Quasar Expeditions created an after-dark rooftop dining experience on the Convent of Santo Domingo. // © 2018 Debbie Olsen
Feature image (above): Quito’s Old Town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. // © 2018 Debbie Olsen
We had been sitting on the tarmac for about 15 minutes when the pilot announced that the airplane was having a mechanical issue. Two hours later, the flight finally departed, but it wasn’t fast enough for me — I missed my connecting flight to Quito, Ecuador, by 15 minutes.
Stranded in Houston for 24 hours without my checked bags, I frantically messaged Quasar Expeditions to let them know what had happened and see if they could rearrange the itinerary. The timing was poor — the Quito office was closed for the evening, and the next day was a national holiday. I wasn’t sure anyone would get my message, but they did. Within a few hours, the team at Quasar Expeditions managed to reorganize my travel plans, including an airport pickup by an English-speaking guide.
Tour operators with inside connections in a destination can be invaluable to travel agents in assisting with the organization of unforgettable itineraries, but the real test of a tour operator comes when things go wrong. Even the best-planned itineraries can have hiccups. Whether it’s a flight delay or cancellation, a weather issue or a tour company closure, taking care of the client should always be the top priority.
Quasar Expeditions is a luxury Latin American tour operator that has been in business since 1986. Based in Quito, it was one of the first companies to operate luxury cruises in the Galapagos Islands and have since expanded its offerings to include land-based itineraries across other destinations in Ecuador, Peru and Patagonia (Chile and Argentina).
“Quasar Expeditions’ trips transform lives through innovative and immersive travel experiences,” said Dolores Gangotena de Diez, commercial vice president for the tour operator. “We focus not only on the physical and mental needs of each traveler, but also on their emotional journey.”
Thirty-six hours later, as the sun rose over Quito’s historic old town, I cracked the window of my lovely second-floor room at Casa Gangotena, a boutique hotel, and took in a view of the bell tower of an ancient church.
You don’t have to look far to find fascinating architecture in Ecuador’s capital city. Quito was founded in the 16th century and has the best-preserved, least-altered historic center of any city in Latin America. In 1978, it became one of the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage sites.
After a delicious breakfast, we headed out to explore the city. Our guide, Marcia Simons was a human encyclopedia, albeit an entertaining one. We spent the morning and afternoon with her, visiting museums, galleries and historic sites.
Besides a fabulous included gourmet lunch at Theatrum Restaurant, unique extra experiences are what set Quasar Expeditions apart from other tour operators.
“We like to do things out of the ordinary to create very special experiences that make our guests feel part of the local ambiance,” Gangotena de Diez said. “We take advantage of the long road we have traveled in the tourism industry and the many connections we have made to create memories of a lifetime for our guests.”
That evening amid the sparkling lights of the colonial city, I stood on the rooftop of Convent of Santo Domingo, sipping a cocktail and nibbling on local specialties while taking in one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments. The private rooftop dining experience was the highlight of an exclusive private tour of the baroque 16th-century temple that is filled with unique sculptures, colonial art paintings and fascinating architecture and history.
Several miracles have been attributed to the saint for whom the convent is named, and as I stood surrounded by the convent’s ancient domes and the heart-stopping view, one happened for me. All of the stress I had felt because of my earlier flight delay seemed to be magically erased. My tour of Ecuador was back on track.