Meet The Insiders

When you really want to know about a place, you ask a local. That’s the idea behind our team of South American Insiders. These on-the-ground experts are always out and about, looking for the experiences found only in South America. Got questions? Fire away, and enjoy the benefits of some good, solid, insider information.

About Terra Hall

This American journalist traveled to places many Peruvians have never heard of, stocked her kitchen with fruits that look like they're from a sci-fi flick, and re-enrolled in school so she can say phrases beyond "¿Dónde está la biblioteca?." Whether it's paragliding over the Malecon, where Lima's green coast meets the royal blue sea, or rappelling 300 feet into a canyon, everyday in this country is an adventure.

Terra Hall's Favorites

Favorite Peruvian food: Vegan lomo saltado
Favorite outing to date: Hiking along the edge of a mountain, later followed by repelling 300 feet into a canyon and exploring an abandoned mine now inhabited by bats
Favorite neighborhood: Barranco, for its bohemian vibe and artisan shops

About Natalie Southwick

This Boston-raised and Chicago-educated journalist never felt so at home as she does in Bogotá. In just over a year, Natalie swam in the jewel-blue Caribbean near Santa Marta, chowed on ceviche in Cartagena, hiked through misty wax palms in Salento, ogled dinosaur fossils in Villa de Leyva and danced salsa into the wee hours in Cali.

Natalie Southwick's Favorites

Favorite food: Ajíaco
Favorite coffee shop: Juan Valdez Café
Favorite hidden gem: José Celestino Mutis Jardín Botánico in Bogotá
Favorite place to spend all my money: Usaquén Sunday market

About Kevin Raub

Co-author of Lonely Planet’s Brazil guide and coordinating author of the Brazil section of South America on a Shoestring guide, Kevin has–not surprisingly–traveled extensively across Brazil. He learned to dive in Fernando de Noronha, sought after the perfect moqueca from Espírito Santo to Bahia and swam with pink dolphins in the Amazon. Kevin also regularly tweets about his adventures @RaubOnTheRoad.

Kevin Raub's Favorites

Favorite São Paulo Restaurant: Maní
Favorite Beach: Praia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha
Favorite Bar Snack: Coxinhas at Bar Veloso, São Paulo
Favorite Ecotourism Destination: Bonito, Mato Grosso do Sul

About Ilan Greenfield

Ilan is a musician, composer, writer, translator and art enthusiast living in Quito with his wife and two children. He also created an Ecuadorian travel magazine christened ‘Ñan’ (or ‘road’ in Quechua) with a close group of colleagues. He says that Ecuador is as small as a peanut on a world map, but at the same time, the whole world fits snuggly within it. He certainly has a lot to tell and many reasons to invite you to come to Ecuador and, as they say, ‘take the plunge’...

Ilan Greenfield's Favorites

Favorite beach: Los Frailes
Favorite restaurant: Los Tiestos, in Cuenca
Favorite Galapagos Islands: Fernandina, the youngest, and Española, the oldest!
Favorite Ecuadorian band: Of course, that would have to be my band, the Swing Original Monks… check us out…

About Eileen Smith

Since moving to Santiago eight years ago, Eileen has sat with huasos at a rodeo in Futaleúfu, eaten chancho en piedra near the river in Talca and bought olives in Punta de Choros. As a travel writer, she dispenses advice for a living, so feel free to ask a question!

Eileen Smith's Favorites

Favorite beach town: Pichilemu
Best hiking near Santiago: Parque Mahuida, or Aguas de San Ramón
Favorite spot for lunch in the Vega Chica: Tía Ruth’s
Best place to buy souvenirs in Santiago: Pueblo Los Dominicos

About Bridget Gleeson

In the name of travel journalism, Bridget has been up to the highest cliffs of the Andes, down to chilly sea level at the end of the earth in Tierra del Fuego, and right in the center of the crowded dance floor at tango clubs in Buenos Aires. She fell in love with Argentina and its people and is happy to share what she learned with her fellow travelers.

