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South American Festival Guide

August 15, 2014 at 11:32 am
Tapati festival / Photo Yves Picq

Tatapi Festival on Easter Island

Everyone loves a festival, they’re a great excuse to let your hair down, relax and have fun.  Although there may be a vast selection of festivals in the UK to choose from why not cast your net a bit wider and check out what South American festivals have to offer. With stunning scenery and once in a life time cultural experiences, South American festivals can offer you something a little more exotic than the warm ciders and leaky tents that the average British fest offers. So if you fancy jetting off to the southern hemisphere here’s few festivals that shouldn’t be missed.

Tapati Rapa Nui, Easter Island, Chile  

Easter Island located off the western coast of Chile may be best known for its monolithic heads. However every year in February the island plays host to Tapati Rapa Nui, the festival of manly strength and womanly grace; a celebration of culture and the welcoming of visitors.

Unlike many other island festivals, Tapati Rapa Nui is a festival for locals by the loacals and although tourists are welcomed on to the island, the festival is not a commercial show. The Festival is a celebration of Polynesian pride and is a world away from festivals used to encourage tourism. At Tapati Rapa Noi you get a real sense of authenticity alongside an amazing celebration, complete with dancing signing and a  parade.

Photo Yves Picq / Wikimedia Commons

Fun for all ages. We think.

Confirmed dates: Saturday 1st February – Saturday 15th February.

Los Diablos Danzanthes, Venezuela

Have you ever wondered how Venezuelans celebrate the Catholic festival of Corpus Christi? Well, they dress like devils and dance around the street of course! While many places celebrate Corpus Christi and good triumphing over evil, nowhere does it quite like San Francisco de Yare. Every year townsfolk don red clothing and devil masks whilst dancing in the streets before kneeling in front of the church in a metaphorical surrender to good.

The Dancers belong to a group called promeseros (promise-keepers) and act to pass on the countries cultural heritage through oral history. Each family make their own colourful mask which often take all year to produce.  Diablos Danzantes has recently been added to UNESCO’s Representational List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This one of a kind blend of religion and creative expression is one of the most unique South American festivals, and promotes a strong sense of cultural identity and community in Venezuela.

Diablos Danzantes / Wikimedia

Some relaxing diablos…

Confirmed Dates: Thursday 19 June

Inti Raymi, Peru, Cusco

Inti Raymi is an ancient Incan festival festival of the sun dating back 500 years to the Inca’s heyday. Back then it involved mass sacrifice to appease the sun god, Inti. But don’t worry if you’re squeamish: gone are the days of ritual killing and today in Peru the event is only a re-enactment of the original ceremony and a celebration of the winter solstice. Every June thousands of Peruvians and tourists descend on the ancient Incan capital of Cusco to witness one of the biggest of all South American festivals and to enjoy the fantastic Peruvian food and music.

These days the action takes place in the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuamán, where chairs are available to rent so you can enjoy the show with an element of comfort. After the ceremonial sacrifice has been completed the party roles down into Cusco’s main square where dancing, singing and drinking become the order of the day.

Inti Raymi - South American Festivals in Peru

Inti Raymi in Cusco

Confirmed Date: Tuesday 24 June

Wherever you choose to visit in South America, there will be a celebration or festival of one kind or another. There aren’t many better ways to experience South American culture than to share in celebration with the people who live there. However strange some of the customs may seem it is always best to go with an open mind and a positive attitude and – of course – always remember you’re a guest!

Marine Iguanas Saved in the Galapagos Islands

August 5, 2014 at 11:30 am
Sea-lion in Wreck Bay, San Cristobal

Photo courtesy Mammoet Salvage

When the cargo ship Galapaface 1 ran aground in the aptly-named “Wreck Bay” on the island of San Cristobal earlier this year, experts feared a repeat of the 2001 disaster in the same harbour. Then, the oil tanker MV Jessica also ran aground, leaking thousands of gallons of fuel oil into the marine-rich waters of the Galapagos Islands.

