Category Archives: Guatemala

Guatemalan volcano erupts, forces thousands to flee

A volcano in southern Guatemala erupted violently this week in what is said to be its biggest eruption since 1999. On Thursday morning (September 13th), the Volcán del Fuego, which sits 31 miles south-west of the capital Guatemala City, began propelling huge clouds of ash over 3 kilometers (2 miles) high. It also spewed rivers of hot lava and gases for over 600 meters (2000 feet). Ash clouds were said to have spread for 80 kilometers (50 miles) south and south-east of the volcano, leaving the area in almost total darkness and forcing the evacuation of several nearby villages. Around 33,000 people were ordered to evacuate, though some chose to stay in their homes. By late Thursday, the eruptions were said to be dying down, and officials were hoping that evacuees would soon be able to return to their communities. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, but several people have had to be treated for respiratory and eye problems.

Volcan de Fuego erupts (Volcán de Fuego haciendo erupción, septiembre 13, 2012 by Rudy A. Girón

This is by no means the first time the 3,763 meter (12,346 foot) volcano (whose name translates as Volcano of Fire) has erupted. It is in an almost constant active state, usually emitting smoke on a daily basis, and has already erupted five times this year, though this month’s eruption is said to be the largest in over a decade. It is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America.


Weekly Latin America Travel Deals

October and November are a great time to visit Central and South America. Holidays in December bring prices up, but if you can travel now, there are great savings to be had. Throughout Central and South America, travel packages are designed to encourage visitors to hit the road during the so-called “shoulder season.” Here are some of the best deals on offer:

The Ruta de Maya in Fast Forward

We are finishing up our first Guatemala guidebook here at the VIVA offices, and as we work, everyone has been captivated by the country. Gate 1 Travel is offering a short trip, capturing some of the highlights of Guatemala. 5 days/4 nights, including hotel and airfare from New York City, from $500.

South American Highlights

Buenos Aires, Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu: it would be hard to fit more iconic South American destinations into a ten-day trip than has. The price for the trip starts at $1600, including airfare from New York, hotels and guided tours.

The Wino’s Grand Tour

Wine lovers, rejoice! Exito Travel is offering a special multi-destination deal with airfare to South America’s three wine meccas: Santiago, Chile, and Mendoza and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Just remember to sober up before your flight home.

Loco for Colombia

Finally peaceful and safe, Colombia has become a favorite destination among travelers and travel writers. But don’t take our word for it: Spirit Airlines’ sale on airfare to Cartagena, Bogota, Barranquilla, Medellin and Armenia puts the best of Colombia within reach. Though Spirit tacks on lots of extra fees, it is hard to argue with one-way fares of $49-$119.

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]

Latin American News Briefs: Protesting Tribes, Prison Takeovers, and the Plague

Compiled by Jen O’Riordan, Eli Mangold and Libby Zay.

Every Friday, Viva Travel Guides combs the presses to round up the most relevant and recent Latin America news stories. Here are the stories our office talked about during the week of July 30th to August 6th. For more up-to-the minute news, follow us on Twitter!

Awá child. Photo courtesy Twilight Earth.

Awá Tribe Emerges from Amazon to Show They Exist

[BRAZIL] Last Sunday, fifty-five members of a small indigenous tribe emerged from the Amazon rainforest to prove they exist and highlight the fact that their home is being mercilessly destroyed. Many of the tribe members left the rainforest for the first time in their lives to join 150 supporters in the town of Zé Doca, Maranhão, where the local Mayor’s office had previously denied the Awá people even exist. Local authorities have recently opposed a federal court ruling that ranchers, loggers and settlers who have occupied Awá lands should leave. Along with witnessing the destruction of up to 50 percent of their home, the tribe (believed to be one of Brazil’s two remaining nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes) has also been subject to massacres by settlers and have fallen victim to illnesses such as the common flu for which they have little or no immunity. [Indigenous People’s Issues]

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa May Face Brother in 2014 Election

[ECUADOR] Strangely enough, the only significant opposition to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s administration is his own kin; his old ally and older brother Fabricio. The brothers worked together to get Rafael elected in 2006, but after a rather nasty corruption charge (Fabricio’s engineering business supposedly boomed just after the younger one was elected), their relationship unraveled. There has been macho posturing on both sides, and Fabricio is quoted as saying “Nobody has so far had the testicular competence to sue me.” Should be in interesting election to watch. [BBC]

