5 of the best places to visit in 2018


In 2018, some countries will celebrate big milestones in style. Elsewhere, certain regions are opening up to visitors with an array of new tours and experiences. And, due to recent political developments, there’s a decidedly optimistic mood surrounding other countries, making them more accessible and more appealing than ever before.

The Taranaki region, New Zealand

It’s been dubbed the greatest day walk in the world, but the North Island’s crater-strewn Tongariro Alpine Crossing has a rival. The Pouakai Crossing is a vigorous yet rewarding eight-hour tramp around another venerable volcano, the dormant Mount Taranaki. He (yes, ‘he — Taranaki is sentient for the Maori) sits in haughty isolation by the Tasman Sea on the North Island’s little-trodden west coast.

Mount Taranaki

The hike may not have the sulphurous fumaroles or Martian terrain of Tongariro, but volcanic drama is still in evidence in the long-cooled layers of lava streams splurging down Taranki’s cone. Then there’s church-organ-like cliff formations, a ‘Goblin Forest’ spongy with mosses and liverworts, and tussocky wetlands rich in rare native birds. And — unlike the Tongariro Crossing — you won’t see many fellow trampers: 30 people here constitutes a crowd.

Long overlooked, the Taranaki region as a whole is opening up to foreign visitors. Stay in New Plymouth, the region’s hub town, which is an endearing mix of surf beaches, contemporary art galleries, Maori heritage museums, flower-festooned parks, and intimate, independent restaurants. Then, in the nearby Egmont National Park surrounding Mount Taranaki, you’ll find walking and cycling tracks to suit every family member’s ability.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio isn’t exactly a wallflower. This coastal megacity is, after all, the kind of place where bodybuilders flock to work out in public on the outdoor gyms lining the beaches. Minuscule bikinis are the norm on Copacabana and Ipanema. In the samba clubs of the Lapa District, you can easily spot out-of-towners: they’re the ones dancing a little less gregariously. All this fizzing confidence seems to reach fever pitch at Carnaval, the two-week-long celebration of Mardi Gras that goes under the modest alias of ‘the biggest party on the planet.’

Graffiti walking tour, Rio

But there’s a subtler, more cultural side to the city, too, and there are more options for exploring this side of Rio’s personality than ever before.

For example, it’s possible to slip behind the scenes of Rio’s carnival through guided visits to a samba school’s warehouse. Available all year round, these private tours allow you a glimpse into the work that goes into creating the fantastical floats and exuberant costumes — real passion projects for those involved. Depending on the timing of your visit, you might see sketches of potential costume ideas, or last year’s floats being stripped back down to their undercarriages — and possibly meet technicians and artists at work.

You can also take graffiti-themed tours of the city, which introduce you to its visual language. Guides are part of Rio’s street art community, and they’ll explain about the complex political nuances and interplay of meanings behind many of the murals you’ll see. Look out, for example, for depictions of angels and rats — symbols, respectively, for favela residents and the ‘ruling class.’

Bunaken Marine Park, Indonesia

Bali tends to be Indonesia’s posterchild thanks to its beachside resorts, modish bars and hillside temples — but that’s just one facet of the country. Covering an area larger than Europe, the archipelago has thousands more islands, but only a handful of visitors set foot on them each year. It’s best to explore them now, before Indonesia’s burgeoning travel industry begins to pull in larger crowds.

Bunaken Marine Park

Indonesia sits in the middle of the coral triangle, an ecoregion that stretches from Malaysia to the Solomon Islands. It’s the world’s nexus for marine biodiversity — so much so that it’s nicknamed the ‘Amazon of the Seas’ by scientists. You can snorkel and dive from most islands but for some of the best experiences, head to the Bunaken Marine Park, a cluster of five islands off the northeast coast of Sulawesi.

There are more than 50 dive sites around the islands where you can drift-dive across crevasses, canyons and overhangs festooned with coral. Giant barrel sponges dot the seabed, their wide mouths gaping upwards, and gorgonians sway in the currents like miniature trees. You might see reef sharks, barracuda or turtles, and closer to the sea floor, the kaleidoscopic peacock mantis shrimp or an otherworldly nudibranch.

There’s little choice over where to stay, but luckily at the Siladen Resort & Spa you couldn’t want for more. On Siladen Island, 22 wooden villas are dotted among tropical gardens, some built right on the beach. It’s not top-class luxury but there’s a five-star PADI school, spa and pool that leads straight onto a flaxen-sand beach. Across the water is Manado Tua, a volcanic island right on the horizon — at dusk you can watch the sun set behind its perfect cone.

Zimbabwe

With the recent changes in its political landscape, Zimbabwe is expected to become increasingly popular over the next few years. 2018 is a good time to plan a safari to the country before its parks and reserves, which have remained under-the-radar compared to many other safari destinations, get busy.

Hwange National Park

Hwange National Park — just a three-hour drive from Victoria Falls — is the largest, oldest and best-known of Zimbabwe’s wildlife areas. You can explore its wide-open grasslands on game drives in search of the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant). You may also encounter cheetah, spotted hyena, and wild dog, which all prowl the plains on the hunt for grazing herds of Burchell’s zebra and antelope.

Some of the safari companies here, such as Imvelo, also run projects supporting the local communities and conservation. These range from anti-poaching movements to digging bore holes for remote villages, building new schools, and improving health care. You can visit some of their projects to learn more about their work.

The remote Mana Pools National Park is fed by the Zambezi River. Four oxbow lakes left behind by the Zambezi hold water even in the dry season, attracting bull elephant, hippo and buffalo, as well as birdlife such as purple-banded sunbirds and racket-tailed rollers.

Walking safaris are Mana Pools’ main draw. These bring out the passion and knowledge of Zimbabwe’s guides, which are some of the most qualified and experienced in Africa. As you follow your guide though the bush, they’ll pick up on bird calls, animal tracks, and explain the subtleties of the local ecosystem.

Mauritius

On the night of 12th March, 2018, the beaches will glow with the light of a thousand barbecues, the tempo of sega beats quickening throughout the evening as Mauritians celebrate 50 years of independence. This golden anniversary has brought into focus the island’s history, which is a complex clashing of colonial powers — the island passed between the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British before gaining independence in 1968.

