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Santuario de las Lajas is one of the world’s most beautiful churches

Not only is this Basilica church one of the world’s most beautiful, it’s also located in the one of the most scenic spots. Santuario de las Lajas church is located in the southern department of Narino in Colombia and was erected within a canyon above the Guáitara River.

Though the church may look old, it’s actually less than a century since it was built. The name Laja comes from the type of rock that was used to create it.

RELATED: 740 steps lead to the top of this monolithic rock formation in Colombia

The church has an interesting history. In the mid-18th century a mother and her deaf daughter were caught in a fierce storm. To survive, the pair took refuge in the canyon, after which the daughter said “the Mestiza is calling me” and an illuminated silhouette appeared. After this event, the spot quickly became a popular pilgrimage with many people reporting to be miraculously healed.

Several myths have since been linked to the church. There is mysterious image of the Virgin Mary which is now behind the alter at the back of the church, its origins unknown

The first shrine was erected in the early 19th century and was made from straw and wood. It was later enlarged and replaced with stone and a bridge that connected both sides of the canyon.  It was then replaced again with the current stone church between 1916 and 1949. It was canonised by the Vatican in 1952 and made a minor basilica in 1994.

RELATED: Discover tours of Colombia

The impressive basilica rises 100m from the canyon floor, connected by a 50m tall stone bridge. On the other side of the canyon is a tall waterfall which only adds to the magic of this spot.

To visit the Santuario de las Lajas or any part of Colombia, give one of our specialists a call on +44 (0) 207 407 1478, send us a message here or take a look at our Colombian tour suggestions.

The oasis in the middle of the Peruvian desert

Huacachina oasis Peru 3

Five minutes from the southern town of Ica and an hour form Pisco lies the Huacachina, a town tucked away in the rolling folds of the Peruvian desert and wrapped around a real life oasis. This lake between the dunes in the Peruvian desert is no mirage.

RELATED: 10 of the best national parks in Latin America

The oasis has an interesting folklore tale begin it. Legend says the lake was created by a young Peruvian maiden named Huacay China whose betrothed was killed in battle. The maiden ran to the spot where she last saw him and cried until a lake formed around her. When another solider tried to take her for his own, she fled in fear and her folds of her skirt created the waves of dunes. In fear she threw herself into water where she continues to live as a mermaid.

Huacachina oasis Peru 2

Today, Huacachina has become a thriving tourism destination with an infrastructure of hotels, restaurants and bars more opening all the time. The large dunes and lake create an outdoor playground for activities including sand boarding, canoeing, kayaking and swimming.

Tourism has put pressure on the lake, with an increasing demand for the water. Conscientious efforts to artificially keep the lake’s levels higher has had a positive effect. The rich sulphuric content which comes from the underground minerals keep the lake at a gorgeous emerald hue and the surrounding palms and eucalyptuses only add to the oasis’ charm.

RELATED: We’ve used thirty years’ experience to create the perfect 2-week holiday in Peru

Huacachina oasis Peru

The main draw for tourists is the excellent dune buggy rides and sand-boarding opportunities. The buggies hold between six and sixteen people and are fortunately protected by a roll cage and experience driver who take great delight in terrifying tourists as they plunge down the high dunes.

Sand-boarding works in much the same way as snow-boarding. Don’t expect a plethora of ski lifts or chairs – you’ll have to take exhausting climbs in the hot Peruvian desert heat to enjoy this adventure sport. However, the thrill is well worth it. If you can’t snow-board, don’t worry at all, you can simply sit on the board and hurtle down instead.

RELATED: Discover tours of Peru

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If all this sounds just too much energy, drop a towel down at the edge of the hotel pool or oasis and take periodical dips in the cool waters. The area makes for a perfect base from which to explore the Ballestas Islands, Nazca Lines and nearby Ica.

One of the most interesting parts of the day is when the sun sets over the rolling peaks, the desert comes alive with a sky of psychedelic colours that bounce off the lake.

Want to visit Huacachina and the oasis in the desert? Or thinking about a tour throughout Peru or Latin America? Call us on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 to speak with a specialist, send us a message here or take a look at our Peru tours.

