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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.

Tips from a Ziplining Newbie

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I’ve experienced my share of adventure – white water rafting, paragliding, canyoning, high-peak trekking, a bit of rock climbing. I had a feeling that ziplining through a rainforest canopy was in my future. It was certainly on my bucket list. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go ziplining in Costa Rica.

One of my travel companions had some ziplining experience. As we ate lunch together she said, “Oh, I don’t want to eat a big lunch before going ziplining.” “Why?” I asked. “It’s a bit scary and might make me queasy.” I sized her up as a person with a bit of a weak stomach and probably scared of heights. I’m not scared of heights.

ziplining Costa Rica

Into a void of green – Costa Rica

We set off and our guide went over all the safety precautions and did a little demonstration. The first zip-line stretched high above a beautiful canyon of treetops and disappeared into a dense void of green. I watched the person before whizz along and when it was my turn, I was ready and couldn’t wait to soar over the trees. I’m sure I had a huge smile on my face.

However, something funny happened as the subsequent platforms became higher and higher. For me, flying high in the air was a piece of cake, but each time I was standing on a platform (albeit hooked onto a safety wire) I felt vulnerable and a little shaky. I hadn’t expected that platform-standing would provide an adrenaline rush.

 

Zipline costa rica ziplining costa Rica

This particular course also comprised of rappelling down the side of a rock cliff and climbing up the other side, which was a fun challenge. We also experienced a “Tarzan rope” that is used to swing from one high platform to another (additionally secured to a safety line, of course). I was first on the Tarzan rope. When I reached the other side, one of the guides thought it would be funny to throw me back over to the other side again. Turns out, it was quite funny, because everyone laughed at my stunned expression.

tarzan rope zip line costa rica IMG_7474 (2)

Here a few tips for the Ziplining Newbie:

  • Keep an open mind. If you think you might be scared, consider a tandem zipline with a professional guide, like in the above photo. On the other hand, if you are a thrill-seeker and don’t think it will be thrilling enough…you might be surprised!
  • It is fun for the whole family, although children should be over 5-years old. Many outfitters will accommodate disabled and elderly people as well.
  • Wear well-fitted clothing and shoes (no flip-flops!)
  • Book with an operator who has researched outfitters with the highest safety standards. (Like us!)
  • Pay close attention to your guides while on the course.
  • Have fun!

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.

 

Sunset Saturdays (aka #SunsetSaturdays)

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Costa Rica sunset

Photo courtesy of GreenSpot traveler, Eric Asch

sunset and palm trees

Palm trees: A sunset’s best friend

Every day, in every part of the world, the sun falls below the horizon. This happens rain or shine, in summer and through winter. We might be stating the obvious; however, the spectacle of a truly beautiful sunset is something that most of us do not take for granted. In fact, I wonder if you can remember some of the most striking sunsets you have seen in your lifetime. I bet you can. You might even be able to remember what you did that day or something that made that moment special. Maybe you have spent time chasing a sunset or put a lot of thought into the best place to see the sun go down. You might even have a picture of a sunset that capped off a special day.

The beauty often requires no filter and perhaps the most splendid can be seen amid stormy skies, when the colors can reflect upon the clouds. Yet, most people would agree that it is less about the photography and more about the moment. It is true that each sunset is unique in color and hue, yet they are also unique to each onlooker. We are most interested in what is happening on the other side of that vibrant glow…a couple holding hands; friends sharing cocktails; a family relishing a much needed break; the traveler reflecting on the adventures of the day…

Thailand Sunset, girl on beach

Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand

For example, the photograph to the left is a favorite of mine. Usually the one pressing the shutter, I am rarely the subject of a photograph, yet my husband snapped this picture of me (left), gazing at the sunset on the Thai island of Ko Pha Ngan. I remember, I was not only captivated by the beauty of the sky, but by the overwhelming gratitude I had for that moment. This photograph always reminds me of that feeling.

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Costa Rica sunset

A sunset often generates a sense of tranquility that many of us wish we could capture more often. This is what Sunset Saturdays are all about. If you can’t be on the beach, with your toes in the sand and a drink in your hand, we hope to offer you the next best thing: A moment to daydream. You might be reminded of a beautiful sunset you have witnessed in the past (and we hope you might send it our way!) or you might be dreaming up your next adventure, to a place where sunsets blaze orange and red every night. For a moment, you can transport yourself there. Breathe and surrender to the daydream, conjuring up ways to make it a reality.

Let us help you get there! And when you do, please send us a photo! We hope that the next sunset photograph we receive is from your happiest of places.

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