DAY 1.FLY FROM QUITO OR GUAYAQUIL / CUENCA CITY TOUR
Arrive to Cuenca on your own and get ready for your first afternoon guided tour.
This half day excursion will start out from Plaza San Sebastián, located on the western colonial border of town. Then visit the Modern Arts Museum where many contemporary paintings and sculptures are displayed. Walk through the downtown historical district towards the San Francisco flower market, the House of Culture, the Abdón Calderón Park – Cuenca’s most important gathering place, and a view of the Old Cathedral from the outside. We will go inside the New Cathedral, whose enormous lava domes dominate the town from the distance, to feast your eyes on its marble and gold interiors. Our next stop is at Homero Ortega Panama Hat Factory to see how these world-famous hats are finished before being shipped abroad. Undoubtedly, this handcraft is Ecuador’s most renowned export product, aside from its roses, coffee, chocolate and banana produce. The Barranco lookout is next, with its colonial-style terraced homes located above the banks of the Tomebamba River. In addition, we will observe the “Broken Bridge” and finally visit Turi, a hill that dominates the town, for a panoramic view of the whole city of Cuenca, before returning to your hotel. (Lunch)
DAY 2. DEVIL’S NOSE TRAIN & INGAPIRCA ARCHAEOLOGICAL COMPLEX
Drive to the town of Alausí to embark on the famous Devil’s Nose railway. This incredible engineering feat of the early 20th century uses three switchbacks to descend more than 1,000 feet (300 meters) in a just a few miles of track. The ride takes about 2.5 hours in total. While recovering from this mind-blowing descent, enjoy views of the narrow gorge of the Chanchán River and learn about the traditions of the Puruhá people at the Sibambe train station. The archeological site of Ingapirca is located 80 km (50 miles) north of Cuenca. En route, visit the Virgin del Rocío, a church in Biblián that is perched on a high hill dominating the countryside (on Wednesdays & Fridays). Its architecture displays an early 20th century gothic style influence. Continue on to an indigenous family’s home (optional) to observe the actual weaving of the Panama hat, that provide a major source of income for the locals, and perhaps Ecuador’s most famous export – moreover, here you can purchase these hats for a fraction of what you would pay back home. We finally reach the archeological site of Ingapirca to observe each one of the buildings that comprise this exquisite complex, composed of not only Incan walls, but also the remains of the earlier Cañari civilization. The on-site museum will give you a comprehensive idea of why such structures were built in the first place in this apparently remote location. (Breakfast / Lunch)
After lunch, backtrack to the city of Cuenca.
IMPORTANT: The native market in Cañar is held only on Sundays, known for the great numbers of indigenous people who sell their products, as well as its colorful countryside.
DAY 3. CAJAS NATIONAL PARK
Cajas is a national park located on the northwestern side of the city of Cuenca, consisting of glacial wetlands with more than 200 lakes and lagoons! Our visit starts on the lower part of the park called Llaviuco, just 30 minutes from Cuenca. Then hike at an easy pace for about one hour at an altitude of 3,200 meters (9,842 feet) above sea level. We will take a fork at Tres Cruces that forms the Continental Divide between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans at an altitude of 4,135 meters (13,566 feet). A short walk grants us the opportunity to observe all the splendor of this unique Andean ecosystem. From here, it’s downhill for our major hike at an altitude of 3,600-3,800 meters (12,795 feet) for approximately three hours. The difficulty at this point is moderate and your personable guide assists you in establishing your best pace. On the trail, visit a rare primary forest with its endemic vegetation. (Breakfast / Lunch)
After lunch, it’s a gradual backtrack to Cuenca.
IMPORTANT: We recommend taking warm clothes, a bottle of water and some snacks. Also, the order of activities could vary to meet weather conditions or park regulations, or for any unforeseen circumstance, in which case other sites would be substituted.
DAY 4. SAN BARTOLOMÉ, GUALACEO & CHORDELEG ARTISAN VILLAGES
Head west side to San Bartolomé, a little town clinging to the Andes mountain range, with an amazing view of the Santa Bárbara River Valley, famous for guitar artisans – a most important musical instrument for Ecuador’s fiestas and serenades. Next is Chordeleg, known for its ceramic art, as well as gold and silver jewelry, that include the best in filigree work made from extremely fine gold and silver threads. Shopping is at its best, where you will actually see how these handcrafts are made before purchasing them. A walk around its central plaza is great for photography. Continue on to Gualaceo to visit two important markets known for their variety of produce, as well as natives in colorful dress.
After a stop for lunch, visit a textile shop at Bullcay to feast your eyes on the ancient back-strap weaving technique that has survived for centuries. This art form uses the actual body of the weaver to produce the tension in the warp, while threading the designs into the fabric horizontally. The warp incorporates the Hispanic ikat technique (also known as tie dye) to incorporate multi-colored designs into the weaving. The end product is shawls and ponchos hard to pass up. (Breakfast)
Return to Cuenca in the afternoon.
DAY 5. DEPARTURE DAY
After breakfast, proceed to the airport or bus station to continue with your journey. (Breakfast)
Extensions available to Galapagos, Andes or Amazon.