Since this is the most recent trip I've been on, it only makes sense for this to be my first REAL TRAVEL post! Let’s note that this was my first time in South America. Ecuador is the true embodiment of nature's beauty! It is one of those countries that is outshined by its neighbor Peru because of Machu Picchu :-/. However, it has so much to offer from the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the world to the vibrant butterfly colors in the Amazon.
Let's be honest here, aside from the Galapagos Islands, how many of you have put Ecuador on your top 5 list of countries to go? I definitely was not one of those people. However, after having experienced Ecuador, I am glad that I gave it a shot. I ended up visiting #Ecuador due to a coworker's recommendation. She came back from Spring break raving about it and insisted that I go. Seeing the price tag of the tour (I wanted something under $2,000) and how frequent the tours ran (considering I had a very limited time span before returning to work), I decided to run with it. I ultimately ended up traveling alone (I'll discuss the experience of traveling solo in another post). However, it turned out to be the best thing for me to do at that time considering my mental state at the end of a grueling school year.
Because of my OCD ways for organization of everything, I am going to share info using lists.
Method of Travel: Gate1 Travel Tour's 8 Day Classic Ecuador & Amazon Adventure
Cost: $1800 (including flight to and from NY; single occupancy room, travel insurance, all meals & excursions, tour guide and chartered tour bus)
Accommodations: mainly 4-5 star hotels and lodges (this part was on point!)
Travel to Ecuador
I left for Ecuador via JFK airport. It was a very smooth trip, perhaps too smooth. Do you know how you should get there 3 hours before you are scheduled to depart? ...I did that and managed to get check in and through security in less than a half hour. Say whaaat! That RARELY happens at JFK. That may have had to do with the fact of (1) I was told to go to a specific terminal that led me to taking a shuttle to the actual gate. Had I gone to the gate directly, it would have probably been a completely different story (2) It was July 4th. Apparently people like to stay domestically in order to celebrate America's birthday. Who knew? I had LOTS of time to pass, which allowed me to get inspired by notable quotables like this.
The actual flight is very closed spaced (felt like the space of a domestic flight vs. an international flight). Remind me to not choose a shrimp salad on the plane! It was that or a turkey sandwich, but both options sucked. I expected dinner to be more reflective of the country's cuisine. The shrimp smelled spoiled and made me nauseous. The turkey sandwich looked dry. It is probably safer to just bring your own dinner. Luckily, it was only a six hour flight. The cloud views were GORGEOUS from up above. However, I was nervous after I landed because I was alone and did not know anyone from my tour group. I kept thinking, "Is there actually a van from Gate 1 tours here to come pick me up? Is it a sketchy van pretending to be Gate 1? Why did I sign up to do this?" I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw someone holding the Gate 1 sign and I noticed other people waiting by him. What a coincidence that the two teachers I sat next to during the entire plane ride were also on this tour! Having landed past 11pm and getting to the hotel past midnight, the reasons why I stayed up until 2 AM with a full itinerary the next day is beyond me.
Accommodations in Ecuador
Never before on a trip have I had such varied, top notch accommodations. If you want to live like you are in the states with a gorgeous view, you got Hilton Colon Quito Hotel. If you want to live like you are in a fancy camping lodge, then go to Cabanas del Lago in Otavalo. If that's not enough, then you can be in the middle of nowhere (literally) at Casa del Suizo in the Amazon.
Here is a general overview of the types of accommodations I had in Ecuador (which is indicative of the cities we stayed). I definitely felt like I was living the life of luxury and privilege on this tour and found myself wondering how much each place would cost if one was to stay on their own.
Night #1 & 7: Hilton Colon Quito Hotel in Quito
When I first walked into this hotel, I felt like I was in the states. Being there literally at night to go to sleep, I didn't get to enjoy its amenities. However, I woke up to the sun showing off its shine in the sky. I may have been on the second floor, but look at this view! Breakfast was above standard. There was a continental breakfast and then some with rice, plantains, and mini patties.
Coming full circle by staying at this hotel on the last night, I lucked out with some views to go googly eye for with on the 11th floor. Pictures do not do it justice. I looked like I was overlooking the Ecuadorian version of Cinque Terre (or at least this is how I imagined it would look like).
Night #2: Cabanas del Lago in Otavalo
Just imagine what serenity would look like if it was a place: quiet; fresh, cool breeze; glistening water. In front of you, you see Lago San Pablo as you make that morning walk to breakfast.
Behind you are views of the volcano.
One is not doing breakfast right if you are not overlooking the calm lake while animals swim and people just chill on a boat. You are not doing it right without sipping on real lemongrass tea either. The hotel room itself is pretty much a log wooden cabin. Considering how outdoorsy the hotel is, it is pretty impressive that it has a TV. It may not heat, you also have your own personal fireplace AND a heated water bottle to cuddle with.
This hotel was great when it came to hospitality. At the bar, they gave us a sample of chocolate liquor alone with platano chips and guac. Before dinner, they showed us a typical Ecuadorian dance and explained to us the meaning of their cultural clothing. The traditional Ecuadorian wear originates from the city of #Otavalo. Women typically wear a long skirt with a woven belt and an embroidered white blouse with a lacy sleeve. There is usually a cloth binding the hair. Unmarried women usually wear the blouse of shoulder. Men dress to almost resemble cowboys by wearing ponchos, half length pants, and a fedora. Over the pants, they wear these furry "leg warmers."
Dinner was practically a feast. You start off with a soup of choice. Then there is rice, veggies, and meat. Then there is tasty mousse-like desserts. Yum!
