Ecuador probably has the greatest natural and cultural diversity of any South America country. Virgin rainforest reserves, stunning (and still active) volcanoes, riotously colourful Indian markets and a wonderfully preserved Spanish-colonial capital. It is also the gateway to the incredible Galapagos Islands. Combining an Antarctica voyage with the trip to the Galapagos Islands would have to create one of the best, and most diverse,holidays imaginable.
A trip to the Galapagos is so many things rolled into one – a cruise, a relaxing holiday and, foremost, a wildlife extravaganza. It truly is the experience of a lifetime, not only for birdwatchers or wildlife obsessives but for every traveller who has any interest in seeing the incredibly diverse and often unique species of birds, reptiles and mammals. The isolation of the islands and the minimal contact with humans has made the wildlife almost totally unafraid and allows visitors to see them at closer quarters. For more information on Galapagos Islands voyages please visit www.southamericatravelcentre.com.au
The Galapagos Islands are a wildlife paradise. Many species have no fear of humans as a result it is usually possible to get close to them and to take amazing photographs (please always follow the parks guidelines as well as the instructions of your National Park guide). Quite recently the guides have come up with the ‘Galapagos Big 15’ – they are; 1. blue-footed booby, 2. red-footed booby, 3. Nazca booby, 4. flightless cormorant, 5. America flamingo, 6 & 7. Great & Magnificent frigate birds, 8. Galapagos Hawk, 9. land iguana, 10. marine iguana, 11. Santa Fe Iguana, 12. Galapagos penguin, 13. Galapagos sea lion, 14. Galapagos fur seal and last but not least the 15. Galapagos Giant tortoise. Then there are 13 species of Darwin’s finches and other birds species, too numerous to list here.
Most voyages over 5 nights in duration will see most of the above species. The more difficult (site dependent) species are; waved albatross, flightless cormorant, Santa Fe Iguana and Galapagos penguin. Please tell us if you have specific interests as we can ensure the selected voyage visits appropriate sites.
Ecuador’s Amazon has the highest biodiversity of any part of the Amazon. Just as in Peru there are a number of fabulous eco-lodges; La Selva, Sacha and Napo Wildlife Centre are amongst the best. With Napo likely offering the best wildlife viewing opportunities. A wonderful alternative to a lodge stay is a voyage on-board the MV Anakonda; a luxury river cruise boat.
Ecuador’s Cloud Forest Reserves are within easy reach of Ecuador’s capital, Quito (which is also were most of the flight to the Galapagos Island depart from). Cloud forests are more about wonderful flora, in particular orchids, that love the damp atmosphere and spectacular birdlife, than monkeys and other larger animals more often found in the lower-lying rainforest areas.
Hummingbirds are prolific, as are many other species of birds including one of South America’s most colourful birds the cock-of-the-rock. There are a range of lodges, some quite simple, others offering luxury, like the exquisite Mashpi Lodge (a little over three hours drive from the capital, Quito).
Within 2 hours drive of Ecuador’s capital Quito there are several beautiful Hacienda’s; some are still working farms as well as having opened their doors for guests to stay. Hacienda Zuleta is one of our favourites, with a very good stable, a very interesting history and some magnificent walks in the grounds. A short distance from Zuleta is the small town of Otavalo where you can discover the various handicrafts unique to many of the small towns and villages spread across Andean foothills. The ‘Awakening Valley’ is home to the Otavalo Indians (Otavaleños) and you may spend the day at the famous Otavalo market, discovering wonderful textiles, native paintings, ceramics, leather goods, jewellery and tapestries.
The Napo Wildlife Center is the only lodge inside the protected Yasuni National Park, a 2-hour boat ride down the Napo River from Coca. The wildlife centre is run in partnership with the native Anangu community and the lodge complex, built in the local architectural style with palm-thatched roofs, hardwood floors and adobe walls, is superbly situated on their land overlooking Lake Anangu.
In the main building of the Napo Wildlife Center is a large dining hall, a library, and a well-stocked bar. Accommodation is in 16 very comfortable cabins, including family accommodations with living areas and spacious bathrooms, built on stilts over the water. Each has a private terrace with hammocks, looking out to either the lake or the rainforest.
A colonial working farm of some 2,000 hectares, it dates from the late 16th century and for the past 100 years has belonged to the family of Mr. Galo Plaza Lasso, a former President of Ecuador.
You will be welcomed into the hacienda as a guest of the family and the charming rooms, each with its own fireplace and decorated with antiques and authentic family pictures, add to the feeling of being in a private home.
Ocean Spray is a sleek catamaran specifically conceived to cruise the Galapagos Islands in style, providing comfort, superior speed and excellent stability. At 34 metres long, it offers the generous space and comfort of larger boats while maintaining the intimacy of smaller vessels.
On-board facilities include large air-conditioned cabins, each with private bathroom and a private balcony. The expansive sun deck, with a jacuzzi and sun-loungers, is an ideal spot to relax and soak up the sun between island excursions. And in the evenings there is no better place for stargazing.