Mexico City Upholds Gay Marriage Law

[MEXICO] Eight out of ten  justices in Mexico’s highest court decided to uphold a law allowing same-sex marriages in the capital. The law was passed seven months ago, but federal prosecutors said it “went against the principle of protection of the family,” according to the BBC. [BBC]

Thirty Trapped in Chile Mine

[CHILE] A small mine collapsed in northern Chile late Thursday, leaving 30 miners trapped. Rescuers believe the trapped men may have taken refuge in an underground shelter that has oxygen and food “for them to last for some time,” but no further details have been released. [Reuters]

Guatemala Willing to Meet with the U.S. About Labor Dispute

[GUATEMALA] There is a possibility that the Guatemalan government is facing hefty fines for violating terms of the joint free-trade agreement with the U.S. The U.S. AFL-CIO labor federation and six Guatemalan unions first lodged the complaints in April 2008 over the violation of labor conditions, including failure to implement laws regarding the rights of workers to bargain collectively and organize, as well as the right to acceptable working conditions. According to the International Confederation of Trade Unions, Guatemala is the second most dangerous country for workers after Colombia. Sixteen workers are thought to have died in labor-related incidents in 2009 alone. [Global Post]

The Plague Surfaces in Peru

[PERU] Both the bubonic and pneumonic plagues have appeared in Peru, killing one 14-year-old boy and infecting 31 others. The disease is carried by fleas and transmitted by their bites, and Peruvian authorities are looking into sugar and fish meal imports from the Ascope province. But don’t worry about another Black Death, the plague is easily treatable with antibiotics if found early. [AP]

Troops Found $7 Million in Cash at Home of Drug Lord

[MEXICO] Troops who raided the house of drug kingpin Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel last week found $7 million in cash. They also seized jewelry, three expensive cars, and several weapons. Coronel, who died in the gunfight, was third in line in the Sinaloa drug cartel. [AP]

Fidel Castro Plans to Address Cuban Assembly on Issue of Foreign Affairs

[CUBA] After falling ill and conceding power to brother Raul, Fidel Castro is now healthy enough to address the National Assembly. Although not officially confirmed, the state media has reported that the ex-head of state plans to orate on the impending nuclear crisis between North Korea, Iran, Israel and the US. The session will be held on Saturday, August 7th. [BBC]

Prison in Brazil Found to be Run by Inmates

[BRAZIL] Police raided a prison in Rio de Janeiro to find inmates had overrun the place. The facility, which held 150 prisoners awaiting trial, had only one guard when police arrived. Police seized keys from the prisoners, as well as a pistol, ammunition, mobile phones, and records that detailed payments made by prisoners for larger cells and better conditions. [BBC]

Baby Revives Inside Coffin at Wake in Mexico

[MEXICO] A Mexican baby who was declared dead by doctors revived inside her coffin while her wake was in progress. Apparently, during the ceremony, parents heard a strange noise coming from the casket and opened it up to find their baby very much alive. The baby was born prematurely Monday, and is now in stable condition at a hospital. The doctor who pronounced her dead is being investigated for possible negligence. [AP]

Diego Forlan in Calcutta. Courtesy BBC.

Soccer Star Diego Forlan Visits Calcutta

[URUGUAY] Diego Forlan’s visit to one of India’s few football-crazy cities has caused much excitement in recent days. The 31-year-old Uruguayan player was named player of the 2010 World Cup after scoring no less than 5 goals for his country in the tournament. Forlan’s visit was part of a football talent hunt where many of the participants come from underprivileged backgrounds. “I’ve had the opportunity to see them playing, and I’m surprised how organized the young players are. You can see real talent,” he said. A large number of followers greeted the Atletico Madrid forward on his arrival in Calcutta, and his visit to the headquarters of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity also drew large crowds of well-wishers. Forlan became a hero in his home country after his performance in South Africa and joins a list of football favorites that have visited Calcutta in recent years, including Diego Maradona, Branco, Romario, Oliver Kahn, and Gerd Muller. [BBC]

