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An Ecotourist’s Guide to 3 of Panama’s Most Awe-Inspiring Natural Wonders

Panama Eco-tourism

One of the most exotic locations to experience natural pampering with a unique cultural twist is the southernmost Central American country of Panama. This breathtaking region links to South America via its border with Columbia and its singular sustainable customs showcase amazing eco-adventures, intriguing historical sites, and magnificent ocean backdrops.
Here indigenous and Latino communities welcome those seeking a one-of-a-kind scenic escape highlighted by superior wildlife conservation and stellar outdoor activities and accommodations. Take a look at why Panama is inspiring an increasing number of visitors to experience her awe-inspiring sights, sounds, and eco-friendly scenes that are spread across nearly 30% of the country.

Communing with Nature at Coiba Island National Park

The 38 islands off of Panama’s Pacific Coast play host to many of the country’s 10,000 native plants, 1,500 trees, and over a thousand bird species, garnering them the nickname ‘The New Galapagos.’ They are part the Gulf of Chiriquí’s Coiba National Park Marine Reserve, a 430,000-acre natural wonder where 700 marine species and numerous mammals thrive amidst a breathtaking background of white sand beaches and crystal clear aqua waters. UNESCO named Coiba Island a World Heritage site in 2005 because of its untouched biodiversity, and its central location makes it an off-the-beaten-path locale that’s still less than 200 miles from the bustling capital of Panama City.

Eco-Activities at and around Coiba Island

The diverse marine life at the islands makes scuba diving a favorite activity, and visitors have been known to encounter curious sea turtles, eels, white-tip reef sharks, and a wide array of colorful tropical fish. One of the favorite spots for both snorkeling and diving is Granito de Oro Island because of its unique volcanic formations that create a protected coral reef environment. On the east side of Coiba Island sits the enormous 350-acre Bahia Damas Reef, home to hammerhead sharks, manta rays, Pacific-spotted dolphins, and even humpback whales that have been known to interact with swimmers.
Wildlife also abounds in Coiba’s abundant rainforests, where coconut palms sway gently next to huge Espave trees. The park includes many miles of hiking trails that allow you to spot animals such as howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, white-tailed deer, and black iguanas. Coiba Island itself is a bird lover’s paradise and is home to several species found only in the region, such as the rust-colored spinetail and brown-backed dove. The island of Rancheria (aka Coibita) even houses a small research outpost of The Smithsonian Tropical Institute. The park’s numerous fun scuba diving, bird watching, hiking, and wildlife accredited eco-tours offer exciting day-trip and overnight adventures that will guide you through an impressive array of immersive ecological experiences.

The Nearby Eco-Retreats of Santa Catalina

The newest regional hotspot, Santa Catalina, is just an hour and a half boat ride from Coiba Island and is home to several restorative mind-body accommodations, including the community-centric Santa Catalina Retreats. Here, world-class yoga and surfing experiences await, as do connective adventures with the people in this relaxing, holistic fishing and farming village. Enjoy an oceanfront escape that combines modern, sustainably-built accommodations, adventurous wellness activities, fresh multicultural cuisine, and relaxed local rhythms. Santa Catalina is the primary jumping off point for the day and overnight trips to the beautiful landscapes of Coiba National Park.

Enjoying Biodiverse Adventures at the Panama Canal Watershed

The enormous Panama Canal Watershed was created when the mighty Chagres River was dammed near the entrance to the Atlantic Ocean in 1914 to create a canal passage that ran to the Pacific Ocean. It encompasses over 800,000 acres of pristine landscapes and provides drinking water and hydroelectric power to key parts of the nation. While the surrounding environment may have shifted course due to its creation, the canal mimics the natural opening that was present for millions of years.

