Category Archives: local culture

Ecuador: Why 2016 is the Year to Go

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Why 2016 is the year to go

Have you been postponing those New Year’s resolutions? What about the one where you finally book that trip of a lifetime? Procrastination is not usually your friend, but if you’ve been putting off a dream trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, waiting until now might have been a blessing in disguise.

Ecuador has always had a lot going for it, but the destination has stepped up its game in recent years, and last October it was named South America’s leading tourist destination at the World Travel Awards!

Here are a few reason why we think Ecuador is a 2016 hotspot:

Better Accessibility with New Flights

Starting in February, discount airline Jet Blue will fly nonstop from Fort Lauderdale to Quito. Also, Ecuador’s premier airline, TAME, recently introduced nonstop flights from New York to Guayaquil. Flying to Ecuador only takes a few hours from the southern USA. You can get there easily from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Atlanta and New York. And if you’re headed to the Olympics in Brazil this year, you could seamlessly make Ecuador a stopover!

Quito’s Renovations

Ecuador’s capital city is complimenting its UNESCO heritage charm with some 21st century renovations. A handy new metro system* is opening this year, conveniently carrying people from the bus station to all of the important and historic districts across town. Coupled with a new, conveniently located airport and revamped train station, there is a fresh glow to Quito’s old-world appeal. Many colonial treasures remain in the heart of this city, surrounded by towering mountain peaks and volcanoes that call out to adventure enthusiasts.

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador

Increase in Galapagos Penguins

Unlike their cold-water-relatives, Galapagos penguins are special because they have adapted to the warmer climate of the islands. Expert conservationists created shady nesting sites for this extremely rare and most endangered penguin species, and this has resulted in a doubling of their population. If you’ve ever wanted to see them, or perhaps even swim with them, you now have twice the opportunity!

Galapagos Islands cruise

Galapagos Islands Family Cruise

The Cultural Experience you Crave

There is a growing desire for more authentic and meaningful holiday experiences like the ones we offer at GreenSpot. This means travelers are seeking out destinations with significant cultural draw. Ancient traditions are alive and well across Ecuador. Stumbling upon authentic cultural encounters is as easy as strolling through a bustling market. Strike up a conversation with weavers who are making Panama hats – which are not only a hot fashion trend, but are in fact Ecuadorian.

authentic Ecuador town

Colorful Ecuador

Go Green in 2016!

For Ecuador, ‘going green in 2016’ is not just a catchy rhyme. Their Ministry of Tourism has recently adopted sustainability standards for the country’s tourism sector. This means that the country recognizes the importance of working toward sound tourism policies and will actively protect Ecuador’s heritage so that future generations can benefit from it. Also, responsible-minded travelers have plenty of award-winning, green hotels to choose from in Ecuador.

Ecuadorian hacienda

Ecuadorian hacienda

Contact us to discuss your 2016 dream trip to Ecuador.

*Updated January 25, 2016: Sadly, like many transportation and construction projects, we have received news that the completion of Quito’s new metro has been delayed.  However, it is coming and we will keep you updated!

Ten Incredible Things to do in Ecuador

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10 incredible things to do in Ecuador

Ecuador lies in a privileged location, right in the middle of the world. This allows for mega-biodiversity to exist within a relatively small country. Not only can you travel from the mountains to the jungle in the same day, but you also have the opportunity to be exposed to thousands of species of plants, birds, insects, mammals and other creatures. In fact, the country is often described as a collection of four worlds in one, made up of the coast, Andes Mountains, Amazon Jungle and Galapagos Islands.

hummingbird Ecuador

Compiled of numerous protected areas, visitors can experience this rich flora and fauna first-hand while enjoying a wide range of activities, from wild adventures like river rafting and mountain biking to peaceful bird watching, horseback riding and cooking classes. For those who delight in wildlife and cultural tradition, a Galapagos cruise combined with a trip to Otovalo Market (South America’s largest!) while staying in a beautiful hacienda in the highlands, might be the perfect combination.

Ecuador travel

Here is a list of 10 incredible moments you can enjoy on a GreenSpot trip to Ecuador:

Galapagos Islands Cruise

The Galapagos Islands receive an abundance of well-deserved hype, so they pretty much speak for themselves. Even a wildlife novice can’t help but enjoy the close encounters with dancing and whistling Blue Footed Boobies or the opportunity to swim and frolic with penguins and sea lions, all  while cruising from island to enchanted island in the comfort of a luxurious vessel.

