Author Archives: jason

Galapagos for the Whole Family

Thinking of taking young kids to the Galapagos? Many parents have doubts of taking their kids to a country so adventurous and exotic as Ecuador, and cruising around the Galapagos Islands, but if your kids can handle a few basic requirements, the Galapagos are sure to become your kids’ all time favorite vacation.

How old should children be?

Eric Sheets, owner of Galapagos Expeditions, a tour operator specialized for in Galapagos for families says, “Usually, as soon as children are old enough to appreciate animals, the beach, the ocean, walk for an hour or so in the heat, and stay on a boat, they’re old enough and mature enough to go on a Galapagos cruise. So, depending on your children, kids as young as three can have an amazing experience in the Galapagos.”

If that sounds like a challenge for your little ones, the option of staying in a hotel on the Galapagos and doing land based tours or day trips is even easier on kids than taking a cruise.

The daily routine if you’re on a boat consists of getting up around 6am, having a buffet breakfast, boarding a dingy to an island to go on a morning hike, coming back for lunch on the boat, then doing a second afternoon excursion to an island or sometimes snorkeling. But, you can always skip an excursion if the kids (or parents) get tired.

If your child can snorkel, it opens a whole new world under the sea. So if possible, it’s recommendable to buy snorkel gear ahead of time and practice snorkeling in a pool or the tub first to get used to the mask.  The boats usually provide snorkel gear, but not usually small sizes for small children. The water is normally quite cold and wet suits are used.

An unforgettable family vacation

My own son, who has gone to the Galapagos three times between the age of 3 and 8 claims to have been there four times, the first time being when his mother was seven months pregnant claims, “I remember, I could see the animals through my mama’s belly button, I swear!” If you ask any of my kids which they prefer, Galapagos or Disney World, they unhesitatingly say Galapagos, always.

For more about traveling to the Galapagos with kids, pick up a copy of  VIVA Travel Guides Galapagos book, and eBook, by  Crit Minster, whom is the father of two preschoolers and is married to a guide in the Galapagos

Welcome to Ecuador Julian Assange

The Ecuadorian Government today announced that they will give Julian Assange political asylum. There’s only one small detail: he’s camped out in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the British police insist they will not let him leave the embassy, let alone fly to Ecuador, without being arrested.

As the owner of a travel guidebook company based in Quito, Ecuador I can say that Julian is really missing out by “being in Ecuador” while in reality he’s actually stuck in London. Bummer for him.

So Julian, why not make the most of your time in London and start planning out your trip to Ecuador?

In honor of ALL those around the world stuck somewhere miserable who have dreams of visiting Ecuador, here’s a coupon for a FREE copy of VIVA Travel Guides’ Ecuador eBook:

Ecuador eBook, welcome Julian Assange

Go here:
And use this coupon code to download your free Ecuador eBook: WelcometoEcuadorJulian
(valid through August 31)

Note that this offer doesn’t include a stealth rescue helicopter or any other transportation arrangements for Julian or anyone else, but the ebook certainly will help out in planning and once you’re actually here in Ecuador!

Happy Travels,

Jason Halberstadt
Founder of VIVA Travel Guides

Nicaragua's Ortega wins landslide re-election

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a socialist former guerrilla leader, won a landslide re-election victory.

Ortega had 62.7 percent of the vote with returns in from 86 percent of polling stations in Sunday’s presidential election over conservative radio personality Fabio Gadea.

Ortega has been criticized for first changing the constitution to allow him to run for a third term, and then for lack of transparency in the apparent election victory.

Ortega’s Third Term Unconstitutional?

photo credit jorgemejilla

Daniel Ortega Presidente 2011

The Nicaragua constitution forbids a person from serving as president more than twice, and from succeeding himself or herself. Ortega was ineligible on both counts. But since his second election as president in 2007 (after an earlier stint 1984-90) Ortega succeeded in placing supporters in key posts on the courts and electoral bodies. Last year the Nicaraguan Supreme Court, at Ortega’s behest, ruled that term limits were unconstitutional, clearing the way for the 66-year-old to run again.

