Ecuador-Ama la Vida
Ecuador is a jewel of a country located on the middle of the Earth. This country, about the size of the state of Oregon, is home to 14 million people, 25,000 species of plants and 1663 species of birds. As seen in its name Ecuador (Equator) is host to the closest point to the sun which is located at the top of Chimborazo Volcano. Ecuador is made up of 4 distinct regions. They are the Amazon, the Andes, Pacific Coast and Galapagos Islands. All areas are distinctly different and are special in their own way.
I was on a Virtuoso Study Tour and I was traveling among 12 other travel advisors from across North America. Unfortunately the Amazon rainforest was not a part of our itinerary but I did visit the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest. This is a 3hr drive out of Quito, the nation’s capital. In the cloud forest I stayed at Mashpi Lodge. This is one of two Virtuoso Properties in the country. Mashpi Lodge is located on a biodiversity reserve. Ecuador’s biodiversity is a major reason why it is so beautiful. As soon as I entered the forest it felt like I was in the movie Jurassic Park. All the plants were larger than what I was used to seeing. I found Anthurium leaves that were taller than I am! The forest is so pristine and the lodge matches the setting perfectly. Mashpi is a true eco lodge as they exemplify many sustainable practices. For example no new roads were built to gain access to the lodge, they employee local people as naturalists and they educate all the guests on importance of preserving the land. You might even run into the executive chef foraging for wild plants in between meals during one of your many nature hikes. One of the highlights for me was bird watching every morning at 6:30am. This was a new activity for me and I found it both exciting and calming at the same time…funny how that is possible! I could write a whole book on Mashpi Lodge and I was only there for 3 days. The service was exceptional, the food was delicious and the nature was breathtaking.
After Mashpi, we transferred up to Quito and stayed at Hotel Casa Gangotena, the other Virtuoso property. This colonial mansion was restored into a boutique hotel in 2011. It is located in the heart of old town Quito in San Francisco Plaza. The hotel has an incredible terrace on the top of the building that overlooks all of old town Quito. After Quito it was onto the Tren Crucero. This is a luxury cruiser train that travels from Quito to Guayaquil. The highlands were a special place for me. I loved living in the altitude… sometimes even as high as 14,000ft. In Ecuador there is an avenue of Volcanoes which is host to some of the most fertile farmland. Some of these volcanoes are still active and their volcanic ash litters the farmland and enriches the soil with minerals.
After the train I spent one night in Guayaquil. This port city is the economic hub of Ecuador. It is also one of the main departure cities to the Galapagos Islands. This magical archipelago is located 1000km off the coast of Ecuador. There are two ways to visit the islands. One way is to take an expedition cruise around the outer islands. Second is to stay on land at a hotel on one of the bigger islands. I stayed at Finch Bay Eco Hotel on Santa Cruz. To experience the Galapagos I took day trips on the hotel’s yachts to surrounding islands. I was able to spend time with the frigate birds, blue footed boobies, seals, sea lions, marine and land iguanas and the Galapagos sharks! When I come back to the Galapagos I will make sure I scuba dive with the hammer head sharks out at Wolfe and Darwin Islands. One of the highlights of the Galapagos Islands for me was watching the golden moon rise up above the horizon and into the night sky. As well I was able to view the northern hemisphere constellations and southern hemisphere constellations at the same time! I think the best way to enjoy the islands is a combination of a hotel stay and then an expedition cruise.
The people in Ecuador are friendly and kind hearted. I could walk down the street and I was not bombarded with people trying to sell me things. It was very special to me when I attended a traditional market in Guamote. I was able to talk to the town’s medicine women. I had been experiencing back pain so she gave me the remedy of rubbing stinging nettles on the affected area. I am an advocate of traditional and herbal medicine so I had to try it. I can say that I did not feel the pain of my back anymore it was just the burning of the nettles that was now top of mind! The people in Ecuador know the power of Mother Earth as they live at the base of active volcanoes. They generally are positive happy people and they do not believe in predicting the weather or even talking about the weather. But for us Canadians that seem to enjoy talking often about the weather I recommend for your trip to Ecuador to dress in layers, prepare for all the four seasons in one day and come with an open heart and open mind.