Category: Ecuador

The Best Times for Traveling to the Galapagos Islands

The Best Times for Traveling to the Galapagos Islands

Set in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and blessed by their temperate location right on the equator, the Galapagos Islands are beautiful all year round. So what’s the best time of year to visit these “enchanted islands”? Each month has its own pros and cons …it all depends on what you consider an ideal vacation.

Here we look at some of the factors that should keep in mind while deciding when you should visit the Galapagos Islands?

Peak vs. Non-peak tourist seasons

The peak seasons for Galapagos tourism tend to coincide with the general holiday and vacation months around the world. These run from the mid-December to January “Christmas vacation” and from the June to August “summer holidays” (for Europe and the USA). During these high-season periods, the availability of everything in the islands is stretched to the limit. Though the Galapagos National Park administration limits the number of tourists that can visit the islands at any given time, the high influx of travelers during peak season can make hotels and cruise docks especially cramped.

Likewise, Galapagos flights get particularly busy at these times, and, of course, the prices of cruises and accommodation are higher. During high seasons, it’s almost impossible to find a “last-minute deal,” and if by some miracle you do come across one, you’ll likely have to accept a boat that’s not your first choice. The low seasons in the Galapagos Islands are in springtime (May to June) and fall (September and October). During these periods, tourism in the Galapagos declines substantially and many cruises drop their prices to attract more passengers.

If you are planning your Galapagos getaway during the popular “vacation” months, we recommend that you book your trip at least six (6) months in advance of your desired travel date – or even sooner. Christmas cruises, for example, often book up more than a year in advance!

Alternatively, if you’re considering vacationing during the non-peak “shoulder” seasons, we advise you to keep a couple of factors in mind. The low tourist season is just that, so instead of enjoying the solitude of desolate beaches, you might just find yourself feeling a bit lonely and secluded. Hotel availability is usually not a problem during these times, though. Also, note that that the sea conditions are at their worst in late-August and September, which will increase your chances of getting seasick from the pitching and rolling of a cruise ship. In addition, because of those choppy waters, many cruise operators put their boats in dry dock for maintenance during this time. Therefore, you need to think twice before heading off to the islands in search of a “last-minute bargain” Galapagos cruise just because it’s low season.

Climate in the Galapagos Islands

Another factor that could influence your plans as to when to visit the Galapagos archipelago is the climate. Because the Galapagos are right on the equator, the air and water temperatures don’t vary much, though oceanic currents do influence the air and sea temperatures, sea conditions and rainfall across the islands.

Generally, the climate in the Galapagos Islands is divided into two seasons: the warm/rainy season (from January to May or June), and the cool/dryer season (from June or July to December). During the warm-wet season, temperatures reach up to 86°F (30°C), with sunny days interrupted by short but heavy cloudbursts. The sea is warm, 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C), and relatively calm. The warmer weather and calmer waters of the rainy season make this the best time to travel to the Galapagos if swimming and snorkeling are on your agenda. On the downside, though, there aren’t as many fish and seabirds to see as there are in the cooler parts of the year. The calm ocean waters of the January-June warm-wet season also reduce the chances of getting seasick on a cruise. But bear in mind that January to March is the doldrums on the equator, and there’s usually not enough wind for sailing yachts to truly set sail. In any case, all yachts can run by motor.

During the cool-dry June-through-November season, the Humboldt Current makes its way from the southern end of South America, bringing cold weather as well as nutrient- and plankton-rich waters that attract fish. It’s too chilly for casual snorkeling without a wet suit, but experienced divers claim that this is the best time for witnessing the wide variety of Galapagos underwater marine life … IF you’re willing to brave the cold water.

At around 72°F (22°C), the cool-dry season is more comfortable for trekking and exploring the volcanic origins of the Galapagos Islands, including its fascinating lava flows and other geological features.

Though the days are often grey and overcast, there’s usually not any rainfall down on the coast. In the highlands, though, the “garúa” fog sustains a constant dampness, which occasionally drops down to the coast.

Wildlife-watching opportunities

Wildlife is the main attraction for most visitors to the islands, and great wildlife viewing is guaranteed regardless of when you visit the archipelago. Almost all of the islands’ animal species spend the entire year in the Galapagos and do not migrate – including the tiny Galapagos penguin, the Giant Galapagos tortoise, the flightless cormorant, marine and land iguanas, the Red- and Blue-footed booby, the Galapagos hawk, the fur sea lion, and the California sea lion (one of the sole exceptions to this rule is the Waved albatross, which travel to the islands in the summer).

What do change during specific seasons are these animals’ behaviors (their mating, breeding, etc.). Therefore, you should take a look at a Galapagos wildlife activity calendar to get an idea of what you might see in each month. Similarly, there is some variation in the types of animals you’ll find on specific islands of the archipelago. If you are keen on seeing a particular animal or bird, talk with a Surtrek Galapagos travel coordinator to find the best cruise itinerary for this.

BON VOYAGE…!!

7 Top Luxury Yachts for Sailing the Galapagos Islands

7 Top Luxury Yachts for Sailing the Galapagos Islands

It’s easy to see why the Galapagos Islands are on savviest travelers’ “bucket-lists.” With the archipelago being one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, nothing can prepare you for a visit to this exotic masterpiece of Mother Nature.

Some travelers prefer to experience this once-in-a-lifetime experience on a land-based “land-hopping” tour – eating, sleeping, and resting in a hotel on solid earth. Others will choose to explore the Galapagos Islands on a water-based cruise, where you will eat, sleep and rest on board a luxury yacht, a catamaran, a sailboat, or a larger cruise ship.

Still, no one comes to the Galapagos just to lie out on deck all day. Luxury cruises serving the Galapagos Islands offer daily land excursions that include hiking ancient lava fields where you will encounter prehistoric reptiles such as the iconic giant Galapagos tortoise, as well as endemic land and marine iguanas. On these landings, you can also witness the courtship dance of Blue-footed boobies, and observe a host of Galapagos penguins, Flightless cormorants and massive Waved albatross – just to name a few of the comical sea birds found here.

While marveling at the diversity of the land and marine life found in these paradisiacal islands, you can also enjoy the maximum in comfort, style, service, and safety on board a luxury ship. We have selected seven of these top-end “floating boutique hotels” that boast everything from Jacuzzis to private balconies, as well as spacious cabins and all the big-city amenities.

Silver Origin

The newest ship to take to the waters of the Galapagos archipelago, the Silver Galapagos will not fail to delight. It was designed for those looking for a larger luxury-class cruise ship with an excellent range of facilities and personal service.

The Silver Galapagos has the capacity for 132 passengers, making it one of the largest and most luxurious ships sailing the Galapagos. However, due to the National Park regulations, it only carries 100 passengers in its 50 spacious air-conditioned outside cabins — all with spectacular ocean views, their own private bathrooms, and small sitting areas.

The Silver Galapagos offers an impressive list of amenities and social areas, including a first-class restaurant and grill, a Jacuzzi, a spacious dining room, an electronic elevator, the Explorer Lounge, a piano bar, a fitness center, and massage room, a beauty salon, a boutique, a snorkel area, a library, and a large briefing/conference room. This briefing room is used by the vessel’s six (6) naturalist guides, who lead daily shore excursions and offer nightly presentations and briefings to fully prepare passengers for the islands to be visited the following day.

In addition, Silver Galapagos offers karaoke, star gazing, massage therapy, Spanish lessons, and even cocktail-making classes. Indeed, you’ll be spoiled by all the choices. And on top of all the pampering, this vessel also has power. Navigating the Galapagos Islands at a cruising speed that enables passengers to see more of the Galapagos archipelago in less time.

La Pinta

One of the most up-to-date vessels for luxury cruising in the Galapagos Islands, La Pinta has an excellent reputation for great service while offering a variety of activities for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts.

With a capacity for 48 guests, this 209-foot (63-meter) yacht provides superior accommodations. La Pinta has 20 comfortable double or twin-bedded staterooms, plus four (4) triple cabins (the third person must be under 12), all with ocean views, private bathrooms, personal safes, and individually controlled air-conditioning. Besides floor-to-ceiling windows in all staterooms, the yacht’s cabins are among the largest of any Galapagos cruising vessel. And in addition to La Pinta’s standard staterooms, the ship has four extra-large connecting suites, which are popular with family groups all year round.

Spacious public areas in the boat deck include a large observation lounge and bar that can be used for outdoor dining, a smaller outside “Sky Bar” towards the stern, fore and aft observation decks, an exercise room, a Jacuzzi, and a well-stocked natural history library-conference room.

Through panoramic windows, these social areas provide almost permanent visual contact with the islands, while the outside deck areas are also superb havens for relaxation, including an observation deck for dolphin, shark and whale watching.

On the main deck is a window-lined dining room with open seating (though there are no formal dress requirements), the reception area, a boutique, and a doctor’s office.

To get the most out of such enriching wildlife encounters, you will be accompanied by expert guides on La Pinta, which is complemented by the ship’s faultless service, delicious cuisine, and plenty of comfort on board. The ship’s crew and staff embrace a spirit of adventure, while ensuring comfort and safety at all times during your Galapagos Islands vacation.

