Galapagos Islands, Ecuador With G Adventures

 

The Galapagos Islands are truly heaven on earth!  This is a must for everyone’s bucket list.

The islands offer unbelievably clean water, sand, and untouched wilderness that is highly protected by the government. Where else can you go to safely swim with wild turtles, sharks, and sea lions?

Most islands are untouched and laws limit the time each group can stay in each area. Just to land in the Galapagos will cost you $100USD upon arrival and there are strict laws governing where you can go and what you can touch.

G Adventures is highly recommended as they take care a lot of the planning for you. It goes without saying, this is not a place you want to ‘wing-it’. They offer various price levels/boats and I had the privilege of riding on their G4 boat, which offers running water, hot showers, and a spacious living area with a full bar. The staff is highly experienced and do what they can to ensure you’re comfortable during your journey.

Note: The waters do get rough at times, especially as they move locations overnight. Be sure to bring lots of Gravel and motion sickness meds even if you normally aren’t the type to get seasick.

Brazil

The most favorite Brazilian destinations are chosen for their great weather, amazing beaches (or hotel pools), awesome exploring, and outstanding dining and drinking experiences. But what to pack for all these activities?

Proper Packing for Brazil
The humid climate makes lightweight, breathable clothing absolutely necessary, regardless your destination and endeavors.

Adaptors and surge protectors will be needed if you plan to travel with electronics. Most places in use 110 Volt AC electricity, just like the US and Canada but sometimes round pin sockets have 220 volts. To avoid destroying your hair dryer, laptop, or phone, it is best to use a power adaptor.

Toiletries in Brazil will be twice as expensive as at home, so be sure to bring your favorites with you. Remember to pack aloe vera in case you burn, and strong sunscreen to try and avoid it.

The law in Brazil demands that foreigners carry identification at all times, so be sure to pack an ID Card or copy of your passport to carry with you, even at the beach.

For Exploring:
Solid, comfortable shoes are necessary for long hours of sightseeing, and the bumpy trails of hiking paths.

A small backpack or daybag can store your necessities, including a camera, map, and water, which you shouldn’t skip as dehydration comes easily.

For Dining and Drinking:
Brazilians dress well, and casual yet elegant clothing will be a better choice than beachwear for anything fancier than a beachside kiosk. When in doubt, overdressing is better than underdressing.

A nice pair of shoes will be needed if you plan to visit any clubs in Brazil’s major cities (Havainas will not cut it).

For Beaching:
The sun in Brazil is especially intense. Even if you usually forego them, be sure to pack sunglasses and a hat to avoid heat exhaustion and sun-sickness.

Feel free to forget many necessary beach-related items, as they are cheaper and of good quality in Brazil:

Beach coverups are sold on the beach and in many beach-side shops, and are great souvenirs.

A canga does double duty as a beach coverup and a beach blanket, and are extremely popular and available everywhere, and also great as souvenirs.

Bikinis in Brazil are cheaper (and skimpier, if you want to try it out!) than at home, and this goes for men’s swimsuits as well!

The popular Brazilian sandals called Havaianas are extremely good quality, one third the price in Brazil as compared to abroad, and with shops everywhere (even the airport).

Every beach will have kiosks renting beach umbrellas and beach chairs for a tiny fee, so don’t waste valuable packing space by including those either.

Remember
Brazil is a vast and varied country, with 26 states of differing climates, cultures, and charms so be sure to check the weather of your destination before finalizing your packing list. Don’t assume that the seasons are the same in Brazil as at home. What is summer in your country may be “winter” in Brazil! Brazilian winter in some regions will require a jacket, at least at night. Winter can be rainy, as well as some other seasons in a few of the regions, so it may be wise to pack a raincoat or portable umbrella if applicable.

Brazil

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Brazil is an enormous country with widely varying cultures and customs. Regardless of which region you are going, however, there are a few commonalities between all of Brazil.

 

The language is Portuguese.

Not Spanish. While this is a common misconception, as Brazil is the only country in South America that doesn’t speak Spanish, mistaking the national language can be offensive to some Brazilians. Portuguese and Spanish are quite similar languages in some ways, and many Brazilians can understand Spanish. English is not widely spoken, so try learning a few words and phrases in Portuguese – it is fun, and appreciated by Brazilians!

 

A buyer always carries change and small bills.

