SELF DRIVE: On the high roads of the Andes – 8 days


Exploring the Amazon and the Andes by your own. You will travel to the Amazon rainforest to witness its incredible biodiversity firsthand. You will have the chance to see diverse wildlife, birds, insects and plants, both from the ground as well as hight up in the tree canopy. You will learn about and experience local culture.  After crisp days exploring the amazon, you will hike through spectacular valleys and visit part of the Volcanoes Avenue in your return to the capital.

Day 1: Quito – San Isidro

You will be accompanied from the airport, or from your hotel in Quito if you have spent a day or two at least in the capital before the self-drive (recommended) to register your rental at the airport office then pick up your hire car from the Hertz Agency close by. Our English speaking local agent will help you understand your car, set up the GPS and Wifi, and explain how the key code works.

You will drive east towards the Amazon basin, first climbing through the Cayambe Coca Reserve and your first recommended optional stop, an hour later, will be at Papallacta natural hot springs resort. (Do not take the road to the pools at KM 36 which is now one way, proceed to Papallacta village at KM48 where the Termas are clearly signed). You’ll need to pay a fee to use the Spa and hot pools, where you can rent robes and cap (take your own swimming gear) and there are lock-ups for your clothes. The pools are clean and vary from 32 to 36°C (no lifeguard). You’ll also have time to take a walk in the grounds through the high altitude cloud forest. There is a one hour self-guided walk but we recommend you ask at the hotel reception for a local guide (free but we recommend a tip of $10). Wellington boots are provided if you take a guide). Have lunch in the Spa’s restaurant, the food is good (not included) but do make sure you are back on the road for a further hour’s drive to your lodge, on the way the road passes through some dramatic changes in vegetation.

On arrival at your lodge, Cabañas San Isidro, you may want to take a short hike on the self-guided trail, where the interpretation signs will give you an idea of what the region is all about. Or you can simply relax on the terrace watching the spectacularly coloured hummingbirds, or go swimming in the new large and spotless heated pool (there are changing rooms and showers, but no lifeguard).

Hotel night Cabañas San Isidro (superior room)
Included:  English assistance for check in at Rental car office, rental car & Sky driving explorer pack*, bedroom and dinner

  • Day 2: Explore San Isidro

We strongly suggest you to start the day early with an optional birding stroll before breakfast; the Lodge is a well-known destination for birders. Look out for trogons, wood creepers, flycatchers and tanagers. After breakfast you can take a guided hike to a nearby waterfall, a self-guided or guided walk along the interpretive trail, and perhaps another jungle walk at dusk. Between these walks a dip in the lodge’s new heated pool is certainly a temptation.

You will probably enjoy relaxing on the terrace in front of the bird feeders, which are visited by a plethora of hummingbird species:

Try a cooking class to learn a local recipe! Surprise your friends when you get back! No need to pre-book. Dinner is always something to look forward to at San Isidro: the food is high quality, prepared by expert local chefs. Ecuadorian cuisine is definitely on the up and up. After dinner, a real treat is to take a guided walk around the lodge looking for the San Isidro Owl, known to inhabit only this small area of cloud forest.

Hotel night Cabañas San Isidro (superior room)
Included:  breakfast, rental car & Sky driving explorer pack*, excursion, lunch, bedroom and dinner

  • Day 3: San Isidro – Tena – Misahualli

A delicious lunch will then be served in the host community at the house of a local family chosen by the Cocoa Cooperative while exploring these area archeological remains used by the ancient Napo Runas for rituals and which nowadays are still used by local shamans. There are 200 petroglyphs that keep in silence the knowlegde and practices of the locals and that provide testimony to the richness and power of their ancient culture.

Today we will visit the Santa Rita community where we will start the visit with the chocolate trail. In the community of Santa Rita we will see the entire process of cocoa production: visiting the plantations and working farms where the beans are taken from their brilliantly colored pods. This is the first stage of producing delicious Ecuadorian chocolate, acknowledged as amongst the best in the world. Visitors can even try their hand at roasting the beans.

