Saturday, January 4, 2014

Quito; Celebrity Xpedition Cruise Tour

In November 2013 we did a 7 day Galapagos itineary B cruise.  (Now Galapagos Inner Loop Itinerary).

We looked at the different options and decided for a Celebrity Xpedition 10 day cruise tour with pre- and post-stay at JW Marriott in Quito and flight included to/from Galapagos. 
We did extend the stay in Quito with few days before and after the Xpedition cruise tour.

We arranged our own flights from home to/from Quito.

Read the review of the stay in Quito at the blog below where posts are in reverse order (latest first - still under development). 
- and read the full review of the Xpedition Galapagos Cruise at the blog:

JW Marriott
JW Marriott hotel is located in Pradera area on Avenue Rio Amazonas. Close to shops, a market with local crafts as well as restaurants and shopping centers.
The hotel is about 5 km north of the historic old part of Quito.
The hotel has a total of 257 rooms spread over 11 floors. It features a heated pool, surrounded by palm trees and a spa and 5 restaurants.

See short video: JW Marriott Hotel, Quito, Ecuador

Friday, January 3, 2014

Quito, Ecuador

Quito is the capital of Ecuador, and at an altitude of 2,800 meters above sea level in the Andes. This is the highest capital city in the world.
Quito is located in the north-central Ecuadorved Guayllabamba river on the eastern slopes of the Pichincha volcano, an active stratovolcano in the Andes.

The city has a population of 2 million and is about 60km long but only about 5 km wide as the city is sandwiched between two mountain ranges - the Western and the Eastern Andes mountains. Because of the long and narrow city between steep mountains and the river that cuts through the city in a deep canyon transport metrics of hopeless - then takes about 2 hours to get in and out of town.
Short video: City Tour Quito, Ecuador 

Nearby volcanoes 
From the city can be seen several volcanoes. The  closest volcano is Pichincha, which rises looming over the western side of the city with a total of 4,794 meters. Quito is also the only capital in the world to be directly threatened by an active volcano. Pichincha volcano has several sister volcanoes, among them Rucu Pichincha at 4,700 meters above sea level and Guagua Pichincha at 4,794 meters which is an active volcano. The largest eruption occurred in 1660 when a layer of 25 centimeters of ash covered the city. There were three minor eruptions in the 19th century. The latest eruption was recorded on 5th October 1999 with a few puffs of smoke and a large amount of ash fell over on the town. 

East of Quito are the volcanoes Cotopaxi , Sincholagua , Antisana and Cayambe.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Quito - Last day

Then it was our last day in Quito.
We started the day with breakfast in the hotel cafe  - then we were on exhibition of paintings and looked at pictures of local artists - maybe there is something to bring home.
Then we began to pack up and found that there was room for a little extra, so we went for a walk into town to buy some more Ecuador coffee and chocolate.  Walked down  Juan Leon Mera and also visited the local
 La Mariscal Craft Market (picture) to buy some local goods and walked around the city to get the last sentiment. See short video: Quito, Juan Leon Mera and La Mariscal District

Back at the hotel we packed suitcases ready - we struggled a bit to get the weight of the large kufferet less than 23 kg which is maximum weight  we succeeded, and then we went down to the hotel hacienda restaurant and got a steak and a glass of red wine for dinner.
When we first had to leave late in the evening we had extended the stay in our room for at late check-out at 8PM.

At 8:30PM we got a pick-up by Celebrity for a transfer to the airport - there was not as much traffic as we were there well before check-in opened.
Unfortunately check-in did an error on my boarding pass so we could not immediately come in the United lounge with my SAS gold card - finding an United employee who could understand English and would solve the problem was difficult - but we managed to get into the lounge.
Boarding the plane was to start at 00:20AM but at midnight we were called when one of our suitcases were taken to extra security check - so I had to go down to the plane to open the suitcase for inspection - a bit of a parody - in addition, I was also taken extra check of the carry-on luggage - so I have to admit that the 3 events not exactly helped on my mood - but finally at 1 AM we were in the air towards Huston in Texas and 24 hours later we were back in Copenhagen airport via Newark.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cotopaxi Volcano

We have bought an individual tour to the Cotopaxi National park through Mallku Expedition - Cotopaxi - the world's highest active volcano. See the short video from Cotopaxi National Park.

