Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage city, founded in 1557 by the Spanish, about 10 hours south of Quito in Ecuador. I chose to study here following my Spanish studies in Guatemala as Guatemala and Ecuador are the cheapest places to study, and with the ‘cleanest’ spoken Spanish in Latin America.
This time around I opted for two weeks of 4 hours a day one-on-one Spanish lessons.
In this podcast I discuss why I chose to study in Cuenca, getting to Cuenca from Quito, the bag slash that occurred to me on the way from Quito to Cuenca, how I chose the Spanish school, the costs of living and studying here, and how I rate the Spanish classes at the Abraham Lincoln Cultural Centre where I chose to study. I finish the podcast with an interview with Richard, the founder of the Abraham Lincoln Center in which we discuss the school, activities in and around Cuenca, and why it is better to study in Cuenca than Quito!
If you have comments or questions about studying Spanish in Ecuador orGuatemala, please feel free to post them below.
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.
We made this podcast on a 6 day boat trip upriver (East to West) from Manaus in the Amazonas region of Brazil, to Tabatinga, on the Peruvian / Brazilian border.
In the podcast we discuss how to find a boat in Manaus (Brazil), the costs of river boat travel, hammocks Vs. cabins, being a vegetarian on board (and general food options), and the risk of malaria and using anti-malarials like Larium. We also report live after our boat suffered a break down and started drifting helplessly back downstream!
Los Llanos in Venezuela is an immense plain savanna of 300,000 sq km south of the Venezuelan Andes. It’s one of the most ecologically diverse regions on earth and a popular area to go on wildlife safaris. You can listen to our podcast from Los Llanos by clicking on the play button at the top of this post.
Los Llanos, a region famous for its abundant Anacondas – one of the reasons for its many appearances on the Discovery Channel & other nature documentaries – is one of the best areas in the world to get up close to Cayman, Anacondas, Capybara, Pink River Dolphins , Piranha fish & many hundreds of species of birds.
We picked a 3 night, 4 day tour from Merida (details below), and had an amazing time. The first day of the tour was spent driving through the Venezuelan Andes with several stop offs in small mountain towns, hot springs & national parks. With heights of up to 5000 metres, the Venezuelan Andes are proper mountains, and we experienced some truly breathtaking views of the mountains and glaciers.
The first night was spent scoffing our faces in Arassari Trek’s purpose-built camp, from where we did the tubing the next morning. It was all very tranquil and relaxing until I came close to knocking myself out playing ‘silly buggers’ whilst going down a set of rapids head first.
On the second day we made our way to San Vicente, a small riverside town in Los Llanos. We packed up the boat, and headed up river and into the Los Llanos waterways. The second night was spent in hammocks at a camp beside the river, and it was from here that we headed out by night and found Cayman and Anacondas. We were also lucky enough to have several carnivorous Piranhas jumping into the boat with us, which in the dark was somewhat disconcerting.
On the third day, the morning was spent cruising the Los Llanos waterways, spotting pink river dolphin and more Anacondas, and in the afternoon we went on a ‘safari’ through the partially flooded fields, spotting the vast array of birdlife, and Cayman (small alligators).
On the fourth and last day we got up ridiculously early in an attempt to spot giant ant-eaters. Although we unfortunately didn’t manage to find any, we did spot some Capybara, which resemble giant Guinea Pigs. We rounded off our time in Los Llanos with a spot of Piranha fishing, before the tour began the long trip back to Merida at lunch time, and I jumped off in the middle of nowhere (Mantecal) to head further into the middle of nowhere (San Fernando de Apure – Puerto Ayacucho).
We picked the highly recommended Arassari Trek for our tour. Arassari Trek has camps in areas away from the majority of other tour companies in Merida. Our English-speaking tour guide was Alan Highton, a vastly experienced wildlife guide and photographer, and one of the pioneers of wildlife tours of Los Llanos. We would recommend him unreservedly for his knowledge and passion on the area, plus his fearless handling of Piranha, Cayman and Anacondas!
Our 3 night, 4 day tour cost $160 – which included all meals, accommodation, and transport for the duration of the tour.
Click on the play button above to listen to the Podcast we made from Cartagena in Colombia – our favourite city in Latin America so far. In this podcast we discuss finding accommodation in Cartagena, we record the sounds of the old town at night, and finish off with a discussion sitting on top of Castillo San Filipe – the largest Spanish fort built in the Americas.
Founded by the Spanish in 1533, Cartagena is Colombia’s and possibly Latin America’s finest Colonial city, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shortly after it was founded it became the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast, and was used to store gold and other treasure plundered from the Indians before it was transported back to Spain.
Due to the riches stored within its walls, Cartagena quickly became a target, and was on the receiving end of countless pirate attacks and five full scale sieges in the 16th century alone. The most famous siege (although not the largest) was led by Sir Francis Drake in 1586.
After a while, fed up with all the attacks, the Spanish decided enough was enough, and made Cartagena virtually impregnable by building huge 12 km-long walls around the centre, and a series of forts & castles at strategic positions around the city.
Cartagena old town is a living museum of 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture, and it would easily be possible to spend a week or two here exploring the streets, admiring the beautiful colonial buildings, and soaking in the street life created by buskers, acrobats, dancers and artisans selling their wares. Not to mention the pristine Caribbean beaches, islands & national parks within a day’s reach of Cartagena.
Cartagena is easily my favourite city in 3 months’ travel through Central America, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone heading to South America. Forget the security worries associated with Colombia, ironically Colombia is the country I have felt safest so far on my travels through Spain, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
If you have any questions, please feel free to post them below as comments.
Staying in Casco Viejo (the old town, pictured above in the foreground), we spent most of our time just wandering through the old colonial plazas and admiring the wonderful crumbling dereliction of the area.
In this podcast you will hear the sounds of the docks, a street musician, some street performers, the Panama Canal and we discuss some of the ‘personal security’ issues you need to be aware of if you decide to visit Panama City (following the robberies of two friends in a week).
Isla de Ometepe and San Juan del Sur are two of the emerging tourist destinations in Nicaragua. We begin this podcast with sounds from the trip between Granada and Isla de Ometepe by boat, and finish up on the beach in San Juan del Sur via Maderas volcano & the jungle.
This podcast also contains sound clips from “Crazy Dave” himself, owner of Hideout Surf Camp on Maderas beach. If you’re looking for accommodation on Maderas beach and are thinking of staying there, we suggest you listen to this first :-).