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Andean Highlands Cultural Trek - 17 days  see photos

The Andean Higlands Cultural Trek is a 17 day tour which will immerse its participants in the fabulous Ecuadorian culture while providing extensive coverage of some of the country’s most interesting trekking destinations.

This tour combines travel in our bus with easy trekking designed for all ages and allows our guests the opportunity to experience Ecuador’s fascinating culture hands on. This trip will begin in Quito and then take you North to the Province of Imbabura, Chota Valley, Peguche, Otavalo, Mojanda Lakes, Cochasqui Archeological Park and then continue south to Cotopaxi National Park, the Chimborazo and Carihuairazo Wildlife Reserve, Chimborazo Base Camp, the city of Riobamba, Ingapirca (Ecuador's main Incan ruins), Cajas National Park, and the colonial city of Cuenca. All in all, an overwhelming combination of Ecuador’s most breathtaking scenery and interesting culture.

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Itinerary

DAY 1: ARRIVAL

Arrival at the Quito international airport located at 2,800 m. above sea level. Assistance with immigrations and customs. Dinner and accommodations at a hotel.

DAY 2: QUITO

Full day in Ecuador’s capital city. Enjoy a guided tour of colonial Quito, its beautiful parks and plazas, the narrow street of La Ronda, the San Francisco Square and a panoramic view of the city from Panecillo Hill. Depending on the day of the week, visit the archaeological museum of the Central Bank, which houses beautiful pre-Colombian ceramics, gold ornaments and pottery, or the Ethnographic Museum of the Middle of the World. Dinner overnight stay in a hotel.

DAY 3: IMBABURA

We will drive to the province of Imbabura, stopping along the way at the town of Calderon, a small community where "bread dolls" are made. Bread dolls are figurines made out of dough which are traditionally placed on graves to honor the dead during All Souls Day celebrations. We continue past the picturesque lakeside village of San Pablo to hike along he slopes of the Imbabura Volcano. We will pass by settlements from Incan times as we trek to Zuleta, a fascinating Indian village where women still wear intricately embroidered blouses and skirts. Picnic lunch. Dinner and overnight stay at a converted hacienda with old-world charm.

DAY 4: CHOTA VALLEY / PEGUCHE / OTAVALO

We will drive from Ibarra to the Chota Valley where an interesting community of black Ecuadorians of African origin constitute the only population of blacks living in the Andes. In the 17th century, after the indigenous population disappeared, Jesuits brought black slaves into the area to farm their estates. In pre-Colombian times, the Chota Valley was inhabited by the Caranqui, whose ruins are still found in the area today.

In the afternoon, we will visit the traditional Indian village of Peguche, where master weavers were at their looms long before the Spaniards, or even the Incas, arrived. Learn how the Indians make weavings on traditional floor looms using only natural dyes and products. Next stop, Otavalo, where there will be more opportunities to visit the local craftsmen. Then, depending on the time available, explore other fine centers of art near Otavalo, such as San Antonio de Ibarra, famous for its wood carvings, and Cotacachi, which has beautiful leather accessories and clothing. Dinner and overnight stay in a converted hacienda.

DAY 5: MOJANDA / LAGUNA GRANDE

Drive to the collapsed volcano Mojanda, one of the "knots" between the East and West Andes ranges. From here you may choose to ride to Laguna Grande or hike through easy rolling Andean farmland to Laguna Grande crater lake (approximately 4 hours). Box lunch on hike. Dinner and overnight stay in tended camp by the lake.

DAY 6: COCHASQUI

Hike through Mojanda caldera to the South flank of the mountain to Cochasqui, one of the biggest ceremonial sites of the Caranquis. There are thought to be 15 pyramids among the ruins of Cochasqui, all built before the Incan conquest at the end of the 15th century. The area, which covers nearly 15 hectares of land, was declared National Archaeological Site in 1977 and is currently being excavated for studying. Box lunch on hike. Dinner and overnight stay in tended camp near the ruins.

DAY 7: TUMBACO / LOS CHILLOS / COTOPAXI

Drive from Cochasqui down the Avenue of the volcanoes and through the valleys of Tumbaco and Los Chillos surrounding Quito. The area is dominated by archaeological sites and active volcanoes. Lunch at the charming hacienda La Cienega. Once a farm in the 17th century, the hotel sits at the foot of Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world and Ecuador’s second highest peak. Continue driving to Cotopaxi National Park.  Dinner and overnight stay in tended camp at the park.

