5 Reasons to Go to the Galapagos Islands

Not sure when you want to schedule your trip to the Galapagos? The number of visitors to these far off islands in the middle of the Pacific increase every year. So, experience your own slice of paradise before the crowds get here and see Latin Excursions’ top 5 reasons to visit now rather than later!

1. The remoteness

Do you ever have one of those days when you wish you could disappear to a deserted island for just a while? Found more than 550 miles from mainland Ecuador in South America, the Galapagos presents reality to your daydreams. This archipelago is comprised of 13 major islands and 6 smaller ones you’re sure to find one you like! More than that, the population stands at only 25,000 across 3 of the major islands, so more often than not, you and your loved ones will be able to have a most exclusive and private holiday you always wanted.

2. The craters

There are few places on earth when you can get so up close and personal to both extinct and live volcanoes. From the vehicle-accessible Twin Craters on Santa Cruz islands to the Sierra Negra crater on Isabela island requiring a full day journey on horseback and foot, all members of your group will be able to witness these colossal creations by Mother Nature with their own eyes. Standing on the edge, we bet you’ll be tempted to shout out a victory call!

3. The open zoo

Envision going to a zoo where there are no cages and the animals are free to roam about around you that’s what awaits you in the Galapagos. Because the creatures on the islands proliferated over so many centuries free from human interaction until their discovery by the Spanish in 1535, they are not accustomed to fear people. That means you can lay out right next to sealions, approach birds head on, and swim as part of massive schools of fish. Keep in mind, however, while you are able to touch many of the animals without having them run away, it is against Galapagos National Park rules to do so.

4. The endemic species

Not only did the Galapagos’ many birds and other animals develop far from human civilization, they also did so without the natural interference of other species. Today, there are dozens of species unique to only the Galapagos such as the marine iguana, giant tortoise, lava lizards, blue footed booby, and more. So in more than one way, the Galapagos is truly unlike anywhere else on earth!

5. The diving

Ranked on countless world class diving destinations lists, the underwater world around the islands is undoubtedly one of the best places to go scuba diving. There are millions of kinds of marine creatures that call the Galapagos home, a place where marine turtles and hammerhead sharks and immense schools of small fish all live as neighbors. Because of strong currents and large rocks in some areas, it is recommended that travelers interested on diving on a trip to Galapagos have some prior experience.

Safety & What it Means in Today’s Colombia

Having had such a tumultuous history in the 80’s and the 90’s due to violence arising from drug and revolutionary political groups, it is no secret that Colombia earned itself a reputation as being one of the more dangerous places in the world. However, the country has since renovated itself on all fronts, almost miraculously fast, to where it is today considered one of the safest, most modern, and breathtaking destinations in South America.

My name is Connie, and I’m a junior travel consultant at Latin Excursions. Recently I had the opportunity to travel throughout Colombia for 2.5 months (not to say that I wasn’t tempted to stay until the very last day permitted on my 3-month tourist visa!). Here, I’ll address some concerns that might be running through your mind while considering your Colombia vacation.

What is the FARC and terrorism situation like today,
and should I be worried?

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia People’s Army, known as FARC, is a guerrilla group that has been promoting agrarianism and socialist rule in Colombia. They have been active since the early 80’s stretching into the 21st century. However, with the death of the FARC commander Mono Jojoy in 2010, who was regarded as the organization’s leading instigator and symbol of terror, the safety situation in Colombia has turned around entirely. In fact, in mid-2012, FARC leaders, and Colombian government officials met and engaged in peace talks that have slowly but surely making headway into hopefully nothing but brightness in the country’s future.

Today, even those Colombians who lived through the decades of FARC proudly consider their country to be as safe as any other in South America. Where one girl’s father once dared not walk the short distance between the nearby town and his coffee finca plantation, today she strolls with her two young sons admiring the countryside mountainscapes. As well, the more rural parts of southern Colombia were once the stronghold zones for the guerrilla group. These days, destinations such as the colonial “white city” of Popayan and the archeological parks of San Agustin are among the most popular in the country by both nationals and international visitors alike. If you’re visiting principle destinations such as Bogota, Medellin, and the Caribbean coast including Cartagena, you do not need to worry more than any other large city anywhere. The national government has invested millions of dollars in tourism and security, providing travelers with nothing to fear on its police- and military-patrolled streets besides maybe a sunburn and indecisiveness over the countless things to see and do.

However, there are still some areas considered unready for tourism. The Amazon region, Choco state on the Pacific coast, the large eastern Llanos state with its plains ultimately stretching until the Amazon, and rural areas just above the Ecuadorian border should be approached with caution.

What about the cocaine drug cartels?

When Colombia is mentioned, perhaps no two themes pop up faster than cocaine and Pablo Escobar. Indeed, both came to power in Colombia in the 80’s and ultimately left their unforgettable legacy for the country to clean up after. Pablo Escobar, to this day, one of the world’s most notorious drug chiefs in history, led the Medellin cartel to international success at the expense of countless deaths of those involved in the cocaine trade. Unfortunately, there were also countless innocent victims. Battling his rival, the Cali cartel based in Colombia’s southern, third largest city, Escobar, unfortunately, made the country synonymous with drugs and criminal gang lawlessness.

Escobar was ultimately shot and killed on December 2, 1993 at the age of 43, a death that almost instantly crippled the Colombian cocaine trade. In the two decades since, the government has made it a priority never to allow drugs or gangs to rule the country again. Medellin, Cali, and Bogota are now regarded as showcase cities for internationals, attracting unprecedented numbers of foreign investors, innovators, and of course travelers. In fact, Medellin has recently been known as the rising technology capital in South America, exemplified not least by its modern public metro system and numerous startup companies.

While gang violence can still be found, as in any large city around the world, it is mostly confined to the impoverished neighborhoods. As basic travel sense dictates, it is not recommended to visit these areas in any case.

Understanding the state of modern Colombia, I had not a single hitch in my almost three months in the breathtaking country. Instead of a tense atmosphere, I was met with some of the most genuinely welcoming and hospitable individuals I have ever met, both while in the city and in the countryside. I wish I could have put the Colombians’ honesty, sincerity, and amicability on a postcard to be shared. Not to mention, an exponentially growing number of Colombians speak English, and they are more than patient enough to listen and help if you speak even a word or two in Spanish. This country is not forgetting but instead, quickly moving on past its painful recent history; it would be a shame not to see it now during its rise back into the positive international spotlight!

Can’t wait to discover one of South America’s most enchanting countries for yourself? Contact Latin Excursions today to speak with one of our expert travel consultants who can help create your personalized holiday based on first-hand experience!

Galapagos Travel Tips

The Galapagos Islands is one of the most spectacular destinations in the world. Composed of 18 major islands and other islets, this Pacific archipelago dazzles visitors with its volcanic landscapes, fearless wildlife, pristine beaches and fascinating underwater world. Therefore, it is no wonder the Galapagos is on many travelers’ bucket list. However, with so many ways to see this extraordinary place, it can be dizzying trying to decide what is best for each group of travelers. That’s where Latin Excursions–specialists in the Galapagos Islands–comes in. Here are some tips’ to consider when planning your trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos, from our travel experts:

Best time of the year to visit: the Galapagos is great to visit any time of the year, as the wildlife is the main attraction and there is always something interesting to see. Perhaps weather should be taken into consideration since during the cooler season water temperature may be cold for swimming, but wetsuits are always available for rental on many boats (and Latin Excursions provides them for our custom made land based programs as well). Sea conditions are more choppy in September, when water is murky and not good for snorkeling, so most boats go to dry dock during that month.

