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Dec 2018

Quito: gateway to the Amazon and gateway to the Galapagos

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Galapagos Islands, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Jet lag: that’s the first thing that strikes you upon arrival in Ecuador! So no matter where you’re staying, head to the café inside Hotel Plaza Grande and order “Los Corridos” which is traditional homemade ice cream …. lights dim, bells chime and a waiter wearing a purple cloak serves the desert that sits on a smouldering bed of dry ice! The perfect antidote to jaded in-flight memories.

Ecuador's beautiful capital, Quito, surrounded by a ring of snow-capped volcanoes.

Ecuador’s beautiful capital, Quito, surrounded by a ring of snow-capped volcanoes.

Quito’s high, over 3,000m (9,350’) so take it easy: stroll around Mercado San Francisco, where the locals shop sell everything from Disney-inspired kitsch toys to fresh cow’s tails and entire pig’s heads. There’s an interesting herbal remedies section. Check out the Piñata shops featuring Minions, giant beer cans and terracotta donkeys (A piñata is a terracotta container, dressed up as something eye-catching and filled with sweets. A popular party game is to whack it with a stick till it smashes and the sweeties tumble out). Then seek out some of the legendary South American coffee, and Casa Gangotena café, which overlooks Plaza San Francisco, takes some beating. Try the ‘bonitisimas’ (corn patties made with quinoa and trout) or my favourite, ceviche, which is fresh fish marinated in lime juice and served cold (much, much better than it sounds!)

Mid-day is the perfect time to visit middle earth, and Quito boasts 2. There’s the state run “Middle of the World Park” which erroneously claims to be Earth’s mid-point @ 0° latitude. But it isn’t. It’s actually several hundred metres out! Get a guide to show you the actual point and there you can do the ‘water down the plughole’ test (clockwise in the north; anti-clockwise in the south, or is it the other way around?)

Pululahue Volcano is 20 mins from the city centre. The Geobotanical Gardens cling to the slopes and the plants are remarkable to wander around. They also have various animals (Spectacled Bear, big cats and so forth which may or might not appeal). But you have to head to El Crater Restaurant, which is right on the crater’s rim, and try some cocoa tea.

If your stamina allows, visit Vista Hermosa, which is a rooftop restaurant, for supper. Live music and excellent people-watching provided free.

Coffee flower: how the story begins.

Coffee flower: how the story begins.

Day 2
Get out of town: head to Rosadex rose farm which is two hours away through the volcanoes. It’s a lovely drive matched by a beautiful destination, far from the hum of the city. The roses are mostly for export, and too many are scentless, but beautiful to look at.

On the way back to Quito, stop in Guayllabamba to enjoy the “chirimoyas” a so sweet, and utterly typical fruit (no English translation for this one!)

Hummingbird seen from a coffee-shop in central Quito

Hummingbird seen from a coffee-shop in central Quito

All Latin cities have one now: a Teleferico Gondola. Quito’s runs from downtown up the Pichincha volcano (13,450’) so take it easy. The view from the top is just superb and you get a real sense of why Quito is built where it’s built.

And to round off your two days in Quito, a choice!
1. Urko restaurant, serves traditional Ecuadorian food with a twist; for example, their version of ceviche is called jipijapa (octopus). They also have the city’s best live music venue, Misquilla.
2. Competing for your custom is a visit to Ichimbia; another great view of the city while dinner at Café Mosaico is served.

To make any or all of this happen, give the office a call, or speak to our resident Quito guide, Paulina Vivanco:

Paulina Vivanco: Pauli and pooch!

Paulina Vivanco: Pauli and pooch!

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Jun 2017

10 Reasons to go to South America

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Galapagos Islands, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Look at the back of any of the guidebooks in Waterstones and you’ll notice that the only one that says “the most exciting continent on the planet” is the one for South America. It goes on to say that if you’re jaded or bored with life, it’s the place to go.

Here are ten reasons to go:
1) It’s a super colourful continent: the people, their clothes, the food, the views, life itself is all in full colour.

2) The music: whether it’s Tango, Salsa, Merengue, pan pipes, drums or a mix, music fills the air wherever you go.

3) The Andes: the longest mountain range on earth; stunning high mountains to be looked at, trekked on, climbed, feared or admired.

Green macaxs

Green macaxs at a clay-lick in the Amazon

4) Waterfalls: The Angel Falls, Venezuela (world’s highest) and Iguassu Falls, Argentina/Brazil border (huge) are both very impressive.

5) The Amazon: The largest rain forest on earth; enormous, wild, the most diverse ecosystem there is, the Amazon river itself, anacondas, monkeys, morpho butterflies, tribal people, medicinal plants, canoe trips ………

6) Islands: Los Roques, Venezuela is a Caribbean paradise. The Galapagos Islands off Ecuador are renowned for the tame wildlife and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Easter Island in the remote Pacific off Chile is famous for its carved head statues with mysterious origins.

7) Beaches: Caribbean, Pacific, Atlantic. Miles and miles of beaches for all tastes, from chilled and calm with thatched huts, to big wave surfing, to the much feared Cape horn at the end of the world!

8) Crazy politics; no continent has a more fascinating political history, filled with revolutions, wars for independence and larger than life characters like Ché Guevara and Evita.

9) The vast diversity of landscape: you can experience coast, mountains, desert and jungle all within a few days. It’s got it all!

10) The X factor: South America just seems to put a spell on people; an undefinable, infectious magnetic pull which draws you back to it again and again, and may be incurable requiring several return visits!

11) One for luck: 2 new ‘wonders of the world’: Machu Picchu, Peru and Rio’s Christ The Redeemer statue, Brazil. In fact, when it comes to ancient cultures and sites to explore Indiana Jones style, nowhere comes close.

Tempted? Why not go and find out for yourself.

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