ECUADOR & THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
Rumbling volcanoes, wildlife wonderlands, Amazonian jungle… how can you cram in everything Ecuador has to offer? Simple – just follow our guide
Our final instructions at Sacha Lodge were, “Leave your bags outside the door of your cabin before breakfast”. After 48 magical hours exploring forest trails, canopy walkways and creeks, we paddled off across the lodge’s serene lake at first light. Taking a launch up the Río Napo, we continued our journey by bus through remnants of jungle and land cleared for agriculture and oil extraction to reach Lago Agrio Airport. From there, our plane climbed from green lowlands to Andean heights, hardly descending at all to touch down at Quito’s brand new airport.
Ecuador, they say, is small enough to start your day with howler monkeys in the rainforest, lunch with llamas on a volcano and watch pelicans on the Pacific at dusk. But while you can do that, it’s a bit of a rushed job – we managed two-thirds of the challenge (the pelicans will have to wait). After lunch – not on a mountain, but in a mall in Quito’s eastern suburbs – we took a detour en route to Otavalo to visit the Pre-columbian archaeological site of Cochasquí. Taking up a commanding position, these four-sided mounds with long tolas (ramps) dedicated to the stars and the moon are popular with amateur astronomers and UFO hunters. We didn’t see any spacecraft, but we did see plenty of llamas.
Reaching the outskirts of Otavalo, we drove around Lago de San Pablo beneath Imbabura volcano to Hacienda Cusín in time for dinner. This 17th-century hacienda, with its own chapel set in gardens with ancient trees and cobbled paths, has religious-themed bedrooms and huge beds to lie back on.
The next morning we headed to Otavalo’s livestock market, where traders sell everything from cattle to guinea pigs. We, though, were saving our cash for the textiles in the Plaza de Ponchos, renowned as the best market in Ecuador. Wandering among its stalls, the handicrafts portrayed the culture and history here – a vast and wild land steeped in legends and folklore that we grew to love through our travels. ⊳
Webbed sights A brown pelican paddles in the Pacific; (top right) the 17th-century Hacienda Cusín;(previous page) the beautiful Galápagos island of Bartolomé