At 8:30AM we were picked  up by the guide. Through Quito's throng of traffic, we drove south and turned off the main road and came to Ecuador's most beautiful national park which besides the volcano also includes the surrounding areas. In a village (700 inhabitants) at the foot of the volcano, we were joined by a local guide .
On the trip until now the guide told us about both Ecuador, Quito and the volcanoes and their origin. Immediately after we had driven into the national park, the road to a dirt road (lava gravel). We made a stop at a small local cafe where we got a hot tea brewed on coca leaf (containing cocaine?) and added a lot of sugar, which would make it easier for us to stay in the thin oxygen-depleted air here nearly 4000 m above sea level.

We continued through the national park and stopped at a lake formed by meltwater from snow-covered volcano . Here we went around the lake about 2.6 km . We could feel the thin air , but felt no more discomfort than we were a little out of breath.

Hacienda El Porvenir
See video from Hacienda El Porvenir
Then we proceeded by car through the countryside with very sparse vegetation.
On the slopes of Rumiñahui Volcano, in a truly privileged position, Hacienda El Porvenir is the ideal spot from which to explore Cotopaxi where we stopped for lunch.
First, a local hot welcome drink with ginger and ' firewater ' and roasted corn, for starters a soup of quinoia and potatoes for the main course grilled pork with potatoes and vegetables, and for dessert a local fruit cooked in a sukkerlagers with cinnamon. A meal quite like eating it in Ecuador.

After that we went back to Quito - first on rocky and cobbled roads before we reached the main road. We arrived at the hotel at 3PM - a bit earlier than planned , but it was due to traffic was not particularly heavy today.

Cotopaxi Volcano
Cotopaxi is a stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains, located about 28 km south of Quito. With a height of 5,897 m, it is the second highest mountain in Ecuador and it is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world.
Cotopaxi is one of the few volcanoes covered by snow making it extra dangerous when erupting.
Since 1738, the Cotopaxi erupted more than 50 times, which has resulted in numerous valleys formed by mudslides around the volcano.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Otavalo Market and Cotacachi

For Tuesday we have bought a Otavalo Market and Cotacachi tour through Gray Line in Quito.

After breakfast we were picked up by a bus from Gray Line that would take us on today's trip. We were a total of 15 people - besides us there was one from England and 12 from Argentina. We made a brief stop in the suburbs Calderon where they manufacture traditional 'masapan dolls' (see masapan dolls video). Then we drove along the narrow mountain roads north towards Otavalo . We drove through areas where production of roses - many of the roses we buy in US and Europe are produced in Ecuador.
Et single stop on the road by Pablo Lake with a beautiful view of the lake and mountains with its many volcanoes - there are a total of 48 volcanoes in Ecuador.
In Otavalo, we visited the traditional market selling local crafts and went for a walk around the charming town. Then on to the leather town of Cotacachi where we ate lunch and walked around the city. And the a  long trip back to Quito. 
It was an exciting trip where we got to see the countryside and some interesting towns. Back at the hotel we got a Manhattan and sushi at the hotel bar.

Otavalo Market
The indigenous Otavaleños are famous for weaving textiles, usually made of wool (that is sometimes as black as a raven), which are sold at the market. Although the largest market is on Saturday, there is a very wide range of wares available throughout the week in the Plaza de los Ponchos, and the many local shops. The shops sell textiles such as handmade blankets, tablecloths, and much more.
See short video: Otavalo Market, Ecuador 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Back in Quito from Galapagos

The last day of the cruise we had to put the suitcases outside the cabin door Saturday evening, and then we didn't see them, until we arrived at the JW Marriott hotel in Quito. They were delivered to our room just after arrival. 

