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Category Archives: Ecuador

10 things to do in the Amazon

Seeing a clay lick

Parrot clay licks can be found throughout the Amazon. Hundreds of parrots and macaws descend upon muddy banks each morning to peck away at the clay. This phenomenon is still unknown; however, it is thought that the mud is rich in minerals and salt as well as high PH levels which balance out the acidity of the Amazon. It’s a magical experience spending time in the hide watching this chaotic spectacle.

Gliding downstream in a dugout canoe

Flickr: Emil Kepko

An experience you’ll have at any Amazon lodge. Jump into traditional dugout canoes and glide silently along the waterways. Along the mangroves and lakes, monkeys can be spotted swinging through the trees, sloths peacefully hang from branches, iguanas bask in the sun and colourful parrots and macaws fly across the river.

Spotting pink river dolphins

A highlight for many. The mystery pink river dolphin can be found across the Amazon, particularly at the basin. They prefer the lowland fast flowing waters. They are the largest river dolphin specie in the world and are different from other dolphins in that it has a flexible neck allowing it to move in different directions. They can reach up to 3 metres in length. Like other dolphins, they are social and curious creatures and often approach the boat.

Hearing the roar of the howler monkey

There is a high concentration of howler monkeys in the Amazon. They are the loudest of all the monkey species, their cry being heard over 3 miles away. They often group at dawn or dusk and make whooping barks to let others know where their territory is. When you are staying in the Amazon, you will get used to their amazing sounds in the morning and evening.

Meet the indigenous tribes

For many, getting the opportunity to meet and learn from the indigenous tribes is the highlight of their Amazon adventure. Most Amazon lodges will take you to the local village to find out about their way of life. Learn about local medicinal plants and the wildlife. In some communities such as Kapawi or Huaorani in Ecuador, there are shamans, but stay away from the ayahuasca, it’s strong stuff!

Cruising the Amazon

For those who want to visit the Amazon in relative comfort, there are several cruises. The M/V Aqua takes guests on four-day cruises down through the Amazon stopping for wildlife spotting and hikes through the forest. Return back for some excellent cuisine and a comfortable night’s sleep in the luxurious air-conditioned rooms.

Scaling a canopy tower

If birdlife is a priority, be sure to pick a lodge that has a canopy tower. Sometimes, birdlife in the Amazon can be tricky to spot up through the thick tree line. However, up in the canopy, visitors can be up close to colourful exotic birds as well as monkeys and sloths. Some also include walkways to allow guests to move through the trees and maximise their chances of seeing wildlife. Try the Posada Amazonas whose tower stretches an impressive 25 metres high.

See the famous Amazon Theatre

The city of Manaus sits right in the heart of the Amazon. Rubber tabbing helped the city boom in the late 19th and early 20th century. So much so, a grand opera house was built here in 1896.  The theatre is quite a feat of engineering. Materials where brought in from around the world including tiles from Alsace, steel from Scotland and marble from Italy.

View the Meeting of Waters

Flickr: Rob

One of the highlights of a trip to the Brazilian Amazon is a visit to the Meeting of Waters. At the confluence between the Amazon River and the black Rio Negro, the waters meet and flow several miles downstream side by side without mixing. The phenomenon is down to the differences in speed, water density and temperature. Often the Meeting of Waters is seen en route to the lodge, but if not, it’s well worth taking a half day excursion to see this natural wonder.

Live with scientists

To get even more of an in depth look into the flora and fauna of the Amazon, consider staying at the Uakari Floating Lodge located just over 500 kilomtres from Manaus. The lodge hosts many scientists and researchers who accompany guests on tours into the jungle. Situated on the largest reserve of flooded rainforest in the world, there are over a million hectares of protected land to explore. During your stay, take jungle hikes and canoe rides to spot fresh water dolphins, alligators, monkeys, and birdlife.

To start planning your Amazon tour, call one of our travel experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or take a look at our suggested tours here.

New Suites at Napo Wildlife Centre

AMAZON IN STYLE

You can’t beat spotting Amazon wildlife at Napo Wildlife Centre in Ecuador. This lodge is set within the Yasuni National Park. This comfortable eco-lodge has now added four panoramic suites. If you fancy the jungle with a private whirlpool on a panoramic balcony, this is your place. Not to mention a cosy living room with a glass floor above the water to spot caiman alligators passing below. From your hammock, you might spot pre-historic hoatzins, huge arapaima fish, and even giant otters on the hunt for piranhas.

After taking a half-hour flight from Quito. Napo Wildlife Centre sits by Anangu Lagoon, a couple of hours by canoe from Coca/San Francisco de Orellana. You can explore the virgin forest on guided hikes, take canoe-rides and visits to a nearby parrot clay lick. For bird-watchers, there is a watchtower. For a bit of culture visits to an indigenous kichwa community. Ecuador is one of the most accessible places to visit the Amazon and one of the most diverse. You could easily combine this with a Galapagos cruise.