10 strange creatures from Latin America

The world is fully of wondrous creatures, like the jaguar which roams the jungles of Latin America. However, some evolved to be a little weird looking. One must always remember a quote from Darwin when thinking of these animals.

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man”
– Charles Darwin

Rosy-lipped batfish

The rosy-lipped batfish and red-lipped batfish which hail from Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands. As you will notice, their most prominent feature if their bright human-like lips. These poor swimmers have specially adapted fins which they use to walk along the ocean bed.

Frogfish

The odd looking frogfish uses its camouflage to both protect themselves from predators and lure in prey. The frogfish moves very slowly before striking at their prey in as little as 6 milliseconds. They can be found in the waters around Cocos Island, Costa Rica.

Amazon horned frog

Also known as the Surinam horned frog, this large amphibian inhabits the rainforests and mangroves of the Amazon Basin and grow up to 20cms long. They are most active at night and use their long tongue to catch prey.

Hoatzin

These pheasant-sized birds, which live in a huge area of the Amazon, may not look that strange, but it doesn’t get its nickname stinkbird for nothing. Its smell comes from the fermentation of food in the bird’s digestive system.

Axolotl

Also known as the Mexican salamander, this little amphibian originated in the lakes that underlie Mexico City. Interestingly, axolotls don’t undergo metamorphosis and spend their entire life living under the water using gills to breath.

White-faced saki monkey

These strange looking new world monkeys inhabit the jungles of French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil. They live in the lower canopy and feed from insects and fruit. The white-faced saki monkey mates for life and strengthens their bond by grooming.

Panda ant

These little creatures get their name from their distinct markings which resemble a panda. Found along the coastline of Chile, they are relatively rare and were only first discovered in the 30s. Though they are called ants, they are in fact a type of wingless wasp.

Venezuelan poodle moth

Only discovered in 2009 by Dr. Arthur Anker in Gran Sabana in Venezuela, not much is known about this cute little moth.

Blue parrotfish

The strangely beautiful and magical blue parrotfish can be found in the warm Caribbean waters along the coast of Colombia and Central America. Like other parrotfish, they develop beaks which they use to scrap the algae from rocks.

Pink fairy armadillos

These pygmy armadillos are tiny compared to other species of the same family, measuring up at only 10cms. They are slow movers, other than burrowing which they can do super-fast, particularly when threatened.

Would you like to see the strange wildlife of Latin America? Give us a call on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 to speak with one of our wildlife specialists or send us a message here.

10 of the best national parks in Latin America

Wild and untamed, the national parks of Latin America are havens for adventure seekers, wildlife enthusiasts, nature lovers and hikers. Here are 10 of our favourite throughout Latin America.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine needs no introduction. This southern Patagonian national park is one of the world’s most beautiful. Enormous granite mountains overlook turquoise lakes while wild guanacos and pumas roam and condors circle above. Wild and untamed, the national park’s trails weave through varied scenery, while boats take visitors past the lagoons, fjords, glaciers and waterfalls.

Suggested tour: W Trek

Tijuca National Park, Brazil

Tijuca

Tijuca National Park is interesting as it’s the largest urban forest in the world covering an area of 32 km². The forest, which is home to a staggering variety of wildlife including monkeys and exotic birds, is actually man made. The reclaimed land which was previously used to grow sugar and coffee had trees planted and in 1961 was declared a national park. Inside the park there are several monuments including the Casctinha Waterfall, the Mayrink Chapel and the famous Christ Redeemer statue.

Suggested tour: Brazil Kaleidoscope

Lauca National Park, Chile

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Lauca National Park sits right at the top of Chile near the bored with Peru and Bolivia. Nestled in the Andes mountain range, the park emcompasses an area of 1,379 km². Its remote location mean fewer tourists visit. It’s not uncommon to visit the park and not see another human being. What will be seen is plenty of species of wildlife. Llamas, vicuñas, guanacos, tarucas, alpacas, cougars, Andean condors, Chilean flamingos, Andean geese and crested ducks are all commonly sighted.

