Cotopaxi Volcano viewed across the glorious Andean highlands.

You are an independent-minded spirit, not tied to the security of doing everything with a group. But you can appreciate the convenience of having some tedious travel details worked out for you, and the knowledge that you do indeed have a nice room waiting for you at a particular destination. You are, then, the type of traveler who can take advantage of a FIT ("For Independent Travelers") program such as Rutahsa Adventures can offer you through reliable suppliers of adventure and cultural travel services in Ecuador.

You decide when you want to visit Ecuador and what you want to see. You get there on your own hook, and do what you want as a free spirit. And here's where your interests and our connections mesh: you can participate in any of numerous Andean and Amazonian excursions including short cultural trips, soft adventure excursions, and truly challenging alpine trekking and mountain-climbing adventures, all pre-arranged and reserved for you by Rutahsa Adventures. We are pleased to work in cooperation with Enchanted Expeditions and Explorandes Ecuador, two of Ecuador's leading suppliers of cultural, ecological, and adventure travel services. Both these experienced and reliable companies offer regularly scheduled trips for FITs. We can book any of their regularly scheduled trips for you at 10% off the regular prices. We can also put together a customized itinerary for you to suit your particular interests.

If you are interested in Ecuador mainland adventures, we recommend you take a good look at what both these companies offer. Visit their websites, but return to Rutahsa Adventures for a booking that will save you bucks.

What does Ecuador have to offer? Here are some sample itineraries for short cultural and soft adventure trips:


Trip length: 3 days, 2 nights.

Day 1: Boarding a private bus in Quito, you will travel with a professional driver and bilingual guide from Quito to the Mitad del Mundo, an impressive monument complex at the Equator. In addition to marking the equatorial line, the monument honors the 18th century savants who determined its location. The name Ecuador, of course, means "equator", so this geographic feature is of signal import to the republic!

From the Mitad del Mundo you travel Amazonward, up into the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes, crossing a high pass with a dramatic view of snow- and glacier-capped Antisana Volcano (5704 m, 18,714 ft). Partway down the Amazonian side of the range you arrive at a hot-springs spa, Termas Papallacta, a choice place to spend an afternoon bathing in the thermal pools, savoring the hot water, the bright sun and the cool mountain air. Alternatively, you can hike or ride horses in the mountain valley, saving relaxing in the hot pools for the evening. You've got all night for soaking, as tonight's lodgings will be in the little hotel at the springs.

Day 2: On to the province of Imbabura (about three hours) to Laguna Cuicocha, a beautiful lake in the verdure-clad mountains. Here the guide will lead you on a 2-4 hr hike along a trail around the rim of the dramatic volcanic caldera in which the lake lies. Beautiful views and exotic flowers. Overnight at Hostería Chorlavi.

Day 3: Market Day at Otavalo! Visit the famous colorful Otavalo mercado de ponchos, where a great deal more than ponchos is offered for sale in this famous artisan's market. Here you'll pit your wits against sharp Otavalo traders. Alpaca sweaters are an especially good buy, but be prepared to bargain's part of the cultural experience.

Late in the afternoon the bus will return you to Quito and your hotel.

Morning mists rise over the Amazon jungle along the Río Napo.

Trip length: 5 days, 4 nights.

Day 1: Leave Quito in the morning, traveling by private bus, accompanied by a knowledgeable bilingual guide, and head up into the high Eastern Cordillera of the Andes, then descend into the upper reaches of the Amazon Basin near the town of Misahualli. The descent of the eastern slopes of the Andes brings you from high alpine terrain and bracing climate, down into steamy tropical jungles, passing through the towns of Baeza and Tena en route.

Days 2 & 3: Based at Cabañas Aliñahui, a rustic but comfortable camp on the banks of the Río Napo, a major tributary to the Amazon River, you will spend two days getting to know what the Amazon jungle is like. Activities include guided forest hikes to see the lush vegetation up close: lianas, philodendrons, bromeliads, orchids, and giant ceiba trees line the trails. And you'll want to take a ride in a dugout canoe to experience the river and the native means of transportation. A visit to a hospital in the forest for injured animals can be a great opportunity to see wildlife that is otherwise hard to glimpse up close, such as these macaws, or this tapir. The Amazon jungle program varies according to the group interests and local conditions. Cabañas Aliñahui is owned and operated by the Jatun Sacha Biological Preserve, and your staying here contributes to the preservation of Amazonian biodiversity.

Day 4: By midday you start back up into the highlands, but by a totally different route from that by which you came, ascending the beautiful valley of the Río Pastaza to the resort town of Baños, famous for its hot springs. Overnight at the Hotel Isla de Baños.

