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Category Archives: Off the Beaten Track

Holbox – Mexico

The small island of Holbox (pronounced Hole-Bosh) is a barefoot paradise off Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Though not far from Cancun and the Riviera Maya, it is a World apart from those resorts, more cut-off jeans than designer chic. The ambiance is laid-back and the surrounding turquoise waters inviting. Only accessible by private yacht or the ferry from Chiquila, it is never overwhelmed with visitors. It is best to arrange transport in advance; some hotels will arrange pick-ups from the airport. Once you are there you can get most places by foot or hire a golf buggy taxi. The island is a lozenge 26 miles long by one mile wide. Traffic is not a problem, but after a rain shower the dirt roads can get a bit muddy.

Hammocks are de-rigour but the more active can try snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking. At the right time of year (June – September) take day trips by boat to see the whale-sharks that migrate off the north-eastern Yucatan Peninsula’s coast. These are the largest fish in the World, but harmless gentle giants that feed on plankton. You can see flamingos wading offshore, by walking to the north west of the island near the mangroves.

Holbox is an ideal place to get off-grid, communications are a bit hit-and-miss but that is part of the charm. Street art is popular here, murals abound depicting marine themes, or just pure fantasy. The northern shore is shallow and warm, ideal for kids. There is a sand bar just offshore which adults can walk too. Some hotels arrange romantic meals on tables above the water.

There are no big chain hotels, just small guest houses and boutique hotels. Eating out is not gourmet affair, as there are only a few restaurants, but it is easy to get tasty seafood and a cold beer at one of the beach bars. For home-made ice-cream try Angeles y Diablitos on the main square. For boutique hotels we recommend Las Nubes or Villas Flamingos. Enjoy amazing sunsets from any of the beachfront properties. A true place to relax and unwind.

All images copyright David Horwell 2019

CHILE EXPANDS PARKS OF PATAGONIA

Chile has hugely expanded its National Parks area by 631 thousand hectares. Thanks in part to the vision of the late Douglas Tompkins. In this remote area of northern Patagonia his Pumalín park is combined with Melimoyu and the parks Corcovado and Hornopirén, Now over 20% of the continental territory of Chile is protected. This is good news for the birdlife including Condors and the huemul, an Andean deer. The region is crossed by the ultimate road trip along the southern highway or Carretera Austral.
“For all our team, we are proud to have contributed with this management to the State of Chile, and the fact that Pumalín Park now bears the name of Douglas is a recognition of its vision regarding the public value of national parks, its love for Chile and commitment to conservation,” said Tompkins Conservation Chile executive director Carolina Morgado.

The American millionaire Douglas Tompkins, founder of the firm The North Face, began in 1992, the acquisition of large tracts of land in order to protect the temperate rain forest. In 2017, the foundation that bears his name donated 407,000 hectares to the Chilean State for the creation of the National Parks Network in Chilean Patagonia. His wife Kristine carries on the good work, which also includes part of Argentina. To visit this remote part of Chile, contact us.

Related: Wildlife Spotlight on the Andean Condor 

BEN BOX – BIRDWATCHING IN COLOMBIA

Glittering Starfrontlet – copyright Jim Lawrence

As anyone who watches birds will tell you, the best times of day to go out with your binoculars are dawn and dusk. This trip was no different and, on most days, it was a question of breakfast competing with an important bird or two. Take, for instance, the day we headed from Manizales to the Montezuma Rainforest Lodge in the buffer zone of the Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá in Colombia’s western Andean cordillera.

Tatamá – copyright Ben Box

We left Manizales very early and stopped at a small commercial centre on the outskirts of Pereira to pick up a group member. The little car park was, like every other stop, a chance to get out the binoculars and, lo and behold: a couple of macaws that should not have been there (out of their range; probably escaped from a private aviary). Next stop, also near Pereira, was Maracay. From the bus we walked into open grassland overlooking dry forest and the distant Río Cauca valley. In a new open-sided pavilion a fabulous picnic was laid out. So we ate and birded, adding to the tour’s bird list the endemic apical flycatcher, scarlet-fronted parakeet, spectacled parrotlet, bay-headed tanager, and migrant fork-tailed flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo.

