Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sulfur Volcano: A long adventurous hike at Isabela Island in Galapagos

This beautiful and very adventurous hike at Isabela Island takes you to one of those spots rarely visited by normal tourists! I must say that trekker’s are a bit crazy, because they like to walk and walk, just for the fun of it. But this long hike has a destination, which is one of the areas of the active Sierra Negra Volcano at Isabela Island.

To get there, you must go up to El Cura, the last spot on the road you must drive to, if you want to visit Sierra Negra Volcano. After registering by the Park Ranger and always accompanied by a local Guide, you walk towards west for about 2 hous following the hunters path. Local villagers take their horses and rifles to look for wild pigs or cows, in order to hunt them to bring meat to the village. The activity is supervised and controlled by the Park Rangers, and you rarely see them too. This part of the island still has animals on the wild, that were introduced from the mainland, and other countries, in different periods of time.

Once you reach the edge of the Sierra Negra caldera, as you walk towards the point of descent, you might have already seen the spectacular yellow spot at the edge of a wall from an inner semi-dome; you can’t miss it! If the day is clear, then you see the huge fumaroles all over the place. It has a surface of about one square kilometer. Then you have to descend into the caldera, walk through a forest of high ferns, reach the different lava and volcanic ash fields, and then climb into this hot stinking spot of incredibly beauty.

 There are different vents through which sulfur gas and water vapor comes out. The sulfur forms many crystal structures around the vent, making every spot unique and beautiful. It is hot if you put your hand next to it, you can feel the heat of the earth coming out of its core through this major opening at the Galapagos Islands. Plenty of water, food, and good clothing are a must for this hike!




We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.









Bartolome Island: One of the icons from the Galapagos Islands


I had always wanted to visit it, and finally, a couple of years ago, my wishes were fulfilled. . As I was traveling with a group of German tourists, we had on our itinerary a day tour to this island. The boat ride was very calmed, and we were in a bigger ship than the ones used for passenger transport between the large islands. This small ship had two sun decks and dinning area, and enough place for 30 people to be relaxed and enjoying the ride.

Following a two hours boat ride, and a short visit to Daphne Islet, to look at the Nazca Boobies that nest on the slopes of this tuff cone, we arrived to this also small island separated by a couple hundred meters from Santiago Island.

Facing us, we admired a spectacular landscape, crowned by the view of the famous Pinnacle Roc; this natural formation that resembles the "menirs" that Obelix, a character of the cartoon series by Goscinny and Uderezo, carries on his back to throw at the Roman soldiers. After our dry landing, and using our good eyes to avoid steping on the sea lion sun bathing in the pier steps, we walked and walked upwards towards the top of the island.

There are a couple view points where the local guides pause and take time to explain you about the nature, formation, fauna, flora, and everything you want to know about Galapagos, or just to let you take hundreds of photographs of all what you see, as mementos of what you saw in this beautiful place.

As we reached the top we had a full view of this iconic picture (first of this post), that appears in almost all travel books about Ecuador and Galapagos. I don't know who made this place so popular, but it certainly is something that calls the archipelago t my mind.

I didn't know, until I saw a documentary about the Galapagos, that the pinnacle rock at Bartholomew was used during the Second World War by the U.S. Navy as a target, to practice aiming at enemy ships, that for our good luck never reached this shores. The bombs were not filled with explosives, but with sand, so the pinnacle rock remains intact.

At the base, I have done some incredible snorkeling. It is like going through a labyrinth of rocks with passages filled in with different water temperature and fish. There are big schools of different types of fish, rays, and sea lions. As you dive five or six meters into these clear waters, you can let your body be carried back to the surface by the oxygen packed in your lungs. This is one of my favorite experiences!

We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Leon Dormido or Kicker Rock: Open water experience at Galapagos

I love the ocean, but I am not a water rat. I have respect for it and every time I jump into the water in Galapagos or elsewere, I have to calm myself and enjoy the ride. As a former high mountain guide, I am more used to having my feet over something, and therefore I feel to have a bit more control over the environment; however, once you are in the water the story is different.




For me it was a big challenge to swim across the channel that splits the remains of this old tuff cone in two, and more than anything, to know that below my body there might be different types of shark and marine life, for which I might be potential lunch or dinner!







