Nov 18th, 2013
This year our trip was slightly different. We decided that rather than see more, we wanted to SIT more and better familiarize ourselves with the local character of the country we visit. In other words: stop running like “chickens without a head”, spending every two nights in a different hotel, covering a million miles in cars and living out of our suitcases for 3 weeks. Instead, we paused. We spent more time in each place (probably twice as much as “required”) and just let it all sink in …
And what a vacation it was! We returned from Ecuador after 3 weeks, packed with EXPERIENCES rather than just sites. All of us felt energized, relaxed and, as regards the kids, ready to face another school year!
Why Ecuador? Well, I hadn´t been there for a while and, professionally speaking, I really need to stay ahead of my game with the new developments in the local tourism. Also, the weather is Ecuador is not far from “perfect” year-round (and we don’t very much appreciate muggy New Jersey in July!). Ecuador is not that far away, there is almost no time-zone difference, it is very affordable, and the US Dollar is the official currency of the country. So easy!
My family and I are thrilled to share our memories with you and we hope you enjoy reading them too!
Silberberg Family Trip to Ecuador - July / August 2013
We departed with a goal: experience Ecuador’s mainland and, for once only, skip the famous Galapagos Islands. The Islands are a destination on their own, both time and budget wise. Many believe that Ecuador is just a springboard to the Galapagos Islands and by thinking that, they end up missing some of the most spectacular jewels of South America and one of the friendliest people in the region!
Day 1-2 Hello Ecuador! Arriving in Guayaquil
I had not been to Guayaquil for over 20 years! It is the largest city in Ecuador and, in the past, I was very happy to avoid it. BOY, what a pleasant surprise did I have! The city had “cleaned up” and is now one of the most vibrant and dynamic metropolises in the Region.
Not to be missed is the ravishing “Malecon 2000” project: an extended, green and modern promenade along the Guayas River that has become a stunning center of entertainment and outdoor activities. The colorful and lavishly reconstructed neighborhood of Las Peñas and the Historical Park (reconstruction of the Old Guayaquil) are real “musts”, as well as the Seminario Park, or “Plaza de las Iguanas”, where my kids couldn’t have enough of the hundreds of wild iguanas that live on trees and on the ground in the very center of such a dynamic city.
Day 2-8 Machalilla National Park & the Ecuadorian Pacific Coast
We left Guayaquil and traveled along verdant plains towards the coastal mountain range. As we climbed, vegetation changed into a ravishing cloud forest followed, soon after, by heavy clouds. While approaching the peak we were driving through a thick fog that magically disappeared as we descended towards the coast. It felt as if someone had lifted the curtain on a stage to reveal a whole new set! From that point, and as far as eyes could see, we were driving through the Dry Tropical Forest. I had never imagined a DRY forest, dotted with cactuses, stretching along the shores of a tropical region. I soon learned that the Humboldt Current is responsible for such a phenomenon: The Humboldt Current is considered a Class I, highly productive ecosystem. It is the most productive marine ecosystem in the world, as well as the largest upwelling system. The Humboldt’s high rates of primary and secondary productivity support the world’s largest fisheries. (Thank you Wikipedia!)
So here we are, almost at the very Equator, by the ocean in a dry, COOL and foggy region… Soon we realized we had not packed enough warm clothes - luckily we had not come here with sunbathing in mind!
We stayed 7 nights at the Manatraya Lodge. It is a somewhat rustic but very comfortable and charming lodge with breathtaking views over the Pacific Coast. Our program included daily excursions, all meals - and lots of fun! One of the highlights of our stay was the 2-hour cruise to Isla de La Plata, a protected island also dubbed “Mini Galapagos”. There we could observe, from an unbelievably short distance, the stunning Blue Footed Boobies and one of the largest colonies of Frigate Birds. En route to the island we spotted many Humpback Whales which, by the way, have the annoying tendency to always appear exactly in the opposite direction that your camera was aimed at!
We also hiked in the Dry Forest, met the local indigenous community and learned much about their traditions. We swam in a natural spring pond, participated in a cooking demonstration, visited the morning Fish Market of Puerto Lopez, enjoyed a horseback ride along the coast and did eventually even sunbathe at the spectacular and inviting Frailes Beach.
