The Northern Andes has what it takes for a unique and special voyage: from incredible views and natural reserves to quaint towns, and from indigenous communities and their ancestral traditions, to colorful markets, and flower plantations. The province of Imbabura is best known for the fascinating market and craft fair at of Otavalo, one of Ecuador's tourism hot-spots. In fact, this quaint and industrious little town is just the tip of the 'must-see' iceberg in terms of the remarkable natural and cultural attractions that Imbabura has to offer. Go Galapagos Ecuador will take you on an embracing journey into this truly multidimensional destination, you´ll live out an experience of a lifetime.
What to bring: Dress in layers with comfortable clothes, sunglasses, sunscreen and insect repellent.
Guayllabamba Valley: 18 miles (29km) northeast of Quito is the agricultural valley of Guayllabamba known for its fruits like cherimoya, avocado and lemon.
Cayambe: 48 miles (78 km) northeast of Quito home to the third-highest peak of Ecuador and the highest point in the world on the equator. Due to the great weather conditions and its privileged location, this area is ideal for flower plantations, especially rose plantations. It's also known for its home made cheese and bizcochos, a truly delicious evening snack.
Rose Plantations: Ecuadorian flowers are world renown because of their high quality and are exported mainly to the United States, Russia, Canada and the Netherlands. This industry employs at least 600,000 people. At the farm, you´ll discover the different colors of roses and learn about the cultivation process that roses undertake until they are ready to be exported.
San Pablo lagoon: 55 miles (89 km) from Quito, at the foothills of Mount Imbabura, small indigenous communities reside. You can spot them fishing early in the morning or washing their clothes during the day. You can also take a boat ride around the lagoon and enjoy water sports like Jet Ski.
Peguche Village: About 57 miles (92 km) north of Quito, the indigenous Kichwa community of Peguche live; a community famous for its textiles and Andean musical instruments. Enjoy a delicious lunch prepared in the traditional way, using only firewood for cooking to preserve the original taste. In this cozy environment, you´ll will also enjoy live Andean music played with traditional instruments like the charango, drums and flutes. Visitors may can also observe the weaving process for which this town is famous for. Visit a workshop where many different Andean instruments are made and learn about them all. One of them is called bocina, which is made of a bull horn and bamboo cane; and its sound can be heard for from a mile away.
Condor Park: At this wildlife refuge and educational center birds such as vultures, condors and among other are rehabilitated. Twice a day there are public exhibits when it's possible to see some of the birds flying. The park offers close encounter with birds that are in a reintroduction process. You can learn about techniques related to bird training, growing and caring.
Otavalo: 59 miles (94 km), about 2 ½ hours north of Quito, there is Ecuador's most famous indigenous market which is characterized by: its mosaic of colors, ethnic groups, its superb bargains for fine textiles, paintings, ceramic ware and Panama hats. You´ll find this market to be, an incredibly fun market experience. The crafts fair takes place every day on the main plaza called Plaza de Ponchos, but it's on Saturday when it gets busier. The Otavaleños (people from Otavalo) have received world recognition for their weaving and craftsmanship.
Cotacachi: About 68 miles (110 km) from Quito, you´ll find a Town famous for its great variety of leather articles such as bags, jackets, hats, gloves and belts. In addition, you´ll find the Cuicocha Lagoon 11 miles (18 km) west, located at the foot of the Cotacachi volcano. This lagoon has two islands in the middle covered with vegetation and an impressive landscape of deep blue waters surrounded by hills.
San Antonio de Ibarra: About 64 miles (104 km) from Quito, a small village near Ibarra is located; here, everyone is in the business of carving wooden items. These items are sold in small shops around the village.
Ibarra: 70 miles (112km) north of Quito, you´ll find Ibarra, also known as the White City because of its whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets. Typical products include arrope de mora (blackberry syrup) nogadas, and helados de paila (handmade sherbet). At the train station you can take the Chaski Antawa train towards the valley of Salinas.
Magdalena Karanki Community: Located at about 9842 ft (3100 m) above sea level, this place was once home to Atahualpa, the last of the Incan emperors, and now home to a paradise lost in time amongst peaceful mountains on the patchwork slopes of Imbabura Volcano. It is immersed in this remarkably breathtaking pastoral setting that the Karanki have kept for centuries. They´ve kept tending their livestock, cultivating their land and enjoying the clear mountain air. Come and admire the beauty of their embroidery, share their everyday shepherding and harvesting activities and stand face-to-face with a community untouched by the urgencies of modern life.
