Author Archives: Nick

The best views in Quito

At street level, Quito is a hectic place: vendors crows the sidewalk, traffic screeches and lurches along, stereo systems blast reggaeton from each store. From a distance, however, the city is beautiful and serene. What are the best places to get a view of the Quito?

Rucu Pichincha: That craggy looking volcano looming over the city doubles an excellent viewpoint. The easiest way to get there is by taking the TeleferiQo, the cable car that will carry you to an elevation of 13,300 feet (4,050 meters).

The view of Guapulo

Guapulo: Guapulo is an emerging nightlife destination in Quito, but it’s also one of the best places to get a view of the city. From the bohemian, cliff-side bars, you can look down on the neighborhood’s white-washed 18th-century buildings and colonial church, and on a clear night you can see all the way to Cumbayá, in the next valley over.

Basilica del Voto Nacional: From the top of the neo-gothic Basilica del Voto Nacional, you’ll enjoy views that would make Quasimodo jealous. After crossing some catwalks and climbing some ladders, you’ll have an unparalleled view of both colonial and modern Quito.

Mirador El Panecillo: Located atop a hill on the south end of the Centro Historico, a giant statue of the Virgin Mary marks the spot for the best views of Quito’s historic neighborhoods. Make sure to take a cab up the hill.

To learn more about Ecuador’s capital, check out VIVA’s new guide to Quito, available in hard copy and eBook format.

Studying Spanish in Cusco: What you need to know

High-season is kicking off in Peru, and especially in the capital of its tourism industry, Cusco. Among the thousands of visitors packing the streets of town, many will be looking to brush up on their language skills. Before you start your Spanish classes in Cusco, however, keep a few things in mind.

Class Type

Not all Spanish classes are the same. Personal, one-on-one classes give you much more flexibility to decide what you’ll be studying, and give you more opportunity for practice. On the other hand, classes in small groups are a great way to make friends and generally cost 20-40% less.

A group class at the Academia Latinoamericana de Español

Volunteering and other Activities

You’re going to want to do more than just study. Most schools in Cusco have a whole range of activities to choose from. Probably the most popular choice is volunteering; students can volunteer at orphanages and after-school programs, do environmental work, or give back to the community in any number of other ways. Ask your prospective school if they can set something up for you. Many schools also offer excursions to nearby tourist attractions, as well as dance and cooking classes.

Homestays

3-hours of Spanish class per day isn’t going to make you fluent anytime soon. The best way to improve is to practice, practice, practice. If you live with a local family, rather than in a hotel, you’re much more likely to use your Spanish. You’ll also get a better feel for the local culture. On the other hand, hotels and hostels provide much, much more privacy than most homestays. Again, check with your Spanish school about what its various accommodation options are.

Accreditation

Most schools in Cusco are not accredited, which is not a problem in itself. Check to see if the teachers have been trained in Spanish instruction, but for most students, an unaccredited school is fine. However, if you are pursuing the DELE certificate, receiving academic credit from your university, or receiving government funding, you’ll need an accredited school. Ask before you send in your cheque.

For a listing of Cusco’s Spanish schools, click here.

For 316 pages of similar wisdom, check out VIVA’s Guide to Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Mystery Photo Contest 2: Win a free guidebook

We’re back again, and giving out another free eBook to the person who can identify where this photo was taken. Please send your responses in to nick@vivatravelguides.com by 9 am EDT on Wednesday, April 20.

This week’s photo:

We had several correct answers to last week’s mystery photo, which was of the main cathedral in Cuenca, Ecuador. However, the quickest on the draw, and this week’s winner, is Mickey Mclean, of Victoria, BC. Congrats, Mickey!

VIVA Trivia Contest: Win a guidebook!

Want a free VIVA eBook of your choice? We’re giving one away to the winner of this week’s VIVA Trivia Contest. The first person to answer these 10 questions correctly is our winner.

1) What is the highest (de facto) capital city in the world?

2) The equator passes through which South American countries?

3) The setting of the novel Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Marquez, is widely considered to be based on which city?

4) In which country was this photo taken?

5. Whose famous landing on the Paracas peninsula is marked with a monument?

6. The condor is the national bird of which four countries?

7. The northernmost road crossing of the Argentina-Chile border is at which pass?

8. Changa, often made with chicken, is a popular dish originating in which country?

9. Which South American country inaugurated a former guerrilla as its president in 2011?

10. In which country was this photo taken?

Send your responses in to nick@vivatravelguides.com before 9 am EDT on Monday, April 4th. The first person to send in all the correct answers will be our winner. If no one gets all of them right, I will cry a little bit and then declare the person with the most correct answers the winner. VIVA employees, as well as their family members and pets, are ineligible.

How You Can Save Money: Flying in Peru

In this occasional series, VIVA writers will help travelers stick to their budgets, save money and avoid getting ripped off while traveling in Latin America.