Day 5: Return to Quito today with a visit to Cotopaxi National Park en route. At Cotopaxi you will experience the high windswept páramo ecological zone, with its ground-hugging flowers and other bizarre alpine flora. And, if the weather is favorable, a magnificent panorama will unfold, dominated by the giant snow-crowned cone of Cotopaxi Volcano, the Fujiyama of the Americas. This stunningly symmetrical cone soars to 5897 m (19,348 ft).

Imagine riding through the Andes mountains in the open air atop a rocking train car....

Trip length: 4 days, 4 nights.

Day 1: Depart Quito by private bus in the morning, accompanied by a bilingual guide; drive south, along the scenic "Avenue of Volcanoes", to Ríobamba, with a visit in the interesting town of Guano en route. Overnight in the Hotel Monte Carlo or Chimborazo.

Day 2: Board the famous Guayaquil & Quito narrow gauge railroad in Ríobamba and rock and clatter through picturesque Andean highlands, past Indian villages and fields, maybe espying a grazing llama along the way. Bold travellers can ride al fresco atop boxcars fitted with footrails for secure seating. This is like no other train ride in the world! Vendors stroll the cartops selling snacks; shoeshine boys ply their trade; even the conductor comes aloft to punch tickets! All have to watch their heads when the train enters a tunnel!

If the tracks are open all the way, you'll zig-zag, first forwards then backwards, down the famous set of switchbacks at El Nariz del Diablo, or the "Devil's Nose". A triumph of 19th-century railway engineering, the switchbacks lower the train down several hundred feet of mountainside too steep for even hairpin curves.

N.B.: Due to El Niño-induced landslide problems along the line, train service has been very erratic since 1998. If the train fails to operate on this day of the trip, this segment of the excursion will have to be made by bus. So pray to the train gods for their blessings, as the ride down Devil's Nose atop a boxcar is certainly unforgettable!

At the end of your train ride you'll be met by the bus to continue on to the Inca ruins of Ingapirca. This national park is an important archeological site. It is said to be the remains of a royal tambo, or way station, on the Inca Trail from Cusco to Quito. Here you can see the fine mortarless stonework that the Inca are justly famous for, and the quality of the stonework in the main complex indicates that it was an important religious building, possibly a sun temple. In addition to the ruins themselves, there is a very worthwhile little museum, and llama and alpaca roam the park grounds, adding to your enjoyment. Overnight nearby the ruins at Hacienda Ingapirca, a former country estate converted into a hotel.

Day 3: A morning drive of two hours, through more great scenery, brings you to the city of Cuenca, beloved by many as the most colonial in ambience of Ecuador's cities. Cuenca is an important center for the manufacture of "Panama" hats-- which acquired that somewhat inaccurate name earlier in this century because travelers who went through the Panama Canal en route to South America by ship commonly sported these Ecuadoran hats upon their return to the U.S. You will have a guided tour of Cuenca and its environs. Overnight at the Hotel Conquistador (or similar hotel).

Day 4: Fly back to Quito; you'll be met at the airport and taken to your hotel. Rest of the day free time in Quito. You may choose to taxi into the old city to explore monuments of colonial Quito such as the San Francisco Monastery and the Palacio Nacional. Or you may prefer to stroll Avenida Amazonas to explore its many shops and varied eating places.


Ecuador abounds in beautiful snow-capped volcanoes which form the dramatic backdrop for hikes through the Andean highlands, and present challenging climbs. One of the more popular climbs is Cotopaxi, which requires no technical climbing and can be done in a single day with an early start from base camp...but you had better be in good shape to handle the altitude getting up to the peak of 5897 m (19,348 ft).

Soaring above the picturesque town of Baños, is Volcán Tungurahua, rising to 5016 m (16,456 ft), another good non-technical climb. And the resort town of Baños features thermal springs in which to soothe your tired muscles and soak away your cares after the climb. Baños also offers numerous easy hiking opportunities on local trails that climb the valley walls above the little town, and cross the river gorge on dramatic suspension bridges that put one in mind of Thornton Wilder's novel The Bridge of San Luís Rey.

A more strenuous affair is a climb of Volcán Chimborazo, Ecuador's highest peak at 6310 m (20,702 ft). This one is for serious climbers.

Climbing snow-capped volcanoes can be arranged for those who want to summit, and admiring them from afar on Andean trails for those who prefer trekking.


To reserve your spot on any of the exciting Ecuador excursions offered by either Enchanted Expeditions or Explorandes Ecuador, first visit their websites to choose your trip(s), then e-mail us at Rutahsa Adventures

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    You'd be a BOOBY not to visit the Galápagos Islands while in Ecuador...

    Photos on this website by Janie and Ric Finch, @copyrighted.