The magnificent Sierra Austro hosts an infinity of places full of culture where the natural landscape combines with its culture. You will get to know great cities full of customs and traditions.
Day 1 : Cuenca – Saraguro – Loja - Vilcabamba
We start this program in the beautiful city of Cuenca, our guide will pick up the guests early from their hotel or the airport (suggested time 8h30 am). En-route we will enjoy the amazing scenery of the Andes dotted with rural villages, cattle farms, and small farmer lands.
Our first stop is at the city of Saraguro, where the ethnic group of the same name will share their artisan work in rustic ceramics and colorful handwoven textiles. Lunch is included at ShamuiCo. It is a restaurant in which the main ingredient is respect for the flavors of each product, the exquisite combination of textures and an impeccable presentation of each dish. Samuel is the chef and owner of ShamuiCo, where he works with his family and several collaborators in a common dream: the rescue and reapretial of the traditional products, aromas, and flavors of the Ecuadorian Andes.
In the nineties, in search of better education and better opportunities, together with his family, they emigrated to Catalonia, Spain. His culinary skill and dedication led him to carry out his internship in a restaurant in the area, which, unknown to him, was nothing more and nothing less than El Celler de Can Roca with three Michelin stars. His performance and contribution were fantastic. Once he graduated with honors, he was given the opportunity to work for a while with the icon of experimental food: El Bulli, with one of the best chefs in the world, Ferran Adrià. From his experience of having worked in Europe, he comments that he learned the value of time, responsibility, and the know-how to innovate every day.
With this vast experience, he returned to Ecuador to give life to his dream of having his own restaurant, first in Saraguro, his native community, and now in Riobamba. You will undoubtedly enjoy a unique and unrepeatable experience.
After learning about this amazing indigenous group, we continue traveling amongst the Andes until we arrive in the colonial city of Loja. We have a short panoramic tour of the colonial center including the colorful Lourdes street and the main plazas with their beautiful architecture. Later in the early evening, we arrive at our charming hotel in the Vilcabamba valley. Overnight.
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Photo: El País – John Coletti (Getty images)
Day 2 : Vilcabamba – La Florida - Palanda – Tapichalaca
Today we have an early start and drive south into the Amazon basin. We will unveil the mystery of the first cacao beans on the planet at the Santa Ana, La Florida archaeological site. The site houses a 5000- year-old complex where carbon 14 tests show the origin of cocoa (the bean chocolate is made of).
We then visit the small Amazon village of Palanda, here we will get a tasting of one of the country’s best coffee varieties “café Lojano”, awarded with the golden cup in several contests. We will then head back towards Vilcabamba and we will reach the Tapichalaca reserve, an eco-paradise. We spend the night at a cozy cloud forest lodge.
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Photo: Felix Oster
Day 3 : Vilcabamba – La Florida - Palanda – Tapichalaca
Today, another early rise is scheduled, where we will be at the trailhead for our walk around 7h30 am. We go out in search of one of the rarest species of birds on the planet: the Jocotoco Antpitta, an endemic species or this beautiful region, found nowhere else on the planet. The Tapichalaca reserve has ensured the survival of the Jocotoco by protecting thousands of acres of its habitat.
After spotting this amazing bird, we return to enjoy an amazing view of the hummingbird feeders at our lodge where dozens of these beautiful birds and many other species flutter around peacefully.
In the afternoon, we visit the malacatos valley and one of the largest sugar cane farms in the region. We learn about the process of distilling pure alcohol. Then, we are treated to a visit to a historic hacienda “La Trinitaria”, a live museum full of historic treasures of southern Ecuador and a living sample of how life was in past years.
We will end the day at our colorful hotel in the Vilcabamba valley. Overnight.
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Day 4 : Vilcabamba (free Day)
The small village of Vilcabamba and its beautiful surroundings offer several opportunities including horseback riding, hiking, or the local pass time: doing nothing at all.
Your hotel also offers early morning yoga lessons in a beautiful setting with amazing scenery of the surrounding mountains. Overnight.
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Day 5 : Vilcabamba – Zaruma – Buenaventura
From Vilcabamba, we cross the Andean valleys from the Eastern slopes to the western slopes reaching the small village of Zaruma. This town is one that has one of Ecuador’s best cultural heritage, The unique wooden architecture is both elegant yet colorful and shows the vestige of a rich past when the town’s gold mines were in full production.
After visiting the cathedral and most representative streets, we get the opportunity to enter an old gold mine. A delicious lunch awaits us at Buenaventura lodge, just 30 minutes away from Zaruma. This is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, as it is full with gardens, full of hummingbirds and endemic species of parakeets. Moreover, a short half-hour trail will allow us to visit the home of the rare umbrella bird.
To end this amazing day full of cultural and natural attractions, we will enjoy spotting an entire family of Coatis from the porch of our lodge.
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Day 6 : Buenaventura – Cacao / Banana Hacienda / Manglar Churute / Guayaquil
After breakfast we will have another opportunity to spot dozens of hummingbirds at the lodge. We will then continue our route until we reach one of the region’s most representative banana and cocoa plantations. After this, we will visit an Hacienda where we will learn about the chocolate making process and Ecuador’s main export product: plantain. Let us not forget about Lunch, which is included.
After enjoying a nutritious lunch, we will visit the manrgove: Manglar Churute Reserve, where the fresh water of the rivers that descends from the Andes mountains and the salty water that comes from the sea come together, and form this reserve that has an estuary and a large extension of mangroves. Fun fact here, Manglares Churute is the first mangrove protected area on the Ecuadorian continental coast.
Over there, we will ride in a zodiak, or panga as the locals call it, for one-hour, where we will be able to see a large number of birds, the different types of mangrove and artisanal fishing activities.
In the afternoon we will head to Guayaquil.
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Day 7 : Guayaquil
After breakfast, the local guide will be waiting for us to start our Guayaquil City Tour. We start the tour with the main tourist attractions: Guayaquil´s harbor, which is the main trading hubspot of the city, the Centennial Park (which has a monument in memory of the heroes of Guayaquil´s independence), Plaza de la Administration, the city hall and governance, and finally the clock on Morisca Towel, Sucre´s monument, and Bolivar´s Park where there is a statue of Simon Bolivar the freedom seeker of South America. This park is also known as the Iguanas´ park due to the presence of iguanas hanging from the green leaps of the trees. Fun fact: one side of the park is Neo-gothic.
Later on, we go to the Chrystal Palace, Plaza de la Integration, Plaza de las Banderas and Plaza Olmedo, which are next to each other on the southern side of the city as we go through the marvelous Malecon 2000. Up north, there is Cerro Santa Ana, which is the oldest neighborhood in the city of Guayaquil called Las Peñas. This neighborhood is so beautiful, as it has been successfully renewed and built in wooden constructions painted on shiny colors, where some art galleries are operating for the public. The tour also includes the visit to the Malecon Del Salado.
At the end of the Guayaquil tour, we will go to a restaurant located at the Malecon to Experience an unforgettable dinner along with some traditional music such as the Pasillos, which derive from the Vienna Waltz developed by Europeans in the Andean region of the Gran Colombia in the XVIII century- all this while you enjoy the view of the city during the evening.
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Day 8 : Guayaquil - Transfer Out
After enjoying a wonderful breakfast, depending the time we will be taken to the Airport for your International connection.