Former Chilean Secret Police Chief Blames CIA for 1974 Murders

[CHILE] General Manuel Contreras, the former chief of Chile’s feared secret police, said the CIA is to blame for the assassination of General Carlos Prats. At the time, Prats was the biggest enemy of General Augusto Pinochet, who proceeded him as head of Chile’s army. Contreras is serving combined sentences of 100 years for murders and kidnappings that took place while Pinochet headed the army. [AP]

No Oil Drilling in Ecuadorian Amazon Reserve

[ECUADOR] Ecuador decided the value of an Amazon Reserve was worth more than the oil money it would receive, and ruled against drilling in the area. It is estimated there are 846 million barrels of crude oil under the reserve, which is home to several indigenous tribes, as well as tons of flora and fauna. Under Ecuador’s new agreement with the UN, the reserve will remain untapped for at least 10 years. [V!VA]

Indigenous Mexicans Want Conquistador Monument Removed

[MEXICO] Mayan Indians in the Mexican state of Yucatan have signed a petition calling for the removal of two life-sized bronze statues from the state capital. The statues were erected in June in honor of the conquistador Francisco de Montejo and his son. In the mid-16th century, both Montejo and his son were responsible for many vicious battles and the deaths of thousands of indigenous during their quest for control of the area. The local council agreed to consider the petition on Wednesday which was signed by over 100 Mayan groups and many more individual Yucatan citizens. Over the years, Mexicans have avoided any attempt to praise or commemorate those that invaded the country and statues in their honor are rare. [AP]

Need to catch up on the news? Check out our archive of Latin American News Briefs.

Latin American News Briefs: Titi Monkeys, Tomb Discoveries, and Temperature Drops

Compiled by Jen O’Riordan, Eli Mangold and Libby Zay.

Every Friday, Viva Travel Guides combs the presses to round up the most relevant and recent Latin America news stories. Here are the Latin American news stories our office talked about during the week of July 11th to July 23rd. For more up-to-the minute news, follow us on Twitter!

News footage of the monkeys that were smuggled.

Man in Airport Found with 18 Endangered Monkeys Under His Clothes

[ Mexico / Peru ] A Mexican national was detained at Mexico City’s airport by customs officials after he was seen acting suspiciously in security. When officials pulled the 38-year-old aside they found 18 Titi monkeys hidden underneath his clothing in a girdle.

The man, who had arrived on a flight from Lima, Peru had previously kept the monkeys in his luggage but had later attached them to his person because he didn’t want the baggage x-ray machines to damage them. Two of the 18 monkeys had already died during the journey from Peru.

Titi monkeys, found in South and Central America, are regarded as an endangered species and protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The man had paid $30 per monkey in Peru and expected to sell them in Mexico for between $775 and $1,550 each. In Mexico, having a wild animal as a household pet is a deep-rooted tradition, and animals smuggled to the US from Central or South America often come through Mexico. [Huffington Post]

1,600-year-old Royal Tomb Discovered in Guatemala

[ Guatemala ] Last week, Scientists in Guatemala revealed the discovery of an ancient, Mayan tomb that could have been the final resting place of a Mayan king. The discovery was made on the 29th of May, under the El Diablo pyramid in the city of El Zotz.

The archaeological team thought that ‘something odd’ was happening during the dig and eventually discovered the 6 feet high, 12 feet long, and four feet wide tomb after they lowered a light bulb through a small hole. The tomb was filled with carvings, ceramics, textiles, and the bones of six children, who might have been sacrificed at the time of the king’s death.

Scientists say they have a lot more work to do before they can confirm their suspicions, but findings such as an elaborate headdress and a sacrificial blade with what appears to be blood on it indicate that it may be the tomb of a king, only previously mentioned in hieroglyphic texts. [National Geographic]

A shortage of resources in Argentina means only two of 15 prison guard towers could be staffed. Photo courtesy AP.