This is what crosses the minds of many people - including me - while in the water, but it is only our head playing a bad trick on us. Galapagos is extremely safe and we always take all the necessary safety measures to minimize the risk. 

Once in the water you have to let yourself get carried by the current from one side of the channel to the other, where the boat awaits for you, and just enjoy the ride. As I reached the inner wall and swam next to it, I became more confident and decided to go under water: It was amazing what I saw stuck to the wall: corals, different size and color fishes and the silohuettes of "bigger fish" swimming below you. It is an incredible experience worth doing if you happen to land in San Cristobal.

Usually on this day tour you also visit Lobos Islet before Kiker Rock, to test your equipment and get used to the water, and another beach called Playa Ochoa after the rock, so you can enjoy on board a hearty meal, and most of all, relax and recover from the adventure, feeling the warmth of this beautiful sandy beach.






We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador. 

To the left you will observe Playa Grande. Above, you will appreciate a snorkeling activity at Lobos Islet.


Darwin Bay at San Cristobal: A great place to start your Galapagos adventure

This Galapagos highlight at San Cristobal Island is one of the most visited places, located only 20 minutes away from the center of town, already inside the Galapagos National Park.

The path towards the view point and Darwin Bay starts at the Interpretation Center, a place where you will learn many interesting facts about Galapagos’people and nature. It is a self explanatory and well structured information center.


Following the path you reach the main view point, the highest point of the island, where you have a spectacular view towards north, west and south. On a clear day, towards north, you can see the Leon Dormido or Kiker Rock Islet and many of the small cruise ships and boats passing by, on their way to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the main town in San Cristobal.

At Darwin Bay itself you can practice good snorkeling on calm waters and after a sunny day and a nice hike, it is always good to jump into the refreshing waters of Galapagos. The story tellers in the island say that Charles Darwin touched ground on this precise bay, and started his exploration of the archipelago. There is a nice statue here to honor the scientist who changed the way humankind perceives itself whithin nature.


We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Cycling near Quito: El Chaquiñan at the Tumbaco Valley

Ecuador is a multi-sport land. You can practice most of the extreme sports that are practiced all over the world, in different environments, and in places located whithin a few hours from Quito. In the heart of the Tumbaco valley that is the eastern extension of the city, you find “El Chaquiñan”, a wonderful biking route, established a couple years ago as a longitudinal park where you can walk, run, and bike on a relatively flat route. This path follows the old railroad track that went from southern Quito towards Ibarra, the capital city of the Imbabura province. Every section of this route has a lot of charm, especially the crossing of the Chiche River Canyon. Here you can easily bike between 10 - 80 km in a single day. This is, indeed, a great place where to start biking in the Ecuadorian Andes.

Another beautiful mountain biking route is the one located between the Rumicucho Inca Ruins by the equator line, north of Quito, and San José de Minas, a village located only 21 km , in an straight line, away from that archeological site. This is the old path followed by sugar cane schnapps smugglers, to connect that town with the main city. At the present time, this route is near the quarries from which are extracted most of the gravel, stone, and sand used in the contructions in Quito From here you get a great view of the the Guayllabamba River Canyon and the interandean valley.

We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Los Frailes Beach: My favorite place on the Machalilla National Park in Ecuador

In 1997 I was in on in-situ visit to the ceramists from "La Pila and was able tovisit this place for the first time, together with a group of University students. Since I was taking an extra curricular course on Pre-Columbian Ceramics, we travelled to several places in the country to visit the local potteries.

We spent one night in a hostel and one night we camped in tents in the sandy beach of Los Frailes. I remember the full moon night, and the soothing sound of the waves crashing against the sea shore. At the time, it was possible to this, and the University students were especially alowed as they were carrying out doing research on some cultural issues.

Fortunately, the park is well managed, it has new infrastructure such as bathrooms, changing rooms. There are park guards, and police, and also an ocassional ice-cream vendor. You can enjoy the relaxed environment of this beach, and its pool - like ocean bay, but you must check on the local festivities, so you do not have to compete with a crowd of enthusiastic Ecuadorians trying to play football on the beach. Don't worry, I am an Ecuadorian, so I know well our outdoor entertainment practices!

At Puerto Lopez there is an interesting selection of lodging possibilities and infrastructure, for all budgets, and always, good tasty sea food in town.

