Begin your Ecuador travel adventure with an exhilarating descent down the slopes of Pichincha Volcano to the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve. The tundra grass of the Andean paramo (high altitude grassland) changes before your eyes (and the knobby tires of your bikes) as you roll into the lush cloud forest. Steep gorges and ridges covered by impenetrable jungle provide spectacular views on the 3-4 hour downhill ride. In the afternoon, settle into Bellavista's cloud forest lodge and begin your first explorations of this unique ecosystem.
Bellavista protects 1800 acres of endangered cloudforest on the western slopes of the Andes. Bordering the Choco bio-region, the forest is part of something that scientists refer to as a biodiversity "hotspot" - a place of extreme biodiversity in danger of extinction. Today you'll explore the miles of trails at Bellavista, passing by waterfalls, steep ravines, and thick gardens of hanging epiphytes in search of some of the 320 bird species recorded here. You'll learn more about the area's complex ecology, what Bellavista is doing to protect it, and about the endangered mammals such as the spectacled bear, mountain lion, Andean coati, and others that take refuge here.
Time to hit the Class III+ rapids of the best whitewater in the Western Andes! During the winter months, you'll be on the Rio Blanco and in the summer you'll paddle the Rio Toachi. On these exhilarating rides, you'll pass through forested canyons and isolated villages as you descend towards the Pacific lowlands. This afternoon, we return to the highlands to the western flank of the Cotopaxi Volcano for dinner and to rest after an exciting day.
After breakfast we drive to El Porvenir, a fully-functioning hacienda and our base for the next three nights, set high in the Andean paramo with spectacular views of Cotopaxi. After a brief orientation is given to get acquainted with the horses, we head out on horseback in the spirit of the Chagras (Ecuadorian highland cowboys) to visit the foothills of Rumiñahui Volcano, riding side by side with herds of wild horses and bulls. As we cross the paramo, enjoy the bird and wildlife, and the local guides will share their knowledge of medicinal plants. Afterwards a delicious lunch of local dishes awaits us upon our return to the farmhouse.
The afternoon is free to explore the hacienda grounds, and there are a couple of self-guided paths to the Manto Blanco Waterfall and to lookouts with nice views of the mountains and surrounding landscape.
Click here to watch Youtube video to learn more about El Porvenir and the Tierra del Volcan's area near Cotopaxi.
A thirty minute drive takes you to the Hacienda Santa Rita Ecological Reserve and the impressive 270 feet high Condor Machay Waterfall. Continue on foot along a trail that takes us through a very unique native forest of the Andes known has the "paper bark tree forest". Continue to the village of El Pedregal where we will have the chance to experience the local culture of the area before continuing to El Porvenir. Today's hike is 11 kilometers (7 miles).
After enjoying the views of the volcano over the last three days, we drive for 45 minutes into the Cotopaxi National Park. An hour hike takes us to the climbing hut (refugio) and a nearby glacier at 4,800 meters (14,760 ft) above sea level.
Continue by vehicle to visit Laguna de Limpiopungo, a shallow Andean lake with great birdwatching, and from here we start our ten kilometer (7 miles) trek back to El Porvenir. We stop at the Chusig Machai cave for lunch and continue on foot through beautiful mountain valleys before returning to a good dinner and the last night at the hacienda.
We return to the Hacienda Santa Rita Ecological Reserve today to explore the area by zipline. This system was originally used by scientists who were doing research in the area. The zipline provides a great vantage point for birdwatching and enjoying the scenery and is an adrenaline rush as you soar above the ground. After the flying adventure, hike to the Pita River waterfall for lunch.In the afternoon, travel to Sangolqui, a village with a traditional market. Browse the market stalls with traditional arts and crafts and sample some of the local produce, particularly the fruits. Return to Quito in the evening.
A morning flight carries you over the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes and down into the Amazon basin to begin your Amazon tour. A three-hour drive will take you to your put-in on the Shiripuno River and the start of your amazing journey. You'll meet your Huaorani guide and spend time in a local community were you'll have the unique experience of learning about the Huaorani people, their traditions, their history and their commitment to preserving the natural treasures of the region. Tonight's campsite is hosted by a local Huaorani family - enjoy a campfire dinner.
Following breakfast, visit the nearby Noneno Community where the local Huaorani share more traditions and aspects of daily lifestyle. After our visit we'll continue kayaking down the Shiripuno - you'll have nearly 25 km of river kayaking to do-- a challenging trip, but along the way you will be treated with the wonders of the Ecuadorian Amazon. This incredible region boasts some of the world's highest biodiversity and sustains the traditional lifestyle of numerous indigenous groups. On your silent journey downriver you'll have an excellent chance of spotting monkeys, capybara, toucans, macaws, tapir and maybe even the elusive jaguar. There will be plenty of short stops to stretch and rest your muscles. Expect a late arrival to this evening's campsite.
Today you'll paddle to the remote Shiripuno Jungle lodge; the wooden buildings and thatched roofs blend into the surrounding landscape. In the evening, enjoy a hike into the forest as the wildlife becomes more active, where your naturalist guide teaches you about the complex ecology of the rainforest. Relax and overnight in the rustic jungle lodge.
A short trip upriver in motorized canoe will take us to the start of our rainforest hiking adventure. We'll explore old-growth and flooded (varzea) forest. We'll hike for 4-5 hours, keeping an eye out for monkeys, white-lipped peccaries, and jaguar tracks. During our walk the expedition guide and Huaorani guide explain their practical, medicinal and spiritual relationship with the Amazon jungle.
After lunch we will reach a series of small lakes, where we will paddle in wooden canoes. You'll reach a region of flooded forest and small jungle lakes where you'll have the chance to spot the prehistoric Hoatzin bird and caimans (a relative of the alligator). There is also great fishing in the area. Tonight, you'll return to Shiripuno where you can relax in a hammock and share stories about your Amazon adventures.
After a short wildlife hike in the morning to see a glorious sunrise -- and one more chance to spot some Amazon wildlife -- you head back upriver by motorized canoe, and transfer to Coca where you'll overnight before your flight back to Quito in the morning.
$795 single supplement