Eco-Activities within the Canal Watershed

Today visitors can find numerous eco-adventures at and around the canal zone, including an amazing journey to Chagres National Park. Located just 30 miles from Panama City on the east side of the canal, this enormous nature preserve spans 300,000 acres and offers a diverse array of exciting outdoor experiences. The park’s namesake river showcases exciting Class II-III whitewater rafting experiences, and seasoned hikers can also experience historic guided tours along the legendary 16th century Camino Real (Royal Road) a Spanish route that takes you through rainforests and rugged mountain passes of the region. Here you’ll enjoy hands-on cultural and historical exploration as well as hospitality from the indigenous people who live along the trail.
Not to be outdone by its eastbound neighbor, the west side of the Panama Canal boasts its national park, known as Soberania. One of its major attractions is its diverse bird population, which is especially prominent along the famed Pipeline Road. The Audobon Society recorded a world-record 525 species at this location, including ground cuckoos, colorful trogons, brightly-marked toucans, crested eagles, and Broad-billed motmots. The 100-foot observation tower at the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center allows for optimal viewing these avians as well as sightings of two-and-three toed sloths, tamarin monkeys, coatimundis (raccoons), and over 100 other mammals, such as the forest’s elusive wild jaguars.
Kayakers can enjoy day trips along the 165 square miles of beautiful Lake Gatun, a waterway that was created when the Chagres River was dammed over 100 years ago. A boat trip from the park across the lake takes you to Barro Colorado Island, one of the oldest tropical research centers in the world. Visitors can also visit two other amazing research preserves: Punta Galeta sits along the Caribbean coastline at the northern tip of the canal minutes from Panama’s sixth largest city of Colon, and Punta Culebra Nature Center is located at the Pacific entrance to the canal in Panama City.

Eco-Friendly Watershed Lodging

Inside Soberania National Park sits the rich cultural, spiritual, and ecological warmth of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Here, you’ll find an open environment where the local Embera and Wuanaan people provide educational and artistic exhibits highlighting their holistic interactions with the environment. The resort also showcases an innovative wellness spa, an aerial tram, Lake Gatun boat expeditions, and Panamanian eco-guides with expert knowledge of the area. These innovative accommodations are just half an hour from Panama City and within minutes of the Canopy Tower Eco-Lodge, where wildlife watchers can get a ‘bird’s eye view’ from their treetop level bedrooms. Voted by the Ancient Forests Foundations as Best Ecolodge, the Canopy Tower offers a healthy mix of local and American family-style dining and a culturally rich, environmentally-integrative approach to tourism.
For those interested in staying closer to Chagres National Park, Los Altos de Cerro Azul overlooks the park and provides many unique bed and breakfasts, lodges, and hotels that blend seamlessly into the surrounding natural landscapes. Fan favorites include the Mandalas Lodge and La Semilla Ecolodge, where trekkers receive a refreshing welcome and a relaxing experience that includes an enchanting bird observatory, a rejuvenating Turkish bath, miles of local trails, and day trips to nearby Lake Bayano.

Hiking The America’s Largest Inhabited Volcano at El Valle

A short trip west along the Inter-American Highway from Panama City will take you to the lush mountain panoramas of the Anton Valley. Here you’ll find the majestic village of El Valle, which is located within the crater of the second largest inactive and inhabited volcano in the world. The valley is teeming with enchanting cloud-encased mountain peaks that reach up to 3,800 feet, and pre-Columbian stone petroglyphs which have yet to be deciphered. Multifaceted experiences await you in and around this timeless and vibrant Panamanian village.

Eco-Activities of El Valle

El Valle provides an eye-opening view of Panama’s unique ability to combine serious sustainability with even more serious fun. One of the visitors’ most talked-about experiences is the canopy zip lining tour that winds through the valley’s forests and over the amazing 115-foot Chorro El Macho Waterfall. Here you can catch sight of the native blue Morpho butterflies swooping over the pool below the falls, as you swing through the region’s unique ‘cloud forests’ which form when the fog lifts off the fauna and flora that’s spread across the jungle floor. Mountain climbers can try their stamina on the valley’s highest peak, Cerro Gaital which stands at approximately 3800 feet, a height at which you can get a stunning view of the village’s volcanic crater.
Besides world-class mountain hiking and breathtaking waterfalls, El Valle is also home to a thermal hot springs, an orchid center that features environmental presentations, fun horseback riding, and biking adventures, and even a one-of-a-kind sojourn into ‘The Valley of the Square Trees‘, where right angles replace circumferences, and researchers trying to solve the puzzle of a phenomenon seen nowhere else in the world. With her numerous jaw-dropping treasures, El Valle holds a little something for every eco-lover on your list.

