Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ecuador: The Perfect Girlfriend’s Getaway

The men go hunting without us, or watch motor sports, now is it our turn!

Ecuador is the perfect destination for women travelers. If you are part of a group of single women who don’t like to travel alone…or simply a group of girlfriends-- Ecuador guarantees a legendary travel experience you will talk about for a lifetime!

Ecuador is one of the smallest--but most diverse--countries in South America. This small country, lies at the northern South American Pacific coast, only 4 hours flight away from Miami. Your airplane will land in either Quito, the Capital City, or in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city—located on the large Guayas River.

Starting in Quito, you should organize an easy first day, because Quito lies at 9202 ft (2800 m) above sea level—and, if possible, you should acclimatize yourself a bit to the altitude. It’s probably much higher in elevation than what you’re used to at home.

If you would like a variety of restaurants accessible on foot, stay in one of the beautiful hotels in the Mariscal district in Northern Quito. We especially recommend Hotels such as Cafe Cultura---or if you like fun-- try the brand new Boutique Hotel Nue House at the Quininde Place. If you like Museums and cultural tours, choose your hotel in the historical Center of Quito which has been designated as a UN Heritage Site.

In the Historical Center we recommend to you the Bed and Breakfast Villa Colonna, the Hotel Relicario del Carmen (3*), or the Hotel Patio Andaluz (4*).

A full day City-tour is an excellent first day activity to start your trip off right! Do an extensive visit through Quito’s Center with its 26 churches.

Are you the type of person who has seen Churches after you have seen 2 or 3? Don’t worry; there are plenty of other things to do!

Have you ever been interested in how coffee is roasted and how the different roasting levels taste? Find the answer in the old town of Quito.

Have fun walking through the colorful Ipiales market where the “Quitenos” find everything for their daily lives. The market is organized by goods. There is a shoe section with more shoes than you have ever seen in one place in your life…even in your closet at home, including those back corners you never visit--principally because you’re not sure what’s there.

Those more interested in culture should visit a wood carver in one of the monasteries where they produce crucifixes and Religious statues for the whole world. Get introduced to old painting techniques carried forward for hundreds of years-- and learn about Ecuadorians and their daily Ecuadorian lives.

If you and your girlfriends like shopping, you absolutely must travel to Otavalo. The Indian market at Otavalo is world-renowned, and is one of the largest of its kind in South America. Most every type of item is represented, and all different qualities of products are available.
For those of you who enjoy buying the highest quality textiles---from sweaters and blouses to wand carpets--don’t spend too much time at the market, take a taxi to Peguche or Iluman and visit the weavers, personally. Many of them can be classified as real artists and produce spectacular handycrafts you will find nowhere else in the world.

Overnight, stay with your friends in one of the colonial haciendas in the area.

Here we will recommend to you the Haciendas Pinsaqui or Cusin.

If you want one of the most exclusive Spa experiences in South America, stay at the Hosteria La Mirage in Cotacachi.

In all these accommodations, you can enjoy a candlelight dinner with your friends, a good glass of wine, or a drink next to a warm chimney fire-- and have a great conversation. Friendships can bloom, and lives can change---overnight.

If your group is more active, or you seek a more spiritual encounter, why not spend four or five days in the Rainforest in one of the beautiful Jungle Lodges? You will take daily Jungle Expeditions, guided by a bilingual Naturalist---or you can plan spiritual activities at or near the lodge itself. During the daily Jungle Expedition, you will experience Nature as far
away from civilization as you can get. Check out the La Selva Jungle Lodge, the Napo Wildlife Center or Sacha Lodge.

Especially for women travelers I recommend the city of Cuenca. This small city in southern Ecuador is also a UN World Heritage site, with many museums and with excellent places for shopping. Cuenca is especially known, worldwide, for both its ceramics, and for its jewelry artisans.

You can stay in one of the excellent colonial Hotels in the colonial center of Cuenca. One of the best options is the Hotel Mansion Alcazar. From here, you can reach the whole colonial center on foot…and don’t forget to try the excellent food and atmosphere in Cuenca’s many restaurants in the old town. The ambiance is unsurpassed, and the cuisine is first class!

