Quito is possibly the most beautiful capital in South America. Spread across a spectacular Andean valley with volcanic peaks in the background, Quito’s setting alone is enough to leave you speechless. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978 and is incredibly beautiful. All the churches and colonial buildings have been restored and is in use which makes the city come alive with the vibrant working class and indigenous character that has always defined it. Walking its narrow streets is to wander into another world. The old time is also the best place to find a guesthouse. It is both the cheatpest and safest place to stay in Quito (if you can call Quito safe :-/)
Merely a 20-minute walk from the old town, Quito’s ‘new town’ is a different world; a mixture of hotels, high-rises and government complexes. Many travelers head to Mariscal Sucre, which has trendy cafés, international restaurants, travel agencies, cybercafés, bars and small hotels. The area’s nickname is gringolandia (gringo land), but quiteños (people from Quito) like it too. It is, however, a lot more dangerous to walk here after dark than in the old part – so be aware.
The video above shows you a little bit of Quito’s splendor.
Any visit to Quito would not be complete without a quick trip to Mitad del Mundo – the Equator line. Mitad del Mundo, for those of you that don’t know, translates as ‘Half the world’ in Spanish.
Located 23 kilometers North of Quito, getting there is as simple as jumping in a cab and paying $25 for a round trip with a one hour wait, whilst you jump out for photos. We however spent the best part of five hours fannying around on public transport and paid about $1 each.
There’s not a whole lot to do there, except take photos like the one above of me – “one testicle in each hemisphere”. There are also a couple of tacky exhibitions, a planetarium and a big monument – shown behind me in the photo. What’s more, in one of the museums you reputedly get a prize if you balance an egg on a nail, and you can be thrilled by the sight of water flowing straight down a plug hole instead of it spinning clockwise or anti-clockwise (depending on whether you are in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere). Something, incidentally, that Wikipedia informed me was a load of rubbish when I checked afterwards. The Coriolis effect is far too weak for such displays.
After spending a while freezing in the centre of Ecuador, I decided to escape to the sea side to look for the sun and heat. It was right in the middle of the carnival. I read in my Lonely Planet guide and from the description of Puerto Lopez decided to go there: “chipped blue fishing boats bob on a beautiful fishhook bay and cheerful hotels…, happy cafes and a dirt road pace of life make it tough to leave”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only truth to it was the fact that it was a dirt-road…in fact a muddy dirt road. All the hotels were obviously full and it was cramped with people – to to be honest – it was not charming.
I was rescued by a lovely young Chilean couple who took me to Ayampe beach which is located 17 km south of Puerto Lopez. It is a beautiful chilled beach (even during the carnival) with some lovely guesthouse options. I stayed in a guesthouse on the beach during the carnival for 10$ a night -really a bargain.
After a few lovely days at Ayampe beach I went to Montanita. Montanita according to the Lonely Planet means “bare feet, baggy shorts, surf and scene. Some dig it others despise it.” It was completely packed when I was there – but I could still see how at other times than the carnival this would be a fun place to visit. The video above gives you an idea about the three beaches. Enjoy.
This video is filmed at Mitad del Mundo. I think it would correct to say that Ecuador is famous for mainly two things: the stunning Galapagos islands and the fact that the country is located on the equator.
We made an excursion from Quito to Mitad del Mundo. It is situated 22 km north of the city. It’s quite touristy, but some people feel quite a sensation hopping back and forth between hemispheres.
For me being there with Thomas, who I love, was a bigger sensation, because when you love someone and they love you back you always feel like the centre of the world – and nothing beats that feeling 🙂
Following Colombia, we head to the famous indigeous artisans and livestock markets at Otavalo in the Ecuadorian Andes, listen to some indigenous bands, and finish the podcast off in Quito, the old colonial capital of Ecuador.
Venezuela may be considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world today, but it is also one of the most beautiful countries in the world and a very worthwhile place to visit. Despite its shady reputation we didn’t have any problems in Venezuela and drove all the way through the country in three weeks. On the contrary we saw some of the most amazing landscapes in South America – most notably the Gran Sabana. This video shows you the glory and beauty of the Gran Sabana.
