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South America

South America

South America

4 hard-to-reach destinations that are worth the trek

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Some corners of the world defy human interference. These remote locations aren’t easy to reach, but they are well worth the extra effort. To get to the spots on this list you have to take a plane, a boat, or a ride in an all-terrain vehicle down a rough road. These are sights that will stay with you the longest, and after the journey you’ll have a greater appreciation for smooth rides.

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

To reach the limestone bridge called Semuc Champey you will need to take a 5.5-mile (9-km) drive down an extremely bumpy road. Natural pools brimming with perfectly clear, bright blue water have formed in the limestone. Semuc Champey’s pools form a series of steps, and as the water flows from one pool to the next it creates a trail of waterfalls.

Semuc Champey

Because of the increasing popularity of the area, the roads are being steadily improved. But there are plenty of challenges even after you arrive. Go on a hike to the viewing platform on the side of a mountain – this path is quite steep, and nearly a mile (1.2 km) long. There are guides in the area, and a rope to help you ascend the slope. From this vantage point you can see the complete network of pools.

Lubaantun, Belize

Lubaantun is a Maya city in the rainforest outside of Punta Gorda. It was at its height from the 8th to the 9th century. Punta Gorda’s rainforest has made significant progress toward reclaiming this site, and there are trees growing out of the tops of the crumbling temples. The road here is 7 miles (12 km) over bumpy terrain, and it gets particularly tricky during the rainy season.

Lubaantun

Indiana Jones fans, take note: this is the site where the legend of the crystal skull originated. Archaeologist Frederick A. Mitchel-Hedges claimed to have found a crystal skull at Lubaantun in 1924. There is no proof to support the idea that such an object was ever discovered here, or that the Maya made it. Nevertheless, Jaime Awe, the director of Belize’s Institute of Archaeology, is suing the current owner of the skull to return the artifact to Belize.

Archaeologists have noted the buildings at this site for their lack of mortar. Maya architects found stones that fit together perfectly, eliminating the need for a bonding agent. Archaeologists have found a good deal of ceramics scattered throughout the site, including figurines sculpted to look like Maya ball players.

Ballestas Islands, Peru

To get to the Ballestas Islands visitors take a boat ride across a choppy sea. It’s recommended that you wear a hat for the duration of the boat ride, to protect yourself from the bright sun as well as bird droppings. Birds completely cover some parts of Ballestas’ shores. Common species here include terns, boobies, and Humboldt penguins. At certain times of year you may also spot flamingos. Sea lions flop around on the rocks near the shore.

Ballestas Island

These islands are off the coast of the Nasca Desert, which is famous for the Nasca lines. There are similar lines on the rocky coast of the Ballestas Islands. From your boat you will see the Candelabro – an 800-foot (243-m) long design that was carved into one of the island’s hillsides.

Ballestas Island Carving

Archaeologists believe that the Chavín people may have created this geoglyph. No one is quite sure what this design is supposed to depict. It may represent a cactus, or a constellation.

Coiba National Park, Panama

To reach Coiba National Park you must take a 90-minute boat ride. This national park protects Coiba Island and 38 smaller islands in the Gulf of Chiriquí. There are some overnight facilities at the Coiba ranger station.

Coiba National Park

Coiba Island served as a penal colony for 80 years, finally closing in 2005. At its height, it held 3,000 prisoners. Because of this, no visitors could come to the island and it never developed any tourist infrastructure. The prison’s troubled reputation was so well known that it kept people away from the nearby islands. You can still see the prison buildings here. They are in the process of succumbing to relentless tropical growth.

There are more than 700 species of fish in the surrounding waters, and 20 species of whale, and 33 species of shark. This tremendous diversity makes it an incredible destination for scuba diving, fishing, and kayaking. Granito Oro Island is part of Coiba National Park, and has become one of the top stops for divers and snorkelers.

While you’re on land, make sure to do some bird watching. There are nearly 150 species of birds on the island. Much like on the Galápagos, the island has very few predators, and some of the species of birds have evolved into subspecies that do not exist anywhere else in the world.

Zach Smith is CEO of Anywhere.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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South America

Top 7 luxury yachts sailing in the Galapagos Islands

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It’s easy to see why the Galapagos Islands are on most savvy travelers’ “bucket-lists.” With the archipelago being one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, nothing can prepare you for a visit to this exotic masterpiece of Mother Nature.

Intro photo

Some travelers prefer to experience this once-in-a-lifetime experience on a land-based “land-hopping” tour – eating, sleeping and resting in a hotel on solid earth.

Others will prefer to explore the Galapagos Islands on a water-based cruise, where you will eat, sleep and rest on board a luxury yacht, a catamaran, a sailboat or a larger cruise ship.

Still, no one comes to the Galapagos just to lie out on deck all day. Luxury cruises serving the Galapagos Islands offer daily land excursions that include hiking ancient lava fields where you will encounter prehistoric reptiles such as the iconic giant Galapagos tortoise, endemic land and marine iguanas. On this landings, you can also witness the courtship dance of blue-footed boobies, and witness a host of Galapagos penguins, Flightless cormorants and massive Waved albatross – just to name a few of the comical sea birds found here.

While marveling at the diversity of the land and marine life found in these paradisiacal islands, you can also enjoy the maximum in comfort, style, service and safety on board a luxury ship.

We have selected seven of these top-end “floating boutique hotels” that boast everything from Jacuzzis to private balconies, as well as spacious cabins and all the big-city amenities.

1. Ocean Spray

One of the newest luxury vessels of its type operating in the Galapagos Islands, the Galapagos Ocean Spray is described as a “mega” catamaran; and — since it is equipped with large staterooms and a huge sundeck with a Jacuzzi — it’s not hard to see why!

Ocean-Spray-sundeck2

The unrivaled spaciousness of the vessel’s design, also seen in the cabins and all other guest areas, is complemented by the equally unmatched stability and speed that only catamarans can provide. Indeed, her speed, comfort and stability make the Galapagos Ocean Spray a perfect choice for your Galapagos Islands cruise adventure.

Ocean-Spray---bathroom

Built in 2011, the ultra-modern 16-passenger yacht has three passenger decks with a total of nine (9) elegantly appointed and spacious double cabins, all with private facilities – including balconies. Each cabin boasts individual climate controls, private bathrooms and ample space for storing luggage. The Ocean Spray boasts some of the largest cabins on any small yacht in the Galapagos, with her double cabins measuring at least 284 square feet.

A friendly, experienced crew, a top notch menu of Ecuadorian and international cuisine, and pure style all make the Galapagos Ocean Spray a great cruise ship for your Galapagos trip.

Galapagos Ocean Spray catamaran is equipped with two bars, a spacious sun deck, a Jacuzzi, a comfortable lounge, and indoor and al fresco dining. This means that guests will find it difficult not to relax and enjoy the exclusive atmosphere of this luxury-class catamaran.

The crew is made up of 10 members plus a certified naturalist guide who delivers the highest standards of quality service to the guests, and in a friendly and professional manner.

The Ocean Spray has the most advanced navigation and safety equipment, which enhance the guests’ comfort and security. She fully complies with the highest national and international safety standards and regulations for passenger vessels.

Galapagos Ocean Spray is a luxury-class catamaran offering the best performance and comfort in cruising the Galapagos Islands. Ideal for small groups, families or couples.

Insider tip: the Ocean Spray is great for couples as well as group charters.

2. La Pinta

One of the most up-to-date vessels for luxury cruising in the Galapagos Islands, La Pinta has an excellent reputation for great service while offering a variety of activities for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts.

With a capacity for 48 guests, this 209-foot (63-meter) yacht provides superior accommodations and is very popular with family groups all year round.

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La Pinta has 20 comfortable double or twin-bedded staterooms, plus four (4) triple cabins (the third person must be under 12), all with ocean views, private bathrooms, personal safes, and individually controlled air-conditioning.

Indeed, the yacht’s cabins are among the largest of any Galapagos cruising vessel, with floor-to-ceiling windows in all staterooms. In addition to the standard staterooms, La Pinta has four extra-large connecting suites, which are very useful when traveling as families.