Suggested tour: Bespoke Chilean tour

Iguazu National Park, Argentina & Brazil

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Few know that the mighty Iguazu Fall sit within a park of the same name. While the huge waterfalls are one of the most visited natural wonder on the continent, few spend enough time here to explore the rest of the park. Those who do can be treated to sightings of colourful toucans, tapirs, ocelots, coatis, guans, eagles, caiman and even jaguars. There are several excellent lodges away from the waterfalls (and tourists) that are well worth visiting.

Suggested tour: Rhythms of Latin America

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio

One of our favourite destinations in Latin America and recommended spot for nature-lovers, bird-watchers and beach-dwellers. The palm fringed white-sand beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park are hard to drag yourself away from. But the effort is rewarded with gorgeous hiking trails along the rocky coast and through jungle inhabited with monkeys, racoons, seabirds and much more.

Suggested tour: Romance in Costa Rica

Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador

Cotapaxi

Another firm favourite. The Cotopaxi National Park shares its name with the inhabiting volcano, the highest in the world. The rugged beauty of the park, which resembles some of the Scottish Highlands, is excellent for hiking trails. Andean gulls, lapwings, ducks, hummingbirds and condors. Best combined with the journey down through the Avenue of Volcanoes to Cuenca.

Suggested tour: Cotopaxi & the Devil’s Nose

Tierra del Fuego National Park, Argentina

Tierra del Fuego

Dramatic peaks and glaciers make up most of the parks backdrop. While most visit in the summer stopping en route before taking a trip to the Antarctic, there are plenty of activities in the park during winter. Hike the trails with local guides, go trout fishing in the pristine lakes, horse ride, cross country skiing, husky sledding, snow cat tours and wildlife observing excursion.  An adventure playground.

Suggested tour: Patagonia Ice Trail

Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Tayrona

Tayrona National Park lies along Colombia’s vast Caribbean coastline. As you can imagine, the park’s beaches are white and palm-fringed with a rocky coastline of cliffs to dive into the refreshing ocean and coral reefs to explore by snorkel. Monkeys swing from the trees and iguanas bask in the midday sun. The best accommodation here are the Ecohabs which provide rustic cabanas perched on a hill surrounded by forest and overlooking the ocean. Bliss.

Suggested tour: Coffee Beans & Scenes

Manu National Park, Peru

Manu

This biosphere reserve located along the Madre de Dios is wonderful for bird watchers. Covering an staggeringly large area of 15,328 km², the park is home to over 15,000 plant species, 250 varieties of tree and more than 1,000 species of birds. That’s more bird species than the United States and Canada combined and almost 10% of the world’s bird species. You can also find ocelots, tapirs, caiman and playful giant otters. As the park is still fairly inaccessible, it’s best explored with the help of expert guides, hopping from one lodge to the next.

Suggested tour: Bespoke Peru tour

Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Tortuguero

Although the Tortuguero National Park is cut off from the rest of the country and only accessible by plane or boat, this doesn’t tourist adventurous travellers from visiting the far flung location. The canals that cut through the forests and mangroves are packed full of wildlife including toucans, alligators and monkeys. However, most come to respectable observe green turtles lay their eggs in the warm sand or see the young hatch and bravely make their way to the ocean.

Suggested tour: Jungles, Volcanoes & Beaches

If you would like to speak with a Latin American specialist, call us on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or send us a message here.

 

These are the only travel hacks you need to know

These simple travel hacks will save you time, money and energy. Give them a try and then let us know on Facebook what you think.

Use straws for your liquids

If you’re in need of shampoos, shower gels and cosmetics during your flight, straws make for excellent containers. Small enough to be under the 100ml limit, easy to carry and lightweight. To make, simply cut the desired length, fill and tape up the ends. Remember to label.

Go private when booking your flights online

When booking your flights online, be sure to have your private browser setting on. Flight booking engines can track if you have visited the site before and often put the price of flights up if you have returned. By searching on a private setting you will trick the flight search engine into thinking you are a new customer and provide you with the most competitive rates.

