Adventure Blog

Guest Blog: Galapagos and Ecuador

It was our first international trip since the start of the pandemic, and having fun and staying safe were our twin goals. We had been to the Galapagos almost 15 years ago on a college alumni trip, but it was on our list to revisit and Chris had a small boat itinerary that looked awesome, visiting locations in the Islands we couldn’t get to the previous time with the large group.

 

Hiccups Happen!

The uncontrollable happened, and we were stranded in Atlanta due to weather on the way to Quito, missing the start of the Galapagos voyage. Chris came to the rescue and managed to help get us back on the boat, missing only the first couple of stops on the itinerary (absolutely recommend the travel insurance; it really paid off this trip). 

 

The Galapagos

Once on the boat, we literally jumped in: a quick lunch, check out our cabin (queen bed, full private bath), wetsuit fitting, and we were off in the panga (zodiac) for our first snorkel adventure! The small boat enabled us to do ‘deep sea’ snorkeling off the side of the pangas to reach some truly amazing spots. Sea turtles, diving Galapagos penguins, sea lions, flightless cormorants, and amazing and colorful species of fish were everywhere.

 

The ship Origin (and its twin Theory) features just 10 staterooms and a crew of 13 including two naturalist guides. The daily wakeup music set the tone (“What A Wonderful World”) for the whole day starting with a hot buffet breakfast. Food and drink were exceptional featuring delicious Ecuadorian and continental dishes and an open bar except for ‘top shelf’ bottles. Returning from outings most often featured the captain himself offering a hand and a snack and/or evening cocktail. The crew was amazing and responsive.

 

The activities were wonderful and numerous including SUP or kayaking, snorkeling and at least one guided hike per day with options for those who wanted to stay on the ship and relax or check out the water from the comfort of a glass-bottom boat. The guides were fantastic at adding insight and color to each experience both at on-boat briefings as well as during the hikes. The 1:10 guide ratio was such a huge improvement from our previous experience.

 

This is all just an amazing way to experience the diversity that is the Galapagos. I can’t say enough about the place from the geology to the plants and especially the animals. The entire ecology is like nowhere else we’ve been on earth and well worth revisiting in this intimate way.  

 

Quito, Ecuador

In between the Galapagos cruise and Mashpi Lodge and the ‘real world’ is the city of Quito. Quito has a vibrant culture, fascinating history, and wonderful dining. One highlight was definitely the restaurant at the Illa Experience hotel where we stayed several nights. The food was amazing, and the location in the hills of the old town was a great location for the views and walkabouts. Our guide led us through the beautiful historic churches and central town square, and it was the jumping-off point for day trips including local markets, stops at destinations directly on the equator, travel to the cloudy shoulder of Cotopaxi for hiking, lunch at an historic hacienda built on an Incan foundation, and our favorite excursion: the estate and museum of the famous Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasmín.

 

Guayasmín was one of those very few artists who was prosperous and famous during his lifetime, and left his mark and legacy to the people of Ecuador by creating a museum of his home and an adjoining art museum for his works for future generations. His home contains an amazing collection of art, from pre-Columbian through modern masters. It was in the wine cellar of the artist-hero that we were treated to a private tasting of To’ak chocolate.  I didn’t even try to capture that experience with photos; to say that the chocolates made from the thought-to-be-extinct Nacional trees and estate sugar cane is sublime is truly an understatement. We then asked our guide to re-organize the day to let us spend serious time touring through the major gallery of his works. This was another luxury of this style of touring: since the itinerary is yours, the guides will accommodate changes to adapt to your interests along the way.

Our last day featured a drive into the countryside for visits including the workshop of a multi-generational traditional back-weaver where we learned the process used for 100’s (1000’s?) of years to produce the gorgeous Ecuadorian textiles.

 

Ecuadoran Cloud Forest

After yet another amazing dinner on our own near the city center, we were on our way early the next morning to take the trip to Mashpi Lodge which came highly recommended by Chris. Crossing streams through increasingly gorgeous rainforest vegetation and overlooks, the ‘road’ (let’s call it a well-traveled path) finally reaches the beautiful resort hotel in the cloud forest that is Mashpi Lodge.  

 

We had some idea of what to expect in the Galapagos, but none of the websites and videos could prepare us for the beauty of the Ecuadorian cloud forest and the Mashpi resort that is nestled into the jungle. After a quick lunch and orientation, we were introduced to our local resident guide Gabby who helped fit us with the wellington boots that were the footwear of choice (and necessity) for most of the excursions. She was with us whenever we wanted and on every excursion, beginning with our first hike through the jungle paths to a beautiful waterfall.  

 

The boots should be your reminder that you are indeed in the rainforest, and things will be wet and muddy. Even if you don’t go for a walk under one of the falls, you’re going to get wet.  We were prepared with hats and appropriate rain gear, and the resort helps out by picking up bags of wet clothing in the evening and delivering them dry and ready for a new day before dawn. I had the waterproof GoPro for underwater in the Galapagos, and that served well on several hikes in Mashpi as well.

 

And it didn’t rain all the time, but at least some of every day. There were glorious times when the clouds would part and the jungle landscape was revealed. One of those times happened during the ride on the Dragonfly; essentially a ski lift style ride over the top of the rainforest.  We saw hummingbirds, toucans, and had peeks and sounds of waterfalls below as we glided almost silently through the jungle canopy. We went on many of the hikes, including to an area where an astounding number of bird species come for treats of bananas, and butterflies and orchids are raised to support conservation and research efforts, oh and a cute little viper on the hike in (on Gabby’s ‘no touch’ list, for sure). Another highlight was the ride on the ‘sky bike’ where we glided across a section of jungle canopy on what was essentially a tandem bicycle operating on a cable (the person in back does all the work). We pedaled through the trees and could stop and look at the astounding system of treetop ecology.

 

We reluctantly left Mashpi, back along the so-called ‘road’ to Quito where that ended our Ecuadorian adventure and began the trek home. Ecuador has so much to offer and pretty much every geography and ecology in South America. The food, culture, people and history offer something for every adventure taste. And Chris did an amazing job crafting our experience to make it perhaps the best trip of our life to date.

Rae & Bill S.

Check out more on Bill’s website at https://www.billsaltphoto.com/Travel/Ecuador-2021.  I’d especially recommend checking out a couple of the underwater videos.

Ready to plan your own Galapagos and Ecuador adventure? Get it touch!




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