Choosing Between Torres del Paine, Fitz Roy Area or Tierra del Fuego

We are often asked: “If you had to choose between trekking in Torres del Paine, the Fitz Roy Area or Tierra del Fuego, which would you choose?”

Our Patagonia expert, Gretchen, gives a quick rundown here:

“It ultimately comes down to what you want/like/are looking for in your adventure. The big wow factors of each area, in my opinion, are:

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine: You can complete a full trek or do many optional treks throughout the park. There is far more wildlife in this area to see (pumas, guanaco, rheas, condors, etc). The lodges here are all very imaginative and unique places to stay.

Laguna Los Tres

Laguna Los Tres, El Chalten

El Chalten (Fitz Roy Area): You can do private or group treks. If you prefer being in a small mountain town instead of in the middle of a national park, it is great because during the day you can take off on any number of the various trails departing right from “downtown” El Chalten and, at night, you can go out to the quaint restaurants and bars in town.

Tierra del Fuego

Tierra del Fuego Trekking

Tierra del Fuego Trekking/Camping: This is REMOTE. You almost never see other people and you are at “the end of the world”.

Want to plan your next adventure to Torres del Paine, Fitz Roy or Tierra del Fuego? Contact us!

Your friendly Patagonia expert,

Gretchen

Posted in Argentina, Chile, Family Travel, Patagonia, South America, Travel Advice, Trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Argentina Reciprocity No Longer Required for Australian Citizens

argentina and australia

Great news for Australian travelers visiting Argentina!

As of the beginning of July, the Argentine government has suspended the reciprocity fee it previously charged Australian travelers entering the country:

“Interested parties are hereby advised that Argentina has decided to suspend, as of 1 July of this year, the requirement for payment of a fee to enter the country for tourism or business purposes (as provided for under Decree No. 1654/08 and DNM Provision No. 2761/09) in relation to Australian nationals. Check this link in Spanish for full information.

For the full text of the travel advice, please refer to: smartraveller.gov.au

Want to plan your next adventure to Argentina? Contact us!

Your friendly Argentina expert,

Gretchen

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New Machu Picchu Regulations Update

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

This is following our last update on the new Machu Picchu Regulations (published June 2nd) as additional changes have been announced.

Due to the steep growth of tourism to Machu Picchu in recent years, new visiting regulations have been established to further the conservation and preservation of the Inca citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

These changes will allow visitors access to the historic ruins in the following two shifts:
First Shift: 06:00 – 12:00
Second Shift: 12:00 – 17:30

Access & Entrance Fees:

  • For the morning shift, the maximum number of visitors will be limited to 3,267 people. For the afternoon shift, the number of visitors will be limited to 2,673.
  • Visitors will have 4 hours to complete their visit from the time they enter the citadel or before it closes at 17:30. For example: visitors entering the citadel at 10am with a morning ticket, will have until 14:00 to complete their visit. Visitors entering at 15:00 however will only have until 17:30 to complete their visit.
  • The new rules prohibit re-entrance to Machu Picchu with the same ticket. If visitors wish to spend more than four hours at Machu Picchu on the same day, two entrance tickets – one for each shift – must be purchased in advance.
  • The entrance fee per shift will be the same as it is today for full day access. However, tickets purchased for entry after 13:00 will be slightly cheaper.

Access from the Inca Trail:

  • Those who are visiting Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail will generally arrive to the site between 07:30 and 08:00 and have approximately four hours to visit the Inca citadel.
  • For those who are coming from the Inca Trail and would like to visit Machu Picchu again in the afternoon, a second entrance ticket should be purchased in advance.

Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain:

  • Please note that the entrance fees for Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain have not changed.
  • Visitors to Machu Picchu Mountain will be limited to a maximum of seven hours for their visit, including the Inca citadel.
  • Visitors to Huayna Picchu will be limited to a maximum of six hours, including the Inca citadel.

Tour Guides:

  • The maximum number of visitors per group is restricted to 20 per tour guide.
  • All visitors to Machu Picchu must be accompanied by an official guide. Guides will accompany visitors on one of three established routes/circuits, staying with them for a minimum of three hours.
  • If visitors who have purchased two entry tickets would like to re-enter the citadel without a guide for the second time on the following day, they must show their first entry ticket and indicate the name of the tour guide who accompanied them the day prior.

