If you don’t know yet who Mark Wolters of Wolters World is as of yet, then allow us to introduce you to one of YouTube’s favorite travel tips and advice personalities. Wolters World videos provide honest first-hand travel advice to help fellow travelers get the most out of their travel experience. From the best and worst parts of travelling, to better preparing you for your vacation in a way that helps...
If you’ve always dreamed of witnessing penguins in the wild, then our team of Latin America travel experts has you covered. While Antarctica is famously the best place to go if you’re looking for the ultimate penguin trip, there’s also no shortage of opportunities to do some penguin watching everywhere from the Galapagos Islands all the way through Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. In...
  This past week you may have noticed penguins taking over your Instagram or Twitter feed as World Penguin Day was celebrated on April 25th and proved once again that pretty much everyone, everywhere loves penguins. Penguins are without a doubt the most sought after wildlife viewing experience we offer at Southern Explorations, and it’s no mystery as to why. Across the 17 species of penguins,...
Southern Explorations has announced several new adventures into the magical natural wonders of Ecuador. As the area becomes more popular, Southern Explorations is expanding its offerings to intrepid travelers who want to get to know the area better.These new hiking trips in Ecuador include: Day Hike to Middle of the World & Pululahua CraterHikers will revel in this trip that includes the Middle of the World...
Our team of Latin America travel experts take great pride in expertly crafting intricate and exceptionally well-executed revelatory travel experiences. But sometimes even we take a step back and marvel at the duration, breadth, complexity, and variety of experiences baked into the itineraries some of our guests have us build for them. We’re talking about the kinds of trips that get multiple team members...
If you’ve traveled with us before, you know that one of the defining elements of our trips is taking our guests off the beaten path, no matter the destination you’re exploring. With that in mind we want to take you even further off the well-trodden trail as our team of Latin America travel experts give you the heads up on some of our most underrated trip itineraries. Ecuador Hiking Adventure - Savvy...
Justin Laycob, Founder and CEO of Southern Explorations was studying Spanish and – like many students pursuing a degree in a foreign language – was slated to spend a semester abroad to really dig into the language. The University of Oregon had set him up with an exchange placement in Spain when – as fate would have it - a well-timed envelope from friends in the Southern Hemisphere sent his...
Born and raised in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, a rural region of Vermont right on the edge of the Canadian border, Kaitlyn was an outdoorsy kid, snowboarding in the Green Mountains as Vermont kids are apt to do. She studied psychology in college and worked in mental health (child and family services) for a few years before finding herself crafting intricate and compelling Latin America travel experiences...
 Are you looking to challenge yourself, push the limits, and get your adrenaline up while exploring Latin America? Then you’re in luck.  Our team of travel experts came together to create a list of some of the most thrilling and boundary-pushing experiences and attractions in all of South America. White Water Rafting - The Futaleufú River, Chile The name Futaleufú is an indigenous Mapuche...
 We’re always looking to take our guests below the surface of every destination we visit throughout Latin America, showing you a side of the cities, villages, jungles, mountains, and more that many travelers regrettably miss and one of the most enthralling ways to experience Southern Explorations’ destinations like Ecuador, Brazil, Panama, and Colombia is to literally look below the surface by doing...
It’s no secret that Latin America’s landscapes are the ultimate playground for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers. Ancient ruins, active volcanoes, glacial lakes, friendly locals and countless waterfalls are just a few reasons why hikers should consider Latin America for their next trek – and it doesn’t need to be Machu Picchu. We rounded up our team’s favorite under the...
What Is A Multisport Adventure Trip?
As the name implies, multisport itineraries are active and most days are spent on one or more excursions that require at least moderate exertion. They usually involve a combination of different activities rather than focusing on just one. For many outings, guides transport passengers from their hotel to a trailhead or put-in at a river for a whitewater rafting trip. On others,...
The country’s top arts and crafts attraction is the Saturday market in the town of Otavalo. Villagers come here from throughout the region to sell their handmade wares. Otavalo also is enjoyed by hikers who come for the volcanoes and crater lakes.Souvenirs GaloreTravelers who wish to explore beyond Otavalo can visit the villages where many of the items sold at the Otavalo crafts market are made. The first stop...
