Author Archives: rtavel

The Best Places in Latin America to Go Hiking//Trekking

By Allison Carlton, VIVA Editorial Intern

The Latin region is as vibrant as its culture. Vast plains and highlands, rugged mountains, active volcanoes, amazon rainforest and arid deserts have created a geography unique to each individual country that makes up Latin America. For the adventurous, hiking and trekking the rocky mountainsides at high altitudes is a favorite trip moment because of the vistas and panoramic views that greet them at the top. Here is a list of some of the best hikes in Latin America:


National Geographic rated Cerro Campanario as having one of the “Top 10 views in the World” and for good reason. Once you’ve hiked the short trail to the top, head to one of the lookouts for a panoramic view of the mountains and shimmering blue lakes beneath the sun before you. You should be well-rested after your hike up the mountain, which can get very steep, after spending a good amount of time taking in the view, but if not, head inside the cafe for a refreshment.


Serious and experienced hikers only for the challenging Illampu Circuit. This multi-day hike is a tedious 66 miles long and it is recommended that you be acclimatized and assisted by an alpaca or llama to carry your equipment and packs. Magnificent views treat you along the way as you make many ascensions at roughly 1,000 feet per day.

Costa Rica

You may get to see some wildlife during this trail through the rainforest. It is a short walk, roughly 10 minutes in and 20 minutse out, but gets pretty steep, giving your legs a good work out. However, the sound of the rushing Rio Fortuna waterfall in your ears will signal the end of this hike. The white water flows into a turquoise pool surrounded by rocks and boulders, which makes it a bit dangerous to swim in but there is calmer waters within the area.


Pack your warm clothes for this day hike from Quilotoa to Chugchilan that leads you by a volcanic crater, down a valley, through a town and up a canyon. The wind blows and the altitude makes for a much cooler temperature, so breathing may become difficult. It should take 5 hours to complete the 7.5 mile hike, more or less, depending on how often you stop to look at the beautiful sites along the way.


The Cordillera Blanca is a mountain range in the Andes where the country’s highest mountain is located, as well as the world’s most beautiful mountain. With more than 30 peaks over 18,000 ft in altitude and more than 110 miles long, the Cordillera Blanca sits behind Asia for having the world’s highest mountain range. The Santa Cruz hike is a favorite, and probably most popular, among many in the area because of the terrain you get to see during the 31 miles you hike over four days, such as wildflower meadows, lakes, glaciers, trees, views of snow-capped peaks and a statue of Jesus at the end. Acclimatization is recommended before attempting this hike.

The Wild Amazon May Have Actually Been Civilized

By Allison Carlton, VIVA Editorial Intern

Recent anthropological research may be able to prove that the Amazon rainforest had once been home to a highly-evolved society. Many believed that no life could exist for long periods of time in such harsh and inhospitable conditions, until now.

Main evidence points to fertile soil on plots of land throughout the region, which scientists originally attributed to natural causes like volcanic eruptions or aged swamps.

However, the in-depth analysis of the ground soil performed by scholars from different backgrounds says that human activity is the only explanation for the natural material that was discovered, such as charcoal and debris from fire burnings. Further support comes from the groups of flora in the area. Scientists believe that fruit trees were planted in sustainable, organized patterns by the residents to maintain their livelihood. In other areas of the Amazon, researchers have found ceramics and other proof of man-made ingenuity to support a society, like a network of waterways.

Despite the findings, opponents say the proof may not necessarily mean that the people were as civilized or as large in size as the scientists thought, believing the Amazon could not support such a big population. Some critics are asking questions as to why the society vanished or are wondering why the only remaining forest residents are small, migratory tribes.

Scientists, of course, have answers, believing that imported European diseases may have been a primary cause of the complex society’s demise. Although both sides will continue to support their different theories on the civilization and history of the Amazon rainforest, the primary cause of concern on the minds of some seems to be its future, which is in danger of encroaching miners and loggers that will harm its natural resources and beauty.

Mudslides Devastate Guatemala

By Emily Ellis, Editorial Intern at VIVA Travel Guides

[Guatemala] Torrential rains in Guatemala caused the deaths of at least 44 people over the weekend, along with at least 56 injured and 16 reported missing. Mudslides caused by the rain destroyed large sections of the Inter-America Highway on Saturday, burying a bus and knocking several other vehicles off the road.   Destruction since the rains  began has been widespread throughout the nation, demolishing thousands of homes and farmlands and driving nearly 7,000 people into shelters.  Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom declared a national state of emergency on Saturday, and decried Monday to be a day of mourning for those killed in the mudslides. The devastation comes only a few months after heavy rains in May claimed the lives of 150 people.

Travelers are encouraged to stay out of Guatemala until the state of
emergency is lifted. [CNN]

Colombia Volcano on "Red Alert"

By Emily Ellis, VIVA Travel Guides Editorial Intern

[Colombia] Galeras, a volcano located in Southwestern Colombia near the Ecuadorian border, erupted early this morning. Even though the eruption was non-explosive, with only a small amount of smoke and ash seen spewing from the volcano, authorities have issued a red alert against it. Since Galeras erupted once before in January, killing nine scientists and tourists who were near the volcano at the time, the high-level alert is understandable. However, only about 205 people out of the 7,000 who live in the area chose to go to the nearby evacuation shelters as instructed by authorities. No injuries or property damages have been reported. [CNN]

Galápagos Islands Removed from World Heritage In Danger List

The UNESCO World Heritage committee recently decided to remove the Galápagos Islands from its World Heritage In Danger list, which it has been on since 2007.

