The Galapagos Archipelago

The Galapagos archipelago is a chain of 18 major islands about 1000km west for mainland Ecuador. You can reach the island via commercial jet service from Guayaquil or Quito. Both cities have modern efficient airports and the islands have 2 airports that receive flights from the mainland. Getting here is no problem.

There are two ways to properly see these islands and experience the unique wildlife that can only be found here. There are many small hotels on the occupied islands of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela. These hotels offer day boat trips to sites to see the endemic species or just to visit a beach. We stayed at a wonderful Tented Camp for just 2 nights – called the Galapagos Safari Camp.  Or take an island hoping cruise on many of the small (all of the cruises are on smaller boats or ships) cruise vessels that will take you to a different island every day (sometimes 2 islands in one day) and go to the further away islands as well. The smaller cruise boats accommodate 16 passengers the largest up to 100 with choices in-between. Be sure to wear a motion sickness patch if you’re prone to motion sickness. We found some great options and booked using an expert agent to make sure we got what we wanted.

We chose to take a 5 night cruise on the Galapagos Sea Star . This is a 16 passenger yacht (8 cabins). There are 3 night, 4 night, 7 night, 10 night options as well. The price of the cruise included everything except alcohol and wet suit rental.  We recommend the wet suit as the Galapagos is on the cold water Humbolt current and the waters can be chilly. This year is an “El Nino” year so the waters were comfortable every time we swam. Anyway, our first day we had lunch and then went back to land for a visit to the tortoise reserve on San Cristobal Island. Then back to the boat for a meeting on the next days activity. Here is what you can expect…

  • Breakfast anywhere from 6:30 to 7:00 depending on the morning activity.
  • Morning excursion to a new island (everyday was a new island) Everyday this was a walk of between 1:30 hours and 3 hours. The thing that makes the Galapagos so interesting is the islands are each an individual eco-system. They each have distinct animal life. One day you’ll visit an island where you’ll see marine iguanas or a species of bird that you won’t find on a neighboring island.
  • Then back to the boat for lunch and maybe a swim depending on sea conditions. Also everyday we had some free time after lunch for a nap or just to relax.
  • The afternoon excursion was either another hike or snorkeling or both.
  • After the afternoon activity everyone gathered for a meeting where our guide previewed the next day and gave us the breakfast time. We usually had a glass of wine or an Ecuadorean beer at this time.
  • Finally dinner and maybe some game playing.

The boat had two hot tubs and with 3 hours notice the crew would make one ready for use. I guessed that the time was needed to get it up to temperature.

At night one of our favorite activities was to go up to the top deck and watch stars. If we weren’t moving the boat would have its top lights off and in total darkness you can see unbelievable numbers of stars. We just never get that dark in the city.

With your landings on the islands you’re either landing on rocks or a small manmade landing or most often on a beach. This means there are 3 different kinds of landings. A dry landing is on a pier or manmade landing spot. This is pretty easy with assistance from a crew member. A wet landing is on a beach and you’ll get your feet and lower legs a bit wet but you shorts will stay dry (usually). And then there is the acrobatic landing. This happens when you mess up the timing on a wet landing and it can be funny, unless you’re the acrobat. We also had one wet landing on a beach where the waves were breaking right on the beach, everyone got wet on that one as we were all acrobats trying to get out of the zodiacs.

The Sea Star cruise also included a naturalist/guide on every activity. Ours, Mira spoke perfect unaccented English and took time to explain everything we were seeing.

After 6 days of hiking and snorkeling we were ready for some relaxation. Of course we also wanted to see some of mainland Ecuador.

Land Tortoise

We choose 2 nights at Hacienda Zuleta, a hotel and eco-lodge in the Andes about an hour and a half from Quito airport. The main buildings of this hacienda were completed in the 1690s and the house and staff are amazing. We took a horseback ride to a local Condor rescue facility and also a short hike to a nearby water fall. This was the perfect way to end our Ecuadorean adventure.

Cuba Tour: Experience Its Rich History

Picture courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org
Picture courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Cuba has always been a mystery due to the ban on tourism. Today, the tourism ban is now lifted, and you can experience Cuba for the first (and hopefully not the last) time.

Cuba, also known as “El Caimán,” is located in the Caribbean Sea. It is surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Gulf of Mexico to the east, the Straits of Florida to the south and the Windward Passage and Yucatan Channel to the north. Cuba is the main island and takes up the majority of the land area; it is the 17th largest island based on its land area. In addition, Cuba is located west of Haiti, north of Jamaica, south of the Bahamas and Florida and east of Mexico.

