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Something for Everyone in Latin America

 

Do you prefer soaking up culture in the city, roughing it in the middle of nowhere or getting pampered on the beach? We all have a different idea about what makes for a memorable holiday. Whether you are looking for peace and quiet or a piece of the action, Latin America will have something for you.

With 19 countries to choose from, this is unquestionably the continent of choices. It contains everything from jungle to beaches, colonial towns to mega cities, mountains, lakes, glaciers, ancient civilisations, high deserts and flooded wetlands, not to mention a profusion of wildlife. So, if you are struggling to find a holiday this year, whether it be for you, your family or someone special, give us a call and we can find something for you.

 

For: The Romantic


 

Best Areas: The wine region of Mendoza or Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

Best Hotels: Cavas Wine Lodge has individual bungalows surrounded by vineyards whilst Casa Palopo overlooks the volcanoes on Lake Atitlan.

When to Go: All year round

 

For: The Adventurer


 

Best Area: Atacama, Chile. Here you will find remote salt flats, horse riding, high altitude trekking and the valley of the moon

Best Hotels: Awasi Atacama with its individual adobe bungalows and Tierra Atacama

When to Go: All year round, though Mar-Nov is best

 

For: The Beach Bum


 

Best Area: The coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula. Powder white beaches from Cancun to Tulum as well as a pristine reef

Best Hotels: The Viceroy Riviera Maya or the Esencia

When to Go: Dec-June

 

For: The Tomb Raider


 

Best Area: The Cayo District in Belize which has numerous Mayan ruins within easy striking distance, including the impressive Tikal across the border in Guatemala

Best Hotel: Chaa Creek. A range of rooms from individual cottages to suites with private plunge pools

When to Go: Dec-May

 

For: The City Escape


 

Best Areas: Buenos Aires with its colonial barrios, antique markets and intimate tango shows though the Casco Viejo in Panama City is also stunning

Best Hotels: The world class Palacio Duhau in Buenos Aires. In Panama City the Canal House only has three superb rooms.

When to Go: All year round

 

 

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The best of Central America

 

 

Central America offers something completely different to South America. All 8 countries located on the isthmus offer something unique in regards to culture, beaches and ecological diversity. Distances between each country and destinations within each county are small, making internal travel quick and cheap.  On top of this international flights tend to be a lot cheaper than its South American neighbour.

 

Here are some of the nightlights of each country.

 

Mexico

 

 

Some of the best beaches to be found anywhere on the isthmus are on the Riviera Maya and the peninsula also contains some incredible Mayan ruins – Chichen Itza & Tulum to name but a few. The peninsula is also rich in quality hotels with places such as the Viceroy Riviera Maya & the Hacienda Santa Rosa leading the way.

 

Guatemala

 

 

Without question, this is the most colourful of all the Central American countries.  Locals still wear their traditional dress and the country is steeped in history.  It also appears to have everything; mountains, volcanoes, lakes, colonial towns as well as jungle clad Mayan ruins at Tikal.

 

Belize

 

 

Probably the best place for a honeymoon, Belize is small and diverse.  Action and adventure can be found in The Cayo District, wildlife at Lamanai, trekking and Mayan ruins at Mountain Pine Ridge and for snorkelling, diving and relaxing on the beach you head to The Cayes.

 

Honduras

 

 

Still very much untouched, Honduras is best known for The Bay IslandsThe islands offer one of the cheapest places to dive anywhere in the world and it has an amazingly diverse reef system.  On the mainland, the Mayan ruins of Copan are worth a few days and the rivers and waterfalls at Pico Bonito are unique.

 

 

Nicaragua


 

Nicaragua is what Costa Rica was 20 years ago – underdeveloped and full of potential. For us this is the place to go now before it gets spoilt.  The colonial towns of Granada and Leon are lovely, Omepete Island in Lake Nicaragua is a real backwater, whilst the Pacific coast at San Juan del Sur has 2 superb beach hotels; Morgans Rock and the new Mukul Resort.