The decision proved controversial, as the islands have only been on the list for three years. Many people, including members of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris, disagree with this decision. Taking the islands off the In Danger list may wrongly imply they do not face dangerous challenges; removal from this list could send the wrong message to donor countries and organizations, as well as tour companies in Ecuador.

Golden Rays, from Viva Guides.

While Ecuador has made tremendous progress in preserving and protecting the Galápagos Islands, there is still much work to be done. The country has successfully eradicated goats from Isabella Island, implemented immigration control,  introduced new species control including fumigation of aircrafts, and begun GPS monitoring of the Galápagos Marine Reserve, among other things.

Sea Lion, from Viva Travel Guides

The dangers that were listed when the Galápagos was put on the In Danger list persist, so removal from the list may be misleading; many fear this action could cause irreversible damage to the islands.

to remove the Galapagos Islands from its World Heritage in Danger List

No Oil Drilling in Ecuadorian Amazon Reserve

Vice President Lenin Moreno shook hands with a leader of the  indigenous Shuaras tribe after signing a deal that assures Ecuador will refrain from drilling for oil in an Amazon rainforest reserve. In return, Ecuador will receive $3.6 billion in payments from  wealthy countries, about half of what it would make from the oil.

Under an agreement signed by the UN, the oilfields beneath the Yasuni reserve will remain untapped for at least ten years. The Yasuni reserve measures 10,000 sq km and hosts an enormous variety of wildlife. It is one of the most bio-diverse regions on Earth. It is also the home to several indigenous tribes, who are determined to protect their territory from oil development.

The oilfields below Yasuni contain about 846 million barrels of crude oil, which is 20% of Ecuador’s reserves. Oil is Ecuador’s primary export, but environmental organizations  say it has caused immense damage to the Amazon region.

According to the Ecuadorean government, keeping the oil untapped will prevent more than 400 tonnes of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere. Hopefully, other countries will follow Ecuador’s lead.

Mystery Photo: July 2010!

On the last Friday of every month, V!VA posts a photograph from a country in Latin America. Your job is to guess what country it’s from. Feel free to be even more specific (city, town, beach, building, plaza, etc.) if you can.

Guess the country by leaving a comment below. Each month, we will randomly choose a winner from those who answer correctly to receive a FREE V!VA eBook chapter from a country of your choosing. The answer will be revealed next week.

Here is the July 2010 Mystery Photo:

July 2010 Mystery Photo (By Will Gray)

New Octopus Species Discovered

Just when you thought you were done reading about octopuses in the news, a new species of octopus has been discovered in Antarctica. No, the cephalopods  were not found clinging to any national flags. And no, they do not appear to have psychic abilities. However, they do have special venom. And, dare I say, they are kind of cute?

New species of octopus discovered in Antarctica. Photograph from:

While collecting venom from octopuses captured in the waters of Antarctica, scientists accidentally discovered four new species of octopus. They also recently determined that venom from these creatures (octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid) might be a potential resource for drug development.

The venom of cephalopods living in the Arctic might have special properties because, unlike other venom, it is effective in sub-zero temperatures. Scientists plan to determine what kind of biological tricks they use to produce functioning venom in such cold temperatures, and will study the range of toxins that seem to exist in these unique, Antarctic creatures.

This discovery comes in the wake of many news stories regarding Paul the Psychic Octopus, who also produces venom. However, Paul is a common octopus, or an octopus vulgaris, who lives in a fish tank in Germany. He was most likely born in Weymouth, England or Elba, Italy, where water temperatures are not as frigid.

State of Emergency in Peru

Frigid temperatures have been chilling South America over the last couple of weeks. Now the Peruvian government has declared a state of emergency in 16 of Peru’s 24 regions  after temperatures dropped as low as -24 Celsius.

Lima, the nation’s capital, recorded the lowest temperature in 46 years at 8 degrees Celsius. Temperatures were as low at 9 degrees Celsius in Peru’s usually humid Amazon region.

Hundreds of people, including many young children, have already died from cold-related illnesses such as pneumonia. The mountainous south, including poor, rural populations living 3,000 m above sea level, have been the hardest hit by the cold.

The state of emergency in Peru comes in the wake of severe cold weather throughout Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and Chile. If you are traveling to South America in the near future, be sure to bring extra layers for unusually cold weather.

US Embassy Issues Warning About Dengue Outbreak

By Jen O´Riordan, Viva Editorial Intern

The US Embassy in Honduras has issued a warning to residents and visitors to and from the country about dengue fever. Last month, Honduras declared the recent surge in cases of dengue a national emergency. It is believed that the disease has killed 21 Hondurans already this year. Another five fatalities are currently being investigated in order to ascertain if dengue fever was the cause of death.

The disease takes on two forms; classic and hemorrhagic. Symptoms include fever, headache (particularly strong behind the eyes), bone joint and muscle pain, bleeding through the nose and gums, and in many cases an increased susceptibility to bruising and a rash.

The disease cannot be transferred from one person to another but is contracted by a bite from an infected mosquito. Unfortunately there is no vaccine or cure for the disease yet. Last week, the total cases of classic dengue in Honduras since the start of the year stood at 17,620, with another 594 cases of the hemorrhagic type also diagnosed. The government reported that 85 percent of the hemorrhagic dengue cases occurred in the capital of Tegucigalpa.

However, cases this year have also been reported throughout Central and South America in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Peru, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

The fever usually lasts up to a week, and in a very small percentage of cases patients develop dengue shock syndrome (DSS), which can lead to death.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dengue infections are a worldwide occurrence and are commonly reported from most tropical countries in the South Pacific, Asia, the Caribbean, the Americas and Africa.

The Honduran government has launched fumigation efforts and a public education program in order to try and bring the recent outbreak under control.