Eight things you need to know before visiting Ecuador

Ecuador may be of the the smallest countries in South America but don’t be fooled by its size for there is plenty to see, do and experience in Luz de América (the light of America). Planning a visit to this Andean country? Here’s 10 things you need to know before you go



Middle monument is in the wrong place

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Ecuador is named after the equator that runs through the country and, as such, standing on the thin yellow line that marks the middle of the world tops most travellers’ to-do lists. One caveat: make sure you select the right spot.
Built in 1979, the Mitad del Mundo monument and complex dedicated to the equator is the most visited site in Ecuador but it’s not actually on the equator.
If you want to genuinely stand with one foot in each hemisphere, you’ll need to head 240m down the road to the real equator - a site that was discovered only a few years back thanks to Global Positioning Services (GPS) devices. The true spot is called the Intiñan Solar Museum and aims to answer all your equator related science queries including “Can you balance an egg on a nail?” and “Does water really change direction in different hemispheres?”

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Get ready to gorge on guinea pigs
Cuy asado (roasted guinea pigs) is one of the country’s most famous dishes that reportedly dates back to Inca times and is said to be high in protein and low in cholesterol.
Ecuadoreans traditionally eat cuy either on holidays or special occasions as these little furry creatures don’t come cheap (a whole roasted guinea will set you back around   $US25). Cuy are typically skewered with a thick rod before being rotated over a fire during roasting, and taste like gamey chicken.
However the furry rodent isn’t just for dinner in Ecuador. Cuy are used to warm the house and keep rats away, in addition to being used for medicinal purposes. Folk doctors called curanderos will rub guinea pig over a patient’s sick body, with the furry creature set to squeak when it passes over an afflicted area.
Consuming cuy may seem controversial given that in the UK and Australia,  guinea pig are cherished as cuddly companions for children, but when in Rome…right?

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Roses are ridiculously cheap
You might think of Ecuador as athe ultimate “banana republic” - the small South American country is the world’s biggest exporter of bananas - but in recent years Ecuador has become famous for its flower industry.
Ecuador is the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers, 73 per cent of which are roses thanks to the country’s volcanic soil, perfect temperatures and abundant sunlight. And no one beats the equatorial sun in terms of rose variety.
Even better? Visitors can discover unparalleled colour, radiance and aroma - for a pittance. You read right: it costs as little as US$2.50 for 25 long stemmed red roses in Ecuador meaning even cash poor travellers can play Romeo.

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Cocoa leaves can help cure altitude sickness
Head spinning? Having trouble sleeping? Or perhaps the hotel stairs are making you breathless? If you answered yes to any of the aforementioned questions, chances are you’re suffering from altitude sickness which isn’t surprising given that most visitors arrive in Quito, the Spanish colonial stunner that has an elevation of about 3000m. Symptoms typically dissipate within a day or two but you can help minimise them by  avoiding alcohol and caffeine and drinking plenty of water and tea de coca (coca leaf tea). After a couple of sips pf the latter, you’ll notice that the throbbing in your head has begun to subside and you can breathe again.
Just don’t even think about bringing a stash of coca - the plant that is used in the manufacture of cocaine - leaves back to the UK, where they are banned.

Ecuador uses the US dollar
Ecuadoreans waved goodbye to their national currency, the 116-year-old sucre,  during a severe economic crisis in 2000 and has been using U.S. dollars ever since like nearby Panama (where the US dollar is called a balboa) in order to stabilise its economy.
Nearly 18 years later, dollarisation remains highly popular, with 85 percent of Ecuadorean supporting the continued dollarisation of the economy. However although on an emotional level, not everyone is happy that U.S. historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington  have replaced Ecuadorian national heroes on their currency.

Dress like an onion when in Quito
Visiting Ecuador’s enchanting capital, Quito? Don’t forget to pack layers - and lots of them. 
The weather in Quito is unpredictable  - Quitenos claims that they experience all four seasons in one day - so it’s essential to dress in layers. Be ready to take your coat and sweater off and put them back on again, in a matter of hours.

