South America

South America

South America

Top 5 Galapagos diving sites


There are diving vacations… and there are diving vacations. And one of these special underwater adventures can be found in the legendary Galapagos Islands. In this archipelago, each dive promises extraordinary sightings, making it nothing short of a “must do once-in-a-lifetime experience” – whether you’re a beginning snorkeler swimming alongside playful sea lions or an advanced diver surrounded by a squadron of manta rays.

Where else can you discover massive whale sharks patrolling the deep blue while schools of hammerhead shark block out the sun?

Galapagos whaleshark diving

But in addition to offering some of the world’s best diving, what makes the Galapagos Islands even more of an attraction is that they also give travelers a chance to come ashore and find themselves face-to-face with Giant tortoises, endemic birds and a host of other land creatures. Adventurers can literally walk in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, the great naturalist who changed the way we think about life.

If you’re interested in this bucket-list destination, here are just five diving sites that you can experience while visiting these “enchanted Islands.”

Darwins arch

Dives around Darwin’s Arch can be absolutely overpowering, and divers often return to the boat in awe from their experiences.

1. Darwin Island

Named in honor of the 19th century naturalist, this extinct volcano is situated in the northwest corner of the archipelago. Though no land visits are permitted here, around the island are diving sites like “Darwin’s Arch,” which promises amazing drift dives at an average depth of just 9 meters. Medium to strong currents are to be expected (making this site best for advanced divers), but these waters bring with them hammerheads, as well as Blacktip-, Silky- and Galapagos sharks – all in impressively large numbers! Plus, Whale sharks may also be seen between May – November.

2. Wolf Island

Together with nearby Darwin Island, Wolf Island is the focal point of any dive trip to the Galapagos, and no high-quality Ecuadorian diving charter will overlook this area. Like Darwin Island, no land visits are permitted here, though birds such as Red-footed boobies and vampire finches may be spotted from your boat. Schooling pelagics are the main draw, with sightings of hammerheads, Whitetip and Galapagos sharks common. Like with Darwin Island, whale sharks may also be seen here during the May-November diving season. Divers should also be on the lookout for red-lipped batfish, barracudas, moray eels and dolphins!

Galapagos hammerhead

3. Cousins Rock

This is one of the most photographically fruitful diving spots. So be prepared, as it is likely to provide some of the best fish and macro opportunities of your whole trip. Located about 2-1/2 hours by boat from central Santa Cruz Island’s northern dock, Cousins Rock’s wall and slope are nicely covered with black coral, small hard coral, sea fans, hydroid bushes and red sponges. Because of the many ledges and overhangs, small animals can hide well – including giant Galapagos sea horses, Longnose hawk fish and even frogfish. Out in the blue you might even spot mobula rays, mantas, Whitetip reef sharks and hammerhead sharks, or a large school of pelican barracuda. Cousin’s Rock is also known for the large groups of spotted eagle rays seen here, in addition to the many sea lions there that like to chase the schools of salema.

4. Floreana Island

Located directly south of central Santa Cruz Island, Floreana’s “Devil’s Crown” diving site is one where you are sure to experience sea lions, turtles, and thousands of exotic tropical fish, as well as a likely barracuda, black coral, sea horses, Whitetip and Galapagos sharks, moray eels, and possible a hammerhead shark or eagle ray. During the boat trip to and from Floreana, you will have an excellent opportunity for dolphin watching – not to mention the local marine and bird life, such as Blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, penguins and marine iguanas. In addition to Devil’s Crown, Floreana Island contains a numerous dive sites, all of which usually have calm water. Therefore, should the current become strong at one site, you can easily head on to another one, such as Enderby Islet, Punta Ayora, Champion Islet. The easy diving and the area’s flexibility make Floreana an ideal Galapagos Island scuba diving site for all levels of divers.

Galapagos fish school

5. Bartolome Island

For a beginner’s snorkeling experience, think Bartolome Island´s “Pinnacle Rock” – probably the most photographed volcanic formation in the archipelago. Though a tiny islet has a total land surface of just one half square mile (1.2 square kilometer), the area around the large dark Pinnacle Rock lava formation is a great for swimming and snorkeling side-by-side with sea lions, rays, reef fish, docile Whitetip reef sharks and …penguins? Imagine …penguins living on the equator? These little birds use their wings as flippers and really look like they’re flying through the water.

Planning your Galapagos diving trip

It is best to plan your diving trip carefully in order to look forward to a hassle-free trip of a lifetime. Doing a bit of research on your own – or working with an experienced and reputable tour operator – will enable you to find out what the various Galapagos dive charters and programs have to offer and to plan your dives in advance.

You will also need to consider whether you prefer a “land-based vacation” (booking separate diving day trips while staying at a hotel) or whether to stay on a diving liveaboard yacht for your vacation. A land-based vacation (staying at hotels”) allows travelers to explore Galapagos’ amazing local attractions, but will likely require extended travel time to reach dive sites, which also limits the number of dives per day. A stay on a liveaboard includes tanks, food and lodging, which is great for divers who want to explore distant dive sites such as Darwin and Wolf islands.

Galapagos tortoises

In addition to your Galapagos diving adventures, many guests choose to experience more of the islands’ natural beauty through land excursions.

However, the availability of liveaboard diving yachts can be an issue, so you will need to plan ahead. So, make your booking as far in advance as possible (as much as 12 months), to avoid any disappointment.

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 hotels in Paraty, Brazil


Beautiful Paraty is a charming town on Brazil’s Costa Verde between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.  A network of colonial buildings and cobbled streets sandwiched between the ocean and the rainforest, it captivates all who visit, creating a never-ending desire to return. The pretty white buildings are all terracotta tiled with brightly coloured gables and window frames. The theme is carried in to the boats in the harbour, all gaily decorated in bright colours. The sun perfectly complements this palette and the surrounding scenery in the bay, dotted with islands and a rich forest behind creates a genuine paradise on earth.