Vendors rarely have a lot of change, especially in the morning. If you want to avoid paying extra, or having to forego a really wanted purchase, do yourself a favor and carry a lot of small bills and change.

This also applies to supermarkets and stores. Cashiers are not allowed to have large amounts of cash, and are not properly stocked with change as would be the norm in most other countries. In order to change your large bill, they will need to either receive help from a supervisor, or take the bill to the help desk like at Zona Sul and Princesa markets. Avoid the hassle, the long waiting times, and the inconvenience by preparing yourself for this, or by paying with credit card.

 

Everyone is always late.

If you invite new Brazilian friends to meet you for a drink at 7pm, it is likely they won’t show up for at least a half hour late, most likely an hour or more.

In the same way, if you are invited to a party that begins at 9pm, it is best not to arrive on time. Otherwise, you will likely be the only one there, and the host may not even be ready for you and will certainly not expect you. If arriving to a dinner, it is best to be 30 minutes late. If arriving to a party or less formal gathering, plan on one hour tardy.

 

Greetings are touchy.

Men usually shake hands when greeting, while maintaining eye contact. Women usually kiss each other, starting with the left cheek and then alternating, even when first meeting. In some regions, and Rio de Janeiro especially, kissing cheeks is more common than handshakes, including when first meeting.

 

A question is the most popular way to say “Hello!”

When you greet someone, you ask “Tudo bem?” (sounds like toodoo bayne) or “Tudo bom?”
It literally means “All well?” or “All good?”
The proper response is Tudo (tuuu-do) or Tudo bem (tuuu-do bem, said affirmatively) or Tudo bom

 

You should eat, drink, and dance to fully experience Brazil.

Some cultural aspects are special and original to Brazil, and to experience the culture you should be sure to try them.

Brazil’s national dish is feijoada, a type of bean stew made with pork, beef, and vegetables. Churrascarias (grilled meat restaurants) are extremely popular and feature a style of serving known as rodizio, where waiters circle the dining room offering cuts of meat.

The national drink is the caipirinha, a boozy Brazilian cocktail made with the national cane liquor cachaça, sugar, and lime.

The most popular Brazilian dance and music is samba, which is seen throughout the country. Other popular styles unique to Brazil include capoeira (a mix of martial arts) and bossa nova.

Town Hopping in Salta: The Calchaqui Valley Tour

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In Spanish, Saltar means to jump, or why not, to hop. So as the Northern Argentine province’s name implies, the best thing to do in Salta is to town-hop along the Andes.

The starting line for your town-hoping adventure is Salta Capital, one of Argentina’s fastest growing provincial capitals. Its unchecked-growth is leading to a rather sprawling and messy outer look, but at its heart, where the central square surrounded by the cathedral and the old museums are, Salta Capital is worth exploring for a day. Its colonial charm soon wins you over as you sip a cold beer at one of the cafés on the main square, admiring the old palm trees in the plaza and having your boots shined by one of the many – and famous – shoe-shine boys.

Hotels in Salta Capital are plentiful and you will be able to pick from a long list of family-run B&B’s, small three star hotels or elegant five star hotels. The Hotel Portezuelo, sitting on a hill just outside the buzz but only a 10-minute drive from the plaza, is a wonderful option, boasting a good restaurant and an outdoor swimming pool.

While in town, be sure to check out Doña Salta for the best empanadas (delicious meat or cheese filled pasties) and Locro (meat stew with corn and pumpkin). And whatever you do don’t miss out on the Museo de Alta Montaña (MAM – the High Altitude Museum), where you can see ancient Incan culture and craftsmanship at it’s best.

Once you are done exploring the Capital, hire a car (there are many car rental options) and head for the town of Cafayate. It’s just over a two hour drive along a paved highway with stunning views, as you leave the city behind and hit the Quebrada de Cafayate, one of the most stunning scenic routes in Argentina, with multy-coloured rockscapes and canyons.

Cafayate is the second most famous wine production centre in Argentina, and despite its popularity, has managed to maintain a wonderful small-town feel about it. The surrounding valley is dotted with wineries, many of them offering great accommodation and food. Famous for its Torrontés vines, that produce a wonderful dry white wine, the region also produces great quality high-altitude robust Malbec and Cabertet. If wine isn’t your thing, or once you have had a good wine tasting day, don’t miss out on the under-publicized Quilmes ruins, to see how those who inhabited the valleys before the Spanish lived.

