Ingapirca, (Ecuador)

“Kichwa: Inka Pirka (Inca wall)”, “The largest Inca ruins in Ecuador”

Ingapirca, Ecuador, April 2017

Moving onto our last place we visited in our tour in Ecuador as a day trip from our base in Cuenca; Ingapirca. The largest and best preserved archaeological remains of a city from the Inca civilization in Ecuador. This is for us the very first time experiencing a good example of the Inca civilization. Not the fascinating sites across Peru but good to have an idea on what we should expect hopefully in the future when we visit Peru and its amazing sites. As for Maya civilization we are really experienced since we’ve been north to south across the former empire in some of the best known cities and former capitals. Now it’s the time to step in another chapter of the history of pre-Columbian America.

The city, once known as Hatun Cañar by the Cañari indigenous people who inhabited it for over 1000 years before the Incas came from the south, was one of the largest, most developed and powerful. With the Inca invasion, their tendency was not conquering and taking over a civilization to suppress it, but instead to keep it parallel and live together peacefully. Sharing the knowledge, achievements and architecture between both. They did only change the name for Ingapirca, as we know it today.

Don’t expect however, to find a so complete nor large ruins. Only a few constructions raise some centimeters above ground, with the Temple of the Sun being the masterpiece standing at the higher part in the city having survived in great shape. This is the most famous construction in the site, built in the Inca way without mortar, as most of the structures in the complex. The stones were carefully chiselled and places to fit together perfectly without even a millimeter separation in between. This is one of their greatest architectural achievements. To compare against, pay attention at the Cañari constructions, where bigger stones were put together with mortar. (more…)

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Cuenca, (Ecuador)

“Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca”, “The Athens of Ecuador”

Cuenca, Ecuador, April 2017

Cuenca, the most European city in Ecuador is like being transported 400 years back, to the colonial era, or feel as if you were in a city in Spain. Countless historic buildings perfectly preserved since their construction, some of the finest architecture in the country thankfully safeguarded and not destroyed by earthquakes and volcanoes, the general unfortunate fate of most of the original Spanish colonial cities along the “ring of fire”, from Mexico to Chile. With such a huge heritage and history, equal to Quito’s patrimony, it is no surprise this is another of the highlights listed by UNESCO a World Heritage Site; and if that would not be enough, you can deduct it form its nickname: “the Athens of Ecuador”.

This was one of the highlights in our trip through Ecuador, a place no one should ever miss when coming to the country. One of the most beloved gems and most visited city, middle in the highlands of Ecuador at a height of 2500 meters above sea level. A great gateway not only for the history of the city but a great base for visiting a right region where you are never far from the Andes, mountains and volcanoes, pristine nature, natural parks, small traditional villages and some of the finest Inca archaeological remains. But beware don’t be fooled on something as important and as simple as the weather. Fair enough you are within the tropics where people usually believe in great weather, but can lead to confusion. At these higher latitudes and by the Andes all changes. It is only 40 minutes’ flight from Guayaquil where it rarely drops below 30 degrees centigrade, yet here the norm will rarely be over the 20’s mark, however on one of our days here it was raining horrible and was quite cold, and abruptly the following day was scorching hot and sunny all day through. Our last day was a mix of the past two. You never know what’s from one day to another.

Cuenca’s origin, although at over 8000 years of human activity, it can be realistically traced as a settlement to the Cañari people who founded it in around 500 AD under the name of Guapondeleg. The Cañari were defeated by the Incas who built in its place the grand city of Pumapungo, (the door of the Puma), actual site of Cuenca. Its magnificence was said to have rivaled that of the Inca capital of Cusco, and was known as the second capital of the empire. However, just half a century later with the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, they found the city abandoned and lying in ruins. All it was known were the stories told by the Indians about a rich city of wonders, golden palaces and temples, and therefore, considered a possible candidate for the mythical city of gold which the Spanish called El Dorado.

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Guayaquil, (Ecuador)

“The Pearl of the Pacific”, “Tribal Chief Guayas and his wife Quil”

Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 2017

The largest city of Ecuador cannot be missed on anyone’s trip through this beautiful country. For us, our second base after its impressive capital, Quito; although not for a long visit but for a rather short one. Unfortunately in such trips where we travel that far, we want to include as much as possible and always end up with a huge program to fit in just a few days, still, good enough not to panic nor rushing all around, and after all, very thankful for all the places we’ve managed to put a step on. At less than 1 hour flight from Quito what could dramatically change? The weather and the height. From around 20 degrees to over 30, very humid and tropical, and no height compared to almost 3000 m above sea level where we came from. After all, the truth is that a full day in the city is generally what you need for visiting everything.