Waved albatrosses return to Espanola at the end of March and will remain until December, with April being the best time to see their massive arrival and mating dance. Humpback whales stay in Galapagos from June to September. So as you can see a visit to Galapagos can be done any month of the year. Also, good points:

• The hottest months are from December to May with temperatures ranging from the low 80s°F to the low 90s°C. The average water temperature is 75°F.

• The misty and cooler season is from June to September and the temperature ranges between the low 60s°F to high 70s°F, with the possibility of rain late in the afternoon or at night. The average water temperature is 69°F.

• From October to December, the temperature ranges from 70°F to 80°F. The average water temperature is 70°F / 20°C

• Land vs. Boat-Based and How to Choose

• The main advantage of a boat based excursion is the variety of islands visited because boats do the long cruising at night and a short cruise to another site usually after lunch, giving passengers time to relax on board. Usually a cruise will visit at least two destinations each day, with snorkeling included most days. All boats have plenty of space to relax on a sun deck.

Land-based trips offer more opportunity to relax, after coming off a boat excursion at a mountain or beach front hotel. Other advantages are having close contact with the local population and to experience the ambiance of Galapagos villages without sacrificing visits to great sites. It allows for the possibility of doing more flexible land tours on the same island, or full-day excursions to neighboring islands, about 2 hours away and reached by small vessels with a maximum capacity of 16 passengers. It is also the perfect alternative for families with small children or for visitors who tend to get seasick. It also gives the possibility of diving for some family members without affecting the others.

• Snorkeling vs. Diving

Snorkeling: Since almost all islands have specific places with very calm waters, snorkeling is possible for anyone who can swim; it is practiced from the beach or from a dinghy, available during cruises or with land-based programs. Adult-sized snorkel equipment is available on cruises; for children it must be requested in advance to make sure they have the right size on board. During cold season, wetsuits are recommended (usually shorties). Snorkeling equipment is available for rental during land-based programs.

• Diving in the Galapagos is for experienced divers only. It is best from June to November, with more marine life to be seen, though divers have to suffer rougher and cooler sea conditions at this time of year. The huge whale sharks are found near Wolf and Darwin islands only from around June to November. However, there are more hammerhead sharks about in the warm season than the cool. A minimum number of certified dives (by PADI or similar) is requested depending on the destination. Regardless of the number of dives registered by a diver, the dive master on board has the final decision about the ability of the diver to participate. The best diving, around Wolf and Darwin islands, requires a long trip and no chance to land on the islands, only advanced diving cruises go to that destination and they don’t include land visits.

• Land Extension to Isabela Island and Best Time of Year to Visit Isabela: There are two ways to reach Isabela Island, by small plane, 30 min from Baltra airport (unreliable frequencies), or by shared public boat that takes about 2 hours from Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island. The best time to do the crossing by boat is from January to May, as the seas tend to be calmer. Other than this consideration, the same criteria as for Galapagos weather in general should apply. Plenty of wildlife can be seen all year round. Strong currents in November and December make for difficult boat rides from/to Puerto Ayora. It is also usually not possible to explore the Tunnels due to currents during these months.Volcan Sierra Negra is also difficult to reach from December to March due to rain and therefore muddy trail.

Easy daily diving tours from Isabela go to Isla Tortuga and Cuatro Hermanos (Four Brothers), with maximum depth of 20 meters, but it is not advisable in November and December due to strong currents.

Top Events to Attend in Cartagena, Colombia

On the northern coast of Colombia, it seems as if the sights and sounds of the Caribbean-Latino lifestyle never cease. Cartagena de Indias is the gem of the coast in this country known for its coffee and its passion, a port city which has long been the ideal hidden vacation spot for nationals but has only recently come into the spotlight for travelers from all over the world!

Due to its pleasant climate all year round, there is never a bad time to plan a trip to Cartagena. However, there are certainly some dates in which local events may add even more spice to your Colombia vacation. Here are Latin Excursions’ top recommendations for when to best visit Cartagena for an unforgettable time!

Christmas & the New Year

This is the high winter and holiday season when the beaches and hotels fill up and everyone is ready to ring in the New Year in paradise! Whether you are traveling with your family, friends, or significant other, the colonial port city has much to offer such as visits to historic fortresses and the city wall; nearby mud volcanoes; sparkling azure beaches; top restaurants, bars, and cafes; curious museums; and much more.

Hay Arts & Literature Festival, 4-day event in late January

This is an event that is held in major cities throughout the world whose main focus is to bring together intellectuals and storytellers with appreciative audiences in order to indulge in the world of literature and the arts. Top historians, film-makers, novelists, philosophers, environmentalists, poets, scientists, and more are only some of the demographics who will be attending. Take part in workshops, events, lectures, fairs, and much more during this 4-day cultural event.

Cartagena International Film Festival, 6-day event in February and March

This annual festival, known locally as FICCI, the Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena de los Indios, has been held for over 50 years with the first installation held in 1960. Is it the oldest film festival on the continent and is the prime showcase for filmmakers, actors, producers, and other industry professionals in South America. Different Hollywood guests of honor such as Harvey Keitel and Clive Owen attend the event each year. See more here.

Annual Barranquilla Carnival, 4-day event at the beginning of March

Carnival is one of the world’s most colorful and raucous spectacles! The event precludes the period of Lent according to the Catholic calendar. In the Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago is the star destination; in Mexico one would opt to go to Veracruz; in South America, the ideal place to be for Carnival is in Barranquilla. Barranquilla is about 3 hours east of Cartagena along the Caribbean cost, a place known for the heat in the air, its music, its people, and its dance. There is no going wrong celebrating Carnival in Barranquilla!

Easter Week

Easter is a dear period in Colombia, a predominantly Catholic country. In Cartagena, Easter is honored with traditional processions held throughout the old city. This is also a time when many people opt to go to church all week.

Vallenato Music Festival, 5-day event in April

Vallenato is one of the most traditional styles Colombian music This type of music is folk Colombian and originated along the coast. The usual instruments include a small drum called a caja vallentata, ribbed stick called a guacharaca, and boisterous accordion. During the Vallenato Music Festival, top groups come together in contest and audiences can dance along. This 5-day event seems never to end!

Do you know of an event that should be on this list of best events in Cartagena? Let us know. Want to visit Cartagena for one of these events, or any other? Contact us, and one of our Travel Designers can create a custom itinerary designed for your exact needs and interests.

Colonia

Founded by the Portuguese in 1680 on the tip of a peninsula on the Río de la Plata estuary, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Colonia’s cobblestone streets are reminiscent of old Lisbon, lined with small museums, tiny bars, fine restaurants and arts and crafts shops.

Colonia Uruguay (population 30,000) is a lovely historic city.