Eco-Friendly Mountain Accommodations

The year-round spring-like temperatures make El Valle an ideal place to stay in Panama, and one of the most celebrated accommodations in the region is The Canopy Lodge. Built into the hills of the vibrant valley, this nature lover’s retreat allows you to experience the region’s mysterious cloud forests right outside your bedroom window, and take an extraordinary multi-day bird watching tour to the area’s most famous sites. The lodge also features its library, family-style dining, and environmentally-integrated swimming pool, and is just steps from Chorro El Macho waterfall. Many other ecologically-conscious accommodations also dot the landscape of this magnificent mountain town.
If you’re ready to bring more light, laughter, and community-engaging natural adventures into your world, there’s an abundance of eco-friendly adventures that await you in Panama. The country’s breathtaking mountains, rain forest, oceans, and islands offer you unparalleled cultural and outdoor experiences amidst a landscape of unbridled natural beauty and awe-inspiring ecological delights.

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Insider’s Tips On Exploring The Caribbean City Of Cartagena

Often when people imagine of the beautiful Caribbean Sea, those sun-drenched coasts and stunning shorelines, they seldom picture the gorgeous and historic city of Cartagena. Nowadays, some people are more likely to associate this area with a string of successful Disney pirate movies or even the eighties cinematic classic “Romancing The Stone” supposedly set in Colombia but filmed mostly in Mexico. Moving past some of these family-favorite flicks, there are plenty of reasons to visit the amazing town inside one of Colombia’s signature and most populous cities. Located on the shores of a bay bearing the same name, Cartagena is a spectacular destination that needs to be put on every traveler’s bucket list.

The Heroic Walled City

Way back in ancient history, Cartagena was a popular port for the actual pirates of the Caribbean looting this wealthy, emerging city while trekking their way through this tropical and profitable sea. Tired of being a constant target of medieval marauders, the existing government enlisted their growing military and townspeople to construct a multitude of towers, huge stone walls and well-armed fortifications to protect their precious town from robbers and continuous invasion attempts. Many of these long-lasting landmarks are still standing today, and this is how Cartagena garnered the nickname of the “walled city.”
Today’s natives of this historic region are extremely proud of their national heritage, and the bloody battles once raged to ultimately gain their independence from an overbearing Spanish rule. Currently, Cartagena remains the busiest port in this South American country, and with over a million residents, its shiny, modern skyscrapers are towering over cobblestone streets, shadowing ancient castles and bestow beautiful colonial architecture making it a truly unique destination for voyeuristic travelers.

The Best Bay View And More

If you’re looking for one of the absolute best views of the Bay of Cartagena, look closely at stopping for dinner (or drinks) at the Cafe del Mar. Located atop one of those remaining relic forts, this remarkable restaurant is home to a priceless view of the city’s skyline either by day or night. Most prefer viewing the sunset from this rooftop restaurant after seeing all the sites during the daylight hours. But if you plan on watching the sun dip down just before dark, be sure to arrive early to this popular destination for the best seat.
Aside from the unbelievable ambiance at this extraordinary eatery as seen both inside and out, it’s also highly acclaimed for their fantastic food, appetizers, full bar, dancing to a DJ spinning tunes seven nights a week. They also have a great calendar of events lasting throughout the year. From an annual New Year’s Eve party to Independence Day celebrations, they also host a variety of native talent shows and festive Full Moon Nights. You’ll find a delightful blend of both locals and tourists mingling at this Cartagena hot spot.

Cruising The Caribbean In Style

Along with the majority of peso-based purchases in Cartagena, almost everything in Colombia is surprisingly affordable especially renting a boat or even a yacht. That’s right chartering a private yacht is within many traveler’s budgets. While they are plenty of traditional tourist-trap options puttering around the bay, instead of being crammed into a smaller tour boat like a sardine, water wanderlusts can captain a vessel by renting their cruiser. For those unfamiliar with the bay, a better option is booking a yacht complete with a Captain and small staff including a knowledgeable, friendly First Mate available with many of these packages.
With plenty to see in The Bay of Cartagena including dozens of islands and archipelagos, local pilots of these smaller ships know these waters like the back of their hands. They’ll take you to remote locations where passengers will enjoy being pampered while viewing magnificent marine life, all the fantastic flora, fauna, exploring sensational scuba and lesser-known snorkeling sites without dealing with crowds.

