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PISCO MASTERCLASS

Bar Pachamama

In the interests of research, I attended a masterclass on the fiery Peruvian spirit Pisco. The Peruvian tourist board are keen to promote the ‘Pisco route’. The first thing I learnt is the Peruvian Pisco differs from its Chilean rival in being distilled by traditional artisan methods. The fermented grape juice or must has no additives by law, not even water. It is a great source of national pride. The methods date back to the Spanish colonization in the 16th century. The name comes from a small town on the Pacific coastal desert, near to one of the oases where the grapes are grown. Legend has it that pre-columbian cultures over a thousand years ago honoured local birds, the pisku (probably small waders that are found in large numbers like sanderlings). Pure Pisco is made from a single grape variety such as Quebranta, with raisin and apple taste or Mollar with a herbal, honey flavour or Uvina with a touch of olive or Moscatel with sweeter peachy overtones. A mixed ‘acholado’ Pisco can be made to make a more complex beverage. The drink is not aged in wood nor in any material that can impart a flavour so traditionally in ceramic jars (also these came to be named piscos) and now stainless steel.

The history too is fascinating. Originally produced by the Jesuits it was sent to all corners of the Spanish empire. Pisco was exported to California during the Gold rush days as all cargo from eastern North America had to go around Cape Horn, making it a cheaper option. In the 1950’s Lima was popular with Hollywood stars. Orson Wells and Ava Gardner stayed at the Grand Hotel Bolivar, John Wayne at the Hotel Maury. Wayne married a Peruvian who became his lifelong companion, but that is another story. The most famous cocktail at the time was the Pisco sour, a mixture of Pisco, lime, sugar, ice, egg white and bitters. I tried an alternative cocktail called ‘The Pisco Punch’, which dates to 19th century San Francisco. This has pineapple, lime juice, sugar, and secret ingredient gum arabic, that allegedly delays the effect of the alcohol, cheers.
For trips to Peru please contact us.

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

SEE US AT THE BIRDFAIR IN RUTLAND

Once again Select Latin America will be having a stand at the Birdfair taking place at Rutland Water Nature Reserve 17 August to 19 August 2018.

Birdfair encompasses the whole spectrum of the bird-watching industry whilst at the same time supporting global bird conservation. There are lectures, events and celebrities and hundreds of stands selling the latest products for wildlife enthusiasts. You can try out camera lenses, binoculars or discuss holiday destinations with experts.

This will be our 18th year, find us at Marquee 7 Stand 36. Our experts will be on hand to help plan your next tailor-made wildlife adventure and our new brochure will be hot off the press.

We hope to see some old friends and make new ones there.

RELATED: 9 beautiful exotic birds from Latin America

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up

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Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up is at the V&A museum in London. This is the first exhibition outside of México to display clothes and intimate possessions belonging to the iconic Mexican artist. This offers a fresh perspective on her compelling life story. The exhibition displays personal possessions from La Casa Azul (the Blue House), such as self-portraits, photographs, distinctive colourful Tehuana garments, pre-Columbian necklaces, hand painted corsets, letters, prosthetics, among other objects that will offer a visual narrative of her life. Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, said: “Frida Kahlo is one of the most iconic and recognisable artists of the last century. We are very excited to bring together Frida’s fashion, medical corsets, make-up and other personal items with her self-portraits to better understand and celebrate this remarkable artist.”

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up runs from 16 June – 4 November 2018 at the V&A. Sponsored by Grosvenor Britain & Ireland. Aeromexico, Mexico’s global airline, is supporting this exhibition.
Tickets are now available. Admission £15 (concessions available). V&A members go free. Advance booking is advised – this can be done in person at the V&A; online at vam.ac.uk/FridaKahlo; or by calling +44 (0)20 7942 2000 (booking fee applies).
To arrange a bespoke trip to Mexico please contact Select Latin America.

RELATED: Searching for Sugarman: the ‘70’s Rock Icon Who Never Was

Come and see us at the Destinations Travel Show 2017

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We’re exhibiting at the Destinations Travel Show in London this February and it would be great to see you. The event runs from between 2nd – 5th February 2017.