The Gran Sabana (Great Savanna) is an immense, empty region which lies within the boundaries of Parque Nacional Canaima. The Savanna’s rolling grasslands are broken up by the unique and spectacular tepuis. Tepuis are table mountains. More than 100 of these plateau mountains can be found from the Colombian border in the west to Guyana and Brazil in the East, but most of them are found in the Gran Sabana. The most famous tepui, Roraima, extends into Brazilian and Guyanese territory. Many tour companies arrange hikes to the top of Roraima in which you can experience a lost world of unique flora and fauna.
Geologically, these sandstone table mountains are remnants of a thick layer of sediments (some two billion years old) that gradually eroded, leaving behind only the most resistant rock formations. As they were isolated from each other and from the world below for millions of years, the tops of the tepuis had its own evolution of flora and fauna. About half of the 2000 plant species found on the top of the tepuis are unique to the specific mountains.
The easiest way to access Roraima and the Gran Sabana is to go to Santa Elena de Uairen, which is the only town in the Gran Sabana, and is located close to the border with Brazil. From there you can hire a taxi to take you for a day trip to the Gran Sabana (like we did) or book a tour to climb Roraima. Both options are highly recommendable.
I hope you enjoyed the video tour to the Gran Sabana with us 🙂
I hadn’t really paid much attention to San Augustin’s existence until I arrived in Cali, where I read in my guidebook about some mysterious stone statues a day or two’s travel south in an area known as the Valley of the Statues. What struck me as most interesting was the fact that no one has the faintest idea about the culture that made them.
As no writing has ever been found, archaeologists have been left to draw their conclusions about the culture from the styles of the statues themselves.
What they do know is this:
Some of the statues date back to 3,300BC making these statues some of the oldest examples of human civilization on the planet
There are various Asian and African influences in some of the sculptures – for example statues of Gorillas (don’t exist in S. America), statues showing African Elephants (don’t exist in S. America), statues wearing Indian head-pieces (turbans etc), statues with clearly Asian eyes – which has led the academic community to believe that this culture was so advanced it had extensive contact with Africa and Asia thousands of years before it was originally thought such contact arose
Only 10%-20% of the extensive area has been excavated, and buried underground there are almost certainly extensive dwelling areas, and possibly even an entire city
Somewhere underground there will be examples of writing which will finally shed light on a mysterious civilization talked about by archaeologists as being expert craftsmen and mathematicians
There are about 20 well-kept sites in the area, with most of the statues found in situ (where they were originally discovered). To give you an idea of the size of the area, it can take you almost a day to do a round trip drive in a jeep from San Augustin to get to the more remote sites, although the closest statues are found in the Parque Arqueologico, about 3km walk (or bus) from San Augustin.
Almost all the statues were originally found lying down covered up in underground graves, and it is thought that the civilization that created them may have come under attack from the Incas, therefore burying the statues to avoid their destruction.
I spent the first day wandering around the Parque Arqueologico, which has about 130 statues and graves in 3 or 4 main clusters. I decided to hire a guide, which was definitely the right decision as it seemed he had a story for every statue in the park. He would excitedly point out the various influences that it is thought shaped the statues (African, Asian, Indian etc), as well as describe in gory detail the human sacrifices performed by this civilization by burning alive, burying alive and cutting the throats of victims. They particularly liked to dispatch young virgin boys & girls as gifts for dead leaders to take with them into the afterlife (virgin boys for the women leaders, and vice versa showing a remarkable degree of gender equality for a civilization so old).
Perhaps most intriguing are the statues clearly showing caesarian sections being performed, as well as the statue showing in detail the biological layout of the heart, which (along with evidence from a few of the preserved skulls found) has lead academics to the conclusion that this civilization were expert surgeons and were even performing brain surgery operations thousands of years ago.
San Augustin is a truly wonderful and mysterious place, and unbelievably almost devoid of tourists – we saw about six tourists in two days which, for an area boasting some of the earliest and most creative examples of human civilization, seems laughable. Sadly, this can only be attributed to the vastly incorrect Colombian travel warnings given out by our ‘concerned’ governments.
Most remarkable of all is the certainty that under the rolling hills lies a vast civilization waiting to be discovered. One day, when UNESCO has raised the vast funding required to excavate the area properly, we are sure to be able to not only name but learn from the civilization that built the Valley of the Statues.