Category Archives: Travel Tips

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!

La Compañía De Jesús Church: Quito’s Golden Garden

The Church of the Society of Jesus Christ (La Compania De Jesus Church), the largest symbol of the Catholic religion in Ecuador, is a perfect example of why the heart of Quito is the strongest heart of them all. Since it’s foundation, it has survived multiple Earthquakes. Quito, Ecuador is a place where the work of man and nature coincides like threads in a carefully constructed hand-made quilt. Especially in this church.

The entrance of La Compañía De Jesús Church. Tourists are not permitted to take pictures inside the church.

The entrance of La Compañía De Jesús Church. Tourists are not permitted to take pictures inside the church. 

The church’s groundbreaking was in 1605 and it was finally finished in 1765. With time, one can create a masterpiece. And that is just what the Jesuits did as they created the richest temple in South America – not because of its size, but because of the articulate detailed carvings found inside. Once you step into the church, it feels like a rich, man-made garden of golden foliage, vines, fruits, and birds.

The layout of the church is a Latin cross. The church design is influenced by various architectural cultures including Moorish, French, Italian and Spanish. The Quito school is located right next to the church where students are trained in indigenous artistic expression. Student artwork produced at the Quito school is hung inside the church walls.

There is one magnificent painting that really causes one to wonder about the consequences of sins. In the painting, humans are consumed in a fire surrounded by serpents. Beside each person is a spanish word that translates to various sins such as adultero (adulterer) and asesino (murderer).

A circular window is located at the top of the church. The sunlight pours inside and gives the walls a red, almost bloody accent (maybe a representation of the blood of Christ). In the window is a painting of the sun. The sun is an indigenous symbol used to attract more people to the church.

A round mirror, placed directly underneath the circular window, magnifies the designs on the walls and ceiling. If you look in the mirror, it’s as if you have a huge, gold crown around your head.

The outside of the church is just as impressive as the inside. The Solomonic, constructed in an upward spiral, show that life begins at the bottom – or on Earth – and when one follows the holy path, it will lead upward – toward Heaven.

The Solomonic columns on both sides of the church follow the symmetrical design of the entire church.

The Solomonic columns on both sides of the church follow the symmetrical design of the entire church.

 

 

Tungarahua Volcano: Active Once Again

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAqviIwTvEA

It’s official folks, Tungurahua volcano has officially gone active again as of 6:47 a.m. yesterday (Sunday, July 14), with authorities declaring an “orange alert” – the second highest warning level.

200+ residents were evacuated from the Cusua, Chacauco and Juive areas. Forunately, no injuries have been reported.

While Tungurahua has had its spontaneous bursts of activity in the past year, the power of the explosive eruption was apparently grater than anticipated. VolcanoDiscovery.com, having measured elevated seismic activity in the area over the past few weeks, claims that the eruption was not as surprising as the sheer power and force of it, with heavy rain and mild flooding following suit.

Visitors already in or heading to Baños should take note of the volcano’s activity, making sure to take reasonable measures to either stock up on supplies (water, masks, non-perishable goods, etc.), or packing up and heading elsewhere. For those planning on going to the Tungurahua region, it is advised you postpone plans for at least the next week, or until further news and updates come in regarding the volcano’s potential future activity.

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

On the Road – Peru: Free Hiking Near Arequipa

Last week, I filled you in on 10 free attractions awaiting travelers in Arequipa. But many tourists arrive here to do some trekking in the Colca Canyon. The recent increase of the canyon’s entry fee to a staggering $26 for non-Latin Americans will leave many shoestring travelers in the dust.

 

Not to fear, though. Arequipa’s campiña (countryside) offers several great opportunities to get out of the city for some fresh sunshine and incredible vistas. The awards along the way include waterfalls, ancient rock paintings and traditional villages.

El Misti from Yanahuara’s mirador. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Two miradores just west of downtown give splendid views of the volcanoes: one in Yanahuara (2 km / 1.2 mi from downtown Arequipa) and another called Carmen Alto (6.7 km / 4 mi north of Ca Puente Grau and Av Bolognesi; follow the signs).