Founded by the Portuguese in 1680 on the tip of a peninsula on the Rio de la Plata estuary, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Colonia’s cobblestone streets are reminiscent of old Lisbon, lined with small museums, tiny bars, fine restaurants and arts and crafts shops.

A recommended Colonia walking tour

Start by the eastern end of the Historic District (Barrio Historico) at Puerta de Campo, the restored city gate in greystone (1754) and drawbridge. If you arrive by ferry, simply take the waterfront street to the left of the harbor (Florida) and walk to the end of the street. There, on the right-hand side is a narrow alley that leads across the lawn to the drawbridge of the Puerta de Campo. Cross the bridge and gate (note the Portuguese Coat of Arms), and take the first street to the left (San Miguel), the one that borders the Wall, and then right and right again by the lovely Calle de los Suspiros with bougainvillaea. You will reach the Main Square (Plaza Mayor), where you shouldn’t miss the Portuguese Museum (to the left, on Manuel Lobo), the lighthouse dating from 1857 (left) and Casa Nacarello (corner of Manuel Lobo and del Comercio), at least, so that you can have an idea of the Spanish and Portuguese influence. Walk the surrounding streets and just savor stepping back into the 16th Century.

New Year’s Eve in South America

The New Year is celebrated with “gusto” across the continent, but it’s hard to think of more lively and sensational celebrations than those in Cartagena, Colombia, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Punta del Este, Uruguay. If you plan to visit these cities at the end of December, be prepared for crowds, road closures, and holiday premiums; but you can also expect world-class festivities with local panache.

Cartagena is as much of a New Year’s Eve destination for Colombian families as it is for energetic international travelers. People come from all over the country to occupy Cartagena’s streets, and many set up for the night with plastic tables and chairs, and perhaps a bottle of local rum or Aguardiente, as well as savory food from curbside vendors. The weather is ripe for parties in the streets, and fireworks help to ring in the New Year. Decadent parties are thrown at many of the hotels, such as the Charleston Santa Teresa and the Sofitel Santa Clara, and nightclubs like Bendito host musical gatherings for young and glamorous crowds from mid-December until mid-January. The ultimate place to be on New Year’s Eve could very well be Cafe del Mar on the ramparts of the city, sponsored by Moet & Chandon, beckons guests with not only champagne but also an extensive DJ line-up and Parisian decor.

Rio de Janeiro offers a New Year’s party that rivals Carnival in scale and splendor. The fireworks display at Copacabana is the main event, and millions of locals and tourists combined gather on the beach to watch the midnight show and revel until the early hours of the morning. Many Brazilians light candles for the Afro-American goddess of the sea, Yemanja, and place them in the sand, as they make wishes for the coming year. High-class parties happen throughout the city, and the most notable are those at the Copacabana Palace Hotel, the Fasano Hotel, the Museum of Modern Art on Flamengo Beach, and the Jockey Club. And for those not willing to shell out up to $1,500 on a ticket that includes dinner, drinks, and entertainment, one of the most popular free parties is Lual Arpoador, where many young cariocas watch the fireworks and dance till the sun rises.

Punta del Este is a place to see and be seen, popular with the rich and famous from Buenos Aires and Brazil, and frequently compared to the Hamptons. Celebrities migrate to Punta del Este for Christmas and New Year’s, and lavish private homes and trendy clubs are the places to be on December 31st. Unlike Cartagena and Rio, where there are ample festivities for the masses, Punta del Este is highly exclusive, and many of the soirees are invitation-only. Some merry-makers head to the Our Lady of Candelaria harbor for the fireworks display at midnight, but the crowd clears quickly, bound, perhaps, for tireless clubs in La Barra, 24-hour casinos, or luxurious hotels that sell out months in advance.

10 Awesome Awasi Outings in the Atacama Desert

Awasi is a classy, cozy and colorful lodge from which to explore the highlights of the enchanting Atacama Desert of northern Chile. Beyond its luxurious features and exquisite cuisine, Awasi’s private and personalized outings make it stand out among the rest; each group of guests gets its own 4×4 jeep and private expert guide at its disposal throughout its stay in order to visit the particular places it wants to see and participate in the activities it would like to experience, all free from schedules, time limitations or other restrictions. Awasi has a long list of half-day and full-day excursions to choose from, reachable by 4×4, bike, horse or foot; they bring guests to the desert’s salt flats, unique rock formations, sand dunes, mountain ranges, geysers, lagoons, cultural towns, historical fortresses, and more.

Here are 10 possible outings that can be arranged from Awasi to get a taste of its extensive menu of experiences:

1. Half-Day Atacama History Tour by 4×4 Jeep:

This three-hour tour begins with a drive to the Quitor Pukara, an Atacama fortress dating back to 1,000 AD. After ascending the ruins, you will be treated to a privileged view of the Andes Mountains and surroundings. The drive continues to the town of Tulor, one of the first and most important settlements in the Atacama Desert, where you will visit the ruins, excavation site and the reconstruction of original homes. The tour ends with an optional visit to an archaeological museum.

2. Half-Day Excursion to Toconao and Atacama Salt Flats by 4×4 Jeep:

First, you will stop at Toconao town, which is famed for its buildings made of volcanic stone. Here, you can visit the town’s church and crafts market in the main square, before heading to the nearby Jere creek. Afterwards, visit Chaxa Pond, which is a National Reserve at the Atacama Salt Flat, where you can observe flamingos and other native bird species while enjoying views of the surrounding mountain ranging.

3. Full-Day Excursion to Tatio Geyser by 4×4 Jeep:

Departing at dawn, you will arrive at the Geothermic Camp of Tatio, underground springs that spray out steam and hot water in intermittent spurts. You will enjoy breakfast while watching the sun rise, observing the landscape and its fumaroles. Afterwards, visit the town of Machuca or stop at the Puritama hot springs for a relaxing dip in naturally heated volcanic pools.

4. Full-Day Excursion to Tara Salt Flat by 4×4 Jeep:

Heading towards Bolivia and Argentina, you will first reach two impressive volcanoes: Licancabur Volcano and Juriques Volcano. Continuing on, you will drive through the altiplano where you will sight vicuas and flamencos before reaching the extraordinary rock formations of Pakana Monk. Following a trail off the paved road, you will arrive at enormous rock cliffs that surround the Tara Salt Flat, where you will have lunch while enjoying a striking view of Lake Tara and its surroundings.

5. Half-Day Hike to Kari Canyon:

You will be driven to a lookout point near the lodge, from where you will view the Salt Range before starting on your hike on a narrow trail with a ravine on one side. You will descend down the dunes and walk through Kari Canyon to explore caves, caverns and more. The hike can continue on to Moon Valley if desired.

6. Half-Day Hike to Guatin and Gatchi:

You will be taken in 4×4 to Guatin Valley, or “Valley of the Cacti”,starting the hike inside a creek along the Vilcama River. This attraction has an abundance of cacti, various geological formations, small waterfalls, and brooks, keeping the entire hike interesting. After the first hour along the river bed, you will begin walking toward the archaeological site of Gatchi, an old pastoral range.

7. Full-Day Hike to Patos Creek:

This five-hour hike begins from the town of Talabre, from where you will follow an old road used by shepherds in the past. On the way, you will cross several ravines and will see ancient cave paintings that depict the lives of shepherds from thousands of years ago. After lunch along a creek, you will reach Patos, which has its own unique history and is home to well-preserved stone constructions.

