Category Archives: Travel Inspiration

5 Language-Learning Apps: Cracking the Spanish Code

When traveling to Latin America, among the top concerns of most travelers is:

“Can I speak English and get by?”

Those with basic Spanish experience may ponder:

“Is my Spanish good enough that people will understand me? Will I be able to get by and relate with the locals?”

Yes, you will get by, regardless of your Spanish level (or absence thereof). But, any effort you put into learning the language will enhance your experience substantially.

Respect is a universal language. The easiest way to show respect in any culture is to, at the very least, try to communicate in the local language. Try not to resort to your own language. Trust me, no matter how bad you sound, people will appreciate your effort.

Complete mastery of the Spanish language is a multi-year, highly-intensive task that usually involves immersion while living in a Spanish speaking country, but learning the basics of Spanish for the purpose of traveling can be as easy as dedicating a few minutes a day on your smartphone to tune your ear and voice to Spanish lingo.

Here are several apps that we have found to be effective and make learning Spanish a breeze.

Duolingo

Screenshot from https://www.duolingo.com/

Screenshot from https://www.duolingo.com/

Duolingo allows you to learn Spanish, French, Italian, German, or Portuguese during your morning commute or lunch breaks. Duolingo does not beat conjugations and vocabulary into your head like your high school language teacher. Instead, you’re trained to understand total phrases in various communication methods like writing, reading, listening. Your language studying becomes game-like. So you’re always trying to level up!

The App is totally free. No demos or trial runs. How? Luis von Ahn, founder of Duolingo, partnered with companies like Buzzfeed and CNN. These partners send documents to Duolingo that need to be translated. Those documents are used as teaching materials for Duolingo students who translate the documents. Technically, Duolingo creates a win-win situation for  its users and business partners.  

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.duolingo

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.duolingo

*Available for iphone and android users

Babbel

With Babble, you have the opportunity to learn 13 different languages. The app tests your language level and suggests different lessons for you. Sometimes you know the word you need to say, but you don’t know how to say it correctly (which doesn’t help when you need to converse with someone). That’s why Babbel provides pronunciation training as well.

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.babbel.mobile.android.en

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.babbel.mobile.android.en

Babbel also places an emphasis on vocabulary. The use of pictures helps visual learners engrave words into their memory for more effective learning.

Also, you can study languages as they pertain to different categories like:

  • Marketing
  • PR
  • Human resources

You can try a Babbel demo for free and pay for the full version later. The best value package is 12 months for $6.95/month.

*Available on iphone and android devices

 

 

 

 

 

Mango Mobile

Learn over 50 languages with Mango Languages – a program used by businesses, higher education programs, government agencies, and individual learners all around the world. Mango also adds an emphasis on cultures and dabs cultural facts into your studying. Features like voice comparison and audio listening allows you to perfect your pronunciation.

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mango.android

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mango.android

Other features include:

  • Memory building exercises
  • Learn through conversations
  • Understood and literal meanings
  • Grammar insights

Mango languages, originally an online platform, is now available on mobile platforms. But you must be subscribed to Mango Languages to use this app. It is more expensive than other applications.

The first level costs $79 and the second and third level cost $132. To buy all three levels at once costs $176.

*Available for iphone and Android users 

 

 

 

Lingibli

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.lingibli.app

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.lingibli.app

If you have ever tried learning a new language, you know you have a foundation of most used words.

For example in Spanish, verbs like “quierer,” “estar,” and “ser,” are commonly used during conversation. Mental trainer Tony Buzan claims that “only 100 words make up 50% of all conversations.” Lingibli uses this data to focus on key words and phrases to teach its users.

Lingibli is not meant to teach an entire language, however. The idea is to reduce friction and frustration when you are thrown into a different country. It’s for those moments often taken for granted in one’s home country – like ordering a meal at a restaurant or asking for directions.

Lingibli provides learning material for over 20 languages and is free to download. Internet access is not required to use this app.

 *Available on iphone and Android devices

Byki

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.transparent.android.byki.BykiMobile

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.transparent.android.byki.BykiMobile

Byki teaches over 80 languages in a 3-step process aimed for speed and addiction to ensure learning that sticks. Equipped with a flashcard interface, the user is taught their new language through memorization style.