 

In the Cayma district west of Arequipa, a 15-kilometer (9.2-mile) Inca trail runs through the Valle de Chilina, along west bank of the Río Chili to the Santuario La Virgen de Chapi de Charcani (General Varela 1070, Acequia, Alta Cayma). Along the way are waterfalls, and places to rock climb and fish. There is one campsite.

 

Cayma’s Oficina de Desarrollo Turístico publishes a rough map of the route (Plaza de Cayma 408, Cayma. Tel: 054-254-648, E-mail: turismo@municayma.gob.pe, URL: www.municayma.gob.pe).

 

The Valle de Chilina may also be hiked along the eastern bank of the river. From downtown Arequipa, walk north to Parque Selva Alegre, turn left to the end of that road, then right at the end of that one. Continue straight and take the third path down. This road also leads hikers through a landscape of ancient terraced farm fields, forests and scrub-brush lands overshadowed by Chachani and El Misti volcanoes.

Paisaje Arequipeño. Photo by Carlos Zúñiga.

Just to the southeast of Arequipa is the Ruta del Loncco, places where you may hike through the bucolic countryside, to waterfalls, petroglyphs (petroglifos) and traditional villages. Yarabamba (15 km / 9 mi from Arequipa) are the Petroglifos Gayalopo y Guanaqueros. A few kilometers to the south is Quequeña, where you may hike to the Petroglifos Cerro Boracho, Trompín Chico and Quebrada de la Zorra creek. Further south is Sogay, with waterfalls. In these towns, there are campsites.

 

These villages’ websites have more information about their attractions: Yarabamba (URL: http://www.peru.gob.pe/Nuevo_Portal_Municipal/portales/municipalidades/358/entidad/pm_municipalidad_tematicos.asp?cod_tema=39505), Quequeña (URL: www.muniquequena.gob.pe) and Sogay (URL: www.sogayarequipa.com). Minibuses for Yarabamba and Quequeña pass by Venezuela and Avenida Mariscal Castilla ($0.60).

Waterfall. Photo by Carlos Zúñiga.

Any of these hikes may be done as day trips from Arequipa. Bring along food (a picnic would be perfect) and water, sun protection (hat, sun screen) and good walking shoes. Keep valuables back at the hostel. The more tranquil hikes are in the three villages south of the city.

 

 

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.

 

 

VIVA’s New Colombia Adventure Guide

It’s the equinox and time to start planning upcoming vacations. One of the hottest destinations in Latin America and a magnet for in-the-know travelers is Colombia, which is leaving its dark history behind.  After months of anticipation, VIVA’s Colombia Adventure Guide has hit shelves and iPads all over the world, and is providing all the information you need for a safe and enjoyable trip.

 

Nobody knows Latin American better than VIVA, based in Ecuador. Its writers delve deep into the cultural and natural beauties of Colombia. No corner of the country is ignored.

Providencia (Old Providence) Island.

Colombia Adventure Guide’s main writer, Lorraine Caputo, has taken 10 extended trips to Colombia since 1992. On her recent journey, she traveled the breadth of Colombia, from mountains to sea, from green jungles to concrete jungles. With this pioneering book, she opens huge swaths of the country previously little-covered by any other guidebook, such as the Llanos, Putumayo, Guajira, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and even a float down the historic Magdalena River. She takes you from small, out-of-the-way villages to the bustling cities, and throws in fantastic sand beaches from Coveñas to Punta Gallinas for good measure. She lends her experience working in national parks to give travelers insight into Tayrona, Cocuy, Puracé and Colombia’s other nature reserves, and her interest in archaeology to delve into past. For travelers heading to Panama, she details no fewer than four ways to do so.

Las Minas, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Lorraine also provides glimpses into some of Colombia’s nearly 100 indigenous nations, examining Wayu’u language, customs and etiquette; the Amazonian elixir of the gods, yagé; and the ways of Kuna.

 

Colombia Adventure Guide takes you where few other guidebooks dare to tread, giving you all the information you need to explore an incredibly diverse, but often overlooked, country. Special attention is given to the forgotten travelers: budget and families. Lorraine gives tips on the many free things to do and opens the doors to locally owned businesses, family artisan workshops and volunteer projects.

El Cocuy National Park.

