Ecuador is really so much more than you can imagine from the Capital City, the Rainforests and the Galapagos Islands.
It’s a rare treat to get to experience several of the world’s most unique hotels on one trip. But that was just the beginning of my adventures on a recent vacation to Ecuador — a country that ended up being so much more than I had ever imagined.
Of all the places I have visited, Ecuador has carved a special spot in my heart, due to the rich history, the jaw-dropping scenery, endless adventures, some of the best massages in the world (for great prices) and especially the people. The friendly, warm people inspired me to want to learn the language.
And plan another visit. I must return.
Planning the Trip
My husband and I planned our trip to Ecuador with Metropolitan Touring, my favorite touring company and the only way I want to travel now. Metropolitan Touring organized the best, most seamless travel care and hospitality I’ve experienced anywhere in the world.
Our itinerary included three main destinations in Ecuador: the capital city of Quito (Casa Gangotena), the rainforests of Ecuador (Mashpi Lodge) and the famous Galapagos Island (Finch Bay Hotel). Two of the hotels we stayed at were named National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World; now I’m on a mission to visit them again — and to visit all of the others on the prestigious list. I must say I felt like a princess at all three!
I knew it was going to be an exhilarating trip, and our goal was to plan an active vacation. (Without a doubt, Ecuador delivered. The Fitbit steps were off the chart. Yet there were no random steps. Each one led to another unique experience.) So I had to pack smartly. I never went a day without my Anatomie travel outfits or my Wallaroo Hats. They were much needed for this type of exploring and expeditions. My husband fell in love with his newly designed Anatomie outfit, too, and accessorized with his own Wallahoo Hat.
I also packed a ton of 831Minhle clothing, a great line for a savvy traveler. Think: New York fashion but for a great value, and based in Lexington, South Carolina, close to my home. This boutique clothing company filled my suitcase with gorgeous designs that were easy to wear and feel confident in.
With a suitcase ready for a new adventure, I was feeling excited and ready to head south.
Capital City - Quito - Casa Gangotena
Our first stop was Quito, where we experienced a walking tour of Old Town Quito to learn more about the people and the largest, best-restored historical center in the Americas. As we wandered through the streets, we met local artisans, hat-makers, chocolate makers, and many multi-generation shop owners and craftsmen. It was the perfect introduction to this vibrant community.
We walked up the hill to browse the historic markets, where we got to see, smell and experience some of the fresh produce and cultural items that come out of Ecuador. It was fun to learn about the many different local traditional dresses and history of the region.
Quito also is home to some of the most stunning churches in the world and a lot of inspiring Mudejar architecture.
After plenty of walking, we were excited to settle into our luxurious hotel, the Casa Gangotena, ideally located in the heart of Quito. I could see the courtyard outside my suite window and was amazed by the view.
As soon as I stepped into the hotel, the elegance and luxury of a bygone era won my heart. The beautifully appointed mansion is filled with the essence of the city. Whether it be the spa, suites, terrace, gardens, restaurant or bar, each is a space for you to unwind, discover and dream. The impeccable service and food still makes me dream of returning to Quito to do it all again.
Time for some relaxation... I was escorted through the courtyard to a private spa suite. I felt like a princess getting ready for a coronation. And for good reason, too. The day before we arrived, Casa Gangotena actually was host to the wedding of a Victoria’s Secret model, Jasmine Tookes to Juan David Borrero, the son of the current vice president of Ecuador.
Rainforests - Mashpi Lodge
Our next stop was the Mashpi Lodge, a rainforest hotel in the clouds. The road weaved back and forth as we climbed the mountain. It felt like we were on a kiddie roller coaster going up, up, up. The three-hour trip was fascinating; every 20 minutes, we experienced new sights and ecosystems. The vegetation changed drastically many times as we climbed up into the clouds. We drove deep into the rainforest and jungle, and I watched for wildlife views at every turn.
The valleys were spectacular. So were the cows, with some amazing mountain goat skills meandering up and down the mountains throughout the day. We passed village markets with stalls overflowing with every fresh tropical fruit imaginable.
It was immediately clear that Mashpi Lodge is not a side trip but a true, worldwide, bucket list destination. This is an expedition destination not to be missed.
