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September 2017 was Travel Mart Latin America (TMLA) time again, actually again for the 41st annual event and this year in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Manuel Cuevas, executive v.p. of William H. Coleman Associates, organizer of TMLA, reports that “close to 700 buyers and sellers gathered from 27 countries—a good turnout with lots of business buzz—and signups already well along for next year in Buenos Aires, Sept. 19-21.”

For delegate Leigh Young, Latin American specialist for Avanti Destinations, TMLA time is always a good time “to learn what’s up and what’s new in Latin America.” She’s particularly happy to be back exploring and re-exploring Ecuador, “which has shown double-digit growth for Avanti in 2017. We work exclusively with travel agents, and they are going to find seven new regional destinations have been added to our options offered in 15 Central and South American countries,” Young told Recommend. “In Ecuador, we are expanding our Galapagos program to include four new cruise ships and adding land-based, island-hopping vacations for three to seven nights.”

Denise May, travel consultant with Rico Tours, sang the praises of her pre-Travel Mart, 4-night trip from Quito to Guayaquil on the new Tren Crucero, “a beautiful train, aboard which passengers travel by day through the beautiful countryside in the shadow of picture-perfect volcanoes, learn about culture and history, dine deliciously on local produce, really mix with local people, and by night stay in distinguished haciendas and hotels.” She added, “if Ecuador is on your radar only because of the Galapagos Islands, think again, for Tren Crucero offers an amazing way to experience the mainland.”

Stunning views and excellent service await guests aboard the Tren Crucero.
Stunning views and excellent service await guests aboard the Tren Crucero.

On the last day of the show, we bumped into Mike Eiseman, CEO of VIP Journeys, who found that “in so many Latin American destinations, there are so many new things happening. Take Ecuador: small boutique lodgings are cropping up in places you wouldn’t expect, such as the upscale Hotel Otavalo right near the highlands market, or classy Hacienda la Danesa, just an hour from Guayaquil; there are many, many new luxury yachts—all adding balconies—for cruising in the Galapagos, and on the islands, really fine lodgings such as the Golden Bay Hotel on San Cristobal that open new options for island-based vacations; and there are new airports all over the continent, such as at Puerto Natales, which makes the whole Chilean-Argentine Patagonia area more accessible and easier to sell.” And speaking of Chile: “How about Lonely Planet’s #1 pick for ‘Best Country to Visit in 2018.’”

While there was plenty to learn about all the participating countries from South and Central America, host country Ecuador fielded an unusual number of new hotels, attractions, and luxury yachts in the Galapagos; some this writer had a chance to visit in person. Here’s a list of updates in Ecuador and the Galapagos to help keep you up to date:

Ecuador Hotel Update
Illa Experience Hotel is indeed the first experience hotel. Located in the historic San Marcos barrio of the Old Town of Quito, the 10-room property blends warm grandma-style hospitality with Ecuadorian family traditions, and every evening guests can take part in a hands-on experience. This beautifully restored colonial mansion has three floors, each representing an era of city history: colonial, republican and modern. Guests are treated to fine dining in the Nuema Restaurant, with the rooftop bar offering amazing city views, and at the cellar level, guests will find a spa and Wine Cava. illaexperiencehotel.com

ArtHotels Ecuador introduces a pioneer Ecuadorian-national branded circuit of boutique hotels, situated in the most iconic locations of the country; the flagship property is Hotel Mama Cuchara, located in Quito’s historic Old Town. arthotelsecuador.com

Cultura Manor, a totally revamped National Patrimony house, is the newest member of Exclusive Hotels & Haciendas of Ecuador (ehhec.com). Cultura Manor enjoys original wooden floors, doorways and high-beamed ceilings; collectors’ art, antique furnishings and fabrics; a bevy of wood-burning fireplaces, a library, and endless bouquets of roses. There are 26 rooms, including four suites that take a decorative page from the era of Botticelli. Most rooms have sitting areas, some come with bathtubs and others with modern showers, all with bouquets of roses and free WiFi. Meals in the dining room benefit from a fresh vegetable garden out back. cafecultura.com

Swissotel Quito announced a new chapter for Swissotel Hotels & Resorts—the brand has joined the AccorHotels Group. Under the Accor umbrella, Swissotel shares association with sister brands Fairmont and Raffles in the luxury collection. swissotel.com

