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Unforgettable Quito add-on: Mindo cloud forest retreat

Unforgettable Quito add-on: Mindo cloud forest retreat

Teeming with orchids, hummingbirds, tanagers, toucans and butterflies, a few days in a Mindo cloud forest lodge is a wonderful addition to any Galapagos itinerary. The Mindo cloud forest is two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Quito, on the outer slopes of the western Andes. It's located at a very pleasant altitude of around 4,200ft (compared to 9,200ft in Quito). The drive there is really scenic, along winding roads with great forest views. The cloud forest itself is an enchanting world of tumbling waterfalls, crystalline rivers, endemic orchids, colorful hummingbirds and thick, verdant forests packed full of wildlife. The lodges Mashpi Lodge is a 5-star establishment with gorgeous rooms, fine dining and professional service. That being said, it’s also a very eco-friendly lodge and is located in an extremely pristine section of forest which is home to a staggering 500 species of birds. Check out this video of their incredible ‘Dragon Fly’ cable car through the canopy. Run by Tom …
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Things to do in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

Things to do in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

Most first-time visitors to the wildlife wonder that is the Galapagos are surprised that it's got a bona fide town, with shops and restaurants and schools. Read on to find out more about Puerto Ayora's main attractions. Catch a pelican in the act at the fish market There's a real buzz at the market when the fishing boats come in at the end of the day. Watch as the fishermen unload their catch, the locals pick out their dinner, and the sea lions and pelicans try to steal scraps. After hours the market transforms itself into an open air plate. For a modest fee you can enjoy a seafood feast at a shared table with local patrons. Photo credit: John Haxby Hobnob with the iguanas at Tortuga Bay This vast, white sandy beach is reached via a 20 minute walk from Puerto Ayora. It's open from 6am to 6pm Access is controlled by the Galapagos Park Service. The bay actually incorporates several distinct beaches. There's a surfing beach (beware the currents), a swimming beach (watch out for the …
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What to do on your Guayaquil stopover

What to do on your Guayaquil stopover

Many Galapagos itineraries include a stopover in Guayaquil, the so-called Pearl of the Pacific. Follow these tips to make the most out of your time in Ecuador's largest city.  Visit the Parque de las Iguanas Although it's officially called Parque Seminario, this small plaza is known as the Iguana Park to locals and tourists alike. And with good reason. While most parks around the world have to make do with pigeons, ducks or squirrels, this place is a little different. A large breeding population of land iguanas has called the park home for as long as anyone can remember. The iguanas sit on benches, eat bread and fruit from the hands of visitors and occasionally even rest on the park's benches. South America is a continent full of surprises, but even seasoned lovers of LatAm will find this a pretty surreal experience... Photo credit Windell Oskay Take a stroll on the Malecón 2000 The Malecón 2000 is the pedestrianized section of the Malecón Simón Bolívar – the road which skirts the …
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Video: Discover the Galapagos' underwater secrets

Video: Discover the Galapagos' underwater secrets

Charles Darwin based his Theory Of Evolution on the terrestrial observations he made in the Galapagos. This gorgeous underwater film details what he would have seen if he'd been able to witness the islands' underwater wonders. The film features incredible footage of hammerhead sharks, marine iguanas and countless birds, fish and other sea creatures, so watch and enjoy... If you're the bookish type why not read about Darwin's finches, the unlikely poster girls (and boys!) of the Theory of Evolution. If you want to see this watery wonderland for yourself you'll be glad to know that our Galapagos island hopping itinerary includes two different snorkeling excursions. If you're a seasoned SCUBA pro check out this article to find out more about the Best SCUBA sites in South America...including a few in the Galaps, of course. Full credit to filmmaker Dustin Adamson for allowing us to post Darwin's Dream on our blog.
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5 must-sees in Quito’s gorgeous Old Town

5 must-sees in Quito’s gorgeous Old Town

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is so much more than a Galapagos stopover. The city’s historic center was the first place on the planet to be conferred with UNESCO World Heritage status and it’s the biggest and best-preserved example of Spanish colonial architecture anywhere in the Americas. Quito’s Old Town is so jampacked with incredible experiences, that it can be hard to choose which ones to visit. We’ve done the legwork for you and handpicked 5 of the very best. Plaza Grande Although it’s formally known as Plaza de la Independencia, locals refer to Quito’s main plaza as Plaza Grande. The plaza is flanked by some of the city’s most historical and imposing buildings including the cathedral, the Palacio de Carondolet (the president’s palace and seat of government) and the Palacio Arzobispal. The heart of the Old Town (Photo Diego Delso) Although the cathedral isn’t the most ornate church in town, it does have an excellent collection of art from the Escuela Quiteña or Quito School. …
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Gallery: Hummingbird heaven in Ecuador

Gallery: Hummingbird heaven in Ecuador

If you're thinking "But I can see hummingbirds back home", think again! Ecuador is home to an incredible 132 species of hummingbird - more than any other country in the world - and these spectacular birds are reason enough to visit the country. Hummingbirds beat their wings faster than any other bird, and they're the only birds in the world that can actually fly backwards. They're also incredibly beautiful and display an incredible diversity of shapes, sizes, colors and adaptations. All of the photos in this gallery were taken at specialist bird lodges in the Ecuadorian cloud forests, which also happen to be lovely places to stay. If this seems like the perfect add-on to your Galapagos adventure, our destination experts will gladly make it happen. Thanks to Andy Morffew and Lip Kee for the use of their images. [gallery ids="8397,8398,8399,8400,8401,8402,8403,8404,8405,8406"]
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Why Panama hats come from Ecuador (plus a $3 million hat!)

