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5 PLACES TO GET WINTER SUN IN LATIN AMERICA

The nights are long, cold grey skies loom and the scarves and hats are been pulled out. Winter is here. But the cold weather in the northern hemisphere, means warmth in the south. It’s summer in Latin America and one of the best times to discover the continent’s mountains, beaches, culture and food. Here’s our 7 picks for the best spots to get some winter sun in Latin America

BAHIA, BRAZIL

The northern state of Bahia in Brazil is blessed with some of the best weather in Latin America. Year-round temperatures between 25°C and 30°C and over 250 hours of sunshine every month create the perfect winter getaway. But it’s not just the weather that makes this region such a great place to travel. Wild national parks, hundreds of miles of white sandy beaches fringed with palms trees, sleepy fishing villages, beautiful pastel-coloured colony architecture and UNESCO World Heritage sites and tasty cuisine that perfectly blends the Afro-Brazilian culture. Try visiting Salvador, the capital of Bahia, in February for a unique alternative to Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival. Flying time 12 hrs via Lisbon.

CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

The colourful city of Cartagena lies on the northern coast of Colombia overlooking the clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Between December and March, the city sees almost no rain and bright sunny days. There’s a wealth of boutique hotels. Many are within old colonial palaces. The city has its fair share of museums, galleries, music venues and restaurants to keep your entertained. For those who prefer to spend their holidays away from cities, there are miles and miles of coastline. Off the beaten track is the Tayrona National Park. Hikers can head inland to walk the challenging trails to the Lost City. The sun-drenched islands of Baru and Rosario are only a short boat trip from the city.

JOSÉ IGNACIO, URUGUAY

Bahia Vik, Jose Ignacio (copyright David Horwell)

Uruguay doesn’t spring to mind for your typical summer holiday. Yet the country is less crowded and has better beaches than neighbouring Argentina. On the coast lies the small fishing village of Jose Ignacio. The town grew around a 19th century lighthouse. Now favoured by jet-setters, the area has become an escape for the super-rich and celebrities. Ultra-modern hotels abound. During the summer months the area booms with pop up bars, concerts and parties. Spend lazy days sunbathing on the beach and swimming in the refreshing Atlantic. At night dine in one of the restaurants or beach-shack bars. Further down the coast there are some even less developed spots. At Cabo Polonio isolated wooden cabins fringe the edge of deserted beaches, the only sound being the crashing of waves.

TULUM, MEXICO

Cliffside Mayan Ruins at Tulum ca. 2002 Tulum, Mexico

Tulum lies along the Riviera Maya on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula south of Cancun. Comfortable temperatures hover around 28°C and enjoy a light sea breeze during December to February. An excellent choice for a winter getaway. The area is best known for its Mayan temple overlooking the ocean. This idyllic region has vast stretches of white sandy ocean and boutique accommodation. Snorkellers and scuba divers can enjoy exotic marine life. Nearby waters offer swimming with whale sharks, the big gentle giants.

BOCAS DEL TORO, PANAMA

Copyright David Horwell

Bocas del Toro is an archipelago of lush islands. They lie off the northern coast of Panama, near Costa Rica. Winter is the sunniest time. The islands have a distinct laid-back Caribbean vibe. Secluded wooden over-the-water bungalows sit off the coast from the tiny islands. The islands are excellent for hiking and bird-watching. The turquoise waters are great for diving, snorkelling, kayaking, surfing and swimming. Dolphins often jump above the sea and huge shoals of exotic fish inhabit the underwater world. Chill-out on a hammock, relax on one of the deserted beaches and gorge on fresh lobsters.

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

A guide to Uruguayan Food

The culinary delights of Uruguay have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. Like Argentina, the Uruguayan diet is meat-heavy making it a little tricky for vegetarians, but a paradise for carnivores. Here’s our rundown of the best things to eat during your visit.

Asado

Let’s start with the most famous and most popular. The asado is essentially a barbecue, but unlike any you’ve known back at home. Huge cuts of beef, pork and lamb along with sausages and offal are slow cooked over huge charcoal parrillas. Best washed down with plenty of Uruguayan red. Visiting Uruguay without trying an asado is unthinkable.

Asado con cuero

Similar to a normal asado, the only variation being the whole animal, skin and all, is cooked over the flames. Typically, a cow or sheep, the body is spread eagle and then slow cooked for hours. The sheer space required to cook this means you’re more likely to find it in the countryside than the city.

Choripán

Choripán is a favourite of ours. This spicy chorizo sausage is cooked over charcoal and usually served in a bread with lashings of chimichurri sauce. Often one of the first things to come off an asado barbecue.

