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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 – Best Hotels

This post is part 3 of 4 in the series Best of 2015

Welcome to Part 3 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 series of posts. Part 3 is our guide to the Best Hotels we stayed at during the past year of travel on our little road trip through the Americas including where to sleep in Mick Jagger’s bed in Peru,  the most dramatic check-in in Ecuador and the best Bed & Beer in Colombia. Part 1 covers the Best Adventures & Activities of 2015, Part 2 covers the Best Food & Beverages of the year and Part 4 tells you all about our Travel Gear of the Year.

In 2015 the Trans-Americas Journey explored Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and we drove 7,210 miles (11,603 km) doing it. Want more geeky road trip numbers like how much money we’ve spent on gas and how many borders we’ve driven over? Check out the Trip Facts & Figures page on our website.

And now, in no particular order, here’s our travel guide to the best hotels in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru of 2015.

Best Hotels Guide for 2015

Kentitambo Hotel - Leymebamba, Peru

Best bohemichic hotel: The indigenous quechua word “kenti” means “hummingbird”. The Quechua word “tambo” means inn. The Kentitambo Hotel, just outside Leymebamba in Peru, lives up to the name with a hummingbird filled garden surrounding its two large suites. Cobblestone paths wind through the lush flowers. Owner Adriana Von Hagen has created two relaxed and stylish suites, one upstairs (pictured above) and one downstairs, which feature vibrant textiles, lots of sunlight, a porch with a hammock, small deer antlers used as towel hooks and gleaming wood floors. Right across the street is the excellent Museo Leymebamba which houses a collection of artifacts, including 200 mummies.

 

Zen Suites Hotel Quito

Best new mid range hotel in Quito: Hotel Zen Suites, opened in late 2015, is conveniently located between the La Floresta and Mariscal neighborhoods of Quito, Ecuador just 10 minutes by (very affordable) taxi to the city’s colonial center which was part of the very first group of cities inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site way back in 1978. Most of the 47 rooms at the hotel feature great views of the city skyline and surrounding Andes mountains from a wall of floor to ceiling windows and some rooms have private patios. All rooms have plush bedding, rain shower heads and mini fridges. Rooms on the 8th floor have small balconies.There’s also a small but effective gym and a business center. Coffee and tea are available all day and the staff speaks English (not always a given in Ecuador). Rates, from US$97 per night, include a full breakfast buffet, which is much cheaper than similarly appointed hotels in the area.

 

Gocta Lodge, Peru

Best view from bed: The 2,531 foot (771 meter) high Gocta Waterfall, in the town of Cocachimba in northern Peru, has the fifth longest free-falling waterfall drop in the world, which is to say it’s an impressive sight. Make the most of it by booking a room at the sleek and stylish Gocta Lodge where all 10 rooms afford views of the cascade right from bed. Get a room on the second floor for more privacy so you can keep your curtains open all the time.

 

Buga Hostal, Buga Colombia

Best bed and beer: The town of Buga, Colombia is most famous as the site of what some perceive as a miracle. Pilgrims come to the church in Buga regularly. Those who worship good beer should visit as well because Buga is home to Buga Hostal and the Holy Water Ale Cafe, Colombia’s only Bed & Beer. The hostal is affordable and fine. The brew pub attached to the hostal is great, offering a range of delicious beers on tap made by German owner and brew master Stefan Schnur. Bonus: the pizza is legit too.

 

Masphi Eco Lodge - Mindo, Ecuador

Best curtains: The 22 rooms at Masphi Eco Lodge, the most luxurious way to stay in the rain forest in Ecuador, each have a different, vibrantly colored, massive remote-control operated curtain over a wall of windows. Upon check in, the curtain is raised to reveal a stunning view of the rain forest (and its inhabitants) just outside your room (pictured above). Your stay just gets more stunning from there.

 

La Casa Fitzcarraldo hotel - Iquitos Peru Mick Jaggers bed

Best place to sleep in Mick Jagger’s bed: Actors, crew and director Werner Herzog descended on the Peruvian Amazon to film the movie “Fitzcarraldo” which tells the crazy real life tale of Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald who moved a 320 ton ship over a mountain to reach a different Amazon tributary. Shooting in the jungle took years. Cast members, including Mick Jagger, came and went.  Somehow, the movie was made (if you haven’t seen it you should fix that). Through it all, cast and crew used a sprawling house in Iquitos, Peru as their base. Today, the executive producer of the movie, Walter Saxer, runs the house as La Casa Fitzcarraldo hotel. You can sleep in Mick Jagger’s room (above) or in the bungalow where Werner Herzog and his wife lived and fought. Don’t miss the chance to chat with Walter to gain even more incredible insights into the making of the movie.

