The small island of Holbox (pronounced Hole-Bosh) is a barefoot paradise off Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Though not far from Cancun and the Riviera Maya, it is a World apart from those resorts, more cut-off jeans than designer chic. The ambiance is laid-back and the surrounding turquoise waters inviting. Only accessible by private yacht or the ferry from Chiquila, it is never overwhelmed with visitors. It is best to arrange transport in advance; some hotels will arrange pick-ups from the airport. Once you are there you can get most places by foot or hire a golf buggy taxi. The island is a lozenge 26 miles long by one mile wide. Traffic is not a problem, but after a rain shower the dirt roads can get a bit muddy.
Hammocks are de-rigour but the more active can try snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking. At the right time of year (June – September) take day trips by boat to see the whale-sharks that migrate off the north-eastern Yucatan Peninsula’s coast. These are the largest fish in the World, but harmless gentle giants that feed on plankton. You can see flamingos wading offshore, by walking to the north west of the island near the mangroves.
Holbox is an ideal place to get off-grid, communications are a bit hit-and-miss but that is part of the charm. Street art is popular here, murals abound depicting marine themes, or just pure fantasy. The northern shore is shallow and warm, ideal for kids. There is a sand bar just offshore which adults can walk too. Some hotels arrange romantic meals on tables above the water.
There are no big chain hotels, just small guest houses and boutique hotels. Eating out is not gourmet affair, as there are only a few restaurants, but it is easy to get tasty seafood and a cold beer at one of the beach bars. For home-made ice-cream try Angeles y Diablitos on the main square. For boutique hotels we recommend Las Nubes or Villas Flamingos. Enjoy amazing sunsets from any of the beachfront properties. A true place to relax and unwind.
In January 2019, scientists working off southern Chile saw apparently a new species of Orca or killer whale. The whales, called Type D, were previously known only from a stranding 60 years ago, and fishermen’s tales. Genetic samples which will determine whether this animal is indeed new to science. “We are very excited about the genetic analyses to come. Type D killer whales could be the largest undescribed animal left on the planet and a clear indication of how little we know about life in our oceans,” said Bob Pitman, a researcher from NOAA US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Science Centre in La Jolla, California. The team’s encounter came after they spent more than a week enduring storms off Cape Horn, southern Chile. It was here that the scientists collected biopsies. The scientists will now analyse DNA from the skin samples. Compared to other killer whales, they have more rounded heads, and a more pointed dorsal fin, and a tiny white eyepatch.
A French scientist in 2005, took photographs of similar animals in the southern Indian Ocean. So the whales might be widespread. Tourists in Antarctica have produced abundant photographs. Among thousands of images were the unique whales. In 2010, Pitman and colleagues published a paper describing the Type D killer whales, with photos and a map of the sighting locations. The sightings indicated a distribution within sub-Antarctic waters, avoiding the coldest waters, perhaps “sub-antarctic killer whale” is a better name. From the few sightings it seems they live in some of the most inhospitable latitudes on the planet, known for their strong winds.
Chilean fishermen complained of killer whales taking valuable toothfish off their lines, south of Cape Horn. Most of the fish-stealing killer whales were “regular” killer whales, but, among them were also some groups of Type D whales. In January, the group of scientists set sail from Ushuaia, Argentina, to search for the elusive whale. After a tough week, battered by 40 to 60 knot winds, the team’s fortune changed. They finally found the animals sought for 14 years. The boat spent three hours among a group of about 30 whales, which approached the vessel many times. They obtained underwater images of their unique colour patterning and body shape and recorded their sounds. DNA samples should finally reveal just how different the Type D is from other killer whales.
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.
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.
Now is the time to head down to warm waters of the Golfo Dulce in southern Costa Rica. Pacific humpback whales arrive on their annual migration to mate and socialize. After spending the southern summer in Antarctica, they head to the tropics the breed. They stay until October. You will get up-close to giant sentient beings that share the planet with us. These southern whales hang-out in the protected waters of the Golfo Dulce and the Ballena National Marine Park. Here they enjoy shallow coastal waters and protection from natural predators like sharks and Orcas. National Geographic rated Costa Rica the 7th best place in the world for whale watching. Watch their tail-slapping displays, breaches above the water and spot their distinctive humps.
“I remember vividly the first time I saw a humpback whale in the wild. Suddenly, a spray of water erupted from the calm blue-green water a few hundred yards off the beach. The long, black and barnacled form of a mother humpback whale surfaced gracefully for air. Our little group pointed excitedly at the huge whale. Then we gasped in delight as we caught sight of the smaller shape of her baby swimming by her side.
