Post summary: The perfect itinerary for 2 weeks in Ecuador and a detailed travel guide with everything to know about traveling in Ecuador
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Are you ready for the trip of a lifetime? If so, 2 weeks in Ecuador is the perfect way to go.
If you are planning your trip to Ecuador, this is the guide for you.
Experience the best of Ecuador with this adventurous 2 week trip itinerary.
With extraordinary views, vibrant culture, and endless opportunities to explore nature, this South American country has something for every type of adventure.
From lush jungle and sprawling grasslands to rugged coastline and active volcanoes, there are endless ways to immerse yourself in everything that Ecuador has to offer.
Whether you are visiting for 2 weeks or 2 months, this guide will tell you everything you need to know so you can make the most of your trip through one of Latin America’s most diverse and captivating countries.
From where to hang out with the locals, to which natural wonders you definitely can’t miss, this ultimate guide to Ecuador is packed with essential tips and information to make your trip through this major Andean country something you’ll never forget.
Posts to help you prepare for your trip
19 Important Things to Know About Ecuador Before You Go
How to Use Google Maps to Plan Your Next Road Trip (Step-By-Step Tutorial With Examples)
15 Useful Apps to Download Before Your Next Road Trip (for Free!)
What to Pack for a Day Hike: Essential Gear and Complete Packing List
Best Hiking Backpacks for Women: Find the Perfect Hiking Pack for Your Next Adventure
The Perfect 2-Week Ecuador Itinerary
Ecuador is one of the most diverse countries in the world. The Amazon Basin and the Pacific Ocean straddle either side of the Andes Mountains, creating varying altitude, extreme landscapes, and four different microclimates across Ecuador.
And because Ecuador is so small, you can see a ton in a short amount of time!
You don’t have to travel far to visit pristine beaches in the Galapagos, snow capped volcanoes in Cotopaxi, Emerald green lakes in Quilotoa, the rare cloud forests in Mindo, or the Amazon Jungle…all in a few weeks.
And let’s not forget the vibrant culture that permeates every inch of this wonderful country!
With those things in mind, I crafted this itinerary based on our own Ecuador road trip, the places that left us speechless, and the things we wish we did just a little bit differently. I included as much detail as possible in order to create THE Ecuador travel guide that I wish we had when we were planning our visit.
This is the best Ecuador itinerary if you want to see a little bit of everything – and then some! It’s also jam packed to make sure you have the most epic adventure possible.
Keep reading for an overview and detailed day-by-day outline on traveling in Ecuador.
The 2 Week Route Overview
This 2 Week Ecuador Itinerary starts and ends at Mariscal Sucre Quito International Airport (UOI) in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador.
From Quito, you will first go west to the Mindo Cloud Forest, before circling back up to Otavalo and then going south to Cotopaxi, Quilotoa and Banos.
This itinerary is best completed with a car. However, it’s not an issue if you don’t rent a car because Ecuador has a very good bus and shuttle system.
If you plan to take buses and shuttles, then I recommend calculating your departure and arrival times at each destination to ensure that you’ll have enough time. You willl have to adjust this itinerary accordingly.
Alternatively, each of these destinations is easily accessed via day trips and overnight trips from Quito. Just about any hotel can help you arrange that. So, it’s possible to use Quito as your home base if you wanted to avoid the public bus system altogether, if you’re a solo traveler who wants to travel with people, or if you’re just nervous about navigating Ecuador on your own. Doing it this way is easy if you don’t have a car, but you will lose a lot of time going back and forth to Quito.
Access the interactive Google Map here
Day 1: Arrive in Quito
Day 2: Quito
Day 3: Quito to Mindo
Day 4: Mindo
Day 5: Mindo to Otavalo
Day 6-7: Otavalo
Day 8: Otavalo to Cotopaxi
Day 9: Cotopaxi
Day 10: Cotopaxi to Lake Quilotoa to Baños
Day 11-13: Baños
Day 14: Baños to Quito
Estimated total drive time: 17 hours
Estimated total miles for this route: 569 miles (915 km)
Have extra time? Scroll down to find out how you can extend your trip in Ecuador!
Read next: How to Plan Your Road Trip Using Google Maps
Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Ecuador
This 2-week Ecuador itinerary starts in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador.
Situated high in the Andes, in the Guayllabamba river basin, Quito is the first city in the world to be crowned a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the 16th century, the city was rebuilt by the Spanish atop the ruins of an ancient Incan city that ruled the northern half to the Incan Empire. Today, Quito is a vibrant city full of rich culture, well-preserved historical landmarks, and one of the best-preserved historic centers in all of South America.
Peppered throughout the city, you’ll find over two dozen historic churches, a huge variety of museums, fascinating tourist attractions, and an emerging food scene.
On day 1, fly into Mariscal Sucre Quito International Airport (UOI), which is about 45 minutes outside of the city center. Unfortunately, you probably won’t have much time to explore on the first day since most of the flights into UOI arrive at night. So just grab a ride to your hotel and wind down from your long day of travel.
Don’t forget to walk slowly once you get off the plane. Quito is the second highest capital city in the world. It sits high in the Andes Mountains, at an elevation of 9, 350 feet (2850 meters). This high altitude might cause you to feel symptoms of altitude sickness, such as short breath, nausea, or headaches. Remember to drink a lot of water and get a good nights sleep!
You’ll spend the next 1.5 days taking it easy in Quito to allow your body time to adjust to the altitude.
Where to stay in Quito
The city of Quito is split into two halves: South Quito and North Quito.
In the middle of the city is Centro histórico de Quito, or the “Old Town/Historic District”, which is where you’ll find a lot of the old historic buildings and elaborate architecture that dates back to the 1500s.
Most travelers stay at the north end of Quito, also known as the “New Town”, and in Centro Histórico (the Historic District) in the middle of the city.
Stay in Centro Histórico to be near the old churches, Plaza Grande, elaborate architecture, and all of the historic points of interest.
Stay in the New Town (North Quito) to be near all of the lively restaurants, bars, and hostels. The best neighborhoods in the New Town are:
- La Mariscal
- La Floresta
- La Carolina
Avoid south Quito altogether.
There’s no shortage of hotels and hostels in Quito. But something I really loved about this city is the myriad of small family run boutique hotels run by friendly owners who are more than happy to help with your travel planning.