SOUTHERN EXPLORATIONS 10 YEARS OLD AND GROWING!2015 marks Southern Explorations’ 10th year in business. What started as a two-person operation in a garage has grown into a company with destination coordinators in several countries, customers from throughout the world and awards from the national travel media for our authentic trips and sustainability values. Southern Explorations has become one of the leaders...
Ecuador - The "Panama" HatBesides its rich and romantic history, what distinguishes the "Panama" from other straw hats is its tight weave. The best of Panama hats are woven so finely that until you examine one closely, you can’t see the weave, and even when you can, it is so perfect that to the uneducated eye, it seems machine-made. The hat’s thinness belies its strength and...
Ecuador - Home To Some of the World's Best ChocolateThe Dutch van Houten family made a name for itself in the chocolate world through father and son inventions. In 1828, the company received a patent for its hydraulic cacao press that was capable of exerting so much force it could squeeze the fat out the beans after roasting them. This inexpensive device allowed the beans to be ground into a powder that could be...
Reading about and preparing for your adventure is half the fun. For more book suggestions go to Ecuador
The scuba diving in the Galapagos is truly some of the best in the world and excellent diving is guaranteed year round. Scuba divers are never exactly sure what will happen on any dive, but one can count on unbelievable experiences! Scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands is generally divided into two seasons: whale shark season and manta season. Water temperature and conditions vary considerably by season, and also...
ACADEMY BAY at Santa Cruz Island Dive Galapagos The bay of the charming town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island offers five separate dive sites within ten to twenty minutes by boat. Three of these sites are generally calm with little current; ideal for novices. Diving at the other two sites can get a bit more complicated if a current is present, so these sites are suitable for intermediate or expert divers only....
Planning a Galapagos Island cruise? Study up on history first and you'll see the islands as the centerpiece in a rich adventure story dating back to the sixteenth century. Soon after laying claim to vast areas of the Americas, Spain began hauling its booty from the New World back to the Old. With such riches, it was inevitable that the plunderers would become the plundered. The penalty for piracy was death. Yet...
The Spanish considered the Galapagos Islands an anathema, calling them "Las Encantadas," the bewitched islands. When enshrouded in mist, they were difficult to find, and the area's gentle winds gave sailors the sensation that the islands themselves were moving instead of their ships. Though conveniently located, the Islands couldn't be relied upon to provide a source of sufficient fresh water, making the Galapagos...
In some ways, managing the Galapagos Islands is easier than managing the waters around them. Everyone agrees that tourism is the Galapagos Islands' bread and butter. But the sea means different things to different people. To strict conservationists, humans are an invasive alien species with no rightful place in the ecology of the Galapagos Island waters - Galapagos Island cruises and tours are a danger with no...
Though the English naturalist Charles Darwin was not the first scientist to visit the Galapagos, his name will always be synonymous with these enchanted islands. It is here in just five short weeks that he found the evidence he sought to bond his ideas into a theory, On the Origin of the Species, published in 1859. In so doing, he forever changed the course of the Galapagos Islands history and dramatically re-framed...
Tourism in the Galapagos Islands, including cruises and land tours, began in the mid-sixties, grew steadily in the seventies and exploded in the eighties. The advent of ecotourism was part of a larger phenomenon explained by a values and lifestyle typology developed by SRI International in 1978. Its "VALS" study of consumer types demonstrated how Americans' values influence their spending patterns....
While most people think of shrinking habitats and pollution as the major threats to wildlife, disease can also have a catastrophic impact. Even as tourists visit the Galapagos Islands by tour and cruise, scientists from around the world are working to prevent the importation of diseases to the Galapagos Islands. Disease could devastate island wildlife the way Avian Pox and Avian Malaria helped wipe out entire bird...
Standing a little over a foot and a half tall, the adult Galapagos penguin weighs about six pounds and has a black face and body feathers with a white front. Its black feet and jaw are tinged with pink. It has shorter feathers than other penguin species, helping it to survive in warmer conditions. Living in colonies of up to about twenty pairs, the Galapagos penguin spends much of the day in the water where cooler...
To minimize wildlife disturbance, the Galapagos National Park Service limits tourist travel in the islands to designated visitor sites. Therefore, if observing penguins is high on your Galapagos wildlife wish list, it is wise to study itinerary options to make sure you will be visiting the specific areas where the species tends to congregate. To minimize wildlife disturbance, the Galapagos National Park Service...