Routes:

  • The visit of Machu Picchu will be possible on 3 pre-defined circuits. The circuit 1 (appr. 3 hours) and circuit 2 (appr. 2.5 hours) will cover the main highlights and the slightly shorter circuit 3 (appr. 2 hours) is recommended for visitors with walking difficulties.
  • After finishing the guided tour, visitors will have the opportunity to explore Machu Picchu on their own – respecting the predefined walking trails and leaving after four hours or by the end of each shift.
  • Please rest assured that our experienced tour guides will continue to cover the highlights of the site during each visit and will manage the routes according to the visitors’ needs.
     

We understand that Machu Picchu is a favored attraction in Peru and we will always do our best to ensure our guests’ visit to the famous citadel is as enjoyable as possible.

Please be assured that we are monitoring the situation very closely and will continue to keep you updated with respect to any additional policy changes.

Your friendly Peru experts,

Gretchen and Barb

Posted in Family Travel, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Peru, South America, Sustainable Tourism, Travel Advice, Trekking | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

NEW TRIP: 13-Day Best of Northern India with Taj Mahal, Delhi, Jaipur, Ganga, Varanasi

NEW TRIP: 13-Day Best of Northern India with Taj Mahal, Delhi, Jaipur, Ganga, VaranasiWe are now offering a 13-Day Best of Northern India tour.  The lands of Northern India have been at the epicenter of the nation’s history for millennia and home to several of India’s most exciting and popular travel destinations.  

On your trip, you will sample some of this diversity as we travel from Delhi, a lively capital of seven empires and a melting pot of cultures and style where colonial Raj era met the hustle and bustle of Mughal Empire. We will visit Jaipur, with its colorful markets and legendary fort and palaces, the most romantic city of the North. The Taj Mahal needs no introduction, but it never fails to surprise even the returning visitor.  Holy River Ganga, called the Mother Ganges for millennia by the Hindus, is known throughout the world, flowing for 1,560 miles from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal.  We will cruise on this great river for three days and explore life on its banks as it makes its way to legendary Varanasi.


Day 1: Arrive in Delhi

Welcome to India! Arrive at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. On arrival, our airport representative will meet you and transfer you to your hotel.


Day 2: See the best of Delhi

Following breakfast, you will enjoy a full day of guided sightseeing in New and Old Delhi. The capital city of modern India, New Delhi, is a well laid-out main metropolitan area built by the British when they moved their capital here from Calcutta in 1911. New Delhi blends internationalism and tradition, with many interesting museums and art galleries here. We will drive past the President’s Palace and visit India Gate in the Lutyens’ Imperial City. We will visit Qutub Minar and Humayun’s Tomb that pay homage to the mighty Afghan & Mughal Empires. Later, we will head out to explore “Old Delhi” with its narrow dirt roads, its myriad people, and inexpensive and colorful bazaars that keep alive the traditional workmanship for which Delhi has always been famous. Then, driving past the Red Fort, we will trade our motor vehicles for bicycle rickshaws, which will take us into the heart of Chandini Chowk (the silver square – so named because of the silver merchants). Negotiating alleyways, which seemingly get narrower and narrower, we will end up at the Jama Masjid, the largest Muslim mosque in India.


Day 3: Travel to Jaipur, the fabled Pink City

After breakfast, you will start your approximately six-hour drive to Jaipur, taking in the countryside along the way. Jaipur is popularly known as the “Pink City.” With its rich and colorful past, resplendent with tales of valor & bravery, Jaipur is now one of the most important heritage cities in India. The city was founded in the year 1728 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber. After arriving in Jaipur, you will have the rest of the day free to wander around the famous markets of Jaipur.


Day 4: See the best of Jaipur

After breakfast, we will take you on a half-day excursion to Amber Fort. On the way, we will make a photo stop at the Palace of Winds, the Hawa Mahal. A five-storied building, with a 25-centimeter thick facade from the 18th century, the Hawa Mahal has 953 windows and niches so that ladies of the royal family could see the procession and events in the city without being visible to the people. We will then proceed to the Amber City Fort, situated 130 meters high, with the Aravalli hills around, about 11 kilometers north of Jaipur. Amber City was the ancient capital of the Kachhawaha Rajputs until 1037. You will get to enjoy an elephant ride to the top of the Palace fort.

