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Trip Report Quito, Galapagos and Otavalo

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Since 2000, I have been a frequent poster on the Fodor’s forums, especially the Asia Board. However, this is my first trip report on this forum. My wife Jeane and I have travelled all over Asia and have recently branched out to other continents with trips to South Africa and Australia in the past two years. We are a 60+/-ish couple from Connecticut, for those of you that are not familiar with us.

The Galápagos Islands have been on Jeane’s bucket list for a long time and so we decided to make Ecuador our destination for this year’s 15 day trip. Early on, I decided that we needed to do an 8-day Galapagos cruise sandwiched in between time in Quito and another destination. We both agreed that attempting to do the Galapagos and Machu Picchu in the time allotted would be too much, so we decided to end our trip in Ecuador by staying at a hacienda near Otavalo, the location of the largest market in South America in the scenic Andes mountains.

We booked our flights and our cruise concurrently and filled in the rest afterward. We booked the cruise through Vaya Adventures, a California company that specializes in Ecuador and South America. We are not big fans of travel agencies and found out later that we could have booked directly with the cruise line. However, booking with Vaya actually worked to our advantage as they were attentive, helpful and gave us a free upgrade to business class for our domestic connections from Quito to and from the cruise departure and arrival airports.

I booked our International flights on American as it had the most convenient departure and arrival times to and from Quito. Since we booked well in advance, the cost for Business Class seats was not that much more than Economy. We prefer United and the Star Alliance airlines, but the connections did not work well. Flying out of Hartford, we had to connect through Charlotte and Miami. We had 2 hours between flights outbound and 3 hours inbound. Delta had a direct connection through Atlanta, but required an overnight flight without “lie flat” seats, so that was not a good option either.

With flights booked, we had 3 nights in Quito to allow for weather delays, lost luggage etc. After much research, we chose the Sheraton Quito. While there are more charming places in the old town area of Quito, they all seemed to have their quirks. Having experienced “charm” in Central America, we decided that a modern hotel would award us with more services and a better night’s sleep as well as being easy to find for the taxi drivers. This turned out to be a very good decision on many levels. Anyway, we booked a room on the club floor at the advance rate with no deposit and much later when the rates dropped, we rebooked with a full 100% deposit.

For the back end of our trip, we booked Hacienda Cusin for 4 nights because it had great reviews on TA and had horse riding from its own stables. Vaya had proposed a whirlwind tour of the Ecuadorian Andes, but it was too fast paced for our needs with too much moving around.

So, with all of our plans in place, this is how the trip evolved:

Things did not get off to a smooth start. No sooner had we boarded our initial flight to Charlotte that we were told to deplane. There was a shortage of oxygen tanks for this flight and there would be a 3-hour delay so that spares could be brought in from Boston. So we headed directly to the Admirals Club to see if we couldn’t rebook our flights. Because of the planned layovers between our originally scheduled flights, we had a couple of options for getting to Miami for our international flight. We chose to risk short connections at Washington Reagan National as well as at Miami. I was concerned about our bags, but was assured that they would get to Miami. From that point on, everything went smoothly until after we got through a quick immigration check at Quito Airport. We had made it, but our bags were still in Miami. The clerk at the Quito Airport baggage desk assured me that bags would arrive on the next night’s flight. Fortunately, we always pack a couple of days worth of clothing in our carry-on bags and were prepared for our first day in Quito.

We had waited quite a while to find out that our bags had not arrived and then we had to file a claim. A driver was supposed to meet us and I was wondering if he would still be around when we exited the baggage area. Fortunately he was and about 50 minutes later, we arrived at the Quito Sheraton. Upon arrival, we were offered an upgrade to a club floor suite which I gratefully accepted. Our suite was fine - with most all of the modern amenities (2 flat screen TV’s, coffee maker, large electronic safe, rain shower in the bath, etc.) but somewhat tired, with little character. We would have liked double sinks in the bath, but that is really my only complaint. We settled in quickly and were in bed by half past midnight.

Thankfully, there was no pressure to rise early the next morning as we had a light agenda and breakfast in the club lounge was served until 10:30AM. The lounge was on the 12th (top) floor of the hotel and had a nice view of the new part of town, with the mountains in the distance. The breakfast buffet was fine with an omelet station and all of the usual stuff, including a selection of local fruits and juices. The staff were friendly, but didn’t speak much English.

Our plan for our first day in Quito was to take the hop-on, hop-off Quito Tour Bus. The first stop as well as the ticket sales kiosk was a 5-10 minute walk from the Sheraton. We boarded at 11AM. Tickets are $15 per person and the money was well spent. There is an ongoing commentary on the bus in English and Spanish, giving a very basic explanation of the various sites en route. Each stop allows an hour for exploring before the next bus arrives. Our stops included the Iglesia La Basilica, the beautiful Gothic church where you can climb (on stairs and ladders) to the top of its towers, the main square and the Iglesia La Compania with its gold interior (no photos allowed), and a half hour stop at the Mirador El Panecillo (statue of Virgin Mary with views of the city).

At the end of day, we chose to have “dinner” in the club lounge. There were empanadas and some other appetizers which were filling enough to constitute a meal. We were disappointed that they were not particularly warm both from a taste and hygiene point of view. The wine and beer selection was limited, but adequate. We enjoyed talking with several other guests that were staying there and wound up staying until closing time.

For our second day, our bags had arrived very early in the morning, so we were able to unpack them and get settled before the day started. Then, it was breakfast again at a leisurely pace and a taxi to the Community Hostel for our “free” 10:30AM walking tour of the Old Town. We had to provide specific directions to the doorman and then to our taxi driver for our destination. The Community Hostel was actually quite nice by hostel standards, and we were able to use the restroom while waiting for the tour to start. It was a fairly big group, but our guide projected well, so the tour was interesting and educational. We highly recommend this tour. We did not go inside any of the sites but did cover a fairly large area in about 3 hours. We tipped our wonderful guide generously at the end. Afterwards, we shopped for crafts in the basement of the Iglesia De San Francisco and took a taxi (because it was raining) back to the Iglesia La Basilica which had a shop inside that Jeane wanted to revisit to purchase a scarf for her assistant.

At the club lounge that evening, the food was similar to the night before. We had noticed that a microwave oven was available and chose to heat our lukewarm food from the buffet. This really helped, as it tasted much better from the night before. Afterward, we returned to our room to get packed and ready for our flights to the Galapagos.

Next: The Galapagos Islands.

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