Ecuador's patchwork of cultures and habitats provide a surprising gastronomic journey. With culinary experiences as a focus, this culinary tour of Ecuador connects the major highlights of the mainland, from chocolate farms in the forest to city street food tours and ceviche along the coast. Gourmet delights in colonial towns, bush tucker in the Amazon, guinea pig in enchanting highlands... these 14 days reveal...
Quito – Gourmet Introductions to Ecuador
Towering volcanic cones welcome you to Ecuador, the snow-capped summits of Pichincha and Cotopaxi visible from the plane window as you arrive in the capital, Quito. You'll be picked up at the airport and transferred to a boutique hotel in the heart of the city's World Heritage zone. Check in, check out the view of the presidential palace from your balcony, and enjoy an afternoon at leisure. To introduce you to classic Ecuadorian cuisine, you'll dine at the city's most lauded fine dining restaurant this evening. The menu is lush and traditional, combining unusual fruits with roasted meat and plenty of fragrant surprises. Ecuador's landscape is blessed with fertility, and this meal will provide your first taste of some of the fruits that only grow in this corner of South America. But let's not pretend that Ecuador can match its exceptional local food with its local wine; accompanying the meal will be a selection of fine wine from Chile or Argentina.
Quito – Sensual Street Food Tour
Quito's streets blend elegance with atmosphere. Markets hang beneath the facade of 17th-century townhouses, workers queue for baked tamales outside the lavish presidential palace, while indulgent sweets are hard to resist on the city squares. Today's street food tour allows you to explore the juxtaposition of old and new, taking you along 16th-century alleys that are alive with the spitting of oil and shouts of neighborhood vendors. Sample classic empanadas as you look over a series of church domes from another century. Enter the markets and sample the strange endemic fruit that's such a large part of Ecuadorian diets. Then follow the aromas to one of Quito's oldest bakeries and breathe in the fresh scents of history. In the city's back streets, you'll also visit a local sweet shop and taste your way through caramel creations, culminating in mistelas that are made with sugar and rum. After this filling feast, work off some of the calories by making the short climb to Basilica del Voto Nacional for stunning views over the volcano clad valley.
Quito – A Cooking Class in the Capital
Over the first two days, you should have sampled your way through the iconic building blocks of Ecuadorian cuisine. Today you experiment with how such diversity comes together in the kitchen. Spend the morning at a local food market with one of Ecuador's best chefs, and then jump into the kitchen to create some gourmet classics from your raw ingredients. The focus is on fresh scents and working together to craft three complimentary courses. It's also a chance to really delve into the subtleties of local cuisine with your chef; in a country of such eclectic flavors, testing boundaries and attempting new tastes is part of the every day. With this private cooking class, there will be plenty to take away, along with a lavish lunch to share with your tutor. The afternoon is free and another chance to explore the first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Quito – A Chocolate Farm in the Forest
Strange pods hang from verdant trees in the forests of Mindo. Open the peculiar green cocoa fruit and you won't find black chocolate beans. The milky mess is soggy and gooey, sticking to your fingers as you slurp a sample of the raw fruit. On a coffee tour, you often go from bean to cup. But with a chocolate farm there's a whole process to discover before you even get to the beans. Over the two-hour tour, you get involved with making your own chocolate, from roasting the fruit to squeezing out bars of chocolatey goodness. Then lie back with a cup of hot chocolate as your face is cleansed with a 20-minute cacao facial. Energized and revitalized, you spend the afternoon exploring the other delicate things that Mindo's forests hide. Dozens of hummingbirds and thousands of butterflies can be seen at a nature center while three zip lines take you deep into the trees for a 90-minute walk through indigenous flora. You'll return to Quito in the early evening and enjoy dinner at a restaurant crafting a remarkable fusion of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine.
Day 5 - 7
Amazon – Indigenous Recipes and Outdoor Adventures in the Rainforest
The road twists and turns out of Quito, taking you through the Avenue de las Volcanoes and the shimmering snow-capped peaks of the country's active volcanoes. It's a journey across high Andean passes, with precipitous cliffs tumbling thousands of meters into the valley below. You're heading east, down the slopes towards the thick canopy of the Amazonian Rainforest. Transfer to a small plane and soar over a landscape of green, then complete the journey by riding a traditional canoe down the river. Within half a day, you're immersed in this huge wilderness, hundreds of miles from modernity or roads.