View all stays in Quito here.
I personally recommend Friends Hotel, which is located down a safe little side street in the Historic District. They charged us $30 to pick us up at the airport in the middle of the night and drive us to the hotel. And fresh breakfast was included in the stay.
Day 2: Quito, Ecuador
Welcome to your first full day in Ecuador! You will wake up in Quito, which is the perfect place to begin your adventure.
Wake up early, grab a hearty breakfast and head straight for Centro histórico de Quito, which essentially looks just like it did at the end of the colonial period, which dates back to the 1500s.
Here are some of the best places to see in historic Quito:
- Plaza Grande
- La Campana church
- The top of the Neo-Gothic Tower inside Basilica del Voto Nacional
For great views over the whole city take the Teleferico cable car to the Cruz Loma lookout or head to the top of Panecillo hill, where you’ll also find the massive La Virgen de Quito statue, which was constructed entirely from aluminum by Spanish artist, Agustin de la Herran Matorras.
Although some travel guides might tell you to walk up the steps of El Pancillo, it’s actually not safe to do so – the steps are a hot spot for pickpockets and muggings. So, even if you’re within walking distance, you should always err on the side of caution and take a taxi or an Uber to the top of Panceillo Hill.
Other major attractions in Quito are the Intiñan Solar Museum and the Mitad del Mindo monument, or “center of the world”, which are supposed to be located on the Equator. However, I honestly wouldn’t waste your time going because your GPS will show you that neither one of them is even on the equator. They’re actually almost 800 feet off.
In the evening try some local food – llapingachos and empanadas are a must!
Getting around Quito
Depending where your hotel is, you can either walk, uber or hail a taxi with an orange license plate to get around.
Uber is a safe and reliable way to get around Quito. It was our preferred method of transport because it was convenient, very cheap, and we didn’t have to worry about haggling a taxi fare with our less-than-satisfactory levels of Spanish.
If you walk anywhere around Quito, always leave your valuables locked up in your hotel room.
Day 3: Quito to Mindo
Now that you’ve had a few days to acclimate to high altitude, you will pick up your rental car and head to the enchanting cloud forest in Mindo.
Even though it’s only 2 hours west of Quito, Mindo is still relatively undiscovered by the masses. However, it is becoming more and more popular with locals – especially on weekends and around the holidays. On weekdays though, the tiny town remains quiet and tranquil.
The route to Mindo passes through the arid landscape of northwest Quito before snaking along mountain roads with sheer drop offs on one side and towering, forested mountains on the other. The transition is abrupt and absolutely stunning.
On the way to Mindo, stop at San Tadeo Birding, which is a small garden and hummingbird reserve perched in the mountains. You’ll pass it on your way to Mindo Valley on Route E28 (here’s the exact location).
San Tadeo is home to many species of hummingbirds endemic to Ecuador, as well as several species of toucans and tanagers. It’s the perfect place to see tons of birds for hardly any effort. It’s run by a nice, local woman who charges $5 (cash) per person to access the reserve.
When you arrive in Mindo, grab food at El Quetzal before checking into your hotel. Don’t forget to take a brownie for the road! They have the best brownies in the world – which I felt was a large claim…until I tasted one. And WOW – were they right.
The town is small, yet vibrant. And you can walk pretty much anywhere in about 10 minutes. However, you’ll need a car or take a taxi to get to the waterfalls and hiking trails, which are all in the mountains outside of town.
How to get from Quito to Mindo
Without stops, driving yourself from Quito to Mindo takes approximately 2 hours.
You don’t need a 4×4 to get to Mindo, but you might need a 4×4 to reach some of the trailheads if it’s particularly rainy. If you don’t have a 4×4, you can just take a taxi truck for a few dollars from the center of town.
You also might need a 4×4 if you’re staying at one of the remote Airbnbs outside of town. If you’re staying at one of these, check with your Airbnb host ahead of time. They will tell you what type of transportation you need or help you arrange a ride if necessary.
Bus or shuttle
To get to Mindo by bus, you need to go to Terminal La Ofelia at the north end of Quito.
There is only one bus company that goes to Mindo, which is called Flor de Valle. The trip takes about 2 hours and a one-way ticket costs $4. You can pay for it at the booth before you get on the bus. The bus departs from Quito several times a day. Once you get to Mindo, it’s a quick 5-10 minute walk to most of the hotels/hostels in town.
Like most public buses in Ecuador, the bus between Quito and Mindo is notorious for thefts. Always keep your backpack zipped up and on your lap and keep your phone and wallet zipped up where pickpockets can’t get them.
Note: if you take the bus, you won’t be able to stop at San Tadeo Birding. Instead, you can visit Nathaly Butterfly Garden, which is walking distance from Mindo. There aren’t as many hummingbirds as at San Tadeo, but you can still watch an impressive amount of hummingbirds whizz by while you relax in the hammocks.
Where to stay in Mindo
Given how small the town is, there is a surprising number of hostels and small hotels to choose from in Mindo.
The majority of hotels and hostels are located within a 5-10 minute walk of the town center. I personally recommend The Cinnamon House, which is tucked away down a quiet street, but still easily within walking distance to the center of town.
If you prefer an Airbnb, you can rent one of the more remote cabins farther from town.
View all stays in Mindo here.
If you prefer a more remote experience, book one of the unique Airbnbs in the mountains around the town.
This tranquil cabin is about 40 minutes from town, so it’s not ideal if you like to be near the action or have easy access to the town center. But it’s the perfect place to disconnect and completely unwind in the middle of Ecuador’s most beautiful landscape. We stayed for 2 nights and it was the highlight of our trip!
Tranquil cabin in Mindo, Ecuador. Click here to book on Airbnb.
Day 4: Mindo
Mindo is – hands down – one of Ecuador’s most beautiful hidden gems (for now). Hidden among the clouds, Mindo is the perfect place for bird watching, adventure, and a bit of an adrenaline rush.
Similar to Monteverde in Costa Rica, Mindo is best known for it’s rare cloud forest, which is among the most unique and biodiverse ecosystems in the world. Cloud forests form at high altitudes and are shrouded in a constant layer of mist and low-hanging clouds. These rare forests make up less than 1% of all forests on Earth, yet they support 2.5% of the entire world’s biodiversity!
