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Visit 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites on this Yucatan self-drive

Self drive map

The Yucatán peninsula in eastern Mexico borders both Belize and Guatemala and offers a diverse range of flora, fauna and vast host of UNESCO World Heritage sites including the Mayan ruin of Chichén Itzá, now one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’. The best way to visit the UNESCO ruins and colonial cities is by self-drive which offers the chance to spend as long or as little in each place you visit.

Arrive in Cancun, pick up your car hire and begin the journey. The first drive to Chichén Itzá takes around three hours.

Chichén Itzá

Chichen Itza MexicoThe remarkably well-preserved Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá are one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It’s best known for the huge step pyramid known as El Castillo. This ancient city thrived between 600 A.D. and 1,200. The complex includes a ball court, the Temple of the Warriors and the Wall of the Skulls all of which have graphic stone carvings. Each night, a sound and light show illuminates the complex.

Drive west for two hours to Merida.

Mérida

Merida Mexico

Flickr: Luiz Eduardo

Mérida is the capital of the Yucatan and one of the largest cities in Mexico and has the highest percentage of indigenous people of any Mexican city with over half the population being of Maya ethnicity. Though the city is not a UNESCO World Heritage site, this colonial city is well worth taking some time to explore.

Drive south for two hours to the ruins of Uxmal.

Uxmal

Uxmal Mexico

This ancient Mayan town founded in 700 A.D. once had over 25,000 inhabitants. The complex which was built between 700 and 1000 A.D. reveals that the people had knowledge of astronomy and includes the Pyramid of the Soothsayer, the Quadrangle of the Nuns, the Governor’s Palace, the House of the Tortoises, the Ball Court and ceremonial sites.

Drive for three hours to the coastal down of Campeche.

Campeche

The fortified harbor town of Campeche is a fine example of Spanish colonial architecture. The old city is surrounded by walls and a system of fortifications which are deigned to defend against piracy and attacks from the sea. It was once the most important seaport in Mexico and played a major role in the conquest of the Yucanatan Peninsula and Guatemala from the Spanish conquistadors.

Drive for four hours to Calakmal Municipality.

Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve was only granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2006. It remains the largest forest reserve in Mexico comprising of over 700,000 hectares of protected land. This is not untouched forest. The Mayans were some of the first group to live in the forests with the ruins of city complexes abandoned in 900 A.D. The group consists of the largest populations of flora and fauna in the country and includes the jaguar, puma, white-lipped peccary, howler monkey, king vulture, gray brocket deer and ornate hawk to name but a few.

Drive for four hours to Reserva de la Biósfera Sian-Ka’an.

Reserva de la Biósfera Sian-Ka’an

Flickr: DaseinDesign

Flickr: DaseinDesign

Sian-Ka-an means ‘Origin of the Sky’ in the language of the Mayan people who once inhabited the region. Located on the eastern coast of the Yucantan peninsula, the reserve is made up of a series of tropical forests, mangroves, marshes and a barrier reef. Inhabiting the reserve is a remarkable number of flora and fauna including 300 species of birds.

Drive an hour up the coast to Tulum.

Tulum

Tulum

The Mayan ruins of Tulum is not a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it’s well worth taking some time to explore them on the drive up the coast to Cancun. The ruins are situated on 12-metre high cliffs overlooking the ocean and were one of the last cities to be built by the Maya. It managed to hold off conquest by the Spanish for around 70 years but Old World diseases brought by the settlers resulted in the city being abandoned.

Continue up the coast for two hours to Cancun. Drop off the car hire and fly back home.

Want to take this self-drive? Get in touch with our Mexico travel experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 to discuss your travel plans or see our example tours here.

10 prawn dishes you have to try on the Riviera Nayarit

The Riviera Nayarit lies along the western coast of Mexico. The beautiful region is known for its white sandy palm fringed beaches, laid back locals, luxurious hotels and most importantly, fresh seafood. It’s no surprise then that there are plenty of seafood dishes to try. If you love prawns, there’s simply no better place to eat. Here’s 10 prawn based dishes to try when you visit.