Day 8-12 Quito
We flew to Quito and were directly driven to the splendid Casa Gangotena Hotel. Up to a couple of years ago this lavish property was a mere ruin although right next to the important Plaza San Francisco. Then it underwent extensive renovation works that turned it into a luxury hotel of unparalleled international standards and style at the heart of the Colonial Center of Quito.
The early morning “wake-up call” - the bell-tower of the San Francisco monastery - was a small price to be paid in order to enjoy such a perfect location and the enthralling panoramic vistas of the Old City from the Hotel’s Third Floor Terrace. Oh, and did I mention the delicious buffet breakfast and the daily High Tea? It is included in your room rate!
We spent our days in Quito exploring the superb Colonial Center, climbing up to the Basilica’s Tower, playing outdoor kids’ games at La Ronda Street, visiting the Presidential Palace and taking pictures of the “Middle of the World” monument - as well as the “Real Middle of the World” monument (don’t ask) - where the kids had the opportunity to test all kind of physics theories. I myself was very happy to discover that I was 2 pounds lighter at the Equator than I am in New Jersey, therefore seriously considering moving there …
One of THE highlights of this trip was the “Chapel of Man” which is a project by the renowned Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamin. Since his death it has become a museum where the works of this great artist are exhibited. A very moving experience for all of us - as different as our expectations might have been…
Brief history: with a classic “Latino smooth move” the current owners of this private reserve managed to “pull” this paradise from under the feet of a logging company (that had some evil deforestation plans for the region), and thereby they saved one of the last untouched cloud forests in Ecuador.
The Mashpi Lodge itself is a luxurious glass cocoon in the middle of nowhere – that would deserve to be known as paradise …
Its few privileged guests should expect nothing less than ultra-modern design combined with top service, excellent cuisine and breathtaking views from every corner of the lodge. But what made this 3-day experience so dramatically unforgettable is the unswerving commitment of the lodge’s staff to the eco system that surrounds them. Their respect for nature is admirable and contagious! We learned ever so much about the forest, we hiked the trails, rode the SkyBike (at 180 feet above the ground), climbed the observation tower, splashed and refreshed in waterfall-fed natural pools, watched butterflies hatched from their cocoons, participated in nature talks, identified 10 different hummingbirds in one spot and ate like there was no tomorrow… Oh yes, one of the best Hot-Stone Massages we ever had was the treat of the Mashpi Lodge.
After each jungle activity we were greeted at the lodge with fresh-scented moist towels, tropical cocktails and an unlimited amount of smiles! Hands down, Mashpi Lodge had won a place in “Eitan’s 10 Most Favorite Places”…
Day 10-17 Where else can you rent an entire Hacienda (ranch), for a week? (In Ecuador.)
Yup, in fact we did rent a dream for a week … Hacienda San Juan de La Vega is about 30 minutes away from the town of Otavalo where one of Latin America’s most picturesque Indian Markets takes place.
We stayed at a delightful farm house very modernly equipped and were given all the help needed to make sure that each new experience would top the previous one. Horses and cows were amazingly “good-looking” and so well kept and clean that they seemed to have just come out of a car-wash tunnel. We rode up to the peak of the mountains, milked the cows every day (my kids’ favorite activity), collected eggs for breakfast, picked our vegetables from the organic garden, made cheese and with it “Cheese Empanadas” (from the milk we´d got from the gleaming cows..) and spent hours in the friendly company of our hosts and the Hacienda’s caretakers. We also took daily trips to the magnificent surrounding volcanoes, lagoons, towns, markets … Many tears were shed when we finally had to leave!
Day 17-18 Hot Springs above the clouds at Termas de Pacallacta
A mere 2-hour drive from Quito and you find yourself floating in natural hot spring pools overlooking the clouds beneath you! Termas de Pacallacta is a favorite day or weekend retreat for Ecuadorian families. We soon knew why: our rather minimalistic cabin literally opened out on to ravishing thermal pools, which guests can enjoy at any time of day or night. The cold mountain air provides the excuse to want to stay in the water for ever – surrounded as we were by tantalizing snow-capped volcanoes peaking over the clouds that made us feel like characters in the Lord of the Rings…
This was the PERFECT way to end our adventure in Ecuador and prepare us for the flight back home.
Why Ecuador, you asked?