I was so, so excited when Chimu Adventures asked me to join them on a famil to the Galapagos, it was hard to focus on exploring the other incredible parts of Ecuador. However I discovered, on a small scale, there is so much more to Ecuador then just the Galapagos.
If you want to do the Galapagos well, you should organise a cruise, there are lots to choose from, oh and if it is important to you which animals you see, it is imperative to do your research as all the islands have different inhabitants, and the cruises on offer don’t all go to the same islands.
We stayed 3 nights at Galapagos Safari Camp located on the island of Santa Cruz. It is an African style safari camp with private facilities and beautiful tents that are actually made in Australia. All meals are included and we experienced some beautiful home cooking made with homegrown vegetables and local, in season produce.
Santa Cruz is home to the giant tortoises, as soon as we arrived went to a tortoise reserve, it was amazing to spot them all along the way, lots of them, and despite what it looks like, no they were not rocks!!
The day trips were great from the Galapagos Safari Camp, we visited the local fish market, where a couple of days a week local fishermen sell their catch. It was also very entertaining to see the pelicans hang out and watch the fishermen clean the fish, they enjoyed a really good meal as they waited patiently for the scraps from the cleaning process! Meanwhile, for those of us that weren’t waiting for scraps….the beautiful red tuna was amazing.
In the afternoon we walked through an area with heaps of cacti and Manzanillo trees to Garrapatero Beach where we did a couple of hours of kayaking. We were lucky enough to see lots of sea turtles and crabs baking in the sun; marine iguanas; sealions and sting rays. It really was incredible.
The following day was a full day on a small ship to Bartolome Islands where we hiked to the highest point of the island through ancient red, green, orange and black lava fields. Amazing views. Amazing rock formations.
Then it was time to snorkel. We were all given wet suits from Galapagos Safari Camp, and were totally surprised how good they were with guessing our size! The snorkeling was great, we saw lots of beautiful fish and some of our group saw a reef shark.
The next destination for us was two nights at Hacienda Zuleta, a colonial working farm that is only a couple of hours drive from Quito and very easy to get to.
The Hacienda dates back to late 17th century, lies in the spectacular Andean Mountain Range and has been named one of the best hotels in Ecuador by National Geographic Traveller. It has been run by the family of the former Ecuadorian president Galo Plaza Lasso for over one hundred years.
As this is a family run hotel, there are many members of the family that host its visitors. We had the pleasure of meeting Fernando who shared all his plans for the property and what they had already put into place. There is always family member around the property to chat whether at dinner or the breakfast table, or even before dinner in one of the beautiful rooms with the fire roaring taking part in some really beautiful cheeses that have been made on the farm.
Hacienda Zuleta offers a wide range of activities; from horse riding to hiking to mountain biking, and you really wouldn’t want to miss a visit to the Andean Condor Rehabilitation Project. What a fabulous experience and I could have easily spend another couple of days at the Hacienda just hiking and relaxing. They did manage to get me on a horse, which was quite funny, but horseback is a wonderful way of going through the beautiful Andean countryside.
On the way to Quito, we stopped at the colourful and famous Otavalo Market, where you can pick up lovely and colourful gifts, I also had a very quick morning walk through Quito to get a taste and entice me to come back and explore some more.
Before going back to Australia, we spent two nights in Santiago and stayed at the most beautiful hotel called The Singular Hotel. The rooms here are very spacious it offered a great breakfast area and the best roof top bar and dining area. The Singular is located in Lastarria which is a cultural, historic and artistic suburb that has amazing street stalls and music.
If you stay a couple of nights in Santiago you have to do a day tour to Valparaiso with a stop at a winery. We stopped at Emiliana Vineyards which is an organic, biodynamic and sustanable vineyard, that uses a menagarie of animals to encourage the development of each of the species within each of thier vinyards. The vinyard has a wonderful community garden and really cares for their employees – and they have wonderful wine that is exported overseas.
Our next stop was Valparaiso, beautiful Valparaiso. The archetecture of this World Heritage City is filled with narrow streets, staircases and wonderfully coloured houses, some of which have been converted to beautiful hotels. We walked around admiring the brilliant graffiti, great galleries, restaurants and local breweries.
All in all it is a great cultural place with a lot of atmosphere.