The Zika Virus and Travel to Ecuador

The Zika Virus and Ecuador

 

Recently, one of the biggest headlines to hit news agencies in the USA, Europe, South America, and elsewhere has been that of the Zika virus. Although the virus has been known since 1947, it didn’t really make international news until 2016 after the WHO (World Health Organization) published a “public health emergency of international concern” in early February, 2016. The WHO made this statement after studies showed a much higher than normal incidence of microcephaly among newborns in Brazil, and that the cases of microcephaly were probably associated with the Zika virus.

 

Anyone who has been paying attention to the news has probably heard this already so what about Ecuador? Is this South American country also affected by the Zika virus? Not to mention, what exactly is the Zika virus? We hope that the following information will answer questions and concerns about this virus, especially related to travel to Ecuador.

 

What is the Zika virus and why haven’t we heard of it before?

This virus is in the same family as several other mosquito-borne viruses including the ones that cause Yellow Fever, Dengue, and Chikungunya. It was actually discovered in the Zika forest of Uganda, Africa in 1947 but hasn’t made major headlines until now for a few reasons. Since the Zika virus is not lethal and does not cause grave symptoms (and 80% of people are believed to not show symptoms), few scientists studied the virus compared to Malaria or other, more dangerous diseases. Also, the virus was not known to occur in many areas, and so did not seem to have as much as an impact as other diseases.

 

How is it transmitted?

The main way that people get the Zika virus is after being bitten by a mosquito that carries it. The mosquitoes known to transmit the virus are Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, two mosquito species that mostly feed on and live among people. Recent studies have shown that the virus can also be transmitted from pregnant mothers to their babies, and by sexual intercourse with an infected person. It has also been found in saliva and urine but is not known if a viable virus can be transmitted from these fluids.

 

What happens if you have Zika?

Most people who have the Zika virus are believed to not show any symptoms. The 20% of infected people who do show symptoms of the Zika virus have a fever, joint pains, conjunctivitis, and a rash for around three days. In general, the symptoms resemble those of a mild flu accompanied by a rash. Since those same symptoms can also be produced by other viruses and end after a few days, infection with Zika could be easily overlooked. Given the recent information about Zika probably causing more health problems than expected, anyone with these symptoms should see a doctor straight away.

 

If the virus only caused such mild symptoms, it probably wouldn’t have made the news. However, since it appears to be linked to a higher incidence of microcephaly, and may also be associated with a higher incidence of Guillain-Barre syndrome, there is more cause for concern. The cases of microcephaly (much smaller than normal skulls) in babies have happened with mothers who had the Zika virus while they were pregnant, and those babies were also shown to be infected with the virus after they were born.

 

Where does it occur? In Ecuador?

Outbreaks of the Zika virus have occurred in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. In 2015, cases were found in Brazil, and then in several other countries in South and Central America. Recently, cases of Zika virus were also found in Hawaii and Texas in people who had either traveled to Brazil or had sexual intercourse with someone who had been to Brazil.

 

Although the virus has been found in Ecuador, according to the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism, it has only been found in a few provinces, does not appear to be widespread, and efforts are being made to control mosquitoes in many areas.

 

Is it safe to travel to Ecuador?

For most travelers, this is the biggest question. According to the WHO, “There should be no restrictions on travel or trade with countries or areas with Zika virus transmission”.

They also mentioned that “Travellers to areas with Zika virus transmission should be provided with up to date advice on potential risks and appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites”.

 

In other words, the WHO believes that travelers to Ecuador (and Brazil, where the chance of catching Zika is much higher) shouldn’t cancel their trip but should be aware of how to avoid being bit by mosquitoes. In fact, since the mosquitoes that can carry Zika probably do not occur above 2,000 meters, most montane areas of the country are probably free of the virus in any case.

 

This conclusion is echoed by the USA Center for Disease Control in their recommendation for a Level Two Alert that advises “travel with enhanced precautions”. In other words, they suggest taking precautions to avoid mosquito bites as well as using a condom during sexual relations with males. They also advise pregnant women to consider postponing their trips and to consult their physician before going on the trip.

