Machu Picchu is a classic destination at any time, but since Peru staged the centennial celebrations of Hiram Bingham's historic rediscovery of this, perhaps most stunning Inca site, Machu Picchu is even more firmly established as the 'number one' destination of South America. Of course, Hiram Bingham did not 'discover' Machu Picchu - the local people knew of its existence since way-back-when, but it was unheard of in the Western World. Soon after Hiram Bigham first made his epic 'discovery' Machu Picchu became an El Dorado for archaeologists.
Since then Machu Picchu has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. Its enigma continues to enthral generations of travellers. The most popular option to get to the ruins is still the famous Inca trail, but due to government regulations it is difficult to actually get a license unless you plan months ahead. Alternatively, the beautiful Salcantay trail is another good option. Access has not yet been limited, so licenses are always available. But the trek is a little harder, takes a day longer and the last bit is covered by truck.
However, there is now another, far superior way to walk the Salkantay Inca Route to Machu Picchu, for all those who love to walk and experience the Magic of the ancient Inca world: a lodge to lodge Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu that takes care of 'creature comforts' at the end of the hiking day and allows you to actually take in the experience of BEING THERE. The hiking sections for each day are shorter than on the camping tour so you can take your time and get to the best sites along the way when other groups with a shorter schedule have already rushed on to the next view point. The whole trek takes seven magical days of Inca Trail immersion. See the full details below.
Or, why not visit another site - just as magnificent, but fairly undiscovered? Not far from Machu Picchu but without the crowds, the next best (some think, superior) option is the Choquequirao Trek, sometime called 'the other Machu Picchu'. Located in the Vilcabamba range and overlooking the Apurimac river, this dazzeling site is perhaps the best preserved 'Lost City of the Incas'. Hiram Bingham visited this site before he 'found' Machu Picchu. Some historians believe that Choquequirao served as a hide-out to the last Inca rebels and that the Spaniards, like Machu Picchu, never found this site. This trek also takes 5 days and is also a lttle harder than the classic Machu Picchu route. Although it is gaining in popularity, the fact that access is not as easy as to Machu Picchu means that it does not receive nearly as many visitors, making for a far more 'intimate' experience at this ancient site.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is perhaps the most famous, legendary hiking route in the world. The mythic allusion of the ancient Inca citadel combined with stunning scenery and ancient trails that emanate their historic aire and regal importance has attracted thousands of visitors each year. But as the popularity grows the magic wears off. Too many people on the trail all trying to get to the best camp-sites, the best photo-opportunity sites, the best picknick spot, means that guides have to herd people at quite a competitive speed in order to beat their colleagues to the pole. Four days and 3 nights is not a lot of time to spend in this magnificent environment - certainly not enough to soak it all up and immerse yourself in the atmosphere. Furthermore, the number of people allowed on the Inca Trail at any one time has been limited to 400, including guides and porters. While this makes the hike feel a little less of an ant trail, it makes it harder to get a space and secure a license.
And then there is the camping...while camping can be fun on a trek like this it can be trying. Who wants to crawl into a cold tent and sleep on a thin pad after a farily hard day's hike? I know, I know - the young and adventurous do, and die hard trekkers who thrive on physical discomfort as part of their sense of schievement. But let's admit it - the rest of us secretly prefer a little more comfort - a decent shower at the end of the day (or better still, a hot tub or jacuzzi), a good meal and best of all, a comfortable, warm bed. - and all this is now possible.
Not on the traditional Inca Trail (which is but one of many Inca trails in the region), but on the Salcantay route. The majestic Salcantay mountain is the second most sacred peak of the Inca and the Salcantay trail is as historically significant as the traditional Inca Trail. And now this marvellous route can be hiked with the support of comfortable lodging along the way. One of the advantages of this tour is the fact that it takes things more slowly, allowing for plenty of time to soak up the wonder of it all. Plus, there is no rush to get to best view points ahead of everybody else - most tour groups rise extremely early to win the race, but on this tour this won't be necessary.
Where are you headed this year?
Every day I get a new list of 'the 10 best' - cities to visit, emerging eco-travel destinations, budget destinations, luxury destinations, hotels, tours, trips of a lifetime - you name it. Are these lists reporting a trend or trying to set one? In these days of media spin it is hard to tell.
But I can't help asking myself - the best in what way? and for whom? Essentially travel is a personal experience and much more about YOUR interests and inner journey of discovery than the road-side attractions and 'frills'. It is about learning about other cultures, meeting the people, smelling the smells, tasting the food...After all - anywhere you go is a real place, with real people, not generic Disneyland (unless you are visiting Disneyland, of course).
