Beyond the Galapagos Islands – Ecuador’s Forgotten Treasures

Ecuador is one of the countries that you’ve heard a lot about, but maybe would never consider visiting. Why go to Ecuador on holiday, when there are the exciting destinations of Colombia, with its rich jungles and famous beaches, and Peru, with its Inca history and Andes culture, both nearby?

One fabulous destination that Ecuador does offer, and one that you have probably seen countless times on TV documentaries and in wildlife, travel and photography magazines, is the Galapagos Islands. The islands will forever have their position in history due to their astounding array of endemic wildlife species and their connection with Charles Darwin and his infamous work on evolution following his trip to the islands on the Voyage of the Beagle.

Galapagos in Ecuador Photo: Blinking Idiot on Flickr

Galapagos in Ecuador

However Ecuador has so much more to offer the discerning tourist than these islands, and the many tourists that fly in to Ecuador, transfer to the islands for a tour or cruise then immediately fly home, are missing out on so much! Having had the pleasure of travelling through Ecuador and experiencing the delights that this country has to offer, over and above the Galapagos Islands, I realised that many people are missing out. Here’s my brief guide as to the best of the rest of the fabulous country of Ecuador:

Basilica del VotoNacional Quito

Basilica del VotoNacional Quito

Quito

Quito is one of two main stopover points for international tourists travelling to and from the Galapagos Islands (the other being Guayaquil), but is potentially a destination in itself. If you ever get the chance to visit Quito (and you should give yourself the opportunity!) then try and stay in a hotel in the old-town city centre rather than in the new modern region – it might cost a little more but you won’t regret it.

This region of the city is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, due to its outstandingly well-preserved, ancient and beautiful central region. To explore this area is like stepping back to colonial-era South America – labyrinthine cobbled streets wind through white-painted buildings, leafy plazas, and ancient churches and religious buildings. You can get lost here for days, exploring, and soaking up the history. Make sure to visit the Basilica del Voto Nacional, if only for the adventurous climb through the rickety old roof for fabulous views of the city from a viewing platform on top near one of the spires.

Equator Quito

Equator Quito

Also worth visiting, although a little touristy (but good for a laugh!) is the equator visitor centre, only a few kilometres from Quito – stand on top of a painted line on the earth for a memorable, if a little corny, photo. Just don’t tell your friends and family that this isn’t “technically” the equator (they built the site in the wrong place – the true equator is a few hundred metres away!). Finally, for those that have fully acclimatised (don’t visit this if you’ve only just arrived), Quito’s “TelefériQo”, a giant gondola that travels from Quito, at 3117m above sea level, to the top of one of the valleys, at 3945m above sea level, offers excellent views of the city stretching away from you far below.

Guayaquil

Okay, so this may be a metropolis, and quite a large one at that, but if you’re going to pass through a destination (many international flights and connections to Galapagos use Guayaquil Airport), then it would be a shame not to visit the best of this city. Maybe not worth visiting for more than a couple of nights, but in that extra day or so you will be able to experience modern Ecuador – how Ecuadorian people see it and live it. Head down to the “Malecon 2000″, the walkway overlooking the Guayas River, built in 2000, lovely in the evenings.

View from Cerro Santa Ana Guayaquil at Night

View from Cerro Santa Ana Guayaquil at Night

During the day Guayaquil can be a sweaty and humid affair, but as dusk begins to set and the temperature falls this modern river-side getaway stretches for a few kilometres along the river-front, and contains many monuments, mini parks, restaurants, art displays and plenty of space for a relaxing stroll. At one end of the Malecon there is the fabulous district of “Las Penas”, which is a regenerated area of the city, full of many mini streets built up the sides of a hill, complete with perfect little art galleries, salsa bars and restaurants, and other delights abound – explore to your heart’s content! A walk along the streets of Las Penas will eventually lead up towards the hill at Cerro Santa Ana – there are fabulous views of the city below and a lighthouse at the top of the hill.

Art at Malecon Guayaquil

Art at Malecon Guayaquil

Unspoiled Beaches of Ecuador

There are many fabulous areas of South America that are not that well known by the English-speaking world. Take the beaches of Uruguay for example – very popular with Argentinians, and with Spanish wanting to escape the humdrum of Europe in the height of summer, but not really on the radar of other Europeans. The same could be said for Ecuador’s beaches, and it was tempting to not even mention the beaches on this list for fear of increasing their popularity – some places are best kept secret! The benefit of Ecuador’s beach regions, compared to many of their equivalents in the Mediterranean or other similar locations, is their relative quietness without the crowds and without high-rise hotels of purpose built resorts.