2011 Nicaragua Election Transparency

Here’s how the international observer from the European Union characterized the the voting process in a press conference, according to La Prensa:

Even though the presidential elections were civil, they lacked transparency, the European Union’s mission chief Luis Yáñez said. Yáñez said he did not understand why the Supreme Electoral Council put so many “roadblocks, so much opacity, and so many traps in a process that should have been clean and transparent.”

A report by Transparency International and El Grupo Civico Etica y Transparencia concluded

“Gross and systematic violations. Based on the above conclude that the electoral process does not meet the minimum universal requirements”

The Wall Street Journal reports on where this leaves us today:

Mr. Ortega didn’t immediately claim victory. But his close ally, Venezuela’s populist President Hugo Chávez, quickly sent Mr. Ortega his congratulations from Caracas and pledged to continue working closely with the Nicaraguan leader.

In a communiqué issued in Mr. Chávez’s name, the Venezuelan government called Mr. Ortega a great leader in their common cause. “The Bolivarian revolution will continue working next to the popular, Christian, allied and socialist Sandinista revolution,” the communiqué said.

Since 2008, Mr. Ortega has benefited from about $500 million a year in aid—about 7% of Nicaragua’s gross domestic product—given to his government by Venezuela, according to the Nicaraguan Central Bank.

Lorraine Caputo, V!VA Chile Author Reports from Argentina

V!VA Travel Guides Chile Author Lorraine Caputo reporting from Argentina:

In Chile, the Santiago airport was damaged &  Argentine airports are receiving the flights. Seven regions have been declared emergency zones (what I heard on Argentine TV), stretching from the Metropolitan area & Región V south to Región VIII.
According to, a large portion of Talca’s casco histórico was damaged  & a  tidalwave hit the main village Isla Robinson Caruso (see video here) Juan Fernández Islands, destroying much of it. Sections of the Pan-Am is apparently damaged. El Mercurio has an interactive map of damage reports, some of which are as far south as Temuco.

El Mercurio has a blog where people are posting damages — Electricity was knocked out for a while as far south as Pto Montt, & there’s a report of damage on Chiloé. Valdivia & nearby towns suffered damage. Some of the reports (like from Talca) are quite harrowing .

Besides infrastructure, roads & bridges being destroyed, another serious factor is gasoline and diesel. The country’s major refineries are in the hardest hit area. The government figures they have enough gasoline (bencina in Chileno) for 8 days & diesel for 6 days.

Chile Earthquake – Resources for the Aftermath

To find a missing person, or if you have information on the whereabouts of someone in Chile, go here:

The Santiago International Airport sustained significant damages.

As of 7pm Sunday Feb 28, it is reported by Santiago newspaper El Mercurio that all airports in Chile are open. Though, reportedly Santiago is not operating at full capacity.

Here’s a video showing the damage and the hours after the earthquake.

Santiago, Chile airport damage after the earthquake

Travel Advisory: Chile Earthquake Emergency Contacts Info

Here’s some critical information for fellow travelers and expats and their loved ones currently in Chile and dealing with the aftermath.

The epicenter is located near these population and travel destinations.

100 km (60 miles) NNW of Chillan, Chile
105 km (65 miles) WSW of Talca, Chile
115 km (70 miles) NNE of Concepcion, Chile
325 km (200 miles) SW of SANTIAGO, Chile, Valparaiso, Chile and Vina del Mar

The Lake District and wine valleys south of Santiago are also affected.

La Tercera, Santiago newspaper site has excellent updates.

Ambulance 131 Police 133
Fire 132 Police Investigations 134

Medical info, Hospitals and Clinics by region:


Clínica Alemana
Av. Vitacura 5951, Vitacura
Tel: 56-2-2129700 / 2101111
Ambulance Tel: 56-2-2101010

English Speaking Doctors in Santiago
Dr. Philippa Moore
Apoquindo 3990, Offi ce 605, Las Condes
Tel: 56-2-2070747 / 6866735
Metro Station: Alcantara

In Vina del Mar and Valparaiso see here for emergency and medical info


Transportation is direly affected due to fallen bridges. The Comodoro Arturo Merino Beniteza International Airport in Santiago will remain closed for at least 24 hours after the earthquake.