A “must” is the travel from Cuenca through the Cajas National Park to Guayaquil. The Cajas National Park is said to be one of the best National Parks in all of South America, and Ecuadorians pride themselves in having “the best.” This park has hundreds of lakes which reach out and embrace you—almost singing a siren song invitation for either hiking or trekking. When the road through the park reaches its highest point at about 13136 ft (4000m) above sea level, take a deep breath and realize that you are at the watershed between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. Everything west of this flows into the Pacific. Everything east of this flows into the Atlantic, hundreds and hundreds of miles to the East. From this altitude, the road winds down to the Pacific plain with its large Banana fields.

Who doesn’t like Bananas? Visit a Banana Hacienda from Guayaquil.

You have a very interesting option in the Babahoyo area. Guayaquil itself is a tropical city. The “old town” of Guayaquil is called “Las Penas,” and on the Santa Ana Hill, take a walk up to the Santa Ana Lighthouse. On the way up, stop and have a drink in one of the many local bars.

In Guayaquil stay at the Hotel Unipark, just opposite Seminario Park or the “Parque de las Iguanas”—in local parlance. It may not be necessary to say this, but—please, don’t pet the Iguanas. Within this Park, Iguanas walk freely around—just like dogs or cats do at home.

Another wonderful option for lodging is the nearby--and less expensive--Grand Hotel de Guayaquil.

Guayaquil has also an International Airport where you either can start or end your trip to the Amazing Country of Ecuador, and all flights to the Galapagos Islands also go through Guayaquil.

You will see that Ecuador has something to offer for every taste and budget.

Don’t wait, come and discover...Enjoy Ecuador—A Place for Friends, Food, and Fun!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Galapagos Islands: The Perfect Family "Getaway Vacation"

If you are just making the critical decision of where to go during your next holiday, you are not alone. Have you ever thought of participating in a truly educational Galapagos Expedition with your children? It just might be the perfect family "getaway vacation".

Oh, there's nothing wrong with cartoon characters and amusement parks-but-as a parent, you're always concerned about the value of the time spent with your children.

Here's your opportunity to show them a part of the world they've probably never seen, and enjoy the entire process of learning, to boot! And if Mom needs beach time, you can still meet the quota! She can return with a tan, and stories galore.

Learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and enjoy the beautiful and unique flora, fauna and scenery of the Galapagos Islands... all at the same time.

Have you ever heard about birds that can't fly? The Galapagos has them.

Have you ever stood next to a Flamingo-- an elegant bird with his long, spindly legs---pink feathers and all; or have you enjoyed getting face-to-face with all types of Iguanas and nose to nose with huge turtles that live in complete and total freedom?

You meet these animals on daily expeditions when you participate in one of the exclusive Galapagos Cruises.

Perish the thought that Galapagos cruises are just educational, they offer immense adventures and true family fun. Nearly every day, you have a possibility to swim from world-class beaches. Has a photographer ever captured you swimming next to a Sea Lion?

In the Galapagos, it happens nearly every day.

Less active families can sunbathe on the beach, or simply chill---read a good book while enjoying the spectacular scenery.

I'd suggest a "Family Cruise" onboard one of several Vessels where you do not have to worry about your children. Children onboard these ships are in the well-trained hands of special Naturalist guides, who organize special land programs--exclusively for the children.

Often, we're asked how old a child must be to travel and enjoy the Galapagos Islands. In my opinion the best age is at least 10 years old. On most special "Family Cruises", however, children from 7 years and up are allowed onboard.

Two of the best Galapagos Vessels-- M/V Eclipse and M/V Evolution-- offer not only the best naturalist cruises throughout the year, but they are the only yachts at the moment offering special "Family Cruises" in the Galapagos.

It is easy to see why the M/V Eclipse is considered by many to be the best vessel cruising in the Galapagos Islands. Outstanding accommodation, world-class food and the best imaginable service make a Galapagos Cruise onboard M/V Eclipse one of the world's fin-est experiences. And this superb vessel offers special family departures during the US Holiday season.

The oversize yacht offers 4 spectacular Deluxe Staterooms on the Bridge Deck--allowing 2 cabins to be converted into a 3 bed cabins. Note, however, that because these are so popular, these cabins have to be booked well in advance. The other 8 Superior Double Staterooms offer spectacular views to the sea and the islands.

On the main deck are another 13 large Double Staterooms. They have a series of porthole windows to the sea which give them a very unique look.

Teens haven't been forgotten, either. Do you have a teenager who doesn't want to have to share a room-especially with a younger brother or sister? Don't worry; there are 2 single bed cabins available on the main deck-just for this very situation!

