Welcome to the Ecuador Jungle

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 1, 2006

Q. We will be in Quito, Ecuador, and want to spend three or four days in the rain forest. Any suggestions?

Pattie Oldham, Laurel

A. Most travelers to Ecuador head for the blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos or the volcanoes in the Highlands -- missing the Amazonian rain forest and its pink river dolphins. "Everyone thinks of the Galapagos first and then the Highlands and its Indian markets and volcanoes," says Andrew Gilchrist, owner of Lost World Adventures (800-999-0558, ), a Georgia-based tour company specializing in Central and South America. "But half of Ecuador's land is in the rain forest, and only 5 percent of the population lives there."

Because of the remoteness of the jungly eastern region, reaching the rain forest and its surrounding tribal communities may require small planes and bumpy bus rides. "Macas is like an 'Indiana Jones' city," says Mauro Quito, a travel consultant with (011-593-9-971-6468, ), an Ecuador travel information company. "It has views of the Highlands and the Amazon and, if you're lucky, an erupting volcano." The former mountain guide also recommends the cities of Tena and Sucua, both good bases for rain forest exploration. For tour guides or information, look for outfitters in Quito or visit the Web site of the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador ( ).

For a less rugged journey -- and a more organized tour -- Gilchrist suggests Sacha Lodge (800-706-2215, ), a 5,000-acre private ecological reserve in the northern Amazon; the Napo Wildlife Center ( ) in the Yasuni National Park; and the Kapawi Ecolodge and Reserve (800-613-6026, ) in the south.

Of the three, Gilchrist says, "Kapawi is a much better wildlife experience, because the southern part of Ecuador is less disturbed. In the north, there is oil exploration and more traffic in the sky." Also, the Kapawi Lodge is part of an entrepreneurial project involving private investors and the Achuar Indians that trains the locals for jobs in the tourist industry.

Through Lost World Adventures, the trip costs $250 for the round-trip charter flight from Quito and $675 per person double for three nights at the lodge or $895 for four nights. The price includes meals and activities such as birding, hiking, canoeing and camping in the rain forest.

I'm thinking of going to Vanuatu for the Christmas/New Year's holiday. Will anything be open?

Jerad Tinnin Wellington, New Zealand

Travelers who spend the winter holidays in Vanuatu, the 79-island archipelago in the South Pacfic, won't be stuck eating Christmas ham alone in their hotel room. "We're a year-round destination," says Sue Herrick, the North America manager of the Vanuatu Tourism Office (931-924-5253, ). "Christmastime is an important time for our people and a busy holiday time."

In Vanuatu, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 are national holidays, as is Dec. 26, Boxing Day/Family Day. Stores, markets and museums will close for the holidays, but hotels and restaurants will be open. In fact, the islands crank up the festivities over the holidays, since it is summertime. To find the biggest fetes, stay in the capital of Port Vila, where 30,000 of the country's 200,000 residents live.

I have several in-country flights in China scheduled with Dragonair. Should I use Transportation Security Administration-approved luggage locks?

Robert Warakomsky, Fairfax

When you're in China and traveling within its borders, you can use any lock you like. "Dragonair has no restrictions on the types of locks passengers can use on their luggage," airline spokesman Ken To wrote in an e-mail, "and we are not aware of our passengers having encountered problems with security checks." The same rules apply to Cathay Pacific Airways, which owns Dragonair.


Michael Standaert of Palo Alto, Calif., has additional ideas for lodging in Big Sur, Calif. (Sept. 24). He says by e-mail: "A cheaper and more striking alternative is the Treebones Resort, where you're perched in yurts right on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific, and the prices are a more middle ground. There's also the Big Sur River Inn, Big Sur Lodge, Post Ranch and Lucia Lodge, which has small rentals on the cliffs. For a very interesting experience, you can also stay at the New Camadoli Hermitage, run by Benedictine monks."

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