We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Isla de La Plata: A pirates retreat with a undiscovered treasure in Ecuador

The legends tell that Sir Francis Drake, former member of the English Royal Navy, and pirate feared by the Spanish fleet, dumped a heavy load of silver on the west side of the Island, because he was beeing chased by the Spanish fleet itself ! He lived in the 16th century and circumnavigated the world for the second time beween 1577 to 1580.

He did recover 26 tons of silver from the Spanish ship "Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion", and together with other treasures managed to reach the shores of Plymouth in England. However, nothing is quite clear about him dumping any silver near the equatorial coasts or in the shores of La Plata Island.

Some local guides suggest that the name of the Island comes from the white spot you can see in the horizon when the sun shines over the white bird dung that covers the cliffs of the island in the northern and north-eastern sides. It sounds more credible than the silver story, but the actual treasure of the island are its sea birds and marine wildlife found on this part of the Machalilla National Park and Marine Reserve.


Some people call it the small Galapagos, or Galapagos for the poor, and during some days of the year, while doing snorkeling, you can see here as much as in the Galapagos Islands. It is remarkable that from here you can admire, all at the same time, Blue Footed Boobies, Red Footed Booblies, Nasca Booblies, Tropical Bird, and Frigate Birds, whereas in Galapagos you have to visit different locations of the archipelago to see specific separate colonies of those birds.


View of Isla de la Plata on the way to Manta

The crown of this queen is certainly the chance to see a Humpback Whale jumping out of the ocean, to take a look at your camera. This experience is only comparable and just as amazing as to being at the summit of Cotopaxi volcano, feeling in your face the first rays of the morning sun. You really must experience this yourself!. We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Sunset in Puerto Lopez: Beautiful view in this small fishermen town

The Ecuadorian coast is beautiful, many places in our sea shore have sandy beaches where you can enjoy the effects of the ultra violet rays of the sun, right at the equator, and also try tasty seafood, cocktails, night life, nature, water sports, or just relax on a nice hotel or resort. There is something for everybody.

There is, however, one thing to remember and that is to check with your local tour operator or travel agent, when is the perfect time of the year to be our country, according to your needs and expectations.

The equatorial coast can be extremely sunny and hot between the end of December and mid April - May. You can't sleep because of the heat. The ocean is calm although there are brief periods of heavy rain and high humidity. This coin, however, also has another side. Between the months of May and December, and especially during August, we have cold, cloudy weather, with almost no rain – only drizzle, wind, and very strong waves.

The area near Puerto Lopez offers many activity opportunities. In the Machalilla National Park you can visit the "La Plata" island with wale watching on the way (between June and August), and snorkeling and hiking in the island. You can also visit "Los Frailes" beach, a half moon shaped bay without any houses nearby. There are also the archeological remains of the Manteño culture at "Agua Blanca" community, where you get a good perspective of the pre-Inca settlements in Ecuador as well as life on the coastal countryside.


As you can see, you can't get bored in this part of the country. We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Senecio or Rabbit Ears at the Cayambe Refuge: An Andean relative of the Sunflower

This relatively small plant, depending on the height you find yourself, belongs to the same family as the European sunflower is an Asteraceae, and it resembles it in a small scale. On the last time I was at the Cayambe Volcano, doing glacier training with a group of English mountain climbers, I had the chance to go outside, early in the morning, to photograph this incredible small plant that due to its white fur, it can withstand the extremely cold night temperature.

This plant is one of the first colonists of the rocky highlands, below the glacier line in all of our mountains. You can find it also outside the Whymper refuge on the Chimborazo Volcano, at 5,000 meters above sea level.

On this day we had a great view of the Antisana Volcano, viewing south west of Cayambe, and also of all the highlands between both volcanoes, which in the majority are part of the Cayambe - Coca and Antisana Ecological Reserves.


We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca: almost my second home

Cuenca is a beautiful city. The first time I was there as an adult, I became aware of it’s the architecture, people, culture, and coffee shops, I was amazed of finding in Ecuador a city that could have sidewalks covered with marble. I know that Quito is rich as the capital city of our country, but I have always had conflicting opinions if somebody asks me about the beauty of both cities.



Cuenca has many houses with well preserved facades and a mixture of styles that suddently appear on sight as you go around a corner. The achitecture varies from the Spanish colonial to the French neoclassical. This city is well known in Ecuador because it is the home of highly reputed intelectuals and artists in many fields; during the last decades, it has also earned recognition due to its outstanding sportsmen: field runners, motorcycle and bicycle racers, and others.

