AAC Journey Specialist Diana traveled to Ecuador this fall. She was wowed by the beautiful scenery, fantastic gastronomy and astounding endemic wildlife. She joins us on the blog to share more about her trip.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from my trip to Ecuador, but it ended up being one of my favorite trips of all time and ignited a spark to experience more of Latin America. Coming from Latin descent – I’m Mexican – it was exceptional to experience Latin cuisine that isn’t spicy and still absolutely delicious!
My trip started with two nights in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, arriving the day prior to the presidential election. Everything was peaceful and it was quite interesting to learn that it’s mandatory for every Ecuadorian citizen to vote and they are fined if they don’t. On our Quito city tour we visited one of the markets in the heart of the city and I took part in a traditional herbal cleanse with a local “curandero” and drank a delicious natural juice (made up of guanabana, pitahaya and a few other fruits). I also enjoyed a Yumbos workshop, tasting a variety of Ecuadorian chocolates. And I loved my ‘Middle of the World’ tour – walking on opposite sides of the equator at the same time, trying to balance an egg right on the equator line (I didn’t succeed) and more!
I visited and stayed at various hotels in Quito. Casona de la Ronda is located in the historic district of the city. It is a small 22-bedroom boutique hotel with good service and great breakfast and dinner options. My favorite hotel was Illa Experience Hotel, a small, luxury boutique hotel located in the Old Town of Quito. The rooftop patio views were amazing. With clean, crisp, beautifully appointed rooms, Illa Experience has a fantastic culinary education program with tasting menus so you can experience innovative food coming from the young chefs of Ecuador.
I continued my trip to the town of Cuenca, where I experienced the authentic culture of Ecuador. I visited the El Boquerón Community via a short, but difficult uphill walk that brought me to the El Boquerón lookout, with a 360-degree view of Cuenca and its surroundings. Families of the Turi parish welcomed me and my group to their community tourism project. We enjoyed a spiritual ceremony with flowers and fruits to celebrate the Pachamama (Mother Earth). They also cooked the traditional cuy (guinea pig) for our group.
It was a heartwarming and fun-packed visit learning how they live, enjoying a ropes course, herding sheep, playing on giant swings and more. There’s a lot to see and do in Cuenca – high altitude hiking at Cajas National Park, biking through botanical, horseback riding, jewelry making, Panama hat making, ceramic workshops, gastronomy tours, cooking classes and rum and chocolate tastings. It’s a beautiful setting bursting with wonderful culture and food.
I ended my trip with a week-long journey through the world-renowned Galapagos Islands. I sailed on the luxurious Alya Catamaran, a 16-passenger vessel (8 rooms) with a lounge, dining room, bar area, solarium and al freso dining room. The food blew me away, as did the service. But, a visit to the Galapagos is really about seeing the endemic wildlife and I was not disappointed! Most cruises start off with a flight to Baltra Airport from Guayaquil. This leg of the trip made me appreciate how important it is to have an experienced agent guiding you with the correct information to get to Galapagos. There were multiple people missing flights because they didn’t have the correct documentation to board their flight. Luckily, I knew what I was doing and made the journey to Baltra Airport just fine. On arrival I was transferred to our dinghy and onward to our ship!
We visited Seymour, Plazas, Santa Fe, San Cristobal, Espanola, Floreana and Santa Cruz Islands. Each island is special with its own endemic flora and fauna that only live in this part of the world. I saw blue-footed boobies, magnificent frigate birds, Nazca boobies, great frigate birds, marine iguanas, land iguanas, yellow iguanas, red iguanas and more. In the water, seals, sea lions, turtles, reef sharks, endless fish species and more were showing off during snorkeling sessions. The wildlife was stunning – there are no words to describe how truly special this part of the world is.
San Cristobal was a great stop as there’s an excellent museum explaining the history of the islands and why they’re so important – from the giant tortoises to the various sea currents that cross paths through the islands and more.
I ended my journey with a relaxing two nights at Galapagos Safari Camp on Santa Cruz Island. This is a must for all travelers to Galapagos as the cruise is jam packed with activities such as dry landings, wet landings, snorkeling and diving and you have very little down time. The camp offers stunning views of the ocean from each tent and feels like you’re on safari as you’re sleeping in a tent. The food was exceptional, as was the service. It’s great for solo travelers, couples and families with little kids. They have a large lounge area, dining room, pool and lookout platform to watch the sunrises and sunsets.
Overall, this was the trip of a lifetime, and a must visit for anyone who loves wildlife and nature. If I could recommend anything different to future travelers, it would be to include a couple of nights at a lodge in the Andes Mountains so you can experience the sights and outdoorsy activities there and also an Amazon cruise. If you’re already in that part of the world, you might as well do it right!
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Photos courtesy AAC Journey Specialist Diana Garcia Hernandez