Destinations Holiday & Travel Show is the UK’s largest and longest-running travel show. Hundreds of the leading tour operators (including us) and over seventy tourist boards will attend as well as travel celebrities, presentations and cultural shows to help your 2017 trip planning go off with a bang. Fuel your sense of wanderlust and discover myriad holiday opportunities, whilst discussing plans with the experts. The Meet the Experts Theatres will provide over fifty hours of free travel advice covering everything from the hottest destinations to travel advice.

Our stand is found within the ‘LATA (Latin American Travel Association) Pavilion’.
If you wish to visit us, you can obtain free entrance via the following link http://www.destinationsshow.com/london/form/registration, using the code MSC107 (upper case).

Can’t wait until the Destinations Travel Show? Get in touch here to start planning your 2017 tour of Latin America.

RELATED: Our picks for the 2018 hotspots in Latin America

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

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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.

RELATED: Our picks for the 2018 hotspots in Latin America

Celebrating Christmas Latin American Style

Argentina

Argentina ChristmasFlickr/N i c o l a

Christmas in Argentina has is heavily influenced by Europe and North America although there are a number of differences. Argentines lay more emphasis on Christmas Eve, attending mass before returning home to celebrate and eat dinner together. As the festival falls in their summer, dinner is often eaten al fresco with a particular focus on barbeques. Panettone, traditional Italian sweet bread filled with crystallized fruits is also particularly popular.  Christmas spirit and celebrations are held all the way through to the 6th January, called Three Kings Days. On the 5th evening children leave shoes outside the front door which are filled with gifts to be opened the next morning.

Bolivia

Bolivia ChristmasFlickr/Rowan Robinson

With over 90% of the population Roman Catholic it’s no wonder that Christmas is such an important time in Bolivia. Like Argentina, Bolivians tend to visit mass before returning home for celebrations which often last until the wee hours of Christmas day. Traditionally picana, a stew made from roasted pork, lamb and veal, is eaten and hot chocolate and pastries are served in the morning.  The nativity scene plays an important role at Christmas with almost every home using one as the centrepiece decoration.

Brazil

Brazil ChristmasFlickr/Alison Johnstone

Like most South American counties, many Brazilians visit midnight mass. It is often referred to as Missa do Galo (rooster) due to the time they arrive back home. A huge dinner is served when returning that includes ham, turkey, vegetable and fruit, often washed down with glasses of fizz. Papai Noel (Father Christmas) brings gifts to children and fireworks are let off throughout the night. On Christmas Day many families have a lie-in or visit the beach (remember it is their summer) before going back to church in the afternoon. Interestingly the word for turkey in Brazil is ‘Peru’.

Chile

Chile ChristmasFlickr/Nicole Rogers

Chileans visit midnight mass less than other counties, although it still plays an important role in religious traditions. Most Chilean families stay awake and enjoy a late dinner on Christmas Eve before opening presents at midnight. Traditional meals include turkey and depending on the area, lamb, pork or beef, which is usually barbequed. Cola de Mono (monkey’s tail), a drink made from milk, coffee and aguardiente (fire water) is particularly popular. Christmas Day is a relaxed affair with more food, family and friends, often in the countryside or at the beach.

Colombia

Colombia ChristmasFlickr/Mario Carvajal

The official start of Christmas celebrations in Colombia is the Day of the Candles on the 7th December, although decorations are often put up well in advance. Throughout the country candles are places everywhere from street corners, driveways and balconies which illuminate the cities and towns. Christmas Eve is the most important day in the calendar with large gatherings of families and friends who stay up late for present opening and parties which often last until sunrise on Christmas Day.  Presents are given to children by the baby Jesus rather than Santa Claus.

Costa Rica
Flickr/Claudio Toledo

Costa Ricans like to decorate their homes with tropical flowers during the Christmas season. The nativity scene is also an important element of the decorations. After midnight mass on Christmas Eve, Costa Ricans return to their homes for food, drink and celebrations. Traditionally tamales made from grounded corn, vegetables and meat wrapped in a plantain leaf are eaten. Eggnog, made from egg, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut and rum, is drunk.