Tortitas de Camarón

Popular during Holy Week and Easter, this traditional dish of prawn patties cooked in a fresh spicy sauce made from chipotle chilies, tomatoes, garlic, onions and nopal cactus is delicious.

Empanadas de Camarón

Empanadas are popular throughout Latin America, the recipe and filling changing depending on the region visited. Similar to a Cornish pasty, these pockets of pastry are filled with prawns and cheese or a spicy casserole of prawns, tomatoes, onions and chili.

Camarones Zarandeados

This is a true Nayarit seafood classic. Prawns are cut in half and smoked using a secret recipe. It’s also common to find smoked octopus and other smoked fish.

Tamales de Camarón

Though tamales are sold on almost every street corner in Nayarit, head to the central coast of northern region of the state for the best.

Camarones a la Diabla

These deviled prawns are one of the simplest dishes, but pack a punch. Prawns are fried in butter and seasoning and then doused in ketchup and a spicy sauce. Perfect with a cold beer.

Coctel de Camarón

Most will have tried a prawn cocktail before, but in Nayarit its served spicy and hot. The prawn heads are ground down and added for extra flavor along with onions, tomatoes, cucumber and chilies.

Camarones a la Cucaracha

Though the name is unappealing (it translates to cockroach prawn), it’s got nothing to do with roaches! Prawns are coasted in seasoned flavor and fried until golden brown.

Ceviche de Camarón

A classic Latin American dish. Although this is not native to Nayarit, it’s one of the best places to try the dish. Raw prawns are marinated in lime juice, cucumber, onion, tomatoes and chili. Best served on a sunny afternoon near the beach.

Taxtihuil

This corn, prawn and chili stew is ancient. Originating from the Isla de Mexcanltitan, it’s been eaten in the region since pre-Hispanic times. It’s as popular now as it was then.

Aguachile

The origins of Aguachile is disputed between Nayarit and neighboring Sinaloa. A regional favourite, this recipe is created with lime, chili, garlic and seasoning which is poured over prawns, onions and cucumber.

If that’s not enough, we’ve got one more for you. We couldn’t create this list without mentioning tacos de camarón. There are plenty of varieties, but they all include tortillas heaped with prawns, mulata sauce, coriander, lime and habanero chilies.

Want to try any of these prawn dishes in the Riviera Nayarit? Get in touch with our Mexico travel experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 to discuss your travel plans or see our example tours here.

With thanks to Riviera Nayarit.

Authentic Mexican carne asado taco recipe

Tacos are synonymous with Mexico. This classic recipe for carne asado (barbequed meat) tacos is one of the best we’ve tried. Cold Corona beer works perfectly as an accompaniment to this spicy street food.

Ingredients:

10 tortillas
500g skirt steak, cut into thin slices
4 chilies, chopped finely
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp vinegar
2 tsp cumin
½ tsp ground cloves
Oil
3 tomatoes
2 large onion, chopped finely
2 handful of coriander, chopped finely
4 limes, 3 cut into wedges and 1 juiced
Oil
Seasoning to taste

Method:

Take a blender and add 2 of the chopped chilies, 2 chopped garlic, vinegar, ½ of the chopped onions, 1 teaspoon of cumin, the ground cloves, seasoning and a little olive oil to bind everything together. Blend into a paste.

Put the steak slices into a mixing bowl and add the blended paste. Mix well together, cover with cling film and leave to marinade in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

Put the tomatoes, ½ chopped onion, 2 of the chopped chilies, the rest of the garlic, 1 teaspoon of cumin, a handful of coriander, juiced lime, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and seasoning. Mix well together, cover in cling film and leave in the fridge until ready to serve.

If possible, spark up the barbeque. Once the coals have greyed, place the slices of steak on and cook for a couple of minutes on both sides. If you don’t have a barbeque, heat a griddle pan to a high heat and cook the steak for a few minutes on both sides.

Heat a frying pan and heat each tortilla until warm. To serve, put a tortilla on a plate, top with some of the steak, coriander, some chopped white onion and a little of the sauce. Squeeze some lime juice and serve with extra lima wedges.

Want to try carne asado tacos in Mexico? Get in touch with our Mexico travel experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 to discuss your travel plans or see our example tours here.