A Floating Party On Cholon

If partying like a rock star floats your boat, then be sure to set a course for the island of Cholon where there’s a literal floating party happening practically every day. Not just on the weekends or other red-letter days, a mostly college-aged crowd sets sail to this isle located about 45-minutes off the shores of Cartagena where boaters gather to party hearty on board their watercraft.
Even if you’re not into hanging with a younger crowd, prepare for locals catering to your needs when mooring your vessel near the shores of this trendy location. Many natives will swim or row out to your to your boat to deliver the freshest seafood, sensational cocktails, favorite local cuisine and more. Food and beverage vendors on the shore also set up tables in the shallow, warm tropical waters for visitors to enjoy their dishes and beverages closer to the beach.

All Aboard Romantic Shores

One of the best ways to see the sites of this city is via a horse and carriage ride through the old town section of Cartagena especially if you’re vacationing with your significant other. Even if you’re touring with friends or family, riding in the back of one of these open-air carriages on the cobblestone streets of the historic district offers stunning views and a unique way to explore this stunning part of the city.
With miles of shoreline near the city along with and dozens of islands scattered throughout in the bay, strolling on sandy, white beaches in and around Cartagena is pastime enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. So opaque are some of these shores, there’s even a place called Playa Blanca which translates to “white beach.” Located on Isla Baru, about an hour’s scenic boat ride from the city and also accessible by land, this is also a popular location for snorkeling, fishing, and even skydiving. Often crowded with tourists during the populous afternoon hours, once the vast majority of foot traffic has returned to the shores of Cartagena, those spending the night or with their transportation often enjoy moonlit walks on the beach after dark underneath the star-studded stars.

Cultural Coastal Cuisine

Similar to most coastal cities, Cartagena is world renowned for its wide selection of some of the freshest seafood and ceviche is a popular choice. To experience the real crème de la crème of this sensational seafood classic, be sure to visit the namesake La Cevicheria restaurant since they snagged the bragging rights for this sensational seafood stew. You’ll also find ceviche being served all over the streets of this town including those prepared by local food vendors, served in sidewalk cafes and offered by street peddlers. A couple of other excellent eateries worthy of visiting to taste regional treats and experience the unique cultural, Caribbean cuisine of Cartagena include the upscale Marea Restaurante by Rausch with delectable downtown views and Restaurante Paco’s closer to the historic district.
In conclusion, when placing a Caribbean locale in your plans for a future getaway, be sure to put the quaint and charming Colombian city of Cartagena on your travel calendar for a truly magical and memorable adventure. Don’t worry about booking during a certain season since the temperatures are tropical year-round. While light rains typically fall mostly during the months of October and November, this is not a monsoon region, so chances are the weather will be gorgeous during your stay.

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The World’s Top 5 Waterfalls for Adventurers and Romantics

Victoria Falls

Take waterfalls for example. These wonders are pure nature, but can also have the same emotional impact as the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s busiest cities. Depending on the nature surrounding it, they can attract adventurers and romantics alike.
Whether you’re looking for a thrilling adventure or serene natural beauty, here are the world’s top five waterfalls for you to visit.

1) Niagara Falls, Canada

This fall is famous for a reason. As the world’s second largest waterfall by volume, 7,000 cubic meters per second make their way from the top to the bottom. But the reason it ranks top on this list is a different one: sheer accessibility.
The Niagara Falls is right on the border between the United States and Canada. By most measures, the Canadian side is more impressive. But between the two of them, both sides offer a wide range of ways to experience the falling water masses.
Most visitors enjoy a boat trip on the famous Maid of the Mist, right to the bottom of the fall. The U.S. side offers the Cave of the Winds, a way to get close to the water by foot. Finally, a number of walkways on the Canadian side offer almost direct access to the falls that allow you to get close with this spectacular natural wonder.

Victoria Falls

2) Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Here, we have the only waterfall in the world even more massive than Niagara Falls. It is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Every second, up to 40,000 cubic meters of water fall down a height of more than 300 feet. Even more impressive, the entirety of the fall line is a full mile long. “Impressive” doesn’t even begin to describe this sheer display of natural power.
While the official name comes from a British explorer, its native name The Smoke that Thunders perhaps describes it even better. The gorges are especially beautiful to visit during dusk and dawn when the rising and falling sun shines onto the falling water in gorgeous tones.

