Spend the first day of your trip wandering Ecuador’s capital city. Meet the group in the evening at the hotel. When you arrive in Quito, you will likely feel the effects of the altitude. Symptoms include shortness of breath, headaches, general lethargy and a reduced appetite. This is no cause for alarm; it is simply your body’s way of coping with the altitude. It may take a little time to acclimatize, but before long you probably will not even notice it. Take it easy for the first day or two, and reduce alcohol and cigarette consumption to minimize the effects. Be sure to drink plenty of water and do not attempt too much in any given day. Located 2850m (9348 ft) above sea level, Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, enjoys a wonderful spring-like climate, despite the fact that it is only 22 km (14 miles) south of the Equator. It is in a valley flanked by mountains, and on a clear day, several snow-capped volcanoes are visible. As well as its beautiful location, it is rich in history and much of the Colonial Old Town is well preserved. 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 2,000,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area, but the pace is relaxed and the residents hospitable. Quito is separated into two basic sections, the old and the new cities. The old city is full of interesting historical buildings and many churches. Some of the more interesting ones include 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). The small, rounded hill that dominates the old town is called El Panecillo or 'the Little Bread Loaf', and is a major Quito landmark. Marvelous panoramic views of the entire city, as well as views of the surrounding volcanoes stretch out at your feet. You can take a trolley (streetcar) or a cab to the Old Town from the New Town. Quito has a large population of foreigners and is a popular destination for travellers, resulting in a varied and vibrant nightlife where 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 cooking. In the 16th century, Spanish conqueror Francisco de Orellana ventured from Quito into the eastern jungle, in search of El Dorado, a mythical stash of Inca gold hidden away in the jungle. While he didn't find gold, he did discover Ecuador's Rio Napo, which along with Peru’s Marañón, combines to create the mighty Amazon. He followed the Napo into the Amazon mainstream and travelled all the way through the dense jungle to the Atlantic Ocean on Brazil’s coast.
Today we travel overland to Tena, located on the edge of the Amazon. From there we are transferred for half an hour by truck to the river for a short motorized canoe ride. From here we will walk between 1 and 5 hours to the local community that will be our home for 3 nights. The distance depends on the community with which we will be staying as we move our groups from community to community to equally support the families of that area. When possible we will replace part of the longer hikes with a transfer. The rainforest is the traditional home of many indigenous communities, whose traditional homelands and way of life are threatened by the encroachment of 20th century industries like mining, petroleum exploitation and large-scale cash-crop farming. Among the most representative are the Siona-Secoya, Cofan, Huaorani, Shuar, Ashuar and Quichua. We will visit the Ricancie community and learn about the traditional lifestyle of these indigenous people. There is also an incredible amount of biodiversity in this area. We will see a staggering variety of rainforest vegetation and may be able to spot some of the birds that spend their time hiding in the canopy of the forest. There are over 500 species of trees per acre have been recorded in the jungles of the upper Amazon. If this doesn’t seem particularly astonishing, consider that this is ten times greater than either Europe or North America, and you will begin to appreciate the significance of the conservation of this area and others like it. Accommodation for these nights may be multishare.
Baños is one of the most popular and important tourist spots in the country and you will find many Ecuadorian families vacationing here. One look at this delightfully green mountain town and you will know why. Surprisingly, it is pleasant and unspoiled. Baños means 'baths' and that is precisely what the town is famous for. Some are thermal springs from the base of Tungurahua Volcano, which means 'little hell' in Quichua. Other baths have melt water running into them from Tungurahua's glaciated flanks. Locals swear that the baths are good for your health; it’s definitely worth rising early to watch the dawn creep over the mountains from a hot spring vantage point. The town is the perfect setting for outdoor pursuits, including horseback riding, canyoning, hiking, mountain biking, climbing and rafting in the surrounding mountains and on the River Patate.