Working with locally based writers, travelers and communities, VIVA brings you the most current, accurate guide to Colombia available anywhere and with a fresh perspective. VIVA’s Colombia Adventure Guide simply covers more regions and has more travel wisdom built in — over 100 pages more info than any of the competing Colombia guide books. With dozens of easy-to-use maps, tons of travel tips, packing lists and before-you-go information, Colombia Adventure Guide is the only guide you’ll need.

 

Colombia Adventure Guide is available in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

On the Road – Peru: Rain, Rain, Go Away …

As reported last month, rains have caused havoc in travel plans in Peru and throughout South America. The highlands have been drenched, causing rivers to be rushing torrents by the time they reach the coastal plains.

 

Last Sunday, I got to experience this first hand while traveling south from Ica. At about midnight, our bus halted. Passengers drifted in and out of sleep, wondering why we were motionless on this black highway in the middle of nowhere. Within a few hours, we were once more traveling, the gentle sway, the gentle song of wheels on pavement lulling us to sleep.

 

Stranded in southern Peru. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But again, at 4 a.m., we were stopped. Before sunrise, I walked out to see a long line of buses, trucks and other vehicles wrapped around the base of a cliff, fading around the bend uphill, and into the distance below, ending at water’s edge. On the other bank, another line of buses and trucks wound up that road and around the curve. Between us, the land rolled down to flooded fields. In this pre-dawn light, a broad river raged, red with soil, tumbling to the sea.

 

A río huayco, the driver told me. In Quechua, huayco means a river that forms in dry gulches, hauling rocks, trees and mud into the lowland valleys—and flooding the landscape for kilometers around.

Our río huayco rolling off to the sea. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

On that stretch of the Pan-American highway just before Camaná, near the village of Pescadores, no bridge exists because this is normally a rio seco—a dry river. But the past few years, with the constant cycle of El Niño and La Niña weather patterns, this river has existed in the summer months when temperatures soar on the coast and the rainy season arrives in the Andes.

 

The rising sun’s heat was tempered by clouds to the east. But this forebode more rains in Arequipa, Puno or wherever these rivers are born.

 

"Agua, gaseosa, golosinas," he called out. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

A white van skidded to a stop at the side of the road and its door slid open, revealing mounds of water, sodas, snacks and toilet paper for sale. Passengers heading to Arequipa, Tacna and other southern destinations lined up to pay over double the normal price. The vendor grinned broadly, soles sign (S/.) dancing in his bright eyes.

 

Finally with the morn, a bulldozer began clearing a channel in that río huayco. Soon the waters ceased to rise. The level lowered enough for the first buses and trucks to cross. Finally at 9 a.m., it was our bus’ turn to slowly wade through the still-strong current.

 

Our turn to cross. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

This year’s rains have caused havoc all over the region. The Peru-Chile border south of Tacna is closed 7 a.m.-noon (5-10 a.m. Chilean time) to clear 40-year-old anti-personnel mines that the flooding has unearthed. Chile has been wracked with overflowing rivers, from the San José in Arica to the Río de las Minas in Punta Arenas. Travelers report being stranded for up to 12 hours when crossing the altiplano from Bolivia or the Atacama Desert into Argentina.

 

 

If you are traveling this season, be sure to pack extra food and water. (Buses only carry enough for serving at mealtimes.) If you will be traveling into Peru’s southern departments of Moquegua or Tacna, or crossing international borders, this is a challenging task because of agricultural customs controls. No produce, whether fresh or dried, dairy or meat products are allowed. Bread is safest bet, as are peanut butter, marmite or vegemite sandwiches. Stock up on drinks and snacks, as well as a book, sudoku puzzles or anything else to pass the time.

 

And most of all—don’t forget to pack in some extra patience.

 

Safe Journeys until next week!

 

 

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.

On the Road – Peru: Nine Great Northern Coast Get-Aways

Peru’s Northern Coast, from Trujillo to the Ecuador border, is lined with delightful beach resorts. This region is famous for its world-class surfing, though other marvels await visitors to this landscape that changes from desert scrub forest to mangrove swamp. After a day of kite boarding, deep-sea fishing or zip-lining, head to the thermal baths to relax your muscles. Birdwatching and hiking are also excellent adventures. The seafood cuisine is superb.