Integrity

Taking a cruise on this luxurious 16-passenger Galapagos Islands cruiser is a bit like staying in a fabulous boutique hotel, but with ever-changing scenery and mesmerizing animals appearing just off the deck. The 141-foot luxury Integrity yacht was designed with painstaking attention to detail and has been spotlessly maintained. Indeed, it has earned the reputation as one of the finest ships sailing the Galapagos archipelago.

The Integrity Motor yacht is customized to carry 16 adventurers in comfort, safety and style – something it has been doing in the waters of the Galapagos Islands since April 2005.

With the most comfortable staterooms and suite of any “enchanted islands” vessel – big ship or small – your stay on board the Integrity will be one of sheer delight. The decor is tasteful and simple, featuring hardwood that its owner hand-harvested, milled and cured for this special yacht. Each stateroom is a double accommodation cabin with comfortable seating, lots of storage, and large picture windows (no tiny portholes!). Cabin temperatures are individually controlled, and you’ll have a mini-refrigerator stocked with water and snacks in your room. Bathroom facilities are en suite with a full-sized shower, lavatory, toilet, and storage cabinet.

The cozy lounge/salon is the perfect place for viewing your day’s Galapagos Islands photos on a wide-screen in this media center, as well as for reading or listening to the daily natural history briefing from the onboard naturalist.

In the large, well-equipped galley, the chef and his cooking team strive to satisfy. Menus are varied, carefully executed and very healthy. Breakfast is buffet style with cereals, juices, fresh fruit, toast, muffins, hot items, and eggs cooked to order. Freshly brewed coffee, a selection of teas, milk, and cocoa are also served. Lunch and dinner are served in several, elegantly plated courses and often start with a soup, followed by safe-to-eat-salads and the main course of fish, chicken, beef, or seafood. And there’s always dessert, coffee, and tea. Special diets are readily accommodated, and there are plenty of kid-friendly dishes.

As for the ship itself, the Integrity’s state-of-the-art stability and anti-vibration systems guarantee “smooth sailing” all the way. The interior design of the motor vessel is impeccable, while the social areas are spacious and the services are some of the best to be found.

Ocean Spray

The Galapagos Ocean Spray is described as a “mega” catamaran; and — since it’s equipped with large staterooms and a huge sundeck with a Jacuzzi — it’s not hard to see why! The unrivaled spaciousness of the vessel’s design, also seen in the cabins and all other guest areas, is complemented by the equally unmatched stability and speed that only catamarans can provide. Indeed, her speed, comfort, and stability make the Galapagos Ocean Spray a perfect choice for your Galapagos Islands cruise adventure.

Built in 2011, the ultra-modern 16-passenger yacht has three passenger decks with a total of nine (9) elegantly appointed and spacious double cabins, all with private facilities – including balconies. Each cabin boasts individual climate controls, private bathrooms and ample space for storing luggage. The Ocean Spray boasts some of the largest cabins on any small yacht in the Galapagos, with her double cabins measuring at least 284 square feet.

A top-notch menu of Ecuadorian and international cuisine, and pure style all make the Galapagos Ocean Spray a great cruise ship for your Galapagos trip. The Galapagos Ocean Spray catamaran is equipped with two bars, a spacious sun deck, a Jacuzzi, a comfortable lounge, and indoor and al fresco dining. This means that guests will find it difficult not to relax and enjoy the exclusive atmosphere of this luxury-class catamaran.

The crew is made up of 10 members plus a certified naturalist guide who each deliver the highest standards of quality service to guests in a friendly and professional manner.

The Ocean Spray boasts the most advanced navigation and safety equipment, which enhances guests’ comfort and security. She fully complies with the highest national and international safety standards and regulations for passenger vessels. Galapagos Ocean Spray is a luxury-class catamaran offering the best performance and comfort in cruising the Galapagos Islands. Ideal for small groups, families or couples.

Origin

The Origin motor vessel, named for Charles Darwin’s insightful work The Origin of the Species, made its appearance in the Galapagos Islands in early 2016 as the most environmentally efficient and comfortable 20-passenger yacht sailing in the waters of the archipelago.

The ship possesses 10 different deluxe double staterooms to choose from, two of which able to accommodate up to three people. Measuring approximately 140 square feet, each cabin is brimming with amenities, which include nightstands, an ample sectional closet, a sitting area, modern décor with local art work, fine linens and towels, climate controls, satellite TV/DVD, iPod docking station, a safe deposit box, and a private bathroom. Each bathroom includes hot water, full facilities, and features such as hair-dryers, slippers, and robes, as well as soap and shampoo that are both biodegradable. Your spacious cabin will be located on the main “Beagle” deck, with a panoramic window so you can wake up and fall asleep to the stunning views of the ocean and the archipelago. As an additional note, all cabins are cleaned twice daily and laundry service is available.

Throughout the yacht, you will find great extras such as a fitness room equipped with cardio machines, spacious social areas, satellite TV, and a spacious sun deck equipped with a fully stocked open wet-bar, BBQ, lounges, and hammocks. On top of all this, you can enjoy the available kayaks, paddleboards, wet suits, and snorkeling equipment for your own use when permitted. Masseuses are available on charters (only) for an additional charge.

In addition, the ship possesses semi-private nooks for you to escape to and relax on the boat, or you can mingle with other guests in one of the Origin’s three lounge areas, its library, computer station, or in the social area equipped with satellite TV.

The yacht runs two basic 8-day itineraries, a southern/central route, and a western/northern route. During these times, every need of the guests will be catered to cater to by the ship’s two expert naturalist guides, a concierge, a well-trained experienced crew, and a highly-qualified captain. The naturalist guides and captain are hand-picked to provide you with an educational experience and exceptional service while you tour each island.

The Origin combines modern sophistication and a high level of comfort and service, with indoor and al-fresco gourmet dining experiences (including Ecuadorian and Peruvian specialties), exciting physical activities, and a dose of intellectual science providing guests a life-enriching experience.

Petrel

One of the newest ships sailing the Galapagos Islands, the 16-passenger Petrel Luxury Galapagos Catamaran offers a luxury-class way to visit this magical archipelago.

This luxury cruise vessel is one of the best ways to see the Galapagos Islands.

Named after a sea bird common to the Galapagos, the “Petrel” is like its namesake: elegant, swift and silent at sea. Guests will travel in comfort to different islands where they can have up-close encounters with Blue-footed boobies, iguanas, giant tortoises, sea lions, and more.

A motorized catamaran, the Petrel is designed for comfort and stability and is outfitted with spacious cabins with private balconies, a comfortable lounge, and ample relaxation areas. The huge sundeck features the Jacuzzi, the perfect spot for dolphin- and whale-watching, or for simply unwinding and soaking up the sun between island excursions. In the evenings there is no better place for stargazing. Enjoy dining in the ship’s elegant restaurant, or dine al fresco on the deck while taking in the views over the islands. Order a drink at the bar in time for sunset.

On the Petrel, the emphasis is placed on the remarkable natural history of the Galapagos Islands, selecting naturalist land-tour guides who are knowledgeable about biology and ecology, in addition to having excellent language skills and client reviews.

Stella Maris

Touting itself as the “only luxury yacht based in the Galapagos Islands,” the M/Y Stella Maris has the facilities in place for serving the most demanding and discerning clientele. Accommodating up to 14 guests in ultimate of style, the ship is available for private charter groups, offering fully customized charters, complemented by complete pre-established 8-day cruise itineraries in which you and your party will thoroughly explore the Galapagos from end-to-end.

Her interior boasts a clean and inviting contemporary décor, the well-appointed panoramic windows allowing for natural light. Luxurious accommodations, the likes of which have never been seen in the Galapagos Islands, set the tone for the M/Y Stella Maris. This lavish motor yacht features a total of seven (7) suites: four (4) expansive suites on the aft/lower deck, two (2) suites on the front main deck, as well as one (1) master suite on the second aft deck, with the master suite featuring its own private access to an outdoor lounge. All suites are fully air-conditioned and offer private en-suite facilities. Note: Each of these spacious suites has its own private balcony.

On the main deck, the Stella Maris motor yacht features a beautiful central staircase that provides separation from the luxurious formal dining room and the ample living room with TV entertainment. These grand appointments and an attentive crew are important aspects contributing to the overall experience aboard the yacht; however, the savory cuisine available is its crowning jewel. The M/Y Stella Maris’ food and liquor service is available 24 hours a day, and the ship features a full stock of excellent quality wines and spirits. Among the crew some of the most qualified local chefs.

With whichever yacht you choose, it’s not uncommon for a Galapagos cruise vessel to be sold out six of nine months in advance – particularly for holiday periods like Christmas and New Year’s. This means that if you have a specific vacation date in mind, you and your Surtrek travel coordinator will have to book your trip well in advance to ensure the availability of your cruise ship.

Traditional Charm-filled Haciendas in the Ecuadorian Andes

Traditional Charm-filled Haciendas in the Ecuadorian Andes

In the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Ecuadorian highlands, you can discover the rustic charm of Andean haciendas filled with Spanish colonial history and natural splendor. Yet, a closer look will reveal that these one-time mountain ranches have been converted into stylish boutique hideaways.

These chic oases retain their wood and brick rooms, working fireplaces, antique beds, and warm blankets; however, all of this has been complemented by all the amenities and creature comforts you might find in any big-city hotel. In any case, brisk evenings give way to brilliant sierra sunrises with delicious breakfasts and singing birds, followed by activities that range from horseback riding and hiking to exhilarating white-water rafting.