Over 4,000 islands and cays are located in and around Cuba’s bays and surrounding seas. Some of those island groups are Jardines de la Reina, the Canarreos, and the Colorados Archipelagos. When visiting Cuba, you will notice that the land is mostly flat and then becomes mountainous in the southeast portion, including the Sierra Maestra, Sierra Cristal, Sierra del Rosario and Escambray mountain ranges. Besides many mountains, Cuba also possesses beaches and marshes located in its coastal area. Zapata Swamp is the largest marsh, which is approximately 1,750 square miles.

While visiting Cuba, you will find enjoyable tropical temperatures. In fact, the average temperature in January is 73.6 degrees while July’s average temperature is 80.6 degrees. November to April is Cuba’s dry season while May to October is Cuba’s rainy season. Its location is also in the path of hurricanes that are most common in September and October, Cuba’s rainy period.

It is an exciting time in Cuba’s history now that the tourism industry is open. Visitors can now experience Cuba, its people and its history first-hand. Condor Tours and Travel has an amazing eight-day Cuba tour coming up June 15-22, 2016. Lori Snow, Latin American touring expert, will be leading this trip. The following are some of the exciting excursions on this tour’s itinerary:

  • Parisian dinner show in Havana, the capital of Cuba;
  • Walking tour of Old Havana (La Habana Vieja);
  • Museum of Rum
  • Tour of Havana’s four major squares: Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de Armas, and Plaza San Francisco;
  • Sierra del Rosario Nature Reserve;
  • Buenavista Coffee Plantation;
  • Tropicana Caberet, Cuba’s world famous nightclub;
  • Che Guevara Memorial; and
  • Las Terrazas de Cojimar, the fisherman’s bar that Ernest Hemingway wrote about in his novel The Old Man and the Sea

These are just a few highlights that Lori will show you on this tour. Along the way, you will get to enjoy Cuba’s cuisine. Cuban food is a combination of Native American, African, Spanish and Caribbean-type cuisine. Meals consist of staples like rice and beans, tamales, black bean soup and rice with chicken. Citrus, garlic, onion and peppers can be found in Cuba’s food as well.

Depending on your budget, Condor Tours and Travel also offers four other Cuba tour packages that concentrate on Colonial Havana or Cuba and its beaches. These tours range from five days to eleven days.

For more information on these tours, please visit Condor Tours and Travel’s website today.

Panama Canal and the New Locks Expansion Tour: Experience the Old and the New

Panama Canal Expansion Status - August 2014
Panama Canal Expansion Status – August 2014

Panama, officially known as the Republic of Panama, is known for much more than its famous Canal. It is located in Central America and sits between North and South America. Panama is bordered by Costa Rica, Colombia, the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. Panama City, the capital of Panama, hosts nearly half of the country’s population of 3.9 million people.

Panama’s geography features a mountain and hill region that forms what is known as the continental divide. The actual spine that forms this divide comes from an uplift that rose from the bottom of the sea. This range of mountains is known as the Cordillera de Talamanca close to Costa Rica. To the east this range is known as the Serrania de Tabasará. Finally, closer to the Panama Canal, the range is known as Sierra de Veraguas.

Besides a large human population, Panama is home to more species of trees, plants, birds and animals than throughout the North American continent. Specifically, 10,000 varieties of plants and more than 1,500 varieties of animals call Panama home. That is a staggering fact considering that Panama is smaller than the state of South Carolina. For example, in the plant category, twenty species of orchid are located between the rain forests and the Cordillera de Talamanca mountain range. In the jungles, marmosets and two-toe sloths can be found. In addition, abundant tropical fish populations, humpback and sperm whales and reef sharks are in Panama’s protected reefs. Finally, pumas and jaguars run through the Panamanian jungles. This is just a snapshot of the many species of plants, birds and animals that live and thrive throughout Panama.

Panama is a tourist’s paradise as it is home to many beautiful beaches and islands like Playa Las Lajas, a beautiful eight mile beach, and Isla Taboga, a favorite island among visitors. Both of these places are popular for boaters, jet skiers and sunbathers alike.

Without question, one of the main events in Panama is the Panama Canal. Condor Tours and Travel will be offering a tour package in April 2016 to view the expansion project and the Canal’s new locks. The expansion project is slated to be done by the end of 2016, but the project is far enough along where you can see not only the modern improvements to the Canal but appreciate the history of how the Canal was originally built.