 

In 2001, the seriousness of the oil leak and the apparent lack of proper contingency plans led to an environmental catastrophe, ironically in the very harbour in which Charles Darwin made his first landfall in the Galapagos back in 1835. It was estimated that 62% of the marine iguanas of San Cristobal was lost, with severe damage to other marine species as well. The captain of the Jessica was later jailed after admitting to “navigational errors” but many wondered whether lessons would actually be learned from the incident.

 

Marine Iguanas Saved from Shipwreck

Charts / www.galapagos.to

Happily, when the more recent accident occurred, new procedures were activated and an international team of salvage experts was flown into the Galapagos Islands. Given the damage done to the marine iguanas of San Cristobal by the previous accident, the experts’ first priority was to strip the Galapaface 1 of all pollutants and cargo, followed by any floatable materials such as plastics, furnishings, etc. They would then attempt to re-float the ship using specially-constructed flotation tanks.

 

There was some debate over the next stage of the plan, which was to tow the damaged but now floating ship away from the Galapagos and scuttle her in 2500m of open ocean. Many environmentalists opposed this action, but it was generally felt to be safer than risk towing the stricken vessel into a safe harbour on San Cristobal, with all the dangers that posed. The Galapaface 1 was finally towed out to her final resting place on July 15th, and the initial post-salvage study suggests that the marine iguanas of Wreck Bay have emerged from the latest incident without any negative effects. Well done to all involved in the salvage operation, although we really do think that perhaps oil tankers should steer clear of “Wreck Bay” in the future…

Peru’s Nefertitis? Castillo de Huarmey Exhibition

July 11, 2014 at 11:37 am
Wari Culture Huaca Pucllana in San Isidro, Lima

The Wari culture Huaca Pucllana site

 

When you talk about Peruvian history, most people think of the Incas, but centuries before the Inca Empire, the Wari Culture ruled over huge swathes of what is now Peru, from the area around Chiclayo in the north down to the edges of the Atacama Desert in the south. In common with other Andean cultures, they left no written records, and although we have some fairly well-preserved ruins from their capital near modern Ayacucho, they have remained one of the least-understood of Peru’s pre-Inca cultures. Frustratingly this has been in large part because all the significant tombs found from the Wari culture were looted long before archaeologists got to them.

Castillo de Huarmey beaker

PIA Castillo de Huarmey / MALI

However, all that changed last year, when a team under Milosz Giersz from the University of Warsaw made what is probably the most significant archaeological discovery in Peru in the last 20 years. At the Castillo de Huarmey site, on the coast between Lima and Trujillo, on a ridge between two previously-looted Wari pyramids, they used aerial photography and geophysics technology to locate a deeply-buried mausoleum, and began digging the site in 2010. Ironically, the mausoleum had actually been protected by previous looters, who had dumped rubble taken from the pyramids to either side on top of the ridge, further burying the site.

After years of careful and secretive excavation, the team managed to recover over 1,000 artefacts and identified the remains of over 60 bodies, including three women of obviously high status who had been buried along with fabulous textiles, gold and silver jewellery and gold weaving tools. These three women were buried in separate small side chambers and have been described as Wari Queens. So if the Lord of Sipan burial is described as the “Tutankhamen of Peru”, are these noble ladies its Nefertitis?

Happily, you can now make your own mind up, at the newly-opened and utterly fabulous Castillo de Huarmey exhibition at MALI (Lima Art Museum). The quality of the exhibits is truly stunning, and all the more special because it includes items made from textiles and even wood, which normally would have totally decayed, but which was preserved by the sealed mausoleum. Many everyday objects for the Wari must have been made from these materials, but it’s so important to see that confirmed “in the flesh”. The colourful designs of the textiles and the intricate carvings on the wooden objects seem to prefigure Inca iconography in many respects, and archaeologists are already looking forward to being able to interpret them and finally shed a little more light on this previously enigmatic empire.