Albatross Breeding Season Comes to Galapagos

The albatross breeding season has started. The waved albatross is the largest species of bird in the Galapagos Islands. They only nest on Española Island, where they can be spotted from the April until the December. This coincides with the cooler season when waters are richer in food. They are called the waved albatross after the wavy lines on their breast. Their courtship ritual is one of the most entertaining spectacles in the archipelago. During the courtship, the male approaches the female, then moves around her. They clack their beaks noisily together and point towards the sky. An eerie rattling sound follow, and much honking prevails. They sway around elaborately leading each other on. The movements are repeated many times. They manage to find their partners from previous years. It is said that they mate for life, which can be up to 40 years. They only lay one large egg on bare ground, which weighs nearly 300g. Once-hatched they rapidly grow, until 6 months later are ready to fledge. One reason they like Española island is it is flat and they can easily take off the cliffs. Film copyright David Horwell.

If you wish to book a Galapagos cruise contact the experts.

5 cable cars to take in South America

Cable cars are, in our opinion, one of the best modes of transport. Quick, no traffic and it’s possible to take in the landscape or city from above. Many of the cities located along the Andes are, unsurprisingly, hilly, making transport difficult. Though some cable cars are being used for tourism, others are transforming parts of Latin American cities by making the areas more accessible.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

South America’s most well-known and oldest is Rio de Janeiro’s Sugarloaf Mountain cable car. Built in the early 20th century, it was designed for tourists to take in the city views from the mountain’s summit. The journey takes just a few minutes to reach the top.

La Paz, Bolivia

Flickr: Inhabitat

Flickr: Inhabitat

The highly successful state-run cable car that connects La Paz with El Alto is the highest in the world. Since its inauguration in 2014, millions of tourists and locals have used the cable car which costs just £0.25. The line can reportedly carry a staggering 18,000 people per hour. During the World Cup, some of the cars were painted to look like footballs.

Santiago, Chile

Flickr: Robert Cutts

Flickr: Robert Cutts

The Teleférico Metropolitano was built in 1980, but has since been refurbished and reopened late last year. It takes tourists and locals up to the huge Metropolitan Park, one of the largest in Chile. Some of the cabins have been adapted to fit bikes, a popular sport in the park.

Medellín, Colombia

Another highly successful transport system, the Medellín Metrocable opened almost fifteen years ago, and has helped to connect the cities hilly districts. More lines have since been added, the latest being in 2016.  The city one an award for innovation in 2012.

Quito, Ecuador

Flickr: Stuart King

Flickr: Stuart King

The Quito Teleférico hasn’t been created as a mode of transport to get around the city. The cable car starts are 2,950 metres above sea level and arrives in the heady heights of Cruz Loma at 4,050 metres. Fantastic views over the city and the adjacent Pichincha Volcano can be seen from the top. It’s also possible to spot Antisana, Cotopaxi and Rumiñahui on clear days.

If you’d like to take any of the cable cars in South America, or visit anywhere else on the continent, speak to one of our travel experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478.

Lonesome George returns home

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Almost five years after the death of Lonesome George, the last Pinta tortoise has returned back home to the Galapagos Islands. He remains were sent to New York in 2012 to be preserved by taxidermists and was exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History in 2014.

For those who don’t know Lonesome George, he was the last survivor of the Pinta Islands sub-species. He was found on Pinta Island alone in 1972 when most believed that his species was extinct. After being brought to the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, there were efforts by the park to mate him with female tortoises, but unfortunately this was unsuccessful. At the point of death, his age was unknown, but is thought to be well over 100 years old. He was the star of the show at the research station and during the 40 years he lived there, tens of thousands of tourists visited him.

The Ecuadorian Pacific archipelago is famous as the place that Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution. There are 15 species of giant tortoise that inhabit the islands, three of which are now extinct, including George’s sub-species.

The expertly preserved body arrived back on Puerto Ayora on an Ecuadorian military plane and is now on display at the park. Would you like to see Lonesome George or the other wildlife on the Galapagos? Call to speak with one of our travel experts today on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or see our sample Galapagos tours here.

Top 10 places to visit in Ecuador

One of the beauties of Ecuador is its size. Within hours of the capital, it’s possible to visit a host of landscapes including the misty cloud forests and the high Andes. The Amazon rainforest is just a short flight away. Naturalists will revel in the incredible range of flora and fauna, particularly the birdlife.

Quito

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Quito is one of South America’s most wondrous cities – a colonial gem that sits high up in the Andes mountains. In its heart lies an historic colonial city and UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s cobbled streets, whitewashing Spanish churches and plazas have all be painstakingly restored. It’s worth spending at least a day in the capital to see the world class museums, sample the mouthwatering cuisine and drink coffee in the sunny plazas. We also suggest a visit up to the Virgin Mary statue that towers above the city from Panecillo Hill.

