This 16 day highland tour includes a combination of Ecuador's natural and culture treasures. We start with a tour of old Town Quito and a ride up the teleferiqo. Then we drive north and explore the colorful markets, artisan activities and smaller Andean peaks and mountain lakes. The last half of the trip we spend hiking in two of Ecuador's most famous parks: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. The trip ends with a relaxing soak in the natural thermal pools at Baños.
Old Town Quito, or Colonial Quito, is one of the best-preserved historic centers in South America. This is why it was declared a United Nations Education, Science, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Cultural Center in 1978. The rich interiors of the Church and Jesuit College of La Compañía and the monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo are pure examples of the 'Baroque school of Quito' - a fusion of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art.
The Teleferiqo is Quito's cable car that goes up to an elevation of 4,000 m (13,123 ft) on the Andean peak Pichincha. Here we will enjoy fantastic views of nearby volcanoes and the city below. The Teleferiqo project also includes rides, restaurants, souvenir shops and gardens.
Next we explore the village of Otavalo. It is famous for its craft market, where you will find items such as vibrant textiles, wood carvings, and the misnomered Panama hats (which actually originated in Ecuador). After a day in Otavalo, we will visit the nearby dormant volcano, Imbabura.
There are two main summits on Imbabura. The higher peak (100 m/328 ft) is reached by traversing a knife edge crater rim from the north summit of the normal route. The peaks of Imbabura were once glaciated, and used to serve as an important ice source for the nearby villages. People would climb up the peak to get ice from the glacier and carry it back to sell at the markets in the villages of Otavalo and Ibarra.
The hike up Imbabura is followed by a day of cultural excursions, we visit a native bird of prey demonstration and visit an active Quichua craft village hiking past the Cascada de Peguche along the way. The Parque Condor is a reserve created to rescue and rehabilitate native birds of prey. Among the many birds they work with are the Andean condor, the national symbol of Ecuador. Here we will be able to see free flying demonstrations and many species of birds of prey such as kestrels, small hawks and condors.
On our hike to the village of Peguche, we will pass by the Cascada de Peguche, a lovely waterfall where we will stop and have lunch. This is a site for ritual purification for the Otavalo people. Then on to Peguche, where we will visit a museum about the native way of life and weaving tradition and visit a loom weaving and flute making demonstrations.
Then we head south to explore the major Andean highland parks: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. We follow the Canal Rio Pita route up Pasochoa, a straightforward moderately sloped climb through the rolling páramo grasslands up to the summit. At the top, you will have sweeping views of the valley below, including a look down into one of the few remaining humid Andean forests. This Forest Preserve fills the horseshoe shaped Pasochoa crater, and is home to more than 110 species of birds, including the King of the Andes, the condor.
Then we will explore the rich biodiversity of the Cotopaxi Park and the Reserva de Produccion Faunistica Chimborazo. These parks were established to protect the páramo grasslands intermingled with glacial formed lakes, peat swamps and shrub and forest patches that support the natural flora and the fauna of the region. The Chimborazo Reserve is most famous for its herds of wild native Andes camelids- the vicuña and guanaco. The Reserve is also home to deer, rabbits, wolves and a great diversity of birds- from the Ecuadorian Hillstar, a high altitude grassland hummingbird, to the grand Andean Condor.
We end the trip in Baños, a charming resort town set in a beautiful location below the active volcano Tungurahua and above the Rio Pastaza Canyon (a major tributary of the Amazon). The main attraction in Baños, spanish for baths, is relaxation and rejuvenation in its famous thermal hotsprings. The natural hot springs flow from the impressive cliffs lining the city to the south. The bath complexes contain many pools, with individual pool temperatures ranging from hot, hot, hot to cool, clear blue.