During its eight-day duration, this travel package also includes visits to the new Locks and Gatun Locks area, Miraflores Locks, Panama City, Gamboa Rainforest Resort, and the Gatun Lake. You will also get the opportunity to go on a tour of the Embera Indians, one of seven indigenous tribes in Panama. Throughout this tour, you will also get to partake of authentic, flavorful Panamanian meals and shop for unique merchandise.

Condor Tours and Travel also offers 21 other Panama trip packages depending on what you would like to see and what your individual budget is. Some examples of the different trips include the following:

  • Indigenous People and Ruins Tour;
  • Luxury Travel Panama; and
  • Panama on a Budget

Lori Snow will be personally leading the Panama Canal and the New Locks Expansion Tour in April. She has been leading tours for 15 years, speaks Spanish fluently and was the fourth generation in her family born in Panama. Her personal connection to Panama will make this tour even more meaningful. For more information, visit Condor Tours and Travel’s website.

Beyond The Galapagos Islands

Known as the land of fire and ice, Ecuador is located in the northwestern part of South America and is approximately the size of Nevada. Peru is to the south and Colombia lies at its northern border while two parallel mountain ranges of the Andes cross the country from north to south. The country contains diverse geography such as volcanoes, wet lowlands, central highlands, coastal plains, and valleys. The highest point is Mount Chimborazo, which stands at 6,272 meters above sea level and Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano, stands at 5,897 meters. The central highlands, also known as The Sierra, is home to almost half the population and many of the country’s oldest and most important cities. In stark contrast, the coastal plain is a hilly, lowland area with few inhabitants and in the far north is tropical rainforest while dry forest lays in the south.

Since 2000 the country has seen steady growth in tourism and between 2011 and 2015 the country had almost six million visitors, which has resulted in a billion dollar industry for this South American country. With arrivals at record levels, lodging companies and other tourist-based businesses have received several international awards, such as The World’s Best Green Destination for 2014, South America’s Leading Destination for 2014: Quito, The World’s Best Green Hotel: Finch Bay Eco Hotel, and The Best Adventure Destination for 2014: Cuenca. Furthermore, starting in 2014, the Ministry of Tourism’s main objective is to position Ecuador as a destination for high-end tourism and, in 2015, made a big push by being the first to advertise tourism during the Super Bowl.

Some of the countries most attractive tourist destinations are Limpiopungo Lake, the Rivas Refuge, The Chimborazo Forest Reserve, Cuenca, and most famously the Galapagos Islands. The Chimborazo Forest Reserve is a sanctuary for a wide variety of flora and fauna and spans across 145,000 acres. Shadowing over the countryside are Carihuairazo Mountain and Chimborazo Mountain. Many experienced mountaineers have attempted to climb Chimborazo and some have succeeded but tombstones honor those lost on the mountain. The Galapagos Islands lie on the equator and approximately 1,000km west of Ecuador. The island is comprised of atolls that are the tips of massive volcanoes that protrude from the ocean’s surface. These atolls mark where two tectonic plates meet and many of the volcanoes are still active. These destinations show the diversity of Ecuador’s terrain but there are many other different places to visit in this country.

Condor Tours and Travel is offering a travel package that highlights places such as El Porvenir, the Ecological Reserve of Hacienda Santa Rita, Condor Machai, and Cotopaxi National Park. The first day of touring starts with an early breakfast then departure to the city of Quito where visitors will witness Alameda Park, the Basilica, Independence Square, La Compana Church, and San Francisco Plaza. On the second day, visitors will tour Andean villages, meet the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, and shop in the Otavalo market. Other destinations include volcanoes and pristine rainforest. Another travel package tours the Guapulo Sanctuary, Imbabura, Guayllabamba Valley, San Pablo, and Cotacachi Village. Many more travel packages can be found on Condor Tours and Travels’s website and what can be seen from each package is that they all explore different aspects of the diverse, rich country.

