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Posts Tagged ‘Ecuador’

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Take a tax holiday — on Uncle Sam

Tax season is almost over! Now that filing is nearly complete, it’s time for many of us to start looking forward to our refunds. This year alone, U.S. taxpayers already received an average of $2,831 per person in refunds, a significant amount of money that could whisk you away on an exotic vacation!

For that reason, I came up with a few suggestions for how travelers can get the most out of their newly acquired cash.

If you’re on the more conservative side of the refund spectrum or want to pocket some of the extra money, here’s my list of tax-refund trips travelers can take for under $2,000, including airfare.

  • Explore Exotic Ecuador for $1,399: Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, boasting more than 300 species of mammals alone. Visitors can tour the natural hot springs in Baños, view the volcanic peaks of Cotopaxi National Park, and explore the world’s most biologically diverse rainforest — the Amazon. Journey back in time with a visit to Quito, the nation’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and explore the city’s Spanish colonial architecture dating back to the 16th century. A trip to Ecuador is like immersing yourself in the world’s greatest biology class, and one that visitors will never forget.

Ecuador news: Tours resume as crisis ends

After a few tense days, what was being called an attempted coup in Ecuador is over. While the political situation is not completely resolved, the protests that caused the brief disruption in tourism are over.

Friendly Planet Travel’s Sunday departure to Ecuador did take off as planned, and we plan to operate all subsequent departures. Our representatives on the ground in Ecuador have assured us that it is once again business as usual.

Of course, should anything change, you’ll be the first to know. So check the blog frequently. Or contact me directly if you have questions or need more information.

In the midst of the crisis on Friday, I was able to talk to Travel Agent Central about what we were doing to accommodate our travelers during this force majeure. If you didn’t get a chance to read the article, jump to it now.

Ecuador still under a state of emergency, Friendly Planet issues refunds for cancelled departure dates

There is more news coming out of Ecuador today. Overnight the protests in Ecuador subsided, but USA Today is reporting that the political situation still remains unstable and the country will remain under a week long state of emergency.

We cancelled our Thursday, Sept. 30 departure to Ecuador from Miami. The travelers effected will have their payments fully refunded. Of course they were disappointed at this news, but understood we would never send travelers into harm’s way.

As for our nine Friendly Planet travelers were in Guayaquil, Ecuador last night, they were not able to depart for Quito to come back to the United States yesterday. We were in contact with the U.S. Department of State who told us that our travelers should remain at the airport and not go to a hotel.

Friendly Planet’s Galapagos representative was with them at the airport the entire night, and I’m happy to report that the flight finally returned to the U.S. today. Everyone is safe, happy to be home, and glad they had the chance to see the Galapagos before the police strike.

As of this writing, we have reinstated our Oct. 3 departure to the Galapagos, as the situation in Ecuador has returned to its peaceful norm. While a state of emergency officially exists, the situation is calm, and the government is fully in control. The strike is over, and Ecuador is once again open for business as usual.

I will continue to update you with more news on the blog as I receive it. And as always, write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 if you have any other concerns.

Protests in Ecuador shut down airports: What Friendly Planet Travelers should know

You might have heard about the protests that erupted in Ecuador today. Here’s what’s been reported by The Associated Press. Police officers are protesting a new law that was passed by Congress on Wednesday that cuts their benefits.

These protests quickly grew throughout the country to Quito, Guayaquil, and other cities. Airports are shut down, highways are blocked, and a state of emergency has been declared for the country.

Friendly Planet Travel has travelers in Miami’s airport who were trying to fly to Quito today. We also have travelers in the Guayaquil airport trying to fly back right now.

At this moment Friendly Planet Travel is all hands on deck. We will be working around the clock with the airlines and our representatives on the ground in Ecuador to make sure every one of our passengers is accounted for and is being taken care of.

We’ve been in the travel business for over 30 years and have experience dealing with these types of situations. Recently, you saw how we reported on the political protests in Thailand. And in one of my first posts about the Thailand protests, I explained what measures Friendly Planet Travel takes to ensure the safety of our travelers. I encourage you flip back to the post to see what we do.

Keep your eyes peeled to the blog. I will continue to keep you updated as I get more news on the protests and information from our reps in Ecuador. If you’re really concerned and don’t want to wait until my next blog post, write to me or call 1-800-555-5765.

