I have no regrets in taking this trip and if I could turn back time I would do exactly the same again. You already imagine this is the trip of a lifetime and for me it was.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
The Amazon was easily the highlight of the trip. The accomodation at the lodge (Napo Wildlife Centre) was superb and the guides were of the highest quality. Particularly in the Amazon. It is difficult to highlight the best bits of the holiday. Everyday was different and I can't believe so much happened and I experienced so much in 3 weeks.
- What did you think of your group leader?
I had numerous group leaders throughout my stay in Ecuador and all were very good. The Amazon guides are the best guides I have ever been with.
On a more personal note the leader in Quito, Estaban, was fine as you would expect for the main part of the trip. However I extended my stay both at the start and end of the trip and Estaban was extremely helpful with giving local advice about backpacking opportunities and local tourist trips, sites and attractions. My luggage arrived late and when it arrived I was on a 2 day tour miles from the airport. Estaban, the Quito leader was able to collect my luggage from the airport on my behalf. He was clearly very passionate about Ecuador and his clients and when things go wrong (through no fault of exodus) he was able to go the extra step.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Lots, firstly some possible myths. I spent 12 months researching the country and came across lots of advice indicating that Ecuador is a very dangerous country. I arrived a week after the shoot out between police and the presidents army in October 2010. There were no signs of any violence and after a couple of days settling in I felt very safe. Even walking around the streets alone.
When the notes say Quito can get quite cold. They are telling the truth. Sometimes it felt freezing with temperatures as low as 5C although generally it was comfortable in pants and a long sleeve t shirt and fleece.
In the Amazon you imagine lots and lots of insects and that may put people off. Yes there are lots of large insects and spiders (you can hear them all the time) but this should not put you off. It's not like you trip over them. The beds have mosquito nets so nothing gets in. There are literally thousands of ants, but they congregate together and you can easily see them and step over them. The lake at the lodge is of a make up that is safe for humans but which mosquito's can't stand. As a result the resort is almost completely free from mosquito's. We chose to do the easy walking routes through the Amazon which lasted around 2 to 3 hours, each at a very gentle pace. The paths were clear and easy to navigate alllowing you to look at the wildlife rather than watching every step. The wildlife is very well camouflaged and whilst if you blink you will miss something the guides were always pointing something out. You need binoculars to get the most out of the Amazon.
Learn Spanish, a little bit of Spanish will go a long way as they (the locals) do not speak very good English. I bought a teach your self DVD for £ 10 ish and got on fine. It enhanced my holiday experience.
Do some research on Ecuador and if you can afford to stay a little longer it is deffinately worth it. The cloud forest was particularly exceptional. It was not advertised in the Exodus brochure and I feel they should at least offer it as an optional extension. I heard about Bellavista Mindo Cloud forrest through a popular travel guide book. I asked if exodus could book a trip in advance. They emailed me several different trips with itineries and prices. Exodus booked everything from the UK and it went like clockwork. I would recommend the 2 day trip because the bird life is very lively at sun rise (cost was around £ 200.00 all inclusive for my trip).
The advice regarding how much to tip varied a lot. I still don't know what the right tip percentage should be. I would just be aware that you may tip more or less than the Exodus brochure recommends.
I spent around £ 70 on malaria tablets (Malorone) which was the most expensive and I think the yellow fever was about £ 40. I was never asked to show the yellow fever certificate. That was my only medical expense (plus suncream)
Jet lag and altitude sickness varies from person to person. I felt some jet lag but it did not effect my enjoyment of the holiday. Everyone in our group was aware that the altitude was effecting them but for us it was never a problem and walking at normal pace was OK.
Local food is pork and chicken usually served with corn or rice and whilst I personally will eat anything that is put on a plate. There was nothing extreme and if you are a (can I say) difficult eater you will not have any problems in Ecuador. On the galapogas trip, some of the group had special dietary requirements and I was worried I would be eating soup the whole time. The chef was superb and everyone was well catered for with a large variety of food for everybody. That said if you want to try different foods, they have fruits that are not just better than in the UK but not available in the UK. A potato and cheese soup is a local speciality which I would recommend you ask for. Others include Mura Juice and a fruit called Grenade fruit (it's yellow about the size of a large orange but breaks open very easily and contains seeds much like our passion fruit.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
I took a night flight and arrived in the morning which is what I would do again if I went back.
I had a 2 day trip to Bellavista Cloud Forest to see the humingbirds which was excellent. Panaramic views of mountains covered in forest was also excellent.
I went on a day trip to Cotopaxi and a local market which was excellent (the local leader helped me arrange this on the last minute, I deliberately left it late to see how I handled the altitude).
On the first day of arrival our group ascended the cable car which they advised was enjoyable but exhausting because of the altitiude on there first day (I was at Cotopaxi that day).
I first met the group on the day we flew out to the Amazon.
On the free day after returnign from the Amazon we had the city tour which finished at around 11.30AM, had lunch at the hotel then me and 2 others went to the Equator line exhibition. It was very touristy as you would expect but the part around the corner (ask the guide and then ask locally) was much smaller but worth every minute. You go in and a guide will greet you and give you a 40 minute tour with experiments that seam like magic and give you an insight into the local life of years gone by and also the Amazon local life. The taxi driver (booked from hotel) waited in the car park for us and was excellent. In the evening I went to a football match (not organised through exodus, spur of the moment from a friend I met) south american cup quarter final. The atmosphere was amazing and there was no trouble. It may be possible to organise this through the hotel, the ticket was $6 and the football shirt on the stands outside was $5. All paid for on the day.
Galapogas trip was amazing, the notes don't tell you about the excellent food on board and doesn't tell you that actually there is a certain pleasure in riding the big ocean waves in a very small boat. It was certainly interesting trying to take showers whilst on the move. The Galapogas part of the trip is pretty much exactly as described in the trip notes and there is not much I can add. Your hands reach for the camera all the time.
After Galapogas I went to Otavalo for 2 days and this was very good (more so because I took the local bus and stayed in a run down hostel that didn't speak any English to try and get a true traveller experience) and the town was nice and friendly and small (especially when compared to Quito which is huge). The Market was very good (it wasn't even market day). There was a parade which made the trip extra special. Although Otavalo was a good experience it didn't have any special charm and I wouldn't go overly out of my way to see it. If you likle markets you'll like Otavalo.
Overall I was very glad I did what I could in Ecuador, the country has so much to offer that I could have spent an extra week there easily.