These surroundings provide a range of fun activities during a stay in Paraty. From stand up paddle boarding, snorkelling and kayaking to treks in the rainforest, up stunning peaks and to local waterfalls, there is something for everyone. A popular trip and one that should be at the top of every visitor’s list is the schooner trip to local islands. You can hire a private boat with a driver to take you out or join the larger schooner tour which is still delightful. The five hour trip departs from the harbour and makes four different stops at beaches and islands. At each stop there is the option to swim ashore or make the short journey in a motorised dinghy from the ship. Highlights are definitely swimming and snorkelling surrounded by fishes and the stunning views; pure bliss.


There are several hotels in and around Paraty and here we talk about our three favourites.

Casa Turquesa

Casa Turquesa is without doubt the best hotel in Paraty. It opened the market for boutique luxury and continues to lead with unique and impeccable style. Attention to detail and perfect design are at the heart of this very special hotel. On arrival, each guest is given a pair of Casa Turquesa Havaianas to wear inside the hotel (there is a lot of sand in Paraty) which are left in your own basket at reception.



Each of the eight rooms is decorated similarly, with individual touches. They are classified by colour, the theme of white running throughout with the accents identifying each room. Windows open wide onto the streets below with views over the pretty rooftops. Polished wooden floors, crisp Trussardi linen specially designed for the hotel and dreamy mosquito nets combine to create a luxurious feel. No detail is forgotten from the hats and umbrellas in each room, full amenities and personalised woven bags and towels for your trips to the beach.



The pool is situated in the centre of the hotel, surrounded by greenery and complete with loungers for relaxing in the sun. The library stocks a range of books including some fabulous art books and is the perfect place to relax with a cup of tea in the late afternoon. Afternoon Tea is served each day between 4 and 6 when guests can help themselves to tea, coffee, fresh juice and homemade cake. Breakfast is a delicious and filling affair, starting with homemade granola and yoghurt and a daily changing array of fresh fruits, it continues to homemade breads and pastries, homemade jam, cheese and charcuterie. Each days sees a different cake from individual apple crumbles to delicately fragrant lemon sponges. Guests can also choose from a menu of hot food including a variety of eggs and an indulgently comforting ham and cheese grilled sandwich. Each place setting is perfect with coordinated crockery and personalised napkins.


Casa Turquesa is a perfect slice of luxury in a delightful location.


Pousada Literaria

Pousada Literaria is a charming boutique hotel in the centre of Paraty. The 23 rooms are decorated in a crisp clean style with bright wooden floors and warm, colourful accents. The pousada, like most hotels in Paraty, is housed in an old colonial mansion and the buildings run around a large garden and pool area in the centre which is perfect for swimming or relaxing with a book.

Literaria-Room-RSZ Literaria-Entrance-RSZ

Books and literature are central to this hotel and it is the official host of the world famous FLIP literary festival that takes place in Paraty each year. The library boasts over 1,500 books and is a delightful place to relax. The pousada has its own bookshop, Livraria de Mare a few doors down. Guests can also enjoy the spa which offers an indulgent range of massages and treatments.


Breakfast is served by the pool each morning or guests can opt to enjoy it on their balcony or in their spacious rooms. Gastronomy is another important element of this hotel and the Quintal de Letras restaurant is open each day serving lunch and dinner. With a contemporary twist on local Paraty flavours and ingredients, this is one of the best restaurants in town.


Pousada Literaria is a delightful hotel with much to recommend it.

Pousada Picinguaba

40 minutes’ drive from Paraty, along the coast, is a corner of complete paradise known as Picinguaba. A small fishing town, perched looking out to sea, it houses Pousada Picinguaba, one of the best hotels on this stretch of coastline.


The 10 rooms offer elegant simplicity and in keeping with the beach surroundings are decorated in pure white with blue and turquoise accents. Some offer spectacular views and balconies complete with hammock. The pool is spectacular and with an unrivalled view ofver the bay and to the beach beyond. The hotel is decorated with unique pieces of art and excellent photography of local people and culture.


The restaurant serves delicious, freshly prepared cuisine; a carefully selected menu designed to perfectly complement the warm weather and surroundings. Many of the ingredients come from Picinguaba’s sister hotel, Fazenda Catuçaba, an organic farm located further inland.


Many activities are on offer including trips out in the hotel’s own boat, snorkelling, kayaking and local walks. What better way to spend a day than taking a boat over to a deserted beach with a picnic and a bottle of Champagne.


If there is heaven on earth, Pousada Picinguaba is deserving of such an accolade.

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

Discover fine handicrafts in Ecuador's Azuay Province


Southern Ecuador’s Azuay Province is one of the most important and richest tourist areas in the country. Its capital, Cuenca — proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO — is a charming Andean city characterized by its red-tile roofs and narrow streets in which time seems to have stood still. The beauty and quality of life of this small city, crossed by rivers and surrounded by stunning natural sites, have made it a place visited by thousands of tourists every year, including hundreds of foreigners (not to mention its community of retired American expatriates).


However, Azuay Province is also an important center of beautiful and high-quality handicrafts. Its people have maintained these important technical and cultural traditions, handed down from generation to generation. A long list is formed by handicrafts like fine filigree jewelry, woven straw hats; artistic cast iron, copper and bronze works; meticulously crafted pieces of pottery and ceramics (especially dishes), carving, cabinetmaking, woodworking, wonderful fabrics (cloths, belts, raincoats and blouses); pieces of porcelain, china and earthenware; embossed leather, stained glass, chandlery, stone works, etc. – but these are just a few of the leading handicrafts in the province.

As a traveler, you can get to know Azuay through the painstakingly created and patient work of its people. This is another way to construct a “mental map” of this Ecuadorian province, which is so culturally rich and diverse. Here we provide a brief tour of the three most important handicrafts in this Ecuadorian province.

The city of Cuenca

Ecuador’s third largest city (behind Guayaquil and Quito), Cuenca is one of the nation’s premiere handicraft centers. On the streets of its historic district, it’s common to find all kinds of workshops where artwork is produced and sold. Cuenca is also a good place to buy the famous “Panama Hat” (though actually these straw hats originated right here in Ecuador). In the Azuayan capital, these beautiful sombreros are sold at reasonable prices in franchise stores located in various shops throughout the city.


Another famous type of handicrafts in Cuenca is ceramics, especially housewares like dinnerware. Indeed, the precious, colorful and resistant character of plates and dishes has become a trademark of these goods in Azuay.