Friendly Planet Travel’s Exotic Ecuador reviewed: How tour guides make the difference

Our most recent Exotic Ecuador tour just returned and I’ve received a lot of e-mails from travelers raving about it. I was thrilled that everyone had a great time, and I can understand why. This tour took travelers through the capital of Ecuador and UNESCO World Heritage Center of Quito, the bustling Otavalo market, the natural springs in Baños, the volcanic peaks of Cotopaxi National Park, the Amazon rainforest, and more.

I thought I would share with you two of the e-mails I received from Friendly Planeteers. Give them a gander. If you’re thinking about traveling to Ecuador, these reviews might help you make up your mind. Plus, departure dates are still available for only $1,199 when you book by Nov. 3.

“What a wonderful experience on this tour! Patricio, our guide was outstanding. His knowledge and love of Ecuador gave us a special insight into the country and its people. Edwin, our driver made the bus go places that looked impossible and did it in a way that we were always at ease. Patricio helped us and others with small things that came up during the trip. Patricio always did more than was expected and was a perfect gentleman. All the places were fantastic, just wish we had more time at each one. We would tour with Friendly Planet again without hesitation.” – Leslie and Dwight Adams, New Brockton, Ala.

“By far this has been the best trip ever!!! Our tour guide Patricio and bus driver Ewin made our stay as pleasant as possible. They were courteous and attentative to everyone’s needs and made us feel safe at all times. I highly recommend this trip to anyone who has never dared to venture to South America – you will not be disappointed.!! The canoe ride up the Amazon river and the scenic panoramic view of the mountains will leave you breathless!!! Pictures to come soon for your enjoyment!!” – Ivonne Davila and Lucia Morales, Brooklyn, N.Y.

An in-depth look at Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

Ruthie Stein, Friendly Planet Travel’s Group Department Manager, got the opportunity to travel to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands a few weeks ago. She experienced much of what our travelers will see on Friendly Planet’s Galapagos Islands Hopper and Galapagos Islands Explorer tours.

When she returned, she was armed with notes, photos, and memories of what she calls the most wonderful experience of her life. I asked her to share the details of her trip with us on the blog, and she happily agreed.

Over the course of nine fun-filled days, Ruthie spent time in Quito, Ecuador and on the islands of Santa Cruz, Floreana, and Isabella in the Galapagos. She begins her blog post series about her trip with her two-day stay in Quito, which she found to be surprisingly charming, friendly, and full of historical and fascinating sites.


I left Philadelphia on July 18, flying via Miami to board my flight for Quito, Ecuador on LAN Airlines. I landed in Quito later that day. The first word that comes to my mind to describe Quito is magical, and here’s why.

As my plane descended, the city came into view. It’s nestled in the valley of the Andes Mountains. Once you step outside, you see the magnificent mountains and snowcapped volcanoes, including the still-active Mt. Pichincha, surrounding the city.

A glimpse of the Andes Mountains from the valley Quito sits in

No matter which direction I looked, there was never a bad view or an obstructed one. The mountains just towered over the city. The blue skies and white clouds made it seem like I was looking at a postcard. Because it’s in a valley, it puts Quito over 9,000 ft. above sea level, making it the second-highest capital city in the world.

Knowing this fact before I booked the trip, I was nervous about getting altitude sickness. Luckily, I worried about nothing. When I got off the plane I wasn’t nauseous and didn’t have a headache, but my breathing was a little labored. I adapted quickly to the change in altitude, and my heavy breathing disappeared relatively quickly.

From the airport I settled into my room at the Sheraton Quito Hotel. It’s a lovely hotel where the food was outstanding. I highly recommend the salad bar, it was top notch. ;) The hotel is located right in the heart of Quito’s shopping district and is convenient to almost all the major attractions.

Statue of Virgin of Quito overlooking the tight streets of Old Town

I only had two days to spend in Quito, so I set out right away to sightsee and shop. Now in Quito there are two main parts of the city, the old and the new. The new town looks like most modern cities, with high-rises, multi-story apartment complexes, restaurants, and more.

The section I fell in love with was just 20 minutes away — Old Town. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site where I spent a lot of my time. The Spanish influence on Old Town is evident in the colonial architecture that overwhelms every tightly packed street I strolled down. The colorful buildings and churches date back to the early 1500′s when the Spanish founded the city. And it seems that at the top and bottom of every street you see the Statue of the Virgin of Quito overlooking the city.