Come and see us at the Destinations Travel Show 2017

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We’re exhibiting at the Destinations Travel Show in London this February and it would be great to see you. The event runs from between 2nd – 5th February 2017.

Destinations Holiday & Travel Show is the UK’s largest and longest-running travel show. Hundreds of the leading tour operators (including us) and over seventy tourist boards will attend as well as travel celebrities, presentations and cultural shows to help your 2017 trip planning go off with a bang. Fuel your sense of wanderlust and discover myriad holiday opportunities, whilst discussing plans with the experts. The Meet the Experts Theatres will provide over fifty hours of free travel advice covering everything from the hottest destinations to travel advice.

Our stand is found within the ‘LATA (Latin American Travel Association) Pavilion’.
If you wish to visit us, you can obtain free entrance via the following link http://www.destinationsshow.com/london/form/registration, using the code MSC107 (upper case).

Can’t wait until the Destinations Travel Show? Get in touch here to start planning your 2017 tour of Latin America.

Our pick of 2016 Latin America films

Neruda

The story of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who becomes a fugitive in his own country after joining the Communist Party in the late 1940s. Stars Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco and Alfredo Castro.

IMDB rating: 7.4

Sr. Pig

An elderly American pig farmer hits the road to Mexico to meet up with his estranged daughter after his health begins to fail. Featured at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Stars Diego Luna and Augusto Mendoza.

IMDB rating: 5.9

Much Ado About Nothing

Featured at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival, Much Ado About Nothing (Aquí no ha pasado nada) is a Chilean drama inspired by a real life political scandal about the son of a Senator who was acquitted after killing a man in a hit and run. Stars Agustín Silva, Paulina García and Daniel Alcaíno.

IMDB rating: 6.8

Between Sea and Land

The story of 28-year-old bedbound Alberto who’s dream is to visit the Caribbean sea and the people around him that make it a reality. Awarded the Audience Award and two Best Acting Awards at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Stars Jorge Cao, Manolo Cruz and Vicky Hernández.

IMDB rating: 7.3

When Two Worlds Collide

A documentary that follows an indigenous environmental activist takes on the large businesses that are destroying the Amazon.

IMDB rating: 7.9

Don’t Call Me Son

A Brazilian drama about a young man who discovers he was kidnapped as a child and the mother who brought him up isn’t his parent. Stars Naomi Nero, Daniel Botelho and Dani Nefussi.

IMDB rating: 7.1

The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis

Office clerk Francisco Sanctis and his family live in Buenos Aires during the military dictatorship in the 70s. After being called by an old friend, Francisco has to decide to risk everything he has for two strangers. Stars Diego Velázquez, Laura Paredes and Valeria Lois.

IMDB rating: 6.6

The Tenth Man

After years away, Ariel returns to Buenos Aires to reconnect with his father and meets a women who forces him to come to grips with the reasons that divided him and his father. Stars Alan Sabbagh, Julieta Zylberberg and Usher Barilka

IMDB rating: 6

To start planning your tour of Latin America, speak to one of our travel experts on +(0) 207 407 1478 or email us here.

2017 Latin America travel bucket list

Thinking of travelling to Latin America in 2017? With such a huge area spanning two continents, we thought we’d put together a handy list of the most bucket list worthy things to do in Latin America. From hiking through the Andes to watching turtles on the beaches of Costa Rica, the area really does have something for everyone.

Wander through Tikal, Guatemala

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The ancient ruins of Tikal were built and occupied by the Maya civilization for over a thousand years and is one of the most impressive ruins in all of Latin America. The sprawling complex has over 3,000 structures, some of which are in remarkable good condition. You’ll feel like Indiana Jones as you wander through the ancient site surrounded by thick jungle and the sounds of howling monkeys and birds.

See penguins in the Antarctic

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One of the most bucket list worthy travel adventures on the planet. Take to one of the limited expedition vessels and head out to explore the white continent. There are plenty of penguin species to see including the cheeky chinstraps and gentoos, and the more impressive kings and emperors, the latter usually requires an adventurous helicopter flight to reach them. There is no where on earth as pristine as the Antarctic. While breathtaking is an overused word, there really is no other way to describe the landscapes of towering icebergs, glistening glaciers and majestic fjords.