Colombia Tatamá – Ben Box

Before too long we were on the road again, reaching the Montezuma Rainforest Lodge for lunch. The lodge’s feeders were alive with hummingbirds (I counted ten different species), saltators and tanagers, so we birded again while we ate. After lunch we moved uphill, but as the day wore on the clouds rolled in and by late afternoon the rain was so heavy, we called it a day. We did stop at a small bridge where our guide, Yesenia, put crumbs on the parapet and called “Olive Finch, Olive Finch”, but the bird was clearly sheltering from the rain too and never showed.

Next morning, the rain had moved away, and we loaded into the vehicles for the rough ride to the end of the road into the national park. Tatamá means grandfather of all the rivers and on the mountain sides across the gorge waterfalls tumbled and echoed from the ridges. Breakfast was snatched off the back of the pick-up because the hummingbirds up here were too good to miss: tourmaline sunangel, collared inca, dusky starfrontlet, velvet-purple coronet. accompanied by coffee and arepas we saw other colourful names, green-and-black fruiteater; purplish-mantled and golden-ringed tanagers; chestnut-bellied flowerpiercer, before descending slowly to the lodge as the rain rolled in again.

Footnotes:
Colombia is aiming to be the number one birding destination in the world, to match its status as the country with the most bird species in its territory (1,921 species). Many areas of the country that were out of bounds during the years of conflict are now open to tourists and birdwatching is increasing rapidly in popularity. The Colombian government is training guides and fostering bird-based tourism as a conservation and economic development tool. Five birdwatching routes are in development; two are open: The Northern Colombia Birding Trail and the Central Andes Birding Trail. This group travelled on much of the latter. Contact us for further details.

Ben was invited to join the birdwatching trip in Colombia by BirdLife International and guest of ProColombia.

Guest Blog Brazil: A hard nut to crack or just a big pussycat?!

David and his team have been organising our trips to South America for nearly 20 years now. We have previously described them as ‘masterpieces’; each one excelling in the chosen area of travel. A big challenge faces them every time we book another holiday.
So, with the bar set high, could they reach it for Brazil?

Our first stay at Cordilheira, Caiman Ecological Refuge, brought us a sighting of Fera, a ‘re-wilded’ orphaned jaguar cub. Having watched a David Attenborough programme shortly before departure, ‘Jaguars in Brazil’, featuring this very same cub, it was like being in our own wildlife documentary. The afternoon we saw her, we watched her return to, and finish off, a previous kill of a giant anteater. We then tracked her in the hope that she might return to her two young cubs. As darkness fell we saw an armadillo scamper across the grass in the light of our guides torch. So too did Fera and, with mixed feelings, we watched as she caught and devoured her dessert! By the time she had finished it was too dark to continue tracking her, so we didn’t get to see the cubs, but we have heard they are doing well. During our stay however, we did encounter roadblocks, ‘jaguar style’, as a mating pair frequently chose to ‘rest’ on the highway through the park. One day, by the river bank, we found deep paw prints in the mud of an ‘unknown’ jaguar. Our guide made plaster casts as a memento of our trip, which we hope to eventually turn into bronze casts.

Jaguar paw print Pantanal

At Araras Lodge we saw Caiman at close quarters but kept a respectful distance having been told that a Japanese tourist once thought that because they were lying so still they weren’t alive. Upon kicking one, and losing three toes, he was very much proved wrong! This was a destination of the unexpected; a giant anteater in the swimming pool and nearly being capsized in our canoe by a Tapir. Not your everyday encounters!

