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Category Archives: Flora

10 places in Latin America that will take your breath away

Latin America is so full of wonders, it’s almost impossible to pick just 10. Our travels have taken us all around this varied continent and we’ve whittled it down to our absolute bucket list favourites.

Torres del Paine

Perhaps one of the most spectacular places on earth, the Torres del Paine National Park spans a large area of the Andes in southern Chile. Hiking through the park reveals some of the most exquisite scenery in South America as well as plenty of wildlife from roaming guanacos to circling condors. An absolute must.

Angel Falls

Flickr: ENT108

Angel falls are the tallest in the world. As water cascades over the edge it plunges 2,648 feet before heading the ground. Like something out of the movie Avatar, the falls remote location mean very few tourists visit so you’re likely to have the falls all to yourself. One of the best ways to see them is a scenic flight over the top.

Blue Hole

The Great Blue Hole is located off Belize’s Caye Caulker. Scuba divers from all over the world to visit this mecca to swim with manta rays, sharks and colourful exotic fish. To fully appreciate the shape of this sunken underwater cave, it’s best to take a light aircraft flight over the top. The nearby Hol Chan Marine Park and the three atolls of Glover, Lighthouse and Turneffe are all top notch scuba sites.

Cartagena

No other city exudes the charm of Cartagena. The colourful UNESCO city is flanked by the clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. The best way to explore the city is by foot. This cultural hub is packed full of museums, galleries, and churches to explore. By night, head out to explore the excellent restaurants and nightlife.

Rio de Janeiro

While it may be unoriginal to put Rio de Janeiro on a bucket list of South America, we simply couldn’t leave it off. The gorgeous hedonistic city is surrounded by towering mountains, the biggest urban forest in the world, miles of golden sandy beach and the Atlantic. No trip to Brazil is complete without a visit to this fantastic city.

Tulum

The golden sandy beaches fringed by palm trees are spectacular, but what makes this beach so special is the Mayan temple which loams over the beach from its clifftop site.

Pantanal

For wildlife lovers, there is no better place on earth. This vast wetland that sits just below the Amazon in Brazil is home to hundreds of animal species, from colourful hyacinth macaws, jaguars, caiman, giant otters, monkeys, tapirs, herons, hawks, marsh deer and egrets.  Best explored from one of the many comfortable lodges in the park.

Uyuni

Truly one of the world’s natural wonders. This huge 12,000 sq km expanse of white salt seemingly stretches on forever, only punctuated by an island of giant cacti. Nearby, it’s possible to see a train cemetery of rusting steam trains, hot springs, geysers and workers piling up salt. Be sure to stay in one of the hotels made entirely from salt.

Bocas del Toro

For rustic luxury and Caribbean vibes, visit Bocas del Toro, an archipelago off the northern Panamanian coast. The capital Isla Colon is home to colourful wooden houses, preserving its original Caribbean flair. Stay in one of the many over-the-water bungalows and spend your days swimming, snorkeling, swinging in a hammock, eating lobster and beach dwelling.

For tailor made tours to Latin America, contact the experts here or call us on +44 (0) 207 407 1478

Latin America’s most colourful festivals

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The world is full of colourful festivals and none come as colourful as those in Latin America. While Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, the world’s largest street party, is perhaps the best known (and for good reason), there are plenty of festivals throughout the continent and throughout the year. Here are 11 of our favourite festivals to look out for.

Carnival

carnival

Carnival is celebrated throughout the towns and villages of Brazil and the rest of Latin America, but the largest and best known is the celebrations in Rio de Janeiro. With millions of people hitting the streets in February, it’s the largest street party in the world. The city hosts over 500,000 foreign tourists who come to enjoy famed parade of colourful dancers and musicians in the sambodrome.

Tango championship

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Buenos Aires plays host to the annual World Tango Championship. This famous dance originated in the 19th century in the nightclubs around the district of River Plate. It’s quickly becoming one of Argentina’s most valued culture exports with more enthusiasm into the tango around the world than ever before. During the festival, every bar, ballroom and milonga throughout the city comes alive with dancers and the sound of tango music. Held in August, it’s one of the best times to visit the city.