Galapagos travel

Horseback Riding in the Andean Highlands

Donning chaps and a poncho, take a ride like a true Ecuadorian chagra through pristine valleys of the Andean Highlands. As Cotopaxi Volcano looms in the distance, you have the chance to walk, trot, or gallop your way across the open terrain, on the outskirts of Cotopaxi National Park.

horseback riding Ecuador Andean Highlands

Downhill Mountain Biking in Cotopaxi National Park

If horseback riding is a bit tame for your wild spirit, you are sure to enjoy a thrilling bike ride through the extraordinary beauty of Cotopaxi National Park. Wild horses and wild flowers surround the rugged trails as you bump your way down the mountain, returning to a cozy hacienda at the end of the ride.

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Hike!

There are countless opportunities for hiking on mainland Ecuador and even short hikes throughout the Galapagos Islands. Whether it’s along the craggy foothills of the Andes, through the verdant rainforest, or over volcanic lava rock, we highly recommend packing those hiking boots and meandering along Ecuadorian trails.

hiking Ecuador

Shop at Otavalo Market

Woven textiles, panama hats, jewelry, and ponchos are just a few of the items that might tempt you at this marvelous bazaar of artisan goods. However, it’s the vibrant colors and display of cultural pageantry that you’ll take home and cherish for a lifetime.

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Kayak Through the Amazon Jungle

Imagine the jungle sounds that will surround you as your kayak glides through the twisting tributaries of the Amazon. Binoculars around your neck, there is no better way to observe the abundance of wildlife that inundates the rainforest.

Kayak Amazon Ecuador

Explore Quito’s Historic Plazas

Founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city, Quito is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sitting at a little over 9,000 feet, the air is crisp and skies are blue as can be. Quaint alleyways, pigeon-filled plazas, and ancient architecture are found around every bend, and there is enough to see to fill a few days of wandering.

Quito Ecuador

Visit the Middle of the World

Don’t pass up the opportunity to straddle the equator. It isn’t every day that you have the chance to stand with each foot in a different hemisphere. This is possible at the Middle of the World Monument, not too far from Quito.

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Stay in a Beautiful Hacienda

Ecuadorian haciendas frequently date back to the 16th century and have generations of stories to tell. Many are still working farms, and you can soak up the atmosphere and chagras (cowboys) way of life, as you learn about their history and enjoy the surrounding gardens and fertile land.

Hacienda Cusin Ecuador

Get to Know the Locals

As a tour operator with a mission to create meaningful connections with people and communities, we consider this to be a vital part of any travel experience. The hospitality of the Ecuadorian people makes it easy and enjoyable to discover the soul of this country through personal encounters with the local people.

kids Ecuador travel

All of this and more can be found in our sample Ecuador itineraries. As always, we can customize your trip to suit your desires. We’d love to talk to you about your Ecuador travel dreams. Contact us to find out how we can help you get there.

The Life Extending Magic of Pura Vida in Costa Rica

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Pura Vida Costa Rica beach

Playa Samara, Costa Rica at sunset

If you have traveled to Costa Rica, you have heard the term “pura vida”. Literally translated, it means “pure life”, but most foreigners transform it into a chilled-out, surfer expression meaning, “life is good” or something to that effect. However, if you listen closely, you notice that Ticos (Costa Ricans) use it as a greeting, in gratitude, to explain how they are feeling or even to describe a person’s character. You begin to realize that “pura vida” has a more profound meaning than you thought.

Fresh fruit, Costa Rica

Fresh fruit after kayaking

Sitting on a beach in Nicoya, our local guide explains that we are currently in one of five ‘blue zones’ of the world. For those who don’t know (I didn’t), blue zones are longevity hotspots – Five precise points on the globe where people live the longest. Costa Rica already has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, but the Nicoya Peninsula goes beyond that, as one of these hotspots, with high statistics of people living up to 100 years old.

Costa Rica beach and palms

Costa Rica beach and palms

Subconsciously, I inhale deeply, as if the humid and salty sea air will infuse a little of this magic into my body. Perhaps the magic isn’t only in the clean air they breathe. Like the saying goes…there must be something in the water. In Nicoya, that something is calcium – lots of it. This helps fight heart disease and build stronger bones. Furthermore, all those volcanoes produce sulphur-rich, anti-bacterial mud, which does wonders for the skin. The humidity is good for the respiratory system and ample sun provides vitamin D. So, it is no surprise that this is a popular spot for wellness journeys, such as yoga retreats and spa vacations.

Volcanic mud baths in Nicoya, Costa Rica

Volcanic mud baths in Nicoya, Costa Rica

According to the blue zone study, there are many more factors, such as diet, activity level, ambition, socialization and much more, that make up this remarkable statistic. I am sure the pura vida philosophy has something to do with it too. No doubt, there is a life-loving state of mind in Costa Rica.

As we traveled through Nicoya for a few days, we sampled a bit of the blue zone lifestyle through the food we ate, the activities we enjoyed and the people we met. I am guessing that one visit to this bright and breezy country is probably not going to extend my life. However, I am quite certain that a little bit of magic penetrated into my sun-kissed shoulders or stowed away in my sand-filled suitcase, because I feel healthier and more relaxed upon my return. And if it wasn’t enough, I guess I’ll just have to go back for another dose.