Quickstart multiple choice quizzes test your learning. Also, test your pronunciation skills with Byki’s SlowSound™ technology. 

Byki emphasizes vocabulary rather than grammar structures stating that “vocabulary is more fundamental than grammar.”

Byki is also available as an online program. For mobile platforms, each language costs $7.99.

 

 

 

 

 

What language tools do you use to prepare for your travels? Share them with us!

The Top Things To Do In Mindo, Ecuador

One of top natural escapes from Quito is undoubtedly Mindo.

Just a 2-hour trip, Mindo is a valley and small village in the cloud forests of the Andes mountains.

For budget-minded travelers, the bus ride to Mindo will only cost you $2.50. The view from the bus is merely a tease, as you pass from the highland paramos of the andes into the lush cloud forests below spectacular views reign everywhere. But, it’s off of the main roads where the action in Mindo really is taking place.

Below are the top things to do when in visiting Mindo.

Just a little hike up the mountain. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Just a little hike up the mountain. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Hike up the mountain to the waterfalls

If you enjoy walking and exploring at a slower pace, then this  hike is for you. A cable car will take you across the rain forest to the hiking trails (the cable car is also a great preview of the zip lines). Once you get off the cable car, an hour long trail to your left will lead you to a huge waterfall. On your right – a shorter, 15 minute trail will take you to a  waterfall and river where you can swim and slide down the mountain into the river – a natural water park. Be sure to wear hiking sandals or boots and bring food and water.

Butterfly style! Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Butterfly style! Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Zip line above the rain forest 

At the “canopy” (Ecuadorian term for a zip line)  one of the most popular traveler’s spots in Mindo, you can zip line across ten different cables through the tropical rain forest. The cables are not very fast at first. If you are afraid of heights you’ll have plenty of time to warm up on the slower cables. Your fear will be overcome by the beauty of your surroundings.

At about the fourth cable, you will be able to test your adventurous side with different positions on the cables – superman and butterfly. The superman is a horizontal flying position and the butterfly is upside down.

Tube down Mindo river 

At first glance, tubing appears to be quite risky because of the rocks jutting out of the fast-flowing whitewater. But the tube(s) frequently tied together to form a makeshift raft is designed to navigate over and through the rocks and are quite adequate for the Class II rapids.  Keep your feet (and head!) above the tube to avoid injury. The guide will help maintain the tube’s trajectory all the way down the river.

One crazy ride down the river. Photo from www.ecuador365.com

One crazy ride down the river. Photo from www.ecuador365.com

Marisposario de Mindo

In this top-notch butterfly farm, change is a beautiful thing – the butterflies told me so. Here, you will witness firsthand the four stages in the life of a butterfly – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. The butterfly  pupae looks like a collection of  gold and silver earrings because of the different colors necessary to blend in with the butterfly’s natural habitat. 

El Quetzal

Here, a Quetzal isn’t a bird, it’s even better, it’s chocolate! At 4:00 you can tour Mindo’s chocolate factory and see how chocolate is made from the cocoa bean to the bar. Afterwards, enjoy a taste test!

Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

A little treat from Quetzal. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

And the winner of the top thing to do in Mindo is… Birding 

Mindo mixes the birds from the Andean highlands with birds the rainforest to create a spectacular cacophony of avian paradise!

According to the book “Birds of Ecuador”, by Ridgley and Greenfield, Mindo is home to the greatest number of endemic montane birds species of any place on the planet!

During the 2000 to 2005 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) sponsored by the Audubon Society, Mindo has been among the top 3 highest bird counts in the world over 6 years, with over 2,000 locations participating. Each location is a 25 kilometer radius, and the count lasts for 24 hours. Mindo had the highest count in 2000 with 350 bird species recorded, and in past years has exceeded the 400 bird species mark.

The highlight of birding in Mindo may be the Cock-of-the-Rock Lek. As Tom Quisenberry of El Monte Lodge in Mindo says:

“Sometimes described as a “singles bar”, a lek is a meeting place for male and female birds. The singles bar description seems even more appropriate when you consider that the males dance wildly and engage in all sorts of displaying behavior…

The Cock-of-the-Rocks in Mindo are bright red, with black wings and a bit of white on the rump and have a crazy pompadour-looking crest. The males come together at precisely 6:00 AM to dance, squawk, mock fight and sometimes to actually physically fight to maintain territory to impress the occasional female who may fly into the lek.