 

The most famous of these are Huanchaco and Máncora. V!VA Travel Guides also takes you to some that are not so well-known to international travelers. Many make easy day trips from the major cities. But all have lodging, if you want to spend a night watching the moonlight slithering across the waves.

 

Huanchaco's famed caballitos de totora.

Huanchaco

Just 14 kilometers (8.5 miles) north of Trujillo is Huanchaco, which according to Chimú mythology was the landing-spot of Takaynamo, who ordered the construction of the famous ancient city of Chan Chan. Huanchaco is famous not only for its surfing, but also the fishermen who still use caballitos de totora for their daily outings. Ask to use one of these reed rafts to ride the waves.

 

 

 

Pimentel. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Pimentel

Pimentel, only 11 kilometers (6.5 miles) from Chiclayo, has a broad, pale-grey peach. The seaside malecón is lined with beautiful gardens and mansions dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is another good surfing spot. Archaeology buffs can check out Huaca Agujereada and Huaca Blanca. Pimentel is another village where fishermen still use caballitos de totora.

 

 

 

Paddling a balsillo in Yacila. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Yacila

Piura’s port is historic Paita, birthplace of Almirante Miguel Grau (hero of the War of the Pacific against Chile) and where Generala Manuela Sáenz (Simón Bolívar’s confidante) lived her last days. Seventeen kilometers (10 miles) to the south of Paita is Yacila, is a fishing village on a small, rocky cove. Here men here still use balsillos, traditional rafts made of five logs. To the south of Yacila are other beaches, like Los Cangrejos, La Islilla, La Laguna, Hermosa, Gramitas, Té para Dos and Las Gaviotas.

 

A glorious sunset at Colán. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Colán

Colán, 15 kilometers (9 miles) to the north of Paita, has long been one of northern Peru’s great beach resorts. Oystercatchers, several species of gull, whimbrels, pelicans, frigate birds and blue-footed boobies are frequent visitors to the five-kilometer (three-mile) long Playa Esmeraldas. At the southern end of the beach, fossil-rich bluffs meet the sea. The sunsets are absolutely stunning here.

 

 

 

 

 

Cabo Blanco. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Cabo Blanco

Cabo Blanco’s earned its fame many decades ago with its world-record catches of marlin and albacore. It drew Hollywood stars, sport greats and industrial barons. The old Fishing Club closed several decades back, but slip a few soles to the caretaker to let you see the fishing trophies and Room 5, where Ernest Hemingway stayed when The Old Man and the Sea was filmed here. Cabo Blanco is still renowned for its fishing, as well as kite boarding and a world surfing championship. While in town, drop into Restaurant Cabo Blanco to chat with Pablo Córdova, Hemingway’s bartender, while enjoying an absolutely delectable chicharrón de mariscos.

 

 

Los Órganos

Los Órganos is a relaxed, little-touristed beachside resort that is the jumping off point for deep-sea fishing and other boating excursions. If you happen by between August and November, hop aboard for a ride out to see the migrating whales. Another popular activity kite surfing.

 

Las Pocitas and Vichayito

These two towns just south of Máncora offer a more peaceful scene. The long, broad beach is edged with lush vegetation. Enjoy days soaking up the sun and sunset strolls along the strand. These are perfect places to rent a bungalow and do a maximum chill. They are especially good for families.

 

Máncora's raison d'être: Surfing. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Máncora

Máncora is the perennial favorite for national and international tourists. This once-upon-a-time fishing village has grown tremendously in the past three years, drawing not only backpackers, but also travelers with deeper pockets. Máncora’s surfing is famous globally, and many of Peru’s greats have set up schools here. The scene is diversifying, with kite boarding, wind surfing, zip lining in the inland desert forests and mud baths.

 

 

Sunset at Zorritos. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Zorritos                                

Between Máncora and the Ecuador border is Zorritos. This mellow town has over 30 kilometers (18 miles) of broad beach to stroll along and a sea that is warm year-round. Near town are several national parks protecting desert forests and mangroves. Take a day trip into Puerto Pizarro to boat around islands full of nesting frigate birds and to a crocodile breeding center. Head into the hills to soak in your choice of hot springs or thermal mud baths.