Earrings from Castillo de Huarmey Exhibition

PIA Castillo de Huarmey / MALI

The Castillo de Huarmey exhibition will be on at MALI until the 7th of September (closed Mondays) and if you’re in Lima we HUGELY urge you to check it out. We can arrange a guide if you prefer or you can just get a taxi (the museum is just on the edge of Central Lima, as you come of the Via Expresa onto Plaza Grau) and just enjoy a wander around. It’s only a few blocks from the Parque de la Reserva, so if you visit in the late afternoon you could even combine it with a visit to the spectacular Magic Water Circuit in the evening. There are no plans that we’re aware of to open a visitor’s centre at the site itself, and archaeology is likely to continue there for several years, so the Castillo de Huarmey exhibition is the only game in town for the moment. However, we think it would be great to see a permanent museum on the site or nearby, similar to the Royal Tombs Museum in Lambayeque.

The Inca Trail: Am I Fit Enough?

June 6, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

This has to be one of the most common questions we answer here at RealWorld: “Am I fit enough to trek the Inca Trail?” This high-altitude trek certainly isn’t the sort of thing you do every day, but the good news is that with careful preparation, there’s no reason that almost anyone shouldn’t be able to attempt and complete this fantastic trek to Machu Picchu.

 

General Levels of Fitness for the Inca Trail

We say “almost anyone” because we mean that there are is no specific required level of fitness for the Inca Trail. We’ve literally had people from 12 to 70 complete the trail, and many (most?) of our customers have never done anything like it before, let alone in Peru. So age is no barrier. However, we do say that a basic level of fitness is needed: after all you are going to be walking for several hours a day, for four days in a row, and all of those at altitude. What we usually suggest if you’re not sure if you are fit enough to trek the Inca Trail is to ask yourself:

Could I manage a 5-6 hour walk here in the UK?

Or, if you’ve never tried a walk of this length, do you do any other form of regular exercise? If you go to the gym, swim, play football, even if you do a lot of gardening – all of those are good indicators that with decent acclimatisation you’re unlikely to encounter serious problems.

Even if you really don’t do any sort of regular exercise, you shouldn’t automatically discount trekking the Inca Trail. After all, it is MEANT to be a challenge. Remember that all our groups travel with two guides to ensure that everyone can take things at their own pace, so if you need to take your time over things that’s not a problem at all.

That said, if knees or other joints cause you pain, or if you have other specific health concerns then the best thing to do is speak to your doctor – although you might be surprised by how encouraging they are. If after all this, you really don’t think the full four-day Inca Trail trek is for you, then why not think about doing the shorter one-day Inca Trail instead?

 

Altitude and Acclimatisation for the Inca Trail

No matter what your level of underlying fitness, there is no doubt at all that the key factor to successfully completing the Inca Trail is altitude acclimatisation. With the bulk of the trek lying between 3,000 and 4,000 metres above sea level, this certainly isn’t just a walk in the park. That said, if you dropped the Inca Trail closer to sea-level, it wouldn’t rate as a particularly challenging walk compared to others in the UK, for example.

Most studies show that general fitness has little to no bearing on acclimatisation speed at all, so it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re fit enough to trek the Inca Trail: you need to spend an absolute minimum of two full days acclimatising at comparable altitude before the start of the Inca Trail. Luckily, you’ll need to be in Cusco (3,300m) to start the trek in any case, and it’s hard to think of a more interesting place to spend a few days! Something like this itinerary would be fine.

Chewing coca leaves on the Inca Trail

Surprisingly tasty…

Those two days really must be seen as a minimum requirement, however – every day you spend beyond that will make things easier and easier. If you’re not 100% sure whether you’re fit enough to trek the Inca Trail, or have really never done anything like the Inca Trail before, then aim for at least four or five days: you really won’t regret it. In fact, for preference, we recommend giving yourself a really good, gradual acclimatisation schedule by spending a few days in and around Arequipa (2,300m), then heading into Colca Canyon (ranging between 2,400-4,000m) and then up to Lake Titicaca (3,800m) before you even get to Cusco. If you do this, you’ll have had over a week at altitude before you start the trek, and we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how you cope.

