Friday, June 3, 2016

Ecuador at the Globetrotters Club: Where to Visit After April's Earthquake

By Russell Maddicks

Ecuador is one of the most interesting and rewarding countries to visit in the Americas. A small country blessed with a hugely varied geography – encompassing Andean peaks, Amazon rainforest, Pacific beaches, and the wildlife-wonderland of the Galapagos Islands – it has been described as a microcosm of South America.

On 16 April a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated communities along the northern Pacific coast and a massive relief effort is still underway. Meanwhile, the rest of the country is operating normally and more than ever needs tourism revenue to help fund the rebuilding on the coast.

Russell Maddicks, the author of the “Culture Smart! Guide to Ecuador” will give an illustrated presentation on Saturday, 4 June, at the Globetrotters Club in London explaining the current situation on the ground, why you should visit Ecuador now, and giving a taste of the country's main tourism highlights. 

On 16 April a devastating 7.8 magnitude quake struck the Pacific coast of Ecuador killing some 660 people, injuring over 7,000 and destroying homes, businesses, schools and hospitals in Manabi and Esmeraldas provinces.

This is one of the worst disasters to hit the country in decades and an unprecedented time of need for Ecuadorians living along the northern Pacific coast. Millions of dollars have been raised by well-wishers around the world to help the relief efforts, and international groups like Oxfam, Care, and UNICEF are all operating in the country to assist the government in housing, feeding and providing medical attention to those most affected.

The rebuilding efforts will cost over $3 billion and maintaining tourism revenue, a key element of the Ecuadorian economy, is more important now than ever.

While the northern sector of the Pacific Coast is slowly coming back to life, the rest of the country is operating as normal and tourists can expect no difficulties visiting the Galapagos Islands, the Andean capital of Quito, the Amazon region, and the port city of Guayaquil (the gateway to the Galapagos) or many other parts of the country.

The message from Ecuador is if you really want to help the country rebuild come and visit. This talk will hopefully give you the information you need to plan your visit.

Admission to Globetrotters costs £3 for Members and £6 for Non-members. You do not need to be a member to attend, and they do not sell advanced tickets, so just come on the day to The Church of Scotland, Crown Court, off Russell Street (behind the Fortune Theatre), Covent Garden,WC2B 5EZ. Doors open at 2:15pm and the program starts around 2:30pm with each talk lasting approximately 40 minutes.

About the Speaker: Russell Maddicks is a BBC-trained writer, translator, and journalist. A graduate in Economic and Social History from the University of Hull, England, he has spent the last twenty years traveling, living, and working in South and Central America, most recently as Latin American Regional Specialist for BBC Monitoring.

A fluent Spanish speaker, he has made many extended trips to Ecuador, one of his favourite South American destinations, where he has explored the length and breadth of the country both for work and for pleasure.

He is the author of the Bradt Guide to Venezuela, Culture Smart! guides to Venezuela and Ecuador, and has guides to Cuba, Mexico and Nicaragua scheduled for release in 2016-2017.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Ecuador Scoops Top Prizes at World Travel Awards in Bogota

By Russell Maddicks

Ecuador continued its successful run at the World Travel Awards on Saturday, 10 October, picking up 14 prizes at a glittering gala ceremony held at the Teatro Colón in the historic centre of Bogotá, Colombia. 

For the third year in a row, Ecuador won the award for South America's Leading Green Destination, a nod the country's biodiversity and continuing commitment to eco-tourism and sustainable development.

Another top eco-tourism award went to the Finch Bay Eco Hotel - located on the island of Santa Cruz in the wildlife-rich and environmentally-important Galápagos - which walked away with the prize for South America's Leading Green Hotel. 

It was also a big night for the historic Andean capital of Quito, a third time winner of South America's Leading Destination, considered among the most important prizes awarded on the night.

Quito's hotels also took home top gongs, with the stylish Hotel Plaza Grande taking the prize for South America's Best Luxury Hotel, and Swissôtel taking South America's Best Hotel. 

Quito's Mariscal Sucre International Airport, which only opened in 2013, garnered the prize for South America's Leading Airport. 