The best way to experience the Mindo cloud forest is by taking the Tarabita cable car across the Rio Nambillo to the Ruta de las Cascada (Route of the Waterfalls) in the Nambillo Ecological Reserve. The car operates between 8:30am-4pm and costs $5/person for the return trip. Cash only.
Start your hike early to give yourself time to explore and to beat the bad weather that notoriously rolls in during the afternoon.
The Ruta de las Cascadas is an easy-moderate hike that passes by 7 waterfalls, some of which crash into crystal clear pools that are perfect for swimming. The trail is split in two, so you can pick one or both trails to complete. Step off the cable car and turn left to visit the 6 waterfalls along the Cascada Nambillo Route, or go right to reach Cascada Reina.
Either way, budget a few hours to complete your hike – or more if you want to swim (which you should!). And don’t forget to wear proper hiking boots!
After you explore the cloud forest, head to Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo, a butterfly sanctuary located just outside of town. Here, you can learn about the lifecycle of the butterflies and the sanctuaries conservation efforts, before entering the butterfly garden, which is home to an astonishing number of butterflies. The entrance fee is $8.50 per person (cash or credit card).
Day 5: Mindo to Otavalo
It’s officially day 5 of your two weeks in Ecuador! If you haven’t had your fill of Mindo, this morning would be a great time to wake up extra early to catch one last birding tour before heading off to your next stop.
Your next destination is the indigenous mountain town of Otavalo in the Imbabura Province of Northern Ecuador. The town is surrounded by volcanoes and is mostly known for its vibrant market, where you can find locally made arts and crafts (more on that below).
By the time you arrive in Otavalo, you’ll probably just want to check into your hotel and unwind. But if you have time to spare, Lago San Pablo is a great place to go for incredible views of the Imbabura Volcano.
You can find the best views from the dock just outside Puerto Lago Restaurant. Word has it that the food is pretty good, but even if you don’t eat there it might be worth going just for the view (as long as its not cloudy).
If you’re hungry, there are plenty of great places to eat in Otavalo. Maytushka has some really unique dishes inspired by Amazonas cuisine, or Restaurant La Palma is a great place for a cheap home-cooked Ecuadorian meal.
How to get from Mindo to Otavalo
Otavalo is located approximately 166km from Mindo and 110km north of Quito.
The journey from Mindo to Otavalo is fairly easy and takes about 3 hours by car. The scenery along the way is stunning, so make sure to take your time and enjoy the ride!
Bus or shuttle
Take the bus from Mindo to Quito. The ride takes about 2 hours and costs $3.10. This bus arrives at La Ofelia Terminal in Quito. From there, take a taxi or an Uber to Terminal Carcelén, where you can take the Cooperativa Otavalo or the Cooperativa Los Lagos to Otavalo for $2.50. There are many buses departing for Otavalo throughout the day.
Once you get to Otavalo, you can take a taxi pretty much anywhere within the city for $1-2.
Where to stay in Otavalo
There are budget-friendly airbnbs and hostels around Otavalo, but the best way to experience Otavalo is to stay in one of the historic haciendas! These colonial farming estates have been converted into secluded boutique hotels with beautiful rooms, home-cooked meals, and tranquil surroundings.
While haciendas are not cheapest places too stay in Otavalo, they’re definitely worth splurging on if you can.
View all stays in Otavalo here.
Day 6-7: Otavalo
Otavalo is a charming, historically indigenous community surrounded by volcanoes. The town is mostly known for being the best place in Ecuador to buy fine wool textiles, but there are also waterfalls, volcanic lakes, and museums to explore.
The first thing you have to do in Otavalo is visit the famous Otavalo Artisan Market. It’s the largest outdoor market in South America and dates all the way back to pre-Inca times.
The Otavalo Artisan Market is held in the central Plaza de Ponchos. It’s held every day from 7am – 6pm, but you should visit on Saturday or Wednesday for the largest selection of goods. Those are the biggest market days, when hundreds of craftsmen come out to sell their textiles, handicrafts, baked goods, and pottery.
When you’ve had your fill of shopping, choose from these best things to do in Otavalo:
- Wander the cobbled streets and admire the architecture around Simon Bolivar Park
- Take a short hike through a eucalyptus forest to visit the Peguche Waterfalls
- Visit Lake Cuicocha
- Hike at Mojanda Lakes
- Go shopping in Cotocachi – Ecuador’s leather capital
- Learn about the local Indigenous culture at the Otavalango Living Museum and Instituto Otavaleño de Antropología.
And don’t miss a visit to Parque Condor, which is a bird sanctuary that rescues birds of prey from abusive situations and illegal owners. You can see free flight demonstrations at 11:30am and 3:30pm every day Wednesday – Sunday (in Spanish).
Lake Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador
Tips for shopping at the Otavalo Market
- The most important tip for shopping at the Otavalo Market (and pretty much any market in Ecuador) is to be prepared to haggle for everything. This is because the first price the vendors tell you is almost never the final price. The prices are usually inflated from anywhere between 15-50% because of something jokingly called “the gringo tax”.
- Many vendors at the market sell identical goods, so shop around to find the best deals.
- The Otavalo market is arranged by “seniority”, with the families who have been selling at the market for decades closer to the middle of the market. Head straight for those middle stalls, where you’ll find the most authentic and unique goods.
- Don’t believe everyone who tells you that sweaters and blankets are made from alpaca. It’s something they tell you to sell goods at a higher cost.
The truth is, alpaca is not as common (or nearly as cheap) in Ecuador as it is in Peru. Most goods in Ecuador are made from a wool or synthetic blend. So if someone is trying to sell you an “alpaca” blanket for $25, you can safely assume that is not alpaca – at least not entirely.
READ NEXT: 19 Important Things to Know About Ecuador Before You Go
Where to find the best alpaca textiles near Otavalo
For genuine handmade alpaca goods, go to Aresania El Gran Condor in Peguche, which is only about 10 minutes outside of Otavalo. This small artisan craft shop is run by a family who has been hand making alpaca and wool goods for decades. The store is packed to the brim with all kinds of textiles.
They also offer free demonstrations on the traditional process of dying and weaving different types of wool (in Spanish). They even show you how to tell the difference alpaca, baby alpaca, wool, and synthetic wool – knowledge that really comes in handy when you’re shopping in the markets!