Panama hats are made in… Ecuador
The toquilla straw hat that most of the world knows as the Panama hat was actually invented in Ecuador.
The mistake dates back to the 18th century when Spanish entrepreneurs in South America recognised the quality of the brimmed straw hats and began exporting them via Panama.
During the 19th century, workers on the Panama Canal wore these hats to protect their heads from the tropical sun. On a visit to the Panama Canal construction site in 1906, US President Theodore Roosevelt was photographed wearing a Panama hat. The picture went on to appear in The New York Times and ever since then, the headwear has been misleadingly known as Panama hats.
The best Panama hats are made in and around Montecristi, a village some 90 miles from the coastal city of Guayaquil.

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Look to a limpiadora
Suffering from insomnia, angst, nervous tension or depression? Forget visiting a traditional doctor when in Ecuador and look to a limpiadora (herb healer) who can cure virtually any ailment using candles herbs, nettles and egg yolks.
While limpiadoras have been performing limpia (spiritual cleansing rituals) for centuries, in recent years, the Ecuadorean folk medicine has become increasingly popular.
This sudden surge of interest in a medicine that has been around for thousands of years can be attributed, in part, to the twenty first century wellness mantra of illness prevention over the modern approach of cure. For while western medicine is high cost and high tech, something that in this age of austerity feels uncomfortably wrong, limpias cost on average US$8 meaning they are affordable - in addition to being a safe and natural form of medicine.

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Los Angeles: the low-down

When it comes to destinations, there’s no place quite like Los Angeles with its history of Hollywood glamour,  famed themed parks, resurgent downtown district, stellar shopping centres and year round warm climate.
Here’s our guide to where to stay and play in the city of Angels this autumn/winter…


Must see and do
No visit to Los Angeles is complete without paying a pilgrimage to the Dolby Theatre - renowned as the home of the annual Academy Awards. If you want to get up close and personal with a genuine Oscar statuette, you’ll need to be prepared to put your hands in your pocket and pay for a 30 minute tour which take place daily between 10.30am and 4pm (www.dolbytheatre.com/tours/tour-information.)
Next up, head to the nearby Hollywood Walk of Fame (www.walkoffame.com) to pose with a sidewalk star - one of the city’s most beloved free attractions. Honouring luminaries in motion pictures, television, radio, live theatre, and recording since 1960, the famous sidewalk compromises more than 2,600 five-pointed pink stars.


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From the Hollywood Walk of Fame it’s a short walk to the TCL Chinese Theatre (www.tclchinesetheatres.com/), where screen legends throughout the ages have left their imprints in cement in Grauman’s famous forecourt.
Lastly do check out Downtown LA - an area that has undergone an urban renaissance in recent years. It used to be sketchy (Skid Row anyone?) but now it’s super cool and home to fantastic museums - don’t miss the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (www.moca.org) - and galleries galore, a great food scene (go to the recently renovated Grand Central Market) and South Broadway, an area that’s being touted as LA's next big shopping destination. 


Top shops

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As you would expect for such a celeb studded city, Los Angeles is incredibly image conscious. Want to shop for a new wardrobe with the stars? Go to The Grove - a pretty  al fresco shopping centre that’s popular with the likes of Heidi Klum and the Kardashian Klan. (www.thegrovela.com)
Alternatively if you’re feeling flush,  make a beeline for Beverly Hills (www.lovebeverlyhills.com) and iconic shopping streets such as Melrose Avenue (www.melroseavenue-shop.com), Rodeo Drive (www.rodeodrive-bh.com) and Wilshire Boulevard.