The Tren Crucero, Ecuador's revamped train route from Quito through the Andes to Guayaquil on the Pacific Coast, won the award for South America's Best Luxury Train.

"These international acknowledgments confirm, once again, that Ecuador continues to captivate the world with its spectacular destinations and tourism products," said Ecuador's Tourism Minister Sandra Naranjo, on hearing the results at the WTA Latin America Gala Ceremony 2015

The annual WTA event is considered the Oscars of the travel industry and Ecuador's growing share of the top awards, especially in the luxury sector, is a testament to the high level of public and private investment in tourism infrastructure and promotion over the last ten years.

"Ecuador has made great strides in recent years, and is now a tourist force to be reckoned with in South America,” said Graham Cooke, the founder and president of the WTA, adding that Ecuador's sweep of the prizes "is a reflection of the country's success in positioning itself not only as a unique destination - with both Quito and Ecuador, as winners - but also through high-quality products."

In other top awards, Argentina picked up the trophy for South America's Leading Heritage Destination, and Peru won the gong for South America's Leading Adventure Tourism Destination. 

Peru also won South America's Leading Culinary Destination and South America's Leading Cultural Destination.

South America's Leading Beach Destination, another major prize, was awarded to Colombia's Caribbean resort island of San Andrés.

Colombian flag-carrier Avianca won the prestigious award for South America’s Leading Airline, while Mexico and Central America's Leading Airline went to Copa Airlines. 

The full list of Ecuador's pizes at the 2015 World Travel Awards (WTA): 

EcuadorSouth America's Leading Green Destination.
QuitoSouth America's Leading Destination.
Tren Crucero (Cruise Train): South America's Best Luxury Train.
Finch Bay Eco HotelSouth America's Leading Green Hotel.
Mariscal Sucre International Airport in QuitoSouth America's Leading Airport.
Hotel Plaza Grande (Quito): South America's Leading Luxury Hotel.
Swissôtel (Quito): South America's Leading Hotel.

The following Ecuadorian hotels and resorts also won awards:
Hotel Plaza Grande (Quito): Ecuador's Best Boutique Hotel.
Hotel Oro Verde (Guayaquil): Ecuador's Best Business hotel.
Mashpi Lodge: Ecuador's Best Green Hotel.
Swissôtel (Quito): Ecuador's Best Hotel.
JW Marriott Hotel (Quito): Ecuador's Best Presidential Suite.
Arashá Tropical Forest Resort & SpaEcuador's Best Resort.
Termas de PapallactaEcuador's Best Spa Resort.

For the full list of WTA 2015 winners click here

Related articles:
The Wonders of Galápagos Laid Bare by British Author Henry Nicholls

Ecuador Launches Arty "Feel Again" Tourism Campaign

Guayaquil Prepares for FITE 2015 - Ecuador's International Tourism Fair

Follow me on Twitter: @EcuaTravelGuide
Follow me on Instagram: @LatAmTravelist
Purchase a copy of my book Culture Smart! Ecuador

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Insider Travel Tips from a 40-year Veteran of the Galápagos Islands

By Russell Maddicks

The weird and wonderful Galápagos, located nearly 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, is a volcanic archipelago that is home to sea lions, marine iguanas, giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies that are so unafraid of man that modern visitors can get up as close to them as the first recorded visitor, Spanish Bishop Tomás de Berlanga in 1535

British author, photographer, tour operator and wildlife expert David Horwell has been travelling to the islands ever since the 1970s, when he worked there as a naturalist. 

David was a pioneer in bringing escorted tours to the Galápagos back in the 1980s. He's so passionate about these unique volcanic islands that he chose @TheGalapagosMan for his Twitter account.

He currently organizes tailor-made trips to the whole of Latin America, with his tour company Select Latin America, but his affection for the archipelago is clearly as strong as ever.

