Category Archives: Galapagos Islands

Google Street View arrives to the Galapagos! But in a much simpler form…

Those dying for a chance to viscerally experience the towns of the Galapagos through pictures can rejoice now that Google has your fix… but only partially.

The search engine giant has officially graced the shores of the enchanted islands and offered a means to visually experience and acquaint yourselves with the islands via their website, but it’s nowhere near what Google street view has traditionally offered its users in the past. The new addition to the maps of the Galapagos introduces 360-degree “snapshots” of specific parts of the towns and trails only, rather than the seamless click-and-glide-to exploration of the town streets that’s typical of Google Street View. This might be due to the fact that the photographs also go “off the grid” and actually explore other, isolated parts of the islands.

What does manage to be impressive however, is the 360-degree underwater pictures they have of offshore diving sites (Google Subaquatic View?).

So Cool!

galapagos_street_view

The photographic addition is the result of a project between the Charles Darwin Foundation, Google Maps, Catlin Seaview Survey and the Galapagos National Park Services. In addition to being a means to explore the towns, the placement of pictures on the maps is aimed to assist in the scientific investigation of certain areas as well as the management of protected areas in the park itself.

The project itself took place during the month of May of this year, and after being processed by the labs over at Google are now ready for our perusing. Be sure to check them out HERE!

Via Diario EL COMERCIOhttp://www.elcomercio.com/tecnologia/Galapagos-Google-StreetView-GoogleMaps-fotografias-360Grados_0_991700945.html

New Quito Airport Is Officially Operational

It’s been 50 years in the making, but travelers flying into Quito after February 20th will find themselves touching down over the brand new Mariscal Sucre Airport, located about an hour away from the city itself. The airport is situated on a plateau near the small town of Tababela, 18 kilometers east of Quito.

It’s a stretch then to say that Quito itself has a new airport, given how far away it is. And we can absolutely sympathize with travelers finding themselves disgruntled by the substantial detour this creates in getting to capital.

But since Quito’s emergence as a popular tourist destination, the number and frequency of flights slowly began to outgrow the operating capacity of the former airport, previously nestled in the northern part of the city. Not to mention, it’s location in a tightly-packed commercial and residential area meant that there was no room to expand the existing terminals and runways. Thus, a whole new airport was needed.

All in all, the new airport is better adapted to satisfy the movement of modern-day airlines and travelers; as well as provide speedier baggage handling, customs, and customer services. In addition to this, the new airport will allow for direct flights to and from a number of major cities around the world.

Getting more info

to Quito won’t be too much of a burden either, granted the airport counts on a number of methods for transporting its arrivals to the capital and back:

  • The transportation company Aeroservicios S.A. (www.aeroservicios.com.ec) runs Wi-Fi equipped buses 24/7 that depart every 30 minutes. Buses leave from the old airport to the new one at a set rate of $8 per passenger, taking about one hour to an hour-and-a-half to get there. Tickets can be bought online or right before boarding.
  • Alternatively, public transit will provide buses departing from the Rio Coca terminal to the new airport every 15 minutes for $2. The catch is that you’ll have to wait patiently through 5 brief stops before finally getting there. Estimated transport time between the two points will be at least an hour-and-a-half to two-hours until traffic conditions improve – specifically once the bypasses are constructed (the main Collas-Tababela highway that is being built from the city to the airport is not expected to be completed until April of 2014)
  • The third option is to take a Taxi, which will cost an estimated $25 to get to the airport from most places in Quito (and vice-versa). To consult the chart of fixed taxi rates, divided up by neighborhood, click here.

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

VIVA Travel Guides Photo Contests

After sharing your photos of your trip to Peru or Ecuador with family and friends, there’s one more place you can dazzle eyes: the V!VA Travel Guides’ community.

V!VA Travel Guides is having two contests for the best photo of Peru and Ecuador.

Each winner will have his or her photograph published on the cover of latest edition V!VA Travel Guides Ecuador & Galápagos and V!VA Travel Guides Peru, and each receive $100.

For complete guidelines, see the V!VA Travel Guides website. The deadline for entering photographs of Peru is Monday, October 1 and for Ecuador, the deadline is Thursday, November 1, 2012.

Winners will be chosen by the V!VA Travel Guides facebook community. To vote, like Viva Travel Guides – Peru and Viva Travel Guides – Ecuador on facebook, then choose your favorite shots.  Tell your family and friends to vote and show their pride in your photographic eye!

Voting ends the same day as the entry to the contest – So enter early, to have the best chance to receive a lot of votes.

Good luck!

