For a unique way to experience South America consider taking a first class or luxury train ride in Ecuador or Peru. From short trips to 4 day itineraries, travelling by train is comfortable and a great way to see the diversity of these countries....
Although the smallest of the Andean countries, Ecuador has probably the greatest natural and cultural diversity. Virgin rainforest reserves, stunning (and still active) volcanoes, riotously colourful Indian markets, a wonderfully preserved Spanish-colonial capital, and off its Pacific coast the incredible Galapagos Islands. Take a thrilling ride on the near-vertical ‘Devil’s Nose’ train, see Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano, and wander the cobbled streets of old Quito. Shop for the beautiful textiles and handicrafts of the Ecuadorian Indians – and buy a Panama hat at Cuenca.
Avenue of the Volcanoes
The Galapagos archipelago has been described as one of the most extraordinary and unique, scientifically important and biologically outstanding areas on earth (UNESCO 2001). Many travellers describe their time on the islands as a life-changing experience. Most of the land birds, almost all of the reptiles and land mammals, and nearly a third of the plants you will see are endemic. Even underwater, a fifth of the species in the Galapagos are found nowhere else on earth. Favourites for everyone include the Galapagos giant tortoise, marine iguana, flightless cormorant, and the Galapagos penguin, the only penguin species to be found in the Northern Hemisphere.
For most visitors Cuenca, with its red tiled roofs, cobblestone streets, graceful wrought-iron balconies, flowered plazas and museums, is the prettiest colonial city in the country. Located in the valley of Guapondelig at 2,550m, it is Ecuador’s third largest city, yet it still retains its pleasant provincial air. The historical centre is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site, and you will begin to discover the city’s beauty and colonial charm with a leisurely stroll to the main square, dominated by the imposing blue-domed Cathedral. With visits to artisan markets and craft centres that make ceramics, silver jewellery, embroidery and weave the famous Panama hats, Cuenca will simply captivate you.
Ecuador’s cloud forests are considered the single richest hotspot on the planet, containing 15-17% of the world’s plant species and nearly 20% of its bird diversity. A cloud forest is a generally tropical or subtropical, evergreen, montane, moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover, usually at the canopy level. The moist forests of western Ecuador are some of the most threatened ecosystems in the world.
Ecuador (roughly the size of Victoria) has over 1,500 species of birds, it ranks fourth in avian diversity amongst all countries in the world. By comparison Australia has 800 species of birds. Located on the Eastern side of the Andes and three to four hours drive from the capital Quito it is easy to include Ecuador’s cloud forest into any trip. Ecuador’s cloud forests are home to iconic species such as the spectacled bear, sloth, howler monkey, puma and many other creatures.
The Mashpi Biodiversity Reserve in Ecuador is a part of the Chocó-Darién region which once stretched north to south, from Panama all the way to Ecuador, compressed between the Pacific coast and the Andes mountains. Today around 17,000 hectares of forest are declared a “natural protected area” and within its heart is the 1,300-hectare private concession that is Mashpi.
Perched 900m above sea level among cloud-forest, is the strikingly contemporary and intimate Mashpi Lodge, with just 22 understated yet luxurious rooms whose floor-to-ceiling windows provide close-up views into the forest. This hideaway in the clouds is surrounded by a profusion of plant species, from ferns and bromeliads to hundreds of orchid species, many newly-discovered. I
Ecuador’s rainforest is considered one of the 25 biodiversity ‘hot spots’ on the planet, with a greater variety of plants and animals than any other place in the world. There are several excellent lodges and a couple of luxury river cruise boats that offer a different way of exploring the rainforest.
La Selva Amazon Ecolodge
La Selva Amazon Ecolodge sits high on the edge of Lake Garzacocha, 2½ hours by motorised canoe down the Napo River from the town of Coca. Accommodation is in comfortable cabañas (cabins) entirely made of secondary, rainforest materials, built in the typical Indian style of the region and designed to blend with Ecuador’s jungle. The lodge also has its own butterfly farm and a 41m-high observation tower.