 

 

 

 

The sea is cold up to the Máncora area, where the Humboldt Current veers westward to the Galápagos Islands. Surfers will need to use a wetsuit.

 

Another warning to travelers: These beaches are a popular get-away for Peruvians and Ecuadorians during holiday seasons, when prices rise steeply. In a few weeks, it’ll be Semana Santa, or Easter Week — one of the biggest vacation times. If you’re looking for relaxation and tranquility, you may want to head elsewhere April 1-8 this year.

 

 

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.

 

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On the Road – Peru: Chinese New Year in Lima’s Barrio Chino

The sharp cracks of fireworks fill the streets with pungent smoke and shreds of paper. The booming drums, the clang of brass cymbals announce the arrival of the dancers. Humans beneath the cloth dragon, lion and other animals raise the creatures up in the doorways of businesses, ensuring a bountiful coming year.

 

In China Towns all over the world, this millennia-old ceremony was celebrated to mark the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. In Lima’s Barrio Chino, shoppers were lured by the unusual music. Snapping photos with their cell phones, they followed the parade down the crowded streets.

 

 

During the second half of the 19th century, some 100,000 Chinese arrived to Peru. Most came to work in nitrate mining or on the plantations after slavery was abolished. Many were indentured servants, living a semi-slave life. In the 20th century, a second wave washed upon these South American shores. Today, Chinese descendants make up about 0.5% of the nation’s population.

 

 

The Barrio Chino is near Lima’s Mercado Central, just a few blocks east of the Plaza de Armas. Walking up Jirón Ucayali (a.k.a., Calle Cantón), you soon come to the large red gateways inviting you to stroll down the pedestrian mall paved with the 12 sign of the Sino horoscope. Several stands offer newspapers from China and another kiosk attends to spiritual needs.

 

The neighborhood extends from Jirón Junín to Jirón Puno, and from Andahuaylas to nearly Huanta. These bustling streets are jammed with dozens of chifas, (Chinese restaurants) with roasted ducks and pigs hanging in front windows. Import shops provide everything from foods to knickknacks. There are also several acupuncture clinics. Businesses – including banks – brandish signs in Spanish and Chinese.

 

Come down for a few hours, to savor a different flavor in Peru. Have a quick lunch at a chifa and wander through the dozens of market stalls tucked off the streets. Before heading back to the run-of-the-mill Peruvian reality, pick up some authentic ingredients to whip up your own stir fry back at your hostel.

 

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.

Chile’s Carretera Austral: Ten Adventures to Get Your Adrenaline Fix

Taking a rest.

South America’s summer officially begins tonight, but already travelers have been hitting Chile’s Carretera Austral (Ruta 7), which extends 1,247 kilometers (775 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. Bicyclists are battling the infamous Patagonian wind as gravel kicks up around their tires. Some backpackers stand by the roadsides, thumb outstretched, to explore the road that way. Very few travelers take the public buses or rent a car. This is a highway where dreams can be made reality.

If the adventure of biking or hitching the Carretera Austral isn’t enough for you, V!VA Travel Guides Chile presents you  with a cornucopia of high-adrenaline activities to keep you pumped going down the highway. This region has many legs of the national hiking trail network, the Sendero de Chile (www.senderodechile.cl). Local families provide homestay and guiding services for not only trekking, but also birdwatching, horseback riding, fly fishing, rock climbing and other sports.

So dig out the hiking boots and pack in the provisions because it’s time to hit the open road.

 

1 – Parque Nacional Horniporén

Parque Nacional Horniporén, near the start of the Carretera Austral, protects important transition zones of flora, fauna and geology. Over 13 kilometers (8 miles) of hiking trails wind through this fascinating landscape. The nearby village of Río Puelo is the starting point for an even more challenging trek: four nights, five days across the Paso Río Puelo border to El Bolsón, Argentina.

Kayaking on the Futaleufú River.

2 – Futaleufú

Rafters and kayakers, get your gear ready to shoot through the rapids of the Futa, one of the world’s three most challenging rivers. The toughest stretches are the “Infierno” (22 kilometers / 14 miles, Class III-IV) and the “Terminator” (7 kilometers / 4.2 miles, Class V). The Espolón River is renowned for its fly fishing. Dry land adventures are horseback riding and hiking near town and in Reserva Natural Futaleufú.

