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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Valparaíso gains accolade

In its latest edition, National Geographic Traveler magazine, entitled ‘The Best of World’, has chosen Valparaíso as one of the 20 places to visit in 2013.

Chile’s bohemian port has been praised by artists captivated by the beauty of Valparaíso. Now travellers have followed suit, carried away by the charms of its 42 hills, which rise steeply from the Pacific Ocean and its ancient funicular and hidden barrios. Valparaíso is featured alongside other world destinations such as the Crimea, Marseille, Malawi, Quito, Memphis and Thessaloniki. Valparaiso’s architecture, built upon hills, has gained it Cultural World Heritage status by UNESCO in 2003.

Today Valparaíso is also known for cutting edge gastronomy, design and hospitality, provided by its charming boutique hotels. Climbing through the hills is an experience that improves by getting lost within its nooks and crannies. Bars, cafes, museums, restaurants and antique elevators are just part of what makes this beautiful city overlooking the Pacific Ocean so special.It can be included on our Crossing the Andes and Plains journey.

RELATED: Top 5 holidays in Argentina

slow train coming

With encouragement from President Rafael Correa the Quito to Guayaquil railway system is being restored. This engineering marvel once connected the Pacific Coast with the high Andes. After years of neglect, the country’s 446 kilometres of railway tracks are being renewed and many of the major railway stations refurbished. One of the first parts to be finished is the world famous Andean switchback known as the ‘Devil’s Nose’.  You can ride the train during our Cotopaxi and the Devils Nose, journey travelling South from Quito along the famous Avenue of Volcanoes. Other adventures on this trip include the snow-capped volcanoes of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo, the Cloud-forest, the Inca fortress of Ingapirca and finally the Amazon. Another completed section of railway departs from Quito’s centre to the town of Machachi. Don’t expect an Express train; the carriages lazily climb through the high Andean passes, which mean that you get plenty of time to take photos and wave to the locals. Each volcano is announced over the speakers leaving you to wonder just how many volcanoes one small country can have!  Hopefully soon you will be able to take a ride the whole way to the coast, which will be a major boost to tourism throughout the country.

RELATED: Ecuador’s Liberty Train from Ibarra to Salinas 

locro de papa – Ecuadorian Potato Soup With Avocado

Locro de papa is a cheesy potato soup that is a staple of Ecuadorian cuisine. It’s traditionally garnished with avocado, and served with a spicy aji sauce. Locro de papa is simple and fairly quick to make, with basic ingredients. It’s nourishing and filling – the perfect comfort food. You can add a little aji amarillo paste to the sautéed onion if you like a little kick. Corn is also a popular addition (the large kernel Andean choclo corn is delicious).

•1 large onion, chopped
•1 tablespoon vegetable oil
•2 tablespoons butter
•1 teaspoon cumin
•2 pounds yellow potatoes
•2 cups chicken stock
•2 cups water
•1/2 cup milk
•1 egg
•5 ounces grated cheese
•2 halved avocados for garnish
•Crumbled fresh white cheese, for garnish (optional)

Preparation:
Melt 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a heavy soup pot. Add the chopped onion. Sauté onions over low heat until soft, fragrant and translucent. While the onions are cooking, peel the potatoes and cut into 1 inch cubes. Set aside. When the onions are soft and golden, add 1 cup of the chicken stock. Remove mixture to a blender and process until you have a smooth puree. Set aside. Add the potatoes to the soup pot along with 1 tablespoon butter. Sauté until potatoes are fragrant and just start to turn golden. Add onion liquid back to the pot with the potatoes, along with another cup of chicken stock and 2 cups water. Bring liquid to a simmer, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook potatoes until they are very tender, about 20-25 minutes. Mash the potatoes thoroughly in the pot with a potato masher. Add milk and cream (optional) to the soup, whisking plus the grated cheese until melted. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. Serve soup hot, garnished with chopped avocado and crumbled white fresh cheese.#

RELATED: Top 10 places to visit in Ecuador

straw hats come home to ecuador

UNESCO has just declared the Ecuadorian traditional woven straw hat (also known as a Panama hat) as an Intangible cultural heritage of Mankind. This declaration restores historical justice and symbolically re-claims this famous straw hat as Ecuadorian, after over 100 years. — In Quito you see examples at El Quinde Gift Shop, located near the Plaza Grande.

The traditional technique for straw hat production has been handed down from generation to generation. The hats are made from toquilla straw fibres that come from a palm found on the Ecuadorian coast. Weaving a hat can take from one day to several months and can cost from $5 to $500.