 

Costa Rica


 

Tried and tested, this is still an excellent holiday destination. Tremendous bird watching in Tortuguero, zip wiring in Monteverde and outstanding beach hotels on the Nicoya Peninsula means there is something for everyone.  You can still get off the beaten track here though and the Casa Corcovado hotel on the Osa Peninsula and the Pacuare Lodge near Turrialba are definitely worth the effort.

 

Panama


 

Panama City is worth the trip alone.  The beautiful Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) with its boutique hotels and funky restaurants is well worth some time, whilst the Panama Canal will always amaze. Beyond the city you will find good birding in Soberania, the curious Kuna people on the San Blas Archipelago and good beaches in Bocas Del Toro.

 

 

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Country focus: Peru

 

Peru is fast becoming ‘the’ destination in South America.  The emergence of new hotels throughout the country was really just the start, but the recent arrival of some of the best boutique hotels on the continent makes this the destination of choice for 2014.

 

The new hotels leading the way are the Relais & Châteaux Hotel B in Lima, the Palacio Nazarenas & El Mercado Tunqui in Cuzco as well as the Hacienda Concepcion in the Peruvian Amazon.

 

 

 

The destinations within Peru obviously remain the same with the old favourites such as; Arequipa, Cuzco, Lake Titicaca and of course Machu Picchu being the front runners.

 

The newest development is that of food tourism.  Peruvian food has always been excellent, whether you are eating from a market stall or a top class restaurant, but the emergence of some of the top chefs from around the world basing themselves here has been a surprise.  The best restaurants to look out for in Lima are;

 

 

Astrid y Gaston

The flagship of Peru’s most celebrated and successful chefs (Gastón Acurio and his wife Astrid Gutsche), this popular restaurant serves inventive variations on traditional Peruvian cuisine. Acurio is a master of both flavour and presentation. You can’t help but watch the kitchen door—each dish the waiters carry out is a work of art. Even a Peruvian standard such as lomo saltado (tenderloin slices sautéed with tomato, onions and aji peppers) gains a new personality here. The menu changes every six months, but is invariably original and delectable. Take advantage of the wine list—it’s one of the best in town. The colonial-style building is lovely, with grey walls hung with modern artwork, but you’ll spend most of your time ogling the food.

 

El Mercado

At Lima’s El Mercao Restaurant, the theme is old meets new—not just in the food, where acclaimed chef Rafael Osterling puts a new twist on classic Peruvian dishes, but also in the architecture. Opened in 2010, the restaurant is located in the city’s Miraflores district. The lunch only spot is more casual than his signature Rafael, though it still has an upmarket foodie feel with a long wooden bar, large chalkboard displaying the daily specials, and an open air dining room with a Playa de Asia style beachy decor.

 

La Mar

This cool, semi-open air cevicheria on the site of a parking lot, where the waiters place orders on iPhones, serves updated, upmarket versions of the traditional lunchtime dish, ceviche: raw fish cured in a ‘tiger milk’ of lemon, garlic, fish stock, ice, garlic, celery, salt and chilli. Lima’s vast and historic fish market brims with trout from the rivers and an almost overwhelming variety of species from the sea, all spanking fresh. At La Mar the sea bass is so recently alive its eyes are still translucent.

 

Mesa 18

Located in the glamorous seaside Miraflores Park Hotel, eating Toshiro Konishi’s Peruvian-Japanese fusion food is an experience. Now 59, Toshiro has been here for 35 years. ‘My blood is Latin,’ he says. There is delicate sashimi of local flounder, scallops served with the high-altitude root vegetable maca (‘herbal Viagra,’ says Toshiro), aubergines stuffed with pork and shrimp, followed by an ineffably subtle wasabi ice cream.

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Latin America Recommendations for 2014

 

With Brazil holding the World Cup next year, you don’t have to be a football fan to consider a trip to South or Central America in 2014. To be honest, we would probably recommend avoiding Brazil during June & July anyway where prices have more than tripled!!

