Visiting the Amazon Rainforest in Bolivia

The Amazon rain forest in Bolivia has much to offer for those looking to see a corner of the world that is unlike any other.

The tropical rain forest will surely enthrall you and you will see Bolivian rain forest animals that you cannot see in any other section of the globe. Still, your enjoyment of the Amazon rain forest in Bolivia will greatly depend on what kind of experience you are looking to have.

Bolivia or Peru or Brazil

To put it grossly understated, the Amazon is a big ol’ river. It spans many different South American countries so the first step in planning your visit to the Amazon rain forest is to figure out which country you wish to include in your excursion.

If you are looking for a more touristy and comfortable look at the Amazon, you will want to head to the Peruvian Amazon.  But if you are prepared for a more rustic, stripped down and natural view of the Amazon in all its glory, the Amazon basin in Bolivia is going to be your destination of choice.

If Brazil is the first country you think of when you think about the Amazon, you are going to want to curb that bias right now. Especially if you are a budget-conscious explorer because while the Bolivian Amazon is just as naturally diverse as the Brazilian Amazon, visiting and touring in Bolivia is much cheaper.

When to Visit the Amazon Rainforest in Bolivia

If you don’t want to get eaten alive by mosquitoes, visit the Bolivian Amazon between the months of May and October. This is the period known as the dry season and it brings out many different kinds of animals to the river without the presence of torturous mosquitoes.

Visiting the Amazon Rain Forest

Visiting the Amazon Rain Forest

Locales of Note in the Bolivian Amazon

Rurrenbaque should always be your first stop when venturing into the Amazon. It is a small town where you can easily book tours and find lodging for cheap. From Rurrenbaque, the trip gets a bit trickier and a lot more personal.  This is when you have to ask yourself what kind of experience you wish to have.

“Pampas” is a word that you will hear a lot when booking your Amazon tour and it refers to a tour of the Amazon basin.  While this may be a good choice for those traveling frugally, it does not actually take you deep into the jungle.

If you had something more like an Indiana Jones adventure in mind, jungle tours are the way to go.  Be advised however that these tours will take you deep into the jungle which means long hikes in a very humid and steamy jungle terrain.  Also, due to the dense tree life, it may be harder for you to spot the animals you came to see.

Other than the guided Pampas basin and jungle tours you should check out Laguna Isirere which is a beautiful lake thick with bird and fish life, Totaizal which is home to the Chimane tribe and offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the indigenous people there and Laguna Normandia where you can see one of the rarest species in the Alligator and Crocodile family, the Caiman.

The Amazon rainforest in Bolivia will not disappoint, period.  It provides tons of options so you don’t have to feel encumbered by budget or experience.  If you are looking for a quite different adventure in Bolivia don’t miss the Diablada a The Oruro Carnival Oruro.

Puerto Rico Facts

Puerto Rico facts was an interesting topic to research and an interesting piece to write and I hope that it will be an interesting article for you, the reader because Puerto Rico has a very rich history, geography and culture.

My main goal for this article was to come up with facts about the country that you would not normally know. Whether this incites a visit or simply further research into this archipelago country is entirely up to the reader but my hope is that it will motivate something inside you.

One of the more fun facts about Puerto Rico is that it boasts the world’s highest collection of bioluminescent waters.

What are bioluminescent waters? Well, in layman’s term, they are ocean waters that glow an ethereal blue. More technically, bioluminescent waters are the result of a gathering of dinoflagellates which are single-celled organisms that live in the ocean and have the bioluminescent ability to glow a bluish-green.

Some of the most astounding pictures of this natural phenomenon have been taken off the coasts of the Puerto Rican islands.

His Name is John?

Yes, or at least, his name was John. This is the motto of Puerto Rican and it comes from a Bible verse and more recently from the original name given to the archipelago that we know now as Puerto Rico, San Juan Bautista. For those who don’t know, Juan is the Spanish version of John. Hence the motto, “His Name is John.”

