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Self-drive Ecuador: The Avenue of the Volcanoes

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Wedged between Peru and Colombia, mainland Ecuador is certainly more compact than its larger Andean neighbours, but no less diverse for that. For those with limited time who wish to experience a wide variety of gob-smacking landscapes and  traditional cultures, it’s a near perfect destination. And what better way to explore than by self-drive hire car. 

The recently expanded and paved road network, negotiating the sun-scarred plateaux and plunging down through the shadows of near vertical, cloudforest-shrouded valleys guides you along a cross-section of this beautiful country. Twists and turns, switchbacks, tunnels, four-lane auto-routes and shady cobbled country lanes all feature in this holiday which not only introduces you to Ecuador’s main artery, the Panamerican Highway following the iconic Avenue of the Volcanoes,  but also back-roads though patch-worked  rural landscapes peopled by tight-knit communities where custom and tradition still govern the leisurely-paced bucolic way of life. 

With the freedom of your own hire car, discover all this as well as Ecuador’s three illustrious metropolises, each standing in stark contrast to its sisters: the capital, Quito, a mélange of evocative history and dynamic contemporary society; Cuenca, one of the continent’s best preserved and stately colonial Spanish cities and Guayaquil, a vivacious and sultry port on the tropical coast of the Pacific Ocean.

We book your car, your accommodation, and supply loads of useful information including alternative routes and optional experiences based on our own travels along these routes.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive Quito, transfer to hotel in historic centre.

Day 2

Guided walking tour of the colonial core.

Day 3

Transfer to the airport to collect your hire car; set off on your self-drive adventure.

Day 4

Cotopaxi National Park, drive to Quilotoa.

Day 5

Drive to thermal spa resort town, Baños.

Day 6

At leisure in Baños – optional adventures.

Day 7

Drive to Alausi.

Day 8

Devils’ Nose train ride, continue to Cuenca via Ingapirca ruins.

Day 9

At leisure in Cuenca.

Day 10

Drive to Guayaquil via las Cajas National Park.

Day 11

Explore Guayaquil, depart for international flight, the Galápagos islands or the Amazon jungle.

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Places visited on this holiday

Self-drive Ecuador: The Avenue of the Volcanoes

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Quito

Quito has long been a city of two halves. Occupying a highland valley at 2,850m and flanked by volcanoes, the setting of its historic centre and adjoining modern quarters is breathtaking. The formerly dark and run-down colonial heart has been magnificently restored. Cobbled lanes and whitewashed façades, scrubbed up churches and renovated theatres now gleam and echo with the sounds of the everyday life of its traditional inhabitants. Beyond are the skyscrapers and broad avenues of the contemporary commercial city, La Mariscal, with flashy shops, offices and restaurants, where busy young workers flock to the many bars and nightclubs.

When to go

The capital is an all-year destination. Lying at 2,850m on the Equator, Quito has a year round spring-like climate.  Most days have a sunny morning but there may be rain in the afternoon. Feb-Mar are the wettest months, Jul the driest.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency
Ecuador uses the US dollar. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. 
Time difference

GMT -5 hrs.

Combines with

A visit to Otavalo market in the northern highlands, 58km (1-2hrs by road); the bird-filled cloud forest in the Mindo region, 100km (1hr 40mins by road); the Avenue of the Volcanoes, 77km (2hrs by road); the Galápagos Islands, (2-3hrs by air).

Getting there

Average flight time is 15 hrs. There are no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador, popular routes to Quito involve a change of plane in Amsterdam, Paris or Madrid.

Key events

Dia de Quito: Quito, 6 Dec. The city’s own festival is actually celebrated from 1st Dec, with parades, street music and bullfights, right up until the fiesta’s climax on 6th. It can be quite boisterous.

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Avenue of the Volcanoes
Avenue of the Volcanoes
The aptly named Avenue of the Volcanoes is flanked by eight dizzyingly-high snow-mantled mountains striding south of Quito down the Andean spine. It passes through a valley rich with a landscape of dense forest and tiny fields plastering impossibly steep slopes. Dotted around is a mix of deeply traditional indigenous and colonial settlements with horticultural and artisan markets and cottage industries. There’s also a clutch of old estates gifted to conquistadores where the grandiose buildings are now countryside hotels. This is supreme hiking country, with trails leading to craters harbouring turquoise volcanic lakes, usually with views of the biggest peaks, Chimborazo and Cotopaxi.
When to go

The central highlands have an all year round spring-like climate with temperatures averaging 21°C.  The best time for a visit is Dec-Jan, while a lot of rain can be expected Mar-May. Jul-Aug are the driest months.  Visit Saquisili on a Thursday to see the market. Other towns have different market days.

