Category Archives: local culture

President’s Corner: Getting to Know the Real Costa Rica

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By Jeremy Sampson, President, GreenSpot Travel

At GreenSpot we love to experience destinations the way they were meant to be. We have a particular passion for indigenous communities, working with them to provide unique opportunities for our clients while protecting and celebrating traditions and cultural heritage.

Our US-based team visited our Costa Rica office in May, and spent several days traveling in and around communities which currently offer indigenous and rural tourism experiences. Our visits included the Bribri community in Talamanca and Brörán in the southern region on Terraba, which includes a quiet, rustic lodge called El Descanso – as the name implies, a perfect place to rest.

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Our time was spent exchanging stories and ideas with community leaders, while observing and reviewing what they have to offer visitors. We came away with several new ideas that we plan to incorporate into Costa Rica itineraries for travelers interested in meeting and learning from these amazing people.

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My personal experience in Brörán was an unforgettable one. Life moves at a different pace in their small village, and we made fast friends with our hosts. Spending time in a place like this, it’s impossible not to reflect on your own roots, on the importance of holding onto identity, family, and tradition in the face of deep-seeded modern challenges.

We ate simple (but perfect!) homemade meals cooked by the local abuelas (grandmothers). We walked to and swam in magical waterfalls. We prepared (and enjoyed) sacred cacao. We exchanged stories. We talked about the past and the present. We were shown hospitality one can only classify as “priceless”, even if it’s not the 4- and 5-star lodges we typically sell.

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I believe this is an experience all travelers should have. The newfound perspective is well worth it, and I can’t wait to go back and see them again.

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10 Year Anniversary Photo Contest!

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We are very excited to announce, that in honor of GreenSpot’s 10th Anniversary, we’re running a photo contest! The winner will be rewarded with 500 Green Bucks, toward their next GreenSpot trip ($500 off). Choose from any one of our destinations! From the entries, we will also select a top 10 and feature them on our blog.

To enter, please send us your favorite travel photo that celebrates culture or nature, and be sure to tell us what the photo means to you. Post your photo on Facebook or Instagram and tag us @greenspottravel. Also use the hashtag #GreenSpotContest.

Don’t forget to share with friends! Submission deadline has been extended to: March 24th.

Please see our terms & conditions below:

1. The promoter is: GreenSpot Travel

2. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this competition.

3. Closing date for entry will be March 24th, 2016. After this date the no further entries to the competition will be permitted.

4. No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received for whatever reason.

5. The rules of the competition and the prize for each winner are as follows: Top 10 photos to be used on our blog. One winner will receive $500 off their next GreenSpot trip to any one of our destinations chosen by the entrant.

6. The promoter reserves the right to cancel or amend the competition and these terms and conditions without notice in any event outside of the promoter’s control. Any changes to the competition will be notified to entrants as soon as possible by the promoter.

7. The promoter is not responsible for inaccurate prize details supplied to any entrant by any third party connected with this competition.

8. No cash alternative to the prizes will be offered. The prizes are not transferable and are subject to availability.

9. Winners will be chosen based on entry rules:

  • “A travel photo which celebrates culture or nature and gives a description of what it means to you”
  • The promoter will appoint an independent judge of photos submitted.
  • Photo must be an original – the entrant must own the rights to the image.

10. The winner will be notified by email and/or letter within 28 days of the closing date. If the winner cannot be contacted or do not claim the prize within 14 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner.

11. The promoter’s decision in respect of all matters to do with the competition will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.

12. By entering this competition, an entrant is indicating his/her agreement to be bound by these terms and conditions.

13. The competition and these terms and conditions will be governed by United States law and any disputes will be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts.

14. The winner agrees to the use of his/her name and image in any publicity material related to the competition (without payment) by GreenSpot Travel. Any personal data relating to the winner or any other entrants will be used solely in accordance with current U.S. data protection legislation and will not be disclosed to a third party without the entrant’s prior consent.

15. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook, Twitter or any other Social Network. You are providing your information to GreenSpot Travel and not to any other party.

 

 

Icelandic Stories & Passionate People

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Recently, GreenSpot’s destination specialist, Mandy Haakenson was interviewed by Pink Pangea (a community for women who love to travel) about travel to Iceland. Read that interview here and be sure to read on for a more in depth look at her Icelandic experience.

While I was in Iceland, one of my guides told me that Icelanders “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. I love that quote, although I admit to being a little dubious of everything I was told thereafter. The little girl in me adores hearing stories of trolls and elves. Much to my delight, they are abundant in Iceland, and Icelanders tell them with vigor and charm.

I had expected the striking landscapes, wildlife viewing opportunities, volcanoes and geothermal activity. Less expected, but very much appreciated, were the cultural and historical insights I gained by talking to the hospitable Icelandic people. They seem reserved at first, but there is tremendous passion to be found within the 300,000 inhabitants of this Nordic island nation. Finding time to chat, over a cup of steaming coffee or while sipping Brennivín (Icelandic schnapps) is worth your while.