Empanada

There is nothing quite as iconic as the empanada. Almost every Latin American country has their own variety and Uruguay is no different. Typically filled with minced beef and cheese, these crispy baked pastry morsels are delicious. Just remember to order more than one! For something a little different, try the empanadas Gallegas, a fishy version packed with tuna and peppers.

Morcilla dulce

Black pudding, boiled pork blood sausage, tends to divide people. Some love the earthy flavour and texture, others can’t stand the stuff. In Uruguay, their morcilla comes with added raisins and nuts to give it a slightly sweeter taste than other versions.

Milanesa

A popular dish all over Latin America with roots firmly in Italy. Beef or chicken is flattened before being breaded and fried until golden brown. For something more luxurious, go for a milanesa rellena which includes melted cheese and ham.

Ñoquis

Flickr: Vince Alongi

Also known as gnocchi, this potato based pasta from Italy has long been eaten on the 29th of every month in Uruguay when the average worker gets paid. You can’t beat a bowl of homemade gnocchi which sometimes has a coin or note placed below it which is supposed to attract prosperity.

Pancho

Flickr: Rix Arg

Take a frankfurter and place between a bun called a pan de viena. Add plenty of condiments, and you’ve got the South American version of a hot dog. Great at the end of a heavy night to help soak up the booze.

Pizza por metro

Flickr: Simon Law

Literally meaning ‘pizza by the metre’, here it’s sold in rectangles not circles. Usually cooked in a big wood fired clay oven, you choose the ingredients you want it topped with.

Dulce de Leche

While not a dessert itself, it’s used in any manner of ways from spreading on toast to eating with your morning medialunas pastries. You won’t go far in Uruguay without seeing sweet, caramel-like dulce de leche.

Alfajores

Like Argentina, Uruguay have somewhat of an obsession with these short bread biscuits filled with sticky dulce de leche. We can see why. They are as delicious as they sound and best eaten with a strong black coffee.

Churros

These long star-shaped cylinders of fried dough covered in icing sugar have their origins in Spain, but they are just as popular in Uruguay. Look out for vendors setting up on street corners in the early evening and buy them as soon as they’ve come out the fryer.

Arroz con leche

Delicious, creamy rice pudding. What’s not to  like?.

Bizcochos

Usually served for breakfast, these little pastries of different sizes and shapes are eaten in the morning with strong black coffee. They can come as either sweet or savoury, both of which are delicious.

Grappamiel

The national drink of Uruguay, grappamiel is made from distilled spirit mixed with honey. It’s strong, so be careful when you’re drinking it.

Mate

Flickr: kweez mcG

Like the gauchos in Argentina, the yerba herbal drink of mate is consumed in the sort of quantities British drink tea. Many Uruguayan’s can be seen headed to work carrying a thermos flask of hot water and mate cups.

Want to try the food of Uruguay? Start planning your trip to the country today by calling one of our experts on +44 (0) 207 1478 or email us here.

RELATED: 6 Things to do in Uruguay

UNUSUAL URUGUAY FOR CHRISTMAS?

Punta del Este

Even during summer, it is never too early to plan for the winter hols. With Christmas and New Year 6 months away, it is a good time to secure flights and hotels. Consider Uruguay. It´s about time this little gem nestled between Argentina and Brazil came into the spotlight. A small country but has around 660 km. coastline along the River Plate, the world´s biggest estuary. In the bustling capital Montevideo, enjoy strolling through the lovely old town and dining in fine restaurants. A few hours away, lies Uruguay´s oldest city, Colonia del Sacramento. Founded in 1680, it feels like stepping back in time. The city has a charming colonial ambiance, and old classic cars abound like in Havana. Jose Ignacio, a small coastal town, is an international jet-setter destination and Punta del Este is the must-see for beach lovers. Further north the coast becomes wilder and ideal for nature lovers.

The classy Hyatt hotel Carmelo Resort & Spa, on the banks of Rio de la Plata. It has holiday packages with activities: yoga lessons, Spa, bikes, tennis courts and daily activities at the kid´s club. The packages are subject to a minimum of 3 (Christmas) or 4 (New Year) consecutive nights. More information and rates on request. Contact us for travel ideas and itineraries.

RELATED: 6 Things to do in Uruguay

The Fray Bentos factory in Uruguay gets UNESCO status

Remember Fray Bentos? The food manufacturer whose signature product is pie-in-a-can? If you don’t we hope this doesn’t jog any unfortunate memories of corned beef fritters at school.

The name Fray Bentos comes from the name of the town in which the meat supplied for its pies was sourced, processed and packed in Uruguay. This ruin of a factory has now been given World Heritage status by UNESCO.

The empty meatpacking factory on the banks of the River Uruguay certainly looks impressive, and to some I’m sure it’s history is fascinating, however it’s debatable whether it is worthy of such an accolade. It will certainly bring in a welcome increase in tourism to the region.