Males are able to spend all this energy and time (sometimes up to 6 hours a day!) to attract the females because they have no parental responsibilities at the nest. They don’t help build the nest, nor help feed the chicks… but prefer to hang out at the “bar” trying to pass on their genes.”

Stay a While

As you can see, there is so much to do, it’s difficult to fully appreciate Mindo in a single night or two stay. Many people stay a few nights in Mindo to have more time to see all that it has to offer. Take your time and savor the experience because it’s well-worth every minute.

Montañita labeled as one of the world’s “coolest surf towns”

For those travelers in search of the aquatic component in their journey throughout South America, Montanita offers a little bit of everything for those interested in traveling to the coast while visiting Ecuador.

The Town and Surf

The Town and Surf
Photo by: Andrew Magill

Surfing in particular seems to be the main draw of the town itself, but as a consequence of this near-universal sport, the town itself has become a magnet for foreigners from all parts of the world looking to bask in its laid-back vibes. As all things seek to balance themselves here however, you’ll find the night life here is over the top to the point that certain clubs in Quito can’t even hold a candle to just how crazy things get here after sundown.

Fire Twirling

Fire Twirling
Photo by: Carlos Adampol Galindo

Great waves, mellow locals and an abundance of international restaurants scattered throughout the town turns Montanita into a rather interesting getaway; one which almost becomes a wormhole into another place entirely, given the diversity of the people here. You’ll find artisans selling their wares on the side of street, and once questioned you’ll find they hail from the likes of either Argentina or all the way from Germany!

Town Streets

Town Streets
Photo by: Jonathan Hood

You’d swear it wasn’t even Ecuador anymore.

Dusk

Dusk
Photo by: Gabriel Argudo

So in a sense, dear traveler, we’re asking you to do yourself a favor in regards to getting your feet wet – head to Montanita should you feel compelled to check out Ecuador’s coast and ride a wave or two before the party starts!

via Travel + Leisurehttp://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-coolest-surf-towns/9

Read up with our guide to Montanita at: http://www.vivatravelguides.com/south-america/ecuador/the-southern-coast/montanita/ 

Christmas Traditions in Latin America

When Christmas time comes along in Latin America, it’s pretty impressive just how similar (and how dissimilar) a number of countries choose to spend their holidays commemorating the birth of baby Jesus.

You’ll find that the traditions often held by families and friends hold a deeply religious significance. What’s more is that throughout Latin America there’s little nuances that distinguish each country’s traditions from the next. Read on below to find out how they differ in our guide to Christmas Traditions throughout Latin America.

Argentina & Uruguay
With a number of historical and cultural influences dousing each of these countries in a smorgasbord of traditions, Argentina and Uruguay tend to consolidate and celebrate their holidays with Christmas trees and the nativity scene. Religious folk (specifically catholic and christian) attend church on the 25th and spend this time of the year (summer for them) getting together with close friends and family outside to host get-togethers and relish the good weather while preparing bountiful meals grilled over the barbecue. Sweet bread and apple cider often accompany these gatherings.

Christmas Day, Bariloche. Photo by: Paul Burnett

Christmas Day, Bariloche. Photo by: Paul Burnett

Bolivia
Bolivians celebrate their Christmas in a more deeply religious way, often putting up their nativity scene (pesebre) in their homes with a level of dedication and meticulousness unparalleled in other places. Churches too often put up a larger and more elaborate nativity right outside their doors. At midnight on christmas eve, the mass of the Rooster (La Misa del Gallo) is held and a large christmas meal is served afterwards at the household of each family. A traditional beverage served during this time is “cola de mono,” similar to eggnog.

Festive Frolics @ the Salt Flats. Photo by: Ewar Woowar

Festive Frolics @ the Salt Flats. Photo by: Ewar Woowar

Brazil
As a South American country we have included Brazil although its national language is Portuguese. Northern Brazilians, like Mexicans, enjoy a version of the folk play Los Pastores (The Shepherds). In the Brazilian version, there are shepherdesses rather than shepherds and a gypsy who attempts to kidnap the Christ Child. Friends and family members may also take part in these plays. People make a special meal and decorate their houses. Many go to church to attend services in line with family tradition. Christmas picnics and banquets are also common. Special items and usual holiday recipes are tried along with the cakes and wines.