3) Sutherland Falls, New Zealand

That New Zealand is widely considered one of the world’s most beautiful countries in terms of nature should come as no surprise. Neither should the fact that it also happens to be home to one of earth’s most famous and beautiful waterfalls.
The Sutherland Falls are nothing like Niagara or Victoria. Only a thin strip of water falls down a large mountain amidst lush vegetation surrounding it. At more than 1,000 feet, it is one of the world’s highest waterfalls.
Make no mistake: Sutherland Falls is not easy to access. It’s a destination for adventurers, rather than romantics. But if you can brace the remote and challenging Milford hiking track, you will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful waterfalls you can imagine.

4) Angel Falls, Venezuela

Angel Falls

What can go wrong when visiting a natural attraction named after a heavenly creature? If Angel Falls is any indication, not much. As it turns out, visiting this destination is nothing short of supernatural.
If you thought 1,000 feet was impressive, how do you feel about the 3,200 feet uninterrupted fall in Venezuela? That number makes it the highest waterfall in the world. And the supernatural element doesn’t stop there.
Angel Falls is a waterfall that does not originate from a stream or river, but simply the water accumulated at the plateau of the mystical Auyán-tepui mountain from which it falls. Its local nickname, Mundo Perdido (Lost World), certainly rings true.

5) Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

We end the post with not just one, but a collection of waterfalls that form one of the most stunning lake districts in the world. The Plitvice National Park is home to no less than 16 individual lakes, all connected with waterfalls that are nothing short of gorgeous.
The tallest of the falls is ‘only’ 230 feet tall, and none of the is particularly wide. What makes this area so unique is how all of them work together to form a park that seems like it came straight out of a mystical fantasy novel.
In winter, the waterfalls accomplish a rare feat: they freeze and become even more beautiful. But the same mystical element remains throughout the year, as well. For the fans of nature and romantics among us, Plitvice National Park is a bucket list item to visit.
Each of these waterfalls is well worth a visit, for a variety of reasons. All offer exceptional natural beauty. While some impress through their sheer power, others almost seem delicate. Regardless of which you choose to visit, it will be a journey that you won’t soon forget.

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6 Local Dishes Around the World That Are Worth the Trip

Local Dishes Around the World!

An Italian dinner of pasta, tomato ragu, bread, and olive oil, speaks not only of the recipes passed on through generations but of the fertile lands that bore the olives in the country. In Japan, sushi is representative of the vast resources the country inherits from the sea. A meal in a new country is a way to experience and enjoy the tastes and traditions of the place you are visiting.
With food, you will almost always find the best dishes by going straight to the source. With decades, or even centuries experience cooking the same dishes, the locals have learned the insider secrets to perfect their cuisine. There are so many regional cuisines that are praised throughout the world, that traveling just to taste the foods of the world can be a worthwhile adventure. But with so many options and a wide range of flavors, where do you begin? Here’s a list of the best local dishes around the world.

Ceviche in Peru

You may have heard of ceviche before. To put it simply, ceviche


is chopped raw fish that has been marinated in citrus and peppers. The fish “cooks” in the acidity of the citrus. The fish and citrus vary, but the flavor profile is the same — fresh, clean fish, the tangy acidity of lime or lemon, and subtle heat. Located off the Pacific Ocean, Peru has an abundant supply of fresh seafood. Popular options include sea bass, halibut, and tilapia. But as chefs continue to experiment, other varieties including marlin and shark are becoming popular as well. Lima is known to be the culinary hotspot of Peru, but there are great ceviche options throughout the country. Chez Wong is a must if you are in Lima. Also check out Jasusi in Máncora.

Chili Crab in Singapore

Be prepared to get your hands dirty when you dig into Singapore’s signature dish. You’re sure to find yourself licking your fingers as you try to savor every morsel of sauce. Chili crab is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy, providing an experience your taste buds won’t soon forget. The sweet and tender mud crab is smothered in a sauce composed of tomatoes, garlic, and spices. The degree of spice will vary from place to place, but it is generally believed, the spicier, the better. For authentic chili crab, a visit to Roland’s is a must, as they claim to be the place where the chili crab began. Few have been entrusted with the family recipe that makes this dish so special. Another favorite among locals is Jumbo Seafood, winner of numerous culinary awards and winner for best chili crab in 2006.