DAY 8: AMBATO / CHIMBORAZO

Hike from Cotopaxi National Park to Mulalo Valley.  Cotopaxi is in clear view throughout much of your hike. In fact, provided that they are not hidden in the clouds, as many as nine volcanic cones can be seen on the way. Lunch along the way.  Continue driving to the Mountain Lodge "Estrella del Chimborazo " located at Totorillas valey at 4.000 m. ( 12.000 ft. ), at the foot of the majestic Chimborazo volcano. Dinner and overnight stay in the confortable cabins at the Mountain Lodge.

DAY 9: CHIMBORAZO / LAS YUNGAS TREKKING

After breakfast we will start our hike from the lodge across the paramo to reach the Great Sand Pit of Chimborazo "El Gran Arenal" which is a unique example in Ecuador of the natural formation known as "puna". Our hike will continue down in direction to the coast following the trail of the old "Yungas", who were the traders of exotic products of the tropical rain forest and the coast, like: coca, cotton, chili pepper and shells. Along the hike we will descent from the highest point between the Coast and the Highlands at 4.200 Mts, through Indian settlements and after 5 or 6 hours of hiking we will take the vehicles at approximately 3.000 Mts. to drive back to the Mountain Lodge. Box lunch during the excursion.  Dinner and overnight stay at the Mountain Lodge.

DAY 10: VICUÑAS RESERVATION

After breakfast we will drive to the Carihuayrazo Vicuñas Reservation, with a stock of over 800 wild vicuñas, on the Northeast side of Chimborazo Volcano. Hike through the reservation to the unique Abraspungo Valley between the impressive peaks of Chimborazo and Carihuairazo. On a clear day, you’ll see distant Sangay in volcanic activity, and Altar, a jagged, snow-covered crater two miles in diameter. Box lunch during the excursion. Return to the Mountain Lodge for dinner and overnight stay.

DAY 11: CHIMBORAZO WHYMPER HUT AND GLACIERS

After breakfast we will drive for about 40 minutes to the Carrel Hut located at 4.800 m. and then we will climb for one hour to the Whymper Hut at 5.000 m.  Following "Edward Whymper's Route" we will reach the hight of 5.300 m. enjoying the breath taking glaciers of El Chimborazo. Box lunch during the excursion. Return to the Mountain Lodge for dinner and overnight stay.

DAY 12: INDIAN MARKETS

Depending on the day of the week, drive to one of the many nearby Indian markets, including Zalaron, one of the most original markets of Ecuador (Friday only); or equally colorful Guamote (Thursday only); Riobamba market (Saturday only); Colta (Sunday only).  This day you will be invited by your host Marco Cruz to a typical welcome lunch at his home.  During the afternoom we will visit the city of Riobamba. Return to the Mountain Lodge for dinner and overnight stay.

DAY 13: TRAIN EXCURSION / INGAPIRCA INCA RUINS

During this day you will enjoy an exciting adventure riding on the roof of the "Old South Train"  to the town of Alausi. From there you will descend on the rail road to the famous rock hill "Devil's Nose", making switchbacks to overcome the steepness of the hill.  Along the way we will stop at all the old train stations and towns where time seems to have stopped. Box lunch during the excursion. Ride back on the train to Alausi and from there drive to Ingapirca Inca Ruins.  Dinner and overnight stay in a hotel near the ruins.

DAY 14: INGAPIRCA / BAÑOS DE CUENCA

Today we explore the massive fortifications of Ingapirca, the main Incan ruin in Ecuador, and the only remaining monument of the Inca empire. Box lunch in route. We will stop at the ruins of Incahuayco and continue then to Baños de Cuenca, where thermal baths await. Dinner and overnight stay at the beautiful colonial-style Hosteria Duran.

DAY 15: CUENCA

Spend the morning exploring the colonial city of Cuenca, Patrimony of Humanity. The site of a once important settlement along the Inca highway, Cuenca joined Cuzco to Quito during the last pre-Colombian empire. Today, Inca ruins have been found on the banks of the Tomebamba River, and some houses are now undergoing restoration. Cobblestone streets, ironwork balconies and religious art treasures found in Cuenca recall a long association with Spain. Dinner and overnight stay at the beautiful colonial-style Hosteria Duran.

DAY 16: CUENCA / QUITO

On this day you can decide whether to drive or fly back to Quito.  Farewell dinner in a special restaurant in the city. Overnight stay in a hotel.

DAY 17: FLY BACK HOME

Transfer to Airport to catch your flight back.