La-Pinta----bedroom

Spacious public areas in the boat deck include a large observation lounge and bar, which can be used for outdoor dining; a smaller outside “Sky Bar” towards the stern, fore and aft observation decks, an exercise room, a Jacuzzi and a well-stocked natural history library-conference room.

Through panoramic windows, its social areas provide almost permanent visual contact with the islands, while its outside deck areas are also superb havens for relaxation, including an observation deck for dolphin, shark and whale watching.

On the main deck is a window-lined dining room with open seating (though there are no formal dress requirements), the reception area, a boutique and a doctor’s office.

To get the most out of such enriching wildlife encounters, you will be accompanied by expert guides on La Pinta, which is complemented by the ship’s faultless service, delicious cuisine and plenty of comfort on board.

Its staff embraces a spirit of adventure, while ensuring comfort and safety at all times during your Galapagos Islands vacation.

3. Integrity

Taking a cruise on this luxurious 16-passenger Galapagos Islands cruiser is a bit like staying in a fabulous boutique hotel, but with ever-changing spectacular scenery and mesmerizing animals appearing just off the deck.

The 141-foot luxury Integrity yacht — built in the United States in 2005 — was designed with painstaking attention to detail and has been spotlessly maintained. Indeed, it has earned the reputation as one of the finest ships sailing the Galapagos Islands.

The Integrity Motor Vessel is customized to carry 16 adventurers in comfort, safety and style – something it has been doing in the waters of the Galapagos Islands since April, 2005.

With the most comfortable staterooms and suite of any “enchanted islands” vessel – big ship or small – your stay on board the Integrity cruising vessel will be one of sheer delight. The decor is tasteful and simple, featuring hardwood that its owner hand harvested, milled and cured for this special yacht.

Each stateroom is a double accommodation cabin with comfortable seating, lots of storage, and large picture windows (no tiny portholes!). Cabin temperatures are individually controlled, and you’ll have mini-refrigerator stocked with water and snacks in your room. Bathroom facilities are en suite with a full-sized shower, lavatory, toilet and storage cabinet.

The cozy lounge/salon is the perfect place for viewing your day’s Galapagos Islands photos on a wide-screen in this media center, as well as for reading or listening to the daily natural-history briefing from the on-board naturalist.

In the large, well-equipped galley, the chef and his cooking team strive to satisfy. Menus are varied, carefully executed and very healthy. Breakfast is buffet style with cereals, juices, fresh fruit, toast, muffins, hot items and eggs cooked to order. Fresh brewed coffee, a selection of teas, milk and cocoa are also served. Lunch and dinner are served in several, elegantly plated courses and often start with a soup, followed by safe-to-eat-salads and a main course of fish, chicken, beef or seafood. And there’s always dessert, coffee and tea. Special diets are readily accommodated; and there are plenty of kid-friendly dishes.

As for the ship itself, the Integrity’s state-of-the-art stability and anti-vibration systems guarantee “smooth sailing” all the way. The interior design of the motor vessel is impeccable, while the social areas are spacious and the services are some of the best to be found.

Insider tip: the Integrity is known for its especially excellent itineraries

4. Origin

The Origin motor vessel, named for Charles Darwin’s insightful work The Origin of the Species, will make its appearance in the Galapagos Islands early this year (2016). At that time, the ship promises to be the newest, most environmentally efficient and the most comfortable 20-passenger yacht sailing in the waters of the archipelago.

Origin -- ext

Though possessing 10 different deluxe double staterooms to choose from – two of which able to accommodate up to three people. Measuring approximately 140 square feet, each cabin is brimming with amenities, which include nightstands, an ample sectional closet, a sitting area, modern décor with local art work, fine linens and towels, climate controls, satellite TV/DVD, iPod docking station, a safe deposit box and a private bathroom. Each bathroom includes hot water, full facilities, and features such as hair-dryers, slippers and robes, as well as soap and shampoo that are both bio-degradable. Your spacious cabin will be located on the main “Beagle” deck, with a panoramic window so you can wake up and fall asleep to the stunning views of the ocean and the archipelago. As an additional note: all cabins are cleaned twice daily and laundry service is available.

Throughout the yacht you will find great extras such as a fitness room equipped with cardio machines, spacious social areas, satellite TV, and a spacious sun deck equipped with a fully stocked open wet-bar, BBQ, lounges and hammocks. On top of all this, you can enjoy the available kayaks, paddle boards, wet suits and snorkeling equipment for your own use when permitted. Masseuse are available on charters (only) for an additional charge.

In addition, the ship possesses semi-private nooks for you to escape to and relax on the boat, or you can use one of the Origin’s three lounge areas, its library, computer station or the social area with satellite TV.

The yacht will run two basic 8-day itineraries, a southern/central route and a western/northern route. During these times, every need of the guests will be catered to cater to by the ship’s two expert naturalist guides, a concierge, a well-trained experienced crew and a well-qualified captain. The naturalist guides and captain are hand-picked to provide you with an educational week and exceptional service while you are touring each island.

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Origin will combine modern sophistication and a high level of comfort and service, with indoor and al-fresco gourmet dining experiences (including Ecuadorian and Peruvian specialties), exciting physical activities and a dose of intellectual science providing guests a life enriching experience.

5. Petrel

One of the newest ships sailing the Galapagos Islands, the 16-passenger Petrel Luxury Galapagos Catamaran offers a luxury-class way to visit this magical archipelago.

Petrel----exterior

This luxury cruise vessel is one of the best ways to see the Galapagos Islands.

Named after a sea bird common to the Galapagos, the “Petrel” is like its namesake: elegant, swift and silent at sea. Guests will travel in comfort to the different islands, where they can have up-close encounters with Blue-footed boobies, iguanas, giant tortoises, sea lions and more.

A motorized catamaran, the Petrel is designed for comfort and stability and is outfitted with spacious cabins with private balconies, a comfortable lounge and ample relaxation areas.

The huge sundeck features the Jacuzzi, the perfect spot for dolphin- and whale-watching, or for simply unwinding and soaking up the sun between island excursions. In the evenings there is no better place for star gazing.

Enjoy dining in the ship’s elegant restaurant, or dine al fresco on the deck while taking in the views over the islands. Order a drink at the bar in time for sunset.

On the Petrel, emphasis is placed on the remarkable natural history of the Galapagos Islands, selecting naturalist land-tour guides who are knowledgeable about biology and ecology, in addition to having excellent language skills and client reviews.

Galapagos Frigatebird

Insider tip: The intimate Petrel is provides amazing comfort for couples and small groups.

6. Stella Maris

Touting itself as the “only luxury yacht based in the Galapagos Islands,” the M/Y Stella Maris has the facilities in place for serving the most demanding and discerning clientele.

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Accommodating up to 14 guests in ultimate of style, the ship is available for private charter groups, offering fully customized charters, complemented by complete pre-established 8-day cruise itineraries in which you and your party will thoroughly explore the Galapagos from end-to-end.

Traveler photographing

Her interior boasts a clean and inviting contemporary décor, the well-appointed panoramic windows allowing for natural light. Luxurious accommodations, the likes of which have never been seen in the Galapagos Islands, set the tone for the M/Y Stella Maris. This lavish motor yacht features a total of seven (7) suites: four (4) expansive suites on the aft/lower deck, two (2) suites on the front main deck, as well as one (1) master suite on the second aft deck, with the master suite featuring its own private access to an outdoor lounge. All suites are fully air conditioned and offer private en-suite facilities. Note: Each of these spacious suites has its own private balcony.

On the main deck, the Stella Maris motor yacht features a beautiful central staircase that provides separation from the luxurious formal dining room and the ample living room with TV entertainment.

These grand appointments and an attentive crew are important aspects contributing to the overall experience aboard the yacht; however, the savory cuisine available is its crowning jewel. The M/Y Stella Maris’ food and liquor service is available 24 hours a day, and the ship features a full stock of excellent quality wines and spirits. Among the crew some of the most qualified local chefs.

Insider tip: the Stella Maris is only for charters.