Christmas chorus in Curitiba, Brazil. Photo by: Marcusrg

Christmas chorus in Curitiba, Brazil. Photo by: Marcusrg

Chile
Chileans like to bring in a figure similar to that of Santa Claus into their Christmas celebrations, known as the Viejo Pascuero (Old Christmas Man). He, like Santa Claus, wishes everyone a Merry Christmas and New Years, but as chimneys are rather scarce in the warmer climate of Chile, he simply comes in through the window instead. The nativity scene is also set up in the household as well, and midnight (on christmas eve) is followed by a bountiful meal that includes cazuela de ave (chicken cazuela) – a soup made of potatoes, onions and corn on the cob. This is followed with desert in the form of pan the pascua (fruit bread).

Colombia
The Christmas traditions start on December 7, with families lighting a candle in honor of the Virgin Mary. Following this day, churches commemorate the day of immaculate conception. What’s nifty about all this is that households typically end up lighting upwards of around 100 candles on the curb or sidewalk area in front of their house. Adding to this dazzling display of flaming lights are Christmas lights that decorate the trees and lampposts throughout the city.

December 16th sees Colombian families setting up and decorating their Christmas trees and nativity scene; gathering around said decorations throughout the days leading up to the 25th with prayers and carols (Novena de Aguinaldos).

Christmas eve has families getting together to eat and spend time together, with typical Colombian dishes such as ajiaco (a loaded and heavy chicken/potato soup) and natilla (corn based dessert) and bunuelos. Following this, the family waits until midnight to exchange presents and words of affection.

Christmas at Parque 93, Bogota. Photo by: Christopher Kirk

Christmas at Parque 93, Bogota. Photo by: Christopher Kirk

Cuba
While Christmas was considered somewhat of an oddity for some time (if anything, it was completely avoided after Cuba declared itself an atheist nation in 1962), the tradition itself has experienced somewhat of a resurrection in the past decade . Following the visit of Pope John Paul II, Christmas was reinstated as a national holiday and brought with it large following, including religious congregations that are now held in Havana’s Revolution Square. Cubans tend to head to mass at midnight, with the church bells announcing the transition from Christmas eve into Christmas day. Bountiful meals are served at households for family and friends following this.

Christmas Day, Cuba. Photo by: Ingmar Zahorsky

Christmas Day, Cuba. Photo by: Ingmar Zahorsky

Ecuador
Ecuador celebrates the holidays with the usual fare of family, food, Christmas trees, lights and nativity scenes. In fact, in the capital, you’ll find that up on El Panecillo (a substantial hill visible throughout the city) the statue of the Virgin Mary has her own gigantic, glowing nativity scene at her feet and is a sight to behold from a distance at night. Families tend to gather on Christmas Eve for food and drink. At midnight they exchange gifts and words of affection. Attending mass during this time is also quite common.

El Panecillo, Quito. Photo by:  Adn Montalvo Estrada

El Panecillo, Quito. Photo by: Adn Montalvo Estrada

The indigenous have a show of color and fine threads as they dress in their finest and ride brightly colored llamas down to the ranches where their employers live. Typically, they’ll bring gifts of fruit and produce with them, which they then lay down in front of the nativity scene which is set up out by the farmhouse. Children are the ones that typically give words or songs to the holy infant, asking for blessings for their family and future. Following this, festivities ensue with singing and dancing outside. The owner of the farm also gives gifts to his employees and their families, along with a big feast.

Christmas Decorations at the base of El Panecillo

Christmas Decorations at the base of El Panecillo

El Salvador
El Salvador is fond of intimate gatherings focused on family and friends. You’ll find that families, in their entirety, go to church together at this time. Following this, they’ll head back to the house and have a huge meal throughout the evening up until midnight, at which point presents are exchanged. One distinguishing feature about this tradition is that, throughout the weeks following up to Christmas, you’ll find that the nativity scene in homes lack the baby. It isn’t until midnight on Christmas Eve that families finally take out baby Jesus and put him in the manger, symbolizing that Christ is now born.

Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. Photo by:  Edwin Merches

Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. Photo by: Edwin Merches

Mexico
La Posada, as it’s known in Mexico, is a religious procession that focuses on the search for shelter by Joseph and Mary, and is usually performed as a reenactment by children or adults. The groups typically go from house to house carrying images of Mary and Joesph. During this season, market stalls pop up all around the city known as “puestos” that house all kinds of foodstuffs and flowers. Flowers specifically (the poinsettia in particular) seem to replace the concept of Santa Claus here, as their brilliant red-star shaped petals are found nearly everywhere.

Children receive gifts on Christmas Day, and are also (sometimes) blindfolded and given a swing at a pinata. Once successfully broken, the children scramble to reap the sweets and small toys that fall out. Should the children behave extra good during the holiday season, they’ll also receive a bonus present on the 6th of January from the three wise men.

Christmas at Zocalo Square, Mexico City. Photo by: Juan Carlos

Christmas at Zocalo Square, Mexico City. Photo by: Juan Carlos

Peru
Nativity scenes in Peru are typically made by Quechua Indians, and you’ll find a number of these beautiful, wood-carved figures throughout the country (should you get a chance to step into someone’s home). Following midnight on Christmas Eve, dinners are held back at home which feature tamales among a number of other delights. On Christmas day, the streets come alive with religious processions commemorating the Virgin Mary, her statue of which is transported throughout the streets.

Venezuela
Aside from attending the usual mass on Christmas Eve and the exchange of presents on Christmas day, Venezuela has a distinct tradition held on January 6th.

On this day, when the children awaken, they will discover gifts by their bedside, What’s more is that the children will know that the Magi and their camels have been at home, for when they look themselves in the mirror and see a black smudge on their cheek they then know that Balthazar, King of the Ethiopians, has kissed them while they slept.

Can Bolivia's native food boost its tourism industry?

Being ranked as one of the most unfriendliest places in the world might be a huge setback for your tourism industry, but are there certain things and tastes that might be able to redeem Bolivia’s unwelcoming demeanor? The answer might be found in the country’s culinary roots.

The Problem

Here in Ecuador for example, cheap quinoa (along with many other grains and beans) are classified by many as the food of the indigenous, and are – in some ways – quietly considered inferior to foreign and imported, more expensive and exciting delicacies. Ironically, such ‘delicacies’ might merely be McDonald’s or Subway. As a result of its higher price and exotic appeal, a person’s choice of food in this sense has also inadvertently become somewhat of a status icon.

With Latin America becoming more westernized each year and with international fast-food franchises becoming more rampant, “dining out” might actually involve sampling the new and exotic or Western fried foods at a Wendy’s and McDonald’s. The act itself becomes more socially exalting and appealing to many (despite the higher price and exceptionally lower-quality ingredients) because it’s so different from what the country itself has to offer, as well as the social undertones that the national food might carry.

The inverse (and irony) of all this being  that in the western world (specifically Canada & the US) the price of quinoa can exceed the price of a fast food meal in weight alone, and is considered a high-end food as a result.

But if a country’s populace becomes jaded towards its own traditions and food, tourists might find themselves perplexed by the overabundance of international restaurants available and disappointed by the lack of local and traditional fare.

Or will they? A fresh and foreign palate might be the only way to reevaluate the worth of a country’s own cuisine – as well as raise appreciation for the local ingredients grown inside the nation. At least that’s what Claus Meyer, the Danish co-founder of Noma (one of the best restaurants in the world), intends to do in La Paz, Bolivia.

The Solution

Using his conviction that regards food as an instrument to improve life – as well as his resentment towards food being taken hostage by the industry – Meyer is setting up a restaurant named Gustu in La Paz as a non-profit organization. The restaurant will serve as a platform for fine dining, a bakery and bistro, and even a cooking school for underprivileged young indigenous chefs.

“The idea is to turn those young, marginalized people into culinary entrepreneurs,” he says in his Ted-Talk, “and, in close cooperation with all the major stakeholders in Bolivia, form the Bolivian food movement.”