I also walked through the Plaza de la Independencia. It’s the beautiful main square of Quito that is surrounded by the 19th century Iglesia de la Cathedral, city hall, the archbishop’s palace, and the government palace. Here I got to see the changing of the guards.

Otavalo Market

The following day I was off to the Otavalo market where I spent a couple of hours. It’s a well-known market in Latin America that is famous for selling alpaca blankets, sweaters, and all kinds of products laboriously handmade by the indigenous Otavaleño Indians.

Otavaleños are one of the only tribes, if not the last,  in Ecuador who still make and wear their traditional dress. The women vendors wear intricately embroidered blouses with lots of beaded necklaces, all of which are handmade. And the men have long braided hair, and wear calf-length white trousers, ponchos, and sandals.

Unfortunately, my shopping spree at the market was cut short. My guide reminded me that I should leave room in my suitcase for the beautiful leather products that I intended to purchase at our next stop on the itinerary, the beautiful little town of Cotacachi. It’s named after the Cotacachi volcano, which is located close by.

Here I found numerous shops selling handbags, shoes, belts, wallets, and other items, all made by the indigenous tribes people, and very inexpensive. Not too far from Cotacachi, we stopped at Peguche, another small town inhabited by the local tribes. I was fortunate to see one of the few remaining loom weaving workshops in the home of a local family. Beautiful tapestries, shawls, and blankets are all handmade without the aid of any patterns or templates.

One foot in each hemisphere

The next morning, my journey took me about 45 minutes from Quito, where I visited the Mitad del Mundo, which is Spanish for “middle of the world.” This is where the Equatorial Monument commemorates the exact place where Charles Marie de la Condamine established the equator.

I felt like a real tourist that day when I took a picture with my one foot in the northern hemisphere and my other foot in the southern hemisphere.

By the time I was done hopping between the hemispheres it was time to leave Quito for the Galapagos. I was disappointed that I didn’t have more time to explore the city further and to travel north to visit the Amazon rainforest (that’s the next stop on my wish list), but I was excited and looking forward to seeing the Islands that Charles Darwin explored almost 200 years ago.

In my next post, I’ll tell you about my trip to Santa Cruz island, and what it’s like jetting around from island to island on a the Islands’ ferries. I’ll also share with you the lengths that the Charles Darwin Research Station takes to protect the breeding of the indigenous Galapagos tortoise from the invasive species that were brought to the Islands hundreds of years ago by pirates and explorers.

Tour guide puts Exotic Ecuador a cut above the rest for first-time Friendly Planeteer

I told you about a new Friendly Planet tour almost every week in June. So I thought I would take a break and let one of our customers do the talking.

Dianne Jernigan of Victoria, Texas went on the Exotic Ecuador tour in late May. I won’t step on her toes, I’ll just paste her e-mail below (verbatim) and let Dianne take it from here.

“I wanted to let you know personally how very much I enjoyed my recent tour with Friendly Planet. This is the first time I have toured with Friendly Planet and my first trip to Ecuador. The experience was everything I’d hoped for….and more! Our Tour Guide was outstanding. He was very informative, and we were able to learn much about the history of the country from him. He handled an unexpected change in plans (because of the volcano eruption) flawlessly and very professionally. I would definitely travel with Friendly Planet again….especially if Patricio is the Tour Guide!”

Dianne, I look forward to planning another trip for you soon!

Get a jump on two new Galapagos Islands tours

Just last week I told you about two new Greek Island hopper tours, and this week I have more island hopping to tell you about. No, we’re not in Greece anymore. We’re hopping right out of the Aegean and diving into the Pacific, headed for the Galapagos Islands. The Islands remain protected, but offer scientists, nature lovers, and travelers alike the chance to experience life just as Charles Darwin did when he voyaged to the archipelago in 1831.

Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Hopper and Explorer

Friendly Planet’s brand new, seven-day Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Hopper and nine-day Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Explorer tours give you the chance to cross paths with giant Galapagos tortoises, stroll past colonies of penguins, and see the endemic flora and fauna that have drawn visitors here for hundreds of years.

We still offer cruises to the Galapagos Islands, but I wanted to give you another way to be transported back 200 years in time and experience one of the few places where ecosystems remain untouched. Island hopping gives you more flexibility and time on Santa Cruz, Floreana, and Isabela to experience these islands’ biodiversity, history, and natural beauty.