Peru is surprisingly big. Travelers arriving in Lima find themselves hours and hours away from anywhere else they might want to go. Although bus companies like Cruz del Sur carry thousands of tourists every year, many travelers opt to fly. And they get gouged when they do.

The two largest airlines in Peru, LAN and TACA, have a little twist in their pricing: there are cheap airfares aplenty, but they’re only for Peruvians. Although they are both foreign-owned, they subsidize fares for Peruvian travelers by charging foreign travelers double the going rate or more. For example, a search on LAN’s website for a flight from Lima to Iquitos in April yields a $45 fare for Peruvians, and a $195 fare for foreigners. Short of marrying a Peruvian to gain citizenship, what can you do?

The Peruvian Amazon, as seen from an airplane. Photo courtesy of David Rosen

How to Save

Two airlines offering much cheaper alternatives are Star Peru and Peruvian Airlines. Ironically, the two Peruvian-owned airlines charge the same fares regardless of a passenger’s nationality. Star Peru serves most of Peru’s most important destinations and airports, usually for about 50%-60% less than what LAN is charging. The catch is that flights are somewhat less frequent than LAN’s offerings, and often involve connections. Also, the planes are smaller, and a bit less comfortable, than the major airlines’.

Peruvian Airlines also offers good rates; most one-way tickets are in the $60-70 range. Peruvian connects Lima with Tacna, Arequipa, Cusco, Iquitos, Piura and Tumbes, which should serve most travelers well. To get the absolute best online fares, however, travelers will have to make their reservations from a computer in Peru; foreign ISP addresses are charged significantly more.

One other option is to book your tickets with a travel agency. To get the best savings, it’s best to do so in-country. You will find travel agencies in all of the major cities, usually around the main plaza (Miraflores is also a good neighborhood to check in Lima.) Ask at the municipal tourist information office for recommendations of agencies. If booking from abroad, Exito Travel is a good site to check out.

Tsunami Update: Galapagos, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile

Although the tsunami caused by the Japanese earthquake mostly spared Latin America severe damage, it did affect certain locations along Central America and South America’s coasts.

GALAPAGOS

Photo Credit: Flurdy, http://www.flickr.com/photos/flurdy/3990790578/

Waves Pummel the Coast of Galapagos

Although initial reports claimed that there was minimal damage to the islands, they appear to have been one of the hardest-hit areas in Latin America. A tip sent in to Lorraine Caputo reports that many businesses in Puerto Ayora were flooded, including the artisan market, though most have reopened. More distressingly, a number of homes in the Barrio Punta Estrada neighborhood were damaged.  The Ecuadorian government is sending assistance to those impacted by the waves.

COSTA RICA

In Osa harbor, on the southern Pacific coast, several boats were damaged or destroyed by the surging tide.

PERU

At least one person in Peru died as a result of the tsunami. A man trying to watch the tsunamis from the beach resort of San Bartolo, near Lima, fell on the rocks and died. Meanwhile, on the northern coast, a small boat carrying 10 fishermen has been missing since Friday. Finally, the towns of Pisco, Paracas and San Andrés, all devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2007, received rather significant flooding on Friday night as a result of the tsunami waves. Video here.

CHILE

215 houses were damaged in Chile early on Saturday morning, the vast majority of them in the settlement of Puerto Viejo, in the northern region of Atacama.

Latin America News Update: March 5th-11th

TSUNAMI UPDATE

While the destruction in Japan appears catastrophic, it appears that Latin America might be spared major damage from the tsunami. While tsunami waves have reached the Mexican coast, they were not large enough to cause serious damage. Countries in Central and South America are bracing for the arrival of the tsunami waves on their Pacific coastlines this evening.

Thanks to Lorraine Caputo for compiling these other stories.

BOLIVIA

Bolivia’s controversial president, Evo Morales, has decided to keep the US Drug Enforcement Agency out of his country.

BRAZIL

A Brazilian judge has reversed a lower court ruling, and it appears work will begin on the enormous Monte Belo dam after all.

COSTA RICA and NICARAGUA

The International Court of Justice has ordered both sides out of a disputed border region.

CUBA

The US government has given permission to airlines to fly charter flights between Cuba and eight additional US cities.

MEXICO

Attempts to ban the screening of a documentary about the corrupt and inefficient Mexican justice system have backfired, as the film has become a major hit in the country.

Earthquake/Tsunami Update for Latin America

As a result of the devastating earthquake that struck Japan, most of Latin America’s Pacific coast has been put under a tsunami advisory. This includes the coasts of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Although it now appears that the risk of major tsunami waves is slight, it is worth paying attention to sirens and news updates if you are near the beach. The tsunami arrival times can very from 9 am for the far northern reaches of the Mexican coast until 9 pm in southern Peru. Remember that a “tsunami” is usually composed of many waves, not just one, and the initial wave may be much smaller than subsequent waves.