One of the more fun geographical facts about Puerto Rico (especially for those who live in the States and are use to a fluctuation in seasons and daylight hours) is that the country gets pretty much the same amount of sunlight all year round. Since the country is located so close to the equator, the sun sets at almost 7pm local time all year round.

Puerto Rico Facts

Puerto Rico Facts

Have you ever seen the James Bond movie GoldenEye? Do you remember the climax sequence when James is doing battle with the Bond villain on what looks like a giant antenna? That is actually the world’s largest radio telescope and it is located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico also served as the gateway to the Caribbean. It was discovered in 1493 and was claimed by Christopher Columbus for Spain and has one of the most frequented harbors in the Caribbean Sea. The Spanish resisted many invasion attempts by the French, Dutch and the British but today, if you are born in Puerto Rico, guess what? You are an American citizen!

Puerto Ricans first began migrating to the States (mainly New York in the mid-19th century but the country was still under Spanish rule. Then after the Spanish-American war, they were Puerto Rican Citizens. Today, Puerto Ricans are essentially Americans and can even run for office in the states.

Looking for more useful Puerto Rico facts?

Try these on for size: if you are thinking about traveling to the country you don’t need a passport just a valid ID like a driver’s license. You also have no need to exchange your US dollars because the national currency of Puerto Rico is the USD.

The national holiday of Puerto Rico falls on November 19th and is the day that it was discovered. There is much more to know about Puerto Rico facts in my Puerto Rican Holidays and festivals article.

Aside from these fun and interesting Puerto Rico facts, you may also find it useful to know that in Puerto Rico, the legal drinking age is 20 and the rum flows like water. Enjoy responsibly!

Traveling to Medellin Colombia

Thinking of traveling to Medellin Colombia?  Don’t think twice!  Once a city where foreigners rarely dared to venture, Medellin, Colombia is now one of the most valued gems in Latin America as far as travel and culture goes.

Without getting into some of the sordid details of its past (mainly because such details are irrelevant in this humble corner of the internet) what you should know about Medellin is that it is a fast developing city in Colombia that has much to offer to the adventurer, the site-seer and even the retiree looking for warm and pleasant weather to ride out their golden years.

Medellin tourism has picked up by a huge amount in the last decade or so but why is this? Here for you know the ultimate guide to things to do in Medellin Colombia (top 7)

What to See and Do When traveling To Medellin Colombia

Immerse Yourself in the Nightlife

I’m sorry but the first thing I have to mention will speak more to a younger and young at heart crowd. I promise I will get into more family friendly and relaxing activities in the next few entries but, taking part in the vibrant and colorful nightlife of Medellin is something you would be remiss to exclude from your trip if you love a good time.

For a good party, head over to Parque Lleras where there is no shortage of bars, clubs and happening restaurants with great music and local spirits. The Medellin Flower Festival, which you can find out more about in this article, is also a popular tourist draw that has gained worldwide notoriety and is definitely worth inclusion in the itinerary.

Escobar Tours

The most fascinating aspect of the man, the myth and sometimes the monster Pablo Escobar is how polarizing the opinions are of him to the locals in Medellin. This is what makes the Pablo Escobar tours so intriguing. Take a trip through a significant period of Colombian history and decide for yourself.

Sporting Events

Who are we kidding? The only sport one needs to experience in Colombia is futbol (soccer). If you are a fan, you will be intoxicated by the zealous passion of the locals for their two home teams, Atletico Nacional and Independiente Medellin. Take in a match and get ready to lose your voice.

Pueblos

Alright, let’s calm things down for a bit. Want to see some beautiful countryside and possibly even scope out a spot for retirement? Take a tour of some of the nearby Pueblos around Medellin like El Penol to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Stuff Your Face

Did you really think we were going to compose a list about travelling to Medellin Colombia without talking about food? We Latinos love our food and you have to try local dishes like Ajiaco and Bandeja Paisa in order for you to even consider your pilgrimage to Medellin complete.