Many baleen whale species pass through the waters of the Galapagos Islands from time to time, including blue, sei, humpbacks and southern minkes. Of the baleens, Bryde’s whales are the most likely species that visitors will see during their travel to the Galapagos Islands. Humpbacks stop by in June during their winter migration. Orcas, short-finned pilot whales and smaller toothed species such as the...
Under a system of organized forced labor in factories, called obrajes, the conquered villagers were put to work weaving. The first to be established was located in Otavalo in the northern Andean highlands. The craftsmen here who had long-standing weaving traditions on backstrap looms were taught to use the imported European treadle loom which could turn out finished pieces faster. There were roles for men, women and...
The crafts market’s epicenter is the Plaza de los Ponchos in downtown Otavalo. Though the biggest market day is Saturday, any day in Otavalo is a treat for tourists seeking souvenirs of their travel to Ecuador. Sales get going between 8 AM and 9 AM, winding down about 3 PM. Crowds are smallest before mid-morning. Prices for most merchandise are not fixed, allowing shoppers to negotiate with the artisans....
Geared more for a local clientele, Cuenca’s largest market is held in the Plaza Rotary a few blocks from the beautiful Parque Calderon in the city’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors who travel to Ecuador here will find the most vendors on Thursday, with fewer stalls on Saturday and fewer still the other days of the week. Featuring clothing and crafts, another market takes place at...
Less than ninety miles south of Quito is Ambato, the provincial capital of Tungurahua. Though much of Ambato’s colonial architecture was wiped out by an earthquake a half century ago, its picturesque flora gives photographers on Ecuador tours plenty of photogenic subjects. Monday is market day when visitors on Ecuador tours will find crafts from the surrounding villages, predominated by leather goods. A...
Cotopaxi’s provincial capital is the market town of Latacunga, located fifteen miles southwest of the Cotopaxi volcano. The largest of Latacunga’s markets is held on Saturday at the Chile Plaza, and another on Tuesday, offering a wide array of items appealing to visitors on Ecuador tours as well as local residents. Seventeen miles northwest of Latacunga, visitors on Ecuador tours will find the village of...
Shigras are made from different plant species, one a gigantic, succulent of the agave family that grows in high elevations of Ecuador. During their travel to Ecuador, visitors may hear these succulent plants referred to by various names, including cabuya, fique, penca and maguey. The plant’s growing conditions are very different from those that produce the other major source of fibers used in the making of...
The most sought after of the chambira fronds are the cogollos, the new tender shoots. The best known of the chambira crafts made from the cogollos are shigra bags, used to carry everything from farm produce to lipstick and wallets. Among the other decorative crafts made from cogollos are baskets, belts, macramé and necklaces, offering a strong fiber on which to string beads. At maturity, the chambira tree...
Was the Earth oblate, as English physicist and mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton, had theorized in 1687, based on his understanding of gravity? If so, it would mean that the Earth’s circumference at the poles was shorter than at its middle, a sphere flattened at both ends. Or was the Earth prolate, an elongated sphere that if drawn today would resemble a football, flattened a bit at both ends and in the 18th...
Just the travel to Ecuador alone was a major undertaking. The men set out by ship from the west coast of France in May of 1735, landing in November in the port city of Cartagena, Colombia, where two Spanish scientists joined them. They continued up the coast, traveling west to the hot and humid port of Puerto Bello, an important city for transferring loot from the Inca Empire to ships headed back to Spain. The place...
In addition to the monument, visitors on Ecuador tours will find museums, dining establishments, souvenir shops, and most importantly, a post office to document their arrival at this unique location. Live music and dance are sometimes performed here. From Quito, Southern Explorations offers two day-trip Ecuador tour extensions to the Mitad del Mundo monument, one that goes directly there and another that also...
And then there is Ecuadorian hot chocolate, the drink, another experience altogether that one may have during travel to Ecuador. Most likely, it is a beverage that you haven’t experienced before, far from the sweet, hot chocolate you know from home. It is thick, but not sweet. Flavored perhaps with chili and cinnamon, the syrupy liquid hits your taste buds subtly but thoroughly, adding to the beverage’s...