Day of the Dead

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Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is often confused with Halloween as the dates are very close. However, the event which is celebrated throughout Mexico stems from an Aztec festival that honours the goddess Michacacihuatl. Mexicans believe that the souls of lost loved ones return to earth on the 2nd November to be with their family once more. Families visit the graves of lost ones to pay their respects and leave food and drink.

Inti Raymi

Another famous festival in Peru which sees thousands of people descend upon Cuzco to take the pilgrimage to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman. The festival lasts for nine days between the winter solstice and the Inca New Year. Inti Raymi means ‘Sun Festival’ in Quechuan, and that is exactly what this festival is about. Honouring the sun god and hoping for the quick return in the darker days as well as a good crop and harvest in the coming months. It’s now the second largest festival in Latin America with well over 200,000 visitors last year.

Qoyllur Rit’i

Q’oyllur Riti is one of the least know and intriguing festivals in the Andes. A combination of Pre-Columbian fertility ceremonies and Catholic processions with colorful dancers and Andean panpipe music make this festival special. The main ceremony is held at the foot of Mount Ausangate. At almost 5,000 metres above sea level, the temperatures plunge to below freezing at night. That doesn’t stop worshippers from turning up to gather at the shrine which is said to be where the infant Christ appeared to a young Indian boy.

Flower festival

August sees the annual flower festival called La Feria de los Flores in Medellin. The colourful fair is attended by visitors from all over the world who eagerly descend upon the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ to see the huge flower festivals, parades, dance performances and theatre. Each year the displays and events get larger and more impressive. The event was original planned for one year in 1957, but was such a success it’s now an annual fixture.

Tapati Rapa Nui festival

Easter Island has few cultural connections with Chile and more with the Polynesian islands that surround it. During Tapati Rapa Nui festival, the ancient ancestral traditions are recreated. These include Takona (body painting), singing competitions, Haka Pei (where people slide down the cliff on a banana tree) and Tau’a Rapa Nui (sports on Rano Raraku volcano). It’s one of the most interesting festivals anywhere in the world as well as being one of the most remote.

Santa Semana

Like Carnival, Santa Semana (Holy Week) has celebrations throughout Latin America (as well as many other parts of the world). One of the most colourful is Antigua in Gautemala. This pretty colonial town comes alive with colour. Intricate designs using petals and coloured sawdust carpet the cobbled streets. These are destroyed by bare-footed, purple-robed men carrying statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Other excellent places to celebrate Santa Semana include Quito in Ecuador and Copacabana in Bolivia.

To visit any of the above festivals or any place in Latin America contact one of our travel experts on +(0) 207 407 1478 or email us here. Alternatively, can view some example tours 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 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.

 

The 20 Best Hikes In Latin America

There are so many amazing hikes you can do through the Americas ranging from light days hikes to serious mountaineering climbs to summits. We’ll start with the Inca Trail, the most famous of the lot, but by no means the best. Please note that although some of the treks below are possible by yourself, most require a guide.

Flickr: Lisa Weichel

Flickr: Lisa Weichel

Inca Trail – Peru

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is perhaps the most iconic on this list of treks in Latin America. Most Inca Trail trips last four days. After heading out of the Inca capital of Cuzco you will hike through the lush Sacred Valley, walking in the footsteps of the ancient Incas. Along the way pass remnants of Incas including Ollantaytambo before finally arriving at Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is such a popular trek the government limit the number of trekkers to 500 per day which requires a permit that sell out months in advance. Guides will accompany you to help you make the most of the hike and porters will carry your things as well as setting up camp and cooking your meals to make the trek as comfortable as possible.