Take to the Skies

Many people, when thinking about South American countries like Colombia and Brazil, immediately conjure up images of people hanging from oversized kites and soaring against a beautiful skyline, and for good reason. One of the most popular things to do for visitors to Medallin is paragliding. For a handful of pesos, you can take to the skies and see the rich geography that Medellin has to offer from a bird’s eye view.

Stroll Through the Park

For those looking to take it easy, take advantage of the many parks and plazas in Medellin like the Parquet Explora, Pueblito Paisa, Parque Arvi and the Plaza Botero.

Enjoy Yourself

Travelling to Medellin Colombia will surely be one of the more enriching experiences of your life and the best thing to do while you are there is make it your own. Explore (safely), keep your mind open to new experiences and get lost in a culture that has more to offer than can fit in this humble corner of the internet.

Traveling to Medellin Colombia

Thinking about traveling to Medellin Colombia? Once a city where foreigners rarely dared to venture, Medellin, Colombia is now one of the most valued gems in Latin America as far as travel and culture goes.

Without getting into some of the sordid details of its past (mainly because such details are irrelevant in this humble corner of the internet) what you should know about Medellin is that it is a fast developing city in Colombia that has much to offer to the adventurer, the site-seer and even the retiree looking for warm and pleasant weather to ride out their golden years.

Medellin tourism has picked up by a huge amount in the last decade or so but why is this?  Here for you know the ultimate guide to things to do in Medellin Colombia (top 7)

While Traveling to Medellin Colombia Immerse Yourself in the Nightlife

I’m sorry but the first thing I have to mention will speak more to a younger and young at heart crowd. I promise I will get into more family friendly and relaxing activities in the next few entries but, taking part in the vibrant and colorful nightlife of Medellin is something you would be remiss to exclude from your trip if you love a good time.

For a good party, head over to Parque Lleras where there is no shortage of bars, clubs and happening restaurants with great music and local spirits. The Medellin Flower Festival is also a popular tourist draw that has gained worldwide notoriety and is definitely worth inclusion in the itinerary.

Traveling to Medellin Colombia

Traveling to Medellin Colombia

Escobar Tours

The most fascinating aspect of the man, the myth and sometimes the monster Pablo Escobar is how polarizing the opinions are of him to the locals in Medellin.  This is what makes the Pablo Escobar tours so intriguing. Take a trip through a significant period of Colombian history and decide for yourself.

Sporting Events

Who are we kidding?  The only sport one needs to experience in Colombia is futbol (soccer).  If you are a fan, you will be intoxicated by the zealous passion of the locals for their two home teams, Atletico Nacional and Independiente Medellin.  Take in a match and get ready to lose your voice.

Pueblos

Alright, let’s calm things down for a bit.  Want to see some beautiful countryside and possibly even scope out a spot for retirement?  Take a tour of some of the nearby Pueblos around Medellin like El Peñol, Guatapé, Rionegro, Llanogrande, San Pedro, El Carmen de Viboral, Belmira, Jericó, Santa Fe de Antioquia and many more to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Stuff Your Face

Did you really think we were going to compose a list about traveling to Medellin Colombia without talking about food?  We Latinos love our food and you have to try local dishes like Ajiaco and Bandeja Paisa in order for you to even consider your pilgrimage to Medellin complete.

Take to the Skies

Many people, when thinking about South American countries like Colombia and Brazil, immediately conjure up images of people hanging from over sized kites and soaring against a beautiful skyline, and for good reason.  One of the most popular things to do for visitors to Medallín is paragliding. For a handful of pesos, you can take to the skies and see the rich geography that Medellin has to offer from a bird’s eye view.

Stroll Through the Park

For those looking to take it easy, take advantage of the many parks and plazas in Medellin like the Parquet Explora, Pueblito Paisa, Parque Arví and the Plaza Botero.

Enjoy Yourself

Traveling to Medellin Colombia will surely be one of the more enriching experiences of your life and the best thing to do while you are there is make it your own. Explore (safely), keep your mind open to new experiences and get lost in a culture that has more to offer than can fit in this humble corner of the internet.

