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OSA PENINSULA COSTA RICA

Landing by boat at the Osa Peninsula is the closest experience to a Christopher Columbus moment. Verdant forests reach down to deserted coasts, with jungle behind home to monkeys, jaguars and colourful birds like toucans. Now, instead of uncontacted tribes, friendly locals and guides willing to share their knowledge of the biodiversity. Take a dugout canoe ride into the mangrove swamps, home to alligators and herons. Today the Pacific Peninsula remains Costa Rica’s last frontier and are mostly protected reserves. Driving from San Jose can take up to 8 hours, but there are flights to Puerto Jiménez or nearby Golfito. Some places require an additional boat transfer. Best times are December to May when it is dry. Even the wet or ‘green’ season has its benefits, the coastal jungle comes alive…

The most pristine rainforest lies in the Corcovado National Park, which can be reached by boat from Drake Bay. Home to scarlet macaws and squirrel monkeys. Howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, toucans, parrots, coatis, agoutis, collared peccaries, tyras and even tapirs are also found. The Osa is also home to seven species of wild cat including Puma, Jaguarundi and Ocelot. These are often seen by camera traps.

Corcovado Park hosts the largest tree in Central America, a giant Silk Cotton tree, Ceiba pentandra, 77 meters tall. The journey into the most dramatic area of the park, La Sirena Ranger Station, can be punishing. We recommend flying into La Sirena for a one-day journey in and out. Alternatively, from Puerto Jimenez airstrip, the ranger station is a 10-minute light aircraft flight over the virgin rainforest. For the adventurous, take a taxi to Carate, at the edge of the park, and walk 4 km to the park entrance.

For superb snorkelling or diving try Caño Island in the Pacific. The boat journey there from Drake can be an adventure itself, with sightings of humpbacked whales and bottle-nosed dolphins. You can also see dolphins in the Golfo Dulce area to the east of the peninsula. Around the Gulf and the peninsula are hidden bays where hotels and lodges bask in glorious temperatures all year round. We recommend staying at El Remanso or Lapa Rios.

For a tailor-made trip to Costa Rica please complete our Trip Planner.

Scientists Find Mystery Killer Whales off Cape Horn, Chile

A rare photo of Type D killer whales showing their blunt heads and tiny eyepatches. Credit: J.P. Sylvestre, South Georgia, 2011.

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.

Related: Bucketlist Worthy Things to do in Antarctica

Guest Blog Brazil: A hard nut to crack or just a big pussycat?!

David and his team have been organising our trips to South America for nearly 20 years now. We have previously described them as ‘masterpieces’; each one excelling in the chosen area of travel. A big challenge faces them every time we book another holiday.
So, with the bar set high, could they reach it for Brazil?

Our first stay at Cordilheira, Caiman Ecological Refuge, brought us a sighting of Fera, a ‘re-wilded’ orphaned jaguar cub. Having watched a David Attenborough programme shortly before departure, ‘Jaguars in Brazil’, featuring this very same cub, it was like being in our own wildlife documentary. The afternoon we saw her, we watched her return to, and finish off, a previous kill of a giant anteater. We then tracked her in the hope that she might return to her two young cubs. As darkness fell we saw an armadillo scamper across the grass in the light of our guides torch. So too did Fera and, with mixed feelings, we watched as she caught and devoured her dessert! By the time she had finished it was too dark to continue tracking her, so we didn’t get to see the cubs, but we have heard they are doing well. During our stay however, we did encounter roadblocks, ‘jaguar style’, as a mating pair frequently chose to ‘rest’ on the highway through the park. One day, by the river bank, we found deep paw prints in the mud of an ‘unknown’ jaguar. Our guide made plaster casts as a memento of our trip, which we hope to eventually turn into bronze casts.

Jaguar paw print Pantanal

At Araras Lodge we saw Caiman at close quarters but kept a respectful distance having been told that a Japanese tourist once thought that because they were lying so still they weren’t alive. Upon kicking one, and losing three toes, he was very much proved wrong! This was a destination of the unexpected; a giant anteater in the swimming pool and nearly being capsized in our canoe by a Tapir. Not your everyday encounters!

