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At One Click from South America

Inca Fortress of Ingapirca – One of Ecuador’s Best!

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Pretty much all of South America was once part of the Inca Empire. And, while Peru is known for having some of the finests examples of Inca settlements, Ecuador actually does not fall behind at all! What is nowadays the area of Cuenca, used to be the northern capital of the Empire. As such, there are numerous important Inca ruins around the city. But there’s one that truly steals the show!!!!

Situated just a two hours drive north from the city of Cuenca, the Inca fortress of Ingapirca is a great day-trip alternative. It is considered by many to be, by far, the most important archaeological site left by the Inca Empire in Ecuador. Ingapirca is an absolute gem. It first belonged to the Cañari culture, who had been long occupying the area. They were then conquered by the Incas for a few decades, until the Spanish arrived and took over. So, the ruins have a very rich history, dating back to not only the Incas, but previous societies.

Though the Inca reign was actually short in this area, it still left an important imprint, leaving mysterious remnants such as the Temple of the Sun and its golden-green walls. The main edification is a tall, oval-shaped platform called the Castle of Ingapirca. The chamber of the temple was built so that the sun would pass through certain narrow windows and put sacred elements in a spotlight. What is most interesting is that researchers have found that there were sacred altars that were only directly illuminated during specific moments throughout the year, particularly during the Inti Raymi, the Inca’s “New Year”.

The stones with which the Inca walls were built are perfectly cut and stacked together without using any sort of cement or adhesive. Just like in Machu Picchu and other significant Inca ruins, the architecture and engineering is remarkable, featuring imposing walls. In fact, the name “Ingapirca” means “Inca wall” in Quechua language. So you can get the picture!

But what makes it that much more unique is that the archaeological complex actually features a mix of the Inca and the Cañari cultures. The Inca architecture contrasts with that left by the Cañari, who used coppery-brown adobe blocks and were less smoother in their techniques and therefore created a “rougher” look. But the combination is really interesting to observe. The Cañari worshiped the moon, while the Incas were utterly devoted to the sun. This can all be observed in different areas of the complex. You can also see the culture mix in how the Cañari people dress today. Their traditional clothing have incorporated both Inca and Spanish elements to their original style.

It is believed that Ingapirca had not only a sacred ceremonial purpose, but also must have been an important strategic military fortress, that played an crucial role in the Incas conquest and domination of the northern Andes. The exact history behind this place is not all completely clear, though. The Spanish conquerors played a big role in this, since they did neither preserve, nor record what they found. Some of the stone blocks were actually taken from the site to be used in other constructions. Nonetheless, Ingapirca remains to be impressive and attracting visitors by the heaps.

There is also a museum on-site that is worthwhile visiting to observe some of the ceramics, textiles and other archaeological pieces that were found during the digs. This helps better understand what this site used to be and the meaning it might have had for its inhabitants.

Situated at almost 3,200 meters above sea level, it can get chilly in Ingapirca, so it’s best to bring some warmer cloths with you. However, mornings can also get sunny, so maybe just put all those layers on and be prepared for anything! 😛

Finally, having  to go by Cuenca to visit Ingapirca, you must definitely seize the opportunity for exploring this picturesque, World Heritage City. Explore the gorgeous town, enjoying its breathtaking French neoclassic architecture and surrounding landscapes, as well as the valleys nearby.

Tip: this area is home to some superb artisans, so, you might want to have some cash handy to buy a beautiful toquilla straw hat, textiles or some other gem to take back home with you as a memento of your fantastic trip! 😉

Here are a couple of itineraries to get your planning started!

https://www.journeyou.com/en/tours/ecuador/cuenca-the-essentials/

https://www.journeyou.com/en/tours/ecuador/cuenca-a-gem-in-the-southern-andes-1/

Break time: Adventure season in Galapagos

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Ever since we saw our friend’s pictures from his epic trip to the Galapagos Island we had wanted to go. “Of course, he still lives with his parents and has no mortgage to pay”, we kept repeating to ourselves. But with that last Christmas bono at work, we really did not have any excuse to keep postponing it anymore… ¡YEEEY… Time for our NatGeo- style adventure as we follow Darwin’s footsteps! 😉

So, the time finally came. We couldn’t wait to come up close with those sea iguanas, see thousands of bird species, giant tortoises, the splurge of volcanic rock, snorkel, hike and kayak, etc. We arrived at Baltra Island and went straight to the Itabaca Channel to explore its turquoise waters… There’s no better introduction to the Galapagos than to get in the water upon arrival! Regardless of whether on a kayak, a stand-up paddle-board or snorkeling, this place feels like being part of an expedition to nature’s paradise.

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After spotting blue-footed boobies, sea lions and other fascinating creatures, we continued over the channel onto the other side, the Santa Cruz Island, where we head up to the highlands for a trip to a prehistoric Era while we came face to face with the famous Galapagos giant tortoises.

