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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Fascinating Inca ruins to visit nearby Cuzco

Most who visit Cuzco have the aim of wandering through the nearby ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, and for good reason. It’s arguably the most spectacular of all Inca ruins, teetering on a hilltop shrouded by mist. But did you know that there are plenty of impressive Inca sites surrounding Cuzco, many of which are lesser visited that Machu Picchu? Here are 7 of the best:

Sacsayhuaman

This awesome Inca site located on a hill just outside Cuzco is gigantic. When the Spanish first arrived they recorded it as a military base, but it was later used as a place of worship. The structure is made from huge blocks of rock, some reaching metres in length and the largest weighing 125 tons. Try visiting during the Inti Raymi festival.

Q’enka

Another Inca site located just outside the city. These ruins were once dedicated to animals and the main building is formed from a circular amphitheatre. An enormous stone block in the centre reaches almost 6 metres and resembles the image of a puma. Another underground passages are adorned with images of animals and figures.

Tipon

Tipon located just 15 miles from Cuzco was through to once be home to a great population of Incas. The archaeological site has a series of megalithic buildings and a large area of agricultural area made up of terraced that ascend down the mountainside.

Tambomachay

Flickr: Ang

Flickr: Ang

Known as Baños del Inca or Inca’s spa, Tambomachay was a place of great importance to the Incas. The spring provided much of the populations water supply and was housed in walled construction. The water cascades down a series of small waterfalls. Water from the spring was offered to Inti, the god of the sun.

Puca Pucara

Flickr: Alain Rueff

Flickr: Alain Rueff

Located near to Tambomachay on a hilltop, this Inca ruin was used as a military outpost and defensive site for the spring. The circular fort would have once housed a series of inner rooms, turrets, windows and platforms from which the surrounding countryside would be watched.

Moray

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Moray is an archaeological site located about 30 miles away from Cuzco on a high plateau. The sites unusual as it consists of circular terraces and a sophisticated irrigation system. Although it is not clear why they were created in such a way, most agree that it to create the correct growing conditions. The temperature difference within the depressions can be considerably different.

Maras

Another fascinating Inca site, usually visited in combination with Moray, is Maras, a town which is well-known for its terraced salt evaporation ponds. Salty spring water flows into an irrigation system which channels the water over terraced platforms which then dry and leave the salt. They are still in use today.

Want to walk in the footsteps of the Incas? Select Latin America has been creating bespoke holidays to the region for over 30 years. Take a look at our suggested tours of Peru or get in touch with us today to begin planning your Inca adventure.

RELATED: 10 classic things to do on your first time in Peru

740 steps lead to the top of this monolithic rock formation in Colombia

1024px-Piedra_del_Peñol_N1_30062011

Wiki: Dtarazona

La Piedra or ‘The Stone’ is located an hour or two north of Medellin near the town of Guatapé, the city famous for its spring-like climate and famous flower festival.  Formed millions of years ago, the monolithic rock formation towers up over 200 metres and weighs a staggering 66 million tons.

Although the rock has been eroded and smoothed over, it has one crack which runs down one of its sides. It’s here that over 740 steps have been placed in a zig-zag all the way up, reassembling giant stich work covering a scar. These stairs have created access for visitors who want to see the rocks spectacular view point.

At the top, hikers can find gorgeous views over the Colombia countryside as well as some obligatory souvenir stalls. There plenty of seats and some of the vendors sell cold beer, the perfect accompaniment to the views which stretch out in every direction.

For years there has been a dispute over the rock’s ownership. Both the towns of Guatapé and El Peñol, which are roughly the same distance from La Piedra claim it to be theirs. The residents of Guatapé felt so strongly about it they began painting the town’s letters on the northern face. After ‘G’ and part of ‘U’ this was noticed by the residents of El Peñol who quickly sent a large mob to stop it.

In the 1940s the rock was declared a national monument by the Colombian government and it wasn’t until July 1954 that the rock was officially climbed. Later in 2006, Pedro Nel Ramirez, Luis Villegas and Ramón Díaz spent five days scaling it using sticks that were fixed to the rock’s walls.