7. Silver Galapagos

For those looking for a larger luxury-class cruise ship with an excellent range of facilities and personal service, the Silver Galapagos will not fail to delight.

Silver Galapagos

One of the largest and most luxurious ships sailing the Galapagos, the Silver Galapagos has the capacity for 132 passengers, but due to the National Park regulations, it only carries 100 passengers. Refurbished in 2014, the ship has 50 spacious air-conditioned outside cabins — all with spectacular ocean views, their own private bathrooms, and small sitting areas.

The Silver Galapagos offers an impressive list of amenities and social areas, including a Jacuzzi, a first-class restaurant and grill, a spacious dining room, an electronic elevator, the Explorer Lounge, a piano bar, a fitness center and massage room, a beauty salon, a boutique, a snorkel area, a library and a large briefing/conference room. In fact, that briefing room is used by the vessel’s six (6) naturalist guides, who lead daily shore excursions and offer nightly presentations and briefings to fully prepare passengers for the islands to be visited the following day.

Galapagos-seals

In addition, Silver Galapagos offers karaoke, star gazing, massage therapy, Spanish lessons and even cocktail-making classes. Indeed, you’ll be spoiled by all the choices.

And on top of all the pampering, this vessel also has power. Navigating the Galapagos Islands at a cruising speed of 17 knots, the Silver Galapagos enables passengers to see more of the Galapagos archipelago in less time.

Insider tip: the Silver Galapagos is best suited for those wanting plenty of space, particularly families.

With whichever yacht you choose, it’s not uncommon for a Galapagos cruise vessel to be sold out six of nine months in advance – particularly for holiday periods like Christmas and New Year’s.

Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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South America

5 of the most amazing train experiences in Ecuador

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Air travel is great – though you miss out on the countryside 30,000 feet below. Car trips in a foreign country are also fine – if you don’t mind spending hours cramped behind the wheel trying to figure your way through an unfamiliar environment.

Crossing a country by train, though, is a way to get into the heart of a destination. As Hemingway noted, it’s the journey that matters. Then too, there’s the fantastic feeling of being a pampered passenger on a first-class train as you are guided past spectacular scenery, occasionally stopping at well-selected iconic destinations. And the trains aren’t so bad either: there’s leg room, power outlets, bar cars, and observation decks for fully appreciating the amazing views of the surrounding landscapes.

1 -Intro train

The small South American nation of Ecuador can today boast fantastic trains that take passengers through the stunning scenery of this wonderfully diverse country. The nation’s three locomotive lines and several routes are the outcome of a quarter of a billion-dollar national railroad investment since 2007. These routes were re-developed by the government not as a mass transport system but as a means of promoting tourism by highlighting the nation’s cultural and historical heritage, as well as the striking landscapes and diverse climate zones of the Ecuadorian Andes and the Pacific regions. In this way, these routes promote the development of the local economies in the towns and cities linked to the railway system.

Here are six of these great Ecuadorian train trips and routes that evoke the gracious hospitality of simpler times and introduce you to some of the world’s most amazing landscapes and people.

1. “The Freedom Train” Tour

Ecuador’s “The Freedom Train” (Tren de la Libertad) carries passengers from the famous indigenous market town of Otavalo (just north of Quito, and itself a fascinating travel attraction) through scenic rugged mountain terrain to the Afro-Ecuadorian village of Salinas.

Train photographer

On this 8-hour round-trip locomotive journey, passengers travel through the incredible mountain scenery of the Andean highlands. The classic locomotive snakes through various locales and ages of Ecuador, running through a number of canyons, seven mountain tunnels, and across several bridges (including the 80-meter-long Ambi River Bridge).

Beginning in the typically cool Andean highlands, you will descend in altitude by more than a mile (1,700 meters) to discover a completely different geography in the Chota Valley. Here, you will find lush fields of sugarcane and a distinctly warmer climate.

Deep in that valley is the village of Salinas, home to Spanish-speaking predominantly black Creole villagers. Indeed, the name “Freedom Train” celebrates both the freedom of African slaves and Ecuador’s liberation from Spain. As your train pulls into that village, a group of musicians and dancers will meet you and invite all of the passengers to join in festivities of dance and music with them. Moreover, you can relish the delicious cuisine of the region.

2. Tren Crucero

The custom-designed locomotive — Tren Crucero (the trans-Andean “Cruise Train”) — is currently the most stunning in vintage transportation. On some of its legs, the train is powered by magnificent 100-year-old steam engines that will take you on an exceptional trip through different locales and ages of Ecuador’s past and present. The train features four different coaches, each one with its own thematic style (with Pre-Hispanic, Baroque, Neo-classical and Ecuadorian Pacific coast style decors) that reflect Ecuador’s history and culture. Two of these luxurious carriages accommodate the train’s 54 passengers, while the other two coaches consist of a lounge carriage and an observation car with an outside viewing platform.

9 - Observation coach

This 4-day/3-night expedition travels south from Quito, allowing passengers to experience striking highland panoramas, the whispering winds of distant volcanoes, picturesque coastal colors Ecuador’s fertile coastal plain — along with the kindness of its people – finally arriving in the major port city of Guayaquil.

All dining takes place off the train in local restaurants, and overnight accommodations are provided en route in three traditional hacienda-style hotels, which add to the delights of this amazing journey. A highly trained train manager and the English- and Spanish-speaking crew of guides and hospitality staff will accompany you throughout the journey, seeing to your every need.

Don’t just take our word for it: The British Guild of Travel Writers voted Tren Crucero as the Best “Wider World” Tourism Project (for best tourism product outside Europe); it was selected as one of Wanderlust magazine’s “20 Journeys That Will Change Your Life,” and CNN recently included it in its list of “Eleven Places to Go.”

Traveling past some of Latin America’s most spectacular scenery, some of the most important legs of this journey include the “Devil’s Nose Route,” the “Ice Train Route” and the “Avenue of the Volcanoes Route” (each outlined below), in addition to the “Route of the Ancestors,” the “Quinua Route” and the “Train of Sweetness” stretch.

3. The Devil’s Nose Route

The original 1908 opening of the Quito-to-Guayaquil track was a historic achievement that required 30 years of work, massive financial investments, and cost many lives. The most technically challenging part of this route was immediately declared “the most difficult railway in the world.”

5 - Devils Nose Mountain Train

Confronted with the task of how to ascend seven-eighths of a mile (1,400 meters) up and down the side of a mountain, engineers came up with the ingenious solution of carving a series of tight zigzags out of the rock. These allowed the train to climb the mountain by going forwards then backwards along hair-raising switchbacks. This short 13 km route is known as the Nariz del Diablo (the Devil’s Nose), named for the shape of this wickedly challenging rock face.

This daredevil piece of engineering plunges 118 passengers down these steep switchbacks, across what seem spindly bridges, and over deep vertigo-inducing gorges and ravines. Along the way, there are frequent stops for passengers to get out and marvel at the spectacular views as well as the engineering, while the clouds of diesel smoke only add to the atmosphere.

In addition, this journey will take you through characteristic Andean landscapes famed for their local cultures, folklore and crafts. Lead by a bilingual guide, the tour includes a visit to the Pununa Condor Museum and performances by traditional dances.

4. The Ice-Train Route

This Ecuadorian train route will take you past majestic Mount Chimborazo (Ecuador’s highest mountain), whose frozen peak is the furthest point from the center of the earth thanks to the bulge in the earth’s crust at the equator. The journey is called the “Ice Train Route” because it will introduce you to Baltazar Ushka, who is known as the Mt. Chimborazo’s last hielero, or “ice maker.”

7 - Ice man with ice block

For the past 50+ years, Mr. Ushka has been climbing Mount Chimborazo twice a week to dig out giant blocks of ice to sell at market. Traditionally, harvesting ice from the mountain was not only a commercial activity, but also part of a sacred ritual that created a bond between the gods and people. After carving out blocks of ice, Mr. Ushka then carefully packs and insulates them in straw and brings them down from the mountain by mules. This glacial ice once chilled the drinks of coastal dwellers and was used to make ice cream, though refrigeration has put all of the other the ice cutters out of business.