Visiting the Amazon is a highlight of any South American vacation, but what does this place have to offer to a culinary journey? In the Amazon, food is deconstructed to its most basics. A small tribal community is your guides for the next three days, taking you through survival in the jungle. After a leisurely evening on day five, you spend day six with the hunters of the community. Discover their indigenous methods for finding food and spend some time practicing with a traditional blowgun. Walk with animal trackers through the trees and pick up on the smallest of clues; an indented tree, distant echoed calls, the unusual behavior of a soaring eagle. Pick earthly insects to roast on a fire, admire traditional fishing methods in the river, and hear the fables of the tribe's ancestors. These people don't just have a carnivore's diet, and it's not all about hunting. They forage for fruits and flavors that could enhance any diet and can find edible resources from the forest floor. There are few other places in the world that can claim to have such organic produce.
Day seven provides a very different experience. You'll spend it with the tribe's women, crafting traditional drinks and meals. Bugs are roasted, fruits are blended, and alcoholic chicha is crafted by chewing on cassava and spitting out the fibrous mass. Sharing a meal with a remote Amazonian community is a very rare experience; on this trip you also get to share in creating the meal. Spend the afternoon swapping tales with the locals via an interpreter and take the opportunity to reveal something culinary from your own country. Over these three days in the Amazon you combine these local experiences with a luxury jungle lodge that's hidden amongst the trees. Few places in the world can feel so escapist and so in tune with our natural realm.
Cuenca – Charming Dining in a World Heritage Site
As the sun rises above the forest canopy, you elegantly make your way out of the Amazon. Travel upriver by traditional canoe, listening to the calls of toucans and parrots that echo from the trees. A hundred green shades swirl beneath the canopy and the rising sun brings reflections to the river. After a two-hour canoe ride, you transfer to a small plane that takes you back to the Andes. You'll then travel by road towards Cuenca, another UNESCO World Heritage Site that's laced with the enchantment of yesteryear. Take an appetite-inducing walk down the charming streets before dining at a gourmet restaurant that offers experimental interpretations of Ecuador's most loved dishes.
Cuenca – The Fabulous Incan Ruins of Ingapirca
After a hearty breakfast, you take a trip to Ingapirca, Ecuador's most complete and important Incan ruins. Some of the stone have crumbled to leave a decaying sense of the past, yet vast parts of the complex provide timeless reminders of Incan ingenuity. Stand before the Temple of the Sun, an elliptical building wrapped around a large rock that was the centerpiece of Canari culture, some 2,500 years before the Incas arrived. Your guide chronicles the story of how these indigenous cultures thrived in this area. You'll also see where their remarkable solstice ceremonies would take place twice a year. It's a full day trip to Ingapirca and a brief break in the culinary focus of the itinerary.
Day 10 - 11
Loja – Traditional Dishes and Street Food in the Southern Highlands
Nestled in the southern highlands of Ecuador, Loja is an idyllic place for sampling your way through traditional foods. It's very close to Peru, and many flavors from across the border have influenced an idiosyncratic local cuisine known as Lojano. For starters, there's repe, a creamy soup of milk, cheese, cilantro, plantain, and avocado. Along the street, there's cecina de chancho, thin slices of marinated pork dried in the sun. The aromas of pollos a la brasa float down central streets, leaving the unmistakable tinge of chicken and charcoal in the air. Then there are the unique tamales, meat wrapped in achira leaves with a peppery sauce.
These two days in Loja are relaxed and atmospheric, giving you ample time to open your senses to all the varied tastes. A guided street food tour takes you to local stalls where Lojano food can be tried with tapas-style small dishes. Then rounding off the two days is Loja's best cuy (guinea pig) restaurant. Guinea pig is smothered in savory spices and then roasted on glowing charcoal. It's a dish with over four centuries of tradition and one that continues to convert everyone who tries it.
Day 12 - 13
Salinas – Ceviche and Sea Lions Along Ecuador's Coast
With its sublime Pacific Ocean views and continual scents of fresh seafood, Salinas provides a serene finale to this culinary itinerary. Ecuador's best seafood can be found here, and a series of restaurants specialize in grilling large oceanic fish. On both evenings your guide can point you towards the best seafood restaurants; some offer exquisite dining while others are where the locals like to dine. One dish dominates the whole town: ceviche. It's so common here that some places give it out as a snack to accompany beer. They make ceviche from clams, octopus, lobster, prawns, and a dozen different fish from the ocean. You can even expect to see ceviche at the hotel's breakfast buffet.