Interestly, a new plant species was found at the top of the monolith by a German scientist which was named Pitcairnia heterophylla.

To see the rock for yourself, get in contact to start planning you trip to Colombia.

RELATED: A guide to the best street food in Colombia

Here are the 10 best Amazon lodges in South America

With so many Amazon lodges, decided on which to visit can be confusing. With over 30-years’ experience in creating and planning tours to the continent, we’ve had experience in nearly all of them. Here’s the pick of the best Amazon lodges, taking into account level of comfort, experience of naturalist and local guides, itinerary, accessibility and region.

Cristalino Jungle Lodge, Alta Floresta, Brazil

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Let’s start with one of the most luxurious lodges. Located in the southern Brazilian region of the Amazon, the Cristalino is located in a private natural heritage reserve adjacent to the 456,800 acre Cristalino State Park. The surrounding area is rich in over 580 species of bird, many butterfly species, capaybaras, anteaters, river otters and many varieties of monkeys.

Uakari Floating Lodge, Tefe, Brazil

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To visit the Uakari Floating Lodge you must first take a flight to Tefe, deep in the Amazon. This flooded region of the Amazon is a wildlife lovers’ dream and scientists come from all over the world to study the species. It was constructed to enable scientists and tourists to explore the millon hectare reserve with minimal impact of the environment. Fresh water dolphins, alligators, opossums and monkeys among others can all be spotted from the lodge.

Napo Wildlife Lodge, Coca, Ecuador

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One of our favourite lodges in the whole Amazon, the Napo Wildlife Lodge is accessed by canoe from the jungle town of Coca. The 10 comfortable cabanas with private balconies overlooking the Napo River make an excellent base for wildlife excursions including parrot licks, canoe rides and nocturnal treks.

Anavilhanas Lodge, Manaus, Brazil

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Another luxury lodge, located on an archipelago of 400 islands on the Rio Negro River near to Manaus. Each island is adorned with thick rainforest and seasonal river beaches. The lodge is small with just 16 cabins, all of which are beautifully decorated with local arts and crafts. There is no shortage of wildlife including countless birds, tree-dwelling animals and aquatic life, including the pink river dolphin.

Tambopata Research Center, Manu, Peru

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The Tambopata Research Center is a comfortable 18-bedroom lodge situated by one of the world’s largest Macaw Clay licks on the uninhabited frontier of the Tambopata National Reserve and the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park. It was established to aid the protection of these magnificent birds and has a long-term research project to ensure the survival of their populations.

Juma Lodge, Manaus, Brazil

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Looking for something a little more authentic? This rustic lodge was carefully planned and built from local sustainable wood and palm leaves, so you would be forgiven for thinking this was an indigenous village. Each of the 23 simple but comfortable private bungalows sit on stilts overlooking Juma Lake.

Kapawi, Coca, Ecuador

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A community project run by the Achuar tribe, this lodge gives visitors a particularly good insight into local life. With the aim of protecting the nature reserve that surrounds the lodge, it’s an excellent spot for observing monkeys, birds, butterflies, fresh water dolphins and sloths. The lodges 20 bungalows may not be luxurious, but they are comfortable enough and made from local materials. The lodge has won a number of conservation awards.

Manu Wildlife Centre, Manu, Peru

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Manu Wildlife Centre consists of 22 double bungalows built in the style of, and using the same materials as, the local Machiguenga indigenous communities. Local wood, bamboo and palm fronds for roofing are used. It is owned by Expediciones Manu, and the Peru Verde Conservation Group, a non-profit, non-government organization involved in rainforest conservation projects.

Sani, Coca, Ecuador

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This eco-lodge establish and operated by the indigenous Sani tribe helps protect vast swathes of the surrounding pristine rainforest. Located between the Cuyabeño Reserve and Yasuni National Park, the area is teeming with wildlife including giant armadillo, giant anteater, woolly monkey, Amazonian manatee and the magnificent harpy eagle.

