President’s Picks: Ecuador & Colombia Exploration

“About a decade ago, we saw clearly that there was so much more to Ecuador than the fabled islands. In Colombia, the challenge was to get people to look beyond its troubled past. Fast forward to today, and see how this journey is the culmination of the vision we had. This in-depth adventure moves through the heart of the pre-Incan empires of these two remarkable countries.”

Country Information

Ecuador & The Galapagos Islands


President's Picks: Ecuador & Colombia Exploration President’s Picks

(Countries Visited)

Ecuador & The Galapagos Islands



(Interest Type(s))

Sustainable Travel


Adventure Travel

(Tour Length)

22 Days

Tour Highlights

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  • Discover the hidden treasures of Quito such as the San Francisco Market, which is one of the oldest markets in the city
  • Travel by dugout canoe into Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park to encounter extraordinary wildlife and vibrant local culture; and explore Cotopaxi, considered the highest active volcano in the world due to its location and its continuous activity
  • Discover colonial towns such as Colta, which has the largest population of indigenous Quichua people in the province of Chimborazo; and Ingapirca, where a nearby Inca archeological site represents the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador
  • Tour Colombia’s colonial gems, Bogota, the capital city and home to exciting graffiti artists; and Cartagena, where you take an unusual food tour based on the life and work of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  •  Take in the coffee country around Armenia, traditional Medellin and the lovely coastal area of Nuqui, perfect for walks, relaxing on the beaches or soaking in the warm thermal springs as well as whale watching, surfing and kayaking

Day 1: Quito, Ecuador
Welcome to Ecuador! Upon arrival, after you collect your baggage, you are welcomed by your Big Five representative, who escorts you to your private vehicle. Your driver will be waiting for you to transfer you to your hotel. During the drive, your guide will review your schedule for the next day and answer any questions. Your guide will also assist with hotel check in.  Illa Experience Hotel – Master Suite

Day 2: Quito
After breakfast, you discover some of the hidden treasures of Quito such as the San Francisco Market, which is one of the oldest markets in the city. During the visit you will enjoy the smells and colors of the fruits and vegetables while you learn more about the history of this ancient market and the local products. Learn secrets about local natural medicine. You can opt to participate in a traditional “limpia,” a ceremonial healing with local herbs.

Then, continue to monastery of San Diego northwest of El Panecillo. This beautiful 17th-century monastery sits in a quiet courtyard behind thick walls above Old Town. Inside is an outstanding collection of colonial works from both the Quito and Cusco schools or art. After lunch, continue with a short visit to Santo Domingo Church and Monastery before you see El Carmen Alto Church and Convent. This convent belongs to the Carmelitas cloistered nuns. In the afternoon, you enjoy a short walk along the Independence Square before returning to your hotel. Illa Experience Hotel – Master Suite (B)

Day 3: Quito / Coca / Yasuni National Park Amazon
This morning you are transferred to the airport for your 30-minute flight to Coca over the eastern Andes mountain range. You are met by Napo Wildlife staff and transferred to Port Francisco de Orellana, where you embark on a comfortable, covered motor boat down the Napo River and into the heart of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park is rich with extraordinary wildlife and vibrant local culture. Spanning nearly 2.5 million acres of Amazonian rain forest, this is truly a gem. And the Napo Wildlife Center is the only lodge within the park’s boundaries. You arrive at the Napo Wildlife Center landing port, entry point to the Añangu territory and the national park. You have time to stretch your legs, use restrooms and maybe encounter one of the dozen species of primates that thrive in this territory. From here, you travel by dugout canoe (motorized transport is not allowed within the Añangu Reserve) that will take you to the main lodge through Añangu Creek. You may see monkeys as well as large birds like toucans, parrots or even macaws. You arrive at the lodge in late afternoon, where you are met with a stunning view of the lake and a welcome drink. Take time to settle in and relax a bit before dinner. The lodge is an award-winning ecolodge with just 16 spacious cabins that include a king-size bed and a twin-size bed, safety deposit box, private bathrooms with hot water, private balcony with views of the lake and the surroundings, 24-hour electricity provided by a solar panel system and silent power generators, plenty of 120v outlets to recharge your gear, ceiling fans and mosquito nests and screened windows. This evening, you have the option of joining a night out on the water in search of cayman (South American alligator) and other nocturnal species around the lake and savor the night sounds of the lake. Napo Wildlife Center Amazon Lodge – Standard Room (B,L,D)

Day 4: Yasuni National Park Amazon
Wake early to the sounds of the jungle. Set out early to reach one of the best and most accessible parrot clay licks in Ecuador, about an hour from the lodge. You arrive just before parrot activity kicks off, usually between 7:30 and 8:30am. You many see as many as 11 species of parrots, parakeets and macaws known to frequent that lick. Of course, much will depend on the weather conditions. but visit are usually successful. Later, you savor a hike along the forest trail to visit to the Quichua community of Añangu and share time with a family as they perform their activities.

