Fly in to Ecuador’s charming capital city of Quito, taking advantage of an overnight flight via Bogota in Colombia.
A half-day sightseeing tour is an excellent way to discover why Quito was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Begin with a visit to El Panecillo, the landmark hill rising at the edge of the historic centre. Admire the 'Winged Virgin' statue, San Francisco Church and the seven tons of gold gilding the wall of La Compañía. Amidst the bustle of Independence Plaza, pass the many-pillared Presidential Palace and the splendid spires of the Cathedral of Quito. As you’ll discover, the lifeblood of this city runs through its Old Town.
Today, visit the flower-speckled slopes of Yanacocha Reserve. One hour outside Quito, this eden of biodiversity encompasses 964,000 hectares of lush forest, thousands of metres above sea level. Wild rabbit and other rare small mammals live here, as well as 20 species of hummingbird. Along the trail, observe the orchids and bromeliads which share the swathes of greenery with other endemic plants. It’s a soothing contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city.
Depart from Quito on a two-hour bus ride across rose plantations and jutting mountains, arriving in the Otavalo valley. Pick up some woollen wares at the world-famous Otavalo market, then head to the San Roque train station. Here you’ll board the Tren Crucero, on their ‘train of wonders’ route, for a breathtaking journey taking in Ecuador’s most dramatic scenery. Your steam-powered escapade will reveal a country full of hidden wonders, beginning with the artisans of San Antonio and the food of Andrade Marin.
Journey across the Avenue of the Volcanoes, a 200km mountain-pass flanked by snow-capped peaks and verdant slopes. If the weather’s playing nice, you can spot up to twenty volcanoes from the train – most are extinct or dormant, but some, such as Sangay and Tungurahua, are wide awake. Alight to explore the Andean woodlands of the Cotopaxi National Park, enjoy spectacular views of Yambo lake and visit Baltasar, the last ice-harvester in the Chimborazo slopes.
In the canton of Guamote, visit one of Ecuador’s few remaining indigenous markets. People-watch as stall holders trade with colourfully dressed locals is a fascinating glimpse into daily life here. After picking up a souvenir or two, it’s time to navigate the mythical Devil’s Nose pass – a vertiginous railway descent of 450m including zig zags carved into the mountainside. If you dare to look out of the window, you’ll be rewarded with awe-inspiring views of the surrounding valley.
Arrive at a traditional hacienda in Naranjito, ready to discover the hidden world of chocolate. Tour around the fields here to learn about the farming and harvesting of the Ecuadorian cocoa bean – a bean so exquisite it’s considered by some to be the best in the world. Enjoy chocolate tasting and a fine dining experience amid the lush gardens before continuing onwards. Your journey ends at Duran station, where you will be transferred to your hotel for the night.
Today, tour Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city which has enjoyed a major regeneration effort. Admire the tiled artwork dotting the streets, the historic monuments of Centennial Park, the neoclassical Masonic temple and many superb buildings from the early 20th century. Enjoy the sites at Chile Street’s lively market and visit Seminario Park, where the twin spires of San Pedro Cathedral stretch into the sky. Later, head along the Pacific coast ready for a little R&R.
Ecuador might be more famous for its towering mountains, but its coast has plenty to boast about, too. Take time to relax at Tanusas Retreat & Spa, a stone’s throw from the ocean. Practice your asanas with a spot of yoga, surf the rolling waves of the Pacific or trot along the beach on horseback. Whilst here, head out to Pacoche Forest wildlife reserve to discover Ecuador’s biodiversity, including the famous howler monkey.
Wave goodbye to the dizzying peaks of the Andes, the colourful culture of the indigenous Ecuadorians and the pastel-coloured colonial buildings; today you leave Ecuador and fly back to the UK.