The origin of this craft was with the first pre-Columbian cultures that inhabited the region. Eventually, the work was perfected thanks to the fusion of indigenous and Spanish techniques – ones such as hand modeling, the use of lathes, the “huactana” technique, baking and varnishing, as these methods were used and developed over time in complex and laborious processes.

One of the most important artists of the city, and one who is also recognized internationally, is Eduardo Vega. Through his work, this muralist and designer has contributed to public spaces in Ecuador and elsewhere in Latin America. In his gallery-workshop he creates and displays public art, decorative items and utilitarian pieces of high quality and great beauty.

Notwithstanding all of this, the city not only produces ceramics such as kitchenware and home decoration; Cuenca is also involved in industrial production through the production of ceramic roof tiles, pavers and coatings.

In addition, the city is a source of embroidery. This work on different garments — some of them with gold and silver works — is unique for its beauty and quality. But perhaps one of the most elaborate and interesting branch of handicrafts here is the forging of ornamental and utilitarian objects. The most unique and complex shapes adorn lamps, railings, candlesticks, tables and chairs that on exhibited and sold in this city’s streets. Basketry, woodcarving and pottery also stand out for their beauty in Cuenca.

The village of Chordeleg

The town of Chordeleg, located approximately 40 km (24 miles) from Cuenca, was an indigenous settlement before Spanish colonization, while today it is a picturesque Andean village with cobblestone streets and traditional houses. Its central plaza and small park remain as meeting places for local people and as attractions for visitors who come there to buy candy, crafts, hats, clay figures, embroidered goods, souvenirs, ice cream and more.


But if anything stands out about this Azuayan village, it’s the work of its jewelry craftspeople. In the center of Chordeleg (whose name means “golden stream”) are more than 100 jewelry shops. Walking along its streets and stopping in front of the windows and displays of these small shops, you will discovering creativity, fine art and especially the talent of Azuay jewelers.

Although craftspeople here also do a great deal of work in pottery, straw weaving and metals, jewelry is undoubtedly the handicrafts star in Chordeleg, a village surrounded by beautiful landscapes and also declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, in 2000. Selling at moderate prices (especially when compared to the big cities), you can find fine work and unique designs that artisans have created for rings, earrings, chains, bracelets and other pieces in yellow gold, white gold and silver. Jewelers also use precious stones such as emeralds, diamonds, opals, topazes, pearls, aquamarines and others in jewelry that has gained worldwide fame, especially since some of these were used in the Miss Universe pageant held in Ecuador in 2004.

(An important detail: For the peace of mind of those who buy these pieces, the City of Chordeleg has an office that provides a seal of guarantee for jewelry produced there. This means that the owner of any store selling these items must confirm that they have used 14k or 18k gold or 92.5% or 97.5% silver.)


After appreciating (and perhaps purchasing) some gem in this town, you can use the trip to visit one of the most beautiful areas in the province: Tres Lagunas (“Three Lakes”). Located 25 km (15 miles) from Chordeleg, water flowing down from the top of a mountain cascades from one of these three large lakes to the next. As these waters are said to have healing properties, they have been used for this purpose since ancient times by the indigenous peoples who have inhabited the area. Also, wildlife such as rabbits, deer, skunks, Highland wolves, weasels can be found here, in addition to bird species such as American kestrels, Saw gulls, hummingbirds and swallows.

The town of Gualaceo

More than half of the population of the town of Gualaceo (52%, to be exact), works in the manufacture and sale of footwear. This Andean village, which retains its colonial architectural elements, has a beautiful historic district that is filled with markets, parks, squares, riverbanks and even an ancient aqueduct.

Undoubtedly, though, Gualaceo is best known for its shoe production. Using increasingly modern production processes, the artisans of this village follow international tendencies and set fashion trends within the country. Formal footwear, athletic shoes and footgear of all kinds are on display in a hundred stores throughout Gualaceo, a village known for its rich folklore.

In addition to this handicraft, Gualaceo has another point of attraction: Ecuagenera. Though not a handicrafts producer per se, unique and exotic “works of art” are produced here by Ecuador’s largest orchid laboratory. Each day sees the production of more than 300 different orchids, plants that are distinguished by the complexity and beauty of their flowers. This laboratory/nursery also conducts guided tours of its facilities and demonstrates the process of cultivating these fascinating plants.


Around the town there are additional important tourist sites, including protected natural reserve areas such as Collay and Aguarongo, the San Francisco Waterfall, the Santa Barbara River; and the town of San Juan, with its colonial architecture and baroque-style houses.

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 10 tours… only in Peru!


No matter what you want from your travels, you can create an incredible itinerary in Peru. Use this list to inspire a luxurious trip that includes adventure, interesting culture, and unforgettable food and drink.

1. Flying over Nazca Lines – Nazca Desert

Depart in a small plane from the town of Pisco and take a flight to see the Nazca Lines — glyphs that the Nazca people carved into desert’s rocky terrain over 2,000 years ago. The 70 designs include a monkey, a hummingbird, and a spider.  Some have sections as long as 660 feet (220 m), so they’re easy to see from your flight. Adding mystery to their beauty, no one knows how the Nazca managed to make designs this large without the use of modern technology,

Monkey Nazca Line

2. Vineyards – Ica and Pisco

In Peru’s southern desert you can try the products of Peru’s vineyards: wine and pisco. Pisco is a yellowish brandy made from distilled wine.  At some Peruvian vineyards you can take tours that also include lunch and a wine tasting.

Ica Vineyards

3. Luxury train to Machu Picchu

For those who don’t feel like making a high-altitude hike through the Andes to reach Machu Picchu, there’s an infinitely more comfortable option aboard the luxury Hiram Bingham Train.

From a train station in Cusco you can take a 4-hour train ride complete with lunch, snacks, drinks, and live entertainment. This is a luxury train that has comfortable seats and a car where you can step outside for sightseeing as you make your way through the mountains.

Hiram Bingham Deluxe Train

4. Surfing on the beaches of Máncora, Vichayito, Los Órganos

The beach of Máncora has good surfing all year round, and the water here is warm. Máncora has attracted enough visitors in recent years to develop a good selection of restaurants and places to stay.