Public areas onboard M/V Eclipse are absolutely spectacular. Both inside and "al Fresco" Dining is offered on the Weather Deck (located between the Main and the Bridge Deck). All meals can be served in one session. Breakfast and Lunch are buffet-style and the Dinner is a la carte. Enjoy the exquisite dinner inside the elegant Dining room, no formal wear required-casual, sport clothing is expected.

The M/V Eclipse--offering three fabulous sun decks for sunbathing, reading or just enjoying the moment.

M/V Eclipse is one of the world's best "small cruise" ships and it offers the comfort of a much larger vessel. Don't hesitate to participate in one of its cruises.

Another luxury vessel is M/V Evolution. In a bygone era, privileged travelers experienced the magic and mystery of the Galapagos Islands in a relaxed and elegant fashion. You and your family can still become those privileged travelers.

As on M/V Eclipse, a specially-trained Naturalist introduces your children to the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands. M/V Evolution offers space for a maximum of 32 passengers and is a bit smaller than the M/V Eclipse.

On the Bridge Deck, you can enjoy the large "owner's suite" which covers the whole width of the vessel along with two large Bridge deck double cabins. These cabins are ideally shared by a large family seeking privacy--and they have it--because there are no other cabins on this floor.

The 8 large Main-deck cabins and the 4 large lower deck cabins all offer excellent comfort and convey the real "feel" of a cruise ship in the 1920's. Passengers of a bygone era had much more time to travel than many of us today. All cabins, however, offer modern comforts such as individual climate control and ample space to store and hang clothes.

The social areas of M/V Evolution are absolutely splendid. Gourmet-level meals are served either outside "al fresco" or inside in a beautifully-decorated dining room. The M/V Evolution is known for its outstanding cuisine.

M/V Evolution has an unforgettable lounge with wine bar where daily briefings about the next day's activities are held. This ship also features an extensive library about the Galapagos Islands and sun-decks featuring magnificent rattan furniture.

During "Family Cruises"---those that operate during the US School holidays, the M/V Evolution offers a "Kids Club" with special learning activities such as star-gazing and movie nights. Child-oriented Naturalists organize learning activities and provide children with a kid's Expedition Journal. The lectures about the next day's activities are organized especially for children--- the parents have plenty of time to enjoy the cruise and know that your children are in good hands.

Another vessel recommended for children is M/V Galapagos Legend. This yacht has no age limitation for children but any parents with children under 12 years of age are required to sign a "Waiver of LiabilitY" before they begin the cruise.

M/V Galapagos Legend has no specially trained staff for children, but the yacht has a playroom onboard with games and many play items for children.

Other yacht operators are looking in the future to organize special "Family Cruises" in the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos Islands offer a great family destination, where you can spend a beautiful, relaxing, and educational time together as a family; visiting impressive Island retreats, often far away from civilization. Few places exist where a family can enjoy this kind of combination.

Because of the uniqueness of the offering, the demand for these cruises is so large that you have to book well in advance---even a year ahead---especially if you like excellent cabins or want to pick your own cabin from those available.

This year, organize a Summer Holiday in the Galapagos Islands. This is a trip of a lifetime-- especially with your children and teenagers.

It's a trip you'll never forget.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Galapagos: How find the right Galapagos Cruise?

An Expedition to the Galapagos Islands is for most people a “once in a lifetime” experience. Good trip planning is essential and the following article will help you to take the right decisions.

When is the best season to travel to Galapagos Islands?

The Galapagos have the spectacular flora and fauna all rear round.

My preference are the month February and March because of the warm water temperature. During these 2 months the Galapagos are under the influence of the warm “El Nino Stream” and the sea can reach up to 86 F (24 Celsius).
February and March are also the rainiest and warmest months and the Air temperature can reach over 86 - 88 F (30 Celsius).

In contrast, during the month of August and September the water of the sea is only about 66 - 68 F (18 - 19 Celsius) and the Air 74 - 77 F (24 Celsius). During this period you have little rainfall and the vegetation on the islands is very dry and on some islands desert like. During this period the sea can be rough

What kind of tour is the best to explore the Galapagos Islands?

The best option to explore the Galapagos Islands is with a cruise where you sleep on the yacht.