When to go: All year round expect February when the trail is closed.
Difficulty: 3/5
Length: 4 days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan – Guatemala

The three day trek from Xela to Lake Atitlan is also extremely popular. Along the way pass the verdant interior of Guatemala passing through cloud forests, small indigenous communities, volcanoes and of course, Lake Atitlan, once described by Aldous Huxley as the most beautiful lake in the world. Day one begins with a three hour hike to a view point overlooking the many surrounding volcanoes including Atitlan, Acatenango, Santa Maria and more. Day two descend down into the verdant valleys of pine trees and farms. Day three arrival at Lake Atitlan and hike around the edge.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 2/5
Length: 3 days
Tour: Try our Dynamic Guatemala tour

Flickr: Frank Vassen

Flickr: Frank Vassen

The Quetzal Trail – Panama

Although this is a relatively easy hike, it is considered by many one of the most scenic. Located in the Western highlands of Panama within the Volcan Baru National Park, most people hike the trail for the chance to spot the resplendent quetzal, the bird that gives the trail its name, and one of the most colourful in Latin America. The treks departs from Boquete, the town where most tourists stay when visiting the region and takes around five hours to complete.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 1/5
Length: 1 day
Tour: Try our Canals, Clouds & Coconuts tour

Flickr: Andrew Hyde

Flickr: Andrew Hyde

Lost City Trek – Colombia

Surprisingly relatively few people hike the trail that ends at the Lost City in Colombia, an ancient citadel likened to Machu Picchu , so if you are looking for undiscovered gems, this is the best you are going to get. The Lost City was only discovered in 1976 by archaeologists from the Colombian Institute of Anthropology. Research since suggests it was founded around 600 A.D. and abandoned around one thousand years later. The four day trek departs from Santa Marta and passes lush jungle to arrive at the citadel.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 2/5
Length: 4 days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour

Torres del Paine

The W Trek – Chile

The W Trek traverses the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonian region of Southern Chile. This five day trek will take you past some of the most stark and dramatic scenery on the continent. Towering snow-capped peaks, mighty glaciers, clear tortoise lakes are a daily occurrence on this relatively challenging hike. You may think this barren landscape lacks wildlife, but flamingos, hares and guanacos and more inhabit the area as well as the Andean condors that gracefully glide above. The trek can either be done camping or staying in the basic but comfortable refugees along the way. If five days is too much shorter day hikes can be arranged.

When to go: October to April
Difficulty: 4/5
Length: 5 days
Tour: Try our W Trek Tour

Arenal

Arenal National Park – Costa Rica

The dominant Arenal Volcano that towers above the National Park is simply spectacular. There are a number of different guided trails to hike, each of them relatively gentle making it a good option for kids. Each passes the lower foothills of the volcano passing rainforest and lava fields and enjoying views of the volcano above. Los Helicanias trails leads to a particularly good lookout point over Lake Arenal. Afterwards head to one of the local hot springs for a well-earned soak. Tabacon Grand Spa a highly recommended.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 1/5
Length: 1 day
Tour: Try our Jungles, Volcanoes & Beaches tour

Flickr: McKay Savage

Flickr: McKay Savage

Paso del las Nubes – Argentina
An excellent two day hike in Argentina’s Lake District. After getting picked up from Bariloche, begin from the foot of Mount Tronador, also known as Pampa Linda. Hike through verdant forests and streams to a pass that offers excellent views over glaciers, waterfalls and Pampa Linda. Ascend to “Paso de las Nubes” (literally pass of the clouds) and camp for the night. The following day trek along the edge of Frias River to Puerto Frias and catch the last ferry returning back to the city. The trek can be extended into Chile if you wish for something longer or more challenging. There is much wildlife to see along the way including

When to go:
September to April
Difficulty: 3/5
Length: 2 days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour


Copper Canyon – Mexico

Copper Canyon in Mexico’s north is most famous for its railway, but the scenery and trails also make for some fantastic trekking. Surprisingly to most it is deeper, wider and longer than the Grand Canyon. Although the length of tours range, most guided tours are around ten days. Along the way you will pass small Tarahumara villages and enjoy plenty of wildlife.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 3/5
Length: 8+ days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour


Corcovado National Park – Costa Rica

The Corcovado National Park in Costa’s Rica’s Southern Osa Peninsula is, as National Geographic called it, one of the most biologically intense places on earth. There are plenty of trails here passing rainforests and beaches, many of which can be done by yourself. The really attraction of hikes here is the abundance of wildlife. Howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins, crocodiles, jaguars, pumas, ocelots, tapirs, anteaters, sloths, tamanduas, toucans, macaws, eagles and many species of reptile to name just a few. If snorkeling is your thing, stop along the way and find a huge array of marine life such as tropical fish, turtles and dolphins. There are plenty of luxury lodges so a trip here can be done in serious comfort should you wish.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 2/5
Length: 3+ days
Tour: Try our Romance in Costa Rica tour 

Huchuy Qosqo Trek – Peru

This is an excellent option for those that don’t want to hike the ever popular Inca Trail. It isn’t challenging, but takes you through some sublime Andean countryside to the little known (or visited) Huchuy Qosqo Inca site. This archaeological site north of Cuzco lies at 3,600 metres above sea level and is called ‘Little Cuzco’. Although it can be seen in one day, it is best combined with a visit to Machu Picchu in a three day adventure. Begin in Tambomachay and ahike through valleys, lakes and passes to the village of Qenko where you will spend the first night. Along the way birds including lapwings and Andean geese can be seen. The following day you will follow the route to Huchuy Qosqo and have plenty of time to explore. Trek down into the Sacred Valley and take the bus to Ollantaytambo and the train to Aguas Calientes. One the last day you will visit Machu Picchu before returning back to Cuenca.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 3/5
Length:1-3 days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour

Ausangate Circuit – Peru

Another excellent alternative to the Inca Trail offering some of the best views of any Cuzco treks. South of the city in the Vilcanota mountain range, this is a challenging hike for those who have some experience with fairly high altitude walking. Along the way you will cross three passes over 5,500 metres. This wild trek is named after the Apu Ausandate that towers at almost 6,500 metres. Culturally it is also interesting: you will visit traditional villages and local Quechua farmers. It can easily be combined with a visit to Machu Picchu.

When to go: May to October
Difficulty: 4/5
Length: 5 days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour

Colca

Colca Canyon – Peru

Although most visit Colca Canyon viewpoint in Peru’s Arequipa district to see the majestic Andean Condor’s flying overhead, there are some excellent and little hiked trails to explore. You will require a guide here as none of the trails are marked (although they have been used for hundreds of years). An execellent three day option begins in Cabanaconde and passes San Juan de Chuccho, Coshnirhua, Malata and ends at the Cruz del Condor viewpoint.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 3/5
Length: 1-3 days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour

Huayna Potosi – Bolivia

This is the toughest trek on our list and the only one to reach a summit. Having said that, this is possible for inexperience climbers who have had plenty of time to acclimatize and a little determination. The three day climb that includes a day of acclimatization takes you over 6,000 metres with up to eight hours hiking a day. This is one of the easiest 6,000 mountain climbs, but that is not to say it is easy. Although it can be done in two days, it is not recommended. Departed in the early hours on the day of the ascent you will climb ice walls, cross crevasses and enjoy views down over La Paz and the surrounding mountains.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 5/5
Length: 3 days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour

Fitzroy

Fitzroy Trek – Argentina

The Fitzroy Trek in Argentin’a Los Glaciers National Park is the countries equivalent to Torres del Paine in Chile. There are a huge number of hiking options here varying from day walks to longer give day trails. The advantage of Fitzroy over Torres del Paine is being able to visit some of the best viewpoints on the shorter treks. Arguably the best views in the park are at where the three peaks – Cerro Fitzroy, Cerro Poincenot and Cerro Torre meet over Laguna de los Tres.

