It was what social media users might call a #firstworldproblem.
Last fall, I was in the enviable position of having to choose between two assignments: a week-long Galapagos cruise or a 10-day trip to Ecuador that included a shorter Galapagos cruise plus a few days each in the capital Quito. and a private rainforest reserve trip.
Curious to see more of Ecuador but worried that I would miss anything on the Galapagos destination list, I made several round trips, ultimately opting for the land and cruise option with Metropolitan Touring.
I made the right choice. Because traveling to the Galapagos but missing the rest of Ecuador would be a shame, like going all the way to South Africa for a safari without stopping in Cape Town or the country’s famous wine region.
Our five-day Eastern Galapagos cruise on Metropolitan’s 24-cabin yacht, La Pinta, offered plenty of opportunities to discover and explore the small islands of the archipelago. We snorkeled with sea lions delighted that their babies had learned to ‘walk’ and swim and watched waved albatrosses practice their mating dance and very clumsy landings. We got up close and personal with blue and red footed boobies, land and water iguanas and, of course, the islands famous giant tortoises. A fellow traveler and I were even chased along the beach by a young male sea lion, which one of our guides jokingly said was in training to be a beach master.
A blue-footed booby perches on a cliff on Espanola Island in the Galapagos. Photo credit: Chris Gray Faust
But I was also able to explore two other completely different worlds in Ecuador, all in the expert hands of Metropolitan, one of the oldest and largest tour operators in the region, and all without the hassle and hassle of crossing borders at a time when the pandemic reigns. continually changing.
We started in Quito at Casa Gangotena, a metropolis-owned boutique hotel in an impeccably restored 16th-century neoclassical mansion overlooking the plaza and historic churches and colonial architecture in the heart of the old city.
Besides its 31 luxurious rooms with large marble bathrooms and soaking tubs, a rooftop terrace, and an indoor bar and exclusive restaurant, the hotel (and Metropolitan) can host a variety of experiences. Our first morning, we got a real taste of Ecuadorian life and culture on a walking tour of old Quito.
Visit Ecuador and the Galapagos
We visited an artisan who restores precious family religious figurines, explored the city’s oldest fresh produce market, met a hatter and a curandera, marveled at the extensive gold leaf lining that covers much of the interiors of the 16th century Compania de Jesus. and the churches of San Francisco and visited the Casa del Alabado, a pre-Columbian art museum that houses more than 5,000 archaeological pieces.
The next day we explored the more cosmopolitan side of Quito, including the city’s extensive botanical gardens and the bohemian neighborhood of La Floresta. And when we returned to Quito before heading to the Galapagos, the hotel chef taught us how to make Ecuadorian ceviche.
Photo credit: Jeri Clausing
From Quito, it’s off to Metropolitan’s Mashpi Lodge. Although technically still in the Metropolitan District of Quito, the lodge located in a private rainforest reserve is three hours and two climates away. We left the moderate temperatures of the 9,000 foot high city of Quito, went through warmer temperatures as we crossed the equator, then climbed into the drizzly, cloud-covered reserve.
Arriving at the lodge was a bit like stepping into a luxurious glass cabin. The central restaurant and bar have floor-to-ceiling windows on two floors. And the bedrooms are located for maximum privacy, so you never have to close the curtains on the exterior glass walls that also overlook the rainforest.
The 6,000-acre reserve is essentially a private playground and scientific research facility that is home to 400 species of birds, trees, frogs, and other flora and fauna. The lodge’s expert guides took us on hikes through rivers and hilly trails. One day we stopped to swim under a waterfall. We took a leisurely ride on the Dragonfly Canopy gondola and spotted a sloth while riding the Sky Bike zipping through the treetops on a zip line. We drank wine while birdwatching, visited the reserve’s hummingbird farm and butterfly house, and took a night walk to experience the nocturnal world of the rainforest.
And did I mention the food? The kitchen at both properties as well as La Pinta offers daily samplings of Ecuadorian dishes (think ceviche, potato soup, and tigrillo, a breakfast dish made with green plantains).
At the sea
La Pinta was also a pleasant surprise. The upscale yet laid-back yacht boasts remarkably spacious staterooms (176 to 247 square feet) for a boat of her size and features what Metropolitan says are the largest windows of any vessel sailing the Galapagos. There are also plenty of public spaces indoors and outdoors, including a library where you can learn more about the islands. And as one of the pioneers of Galapagos cruising, Metropolitan’s guides and onboard lecturers, like those at Mashpi, are top-notch.
Metropolitan Touring’s La Pinta interior bar and lounge. Photo credit: Jeri Clausing
We sailed to the Eastern Isles, one of three different four-night, five-day itineraries offered by Metropolitan aboard Metropolitan’s La Pinta and 20-cabin Isabella II. And while company officials say shorter itineraries have become increasingly popular with guests also wanting to explore more of Ecuador or neighboring Peru or Colombia, guests looking for longer cruises can sail on its largest ship, the Santa Cruz II, which this year is operated by Metropolitan under the Hurtigruten flag, or combine several of the shorter crossings.
A couple on board were doing all three circuits, with a relaxation and spa break between the action-packed crossings at Metropolitan’s Finch Bay Hotel, the only beachfront hotel in the Galapagos.
Yes, in a perfect world with unlimited time and resources, the ultimate Galapagos to-do list trip would include everything. But for the rest of us, the 10-day land and water itinerary offers more than enough time to sample the diverse worlds that make up Ecuador.