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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Hidden Mexico, Xochicalco


Teotihuacan ruins tends to get the majority of visitors in Central Mexico, however Xochicalco is less crowded, is smaller in size and the location on top of the hill gives some stunning views. A big bonus is the lack of vendors. Xochicalco is not far from Mexico City, and even closer to Cuernavaca. There is an interesting museum on site. The ball court and the Observatory should not be missed either. From the Main Plaza, you can see faint lines of the ancient trade highways which connected Xochicalco with Meso-American cities as far east as El Tajin on the Yucatan coast. The city was greatly influenced by Teotihuacan and its famous yellow-haired, bearded god Quetzalcoatl, (the Feathered Serpent) who has a pyramid in his name. The chief Topiltzan, who was educated at Xochicalco and believed to be the Quetzalcoatl in human form, was forced to abdicate, he promised to return in the year CE Acatl (1519) – the same year blond, bearded Pedro de Alvarado, one of Cortez’ officers, landed with his army in Yucatan. Try to spot the eight serpents coiled around the Pyramid’s sloping base which celebrate the date 9 Reptile Eye, when both Mayan and Toltec priests from Mesoamerica met to observe a solar eclipse. Add this to your journey to Mexico City.

RELATED: A guide to Mexico City street food

Pumas on the prowl

Puma in Chile

A Puma (Puma concolor) was spotted prowling around the Torres del Paine National Park, close to Explora’s Hotel Salto Chico. The puma or mountain lion is a large meat- eating cat native to the American continent. Its habitat extends from Canada in the north to the Patagonian prairies of South America. The best time of year for sighting pumas in Patagonia is during the winter months (June to September), when there are fewer visitors to the Park and the pumas come down from the mountains to hunt guanacos and other mammals. It is the second heaviest cat in the Western Hemisphere, after the jaguar. Solitary by nature and often nocturnal, the puma is most closely related to smaller felines and is nearer genetically to the domestic cat than true lions. The grace and power of the puma have been widely admired in the cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The Inca city of Cusco is reported to have been designed in the shape of a puma, and the animal also gave its name to both Inca regions and people. The Moche people of Peru represented the puma often in their ceramics. The sky and thunder god of the Inca, Viracocha, has been associated with the animal. Attacks on humans are very rare, as puma prey recognition is a learned behaviour and fortunately they do not generally recognize humans as prey.

RELATED: Wildlife spotlight on the Andean condor

Lonesome George: ‘was not the last of his kind’

Lonesome George

When Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island giant tortoise, died in June in the Galapagos, the world mourned the demise of a species – but a new report says he may not have been the last of his kind after all. There are at least 17 tortoises on the Galapagos Islands that have similar genetic traits to George, the Galapagos National Park said in a statement – meaning that George’s death “does not represent the end of the Pinta Island giant tortoises”. The Galapagos  were uninhabited  when Europeans first visited in the 16th century, and today has a population of around 35,000. Lonesome George, who was believed to be approaching 100 years old when he died, was discovered on Pinta Island in 1972 at a time when tortoises of his type were believed to be extinct. DNA Research conducted with Yale University experts “identified nine females, three males and five youths with genes of the Pinta Island giant tortoise species,” the statement read. Researchers compared tortoises living on the Wolf Volcano, on Isabela Island, to George’s DNA. The results means that there could be “additional hybrids on the Wolf Volcano”. The species was decimated by whalers and pirates in the 18th and 19th century, who took them aboard their ships as fresh food and introduced new predators. Today less than a tenth of the original population are left on the Galapagos. Park authorities have known since 2008 of the existence of hybrids with Pinta Island tortoise genes, but it remains to be seen if they can bring back Lonesome George’s sub-species.