Driving south from Máncora you can reach Vichayito and Los Órganos — these beaches are secluded and offer a more serene beach experience. Vichayito is a lovely spot for swimming and snorkeling, with a smooth, sandy beach. Los Órganos has excellent surfing, and is typically less crowded than Máncora.

Surfer on Mancora, Peru

5. Gastronomic tour in Lima

Lima’s gastronomic scene has received worldwide attention in recent years. You can take cooking classes that include a visit to a traditional outdoor marketplace. There are ingredients in Peru that you don’t find much outside of the country — you’ll get to try a variety of peppers, Andean potatoes, and maybe even a few spices that grow in the Amazon rainforest.

Peruvian Gastronomy

6. Peruvian Paso horses

Peruvian Paso horses are named after their side gait, which is called paso llano. It is an elegant gait that provides a smooth ride. You can visit ranches that offer educational demonstrations of the highly trained paso horses, and take one of the animals for a guided trot around the ranch. At some of these ranches the workers wear traditional costumes to reflect the history of the paso horse.

Peru Paso Horse

7. Ancient ruins in Chiclayo

Northern Peru’s Lambayeque Valley has some of the country’s oldest ruins. Visit the site of Sipán to see the temple of Huaca Rajada and the Tumbas Reales Museum. Tumbas reales means “royal tombs” in English, and this museum has impressive relics that archaeologists found in the tomb of an ancient lord.

Chiclayo Tombs

Not far from Sipán you can visit a site called Túcume and its 26 adobe pyramids. Here you’ll see an enormous temple known as Huaca Larga.

8. Eco resort in Tambopata

Visit the eco resort called Inkaterra Hacienda Concepción Tambopata. While you’re there you can visit the Amazon jungle near the town of Puerto Maldonado. The resort itself used to serve as a cocoa and rubber plantation.


9. Iquitos and the Amazon Basin

Don’t be shy of visiting the jungle, even if you prefer creature comforts. You can find upscale lodges in the Amazon basin that can make you feel quite cozy. Check out the rooms at Hatuchay Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge, which has nicely appointed cabins that overlooks the Maroñon River.

This part of the Amazon is known for its bird watching, and while you’re here you’ll want to go on hikes that take you through the forest canopy. While you’re in Iquitos you can also meet with locals that offer traditional medicine demonstrations.

Iquitos Indigenous

10. Nighttime city tour

Don’t miss the chance to see Lima at night. You can find tours that include dinner and folk dance performances, complete with costumes and music that emerged in the Andes.

Near Peru’s historic center you can visit the Fountains of Lima. At night you’ll see the fountains lit up in bright, neon colors. The fountains change shape, and you’re welcome to run through the spray – make sure to wear clothes that can get wet!

Fountains of Lima

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 6 Winter sun destinations


As the nights draw in and the clouds roll over, it’s all too tempting to head off to warmer, sunnier climes. Many destinations come into their own during our winter months, offering sunbathing and snorkeling, as well as cultural experiences and wildlife encounters. We’ve put together a few of the best places to visit for a winter break to help your daydreaming become a reality.

Kerala, India

From mid-November onwards, the Indian monsoon has passed, leaving Kerala rich and green with balmy temperatures and clear skies. A laid-back, unhurried pace of life makes it an ideal place to laze under sunny skies. Cruise along the palm-fringed backwaters on a traditional houseboat, watching the farmers and fishermen at work. Spend a few nights on the shore of Lake Vembanad at a traditional Keralan resort to enjoy Ayuvedic spa treatments and yoga. Follow this with some time on the beach – hotels range from the luxurious to more traditional thatched-roof options.

Tea pickers near Munnar, india

If you’re looking for something a little more active, the tea region around the town of Munnar is a refreshing contrast to the coast. A former British hill station with some of the highest tea plantations in the world, Munnar offers views right across the rolling hills. Stay in a colonial tea plantation and you’ll find your hosts are keen to tell you about the history of the area and guide you on walks to explore further.


Traditionally a summer destination, some parts of Indonesia are actually better in our winter months. The Raja Ampat Islands are an Indonesian archipelago of more than 1,000 islands off the coast of Sorong. In November and December, you’ll find temperatures averaging 30C (86F) and cloudless skies. A chain of jungle-covered peaks, sandy coves and hidden lagoons, few islands are inhabited and you can only explore by boat. A number of cruises are aboard traditional timber schooners with billowing sails and gleaming wooden decks.

Cruising in Indonesia

Most cruises sail for between seven and ten days, stopping off to discover a variety of islets along the way. Considered one of the best dive spots in the world, the islands support a flourishing population of marine life and pristine coral gardens. The water is so clear you can see turtles and rays from the seat of a kayak (kayaks are available on board). You’ll also have the chance to explore on land, trekking one of the many island trails, or searching for rock art in the limestone caves.


Experiencing far more manageable temperatures than the 40C+ (104F+) seen in the summer months, but still offering guaranteed sunshine, visiting Oman between November and February lets you squeeze out every hour of your stay.

Soak up Middle Eastern culture in Muscat, Oman’s capital. Here you can explore the dark, chaotic lanes of Muttrah Souq – one of the oldest Arab marketplaces in the world – and barter for traditional lamps, embroidered bags and silverware. Also pay a visit to the beautiful Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, whose radiant white walls hide intricately decorated interiors and the world’s second-largest hand-woven carpet.

Out in Wahiba Sands, you can meet nomadic Bedouin tribes, take an exhilarating ride through the dunes in a 4×4 and sleep beneath the stars in a desert camp. Alternatively, venture into Jebel Akhdar Mountains, where walking trails lead to abandoned villages and ancient tombs pre-dating the Egyptian pyramids.


The country’s long stretch of coastline is a mix of sweeping sandy beaches, secluded coves and rugged headlands. Snorkeling and diving are excellent here, giving you the chance to spot leopard sharks, green and hawksbill turtles, several ray species and a variety of fish living among the coral.


With its dry season lasting until December, Mozambique makes an excellent choice for an early winter break. It offers warm sunshine, pristine white-sand beaches and clear, calm waters filled with swirls of tropical fish.