I love to roam around the old town, just enjoying an afternoon, watching the people go by , or walking by the banks of Tomebamba, one of the four rivers that cross the city (extremely clean water too!), or maybe stopping at my favorite coffee shop (Cafe Austria), to enjoy my ritual mid afternoon strong expresso and Apfelstrudel mit Vanilleeis!

We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

El Cajas National Park: a highlight near Cuenca

Only 30 minutes away from Cuenca, going west by car, you will reach one of the highlights of Ecuador, El Cajas National Park. The park has an area of 28.500 hectars and several ecosystems that range from the highlands or paramo, to the cloud forest towards the coast.

You can hike in that area for a short while, for about one hour or stay in a campsite for many days. There you can see some Inca archeological remains, although these are not very well known; additionally, you may be able to identify a great variety of animals: birds, mammals, and insects. Although the National Park is located high in the Andes, the flora there is extremely diverse, and here is one of the few places where I have seen a tree with a carnivorous flower. An expert botanist from Germany showed it to me, as we were hiking there on the Garcia Moreno route towards Cuenca.

There ae many things you can do there, just in a couple of hours or during a longer trip. The weather is extremely variable, as in many other places in the highlands of Ecuador, anyhow, while visiting this place; you will have a great experience.

We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

El Comercio: The volcanic ash from Tungurahua Volcano reaches Ambato

This is the original notice about the eruption that took place on the 14th of July, 2013.

La ceniza del volcán Tungurahua llegó a Ambato

To the right: archive Image by Andean Routes



Tungurahua Volcano: A giant full of surprises

Just two weeks ago, on the 14th of July, 2013 the Tungurahua Volcano erupted and gave us an incredible image of the power of nature: a "mushroom" eruption 8.5 kilometers high (about 5.31 miles). Some people were lucky enough to be on an airplane that morning and that allowed them to capture incredible images of the ash mushroom. Other people saw it from Quito. See the two links below, with information in English about the volcano, issued by the Geophysical Institute of the Polytechnical School of Ecuador, and the second the link with news issued by “El Comercio”, the main local newspaper:

http://www.igepn.edu.ec/volcan-tungurahua/visitor-information.html

http://www.elcomercio.com/pais/Explosion-volcan-Tungurahua-ceniza-erupcion_0_955704532.html

Below there are some pictures from different trips on the area from the last 10 years.


View just outside the town of Baños, during a calmed period.


View with ashes, taken from the hill in front of Baños


Ash. View from the "antenas" area


View of water vapor taken on the way up, towards the "antenas" area


Another view with ashes, taken from the hill in front of Baños


A different view with ashes taken from the Pelileo look out point


A new view with ashes taken from a hotel in the city of Ambato

We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

World Travel Awards winners triumph in Lima, Peru - World Travel Awards

It is always good to know that Quito is well appreciated by travellers. See below the quotes of two paragraphs of the notice written directly in the WTA website:

"Mexico, Peru and Ecuador were among the big names to emerge victorious during the World Travel Awards South & Central America Gala Ceremony 2013, held at the Huacca Pucllana Temple, Lima on July 20th July 2013."

"Quito, Ecuador was one of the shining stars on the night, capturing the title of South America’s Leading Destination, ..."

Link to the note on the World Travel Awards website:
World Travel Awards winners triumph in Lima, Peru — World Travel Awards

We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mocking Birds from Galapagos: Incredible singing with the last rays of the sun

As you walk towards Tortuga Bay in the afternoon, one of the highlights from Puerto Ayora at Santa Cruz Island is hearing mocking birds singing one of their many tones, either to impress another female looking for a partner, or to clearly let any adversary know that somebody has claimed this reviere before. They are perched over an old opuntia Cactus, or a palo santo tree, observing and singing,


They are incredible imitators, gregarious as well, so if somebody from a clan has a problem with another individual, then a duel is established and the fighting starts. Blood can be spilled between rivals, and at the end, the representative of a specific a clan will earn new rigths as a winner, over the land from the other clan.

I have also seen mockingbirds fighting against the mirror of a car, hitting it with the wings, claws and beak, until blood drops are spotted on the glass. Yes, these are some facts about this interesting bird from Galapagos.