 

Reserva El Cairo Hotel - Salento, Cocora Velley, Colombia

Best new hotel in Colombia: Reserva El Cairo Hotel (above) brings the right mix of modern sustainability and Colombian traditional architecture (the restored and converted house is more than 100 years old) to the Salento area of central Colombia. Nestled in the Cocora Valley, a few miles away from the fray in the picturesque town of Salento, the hotel is surrounded by the storybook beauty of this valley which is home to stands of wax palms which are Colombia’s national tree and the tallest palm on the planet.

 

Tucan Suites in Tarapoto, Peru

Best headboard: The awesome graphics of tucans perched on urban power lines behind the luxe beds at Tucan Suites (above) in Tarapoto, Peru are arresting, playful and the perfect embodiment of this super-chic retreat in the gateway to Peru’s northern Amazon which is a haven for tucans and tourists alike.

 

Aria Amazon Cruise Peru

Best floating luxury hotel: There are many ways to float down the Amazon river but nothing reaches the level of luxury, cuisine and service offered by Aqua Expeditions which operates the Aqua Amazon River Boat and the Aria Amazon River Boat. We spent four days on the Aria which is, essentially, a floating world-class boutique hotel (above). Suites are elegantly designed. Staff members are polished and English-speaking. The food is fantastic with a cuisine program lead by Executive Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino who runs the award-winning Malabar restaurant in Lima. The on-board experience is so good that you almost don’t want to leave the mother ship for guided excursions into the Amazon. Almost.

 

Geisha Love Motel Cali

Best love motel: A love motel is a discreet place, often on the edge of big cities, where lovers (covert or not) can shack up by the hour. They’re ubiquitous, popular and largely without stigma in Latin America were it’s common for couples to live at home where privacy is at a premium.  You can pull into a love motel, park your vehicle in a garage so no one can see your plates, enter your room and register all without ever being face to face with another human. Room service is delivered via a revolving lazy Susan in the wall to retain anonymity. Guests are often supplied with condoms and the better love motels have porn on the TV, Jacuzzis, condoms and even sex toys. The best love motel of 2015, by far, were the Geisha Love Motels in Cali, Colombia with their random, Japanese theme, sex chairs in the rooms which “accommodate 3” plus available “medical assistance” all for 60,000 cop (about US$20) for eight hours. For your convenience, there are two locations in Cali, one north of the city and one south of the city.

 

Egypt themed motel Peru

Best budget hotel with a random Egypt obsession: Rates at Hostal El Aribalo in Catacoas, Peru are a big draw – at just 70 soles (about US$20) for a private room with WiFi, fan,  TV, hot water bathroom and an enormous parking lot it’s a bargain. The other draw is the unique decor. Never mind that the street out front is noisy and there was no mirror in our bathroom (only a huge one in front of the bed…) and the shower didn’t work properly and they’re using a bed skirt as a top sheet…We had King Tut in front of our door and a 14 foot tall sphinx looking over our truck in the parking lot (above). Why, pray tell, are the grounds, halls and rooms at this Peruvian hostal full of Egypt motifs? We have no idea. Frankly, we were a bit scared to ask.

 

W Hotel Bogota bathrobe Estaban Cortazar

Best cold weather bathrobe: Guests in the massive Extreme Wow Suite at the W Bogotá Hotel in Colombia’s capital are treated to robes designed by Bogotá –born fashion designer Estaban Cortazar who was head designer at Ungaro before famously storming out after Lindsey Lohan was brought on board as a consultant (who wouldn’t?). The lush hooded robes, unveiled in August of 2015, are emerald green with gold accents and come with a slim hook-and-clasp belt as well as the usual sash belt (ours are pictured, above) for those of us not quite as svelte as the designer is.

Best hot weather bathrobe: The light, high quality cotton robes on board the Aria Amazon River Boat (see above) come in a chic shade of river stone grey, fit like a dream and aren’t too hot to wear in the Amazon.

