My Christmas Holidays

Sadly, the Christmas holidays are over but I have the enormous pleasure to write about what I did over the season to keep you in the loop. You may know my other half is Ecuadorian and, following the loosening of Covid restrictions, we were finally able to visit his family and spend the holidays there. As a party of 9, including my close family, we set off to Ecuador on a long transit flight from London, via Miami, to Quito on 21st December. Due to our late-night flight and packed schedule, we managed to adapt to the new time zone pretty quickly, although I can’t say the same for the return to the UK!

On our first day, following a filling family breakfast we set out on our first adventure, El Crater. Typically, this is a beautiful mountain-top restaurant and hotel with gorgeous views of a volcano crater. However, gorgeous views require the cloud to clear and they sadly didn’t part for us. Nevertheless, our day continued at Mitad del Mundo, the central point of the world with latitude 0’00’00. We gave the tourist monument a miss and instead headed to the official point with this latitude and were lucky enough to get a private tour with explanations of how this point was discovered and how the concept of time is connected to the hours of daylight. We tried the typical activities of balancing an egg on a pinhead (which is possible!), trying to fight against gravity on the latitude line as well as walk in a straight line, i.e. the Ecuadorian drunk test (both of which are impossible!). We ended our day with a fabulous meal at the traditional Ecuadorian restaurant Somos in Quito.

The second day arrived and we gathered our energy for a full-day trip to Mindo, a beautiful rainforest city around 2.5 hours driving north-west from Quito. We managed to drive past El Crater again, this time with sunny weather, to see exactly what we missed the day before. We stopped off for breakfast at a gorgeous restaurant just off the main road surrounded by trees and hundreds of hummingbirds before heading on to the city of Mindo. Although there are many activities to do in and around Mindo, we had limited time so decided to spend it all at the Cloud Forest. Following an extremely nerve-wracking bus journey up a rocky mountain path (not what we’d call a road here in the UK), we arrived at the entrance of the forest. To start the walking routes, you need to take a little yellow cable car and fly across the tips of the trees ready to walk down into the forest and dip your toes in the waterfalls. The walk was beautiful with nature all around and we even got the full rainforest experience when the heavens opened upon our return. We were soaked through by the time we got back to the minibus. After our long journey home we ventured out for sushi at the stunning restaurant Nubori.

Day three was one of celebration. We started the day in the city centre of Quito and managed to climb the church towers of the Basílica del Voto Nacional before wandering around the city and taking in the architecture; the churches and religious buildings are lined with gold. Our evening was spent with an extended family Christmas party, filled with good food, booze and dancing.

Christmas is typically celebrated on the evening of 24th December in Ecuador, hence why our Christmas party was last night. But, in my typical family fashion, we continued the party the next day with a long Christmas lunch at the fantastic restaurant Casa Gangotena in the city centre of Quito, which has a gorgeous rooftop view of all the central buildings of Quito. We ended the day exchanging presents and packing for our next weekend trip to the Amazon.

On 26th December, after passing through Lake Salcedo and Ambato, we arrived in Baños at the Samari Spa Resort for a three-day trip. We started by heading into Baños and admiring the beautiful waterfalls around the city as well as the cathedral. We ended our first day with a meal at Luna Volcán restaurant and hotel, which provides a city-wide view of Baños lit up at night.

Our next day was the big one everyone had been waiting for, a full-day trip into the Amazon rainforest. Given the vastness of the rainforest, we barely touched the outskirts but the setting, climate and feeling is that you’re deep in the forest, surrounded by nothing but nature. Our first stop was Tamandua Ecolodge, which does some fantastic work protecting animals. It takes in hurt and injured animals, helps them recover and builds them back up for life in the wild. They’re also doing some great work to preserve some species. We saw a whole host of animals, including caimans, monkeys, ocelots and eagles to name just a few. Our day progressed with a trip to a cacao farm, where we learnt about the process of growing cacao trees and how to convert the cacao plants into the chocolate that all we know and love. We even got to sample some!

