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Category Archives: David’s Travels

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 worlds 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 border with Peru and Bolivia. Nestled in the Andes mountain range, the park encompasses 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

This biosphere reserve located along the Madre de Dios is wonderful for bird watchers. Covering a 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.

 

Flying hacks to make long-haul flights just that little bit better

Let’s face it. Flying sucks. It’s a means to an end, the only viable way to travel long distances quickly. Even flying first class isn’t really enjoyable, it’s simply better than cattle class. There are however ways you can make flying just that little bit better, take the edge off how uncomfortable it can be.

Get yourself a lounge pass

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This is real no brainer, yet few people actually sign up for them. VIP lounges used to be for the super rich travelling first class, but now comfortable lounges are popping up in most major airports available to anyone. With costs starting at around £25 and with many including a free bar, snacks, decent WiFi, comfortable seating, showers and complimentary magazines, they’re a steel.

Ask for things

Flickr: yum9me

Flickr: yum9me

It’s becoming much harder to secure free upgrades than the good old days, but it’s still not impossible. Those who ask are much more likely to get. If it’s a birthday, special occasion or honeymoon, let the airline staff know and if there is room, you may just get lucky. There are a number of ways to increase your chances. Always join up to the loyalty scheme of the airline before you travel. Loyal customers are more likely to be upgraded. If you are travelling as a couple or single the chances are more in your favour than a family. Children and those travelling with them have zero chance of getting bumped up to first. Lastly, try to look as smart as possible. Turning up with a joggers and a hoodie is not going to see you get that golden ticket.

Go to the gym

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Many people have trouble sleeping on planes, and that’s not surprising given the uncomfortable seating and inability to lie flat. If possible, go to the gym a few hours before travelling. Your body will be much more tired and in need or rest and you’ll feel less stressed.

Be prepared for security

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Flickr: Bailey Cheng

The scrum as you go through security can be stressful, but the experience can be made a lot more pleasant with a little preparation. Pack your liquids in clear bags before you leave (it’s worth grabbing a bunch whenever you see free ones at an airport), don’t wear jewelry or watches (you can keep them in your carry on and put them on as soon as you are through security) and make sure your tablet computer and laptop are easily accessible. When you arrive at security, turn left. Research shows that the majority of people turn right, meaning the left lines should be more less busy on average. These few things will ensure that everything runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Bring your own food

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We all know airplane food tends to be fairly inedible. Cooking 250 people’s meals in a small space at the back of place isn’t conducive to tasty cuisine. But there is nothing to stop you bringing your own food (as long as it’s not liquid). Pop to the shops before you travel and pick up some tasty treats to enjoy on board. Cured meats, dried fruits and nuts are particularly easy to travel with and filling.

Wear more on board

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Airlines never quite manage to get the temperature right on flights. Wear extra layers, which not only allows you to bring more clothes with you if your luggage is nearing the weight limit, but it also allows you to regulate your temperature perfectly on board. If it’s too hot, you can always use the extra clothes as a pillow. If your luggage weight is an issue, wear your heaviest clothes.

Where to sit

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If you are a nervous flier, pick a seat near to the middle. The seats above the wings are better balanced and therefore the turbulence is not felt as much in this position. The worst place for turbulence is at the back of the plane.

Useful things on board

There are plenty of useful extras you should remember to bring on your next flight. Those little mini shampoos you took from your hotel stay are perfect for cosmetics. Baby wipes are an excellent way to clean and fresh up before you disembark the flight. If you wear contact lens, bring your glasses instead as the lens tend to dry out your eyes. If you invest a little in noise cancelling headphones, it drowns out the monotonous hum of the engines and can improve the journey immensely. And lastly, bring a pen. Everyone always needs a pen.

To start planning your tour of Latin America, get in touch with us today.

Meet us at the Birdfair

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We are pleased to announce Select Latin America will be having a stand at the Birdfair taking place at Rutland Water Nature Reserve 21 August to 23 August 2015.

Described as the birdwatcher’s Glastonbury, Birdfair encompasses the whole spectrum of the bird-watching industry whilst at the same time supporting global bird conservation.

There are lectures, events and celebrities and hundreds of stands selling the latest products for wildlife enthusiasts.

This will be our 15th year, find us at Marquee 7 Stand 36. Our experts will be on hand to help plan your next wildlife adventure and our new brochure will be hot off the press.