Whether you like to travel slowly and relaxed or hard and fast, or as intensely as possible, packing every minute with activity - let it be YOUR journey, your experience. Paradise is a state of mind - not a particular beach, just because the guide book says so.Just follow your bliss, and you will find it.
Kat Morgenstern, January 2012
If you have comments or suggestions, please send me an e-mail - I always enjoy hearing from my readers!
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IMPORTANT: The Ecuadorian Government has withrawn its fuel subsidies for airlines. Galapagos airfares have thus increased by US$50 per person, each way, starting January 1st, 2012.
Far away from 'civilization' lies the small oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama. The stark beauty of the mountains, high altitude lagoons and snow capped volcanoes is quite ethereal, as if one had entered an entirely different, surreal world. Despite the harsh conditions there is life. Amazingly tenacious and adaptable plants and animals survive on seemingly nothing.
And so do the people, the Aymara descendents, who have populated this remote region for aeons. Ancient ruined fortresses and geoglyphs are dotted throughout the highlands. But most stunning perhaps are the vast salt lakes that are found in this region, the Salar de Atacama, and more spectacular still, the Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia. These vast former inland seas are drying up, forming bizarre salt crust patterns. But during the Bolivian winter, from December to March/April, the rains inundate the salt planes creating the most ethereal effect of a mirrored sky. However during the Bolivian winter it can be difficult to impossible to travel as roads may be washed away or become inundated. The tail end of this wet period, usually in April/May, is the best time to witness this sight.
Travelling in this remote and otherworldly region is an unforgettable experience, full of awe-inspiring sights and surprises. Considering its remoteness, the biggest surprise may be the fact that San Pedro de Atacama has a high concentration of very beautiful and comfortable hotels that offer excellent services and cuisine.
Northern Chile also makes for a great trekking destination, both for hard-core trekkers and mountain climbers, and for the less ambitious, yet adventurous hiker who does not mind roughing it for the reward of a unique experience in a timeless environment. Hikers must be fit, have a good level of endurance and should be acclimatized well. Hiking at this altitude is demanding and altitude sickness can be serious. There are no fixed departures for the treks in this region as there is not enough demand for it, but if you have a small group (4-8 people is ideal), virtually anything can arranged. Just ask!
Uyuni remains even more of an adventure, rustic and raw, on the edge of the known world. Hotels in the area are rare and those that do exist are basic. But the experience is unique and well worth putting up with a little discomfort. Camping trips are also possible. E
Everything about this region is somehow 'unearthly', otherworldy, and ethereal...the colours, the clarity, the air, but most of all, it is perhaps the the vast horizons and closeness to the sky, especially on a starry night, that creates a feeling of intergalactic space travel. Truly, there is no place like it.
|Awasi Lodge||Tierra Atacama||Alto Atacama|
|Relaxed elegance, superb service, exquisite food - what more could you want? Oh yes, private tours, too!||Excellent luxury eco resort and spa - after a day of wonderful adventures, why not pamer yourself at the spa? And best of all: kids stay free in July||For those who REALLY want to get away - luxury and privacy in the most magical setting about 20min outside of town in the shadow of Pukará de Quitor ruins. And a great range of excursions and spa facilities to boost.|
A visit to the Amazon is always an amazing adventure. But these new cruises take the experience to a whole new level. The refurbished river boats Delfin I and Delfin II leave nothing to be desired as far as creature comforts are concerned. Eelegant yet casual, the boat's amenities and cabins are Superbly designed. Spacious suites with bay-view windows let you catch more than a glimpse of the enigmatic riverscape through which you glide - it puts you into the picture.
First class food and services perfect the experience. Daily land excursions with experienced guides introduce guests to rarely seen sights and locations in the watery world of the Amazon basin. With your guide you will go in search of wildlife, birds and plants that inhabit this magical world. And you will meet the natives who have lived in harmony with the river's cycles for countless generations.
Four and five day cruises depart on a regular schedule from Nauta, near Iquitos.
The watery enigma of Pacaya Samiria reserve captivates intrepid explorers. A world where mirror-like lagoons merge with the sky and where trails become rivulets among the trees. This magical watery world is a wildlife heaven, especially for birds. Even the magnificent Red Macaw can be found here.
This area of exceptionally rich biodiversity may be one of the oldest Pleistocene shelters of the South American continent. National Reserve Pacaya-Samiria is the natural habitat for lots of wild animals and trees, as well as exuberant aquatic life: more than 500 bird species, 102 mammalss, 240 reptiles, 58 amphibians, 256 fish and 1024 wild and cultivated plant species. The reserve protects many endangered species such as the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger), dugongo (Trichechus inunguis), water turtle (Podocnemis unifilis), spider monkey (Ateles sp.), giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), pink dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) and grey dolphin (Sotalia fluviatilis). Species that are new to science are regularly discuvered in this vibrant reserve.