The Oberoi Mauritius

If you’re not there to join the celebrations in March, further events are due to be announced throughout 2018. It’s the ideal time to look away from the beaches and explore the island’s cultural legacy.

You could visit Eureka, a 19th-century Creole mansion. This time capsule for the island’s plantation history wouldn’t look out of place in America’s Deep South. Château de Labourdonnais, a grand neoclassical edifice of white pillars and polished wood, offers rum tastings and tours of its traditional distillery.

Mauritius is roughly the size of London, so you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice much beach time in order to explore — you can be back with your toes in the sand by the end of the day. Some visitors linger along the coast in one of the luxurious properties that sprawl its shoreline. The Oberoi Mauritius, for example, has an in-house astronomer, while at the Shanti Maurice you can try more than 180 types of rum in their beach shack.

Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel. Audley Travel is a tour operator offering tailor-made trips around the world.

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Top 7 sustainable travel experiences


The ethos of sustainable travel has made leaps and strides over the last couple of years. With travellers’ becoming more interested in eco-friendly experiences, the number of innovative and luxurious sustainable experiences on offer are on the rise.  From positively impacting the local community to supporting conservation projects, it’s time for travel to make a difference.

Tree dining in Sweden

Treehotel is built on a genuine experience of nature, and the hotel fully embraces sustainable and ecological values. It’s also a member of Bee + Hive, a not-for-profit association that unites hotels offering sustainable experiences, making it easier for travellers to choose activities that help protect the local environment, community or economy. The hotel is now quite literally taking their love of sustainability to new heights with their new guest experience: tree-dining. On a wooden terrace ten metres up, amidst the canopy of the forest, guests are served a three course dinner inspired by forest flavours. Poised between land and sky, with the swaying trees and magical White Nights of Swedish summer, this is a dinner in total harmony with nature.

Sustainable travel experiences

Marine learning experience in the Maldives

Luxuriating on a Maldivian beach is a holiday fantasy for most of us. But what if you could relax in paradise, and help protect the Maldives’ marine life to boot? The Four Seasons at Landaa Giraavaru’s Marine Discovery Centre aims to do just that. It enriches the guest experience through once-in-a-lifetime encounters with a variety of marine creatures; all while learning about their life and habitat, and even participating in some of the Resort’s conservation projects. Think snorkelling with a marine biologist, heading out on turtle safaris, and enhancing marine life with build-a-reef sessions. Paradise just got even better.

Loris watching in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is blessed with an abundance of wildlife. From leopards and elephants to sloths and monkeys, this island is a veritable utopia for animal lovers. Guests at Jetwing Vil Uyana’s can get up close and personal with a range of creatures at the hotel’s private nature reserve. It’s the country’s best site for Loris watching, and guests may even spot the elusive Grey Slender Loris on the hotel’s dedicated night time Loris Tour conducted by the resident naturalist. The Slender Grey Loris, one of world’s smallest primates, is found only in Sri Lanka and parts of India. This tiny creature is under threat through loss of habitat, but thanks to conservation efforts at Jetwing Vil Uyana, numbers have gradually started to climb again on the reserve.

Coffee experience on organic farm in Costa Rica

Started in 1985, Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation Resort is one family’s passion project. For over 30 years their mission has been to provide the finest hospitality services to guests, whilst also offering authentic experiences with a local flavour.  As well as a luxurious inn with 100% local staff, the resort is perfect for coffee lovers, as it has a 30 acre plantation of Arabica coffee plants. Guests can tour the plantation with on-site naturalist Manolo, and discover the amazing interdependence of coffee with other flora and fauna. Birdwatchers are also in for a treat, as the plantation’s neighbouring forest is home to over 130 species of birds.

Ride bamboo bicycles in London

When you think of sustainable experiences, the sprawling, vibrant city of London may not come to mind. Despite the urban environment, the Hilton London Bankside has cleverly teamed up with Bamboo Bicycle club to offer guests the use of six custom-built bamboo bikes to tour the city. More environmentally friendly than standard bicycles, these beautiful modes of getting around were constructed entirely from scratch by hotel staff themselves, under the careful eye of experts. Robust and easy to ride, this is definitely one way to see the city in sustainable style.

Jaguar spotting in Brazil

Another member of sustainable tourism association Bee + Hive, guests staying at Refúgio Ecológico Caiman can spend a full day and evening with the Jaguar Habituation Team to spot these amazing big cats in the wild wetlands of Brazil’s Pantanal. The conservation experience helps protect wild jaguars, getting them accustomed to safari vehicles so guests can respectfully witness these beautiful animals while ensuring their environment in the Pantanal is preserved. Refúgio Ecológico Caiman is a pioneer in ecotourism, with experienced local guides on hand to show guests the delights and wonders of this part of the world.  The refuge is involved with a plethora of environmental research and conservation projects, whilst also priding itself on offering guests excellence in hospitality and gastronomy.

Community visits in Africa

An incredible safari trip can be truly transformational; holding your breath as you spot wild lions, laughing as a tribe of monkeys frolic in trees, or gazing in awe as a majestic giraffe crosses your path. But the wildlife is not the only fabulous thing about the continent, it’s often said its people are Africa’s greatest beauty. Singita, a renowned luxury safari lodges and reserves company, is deeply committed to conservation and sustainability, supporting both wildlife conservation projects and community development. The Singita Community Development Trust helps to initiate Early Childhood Development practices in pre-schools, and guests can meet local children and learn about this vital programme, as well as witness many other areas of interest and cultural significance on the community visit.

Tom Marchant is Co-founder of Black Tomato. Black Tomato is an award-winning luxury travel agent and part of The Black Tomato Group, with partner brands including Studio Black Tomato, The Black Tomato Agency and Epic Tomato.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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7 great reasons to take the family on a Galapagos expedition cruise


Leaping dolphins, darting penguins, lumbering giant tortoises, diving boobies, graceful rays and eerie iguanas – these are just a few of the unforgettable sights you can expect to share with your children on a Galapagos family cruise.   The islands were tailor made to provide a diversity of once-in-a-lifetime moments you’ll reminisce about for years to come.   Just as Darwin was forever impressed at the remarkable volcanic landscapes and the unusually fearless animals, your children will be astonished at what they will encounter on a daily basis.

