Our Luxury Custom Travel consultants go on scouting trips around the globe and report back on their findings. With a mission to seek out only the best travel experiences for our guests, they come back ready to craft one-of-a-kind itineraries in amazing destinations.
While fairly small in size, Ecuador boats a stunning range of landscapes and the most biodiversity per square mile of any country in the world. We asked Colleen Clayton, one of our Luxury Custom Travel consultants, to scout this South American nation and then share her experiences with us.
Where did you go?
Ecuador, including Quito, the Chocócloud forest, the Andean highlands, and the Galápagos Islands.
Where should our guests start for unique experiences in Ecuador?
Wake up before the sun for early-morning birdwatching in the misty cloud forest around Mashpi Lodge. The vibrant birds are the main attraction, of course, but my guides’ passion and talent for finding colorful critters in the forest environment was the most memorable. The Mashpi Lodge guides have nearly superhuman eyesight, and are able to spot birds miles across the forest valleys even in the low morning light.
For another memorable morning, you can ride out with the gauchos at Hacienda Zuleta to gather the rest of their herd, which grazes in the valleys between the ancient burial pyramids. The landscape is home to a conservation area, and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a condor soaring overhead or catch a glimpse of a spectacled bear. I’ll never forget the serenity of the lush scenery, or the Ecuadorian-style traffic jam that occurred as the free-roaming horses jostled each other to get back into the stables!
Describe some can’t-miss experiences and destinations.
Although cruises are a practical way to cover a lot of ground in the Galápagos, I’d recommend day excursions from one main base as a more intimate way to explore multiple islands. We can arrange private tours for you according to your interests. My favorite excursion was a snorkeling trip on a small fishing boat, which allowed us to stop on a whim and dive wherever we wanted. The flexibility to choose my own adventure gave me an up-close, unplanned and totally incredible experience—swimming with a pod of wild dolphins.
Another highlight of my trip was a nighttime nature walk with the rangers at Mashpi Lodge. It’s remarkable to see the ways that the forest flora and fauna have adapted to live with one another in this unique landscape. Our naturalist guides uncovered colorful frogs, luminescent scorpions, delicate snakes as smooth and tiny as silk strands, and many other species that stay hidden in the daylight.
You stayed in some remarkable properties. What made them special?
Casa Gangotena is a serene yet centrally located hotel with beautiful colonial architecture. Large windows open onto the activity of Quito’s main square, and the original tin ceilings and oil paintings make it easy to imagine the historic estate in its heyday. The deep soaking tub in my spacious marble bathroom was definitely a highlight for me.
The Galápagos Safari Camp makes a comfortable home base for your time on the islands. Each of its luxurious, safari-style tents has a private deck with a hammock, perfect for watching the sun set over the ocean. There’s also an infinity pool to take in the views, and the attentive staff go above and beyond to make your stay enjoyable.
Hacienda Zuleta was probably my favorite property of all, mostly because I was blown away by the genuine hospitality of my gregarious hosts. The hacienda is a living museum that guests can wander around at their leisure. Admire the ornate cabinets and historic photographs, visit the extensive library, or pick out your horse for the next day—they have an entire binder filled with personality profiles of the property’s special equine residents. Meals are served family style around wood-burning fireplaces and offered some of the best food that I ate during my trip. Each dinner starts with a “cheese happy hour,” where you can nibble on a generous spread of house-made cheeses.
Describe some of your favorite food experiences.
Aside from the cheeses that I mentioned above, of course, I loved the abundant ceviche in Ecuador. Every ceviche is different, and one of the most unique versions I tried was from a vegetarian café in a trendy Quito neighborhood. The citrus flavors were so zesty that I didn’t even notice the absence of seafood. But the other seafood ceviches were so fresh and flavorful too. Learn to make this classic coastal dish at the Galápagos Safari Camp, where we can arrange a hands-on cooking class with the chefs.
For a fine dining experience, I highly recommend Zazu in Quito, Ecuador’s only Relais & Châteaux restaurant. A decadent chef’s tasting menu elevates the country’s signature flavors and ingredients to new heights, complete with beverage pairings. The many uses of corn—in every texture imaginable—are especially creative.
What surprised you about Ecuador?
It has such a variety of landscapes and cultures. Many travelers overlook mainland Ecuador and head straight to the Galápagos, only catching glimpses of Quito between flights. But there’s so much to explore beyond the islands, from the lush cloud forests and the Ecuadorian Amazon to the ruins of ancient civilizations and vibrant cities with bustling markets. Ten well-planned days gives you enough time to really discover the highlights of this compact South American country—though you’ll be left wanting more!
If you’re feeling inspired to discover Ecuador, our travel specialists would love to make your dream trip a reality. Based on your preferences and interests, we can curate the perfect itinerary for you in this captivating country.