Here in Guayaquil all the tourist attractions and sights can be seen in just a day therefore no need to over estimate the time unless of course, you are using it as your base to reach the Pacific. Guayaquil is your perfect gateway to the beaches at less than 2 hours, from Playas at the south to Salinas to the north. Combining the big city with some beach and pool time is a good way to break your trip in Ecuador and enjoy laid back rest. It’s not only the coast, but also your gateway to the Galapagos Islands. All the flights in Ecuador will have a stop over via Guayaquil before continuing to the Galapagos.

As opposed to Quito, Guayaquil is a very modern city with totally different kind of sights. Here do not expect to find such a vast colonial heritage one after another, huge monasteries and richly decorated Baroque churches. Instead, a small historic district in a hill at the north by the river Guayas and surrounded by some elegant late 19th early 20th century buildings along avenues and some towers slowly popping around; with a beautifully landscaped riverside promenade, the Malecon 2000; a project of urban regeneration that has won many awards and prices and given back to the city a prestigious space regarded until the 1980’s a run-down area and one of the unsafest places to be.

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Ipiales, (Colombia)

“Ciudad de las nubes verdes: the city of the green clouds”

Ipiales - Las Lajas, Colombia, April 2017

Our first experience and welcome in Colombia, as exciting as it sounds to visit another country, even though this is just for a tiny place (for now). Nevertheless, after coming here, whenever we plan a proper trip in Colombia it will save us lots of time and days in not having to come all this way far south in the country to get here and instead spare it for the so many beautiful cities and villages elsewhere through the country. From our base in Quito to Ipiales is 250 kilometres, which might sound not too much but believe me, it will be a lengthily journey, through 3 mountain passes and then both border immigration controls.

Getting this far south in Colombia, to the very last village before Ecuador (or first village after Ecuador depending how you look at it) might sound odd when you think on first instance, keeping you wondering why. However, once you do some research and get to see the major landmark that is the Santuario de las Lajas, you will immediately realise and recall it. It’s highly likely you’ve seen it in pictures, movies, travel brochures or somewhere, especially if you are a heavy traveller as we are. If you are on a trip through Colombia, then it is almost guaranteed you have this place in your tour, although will only make sense if you are continuing farther south into Ecuador, otherwise yes, it is really in the middle of nowhere. In the other hand, if you are touring Ecuador, it can be more realistic to do such a tour in a day trip from Quito; as it was in our experience.

Bear in mind that reaching Ipiales and visiting Las Lajas will take you an entire day, most of it will be sitting on a bus. In the plus side, the journey along the Panamericana is part of the excitement. Passing through countless volcanoes, mountain passes and lush forests; if you are lucky enough to have a clear day it is simply impressive to see. The beautiful and quiet countryside at the foothills of the Andes, with Ipiales itself at a height above sea level of 2900 meters, one of the highest cities in the world. (more…)

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Quito, (Ecuador)

“Light of America”, “God’s Face”, “Ciudad de los Cielos: City of the Heavens”

Quito, Ecuador, April 2017

Our first big trip for 2017, back in Latin America onto a new country not been before, already number 84 in the list: Ecuador. A country long been in the wish list however always so expensive to go, and hard to fit it during the best months to visit. This time all matched perfectly, with the right season to get there (more or less, it was end of the rainy season) and a good flight deal with Iberia. And as later I will farther expand on each of the travel guides for the places we visited, the internal flights were also surprisingly not expensive, something very rare if comparing any neighbouring country where internal flights are horribly expensive as for example our past experience with Brazil, Panama, Costa Rica or Guatemala.

We begin in the beautiful capital, Quito. This is the highest capital city in the world at almost 3000 meters above sea level, and of course, also the nearest capital to the Equator itself. And I find it hard how to start with this guide because there is simply too much I wish to list and I don’t want to be too long but straight to the point. However, if there is at least a single word to describe it, I must be using “impressive”. Quito, together with Krakow, Galapagos Islands, Wieliczka Salt Mines or Aachen Cathedral to name a few, were the first 12 World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978. Being in such list is always a privilege, and being on the very first one is a statement; but no one can doubt, nor question it. Quito is the most complete, best preserved and the least altered historic colonial city in The Americas. This is a place where time stood still in the 16th century, and no matter how many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in what is one of the most active places on earth, the city has been lucky enough to escape and survive almost intact to our days.