 

So, why not take a look at what we think will be the places of choice for 2014. Our newsletter this month includes a suggested range of countries, hotels and areas, that we would recommend seeing before the end of 2014.

 

BELIZE


 

Best for snorkelling: The sleepy islands off the coast, known as The Cayes

Best hotel: Chaa Creek, nestled in the Jungle next to Mayan ruins

When to Go: Jan-Apr

 

PERU

 

 

Best Area: The lesser visited city of Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

Best Hotel: La Casona, located in the heart of historical Cuzco

When to Go: Mar-Sep

 

THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

 

 

Best Boats: The impeccable Eclipse and Athala II

Best Boats for Families: Superb child friendly guides on the Eric, Flamingo & Letty

When to Go: All year round

 

ARGENTINA

 

 

Best Area: The remote mountains around El Chalten

Best Hotel: Cavas wine lodge, at the foot of the Andes surrounded by vineyards.

When to Go Patagonia: Oct – Mar

When to Go North West: Apr – Oct

 

NICARAGUA

 

 

Best Area: The colonial town of Granada on the edge of Lake Nicaragua

Best Hotel: Morgans Rock, with its own private beach and unique rooms

When to Go: Dec – Apr

 

 

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Top 5 markets in Latin America

Chichicastenango Market, Guatemala

Chichicastenango, or Chichi as it is known, is a traditional town of cobbled streets and charming old adobe houses, though these are now outnumbered by modern concrete structures. Twice a week the town is changed by their market – Sunday and Thursday’s – which attract many tourists, traders and Maya weavers from throughout the region.

 

In Chici, locals adhere to the ways of traditional weaving, the women wearing huipiles – a traditional local dress. The men’s costume of short trousers and jackets of black wool embroidered with silk is highly distinguished. For Sundays and fiestas, however, a handful of the elders still wear the traditional clothing and parade through the streets bearing spectacular silver processional crosses and antique incense-burners.

 

 

 

Otavalo market, Otavalo, Ecuador

The world famous Saturday crafts market in Otavalo contains an array of textiles and crafts. Split into 3 different markets; food and spices, weavings and carvings, and buying and selling of animals. The men wear their hair long and plaited with calf length white trousers and blue ponchos. Women wear colourful embroidered blouses, shoulder wraps and colourful beads.

 

Although the Saturday market is the largest and most famous it operates every day of the week. As well as the numerous handicrafts shops where you can find beautifully woven textiles, woollen ponchos, blankets and wall hangings, you can also find Andean folk music instruments.

 

 

 

Pisac Market, Sacred Valley, Peru

Pisac is a picturesque town comprising of both the old and the new (from the colonial era). The town of Pisac though is better known for its outstanding market, where locals and gringos alike barter over goods. Despite its popularity the market retains much of its local charm, at least in the part where villagers from miles around gather to barter and sell their produce.

 

Hundreds of stalls crowd the central square where a small church sits though it also spills down the many side streets. Sellers come from many different villages and each wear the dress typical of their village. Dignitaries from the local villages usually lead processions after Mass, making it a wonderful place to sit and watch. Pisac is a good place to buy the local ceramics including a huge and varied collection of hand-painted multi-coloured beads. There are smaller markets in Pisac on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

 

 

 

 

Saquisili Market, Avenue of Volcanos, Ecuador

South of Quito is the small rugged town of Saquisili, where each Thursday it is home to one of the most authentic and complete Indian markets in Ecuador, though it is also one of the largest and most genuine in South America. Hundreds of locals from the surrounding mountains arrive in the early hours of the morning, sometimes while it is still dark, to set up their stalls. The whole town is converted into a vibrant market where you can walk through the central plaza and shop for handicrafts of all kinds.

 

The market vendors sell everything from pigs and goats, pots and pans to colourful handicrafts, but it is best known for its animal market. Food stalls will sell a variety of local specialties, while the local butcher slaughters pigs, cattle and sheep to sell off literally piece by piece. Though as with all South American markets, it is a chance for the locals to socialize and to show off their best clothing.

