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Top Five: Things to Do in the Rainforest (part 1)

If you’re looking to travel in South America or Central America, chances are you’ll be headed into a part of the continent’s lush rainforest.

 

From the Brazilian Amazon to the cloud forests of Ecuador the landscapes are not only unbelievably beautiful, but also hold within them a world of wildlife, waterfalls and hidden treasures.

 

There’s a wealth of ways to explore rainforest terrain – here are some of our favourite activities for everyone from adrenaline junkies to leisurely loungers.  (Look out for the second instalment of this – there were too many options to just have five options!)

 

1. White water rafting and kayaking

Two kayaks in white water with waterfall behind

White water rafting at the Iguazu Falls (click for more images)

For a taste of adventure, head to the water for rafting and kayaking down lush canyons.  Engage with fast-flowing rapids, and meet the tropical rainforest from a different angle – and don’t worry if you’re a novice!  Waters are graded from 1 to 6 – level 1 requires only minimal manoeuvring and wouldn’t include any particularly rough areas.

 

Where to do it:  Peru (particularly the Tambopata river), Costa Rica, Argentina, Belize.

2. Walking tours

People walking down extremely steep steps in a mountain ravine

The Inca Trail in Peru (click for more images)

South America in particular is one of the best continents to walk around, with the Andes mountain range running its full length.  Every level of exertion from short afternoon/morning strolls to extensive trekking holidays can be accommodated, and canopy walkways will fully immerse you in the rainforest.

 

Where to do it:  Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Belize and Bolivia will offer the best selection of both high altitude and lowland hiking.

3. Horseback trekking

Three people on horseback in the rainforest with a waterfall behind

Trekking in Arenal (click for more images)

Argentina is famous for its ranches, but horse riding can also be a fantastic way to explore forest regions.  Lodges and hotels offering horseback activities will have excellent stables and sure-footed steeds that are comfortable with their terrain, and will cater to all abilities.

 

Where to do it: Argentina (of course), but also Belize, Ecuador, Brazil and Nicaragua.

4. Uncover ruined cities

Sunny rainforest clearing with ancient Incan pyramid temple

Tikal (click for more images)

Exploring the ancient ruins of Mayan and Incan civilisations is a given in Latin America.  The rainforest ruins are particularly mesmerising and will give you a real ‘Lost World Explorer’ feeling as you turn a corner, scale a hill, push past branches or come to sudden clearings to be faced with majestic stone pyramids.

The trail to Machu Picchu requires stamina, but there are many other sites closer to sea level that won’t be quite so punishing.

 

Where to do it: The city of Tikal in Guatemala, Xunantunich in Belize, Machu Picchu and the Inca trail in Peru.

5. Watch the wildlife

People looking out from a rainforest viewing platform surrounded by jungle

Many lodges have viewing balconies (click for more images)

You won’t just see great wildlife when horse riding or walking – in the rainforest you’ll be right next to an incredible abundance of species in your hotel or lodge, so keep your eyes peeled at your bedroom window too.

 

Animals that you’re likely to see (and hear!) closer to human habitat are frogs, monkeys and a cross-section of birdlife.

 

Where to do it: Both the Pantanal and Amazon regions of Brazil, Peru (especially the Tambopata Research Centre), Ecuador, Panama, Belize and Bolivia.

Contact us to find out more about a holiday combining these activities!

 

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Easter in Latin America

As all the schools go back we take a look at how Latin America has been celebrating Easter, known as Holy Week (‘Semana Santa’ in Portuguese).

 

Religion is an integral part of life across all Latin American countries.  Ever since the first European settlers brought Christianity to the so-called ‘New World’ it’s been a central pillar of societies, now as much a part of the region as the native beliefs it exists alongside.

 

Easter represents the peak of the Catholic calendar and is a time to celebrate, revere and make pilgrimage.  Special Masses and processions through towns abound, but Latin America also knows how to party!

 

Brazil

Aerial shot of sunny city with Jesus statue overlooking

Rio de Janeiro (click for more images)

Several towns across Brazil hold a Procissão do Fogaréu (Procession of the Torches), the most famous of which is Goiás Velho.  Procissão do Fogaréu is a re-enactment of Christ’s arrest in the olive garden, with hooded men bearing lit torches to signify soldiers.

 

The town of Nova Jerusalém holds a Paixão de Cristo (Passion of Christ) play in one of the world’s largest open-air theatres.  With 9 sets and around 8,000 spectators at every performance, the audience follows the cast across the different sets as the story traces the last few weeks of Christ’s life, finishing with the Ascension into Heaven.

 

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Argentina

Colourful costumes signifying devils

Diablos Espejos (click for more images)

 

Many Argentinians make a pilgrimage to the town of Tandil during the Holy Week, to see the Via Crucis (Way of the Crosses) and the 14 groups of stone statues at Mount Calvary on the subject of Christ’s crucifixion.

 

Lava-Pés (Washing of the Feet) is a ritual that recalls Christ washing the feet of His apostles – twelve citizens from all areas of society have their feet washed by priests.  Our current Pope Francis, as a native of Argentina, has participated in Lava-Pés in his home city of Buenos Aires.

 

Palm Sunday is known as Domingo de Ramos (Branch Sunday), with olive branches blessed and handed out by priests instead of palms.

 

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Peru

Five colourful figures with traditional ornate headpieces and masks, red and white clothing

Celebrations in Cuzco (click for more images)

Ayacucho in Peru has 33 churches – one for every year of Christ’s life – and here the Holy Week is celebrated particularly intensely with festivals that attract national and international visitors.  Masses, processions and icons come from each of the churches and make their way through streets and squares, culminating in joyous celebrations on Sunday as Christ’s resurrection is portrayed with images of Christ carried back through the town.

 

It’s a longstanding tradition that during processions red ñucchu flowers are thrown out – their vivid colour symbolises the blood of Christ.  Food also plays a huge part in celebrations – it’s traditional to have some of each of 12 traditional dishes (one for each of the apostles).

 

The Inca capital of Cuzco not only has world-renowned celebrations, but also a famous statue: Señor de los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes) who made a special appearance during an earthquake in 1650 and has been revered as the city’s patron ever since. Uniquely, the statue forms part of the Easter processions and is carried around the cathedral and surrounding square.

 

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Chile

Girl in traditional dress surrounded by dancers

Atacama (click for more images)

The Fiesta Quasimodo (Feast of Quasimodo) is an Easter celebration particular to Chile – the name comes from the first word of a Latin prayer that opens Mass on the Sunday after Easter.  On this day, priests traditionally take Communion to members of the congregation who were unable to travel to church to receive it during the Easter period itself.  The priests ride in special wagons with guards, who are known as quasimodistas.

 

Rodeos and horsemanship contests may also form part of the celebrations, taken part in by the huasos – Chilean countrymen who are highly skilled on horseback.

 

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Ecuador

Lady in traditional dress making flowers at her stall

Cuenca (click for more images)

Holy Week celebrations in Ecuador combine national festivities with smaller individual events that are unique to local areas.  In the capital, Quito, the procession of Jesus de Gran Poder sees a Christ icon carried by around 800 participants through the city to the cathedral.

 

Across the country you might see crosses being transported, costumed ‘devils’ being driven out, and even a procession of penitents being symbolically whipped. A customary Ecuadorian dish uses 12 varieties of grain, for the 12 disciples, and Christ is represented in the form of fish.

 

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