In the afternoon, we will visit the “Pink City” of Jaipur. The City Palace occupies the center of Jaipur and now houses the Royal residence and museums with collections of textiles and costumes, armory, manuscripts, and paintings. We will also visit Jantar Mantar (1728-34), a collection of several architectural astronomy instruments, built by astrologer Jai Singh II. The instruments are built of stone with marble facing on the important planes for measuring the harmony of the heavens. Each instrument serves a particular function and each gives an accurate reading.


Day 5: Travel Jaipur to Agra

After breakfast, we will drive to Agra. On the way, we will visit Fatehpur Sikri, the beautiful and deserted medieval city built by Akbar the Great in the 16th century to serve as the capital of his vast empire. Akbar built the city to celebrate the birth of an heir, the future Emperor Jehangir. After 16 years, a water shortage caused the capital to be moved back to the Red Fort in Agra. The dryness that plagued Akbar and forced him to abandon his dream city is what has perfectly preserved this moment of Mughal history and exquisite memorial to the genius of Akbar for our generations. After Fatehpur Sikri, we will then proceed to Agra. In the late afternoon, we will drive to the other side of the river to see the setting sun on the Taj Mahal.


Day 6: Discover the magical Taj Mahal

We will view the Taj Mahal early this morning. The Taj Mahal is best experienced at sunrise when the light reflects off the marble to give it a magnificent hue. The Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan over a period of 17 years, starting in 1632, in memory of his beloved late wife Mumtaz Mahal. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the modern world and you will be enthralled with its ethereal beauty. Note: the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays.

After breakfast, we will proceed to Agra Fort. Agra Fort is another dimension to the city that attracts tourists in hordes. The Agra Fort was built by Akbar in red sandstone when he was through with the consolidation of his power. Agra Fort functioned both as a military strategic point and as the royal residence. Many of the palaces inside the fort were later added by the next generations of Mughal Emperors, like Jahangir and Shahjahan.

In the afternoon, we will visit Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb, one of the Mughal mausoleums in the city of Agra. Along with the main building, the structure consists of numerous outbuildings and gardens. The tomb, built between 1622 and 1628, represents a transition from the first phase of monumental Mughal architecture – primarily built from red sandstone with marble decorations. In the late afternoon, you are free to wander around the Sadar Bazaar.


Day 7: Travel Agra to Lucknow by train

In the morning, we will transfer you to the Agra railway station to board the train to Lucknow (AGC/LKO – Intercity Express: ETD/ETA: 05:50/11:45 hours). Lucknow, once one of the foremost cities in India, was renowned for its grand Nawabs who loved the arts and architecture and developed a refined court cuisine. For the British, Lucknow was more commonly associated with the start of the Indian Uprising in 1857. Today, Lucknow is the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh, one of the most populous states in India. Although the era of the Nawabs is long past, many of their fine monuments remain, including Bara Imambara and Chota Imambara, whose unusual design and decor should not be missed. You will also walk in and explore the old city.


Day 8: Travel Lucknow to Allahabad

After breakfast, we will drive approximately five hours to Allahabad. We will start the tour by visiting Sangam, which literally means confluence. Sangam has been named so because it is situated at the confluence of Ganges, Yamuna, and a mythical river named Saraswati. Sangam is considered to be one of the most sacred spots in the Hindu religion and is the site for Ardh-Kumbh and Kumbh Mela, pilgrimages of faith that take place every six and 12 years respectively. Pilgrims come here all year-round for the holy dip. You will also visit the Allahabad Fort that stands on the northern banks of Yamuna, near the confluence. Emperor Akbar himself commissioned this magnificently designed fort in the year 1583. This fort was considered among the best garrisons in the entire Mughal Empire, but little is left of that grandeur today. The fort has massive walls and three gateways that are flanked by high towers.


Day 9: Travel Allahabad to Mirzapur-River Camp

After breakfast, we will drive to Sailing Point on the Ganges River. You will ride on the river on small country rowboats, which are large enough to comfortably accommodate three seated persons on cushioned planks. Two rowers will guide each boat. In the evening, you will land on shore and camp by the banks of the Ganges. Overnights will be in two-person tents, with kitchen, restaurant, and toilet tents, along with a full crew.


