Want to Go Somewhere Warm This Winter? Take a Galapagos Islands Cruise

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Want to go somewhere warm this winter? Then choose from our many Galapagos Islands Ecuador Cruises. If the Galapagos Islands have been on your bucket list, then the northern hemisphere’s wintertime (from November to February) is an excellent season for taking a Galapagos Islands Ecuador cruise.

The Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, enjoy tropical temperatures all year long. Imagine basking in the sunshine, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, swimming, and exploring these magnificent islands, where the animal kingdom reigns supreme.

Similar in temperature to Hawaii or the South Pacific Islands, the Galapagos Islands have the advantage of being nearly uninhabited by humans; instead, the islands are an ecological preserve where giant turtles, frigate birds, giant iguanas, sea lions, schools of tropical fish, and Darwin’s finches rule the land.

Here are some of the Galapagos Islands Ecuador Cruises that you can choose from. These cruises vary widely, from small ships to grand catamarans. Read our How to Choose a Galapagos Cruise blog for more info on how to decide what kind of cruise is best for you.

Galapagos Legend Cruise

Galapagos Islands CruisesThe Galapagos Legend cruise ship is a luxury yacht with a capacity for 100 passengers. This Galapagos Islands Ecuador cruise ship features open decks, viewing windows from each of the superior cabins, spacious suites, and artwork from Ecuadorian artists. It’s possible to take a 3, 4, or 7 night cruise on the Galapagos Legend, which includes nearly all the amenities you’ll need for an enjoyable Galapagos cruise. Because the Ecuadorian government mandates that all tours guides in the Galapagos be natives of Ecuador and requires other quality guidelines, you are guaranteed to have a knowledgeable guide with you at all times during your Galapagos vacation. The price of a cabin aboard the cruise ship includes all meals, plus daily guided excursions, educational lectures, and transfers to and from the ship. Keep in mind that the longer a cruise that you book, the more islands you will be able to visit and the more in-depth a tour you will receive.

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Galapagos Coral I & Coral II Cruises

Galapagos Islands Cruises Best

These cruise ships, the Galapagos Coral I and Coral II, are mid-size boats with a capacity for 36 passengers and 20 passengers, respectively. But both of these smaller ships offer luxurious accommodations and amenities, such as Jacuzzi hot tubs and sun decks, lounge areas and bars. There are a variety of cabin sizes and types to choose from, but each offers an LCD TV, safe deposit box, private bathroom, and air conditioning. As with the Galapagos Legend, these ships include local guides, daily guided excursions such as to Española Island and Gardner Bay, all meals aboard the ship, and transfer to and from the port.

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Galapagos Explorer II Cruise

Galapagos Islands Cruises BestThe Galapagos Explorer II, another luxury cruiser, offers fully-equipped suites — you’ll find no tiny standard cabins aboard this ship.  In addition to comfortable cabins with minibars, flat screen TVs, bathrooms with marble fixtures, safe deposit boxes, Wi-Fi Internet, and vanity dressers, the Galapagos Explorer II also offers room service, complimentary walking sticks, beach towels, and rain coats. There’s an outdoor Jacuzzi, piano bar, reading room, lecture hall, restaurant, and solarium as well. Similar to the other Galapagos cruise ships, the price of a cabin also includes all meals, guided daily excursions, educational lectures, and all transfers.

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Quito & the Galapagos

Galpagagos and Quito Tours

What better way to maximize the value of your Galapagos Islands Ecuador cruise than to add a tour of Ecuador’s capital, Quito. This capital was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because it has one of the best-preserved colonial center in Latin America. When you head to the Galapagos Islands from your home country, you almost always fly into the airport at Quito (another option is Guayaquil – another wonderful city to visit). So, you might as well make the most of your Ecuador vacation by spending a little extra time in Quito. Take a city tour to see the Government Palace, the House of Congress, the Cathedral, and many other churches and landmarks. Also visit the Middle of the World Monument (Mitad del Mundo), commemorating the equatorial line that stretches through Ecuador. And don’t miss a trip to Otavalo, where you’ll find one of the most important indigenous markets in South America.

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Machu Picchu & the Galapagos Islands

Machu Picchu Peru ToursIf you’re traveling to the Galapagos Islands from a faraway distance, you might as well see some other sights. And with Peru being Ecuador’s neighbor, a side trip to Machu Picchu is a logical choice. Combine these two highlights of South America — the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu — for an unforgettable South America vacation. This trip combines a Galapagos Islands cruise with a trip to Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu, in a fully-customizable travel package. You can do either the Peru or Ecuador portions of your trip first, just call us to help you decide the best schedule for your travel plans and time frame.