Hike through a terra-firme forest for about 30 minutes to arrive at the second parrot clay lick where, if weather conditions help, you can find different species of parrots, parakeets and macaws. Enjoy a box lunch at the parrot clay lick observatory. Late this afternoon, return to your lodge. Napo Wildlife Center Amazon Lodge – Standard Room (B,L,D)

Day 5: Yasuni National Park Amazon
After an early breakfast, you set out on an excursion in the air… a canopy tour among the treetops. A 36-meter/118-foot high, 12-story canopy tower is a powerful way to experience life above the forest floor. This is the second tower at the Napo Wildlife Center, while the first is attached to the dining hall and allows great views of the lake. It is set about at a 20-minute walk from the lodge deep within the terra-firme forest. As you ascend the tower, you pass through various levels of the forest and emerge on top of a huge Ceiba tree. Here you cross onto a wooden platform built into the tree. The views are awe-inspiring. The metal tower itself was constructed to the highest standards, galvanized, and carefully inspected by engineers. Safety is the priority. The platform in the top of the tree was constructed by tree platform specialists brought from EcoEcuador's Peruvian partner organization Perú Verde. From top to bottom, there is no finer canopy experience in Eastern Ecuador. Flocks of colorful tanagers pass right through the canopy of the tree as well as blue-and-yellow macaws. In nearby trees you may see spider monkeys searching for fruit or a couple of large toucans calling in the early mornings and afternoons. The life of the forest canopy opens before you. Birds that are virtually impossible to see from the forest floor far below are suddenly right beside you, oblivious to your presence. The canopy tower opens a new world to you.

Return to the lodge for lunch followed by an afternoon visit to a terra-firme trail. Hike through the primary forest to learn about the forest and its inhabitants including lizards, colorful manakins and the unique and endemic Golden mantle tamarin monkeys. After the hike, explore the lake and creeks by dugout canoe, and you may encounter a giant otter family on the way.

Please Note: This is a sample itinerary subject to change due to weather conditions, safety and specific interests of guests. Changes and additions are made in order to maximize wildlife viewing, wilderness enjoyment, cultural interaction with local people, and to make the most of the time you have here. Napo Wildlife Center Amazon Lodge – Standard Room (B,L,D)

Day 6: Yasuni National Park / Coca / Quito / Cotopaxi
Today is an early departure with one last excursion canoeing back to the Napo River. The creek may reveal new sights of giant otters, monk saki monkeys or rare birds. At the dock at the park entry point, you take a restroom break before continuing upriver in motorized canoes in order to return to Coca. You arrive late morning and check in for the flight to Quito. Upon your arrival in Quito, you are met and transferred to Cotopaxi. Head south towards the avenue of the volcanoes in the company of your volcanologist. The first volcano you come to is the active Mama Tungurahua, rising some 5,023 meters/16,479 feet. After years of dormancy, volcanic activity on the mountain restarted on August 19, 1999, with the last major eruption in 2014. It sits on the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes of central Ecuador, 140 kilometers/87 miles south of the capital, Quito, in the upper Amazon Basin. The area is known for its waterfalls and as the southeastern-most cloud forest in the Andean region. It is an important ecosystem that offers a wealth of flora and fauna including orchids, butterflies, bromeliads and iconic mammals such as the spectacle bear.

You set out towards the most majestic and beautiful of the volcanoes in the world, Cotopaxi, at an altitude of nearly 6,096 meters/20,000 feet. It is considered the highest active volcano in the world due to the geographical location and its continuous activity. It is part of the more than 74 volcanoes of the Ecuadorean Andes, 20 of which are considered potentially active and four that are presently active: Reventador, Sangay, Tungurahua and Cotopaxi. San Agustin de Callo – Mulalo Suite (B,L,D)

Day 7: Cotopaxi / Riobamba
The volcano is in the Cotopaxi National Park, a protected spread across three provinces – Cotopaxi, Napo and Pichincha, and is about 50 km/31 mi south of Quito. Nearby are two other volcanoes – the dormant Rumiñahui Volcano and the historic Sincholagua, which had its last major eruption in 1877. Cotopaxi has seen an increase in periodic activity leading some to expect a large volcanic event; however, it is indeed monitored with the most sophisticated equipment and technology, and considered the most monitored volcano in the world. You can explore the national park and some of the areas where eruptions have occurred. Please note that due to this recent activity, Cotopaxi is currently closed, but we can arrange access by special request.