And if you feel you need just a bit of assistance to make it over those high passes… do as the locals do and get chewing on those coca leaves!

World Cup 2014 Mascot Controversy

June 3, 2014 at 2:50 pm
Arnie the Arlesey Armadillo vs FIFA's Fuleco

Arnie the Arlesey Armadillo vs FIFA’s Fuleco (MarcusVDT / Shutterstock.com)

 

There has always been a degree of controversy around the World Cup 2014 mascot, but the world’s most famous footballing armadillo seems to be the target of some more headlines from the unlikely destination of the Home Counties… Our Bedfordshire consultant, Joe Morris, tells us more:

Arlesey Town FC, you know the ones, the prolific winners of the 1996 FA Vase. No? I’m shocked! Well, I suppose I’d better give you the low down: Arlesey is a small town in Bedfordshire, the kind of town that no-one’s ever heard of and where nothing interesting ever happens. The town, famous for nothing more than a piece of fishing tackle (cf: the Arlesey Bomb), isn’t the type of place you’d imagine FIFA would look to for artistic inspiration…until now!

In what looks to be one of the strangest events in World Cup mascot history, it appears that Arlesey Town FC’s long standing mascot, Arnie the Armadillo, has acted as muse for the big wigs over at FIFA! Fuleco the World Cup 2014 Mascot and Arnie share a remarkable number of similarities. Perhaps it’s a case of shared lineage that may result in a Jeremy Kyle-esque sibling reunion, perhaps not.

People have argued that an armadillo seemed like a strange choice of mascot for the World Cup 2014, as it doesn’t exactly scream Brazil, but on the other hand it doesn’t scream Arlesey either. Perhaps it’s the crunchy outside and the soft inside that drew both Arlesey Town FC and FIFA to this (admittedly cute) armoured rat. It’s most likely a complete coincidence, or more accurately a whole series of complete coincidences, as even small details from Arnie seem to have made their way over to Fuleco…

They both have the blue, football-tesselated canopy (an armadillo’s is actually brown); the green eyes (again, actually brown); the long, thin ears (an armadillo’s are really pretty round)… Of course, we’re not saying that one of the Brazilian designers worked in London for a while, and perhaps lived in Bedfordshire. Or perhaps played part-time in a non-league side against Arlesey Town in the Southern League? Oh no. This is most likely a case that won’t ever be solved, but have a look at the pictures and decide for yourselves…

Is Caral the new Machu Picchu?

April 14, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Map of Caral, Peru

Move over, Mexico – we’ve got pyramids galore…



You might not have heard of Caral – the prehistoric site a few hours north of Lima – but many people are talking about it being a “new Machu Picchu”, so is it? Well, in a word, no. It doesn’t have the Inca Trail, it doesn’t have the jaw-dropping mountain views, and there isn’t a handy railway line to it. But historically speaking, it’s far more important and the huge adobe structures located in the Supe valley are just as imposing and enigmatic. We take a quick look at why you should make time for a trip to Caral on your holiday in Peru…

The Oldest City in the Americas
Firstly, there’s the simple fact that Caral is (at least so far) the oldest known city in the Americas. In fact, the most recent accepted date for the first buildings on site makes it at least 5000 years old, so roughly contemporary with Stonehenge. And much as we love Stonehenge, Caral is quite a bit more sophisticated than that. We’re talking about really quite complex architecture, including no fewer than six large pyramids, and a site which was occupied for over 1000 years. Caral’s title as the oldest city in the Americas has come under attack in recent years, as some earlier remains have been found elsewhere in the Supe valley, but on the basis that these possible earlier sites in any case seem much smaller, we can’t see Caral dropping the claim any time soon.