Day 8: Otavalo to Cotopaxi
Today you’re trading the volcanoes of Otavalo for the volcanoes of Cotopaxi National Park.
On this drive, you’ll enter what is aptly named the Avenue of the Volcanoes. This route starts just south of Quito and runs down the spine of the Andes, all the way to the city of Cuenca.
On the way, you’ll see some giant volcanoes in the distance, including Ilinizas, Corazón, Rumiñahui, and Cotopaxi. If you get an early start before the clouds roll in – and the weather Gods are on your side – you can actually see Cotopaxi all the way from Quito.
This drive is also where you begin to enter the heart of Indigenous Ecuador, which is best known it’s rich traditional culture, colorful weekly markets, small artisan villages, and breathtaking views.
If you have time to spare, you can visit Cascada Condor-Machay, which is a waterfall in the nearby town of Rumipamba. The hike is just over 4 miles round trip, so you should allocate several hours to complete it. We personally didn’t have time to check it out, but if you have the time, it looks to be well worth a visit!
Directions to get there aren’t entirely clear, so I recommend reading this blog post before you go for updated directions.
Stop in Latacunga on your way to Cotopaxi to try some traditional chugchucaras at Restaurante La Mamma Negra.
How to get from Otavalo to Cotopaxi
Cotopaxi is 189 km south of Otavalo, located between the towns of Machachi and Latacunga on the Panamerican Highway.
There are two main entrances to Cotopaxi National Park:
- The South Entrance (El Chasqui) near the town of Lasso
- The North Entrance (El Pedregal) near Machachi
While a little farther from Quito, the south entrance is the most popular because it’s easy to access and the roads are in good shape.
The north entrance is less used because you have to drive through Machachi on rough, cobblestone roads. This is the entrance you need to use if you are staying anywhere near Machachi, including Hacienda El Porvenir, Chilcabamba, or Tambopaxi.
To drive to the South Entrance, follow the Pan American Highway past Machachi until you see the signs for the southern entrance to Cotopaxi National Park. You’ll see the sign just before you reach the village of Lasso. If you reach Lasso, you’ve gone too far.
To enter through the North Entrance, take the exit for Machachi and follow signs for El Pedregal and Cotopaxi National Park. The roads here are mostly cobblestone and sometimes dirt. It’s not a comfortable drive if you have a small car, so you definitely want a 4×4 or at least a high clearance 4×2.
Unfortunately, there is no public bus service that goes directly into Cotopaxi National Park.
- To get to the south entrance, take the bus to Latacunga from terminal Terrestre de Otavalo, which is Otavalo’s main bus terminal. Ask the bus driver to drop you off at the El Chasqui entrance of Cotopaxi National Park (the main entrance).
Buses leave 4 times a day every day and the earliest bus departs around 8AM. The journey takes about 3 hours and costs roughly $10-13. From there, you can catch a ride or try to get a taxi to take you to where you need to go inside the park. Make sure to tell them exactly where you want to go. Otherwise they’ll just drop you off at the park gate, which is several miles from any of the attractions.
- To get to the north end of Cotopaxi National Park, take the bus from Otavalo to Quito’s main terminal. And then take the Carlos Brito bus into Machachi. Here, your best bet is to hire a taxi-truck in Machachi to give you a lift to your lodge. Expect to pay about $20-30 for the ride.
Overall, I don’t recommend using public transport to get around Cotopaxi National Park because everything is so spread out. It’s way easier to just go straight to your lodge and book a day tour from there.
I included more details on getting to Cotopaxi and recommendations for the the best day tours in this Complete Guide to Cotopaxi National Park.
Where to stay near Cotopaxi
There are a lot of places to stay near Cotopaxi, no matter what your budget is. You can choose from luxurious haciendas, hostels, farmstays, and glamping either inside the National Park boundaries or in one of the surrounding towns, such as Lasso and Latacunga (near the south entrance) or Machachi (near the north entrance).
Lodging inside the national park is most expensive and gets cheaper as you move into the neighboring towns. The most popular lodges near the park are:
- Chilcabamba Lodge
- Hacienda Los Mortiños
- Hacienda El Porvenir
They all have unbeatable views of Cotopaxi volcano and – in my opinion – are well worth splurging on if it’s in your budget.
View all stays near Cotopaxi here.
Because they’re so remote, most of the lodges in and around Cotopaxi offer some sort of meal service or on-site restaurant. They also offer pretty much the same tours for hiking, horseback riding, and biking in the national park. Book a tour by emailing them in advance or once you get there by just asking the front desk.
Day 9 of 2 weeks in Ecuador: Cotopaxi National Park
With a nearly symmetrical cone shape rising high over the páramo grasslands and a permanent cap of snow, Cotopaxi is THE most iconic peak in all of Ecuador.
Standing at 5897m, Cotopaxi is Ecuador’s second tallest peak, just after Chimborazo volcano. It’s also home to one of the few “tropical” glaciers on the planet, and happens to be one of the highest places on planet Earth, thanks to a bulge in Earth’s equator.
The best time to see Cotopaxi is in the morning. So wake up early, cross your fingers for good weather, and make a beeline for Cotopaxi National Park. The park is open from 8AM – 3PM every day and entrance to the park is free.
One of the main attractions in Cotopaxi National Park is the Jose Rivas Refugio. It’s a hut that’s perched on the side of Cotopaxi volcano at an altitude of 4864m (15,958 ft). It’s used as a day hike destination and as a basecamp for climbers to acclimate to the altitude before they summit the volcano.
While the hike to Jose Rivas Refugio is relatively short, it’s deceivingly difficult given the altitude and climb up loose volcanic rock. Inside, they sell warm drinks and modest snacks (cash only), so you can warm up for a few minutes before you hike back down.
Before you leave the park, stop to take in the views at Limpiopungo Lagoon, which is a glacial lake that reflects the surrounding peaks. You can view it from the parking area or walk around the whole thing, which takes about an hour.
Do you need a guide to visit Cotopaxi National Park?
If you have a rental car, you do not need a guide to visit the main attractions in Cotopaxi National Park. There are basically 3 roads that lead to the major attractions. They’re in good shape and very easy to navigate. A 4×4 or high clearance 4×2 is necessary.