On the next day we wanted to explore Santa Cruz at our own pace, so we got ourselves a map and put on our ultimate explorers attitude. We walked through a 5km long nature trail to Tortuga Bay (Turtle Bay), a very beautiful beach that is a nesting site for black marine turtles and where we got our first up-close encounter with sea iguanas… After a nice refreshing swim and a bit of snorkeling, we just laid back and relaxed at what is probably one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador. Don’t forget to take snorkel gear with you, as well as some snacks and twice as much water as you think you need to take!

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We also visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, a nice little plan to do on your own, that adds a great deal of value to this journey as it helps you better understand how important these islands actually are. Ask your TC about the opening hours and guided visits schedule.

To finish off a fantastic day exploring the Galapagos, we had a marine banquet at the “Calle de los Kioskos” in Puerto Ayora. This street is a true feast of flavors and colors. You get to pick your fish (brujo is very popular) or lobster (make sure it’s not ban season), and enjoy! The “encocados” are an interesting traditional dish, by the way!

The next few days were an absolute blast!!! We got onboard a boat for a complete island hopping expedition. First stop was North Seymour Island, where we got to see the popular blue-footed boobies do their courtship dance, swallow-tailed gulls perch on the cliff edges and sea lions haul onto the beach. After the long day at sea, the soothing sway of the Pacific’s waters rocked us to sleep.

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The next morning we were up bright and early, eager to keep discovering these amazing islands! We got to Genovesa Island early in the morning, to seize the cooler hours for walking on a volcanic rock trail to visit El Barranco, on the southern end of Darwin Bay and then come back to spend the warmer time of the day relaxing on the gorgeous white coral sandy beach of the bay. This area is every bird-watchers dream come true!! Storm Petrels, red-footed boobies masked boobies, wandering tattlers, lava gulls, whimbrels, yellow- crowned and black-crowned lava herons and too many other bird species to remember them all…

On the final day of our cruising tour, we visited the stunning Santa Fe Island, where we played our own version of “Iguana Dundee” –don’t worry, we did not touch or otherwise disturb any of the iguanas!!! A number of endemic species inhabit this island, including different types of iguanas that dig the area because of the abundant prickly pear cactuses. After exploring by foot for a bit, we went for a well-deserved swim and some snorkeling, spotting many playful sea lions and colorful tropical fish, a perfect way of completing our extraordinary nature lovers’ expedition.

If you are still in doubt about where to travel on your next holiday… look no further!! The Galapagos Islands is a guaranteed mind-blowing experience!!!

Note: Respect the islands by complying with your guide’s instructions and leave nothing behind you… Remember, take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints! 😉

Need an itinerary idea to get you started?

https://www.journeyou.com/en/tours/ecuador/galapagos-land-and-marine-adventure/itinerary/#content

The best street art in South America

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If you still think you have to go into a museum to enjoy art and culture, then you need to visit these outdoors urban museums!!! Street art is a means of expression that has gained incredible attention in recent decades. By truly looking at it, you will learn a lot about the culture and people of a place.

In South America, street art is often used as a form of protest and is prohibited in many places. Nonetheless, urban artists keep finding their way for blowing our minds with wonderful art pieces. Here are our top South American destinations for enjoying some kick-ass street art.

ARGENTINA

Buenos Aires

One of the more progressive cities in this regard, Buenos Aires allows street art as long as the buildings’ owners are ok with it. This has resulted in a thriving street art scene, including local and international artists’ contributions. Some focus on political matters, while others simply serve tribute to local celebrities. The best areas to spot some top-tier street art are the trendy neighborhoods of San Telmo and Palermo, as well as other less touristy areas –you can get a local to guide you to these.

A few years ago, Buenos Aires Street Art collaborated with the Google Cultural Institute on the Google Street Art Project. You might want to check it out! 😉 https://streetart.withgoogle.com/en/world-collection

BRASIL

Rio de Janeiro

Since it’s legalization in 2009, street art has experiences a sprawl in Rio de Janeiro, serving as a fantastic storytelling tool and literally changing the face of Rio, injecting heaps of color and life into it. As in Buenos Aires, this inviting atmosphere has developed in a great array of colorful murals throughout the city, both by local and international artists. If you are keen on experiencing a color blast and learning a bit more about the local culture, head to Rio’s Santa Marta, the Jardim Botânico and Santa Teresa. There are also tours available, in case you’d like to see some of the street art in the lesser safe areas.

CHILE

Santiago de Chile

Santiago is considered by many as one of the best cities on Earth for enjoying top-notch street art. With a very arty feel, Santiago features pieces by famous foreign street artists and also internationally renown Chilean artists, such as Inti Castro. The styles range from political satirical cartoons, to conceptual art. Some of the areas where you can go to see the greatest murals are Barrio Bellavista, Barrio Brasil and Barrio Lastarria. While it is officially illegal, authorities don’t interfere much, as long as the activity is confined to certain areas of the city.

Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaíso – “Mini Berlin of Street Art”

Valparaiso is already a colorful place by itself, but when you add street art to the picture, it’s a true feast. This laid-back seaside town is really serious about street art, but in a good way. It’s even encouraged, as long as it’s creative. As in Santiago, there are neighborhoods where it is “allowed”. Head to Barrio Puerto, Cerro Alegre, Cerro Carcel, Van Buren and Cerro Polanco for the ultimate street art experience. There are also tours available for all you graffiti-nerds. 😉

PERÚ

Lima

Although fairly newer in this matter, Lima is rapidly making its way into the international street art scene, with local artists, such as Eliot Tupac, being recognized world-wide. There are several areas of this huge metropolis where walls are being injected with color, displaying the most wonderful murals featuring portraits of beloved local artists and other subjects. The bohemian-hipster neighborhood of Barranco is probably one of the best areas to stroll along and admire some fine large-scale graffiti. The historic city center also has attracted street artists, who have painted huge murals for the locals’ delight. However, the currect mayor has painted over several of these –with its political party’s color, coincidentally-, seeing street art as almost vandalism. The response of Lima’s street artists community has been: “They erased one, we’ll paint a thousand”. So, lucky for us, it seems like there will be much more art on the streets of the Peruvian capital for us to enjoy!!

The best Inca Trail Experience

We know that the Inca Trail has probably been on your bucket list for ages now… but you just haven’t found the right time (or dared!) to go for it yet, right? 😛

It’s no secret that trekking this ancient road is not only rewarding, but also very challenging -especially if you have been skipping training to attend that very important barbecue every weekend. But, luckily, there are ways to make that wonderful trek a most enjoyable one. Let us tell you a bit more about the Great Inca Trail and how to not only survive it, but, experience it to the fullest and in complete comfort!

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About the trek

The Great Inca Trail, also known as Qhapaq Ñan, really extends over 30 thousand kilometers. But its most popular stretch –and one of the world’s most iconic trekking routes- is the last bit leading to the World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu. Reaching altitudes of 4,200 meters, this trek is a deed of endurance, but with plenty of rewards along and at the end of the way. The trek will take you through a diversity of Andean environments, from cloud forests to the highest mountains, all along this mystic ancient stone path leading to the sacred Inca citadel. You will be literally following the steps of the Incas.

In an effort to conserve it, there are limits to the number of people going on the trail everyday and you must go as part of a group with a licensed tour operator. So it’s a good idea to book a few months in advance.

The classic hike takes 4 days and 3 nights, during which you will get a chance to see archaeological sites and a variety of flora and fauna, walk along the Urubamba River, cross over high altitude passes, to then descend to fertile valleys and enjoy spectacular landscapes that will warm up your soul and keep you from realizing how tired you might really be. On the last day, you will enter through the Doorway of the Sun (Punku sector) and finally get your first sightings on Machu Picchu… just like you were an explorer who’s rediscovering the “Lost City of the Incas”. This moment really makes it all much more than worth it. Finally, you will arrive at the Inca citadel to explore it in depth.

While you can choose to only do take this 4-day trek, a complete 10-day deluxe itinerary also includes a city tour of Cusco and a complete day at the Sacred Valley of the Incas, as well as the Huayna Picchu hike and other surprises.

Now, let’s get comfy!!

We are not going to lie to you… you will be sore and exhausted at the end of each day!!! Fortunately, our Luxury Inca Trail Tour has everything you need to have the ultimate trekking experience in complete comfort. Imagine arriving to the campsite each evening and being treated to a soothing therapeutic massage at the hands of our professional masseuses!!!

Our deluxe camping gear also will make everything easier, granting a good night sleep on a comfy cot, so you are fully rested and ready to go every morning. Heating units will keep you warm at night and a shower will keep you fresh during the 4-day tour.

Of course, food is very important, you will need that energy for the trek! But, what if its delicious as well? On our Luxury Inca Trail you will enjoy gourmet lunches and dinners, all made with delicious local ingredients. And you don’t even need to worry about all that equipment. Our professional team of porters will take care of that and expert guides will assist you, while you solely focus on walking and enjoying the way.

It doesn’t sound that harsh, now, does it? 😉

Extra tips for making your trek easier!

Despite everything a Luxury Inca Trail Tour might do for you, there are a few things you could do yourself to make the challenging way easier:

  • Acclimate: take it easy at first; spend a couple of days in the area before trekking.
  • Hydrate: it’s very important to stay hydrated when trekking in altitude.
  • Stay positive and walk at your own pace: don’t try to race anybody, just stay focus and have some faith in yourself… we know you’ll make it!!!