In addition to this chance to meet the last survivor of his profession, the Ice Train Route will take you pass several of the 10 volcanoes along Ecuador’s “Avenue of Volcanoes.” In addition to these scenic landscapes, you will also observe Ecuador’s oldest Catholic Church, expansive agricultural areas and the wildlife of the Andes.

5. The Inca Baths Train Tour

The Inca were successful in establishing Latin America vastest empire. During their conquest, they established magnificent temples, fortresses and cities, though many of these were later abandoned following the Spanish colonial conquest. Nonetheless, you can still find remnants of the great Inca culture in southern Ecuador, as the “Inca Baths” train route unveils the vestiges of one of these sacred sites.

The Tambo-Coyoctor train will take you on a 3.5 kilometer ride to the Coyoctor archaeological complex. While this short journey gives you a chance to enjoy the rural scenery of the areas – passing fields of maize and potato, as well as a few herds of cows – the first highlight of the excursion is Coyoctor itself, where you can visit the Banos del Inca (the “Inca Baths”), an archaeological site which was sacred to the original Canari people and later adopted as a ceremonial center by the Incas. Other structures that can be seen are aqueducts or irrigation system that brought water to the fields to ensure a more abundant harvest. The baths and those other creations were recently restored to coincide with the opening of the train line.

4 - Train passenger

The visit to Coyoctor, when combined with the train ride, makes for a pleasant excursion. However, it is also possible to travel from Coyoctor on horseback to Ingapirca (which means the “Inca Wall” in the Kichwa language). In fact, these are the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. The most significant building is the “Temple of the Sun,” an elliptically shaped building constructed around a large rock. Like most of the structures in the complex, this building was constructed in true Inca style – without mortar, as the stones were carefully chiseled and fashioned to fit together perfectly.

In short, while Ecuador may be renowned for the quality and colors of its striking handicrafts, it’s the majestic Andes – craggy and awe-inspiring against the brilliant blue sky – that make Ecuadorian train travel such a visual feast.

Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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South America

Top 3 colonial destinations in Brazil

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Like much of South America, Brazil was colonised in the 16th century. The Portuguese landed in 1500 and their mark remains on the country to this day. From pretty painted buildings to elaborate churches, cobbled streets and a rich history, there is much to explore in Brazil’s colonial legacy. Here are our top 3 colonial towns and cities in Brazil and their best luxury hotels.

Salvador

Salvador is the capital of the state of Bahia, a vibrant city on Brazil’s north-eastern coast. The jewel in the crown of Salvador is the old colonial district of Pelourinho. This UNESCO word heritage site is the largest collection of colonial buildings in Latin America and a charming maze of pastel coloured buildings and cobbled streets. Located in the Cidade Alta (High City) it sits above the rest of Salvador, proud and beautiful.

Salvador

The pretty squares and ornate churches are striking landmarks for your exploration of the captivating district. One of the most important is the Sao Francisco church and convent. The interior is covered in ornate gold woodwork and beautiful frescoes. In contrast to the baroque architecture, the art-deco Elevador (elevator) sticks out into the port, a streamlined and striking piece of architecture. It takes people quickly between the Cidade alta and the Cidade Baixa below.

Where to stay

Some of Salvador’s best hotels are located in the Pelourinho and one of our favourites is Villa Bahia, located next to the Sao Francisco church. It is spread over two traditional colonial houses and offers panoramic views over the Pelourinho.  The 17 rooms are uniquely decorated in a sophisticated and elegant style, in keeping with the historical importance of the neighbourhood. The rooms overlook either the church or the courtyard of the hotel and highlights include dark, polished wooden floors and beautiful tiled bathrooms.

A small pool inside one of the courtyards is a gem not so often found in the Pelourinho and the leafy vegetation provides a cooling and relaxing atmosphere. The cuisine is French, making use of the variety of delicious local ingredients and a rooftop terrace is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the view, caipirinha in hand, after a long day exploring the city.

Villa-Bahia

Paraty

Paraty is a colonial gem on Brazil’s Southeastern coast, between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. With the Atlantic rainforest on one side and the ocean on the other, this is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the best of both worlds. Paraty itself is a charming collection of cobbled streets and white buildings, a picture-perfect colonial town harking back to the gold-mining days when it was a port.

Paraty is an ideal place to relax and explore, partly because motorised vehicles are forbidden in the city centre and so the streets are clear for pedestrians. A large number of writers and artists have settled in Paraty and in fact it is home to a literary festival in July each year. There are numerous galleries and boutiques, perfect for shopping for original artwork and artisanal products.

Paraty

For those that want to explore further afield, there are plenty of options. There is an abundance of islands in the bay surrounding Paraty which make delightful day trips. Take a boat out and enjoy a picnic, swimming in the bay and relaxing on the beach. Other activities such as stand-up paddle boarding, snorkelling and diving are also popular and in general, visitors can enjoy a variety of water sports.

The rainforest and mountains behind Paraty offer opportunities for trekking or horse riding, for a change from the beach and the town.

Where to stay

The best hotel in Paraty is Casa Turquesa, a beautiful boutique hotel in central Paraty. The façade is of an 18th century colonial townhouse and the interior is an elegant mix of polished wooden floors, fresh white and turquoise and aqua accents. The 9 rooms are each uniquely decorated with art from local artists. Four poster canopy beds and private balconies complete the charming décor with views out onto the town.

Casa-Turquesa

Ouro Preto

The town of Ouro Preto is in the heart of colonial Brazil’s goldmining region. This is where the Portuguese struck gold and the name Ouro Preto means ‘black gold’. This is another town that has been designated a UNESCO world heritage due to the spectacular Baroque architecture. The town is certainly picturesque with a mix of white facades, terracotta rooves, churches, bridges and fountains all surrounded by the Serra do Espinhaço mountains.

Ouro Preto has a rich cultural history as the location for Brazil’s first independence movement. Today it is an important centre for education and the arts and the narrow, twisting streets play host to 2 different churches and numerous fine examples of the art and architecture of the region.

Ouro-Preto

Ouro Preto makes a good base for exploring the nearby towns of Tiradentes and Mariana, similar in style and almost as charming, they make ideal day or overnight trips and complete a perfect itinerary for anyone interested in colonial history and architecture.

Where to stay

Our favourite hotel in Ouro Preto is the Solar do Rosario. This hotel is housed in an old colonial mansion and offers 41 well-appointed rooms. Decorated in clean, neutral hues with warm accents of polished wood, each room offers views over the town or the hotel gardens. Other amenities include an outdoor pool where guests can enjoy a swim or relax on the surrounding loungers with the mountains and rooftops in full view. The Lady of the Rosary serves delicious cuisine, accompanied by wines selected from the hotel’s own wine cellar and the scotch bar is the perfect place to relax with a sophisticated drink.

Solar-do-Rosario

Simon Williams is Director of The Bespoke Travel Group.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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South America

6 destinations to watch in 2016

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It’s that time of year where we try to predict the destinations that will hit the heights in the next 12 months. So, after consulting my crystal ball and deciphering those all-enlightening tea leaves (and some scientific stuff too, promise), here are my tips for the Six Best Luxury Travel Destinations in 2016.

Tanzania

This East African classic sees two particularly exciting new openings in 2016. The first is Nomad Ngorongoro (opening June) in the Ngorongoro Crater. This eco-camp site is superb, with exceptional views, and easy access to prime game areas within the crater but also an emphasis on walking safaris and cultural visits. The second opening is Asilia’s Highlands Ngorongoro on the slopes of the (extinct!) Olmoti volcano, meaning guests can access the crater for a day’s safari but then stay in beautiful bomas far from other camps. Non accommodation excitements include an annular eclipse (where the rim of the sun can be seen around the moon) on the 1st of September, with Katavi National Park and Mahale Mountains National Park (home to habituated chimpanzees) are two of the best places in Africa to see it.

