2014 Ecuador and Galapagos Tour

An adventure to remember

Not much on earth compares to Ecuador’s jaw-dropping variety of landscapes and beauty, but it is also truly an adventure everyone should experience at least once in their life. From the magnificent cloud forests, the lush jungle of the high Amazon rainforest, the grandeur of some of the world’s most active volcanoes to the incredible wildlife and beauty of the Galapagos – Ecuador packs extreme diversity and adventure in a small package.

The slogan of the Ecuador Tourist Office is “Love Life in Ecuador.” Our guests on the 2014 group tour to Ecuador suggested that it should be “Love Life in Ecuador because it is an Amazing Adventure.”

Our “adventure” began as we arrived in Quito. This capital city in the Andes Mountains features amazing mountain vistas and lush valleys. One would not think that such beauty would surround a city of 1.6 million people. It is the highest capital city in the world and lies almost directly on the equator. Your natural thought would be to think that Quito is very hot since it is on the Equator, however it is known as the city of eternal spring as the temperature year-round is mild and comfortable.

After resting overnight in Quito from our flight from the United States, we embarked on our adventure as we rode from Quito in the Andean cloud forest. We were truly amazed by the astounding beauty as we wove through the mountain valleys to see the amazing waterfalls, bromeliads, orchids and flora of this unique part of Ecuador.

After our amazing drive through the mountains, we arrived at our lodge in the high Amazon rainforest. It is called the high Amazon because it is higher in altitude than other parts of the Amazon, which provides visitors with a very comfortable temperature and the best part, very few if no mosquitoes.

The fully accessible lodge is an eco-lodge and is set directly in the rainforest. Paved pathways provide easy access to each individual bungalow, which features accessible bathrooms with roll-in showers, and the thatched roofs add to the charm of being in the jungle. The paved pathways also lead to the main bungalow that features a wonderful dining area with a lovely view of the jungle and a lovely pool area with a lift making the pool and spa fully accessible.

After settling in to our bungalows, we enjoyed an extremely relaxing dinner and time to visit and take in our jungle surroundings. It was delightful listening to the sounds of the frogs, insects, birds and various other wildlife as we delighted in our Ecuador-style dinner.

We awoke the following morning to the beautiful sound of rain. This might seem like an odd statement but you are in the rainforest and it does rain frequently. However, when you are in the rainforest, something transforms you and the sound to the rain simply washes away your stress and worries. As we enjoyed our morning coffee and breakfast, we all agreed that we could just sit under the main bungalow all day and watch it rain and listen to the forest.

Nevertheless, as the morning rain began to taper off, we prepared for our days adventure of rafting down the Anzu River. The Anzu is a contributory river that flows into the Amazon River, with its source beginning in the Andes Mountains. This beautiful river flows along stunning jungle landscape and is a call two river, which provides some nice rapids to provide a bit of adventure. We rafted along the river until we arrived in the village of Puerto Mishualli, where we enjoyed a lovely lunch by the sandy beach of the river.

We were greeted in Puerto Mishualli by numerous schoolchildren who were boarding their school boats - yes boats – after a day of classes in the village. Because many of the children live along the river, it is more efficient for them to travel to school in boats. The laughter and smiles were infectious as they posed for photographs and visited with our group.

The following day we had the wonderful opportunity of visiting with the local indigenous people and communities who live and work in this part of the Amazon rainforest. The Quetchua are the predominate people living in the area. We first visited an indigenous association that grows organic, fair trade cacao beans. We learned how cacao plays an important social, cultural and economic role in these Amazon communities. We toured the collection center and observed the fermentation, drying and packing of cacao beans, which later will finally reach international markets to be transformed into fine chocolate bars.

The cocoa that is produced in this area is a highly sought after product my chocolate makers around the world because of its high quality. The local people are also now producing their own chocolate bars and we had the opportunity to taste the various varieties of the delicious chocolate.

After an enjoyable lunch back at the lodge and some time to relax around the pool, we had the wonderful experience of visiting with some local Quetchua people in their village. All the smiling and playful children of the village, who were excited for us to join them in their community lodge where they performed a traditional dance for us, met us as we arrived. Afterwards, their mothers spoke to us about some of their local traditions, how they have thrived in the jungle for hundreds of years and provided us with information about their customs and clothing.

The following day, the local shaman from the village met us at the lodge to take us on a tour into the rainforest. On the tour, he taught us about medicinal plants that grow in the Amazon, gave us a demonstration of at least 10 plants and their uses, which truly delighted us.

After lunch, we said our reluctant goodbyes to the rainforest and all our new friends as we embarked on our next adventure to the beautiful Andes town of Banos de Agua Santa. This cute resort town is nested at the bottom of the Tungurahua active volcano but has avoided devastation from the volcano because the lava does not flow in its direction when the volcano erupts. The English translation of Banos is bath and Banos de Agua Santa has always been famous for its thermal hot springs bubbling out of the side of the wild and unruly volcano.

After spending the night at our accessible friendly hotel, we ventured to see the magnificent scenery of the ravines of the Pastaza River. At a point in the ravine, we took a cable car over to catch a wonderful view of one of the many waterfalls. After viewing the beautiful scenery around the area, we continued our ride along the Avenue of the Volcanoes towards Quito.

The Avenue of the Volcanoes is often referred to as the “spine” of Ecuador. This beautiful route features valleys, fields, farms and ranges of cattle all beneath a range of dormant and active volcanoes, some of which have snow all year round. These volcanoes are some of the highest in the world and are breathtaking to view.

After a restful night in Quito, we departed for the airport for our flight to the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Islands had their fame guaranteed in 1835 when the 26-year-old naturalists Charles Darwin landed on one of the black volcanic coasts. Today a national park and World Heritage Site, the islands offer one of the most incredible opportunities to view wildlife up close and personal.

Highlights of our tour of the Galapagos included beach tours with off-road wheelchairs, stroll through the Mangroves, visiting the Galapagos Tortoise Center, sea kayaking to view the wildlife and snorkeling off Kicker Rock to view the sea life that is so abundant in the waters of the Galapagos.

From Frigate birds to Blue-footed Boobies the abundance of bird life along with Marine Iguanas, Sea Lions and tortoises make this one of the most amazing places to see wildlife. We were astonished at how close we could get to the wildlife we were able to get. There is simply no fear of humans in the animals, which makes for an amazing experience.

Our favorite island was San Cristobal, which hosts one of the world’s best Interpretation Centers about the Galapagos and its wildlife. Our group truly enjoyed learning all about the role evolution has played in the wildlife currently living on the islands. San Cristobal also features a beautiful harbor with an accessible walkway along the harbor and shore. Home to Sea Lions, it is delightful place to enjoy the beauty of the island or find a nice shady cafe to enjoy locally grown coffee.
San Cristobal is truly a place where you want to stop time, enjoy the moment and be in your day. The relaxing ocean breezes and along with the aromas of local BBQ vendors creates a memory that will stay with you for a lifetime.

Members of our group were astonished by the fact that they had an opportunity to be on the beach, ride in a sea kayak and snorkel. “I never dreamt that I would ever be able to do these things again,” commented one of our guests. Nevertheless, the reality is with the assistance of our travel hosts and the accessible friendly accommodations and equipment, it is possible to have an adventure and see some remarkable sights.

Yes, the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador are full of adventure - but you will also want to take a moment, relax and allow this place to take you away. “Live life in Ecuador” as the slogan states – and after you do – it will be with you for a lifetime.

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