Treasured Travel Destinations of Latino Americans

We figured Hispanic Heritage Month could inspire some of us to look to our homelands as we plan – or dream – about our next vacation. It’s easy to overlook the stunning diversity of landscapes in the Caribbean and Latin America.

NBC News Latino asked some of our friends to share their special places when they go visit their families’ native countries. We got back some beautiful pictures and unique locations.

Mexico

It’s hard to pick where to travel to in Mexico, because it has so much diverse beauty in its more than 30 states. Cancún, and Tulum, which both reside on the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, continue to be winning beach destinations year after year. The capital, Mexico City, is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, with 16 boroughs and more than 300 neighborhoods. In addition to being a lead city in the arts, it is also home of the Aztec archaeological ruins of Teotihuacan.

Jaime Davila’s family is originally from General Terán in Nuevo León. Also known as the“Breakaway Backpacker,” Davila is currently on his second trip around the world and just happened to be in Mexico. He said this has been his favorite gem so far:

Image: Guanajuato, Mexico.
(Photo/JAIME DAVILA) Guanajuato, Mexico.

“Get lost in one of the many callejones, “alleys,” that make up this colonial city set on hills,” said Davila. “As you wander its cobblestone streets, you’re met with an array of color. You can’t help but smile with joy and wonder how it’s kept its charm for so long. Even though it is filled with many attractions, the best thing to do, when visiting, is to just get lost and soak it all in.”

Chile

With its amazing stargazing at the Atacama Desert, its ancient moai statues on Easter Island, and beautiful ski slopes during (our) summer, Chile placed second on Yahoo Travel’s “World’s Top 10 Countries” this year.

Andrea Farah, who is from the capital, Santiago, visited this luscious place in southern Chile in 2011 and has loved it ever since:

Image: Termas Geometricas.
(Photo/ANDREA C. FARAH) Termas Geometricas, Chile.

Termas Geometricas has been one of the most breathtaking sites I have been to – there is so much peace and beauty there,” said Farah. “I literally felt full of energy visiting the Termas. I would definitely recommend anyone visiting Chile to go to there. There are hot springs in the middle of the forest! It can’t get any better than that,” she shared.

Loreto Riveros Fraser, also from Santiago, loves visiting the city of Valparaíso about an hour away from her hometown.

Image: A trolleybus and the Turri Clock Tower behind it in the Financial District of Valparaiso, Chile. (Photo/LORETO RIVEROS FRASER) A trolleybus and the Turri Clock Tower behind it in the Financial District of Valparaiso, Chile.

“I took this photo in February while I was visiting my family after two years,” said Riveros Fraser. “It is special, because it is a family tradition to go and ride the trolleybus, and I haven’t done that in a long time,” she shared.

Bolivia

Bolivia, like Peru, was part of the Inca Empire before Spanish colonization. The land-locked country has many beautiful spots to visit such as Lake Titicaca and Madidi National Park.

Ingrid Matias, whose family originates from Bolivia, recommended this unique location:

Image: Salar de Uyuni, salt water flats in southwest Bolivia.
(Photo/INGRID MATIAS) Salar de Uyuni, salt water flats in southwest Bolivia.

“If you’ve ever wanted to walk on the clouds, Uyuni is the place to visit,” she said, adding that everyone who visits el Salar must join a tour group. “The whole tour lasts three days.”

Image: Hotel-Museo del Sal in Salar de Uyuni.
(Photo/INGRID MATIAS) Hotel-Museo del Sal in Salar de Uyuni.

“We didn’t stay in Hotel-Museo del Sal, because it’s a museum now, but we did stay at a salt hotel in a nearby town,” she told us. “The bed frames were made of salt. The walls were made of salt.”

Puerto Rico

The island of Puerto Rico is just a gem in itself. Walking through colonial San Juan, and climbing to El Morro brings you back to the 16th century. You can also take a ferry to visit some of the world’s most beautiful beaches off the islands of Culebra and Vieques.

Jessica Caban, who is from the northwestern city of Aguadilla, said she has been to the El Yunque Rainforest twice already and can’t get enough:

Image: El Yunque National Forest in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
(Photo/JESSICA CABAN) El Yunque National Forest in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

“There is a small rock ledge that you could stand on – on your way up to the highest peak – where you can see a large part of the forest and feel the clouds on your skin,” said Caban about El Yunque, a rainforest that is part of the U.S. National Park Service (Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth). “It’s actually a very breathtaking view, but quite scary, – the ledge is small, and there are no guard rails so you can fall off!” she said.

Caban also loved hearing the coquis (small tree frogs native only to Puerto Rico), butterflies and parrots, as well as the waterfalls and rivers one can bathe in.