Here are some compelling reasons for taking your family to the islands:

 

1. First and foremost, for you, the parents

I am a parent too, and to be honest, though it’s important to expose my children to experiences they will never forget, my wife and I also need some time to let go and just enjoy.  A Galapagos family cruise is ideal in this regard.  The remote other-worldliness of the landscape and the cruise ship approach to visiting the islands will transport you away from any routine reference points of your life.   Your five senses will be subjected to new, exotic stimulation, culminating in a mind trip you would be hard pressed to experience anywhere else.

Also, this up front and personal, “in your face” nature of Galapagos brings out the child in everyone and can restore a sense of wonder that has perhaps atrophied under the multiple burdens of adulthood. In the Galapagos environment, it can be so easy to drop that façade of adulthood, and let the child in you emerge again – more so if you’re in the company of children…

2. For your children

While an African safari can be great fun – it is inadvisable to walk right up to the lions.  In Galapagos, children will be absolutely thrilled at the close-up interactions they will have with the animals.  For those of you with teens, no matter how jaded they may seem to be at times, chances are that you’ll watch them drop their “coolness” guard on more than one occasion, giving you a glimpse of how they were like just a few years ago (author’s note:  I know what I’m talking about here!)

If you choose to participate in a family cruise, or to charter the whole ship, naturalist guides will incorporate child-friendly activities into the daily excursions for youngsters, pre-teens and teens – ensuring they (and their parents should they be so inclined) get to shake some of their sillies out.

Building sand-castles, engaging in a bit of friendly horseplay, simply loafing about on a variety of pristine beaches, or snorkeling, kayaking, guitar in the evenings, jumping off the top deck into the sea… The next generation will have all kinds of stimulation on offer.  Their days will be packed with adventure, offering stimulation for the body, the senses and the mind.  Typically, they will be asleep by 8PM every night (and so might you).

3. Built-in child minding

If you choose to join a family dedicated cruise, or if you bring along a good group of children on your own charter, you’ll find that the kids will be keen to interact with other kids, making new friends and sharing their experiences with them.

While children usually like to have others in their age range to with whom to interact (not always being with boring adults), this has a secondary benefit of freeing you, the parent, for more quiet ponderings on the upper deck, admiring the sun set over the Pacific.

Between children enjoying themselves together, and activities organized by the naturalist guides, parents can expect to have a fair bit of time free from parental duties.

4. Share moments with adults at the same life stage

On a family cruise, you’ll be with people like yourselves – mid-career, raising children.  You’ll have plenty of opportunities to commiserate and swap stories.   You children might even make some lasting friendships.

Perhaps most importantly, there won’t be any adults striving to conceal their annoyance in having to share the ship with boisterous young ones, and nor will you be surrounded those smug retirees / empty nesters who constantly tell stories of the marvelous carefree lives they are living, traveling the world, lapping it all in (patience, just a few more years before you join them….).

5. Child friendly guides and crew

On dedicated family cruises, or if you charter a ship and request child friendly service, the naturalist guides will ensure that they gear some of their talks and interpretation towards a younger audience (and sometimes that’s just fine with the parents too!).   This will keep them engaged and ensure they get as much out of the experience as possible.   Ecuadorians are generally warm and very kind to children – and you can expect as much out of the crew.

Fun lessons on evolution and biodiversity, supervised snorkeling with sea lions, sand castles on the beach and just having unstructured fun and adventures, your children will be in experienced hands.

6. Explore local culture and history

While you are in Ecuador, you can consider a variety of extensions that will expose your children to local culture, nature and history.  A short distance from Quito, you’ll find yourself in the Amazon basin – where jungles lodges can give you a glimpse of this vast ecosystem.  Or take a 2 hour drive to the cloud forest, and marvel at the tree ferns, the giant earthworms and many species of hummingbirds.

Quito alone is a World Heritage Site – considered the prettiest capital city in Latin America, and well worth exploring.  Otherwise, there is the Otavalo indian crafts market, condor spotting in the Andes, or if you wish, a side trip to Machu Picchu and Cuzco in neighbouring Peru.

7. Child friendly pricing

Important price reductions are usually offered for children under 12.   Depending on the ship you choose, the time of year, there may be discounts of up to 25% on the ship, and up to 50% on the park entrance fee and the flight from the continent.

Marc Patry is Co-owner of Cultural & Natural Heritage (CNH) Tours. CNH Tours provides an unmatched personalized service in helping people organize a Galapagos holiday best suited to their particular interests.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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Galapagos: where to encounter giant tortoises in the wild


Sure, you can walk on down to the Charles Darwin Research Station in the town Puerto Ayora to have a look at captive tortoises in their pens (part of a breeding program) or do the same again in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal island, and one more time in Villamil on Isabela island. But nothing beats running into one (or dozens) of these giant lumbering reptiles in the wild. These huge creatures, particularly when seen in numbers, almost take you back to Jurassic times, when reptiles dominated the landscape. It’s well worth ensuring that you get a chance to commune with them while on a Galapagos adventure.

There are over 60 visitor sites in Galapagos. Most of them are accessible only by expedition cruise ship. Of the 65+ cruise ships that ply Galapagos waters, each must follow a Galapagos National Park approved set of itineraries, ranging from as short as 4 days to as long as 15 days, with the standard being an 8 day/7 night trip. But not all itineraries are the same. If you’re keen on seeing giant tortoises in the wild, you’ll need to be sure that your itinerary takes you to at least one of the following places:

Urbina Bay

On the remote western shores of Isabela island, Urbina Bay has you disembarking on an beautiful beach. The trail from the beach takes you into the arid coastal ecosystem zone of this largest island in Galapagos. Surprisingly, this flat, scrubby area contains old corals on land. Until 1954, the entire area was underwater, but a massive overnight uplift caused by volcanic pressures pushed it above sea level. During the rainy season (January – April, when you can expect 1-2 short lived downpours in any given week), the giant tortoises move down from the higher elevation volcanic slopes to Urbina Bay shorelines. This is the only uninhabited island in Galapagos where a visitor is likely to see giant tortoises in the wild.

