounded by towering peaks. This afternoon, enjoy a walking tour of Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city. While strolling these streets, you can admire the traditional dress of the indigenous people — brightly colored skirts, Ikat scarves and straw hats, better known as the (wrongly named) Panama Hat. In the center of the city, which boasts a distinctive Spanish style with prominent French influences, the Incas inhabited the area now known as Cuenca and its surroundings, which at that time was populated by the Cañari people. You can still observe Inca ruins in the city and see an extension of the famed Inca Trail, which travels through Cuenca from Cusco, connecting the coast and the Amazon. When the Spanish arrived, different cultures merged and these changes are visible in every detail of the city. The churches, murals, stained glass, ceramics and weavings blend Spanish and indigenous skills. Staying in Cuenca is like a trip back in time, republican houses faithfully restored and artistically decorated with all the home comforts of the 19th century. (B,L)

 ecuador tour inca ruins

Day 4

Cuenca: Coyoctor / Ingapirca / Cojitambo

Drive to El Tambo, where we board a train traveling to Coyoctor. Along the way, enjoy the passing scenery as we pass potato and corn fields and small cattle farms. After arriving in Coyoctor, visit the Baths of the Inca, a recently restored Inca and Cañari archeological site. Drive to the most important archeological site in Ecuador, Ingapirca, a complex network of stone structures that surround a circular sun temple used by both the Inca and Cañari, constructed in the late 15th century. Here you may walk around the ruins, climb the stairs up to the temple and even sit where the Inca did during their ceremonies. On the way back to Cuenca stop in the small town of Cojitambo, an area which has been inhabited since 500 B.C. Drive to the top of a volcanic hill, where we look out across a fortified Inca complex perched above a picturesque valley. (B,L,D)

 ecuador tour lake pilchicocha

Day 5

Cuenca / Quito / Amazon

Fly first to Quito to connect with a short flight to the Andes Mountains and the bustling oil town of Coca. We board boats for the two-hour journey down the Napo River to Sacha Lodge. A 30-minute hike through the rainforest leads us to Lake Pilchicocha. Here, we meet native workers to paddle you across the lake to the lodge. After dinner, accompany our naturalist guide on a night walk through the rainforest to view the hundreds of different species of animals that can only be found at night, or enjoy a canoe ride on the lake to view the spectacled and black caimans with their glowing orange eyes as you silently paddle across the lake to get a closer view. (B,L,D)

 ecuador birding tour paradise tanager

Day 6

Amazon: Yasuni National Park / Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve

Board a motorized canoe and head onto the Napo River to reach a remote river that leads us to a pristine igapo-blackwater lagoon and riverine system located in the narrow gap between Ecuador's two largest protected areas in the Amazon: Yasuni National Park and Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. Yasuní National Park is as UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve covering roughly 2.5 million acres of wetlands, swamps, marshes, lakes, rivers and dry land forests. Close to 600 different types of birds can be found within the park — a third of all known Amazon bird species. Yasuni is also home to 170 mammals, 560 fish species, close to 300 different reptile and amphibian creatures and thousands of plant varieties. While paddling through the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, we may observe fisher bats snatching fish from the lakes or spot huge ringed kingfishers on their riverside perches. The reserve is known for its prolific creatures such as tapirs, ocelots, jaguars, pumas, capybaras, poison dart frogs, agoutis, iguanas and monk sakis. Swimming through the waters are Charapa turtles, pink freshwater dolphins, giant otters, manatees, five species of caiman and nearly 500 different species of fish — including infamous piranha. Birding enthusiasts should watch for Cocoi heron, red-capped cardinal, chestnut-fronted macaw, black-headed parrot and blue-crowned trogon. Return to the lodge and enjoy the afternoon at leisure. (B,L,D)

 ecuador tour canopy walkway

Day 7

Amazon: Pilchicocha Lake

Early this morning, board boats to explore the waterways where we have the opportunity to see the squirrel monkey, white belled spider monkey and vibrant birdlife. Head to the canopy trail for spectacular views of the rainforest. The canopy walkway is 100 feet high and 900 feet long, giving you a bird’s-eye-view of life in the rich rainforest canopy. This afternoon join your naturalist guide for piranha fishing or relax at the lodge. Keep in mind, piranhas will never attack a person and swimming at the same time is perfectly safe and fun! After dinner, you have the option of another night walk or canoe ride. (B,L,D)

 ecuador tour Papallacta Hot Springs

Day 8

Amazon / Quito / Papallacta Hot Springs

Enjoy a peaceful morning transfer by boat to Coca before flying to Quito. Drive to the Papallacta Hot Springs. Check in to our accommodations at Termas de Papallacta. The entire afternoon is at leisure to relax in the hot springs or build your “life list” while birding in the Ecuadorian Andes. The altitude and location in humid upper-montain rainforest makes the Papallacta area cool and wet, contrasting to the steaming hot thermal baths. The pools of Papallacta are framed by dramatic, jagged peaks and on a clear day you may even catch a glimpse of the gigantic Antisana volcano. The scenery around Papallacta is some of the most spectacular wilderness that Ecuador has to offer. Around Papallacta there is an abundance of Andean wildlife. Condors inhabit this area and are seen from time to time soaring overhead. Lucky observers have even spotted Andean spectacled bear and tapirs. White-tailed deer and birds such as mountain-tanagers, Andean snipe, sword-billed hummingbird, glowing pufflegs, mountain avocetbill and hawks are commonplace. You can watch for all of this wildlife on a naturalist-guided afternoon hike. (B,L,D)

 quito ecuador tour

Day 9

Papallacta Hot Springs / Quito

Drive back to Quito for a walking tour of the city. Filled with colonial cathedrals and monasteries, Quito offers an opportunity to savor true colonial architecture. In Independence Plaza, admire the Presidential Palace, Municipal Building, Archbishop’s Palace and the Cathedral. La Compania was built by the Jesuits as a replica of Il Bessu in Rome. The San Francisco Plaza served as the main Tianguez (market) during pre-Inca times, and now the church and monastery form the largest colonial building in the Americas. This afternoon, meet a local expert for an enriching lecture and chat about environmental issues in Ecuador. After a festive farewell dinner, spend tonight at the Hotel Patio Andaluz. (B,L,D)

 

Day 10

Quito / U.S.

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your independent flights to the U.S. (B, Meals Aloft)