10 chartered vacation retreats in Ecuador and its Galapagos Islands
Here, in the pint-sized South American nation of Ecuador, the massive re-opening of some of the most amazing — yet safe — nature vacations has begun. Whether in the stunning Galapagos Islands, deep in the Amazon, along the dazzling Pacific coast, or high in the Andes, a whole range of accommodations can be chartered for families and groups of friends for the upcoming post-pandemic times.
1. Discover the secrets of the cloud forest at Mashpi Lodge
A jewel of a property, Mashpi is internationally recognized as one of Latin America’s most upscale eco-lodges. With a somewhat different twist, this close-to-nature retreat is situated in the middle of the Ecuadorian cloud forest, rather than the Amazonian rainforest.
Two-and-a-half hours from Quito, Mashpi Lodge is a wondrous, modern escape in the heart of magical woodlands. 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.
From the lodge, 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. The setting provides an ideal place for contemplation and relaxation for those travelers with discerning tastes. Still, this is no stripped-down, sweaty jungle refuge. Instead, with amenities on par with a big-city guesthouse, this boutique hotel is designed in glass 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. Each of the 22 guest quarters feature 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.”
2. Experience the Andean Highlands at Hacienda Zuleta
The grasslands of the Ecuadorian high sierra once attracted land-loving colonial Spaniards, who built large haciendas in order to manage their sprawling ranches and farms.
Because of changes in regulations governing land ownership, few of these haciendas remain today; but many of those that do are open to the public for day tours and overnight stays. One of the most revered hacienda-hotels in Ecuador is the prestigious ranch that was once owned by President Galo Plazo Lasso. Since then it has become an award-winning, family-friendly boutique hotel blessed with soul-stirring views across its 5,200-acre estate.
A destination in itself, once here, you’ll find the décor is simple yet sophisticated, allowing the 350-year-old building to shine with guestrooms having a wonderful homely feel. Being a working farm, you can be sure of dining on the freshest ingredients, with mouth-watering Ecuadorian cuisine being the order of the day. As dusk settles gather around the bonfire in the courtyard for music and storytelling, with a blanket of stars twinkling above!
3. Venture deep into the Amazon at Napo Wildlife Center eco-lodge
Located in Ecuador’s eastern Amazon Rainforest region, the Napo Wildlife Centre is situated within Yasuni National Park, itself one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Though the park spreads over more than 9,800 sq. km., within just two acres of Yasuni, the range of living organisms is greater than in all of Europe combined. This protected stretch of primary rainforest houses over 600 different tree varieties, 4,000 native plant species (so far discovered), more than 120 reptile, 150 amphibian, 600 bird, and 200 mammal species. Among this mind-boggling array of creatures are Spider monkeys, jaguars, toucans, Giant armadillos, macaws, and caimans, which you can spot on a wildlife-watching safari through the jungle.
Owned and managed by the local indigenous community itself, the Napo Wildlife Center & Eco-lodge gives travelers an authentic introduction to life in the Amazon. 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 Kichwa Añangu community, as well as the plants and wildlife of the region, jungle survival, 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 (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: a 15-meter-high (50-foot) viewing tower and a 36.5 meter (120-foot) stainless steel canopy tower, both allowing guests to observe the wildlife above the forest floor.
4. Experience ancient Inca culture at Hacienda San Agustin de Callo
Located on its very own hacienda (country estate) in the Ecuadorian highlands, and built on the actual site of an Inca temple, San Augustin de Callo is steeped in history. Where else can a traveler dine within still-standing Inca walls, complete with the niches that held statues of their ancestral gods? Indeed, it is the furthest point north of Cusco (Peru) that features “Imperial Style” Inca construction.
With some of the most scenic horse rides imaginable, San Agustin lies in the shadow of almighty Cotopaxi Volcano, the centerpiece of Cotopaxi National Park, which is deservedly Ecuador’s most-visited mainland national park.
The hacienda’s main building (the “Inca House”) consists of the dining room and the lounge that looks out onto a beautifully tended garden; the rooms are located either around the courtyard or in separate lodges close by. Plus, there’s a lovely small chapel where weddings are held. There’s even a house on the grounds that can be rented to families.
Each of the 10 rooms and suites is individually decorated with murals and all have fireplaces. On a clear day here, it seems as if you could stretch out and touch Cotopaxi Volcano — it looks so close.