Pill containers are the best jewellery cases

Many people will carry a selection of jewellery when travelling. Those see through plastic weekly pill containers make perfect jewellery cases. Each section is large enough for a bracelet, small necklace or pair of earrings, keeping them safe and making them easy to find. Be sure to get a good quality pill box as the cheaper variety tend to open during transit.

Stuff your shirt collar with a rolled belt

If you’re travelling for a business meeting or just prefer to look smart, try rolling a belt and lining your shirt collar to keep it crisp. Unless you bring multiple belts, this only really works with one shirt which is best kept at the top of the clothing pile.

Stop clothes from wrinkling with tissue paper

One of the most common complaints is wrinkled clothes, particularly if you are travelling for an important occasion or for business. If your clothes have a tendency to wrinkle in luggage, layer tissue paper between the folds of the clothes which eliminates the problem.

Wrap your headphones around a binder clip

What is it about headphone cables getting tangled? You can guarantee that putting them in your pocket will ensure that you spend 5 minutes untangling them later. To solve the problem, try wrapping them around a bind clip which can then be clipped in a pocket or to your jacket. A useful hack anytime, not just when you are travelling.

Keep hair clips in a Tic Tac container

Keep hold of Tic Tac containers which have a hold load of uses, one of which is using them to store hair clips when you travel. Not only are they the perfect shape and size, the opener at the top means accessing your hair clips is super easy.

Stop chargers from breaking using pen springs

Wires, particularly phone chargers have a tendency to break, particularly during travelling when they receive heavy usage. It also often becomes much harder to find the correct replacement when you’re abroad. Try popping a pen spring over the wire which stops it from bending so easily, one of the main causes of wire breakage.

Using Google Maps with no data or Wi-Fi

Want to head out to explore a city by foot? You have two options here. Most people don’t know, but you can still see the little blue dot (where you are) on Google Maps without any data or Wi-Fi as it uses GPS. If you know where you are going, use the dot to navigate. Your second option is to plug into Google Maps where you are going before you leave the hotel. After it’s worked out the directions, it doesn’t require data or Wi-Fi any longer to get you to your destination.

Forgot your adaptor or wall plug?

travel hacking TV

No problem. If you have a TV or even a modern radio in your hotel room, they typically have a USB port which can be used to charge your device.

Stuff socks into your shoes

This one is surprisingly simple. Stuffing your socks into your shoes solves two problems. It saves precious space in your bag and helps to keep your shoes from becoming crushed.

Stuff your shoes into shower caps

Once your shoes have been stuffed with socks, pop them into shower caps to stop them making any of your clothes dirty. You don’t need to go and buy expensive shower caps, just take the free ones from your hotel room.

Would you love to travel to South America? For inspiration or advice, get in touch with one of our Latin American specialists on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or send us a message here.

Source: Lifebuzz

Delicious Baja-style Mexican fish taco recipes

Flickr: Barb Watson

Flickr: Barb Watson

They may be a bit of a faff to make, but you won’t be disappointed with these delicious Baja-style fish tacos. Get everything prepared, so once the fish has been fried you can serve up straight away. For a little more zing add extra lime juice and a few hot chillies.

We love to hear about your creations or new Latin American recipes. Head over to our Facebook to share photos and recipe ideas.

Serves: 6 people
Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

Batter
130g plain flour
1 small bottle of bear
A pinch of salt
Black pepper

Sauce
100mls sour cream
100mls crème fraiche
3tbs lime juice
zest of 1 lime
A pinch of salt
Black pepper

Salsa
2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1 cucumber, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 large chilli, finely chopped
1 lime, juice squeezed
1tbs oil
A pinch of salt
Black pepper

Fried fish
1kg halibut, skinned and cut widthways into 1cm strips
100g plain flour
Oil
A pinch of salt
Black pepper