Poutine in Montreal

If you are looking for a comfort food that will stick to your guts, look no further than poutine. This local dish is comprised of crispy french fries topped with squeaky (as poutine connoisseurs like to call it) cheese curds and smothered in a rich brown gravy. This comfort food found its beginnings in Montreal, but can be found throughout most of Canada. Although the traditional variety is a favorite among locals, chefs throughout the country have found a variety of ways to spice it up. Be sure to visit La Banquise and try one of their 30 varieties including The Scooby, topped with steak, fried pickles, onions, bacon, and garlic sauce, or The Rachel, a vegetarian option topped with peppers, mushrooms and onions. Try Au Pied de Cochon, for a rich egg and cream infused gravy with a generous serving of foie gras on top.

Goulash in Hungary

You may remember goulash from childhood — ground beef, tomato sauce, noodles, a classic weeknight dinner. But that’s not the goulash we are talking about. Traditional Hungarian goulash (gulyás) is a local dish in Hungary containing a rich meat and potato stew. Though often made with large chunks of beef, it is not uncommon for veal or pork to be used as well. The meat is slowly simmered in a deep tomato broth, infused with smoky, Hungarian paprika. Potatoes and vegetables are added to create a warm, hearty dish that can be found on almost every menu in Hungary. If you are looking for an authentic experience, head to Budapest Bisztró.

Som Tam in Thailand

Som Tam

Thailand is known for its soups and noodles. And rightfully so. Thailand is home to Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup), and Pad Kee Mao (also known as drunken noodles). And while everyone loves a spicy noodle dish, there is another dish that travelers and locals keep coming back to. Som Tam is a green papaya salad. It can be found in street markets and in restaurants. Chilies, garlic, dried shrimp, fish sauce, and palm sugar are mixed together with a mortar and pestle. The resulting sauce is then combined with crisp, sour papaya. The sweetness of the sugar balances out the tart flavors and the chilies provide a nice heat. But be forewarned, the heat level will vary and some salads will provide quite a kick.

Pizza in Italy

When it comes to food, there are so many options to choose from in Italy. Italy is world renowned for its pasta, polenta, olive oil, wine — pretty much food in general. It’s hard to go wrong when choosing what to eat while in Italy. But perhaps the most iconic and arguably most delicious local dish to eat in Italy is pizza.
Pizza has been around for centuries, in multiple forms, flavors, and varieties. In Italy, pizza is at its best when it is kept simple. The best pizza is a showcase of its ingredients. Pizza Margherita is a classic. Crisp dough, a simple sauce, basil, and cheese are all that’s needed for the perfect slice. For a no-fuss traditional pizzeria, stop by L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples. In Rome, try La Gatta Mangiona and taste one of their seasonal favorites.

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How to Live Like a Local in Ecuador

Amazon colorful apartment

Here are some of the best ways to live like an Ecuadorian, even if you’re only going to visit for a short time.

Live Like a Local in Quito

The capital city has lots of fascinating historical and cultural attractions. However, if you want to experience it like a local, you can also enjoy some of the everyday pleasures of the city.

Rent an apartment

One of the benefits of visiting Ecuador is that it’s quite reasonable. While there are some luxury hotels, you can find cheap apartment rentals by the day, week, or month. This gives you a chance to live in a residential area and experience local life for a while.

Explore the city by bus, bike, or on foot

This is how most people get around in Ecuador. It can be fun to discover new neighborhoods off the beaten path. Cities such as Quito and Cuenca have a cheap bus service with bus lanes making transportation quite efficient. Quito is extremely bicycle-friendly, with many streets closed to car traffic on Sundays.

Enjoy the parks

One of the nice things about Quito is that it’s full of green spaces right inside the city. For example, Parque El Ejido is known for its spontaneous volleyball and soccer games as well as weekend art shows. The city’s locals take advantage of the parks and you can as well.

Experience nightlife of Plaza Foch

This is a busy area where you’ll find lots of cafes, restaurants, bars, and clubs. Locals enjoy this area for late night fun and partying.

Brush Up on Your Spanish

If you want to live like locals and mix with them, you need to speak their language. If you’re already fluent in Spanish, you have this covered.

If not, this is the perfect opportunity to do some studying. There are quite a few tools to help you. If you don’t have time to take formal classes, you can get a language learning app for your computer, tablet or phone. Don’t worry about speaking perfectly. People will appreciate your effort if you address them with the Spanish phrases you’ve mastered.
Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world so learning it will serve you even beyond your trip to Ecuador.