The following are just five of the best of these luxury haciendas in the Ecuadorian highlands.

Luna Runtun (Baños, Ecuador)

Perched high above an Andean valley, the rustic and natural feel of Luna Runtun is accompanied by all the bells and whistles of a contemporary boutique resort.

As the story goes, in 1914 the settlement of the village of Baños was divided into nine estates, one of which belonged to a man named Angel Luna, the grandfather of the current owner of the luxurious Luna Runtun hacienda.

The construction of this mountain hotel itself began in 1992, when fifty workers began erecting the 18 structures of the hacienda. Using materials from the immediate environment — such as locally fashioned bricks, handmade tiles, wrought stones, eucalyptus wood, and handcrafted mosaics — the architects aimed for a building that harmonized with the landscape and vegetation of the land. In April 1994, the Luna Runtun resort and adventure spa was ready to open its doors to the public, enveloped in a generous supply of aromatic flowers and fruits.

Luna Runtun, which translates as “fortress of the moon,” is also synonymous with the impeccable blend of comfort and nature. A 10-minute drive from the resort town of Baños, this deluxe hotel is situated within the Sangay National Park and is a close but safe distance from and active Tungurahua Volcano.

At the Luna Runtun, its 30 spacious guestrooms and suites offer panoramic views of either the village or the Tungurahua Volcano. These accommodations feature fireplaces, terraces, and private bathrooms possessing bathtubs as well as all the amenities of a big-city luxury hotel.

One of the biggest attractions of this hacienda is its spa, which includes 11 treatment rooms that offer more than 20 relaxation techniques, as well as four pools and whirlpools. Other attractions include a cafe overlooking the large nearby volcano, gardens that provide a chance to further disconnect, and a restaurant that serves gourmet dishes.

In addition, travelers can choose any of the 25 adventure activities offered at the hotel – everything from adventure mountain-biking to ziplining, as well as horseback riding, birdwatching, and whitewater rafting.

Hacienda Manteles (Patate, Ecuador)

The unique name of this hacienda/hotel (meaning “tablecloths” in Spanish) refers to the surrounding hills and fields, which from a distance form the image of a checkered table covering of differing shades of green. Built in 1965, the Manteles Hacienda is located in the center of Ecuadorian “Sierra” (highlands), which is strategic because of its proximity to several regional tourist attractions – including the resort-town of Baños, two national parks, a traditional indigenous-run market, and the mysterious Amazonian rainforest.

The interior of this hacienda/hotel has been completely remodeled, with all of its 16 rooms provided with private bathrooms, steaming hot water, Wi-Fi, and panoramic views of the region. Surrounded by gardens, the hacienda also allows for a direct view of the still active Tungurahua Volcano. Besides the main house, the hacienda has a family home with four bedrooms that share a central hall, where travelers can relax in the warmth of a fireplace or step outside to enjoy the terrace.

Hearty breakfasts at Hacienda Manteles are another reason for a stay at this serene and appealing retreat in the Ecuadorian Andes. Every morning, travelers can start the day with pancakes, eggs, fruit juice, and homemade bread. The dishes here are prepared with organic ingredients harvested from the hacienda’s gardens and served in its restaurant, which has also maintained its original style.

This luxurious yet authentic hacienda is the perfect place to unwind and get away from city life. However, if you want more activities, you can take part in walks to nearby waterfalls, participate in farm tours or walks to nearby cities like Baños or Riobamba. In addition, you can take cooking classes or go bird watching, horseback riding, camping, and even do some ziplining (thanks to a cable system that crosses a gorge on the hacienda).

The Manteles is built in a valley that was once home to the Panzaleo civilization. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for visitors to take tours of the area to find archaeological remnants on the grounds. Several of these are on display in the social areas of the hacienda.

In short, Manteles Hacienda is the ideal place to relax, as it provides a comfortable stay and close contact with nature in the middle of an Andean cloud forest.

Hacienda Zuleta (Imbabura Province, Ecuador)

Situated at an altitude of 1.8 miles above sea level (2,900 meters), and located only two hours from Quito, the Zuleta Hacienda dates back to the late 17th century. Its history is linked to a former president of Ecuador, whose descendants still own this traditional hacienda that is accessed through a beautiful eucalyptus-lined roadway.

The hacienda is located on land that has become an organic farm that is the principal supplier of the dishes served at the on-site restaurant. Completing the setting of this ranch is the famous Zuleta Cheese Factory and the warm and luxurious interiors of this hacienda/hotel.

For those who wish to learn about rural life in Ecuador’s northern highlands, you can participate in harvesting crops, milking cows, meeting people from the community, learning how cheese is made, or going horseback riding or mountain biking. You can also visit the Huasi Condor Project, which is working to repopulate the Andean condor.

The rooms of the hacienda are rustic yet comfortable. Each one features a fireplace and Wi-Fi, in addition to parquet floors, sloped ceilings, elegant furnishings, and appointments, as well as a private bathroom to guarantee guests’ comfort.

In the dining room, guests will find a cozy and elegant ambiance. La Hacienda Zuleta has been recognized for its personalized service in a tranquil and comfortable environment.

Moreover, there’s an additional feature that makes this hacienda a special place. Born on the grounds of this hacienda was the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation, which runs social development initiatives in the interest of the local community. An embroidery project that involves women from the community and an organized effort to maintain the condors are two of these efforts. The foundation also supports schools, community libraries, an archaeological project, and a volunteer program in schools.

All this makes the Hacienda Zuleta a special place that combines the comfort of a good stay with a social mission that leaves its mark on the community.

Hacienda La Mirage (Cotacachi, Ecuador)

Nestled in a stunning Andean landscape, just an hour from Quito’s new international airport, this 200-year-old hacienda has been transformed into a chic oasis where guests are met with delicious food, elegant surroundings, and irresistible hospitality.

One of the most elegant and prestigious hotels in Ecuador, La Mirage is the only member of the Relais & Chateaux chain in this country.

The La Mirage Garden Hotel & Spa is a perfect blend of tradition and classicism. Antique furniture, crystal chandeliers, high ceilings, spacious seating areas, and fresh flowers give each room a warm touch … as every detail is seen to. Each of the hotel’s 23 rooms and suites, in addition to its four-guest family suite, is arranged differently, though each has a fireplace, separate social area, telephone, internet access, cable TV, and a private bathroom. Then too, the fine cuisine served at The Mirage is one of its unquestionable strengths. Dining under the stained-glass ceiling of its exquisite restaurant, guests can revel in sumptuous gourmet specialties, with dishes like fresh quail and turkey baked golden over an open fire.

On the grounds of the hotel is a water lily covered pond, as well as beautiful gardens with unique flowers. Other features include a Jacuzzi, a lounge, a pool, and a spa area where 11 types of treatments are provided. The La Mirage Hotel-Spa is located near the town of Cotacachi, famous for its leather goods and American ex-pats, though guests can also visit the Otavalo market – the largest, most colorful, and most important of the country’s traditional, indigenous-run markets.

Hacienda Chillo Jijón (Pichincha, Ecuador)

Arguably, guests are privileged when staying in this old farmhouse, converted into an exclusive hotel. It is not an exaggeration, if one thinks that only 20 people can stay at the ago-old hacienda that was built in 1730.

Hacienda Chillo Jijón has always been owned by the same family, which just recently decided to open it up to small groups — always by reservation — and give them warm attention, personalized service, and guaranteed comfort.

The farm is located in the Valley of the Chillos, a 30-minute drive from the capital city of Quito. The hacienda/hotel has ten very exclusive and comfortable suites, and welcomes guests in all-inclusive. Each of the suites has a comfortable yet luxurious decor with canopy beds, colonial art, antiques, and fine furnishings. They also have fireplaces and private bathrooms.

The tranquility of the colonial corridors and patios of this hacienda, as well as the grounds 20 acres of woods and fields, give the visitor the feeling that time has stopped. In addition, a charming Italian-style church attracts the attention of guests. The hacienda, built of wood, tiles, and adobe, was constructed on sloping land. The hacienda has an outdoor courtyard that features a stone cross, a detail that characterizes many Andean haciendas. A second courtyard, at the lowest level, has an octagonal basin and carved stone benches. This space is part of the Italian church, an exquisite building, which was built to service both the family and the surrounding rural population.

Top Destinations for Vacationing in the Andes in 2021

Top Destinations for Vacationing in the Andes in 2021

As we slowly return to normalcy, 2021 offers the possibility of again exploring the world around us. One of the sites worth discovering is the longest continental mountain range in the world: The Andean highlands, which stretch the length of South America’s western coast. Amazingly long (4,300 miles in length), and surprisingly thin (between 120 to 430 miles wide), the Andes is also the world’s highest mountain range outside of Asia …high enough to leave you breathless in more ways than one.

The Andes extend from north to south through seven South American countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Within this region are of several high plateau, some of which host major cities that are ideal destinations for a 2021 summer vacation.

The following five Andean cities deserve special consideration for those seeking unforgettable Latin American travel experiences ahead.

Bogotá, Colombia

Today, as the Colombian Tourist Board’s slogan boasts, “The only risk in visiting Colombia is wanting to stay.” While this expression acknowledges the country’s turbulent past, it also highlights the new feeling of hope and optimism that defines travel experiences here.