Night at Hamadryade Lodge (Suite Bungalow)
Included:  breakfast, rental car & Sky driving explorer pack*, excursion, lunch, bedroom

Day 4: Misahualli

Hamadryade is an Amazon Lodge offering a large range of activities, such as rafting, jungle hikes discovering the jungle vegetation, canoe trips and visits to indigenous communities as well as water sports like rafting and kayaking.

There’s a full day of adventures available (on request – these are not included and you will have to pay at the site). There are 4 options:
1. Paikawe and AmaZOOnico
2. Machacukacu Community
3. Rafting Jatunyacu River (Class III) must be booked in advance.
4. Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve

Night at Hamadryade Lodge (Suite Bungalow)
Included:  breakfast, rental car & Sky driving explorer pack*,  bedroom

  • Day 5: Misahualli – Baños 

Today our objective is the town of Puyo, a busy centre for the communities who live in the remoter regions of the Amazon, who come here to get their provisions. After heading South for about an hour, you’ll enter the town. Stay on the main E45 road, following the major road ‘Avenida 20 de Julio’ to the intersection with Cotopaxi street, where you turn left and drive down to a large car park beside the river. On the riverside promenade walk a few hundred metres to the Omaere Ethnobotanical Reserve ,where a guided tour of this truly fascinating place has been scheduled for you.

This 15-hectare parcel of land was planted 25 years ago with vegetation endemic to the region, and your guide will give you insights into how the local indigenous Shuar and the Huaorani cultures have used forest products in their daily lives. Return to the car park and follow the river path to El Jardín restaurant, where you have a pre-paid reservation. Just give the waiter your name. Lunch is served from 12 noon to 4pm. After lunch head back to your car and start the slow climb up through the Andes, following the spectacular Pastaza river valley towards the town of Baños.

En route you may want to stop at the impressive ‘Pailon del Diablo’ or ‘Devil’s Cauldron’ waterfall, located just before the Rio Verde Tunnel. It costs $1 to leave your car in the supervised car park, and a couple of dollars per person to enter the waterfall area. Climb a path at the edge of the falls as high as you want to go (there’s a narrow passage with a low ceiling), and cross a small suspension bridge for great views. Allow 1 to 1.5 hours. It’s well worth it!

Baños is named after the thermal springs that draw thousands of visitors every year, and is also known for the adrenaline-pumping adventures you can find close by. The town is sleepy during the week but comes to life at weekends with local pilgrims, families and adventure sports enthusiasts. Baños sits in the shadow of the impressive Tungarahua volcano, and is surrounded by steep lush green hills. Your hotel is just at the entrance to the town as you approach from the South.

Night at the Samari Spa Hotel (Standard Room)
Included:  breakfast, rental car & Sky driving explorer pack*, entrance fee, excursion, lunch, bedroom

  • Day 6: Baños 

A Day at leisure

Some activities you can do on your own:

Casa del Arbol swing:  The most popular experience is a swing on a nearby hilltop over the hill slopes and the town of Baños itself.

The church of Our Lady of the Holy Waters:  Located in the Central Plaza of the city of Baños. Inside you’ll see a collection of murals which illustrate local miracles that have been attributed to the Virgin.

The Waterfall of the Virgin:  The waterfall of the Virgin is the only one in Ecuador located within an urban area; it can be observed from any point of the city.

The Bride’s Veil Waterfall:  If you like waterfalls, here’s another one worth taking a look at: the Manto de la Novia (Bride’s veil). It’s located 12 km from Baños: on the road to Puyo before you get to Río Verde.

Night at the Samari Spa Hotel (Standard Room)
Included:  breakfast, rental car & Sky driving explorer pack*, bedroom

  • Day 7: Baños – Cotopaxi 

Today you’ll be heading North, making the transition from the Amazon to the Andes. Your route winds along the impressive Avenue of Volcanoes (a stretch of 14 active, semi-active and dormant volcanoes : passing the cities of Ambato and Latacunga; traditional haciendas, indigenous villages and protected natural areas. You’ll also get a taste of the local culture: a visit to one of the fascinating indigenous markets in towns along the way is well worth the effort. Each is held on a particular day of the week, so we’ll let you know which one to visit, depending on your travel plans.