La Galapaguera

Literally meaning “the place of the tortoises”, La Galapaguera (also known as Cerro Colorado) on the inhabited San Cristobal island can be reached after a long hike (apx. 1.5 hours) through typical Galapagos landscapes. You might run into a few wild goats on the way – the scourge of native Galapagos ecosystems, as these introduced critters devour much of the vegetation (goat eradication / control campaigns are a fixture among Galapagos National Park conservation actions). You’re sure to see many tortoises at the end of the trail.

El Chato

El Chato in the highlands of inhabited Santa Cruz island is a popular roaming ground for the Galapagos giant tortoises all year long. The site is easily accessible by vehicle, followed by a short hike making it the easiest places to see these enigmatic animals in their near natural habitat. The tortoises cross the reserve on their permanent migrations from the coast to the highlands. The ecosystem consists of mixed scalesia forest and grasslands, some privately owned and used for cattle grazing and some part of the National Park. Though you may not always feel like you’re in an untamed landscape, you can be sure that the tortoises you’ll encounter are wild and free.

There is no other place like Galapagos on Earth. Nowhere else can you have wildlife encounters where the animals barely acknowledge your presence. A trip to the islands deserves a good deal of advanced planning to make sure you get the most out of what will likely be a once in a lifetime visit.

Marc Patry is Co-owner of Cultural & Natural Heritage (CNH) Tours. CNH Tours provides an unmatched personalized service in helping people organize a Galapagos holiday best suited to their particular interests.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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Top 5 astounding places to see in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador


The rainforest is full of many views that astonish travelers every single day. It welcomes people who want to discover the treasures of this land. Located in the eastern lowlands, the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador is 300–600 meters above the sea level and lies at the foothills of the Andes mountain range. Although its climate is mostly rainy, the “dry” season starts from September to March and the temperature has a yearly average of 26ºC (80ºF). The Ecuadorian Amazon is one of the 25 most bio-diverse hot-spots in the entire world. This is why we want to show you the most astounding sights you can see when you visit it.

1. Coca

Coca is located in Orellana Province, 10 hours from Quito if you go by bus and 35 minutes by airplane, it is the starting spot to go to two of the most important reserves/parks in the Amazon and in Ecuador, such as Yasuní National Park and Limoncocha Biological Reserve. There are many restaurants and places to sleep during your travel to the Amazon and a really modern museum MACCO where you can learn more about the ancient cultures of the Amazon. Another suggested activity is to take a stroll through the “Malecón” or esplanade of the Napo River to wonder about nature or just see how the locals live.

2. Yasuni National Park and Biosphere Reserve

This park was established in 1979. It has 982,000 hectares that make it the largest mainland National Park, and it was declared an International Biosphere Reserve in the same year by UNESCO. It is mostly uninhabited, but the Huaorani community does live and work there. They even have a reserve for themselves. There are some Kichwa communities as well, among which the highlight is Añangu whose
inhabitants work in ecotourism and protect the territory and biodiversity for the joy of tourists. There are many lodges inside, so you have plenty of options to choose! Yasuní has many rivers: Yasuní, Cononaco, Curaray, Tiputini and more. Adventure is the main attraction of this park! Here you will be able to practice canoeing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. The fauna is amazing and varied: piranhas, conga ants, turtles, caimans, armadillos, anacondas, dolphins and more.

3. Parrot clay licks

An unforgettable experience full of colors and sounds, it´s a must for a real traveler, just imagine to see more than five species of parrots and macaws chirping and quivering its wings at the same time, it’s just amazing. The easiest access clay lick is inside Yasuni National Park, where you can find a comfortable cabin in the middle of the jungle where you can enjoy taking photos and videos without scaring or harming wildlife.

4. Canopy towers

Do not miss incredible views and endless rainforest landscapes from a canopy tower 120 ft. above the ground, some of them are even built next to giant kapok trees, which are the best places to spot wildlife and specially bird species, always carry your binoculars and check if your lodge provides a telescope when you visit these incredible structures.

5. Cultural centers

Be sure that your program includes any cultural exchange activity, like cooking local dishes, taking part of ancient rituals, learning more about the way of life of the native inhabitants of the amazon basin or even spend some time at a local school, this will definitely enrich your trip experience. Additionally some of the centers sell original hand-made crafts for the long list of souvenirs to take back home and of course prepare your camera because this a good opportunity to capture the most emotive moments!

Diego Escobar is Marketing Director at Napo Wildlife Center. Napo Wildlife Center is an eco-lodge offering unforgettable experiences in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, inside Yasuni Biosphere Reserve, which is managed by the Añangu kichwa aboriginal community.

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Experience an Amazon riverboat cruise


Some 30 years ago, most mortals feared the depths of the Amazon. Hollywood’s images of sweltering jungles filled with human-eating fish, bone-crushing snakes and long-lost tribes ready to spear innocent intruders had an impact.

Over these past three decades, however, such illusions have given way to a more realistic understanding. People today are seeing this rainforest region as the sanctuary of natural life that it truly is. This has occurred in part with the opening up of the Amazon’s best “roads”: its rivers.

Adventurous explorers have begun to avail themselves of these aquatic thoroughfares to discover the most bio-diverse region on the planet.

Providing this access to the Ecuadorian Amazon is an extraordinary, state-of-the-art riverboat: The Anakonda – the most comfortable, informative and exciting means of exploring the rainforest.

Discover the Amazon

In addition to all the creature comforts provided on the ship, the Anakonda provides tours that allow authentic experiences and rare glimpses into how life on the river is actually lived.

Your journey starts in the city of Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, where you will take a short 25-minute flight to the Amazonian city of Coca. From there we are transferred to a motorized canoe to travel down the majestic Napo River to reach the Anakonda riverboat – where the adventure really begins

Along this major tributary of the Amazon River, not only can you interact with members of local indigenous communities, but you can also venture out on expert-led expeditions deep into the jungle itself.

Disembarking from the ship by motorized canoe, guests go on daily land-excursions and jungle treks that have been designed to reveal the exotic wildlife that calls the rainforest home.