Day 10: Travel the Ganges and see authentic Hindu life in India

You will have a full day to travel down the Ganges. During your journey, you will visit some of the most remote rural villages on the banks of this ancient holy river. This region is one of the most traditional Hindu regions in India. The fascinating caste system still holds its vice-like grip here. We will visit the houses of various castes and see how they live. Yadavs, Thakurs, and Brahmins all will be identifiable depending upon which part of the village they live. You will have the opportunity to witness rituals relating to the river Ganges. Overnight again along the holy river’s banks.


Day 11: Finish the cruise, and explore the holy city of Varanasi

In the morning, you will continue your journey down the Ganges. By mid-afternoon, you will arrive at Varanasi. You will then enjoy a walking tour of the Ghats. Next, you will take a boat ride to see the Ghats from the river, including a visit of the cremation Ghat. You will also witness the evening ceremony of the Ganges River.


Day 12: Fly Varanasi to Delhi

In the early morning, you will experience the life of this ancient city. Your boat passes along some of the 100 ghats, with numerous palaces built by Hindu kings. You will witness the early morning Hindi rituals being performed. After breakfast, we will drive to Sarnath, 9 km from Varanasi, one of Buddhism’s major centers in India. Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment in Sarnath. In the afternoon, we will transfer you to the airport to board the flight to Delhi. We will meet you upon your arrival at the airport and we will transfer you to the hotel near the airport.


Day 13: Depart

At the right time, we will transfer you to the airport to board your flight to your onward destination. We can help with a Goa extension for any travelers interested in some beach time.

We hope you will join us on this classic Northern India tour of amazing cultural sites and ancient histories, including visiting Delhi, Jaipur, the Taj Mahal, the Ganges River, and Varanasi.

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Truly Sustainable Adventures in South America

This weekend we would like to highlight our some of our best sustainable tourism adventure options in South America!

Hiking and Camping in Argentina

Hiking is a growing trend for independent travellers in search of a personal challenge and a closer contact with nature. It also implies a conscious decision on behalf of the hiker to adopt a simpler, less cluttered approach while spending time outdoors. Hiking experiences prove that we don’t need that much stuff to be happy and satisfied. Check out these low-impact hikes in Argentina:

Tierra del Fuego

Tierra del Fuego Trekking

Colombia Multisport Adventure

Follow the famous legend of El Dorado, while experiencing the best of Colombia in superb active style. Discover the multiple facets of a country filled with nature, adventure and the passion of its people in an absolute environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. A complete active experience that explores the rich Andean highlands, perfectly preserved colonial cities, cloud forests, pristine Caribbean beaches, rich rainforest and a 5th century lost stone city.

Colombia

Colombia Multisport Adventure

Brazil Sustainable Trekking

Where there used to be coffee, diamonds and agriculture, today stands Chapada Diamantina National Park where several small communities live. Today these local inhabitants live off of tourism, hosting hikers from many countries. It is a win-win situation where the families have a better income, improving their lives and the hikers have a better overnight and deeper, more meaningful, cultural experience. Check out our Chapada Diamantina trekking adventure:

Brazil

Trekking in Chapada Diamantina

Patagonia: EcoCamp Flexible Safari

Explore the wonders of Torres del Paine National Park, experiencing its stunning scenery and diverse flora and fauna, all with the knowledge that you are giving back to the environment by staying at EcoCamp Patagonia, the first fully sustainable, geodesic dome hotel in the world. Go on day hikes, boat rides, cycling, nature walks, and much more, with evenings spent in EcoCamp’s eco-friendly domes, enjoying local food and drink, and partaking of an authentic, sustainable Patagonia experience. Check out all of our adventure options including EcoCamp:

Torres del Paine

EcoCamp in Torres del Paine

Community-based Tourism in the Brazilian Amazon

Have you ever imagined savoring the delights of Amazonian cuisine? On this journey we will explore the profound secrets and tantalizing spices of this unique region that has yet to be discovered by the world. Belém and Cotijuba Island await you for an immersion into the multisensorial universe of the Amazon, where we will not only taste the abundance of its gastronomic diversity, but also take part in numerous hands-on experiences together with the people of the local community!

Cotijuba

Cotijuba Island Community Guesthouse Beach

Want to plan your next sustainable adventure to South America? Contact us!