 

How to prevent Zika

Although researchers are working on a vaccine, it isn’t expected to be available for at least ten years. In the meantime, the main defense against Zika lies in precaution against mosquito bites. If you are traveling to any area with mosquitoes (in Ecuador, this could mean most areas of the country, but especially areas below 2,000 meters), you could use use long sleeves and long pants, DEET repellent, permethrin treated clothing, and sleep in screened rooms, rooms with air conditioning, or under mosquito nets.

 

 

 

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Exploring the Amazon at the Huaorani Ecolodge

The Amazon rainforest covers a vast area, the majority of which is in Brazil. However, substantial areas of the largest rainforest in the world are also located within the borders of Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. As with many parts of the Amazon basin, the wildest areas in eastern Ecuador are the places that lack roads. It would be foolhardy indeed to attempt to explore such areas on your own, but fortunately, you don’t have to if you want to experience one of the most remote corners of Eastern Ecuador.

Take a trip to the Huaorani Ecolodge and the real journey starts with a canoe ride down a wild, jungle river. As the boat goes downstream, watch the forest edge to see if you can spot monkeys, parrots, and other jungle wildlife.

Once you reach the lodge, a local guide accompanies you on hikes through beautiful primary rainforest. He will help you explore the forest by pointing out certain useful plants, and looking for animals high up in the cathedral-like canopy, and hidden in the undergrowth. Keep a close eye on the vegetation and you might spot well-camouflaged insects, lizards, and other jungle creatures. Your guide will also show you how to use a blowgun and demonstrate a few other survival tips, as well as introduce you to the local Huaorani community.

A trip to the Huaorani Ecolodge is the safest and most exciting way to explore the Amazon!

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Escape the Winter in Ecuador

For many folks in North America and Europe, the cold, gray days of December are here again. No matter how much people enjoy the holiday season, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that they are in for two or three more months of freezing cold weather. On some of the coldest days, more than one person has wondered what the weather must be like way down south on the equator. Well, we can tell you exactly what to expect!

Situated right on the equator, Ecuadorenjoys the same, beautiful weather all year long. To escape the snow, you might like a walk on the beach. There are several beautiful ones to choose from on the Pacific coast and we can guarantee that you won’t be cold.

One of Ecuador's beautiful beaches.

After the beach, make the most of the tropical climate with a boat ride through the mangroves near Guayaquil. Or, visit unique tropical dry forest in and near Machalilla National Park. For an easy blend of adventure and possible whale sightings, take a boat ride to Isla de la Plata.

If you still need to warm up after the cold days of  a northern December, pay a visit to the warm, humid rainforests of eastern Ecuador at the Huaorani Ecolodge.

Rainforest hike at the Huaorani Ecolodge.

To round out the winter escape, take an exciting cruise in the Galapagos Islands.

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Highlights from the Train Tour in Ecuador

Deciding upon an itinerary for Ecuador can be a challenge. After looking into possibilities, it can seem that this exciting country almost has too much to offer. One of those exciting possibilities is the train tour. Buy a ticket for this train and you will experience stunning High Andean scenery, visits to local markets, and more while traveling in comfort on a beautiful vintage train. These are some of the other highlights when taking the train in Ecuador:  
  • Cozy Haciendas, Quaint Inns: After riding the easy-going rails during the day, nights are spent in classic haciendas and small inns surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery.
  • Visit a Glacier: On the second day of the tour, the train pulls into Urbina station, a stop located at 11,840 feet (3,600 meters) above sea level. The station is also located near the Chimborazo glacier and passengers will actually visit it with one of Ecuador’s last ice traders.
  • Authentic Andean Cuisine: If you thought the food was good in Quito (and it is!), just wait until you try the local delicacies in the markets and haciendas visited during the train tour.
  • The Devil’s Nose Descent: This is the name of a famous, steep decent down the Pacific slope of central Ecuador. This feat of engineering takes the train through several switchbacks for 800 meters down a nearly vertical slope.

Want to experience stunning scenery and activities from the comfort of a beautiful, vintage train? Get tickets for the train in Ecuador!

