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Ecuador: More Than You Can Imagine

Capital City, Rainforests and The Galapagos Islands

This holiday season I am dreaming of South America. Of all the places I have visited, Ecuador has carved a special spot in my heart due to the rich history, the jaw-dropping scenery, endless adventures, some of the best massages in the world (for great prices) and especially the people. My visit included three memorable excursions. 

Capital City - Quito - Casa Gangotena

  Our first stop was Quito, where we experienced a walking tour of Old Town Quito to learn more about the people and the largest, best-restored historical center in the Americas. As we wandered through the streets, we met local artisans, hat-makers, chocolate makers, and many multi-generation shop owners and craftsmen. It was the perfect introduction to this vibrant community. 

We walked up the hill to browse the historic markets, where we got to see, smell and experience some of the fresh produce and cultural items that come out of Ecuador. It was fun to learn about the many different local traditional dresses and history of the region.

Quito also is home to some of the most stunning churches in the world and a lot of inspiring Mudejar architecture. 

After plenty of walking, we were excited to settle into our luxurious hotel, the Casa Gangotena, ideally located in the heart of Quito. I could see the courtyard outside my suite window and was amazed by the view. 

As soon as I stepped into the hotel, the elegance and luxury of a bygone era won my heart. The beautifully appointed mansion is filled with the essence of the city. Whether it be the spa, suites, terrace, gardens, restaurant or bar, each is a space for you to unwind, discover and dream. The impeccable service and food still makes me dream of returning to Quito to do it all again.  

Rainforests - Mashpi Lodge

Our next stop was the Mashpi Lodge, a rainforest hotel in the clouds. The road weaved back and forth as we climbed the mountain. It felt like we were on a kiddie roller coaster going up, up, up. The three-hour trip was fascinating; every 20 minutes, we experienced new sights and ecosystems. The vegetation changed drastically many times as we climbed up into the clouds. We drove deep into the rainforest and jungle, and I watched for wildlife views at every turn.  

The valleys were spectacular. So were the cows, with some amazing mountain goat skills meandering up and down the mountains throughout the day. We passed village markets with stalls overflowing with every fresh tropical fruit imaginable. 

It was immediately clear that Mashpi Lodge is not a side trip but a true, worldwide, bucket list destination. This is an expedition destination not to be missed. 

Soon, I saw succulents growing in trees and signs about local chocolate - two of my personal favorites. I was definitely following my destined life path. The scenery was so alive. Vines intertwined and curled around everything. We drove past trees bursting with fruits and berries and bananas. With the window rolled down, I breathed in big and long and felt the strength of the rainforest invigorating me. The anticipation continued to grow. 

Then we entered a massive gate. The door to a fantasy land. We drove across the top of waterfalls and continued onward to one of the most uninhabited places I have ever encountered. No dogs or chickens in the road. Just green vines growing wildly on top of each other. 

I couldn’t decide if I was in a fantasy, an incredible luxury vacation or a very educational expedition. Honestly, it was a combination of all three. You can make your trip to the Mashpi Lodge whatever you want; all trips are customized after you arrive, based on your personal interests and needs.

The Mashpi Lodge, perched on a plateau with views of the mountains, was named one of National Geographic’s most unique hotels in the world. You get to take in the wonder of the views via floor-to-ceiling, panoramic windows.  

This unique experience was not my usual itinerary, which made it even more exhilarating. We’re talking about hummingbirds at breakfast. A waterfall massage. A real spa gal fairytale comes to life. 

We took a full day to explore the reserve, learn about the scientific research in the area and climb the observation tower for even more views. We wrapped up the day with an exciting night time nature walk. I would not trade this experience for the world. 

Galapagos Islands - Finch Bay Hotel 

We rounded out the trip by a visit to the Galapagos Islands. I’ve wanted to visit the islands my entire life to see the unique animals that inhabit them. Any animal lover will feel like they’ve arrived in heaven there. It’s an entire archipelago where the animals come first. 

We got a strong start to the islands by visiting a tortoise reserve, where we got to witness the amazing creatures in their natural habitat, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We enjoyed a private lunch surrounded by these gentle giants. 

We then took a boat to a part of Puerto Ayora that has no car access. A short walk brought me to my newest favorite happy place: the Finch Bay Hotel — the only hotel in Galapagos with a beach and one of the most welcoming places in the world. I felt so at home. I had finally arrived at the place I had dreamed of my entire life. I was not surprised to learn this hotel was also named one of National Geographic’s most unique places to stay. 

Of course, I was welcomed in grand style to their luxury spa. I had the entire spa and its lush, outdoor grounds all to myself. The ultimate treat for a spa-lover. 

My private spa day started with secluded time in their hot tub, accompanied by a special cocktail called the Baby George. It was served in a vessel that looked like a giant egg. My spa attendant treated me to a 90-minute massage at this beachfront location. All of the treatments at the Finch Bay Spa incorporate local elements to help you really immerse yourself in the islands. 

My treatment was called Lava Meets Water, inspired by the contrast of the dramatic landscapes with the refreshing Galapagos waters. With alternating hot volcanic and cool marble stones, along with massage techniques, your muscles will deeply relax. It’s also good for circulation and reducing stress. This spa treatment was as unique as the islands and one of my all time favorites. 

If, like me, you have ever dreamed of visiting the magical Galapagos Islands and Ecuador, I have some advice for you: Do it. Do it now. Don’t wait. Sometimes, travel has a slow and subtle effect on your life. You find yourself thinking back on your experiences and what you saw and who you met, and you begin to realize it has somehow become a part of you. Other times, a country changes you in an instant, like a lightning strike. You step off the plane and you know with that first breath that you will never be the same. That’s Ecuador. That’s Capital City, the rainforests and the Galapagos Islands.