If you don’t have a car, then the best way to visit the park is by booking a day tour with a guide who can pick you up at your hotel and drive you around the park. You can book a tour ahead of time on your own, or ask your hotel to book one for you.
READ NEXT: A Guide to Visiting Cotopaxi National Park in Ecuador
Day 10: Cotopaxi to Baños
It’s day 10 of your two weeks in Ecuador and today you’ll go to Baños, the adventure capital of Ecuador! On the way to Baños, take a detour off the tourist trail to visit Laguna Quilotoa (Lake Quilotoa).
Laguna Quilotoa is an emerald green lake in a volcanic crater that formed when Quilotoa volcano exploded and collapsed. It’s located in the remote village of Quilotoa, high in the Andes Mountains.
The route to Quilotoa passes through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the country, including the indigenous villages and patchwork fields of Tigua and Zumbahua.
This is the best area of Ecuador to buy local artwork, so stop by Galería Arte Milenario Tigua to browse local art, baskets, pottery, and other handicrafts.
The route to Lake Quilotoa
It takes about 3 hours to drive from Cotopaxi to Quilotoa and another 3 hours from Quilotoa to Baños. At 6 hours total, it makes for a long day of driving, but Quilotoa is definitely something you shouldn’t miss if you have the time. Just make sure to leave Cotopaxi at sunrise so that you have enough time to fit everything in.
The entrance fee to Quilotoa is $2 per person. From the parking lot, follow signs to the crater. From there, check out the panoramic views of Quilotoa Lake from the crater lookout (mirador), hike a portion of the 7.5 mile Quilotoa rim trail, or hike down to the bottom of the crater.
Down at the lakeshore, there’s a small dock where you can rent kayaks and spend some time out on the lake. The way down is steep and sandy, but not overly difficult. However, keep in mind that you have to go all the way back up, which is way harder due to the high altitude. Please practice responsible animal tourism and do not hire a mule to take you back up.
Tip: you will need a wide-angle lens to fit Lake Quilotoa into one shot
When you’ve had your fill at Lake Quilotoa, embark on your 3 hour journey to Baños, where you can unwind and prepare for the next few days of adventure.
How to get from Cotopaxi to Baños
Without stops, driving yourself from Cotopaxi to Baños takes approximately 2.5 – 3 hours via the Panamerican highway.
Stopping at Lake Quilotoa will add about 3 hours to your drive, bringing your total drive time to about 6 hours.
To get to Lake Quilotoa, follow the Panamerican highway south from Cotopaxi and then follow Route E30 west from Latacunga. While the route to Lake Quilotoa climbs through the mountains, the entire thing is paved and well maintained, so no need for a 4×4. Just watch out for all of the dogs that like to lie in the road!
Bus or shuttle
There is no direct bus from Cotopaxi to Baños. You will have to take a bus from Latacunga to Ambato and then transfer from Ambato to Baños. The entire journey takes about 2 hours.
Without a car, you won’t be able to visit Quilotoa Lake and get to Baños on the same day. This is because the earliest bus from Latacunga Terminal to Quilotoa Lake leaves in the afternoon, so you won’t have enough time to do everything.
To visit Quilotoa Lake, I recommend spending the night in Lake Quilotoa and going to Baños the next day. Or head straight to Baños and book a day tour to Lake Quilotoa from there.
Once you’re in Banos, you can easily take local buses in and out of the city or call a taxi to get around.
Where to stay in Baños
Baños is a big tourist part of Ecuador, so there are a ton of places to stay. There’s a place for every budget, from modest hostels and quaint Airbnbs to luxury hotels perched on cliff high above town. And the best part is that you’ll have phenomenal views of the surrounding valley, no matter where you stay.
View all stays in Baños here.
Day 11-13: Baños
Welcome to Baños! If you crave adrenaline filled adventure, this is where you’ll find it!
Also known as Baños de Agua Santa, this town is located directly between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Basin. It’s known as the ‘adventure capital of Ecuador’ because of its huge range of adventure sports, including paragliding, rafting, zip lining, canyoning, and mountain biking.
You won’t have any trouble finding a place to book any of the above adventures. Simply visit the numerous tour operators in the town center or book through the hostels and hotels around town.
One thing you must do is cycle the Ruta de las Cascadas, also known as The Waterfall Highway. Just hire a bike for the day and follow the road from Baños to the town of Puyo along the Río Pastaza canyon. Along the way, you’ll pass seven waterfalls before finally arriving at the best of them all: Pailón del Diablo, or the Devil’s Cauldron.
Another great thing to do in Baños is to take a swing at the end of the world at Casa del Arbol (entry is $1 per person). For the best views, go in the morning or on a clear afternoon before the clouds roll into the valley.
After a full day of adventure, relax in the volcanically heated hot springs.
I personally recommend splurging on a day pass at Luna Volcán, an adventure spa perched on the side of the mountain overlooking the town. A pass to the pool and jacuzzis are $20 per person – and well worth the cost.
For a cheaper alternative, check out the two public hot springs Termas de la Virgen and El Salado. Termas de la Virgen is close to the town center, while El Salado is about a 10 minute drive but a lot less crowded. Entrance is only $3.
Day 14: Baños to Quito
Your adventurous 2-weeks in Ecuador is coming to an end, as you pack up to catch your flight home. Hopefully you’ll be ending your trip with plenty of amazing memories and epic photos to tide you over until your next visit to South America!
Extend your trip to Ecuador
Not ready to leave Ecuador yet? Honestly, I’d be surprised if you were!
If you have more time to spare, here’s how you can extend your trip through Ecuador:
- Cuenca, Ecuador. Time needed: 3 days
- The Galapagos Islands. Time needed: 5-10 days
- The Amazon Jungle. Time needed: 4-6 days
City and Culture: Cuenca, Ecuador
The city of Cuenca, Ecuador is the third largest city in Ecuador.
What you can expect from your visit to Cuenca:
- Lively urban vibes
- Colorful colonial architecture
- Stunning centuries old cathedrals
- Friendly locals and bustling markets
The city overlooks the Rio Tomebamba River, which provides incredible photo ops (and cooling relief on sunny days).
When you’ve had your fill of the city, there are also plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking or taking day trips to nearby villages that offer even more traditional cultural experiences. You can even explore the Inca ruins scattered around the area for a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else.
