At the recent World Travel Awards Latin America, Ecuador was awarded both World’s Leading Green Destination as well as South America’s Leading Green Destination.
Luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) established operations in Ecuador in 2004 and since that time has expanded its personnel and operations there as well as broadening the product offering. Recognising the country’s massive appeal, A&K this year presents its most extensive range of Ecuador journeys yet.
Small but rewarding, Ecuador has plenty to offer. Straddling the equator between Colombia and Peru, it is one of A&K’s top-selling South American destinations and is packed with startling scenery, astonishing biodiversity, an impressive historical legacy, stunning colonial architecture, bustling highland markets and a diverse ethnic mix. From the heights of the Cotopaxi volcano to the tropical forests of the Yasuní National Park, the palm-fringed beaches of the Pacific coast and the wildlife rich Galapagos Islands, it’s easy to see why Ecuador is considered a microcosm of South America – and it’s all within easy reach of Quito, the capital.
Here is A&K’s list of the best experiences in Ecuador.
In the footsteps of Darwin
Undoubtedly the country’s most famous drawcard, the captivating Galápagos Islands 1,000km offshore, are full of incredible wildlife experiences. Birds and animals here are impervious to the presence of humans, and when you get up close you’ll understand why Charles Darwin was so inspired during his visit in the early 19th century. With many islands to visit, each with its own highlights, the archipelago is best explored from the water, and A&K now offers a broad choice of luxury vessels on which to travel.
There are small and intimate boats including the 16-guest mega catamaran, Ocean Spray, larger ships such as the 48-guest MV Eclipse and La Pinta as well as the 50-cabin Santa Cruz II which comes complete with hot tubs, gym and glass-bottom boat. Itineraries range from 4 to 10 days, with regular naturalist-led shore excursions by panga to explore each island. For a land-based adventure, the luxurious Pikaia Lodge on Santa Cruz Island offers an outstanding array of guided land and marine programmes.
A&K’s 11-day ‘Sail the Enchanted Isles’ journey includes a 7-night cruise on board MV Eclipse with prices from $13,395 per person.
The Cloud Forest
For off the beaten track adventure the Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve on the western slopes of the Andes is a must. Both beautiful and brimming with wildlife, there’s also an award winning lodge to bed down in and a great choice of jungle activities. Mashpi Lodge combines the highest standards of comfort, service, guiding and cuisine and delivers a unique wildlife experience second to none. Sophisticated and strikingly contemporary, it boasts views of mountains on one side and the forest up close on the other through floor-to-ceiling windows. There are 22 understated yet luxurious rooms and suites, a reading and learning area and wellness space. The dining room offers a dramatic setting for a lively gourmet experience where Mashpi's chefs draw from the diversity of Ecuadorian cuisine and ingredients, making the most of its location between the coast and the Andes.
Activities include a visit to the Hummingbird Viewpoint as well as an adventure on the 'canopy gondola', guided nature trails, a visit to the discovery centre, night walks and waterfall visits.
A&K’s 5-day ‘Mashpi Cloud Forest’ journey is priced from $4,450 per person.
While Ecuador supports a mere fraction of the Amazon, the rainforest here is diverse, with quiet black water lagoons, raging rivers, dense tree canopies and flooded forests. It is home to 50% of the country's mammals and a staggering 5% of the world's plant and bird species and is easily accessible from Quito with a short flight to the jungle town of Coca before an onward journey by river. Wildlife here includes the spectacled bear, two species of fresh water dolphins, howler monkeys, a plethora of bird life and of course the mighty jaguar. Additionally, the Ecuadorian rainforest is a culturally fascinating destination with many indigenous tribes including the Shuar, Cofani, Huarani, and Secoya.
A&K introduces the Napo Wildlife Centre Eco Lodge in the Yasuni National Park where naturalist guided jungle excursions are a highlight and accommodation is offered in simple lodge surrounds. Activities include visits to parrot licks, a canopy tower for views over the rainforest, dugout canoe trips, walks, visits to indigenous villages and night time excursions in search of caiman.
A&K’s 4-day ‘Napo Wildlife Centre Eco Lodge’ journey is priced from $2,650 per person.
Art behind the scenes
One of the most surprising experiences in Ecuador’s capital Quito is the opportunity to meet acclaimed local artist Oswaldo Viteri in his Quito studio.
A neo-figurative artist, Viteri gained recognition for his assemblage work, but has worked in a wide variety of media including painting, drawing, printmaking and mosaics. A native of Quito, he began his education as an architecture student at the Central University of Quito in the early 1950s, but began focusing on painting and studying anthropology and folklore in the 1960s. Following his appointment as director of the Ecuadorian Institute of Folklore in the mid-1960s, he began to explore more experimental techniques of art incorporating collage and objects into his canvases.
Regarded as a living treasure in his own country, Viteri’s works have been exhibited around the world and he has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. His house in northern Quito is now a museum, and A&K offers a 'behind the scenes' visit to his studio and private collection where his passion for colonial religious art and views on local politics, religion and Ecuadorean society provide a remarkable insight to the city and its people.
A&K’s 11-day ‘Sail the Enchanted Isles’ includes a visit to Oswaldo Viteri’s studio and is priced from $13,395 per person.
Award-winning Accommodation in Quito
In a field of 8,100 hotels and resorts across 8 regions, TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice awards have been announced, with A&K’s preferred Quito hotel Casa Gangotena coming in amongst the Top 25. Occupying an enviable site in Quito’s Old Town on the Plaza San Francisco, this historic mansion was rebuilt in the 1920s after a fire, and has been reborn as an elegant 31-room boutique hotel featuring antiques, fine furnishings and modern amenities. The outdoor terrace is the perfect spot to relax after a day’s touring enjoying the plaza views over a cool drink.
A&K’s 19-day ‘Best of Peru & Ecuador’ itinerary includes a three night stay at Casa Gangotena and is priced from $21,095 per person.
A&K Philanthropy in Ecuador
On a visit to Ecuador’s colourful market town Otavalo, guests have a unique opportunity to visit the AKP supported project, St Mary of the Angels. Established to provide a home, food, education, health care and a family atmosphere for orphans and abandoned children, the project has also encouraged a number of microbusinesses including raising pigs and cuy (guinea pigs, a delicacy in Ecuador) to sell for profit.
A stay at the 4,000 acre working hacienda of Zuleta is a highlight with activities including tours of the farm, visits to the condor-recuperation and raising project, archaeological remains, the dairy and cheese factory, organic garden, tree nursery, trout farm and embroidery workshop owned by the indigenous community. There’s also horse riding, mountain biking and a horse drawn carriage trips.
A&K’s 5-day ‘Otavalo Extension’ is priced from $3,095 per person.
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