Archive for July, 2014

7 Places You Have to Visit on Your Vacation to Panama

Posted on July 31st, 2014 by Dusty Fox in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Panama is generally visited by more adventurous travelers, with those looking for resort-based experiences heading to its more developed neighbors. Now, I’m not saying you can’t have an ultra-luxurious vacation in Panama, because that is most certainly doable–especially if you’re headed to the super chic Panama City. But if your idea of a great vacation includes a little bit of roughing it and a general open-ness to the unknown, you can really have an unforgettable journey through this small country, best known for the manmade canal that runs through it, connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific. Intrigued? Here are 7 places you should include in your penciled in itinerary for an awesome Panamanian vacation.

Photo Credit: Alex Proimos, Creative Commons 2.0

Santa Catalina [Photo Credit: Creative Commons 2.0, Alex Proimos]

Santa Catalina – Whether you’re an experienced surfer or have never touched a board in your life, this is a great spot to get out on the waves. Some people claim it’s among the best surfing destinations in Central America.

Isla Coiba – This island was once a major penitentiary, which has served the local wildlife population quite well. Today, visitors can go snorkeling and kayaking in the hopes of seeing aquatic animals up close and personal and can take nature tours around the island to view its eerie prison remains and the local flora’s progress in reclaiming its land.

Photo Credit: Stan Shebs, Creative Commons 3.0

Gatun Locks [Photo Credit: Creative Commons 3.0, Stan Shebs]

Gatun Locks – You have your choice of locks to visit along the canal–a must for any trip to Panama, naturally–but many prefer the esclusas de Gatun since it puts you so close to the ships passing through. Even if you’re not interested in mechanics or transportation in any way, don’t miss your chance to see this extraordinary engineering feat.

Boquete – This sweet little town not only boasts a growing art and music scene, but it also makes a great base camp for the nearby “Lost Waterfalls” hike. If you haven’t yet seen a howler monkey up close during your travels, be sure to grab your camera and visit the folks at the Alouatta Lodge.

Casco Viejo – Panama City’s “Old City” is the ideal place to spend a day on the street, walking around between shops and cafes, sampling the local cuisine, and leaving worries and schedules behind. Some streets are more well kept–and safer–than others, so keep your wits about you and be smart when it comes to going out at night time.

Isla Bolaños – If you’re just aching to get it away from it all, Isla Bolaños is a great place to do it. Keep an eye for surfacing whales along the shoreline as you lay on the beach sipping from a fresh coconut.

Photo Credit: Dirk van der Made, Creative Commons 3.0

Sendero de los Quetzales [Photo Credit: Creative Commons 3.0, Dirk van der Made]

Parque Nacional Volcán Baru – After you’ve had enough rest and relaxation, head to the Sendero de los Quetzales hiking trail to look for the magnificent quetzal (that’s a bird, in case you were wondering). Few people actually spot it, but if you’re one of the lucky ones you’ll have bragging rights for the rest of your life!

Having at least a working knowledge of the Spanish language will make all the difference when traveling in Panama, especially if you’ll be venturing off the usual tourist route. Contact us to schedule private or small group classes and you’ll be listo in no time at all!

5 Colombian Rock en Español Songs Every Latin American Traveler Needs to Know

Posted on July 16th, 2014 by Dusty Fox in Uncategorized | No Comments »

When it comes to Latin American music, there’s one genre that is essential to know about: rock en Español. You may not care for salsa, like the drum-heavy beats of reggaeton, or get what all the fuss is with bachata these days, but rock en Español is a classic style of music that isn’t going anywhere. Learn the essentials, and you’ll be ready for just about any party, karaoke bar, disco, or impromptu get-together with newly made friends while you’re traveling in Central and South America.

Whether you’ve got plans to travel to Colombia or not, you can learn a lot by looking to this country for musical inspiration. Some of the greatest Spanish pop and rock legends come from Colombia, including some you’ve probably heard of in the U.S., like Shakira, and others most definitely worth listening to, like Aterciopelados and Juanes. No matter what, if you consider yourself more than just a vacationer, but rather a true Latin American traveler, it’s time to not only listen to these awesome rock en Español favorites, but to commit them to memory:

Shakira: Inevitable

In the late 1990s, before Shakira became a top-selling artist in the U.S., she rocked Latin America with hits in her native language. With lyrics like “You don’t have to say it. You’re not returning. I know you well.” you can guess what this one’s about. Shakira’s incredible vocal talents are on full display in Inevitable, and you’ll probably convince yourself you’re talented at belting out rock songs about shattered love once you’ve learned this song, too.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons,

Juanes in Concert [Photo Credit: Creative Commons,]

Juanes: La Camisa Negra

Juanes is loved by men and women alike thanks to a charming allure of movie star yet rugged good looks and smart lyrics that allow for various interpretations. In one of his greatest hits, La Camisa Negra, he sings “Que maldita, mala suerte la mía aquel día te encontré.” I’ll let you translate that one for yourself.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Joe Mabel

Aterciopelados in Concert [Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Joe Mabel]

Aterciopelados: El Album

Aterciopelados, led by the always mesmerizing Andrea Echeverri, is known for producing a unique mix of catchy and socially charged songs. From heartache to environmental activism, they cover it all in an unmistakable way that always stands out from other music that’s playing on the radio. El Album is one of their most well-known songs and has essentially been considered a classic from the time it was released in the late 1990s.

