When deciding where to travel in the Andes mountain range – the longest in the world – you have seven fascinating South American countries to choose from. Running north to south, the Andes passes through Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. And suppose Ecuador is already on your radar for a Galapagos journey. In that case, you can mark two items off your bucket list by exploring the Ecuadorian Andes too!
Ecuador is a very compact country. You can travel from the Andes to the Amazon on a twenty-minute plane ride! Even so, you could also easily spend a few weeks exploring the exciting Andean landscape. So how many days is just right if you are working with a time constraint? Eight glorious days! Let’s dive right in and see the possibilities when traveling through the Ecuadorian Andes in eight adventure-filled days.
A Day in Historic Quito
Ecuador’s capital Quito shares the title of the highest capital city with La Paz, Bolivia, and fills every traveler with untold wonder. As night befalls the “old town” at 2,850 meters above sea level, the houses transform the mountain city into a rolling sea of light.
UNESCO named Quito’s historic center, aka “old town,” a heritage site in 1978, because of the colonial grace so carefully preserved in a modern-day metropolis. You might feel compelled to stay and explore for more than a day; however, one day provides plenty of time to wander the more impressive monuments and stoic streets. Some important highlights include the Iglesia de Compañia de Jesús, La Capilla del Hombre Museum, the Basílica del Voto Nacional, and a thrilling ride on the Teleferico cable cars.
Day trip to Otavalo and Quilotoa Lagoon
An easy day trip from Quito, you won’t want to miss the extensive Saturday Otavalo artisan market and a light hike around Quilotoa Lake!
The Otavalo craft market is the largest, and many argue the finest in all of South America. Replete with colorful textiles, radiant jewelry, and Panama hats, Otavalo harks back to when barter ruled the economy. (Fun fact: the Panama hat is actually from Ecuador!)
On the same day, you can glimpse the Quilotoa crater lagoon’s tranquil waters in the Cotopaxi Province. Due to the rich minerals embedded in the volcano crater, this lagoon boasts miraculous shades of turquoise, jade, and deep blues.
Onward to Cotopaxi
Of the 11 national parks and 51 protected areas in Ecuador, Cotopaxi National Park is unique because it folds into an avenue of volcanoes at over 4,000 meters above sea level! Only a couple of hours south of Quito, and you will find yourself in a vast expanse of volcanic peaks, which are listed as some of the world’s highest. Cotopaxi and Chimborazo are respectively number one and two for the highest peaks in Ecuador, and both are still active!
Where to spend the night in Cotopaxi National Park? There are several magnificent high-altitude haciendas to choose from. These historic estates radiate comfort and calm in the middle of the vast Andes landscape. One particular hacienda that stands out from the rest is Hacienda Porvenir, which borders the Cotopaxi National Park. Enjoy a well-earned hearty meal after adventuring in the avenue of volcanoes, and sleep among the peaceful stillness in the heart of the Andes.
Further south to Baños
A couple short hours further south from Cotopaxi, you will enter the mystical cloud forest and the small sleepy town of Baños at 1,820 meters above sea level. Unofficially, Baños is known as the “adventure capital” of Ecuador, because here you can zipline, white water raft, and mountain bike to your heart’s content. Not to mention, the swing at the end of the world!
Another attraction calling travelers to Baños for decades are the thermal baths, which give the town its name. The hot springs are the perfect spot for relaxation after an afternoon or morning or high-adrenaline fun.
The Southern Andean City of Cuenca
Your journey concludes in Cuenca, “Athens of the Andes,” overflowing with historic sentiment and a breathtaking cityscape. The southernmost city in the Ecuadorian Andes was also named a UNESCO heritage site after Quito in 1999, for its rich history (pre-dating the Incan Empire), smart city planning, picturesque architecture, and archaeological treasures.
While in Cuenca, make sure to wander the romantic cobblestone streets, climb the New Cathedral towers, picnic along the banks of the Tomebamba River, visit a Panama Hat factory, and buy your very own!
These destinations match perfectly with a 5-6 day cruise in the Galapagos to complete the perfect two-week Ecuador vacation. Contact us for more information on how to put together your ideal journey to Ecuador!