Two Argentine Inmates Bust Out of Jail Right Under a Mannequin’s Nose

[ Argentina ] Due to budget shortages in the Nequén Province of Argentina, the local jail has had to substitute mannequins made of a football and an officer’s hat for actual guards. Two prisoners, Walter Pozo and Cesar Andres, must have noticed the shortcoming and climbed over the fence unopposed. Officials are hoping that this embarrassment will bring much-needed resources to the province. [Independent]

Honduras Returns to OAS, SICA

[ Honduras ] At a summit in El Salvador, Central America leaders decided to allow Honduras to continue participating in two major regional groups. Honduras had been expelled from both the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Central American Integration System (SICA) after President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in June 2009. [PeopleDaily]

Penguins Mysteriously Washing Up Dead on Brazilian Shores

[ Brazil ] Over 500 penguins have washed up on the beaches of Brazil, and scientists are trying to figure out why. Autopsies strongly suggest starvation, but they are still unsure why there is such scarcity in fish and squid. Some hypotheses include changing ocean currents, overfishing and colder water, which affect the penguins’ primary sources of food. [CBS News]

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Courtesy AP

Hugo Chavez Opens Remains of Simon Bolivar, Announces it to the World on Twitter

[ Venezuela ] On Friday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tweeted that he was opening his idol’s remains to look for proof of foul play in his death. The eccentric head-of-state believes that Bolivar was murdered, and did not die of tuberculosis as history claims. He briefly displayed the remains on national television and passionately orated, “that glorious skeleton has to be Bolivar, because his flame can be felt. My God…it’s not a skeleton. It’s the Great Bolivar, who has returned!” [ AP ]

Venezuela Cuts Diplomatic Ties with Colombia

[ Venezuela ] In a bold move, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez severed ties with Colombia on Thursday just before the Colombian Ambassador, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, presented evidence to the Organization of American States (OAS) that Venezuela is currently harboring about 1,500 leftist guerrillas behind their borders. Colombia’s accusations against Venezuela caused Chavez to force the closure of Colombia’s embassy in Bogotá within 72 hours. The OAS stated that it could not investigate the sites without Venezuela’s consent. [BBC]

Cold Front Causes Death Across South America

[ Argentina / Bolivia / Chile / Paraguay / Peru / Uruguay ] South America is having a particularly hard winter, with some parts reporting the lowest temperatures in 29 years. In several countries, the mercury has dropped below freezing. Fatalities due to the cold have been reported in Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. Livestock is threatened in all of these areas, as well as in Chile and Peru. [].

Watch a news report on the Mexican gun battle.

Border Clashes Along the Mexican / U.S. Border

[ Mexico / U.S. ] A gun battle went down in the rural town of Madera, about 230 kilometers (145 miles) south of the U.S. border. As the story goes, gunmen reportedly opened fire on an army patrol and eight men were killed—however, the U.S. Defense Department is not offering any information. On Wednesday, late-night gun battles broke out in the border town of Nuevo Laredo, which could be heard across the border in the U.S. In Nuevo Laredo, a gang forced people from their cars and buses to use the vehicles as barricades along the roads. Witness reports said several gunmen were killed, but no official number has been tallied by Nuevo Laredo officials. [AP]

Seventeen Die in Birthday Party Massacre

[ Mexico ] The bodies of 12 males and 5 females were found in a bloodstained party hall, along with at least a dozen injured, after a tragic gun attack on a birthday party in Torreon, Northern Mexico. More than 200 bullets were fired indiscriminately into the bar full of young party goers enjoying some birthday celebrations.

The massacre is the third such attack this year on bars in Torreon, an industrial city in Coahuila state. Coahuila Attorney General, Jesus Torres says the perpetrators, a prominent drug cartel, have been identified but he refused to identify the group publicly.

Mexico’s northern border has been the worst hit by the recent drug wars that have seen almost 25,000 killed since President Felipe Calderon launched a military crackdown on organized crime three and a half years ago. [LA Times]

US to Send Troops to Mexican Border

[ Mexico / U.S. ] 1,200 troops will be sent to the border next month in an effort to tackle illegal immigration and drug-trafficking in the four border states. Arizona will receive 524 troops; Texas 250, California 224 and New Mexico 72, while 130 will be part of a national liaison office.

In May, President Obama announced that he wanted to assign $500m (£350m) to new funding for the initiative and deploy US troops to help secure the border.

The soldiers will be armed but only permitted to fire in self defense and their main task will be to observe suspicious movement along the border and report it to Border Patrol agents.