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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 – Best Food & Beverages

This post is part 2 of 4 in the series Best of 2015

Welcome to Part 2 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 series of posts. Part 2 is our guide to the Best Food & Beverages we enjoyed during the past year of travel on our little road trip through the Americas including giant Amazon fish, reinvented arepas and the best tacos south of Mexico. Part 1 covers the Best Adventures & Activities of 2015, Part 3 covers the Best Hotels of the year and Part 4 tells you all about our Travel Gear of the Year.

In 2015 the Trans-Americas Journey explored Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and we drove 7,210 miles (11,603 km) doing it. Want more geeky road trip numbers like how much money we’ve spent on gas and how many borders we’ve driven over? Check out the Trip Facts & Figures page on our website.

And now, in no particular order, here’s our guide to the best food in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador in 2015.

Best Food & Beverages of 2015

Best food city: It’s no contest. Bogotá, Colombia blew our minds, culinarily speaking, and we should know. We spent weeks eating our way through the city, meeting chefs and generally falling in love with the food that’s going on there. There was so much to love that we wrote a comprehensive post about where to eat in Bogotá including 29 amazing places (and one to skip) and then we published another post all about drinking in Bogotá.

 

Aria Amazon River Cruise dining room

Best floating food: The Aria Amazon River Boat is a floating five-star hotel and restaurant that takes guests through the Amazon and its tributaries in northern Peru. The food lives up to the hype thanks to a menu created by Executive Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino who runs the award-winning Malabar restaurant in Lima. Meal after meal presented an amazing array of choices, many of them incorporating Amazonian ingredients like paiche fish, yuca and camu camu fruit. About 70% of the menu’s ingredients are sourced from the Amazon basin.  About 100% of it was delicious. In 2016 the company is offering special chef-hosted cruises that include tutorials and visits to local markets. That’s the elegant dining room, above.

Fabianos Pizza Cuenca, Ecuador

Best every day pizza: Fabiano’s Pizza in Cuenca, Ecuador serves legit pizza (see above) at great prices to a crowd that’s heavy on the expats (the place had a festive nursing home vibe). The most expensive 12 slice pizza was around US$17.00 and a generous glass of wine was US$3.50. Cash only. English is spoken (did we mention the expats?).

 

Fabiano’s Pizza Cuenca, Ecuador

Best fish and chips: The beachfront road through Puerto Lopez on the Pacific Coast of Ecuador is home to a string of restaurants that look and smell pretty much the same. We randomly chose one called Carmelitas and, for about US$7, we got a massive plate of fabulous fish and chips (called pescado chicharron on the menu, pictured above). the food was so light, fresh and delicious that we returned the next day for more.

 

 El Comedor Comfort Food in Bogotá li

Best comfort food: El Comedor Comfort Food in Bogotá lives up to its name with their salt encrusted whole chicken, a succulent bird that’s served with roasted potatoes (above) and avocado salad. It’s a local’s favorite and must be ordered ahead.

 

La Fama Barbeque Bogota best pastrami sandwich

Best pastrami sandwich: 2015 was the year that La Fama Barbecue added a pastrami sandwich to the menu (27,000 COP or about US$8.50). The pastrami is brined for 14 hours then slow cooked and smoked. The meat has a perfect patina, it’s thin sliced, super tender and delivers great flavor. The pastrami is served on buttered and toasted rye bread from El Arbol de Pan bakery along with Swiss cheese. A great slaw is served on the side. Au jus dipping sauce also comes with it for some mysterious reason.

 

Apache Burger Bar in Bogotá

Best to-go cup: We love to-go cups because they provide a way for you to take your unfinished drink with you when you leave a bar instead of forfeiting it. We’ve rarely seen to-go cups outside of New Orleans, so we were thrilled when staff at Apache Burger Bar in Bogotá handed us a high quality, high design to-go cup (above) on our way out the door.

 

Arepas Moliendo Café Cuenca, Ecuador

Best reinvented dish: The Colombian owners of Moliendo Café in Cuenca, Ecuador have re-invented the (very) humble arepa by turning the basic ground corn patty into a vessel to be topped with extremely well made Colombian favorites like beans, hogao (a rich sauce of chopped and simmered vegetables), chorizo, chicharron (fried cubes of meaty pork skin), ribs, etc. Orders are around US$3.50 and portions are huge (as you can see above). They also import Postobon soda and Aguila and Poker beer from Colombia.