Priscilla Rivera from Luquillo loves this hidden treasure of Puerto Rico that she recently visited:

Image: Rio Camuy Caves in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
(Photo/PRISCILLA RIVERA) Rio Camuy Caves in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

“You basically have to go through someone’s backyard to get to this particular cave and waterfall system,” said Rivera. “On the way there, you walk along a very steep mountain, almost on your tippy toes, and then once you reach the cave, you have to jump in ice-cold water to get inside of it.”

The tour of the cave itself is about two hours long, she said, and it requires maximum physical fitness – as well as not being afraid of cave spiders and bats.

“I thought I wouldn’t make it through all of the different entrances of the cave because of claustrophobia, but the equipment they give you and a well-trained tour guide helped a lot,” said Rivera. “Once you get out of the cave, you go through this tunnel waterfall system on your back – body rafting.”

Peru

Recently named the leading cultural and culinary destination by the World Travel Awards, Peru is the home of the majestic 15th-century Inca site, Machu Picchu, the mysterious Nazca Lines, located in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru, and some of the world’s most genetically diverse crops.

Jonathan Siu, originally from Lima, Peru, shared some of his favorite, less known locations in his native country:

Image: Paracas, a desert reserve located near Las Islas Ballestas.
(Photo/JONATHAN SIU) Paracas, a desert reserve located near Las Islas Ballestas.

“The first thing that comes to my mind is the peacefulness of the area,” said Siu. “AlthoughParacas is becoming a resort-esque city, it still conveys a local, almost familiar ambience. I took this picture on my way to the Ballestas Islands.”

Image: Village of Huacachina, five hours south of Lima.
(Photo/JONATHAN SIU) Village of Huacachina, five hours south of Lima.

Huacachina is a small village that surrounds a natural oasis in the desert of Ica,” he said. “We got there after taking a buggy ride and sand boarding throughout the desert dunes. It is truly a magical place. On this particular day, the weather was not on our side, hence the contrast between the dark skies and the whiteness of the sand.”

Dominican Republic

From its 16th century castles and monasteries to its tropical green hills and turquoise beaches, the Dominican Republic is a favorite destination for many. Catherine Cuello, co-founder of the Greenhopping app, says these two places from her native Dominican Republic make her feel at peace, calm, and serene.

Image: Puerto Bahia in Samana, Dominican Republic.
(COURTESY CATHERINE CUELLO) Puerto Bahia in Samana, Dominican Republic.

“It’s my place to unwind and re-power to be able to handle New York City,” says Cuello. “It’s my safe haven and my piece of bliss.”

Image: A view of the beach in Barahona, Dominican Republic.
(COURTESY CATHERINE CUELLO) A view of the beach in Barahona, Dominican Republic.

Brazil

There doesn’t seem to be a single person who doesn’t have Brazil on their “bucket list” of places to visit, and it’s with good reason.

Rio de Janeiro is home to the iconic Ipanema Beach, the largest art statue in the world –Christ the Redeemer– and of course Rio’s annual Carnival held during the Friday to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Denise Oliveira, from Rio de Janeiro, shared with us her family’s favorite location:

Image: Marau Peninsula, town of Barra Grande, state of Bahia in Brazil.
(Photo/NESTOR MACIEL) Marau Peninsula, town of Barra Grande, state of Bahia in Brazil.

“Barra Grande Beach in Bahia has become my family’s favorite vacation destination in Brazil,” said Oliveira, “…it has the most beautiful scenery in the country, and the food is amazing.”

 Originally published on NBCNews.com.

 

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New global lingerie company employs single mothers in Medellín

Naja founder, Catalina Girald (Photo/Camilo Echeverri)

Naja founder, Catalina Girald (Photo/Camilo Echeverri)

Colombian-born Catalina Girald was a mergers and acquisitions attorney at a prestigious law firm for four years when she left to get an MBA from Stanford University in 2006. Little did she know, however, that the sewing and design classes she took for fun while an attorney at NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology would actually lead to her next career.

In 2007, Girald founded one of the first venture-funded fashion sites for independent designers – Moxsie – which was sold to Fab.com two years later. And this year, she began an international web-driven lingerie brand called Naja.

It all started when one of her undergarments was “falling apart,” explains Girald, saying she thought to herself, ‘Why can’t they be the same quality as in Colombia?’

Apart from the quality, the Latina entrepreneur says she was also concerned about the cost of lingerie. “I wanted to found a brand that had an accessible price for consumers.”

So Girald, based in San Francisco, created a business plan – but with a deeper mission. Her goal included making sure her brand empowered women – something she feels was currently missing from stores.

“They use a hypersexualized type of photography, and when I look at that, it doesn’t look like me,” says Girald about other mainstream lingerie brands.

So she set out to create a line that makes women feel good about both wearing the lingerie – and about the company itself.

“We train and employ single mothers in Medellín,” Girald says about Naja. “Every purchase you make is a contribution to the employment to a single mother in a poor area. If you buy lingerie, you’re helping women in need.”

