TCS World Travel sent Anna Hawley, one of our Travel Consultants, to scout Ecuador. The country is home to two of the sites named to the first UNESCO World Heritage list in 1978—the Galápagos Islands and Downtown Quito. We asked her to report back on the experience and share how, where and why you should explore Ecuador.
Q: Where do you suggest guests start for unique experiences in the Galápagos Islands and mainland Ecuador?
A: I would definitely recommend that guests start in Quito. It is one of the most magical cities I have ever been to. It is a unique mixture of European and South American influences and has such a rich history just waiting to be explored. I would suggest starting with a guided walking excursion around the old town to get used to the high altitude (about 8,500 ft) and a cooking class/lunch at the Plaza Grande Hotel to learn to make Ecuadorian ceviche. Within a small area you can visit many of the churches, candy shops, local herb healers, panama hat makers and more! End the day with a great dinner at Zazu restaurant (best in Quito), and overnight at Casa Gangotena.
Q: Describe some can't-miss experiences in both destinations.
A: You absolutely cannot miss being on a boat in the Galápagos. Being on a land-based trip is a unique way to experience the Galápagos, and there are so many things that you can do on and around Santa Cruz Island, but the real magic happens when you get on a boat and get out to explore the other islands. Wildlife, blue waters, snorkeling, hiking—every minute of my visit to Bartolomé Island was incredible and memorable. For a live aboard, the best boat is the M/V Grace.
Back on the mainland at Mashpi Lodge, the Sky Bike—an aerial ride through the tree canopy—cannot be missed. The cable car through the cloud forest is also great. Both are so much fun and the views are unreal. Hiking through the river is not for the faint of heart, but doing that and swimming in a waterfall was one of the best days of travel I have ever had.
At Hacienda Zuleta, north of Quito, hiking the Rabbit trail was so beautiful. And I would definitely recommend horseback riding there!
Q: Describe what surprised you about either place.
A: I wasn’t expecting to see as much wildlife as I did at Mashpi Lodge. After going to the Ecuadorian Amazon on my last trip, I thought I had seen all the jungle wildlife I could. But Mashpi gave it a run for its money. In the Galápagos, snorkeling in Bartolomé with penguins was unforgettable.
Q: Describe your favorite food experiences. Which foods stood out and why?
A: Locro de papa (potato soup) is and always will be my favorite food in Ecuador. I had it the first time I was there. After a long flight, a bowl of Locro at Casa Gangotena was just what I needed. The surprise fresh strawberry rhubarb cobbler at Zuleta for my birthday was over the top. Everything came from the farm—including the sweet cream on top!
Q: You stayed in some remarkable properties. How did they stand out and why?
A: The service at all three properties was simply over the moon, but Galápagos Safari Camp had some of the best service I have experienced in the world. The attention to detail was impeccable, and the staff was so amazing.
The coziness at Hacienda Zuleta left me with one of the best tastes in my mouth at the end of my journey. The staff were kind, food fresh and delicious and the history of that property is remarkable. It was a great place for me to spend a birthday as well.
Mashpi had some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever encountered, along with unique experiences and incredible wildlife. There were AMAZING birds.
Q: Where would you send a guest who wanted to get away and relax in Ecuador? Why?
A: There are beach destinations in southern Ecuador, but they are not super luxurious—I would recommend Galápagos for luxury and/or adventure. Spend some time at Pikaia Lodge for the ultimate in luxury or Galápagos Safari Camp for more adventurous luxury. Then go on board the M/V Grace for a mix of the two. That is in my opinion the best boat there. Ending the journey at Hacienda Zuleta is relaxing and peaceful. Being on a farm is a perfect way to end the journey.
Did Anna's experience inspire you to plan a trip to Ecuador? Email us at [email protected], call us at 800.454.4149 or visit our web page to request a custom independent journey of your own, or to request our catalog.