Tanzania

Oman

The jewel of the Middle East, Oman is about to get even better as a destination in 2016 thanks to several new openings in a couple of the most beautiful bits of the country. The success of the Alila Jabal Akhdar in the Hajar Mountains above Nizwa has prompted the group to open a new property – Alila Salalah – in late 2016 in the eponymous southern capital, the gateway to the ‘sand sea’ of the Empty Quarter (Wilfred Thesiger’s favourite haunt) and a fascinating region once made wealthy by the frankincense trade. And if the sincerest form of flattery is imitation, then Alila should be chuffed that the Anantara group are following the formula, opening their own properties in both Salalah and on Jabal Akhdar.

Oman

Cambodia

Cambodia’s comeback continues apace and 2016 sees several new openings and activities on offer. The islands off the south coast see the arrival of Alila’s Koh Russey resort with its super-luxurious pool villas, and Akaryn Retreat, a private island retreat with the emphasis on wellness. In Siem Reap and surrounded by rice paddies and gardens, Phum Baitang has 20 pool villas designed in minimalist Khmer-style and after a soft opening in 2015 it launches formally in early 2016.

Cambodia

Sri Lanka

It can be hard to keep up with openings in Sri Lanka as the country reinvents itself as a luxury destination, but there’s more to come. The most obvious opening is the long-awaited and luxurious Tri, overlooking Lake Koggala near Galle Lake, which opened in November 2015 but will hit its straps properly in 2016. Elsewhere, Ceylon Tea Trails is opening a new private ‘Owner’s Cottage’ with an infinity hot tub overlooking the tea plantations. Also in hill country will be the Teardrop Estates’ converted planters’s bungalows with 50ft pools and butler service and located in Nuwara Eliya, Madulkele (near Kandy) and Demodara (near Ella). Most exciting of all for wildlife lovers is Wild Coast Lodge from Resplendent Ceylon (owners of Tea Trails and also Cape Weligama), set to open in October 2016 with 28 luxurious tented suites on a beautiful beach in Yala National Park so guests can combine leopard safaris and beach R&R. In a semi-protected jungle nearby, Chena Huts from the Uga Escapes group also opened in December 2015 with private pavilions set back from a beautiful beach where giant turtles lay their eggs.

Sri Lanka

Peru

Paddington Bear will be visiting his Aunt Lucy in 2016 thanks to BA’s new Gatwick to Lima flights, starting in May. While he’s there he might want to check out Mountain Lodges of Peru’s new cultural programme, launching in 2016, and based on their recently opened lodges in the town of Lamay and in the rural community of Huacahuasi, and then their third lodge in the village of Patacancha (opening Spring 2016), which will serve as deluxe ‘basecamps’ completing the trail up to Machu Picchu. Elsewhere in the Sacred Valley, Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba opened in late 2015, and the excellent Explora group are opening a hotel in the same location as Hacienda Huayoccari.

Peru

Iceland

Iceland is the youngest country on Earth, and still growing, rather like the offering in this fab destination. On the south coast will be the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, and classically minimalist 4* hotel that will be a good budget option. Heading north, in fact pretty much on the north coast, in April Eleven Experience open their long awaited Deplar Lodge, a base for excellent heli-skiing in April and May, and then fishing one of the country’s finest salmon rivers, as well as walking, mountain biking, sea kayaking and – for the brave/foolhardy – surfing.

Iceland

Tom Barber is Co-Founder of Original Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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South America

8 great places to travel responsibly

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Responsible travel is about directly benefitting the communities you visit whenever possible through sustainable travel, environmental protection and social projects. Here are just a few responsible travel suggestions you can include as part of a trip to the destinations in question.

1. Elephant Hills Tented Camp, Thailand

One of the highlights of many peoples’ visits to Thailand is a chance to interact with Asian elephants. Elephant Hills Tented Camp looks after its elephants properly, often rescuing them from illegal logging companies, or from the streets of major cities. It’s a great way to experience the majesty of these creatures, whilst doing so responsibly: there is no elephant riding here, but visitors can help feed and wash the inhabitants, and then watch them at rest and at play in their large, free-roaming pen.

Elephant Hills Tented Camp

2. Moraine Lake Lodge,  Alberta, Canada 

Moraine Lake Lodge, nestled in a remote location on the edge of a glacier-fed lake in Canada, offers a detox from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With no phones or televisions in the rooms, the lodge encourages its guests to rekindle their relationship with nature. This philosophy involves self-sufficiency and reducing the lodge’s impact on the surrounding environment. When guests turn on the tap in their rooms, they experience some of the freshest water in the world, as it comes directly from an alpine mountain well. The lodge also generates all of its own power, with a focus on keeping waste to a minimum.

Moraine Lake Lodge

3. Philanthropic tour of Marrakesh, Morocco

This exploration of the souqs of Marrakesh focuses on the charity work being done to help Moroccan women in difficult social situations. Al Kaoutar is a great place to see this work first-hand. It helps women without any resources and who are in extreme poverty to learn a trade and be able to earn a living for themselves. The women learn how to make high-quality products which are sold as part of Al Koutar’s non-profit scheme to fund their vocational training.

The Amal Association is also doing vital work. It provides underprivileged single mothers with training to become professional cooks and pastry makers. Most have now found work in the many riads of Marrakesh through its support. You can enjoy a delicious lunch here, cooked by the trainees themselves.

Dining Area at Amal Association in Marrakesh

4. Lapa Rios Lodge, Costa Rica

Set on a ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean and nestled within a private rainforest, Lapa Rios Lodge manages to harmoniously blend the romantic, exotic appeal of a remote rainforest setting with the comfort and luxury of many modern hotels. The first hotel in Costa Rica to achieve the prestigious five-leaf status from the country’s tourism board, Certification for Sustainable Tourism, there is a strong emphasis on protecting the area’s fragile ecosystem. The lodge runs its own reforestation project and guests are encouraged to use the biodegradable products provided.

Lapa Rios Lodge

5. Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

In January 2016 the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia was named as the world’s first, and only, carbon neutral national park. All of the safari camps in and surrounding the park have collaborated to develop a sustainable energy plan, leading the way for African tourism. Each camp now runs on solar-generated power, reducing the emissions from the traditional generators, and efforts are also  being made to reduce the carbon footprint of journeying to and from these properties. Unavoidable emissions are offset through a sustainable system of rewards for reducing greenhouse gases, providing support for further climate innovations. This initiative demonstrates responsible tourism from small, owner-run businesses, paving the way for larger corporations around Africa to follow suit.

Lower Zambezi National Park

6. Bogani Cottages & Tented Camp, Kenya

Bogani Cottages and Tented Camp in Kenya’s Masai Mara region is one of the best responsible travel destinations in Africa. Three or seven nights at Bogani is your passport to a warm welcome from the Maasai and Kipsigi communities who are learning to work together to build a better life for themselves. At the camp, you join the Free The Children sustainable projects designed to increase access to clean water and sanitation, education, medical services and income generation. From working on building sites, visiting local markets and drawing water for local families, visitors experience Kenyan life in a way that provides great benefit to locals.

Locals at Borgani Camp

7. Araveli Cottages & Tented Camp, Rajasthan, India

You can work alongside local families on a Free The Children sustainable development project at Araveli Cottages and Tented Camp in the heart of rural Rajasthan, a sun-drenched landscape marked by white temples and wheat fields. Walk with locals as they collect water from a well, help make traditional food, learn about the crops they are growing or even help construct a community building. This is a place for those who want to immerse themselves in authentic Indian culture, and take part in a rewarding  exchange which helps to empower local communities to end the cycle of poverty.

Collecting water at Araveli

8. Minga Lodge, Ecuadorian Amazon, Ecuador

Deep in the Amazon jungle, the Napo River winds past shorelines enveloped by throngs of lush, emerald-green rainforest. At Minga Lodge, you can spot wildlife in the Amazon and get involved with activities such as building a health clinic, planting trees on the farm and making handicrafts with local women to sell at markets.

Minga Lodge on the Napo River

Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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South America

10 stunning rental properties for an unforgettable break this Spring

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Spring is in the air… and it’s now time to think about your next holiday destination. Can’t wait for the summer? Then a tropical vacation is what you need. But if you love winter and want to hold on to the low temperatures a bit more, a mountain holiday might be better. No matter what you like, this list of amazing villas for a spring break will make you want to pack your suitcase right away!