Here, by direct experience, you will find how the surrounding rainforest is home to 14 species of primates, 600 species of birds and more than 100 fish species. With any luck at all, guests will spot sloths, toucans and even legendary Pink river dolphins!

Activities

Some of the activities include paddling by canoe on Piranha Lake in search of White caiman and Water monkey fish (Arawana). Then too, you can explore the waterways of the flooded Pañayacu Biological Corridor with a team of four expert naturalists. Later, you can crouch down behind a bird blind to observe up to hundreds of parrots descending onto a “clay lick.”

Cultural contact

With rainforest hikes, birding walks, and nocturnal river safaris…there are definitely lots of things to do. From the cultural angle, you can learn about the everyday traditions of the indigenous Kichwa women on visits to villages at the river’s edge.

Accommodations

Accommodations on board this “floating boutique hotel” consist of 18 suites, each with an area of 215-258 square feet and offering you all the comforts of home. These include spacious air-conditioned guest rooms, private bathrooms, private balconies, 24-hour electric service and hot water, satellite-serviced Wi-Fi internet. Plus, the panoramic floor-to-ceiling cabin windows that make it seem like you’re watching a big-screen National Geographic special as the rainforest passes by.

Dining

For your eating pleasure, the cooking staff will serve you irresistible and delectable cuisine. You can choose everything from classic international dishes of world renown to adventurous Ecuadorian dishes that highlight our country’s rich and unique ingredients. By all means, we encourage such “culinary adventure,” as these menus are yet another excellent opportunity for you to explore.

Social areas

All passengers can socialize in the dining room, the bar/lounge, the observation deck, in the outdoor Jacuzzi, and in the al fresco lounge.

There’s also a small boutique where one can purchase souvenirs or perhaps any vanity product that was left at home. For more private travelers, you can enjoy your own panoramic scenery from the privacy of your cabin – just make sure you bring some good binoculars with you.

Types of travelers

The Anakonda is suited for any kind of traveler. Thinking of visiting the Amazon with your children? No problem. To accommodate families, the Anakonda offers accommodations in its four interconnected suites that feature amenities suitable for children. But what about honeymooners? Of course! But travel on board the Anakonda is by no means limited to young people. What better way for retired couples to enjoy more of life’s thrills than by experiencing an Amazon adventure? You’ll also be surrounded by other interesting travelers seeking authentic experiences.

Guests are assisted by the 25-member crew, which includes a concierge, a steward, a paramedic, four knowledgeable bilingual naturalist guides, and four local guides.

All these features make the Anakonda the perfect option for large groups as well. Consider chartering an Amazon cruise for your family reunion or a corporate event.

Like the tropical awe of the rainforest itself, your options are simply limitless!

Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator. Surtrek Tour Operator is a well-established firm, specializing in custom-designed luxury tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and throughout the rest of South America.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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Top 5 self-drive holidays – A Luxury Travel Blog : A Luxury Travel Blog


One of the best ways to get under the skin of a country is to get behind the wheel. Whether it’s a 4×4 with all the bells and whistles or a classic that’s older than you, cars are still one of the best ways to see the sights. Here are our top five self-drive trips on four wheels.

The Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia

The Cabot Trail is a 185 mile scenic loop around the coastline of Cape Breton Island, taking in some of Nova Scotia’s most spectacular sights. Running across the top of the island and almost teetering off the eastern and western coastlines, it’s best to travel in a clockwise direction (the inside lane) unless you have a head for heights! Look out for moose as you twist through the mountains, being sure to stop off at Pleasant Bay for some whale watching. With so many great hiking trails en route, break up the journey and walk about to get a taste of the great outdoors, spotting the incredible ‘fall foliage’ as it blankets the region in colour. One of the best hikes is the 9km Skyline Trail: as its name suggests you’ll feel as though you are walking in the clouds as you walk out onto the peninsular where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the ocean, forests and the winding road of the Cabot Trail.

Patagonia, Chile & Argentina

Patagonia is home to some of the most incredible landscapes on Earth: rugged terrain, rolling pampas, grinding ice fields, momentous glaciers, vast open spaces and long open roads. Being in control of your own agenda enables you to explore at your own pace. Visit Torres del Paine National Park and see the cave paintings of Laguna Amarga, or enjoy some fly fishing at Serrano River. Drive through the golden pampas and view soaring condors, foxes and guanacos ñandus (Patagonia’s version of the ostrich). Cross the border into Argentina and Los Glaciares National Park and check out the Perito Moreno Glacier, a spectacular ninety-seven square mile ice formation. If you are feeling adventurous try your hand at ice-trekking on the glacier, or take to the water to see the glacial wall up close.

The Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Considered one of the world’s greatest drives, the Great Ocean Road showcases the best of Victoria’s coastline. Whilst the Twelve Apostles – a series of huge, craggy limestone stacks rising out of the ocean – are often considered to be the main attraction, there’s far more to this drive than these impressive rocks. The coastal scenery is breathtaking – rugged cliffs, crashing waves, and untouched beaches – but somewhat contrary to the name, the drive also navigates inland through the Great Otway National Park, with its historic lighthouse, waterfalls, gorges and forests. As the popularity of this road has increased, so too has the stature of the destinations enroute. What were historically small logging and fishing communities are now thriving holiday towns and second home havens. At just 250km, it can be done as a day trip, but is far better enjoyed at a much more leisurely pace with time to stop off and take in the sights along the way.

Chianti region, Tuscany

Your first decision is whether to opt for a super cool convertible Ferrari 430 Spider, or go Italian Job in a Mini. Your second decision is whether to hit the road in spring when the flowers are in bloom, or in September, to experience the truffle hunting and grape harvest. Once decided, just sit back and enjoy la dolce vita. Cruise into the heart of the Chianti region, visiting charming hilltop towns, such as Greve and Castellina, stopping for delicious leisurely lunches of traditional treats such as schiacciata con olio – foccacia-like bread with oil and finocchionam, salami with fennel seeds. Put the roof down and sunglasses on, and get lost in a valley of chestnuts and oaks before experiencing the charm of Val d’Orcia Natural Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just to the south of Siena.

