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If you think the above photo is beautifulit's our Andes sunrise view from LAN Airlines flight 533 from JFK to SCLthen get ready to have your mind blown.
South America is a land of such staggering terrain, from desert to glaciers and rainforest to snow-capped peaks, that flying over it without requesting a window seat is a grave mistake.
For Marcelo Grether, Global Tourism Director at LAN and possessor of maybe the best job ever, the important thing is not so much getting passengers to want to fly LAN, but getting travelers to want to experience South America. And when you make that decision... "You want to go to South America? There is LAN."
Now, which route? Using Marcelo's knowledge and a passion to experience the extremes, we've figured out The Five Most Scenic LAN Flight Routes in South America:
Grandma and Grandpa might not be the typical Florida retirees, so maybe you should suggest something a little more interesting for their golden years. Especially because that means you can visit somewhere a little more exotic when you mooch off their hospitality, instead of just swinging by the local restaurant for a blue plate special after an afternoon at the beach.
Ecuador is that exotic destination, and the country is actually giving away a free month of vacation. They want internet millionaires, AARP members, and others looking to retire to consider the warm weather, hospitality—and possibility—that’s available in the country. Lucky winners will be spending an entire month in Cuenca, Ecuador, and the contest organizers over at International Living will even throw in round-trip airfare, an apartment rental, and some cash for this and that.
Interested in taking a volunteer vacation without making a long-term commitment? Well, Boston-based United Planet is now organizing short-term volunteer trips to Ecuador to work with wildlife, without using too much vacation time.
Included in the packages are opportunities to either work at an Animal Rescue Center in the Amazon or in environmental conservation in the Galapagos, where you can study marine life and then relax on white-sand beaches.
"Ecuador is a wonderful place for almost anyone seeking to volunteer: it’s easy to get to, the dollar is strong, and the people are famous for their warmth and hospitality," said Theresa Higgs, Vice President of Global Operations at United Planet.
Excursions have flexible start dates and lengths of stay (from 1 to 12 weeks) and include local home stays or on-site lodging options, as well as 3 meals a day.
For booking details and pricing information, visit UnitedPlanet.org.
Dreading the doldrums of winter already? Instead of hibernating til spring, you could spend two weeks this January volunteering, surfing, and exploring private beaches, all while living in a beach side cottage just outside of Canoa, Ecuador. The Eco Surf Volunteer program matches volunteers with local elementary schools where they work hard teaching the kids English through games, activities and sports. But, they also find time to play hard. Each afternoon volunteers are taken to the area's best surf spots to catch some waves before going on a local excursion to meet indigenous tribes, visit re-forested mangrove islands or explore animal sanctuaries.
The daily schedule for the trip begins at 7:00 AM when breakfast is served before heading to a local school. There is a lunch break from Noon- 2:00 PM, which is when the afternoon surf lessons begin, followed by dinner at 7. Volunteers also have the option to take a free, private surf lesson from Ecuador's Junior Surf Champion and his team. Each night, Eco Surf also plans social activities like beach parties, bonfires or salsa dancing.
Ever since The New York Times named the Galapagos Islands No. 3 on its "44 Places to Go in 2009," we've bumped it up on our own travel checklist. The islands, west of mainland Ecuador, inspired Charles Darwin to write The Origins of Species, so maybe the gorgeous islands will do the same for us, too. We're especially inspired by a six-night package that includes tours and airfare to the remote locale for $1,399.
The Travelzoo deal includes round-trip airfare to Ecuador from Miami (other departure cities are available for more moolah); flights between Quito, Baltra and Guayaquil; and all airport/hotel and hotel/port transfers.
This week, we're mapping some of the world's greatest train trips.
Earlier this year, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez declared his intention to string South America together by establishing a transcontinental train. While this type of border-crossing trip is still a matter of navigating the national railways of each country--where they even exist--it also means that hidden gems along the tracks tend to stay (a little more) hidden than the needle threading along the Eurail routes.