Pyramids and Temples
Archaeologists have divided the site into new sections named Upper Caral (Caral Alto) and Lower Caral (Caral Bajo). The latter is the southern side of the site and seems to have comprised mainly lower-status residential buildings and also the large ‘Amphitheatre’ temple which dominates this half of the site. In truth, there is still quite a debate over the exact use of this structure – whether religious or secular – but its location away from the other major ceremonial sites has recently led to speculation that it served a public assembly-type purpose rather than being a temple. However, one indication that the ‘Amphitheatre’ may actually have been… a theatre… is that deposits of 32 flutes and 38 cornets have been found in this complex – all beautifully and delicately made from a mixture of condor, pelican, deer and llama bones.

Pyramids in Caral

Great Pyramids at Caral

In the northern section of the site (Caral Alto), you find the largest buildings in the city: six large adobe pyramids, two round sunken plazas, and several large residential buildings which show clear signs of elite occupation. The exact functions of the pyramids also remain elusive, but the series of stepped platforms are highly reminiscent of later pyramids built in Peru, and it seems overwhelmingly likely that their function was religious in nature, rather than them being palaces or fortresses of any kind. Along with all but one of the pyramids, the large residential complexes in the northern sector all face either the main plaza (Hatunpata) or the smaller Plazuela de la Huanca, which had a large (2.3m) monolith at its centre. Since these monoliths are known to have been used for astronomical purposes, and because an observatory site containing geoglyphs and sunken observation stations has been found a little way to the south-east of the plaza, it has been suggested that the pyramids to the east of this plazuela were used primarily by astronomer-priests.

Getting to Caral, Lima
With carvings and murals showing evidence of trade links as far away as the Amazon basin (there are clear depictions of monkeys, among other species) and no evidence at all of warfare, many believe that Caral was a society based on trade and culture rather than on a warrior culture.

Getting to Caral
Perhaps the best news about Caral is that you can easily visit the site in a day trip from Lima. It’s just over 170km north of the capital, and the majority of the trip is along the Pan-American Highway, so once you’re out of Lima it’s pretty quick. You’ll need private transport to do it comfortably, and a guide to be able to properly interpret the site, but your reward will be a visit to a site of genuinely global importance, and usually without a soul to get in your way. The new Machu Picchu? Well, just maybe…

 

Eating Out in Rio: Restaurant Week

March 25, 2014 at 4:26 pm
Eating out in Rio - Moqueca Caixaba

Moqueca caixaba – spicy seafood stew…

Eating out in Rio is fun at the best of times, from snacking at the botequims on the street corners to fine dining at the likes of Espirito Santo, there’s something to tickle your tastebuds wherever you look. We do have to admit, however, that once you move beyond streetside snacks or the vast buffets of the por quilo restaurants (per kilo places where you pay by the weight of your plate…) eating out in Rio (or anywhere in Brazil, for that matter) isn’t always the cheapest activity.

So that means that the annual Rio Restaurant Week is always an event to be eagerly awaited. Basically you get a selection of Rio’s top restaurants (ok, and a few average ones as well) offering special set menus at fixed prices for the duration of the festival. Lunches are priced at R$39.90 (that’s around £10.50) and Dinners at R$49.90 (about £13) – that’s very good indeed for a three-course meal at these establishments, and pretty good full-stop for eating out in Rio. OK, so you’re not going to get a full a la carte menu at these prices, but so long as you’re not a picky eater you’re pretty much guaranteed some great food at prices that aren’t to be sniffed at…

For example, just look at this menu from La Cigale: starter of either beetroot carpaccio with a coriander vinaigrette, or crab with a lemon and pepper jus; main course of either beer-basted flank steak with a cheese risotto or a spicy seafood stew with cashew rice; then desert of coconut candies with sugared orange peel to seal the deal… That kind of meal would usually set you back easily twice that at a place like La Cigale, so if you’re eating out in Rio this week you can consider yourself a happy camper!

