Ecuador, a single nation symbolising our planet’s diverse natural history. 43 volcanos, 1600 bird species, cloud forests, the Galapagos Islands, Andes mountains and Amazon Rainforest. All within a country that’s smaller than Italy.
We love Ecuador’s upward trend. Over the last ten years, Ecuador has made nature accessible and luxurious. This isn’t where you find spiders in your jungle toilet, it’s where you stay in the former president’s house.
Plan My Holiday
A big trend before the pandemic was multi-country itineraries, cramming three countries into a first-time trip to a continent. Like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Or Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.
That’s not going to happen in 2022. More countries equals more risk of cancellations and unwanted changes. Instead, we’ll see more in-depth single country exploration, especially for longer, “once-in-a-lifetime” type trips. Ecuador and Galapagos are perfect for this: compact and accessible, with an incredible variety of experiences.
Galapagos Islands Cruising
Imagine kayaking with sea lions at sunrise. Or watching a blue-footed booby mating dance. Perhaps swimming with rays and turtles, or diving with hammerhead sharks. How about admiring 35,000 waved albatross pairs in courtship?
The individual Galapagos islands are so different they each have their own wildlife species. However, only four of the islands have fresh water and hotels. So to explore you need to cruise. Luckily, this is cruising for people who don’t usually like cruising. It’s small-scale, low-key, and gives you the freedom to go on a nature safari.
Just about every Galapagos vessel is described as “luxurious” in the brochures. None of them are really that luxurious. So leave your expectations at a comfortable and clean suite, good outside space on deck, and pleasant places to relax. The key luxuries are the quality of the service and the actual itinerary. The best boats visit the best wildlife sites and experience more Galapagos diversity.
The Individual Galapagos Islands
There are 13 islands and many small islets. Each is absolutely unique.
We love Genovesa for its distinctive bird life, like red-footed boobies, mockingbirds, storm petrels and over 1 million individual birds. For the best scuba diving go north: around Marchena and Darwin islands you can dive with hammerhead sharks and manta rays.
Isabela has a lot to offer and is our recommendation if you prefer to stay in a hotel and do day excursions. At Rabida you swim with sea lions, walk past bird nesting sites and find iguanas on old lava flows. Espanola is another favourite of ours – you can sunbathe on a white sand beach after admiring albatross and blue-footed booby mating dances.
Ecuador is a lot smaller than Peru and Brazil, making it easier and quicker to access the Amazon for a short stay. It’s a short flight plus two hours by motorised canoe, not a long flight followed by half a day going upriver.
Plus there are some very good high-end lodges, like Sacha Lodge. Never expect a trip to the Amazon to have the same level of luxury as a five-star city hotel. Sacha isn’t opulent. It’s comfortable and authentic, with loads of great activities in the biggest rainforest of them all.
We’d recommend a three-night stay in the Ecuadorian Amazon. You’ll get a real sense of adventure without forgoing too many comforts.
Mashpi Lodge, Andean Choco Rainforest
Mashpi is one of the standout accommodations anywhere in South America. A modern and sustainable five-star lodge in its own nature reserve, a cocoon from which to discover another natural world. Here there are monkeys and pumas but it’s genuinely luxurious.
At Mashpi it’s generally easier to see wildlife than the Amazon, as animals are concentrated into a smaller area. you can still see spiders, butterflies, howler monkeys, coatis, anteaters, 35 endemic bird species, and maybe, just maybe, a puma. But there’s a lot less of the usual Amazonian roughness.
Another reason we love Mashpi is sustainability. They’ve been protecting and revitalising the rainforest since long before COP26. It’s a multi-time winner of Ecuador’s Leading Green Hotel award, including from the time when hardly anybody was talking about going green. Staying here actively contributes further to preserving Ecuador’s biodiversity.
The weekend home of former Ecuadorian presidents, Hacienda Zuleta is one of South America’s most unique travel experiences. It’s a presidential home now welcoming guests.
Set on a large working farm and surrounded by its own private nature reserve, the hacienda blends the outdoors with the yesteryear charms of a colonial retreat. It is not a flashy or lavish property. Instead, it is down to earth and homely.
Go horseback riding with snow-capped volcanoes in the distance, on horses from one of South America’s most famous stables. Enjoy a personally tailored Ecuadorian menu, with almost all of the food coming direct from the property. Evenings involve cheese and wine and chatting with the president’s grandchildren.
You’ll find llamas, condors, Incan ruins and so much more. We love to use Hacienda Zuleta as a midway pause in an Ecuadorian holiday. The Galapagos and Amazon provide all the adventure you need, so some downtime here helps to keep your energy levels high.
Ecuador in 2022
Ecuador and Galapagos were gaining in popularity before the pandemic. 2022 is an opportunity to explore the country before the return of mass tourism. Plus, you can support some of the most sustainable projects in the luxury travel space.
And if you need more inspiration, Ecuador also has pre-Incan culture, the first ever World Heritage Site, chance to hike and bike on volcanoes, and a thrilling culinary scene.