Middle of the World

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The Middle of the World is located just 26 miles north of Quito and is typically visited on the way to Otavalo or the cloud forests. It contains the Monument to the Equator which highlights the exact location of the Equator.

Cloud Forest

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Just a few hours’ drive from Quito is the misty cloud forests that inhabit the Eastern slopes of the Andes mountains and descend into forges and rushing waterfalls. The forests and elevation make it a bird watchers dream. The protected reserves are teeming with birds from toucans to hummingbirds. While you spend your days hiking the trails in search of colourful birdlife, in the evening return back to stay at a range of lodges from luxury to rustic.

Otavalo

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A highlight and an absolute must on a trip to Ecuador. Just a couple of hours north of the capital lies the famous colourful market town of Otavalo. Every Saturday, the local communities descend upon the town to sell their wares. Piles of leather goods, native paintings and hand-woven textiles adorn the tables throughout the town. It’s not just for show – this authentic market is a great introduction to the Ecuadorian Andean way of life.

Amazon

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Ecuador is arguable the easiest place to visit the Amazon. A scenic 45-minute flight from Quito brings you into the steamy port town of Coca. From here board dugouts canoes to reach the excellent wildlife lodges. Our favourite is the Napo Lodge, a series of cabanas located on the riverfront deep within the jungle. Take daily hikes along the trails to spot monkeys, sloths, tapirs, macaws, giant otters, anacondas and pirañas.

Devil’s Nose Train

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One of the continent’s most interesting train rides. A feat of engineering, the train journey zigzags up the side of a mountain. Afterwards, be sure to visit Ingapirca, one of the only Inca ruins that still remains in Ecuador.

Cuenca

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This southern city of Cuenca is well worth the visit. This is Ecuador’s most unspoiled city. It’s colonial centre, Spanish churches and sunny plazas ooze charm. The pace in Cuenca is unhurried, and that’s exactly the approach that visitors should take. Take a couple of days to drink coffee and people watch in the lovingly preserved squares, sample Andean food at in the excellent eateries and enjoy the city’s nightlife.

Galapagos

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What can we say about the Galapagos? This archipelago was left without human contact for so many years, the wildlife has evolved to be fearless. This allows visitors to get up close to some of the most interesting wildlife on the planet. Swim with sea lions, snorkel with turtles, scuba with sharks, watching the mating dances of the blue-footed boobies and waved albatross and walk with giant Galapagos tortoises in the wild. The Galapagos Islands are not just for wildlife enthusiasts – it should be on everyone’s bucket lists.

Cotopaxi

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Head south from Quito along the Avenue of Volcanoes. Be sure to stop for a day’s hiking through the Cotopaxi National park, home to the world famous snow-capped mountain: Cotopaxi. Keep an eye out for wildlife including Andean gulls, lapwings, foxes, coots, pintails, deer and wild horses. Condors circle above using thermals. There are plenty of excellent historic haciendas surroundings the park.

Baños

After all that hiking and wildlife watching, it’s time for a little rest and relaxation. This famous mountain town is home to plenty of natural hot springs ranging in temperature. This hot water is filtered into communal baths and while they are the prettiest, you’ll feel a million dollars after taking a taking a soak. The cliffs that surround the town have a series of beautiful cascading waterfalls which make for a scenic backdrop. If you have the energy, there are plenty of trails to hike around the town.

To start planning your tour of Ecuador, speak to one of our travel experts on +(0) 207 407 1478 or email us here.

A review of the Mashpi Lodge from one of our guests

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Mashpi. What do you say, when words aren’t enough to describe your feelings and experiences. That is Mashpi. Breathtaking.

We have travelled many places, seen many things, and had some amazing holidays, but nothing touches me in quite the same way as the rain and cloud forests and we will take with us the most wonderful memories. Our guide, Fernando Arias, played no small part in all of this in Mashpi. He saw with the eye what we struggled to see with binoculars! His knowledge of the forest and the incredible ‘finds’ (tiniest of frogs, insects, birds, lizards…….) were beyond belief or imagination. He taught us so much and, along with his cheeky and dry sense of humour, made our time extra special. He also had belief in our abilities – a number of his colleagues doubted we could achieve some of the walks we did, so we could have missed out on some spectacular experiences. We couldn’t have asked for more and we learned so much about the forest and our surroundings. He was no mean hand at taking photos with my iPad either.

We soared into and above the tree canopy, both by sky bike riding and sky gondola, walked a good distance through the forest, climbed down to waterfalls and back, waded along creeks, visited the butterfly observation centre, went to the humming bird ‘station’, where we experienced the most beautiful, iridescent displays as they ‘whooshed’ by us to the feeders, and did a night walk where Fernando proved his vision at night was as good as in the daylight. An incredible and worthwhile experience. Definitely not cheap but it is an exceptional place. Would avoid bank holidays as the atmosphere changes in the hotel when there is an influx of families from Quito, but the grounds are sufficiently large enough to enable you to enjoy your own personal experience in the forest. Another Oscar winning trip organised by David Horwell of Select Latin America U.K.