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 Bonus! Watch this inspiring travel video about getting up close to wild animals In South America – Galapagos Islands from mike telf on Vimeo:

Keep in mind that it is not recommended — nor easy — to book a Galapagos Islands cruise without a tour company. Tourism in the Galapagos is highly regulated and so it is best to book the Galapagos Islands cruise portion of your trip in advance. Give us a call and we’ll help you plan the trip of a lifetime to the Galapagos Islands and beyond!

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What to See & Do on a Salvador Bahia Tour

When it comes to tours and sightseeing, one of my favorite topics is Salvador da Bahia. On a Salvador Bahia tour, you can learn about Brazil’s colorful history and experience Bahia’s unique Afro-Brazilian culture.

Salvador da Bahia is the capital of the state of Bahia, which is a huge swath of land on the coast of Brazil, just north of Rio de Janeiro. Salvador da Bahia is unique, rich in culture and history, and full of myths and traditions. When you travel to the state of Bahia and visit Salvador, it is not like just visiting another part of Brazil — it is like visiting an entirely different country, one where time seems to have stood still since the 18th century.

A Historical Salvador Bahia Tour

salvador bahia toursSalvador da Bahia was the original capital of Brazil (later it was moved to Rio de Janeiro, and now it is Brasilia). On a Salvador Bahia tour, go on a historic walking tour of the city. See the Pelourinho, the main plaza and “pillory” during the colonial era. Walk down the cobblestone streets past palaces, mansions, and churches also built in the colonial era, the heyday of Salvador. Check out our Salvador Bahia Tours that include this historic city tour.
What makes the state of Bahia, and Salvador especially, so unique from the rest of Brazil is the history of its immigrants. Bahia is in fact more a transplant from Africa then a part of South America. Many traditions from the African West coast, like from Ghana and Angola, are alive today in Bahia, but forgotten in its place of origin. As you walk through the city streets, you may see ladies wearing wide skirts, a typical dress of the Bahianas.

African History and Culture in Bahia

When the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil, they landed in the Bahia bay. They then trafficked huge amounts of African slaves to work on sugar cane plantations and tobacco fields. So overwhelming was the presence of African slaves, that up to today it is hard to find caucasian Bahianos.
While sugar was the relatively cheap export, Bahia also stands for excellent tobacco. Cigars that equal the famous Cuban Havanas in price and quality. Dannemann’s still maintains a manufacturing site in the hinterland of Bahia. The city with the most important tobacco industry, Cachoeira, rivals the famous UNESCO Heritage Site Ouro Preto in colonial architectural richness.

Other cities that you can visit on a Salvador Bahia tour are built on slaves in an unexpected way: former quilombos, places where escaped slaves could hide. Nowadays it is quiet difficult to tour a Bahia Quilombo as the government tries to protect the communities, their cultures and their languages. Many Quilombos chose to remain isolated. As a matter of fact, it was not until recently that Quilombos were discovered. The last large Quilombo was located in Remanso, where until the 1960’s, the locals (mostly the children of former mining slaves) were not aware of the fact that slavery had long been abolished in Brazil. One of the Quilombo’s that can still be visited is Kaonge near Cachoeira, about 3 hours from Salvador. Tours to this community are especially popular in mid-August during the Boa Morte Festival.

Beaches of Bahia Tour

salvador bahia toursToday, a Salvador Bahia tour *must* include a tour of it’s beaches and cliffs. From white beaches to the famous church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim overlooking the Itapagipe Peninsula, your first impression of tropical Bahia will take your breath away. Just spend the day at Praia do Forte, or you can take a ferry ride through the Bay of All Saints, passing islands and islets including Itaparica. Also visit the Sea Turtle Preservation Project at Praia do Forte. The Coast of the Conquerors tour includes Salvador, Olinda, and Recife.

Another gem that a tour of Salvador da Bahia needs to include is the palm-lined white sandy beaches of Morro de São Paulo. Just cross the bay and you can experience Bahia at its most tranquil: no cars, no big hotels, just charming B&Bs called “pousadas” where you can put up your feet in a hammock and sip a caipirinha. Check out our recommendations for Salvador Bahia Hotels.

Another excellent trip idea while you are on a Salvador Bahia tour is to visit the hinterland of Bahia and go to the former diamond mining town of Lençois for hiking and swimming under waterfalls. The Chapada Diamantina is a breathtaking landscape full of waterfalls, hills, valleys, and plateaus with plenty of great hikes to choose from. Read our previous blog post on Hiking in the Chapada Diamantina, or view our Rhythm & Diamonds tour that includes Salvador and the Chapada Diamantina.