There are the following kinds of cruises available in Galapagos:

Naturalist Cruises:
On this cruise you do guided land visits on foot. Depending on the island, you have time at a beach to swim and snorkel with sea lions and observe the marine life. You visit in the morning a spot, have lunch on the yacht when navigating to the next spot, and visit another spot in the afternoon.

Active Cruises:
As Naturalist Cruises but you have the possibility to Scuba Dive. Depending on the cruise you can do up to about 4 immersions on a 8 Day cruise.
The responsible yacht operators use specialized diving operator that takes you to special diving spots during the cruise. That means that you will miss the land visits during your “Diving Days”.

Be aware that the diving spots are often not where land visits spots are and if the yacht offers you an immersion at the place where the boat is located for the land visit, you will often not see much more as when snorkeling.

Diving Cruises:
These cruises are for the experienced diver only. To participate you should have at least 50 logged open water dives during the last calendar year. Make sure that the cruises includes Darwin and Wolf Islands. This kind of cruise is whiteout any interest for a non - Diving guest because you do only a very few land visits.

How long should I stay in Galapagos Islands?

The larger 90+ passenger vessels offer 4, 5 and 8 Day Cruises. All these yachts are fast, and even during a 4 Day cruise you will comfortably see a lot of the Galapagos Islands.

If you travel on a smaller yacht, - 20 Passengers, I recommend that you do at least a 5 Day cruise, but better an 8 Day cruise.

A general recommendation is that you do better a good 5 Day cruise than an mediocre 8 Day cruise.

With what kind of yacht should I cruise:

Large vessels up to 100 Passengers:
The Galapagos National Park authorities don’t allow vessels with more than 100 Passengers onboard. Most large Galapagos vessels are larger than for 100 Passengers, that means they are never sold out until the last cabin.

All these large vessels are very good organized when visiting the islands. You don’t really feel the large numbers of travelers visiting the same island at the same time. On all the yachts you have never more than 16 travelers for a naturalist guide.

Motor yachts for up to 20 Passengers:
A motor yacht is a great option to explore the Galapagos Islands. You travel with an intimate group and make easy new friends onboard.

You travel overnight from island to island and especially lower deck cabins will have motor noise overnight. During the day you might hear the Electric Generator.

Make sure that you travel in an upper deck cabin. Unfortunately not all the yachts have cabin assignment in advance or if they have, the upper deck cabins are more expensive.

Depending on the yacht, there are cabins with upper / lower berths or tow lower berths. Especially lower deck cabins on Motor Yachts tend to have upper / lower berths.

Sailing Yacht for up to 16 Passengers:
That’s without any doubt the most authentic Galapagos Experience. Accommodation is in often in cabins with upper / lower berths on the lower deck. Engine and Generator noise you will have as in most Motor Yachts.

The sails will be used only during the day if the wind conditions permit.

Most sailing yachts in Galapagos have a beautiful interior, but to move around is not that easy as onboard a motor yacht. Often you have to go up a ladder instead of a stair and larger guests have sometimes to draw their head when moving around the yacht.

Is it a good idea to bring children to Galapagos?

Most quality yachts have an age restriction of 7 - 10 years for children. On all the yachts you have to sign a “Weaver of Liability” if you child is less than 12 years old.

Think twice to bring children less than 10 years to Galapagos if you like to enjoy the trip yourself too.

Consider that the sea can be rough at any time and the journey by zodiac from the yacht to the island that you visit can be wet for the guests and difficult for children.

Most yachts don’t offer an interesting children discount, and on most cruises is nobody onboard to look specially for your children.

The exception are special “Family Cruises” who leave usually during the US School Holidays and are offered on some medium sized deluxe class motor Yachts. On these cruises is the age limit for children is by 7 years and there is a special naturalist guide on-board to look after the children.

Which ever tour you choose, a trip to Galapagos Islands is expensive and needs exact and professional planning. Make sure that you travel with an expert Galapagos Tour Operator who insures that you have have Your “Once in a Lifetime travel experience” you will be talked about for generations.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Gay Travel: The Galapagos Islands--a Premier Destination

Exclusive Gay travelers from around the world are finding that the Galapagos Islands are a spectacular new destination. The Galapagos gateways of Quito and Guayaquil may be reached daily with direct flights from Miami, Houston or Atlanta.