A day or two later, hop to your next stop, Molinos, up the famous Ruta 40, the mountain road that runs along the Andes from the Southern-most tip of Argentina to the Bolivian border up in the North. Gravel and break-neck winding for most of its way, this road possibly has the most stunning views you will ever see, the most famous of them being La Quebrada de las Flechas: a particular bend in the road where you suddenly doubt whether you are in Mars.

Molinos in itself is a very small town, consisting of a main square, a small colonial church, and one very famous and lovely colonial hotel where you must stay a night (Hacienda de Molinos Hotel). The drive will have taken you three hours, so if you are still in the mood for a little more driving, you can take a detour to the Colomé vineyards, belonging to the Hess Estate. Colomé boasts being the highest altitude wines in the world and has its own James Turrel museum to boot (beware, you must call and book to visit the museum, free of charge) which is worth the two hour detour in itself, with or without a glass of wine after.

The next day head for Cachi, a two hour drive away and possibly the most beautiful town in your Calchaqui Valley tour. An exquisitely preserved colonial town 2.700 meters over sea level, Cachi is small and extremely quaint, but yet has a great selection of good restaurants and hotels, from small to large. To stay in the town in a high quality hotel, chose El Cortijo, a stylishly decorated colonial house with a great restaurant. If you would like to take in the awe-inspiring 360° views, La Merced del Alto, a 10 min drive out of town, is a wonderful option which also has a great restaurant, outdoor swimming pool and spa. If you are looking for cheap and cheerful, Hosteria Cardon is both those things, with a lovely tea house and exquisite cakes to boot.

If you would like an unforgettable soul-searching experience, try the smallest B&B in the valley: Lungdan, a 20min drive out of Cachi, it sits in the midst of a grassy valley. With no electricity to distract you, the room is lit with oil lamps, is beautifully decorated and has amazing views. Run by Daniel, a buddhist and writer who will cook you wonderful candle-lit dinners after which you can appreciate the milky way in all its stunning glory.

After Cachi, you can drive back down to Salta down the Cuesta del Obispo, a three hour drive down one of the most beautiful mountain roads in the world.

The Unexplored Highlands of Catamarca in Argentina

cCatamarca-Argentina

 

Of the many places that spring to mind when thinking about Argentina as a travel destination, Catamarca is not one of them.

Run for decades as a mining province by corrupt politicians, its outstanding natural beauty has been very much ignored, both by locals and foreigners. But its combination of awe-inspiring beauty and rustic abandon make it a fascinating road-trip destination.

There is one flight a day to Catamarca from Buenos Aires, and the airport is a strip of old tarmac in a field. Once the plane has managed a safe landing after hitting turbulence generated by different air currents from the Andes, passengers must exit straight onto the landing strip and giddily make their own way across the tarmac to an old and badly kept building, where a single creaking baggage conveyor belt squeaks suitcases around in a loop. Forget duty free, forget cafés and air the conditioned lobbies of the world you are used to inhabiting, think serious backwards middle-of-nowhere-stuck-in-the-seventies cowboy land.

Outside the old building, over thirty old taxis await anxiously for the ride that will make their day. Squabbling amongst the drivers is a very common scene that just adds more colour to the already extremely colourful backdrop.

The capital city, San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca, has grown considerably during the past few years and there is now quite an assortment of hotels and restaurants, but the few old family-run hotels that used to be the only viable options a few years ago still hang on, and if you chose one of these, it will add more zest to your road-trip. Check into the Hotel Pucará for a real seventy’s twilight-zone experience.

Hotels are the one thing that is not cheap throughout most of Argentina, from a B&B to a big chain hotel, they are all charging more than you would expect. Under this panorama, the mediocre medium-size family run hotels are the best quality-price ratio options. You can get a double bedroom with bathroom and TV for around 400$ pesos (about 70U$).

If you’d rather ignore the seventy’s style road trip and prefer a little more quality, then The Grand Hotel might be a better option, and if you want to go all out, the Hotel Amerian is the best one can find in the small provincial capital. But beware, a room at the Amerian will cost you!

Despite the backwardness of everything, car rental is easy and efficient and there are many options, if you splurge you can even get a pick-up. Once you’ve arranged transportation, which is usually delivered the next morning at your hotel door (costing around 250AR$ a day for a car) you are ready to hit the highlands.

