Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Took great care of me, shared a depth of knowledge that I would never otherwise have found on my own, and showed me points of interest that only a local would know
Tracy Wharton | May 13, 2023

I went to Ecuador, visiting Quito and the mountains near Otavalo in April and early May 2023. I contacted Allie to expand a pre-arranged trip to the Galapagos islands that I had booked with my sister previously. Initially, I was hesitant to have someone else make all the arrangements, but I am so glad that I did this! Although I met my sister on the islands, the first part of my trip was by myself. I speak very basic Spanish and had concerns as a female adult traveling alone. Allie listened to my concerns and found amazing guides and locations for me to visit. I felt safe the entire time and had incredible local guides who showed me places I never would’ve found otherwise.

Allie called me on Friday afternoon just to make sure I was ready for the trip and see if I had any final questions.

After a bit of a rough start to the day with the airline, I arrived in Quito and Patricio met me at the airport. He gave me a great mini tour of the area on the way to the hotel. Casa El Eden is just a beautiful spot. The room is beautiful and the building is fascinating. Mario met us at the door and carried my suitcase upstairs. He welcomed me like family. I met some other lovely people who were staying at the hotel and traveling to interesting places, and spent some time chatting on the roof terrace.

Alejandra gave me a tour of Quito. We saw the presidential palace and the horses being prepared for the changing of the guard. I learned that Lady Liberty is not blind here; she carries a torch and an ax. We visited a number of churches, and the architecture was not only stunning, but we observed how the artwork has changed through the centuries. We had a short stop at a museum of cacao, where I learned about how broad this industry is in Ecuador, and we also visited a hat maker who showed me reeds woven as fine as fabric. Amazing artistry. Ecuador is known for its coffee and its chocolate, and both have been exciting to learn about and taste. I’ve decided that I could really like a country where roses, chocolate, and coffee are the main exports!

We visited the top of the mountain with a ride on the Telefèrico. We walked a bit at the top, but altitude exhaustion is very real! I was too lightheaded to be able to walk all the way to the swings, but we did get to enjoy some wonderful views at roughly 13,000 feet. We visited a restaurant, hidden away on the edge of a volcanic crater. The food was amazing and the views were stunning. Then we went to a museum at the center of the earth. The tour guides were hysterical and shared history of Ecuadorian provinces as well as some science about being at this particular location. There were some hands-on exhibits where we got to move a small sink between the northern and southern hemisphere, and watch how the water changed just 10 feet apart, and we got to balance an egg on the head of a nail on the 0° line. It was a lot of fun.

Alejandra dropped me at the Basilica at my request, where I spent some time looking at the gargoyles, which are animals, and the amazing stained glass windows filled with flowers. The next morning, she shared some of the history of why these images were chosen at the Basilica.

After an excellent breakfast at Casa El Eden, Alejandra picked me up and we drove to Otovalo. We stopped at the condor park, where I saw the almost extinct Andean condor, harpy eagles, falcons, and even a bald eagle named Blanca. The condors were magnificent and the park was beautiful and filled with flowers. On the way, we stopped so that I could take photos of some nearby volcanoes and a mountainside glacier. The landscape in this part of Ecuador was simply stunning. In the Otovalo area, we visited a family of traditional weavers and learned about backstrap weaving. They dye their wool with natural dyes, and her spinning wheel and spindle were amazing! I was fascinated by their work and how beautiful it was. We went briefly to the market before we got caught in a downpour, so we did not spend much time there and rushed off for a wonderful lunch instead. I spent a few days at Hacienda Cusin. The grounds were beautiful, and the staff were very kind. I went horseback riding, although we stayed at a fairly low altitude (relatively) for my benefit. I made it back to the market and spent a few hours there, haggling for gifts and having a blast. I also asked the hotel to get me a taxi to take me to Cascada de Pegucha, a local waterfall that is sacred to people in the area. Absolutely gorgeous and worth a side trip.

My guides picked me up and brought me to the airport for a trip to the Galapagos, which I had pre-arranged with my sister. I highly recommend visiting the Galapagos! The guides have a depth of knowledge that is truly amazing and there is no place else on earth like these islands. Patricio met me at the airport when I returned to Quito and brought me to the hotel, making sure I was all set for my trip home.