Spend your hours wandering along the beach and tasting your way the eclectic seafood. The culinary style is to allow the raw taste of the seafood to really shine, rather than smother everything in distracting flavors. On day 13 you take a day trip to La Loberia, where a boisterous colony of sea lions hang out on rugged coastal cliffs. Large males grunt and shout, youngsters dive and somersault through the water, while females bask with an inquisitive stare. It's another understated highlight of Ecuador, one that epitomizes the blend of unique attractions and intimate local encounters.
Guayaquil – Fond Farewell to Ecuador
With the taste of ceviche lingering in your mouth, it's time to depart Ecuador. Travel by road to Guayaquil to connect to your international departing flight. There should be enough time for dessert and picking a bar of Ecuadorian chocolate from duty-free.
- Dine at Ecuador's finest restaurants when you're in Quito and Cuenca, and savor the creations of the country's gastronomic experts
- Explore the diverse street food of Ecuador and delight at how local food is centered around such sublime tastes
- Discover Ecuador's highlights at your own pace by mixing colonial charms with the Amazon jungle, then the majestic Andean highlands with an elegant coastline
- Spend the day at a gourmet chocolate farm and participate in turning fruit into luxuriant chocolate
- Three days in the Amazon Rainforest include learning how to forage and hunt for food in the trees and cooking with tribal locals
- Journey into the highlands and feast on traditional dishes like fried guinea pig and creamy repe (green banana) soup
- Complete the itinerary on the coast, where fresh ceviche is the popular local snack and exquisite seafood accompanies the sunset
Ecuador's landscape is one of sublime contrasts. Towering volcanic slopes tumble down into fertile valleys, deserted beaches are connected to the thick Amazonian rainforest, and a patchwork of indigenous cultures are harmoniously stitched together. Such geographical and cultural diversity helps create a truly unique culinary journey. Ideas are shared, traditions are savored, and the lavish green landscape is filled with endemic fruit. This isn't an exclusively fine dining itinerary; it’s a culinary tour of Ecuador for foodies seeking to explore the contrasting sides to the country. Throughout this handcrafted itinerary, you're immersed in the culinary treasures that illuminate local life. Cook with an Amazonian tribe, follow the aromas through atmospheric markets and pick cocoa from the trees. No two meals are ever the same, and many of the snacks from the street would be lavish gourmet offerings if they were served in Europe or the States. Consider reading more about our exceptional Ecuador tour companies and operators that go above and beyond to ensure you have an exceptional experience.
Following the scents and indulging your tongue is the center of this Ecuadorian experience. And by following the food you also discover the iconic highlights of mainland Ecuador. Capital city Quito is the first ever World Heritage Site, and it provides an elegant introduction to the country. In between cooking classes and street food tours you visit 16th-century golden churches and languid city squares. Day four's trip to Mindo takes you to an organic chocolate farm, complete with cacao facials and creating your own chocolate bars. While the Amazon doesn't strike anyone as a culinary center, three days in the rainforest help strip the foodie experience to its millennia-old basics. You'll spend a day with tribal hunters and practice using the blowgun. Then enjoy an afternoon with the tribe's women, concocting a meal out of very intriguing ingredients. This is organic cooking at its most genuine.
These two weeks allow you to weave your own blanket of culinary experiences and revel in the finesse and passion of the country's cooking. By day eight you're in the World Heritage city of Cuenca, a charming colonial leftover that's full of gourmet experiences. Two relaxed days allow you to explore both city and culinary style. Then it's into the Southern Highlands and Loja, a region that takes much of its influence from Peru. The dishes are peculiar and wonderful here, like fried guinea pig and repe (a creamy soup made from green bananas) cheese, cilantro, and avocado. With resplendent Andean peaks as the backdrop, this is another quaint region that combines exploring with relaxing. Completing the trip is coastal Salinas, where ceviche is so popular it sometimes comes as a free bar snack. Sample the very best the area has to offer and dine on fresh morsels from the ocean. Like always, these sensual overtones are mixed with remarkable natural experiences. You'll visit a boisterous colony of sea lions and take a boat tour to find colorful seabirds.
$4,895 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
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Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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