A few kilometres after leaving the city, you will soon find yourself on deserted highways with tussocks of grass creeping their way onto the tarmac. If you enjoy solitude, your soul will be elated with the vastness and the wonder of driving for hours without another vehicle in sight. If you are of those who posses a nagging mind with a penchant to worry about flat tires, this might not be the place for you, many of the roads are gravel on high mountain passes.

As one leaves the misty valley and climbs over the mountains, the pale shades of green give way to darker shades of green and finally browns as you drive over the cactus-strewn mountain tops and get hit by the realization that you are on the top of the world. The awe-inspiring views sprawl out in every direction for hundreds of kilometres of red earth, lightly snow-capped peaks and winding rivers.

When you need a rest, you just stop by the side of the road and turn off the engine and climb out of that bubble that connects you with civilization and allow yourself to be awed by the silence. If you walk off into the mountains, there are places where there is no human trace except the sounds of your own footsteps, the silence in between each footstep ringing in your ears.

Head for Tinogasta, a small mining town 260km from Catamarca Capital (today the Dakar goes through it, so you might want to avoid that time of the year, unless you are a Dakar fan of course), where you can stop for the night. From there you can head to Fiambalá the next day, a small town hidden in the middle of the Andes close to the Chilean border, where you can indulge in the hot water springs – another seventy’s twilight zone experience in itself.

It’s good to have some plan worked out, but the best thing is to just allow yourself to meander and let destiny and the beautiful views to guide you.

Machu Picchu G Adventures*

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Inca Trail

 

Machu Picchu



Save up to 25% G Adventures

A challenging and very rewarding experience! Great staff and well organized. It’s no wonder G Adventures handles over 60% of the Inca Trail traffic. Food on the trail was very good (especially for the environment) and the equipment was top quality.

Trip Taken:
Inca Discovery Plus. Details available at G Adventures.
G Adventures Inca Discovery Plus

Getting There:
Fly into Lima and transfer to Cuzco via a domestic flight. Once in Cuzco, take ground transport to Ollantaytambo to start your trek.

Important note! Cuzco is 3200m/10,500ft above sea level. Many people will experience some sort of difficulty breathing and/or headaches. Be prepared and carry around Advil/Tylenol all the time. If you’re really worried, come prepared with prescription medication. After the first night, things should get a lot better as your body adjust to the climate.

Accommodations:
Both the accommodations in Lima and Cuzco are hostel style accommodations. Clean with running water, but definitely not a luxury hotel. On the trail you are provided with all the meals, snacks, tent, and basic floor liner. You have the option to rent an additional softer floor liner, sleeping bag (good quality and warm), and walking poles (all recommended!).

The Trail:
Roughly 45km, peaking at over 17,000ft above sea level. It is a difficult, but manageable hike especially if done over four days. The guides will give you plenty of breaks and tell you about the history/symbols of each area. While there, I witnessed some not-so-fit people on the trail and they were fine, albeit slower than the others. The view of Machu Picchu at the end is priceless!

Winaywayna:
There are many sites you get to see on the Inca Trail that you otherwise wouldn’t by taking the train. As beautiful as Machu Picchu is, many of the ruins you see along the way are even more beautiful including Winaywayna. You will come across Winaywayna at the end of the 3rd day and is rarely frequented even by those doing the Inca Trail. As hard as it is to go the extra 15 minutes walking after a long three days of hiking, Winaywayna is not to be missed. It’s a true gem that unofficially servers as a reward to those brave enough to do the trek.

 

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Canadians no longer pay $132 fee to enter Chile

Canadians no longer need to pay $132 fee to enter Chile

Canadian citizens no longer require a visitor visa to enter Chile.

Canadian visitors and business people can now stay for up to six months visa-free, which is consistent with all other visa-exempt travellers. The old ‘reciprocity fee’ of $132 the Canadian and Chilean visitors had to pay at each other’s incoming airport was also cancelled.

The new policy could save a Canadian family of four nearly $600 when travelling to South America.

In 2013, 10,500 Chilean citizens were issued a visa to visit Canada and approximately 31,000 Canadians visited Chile during the same period.

The change came about when a recent visa policy review found that Chile meets Canada’s criteria for a visa exemption.