When to go: October to April
Difficulty: 4/5
Length: 1-5 days
Tour: Try our Patagonia Ice Trail tour 

Chapada Diamantina – Brazil

Most visit the northern Bahia region of Brazil for the beaches and city of Salvador. Whilst those are certainly worth a visit, the interior has some of the finest trekking in Brazil. To reach Chapada Diamnatina National Park you must first take a short flight or bus ride to the old mining town of Lençóis. The trails pass some remote and dramatic scenery of mountains, forests, valleys, canyons, waterfalls, caves and rivers with very few other visitors to distract you. Although much wildlife including giant anteaters and armadillos were wiped out by hunting, there is plenty to see including lizards, capybaras, monkeys and if you are really lucky, pumas and jaguars. Depending on your budget you can either camp or stay in some of the local guesthouses.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 3/5
Length: 3+ days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour

Terespolis Crossing – Brazil

This fantastic thirty five kilometre hiking route in Rio de Janeiro state from Petropolis to Teresopolis is a must for another hiking enthusiast. Walking at altitudes of around 2,000 metres through the Serra dos Orgaos National Park passing by Antas Valley and the sumnit of Orgaos. There is no lodging along the way so you will be camping. If the sky is clear you can see all the way down to Rio de Janeiro city and Guanabara Bay from some viewpoints.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 2/5
Length: 3 days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour

Monteverde – Costa Rica

The Monteverde cloud forest reserve is truly beautiful and can best experienced on guided day walks. The trails are clearly marked and easy to walk so they are ideal for kids or those with limited mobility. The reserve covers over 4,500 hectares of cloud forest where you will find tumbling waterfalls, lakes and plenty of wildlife. There are over a hundred species of mammal, four hundred species of birds and thousands of amphibians. Some of the highlights including ocelots, jaguars, umbrellabirds and the colourful resplendent quetzal. There is no need to camp as there is excellent and comfortable accommodation near by.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 1/5
Length: 1+ days
Tour: Try our Jungles, Volcanoes & Beaches tour

Flickr: vil.sandi

Flickr: vil.sandi

Salcantay Trek – Peru

The Salcantay Trek (Salkantay means Savage Mountain in Quechuan) is another alternative to the Inca Trail. Named as one of the best treks in the world by National Geographic, this is certainly not one to miss. As fewer people do the Inca Trail, there is no permit scheme for the Salkantay Trek making it perfect for a last minute booking. North of Cuzco lies the Cordillera Vilcabamba. Here you will trek the ancient trail past glaciers and snowcapped mountains. If you want to skip the crowds, this is the trek for you. It can also be combined with Machu Picchu so you don’t miss out on this Seventh Wonder of the World.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 3/5
Length: 3+ days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour

El Misti Trek – Peru

Located near the Southern city of Arequipa, El Misti Volcano rises up to almost 6,000 metres above sea level and is the second largest in the country. The volcano has erupted several times, the most notable was in the 15th century which affected many local Inca people. The latest was in the late 19th century. The climb can be done in as little as two days as long as you have given yourself plenty of time to acclimatize beforehand. For such a high trek it is relatively easy and no prior experience is necessary. One night is spent at the Eagles Nest base camp located at 4,200 metres.

When to go: April to October
Difficulty: 4/5
Length: 2 days
Tour: Get in touch for a bespoke tour

Quilotoa

Quilotoa Traverse – Ecuador

The volcanic crater lake Quilotoa located north of Quito near to the famous Andean market town of Otavalo is usually visiting on a day trip with some time for a short walk. Spend a little more time in this magical place as you can hike the whole rim in around five hours. A deeply satisfying and relatively easy walk. You will also have the opportunity to descend down from the viewing point to the lake which takes another hour or so. From the rim, not only can you see the lake below but you can also see Cotopaxi and mountain ranges in the distance.