RELATED: Top 10 places to visit in Ecuador

Getting high – above Quito by cable-car

Quito’s cable-car takes about 40 minutes to ride up the side of the volcano above the city. If you have a half-day to spare we highly recommend this excursion. The Teleferico, as it is known, is a fairly new attraction of Quito. The cables sway up the slopes of Pichincha volcano to the summit of Cruz Loma, at a breath-taking 4,050 meters. Though there is surprisingly a shopping centre, handicraft market and even nightclub up the top, the ride itself is the main attraction. The spectacular view of the city and its surroundings includes more than 14 peaks of the Andes. If you wish to scale higher there are horses to rent or you can hike the trail to Rucu Pichincha. For the adventurous, some of the cable-cars have bicycle rack, take the Teleferico up, ride your mountain bike down. Do this as an option after Select Latin America Ecuador tailor-made trip.

RELATED: Top 10 places to visit in Ecuador

Fiestas of Quito

This week is the Fiestas of Quito, celebrating the foundation of Quito on Dec 6th. This is the city’s biggest festivity of the year. The whole city stops work and enjoys street parties with live music and bands. Bars swing open their doors for party-goers, and the streets will remain crowded till the early hours of the morning. Revellers can take a ride around the city on a Chiva, an open-air bus, with a brass band in-situ. Plaza Foch in La Mariscal, becomes a lively focus for the younger crowd with trendy restaurants, bars, and clubs.

Traditionally for this week there is flamenco dancing, opera and theatrical shows and the Reina de Quito (Quito’s beauty pageant). Though for the first time in 60 years there is no bullfighting, perhaps a sign of the times. It climaxes on the 6th December with a massive parade with indigenous dancers in traditional dress and floats make their way along the streets. It is organised chaos of the best kind.

Ecuador’s capital Quito is located near the Equator and is the second oldest Spanish city in South America, founded in 1534.  The city was the first to be declared as a World Heritage Site due to the remarkable churches, convents, cathedrals, built during the colonial period. This year Quito celebrates its 478th anniversary of its Spanish foundation.

RELATED: Getting high – above Quito by cable-car 

Shop for Chocolate in Quito

We are happy to report that Ecuador won great acclaim at the recent International Chocolate Awards 2012 that took place in London. The competition was set up to recognize the best fine quality chocolate from around the world. The awards are designed to reflect international tastes with a level playing field for international entries. Over 600 products were entered. Prizes are separated according to category and with just one Gold award in each category and a number of Silver awards available.

Ecuador has long been known as a top producer of the best-aroma cacao beans, has now been recognised for its high-quality chocolate, with its home-based Pacari brand. Pacari won 7 Gold Awards including best Dark-plain bars, best Organic, Best Cacao Source and Flavoured Dark Chocolate. Pacari produce the first single-origin organic chocolate made in Ecuador from 100% organic ingredients and produced according to fair trade standards, with small-scale cacao growers to preserve their traditional way of farming.

In Quito you can taste this winning product at El Quinde Gift Shop, located near the Plaza Grande hotel by the main square. Recently some of the best chefs in the world came to Quito to attend the Latitude Zero Culinary Congress and tasted the chocolate, and other culinary delights. It is also on sale at the airport and other craft shops.

Quito will host the International Chocolate Awards in 2013, which we reckon is a true honour for this South American capital. We have also done our share of tasting at the SLA headquarters and definitely give this the thumbs-up. My personal favourite is the Chili and spices flavour.

RELATED: How to make Argentine Chocotorta

Galapagos in 3D

Sir David Attenborough’s new 3D series on the Galapagos Islands has been confirmed as part of Sky’s Christmas schedules.

Galapagos 3D will launch on New Year’s Day on Sky 3D and rounds off a line-up of festive comedy, high-end drama and US imports across Sky’s entertainment channels.

Attenborough’s project is a three-part series, which airs on January 1, 5 and 12. The multi-award-winning natural history broadcaster’s fourth collaboration with Sky will use pioneering 3D techniques and technology to explore the unique environments and species of the Galapagos.

“It’s only now that the latest developments in camera technology have given us the possibility of filming the full range of wildlife in 3D, and the first place I wanted to put that to the test was the Galapagos,” said Attenborough.

“I mean, lizards that swim, swim down to the bottom of the seabed and graze seaweed, has to be really an extraordinary thing. Galapagos is full of dramas, and it is also full of very, very charismatic animals which, because they’re uniquely unafraid of humans, you can get up close to and film: it’s a natural for 3D.”

RELATED: Select Latin America joins up with Galapagos Conservation Trust

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