Category Archives: Deals

Weekend Entertainment in Quito's Centro Histórico

Some travelers prefer to check out the nightlife in La Mariscal district, dancing and drinking until the cocks crow. But Quito has other ways to enjoy weekend nights, that even families may enjoy, right in the colonial heart of the city.

 

La Ronda at a quieter moment.

Once upon a time, La Ronda was the soul of Quiteña culture. Just two blocks south of Plaza Santo Domingo was where many poets lived, and here many of the old-time songs were composed. Already by the 1990s, this two-block-long neighborhood had become one of the most dangerous in the Centro Histórico, plagued with robberies, prostitution and drug dealing. For several decades, the residents tried to get the city to help them recuperate their barrio. Finally, in middle of the 21st century’s first decade, the city agreed—but wanted the people to move out. The families fought to remain, saying that they would work together.

 

In 2007, the renewed La Ronda opened as a tourist attraction. Generations-old family shops, making artisan candles, sweets and espumillas (fruit-flavored whipped cream), found new clientele. Some families opened restaurants featuring traditional Quiteño cuisine. Children played the barrio’s music. Visitors stopped to sing and dance along in the narrow, cobblestone lane.

 

Within months, La Ronda became THE place to go Friday and Saturday nights. The blocks around the district become one massive parking lot. The streets are crowded with couples and families strolling from café to café, drinking canelazo (a warm drink made of fruit juice and cane alcohol), dining and listening to music. Now many establishments are owned by non-barrio residents, and a variety of music is now heard (not just the traditional Quiteña sounds).

 

Boogying to quiteña music.

 

On Saturday nights, Quito offers Noches Patrimoniales. These tours, conducted by guides in period costumes, last 45 minutes and depart at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. from the tourism office (Calle Venezuela and Calle Espejo. Tel: 257-2445/295-4469, URL: www.quito.com.ec). Participants learn about the history and legends of the Centro Histórico, and visit different museums. The cost is $6 per person. Contact the tourism office for more details.

 

Also on Saturday nights, Biciacción (Tel: 245-6156) invites people to join it on bicycle excursions through Quito’s Historic Center.

 

 

After checking out the Centro Histórico’s nightlife on Friday and Saturday nights, take it easy Sunday morning when the entire downtown becomes a pedestrian mall until 2 p.m.

 

Artists, craftspeople and musicians perform along Calle García Moreno and Calle Sucre. The main plazas—Grande, San Francisco and Santo Domingo—vibrate with free theater, dance, music and puppet shows. Sometimes events also happen at Plaza la Merced (Calles Cuenca and Chile) and Plaza del Teatro (Calles Sucre and Manabí). Many of the churches and museums are open. Vendors come out, selling baskets of fresh fruits, cups of espumilla and toys.

 

There are plenty of happenings for children, too, with face painting, games and crafts.

 

Ciclopolis (Tel: 290-1920, URL: www.ciclopolis.ec) sponsors the Ciclopaseo from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. This 27-kilometer (16.2-mile) bicycling circuit runs from Parque de los Recuerdos in the North, down Avenida Amazonas, into the Centro Histórico and South as far as Quitumbre. Mechanics are posted at four spots along the way.

 

If you happen to not have a bike, you can lease one for the day, for $5.60. Rentals can be arranged at several points along the circuit (Jorge Washington, Tribunal del Sur or La Kennedy) or by phoning Ciclopolis. Some form of identification must be left as a “deposit.”

 

The carefree spirit in downtown Quito’s streets, however, continues well past the stages are broke down and the artists have packed their instruments. Until sundown, children continue to chase the pigeons in the squares, neighbors sit to chat and vendors to sell fruits.

How You Can Save Money: Flying in Peru

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

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

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

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

How to Save

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

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

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

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 GotMyFare.com 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.