Villa Les Confines, Provence, France

Immersed in its own park, this luxurious property situated in Provence has two swimming pools and offers amazing areas where guests can enjoy the Provencal lifestyle and the first flowers in bloom. Its gardens are the ideal place to stroll and to really feel the beginning of the new season.

Villa-Les-Confines-Provence-France

Villa La Verrière, Provence, France

Hidden away in Provence, La Verrière is a private estate comprised of a medieval priory, a winery surrounded by its own vineyard and 350 acres of lush private forest in the heart of a UNESCO Biosphere. The perfect spot for finding tranquility and relaxation.

Villa-La-Verriere-Provence-France

Villa Poggio del Crognolo, Tuscany, Italy

Poggio del Crognolo is a beautiful villa set in the hills above Porto Ercole on the Argentario peninsula. It enjoys views over the famous crescent-shaped La Feniglia and a sand dune that stretches all the way to Ansedonia and mainland Italy. The villa is very comfortable and secluded, and guests can enjoy the delightful garden awakening after the winter months.

villa-poggio-del-crognolo-Tuscany-Italy

Castello di Procopio, Umbria, Italy

Castello di Procopio is ideal for a spring break you will never forget. A medieval castle dating back to the 12th century and originally built as a fortress by a Roman Emperor, it went through a grand restoration to become the current masterpiece full of heritage, history and unique charm.

Castello-Procopio-Umbria-Italy

Chalet San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge, Dolomites, Italy

A luxurious Italian chalet in the heart of the Dolomites, San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge is located in South Tyrol and is an amazing destination for those who want to go skiing one last time before the season ends. The chalet set in 42 acres of woodland and meadows with dramatic views across three valleys  and –  must be deleted offers every comfort one might imagine.

chalet-San-Lorenzo-Mountain--Lodge-dolomites-italian-alps

The Beach House, Anguilla, Caribbean

The Beach House is a truly outstanding and very luxurious Caribbean home with an excellent beachfront location in Anguilla. It is surrounded by the calm and sparkling turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, the soft white sandy beach and exotic vegetation. What makes the Beach House really unique is its exceptional architecture, which won the prestigious award of the “Winner of the Best International Architecture Single Residence”.

The-Beach-House-Anguilla-Caribbean

Villa Tamarind Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos, Caribbean

Treat yourself to an unforgettable tropical beach spring holiday at this luxurious 5 bedroom beach villa in Turks and Caicos. The Tamarind villa compound is situated on the secluded grounds of Parrot Cay, a luxury private island, and the area is highly reputable amongst celebrities who appreciate this oasis of relaxation which offers ultimate privacy in a heaven-like setting.

villa-tamarind-parrot-cay-turks-caicos-caribbean

Casa Tinga, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A modern apartment with amazing sea views in the up-scale neighborhood of Joatinga, Casa Tinga is a very attractive holiday property for rent which appeared in Casa Vogue, Brazil edition. This is the ideal house to enjoy the Brazilian beach lifestyle: the floor-to-ceiling windows enable guests to make the most of the sun and bring a natural light into the elegant and modern large living rooms. Outside, the pool and the wooden table entice guests to stay home to simply enjoy the sun and the view and to share unforgettable moments.

casa-tinga-rio-de-janeiro-brazil

Leobo Private Reserve, South Africa

A typical and exclusive safari house in Waterberg Mountains, this rental property is a completely private 20,000 acre estate located in Waterberg Mountains. This is a genuine safari house in the wilderness showcasing amazing architectural assets which is perfect for family or friend gatherings.

leobo-private-reserve-south-africa

Villa Xpu-Ha, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Villa Xpu-Ha is a luxurious cocoon in the midst of a lush 50-acre estate between Tulum and Playa del Carmen in the Mexican Riviera Maya. Representing an idyllic tropical retreat, this residence estate was the private exotic hideaway of an Italian Duchess who was mesmerized by the breathtaking pristine sandy beaches with turquoise blue waters, flanked by the tropical jungle and manicured lawns with palm trees.

villa-xpu-ha-riviera-maya-mexico

Paolo Macchiaroli is CEO of My Private Villas..

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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South America

Top 10 hikes in Peru

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Each region of Peru has incredible terrain that’s worth a good hike. In the highlands of the Andes you can see elaborate fortresses and agricultural terraces left behind by the Inca. Go to southern Peru to see ruins left behind by ancient cultures, and see the very beginnings of civilization in South America. Peru also has Amazon reserves, where you can hike through the jungle along the Amazon River to incredibly remote and ecologically diverse parts of the forest.

No matter where you go in Peru, you’ll find a landscape unlike any other.

1. Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

This is one of the longest treks you can take to Machu Picchu — 5 days of hiking and 4 nights camping. The Salkantay trek tends to be a little less crowded than the more popular Inca Trail, and you’ll see spectacular ruins along the way, as well as the peak of the Salkantay Mountain and steamy hot springs. The highest point on the trek is 13,800 feet (4,1,81 m) above sea level.

Mollepata Salkantay

Just like the Inca Trail, this hike eventually leads to the ruins of Machu Picchu, and you’ll get to see this sprawling site from a distance during your hike.

Machu Picchu

2. Huayna Picchu

Huanya Picchu is a mountain that allows you to have a spectacular view of Machu Picchu. It’s a steep hike to the top, but there are some cable railings to help you reach the summit.  On the descent you can pass by the Inca Temple of the Moon.

Huayna Picchu

3. Moray and the Salt Mines of Maras

In the midst of the Sacred Valley you’ll come to Moray, one of the most interesting agricultural designs that the Inca left behind. Moray is a series of concentric circles that form a shallow pit. Historians believe that the Inca used this depression to conduct agricultural experiments to determine which elevation works best for which crops. You can walk on stone steps from one level to the next.

Moray

Continue on the path to the salt mines of Maras to see an old-fashioned method for harvesting salt. You’ll see rectangles of white set on the rippling slopes of a mountain, filled with salt that has dried in the sun. The Inca first engineered the streams of saltwater from a nearby spring to flow into these terraces, and the modern-day salt miners use the same method.

Salt Mines of Moras

4. Pisac Ruins

You can climb from the town of Pisac up a hill for 2.5 miles (4 km) to see the Inca ruins that give the town its name. This is an elaborate site that overlooks the Urubamba Valley. Many of the site’s temples are still intact. As you explore the site you’ll pass ceremonial baths and a hills with tombs carved into its side.

Pisac Ruins

While you’re in Pisac you should also make sure to stop at the town’s incredible open-air marketplace. This is one of the most interesting markets in Peru, and locals gather her to sell handmade crafts and colorful, woven textiles.

5. Kuélap

To get to Kuélap you’ll hike through a dense forest with a guide – the terrain here is too rugged and overgrown to navigate on your own. Eventually you’ll reach the fortress of Kuélap, where indigenous people managed to defend their lofty perch from the Inca for many years.

Kuelap

6. Ollantaytambo

The ruins of Ollantaytambo have an elaborate ceremonial center. This site is perched on a slope overlooking the Sacred Valley, and from here you’ll also be able to see the Patacancha and Urubamba rivers. You’re also supposed to be able to see the shape of a man’s face in the peaks of the surrounding mountains.

Ollantaytambo

7. National Huascarán National Park

National Huascarán National Park covers 840,158 acres (340,000 ha) in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. Its tropical forest has the highest elevation of anywhere in the world, and the highest mountain peach reaches 22,135 feet (6,747 m). Glaciers and turquoise lakes make this park an especially enchanting place to go for a hike.  If you want to spend 4 to 5 days hiking in the park, consider signing up for a guided hike called the Santa Cruz Trek.

Huascaran

8. Chaparri National Park

In Chaparri National Park you can see a dry forest and the imposing Chaparri Mountain. This 84,000-acre (34,000-ha) national park provides a habitat for several endangered animals, including the spectacled bear and the Andean condor.