The Avenue of the Volcanoes
The central sierra of Ecuador is known as “The Avenue of the Volcanoes” (325 km long), a necklace of 'snow-cones' like Chimborazo, Antisana, Cayambe, Tungurahua and the mighty Cotopaxi-to name perhaps the most emblematic. They are all highly prized mountain-climbing destinations that rise well over 5000 meters above sea level and give the overall and incredible Andean landscape, viewable from large cities to small towns, a character of unsurpassable splendor.
People wear bright ponchos and typical hats; they preserve their ancient harvesting traditions and keep a close bond with their animals. In Ecuador, you´ll experience close encounters with indigenous communities who maintain their own language, traditions and beliefs.
What to bring: Raincoat, warm clothing (layering), sunscreen and bottled water.
Papallacta Hot Springs complex: in the high moorlands, 37 miles (60km) from Quito and 10,824 ft above sea level (3,300 m) experience the perfect spot to leave the stress behind. Take advantage of a massage at the SPA while enjoying the view of the majestic snow-capped Antisana volcano (5753m/18872ft). Papallacta´s thermal waters contain sulfates, sodium, calcium, chloride and traces of magnesium which are odorless, colorless but have a slightly salty taste. Besides improving intestinal function, the baths' curative properties are also anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, diuretic and anti-rheumatic.
Cotopaxi National Park: in the province of Cotopaxi, 31 miles (50km) south of Quito, the Park is located at 5897 meters above sea level. Witness the Cotopaxi, Ecuador's highest active volcano, rising majestically above the Andean mountains. The Park is surrounded by haciendas and trails that provide the opportunity for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and trekking. Inside the Park, there is the Limpiopungo Lagoon where you might see Andean gulls, rabbits, llamas and horses.
Antisana Reserve: 31 miles (50 km) southeast of Quito it’s the Antisana volcano 18,886 ft (5758m). Its total area is approximately of 120,000 hectares (296,600 acres).There are numerous species of animals in the reserve, mainly birds such as hummingbirds and the majestic Andean Condor.
Zumbahua Village: Saturday open from 06h00 – 15h00. Located at 3 hours from Quito and 30 minutes from Tigua. Village known for their colorful paintings of landscapes of the Andes done on sheepskin. The place springs to life as locals from surrounding villages bring their goods to sell at one of the most colorful and authentic markets in the area. The highlight is watching the town transform early in the morning as traditionally dressed families come parading by with llamas or goats.
Tigua: Close to Zumbahua you will run into Tigua, a small town with a community dedicated to produce naïf paintings on dried sheep skin. These paintings are very colorful, and portray the lands and customs of the people that live around the Quilotoa.
Quilotoa Lagoon: At approximately 93 mi (150km) there is the Quilotoa Lagoon which is a water-filled caldera with turquoise and green waters surrounded by mountains full of ancient tales. This caldera was formed by the collapse of the volcano in an eruption that took place approximately 800 years ago.
Baños - “Gateway to the Amazon”: About 95 miles (153 km) south of Quito you´ll find Baños. Located in the middle of a mountainous region, it’s very well known for its natural hot springs. The lovely scenery around Baños is the area's other main attraction, it offers good hiking trails, horseback riding, canopying, and mountain biking among other adventurous activities. From here you can see the Tungurahua volcano 16,479 ft. (5,023 m) during its eruptive process. There are also more than 60 waterfalls, the best known: Pailón del Diablo, Manto de la Novia, Cabellera de la Virgen and Inés María.
Riobamba: At Located at 102 miles (165 Km) from Quito. It’s a tourist attraction for local and foreign visitors due to its unique natural and architectural beauty. Located in the foothills of Chimborazo volcano, the city shows many twentieth-century architectural gems.
Chimborazo: It’s the highest volcano in Ecuador with 20,702 ft (6,310 meters) above sea level. It is located in the central Andes, 150 km southwest of Quito. It has attracted famous adventurers and scientists such as Humboldt and Whimper. In ancient times, indigenous communities worshiped this volcano as a God. The Chimborazo Reserve is home to alpacas, llamas and some wild vicuñas.