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After dark
When night falls, look to the legendary Sunset Strip - a 1.5 mile stretch of clubs, boutiques and restaurants between Crescent Heights and Doheny Drive. TNT’s tip? Try The Troubadour (www.troubadour.com) , Viper Room (www.viperroom.com) where actor River Phoenix famously overdosed in 1993, and the House of Blues (www.houseofblues.com/losangeles) that’s owned by actor Dan Aykroyd.
Another suggestion is to schlepp to South Park (www.southpark.la) - a huge complex that houses the dining and entertainment hub that is LA Live, the Nokia Theatre (where the MTV Music Awards finals take place) and the Staples Center, aka the home of the LA Lakers baseball team. The saucer shaped Staples Centre is also the place to see artists like Justin Bieber and Bruno Mars in action.


Best kept secret
Every Los Angeles itinerary has to include a bit of Hollywood show business. Luckily, there are multiple opportunities to see a taping of your favourite television shows live so as to get a sneak peek of the TV magic you see at home. Even better? Tickets to the majority of shows are free - try Audiences Unlimited (www.tvtickets.com). It’s also possible to take tours of all the main studios - think Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers Studios. Tours vary from studio to studio but will typically show you around the sets and stages and inside the wardrobe department.


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If you really want to tune into the LA vibe, start your day with a spot of yoga on the sand at Santa Monica (www.santamonica.com) or jog along the boardwalk to Venice Beach (www.venicebeach.com). Here you can watch budding basketball players slam dunk on the concrete courts, while greased up bodybuilders pump iron at Muscle Beach – a legendary al fresco weight lifting centre.

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Then make for Malibu - which spans 27 miles of the Pacific Coast Hwy and is home to Hollywood heavyweights such as Barbara Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman et al as well as LA’s best beaches. There are over 20 stretches of golden sand to choose from but standouts include Surfrider, Point Dume State Beach and Zuma Beach (you’ll recognise it as the backdrop to Baywatch and I Dream of Jeanie, amongst others.)


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Getting around
“Nobody walks in LA.”
So sang The Missing Persons back in the eighties. Yet while the car is still king in the City of Angels, LA is slowly beginning to put the brakes on on its car-centric roots.
Over 120 miles of new bike ways have been created within the city of Los Angeles in the last five years, while Metro and bus options have been increased giving visitors the tools they need to navigate the city without relying on a car.

For the full low-down on Los Angeles, please visit www.discoverlosangeles.com/

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Words: Kaye Holland


Remarkable Rwanda: seven reasons to visit

Let’s face facts: if we’re talking about which country to visit next, we probably wouldn’t put Rwanda  - an African nation whose name will always be tinged with tragedy - at the top of the list. But we’d be wrong. For there’s more to this tiny state - measuring a mere 10,169 square miles, Rwanda is the fourth smallest country on the African mainland, behind The Gambia, Swaziland and Djibouti - than genocide and gorillas.

Here’s seven reasons why the Land Of A Thousand Hills should be top of your travel bucket list this winter…


Getting there is now a doddle
eaching Rwanda hasn’t always been easy. Bordered by Burundi to the south, Uganda to the north and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west - three destinations best described as ‘off the beaten track’ - the country could be regarded as one of the more unreachable areas of Africa.

Fast forward to 2017 and it’s all change: RwandAir  - Rwanda’s national carrier - now flies direct from London Gatwick to Kigali three times a week meaning that reaching Rwanda has never been more accessible or affordable. The flight takes approximately nine hours, with return fares starting from a reasonable £368. (01293 874 922; rwandair.com).

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Rwanda is clean and safe
“You’re going where?” they said.
“Rwanda,”  I replied.
“Isn’t that where they had the genocide? It isn’t safe,” they asserted.

This conversation was repeated many, many times in the run up to my trip to this little African nugget. Even as I left for the airport, the last thing everyone said to me was: “Stay safe.” Clearly friends, family and work colleagues were all sceptical of my most recent travel plans.