A controversial new state law is due to come into effect in Arizona on 29 July making it a crime to be in the state without immigration papers.

Several lawsuits, including one by the federal government, have been filed against the legislation. The US justice department is challenging the law, arguing that it undermines the federal administration’s authority to set immigration policy. [BBC]

Did you miss last weeks news? Click here to read Latin American news stories from last week.

Latin America News Briefs: Same-Sex Marriage, Snow in Salta and Sea Monsters

Compiled by Jen O’Riordan, Eli Mangold and Libby Zay, with help from Lorraine Caputo.

Every Friday, Viva Travel Guides combs the presses to round up the most relevant and recent Latin America news stories. Here are the Latin American news stories our office talked about during the week of July 10th to July 16th. For more up-to-the minute news, follow us on Twitter!

Demonstrators wave a gay pride flag outside of the Argentine Congress, courtesy AP.

Argentina Becomes First Country in Latin America to Allow Gay Marriage

[Argentina] After a marathon debate, the Argentine Senate legalized gay marriage in a a 33-27 vote. The landmark victory gives same-sex couples the same legal rights and protections that heterosexuals gain when they tie the knot. The decision will likely draw a number of tourists to gay-friendly Buenos Aires, but non-resident foreigners are not allowed to marry in Argentina.

Read more about the legalization of gay marriage in Argentina on

Guatemala Catches Cocaine-Filled Submarine in Pacific

[Guatemala] Last week Ecuadorian authorities snagged a drug-smuggling submarine, and this week a similar vessel was stopped off Guatemala’s Pacific coast. The Guatemalan makeshift submarine—bound for the United States—had five metric tons of the white stuff inside.

Read more about the drug smuggling submarine in Guatemala on

Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Big Day in Salta

[Argentina] Salteños awoke to sight they haven’t seen in almost 10 years: huge clusters of flakes falling. Slowly the city is being covered with snow, which is expected to continue through Saturday. Tucumán, La Rioja, San Juan and other northern cities are also being blanketed. The Jama Pass to Chile is closed.

6.2 Quake Strikes Chile

[Chile] Last Sunday evening, a medium strength quake measuring 6.2 on the richter scale struck Chile’s Antofagasta region. The core of the quake was located 50 miles east-northeast of Calama in the Atacama desert, believed to be one of the driest places on earth. There were no fatalities or injuries, but phone lines were saturated during the quake. The extent of the damage is tiny compared with the $30 billion worth of damage caused during the country’s February earthquake, which measured a severe 8.8.

Read more about the earthquake on

The Uruguay Futbol Team takes pictures of their adoring fans, courtesy of the BBC.

Uruguay Futbol Team Welcomed Home as Heroes

[Uruguay] Uruguay may have finished fourth in the World Cup, but the team was given a homecoming party fit for a hero when they arrived home to Montevideo. “Thank you, champions! You gave us our pride back!” read one of hundred of banners during the massive celebration.

Read more about the homecoming party on

Venezuela Extradites “Drug Boss” to U.S.

[Venezuela] Venezuelan authorities handed over Colombian drug baron, Carlos Alberto Renteria, also known as Beto, to U.S. DEA officials this week. Renteria, who stands accused of heading the infamous Norte del Valle drug cartel, kept his head bowed, denying the media photos of his face during the exchange at Caracas airport. The hand over of Mr. Renteria and two other accused smugglers was shown live on state television. It is believed the Norte del Valle cartel was responsible for smuggling over 500 tonnes of cocaine into the U.S. during the 1990’s. Renteria has been on America’s most wanted list since 2004.

Read more about the extradited drug boss on

Watch a news clip on a Sea Monster fossil in Peru, Courtesy and

Sea Monster Fossil Discovered in Peru

[Peru] A team of European and Peruvian palaeontologists have revealed their discovery of what could have been the biggest sea predator that ever lived. The fossil of a giant whale was discovered in South Peru’s Ocucaje desert back in 2008. Since then, scientists have been studying the remains of Leviathan (named after the biblical sea monster), which include a skull, its lower jaw bone and ten well-preserved teeth. With teeth measuring a huge 14 inches long, he had the largest teeth ever recorded. An ancestor of the modern day sperm whale, Leviathan is thought to have lived more than 12 million years ago.