Caiman Pantanal Brazil

Staying on a ‘Flotel’ out of Porto Jofre sounded like sheer luxury and indulgence, and it was. Not least of all because we were the only passengers on a 16-berth boat; our own captain, chef, maid, boatman and guide! Surreal, and all credit to them for not cancelling our booking due to the low occupancy. Our motorboat trips out brought sightings of 10 different jaguars, in varying locations and situations; with a cub, swimming in the river, retrieving a dead caiman and climbing up a tree, to name but a few. It would be unfair to focus on just the jaguars however and not mention all the other wonderful wildlife we saw; giant otters playing or eating fish, Caiman, Capybara, Howler monkeys, Capuchin monkeys, Jabiru stork and a wealth of birdlife. My only ‘reservation’ was the day I needed a ‘comfort stop’. The boatman pulled in by the shore. There, in the sand, was a jaguar paw print. A few feet away lay a Caiman – definitely alive! My bladder capacity increased almost instantaneously as I decided to wait for a more suitable/acceptable location for my needs.

Jabiru Storks Pantanal Brazil

At Cristalino Lodge we enjoyed the diversity of wildlife, walking through the forests, up the watch towers and boating along the river. More surprises waited for us here as we watched a pair of sun bitterns on the river bank. Suddenly an ornate hawk eagle shot swiftly out from the bush, took one of the sun bitterns in its talons, circled round behind us and back into the bush. For a few moments I think we were all in shock and I don’t think any of us could quite take on board what had happened. It was however quite incredible to witness such a snapshot of nature.

Giant anteater, Pantanal, Brazil

Ibitipoca was almost beyond description. If there is a Paradise here on earth, then this is most definitely a contender. A peaceful, tranquil location where just wandering around in the environs of the lodge you are engulfed by the most stunning scenery. There are sheltered spots where you can sit or lie and just absorb the ambience that surrounds you. Everything has been done so tastefully whilst embracing the eco environment and the regeneration of the area. On one of our excursions we even had the good fortune to have a rare sighting of a maned wolf. Walking up to the plateau and encountering the family of seven magnificent human metal sculptures, by Karen Cusolito, looking down the valley, is breath-taking. It is a very special place indeed.

Reserva do Ibitipoca_Tamarin

Our journey ended in Paraty, a delightful old colonial town with a fascinating history and the infrastructure of a bygone era still standing and inhabited to this day. Our stay at Casa Cairucu, on the shore looking out over the bay, provided us with an opportunity to relax and reflect on an incredible adventure. Another masterpiece if ever there was.

Paraty, Brazil

Gillian & Phil Moss

If you want us to create your own bespoke trip to Brazil, do get in touch.

Related: The Difference Between Paraty & Buzios

6 THINGS TO DO IN URUGUAY

ENJOY MONTEVIDEO THE STRESS-FREE CITY

The nation’s capital is big enough to have plenty to see, but small enough to get around easily. Much of the city is along the seafront, where locals jog and families play ball games. The city is ranked as having the highest quality of life in Latin America and considering many offices don’t start until 10am it has a very relaxed ambience. I visited earlier this year and found the people friendly and happy. The Spanish historic centre is like walking back in time, and for those who like meat stop at the Mercado del Puerto for an asado, a mixed charcoal grill. For shopping an old prison at Punta Carretas is now a fashionable mall. Tango is also as popular here as in Buenos Aires. If you want some real peace and quiet go to La Baguela, a country hotel just 30 minutes away with its own deserted beach.

RIDE THE DUNES OF ROCHA

The department of Rocha in the East has some of the finest beaches and lagoons in the country. The sand dunes are sparsely inhabited, and you can even stay in a yurt or beach cabin at La Pedrera. This quiet area is great for bird-watching, horse-riding or as I chose, biking. There are amazing walks over the dunes to the old hippie colony of Cabo Polonia. Take plenty of water with you on any of these trips, as there are no refreshments on sale anywhere. You may stumble upon tiny fisherman’s villages, but the only living thing I came across was a donkey.

PLAY JAMES BOND AT JOSÉ IGNACIO

José Ignacio is a coastal point that attracts the wealthy jet-set. You can find ultra-modern architects dream hotels like the three glamourous Vik properties (Estancia, Bahia and Playa) each decorated with unique works of art or the Fasano hotel in nearby Punta del Este. The Awa boutique hotel also is in Punta del Este. The lagoon at Jose Ignacio is a fave spot for kite-boarders.

