This is an action-packed trip into the southern highlands of Ecuador, off the beaten tourist track and into beautiful villages and rolling farrnlands. Take mountain bikes through the countryside, share a traditional lunch with villagers. Learn the basics of guitar making from legendary craftsmen, then explore colorful local markets and ride horses into spectacular landscapes, surrounded by Andean peaks and small farms. Discover the colonial gem of Cuenca, and explore ancient Incan ruins. This family adventure has something for everyone!
2013 pricing: From $1125 per person, based on double occupancy and group size
Day 1: Cojitambo Inca Ruins / Rose Farm
After a morning transfer to the Guayaquil airport and brief flight, we find ourselves in the lovely city of Cuenca, in Ecuador’s southern highlands. Driving northeast from the airport, we arrive at the village of Cojitambo, an important spot in Ecuador since pre-Incan times. Enjoy spectacular views of the rolling countryside and stroll through the tiered Inca rock walls and terraces of Cojitambo ruins. Lunch will be taken with a local family at the “papa mesa” or “potato table.” This is a traditional sharing of food and your introduction to local customs and cuisine. Continuing on, we drive to Burgay and our awaiting mountain bikes. An easy ride downhill takes us to Alta Flor Rose Farm, beautifully located amid mountains, lakes and pristine rivers. Alta Flor is the only rose farm in Ecuador to receive the German Green Seal, signifying the owners recognizes a goal of improving quality of life for the workers as well as the environment. Climatic and geographical conditions come together to make this area perfect for producing gorgeous, colorful and fragrant roses, sure to inspire the gardner (or romantic!) in all of us! We continue on our bikes to the town of Zhud, meeting our support vehicle for the final leg of today’s travels, our hacienda-style hotel. You may have time for a quick dip in the swimming pool or even a soak in the Jacuzzi, before dinner. Overnight Hacienda Uzhupud. [BLD]
Day 2: Gualaceo / San Bartolome / Horseback Riding
Following breakfast at the hacienda, we set out for the small town of Gualaceo and their colorful food market, the largest in the region. Local farmers come from throughout the area to bring their products to sell or trade, creating a lively, festive atmosphere. Maybe you will recognize some of the same local fruits and vegetables that you biked through on yesterday’s adventure!
Onto the charming village of San Bartolome, perched on a mountainside and home to guitar-making artisans. This craftwork dates to the Spanish colonial times or perhaps further, at least 200 years ago, and many of the guitar craftsmen can trace their family’s roots in the business back at least 100 years! But even though guitars from this village are famous the world over, the villagers of San Bartolome also create fine weavings and ceramics, as well as high-quality silverwork from nearby mines. The pleasant temperatures and high altitude (8,800-10,000’) are perfect for growing tasty apples and cherries, too.
We depart San Bartolome for our lunch, taken at a delightful local hacienda. Afterwards, we continue to the Bellavista Equestrian Center and our next adventure. Whether you are a seasoned horseback rider or a greenhorn, you will be well-matched by the experts at Bellavista. A local guide accompanies riders on a gentle (or adventurous – depending on your level of expertise!) 2-3 hour ride to a spectacular overlook of the Tarqui Valley and surrounding Andean peaks, passing local villages and lush farmlands enroute. Saying goodbye to our horses, we return 30 minutes to Cuenca, where we check into our hotel and freshen up before dinner. Overnight Hotel Santa Lucia (or similar). [BLD]
Day 3: Colonial City Tour / Pumapungo Inca Ruins
Cuenca is a beautiful colonial gem, lovingly preserved by its inhabitants who take great pride in their home. With a year-round Spring-like climate and timeless Spanish and French architectural influences, Cuenca is a beguiling UNESCO World Heritage Site that feels forgotten in time, inviting a slower pace. Vestiges of ancient Incan trails and ruins still may be found amongst the other architectural charms. These trails connect Cuenca with the Amazon jungles to the east all the way to the rolling Pacific surf in the west. Pumapungo Archeological Park is located within Cuenca itself and dates from the 15th Century. Your guide will point out the remnants of Temple of the Sun as well as the Convent of the Virgins of the Sun. Overnight Hotel Santa Lucia (or similar). [BLD]
Day 4: Departure to Guayaquil
Following breakfast, transfer to the Cuenca airport for your return flight to Guayaquil. [B]
Dating from the 19th century, Hacienda Uzhupud is a welcome home-away-from-home, an elegant base for adventurous explorations .
Hotel Santa Lucia
Originally constructed as home to the provincial governor in 1859, this hotel has been lovingly updated to retain its classic decor while offering all the modern amenities travelers expect.
Conveniently located in the colonial center of Cuenca, Mansion Alcazar maintains it colonial splendor with careful furnishings and artwork. Each room is individually designed with luxury amenities and fabrics.