After a rather large traditional lunch in Puyo, we went deeper into the forest to meet some indigenous communities. Before meeting the Lisan Wasi Community, our tour guide taught us some basic Kichwa to communicate with them. Upon arriving, they prepared some tea for us, showed us their traditional dances and we played sports games with the kids before leaving them with some Christmas gifts and donations from locals. We also visited the Wuayuri Community, where they painted our faces, we met some talking parrots and similarly left some Christmas gifts.  Our final stop of the day was the breathtaking Indichuris viewpoint, which provides an endless view of trees with the river running through the centre. 

Our final day in Baños ended with the traditional tourist activities; a walk down to to the Pailon del Diablo waterfall, which is extremely impressive, as well as a go on the Casa del Arbol swing against the backdrop of the Tungurahua volcano. We finally headed back to Quito for a night in with pizza and a film whilst manically packing for our highlight of the trip the following day. 

Our eighth day of the trip was taken up with travel but we were heading to the Galapagos Islands. We flew into Baltra island taking in the view of the peak of the numerous volcanoes above the clouds on the journey over. Upon landing, we were greeted by iguanas running around and transferred to the main island of Santa Cruz to check in to our hotel. After freshening up we wandered to the main street in the city of Puerto Ayora, which is filled with hotels, restaurants, shops and tour companies. We were casually greeted by crabs, seals and iguanas, who freely roam the streets. My family’s seafood appetite was fulfilled with a delicious meal at Almar by the sea, where you can casually spot sharks and crabs in the floodlit sea.

The following day was a boat trip to North Seymour island and a walking tour amongst nature when we got there. Our guide explained everything there is to know about the wildlife and plants on the island. Every corner you turned, a new animal would appear. We saw blue-footed boobies, seal pups, marine and land iguanas, luminous red crabs and frigates. Our boat stopped off at Bachas beach to the north of Santa Cruz island on our return to see flamingos roaming around on the beach and managed to get a bit of snorkelling in to see turtles and fish of all shapes, sizes and colours. We returned back to our hotel, getting off our sea legs, and headed to the fantastic restaurant El Muelle de Darwin to further sample the local cuisine.

The final day of the year was relatively relaxing, visiting all the local attractions to Puerto Ayora. We walked around the Pit Craters, which are enormous volcano-left holes. We walked through the lava tunnels from what used to be volcanoes and, last but not least, we visited the enormous tortoises at the Chato Ranch. Until you actually see them in real life, you don’t believe how big and heavy they really are. In traditional British style, we wanted the year to go out with a bang so took a short boat taxi to Isla Grill, which is a beautiful seaside restaurant. After a full three-course meal and plenty of drinks, we returned to the main part of the island, passing sting rays and sharks on the way, ready to countdown to 2023 with the locals. The atmosphere was fantastic and we all ended the night in one of the few nightclubs in the city.

The first day of 2023 started with a relaxed brunch in town before a rather scary boat ride to Tortuga Bay. We snorkelled around the bay seeing turtles, fish, a reef shark and a whole shiver of around 30 baby sharks lying on the seabed. The beach has beautiful white sand and you’ll often see the marine iguana walking right past you or the Darwin finches landing on your towels. We didn’t have much time to discover the individual beaches around Tortuga Bay but had a wonderful time and it was the relaxation that we needed ready for our return home. Our final evening on the Galapagos Islands was at Midori sushi restaurant close to the sea.

Finally, it was time to return to the Ecuadorian mainland. After a long day travelling, we arrived back in Quito before getting ready for our last night out. We drove to the lovely area of Cumbayá and had dinner at an Italian restaurant. We all exchanged lovely words regarding our trip and went home to prepare the 32kg suitcases for our return to the UK.

Our last day at the beginning of January finally, and sadly, arrived. After a huge family BBQ, we headed to Quito airport and set off back to the UK with happy memories of an incredible trip. 

We’re all back in the UK now safe and sound and have returned to reality, hard as it may be in January. It certainly was the trip of a lifetime.


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