The Bradt Guide to Galápagos Wildlife, the book David co-authors with Pete Oxford, is widely recognized as one of the best introductions to the amazing creatures that inspired Charles Darwin to come up with his game-changing Theory of Evolution

So who better to ask for some insider tips on the Galápagos experience:

Q: Nowadays, the Galápagos Islands are considered a must-do, bucketlist destination for any travellers interested in a unique wildlife experience. What was it that first captured your interest in the islands? 
I always was fascinated by islands as a kid with stories of ship-wrecked sailors and pirates; coupled with living not far from Darwin’s house in Kent and learning about his famous finches at school. The mention of the name ‘Galapagos’ was a magnetic draw for me; I always dreamt of going there one day. Little did I know how much impact on my life the archipelago would have... 

Q: Things must have changed so much since the 1970s, is it still as exciting as when you first visited? 

As the plane lands in the somewhat barren island of Baltra, my heart still starts to beat hastily, as I know the delights waiting a short boat ride away (on the uninhabited islands), the animals and underwater life have not changed. Some of the fearless creatures are even more approachable. Unfortunately on the islands where people have colonized the population has grown exponentially, the worse are all the cars and trucks on the main island Santa Cruz. There is some good news, plastic bags have been banned and conservation groups are working to restore eco-systems.

Q: Your book Galápagos Wildlife describes the birds and beasts found in the air, on land and in the sea. Do you have a favourite creature or creatures? 

Swimming with sea lions has got to be number one, close encounters with dolphins and whales is always a bonus, but it is a toss-up between the blue-footed booby and waved albatross for most amusing courtship dispay. 

Q: For many people considering a trip to the Galápagos the big decision is whether to book a land-based trip or a cruise? What advice would you give them? 

No contest - if you can afford it a boat cruise will take you to the more remote islands and visitor sites. There is no substitute for arriving at dawn and seeing an island appear through the mists, and then landing before all the day-trippers arrive. There are some nice hotels now but you are surrounded by concrete not nature. You would still need to do a boat trip to see the main species. 

Q: Is there any Galápagos experience that you encourage people to include? 

Swimming with sea lions again! Seriously it is worth having a go at snorkelling even if you have never done it; you will see a whole new world such as a penguin ‘flying’ underwater. Another fave is a dinghy ride, or even better kayaking through a mangrove lagoon. Here you will be greeted by turtles coming up for air, herons keeping a beady eye on you and with luck the chance of seeing one of the rarest birds in the world, the mangrove finch. 

Q: Do you have any tips on things people should pack to make the most of their experience? 

Good comfortable shoes or sandals that you can get wet, it will save having to dry off your feet when landing in the surf. A waterproof camera can be great fun and one that takes video as well. A wide hat and plenty of sun cream is essential, as the Equatorial sun is unforgiving even when it is cloudy. 

Q: Ecuador has so many interesting tourism destinations that can be combined with a trip to the Galápagos Islands, what are your personal favourites? 

The Amazon headwaters are only a 45 minute flight (or a day’s drive) from Quito. There are wonderful lodges with excellent naturalist guides like in Galapagos. If you have less time the cloud forest ( 2-3 hours drive) is hummingbird heaven. For those who like hiking or horse-riding there are some fantastic haciendas (historic country ranches) where you can pretend that you are an explorer like Humboldt or Whymper. 

Q: With your books, photographs and work as a tour operator you've made an important contribution to the growth of tourism in Ecuador and the Galápagos. How have your experiences in Ecuador enriched your own life? 

For sure Ecuador is my second home, (I often wonder why I came back to London). I still return to the islands and mainland at any chance I get. I have made life-long friends with Ecuador and its hospitable friendly people. It is hard to beat for diversity and the locals know how to enjoy life.

For more tips on planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands visit the webpage of Select Latin America 

Related articles:
The Wonders of Galápagos Laid Bare by British Author Henry Nicholls

Ecuador Launches Arty "Feel Again" Tourism Campaign

Guayaquil Prepares for FITE 2015 - Ecuador's International Tourism Fair

Follow me on Twitter: @EcuaTravelGuide
Follow me on Instagram: @LatAmTravelist
Purchase a copy of my book Culture Smart! Ecuador

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ecuador's Weirdest, Wildest Seafood - Percebes (Gooseneck Barnacles)

By Russell Maddicks

I've eaten roast cuy (guinea pig) in the Andes, and barbecued chontacuro (palm grubs) in the Amazon, but percebes or gooseneck barnacles from the coast of Manabí Province in Ecuador have to be one of the strangest seafoods I've ever had to tackle.

