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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Hummingbirds Path Yanacocha


A short distance west from Quito, as the condor flies, lies Yanacocha or the Inca’s lagoon. Though this pre-hispanic irrigation system has log dried up the old road that passes by here is a gem for nature lovers and bird-watchers. It makes an ideal half-day away from the city. Situated on the slopes of volcano Pichincha, this is a tranquil spot set among high Andean forests, with giant gunnera leaves, native polylepis trees and rare birds such as the Black-breasted puffleg, a kind of hummingbird only found here. We failed to spot one of these but saw about 30 other species including dozens of hummingbirds, a nightjar snoozing a metre from the path. I also saw a tawny antpitta a rare bird indeed. It is a great place for a picnic though watch the altitude as it is over 3,000m. Fortunately the path is quite gentle. For tailor-made birding tours of Ecuador please contact us.

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Cloud Forest Camera Trap

Photos courtesy: Carlos Morochz (Scientist at Mashpi Reserve)

During my recent visit to Mashpi Lodge in the cloud forests of Ecuador I had the pleasure of meeting the resident scientist Carlos who showed me how the camera traps work. These are automatically triggered by animal movement or at night by heat. Surprisingly just a couple of hundred metres from the lodge was clear evidence of visits by pumas, ocelots and other large mammals which are almost impossible to see in the day time. the presence of big cats and their prey is a clear indicator that the surrounding primary forest are in a very good state in deed. Cloud forests are one of the richest areas of biological diversity on the planet and Mashpi Reserve is part of the Chocó region known for its unique species.

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Galapagos Safari Camp


Whilst visiting the highlands of the main island of Santa Cruz I took the opportunity to visit the Galapagos Safari Camp. Located on the northern drier side of the island on the edge of the tortoise reserve and enjoys spectacular views of the archipelago. Nine luxury tents await at this secluded hideaway, ideal for those wishing to get away from the tour crowds or those wishing to rest after a week at sea. The dining room and bar are situated in a stylish and tranquil main building from which their are panoramic views, particularly enjoyable for sun-downers on the veranda . Activities include biking, hiking, bird watching, as well a day cruising and scuba diving. There is a small infinity pool which tortoises occasionally come to enjoy as well.

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Waved Albatross Courtship display

Every April almost the entire adult population of the waved albatross return to Española (Hood Island), Galapagos in order to breed. At the visitor site of Punta Suarez I recently enjoyed a close look at their amusing courtship display including ‘bill-circling’, ‘sky-pointing’, ‘drunken swagger’ and ‘bill-clapping’. This flamboyant ritual dancing enables the birds to re-establish their pairs or the young to find their partner. It is the only time the birds come ashore. The birds are oblivious to the snooping humans who watch in awe. Only in the Galapagos can one get this close to such majestic creatures.

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Mashpi Cloud Forest Lodge

Mashpi lodge

Jungle lodges are normally basic accommodation with few mod cons, but Mashpi Lodge has re-written the script. This is the ultimate in luxury for nature lovers who want a bit of pampering after a hike through the rainforest. Mashpi is only 3 hours drive from Quito, set in the western cloud forests of the Andes, sustained by the mists that drift in from the Pacific Ocean. These dense forests are festooned with epiphytes like orchids and lichens. They are part of a highly diverse hotspot of species that sadly had largely been destroyed elsewhere. Mashpi is a private reserve, surrounded by a provincial reserve and whose raison d’etre is as much for conservation as well as a hotel. The project is vision of entrepreneur Roque Sevilla, an ex-major of Quito, who wants to educate the guests about nature as well as protect it. The hotel is built on an old sawmill and the original road was created by loggers. The main labour force is now building a 2km Canopy Gondola (cable-car) which is soon to be completed. I was content with the human-powered Sky-Bike, a kind of pedal-driven zip-wire experience 60m over a valley in the forest. After a hard-days bird-watching and swimming under a waterfall there was just time to enjoy the Jacuzzi before the gourmet supper. The ultra contemporary hotel has luxurious rooms each with one see-through wall looking right into the forest. The only peeping-Toms are the anteaters, kinkajous ocelots and the rare ocelots.