5. Experience the adrenaline-filled “Devil’s Nose” train journey at Hacienda Abraspungo (Riobamba, Ecuador)
For thrill-seekers especially, a highlight of your stay in mainland Ecuador could easily be experiencing one of the most adrenaline-filled train journeys in the world. On a 13 km leg of the route known as the Nariz del Diablo (the “Devil’s Nose,” named for the shape of this wickedly challenging rock face), the train climbs a mountain by going forwards then backwards along hair-raising switchbacks.
The train leaves from the highland city of Riobamba, where just outside is located the picturesque Hacienda Abraspungo, an ideal base from which to explore the strikingly beautiful Andean region. Effortlessly fusing quintessential Andean rural living with all the fine trimmings of a deluxe hotel, Hacienda Abraspungo brings classy Ecuadorian living to the “Avenue of Volcanoes.”
Guestrooms are rustic-chic affairs with a natural color palette complementing the wooden furnishings and exposed rafters. Then, in the restaurant, you can look forward to reimagined regional favorites, with fresh produce sourced as locally as possible, all to be enjoyed in charming surroundings thanks to the antiques and other artifacts of interest dotted throughout.
6. Hacienda La Danesa: The ultimate getaway on the Ecuadorian coast
Far more than merely a gateway to the Galapagos Islands, the city of Guayaquil is a characterful coastal center in its own right. The largest of Ecuador’s city-ports, it has been dubbed the “Pearl of the Pacific.” Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil has a rich collection of museums, fantastic restaurants, and great nightlife, enough to rival any Latin American metropolis. Getting away from town, the wider Guayaquil region is perfect for relaxed horseback rides, secluded beach trips, hacienda stays, and visits working cocoa and banana plantations, giving you and your loved ones the chance to unwind after a few busy days in the city!
Only an hour’s drive from Guayaquil, Hacienda La Danesa is a traditional dairy and cacao farm with a rich history that dates back more than 145-years. Situated on a 500-hectare (1,200 acres) estate, this family-owned and managed hacienda provides a unique range of activities for guests during their one-day or multiple-day stays. These “local experiences,” day trips, and train rides include horseback riding, river tubing, bicycling, hands-on chocolate making, cow milking. In addition, bio-secure trips are organized to scenic mangroves and ancient Inca ruins, while contacts with nature can be experienced in cloud forests, awe-inspiring national parks, and at a water buffalo ranch.
For its multi-day “resident guests,” accommodations at the hacienda consist of Heritage Bedrooms within the historic charming farmhouse, luxurious Restored Stables Rooms, and a Garden Cottage. All guest quarters are provided with private bathrooms and neutral linens complemented by teak furniture crafted by local artisans.
7. Revel in the equatorial coast at Las Tanusas Boutique Resort & Villas
Once known as the “Route of the Sun,” the 400-mile-long shore that defines Ecuador’s Pacific coastline offers pristine beaches and a relaxed pace of life. In seaside communities, canoes are pulled through the waves in the morning to unload the day’s catch, while hammocks are hung between palm trees for afternoon naps in the sultry weather as life moves to a slower rhythm.
Far from the tourist areas of the Ecuador coasts, you can discover the Tanusas Hotel. There, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, colorful thatched cottages emerge from among lush trees and palm trees. An oasis in the middle of nowhere, since there are no other hotels or resorts around: it’s the only one with miles of beaches around. Its privileged location (without tourists occupying every square meter of sea) is just one of its qualities.
More than a luxury resort, its six rooms and six villas or cabins-nestled in an almost virgin tropical forest, seek to be a place of encounter (or reencounter) with nature. The choice of land is not in vain: it is surrounded by seven ecosystems, typical of the Ecuadorian coasts. All within the visitor’s reach. The same one day it is possible to take a meditative walk in the primary jungle, and the other to embark out to sea to see humpback whales (only available from June to October). In addition, there are horseback rides on the beach, visits to the surrounding protected parks, walks to observe birds and outdoor massages in natural sites.
The only sound that can be heard comes from the fauna of the place, from the breaking of the waves, or from the palm trees dancing to the sound of the wind. The environment is magical and complete, nothing is needed in a place as well planned as this, where the perfect combination of beauty and functionality is evident in every way.
8. Discover the Galapagos Islands at Finch Bay Hotel
Probably the most famous wildlife-watching destination in the world, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are near the top of most experienced travelers’ “bucket lists.” This archipelago provides travelers the opportunity to observe — without the aid of binoculars — the inimitable and often unusual characteristics and behavior of island bird-, reptile-, mammal- and fish-species found nowhere else in the world. And while enjoying this abundance of wildlife at every turn, it’s also a land of stark lava formations, cactus forests, imposing towers of solid rock, turquoise bays and vast expanses of white, red and green sand.
