Malgosia P.

This is a long overdue review of a trip we made to Ecuador together with my friend Ewa in April this year. It was one of the best trips I have ever experienced in my life. Our trip was very professionally planned and organised by Mathias, who remained patient and cool even with our very late feedback [SIC!] or constantly changing ideas. Something we are certainly very grateful for.
Our itinerary included Galapagos, Cuenca, Ingapirca, Baños, Cotopaxi, Yasuni National Park and of course Quito and all of this in just … 13 days.
Galapagos is considered one of the world’s wonders for a reason with its beautiful landscapes, exotic creatures big and small, unspoiled nature, all of it makes the visit a once in a lifetime experience. We were staying in the Ikala hotel in Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz. It is a nice, family run hotel, clean with very friendly staff and an excellent restaurant. The hotel offered an early breakfast to go which was a very good idea when heading for day long boat trips to uninhabited islands (Bartolome and Seymour Norte in our case). Exploring Santa Cruz was also an adventure in itself and we were happy to have an extra free day on the island to explore Puerto Ayora and visit the stunning Tortuga Bay. I would also highly recommend a short, half a day visit, to a coffee farm which turned out to be a chocolate farm and aguardiente production site at the same time. Coffee, chocolate, and alcohol in one place, what more could one possibly dream of?
From Galapagos we headed back to the mainland. Cuenca is a unique example of the Spanish colonial architecture with a very vibrant community. We had an opportunity to visit the Panama hat factory, as well as several workshops in the villages nearby, continuing centuries long tradition of local crafts, such as jewellery making, textiles or ceramics. In moments like this you wish you would bring an extra bag or two to be able to bring back home more of those wonders. This was also an excellent opportunity to have a lot of interesting conversations. In Cuenca we stayed in the Hotel Boutique Santa Lucía which has a unique historic charm and a very good restaurant. From Cuenca we went to the archaeological site of Ingapirca, a place to visit if you like history and would like to learn something more about the soul of Ecuador. We visited Ingapirca in rain and fog, but it only added to the experience of mystery and contemplation.
Our next stop was Baños, where we got lucky with the weather, and we could admire the stunning views of the mountains and take advantage of all possible tourist attractions. A visit to the waterfalls is a must. We continued our trip through the volcano road to the bottom of Cotopaxi, again an unforgettable experience topped with a very nice meal at the nearby restaurant. My only regret was that we could not stay longer to do some longer hikes in the area.
The final stop of our trip was visiting the Yasuni National Park and Napo Cultural Center. I would never have thought that I would feel at home in the jungle. Yes, it is hot and humid and there are plenty of insects but the welcome by the local community, its unique hospitality and the unspoiled beauty of the place made an incredible impression on us. The accommodation was simple but clean and comfortable. We made several trips to the jungle (especially a night walk which was an experience in itself) with experienced local guides who were very keen on sharing their knowledge. The eco-lodge provides for the local community allowing it to remain close to the lifestyle of their ancestors and natural environment. It also provides for the local school where children can learn three languages (Kichwa, Spanish and English) which we found very impressive.
As we entered and departed Ecuador through Quito, the guided city tour was an excellent way to end our visit. While in Quito we also had an opportunity to visit the Oswaldo Guayasamín museum, which we would recommend visiting to anyone interested in arts and culture.
On our way back to the airport, a taxi driver asked us what we liked the best in Ecuador, I went speechless, but Ewa brilliantly replied: “gente” – people. We were so very lucky to meet extremely kind and welcoming people all along our journey, proud of their heritage but curious about others. This is why our special words of appreciation go to our two very special guides: Astrid and Milton. Astrid was our guide on Galapagos, and we could not have been luckier! Astrid is very knowledgeable, full of energy and has a sparkling personality; visiting the turtle refuge and the coffee farm with her was a real pleasure. We also haven’t enough words of praise for Milton our guide in Cuenca and further up through the avenue of the Volcanos. Milton is an excellent guide, a great companion, with a sense of humour who is never tired of the strangest question. Even in the most challenging of circumstances, as some parts of our journey were quite difficult because of the weather conditions and heavy rainfall when we had to take a detour around the Pan-American highway through the steep and muddy mountain roads, he kept his cool and we always felt very safe.

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