Here’s an idea of itinerary to get you going!

https://www.journeyou.com/en/travel-styles/luxury/peru/the-luxury-inca-trail/

Cusco by night

When it comes to nightlife, the city of Cusco is really Peru’s hotspot and one of South America’s best! So, don’t forget your dancing shoes and let’s get this party started!!! 😉

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The former Inca capital now features an incredibly diverse array of bars and clubs for you to pick your favorite or try a bunch of them on a kick-ass bar-crawl. You’ll find everything from laid-back bars serving the best pisco-cocktails or a fantastic selection of local craft beers, to busy nightclubs where you can show off your best dancing moves or pubs with great live music shows. Tip: If you are planning on doing the Inca Trail or other hikes, you might want to choose the less boisterous options and save the others for when you’re back.

 And, for those keen on picking up new skills, there are opportunities for learning some salsa steps or how to make pisco cocktail at the many classes offered for tourists throughout the city.

So, let’s dive into it and see what the Inca city has in store for you!

DRINKS AND NIBBLES

Museo del Pisco (Santa Catalina Ancha 398)

This is pisco paradise, people! This place was setup by a group of passionate pisqueros (enthusiast pisco experts) to serve tribute to the national drink. Enjoy a diversity of pisco and cocktail options or dive heads first into the matter, signing up for a pisco tasting, pisco cocktail classes or pisco-chocolate pairing sessions. Museo del Pisco also serves food and has some live music to lighten up the atmosphere.

República del Pisco (Calle Plateros 354)

Of course, you can satisfy your thirst for pisco here too… maybe give the flavored pisco sours a try? The coca sour or passion fruit sour are amongst the favorites. Live music shows are a great boost to the night at this bar and at some point people might start dancing too.

Fallen Angel (Plazoleta Nazarenas 221)

It’s really a restaurant-bar, but has a funky nightclub atmosphere and occasionally hosts special gatherings, including LGTBI events. It’s located in a historical patrimonial 17th Century colonial house, built on top of Inca foundations, and features an eccentric décor and funky art pieces. It’s a very fun, vibrant place to go for drinks and a true classic of the local nightlife.

Cholos Craft Beers (Calle Palacio)

If you are an absolute craft beer fanatic, then you can’t miss this spot!!! Picture 20 taps pouring the best craft beers in town. Burgers and other bar food is available to keep you comfortable while you taste them all!!!

Nuevo Mundo Draft Bar (Portal Confituria 233, Main Square)

A newer option for you, beer fanatics! This one has a nice view over the Plaza de Armas (main square). Heads up: The “Papas Sacred Valley” (French fries with a local twist) seem to be very popular too!

The Cross Keys (Calle Triunfo 350, 2nd floor)

If you want a break from pisco and other local classics, try this English pub where you can drink the night away while playing pool, poker or darts. English food also available!

DANCE, DANCE, DANCE!!!

Mythology (Portal de Carnes 298)

If you are ready for some more action, head to this groovy and usually crowded club, generally playing a reggae-hip hop mix, as well as other modern genres. If you get there early, though, you might catch their nightly salsa classes (9-11pm). This is definitely a favorite of locals and tourists.

Ukukus (Calle Plateros 316)

Are you looking for a place that’s a bit rowdier and buzzing??? Head to Ukukus, a very popular disco-pub that attracts the younger, most lively crowd, and prepare yourself to dance all of your stress away!! Local music talents generally put on a good show and when the DJ takes over, the mix can include pretty much everything that might keep the party going until morning time.

EXTRA

Nighttime tour, plus pisco sour lesson

If you are still unsure about what to do with your spare night in town, maybe our Cusco by Night tour is a good way to kick-off!!! Check out the program on this link and give us a shout if you need our help with anything! https://www.journeyou.com/en/activities/#/2

Peru: the full experience

Are you the kind of traveller that craves for a full-on varied journey, packing as many different experiences as possible? Then look no further, Peru has them all!

The South American nation is an utterly diverse country, with three major geographic regions –coast, highland and jungle-, but really hosting a much greater variety of life zones. Peruvians are really proud of their natural assets and diversity, as they should.

While there are many possible routes to choose from, if you want to have a bit of everything, plus tick off the World Wonder of Machu Picchu from your bucket list, then the southern circuit is perfect for you! So, let us take you through some of the gems that you can visit to get the FULL PERU EXPERIENCE!!!

1. THE COAST

Of course “coast” refers to an area next to the ocean, but there really is no such thing as “THE coast” in Peru, as conditions vary significantly as you move from north to south along the approximately 1,500 miles of coastline. But you can get a grasp of it with these destinations.