Local children in Pemba, Mozambique

This time of year can be very rewarding for wildlife enthusiasts: up until November you may be able to spot humpback whales offshore as they have their young before migrating to Antarctica. Between October and December, you can swim almost within touching distance of whale sharks and manta rays in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. And, from November to March, Mozambique’s coastline is visited by five species of turtle, which come ashore in the evenings to lay their eggs in the soft sand.

Ibo Island, off Mozambique’s northern shore, was once an important Swahili trading post. Wandering through the streets, you’ll pass crumbling colonial buildings and 18th-century forts left over from Ibo’s former Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Arab and Indian inhabitants. The island is just a 25 minute light aircraft flight from Pemba.


Uruguayans like to say that their country is ‘open to the sea’. The majority of Uruguay’s infrastructure is built along the coast, embracing as much beach as possible. Sometimes snubbed as a winter sun destination in preference for Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay’s beaches have been a playground to Latin America’s elite for decades. The year-round hot weather and burgeoning culinary scene exerts a magnetic pull.

Serena Hotel, Punta del Este, Uruguay

Head west from the capital to José Ignacio. Just 40 minutes’ drive from the more glamorous and showy , José Ignacio has a laid-back, small-town feel. Its beach faces west and is known for its sunsets. Well-heeled Latin Americans have their private residences here, hidden among the trees. Nearby, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in South America, such as Parador La Huella and Michelin-starred Restaurante Garzon.

For somewhere a little more intimate and bohemian, there’s Punta del Diablo, surrounded by a huge coastal wildlife conservation area that makes it even more secluded.


At first glance, Australia might not seem an obvious ‘winter sun’ choice. Its summer, which falls during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter, sees the mercury reach uncomfortable highs in some areas of the country. Meanwhile, Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef are in the grip of their rainy season. However, a winter trip is still ideal – and there’s a lot more to do than simply relax on beaches.

Lord Howe Island, a two hour flight from Sydney, is a mountainous volcanic islet curled around a lagoon and carpeted in kentia palms, banyan trees and cloudforest. As well as exploring its many walking trails, it offers a reef experience comparable to the Great Barrier – bright, phantasmagorical corals, clear waters and an array of marine life.

Lord Howe Island, Australia

South of Perth and the Margaret River, the southern corner of Western Australia lends itself to sedate self-drives, stopping off to visit vineyards producing some of Australia’s best wines and traversing forests of indigenous karri and marri trees.

Finally, there’s Tasmania – a year-round destination. It’s a place for anyone seeking untameable, untouched wilderness. Visit Freycinet Peninsula and kayak around its wild beaches, headlands and coves, keeping an eye out for sea eagles.

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 things to learn while you travel


Experiential travel is the best kind – and what better way to get under a destination’s skin than by learning a new skill under the guidance of local experts? From cooking and dancing to surfing and diving, via a multitude of handicrafts, here are some suggestions for educational, practical activities to try out on your next trip.

Make a hammock in Belize

In Punta Gorda, in Belize’s quiet district of Toledo, barefoot children chase chickens in the yard of an unassuming farmhouse. Stepping over its threshold, you’ll meet a Maya family who make their living weaving baskets, fans and hammocks.

You’re put to work in the garden, collecting freshly harvested henequen plants, then the tutorial begins. It’s intricate, absorbing work, stripping down the plants’ strands and spinning them into a thin thread. Each hammock can take weeks to weave and complete by hand – miss one loop, and everything has to be unwound. You’ll be surprised at the skill and speed of the children lending you a hand – this is the family trade for many Belizean Maya, and they start young.

Tranquility Bay Resort, Ambergris Caye

Cook ceviche in Peru

Ask any Peruvian what their national dish is, and they will say ceviche. Learning how to make this plate of fish delicately marinated in citrus juices and spices is a great way to see one of the best elements of Peruvian cities – the markets. A half-day cookery class typically begins among the market stalls, prodding and assessing the local produce, sampling tropical fruit, and visiting the fishmongers – you need the freshest catch for a good ceviche. It’s a vibrant, noisy, delicious alternative to going to a supermarket.

The shopping expedition over, a top chef will school small groups of students in how to prepare ceviche, before you all sit down to a collectively prepared gourmet lunch.

Ceviche is a typical fish dish

Scuba dive in Koh Tao, Thailand

The little-developed island of Koh Tao is an excellent place for first-time divers – the currents are gentle and the marine life is varied and accessible. On a ‘Try Dive’, an instructor will teach you safety checks and other basic diving skills, before you embark on a shallow dive up to 32 feet (10m) deep. Even at this depth, there’s much to see. Look out for eels, groupers, barracudas, turtles, nudibranchs and neon yellow boxfish.

There’s an added bonus to diving here too. Since so many visitors are busy exploring the underwater riches of the island’s waters, the beaches remain relatively quiet – ideal for relaxing post-dive.

Scuba diving in Koh Tao

Take a pastry-making class in Morocco

Set in a former almond warehouse in the heart of Essaouira, l’Atelier Madada offers oriental pastry workshops in a relaxed, informal setting. Here, you’ll learn how to make traditional delicacies such as almond-based gazelle horns and orange blossom biscuits. These pastries are found throughout Morocco and are primarily served to welcome guests and celebrate special occasions.

You’ll watch as the cook prepares the various ingredients, before putting the ingredients together yourself and working the dough into the correct shapes. The distinctive gazelle horn is particularly tricky to master. While they’re cooking in the oven you can sip a customary mint tea, before taking your creations home.

Moroccan gazelle horns and biscuits

Explore fabric printing near Jaipur, India

Bagru, a village about 19 miles (32km) from Jaipur, has a thriving hand-printed cloth industry. Its simple designs use uncomplicated techniques and earthy shades of natural dye. Textile enthusiasts can learn about the printing, washing and boiling processes before heading to the Chippa Mohalla (printers’ quarter) to see all these methods in action. Here, you’ll observe block printers at work as they hand-block fabrics, and make natural dyes and printing inks.

While the finished fabrics dry in the sun, you can breakfast and drink tea with the artisans, before creating and printing your own patterns under their guidance.