Mesoamerican Paradise: Costa Rica

Costa Rica lies adjacent to Nicaragua and Panama, and has been termed by many as an “intermediate region” between Mesoamerican and Andean native cultures. The terrain consists of deep valleys, rolling hills, sand beaches, dense forests, vast plains, wetlands, mountains, and volcanoes. Cerro Chiripo is the country’s highest point at 3,819 meters and Lake Arenal, the country’s largest lake, produces 7% of the country’s electricity. While Costa Rica has been independent since the 19th century, it had once been a victim to colonization. During the age of Spanish imperialism, Christopher Columbus first landed in Costa Rica in 1502 where the indigenous population was swiftly conquered. In 1524, the country was incorporated as a province of New Spain and the Spaniards laid claim to the country for the next 300 years. Costa Rica then became part of the Mexican Empire in 1821 but in 1838 the country gained its independence. Today the country thrives on technology and eco-tourism and is known for its commitment to human rights and democracy.

Among Americans, Costa Rica is the most popular international travel destination. 39% of Costa Rica’s tourists come from the U.S. and in 2013 the country had a total of approximately 2.4 million tourists. The popularity is only increasing and the 2.4 million visitors in 2013 showed a 3.6% increase from the previous year. While the country has seen massive growth in tourism, the country maintains a philosophy of sustainability. The country balances the use of natural and cultural resources with the economic demands of society. The goal of this philosophy is to improve the inhabitants’ quality of life while enabling industrial economic success that contributes to national development. This is imperative for many countries like Costa Rica to follow in order for them to be competitive.

Many tourists visit the country for adventure and outdoor activities such as rafting, canyoning, zip lining, hiking, surfing, fishing and mountain climbing. Many raft along the Pacuare River, which forms the northern border for some of Costa Rica’s national parks and protected reserves. This river is known to offer some of the finest white water rafting in Latin America and flows deep into lush rainforest that is home to monkeys, jaguars, ocelots, and many different bird species. While rafting is popular, with outdoor sports like canyoning, visitors get into the heart of river canyons, waterfalls, rainforests, and volcanoes. Lake Arenal is a case in point because its diverse terrain and numerous rivers make it one of the most attractive places for canyoneers and other hikers. Many visitors also enjoy zip-lining because they get to explore the canopies of Costa Rica’s many rainforests and can even get a bird’s eye view of vast landscapes and water bodies.

There are many travel packages that show the natural beauty and biodiversity of Costa Rica. For 2016, Condor Tours and Travel is offering packages from six to fourteen days that include deep-sea fishing, rain forest exploration, beach destinations, volcanoes, surfing, and honeymoon packages. The fishing tour includes two full days of deep-sea fishing and lodging is at the Tamarindo Diria hotel. Guests will leave from the Flamingo Beach Marina and after the two fishing tours they can take advantage of Tamarindo’s beaches, restaurants, and nightlife. Between the jungle and the ocean is a nine-day tour that includes zip-lining through Selvatura Park, hiking at Tenorio National Park, and sight-seeing at Poas Volcano and the Central Valley. Accommodations include breakfast every morning and lodging at the El Establo Hotel and Rio Celeste Hideaway. There are many more destination and activity packages at www.condortoursandtravel.com that highlight the natural beauty of the most popular international travel destination for Americans.

All About Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is often seen as an unnecessary add-on fee but it can be a useful tool when unexpected events occur prior to or during travel. It protects from severe weather, cancelled or delayed flights, lost luggage, and family and medical emergencies. What is also important to note is the stark contrast between the average cost of an insurance policy and that of a claim. The average policy’s cost is $54 while the average claim is $1,524. Given this disparity, one would have to take 28 vacations annually for the cost of the policies to exceed the cost of the average claim. Furthermore, travel insurance expenses are not increasing nearly at the rate of some of the costs they cover, such as medical care. As a case in point, in 2004 the average cost of a medical claim was $1,040 but nine years later it grew to $1,570.

While the cost of a policy is low, travel insurance is not as relevant for certain travelers such as those embarking on an inexpensive domestic trip or if bearing any financial loss associated with the trip could be borne without much headache. It is also not as relevant if your trip involves things that aren’t covered by insurance such as staying at a friend’s house, if there are few or no non-refundable payments are involved, or if coverage would be redundant because of your credit card or health insurance providers’ policies. Travel insurance is most relevant to those who are spending more than at least $1,000 on the vacation, taking a cruise or package tour, on Medicare, traveling internationally, or if the vacation involves non-refundable fees and expenses.

Travelers can buy insurance directly through companies online, their travel agents, or third-parties who show plans from several different providers. When buying travel insurance one should always keep in mind that the average cost of a policy is between 4 and 8 percent. This will help determine if you are getting a good deal or not. Travel companies certainly offer travel insurance but many air and cruise lines, and tour operators will offer it directly to customers. Buying through your travel agent is one of your best bets because you have a pre-existing relationship and they can help guide you through some of the policy lingo. Your travel agent will also likely know about your destination and can consult you given your own background and travel habits.

