Just Back from Ecuador with Laura and Whitney
Just Back from Ecuador with GO Girls Laura and Whitney
We catch up with our South American trip designer Laura and marketing manager Whitney on why Ecuador should be at the top of your bucket list.
This spring, Outside GO girls Laura Gerwin and Whitney James had the opportunity to explore Ecuador on a 10-day trip though some of our favorite properties south of the equator. They chased butterflies through mud puddles in a cloud forest, sipped Ecuadorian vino in the heart of Quito, swam with wild dolphins in the Galapagos, and rode horses to a condor rehabilitation center amidst ancient ruins in the Andes. Here, we ask them a few questions about their favorite moments and how you can prepare for your epic South American adventure.
Q: What was the most unexpected part of visiting Masphi Lodge?
Whitney: I had never experienced a cloud forest before, and had no idea what to expect aside from what I’d seen on the Netflix documentary featuring Mashpi. To my surprise and delight I got to meet all the stars of the episode, and the lodge was even more spectacular in person. But the best part were the guides. Lizardo and Mannolo took the best care of us. They answered all of our questions, cracked smiles in between sharing deep knowledge of the rainforest, and explained that everything we learned from Tarzan is wrong.
Laura: It was so green. I felt infused with green and connected to nature after traversing the trails past over 50 varieties of wild orchids to hidden waterfall pools immersed in leaves larger than a normal sized human. I loved soaring above the trees in the Dragonfly Canopy. It was a completely different perspective, peacefully gliding among the treetops of the cloud forest with a bird’s eye view.
"[The guides] answered all of our questions, cracked smiles in between sharing deep knowledge of the rainforest, and explained that everything we learned from Tarzan is wrong."
Q: What were some of your favorite flavors from Ecuador?
Laura: At Hacienda Zuleta, one of Outside GO’s favorite outposts in the Andes, they prepared the most amazing, melty, family-style dish of love-filled lasagna, oozing with cheese from Zuleta’s cheese factory. It was delicious. The seven-course culinary masterpiece at Zazu, Quito’s must-go eatery intoxicated my palette with Ecuador’s hippest flavors. To’ak crafts the finest chocolate in the world. I let it melt in my mouth, tasting the pureness of chocolate harvested from cocoa trees with centuries of history.
Whitney: The vegan ceviche at Super Foods Quito was drool-worthy. And how could I forget the chocolate tasting with To’ac chased with a sip of 23-year aged Zacapa Rum? Breakfast at Galapagos Safari Camp was out of this world, especially with that view…and the cheese at Hacienda Zuleta? Don’t even get me started on the parmesano.
Q: Tell us about the wildlife found during your stay at Galapagos Safari Camp.
Laura: Envisioning the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands makes me pause, take a deep breath, and smile. The Galapagos Islands are protected as one of earth’s treasures filled with diversity found nowhere else. It is a pristine and wild place, and the animals there thrive. I watched blue-footed boobies sit in their nests with their blue toes protecting their eggs, while frigatebirds soared overhead, the ones on the ground using their iconic red gulag pouches as pillows to rest in the branches. It’s a birders paradise. The seas are surging with swarming schools of big, vibrant fish, sea turtles, sea lions, and marine life that moves with you as you become one with the underwater world. The tortoises topple across the highlands munching on guava and taking plenty of time to get wherever they are going.
"The seas are surging with swarming schools of big, vibrant fish, sea turtles, sea lions, and marine life that moves with you as you become one with the underwater world."
Q: What made Hacienda Zuleta a highlight of your adventure?
Whitney: Zuleta was my dream ranch come to life, where cozying up by a cast iron stove with a glass of wine, farm-to-table cheeses, and a view of the clouds rolling over the Andes is the perfect après horseback ride activity. It's no secret I'm a horse lover, so Zuleta was a perfect fit for me, but I hope to one day bring my Dad back to this unreal Hacienda to hike the trails with him and explore pre-Incan pyramids and hidden waterfalls in more detail. We didn't get to see a spectacled bear on this trip, and that in itself is reason to return!
Q: What's one story you've told friends and family on repeat since returning home?
Whitney: Swimming with wild dolphins off the coast of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, hands-down! We had basically just arrived and gone on a quick snorkel session around a small island, but I was tailing the group and didn’t see much other than a couple of blue-footed boobies. On the boat ride back to Galapagos Safari Camp (GSC), a family of dolphins headed straight towards our boat. Michael, the owner of GSC, asked us if we wanted to jump in. I nearly slipped off the bow in my rush to get to the back of the boat to jump in. When I finally found a snorkel, I literally ripped it in half while jumping into the ocean. Determined not to miss the moment, I decided I could live without the breathing tube and stuck my face in the water to take a peek at the dolphins surging around us. And what did I do but take a deep breath—of saltwater. Michael saw me flailing about and very kindly traded my busted snorkel for his fully functioning one. But the real highlight was when I looked down and saw a seven-foot bull shark swim stealthily beneath my feet. What an exciting first day in the Galapagos!
Laura: It’s hard not to tell this story! Like Whitney, without a thought I jumped off the boat and fulfilled a life-long dream of swimming in the ocean with wild dolphins. I squealed in delight under the water and listened to the sounds of the pod trilling out to me with glee. Hearing their echolocation was amazing. But there were other moments that stand out, too—like kayaking in the surf off a pristine beach in the Galapagos, riding horses through the valleys of Hacienda Zuleta, and letting hummingbirds swarm around me like jet planes at Mashpi Lodge. I’ll never forget the bonfire we had late into the night, nor the adrenaline-fueled 4x4 ride with legendary characters of history high in the clouds on the goat trails of the Andes.
"But there were other moments that stand out, too—like kayaking in the surf off a pristine beach in the Galapagos, riding horses through the valleys of Hacienda Zuleta, and letting hummingbirds swarm around me like jet planes at Mashpi Lodge."
Q: What advice do you have for someone about to travel to Ecuador?
Laura: Slow down. Take as much time as you have to travel through the diverse places of a country that is abundant with culture, color, flavors, sights, smells, and wildlife that will make you want to return to Ecuador over and over again. And take a rain jacket.
Whitney: Don’t only go to the Galapagos. This small country is packed with fascinating corners to explore, from the condor rehabilitation center at Hacienda Zuleta to the Cumbaya district of Quito where a craft brewery neighbors a full-suspension mountain bike rental shop and vegan restaurant.
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Laura and Whitney's Ecuador Trip
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