South America Travel News: Update to the Argentina Reciprocity Fee

argentina reciprocity feeHere’s an important update for travelers headed to Argentina: Beginning with the new year, Argentina will now require all US, Canadian, and Australian citizens to pay the reciprocity fee ahead of time.  Whether entering the country by land, sea, or air, all entrants will need to show proof of payment when at the border.

This update to the Argentina reciprocity fee will affect all our clients who are traveling on our Argentina tours, including our Patagonia cruises as well as those entering Argentina via the Lake District crossing from Chile, and those visiting the Iguazu Falls from Brazil.

The current procedure is that visitors to Argentina from the US, Canada, and Australia must pay an entrance fee or visitor visa equal to the amount that those countries charge Argentine travelers. Until now, this reciprocity fee has been payable on arrival. But now, all Americans, Canadians, and Australians must pay their fee online in advance. Failure to pay ahead of time will result in a denial of entry. This policy is in effect now for Aeroparque (AEP) airport, and will go into effect for the Ezeiza (EZE) airport on January 1, 2013.

To pay the Argentina reciprocity fee in advance, complete the following steps:

1) Go to https://virtual.provinciapagos.com.ar/ArgentineTaxes/Registro.aspx

2) Complete the required information and pay the reciprocity fee (per person) with a credit card

3) Print the receipt and keep it with your passport to show immigration authorities upon entry

The current fees are: $160 for the United States (valid for 10 years), $100 for Australians (valid for 1 year) and $75 for Canadians (valid for one entry).

Read this article for more information about South America travel visas and entrance fees.

Comparing South America Tour Companies

Comparing South America Tour Companies

There are hundreds of tour companies out there, and many of them specialize in South America travel packages. How to choose from all those South America tour companies? Here’s a quick list of things to keep in mind when making your decision.

Why You Might Need a Tour Company

Even if you want to go solo, often times you need to book some travel arrangements through a tour company. For instance, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is highly regulated, and a guide is required. Also, in order to take a Galapagos Islands Cruise, you need to book your cruise or island-hopping adventure through a tour company. The travel industry on the islands is highly regulated by the government – did you know that all tour guides on the Galapagos must be native Ecuadorians? The same goes for cruises to Antarctica, Amazon River cruises, Amazon Jungle Lodges, and around Patagonia.

In other instances, a tour company may not be required, but their expertise might be highly valuable. If you take the trouble to visit Machu Picchu, for example, which is located in the remote cloud forest of Peru, you would be remiss to skip out on going with a guide. A Machu Picchu tour guide could explain the history and significance of the ruins, and show you all the hard-to-reach spots in this amazing city in the sky.

A reputable tour company will also be able to guide you in planning your itinerary, advising you when you are missing out on important places, or if you are trying to cram too many destinations into too short a vacation time frame. Booking with a South America tour company is especially smart if you are a first-timer to South America and don’t speak the local language. They will arrange professional tour guides who speak your language, and who can recommend great restaurants and shops.

Fretirement in south americaind Out What Others Say About Them

Before you book, look in travel guidebooks, online forums, and ask your friends and neighbors for recommendations of good South America tour companies. Oftentimes, you can do a quick search for the company you are considering on these websites:

TripAdvisor Forum

Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum

Fodor’s Guidebook Forum

Frommer’s Guidebook Forum

Cruise Critic

Yelp.com (you need to know the city that the tour company is located in)

BBB.org (Better Business Bureau)

Get Familiar With the Tour Company

You can also research the tour company in question by requesting free promotional material from their website. Many South America tour companies offer free e-book downloads, catalogs, brochures. You also might want to sign up for their email newsletter, follow them on social media, or contact them directly. All of these actions will help you determine how professional and responsive they seem to be, while also allowing you to familiarize yourself with their travel packages.

Keep a file on your desktop with all the relevant brochures and material from each company you’re researching, or use an Excel spreadsheet to compare and contrast companies.

The tour company may also have client testimonials posted on their site. Browse these to see if they are relatively recent and seem like detailed accounts. Is there information about where they traveled to, their names, and where they are from? These are indicators of accurate testimonials.

Consider the Cost/Value Ratio

When you are comparing South America tour companies’ tours, make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Are flights included or not? What kind of hotels are included? Many times, a tour company will offer a much lower price than another company, but the hotels are in a lower price category. Make sure you get what you pay for by doing your homework.

Give Them A Call!

One of the best ways to get a feel for how professional and responsive a South America tour company is to simply give them a call! Speak to a travel consultant about your travel plans, and see whether they seem to know what they are talking about. Can they answer your questions in detail? Do they seem interested in helping you plan your trip? A good travel consultant will be knowledgeable about your destination and will be genuinely interested in helping you.