 

San Blas Festivity in Paraguay

While there may be a handful of worthwhile festivals held in Paraguay on an annual basis, none have more of a history or religious significance than Dia de San Blas. The San Blas festivity in Paraguay is rooted in Christian origins from a faraway land; Armenia.

Even if you know nothing about the patron saint himself, if you find yourself in Paraguay during the first few days of February, you are sure to be enveloped in lively festivities including parades, music and food.

The History of Saint Blaise

Depending on who you talk to about this martyred saint, you will hear his name pronounced as Saint Blaise in English and San Blas in Spanish. Since this is an English speaking blog we will refer to him by his English name.

Saint Blaise was a Bishop in the Armenian Roman Catholic Church but he was also a physician. It is purported that his main area of medical expertise was afflictions of the throat. People would come to him from all over Armenia and neighboring countries so that he could treat their physical as well as their spiritual ailments.

As his fame spread, many miracles were also credited to him. Saint Blaise continued to serve his people but in the year 316, he was jailed and executed by order of an Armenian governor who was acting at the behest of the emperor Licinius. Apparently Licinius, much like other Roman emperors of the time were keen on killing Christians.

While you can kill a man you cannot kill the impressions and influences he made in his life and that is why a day is set aside every year to honor this Saint in countries all over the world from Eastern Europe to South America.  Not surprisingly one of the grandest and most decadent Saint Blaise celebrations are held every year on February 3rd in Paraguay.

The Paraguayan San Blas Festival

The history of San Blas day is as much a part of the celebration as the festivities themselves. After all, this is a religious holiday and many devout Catholics consider this day one of the holiest of the year.

If you do plan to be in Paraguay in early February head to Ciudad del Este where the biggest and brashest San Blas festival is held.

Since Saint Blaise was a physician specializing in ailments of the throat, the San Blas festivity in Paraguay begins with the blessing of the throat by ranking clergymen. Once your throat has been blessed, you can begin filling it with delicious Paraguayan cuisine. Food is a huge part of the San Blas festivity in Paraguay so be sure to leave plenty of room in your stomach for delectable dishes.

In Ciudad del Este lies the Cathedral of Saint Blaise and it is form this cathedral that much of the festivities emanate. There are parades held in his honor that are made to depict some of his more notable acts as a Bishop and leader in the Christian community in Armenia.

San Blas festivity in Paraguay

San Blas Festivity in Paraguay

While the actual Dia de San Blas falls on February 3rd, the San Blas festivity in Paraguay is a week-long festival. In addition to magnificent parades, specialty foods and religious rites, you will hear much traditional Paraguayan music and songs that commemorate this beloved patron saint of the country.

The San Blas festivity in Paraguay should surely be on your list of Hispanic festivals to experience and to find out more about the exciting festivals that Latin America has to offer check out my article on Hispanic holidays.

Introducing the Colombian Chiva

Getting around in Colombia, thanks to La Chiva, has become as much a crash course in cultural heritage as it has a reliable means of getting from point A to point B. Should you ever find yourself meandering the streets of Madellín you will not need to look very hard for these colorful buses that taxi tourists and natives alike through the streets. Again, should you be meandering on foot in Madellín, you are traveling the wrong way…

Chivas in the Past and Chivas Today

In our modern age where the world is becoming smaller and procuring goods not usually manufactured in your home land is relatively simple, seeing something like a passenger bus in the heart of Colombia may not seem like such a an astonishing occurrence. Still, if you were a campesino in Colombia in the 20’s and 30’s your jaw would have probably dropped to the floor at the sight of one of these behemoths of metal and wood rumbling down a dirt road.

The chivas of yesteryear were hard-built and the materials to build them were even harder to obtain. While there are differing opinions as to when the very first chiva commenced operation in Colombia, the varying accounts still point to the first decade or so of the 20th century as their functional origins.

At this time an engineer named Luciano Restrepo and a mechanic by the name of Roberto Tisnes actually had to import the chassis for what is believed to be the very first Chiva to be used in Colombia from America. The rest as they say, is history.