8. Half-Day Hike to Moon Valley:

Especially recommended in the afternoon, so that you can watch the sun set at this place of incredible beauty and solitude, this excursion includes a 3.1-mile hike through abandoned salt mines. You will hike over salt layers, sand dunes and clay before arriving to an impressive dune in the middle of the Salt Range.

9. Half-Day Bike Ride to Cejar: 

This 11.25-bike ride is entirely flat, though most of the route is on dirt road. The final destination is Cejar, which is comprised of three turquoise lakes, one of which you can swim in; the salt concentration is so high in the lakes that you can easily float. Along the way, you will be treated to beautiful views of three surrounding mountain ranged: the Andes, the Domeyko and the Salt Range.

10. Half-Day Horseback Ride to Death Valley: 

On this excursion, you will horseback ride for approximately three hours, starting towards the Quitor Oasis on narrow dirt roads and continuing on to Death Valley. Huge clay formations, large dunes and the Salt Range will serve as the backdrop.

Top 10 Galapagos Beaches

The beaches of the Galapagos are not the stereotypical beaches you will find in other parts of the world; here, you can find white sand beaches surrounded by mangroves, black lava beaches and hidden coves, all abundant with wildlife like sea lions, pelicans, iguanas and so many more. Check out our top 10 beaches in the Galapagos.

Though the Galapagos aren’t particularly known for their beaches, there are hundreds and hundreds of world class beaches that dot the lava rock strewn coastline. Here’s some of the best that can be visited either as part of a Galapagos land tour or in many cases only as part of a Galapagos cruise. Contact us to visit one, or several, of these amazing works of nature.

1. Tortuga Bay Beach, Santa Cruz Island

Tortuga Bay is one of the largest and most famous beaches of the Galapagos Islands. This beautiful white coral sand beach lies about a 2.5 km walk from Puerto Ayora and behind the main beach is a natural bay that is an excellent spot for sea kayaking and snorkeling. Discover the amazing underwater world of the Galapagos, including sea turtles, sea lions, and white-tipped sharks. Watch birds like pelicans, flamingos, and lava gulls, which come to this beach in search of food.

2. Gardner Bay Beach, Espanola Island

This beautiful beach is famous for the multitudes sea lions you’ll find lying around in the sand. You can meet these friendly animals up-close while witnessing amazing sunsets. Another great beach for snorkeling, with a diversity of tropical fish, and white-tipped reef sharks.

3. El Garrapatero, Santa Cruz Island

Lined by mangroves and Manzanillo trees, this white sand beach is visited by pelicans, marine iguanas, ghost crab, shrimp, and penguins. This 3 km long beach lies about 20 km northeast of Puerto Ayora and is a great place to enjoy snorkeling, sunbathing and picnics.

4. Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island

This white sandy beach, in front of the town Puerto Villamil, is shaded by coconut palms and dry tropical forest and offers shelter to wildlife like marine iguanas, sea lions, boobies and many different kinds of birds. There are several other beaches nearby Puerto Villamil, but those are only accessible by cruise ship.

5. Conway Bay Beach

This beautiful secluded beach is somewhat off the beaten track, as most cruises do not stop here. You can reach the beach with local boats for hire, and it is definitely worth it; once you are there you will feel like you have reached Paradise. Here you can find sea lions and land iguanas and because this beach is so secluded, you will have it all to yourself. Contact us if you’re interested in visiting this beach, we’ll be happy to arrange a boat.

6. Bachas Beach

If you’re lucky, or actually make a point of choosing a cruise that lands at this official visitor’s spot, you’ll be treated to white sand beaches where large numbers of sea turtles nest, and a brackish lagoon behind the beach that is home to colorful flamingos. The snorkeling here is good as well. The name of the beach is actually a misnomer or rather a Spanish mispronunciation of “barge” for the wrecked US military barge nearby.

7. Rabida Island Red Beach

Strewn with sea lions and marine iguanas, the only authorized visitor’s spot on Rabida Island, is a brightly colored red beach with a brackish lagoon that at times hosts flamingos. An excellent hike featuring palo santo forests and Galapagos finches is to the left of the beach, while to the right is excellent snorkeling.

8. Bartolome Island Beach

The view from the volcanic peak above the beach looking down is likely the most famously photographed scene in the Galapagos Islands. At beach level, the view is also spectacular where a massive vertical rock formation surges from the water. It’s also one of the few places in the world where it is common to be able to snorkel with penguins. Yes, you read that correctly. Snorkel with penguins!

9. Post Office Bay, Floreana Island

It’s not the most picturesque beach in Galapagos, but it’s the most historically relevant beach. It gets its name from a barrel that whalers and pirates placed on the beach back in the 19th century that acts as a “post office”, where visitors leave mail without a stamp, and other visitors take it upon themselves to deliver the mail to recipients near their hometown. Darwin also visited this beach and it’s the site of the mysterious “Galapagos Affair” where several early settlers were famously murdered by other settlers in the 1930’s. A feature-length documentary was made about the mystery in 2014.

10. Puerto Egas, Santiago Island

This beautiful white sand beach is home to numerous sea lions and is an excellent spot for snorkeling with sea turtles and tropical fish. To the right of the beach are lava rock outcroppings dotted with marine iguanas, birds, and other wildlife. The infamous “Darwin’s Toilet”, a bizarre tidal phenomenon that resembles a gigantic toilet is a big attraction. Just don’t fall in!

Visiting the Charles Darwin Research Center

There is perhaps no other name more synonymous with the Galapagos Islands than Charles Darwin.

The author of the 1859 book On the Origin of Species, Darwin ignited what would turn out to be a forever debate about the merits of evolutions against the traditional ideas of creation based on religious testaments. As he traversed the waters around the archipelago more than 150 years ago, Darwin came to define his observations of the local finch birds and their specific beak attributes. His idea was that birds and other animals may have evolved from their ancient forms into their current states based on what is now known as the survival of the fittest and adaptation to their environment.

Darwin’s theory of evolution aside, he was also a dedicated and passionate natural scientist who was deeply passionate about the world around him. The Charles Darwin Research Center, established in 1964 and found in the outskirts of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island,is run by the Charles Darwin Foundation and continues to respect and honor the Galapagos natural distinctions.

The Protected Galapagos Tortoise

The top reason many visitors go to the center today is to observe the giant Galapagos tortoises that are bred and protected on its grounds. These immense creatures are endemic to the Galapagos which means they are not found anywhere else in the world. Some can weigh more than 880 pounds and live more than 100 years! The most famous tortoise was named Lonesome George, a Pinta Island native and a very specific subspecies who was the last of his kind. Unfortunately Lonesome George passed away on June 24, 2012, but to this day he remains a beloved character of the Galapagos.

The Charles Darwin Research Center is also a great place to see baby turtles as they grow and before they are released back onto their respective native islands. Watch as they move surprisingly fast under rocks and into the shade, and also climbing on top of each other! Various exhibits throughout the grounds offer more background about the different animals found on the islands, not to mention many endemicOpuntia cacti (cacti that grow with trunks like trees), and colorful lizards that dart back and forth in front of your feet.