The full list of restaurants is as follows:

Zona Sul (Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon)
00
Arab
Armazém Devassa
Barracuda
Barzin
Brigite´s
Café do Alto
Casa da Suiça
D.R.I
Don Camillo
Escobar
Charleston Bubble
Espírito Santa
Gabiano Al Mare
Garden
Gueisha Hi-tech
Grand Cru
Gutessen
Ix Bristro
Ki
La Cigale
La Forneria
La Finestra
Manekineko Humaitá
Manekineko Ipanema
Manekineko Leblon
Margutta
Felice
Nan Thai
Nik Sushi
Nomangue
O Árabe da Gávea
Opium
Prado
Quadrifoglio
Real Astoria
Restô
Restaurante Q
Marinado
Mekong
Uno
Risata
Salitre
SkyLab
Sobrenatural
Terzetto Café
Prima Bruschetteria
Santa Satisfação
Yalla Bistrô
Zozô
Fennel
Mira!

 

Centro

Bistrô Ouvidor
Brasserie Ameno
Cais do Oriente
Cristóvão Bistrô
Filet e Folhas Up
Kimochii Sushi Lounge
Manekineko
Mangue Seco
Rancho Inn
Rio Scenarium
Santo Scenarium

 

Barra da Tijuca

Enotria por Joaquim Koeter
Sawasdee Bistrô
Hollandaise
Johnnie Pepper
Le Vin
Manekineko
Mensateria
Padano
Pe´ahi
Piccola Itália
Quadrifoglio Caffè – Barra
Salitre
Tizziano
Uva & Vinho
Zuka

You can find more details at www.restaurantweek.com.br (though sadly not in English) or you can just ask us, of course! If there’s one thing we’re always happy to talk about, it’s restaurants… You have until the 30th of March to enjoy eating out in Rio at bargain prices, so please do get ready, on your marks… and Bom Proveito!

 

History of Peruvian Food in Three (Short) Chapters

February 6, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Choclo maize - Typical Peruvian Food

Peruvian food is becoming famous all over the world, and although the undoubted talents of recent Peruvian chefs such as Gaston Acurio and Virgilio Martinez have a lot to do with that, they would be the first to agree that their success is just another chapter in a long and proud gastronomic history. In fact, just as much as for the French or the Italians, for Peruvians food is seen as an expression of their culture no less than art or literature.

The History of Peruvian Food

Much of Peruvian cuisine today relies on techniques and ingredients that go all the way back to prehistory, with staples such as maize and potatoes having been cultivated for thousands of years. And although today’s chefs take these ingredients and traditions and do thoroughly modern things with them, the traditional dishes themselves have definitely stood the test of time.

Our first written source on the Incas, the Spanish-Peruvian Garcilaso de la Vega, talks about the abundance of natural produce available to all sectors of society, and handily gives examples of many of the dishes that the Incas ate. For breakfast, toasted maize was a staple, although it was also often made into tortilla-like flatbreads or mashed and steamed as humitas – these little parcels wrapped up in maize leaves are better-known in the US and Europe as tamales but they are served all over South America and are still a tasty breakfast staple in Peru today.

Pachamanca traditional Peruvian cuisine

Peruvian Cooking – Pachamanca Style

The Incas also cultivated literally thousands of varieties of potatoes – and if you like your spuds you’ll be overwhelmed by a visit to any Peruvian market today – which they cooked in soups and stews along with yams, squashes and beans, and on special occasions with meat. For the bottom sections of society this was often the dried guinea-pig meat known as charqui (which is where we get the word ‘jerky’ from) but more well-off people also enjoyed deer, duck, alpaca and llama meat. Meat was traditionally cooked as a pachamanca, where hot rocks are put in a hollow in the ground, the meat is seasoned, placed on top of the hot rocks, and then covered with grasses and maize-leaves, slow-roasting the meat to perfection. River fish in the Andes such as trout and kingfish, as well as seafood on the coast were also all very popular, just as they are in Peru today.