The finest Galapagos yachts are available for Gay Cruising to discover this unique Natural Paradise. Experience the Galapagos Archipelago on a gay cruise---something very special--and certainly not for everyone. One can learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and spend quality time with a partner far away from civilization. You can be personally guaranteed that you see the world much differently after your Galapagos exploration.

If you travel with a small intimate adventurous group of Gay friends and like a stylish and exceptional Galapagos adventure, choose one of the beautiful sailing yachts. When the conditions are right, the sails are hoisted and there will seem to be only you, your partner, the wind and the breathtaking flora and fauna around you.

For authentic Nature lovers who seek to explore the Galapagos Islands in a small group-- but like relaxation and elegance--they will find comfort and elegance in one of the beautiful motor yachts. These yachts are faster than the sailing yachts and for this reason-- you have more time to visit more of these special islands. Some of these yachts even stabilizers, helping to minimize the waves as you travel overnight from island to island.

Those who like to cruise in comfort and refinement should choose one of the medium-sized vessels which gives you a smaller-yacht feel, but offers the amenities of a large vessel. You have the option to stay in large cabins with matrimonial beds and navigate with comfort from Island to Island. Enjoy gourmet meals and make new like-minded friends at the bar after you land on your expedition.

Many wonder, "What's a day like on a Galapagos Cruise?"

A day on a Galapagos cruise starts with a wake-up call. When you arrive in the dining room, a large breakfast has been prepared and ensures that you have en excellent start for the day. After breakfast you have plenty of time to get ready for your shore excursion.

A small Zodiac boat will take you from the yacht to the island you're visiting this morning.

Your naturalist guide will accompany you on an easy hike--the length of which depends on the specific island you are visiting that day. The distance is never long and the paths are well marked, but good walking shoes are recommended because of the slippery undergrowth which you'll see from time to time.

During these hikes you will discover the distinct flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands. On most islands, you will have the possibility to swim and snorkel at one of the spectacular Galapagos Beaches. Have you ever been able to swim and play with Sea lions? In the Galapagos Islands, nearly every day will offer you the opportunity to do so.

For lunch, return to your yacht and during the meal you will begin the journey to your next destination, targeted for your visit during the afternoon. If the weather permits, lunch may be served "al fresco". After lunch you will have time to enjoy sunbathing or reading until you reach your afternoon destination.

Again, the small Zodiac takes you to your afternoon visit. During a hike you discover a new landscape-- and hear other stories about the Islands. Observe strange animals found only in the Galapagos Islands. Have you ever seen birds that can't fly? You will come face to face with Cormorants on some islands during your cruise. Animals in Galapagos are not scared of humans--as a matter of fact, they seem to take pleasure in posing for your photos. But don't touch them! Bring three or four times the quantity of film or memory sticks you expect to use for your camera because of the many opportunities you have for photography.

In the late afternoon, you will return to your yacht. Read a favorite book or have a cold beer with your partner at the yacht's bar until sunset.

Before dinner, listen to an interesting briefing about the next days activities. Often a documentary is presented to describe the next day's visit. Don't hesitate to ask questions and get the latest insights on the Galapagos Islands.

Enjoy a beautiful Dinner onboard your yacht with both new and old friends.

After Dinner, socialize with your fellow cruisers and enjoy a good drink or cocktail at the yacht's bar. Most barmen onboard the yachts are natives from the Galapagos and have other functions on the yacht during the day. An interesting conversation about Sailing, Yachting or about daily life in the Galapagos and in Ecuador is guaranteed.

It's been a full day in the Galapagos Islands, and tomorrow will be yet another. Tired from the many impressions during the day, you go to bed, enjoy a deep sleep and sweet dreams. In the meanwhile, the yacht navigates to the island you will visit the next day.

It is recommended you arrive a day early in Ecuador, and spend a day in Quito before you travel to the Galapagos Islands. If your luggage has been lost or flights are delayed --and both are too common-- either could ruin your Galapagos cruise.

Discover during this additional day, visit the spectacular city of Quito which lies at an altitude of 9350 ft (2850 m) above sea level. This beautiful city is considered a UN World Heritage site and lies just 20 miles south of the Equator. Quito has the largest colonial old town in South America, full of cultural heritage, with many spectacular churches and museums. Don't forget to visit the Equator Line outside the City which can easily be visited in an afternoon.

Quito is also famous for its gastronomy and even more for its active Gay life with lots of bars, clubs and cultural events.