Napo Wildlife Centre
This ecolodge, a 2 hour boat ride down the Napo River from the river-port town of Coca, was built as a non-profit conservation project and is located inside the Yasuni National Park. The Centre, 90% of whose staff are local, actively protects 212 sq. km of pristine rainforest and the many species of birds, monkeys, giant otters and other wildlife that inhabit it. There are several parrot clay licks close to the lodge, and 20 minutes from the lodge is a 36m Canopy Tower and platform that offers views over the tree tops – a great way to experience the life above the forest floor.
MV Anaconda – River Cruise
The MV Anakonda is the only luxury ship in the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest. Its eighteen suites feature ample sitting areas, large and comfortable beds.
The Anakonda offer 3, 4 and 7 night cruises along the Napo River and visits the Yasuní National Park. Excursions by smaller boats and on foot are take; including climbing observation towers to enjoy unique perspectives of the forest.
Discover the various handicrafts unique to many of the small towns and villages spread across Andean foothills. The ‘Awakening Valley’ is home to the Otavalo Indians (Otavaleños) and you may spend the day at the famous Otavalo market, discovering wonderful textiles, native paintings, ceramics, leather goods, jewellery and tapestries.
Perhaps also take a train ride along the century-old ‘Chaski Route’, travelling through tunnels and across bridges and traversing 26km of canyons and gullies.
The idea of life on an estancia conjures romantic images of colonial homesteads, redolent with old-world charm and elegance, set in tree-shaded parks and gardens, and of the legendary gauchos at work, these superb horsemen herding cattle across wild grasslands. A stay on an estancia offers you a chance to ‘step back in time’ and experience a traditional Ecuadorian lifestyle that, despite the advances of the 21st century, still continues little-changed today
One of Ecuador’s finest is the lovely Hacienda Zuleta, you will experience four centuries of Ecuadorian history, steeped in Pre-Columbian, Spanish and Ecuadorian traditions. Yet Hacienda Zuleta is only 2 hours drive north from the capital, Quito, sheltered by the Andean mountains and blessed with a year-round temperate climate. A colonial working farm of some 2,000 hectares, it dates from the late 16th century and for the past 100 years has belonged to the family of Mr. Galo Plaza Lasso, a former President of Ecuador.
Quito was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city and stands at an altitude of 2,850 m. The city is a perfect example of the ‘changing face of South America’ the old city has been transformed; with several beautifully restored houses which have been transformed into luxury hotel. Add excellent cuisine and first class customer service and a new airport and you’ll start to understand why it’s one of our favourite South America capital cities.
The city also has the best-preserved, least altered historic centre in Latin America. The monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo, and the Church and Jesuit College of La Compañía, with their rich interiors, are pure examples of the ‘Baroque school of Quito’, which is a fusion of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art.
In the heart of Ecuador, on the fringes of the Amazon rainforest, the small and beautiful ‘adventure spa’ of Luna Runtun (“fortress of the moon” in Quechua language) is set high on a mountainside above the artists’ town of Baños. Set within 2 hectares of lush gardens with more than 300 varieties of trees, flowers and orchids, the resort is framed by the towering Tungurahua volcano above and the roaring Pastaza River below, and its location between two important national parks – Llanganates and World Heritage-listed Sangay National Park – makes it the perfect place to stay and explore the natural beauty and culture of the area.
Luna Runtun offers a range of optional activities and excursions including hikes (for all levels of fitness), bicycle tours, horse-riding and easy rafting. Local walks include ‘The Smugglers’ Hike’, a 7km route once used by smugglers in the 1920s, among them the grandfather of Carmen Luna, your hostess at Luna Runtun.
Ecuador is a nature lovers paradise – it has over 1500 species of birds.
Ecuador has over 135 species of Hummingbirds (Sylphs, pufflegs, woodstars etc). Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge and Mashpi Lodge both have feeders that attract many species (Mashpi has recorded 40). In addition to hummingbirds you can also see long-wattled umbrella birds and for those willing to get up before dawn you can also get to the stunningly beautiful cock-of-the-rock.
You don’t have to be an ‘ornithologist’ or a ‘twitcher’ to enjoy birds. A decent pair of binoculars and an excellent guide will allow anyone with an interest to marvel at the beauty of these amazing creatures. We have first-hand knowledge of many of the reserves and lodges.