 

On the Road – Peru: In Mourning

Since yesterday morning when I first heard the news, I have been in mourning — as have thousands around the world.

 

Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands have lost iconic Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island giant tortoise in the world.

 

Lonesome George. Photo by Rachel Tavel

 

Lonesome George (in Spanish, called Solitario Jorge) was found and captured on his native Pinta Island in 1972, whose landscape was devastated by goats introduced by humans. He was taken to the breeding grounds on Santa Cruz Islands, established to recuperate populations of giant tortoises whose populations were sorely diminished by centuries of hunting and destruction of habitat.

 

Solitario Jorge became a symbol of man’s devastation of the environment and the struggle to bring back species on the brink of extinction. For the next four decades, the Parque Nacional Galápagos (PNG), the Charles Darwin Research Station and scores of scientists combed Pinta Island and zoos around the globe looking for a pure-bred mate for George. Indeed, it appeared this Geochelone nigra abingdoni was alone in the world.

 

In 1993, the scientists decided to introduce Wolf Volcano (Isabela Island) females, a species closely related to the Pinta Island tortoise, into his corral, in hopes of preserving at least part of his species’ gene pool. The years rolled on with no results. Finally in 2008, the females laid eggs on several occasions. Unfortunately, the eggs proved to be infertile. Later these females were replaced with ones from Española, which species is even more closely related genetically. They remained with him until the end of his life.

 

Solitario Jorge was found dead in his corral on Sunday morning by Fausto Llerena, who took care of him for over 40 years. PNG scientists believe he died of a heart attack, but will perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death. His approximate age was 100 years. George’s body will be preserved for future generations of humans to learn about this species and environmental issues involving extinctions.

 

Today, the websites of international newspapers and NGOs are awash with the sad news, commemorations and calls for further conservation work to prevent the extinction of any more species. As Godfrey Merlen so eloquently expresses: “We need to take a certain risk to make every effort to stem the tide of extinction.  Let his name live on, not as a sight to see but as a symbol of our determination.”

 

During the months I spent in Galápagos volunteering with an international NGO, I often stopped by Lonesome George’s corral to pay him a visit. Sitting in the shade of the patio, watching him lumber across the rocks beneath giant opuntia cactus, I would ponder how it must be to be the last of one’s species. Is he cognizant he is the only one left, that of all his kin that were kidnapped and killed, he is the only survivor?

 

Lonesome George was an Everyperson’s pet. In every corner of the planet, people knew him, speculated about his sexual prowess and pondered his species’ future. We all knew it was the end of the road for ­­­­ Geochelone nigra abingdoni. But we hoped against all odds a pure-blood female could be found, that he would have offspring, that the Pinta tortoise would not become extinct. Extinction is forever. And we have seen another Earth species pass to that terminal state — and we have witnessed it with our minds and in that space Lonesome George occupied in our hearts.

 

The Guardian honors Lonesome George’s life with a wonderful slideshow. His life was chronicled in Henry Nicholls’ Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon (Macmillan, 2006).

 

During July, Parque Nacional Galápagos will have a special photographic exhibit of Solitario Jorge in his corral. The PNG requests anyone who would like to submit photos, to send them to: solitario-george@dpng.gob.ec.

 

To learn more about the Galápagos Islands and prepare for your trip there, pick up a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Galápagos, authored by official Galápagos resident Christopher Minster, PhD. It is available in e-book and print formats.

 

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

THE NEW 7 SEVEN NATURAL WONDERS OF THE WORLD

The Swiss organization, New 7 Wonders (www.new7wonders.com), announced last Saturday the preliminary results of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

 

Of the 28 finalists, two of the winners came from South America, four from Asia and one from Africa.

 

And the winners are (in alphabetical order):

 

A bird-eye's view of the mighty Amazon River.

The Amazon (South America)

Halong Bay (Vietnam)

Iguazú Falls (Argentina, Brazil)

Jeju Island (South Korea)

Komodo (Indonesia)

Puerto Princes Underground River (Philippines)

Table Mountain (South Africa)

 

 

Iguazú Falls, another of the New 7 Natural Wonders.

The online voting was open to the public-at-large and closed last Friday, November 11. The official tally will be released in early 2012, during the inauguration ceremonies.

 

Yván Vásquez Valera, president of Loreto región in Peru, was happy with the results and hopes it will bring more tourism to his area. It will be an economic boon to one of Peru’s poorest regions.

 

The big surprise to many is that Ecuador‘s Galápagos Islands were not among the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

Choose the NEW 7 Natural Wonders of the World

One of the nominees: The Amazon

 

The organization New 7 Wonders is inviting you to choose the NEW 7 Natural Wonders of the World. You must hurry, though—voting ends this Friday, November 11, 2011.

