Marchay advisor Elyssa Roberts traveled to Ecuador with her family this past January. On August 15th Ecuador officially reopened to international tourism, so our team thought it was the perfect time to highlight this special destination. Currently, Ecuador requires all visitors to provide a COVID negative RT-PCR test administered within 10 days of arrival to avoid the mandatory quarantine. In order to visit the Galápagos, one does not need to take an additional test as long as they arrive to the islands within 96 hours of the test date. Read on for her full itinerary, which highlights the best of Ecuador.
When to Go: Ecuador is a year-round destination with little variability in temperature. While the months of January-April tend to be rainier, this should not dictate the time of year you visit. Instead I recommend choosing when to travel based on what you’re looking to see and do in the Galápagos, which has more pronounced seasonality. Rainy season here lasts from January-June. During this time land animals are much more active due to the increased food supply. Rainy season also coincides with mating season so lots of baby animal sightings during the latter half of this period! The water is warmer and calmer, making it perfect for snorkeling and swimming. Dry season lasts from July-December and is when temperatures and humidity decrease so it is better for those looking to hike. Water temperatures drop significantly due to the incoming Humboldt Current, which brings with it nutrient-rich waters, making this a great time for diving and whale watching. It is however less pleasant to snorkel in the chilly water.
Who Should Go: Anyone interested in wildlife, nature and adventure should consider a trip to Ecuador. It’s a great destination for couples and families alike, though I’d suggest waiting until the kids are at least 10 years old in order for them to fully participate and enjoy the excursions. Those looking for a laid back vacation will not find it in Ecuador – tours typically begin around 6:00 AM and last 8+ hours.
Photos courtesy of Hotel del Parque
Day 1: Guayaquil
Fly into Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest metropolis and the most convenient gateway to the Galápagos. A quick 10 minute transfer will bring you to your hotel. After settling in, spend the afternoon at the Parque Historico, an open-air museum comprised of botanical gardens, a wildlife sanctuary/zoo and herb garden. Head to the hotel’s gastronomic restaurant, Casa Julian, around sunset. This is the perfect spot to enjoy craft cocktails, elevated Ecuadorian cuisine and lovely views of the Guayas River.
Where to Stay: Opened in 2015, Hotel del Parque is a charming Relais & Chateaux property with ample outdoor courtyards to cozy up to a good book or partake in the complimentary afternoon tea. It was originally built as a local hospital in the city center in 1891 by Guayaquil’s oldest charity. The building was then moved board by board to its current location in the 1980s. It’s located within the Parque Historico development, and even offers guests access to the park after it’s closed to the public. Friendly service, spacious accommodations and delicious food & beverage offerings make this necessary overnight to/from the Galápagos an enjoyable component of the trip in its own right.
Photos courtesy of Pikaia Lodge & Elyssa Roberts
Days 2-5: Galápagos
Transfer to the airport in Guayaquil and fly to the Galápagos. A bucket list destination for many members, the islands of the Galápagos are one of the most untouched places on earth. Their relative isolation has fostered a unique ecosystem with much of the flora and fauna being endemic to the islands. Though travelers often associate a vacation to the Galápagos via cruise ship, visiting here by land offers its own set of advantages, such as lower nightly minimums and spacious accommodations. Your travel advisor can walk you through the benefits of a land-based vs. cruise-based itinerary in order to help you find the best fit for you.
If opting for a land-based tour, you’ll meet your Pikaia Lodge representative as you exit the plane and be transferred to the hotel. Your first day on property is free for you to relax at your leisure. Pikaia Lodge offers a stunning infinity pool, hot tub, full-service spa, gym, and library- guaranteeing you’ll never be bored. Active guests can grab a bike and ride around the property – which also happens to be a giant tortoise reserve – where you’ll pass by these massive reptiles, volcanic sinkholes and beautiful birds.
Over the next 3 days you will partake in naturalist-led tours either via land or on board one of the hotel’s yachts. Excursions throughout your stay will vary depending on current weather patterns and animal movements. While there’s no guarantee which species you’ll see during your visit, some of the most exciting include the Blue-Footed Booby, Sea Lion, Marine Iguana, Land Iguana, pink flamingo and Sally Lightfoot Crab.