Explore Cotopaxi National Park in depth with your volcanologist-guide as you hike through this impressive ecosystem, home to some of the most important flora and fauna species in the high Andes such a condor, the national bird of Ecuador, spectacle bear, mountain tapir, puma, rabbit, wild horse and fox.

In the afternoon, you will be transferred to Riobamba, an old colonial city in the foot hills of the highest mountain in Ecuador - Chimborazo, with 64,000 meters/21,000 feet. Take a short city tour visiting local the market before continuing to your hotel. Hacienda Abraspungo - Junior Suite (B,L,D)

Day 8: Riobamba / Ingapirca / Cuenca
Today you will visit Colta Lagoon some 30 minutes away from Riobamba. The lagoon is home to a wide variety of wildlife including ducks, swans, sheep, birds and fish. The small towns that surround the lagoon are home to many traditional communities. The town of Colta has the largest population of indigenous Quichua people in the province of Chimborazo. Like other Andean communities, Colta´s local economy is based on agriculture, tourism and artisan crafts. Colta´s local artisans are known for their baskets and mats weaved with natural reeds. Stop at La Balbanera Church considered the first Catholic church built in this region by the Spanish in 1534 after conquering the Inca Empire here. Then continue to Palacio Real and visit the local community, where you have the opportunity to see how the women of the community develop activities such as the production of handicrafts using local products for economic support of the community. Enjoy engaging with people and having lunch in the community, before you continue to Ingapirca, where a nearby Inca site of the same name can be found. Visit the older Inca ruins and archeological site that represent the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. The most significant building is the Temple of the Sun, an elliptically shaped building constructed around a large rock. Arrive to Cuenca in the afternoon. Mansion Alcazar – Deluxe Suite (B,L)

Day 9: Cuenca
Today is at leisure to explore on your own. The full name is Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca. It was originally a Cañari settlement that archeologists believe was founded around 500 CE. Today it is the capital of the Azuay Province and regarded as the most European city in Ecuador. Its Spanish colonial architecture dating from the 16th and 17th centuries gives the impression similar to cities throughout Spain. The center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Trust Site. Mansion Alcazar – Deluxe Suite (B)

Day 10: Cuenca / Quito / Bogota, Colombia
After breakfast you will be transferred to the airport to board your flight to Quito, where you connect your flight to Bogota. You are met on arrival and escorted to your hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota – Grand Premier Room (B)

Day 11: Bogota
Join your guide to explore Bogota’s engaging street art. More relaxed laws here including the declassification of graffiti from a crime to a mere violation have helped the capital city to become a vibrant gathering place for home-grown as well as world-renowned artists. Indeed, Colombia has embraced graffiti as the artistic expression of its people. Artists are often commissioned to create facades in an attempt by businesses to avoid mindless tagging, and advertising campaigns utilize the medium as a channel to reach their market. For the ‘grafiteros’ themselves, it is a chance to create powerful social commentary about the nation’s politics, to champion their heroes or simply to brighten the days of the people passing by.

You will see some of the best examples of this wall art that has been created by the city’s urban artists. The tour takes in streets with colorful, dynamic and often controversial paintings by renowned urban artists such as Toxicomano, Crisp, Pez, Lescivo and TOT, among others. Several of these artists are also making an international name for themselves in places like Miami. Recognized galleries carry out urban art exhibitions and promote their artists. At the end of the tour, you will meet one of the local artists who will teach you how to create your own graffiti. Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota – Grand Premier Room (B)

Day 12: Bogota / Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral / Villa de Leyva
After breakfast, head north through fields and past greenhouses of carnations and roses. Flower production is an important industry here. You drive to the impressive Salt Cathedral, a true feat of engineering. The name Zipaquirá refers to Zipa, the leader of the Muisca tribe and the overlord of these rich salt mines. The walk into the cathedral begins in a tunnel that passes the fourteen Stations of the Cross and continues on to a spacious dome. An enormous cross is carved into the rock and there are three naves of the cathedral that represent the birth, life and death of Christ. In the central nave is the main altar, above which is a cross measuring 16 m/52 ft in height and 10 m/32 ft in width made by the Colombian artist Carlos Enrique Rodriguez and is the largest cross made from salt in the world. The site also has an auditorium that can seat 200 people and hosts film screenings and events such as fashion shows. See a mirror of water, the amazing visual effects of water on carved saline rock.