Beach at Montanita Ecuador

Beach at Montanita Ecuador

Of course, there are exceptions, with the city of Salinas being one example (a resort-town if ever there was one)… however a journey north from Salinas up Ecuador’s beautiful coastline (simply a delight at sunset) will take you past endless fishing villages, all sitting atop beautiful sandy beaches – just take your pick. Montañita, once a well-kept secret complete with lovely sandy beaches and fishing shacks serving up cold beers, has over recent years started to grow in popularity (the secret got out!), but is still worth visiting for those seeking a surfing style holiday, cheap beach-side villas, and glorious sun. As you head further north, travel along the “E15″ road and either stop wherever takes your fancy – try Mompiche, Cojimies, or countless others.

Cotopaxi in Ecuador Photo by Ainhoa Bilbao on Flickr

Cotopaxi in Ecuador

Cotopaxi National Park

There are many national parks in Ecuador, and all are probably worth a visit if you have the inclination, and time. Cotopaxi is probably the most well-known of the mainland parks, because of Cotopaxi stratovolcano that sits within the park and gives the park its name. The volcano features the beautiful symmetrical cone shape that is synonymous with volcanoes in general, and sits majestically on the Andean plateau (resembling that other equally beautiful volcano – Mount Fuji in Japan). Visitors to the national park are greeted by stunning Andean landscapes – rough tundra shrubbery, grazing llamas, indigenous farmers, sporadic farming buildings offering limited shelter – all with the sight of the giant conical volcano on the horizon. This is a landscape unlike anywhere else. The best way to experience this area is to get up close and personal with the region, and go on a horse-trekking adventure through the lands. For the brave, the volcano can be climbed on a guided climbing excursion, worth it to experience the awe-inspiring views from the top.

Horse Riding in the  Andes

Horse Riding in the Andes

Stay in a Hacienda

Not really a destination, but more of a way of life, haciendas were, and still are, large self-sufficient estates situated across much of the Ecuador mainland, around Quito and the surrounding area. Although their traditional ways have started to disappear, many of these haciendas have adapted and provide exceptional, and unique, tourism opportunities. Many excellent haciendas are close-by to Quito, so can easily be visited, and they provide an excellent way of experiencing what life might have been like for colonial people in Ecuador hundreds of years ago. The centre-piece of these large estates is usually the central mansion, some of which contain ancient Inca walls that were used in the construction of the mansions when built by the land-owners, and these mansions have been converted into wonderful and delightfully decorated accommodation.

Many thanks for this article to Jonathan, who spent time living in South America throughout 2008 and 2009, and who has travelled extensively in Ecuador. Since returning home to the UK, Jonathan has taken up photography after being inspired by the fabulous landscapes of the Andes, and works for Go Andes, a specialist holiday company that offers cruises and tours to the Galapagos Islands, as well as many other destinations through South America.

Photo Credits: Galpagos by BlinkingIdiot, Cotopaxi by Ainhoa Bilbao Other photos by Jonathan at Go Andes

For more South American stories:

Ecuador and the Amazon Rainforest
Coca tea or Cappuccino – in Peru
South America Backpacking with Indie Travel Podcast

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

An Insider’s Guide to Grand Cayman Island

In this article our guest writer, Catherine Stanley shares her love of Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, with glorious beaches, delicious local cuisine and flower-filled walks where you can spot the island’s wildlife.

If you have never experienced the Caribbean’s Cayman Islands, you should definitely add them to your bucket list. Having traveled to the Cayman Islands several times over the past few years, I have become very familiar with the three islands. Without a doubt, my personal favorite is Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands. Whether you are on a family vacation of just spending time with a group of friends, Grand Cayman truly has so much to offer especially when it comes to the variety of activities you can experience.

Miles of Sandy Beaches on Grand Cayman Photo: squirrelmachine.org

Miles of Sandy Beaches on Grand Cayman

Adventure on the beach

When you sit on the soft sand of the renowned Seven Mile Beach in the early hours of the day, it is easy to get lost in the mesmerizing teal-blue water, endless rows of beach chairs and lazy water sports. However, I am not one to just hang around when I am on vacation. Grand Cayman never disappoints as I turn to the adrenaline rush of kitesurfing.

