TTG – Features – Why your clients’ Latin American tour should include this city and rainforest combination

0

Ecuador – currently celebrating 200 years of independence – offers incredible pre-Columbian history and rainforest adventures, according to James Litston

Boutique hotel Casa Gangotena offers some of the best views of Old Town Quito

Boutique hotel Casa Gangotena offers some of the best views of Old Town Quito

ROses are one of Ecuador’s main agricultural exports, but based on the number on display at Casa Gangotena in Quito, I’m amazed that there are still some left to send overseas. Huge bursts of flowers shoot out of the vases, filling the lobby and lounges with dramatic reds and creamy whites that complement the paint. This floral exuberance enhances the welcome of the best boutique hotel in town. It’s the perfect start to an Ecuadorian adventure.

Quito is the second highest capital in the world (only La Paz in Bolivia, further south along the Andes, is higher) and is surrounded by mountain peaks. One of these, the volcanic Pichincha, towers over Casa Gangotena to frame the view from a rooftop terrace as verdant as the interiors.

The view also encompasses the church spiers and rooftops of Quito’s Centro Historico (Old Town), which is full of colonial architecture and charm. To explore it, I join a Quito Like a Local walking tour that starts right outside Casa Gangotena on the cobbled Plaza San Francisco. As I go, I learn that the large church in the square stands on the site of a temple built by the indigenous Quitu people. They were conquered by the Incas, for whom it was an important city until the arrival of Spanish invaders in the 1530s.

The churches which have replaced the Inca temples shine with plundered gold. We enter as a couple to admire their ornamental details; then visit the colorful neighborhood of San Roque.

Quito may be the gateway for guests heading to Galapagos cruises, but the UNESCO-listed city deserves a few days of immersion. In addition to visiting museums and churches, guests can take the El TeleferiQo cable car to the top of Pichincha for stunning views. And when it’s time to move on, they’ll have a very different experience just over three hours away.

Mashpi Lodge is geographically closer to Quito than the Amazon rainforest

Mashpi Lodge is geographically closer to Quito than the Amazon rainforest

Welcome to Jurassic Park

To get there, you have to leave the highlands and aim for the coastal plain, cross the equator to reach the choco: a tropical forest particularly rich in biodiversity that stretches from Panama to Peru. It has been devastated by logging and agriculture, but one of Ecuador’s largest remaining tracts is the setting of Mashpi Lodge, Casa Gangotena’s sister property.

The 45-minute journey takes place on bumpy, unpaved tracks that lead to a pair of heavy gates. “Welcome to Jurassic Park!” said the driver: and indeed, it would be difficult to imagine a more primitive setting. Trees along the trail are dripping with moss, low clouds lend an ethereal haze; and the bumpy, back-to-basics road adds to the sense of arrival. As we tumble out of the minibus, we encounter modernist lines and mid-century style furniture: an unexpected urban aesthetic amidst a wild and untamed jungle. But it is much more than a chic seaside resort. Mashpi Lodge is a conservation success story and sits in an ever-expanding rainforest reserve.

The property’s parent company, Metropolitan Touring, offsets its emissions by buying or replanting forest so that all of its operations are carbon neutral. The hotel stands on the footprint of an old sawmill: now, thankfully, just a reminder of when this forest was saved from logging.

The Sky Bike offers a unique vantage point over the rainforest canopy

The Sky Bike offers a unique vantage point over the rainforest canopy

Kind to nature

Metropolitan Touring plans to expand its Mashpi Reserve to encompass 14,000 hectares. In doing so, the project will create wildlife corridors connecting remaining forest patches, thereby supporting viable animal populations. With 95 species of mammals and 418 types of birds, it’s a lot of work; and by retraining former hunters and loggers in hospitality roles, Mashpi Lodge is positively changing local attitudes towards forest use.

It all sounds very dignified, but is it fun to visit? Certainly. Beyond guided hikes and stops to cool off at jungle waterfalls, there are new features such as the self-propelled Sky Bike for pedaling through the canopy. Even better is the tranquil Dragonfly: a gondola ride reaching dizzying heights to gaze at endless shades of green. But best of all are the ranger-guided walks to spot toucans and other wild birds dressed in fabulous colors (as well as spiders, toads and various creepy critters).

For wildlife-conscious guests, this is a remarkable experience. And with options to expand to Machu Picchu, the Galapagos, or an Amazon River cruise, they’ll thank you for making Ecuador part of their South American tour.

To book: Two nights at Casa Gangotena plus three nights at Mashpi Lodge cost from £4,195 pp including flights, transfers and accommodation (B&B in Quito, full board in Mashpi), based on two sharing (rainbowtours.co.uk). For the latest Foreign Office travel advice to Ecuador, see gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/ecuador

Paying it forward with voluntourismPrevious post Paying it forward with voluntourism
The cruise that offers your customers the best of both worldsnext article The cruise that offers your customers the best of both worlds
Share.

Comments are closed.