RELATED: A review of the Mashpi Lodge from one of our guests

Casa del Alabado Museum Quito

It is rare to wander into a museum and be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the exhibits and the way they are shown. I like small museums that you can see the entire collection in an hour without being overwhelmed or bored. This museum was perfect. Only inaugurated in November 2012 the  Museo Casa del Alabado is an art museum devoted exclusively to Pre-Columbian Art, located in Quito old town. The museum is housed in a Spanish residence just off San Francisco Square that was built in 1671. The name means ‘Praised be’ in Spanish. The ages of the pieces range from 4,500 B.C. to 1,500 A.D. mostly ceramics with some bronze and gold treasures. They were dug up on Ecuador’s coast which had thriving civilizations long before the Incas. The exhibits are divided into the Under-world, the Middle-world and the Upper-world according to the cosmology. The first includes creator myth imagery, the second graphic depictions of fertility and reproduction and the third the warriors, half-human half-animals and (my favourite) some very stoned-looking shamans. The lighting is good and they don’t mind photography without flash. The museum is a fitting tribute to those long-forgotten artists.

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Snorkelling with sharks in the Galapagos

On my recent visit to the Galapagos Islands aboard the Letty, I was excited to have the opportunity to snorkel with sharks. The white-tipped reef shark is the most common and can often be seen cruising around rocky reefs, coral head and inside caves. This one came out into the open which allowed me to follow it for a good five minutes. They are docile sharks that feed at night and are not generally thought to be dangerous to humans. They can grow to over two metres although the one in the video is around 1.5 metres. Several other sharks are common in the Galapagos such as the black-tipped reef shark, the scarier-looking Galapagos shark and the schools of hammerheads which can be seen on diving trips to the northern islands of Darwin and Wolf. Whale sharks are also common at certain times of year and despite their size (up to 18m) they feed only on plankton.

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High Tea at the Casa Gangotena

High tea Casa Gangotena

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time at Quito’s poshest hotel, the Casa Gangotena. This recently converted colonial mansion is on the corner of San Francisco Square right in the heart of the old town. It is the capital’s new landmark hotel with a range of rooms – some with amazing views of the square and Andes mountains beyond. Anyone can enjoy the views from the 5th floor terrace, which at night turns into a spectacular vista of lights stretching into the surrounding hills. Apart from the soft, silky bed linen, spacious colonial rooms and friendly service, the food was the best part. Not only is there a gourmet a-la-carte menu for diners, but the hotel has a trick up its sleeve, proper afternoon tea in the distinguished atrium. A selection of beverages including a variety of real leaf teas are served in a pot, accompanied by a two-tiered silver platter of local savouries (like crispy empanadas) and sweet pastries, including scones, cream and jam. The hotel’s hospitality has won it plaudits from guests and the media alike.

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Lima’s airport, known as ‘Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chavez’, has ranked 25th in the world according to the ‘World Airport Awards’. According to this research, Canada’s Vancouver Airport is the only airport in the Americas that ranks higher than Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chavez. Guayaquil International Airport was recognised second place for ‘Best Airports South America’ and ahead of Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benitez airport. The English consultancy Skytrax also ranked the Guayaquil airport in 45th position of the top 100 airports in the world, beating other airports including Madrid-Barajas (Spain), Paris Charles de Gaulle (France) and Shanghai Pudong (China). Skytrax Research is a London-based aviation consultancy, who throughout nine months, between 2012 and 2013, carried out an online survey of more than 12 million passengers of 108 nationalities passing through 395 airports to choose to the winners of the World Airport Awards. Operating since 1999, the survey’s reputation for clarity of process and rigorously applied rules of independence has worldwide recognition. It evaluates traveller experiences across 39 different airport service and product key performance indicators, including check-in, departures, arrivals, transfers, shopping, security, immigration and other. The research is independent with no outside sponsorship. Fly to Peru or Ecuador with Select…

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