RELATED: A guide to Uruguayan Food

Our Top 25 Most Unique Hotels In Latin America

From floating hotels on a Uruguayan lake to an aircraft nestled amongst trees in Costa Rica’s rainforest, we’ve searched high and low for Latin America’s most unusual and unique places to stay. Surprisingly Chile comes out on top with an impressive total of eleven.

Laguna Garzón Lodge – José Ignacio, Uruguay

Laguna Garzon

Explora Patagonia – Torres del Paine, Chile

Explora Patagonia

Ecohabs – Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Ecohabs

Montaña Magica – Huilo Huilo, Chile

Magic Mountain

Eco Camp – Torres del Paine, Chile

Ecocamp

Cristal Samaña – Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Cristal Samana

Home Hotel – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Home Hotel

Arrebol Patagonia – Puerto Varas, Chile

Arrebol

Inkaterra Canopy Treehouse – Amazon, Peru

Canopy Treehouse

Morerava Cottages – Easter Island, Chile

Morerava Cottages

Quinta Real Zacatecas – Zacatecas, Mexico

Quinta Real Zacatacas

Hotel Unique – São Paulo, Brazil

hotel_unique (5)

Awasi Patagonia – Torres del Paine, Chile

awasi_patagonia

Espejo de Luna – Chiloé, Chile

Espejo de Luna

Canopy Tower – Soberanía National Park, Panama

Canopy Tower

Pueblo Barrancas Ecolodge – Pedrera, Uruguay

Pueblo Barrancas

Hotel Costa Verde 727 Fuselage – Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

727 Fuselage

Canopy Village – Huilo Huilo, Chile

Canopy Village

Cristalino Jungle Lodge – Alta Floresta, Brazil

Cristalino Jungle Lodge

Nothofagus Hotel & Spa – Huilo Huilo, Chile

Nothofungus

Aqua Amazon – Amazon, Peru

Aqua Amazon

Entre Cielos – Mendoza, Argentina

Entre Cielos

Reino Fungi Lodge – Huilo Huilo, Chile

Reina Fungi

Hotel Endemico – Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

Hotel Endemico

Nidos de Pucón Tree Lodge – Pucón, Chile

Nidos de Pucon Tree Lodge

To start booking your unique stay in Latin America contact the experts.

RELATED: 10 off grid hotels in Latin America

What To Eat For Breakfast In Each Latin American Country

Breakfast in Latin America varies immensely between countries and also regions. You’re not going to, for example, find the same breakfast in the Andes to that which you will find on the coast, even in the same country. Below is just an example of some of the best things you can start you day on in each country.

Argentina – Medialunas

MedialunasFlickr/David

Argentinians, like many parts of Europe, prefer something small and sweet for breakfast. Medialunas are much like croissants, buttery crescent-shaped pastries that are perfect when smothered in rich dulce de leche and served with milky coffee.

Chile – Tostada con manjar

Manjar - ChileFlickr/Germán Poo-Caamaño

In Chile, the humble breakfast is simple fare. Typically Chileans will have tostadas covered with jam or caramel manjar.

Brazil – Bolo de Laranjá and tropical fruits

Fruit and cake - brazilFlickr/Turismo Bahia

Brazilians have a wide variety of breakfast foods. Delicious exotic fruits are always on offer but it may surprise you to know that cake is often eaten in the morning. An orange cake called Bolo de Laranjá is delicious and one of the most common.

Bolivia – Salteñas

saltenasFlickr/Rodrigo Galindez

Salteñas are basically smaller versions of their Argentine cousin, the empanada. Delicious baked pastries filled with a beef, pork or chicken and sometimes vegetables like peas. Vendors start selling these tasty morsels at 7am and they can quickly sell out.

Peru – Ceviche

CevicheFlickr/Ron Dollete

The classic Peruvian dish of ceviche is popular on the coast. A variety of raw fish marinated in lime and other citrus juices, chilli and onions and served with corn-on-the-cob and sweet potato.

Ecuador – Tigrillo

Tigrillo - ecuadorFlickr/Rinaldo Wurglitsch

A hearty mix of mashed green plantain, scrambled eggs and cheese, sometimes served with avocado and lime wedges.

Colombia – Changua

ChanguaFlickr/manuela y Daniel

Changua is a typical breakfast dish of the Colombian Andes and particularly good in Bogota. This simple soup of milk, spring onions, coriander, bread and poached eggs is an excellent way to start the day.

Uruguay – Bizcochos

Bizcochos Uruguay

Bizcochos is a term used for pastries in Spanish, and in Uruguay this usually means the croissant-like pastries that are very popular for breakfast. Similarly to Argentina these are accompanied by sweet milky coffee.