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My time in Iceland was full of activities. I took a food tour of Reykjavik, bathed in natural hot springs, dipped in the Blue Lagoon, walked on a glacier, rode an Icelandic horse, hunted for Northern Lights, traveled west to Sneafellsness Peninsula, toured a lava tube, took a jet boat ride, and completed a 3-day trek of the southern interior from Thórsmörk to Skógar.

For most of these activities, a guide in an all-wheel vehicle picked me up. This allowed us to travel over some rugged terrain. One evening, we drove right onto a black sand beach, where we toasted Brennivín at sunset, after dining on delicious local lobster at a seaside restaurant. We were waiting for darkness to arrive, so that we could hunt for northern lights.

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An all-terrain bus took us through barren land, where we drove through rushing rivers and bounced over lava fields. Once we reached the middle-of-nowhere, we disembarked and ventured through the woods to a mountain hut. For the next couple of days we hiked through some of the most breathtaking landscape I have ever seen. Although Thórsmörk to Skógar is a popular route, we saw very few people. This is one of the advantages of going in September, when high season is dying down.

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There are iconic spots in Iceland that everyone wants to see, but if you wish to avoid crowds, you can venture to the slightly less visited Snæfellsnes Peninsula. With a looming glacier and jagged cliffs bursting with birdlife, this western peninsula is quintessential Iceland. You can visit a farm to help sheer or gather sheep, take a jaunt on a graceful Icelandic horse, bathe in secluded hot springs, or strap on a headlamp and climb down into a lava tube.

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If you are willing to sacrifice wide-open space for an abundance of charm and hospitality, I would recommend staying at Hotel Egilsen, in the seaside town of Stykkishólmur. Before you head out to explore, enjoy a delicious homemade breakfast made by the inn’s proprietor, Greta. If the elegance of an old-world hunting lodge is more your style, you may want to book into Hotel Budir. Take time to walk along the craggy cliffs and find the unique black church. Be sure to have dinner at Budir’s renowned restaurant.

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Above all, allow the Icelandic people to guide your journey. After all, they know their country the best. They will happily share the legends of this ancient land with you. They also know how to pronounce words like Eyjafjallajökull – and let’s face it, this might come in handy.

To learn more, be sure to check out our sample itineraries for Iceland or contact us if you have questions.

Ten Incredible Things to do in Iceland

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Ten Incredible things in Iceland

Situated on the fringe of the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s abundant and diverse natural wonders are enough to make your jaw drop. The destination is sometimes called the Land of Fire and Ice because of its rumbling volcanoes, bubbling earth and shifting glaciers, which are still shaping the unique and stunning landscape. Combine this striking natural beauty with crisp, clean air, and you have an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true.

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However, Iceland is not only for adventure-seekers. The people who inhabit this Nordic country have a fascinating culture that embraces literature, music, fashion, cuisine, ancient sagas, and even a few mythical creatures. Read on to see the incredible things visitors can see and do in this country of vivid beauty and intriguing culture. And keep in mind, this list only scratches the surface!

Visit Natural Hot Springs

There is no denying that the Blue Lagoon deserves to be among Iceland’s top attractions. The steamy, aquamarine water, set against the contrasting black, volcanic landscape is too alluring to pass up. However, if you desire hot springs but are averse to crowds, there are numerous spots where you can soak in a mineral-rich bath while taking in a  stunning view.

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Walk on a Glacier

Secure a guide (that’s important!), strap on some crampons, and grab an ice pick, for a thrilling and gorgeous stroll over a massive ice formation. It’s not something you get to do every day. Although glaciers are impressive from far away, they are truly extraordinary when you’re right on top.

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See the Northern Lights

This bucket-list-worthy phenomenon is never a guarantee, but your chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is quite high. This is especially true in the shorter, darker, winter months, though don’t rule out April or September.

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Ride an Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic horse is sometimes referred to as a pony, yet that doesn’t aptly define the combination of grace and power that this unique animal possesses. Beautiful and a real treat to ride, this hardy breed has mastered a special gait that helps it navigate over the rough Icelandic terrain.

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Watch Great Geysir Explode

If you’ve witnessed the blast of a geyser in the past, perhaps you didn’t know that its namesake originated in Iceland. Great Geysir is the oldest known geyser in Europe and the word geyser comes from the Icelandic verb geysa, meaning “to gush”. It’s a timely and extraordinary sight, for young and old alike.

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Hike Behind a Waterfall

It’s true that Iceland is covered in magnificent waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, and you’ll never tire of their splendor and beauty. At Seljalandsfoss, it’s possible to get up close and personal with one of the best, as you walk behind the powerful force of cascading water.

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Indulge in Authentic Food

Icelandic cuisine has a long history and is an important part of the country’s culture. Like many other Nordic countries, the necessity of preservation during long, harsh winters made pickling and fermentation a popular ritual. Dried and fermented shark are specialties in Iceland (pictured below), though I much prefer the small, delicious lobster (also pictured below). You can read more about Icelandic food here.