Happily I’m here to tell you that their fears and concerns were misplaced.
Sure you should always exercise caution and common sense when travelling in sub Saharan Africa - for example, don’t drink the water - but Rwanda is one of the continent’s safest destinations.

What’s more it’s capital, Kigali, is not only free from danger it is - unlike most big cities - astonishing well kept. Plastic bags are banished and on the last Saturday of each month, every single citizen is required to spend half a day cleaning the streets. Subsequently not only do the streets sparkle, but there’s an onus not to litter in the first place.

Bottom line? Rwanda can be explored with confidence. But don’t just take TNT’s word for it. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office claims that “Rwanda is generally safe and crime levels are relatively low.” For more information visit www. gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/rwanda.


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Gorillas in our midst
There’s only one place in the world where you can look a mountain gorilla in the eye and that place is the Virunga Mountains - a chain of volcanoes which runs along the north of Rwanda, the south-west of Uganda and a stretch of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Here - if lady luck is on your side - you’ll find around 800 mountain gorillas. (https://virunga.org)
One caveat: getting up close and personal with the mightiest primates doesn’t come cheap as the Rwandan government doubled the fees for gorilla encounters from US$750 to US$1,500 a head earlier this year.

However should the steep price prove perturbing, keep in mind that the money you are shelling out goes towards safeguarding the gorilla population (10 years ago, Rwanda was home to fewer than 60 gorillas).

More than this, you’re guaranteed a moment that you’ll remember for the rest of your life - something the great Sir David Attenborough can attest to. The veteran broadcaster and naturalist famously recounted in his 1978 Life On Earth series that meeting Rwandan gorillas was “one of the most exciting encounters of my life. There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know.”

Book your pass (80 are available per day) through the Tourism and Conservation Reservation Office of the Rwanda Development Board (00252 57 65 14; reservation@rwandatourism.com).


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Supreme safaris
Rwanda maybe famous for its gorillas but it’s also the place to gawp at golden monkeys - another species found only in the Land Of A Thousand Hills.

Stir into the mix the full quota of the Big Five (think lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard) plus crocodiles, hippos, zebras and giraffes - all of which can be spotted at Akagera National Park (akageranationalpark.org) over on the east flank of the country - and you have an unsung safari destination.

Meanwhile bird lovers will want to make a beeline for the Nyungwe Forest National Park (rwandatourism.com/destinations/nyungwe-national-park) to see more than 300 species of birds. Covering over 1,000 square kilometres of pristine mountain rainforest, the park is also home to East Africa’s only canopy walkway that will bring you face to face with Rwanda’s wonderful wildlife.

Rwanda is an African success story
Case in point? A record 64 per cent of Rwanda’s MPs are women, the highest percentage of any country, helping make Rwanda one of the most gender-equal nations in the world.

That’s not all… Rwanda has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and has emerged as one of Africa’s leading business tourism destinations.

Just last month the architecturally splendid new Radisson Blu Convention Centre – whose design was inspired by traditional Rwandan basket weaving – hosted no fewer than three prestigious events. Step forward leading hotel investment conference AHIF, AviaDev Africa - a unique event bringing together airports, airlines, governments, industry suppliers and tourism authorities - and World Travel Awards (aka the travel industry’s leading awards programme) Africa Gala Ceremony 2017.

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Fab accommodation
Until now those visiting Rwanda have had to hunker down in clean but basic, simple places to stay. But just because it was, doesn’t mean it is…
In Kigali, seek out the Serena Hotel (serenahotels.com/serenakigali) which opened its doors earlier this year and serves up five-star accommodation and a refreshing courtyard swimming pool.


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Further afield Wilderness Lodges - famed for its gorgeous accommodation in seven other African countries - has opened a jaw dropping six bedroom lodge called Bisate. The lodge has been built on land bought from farmers and is embedded in the local community: expect to wake in your room (all of which boast spectacular views of Mount Bisoke, an active volcano) to the sound of a goat or cow. (www.wilderness-safaris.com/camps/bisate-lodge)

And there’s more still to come: a new luxury lodge – here’s looking at the One & Only Nyungwe (www.oneandonlyresorts.com/one-and-only-nyungwe-house-rwanda) -– is scheduled to open at the end of this year on the edge of the Nyungwe National Park.