 

 

 

 

San Telmo Market, Buenos Aires, Argentina

San Telmo is a small barrio of Buenos Aires and its distinctive cobblestone streets are home to the weekly (Sundays) antiques market. The area of San Telmo has a wonderful feeling of the grandeur, with its crumbling colonial buildings. This is the place to not only shop, but also to eat, drink and watch life go by. There are hundreds of stalls surrounded by street performers and it is the perfect place to buy souvenir mate cups – the cups which they suck the local tea out of.

 

Even if you are not here on a weekend, San Telmo is still a lovely place to wander around and explore. The main street – Calle Defensa – is lined with many antique shops, though one of the real highlights is sitting in a café on Plaza Dorrego, enjoying a local coffee and watching one of the professional tango dancers strutting their stuff.

 

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The best five colonial towns in Latin America

 

 

 

 

Both South and Central America have some of the best colonial towns in the world. All of them have something different to offer, whether it is sea views, impressive plazas, colourfully dressed locals or remote locations, but all have one thing in common; they are worth adding to your bucket list. Here is a selection of the best colonial towns in Latin America.

 

 

 

 

Cuzco, Peru

This is probably the best known and also the most popular. At its heart lies the impressive Plaza de Armas, which is home to both the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, also known as Cusco Cathedral and was built in 1539 on the foundations of the Palace of Viracocha Inca and the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus), whose construction was initiated by the Jesuits in 1576. Beyond the main plaza though lie numerous other churches and smaller plazas as well as hidden cobbled streets lined with artisan shops making it an ideal place to explore on foot.

 

 

 

 

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon is a relative backwater in comparison to some of the other better known colonial towns of Latin America and certainly in comparison to Granada which sits on Lake Nicaragua to the south. Leon makes the list for the locals though. As you walk through the town you have the feeling that few people have been here before. Even though this is obviously not true, it still, somehow, manages to retain that unique charm which makes you feel like you are the first to see it.

 

 

 

 

Ouro Preto, Brazil

With thirteen churches as well as other numerous and impressive public buildings and monuments, Our Preto is a must if visiting Brazil. Surrounded by mountains, it is an excellent place to explore on foot and gives you the opportunity of climbing one of the small hills which give you a breath taking view of the city and its surroundings.

 

 

 

 

Antigua, Guatemala

Everyone that goes to Guatemala goes to Antigua. Its close proximity to the international airport in Guatemala City (50 minute drive) makes this a logical place to start any holiday to Guatemala. The city itself contains; 22 churches, 14 convents and 11 monasteries in various states of restoration. Antigua is laid out in a grid formation, making it easy navigate, it has some of the best restaurants in the country and being located in a valley, any one of the numerous rooftops give you superb views of not just the city but also the dominant Pacaya Volcano that sits over her.

 

 

 

 

Salta, Argentina

We have always said that Salta & the North West of Argentina is a repeat offenders destination in that, most people visit the major highlights of Argentina first; Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires, El Chalten and Patagonia. Salta as a city is beautiful and has lots to see and do, not just within the city but in the surrounding countryside as well. Your days can be spent; visiting the numerous churches, the Plaza 9 de Julio, the Cabildo and various museums. In the centre of town is a cable car taking you to the top of San Bernardo Mountain (1,454 m) for superb views over the city.

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How to get the best for your money in Latin America

 

 

 

If you are on a tight budget and want to visit South or Central America, or even if you are not, there are various things you can do which will allow you, for example, to get better rooms in certain hotels by saving money at others. Below are some destination tips!