 

Only three days are left to participate in this grand event. By going to New 7 Wonders’ website (www.new7wonders.com), you may choose seven of your favorite natural wonders among the 28 candidates.

 

 

 

Latin America has a strong field of candidates. The largest is the Amazon, which extends from the Guayanas (Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana), Venezuela and Colombia in the North, through Peru and Brazil, to Bolivia in the South. Puerto Rico rings in with El Yunque, a virgin tropical forest national park.

Will one New Wonder be Angel Falls?

Will Iguazú also make the final seven?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two waterfalls cascade down the list: the world’s highest cataract, Angel Falls in Venezuela, and Iguazú Falls, shared by Argentina and Brazil. Of course, nobody should be surprised that Ecuador’s enchanted, other-worldly isles—the Galápagos—also were nominated.

Galápagos is known for its unique nature.

 

Other nominees come from all over the world.  North America has only two representatives: Bay of Fundy (Canada) and the Grand Canyon (USA). On the other side of the Atlantic, Europe has five natural beauties on the list:

  • Black Forest (Germany)
  • Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
  • Amsurian Lake District (Poland)
  • Matterhorn / Cervino (Switzerland, Italy)
  • Vesuvius (Italy)

 

Three Middle Eastern landscapes voters may choose from are: Bu Tinah Island (United Arab Emirates), Dead Sea (Israel, Palestine) and Jeita Grotto (Lebanon). The three African ones are: Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Islands of the Maldives (Maldives) and Table Mountain (South Africa).

 

Asia has the most candidates, with:

  • Halong Bay (Viet Nam)
  • Jeju Island (South Korea)
  • Komodo (Indonesia)
  • Mud Volcanoes (Azerbaijan)
  • PP Underground River (Philippines)
  • Sundarbans (Bangladesh, India)
  • Yushan (Chinese Taipei)

 

Australia and Oceania round out the competition, with three nominations: Great Barrier Reef (Australia, Papua New Guinea), Milford Sound (New Zealand) and Uluru (Australia).

 

The Swiss-based New 7 Wonders organization next campaign is the New 7 Wonders Cities. Which will be the 28 nominees? Will your city be included?

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.

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

Latin American News Briefs: Murder Mysteries, Marsupials, and Maradona

Compiled by Jen O’Riordan 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 24th to July 29th. For more up-to-the minute news, follow us on Twitter!

Cristina Calcieta’s mystery has been solved. Photo courtesy AFP.

34 Years Later, Argentine Students Crack Murder Mystery

[ARGENTINA] The families of a young couple who disappeared in 1976 can finally lay the remains of their loved ones to rest after their bodies were identified by a group of students and community members in the small town of Melincue. The students linked the timing of the couple’s disappearance with a discovery of two brutalized bodies a rural farmer had made in 1976, and DNA tests proved their suspicions. Under the Argentine military dictatorship that ruled at the time, tens of thousands of suspected left-wing activists were murdered or disappeared. [AP]

Other South American Countries Attempt to Diffuse Venezuela/Columbia Feud

[COLOMBIA / VENEZUELA] After Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez severed ties with Colombia last Thursday, South American foreign ministers failed to bring the two countries back together at a meeting in Quito, Ecuador Thursday. Brazil President Lula da Silva plans to speak with Chavez on August 6th. Venezuela and Colombia have a long history of mixed feeling toward each other, and on Thursday Colombia accused Venezuela of harboring around 1,500 leftist guerrillas and closed the consulate. [Colombia Reports / Reuters]

Troops Kill Mexican Drug Kingpin

[MEXICO] Soldiers gunned down Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, a leader of the Sinaloa cartel during a raid of his hideout in the western city of Guadalajara. In an attempted to escape, Coronel fired on soldiers as helicopters hovered overhead. One soldier was killed and another wounded. “The scope of [his] influence and operations penetrate throughout the United States, Mexico, and several other European, Central American, and South American countries,” said the FBI in a statement. [AP]

A marsupial. Photo courtesy www.animalspix.com.

