Luxury Travel Consultant Jill Braley recently traveled to Ecuador. Today she’s sharing her top Ecuador adventures to add to your next Ker & Downey journey.
The drive to Mashpi Lodge is long, and the last hour can be bumpy and rough, but it’s worth it. Once you’re there, you can feel the ambiance and energy changing. The air is so fresh, the surroundings are green and beautiful. It’s pretty incredible. My time at Mashpi was packed with adventure – a cable bike ride over the trees, a climb up the observation deck for a 360-degree view of the cloud forest, bird and wildlife watching with telescopes, a visit the the hummingbird station, and a hike to the butterfly farm where I learned how to pick up butterflies by dipping my fingers in banana water. But my favorite adventure at Mashpi Lodge was a hike down to the waterfall where we swam in the refreshing waters. Then we hiked upstream for about thirty minutes to the cable car for a relaxing, bird’s eye view ride across the entire property. It takes about 40 minutes to get from one end to the other and is a great recap activity after 2 full days of exploring the area.
After Mashpi Lodge, I moved onto Galapagos Safari Camp. It’s super remote – nestled in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, but their staff is incredible, going above and beyond to make you feel welcome. From Galapagos Safari Camp you can visit some of the surrounding islands by boat. One day we went to Bartolome Island, which is about a two-hour boat ride and the farthest island Galapagos Safari Camp takes clients. I was skeptical at first – it’s an uninhabited island. However, when we got there we hiked up to get a 360-degree view of the unforgettable landscape. You can see how the lava changes to sand, then to plant-life the lower down the island you go. It was incredible to see how things have evolved. After the hike, I went snorkeling around Pinnacle Rock where we had the pleasure of seeing some penguins showing off in the water. This was a special treat as you don’t always get to see the famous Galapagos penguin on the excursions. The water there is beautiful and turquoise and I could have snorkeled around all day admiring the colorful fish. On the boat back to Galapagos Safari Camp I saw sharks, jumping manta ray, and whale spray. The day was long but worth it, and I still got back in time to enjoy the evening at camp. Ideally, I would combine a stay at Galapagos Safari Camp with a short cruise to really experience all of the best Galapagos has to offer.
I ended my trip at Hacienda Zuleta, a property that’s been in the owner’s family for 150 years. Hacienda Zuleta is a place that’s hard to describe – you can’t truly grasp how beautiful it and the surrounding 4,000 acres is until you go there. The atmosphere is homey and inviting with family portraits lining the halls and family-style dining, but it is every bit as luxurious as you would expect a luxury property to be. On their property, you can find horses, and cows used to produce their own milk, creams, yogurts, and cheeses. There’s even a cheese factory on the property that you can tour and sample their different types of cheeses.
On the property, there are a ton of self-guided hikes. And while the property is huge, it’s impossible to get lost because the trails are so well-marked. On the first morning I was there, I took a hike to view the property and one of the property’s dogs Carlitos joined me for the hike. On another day, I took the “rabbit trail” which was a moderately challenging three-hour hike going up to some fantastic viewpoints overlooking the entire property. On the hike, I saw two spectacled bears and found out that one of Hacienda Zuleta’s conservation projects is monitoring these bears through cameras. They are able to recognize the bears from the markings on their faces and are keeping track of their migration and eating patterns.
Another of their conservation projects is the Andean Condor Huasi breeding, rehabilitation, and reintroduction program. Hacienda Zuleta is internationally regarded as one of the leaders in Condor conservation. After several years of strides and setbacks, they were able to release a male Condor named “Churi” into the wild last year. Currently, there are only about 100 Condors in the wild.
The activities at Hacienda are pretty unique – from the hikes on the property to touring their cheese factory. On one of the days I was at Hacienda Zuleta, I got to head up into the mountain and herd the horses that were grazing back to the Hacienda. The horses repeat this routine every day so they know the drill, but it’s still exciting to be one of the Cowboys for the day and help get the horses back to the Hacienda. The horses are so well trained and taken care of and the guide explained to me they are trained to trust them, which is why they behave so well. And surprisingly, the saddles were so comfortable, but that’s probably because they are each handmade on the property.
The mix of locations on my trip – from the cloud forest to the Galapagos Islands to the Andean highlands – gave me a well-rounded and thorough view of Ecuador. For nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, the Ecuador adventures are endless and rewarding.
Planning a trip to Ecuador? Jill can help ensure your Ecuador adventures go off without a hitch. Contact us to get started planning your journey.