Arrive in Quito at any time, and transfer to the hotel. There are no planned activities, so check in and enjoy the city. A Discovery Adventures representative will hold a briefing at the hotel to review the various aspects of the tour. If you are not able to attend this welcome meeting, our representative will leave all important information at your hotel’s reception, indicating what time to be ready on Day 2 of our trip. If there is any confusion on arrival, please do not hesitate to call the contact number listed in these trip details. Located 9,348 ft (2,850 m) above sea level, the Ecuadorian capital of Quito enjoys a wonderful spring-like climate, despite the fact that it is only 14 miles (22 km) south of the Equator. Nestled in a valley flanked by mountains, on a clear day several snow-capped volcanoes, including nearby Pichincha, are visible from the city center. Add to its beautiful location a rich history and well-preserved colonial district, and you begin to understand Quito’s appeal to thousands of tourists every year. In 1978, UNESCO declared Quito a World Heritage site, and any new development in Quito's old town is now strictly controlled. Life in Quito tends to be peaceful, though the drivers are fond of using their car horns! There are approximately 2 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area, but the pace is relaxed and the residents hospitable. Since pre-Columbian times, the site of Quito has been inhabited by the Quitus, the Shyris and the Puruhas. The Inca reached this city before the Spaniards, but leveled it to the ground rather than give it up to the Spanish. The present capital was founded by the Spanish on December 6, 1534. Quito is separated into two basic sections, the old and the new cities. The old city is full of historic buildings and churches. One of the more noteworthy is the Catedral de Quito, located on the Plaza de la Independencia. Built between 1550 and 1562, it was one of the first neoclassical works in Quito. La Compañía de Jésus Church is considered one of the most beautiful in the Americas. The decorations in the Compañía contain approximately one and one-half tons of gold, and construction of the church took 170 years (1605-1775). There are several excellent museums scattered throughout the city. The Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana has an interesting display of traditional musical instruments and Ecuadorian traditional dress, a large art collection, and a small natural history museum. For archeology, the best museum to visit is the Museo del Banco Central with its well displayed pottery, gold ornaments, skulls showing deformities and early surgical methods, a mummy and many other objects of interest. The small, rounded hill dominating the old town is El Panecillo, the Little Bread Loaf, a major Quito landmark. From here there are marvelous panoramic views of the entire city and surrounding volcanoes. Tourists can easily take a trolley (streetcar) or a cab between the Old Town and New Town. Quito’s large foreign population and steady stream of travelers have given it a varied and vibrant nightlife, and salsotecas and other dance clubs abound. For a real Ecuadorian experience though, be sure and drop by a peña if you can; these are great places for meeting locals and dancing, as well as enjoying local cuisine. Just a few hours south of Quito is Parque National Cotopaxi, home to Cotopaxi Volcano at 19,342 ft (5897 m). The beautiful cone-shaped, snow covered volcano is Ecuador’s second highest peak and the highest active volcano in the world. This is a great spot for day hiking up to the refuge on the glacier’s edge or mountain biking (downhill all the way). True enthusiasts attempt the climb to the summit on an overnight excursion. Allow yourself an extra day or two in Quito, before or after your trip, if you want to conquer Cotopaxi.
In the morning we will have an introductory Spanish lesson to go over some of the basics of Spanish that will offer insight into the local culture, and give you the opportunity to try to communicate with the locals in their own language. We will then transfer by private vehicle to the city of Otavalo, with stops along the way at Calderón Village and the spectacular San Pablo Lake. We will have plenty of time to visit the world-famous handicraft market at Otavalo and will use an historic and comfortable nearby hacienda as our base of exploration of the area. On day 3, we will have an included tour to Cuicocha Lake, a very deep lake in a volcanic crater, where we will explore by boat. In the afternoon we will visit the town of Cotacachi for more shopping opportunities. Cotacachi is particularly well-known for its traditional leather wares and we can watch local experts work on various hand-crafted leather items. The town of Calderón is known for its bread dough figurines. On the Day of the Dead (Día de los Difuntos, 2nd November), the tradition in Ecuador is to visit the graves of family members, light candles and generally spend time remembering the departed. Simple bread figures are traditionally placed on the graves. Calderón has taken the idea of these edible bread models shaped in basic clay molds and developed it into folk art. The bread figures in Calderón are made by hand from real bread dough, but are not edible. Calderon's little dough figures with traditional indigenous costumes from various parts of Ecuador are popular souvenirs. Spend 2 nights in the Otavalo area and visit its world famous handicrafts market, the largest in South America. Villagers from the surrounding countryside come here every week to sell handmade goods as well as livestock, fruits and vegetables. There are three main market plazas in town, with the overflow spilling out onto the streets linking them. The Plaza de Ponchos is where we will find most handicraft items. We will find colorful wollen goods such as ponchos, gloves, hats, blankets, scarves and sweaters, as well as fine tapestries and a variety of embroidered blouses and shirts, shawls, string bags and rope sandals. This market gets underway at dawn and continues until early afternoon. Remember, bargaining is expected for every purchase! A good negotiator should be able to get at least 20% off the starting price. The food market sells produce and household goods for the locals, and there is an animal market beginning in the predawn hours on the outskirts of town. Although these are not designed for visitors, they are cultural experiences to see and are definitely worth a visit. One of the most obvious signs of the Otavaleños' cultural integrity is their traditional dress. This is not just put on especially for the tourists at the Saturday market, but is worn throughout their daily life. Otavalo is justly famous both for its friendly people and its Saturday animal market. The market dates back to pre-Inca times when jungle products were transported from the eastern lowlands and traded for highland goods. Today's market has two different functions: the local market for buying and selling animals, food and other essentials, and the crafts market for the tourists and other interested people.
Departing in the morning by private vehicle, we will visit the "Mitad del Mundo" monument at the Equator line before continuing on to the lush cloud forest region of Mindo, and our lodge for the next 2 nights. Using the lodge as our base, we include guided walks to observe birds as well as a visit to an orchid farm with a local guide. A nearby butterfly farm is also an option. Mindo is about 1200m (3937 ft) above sea level and is concerned a world leader when it comes to birdwatching opportunities. This forest has more than 450 species of birds and approximately 32 species are endemic. There are also around 300 species of orchids, and approximately 39 species of hummingbirds that call this area home. A variety of optional activities are available from Mindo such as tubing down the rivier, horseback riding and hiking, to name a few.
Continue by private van towards to the Papallacta, for on-site hot springs and optional spa treatments. The village of Papallacta sits 60 km (37 miles) southeast of Quito, over the Andes and on the outer rim of the Amazon Basin. This small village, surrounded by cloud forest on the road between the highlands and the Oriente, has arguably the best thermal springs in all of Ecuador. It is the perfect place to spend a relaxing evening soaking in the mineral hot springs, while enjoying the great natural beauty of the area with views towards the snow-capped Antisana Volcano. You will have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the mountain views before returning to Quito on day 7 for our farewell dinner.
Depart at any time.