Further down the highway you can get another whitewater  fix on the Río Baker’s Class III rapids at Puerto Bertrand.

 

3 – Palena

Reserva Nacional Lago Palena offers horseback riding, fly fishing and a half-dozen hiking trails ranging from four kilometers (2.4 miles) to 13 kilometers (8 miles) in distance. It is also the staging ground for a 65-kilometer (39-mile) stretch of the Sendero de Chile, from Palena to Lago Verde (near La Junta).

 

A waterfall in Queulat National Park.

4 – Puyuhuapi

The delights around Puyuhuapi, a small German settlement on a fiord, never ceases to amaze travelers. After hiking to the hanging glaciers and waterfalls in Parque Nacional Queulat, soak your tired muscles in one of two hot springs near the village.

 

5 – Coyhaique

While you’re restocking on money and other necessary supplies in the Northern Patagonia’s major city, take some time out to explore the three national reserves near town: Monumento Nacional Dos Lagunas, Reserva Nacional Río Simpson and Reserva Nacional Coyhaique. On the coast is Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael, most known for its boat tours to the glaciers. But it also has several hiking trails, ice climbing (for the experienced and equipped) and camping.

Coyahique is also home to Escuela de Guías de la Patagonia, a school that trains the region’s guides. During the summer, it also teaches travelers camping, rock climbing and other skills to survive Patagonian rigors.

 

Cerro Castillo.

6 – Cerro Castillo

With geological features much like Torres del Paine, Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo has a distinct advantage: It is virtually unvisited. The challenging 45-kilometer (28 mile) Valle de la Lima-Villa Cerro Castillo trek, which takes three to four days, wraps around the base of the mountain, with stunning views of icy lagoons and glaciers. If time is short, you can visit the park on horseback from the village.

 

7 – Bahía Exploradores

The boat tour of Río Tranquilo’s marble caves provides a respite from Chile’s Northern Patagonia’s trekking opportunities. But it’s now time for the next challenge: Hiking out the 59-kilometer (37-mile) road towards Bahía Exploradores, and ice trekking Glaciar Exploradores.

Capilla de Marmól, near Río Capilla.

8 – Cochrane

Besides being the last place along the highway where you can pick up on money and basic supplies, Cochrane has the Reserva Nacional Tamango. Also near town is Laguna Esmeralda with swimming, kayaking and great trout fishing. If you’re ready to roll up the ol’ sleeves and help restore natural habitats for huemul and puma, then volunteer at Valle Chacabuco nature reserve.

 

Caleta Tortel.

9 – Caleta Tortel

The entire village of Caleta Tortel is a hiking experience, with over seven kilometers (4.2 miles) of cypress-wood boardwalks. This is also where the southern sector of Parque Nacional San Rafael and Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins are accessed.  Both have hikes to glaciers. Caleta Tortel is also a prime kayaking destination.

 

10 – Villa O’Higgins

Villa O’Higgins is the last town on Chile’s Carretera Austral. From here, you’ll have to backtrack north to Cochrane or Lago General Carrera to cross over into Argentina. Or you can boat across Lago O’Higgins and hike to El Chaltén, Argentina—what has been called one of the world’s most beautiful border crossings (Paso Dos Lagunas). Before you leave this end-of-the-road town, though, take some time to hike or horseback ride one of the seven trails in the area, including two in the northern sector of Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins.

The highway’s end.

 

Traversing the Carretera Austral once the snows swirl in late autumn provides other ways to get the old adrenaline pumping. The road becomes impassable and many of towns remain isolated for weeks at a time. The best place to use as a base is Coyhaique. You can snowshoe and cross country ski in the three national reserves near that city or in Cerro Castillo just to the south. Coyhaique also has a downhill ski center, Centro de Ski el Fraile.

The Carretera Austral can be accessed by several border crossings from Argentina, or by boats arriving at Chaitén, Puerto Chacabuco (near Coyhaique) and other villages.

There are many other towns along the Carretera Austral that provide many other delights. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of the region than any other guidebook on the market.