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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.

WISH LIST FOR 2019

This time of year is ideal to dream about places to go in 2019 or beyond. Here is our list to inspire you. From sailing around the Galapagos Islands or cruising in Antarctica. Other wildlife adventures are to be had in the Amazon, or the coral reefs of Belize. For impressive natural wonders, it is hard to beat Iguazú Falls. To visit colourful indigenous people and their ancient past, our two top places would be Peru and Guatemala. Finally, for the best barbeques in the world washed down with Argentine Malbec you can’t do better than Mendoza.

CRUISE THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Galapagos is the dream trip for anyone interested in wildlife. Have your own Darwin moment discovering flightless cormorants and swimming iguanas. The joy is that most of the strange creatures are fearless of humans, so you get up-close and personal to albatrosses, giant tortoises and the iconic dancing blue-footed booby. Snorkel with sealion pups and the only tropical penguin not to mention unique fish, turtles and whales.

EXPLORE ANTARCTICA

You won’t forget the first giant iceberg that comes into view as you head across the Southern Ocean to Antarctica. Follow in the footsteps of the great explorers, but on a comfortable expedition cruise ship. Our expert scientists on board will help identify the wildlife and fill-in on the history of the Great White Continent. Have fun with penguins, fur seals and keep a watchful eye on the huge elephant seals

INTO THE MYSTIC MACHU PICCHU

Peru, Machu Picchu Copyright David Horwell

The ‘lost’ city of the Incas can be reached on foot or luxury train down through the Andes. This iconic World Heritage Site will live up to all the brochure photos you’ve seen on first sight. New regulations have been introduced at Machu Picchu to limit visitor impact, but we can still organize a second visit on your own if you wish to experience the ruins and meditate without being rushed.

FEEL THE POWER OF IGUAZÚ FALLS

The hundreds of cascades that make up Iguazú falls lie between Argentina and Brazil. We recommend visiting both sides. On the Brazil side you will get a spectacular panoramic view. Walk down to the base of the biggest drop and feel the power of the spray and marvel at rainbows created. You will get wet! On the Argentine side, explore trails into the jungle, with tropical birds, butterflies and a small train to the top of the Devil’s Throat.

DIVE INTO BELIZE’S CORAL REEF

Belize has the second longest coral reef in the World. Here you can snorkel or Scuba dive into another world. Get eyeball to eyeball with turtles, reef sharks and giant mantas. Spot multi-coloured tropical fish teeming around coral formations. You can even explore wrecks. If you tire of the underwater world head into the jungles and find hidden Mayan ruins.

RUB NOSES WITH EASTER ISLAND STATUES

Esater Isalnd Moai copyright David Horwell

Easter Island or RapaNui, as locals call it, lies thousands of miles out into the Pacific from Chile. This is surely a real trip of a lifetime. You will be rewarded by the hundreds of Moai or giant statues hewn from the volcanic rock. Explore the fascinating quarry where many statues lay abandoned, the ceremonial centre of Orongo or the caves where natives sought refuge. The best part is meeting the local people, we can arrange homestays, fishing trips or traditional stone cooking or visit during the annual Tapati festival.

DISCOVER THE AMAZON

The greatest rainforest in the world covers seven countries. For animal and bird-watching we suggest the upper amazon tributaries in Ecuador or Peru. Here there are accessible lodges or luxury small cruise boats. In Brazil the distances are far greater and the rivers much wider, but for the real wildlife enthusiast you get deep into the forest at Cristalino or Uakari lodges or take a cruise from Manaus, once the centre of the rubber boom.

WINE-TASTING IN MENDOZA

Mendoza’s relaxed atmosphere and fine dining make it an excellent choice to visit for rest and relaxation. A cycle in the afternoon sun around the many vineyards dotted just outside the city is a must, and of course a great way to try some of these top-notch wines. The hot days and cool nights of the region are the secret to the success of Mendoza’s wine region. If you’re not a city person why not stay at one of the many bodegas, learning more about the process of wine making and, in the harvesting season help collect the grapes: a lovely way to while away a few hours.