For a unique way to experience Ecuador’s diverse natural beauty, from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the highlands of the Andes, join a 4 night journey (from Guayaquil to Quito or Quito to Guayaquil) that follows in the footsteps of many scientists and explorers of the past onboard the Tren Crucero. Whilst you travel on the train during the day each evening you’re transferred to a nearby hotel or estancia. The properties have been selected for their character, charm and links with the local communities.
A modernised steam locomotive, electric-diesel (it’s still a ‘steam-train’ using diesel not coal to heat the water) has been lovingly restored. The locomotive pulls a convoy of two luxury, Colonial and Republican-style passenger cars carrying just fifty guests, which ensures a very personalized service level for all. The most memorable section of the route is a steep descent through wild mountain scenery known as the ‘Devil’s Nose’, which sees the track drop 500m in elevation over the course of only 12km.
On this journey on-board Tren Crucero you will climb (or descend) about 4,000 metres in roughly 510 kilometres, thus experiencing one of the most dramatic changes in vegetation and scenery in the world as the train travels through the fertile plains of the coast into a dense cloud forest that slowly clears before the imposing walls of the Andes.
Top class design and the finest facilities. Usually located in a spectacular setting it may be an exclusive hotel in a meticulously restored historic building, or recognised as the leading property of an international chain.
Mansion Alaczar Boutique Hotel
A perfect alternative to the big brand hotels:
exclusive and independently-owned properties with a smaller number of rooms and highly personalised services.
Luna Runtun Adventure Spa
High quality with an excellent room standard, a full range of facilities and first-rate service; may be a new property or regularly refurbished with attention to ongoing maintenance.
Zuleta (near Otavalo) , Ecuador
Haciendas ‘estates’ are found across much of South America and may have been plantations, cattle or sheep ranches. Most date from the 18th & 19th centuries and offer guests an opportunity to glimpse the world of the land barons and their famed horsemen. These beautiful colonial residences, set in extensive gardens or on wide farmland, retain their original style and ambiance, with high beamed ceilings, open fireplaces, and spacious rooms filled with antique furnishings.
Cloud Forest, Ecuador
In the rainforests and cloud-forests of Ecuador choose from a wide range of eco-lodges – from a comparatively luxurious retreat among the forest, to a complex of thatched cabañas in a lakeside location on a private reserve, to remote and rustic cottages offering a truly authentic experience. All lodges are eco-conscious and dedicated to conservation management and preservation of their environment.
Napo River, Ecuador
Often the best way to observe dramatic scenery or experience the wonders in a world of amazing flora and fauna is by boat. And if you are looking for a voyage that will also offer the comfort of excellent facilities, there are several exclusive and sophisticated vessels that will fulfil your wish.
South America Travel Centre can look after all aspects of your holiday, including flights and travel insurance.
We start by asking you what your interests are and where you are interested in, when, for how long, what standard and style of accommodation. Once we have a good understanding of just what you’re looking for, we can begin to create a holiday to meet your time and budget requirements and, most importantly, that will deliver interest and enjoyment in an experience to exceed your expectations.
Please book early. Many of the hotels, lodges and cruise vessels we recommend are relatively small. For example, the M/V Anaconda (Ecuadorian Amazon cruise) accommodates just 40 guests, while the deluxe Mashpi Lodge (Cloud Forest) offers only 22 suites. This exclusivity combined with high demand means they can be booked out up to 6-8 months in advance.
If you’re thinking of travelling during any major holidays like Christmas, New Year and Easter, or during any festivals, our advice is simply to book as early as you can, even 12 months or more, and we can add flights as soon as they become available.
Australian citizens do not require a visa to enter Ecuador. You will need to hold a valid passport and have a return ticket when you arrival.
It is strongly recommended that all travellers to Ecuador be vaccinated for yellow fever before commencing their trip (though not compulsory).
Vaccinations are advised for common diseases like Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid as well as Influenza. There are no compulsory vaccinations.
We advise you to consult a Travel Doctor specialist prior to departure to assess any health risks in relation to your medical history and travel plans.
We have access to a wide range of airfares and have excellent relationships with our key airline partners. Our two main airline partners in Latin America are LATAM Airlines, QANTAS Airlines and Air New Zealand. We can also arrange internal flights for you within Latin America.
