If you were in any doubt of Ecuador’s capacity to amaze you, you’ll begin in Otavalo, where indigenous locals from over 70 villages come to host a gigantic Saturday market. Once you’ve finished browsing its craftwork, clothing and carvings, you’ll hop from the island-pocked crater lake of Cuicocha to Ecuador’s capital Quito for a guided tour of its cobbled colonial heart and crayon-coloured buildings.
Squeezed in between the mountain peaks of the Andes, Quito is blessed with constant reminders of Ecuador’s larger-than-life landscapes and now’s the time to make a make for the great outdoors. First, you’ll respond to the call of Cotopaxi National Park, famous for its snow-speckled namesake volcano and grass-covered prairie patrolled by Andean condors, white-tailed deer and Andean foxes. Then, you’ll wind past the waterfalls that seep from the Pastaza River gorge and the steaming Chimborazo volcano, before taking on the Devil’s Nose, a dramatic rail journey that switchbacks its way up and down a sheer rock face.
Over the following few days, we’ll take you on a hop, skip and a jump through Ecuador’s culture, history and wildlife. Ponder over the pre-Columbian ruins of Ingapirca, learn how to make a Panama hat in the colonial streets of Cuenca and spy Andean toucans, condors, llamas and pumas among the lakes and páramo of El Cajas National Park.
After a week exploring mainland Ecuador, you’ll be bound for the mystical Galápagos Islands. The best way to explore this otherworldly biodiverse archipelago is by boat and you’ll do it in style aboard a luxury expedition yacht. You’ll spend a week island-hopping to best soak up the Galápagos’ most beguiling treasures. Start by visiting a giant tortoise breeding centre on San Cristóbal to understand the good work going on to safeguard the future of this endangered species, before hopping over to bird-rich Genovesa Island where you’ll be toggling your binoculars to spy red-billed tropicbirds, great frigatebirds, Nazca boobies and more.
Next up is Santa Cruz with its flamingo-speckled lagoons, snorkel-worthy waters and Dragon Hill, a vantage point granting an island-wide panorama. You’ll mix signature sights with some of the Galápagos’ hidden wonders, spending a morning swimming with penguins and spying the crab-freckled caves of Vicente Roca Point before meeting the land and marine iguanas on Isabela island’s blackened volcanic landscapes.
Your final few days of this luxury Galápagos holiday will be spent hopping from the basking sea lions of Fernandina to the terracotta-hued beaches of Rábida and then the great blue, yellow-crowned and lava herons of Santiago. You’ll finish back in Santa Cruz to explore its volcanic features and witness cutting-edge research and conversation work at the Charles Darwin Research Station, before bidding farewell to this eye-opening chain of islands.
Housed in a Spanish colonial-style building, Hotel Otavalo was originally a set of apartments for indigenous Otavaleños and it stays true to its roots. It’s only a honey-coloured stone’s throw from the town’s famous market, while the rooms, all of which are situated around a bare-brick courtyard, feature hand-carved headboards and exposed stone. Even the hotel’s restaurant Sarance is named after the moniker the native population once gave Otavalo, with its menu taking you on a culinary journey through Ecuador’s seven provinces.
Right in the heart of Quito’s UNESCO-listed Old Town, Hotel Mama Cuchara is a historic monument of its own. This whitewashed villa was once the home of Juanita Terraza Monsalve and was in its gardens that he, along with several other liberal conspirators, plotted the assassination of president Gabriel García Moreno around 150 years ago. Today, it showcases a wealth of extraordinary native art in revolving galleries as a way to support local artists, while rooms are furnished with Ecuadorian artefacts, artisan-crafted headboards and classic furniture.
Hacienda Manteles promises everything you’d want from a hotel in the rugged heart of the Ecuadorian Andes. Its burgundy brickwork, artisan-weaved rugs and hardwood floors offer a traditional and supremely cosy setting without distracting you from the wild scenery outside. Not everywhere can say they’ve got a steamy volcano at the end of their garden – but Hacienda Manteles can. You can soak up views of Tungurahua volcano from your room’s floor-to-ceiling, along with the sweeping cloud forest and páramo of Llanganates National Park.
Inspired by the traditional manors and old farmhouses you’d find sprinkled among the Ecuadorian highlands, Hacienda Abraspungo is very much in the style of an authentic ranch. The Riobamba’s rich history is illustrated in the antiques, Andean artwork and photographs bedecking the rooms, while a mix of colonial and pre-Columbian artefacts adorn the restaurant and the hotel’s other communal areas. Its lush gardens open up to views of the mountains every room is named after and Chimborazo volcano – Ecuador’s highest peak.
Hotel Cruz del Vado sits in a grand mansion in Cuenca’s oldest neighbourhood and the peach-hued marble it’s dressed in evokes the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by the city in its 1930s pomp. The hotel has kept its lavish features and the rooms are decorated with artwork created by distinguished local artists. The restaurant serves up cuisine representing all seven of Ecuador’s provinces while Hotel Cruz del Vado’s rooftop bar is the place to be for citywide views and Cuenca’s amber sunsets.
Simply Guayaquil’s finest bolthole, Hotel de Parque is a tranquil retreat that serves as perfect prep (or some much-needed downtime) before or after any Galápagos adventure. Hidden in the Parque Historico botanical gardens, this elegant 19th-century building has preserved many of its opulent colonial features, with stylish furniture, illustrious artwork and an open-air patio with fountains and exotic foliage. Guests are also granted an access-all-areas pass to the botanical gardens so you can explore its wildlife-filled grounds – even after hours.
A pair of zero-emission ships operated by Relais & Chateaux, there isn’t a more luxurious way to explore the Galápagos Islands than aboard either Origin or Theory. Holding just twenty passengers, you’re guaranteed intimate guided excursions to the islands’ most otherworldly treasures. The diverse activities Origin and Theory provide is staggering, from glass-bottom kayaking to nature walks in search of marine iguanas. Onboard, you’re treated to engaging expert-led talks, gourmet dinners and caipirinhas on deck at sundown, so you’re recharged for the next day.
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