Hotel del Parque is now the new and luxurious belle of the ball in Guayaquil, occupying a handsomely restored 19th century Catholic hospice, set in the heart of Guayaquil’s tropical Parque Historico. The 44-room and -suite retreat preserves original Republican-era architectural features including fountains, flowering courtyards, an ornate chapel, and a bell tower transformed into a spa treatment room. There is top-notch service 24/7, good art everywhere, and every room is appointed with furniture made in Ecuador: a kind of marriage of luxury and authenticity, which also carries through to the Casa Julian restaurant, overlooking the Rio Daule. hoteldelparquehistorico.com

Guestroom at Hotel Del Parque
Guestroom at Hotel Del Parque.

Hacienda la Danesa offers another reason to plan for clients to stay and play along the Pacific coast. Located inland, an hour from Guayaquil and three hours from Cuenca, the 120-acre hacienda is a traditional dairy and cacao farm, owned over three generations by the Olsen family, who personally offer impeccable hospitality and accommodations for up to 12 guests in the garden cottage (860 sq. ft., restored stables suites are 750 sq. ft.), and the heritage guest rooms (270 sq. ft.), which are part of the simply sensational main farmhouse. Special amenities for all include binoculars, yoga mats, a pool and a spa, as well as delicious farm-to-table dining, impeccable hospitality and a full menu of must-try experiences, including horseback riding, bike trains, cow milking, cooking classes, and a Bean to Bar chocolate-making experience. haciendaladansa.com

Ecuador Tour Operator Update
Creter Tours has a new project, Hacienda La Candelaria, a magical place featuring six guestrooms, seven bathrooms, a common room, and a kitchen where clients can experience traditions and culture at the heart of the Andes. The hacienda is located in the province of Chimborazo, 40 miles from Riobamba and within hiking distance of Volcano Altar. All activities—trekking, trout fishing, cycling, milking cows, and cooking classes—are managed by the local people, the Chagras (Andean cowboys). cretertours.com.ec

Latin Trails has introduced the Galapagos Hopper, a new catamaran ready to offer day tours from San Cristobal Island to Espanola, Punta Pitt and other iconic destinations in the Galapagos archipelago. latintrails.com

Metropolitan Touring’s award-winning Mashpi Lodge (mashpilodge.com), deep in the Andean cloud forest, has added another perspective to enjoying its wondrous natural world: the Dragonfly, an approximately 1-mile-long, innovative cable-driven system of gondolas that carries travelers under, through and above the forest canopy. Additionally, now open is a laboratory for study, research and micro photography—a workplace for the hotel’s resident biologist, as well as all guests. metropolitan-touring.com

Galapagos Update
Andando Tours & Angermeyer Cruises is introducing a new luxury mega yacht, M/Y Passion, catering to 12 guests, accommodated in two suites and four staterooms. Each cabin has a marble bathroom with bathtub—suites have two en-suite bathrooms. andandotours.com

Andean Travel Company is adding two new luxury cruisers to its fleet—the 12-passenger Archipel I and Archipel II, designed to create a welcome revolution in upscale catamaran cruising. The cruise company, now with six vessels, gives agents different options for groups of up to 32 passengersandeantc.com 

Royal Galapagos has expanded its Galapagos fleet to include two brand-new luxury yachts, the Natural Paradise, accommodating 16 passengers in spacious cabins and suites, many of which have private balconies, and the spiffy new 20-passenger Infinity with eight cabins, two of which are suites, and all have balconies. royalgalapagos.com

Haugan Cruises is the new owner and operator of the former Red Mangrove Adventura Lodge, now rebranded as the Red Mangrove Eco Luxury Hotel. Hotel stays can be combined with the company’s three luxury catamarans, all of which have cabins and suites with balconies: the 10-cabin Ocean Spray; the 7-cabin/2-suite Petrel; and the 6-cabin/2 suite Cormoranthaugancruises.com

Galapagos Best designs personalized travel packages that combine inn stays in the islands with daily excursions, as well as Free Diving Adventures aboard its Yacht Adriana. The company, which pioneered free diving in Galapagos is adding “freediving yoga,” a new way of doing yoga, but under water. galapagosbest.com