TASTE THE TANNAT

Uruguay has some great wines, with a heritage going back to Italian, Spanish and French immigrants. The grape that has been adopted here is Tannat, which produces a heady, strong and full-bodied wine suited to the harsh dry environment. It is only recently been discovered by importers and well worth trying with a good steak. Some of the bodegas or wineries are open to visitors and do tastings, (make sure that you are not the designated driver). A few of the estancias take in guests, I particularly liked Narbona, which was further to the west near Carmelo. We also stopped at the charming Aguaverde Wine Lodge near Punta del Este for lunch. The welcoming lodge has rooms and cottages for guests, a stunning infinity pool and a vineyard beyond the gardens.

WALK AROUND COLONIA DEL SACRAMENTO

Take a day trip to Colonia, a charming town steeped in Spanish and Portuguese historical monuments. Popular with trippers from Argentina too, as a 45-minute ferry connects with Buenos Aires. The town is dominated by the lighthouse and fortified walls, but there are many interesting museums, churches and art galleries. One of the main attractions for me are the old classic cars that can be seen dotted around the centre, some of which are no longer driven but make unique bar-rooms for a romantic drink. There are some nice boutique hotels such as El Charco, if you have time enough to linger a day or two.

WHALE WATCHING

Southern Right Whales head along the coastlines of South America. They mate and raise their calves before migrating towards Antarctica, where their main feeding grounds are. Uruguay has some prime spots for whale watching. The season stretches from June to December, depending on the weather. The best time to observe these graceful giants and their offspring is between August and October. The Atlantic coast has good vantage points at Rocha and Punta del Este. Boat tours should be approved by the Organization for the Conservation of Whales (OCC-Uruguay) to make sure that the whales are not disturbed. It is even possible to observe them from the beach, with a binoculars. Watch out for water sprays, churning water and flocks of sea gulls – these are sure indicators that whales are near. Chances are even better in the early morning or late afternoon. For more details about visiting Uruguay do contact us.
All pictures except whale are copyright David Horwell.

RELATED: 6 Things to do in Uruguay

REACH FOR THE STARS IN CHILE

Chile is probably the best place in the World for star-gazing. Whether you are a casual star-gazer, or a professional astronomer, Chile is hard to beat. Astronomy is gaining popularity as more people are interested in the wonders of the sky and the mysteries of the universe. Much of this long country are sparsely populated which reduces light pollution. The dry desert climate in the north creates some of the clearest nights in the world and its location provides an ideal view of the southern sky. In the 1960’s, ESO (European Southern Observatory) built its Observatory La Silla in the outskirts of the famous Atacama Desert. In 2019, La Silla will celebrate 50 years of operation. 2019 will also be the year of a total eclipse in Northern Chile on July 02nd 2019. The Moon will cover the Sun completely in the late afternoon and turn the day into night. La Silla is organizing a ‘2019 Total Solar Eclipse Event’. Tickets sold out immediately. Accommodation almost anywhere in the zone of the eclipse also sold out a while ago. All is not lost however, we can offer a Glamping Experience for a 4-day/ 3-night trip from La Serena to the Elqui Valley (1-4 July). You will stay in the heart of the desert and be able to sip cocktails around a bonfire. A trip will be made to a unique observation point. Visit villages and sample the local cuisine and Pisco beverage. Other activities include sightseeing and bathing in thermal springs.

Even if you are not an astronomy enthusiast, the breath-taking view of the star-filled sky is always worth a visit. Tip: If you are heading to the Atacama, avoid the full-moon, so stars will be more visible. Contact us for more information and star-gazing programs in Chile.