Named after the abundant finches discovered in the area by Charles Darwin, the charming Finch Bay Hotel is in a class by itself, in part because it’s the only one on Santa Cruz Island with the beach right out its front door. As well as having the beach just steps away, the hotel is situated in a secluded location between mangroves. Here guests can take pleasure in the privacy, a swimming pool, the natural surroundings, and the superb service provided at the Finch Bay Hotel.
Located on Santa Cruz Island, Finch Bay Hotel is across the bay from the most populous town in the archipelago: Puerto Ayora, whose several restaurants, shops and galleries make it especially vibrant and lively. Notwithstanding, the hotel itself enjoys a peaceful roadless location, with only pedestrians and bicycles allowed – perfect for the ideal Galapagos disconnect. The hotel itself can only be reached by water taxi or a short 6-minute walk along unpaved paths to its entrance. As some have said: “Its remoteness makes the place feel exclusive.”
The Finch Bay Hotel has six (6) Suites and twenty-one (21) Premium Rooms. The Finch Bay Premium Rooms are recommended for single travelers while the Finch Bay Suites are recommended for couples. In addition to the Finch Bay Hotel’s alluring beachfront access, other amenities include a pool and a Jacuzzi, a restaurant, a lounge/bar and a barbecue area. In the restaurant, delicious healthy international and Galapagos-inspired menus are prepared daily by the hotel’s chef, using the freshest ingredients. Rates include a buffet breakfast. Two (2) private yachts are available for tours, while on-site activities include snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and biking. Day tour and scuba packages are also available.
9. Walk in Darwin’s footsteps at Iguana Crossing Boutique Hotel
A sprinkling of dots in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and straddling the equatorial line, Ecuador’s Galapagos archipelago is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. It is made up of 13 principal islands and six smaller islands, as well as 100 additional islets and tiny rock formations that stick their heads just high enough above the ocean’s waters to support the obstinate lives that cling to them.
Located on one of the beaches of Isabela Island, near the beachfront town of Puerto Villamil, the Iguana Crossing Boutique Hotel owes its name to one of the iconic creatures of the Galapagos Islands: The endemic Marine Iguana. Virtually surrounded by the Galapagos National Park, the Iguana Crossing is nestled in an idyllic setting where more than 60 percent of the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands can be found. What’s more, on Isabela you can discover six volcanoes – five of them active.
The restaurant offers a variety of regional food. The menu includes national delicacies such as shrimp ceviche, fish ceviche, and the “sancocho,” a traditional Ecuadorian soup made with fish and cassava. The pool, an ample seating area, a hot tub on the terrace, and a massage service make this the perfect choice if you prefer to rest or relax.
The Iguana Crossing has 13 rooms, 10 of which have ocean views and three (3) overlook a volcano. In addition, there are junior suites and the master suite. All are provided with services and details that ensure comfort and convenience to guests in this wonderful natural setting.
10. Find Paradise at Golden Bay Hotel & Spa
The architects who designed the Golden Bay Hotel & Spa conceived the building as harmonizing with the surrounding nature of the Galapagos Islands, as it combines modernity with a fantastic natural environment to enhance the beauty of the bay, the port, and the green hills of San Cristobal Island.
In a beautiful building, the 21-room hotel combines comfort with environmental requirements. It is located in a privileged location with spectacular views over the bay of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the administrative capital of the Galapagos, situated on the northeast end of San Cristobal Island. A five-minute walk will take you into the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, with all its touristic activities, while the airport is only 10 minutes away. In addition, the hotel has direct access to the Playa de Oro beach, where you can observe sea birds, iguanas and playful sea lions up close. San Cristobal has one of the five largest beaches in the archipelago. Possessing stunning landscapes and varied wildlife, it is also one of the oldest islands in terms of both its geology and its human settlements (dating back to the second half of the nineteenth century).
The Golden Bay Hotel & Spa offers a range of services, both inside and in the outdoor areas, which make a stay here a comfortable and pleasant experience. Just a few of the hotel’s services include a restaurant that blends traditional and international cuisine, a snack bar with a panoramic terrace, a swimming pool built into a fantastic garden with local species of plants, a supervised children’s area, a panoramic terrace, and a spa with the most sophisticated treatments.
Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator. Surtrek Tour Operator is a well-established firm, specializing in custom-designed luxury tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and throughout the rest of South America.
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