Originally settled by the Quitu Tribe and conquered by the Caras Tribe in 980 AD who then founded the Kingdom of Quito, it enjoyed some centuries of prosperity until 1462 when the Incas integrated the region into the Inca Empire, but not for long; just 72 years after, in 1534, they would be conquered by the Spanish who developed a new city from scratch in a matter of few years, becoming one of the most prosperous on the back then Spanish Empire for centuries. (more…)

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Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, (Costa Rica)

“The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica”

Cahuita and Manzanillo, Costa Rica, January 2016

Our last days in Central America after 3 weeks’ long trip were for relaxing and recovering from such busy days we had. Then what’s best than at the Caribbean coast by the nice beaches and warm waters? While in Costa Rica you have the choice of both Pacific and Caribbean coasts, it is merely up to you what you are really looking for. Either cold waters, long beaches with strong currents and big waves, ideally for surfing and other sports alike, or nice calm warm waters along small beaches. In our case it was not even optional thinking about the Pacific.

So after our rather disappointing experience so far in Costa Rica, were quite sceptic already in what we could expect. Anyway, we did a good decision although there was a very big downside in any case: getting here from San Jose. Yet again, another very lengthily drive, aggravated with the super long queues of cars and tracks because of the improvement works being carried right now at the road (January 2016). But with or without any road works, expect to be driving for 4 hours minimum, even the total distance is not that much. It is the only and main road for everyone going to the Caribbean, and onto Panama via the Caribbean side. Also because of Limon is the largest and main port in the country, hence the hundreds of lorries slowing down the flow enormously.

Once you reach Limon, the last 40 kilometres are easy and fast parallel to the coast. At first impression you will see dirty beaches and horrible landscapes. We were worries at this point! But hold on until you reach Cahuita, and beyond. This changes dramatically, with extremely beautiful unpolluted beaches, lush forests and nature. But you won’t be “alone”. You will be part of the many tourists all over the area. (more…)

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Managua, (Nicaragua)

“Indigenous Nahuatl, Mana-ahuac: Adjacent to water”, “The Bride of Xolotlán”

Managua, Nicaragua, January 2016

Our next country in this tour, Nicaragua, and base in its capital city of Managua for the next 5 days. With this we mark the country visited number 76, a whooping increasing number, although it is becoming harder and harder to raise the number, unless we start doing some cruising by the Caribbean, Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, and the biggest “unknown” Africa which I must confess I am not too confident because of the safety there.

While not many years ago Nicaragua ranked as a dangerous country to visit, with their civil war troubles, troubled government, poverty and overall instability; it has recovered from everything to the point of being the safest country in Central America out of the 7 that form it. Of course, like everywhere in the world, minding and caring for your staff and knowing where you go and where you should not is a prime rule, but indeed and after coming from El Salvador where we were having eyes even in our backs, Nicaragua was very pleasant anywhere, and Managua quite a relaxed place to be.

The only downside of the city comes since the 1972 earthquake. It was 23rd of December with everyone in Christmas spirit celebrations when the fate changed forever. Almost everything was lost, an entire city flattened with very few buildings surviving, some of which in a poor state and crumbling and not possible even to use them up to this date. The old cathedral is the best example, left as a monumental reminder of what once was a historical city with beautiful buildings, and the few that is left here today. (more…)

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San Miguel, (El Salvador)

“San Miguel de la Frontera”

San Miguel, El Salvador, January 2016

Our last day in El Salvador, and as planned some months ago, it would be for visiting the city of San Miguel in the east of the country, not far from the border with Nicaragua. Although being the 4th largest city in the country, it was the most difficult to find accurate information over the internet, or good pictures to make a judgement prior our planned trip. After our visit, I no longer wonder why the lack of proper information, or why not even a realistic map of the city. Well, there is nothing, NOTHING to make this trip worth it at all. It was completely a waste of time and entire day. Spending almost 3 hours on the most annoying ever bus ride to get there, and the same to return was a killer for just arrive there and see everything is a complete disaster, ugly and not worth it at all.

Yes it is true the city follows the very same plan as any Central American city or specially how the cities in El Salvador are planned, with a central square where the Cathedral and theatre is, and then 3 primary churches completing an alignment with the Cathedral as a cross and clearly marking north/south, east/west. That, is all there. And even though the Cathedral is a much newer reincarnation after the original was severely damaged on an earthquake, still a nice building. But all the hassle for only 4 religious buildings and a theatre does not make any sense whatsoever and if you have the chance now that you are reading this, do not waste your time and plan something else instead.

If I was greatly disappointed when visiting San Salvador, now San Miguel topped it all. Every street is a mess of non valuable buildings. Do not expect to see here colonial architecture since that is long time gone after the earthquakes and volcano eruptions. A very unfortunate location for a city right through the Ring of Fire. Don’t take me wrong but majority of the Central American large and/or important cities have suffered the same fate, but knew how to rebuild themselves and how to protect them in many cases like Antigua in Guatemala, Leon or Granada in Nicaragua, Panama City and many others. (more…)

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