This National Park is situated in the remote headwater region of the Amazon river is the largest protected area in Peru. It comprises about 2% of Peru's total land area. Yet it is relatively unknown, due to the remote location and difficult access. Tourism here is in its infancy. The region is home to various indigenous groups, some of which have become actively involved in conservation efforts and eco-tourism, but there are no actual lodges within the reserve.
There are two lodges just outside the reserve, near Nauta, the upscale Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge, which offers a number of programs, including some that are tailored specifically to birders, which include a couple of nights camping, and Piranha Lodge, which offers more basic services. They too have programs that include camping in the rain forest. But the best way to explore the reserve is by river boat. An Amazon cruise offers access to sites that are not accessible or too distant by any other means. Daily excursion in small boats allows for close range encounters with the prolific and amazing wildlife of this region, while cruising on the river makes it possible to cover a much greater area than could be done by any other mode of transport.
There are few places in the world that are shaped by such contradictions as Iceland. The presence of fire and ice: active volcanoes that continue to shape the landscape and snow-capped mountains, wild waterfalls and geysers. Iceland, located in one of the remotest spots of the Atlantic, is one of the last few true wilderness areas of Europe. Yet, because of its small size and the fact that people have made it their home for many generations, it is surprisingly 'civilized'. Reykjavik has a thriving and lively cultural life and is considered one of the greenest cities of Europe.
Beyond the city, wilderness calls - but unlike other remote wilderness areas, there are marked hiking trails and mountain huts that make it possible to access and explore the outback. For those who look for a more rugged outdoor adventure, trekking is by far the best way to really get in touch with Iceland's wild and untamed nature.
However, don't underestimate this changeable and challenging environment. The weather is also a factor to reckon with as it can change very quickly. When setting out for a hike in Iceland, be prepared for everything. Take rain and wind protection even if the sun is shining when you set out. Although it is possible to explore the better known routes on your own, a local tour guide or company will be able to show you stunning locations off the beaten path. Especially inexperienced hikers should not attempt to walk longer routes independently.
Iceland is an amazing destination for nature lovers and photography geeks. The bird migrations in the spring and fall, is a spectacle. Iceland is also THE best place to go whale watching in Europe, with 23 species reported. Best times to go and see them is in May or September. However, be aware that Iceland is a whaling country and has an old tradition of this practice. Most people have little comprehension regarding the fact that this practice upsets people around the world.
One of the best ways to experience Iceland is by means of a self-drive adventure, allowing you to explore this amazing country at your own pace. Road conditions can be a little 'unusual' in places, especially in the rugged interior, but the ring road is reasonably easy to drive and allows access to many of Iceland's most amazing sites. However, to go off the beaten path a 4x4 vehicle is definitely necessary.
Several airlines fly to Reykjavik from both North-America and Europe. Now there is even an Easyjet flight from London to Reykjavik three times a week (tues, thu, sun) starting at the end of March and through to the latter part of October.There are also a couple of ferry lines that make the trip from Denmark, but it is a 2 night trip.
While a name like 'Iceland' and the far northern location suggest freezing temperatures, this is actually not the case. Because of the Gulf Stream Iceland enjoys quite a temperate climate and due to its far northern latitude, during the summer the sun barely sets and the days are literally endless. Still, Iceland's main season is short, lasting only for the summer months, June-August. But, the shoulder season April/May and September certainly also have their merits, especially for nature lovers. Starting in the fall, on crisp clear nights the most amazing light shows can be observed, especially on New Moon nights - the northern lights flash across the dark sky in vivid greens. Autumn is a colourful time of the year when the plants start to glow in bright yellows and reds, and the first snow may cover the mountain tops. Both spring and fall are fantastic times to watch bird migrations.
Iceland is still an 'off the beaten path' destination and outside of Reykjavik there are not too many hotels. There are farm house bed and breakdfasts though, which provide simple yet comfortable and relatively inexpensive accommodations. Such accommodations are used with our self-drive itineraries.
Public transport is by bus and covers all populated areas. There are also hopper flights to some larger town. Arguably the best and most independent way to get around is with a rental car. Check out our self-drive itineraries:
Or experience Iceland on foot and join one of our treks:
Everybody knows Italy as one of the premier cultural destinations of Europe. With a plethora of art and ancient history dotted throughout the country, it is hard to resist Italy's charms. Unfortunately, Italy's economy is in a pretty bad shape these days, and the government, desperate to raise some more revenue without hurting its image among the populace even further, is levelling tourist taxes on hotel bills in the most popular destinations, making them even less affordable. Venice now ranks as one of the most expensive cities to visit anywhere in Europe!