Caiman Pantanal Brazil

Staying on a ‘Flotel’ out of Porto Jofre sounded like sheer luxury and indulgence, and it was. Not least of all because we were the only passengers on a 16-berth boat; our own captain, chef, maid, boatman and guide! Surreal, and all credit to them for not cancelling our booking due to the low occupancy. Our motorboat trips out brought sightings of 10 different jaguars, in varying locations and situations; with a cub, swimming in the river, retrieving a dead caiman and climbing up a tree, to name but a few. It would be unfair to focus on just the jaguars however and not mention all the other wonderful wildlife we saw; giant otters playing or eating fish, Caiman, Capybara, Howler monkeys, Capuchin monkeys, Jabiru stork and a wealth of birdlife. My only ‘reservation’ was the day I needed a ‘comfort stop’. The boatman pulled in by the shore. There, in the sand, was a jaguar paw print. A few feet away lay a Caiman – definitely alive! My bladder capacity increased almost instantaneously as I decided to wait for a more suitable/acceptable location for my needs.

Jabiru Storks Pantanal Brazil

At Cristalino Lodge we enjoyed the diversity of wildlife, walking through the forests, up the watch towers and boating along the river. More surprises waited for us here as we watched a pair of sun bitterns on the river bank. Suddenly an ornate hawk eagle shot swiftly out from the bush, took one of the sun bitterns in its talons, circled round behind us and back into the bush. For a few moments I think we were all in shock and I don’t think any of us could quite take on board what had happened. It was however quite incredible to witness such a snapshot of nature.

Giant anteater, Pantanal, Brazil

Ibitipoca was almost beyond description. If there is a Paradise here on earth, then this is most definitely a contender. A peaceful, tranquil location where just wandering around in the environs of the lodge you are engulfed by the most stunning scenery. There are sheltered spots where you can sit or lie and just absorb the ambience that surrounds you. Everything has been done so tastefully whilst embracing the eco environment and the regeneration of the area. On one of our excursions we even had the good fortune to have a rare sighting of a maned wolf. Walking up to the plateau and encountering the family of seven magnificent human metal sculptures, by Karen Cusolito, looking down the valley, is breath-taking. It is a very special place indeed.

Reserva do Ibitipoca_Tamarin

Our journey ended in Paraty, a delightful old colonial town with a fascinating history and the infrastructure of a bygone era still standing and inhabited to this day. Our stay at Casa Cairucu, on the shore looking out over the bay, provided us with an opportunity to relax and reflect on an incredible adventure. Another masterpiece if ever there was.

Paraty, Brazil

Gillian & Phil Moss

If you want us to create your own bespoke trip to Brazil, do get in touch.

Related: The Difference Between Paraty & Buzios

SUMMER IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Copyright David Horwell

Every month is a wildlife delight in the Galapagos Islands, and the northern summer months are no exception. The giant tortoises on Santa Cruz island have begun to migrate to the highlands in preparation for nesting season, blue-footed boobies are particularly active and, if you’re lucky, you may get to see the curious courtship ritual of the flightless cormorants. Whales and dolphins are more active, especially off the western islands. It is also a good time to spot migrant shorebirds. In central islands you can observe sea lions starting to give birth and rearing their young.

We offer 4-nights, 5-nights and longer combinations on board our stylish Galapagos yachts that are designed to showcase the very best of this wondrous archipelago. Contact us to book your trip.

RELATED: A typical day in the Galapagos Islands

Spotlight on Tamarin Monkeys

The are several species of tamarin monkeys that live in the Amazon Basin, but one of the most common is the emperor tamarin or saguinus imperator. Allegedly named for its resemblance to the German emperor Wilhelm II. They reside in the tropical forests around Peru, the west of Brazil and parts of Bolivia. Most of the tamarin’s fur is grey and black with little yellowish patches and a brown tail, but its most distinctive feature is its magnificent white moustache which extends out and curls downwards from its nose.