The rest, to serve
Corn tortillas
Jalapenos
200g shredded cabbage
Handful of coriander, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Start by making the batter. Sieve the flour into a large bowl and add the seasoning. Gradually stir in the beer and mix until lump free. Leave in the fridge until use.
  2. To make the sauce, mix both the sour cream and crème fraiche in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, zest and seasoning and mix thoroughly. Leave in the fridge until use.
  3. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Leave in the fridge until use.
  4. Put a large frying pan on a high heat and add oil half way up. While the oil heats, put the mix the flour and seasoning on a large plate. Take the batter out of the fridge. Add a little salt and pepper to the fish fillets. Coat each fillet with the flour mix and then dip into the batter. Carefully drop into the hot oil and cook for 3 minutes at which point the batter should be golden. Use a slotted spoon to remove the fish and leave them on paper towels to drain.
  5. Heat the tortillas quickly in a dry frying pan. To serve place the tortilla on a plate and lay one or two pieces of the fried fish. Top with the sauce, salsa, shredded cabbage, chopped coriander and jalapenos and serve immediately. For extra zing, squeeze a little lime juice over the top.

Fresh fried tacos are best served with cold bottles of Mexican beer along accompanied by a wedge of fresh lime.

Want to try real fish tacos in Baja California or explore Mexico’s rich food heritage? No problem. Call us today on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or message us here to begin planning your trip. One of our Mexican experts will be on hand to talk you through the various options and provide inspiration for the trip.

Top 5 holidays in Argentina

At 2.7 million km², Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world. It’s therefore hardly surprising that geographically, the country is rather diverse. In the north, the colourful terracotta gorges and fertile vineyards give way to flat grasslands in the central region. Further south, towering glaciers and sparse windswept steppes inhabited by guanacos makes up the majority of the landscape.

Waves of Spanish, Italian, Welsh, Germans and other European nationalities have mixed with the indigenous cultures leaving a people that are equally diverse.

Such a large country cannot be fully explored within a two-week holiday, but deciding on where one should visit can often be tricky. Here is a rundown of 5 very different holidays which span the breadth of this beautiful country.

Enchanting Northwest – Buenos Aires, Salta, Cachi, Cafayate

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Packaged neatly into two weeks including international flights, this tour focuses on the colourful terracotta-tinted gorges and canyons of the northwest. During the thirteen-day tour visitors will hike, cycling amongst vineyards, learn about the history and production of wine making. We’ll also make time to discover the capital Buenos Aires and spend a night watching the famed Argentine dance at one of the many tango clubs.

To find out more or book Enchanting Northwest, click here.

Crossing the Andes & Plains – Santiago, Valparaiso, Mendoza, Buenos Aires, Pampas

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This unique tour crosses the width of the continent from the Valparaiso on the Pacific to Buenos Aires near the Atlantic. Begin in Chile’s capital Santiago which you will explore with a local guide and include a day trip to the colourful hilly port town Valparaiso. Cross over the mighty Andes into Argentina and stay outside Mendoza in the rich wine growing region. Surrounding by vineyards, you’ll have plenty of time to cycle, hike and sample some delightful Malbecs. Continue to the capital Buenos Aires, known also as the ‘Paris of South America’, and for good reason. You’ll spend your last days on a traditional ranch in the Pampas learning to horse ride, sharing a mate with gauchos and eating traditional Argentine asados.

To find out more or book Crossing the Andes & Plains, click here.

Wales & Welsh – Buenos Aires, Trelew, Valdes Peninsula, Bariloche

Puerto Madryl

A perfect blend of culture and wildlife, this eleven-day bespoke tour captures the beauty and rich history of both the Valdes Peninsula and the Lake District. A sizeable Welsh community immigrated to Chubut to farm the lands and left their mark which is still visible today. Tour the Valdes Peninsula watching waddling penguins, orcas, noisy sea lions and breaching southern right whales. In the heart of Argentina’s Lake District is Bariloche, an Alpine-style town looking like it came straight out of Switzerland. Here you’ll explore the town and hike the surrounding lake trails including the Arrayanes Forest with a guide.

To find out more or book Wales & Welsh, click here.