Where to Stay: Pikaia Lodge is the first true luxury property in the Galápagos and serves as a great base from which to explore the surrounding archipelago. The resort sits in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island on top of an extinct volcanic caldera. The 14 rooms and suites all feature floor-to-ceiling windows and modern décor. After a day at sea on the hotel’s yacht, guests can relax at the spa and enjoy gourmet meals at Evolution, which is helmed by Michelin-starred chefs.
Photos courtesy of Casa Gangotena & Elyssa Roberts
Day 6: Quito
Depart the Galápagos today and fly to Quito. This historical city is the heart and soul of Ecuador. Transfer to your hotel and get lunch nearby. This afternoon enjoy a guided tour of Quito’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage City. The area is filled with monuments, churches, markets, museums and quaint cobblestoned streets dating back centuries. Check out the Casa del Alabado Museum if you’re interested in Pre-Colombian art. Quito has a vibrant dining scene with many great options for dinner this evening. Some favorites include Casa Gangotena, Zazu and URKO Cocina Local.
Where to Stay: Casa Gangotena is Quito’s premier luxury hotel, located in a restored 19th century mansion in the heart of Old Town. Each of the 31 rooms and suites are unique – some offering tin-coffered ceilings while others are decked out in moldings. In addition to daily afternoon tea for all guests, Casa Gangotena organizes a unique activity each day from 6:00-7:00 PM. Though the activity changes each day, some of the highlights are a private after hours visit to the towers of San Francisco Church, chocolate making class and a brewery tour at a former monastery.
Photos courtesy of Mashpi Lodge & Elyssa Roberts
Days 7-9: Mashpi Lodge
This morning you will be transferred Mashpi Lodge, a nature lover’s paradise. Note, the transfer takes about 3.5 hours and the last half is on a bumpy, dirt road. The property sits on a 3,200 hectare private reserve within the Chocó Rainforest, which once spanned a region from Panama down through all of Ecuador. However, 98% of it has been destroyed. Mashpi is essentially the only remnant of this incredible ecosystem. Days at Mashpi are spent hiking around the reserve alongside one of their truly phenomenal naturalist guides.
When you get to the lodge you’ll sit down with your guide and discuss your ability level as well as what your interests are (i.e. bird watching, viewing reptiles/amphibians, visiting waterfalls, etc.) and from there the guide will craft a schedule with different kinds of activities. There are over 20 hiking trails, a hummingbird garden where you can see more than 15 species of hummingbirds and a “Sky Bike” that takes you through the forest. Other highlights include a ride on the Dragonfly, a 3 hour cable car ride that goes along the canopy of the treetops 600 feet above the forest floor. This is where 70% of forest life inhabits, giving guests the chance to experience and view species not normally possible. A visit to the Life Center is a must – here you’ll see a number of bird and mammal species as well as the hotel’s butterfly breeding lab.
Where to Stay: Mashpi Lodge is an incredible property built by Roque Seville, an environmentalist and former mayor of Quito. There are just 24 rooms and suites, which feature simple and bright décor. The hotel has a small spa as well as a separate pavilion with a yoga deck and hot tub – a nice touch after a long day of hiking. The food is fantastic, considering the hotel’s isolated location.
Photos courtesy of Elyssa Roberts
Day 11: Quito
Spend your final morning hiking at Mashpi. Because most flights out of Quito do not depart until the late evening, you’ll have this afternoon back in Quito. An absolute must while in Ecuador in my opinion, is a visit to the Intiñan Museum, located directly on the equator. Part of the museum is filled with recreated homes representative of the various native tribes that live throughout Ecuador, allowing you to learn about their different living conditions and culture. The other half of the museum is an interactive science experience where you get to test the wonky laws of physics at the equator (i.e. balancing an egg on a nail). It’s one of the only sites in the world not at a border crossing that can legally stamp your passport! Grab an early dinner and then head to the airport for a late flight home.