Seize the opportunity to travel to Ecuador; enjoy the Galapagos, and make new worldwide friends.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Ecuador: The newest option for Gay Travelers

Ecuador, South America, is being considered more and more as a Gay travel destination without equal.

Gay expedition cruises to the Galapagos Islands have been very well known for some time, and there are several of these cruises offered every year. But Ecuador has much more to offer for the Gay and Lesbian Traveler—not the least of which is privacy, enjoyment, and a sense of comfort in the beautiful surroundings within Ecuador.

Gays and Lesbians seeking intimate time with their partner have romantic highland haciendas and small, out of the way inns, as well as major multi-star Hotels to chose from.

Enjoy a candle light dinner next to a romantic fire place or enjoy a nice drink and a good conversation at the hacienda's bar. Because temperatures can be low in the high Andes where many haciendas are located, a fireplace brings just the romantic touch, and will heat your bedroom to ensure that you have a cozy warm night.

During the day, haciendas offer activities ranging from adventurous horseback riding to visits to indigenous markets. There is a day activity for every taste.

Ecuador has a huge artisan tradition and most artisan workshops open their doors to the Gay and Lesbian visitor. Visits to artisan workshops can be combined with hacienda stays, especially north of Quito. Excellent handicraft workshops can be found throughout Ecuador, but especially in the city of Cuenca, about a 40 minute flight south of Quito.

Cuenca has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations and this small, yet bustling town is well-known for its excellent, colonial style Hotels and its Gay and Lesbian community---which can be found right in the center of the City. Plan on taking at least 2 days to explore the City and its surroundings.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to spend at least a half a day in Gualaceo and Chordeleg--well known for jewelry workshops and Orchid farms.

A short 4 hour trip by bus from Cuenca is the tropical city of Guayaquil. If you have the time, rent a car or travel with a public bus from Cuenca to Guayaquil. Make sure that you travel through the spectacular Cajas National Park with its hundreds of lakes.

Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city and serves as the main port for the country. The city has a very active gay community and it is an excellent gateway for travel to Galapagos Islands. The main gay-bars and clubs can be found at the Rocafuerte Street, 2 blocks behind the Malecon 2000, about at the height of the Ramada Hotel.

Before you dive into the nightlife, walk along the Malecon 2000 and walk up the stairs to the Light House above Las Penas, the small old town of Guayaquil. On both sides of the stairs can be found a variety of bars and restaurants, which invite the Guayaquil visitor in for a cold beer---far and away, the best drink in this tropical city. If you have a moment more, visit “Parque Seminario” or “Parque de las Iguanas” as the locals call it. Here, Iguanas walk around like cats and dogs in North American or European parks. Although it may be tempting, don’t try to pet the Iguanas.

Within 40 minutes flight time is the City of Quito. Should you travel in the morning, make sure that you sit on the right hand side of the Aircraft, because this side of the flight has the most beautiful mountain scenery imaginable.
Quito is a bustling, cosmopolitan city, and offers the most of all the Ecuadorian cities to the Gay Traveler. Stay in the old town. Especially recommended is the beautiful—and pricey—“Gay-owned” Bed and Breakfast “Villa Colonna”.
Not far away from this Bed and Breakfast you can find the offices of True Colors Travel, where you can get Expert advice on all travel related topics in Ecuador.

The historical part of Quito has been designated as a World Heritage Site by the UN and offers some of the most spectacular colonial churches in the world. In your visit to the colonial center, seek out and enjoy some of the various excellent museums.
The Gay Clubs and Bars you will find in the Mariscal district in northern Quito. Here, there are many excellent Bars, Clubs and Restaurants. You will feel a comfortable ambiance every day of the week, but especially from Wednesday to Sunday. For Gays and Lesbian who seek Gourmet Dining, there are several excellent restaurants be found behind the Swissotel, around Isabel La Catolica street. My favorite restaurant in this sector, and one which I recommend highly, is “La Choza” which offers excellent Ecuadorian food.

Quito hosts the most important Gay and Lesbian film festival in Latin America. For dates and programs visit quitogay.net

Ecuador offers Gay and Lesbian Travelers interesting options for sightseeing, enjoyment, and unique opportunities, and guarantees the trip of a lifetime.