In Spain, these rare stalked crustaceans can command prices of around 100 euros a plate, and poor Galician fishermen risk their lives to collect them in the breakers that crash onto the rocky coast.

The last time I was In Ecuador the percebes were thrown in for free with an amazing ceviche of shrimp, with concha peluda (black mangrove cockles) and pepino del mar (sea cucumber), served with chifles (crispy plantain chips), canguil (popcorn) and an ice cold Pilsener beer.

Total cost of the meal? $10

Follow me on Twitter: @EcuaTravelGuide
Follow me on Instagram: @LatAmTravelist
Purchase a copy of my book Culture Smart! Ecuador

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ecuador Launches Arty "Feel Again" Tourism Campaign

By Russell Maddicks

Following the success of its ambitious All You Need Is Ecuador campaign. which featured the well-known Beatles' song All You Need Is Love, Ecuador's Tourism Ministry has now launched an even more ambitious campaign with the emotive slogan: Feel Again!

The $10 million campaign begins with a major art project featuring 18 contemporary artists, photographers and travel bloggers from four countries who flew into Quito on 21 September for a 7-day expedition to experience one of Ecuador's four worlds: the Andes, Amazon, .Pacific Coast, and the Galapagos Islands.

Tourism is an important source of non-oil revenue for Ecuador, coming in third place after bananas and shrimp and generating some $1.5 billion in 2014.

The idea is for the invited artists to explore the sensory experiences of travelling in Ecuador - the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings that make travelling such an awakening, empowering and life-changing experience - and then produce work that reflects those experiences.

The artists will also engage on social media with their followers in a way that hopefully inspires others to visit Ecuador and sample its food, culture, history as well as its diverse landscapes and wildlife.

Team USA includes Andrew Norton, Brendan Van Son, Marc Reisbig, and Scott Pommier, and they will be exploring the Galapagos Islands.

Team Canada includes Benoit PailleJeff Bartlett, Jesse Louttit, and Rick Leong, and they'll be heading to the Pacific Coast,

Team UK includes Conor MacNeill, Esther Teichmann, Jason and Keiko Hindley, and Sara Thomas, and they'll be immersing themselves in Ecuador's mega-diverse Amazon region.

Team Germany includes Johannes Conrad and Michelle Phillips of Studio Yukiko, Rocket & Wink, and Steve Hanisch, and they will be experiencing the high Andes.

All the teams will be documenting their journeys in real time with stories, photos, videos, sounds, and artworks published on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms.

The best way to follow the artists' progress is through Ecuador Travel's accounts on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter, where you can use the hashtag #FeelAgainInEcuador to get the latest updates.

The invited artists posed with Ecuador's Tourism Minister Sandra Naranjo at the Feel Again! project launch in Quito's historic centre.

Follow me on Twitter: @EcuaTravelGuide
Follow me on Instagram: @LatAmTravelist
Purchase a copy of my book Culture Smart! Ecuador

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Guayaquil Prepares for FITE 2015 - Ecuador's International Tourism Fair

By Russell Maddicks

Ecuador's Pacific port of Guayaquil - the country's largest city and the main hub for flights to the famed Galapagos Islands - is gearing up for a flood of visitors for the annual International Tourism Fair, FITE 2015, which will be held from 22-25 October.

This is the most important tourism fair in Ecuador and the four pavilions that will be erected for the event in Parque Samanes - the third biggest park in the Americas - are expected to attract some 60,000 visitors over the four days. 

FITE is aimed at locals trying to get a good deal for their next holiday, visitors and expatriates seeking inspiration and information about destinations in Ecuador, and tourism professionals and travel firms interested in making new business contacts. 

This year, the slogan for the event is "Life is a Journey: Live it at FITE" (La Vida es un Viaje, Vívelo en FITE).