This year David will also be doing a presentation – ‘Galapagos; A visitors Guide to these Enchanted Islands’ which will be on the 23th August in Lecture Marquee 3 between 3.30-3.50 pm
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We hope to see you all there.

8 Amazing Things To Do in Puerto Vallarta And The Riviera Nayarit

Our product manager has just returned from the city of Puerto Vallarta located on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Below he reports on the best things to do in the region.

Visit the Ocean grill

Ocean Grill

Head just south of Puerto Vallarta and you’ll find the Ocean Grill Restaurant. Not only is the seafood excellent, but this wooden structure is built on a cliff side overlooking a wonderful little bay. To reach the Ocean Grill drive thirty minutes south to the village of Boca de Tomatlan where they will take you by boat around the bay to the restaurant. Alternatively if you have the energy you can hike from Boca de Tomatlan through thick jungle for around an hour.

Go surfing in Sayulita

SurfFlickr: Villa Amor

The small town of Sayulita on the Riveria Nayarit offers great all year round surf. There are plenty of places to hire boards and if you are new to the sport there are some excellent schools. The surf breaks in two different places making it an excellent place to learn.

Eat oysters on Los Muertos Beach

OystersFlickr: Sharon Hahn Darlin

In Puerto Vallarta oysters are eaten in abundance. However, the best place to get them is down on Los Muertos Beach where three to four vendors compete for trade under the shade of the concrete pier. A dozen fresh oysters will set you back around 150 pesos (£6).

Swim with wild dolphins

Puerto VallartaFlickr: Ben Miller

Take a boat out to swim and snorkel with pods of wild dolphins. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Deep sea fishing in Banderas Bay

FishingFlickr: Harvey Barrison

The fishing around Banderas Bay is world-class. There’s a wide selection of fully-crewed fishing boats to choose, Likely catches including Pacific sailfish, marlin, dorado, tuna and red snapper. Afterwards you can take your catch back for a beach barbeque or to a local restaurant.

Whale watching

Whale watchingFlickr: Bruce Irschick

It’s well worth timing your holiday during the winter and spring months when you’ll have the opportunity to go whale watching. The warm ocean make it the perfect breeding ground for magnificent humpback whales and orcas.

Snorkel off the Marieta Islands

ScubaFlickr: ChrisDag

Famed for its hidden beach, this group of uninhabited Islands were used for military tests during the early 20th century. After an international outcry in the 1960s the islands were designated as a national park. Your likely to encounter thousands of tropical fish, octopus, manta rays, turtles and even whales when snorkelling or scuba diving.

Eating churros in Puerto Vallarta

There’s only one place you should be eating churros in Puerto Vallarta. Drop by the corner of Lazaro Cardenas and Aguacate after five in the afternoon and you won’t regret it. Churros is just 1 peso (4 pence) each.

Adventure To The Cristalino Jungle Lodge

David Horwell

Having spent a week in the biggest city in South America, São Paulo, I took a flight to Alta Floresta one of the least populated places in the World. Here in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state, part of the Amazon, is home to cattle ranchers and folk living on the edge of the civilized world. The temperature on arrival was 37°C. I was shocked at the few pockets of trees left as we flew low over what was once primary rain forest. From the plane I saw plumes of smoke from the burning vegetation. The high temperatures are the result of land unprotected by trees, (the current drought over much of Brazil also exacerbated by deforestation).

Cristalino River

Happily not all is doom and gloom, after an hour in a car on a bumpy dirt road we came to the river Telespires, deeply verdant forest was evident all around. I took a boat up river to the Cristalino river that flows through a private reserve 7,000 hectares of protected forest. This is thanks to the dream of Vitória Da Riva Carvalho and her husband who came here when Alta Floresta was just a frontier hamlet 25 years ago.

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She had a vision of creating a way of making a living by protecting the natural environment and in 1992 Cristalino Lodge was born. Vitória’s first priority was to stop the forest being destroyed, and then achieve a sustainable income derived from tourism. They created the first private natural reserve in Mato Grosso in 1997 and two years later the Cristalino Ecological Foundation with both tourism, education and scientific research as key activities. The reserve is now bigger than the size of Manhattan island.

