Exploring the Andes

  • 3 Weeks

Traveling along the spine of the Andes, you’ll take in sublime alpine scenery, laid-back villages and a mix of colonial and pre-Columbian architecture. Opportunities for hiking, trekking, mountain biking and climbing are superb.

Start the highland adventure in Quito, where you can acclimatize to the altitude while exploring one of South America’s most fascinating capitals. After two nights in the city, head south for a night or two in a historic hacienda on the flanks of Volcán Cotopaxi, where you can horseback ride and hike; avid climbers can tackle one of Ecuador’s iconic peaks. Around day four, travel south to Latacunga and journey into the nearby mountainous landscape of the Quilotoa Loop. This is a great place to hike between high-up indigenous villages, staying in simple guesthouses along the way.

After two days spent in the clouds near Quilotoa, head to a slightly lower elevation and the delightful subtropical town of Baños, where you can soak in natural spring baths, book into a charming inn with views, and take a fabulous downhill bike ride past refreshing waterfalls to Puyo in the Oriente. After Baños, move on to Riobamba, an ideal base for setting out on a high-adrenaline mountain-bike ride or hike around Volcán Chimborazo. From Riobamba take a bus to Alausí, then take a train ride on the famed Nariz del Diablo, with its dramatic views of Chimborazo, El Altar, Laguna de Colta and other vistas dotting the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Returning to Alausí, continue by bus to the marvelous colonial city of Cuenca. There, enjoy a few days taking in the colonial churches, peaceful plazas and the idyllic river setting before striking out for the Inca ruins of Ingapirca. You can visit by bus, organized day trip, or on a more challenging three-day hike along the Camino del Inca (Inca Trail), with gear and guides available in Cuenca. Afterwards, make your way back to Quito for a final night out (Zazu is a good choice, followed by drinks and dancing at La Juliana) and a big send-off to the great Andean experience.