As today, avocado featured prominently in many dishes, often accompanying potatoes like in a modern Causa Limeña, while papayas, plums, plantains and pineapple were all staples of everyday life. The Maras salt pans in the Sacred Valley provided salt for seasoning and for preserving, but the most important seasoning of all was what Peruvians today call aji, but the Incas knew as uchu. To us, because of the country they were mainly shipped from, it’s known as a chilli.

Peruvian Food After the Spanish Conquest

The arrival of the Spanish marked a new chapter in the history of Peruvian food, and started the long process of mestizaje, or mixing, that is such a feature of modern Peruvian cuisine. Cows, rabbits and – perhaps most importantly – chickens all appeared for the first time on Peruvian dinner tables. The Spanish also planted vines and olive trees, and started to grow other vegetables which are now considered to be Peruvian specialities such as asparagus, limes and oranges.

From this mixing of ingredients and traditions what is known as criollo cuisine evolved. Today many of the classic Peruvian recipes such as sancochado and aji de gallina come from this tradition – the food is usually rich and substantial, and you can expect to see plenty of herbs and spices used, especially the omnipresent aji. The Spanish also planted Peru’s first sugar cane in the area to the south of Lima, around Pisco and Chincha. If you’ve ever tried a Peruvian dessert today you’ll know that an incredibly sweet tooth is required. Our recipes page has a delicious arroz con leche recipe but by Peruvian standards it’s practically a savoury…

Lomo Saltado

Lomo Saltado – A Peruvian Classic

In the 19th-century large-scale Chinese immigration added another layer of complexity to Peruvian cuisine. Not only is traditional Chinese food hugely popular in Peru (there are literally thousands of chifas – Chinese restaurants) but these ingredients and techniques also found their way into kitchens all over the country, most notably in stir-fried dishes like lomo saltado, which is a total mixture of Chinese and Criollo cuisines.

However, the history of Peruvian food informs all its modern incarnations and at root (no pun intended), Peruvian cuisine still relies to a large extent on the traditions, ingredients and philosophy that fed the Incas all those years ago. Much as we think modern Peruvian food is some of the best on the planet, for an absolute gluttonous feast… give us a good old-fashioned pachamanca any time…

Galapagos Flight Schedule Changes

January 22, 2014 at 12:46 pm
Aerogal announce changes to Galapagos Flight Schedule

Kicker Rock, just off San Cristobal

Aerogal, one of Ecuador’s main airlines and leading provider of flights to the Galapagos Islands, has announced some small changes to their Galapagos Flight Schedule for 2014 so we thought we’d better share them with you, as it’s quite difficult to find the exact information on the Aerogal website. There are no huge changes, and the operators of the various cruises to the Galapagos Islands will be changing their own operations to suit, so if you’ve already booked a cruise there’s no need to panic – they won’t be casting off without you!

To be honest, compared to the wholesale slash-and-burn schedule changes we’ve seen from some other South American airlines this year (cough…TAM…cough), this has been very painless. Anyway, here is the full schedule as we now have it. Please be aware that all these flights will touch down in Guayaquil to pick up/drop-off passengers roughly half-way through the flight – we haven’t given the times here but if you are joining the flight in Guayaquil then just get in touch and we’ll give you the full times for those as well.

Buen viaje!

Standard Aerogal Schedule from Sunday-Friday
Quito 07:30 Baltra 10:00 2K32
Baltra 10:45 Quito 15:10 2K33

Additional flights on Thursdays and Fridays
Quito 09:40 Baltra 12:20 2K938
Baltra 13:00 Quito 16:05 2K939

Saturday Only
Quito 06:40 Baltra 09:20 2K38
Quito 07:20 Baltra 09:45 2K932
Quito 09:40 Baltra 12:20 2K34
Baltra 10:00 Quito 14:40 2K39
Baltra 10:30 Quito 15:00 2K933
Baltra 13:00 Quito 17:25 2K35