Culture vulture
While in Kigali - Rwanda's modern, bustling capital city - do take the time to visit the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre (a collective that runs walking tours, hair braiding and basket-weaving classes, www.nwc-umutima.org/). Follow this up with a trip to the Niyo Cultural Centre which displays local art and teaches traditional Rwanda dancing and drumming to street kids. (www.niyoculturalcentre.org)


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Then make for the Kigali Memorial Centre to confront the horrors of the genocide - which saw an estimated one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus butchered during 100 days of madness in 1994. The memorial is movingly done and genuinely unmissable - not only out of respect for the victims of the genocide who met their fate as the rest of the world watched, but out of necessity.

Or as the great philosopher, George Santayanas, once said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (www.kgm.rw)

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Jack Nicklaus leads winners at 2017 World Golf Awards

Golfing legend, Jack Nicklaus, was voted Golf Course Designer of the Year at the 2017 World Golf Awards.

Nicklaus - nicknamed the Golden Bear - was the big winner at golf tourism's event of the year, which took place at La Manga Club earlier this evening, welcoming the elite of the golf hospitality industry to Spain.

Also among the winners was TaylorMade. The American manufacturer, whose mission is to create the best-performing golf equipment in the game, took the title of World's Best Golf Club Brand.

Elsewhere St Andrews Links (Old Course) in Scotland scooped the award for World's Best Golf Course, while The Belfry was recognised as Europe's Best Golf Hotel and Portugal picked up the trophy for World's Best Golf Destination.

Sky Sports Golf was also honoured during the red carpet event, winning the award for World's Best Golf Channel.

An extensive programme of events is taking place over the weekend, seeing guests invited to engage in three days of exclusive networking and to play the Robert Putman designed West Course and classic South Course at La Manga Club.

World Golf Awards Managing Director, Chris Frost, said: “The fourth instalment of the 2017 World Golf Awards has been the most successful to date, welcoming industry leaders to Murcia, Spain, for a weekend of golf, networking opportunities and our fabulous Gala Ceremony.

"It has been an honour to recognise so many world-class organisations here this evening and I offer my sincere congratulations to all our winners."

In a unique presentation, the World Golf Awards Academy honoured golf industry stalwart, Ian Baker-Finch, with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

One of the most popular and successful golfers and golf commentators, the Australian - who is known for his easy-going manner and his love for the sport - has more than 15 years in sports television and 17 titles under his belt.

Voting for the 2017 Gala Ceremony closed at the end of September, with a record number of ballots cast by leading golf industry tourism professionals.

These were tallied alongside the votes of hundreds of thousands of golf consumers around the world, with the winners revealed earlier this evening at the five-star La Manga Club - an unrivalled sports and leisure paradise in south-east Spain.

Find a full list of 2017 World Golf Awards winners on the official website: worldgolfawards.com/winners/2017

Notes to Editors

About World Golf Awards

World Golf Awards serves to celebrate and reward excellence in golf tourism, world class courses and golf destinations.

While celebrating and rewarding excellence across golf resorts, courses and the golfing destinations throughout the world, the 2017 World Golf Awards strive to ultimately raise the golf tourist customer experience and stimulate both the domestic and international golf tourism market.

Votes are made by professionals working within the golf travel and tourism industry - senior executives, travel buyers, tour operators, agents and media professionals. Votes may also be cast by the public (golf tourism consumers).

Votes are submitted online via the World Golf Awards website.

The winners of each national category will go head-to-head with the winners of the other countries before the unveiling of the World Winners.

World Golf Awards is the sister organisation of World Travel Awards, currently celebrating its 24th anniversary.