He underlines the fact that, in light of the problem stated earlier, the movement intends to go against the international junk and fast food industry, which he says is one that is “dominated by massive corporations that ruin our health, undermine our independence and potentially damage the planet.”

In many ways, Meyer is the white knight of Bolivia’s culinary heritage, bringing to international light the fact that Bolivia has the largest biological diversity worldwide in terms of agricultural produce. Local delicacies can range anywhere from llama steak to giant runner beans. In addition to this, Meyer claims that he’s found fruits that he’s seen nowhere else, along with “thousands of varieties of potatoes, high jungle coffee and even exquisite red wine from the landlocked country’s eastern border with Argentina.”

Hopes are high within the Danish entrepreneur and seasoned cook as his restaurant is now operating in the capital, and he holds fast to the conviction that food can definitively change our minds, and to a certain extent – the world. It’s just the case that sometimes, especially when we’ve been living in a place for so long, the true value of the ground we stand on – and the fruits it provides – must be revealed to us once more by the fresh perspective and palate of savvy newcomer.

Three Other Impressive Colombian Archaeological Sites

Colombia’s three most famous ancient archaeological sites are the impressive lost city, Teyuna, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on the country’s Caribbean Coast, and the enigmatic statues of San Agustín and the wondrous tombs of Tierradentro in the southern part of the nation.

 

Scattered throughout the country, though, are other, lesser-known ruins that travelers should add to their itineraries:

 

El Pueblito. Photo by Andrea Davoust.

  • Also on the Caribbean Coast, on a hilltop within Parque Nacional Tayrona, is another impressive city of the Tayrona people, called Chairama or El Pueblito. A stone road through the lush jungle leads up to these ruins that still preserve the engineering marvels of this nation. Also within Tayrona National Park are other ruins near Cañaveral and Bahía Neguanje.

 

  • Heading inland towards Bogotá, you arrive at the beautifully preserved colonial village of Villa de Leyva. Just to the north is one of Colombia’s most mysterious – and thought-provoking – archaeological ruins: El Infiernito. The main features of this site, officially called Parque Arqueológico de Monquirá, are two stone “forests.” One is an observatory that was used to track the sun’s course throughout the year. The other is a phallic forest that was used for fertility rites. Also on the grounds is an ancient tomb.

 

Muisca phallic monoliths at "El Infiernito" by Erik Cleves Kristensen http://www.flickr.com/photos/erikkristensen/4568477436/

  • Not all of Colombia’s archaeological riches are monuments. The country also has a plethora of petroglyphs, or rock paintings, and ancient stone roads. Near the village of Güicán and Parque Nacional El Cocuy, hikers can explore both. The Camino Deshecho leads past dozens of petroglyphs painted on rock out croppings, before arriving at some delicious hot springs.

 

 

Find out more about Colombia’s hidden archaeological riches in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. See why award-winning environmental-travel journalist, Tracy Barnett, says, “This edition of Viva Colombia! Adventure Guide does not disappoint; the insiders’ perspective, the detailed listings, the descriptive writing all add up to a guide you can count on.”

New Species Discovered in Peru

National Geographic reports that a new species of night monkey has been discovered in a cloud forest in northern Peru.

The as-yet unnamed species was found by a team of Peruvian and Mexican scientists during a 2009-2011 expedition in Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary, which lies east of Huancabamba, near the Euadorian border.

In total, the biologists found eight new species of mammals related to the common shrew opossum, enigmatic porcupine, small-eared shrew, gray fox, olingo (related to raccoons), and four types of rodents. Additionally, three new varieties of frogs were encountered, including Pristimantis bustamante.

The 28,000-hectare (70,000-acre) Santuario Nacional Tabaconas Namballe protects not only cloud forest, but also páramo grasslands. It is home to an estimated 326 species of bird, 85 species of mammals and 23 species of amphibians and reptiles. The threat of deforestation endangers this reserve, which is also habitat for the mountain tapir and the spectacled bear, both endangered species.

The team of researchers will be returning to Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary this November to continue their explorations for more new species, including an orange-skinned porcupine that locals report seeing.

To get a look at these new discoveries, check out the photos at Mongabay.