Night #3: Termas de Papallacta in Papallacta
Do you love being pampered? Do you love soaking up in hot springs? Well, this is the hotel for you! This hotel was located on the banks of the Papallacta River in between two volcanoes, creating #thermalbaths varying between 86°F and 158°F. The rooms are mini wooden lodges. However, you are really pushed to disconnect as the room has no TV and very weak wifi.
Aside from a small space heater, there is no heat. Hence, be ready to snuggle tight under your blankets! They claim the thermal baths causes the floor to be warm, but I was chilly. When you step out your room, all you see are mini public thermal pools. Thermal pools are great, but be careful as they contain some sulfate which may itch your skin (at least it irritated mine). Also, you need to take breaks every 20 minutes and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. Yes, you may be sitting in water, but the thermal heat is dehydrating you in the process.
At this hotel, I booked a spa package. That allowed me access to their larger private thermal pools. Following that was 20 minutes in a "turkish bath", aka a very hot and steamy sauna with water dripping on you do to the point of condensation on the ceiling. Afterwards, I received a 30 minute upper-body massage. I felt pain in areas that I didn't know was tense. It was MUCH needed after the school year I had!
Dinner was delicious. I had the chicken, but speaking to people on the tour who had the steak or fish, that was delicious too. You couldn't go wrong! After several hours, my internet finally worked in the hot spot of the central area. Ironically, the struggles of gaining access to internet led to a few of us to bond while we sat together in the lounge area surfing the internet.
If you are a beer drinker, Ecuador is your place. Look at the enormous beer bottle you can buy for $4! I am not a beer drinker, yet I felt compelled to drink and take advantage of these prices.
Night #4-5: Casa del Suizo in the Amazon
Picture this: You drive down a long highway. One way in, one way out. You drive across a very thin width bridge where there is no room for traffic in two directions. People taking pictures are forced to take a deep breath and hold their stomachs while the bus passes.
The bus makes a halt because it cannot drive any further. You arrive at a "port," La Punta Ahuano. Water is ahead of you and you are wondering “how am I getting to the hotel?” How is your luggage getting to the hotel? You are told to leave your luggage behind on the bus because there is a ferry coming to pick it up. You see a row of motorized canoes lined up and you realize that's your ride. That's wassup, right?
To get to and from your hotel, you are dependent on these canoes. You finally make it to the hotel and have to climb what seems to be never ending steps in order to make it to the ground level (where the bar is). Your "hotel room" is practically a mini apartment. There may be no TV or internet in the rooms, but why need technology when you have a hammock on the terrace overlooking the vibrancy of the #Amazon. Waking up to the sounds of geicos and napping to the chirps of birds while chilling on the hammock is the good life!
The hotel is located on the banks of the #NapoRiver near a small Quechua Indian village. Who wouldn't love a sight like this every day?
Night #6: Hacienda Manteles in Banos
I've never been to Ireland, but I imagine that it would look something like this. Green, greener, and greenest. Our hotel looked like a castle home. The air just seemed so much fresher and cooler. *Breathe in, ALL the way in* *Breathe Out, let it ALL out* When we first arrived, we were greeted by two energetic golden retrievers.
Upon entering the Hacienda Building, it felt as if one walked into a 19th century home. There is an unbelievable warmth due to the sofas situated around the fireplace. This is the only hotel that had coffee and endless tea options laid out for you to grab for free. All the tea options were in Spanish, so that was a good way to test what you know: naranja, menta, limón, and the list went on. Walking to the mini home/hotel where I was staying, I noticed that the plot of land seemed never ending. One of the immediate things I noticed was the llama! I got my llama selfie goals fulfilled that day with lots of trial and error.
The house I stayed at is a cute home with a center fireplace. Each room had its own theme and a completely different layout. The views were breathtaking.
After freshening up, we were invited to a cheese sampling. We were given a very sweet, warm drink that I believe was made of tea. I could have drank that all day long with how good it was! Dinner was essentially a five course meal.
What better way to unwind after dinner than chatting and laughing with your tour group in front of a crackling, warm fireplace while sipping some tea.
Travel from Ecuador
Driving to the airport was very smooth and quick. Our driver took some winding back roads to get to the highway. Ecuador's main highway is quite wide and modern. It is clearly something the country has invested a lot of money into. Being told of the history of the airport, the Old Mariscal Sucre International Airport was the main international airport serving #Quito. It was the busiest airport in Ecuador and one of the busiest in South America. It was also named after Venezuelan-born Antonio José de Sucre, a big hero for Ecuadorian and Latin American independence. The airport was in operation from 1960s- 2013. The need for a new airport can partially be contributed to the fact that the Old Mariscal Sucre could no longer be expanded to accommodate any larger aircraft or an increase in air traffic since it was in the middle of the city. There were several accidents that had occurred in recent years. The new airport is now located in the Tababela parish and has been active since 2013.
Checking bags and getting through security was very quick. However, it is could be due to the fact we arrived three hours before the scheduled flight. I appreciated the full internet wifi service. Although, I was confused as to why they divided the wifi service by gate. That seemed unnecessary. The most annoying part was that every 30 seconds there was an announcement in Spanish about a gate change or attempting to call someone. There has to be a better system as there would be times multiple announcements occurring simultaneously and you could not hear what was being said. The flight claimed it was on time, but my guess is Ecuadorian time is different as we did not start boarding for a good half hour or more after the time the flight was supposed to have taken off. However, the plane still landed on time, so I cannot complain. Because I knocked out throughout the entire flight, I cannot comment the plane service itself!