Chaparri

9. Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon is an incredibly deep canyon with a river running through it. You can hike along the edge of the canyon for a breathtaking view, and go to a lookout spot to survey the sky for rare Andean condors. Near the canyon you can also find traditional villages that you can visit as part of your hike.

Colca Canyon

10. Tambopata National Reserve

Tambopata National Reserve covers a whopping 678,773 acres (274,690 ha) of Amazon rainforest. More than 600 species of bird and over 1,000 species of butterfly live here. Explore this area by hiking to the edge of Lake Sandoval and continuing your tour by boat.

Tambopata

One of the most popular places to hike to in this reserve is the Colpa Colarado salt lick. Here you can see colorful macaw parrots gathering to lick the salty clay.

Zach Smith is CEO of Anywhere.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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South America

Top 3 ways to explore the Brazilian Amazon

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The Amazon is one of the highlights of any trip to Brazil. The most magnificent review in the world, it stretches through countries in Latin America. The Brazilian section contains some of the best of the Amazon in both river and rainforest. One of the highlights is the spectacular Meeting of the Waters. This occurs when the black Rio Negro joins the Rio Solimões, the different coloured waters run alongside each other for about five miles and as the waters don’t mix, it makes for a truly remarkable sight.

Pink river Dolphins are another highlight and the Brazilian Amazon offers a chance to get up close with these charming and unique creatures. There is an abundance of bird life in the Amazon, making for a vibrant environment. Other activities include jungle trekking, canoe rides through the creeks and flooded forest, bird watching, caiman spotting, piranha fishing, swimming and a visit to the riverside communities to learn about the local culture and way of life.

Here are the top 3 ways to explore the Brazilian Amazon.

Private yacht

By far the most luxurious way to explore is by private yacht. These allow you to get deeper into the Amazon and explore, all while experiencing luxurious comfort and the best service. The Zenith Yacht is a luxury 120-foot private vessel, perfect for small groups to explore the Amazon in the privacy and seclusion one would expect of a luxury yacht.

Zenith-Yacht-1

The yacht offers accommodation for up to 12 passengers which includes 3 suites with king size beds and 3 suites with twin beds. In addition to the bedrooms there is a dining room with a bar, a TV living room and an office desk for those who need to work whilst on board.

Zenith-Yacht-2

For relaxation there is a sauna, a sun deck with Jacuzzi, as well as satellite cable TV, telephone and internet.

On board the Zenith Yacht, different menus are offered according to the guest’s preferences with specialties being Amazonian fresh water fish and regional cuisine, all prepared by the chef on board.

Your own personal guide, a qualified naturalist, will introduce you to a world of nature, natural history and beautiful landscapes through different activities during your stay on board.

Luxury river cruise

A more adventurous way to explore the Amazon is a luxury River cruise. The Iberostar Grand Collection offers the Grand Hotel-Ship Amazon, an all-inclusive, luxury floating hotel. Departing from the city of Manaus, the ship travels deep into the Amazon, allowing guests to enjoy the spectacular surroundings with a slice of luxury.

Iberostar-Grand-Amazon-2

The ship has 75 Cabin-Suites, all with individual private balconies offering views of the river or rainforest. There are also 2 Royal Suites in the prow of the boat. Each suite has a full bath, TV, radio and air conditioning.

Iberostar-Grand-Amazon-1

The restaurant on board offers the best of local Amazon as well as international cuisine. Taking breakfast on the top deck or relaxing with a cocktail as the sun goes down are perfect ways to start and end the day on board this luxury ship.

Each tour includes a variety of activities, designed to ensure that you experience the best of the river and the rainforest. You will have the opportunity to go trekking, take canoe trips, visit local communities or try your hand at fishing, not forgetting the meeting of the waters and pink river dolphins.

Luxury Amazon lodge

If boats aren’t your thing and you prefer to stay on land, The Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge is the place to stay if you are looking for a luxury holiday to the Amazon in Brazil. A gorgeous property with chalets and bungalows in the heart of the Anavilhanas archipelago, on the banks of the Rio Negro, the lodge offers a haven of luxury amidst the tranquil setting of the Amazon rainforest.

Anavilhanas2

Anavilhanas has 20 exclusive suites, arranged in bungalows or combined cottages and is one of the most unique hotels in Brazil.

There are 4 unique, private stilt-suspended bungalows, nestled in the woods with glass walls, 32 inch TV, a spacious balcony and plenty of privacy. The 8 stilt-suspended cottages have two separate rooms, each with a private balcony facing the woods. All rooms feature air-conditioning, safe and a minibar.

The lodge was designed with sustainability in mind and strives to offer a low environmental impact on its surroundings, with strict conservation rules and working closely in partnership with the local Amazon communities.

Anavilhanas1

It’s the ideal place to unwind after a day of exploration on one of the tours arranged by the lodge, lying in the pool overlooking the mighty river. Perfect.

However you choose to see it, the Amazon will without doubt be an amazing experience and all the better for a slice of luxury.

Simon Williams is Director of The Bespoke Travel Group.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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South America

3 great 'community tourism' experiences in Ecuador

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Community tourism has been described as the difference between seeing and living, as exemplified in the two scenarios below:

Scenario one: You arrive in a small Andean town on board a bus full of tourists, drive around, take shots of various landmarks, eat in a upscale restaurant, buy a few souvenirs, exchange a “buenos dias” with the driver or the storekeeper, take a few more photos, and then head out for the next stop on the itinerary.

Scenario two: Alone or in a small group, you reach a remote indigenous community in the Andean highlands. Here, you live with a family, take part in their farm chores, and break bread with them during the day. You will sleep in a simple yet comfortable room, one with all the privacy you require. A member of the community will take you on a personalized tour of the area, directing you to the most beautiful places, and sharing with you the myths and legends of the area, the names of local plants and their uses, and teaching you a few words in their native language.

intro photo

The difference between the first and second scenarios is the difference between seeing and living. Both have their advantages, and either can be more suitable to you – depending on your interests and preferences. If you are someone who prefers a deeper involvement, if you are seeking an authentic experience and want to make a positive impact on a place, perhaps you should consider the second scenario: “community tourism.”

Also referred to as “human tourism,” this activity allows for more exchanges of experiences between travelers and locals. In addition, it also supports sustainable development of communities and creates sources of employment in small towns and villages.

Several community tourism initiatives have emerged in Ecuador, three of which are outlined here: one in Ecuador’s Andean highlands and two in the country’s Amazon rainforest.

Runa Tupari: community tourism in the Ecuadorian Andes

“Coexistence” is the key word in tourism activities organized by the group Runa Tupari (which means “an encounter with indigenous people” in the Kichwa language). This sustainable development initiative involves four communities in northern Ecuador, a region known for its cultural richness and the beauty of its landscapes.

Andes - Otavalo

Those communities organize cultural activities for travelers who want to experience the Andean Sierra in a different and more affordable way. Operating as a network, campesino families in these communities provide housing and food in 15 rural cabins that can accommodate up to three people each. Guests spend the night in a comfortable atmosphere, where they can enjoy their own fireplace and the privacy afforded by their own bathroom with hot water. During the day, they share in the tasks of the family by participating in farming. The Runa Tupari network also organizes activities such as horseback riding, hiking, biking and visits to natural sites such as local lakes, paramo highlands, mountains, and volcanoes. Included in all of these tours are the costs for accommodations, meals, the local guides and transportation.

Andes - horseback riding

Excursions on foot, horseback or bicycle (whichever the traveler prefers) are led by local, professionally licensed guides. Programs can last from one to four days, during which time the surrounding area is explored. Some of the most attractive activities – which is also the spirit of community tourism – are visits to neighboring communities to learn about and participate in the extremely rich cultural expressions, including spiritual healing sessions with shamans.

Andes local purchasing - market

Another of the visits that is included in these tours is a trip to the famous Otavalo market’s “Plaza de los Ponchos.” At this indigenous-run market, the most beautiful and colorful woolen, leather, wood and other handicrafts are displayed for potential buyers, though regateo (haggling over the price with the seller) is a common and usually entertaining practice. Other nearby markets where farm produce and animals are sold is also a part of this tour.