• Terminal Santiago – Av. O’Higgins (Alameda) 385, Barrio Brazil. Tel: 56-2-3761755
• Terminal San Borja – San Borja 184, Barrio Brazil. Tel: 56-2-7760645
• Terminal Los Héroes – Ca. Tucapel Jiménez 21. Tel: 56-2-4200099
• Terminal Alameda – Av. O’Higgins 3750, Barrio Brazil. Tel: 56-2-2707500
• Estación Pajaritos – Ca. General Bonilla 5600, Barrio Brazil. Tel: 56-2-503468

More coming soon.

If you have other useful info please add it as comments.

V!VA's Travel Writing Bootcamps in Latin America a great success!

With its kick-off boot camp in Quito, Ecuador in November and one recently completed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, V!VA’s Travel Writing Bootcamps have been getting rave reviews.

Here are just a few of the positive responses our Bootcamps have been eliciting:

“I learned more about travel writing this week than I did during a 2 month internship elsewhere. It has provided me with a realistic insight into the industry, along with all the essential knowledge.”

“In general I learned much more in a very practical way than any of my university courses. Felt like everything necessary was covered very well and not romanticized in the way journalism can often be. Felt the strongest points were the field work, since experience covered anything that may have been misconceived if taught in lectures only.”

“It helped me to better understand whether travel writing is a potential career for me.”

Bootcampers were given daily assignments and by going out into the field and getting hands-on experience, honed their travel writing skills and gained insight into the industry as a whole.

Between May and June of 2008, four more Bootcamps are set to take place in Chile, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Honduras. Space is limited — apply now!

Information about the bootcamps and the application process can be found here.

V!VA Launches Groundbreaking Peru Travel Guidebook

V!VA Travel Guides is proud to announce the publication of it’s brand new Peru Guidebook, currently available for purchase both on and the V!VA Travel Guides website.

The V!VA Peru Guidebook is the first guide to be published following Peru’s devastating Pisco earthquake in August of 2007, and offers the most current information about the status of the ravaged area, as well as updated hotel and restaurant listings. Now more than ever, travelers are urged to contribute to Peru’s tourist economy, and visit Peru’s famous Incan ruins, tranquil beaches, atmospheric colonial cities, lush jungles, and dizzying Andes.

Written for travelers by travelers, this 470-page Peru guide covers everything that the independent traveler needs to know, including:

* extensive coverage of Cusco, with reviews of more than 35 tour companies, 50 hotels and hostels and 30 restaurants;

* in-depth descriptions of the Inca Trail, as well as alternative treks well off the Gringo Trail;

* a special section on adventure travel and hiking;

* tips on staying healthy and safe;

* listings for budget and luxury travelers alike.

Hundreds of days of on-the-road research by a team of Peru experts in addition to daily reports from international travelers have yielded the most trustworthy guidebook on Peru. Updated continually, with new editions published every six months, the V!VA Travel Guides Peru guide is essential for anyone planning a trip to one of South America’s most diverse and plentiful countries.

The V!VA Difference: All of V!VA Travel Guides’ books begin on V!VA’s website,, where travelers post hundreds of reviews, comments, suggestions and updates daily. Combining the expertise of V!VA writers and editors with user-generated comments and ratings, V!VA focuses in on unbiased, first-hand accounts, ensuring that you have the most up-to-date, accurate information available for planning your travels. Visit our website for free downloads of chapters and more.

V!VA Travel Guides launches unique travel writing Boot Camps in Latin America

V!VA Travel Guides is offering aspiring writers and photographers the chance to partake in several intensive week-long travel writing crash-courses in various exciting cities in Latin America.

V!VA’s pilot Boot Camp will take place from November 26th to the 30th in Quito, Ecuador. In 2008, a Boot Camp is also planned to take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from January 6th through 12th. Boot camps are also in the works for several other Latin American countries in the early summer of 2008.

Students of the crash-course will hone travel writing skills under the guidance of seasoned professionals and will be given tips on producing quality digital photography for the internet to accompany their stories. Students will be advised on what editors want, how to deliver, get published and get paid, and writing will then be critiqued by established travel writers and editors.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to stay “on assignment” in Ecuador or Argentina after the course and may be compensated, and works will be published in upcoming guidebooks for these countries.

For more information about V!VA’s bootcamps and to send in applications, please visit the Boot Camp section of V!VA’s website.