 

Tacos Cantina y Punto Bogotá

Best taco south of Mexico: Readers of our travel blog know that we miss the food in Mexico every single day. So we were thrilled to get the chance to sample some dishes from Chef Roberto Ruiz in the days before he opened Cantina y Punto in Bogotá, Colombia in late 2015. Chef Ruiz is from Mexico and his Punto MX restaurant in Madrid is the only Mexican restaurant in Europe with a Michelin star. Working with a brand new staff in a brand new kitchen as construction went on around him, Chef Ruiz proceeded to exceed our expectations with a plate of tuna chicharron tacos on hand made tortillas, his famous guacamole and a fiery, flavorful salsa made from freshly roasted chilies sourced from a Mexican farmer near Medellin (above).

 

Demente - Cartagena, Colombia

Best new beer garden: In November of 2015 Demente Beer Garden opened on Plaza de la Trinidad in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena, Colombia right next to Demente Tapas Bar. The new beer garden serves Colombian craft beer (including Bogotá Beer Company, Apostol, 3 Cordilleras and Sierra Nevada) and pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven and is every bit as cool as its older sibling.

Best falafel: United Falafel Org (UFO), located next to the weirdly sterile church in the center of Vilcabamba, Ecuador, serves up fluffy falafel balls, great tahini, delicious hot sauce and homemade pitas (US$3.50 for a two ball falafel sandwich or US$6 for a five ball falafel platter). Not into falafel? Rotating specials including eggplant wraps and curries are also on the menu at this tiny, bohemian space where tables are made from old pallettes.

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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 – Best Adventures & Activities

This post is part 1 of 4 in the series Best of 2015

Welcome to Part 1 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 series of posts. Part 1 is all about the Best Adventures & Activities of the past year of travel on our little road trip through the Americas including cruising the Amazon River in Peru (in luxury and in a hammock), playing with gunpowder in a bar in Colombia and sky biking through the treetops in Ecuador (don’t miss our Amazon drone footage). Part 2 covers the Best Food & Beverages of 2015, Part 3 covers the Best Hotels of the year and Part 4 tells you all about our Travel Gear of the Year.

In 2015, the Trans-Americas Journey explored Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and we drove 7,210 miles (11,603 km) doing it. Want more geeky road trip numbers like how much money we’ve spent on gas and how many borders we’ve driven over? Check out the Trip Facts & Figures page on our website.

And now, in no particular order, here are the…

10 Best Adventures & Activities of 2015

 

Best walk through the tree tops: It’s more than a third of a mile (500 meters) long and up to 115 feet (35 meters) above the ground. It sways and creaks as it connects more than a dozen different platforms. It’s supported by enormous rain forest trees and there’s nothing else like it in the Peruvian Amazon basin. We’re talking about the Ceiba Tops Canopy Walkway at Explorama Lodge from which you can see toucans, tree frogs, monkeys and more all at eye level. Check out our Amazon drone footage from above the Canopy Walkway, above.

 

Caceria del Zorro horse race - Ibarra, Ecuador

Best insane horse race: Every October the town of Ibarra in northern Ecuador hosts a race that includes hundreds of horses and riders who parade around town, then leap down a series of steep cliffs (see above) before taking part in a track race in pursuit of a rider dressed as Zorro. Yes, that Zorro. It is breathtaking in more ways than one. Learn more about the annual Caceria del Zorro in our story about Ecuador’s craziest horse race for Afar.

 

Cock-of-Rock

Best cock sighting: The national bird of Peru is called the Cock of the Rock. It is a crazy looking thing, but not how you’re thinking (check it out, above). It’s also pretty rare and seeing one is not a guarantee. Seeing five in one day without a guide is pretty extraordinary, but that’s exactly what happened when we hiked the trail to the Gocta Waterfall in northern Peru. Just after reaching the 4km mark on the 5km trail we heard a really weird noise–like alien frogs. We stopped and looked around and soon saw a bright red flash in the rain forest. We hung around and looked and listened some more and then we saw three male Cock of the Rocks in the same tree just off the trail. They hung around for more than five minutes before flying off. On our way back out we saw another Cock of the Rock alone in a tree around the 3km trail marker. Our advice is to keep your eyes and your ears open on this trail. And even if you don’t see any Cock of the Rocks the waterfall is worth is. At 2,530 feet (771 meters) Gocta Waterfall is one of the tallest free-falling waterfalls in the world.

