Set Sail For Elevated Luxury

By Melanie Carden

One of the immeasurable benefits of travel is how it offers insight into other communities, countries, and cultures. Although this happens on every trip, my experience traveling along the coast of Ecuador with the Kontiki Expeditions yacht was unequivocally memorable.

Kontiki Expeditions is a rarity among the members of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, being the first “Boutique Sea Expedition” among the ranks. Their 128-foot yacht, the M/Y Kontiki Wayra, seamlessly blends luxury with a welcoming familiarity. With just 18 passengers (nine staterooms) and 13 crew members, the vessel is a mellow mélange of seafaring finery and a downright cozy community. And over eight days, guests cruise in and out of many of Ecuador’s ports with two goals—cultural immersion and adventure.

Kontiki Expeditions curate experiences that move the needle regarding how travel can be less transactional and instead a cultural exchange.  

And at the end of each day’s excursions, there’s something special about the late-day yacht chats—a barefoot authenticity of sorts—as passengers exchange thoughts on the day’s experiences.

The yacht’s Veranda Staterooms have large sliding doors, offering sweeping ocean views. Though I admittedly spent time on the top deck, my room felt like a cozy oasis when not snorkeling, using the boat’s extensive collection of water toys, or, of course, dining. The chef and crew oversee the meals with such care, and I was impressed with the attention to detail in terms of my gluten intolerance. And bravo on the variety of fresh, local fruit and fish, luxe bites, and even comfort foods such as the magnificent pan de yuca, cheesy cassava (yuca)-based bread rolled into small two-bite portions.  

One of the big selling points of a Kontiki Expeditions excursion—other than a week on a luxury yacht, of course—are the daily excursions. Each day offers multiple opportunities to enter a new world.

In the village of San Miguel de Sarampión, we spent hours walking the biospheres nestled along the paths of a farm where 120-year-old cacao heritage trees grow. Chocolate connoisseurs know the name To’ak to be synonymous with chocolate excellence.  

The exclusivity of the chocolate is tied to its signature cacao varietal, Ancient Nacional, a type dating back over 5,000 years. So, to walk one of the surprisingly humble farms, rake beans over open coals, and casually chat with a farmer whose family has been working the land for generations was a tremendous privilege. And I was over the moon to splurge on fresh bars of chocolate to bring home—pre-market bars that had not yet been packaged for the masses. I also had a more profound, priceless understanding of the heritage that binds these trees to the Ecuadorian culture. 

Of course, I certainly joke now and again that my love for chocolate is near-religious, but there was, in fact, a spiritual element that week. We visited Agua Blanca to spend time with members of the Manteño community. This is one of the largest settlements of Manteño culture, which dates to 1500 A.C., one of the oldest in Ecuador.  

There we spent time chatting with our host, who showed us archeological remains before we took to the woods, where we met the community’s Shaman for a ritual of purification and thanks. And for a fleeting time, there in the woods, we were all the same faith—gratitude.  

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper yacht getaway without ample seaside shenanigans, but the M/Y Kontiki Wayra took it up a few notches—all the way to the top deck, where you’ll find access to the yacht’s waterslide. In between land excursions, the crew prepares the ship for hours of water activities, craft cocktails, and oysters on the top deck—or right in the hot tub, if you prefer.

The crystal-clear waters and expert guides made for some of the best snorkeling I’ve experienced. Turtles, sting rays, and even sea lions all regularly appeared as endless rainbows of fish swam alongside us.  

Back on deck, coconuts filled with refreshing coconut milk rum drinks served as cocktail and hydration as I toggled between the adrenaline of the waterslide and the motor-powered water toys and the relaxation of an enjoyable book and lounge chair.  

In sum, Kontiki Expeditions delivers the elevated luxury of an established fleet with its one elegant ship. But its size and attention to detail allow for a curated yet nimble approach to cultural tourism. And although the smoke from the forest ceremony fades, you’ll forever be connected to that sacred place.  

For more information on Kontiki Expeditions, visit 

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