When visiting the Charles Darwin Research Center, be sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen because the walking paths can be difficult under the harsh Pacific sun.

Deciphering a Peruvian “Chifa” Menu

When the first wave of Chinese immigrants first came to Peru in the late 1800s, they were considered part of the lowest working class, seeking work in mines and sugar plantations after the country outlawed slavery.

When the first wave of Chinese immigrants first came to Peru in the late 1800s, they were considered part of the lowest working class, seeking work in mines and sugar plantations after the country outlawed slavery. The nature of the work meant that more than 95% of these incoming groups were male, and they were mostly from the Canton region of southeastern China. Later in the mid 1900s as political situations shifted in Asia, more people arrived in Peru seeking safety and work in a new world. Today, Peruvian Chinese citizens make up more than 4% of the country’s population.

A result of this cultural blend can be seen in Peru’s “chifa” restaurants, merging traditional coastal and Andean flavors with those that the Chinese brought with them. Each local chifa has essentially the same basic collection of dishes served in a fast and casual style, although higher end chifas incorporate harder-to-find ingredients imported from China. Don’t miss trying some of these classics when you’re looking for a quick meal in Peru:

Chaufa: Just as it is in many areas of the world, fried rice is the most popular staple of adopted Chinese food. Chaufa found in Peru usually comes with 2 variations: with chicken, or with thin beef strips. Intermixed within are a medley of vegetables.

Tallarin saltado: If you are not in the mood for rice, then try the stir fried noodles. Similar to chaufa, tallarin saltado includes a fresh mix of your choice of meat with vegetables, all tossed around in each chifa’s special sauce blend.

Aeropuerto: It is still a mystery why this dish is named “airport”. However, it is an ideal choice for the indecisive, as it is a combination of both chaufa fried rice and saucy noodles-literally! The two components are made together rather than set on separate halves of the plate.

Tipakay: For a more substantial meal after a long walk or day on the town, tipakay will be sure to fill you up. Pan fried pieces of chicken or beef (sometimes both) are lathered in a rich and sweet tamarind sauce, all of which is laid over a bed of white rice.

Sopa wantan: Quench your thirst after eating so many savory delicacies with a hot, comforting bowl of wonton soup. The soup is a mixture of simple flavored spices and stock. Swimming inside is usually 1 or 2 pieces of boiled wontons filled with small pieces of meat. Diced green onions used as a garnish complete this simple but delicious side.

We would love to hear back about your favorite chifa dish!

Not-to-Miss Attractions on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Whenever timing and schedules permit, it is a good idea to arrive into the Galapagos Islands at least 1 day before your cruise begins, allowing some flexibility in case are any travel complications along the way. This is particularly recommended if you are flying in from faraway international cities, where delays and weather conditions may affect your timely arrival into the islands.

So now that you’ve arrive safely and soundly (and hopefully full of excitement) into Santa Cruz Island, with the town of Puerto Ayora being the closest center of interest and resources from Baltra airport, the largest in Galapagos, what is there to do?

Here are some suggestions for a fun filled time on Santa Cruz Island, whether you choose to appreciate it all in one exciting day or over a period of a few relaxed days.

Los Gemelos (The Twins)

The intense sceneries of the Galapagos are a result of millions of years of volcanic action. On Santa Cruz, the best place to see evidence of this dramatic geological history is the Los Gemelos crater site. Its name, which translates into The Twins, refers to the two brother craters found on each side of the roadway that links Baltra airport with Puerto Ayora town. They are the result of the collapse of a large magma chamber. While it is not possible to circumnavigate the giant, deep holes, there are some short and simple trails in the area.

gallery and shops walk on avenue charles darwin

Puerto Ayora is the most populated urban center in the Galapagos, although it is still very much the sleepy town it has always been. Avenue Charles Darwin runs west to east and is the main visitor thruway, dotted with typical restaurants and fine boutiques on both sides. Dip into the artisanal shops offering locally made goods, of course with Galapagos themes, and various galleries showcasing the works of some of the most remotely located artists in the world. Says Alvares Martinez, a local of Puerto Ayora:

puerto ayora fish market

Located right on Avenue Charles Darwin, the fish market is a delightful stop for admiring just where that pescado encocado (fish cooked in a coconut sauce) you ate last night came from. To this day, fishermen bring in their catches of the day to this small dock market, and vendors masterfully slice the produce up as buyers request. Large pelicans swoop in and out or wait patiently on the simple roof, waiting for any spoils, while locals cheerfully pass the afternoon with each other on the sidelines. The Puerto Ayora fish market is a great place to experience a bit of typical Galapagos island life.

charles darwin research center

The most famous resident that ever lived at the Charles Darwin Research Center, a place dedicated to preserving and supporting turtle and various flora life found on the Galapagos Islands, was Lonesome George. The giant tortoise who called Pinta Island its home was the last of his subspecies, making him perhaps the rarest animal on earth before his death on June 24, 2012. He was more than 100 years old. His image continues to serves as the symbol of the importance of conservation and respect for nature in Galapagos, and the research center maintains its goals of helping repopulate the various islands with their turtle populations. Animal lovers will really enjoy the many baby turtles on the site, as well as the famous giant Galapagos tortoises wandering their natural habitat.

Tortuga (Turtle) Bay

The 1.5 hour flat walk to Tortuga (Turtle) Bay can be a steamy challenge during the hottest hours of the day (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), so it is best to get there earlier or later. Along the paved walk, try spotting the many small lizards that dash back and forth before your feet. Also, take time to appreciate the candelabra cactuses, the only tree-like cactus species in the world. The first beach that you reach looks as if the heavens swiped a thick brush across the land, creating a vast white sand paradise. The waters here are a bit rougher, although great for surfing. As such, swimmers and loungers are encouraged to walk another 15 minutes to the right to a much calmer bay where mangroves lurk mysteriously on the sides and marine iguanas dive with humans. If snorkeling in these turquoise blue waters, the lucky can spot white tip reef sharks and rainbow colored Galapagos crabs. Close out your day with a sunset seen from Tortuga Bay, where the sky turns into a beautiful painting.

A Metal Flower, a Cemetery, and Dante’s Inferno: Welcome to Buenos Aires

What does a metal flower, a cemetery, and Dante’s Inferno all have in common?  The answer:  Buenos Aires.  A blooming 105-foot stainless steel flower comes to life every morning at sunrise; a spectacular cemetery of Greek pillars, grandiose mausoleums and Roman monoliths takes you back in time; and a building that descends from heaven to hell in a tribute to the Divine Comedy are just 3 of the many fascinating spectacles to see here in Buenos Aires.

A Flower that Blooms All Year

Built in 2002, the Floralis Genérica was a gift to the city of BA from Eduardo Catalano.  Standing over 75 feet tall and 105 feet wide, made of stainless steel and aluminum, this immortal flower opens and closes with the sun.  It sits inside a reflecting pool, within a park saddling the Law Library, in the neighborhood of Recoleta.  Its daily homage to the sun creates a giant reflection of the city, its surrounding park, and the open sky.  At night, it closes itself around a blue light.  This artistic tribute to eternal beauty is both mesmerizing and a photographer’s dream.