Ecuador's third largest town, Cuenca retains a pleasant provincial air with its colonial architecture, art galleries, and museums. The surrounding countryside is an outdoor playground. Visit National Parks, take walks in the beautiful countryside and see Ecuador’s only Inca ruin site. Cuenca is considered the most beautiful city in Ecuador and has had an exciting history. Barely half a century before the arrival of the Spaniards, the powerful Inca Tupac Yupanqui was undertaking the difficult conquest of the local Cañari people, who struggled bravely to stem the expansion of the Inca Empire. After several years of bitter fighting, Tupac Yupanqui's forces prevailed. The Inca began the construction of a major city whose splendour and importance was to rival that of the imperial capital of Cuzco. Stories of sun temples covered with gold sheets and palaces built using the finest skill of Cuzqueño stonemasons abound. What happened to Tomebamba, as the city was called, is however, a complete mystery. By the time the Spanish chronicler Cieza de Léon passed through in 1547, Tomebamba lay in ruins, although well-stocked storehouses indicated how great it had recently been. The Tomebamba River divides Cuenca in half, and south of the river lie fairly recent suburbs and the modern university. To the north is the heart of the colonial city. Although Cuenca has expanded to become Ecuador's third largest city with 165,000 inhabitants, it still retains a pleasantly provincial air and the old centre has churches dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. The earliest building is the original Cathedral, construction of which began in 1557, the year Cuenca was founded by the Spanish conquerors. Explore the city’s sights including cobbled streets, red-tiled roofs, art galleries, flower markets, shady plazas and museums. The villagers in the surrounding areas are expert milliners, creating beautiful and useful Panama hats (which should perhaps more accurately be called Ecuador hats). The ruins of Ingapirca lie approximately an hour and a half drive north of Cuenca, through some of Ecuador's most beautiful countryside. Although it is a major Inca site, not a lot is known about its history Yet another nearby attraction is Area Nacional de Recreacion Cajas, a protected area of 28,000 ha, about 30 km (19 miles) northwest of the city of Cuenca. The terrain is quite stark, mostly above 4000m (13120 ft) in the páramo (grassy highlands), with many clear lakes and a great variety of bird life, beautiful scenery and good hiking possibilities.
The adventure continues as we travel from Cuenca through the busy border town of Huaquillas and across the Peruvian border into Mancora. Enjoy the relaxing beach atmosphere before heading south along the coast to Trujillo, the largest city in northern Peru. It is known for its beautiful colonial structures and nearby attractions of Chan-Chan ruins and the resort town of Huanchaco where we spend the night. The border crossing into Peru through Huaquillas is one of the busiest in South America and definitely an experience you won’t soon forget. We follow the Pan-American Highway south to the seaside town of Mancora, a village populated by fishermen and surfers from around Peru and the world. Next we head further south through the Sechuara Desert, one of the driest places on the continent despite infrequent torrential rains brought on by El Niño. The entire Pacific coastline of South America, encompassing Peru and Chile is washed by the cold Humboldt Current, which travels north from the frigid Antarctic waters. Though the land is fairly devoid of life, the ocean waters are rich with shoals of fish and both the Peruvian and Japanese fishing fleets are well represented along the coast. Trujillo is the capital of the Department of La Libertad and is well known for its colonial buildings, proximity to the Chimu ruins of Chan-Chan and the resort of Huanchaco, where the fishermen’s boats are constructed of buoyant reeds and the seafood is both tasty and abundant.
Spend day 13 in Huanchaco before boarding an overnight bus to Lima, where you have a full day to take in the sites. Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro, on the Day of the Three Kings (Epiphany) in 1535, Lima is known as the City of Kings. It is Peru’s capital city and as such, deserves a visit. The Plaza de Armas is the heart of old Lima and you’ll find the Cathedral, Government Palace and Archbishop’s Palace. The Cathedral dates back to the 1700s and houses the remains of the conquistador Pizarro. To get a feel for colonial Lima, take a cab to the Plaza de Armas and watch the changing of the Palace Guard in the afternoon. Walk around the streets surrounding the Jirón de la Unión for great examples of Spanish-colonial architecture and to experience life in a large South American city. There are many fine museums in and around the city, including the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, which houses an equally impressive collection of pottery, mummies and textiles from the Paracas and Nazca cultures. An optional city tour visits many of the cities highlights. The more affluent coastal districts of Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro offer good nightlife and cafés. The Limeños are friendly and the city’s many interesting museums, churches, markets, restaurants and nightlife will surely entice you. Seafood lovers should be sure and try a ceviche, for which Lima is well known.
Depart any time.