This new spirit is no more apparent than in the nation’s vibrant and passionate capital city of Bogota. Home to 10 million people, Bogota’s energy as the metropolitan heart of Colombia is in part fueled by its hundreds of eclectic dining hot-spots, fantastic wines, and increasingly frequent “foodie” festivals. Whether you visit its historic Candelaria district or go on an indulgent shopping adventure on the city’s North Side, Bogota is well worth a visit.

Medellin, Colombia

This is another Colombian city deserving of serious consideration and a good look. Though infamous 30 years back for dangerous gangs and drug activity, Medellin has been transformed: It’s now a vibrant destination for travelers seeking a culturally rich vacation.

The city’s pleasant climate has earned it the nickname of the “City of Eternal Spring,” putting pep in the step of locals and visitors alike. Meanwhile, the city’s skyline seems to grasp for the heavens, as the clean lines of modern high-rise apartment contrast sharply against a backdrop of jagged mountain peaks. This bounce is especially apparent on weekends, when Medellin lets its hair down. This is when the city’s throngs of discos attract some of the most beautiful people in all of Latin America.

Quito, Ecuador

With a historic district considered the most beautiful city in all of South America, Quito is the jewel in Ecuador’s crown. Ensconced in a long and narrow Andean valley, while skirted by the peaks of the area’s “Avenue of the Volcanos,” most travelers sense of a wave of sheer awe the moment they touch down in the Ecuadorian capital city.

Because of its remarkable colonial architecture, the city was designated the planet’s first UNESCO World Heritage City in 1978 (ahead of cities like Bruges Belgium and Venice, Italy). Strolling through its narrow, cobblestone streets is like taking a journey back in time. Only a 20-minute walk from the history “old town” is Quito’s modern “new town.” A completely different world, here you will come upon trendy cafés, international restaurants, travel agencies, cybercafés, bars, and small hotels. For travelers, its heart is the colorful Mariscal Sucre district, which definitely lives up to its nickname of gringolandia (“gringo land”), though locals also flock here in droves on the weekend.

[As an aside, keep in mind that Quito also serves as a convenient jumping-off point for traveling to the nearby Amazon rainforest as well as for taking a short flight to the country’s legendary Galapagos Islands.]

Machu Picchu

Still the uncontested Mecca of Latin America, Machu Picchu reigns supreme. In a spectacular location, it’s the best-known archaeological site on the continent. This fabled “lost city of the Incas,” is South America’s greatest attraction, one that draws ever-increasing numbers of visitors from across the globe.

The attraction of Machu Picchu (which in the Quechua language means “old mountain”) is apparent: this 550-year old citadel was constructed by the most advanced pre-Columbian society. There is still no agreed-upon explanation as to how the Incas could have moved 20-ton stones to the top of the fortress … a mystery that adds to this uniquely spiritual and beautiful site.

Rising to 7,973 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu is high; so high in the clouds that this awe-inspiring ancient city was never revealed to the conquering Spaniards. Machu Picchu is also large. The ruins are the size of a small village, and —combined with the adjoining jungle and wilderness park — its area covers more than 116 square miles. Though the Incas carefully concealed Machu Picchu, it is no longer the “Lost City.” These days, you can reach it by high-speed train or a more labored two- to four-day trek. But no matter how you get there, though, Machu Picchu will remain unequaled in its mystery and magic.

Bolivia

“Nuestra Señora de La Paz,” commonly known as La Paz, is the Bolivian capital city that’s dizzying in every respect. Located in western Bolivia at an altitude of 3,650 meters (almost two miles above sea level), its height alone is enough to induce a touch of vertigo. At the same time, its striking beauty — with the city’s buildings clinging to the sides of a canyon and spilling spectacularly downwards — is likely to leave you woozy. Overlooking all of this is the towering triple-peaked Illimani Mountain, always snow-covered and visible from many parts of the city on clear days.

Bolivia’s harsh mountain landscapes and thick Amazonian jungles impeded Spanish conquest and large-scale European immigration, which has meant that La Paz has suffered few changes. You can see this in the way indigenous peoples of the city have managed to retain many of their traditions, while villages around the capital have remained virtually untouched for centuries. The result is that many people consider La Paz the most quintessentially South American capital city. You can absorb all of this by wander at your leisure through the alleyway and lively markets, marvel at the city’s fascinating museums, chat with the locals while having lunch in a comedor, or relax over some freshly brewed coffee in a neighborhood café.

(In addition to this colorful capital city, the jaw-dropping Uyuni salt flat is just a few short hours away)

In sum, on a summer vacation to this region, you’ll find snowcapped Andes Mountains towering above you as they seem to glow in the moonlight. The Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia or Peru are well suited for everything from active travel adventures to indulgent shopping and dining in its big cities. The Andes are also perfect for more relaxed activities like city exploring, hikes, and archeological digs. All of this earns this region definite consideration when planning your 2021 summer vacation.

10 Reasons to Visit the Galapagos Islands | Surtrek Travel

10 Reasons to Visit the Galapagos Islands | Surtrek Travel

As the Galapagos Islands is the ideal place for an unforgettable vacation, this archipelago is one of the most relished destinations for many travelers worldwide. Here we present our top-10 list of reasons to enjoy these “enchanted islands,” so that you might select them as your own vacation destination in 2021.

1. Still-Pristine Islands

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most valued and important national parks in the world. (Not everyone knows this, but the archipelago is part of Ecuador, a country located in South America and on the equator. Located at 600 miles (1,000 km.) from mainland Ecuador, the Galapagos are composed of 13 islands and more than 100 islets and minor volcanic islands).

Despite being a tourist destination, the isolation of the islands has allowed them to retain their pristine state. When walking along its trails and beaches, including in the inhabited islands, you feel like you’re in a newborn world where the power and generosity of nature are manifest at every turn. This is because only 3% of the archipelago is inhabited, while 97% of the area belongs to the Galapagos National Park.

Adding to this is the fact that the archipelago is home to endemic wildlife such as iguanas, Giant tortoises, Galapagos penguins, and a variety of species of finches.

2. A Living Laboratory of Natural Wonders

The Galapagos Islands are considered a natural laboratory for several reasons. One is that — being comprised of volcanic islands of differing ages — they clearly show examples of various stages of the earth’s geological formation. Similarly, varying types of endemic flora thrive on the different islands, including plants that grow in the middle of lava fields.

However, it’s the diverse and unique wildlife of the archipelago that is the star attraction to the islands. As the animals there have adapted to different climatic environments, in the islands you can find iguanas that have become accustomed to desert climates, sea lions that frolic on the beaches, tropical fish, all kinds of birds, giant tortoises, and more. One of the most representative species is the finch, a bird that allowed Darwin to observe the adaptation strategies of this species and then develop his theory of evolution.

One advantage is that the Galapagos Islands offer visitors the opportunity to observe from up close how life on the planet has evolved. As each island has its own particular species, the Galapagos archipelago is the best place for scientists wanting to learn more about evolution and nature. The Charles Darwin Foundation, along with the Galapagos National Park and other foundations, carry out scientific activities on the islands, always under the banner of conserving nature there.

3. Endemic Birdwatching

Ecuador is a paradise for bird lovers While Ecuador covers only 1.5% of South America, it is home to more than 50% of all species inhabiting the continent. Moreover, 18% of the nearly 9,700 species of birds known in the world live in this tiny country.

In the archipelago can be found 24 endemic species that can be observed from almost an arm’s length, and when armed with a pair of binoculars, tourists can observe precious species that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world. Magnificent frigates, Blue-footed boobies, pelicans, and even penguins can be seen in the islands. Living there are more than 10 species of Galapagos finches, in addition to Flightless cormorants, albatrosses, herons, three species of boobies, terns, and more.

When touring the Galapagos Islands, you need to also look up at the trees, cactuses, and the sky, because up above you’ll certainly spot birds that you’ve never seen before.

Note: The best islands for bird watching are Espanola and Genovesa (with this latter one known as La Isla de los Pajaros, or “Bird Island”).

4. An amazing Marine Reserve

The Galapagos Islands possesses the world’s second-largest marine reserve and the first in a developing country. The Galapagos Marine Reserve, created in 1988, is a protected area located 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from mainland Ecuador, and 40 nautical miles from the baseline of the outermost islands.

The reserve covers 51,000 square miles (133,000 sq. km.), of which about 27,000 sq. miles (70,000 sq. km.) are inland waters of the archipelago. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems in the world.

By going to the Galapagos Marine Reserve, it will make you feel like you are in a huge aquarium where life unfolds in special colors and at its own pace. Diving with benign sharks, whales, manta rays, turtles, sea lions and thousands of tropical fish of various sizes and colors is an experience that will leave you speechless.

5. Unique landscapes

On the thirteen principal islands of the Ecuadorian archipelago, declared a Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978, one can find all types of unique species coexisting within stunning natural landscapes crowned by erupting volcanoes.

