African Safari Co.’s President recently ventured to the Galapagos and then onto the Amazon in search of the best lodges and experiences for your next excursion! Read his trip report to find out more.
Arriving at the new Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito passport control was quick and easy. Our hotel, the Patio Andaluz, in the historic old town was clean, comfortable and well situated to explore the narrow cobble stone streets. The following morning, we joined some other travelers on the shuttle van heading to the cloud forest retreat of Mashpi. This very modern lodge is only accessible by a 3 1/2-hour road trip. The lodge offers various outdoor activities including guided walks and hikes through the forest trails, two very different experiences above the forest canopy, a visit to the humming bird garden and a visit to the Life Center. Adjacent to the lodges is a small research center where we were very impressed by the moth research being conducted. I highly recommend this experience as an add on to a Galapagos cruise, but allow for at least two or three nights in order to enjoy all the activities. The lodge is a member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.
The following day, after our morning gondola ride through the canopy, we were transferred back to Quito where we spent the night at the Polo Club. The Polo Club is not just a name, but an actual working polo facility with polo fields, ponies, excellent accommodation and wonderful cuisine. Our 4:30AM transfer had us back at the airport in good time to check in for the flight to Balta to begin our Galapagos Islands adventure! A guide from our boat, the Endemic, met us for the short bus ride to the jetty where an inflatable (panga) took us to the catamaran moored in the channel between Baltra and the island of Santa Cruz. As this was our second visit to the islands, we had opted for the short 3 night/4 day. This shorten cruise itinerary has us join the last 4 days of the full 7-day cruise.
The Endemic is a luxury catamaran that entered service 6 months ago. By expedition boat standards the 8 cabins were huge, each with full length sliding doors leading to a small balcony looking out onto the waters. The food was excellent and our guide, Raul, was very congenial, very experienced and passionate about conservation. The walks on the islands and snorkeling in the usually warm water did not disappoint. Although there has been a big increase in boats and visitors since we were last there 10 years ago, itineraries and shore excursions are well planned, and it did not feel overcrowded. Before returning to the mainland we spent a night at the Galapagos Safari Camp. Built to resemble a tented African safari camp, the lodge offers a variety of guided excursions including diving and day trips on small boats to some of the other islands. A great way to end a cruise! After flying back to Quito for our final adventure we spent the night the Airport Wyndam Hotel. Within walking distance of the terminal this new hotel is very convenient, and I recommend it for anyone with late arrival or early departures.
The next morning, we returned to the airport for the short flight to Coca, gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazonia. Coca is a sprawling town of low-rise buildings built on the banks of the Napo River. Our lodge, La Selva, is built on a remote lagoon about 2 hours down river. Transfers to the lagoon are a short paddle up creek in long, narrow motor boats. We had an orientation presentation on arrival and met our guide. Activities included various hikes in the jungle, canoe trips on the river, a visit to the canopy tower, the parrot clay lick and a very interesting visit to the local Kichwa cultural center. Rooms were very comfortable, and the food was excellent. All told, this was a wonderful 12-day excursion in a very friendly South American Country that offers wonderful culture, wildlife, scenery and adventure.