Hang glide over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Most visit sun kissed Rio de Janeiro for the relaxed pace where the caipirinhas flow and the beach is always appealing. Inject a little adventure and see the city from a new perspective by taking a hang glide. Don’t worry, you won’t be doing it alone. Your guide will fly while you can take the time to take in the surroundings. Take off from the top of Tijuca National Park forest and glide around getting excellent views of the city, beaches and Christ the Redeemer before effortlessly landing on the beach below.

Hike the Salkantay, Peru

Flickr: vil.sandi

Flickr: vil.sandi

While the Inca Trail has become the most popular hiking route to reach Machu Picchu, visitors often forget that there are many other trails. The Salkantay Trek is much less hiked and arguably more scenic (it’s been voted one of the 25 best hikes in the world). It’s also challenging. Those who take on the trek will have to reach some of the highest parts of the Humantay Mountain crossing passes higher than 6,000 metres. But those who do are rewarded with some extraordinary views of snow-capped peaks.

See the wildlife in the Pantanal, Brazil

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The wildlife in the Pantanal rivals that of the Amazon. The difference is the wildlife in these vast wetlands are much easier to spot than the thick jungle. Visitors first drive down the famous Transpantaneira Road stopping to watch crossing caiman and nearby bird life. Once in the wetlands, visitors can stay at any one of the comfortable lodges and take daily excursions by foot, horseback, boat or 4×4 to see wildlife including giant otters, anacondas, caimans, monkeys, marsh deer, tapirs and many species of bird, herons and egrets to hawks and macaws. It’s even possible to see a jaguar from some of the deeper Pantanal lodges.

Scuba dive off Fernando do Noronha, Brazil

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While South American isn’t known for its marine life as say Asia or Australasia, there are still some excellent spots. Fernando do Noronha Islands lies off the coast of northern Brazil. Here the marine life is abundant and its possible to scuba dive or snorkel with colourful schools of fish, lobsters, manta rays, baby sharks and octopus.

Swim with whale sharks off Holbox Island, Mexico

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Our top pick for things to do in Latin America. Whale sharks visit the Holbox Island off Mexico for just a couple of months each year. These huge behemoths are the largest fish in the world and while it may seem scary to snorkel with huge sharks, they are harmless to humans. These gentle giants open their large mouths to filter krill and plankton from the oceans.

Watch hatching baby turtles in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

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Tortuguero National Park on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast are a nature-lovers’ paradise. Cut off from the rest of the country, a plane or boat is the only way to access the region. It’s one of the world’s best places to see green turtles as they come ashore at night to lay their eggs in the sand. Later in the year those young break out of their shells and make the brave journey along the beach to the sea.

Hike to the Lost City, Colombia

Flickr: Andrew Hyde

Flickr: Andrew Hyde

Machu Picchu is undoubtable the most recognizable of ruins in Latin America, but Colombia’s Lost City is just as impressive and with far fewer tourists. To reach the uncrowded ruins, one must take a 4 day hike through thick forest and climb 1,200 steps. Along the way sleep in hammocks in local villages. It’s not unusual to arrive at the Lost City and be the only ones there. Go before this Lost City doesn’t feel quite as lost.

Horse ride with Gauchos in Las Pampas, Argentina

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Whether you are a beginner or advanced rider, all are welcome to visit the Argentine grasslands of Las Pampas. Spend your days with the cowboys of South America, riding through the steppe, rounding cattle, listening to their folklore stories around campfires and sampling some hearty Argentine barbeques. There are plenty of luxurious homestays for those who want a little more comfort on their stay.

To start planning your ultimate bucket list tour of Latin America, speak to one of our travel experts on +(0) 207 407 1478 or email us here.

Top 10 places to visit in Ecuador

One of the beauties of Ecuador is its size. Within hours of the capital, it’s possible to visit a host of landscapes including the misty cloud forests and the high Andes. The Amazon rainforest is just a short flight away. Naturalists will revel in the incredible range of flora and fauna, particularly the birdlife.