But beyond the tourist traps in Venice, Florence or Rome there is another, far more majestic appeal to Italy, yet one that is much less appreciated. The whole northern part of the country is pushed up into a magnificient mountainscape along the edge of the southern Alps. But hidden within these majestic mountains lies a distinct mountain range known as the Dolomites, the light mountains. These mountains are quite unlike any other and have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The region is particularly fascinating for those interested in geology as the rock formations in different places are like an open book that tells the earth' geological history carved in stone. There are several nature interpretation centers while the Reinhold Messner Museum, which is spread over 5 different sites in the region is dedicated to education and protection of mountainscapes all over the world. The museum was founded and is maintained by the master climber himself.
The Dolomites are an adventure travel heaven. Every time of the year offers its own appeal and each season offers its own sports appeal. During the winter months skiing and snowboarding are obviously the most popular pursuits. But later in spring, summer and autumn the mountains open up to all sorts of outdoor activities - from hiking and trekking to cycling and mountain biking. You may think that cycling in the mountains (except for mountain biking) is crazy, but actually, it is not as hard as you might think. Old disused railway tracks have been levelled and turned into very comfortable bike lanes in many places (including the Dolomites) that make cycling easy and fun and there are even velo-busses that can take you part of the way. Or you can go horseback riding, rafting, rock climbing or canyoning, fly fishing or hang-gliding. There are numerous ways to enjoy the 'Great Outdoors' is this great outdoor adventure destination.
But arguably the best way to explore this magnificient mountainscape is on foot. There are many places that are inaccessible by any other means. Ski lifts that also operate in summer, can take you up part of the way and from there trails lead off in different directions. There are both, short regional routes as well as long distance trails that are done by hiking hut-to-hut. The tourist information offices have detailed information about all kinds of hiking routes, cycle trails and other activities.
Those who like to get a taste of culture as well will also not be disappointed. Up in the mountainous north Italy's cuisine is unique and delicious - yet quite unlike what you normally might think of as Italian food. Great wines and fresh produce can be had everywhere and local food specialities are the pride of Italy no matter which region you visit.
But beyond the sensual, ancient history and traditions also reach far back in time. Layers upon layers of European history that has swept across the Alps from every direction have left their marks. Ancient castle ruins, old trade routes, historic churches and abbeys - just about every village has a tale that traces the strands of European history. Artists and artisans have found their private piece of heaven in the most unlikely places and one never knows when a farm along the trail may reveal an artist studio around the back!
This region is full of surprises, full of stunning, amazing landscapes and full of opportunities for discovery.
The region is really easy to access from Venice, Milano, Verona airports in Italy. Or you can fly to Innsbruck or Salzburg, Austria, Munich, Germany, or Zurich, Switzerland and make your way from there. None of these places are more than a few hours away by car.
There are a few turistic centers in the region from where you can explore. If you prefer more of an urban setting Bolzano or Merano might offer the perfect base, but if you want to get right into the mountains, staying at a guesthouse in one of the smaller villages such as Cortina d'Ampezzo will give you easier access to trails and an authentic local ambiance.
There are all types of accommodations, from simple guesthouses, to self-catering holiday flats, farm bed and breakfast style lodging to small hotels. There are some hotels/bed and breakfasts that are especially geared towards catering for hikers and cyclists.
Mountains climates are always a little tricky, but southern Tirol is blessed by the warm and mild influence of the Mediterranean sun. Still, one should always keep in mind that the weather can change quickly in the mountains and even a bright, sunny, hot day can transform into a deluge within minutes, especially during the summer months, from mid-July to mid-September. Winter lasts from about late October/November to March and there is plenty of snow for skiing and other wintersports. Heavy rains can be a problem particularly in spring. Perhaps the best time to visit is autumn, when the light is crispy clear and fall foliage drapes the mountains in a colorful, festive garb.
Traveling to an exotic destination is always exciting. Fun and adventure are calling. But to make your travels as happy and enjoyable as they can be, don't forget to check the basics - this will minimize the chances of running into unexpected or unfortunate surprises.
Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio National Park Cleans Up Its Act
For the last 2 years, Turrialba Volcano, located some 65 km east of San José has become increasingly active with regards to fumaroles and gas emissions. In early January, some ash ejection has prompted local authorities to issue an orange alert around the volcano and Turrialba National Park has been closed. Two days later the ash emissions stopped again and the volcano returned to its current normal behaviour.