 

 

 

 

 

Peru

This is a destination which involves a lot of travelling, as each area deserves anywhere between 2 to 4 nights. However, there are two places where you should seriously consider where you stay. The first is Lima. Generally flights arrive late in the afternoon or at night and by the time you get to your hotel it is normally 23:00, so stay somewhere cheap, which is clean and comfortable as you will be gone first thing in the morning anyway. The second place is Machu Picchu where you will spend the whole day at the ruins arriving at your hotel around 18:00 and you will be up at 05:00 to return to Machu Picchu to watch the sunrise, so you don’t need anywhere flash here either. By doing this you will free up some of your budget to allow for a better hotel or a longer holiday

 

 

 

 

 

Guatemala & Belize

The cost of international flights to South America – which start at £800 per person and the vast distances of Argentina, Chile and Brazil means you also need 3 or 4 internal flights – which can cost around £600 per person. So before you have even spent a night on holiday you have spent a minimum of £1,400 per person, leaving you with less money for the hotels that you want to stay in. The advantage of Central America is that international flights start at £600 per person and distances are not so vast so none or very few internal flights are required, leaving you more money for your holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

Chile

Chile is long and thin and the three main tourist areas; Patagonia, the Lake District & Atacama are remote locations where hotels generally offer full board basis including all activities. This can be very expensive and although fine in Patagonia and Torres del Paine as there is no other choice, in both the Lake District and even more so Atacama, we would recommend booking on b&b (bed & breakfast) basis only. In both of these areas you can book your activities locally with one of the many operators that offer the same services as the hotels, but at a far cheaper price.

 

 

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Top 5 islands in Latin America

1. The Turneffe Islands, Belize

 

The Turneffe islands are all located inside an atoll off the east coast of Belize and as such offer some of the best snorkelling, diving and fishing in the world. Most of the small islands are inhabitable and there are only two lodges located inside the atoll; Turneffe Island Lodge & the Blackbird Caye Resort, both of which sit on sublime white sandy beaches and offer extensive excursions onto the reef.  For us this is one of the best island options.

2. The Bay Islands, Honduras

 

 

Made up of two main islands; Roatan & Utila, as well as several other smaller ones, these islands, although more touristy than others, offer some of the cheapest diving anywhere in the world.  The reef literally sits off the island, allowing you to snorkel from the beach.  The hundreds of dive sites (literally!) means variety; drift dives, night diving, wreck diving, deep diving, navigation, fish identification, photography, videography…the list is endless.  Both islands offer a range of accommodation with the pick on Utila being Utopia Village and on Roatan it is Palmetto Bay Plantation.

3. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

 

 

Fernando de Noronha is a national park island located approximately 500 km off Brazil’s north east coast.  It is still completely unspoilt as the number of visitors is restricted to only 460 per day!  The island is a small paradise, with lots of things to see and do.  It contains some of the best beaches in Brazil, some of which are again restricted to just 20 people at any one time, there are small peaks to walk up and he diving in the area is OK, but viewing the spinner dolphins is a must.  The best accommodation on the island is the Pousada Maravilha

4. The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

 

 

The Islands are one of the most unique destinations in the world.  Nowhere else allows you to get so close to the wildlife, in fact on arrival you are told the you may not touch the wildlife, but the wildlife may touch you!!! The Galapagos is made up of 19 islands, 13 major and 6 smaller; each originating from undersea volcanoes that erupted over 600 million years ago and each is home to a unique type of animal, some of which cannot be found on any other island, not only in the Galapagos, but anywhere else in the world.  The best way to see the islands is by boat and the best cruises are with the Ocean Spray & the Athala II.

5. Ambergis Caye (San Pedro), Belize

 

 

Belize has two islands in the top 5, but both are very different.  Turneffe is remote, whilst Ambergis Caye – known as San Pedro – is not. San Pedro is easily accessible for everyone and it offers a laid back atmosphere (you will often see signs saying ‘No shoes, no problem’), superb diving, excellent snorkelling (you want to go to the Hol Chan Marine Park), opportunities to swim with sharks and sting rays (sting ray alley) and some superb seafood.  The best hotels are the ones in the far north of the island; Mata Chica & Portofino.

