Articles

Browse through our directory of past articles written by our veteran reporters on the road. Sections are divided first by country, then by columnist.

Colombia

Emilia Velestagui

"Huh?" I asked after my third or fourth trip to Cartagena. "Why is it I'm not seeing many Colombians come visit this treasure of a town?" My friend from Medellin smirked, then talked out of the corner of her mouth. "Cartagena is too 'rico' for Colombians. We have our own playground out in the back yard."
You could drive all around it and never know it was there. It's like every kid's dream of a secret hideout behind he trees, and only the invited members of the club get the secret map. Once you get there, you get the pleasure of privacy and luxury without being bothered by the world around you.
My mission was to find some lovely buried mountain treasure and tell you all about it. This would be an equally difficult decision, because there are so many of those too. The whole Colombian sierra is intoxicating and luscious, like a necklace of emeralds. But I finally organized my top picks to come up with a clear king of them all, Barichara.

Lorraine Caputo

Southern Colombia, stretching from the Ecuadorian border to the Valle del Cauca, offers you a wide pallete of cultures and landscapes, from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes and the Amazon. Awaiting you are colonial cities like Popayán, home to poets and presidents; Cali, the salsa capital of South America; little-visited national parks; a cornucopia of wildlife, hot springs and breathtaking waterfalls; and a wild hand-pumped train ride through the jungle!

Ecuador

Francisco Guayasamin

Alausí es un pueblo pequeño, prácticamente seria un barrio de una ciudad grande como Quito o Guayaquil. Localizado en un valle a 1.900 metros de altura sobre el nivel del mar, se encuentra rodeado de montanas, cuyo paisaje es fantástico y nos invita a meditar. Personas que desean ese espacio para encontrarse con si mismos a través de la naturaleza, se dan cuenta que Alausí les brinda una gran posibilidad, es una buena elección para vivir el resto de sus días.
Varios turistas extranjeros incluso ecuatorianos se ven imposibilitados de viajar a Galápagos a causa de sus altos costos. Los tours a las Islas Encantadas son generalmente caros. Un tour económico en un buen bote puede llegar a costar por lo bajo unos $1.500. Claro que hay barcos más baratos, pero el servicio es sumamente malo. (Galápagos para mochileros).
VLa cocina ecuatoriana es muy diversa, y algunas comidas pueden ser consideradas raras o exóticas para ciertos turistas. Uno de éstos platillos es el cuy, animal que en otros países lo llaman cobayo, conejillo de indias o guinea pig y es una mascota.