Common Reasons for Needing Travel Protection

  • Cancelled connecting flight
  • Lost bags or important personal items
  • Lost or stolen wallet or passport
  • Lack of adequate medical care abroad
  • Family emergency
  • Finding an English speaking doctor
  • Terrorism
  • Weather

Insurance Policy Types

 Medical

Many health plans do not cover policyholders while they are abroad. The people who fit this category the most are Medicare recipients and citizens of countries who have a National Health Service, but those with private policies should check their policy before making a decision. However, even if you have medical coverage abroad through your current provider there is the possibility of being treated at an out of network hospital in case of an emergency. Many medical travel protection policies will cover participants regardless of where they receive care.

Emergency Evacuation

This applies to individuals who plan to travel to isolated and remote regions. This covers travelers in case of the need for a medical evacuation back. These plans can be as cheap as $40 while the claim could be as expensive as $30,000, or more.

Travel Protection

The benefit of Travel Protection is that it protects against losing prepaid and non-refundable fees. This would be the most helpful in a situation where your flight were delayed or you needed to cancel your trip altogether. Trips that involve expensive and its fair share of prepaid or nonrefundable costs warrant Travel Protection more than a pay as you go kind of vacation or trip.

 Baggage Protection

This covers items that have been lost or damaged in transit and expenses that are incurred due to delayed luggage. Airlines are required to reimburse passengers for lost, stolen, or damaged luggage, but, there are limitations, and is limited to only the flight. Baggage protection extends beyond the flight to the entire trip.

Personal Liability

This covers legal, medical, and property damage expenses in case if you harm a third-party or cause property damage. This is a less commonly purchased travel insurance policy but can still be helpful whether you know you and your friends are going to be rowdy or if there is a fair chance you will find yourself in an accident.

 

Rio Carnival 2016!

The Portuguese first ruled Rio de Janeiro after they landed in the Guanabara Bay of Brazil in 1502. This site, as well as the rest of Rio, was contested by the French because of its strategic position in Brazil. After two years of intense fighting, the French were not able to gain ground and left the region. After these conflicts, the inhabitants moved Rio to a safer area known as Castle Hill, and, during this period of peace, the city grew economically from its cash crop; sugarcane. With continued economic development and exploration, gold and diamonds were found in the Mines Gerais. This discovery reignited European interest in the region, caused further conflict in 1763. Fighting raged for many more years but in the 19th century Rio gained its independence, which was followed by economic, cultural, and political expansions.

Today, Rio de Janeiro is known by many Westerners as the most festive cities in South America, especially because of its world famous festival Rio Carnival. This festival is one of the largest in the world and the first records of this event date from the early 1700’s. This festival has always been a time when societal norms and traditions give way to freedom of expression and national unity. This manifested in ways such as the ruling class trading clothes with the lower classes, which would breakdown social barriers and welcome people from all walks of life. As the festival evolved, Parisian bourgeoisie added masquerade balls to the mix and African culture heavily influenced the carnival with dance and music such as samba and polka. These traditions remain a large part of today’s Rio Carnival festivities and tourists from around the world come to participate.

Next year’s Rio Carnival will be from February 5th – February 9th. There will be street bands playing along the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, dances at Cinelandia, and concerts at Samba Land and Lapa. Parades will crowd the streets and many themed balls such as The Magic Ball at Copacabana Palace Hotel and the Long Live the Beer Ball in Rio Scala will be held. The Magic Ball at Copacabana Palace Hotel is a black tie event where numerous international and local VIPs will be found enjoying a dinner buffet and open bar. The Scala Ball is held in the Rio Scala nightclub where patrons engage in thematic dances and massive parties. Twelve different samba schools will compete throughout the week but the highest ranked will compete on the Sunday and Monday festival. For less structured festivities, numerous options will be available for drinking and dining and much of the partying will happen in the streets, outside of bars and restaurants.

