Manuela De Fazio (Tailormade Regional Specialist for Latin America) recently took a dream trip to The Galapagos Islands and mainland Ecuador. Join her as she uncovers Ecuador and reveals its biggest secret!
"I was so excited - I was on a plane to the Galapagos Islands!
Even before boarding the vessel that would be my home for the next five days and starting my adventure, I fell in love with the rocky shores and sandy bays of San Cristobal Island, where sea lions playfully swim and Sally lightfoot crabs crawl around.
The truth is, there is no real destination to reach – all around there are unusual, fascinating animal species wandering freely and living their lives alongside Galapageños (the local people) and tourists alike.
Manuela amongst the wildlife on the Galapagos Islands
Cruising the archipelago proved a fantastic experience as we could reach many different sites every day, while enjoying the passing landscapes from the comfort of a sun lounger! I loved listening to our naturalist guides’ lectures and, at the same time, see the animals so close around me – land and marine iguanas lazing on rocks in the sun, frigate birds and blue footed boobies happily inflating their pouches and wiggling their blue feet a few metres away and giant tortoises slowly eating grass and fruit to everybody’s delight. I almost forgot snorkelling with sea turtles – now that was amazing! And even if just the thought of swimming with hammerhead sharks made my palms sweat, my fellow cruise friends Lily and Ralph swore it had made their day!
Getting Close to the Wildlife
It was time to move on, I felt so sad, the best part of my trip was surely over…
It didn’t take me long to realise how wrong I was. When I thought nothing could ever match the beauty of the Galapagos, I still knew nothing about Quito and the majestic volcanoes dotting the Andes and Cuenca.
Ecuador is a dream destination, it has it all! As well as the Galapagos Islands – the world’s wildlife Mecca – few people actually know the real secret: Ecuador is a compact, easy-to-visit, incredibly diverse and stunning country with volcanoes, wild and rugged national parks, a cloud and an Amazon forest, plus historic cities.
Quito is quite literally breathtaking. Lying at a mighty 2,800 metres above sea level it immediately made my head spin. The secret is keeping hydrated and do very little or nothing at all, which is hard when you are surrounded by charming squares, churches and views of volcanoes and hills. This was not the first UNESCO site in the world without a reason!
Leaving the city behind wasn’t as difficult as I imagined, I was going to Mindo Cloud Forest and then on to Cotopaxi National Park, two diametrically different ecosystems, both undoubtedly fascinating.
Mindo greeted me with an eerie mist that is typical to this type of forest and made the area magical and mysterious. Hundreds of orchids grow here and great populations of colourful birds call Mindo home.
But it was my journey along the Avenue of the Volcanoes that surprised and enchanted me the most – I could not believe how many volcanoes existed in that tiny portion of the Andes. Cotopaxi is the iconic cone-shaped, snow-capped volcano and it beautifully towers the national park. A walk in the paramo (typical Andean vegetation) was the best way to admire it but I thought the views were at their best when the sky cleared while I was having my lunch at a local hacienda. The views and my plate of traditional potato and avocado soup, locro, made my day.
My favourite, however, was Chimborazo Volcano. I forgot I was on the Equator when I looked up and saw the copious amount of perennial snow with llamas and vicuñas peacefully roaming in the icy wind. The journey from Ambato to Riobamba, following the mountain road that wraps around the volcano, was one of the favourite drives of my life.
I was then heading south to lower altitude and I could feel the temperature rising; when I reached Cuenca my being on the Equator sprung back to mind as the air was mild and sweet and I could not believe my eyes when I toured my second UNESCO listed city. It was so beautiful with its rivers and bridges, its manicured parks, the houses and buildings bursting with character – I realised I loved Cuenca! I bought some local ceramics, which are very famous, and watched how Panama hats are really made (Panama hats are from Ecuador, not Panama, as many people think)."
My trip was almost over, so before returning to Quito I spent a few hours hiking in the Cajas National Park, surrounded by lagoons, trees and gentle hills. What a beautiful way to end my trip!
This truly was a journey of discovery - from the Galapagos archipelago, to the many other splendours of this country. Come and see for yourself!
Manuela can help you plan your own tailor made holiday to Ecuador and the Galapgos Islands. Just call our Explore Tailormade team on 0844 875 1890