Your friendly South America expert,

Gretchen

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Treasures of the Amazon: The Women of Cotijuba Island

Our journey deeper into the Amazon continues; the next four days we spend on Cotijuba Island with our hosts from MMIB (Movimento de Mulheres das Ilhas de Belem, Belem Islands Women’s Movement).

Cotijuba

Cotijuba Island Beach next to our Guesthouse

From Belem, we head north to Porto Icoaraci, a district known as the Mango tree city, where we catch our boat to the island of Cotijuba (boat travel time approx. 1h20m). The port is busy with vendors hauling fish and acai berries here and there, inquisitive dogs eye us with heads cocked to the side, hammocks are strung out on fishing boat decks where we can see men catching a moment of rest in the already hot morning sun.

Cotijuba Island has 11 beaches, adding up to 20km (12 miles) in total. It is the third largest island of the Belem archipelago and the first inhabitants were the Tupinambá Indians, who also named the island. The name Cotijuba, comes from the tupi-guarani language which means golden path (coti = path and juba = yellow or golden).

Cotijuba

Cotijuba Portuguese Colonial Ruins

Upon arrival on Cotijuba, we are met by a couple of our local hosts with warm smiles. We step off our vessel and immediately encounter the ruins of an old colonial structure that the jungle has started to reclaim as its own; trees are sprouting out of the walls, the Portuguese tiles no longer have mortar between them, but rather, thick tufts of grass and vines hang from the remainder of the roofs. Cotijuba was originally home to a juvenile jail and this building was the main jail. Later, after the closing of the jail, the inhabitants of the island were taught to farm and fish and the island eventually turned into a humble fishing and agricultural community, which it continues to be today.

Cotijuba

Our Bonde, or local bus

Our hosts quickly show us around the ruins and then ask if we are ready to go to the MMIB headquarters. Our ride to the other side of the island: the local “bus”- a tractor pulling a trolley, locally called a bonde. On Cotijuba there is a strict law against cars. The transport options are: bicycle, motorcycle, donkey-drawn carriage or Bonde.

We bump along the red dirt roads through the lush jungle of the island passing, every so often, streets lined with groupings of colorful little wooden houses selling fruits, vegetables, clothes, ice, local water buffalo cheese and chopps, popsicles.

Cotijuba

Experiencing the MMIB gardens

Upon arrival at MMIB we are welcomed by a group of some of the most inspiring and strong women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Dona Antonia, the founder and current head of MMIB, greets us and gives us an overview of MMIB and its history. MMIB is in one word: multifaceted. It is an agricultural co-op between local farmers (primarily women farmers), they host workshops on gastronomy and bio-jewelry (jewelry made from natural materials), they have a store where they sell local women’s handicrafts, they have a humble technology center with four computers where locals, who do not have means to access education, can take online higher-education courses,  they hold courses in reading and writing for adults (several locals were proud to say that they graduated from this course), they have developed interpretive trails through the island’s forest to teach students (and now tourists as well) about local flora, they cultivate several local herbs that they sell to a national bio-cosmetic company, they host a weekly social hour for the island’s elderly to practice poetry, dance and have lunch together (a huge hit!) and they are now opening their doors to tourism as a way to share their traditions, culture and gastronomy; many of the women own small pousadas, guesthouses, on the beaches of the island and they host tourists here, taking turns in hosting and collectively sharing the profits.

Cotijuba

MMIB partner Ceramic Studio

Over the next four days, we live alongside these incredible women taking part in their workshops, exploring the island with them and sharing extravagant meals highlighting the island’s culinary wonders!

Cotijuba

Lunch is served!

Our final night we have a celebratory luau on the beach with all the women and their families with local music and dancing. Our group and the community are sad to have to say good-bye tomorrow but the friendships made over the past four days are already deeply rooted and we know we will all always carry our collective experiences in our hearts.

Cotijuba

Traditional Tacaca served at our final luau

Want to visit Cotijuba and MMIB on your next adventure to Brazil? Check out our Secrets and Spices of the Amazon adventure!

Read more about this adventure in our previous blogs:

Notes From The Field: Secrets and Spices of the Amazon

Treasures of the Amazon: Belem, Brazil

PART II Treasures of the Amazon: Belem, Brazil

Have questions? Want to get involved? Contact us!

