On Location in South America

The diverse nature of South America certainly creates many exhilarating travel experiences. We spoke with Tamara Karolys, Commercial Director for Metropolitan Touring Ecuador, for some fascinating insight into traveling South America.

Q: Tell us about Metropolitan Touring and the type of travel experiences you offer.

Metropolitan Touring is a Destination Management Company that started operations in Ecuador in 1953! It is therefore with great pride that we offer over 60 years of experience for all travel-related services in Ecuador and the Galapagos. We have specialized in designing top quality itineraries for the discerning traveler which combine Ecuador’s four geographic regions. We take into consideration clients’ interests, time frame and budget. Today, we also own and operate some of the top tourism products in the country:

  • Casa Gangotena, the finest boutique hotel in the historic colonial center of Quito;
  • Mashpi Lodge, a luxurious lodge in the middle of the Choco rainforest biodiversity hotspot that shows the natural wonders of the city of Quito;
  • Our very own special Galapagos products;  Finch Bay Eco Hotel and three expedition vessels; Yacht La Pinta, Yacht Isabela II and the Santa Cruz II,  that allow you to see the spectacular Galapagos Islands by land or sea, with the consistent high-quality service and safety you have come to expect from Metropolitan Touring.

Q: In which South American countries do you offer travel services?

Due to our long-standing, solid and consistently high quality service delivery in Ecuador and the Galapagos, many valued and trusted partners encouraged us to take the same level of operation to other countries in South America. Today we operate in COLOMBIA, ECUADOR & GALAPAGOS, PERU, ARGENTINA & CHILE.

Q: What do you consider the highlights of South America not to be missed?

Each country has a great variety of specific and unique facets including breathtaking landscapes, intriguing culture, tame and undisturbed wildlife, ancient and modern local architecture, heartwarming curiosity and fascinating people who take great pleasure in providing extraordinary service. Add to this, adventuresome accommodations and a surprising richness of local food and guests can expect to generate extraordinary memories.

We generally recommend one or two countries per trip. Immerse yourself fully in the uniqueness of a particular region on each visit rather than covering too much on one trip.

Q: You were the pioneers in Galapagos travel. What type of vacations do you offer there now?

As mentioned above, we own and operate three expedition vessels in the islands (Yacht La Pinta, Yacht Isabela II and Santa Cruz II) and one land-based discovery program (Finch Eco Hotel Bay, the only beachfront hotel on Santa Cruz Island). Galapagos is all about the wildlife, the iconic animal species as well as the quintessential, often otherworldly island sites. The archipelago is enormous, 53,000 sq mi / 138,000 km2, so it is crucial to be able to move around within the archipelago. The Galapagos National Park offers 145 unique visitor sites under strict control to ensure that its natural beauty is not disturbed.

Our expedition fleet caters to different travel styles ­– modern and luxurious, romantic or family-style. There is something for everyone! Numerous itineraries and packages are available with varying lengths (3-14 nights). For us, the most important thing is for our guests to live a life-changing experience with the Big 15 wildlife species that we have identified as the most unusual and fascinating animals that people must see when they visit the islands. Each of our itineraries is designed by our in-house experts to maximize the number of these incredible animals that guests will see. Take a look at our Big 15 brochure.

Q: Can the Galapagos and Machu Picchu be combined in one vacation?

By all means! This is a fabulous combination and many of our guests take advantage of our proximity to Peru. Travelers can experience one of the world’s top nature destinations in Galapagos, then with Macchu Picchu, cover the amazing cultural heritage of the Incas. Start in the north, arriving in Ecuador’s beautiful capital Quito (a stopover here is a must in order to grasp the richness of the region) before flying to the Galapagos. Then return to Ecuador’s largest port, Guayaquil, where you can find direct flights to Lima to begin the cultural portion of your journey – or turn the itinerary around and do it in reverse.

Q: What other destinations offer animal encounters?

The rainforest is another key stop on any journey. Ecuador has two rainforest regions which at first glance may look like the same "jungle" but in reality are totally different and deserving of exploration:

  • The Amazon basin is located on the eastern side of the Andes, easy to reach from Quito through a 40 minute flight. The area offers vast, flat land and larger mammals can be found.
  • The Mashpi bioreserve is the natural side of the Quito metropolitan district, with hilly terrain and smaller rainforest creatures – over 500 different bird species have already been identified in this hotspot!

For more information on Mashpi, take a look at this explanatory video: "The Other Rainforest, the Chocó"

Q: You offer special programs in some countries. What are your personal favorites?

I’d like to focus on the country where I live; Ecuador. Its different regions are close together and yet very different, bursting with contrasting opportunities. It is possible to see a bit of everything in a relatively short period of time. Two favorite experiences:

  • Journey to the source of chocolate: A trip to both rainforests and to the best soils for the finest Arriba cacao. Learn the process, enjoy a chocolate tasting and interact with the local farmers. This is an experience that will accompany you for the rest of your days.
  • Galapagos: My first visit to the islands was laced with skepticism. I thought that my critical eye would find something not quite perfect at this destination – but in fact, many years and many visits later, I can solidly affirm that Galapagos is a natural paradise of overwhelming beauty! My personal favorite trip combines an expedition on board a yacht/vessel, followed by a hotel extension to give myself the time to truly absorb and digest the expedition experience (because you see so much), plus witness the life of the locals, and enjoy some relaxation at the islands’ most wonderful beaches.

Q: What food and wine experiences do you recommend?

From the culinary aspect, Ecuador will surprise and fulfill you! I believe the best restaurants are found in Quito and Cuenca – world-class local and fusion food options are available that will satisfy and wow the most demanding palate. Because we are located on the equator we enjoy year-round growing seasons for almost any food imaginable around the world so you can have feasts of fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat, oh, and soups! There are several hundred soups to try here. And we already spoke about chocolate.

One of my favorite dishes is "ceviche" prepared throughout the country and eaten with salted popcorn or plantain chips – delicious! Just make sure you take advantage of all of the adventure activities so that you don’t put on a few pounds during your visit.

Ecuador has a small winery called Dos Hemisferios, however most wines are imported from Chile or Argentina. What has gained importance are the locally produced spirits, such as Zhumir in many different tropical flavors. The latest trend is the production of hand crafted beer.

Photo: Galápagos Islands
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