Why: Ecuador is one of the most diverse places on earth. The prices are cheap and you have beaches, glaciated peaks, and the Amazon all in a small package. This is one of the easiest places to visit in a shorter period of time and see a lot in all of Latin America! The Galapagos would be amazing, but it would also double the cost of your trip so we chose to stick to the mainland.
Flight and Car: Tons of flights go down to Quito, Ecuador from the U.S. We took buses, but you could also rent a car if desired.
Day 1: Land in Quito and take a taxi to the city. Stay at El Patio Hostel in Quito. Get out and see the Plaza de la Independencia and Quito’s old town. Climb up the basilica for some great views of downtown Quito. Walk through Plaza Foch in the evening to see where the nightlife happens in Quito.
Day 2: Get a taxi over to the Rucu Pinchincha teleferico. Take the teleferico up and hike up this 15,000 foot peak just outside of Quito. This will be a great warm-up hike to get you ready for one of the bigger peaks in the Andes later on in the trip. After your hike come back down to Quito to chill out in the artisan markets like Mercado La Mariscal.
Day 3: Head out to La Mitad del Mundo. If you are in Ecuador you have to go to the actual equator. Spend several hours exploring the Mitad del Mundo. They will show you how water spins clockwise vs. counterclockwise along with several other interesting phenomenons. Be sure to visit the Planeterium and Museo Intiñan. Take your passport to get the official “Equator Stamp”. Come back in and see if hiking a 19,000 foot volcano is an option for you later in the week. There are lots of agencies in downtown Quito. Because I speak Spanish we opted to find local guides and not pay as much as an agency would cost.
Day 4: Get a bus up to Otavalo, home of one of the biggest markets in all of Latin America. Saturdays and Wednesdays are the two best days to visit the market if you can. Stay in Otavalo at El Andariego Hostel. Bus or taxi out in the afternoon to Laguna de Cuichocha. This is a spectacular crater-filled lake which makes for a great hike.
Day 5: We got a taxi out to Laguna de Mojando early in the morning. This is another beautiful lake and the hike to Mount Fuya Fuya is cool one. This region has lots of Andean grasslands and the hike up Fuya Fuya gives great views above the laguna. Have lunch on top of Fuya Fuya while admiring the awesome views. In the afternoon we came back to Otavalo, grabbed our stuff at the hostel and caught a bus down to Cayambe. Stay at Hostal Miraflores. In Cayambe I met up with Diego Guaña who was up for guiding our attempt up 19,000 foot Cayambe.
Day 6: Diego and his buddy Santiago came over and we got outfitted for gear that we would need. Later in the afternoon Santiago drove us up the gnarly road that leads to the Cayambe Refuge. Be ready for a bump ride up the last half of this wicked road! At the refuge get prepared and get a nap for a couple hours if you can before an EARLY start!
Day 7: We got up around midnight and were out hiking by 1 a.m. I know this is early, but you must start early to avoid slushy snow later in the day. We hiked up in the dark, put crampons on, roped up and made are way up the massive glacier. After several hours hiking up we were forced to turn back due to blizzard conditions around 18,000 feet. If we had had an extra day or two to wait out the storm, we could have tried again, however this was not the case. As in most things in life I nearly always feel like it is worth it to go for it as you don’t know when you will be back in Ecuador shooting for a 19,000 foot peak! We got back to the hostel, changed clothes and made our way down to Otavalo. Stay in Hostal Miraflores again.
Day 8: We got an early bus from Cayambe down towards Quito, then on to Ambato and then over to Baños. Baños is a really cool town. Stay in Hostal El Recreo. Get a taxi to take you up to La Casa del Arbol, which is the super cool swing that looks like its on the edge of the world. Back in Baños, find a bike place where you can get a bike first thing in the morning.
Day 9: Get your bike from the bike shop and head out on La Ruta de las Cascadas, or the waterfall route. This is an absolutely awesome route to bike. Nearly the entire route is downhill and there are loads of waterfalls and ziplines along the road. Go at least 13 miles to Pailón del Diablo. Go for one of the ziplines along the way and be sure to stop in at Manto de la Novia waterfall among countless others!
Day 10: Chose from a variety of adventure options in Baños, such as Puenting (bungee jumping), canyoneering, or white water rafting. In the afternoon try cuy, which is guinea pig. It sounds strange but this is one of the unique dishes to the region. In the late afternoon head over to the local hotsprings which are right on the edge of town.
Day 11: Get buses out of Baños and up and over towards Laguna Quilotoa. Stay at Hosteria Alapca Quilotoa or Hostal Chukirawa. Both places will give you easy access to one of the most beautiful spots in Latin America. You can do a longer trek of Quilotoa or you can go over in the afternoon like I did and hike the couple hour hike down to the lake and back.
Day 12: Get up early and hike the loop around the perimeter of the crater. This should take between 3 and 6 hours to hike and the views are tremendous. After you are done come back and relax in your hostal and then head back over to the Laguna for one more sunset.
Day 13: Make sure you check with your hostel about bus times, or you can also find a taxi if the bus schedules aren’t working well with your schedule. Get yourself back to Latacunga and on up to Quito. Stay in El Patio hostel like before.
Day 14: Head out to walk the streets of Quito one more time. Pick up any Andean gifts you would like to take home with you and get ready for your flight back home or to your next South American country!