 

Amazon Ferry Iquitos Peru Hammock

Best bare bones Amazon River trip: At an average up river speed of less than 10 miles (15 km) per hour, it takes more than three days to travel up the Amazon River by cargo ferry from Iquitos to Yurimaguas, Peru (you can hack off a day or so going downstream in the other direction). We slept on the deck in hammocks (Karen is demonstrating, above), spent a lot of hours spotting blue and yellow macaws and pink river dolphins with our binoculars and generally slowed down to river time. It was like taking a multi-day trip on the Mississippi but with rarer wildlife.

 

Aria Amazon river boat - Iquitos, Peru

Best super luxe Amazon River trip: On the extreme other end of the Peruvian Amazon River Trip experience scale you will find the Aria Amazon river boat. This floating luxury hotel and fine dining restaurant lived up to the substantial hype with some of the best food we’ve had in Peru so far (the menu was created by Executive Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino who runs the award-winning Malabar restaurant in Lima), exceptional service, chic rooms with floor to ceiling windows, great guides and, of course, all that Amazon. Did we mention the air conditioning and the hot tub?

 

Playin Tejo - Salento, Colombia

Best explosive bar game: It’s called tejo and it involves a heavy metal disc (called a tejo) which you toss underhand toward an angled board covered in wet clay. Your goal is to hit pieces of paper stuffed with gun powder which are arranged around a metal ring pressed into the clay. You know you’re doing it right when the reaction between your tossed tejo, the gun powder and the metal ring causes an explosion. We played it in the otherwise tranquil mountain town of Salento, Colombia at the Los Amigos bar where they have a massive open air tejo area set up in the back. Pay 1,000 COP (about US$0.40) per person, grab a cold beer for 3,000 COP (about US$1.00), choose one of the half dozen or so tejo set ups and start tossing. You earn one point for the tejo which lands closest to ring. You get three points for an explosion. You get six points for landing in the center of the metal ring and causing an explosion. You get nine points for landing in center of metal ring without causing an explosion. The first person who racks up 25 points first wins. Though Karen hates loud noises, she somehow won anyway. Check out her winning form, above.

 

Masphi Eco Lodge sky baike jungle canopy

Best place to bicycle through the air: Masphi Eco Lodge in Ecuador is remarkable for a number of reasons, including top luxury deep in the rain forest and breathtaking architecture. Mashpi is also home to the only sky bike in the country. What is a sky bike? It’s an ingenious contraption that allows you to pedal your way across a taught line high above the ground (above). Think of it as horizontal zip lining on a bike. At Mashpi they’ve installed their sky bike through a particularly lovely patch of cloud forest and a leisurely round trip between two platforms gives sky bikers eye level views of the tree tops and the flowers and critters that live there.

 

 

Best death road: There are two ways to travel between Macoa to Pasto in Colombia: via a normal highway or via something called the Trampoline of Death. Guess which one we chose…To assuage her nerves, Karen crushed the pre-drive to do list. Water bottles were filled. Tire pressure was checked. The oil level was monitored. We were ready for the steep grades, blind corners, narrow stretches where two vehicles can’t possibly pass, potholes, rock slides and whatever else something called the Trampoline of Death might have in store. What we weren’t ready for was a recently graded surface, helpful safety signs and guardrails. Guardrails? We still had fun on the road and it is still challenging and requires even more concentration then usual, but the moral of this adventure is: don’t judge a road by its nickname. Check out the time lapse video from our death road drive, above.

 

Animals of Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Ecuador

Best Amazon adventure destination in Ecuador: Ecuador is blessed with a number of different areas from which travelers can access the Amazon Basin. We spent weeks exploring the Amazon along the Napo River out of a town called Coca which is the most popular gateway. Then we visited the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Amazon Basin and it blew our minds. The waterways in the Cuyabeno area of Ecuador are much smaller and they flood and recede throughout the year. There are also far fewer lodging options in the Cuyabeno area then there are along the Napo which means fewer humans. This means the animals are more common and much easier to see. In three days we saw pink river dolphins, the smallest monkey in the world (the pygmy marmoset), huge tracts of primary rainforest, toucans, a pygmy potoo (look it up) and more. We saw so many animals we had to make a wildlife montage for you, above. Lodges in the Cuyabeno area of the Amazon Basin are fairly basic with varying degrees of electricity, hot water, etc. We recommend Tapir Lodge where the food is great, the solar and generator electricity is reliable and the private rooms are clean and comfortable. The biggest asset at Tapir Lodge is Kurt the owner. He is passionate about his slice of paradise and works hard to make sure his guests fall in love with it too.