RELATED: Lonesome George: ‘was not the last of his kind’

February is Carnival time

Diablada mask Carnival Puno

February is festival season in South America from one of the biggest in the world, the riotous colourful spectacle that is carnival in Brazil to the lesser known but equally impressive version in Oruro Bolivia. One of the biggest festivals in Peru runs over the first two weeks of the month showcasing parades and dancing. La Candelaria as with many other Latin American festivals has a strong duality, on the one hand, a Catholic tradition and on the other, the indigenous people’s celebration of Pachamama (Mother Earth). The town of Puno celebrates with particular fervour due to a legend of the statue of the Virgin of Candelaria being surrounded by such a blinding light that attackers of the city believed a huge army had gathered to protect her and left the city alone. A colourful procession carries the statue around the city with dancers in lavish costumes from all areas joining the parade. A recurring theme in both the Oruro festival and the Puno is the Danza del Diablada or Dance of the Devil which began during the Spanish colonization to teach the local natives the Christian faith and the relation between good and evil. Recreated with costumes of angels and demons, the elaborate Devil masks are definitely a sight to behold. Our Footsteps of the Incas journey goes to both Peru and Bolivia.

RELATED: Latin America’s most colourful festivals


Colonia Uruguay Colonia Uruguay

Uruguay is one of South America’s best hidden treasures. This small country offers fine beaches, a collection of Latin Americas most attractive colonial towns and a wild interior. One of the best ways to experience the real Uruguay is to stay at a traditional Uruguayan ranch, or estancia, where you can ride like a gaucho and enjoy great local cuisine. Colonia del Sacramento is right off a picture postcard with its cobble-stoned streets, ancient fortress wall and historic colonial buildings. Antique cars still run the streets. This UNESCO World Heritage site offers beautiful weather and a sense of being frozen in time. The old town of Montevideo has some great nightlife and restaurants, and its Mercado del Puerto food market is a feast for all the senses. Enjoy the enthralling Afro-Uruguayan Carnival held every February and hike bare-foot over the sand dunes at Cabo Polonio to the Atlantic Ocean. Diverse Try our Stylish Seaside Retreats journey to experience this colourful country and discover the Old World Charm of Uruguay.

RELATED: Punte del Este without the crowds

The world’s most remote party on Easter Island

If you want the ultimate party we invite you to enjoy Tapati Rapa Nui 2013 which will be celebrated in February on Easter Island. You will of course visit the iconic sites of Easter Island but also enjoy and participate in the Tapati, the popular Island’s party, which re-creates ancestral traditions and rituals. This annual festival is when the Pascuenses (Easter Island people) get a chance to expresses the spirit and cultural identity of their ancestors: the Polynesian tribal clans. The activities include: Takona – extreme body painting, singing competitions, Haka Pei – where brave young men slide down the cliff of Pu’i hill on a banana tree, Tau’a Rapa Nui – unique sports on Rano Raraku volcano. Rooms on the island are at a premium then but we have blocked bookings for you to participate in this unique party.

RELATED: How Did Easter Island Get Named?

Sweet Tooth? Try Alfajores

Argentines will claim the national sweet in the country has to be the alfajor,  though Peruvians have their own version of the classic Latin American shortbread and dulce de leche treat.  Variations include dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, nuts of many varieties, coconut and, of course, the all important dulce de leche or Manjar Blanco (crudely likened to soft and gooey caramel.  Ready-made Alfajores are widely available in kiosks and patisseries in Buenos Aires.  Some aficionados make their own dulce de leche by boiling evaporated milk, condensed milk, and sugar. This should all be in a large saucepan – it takes vigorous boiling and stirring until the consistency is sticky enough to sandwich between two biscuits and dust with icing sugar…

RELATED: 29th is Gnocchi Day in Argentina!

‘Lost Kingdoms of South America’

Three bespoke adventure ideas following in the footsteps of Dr Jago Copper on his quest to discover the Lost Kingdoms of South America. Our intrepid product designers have already visited most of these sites and would be happy to create your own Lost Kingdom adventure.

In search of El Dorado – Follow in the footsteps of hundreds of years of treasure hunters on the search for the legendary city of gold. You may not come home with jewels but you will have precious memories.
Warriors of the Clouds – A journey exploring the ancient cultures and fallen empires of Peru. During the trip you will visit the famous sites of Kuelap and Chan Chan
Tiwanaku and Beyond – A journey through Bolivia’s rich and colourful past visiting some remarkable pre-Inca sites that are well off-the-beaten track

RELATED: 10 ancient South American wonders you absolutely need to visit