touring | ecuador - beyond the galapagos, the andes & amazon amaze
home to one of the oldest civilizations in south america
while its neighbouring countries, peru & colombia, get all the press along with the spectacular galapagos islands, the mainland of this diverse country fly's under the radar as a must-visit destination.
from the rolling hills, snow-capped volcanoes to historic cities & lush rainforests, you can go from the chilly -5°c temperatures of the cotopaxi national park to the +20°c of the vast amazon rainforest, all within a days drive.
the oldest of all the south american capitals, quito sits high in the andean foothills at 2,850m. the highest capital in the world (according to some) was constructed on the foundations of an ancient incan city, it’s known for its well-preserved colonial centre, rich with 16th-17th-century gilded churches blending old european, moorish & indigenous styles.
after spending a month surrounded by the bright lights & modernity of the united states. this first point of call felt like i was stepping back in time; you are immediately struck by green peaks that encompass the whole city. for the best views, the famous teleferico (cable car) to pichincha volcano at over 4000m it is one of the best attractions in the country.
as one of the largest producers in the world of cacao, ecuador's artisanal chocolate scene can be found all over the country, especially in the capital. yumbos chocolate in the heart of the old town offers a super informative chocolate tasting class along with some of the most delectable cacao products one could imagine.
situated 50 km south of quito, the cotopaxi national park is a vast, forested area known for the active, snow-capped cotopaxi volcano & vast limpiopungo lake. if you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of soaring hawks & condors during your visit to the area.
love hiking? a vast network of trails weaves through the lush landscape to magnificent hidden waterfalls & mountain tops that offer spectacular views over the national park.
my time in cotopaxi was spent at the remarkable secret garden lodge. this top 1% tripadvisor rated property is all about connection, connection not only with nature but with other guests.
from the moment i arrived, i felt part of a community; not only was wifi banned for guests there was also no cell signal. this took me back to my early days of travelling (pre-iPhone) when a conversation was king & connecting with other travellers from across the globe was all the entertainment you needed, no netflix here.
secret garden is an all-inclusive affair. breakfast, lunch & dinner are all served in the cosy main lodge on vast communal tables that encourage conversation & debate, all in good nature, of course.
the rooms here are super quirky; choose from hobbit homes built into the landscape or, like me, the birdhouses that offer unrivalled views over the rolling multi-coloured fields to the cotopaxi volcano.
for those with a sense of adventure, the activities are where this place excels. from the waterfall hike through the enchanted forest to full-day treks to the pasochoa summit at over 4000m. the highlight for me was horse riding through the national park catching a glimpse of a soaring white-rumped hawk over a gorge.
gaia amazon eco lodge
heading away from the crisp air of high altitude, i descended over 2000m through the breathtaking cloud forests down to the lush amazon rainforest area in the country's east.
at only 400m above sea level, the humidity & heat hit you from the off; it was more than 20°c warmer when i arrived than in cotopaxi.
my home for a few days was the incredible gaia amazon eco-lodge. this six room hideaway nestled above the rio napo has been seamlessly crafted out of local timber to blend in with the surrounding flora, the main lodge is a wall free affair allowing the cool breeze to flow through the living space offering a respite from the humidity. guests can sit back in the chair swings taking in the breathtaking views over the canopy to the river below.
the lodge supports the local community by buying local produce & employing a team that is made up of kichwa people (the local tribe). on the environmental side the property was built in collaboration with the rainforest alliance, water is recycled & their is no air conditioning in sight only environmentally friendly ceiling fans.
set away from the main lodge, the eight rooms are split over four elevated timber constructed units; no need for windows here as the temperature rarely drops below 20°c; this allows guests to immerse themselves in the sounds of the local wildlife. inside you'll find a large comfy bed & vast bathroom filled with local organic products. outside a generous deck area with panoramic views awaits; it's an excellent place to spot monkey's & birds in the early morning.
enveloped by surrounding flora, the resort has seemingly melted into the landscape. the main lodge, with its treehouse vibes & natural timber construction, is at the heart of a gaia lodge. this is where you can sit back, relax & enjoy the beautiful sights & sounds of the amazon. a short walk away, you'll find gaia's viewpoint that offers magnificent elevated views over the canopy out to the river & beyond.
as an entirely all-inclusive lodge, gaia offers a vast amount of complementary activities on a daily basis, one in the morning, returning for lunch, then setting out for another in the late afternoon.
i had some incredible experiences on my tours, from spotting woolly monkeys, visiting a famous animal rescue sanctuary, making chocolate & meeting a super charismatic shaman that showed us the wonderful world of medicinal plants that can treat a myriad of ailments.
all meals & non-alcoholic drinks are included in your stay. meals are a simple but delicious affair; local ingredients are crafted into beautifully colourful & wholesome meals that are light & healthy.
rooms from: ($100) book here
as one of the least visited countries in south america, ecuador is a great place to get away from the crowds of its popular neighbours. this underrated destination has so much to offer every type of tourist that seeks adventure & outdoor experiences. while you can spend months here, two weeks is a perfect amount of time to discover the wonders of the mainland.
for those that are up for a bit of adventure, the people & attractions of this nation are well worth a visit & deserve the same recognition as their more popular neighbours.
how to get there & costs...
i flew with delta direct from atlanta. quito has limited connections worldwide; it may be worthwhile to start your journey in guayaquil, where you'll find more connections.
the best way to explore the country is by bus or private transfer, both are very reasonably priced.
for a luxury eco-experience, i would budget for approximately ($3,000) for a one week trip for two, including airfare.
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country travel tips
atm: most banks offer withdrawals for ($3). don't accept the on-screen conversion.
sim card: claro 5GB is ($5) for 7 days. got an e-sim enabled phone, try airalo.
transport: public bus & Uber are the best way to get around.
taxi: uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.
accommodation: get ($20) off your first booking.com reservation here