Tie die process in Araveli

Milk cows in Sri Lanka

Jim’s Farm, in Sri Lanka’s central province, is a working farm with three villas dotted amongst palm tree and pepper plantations. During your stay you can take a tour of the farm and learn traditional farming techniques. Each afternoon at milking time, there’s even the chance to try your hand at milking one of the farm’s cows.

Perched on a rickety stool right behind the cow, one of the farm staff will show you the technique. It takes a few pulls before you get anywhere, but luckily you’re not expected to fill a whole bucket.

Jim's Farm in Pallepola

Cook, craft and dance at Araveli Cottages & Tented Camp, ME to WE, Rajasthan, India

Staying at Araveli, a Free the Children sustainable development project, equates to an almost total immersion in Rajastani handicrafts, food, and dance.

There are lessons in the art of tie-dyeing, block printing and painting. For the more gastronomically inclined, the camp’s head chef leads classes in how to make the much-loved local afternoon snack of samosas and masala chai. Munch on them while taking in a Bollywood-style dance show. The energy and dexterity of the dancers is a joy to watch, but be warned: after the performance is over, you may be asked to join in with the encore.

Bollywood style dance show at Araveli

Make necklaces and help farmers at Minga Lodge, ME to WE, Ecuadorian Amazon

From morning nature walks to water-based birdwatching aboard wooden canoes, Minga Lodge is a place for those who love activity. The women’s group in Mondaña Town will teach you how to make ornaments and trinkets using local natural objects. Some are beaded designs, but you’ll also learn how to make necklaces out of dried vegetation. These are then sold at local markets, providing an alternative income for the women.

Across the river in Bellavista Village, you can help a local farmer harvest his rice. It’s strenuous work, involving a lot of thwacking movements. Then it’s time to assist cacao producers in pruning their organic trees. With the help of the local shaman, you’ll try and spear a cacao pod with a blow-pipe.

Grls of San Miguel training to craft necklaces

Cook Cajun cuisine in New Orleans, USA

The city of New Orleans is a melting pot of different cultures, and this is demonstrated in the city’s cuisine. French, Spanish, Cuban and Mexican influences are all thrown into the mix, creating the dishes the city is known for: jambalaya, Cajun chicken and the hearty po’boy sandwiches.

The best way to experience Cajun food is with a hands-on cooking class. The New Orleans School of Cooking, a family-owned business, aims to acquaint visitors with the styles, methods and ingredients used in traditional Louisiana cooking.

In a full demonstration and cooking class, you’ll be shown how to make a meal from scratch. Specialties include gumbo, chicken creole and pralines, and classes are led by chefs with a maximum of ten participants. You’ll eat what you cook, washing it down with an Abita – a locally brewed beer – or Deep South lemonade.

French Quater of New Orleans in the USA

Surf on Bondi Beach, Australia

Wide white sands and foaming swells have made Bondi Beach hallowed in surfing lore, but it’s not just a place for experienced wave riders. The instructors here are specialists in helping beginners get going, too.

With a local Bondi surf dude as your teacher, you’ll don your wetsuit and head down to the beach to master basic surfing techniques on dry land. Once you know the simple movements, you’ll paddle out and start catching waves. Your instructor stays with you, and if you’re struggling to catch a wave by paddling alone, your tutor will help propel you into the crest of the wave. No matter your reservations or ability, you’re likely to be able to stand up on the board – not bad for your first ever surf lesson.

Bondi Beach in New South Wales in Australia

Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel.

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South America

The top 5 beaches of Buzios


Surrounded by 23 gorgeous beaches, this chic fisherman village, Buzios, is a paradise beach destination – mother nature’s true masterpiece. Búzios is a sought-after resort peninsula in Brazil, only a short drive, just 80 miles north, from the city of Rio de Janeiro. A city where Brazilians and foreigners live together in harmony, enjoying the great blend of culture and flavors. Its unique architecture, luxurious boutique hotels and extraordinary crystal-clear beaches put Buzios on the top of everyone’s must visit places in Brazil.

Geriba Beach

The long and wide strip of white sand beach known as Geriba is a focal point in Búzios and is a gathering spot for the young crowd that packs the inns and vacation homes. The beach is ideal for sports such as surfing, body boarding, foot volley, windsurfing and stand up paddle, in addition to flirting! Lots “beautiful people” are everywhere on the beach looking and wanting to be looked at.


The hot spot is in front of the Fishbone Café and oficina do Guarana on the right corner, which features a bar, restaurant, pizzeria, fish grill and lounge where electronic music is played on holidays and during the summer, especially in late afternoon. Those traveling with the family of younger children will find calmer seas on the left side, where it’s nicer to swim with the kids. The restaurants feature the local seafood cuisine which is always a good catch. On the left side of the beach there is an easily accessible trail that leads to the hidden sands of Ferradurinha beach.

Not to be missed: the late afternoon at the Fishbone for those looking to have some fun.

What you will find here: good waves for surfing, a wide strip of sand for walking, and fun for the young crowd.

Brava Beach

Beautiful and wild, Brava beach is divided into two parts: on the first part, there are kiosks and restaurants with beautiful views of the sea. Walking on the rocks you will reach the other side which is quieter and less crowded. From there you will find a trail leading to Olho de Boi beach, a nudist haven. It’s also a place where local fisherman ‘s catch their fish in the morning.


Make sure you save some time to enjoy Rocka Lounge Restaurant a favorite place where you can try some amazing sea food, delicious and refreshing champagnes and an incredible view of the beach. You also may walk to the nearby rocks to see the beautiful work of nature, a big heart sculpted on the rocks with the waves always filling the heart with the ocean water.

Top tip: relaxing on the lounge chairs and enjoying the beautiful view.

The beach offers: gorgeous views, nature, waves for surfing, a bar and restaurant.

Tartaruga Beach

I heard the story from my Mom that a fisherman found a huge turtle at the beach when Buzios had only about 500 fishermen families living in Buzios. Many turtles would come to the beach to lay their eggs. The beach has calm waters that are usually the warmest in the region, since it’s not bathed by the cold currents from Antarctica. Take some time to snorkel along the cliffs on the right side.