Quito

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Quito is one of South America’s most wondrous cities – a colonial gem that sits high up in the Andes mountains. In its heart lies an historic colonial city and UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s cobbled streets, whitewashing Spanish churches and plazas have all be painstakingly restored. It’s worth spending at least a day in the capital to see the world class museums, sample the mouthwatering cuisine and drink coffee in the sunny plazas. We also suggest a visit up to the Virgin Mary statue that towers above the city from Panecillo Hill.

Middle of the World

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The Middle of the World is located just 26 miles north of Quito and is typically visited on the way to Otavalo or the cloud forests. It contains the Monument to the Equator which highlights the exact location of the Equator.

Cloud Forest

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Just a few hours’ drive from Quito is the misty cloud forests that inhabit the Eastern slopes of the Andes mountains and descend into forges and rushing waterfalls. The forests and elevation make it a bird watchers dream. The protected reserves are teeming with birds from toucans to hummingbirds. While you spend your days hiking the trails in search of colourful birdlife, in the evening return back to stay at a range of lodges from luxury to rustic.

Otavalo

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A highlight and an absolute must on a trip to Ecuador. Just a couple of hours north of the capital lies the famous colourful market town of Otavalo. Every Saturday, the local communities descend upon the town to sell their wares. Piles of leather goods, native paintings and hand-woven textiles adorn the tables throughout the town. It’s not just for show – this authentic market is a great introduction to the Ecuadorian Andean way of life.

Amazon

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Ecuador is arguable the easiest place to visit the Amazon. A scenic 45-minute flight from Quito brings you into the steamy port town of Coca. From here board dugouts canoes to reach the excellent wildlife lodges. Our favourite is the Napo Lodge, a series of cabanas located on the riverfront deep within the jungle. Take daily hikes along the trails to spot monkeys, sloths, tapirs, macaws, giant otters, anacondas and pirañas.

Devil’s Nose Train

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One of the continent’s most interesting train rides. A feat of engineering, the train journey zigzags up the side of a mountain. Afterwards, be sure to visit Ingapirca, one of the only Inca ruins that still remains in Ecuador.

Cuenca

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This southern city of Cuenca is well worth the visit. This is Ecuador’s most unspoiled city. It’s colonial centre, Spanish churches and sunny plazas ooze charm. The pace in Cuenca is unhurried, and that’s exactly the approach that visitors should take. Take a couple of days to drink coffee and people watch in the lovingly preserved squares, sample Andean food at in the excellent eateries and enjoy the city’s nightlife.

Galapagos

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What can we say about the Galapagos? This archipelago was left without human contact for so many years, the wildlife has evolved to be fearless. This allows visitors to get up close to some of the most interesting wildlife on the planet. Swim with sea lions, snorkel with turtles, scuba with sharks, watching the mating dances of the blue-footed boobies and waved albatross and walk with giant Galapagos tortoises in the wild. The Galapagos Islands are not just for wildlife enthusiasts – it should be on everyone’s bucket lists.

Cotopaxi

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Head south from Quito along the Avenue of Volcanoes. Be sure to stop for a day’s hiking through the Cotopaxi National park, home to the world famous snow-capped mountain: Cotopaxi. Keep an eye out for wildlife including Andean gulls, lapwings, foxes, coots, pintails, deer and wild horses. Condors circle above using thermals. There are plenty of excellent historic haciendas surroundings the park.

Baños

After all that hiking and wildlife watching, it’s time for a little rest and relaxation. This famous mountain town is home to plenty of natural hot springs ranging in temperature. This hot water is filtered into communal baths and while they are the prettiest, you’ll feel a million dollars after taking a taking a soak. The cliffs that surround the town have a series of beautiful cascading waterfalls which make for a scenic backdrop. If you have the energy, there are plenty of trails to hike around the town.

To start planning your tour of Ecuador, speak to one of our travel experts on +(0) 207 407 1478 or email us here.