Language

Spanish

Time difference

GMT -5 hrs

Combines with

Ecuador’s colonial southern city, graceful Cuenca, 250 km from Riobamba by road (3.5hrs) or rail and road.

Getting there

It’s a drive of 190 km from Quito to Riobamba, taking 2 hrs 40mins if you drive direct.

Key events
Fiesta de la Mama Negra, Latacunga, 23-25 Sep, a multi-cultural event with a historical narrative and costumed dancing and parades.  
Corpus Christi:  Pujili, Quilotoa Loop:  May-Jun. Masked parades, fireworks and competitions. 
Riobamba: There are several fiestas and parades, including one in celebration of Jesus in January; Holy Week, and the Fiesta de Abril on the town’s independence day, 21 Apr.

Getting local money

Ecuador uses the US dollar. There are banks in Riobamba but it’s best to take out money in advance in Quito where there are many ATMs.

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Cuenca
Cuenca, set in the southern sierras at 2,550m, is a quintessential Spanish colonial city. It has the cobbled streets, leafy plazas, baroque churches and whitewashed façades with heavy wooden doors that you’d expect, but the pale-stoned centre is particularly beautiful.

This university town is also a centre for artisan work, notably the panama hat, which originated here, but also ceramics, basket ware, jewellery and ponchos. A quiet, somewhat conservative place, it is the tranquil base for a number of language schools; foreign students can be spied indulging in the many cake shops and cafés. Outside town in the lake-dotted moorlands of the southern sierras is the lovely Cajas National Park.
When to go

Cuenca has an all year round spring-like climate with an average temperature of 20°C.  Most days have a sunny morning but there may be rain in the afternoon. Feb-Apr are the wettest and cloudiest months, Jun-Aug the driest.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency
Ecuador uses the US dollar. There are a number of banks in Cuenca. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs using a UK credit or debit card.
Time difference

GMT -5 hours. 

Combines with

The Avenue of the Volcanoes, 250 km to Riobamba (3.5 hrs by road); the port of Guayaquil, 175 km (2 hrs 40mins by road).

Getting there

Average flight time is 13 hrs. There are no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador, popular routes to Quito involve a change of plane in Amsterdam, Paris or Madrid.

Key events
Bienal de Cuenca:   Biennial painting competition and exhibition for three months Apr or Nov, odd years. Holy Week: Good Friday procession through Cuenca.
Septenario:  Religious festival prior to Corpus Christi, with masses, fireworks and balloons.
Dia de Independencia: Cuenca 3 Nov, along with All Saints and Souls days on 1-2 Nov  combines to create a three-day holiday with markets, music, dancing and parades. 
Pase del Niño Viajero:  Christmas Eve children’s costume parade.

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Guayaquil
Until quite recently a scruffy Pacific port with a dubious reputation, Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city is a newly emergent commercial and cultural centre, showing off freshened up plazas and boulevards, a charming waterside malécon (promenade), good hotels and trendy restaurants. Always a flamboyant place in comparison with the upland cities, it has a vivacious atmosphere. The river Guayas is chock-a-bloc with boats jostling for space, some laden down with tropical fruits and sugar cane, others offering transport to distant villages. The historic quarter of Las Peñas nearby is an arty district with a tumble of toybox multicoloured houses, galleries and bars.
When to go

Guayaquil is a hot, humid place where the temperature seldom dips below 28°C all year round. Heavy rainfall can be expected from Jan-Apr but hardly any outside this period.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

Ecuador uses the US dollar. There are a number of banks in Guayaquil. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs using a UK credit or debit card, but the permitted withdrawal may be a lower amount than at home.

Time difference

GMT -5 hrs.

Combines with

The Galápagos Islands, 1.5hrs by air; the southern upland city of Cuenca, 175km (2hrs 40mins by road).

Getting there

Average flight time is 12 hrs. There are no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador, popular routes to Guayaquil involve a change of plane in Amsterdam, Paris or Madrid. The city is a 50min flight from Quito.

Key events

Fiestas Julianas:  Guayaquil, 24-5 Jul.  Parades, fireworks, beauty pageants and other events to celebrate the city’s foundation and Simon Bolivar’s birthday.
Dia de Independencia & Dia de Raza: Guayaquil 9-12 Oct.  Various cultural events.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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