Without additives, cacao beans are bitter, but pulverized and doctored with other ingredients such as chili peppers, cinnamon or nuts, colonial producers, and indigenous tribes before them, managed to make the beans into a palatable beverage. Before the cacao beverage took off in Europe, it became a hit in the colonies of New Spain. To satisfy colonial demand, the Spanish began harvesting cacao beans commercially on...
Many naturally-occurring varieties of cacao trees exist in addition to having been hybridized into many more. Most beans are of three types. Bulk beans come from disease-resistant trees that grow primarily on the west coast of Africa, a growing region that got its start from trees that originated in the Amazon. Latin America is known for its flavor bean varieties that generate a less predictable, lower-yield crop of...
Once Ecuador’s beans are in the hands of the premium chocolate companies, the master chocolatiers run the show, giving the bars their unique taste. The beans are first roasted and then cracked open, the hard, outer shells revealing the soft nibs that become the base for finished chocolate products. Because cacao beans contain too much cocoa butter to make a tasty chocolate bar, it is necessary to pulverize the...
Concern is growing that the desire for more predictable and profitable yields will result in the destruction of habitat and the degradation of the quality of Ecuador’s cacao in the long run. To address the problem, environmental organizations are working with government and industry to promote sustainable practices that will provide farmers the incentive to continue growing shade-grown native varieties instead...
The cacao is not a tall tree, growing to between thirteen and thirty-two feet if cultivated on a plantation and twice as tall growing wild in the Ecuador Amazon Rainforest. The cacao flowers grow on the tropical tree’s trunk and lower branches, a profusion of delicate, mostly white blossoms. Only a few of the flowers bear fruit, starting when the tree reaches four or five years of age and peaking within the...
The Dutch van Houten family made a name for itself in the chocolate world through father and son inventions. In 1828, the company received a patent for its hydraulic cacao press that was capable of exerting so much force it could squeeze the fat out the beans after roasting them. This inexpensive device allowed the beans to be ground into a powder that could be mixed with other ingredients, that eventually included...
Chocolate connoisseurs know that Arriba is the must-have chocolate bar experience during their Ecuador tours. Arriba beans are appreciated for their fruity and flowery taste. The tree species derives its name from where it grows, meaning “above” in Spanish, in particular, the upper Rio Guayas, north of Guayaquil. The beans are also grown in western Ecuador’s provinces north and east of Guayas....
It is at the beginning of the region’s rainy season that any new trees are planted. Unlike most crops, cacao pods are harvested most months of the year, rather than during a particular season. In western Ecuador, the cacao harvest peaks from March to June and a second, smaller crop is harvested between October and February. The cacao pickers, usually men, called tumbadores, use a machete or other blade to...
Scientists believe that it is in the Amazon Rainforest regions of what today belong to Ecuador and Colombia where the cacao tree most likely originated. Today, many varieties of cacao trees grow here, their beans being used by chocolate processors to give chocolate its distinctive taste. In the Ecuador Amazon, cacao grows mostly in small groves, intermingled with other trees. Most valued here is the country’s...
Over the past decade, the Amazon Cacao Development Alliance, comprised of government agencies and the private sector, have helped organize the cacao farmers near Yasuni National Park into grower associations, assisting in finding new domestic and international markets for their crop. Out of this effort was born Yachana Jungle Chocolate, a company that exports organically grown cacao. Increasingly, European and US-...
The modern-day Panama hat originated in the first quarter of the 17th century. Sales of the materials for the hat transformed the economy, offering many coastal residents employment at a task for which demand was international and growing. By the 1800s, indigenous craftsmanship melded with colonial manufacturing know-how to construct the hats at a faster rate. The first Panama hat factory to be established in the...
The most coveted hats, ones woven by master craftsmen over several months (and signed when the work is finished) are described by the adjective “fino” with a second adjective to further divide them as fino-fino, extra fine and superfine grades. Different sellers use various terms to describe the weave of their hats which can be confusing for visitors on Ecuador tours. If you can roll the hat, and it...
Visitors who plan to purchase a Panama hat during their travel to Ecuador may wish to study the subject before their Ecuador tours begin. Hats vary by color, weave and craftsmanship as well as coming in a myriad of styles. Take the crown for instance which may be shallow or deep. It may dimple and narrow at the top as in the Stetson or be dissected back to front by a ridge in the colonial style. Starting in the 19th...