 

Kuelap Fortress archaeological site - Chachapoyas, Peru

Best first Incan archaeological site: During the course of our Trans-Americas Journey we’ve explored more than 100 archaeological sites through the US, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. None of them have been Incan sites, however, until we crossed into Peru and headed straight for the Kuelap Fortress, which is actually a pre-Incan site that was built by the Chachapoyas people in 1500s. The massive stone wall that encloses this site is nearly 2,000 feet (600 meters) long by nearly 400 feet (119 meters) wide. In places the wall is 62 feet (19 meters) high (check it out, above). Kuelap held thousands of people at it’s peak in distinctive round stone houses with thatch roofs. Despite its name, some archaeologists believe that Kuelap probably wasn’t a fortress at all but more of a sacred area used for ceremonies and rituals. Visiting Keulap is about to get even more adventurous. In late 2015 work began on a massive cable car system, the first in Peru, which will transport visitors from the village of Tingo Nuevo to the Kuelap site covering 2.5 miles (4 km) and rising more than 2,400 feet (730 meters) in 20 minutes. The new Kuelap cable car is expected to be finished in 2017.

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Go Now! A New Dam Threatens the Biggest Waterfall in Ecuador – Cascada San Rafael, Ecuador

Cascada San Rafael (San Rafael Waterfall) is the tallest waterfall in Ecuador at 430 feet (131 meters). It’s also the biggest waterfall by volume in the country and 24th biggest by volume in the world with an estimated water flow of 14,125 cubic feet (400 cubic meters) per second according to this site for waterfall geeks. But that’s about to change. Environmentalists fear that a new dam will affect the flow of this monster falls. We’ve visited the biggest waterfall in Ecuador three times, most recently just a few days ago, to see what’s going on. There will be drone footage…

Cascada San Rafael Ecuador pre Coca Coda Sinclair Hydro Project

Cascada San Rafael is the biggest waterfall in Ecuador. For now.

A new dam threatens the biggest waterfall in Ecuador

Though Ecuador is a major oil producer, the country, like many of its Latin neighbors, is eager to begin harnessing its rivers to produce hydroelectric power. That sounds great, but there’s a twist.

In recent years China has established an enormous trade presence in Latin America where Chinese companies are buying up natural resources. In some major Latin markets China is now a bigger trading partner than the US or Europe. In Ecuador, China has signed contracts to buy much of the country’s crude oil which comes from controversial drilling operations in the Amazon–in part as payment for public works projects that China is completing inside Ecuador, including a collection of dams to produce hydro power.

The Coca-Codo Sinclair Hydroelectric Project on the Coca River is being built by a Chinese company called Sinohydro. So many workers were brought in from China to work on the  massive project that entire towns in the region have become sinofied. Road signs and safety signs now appear in Spanish and Chinese.

Sinohydro Coco Coda Sinclair signs Spanish and Chinese

An influx of Chinese workers building dams across Ecuador have turned this town bilingual.

Part of the project, which includes multiple dams, can be seen from the road and it’s this installation, about 11 miles (19 km) from the San Rafael Waterfall that may impact the flow. Some environmental groups, like International Rivers, fear San Rafael could be nearly dried up by the hydro project and point to Ecuador’s second highest falls, Agoyan Waterfall, which has already been severely reduced by a different hydro project.

Sinohydro Coco Coda Sinclair dam capatacion

Environmentalists fear that this portion of the massive Coca-Codo Sinclair Hydroelectric Project dam and hydro project in Ecuador could mean the end of the biggest waterfall in the country.

Changes are already visible

The first time we visited San Rafael Waterfall in February 2014 the trail was closed because of a recent landslide. The second time we visited the falls, in late December 2014, it looked like the image below left.

Comparison of Cascada San Rafeal Falls before after landslide and Coca Coda Sinclair Hydro project

A view of San Rafael Waterfall in February 2014 is on the left and a view of the same waterfall from September 2015 is on the right.

The third time we visited the waterfall, in late September 2015 (above right), landslides around the falls had changed the flow and there seemed to be less water in general coming over he edge. The top of the falls is clearly a few feet higher on the left. This could be seasonal or from the dam, who knows.

San Rafael Falls, largest waterfall in Ecuador Ecuador

San Rafael Waterfall in September 2015. A new dam and hydro project, expected to be completed and online in 2016, could alter things dramatically.

During our most recent visit we were able to put our DJI Phantom 3 Professional quadcopter up in the air to get some aerial drone footage of San Rafael Waterfall. Check it out below.

