Family of Four (Dec 25-Jan 5) - Dec 24 - Jan 5, 2020
Thanks to Iveth for organizing a wonderful 13-day trip and to Cristian for making it special. Cristian was very personable and was knowledgeable about local history and customs. He also made great adjustments to our itinerary when appropriate. Iveth stepped up and visited when one of us did not feel well for a couple of days.
Highlights included horseback riding at Cotapaxi; Rose Success rose plantation; Hacienda Las Cuevas (a lovely place to stay carved out of the rock); Casa Gangotena Hotel on an historic square in Quito (great rooms, lovely food, and craft cocktails); the weaving demonstration and people at Peguche Wasi; and our days at Napo Wildlife Center in the Amazon basin. The people were great everywhere we stayed. Cristian’s suggestions for local lunch stops were wonderful and we enjoyed our time with him. We also thought the Cultura Manor Hotel was a nice introduction to the ambience of Quito. We particularly enjoyed our leisurely lunch at La Plaza Restaurant in the Hotel Mama Cuchara (which is by ArtHotels who also have locations in Otavalo and Cuenca). It has a great rooftop bar with views of the historic center and of the Virgin Mary statue on the Mirador de Panecillo. The bar was tended by Juan Pedro who crafted his own cocktails and had virgin versions for the kids.
Being in Ecuador at New Year’s was a treat. In many places, we saw groups of men and even kids clumsily dressed as women who sang and danced amusingly in front of our car. For a couple of coins, we could pass through. Some of them kept us laughing. Cristian explained the tradition and even confessed to having done the same as a young man. The atmosphere for our NYE dinner in the monastery at Hacienda Cusin was wonderful as were the folk dancers would performed in the garden. Although, the rooms there were very tired, the service was great and we loved getting the hot water bottles as part of the turn-down service. And yes, we did find the secret stair in the monastery.
The Amazon was a fabulous part of the trip. The lodge was very well done, the excursions were well planned, and the service was very nice. We saw three species of monkeys, macaws, parrots, a toucan, a young and a full-grown anaconda, caimans, giant river otters, tarantulas, and many other beautiful birds. Our canoe crews were excellent. The visit to the village was a bit touristy but we danced their dance and bought a few hand-made things from their shop.
Our transfers with Alejandro upon our arrival and the day of our departure were excellent. He was flexible and helpful in making our last day in Quito a great day. We had 10 hours between our arrival from the Amazon and the time we needed to return to the airport. So, we went on our own unplanned excursions. We spent two hours at the home and museum of Ecuador’s famous artist, Oswaldo Guayasamín. This is an absolute must and we highly recommend going there. We then went to the historic Quito area where we came across numerous street performers and an entertaining parade. Alejandro held onto our luggage while we toured. So, it really helped make it a great day.
We do have a few suggestions noting that some of the drives were tiresome and it was cramped being in a small SUV. Skip the Thermae at Papallacta. The cabin was fun, the treatments were fine, and the hike was nice, but the hot springs were filled with locals who stand in line to get in. The place lost its charm with so many people there so it was not worth the drive. White water rafting would have been more fun.
The little village at the middle of the earth was very touristy. The egg demonstration, walking the line, and the water draining demonstration, were all pretty hokey. The monument next door was fine and the relief map in the French pavilion was helpful. The nearby Le Crater Restaurant was fogged in so we did not have a view but even so, the service and the food were disappointing. We do recommend a stop at the Quitsato equator. Their explanations and materials were very well done and it was good that Cristian had us stop there.
In Napo we would have preferred to have one of their naturalists (which is usually included) instead of hiring and paying for our own directly which was apparently due to holiday scheduling difficulties. Pedro was not very engaging, even at meals. He could have made it more fun for us and our teens. Our indigenous community guide Jorge was good at spotting animals and we even heard Pedro asking Jorge for information about the animals. We still enjoying Napo and would recommend it.
We had a great trip to the Galapagos prior to having kids and would have worked that it if we had more time.