People call it the world’s most perfectly crafted hat, one long appreciated by aristocrats, world leaders, stars of stage and screen, and performers of every ilk, from pop music stars to sumo wrestlers. The Ecuador Panama hat became the rage in Europe after visitors saw it at the 1855 Paris World’s Fair. In 1906, a photo of Teddy Roosevelt, appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world, as he...
If your Ecuador tours take you to the Pacific coast, around such villages as Valdivia, Cadaete, Manglar Alto, and Olon in Guayas Province, toquilla plantations are abundant. Inland from the provincial city of Manta is where the most famous of Ecuador’s panama hats are made. In Montecristi, the birthplace of the Panama hat, and many other towns, one may visit workshops to watch the hats being made. To the south...
Hunched over the straw that is laid out on a wooden stand, the craftsman starts at the crown. He or she weaves the fine strands, keeping the fibers moist, in an ever-widening circle to craft the body of the hat, leaving the remaining strands in a long fringe that resembles a hula skirt. The hat is now ready to move on. The hats are gathered up by collectors who take them to such towns and cities as Montecristi,...
Ecuador’s vicuna protection program is a story of international cooperation among nations that signed the Convention for Vicuna Conservation. After the preservation efforts of Peru and Chile had succeeded in replenishing their countries’ vicuna populations, the two countries came to their neighbor’s aid, donating a starting stock of 1,600 vicunas to the government of Ecuador in 1988. With far fewer...
It is far more likely that visitors who travel to Peru in the Andean regions will see huacaya alpacas than suris. Of the two varieties of alpacas, the huacaya is far more common, comprising ninety to ninety-five percent of the world’s total alpaca population. The two breeds may be distinguished by their coats. Without crimp, the prized hair of the suri hangs straight down from its body and feels like mohair....
Llamas prefer high grassland habitats at elevations from 7,000 to 13,000 feet where visitors on Peru tours and other destinations will see them in herds. Domesticated llamas are less social than if they inhabited the wild and have adapted to the status of novelty farm animal and family pet far from their traditional roots in the harsh, cold highlands. The llama reaches maturity at about three years of age. Offspring...
Vicunas live in semi-arid grasslands of the Andes on or near hillsides at 11,000 to 19,000 feet in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador in a range that has shrunk over the past several centuries. They can survive the extremes of temperatures found at these elevations thanks to soft fleece that traps warm air against their bodies. The vicuna uses its speed and exceptional eyesight to protect itself from its...
Most of what we know about South American camelids is their hair. The fleece of these animals contains no lanolin, so it is hypoallergenic, and though not waterproof, it makes warm lightweight garments. The llama and guanaco both have an outer layer of coarser hair and an inner layer of softer hair. The alpaca and vicuna have no outer layer. The softness of guanaco fleece is between that of the alpaca and vicuna....
After the Spanish invasion of guanaco habitat centuries ago, the specie’s population shrank from millions to thousands. Most of the continent’s remaining guanacos are found in the southerly regions, making them a much more common sight during travel to Patagonia than Peru Tours. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), of South America’s...
Over the years, various evolutionary theories have been put forth. Because the guanaco appeared first in the fossil record, some believe that llamas, alpacas and vicunas all evolved from that species. Scientists believe that between ten and perhaps more than thirty million guanacos once roamed various regions of South America from northern Peru to Patagonia. Indigenous tribes dating back to 4000 BC began...
Far from the shoppers combing through alpaca merchandise in Lima and elsewhere during their travel to Peru, come February, the alpaca herders give thanks, thanks for their livelihood, thanks for their herds, thanks for the species. Rooted in indigenous traditions, the Hayarisqa ceremony is an annual event that takes place in the Andean herder communities. According to the Aymara and Quechuan legends, the weavers of...
In the Andes, gender roles in the knitting and weaving professions vary by culture and village. In some communities, as visitors who travel to Lake Titicaca will observe, the weavers are primarily men. Travelers on Machu Picchu tours who visit the hill town of Huilloc will see the woolen handicrafts of women. In many communities, the whole family learns to knit, often using bicycle spokes for needles. Children...
<p justify;"="">Reading about and preparing for your adventure is half the fun. For more book suggestions go to Ecuador