When to go: All year round
Difficulty: 2/5
Length: 1 day
Tour: Try our Cotopaxi & Devil’s Nose tour 

The 20 Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Latin America

Best for Birding

Atlantic Rainforest

Name – Atlantic Forest Reserves
Country – Brazil
Date of inscription – 1999
Why it’s the best – Covering over 112,000 hectares of coastal forest, this area is a bird-watchers paradise. There are over 930 species of birds, of which 200 can be found nowhere else on earth. If that’s not enough over 8% of the world’s plant species and thousands of mammals and reptiles can also be found here.
Suggested tourBespoke tour

Best for Marine Life

Belize Reef

Name – Belize Barrier Reef
Country – Belize
Date of inscription – 1996
Why it’s the best – The Belize Barrier Reef is the largest in the northern hemisphere. Several offshore atolls, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and several hundred sand cayes make up the protected reserve. There are over 106 hard and soft coral species and over 500 species of fish. With 90% of the reef that still hasn’t been researched yet it’s safe to assume that these figures only make up about 10% of species that call the reef their home.
Suggested tourSun-kissed Belize

Best from the Air

Nazca

Name – Nazca Lines
Country – Peru
Date of inscription – 1994
Why it’s the best – Located four hundred kilometres south of Lima in the dry deserts lie some of the most mysterious archaeological wonders ever uncovered. Between 500 B.C. and A.D. 500 vast geoglyphs of animals, people and flora were scratched into the surface of the ground, some of which are several kilometres in length. Best appreciated from up above.
Suggested tourBespoke tour

Best Phenomenon

Name – Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve
Country – Mexico
Date of inscription – 2008
Why it’s the best – This 56,259 biosphere northwest of Mexico City is home to one of Earth’s most beautiful natural phenomenon’s. Ever autumn millions of butterflies from a huge area of North America return to this relatively small area of forest changing the landscape to hues of orange as they gather on the branches of trees, changing the landscape completely. In spring they return back to Canada, a journey which takes 8 months in which time four successive generations are born and die.
Suggested tourBespoke tour

Best for Whale-Watching

Valdes Peninsula

Name – Península Valdés
Country – Argentina
Date of inscription – 1999
Why it’s the best – Not only is this a hugely important breeding spot for the endangered southern right whale, but it’s one of the only places to see the unique hunting technique of orcas who almost beach themselves in an attempt to catch prey.
Suggested tour – Whales & Welsh in Patagonia

Best Town

Antigua

Name – Antigua
Country – Guatemala
Date of inscription – 1979
Why it’s the best – This truly beautiful town was founded in the early 16th century, only to be almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. It was however rebuilt, inspired by the Italian Renaissance. It famous cobbled streets and archway are some of the most photographed in Central America and the town has a wealth of excellent hotels.
Suggested tourMaya, Magic & Mystery

Best for Modern Architecture

Brasilia

Name – Brasilia
Country – Brazil
Date of inscription – 1987
Why it’s the best – Built by the urban planner Lucio Costa and the word renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer, Brasilia was completed in 1956 to critical acclaim. Every part of the city from the official buildings to the homes was built in harmony with the overall design of the city. From above the city is often compared to the shape of a bird in flight.
Suggested tourBespoke tour

Best Historic Centre

MTE2098

Name – Quito
Country – Ecuador
Date of inscription – 1978
Why it’s the best – Quito is the second highest capital in South America standing at an altitude of 2,850 metres (9252 feet). Its rich centre includes many historic buildings including monasteries, churches and colleges. The interiors are some of the most impressive on the continent – part of the ‘Baroque school of Quito’ which fuses Italian, Spanish, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art.  Although there was a devastating earthquake in 1917, the city has managed to preserve the majority of its historic centre.
Suggested tourCotopaxi & the Devil’s Nose

Best Spectacle

Iguazu

Name – Iguazú/Iguaçu Falls
Country – Argentina & Brazil
Date of inscription – 1984
Why it’s the best – Quite simply one of the most astounding natural wonders in Latin America. This semi-circular waterfall raising over 80 metres and almost 3 kilometre, bordering both Brazil and Argentina is rightly famous. The tropical rainforest that makes up the Iguazu National Park is over to over 2,000 species of plant and many species of wildlife including butterflies, monkeys, jaguars, cayman, anteaters and exotic birdlife.
Suggested tourBrazil Kaleidoscope