Irrespective of whether you book directly with us or with your preferred travel agent, we’ll request the details of all of your fights to ensure if there are any changes your transfers and other arrangements are adjusted accordingly.
Year-round – best time April to October (can rain at any time and nights can be cool).
Wet season in summer – December to March, hot and humid.
For a unique way to experience South America consider taking a first class or luxury train ride in Ecuador or Peru. From short trips to 4 day itineraries, travelling by train is comfortable and a great way to see the diversity of these countries....
Twenty years ago the Añangu Kichwa Community in Ecuador collectively gave up subsistence hunting and fishing (their legal right) to allow local wildlife populations to recover, and it appears to be working. ...
The Mashpi Biodiversity Reserve in Ecuador is a part of one of the greatest biodiversity ‘hot spots’ on earth, an uninterrupted rainforest that ecologists call the Chocó-Darién region which once stretched north to south, from Panama all the way to Ecuador, compressed between the Pacific coast and the Andes mountains....
Each pickup/drop off was on time. My guides were very friendly, had great English, and were passionate about what they did. All hotels were faultless. I would have to say that Andrea from Buenos Aires was the best guide of a fantastic bunch. Andrea was there to greet me on my first arrival into BA, took me to the ferry for my trip to Colonia and made sure I was checked in, and was there to pick me up. She was also there to send me on my way to Ushuaia at the ungodly hour of the morning and pick me up again after the cruise, to sending me on my way the next day to Iguazu. I was most impressed at the efforts the guides went to in order to streamline the check-in process at the airport, making sure I got to the immigration area. I have never seen or experienced such attentiveness or helpfulness. Thank you for putting this trip together for me, it was the best trip that I have been on, and I have done some out there trips. From the hotels, to the destinations, the ground arrangements, everything went off without a hitch. I truly appreciate what you did to make this trip amazing.
Our trip was absolutely outstanding thank you so much for your incredible efforts in what was such an incredibly short turn around. We are so grateful, it was the most amazing trip and every day was as good as the other! Anyone who has asked about our trip or has mentioned they are travelling or wanting to travel to South America I have put them straight onto South America Travel Centre. Thank you for all of your prompt responses, quick turn around and thorough knowledge, understanding, expertise and advice. Your service was second to none. It was outstanding and we are truly grateful. Please pass on our gratitude to the wider team as well for helping pull a once in a lifetime experience together for us in three days! We are so thankful for the afterhours and overtime you put in also, we couldn’t have had the amazing trip that we did at such late notice without you.
Being in our late 70 and having only travelled with groups, never on our own, we were a little apprehensive not speaking Spanish how well we would manage? I have nothing but praise for the service we received from South America Travel Centre. We were met at every destination by a knowledgeable person not always able to speak English but well able to take us to hotels, return us to bus stations and air ports, and check us in. Those who spoke English told us about their town the best places to eat. A wonderful holiday expertly organised and every little detail taken care of. Thank you South America Travel Centre.
We found our itinerary absolutely perfect. By that I mean not only were our superb boutique hotels great, the guides in each city friendly, courteous, well-spoken and knowledgeable but the time in each city or location and the balance between site seeing “work" and leisure time “play” was also perfect. The most difficult question by friends on our return has been “what was the highlight”. An impossible question when considering the merits of, inter alia, Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, Christ the Redeemer, Inti Raymi Festival, Lake Titicaca. The purpose of our trip to South America, in truth, was to see as much as we could of the continent with a view to probably not returning as we explored other opportunities. I have to now say that the chance of us revisiting South America is extremely high.
I write to thank you for organising our recent trip to South America. Everything went like clockwork, and the arrangements were very satisfactory. The guides always turned up at the right time, and the people meeting us at the airports were always there. We had a wonderful trip, and we will have to plan another one now, so that we can see Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay and maybe more. But first it’s back to work to earn some more money! For me the greatest highlight was Machu Picchu; it far exceeded my expectations. Once again, thanks so much, Alistair Macindoe.