Sample Local Markets and Street Food

Locals don’t usually dine in restaurants every day. They shop at supermarkets and local markets. Ecuador has an extraordinarily rich tradition when it comes to markets. You can find all kinds of delicacies such as vegetables, fruits, meats, and sweets. There are lots of bustling open-air markets where you can find both familiar and exotic items. There are also street foods you can buy from vendors for a quick meal. Here are just a few of the foods you should try while in Ecuador.

Street Food

Empanadas – These are South America’s version of the wrap that’s filled with meat, vegetables, and all kinds of spices. Ecuador has its own unique version of empanadas which are especially popular in Quito.
Llapingachos – This is a delicious potato omelet stuffed with foods such as cheese, eggs, salad, avocado, chorizo, and spices. This is a satisfying street food you can enjoy any time of day.
Churrasco – If you want a typical hearty Ecuadorian complete meal, order Churrasco (there’s also a Brazilian version which is slightly different). You’ll get a grilled steak served with eggs, rice, avocado, vegetables, and a spicy sauce.

Buy Food at Markets

Fruits – You can find a dazzling array of tropical fruits from street vendors and market stalls. You’ll recognize some of these fruits such as papaya, watermelon, coconut, and bananas. Some lesser known but equally delicious fruits include uvilla (a berry), pitahaya (related to dragon fruit), mora (a type of blackberry), chirimoya (similar to guava), and the tomato-like naranjilla.
Potatoes – Many Ecuadorian recipes use potatoes. Since the country grows more than 500 varieties, you might want to buy some at market and cook them yourself.
Meat – South Americans are big meat eaters. You’ll find all kinds of animals for sale at markets. Unlike what you’re used to in America, you’ll often see whole animals on display. You’ll see, for example, a whole pig head rather than pork that’s already been cut up for you. You can get extremely fresh meat in Ecuador but you may also have to overcome any squeamishness.
Fish – Seafood is another staple in Ecuador’s cuisine. You can find all kinds of fresh fish and other seafood on display at markets such as shrimp, clams, shark, mahi-mahi, corvina, and much more.
It’s nice to have some type of cooking capability where you’re staying so you can shop at local markets and prepare some of the fresh ingredients you find at markets. If not, you can still sample many amazing dishes from street vendors. Markets are also great for finding arts, crafts, gifts, and wearables. Otavalo Market is one of the country’s premier markets for traditional art.

Enjoy Festivals and Celebrations

There are countless festivals and holiday celebrations in Ecuador. Some of these are large and celebrated throughout the nation while others are more local. Carnival or Carnaval is the most festive time of year throughout Ecuador. No matter where you are in Ecuador, there will be a Carnaval with lots of colorful costumes, parades, performances, and all-around partying. Be warned that it’s common for kids (and even adults) to spray strangers with water and other liquids during Carnival season.

The Andes region has quite a few distinctive festivals. The largest of these is Mama Negra, which is celebrated in both September and November. During these celebrations, you’ll see long parades of costumed characters representing ancestors. This is a multicultural festival that recognizes a variety of traditions that have influenced Ecuador, including African, Incan, Spanish, and Mayan.
There are also many other religious and cultural festivals in Ecuador. Before your trip, make sure you check the calendar and find out what’s happening during your stay.

Become a Soccer Fan

Soccer, known as football (or Fútbol in Spanish) is one of the most popular national pastimes in Ecuador. If you want to blend in with the local culture, it helps if you learn a little about the teams and current rivalries. Of course, if you want to make friends, make sure you root for the right team! The best-ranked football teams in Ecuador right now are Barcelona SC, LDU de Quito, and Delfin SC.
During football season, games will be on display everywhere. A good way to pass a few hours is to sit in a restaurant or bar with a game going on. Ecuador has over 200 football clubs so it can be a bit confusing if you’re not familiar with the scene. However, soccer is a fairly easy game to follow. Even if you’re not up to date with all the rules and teams, you can follow games and cheer for the local team. You’ll find that the enthusiasm is contagious.
These are some of the best ways to experience Ecuador as the locals do. This doesn’t mean you should skip the popular tourist attractions. However, it’s also nice to learn about the traditional customs of the country and get insights into the culture and everyday life of its residents.