The Coca-Codo Sinclair Hydroelectric Project is expected to be completed in 2016 and when it’s in full operation it will undoubtedly alter the flow that feeds the San Rafael Waterfall. The question is: how much?

Go Now! Visiting San Rafael Waterfall

The San Rafael Waterfall is within the massive Cayambe-Coca National Park and the trail head is just off the highway that runs between Quito and Tena, Coca or Lago Agrio (which are all jumping off points for Amazon and Cuyabeno trips). Like all national parks and reserves in Ecuador (except Galapagos Islands National Park), entry is free. There are clean bathrooms and an enormous stuffed fake Andean Bear (aka, spectacled bear) at the small ranger station. You’ll need to present your passport and get checked in.

There’s a well-made, mostly shaded trail (more like a small dirt road) that travels down to an elevated platform with excellent views of the entire waterfall. Allow about 30 minutes each way at a reasonable pace.

Check out the Hosteria El Reventador as a place to spend the night. It’s just a stone’s throw from the trail head.

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Photo Essay: Sunsets and Landscapes of the Galapagos – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

When people travel to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador they assume they’re going to get great photos of wildlife–we took thousands of them (which we kindly edited down to this 21 shot selection of gorgeous Galapagos animals). But even when there are no critters in sight, the epic sunsets (and sunrises) and the only-in-the-Galapagos landscapes will keep your camera busy.

Our favorite sunsets and landscapes of the Galapagos Islands

Wolf Island, Galapagos Islands

Wolf Island, at the most northerly end of the Galapagos archipelago, is rarely visited except by dive boats.

Pinnacle Rock Bartolome Island, Galapagos Islands

Pinnacle Rock juts up from mostly barren Bartolome Island.

Bartolome & Santiago Island, Galapagos Islands

See a larger version of this panoramic shot of Bartolome Island

Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Island

Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island is home to a large population of land iguanas.

South Plaza Island, Galapagos Islands

Spring time color in foliage just off the beach on South Plaza Island is in deep contrast with the starkly blue water.

Darwin's Lake, Tagus Cove, Isabella, Galapagos Island

Darwin’s Lake, in this dormant crater on Isabella Island above Tagus Cove, provides life-giving water and breath-taking views.

Galapagos sunset

We spent 24 nights in the Galapagos Islands and pretty much every single one of them ended like this.

Darwin Arch & Darwin Island, Galapagos Islands

At the far northern end of the Galapagos archipelago lies Darwin Island and Darwin Arch and some of the best scuba diving in the world.

Port Egas Santiago Island, Galapagos Islands

Port Egas on Santiago Island offers a sandy arch of beach and dramatic volcanic rock formations and is favored by sunning sea lions.

Ecuador Volcano Punta Vicente Roca, Galapagos Island

The Punta Vicente Roca Volcano on Isabela Island is one of our favorite destinations in the Galapagos, providing dramatic topside scenery and some of the best snorkeling we’ve ever done in the bay at its base.

Galapagos light

Good morning, Galapagos.

Galapagos beach

A beach is never just a beach in the Galapagos Islands. This one offers creamy sand, jagged lava and lapping waves.

Punta Vicente Roca, Galapagos Islands

A wave of lava, from the volcanic eruption which formed Isabela Island, sweeps down to the sea near Punta Vicente Roca.

Rabida-Island-Galapagos

Rábida Island’s red sand beach and scrub cover are begin rid of invasive goats so that natural vegetation and endemic species can return.

Los Gemalos, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands

There are lush parts of the Galapagos Islands as well, including the Los Gemalos twin craters in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island.

Galapagos islands color

Galapagos color, all natural and unfiltered.

Galapagos sunset

Good night, Galapagos.

Going to the Galapagos

We’ve traveled to the Galapagos Islands three times while working on a wide range of story assignments. We’ve now spent more time in the Galapagos than Charles Darwin did. That doesn’t mean we’ve come up with a revolutionary scientific theory, but it does mean that we know our way around the place. For more insights and inspiration about going to the Galapagos, check out the stories we’ve reported and written about traveling to the Galapagos Islands.