Ecuador's top attractions from the Amazon, Andes, Pacific coast and Galapagos Islands will be represented by regional tourism boards, tour operators, travel agencies, hotels, guesthouses, and jungle lodges.

There will also be music and costumed dancers from the country's many folk festivals to enliven proceedings, and stalls offering a diverse range of Ecuador's traditional culinary dishes and drinks for gastronauts.

If you want to try a coastal ceviche, for example, or a tasty plate of hornado (pork pulled from a whole roasted pig), served up with mote (hominy corn) and llapingachos (fried potato and cheese patties), then FITE is the perfect place to visit. 

You can also buy traditional handicrafts from around the country, including high-quality toquilla straw hats - erroneously known as Panama hats - and meet women from the small villages around Cuenca and Montecristi who spend months weaving them.

There will be stalls representing international airlines and tourism boards from 30 countries, including South American neighbours such as Peru, Colombia and Brazil, and far-flung nations like China.

According to Jaime Rull Mayoral, who has been organizing the FITE since 2002, this year there will be a special focus on adventure tourism, including hiking, mountain biking, abseiling, paragliding, bungee jumping, ziplining, and rafting, as well as equestrian and rural tourism options, and beach and water sports.

The four pavilions will be Adventure Tourism, Nautical Tourism and Water Sports, Equestrian and Rural Tourism, and a quiet space dedicated to business meetings, mini-conferences and talks aimed at those in the tourism trade. 

During FITE there will also be a two-day Extreme Sports and Adventure Tourism Congress bringing together tour companies, experts, and practitioners of extreme sports. The congress will offer an overview of new products and trends, highlight the importance of good practice and rigorous safety preparation to reduce risk, and stress the importance of sustainable, eco-friendly approaches to minimize the impact on the environment.

Ecuador has experienced a significant increase in tourist numbers over the last five years with over 1.5 million tourist arrivals in 2014 (200,000 more than in 2013), a record that the government predicts will be beaten in 2015. 

The country has built up a good reputation among travellers over the last five years due to the number of varied and interesting places that can be visited in a fairly short period. 

At the same time, new tourism initiatives like the Tren Crucero, the reopened train line between Quito to Guayaquil, and the Ruta de Spondylus, following mile upon mile of Pacific beaches, are further opening up the country to repeat visitors, who can now easily combine trips to the Galapagos Islands with mainland adventures in the Andes, the Amazon region, or along the Pacific coast.

Ecuador is also considered safe compared to its larger neighbours, has great food, brilliant birdwatching, fascinating colonial cities, good hiking, world-class surf, a historic railway system, and an efficient transport infrastructure that makes it easy to travel around.

Having the dollar as the national currency also makes Ecuador an attractive destination for travellers and expats, as it removes the bother of changing money and helps when transferring funds, budgeting and comparing prices. 

Nurturing this tourism boom, the government, through the Tourism Ministry, has invested heavily in a series of award-winning and highly successful international campaigns such as All You Need is Ecuador, which was launched around the world in 2014. The new campaign Feel Again!, looks like it will be just as successful.

For more information about FITE 2015 visit the FITE website or their page on Facebook.

Follow me on Twitter: @EcuaTravelGuide
Follow me on Instagram: @LatAmTravelist
Purchase a copy of my book Culture Smart! Ecuador

Monday, September 14, 2015

"Ecuador in a Nutshell" - Internations Reviews Culture Smart! Ecuador

By Russell Maddicks
Since Culture Smart! Ecuador was published in January 2014, the feedback from readers has been incredibly positive, and I would like to thank all those who took the time to drop me a line, both with praise and also with suggestions on how to improve the next edition. 

The following review of the book on the Internations Expat Blog, gives readers a good idea of the benefits of having a Culture Smart guide when travelling to Ecuador or moving there to live. It also highlights the limitations - as this is not a guide filled with lists of places to stay and eat in each town of Ecuador. However, as an overview of the culture, food, music and, most important of all, the people you will encounter, there is nothing else like it. 