Panama – Tortilla Con Bistec

panama_tortillasWikipedia/Jdvillalobos

Panamanian cuisine is a reflection of its position between two continents and its diverse population. It draws influence from many of the countries that surround it. Typically breakfast includes corn tortillas with beef and onions.

Costa Rica – Gallo Pinto

Gallo PintoFlickr/regan76

Gallo pinto is the most commonly eaten breakfast in Costa Rica. A simply but delicious dish of rice and beans cooked in chicken stock and served with toast and eggs.

Guatemala – Desayuno Chapín

desayuno chapínFlickr/Phil

Desayuno Chapín (Chapín being the nickname for Guatemala) is a scrumptious hearty medley of scrambled eggs, refried beans, chirmol (tomato sauce), fried plantains, cheese and bread served with plenty of coffee.

Mexico – Huevos Rancheros

huevos rancherosFlickr/Kevin

This is typical of rural Mexico, usually served in the mid-morning. Fried eggs laid on corn tortillas are topped with plenty of extras including refried beans, avocado, chili sauce, rice and more.

Belize – Fry Jack

fry jacksFlickr/Larnie Fox

Fry Jacks are a stable of Belizean breakfasts.  These deep fried crispy dough pieces are often served with eggs, beans or jam and honey.

RELATED: Delicious Baja-style Mexican fish taco recipes

Drink Mate Like a Gaucho in Seven Steps

Mate is a traditional herbal tea commonly consumed in the southern cone of South America. Its named after the mate gourd from which it is drunk. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and has numerous health benefits. There is far more to the ritual of making mate tea than simply adding mate and water. Here’s how to make mate in the traditional style in 7 steps.

1. Get yourself the right kit

photo 2To make mate properly you’ll need three things. The cup part is traditionally made from hollowed calabash gourd, but is also available in metals or ceramics. Second you will need a bombilla, a metal straw. Of course, you also need the yerba mate.  Everything is available at Casa Argentina online shop.

2. Fill the cup

photo 4Fill the gourd with mate. Don’t fill the cup more than half full.

3. Remove the powder

photo6To stop the bombilla from getting blocked you’ll need to remove the powdery tea. Place hand over the top of the gourd, upturn it and shake gently. Do this two to three times.

4. Create space

photo 8Lift the gourd to an angle and tap to allow the mate tea to fall to one side and creating a space on the other.

5. Add the cold water

photo10Insert the bombilla into the gourd and pour cold water into the empty space into it reaches the top of the tea. Allow this to be soaked up by the mate.

6. Add the hot water

photo 11Add the hot water in the same way as the cold. Use water at 80 °C as boiling water will make the mate bitter. Try to resist stirring the mate as this will block the bombilla straw.

7. Share

Gauchos Sharing mateMGPanoramico/Flickr

Traditionally mate is shared. The server drinks first, consuming all the water before refilling with hot water and passing on. The same tea should last around 8-10 refills.

RELATED: Delicious Baja-style Mexican fish taco recipes

We have launched our new brochure. Get it hot off the press

Brochure Cover
We are pleased to announce the publication of new brochure. This beautiful 96 page full colour booklet is packed full of our favourite hotels, country information, tours and maps to give you itchy feet and help with the planning of your next adventure in Latin America. To order you free copy, please get in touch.

Punte del Este without the crowds

Sailing_whale_watching_uruguay

Punta del Este is popular among Uruguayan young, rich and wealthy from December to the end of January, but we suggest a visit here off season when the weather is cooler and crowds have left: you’ll find plenty to discover; gorgeous beaches, mouthwatering cuisine and activities for all the family.

We suggest renting a car to get around and off-the-beaten-track, though the city is worth lingering in for a couple of days at least. Between December and March is summer with hot sunny days. It begins to cool down between April and June although you will still enjoy plenty of sunshine. July and August are much cooler and if you want to stroll across the beach you will need a sweater, but it’s still a beautiful time to visit. The heat begins to creep back between September and November.

So what is there to do when you visit? Enjoy drives along the coastline, take morning or sunset walks along the beaches, head out on a boat whale watching, view some of the many art galleries or the collection at the Estancia VIK, visit the Colina de Garzon that produces Latin America’s finest olive oil and have lunch at the Pueblo Garzon. For something a little more active, try hiring bikes and riding through charming countryside and small villages, horse riding along the beaches, canoeing across the eastern lagoons or kite surfing. Whatever time of year you decide to visit we suggest enjoying the sunset with a glass of wine at the truly magnificent Casapueblo.

To start planning your escape to Punta del Este taking a look at some of our sample journeys.

RELATED: A guide to Uruguayan Food

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