Then, you continue on a two-hour drive to Villa de Leyva. In the afternoon, discover Villa de Leyva, one of the area’s most beautiful towns, founded in 1572. In colonial times, it played a central role in the colony and was a principal producer of olive oil and some grains such as wheat and barley. It was chosen as a favorite place of the Viceroy and his entourage. Today, the city is a colonial jewel with an enormous plaza surrounded by Spanish-style houses, small alleyways, cobblestone streets and the 17th-century parochial church. The town’s location away from major trade routes in a high valley of semi-desert terrain resulted in few changes for most of the last four centuries. It is one of the few towns in Colombia to have preserved much of its original colonial style and architecture: the streets and large central plaza are still paved with cobblestones, and many buildings date from the 16th century. Indeed, it was declared a National Monument as early as 1954 to preserve its architecture. The focus of the town is the Plaza Mayor, which at 14,000 square meters/150,695 square feet is the largest square in Colombia and believed to be the largest entirely cobbled square in South America. Villa de Leyva has also been home to two well-known figures in Colombian history. Antonio Nariño, best known for translating The Rights of Man into Spanish and a leading advocate for Colombian independence, lived the last few years of his life and died in Villa de Leyva. Luis Alberto Acuña (1904 – 1993). One of the most important Colombian artists of the 20th century, also spent his final years in the town. The houses of both men are now museums containing their personal properties, and in the case of Acuña, a selection of his works, including two murals on the walls of the internal patio. Hotel Posada de San Antonio – Suite (B)

Day 13: Villa de Leyva / Bogota
Begin this morning after breakfast with a visit to the Museo El Fósil, founded in 1977 and built on the site where a kronosaurus, an extinct marine reptile, was discovered. It is among the largest pliosaurs found, and may date back more than 120 million years. The Convento del Santo Ecce Homo was established in 1620 by the Dominicans, who were the first Europeans sent to try to convert the indigenous community. It is about 13 kilometers/8 miles from Villa de Leyva in the municipality of Sutamarchan. Restored in 1965, the convent is one of Colombia´s national sites of cultural interest and is a jewel of colonial architecture. It offers an interesting collection of religious art from the colonial era such as liturgical artifacts and paintings. Late this afternoon, you set out for Bogota on a three-hour drive. Check in to your hotel. Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota – Grand Premier Room (B)

Day 14: Bogota / Armenia
After breakfast, you are transferred to Bogota Airport to connect with your flight to Armenia in the lush coffee region. Upon arrival, you are met and transferred to your hacienda along narrow roads lush with plantain, manioc, orange and pineapple plantations. After you check in, the remainder of the day is at leisure to relax or opt for one of the hacienda’s activities that range from cooking and cacao-making demonstrations, to birdwatching and hiking, to zip lining and paragliding. Hacienda Bambusa – Junior Suite (B,D)

Day 15: Armenia
Today, you take in Finca La Morelia, where you learn about the complete coffee-producing process – from picking beans to brewing a fresh cup for your own tasting. The coffee-growing zone is a geographic area that encompasses three Colombian departments: Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío, with their corresponding capital cities of Manizales, Pereira and Armenia. The three departments share a traditional coffee culture, yet each city also has its own unique characteristics. The region is called the “Coffee Axis” or “Coffee Triangle.” And Armenia is at its heart, with most coffee production in country based here. Hacienda Bambusa – Junior Suite (B,D)

Day 16: Armenia / Pereira / Medellin
Early this morning you depart with your guide to the Cocora Valley in Los Nevados National Park. You’ll spot Colombia’s national tree, the “Quindian wax-palm.” It is known to reach an amazing 60 meters/197 feet in height. You may spot hummingbirds and endemic yellow-eared parrots. Upon arrival, you may enjoy either hiking or horseback riding. Hike into cloud-forest to experience the lush biodiversity of the flora and fauna. Cross Quindio River on an ecological pathway through the tallest wax-palms in the world. Stop at a trout farm and enjoy a traditional smoked-trout meal.