Here's the review by Interations, an expat group that offers a space where foreign nationals can meet up, share experiences and ease in to their new life abroad with the help of others who have been there, done it all before, and probably have the T-shirt too.

For more interesting stories from the Internations Expat Blog click here 

Book Review: Culture Smart! Ecuador 

Do you remember our list of Top Expat Destinations 2014 from last year’s Expat Insider survey? The breakout winner was Ecuador, the number 1 in our worldwide country ranking. It owed its first place to its affordable cost of living, its friendly and easy-going population, and the personal happiness of our survey respondents. 

Still, to be frank, the results rather surprised us. We hadn’t considered the potential advantages of Ecuador as a destination for expats, and we realized how much we didn’t know about this small, but proud Andean nation. So, where to learn more about the “Republic of the Equator”? Ecuador in a Nutshell? 

Culture Smart! Ecuador: The Essential Guide to Customs and Culture, a recent book by Russell Maddicks, would probably be a great place to start. 

The stated aim of the Culture Smart! series is to ensure that “you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues.” Can this slim volume, a paperback with about 165 pages, live up to this promise? 

The Author 
The publishers seem to have found an author who is an excellent fit for this task. Russell Maddicks has extensive experience with traveling, working and everyday life in Latin America. He has already written several travel guides about Venezuela and the Caribbean. 

A fluent Spanish speaker, the British journalist brings both the perspective of a European expat and a certain familiarity with local languages and cultures to the table. 

The Content 
All writers for this series have to work within a fairly strict framework, though. I am familiar with older Culture Smart! guides for other destinations, and the basic structure remains the same for every volume. 

Each book normally includes the following topics, in this order: 
• Land and People 
• Values and Attitudes 
• Customs and Traditions 
• Making Friends 
• At Home 
• Time Out 
• Travel, Health and Safety 
• Doing Business 
• Communicating 

The Weakest Link 
In my opinion, the sections about “Land and People” and “Travel, Health and Safety” tend to be the weakest and least interesting chapters, and the Ecuador guide is unfortunately no exception to this rule. The explanation is simple: encyclopedias and run-of-the-mill travel guides cover more or less the same ground, but at greater length. 

For example, if you condense Ecuador’s history from the splendors of the pre-Incan La Tolita culture to the current presidency of Rafael Correa, you end up with 15 pages for three millennia. A fairly superficial summary will be the obvious consequence. 

And the chapter on travel provides, for instance, an overview of city buses and the intercity coach network in Ecuador, but this doesn’t really help you to actually get from Quito to Guayaquil. For this purpose, the latest Lonely Planet might be the smarter choice. 

The Highlights 
The strength of Culture Smart! Ecuador lies in its approach to “soft topics”, such as details about family life, morals and manners, or business etiquette – more difficult to look up than practical information. 

You’ll find out who Ecuador’s national heroes are (e.g. Inca general Rumiñahui or Olympic gold medal winner Jefferson Pérez), what a pilapo is (a particular sort of pick-up line), and what kinds of sports your new Ecuadorian friends are into (football is always a safe bet, but try to get into ecuavoley, too). 

Generally speaking, I wouldn’t recommend Culture Smart! Ecuador as your only source of information for backpacking, business trips, or planning your future life in the Andes. However, it’s an excellent starting point for a pretty reasonable price. Short and succinct, the quick-and-easy read engages with a breezy style and entertaining trivia. 

Okay, everyone has heard of Darwin’s famous finches in the Galapagos Islands, but did you know, for examples, that the erroneously named Panama hat is actually an Ecuadorian invention? 

Some Further Suggestions 
The book leaves you with a decent first impression of what to expect in Ecuador, and you’ll also know which topics you want or need to explore in more depth. 

Culture Smart! Ecuador lists a few suggestions for further reading at the very end, but the series could overall improve upon this concept. I’d find it more helpful to include some books, as well as online resources, at the end of each chapter instead: readers will know immediately where to find more about, say, environmental issues or office etiquette. This would probably bolster each volume by a few more pages, but it could be worth it. 

Click here for the full review on the Internations Expat Blog