Typically, an emperor tamarin will reach a body length of around 25 centimetres with a strong tail that extends out a further 35 centimetres and weighs in just under half a kilo. They live together in groups of between 2 and 8 individuals led by the oldest female in the dense tree-covered tropical forests. Most of their days are spent swinging around in the trees, grooming each other to build bonds and rarely dropping to the forest floor where they are vulnerable to attack from predators.

Like the other species of tamarins, emperors are omnivores living off at diet of tropical fruits that can be found in abundance, some flowers depending on the season and their location, sap they’ve managed to prize out of trees and the odd insect. When they’re feeling hungry, they might go after tree frogs or cheekily steel the bird eggs when the parents are away from the nests. There small size, agile bodies and useful tails are an advantage making it easy for them to clamber along to the end of thin branches inaccessible for larger mammals. When the dominant female creates a troop to scavenge for food, they are known to work alongside other species of tamarin.

The gestation period for tamarins is roughly the same across the board and females give birth after around 140 to 150 days. Interestingly, they almost always birth twins, though triplets are not that uncommon. Afterwards, both the female and male are involved in the care of their young. The males will scavenge for food and carry the little ones, while the females help with feeding. After 3 months, the young are weaned off milk and start to eat solids. These are the most dangerous months for the young when the there is a high risk of falling from the canopy. If they do survive, they quickly mature and after 2 years they usually set off to build their own group living for more than 15 years.

In the wild, there are some concerns to the declining population which is affected by human encroachment and deforestation, though they are no yet listed as endangered. There are several locations like the Manu National Park where tamarins thrive. Interestingly, these social creatures are known to seek out human interaction when in captivity and there are reports from zoos that the critters like to be stroked and petted.

Want to catch a glimpse of emperor tamarins in the wild? Get in touch with one of our Amazon experts today on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or email us here.

RELATED: French artist projects faces of Amazon tribe onto rainforest canopy

Select Latin America joins up with Galapagos Conservation Trust

Copyright David Horwell

We are happy to have renewed a partnership with the Galapagos Conservation Trust. This non-profit organization raises money to help preserve these wonderful islands. Based in the UK it is part of the Charles Darwin Foundation who maintain a scientific research station in the archipelago. They advise the National park and help with specific projects. Among these are monitoring whale sharks, surveying resident seabirds like the endangered penguins and cormorants, repatriating giant tortoises that are captive-bred and restoring islands to their pristine state by eradicating introduced organisms. A recent project is to restore Floreana island, to re-introduce the endemic Galapagos mockingbird, a species that were as inspirational to Charles Darwin as the finches that bear his name. The GCT also fund environmental education of local students in the inhabited islands, for they are the future guardians. We will donate a year’s membership of the trust to each of our passengers visiting the Galapagos.

RELATED: A typical day in the Galapagos Islands

A typical day in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos archipelago lies off the Ecuadorian mainland and is home to some of the most fascinating wildlife on the planet. It’s isolated location, lack of predators, a little contact with humans over thousands of years has helped the fearless wildlife flourish. Nowhere else on earth can you see some a range of species, from flightless cormorants, penguins, and giant tortoises that roam around on the highlands, while sharks, dolphins, and whales take refuge in the plankton rich waters. Without a doubt, the easiest way to see the island is on board one of the many cruise ships.  No day is the same, with new experiences and wildlife found on every island and site, but a typical day looks something like this.

In the morning, you will wake up to the sounds of sea birds and the gentle lapping of the ocean. Up on deck, you’ll likely to get you first sight of birds which circle around the boat above. Your crew will already have been up early creating a spread of eggs, toast, fresh fruits, yogurts, cereals, juice, and coffee for your breakfast.  You’ll have some time to eat and get ready before the excursion begins. During breakfast, your guide will give you a briefing of the day, what you’re likely to see, and what you’ll need to bring with you.

Board pangas (inflatable boats), to and cross over for either a wet or dry-landing. If wet, you’ll jump out into the water and wade through onto the beach. During a dry landing, the boat will moor up and allow you to step ashore. Which one depends on the site you are visiting. Once on shore, your naturalist guide will take you on a walk, perhaps up to a viewpoint. Along the way, you’ll likely to see everything from noisy sea lion colonies, blue-footed boobies doing their hilarious mating dance, great frigatebirds expanding their colourful red poach, iguanas basking in the sunshine, and waddling penguins. Your guide will help you identify the species, as well as the flora of the island. Back at the shore, you can don snorkel masks and fins and jump into the sea to explore the marine life of turtles, small reef sharks, and colourful schools of fish.

