Holiday review by Sally Longford
Name: Sally Longford
Date of trip: 28/09/2014
Number of people: 2
It was misty and rainy in Cotopaxi NP, but undaunted Fernando set off up a back road and as we turned a corner we came across a condor sitting on a rock. We got out and crept towards it and eventually took off (photos too big to upload!) and it's companion swooped from above to join it. They soared above us very close, it was amazing!
In Napo, we were in the creek in the canoe, when we saw 3 otters fishing under some fallen trees, they seemed unperturbed by us. Eventually they emerged from the water and wandered off into the undergrowth. Will never forget it. What a privilege.
We had so many "wow" moments, it was incredible. We'll never forget it. It went like clockwork and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
The country is a great destination and our decision not to go to Galapagos was vindicated (we actually got a bit of applause because we weren't going), there is so much to see on the mainland that many people miss completely. We learnt so much about the history, culture, politics and environment, it has inspired me to get back involved in the campaign to save Yasuni from oil exploitation.
We approached 3 companies for a quotation with clear instructions about what we wanted (staying in locally owned accommodation, seeing a variety of ecosystems, including train trips, etc) and your company delivered a tailor made programme, which fitted the bill perfectly. Paul helpfully responded to our questions quickly and efficiently. It went like clockwork on the ground too!
Vicky - We were met at the airport by Vicky, in transit to the hotel she gave us really essential and useful information to enable us to get to grips with Quito quickly.
Raul Miranda picked us up from Zuleta to take us to Ibarra then collected from Salinas and took us to Quito. He was very friendly and explained lots about the local area.
Gloria collected us from the hotel in Quito to transfer us to the airport and got us through the madness of the delay efficiently.
Fernando Herrero had two days of really poor weather to contend with, but he found interesting things to do and his knowledge and love of the region was fantastic. So we had a local indoor food market, a llama stew, back roads to see different perspectives. He was brilliant.
Diego who collected us from Cuenca and took us to Guayaquil surprised us with a day which we weren't excited about. It was misty and wet but he still managed to pass on his enthusiasm for Cajas NP, took us on a cocoa farm visit and got us bird watching at the side of the main road. He too was brilliant!
They were all so knowledgeable and passed on their passion for their country's culture, history and wild places and engaged us in interesting conversation throughout, they were great advocates for the country.
Social & Environmental Responsibility:
We met lots of people and most of our accommodation was locally owned, as we had requested. The people were keen to talk to us. We had a lovely introduction when we met some pro-government activists on the first morning in Quito who invited us to their rally!
We spent money on lots of handicrafts in all parts of the country, dealing directly with the people who made them, there was such lovely stuff to buy it was hard to resist and those gifts will be really appreciated by our friends this Christmas!
I firmly believe that the only way to ensure conservation is effective is to involve local people, and clearly this was the case with all the sites we visited. It was inspirational.
The places you stayed
The hotel was well equipped, rooms were comfortable with everything you could need. The staff were pleasant, but reception was not wholly efficient (they missed an early morning call). The building is very attractive and very well located in the old town which felt very safe to walk around.
The only disappointment was the restaurant. The food wasn't great, and since it was our first stop and we were tired, we didn't feel like venturing out to find a restaurant.
Breakfast was OK, buffet style, but not inspiring.
Our guide David was outstanding. His knowledge, ability to spot birds and wildlife and his enthusiasm were infectious. The walks, even the "easy" ones were pretty challenging, bearing in mind we hadn't had much time to acclimatise, they do generally involve steep slopes and it was hot! The exception to this was the 6.30am slot which is a gentle wander round. However, it's important to note that there is absolutely no pressure to do anything more than you want.
The forest was beautiful, with lovely plants (orchids), insects and butterflies to spot, all explained in detail by David.
Hours can be spent just watching the fantastic array of humming birds around the lodge and you can take yourself off on the marked paths whenever you like.
After dark they attract nocturnal animals such as the Kinkajou and Olinguito and we were privileged to watch them chewing on bananas both evenings.
The accommodation was comfortable, some people complained a bit that there was little sound insulation but we were above the kitchen and at night it was very quiet.
Food was really good, wholesome and tasty, with lunch and dinner consisting of soup, followed by a main for example of pasta, trout or chicken, then fruit or cake for dessert. Breakfast was also really good (no buffet here!)
Wow, wow, wow! It's an amazing place, we were treated like royalty. The accommodation is luxurious, the rooms are lovely, with log burners. The public rooms are extremely comfortable and the staff are great. The food was excellent, and we got the chance to try some new foods, such as guinea pig as well as the lovely produce from the organic garden and the trout farm.
The tour of the garden was very interesting, seeing so many exotic and familiar plants growing at altitude on the equator was great.
We don't ride, but took a walk to the Condor rehabilitation project and it was lovely. The researcher at the project was very interesting, his work with condors, spectacled bears and other local species was inspiring and we were glad to be able to donate to the project.
We wandered off to the local community centre, with one of the hacienda dogs to buy some crafts, which was entertaining.
We had an interesting arrival. The morning plane had been cancelled and the afternoon one was delayed so by the time we arrived at the creek it was almost dark. The water level was low and so it was difficult for the paddlers to get up the creek. It wasn't much fun sitting helpless in the canoe watching them struggle! More about Avianca later!
The next day Dave was not well so I went on the rainforest walk, which was quite challenging. Again this was due to low water level, as the canoe couldn't access the usual mooring spot and we had to trudge through the forest to get to the path. It was pretty difficult going, and I think I can confidently say no-one enjoyed that much. However, once we were on the path the local guide, Cheyenne, spotted all sorts of creatures and explained about the uses of plants and this was very interesting. He was also very supportive of me, helping me negotiate difficult steps, etc.
In the afternoon we went to the canopy platform. We left at 4 and were told we would have to be quick, not my strong point! It was hard going, but when we got there the view was fab, with lots to see and the canopy beautiful. Coming back I had a head torch, but it was again quite a quick march, I went down a hole and messed my knee up a bit (always a weak point).
The next day Dave was well, which was good because it was fantastic. We went down the creek, spotted lots of wildlife, then to the two clay licks, lots of parakeets, then back up the creek and spotted Giant Otters. Never forget that, it was superb.
The accommodation was very comfortable, with well equipped cabins. The food was buffet style, but good, tasty and varied. Service by all the staff was excellent and friendly.
The manager struck us as really outstanding, he was there, keeping an eye all the time, and showed genuine concern and offered help when Dave was ill. He did a really good presentation at the end reminding people about the ethos of the place and encouraging people to thank the staff, emphasising the local people's involvement and the importance of conservation of this beautiful place.
It's just off the main road and there isn't much freedom to wander on foot, but we were being collected by Fernando and taken out on both mornings and were happy to relax around the house the rest of the time.
The accommodation is very comfortable. Our room was fine, quite well equipped, and overlooked the front garden.
Maria is very keen on maintaining Ecuadorian food traditions and so we tried a variety of foods, including Lupin seed salad!
I do think it's worth noting that there is a bull ring in the back yard, which was a bit of a shock to me. Several people I know would have been very upset!
This isn't a Hacienda, but a hotel.
The room wasn't ready when we arrived at 4pm. The room was spacious and well equipped and comfortable.
Riobamba has apparently got some electricity supply problems so we had a couple of short power cuts, but they have generator which kicked in to sort it. The situation did get resolved at night so that we didn't have to listen to the loud generator going.
The restaurant was OK, with decent service. Breakfast was buffet style and pretty average.