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Lima

The capital city is located close to the country’s coastal midpoint, within a subtropical desert. But, due to the cold current streaming in from the south, the water is cooler than you might expect. Lima has a great mix of busy urban pace, with a laid-back atmosphere by the ocean. Seize the opportunity to eat like the gods and maybe take a surfing lesson down at the “Costa Verde” or just stroll along the Miraflores “malecón” (seaside promenade), enjoying the views of the Pacific Ocean.

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Nazca, Paracas and the Ballestas Islands

This is a completely different type of coast. These places are located further south from Lima and are part of a desert. Nazca is most known for its famous Nazca Lines, magnificent figures drawn on the desert’s sand, so huge that can sometimes only be appreciated from the sky. If you have a chance to fly over them, don’t give it a second thought! Paracas and the Ballestas islands are part of a marine-coastal natural reserve and promise some outstanding landscapes and opportunities for observing wildlife, including sea lions, pelicans, cormorants and, if lucky, Humboldt penguins and dolphins.

2. THE HIGHLANDS

Spreading from north to south, the grandeous Andes mountain range pretty much divides the country, separating the western coast from the eastern jungle. Again, the mountains offer an incredible diversity of landscapes and climates, from milder to seriously extreme ones. Make sure to bring clothing for every temperature and condition and to get acclimated to avoid altitude sickness!!!

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Arequipa

Probably a good place to start adjusting to altitude, the city of Arequipa is located at roughly 7,800 feet above sea level. The historical center is breathtaking, mainly built of “sillar”, a white volcanic stone. The city is therefore referred to as “la ciudad blanca”, meaning “the white city”. Heads up, Arequipa is also famous for the volcanoes surrounding them, as well as its superb food. Do not miss out on visiting a local picanteria to try some of the local specialties!!!

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Cusco and Machu Picchu

Continuing your ascent, next stop is Cusco!!! The former capital of the Inca Empire lays a bit higher, at around 11,100 feet above sea level. The Sacred Valley of the Incas and the World Wonder of Machu Picchu, though, are situated slightly lower than the city. Allow some time to explore the town and just loose yourself walking along its many ancient, stone-cobbled streets. And then, of course, get ready for a truly unforgettable experience visiting the awe-inspiring Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, nestled in-between magnificent mountains. Tip, if you have a chance, hike up to the top of the Wayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountains for some amazing views!

Uros, totora, Titicaca, Puno

Puno and Lake Titicaca

You’ll experience a whole different type of highland in Puno, at over 12,000 feet above sea level. Lucky for you, Arequipa and Cusco will have worked up a bit of a resistance to the altitude, so you should be fine. Still, take it easy at first. This is the high plains region and offers wider, more open landscapes. Lake Titicaca, directly next to the city of Puno, is a major attraction, being the highest commercially navigable lake in the world and featuring numerous islands with local communities living on them.

3. THE JUNGLE

Finally, your Peruvian expedition is only complete when you get to the Amazon Basin!

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The Tambopata National Reserve

Just a short flight from Lima or Cusco brings you to Puerto Maldonado, from where you will deepen into the dense jungle for an experience of a lifetime! Immersing yourself into the dense, humid and intensely green rainforest, coming across with endless types of plants and animals, is something that will change your view on everything and stay forever imprinted in your memory.

Check out this program to get you started!

https://www.journeyou.com/es/tours/peru/absolute-highlights-of-southern-peru/

The best of Brazil

Picture this: you in a stunningly gorgeous beach, sipping on a caipirinha… a relaxed yet vibrant urban atmosphere, boasting with music and joy… impressive waterfalls surrounded by awe-inspiring rainforests… plus an extremely spirited culture everywhere you go. From the exhilarating Rio de Janeiro and the mesmerizing Iguassu Falls, to the enchanting colonial Salvador de Bahia and the paradisiac beaches of Buzios, when you visit Brazil you are in for the treat of a lifetime!

While it might take you a whole sabbatical year to explore this country, let us take you through some of the best of what Brazil has to offer!

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OF COURSE, RIO DE JANEIRO!!!

Visiting Rio is like having an intensive stress-relieve therapy. This city can loosen up even the most stressed of its visitors with its laid-back yet lively character. Enjoy a great nightlife scene, with a never-ending celebration vibe, as the sun goes down… and relax at some breathtakingly beautiful beaches as the temperatures rise at daytime. There are also some must-see landmarks and areas that you should definitely save some time and energy for, such as the historical center, the sambodromos and the iconic Pão de Açúcar.

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Beaches: Surely, you must not miss the famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, right on the city’s coastline. But there are some other slightly lesser crowded ones, a bit more tucked away from the urban area. For picking up some surfing moves, head to Barra da Tijuca beach. And if you are keen on something more secluded and unique, try Prainha Beach or Praia Vermelha… a taxi is your best option for getting there and having your trip back scheduled in advance is highly advisable. Don’t forget your sunscreen and Brazilian bikini or sunga!!! 😉

Historical Rio: Rio de Janeiro has a rich past that’s worthwhile exploring. The city center hosts many historical buildings and monuments that tell the story of their colonial legacy, such as the Town Hall, the Palacio Tiradentes, the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral, among others. For a peek into the country’s Indian roots, check out the Museu do Indio (Museum of American Indians).