How to Travel to the Galapagos Islands published by Travel + Leisure

Galapagos Islands Dive Boat Luxury published by Luxe Beat

Going Greener in the Galapagos published by The Toronto Sun

This is the Most Luxurious New Way to Tour the Galapagos Islands published by Bravo Jet Set

Cruising the Galapagos with Grace Kelly published by Bio.com

Pikaia Lodge luxury hotel review published by Luxury Latin America

 

Check out our epic animals of the Galapagos photo essay

Here’s more about travel in Ecuador

 

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Photo Essay: Eric’s Favorite Galapagos Wildlife Portraits – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Eric took nearly 4,000 photos during the 24 days we spent in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador last year. It took nearly that many days to narrow things down to a few hundred stand out shots, including this selection of Eric’s favorite Galapagos wildlife shots.

Wildlife of the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos sea lion pose

Eric took hundreds of pictures of sea lions in the Galapagos but the sleepy eyes and adorable pose of this baby sea lion napping in the sun really got us.

Galapagos Booby portrait

There are three kinds of boobies in the Galapagos. This one is a red footed booby and the feet truly are spectacular, however, the color on its face is portrait worthy too.

Galapagos marine iguana pose

Marine iguanas only exist in the Galapagos and their dinosaur-like selves are a common sight on some islands. We love the regal pose of this one, master of all it surveys.

Galapagos penguins

Penguins are adorable no matter what. They’re irresistible when they shake like dogs.

Galapagos Tortoise stare

This Galapagos tortoise took a quick break from mowing the lawn to give Eric his best wise-old-man face.

Galapagos marine iguana portrait

Dinosaurs (in the form of marine iguanas) are alive and well in the Galapagos.

Galapagos blue-footed booby

Blue footed boobies usually live up to their name (which comes from a Spanish word for dumb), but Eric caught this one in a contemplative moment as it looked out to sea.

Magnificent frigate silhouette Galapagos

The omnipresent frigate bird is most often photographed for its iridescent feathers and red throat sack but their unique silhouette is worth a shot too.

underwater sleeping Sea lion

Eric’s camera did not disturb this napping sea lion who stayed submerged in a warm, shallow pool as it slept, occasionally exhaling bubbles.

Galapagos marine iguana baby

Look left for a rare glimpse of juvenile marine iguanas.

Nazca booby eyes

The third type of booby in the Galapagos is called a Nazca booby, though we think this one, caught having a stare-down with Eric’s lens, embodies the species’ former name: masked booby.

Sea lion suntan

Sea lions are one of the most widely distributed of the animals in the Galapagos Islands and are particularly lovely on the islands with red sand, like this female coyly sunning herself.

Galapagos flightless cormorant

They may no longer be able to fly, but mating flightless cormorants are perfectly capable of land ballet as these two amiably demonstrated.

Galapagos land iguana smile

We admit that we smiled back at this land iguana.

Red-footed boobies Galapagos islands

Red footed boobies setting up house for another season of chicks.

Galapagos marine iguana gathering

Marine iguanas pile up in the sun to warm their reptile bodies, mimicking the darkness, stillness and geometry of the lava rock they live on.

Galapagos Lava Heron

Even birds that are seen in other parts of the world, like herons, take on a new intensity and regalness in the Galapagos.

Galapagos-baby-Tortoise

Even if this young Galapagos tortoise could run away it wouldn’t bother. Animals in the Galapagos don’t see humans as predators so they’re less stressed by our presence, as this shot shows.

Galapagos land iguana

A burst of new growth mirrors the emerging colors of this molting land iguana.

Galapagos mobul ray flip

And THIS is how a mobula ray flies.

Galapagos marine iguana spine

This marine iguana struck an uncharacteristically elegant pose as it soaked warmth out of volcanic rock.

Going to the Galapagos

We’ve traveled to the Galapagos Islands three times while working on a wide range of story assignments. We’ve now spent more time in the Galapagos than Charles Darwin did. That doesn’t mean we’ve come up with a revolutionary scientific theory, but it does mean that we know our way around the place. For more insights and inspiration about going to the Galapagos, check out the stories we’ve reported and written about traveling to the Galapagos Islands.

How to Travel to the Galapagos Islands published by Travel + Leisure

Galapagos Islands Dive Boat Luxury published by Luxe Beat

Going Greener in the Galapagos published by The Toronto Sun

This is the Most Luxurious New Way to Tour the Galapagos Islands published by Bravo Jet Set

Cruising the Galapagos with Grace Kelly published by Bio.com

Pikaia Lodge luxury hotel review published by Luxury Latin America

 

Don’t miss our sunsets and landscapes of the Galapagos photo essay

Here’s more about travel in Ecuador

 

Support us on Patreon


7 Comments - Join the conversation »


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