GUATEMALA A PHOTOGRAPHER’S PARADISE

Tikal – Guatemala

Guatemala is a country busting at the seams with a mix of colonial architecture, rich indigenous history and spectacular volcanic and tropical jungle scenery. Meander through the colourful local markets bartering with stall holders. Get lost in the lively festivals or spontaneous live music that bursts onto the streets and plazas. Delve deep in the steamy rainforest to discover vast Mayan cities, hop on your bike to cycle around shimmering lakes and towering volcanoes. Out of all the Latin American countries, this one has got to be one of our favourites

Everything you need to know about Inti Raymi

Well, it’s almost time for Inti Raymi, the largest festival in South America. This ancient Peruvian celebration of sun worship that goes back to before the days of the Incas. Inti Raymi has been the most important date in the Cuzco calendar for more than 500 years.  The Incas try to please Inti and Pachmama in the hope of a good annual harvest. It also coincides with the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

Lasting several days, the most important is the 24th June when old rituals are re-enacted as they did centuries ago. Carefully chosen actors (a great honour) play the Sun King and wife Mama Ocllo. A procession of Inca priests and nobleman carry the king up to the religious site of Sacsayhuaman. Here there is a fake ritual sacrifice of a llama to ensure a good crop during the coming season. Later, a large bonfire is lit, and the procession returns to the centre of Cuzco.

Sacsayhuaman are the ruins of a once large Inca temple and fortress outside of Cuzco built as high as possible to be closer to the sun. The first recorded Inti Raymi was in 1412, though evidence suggests it would be older than this. There was a pause for more than 300 years after the Spanish banned it, but it was reinstated in the mid 1940’s. The chariot used to carry the Sun King was originally made from solid gold.

Proceedings begin with a speech from the Sun King in Quechua, an ancient language still used by millions of people across the Andes. There’s still time to book up accommodation for the popular festival, but you’ll need to be quick to avoid disappointment. If you’re lucky enough to get tickets for the event, there are several places to watch it from. The first is at the gardens of the temple of Qurikancha. Arrive early if you want to get a good spot. You can also catch a glimpse of the festival from the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco’s main square. You can still stand in the colonial arcades that encircle it. Again, you’ll need to get here early if you don’t want to be behind crowd of 5 deep. Those in-the-know book tables on the second floor of the plaza’s restaurants where they can get a prime view while dining. For the main event at Sacsayhuaman you can buy tickets for the grandstand or arrive early to watch from one of the adjoining parks.

Wherever you decide to position yourself, be sure to bring everything you need for the day. The crowds make it difficult to move around the city and there is no public transport. Pack a picnic and plenty of water, nab one of the spots in the park early in the morning to soak up the atmosphere with the locals. If you want to make the most of the experience, we can arrange for a guide to join you who will explain the history of the event and the speeches.

The festival is best combined with a visit to Machu Picchu a few days earlier. Take the train service through the spectacular Andean scenery, or hike the 4-night Inca Trail led by experienced guides. Note that you will need to book up your Inca Trail several months in advance.

Would you like to take a once in a lifetime adventure to Machu Picchu and enjoy the festivities and ancient ceremonies at the Inti Raymi festival? Start planning your adventure by contacting one of our Peru experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or email us here. Just be quick, you haven’t got long before the Inca festival kicks off.

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

Peruvian Causa Rellena Recipe

This Peruvian classic looks like a throw-back to the 80s. For comfort food you can’t beat this creamy yellow potato stuffed with everything from seafood to corn. Make these tasty little morsels in advance and keep in the fridge, a time-saver when you’re hosting a dinner party.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

6 floury potatoes
4 large peppers, blended
3 limes, juiced
100ml vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Filling

2 chicken breasts
500ml chicken stocked, warmed
½ celery stick, finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely chopped
200ml mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste

Salsa

1 red onion, finely chopped
1 spicy pepper, finely chopped
2 limes, squeezed
1tbs olive oil
1 small handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish

8 chicken / quail eggs, boiled
1 avocado, sliced
8 green olives

Method

Peel the potatoes and place in a pan of cold water. Bring the water to the boil on a high heat and let the potatoes cook until soft. Be sure not to overcook them. Drain the water and put them through a potato ricer into a large mixing bowl while they are still hot. Add the blended peppers, lime juice, a little vegetable oil and seasoning to taste, before mixing them well. Leave to cool, then cover with cling film and place in the fridge.

Put the chicken stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil before turning down the heat to medium. Poach the chicken breasts in the stock along with a little salt and pepper to taste. Leave to cool in stock before shredding with a fork. Place into a bowl with the mayonnaise, spring onions, chopped celery and a little seasoning. Cover and leave in the fridge until ready to use.

Make the salsa by mixing the red onions, peppers, lime juice, olive oil and parsley with a little seasoning. Put in the fridge until ready to use.