The difference between Paraty and Búzios

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If you’re looking for a day-trip or weekend getaway from Rio de Janeiro, there are several excellent options right on the city’s doorstep. Either side of the bustling hive of activity that is Rio are two very popular tourist destinations, almost equidistant from the city. To the east is Armação dos Búzios – shortened to Búzios for simplicity’s sake – a vibrant beachside town packed with nightlife and activity. To the west, an hour further from Rio than Búzios, is Paraty, an old colonial port town brimming with history and natural attractions. In terms of price, the two are fairly comparable (both at the upper end of the scale), so when making a choice about which is right for you, you will need to consider what it is you want from your visit.

Búzios

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This resort was popularised by Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s, and today a statue of the actress can be found in the town. Bardot is also credited with making famous the bikini – and you can expect to see plenty of these on show in town as well. With around twenty beaches scattered along the popular peninsula, lazing in the sun and partaking in the occasional dip in the sea (as well as scuba diving and surfing for the more active traveller) are the order of the day.

When the sun goes down, the town really comes to life. Famed for its raucous nightlife, there are a multitude of bars and clubs, generally open from around 10pm until the early hours. In high season (November – March and June – July) the town is packed to the rafters, especially during the peak month of December. Come prepared to party!

Paraty

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A little under 250km in the opposite direction from Rio, Paraty is a seaside port town first colonised by the Portuguese in the mid-17th century. Used as the principle harbour for exporting gold from Brazil, the town is crammed with quaint cobbled streets, picturesque churches and heritage etched into the very stones of its historic centre.

In the surrounding area you will also find many gorgeous beaches, lush waterfalls, dense rainforests and over 300 islands. The latter can be visited by boat on one of the many trips offered at the seafront; the clarity of the water also makes it a popular spot for snorkelling and diving. Though there are a number of bars in Paraty, the nightlife is considerably lower-key than in Búzios and there aren’t really any out-and-out nightclubs to speak of. Rather it is a beautiful spot to enjoy a cocktail or three while gazing out over the sparkling crystalline waters of the bay.

Less than 100km from Paraty is the gateway to one of Brazil’s truly beautiful hidden gems, Ilha Grande. Just an hour and a half drive to Angra dos Reis and a short ferry ride will take you to the big island; if you have enough time in your itinerary, I definitely recommend squeezing it in.

Which should you choose?

Whether you pick Búzios or Paraty will depend entirely on your personal circumstances and expectations from the visit. Do you want to party the night away and spend the following day recovering on the beach? Búzios is your place. Or would you rather soak up a little Brazilian culture, visit antiquated landmarks and relax instead of romp? If so, Paraty should be preferred. Whichever you choose, you’re guaranteed to pass some of the most unforgettable days of your life on Brazil’s southern coast.

To start planning your trip to Búzios or Paraty (or both!) contact one of our travel experts on +(0) 207 407 1478 or email us here.

Brazilian condensed milk cake (bolo de leite condensado) recipe

Cake is big in Brazil. It’s can be eaten throughout the day, even at breakfast. This Brazilian condensed milk cake is light, moist, fluffy and the perfect accompaniment to a coffee. With few ingredients, it’s simple to make and can easily be adapted with nuts, lemon, chocolate, coconut and fruit to make a more complex cake. Typically, the cake is baked in a circular or ringed baking tray, but if you don’t have one, any loaf tin will do.

Ingredients:

1 can of sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs
400ml full fat milk
50ml butter
250g plain flour
125g white sugar
1tbs baking powder
Icing sugar for dusting
Lemon zest
Salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Beat the eggs and sugar until they form a paste. Melt the butter for a few seconds in the microwave until soft. Beat the butter into the eggs and sugar. Add the condensed milk and full fat milk and beat. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl and then mix into a smooth batter. Zest a whole lemon and add to the mixture.

Take a round cake tin and rub all over with butter. Pour the batter into the tin and place into the oven for around 45 minutes. To ensure the cake is cooked, put a small knife or skewer into the cake which should come out clean. The top should golden brown and to have risen. Leave the cake to cool in the tin and then remove and leave on a metal rack. Once cooled, dust with icing sugar all over. The cake should keep for 5 days in a sealed tin.

To eat the cake in Brazil, contact one of our travel experts on +(0) 207 407 1478 or email us here.

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