The Most Beautiful Cemetery in the World

The Recoleta Cemetery is in itself an art piece.  Just a few blocks away from the Floralis Genérica, this cemetery is a final resting place for politicians, military heroes, celebrities, and most of all, the wealthy.  It was the city’s first cemetery, built in 1822, and what started off as a traditional cemetery, soon took off as an architectural competition.  The area was designed like a mini city, with tree-lined walkways, stone streets, alleyways and plazas.  All 4,800 vaults are visible above ground, some occupying real estate 6 levels below the surface, but all of them housing caskets.  As BA revved up for its architectural boom in the 1880’s, this cemetery became a rivalry among the wealthy, each tomb built to out-shine the last.  Much of the materials used were brought over directly from Paris and Milan.

The grand entrance of neo-classical gates and Doric columns leads you into endless rows of Greek temples, fairytale grottoes, cathedral domes, and Gothic chapels.  The most famous grave, of course, is Eva Peron’s, whose body was exhumed 3 years after her death (due to her husband’s forced exit from the Presidential office) and placed in a secret hiding place in Europe for 20 years before being returned to her family’s mausoleum in the cemetery.  Quite possibly the most famous person in Argentine history, her casket is placed more than 15 feet below the surface under tight security.

One of the many sad but touching stories in the cemetery is of a young woman, Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, who was killed by an avalanche in Innsbruck, Austria at age 26.  Her parents constructed a life-size bronze statue of her in her wedding dress.  Shortly after, her beloved dog Sabú died and his statue was added next to hers as an eternal companion.  Her mausoleum is in Neo-Gothic style, a noticeable contradiction to those around it.

Palacio Barolo: Dante’s Inferno, etc.

One of the strangest and most interesting tours I’ve been on was of Palacio Barolo, BA’s first skyscraper built in the 1920’s.  Oddly enough, the building was constructed initially as a mausoleum for Dante Alighieri’s ashes, the author of the Divine Comedy.  The building’s owner, Barolo, was afraid all of Europe would be destroyed during WWI, and Dante’s ashes along with it. 

The building itself took on symbolic expressions and analogies from Dante’s poem.  As you walk in, the lobby itself represents Hell, with serpents and dragons peering down from the corners.  The place where Dante’s ashes would have been stored is in a marble box under a condor in the center of the lobby (they never did get ahold of his ashes).  Floors 1-14 represent Purgatory, and 15-22 represent Heaven.  The dark lobby of Hell eventually raises up to the natural light (on the top floors) of Heaven.  The address represents the years it was written, 1308-1320 (it’s on the 1300 block), and the building height (100 meters) matches the number of cantos in the poem.

The view from the glass tower on the highest floor is worth the trip in itself, allowing you to peer out over Plaza Mayo, National Congress, and the French architecture that fills the city.  On a clear day, you can see almost all of Buenos Aires from the renowned lighthouse that mimics a true celestial sphere, just like Paradise described in the poem.  Dante would be proud.

Well, Hello There, Buenos Aires: Discovering a city that feels like home

Buenos Aires is immediately charming.  It feels warm, accessible, clean… and incredibly familiar.  It looks like Paris, it looks like New York City, it feels like Rome and Madrid.  Yet it’s none of these cities, and every one of them, all at once.

We pulled into BA on a bus from Córdoba, and as I looked out of my window, noticed a Chelsea sign alongside red subway circles for the 1, 2, 3 and 9 in addition to the green line’s 4, 5, and 6… was I in New York City?  Turns out I was just outside of the Plaza Holanda, or a smaller version of Central Park, complete with 2 ponds and pedal boats, geese, a road for cars and joggers, and plenty of grass and trees.  I haven’t been able to find these signs since, and can only assume they were posted for a party or film, but they were appropriate all the same.

This marks the edge of Palermo, where I live now, and which could easily be the West Village or SoHo, in New York City.  In fact, they call this specific section of the neighborhood Palermo SoHo for that very reason.  Plenty of expats roam the streets.  Nondescript cafes and restaurants pepper the blocks next to mini bodegas, laundromats, and apartment buildings with caged-in terraces (which remind me more of Tel Aviv than New York City).  Brick buildings, French baroque architecture, modern square apartments, and street art fill in the side view as you walk down the street.  The food is great, the cafes are beautiful, and you can tell that you’re in a well-kept tree-lined city with giant parks just a stone’s throw away.  Random alleys cut paths occasionally and cobblestone streets alternate blocks.  The subway (the Subte) resembles New York City’s, but with much less grime and chaos.  And it’s a city where you just want to walk and walk… and walk. 

Buenos Aires is a European City in South America.  It’s a refined New York City, with more 18th Century French architecture and less people on the streets (though I have been squished in subway cars, caught in pedestrian traffic at corners, and slammed in gridlock traffic… it still is a city, after all). 

As a tour guide once said: the locals are -for the most part- Italian immigrants, influenced by the Spanish, who desperately want to be French.  They have their own Spanish ‘vos’ slang (which has the tones and stresses of Italian), and are taller and lighter skinned than their neighbors to the north.  In fact, the majority of the population doesn’t look or sound South American in the least bit.

When it’s nice out, the sky is a deep blue, just like in Córdoba.  Cloudless and solid.  It’s July now, the dead of winter, yet the average temperature is 53.  It’s humid, though, so when it’s grey, it can feel 10 degrees colder and on the verge of rain.

Walking the city is refreshing, like walking the streets of New York City.  The neighborhoods meld together and are filled with one alluring block after another.  The architecture varies, but in the downtown neighborhoods, the city is filled with classical and neoclassical French styles, most built in the early 20th Century.

BA’s heyday was 1880-1930, right around when this city became the country’s capital, and when agriculture money brought the land owners in Argentina to Dubai status.  That’s right, Dubai.  The locals claim Argentina was the wealthiest country in the world at that time.  Like Dubai today, the city went into a frantic building boom and instead of looking towards Spain for inspiration, the city replicated Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s Parisian layout.

The main square, Plaza de Mayo, was adjusted so that spectacular boulevards could fan out like rays of the sun. The square’s government building, the Cabildo, which remains as one of the few colonial structures still standing, was cut in half to make way for one of the boulevards.  The square’s park, like many in the city, is a Parisian design.  Casa Rosada, BA’s version of the White House (though the President does not reside here and the building is pink, which is -some say- a result of bull blood mixed in with the sealant on the building) directly faces the Cabildo.  These two heads at either end of the square mark one of the most important spots in the city, being where the city began in 1580.  The square itself, however, only provides a glimpse into the city’s beauty, design, and personality.

Buenos Aires is enchanting, but familiar.  There’s an acute feeling of being on the other side of the world, way down here in the Southern Hemisphere, yet the city’s welcoming people and stunning architecture makes it feel like home. 

Wellness: Bogotá Discovered

Bogotá is inundated by the great outdoors.  Live walls and parks are sprinkled throughout the city, bike paths dominate sidewalks, and mountains covered in hiking trails and jungle are at your backdoor.  There’s no excuse, it’s time to be active and get outside. 

