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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Easter Island, (Chile)

“Spanish: Isla de Pascua”, “Polynesian: Rapa Nui”, “The Most Isolated Island on Earth”

Easter Island, Chile, April 2015

Travelling to the most remote place I’ve ever been to from all the 70 countries I’ve visited so far up to date (April 2015), the decision of travelling to Easter Island was not even optional after booking the tickets to Santiago. We for sure knew that getting here was going to be in fact the main purpose of the whole trip altogether. After all, we made the 17 hours flight it takes from London to Santiago (via Madrid), so another 5.5 hours extra was not going to be much difficult. And to our great surprise only to find out that we would be flying Business Class with LAN as they overbooked the Economy Class. Well, one of the “added” benefits of being a Silver/Sapphire member with the One World Alliance, free upgrades when overbooked.

Easter Island; also known by its Polynesian name of Rapa Nui is one of the most remote islands on earth at almost 4000 kilometers away from the nearest mainland, Chile, where its jurisdiction belongs to. Mataveri Airport officially hold the title of the most remote of any international airports in the planet.

Now something that you need to bear in mind and consider before planning a trip here are the costs. It is highly likely that your main international and/or intercontinental flight to Santiago will be cheaper than the “internal” flight between Santiago and Rapa Nui. The only explanation, apart from the distance of course, is lucrative reasons. Being the only daily flight and LAN Chile the only airline in the route then they can set the prices as high as they consider. Do not expect to find any deal ever here unfortunately but in any case, don’t even think twice and specially if you are coming from far away as us from the U.K. If you ask me now, was it really worth it? My answer is 100% yes.

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Valparaiso, (Chile)

“Little San Francisco”, “The Jewel of the Pacific”, “Chile’s Cultural City”

Valparaiso, Chile, April 2015

Getting to our second destination in Chile, although just as a day trip from Santiago, we visited what is many people describes as the most beautiful and picturesque city in the country. The 3rd largest city and most important port in the country and the whole of the South Pacific. It is also home to an incredible collection of beautiful colourful Victorian houses perched on the many hills of the city and overlooking the South Pacific Ocean, linked with the lower parts of the city by its unique network of old funicular lifts. All of this contributed for the city to be listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On the last point, the funiculars, is what gets the city special attention and gives that extra charm. Although originally there were over 26 in operation, today the number is reduced to “just” 8 where unfortunately, there is still much work that should be done in order to ensure their operation for future generations. It’s an unique industrial heritage only found in Valparaiso in such an extent. I can only think of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (U.S.) where a similar yet more reduced network was constructed dating to the same age as Valparaiso’s one.

The city grew and thrived ever since Chile’s independence from Spain right until the opening of the Panama Canal, with its port becoming the largest and most important for all ships en-route from the Pacific to the Atlantic across the Magellan Straights. From 1912 the city experienced a steep decline, coupled with natural disasters as earthquakes, but recovered and continues to grow and thrive in all senses, to the point of being officially named Chile’s Cultural City.

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Los Andes and Portillo, (Chile)

“Where Chile and Argentina meet”

Los Andes and Portillo, Chile, April 2015

Our next experience while in Chile brought us to visit the Andes, and this time, not from the distance but from the top in the middle of them! The highest point we went was at 3820 meters, right at the place where you can be at both Chile and Argentina soils; and what a better place to mark this than the Christ the Redeemer of the Andes. Specifically built to commemorate the 1904 peace resolution between the border dispute of both countries.

This is also the only direct road route between both countries across the Andes from Santiago in Chile towards the Mendoza region in Argentina. The first small city you will pass by is Los Andes. Nothing special about it, but it’s here from where the road split on direction towards Portillo. In this section you will start to get great views of the mountains and nature, following the parallel route of the now disused railway line that once connected Santiago and Mendoza.

Right before you reach Portillo comes the famous 32 curves ascending road. Quite a sight on its own, but slowly, you will be climbing up and up in two sets. Once you are after the last curve, you are already in Portillo where the main sky resorts are located. By the time of the year we travelled here (April) these were still closed, but was for matter of few more days until the first snow would come. I would refrain by all means from doing this route during winter time. First of all because how dangerous the road can be, and second, because there will be almost no visibility, and this place is really to be seen  as clear as possible in order to admire the incredible beauty and grandness. We’ve been very lucky to have such a sunny and clear day. (more…)

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