At present, only the National Park around the crater remains closed and the orange alert has been removed. The volcano observation institute of Costa Rica Ovsicori (http://www.ovsicori.una.ac.cr/) is constantly monitoring Turrialba Volcano and will issue new alerts immediately if necessary. Please take note of any warnings and adhere to the authority's instructions.
On-going Dispute Between Nicaragua and Costa Rica
In an on-going dispute over the water rights of San Juan river Nicaragua has taken Costa Rica to the international court of justice at The Hague. It protests the fact that Costa Rica is building a road along the river's edge and has been dredging the river, causing damage to the eco-system which is part of a protected zone on the Nicaraguan side. See Courthouse News
At Tambor Tropical, a resort located on the Nicoya penisular in Costa Rica's northern Pacific region tourists are encouraged to interact with the local community, for example by volunteering to speak about their country at the local school.
Read article on Tico Times: http://tinyurl.com/84nkzet.
German development aid to help fund palm oil plantation in an ecologically sensitive region of Nicaragua?
German 'development aid' set to go into environmental destruction in Nicaragua. A project funded in part by German development aid is seeking to establish an ecologically damaging palm oil plantation in the Indio Maiz region. Previously German development funds went into small farmers in the region - now it is invested to undermine years of good work and conservation efforts. Indio Maíz in southeastern Nicaragua is the second largest rain forest reserve in the country. Between 70 and 80 percent of all species of the Central American country live in the reserve, a fifth of which are endangered. The reserve is home to big cats like jaguars and rare manatees. It is also a unique bird sanctuary with more than 270 different species. Three Nicaraguan environmental groups, the Humboldt-Zentrum, Fundación del Rio and the Luciernaga foundation documented the negative environmental impacts of the plantation in a study and a film.You can take action here: Rainforest Rescue Alert
Glover's Reef, Belize's largest protected marine habitat has been in decline due to overfishing, and other environmentla causes. In order to reverse the trend no-take policy has been instated for Glover's Reef reserve, in the hope that the fish species that aare vital to the health of the reef would rebound. However, the trend has not been reversed. Instead, predatory fish have increased in numbers while the plant eating species that help to keep the reef free of smothering algae, have only marginally increased in numbers. Further steps must be taken to protect the reef. Read the whole story: Wildlife Protection at Glover's Reef, Belize Falling Short
Wild Fires in Torres del Paine
In late December a wild fire broke out in the Refugio Grey area of Torres del Paine National Park and quickly spread in the southern parts of the park. However, as of January 13th, 2012 all roads have been reopened allowing full vehicular access on all roads and entry both from the northern and southern entrance of ther park. Some of the mountain passes which were affected by the fire are still closed while the period of assessment is in progress. Northern sections of the park were spared completely. The fire is said to have started by careless conduct of a camper. Please let this be an lesson of the potentially negative impact humans can have on a fragile environment. ALWAYS be vigilant when it comes to fires in the outdoors.
The volcano that errupted in the summer of 2011 is still spewing ashes. Although the emissions are lessening, at times they can still impact travellers. For most of the time the wind has blown ashes over to Argentina, severely impacting tourism in Bariloche and San Martin, and also on the passes between the two countries. But a couple of times Puerto Montt airport also had to be closed when the wind changed. The authorities are continuing to closely monitor the situation.
Airlines charging fuel surcharges
Starting in January 2012 roundtrip airfares to the Galapagos have increased by US$100 per passenger, due to the fact that the government has withdrawn fuel subsidies to domestic airlines. This affects already existing bookings just as it does new bookings. Flights to the Amazon regions have also increased, but not as much.
'Extinct' Galapagos Tortoise May Still Exist
The giant Galapagos turtle was thought to be extinct, but now scientists have found 'hybrids' some of whom are only 15 years old, which indicate that their parents may still be alive, somewhere. Read the whole article
Ecuador seeks compensation for NOT exploiting oil resources in Yasumi National Park
Ecuador asked the world for $3.6bn not to exploit the Ishpingo-Tiputini-Tambococha oil block in the Yasuni national park. A knockdown price, it said, considering the oil alone is worth more than $7bn at today's prices. The 407m tonnes of CO2 that would be generated by burning it could sell for over $5bn in the global carbon markets. Read the full story
The New Gold Rush: High Gold Prices Triggers Environmental Destruction in Peru
One of the lesser known side effects of the world economic crisis is the fact that it has had a direct negative impact on deforestation in Peru. With so much uncertainty regarding traditional investments many people have chose to put their money into gold as a more stable and profit producing asset. But this investment has fuelled illegal gold mining in the Amazon to a hideous extent. Read the story.