~Endless Surprises and Extraordinary Moments~
Embarking on an expedition in Ecuador, a country unknown to me, was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.
Unlike its South American neighbors, Peru and Colombia, Ecuador was a mystery to me. Ecuador is dwarfed in size by Argentina and Brazil, while its Pacific Coast pales in comparison to Chile’s. Often regarded as a mere layover for travelers en route to the Galapagos Islands, mainland Ecuador’s international reputation is limited. However, I soon discovered that underestimating Ecuador is a mistake. The country surprised and delighted me at every turn. Quito alone justified the journey, and my stay in Manta was pure bliss. But the highlight was undoubtedly the five-day cruise along Ecuador’s Pacific Coast aboard the luxurious yacht “M/Y Kontiki Wayra” by Kontiki Expeditions.
Discovering the delights of a Kontiki Expedition:
Presented as a “Neo-Luxury Sea Expedition,” Kontiki Expeditions was founded by Carlos Nuñez, a man whose love for Ecuador shines through every step of the way. His deep connection to Ecuador’s untouched Pacific coast, where his family’s fortune was made in tuna fishing, is evident. Last year, Nuñez transformed a former scuba diving ship into the splendid 128-foot M/V Kontiki Wayra, which boasts nine staterooms, a spa, a wine cellar, and an upper deck complete with a Jacuzzi and a bar that serves endless drinks in coconut shells. The staterooms themselves are luxurious havens, featuring walk-in showers adorned with live plants. Exquisite Ecuadorian handicrafts are displayed throughout the yacht. The lower deck houses two spacious lounge areas, with two dining setups at one end and a bar at the other. The stern of the ship offers an outdoor lounge, leading to a platform where an array of water toys can be launched. There’s even a netted ‘swimming pool’ to enjoy.
A Yacht Steeped in Ecuadorian Pride:
Every aspect of the yacht, as well as its itineraries, emanates Ecuadorian pride. Nuñez’s mission is to promote sustainable tourism to unveil the captivating culture of mainland Ecuador—until now, a less-explored tourist destination. While the Galapagos Islands offer numerous cruise and tour options, Kontiki Expeditions are unique. They provide numerous opportunities for adventure, away from the bustling cruise ship crowds in the Galapagos. While the dedicated cabin crew attends to passengers’ every need, the heart of the expedition lies with an exceptional guide, Raul “Ruli” Menoscal. A naturalist with a deep bond to Ecuador, “Ruli” boasts an extraordinary background, including spending eight months alone on a Galapagos Island. He passionately highlights the distinctions between this route and the famous archipelago, emphasizing the abundance of wildlife, centuries-old local cultures, lush jungles inhabited by howler monkeys and dangerous tarantulas—all while sailing in the supreme comfort of Kontiki Wayra. Ruli proudly declares that our route lacks nothing; it merely suffers from inadequate marketing.
A Fusion of Anthropology, Zoology, Native Crafts, and Exceptional Cuisine:
Departing from Manta, a thriving seaport in Ecuador’s Manabi Province, we settled into our staterooms and gathered for Ruli’s nightly briefing, which soon transformed into engaging dinner conversations. Each meal consisted exclusively of Ecuadorian cuisine, a subject of personal interest to me. The variety of dishes served aboard Kontiki Wayra astonished me. Ecuadorian cuisine draws influences from Spanish, Andean, Amazonian, and even Italian, Lebanese, African, and Chinese cooking, resulting in an incredible diversity of flavors. From rice, lentils, and pasta to plantains, pork, chicken, beef, and the freshest seafood imaginable, the culinary offerings surpassed those of many renowned land-based restaurants. Breakfasts featured abundant fresh fruits, eggs, breads, and irresistible rolls made from yucca flour. The standard of cooking aboard Kontiki Wayra and the level of service was absolutely first-rate.
Endless Adventures Aboard Kontiki Wayra:
While it was tempting to simply bask in the abundant Ecuadorian sunshine in a plush deck chair, no one succumbed to such an indulgence. The dedicated crew members were at hand to arrange kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling, and even set up a three-story inflatable slide that quickly became a source of excitement for all. And that was just the beginning. Once we boarded the Zodiacs, Ecuador’s diverse landscapes awaited our arrival at every destination.
Highlights of the Expedition:
During the journey from Manta to Ayangue, we acclimated to the motion of the ocean and set our sights on the adventures ahead. From donning wet suits and encountering sea turtles during our first scuba dive at El Pelado, a small islet teeming with sea lions and Blue-footed Boobies, to visiting a local family skilled in pottery making techniques dating back to 4500 BC, each day brought new discoveries. Our visit to Agua Blanca, a small settlement with a rich history dating back to the Manteño Culture of 1500, included a memorable blessing ceremony performed by a Shaman. We participated in a circle marked with sawdust, made wishes, and experienced the Shaman’s invocation of blessings upon our families and the world at large. The ritual ended with a resounding cry from a conch shell, courtesy of one of the Shaman’s assistants. Each stop offered unique encounters, whether exploring Isla de la Plata, known as “Little Galapagos,” with its seabird nesting grounds and stunning landscapes, or witnessing the playful howler monkeys in Pacoche Lodge and Reserve.
Unexpected Delights and Unforgettable Moments:
A Kontiki Expedition is filled with surprises and extraordinary moments. Our encounter with the howler monkeys proved captivating. Trekking through Pacoche Lodge and Reserve, we marveled at tarantula nests and poisonous plants before spotting a lone howler monkey with her young baby. As we watched, the mother dropped the baby from a considerable height, leaving us in suspense. Later, our guide informed us that they had been reunited. Such intimate experiences exemplify the essence of a Kontiki Wayra journey. In another unforgettable instance, we spotted a massive pod of porpoises while relaxing on the yacht’s upper deck. The captain promptly repositioned Kontiki Wayra multiple times, ensuring we had ample opportunities to observe these magnificent creatures. Such maneuverability is a rare gem in the realm of cruising.
Endless Surprises and Diverse Experiences:
Kontiki Wayra offers an array of surprises, from Ballet Folklorico performances to delightful seafood luncheons in charming casitas, and even the chance to learn the art of Panama hat making. It turns out that the Panama hat was invented in Ecuador and only received its Panama moniker when the hats became a must-have import for the men digging the Panama Canal.
Overall … My voyage aboard Kontiki Wayra was tailor-made to provide a glimpse of the wonders awaiting those fortunate enough to explore Ecuador, and specifically to experience the beauty and adventure of its Pacific Coast. Deluxe and delightful, the journey proved both exhilarating and awe-inspiring, offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform one’s perspective of this part of our world. Although I have merely scratched the surface, I hope this glimpse into the expedition sparks your curiosity.
Ed. Notes: Thank you to Kontiki Expeditions and All Things Cruise / CruiseCompete teams for this wonderful experience.
To inquire about more information and to book your own Kontiki Expeditions cruise, please email us at Notify@AllThingsCruise.com
Cover photo: Kontiki Wayra, credit Small Luxury Hotels
Photos courtesy of Monte Mathews, unless otherwise captioned
Kontiki Expeditions is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World family, becoming the first Boutique Sea Expedition to acquire such recognition. SLH is an association of small luxury hotels and independent boutique hotels.