Ancestors of Australian Marsupials Arrived from the Americas

[GERMANY] According to genetic research from Germany, well known Australian species such as kangaroos, possums, koalas and wombats share a common ancestor that must have traveled to the region from the Americas. “I think this is pretty strong evidence now for the hypothesis of a single migration [to Australia] and a common ancestor,” said Juergen Schmitz, of the University of Muenster research team. The DNA analysis unfortunately does not tell us when this migration to Australia occurred, but researchers speculate that it may have taken place some 30-40 million years ago. [Discovery News]

Catalan Bullfight Ban Raises Debate in Latin America

[LATIN AMERICA] After Catalonia, Spain banned bullfighting last Wednesday, many bullfighting enthusiasts and animal rights groups throughout Latin America are having heated debates about the support. The tradition of bullfighting dates back to Spanish colonization in countries like Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Mexico, which is home to the world’s largest bullring. Michel Lagravere, father of Franco-Mexican child bullfighting star Michelito, said the Catalan parliament vote was “more anti-Spanish than anti-bullfight.” [Montreal Gazette]

Diego Maradona’s Tenure Ends as Argentina’s Coach

[ARGENTINA] Diego Maradona confirmed the end of his time as Argentina’s coach on Wednesday. Maradona accused Julio Grondona, president of the Argentinian Football Association, of lying to him and Carlos Bilardo, the national team’s general manager, of betraying him. Although many are blaming Maradona for Argentina’s loss in the World Cup, Maradona pointed out: “Not since 1990 has Argentina made it past the quarter finals.” [guardian.co.uk]

The Finnish paper mill. Photo courtesy www.elrevolucionario.org.

Argentina and Uruguay Reach Agreement on Pollution Monitoring

[ARGENTINA / URUGUAY] An agreement has finally been reached in the 7-year dispute between Argentina and Uruguay regarding pollution of the shared Uruguay River. The controversy began when Argentina raised concerns about contamination of the river from a Finnish paper mill on the Uruguayan side. The agreement was signed at the presidential palace and calls for a joint-scientific committee to monitor and identify pollution from all farming, industrial and urban centers that spill their waste into the Uruguay River and its tributaries. Argentina hopes the agreement will please environmentalists who have been blocking a bridge linking Gualeguaychu to Fray Bentos in Uruguay for the past three years. The UPM mill was built there seven years ago despite Argentina’s objections that it would pollute the river. [Global Times]

UNESCO Takes Galapagos Islands Off the Threatened List

[ECUADOR] After a 14-5 vote, the United Nations has voted to remove the Galapagos Islands from its list of endangered sites. The committee believes Ecuador has made significant progress in protecting and preserving the Islands. The Galapagos Islands had been on the list since 2007 after threatened by tourism, over-fishing and the introduction of invasive species. The Galapagos Islands has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. [Voice of America]

United States Closes Consulate in Ciudad Juarez

[U.S. / MEXICO] The United States announced closure of its consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico indefinitely. A U.S. official said the consulate was closed due to a “credible threat.” Last year, more than 2,600 people were killed in drug-related violence in the city. In March, the consulate closed for several days after a U.S. employee, her husband, and the husband of another staff member were killed. [BBC]

Watch a news report on the situation in Arizona. Video courtesy MSNBC.

Illegal Immigrants Prepare to Leave Arizona as New Law Takes Effect

[U.S. / MEXICO] A controversial immigration law, which could see an influx of deportees returning to Mexico, took effect in Arizona yesterday. Shelters across the border in Mexico are gathering supplies and preparing for a 20-25% increase in occupancy in the coming months. However, some say that many illegal immigrants will simply move from Arizona to another American state rather than return to Mexico. Mexico already extended its annual voluntary repatriation program in anticipation of the Arizona law, beginning the initiative earlier than usual in June. Other Mexican states such as Guanajuato and Chihuahua have also announced employment programs for possible returnees. [ABC News]

Chilean President Rejects Calls to Pardon Officials

[CHILE] In a televised address to the nation last Sunday, Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera stated the sweeping pardons requested by the Catholic Church for military prisoners would not be granted under his government. The 60 military prisoners were convicted of humans rights abuses during the ear now known as the “Dirty War.” The majority of the prisoners live in a comfortable, well-equipped prison build especially from them. Standing up to the Catholic Church was a bold move, however, recent scandal and sexual abuse claims against Chilean priests have tarnished the Church’s reputation in recent years. Despite the rejection, the Church reacted positively saying that at least now the issue of overcrowding and conditions in Argentina’s prisons had been put on the national agenda. [NY Times]

Cuban Hunger Striker Departs Hospital

[CUBA] Guillerrno Farinas, an opposition activist who went on a 134-day hunger strike, has departed the hospital after three weeks of treatment. The 48-year-old psychologist and journalist began accepting food and water on July 8 after an agreement was reached between the Catholic Church and President Raul Castro to release 52 political prisoners. Twenty prisoners have so far been flown in exile to Spain with their families. [AP]