From Medellín herself, Girald explains that Naja partnered with the Golondrinas Foundation – an organization that educates children of poor families by also educating their parents.

“We partnered with them on their sewing program,” says Girald. “When you order lingerie, you get a free wash bag and half of that amount goes to the training program, and the other half goes directly to the women we employ.”

Meticulous thought went into the crafting of Naja, from its humanitarian concept to using quality materials and designs from local artists, explains Girald.

“We spent a lot of time interviewing women to find out what they wanted,” says Girald, who is in her mid-30’s. “On May 3, an engineer and I moved to Colombia, to my parents’ house, because we didn’t have any money to start the company.”

After working on the concept, Girald says Naja ended up as a brand which primarily flatters women over the age of 28.

“That’s when women’s bodies start changing,” she explains. “Our cuts are designed to cover up bellies. There’s a double layer in the front – it is comfortable and beautiful.”

Some of the articles of clothing have [motivational] quotes – “so you can feel a little bit better about day.”

Girald also gushes about the texture of the cotton used for Naja garments – the samples of which she cuts herself.

“In order to be designated Pima cotton, it comes from a part region in Peru that has a particular soil that makes the cotton feel creamy,” says Girald. “We spent four months researching our (bra) cups which are 70 percent memory foam and 30 percent polyurethane. You can put them in a suitcase or washing machine, and they won’t break.”

As far as the future goes, Girald says she hopes Naja grows into a really large brand that’s accessible to most people, and also employs lots of people.

“My ultimate dream is to help women in the U.S. with employment,” says the businesswoman.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com

Latina Leaders: Former intelligence officer in the Air Force pays it forward

Sandra Tibbs (Photo/Kelsey Borlan Lee)

Sandra Tibbs (Photo/Kelsey Borlan Lee)

At 34, Sandra Tibbs already served in the U.S. Air Force for 10 years, and now she is using her experience leading a crew of 1,200 as an officer in military intelligence to empower others.

Three years ago, Tibbs founded Neverest Solutions, a consultancy firm that trains corporate, government, and small business executives to be better leaders. Based in San Antonio, Tibbs travels the country giving workshops and leadership development training sessions which teach conflict resolution, strategic thinking, male-female dynamics, and how women can become influential leaders.

Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from Peru. I was born in Lima. I came to the states when I was 17 to live the American Dream. My dream was to join the U.S Air Force, because the opportunities in Peru in the military aren’t the same as here. I just had a little money my mom gave me, and I stayed with one of my mom’s friends for six months in Austin until I found my own place. My first job was Taco Bell. I worked there while I studied English in order to take the test to enter the Air Force. I joined the Air Force when I was 18.

What was your best experience being in the military?
I didn’t really believe in myself or my capabilities. For me, the Air Force was such a blessing, because it helped me find what I was capable of and people that believed in me. When I was enlisted, I was approached by one of my supervisors, and they thought I should apply for ROTC and become an officer. The military does a great job in investing in the development of their leaders in every level. I was taken out of my comfort zone. I was always afraid of speaking in front of people because of my accent, but part of my job as an officer was to speak a lot to other leaders. It pushed me so I could achieve and grow and have an impact. I realized leaders are not born, they’re made. And I began to think, “How can I help others?”

What were the skills you learned that helped you in your business today?
I was in charge of collecting important information needed for decision makers to make the right decision. You have to think a lot at the strategic level. A lot of pieces come into play to give the right recommendations. We never have all the facts so we have to gather what we have and make an objective, informed decision.

What did you study?
When I was in the Air Force for about a year, I started going to college. I got a bachelor’s in biology, because I was thinking I was going to be a doctor, but intelligence sounded like a lot of fun, so I followed that and got a master’s in organizational leadership. Now., I’m in my third year of PhD studies in organizational leadership.

What is the most important piece of advice you give to your clients?
One of the biggest things is we have to be aware of who we are and what we stand for, what our values are, and what we want for ourselves. Be aware of what we are willing to compromise and what we are not. As we move up in an organization, we’re going to have to make decisions that are difficult. Everyone should have an idea of their ideal leader. When you have that idea of who your ideal leader is, you have to ask yourself what would my ideal leader do in a difficult situation?

What is the most important piece of advice ever given to you?
We are the only ones who can limit ourselves. It doesn’t matter what others say. People are going to doubt you, because they don’t know what you are capable of, but you have to believe in yourself and your purpose. You are going to attract the things that go with you. When you try to be something for everyone and please everyone, you are going to be attracting people that will not be of service to you. If everybody likes you, you’re doing something wrong.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Seeing people grow as leaders and have them have a positive impact on their organization. I just finished a group training program, and it was priceless to see how engaged those people were. For me to see that, and how they’re implementing the tools they learned, that’s amazing. The things you see in successful leader – they are always learning and growing. They are always thinking, “What can I do to be a more effective leader?”

