The Wonders of Ecuador
I fell in love with South America’s kaleidoscope of cultures, colours and sights many years ago, living and travelling extensively across the continent’s diverse countries. Naturally, Ecuador had always been on my list. Amazonian jungle, Andean highlands, and the wildlife mecca of the Galapagos Islands were calling from across the Pacific and I finally answered!
First stop? The beautiful city of Quito with its rich colonial history. Its ‘Old Town’ is incredibly well preserved and overflowing with historic buildings including convents and churches, with architecture accentuating European, Moorish and indigenous styles. Highlights included the Compañia de Jesús and San Francisco church, shopping for handcrafted souvenirs in Quito’s artisanal market, and a stay at the charming boutique hotel, Casa Gangotena, right in the heart of it all. The hot chocolate and cheese tastings at the hotel are simply delicious, plus they offer an after-hours visit to the Carmen Alto Museum so you can avoid the crowds!
Next up was Mashpi Lodge, nestled within Ecuador’s verdant cloud. While the lodge itself is beautiful, airy and luxurious, the main drawcard is the Mashpi Reserve. Fernando and Carlos, our two amazing guides, could spot the tiniest of frogs hidden in the greenery and identify birdlife and monkeys from nothing more than their calls. All the guides are locals, growing up in and around the area, so they have an incredible wealth of knowledge and a real passion for what they do. The cuisine here was by far the best of our trip, treating us to some sumptuous local dishes with international flair – be sure to try the Ecuadorian Goat Stew!
Mashpi is all about the adventure and getting closer to nature. You really need to get in the thick of things to spot the resident wildlife – a real contrast to the Galapagos Islands, where creatures appear right before your eyes. On our six-night Galapagos cruise aboard the Santa Cruz II, we were often greeted by sea iguanas, sea lions, and sally light foot crabs as we went ashore. We woke up to a new and unique island each day and the wildlife exceeded my expectations, as did the expedition vessel we cruised on. The service was exceptional and the social atmosphere on board allowed us to swap stories and mingle with fellow travellers. Kayaking, glass-bottom boating, snorkelling and paddle-boarding were all included, as were shore explorations. The blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises were a real treat to see up-close. I learnt so much about the native species and we saw 12 of the ‘Big 15’ – a concept similar to Africa’s ‘Big 5’ and comprised of the area’s most iconic animals.
To round off the trip, we had a short stay back on the mainland in Guayaquil. The selection of bars and restaurants in this seaside town are great, and you can walk up to the historic neighbourhoods of Las Penas, which is over 400 years old and lined with colourful wooden houses.
Put simply, Ecuador is all I love about South America, in one country!