We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Vermilion Flycatcher: A contrasting red against the black lava of Galapagos

This bird is not very easy to spot; if you are lucky, perhaps you may see it if you are on Isabela Island,walking through the sometimes muddy paths towards the rim of the Sierra Negra Caldera, or as you are in the highlands of Santa Cruz, walking at the edge of the Gemelos Sink Holes . As alrady pointed out, they are not easy to spot now a day, due to many of the introduced animals that also compete with it, and hunt it. But if you happen to see one in one of the "fincas", then the locals say that you are a lucky person, and it is a good omen for the group you are with. Good omen or not, it stands out in the vast shades of gray from Galapagos and brings you over all joy when you see it.


We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Galapagos Baby Tortoises: New borns every day

In the Galapagos Islands there is a big project to increase the number of individuals of every Galapagos giant tortoise species. It did not work out for “Lonesome George”, but for many other it has been positive. . There are three breeding stations were tortoises reproduce and lay eggs, and then the eggs are incubated and, voila, new tortoises are born!



It is an ongoing process that started many decades ago and now a day Isabela, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal have their own centers for reproduction of these tortoises. Almost every week, you can see a new born tortoise, and it will take a lot o patience and care, and seven years of feeding in captivity, to be able to release in the natural habitat a tortoise strong enough to survive in the harsh environment of this volcanic islands.

We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Every Day is a Day for Joy: Sea Lions at Galapagos, no wories at all

They are swimming, playing, sleeping, and keeping guard. It all depends on their size and time in life. Everywhere you look in Galapagos, on every island, there are sea lions enjoying what nature has given them, and what humans are trying to protect. They play with you if you happen to be in the water at the right time. If you turn your hands and make circles, as if you were dancing, and also move in circles "chasing" slowly one of them, or perhaps two of them, then they start doing the same, and you can have an endless chasing-comunication with them.

With the passing of time , as they grow older, the males, particularly, become grumpier and more dangerous, and then you have to run or swimm out of their path, or beach, if you see a big male, a "bull", protecting his reviere. They do have their grace and agility, but their days at this stage are counted.

We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Land Iguanas: Thriving in the northern area of Baltra

They are hard to see. As a matter of fact, I have seen them only once and only one of them in Baltra, as I drove in the bus between the Baltra airport and the Itabaca channel on my way to Santa Cruz. There it was, taking the morning sun, warming up, standing on one of the concrete platforms that were built in Baltra during the Second World War by the U.S. Army.

Yes, we are talking about the land iguanas. If you want to see them, then you have to go either to the Charles Darwin Station, to Plaza Sur Island, or to Cerro Dragon at Santa Cruz. They are also in other islands a bit further away. In Plazas you have to be careful and avoid stepping on them. They are magnificent and there, it will be possible to see a beautiful color contrast between the sesuv plant that is reddish, and the yellow color of the Iguanas.

They are impressive, as everything else in the Galapagos. They are survivors from the evolution, the war, and the colonizers of the islands. They have the right to be there. The breeding program at the Charles Darwin Station was extremely successful and they are thriving where they were re-introduced.

We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.

Legacy of the Colonial Gold Rush: El Sexmo Gold Mine in Zaruma

Although Ecuador is a small country, with an extension of only 250,000 square kilometers, I had the opportunity to visit an area that was completely unkown to me, when I I was offered the job to travel to Zaruma, the “gold capital” of this country and explore 500 meters into the Sexmo gold mine. This small town has a magical-realisto location, by a large river, and on top of a mountain spoted with holes from the mines, and after 1:00 hrs., every day, completely covered by clouds, this special appearance almost makes the town a good candidate for the theme for any novel written by the famous writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or for a painting by the Ecuadorian artist, Endara Crow.



This is one of the few places in the country that has a gold mine that can be visited, so we got our helmets, rubber boots and cameras, and followed our local guide into the depths of the mountain. It is a strange feeling to know that anything could happen there, since there is water pouring from every single crack of the mine, and flowing towards the entrance, and also some closed tunnels, due to landslides that had happened some time ago.


It is perhaps one of the oldest mines found in our country that is still in production today. We will be happy to organize a great adventure or holiday for you. Visit us at: www.surpasstravel.com, specialized in-land tour operator from Ecuador.