For the best experience, participate in one of the True Colors exclusive Gay and Lesbian Roundtrips, organized by the Experts of Gay Travel in Ecuador, Galapagos and Peru. We look forward to meeting you on one of our journeys.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ecuador: Perhaps the Perfect Family Destination

Ecuador is generally known for the Galapagos Islands and the country’s huge biodiversity, but the country offers so much more-- especially for families who seek a very special type of holiday experience. Travel is safe; natives are friendly, and the American dollar is always welcome!

Quito, the second highest Capital city in the world, is connected by daily direct flights to America’s gateway cities of Miami, Houston and Atlanta.

The city of Quito has not only been designated as a United Nations World Heritage Site, but it lies at the foot of South America’s most spectacular--and easy accessible---active volcano. Share practical natural history and physical science with your children just a few miles from Quito!

Less active or physically challenged travelers can ride a Cable car up to Cruz Loma, enjoying a stunning panorama and beautiful views of the city from an altitude of 13451 ft (4100 m).

You can either enjoy the views, or--if you are the more adventurous type--the more active traveler or family can hike up to Rucu Pichincha at 15338 ft (4574 m) above sea level.

Another option for visiting this spectacular volcano is with a day tour from Quito.

Although not well known, day tours can present one of the more interesting tours from Quito, taken with children in tow.

There is something for everyone.

Plan on starting early in the morning by car from Quito to Lloa and leave the car near the Mountain Refuge; walk up to Guagua Pichincha (Baby Pichincha) at 15341 ft (4675 m) above sea level. This volcano erupted recently—the last time in 1999. Taking a look inside the crater and smelling the gases oozing out gives children—and adults—an unmistakable impression of vulcanism and how the Earth developed. One will never forget the smell of sulphur. You can see, smell, and learn--and only 10km from Quito.

While in Ecuador, families—especially city dwellers with children who have never been around animals-- should enjoy a practical animal experience in the beautiful colonial haciendas La Alegria and Hato Verde, just south of Quito. Both Haciendas are real working farms and both offer beautiful accommodations to the traveler. Imagine your children learning that milk doesn’t come from the grocery—but that it comes from cows! Children love to try milking cows, and you will be able to capture video that will help make memories for years to come. Let them spend time around the horses or watch the cowboys simply doing their daily work at the farm. Both haciendas offer horseback riding tours both for beginners and for the very experienced rider. Children are very welcome on both haciendas and even small children enjoy the farm-life. If feeding sugar cubes and carrots to a horse, milking a cow, or riding a horse seems too adventurous for some, why not take one of the cooking classes at the hacienda? Discover spectacular new recipes for cookies... these haciendas are an excellent place to spend quality time with your family.

One tour option is for the technically astute. Boys and girls always love trains, and in Ecuador, they are in luck, for Ecuador has one of the most spectacular and chaotic railway systems in the world. The tracks and most of the infrastructure is in dire need of repair, but despite that, traveling by train is an excellent and safe opportunity to discover some uniquely beautiful parts of the country. Some of the railroad lines are spectacularly technical masterpieces, with tunnels, switchbacks, and climbs in elevation that will take your breath away. Unfortunately, as in many areas of the world, the trains of Ecuador have completely lost most of their economic importance enjoyed in previous times.

For those who want to travel by rail, Ecuador has given rise to a new type of rail travel, a unique vehicle, which always seems to be pictured in travelogues. Next to the real trains, consisting of a locomotive and cars, a kind of “truck on railroad wheels” called an “Autoferro” has developed. On most Autoferros, passengers travel comfortably on the roof. During the last year, because of their popularity and the history of travelers in Ecuador in this way, comfortable “autoferros” have been introduced where you can travel comfortably on the roof, or inside the “autoferro”.

A two day journey from Quito to Guayaquil can be particularly interesting for a family. It’s exciting, it’s different, and it’s something that will be long remembered as a family adventure.

First, plan your travel by autoferro from Quito - Cotopaxi National Park, then transfer and plan to travel by bus to Riobamba where you stay overnight. Enjoy Riobamba, but get to bed early because you catch the early morning train to Alausí, through the spectacular Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose) to Huigra and Bucay.

From Bucay, take a bus to Guayaquil-- where you will arrive in the late afternoon. During the whole journey you’re in close contact with the local, mostly Indian population who live in the Andes Mountains. Find a rider who speaks English and strike up a conversation about the country. Ecuadorians are justifiably proud of their country, and your family will make a memory that will last forever—and just may make a new friend!