Off-road safari, Namibia

Namibia is Africa with bells on, a million facets in one country ranging from the extremes of Sossusvlei’s strangely beautiful dunes to the lush, leafy bush of Etosha National Park. And where more strikingly beautiful to really get to grips with off-road driving than its wild, unrelenting landscape? It’s the adventure capital of Africa: where else can you scale a 350m tall sand dune, go off-road driving in scenic game reserves and take a balloon flight over the desert before spotting whales on a marine safari out in the crashing Atlantic? And if the views don’t do it for you, what about sand boarding, off roading, quad biking, and of course game drives? You’ll drive through Etosha National Park and the Ongava Reserve, witnessing the awe-inspiring wildlife from a new perspective.

Claire Powell is Digital Marketing Manager at Abercrombie & Kent.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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Top 5 island escapes – A Luxury Travel Blog : A Luxury Travel Blog


Getting away from it all is harder than ever thanks to Wi-Fi, constant connectivity and more iDevices than you can shake a charger at. Still, we’ve managed to pick our top five island escapes where you can adopt a ‘no shoes, no news’ ethos from the moment you arrive.

Peter Island Resort & Spa, British Virgin Islands

Mountainous and jungle-cloaked with secluded coves and idyllic beaches, Peter Island has played host to an impressive array of visitors including explorer Christopher Columbus, Hollywood heavyweight Robert De Niro and footballer Rio Ferdinand. Reached only by boat or helicopter, the island began life as a resort in the 1960s and has always maintained a wonderfully laid-back and romantic atmosphere. With world-class diving, delicious private picnics, cooking lessons, horticultural tours and a blissful spa, there are plenty of ways to enjoy island life. We recommend heading to The Loop to watch the sunset whilst tucking into a fruit and cheese platter – delivered to you alongside your tipple of choice

Tierra Chiloé, Chile

Recently built onto a culturally rich landscape deep within the Archipelago of Chiloé, Tierra Chiloé is a warm, inviting hotel, with great attention to detail and extremely high service standards. The hotel has been built using native wood and is full of wool weavings and basketry, all of which were crafted by local artisans. The construction mimics the natural environment, becoming a part of the landscape without altering it, and evoking the culture of the islands. The hotel has a team of guides offering tailored half-day and full day outings for guests including cultural trips to UNESCO-listed Jesuit churches, boating, horse riding, biking, trekking and spectacular bird watching. Tierra Chiloé even has its own vessel named Williche for use during maritime outings on the archipelago’s channels and fjords.

Fogo Island Inn, Canada

A contemporary interpretation of a rural retreat, Fogo Island Inn is an island off an island, off the radar and seemingly on the edge of the Earth. Its dramatic location provides the ultimate departure from the everyday: the only views for miles and miles are the pounding waves, rocky outcrops and endless stretches of the swirling navy ocean as it blends into the horizon. The island itself is a collection of 11 communities, each quirky in its own unique way. One of the best ways to while away a day is gently hiking between the villages, exploring the fishing, shipbuilding and native arts industries that have thrived here since the 18th century. Take to the seas in a traditional wooden punt and uncover hidden bays and coves you’ll likely have all to yourself or try to land your own catch of the day. The inn itself, which is a social enterprise, has a host of guides who can take you on everything from intensive multi-day hikes to educational rambles. Thanks to the artistic influences here there are also various art experiences on offer, led by artists and curators.

Capella Lodge, New South Wales

Just two hours from Sydney, Lord Howe Island is one of Australia’s best kept secrets. Subtropical, untouched and brimming with rare birds, flora and fauna, the island is a collage of soaring volcanic peaks, turquoise lagoons, lush vegetation and spectacular coral reefs. A real adventure playground, activities include birdwatching, surfing, guided hikes, snorkelling and diving, to name just a few. At the southern end of the island, the nine-suite Capella Lodge provides a luxurious base with beach-house chic interiors, a relaxed vibe and top notch contemporary Pacific cuisine. After an action-packed day, book yourself in for the three hour Dreaming package at the Capella Spa – guaranteed to leave you feeling balanced and renewed.

Denis Island, Seychelles

With no televisions in the rooms and no mobile phone signal to be found, here you can truly switch off and enjoy the tranquil rhythm of island life. This private 150-hectare coral island, protected by vibrant reefs amid vivid crystalline waters, shelters 25 eco-conscious castaway cottages sitting between casuarina plants and coconut trees bordering the beach. The estate operates its own farm, rearing poultry for meat and eggs and cattle for milk. These along with fruits, vegetables and herbs, freshly caught seafood cooked on the open-grill and an excellent wine cellar, make dining here a real treat. Days on Denis can be spent sea-fishing or diving, as the professional PADI-affiliated dive centre offer courses for novice and advanced divers, playing tennis, canoeing, snorkelling or taking part in fantastic nature tours. Make sure you find time to explore the island which is home to a 100-year-old lighthouse, Toby the tortoise and a tiny chapel.

Claire Powell is Digital Marketing Manager at Abercrombie & Kent.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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5 unique adaptations in the Galapagos Islands


The Galapagos Islands are a living laboratory of evolution. The strikingly unique life found in the archipelago, both on its shores and below the surface, attracts researchers and visitors from all over the world. Tourists are able to walk the islands’ trails, and observe plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth, just as Charles Darwin did more than 150 years ago. To this day, never-before-seen species continue to shock experts with their exceptional techniques for survival in this evolutionary hotspot. Birds that have lost their ability to fly, terrestrial snakes that have started fishing, blood-thirsty finches, and the list goes on. All of these animals and their adaptations can only be found on the world-famous Galapagos Islands.

