The explosive nature of the Zika virus has made it one of the most newsworthy diseases for media networks worldwide. And that newsworthiness comes at a price – modern news stories often cause more panic than good. And because modern news often blows stories out of proportion, there are those who refuse to believe the basic facts because of the way in which they were presented.

This article lays out the facts about the Zika virus so that you can make the best personal choice about future travel in and around Ecuador or other locations threatened by this virus.

Here is the scary part: the Zika Virus may be related to increased cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder, and pregnant women giving birth to babies with microcephaly, a form of severe brain damage. Although the vast majority of cases are caused by mosquito bites, the first case of sexually transmitted Zika has been reported in Dallas, Texas.
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A Tunnel or Archway at Los Tuneles

Los Tuneles is a geologic formation on the coast of Isla Isabela about an hour or so to the southwest of Puerto Villamil. It is a commonly offered day trip that provides excellent opportunities for snorkeling among the dark black lava formations that come in the shape of all kinds of arches and tunnels. Their nooks and crannies make excellent habitat for seahorses, sea urchins, starfish, and tropical fish.

Penguins at Los TunelesOur day tour included two snorkeling opportunities and one short hike. Our first snorkeling adventure began in water about 4 meters deep but with enough motion from the waves to remind us that we were in a real ocean. As we prepped to go over the side, penguins looked the other way, not caring one way or another that humans were about to invade their waters.

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View from the Basilica

Only have a few hours to kill but want to see something worthwhile? Here are 10 quick Quito day trips, with pros and cons for each. Bonus – there is a map included at the end of the article that points out great parking places for those of you in your own vehicles.

Quick Day Trips In Quito

The Panecillo

La Virgen del Panecillo

PROS – history, art, handmade goods, and terrific views
CONS – tourist buses with lots of people, tourist prices at many of the vendors, chance of pickpockets

Whether it’s to see what the local artisans have brought for sale or the terrific views or to see the stained glass virgins inside the museum of the Virgin Mary at the top of this distinctive hill, you’ll only need an hour or so to walk around. If you want a little local color, you can also walk to the far end of the parking lot, follow the grassy field to the end, and there is a good chance an elderly Quiteña will be guarding her flock of sheep. Make sure to take some small pocket change if you would like to take her picture.

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A Bucket of Ceviche

Have you ever made a bucket of ceviche?

Or chopped onions on a moving boat?

Have you ever tasted limes that are the shape of lemons, but with a green and warty rind and flesh the color of a mandarin orange?

Have you ever had fresh ceviche? I mean really fresh, where you take a newly caught yellow fin tuna, still thrashing on the line, and turn it into the most delicious ceviche you could imagine?

If you have never done these things, it’s not too late. You just need the patience of a Galapagos fisherman and his crew, a beautiful day, and just a splash of luck.
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Fresh Lobsters, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, the Galapagos

Our long travel day ended up being a long one indeed.

We arrived in the early morning hours to the Quito Airport to give ourselves enough time to request our transit pass ($20), to have our bags checked for fruits and vegetables, and then to manage the basics of air travel, like checking in and passing through security.

Fortunately, we had scheduled a direct flight from Quito to Baltra, the island with an airport that is closest to Santa Cruz Island. The flight was a short 2 hours. If we had taken the more common flight with a leg via Guayaquil, we would have added a minimum of 2 hours to our travel time. Our day was already going to be a long one, so taking the early morning direct flight was definitely worth it.

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Humpback Whale, The Galapagos

We’re about to head out on the adventure of a lifetime, a 12 day Galapagos land based tour!

Blue-footed Booby, The GalapagosAfter a lot of research, we decided that the best option for our family was to make our lodgings on land each night rather than on a cruise ship. Our money could be stretched a little further and, if weather ends up being horrible due to El Niño, we have more flexibility than if we went on a cruise. It doesn’t hurt that one of us tends to get sea sick and will get a break from boats by sleeping in a comfortable, still bed rather than a swaying bunk.

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Chimborazo in Late Afternoon Light

We were only in Riobamba for a day but I just knew I had to try and see the highest mountain in Ecuador, Chimborazo. Even though it was hidden behind layers of cloud, late afternoon weather patterns in the Andes can change rapidly. So I asked the manager of the front desk at our hotel if a taxi driver could take us to a good view point with a possible chance to take good pictures of the snow covered volcano. This was a last minute request on a Sunday afternoon, not the best plan in the world. But, about a half hour later, our guide for the afternoon, Angel, pulled up in his bright yellow taxi cab and my friend Beth and I headed out to discover the countryside surrounding Riobamba.

Shepherd near ChimborazoWe headed straight out of town to the road that goes up the mountain itself. Angel told us that we could be at the entrance to the hiking trail to the refugio in about 45 minutes. Of course, that would be without stopping for pictures. And stop for pictures we did – the paved road meanders through small villages where locals still make a living from the mountain, most by herding sheep, cattle, and llamingos (the local word for the alpacas and llamas that thrive in the high paramo). Rolling foothills were a patchwork of green pastures, golden long stem grasses, and plowed volcanic soil the color of well-brewed coffee.

The Base of Chimborazo

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Bell Towers of the Riobamba Cathedral

The town of Riobamba sits at the foot of Ecuador’s highest mountain, Chimborazo. Wide city streets make for easy walking and on most Sundays the city is fairly quiet, with little traffic and a few families enjoying the parks. We arrived about mid-morning, making the drive from Quito in record time, just a couple of hours. After dropping our things of at the hotel, we grabbed our cameras and set out on foot, wandering as is our wont, to find good subjects for photos. To our surprise, we heard a band playing music and followed the sound until we found its source:

Wandering Street Band in Riobamba
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Cotopaxi - The New Normal

It has been months since Cotopaxi first started to emit ash and vapor, when it gently rumbled and sent minor earthquakes trembling across the land, and many of us panicked, certain that the volcano was due to erupt immediately. When calmer heads prevailed, there was still major concern and for good reason. And, although, a few things have changed these last few months, caution is still the word of the day.

Evacuation Route We are no longer on orange alert. The Ecuadorian Government let the final day of the State of Emergency pass without renewing it – families have returned to their homes and farms. Life is taking on a new normal.

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Llama Standing on Ancient Ruins

Not far from the imaginary line that divides the world in half is an archeology site still waiting to be fully revealed. The place is called Cochasquí, a name comprised of two words of the ancient language of the local Quitu-Cara – cocha which means water or lake and qui which means half or divide. Many cultures in Ecuador used the word qui when naming places and it makes one wonder how ancient peoples knew that they lived along the Equator. Cochasqui is a mere breath away at Latitude 0 0 3.14 North.

Ancient Pyramid at Cochasquí

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