Rio Sugar Loaf Sunset

Pão de Açúcar: Called “Sugar head” or “Sugarloaf mountain”, the iconic Pão de Açúcar is an attraction that you cannot miss. The perspective from the top is simply breathtaking, offering sensational panoramic views of Rio at a glimpse. If you want a truly extraordinary show, head up there near sunset time and you’ll be in for a treat!!! To get to the top, seize the opportunity for a scenic ride on the cable car or you can hike through tropical forest for about 40 minutes up to Morro da Urca and take the cable car from there on.

Christ the Redeemer: Another iconic attraction and also offering superb views of Rio de Janeiro, is Christ the Redeemer, on top of the Corcovado Hill. From up there, you can pretty much tick off the whole list of major landmarks and say you’ve seen them all… Of course, don’t forget your camera to take some postcard-perfect pictures to then brag about! ☺

Samba, the sambodromos and the world’s greatest carnival: There’s no way you are in Brazil and don’t experience samba… it’s pretty much everywhere! Samba dance and music is an essential part of the country’s culture and you have to give it a try while you are there. Pick up the basics and let your inner carioca go wild. There are many styles of samba too, from the electric vibrant carnival samba, to slower, more sensual versions. Of course, Carnival season (February) is the absolute blast for samba lovers, but you can also visit the sambodromos, the place especially built for appreciating the samba schools parades, during off-season. The impressive venues will give you an idea of how big this is for the local culture!

IGUASSU – A WORLD NATURAL WONDER

The Iguassu Waterfalls are definitely a must-see destination, especially for nature lovers, but really for everyone… it’s truly impressive! It’s really difficult to explain the feeling of being in front of such a powerful expression of Mother Nature, hearing the roaring sound of the numerous falls of the widest waterfall range in the world, while watching the massive volumes of water rushing down. It’s like nothing else on the planet and it will make your Brazilian getaway that much more extraordinary!

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SOME EXTRAS TO SEAL THE DEAL

It’s impossible to squeeze in all the must-sees of Brazil into one post. So, while you have plenty on your plate with Rio de Janeiro and Iguassu, we can’t leave out a couple of extra tips for those with some extra holiday time…

For a journey in time back to the colonial period, Salvador de Bahia, former capital of the country, is boasting with legacy and History. It’s also a picturesque city with a laid back vibe.

But, if you consider yourself a beach-lover, Buzios is an absolute must, featuring many gorgeous white sand beaches to unwind at.

Check out this program to get you started and give as a shout if you have any questions! 😉

https://www.journeyou.com/en/tours/brasil/best-of-brazil/

Quick travel guide to Argentina

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With a rich cultural scene, lots of history, as well as superb natural areas, Argentina is one of the most popular destinations in South America. To make the most out of your Argentinian experience it is best to plan in advance. Here are some considerations about places to go, things to see and do, as well as practical tips that will make your trip an absolute amazing one!

Where to go

Of course you must not miss Buenos Aires… allow some time for exploring this vibrant city full of culture, with hints of its Spanish, Italian and indigenous legacy all over the place. But you also should consider getting out of the capital and visit some of the most iconic places in the country. Head down south to the Argentinian Patagonia if you are in seek of some serious nature encounters and adventure. For breathtaking views of one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world, visit the Iguazu Falls. If your thing is rather to sit back and relax over a good glass of wine, consider a few days in the Mendoza region and sip your worries away at any of the numerous world-class wineries. Or check out Salta if you are craving for culture and history.

What to see & do

  • Have your own little tango experience, venturing into a beginners’ tango class or even just enjoying a milonga (a tango dancing gathering by locals).
  • Seize Buenos Aires café culture and just unwind at any of its many little coffee shops. If you are a literature-lover, you must visit legendary Café La Biela, where Borges and other famous writers used to go.
  • Eat dinner at a closed-door restaurant, having a chef cook something special just for you and a small group at a special location. A plus: you’ll get to meet some people while sharing the table with them.
  • Try a classic Argentinian asado (roast), along with some of the many topnotch wines that the country produces. If you really are not hungry, ditch dinner and go straight to a wine bar! 😉
  • Go to a boliche (nightclub) to experience the local nightlife. Just beware that the scene begins to warm up no earlier than 2am.
  • Head down to the Recoleta Cemetery and pay a visit to Evita Peron’s grave.