Imagine walking through lava tunnels formed just below the surface of the islands or under the sea. Similarly, try to picture yourself swimming in the turquoise water of caverns in which the sunlight forms mysteriously colored shapes beneath the water. Think of standing on the rim of one of the world’s largest craters or trying to figure how far away one of the closer islands really is. Here, you can marvel at the contrasts of red beaches, turquoise sea, lush green landscapes, and rich brown cliffs. Or, you can observe amazing (seemingly impossible) rock formations jutting out of the middle of the ocean. Witness the coexistence of different species in a unique environment and end your day enjoying inspiring sunsets on a sandy beach. This is a small sample of a few of the sights that will surprise you during every moment of a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

6. Incomparable Beaches

Each beach in the Galapagos Islands is amazing. On these long stretches of white sand, you’ll find everything from comically shuffling sea lions to prehistoric iguanas that are more than content to simply bask in the sun. Many beaches are oases in which you can submerge in their water as if in a giant outdoor swimming pool. In addition, while walking through these spots you’ll feel the immense power of the sea and its relaxing breezes.

Some of the beaches you just can’t miss are found in the following locations:

  • Tortuga Bay: Located in the archipelago’s southwestern of the town of Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island, you’ll discover a beautiful white-sand beach that is home to sea turtles, iguanas, pelicans, seagulls, and flamingos. Getting here is an hour’s walk from Puerto Ayora following a well-signed road that is easy to travel. For many people, this is the most beautiful Galapagos beach – one that’s perfect for swimming, surfing, and watching the sun set.
  • Gardner Bay: The beach here is known for its population of playful sea lions calmly stretching out in the sand to sunbathe. This is a great place for snorkeling and an ideal locale for admiring dive-bombing pelicans, brilliantly colored tropical fish, and sleepy Galapagos reef sharks.
  • Conway Bay: Located on Santa Cruz Island, on this bay’s Bachas Beach one can also observe colonies of sea lions as well as groups of land iguanas from close up. Though not very well known, this beach is located on the northeastern coast of Santa Cruz Island. Meaning “barge,” this beach is another good place for spotting migratory birds, sea turtles, and flamingos. Its crystal clear waters invite you in for a dip and some sunbathing.

7. Lush Island Highlands

The beaches of the Galapagos Islands are not the only magical spectacles. The highland areas of each island have their own magic. In these zones, you can find the volcanic craters of the islands, many located in volcanic depressions. On Isabela Island, for example, you walk up and peer inside the crater of the Sierra Negra Volcano, the world’s second-largest shield crater. You’ll also notice lakes like El Junco, in San Cristobal, and solidified lava tunnels in Santa Cruz. From the highlands, it’s even possible to see the nearby islands across the straits.

These are a few of the highlands that you can’t afford to miss:

  • The Highlands of San Cristobal Island: On San Cristobal Island — the location of the provincial capital of the Galapagos Islands, the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno — in the highlands you will find Lake El Junco at an altitude of 700 meters above sea level. The archipelago’s largest freshwater lake, it has a depth of six meters and a diameter of 300 meters. Located in the mountains on the south of the island, Lake El Junco is surrounded by ferns, making it great for a scenic stroll. On a clear day, the view of the lake is nothing less than spectacular. Here one can see Darwin’s finches, gulls, and boobies. Before reaching the lake, you can stop at the Galapaguera Tortoise Breeding Center, where you can come to appreciate the growth process of the famous Galapagos giant tortoises.
  • Santa Cruz Island: The highlands of Santa Cruz Island offer are a host of fascinating sights. For example, you can visit Los Gemelos (“The Twins”), two mountainous depressions surrounded by abundant scalesia-tree vegetation. Undoubtedly you’ll sight some Short-eared owls and Darwin’s finches. And near the towns of Santa Rosa and Bellavista, you will come upon solidified lava tunnels. Plus, nearby is the El Chato reserve, where you can see humongous Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat. The highest point of the island is the Croker or Puntudo Hill, rising a half-mile (860 meters) above sea level. This is where you’ll come across several species of birds and miconia forests. On a clear day in the of Santa Cruz highlands, you can even see some of the nearby islands.
  • The Highlands of Isabela Island: The largest island in the archipelago, Isabela Island has a grand total of six volcanoes. Its Sierra Negra Volcano is the highest but most accessible. From there, the more adventurous can trek for an hour to the Chico Volcano and be astounded by the petrified lava cones along the way. Inside the volcanoes themselves are their own worlds of lush vegetation and varieties of birds. Note that access is restricted to the other volcanoes on the island.

8. Year-round pleasant climate

Galapagos has great weather year-round, so these islands can be visited at any time. From December to May is the warmest season; this is when the sky is clear and the sun beams down the strongest. But, if you’re looking to scuba dive in some amazing places, the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands is between June and November. The weather might be a bit cool during these months, but this is when you can enjoy the best of the islands’ famous marine reserve.

The two seasons in the Galapagos Islands clearly mark the beginning and end of the reproduction of many species. There is a transition period between the hot season and the dry season (April to June), followed by a transition period between the dry and hot season (November to January).

These are six months of the year in which the climate of the Galapagos Islands is conducive to a mixture of natural events that occur at the same time. Some of the happenings that you can witness in these transitional seasons are:

  • Marine iguanas beginning their nest building
  • Blue-footed boobies commencing their “wedding parties”
  • Northern whales starting to migrate south
  • Sea lions marking off their territory
  • Magnificent frigates inflating their brilliantly colored throat pouches for courting
  • Currents of warm waters circulate in, ideal for snorkeling
  • Albatrosses return to the Espanola Island
  • Southern migratory birds leave for the north

But during all seasons of the year, it’s possible to tour the islands and enjoy their unique natural events.

9. Laid-back Surfing

Its well-formed waves and pleasant year-round temperatures make the Galapagos one of the best destinations for surfing. San Cristobal Island is perfect for this sport, with its Tongo Reef and Carola Point, though other islands such as Santa Cruz and Isabela aren’t far behind.

10. World-class Diving

Because of the great diversity of marine life and underwater geological formations that can be found in the marine reserve, scuba diving is one of the principal activities in the Galapagos Islands. There are even several cruise ships exclusively for diving, and on these one can go diving four to five times daily in different parts of the archipelago to discover all its richness. Likewise, for those people who want to learn to dive, courses are available on the inhabited islands.

Ecuadorian Cloud-Forest Lodges Offered by Surtrek

Ecuadorian Cloud-Forest Lodges Offered by Surtrek

This week we’re taking a look at lodges situated in and around the Ecuadorian cloud forest town of Mindo. A little over an hour from Quito, the Mindo cloud forest is filled with amazing plant and animal life – perfect for a day or even a week-long trip from the capital city. For the ornithologists in the bunch, Mindo, its surrounding cloud forest, and the local lodges make for a birdwatcher’s paradise!

1. Mashpi Lodge

Dubbed “The world’s most luxurious new jungle retreat” by Forbes Magazine, Mashpi Lodge ( just 2-1/2 hours from Quito) meets all the 5-star expectations for those traveling for comfort as well as intimate contact with nature. Situated deep in a cloud forest, yet with amenities on par with a high-end city hotel, you’ll awake with nature within arm’s reach of your floor-to-ceiling windows.

2. The Birdwatcher’s House

The Birdwatcher’s House was designed as a place to relax and enjoy the surrounding aromas of flowers as well as the sounds of birds. It’s located a few miles from the “adventure town” of Mindo, with easy access to all of the area’s birding sites. Specially designed for birders and photographers, this cloud forest inn features great views, incredible biodiversity, and 10 comfortable rooms.

3. Arasha Resort & Spa

According to several prestigious international tourism organizations, the Arasha Resort & Spa is “The finest resort in Ecuador;” and this may be for good reason, seeing how Arasha has been consecutively awarded at the London “World Travel Awards” (The “Oscar” of the travel industry). From close to a decade, Arasha was the winner in two categories, namely “Leading Resort in Ecuador” and “Leading SPA Resort in Ecuador.

4. Bellavista Lodge

Less than 1 hour and 45 minutes from the heart of Quito, or 1 hour from the “Mitad Del Mundo” equatorial monument, the Bellavista Lodge is on a private 1,700-acre (700-hectare) reserve near the famed adventure-town of Mindo. With 15 rooms with hot showers and comfortable beds in different cabins, the lodge offers an excellent network of trails and four area waterfalls.

5. Sachatamia Lodge

Sachatamia Lodge is located in a privately owned ecological reserve just over an hour and a half from Quito. Nestled in the cool cloud forest near the outdoor-adventure town of Mindo. This comfortable lodge offers a wonderful insight into the life of Mindo’s hummingbirds and is a great base for exploring the surrounding cloud forest.

6. Cabañas San Isidro

A place renowned for its bird diversity and great nature photo ops, the Cabañas San Isidro is located in the Mindo cloud forest on its own 1,900-hectare reserve. Consisting of cabins with 11 comfortable double rooms and 2 single rooms, each cabana has hot water and a small living room.

5 Must-See Day-Tour Sites & Attractions in Quito, Ecuador

5 Must-See Day-Tour Sites & Attractions in Quito, Ecuador

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, has one of the largest historic districts in Latin America. Discover its narrow stone streets, colonial homes stretching a block and a half, houses from the Republican era, steep stairs in unexpected places, beautiful Catholic churches, and squares with birds everywhere.

Quito’s historic district has an area of 926 acres (375.2 hectares) and is home to 130 buildings that are considered monuments. In many of these — which include museums, churches, monasteries and convents — there exist diverse examples of sculptural and pictorial art, especially religious works. In 1978, UNESCO declared Ecuador’s capital a “World Heritage Site,” based on the fact that Quito’s historic district is the best-preserved in all of the Americas.

