While my travels to South America took me to Argentina and Ecuador, it was new properties in Ecuador that stood out. The arrival of the first truly luxurious resort in the Galapagos Islands provided a welcome excuse to revisit this magical archipelago. And an eco-lodge in Ecuador’s Andean cloud forest provided a wonderful contrast, as well as some of the best birding I have ever experienced.
Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galápagos Islands rank among the world’s most extraordinary destinations, but until recently, the only property of any note was the Galapagos Safari Camp, which houses guests in plush tents. Now a true luxury resort has opened. I found Pikaia Lodge to be an extraordinary base from which to explore the archipelago. From their hilltop perch, the 14 suites overlook the otherworldly landscape sweeping down to the coast. Activities include land-based excursions, such as observing giant tortoises up close, plus trips aboard the resort’s yacht, on which each couple has its own cabin for the day. We took the yacht to see the amazing birdlife and to snorkel with playful sea lions. The lodge provides an alternative to a weeklong cruise and is ideal for families.
Mashpi Private Reserve, Ecuador
Mashpi Lodge makes an excellent companion property to Pikaia Lodge, having a similarly contemporary style but an utterly different setting, in a cloud forest about three and a half hours northwest of Quito. Thousands of acres of pristine primary forest surround the lodge, which is home to about 95 endemic species of birds, reptiles and amphibians, to say nothing of the hundreds of nonendemic creatures. The rooms aren’t especially large, but they are thoughtfully designed and perfectly comfortable, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the jungle. The striking restaurant serves excellent food and there are massages offered in the spa, but it’s the activities that truly set Mashpi apart. I’ll never forget walking among the hundreds of butterflies in the Life Centre, watching dozens of iridescent hummingbirds buzz around a feeding station or riding the “Sky Bike” through the forest canopy at dawn.