Aerogal aren’t the only airline flying from Ecuador to the Galapagos, so these flights are supplemented with a separate Galapagos flight schedule from TAME and another from LanEcuador. The latter are in our bad books at the moment, however, for some highly misleading advertising which has had lots of people calling to us to ask about “these direct flights from Lima to the Galapagos” and us spending a lot of time trying to persuade people that there’s no such thing and that you still have to spend a night in Guayaquil, it’s just that it’s technically a through ticket. Not clever, guys…

Climbing in Chile’s Andes Mountains

January 20, 2014 at 4:45 pm
Climbing in Chile's Licancabur volcano

Licancabur volcano and Laguna Verde

Although South America’s tallest mountain, Aconcagua, is just over the border in Argentina, Chile has a greater concentration of 6000m-plus mountains than any other country in South America and is increasingly popular as a climbing location. The highest mountains are mainly clustered in the northern Altiplano area, but some of the most beautiful and accessible mountains are further south in Patagonia, which is undoubtedly one of the best places for climbing in the whole of South America.

 

Chilean Altiplano

The high altitude plateau of northern Chile is known as the altiplano, and spreads into neighbouring Bolivia. This arid landscape of salt lakes and dusty steppes is about as close as you can come to being on Mars without leaving planet Earth! The area has hundreds of volcanoes, including some of Chile’s highest mountains:

  • Ojos del Salado Volcano     6950m
  • Llullaillaco Volcano              6700m
  • Parinacota Volcano              6300m
  • Pomerape Volcano              6100m
  • Licancabur Volcano             5900m
  • Ollague Volcano                   5870m

 

Many of these volcanoes present a challenge even for experienced climbers. For example, on Ojos del Salado, temperatures will frequently drop to -20C, even in summer, while wind speeds can get up to 100mph on the exposed upper slopes. Even at lower altitudes such as on Licanbur, the temperatures will be extremely cold, although that didn’t stop the Incas from not only reaching the summit, but building a small temple there! If you make it to the summit, you can still see the ruins today.

Cajon del Maipo

Cajon del Maipo in Chile’s Central Andes

Central Andes

The area roughly bounded between La Serena in the north and Talca in the south is commonly known as the Central Andes, and offers some of the best technical climbing in Chile. As well as the nature of the climbs themselves, the Central Andes are a perfect climbing location because the weather is usually very stable and the are enjoys a long climbing season.  

  • Tupungato Volcano              6600m
  • Marmolejo Volcano             6100m
  • San Jose Volcano                  5800m
  • Maipo Volcano                     5500m
  • Cerro Plomo                         5300m
  • Cerro Altar                            5250m
  • Cerro Morado                      4900m
  • Tronador Volcano                3490m

The Cajon del Maipo area (home to Vn. Marmolejo and Cerro Morado among others) is just a couple of hours’ drive south-east from Santiago, and is possibly the most popular area for climbing in Chile. As well as easy access from the capital, it offers everything from sport climbing to ice climbs, and high-altitude mountaineering to white-water rafting.

 

Trekking in Torres del Paine

Trekking in Torres del Paine

Patagonia

Further south in Patagonia, the absolute altitudes are much lower, but as well as offering some of South America’s best trekking, the area offers some of the most demanding climbing in Chile – in fact many of the mountains on the eastern side of the Andes remain un-summitted.

  • Cerro San Valentin               3970m
  • Cerro San Lorenzo               3750m
  • Cerro FitzRoy                        3300m
  • Cerro Torre                           3100m

As well as these major peaks, climbing is also popular in Torres del Paine, where you can climb the three ‘Torres’ themselves, as well as subsidiary peaks such as Valle Frances. These are technical climbs and so shouldn’t be attempted by amateurs, even if properly equipped. It’s also worth noting that access to several of these peaks is actually easier through neighbouring Argentina – luckily crossing the border is quick and simple so that needn’t hold you back.