This tour will then take you to the city of Cotacachi, famous for its handmade leather goods. Located between bright snow-capped mountains, with a peaceful and friendly atmosphere, this visit will give you even more of the flavor of the Ecuadorian highlands. Lake Cuicocha, also known as “the lake of the gods” or “Rainbow Lagoon” is yet an additional destination on the tours organized by the Runa Tupari network. It is located in a volcanic caldera seen from afar by the bright blue waters and idyllic mountain setting. In and around this lake, travelers can go on short walks or take boat rides.

Andes - woman

The mothers of indigenous families in the communities participating in the network are the leaders of this community tourism initiative. Sharing their daily lives and tasks with visitors allows them to reveal the local culture. The men serve as guides, leading visitors across Andean landscapes and past mountains, while sharing with guests their ancestral knowledge of Andean wildlife, stories and legends of the area, as well as elements of the Kichwa language. This direct contact with nature and cultural exchange allows travelers to experience some of the most fascinating aspects of the Ecuadorian Andes.

The funds obtained from its operations is divided equally among the communities involved. In this way, as well as through the jobs created for local people, tourists contribute to improving the quality of life in these communities.

Napo Wildlife Center: deep in the Amazon

In instead of an alarm clock, you’ll wake to the songs of birds and the music of gurgling rivers. Opening your eyes, you’ll find yourself surrounded by all possible shades of green in a magical spot in deep in the jungle. Sounds like a dream? Perhaps …but every morning it’s the reality for travelers staying at the Napo Wildlife Center-Lodge. This eco-lodge, located in Ecuador’s famed Yasuni National Park, is situated on the banks of Lake Añangucocha in the territory of the indigenous Anangu Kichwa people.

It is precisely the members of this community who run the lodge, which is a community tourism project that provides all the comforts for visiting guests and offers them a new understanding and greater respect for the environment. The chance to learn about life deep in the Amazon is what this initiative offers to travelers, who by coming here benefit the community that manages the eco-lodge.

Amazon - Napo River

Napo Wildlife Center-Lodge is reached by motor boat down the majestic Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon. Depending on the water level of the river, the trip can take an hour or two …time that will allow you to enjoy the remarkable and lush jungle scenery. The 40-passenger boat will take you to entrance of the reserve of the Anangu Kichwa community, where you will then board a paddle canoe (motorized transportation is not allowed in the reserve) and continue to the eco-lodge’s main house.

Amazon - Napo huts

The Napo Wildlife Center — the first luxury eco-lodge in Ecuador — has 16 cabins that can each accommodate up to three people. All of these quarters are equipped with a private bathroom, a safe, fans, mosquito nets, screened windows, permanent electricity, hot water and a private terrace overlooking the lake. This exotic eco-lodge also boasts terraces, a library, a laundry, a gift shop, a restaurant that serves delicious Amazonian cuisine, an observation tower and a bar.

Being located at one of the most beautiful and biodiverse spots on the planet, the Napo Wildlife Center gives you the opportunity to appreciate the incredible plant and animal life of the Amazon, with direction and attentive assistance provided by local naturalist guides (members of the Anangu community) and bilingual guides from the hotel.

Amazon guide

Birdwatching day and night in the forest, canoeing, hiking and visits to the indigenous community to learn about their customs are some of the activities organized by the eco-lodge. In addition, you can witness up to hundreds of parrots and macaws assembling at one time to feed at “clay licks” found on the edge of the lake, or you can take a dip in the lake in the company of the Pink river dolphins.

A tour by canoe, paddling on the “black water” of Lake Añangu in the shade of the forests canopy, is one of the most impressive attractions. On this silent voyage, you are sure to see several species of brilliantly colored birds and reptiles, as well as raucous primates and large mammals. Beneath the water you will be able to spot rays and electric eels, though Giant piranhas and lung fish too inhabit these waters. And, if you’re lucky, you might glimpse a jaguar, monkeys, macaws or horned screamers in the towering trees above, or tapirs and peccaries close to you on the ground. At night, during your paddle canoe rides under a breathtakingly starry sky, you should be able to sight alligators, as well as hear the nocturnal orchestra of frogs, toads, insects and night birds.

The tourism project includes the conservation of 21,400 hectares of rainforest in Yasuni National Park, which is a place unlike any other – it is located right in the heart of one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems. The facilities at the Napo Wildlife Center were built and designed in an environmentally friendly manner, avoiding any negative impact on the environment whenever possible. Therefore, solar panels, energy-efficient generators, wastewater treatment and water filtration systems are used at this eco-lodge.

The construction of the hotel was headed up by the community of Anangu Kichwa indigenous community, but with the help of the Barro Viejo Company. The commitment to eco-tourism responds to an awareness of the need to actively protect the 82 square kilometers of virgin forest of the private reserve. One of the first positive effects of this project is that hunting activities by the community have voluntarily ceased for the past ten years.

Amazon - Napo rooms

The Napo Wildlife Center is undoubtedly the most luxurious lodge in Yasuni National Park. Those who have visited describe it as “magical” and “unique.” The reflections of two surprised and satisfied travelers speak better to this than any description. As one of them commented:

“This is the best place to connect with nature, to learn from it and live on it. My stay here was a great example of what teamwork and effort can achieve. Indeed, the Yasuni is a paradise. I hope to come back again sometime. The service was quite personalized and first class, and I was able to make new friends. In short, it is a unique adventure that Ecuadorians themselves must experience.”

The other traveler then added:

“When you plan a trip to the heart of the jungle, perhaps you imagine it as being a form of “extreme travel adventure.” However, once here, you’ll find that this magical place will envelope you in peace and close contact with nature, allowing you to make a trip to your inner self.”

Kapawi Lodge: contact with millennial traditions

Located in the traditional territory of the Achuar people, in a remote protected area near the border between Ecuador and Peru, this Amazon lodge is accessible only by air. A flight in a small plane over the immense rainforest is the means of transportation that will take you into the territory of the Achuar, one of Ecuador’s indigenous nationalities that has remained in relative isolation.

Amazon - Shaman

The extraordinary relationship of harmony and respect that the indigenous Achuar people have with nature is the basis of this ecological initiative that offers travelers the chance to dive into the mystery of the jungle without leaving the comfort of a luxury hotel.

The fundamental vision of Kapawi Ecolodge and Reserve has always been to create – in one of the most remote environments in the world – the chance for travelers to never cease being amazed by the wonders of the rainforest, as well as by the efficient organization and quality services provided by members of the community who manage the hotel.

The eco-lodge was launched in 1996 with the aim of achieving economic sustainability and contributing to the preservation of the cultural and natural richness of the Ecuadorian Amazon region.

Amazon - Napo rooms

The cabins at Kapawi Ecolodge and Reserve were built by Achuar craftsmen in the vernacular style of the jungle, which meant using local materials but with modern and functional designs. With thatched roofs and linked by an over-ground boardwalk, the cabins have large bedrooms, private bathrooms with hot water (thanks to the lodge’s solar panels), beds with mosquito nets, safe and a host of services that make a stay here quite comfortable. What most travelers like are the hammocks and the reclining chairs with which each cabin is provided, as these allow the guests to sit back, relax and watch the beautiful natural scenery before them.

Travelers who stay at the Kapawi Lodge are also incorporated into the daily activities of the community members. As such, they have the opportunity to hunt with a blowgun, make crafts, sample traditional “chicha” and walk through the rainforest.

Amazon Blowgun

This is the perfect place for bird lovers, as more than 560 species of fowl have been recorded in this area. But there are not just birds; you can also spot capybaras, Amazon boar, Giant otters, Capuchin howler monkeys, alligators and legendary Pink river dolphins. And don’t forget that the Amazon rainforest is home to 2.5 million species of insects, thousands of plants and hundreds of mammal species.

Depending on your physical condition and your interest, you can enjoy a variety of activities in the forest during your stay at Kapawi Lodge. These include birdwatching, kayaking in nearby rivers, day and nighttime walks in the company of nature guides, and a night of camping near the Achuar community to get to know them better.

Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator.

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