||Centrally Located Hotel In Cotopaxi Area||Lunch||
Early departure from Quito by motorcar on the Pan-American Highway to the south, to visit the Cotopaxi National Park, an ecological sanctuary of 88,920 acres, surrounding the magnificent Cotopaxi Volcano, rising 19,347 feet above sea level. The journey takes you through the beautiful Ecuadorian highlands into valleys with multicolored fields. It takes about an hour and a half to reach the entrance to the park, and then an additional hour on a dirt road to the Interpretation Center. Here there is an introductory briefing about the habitat of the Andean paramo or moorlands, and its unique flora and fauna. This is home to a large variety of mammals, birds and endemic species. Pumas, wolves, deer and the paramo rabbit inhabit the area. Continue to Limpiopungo Lagoon to observe a variety of birds such as the Andean gull, ducks, and several species of hummingbirds and with some luck, the condor. Occasionally wild horses can be seen. The vegetation varies according to the altitude of the terrain. The crown jewel of the Park of course, is the magnificent Cotopaxi peak rising 19,700 feet above sea level. On clear days, the perfect snow-capped cone of the Cotopaxi Volcano is quite a sight! At the foot of the volcano you will enjoy lunch in a charming hacienda with perfectly preserved Incan walls. After lunch, mingle with the llamas of the hacienda and stroll through a rose plantation that grows roses for exportation. Continue to the town of Patate to spend the night in the beautiful 300-year old Hacienda Leito located inside Llanganates National Park. This legendary hacienda was constructed in colonial times by the Jesuits of the Order of San Ignacio. Part of its mystique is that it was in this area that the Incas hid their treasures from the Spanish Conquistadors. Of special interest is the Hacienda's Llanganates Spa offering a range of services to soothe the body and soul.
||Centrally Located Hotel In Riobamba||Breakfast, Dinner||
After breakfast, your scenic drive will follow the Pastaza River Gorge to the town of Banos (Baths), at the foot of Tungurahua Volcano, known for its thermal waters. Continue along the Route of the Cascades to El Pailon del Diablo (the Devil's Cauldron). You can appreciate the force and sound of the water from a lookout point or you can follow a trail to get closer to the impressive cascade surrounded by subtropical vegetation and orchids. Lunch will be taken at a local hacienda. After lunch there is time to explore Banos. The town attracts many international visitors to its thermal waters, including those who make a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Holy Water. From Banos, continue to Riobamba, through the mountains alongside the massive Chimborazo, the highest mountain of Ecuador, to the protected Faunistic Preserve, a high paramo where vicunas graze. Further along the route there are patchwork fields of crops creating fascinating patterns on the hillsides. There are great photo opportunities on this route! Arrive in Riobamba for dinner and overnight.
||Centrally Located Hotel In Cuenca||Breakfast||
Early morning departure for a 2 hour drive to Alausi. You have another scenic journey ahead of you as the road will take you through a river gorge with dramatic rock formations; through Indian villages, and cultivated fields of cereal grain, primarily quinua. The small town of Alausi in recent years has benefitted from the rehabilitation of the Ecuadorian Railway Company. Great effort has been made to restore the 100-year old train to its former glory and romance. Stations have been renovated; tracks have been replaced; engines and classic coaches renovated; and, most importantly, the project involves the local communities along the route in the operation of the railroad. The highlight is the thrilling 2,630 foot descent on the zigzagging Devil's Nose to Sibambe Station at the bottom. Following the train ride, continue the drive south through fertile hills and mountains to the Inca ruins of Ingapirca, the most northern fortress-temple remaining from Inca times. Sun-worshippers built this stone center on a promontory high above the Canar valley, about 60 miles northeast of Cuenca, at an altitude of 10,595 feet above sea level. Upon arrival at Ingapirca you will visit the on-site museum before exploring the stone fortress with its trapezoidal doorways and stonewalls that fit perfectly together, without mortar, typical of the Inca construction. Among the highlights of the site are an elliptical platform, known as the Temple of the Sun, that was used for religious and ceremonial purposes; the barracks; the stone Inca Face and the zoomorphic carvings. Continue to Cuenca, Ecuador's most beautiful city and a World Cultural Heritage Site.
||Centrally Located Hotel In Cuenca||Breakfast||
Ecuador's third largest city, with its red tile roofs, cobblestone streets, and lovely plazas, still retains its pleasant provincial air. You will have an opportunity to discover why Cuenca has been recognized as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, as you stroll through this charming city. Your city tour will include a visit to the Plaza of San Sebastian, built in the 17th century as an open marketplace, and a colorful artisans market where handicrafts are sold. Continue to the Museum of Modern Art, featuring an excellent collection of contemporary fine art. You will visit a workshop where fine quality Panama hats are made (yes, Panama hats are made in Ecuador!), and Plaza San Francisco, where the beautifully embroidered skirts of the cholas are for sale. Next visit the colorful flower market at the small plaza in front of the carved stone entrance to the church of El Carmen de la Asuncion. After the city tour, transfer to the airport for your flight to Quito or Guayaquil.
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