Kite Surfing on Grand Cayman Photo: squirrelmachine.org

Kite Surfing on Grand Cayman

My favorite kitesurfing spot is Barkers Beach, found within the Grand Cayman Nature Reserve, towards the north-western point of the island. With its winding, pot hole-filled dirt road and occasional lizard sighting, it is fair to say that Barkers is off the beaten track.  I love the drive because you can see the bright colored kites, full with air, high above the trees far before you even reach the ocean. Once you arrive at the beach, you will find that it is quite removed from the rest of the island, swarming with locals who spend their free time out on the crystal blue water right off the reef protected beach.

Ivy's Cayman Treats Photo: squirrelmachine.org

Ivy’s Cayman Treats

An abundance of local culture and cuisine

After working up an appetite from kitesurfing, I like to make a pit stop on my way back at Jessie’s Juice Bar (great smoothies!) and the Farmer’s Market in Camana Bay. The Farmer’s Market has a wide array of items ranging from fresh produce and baked goods to homemade soaps. I always have to swing by the Ivy’s Cayman Treats stand where I do not leave without several bottles of Ms. Ivy’s homemade pepper sauces and jerk seasoning rub mix—all of which are to die for!

The Camana Way Photo: squirrelmachine.org

The Camana Way

As someone who is innately curious, I love strolling through the beautiful courtyards sprinkled throughout Camana Bay. I would have to say that Canella Court is my favorite one as I am a sucker for the shady trees and soft trickling sound of the fountains.

Colourful flowers on the Camana Way Photo: squirrelmachine.org

Colourful flowers on the Camana Way

If I plan on staying in the Camana Bay area for the rest of the day, I like to walk along Camana Way, a beautiful pathway connecting Camana Bay’s Town Center to the Seven Mile Beach. The path is full of life and covered with all types of native plants and flowers, giving you a true appreciation for the Island’s nature. Do not be surprised to come across the island’s colorful lizards and birds of all size. Make sure to bring a camera, you are bound to find numerous amazing photo opportunities along the path!

The Camana Way Photo: squirrelmachine.org

The Camana Way

When dinner rolls around, neighborhood restaurant and local favorite, Season to the Bone, is my go-to. Located in Windsor Park (about a 10 minute drive from Camana Bay), Season to the Bone has, what I believe to be the best jerk meat I have ever tasted. Grab a picnic table outside the restaurant and prepare to taste the most amazing and authentic jerk chicken you have ever had. For a generous portion of jerk pork or chicken plus a drink, you will spend about $15 and definitely get your money’s worth! Expect to experience a wonderful blend of culture and warm hospitality at this local food spot.

Ice Cream on the beach on Grand Cayman Photo: squirrelmachine.org

Ice Cream on the beach on Grand Cayman

A perfect sunset

After dinner, I like to head out to the Seven Mile Beach to watch the Caribbean sunset, one of my favorite parts of the day. The warm red, orange and pink tones painted across the sky make for an absolutely breathtaking picture. Without a doubt, Grand Cayman delivers both a refreshing tropical climate and amazing ocean views as the sun disappears behind the rolling ocean waves. It is quite a sight to see and I can assure you that you will not want to miss it!

Caribbean Sunset on Grand Cayman Photo: squirrelmachine.org

Caribbean Sunset on Grand Cayman

Many thanks for this guest post to frequent traveler and blogger Catherine Stanley, who runs The Squirrel Machine blog out of her home (and on the go, as long as there’s a WiFi connection!). A New York City native, Catherine has vacationed in the Cayman Islands since she was young and has developed a deep appreciation for the warm weather paradise. In addition to traveling, Catherine is passionate about writing and enjoys providing her readers with posts on a variety of topics. Head over to The Squirrel Machine for more posts on travel, entertainment, health, business and more!

For more Caribbean stories:

Wood-carvings at Anse Chastenet in St Lucia
Swimming, surfing, snorkeling – best beaches of the Dominican republic
Silky sand and clear water – beautiful beaches of Jamaica

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

A Walk Through the Historic Centre of Rome

In this article, our guest author Angelina takes us on a walk through her favourite sights in Rome, where every street and every building tell the story of Rome’s past history.

