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.

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.

The Panama Canal: History & Tours

      Built in 1914, the Panama Canal has experienced numerous renovations over the years and more than a million ships have crossed it since the first ocean-liner made the journey in August 1914. The latest addition has been named the Panama Canal Expansion and is the largest construction project to date. Based upon years of research and countless studies, the project has been assessed and evaluated for the economic demand for a larger canal, total construction costs and economic benefits, environmental impact, and the best engineering solution for the expansion. Construction started in 2007 and with a total cost of $5.2 billion, once completed, the Panama Canal will have wider and deeper waterways, a greater water supply, and a third set of locks for larger ships.

        Though these new additions are expected to increase the economic viability of the canal, we cannot forget that the canal has also been an attraction for many tourists. On guided tours, visitors learn about the canal’s history, see the Gatun Lake and the engineering prowess of the canal and its Gatun Locks. What are also available to tourists are surrounding cities such as Gamboa and tourist attractions such as the Panama Canal Railway, and Chagres National Park. Most guided tours accommodate for breakfast and lunch and bilingual guides are always available for visitors to have the best possible experience. A visit to the Miraflores Locks, Colonial area of the city, and Panama Canal Museum is generally a part of guided land tours.

        Specific vacation packages that are available are the Panama Canal Centennial, Historical Panama Canal Expansion Tour, and a guided tour of the Panama Canal and New Locks Expansion.  The Panama Canal Centennial is an eight day and seven night vacation package with a canoe expedition through the Chagres National Park, walking tour through the Soberania National Park, a voyage across the Gatun Lake, a visit to the Gatun Locks, forts Geronimo and Santiago and the city of Portobelo, and other activities such as a tour of Panama City and the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

       The Historical Panama Canal Expansion Tour is a seven day and six night tour that includes a trip to the ruins of Portobelo, Old Panama, Casco Viejo, the Miraflores Locks, and the Gamboa Rainforest Resort with the option to take a Jungle Boat Tour on Gatun Lake or a day trip to Chagres River and visit the people of the Embera Nation. Breakfast, lunch, and lodging accommodations are provided for most of the trip.

      The guided tour of the Panama Canal and New Locks Expansion is an eight day and 7 night vacation package. Visitors will be located less than five minutes away from the City of Knowledge and Panama Canal. The vacation package starts with a bus ride across the Isthmus of Panama that is destined for the new locks and Gatun Locks. Later, travelers will see the Miraflores Locks, Goethals Monument, new Church Towers and fortress, an aerial view of the Gamboa Rainforest, and a tour to see the people and culture of the Embera Nation.