Your friendly Brazil expert,

Gretchen

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PART II Treasures of the Amazon: Belem, Brazil

Continuing on from the vibrant Ver-o-peso Market, we land in Praca da Republica, home to the famous Teatro da Paz, a theater built during the rubber boom. Upon arrival, we see that the Praca has erupted into a rhythmic, colorful sensorial feast!

bleem

Celebrating Festas Juninas in Praca da Republica Belem

Throughout the month of June in Brazil the entire country celebrates Festas Juninas, or June Festivals, a mixture of pagan and catholic ceremonies commemorating several saints and the southern-hemisphere harvest time. At 11AM in Praca da Republica, the whole city it seemed, was already taking part in several Festa Junina activities. A local drum and brass band were already triumphantly setting the beat for a group of brightly dressed dancers all wearing traditional straw hats with rainbow streamers trailing off the brims. Street vendors had set up numerous tents selling ice cold beers, freshly squeezed juices, grilled meats, fried pastries and more. The crowd stomped, twirled and swayed and we were immediately brought into the jubilant fold of the festive Paranenses, Para state locals.

Belem

Lunch at Iacitata Restaurant

Working up an appetite dancing in the Praca, we head to lunch at Iacitata Restaurant, a restaurant run by our guide, Lorena and her husband. The food served at Iacitata is 100% local and organic and the dishes highlight the most famous traditional delights from all over the state of Para. Set up in the second floor of Lorena’s home, a colonial building off of Praca Frei Caetano Brandao, we eagerly order numerous cold, fresh juices of Tapereba, Cupuacu and Acai while we take in the views and welcomed breeze passing through the windows. Our meals arrive and we are served an epic spread of filhote and dorado fish, rice seasoned with jambu (a local herb that numbs your mouth), faraofa, shrimp and more. Desert is a chilled passionfruit custard.

Belem

Our Lady of Nazareth Cathedral Belem

Belem

Botanical Gardens Belem

Practically rolling ourselves out of Iacitata, we make a quick stop at the Our Lady of Nazareth cathedral, the entrance gate gayly covered in brightly colored prayer ribbons, and we continue on to the botanical gardens of Belem. Here, we weave our way between massive trees, tranquil ponds filled with 3-foot-wide lily pads and bromeliads wet with dew. The Amazonian skies start to darken as we finish our loop through the gardens and thunder can be heard in the distance.

Belem

Amazon Beer Belem

Belem

Sunset at As Docas, Belem

The threatening storm, however, thankfully decides to retreat and we find ourselves greeted by a stunning, majestic, pink and orange sunset over the Guajara Bay as we eat dinner at As Docas. A hip refurbished industrial area of Belem, As Docas, or The Docks, sits on the waterfront of the city and has become the place for a wide variety of local gastronomic delights including Amazonian gourmet restaurants, The Amazon Beer Company (a local microbrewery that infuses Amazonian fruits into their brews), and the famous Cairu Ice Cream Shop that boasts over 50 flavors of mouthwatering gelato all with local flavors.

We end our day falling asleep excited about our adventure tomorrow to the island of Cotijuba!

Want to add Belem to your next Brazil adventure? Contact us!

Check out this full itinerary here!

Check out more of our Brazil Adventures here!

Your friendly Brazil Expert,

Gretchen

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Treasures of the Amazon: Belem, Brazil

Belem entrances you. Far in the north of Brazil, at the mouth of the Amazon river, is the state of Para. Belem, it’s capitol, was a strong hold for the Portuguese that rapidly grew during the rubber boom and has been a trading crossroads for centuries. 

Though the city has nearly 2 million people, this dense urban center has the Amazon jungle as its backdoor, always subtlety threatening to swallow the city without second thought. 

Belem

Belem, Para, Brazil

The people of Belem, are of a diverse background with roots from Portuguese settlers, African slaves (several, Quilombos, escaped African slave communities, thrived in the Para state), Japanese immigrants from World War Two, Amazonian indigenous communities and Indonesians. This potpourri of cultures and traditions created the base for an exciting and exquisite gastronomical scene that has only recently been discovered (and globally praised) on an international level. 