Questions to Ask a Tour Company:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • What is the typical group size of a trip?
  • What is included in the price of the trip?
  • What type of hotels do you offer?
  • Can I customize my trip?
  • How do you choose your tour guides?
  • Do you run your own tours or outsource to others?
  • Do you offer trip insurance?
  • What is your cancellation policy and refund policy?

Read More:

Read more ideas about how to choose the right tour company on the travel blogger Nomadic Matt’s site.

SouthAmerica.travel is a South America tour company that specializes in 4* & 5* quality South America tours. We can customize any tour package to suit a traveler’s time frame and budget. Read more about our South America tour company here, or try out our fun trip planner tool & get a free quote on a customized trip itinerary:

custom tour form trip planner

Travel Planning for Retirement in South America

retirement in south americaOverseas Retirement has become a popular trend lately, as baby boomers get itchy feet and move beyond their home borders to a different, and often, cheaper place to retire abroad. Many North Americans and other senior travelers consider Ecuador, Uruguay, Peru, and other destinations within South America as prime places to retire overseas.

But if you’ve got a hankering to move south, where do you start? Travel planning for retirement in South America can take hours of research, pouring over forums on TripAdvisor and dog-earing Lonely Planet guidebooks. Bypass the forums and guidebooks, and instead talk with an expert in South America travel, who can help you plan a “preview” trip to see if your dream to retire in the tropics of Ecuador or the beaches of Uruguay, really is a good fit for you.

Here are some popular choices for retirement destinations in South America, to help you narrow it all down:

retirement in south america1) Ecuador

A beautiful, relatively stable, and friendly country, Ecuador is a very popular choice for expats. Quite a few norteamericanos and British expats have made the move to Ecuador, where the weather is agreeable all year long. Ecuador sits on the equator (thus the name), and enjoys tropical temperatures and a verdant landscape in nearly all regions. In the south, around Cuenca, Loja, and Vilcabamba, expat communities have been especially successful.

Ecuador uses USD currency, making the transition slightly easier for retirees from the USA. A bit of trivia: the “Sacagawea” dollar coin is in common use among Ecuadorians, ever since Americans seemed to reject the idea of a coin dollar. Read more about the use of the US Sacagawea dollar coin in Ecuador in this article.

If you are interested in moving to Ecuador, check out the online expat community and blog, GringosAbroad.com. It features tons of useful information for adjusting to life in Ecuador. And browse our Ecuador Tours, including Galapagos Island Cruises!

 retire in south america2) Uruguay

Although Uruguay is not as well known as other countries in South America, this country has several features that might appeal to those considering travel planning for retirement in South America. Located right across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires, two of Uruguay’s important cities, Montevideo and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Colonia, are quiet getaways from the busyness of Buenos Aires.

Plus, Uruguay has lots of farmlands and beautiful beaches, where the pace of life is agreeable to those seeking to retire. Check out the Costa de Oro, or Golden Coast, where there are 30 miles of beach communities that might have just what you’re looking for. It is fairly easy to gain residency in Uruguay, and the country is known for its economic stability (in contrast to that of it’s neighbor, Argentina).

retire in south america3) Peru

Peru might be an exciting experience for retiring overseas in South America. Peru is a large country with several different climate zones, and so there are several different places that you might want to consider when moving. Lima, the capital, is located on the coast and is a vast, sprawling city. There is a vibrant expat community there, and you might fit right in a coastal community, such as Miraflores, San Isidro, Barranco, or Chorillos, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Or you might prefer to live in a smaller town inland, Huanchaco near Trujillo, on the northern coast.

Check out the South American Explorer’s Club for meet-ups, or http://www.expatperu.com. There is also an excellent online English-only newspaper, www.livinginperu.com. And browse our Peru Tours, including Machu Picchu tours!

retirement in south americaBut first, book a vacation to try it out!

Remember: The best way to research retirement in South America is to first travel there! Plan a vacation to South America to get a feel for the country, it’s culture, food, weather, economy, and people. Meet some locals and expats, and ask them about life in their city or community. And while you’re there, see the sights!

Please note, we are experts in custom travel packages to South America. We can help you arrange a vacation to South America, book hotels, tours, and transfers, and put you in touch with expert real estate agents or guide you to expat communities and resources. (We are not the place to go for legal questions about moving abroad – we can only plan a vacation for you).

Contact us to get a free quote for a vacation to South America. We can help you plan your vacation, and then you decide whether you’ll retire there!

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