The Spirit of the Andes Express 3D / 2N
3D / 2N from Quito to Cuenca, departures from Monday to Saturday, (Accommodations and meals are included)
The Spirit of the Andes Express is a three-day trip along the Avenue of the Volcanoes from Quito to beautiful Cuenca in the South; passing through spectacular scenery by road and by train, with stops along the way for encounters with the indigenous cultures, haciendas, and a taste of the products of the land. The highlight for many is the second day’s ride by rail down the world famous Devil’s Nose segment of track, regarded as one of the greatest feats of railway engineering and passing through superb Andean scenery. The third day is dedicated to the cultural and natural experience of exploring the charms of Cuenca, with its cobblestone streets and flower-filled plazas.
Day by day itinerary
The adventure starts in Quito, heading due south through the outskirts of the capital. This first leg reaches the charming town of Sangolqui, where a stop is made to explore the traditional Andean market, full of animals, produce and people: a great introduction to the Andean way of life. Over to the east, the journey enters Cotopaxi National Park, an ecological sanctuary of 88,920 acres that harbours the magnificent cone of the Cotopaxi Volcano, rising 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) above sea level.
The evergreen landscape of the Ecuadorian highlands is one of the main attractions, as the programme travels along valleys and over mountains patchworked with multicolored fields. After an hour and a half, the entrance to the park is reached and then it's up a dirt road for approximately one hour. Upon arrival at the park, there is an introductory briefing about the habitat of the Andean páramo or high-altitude moorlands. Continue on to Limpiopungo Lagoon to observe a variety of birds and occasionally wild horses and to enjoy a short walk. On clear days, the Cotopaxi Volcano accompanies guests as a magnificent backdrop.
Lunch is served at a local restaurant in the area. Continue along the Pan American Highway, up and down the slopes of the famous Avenue of the Volcanoes. Continue by bus to Urbina Train Station, high up, at the foot of imposing Chimborazo Volcano. Visit a Tagua nut workshop and warm up with a canelazo and biscuits by the fireplace and, if the Chimborazo is clear, an amazing sunset can be expected. Then continue by bus to Riobamba for dinner and overnight.
- Warm clothing is needed, hat or cap, sun block (SPF 40).
- Good walking shoes.
- Camera (wide angle lens).
- Binoculars. Sunglasses.
- Altitude: 2800 to 4000 meters (9800 - 12,120 feet)
- Average Temperature Day: 8° to 20° C (46° to 68° F) Night 6° to 10° C / 43° to 50° F
After an early breakfast, depart by road (about 2 hours) towards the small town of Alausí, the beating heart of the rehabilitation of the Ecuadorian Railway Company in the last years. Great efforts have been made to restore the 100-year old train stations, replace railways and sleepers, renovate engines and classic coaches, and involve the Indian communities in the rail operation for tourism along the route. The highlight is the thrilling 800-metre (2630-foot) descent via zigzags cut into the rock of the Devil's Nose. At the bottom is the newly renovated Sibambe Station. Here there is time to visit the local museum "Condor Puñuna" built and run by the Nizag community, see the display of local handcrafts, fruit and medicinal plants and try the local coffee. The train whistle calls guests back on board for the return to Alausí Station. Continue exploring the Andean world by road to the south, passing through stunning landscapes before visiting the Inca Fortress of Ingapirca en-route. Lunch is served in the area. Arrival at Cuenca at dusk, for dinner and overnight.
- Dress in layers (T-shirt, blouse, sweater, coat) and rain protection.
- Sun protection (SPF 40) even if the day is cloudy.
- Hat or cap. Good walking shoes.
- Altitude: 2,550 meters (7,750 feet) to 3,000 meters (10,000 feet)
- Average Temperature: Day 10° to 25° C / 50° to 77° F./Night 6° to 10° C / 43° to 50° F.
- Train departure from Alausí: 08:00 am, departure from Riobamba by motor coach at 06:00 am at the latest, please use this info as reference, your local guide will give you further details on spot.
Cuenca is Ecuador's third largest city; yet it still retains its pleasant provincial air. Its red tiled roofs, cobblestone streets, flowery plazas and museums make it very special. This comprehensive visit includes the Plaza of San Sebastian, a colorful artisans' market, where handicrafts are sold. Then, visit the Museum of Modern Art, featuring an excellent collection of contemporary fine art. Next is a visit to the flower market at the small plaza in front of the carved stone entrance to the church of El Carmen de la Asunción. From here, a stroll to the main square, surrounded by the imposing blue-domed Cathedral, the Court of Justice, the Municipal Palace, the Governor's Palace and the Church of El Sagrario. Then, a drive along the Tomebamba river to admire the city's riverbank houses. Lunch is at one of the excellent restaurants in Cuenca, and in the afternoon, a short drive visits a ceramics handcraft shop, followed by a visit to a Panama Hat factory to observe the whole process of making the famous hats of high-quality toquilla straw. The Spirit of the Andes adventure ends at the airport - to take to flight to Quito or to Guayaquil.
Air ticket is not included. Additional nights in Cuenca can be easily added!!
- Dress in layers (T-shirt, blouse, sweater, coat).
- Take a warm coat for evening and rain protection. Sun protection (SPF 40) even if the day is cloudy. Hat or cap. Good walking shoes.
- Altitude: 2,550 meters (7,750 feet) to 3,000 meters (10,000 feet)
- Average Temperature:
Day 10° to 25° C / 50° to 77° F.
Night 6° to 10° C / 43° to 50° F.
- Please bear in mind that the train operation is handled directly by the Ecuadorian Railway Company. The operation and schedules are subject to change without notice.
- The cost of the train ticket for the Devil´s Nose segment is included.
- Accommodations in Cuenca at hotels: Oro Verde, Santa Lucía or Carvalho. Accommodations at Mansión Alcázar have an extra cost. Please request information from your account executive.
- All meals and entrance fees included.
- Not included: internal air tickets, meals not noted, drinks, tips and personal expenses.
- Visits may change without previous notice due to weather conditions or circumstances beyond our control.
Why Is This Tour So Special?
- Acquire a vision of the Andes and the people who inhabit them.
- Explore Cuenca, one of the country’s most popular cities and a World Cultural Heritage Site. Extensions easily arranged for more time there.
- The best of the Andes in just three days for people short on time.
- Plenty of craft-shopping opportunities.
- Discover the Inca ruins of Ingapirca amid the rolling countryside of Cañar Province.
- Great food, great scenery, great experiences.