Belem

Acai arriving at the Ver-o-peso market

In the dense humidity of the morning’s fourth hour, madness is brewing on the banks of Bahia do Guajará. Boats of all sizes come pull up to Belem’s most famous market: Ver-o-peso. Literally “check the weight” market, the name comes from the colonial era when it was necessary to measure the weight of all produce for tax purposes. Here, in the dark morning hours is the market’s busiest time. Fishermen shout as they lug what appear to be enormous prehistoric monsters off their humble wooden crafts to the ice-covered tables awaiting the goods. Massive fish such as tambaqui, dorado and the king of all, pirarucu, with scales the size of a baby’s fist, line the market stalls. Meanwhile, large wicker baskets are being unveiled filled with the mystical super fruit: açaí. Actually a berry, açaí is one of the regions staple foods. Traditionally eaten in Para with fish and farinha (a cassava-based flour used as an essential condiment with almost every dish), açaí is a deep violet color with an earthy flavor. 

Belem

Tambaqui fish for sale at Ver-o-peso market

Belem

Passion fruit for sale

As the sun rises, we arrive at the market. The dense air is laced with the notes of earth, citrus, bromelias, spices and fish. We weave our way through the tented stalls. The fishermen, who arrived in the wee hours of the morning, are now perched on short plastic stools at a number of simple food stalls eating fried fish with heaping sides of açaí. We pass what seems like endless rows of alien fruits and vegetables trying everything from the custardy cupuacu, to chirimoya, Brazil Nuts and the more exotic local green, jambu. Jambu, added to a wide variety of local dishes, almost instantly leaves the consumers mouth tingling and numb. 

Belem

Acai for sale with fried fish

Belem

Peppers for sale

We work our way through the meat stalls and the fish market, the pastel-colored colonial buildings surrounding the market, becoming increasingly more vibrant as the sun climbs higher. We finally find ourselves at the herb stalls. Here numerous short older women with bright dresses and sly smiles wave petit glass bottles filled with tinctures and potions in our faces promising to be able to deliver us fortune, love, beauty and more, all for a low price, of course! 

Belem

Love potions for sale

Belem

Group photo at the meat market

Keep following our blog to hear more about Belem and the adventures to come on the surrounding islands! 

Want to add Belem to your next Brazil adventure? Contact us!

Check out this full itinerary here!

Check out more of our Brazil Adventures here!

Your friendly Brazil expert,

Gretchen 

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Notes From The Field: Secrets and Spices of the Amazon

This week, our South America Program Director, Gretchen, is taking off on our newest adventure to the Brazilian Amazon: Secrets and Spices of the Amazon! On this gastronomic, island-hoping and community-based journey we explore the world of culinary delights that lies at the mouth of the mighty Amazon River!

Belem

Belem Port

The journey begins in Belem, the capital of Pará. Belem is an experience that you can easily summarize with one word: multisensory. All your senses will be deeply stimulated in this intense city. The beauty of the surrounding waters, the scent of exotic fruit and sizzling dishes coupled with the melodies of live music will entice you as you walk down the historic, cobble-stoned streets lined with mango trees. To visit Belem is to enter a historic stronghold that has been home to Amazonian society through the centuries.

Belem

Market in Belem

Travel enthusiast and chef, Anthony Bourdain, even came to Belem because of its culinary wonders:

“The mighty Amazon is called the last great undiscovered culinary frontier by Chef Ferran Adria.

In the Northern Brazilian state of Para, Anthony Bourdain went to Belem, the capital at the mouth of the Amazon river, to begin his journey. It is there at the Ver-o-Peso market, an “El Dorado” of culinary gold, that he met up with Felipe, a local food enthusiast, and chef Oliviera de Ofir, an expert on indigenous Amazonian cuisine. After sampling many new fruits (including jambu, a flower Tony likens to cocaine for its numbing effects), Tony was led to the fish market, where he was introduced to the massive filhote catfish. He convinced the fishmonger to slice a sashimi-thin piece from the belly and eats it raw, something unheard of in Brazil.

Belem

Famous Acai in Belem Market

Later, taking shelter from the onslaught of rain, Tony settled in at the home of Chef Ofir, who had prepared a spread of indigenous Amazonian food. At the heart of the meal was tucupi, a delicious yellow broth made from cassava. The Chef prepared arube, a complex seafood stew cooked in a clay pot, along with filhote cooked in banana leaves, served with toasted cassava and pickled cherry peppers, freshwater crabs and an aphrodisiac fish stew.” (Read more about Anthony Bourdain’s trip to Belem here.)

