After my Galápagos cruise, I’m anxious to check email. I sit on my balcony at Hotel Solymar, looking out over the jacuzzi, lap pool and the ocean. However, I’m very quickly distracted from my phone.
Two sealions swim by, arcing out of the water like dolphins. A heron sits by the pool, gazing out at the same gorgeous view as me. Pelicans lumber by and frigates soar overhead. There are several marine iguana soaking up the heat of the sun on the pool deck. This is an easy safari!
Hotel Solymar is the oldest hotel on Isla Santa Cruz, but with the current main building constructed just eight years ago, the only way you can tell is from the assured hospitality and service.
A short walk from the main Puerto Ayora pier, the hotel (and its 3-year-old sister Isla Del Sol, providing meeting space and bigger suites, just across the street) is extremely convenient to all the restaurants, shops and day trip providers in town.
Family-owned and operated, Solymar makes you feel welcomed and relaxed.
But instead of heading out to a restaurant, sit next to the sea and enjoy Chef Edwin Viña’s fantastic cooking. Perched next to the pool and surrounded by a flower- and herb- filled garden, this is a restaurant not to be missed. Classic and creative sushi, fresh seafood, lomo, a wide variety of veggies, tempting desserts — far beyond what I expected on an island 1000km from the mainland!
And during my delicious lunch, not only do I see all the animals above, but a turtle and a huge eagle ray swim by too.
I’ve never seen so many turtles. Or so many iguana. Or sealions. Or blue-footed boobies. Or, or or. The variety and quantity of the animals I saw on my cruise with Haugan was amazing!
Seeing Galápagos by cruise is ideal because it allows you to explore the islands in a way that is impossible by staying on land. The islands are too spread out and many of the sites with interesting geology and an abundance of animals are accessible only by boat.
And an ideal cruise to see them with is Haugan Cruises.
Haugan has two catamarans, the Coromorant and the Ocean Spray (and a new one, the Petrel, starting in 2015). I spent a delightful six days aboard the Ocean Spray exploring several islands. Each boat has only 16 guests and cruises range from 4 to 8 days. Haugan provides boats in the luxury category, the top category in Galapagos (but keep in mind these are luxury by Galápagos standards — boats are designed yes for comfort, but also to cross the rough seas between Galápagos islands).
Cabins are large, beds are comfortable, there is good storage, as well as a couch and a desk to sit at. Each has a private bathroom with shower (and L’Occitance amenities, my favourite) and a large balcony. The dining room has two separate tables, so you’ll have a chance to talk to all your fellow passengers. You’ll spend time at the bar, on the top deck near the jacuzzi, at two outdoor dining areas, and in the indoor briefing room to learn about the next day’s agenda.
On each cruise you’ll be treated to tours on foot, by zodiac boat, kayak, and underwater via snorkel (kayaks, wetsuits and snorkelling gear provided). Your guide will help you spot flora, fauna and geology and understand why what you’re seeing is so unique. Haugan’s guides are really excellent (other guides I met on the islands all knew of Javier, Ocean Spray’s naturalist, and agreed he was one of the best).
Casa Gangotena exudes elegance. The building, a former mansion, is exquisite.
Built in 1880 and serving as home to several Republican-era presidents, it suffered from a major fire in 1914. The mansion was rebuilt by the Gangotena family in 1926, and was occupied by them until 2001. In late 2006 extensive restorations to turn the mansion into a hotel were begun. Walking through the grand staircase and hallways today, you can find original tin ceilings, mirrors, murals and friezes, as well as impeccable design and the best of furnishings.
The location is ideal. Casa Gangotena is in the centre of historic Quito, facing Plaza San Francisco with beautiful views of the imposing church and monastery of St Francis. From the hotel’s rooftop terrace, you can see in every direction including toward El Panecillo hill and the 45 meter statue of a winged Virgin Mary, made out of 7000 pieces of aluminium.
Casa Gangotena is a hotel both luxury and boutique. It has 31 rooms, all different, eight of which face on to Plaza San Francisco. Rooms are outfitted with every comfort you could possibly imagine. I especially loved the basket of local Ecuadorian fruits, and the brochure explaining what they were and the best way to eat them.
Dining at Casa Gangotena is not to be missed. Executive Chef Andrés Dávila uses local ingredients and both traditional and fusion recipes. The buffet breakfast (with eggs to order) is stunning. Afternoon tea features a local coffee blend and five tea varieties, plus sweet and savoury treats from the pastry chef. And dinner … let’s just say I ate far too much, yet still wanted a second serving of the llama springrolls!
Opened only in October 2011, Casa Gangotena has already won several Trip Advisor Travelers Choice awards, including for Best Hotel in South America (2014) and placed sixth for Best Hotel in the World (2014).
Oh how I love a well-lit hotel room. Yes, mood lighting is lovely, but not if you can’t actually see to unpack or read your book.
The rooms at Destiny Hotel are brightly lit and have lots of natural light thanks to big windows (however, all that natural light also calls for dark curtains to help you not wake with the sun …).
A funky modern hotel in the middle of the sleepy town of Baños. I almost feel like I’m in Siem Reap, Cambodia with the bright greens and pinks waking up the bright whites. Music plays in the hallways, but, happily and surprisingly, you can’t hear it in the rooms.
Rooms are very spacious, and have fridges, safes, places to lounge, work, and sleep. On the second floor, there’s a cool bar with a chill-out vibe serving great cocktails (leave time to go up for your welcome drink!). The downstairs restaurant serves a delicious big breakfast (included in rates).
If you’re looking for a modern comfortable stay in Baños, you’ll like the Destiny. Choose a room at the front of the hotel — they have a view toward the main Baños waterfall.