We had a fabulous time!! The countries we visited have such a rich and fascinating cultural & geographical diversity. We loved learning about the Incans and visiting the ruins in Peru, we loved seeing all the creatures of the Galapagos Islands and the volcanoes of Ecuador. We loved the magnificent scenery of the Atacama. What a fantastic palette at sunset! The adobe hotel, Altiplanico, was wonderful & San Pedro de Atacama was a funky place. We appreciated the structure of our holiday too, there was a nice blend of guided time and free time. It was nice to be in one place on the boat in Galapagos after moving to a different place each day through Ecuador. Some of the haciendas we visited would be lovely to stay for a longer time. Everything went very smoothly in terms of timely airport transfers & pickups, informative and friendly guides/drivers at all times. The local people were very friendly & were helpful with our attempts at speaking Spanish. We enjoyed the cuisine very much & look forward to trying some home-made Locro de papa soup & Pisco sour. Thanks for helping us with a great holiday. Kind regards Della & John
Having local guides and local knowledge was sensational and gave us a great insight into the cities and countries we visited. We loved the whole trip. One very big positive was every single time we arrived at a destination, there was someone already there to meet us and a transfer waiting to take us to the hotel or airport. We didn’t use trains and only used buses in Cuba which were very good for what we were doing. Our SATC consultant and her knowledge and experience was invaluable in both the lead up and the trip itself, with numerous hints and tips being very useful as well. The detail and documentation provided was excellent throughout and we used it extensively on our trip.
One of the most delightful things after travelling long distances is to be met at the airport, bags carried and be taken to the accommodation. It is just so good to see that sign with your name. Our latest itinerary with South America Travel Centre, in June 2016, took us to Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. Costa Rica was about flowers, wildlife, volcanoes and zip lining. Guatemala and Honduras were about Mayan ruins with some wildlife in between. Although it was the rainy season, we found that rain sometimes occurred as a thunderstorm in the late afternoon, lasting about an hour. It was always a delightful surprise to find that our accommodation is not in a multistorey type edifice but in an architecturally interesting building with fascinating décor and views. We found this at each place we visited. Many of the breakfast rooms had a wonderful view of water, forest or volcano where we could sit and enjoy the local tropical fruits. Breakfast always included tropical fruit and fruit juice. We have returned home with photos galore.
The incredible amount of work you put into the planning and organising really paid off. The South America Travel Centre documentation provided in the pouch before the trip was excellent. The selection and sequence of things worked well. The spiral bound book was used a lot during the trip. And on arrival back home, a pleasant surprise CD from your company. The chosen hotels were all very good to excellent to grand, and again the guides always made sure that we were properly checked in. Hotel locations are very important as this allows easy walking around the neighbourhood to explore at one’s own pace. Overall a ‘high five” for you and your team and agents. Thank you very much for your efforts and hope that our paths will cross again at some point in the future.
We have now been back from our wonderful holiday to South America for about 2 1/2 weeks, and I wanted to thank you very, very much for arranging such a fantastic trip for us. Everything went so smoothly, from the airport pickups, to the guides and drivers, to the wonderful accommodation – everything! We kept waiting for some little blip to occur, but it didn’t! You provided us with such a varied itinerary, we kept busy the whole time, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip. We both particularly enjoyed the Galapagos cruise, and also Machu Picchu. We all four climbed Huayna Picchu on our second day back at the site, and it was well worth the effort. Our guides and drivers were fantastic; we particularly enjoyed Silvia our guide and driver Marquito for the 5 days Andes experience in Ecuador. Once again, thank you so much for using your talents to give us such a memorable holiday. We will certainly be recommending you to our friends. With best wishes, Tony & Jan BURN
Back home safe and sound after an amazing holiday. Cannot say enough about South America Travel Centre – and will definitely recommend to anyone travelling to this continent. The guides Beatriz, Natoli Mary and 1 gentleman (Puno – cannot remember his name) were delightful, and drivers were very careful and drove to conditions. All accommodation suited our needs – especially loved Arequipa, Colca Lodge, Ollentaytambo and Inkaterra Amazonica!!! The care of your staff was above and beyond when situations arose due to not feeling so good. The day we left Colca Canyon Sue was unwell but Beatriz was amazing and after 24 hours all was ok. John requested medical attention on return to Cuzco and within 20 minutes a Dr appeared and then short time after a nurse appeared with medication – just fantastic. A big thank you to you for all your organisation and for playing a big part in making this holiday such a memorable one for all us.