Before chivas were a regular part of Colombian life peasants, or campesinos, mainly relied on horse-drawn transportation and of course a good old fashioned walk (or in many cases in Colombia a hike) to get to where they needed to go.  In the early 20th century when Colombian chiva buses started to be more common, campesinos could be seen regularly hitching rides on them.

The earliest Colombian chiva buses were simple with canvas roofs and hybrid wood and metal framing but soon, as need for the campesino’s goods to travel with them grew, they began to evolve. They were fitted with roof racks soon enough and ladders running up the back so that campesinos could store and transport their goods.

Introducing the Colombian Chiva

Introducing the Colombian Chiva

The Colombian Chiva Today

Today however, chivas serve a different yet equally useful purpose. If you are in Medellin today especially during the flower festival you are sure to see very colorful and stylized buses traversing the streets in the evening. These are the chivas of the modern day.

The chivas of today hearken back to their simple forerunners in most aspects-size, construction, roof racks and ladders- but are distinct in that each Colombian chiva driver or owner personalizes their vehicle with colorful painting, murals and other creative designs.

These humble buses have become a symbol of Colombia and a must for anyone visiting. While most people today use chiva buses strictly for getting around and having fun, then next time you take a ride in one be sure to take a moment to consider the campesinos that depended on these vehicles for everyday essential functions and let the chiva become a transport for you into the past and the future.

Top 10 Places to Visit in Quito Ecuador

The breadth and the volcanic landscape that surrounds Quito Ecuador will surely captivate you upon site when you visit this capital city seated high in the Andean mountain range. Aside from the geographic beauty of Quito there is much culture to take in and a wealth of artistic experiences to take part in.

Great Places to See and Experience in Quito Ecuador

For those who are enthralled by ancient artifacts and the effects of civilizations long passed there is the Museo Guayasamin. Oswaldo Guayasamin was an influential painter who actually died somewhat recently (1999) and besides housing some of his own works, the Museo Guayasamin is also home to his vast collection of pre-Colombian artifacts.

Top 10 Places to Visit in Quito Ecuador

Maternidad by Oswaldo Guayasamin

You will see magnificent fertility figurines that were believed to increase the possibility of conception and burial masks. The museum itself was once the home of the famous painter and collector and it immediately envelops you in an atmosphere of wonder and otherworldliness.

For anyone who loves history and is entranced by it like I am, you have to continue to take advantage of the one of a kind museums in Quito. That is why among the top 10 places to visit in Quito Ecuador I am including the Museo Nacional. This museum will take you through a journey through Ecuador’s history from the pre-Spanish era to the colonial era to the Valdivia culture.

This next entry into my top 10 places to visit in Quito Ecuador should only be ventured after you have been in the city for a few days and have acclimated yourself to the high Andean elevation but once you have, the trek is well worth it. The TeleferiQo is a sky tram that offers up unbeatable views of the mountainous landscape.

It takes you up to the Cruz Loma peak and form there you can either hike or rent horses to climb all the way to Rucu Pichincha for even more breathtaking sights.

There are things to do around Quito if you are traveling with your kids as well. In fact, at the base of the aforementioned TeleferoQo station is the Vulqano Park– a wonderfully lively children’s amusement park that again, offers spectacular views.

Plaza Grande is among the top 10 places to visit in Quito Ecuador because it is a bustling city center that contains many attractions in a relatively small area so you can see a lot just by coming to this amazing square.

The Palacio de Gobierno stands at the northwest side of the square and is essentially the Ecuadorian Whitehouse. If you are lucky you can take tours of the staterooms and maybe even stand on one of the balconies that over-looks the entire Plaza Grande.

If you happen to be in the Plaza Grande on Saturday, make sure you venture to the northeast side of the square where the Palacio Arzobispal is. The Palacio Arzobispal is essentially a collection of shops and restaurants but what drew me to it and what will draw lovers of live music like me is the concerts held on the covered patios of the restaurants on Saturday night.