Best for Horse Riding

horse_back_riding_pantanal

Name – Pantanal Conservation Area
Country – Brazil
Date of inscription – 2000
Why it’s the best – This area of 187,818 hectares of freshwater wetland is a wildlife enthusiast dream. Often likened to safari in Africa, this region is one of the best places in the country to see large mammals including jaguars, giant anteaters and exotic bird life. The best way to see this wildlife is by horse, led by local guides.
Suggested tourBrazilian Safari

Best for Hiking

Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

Name – Qhapaq Ñan (Andean Road System) & Machu Picchu
Country – Peru
Date of inscription – 2014/1983
Why it’s the best – We’ve cheated a little here and included both the Qhapaq Ñan and Machu Picchu. Qhapaq Ñan is the Andean Road System which includes the well-known part of the Inca Trail. More than this, the Incas created a network of paths for trade, communication and defence which span over 30,000 kilometre that run through rainforests, valleys and desert. Machu Picchu will need no introduction and is perhaps one of the most famous landmarks in the world. Some truly stunning hiking opportunities.
Suggested tourJungle & Mountain Trek

Best for Colour

Quebrada

Name – Quebrada de Humahuaca
Country – Argentina
Date of inscription – 2003
Why it’s the best – This spectacular canyon in the northwest of Argentina follows a deep ravine cut by the Grande river through a range of geological strata. It is also culturally interesting having been used a trade route for 10,000 years by pre-Inca and the Inca Empire. The variety of rocks make this one of the most colourful places to visit. Best seen by hiking.
Suggested tour – Enchanting Northwest

Best pre-Inca Ruin

Chan Chan

Name – Chan Chan Archaeological Zone
Country – Peru
Date of inscription – 1986
Why it’s the best – Once the largest city in the Americas, and the biggest ever constructed out of adobe. Chan Chan was built by a Pre-Inca culture of the Chimú as their capital. As you wander through the site it’s possible to see the nine palaces which make up the citadel and imagine what it was like in its heyday.
Suggested tourWarriors of the Clouds

Best for Unspoiled Beauty

Amazon Basin

Name – Amazon Basin
Country – Brazil
Date of inscription – 2003
Why it’s the best – Specifically the Central Amazon Conservation Complex makes up a six million hectare area of the most unspoiled part of the Amazon basin made up from forests, lakes and channels. This is one of the most bio diverse spots on earth.  It protects some of the world’s most threatened species including the giant arapaima fish, the Amazonian manatee, the black caiman and two different species of river dolphin.
Suggested tourDeep into the Amazon

Best for Art

Cueva de los manos Santa Cruz

Name – Cueva de las Manos
Country – Argentina
Date of inscription – 1999
Why it’s the best – The Cave of the Hands contains an excellent assemblage of art that was created between thirteen and nine thousand years ago. It’s most famous is the stencilled hands but there are many others of animals and hunting scenes.
Suggested tourBespoke tour

Best for Wildlife

Galapagos

Name – Galápagos Islands
Country – Ecuador
Date of inscription – 1978
Why it’s the best – Made famous by Charles Darwin whose visit to the islands in 1835 helped form his theory of evolution by natural selection. The Galápagos Islands are located a thousand kilometres from the continent, and it’s here at the confluence of three ocean currents that some of the world’s most unusual wildlife has flourished in isolation from human contact. Endemic species are rife; Notable species including the land iguana, giant tortoise and many types of finch.
Suggested tourThe Full Galapágos

Best for Culture

Salvador

Name – Historic centre of Salvador de Bahia
Country – Brazil
Date of inscription – 1985
Why it’s the best – Salvador was the first capital of Brazil and the blend of European, African and Amerindian people such a fusion of cultures that can be seen today through their music, dance, art, buildings, and food.
Suggested tourCultural Buzz of Brazil