 

The new edition of V!VA Travel Guides Peru will soon be hitting bookshelves! Be sure to pick up yours – in print of e-book format – before heading out to Peru’s great national parks and ruins.

A New Season in Torres del Paine

After closing last year’s tourism season with a devastating wildfire, Torres del Paine National Park is gearing up for another high season. The thousands of tourists that will be arriving should expect changes.

 

The wildfire began at the end of December 2011, and raged for nearly two months. By the end of February 2012, an estimated 17,606 hectares (43,505 acres) of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine had been destroyed, according to Conaf, the national forest service. The entire park was forced closed until the blaze could be contained. Eventually the northern sector reopened.

 

The Puerto Natales hostel, erratic rock, informs V!VA Travel Guides that burned areas include along the trails in the Las Carretas, Paine Grande Italiano and Paine Grande Grey sectors. Ruth, an erratic rock volunteer says, “There is already new green grass growing, which makes the black even darker, so it is pretty impressive.”

 

Reforestation of the burnt areas of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine has been slow. Thus far, only 10,000 native lenga beech (Nothofagus pumilio) have been planted. Conaf takes national and international volunteers in a variety of positions.

 

The high season opened on October 1. Since then, regular bus service has begun and most refuges opened. The ones at Los Cuernos and Chileno are slated to open October 15, and Refugio Dikson, which forms part of the circuit, will be online November 1. Catamaran service also has begun once daily; at the end of October, it will run twice daily, and as of November 5, three times per day.

 

Prices for the 2012-2013 season are:

* Park entry: 18,000 Chilean pesos (CLP) or $36 USD

* Public bus from Puerto Natales: 15,000 CLP ($30 USD) round trip

* Lago Pehoe catamaran: 12,000 CLP ($24 USD) one way; 22,000 CLP ($44 USD) round trip

* Refuges: 22,500 CLP ($45 USD) per bed, without sheets or meals

* Meals: breakfast 5,500 CLP ($11 USD), lunch 8,000 CLP ($16 USD), dinner 11,000 CLP ($22 USD)

 

Tourists will face many more regulations, especially concerning camping, and more education about park rules. Also, many more patrols will be on the lookout for people who camp in non-designated areas. Drop by erratic rock’s free daily information sessions at 3 p.m. to learn about new changes and about all the challenges you’ll face in Torres del Paine National Park.

 

 

A big thank you to the staff of erratic rock for the above information. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine and the other wonder destinations of the region than any other guidebook on the market.

Earthquake Shakes Colombia

Sunday morning, a 7.3 earthquake struck southern Colombia. The epicenter was at La Vega (Cauca Department), a small village located nine kilometers (six miles) north-northwest of San Agustín, a tourist destination popular for its archaeological statuary sites.

 

For centuries, San Agustín's statues have silently watched the earth move many times. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

The quake, which occurred at 11:31 a.m. local time, was felt in virtually all of Colombia, as well as the northern 10 provinces of Ecuador and in Quito. No deaths have been reported.

 

Fernando Alegría, secretary of the government of La Vega, stated to the newspaper El País (Colombia) that there was no destruction in that village.

 

In Cali, damages were a bit more extensive. Two clinics – Santillana and Rey David – suffered cracks in their walls. One woman was hurt while escaping from her home. In Timbiquí (Cauca Department), near the Pacific Coast, 20 homes were damaged. Popayán, 64 kilometers (40 miles) south-southeast of the epicenter, was only shaken.

 

Bouselahane Amid, general director of Magdalena Rafting in San Agustín, said people felt it very lightly in that town. René Suter, owner of Finca El Maco, states there have been no reports of damages in Colombia’s Archaeological Capital. Apparently none of the region’s numerous ancient sites were affected. The tremor was also slightly felt in Mocoa, 259 kilometers (158 miles) east of San Agustín, according to Felipe Goforit of Hostal Casa del Río.

 

Damage from the strong earthquake was minimal because of the depth of the seismic event –168.3 kilometers (104.6 miles) beneath the surface of the earth.

 

Find out more about Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. See why award-winning environmental-travel journalist, Tracy Barnett, says, “This edition of Viva Colombia! Adventure Guide does not disappoint; the insiders’ perspective, the detailed listings, the descriptive writing all add up to a guide you can count on.”

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