Take a pastry ring and fill the bottom with a layer of the potato mix. Add the chicken mayonnaise filling and the top with another layer of potato. Carefully remove the pastry ring and top the causa rellena with the eggs, a few slices of avocado and some green olives. Keep covered in the fridge until you are ready to serve with the salsa on the side. Enjoy!

Want to try causa rellenas in Peru? Give one of our travel experts a call on +44 (0) 207 1478 or email us here to start planning your adventure today.

RELATED: Argentine empanada recipe

Where to watch Latin America’s famously melting sunset

Who doesn’t like a good sunset? One of life’s great joys is watching the melting ball of orange light dropping behind the horizon, while colouring the sky. Whether you are on a honeymoon or on a romantic getaway, be sure to not miss one of these sunset places. In Latin America they don’t all revolve around the beach and sea, it could be desert or mountain.

Valley of the Moon, San Pedro de Atacama

This spectacular lunar-like landscape lies in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. Towering red rock formations would look more at home on the surface of Mars than they do in Latin America. Scamper up to the viewpoint at the end of the afternoon to enjoy a special sunset. As the sun drops down behind the arid scenery, the rock colours transform.

Tamarindo, Guanacaste

Tamarindo

Flickr: Duane Storey

We mentioned that few of these spots are beaches, but we’re making an exception with Tamarindo. This surf town and strip of sand overlooks the Pacific on Costa Rica’s western coast. Ideal honeymoon territory. Spend you days swimming, snorkelling or wildlife watching before taking your seat on the powdery sand. Watch the sun setting over the ocean’s horizon, a picture-perfect sight. Spend the evening with travellers splashing around in the sea.

Machu Picchu, Cuzco

Machu Picchu

Flickr: Todd Gehman

If you’ve got deep pockets, spend a night at the Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel next to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. When the throngs of crowds have all, you’ll have the perfect uninterrupted view of the sun setting over the citadel from your private terrace. A completely different way to experience one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

The Galapagos, Ecuador

galapagos sunset

Flickr: Steve

The Galapagos Islands are famous for wildlife, but few mention the spectacular sunsets. If you take a cruise around the islands it can be tiring spotting the archipelago’s animals. At the end of the day, enjoy a glass of something fizzy and some mouth-watering food, with the sun setting behind the ocean horizon. Then argue with fellow traveller’s if you’ve seen the ‘green flash’.

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro

Sugarloaf Mountain

Flickr: duncan c

Climb Rio’s Sugarloaf Mountain to take in the spectacular views across the bays but be sure to stay up there until the late afternoon. There are few places on earth that measure up to watching the sun setting over the Marvellous City. Lights twinkle among forested mountain scenery, spot the towering Christ de Redeemer. Just perfect.

The Salt Flats, Uyuni

The Uyuni Salt Flats lie on the high plateau of Bolivia are one of the world’s great natural wonders. A vast expanse of snow-white salt broken only be the odd cacti-laden island. Stay in one of the unique salt hotels out in the wilderness. Here you’ll witness the sight of the sunset’s light bouncing off the salty crust. Ready your camera, you’re not going to want to miss snapping this.

To start planning your honeymoon or romantic break in Latin America, call on of our experts on +44 (0) 207 1478 or email us here.

RELATED: Our picks for the 2018 hotspots in Latin America

Everything you need to know about the Sanctuary Lodge

Machu Picchu has been inspiring adventurers ever since Hiram Bingham discovered them in the early 20th century. The citadel was a refuge of the Inca empire and is so remote the Spanish conquistadors never found it. Nestled on a hilltop it was covered with lush jungle. Thousands of visitors descend upon the site every day to experience the magic of this unique place, one of the ‘New Seven Wonders’.

If you’ve got a deep pocket, you can enjoy Machu Picchu all to yourself. Stay at the luxurious Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel located at the entrance of the ruins. Run by Belmond, you can expect a high level of service at this top hotel. Being an adventurer doesn’t mean you have to give up comfort. Sit out on the terrace and delve into delicious Peruvian cuisine and cocktails while you look down on the empty citadel.

Facilities at the Sanctuary Lodge

There’s more to a stay at the Sanctuary Lodge than just easy access to Machu Picchu. Once you’ve explored the ruins, you can retreat to the lodge to enjoy a range of treatments and massages. Some of the spa treatments are based on ancient Inca techniques. Feeling pampered and refreshed is the name of the game when you stay here. Pure indulgence.

If you can drag yourself away from the spa and the views over the ruins, you can relax in the magnificent gardens. This lush green oasis of native Peruvian cloud forest teems with bird and butterfly species. It’s as beautiful as it sounds.