Finally, before you leave the Plaza Grande, be sure to stop at the Cathedral of Quito. Fascinating historical tombs of Ecuadorian independence figures and legends can be seen here along with captivating religious art.

I always urge friends and family who are considering a visit to Quito to do so between November and December because the greatest festival of the year occurs during this time. The Founding of Quito Festival as the name implies celebrates the establishment of the city. You will be privy to everything from DJ and live band performances to bullfights and Flamenco dancing.

For a bit of mystery and enchantment head over to the Monastery of San Diego which is home to the curious painting by Heironymus Bosch, Passage from this Life to Eternity which no one can be certain how it ended up in the monastery to begin with.

Quito is one of the most captivating cities in Latin America and besides these top 10 places to visit in Quito Ecuador there is so much to discover and explore. Anyone interested in Quito and locales like it should also check out Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan. You can read all about it in the article Why Visit Lake Atitlán

Burning the Muñeco: A New Year’s Celebration in Peru

Even for those of us blessed with good health and happiness, sometimes there are those years.  Hard years, challenging years – years that make the celebration of New Year’s Eve something particularly meaningful. If this has been one of those years for you, you might try a trip to Peru, where their tradition of Burning the Muñeco (Doll) is a visual representation of the change from the old year to the new one.

Peruvians burn the muñeco in the New Year’s celebration.  This doll is similar to a scarecrow or an effigy, and can, in fact, be considered an effigy of the Old Year.

The muñeco dresses in rags or is made with paper, and totally filled with flammable material or sometimes fireworks.  At midnight it is set on fire on New Year’s Eve.

Although some still make them at home, these days, many stores sell them commercially.

New Year’s Celebration in Peru and Burning the Muñeco

Many countries practice this tradition throughout South America and parts of Mexico.

This tradition is yet another example of religious syncretism, or a combination of different cultures into one belief system, common in Hispanic religion due to the influence of the Spanish.

Also a tradition in parts of the Old World, the burning of the Año Viejo is considered to have come from pagan rituals in Europe.

The burning of the muñeco is at its most basic a real-world representation of the common desire that most people have to leave bad events of the year in the past and to start the New Year with a positive attitude.

Different Kinds of Muñecos

Muñeco waiting to be used.

Muñeco waiting to be used.

One of the unique aspects of the New Year’s celebration in Peru is that muñecos often deal with current events, both local and national. For example, you can find politicians and famous Peruvian celebrities on store-bought muñecos, depending on what has happened in the country during the year.

Communities will also have figures of famous (or infamous) locals. Interestingly, many muñecos are actually based on respected or popular figures, not just those with negative opinions.

Muñecos and Waquis in Parco

As with most traditions, there are regional differences. One of the more well-known places they celebrate by burning el muñeco in Peru is in the District of Parco, in central Peru about four hours from Lima. In this Andean region, inhabitants accompany the muñeco by waquis, dancers that represent the Old Year as locals bid it goodbye.

The waquis dress in rags, with tattered hats and sandals, wearing wooden masks expressing different emotions. Each dancer plays a role in this representation of the old year, and the dances demonstrate the pain the year feels at having to leave.

With handmade rattles and more modern instruments, the parade plays songs with the Andean rhythm huayno. They also play the fool to the amusement of the town residents, hiding their “pain” with clowning and mocking of those in attendance.

In this area, the celebration goes very late. The “quema del muñeco” actually takes place in the early hours of January 1, after musicians and the waqui dancers traverse the different streets of the area waking up residents, who say goodbye to this representation of the year from their doorways.

Residents soon make their way to the plaza, where the giant Muñeco is waiting. The party continues from there, with traditional food and drinks and a celebration that last until the wee hours.

The New Year’s celebration in Peru and other countries is a vivid representation of how ancient traditions have survived through history and how they continue to be culturally relevant today.

Burning of the muñeco is part of good Peruvian Christmas traditions, because no matter how you celebrate the holidays, everyone wants to have a happy New Year.

Would you like to burn away the old year? Tell us about it in the comments!