The city of Bogotá sits in what was once Lake Humboldt, at 8,660 ft., in the Andes mountain range.  The savanna, as it’s called, has 2 rainy seasons, each 3-4 months long, so it’s not a matter of if it’s going to rain, it’s a matter of when.  Carry an umbrella with you at all times, or at minimum a hat.  The rain doesn’t stop locals, but it may make most visitors hesitate before going outside.  Such is life in Bogotá.  The good news is that everything is green, lush and clean.  And when the sun comes out, you’ll find yourself whispering ‘what is this… Gorillas in the Mist?’ as the clouds rise and show off the jungle mountain range alongside the sprawling city.

You have multiple hike options from almost anywhere you’re staying in Bogotá.  In North Bogotá, you’ll find the beautiful hike of Sendero Quebrada La Vieja.  Off of downtown, you’ll find Monserrate and trails to Lady Guadalupe.  All 3 of these famous hikes have gorgeous views of the city (assuming there’s no cloud cover).  Monserrate is the most popular with visitors and is a pilgrimage destination.  Hiking the trail on a Sunday, you may pass people making the trek on their knees.  There is a funicular and gondola option, however, and at the top are the 14 stages of the cross, a church, restaurants and an outdoor market. 

Just an hour and a half outside the city is the tiny town of Suesca: Colombia’s most famous area for rock climbing.  We went hiking, bouldering, and cave exploring in this area with 3 guides.  It was my first time bouldering in a cave.  Careful hand and feet placement are crucial as you work to avoid falling into the numerous cave ponds, holding on to sharp rocks with just the tips of your fingers.  How deep are these ponds, you ask?  If you’re 5’2″, they’re chest deep.  Yup, I took a plunge on my first attempt.  Other than being a bit wet and cold the rest of the day, the scenery, views, professional rock climbers and high-liners were all spell-binding.  Most hikers are trailed by a few happy dogs who find their way up the cliffs and, amazingly, over narrow swing bridges.  At the end of the day, the community of hikers and climbers all congregate at the 4 shack restaurants in town to relax, refuel, and tell the gripping tales of that day.  

 Aside from the Gold Museum and Andrés Carne de Res restaurant, a visit to one of the Flower Farms here in Bogota is almost a requirement.  Because of the biodiversity of this country and the wet climate, Colombia is the world’s 2nd largest flower exporter.  We went to Bacata Finca’s mum farm, just one of 5 farms they own on the outskirts of Bogotá.  You’ll gain a whole new appreciation for buying flowers at the store after walking through the hand-planting, watering, and tending that is required for the growth of 70,000 flowers per day.  During Mother’s Day week, they ship 5 million mums alone overseas.

Ciclovia: Sundays and holidays are for biking in this city.  Major roads are closed to pedestrian-only traffic, and the streets line with sliced fruit and juice vendors.  Take Carrera 15 downtown to La Candelaria on a bike (about 6 miles each way from Zona T) and experience the excitement and chaos of downtown.  Street performers consist of Michael Jackson look-a-likes  dancing to Thriller, silver painted men singing the blues, and Alien vs Predator characters posing for pictures (among many other eyebrow-raising scenes).  And alongside all of this, couples have no problem dancing Tango and Salsa next to 1980’s boomboxes blasting music.

Bogotá may be the city your mom told you to avoid in the ’90’s, but it’s blossomed into a safe, affordable capital with access to the path less traveled.  Discover the great outdoors of the new Colombia before everyone else does.

Chile Travel Tips

Will your trip to Chile be your first, or a return to an old favorite? Whichever the case, be sure to keep these top 3 Chile travel tips in mind for an unforgettable and well-prepared vacation!

Will your trip to Chile be your first, or a return to an old favorite? Whichever the case, be sure to keep these top 3 Chile travel tips in mind for an unforgettable and well-prepared vacation!

1. Learn Chileno: Standard Spanish might be the official language, but colloquially, Chilenan Spanish is what you’ll find on the streets. This unique dialect has its own special blend of vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, slang, and loanwords inspired by indigenous language such as Quechua in the Andes and Mapudungun in the south. Chileans are very proud of their speak, so don’t hesitate to ask them what they mean!

2. Toast to Great Wine Itself: Chile is one of South America’s most prominent wine producers, famous in particular for its red flows. The local cabernet sauvignon is a frequent hit, and those wanting to see the fruitful wineries for themselves should plan to visit Chile’s fertile central region.

3. Pack Well: This geographically lanky country includes environments such as the high Andes, the dry Atacama desert, verdant wine country, sunny beaches, and the colder portions of Patagonia in the far south. It is important to consider the various climate zones you might be visiting on your trip to Chile as you carefully pack so you aren’t left at a loss in its magical, remote destinations!

Brazil Travel Tips

Although South America consists of 13 unique countries, the behemoth Brazil geographically comprises about half of the land area. That´s a large destination! For your next trip to see some of the most famous landscapes, festivals and beaches in the world, take note of these helpful tips to get you make the most of the opportunity!

Go in the Summer: One of the best times to visit Brazil is during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer from May to August. This is the low travel season, meaning there are fewer tourists, lower prices, and more availability. Also, June hosts one of the country’s most celebrated festivals named Festas Juninas throughout Brazil, a rural and religious gala full of costumes, music, and dancing.

• Seek Peace in the Amazon: While the New Years and Carnival seasons are in the very high season and full of crowds, you can still find peace and quiet in Brazil in the Amazon during that time. The jungle is still a burgeoning and exciting destination, and you can obtain a wide variety of options without paying the premium of high season rates.

Have Fun in the Sun: Want to go somewhere with guaranteed sun? Fernando Noronha, a set of 21 islands about 220 miles from the mainland known as Brazil’s Galapagos, can be visited all year round with certain sun. The archipelago is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site and is ideal for spotting exceptional birds, sea tortoises, dolphins, and more. Diving is also world class here, with wetsuit not needed and visibility often reaching as far as 160 feet.

• Find Something New at Lençóis Maranhenses: If you are looking for a destination out of the ordinary in Brazil, look no further than Lençóis Maranhenses. This national park is not technically a desert, but the immense sand dune landscape sure alludes to Saharan dreams. In fact, it is due to the many showers in the rainy season that allow for the juxtaposition of sand dunes alongside crisp freshwater lakes! Try going on a 4×4 or quad bikes tour, or perhaps even a jaunt by boat.

Discovering the Ancient Figures of San Agustin by Foot or Horseback

Deep in southern Colombia is a mysterious destination that few visitors have ventured to discover in the last 30 years. This is because this region was once the stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as FARC. Today, this small town with a population of about 30,000 is free from the risks of yesteryears and the San Agustin Archaeological Park is one of the most alluring reasons to visit Colombia.

Deep in southern Colombia is a mysterious destination that few visitors have ventured to discover in the last 30 years. This is because this region was once the stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as FARC. Today, this small town with a population of about 30,000 is free from the risks of yesteryears and the San Agustin Archaeological Park is one of the most alluring reasons to visit Colombia.

Getting to San Agustin is not the easiest. About 140 miles from Neiva, the capital of the Huila department, and 85 miles from Popayan, the country’s white city known for its gastronomical flair, it is a long though breathtaking journey to the deep countryside. Coming from Neiva, the Tatacoa Desert makes for a grand stopover, while coming from Popayan, the Andean highlands and their endless fields of high altitude flora such as frailejón set the mood for what feels like traveling to the ends of the world.