But the "Devil's Nose" in Ecuador isn't a train you take to get somewhere: It's pure sightseeing.
The Riobamba-to-Alausí route was so named because of the nearly sheer rock cliff the train was forced to ascend in order to get to the Andean city, a process it accomplishes by... well, watch the video, you might enjoy it. Those of strong stomach might enjoy a platano from a local farmer on the way up on the roof of the train. We'll just be cowering in our seats with one finger on the shutter button.
In Spanish, the word baños actually means "bathroom," so I found it amusing that an entire town christened was such (but I promise to spare you attempts at potty humor in this post). My bf Jeff and I learned that the name actually refers to the thermal hot springs, or baths, that well up from underneath the town or fed by nearby waterfalls.
City planners turned these springs into series of separate soaking pools ranging from cool, to pleasantly warm to insanely, painfully hot (50 degrees C!). We recommend Las Piscinas de la Virgen, the only baths in town open at night. For $2.00, you can relax in the water with a few dozen strangers, sticking around until your fingers and are downright pruney. Technically, you're not supposed to bring any alcoholic beverages, but we can assure that no one's actually checking your water bottle.
Living the shadow of a volcano can't be easy, but the residents of Baños, Ecuador seem to take ever-present threat of eruption and potential devastation in stride.
And that's a good thing, because just 8 days before my boyfriend Jeff and I hopped a flight to South America, the Tungurahua volcano finally blew its top, sending a smoldering column of ash miles into the air and molten rivers of lava streaming toward civilization. According to news reports, 3000 townspeople and villagers were forced to flee their homes, and the entire area was given a "state of emergency" designation by the government.
What better time, we figured, to go visit the place?
One of Quito's greatest selling points? Within less than a day's travel from the city, you can reach the Amazon rainforest, the Andes mountains, the Pacific beaches, active volcanoes and of course, the country's namesake attraction: the equator.
My BF Jeff and I decided to skip out on the big painted stripe at Mitad del Mundo. (It's disappointing, we'd heard, since GPS now indicates that the actual equator is hundreds of feet away from the touristy hooplah.) Instead, we hopped a bus to a town called Mindo.
We'd attended an informal barbecue the day after our arrival and everyone--our hosts Andrew and Lau, their ex-pat friends, backpacker buddies and dozens of local Ecuadorian attendees--had recommended it as one of the best short trips from the city. If you can't make it all the way to the Amazon basin, Mindo will give you all the rainforest you can handle.
Long-haul travel is tough enough on your body without subjecting it a rock-hard, critter-infested guesthouse mattress. At least, not on your first night in town.
To ensure that my boyfriend Jeff and I would rest and repair in record time, we went the 300-thread count, mint-on-the-pillow route by booking at a weekend's stay at the Marriott Quito. While the room cost us less than $150 online, I later learned that spontaneous types can wander into the hotel and ask for a discounted rate on weekends. (We're talking up to 50 percent off during low season.)
We also liked that the place was a two-minute walk from The Mariscal, a touristy district the locals affectionately refer to as "Gringolandia."
When I traveled around the world with two girlfriends last year, the three of us often relied on dumb luck and the kindness of strangers to get us from point A to B safely. And if we missed a bus or a flight was delayed? No harm, no foul--after all, we had 12 months to accomplish our globe-lapping mission, right?
But that ease-of-attitude drastically changes when you're planning an eight-day trip to Ecuador with a new boyfriend. My method for making sure everything went right was to carefully plan every detail so that nothing could possibly go wrong. Which, of course, was the fastest way to ensure that everything did.
As dominoes toppled, I struggled to maintain the new girlfriend illusion that I'm a fun, lighthearted traveler--and not a thoroughly seasoned, take-no-bullshit road warrior. In the end, all pretenses went to pot and bitchy won out. My top four travel snafus--and solutions for next time--after the jump.