The city is also famous for the Sambodrome, Copacabana Beach, Flamengo Park, and Tijuca National Park. The Sambodrome is a venue that was built specifically for the Samba Schools to compete during Rio Carnival. This venue holds 90,000 spectators and will be used to host the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games. The Samba parades last from 8PM to 6AM and with the newest modifications, visibility and acoustics have been greatly enhanced. Not far from the Sambodrome is Copacabana Beach. This vacation hotspot is the most popular beach in the world and stretches for almost three miles across powdery, white sand. The area is surrounded by beautiful scenery such as Sugar Loaf Mountain and Fort Duque as well as nightclubs, restaurants, and boutique shops.

When looking for a place to hang out in the city, many visitors resort to Flamengo Park. It is the largest recreation site and place of leisure in Rio de Janeiro. Its popularity amongst sports enthusiasts is due to its tennis courts, soccer fields, and basketball courts. The park is also used as the finish line for many marathons and contains a pivotal segment of the Rio Cycling Race. Further inland is the Tijuca National Park, which is the largest urban forest in the world covering almost 13 square miles. This rain forest supplies the city with much of its water and has many picnic areas, waterfalls, and hiking trails. The Corcodova Mountain can also be found where many tourists travel to the top to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

Explore The Beauty of Panama

       The Isthmus of Panama has been a part of human civilization for approximately 10,000 years with indigenous groups such as the Ngöbe-Buglé, Naso, Wounaan, and Embera nations as its earliest inhabitants. In the sixteenth century was when the country began to change due to Spain’s conquest, but, fortunately, many of the indigenous languages have survived and the peoples of the Embera nation have endured and are accessible to tourists and other visitors. Furthermore, the Central American country sits between Costa Rica and Colombia and borders the North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. In this tropical region, the climate supports lush vegetation and extravagant biodiversity that has become part of the booming industry of ecotourism.

        The country became famous, especially to the Western world, in the 20th century with the completion of the Panama Canal. Many tours are available that highlight the canal and surrounding sites such as Old Panama, Casco Viejo, and the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Condor Tours & Travel is offering such tours for 2015 & 2016 with accommodations at the Radisson Summit Hotel, Melia Panama Canal, and Country Inn and Suites Amador. There is one date left in December and there are dates available in January, February, April, June, and August next year.  The tour will showcase the Chagres River and national park, the Embera nation, Madden Lake, Soberania National Park, and the city of Portobelo.

        The Chagres River has historically been a trade route for commodities such as jewels, gold, and rare metals and is the only river on Earth that flows into two different oceans. What is most amazing about this river is, the amount of gold that has been transported through its waterways is greater than the amount of gold that has passed through every other river on Earth, combined. Furthermore, during the construction of the Panama Canal, the Chagres was flooded in order to create Gatun Lake and several small islands that were once the tops of rolling hills. Its surrounding tropical forest is home to hundreds of bird species such as blue and green Heron, the Great Egret, neo-tropical Cormorant, Red-Lored Amazon Parrot, and the Keel-billed Toucan.

        Along the river and inside Chagres National Park you will find the people of the Embera Nation. This indigenous population is comprised of several groups and the largest of these is located in the province of Darien, which is situated between Panama and Columbia. Approximately 750 Embera peoples live along the Chagres River and provide visitors with a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, river tours, and hiking tours to see waterfalls and their country’s lush vegetation. Their communities primarily operate as port-style towns where they are situated along the river’s banks and have relied upon the river as a trade and travel route. This tradition continues today where their community achieves commercial attention from the many tourists who wish to explore their culture and lifestyles.

        Another port city, to where visitors often travel, is Portobelo. This port city of approximately 3,000 inhabitants is located in the Cólon Province and was established during the Spanish colonial period. Today, fortifications from that era remain as well as Fort San Lorenzo, which is located nearby. The fortifications at Portobelo and San Lorenzo were created in order to defend trade ships and other cargo transport vessels. These sites are frequented by tourists and history buffs alike where these travelers get a glimpse of the country’s history and how people once lived and maintained their livelihoods.

The Wonders of Peru

Many of us learned about historic sites such as Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu in history and geography classes but have never visited them, or even the country in which they reside: Peru. Located in Western South America and bordering the South Pacific Ocean, this country is home to some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring tourist sites and vacation hot spots in the world. It is most famous for Machu Picchu, which is located in the Andes Mountains, but is also home to the Temple of Coricancha, The Cathedral and Church of The Society of Jesus, and the Racchi Ruins of the Inca Empire.

Machu Picchu stands almost 8,000 feet above sea level in the tropical mountain range of the Andes. The urban structures were built on the mountains during the height of the Inca Empire and, with a breathtaking view, one can also explore Inca architecture and culture. The archaeological site is comprised of approximately 200 artifices and structures that were used for agriculture, religious ceremonies, and the study of astronomy. This site is located in the lush rain forest of the Amazon basin and overlooks the Urubamba Valley.