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Why are the Galapagos Islands a Bucket List Destination?

Everyone has their own set of bucket list destinations. Paris is one of the most common bucket list cities but it’s also one of the easiest to visit. The Great Wall of China also makes it onto the destination lists of some people, as does Mount Kilamanjaro, and other famous sites. Take a look at the bucket lists of folks starting out with travel or having visited dozens of countries, and you will probably see the Galapagos Islands written there.

This archipelago is famous for many reasons and not just for its history. Visit the Galapagos and you cruise through a series of scenic volcanic islands set in what seems like the middle of the ocean. While the spectacular views are enough to warrant a cruise, visitors to the Galapagos also experience a host of unique and amazing wildlife.

The sea cliffs are alive with calling seabirds flying to and from their nests. In the ocean, pods of dolphins might swim past and eagle rays make occasional leaps out of the water. The rocks at the shore host brightly colored Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Marine Iguanas, and sunning Sea Lions. On land, we can visit a breeding center for Galapagos Giant Tortoises and watch unique mockingbirds and Darwin’s Finches hop around. All of these animals are also tame and make fantastic photography subjects. Add wonderful food and drink on a comfortable ship, and a trip to this bucket list destination also becomes a memorable trip of a lifetime.

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The Amazon Experience at the Huaorani Ecolodge

A visit to the Amazon can take the form of a trip to a local town, a boat ride down a river, a stay at a lodge where the primary rainforest has been cut down, or an authentic experience that includes local Amazonian native peoples and wildlife in primary Amazonian rainforest. The latter experience is the exception because although general ideas about the Amazon basin often involve stories of deep, dark forests haunted by Jaguars, Anacondas, and other exotic jungle animals, this is pretty far from the truth. Yes, big cats and large snakes do occur but they are shy, difficult to see, and only live in remote areas. Most areas along roads and other easily accessible sites have been deforested, and few animals can be seen there.

A river flows through the Amazon rainforest.

An authentic Amazonian experience is possible but involves some travel, and a stay at a unique ecolodge. This is what we find at the Huaorani Ecolodge, and getting to and from this award winning lodge is part of the adventure. For example, after a short plane ride from Quito, Ecuador to the Amazonian lowlands, guests board dug-out canoes and travel down a river through intact Amazonian rainforest. There aren’t any roads to the lodge and it shows with wildlife being seen on the trail cams at the ecolodge and by guests hoping to spot toucans, monkeys, and, for lucky ones, a Tapir. After a few exciting days of hikes through primeval jungle, learning about Huaorani culture, and learning some jungle survival tips from people who actually use such skills to survive, guests leave the lodge with another boat ride along a remote jungle river.

A trail cam at the Huaorani Ecolodge captures a view of an Amazonian Tapir.

Visit the Huaorani Ecolodge for a true Amazon experience.

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Family Fun in the Galapagos Islands

There are many reasons for visiting the Galapagos Islands. This exciting destination makes it onto the bucket list of most travelers on account of its unique wild beauty, interesting endemic wildlife, and history. It’s also a wonderful place to experience by way of a cruise ship, especially when the ship comes with a certified naturalist guide, comfortable berths, and delicious meals.

The unique beauty of the Galapagos also make this archipelago a fine destination for a romantic getaway, and as a fun, fantastic family vacation. These are a few of the reasons why the Galapagos are just as fun for the family as they are for couples and the adventurous, single traveler:

  • Comfortable: Did we already mention comfortable? It always deserves a second mention when taking a cruise in these beautiful islands. There are several ships to choose from and they vary in terms of amenities but all are going to give every traveler a comfortable, easy-going experience.
  • Adventure: Yes, a visit to the Galapagos is a blend of comfort and adventure. The naturalist guide will take you on hikes through unique landscapes, point out flamingos and other exotic birds, and explain how to tell the difference between Land and Marine Iguanas.
  • Giant Tortoises: Kids of all ages love seeing these huge reptiles, and you can’t see them anywhere else. Learn about them at breeding centers for these amazing reptiles.
  • Beautiful beaches: Visit them during the cruise and spend some quality time with the family on quiet beaches after the tour is over.