Thoughts this Veteran’s Day?
I was blessed with the people I got to work with. I learned so much from the airmen, senior officers, everybody I became in contact with in my Air Force career. That is the reason I’m the leader I am today. I admire the people that are still serving. They are the heroes. They make so many sacrifices for us. I just want to honor them – those there right now and those that will come after us. Without them, we wouldn’t have the freedom to pursue our dreams and live the lives we life.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com

Cocktail: Pisco for the holidays

WhiteChristmas

Move over tequila and rum, pisco has arrived in the U.S., and it looks like it is here to stay. Learn how to make this special drink for the holidays.

Pisco, which means “little bird” in the Quechua language, is a clear distilled liquor made from grapes and named after the town of Pisco, located on the coast of Peru.

This heavenly drink is the fastest-growing spirit in the U.S. In 2010, pisco imports and sales grew an astounding 101 percent, according to the Comisión Nacional del Pisco in Peru. Within the past three years, more than a dozen different brands of Peruvian pisco have become available in the U.S.

This year, award-winning and world-respected pisco judge, television personality, chef and restaurateur, Johnny Schuler has begun to distribute his record breaking medal-winning brand, Pisco Portón, to 27 markets in the U.S., including Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Schuler describes good pisco as having a flavor more complex than a vodka and more subtle than a tequila.

“It is excellent for creating defining cocktails, as well as for savoring neat or as an apertif,” he says.

For Schuler, everything is about having a fully enjoyable experience. And as he wanted NBC Latino readers to have an unforgettable and beautiful pisco drink for the holidays, he excitedly invented a holiday cocktail just for us while visiting Nuela in New York City. He recommends drinking it while listening to Bing Crosby or Michael Bublé, and preferably while snowing outside.

Enjoy!

White Christmas

1.5 oz. Godiva chocolate liqueor
1.5. oz. Pisco Portón
1 oz. heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 muddled Brazil nut
cinnamon

Shake chocolate liqueor, pisco and heavy cream in a shaker and pour in a martini glass. In a separate shaker, shake sugar, .5 oz. of heavy cream and Brazil nut. When this mixture gets heavy, pour on a spoon to create a layer on top. Garnish with cinnamon.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Peruvian chef has a full plate at new La Mar

Victoriano López, executive chef of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Victoriano López, executive chef of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana (Photo/Kristina Puga)

“Don’t use those plates,” says Victoriano López, the executive chef of the recently opened La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, to one of his 20 line chefs, as he calmly reminds his new international team that they have new white plates from France and Germany.

“This is one of the details that differentiates us from La Mar in Lima,” the small-framed López says of the china.

Fans of Peruvian food have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a Gastón Acurio restaurant in the city, so their hope is that not much else is different from the acclaimed original.

New York‘s La Mar opened two weeks ago in the high-ceilinged former home of Tabla at 11 Madison Ave.

Originally from the Ancash region of Peru, López says that he became aware of Acurio almost two decades ago while watching one of the first of his many TV cooking programs.

After being mesmerized by the variety of plates and ingredients and trying to learn the innovative Peruvian recipes he saw Acurio and his wife, Astrid, create on the tube, he went to the couple’s flagship restaurant in Lima, Astrid y Gastón, to meet his hero.

“He asked me how do you know me?” recalls López in his native Spanish. “He gave me a job as his assistant one week later. He has helped me so much – not only in learning about the kitchen, but like a father, because my parents didn’t have the economic means to help me. I am so grateful to him.”

Now López, 40, who never had formal culinary school training has been trusted with leading the kitchen at Acurio’s 29th restaurant worldwide – his first on the U.S. East Coast.

“The advice I can give Victoriano is to be himself,” Acurio said via e-mail of the chef he’s worked with for 17 years. “He has a big heart, talent, ability and overflows with modesty.”

López had to leave his family in Peru while their visas are processed, is living outside of his homeland for the first time and is working from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. – but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“We spend about 18 hours together every day,” laughs Luis Jaramillo, his Ecuadoran sous-chef, who was previously at One If by Land, Two If by Sea in the West Village. “I was always inspired by Gastón … but now I am inspired by Victoriano.”

López says he doesn’t have a favorite dish on the La Mar menu, where prices range from $12 to $39 for appetizers and entrées.

But eight of La Mar’s famous ceviches are on the menu, including Elegance, a lime-drenched and slightly spicy warm-water fluke with red onions, Peruvian corn and little yam balls, and Lopez’s specialty, Maine lobster grilled over corn husks and drowned in a tangy ceviche sauce.

While López waits for his wife and three school-age kids to join him in New York, he also dreams about opening his own restaurant one day.

“I teach the philosophy of Gastón, passion for the kitchen,” he says. “We have no secrets.”

Originally published in the NY Daily News.