Guestrooms at the Sanctuary Lodge

The Sanctuary Lodge has 4 different levels of guestroom to choose from, depending on your budget. All would be suites in other properties. The most indulgent is the One Bedroom Suite. This features a living area and access to a private furnished terrace which overlooks the ruins of Machu Picchu.

In this luxurious 35 square metre guestroom you can expect a king size bed, a living area with sofas and chairs, a marbled en-suite bathroom and all mod-cons like WiFi and minibar. The diligent staff will whisk through your room each day while you’re exploring the ruins, perfecting it ready for your return.

Tours at the Sanctuary Lodge

If you’re staying at the lodge for a few days, there’s plenty to keep you busy if you don’t want more visits to Machu Picchu. The in-house guides will take you on exiting treks along the nearby trails or on a climb up Huayna Picchu.

Back in at the lodge, you can take a yoga class out in the gardens or take a guided tour to learn about the flora and fauna of this part of the Andes Mountains.

Try taking part in the Pachamama Tribute Ceremony which sees an Andean shaman guide you through an ancient blessing to Mother Earth. A magical and unique experience. While you are there, you can visit the Andean priest who’ll use coca leaves to determine your future.

Ready to stay at the Sanctuary Lodge? Call one of our Latin American travel experts on +44 (0) 407 1478 to start planning your Peruvian adventure or email us here.

RELATED: Luxury boltholes you won’t want to miss in Belize

Our picks for the 2018 hotspots in Latin America

2018 is upon us, but have you thought about where you’ll be travelling this year? With a wealth of places to visit in Latin America, it can often be daunting to know where to start. Fortunately, our travel experts have come up with the top places to visit in 2018.

Guadalajara, Mexico

While most travellers fly in to explore Mexico City, those in the know are heading to Guadalajara. If you’re a fan of Mexican culture and cuisine, you’ll want to head here quick before the hordes arrive. The city was the birthplace of tequila, houses the largest market in Latin America and is home to the World Heritage Site of Hospicio Cabañas. Guadalajara is shaking off its past and emerging as one of the top nightlife spots in Mexico. Wander down the pretty streets of Colonia Lafayette.

Look at our sample tours of Mexico here.

Quito, Ecuador

2018 marks 40 years since Quito became one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites. Now there are some good deals on flight prices, so there’s no better time to visit the Ecuadorian capital. Much of the old town’s 16th century architecture is well preserved or re-furbished. Don’t miss the San Francisco monastery, the Jesuit church or the soaring Cathedral. When you’ve had your fill of culture, you can access the rest of the diverse country. Take a flight to the Amazon or the Galapagos Islands, one of the world’s best wildlife regions.

Look at our sample tours of Quito and beyond here.

Papagayo Peninsula, Costa Rica

Travellers are discovering that the north western Papagayo Peninsula in Costa Rica is the place to go now. Hotel are catching on and the Four Seasons have opened their newest resort there. More hotels will open next year, but more than 70% of the land is protected to keep the region unspoiled. Drag yourself away from the gorgeous beaches to hike up volcanoes, cruise along the coast in catamarans, spot myriad wildlife or whiz through the canopy on zip-lines.

Look at our sample tours of Costa Rica here.

Trujillo, Peru

Machu Picchu is still drawing big crowds every year, but if you want to get off the beaten track, explore Peru’s other cultural wonders. Head north to the coastal city of Trujillo. The city is rich with beautiful Spanish colonial architecture and close to the ancient site of Chan Chan. This pre-Columbian mud city had a big maritime community. The adobe walls and structures are intact thanks to the dry desert landscape. Head for the northern mountains to see the Gocta Falls, one of the highest cascades in the Americas.

Look at our sample tours to Peru here.

La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz’s tourism scene is booming. There are new boutique hotels and trendy eateries celebrating Bolivian national cuisine. The high altitude will take your breath away, so will the soaring backdrop of Andes Mountains. Be sure to jump on the Mi Teleférico to get aerial views of the city and the surrounding scenery. If that isn’t enough to tempt you, the fact that the country is still one of the cheapest in the Americas will. 

Look at our sample tours of La Paz and Bolivia here.

Antarctica

Ok, so it’s not really Latin America, but accessing the White Continent is almost always via Argentina or Chile. It currently takes a 2-day cruise across, the often rough, Drake Passage to visit the Antarctic. In 2018 LADE is launching a regular commercial flight route meaning you can reach the vast icy wilderness in under 2 hours.