From start to finish, they took great care of me, shared a depth of knowledge that I would never otherwise have found on my own, and showed me points of interest that only a local would know. I’m so glad that I made the decision to work with Allie. Everything was arranged beautifully and it was the trip of a lifetime for me.

A couple of surprise birthday celebrations — one overlooking a stunning caldera for lunch and another on the boat in the Galapagos... — Sailed on the Natural Paradise
David Keith | April 28, 2023

We planned our trip to Quito and the Galapagos, Ecuador in mid-April with Allie Almario. It was my wife’s 60th birthday bucket-list trip. Allie was very attentive and responsive throughout the planning process, during the lead-up to the trip and afterwards with follow-up. She did a great job of planning arrivals and pickup at the airport, the hotel and day tours in Quito and the surrounding areas, and helping us choose a boat and itinerary in the Galapagos. Everything went off without a hitch. Unbeknownst to us, Allie had a couple of surprise birthday celebrations — one overlooking a stunning caldera for lunch and another on the boat in the Galapagos that were much appreciated — she really made me look good :). It was truly one of the best trips we’ve ever taken.

So perfect that maybe it won't be a once-in-a-lifetime trip — Sailed on the Elite
John Strachan | April 23, 2023

My family of four (two parents, 10yr old, 12yr old) took a one-week Galapagos cruise in early April aboard the Elite. Allie Almario planned the trip. EVERY aspect of the journey was incredible and none of us wanted to leave.

We plan 90% of our travel on our own, but with a trip like this, which we thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, we wanted to be 100% sure we got it right. We are so happy Wendy linked us up with Allie. Allie was essential to helping us sort through the blizzard of options (Land-based or boat-based? Which of a hundred boats? Large or small? Monohull or cat? Four day or longer, etc.). She helped us make it perfect. So perfect that maybe it won’t be a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

With Allie’s guidance we chose a small boat (the Elite has a 16-person max). Small boats can be rocky, so she steered us toward a catamaran for more stability to minimize the risk of seasickness. The water was generally smooth, but on one or two nights with bigger waves, we were very happy to have two hulls, especially while watching how tippy the monohulls were. We didn’t really think about it beforehand, but being aboard a catamaran allowed for a wider beam and more spacious rooms on board.

The reason to go to the Galapagos is the geological and natural history, so I’ll start there. We saw blue-footed boobies, courting frigate birds, gulls, Galapagos hawks (hunting and eating marine iguanas!), a few types of marine and land iguanas, and more. We encountered a number of Galapagos tortoises in the wild. In the water, on numerous snorkeling activities we saw more types of reef fish than I could name, from little gobis and half-inch baby puffers, up to tuna. Small sharks skimmed the bottom, oblivious of us. Penguins flashed by, within a few feet, as they hunted, and we actually saw them catching fish. We never sought out sea lions, because as soon as we hit the water, they found us, swimming within inches of us in circles and loops trying to get us to play with them. Pods of sea turtles munched on algae as we floated above, swimming so close to us at times, that we actually had to struggle to swim away in order not to contact or disturb them. It was simply mind-boggling how many amazing animals we saw up close.

Our guide Carlos was amazing. Having grown up in the Galapagos, he knew the islands, flora and fauna inside out. He had a great sense of humor, limitless patience with the guests (not that anyone was difficult, but the age range of guests was 7 to 85, with a similarly wide range of interests and physical stamina), and seemed to truly enjoy sharing his home with us.

Due to the small number of passengers, we quickly got to know everyone aboard and also rapidly were on a first-name basis with the crew. Very friendly atmosphere. We thought ours might be the only kids aboard, but among the other guests were two other families with kids, so that was a big bonus. While motoring from one island to another the kids played tournament after tournament of soccer in one of the cabins using a stuffed animal as a ball. The other guests were engaging, and we all had a good time sharing stories of what we saw, enjoying cocktails, watching sunsets, etc.

The crew was top-notch. Every single one was very helpful, very friendly. My 12yr old was captivated by being on a boat, and got to know Marcello, the captain, and Rey, the first mate. They let him take the wheel a few times. Both were great with the kids aboard. On the zodiac boats that took us from the Elite to the shore, the guys who drove those boats also let our kids take the helm a couple times. The whole crew was super friendly and seemed committed to sharing their beautiful islands and making sure everyone left having had an extraordinary experience. They all had their specific jobs which they took seriously (it was a boat, after all, so it’s all serious at some point), but when they had time, they stepped outside their appointed roles to help guests or to point out interesting things. For example, one of the crew, Francis, snorkeled whenever he could, and did a great job enhancing our experience, pointing out hard-to-spot creatures like sea cucumbers or rays camouflaged on the ocean bottom.