Best for Agriculture

Agave

Name – Agave landscapes of Tequila
Country – Mexico
Date of inscription – 2006
Why it’s the best – The agave plant has been farmed in this area for at least two thousand years used for drinks and cloth. The Teuchitlan cultures changed the landscape through the creation of agricultural terraces for the growth of the planet. More recently it has been farmed since the 16th century for the production of tequila. Many distilleries can be found in the area reflecting the growth of tequila’s popularity throughout the world.
Suggested tourBespoke tour

Best Jungle Ruins

Tikal

Name – Tikal
Country – Guatemala
Date of inscription – 1979
Why it’s the best – This is one of the best jungle ruins. This 6th century B.C. Mayan site is surrounded by lush forest that once engulfed the several pyramids. Today you can still see much wildlife in the forest including cats like the jaguarundi and ocelots. For its age it’s in surprisingly good condition, with temples, palaces, ceremonial centre, public squares and ramps. A must for any trip to Guatemala.
Suggested tourDynamic Guatemala

Best for Taste

MTCO0142

Name – Coffee Cultural Landscapes
Country – Colombia
Date of inscription – 2011
Why it’s the best – Located on the foothills of the western and central ranges of the Cordillera de los Andes, the tradition of growing coffee here is a long one. It’s an exceptional example of a sustainable and productive cultural landscape and one that must be preserved. Colombia coffee is world renowned and of course, it’s best trying it at source.
Suggested tourCoffee Beans & Scenes

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.

lodge_hotel_amazon

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.

animal

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.

This Bizarre Orchid Looks Like A Monkey’s Face

Monkey Face Orchid 1
Flickr/Dick Culbert

The Dracula simian is an epiphytic orchid which, due to its features, is more commonly referred to as the monkey face orchid. The beautiful and strangely lifelike orchids can only be found in the southern Ecuadorian and Peruvian cloud forests between elevations of 1,000 and 2,000 metres. These rare orchids are part of a family of 120 species and are difficult to cultivate at home, although some have managed. They are not season specific and therefore can flower at any time of year.  They fragrance smells strongly of ripe oranges, which is a shame as bananas may be more appropriate. To see a huge photo collection of these wonderful flowers Monkey Orchids flickr album.

Would you like to see the monkey face orchid in the wild? Get in touch to start planning your trip.

Eleven Amazing Experiences You Can Have In Latin America [VID]

1. Snorkel with whale sharks on Mexico’s Holbox Island

2. Track wild jaguars in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands

3. Hike in the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park in Chile

4. Watch huge blocks of ice carve off the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

5. Hand glide over Rio de Janeiro in Brazil

6. View orcas in the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina

7. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru

8. Drive across the Uyuni Salts Flats in Bolivia

9. Get up close to the Iguazu Falls

10. Get up early to see the Tatio Geysers in Chile

11. Watch the mating dance of the blue-footed booby on the Galapagos Islands

To book any of these adventures get in touch with us here.

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 desert blooms in Atacama Chile

atacama-flor_credit ESO,P. Pardo

Photo: ESO / P. Pardo

The Flowering Desert phenomenon is a once in a lifetime experience, a unique and surprisingly colourful spectacular. Once in a rare while, the climate changes to produce rains in the desert which then quickly blooms with the emergence of a wide variety of flowers usually between the months of September and November. This natural event transforms the usually arid landscape into a gigantic multicoloured garden. Some 200 species of flowers have been seen bursting from the sand after five times the annual rainfall in just one month. The event is particularly intense in the coastal area of the region, such as Parque Nacional Llanos de Challe national park, near the city of Vallenar south Copiapó, about 800 kilometres north of Santiago. Flowers are everywhere, emerging from the sand, around cacti, even seeming to sprout out of rocks. Often this event occurs during El Niño years which are every six or seven years. Due to its unpredictability few visitors get to see the event. Also in this region one can visit the Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar, (Sugarloaf Island), which is inhabited by a colony of Humboldt penguins, with clear water beaches where you can dive and fish and observe other animals such as guanacos and foxes. See our Chile holiday ideas.

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