Belem

Fish in Belem Market

Belem is easily accessible by land, air and rivers, being one of the main entrance points to the northern region of Brazil. It is a unique city that unites civilization and the mysteries of the forest. The city is surrounded by over 40 different islands, most of which are wild and uninhabitable but many others are easily accessible from the city.

Belem

Cotijuba Beaches

From Belem, we depart from Porto Icoaraci, which is a district known as the Mango tree city, to the island of Cotijuba-1 hour and 20 minutes away by boat. Cotijuba has 11 beaches, adding up to 20km (12 miles) in total. It is the third largest island of the Belem archipelago and the first inhabitants were the Tupinambá Indians, who also named the island. The name Cotijuba, comes from the tupi-guarani language which means golden path (coti = path and juba = yellow or golden).

Belem

Local Host Community on Cotijuba Island

On Cotijuba we meet and stay with a group of women who came together to focus on the development of the Belem islands, the MMIB (the female movement of the Belem islands). Among many of the initiatives and socioeconomic development projects of the islands, such as the production of Ucuuba and Piprioca (plants) to supply to a large Brazilian bio-cosmetic company, women work on several projects including creating bio-jewelry, making paper, managing a tree nursery and now implementing tourism as an alternative income stream. Get ready for a full immersion into a strong, organized and above all, fighter community!

Follow along with the journey and learn more about this stunning region of Brazil!

Want to book your next gastronomic and community-based adventure in the Amazonian islands of Brazil? Contact us!

Check out this full itinerary here!

Check out more of our Brazil Adventures here!

Your friendly Brazil expert,

Gretchen

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Bucket List Adventures: Lencois Maranhenses

The lagoons are full, it’s the best time to visit this sensational national park!

This year, due to heavy rainfall, the lagoons of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park have been full since March and will probably maintain their water level until October. As this is a landscape of dunes and lagoons, the abundance of water will make your visit an even more enchanting experience. Enjoy swimming in turquoise lagoons, mingling with local communities and watching epic sunsets from atop the dunes!

lencois maranhenses

Swimming among the dunes in Lencois Maranhenses

Check out several different ways to experience these magnificent dunes and fresh-water lakes:

Lencois Maranhenses

Trekking through the dunes of Lencois Maranhenses

1) Trekking the dunes, lagoons and desert trails

Unlike other tours, this expedition explores the park on foot and stays overnight in its heart. The landscape of white sand dunes and crystalline water lagoons under the sunlight or the moon is really spectacular. For three days we will walk about 15km on mostly flat surfaces above the desert sand dunes. On our way we will find many lagoons of crystalline blue water where we will refresh ourselves and feel directly in the skin the natural magic of this destination. We will also have the opportunity to share with the local community to get to know them and learn from them.

Lencois Maranhenses

Exploring the best of Lencois Maranhenses

2) Hidden pools and Dunes

This time we will do the tour on a 4WD. Off the road, crossing trails of loose sand amidst the vegetation, passing by small rivers giving us the feeling of being in a car-boat, we will be able to enjoy the landscape. Besides making a historical city tour through Sao Luis de Maranhao, we will take a boat trip on the Preguiças River, visit the lighthouse and stop in Caburé, a beautiful place located on the peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Rio Preguiças, pleasant corner to rest, swim in the sea or in the river. There will be 4 days of amazing nature with activities that will show us the best of the Park. If interested, please ask us for the complete itinerary.

Lencois Maranhenses

4×4 Adventure through Lencois Maranhenses

3) Driving the inspirational Emotion Trail

This route crosses some of the best landscapes of the Brazilian northeast. The area, which is still little known by tourists, has a spectacular beauty and at the same time an amazing tranquility. We will visit São Luis de Maranhão, with its colonial buildings and façades covered with Portuguese tiles. Then we will enter the National Park of the Lençóis Maranhenses, where the landscape of dunes and lagoons with crystalline water in the light of the sun and moon is really spectacular. We will continue our route in a 4WD crossing the state of Piauí, passing through the great Parnaíba Delta, finally arriving at Jericoacoara, one of the best beaches in the country. If interested, please ask us for the complete itinerary.

Want to start planing your next epic adventure to Brazil? Contact us!

Your friendly Brazil expert,

Gretchen

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