The town itself is modest and unassuming, with few nods to targeted tourism besides the handful of crafts shops and signs pointing towards the archaeological park. A short 15 minute ride outside of the city, you will have your first decisions to make. Should you visit the official San Agustin Archaeological Park with carpark and well groomed trails, or take a more adventurous route and see some of the pre-Colombian statues still unearthed in the area?

If you choose to go horseback riding, then be sure to wear your active gear! This is a great option for those interested in archaeology as well as being amid nature. The horses will take you gracefully up and over mountain rides and through rarely used paths almost as if on autopilot. Your expert local guide will point out where to direct your eye, explaining the history and significance of the stone figures.

The government funded and volunteer supported San Agustin Archaeological Park, a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most impressive historical sites in Colombia. Studies are still being conducted to fully understand the ancient burial sites which are prefaced with delicately carved stone figures in human and animal forms. A highlight is La Fuente de Lavapatas, an intricate network of carvings and canals in a stream’s bedrock that brings together earth and water. At the end of the marked walking path is an outlook that peers over the entire San Agustin valley. It is well worth bringing a picnic or snack to rest and soak up the prehistoric energies in this area of remote Colombia.

3 Things That Might Surprise You on a Galapagos Trip

Looking back on the first time that I went to the Galapagos, I realized that I had no idea what I was getting myself into (as is often the case when we look behind us!).

Looking back on the first time that I went to the Galapagos, I realized that I had no idea what I was getting myself into (as is often the case when we look behind us!). I had expected to see a few animals here and there, maybe a good sunset every night, and having to battle large groups of people in order to get a dinner table in the evenings. Here are some lessons I learned on my Galapagos trip:

1. It is very, very hot.

Set in the middle of the Pacific Ocean about 500 nautical miles west of mainland Ecuador, the climate of the Galapagos Islands is comparable to that of other oceanic lands. From June to November, temperatures are relatively low during what is known as the rainy season. Rains tend to be scattered throughout the afternoons or sometimes last all day. Cooler winds also pass by. From December to May, it is the dry season, at the height of which it is also incredibly hot and humid. Especially from January to April, it is vital to bring lots of sunscreen, a hat, long sleeves and pants, sunglasses, and any other personal items that may help against the sun’s heavy rays. And not only is there a lot of sun, powerful UV rays reflect off the ocean waters as well as the black volcanic rock seen on hikes and beaches. During this season, it may be unbearably hot in the early afternoon, so often cruise itineraries schedule these hours for transit rather than activities.

2. The animals do not fear you.

When I heard that the Galapagos resembles an open zoo, I wasn’t sure what to think. On my 4 day cruise, however, I quickly found out what that meant. Because the Galapagos is so remote and have historically been free of human contact, the creatures that call the archipelago home have not come to fear people. From the playful sea lions to the rainbow colored Sally Lightfoot crabs, and from the giant marine tortoises to the blue footed boobies, none of them shy from your approach. With that said, it is important to remember not to get too close in order to respect each animal’s personal space and safely.

3. It is not overly touristy.

The Galapagos is on the Must See list of many travelers, so I figured that many of them would be there the same time I was. And while the islands are growing exponentially more popular by the year, only about 170,000 visitors reached this top destination in 2012 (to give you an idea, more than 1 million visited Machu Picchu the same year, and more than 1.2 million visited Rio de Janeiro for its Carnaval celebrations also in 2012). Puerto Ayora remains the largest urban center among the islands with a population of less than 10,000. This means that the Galapagos still retains its ancient natural charm and tranquility, and that personal connections with the myriad of animals, the local people, and mystical energy of the vast landscapes can still be felt out in what truly often feels like the middle of nowhere.

Argentina Travel Tips

A trip to Argentina can start in the most unassuming of places-a stroll through wine country known as Mendoza, a bike ride through the tango capital Buenos Aires, or perhaps a boat ride at the imposing Iguazu Falls-but take you to the far ends of the world known as Patagonia.

A trip to Argentina can start in the most unassuming of places – a stroll through wine country known as Mendoza, a bike ride through the tango capital Buenos Aires, or perhaps a boat ride at the imposing Iguazu Falls – but take you to the far ends of the world known as Patagonia. There are large distances to cover if you plan on gaining a comprehensive understanding of Argentina’s geographical, natural, and cultural personalities. Through it all, these tips are worth keeping in mind for a journey you won’t soon forget.

Leave Your Worries in the Snow: If you are looking for more than sea and surf on your trip to South America, then keep in mind the many ski opportunities in Argentina in particular. The areas around San Juan de Bariloche in the central region right next to Chile are prime for getting your fill of adventure. The steep Andes mountains make for great adrenaline rushes whether you wish to ski or hike in the scenic, snowy landscapes. One of our favorite base hotels in this area is the Hotel Llao Llao.

Visit the?Traslasierra Valley for Guaranteed Sun: Nobody wants rain and clouds to dominate their holiday photos or memories. Stop by the countryside Traslasierra Valley in the Cordoba province to be sure that it is always sunny wherever you go. Beautiful haciendas pave the way for you to go horseback riding, hiking, and do other activities, but one of the main charms in this region is also to just sit back and relax.

Surprise Your Taste Buds: In Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, an experience you should not miss out on is a visit to a closed door restaurant, in Spanish known as “puertas cerradas.” These restaurants vary in their styles-some have many tables and some just a few, some have fixed menus while others are a la carte, some might be lavish but others are simple and homestyle, some serve only Argentine food while others take influence from regions around the world-and it is particularly these kinds of varied details that make dining at these establishments such a delightful pleasure.

Walk up to a Growing Glacier: While much of the world is changing due to adjusting global climates, there are still 3 glaciers in Patagonia (South America’s far south) that are still growing, and the Perito Moreno Glacier is one of them. The face of this ancient, icy body is more than 3 miles wide, where pieces regularly calve into Lake Argentino. The adventurous can even trek across its surface!

Finding Paradise in Corumbau, Brazil

Sometimes, it is necessary to take a vacation from vacation.

Whether you are looking for some time off from bouncing between numerous destinations in South America or need a break from the roar and rumble of Rio in June and July 2013 due to the World Cup, Brazil’s Corumbau is perhaps the ultimate escape. It is geographically exclusive, historically rich, and seems to be the result of Mother Nature’s creative streak.

The nearest airport to Corumbau is found in Prado about 45 minutes to the south. From there, only private transfers can get you to this little corner of heaven on earth.

Flush with sparkling clear waters and picture perfect tropical flora, exclusivity and privacy are the keywords here. Each luxury pousada offers visitors ample space from the rest of the world, a hidden nook where it is just the sun, the sand, and your loved ones.

One of the most popular reasons to make the trip out to Corumbau is to seek out humpback whales in the open ocean – the southern Bahia state is infamous for these majestic creatures not to mentionboat trips to observe vibrant coral reefs and expertly led excursions into the nearby Monte Pascoal National Park. Hiking, bike rides by the water, and kayaking complete your vacation whether it’s a romantic getaway or family trip. Looking back into history, it was here that the Portuguese first landed in Brazil in 1500; we are not surprised they were charmed into staying!