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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Ecuador: Welcome to the jungle
TRAVEL
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2012-01-18

This article shared 10180 times since Wed Jan 18, 2012
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The Republic of Ecuador lies in South America, bordered by Colombia with the Pacific Ocean to its west. The word "Ecuador" translates to equator and we traveled to the center of the world to report back about it.

Known for its exotic wildlife and ancient civilization, this country makes the perfect destination for the adventure traveler.

Our trip began with American Airlines and switching to LAN in Miami. I recommend attempting to only bring carry-ons for the plane; however, be careful of baggage weight. Whether a smaller roller board or duffle bag this will make your life easier. One of the reporters from our group had his checked luggage lost for four days. LAN was a joy to fly. The flight attendants dressed in uniforms that would give Pan Am a run for its money. Dinner was served, along with alcoholic beverages with no extra charge. Personal televisions offered entertainment and made the flight literally fly by. In no time we arrived at the capitol of Ecuador, Quito.

Quito is the most populous city in Ecuador. The elevation can make it hard to breathe having nothing to do with age or health and has no specific factors. Headaches and dizziness are typical symptoms of altitude sickness. Locals use tea from the coca plant to combat it.

Swissotel is a luxury hotel in the heart of the city and makes a good base to begin your stay. Look for a rose on the bed with plenty of pillows and enjoy relaxing in the plush space.

The Ventanal Restaurant has a breathtaking view of the neighborhood of San Juan. With bife de chorizo and delicious chocolate desserts, this place knows how to present a dish.

After a short flight to Coca an eco tour began at the Napo Wildlife Center. To reach the accommodations, one must travel by high-speed motorboat and canoe. Thus began a total seclusion experience and bug repellent along with flashlights are suggested. The lodge is next to the Anangucocha Lake—which is loaded with large reptiles called caymans—so swim at your own risk by the dock after 6 p.m.

Guests are treated to excursions beginning at the crack of dawn after a quick breakfast. We traveled by boat, arriving at the clay clicks to see hundreds of parrots coat their stomachs with the earth to protect it from toxins. We hiked for hours through the jungle to observe wild deer, howler monkeys and bullet ants that can paralyze a grown man for an hour with one bite. We turned back time with locals performing and dancing, including a shaman to heal the village. Bees constantly swarm on a tall tower in the rainforest, although toucans and sloths could be spotted next to this Ceiba tree.

Experience the dragon's blood tree, where you can drink the sap or apply it to a bug bite to stop the itching. There were moments to proceed with caution, as we saw poisonous frogs on the ground. A tarantula actually surprised us in our quarters one evening after dinner. This jungle tour lasts for four days and three nights, and includes all meals buffet style.

Afterwards we trekked back to Quito to have lunch at El Crater Restaurant with an amazing view and delicious fish on the menu. Close by is a tour at the Middle of the World where tourists can find ground zero and try balancing an egg on a nail.

For dinner, Boca del Lobo was a hip place to check out, with retro décor and tasty salads to enjoy. Down the street was a gay bar called Buddha that was packed and filled with sweaty people as it blasted singer Olga Tanon; people cruised, dancing the night away.

Another short trip from Quito is the city of Manta, which has an incredible beach in Bay Caraquez and a museum. With a tour of the mangrove visitors can learn more about the ecosystem and the nesting of birds.

Discover the history of Panama hats at one stop, then travel to Casa Ceibo, with its handcrafter beds and spa bathrooms. The pool alone makes this a getaway that one can forget their troubles once and for all.

A spa treatment can include an energy bath in a sulfur lagoon, but make sure you don't mind the smell or kids jumping all over the area. Witness a two-headed chicken at the Agua Blanca museum, along with ancient artifacts.

The Hosteria Alandaluz made a comforting place to stay, with the beach right outside the property complete with night bonfires. Meals are included and pitchers of caipirinhas flowed during happy hour.

Puerto Lopez opened the way for a full day boat trip to La Isla de la Plata, where there is wildlife to match Galapagos Island. After hiking for two hours we spotted many a blue-footed booby (a species of bird) next to us on the path. Lunch and snorkeling were part of this bumpy boat cruise but how often do you see clown fish straight out of Finding Nemo? On the boat ride back to the mainland turtles, dolphins and whales escorted us back to the shore.

Don't miss Los Frailes and Salinas, beautiful beaches with outdoor markets. Hotel Punta Carnero can transport a traveler back to the '70s with its Brady Bunch stairs and stylings. It is only open part of the year so call before you drop in.

The Megaterium Museum is nearby, housing a giant sloth skeleton. After discovering these fossils in 2003, the State University of the Santa Elena Peninsula created this museum to study the remains. Another museum to check out was the Sumpa Lovers Museum, where you can learn about the burial bones and see ancient homes.

Guayaquil is the biggest city in Ecuador, and has more than 2 million inhabitants. The Oro Verde Hotel makes a safe, luxurious accommodation including restaurants, bakery and gambling inside the property.

Nightlife offered a karaoke bar that was not too friendly but the GYE Disco made up for it. With shirtless severs and three free drinks with the cover charge, this dance club eventually was packed with videos of Rihanna and Britney playing in the background.

Across the Guayas River is a train that takes tourists through rice fields. The tour guide played games with the passengers to pass the time and somehow tricked me into singing Madonna's "Like a Virgin" on a microphone!

For an encore we arrived at a rodeo where we learned how to make chocolate, drain sugar cane and ride a bull.

Overall, this will give an idea where to start for a traveler that sometimes was off the beaten path. In this vibrant country expect wildlife, museums, shops and restaurants.

For a country about as big as the state of Colorado, Ecuador is the highest populated area in South America and is packed with things to do and see.

Visit www.ecuador.travel for further ideas for traveling in this diverse part of the world.


This article shared 10180 times since Wed Jan 18, 2012
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