Along the long stretch of sand, kiosks for all tastes and styles place tables, chairs and loungers around for your pleasure. The Brazilian Music soundtrack ensures total relaxation. Don’t leave before sunset. Tartaruga beach is a famous wedding destination and many couples from all over the world pick this beach for a luxurious wedding ceremony.
On one side there is a long stretch of sand with restaurants and kiosks. A big rock divides the beach. The other side is smaller and with less people so take your pick according to your mood. If you continue walking past the rock you will end up on the Virgen’s beach where a small stretch of sand between the rocks forms various beach areas.

Top tip: swimming and enjoying the sun, calm water and especially on the deck of the Tartaruga restaurant.

What to bring: mask and snorkel for a dive along the cliffs.

The beach offers: kiosks of many varieties.

João Fernandes Beach

Skirted by inns, hotels and luxury condominiums, the beach has calm waters perfect for kayaking, as well as cliffs to practice snorkeling. Not by chance, it is a mandatory stop during schooner rides. The beach is surrounded by beautiful hills where you can go over the top for a magnificent view over the beach. There is a viewpoint over the beach where you can take awesome pictures and videos.


The beach is a favorite of foreign tourists – especially the Argentinians – who enjoy the good infrastructure of bars and restaurants that serve snacks and dishes with lobster and shrimp. The kiosks sit on a plateau, but usually tables and chairs are scattered on the sand. If you would rather get away from the crowds that can often take over the place, walk to the right corner, which is a little quieter.

Important tip: kayaking and swimming in the crystal clear waters

What you will find here: good bars and restaurants serving local seafood. In the middle of the beach at Cuca’s Tent you may rent kayaks, snorkels, paddle boards or take a diving course and get your international certificate. In the left corner you will be able to climb the rocks and take pretty pictures of the beach. You ca also visit a cave transformed into a guest house by Call, a tourist who chose to live in Buzios many years ago.

Azeda Beach

The Azeda beach has calm and clear waters and is accessible by a cobblestone street from Ossos beach. There are two ways to get there. I suggest you walk from Ossos Beach until the end of the right side to reach Azeda where you will be able to see an amazing view of the whole Azeda beach when you reach the top of the hill leading to Azeda. To return, you can catch a water taxi and enjoy the water and the brisk sea touch on your body. You will also get a different view- the land from the sea. Azeda beach is one of the most charming beaches in Brazil.


The beach is divided between Azeda (the larger) and Azedinha beach ( Azedinha means small Azeda). Just walk to the right corner at the end of Azeda beach and you will be in a small Azedinha. It is beautiful to climb the rocks on the right corner of Azedinha and see the beach from up that vantage point.

Included among the most beautiful and charming beaches in Brazil – surrounded by rocky cliffs and lush vegetation- the beaches are an Environmental Protection Area and the idea is to keep as it is without restaurants and bars. You will find couple paddle fisherman boats selling tropical drinks, a small umbrella renting masks/snorkels, kayaks and umbrellas and chairs. During the summer and on holidays it is important to arrive early because in the afternoon the beach is very busy and it becomes hard to find a space on the small strip of sand.

Not to be missed: if you are on foot, stop and enjoy the view from the top of the hill before you go down the steps to the beach. If you take a water-taxi, enjoy the beautiful ride.

The beach offers: crystal clear waters, beauty to spare, small shaded areas and cliffs for snorkeling among the fish.

Luiz Alegre Silva is the Founder at See You in Brazil.

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South America

Top 3 Pantanal lodges in Brazil


The Brazilian Pantanal is a wildlife haven and one of the best places in Latin America for birds and mammals. The largest flood plain in the world, it spans 53 thousand hectares offering an exciting array of wildlife and birds and stunning views. The star of the wildlife is without doubt the jaguar. ThePpantanal is the best place in the world to see jaguars and while sightings in the wild are never guaranteed, the chances are high, particularly if staying at one of these lodges, the three best lodges in the Pantanal which are great for jaguar spotting.

Caiman Ecological Refuge

The Caiman Ecological Refuge offers real luxury within the Pantanal with two stunning properties amidst an incredible setting by the floodplains which provides a great mix of comfort and fabulous wildlife viewing opportunities. It’s the place to stay in the Pantanal.


Caiman Ecological Refuge is located on a 53 thousand hectare ranch in the southern Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul and is a wonderful destination.

The property has two lodges, the Baiazinha Lodge and the Cordilheira Lodge which are spread 22kms apart. The lodges are accessed by road or light aircraft from Campo Grande. The two lodges function independently as they are remote from each other, are self-contained and have their own restaurant, pool, guides, vehicles and excursions.


A jaguar tracking safari is included in both lodges in the high season and many optional jaguar safaris are available all year.

The Baiazinha Lodge is a bird-shaped house, located on the shores of a lake, with 6 standard rooms decorated in traditional ranch style.

The Cordilheira Lodge has 5 double suites, decorated in contemporary style. Each of these has a separate bedroom and living room, bathroom, powder room and balcony. There is also a pool on a deck, surrounded by the vast expanse of the Pantanal landscape.

Caiman Ecological Refuge also runs an important conservation programme (including 2 successful projects focusing on jaguars and hyacinth macaws, which guests can get involved in).

This really is a special place to stay if you want to get up close to Brazilian wildlife and hopefully spot the jaguar.

Barranco Alto

The Pantanal at Fazenda Barranco Alto is a unique ecosystem of stunning waterways, vast floodplains, water-lily and reed lagoons, salty ponds, shady forest glades and rich savannah grasslands. The fazenda is a traditional cattle ranch still housed in the original building with four comfortable en-suite guest rooms complete with air-conditioning and private verandas.


The remoteness of the location and the limited number of rooms make for a truly intimate Pantanal experience. In order to see the most wildlife guests arise early in the mornings before the sun breaks over the horizon. Each day’s route is different, marked by the Pantanal’s ever-changing panorama of sights and sounds. Bursting with life, the bush continuously shifts and transforms as you pass through the plains either on foot, open-vehicle, canoe or on horseback.


On Barranco Alto Farm you will have the rare opportunity to witness the morning fishing of a giant otter family as dawn breaks, observe the ritual of alligator mating and, with luck and patience, to spot a jaguar.

The hotel can be accessed by car or, more easily by light aircraft; an hour’s flight from Campo Grande.