A Galapagos tortoise

We worked closely with Red Mangrove lodges to get you the most intimate, gorgeous, and eco-friendly spaces available. Its goal is to protect and preserve the Galapagos environment while seamlessly weaving its beautiful lodges into the scenery. I can tell you, there isn’t a more beautiful place to stay when island hopping 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.

Both of the tours, Hopper and Explorer, begin in Quito, Ecuador, the city that’s surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes. On the Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Explorer, you spend two nights and a full day in Quito touring the city’s colonial architecture in Old Town, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and more.

Then you fly to Baltra in the Galapagos Islands to begin your island adventure. On the Hopper tour, you spend a night in Quito before traveling to the Galapagos, and another night in Quito when you return, allowing time for you to visit Quito’s main sites before returning home.

After arriving in Baltra, it’s off to Santa Cruz. You’ll tour the Academy Bay at La Loberia and enjoy a thrilling snorkel with sea lions. If you prefer land-based exploration, you can hike to Los Gemelos (the twins), two enormous collapsed lava chambers, through the Scalesia Forest. It’s draped in liverwort and inhabited by large and small tree finches, the adorable Vermillion Flycatcher, and much more.

Next up is Floreana Island, where you’ll find plenty of rich red and turquoise colored marine iguanas sunning themselves on the black lava rocks. Floreana is one of the least populated of the Galapagos Islands, with fewer than 200 local inhabitants.

Travelers are fortunate to enjoy an opportunity to stay overnight there and experience a quiet and calm evening before hopping to Isabela where you’ll be greeted by sea turtles and penguins swimming in the stunningly clear turquoise water. Finally, head back to Santa Cruz to depart for Quito.

On the Hopper tour, this is when you’ll have your chance to tour Quito. For those on the Explorer tour, this is your second day in the city. On both tours, you can extend your stay in Cuenca, another UNESCO World Heritage site, also considered one of the most beautiful cities in Ecuador. It feels like spring every day of the year, and most travelers appreciate the opportunity to see more of Ecuador on this fascinating and well-priced extension package.

The very best part of these two wonderful packages is the included features we’ve packed into the low prices. Both tours include round-trip flights from Miami via LAN Ecuador with fuel surcharges; all ground transportation and transfers; superior accommodations; 14 meals; comprehensive sightseeing tours with a naturalist guide on the Galapagos Islands; a professional, English-speaking tour guide in Quito and Cuenca; Galapagos National Park fee ($100); Transit Control Card ($10); and more.

In just the short time that these tours were posted, many of our departure dates have already been filled, so I recommend booking without delay if you want to be included in these awesome, new tours. You can book the seven-day Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Hopper for $2,199 or the nine-day Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Explorer for $2,499 by July 30, or as long as space lasts.

If you have any questions, visit our website for more details and the full itinerary for both tours. And as always, feel free to write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

AOL’s Asylum picks Friendly Planet Travel’s Exotic Ecuador as a spring break destination

It’s been gorgeous here the last few days. Spring is right around the corner and I know a lot of people are looking forward to their spring break.

Friendly Planet was just featured in “Asylum’s Picks for Spring Break 2010” on AOL. Our eight-day, $1,199 Exotic Ecuador tour won the distinction of Best Long International Trip. I want to say THANK YOU to the editors for recognizing our tour. And while you’re at Asylum’s site, see who else made the cut.

Customer Testimonial: From Ecuador to China

I know I’ve done my job when I hear from customers who want to return for another tour. Or when travelers keep coming back to experience a new exotic destination. These next two testimonials are from opposite sides of the globe. They loved every part of their trip, and I hope they’ll become Friendly Planet Travel frequent flyers.

You know by now how much I love reading these. So don’t hesitate to let me know how your exotic tour went!

A Taste of China

This was our second tour with Friendly Planet the first being India 3 years ago. We just got back from China and wanted to tell you how amazing the trip was and what a great time we had. Our guide David was fantastic and all the accomodations were perfect. We are so glad that we went and we will do more tours with Friendly Planet in the future. 

-O.R. Nasseri, San Diego, Calif.

Exotic Ecuador

I just returned and wanted to let you know that this trip was absolutely wonderful. It was very well put together; had a great itinerary, involved no surprises; and was a great value. The hotels were outstanding and I truly enjoyed the variety of activities expecially in the Amazon Region. Based upon this great experience I will definately consider Friendly Planet again.

-Theodore Lattanzio, New York, N.Y. 

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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