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Only accessible by boat the lodge is surrounded by tropical forest making it a true jungle haven, Amazon and ringed kingfishers showed-off as I was paddled in. Once settled into my smart bungalow and refreshed with a tropical juice, it was off into the forest with my guide Fito. The reserve is known for rich diversity of birds and butterflies – more than 550 bird species and at least 2,000 butterfly species – but also for its varied jungle of primary rainforest and aquatic habitats.

Butterfly

Fito showed me the extensive trail system and a clean river perfect for canoeing and swimming. The tannin-rich black-water means mosquitoes are few. The eco-friendly bungalows follow sustainable practices, built on already disturbed land using local materials, ventilated screens instead of air-conditioning. Solar power is used for much of the energy. Waste water is biologically treated with permaculture.

Cristalino

The gardens are planted with native plants. Tour groups are kept to a maximum of 8 per guide. Despite the eco-credentials comfort is not sacrificed. The cuisine is traditional Brazilian fare cooked in a wood stove, dinners are lit by candles and plenty of organic fruit and vegetables, much grown in their own organic garden. The inside and ‘al fresco’ showers were powerful and among the best I’ve had in all Brazil. Cristalino ticks all the boxes.

Cristalino

At dawn Fito took me to one of the two 50m towers that soar above the forest canopy. The sight of the mists evaporating over the carpet of green will stay with me forever. We scanned for the elusive harpy eagle but made do with scarlet macaws, white-bellied parrots, laughing falcon, white-throated toucans, chestnut wood-peckers, hook-billed kites to name but a few.

canopy tower

On the way we stopped at trees covered in spikes and saw one of the few remaining giant Brazil nut trees.

Brazil nut tree

After lunch and a siesta we took a canoe ride to observe the birds of the river: Cocoi heron, green ibis, anhingas (snake-bird), neotropic cormorants, white-banded swallows, great jacamar plus bats sleeping under a branch and white-whiskered spider monkeys playing in the trees.

caiman

We made many sorties at dawn and dusk when creatures are most active, catching up on sleep after lunch. We surprised many a caiman alligator sunning itself on the banks of the river, and river turtles on rocks and branches poking up through the water. I was surprised to see large mammals like deer, which show the forest is healthy.

Peccaries

The biggest shock was when Fito signalled for us to go up to a hide, rather like a kid’s tree-house, and minutes later a troop of white-lipped peccaries surrounded us. First a dozen or so of these noisy grunting boars arrived and wallowed in the mud. Soon there must have been over a hundred or so including families with babies. For a good half an hour we watched these pungent smelly pigs cavort, and then the leader made an eerie clicking sound and they disappeared just as quickly as they had arrived.

Tapir

On my return to the lodge I had picked up a souvenir, a tick, but the attentive staff gave me special tweezers to remove the offending parasite. Just when I thought I’d had the last mammalian encounter on the afternoon’s boat ride, our boatman turned the canoe round and we were face to face with a tapir having a refreshing soak at the river’s edge.

Cristalino

My final exploration was on a hill made of ancient granite that poked up above the forest, it felt like Conan Doyle’s Lost World with strange multi-coloured trees, and parts are so steep a rope is provided as a hand rail. The hiker is rewarded with a great view from a natural vantage point. It was a special finale to a wonderful few days far from the madding crowd. Spider monkeys came to see me off; I never did see the harpy though so that’s a good reason to go back one day.

David Horwell

All photos © David Horwell. Please do not use without the express consent of Select Latin America.

We have launched our new brochure. Get it hot off the press

Brochure Cover
We are pleased to announce the publication of new brochure. This beautiful 96 page full colour booklet is packed full of our favourite hotels, country information, tours and maps to give you itchy feet and help with the planning of your next adventure in Latin America. To order you free copy, please get in touch.

The Galapagos Affair – Satan Came to Eden

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Most of the visitors who have the good fortune to visit the ‘enchanted islands’ of the Galapagos archipelago know precious little about the human history. I have taken tour groups there over the years and many of them believed that the only inhabitants were reptiles, birds and a few sea lions. Those that did their reading knew about Darwin and his short, but hugely significant visit on the Beagle, some knew perhaps about the pirates and the whalers – but few knew of the true pioneers – the first settlers who eked out a living on these inhospitable arid volcanic shores. Not to mention brutal penal colonies which are all Ecuador thought that the islands were good for until the late 20th century.