Between Huigra and Bucay you will leave the Andes Mountains and enter the tropical Pacific plain with its Banana plantations and tropical fruits. This journey from Quito to Guayaquil takes 2 days and it offers an unforgettable family experience.

At your destination, Guayaquil, this beautiful tropical city offers a lot for families. It is truly the most interesting tropical city in South America.

Take a one hour cruise on the “Pirate Ship” on the Guayas River and visit the Historical Park where you can view the local tropical flora and fauna. You can visit an old cacao farm, and realize the contrast to the simple farm houses you observed by the hundreds only the day before from the train. Stay in a hotel in Guayaquil itself, and not near the Airport.

Try the Hotel Unipark (4*) just opposite of the Parque Seminario or “Parque de las Iguanas” as it called by the locals. On this plaza, Iguanas walk freely, similar to cats and dogs in many neighborhoods in America. We’d suggest you not try to pet them, however!

Another wonderful option for overnight accommodation is the Grand Hotel de Guayaquil (3*) which has a small open-air swimming pool in the courtyard of the hotel.

It’s time for you to discover Ecuador. Ecuador is a marvelous destination location—just off the “beaten path.” There is much to discover, and once you’ve visited, you’ll want to return.

Monday, March 12, 2007

San Antonio de Ibarra opens Artisan workshops

Quito, Ecuador is generally regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Ringed by beautiful, snow covered peaks reaching up and touching the deep blue sky, Quito creates a world-class destination for travelers and visitors, and offers a true cosmopolitan experience, strongly influenced by both Spanish and Indian cultures from its past.

Traveling north of Quito, along the Pan-American Highway, lie the lush volcanic highlands. This land is rich and those who live here are friendly and cordial. You can live the visitor experience with colorfully attired indigenous people, historic haciendas, sparkling lakes, archeological treasures and towering volcanoes with verdant slopes
A visit to the craft villages of the Northern Andes provides a unique glimpse into the lives of the indigenous people who inhabit the area. The luxurious haciendas offer you a true haven for relaxation while you enjoy the magnificent countryside.

Just west of Ibarra, along the Pan-American Highway, is San Antonio de Ibarra. This small town has received world acclaim for its woodcarvings. Carvings vary from small boxes to large human figures to pieces of modern art.

On the main street, called “Calle Ramon Teanga” you will find art workshops--located next to the other.

Through the half-opened door of an artisan workshop escapes an aroma of wood that attracts me to enter. Behind the door sits Antonio Cisneros. He’s working away—and it’s not a miracle, but little by little, the trunk of a tree is being transformed into a statue of Christ.

Cisneros explains me that he is a 5th generation artisan. In the beginning his ancestors carved only religious objects such as wooden Altars, figures of Christ, various Crucifix renderings, and Angels. The younger generation, of which Cisneros is a part, now produces all kinds of wooden works such as furniture, modern and religious sculptures, art frames etc.

In every workshop you can find treasures; ranging from small carved key rings which can cost a dollar or less, to elegant sculptures which can cost over two thousand dollars.

Alfonso Cisneros tells me that Pope Jean Paul II was one of his best clients. The last crucifix he completed for the Pope now adorns the city of Wadowice in Poland, the city where Jean Paul II was born. As proof of his claims, he shares aged and yellowed international newspaper articles, handled by dozens of hands reading and sharing the marvel of this small shop and its owner.

In the same street is the workshop of Edgar Benalcazar, a specialist in paintings of religious statues. He covers the wooden body of the sculpture with gold and silver. His works are monumental and adorn churches in both America and Europe. All his painting techniques are secret and are from the “Escuela Quitena”.

At most workshops, with previous appointments, the interested visitor can learn the technical aspects of old techniques such as “escrafiado.” In the escrafiado technique, one puts a thin layer of oil color above a gold covered sculpture, and when scraping the color off, the end result offers simply beautiful golden forms. Other techniques, such as “chinesco,” make the wood more resistant to aging and abuse.

All these techniques date from the 18th century.

And not everything offered is religious artwork—a variety of offerings for anyone can be found. When you walk along the “Calle Ramon Teanga,” you will find popular art objects-- musical instruments, hut makers, and painters. In the same street you will find a variety of stalls where artisans offer crafts at a variety of prices.

San Antonio de Ibarra truly offers its visitors a unique place to visit, relax, refresh, learn from masters, and purchase treasures that will last a lifetime.