We jumped into a boat, and at a respectful distance, we cruised along with mother and baby as they slowly swam along the dark green coast thick with rainforest. Pairs of Scarlet Macaws flew overhead as sunset neared, heading to roost in tall shoreline trees for the night. The whales disappeared out of sight, and we motored back enchanted.” Shannon Farley.
If seeing whales and dolphins up close in their natural environment is on your bucket list, you can go on Costa Rica whale-watching tours from Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge starting toward the end of July through the end of September. Keep a look-out also for visiting whale sharks, the largest fish in the sea. Nicuesa Lodge is giving a special offer of one free night when you stay a minimum of three or more nights. Contact us for more details.
Latin America is full of wonders. The diverse landscapes make for an equally diverse set of species. Roaming jaguars, gentle whale sharks, lazy sloths and colourful quetzals, to name just a few. Here are videos of some of the most amazing wildlife experiences you can have in Latin America.
Flamingos at Laguna Colorado, Bolivia
This high altiplano lakes are commonly visited after a tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats in southern Bolivia. The bright red lake is home to a huge flock of flamingos which often break out into mass flight. The mountainous backdrop and vivid lake make for excellent photography opportunities.
Colourful quetzals in Boquete, Panama
Part of the trogon family, these colourful birds are found in the humid highland forests in Central America. One of the best places to spot quetzals is along the Quetzal Trail in Boquete, a highland town in western Panama. They are largely solitary and relatively hard to spot, making them all the more satisfying when seeing one for the first time.
Snorkelling with whale sharks in Isle Holbox, Mexico
Whale sharks come to Holbox Island off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in numbers reaching 800 to feed on the water rich plankton and krill. A rarity, as whale sharks are generally solitary creatures. Whales sharks are the largest fish in the world reaching lengths of up to 15 metres and a weight of up to 15 tons. Snorkelling with these gentle giants, which are harmless to humans, is a magical experience. To snorkel with whale sharks, visit between mid-May and mid-September.
Watching the mating dance of the waved albatross in the Galapagos, Ecuador
Every April almost the entire adult population of the waved albatross return to Española (Hood Island), Galapagos in order to breed. At the visitor site of Punta Suarez, you can see their amusing courtship display including ‘bill-circling’, ‘sky-pointing’, ‘drunken swagger’ and ‘bill-clapping’. This flamboyant ritual dancing enables the birds to re-establish their pairs or the young to find their partner. It is the only time the birds come ashore.
Riding water buffalo on Marajó Island, Brazil
Marajó is a huge island, roughly the size of Switzerland, located where the Amazon meets the Atlantic.This is cowboy country, but instead of horses, large herds of water buffalo have been domesticated. These docile creatures are not native to South America, coming originally from Asia. Riding water buffalos is an excellent way to explore the island, but it isn’t just for tourists. The creatures are used for farming, transporting goods and even by the police to patrol the streets. An essential part of Marajó life.
See condors gliding below you at Colca Canyon, Peru
An unmissable wildlife experience in Peru, this majestic creatures sit on the rocks around Cruz del Condor and circle above and inside Colca Canyon catching the morning thermals. The experience has the bonus of also being able to look over the views of the Colca Canyon, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon in the US.
Noisy howler monkeys in the Amazon
Howler monkeys are found throughout the Amazon, but the most accessible spots are the lodges near Puerto Maldonado in Peru, near Manaus in Brazil and near Coca in Ecuador. The are considered the loudest land animal in the world, their sound can be heard for up to three miles. It is thought their howling is used for territory protection and mating calls.
Attacking orcas on the beaches of the Valdes Peninsula, Argentina
In Argentina’s Valdes Peninsula in Patagonia, orcas attack basking sea lion pups on the beaches between February and March. This spectacular hunting technique puts the orcas at risk of permanently beaching themselves. The area is also excellent for spotting dolphins and southern right whales.
Roaming jaguars in the Pantanal, Brazil
Jaguars are elusive creatures, but Porto Jofre in the Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands are one of the best places to see them. They often roam the river banks in search of prey such as caiman or capybaras. Although spotting jaguars here cannot be guaranteed, a day or two spent on boats along the river here often leads to sightings.
Whale watching in Baja California, Mexico
The warm, krill rich waters around Baja California, a peninsula in Mexico’s north west is home to many species of whale. However, the highlight is the curious gray whale which often comes up close to the boat and allows visitors to pat it. Other whales seen fluking are blue, fin, humpback, sperm, Bryde’s, and pilot whales. Dolphins are also a common sighting here.