The flightless cormorant

The flightless cormorant was one of the first species that immediately attracted Charles Darwin’s attention on the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos flightless cormorant, endemic to the islands, is the largest cormorant species in the world and the only one that cannot fly; its puny wings are one-third the size required for it to fly. Darwin hypothesized that the bird had forfeited its ability to fly in favor of its ability to swim, taking advantage of the incredibly rich waters around the islands and weeding out potential competition. Researchers continue to support this hypothesis, adding that the cormorant may additionally have lost its ability to fly because it had no need to escape predators or migrate elsewhere; its ability to fly simply became redundant.

the-flightless-cormorant

The marine iguana

Charles Darwin was also struck by the salt-coated iguana he came across in the Galapagos archipelago. The marine iguana is the only ocean-faring lizard in the world, amazing Galapagos visitors with its outstanding adaptations that allow it to dive up to forty feet below the ocean surface. Among its numerous physical and behavioral adaptations, the marine iguana has a special gland connected to its nose that collects salt from the lizard’s blood stream. These agglomerations of salt are then released through its nose, which is why visitors often see them sneezing along the Galapagos shores. This iguana is also the only known animal that is able to shrink its vertebra as an adult during times of scarcity.

marine-iguana

The vampire finch

Darwin’s finches have long been known as the prime example of evolution in the Galapagos Islands, yet they continue to offer surprises to Galapagos visitors. The thirteen species of Darwin finch all evolved from a common ancestor to take advantage of the many ecological niches in the Galapagos Islands, some evolving to consume seeds and nuts, and others consuming insects. The Vampire Finch, on the other hand, has found a particularly intriguing and successful niche, feeding on the blood of other birds, particularly nazca and blue-footed boobies. Perched on the back of its chosen victim, the Vampire Finch uses its sharp and pointy beak to peck at the bird’s skin until it is able to draw blood, at which point it laps up its meal. Oddly, this does not appear to bother the other bird. Researchers suppose this is because of previous symbiotic relationships that existed between the bird species, when the finches pecked at the larger birds’ backs, grooming them of any parasites.

Fish-eating snake

Towards the end of the twentieth century, biologist Godfrey Merlin found proof that evolution continues to fight its battle in these untouched islands. The Galapagos Racer was previously known to only consume land mammals, i.e. lava lizards, rats, and hatchlings, but as Merlin stood by the ocean shore, he noticed the snake glide into the intertidal zone and rock pools, and catch unsuspecting fish. The racers on Fernandina Island appear to be the only Galapagos snakes that have picked up this intriguing practice, making it the only terrestrial snake in the world known to have discovered the joys of fishing.

fish-eating-snake

Prickly pear cactus

During your stay on the Galapagos Islands, be sure to pay particular attention to the plant life, which in some ways is even more astounding than the more well-known fauna. The Prickly Pear Cactus, like the finches, has rapidly evolved and adapted to the Galapagos Archipelago, branching into 14 distinct varieties, all endemic to the islands. One variety of this cactus in particular has grown into a smooth-trunked giant, reaching 40 feet tall. Lumbering saddleback tortoises love to feed on the cactus pads and trunks, and would easily destroy the cactus in an attempt to earn its rich food and important source of water, thus the plant has developed a hard, smooth bark, protecting it against the strong jaws of tortoises and sharp claws of land iguanas.

Adrián Peñafiel is Corporate Commercial Officer at Metropolitan Touring. Metropolitan Touring shares the wonders of South America with the world’s explorers through memorable experiences in unique cultures and natural environments.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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5 reasons to cruise the amazing Amazon on the Manatee riverboat


“All my life I’ve been running around, seeking a moment of happiness, and now I’ve found it, in the tranquility of this riverboat as it goes down a huge river like the Napo, in no rush at all.” This was written in the travel diary of a modern adventurer who traveled to the Amazon on board the Manatee Explorer riverboat in search of traces of an ancestral culture.

His trip was not so much touristic, but more of an archaeological expedition. However, the sensations, feelings and emotions awoken by this jungle journey made a profound impact on this person. Sailing on this riverboat that glided silently along the Napo River in the presence of exotic jungle wildlife transformed his life and changed his perception of many realities.

That is precisely what happens to adventurous travelers who travel to the magical and challenging Ecuadorian Amazon, especially when their guide knows and understands life deep in the jungle. Such guides can reveal the best of this challenging destination to those who journey here.

The crew of the Manatee Amazon Explorer — a small riverboat with a capacity for 30 passengers, and designed specifically to sail the Napo River — is qualified to serve as the best ally in such an Amazonian experience. In fact, both the crew of this comfortable Amazonian vessel and its bilingual naturalist guides (many of them locals) are the “jewels in the crown” of the Manatee. Undoubtedly, its staff is one of the five “highlights” in this adventure in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Here we will spotlight these highlights:

Excellent Manatee guides and crew

Experienced, well- trained, and above all passionate about their work, the Manatee guides and crew — those in Quito as well as the staff in the Amazonian city of Coca — will make all the difference in your journey through the Amazon. Who can know more about a place than someone who was born there, has lived in it, and loves the region? The Amazon guides who will accompany you on your daily rainforest excursions know the jungle like the palms of their hands. They can recognize each plant and know its use, just as they know the sound of each animal hidden in this dense tropical forest. They can tell you what’s the best time and the best place to appreciate wonderful species, and they can, of course, serve as the best intermediaries between you and remote Amazonian communities, whose members you’ll have a chance to meet.

In most reviews of this cruise, travelers highlight the friendliness and fine service delivered by the Manatee crew. The attitudes of each crew member are visible in subtle but significant details, such as in the serving of a delicious Amazonian fruit juice after each excursion, or the guides’ attention to each question posed by travelers while trekking through the rainforest or sailing down a tributary of the mighty Amazon River. You’ll find captain Juan Carlos to be very careful and organized, while Pepito is a well-disposed waiter, and Hugo a magnificent cook. “Every day we had a varied and exquisite menu,” wrote an Argentine traveler in TripAdvisor. “A very special mention should be made of our guide, Rubén, not only for his training and knowledge of the environment, but also for how he showed such sincere enthusiasm,” said another Spanish tourist. The passengers’ satisfaction with the crew of the Manatee speaks for itself.

Great excursions deep into the jungle

While it’s great that the cruise through the Amazon is comfortable and spacious, and it’s good that you’ll have an excellent crew, but no one can deny that the “main course” of a trip like this are the excursions into the jungle. The staff and management of the Manatee Amazon Explorer know this, which is why they offer travelers complete and well-thought-out itineraries that will take you into the very heart of the Amazon basin.