Why Panama hats come from Ecuador (plus a $3 million hat!)

Ever since the 1830s these hand-woven South American hats have oozed tropical style, with the finest examples being worn by great statesman like Churchill, Roosevelt and Napoleon. Not to mention Charlie Sheen and Bill Cosby. But, in a weird twist of fate, not a single Panama hat in the history of Panama hats originates from Panama. All Panama hats are made in Ecuador – either in the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca or in a handful of small villages in the vicinity of Montecristi. Imitations are made in Mexico, Japan and Taiwan but all real Panama hats hail from Ecuador. What’s in a name? An advert from 1919. The reason for this misunderstanding is simple: the hats were named after the place where they were sold instead of their place of manufacture. In the 1830s an ambitious Spanish businessman by the name of Manuel Alfaro set up shop in Ecuador. Ecuador had loads of things worth selling (hats, pearls, cacao) but not many customers. So, wily Manuel moved his merch to somewhere …
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B is for Banana (& Banana Republic)

B is for Banana (& Banana Republic)

There was a time when bananas were an unknown and exotic fruit that Westerners got very excited about. Nowadays, the banana is the world’s most popular fruit and it has established a healthy lead over the far more traditional apple and orange. But how did this ‘small town boy’ from the tropics of South and Central America make it to the big time? A fruit market in Cuenca, Ecuador. (Picture: Dan Nevill) If you travel in the Amazonas regions you’ll see a wide of variety of different bananas (big ones, small ones; green ones, red ones) but all of these weird cultivars belong to one of two species. Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. The first of these refers to the soft bananas which we are accustomed to eating, while the second describes plantains – harder, larger bananas which cannot (usually) be eaten raw. You’ll almost certainly be served plantain in some form while you’re in South America, where it used as an alternative source of starch. I’m particularly fond of the deep fried …
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El Ultimo Hielero: The year's most inspiring online video

El Ultimo Hielero: The year's most inspiring online video

El Ultimo Hielero ('The Last Ice Merchant') shines a light on a dying profession on Ecuador's Chimborazo which is being upheld by a lone 67-year-old man: Baltazar Ushca. If Baltazar's story doesn't touch a nerve and move you to visit the enigmatic Ecuadorian highlands, then nothing will. I could expound at length about what it meant to me, but I wont. The film's impact is too personal for that. Watch and enjoy. (If it takes a while to load, just turn HD off - the picture quality is still excellent). Full credit to film-maker Sandy Patch. http://thelasticemerchant.com/
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11 things you probably didn’t know about Ecuador

11 things you probably didn’t know about Ecuador

Ecuador is best known for the staggering Galapagos, the ‘home of evolution’. Although these islands are without doubt utterly incredible, there’s a whole lot more to this Andean nation than an archipelago 620 miles from the mainland. Here are a few of the most astonishing facts... The volcanic crater lake at Quilotoa (Picture: Warren Talbot) Ecuador is the most biodiverse nation in the world, boasting more species per square mile than any other country. Ecuador has 1,600 bird species (15% of the global total) in the continental area and 38 more endemic species in the Galápagos. In addition to over 16,000 species of plants, the country has 106 endemic reptiles, 138 endemic amphibians, and 6,000 species of butterfly. Ecuador supplies more than 95 percent of the world’s balsa; the extremely buoyant wood used in architectural models, fishing crankbaits, and model airplanes. In recent years, about 60 percent of the balsa has been plantation grown in densely-packed patches of around 1 …
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Ecuador's enchanting high-altitude haciendas

Ecuador's enchanting high-altitude haciendas

The rich volcanic soils of the sierra surrounding Ecuador's capital, Quito, are home to some gorgeous haciendas which date back to colonial times. Built by rich families on land granted to them by the Spanish crown, these haciendas date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of them are still owned by the families who built them, who - no longer able to rely on the serfdom of the local peasants - have converted their homesteads into country hotels. Hacienda Zuleta, 70 miles North of Quito is currently owned by a family that has produced two Ecuadorian presidents, but it is still very much a working farm – albeit in a private valley at 9,000ft above sea level! Zuleta is paradise for horse-lovers (it has a stable of excellent horses and knowledgeable local guides who are only too happy to show guests the lay of the land) but it is also an amazing place to sleep, eat and be entertained by the current generation. Nearby Hacienda Cusin and its accompanying monastery have been …
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La yapa – Get a little extra in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador

La yapa – Get a little extra in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador

If you’re visiting any one of the Andean countries make sure you visit a local market. I’m not talking about famous, touristy markets like the Pisac market in Peru or the Mercado de las Brujas in La Paz (although these are both fascinating) but rather about the honest-to-goodness hives of activity which are at the heart of every Andean town. In these towns there are no supermarkets and very few conventional stores: it all happens in the market. If you’re in a small village the market may only sell food and a bit of clothing, but in bigger towns and cities you can buy absolutely anything. All markets are divided into sections, though, and I’d advise starting with fruit and veg (Meat is a bit gnarly and livestock can be difficult to take home!). Picture: Rinaldo Wurglitsch Even if you don’t really need anything, the feast of colors on display will make you hungry. Marvel at the hundreds (literally) different types of potato on display and have fun trying to guess what some of the …
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