Hidden away in the Cloud Forest, Mashpi Lodge is an eco-aware sanctuary where cars, television, internet and convenience stores don’t matter. Two hours drive from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, it sits in 1,500 hectare biodiversity hotspot Choco Forest.
Getting here, crossing the equator (marked by a rather brutalist monument), is a journey in itself. Clouds will envelop you as you weave your way around snowcapped mountains, through tiny villages no more than a cluster of wooden and bamboo houses, dense forests and skirting around volcanoes.
Not surprising, when Quito’s ex-mayor, Roque Sevilla, stumbled on the property, in its previous incarnation as a sawmill, he couldn’t resist turning it into a stunning nature retreat.
Mashpi is beautiful and modern with clean wooden lines, concrete floors and acres of glass that ‘cocoon’ you. Its 22 spacious minimalist rooms have superb beds overlooking the tangled forest. The double-storey dining room with elegant teak furniture is somewhere you yearn to linger, particularly as the food is to die for. There’s a gorgeous spa, hot tub and open-air yoga deck too.
It’s the staff – 80 percent from nearby villages – who really bring the forest alive and make for a memorable experience. From imparting facts such as the life expectancy of a hummingbird (seven years) to how butterflies can imitate another animal, their knowledge knows no bounds.
Test your legs on the Sky Bike, pedalling along a thick steel wire, or take the easy option of gliding across the canopy of palms and moss-shrouded trees on the Dragonfly (an aerial gondola). Take a dip in a waterfall, wade through streams by torchlight at midnight, looking for (transparent) glass frogs and watch the hummingbirds in awe.
The Galapagos Islands are like nowhere else on earth. Virtually untouched by the modern world and largely volcanic, they’re home to the world’s most extraordinary wildlife. Isabela, the largest island in the archipelago, is overlooked by the bubbling volcano, Sierra Negra.
At sea level, the landscape is nothing short of other-worldly – a lifeless, jagged surface devoid of any signs of life except for the hardy cacti.
But head to the highlands and you will enter a lush, almost tropical paradise. Scalesia Lodge sits in the forest of rose, apple and coffee trees and this open-air two-storey building has a relaxed barefoot chic vibe with stone walls and small gardens of cacti.
Accommodation takes the form of large safari-style tents with glassed-in showers,verandas and huge beds. The tents are raised off the ground, making the most of the views over the forest down to the sea. Twenty minutes away is Puerto Villamil. Largely a backpackers’ beachside hangout, the local wildlife basically has the run of the town. Sea lions laze on park benches, iguanas sunbathe on the road and pelicans dive off rocks fronting the incredible white sandy beach.
Five of Isabela’s volcanoes are active, with Sierra Negra the most angry. Hike the caldera for a bird’s eye view of the ever-changing clouds of ash spewing from its north side.
Arriving at Finch Bay on Santa Cruz island is delightfully romantic. Take a little wooden boat from Puerto Ayora harbour, which jostles with water taxis and large cruisers under anchor. Three minutes later, you’re strolling a boardwalk alongside a sandy beach to the hotel.
The glorious pool greets you, as do the resident ducks. The two-storey property is not dissimilar to a 1950s American motel with wooden walkways connecting the rooms set on a sandy floor with flora and fauna providing natural decoration.
Rooms have a beach house feel; calming whites, blue soft furnishings and modern bathrooms with walk-in showers.
The open restaurant looks particularly beautiful at night, lit by candles and framed by full-length white silk curtains wafting in the warm breeze.
Finch Bay is a handy launching point for excursions to the Tintoreras Islands with their craggy, lunar-esque landscape and which have the world’s largest concentration of endemic species. They are home to iguanas, blue-footed boobies, penguins and sea lions to name a few.
Quito is a mystical and magical place. Awarded Unesco Heritage status in 1978, it is colonial grandeur at its best.
Encircled by volcanoes and mountains, reaching down to a lush basin it is a city of drama – and churches. Ladies huddle on every corner, selling anything from towering cream cakes to apples, ice cream, eggs and corn.
Sitting discreetly overlooking Plaza San Francisco sits the immaculate Casa Gangotena. Once a private neoclassical mansion, it’s now an elegant hotel. Don’t miss the rooftop bar – just the place for a sundowner.
Its rooms are grand, with wood panelling and antique furniture. Windows open to reveal a pretty courtyard with fountain.
The restaurant is well-respected in Quito with its chef’s take on traditional if a little rich – dishes.
Journey Latin America (020 3553 9647/ journeylatinamerica.co.uk) offers an 11-day trip to Ecuador and Galapagos from £5,778. Includes domestic flights, transfers, excursions and most meals. International flights from £650. Ecuador tourism: ecuador.travel
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