Look at our cruises to the Antarctica here.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Chile is becoming one of the most popular spots for tourists visiting Latin America. The narrow country has a dizzying array of landscapes from towering mountains to forests and dry deserts to vineyards. If it’s your first time be sure to visit San Pedro de Atacama. You can explore natural wonders like salt flats, colourful lagoons and steamy geysers.

Look at our sample tours to San Pedro de Atacama and Chile here.

Ready to visit Latin America in 2018? Call one of our travel experts on +44 (0) 207 1478 to start planning your trip or email us here.

What is sandboarding?

Sand-boarding is becoming the next big thing. Like snow-boarding, but you’ll be carving down sand dunes instead of snowy mountains. You’ll be first hiking up the dunes, or climbing in a buggy instead of taking a ski lift. It’s no less exhilarating and you don’t have to wait until the right season to have a go.

Ancient Egyptians first sled down the desert sand dunes on wooden boards more than 2,000 years ago. More recently, around 800 A.D., the Chinese.  In modern times, sand-boarding picked-up in the late 1960s. Now gaining popularity in Australia, Japan, Peru and parts of Europe. For years, travellers have been descending on the sandy dunes of Ica and Nazca in Peru. The highest is Cerro Blanco (or White Hill) which stretches a staggering 2,000 metres.

There are some stark differences in the equipment used. Sandboards are much harder than snowboards, more durable and made from a Formica base, with a hard ply-wood top. Some come with bindings to strap your feet into, others come without. These are particularly useful if you’re in the learning stages and will likely fall. Aficionados apply a wax to the base to help gliding. On deep sand, you may be able to use a normal snowboard, through it’s usually easier to rent a board when you arrive.

To see sand-boarding at its best, visit the Copa Sandboarding Cup near Paracas every year. Alternatively, the Pan-American Sandboarding Challenge near Prainha Beach in Brazil every July.

Want to try sandboarding yourself? Call one of our travel experts on +44 (0) 407 1478 to start planning your sandboarding adventure or email us here.

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Wildlife spotlight on the Andean condor

The mighty Andean condor is iconic in Latin America and tops most bird and wildlife lovers’ list of species to see. Here’s some interesting facts about these magnificent birds.

They are the largest flying bird in the world

Andean condors are the largest flying bird in the world with a wingspan of up to 10-feet. When they are fully mature, they can reach over a metre tall and weigh up to 15 kilos. With that size and weight, it’s not surprising that they need such large wings. That said, if they fly in ideal wind conditions, they can often reach more than 5,000 metres, circling on the morning thermals.

Andean condors are bald

Unlike there Californian cousins, the Andean condors have bald heads which are surrounded by white feathers along the neckline. The males are almost always bigger than the females, which is unusual for this family of avifauna.

They don’t just live in the Andes

Despite the name, Andean condors don’t just live in the Andes Mountains. They are commonly spotting flying around the coastal regions of Latin America, as well as the deserts of Northern Chile and Argentina and along the edge of Peru. Sightings are rare in Colombia and Ecuador, but they have been known to fly over the Amazon occasionally.

They live almost as long as humans

Andean condors have a life expectancy of over 60 years in the wild. In captivity, this can increase to a staggering 75 years, almost the same as a human. One of the only birds in the world to live longer is the Californian Condor in North America.

They don’t build nests for their eggs

Interestingly, unlike most birds which build a nest to protect their eggs, Andean condors lay on cliff ledges. Both parents are required to look after the egg during the incubation period to ensure it stays safe. They lay one egg every couple of years, and after hatching 2 months later, the chick stays with the parents for 1 year before flying the nest. It then takes over 5 years for them to reach maturity.

They are vultures

Though they may look graceful, the Andean condor is a scavenger and part of the new-world vulture family of birds. This means that most of their diet is made up of the leftovers of dead animals. They typically target large mammals in the mountains and fish along the coast, swooping in to pick at the carcasses.

They are classified as threatened

Sadly, the Andean condor is classified as threatened by the IUCN and could face extinction in the future. There are many reasons for the decline of these large birds, but like most threatened wildlife, human hunting and loss of habitat are the main culprits. Fortunately, there are efforts by zoos and conservation experts to ensure these amazing creatures are around for future generations.

If you’d like to see Andean condors in the wild, the best place is the enormous Colca Canyon in Peru. To start planning your tour, speak with one of our Latin American experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or email us here.

RELATED: If you are a wildlife lover you shouldn’t miss out on these amazing experiences

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