Below, we have created a list of five of the most interesting places to visit on a day-tour in Quito. These are the “must-see” attractions in this most historic area of the city:

1. Basilica del Voto Nacional:

This neo-Gothic structure is the largest in Ecuador and one of the largest in Latin America. Located just within the bounds of the historic district, it reaches a height of 115 meters, while within it are 24 chapels representing the number of provinces in Ecuador.

For its majesty and style, this Catholic church — which is in the shape of a Gothic cross — has been compared with other large cathedrals in the world, including the Basilica of Notre Dame (Paris) and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (New York). Although the decree for its construction was signed in 1883, the building’s first stone was laid in 1892 by Emilio Tarlier, a French architect. The church was built in large thanks to contributions from Ecuadorians (mostly from Quito). One feature of this towering cathedral is that its famous gargoyles on the facade and exterior do not have classical motifs. Instead, these have been replaced by amphibians and reptiles of Ecuador, specifically animals from the Galapagos Islands. Visitors on a day tour in Quito can ascend to the building’s cafeteria/observation deck to appreciate striking views of the city and Andean mountains beyond.

  • Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Admission: $1 (Ecuadorian citizens), $2 (foreigners)
  • Address: Santa Prisca neighborhood, between the Carchi N122and Venezuela streets

2. Catedral Metropolitana de Quito:

Located near Quito’s main square (“Plaza de la Independencia”), in the city’s historic district, the Metropolitan Cathedral was built of stone using the communal “minga labor system” for hauling and carving of the masonry. It stands as yet another must-see attraction on a day-tour of the Ecuadorian capital city.

The building’s construction began in 1560 on land that currently borders the Carondelet Palace (seat of Government) to the west, and the Municipal Palace to the east. An eruption of the Pichincha Volcano forced the rebuilding of the temple in 1660. Then, after two separate earthquakes in 1755 and 1868, additional work was required.

The Cathedral has a longitudinal arrangement that consists of three naves supported on stone arches. Several chapels are located in its right side nave, while the central nave has a coffered ceiling paneled in cedar. Behind the main chapel is a smaller nave. Experts consider its style of construction to be Gothic-Mudejar style, especially in the form of its arches, pillars, and carved ceilings. This Catholic church is the seat of the Archdiocese of Quito and occupies all of the south side of Quito’s Independence Square.

  • Hours: Monday through Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Address: Venezuela and Espejo streets
  • Cost: $1. 50 (adults), $1 (children and elderly)

3. Church of the Compania of Jesus

Built and embellished over a span of 160 years (1605-1765) by artists of the “Quito School,” this church is one of the most important representatives of Latin American baroque architecture. Its arches, altarpieces, sculptures, altar, and even its picture frames are all covered in gold leaf.

Some people consider it the best Jesuit church in the world. Its facade is completely carved in gray volcanic stone and draws the attention of visitors not only for its beauty but by the combination of styles and expressions of syncretism that combines European and indigenous features.

The construction of this temple took 160 years. The church is now visited by about 120,000 people each year. One of the biggest attractions is the picture of hell, attributed to Hernando de la Cruz. The work, supposedly based on The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri plays with violent scenes and intense reds, assumptions punishment and the torment of sinners.

  • Hours: Monday through Friday, from 9:30 to 17:30. Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Phone: 2584175
  • Email: ficj-turismo@fundacioniglesiadelacompania.org.ec
  • Address: García Moreno and Sucre
  • Cost: Adult abroad: $4. International Student: $2. National Adult: $2. National students (6-18 years): 0.60. Children and seniors: free.

4. Church of San Francisco

No day tour in Quito is complete without visiting this site, one of the largest religious complexes in Latin America. Its size is 3, 5 hectares, including the church, the Museum of Religious Art Pedro Gocial, the Franciscan convent and the large square, one of the most popular and iconic spaces from downtown.

The temple of San Francisco was built between 1536 and 1605. It’s another sample of the Quito Art School, which combines inside the Mudejar, Mannerist and Baroque styles. Its main altar, side chapels and the pulpit, of great beauty, to attract tourists. Just at the altar, the image of the Virgin of Quito, authored by Bernardo de Legarda, one of the representatives of the call is displayed Quito School.

On one side of the church is located Cantuña Chapel, which houses a legend known to all Quito. According to this story, which is transmitted from generation to generation, an Indian named Cantuña promised to build the court within a certain period. But, seeing that it was very short and was not going to make it, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the latter and his assistants finish the work on time. However, the Indian could save his soul because the devil and his assistants were lacking placed the last stone…

Another attraction of the churches is the procession that takes place every Good Friday in the city; it is one of the largest religious public displays of the country.

  • Hours: Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 18:00
  • Address: Cuenca 477 and Sucre
  • Cost of revenue: $2.

5. Palacio de Carondelet

It is the seat of the national government and is located on the western side of the Plaza de la Independencia, also known as Plaza Grande, surrounded by the Archbishop’s Palace, the City, and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito. In colonial times, it was known as the Royal Palace in Quito, as the home of the Royal Court. According to tradition, was the liberator, Simon Bolívar, who named the building as Palacio de Carondelet.

In the staircase leading to the first floor, a painted mural by Oswaldo Guayasamín, which recreates the discovery of the Amazon River in 1542 is displayed. The first body of the building is built in stone. In the second, there is a gallery that faces the Plaza de la Independencia. Today, the President, Vice President and Ministry of Government Complex occupy Carondelet. The Government House has been open to the public since August 2007. Entry is free, with only the presentation of identification required. On your day tour in Quito, you can visit this site at the location and time below:

  • Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Mondays from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • Saturday hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 4: 00 p.m.
  • Address: N10-43 Garcia Moreno between Chile and Espejo streets
  • Admission: Free

To discover exciting experiences like these while on a day tour in Quito, we suggest that you select a knowledgeable tour operator (Surtrek, of course) who can work with you to custom design such adventures. Expert travel coordinators will help you to plan and seamlessly carry out a tour that introduces you to the real – authentic – Ecuador, in a sustainable manner that leaves the most minimal impact on this nature-rich land.”

5 Top Ecuadorian Eco-Lodges | Surtrek South American Travel

5 Top Ecuadorian Eco-Lodges | Surtrek South American Travel

The very notion of luxury travel is being re-worked. Old-fashioned, ostentatious “luxury” hotels are clearly outmoded, as today’s high-end travelers are searching for experiential adventure. They are looking to “get inside” a destination – connecting with the indigenous culture, sampling the local food, and appreciating local designs. These modern-day explorers pursue not just vacations, but life-changing experiences. We should note, though, that this search for authentic experience and adventure is inclined to be balanced with the desire for responsible and environmentally conscious travel.

For these reasons, the Latin American “eco-lodges” are increasingly attractive. A host of these jungle lodges can be found in and near the Amazonian rainforest, as this region stretches across several countries and over thousands of square miles. We’ve picked out our five best eco-lodges in the country where the Amazon is most accessible: Ecuador.

1. Mashpi Lodge: A big-city hotel in the middle of the cloud forest

Though situated in the Ecuadorian cloud forest — rather than in the lower Amazonian basin — this jewel of a property is internationally recognized as one of Latin America’s most upscale eco-lodges.

Perched at 3,116 feet (900 m) above sea level, the lodge’s grounds cover over 2,500 acres of the endangered Choco forest. Within this, an incredible 500 species of birds (36 of which are endemic) call it home. Meanwhile, monkeys, peccaries, and even puma also inhabit the reserve, as do a profusion of plant species – from ferns and bromeliads to hundreds of orchid species, many newly-discovered ones.

This is no stripped-down, sweaty jungle refuge; instead, its amenities on par with a big-city guesthouse. This boutique hotel is designed in glass that’s set within a steel framework to give guests a front-row seat to one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet.

Here, you awake with nature within arm’s reach of your floor-to-ceiling windows. The lodge itself was constructed employing the latest techniques in sustainable building, after being fashioned to sensitively blend into its natural surroundings. Here, you are not going to a rustic, accommodating a maximum of 44 visitors, Mashpi Lodge’s 22 luxurious rooms and suites each looking out on the cacophony of trees, vines, and birds just a few feet away. Indeed, each of the guest quarters features minimalist decor, mixing warm earth tones, notes of bright color, clean lines, and striking angles and vistas to form a “luxury cocoon in the cloud forest.” Dining is a gourmet affair that spotlights regional cuisine prepared with fresh local products and served in the stunning two-story dining room, while the daily cloud forest excursions are led by professional guides who can take you on fascinating treks along nature trails, dips in waterfalls, and introduce you to a completely different world on nocturnal cloud forest walks.

These facilities and the setting provide an ideal place for contemplation and relaxation for those travelers with discerning tastes.

2. Hamadryade Lodge: Grand luxury, Amazonian-style

At the Hamadryade Lodge, you’ll also find a “luxurious” quality that is increasingly scarce: time, a pause, the chance to disconnect. Only 3½ hours from the Ecuadorian capital city of Quito, this primeval world awaits deep in the Amazonian rainforest, though your stay will be in this lodge’s elegant and urbane ambiance.

