While it may seem like a lot of time, you'll still just be scratching the surface if you spend 2 weeks in Ecuador. You'll visit Quito and the Sierra, the lovely colonial city of Cuenca, and then, after spending a week in the enchanting Galápagos Islands, you'll have just enough time for an overnight in Guayaquil, one of South America's most up-and-coming cities. If you can tack on a few more days, or opt for just a 3-day cruise of the Galápagos, then you'll have enough time to take a 4-day/3-night tour to El Oriente, Ecuador's lush Amazon region, spend some time at one of the beautiful old haciendas found throughout the central Sierra (chapters 6 and 7), or head out to the Pacific coast from Guayaquil.
Days 1 & 2: Quito
Many international flights arrive in Quito in the late afternoon or early evening, so you'll need to book yourself into a hotel for 2 nights to enjoy 1 full day of sightseeing in the capital. Get to bed as early as possible so you can be rested and out the door early on Day 2. After breakfast at your hotel, spend the morning touring Old Town. Visit the magnificent Iglesia de San Francisco, which dates back to 1535, and allow yourself a good 45 minutes to get a feel for the city's oldest church and its attached museum.
A few minutes' walk away, La Compañía de Jesús Jesuit church features an incredibly ornate interior that shows baroque and Moorish influences. Nearby, Casa Museo María Augusta Urrutia is a perfectly preserved 19th-century mansion worthy of at least a 45-minute visit. As the sun warms the cool morning air, take some time to stroll around Old Town, ending up at La Plaza de la Independencia, which was the city's main square in the 16th century. Break for a cup of coffee at a sunny cafe on or around the plaza -- there are plenty to choose from here.
Next, grab a taxi and head to El Panecillo, where you'll see the Virgin of Quito. It's a 10-minute ride up a steep hill. From here, standing below the immense winged Virgin, you have a sweeping view of Old Town and the rest of the city. Right next to the monument is PIM's Panecillo, a great place to enjoy local cuisine for lunch while you continue to enjoy the view. Remember to drink lots of bottled water, especially in the early afternoon, when the sun is at its highest and the atmosphere its driest.
After lunch, take a taxi to the Fundación Guayasamín, named after the country's most famous and influential artist, Oswaldo Guayasamín. Expect to spend at least 1 1/2 hours here and at the nearby Capilla del Hombre. At both, you'll find original works by Guayasamín, as well as pieces from his personal collection.
You should be pretty beat by now, so head to Plaza Foch in the Mariscal district of New Town for a late-afternoon or early evening cup of coffee or a cocktail. If the weather is good, grab an outdoor table on the plaza at Coffee Tree (tel. 02/2565-521). If you're lucky, a jazz band will be playing right in front of you.
For dinner, be sure to have reservations at Zazu, the best and hippest spot in Quito. You can end the meal with dessert or with a drink at their popular little laid-back bar. If you have the energy, pull out all the stops and head back to the Mariscal district's many bars and clubs to see where the night and your whims lead you.
Days 3 & 4: Otavalo & Imbabura Province
After your grueling sightseeing day in Quito, it's time to leave the city behind and unwind in the highlands of the northern Sierra for a couple of days. The roughly 2-hour drive is leisurely and scenic, and should include a stop at the new Quitsato Mitad del Mundo (tel. 09/9701-133; www.quitsato.org), where you can have your photo taken with one foot in each of the earth's hemispheres.
I recommend Hacienda Cusin, a rambling, serene inn set amid 4 hectares (10 acres) of lush gardens, on the outskirts of Otavalo. In the distance, Volcán Imbabura makes for a breathtaking backdrop. Have lunch on the sun-splashed terrace and perhaps take a siesta afterward. In the afternoon, choose from a variety of activities, including horseback riding in the nearby hills, a Spanish lesson, or a meander in the lovely gardens. A candle-lit dinner is served in the cozy dining room, which makes for a perfect ending to a relaxing day. If you feel like going out for a gourmet dinner, make reservations at and take a taxi to La Mirage Garden Hotel, one of the finer restaurants in Ecuador. The drive takes about 20 minutes.
On Day 4, spend your morning perusing the artisans market at Otavalo, a 15-minute taxi ride away, and shop to your heart's content. Then stop by Peguche to visit some of the best weavers in Ecuador, before heading up to Hacienda Pinsaquí for lunch at one of the region's most picturesque and historic old haciendas. If you have the energy after lunch, you can take a taxi up to Lago Cuicocha and hike around the rim of this beautiful volcanic-crater lake, or take a more relaxing boat ride on its waters.