We had to be out of our cabin at 8AM. Went down to Darwins restaurant for breakfast, and at 9am we got our boarding pass for the Celebrity Charter flight to Quito. At 9Am the pangas were ready to transport us, at our last Galapagos panga trip into the Baltra pier.  From the pier we continued by bus the short distance to the airport. Went through security and waited an hour, before for the charter plane departed for Quito. We did have a nice lunch on the  'Celebrity Xpedition' plane on our Balta to Quito flight. See video from Celebrity Xpedition Flight

At about 3PM we landed in Quito where we went straight to the buses, that brought us to hotel JW Marriott, a trip of approximately 1 hour. In the evening there was a dinner for all Celebrity guests at the Marriott hotel.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Celebrity Xpedition - 7 day Galapagos cruise

See the blog with the review and videos for our 7 days Galapagos Islands Itinerary B Cruise (Now Galapagos Inner Loop Itinerary) at the blog:

For the planning of a Galapagos Cruise get tips and inspiration at

Videos from the Xpedition cruise:
Galapagos Cruise, November 2013
Panga Ride, Wet and Dry Landings
Celebrity Xpedition Tour

Read the full review of the 7 night Galapagos cruise at

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Travel from Quito to Galapagos

Program for Sunday Morning:
05:00AM - Breakfast service begins
06:30AM - Pick-up of boarding passes for the flight to Baltra
07:30AM - Transfer to Airport

We were ready to go by buses to Quito airport at 7:30AM.
But there was an ' unexpected ' marathon in Quito. Much of the city was blocked off, so the buses could not get in to the hotel - we were over an hour late when we arrived at Quito Airport. Luckily it was a plane chartered specifically for this cruise, and the plane had to wait, and with no luggage to check in (see end of previous post) we went straight through security check for the Xpedition charter flights bound for Baltra in the Galapagos Islands, a flight of 2 hours. The aircraft was a new Airbus A320 form AeroGal (Aerolíneas Galápagos),  with 'Celebrity Xpedition' branding and logos on everything, from the bulkheads, plates, beverage cups, table clothsThe service at the 'Xpedition flight' was extraordinary good. See video from the flight.

We arrived to the airport, went through immigration  and after a short bus ride from the airport to the harbor and then a Panga ride (Zodiac rubber raft), we were aboard the Celebrity Xpedition.
The luggage was delivered directly to our cabin, which gave us the opportunity to explore the Celebrity Xpedition, a 296-foot mega yacht,  which was our home on the 7 night tour around the Galapagos Islands.
We did have cabin 419 on deck 4 - there are a total of 3 decks with 46 cabins . The cabin is about 15 m2 and we have to do without a balcony on this cruise . With it's also limited in how much time will want to spend in your cabin .

See the short videos:
Celebrity Xpedition Flight from Quito to Baltra and 
Transfer Baltra Airport to Pier, Galapagos Cruise

Baltra is a small island of only 27 square kilometers. The highest point is only 100 meters. It is one of the central islands of the Galapagos and is located just north of Santa Cruz and south of Mosquera and North Seymour . During World War II , served Baltra as a U.S. military base protecting the Panama Canal from enemy attack. Now Baltra a ' cactus- strewn ' landscapes and home to the region 's main airport . Dry and flat, Baltra is ideal for military base and airport , but lacks other kinds of attractions for visitors. Baltra is not currently within the boundaries of the Galapagos National Park.