One unexpected aspect of the trip was the beauty of the islands. Had we never stepped ashore, the trip would have been memorable just for the gorgeous islands, striking sunsets, impressive vistas, and stunning beaches.

As far as boat details, the food was excellent. The rooms were spacious and clean. I’ve never slept in a more comfortable bed. Jose, the bartender/server, was ever-ready with juices and snacks after every expedition, and his warm personality made cocktail hour a pleasure.

I genuinely cannot think of anything that could be improved upon. We badly want to go again, bringing aunts, uncles, and cousins to share this exceptional experience.

Prior to our actual trip, these Quito activities seemed "hokey" to a few in our group. They were definitely not and were very much enjoyed by all ten of us! — Sailed on The Horizon
Mark Wurzel | April 9, 2023

Allie Almario was essential in making our 10-day trip possible (March 18 to 27, 2023). Most importantly, the trip was a huge success! Our planning with Allie started about a year prior to our actual journey.

We were a group that included 6 adults (parents and grandparents) and 4 children (ranging in ages from ten to thirteen). We started our trip by visiting Guayaquil and the relatively nearby Hacienda La Danesa, a fabulous working farm with over-the-top accommodations, excellent and creative food, and activities that included: tubing down a river, actually making chocolate from cacao beans grown on the farm, and milking cows. For a bunch of city-slickers, the farm experience was a real treat.

In our group we had one child with food allergies and several of us had food preferences (or more particularly, non-food preferences!). All the various food issues were communicated in advance by Allie to every place we visited, and they were ready for us!

After Guayaquil we spent 4 nights and 5 days on the Horizon, a trimaran vessel, touring the Galapagos Islands. The Horizon accommodates a maximum of 16 guests. The staff was excellent and the food quite tasty. As Allie suggested, four nights and five days was just the right length for our group.

Something to be aware of is a large part of the Galapagos experience is snorkeling. Visitors to the Galapagos should fully understand this. If visitors planning a trip to the Galapagos are not fans of snorkeling, much of the value of the trip would be “lost.”

After the Galapagos we flew to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The altitude of Quito is 9,300 feet and visitors should avoid alcohol for at least the first two days to give your body time to adjust to the thinner air and to mitigate possible altitude sickness. Do not be overly concerned about altitude sickness, but read up on it and be smart by not over-doing activities.

In Quito we visited Cuicocha Lake (a 2-mile-wide caldera and volcano crater lake), Otavalo Market, the Andean Condor Park, and the Intinan Museum (a family-friendly Equator park). In reading the suggested itinerary prior to our actual trip, these Quito activities seemed “hokey” to a few in our group. They were definitely not and were very much enjoyed by all ten of us!

Our Quito guide, Henry, was one of the best guides I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve traveled the world!

Ecuador has two seasons. Wet and less-wet. If possible, I’d recommend traveling during the “less-wet” season. We traveled at the end of the wet season and lucked out with a lack of rain. The week before our trip was apparently quite rainy, which would have been rather unpleasant.

Some other recommendations:
Prior to leaving for your trip, ask Allie to provide a simplified itinerary that recaps, by day, each activity you will experience. Also on the simplified itinerary, ask Allie to list the recommended gratuity to be provided to each guide, driver, or other service provider you will encounter. Print the simplified itinerary and bring it with you. The “fancy” online color itinerary provided by Allie may be interesting to look at while at home, however it does not print well (formatting issues) and is difficult to view while on your trip.

Bring quick-drying clothing which would include long pants, long-sleeve shirts and water shoes that dry quickly (look on Amazon). The long sleeves and long pants are for sun protection.

None of the toilets anywhere in Ecuador allow the flushing of toilet paper. After you “do your business,” the toilet paper is placed in a plastic-lined trash can. You might consider bringing single-use “tushy” wipes with you. You can find these on Amazon. Be certain to bring a wide-brim sun hat and sunscreen. As there is no cell service or Internet available on a ship, be sure to bring plenty of reading material with you (or a Kindle), as you will not be able to download anything while on the ship.

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