How to successfully face the “mate” ritual

You can’t leave Argentina without giving the mate ritual a shot. Mate (pronounced “mah-tay”) is a hot beverage, similar to a tea, made of yerba mate. There are rules around this social ritual. It is served in a communal cup with a metal straw (bombilla). The group sharing the mate sits in a circle and the cup is passed onto the person on your right hand side, only after having drank all the liquid and having had the cebador (the person in charge of serving the mate) rebrew the beverage. Do not stir the yerba mate and don’t say “gracias” (thank you) unless you don’t want any more.

Cultural tips

  • It is standard to greet both men and women with a single kiss on the right cheek.
  • It is custom and much appreciated to tip around 10% at restaurants, although it is not mandatory.
  • Arriving fashionably late to social meetings, between 20 and 40 minutes, is perfectly normal.

When to travel to Argentina

This really depends on the specific places you want to visit. The south is cooler and therefore is most agreable during the Argentinian summer, from December to March… although you should bear in mind that it will always be sort of cold down there. The north, on the other hand, enjoys a permanently warm climate, so it is ok to visit throughout the year. Buenos Aires can also be visited year-round, however, the best times are Spring (September to November) and Fall (March to May).

Other practical notes

  • Visas: Most western countries do not require a Visa to visit Argentina for tourism purposes, for stays up to 90 days. Check out this list to see if your nationality is included: http://cnyor.mrecic.gov.ar/en/node/1816. If you do need a Visa, it is strongly encouraged to apply for it at least 45 days in advance.
  • Language: Spanish is the official language in Argentina. The accent and local slang varies radically from that of Spanish spoken in Spain or other hispanic countries, though.
  • The time zone for Argentina is UTC -3.
  • Local currency is the Argentinian Peso. The current exchange rate is approximately 17 pesos for 1 US dollar, and 19 pesos for 1 Euro. But be sure to get an updated rate at http://www.xe.com/?c=ARS or any other online converter.

Aysén: A hidden treasure in the Chilean Patagonia

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If you are craving for an outdoors adventure and some serious close-up encounters with Mother Nature, then Aysen is what you are looking for! Between the Lakes and Magallanes regions, Aysen is an often-overlooked treasure in the Chilean Patagonia. Featuring glaciers, steaming forests, pristine aquamarine-colored lakes, waterfalls, fjords and glimmering blue caverns, this place is an absolute gem for you to escape your everyday life and enjoy an ultimate natural adventure.

Let us tell you about the must-see and do’s, so you can kick-start planning your Aysen expedition!!!

 

CARRETERA AUSTRAL

It’s really a destination on its own right. The Carretera Austral (southern highway) features over 1,200 kilometers of gravel, dirt and pavement, winding through forests, mountains and some of the most superb landscapes you’ll ever see. Connecting Puerto Montt, up north, with the tucked away Villa O’Higgins, in Aysen, this road is a favorite among cyclist and guarantees an utmost road trip through the Chilean Patagonia.

 

PUERTO TRANQUILO

The Carretera Austral takes you into the lakeside town of Puerto Tranquilo, the touristic hub for the Aysen region and starting-point for all sorts of excursions. Melting glaciers produce pitch-perfect blue water streams that flow between snowy mountains, putting on quite a show. This sleepy town and its friendly locals are perfect for unwinding between adventures.

 

THE MARBLE CAVES

Probably the most iconic tourist attraction, this otherworldly labyrinth of solid marble caves is the result of about 6,000 years of erosion by wind and water. Lying by General Carrera Lake, the crystal clear blue water and bright sunlight create a glimmering multicolor effect on the caves’ walls… pretty psychedelic! While you are there, you might want to seize the chance for some kick-ass trout and salmon fishing, or some kayaking on the lake.

 

GLACIERS

Aysen is pretty much “Glacierland”! You’ll be surrounded by ice in all shapes and sizes, including both the ice fields of northern and southern Patagonia. You can explore these by foot and climbing up high to get the best views, but there are cruise opportunities, if you are more of a lazy-holiday type of traveler. Heads up… Aysen is home to one of the most stunning and massive ice titans, namely the San Rafael Glacier. Ask your guide about drinking the purest meltwater … or maybe even a good whisky on the rocks with ice from the glacier! 😉

 

PATAGONIA PARK

A fairly newly established protected area, Patagonia Park started from a private conservation initiative, with the aim of handing it over to the government once the project was implemented. The lands have been restored after having been used as farmlands and are now welcoming local wildlife, such as guanacos, back into their original home. The park offers opportunities for fishing, hiking, boating and other low-impact activities.

 

QUEULAT NATIONAL PARK

The Carretera Austral also leads you into this hidden gem. The Queulat National Park is a temperate rainforest displaying numerous hiking trails through humid, intense green forests, adorned with clear water streams. The “hanging” glacier, suspended between two peaks, is something you definitely don’t want to miss! This area is ideal if you are up for some serious hiking… and if you do feel sore at some point, just go dip yourself in the hot springs at Termas del Ventisquero, close to the park’s entrance.

