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

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - ECUADOR & THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS - WORDS BEN BOX & SARAH CAMERON

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

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