Los de Adentro: Una Canción

This hit from 1999 is perfect for all the guys who want their turn at singing a ballad about expressing your feelings and painfully accepting the fact that the woman you love is never coming back. With its somewhat upbeat sound and fast pace, you might not realize you’re singing about something sad if your Spanish is in less-than-perfect condition.

Shakira with Alejandro Sanz: La Tortura

Shakira’s a serious force to be reckoned with–especially her Spanish language songs–and when you pair her up with other major talents like Spain’s Alejandro Sanz you’re bound to get pure magic, which is just the case with La Tortura. He says “I know I haven’t been a saint, it’s just that I’m not made of cardboard.” She says “A man doesn’t live on bread alone, nor do I live on excuses.” And all you know is this staged argument makes for great music.

With the rock en Español genre evolving to include categories like folk and alternative, we can’t predict what the future will bring. Fortunately, we can rejoice in the great music–like the songs I’ve presented here–that Colombian artists brought us in the late 1990s and early 2000s. You know what to do if you’ve got a Latin American trip on the horizon. Practice your Spanish, and most importantly, practice your Spanish rock songs.

Top 5: Hostels to Book for Your Upcoming Vacation to Ecuador

Posted on July 3rd, 2014 by Dusty Fox in Uncategorized | No Comments »

All budget-conscious travelers know that they have to carefully choose where and how to spend their money. One of my favorite ways to save money while traveling is to stay at hostels as opposed to traditional hotels or inns. From your basic $8 per night bunk-bed to over-the-top private rooms with triple-digit nightly fees, the term “hostel” is certainly flexible in terms of what types of amenities you can expect and what you’ll pay. Luckily, in Ecuador, there are many affordable options that offer travelers a clean, safe, and friendly place to get a good night’s sleep. If a trip to Ecuador is on your radar, I encourage you to check out these top hostels and others in the cities and neighborhoods you’re visiting.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Cayambe

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Cayambe

Community Hostel in Quito

As the name implies, there’s a feeling of community and even camaraderie among employees and guests at this lovely hostel. While you may pay a couple dollars more than at other basic hostels in the area, it’s worth it to be surrounded by happy and helpful staff members and respectful travelers, as opposed to some of those less than savory characters we’ve all encountered at one point or another in our hostel stays. Comfy beds, a well-kept kitchen, and a TV room with projector are a few of the highlights at the property, and every guest should be sure to take advantage of the free walking tour of the neighborhood offered daily. Delicious breakfasts and dinners are available for a reasonable fee.

Mallki Hostel in Cuenca

Any hostel that has a dog at the front door to greet travelers gains points in my book. Mallki Hostel is not only a lovely property, but the location is excellent. They even have like-new bikes that guests can borrow to aid in their exploration of the city. After a busy day or two out on the town, guests can relax with a quiet night in, spent on the balcony overlooking the neighborhood and chatting it up with fellow travelers. The staff is always ready to suggest lots of night-time activities if you’re ready to paint the night red!

Hostal Macaw in Guayaquil

The outdoor space at Hostal Macaw may be its most attractive feature, with a sweet little courtyard and garden offering seating where guests can take in some sun, read through their guidebooks, or just reflect on their journey. Mosaic tiling, artwork, and plants all contribute to the tasteful decor. It is conveniently located just a few blocks from a major shopping mall in case you forgot any essentials back home. The home-cooked breakfast is anything but standard, and even those who have an early departure in the morning receive a bagged meal to enjoy on the road. Delightful!

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Martin Zeise

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Martin Zeise

La Casa Verde in Baños 

The owners at La Casa Verde go out of their way to be environmentally aware of their actions and to encourage guests to do the same. They offer free drinking water refills, prepare an organic breakfast each morning, and even give longer term guests free access to pick their own vegetables from the onsite garden. The beautiful shared spaces have a lot of personality, especially the stairway area on the main floor where up-cycled glass bottles create a beautiful design in the wall.

Hostal Oasis in Riobamba

Beautiful stone walls and a lovely garden set the scene at Hostal Oasis. The friendly owners are known for mingling with the guests, offering up their advice and helping travelers plan tours, taxi pick-ups, and other important details. A 10-minute walk or $2 cab ride takes you into town, and upon your return you can enjoy relaxing in front of the modest fireplace in the indoor lounge.

As you venture into more remote areas of Ecuador, you’ll discover fewer and fewer English speakers around you. Be sure to practice your Spanish before you go so you’ll be prepared to talk to hostel owners, taxi drivers, tour guides, and others throughout your vacation in Ecuador. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you learn Spanish or enhance your current skills.