Reserva Amazonica, Puerto Madonado, Peru

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Exotic yet accessible, Reserva Amazónica Lodge is situated in a private reserve, surrounded by a vast jungle canopy. Inspired by native Amazon design 35 private thatched roof cabañas combine natural materials with contemporary amenities. Travelling to Tambopata National Reserve offers a rare opportunity to discover a lively biodiversity of birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and trees.

To start planning your tour of the Amazon, get in touch with us today.

RELATED: Our picks for the 2018 hotspots in Latin America

8 incredible things you’ll do on a cruise in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands is arguably one of the finest wildlife spots in the world. With a high proportion of endemic creatures, this was famously the archipelago that Charles Darwin came up with his theory of evolution. It may not be known as much for its human history, but the tales of whalers, buccaneers and mysterious early settlers are just as fascinating.

Here we’ll run through 8 of the best things you will do on an 8-day cruise with us in the Galapagos. Would you like to walk with giant Galapagos tortoises in the wild or swim in the swallows with playful sea lion pups? Take a look at our list of Galapagos cruises and get booking today.

Snorkel with turtles

What could be better than donning a snorkelling mask and swimming with the warm clear waters alongside graceful turtles in the wild? These beautiful creatures live here in abundance, and with snorkelling opportunities every day on most of our cruises, you’ll be sure to spot plenty of them. Silently glide alongside these fearless marine creatures as they search for food.

Walk along the red beach of Rabida

The Galapagos never ceases to amaze in its diversity. On Rabida, a small central island near Santiago, the beaches are deep red, almost maroon coloured. Why? The high content of iron in the rock oxides, making it effectively go rusty. This doesn’t stop the wildlife of which you can see species aplenty. A colony of noisy sea lions bask along the beach, marine iguanas lounge, while brown pelicans and blue-footed boobies build their nest.

Watch the mating dance of the waved albatross

This one’s not only specific to the Galapagos Islands, it’s specific to one island, Española. During April and May the waved albatross return to the island to find a mate. Their curious mating dance of bill clapping, circling and sky pointing. We were lucky enough to see the display close up, a film of which you can see above.

See golden rays in Black Turtle Cove

One of our favourites. The mangroves of Black Turtle Cove are often done on the last morning before departing. Zip down through the secluded estuary on Santa Cruz Island on board dinghies at turn of the engines, after which the real magic begins. Turtles rise to the surface to breath and white tipped reef sharks dart past. However, the real highlight is the schools of golden rays, seen just under the water’s surface.

Post a letter a Post Office Bay

The Galapagos may be known for its wildlife, but humans have also made their mark. Whalers used Floreana Island as a stop off point since the early 19th century. Here they left a wooden barrel at the now named Post Office Bay, from which mail could be left and collected by passersby. When you visit, be sure to leave your piece of mail, and collect some unstamped mail to deliver or hand deliver on your return.

See marine life at the Devil’s Crown

The Devil’s Crown is perhaps the best dive site on the archipelago. The sunken volcanic crater, eroded by waves over thousands of years, is inhabited by a coral reef. This along with the currents, make an ideal home for marine life. Snorkellers are treated to the sight of colourful tropical fish, turtles, marine iguanas and small sharks. If you are a beginner, be sure to stay within the crown, as hammerheads often circle around the outside.

Walk with giant Galapagos tortoises

The iconic giant Galapagos tortoises (of which there are several species), are what gave the archipelago its name. Famously, the islands were home to lonesome George, the last of his species found alone on Pinta Island. He died in 2012, but it’s still possible to go to the highlands of Santa Cruz and walk, albeit slowly, with these gentle giants.

Take a dingy around Kicker Rock

Its Spanish name is Leon Dormido, which literally translates to ‘Sleeping Lion’, an apt name for the two rocky outcrops in the south east of the archipelago. Take a dingy through the narrow channel where an incredible variety of wildlife can be seen. On the cliffs above, nesting blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds can be seen.

Has this whetted the appetite for the Galapagos and the spectacular wildlife that can be seem? If you have any questions about visiting the islands or would like some advice on booking, get in touch with us today or have a look at our Galapagos tour suggestions.