I arrived in 1978, when tourism was just taking off. In those days the boats were Spartan affairs, our yacht had no fridge and a shower was a shared trickle of rusty brackish water. It took 5 hours to get there in a propeller aircraft from Ecuador. (Today it is only an hour and a half in one of several daily jets). The yachts now rival those found in many sophisticated marinas and hotels are springing up on all of the four inhabited islands.

One of the non-wildlife visits we did was to a place called Black Beach on the island of Floreana, here was a tiny naval base and a handful of settlers and farmers. One of these was a little old lady called Mrs Wittmer who ran a basic guest house and restaurant. She had been there since the early 1930’s and must have been in her 70’s when I knew her. She certainly had a lot of stories to tell, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye as she gave us her home-made orange wine and cookies; she was the first woman to give birth on Floreana, her now grown-up son was captain of one of the first tour boats; but only the brave would mention the Baroness and the scandalous events of half a century earlier… I don’t want to spoil the story told in the film – but as they say: truth is stranger than fiction – no Agatha Christie novel could compete with this tale.

Imagine a desert island; put ashore 3 disparate families each with their own stubborn ideas of what island life should amount to and add a generous dose of ego-mania and the result is an unhappy end, as sexual intrigue, jealousy and unsolved murder take place, with the mysterious disappearances of the aforementioned Baroness. Less ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ and more ‘Lord of the Flies’ for adults. Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden opens 25th July in UK cinemas, with myself introducing the film and partaking in a Q & A session afterwards. There will be other UK screenings and a DVD/Blue-Ray out in September.

Braving the spray of Iguazú Falls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI recently re-visited the Iguazú Falls in Argentina and Brazil. Justifiably said to be one of the natural wonders of the world and a World Heritage site. Earlier this year, after months of drought, the falls had been reduced to a dribble in places; recently the rains came back with a vengeance and the flow became the highest on record. The average flow is 1.7 million litres a second but in June this was up to more than 5 million, more than three times than usual rate. The result is that some of the walkways on the Argentine side have been washed away, including the one that takes you to the ‘Devil’s Throat’ the U-shaped head of the falls. There is still plenty to see and do. I do recommend a plastic poncho when you go to Iguazú, as there is a lot of spray over the walkways and at the many viewpoints. Colourful butterflies abound and cute coati mundi racoons sniff your bags for any tit-bits. The constant shifting light provides mesmerising rainbows when the sun comes out. The word Iguazú, means “big water” in Guaraní the native Indian language, the water flows over 275 separate rocky cascades. At the Devil’s Throat, It is 82 metres (269 feet) high. The falls mark the border between Argentina and Brazil. It is worth seeing both sides, the Brazilian one giving an overall panoramic view, the Argentine a more immersive experience with surrounding jungle. For a high adrenalin adventure we rode an inflatable Zodiac boat ride through the rapids to right below the falls (and got soaked in the process), it was such good fun that we demanded an encore. To plan your adventure click here.

Uruguay – Not For Vegetarians

David Horwell

David Horwell

I recently spent an enjoyable week on an exploratory trip to Uruguay. Whilst much time was spent checking out hotels from basic eco-yurts to the palatial Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco; a large part of the week was devoted to sampling the culinary delights and wines of this peaceful small republic. As one can expect in a country where there are nearly four cows to every person we ate a lot of meat, in fact, seven steaks in as many days; accompanying salads are draped with dried ham and cheese, but that was just a warm up for huge steaks. At an asado or Parillada grill, these are served only after a generous helping of blood sausage with the odd baked potato. Fortunately there are plenty of good local wines to wash all this protein down. The Tannat grape is the vine that Uruguay claims as its own was probably brought by the Basques in the 19th century. It produces a full-bodied strong red that has fruity notes, but I also had a lovely crisp rosé at the Altos de Ballena vineyard. Most of the vineyards are on hills cooled by sea breezes and upon ancient metmorphic rock. The Tannat is often blended with Merlot or Cabernet to lessen the high tannin content. At the Bodega Narbona we even had some local grappa, a fire-water that is mellowed with local honey. The greatest charm of the country was that it felt like you were stepping back in time to a place where there were hardly any cars and lunch could take up to two hours without you feeling guilty. To plan your escape to Uruguay see our suggested holiday ideas or call our travel experts.

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