Kali Kucera

You wouldn't believe how many questions we get every day about getting from Bogota to Quito, or Quito to Cali. Lots! Why? Is it that hard? Well, whatever the case, it obviously raises lots of anxiety and questions, so let's just deal with it head-on.
One of the best 2-for-1 deals in Ecuador for backpackers doesn’t have anything to do with finding great vegetarian restaurants in Quito’s old town. It is a great selection of literal mountaintop adventures for both minimal time and budget. Am I talking about the famous Otavalo? Nope. It’s great, really, but turning more into a tourist trap every passing day.
If what you’re looking for is to see some wildlife on a tight time and money budget, you don’t even need to spend money on a hotel in Guayaquil. There are an amazing couple of things I found you can do in a single day-trip and then be back to the bus terminal by dusk to other amazing places in Ecuador.
My recent trip to Coca, Ecuador brought my attention to how rapidly the city is becoming hip and cool, and they know it! The town is getting the feel of becoming the Baños of the jungle (Baños, the independent traveler´s haven in the cloud forest of central Ecuador).
The vast majority of travelers arriving to Guayaquil hit the malecón, Las Peñas, and the Parque de las Iguanas. Then they spend the remainder of their time sitting around bored in their hotel, having run out of ideas. Fail! Oh oh oh, let me prevent you from the same fate, or better said, let me make your visit to Guayas, the province to which the city belongs, a great memory in your life! Yes, it's muggy, (but not at all times of the year), and the humidity provides for things you can't experience elsewhere, so look at it as a golden opportunity.
It's more common than you may think, or even realize when it happens to you. You've boarded a fast-moving and crowded bus, and are so grateful to get a seat. You're showing all the signs of being exasperated and disoriented, a little giddy perhaps. You've already made yourself a prime target. On buses there is not much in the manner of accountability or transparency. There is no cash register, no law enforcement, no fare guides. And you're more in need of the bus than they are in need of you as a passenger. Even more, the farther you get away from big cities, even less rules apply.
"I will not be responsible for you if you go!" Those were the foreboding words of the very well-trained park ranger at the gate to the Sendero San Rafael, the trail that was taped off with yellow "Peligro!" (tr. "Danger!) vinyl. All entry to hikers barred. However, I had traveled a day and a half to get here, through pouring rain and sitting at desolate cloud forest bus stops along the highway. So, I wasn't going to just turn around without a fight!
In traveling to Ecuador, how does the idea sound to you of having a Jurassic forest all to yourself? No, I don’t mean a Blair-Witch-getting-lost-in-the-wilderness type of a deal. I mean a protected forest where you have the key to the gate, as well as clearly marked trails to show you hundreds of thousands of years of paleontological history before guiding you back safe to home base.
There are simply some regions where bus frequencies get thin, and people adapt to other means of filling in the voids to get themselves around, just like I wanted to do. Nobody is really stuck; they’re utilizing a diversity of transportation methods to live, work, and move.
Mompiche it is not. Atacames it is not. And that's a good thing! Roughly half way between those two popular spots on the Ecuador coast, Muisne provides none of their expense, pretense, or loudness, but instead a huge beach and heaps of sublime peace. As I headed down the highway from Atacames, I could feel the sweet tranquility of Muisne long in advance. The calm breezes kissed my brow coming in through the bus window enough to let me drift off to sleep.
El Oriente is a paradise for bird watching, cave spelunking, and seeing some of the last virgin rainforests left on earth. And luckily, you don't have to travel that far into it to get your fill! I wasn't looking for dragon's blood. I didn't even know I was on its trail. I just was looking for a relatively easy and affordable way to see the eastern side of Ecuador for the weekend.
The Chota (El Chota) refers to a dusty valley sandwiched between two ranges of the Andes in northern Ecuador, in which mostly Afro-Ecuadorians are now settled. These culturally distinct residents were originally brought to Ecuador by the Jesuits to work as slaves growing sugar cane, tomatoes, beans, and a prickly pear called "tuna", and today are spread between 38 towns and villages comprising Valle del Chota (Valley of the Chota).
There is no Jekyll and Hyde analogy intended here. Simply put, there are really two physical and very different natures of the spirited and playful beach town on Ecuador's northern coast.
The Cañaris pre-dated the Incas as well as fought them. And while it is true that the Incas eventually defeated the Cañaris in battle, a history ensued of insurgency, assimilation, and various shades of conflict and cooperation between the two civilizations. What’s more important is that the Cañaris are still around today in the southern highlands of Ecuador, although in much fewer numbers, donning their distinctly noticeable thick-brimmed white sombreros and black ponchos, and thus providing some living continuity between the ancient and the present.
For hundreds of years, it has perched above Ecuador’s richest gold deposits, and thus became the lust of prospectors from France, England, Spain, and Italy. Each brought their families and cultures with them, giving the small town a schizophrenic feel where the layers of European and native Ecuadorian influences continue to stick their head out on every street corner.

Peru

Lorraine Caputo

Several South American countries are world famous for their wines. Chile and Argentina are chief among them. Peru, however, has its own ideas of how to peel a grape.
Always eager to avoid the well-worn path, I was curious to know all the alternative passages between Peru and Bolivia. I was pleased to discover three land border crossings, and one by water! All of these crossings use Puno, Peru, as the principal transit point.
You see, what I did not know before arriving here, what no guidebook had ever written about, was Moquegua’s rich gastronomic culture. On all sides of the plaza were stands. A million aromas drifted on the morning air. As I wandered around, I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy shop. I did not know where to begin. Breathing deep, I took a place in line. At each stall, I talked with the women about the dishes they were serving.
After spending a few weeks exploring Piura and the Coastal Desert, I headed north along the coast to Máncora. It has long been Peru’s surfing mecca, producing some of the country’s most famous wave riders. Some – like Fernando “Wawa” Paraud – have set up schools and shops here.
When it has come to deciding where to cross from Ecuador to Peru (or vice versa), it’s always been a draw for me: Should I go by way of the coast – or through the Andes? Over the years, I had always sided with convenience and safety as my criteria, and for that crossed at La Tina (Macará). More recently, my more important criteria has been saving money, as opposed to time. And still, for that I choose to cross at Macará.
It was a beautiful, sunny morning when I stepped off the overnight bus from Loja, Ecuador. The traffic in Piura was just beginning to hum along Avenida Sánchez Cerro. As I hoisted my knapsack, I pondered whether to head straight to Máncora and the other northern coast beaches – or to spend a few days here in Piura getting to know the surrounding villages. I’ve always breezed through this town, one of northern Peru’s main transportation and commercial hubs. But I thought this time I wanted to savor it.

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