Devil’s Nose Train: Called the "Most Difficult Train in the World", the train trip is one of Ecuador's most famous attractions. The railroad was originally built to connect the Andes with the Coast. This route goes up and down steep slopes along river valleys and crosses a wall of rock called Nariz del Diablo, the Devil's Nose. This train leaves from Alausí, a pretty little town with houses of adobe, then stops in Sibambe and then goes back to Alausí.
Inca-Cañari Ingapirca Ruins: Ingapirca means “Wall of the Inca” and is the most important archaeological memory in Ecuador which stands forth as an important evidence of the Inca presence in Ecuador. It was built at the end of the fifteenth century in an area that was occupied by the Cañaris.The main structure is known as the Temple of the Sun, and it was used for ceremonial and religious purposes. Next to this archaeological site there is a museum that displays Inca and Cañari ceramics and other artifacts.
The Southern Andes: Cuenca, Loja & Surroundings
Cuenca: 268 miles (432 km) south of Quito is the scenic gathering of four vigorously Andean rivers and a “World Heritage” colonial center, Cuenca. Let its cobblestone streets, graceful wrought-iron balconies, and flower-filled plazas captivate you. This city is home to the famous Panama hats and to very talented people who will proudly show you their best work.
The best archaeological exhibits are at the Museo del Banco Central, which also displays old photos and has changing art and other shows. The Museo de Las Conceptas is housed in the Convent of the Immaculate Conception and is Cuenca's most famous religious art museum.
What to bring: The weather is very much like that of Quito, therefore we suggest you dress the same for Cuenca.
Ingapirca Ruins: About 1 hour 45 minutes from Cuenca, Ingapirca, “Wall of the Inca” is the most important archaeological site in Ecuador standing as evidence of the undeniable influence of Incan presence in the country . It was built at the end of the fifteenth century in an area that was occupied by the Cañaris. The main structure is known as the Temple of the Sun, and it was used for ceremonial and religious purposes.Next to this archaeological site there is a museum that displays Inca and Cañari ceramics and other artifacts.
Gualaceo: is located about 22 miles (36km) from Cuenca and is Gualaceo known as “Garden of Azuay”. The valley of Gualaceo is crossed by the Santa Ana River which creates a beautiful riverfront scenery. It’s one of the most important fruit growing centers in the area. Its Sunday market features three separated markets: fruits and vegetables, craft and clothes, and products and household goods.
Chordeleg: It’s a pre-Incan town full of archaeological treasures just 10 minutes away from Gualaceo. It’s famous for its jewelry in gold and silver. This town also produces embroidery, pottery, ceramics, textiles and panama hats.
El Cajas National Park: Located on the west of Cuenca at 18 miles (30 km). The Park has an area of 28,544 hectares, the altitudes ranges from 10334 ft (3,150 m) to 14599 ft (4450 m) above sea level. This area is known for its beautiful landscapes and at least 200 lakes, like the famous La Toreadora. It’s the perfect place for birdwatchers and nature lovers. You can also fish trout, camp or hike. There’s also a small forest of Polylepis tree, and you can see the Ecuadorian national flower “chuquiragua”.
Loja: Located at about 128 miles (207 km) from Cuenca. It’s one of Ecuador’s oldest cities and a modern town with a rich cultural heritage; it has preserved some eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings. The mayor of Loja has worked hard in a garbage recycling program which has won several international prizes. Its gardens and parks are well taken care of, giving a charming look to this city which is close to the Peruvian border. Loja is also one of the most cultured cities of the country.
Vilcabamba: 25 miles (40 km) south of Loja. It’s a small town known as the “Sacred Valley” and famed for the longevity of its people who are over 100 years old. Some of the reasons of its longevity are: the spring like weather, healthy diet, and water and air purity. Vilcabamba offers access to areas of the Podocarpus National Park.
Podocarpus National Park: This national park is located in the provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Loja. It has more than 100 lagoons, the best-known are the Lagunas del Compadre. It’s a paradise for nature and bird lovers. It takes its name from having the country’s largest contingent of the Podocarpus or romerillo tree. The importance of this park is its biodiversity - up to 90 different tree species have been recorded.