Guayaquil, Ecuador

Photo: Oro Verde Hotels

This trip has been in the works forever. You’ve been dreaming of seeing Galápagos tortoises and dragon-like marine iguanas, Galápagos penguins and blue-footed boobies for years. Now you’re finally traveling to the Galápagos Islands, one of the most pristine and fascinating places in the world. The remote islands, which lie nearly 1,000 kilometers west of South America, are known for their lunar-like landscape and unique wildlife. But, amidst all of the excitement, you forgot about one thing: the rest of your trip.

The Galápagos Islands may be the focus of your trip, but it isn’t your only destination. To reach the Enchanted Islands, you must fly through Ecuador. Quito, the capital, is a frequent stopover. But Guayaquil, the country’s largest city, might be even more popular. Guayaquil is a port city that sits along the Guayas River. It’s home to colonial buildings, beautiful theaters, and a new urban renewal project (Malecón 2000) along the water. It finally has a boutique hotel, as well.

Hotel del Parque is inside Parque Histórico, an area where colonial history, local traditions, and endangered wildlife are preserved along the hazy Daule River. That’s right, you get to start hanging out with macaws, caimans, and tiny spider monkeys before even leaving the mainland. The two-story hotel, built in the 1890s, was once a Catholic hospice. It has arched walkways, spacious courtyards, and a Gothic chapel. Gurgling fountains, palm trees, and colorful flowers dot the property. While each room, decorated with pale grays and yellows, has a slight tropical vibe.

You quickly discover that the park and the hotel are the perfect places to recover from a long flight and prepare for your upcoming adventure. You find antique ottomans, coffee and cookies, and plenty of research material in the Reading Room. The light blue walls aren’t the only reason the chapel is a soothing oasis; the spa, in its bell tower, has panoramic views of the gardens. The restaurant, along the waterfront, does, too. It serves Pacific seafood, traditional stews, and tropical produce. Plus you can learn about the process—from planting and roasting to picking and consuming—of making coffee and chocolate.

And that’s just at the hotel. Buildings from the 19th century, a period tram, exotic plants, and rare animals are just beyond its walls. There’s so much to see and explore that you might need to end your trip in Guayaquil, as well.

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