 

CERRO CASTILLO NATIONAL RESERVE

Cerro Castillo (Castle Hill) National Reserve features some impressive rock formations. This area is another favorite of hikers and mountaineers, who are eager to hit that for-day trekking route around the mountain. This is a rather solo hiking experience, as this spot is much less crowded than similar, more popular trails at Torres del Paine. Wildlife at the reserve is outstanding… if you are lucky you might spot guanacos, the rarely seen huemul deer or even a puma!

 

So, if you are in need of an off-the-beaten-path experience in one of the most isolated but stunningly beautiful natural areas in Chile, then Aysen region is just perfect for you!

 

Let us know if you need any help putting together your ideal adventure within this area of rich and diverse natural beauty.

 

Hidden natural paradise in Bolivia – the Maididi National Park

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A true playground for nature-lovers! Bolivia has only recently started to emerge from under the adventure and nature travelers’ radar. Offering an amazing tapestry of still fairly untapped natural areas, with a great diversity ranging from high-altitude plateaus, to dense foggy jungle, salt flats and snow-capped mountains, this country is a hidden paradise for those seeking an up-close encounter with Mother Nature.

Amongst the many breathtaking natural gems, the Maididi National Park stands out as one of the most bio diverse areas on Earth. A favorite for bird-watchers and wildlife enthusiast, this park is fairly tucked away, up on the northern corner of the La Paz department, granting a true adventure for all of you, outdoorsy! Are you up for it? 😉

Maididi basics

The Madidi National Park is one of the largest parks in Bolivia, with an extension of 1,895,750 Ha (4,684,500 Acres), stretching from the Andes to the Amazon basin. This endows it with an extraordinary biodiversity, being home to over 11% of the world’s known bird species, as well as numerous mammals, insects, reptiles and others. So, if you want your own little NatGeo-like expedition, this place is spot on!

Since it’s enormous and a bit tucked away, getting to the park and moving through it can be a whole adventure on its own right. A long bus ride or a short flight from La Paz gets you to Rurrenabaque. From there you’ll begin deepening into the jungle by 4WD, boat rides and hiking. Allow at least 4-5 days.

Chalalán – Community Eco Lodge

A 6-hour ride on a motorized canoe takes you from Rurrenabaque into the heart of the park, entering through gorges as the jungle thickens and the sounds intensify. The journey is well accompanied by birds, caimans and, if you get lucky, you might spot a jaguar.

A short hike then gets you to the Chalalán Eco Lodge, run by the local indigenous community from the close-by village of San José. This is most definitely an outstanding example of community-based sustainable tourism, where local guides grant a superb experience to its visitors, while safeguarding the future of their forests. The lodge lies by the beautiful Chalalán Lagoon, surrounded by pristine rainforest. The cabins follow the traditional local style, incorporating ecological criteria, and offer comfort, while maintaining a simplicity that makes the experience that much more genuine.

Wildlife, wildlife… and more wildlife!

Regardless of if you have been to a virgin rainforest before or not, walking in one simply never gets old! It is hard to explain the intense feeling that this creates. Deepening into the forests, under the canopies of gigantic trees, surrounded by endless types of plants, flowers, mushrooms, moss, insects and wild animals simply confronts you with something that is so much bigger and powerful than yourself. It is important to explore the area with a local guide that not only keeps you safe from possible hazards, but also makes the experience unforgettable, being able to recognize species by looking at them or even through the way they sound. A plus: local indigenous tribes not only know a species from the other, but also carry legendary wisdom about the medicinal properties of many plants.

Some of the wildlife you might be able to spot includes howler monkeys, poison dart frogs, leaf cutter ants, capybaras, toucans, macaws and many other species. There are also night walks or canoe rides on the lagoon to spot caimans and other animals that generally come out to play at night.

Practical notes

The rainforest gets its name for a good reason, so, be sure to be prepared for some pouring rain and knee-deep streams and puddles during your jungle excursions. You don’t want to mess up your favorite hiking boots. A rain jacket or poncho is also a good idea. Other than that, just immerse yourself in the experience and enjoy the sound of the rain hitting the canopy, the croaking frogs and the intense wilderness! 😉

The best time to visit is during dry season, from April to October. Although the lower tropical area of the park is generally warm and humid (25º-30º C), temperatures can sometimes drop drastically due to Artic winds.

You must bear in mind that weather is unpredictable and activities may vary accordingly. Best advice is to keep an open and flexible mindset and seize the opportunity for an ultimate jungle adventure!

Check out this Madidi National Park itinerary to get an idea and let us know if we can help!

https://www.journeyou.com/en/tours/bolivia/madidi-national-park/