Read more about the sea monster on

Ecuadorian Eco-lodge Gets Five Stars for Being Green

[Ecuador] The Casa Ceibo Boutique and Spa has just been awarded the American Academy of Hospitality Services’ Five Star Green Award. Located in seaside Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, the hotel has supported numerous local green initiatives, such as clean water programs for the local population and reforesting mangrove swamps around the area. It should be noted that this is not your typical eco-lodge; it offers all the luxurious amenities, including a spa, pool and wetland excursions.

Read more about Casa Ceibo Boutique and Spa on

Sugar Minott, Courtesy

Reggae Icon Sugar Minott Passes Away

[Jamaica] One of the most influential figures in Reggae has passed away this past Saturday in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 54. The cause of his death has not been released, but the singer had cancelled concerts due to chest pains a few months ago. Minott’s career began as a member of the African Brothers Trio, and then in 1970 launched on his own solo career, putting out such hits as “Vanity” and a cover of the Jackson Five’s “You Got a Good Thing Going.” Aside from singing, Minott also helped younger acts make it big through his record label, Black Roots.

Learn more about Sugar Minott on his website,

Clash in Mexican Border State Leaves Four Gunmen Killed, Bystanders Wounded

[Mexico] In the border state of Coahuila, more violence between the police and the drug cartels has erupted, leaving four gunmen slain and five bystanders wounded. While police where carrying out an investigation on a highway near Torreon, they were attacked by four gunmen brandishing assault weapons and pistols. The bystanders were traveling along the highway and got caught up in the violence. Two are in serious condition, and three are stable.

Read more about the Mexican border clash on

Did you miss last weeks news? Click here to read the last edition of Latin America News Briefs.

How to Pick Your Next Travel Destination

By Mark, Viva Staff Writer.

There are approximately 870,546,002 travel destinations on planet Earth. Such a vast number of options makes it extremely difficult to decide where to visit. Talking to a travel agent or scouring the Internet for top ten lists and reviews are extremely helpful in choosing where to go on vacation, but they are also highly unoriginal. Try these more creative ways of selecting a place to visit.

Photo by Patrik Stollarz

Ask your Pet
Paul the Octopus has been making headlines for accurately predicting the results of Germany’s World Cup matches. If you don’t have an octopus, your cat, dog or hedgehog should be an adequate substitute, and should be able to predict whether you’d have a better time in, say, Guatemala or Peru. All you need is some pet food (Paul’s food of choice: mollusks) and a couple crudely drawn flags on which to place the food. Release your hound, cat or hog and let it do the decision making.

Play Darts
What you will need: a dart, a world map, and a blindfold. What you will need to do: Hang the map, preferably over a dartboard or corkboard; blindfold yourself and throw the dirt (it’s not all in the wrist). No dartboard in your billiard room? Take your world map down to the local pub and do your worst. Note, if you’re old school, you can also try the classic spinning globe selection process. Spin a globe, close your eyes, jab the world, and wherever it stops, that’s where you’re headed. No do-overs, unless you end up in the middle of the ocean or Yugoslavia.

Get with the Band
Check your favorite band or musical artist’s website for worldwide tour dates. You could end up crowd-surfing in a castle in Bratislava. Hint: Europe is particularly flush with music festivals during the summer, and South America is a year-round haven for aging power balladeers in too-tight jeans.

Take a Gamble
If your bags are packed and you’re ready to go right now, choose from Germany, Spain, Holland or Uruguay. One of these four will be World Cup champions next Sunday. You have a 1-in-4 chance of attending the biggest victory party of the year.

Check the Monitor
Show up at the airport, glance at the international departures monitor and buy a ticket on the next available flight. Yes, it’s that easy.

Follow the VIVA
Viva writers and editors blog and tweet travel destination info on a daily basis. Check the blog and twitter feed for the latest and greatest travel destinations.

Rough Week for Guatemala

This hasn’t been Guatemala’s week.

First, there was the volcano. Last Thursday night, the Pacaya volcano began spewing ash and rock about 18 miles south of Guatemala City. The volcano continued to erupt until Tuesday. Three people have been reported dead after being crushed by rocks. Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom declared a 15-day state of calamity in the wake of the eruption.

