• Flights to Quito can run from nine to 20 hours or more, depending on the airline, your departure city and the layover. We flew on TACT (a merger of four Central American airlines) from Los Angeles to El Salvador, and after a 40-minute layover flew out from the very same gate. Flying through Santiago, Chile, can push the layover to seven hours.

• Driving on Ecuador's new highways (some still under construction) is an easy way for independent travelers to reach most larger towns and top 10 highlights. But taking rarely signed, potholed, back-country dirt roads slows you down to 10 mph. If you're on a schedule, think about hiring a guide.

• Our English-speaking guides, who were smart, educated and upbeat, made our trip. EQTouring, which offers standard or custom itineraries, guarantees all its trip leaders. Find them at www.eqtouring.com.

• In Quito, we recommend two fine hotels in the historic center. The hotel La Casona de Ronda occupies a restored, completely restructured in-town residence; the larger Boutique Patio Andaluz is a new property on the footprint of a similar residence. La Casona is smaller and more intimate, with a tiny restaurant and indoor-outdoor strip of garden; the Patio Andaluz has several ground-floor living rooms, second-floor balconies, Internet access stations and a spacious dining room. Both are within walking distance of the historic center's monuments, parks, restaurants and shopping. Both are also within the restricted pedestrian-only area.

• For more on the haciendas' history and lodging, go to www.haciendacusin.com; www.haciendapinsaqui.com; and www.zuleta.com.

Anne Z. Cooke, MCT