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Inti Raymi, Festival of the Sun, Peru

The Inti Raymi festival is one of the biggest and most impressive celebrations in Peru. It is a homage to the Sun, an important God in Inca Culture. The Inti Raymi is celebrated every June 24th – one of the shortest days in the southern hemisphere marking the beginning of a new year in the Andean´s Cosmovision.

 

 

 

The Sacsaywaman fortress, located just outside Cuzco is where the Inti Raymi festival takes place and it is was originally the most majestic and greatest of festivals of the Inca Empire. Today, the Inti Raymi evokes the splendid Inca ritual of yore, being carefully scripted by Cusco professors, archaeologists and historians.

 

 

 

On the day thousands of actors proudly bring the past alive, giving thanks to the sun god. The Inti Raymi starts in the square in front of the Qorikancha in Cuzco – also known as the Santo Domingo. The Sapa Inca honours, with an eloquently strong voice, the blessings of the Sun and after this initiation the procession moves with imperial dignity to Sacsaywaman.

 

 

 

At the top of the hill the Inca is carried on a royal litter and on arrival at the fortress the high priest performs the llama sacrifice offering a black and white llama. With a sharp ceremonial golden knife called a Tumi” he opens the animal’s chest. With his hands, he pulls out its throbbing heart, lungs and viscera and examines them, so he can predict the future. Later, the animal and its parts were completely incinerated.

 

After the sacrifice, the High Priest had to produce the “Sacred Fire”, where, standing in front of the Sun he had to get its rays in a concave gold medallion that contained a soft or oily material in order to produce the fire that had to be kept for the next year in the Qorikancha cathedral.

 

Once the ritual stages of the Inti Raymi were finished a huge celebration took place, with food music and dancing.

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One of the best places to see capuchin monkeys in their natural habitat (ie not the back of a tour bus hanging off Justin Bieber’s arm).

Justin Bieber is in the news again. This time it’s because his pet – a capuchin monkey – has been put into quarantine after he didn’t have the correct papers to bring the monkey into Germany.


Now Justin Bieber is hardly a moral compass for young people but this behaviour worries us greatly because it is sending out a terrible signal about the types of pets that are right for us to have. National Geographic as well as various wildlife experts have posted angry comments

 

Debbie Leahy, manager of captive wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States said ‘No primate species should ever be kept as a pet. They have very special needs. These are highly social animals. They need to be kept with others of their own kind; that’s just critical to their psychological well-being.’


So we thought we would tell you about one of the best places to see capuchin monkeys in their natural habitat (ie not the back of a tour bus hanging off Bieber’s arm).

 

Capuchin monkeys reside in the trees in central and southern America. In our view, Tortuguero Costa Rica is one of the best places to see them. Located on the Caribbean coast, Tortuguero National Park is one of the largest areas of tropical rainforest left in Central America.  Tortuguero is a real eco-tourism success story – a village which was dependent on logging, fishing and turtles is now dedicated to preserving nature.

 

 

Tortuguero river boat cruises enable you to glide silently through the beautiful emerald swaths of rainforest where the monkeys live. On our morning trip we saw groups of capuchin playing in the trees, leaping from branch to branch chasing, grabbing tails. It’s as if they were having their own game of tag. They have an enormous amount of energy compared to Howlers as they eat lots of protein.

 

 

Capuchin monkeys are incredibly intelligent and you’ll often see them using tools like stones to break open nuts, shellfish and crabs. Another ‘dinner party’ fact is that scientists have discovered that they signal their sexual status by weeing on their hands and rubbing their urine on their fur.

 

Holidays in Costa Rica will also enable you to see the much loved sea turtle. Hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback and above all green turtles land on the protected beaches to bury their eggs.

 

You can also see river turtles, Jesus Christ lizards, snakes, caimans, crocodiles, poison arrow frogs and blue jean frogs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to talk to us about holidays to Costa Rica and staying in the Tortuguero national park do get in touch, it’s one of our favourite spots so we have plenty to say!

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