Take the family to the Galapagos, Ecuador for a trip of a lifetime!

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Chocolate Tasting in Quito, Ecuador

Ecuador’s colonial capital city, Quito, has a lot to offer. Take a walking tour to learn about and see colonial sites, do day trips from Quito to the Mitad del Mundo Monument and other sites, or explore the city on your own. Not to mention, you can also sample some of the very best chocolate on the planet.

Seriously!

The chocolate in Ecuador is very good and the Pacari company has worked hard to produce some of the best in the world. In 2013, at the International Chocolate Awards World Final in London, Pacari competed against several other premium chocolate makers and took home several gold medals for their unfinished dark bars. Their success comes from working hard to find the best national beans, only using the finest organic ingredients, and producing chocolate in small batches. This results in superior, unparalleled chocolate that you can learn about and try on a chocolate tasting tour.

Take the tour to Pacari’s tasting room in Quito and you will learn how organic chocolate is made, and how their certified process provides more benefits to local communities. Partakers in the tour also learn about ten varieties of Pacari chocolate bars. Best of all, though, take the tour and you also get a complimentary gift box of some of the very best chocolate in the world!

Have time to kill in Quito? The Pacari chocolate tasting tour is a good choice.

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The Delights of Ecuadorian Cuisine

When we travel, we don’t just board planes to dive coral reefs, hike in areas with spectacular mountain scenery, and experience world-class bucket-list destinations. We also travel to experience local culture and food is always a big part of the local scene. We like to taste cuisine that we can’t find at home, and sample the delicacies associated with different regions within the same country.

Although Ecuadorian cuisine has yet to make big waves on the international foodie circuit, anyone who travels to Ecuador comes to the quick realization that the trip is going to be a delicious one. When it comes to good food, Ecuador has a lot more to offer than most people realize, and given the long history of Ecuador and the nation’s very different regions, this should really come as no surprise.

Upon arrival in Quito, you can sample scrumptious potato-based dishes, other high-Andean fare, and even sample gourmet, locally produced chocolate.

After leaving Quito, stays in haciendas near Otavalo and other highland areas are accompanied by hearty, high-Andean recipes that are made with local produce, and cooked with care.

Venture into the Amazonian lowlands, and you will enjoy meals accompanied by fresh fruit juices, plantains, and other jungle ingredients.

Fare on the other side of the mountains has some similarities but also includes fantastic, fresh seafood.

Get ready for a fantastic eating experience on a trip to Ecuador. You can also learn how to make some of those delicious recipes!

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Discovery and Adventure on a Trip to Ecuador

There’s a very good reason why you may have seen ads for visiting Ecuador during sports events, online, and other venues. To put it plainly, this exciting South American country is quickly taking center stage as one of the newest, must-see places on the globe.

The reasons for visiting Ecuador are too many to mention and that about sums up why thousands of people are scheduling trips to this equatorial nation. The following are a small sampling of adventurous activities and places awaiting discovery during an Ecuadorian trip:

  • Otavalo: This famous market town is a bucket list destination of its own. The colorful indigenous market at Otavalo is filled with handicrafts, hats and scarves made from fine Alpaca wool, and other locally made wares.
  • Bungee jumping in Banos: Although this highland town is most famous for wonderful hot springs, you can also go bungee jumping into a deep Andean canyon, enjoy the scenery in the surrounding countryside from a mountain bike, horse, or hike, and rush down a mountain river on a raft.

    Bungee jumping in Banos.

  • Quito: Ecuador’s capital colonial city has plenty to discover. See Spanish cathedrals and old plazas on a tour through the colonial sector of the city, sample locally made chocolate, and discover Ecuadorian cuisine.
  • The Galapagos Islands: Few places beckon for discovery and adventure more than the Galapagos. Sign up for a cruise to experience the wonder and beauty of this unique archipelago.

    Blue-footed Boobies in the Galapagos.

These are just a few things to add to an Ecuador itinerary. Of course the best way to experience this exciting country is to go to Ecuador and discover it for yourself.

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