The people here are incredibly welcoming and the city itself is filled with friendly locals, warm vibes, and plenty of cultural activities like painting and dancing. Cuenca is also the best place in Ecuador to learn Spanish!
How to get to Cuenca
Cuenca is located approximately 467km south of Quito. From Quito, the drive takes just over 7.5 hours via Route E35. However, if you add Cuenca to this road trip itinerary, then you’ll want to head straight there from Baños, which takes about 6 hours.
The route between Quito and Cuenca is filled with magnificent volcanoes, valleys, and picturesque indigenous villages.
By plane from Quito
A direct flight from Mariscal Sucre Quito International Airport (UIO) in Quito to Aeropuerto Mariscal La Mar (CUE) in Cuenca takes less than an hour. Flights on LATAM or Avianca are extremely affordable and you can book them just a few days in advance.
Taking the bus to Cuenca takes the most amount of time.
Take the bus from Quito’s Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe to the station in Cuenca. The journey costs about $28 and takes about 9-10 hours.
SCUBA Diving and Wildlife: The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands hold an incredible place in history as the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. This remote group of 13 islands is located about 600 miles off the Pacific coast of Ecuador.
The Galapagos are a natural wonder, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a huge draw for wildlife enthusiasts. In fact, it’s estimated that 90% of the land-dwelling species found here are not found anywhere else on the planet.
What you can expect in the Galapagos Islands:
- Observing wildlife in it’s natural habitat
- Snorkeling on pristine turquoise shores
- Scuba diving around abundant coral reefs
- The only place in the world where you can watch penguins swim over coral reefs!
You can even observe fascinating wildlife on land, including endemic species like giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, and the iconic marine iguana. It’s no wonder why the Galapagos have captivated people for centuries and why they remain one of the most popular tourist spots on earth.
How to get to the Galapagos Islands
Getting to the Galapagos from Quito is super easy!
Most people will fly into Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport. From there, you will take a domestic flight to the Galapagos. But first, the flight will stop in Guayaquil to pick up more passengers before heading to the islands.
The flight from Quito to Guayaquil takes about 30 minutes, and the flight from Guayaquil to the Galapagos takes about 2.5 hours.
Once you arrive in the Galapagos, you’ll have to book a cruise or a variety of boat tours to explore the diversity of wildlife and nature found on each of the islands.
The Amazon Jungle: Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and Yasuni National Park
With its world-renowned biodiversity, a trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon (Amazonia) should be at the top of every adventure traveler’s list.
Exploring the Amazon rainforest is an experience like no other. Visiting the Ecuadorian Amazon gives you an opportunity to witness nature at its best and catch a glimpse of the extraordinary wildlife that calls this special part of the world home.
You’ll have a chance to observe troops of squirrel monkeys leaping through the trees, admire colorful macaws perched on branches, and swim alongside pink river dolphins.
The two most common ways to experience the Amazon in Ecuador are by visiting Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve or Yasuni National Park. Both Cuyabeno and Yasuni both offer incredible opportunities to experience the Amazon Rainforest.
Accommodations range from luxurious eco-lodges to rustic cabins and can be booked online or with the help of your hotel in Quito.
While Yasuni caters to more of a luxury travel crowd, Cuyabeno attracts more backpackers because you can easily visit for a fraction of the cost of Yasuni.
We had a really hard time deciding between Cuyabeno and Yasuni, but ultimately chose Cuyabeno for it’s price and the fact that the river is a lot narrower, allowing us to potentially see more wildlife along the shore.
We stayed at Guacamayo Eco-lodge in Cuyabeno and were so incredibly thrilled with our experience. The lodge itself is very rustic and modest, but it was all part of the adventure.
I think what really made it though was our guide, Neiser Toro. He’s an experienced naturalist guide and founder of the Amazon conservation group Amazon Shepherd.
I would 100% recommend that you contact Guacamayo ahead of time and try to line up dates that Neiser is guiding. His passion and knowledge of the Amazon rainforest is truly unmatched.
How to get to Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
The tours to Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve start in the city of Lago Agro (Nueva Loja) in the Amazon region of Ecuador. Lago Agrio is 387km east of Quito, near the border of Colombia.
You basically have to find your way to Lago Agrio, where you will meet up with the tour guide from your lodge. For this reason, all tours to Cuyabeno need to be pre-booked.
Most people take the overnight bus from Quito to Lago Agrio, which costs about $40 per person round-trip. Your lodge will tell you where to meet the bus in Quito. The journey from Quito to Lago Agrio takes about 10 hours. At first, we were really anxious about the long ride, but we just ended up sleeping most of the time.
We booked our tour of the Amazon with Guacamayo Ecolodge. Our bus picked us up at 11PM at the Secret Garden Hostel in Quito’s Historic District. We arrived at another hotel in Lago Agrio at approximately 9AM the next morning, where we had breakfast and met with the rest of our group. From there, we boarded a local bus which drove us 2 hours to our meeting point on the shore of the Cuyabeno River. There, we took another 2 hour boat ride in a motorized canoe down the Cuyabeno River to our lodge.
The entire trip from Quito to arriving at our lodge took roughly 16 hours. It sounds like a long time, but truly it was all part of the adventure!
It used to be a lot easier to access Lago Agrio by plane from Quito. However, TAME airlines, which was the only airline that flew between Quito and Lago Agrio, no longer operates those flights.
Instead, you will have to fly from Quito toFrancisco de Orellana Airport (OCC) in Coca and arrange for transportation to the hotel where the local bus picks you up on the way to the Cuyabeno River. You can try arranging this with your lodge ahead of time. Make sure you can speak some Spanish!
How to get to Yasuni National Park
Getting to Yasuni National Park is a little more straightforward than getting to Cuyabeno. While Yasuni is more expensive, the ease of accessing Yasuni might be something to consider if you’re short on time.
You can fly from IUO in Quito to Francisco de Orellana Airport (OCC) in Coca, which is the meeting point for tours to Yasuni. A nonstop flight takes approximately 30 minutes.
Your guide will meet you in Coca and transport you to a meeting point before you take the boat down the Napo River to your lodge. Tours to Yasuni need to be pre-booked.
