I had the amazing privilege to visit Ecuador and Galapagos Islands for the first time early this year and I am glad I was able to experience this truly unique part of the world, especially just before we were all forced to stay at home!
When people hear Ecuador, they immediately think of the Galapagos Islands, but what also took me by surprise was what else Ecuador had to offer. Below are some of my experiences and highlights of my trip.
Any Galapagos Islands trip starts in the capital city of Ecuador, Quito. Here you can explore the cobblestone streets, various museums and majestic cathedrals.
The city is small in size which makes it easy to navigate with most sites within walking distance. The old town centre is one of the best-preserved colonial-era centres in South America. The Plaza de la Independencia is the centre of the city with the Metropolitan Cathedral it's crowning jewel.
The city has the distinction of being located at the equator which is located 30 minutes north of the city. The Ciudad Mitad del Mundo is the site claimed to be the equator line by a group of French explorers in 1736 with the centrepiece being a 30-metre high monument with a viewing platform looking straight down the supposed “equator line”, however with the help of modern GPS systems, it has been concluded the actual line sits 240 metres north so if visiting the site don’t be fooled!
The actual line sits in the Inti Nan Museum Park about 5 minutes away. Although the park is a bit kitschy, it is well worth visiting for a photo of you in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres simultaneously.
A little known fact about Ecuador is that the Panama Hat is actually from Ecuador and not Panama. It is named so, due to the massive export of them from Ecuador to Panama in the 19th century. If you are shopping for a good quality hat, Quito is your place.
If nature is your thing, or just switching off from society, then I would highly recommend Mashpi Lodge as part of a Galapagos Islands itinerary. This can be undertaken prior to or after Galapagos as the lodge is a 3-hour drive from Quito.
Mashpi Lodge is a mere 3-hour drive from Quito but once you arrive you will feel like you are in a different world. The lodge includes free return transfers from Quito as part of their rates so getting to and from the lodge is smooth and seamless. Mashpi Lodge is part of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, a collection of lodges that provide guests rare experiences whilst also supporting local communities and protecting the surrounding habitat.
The lodge is located in the cloud forests of the Mashpi Natural Reserve, the surrounding forest envelopes the lodge and you feel one with nature. Don’t be surprised if sitting in the restaurant at breakfast or lunch to see a frog jumping around outside or a hummingbird buzzing around.
The activities offered by the expert staff are varied and are suited to each individuals fitness levels and interests. If you like hiking you can trek to a number of waterfalls close by, have a swim and trek back or if you like birding you can bring out the binoculars and try to spot as many different species as possible (there are over 400 bird species, 36 of which are endemic).
On my stay, there were two particular highlights that stood out for me. First was the Dragonfly, an open-air cable car that carries you over and through the forest canopy which provides a completely different perspective to on the ground. The second highlight was the guided night walks. These were short walks prior to dinner of an evening and with a flashlight in hand you explore the surrounding forest searching for all the animals that come out at night assisted by an expert local guide.
Now to the main event, The Galapagos Islands. The islands are accessible by air and depending on your itinerary you will either fly in and out of San Cristobal Airport or Baltra Airport, the two main airports servicing the islands.
Galapagos Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage area 1,000 km off the coast of Ecuador. The 19 islands that make up the archipelago are volcanic islands at the confluence of three ocean currents. This provides for a melting pot of marine species and along with the extreme isolation of the islands led to the development of its unique animal life such as the land iguana, giant tortoise and many types of finch.
Galapagos offers many varied itineraries taking in different islands, depending on the time you have there are itineraries from 7 to 15 days. No matter what length of cruise you will be able to see an amazing amount of wildlife.
The itineraries are action-packed with activities from sun up to sundown, you will not want to miss any of it and I found each day flew by. A typical day generally consists of a morning snorkel after breakfast (sometimes before depending on the marine life in the area), then a land excursion during the day exploring one of the islands followed by an afternoon snorkel or beach landing. By the end of the day, you will be ready to relax on board watching the sunset with a nice drink in hand.
Some of the highlights for me in the water were snorkelling among schools of colourful fish as well as swimming with the Galapagos penguins as they darted around the water. There is also the opportunity to swim with hammerhead sharks and turtles.
On land, the animal spotting is just as exciting, of all the places I have travelled to in my time I have never been to a place where such a large amount of animals have no fear of humans. Dependant on which island you explore that day you could be walking through a field of dozens of colourful land iguanas just sunning themselves with not a care in the world or walking along a beach among a pod of fur seals. The young fur seal pups are particularly curious and often shuffle up to people to have a look and check them out.
A trip to Galapagos also has to include a stop on one of the islands to see the famous Galapagos giant tortoise. These gentle giants are a sight to be seen and although once endangered, due to a concerted conservation effort, thankfully are now increasing in number.
Also in abundance are the bird species. Among the more interesting and colourful are the blue and red-footed boobies as well as the distinct Frigatebird with its bright red pouch under its beak which it inflates to impress the females during mating season.
The volume of wildlife and how close you can get to them is truly astonishing, they have a 6 feet rule on the islands (visitors have to keep a distance 6 feet from the animals) however this usually goes out the window as the fur seal pups and iguana’s obviously haven’t gotten the memo.
Galapagos Islands really is a bucket list destination and you will go home full of memories and hundreds of photos (possibly thousands) from a trip there.
Silversea has built its first destination-specific ship for the Galapagos Islands named Silver Origin. The 100 guest capacity and highest crew-to-guest ratio make Silver Origin an ideal option for the Islands. The ship operates all year round solely in Galapagos and is a perfect option for anyone wanting luxury adventure.
You can find their itineraries on our website here!
Our sister company, Latitude 33, has released an exciting Galapagos Island tour called Hidden Wonders of Life & Galapagos departing 25th March 2022 onboard the Silver Origin. The tour is limited to just 20 guests and also includes return economy airfares, a 3-night stay in Santiago, 3 nights in Quito at the historic Hotel Casa Gangotena, a 3-night stay at Mashpi Lodge and 7 nights onboard Silver Origin which can be viewed here.
For questions or enquiries, please contact Brendan on 1300 369 848 or email email@example.com