RELATED: A typical day in the Galapagos Islands

The underground Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira in Colombia is simply awesome

There is something awe inspiring about this underground church – the simply carved naves lit with a neon blue light and decorated with marble sculptures, makes it look like a scene from a futuristic movie.

Although this is a popular tourist attraction and somewhat of a pilgrimage for Catholics in Colombia, it is a functioning church, receiving hundreds, if not thousands of visitors on Sundays. Interestingly though, Zipaquira has not bishop, and is therefore not recognised as a cathedral in Catholicism.

Flickr: Mario Chavez

Flickr: Mario Chavez

Nevertheless, this place of worship has been heralded as one of the finest achievements in modern Colombian architecture, with some describing it a ‘jewel of modern architecture’. Most of the architectural details and the icons located in the naves are hand carved in the halite rock, although there are a few marble sculptures which compliment them.

The region has been mined since the pre-Columbian Muisca culture in the 5th century BC. Fast forward a couple of thousand years, and miners built a simple sanctuary and cross where they could pray and ask for protection each day before work. In 1950, the construction of a large cathedral began and inaugurated in 1954. It was dedicated to Our Lady of Rosary, the patron saint of miners. Comprising of three naves, some of which were originally carved out by the Muisca people, the large complex cost over $285 million to build and could house over 8,000 worshippers.

Flickr: Ben Bowes

Flickr: Ben Bowes

Unfortunately, due to safety concerns, the cathedral was shut in 1990, and the construction of a new cathedral began in 1991, 200 feet below the original. Opened in 1995, the new cathedral is part of a larger complex which houses the Parque de la Sal (Salt Park) and a museum of mining and geology. Although the project was far from simple, it was achieved by making changes and additions to the corridors and cavernous areas created by the mining operations.

There are three main features to the new cathedral. The first is the Station of the Crosses, a series of 14 small chapels which illustrate Jesus’ last journey. The next is the dome located at the end of the entrance ramp and from which visitors descend into the chambers. Lastly, there are three naves which are interconnected via a crack which symbolizes the birth and death of Christ. The main alter has a large lit cross above it, and behind an angel sculpture can be seen blowing a trumpet.

Also on offer is the Salt Park, a 79-acre area which include the Brine Museum, the Salt Auditorium, the Sacred Axis (a square 4-metre-high cross) and depictions of the mining process.

The cathedral is located in the town of Zipaquira, around 30 miles from Bogota. It can be reached either on the Tren Turistico de la Sabana or via car. We recommend visiting the cathedral en route to Villa de Leyva. To start planning your trip to Zipaquira, get in touch today, or see our suggested tours to Colombia.

RELATED: A guide to the best street food in Colombia

Ceviche de Cameron, Ecuadorian prawn ceviche recipe

Fresh, zingy, delicious and perfect for a summers day. Ecuadorian ceviche differs from its Peruvian cousin with the inclusion of tomatoes and bell peppers. Ceviche is eaten all over Ecuador, but particular good (and fresh) in coastal areas. If you feel a little squeamish about making ceviche from raw fish, but would like to try the dish, this is the recipe for you as it uses already cooked prawns. And the best thing? It’s super simple to make.

Serves: 6 people main / 10 people for appetizers
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients

1kg prawns, peeled
5 tomatoes, diced
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
2 onions, thinly sliced
150mls tomato juice
1 orange, juiced
12 limes, juiced
1 handful of coriander, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Popcorn, salted (optional)

Method

Fill a large pan with water and add a little salt. Once boiling, add the prawns and cook for 1 minute or until just cooked. Drain and leave to cool. Add the juice of one lime to the thinly sliced onions and leave to marinate. Add all the ingredients together including the onions in a large bowl and add seasoning to taste. Leave in the fridge for 1 hour for the flavours to mix properly. Sprinkle a little more chopped coriander over the top and serve accompanied with salted popcorn and cold beer.

Want to try the real deal? Start planning your tour of Ecuador today.

RELATED: Argentine empanada recipe

Weird foods from around Latin America

When most people think of weird dishes, they look to Asia. But Latin America has its fair share of odd food stuffs from turtle eggs to fried insects.