In the evening you can either spend a quiet night at Hacienda Cusin, or head back into Otavalo for dinner at Hotel Ali Shungu, and maybe catch some live music at Amauta Peña Bar. Whatever you choose, be sure to get a good night's rest, because you'll have to wake early in order to drive back to the Quito airport for your flight to the Cuenca.
Day 5: Cuenca
Your 1-hour flight will bring you to Cuenca, one of Ecuador's most charming colonial cities. If you're seated on the left side of the plane, and if there's a break in the clouds, you'll probably got a great view of Volcán Cotopaxi on the way.
By the time you arrive and settle into your hotel, you should be ready for lunch. I recommend that you head to El Maíz, a lovely indoor-outdoor restaurant serving top-notch Ecuadorian cuisine. After lunch, visit the Museo del Banco Central, just steps away from El Maíz. The museum contains an extensive art and archaeology collection, and is located on the site of a major Cañari and Inca ceremonial center. After touring the museum, be sure to walk around the ruins and their botanical gardens.
From the museum, take a taxi to Mirador de Turi, a strategic lookout with a beautiful view of Cuenca and its broad valley. Be sure to combine a visit here with a stop at Taller E. Vega, the gallery and workshop of one of the country's most prominent ceramic artists.
At some point during the day, be sure to sign up for a half-day tour to Ingapirca for the following day. Your hotel desk is probably your best bet. Otherwise, contact Hualambari Tours (tel. 07/2848-768; www.hualambari.com) or TerraDiversa (tel. 07/2823-782; www.terradiversa.com).
For dinner, you should splurge and head for the best restaurant in town, Villa Rosa, which serves creative takes on classic Ecuadorian dishes in a refined and elegant setting.
If you have any energy left, head for a nightcap at the Wunderbar Café, located just off Calle Larga midway down a flight of steep stairs to the Río Tomebamba.
Day 6: Ingapirca & Colonial Cuenca
You'll probably leave just after breakfast for your trip to Ingapirca, the Machu Picchu of Ecuador. Located about a 2-hour drive north of Cuenca, Ingapirca is the largest and most significant archaeological site left by the Incas in Ecuador. It was built on the ruins of a Cañari settlement, and you will see evidence of their culture and architecture here as well. Your tour will likely include lunch, but you should be back in Cuenca with plenty of time to further explore its colonial core.
Start at the colorful Flower Market and continue from there to the main square, Parque Calderón (the heart of Cuenca). Be sure to visit the Gothic-Romanesque Catedral Nueva, with its exquisite white-marble floors. Then catch a taxi from the square to the most interesting and best-known factory in the country. Homero Ortega P. & Hijos makes some of the highest-quality Panama hats in the world. You'll get to see how they do it, as well as shop at slightly discounted prices in their showroom store.
For your last night, I recommend combining dinner and nightlife by heading to Café Eucalyptus, where you can dine on a range of exotic tapas while mingling with the crème de la crème of Cuenca.
Days 7 to 13: The Galápagos Islands
Getting to the Galápagos from Cuenca will require an early-morning departure with a change of planes in Guayaquil. The flight to Guayaquil is only 30 minutes, and from there to the Galápagos it's exactly 1 1/2 hours. A 7-day cruise on one of the 100 vessels plying the waters of these magical islands is the best way to visit the Galápagos; the typical itinerary includes a visit to two islands a day -- one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Day 14: Guayaquil
Since all flights from the Galápagos first land in Guayaquil, spend your last night in Ecuador in this economically vibrant and up-and-coming city, the country's largest. Flights from the Galápagos arrive in the early afternoon, leaving you enough time to check into your hotel and stroll over to the Malecón 2000. You may want to visit the MAAC, the Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo (Museum of Anthropology and Contemporary Art), or take a long walk in the interesting neighborhood of Cerro Santa Ana. Climb to the top for a sweeping view of the city. For your last evening in Ecuador, head over to Lo Nuestro, the city's best restaurant, which focuses on traditional cuisine.
Day 15: Fly Home
It's unlikely you'll have much time during your last morning in Guayaquil, but if you do, head to Parque Histórico Guayaquil, a small theme-park with a re-creation of old colonial-era homes and haciendas, as well as lovely gardens.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.