Continue 10 kilometers/6 miles towards the small traditional town of Salento. Stroll past the colorful balconies and colonial architecture of Bolivar Square, "calle real," the handicrafts shops and Cocora viewpoint. The town has been isolated for generations and therefore has retained more of its colonial architecture than almost any other town in the Coffee Region. Visit the traditional town of Finlandia, a small community economically supported by agriculture and tourism. Although coffee is the major agricultural product, the municipality's diverse ecosystem makes it perfect for the production of fruits and vegetables. Spend some time soaking-up the regional atmosphere before you are transferred to the airport in Pereira to board your flight to Medellin. Upon arrival, you are met and transferred to your hotel, approximately a one-hour drive. Hotel Diez Medellin – Suite (B)

Day 17: Medellin / Nuqui
After breakfast, transfer to San German airport, about an hour’s drive to connect with your flight to Nuqui, surrounded by jungle on the northern end of Colombia’s Pacific Coast. Transfer to a dock where you board a boat for a ride to your ocean-side lodge, about 45 minutes. In the afternoon, walk to a lovely little waterfall, Cascada del Amor, with its crystalline waters. A short stroll further into the jungle is another waterfall, Mellizas. Enjoy stretches of empty beaches. El Cantil Lodge – Standard Room (B,L,D)

Day 18: Nuqui
The day is yours to spend as you like, being as busy or laid back as you choose. Activities include leisurely jungle walks, relaxing on the beaches or soaking in the warm thermal springs. Set out in search of whales or go surfing and kayaking. El Cantil Lodge – Standard Room (B,L,D)

Day 19: Nuqui / Medellin / Cartagena After breakfast, travel by boat back to Nuquí and transfer to the airport for your flight to Medellín’s domestic airport. Upon arrival in San German Airport, you are greeted and transferred, about a 40-minute drive, to the international Medellin Airport to board your flight to Cartagena. You arrive in Cartagena this evening, where our representative will transfer you to your boutique hotel. Hotel Casa San Agustin – Suite Prestige (B)

Day 20: Cartagena
After you take in the colonial architecture and character of the old city, you are in for a treat – a great gastronomy experience. This Literary Menu of García Márquez is a half-day gastronomic tour in Cartagena, which serves the dishes and drinks tasted by the writer Garcia Marquez’s array of characters. He is considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century, and is noted for his book Love in the Times of Cholera. The tour highlights the traditional cuisine of the Colombian Caribbean that his characters .

The tour begins at Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower), a symbol of the old city of Cartagena. Here you will find Los Mártires Bookstore, a literary paradise where you may find some of the first editions of Garcia Marquez’s books. You will be accompanied by a Food Concierge, your specialist guide who is an admirer of the famed writer and knowledgeable about Gabriel García Márquez’s life and his works. The passion that he feels for Colombian culture has led him to offer the best of the local culture through gastronomic experiences. As you travel from one locale to another, your guide share stories with you that bring Martquez’s own life and his characters alive through foods such as Caribbean patacones (fried bananas), a favorite among river captains. Discover sites that inspired scenes in Love in the Time of Cholera such as the place where Fermina Daza decided to give up her lover, Florentino Ariza. Other characters and scenes dance to life at the Plaza de San Pedro (St. Peter's Square), Calle de La Iglesia (Church Street), and Calle Santos de Piedra (Stone Saints Street). Learn about the character Florentino’s coffee, and sample his favorite drink with the flavor of the world's finest coffee. Finally, end the tour at Calle de las Carretas, where you can taste a delicacy of dough and egg, and maybe enjoy a Mango’s mojito, the fruit that grew in the Juvenal Urbino’s patio. Your specialist guide is a young man proud of his traditions and happy to introduce you to the best of Colombia through its culture and food. Hotel Casa San Agustin – Suite Prestige (B)

Day 21: Cartagena
Today is free to enjoy Cartagena on your own. Explore San Felipe Fortress, built on San Lázaro Hill by the Spanish in 1536 to defend the city from pirate attacks. Discover the historic area inside the walled city, which has been designated both Mankind’s Heritage Site and Colombian National Heritage Site by UNESCO. Investigate the narrow streets adorned with antique doorways and flower-filled balconies. Enjoy a leisurely walk through shady Parque Bolevar, which has four fountains with a statue of the great Liberator in the center. Take in the fascinating Museo del Oro, with a fine collection of archeological objects dating back to the pre-Hispanic period, and the notorious Palacio de la Inquisición, recognizable for its large baroque door. The Inquisition held its meetings in the palace, which was also the site of the prison and torture chambers for presumed heretics, opponents of the Catholic Church. Visit the San Pedro Claver Convent and Church compound built in the mid-17th century. Cartagena is packed with history, interesting people, boutique shops, fabulous dining options and more that will captivate you. Hotel Casa San Agustin – Suite Prestige (B)

Day 22: Cartagena / Depart
Today you transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)


Land price, per person, double occupancy: Price starts from US$600 per person per day.

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