Soon, I saw succulents growing in trees and signs about local chocolate - two of my personal favorites. I was definitely following my destined life path. The scenery was so alive. Vines intertwined and curled around everything. We drove past trees bursting with fruits and berries and bananas. With the window rolled down, I breathed in big and long and felt the strength of the rainforest invigorating me. The anticipation continued to grow.
Then we entered a massive gate. The door to a fantasy land. We drove across the top of waterfalls and continued onward to one of the most uninhabited places I have ever encountered. No dogs or chickens in the road. Just green vines growing wildly on top of each other.
I couldn’t decide if I was in a fantasy, an incredible luxury vacation or a very educational expedition. Honestly, it was a combination of all three. You can make your trip to the Mashpi Lodge whatever you want; all trips are customized after you arrive, based on your personal interests and needs.
The Mashpi Lodge, perched on a plateau with views of the mountains, was named one of National Geographic’s most unique hotels in the world. You get to take in the wonder of the views via floor-to-ceiling, panoramic windows.
This unique experience was not my usual itinerary, which made it even more exhilarating. We’re talking about hummingbirds at breakfast. A waterfall massage. A real spa gal fairytale comes to life.
We took a full day to explore the reserve, learn about the scientific research in the area and climb the observation tower for even more views. We wrapped up the day with an exciting night time nature walk. I would not trade this experience for the world.
Galapagos Islands - Finch Bay Hotel
We rounded out the trip by a visit to the Galapagos Islands. I’ve wanted to visit the islands my entire life to see the unique animals that inhabit them. Any animal lover will feel like they’ve arrived in heaven there. It’s an entire archipelago where the animals come first.
We got a strong start to the islands by visiting a tortoise reserve, where we got to witness the amazing creatures in their natural habitat, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We enjoyed a private lunch surrounded by these gentle giants.
We then took a boat to a part of Puerto Ayora that has no car access. A short walk brought me to my newest favorite happy place: the Finch Bay Hotel — the only hotel in Galapagos with a beach and one of the most welcoming places in the world. I felt so at home. I had finally arrived at the place I had dreamed of my entire life. I was not surprised to learn this hotel was also named one of National Geographic’s most unique places to stay.
Of course, I was welcomed in grand style to their luxury spa. I had the entire spa and its lush, outdoor grounds all to myself. The ultimate treat for a spa-lover.
My private spa day started with secluded time in their hot tub, accompanied by a special cocktail called the Baby George created by Oscar the bartender. It was served in a vessel that looked like a giant egg. I laid my custom-made 831Minhle cover-up on the chair and was enjoying my cocktail when all of a sudden I had to pause and take it all in. I just stopped taking photos and notes and decided I needed to enjoy the moment.
I felt like that a lot on this trip. I didn’t want to blink or even look down for fear of missing out on some of the most special places on Earth.
My spa attendant treated me to a 90-minute massage at this beachfront location. All of the treatments at the Finch Bay Spa incorporate local elements to help you really immerse yourself in the islands.
My treatment was called Lava Meets Water, inspired by the contrast of the dramatic landscapes with the refreshing Galapagos waters. With alternating hot volcanic and cool marble stones, along with massage techniques, your muscles will deeply relax. It’s also good for circulation and reducing stress. This spa treatment was as unique as the islands and one of my all time favorites.
I was sad to have to leave Finch Bay so quickly (although I’m not sure a lifetime here could ever be enough). But it left a huge imprint on my heart. In fact, I am already planning to head back to the Galapagos Islands in 2022 — for a second honeymoon.
If, like me, you have ever dreamed of visiting the magical Galapagos Islands and Ecuador, I have some advice for you: Do it. Do it now. Don’t wait.
Sometimes, travel has a slow and subtle effect on your life. You find yourself thinking back on your experiences and what you saw and who you met, and you begin to realize it has somehow become a part of you.
Other times, a country changes you in an instant, like a lightning strike. You step off the plane and you know with that first breath that you will never be the same. That’s Ecuador. That’s Capital City, the rainforests and the Galapagos Islands.
“When we recognize the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection love is born.” quote from Thich Nhat Hanh
Comments / 5