You’ll enter Cotopaxi National Park from the South and cross it from South to North. With luck the weather will be clear, and you’ll be able to see the truly impressive peak of the cone-shaped, snow capped mount Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world at more than 19,000 ft.

Stop for a walk around Lake Limpiopungo to watch for birds. And if you feel like driving higher, you can’t miss the “car park” at the end of the road, where a trail will lead you to the mountain refuge, located on the snow line at 4,800m. But take care, you’re unlikely to be used to the altitude, and may not make it all the way without discomfort (about 1hr from the car). Return by the road leading to the northern exit, follow the signs for Tambopaxi Lodge, where a delicious pre-booked, pre-paid lunch is waiting for you. Lunch in sight of the volcano is something to be savoured. From here leave via the northern entrance to access the Pedregal area, where your next lodge is located. Chilcabamba is clearly signed posted once you leave the Park.

This will be a long day, so please leave early. Enjoy it, but make sure you plan your stops so you can make the most of each one. We suggest leaving Baños at 8am so that you’ll be in one of the market towns by 9.30 am, and in Cotopaxi National Park by, which will leave time for visiting the Interpretation Centre, Limpiopungo and the mountain refuge. Make sure you leave for Chilcabamba by 4pm, so you’ll arrive during daylight.

Night at Chilcabamba Lodge (standard room)
Included:  breakfast, transportation – rental car-, excursion, lunch, bedroom and dinner

  • Day 8: Cotopaxi – Quito 

Enjoy a half day exploring with a local Spanish speaking guide (available on request).

The Pita river, whose source is the meltwater from the Cotopaxi glacier, is an emblematic hike at Chilcabamba. The walk takes from 2 to 4 hours depending on your preferred speed. The descent is gradual: from the grasslands of Cotopaxi down to the area known as the ‘Pedregal’ and the humid Andean forests. You’ll explore waterfalls, watch for local birds and learn about local plants and their uses.

If there is time, you may want to re-enter the park for a very pleasant relaxing horse ride. You’ll meet wild horses along the way, and gallop if you feel like it, all in coordination with our local Spanish speaking expert. You’ll ride through the striking eastern foothills, passing ‘Machay’ (an interesting Inca refuge) and arriving at the stony plains, with fresh water springs and amazing views of the Pita River Canyon. You can enjoy a ride of 1.5, 2.5 or 4 hours.

When you take your leave of Chilcabamba, drive to the right for about 2 blocks and then turn to your left and continue driving for about 20 minutes until you reach the Rio Pita reservoir. From here you’ll continue straight on until you see the next reference point: on the left, a statue of ‘La Virgen de Piedra’. Continue on past the Rumipamba neighborhood and then La Moca, where there is an Stone arch. You will see a road junction, take the right fork to the San Fernando neighborhood. Up to this point the road is secondary, and the journey will take you approximately 40 minutes.

From San Fernando you continue on to the El Colibri roundabout, passing the Enkador Factory on the left, and then the Selva Alegre neighborhood before arriving at the “Selva Alegre” roundabout, where you will take the first exit to the right. This road will take you to the ‘El Colibri’ roundabout: a journey of approximately 20 minutes.When you arrive at the ‘El Colibri’ roundabout (it has a huge Hummingbird statue in the middle) in the town of Sangolqui, take the first exit to the right, this road will take you to the Airport in approximately 30 minutes.

There’s Another option for getting to the Airport:

When you leave Chilcabamba Mountain Lodge, go to the left towards the West for approximately 15 km, until you reach Amazonas street in Machachi Street, continue on and turn right into Venezuela Street and then left to the Pan-American Highway/ E35; Keep left to continue on Colectora Quito-Tambillo / Av. Pedro Vicente Maldonado / E28A / Av. Simón Bolívar Turn right to access the ramp to Cumbayá / Tumbaco / Aeropuerto.

Continue on the ‘Ruta Viva’ for approximately 14km incorporating a Pan-American Highway E35; At the roundabout, take the 2nd exit towards Conector Alpachaca, which will take you straight to the airport.

Included:  breakfast,  rental car & Sky driving explorer pack*, English speaking guide assistance to drop off the car

price per person






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