Bridget Gleeson's Favorites

Favorite Tango Song: Niebla del Riachuelo (Cobián & Cadícamo, 1937)
Favorite Wildlife Experience: Whale-watching in Península Valdés
Favorite Café in Buenos Aires: Any of the 73 bares notables (historic bars) designated by the city
Favorite Cultural Experience: A traditional asado with choripán, Malbec and good friends

Your Latest Questions & Answers

Q Deb: We have 5 days in Buenos Aires. What are some of the must-see things to do that are not the general tourist activities?
A Bridget:

Hi Deb,

Your question inspired an entire blog post titled Top 5: Off the Tourist Circuit in Buenos Aires. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Q claudio: Any cool list of things to see and do in Rio? Thank you.
A Kevin:

Hi Claudio!
Too many to name! But I have written a few blog posts in recent months touting some of my favorite Rio highlights and hotspots. Check them out: Rio de Janeiro Off the Beaten Path and 5 Days in Rio de Janeiro.
Obrigado for reading!

Kevin
Q Duncan: I will be arriving in Ushuaia on 12 February 2015 and leaving on 09 March 2015 with a goal of hiking and camping. Can you recommend any areas of interest?
A Bridget:

First of all, that’s a great time of year to go to Ushuaia – it’s a magical part of the world, in my opinion! If you want to hike and camp in the region, the most obvious choice is Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost national park on the planet. Compared to other parks in the southern cone, like Torres del Paine, Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego doesn’t see huge numbers of visitors, which is part of what makes the experience special and the landscape so pristine. The park features glaciers, lenga forests, ice-blue lakes, waterfalls, thick forests, and beaches along the Beagle Channel. The park is a hot spot for birdwatchers, and home to Andean foxes and graceful guanaco. Don’t miss the Senda Costera, a popular coastal hiking trail. Camping is basic; you’ll want to bring all your own equipment. For more information, check out Moon’s guide and a useful article by travel writer Wayne Bernhardson, an expert on the region.

Q Margaret: Is there an online shop that can send me a string of Chilean lapis lazuli? Kicking myself for not buying the earrings and strand on sale at the Airport when I left Santiago on 28 October.
A Eileen:

There are many stores that sell lapis lazuli in Santiago, a few of which have online stores. Try Lapis Lazuli House. Faba, which is another good option for online (or in person) shopping. Other stores may also have online shops, or be able to ship something to you as well.  I hope you’re able to pick up what you are looking for online at one of these shops!

Q Mary: Hi. My husband and I are flying into Guayaquil for 4 days of business training with Young Living and wanted to see more of Ecuador for a few days. What can you recommend? If we go to Cuenca, what’s to see there? How about the Galapagos Islands? Can we get a flight from Guayaquil to the Islands and are there touring boats that we can join for a few days? Other ideas? Thank you, Mary Ann
A Ilan:

Hi Mary Ann,

As you mention, from Guayaquil, Cuenca is about a 3-4 hour drive and it is a beautiful Andean city that you won’t regret visiting. The historic center is truly a great place to wander about, pedestrian friendly with low adobe-wall and tiled-roof houses and pretty squares. Also, enquire about the Inca ruins at Ingapirca, about an hour north of the city. Guayaquil in itself is a very tropical urban city. There are some nice outdoor outings, like Cerro Blanco (a forest reserve about 20 minutes from downtown Guayaquil) and a very interesting ‘theme’ park, Parque Historico. For the Galápagos Islands you need to research in terms of your preferences. There are cruise tours (although the word ‘cruise’ here is a little misleading; boats can, by law, only hold 100 passengers, so most operators are small, 16-passenger yachts), expensive ones do offer more comfort and, above all, they operate correctly (in terms of safety measures, adherence to National Park regulations, etc.). Flights from Guayaquil are available (that is actually the only way to get to the islands), although prices are high.  You can also get to the main port towns (Puerto Ayora or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno) stay in a hotel and take day tours from there. You don’t get to the more remote places, but there is plenty to discover, as well. Depending on what you’re into, you can also visit Quito, the capital (flying there is the best choice) and check out its historic center, visit the Mount Cotopaxi reserve or perhaps a train ride across the country. I hope that gives you some ideas. The nice thing about Ecuador is that everything is close by.
Q (Sevananda): Hello Ilan! Other than Galapagos, Quito, Cuenca and Banos; what are the most awesome places to visit in Ecuador? Will be there from 29 Jan-31 mar 2015. Thanks!
A Ilan:

Hi Jose Manuel,

There are great places and when you get to Quito, head out to the Supermaxi or your nearest Libri Mundi bookstore and grab a copy of Ñan magazine (I’m the editor!), where you’ll find plenty of awesome travel ideas throughout the country. Of course, apart from those you mentioned (and I wouldn’t rule out the Otavalo area, which may sound commonplace, but there are great sites, like Zuleta), one needs to get a little adventurous. The Amazon Basin (río Napo) and the many lodges located on its shores are a truly unique experience, and I would place amongst those top Ecuador sites you mention. You also have Piñán, north of Otavalo. Few people ever go there, but I was just there and it is amazing.  The Machalilla National Park and Los Frailes virgin beach complex is also special; El Cajas, west of Cuenca; Loja, in the extreme south, the Valley-of-Eternal-Youth Vilcabamba, and the Puyango petrified forests; and if you want to get ‘expeditionary’, there’s Yanahurco, the Atillo Lakes, the Nangaritza River (Zamora), the Chimborazo area (Ecuador’s highest volcano at well over 6000 meters), you can also hop on a mountain train across Ecuador there’s a lot to do, depending on what you’re into.
Q Kerry: Hi Ilan, What is the best way to get from Quito to Mancora? I am on a budget so I am thinking a bus. How long would that take? Thanks!
A Ilan:

Hi Kerry,

Bus is actually the way to go if you’re on a budget. It can take over 20 hours if you do what most people do, which is get to Guayaquil’s Terminal Terrestre (Transportes Ecuador, Calle Juan Leon Mera, a block away from the Artisanal Market in La Mariscal)  and then from Guayaquil’s Terminal Terrestre (after a 3-4 hour wait, maximum), take southbound CIFA straight to Máncora (you can also divide your trip and see the sights in Guayaquil). This is actually the simplest route. You can also book a ticket to Huaquillas (Transporte Panamericana from Quitumbe), which takes less time, but you have to transfer to a bus to Tumbez and then travel to Máncora from Túmbez on another bus. It’s faster, if time is an issue, but more complicated. Any which way, make sure you get into the stopover city (Huaquilas or Guayaquil) in the day, to coordinate the connections more safely and effectively (this means traveling at night from Quito).
Q RAYMOND: My wife Amanda is from a small town called Libano. If I took the 10 day trip, would she be able to spend a half day in Libano?
A Natalie:
Hi Raymond,

Líbano is in the department of Tolima, located about halfway between Bogotá and the coffee axis city of Manizales. It looks to be about a 4-hour drive or so from Bogotá and a bit less coming from Manizales. If you are in either of those cities, you should be able to find transport that would take you there. You would probably have to leave fairly early if you’re only planning to spend part of a day there, as traffic can get pretty heavy in the mornings, but if you’re willing to sit in a vehicle for a few hours each way, it’s definitely doable.

Hope this is helpful!

Q Carrie: My husband and I will be arriving to Ecuador in January. We prefer to stay away from hotels and get really into the culture with homestays. Can you recommend either a website or families in Quito/Banos for more information on homestays? Thanks!
A Ilan:

Hello Carrie,

I’m not aware of any particular families that are doing this in Quito. Couch surfing is popular amongst backpackers, and increasingly popular in Ecuador as a whole, but it is also something I don’t have any experience with. I do know of a Spanish Institute that houses students with families, and people of all ages are enrolled. Maybe they have contacts of families wishing to host visitors in Quito. The school is called Simón Bolívar Spanish School +(593 2) 254-4558, and their website is www.simon-bolivar.com.

Q buzz: What is weather like in Ecuador?
A Ilan:

Hello Buzz,

Weather in Ecuador depends on where you’re going. In the coast (Guayaquil, Manabí) it is hot and humid. So you need to dress light. In the mountains (Quito, Cuenca), it is mild during the day (the sun can be very strong at midday, so bring hat, sunglassess, sunscreen) and it can get quite cool at night (definitely fit for a sweater or windbreaker), but it is never hot and humid. Most consider it spring-like weather.

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