See the review of the cruise at

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Quito City Tour / Excursion and Dinner Saturday

This is the Celebrity Xpedition program for the Saturday:
06:00 AM Breakfast service begins
09:30 AM Full day Quito and Equatorial Line Monument tour. Lunch included at Sucres' Theatrum Restaurant
04:30 PM - Return to Hotel
06:15 PM Transfer to Carmine Restaurant for dinner
08:30 PM - Back at the Hotel

At 9:30am it was time for the Xpedition city tour of the old part of Quito along the other participant in our Galapagos tour. We were up at 7am and downstairs for breakfast. See the short video: City Tour Quito, Ecuador.
Quito is an incredibly beautiful city with many ornate church, colonial houses and beautiful monuments, although the city has been devastated by volcanic eruptions and finally a big earthquake in 1987.

Our first stop was a magnificent gothic Basílica del Voto Nacional set atop a hill looking over the Spanish colonial town. Standing outside the basilica we could look down over a series of whitewashed colonial buildings. On a distant hill, a massive statue of the Virgin Mary watched over the town.
Then we went to the town square. On one side of the square stood the Carondelet Palace, office and house of the Presidents of Ecuador. and to the right the Cathedral Metropolitana de Quito.
The middle of the square was marked by a monument to Ecuador's independence from the Spanish, achieved  in 1834.

The highlight of the  tour of the old town was a visit to a Jesuit church, Church of La Compañía which has been painstakingly restored with gold leaf, so that all of the interior glimmered like an enchanted hall from a fairytale. Church and Monastery of St. Franciso where we visited the Courtyard of the Monastery and the church.
- after the city tour we went for lunch with local specialties at Theatrum restaurant located all over its second floor in the National Theater (Teatro Nacional Sucre).

Theatrum offers an extraordinary menu of the vanguard Mediterranean cuisine, where seafood, fish, meat, birds and ducks combine with fine aromatic herbs and local and imported ingredients.
Mitad del Mundo
After lunch we drove 15 km north of the Mitad del Mundo ( center of the world ) - there was a lot of traffic so the 15 km took about 45 minutes. Here there is a 30 m high monument marking the equator. We have crossed the equator several times, but it was the first time we had the opportunity to stand with one leg on the northern and southern hemispheres at the same time. Interesting to visit the place where the earth's form was established in 1739th. We were back at the hotel at 16:30 See the short video: Mitad del Mundo, Quito Ecuador 

Evening Dinner at Carmine Restaurant
All participating in the Xpedition Galapagos tour were invited to dinner, at an Italian restaurant in the evening. A great dinner despite the relatively large number of guests ( about 100 in total). We were already back at the hotel at 8:30PM and then have our suitcases packed - We had to deliver our checked luggage to the Celebrity Cruises no later than 10PM for inspection.

Checked Luggage for the Galapagos Cruise
All of the luggage did undergo a search for food or plant products that could introduce harmful organisms into the Galapagos ecosystem by the ' Galapagos Agricultural Authorities ' - so we did avoid the check in Quito airport or at arrival at Baltra. 

The suit cases was collected and was brought directly from the hotel to the plane in the morning and they were  delivered directly to our cabin on the Celebrity Xpedition.
You are permitted only 20 kg (44 lbs) of checked luggage. I did sense that the weight limit is per family rather than the individual pieces. If so needed you can leave some at you luggage not needed for the cruise at the hotel.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday in Quito and La Mariscal District

We got breakfast on the terrace by the pool in a beautiful morning.

Just at the front of the Marriott hotel you will find Juan Leon Mera street and the La Mariscal District  - It,s safe to walk in the district and you can walk down either Rio Amazonas or Juan Leon Mera. 
We had decided to look into the La Mariscal District and the surrounding streets.
See the short video: Quito, Juan Leon Mera and La Mariscal District

We started with walking down Juan Leon Mera from the hotel, here there are some handicraft shops. We went to see the local cacao and coffee products in 'Cacao & cacao' and visited Mercado Artesanal market (picture) with lots of reasonably priced crafts market in Quito  Around 100 stalls offer llama rugs, alpaca jumpers, leather goods, Andean dolls and jewelry.