Exclusive and exceedingly private, the five spacious bungalows at Hamadryade eco-lodge provide for the perfect blend of such adventure and luxury. The smart accommodations come with Italian linen, large windows that look out onto a majestic tributary of the Amazon River, and luxurious bathrooms. Indeed, the spacious showers feature natural stones for a private, soothing experience. Yet for those guests requiring deeper relaxation, there’s an on-site massage hut. Each of the bungalows forms a harmonious alliance between tradition and modern design, as their traditional toquilla roofs and interior decorations pay homage to the mysterious cultures of various Amazonian ethnic groups. Meals are prepared on-site by the eco-lodge’s French owner-managers, who are known especially for their three-course candlelight dinners in the middle of the world’s most famous jungle.

As the lodge is situated in the High Amazon, at a 1,500-foot altitude, the ecosystem here is quite different from the lower regions. All year-round, the temperature in this area averages a pleasant 75°F (24°C), while the absence of swamps means the area doesn’t suffer from the presence of annoying mosquitoes.

This undulating topography also offers the chance to enjoy pristine whitewater rivers during day trips, whether by rafting, kayaking, or “tubing.” However, the wider range of activities includes everything from hikes in the primary and secondary forest, to specialized tours (ornithology or entomology, among others), as well as visits to indigenous Kichwa and Waorani communities, and night walks to discover the nocturnal wildlife of the rainforest jungle.

3. Selva Lodge: The best of Yasuni Reserve

An eco-friendly facility whose name itself means “the jungle, the Selva Lodge is one of those destinations where one truly feels more like a true traveler rather than a simple “tourist.” This 30-year-old lodge is located near eastern Ecuador’s border with Peru in Yasuni National Park, which itself covers more than 3,600 square miles (9,820 km2) of primary rainforest.

This reserve — considered one of the most biologically diverse spots on the planet — was designated a UNESCO “Biosphere Reserve” in 1989 and lies within the claimed ancestral territory of the indigenous Huaorani community and two “uncontacted” tribes. Yet, despite its remote location, the recently renovated La Selva is now the most luxurious eco-lodge in the Yasuni.

Distributed across the lodge’s grounds in a number of structures are 18 deluxe suites built in part from local materials like bamboo and thatching. Nevertheless, the lodge’s European owner has imported a host of stylish elements, such as fine linens, smartly styled reading lights, and L’Occitane toiletries, as well as marble-tile and hardwood floors. Still, you’re more likely to spend more of your downtime out on your balcony or deck, or relaxing in a hot tub with a glass of good wine following the day’s rainforest excursion.

Yet the lavish pampering doesn’t stop there. You can get a massage at the on-site spa, or participate in one of the daily Selva Lodge yoga classes. Plus, the cuisine here also gets high marks – as does the lodge’s lounge, restaurant and bar facilities.

On top of all this, La Selva Lodge offers an observation tower that provides an eye-level view of rainforest birds and wildlife from above the rainforest canopy. Such biodiversity can also be revealed to you from the ground level during one of the naturalist-guided hikes provided at the La Selva eco-lodge. After hours of treetop observations, an excursion to local villages, a swim in the lake, and a night hike with flashlight in hand, you’ll be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the jungle – a special way to end the day.

4. Napo Wildlife Center Eco-lodge: In touch with ancestral traditions

Owned and managed by the local indigenous community itself, travelers are given an authentic introduction to life in the Amazon at the Napo Wildlife Center & Eco-lodge. The complex’s “Interpretation Centre” is one of the main attractions, as it is a place where you can learn about ancestral traditions and the way of life of the indigenous Kichwa Añangu community, the plants and wildlife of the region, surviving in the jungle, medicinal plants, and more.

Built according to traditional architectural principles — but with all the modern conveniences included — the Napo Wildlife Center Eco-Lodge consists of 16 luxury thatched bungalows, each with a private bathroom, insect screens, mosquito nets, and views of the forest and the center’s own private lake: serene Lake Añangucocha.

The lodge has a large open-air restaurant/dining area, a reading room, and a well-stocked bar, in addition to providing laundry service and Internet access (charges payable on-site). There are also two observation towers: one next to public rooms and another one in the forest. The one attached to the bar is a 15-meter-high (50-foot) viewing tower. Deep in the forest nearby, there’s also a 36.5 meter (120-foot) stainless steel canopy tower built next to a giant 47-meter high (155-foot) kapok tree with a viewing platform, allowing guests to observe the wildlife above the forest floor.

5. Sacha Lodge: A diamond in the rough

Sacha Lodge can pretty much be summed up in the expression “Roughing it in Style.” You won’t get a bath butler, a pillow menu or room service – in fact, you might even find a frog hopping into your shower; but at this 5,000-acre private reserve, you’ll be surrounded by all the amazing biodiversity that the rainforest has to offer …including eight species of monkeys, exotic birds, bats, frogs, caimans, and tapirs.

Getting there means a 25-minute flight from Quito to the provincial capital, followed by a 2½-hour ride downriver in a motorized canoe, and ending with a 20-minute walk through the rainforest. But the scenic trip is more than worth the effort.

Sacha Lodge offers its guests comfortable accommodations and hearty meals in a true jungle setting. Each of its 26 cabins is built on a boardwalk and has a view of the jungle rainforest from its terrace. Activities at Sacha Lodge include birdwatching, hiking, night walks, and nocturnal canoe trips for caimans spotting.

A lovely view over the adjacent lake can be taken in from the open-air restaurant and bar area, while Sacha’s “canopy walk” — stretching 900 feet (275 meters) and elevated 100 feet (30 meters) above the ground — provides a unique and amazing opportunity to view the tropical rainforest from a totally different perspective. Because it was built for stability, it’s even accessible to those people who are nervous about heights. The services of bilingual naturalists and native guides are also available.

To discover travel experiences like these found in the Ecuadorian Amazon, we suggest that you select a knowledgeable tour operator (Surtrek, of course) that can work with you to custom design such adventures. Expert travel coordinators will help you to plan and seamlessly carry out a tour that introduces you to the real — “authentic” — Ecuador in a sustainable manner that leaves the most minimal impact on this nature-rich region.

Five Top Sites for Diving-Cruises in the Galapagos Islands

Five Top Sites for Diving-Cruises in the Galapagos Islands

There are diving vacations… and there are diving vacations; and one of these amazing underwater adventures can be found in the legendary Galapagos Islands. In this archipelago, each diving cruise promises extraordinary sightings, making it nothing short of a “must do once-in-a-lifetime experience” – whether you’re a beginning snorkeler swimming alongside playful sea lions or an advanced diver surrounded by a squadron of manta rays. Where else can you discover massive whale sharks patrolling the deep blue while schools of hammerhead shark block out the sun?

But in addition to offering some of the world’s best diving, what makes a Galapagos diving cruise even more of an attraction is that they also give travelers a chance to come ashore and find themselves face-to-face with Giant tortoises, endemic birds and a host of other land creatures. Adventurers can literally walk in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, the great naturalist who changed the way we think about life.

If you’re interested in this bucket-list destination, here are just five Galapagos diving cruise sites that you can experience while visiting these “Enchanted Islands.”

1. Darwin Island

Named in honor of the 19th-century naturalist, this extinct volcano is situated in the northwest corner of the archipelago. Though no land visits are permitted here, around the island are diving sites like “Darwin’s Arch,” which promises amazing drift dives at an average depth of just 9 meters. Medium to strong currents are to be expected (making this site best for advanced divers), but these waters bring with them hammerheads, as well as Blacktip-, Silky- and Galapagos sharks – all in impressively large numbers! Plus, Whale sharks may also be seen between May – November.

2. Wolf Island

Together with nearby Darwin Island, Wolf Island is the focal point of any Galapagos diving cruise, and no high-quality Ecuadorian diving charter will overlook this area. Like Darwin Island, no land visits are permitted here, though birds such as Red-footed boobies and vampire finches may be spotted from your boat. Schooling pelagics are the main draw, with sightings of hammerheads, Whitetip, and Galapagos sharks common. Like with Darwin Island, whale sharks may also be seen here during the May-November diving season. Divers should also be on the lookout for Red-lipped batfish, barracudas, Moray eels, and dolphins!

3. Cousins Rock

This is one of the most photographically fruitful Galapagos diving cruise spots. So be prepared, as it is likely to provide some of the best fish and macro opportunities for your whole trip. Located about 2-1/2 hours by boat from central Santa Cruz Island’s northern dock, Cousins Rock’s wall and slope are nicely covered with black coral, small hard coral, sea fans, hydroid bushes, and red sponges.

Because of the many ledges and overhangs, mariene creatures can hide well – including giant Galapagos sea horses, Longnose hawkfish, and even frogfish. Out in the blue, you might even spot a mobula ray, mantas, Whitetip reef sharks and hammerhead sharks, or a large school of Pelican barracuda. Cousin’s Rock is also known for the large groups of spotted eagle rays that patrol these waters, in addition to the many sea lions that like to chase the schools of Salema.

4. Bartolome Island

For a beginner’s snorkeling experience, think Bartolome Island´s “Pinnacle Rock” – probably the most photographed volcanic formation in the archipelago. Though a tiny islet has a total land surface of just one half square miles (1.2 square kilometers), the area around the large dark Pinnacle Rock lava formation is great for swimming and snorkeling side-by-side with sea lions, rays, reef fish, docile Whitetip reef sharks and …penguins? Imagine …penguins living on the equator? These little birds use their wings as flippers and really look like they’re flying through the water.