Barra Mansa

Barra Mansa Lodge is strategically positioned by the Rio Negro (Negro River), renowned as one of the most attractive parts of the Pantanal. Accessed most easily by light aircraft due to its remote location, it offers an authentic and idyllic experience and one of the best locations in the Pantanal for spotting jaguars.


The lodge has 6 apartments all screened and equipped with air conditioning, fan and hot showers. In addition, the lodge also offers restaurant, bar, laundry service, hammocks in the open, satellite TV, telephone service, internet wireless, library, orchard, souvenir shop, small aircraft landing strip and fishing equipment for rental.


Delicious typical meals are prepared with fresh organic ingredients on a wood stove. Barra Mansa Lodge offers a restful atmosphere in an isolated and privileged location, offering the best for the most complete experience in the Pantanal.

A wide range of tours and activities are available to explore the great variety of habitats and areas of the property, either by boats and canoes on the splendid Negro River, or by horseback and walking trails through amazing forests, lagoons and scenic landscapes.

The transfer to the Lodge takes around one hour from Campo Grande, the main city in the Southern Pantanal.

Simon Williams is Director of The Bespoke Travel Group.

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South America

Our top 10 sunset hotspots in the world


For me it is quite amazing to think wherever you are in the world you are witnessing the same burning sun dip below the horizon. Yet the same sun setting each day offers a unique moment, special to you. Sunset is one of my favourite times of the day – a moment to reflect on the amazing things you’ve seen on holiday that day and to think about all the exciting things you are still yet to do. And surely there is nothing better than a refreshing, thirst quenching sundowner admiring the vista.

This is my collection of some of the best places in the world to sit back in awe and watch some remarkable sunsets. If there is ever a list of top places to see before you die, make sure these ones are at sunset and preferably with a sundowner in one hand!

Santorini, Greece

This beautiful island in Greece is renowned for its stunning sunsets. The combination of the sun hitting the coast and the white wash buildings in the quaint town of Oia is breathtaking – not to mention the atmosphere as the crowds of visitors accumulate to find the best spot.


Benirras Beach, North Ibiza

This particular location comes alive on a Sunday evening – with its chilled bohemian hippy vibe. Expect to hear the ritual of bongo drummers, drumming down the sunset, as the crowds look out at the striking rock of Cap Bernat when the sun glows and dips behind it.


Shirley Heights, Antigua

Again it’s all about the Sunday party! Arrive for a rum punch or 2! Plenty of jerk chicken and lots of reggae tunes.


Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

The sunrises and sunsets over Uluru are simply magical, as the sun’s intensity hits and illuminates this impressive rock – it’s a spectacular lightshow!


Big Sur, California, USA

California dreaming indeed as this coastline offers spectacular views and incredible sunsets. When staying at the Post Ranch Inn, in Big Sur it was the perfect spot to explore the coastline and enjoy the sky light up in orange each night.


Ipanema Beach, Brazil

This iconic beach is picture postcard especially when the sun is setting – beachgoers often applaud the sunset in the summer months.


Masai Mara, Kenya

African sunrises and sunsets are a photographer’s dream as you can often capture the natural spectacle at its best.


Sahara Desert, Morocco

The dunes of Erg Chebbi near Merzouga have the highest and most spectacular sand dunes in Morocco. Take a camel trek over the dunes and watch the sand colours gloriously change as the sun slowly disappears leaving a star filled sky.


Jimbaran Beach, Bali

Jimbaran is an idyllic bay with beautiful white sandy beaches. This tiny fishing village has a cluster of delicious seafood restaurants – which are great spots for watching the Balinese warm sun disappear for the day.


Grand Canyon, USA

With some of the world’s most unforgettable views the Grand Canyon is a splendour as the sun’s glow changes the colours of the beautiful sandstone from deeps reds to flaming oranges. Head to the north or south rim for the most impressive views.


Diana Cherry is Director of Operations at Oxford Private Travel.

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South America

Top 5 luxury pool perks around the world


One of the most requested hotel amenities is a gorgeous pool, but sophisticated travelers are no longer content splashing around in just any old swimming pool. The following five luxury hotels are gilding the lily with these additional perks.

1. Beauty tech

No more sunburn worries while enjoying W Retreat & Spa – Vieques Island ’s outdoor infinity-edge WET® splash pool overlooking the ocean since they thoughtfully offer Netatmo June sun care tech bracelets that measure UV rays and monitor sun exposure, sending alerts when to reapply sunscreen. W Retreat & Spa-Vieques Island was named among the best ‘500 Hotels of the World’ by Travel & Leisure, features 156 stylish rooms and suites conceived by Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola.

W Retreat

2. Swim with the fishes

The spectacular saltwater pool at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Hawaii is a 1.8-million gallon “aquarium” carved out of the natural lava rock, filled with more than 4,000 tropical fish from more than 98 species, including a spotted eagle ray. There are six other swimming choices available at this private, adults-only sanctuary filled with a collection of native Hawaiian art complements expansive, open-air living spaces and island-inspired décor.

Four Seasons

3. Submerged selfies

The brand new Zemi Beach House, a luxury boutique resort in Anguilla, features an oceanfront infinity pool with an underwater window facing one of the world’s best beaches, Shoal Bay East. Guests can take subaquatic photos with no filter needed. Afterwards   you can  sample some small-batch rums enjoyed within the elegant Rhum Room or head to the Thai House, a 300-year-old structure-turned-spa sanctuary offering a range of holistic treatments.

Zemi Beach House

4. In-pool bartenders

Sandos Cancun Resort has perfected the art of relaxation. With their in-pool bar service where bartenders come into the water to take and serve up libations guests never have to leave the comfort of the three-tiered infinity edge pool, which also features a different water temperature in each tier. Choose from three infinity pools which cascade down towards the white sand beach and seemingly into the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.


5. When bigger is better

Although not technically a “perk” we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention San Alfonso del Mar Resort, Chile, which holds the current Guinness World Record for the world’s largest crystalline water pool, more than one kilometer in length, eight hectares and 250 million liters of water. Imagine playing “Marco Polo” here! The turquoise water is pumped from the Pacific Ocean, where it is then filtered and warmed.


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