Wild Argentina – Buenos Aires, Pampas, Valdes Peninsula, Ibera Wetlands, Iguazu

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This is the tour for wildlife lovers, a thirteen-day wildlife extravaganza from the marine creatures on rocky Valdes Peninsula to the exotic creatures that inhabit the Ibera wetlands. After a short stay in Buenos Aires, you continue to the Pampas to spend several days learning to horse ride and bird watching. Fly down to the Valdes Peninsula and observe orcas, penguins, sea lion. You’ll also get up close to southern right whales on a boat trip. Fly north and stay in remote lodge in the Ibera Wetlands. This area has a high concentration of wildlife including howler monkeys, exotic bird life, caiman, storks and much more. Finish the tour at the mighty Iguazu Falls.

To find out more or book Wild Argentina, click here.

Patagonia Ice Trail – Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, El Chalten, El Calafate

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A tour for serious hikers and nature lovers. The emphasis of this trip is to explore Patagonia, and area of dramatic mountains, towering glaciers and rugged windswept steppe in Argentina’s southernmost region. After a day in Buenos Aires fly to Ushuaia, the world’s most southerly town. Here you’ll visit Tierra del Fuego National Park, take Beagle Channel cruise and Harberton Ranch. The rest of the time will be spent between El Calafate and El Chalten. Hike to Mt Fitz Roy base camp, trek to Laguna Torre and Laguna de los Tres and paddle along the crystal-clear waters of the Ovando River.

To find out more or book Patagonia Ice Trail, click here.

If you would like to speak with one of our Argentine specialists, call us on +44 (0) 207 408 1478 and start planning your trip of a lifetime today.

Fascinating Inca ruins to visit nearby Cuzco

Most who visit Cuzco have the aim of wandering through the nearby ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, and for good reason. It’s arguably the most spectacular of all Inca ruins, teetering on a hilltop shrouded by mist. But did you know that there are plenty of impressive Inca sites surrounding Cuzco, many of which are lesser visited that Machu Picchu? Here are 7 of the best:

Sacsayhuaman

This awesome Inca site located on a hill just outside Cuzco is gigantic. When the Spanish first arrived they recorded it as a military base, but it was later used as a place of worship. The structure is made from huge blocks of rock, some reaching metres in length and the largest weighing 125 tons. Try visiting during the Inti Raymi festival.

Q’enka

Another Inca site located just outside the city. These ruins were once dedicated to animals and the main building is formed from a circular amphitheatre. An enormous stone block in the centre reaches almost 6 metres and resembles the image of a puma. Another underground passages are adorned with images of animals and figures.

Tipon

Tipon located just 15 miles from Cuzco was through to once be home to a great population of Incas. The archaeological site has a series of megalithic buildings and a large area of agricultural area made up of terraced that ascend down the mountainside.

Tambomachay

Flickr: Ang

Flickr: Ang

Known as Baños del Inca or Inca’s spa, Tambomachay was a place of great importance to the Incas. The spring provided much of the populations water supply and was housed in walled construction. The water cascades down a series of small waterfalls. Water from the spring was offered to Inti, the god of the sun.

Puca Pucara

Flickr: Alain Rueff

Flickr: Alain Rueff

Located near to Tambomachay on a hilltop, this Inca ruin was used as a military outpost and defensive site for the spring. The circular fort would have once housed a series of inner rooms, turrets, windows and platforms from which the surrounding countryside would be watched.

Moray

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Moray is an archaeological site located about 30 miles away from Cuzco on a high plateau. The sites unusual as it consists of circular terraces and a sophisticated irrigation system. Although it is not clear why they were created in such a way, most agree that it to create the correct growing conditions. The temperature difference within the depressions can be considerably different.

Maras

Another fascinating Inca site, usually visited in combination with Moray, is Maras, a town which is well-known for its terraced salt evaporation ponds. Salty spring water flows into an irrigation system which channels the water over terraced platforms which then dry and leave the salt. They are still in use today.

Want to walk in the footsteps of the Incas? Select Latin America has been creating bespoke holidays to the region for over 30 years. Take a look at our suggested tours of Peru or get in touch with us today to begin planning your Inca adventure.

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