Other famous Peruvian archaeological complexes can be found at Qenko and Puca Pucara. Qenko is located in Peru’s Sacred Valley of Cusco and is believed to be a site of religious rituals and ceremonies that were held in honor of the sun, moon, and stars. The site was constructed from the use of natural rock formations and Inca building techniques. Around the complex are zigzagged corridors and winding underground tunnels that are believed to have been used by the ministers and priests of the holy sites.

Puca Pucara is more obscure because its history is primarily a matter of speculation. Historians believe the site was built during the reign of the Inca Empire’s ninth ruler and, given its location, was used as a military compound or resting facility for military personnel, nobility, and hunters. Furthermore, the stone walls are shaped irregularly, which have led some to believe that the site was built quickly in order to respond to a rapidly emerging threat. However, what is known is that the grounds were comprised of canals, plazas, individual rooms, and luxurious baths.

In addition to Peru’s archaeological sites, the country contains magnificent civilizations that are still around today. In Lake Titicaca, the people of the Uros Nation continue with their amazing cultures and lifestyles. These people are famous for living on floating reed islands and having a strong reliance on the lake’s totora reeds for not only the ground they walk on but also other aspects of their society. These reed islands were constructed to escape the aggression of the Colla and Inca people and the most authentic of these sites can only be accessed by private boat.

Last but not least is Lake Titicaca, which is as well-known as the Amazon River and was considered by the Incas to be the birthplace of the sun. This vast water body lays almost 13,000 feet above sea level and the civilizations of the Pukara, Collas, and Tiwanaku left an indelible mark with their rich histories and cultures. On the Peruvian side of the lake, a popular town to visit is Puno. This city has been designated as an economic zone by the Peruvian government and has been named Peru’s folklore capital because of its strong relationship with cultural and artistic expression, especially dance.

New Tourism Opportunities in Cuba!

      Rich in history, diversity, and vacation hot spots, Cuba is a great place to explore the world and relax with friends and family. The country has many attractions such as the Valley de Los Ingenios, Palacio Brunet, and Plaza Vieja. Fortunately, with the newly relaxed travel ban, Cuba is now more accessible to Americans, US travelers can spend money more freely when in the country, and the categories for approved travel have been expanded.  With these new freedoms, travel packages have become available to accommodate US tourists.        

        Popular destinations are Havana and Trinidad because of their history, atmosphere, and beauty. With four plazas, many different restaurants, and bars, Havana is one of the country’s most popular cities and was founded in 1514. Havana once had the largest port in the region and its original walls still stand. You will also find Revolution Square, Colon Cemetery, and Las Terrazas de Cojimar. In Old Havana, one of the most popular parts of the city, is a blend of neoclassical and Baroque sites such as La Plaza de Armas and Catedral de San Cristóbal.

        Trinidad, located in the central province of Sancti Spíritus, was founded in the early 16th century in honor of the holy trinity. The city was also a launching point for the conquest to the American continent. Many of its buildings such as the Palacio Brunet were built during the 18th and 19th centuries during the height of the city’s sugar trade. Popular attractions are the Che Guavara Memorial, Tren Blindado, Iznaga Tower, and El Malecon. Many Americans know this city through the works of Ernest Hemingway who wrote about the fisherman’s bar, Las Terrazas de Cojimar, in The Old Man and The Sea.

       Last but not least, travelers often visit two of the most popular beaches in the world: Varadero and Santa Clara. Varadero was once frequented by Al Capone and has always been appealing to those with Champagne tastes. There you will find not only powdery beaches and beautiful blue water but also mansions turned into museums. This town is also a great place to explore the outdoors because of its many caves and forests. Santa Clara is also known for its powdery beaches and clear blue water but there you will also find Spanish architecture from the country’s colonial period. Both destinations are world renowned and should definitely be on anyone’s itinerary.     

       As Cuba and the US continue to warm relations, travel to Cuba will become even easier and popular. Many airlines like JetBlue and US Airways already have flights from Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and New York to Cuba. If you haven’t been on a vacation in a while then Cuba would be a great place to relax, sightsee, and rejuvenate your spirit. There are many more attractions and the experience will be life changing. Get out there and take advantage of this new opportunity to visit this absolutely wonderful place.