This large market is handy for visitors who might not have time to make it to the town of Otavalo. It’s located on Jorge Washington between Reina Victoria and Juan León Mera. It’s a colourful and fun place to shop, with about a hundred stalls protected from the elements selling a huge range of Ecuadorian crafts. It’s open seven days a week, 10 am to aboxut 7 pm.

We were also in favor of looking at Panama hats originally from Montecristi, Ecuador and continued down Avenue Rio Amazonas and passed by The Presidents Plaza and Plaza Foch, two recently inaugurated plazas with a nice illumination and were normally music shows are organized continuously.

In the late afternoon we were back at the hotel. At 6PM we went into the restaurant to eat - here we've got fried salmon. After dinner we met with a representative for Celebrity and got a little information about the Xpedition City tour excursion tomorrow (Saturday) and Sunday morning transfer to the airport and Baltra in the Galapagos. Finally, a single glass of wine at the bar before bed.
The majority of our fellow cruisers did arrive late Friday evening.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Arrival into Quito and JW Marriott

After a good night's sleep at Riande Aeropuerto Hotel & Resortwe were up early to eat breakfast at the restaurant.
Took the shuttle bus from the hotel, and then we were ready to fly with Copa Airlines, the last piece of the trip to Quito - a short flight of 1 ½ hours . 
It was a really nice approach into Quito Airport (UIO). Quito lies in a valley in the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 2,800 m. 
See the short video: Flight CM829 from Panama to Quito 
It was quick to get through immigration and customs and at exit we met a representative from VIP Link, which had arranged for transportation from the airport to the JW Marriott Quito hotel (picture).

If you arrive at the Friday at a Celebrity Xpedition cruise tour, the transfer from Airport to Hotel is included in the arrangement, but if arriving outside that window, you must arrange you own transfer, either by pre-booked taxi or using one of the yelllow caps waiting outside the terminal. Since Quito is at high altitude, the air is very thin, but we have not been affected by the thin air and we did not expierence any troubles with 'high illness'.

JW Marriott Quito
After an hour we were approaching the JW Marriott Quito Hotel. 

We've got a room on the 7 floor with sweeping views of Quito City and the encircling mountains (picture). 
We staid at the hotel during the afternoon and got a nice dinner at one of the three restaurants at the hotel.  
See video: JW Marriott Hotel, Quito, Ecuador 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Flight from Copenhagen to Quito

Finally, we got off on our Galapagos trip.  
Traveling from Europe to Ecuador is quite a long trip and only few direct flights. You must take an international flight to Ecuador, to arrive either at the city of Quito or at the city of Guayaquil. There are non-stop flights from several US cities, like Houston (United), Atlanta (Delta) and Miami (American Airlines), as well as from European cities like Amsterdam (KLM) and Madrid (Iberia).
From other cities in US or Europe 1 stop flights are available either via US cities above or via Bogota and Panama City.

It is recommend to arrive into Quito or Guayaquil at least two days before the scheduled Galapagos travel dates (especially for cruises) in case there are flight delays or cancellations.
Being a loyal SAS and Star Alliance customer out option was to fly via Newark and Panama City, with overnight stop in Panama.

At noon we flew from Copenhagen with SAS SK909 (picture) to Newark, NJ. A trip of 8 hours with arrival late in the afternoon local time. We came quite quickly through immigration in Newark, and took our suitcases as we had to bring them through customs in the U.S. They were then checked in for the United flight to Panama.

We had 1½ hours to change - we took the train to another terminal and through security check - as usual organized chaos. Then we went straight to our United Airlines flight that would take us to Panama City.

Panama City
After 5 hours we landed in Panama. We arrived to the tropical heat of Panama at 10PM - we had booked an airport hotel, Riande Aeropuerto Hotel & Resort, where there was a shuttle bus service from the airport.
It took some time to get through immigration, by then the suitcases already were on the belt - so it was just to get out of the terminal, find the bus and then a 5 minute drive to the Riande Aeropuerto Hotel. A really nice hotel with good service (picture).
Before bedtime, there was just time for a glass of wine at the pool bar.