Journeys traveler Lenore Ralston talks about her “dream trip,” Aboard the M/Y Grace, Southern Circuit, in Ecuador.

My trip to Ecuador, including Quito, Otavalo, the Mindo Cloud Forest, and the Galapagos Islands, was a dream trip – one I had envisioned as a ten-year-old but never thought I would actually be able to do. And this trip surpassed all of my expectations. In part it was the exceptional guides we had for both the mainland and island parts of the trip. But after that, it was the country: the beauty of the Andes, the graciousness of the people, the stunning differences in ecologies as we traversed from 9,200 foot mountain ranges to white sand beaches.

Our first destination was Quito. The six of us stayed in the old part of the town where early colonial buildings are situated side-by-side with new construction. The colors – the brilliance – was breathtaking, and this sensuous palette of color was punctuated by a series of captivating parades honoring Quito’s Foundation Day.

From Quito we took a one-day trip to Otavalo, well-known for its beautiful textiles. We playfully bargained with the vendors, but mostly enjoyed the warmth of the interchange. Seeing the people of Otavalo in Andean costumes – the high hats and the colorful clothing – riveted my attention.

We stayed three days in Quito and Otavalo. Our next stop was Mindo Cloud Forest and the Sachatamia Lodge. Our accommodations were nestled in the mountainous cloud forest west of Quito. We were enchanted by the richness of the bio-diversity. This included close to 100 different species of humming birds and numerous other birds, insects, and other forms of wild life coaxed to the lodge through use of various feeders. And the vistas were breathtaking!

Next was the Galapagos, a place of magic, where evidence of symbiosis is everywhere you look, and where the wildlife comes right up to you. Pristine beaches, small ecological niches on every island, the differences subtle yet observable. The Grace itself was so beautiful, with al fresco dining at every meal. Our passenger complement was only 12, our party and another six of the most delightful people, all fulfilling a long-time dream. Our shared camaraderie heightened the pleasure of the experience. And the nimble yacht, once owned by Princess Grace, was beautiful and simple, riding close to the water which allowed us to spot schools of sharks and porpoises. Because the Grace had such a small number of passengers, our entire group was never split up which enhanced the bonding among one another – perfect! Our relationships enriched the whole experience.

I am drawn to nature, to the big picture, to natural settings that quiet my mind and fill my heart with inner peace. And on this trip, that sense of awe and being part of a much larger whole was everywhere; sparkling clarity, color, warmth, experiencing my place as a smaller part of a larger whole. It doesn’t get any better than that!