To see the full Trip Advisor review, click here.

Would you like to visit Mashpi Lodge or anywhere else in Latin America? Contact one of our travel experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or email us here.

The best street food you can get for under $5 in Latin America

Latin America isn’t short on street snacks. Like much of the world, some of the tastiest cuisine gets cooked on the fryers and planchas that line the streets on vendors’ carts. South America is not the cheapest continent, but plenty of cheap eats can be found if one knows what to look for.

Tacos – Mexico

Arguably the most iconic snack from Latin America. Though the recipe has been changed and adapted outside of Mexico, the true taco found on almost every street corner in Mexico is a small wheat tortilla topped with meat, fresh cheese, avocados, fish and/or salsa. Wrap them up yourself and get messy. Cost depends on filling and location, but typically they cost a dollar and most will need 2-3 as a meal.

Tamales – Ecuador

Flickr: verovera78

Flickr: verovera78

The Ecuadorian tamale is one of the tastiest street snacks. Wrapped inside a banana leaf, one finds a stable of cornmeal mixed with all manner of extras including vegetables, fried meats, spices, eggs and occasionally shrimp. It costs a couple of dollars, but one should be sufficient as a meal.

Carne y patata kebab – Peru

Flickr: Paul Lowry

Flickr: Paul Lowry

The cold nights in Peru’s high Andes means hearty fare is the order of the day. On most street corners, Andean women dressed in traditional garb patiently sear meat on a plancha. Look out for antichucho signs. $2 will get you enough mixed meats and fried potatoes to fill you up.

Empanadas – Argentina

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A stable street snack across South America. Like the UK’s Cornish pasty, the empanada is a baked (or fried) pastry filled with meat, cheese, vegetables or occasionally seafood. You’ll probably need two or three to fill up, but at around $1 each, it’s still going to be a cheap meal. Look out for special street carts selling empanadas or go into any bakery.

Tlayudas con carne – Mexico

While most visitors chow down on tacos (and why not, they are seriously good), those in the know also seek out tlayudas con carne. Crispy tortilla discs are topped with cheese, meats, avocado, salsa and a spicy dressing. They are a little more expensive then tacos, but larger and well worth the extra cost. Originating in Oaxaca, tlayudas con carne can now be found all over.

Buñuelos – Guatemala

Flickr: Matthew

Flickr: Matthew

Latin America’s love sweet food, especially the Guatemalans. Buñuelos are small fried doughnut-like balls covered in sugar and syrup. They are particularly popular around Christmas time and cost a dollar or two for a plate of several. They might not be enough to fill you up, but make for the perfect finish to your street food dinner.

Pastel – Brazil

Flickr: Wally Gobetz

Flickr: Wally Gobetz

Brazil tends to be more expensive than its neighbours, so finding those cheap eats is going to save you a heap of cash. Fortunatly, Brazilians have one of the world’s great street snacks – the pastel. A pocket of thin pastry is filled with all sorts of fillings, typically cheese, eggs, meat or seafood and fried to perfection. Yum. Each costs around a dollar, so they’re cheap enough to indulge on a few should you be hungry.

Carimañolas – Panama

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Flickr: luiseblanco

Carimañolas are seriously popular all over Panama. Yucca is boiled, mashed, shaped into oval balls and stuffed with meat and eggs before being fried until crisp. Their popularity mean these little fried balls are easy to find and cost under a dollar.

Arepas – Venezuela

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Arepas are a national institution in Venezuela. Street carts are packed with hungry workers throughout the day. Flat baked rolls made from ground maize are cut in half and filled with grilled meats, chicken, avocados, cheese, fish or vegetables. Sometimes they are toasted or fried to add texture. At around $3 for an arepa, they are one of the more expensive street snacks in Latin America, but they are also more substantial.

Chorizo – Argentina

Argentina is not known for its vegetarianism. You’ll be hard pushed to find vegetables or salad in such a meat-loving country. Perhaps the best-known street snack in Argentina is chorizo, a slightly spicy sausage, grilled over a parilla barbeque and often served in a bun along with chimichurri sauce. For under $3, they won’t break the budget either.

Chicharrón – Colombia

Though it may not sound that good, and it’s certainly not very good for your health, chicharróns are delicious. Much like pork scratchings in the UK, chicharróns are fried pork rinds. Salty, greasy and tasty, these scrumptious morsels cost just a dollar or two and make for a quick snack on the run.

To start planning your tour of Latin America, get in touch with one of our specialists on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or send us an email here.

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