Join Us on ATA’s first Ecuador Explorations! 

Ginger JonesATA Programs, Indigenous Connections, Travel Tours

Although Ecuador may be small, it’s a remarkable country of extremes. From the Andean highlands and volcanic mountains to Amazonian rainforests and the unique Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is one of the most environmentally diverse countries in the world. These varied landscapes translate into rich cultural heritages and a vast array of folk art traditions. That is why we are so excited to be offering ATA’s first two trips to Ecuador this fall: a five-night extension following our Peru trip in October, or an eleven-night comprehensive trip, in November.

Our tours will visit the Andean high Sierra near Quito and Otavalo in the north. The longer trip also includes Cuenca in the south. Both Quito and Cuenca are UNESCO World Heritage sites known for their exquisitely preserved colonial architecture. Quito, the bustling capital, is set among three snow-capped volcanoes. There we’ll visit welcoming plazas, the Presidential Palace, and exquisite cathedrals covered in gold leaf. An introduction at the Mindalae Museum of Handicrafts of Ecuador will provide a good overview of the country’s textiles, carvings, and pottery, as well as the spiritual connections between creative expression, art, and the cosmos. Outside the city at the “middle of the world,” you’ll straddle the equatorial line. 

Cotopaxi Volcano

On the longer eleven-night trip, we will fly south to Cuenca along the spine of the Andes, named the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” by nineteenth-century naturalist and explorer Alexander Von Humboldt. Hopefully, we’ll have views of Cotapaxi and Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest mountains, which informed Humboldt’s research and later inspired the Hudson River School artist Frederic Edwin Church’s paintings. 

Cuenca is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, situated on four rivers that wind through a welcoming cityscape of church domes, plazas, gardens, and museums. It’s an easy city to explore on foot, but bring comfortable shoes for uneven cobblestones, steps, and hills. 

To give us an overview of artisans throughout this Azuay region, we’ll visit Centro Interamericanos de Artes Populares, (CIDAP). This NGO, headquartered in a beautiful riverside villa, supports Indigenous artisans and their leadership development. You’ll have an opportunity to meet the artisans and learn about their traditional Caňari culture in small neighboring villages. In Gualaceo, we will view ikat textiles at the respected Museo de Macana and visit the Ecugenera Orchid Farm. Another stop will be the town of Chordeleg, known for silver filigree jewelry workshops and its historic plaza. We’ll also visit a toquilla factory and museum, which showcases the history and exquisite workmanship of the iconic Panama hat. These hats actually originated in Ecuador, but were misnamed because of their functional popularity during the building of the Panama Canal. You’ll have opportunities to share techniques with fellow weavers and artisans and make those meaningful personal connections that are the hallmark of an ATA tour. 

Hacienda Cusin

In the Otavalo area, we’ll stay at Hacienda Cusin, a restored, 400-year-old Spanish colonial estate. Staying there is literally like stepping back in time. The original 100,000-acre estate was purchased from the King of Spain in 1602. It was a sheep farm for centuries and woolens produced there fueled Otavalo’s extensive textile industry. In the early nineteenth century, when Humboldt made his Ecuador explorations, Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands, and Church painted local volcanoes, Hacienda Cusin was a country home hosting visitors, just as it is today. An avid textile collector bought the thirty-acre property in 1990 and restored the buildings and gardens. Immersed in old colonial style elegance, the guest rooms are furnished with antiques, Andean crafts, and most have log-burning fireplaces and beamed ceilings. They overlook landscaped gardens of delight, ancient trees, snow-capped mountains, and many species of birds, particularly hummingbirds. On-site gardens support delicious farm-to-table feasts in elegant dining rooms.

Otavalo is considered by many to be the center of Ecuador’s artisan heritage for textiles, as well as leatherworks, embroidery, and woodworking.

Kichwa people had been weaving on backstrap looms for centuries when they were conquered by the Incas and later the Spaniards. Indigenous weavers were forced to work in the Spanish textile factories using a new kind of treadle loom providing faster production. Today, many highly skilled Indigenous people still weave using these techniques. Surrounding Otavalo are many smaller communities recognized for their mastery of specific folk arts. We will visit Zuleta for fine embroidery, Cotacachi for leatherwork of all kinds, and San Antonio for wood carving and painting. 

Our fall Ecuador trips promise to be a special experience as our new friends are eager to share their beautiful country and folk art with you soon. We hope that you will join us! For more information contact Ginger Jones at