Sailing along the Napo River, the most important tributary of the Amazon River, this ship cuts through the jungle, stopping for you to take walks (day and night), experience exciting kayak adventure, and go swimming with dolphins and even piranhas! (yep, you read that right). Plus, you’ll experience close-up encounters with the wonderful and rich human communities that live on the banks of the Napo.

For the most part, you’ll be traveling through the Yasuni National Reserve, which is the largest protected area in continental Ecuador. This exuberant tropical forest environment is inhabited by an enormous diversity of species of plant and animal life. Here, you’ll find huge and ancient trees that seem to contain the spirit of the rainforest, as do the wide rivers into which raindrops splash to create a singular symphony. In addition, found here are large animals such as jaguars, eagles and anaconda, as well as colorful birds and small species like a pocket monkey. And be ready for the “beautiful surprises,” like sightings of Pink river dolphins or lumbering manatees that swim right up next to the boat. Then too there’s the incalculable human wealth embodied in the Waorani, Tagaeri and Taromenane ethnic groups, peoples who live in voluntary isolation in this region. These are part of the secret of the jungle.

The Manatee’s itineraries in the rainforest span from three nights to seven nights, during which times you can enter the endless green of the jungle, accompanied by bilingual naturalist guides, many of them local, who will reveal all the secrets of the Amazon jungle to you. You can even do some jungle “glamping” (glamorous luxury camping).

Comfort, first-class service, and security

The Manatee Amazon Explorer riverboat is small but comfortable, as its capacity for only 30 passengers provides it a certain intimate charm. The first boat designed specifically to make cruises on the Napo River, the ship has 14 standard cabins, each covering about 20 square meters, and four 24-square-meter luxury cabins with Jacuzzis. All cabins are equipped with air conditioning and electricity 24-hours a day. They all also have private bathrooms with hot water and large windows so you won’t miss a single detail of the Amazonian landscape. Of the ship’s four decks, on the Main Deck are located the dining room, the kitchen, the crew cabins and the engine room. The Upper Deck has 10 more cabins and a boutique, while the Superior Deck is one of the favorite places for guests to socialize. On this deck — in addition to the bridge, four cabins and the conference room — you’ll find the bar/lounge and an al fresco dining room, where delicious national, international and vegetarian meals are served. Finally, the Observation Deck is another favorite place for travelers, as this is where guests can enjoy the ship’s Jacuzzi, which is a perfect space to relax and enjoy the Amazonian landscape.

While a cruise of this nature is characterized by adventure, safety is the main priority for the crew of Manatee. This is why the cruise ship is fully equipped to navigate on the Amazonian waters and its crew has proven experience and training. In addition, tough and versatile motorized canoes are available for emergencies as well as for daily excursions. What’s more, before each disembarkation, passengers receive complete and adequate information about the destination and weather conditions.

Community contact

The Manatee will take you to visit the true owners of the rainforest. For centuries indigenous peoples have lived here and protected the jungle. They have achieved a perfect balance in which they can receive what they need without destroying their surrounding environment. However, in recent times they have had to adapt to the profound changes. Still, the Waorani, Tagaeri and Taromenane peoples are the human and cultural gems of this remote and rich region of the world.

The importance of the Manatee Amazon Explorer’s crew to these local populations is fundamental. On the ship’s excursions, visits are included that will allow travelers respectful and personal contact with these people of the jungle. They will show you what happens in their daily lives and invite you to join in with some of their activities. Would you like to learn ancestral housekeeping techniques? Or what about learning how to make cassava bread, which is a fundamental part of the Amazon diet? Get ready, because you can be part of these and other fascinating activities. The Manatee Amazon Explorer makes stops so that you can venture out on the banks of the Napo River. Here, the local school in one of the communities opens its doors so that visitors can not only learn about the educational system, but above all interact with the children. To complete this approach to Amazonian culture, another interesting visit will be the Yakukawsay Kichwa Interpretation Center, administered by the Kichwa community of Nueva Providencia, which is located northwest of the Yasuni National Park. While one of the objectives of this center is the conservation of ecosystems, it also constitutes an alternative source of income for the community. You can also take part in a fiesta, which is an important part of life in all Amazonian communities. In this way, you can appreciate their songs, their dances, the happiness of celebrating abundance in the production of food with offerings of yucca, palm, spears, necklaces, bracelets, bird feathers and ancestral drinks. In summary, over the few days of your visit, you’ll get a close-up look at authentic Amazonian life from the perspective of the local population themselves.

Environmental commitment

When traveling onboard the Manatee Amazon Explorer, not only will you enjoy one of the best experiences of your life, but with your visit, you will be contributing to the conservation of the jungle and its species, as well as to the development of local communities. In conjunction with these populations, the Manatee’s crew works on wildlife preservation projects, especially those involving charapas, Pink dolphins and manatees, as well as sustainable programs of local communities and other conservation entities in the area. For each passenger who visits the area, the Manatee makes a payment to the community, and those resources are invested in preservation. In addition, there is a project to reintroduce threatened species such as manatees back into the rainforest, but always in conjunction with the local communities and other environmental organizations.

However, Manatee’s commitment to the environment is realized in more than these specific projects, as the entire operation of this riverboat is respectful of the environment as the ship seeks to cause the least impact on the fragile Amazonian environment. Some of the measures applied in its operation are the treating wastewater with ozone rather than harsh chemicals, so as to avoid polluting the river; limiting the use of water to cleaning the boat, laundry service and personal use; providing biodegradable products in the cabins and as cleaning products; employing reusable bottles on field trips; recycling paper, plastic and organic waste; using equipment that reduces fuel consumption; and training the staff and the community to maintain safe practices that respect the environment.

In summary, there are many reasons to choose this riverboat cruise if you want to discover the Ecuadorian Amazon. We assure you a unique up-close and first-hand experience where you’ll find the best the Amazon rainforest has to offer. Together with locals and an expert crew aboard this safe and enchanting boat, this magical region will open its secrets to you in an adventure that will be impossible to ever forget.

Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator. Surtrek Tour Operator is a well-established firm, specializing in custom-designed luxury tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and throughout the rest of South America.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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