Ecuador Entry Requirements for COVID-19
As of October 2022, Ecuador no longer requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination cards or proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to entering Ecuador. However, international travelers are still required to complete a declaration of health prior to entering Ecuador, which is available through the ministry of Public Health. You can find the link here.
To visit the Galapagos Islands, you also need to present a “transit control card”, issued by the Government of Galapagos.
This information is up-to-date as of December 2022. For more details and the most recent updates, please review COVID-19 Information issued by the US Embassy and Ecuador’s Emergency Operations Committee.
Do You Get Altitude Sickness in Ecuador?
Since Ecuador is home to some of the highest mountains in the world, you might experience symptoms of altitude sickness in certain parts of the country. This is because the air is thinner at high altitude, which makes your body work harder to get oxygen.
Symptoms of altitude sickness generally start around 8,200 ft (2,500m) above sea level and feel a bit like a hangover.
Common symptoms of altitude sickness
- Shortness of breath
However most people only experience mild symptoms and adapt within a few days.
To alleviate symptoms of altitude
- Drink plenty of water
- Get plenty of rest
- Avoid alcohol to start
- Take ibuprofen
While altitude sickness typically takes a few hours to set in, you might notice some immediate effects as soon as you arrive in Quito.
At its highest point, Quito is over 9,000 feet above sea level, making it one of the highest elevation cities in the world. As soon as you step off the plane, you might notice that just walking makes you feel a little bit out of breath. This is especially true if you’re coming from somewhere around sea level.
This two week Ecuador itinerary starts off with a few days in Quito to allow your body to acclimate to the altitude before continuing on to other parts of Ecuador.
However, even after adjusting to the altitude in Quito, you might still feel some effects in higher elevation areas like Cotopaxi or Quilotoa, which sit between 13,000 – 15,000 feet above sea level. Remember to stay hydrated and don’t be surprised if you’re out of breath or more tired than usual simply from walking around.
Getting to Ecuador
There are two major airports in Ecuador:
- Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) in Quito
- José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport (GYE) in Guayaquil
Quito is usually the best airport to fly into because it’s the most convenient starting point for a country-wide road trip and the jumping off point for flights to the Amazon. Quito is also the best city for tourism because it’s a lot prettier and a lot safer than Guayaquil.
Flying into Guayaquil makes the most sense if your only destination is the mainland beaches or if you have a single night layover before you travel to the Galapagos Islands.
However, it’s generally best to arrive in Ecuador a few days before you fly out to the Galapagos. This is to account for any weather issues and to allow extra time if your international flight loses your luggage. For this reason, it would be best to fly into Quito and spend a few days before leaving for the Galapagos.
When it comes to finding the best flight deals, timing is everything. For the cheapest flights, try to book your tickets at least three months in advance and avoid peak season and major holidays.
For the most part, flights are most expensive from June – August, which correlates to summer vacation in the United States and Europe.
The best way to travel in Ecuador: How to get around for a 2 Week Itinerary
You won’t find a better way to explore this unique country than by hitting the road and seeing it firsthand.
The best place to rent a car in Quito is from Amigo Car Rental. They were professional, honest, and had great prices with unlimited kilometers.
Here’s how you can contact Amigo Car Rental:
We arranged our car rental through WhatsApp and made the downpayment (which was one day of rental) through western union. When we arrived at the office, it was super small but the service was very professional. We paid the remaining balance in cash, filled out the paperwork, and were given a quick overview of the car. The whole process took about 20 minutes.
Don’t rent a car from the airport because they’re notorious for not having the car for you once you show up, even if you reserve way ahead of time. We talked to a few travelers during our trip who had horror stories about renting from the airport.
In fact, I would suggest sticking with local companies only and avoiding large international companies altogether.
Most cars in Ecuador are manual transmission, so expect to pay almost double if you want an automatic.
Gas stations are full service. Go to Petroecuador for the best prices. Just pull up and tell them you want a full tank of gas. Gas is extra or super, so make sure you find out which one your rental car takes. They will expect you to pay cash, or “effectivo” in Spanish. However, they will accept credit cards.
If you don’t want to rent a car, public buses, taxis, and private/shared shuttle services are very accessible in Ecuador. Obviously using public transport is not as convenient as a having your own car. But a combination of public transportation, shuttles, and some creativity, can definitely get you almost anywhere you need to go.
Day trips from Quito
Quito is centrally located to most of the spots on this 2 week itinerary. You can also easily Ecuador’s top attractions from Quito, including the Amazon Rainforest, the Galapagos Islands, and Avenue of the Volcanoes. In fact, if you don’t have a car and don’t want to take a bus, then you can find a day tour that leaves from Quito and takes you to all corners of the country.
All of these destinations are easily accessed via day trips and overnight trips from Quito. Just about any hotel can help you arrange that. So, if you wanted to avoid the public bus system altogether, it is possible to use Quito as your home base.
Doing it this way is easy if you don’t have a car. Just note that you’ll lose a lot of time going back and forth to Quito. It’s also more expensive and much less flexible than doing things on your own schedule.
Hiring a private driver is super common in Ecuador, and it can even be cheaper than renting a car in some cases. You can hire a driver for as many days as you need.
Here are some reasons why you might want to consider hiring a driver:
- If you’re intimidated by driving in Ecuador but still want the flexibility.
- So you can fully enjoy the scenery while you’re chauffeured from one incredible destination to the next.
- To have a local expert who can show you the country’s hidden gems that you might have otherwise missed.
If you’re interested in a hiring a driver, Guanguiltagua Expeditions comes highly recommended. If we go back to Ecuador and hire a driver, this is the company we will use.
We hired a driver for one day through Ecuador Best Tours to take us shopping around Otavalo after we returned our rental car. Our driver, Eduardo, was so accommodating and we had the best time! The only downside was that Ecuador Best Tours charged us $200 for the day, which is a little pricier than other companies.
We didn’t mind paying extra because our request was very last minute. Normally though, you can expect to pay about $100-150 per day for a private driver. This doesn’t include their accommodation costs, which are extra should they need to travel around the country with you.
What month is best to visit Ecuador?
Ecuador is full of incredibly diverse landscapes, so the weather mostly varies by region and depends on geography and altitude. According to the locals, any time of year is a good time to visit Ecuador, as long as you craft your itinerary around the weather.