To get your dose of pura vida, longevity magic, contact us.

 

An Earth Day Gift for You – 5 Tips for Responsible Travel

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Earthday

It’s been many years since the terms ecotourism and sustainable travel first developed. Since then, the complex relationship between travel and responsibility to our planet, has grown in importance. Some even declare it an oxymoron to put the two together – opposites, like oil and water. Well, pardon us if we disagree.

Not only are there ways that tourism can benefit everyone, but the concept of  responsible travel is becoming more mainstream.

waterfallThe economic and social benefits of tourism are more obvious, particularly in developing countries, because (if done correctly) tourism can create jobs and increase the country’s revenue. It can also improve infrastructure and cultural understanding between guest and host. The environmental benefits are sometimes less obvious. However, tourism has helped promote awareness and conservation of natural resources and wildlife.

We thought that Earth Day would be a good opportunity to provide you with a list of a few things that you can do on your next trip, to be a more responsible traveler. This is not a comprehensive list. Travelers can do various little things to tread lightly and create a positive impact on the destinations they visit.

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  • Support local economies by buying local handicrafts and food that has not been imported.
  • Travel by public transportation within the destination, or better yet, walk or bike.
  • Respect the culture and engage with the local people.
  • Use natural resources sparingly.
  • Don’t buy bottled water – bring your own canteen instead.

*Bonus tip! Contact us to help you select sustainable hotels and local guides for a memorable (and responsible) holiday!

We would love to hear what responsible efforts (big or small) have you made while traveling.

Fire, Ice and Green – An Icelandic Fairy Tale

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Heading into Reykjavik from the airport, I smiled as I spotted a vibrant rainbow in the sky. Little did I know it would be one of a dozen I would see during my week in Iceland. To say that Iceland’s landscape is unique, is an understatement. It’s sort of other-worldly. So-much-so, that Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings was reportedly inspired by Iceland’s terrain and NASA used it as a training location for Neil Armstrong’s first moon walk.

Or at least I think those stories are true…early-on in my trip, one of my local guides told me that Icelanders “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. Although I love that quote, I admit to being a little dubious to everything I was told thereafter.

Perhaps moonscapes don’t do proper justice to the exceptional raw beauty and natural wonders that are found in this fascinating country. The diversity is stunning. Black, jagged lava fields are contrasted with opulent, mossy hillsides and deep plunging gorges. Snow capped mountains loom in the horizon and runoff forms icy glaciers. Geothermal geysers blast into the sky and milky blue mineral spas await eager bathers. After a few days in Iceland, I was smitten. My expectations were blown. I expected striking landscapes, wildlife viewing opportunities, volcanoes and geothermal activity. Less expected, but very much appreciated, were the cultural and historical insights I gained throughout my journey and the hospitality of the Icelandic people.

That’s right – don’t let their seemingly reserved demeanor fool you! There is passion to be found within the 300,000 inhabitants of this Nordic island country. Fact or fiction, I soon learned that Icelanders have a gift for storytelling. I heard fractions of different Icelandic sagas (stories that depict struggles and conflicts that arose within families and societies of the first Icelandic settlers). I’m a sucker for a good story and each saga had me captivated. Combine that with tales of elves and trolls and you have a destination that is nothing short of enchanting.

One rainy afternoon on the Snaefellsness peninsula, I sat in the living room of Ensku Husin guesthouse, drinking coffee and knitting a community scarf that is left out for guests to work on. My host graciously told me the history of the house, which has been in his family for decades. Meanwhile, the smell of homemade seafood soup filled the room and just outside the window, his beautiful Icelandic horse grazed. I felt at home – well, if I lived in a fairytale, perhaps.

Balancing out the more relaxed and cozy encounters in Iceland, was an active and adventurous spirit that is contagious. The high season for hiking and trekking is July through mid-August, but the shoulder seasons can be perfect for less crowds. The choice to get active is entirely up to the individual. A vast amount of beauty can be seen from driving tours, but if you want to view more secluded waterfalls and witness the solitude of small mountain huts and hidden hot springs, strapping on some hiking boots is highly recommended. Summer time offers midnight sun, puffin encounters and the chance of drier hiking. Winter offers the best chance of viewing Northern Lights, orca whales and proper Scandinavian in-town coziness. Iceland really is a year-round destination, it just depends what type of experience you’re going for.

So don’t let the tongue-twisting names, like Eyjafjallajökull (I can’t say it either) discourage you. Be sure to check out GreenSpot’s Iceland itineraries. As always, each trip can be customized to suit your preferences and the season you are traveling in. Customizing your trip is what we do best.

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