RELATED: 8 Amazing Journeys You Should Take In Chile

Whale watching in Costa Rica starts in July

Now is the time to head down to warm waters of the Golfo Dulce in southern Costa Rica. Pacific humpback whales arrive on their annual migration to mate and socialize. After spending the southern summer in Antarctica, they head to the tropics the breed. They stay until October. You will get up-close to giant sentient beings that share the planet with us. These southern whales hang-out in the protected waters of the Golfo Dulce and the Ballena National Marine Park. Here they enjoy shallow coastal waters and protection from natural predators like sharks and Orcas. National Geographic rated Costa Rica the 7th best place in the world for whale watching. Watch their tail-slapping displays, breaches above the water and spot their distinctive humps.

“I remember vividly the first time I saw a humpback whale in the wild. Suddenly, a spray of water erupted from the calm blue-green water a few hundred yards off the beach. The long, black and barnacled form of a mother humpback whale surfaced gracefully for air. Our little group pointed excitedly at the huge whale. Then we gasped in delight as we caught sight of the smaller shape of her baby swimming by her side.
We jumped into a boat, and at a respectful distance, we cruised along with mother and baby as they slowly swam along the dark green coast thick with rainforest. Pairs of Scarlet Macaws flew overhead as sunset neared, heading to roost in tall shoreline trees for the night. The whales disappeared out of sight, and we motored back enchanted.” Shannon Farley.

If seeing whales and dolphins up close in their natural environment is on your bucket list, you can go on Costa Rica whale-watching tours from Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge starting toward the end of July through the end of September. Keep a look-out also for visiting whale sharks, the largest fish in the sea. Nicuesa Lodge is giving a special offer of one free night when you stay a minimum of three or more nights. Contact us for more details.

RELATED: 12 amazing things to do in Costa Rica

King Penguins in Tierra del Fuego

King Penguin

If you want to see King penguins but don’t want to go to Antarctica, go to Tierra del Fuego. A few years ago, a small colony of King Penguins started nesting at a local Estancia. This is the only place to find the second largest penguin within the American continent. We will be offering a day trip to see these graceful creatures. The itinerary starts in Punta Arenas and consists on a short flight to Porvenir and then a drive to the the reserve and then fly back. This is a perfect addition to any Torres del Paine itinerary with some idle time in Punta Arenas.

Tierra del Fuego means ‘Land of Fire’ after the fires the indigenous people kept going. The archipelago is shared between Chile and Argentina. Much of it is flat steppe grasslands, but a chain of rugged mountains runs down, covered in a permanent ice field. We also offer cruises that ply the islands’ fjords and include a stop at mythical Cape Horn.
Here are some Chilean holiday ideas.

RELATED: Patagonia Overland Safari Our New Product

WIN a fabulous 8-day holiday for two to Nicaragua

The Colonial city of Granada

We have teamed up with The Travel Magazine to have the chance to enjoy a holiday of a lifetime touring Nicaragua. Known for its colonial cities, volcanoes and unspoilt beaches, Nicaragua is one of the region’s best kept secrets. Enjoy beautiful lakes, active volcanoes, nature reserves, inviting beaches and friendly locals.

Your tour (see full itinerary here) starts in the capital city of Managua where you can rub shoulders with locals in the street markets, then on to the beautiful colonial city of Leon Nicaragua’s historical, cultural and religious capital. You could even go boarding at the Cerro Negro volcano if you have the stomach for this exciting ride down the volcano. Then take the ferry to the Isla de Ometepe, situated on Lake Nicaragua, with two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas. Spend the night on a nature reserve by one of the most beautiful beaches in the country.

Then on to the vibrant colonial city of Granada believed to be the second oldest in Latin America and attacked many times by pirates. You will visit the city by horse-drawn carriage. Climb the bell tower of Merced church and enjoy spectacular views over Lake Nicaragua and Mombacho Volcano. The trip is for two and includes flights, hotels some meals and activities. Select Latin America has been offering quality trips to the Central America for over three decades.

To enter the competition, click here. Winner will be chosen at random on May 16th 2017.

RELATED: Top 8 things to do in Nicaragua

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

chile_holiday_tatio_geysers

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

iguazu-falls-455609_640

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.

RELATED: Our picks for the 2018 hotspots in Latin America

 

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