Ecuador

Ecuador ChristmasFlickr/Matt Lingard

Although celebrations are held throughout December, the most important is the Pase del Niño Viajero (the travelling infant child) on Christmas Eve. This all day event with parades shows the journey of Joseph and Mary and other biblical characters, with local carols sung by neighbourhood parties. Homes are decorated with a crib; the figures surrounding the manger often are made of painted bread dough that are only made in the town of Calderon. A traditional meal is eaten after midnight, whilst Christmas Day is often spent quietly recovering from the festivities. For a country that produces sugarcane, sweets are abundant everywhere.

Guatemala

Guatemala ChristmasFlickr/Gabriel White

The mix of Catholicism brought by the Spanish and ancient Mayan culture make for some interesting Christmas traditions. For nine days before Christmas, religious processions with statues go through the streets of Guatemala. These often turn into festive street parties with punch, food, dancing and music. German immigrant influence brought the Christmas tree which is now very popular as decorations at home. Children open gifts on Christmas morning whilst adults don’t exchange gifts until New Year’s Day. During Christmas celebrations many people dress in a hat called a puritina.

Mexico

Mexico ChristmasFlickr/Doug Knuth

Like Guatemala, the festive season starts nine days before Christmas Day when Mexicans go from door to door to symbolise Mary and Joseph looking for shelter. Often they are invited inside to break a piñata, a bag filled with treats. Although presents are given to children on Christmas Day, they receive further gifts on the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th January. The Three Wise Men will fill the children’s shoes with sweets, nuts and money to signify what baby Jesus was given in the bible.

Peru

Peru ChristmasFlickr/Rainbowasi

Like most other countries in Latin America, for Peruvians the most important day of the festive season is Christmas Eve, sometimes referred to as Noche Buena or Good Night. Mass is usually at the slightly earlier time around 10pm, after which families return home to a feast of turkey, tamales and fizzy wine. For desert Peruvians usually eat a Peruvian fruit cake called paneton. After the children have opened their presents and gone to bed, the adults usually have long parties that last through to the morning.

Latin America is an amazing place to visit all year around. Start planning your 2015 adventure today.

RELATED: Take a real white Christmas in Antarctica

An Orchid of the Andes

I recently attended the annual World Travel Market in London and met the new Ecuadorian Tourism Minister Sandra Naranjo. She gave a press conference emphasizing the country’s ‘mega-diversity’ and the natural and cultural reasons to visit the country and not just their Galapagos Islands.

David and Sandra Naranjo (3)

I was impressed with how passionate Sandra is about her country and was pleased to hear how her government is devoting more resources to marketing Ecuador to Europe and the UK. Select Latin America was one of the first companies to offer tours to all parts of this small but diverse country from the headwaters of the Amazon to whale-watching in the Pacific. For a first visit to Latin America we highly recommend Ecuador.

Orchids of Ecuador

One of the lesser known facts about Ecuador is the abundance of orchids, over 4000 species, mainly found in the cloud forests either side of the Andes. The Ecuadorian stand at the trade show highlighted this with an award-winning display of orchids and also roses (which are a big industry there). The country is also renowned for its gourmet chocolate and I was delighted to watch a display of making a fruit and nut brittle and taste some of the World’s best chocolate…

Chocolate making display Ecuador stand #WTM14 1

Chocolate making display Ecuador stand #WTM14

RELATED: Our picks for the 2018 hotspots in Latin America

Join us at the Birdfair

Toucan Barbet

We are pleased to announce Select Latin America will be having a stand at the Birdfair taking place at Rutland Water Nature Reserve Friday 15th – Sunday 17th August.  Described as the birdwatcher’s Glastonbury, Birdfair encompasses the whole spectrum of the bird-watching industry whilst at the same time supporting global bird conservation. There are lectures, events and celebrities and hundreds of stands selling the latest products for wildlife enthusiasts. This will be our 14th. year, find us at Marquee 1 Stand 36. Our experts will be on hand to help plan your next wildlife adventure and our new brochure will be hot off the press. The bird illustrated is a toucan barbet from Ecuador.

The Galapagos Affair – Satan Came to Eden

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

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

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

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

RELATED: A typical day in the Galapagos Islands

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