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Take a Boat on a Glacial Lagoon

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is a result of the rapidly retreating Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Gleaming blue ice drifts through this spectacular spot, creating astonishing ice sculptures, which can be seen from shore. Better yet, hop on a boat  for a tremendous ride across the other-worldly lagoon.

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Hike Around Landmannalaugar

Adding to the list of must-see places that are difficult to pronounce, Landmannalaugar is a wondrous nature reserve, consisting of mountains and valleys of swirling earth tones unlike anywhere else in the world. Whether a day-trip from Reykjavik or part of a multi-day hiking itinerary, it’s a favorite with locals and visitors alike.

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Visit Thingvellir National Park

Located in a rift valley along the Mid-Atlantic ridge, it would be amiss not to mention Thingvellir National Park. This location is home to the Icelandic parliament, which is the oldest in the world, established by Vikings is AD 930. It is a place of immense natural beauty, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its historical, cultural and geological importance.

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To start planning your dream trip to Iceland, have a look at our sample itineraries or contact us.

Frequently Asked Questions: Ecuador

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These are a few questions we get most frequently from travelers interested in Ecuador. We wanted to allow our team of Ecuador experts to provide some answers.

For a preview of our sample Ecuador itineraries, please visit our website.

Q: What do you love most about Ecuador?

Amazon EcuadorA: The thing we love most about Ecuador is the element of surprise. Despite its small size, Ecuador is considered one of the most diverse countries on the planet, and it’s amazing that not many people know this. It is a country with something for everyone, including beaches, rural highlands, jungle escapes, and colonial cities.

Ecuador can satisfy every whim and desire, arguably all in one day, and recent improvements to infrastructure allow for easy access to navigate the country and explore the majority of attractions offered.

With the Pacific coast on the western side of the country, the Andes Mountains as the backbone of the country, and rivers flowing down to the Amazon, which is considered a part of Ecuador’s territory, the possibilities for adventure are endless.

Q: What special experiences can people expect when they visit Ecuador with GreenSpot?

A: Numerous special experiences await GreenSpot travelers. The obvious being of course, Galapagos Islands, where one can have close encounters with some of the most diverse and unique animals and flora on the planet.Amazon, Ecuador

But our trips go far beyond the Galapagos. The capital city of Quito is considered one of the most active cities and the home of the most picturesque and breathtaking churches. Otavalo is home to one of the largest indigenous groups in Ecuador and the location of the Otavalo Market, a must-see destination for tourists from around the globe.

As usual, our itineraries include a number of special interactions with the local people, and greater immersion in the culture. We aim to provide a deeper and more complete experience by including options such as a visit to a local school, cooking and ceramic classes, or dinner with a local fisherman, all excellent ways to connect with the community and acquire a deeper sense of Ecuador’s people.

Q: How will Ecuador surprise people?

A: Ecuador’s contemporary nature and cultural diversity will be the most surprising things to a visitor. The country is surprisingly developed, with a huge and ever-growing expat community. Additionally, the high percentage of ethnic groups further reflects the diversity of the country, which is common to see as you traveart, Ecuadorl the country.

Q: If a traveler wants to see the true Ecuador, how would they go about it?

A: They’ll come without expectations and be open and ready to soak in the local culture. Our connections with local suppliers and communities make it much easier to experience the true Ecuador.

GreenSpot clients will have an opportunity to participate in activities where they can socialize with locals. For example, our school visit includes discussions about Ecuador’s educational system and perhaps a friendly soccer competition with the children and teachers. We are also planning to add cooking classes with ingredients purchased in a local market, and dinners with local fishermen and their families, during which guests can learn more about life in Ecuador.waterfall, Ecuador

Q: Why should fans of iconic destinations like Costa Rica consider Ecuador?

A: Each country has special and unique traits. Costa Rica is an amazing country with its own culture and unbelievable tourist attractions, and it’s also a great place to live as evidenced by its huge international population. In Ecuador, visitors can experience the Andes Mountains, Spanish-influenced Colonial architecture, stunning glaciers, easily accessible ethnic groups, amazing jungle life, great density of volcanoes and prominent mountains, incredible lakes, vast wildlife, and delicious cuisine. Many visitors remark that they have experienced something a bit different in each town, and this is what Ecuador offers — diversity at its very best.

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Snack Stops: an exceptional local guide stops the car at her family's working grape field on the way to the day's hike and let's you find red and white samples, full of taste and texture and juice, and brings a few for later.
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#Karpathos #greatguides #grapes
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16 hours ago  ·  

Being invited into a local family's home, like Evangelia's, to share in tradition creates the most lasting travel memories, doesn't it?
Yesterday we didn't know how to make Greek pasta, today we do (sort of).
It was delicious.
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2 days ago  ·