Holiday review by Susanna S.
Name: Susanna S.
Date of trip: 29/01/2020
Number of people: 2
Highlights of our time at Mashpi Lodge included having breakfast at dawn down by the Life Centre. The guide had led us there when dawn was just appearing behind the trees. It was just us, and it was totally magical. Also on our last day we walked up to the Hummingbird Garden. Vast numbers of different species of hummingbirds fluttered and "buzzed" around us, completely unafraid. All at once the guides brought out a table laid with wine and nibbles. We sat with our fellow guests and just wished the moment would last for ever. Highlights of the La Pinta cruise included climbing to the top of Bartolome island and seeing the whole vista spread out before us. Another special few hours was trekking over the lava field of Santiago laid down only about 150 years ago. The best moment of all for me was disembarking at Darwin Beach on Genovesa and seeing all the frigate birds, nazca and red footed babies and their young, completely unafraid just a few metres away.
This was our first "expedition" style holiday, and it far exceeded our expectations. It's fair to say Metropolitan Touring handled our whole trip exceedingly well, including all the transfers (and there were many). We stayed two nights at the Mashpi Lodge in the cloud forest above Quito. If you are a bird and nature lover, then this is the place to go. We then joined La Pinta for a five day, four night cruise around the northern islands of the Galapagos Islands. This was a long held dream for us, and La Pinta and her crew and guides introduced us to the fascinating archipelago. Finally we ended our trip with three nights at the Finch Bay hotel on Santa Cruz, a peaceful oasis.
Grateful thanks to Rory for helping to make this dream holiday come true. I spoke to him on a number of occasions, and he was very personal. As a non-tech person I found using the Vamoos app quite difficult. Although we had been warned some of tickets would not be confirmed until quite near to our departure, we found this rather worrying especially as we were not arriving in Ecuador from Europe but from the USA. However in the end all was well. All the flights and transfers went smoothly. Thank you Rory.
Our very first guide was Santiago who accompanied us from our hotel in Quito up into the hills to Mashpi Lodge. His knowledge and enthusiasm made the 2+ hour journey go in a flash. Mention must also be made of Luis who was our driver. We felt entirely safe and comfortable despite all the twists and turns of the roads. At Mashpi Lodge we had another excellent guide, Paul, who planned our few days perfectly. It was such a treat to have a guide just for us. On La Pinta the expedition leader was Carlos who led the whole trip expertly (including giving an excellent lecture on Darwin), and we had two very knowledgeable and passionate guides, Henry and Sabina. They were so patient with my numerous questions and requests for bird identification!
Social & Environmental Responsibility:
Mashpi Lodge is a worthwhile project worthy of support. I hope that by staying there we were bringing money into the local economy which in turn would help the local population to value the project and want to protect the reserve.
As soon as you see the Galapagos you realise how fragile the eco system is. 200,000 people a year visit the islands already. How many more can they absorb? Should we even have travelled there?? At least La Pinta and the other vessels in the fleet are part of a strictly controlled visitor programme. Numbers on any island are kept small, and visits are carefully controlled. This doesn't spoil the enjoyment, but does make you feel that you are bringing no harm. Hopefully local people benefit by working in the hotels/on the boats/driving the buses etc.
The places you stayed
For bird and nature lovers alike, this is the place to visit. The last hour of the journey from Quito is on unmade roads and can be quite a bone-shaking experience. But it's all worth it once you arrive. THE FOREST IS GLORIOUS. The activities can be quite physical - there's quite a lot of energetic walking - but it's always rewarded by lovely views, exciting trails, and wildlife spotting. The rooms are fab - floor to ceiling windows. They host dozens of people every week (most people only stay two or three nights), but somehow they make the experience personal for each guest. The guides are so interesting, and experts at making sure you get to see everything before you leave. The food was delicious especially the buffet style breakfasts and lunches. Prepare to get very wet! However everything has been thought of: wellies and rain coats to borrow plus a drying service. The zip wire bike and dragonfly experiences were absolute highlights. The staff were all gracious, welcoming and helpful from the house keeping staff through the chef and waiters all the way up to the top. What a place....
The Casa Gangotena is an oasis in Quito. The majestic buildings have been wonderfully renovated. The rooms have high ceilings and large bathrooms. There is a stylish atrium at the heart of the hotel. The hotel is situated in the heart of "old" Quito on San Francisco square. Grateful thanks to Alphonso the manager for his warm and gracious welcome. A highlight for us was our tour of the monastery and church on the square. Alphonso accompanied us while we were taken round by a young monk named funnily enough Franscisco!
We took the easy option of joining the hop on/hop off bus to get an overview of old and modern Quito. Like any large city one has to be mindful of where you go, but it was a fascinating experience.
La Pinta has just been renovated, and it was a joy to be aboard. We spent four nights/five days exploring the northern islands of the Galapagos archipelago. The cabin was spacious with a large (non-opening) floor to ceiling window. The en suite bathroom, though compact, was modern. The whole expedition was run like a well-oiled machine, and yet still remained personal. There is a lot of getting on and off the ribs to visit the islands, so guests need to be reasonably fit and agile. The staff and guides cannot do enough for you. Although short, it was a very intense cruise with two or three activities a day (always with a rest time at some point). Everything has been thought of: snorkelling gear, life jackets every time you're on the rib, walking poles for trekking, even metallic water bottles to reduce plastic waste. Details of each day's activities are posted on screens. The lounge area is spacious.
The upper deck has a lovely canopied area for meals al fresco. The food especially the buffet breakfast and lunches was a very high standard. There were often little snacks to be hand on return from a visit or snorkelling. The guides were enthusiastic and passionate about the Islands and their preservation. This experience has spoiled me for all future expeditions!!
The Finch hotel is a boutique hotel and quiet oasis near Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz. We absolutely loved arriving via the water taxi and walking along the path and board walk to the hotel (the luggage comes separately). The hotel overlooks a small bay and beach ringed by mangroves. All number of sea birds are circling the skies, and lots of marine iguanas are to be encountered on the beach. Our ocean view room was spacious, stylish and spotless. We were there over a weekend so the beach became quite busy with local people enjoying their time off. We were able to retreat to the spotlessly clean swimming pool. We enjoyed snorkelling in the bay and seeing an amazing array of fish and iguanas.
There is a stylish open-plan restaurant and lounge area. The breakfasts were good and there was a wide choice. We found the food and wine were rather expensive in the evening, and the menu a little bit limited, however we realise that everything has to be brought in.
It is easy to walk or take a taxi to the Charles Darwin Research Station. Well worth a visit to see conservation in action. In the other direction you can walk to the local gorge where people swim. The route passes the old salt marshes where salt was produced.