Then, there was the storm. Over the weekend, Tropical Storm Agatha pounded Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador leaving 152 people dead in Guatemala alone. One-hundred people are missing and 87 injured, according to recent reports from the nation’s emergency agency. The storm has caused widespread destruction, with rain and overflowing rivers causing mudslides and flooding.

Now, there is a giant hole. In the northern part of Guatemala City, the storm created a large sinkhole that reportedly swallowed a three-story building. The sinkhole, which has probably been weeks, months or even years in the making, most likely collapsed due to flood waters caused by the storm. It is estimated to be 18 meters wide and 30 stories deep.

The good news is that both the Pacaya volcano and Tropical Storm Agatha have weakened. The bad news is that the giant sinkhole could be growing. Depending on the composition of the subsurface layer that forms the exterior of the hole, it could take in more of the surrounding buildings. Sinkholes are natural depressions that form when wet soil becomes too heavy, causing the roof of a void to collapse. Sinkholes can also form when water gets in a crack of limestone bedrock, causing it to expand. As the crack grows, the topsoil sinks, leaving behind a giant hole.

After a devastating week, Guatemala must begin the recovery process. Hopefully next week, Mother Nature will take a hike.

Volcanoes Disrupting Travel in Guatemala and Ecuador

Guatemala and Ecuador have much more in common than vibrant indigenous cultures and majestic volcanoes. Within the past few days, some of those volcanoes have been erupting, affecting travelers’ plans.  

Guatemala‘s most active volcano and popular tourist stop is Pacaya (2,552 m / 8,373 ft), 25 kilometers (15 mi) south of the capital. This past Thursday, the mountain began throwing rock, lava and ash in a 1,000-meter (3250 ft) high column. Neighboring villages were evacuated and Parque Nacional Pacaya closed. Flights from Guatemala City’s international airport were rerouted to Mundo Maya Internatinal Airport in Flores (Petén) and to Comalapa, El Salvador.

Complicating the situation was Pacific Tropical Storm Agatha, which made landfall near the Guatemalan-Mexican border on Saturday. The storm’s torrential rains are causing floods and mudslides in Guatemala. El Salvador and southern Mexico are also under flash flood warnings.

Meanwhile, in Ecuador, Volcán Tungurahua (5,023 m / 16,479 ft) has also stepped up its activity. Located 150 kilometers (95 mi) southeast of Quito, it exploded Friday morning. The 10-kilometer (6 mi) high plume of ash drifted southwest toward Guayaquil, canceling flights there, and also from Quito to Lima, Peru. Friday evening the eruption began to diminish, but explosions are still heard in Ambato and Riobamba.

Travelers journeying through either region need to keep an eye on the news for the latest developments, and be prepared to change their flights in case airports in either capital are closed again. News on Tungurahua’s activity may be followed here and Pacaya here.

Want to Become a Travel Writer? V!VA's Travel Writing Boot Camps

Travel. Write. Get Paid.

Line up, aspiring travel writers: V!VA Travel Guides is hosting its next Travel Writing Boot Camps!

V!VA’s camps offer a crash course on all you need to know to become a successful travel writer. We’re looking for an army of talented and adventurous writers to train out on the field. Now’s your chance to travel, write and get paid!

  • Gain on-location, hands-on experience from professional travel writers and editors
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  • Attend an introductory course on producing digital photography for the internet
  • Get the inside scoop on today’s travel writing market and how to work with multimedia outlets
  • Improve writing skills through daily critiques by peers and pros
  • Stay “on assignment” in the host country after the camp and be a contributing author in our upcoming guidebook!

Emily is a former Boot Camp graduate, and is now a paid travel writer in Mexico. Here’s what she had to say about V!VA’s Travel Writing Boot Camps:

“I attended V!VA’s Boot Camp in September of 2008 in Oaxaca, Mexico.  I met some cool people and learned a lot.  It is a very intensive course that helps you focus on writing skills.  I stayed on assignment and earned some extra cash afterwards, and have done other assignments as well.  Writing for V!VA is a great way to earn cash to cut down on travel expenses while exploring a new city.”

Ready to hit the ground running as a real travel writer? Enlist here: V!VA’s Travel Writing Boot Camp