- June – October is the best time to visit the Andean Highlands (Quito, Cotopaxi, Quilotoa, Cuena, Otavalo) and the Amazon Basin (Banos, Coca, Puyo, Yasuni, Cuyabeno).
These are the coolest and driest months. During this time, you can expect dry, sunny weather and a better chance of clear skies for panoramic views of Ecuador’s mountains and volcanoes. This is also the best time to visit Peru if you plan to extend your trip.
The downside is that June, July and August are some fo the busiest months of the year due to summer vacation in North America and Europe.
- December – May is the best time to visit Ecuador’s coastal regions and the Galapagos Islands. While this is considered the rainy season in Ecuador, the waters around the Galapagos are the warmest and crowds are a lot lower. The water is also calmer, which allows for better visibility for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Crowds are highest during the holiday season in December and January, so you’ll want to book far in advance if you plan to travel during this time because lodging, rental cars, and tours will sell out fast.
- The rainiest months are March and April throughout the whole country, so try to avoid those.
- For the best combination of weather and crowds, visit in February, September or October.
How much does a 2 week trip cost?
How much money will you need for your trip to Ecuador? Prices vary greatly depending on the time of year, the location, and how you get around. But you can easily take a two-week trip to Ecuador for less than $700 per person if you’re careful with your budget. This averages out to about $50 per day.
Compared to the United States or Canada, a self-guided two week trip to Ecuador can be extremely affordable, even if you decide to splurge here and there on fancier meals and accommodation.
The most expensive part of the trip will likely be the rental car. For this itinerary, having a rental with high clearance is more important than a having a 4×4, which will save you a lot of money. Still expect to pay roughly $70 per day for a manual 4×2 SUV. If you need an automatic car, the price is closer to $100 per day. Alternatively, you can take public transportation, which is significantly cheaper but may not be as convenient as having your own car.
Accommodation is very affordable in Ecuador, with the exception of the Galapagos Islands. A shared room in a hostel can cost as little as $10 per night, which is perfect if you’re on a shoe string budget. But you can often spend just a little bit more and find a private room in a nice hostel for about $20-30 per night. Even if you decide to splurge a little bit, the fanciest hotels or hacienda’s rarely cost more than $300/night.
While food prices vary a lot in Ecuador, expect to pay about $15-20 a day for food. A fish or steak meal at an upscale restaurant costs about $20 per person. But the majority of meals will cost roughly $6 per person for a full plate of food. Breakfast is typically cheaper than lunch and dinner. The cheapest meal we had was at a Greek restaurant in Mindo, where we paid $3 per person for a full breakfast and coffee.
How much we spent in 2 weeks in Ecuador
- Flights from JFK to Quito: $0 (credit card points)
- Travel insurance: $180
- Airport parking: $192
- Checked bags: $60
- Car rental: $630
- Lodging: $636.58
- Uber and shuttles: $50
- Food: $424
- Gas: $50
- Textiles and handicrafts: $900
- Entrance fees: $106
- Parking: $13
- Tours (including guide tips): $248
GRAND TOTAL: $3289.58
These prices are for two people and we split everything in half, which came to $1744.79 per person for the whole trip, or $872/person/week.
We did treat ourselves to some splurge stays, some fancy meals, and a bunch of handicrafts. We obviously weren’t being very careful with our budget and could have saved almost $1000 had we not gone crazy for textiles and handicrafts. No regrets tho.
But overall, Ecuador is definitely an ultra budget friendly destination. Just don’t spend a thousand dollars on textiles and you’ll be fine.
Is Ecuador safe?
In general, Ecuador is safe to visit.
The crime rate outside of big cities is relatively low, and the vast majority of travelers enjoy their time without any issues.
Guayaquil has the highest crime rate in Ecuador, so it’s best to stick to the tourist areas when visiting or avoid Guayaquil altogether. The same goes for these areas in Quito.
Violent crime is relatively rare, but petty theft and muggings are common. Because of this, it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings, avoid traveling at night, and keep your valuables hidden. Be cautious of anyone who becomes overly friendly. While the people in Ecuador are lovely, anyone who seems too eager to help or distract you is probably trying to scam you. Unless it’s an emergency, kindly refuse any assistance from locals and keep your possessions (especially your cell phone!) hidden away in an internal pocket of your jacket or backpack.
Robberies/pick pockets are pretty common on public buses, so it’s better to use registered taxis, tourist shuttles, or ride-sharing services whenever you can. In addition, protests and demonstrations can sometimes turn violent, so always avoid protester areas and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Don’t let all of this scare you though! Overall, Ecuador is a relatively safe country full of vibrant culture and friendly, welcoming people. If you just use common sense and take basic safety precautions, you should have an enjoyable and safe trip to Ecuador.
What language is spoken in Ecuador?
Spanish is the official language of Ecuador. Some people in rural communities also speak indigenous languages, such as Quichua and Shuar.
English is spoken mostly by people who interact with tourists, such as tour operators, hotel staff, and most rental car companies. It basically ends there though.
In short, English is not widely spoken in Ecuador, so you will need to know a bit of Spanish to get around. If you don’t already know some Spanish, you can quickly learn some basic volcab and useful sentences with apps like Mondly.
I also recommend downloading iTranslate for translating on the go. You have to pay for the offline version, but I think it’s worth it. We found that it was super reliable and a lot more accurate than Google Translate.
Can you drink the water in Ecuador?
No, you cannot drink the tap water in Ecuador. This is due to a variety of factors, including poor water treatment and contamination from agricultural runoff. As a result, it is important to only drink bottled water while in Ecuador, unless you’re specifically told otherwise (i.e. if your hotel has a RO system).
Currency in Ecuador
The official currency of Ecuador is the US dollar. The US dollar is the only currency is that is accepted in Ecuador.
Additionally, Ecuador is very cash based. You can pay with major credit cards at most tourist businesses, some gas stations, larger hotels, and larger restaurants. However, expect to pay cash for basically everything else – including anything at the markets, entrance fees, tours not booked online, and even rental cars (weird, I know!).
Don’t bother carrying too many bills larger than $20. Most places won’t accept anything larger than a $20 bill, with the exception of rental car companies, grocery stores and gas stations.
Did you find this 2 Week Ecuador Itinerary and Travel Guide helpful? Let me know in the comments!
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