Having worked up an appetite, you’ll board pangas to ride back to the boat. The chef will have been busy preparing a delicious buffet style lunch which typically includes pastas, meat, cheese, bread, vegetables, and some dessert, along with fresh fruit and juices. You’ll have a little time to relax as the boat cruises on to the next destination.

You’ll motor to a new site which will reveal a whole host of new species to discover. For example on Santa Cruz island, you’ll head up the windy roads to the lush green highlands. With your ever present guide, you’ll hike through the greenery in search of some of the island’s giant Galapagos tortoises. They move slowly, so they’re never hard to find. Enjoy close encounters with alien-looking but gentle ambling creatures.

Return to the coast. If time permits, you’ll be taken to another site for some snorkelling. In the cool waters, perhaps spot large manta ray, a colourful parrot fish, a green turtle, or a playful sea lion pup whose inquisitiveness with bring them up close to you. The underwater life in the Galapagos is simply astounding, with rare coral reefs and fascinating marine creatures. You may even spot the odd harmless reef shark gracefully swimming. As always, your naturalist guide will be with you to help you spot and identify the flora and fauna species. With just 16 passengers to every naturalist guide, you’ll have their full attention during the trip.

Back on board, you’ll have plenty of time to relax and enjoy a delicious dinner prepared by the onboard chef. Have a glass of wine, swap stories with your fellow guests, look up at the stars (both hemispheres are clearly visible), listen to a briefing of tomorrows itinerary, and get a good night’s sleep, ready for tomorrow’s experience.

To start planning your cruise in the Galapagos, take a look through our Galapagos tour suggestions, call our Galapagos experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478, or email us here.

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New Suites at Napo Wildlife Centre

AMAZON IN STYLE

You can’t beat spotting Amazon wildlife at Napo Wildlife Centre in Ecuador. This lodge is set within the Yasuni National Park. This comfortable eco-lodge has now added four panoramic suites. If you fancy the jungle with a private whirlpool on a panoramic balcony, this is your place. Not to mention a cosy living room with a glass floor above the water to spot caiman alligators passing below. From your hammock, you might spot pre-historic hoatzins, huge arapaima fish, and even giant otters on the hunt for piranhas.

After taking a half-hour flight from Quito. Napo Wildlife Centre sits by Anangu Lagoon, a couple of hours by canoe from Coca/San Francisco de Orellana. You can explore the virgin forest on guided hikes, take canoe-rides and visits to a nearby parrot clay lick. For bird-watchers, there is a watchtower. For a bit of culture visits to an indigenous kichwa community. Ecuador is one of the most accessible places to visit the Amazon and one of the most diverse. You could easily combine this with a Galapagos cruise.

RELATED: French artist projects faces of Amazon tribe onto rainforest canopy

Whale watching in Costa Rica starts in July

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.

RELATED: 12 amazing things to do in Costa Rica

Albatross Breeding Season Comes to Galapagos

The albatross breeding season has started. The waved albatross is the largest species of bird in the Galapagos Islands. They only nest on Española Island, where they can be spotted from the April until the December. This coincides with the cooler season when waters are richer in food. They are called the waved albatross after the wavy lines on their breast. Their courtship ritual is one of the most entertaining spectacles in the archipelago. During the courtship, the male approaches the female, then moves around her. They clack their beaks noisily together and point towards the sky. An eerie rattling sound follow, and much honking prevails. They sway around elaborately leading each other on. The movements are repeated many times. They manage to find their partners from previous years. It is said that they mate for life, which can be up to 40 years. They only lay one large egg on bare ground, which weighs nearly 300g. Once-hatched they rapidly grow, until 6 months later are ready to fledge. One reason they like Española island is it is flat and they can easily take off the cliffs. Film copyright David Horwell.

If you wish to book a Galapagos cruise contact the experts.

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