One should always remember that we are not born with any particularly aversion to any food. Our likes and dislikes all come from nurture. While you might find the thought of eating something like a juicy grub rather disgusting, you may find that after trying you actually find them rather delicious.

Here we’re going to dive right in to show you the continent’s strangest foods.

Cuy, Andes region

Flickr: Jorge Gobbi

Flickr: Jorge Gobbi

Let’s start with one famously weird dish that most will have heard of. Cuy, or guinea pig in English. This little rodent is an Andean staple, slowly roasted whole over a barbeque and served with head and feet still attached. Once you get over the thought of eating your childhood pet and that it’s being served whole, it’s actually pretty tasty.

Chapulines, Mexico

While most people think of Thailand when they think of fried insects, the people of Oaxaca state in Mexico also love a fried grasshopper. Even though Chapulines are fried, their low fat content mean they are extremely good for you.

Chicha, Amazon region

Flickr: Ian Carvell

Flickr: Ian Carvell

There are plenty of varieties of this rough fermented beer drink, but the Amazonian variety sees women chew and spit out corn which is then left out to ferment, the saliva helping the process. Although this sour drink will not be to everyone’s taste, if offered, it’s rude to turn it town. So drink up!

Escamoles, Mexico

Escamoles are the edible larvae and pupae of ants. Known as Mexican caviar, the creamy texture and buttery taste are pretty tasty. Typically, they are cooked in with scrambled eggs and served with tortillas. It’s been eaten in Mexico for hundreds of years since Aztec times.

Caldo de Cardon, Bolivia

Bull penis. Do we need to say more?

Morcilla, Argentina

Morcilla is a sausage commonly found on the Argentine barbeque. Like British black pudding, morcilla is made from cooked pigs blood, sometimes mixed up with ground offal and a variety of extra ingredients including paprika, onion, garlic, breadcrumbs and nuts. Like Marmite, most find they either love it or hate it.

Hormigas culonas, Colombia

Hormigas culonas have been a delicacy in the Colombian town of Barichara for hundreds of years. Literally translating to ‘big-bottomed ants’, these high protein, low fat insects roasted with salt are as good for you as they are delicious. Visit the region between April and May when the ants are in season.

Sopa de mondongo, Colombia

This might look like a simple stew, but lurking in its depths is plenty of tripe, the stomach lining of a cow mixed in with potatoes and vegetables and meat stock. Depending on the where you are, other varieties include pork and even chicken tripe.

Palm grubs, Ecuador

These juicy fat grubs are packed full of nutrients. They are eaten in many countries around the world, but are commonly found in the Amazonia region of Ecuador. The recently hatched larvae are picked from palm trees and grilled.

Huevos de tortugas, Nicaragua

Before I begin, please be aware that eating turtle eggs can be illegal, as well as unethical. Just don’t eat them. They are somewhat of a delicacy in Nicaragua where the soft-shelled ping pong size eggs are blanched briefly in boiling water, and eaten with a little lemon juice.

Llama brain, Bolivia

Llama brain and tongue. Yum.

Curanto en hoyo, Chile

Flickr: Juan Cabrera

Flickr: Juan Cabrera

Probably the least brave to eat on this list, it is not so much the ingredients, but the way of cooking which is odd. A one and a half metre hole is dug in the ground, on which hot stones are laid. A mixture of shellfish, meat, vegetables and potatoes and layered, separated by Chilean rhubarb leaves. This is then topped with wet sacks and earth and left to cook for over an hour before being dug up and eaten.

Chuños, Bolivia

Flickr: David Stone

Flickr: David Stone

Chuño has fed the people of the Andes for thousands of years. The process is a little more complex than this, but potatoes, of which Peru is not short, are left to kind of freeze dry in the high altiplanos of Bolivia, after which they can be kept almost indefinitely.

Coração de Frango, Brazil

Widely eaten through Brazil and loved by the rich and poor alike, Coração de Frango are simply chicken hearts which are grilled or barbecued and seasoned with a little salt. Delicious although somewhat chewy, they make an excellent snack to an accompanying beer.

RELATED: Argentine empanada recipe

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