Today we welcome AAC Safari Concierge Clara Moore to the blog. She recently hosted a family group tour to Ecuador and is excited to share her experiences!
At the end of September, I traveled to Ecuador to be a tour host for a 20-person extended family group traveling to Quito and the Galapagos. This new-to-me destination had so many wonderful things in store for us. We began with touring Quito and ended our journey with a 4-day Galapagos cruise. Traveling with a multi-generational family group, ranging from 15-79 years old, was an unforgettable adventure. Well-traveled grandparents were able to introduce their younger kin to the joys of travel and the eye-opening adventure of experiencing new cultures.
I was lucky enough to be their travel companion and logistics leader. Helping to make sure they had the best experience was something I cherished and a main reason why I chose to work in the travel industry. Helping people to have life-changing experiences and having these trips run smoothly and worry-free is just as much of a perk of the job as the chance to travel to new places.
Here are 5 of my top experiences from visiting Ecuador:
Living in the mountains myself, I jumped at the idea of being able to take a cable car up a mountain in Ecuador. The TeleferiQo in Quito did not disappoint. It is a unique and somewhat rare perspective to view a city from above after disembarking from the cable car at the top station. The city of Quito is 31 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, and from the top of the cable car you can really see that they built the city to fit within a long skinny valley, surrounded by snowcapped volcanoes.
Whether you want to sit and have a coffee at the top of the cable car or spend the day hiking the imposing Rucu Pichincha volcano, there is something that will delight everyone at the top of the cable car line. With panoramic city and volcano views and photo opportunities ranging from llamas to horses to a swing ‘over the city’, this was a fun and active way to spend a morning in Quito.
AAC tip: Quito sits at 9,350 feet above sea level and the top of the cable car brings you to over 13,000 feet, so keep the activity levels low unless you’ve had a chance to acclimate. If you’re spending a few days in Quito, our Journey Specialists recommend scheduling this in the second half of your time in the city so you can acclimate to the lower elevation before going higher.
This excursion to a region north of Quito was an engaging and interactive experience. They call it ‘Mitad del Mundo’ or the ‘Middle of the World’ because it is one of the highest points along the equator that people can visit. The Intinan Museum has exhibitions about the different indigenous groups in Ecuador and shows how they traditionally lived. Along the official line of the equator, which passes through the museum, you can view how water swirls in different directions in the different hemispheres and goes straight down the drain along the equator line. You can also test out how hard it is to keep your balance along the equator line as the two hemispheres vie for your attention or try your hand at balancing an egg on a nail (as the hemispheres vie for the egg’s attention!). It was a fun and informative experience with some friendly competition throughout the group!
Ecuador truly has it all, especially when it comes to food. As a country with coastline on the Pacific Ocean, the seafood is fresh and makes its way into much of the local cuisine. Visiting a local cevicheria, Siete Mares, in Quito was a true culinary delight. Filled with locals and seafood options galore, the menu included a range of ceviche options, traditional Ecuadorian soups and dishes that highlighted the diversity of Ecuadorian cuisine. We ordered an array of these dishes to try, including a shrimp peanut stew; mixed ceviche with shrimp, fish, and mussels; and a traditional Ecuadorian soup called encebollado with fish. These dishes were all so unique and highlighted the importance of food in Ecuadorian culture. I was extremely full after this delicious meal!
Quito has a rich and colorful history, and the city has become an international hub within South America. I felt that it presented a unique cultural and artistic vibe. The Spanish colonial influence mixed with Ecuadorian indigenous cultures has created a wide mix of architecture and art throughout the expanding city. The old historic center architecture is well preserved and gives the feeling that you have gone back in time. The people gather in the rolling, green parks to paint, play and be with family. I loved exploring the city by foot, smiling at the community dogs and seeing the beautiful street art, as well as the old looming churches, the famous Virgin Mary statue and the steep alleyways filled with shops selling everything from toys, paintings and piñatas to chocolate and decorations for quinceañeras.
After studying evolutionary biology in university, getting to visit the Galapagos was a dream come true. The incredible experiences here were endless as we island-hopped by boat. Beginning our journey by seeing the famous Galapagos giant tortoises and visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station was a great introduction to the islands. It was unusual and funny to pass through fields with wild giant tortoises grazing among domesticated cattle on Santa Cruz Island, the largest populated island in the Galapagos. Afterwards, we boarded our yacht and began our sailing journey.
Visiting the islands of Bartolome, Santiago, Isabela and Fernandina, in addition to the other side of Santa Cruz, we had no shortage of excitement and adventure. Some days we would do coastal explorations by small boats called zodiacs, and it was incredible to see flocks of blue-footed boobies fishing together and green sea turtles surfacing to say hello. Other times we got into the water to snorkel through glittering schools of fish, colorful parrotfish, big stingrays and imposing, white-tipped reef sharks. Sometimes curious sea lions would swim around us to say hello. We were also able to explore endless lava fields by foot and see the curious lava lizard and the resilience of lava cacti.
Over the course of our journey, we were lucky enough to see 12 of the Galapagos ‘Big 15’ including the flightless cormorant, Galapagos hawk, land iguana, Galapagos penguin, Galapagos sea lion, blue-footed booby, Nazca booby, frigatebirds, American flamingo, marine iguanas, Galapagos fur seals and the Galapagos giant tortoise. Other jaw dropping sightings included an adolescent orca whale hunting and a pod of over a hundred dolphins swimming alongside the boat.
Every day in the Galapagos felt special and I reveled in the pristine beauty of the natural world. Being among these islands teeming with diverse flora and fauna was a beautiful reminder of how nature can thrive within healthy cyclical ecosystems. It exceeded my expectations, and I cannot wait to go back again someday, knowing I will get to experience a whole array of new delights.
Ecuador was full of surprises. There is something for everyone to enjoy, be it active adventures, reaching new heights on snowy volcanoes, exploring an international historic city, sailing through the Pacific Ocean or photographing incredible wildlife, to name a few. Ecuador filled my cup and stole my heart and it is a destination I hope to return to time and time again.