5. Floreana Island

Located directly south of central Santa Cruz Island, Floreana’s “Devil’s Crown” diving site is one where you are sure to experience sea lions, turtles, and thousands of exotic tropical fish, as well as a likely barracuda, black coral, sea horses, Whitetip and Galapagos sharks, moray eels, and possible a hammerhead shark or eagle ray. During the boat trip to and from Floreana, you’ll have an excellent opportunity for dolphin watching – not to mention the local marine and birdlife, such as Blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, penguins and marine iguanas. In addition to Devil’s Crown,

Floreana Island contains numerous dive sites, all of which usually have calm water. Therefore, should the current become strong at one site, you can easily head on to another one such as Enderby Islet, Punta Ayora or Champion Islet. The easy diving and the area’s flexibility make Floreana an ideal Galapagos site for all levels of divers.

It is best to plan your diving trip carefully to enjoy a hassle-free trip of a lifetime. Doing a bit of research on your own – or working with one of Surtrek’s experienced travel coordinators – will enable you to find out what the various Galapagos diving cruise charters and programs have to offer and to plan your dives in advance. Just make your booking as far in advance as possible (as much as 12 months), to avoid any disappointment.

Choosing the Best Galapagos Islands Luxury Cruise for 2021

Choosing the Best Galapagos Islands Luxury Cruise for 2021

Choosing the right Galapagos Islands luxury cruise ship is a crucial aspect for any such trip. However, this choice itself can pose an overwhelming challenge because of the dozens of boats and tour companies offering similar services and information.

To work your way through this labyrinth — and depending on your preferences, your budget, and your preferred travel style — a number of factors have to be considered, such as the size of the vessel you require, the duration of your voyage, and when you to plan to take your island vacation. Travel to the Galapagos Islands can be an experience of a lifetime, but you and your Surtrek travel coordinator have to anticipate a lot of details to make this dream come true. The following are the main concerns you’ll want to keep in mind when deciding on your Galapagos luxury cruise.

Think of what you want from your luxury cruise

Many people have the idea that a Galapagos luxury cruise consists of lying out on the ship’s deck while drifting past scenic islands. The reality though is much richer. Tours to these islands come with itineraries that involve challenging treks and a number of excursions daily. So if you think you’re not going to walk a lot every day, you may be missing out on what a Galapagos tour is really about. Fascinating daily land and water excursions are led by trained naturalist guides, who lead small groups of no more than 16 people – which is in line with the environmentally-friendly regulations of the Galapagos National Park.

Though the various itineraries take travelers to the same islands, programs may differ according to the particular ship. Some vessels focus on the ecology or natural science of the islands, for example, while others emphasize adventure tourism by providing more opportunities for kayaking and snorkeling. Still, other ships specialize in scuba-diving oriented cruises at prime diving sites. Think about what you want to do.

What to see on each island

All Galapagos ships have fixed itineraries; therefore, your route will be defined, giving you a good idea of what’s likely to be seen. Therefore, if there are particular wildlife or geological formations you want to see, then you’ll need to select an itinerary that will take you to the island where these can be seen. This will mean doing a little research or asking your Surtrek tour operator for the details for each island and their visitor sites. “Blue-footed boobies are seen all over the islands, but migratory waved albatrosses – for example – have only one or two breeding colonies in the islands,” as one expert has pointed out.

Galapagos travel seasons

Though the Galapagos Islands are a year-round destination, certain times of the year are even better for traveling to the islands than others.

In terms of weather, if you prefer the warm season, this extends from December through April, at which time you’ll experience hot sunny days, sporadic rains and calm seas. During this season, average temperatures range from the 70s to the upper 80s with water temperatures in the mid-70s. The cooler season extends from May to December, when you’ll have comfortable hiking weather and little rain. Also, try to avoid holiday seasons and school breaks, as prices increase and cabin availability decreases.

If you are one of those people who are particularly interested in wildlife, you’ll want to time your vacation to correspond with the breeding and migratory patterns of some of the Galapagos Islands’ residents. Whales, penguins and the hundreds of other species breed and/or nest at different times of the year in the Galapagos.

Make your reservation well in advance

For environmental reasons, the Galapagos Park authorities limit the sizes of the vessels sailing through the islands, which means these ships are small and fill up fast. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a Galapagos luxury cruise vessel to be sold out six of nine months in advance – particularly for holiday periods like Christmas and New Year’s. This means that if you have a specific vacation date in mind for your trip, you’ll have to book your trip well in advance to ensure the availability of the ship for your cruise.

How long is your trip?

Related to when you book your trip, you’ll need to consider how long your Galapagos luxury cruise vacation will be. Be aware that there are 3-, 4-, 7-, 10- and even 14-night cruising options available – with the 7-night/8-day) cruise being the most popular. A 3-night cruise will give you only a taste of the Galapagos Islands, while a 4-night cruise will at least allow you to see the main highlights of the islands without feeling rushed.  Remember, the longer the length of cruise, the more islands you’ll be able to visit. The longest cruises explore the outer islands, which are more remote and offer some of the best scuba diving in the archipelago.

Choosing your ship

Once you’ve decided on when to travel and what you want to do (your program), you’ll need to select the ship size appropriate to your needs – whether a small Galapagos luxury cruise yacht, a relatively large cruise ship, or anything in between. (Note: Because of the national park’s environmentally sensitive restrictions, you won’t find any mega floating hotels here).

The smaller Galapagos luxury cruise vessels consist of yachts and sailboats carrying 12- 32 guests. These offer the most active and intimate experiences with the most time ashore, as they can visit a wide range of landing sites with no restrictions brought about by vessel size. On the downside, these tend to have smaller cabins, bathrooms, dining room and deck space, and there aren’t as many places for relishing a private moment on deck. Nonetheless, travelers aboard small yachts and sailboats are more likely to bond with their fellow passengers and crew.

A next step up in terms of size are the mid-sized Galapagos luxury cruise ships, which carry 40-60 passengers. Offering the efficiency and intimacy of a small yacht, at the same time these vessels possess the space and amenities typically found on larger Galapagos ships (i.e. spacious bathrooms and ample deck space, as well as delicious cuisine, a high crew-to-passenger ratio and excellent guides). With multiple decks, you can always find a moment to watch the sunset and enjoy the solitude. Also, as these vessels tend to be more powerful, they can cover greater distances over a given time, making them very versatile with respect to the destinations you can visit within a week’s itinerary.

A third option is the larger Galapagos luxury cruise ships, carrying 80-100 passengers. These relatively large vessels have the advantage of more facilities, with a choice of restaurants and bars, fitness, beauty and massage centers, and even medical centers. Usually these ships have multiple decks and salons where you can mingle with other guests or find space for yourself. These vessels are the most stable and appeal to travelers concerned about seasickness. They are also very appealing for families with small children, in that some offer adjoining cabins as well as their additional space.

Select the best cabin experience

Don’t be so quick to accept any cabin that you’re assigned. Ask about your cabin’s location. Will it be on the top deck or the bottom? Those with sensitive stomachs should consider lower decks if they’re worried about rocking and becoming seasick.

Also, look for cabins with large-view windows or even balconies rather than being limited to small “porthole” windows. And you’ll likely want a view of the sea instead of an interior view of a passageway.

Creature comforts

Though larger Galapagos luxury cruise ships typically offer more creature comforts than smaller ships, don’t think that smaller ships are necessarily more rudimentary. You’ll find several luxury yachts with a full complement of amenities, as well as larger cruise ships with more basic amenity packages. Try to match your essential amenities with the ships that provide these.

Don´t forget to ask about the food

You won’t have too many chances to slip off to a local restaurant while on a Galapagos luxury cruise, which means you’ll have no choice but to eat the food available on your ship. Typically, though, breakfasts consist of fresh fruit and juices, lunches usually have salad options, and dinners often feature some fresh catches. To help make sure that your meals meet your expectations, go online to find ship reviews to get a feel for each’s overall dining experience.

Your guide is vital

The Galapagos is the place for learning about this unique living laboratory. Because of this, a knowledgeable, interesting, and personable guide is vitally important. The capability and character your Galapagos guide will therefore impact greatly on your overall travel experience.

The Galapagos National Park trains and strictly regulates guides in the islands, with all ships required to have one or more on board. Each of these guides is rated from level 1 to 5 according to their experience. Nonetheless, a guide’s personality can be just as important to their knowledge level. Again, you may want to read several online reviews from past passengers to learn about their experiences with guides on particular ships.

While you are in Ecuador…

Since you’ll have to travel to mainland Ecuador to then fly to the Galapagos Islands, why not consider spending some quality time on the Ecuadorian mainland, either in the Andean highlands, the nearby Amazon Rainforest, or even Machu Picchu in neighboring Peru? These and several other amazing South American highlights are just a short flight away from the Galapagos Islands and your Galapagos luxury cruise.

Start planning your Galapagos trip

These basic tips will go far in helping you select a memorable Galapagos luxury cruise without blowing your budget. Of course, it can still be difficult trying to choose a Galapagos cruise that will be perfect for you and your family.

Specialized Surtrek travel coordinators will be more than happy to help guide you in making your selection. Just give them a call to start planning your Galapagos Islands cruise and they’ll work with you to take care of all the details.