Since I was in my childhood years, it has been my dream to visit the eternal city. I was a big fan of the television series “Hercules” and was fascinated with the rich historical structures and breathtaking masterpieces that can be seen in Rome. My interest in Rome even escalated when I was in college where I studied about the ancient Italian history. Fortunately, when I got married, I was given the chance to travel with my husband Patrick and my two kids.

Rome is my family’s favorite holiday destination and my favorite topic to write about as well. Our first walk through the historic center of Rome was the most memorable and enjoyable trip I ever had. Rome is a perfect place to be, for people who love history, art and culture. Every architectural structure, street, building and ruins speak of the rich Roman history and culture; no wonder Rome is said to be the eternal city.

The Colisseum in Rome Photo: Romesightseeing.net

The Colisseum in Rome

The Colosseum

The most remarkable sightseeing spot I have been during my first tour around the heart of Rome is the Colosseum, known to be the great Amphitheatrum Flavium of antiquity. It is considered as Rome’s ultimate symbol that is situated at the center of the city. This great amphitheater was inaugurated during the height of the Roman Empire in 80 AD. The Colosseum is the largest architectural structure ever built in Rome and could accommodate as much as 50,000 people at a time. It was originally built for entertainment purposes but later on it was used for battles and exhibition games.

The inside of the Colisseum in Rome Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The inside of the Colisseum in Rome

It is in the Colosseum where ancient Roman gladiators used to fight against their fellow gladiators and against animals. I could still hear the cheers of the spectators who are betting for their chosen gladiators and the scream of the warriors in pain who are fighting for their lives. I could still imagine thousands of men and animals lying down the arena bathing with their own blood. Below the ground of the Colosseum you can see a maze-like structure of cells and chambers where gladiators and beasts were billeted and readied for their fight in the arena.

In front of the Forum in Rome Photo: Romesightseeing.net

In front of the Forum in Rome

The Roman Forum

Just a few steps from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum. During ancient times, Roman Forum was used for hosting local celebrations and festivals. It was also used for rituals and funerals of known personalities in Rome. The Roman Forum used to be the epicenter of the city life and the politics in Rome. It can be seen at Via dei Fori Imperiali.

A view of the Forum in Rome Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

A view of the Forum in Rome

The Spanish Steps

Take a short walk from the Roman Forum and you will find the famous Scalla di Spagna, better known as The Spanish Steps. It is the widest and the longest in Europe and climbing up to the peak of the Scalla di Spagna took us 138 looping steps. It was quite tedious but the scene from the top of the Spanish Steps was more than worthy of the sweat and patience that we invested in such climbing activity. The Spanish Steps joins two of the most mesmerizing squares in the eternal city; the Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza Trinita dei Monti.

Nightime at the Spanish steps in Rome Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Nightime at the Spanish steps in Rome

Who could ever afford to miss visiting the Vatican City in Rome? The Vatican is a state within a state. It is a landlocked city that is known as the official residence of the highest Roman Catholic authority, the Pope. Vatican is known to be the center of Roman Catholic and the smallest independent state of the world.

St Peter's Basilica in Rome Photo: Romesightseeing.net

St Peter’s Basilica in Rome

 St. Peter’s Basilica

We were also given the chance to tour around the intricately designed churches in the Vatican. We had visited the St. Peter’s Basilica, which is considered the mother of all the churches in Rome and the center of Christianity and walked on to the Sistine Chapel. Seeing the complex and breathtaking paintings of Michelangelo on the ceilings of the chapel was the experience of a lifetime. It was fascinating and seemed close to impossibility how such a master as Michelangelo made the best painting in the world.

The Trevi Fountain in Rome Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Trevi Fountain in Rome

Among the highlights of our tour was a visit to the Trevi Fountain. This is just one among the attractive fountains found in Rome, a theatrical masterpiece built in Baroque style. The Trevi fountain is simply majestic and no matter what time of the day, you will truly enjoy visiting this spot. Before we went on, we tossed a coin into the fountain to guarantee good luck and to be sure to come back to visit to Rome in the future.

Bio photoMany thanks for this article to Angelina, a 29 year old mother of two, and the owner of romesightseeing.net. Angelina loves to travel together with her husband Patrick and their kids to their favorite holiday destinations of Rome and Paris.

For more Roman holiday ideas:

Chiesa Santa Maria in Trastevere – in Rome
The Rome of childhood memories
Cakes from Pasticceria Saliola – in Rome

This article by Angelina is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

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