IE Blog

Back in the late ‘90s, when it was still emerging as a world-renowned ecotourism hotspot, Costa Rica was my first trip abroad as an adult. As a budding nature lover, my mind was blown by all of the different things to do in Costa Rica, not to mention the remarkably rich biodiversity of its wilderness.

On my first 10-day visit I only had a chance to explore a few of the country’s 27 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas, 11 forest reserves and 8 biological reserves. But I was astounded by the plentiful wildlife in Costa Rica– four types of Monkeys, two kinds of Sloths, the inquisitive White-Nosed Coatis, the bizarre Baird’s Tapir, Caiman, Crodociles, and so many different species of birds, frogs and butterflies that I lost count.

As fascinating as all the animal action was, I was even more impressed by the locals, who are affectionately known as ticos (or ticas, in the feminine form). Ticos are known for their happy disposition and pura vida philosophy, which emphasizes a love of the “pure life”– good food, good friends, and savoring the beauty of the world around you. Their friendly smiles and gracious hospitality warm my heart even now.

I’ve returned to the country several times in the 20 years since my first visit, sharing my deep love of the country with my wife and daughter. Here are my picks for the top 10 things to do on a Costa Rica tour:


BASK ON THE BEACHES

Belize and Panama are perfectly lovely. But, with the Caribbean coast in the east and the Pacific in the west, Costa Rica arguably has some of the most beautiful beaches in Central America. Santa Teresa and Tamarindo Beach are both gorgeous and extremely popular with tourists and locals alike. But to avoid the masses, try Playa Conchal, Playa Tambor, and Playa Samara instead.

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BIRDWATCHING IN MONTEVERDE

Located 4,724 feet above sea level, Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve spans six distinct ecological zones and helps to protect an impressive cornucopia of flora and fauna. Often covered by clouds, this 25,730-acre preserve is also home to over 400 species of birds, including the rare Resplendent Quetzal, the endangered Three-wattled Bellbird, and more than 30 species of Hummingbirds.


EXPLORE TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK

Located on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast and accessible only by boat or small plane, this 77,000-acre protected area is a pristine paradise. The Tortuguero River feels like a miniature Amazon: Boat tours of its canals offered close-up views of caiman, river otters, monkeys, sloths and myriad tropical birds. But my favorite activity was the nighttime guided beach walks in search of sea turtles coming up to nest.


GO ON A RAINFOREST CANOPY TOUR

With forested areas comprising around 2,391,000 hectares (46.8% of the country’s land), nearly two-thirds of Costa Rica’s remaining rainforests are protected by a government project that pays landowners for preservation. There’s no better way to see them than through canopy tours– whether via aerial tram, hanging bridges or zipline– in places such as Manuel Antonio, Monteverde and Sarapiqui.


HIKE COROCOVADO NATIONAL PARK

Referred to by National Geographic as “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity,” the 164-square mile Corcovado National Park is Costa Rica’s largest national park, with a variety of ecosystems (montane forest, cloud forest, prairie and mangrove swamp) providing sanctuary for an exceptional array of wildlife. Located on the southern coast’s remote Osa Peninsula, it’s one of my favorite national parks in the world.

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MONKEY AROUND IN MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK

Listed by Forbes among the world’s most beautiful national parks, Manuel Antonio attracts around 150,000 visitors a year with its beautiful beaches and hiking trails that include primary forest, secondary forest, mangrove swamps, and lagoons. The park boasts 184 species of birds and 109 species of mammals, the most frequently sighted of which are the monkeys. But beware: They’re become so habituated to humans, they’re renowned for stealing food and other items!

Costa Rica Sloth
SEE SLOTHS UP CLOSE

Though we may not rival Kristen Bell’s level of sloth adulation, one of our family’s favorite memories of our time in Costa Rica was seeing a mama and baby sloth in Tortuguero National Park. You can see these adorably bizarre creatures in virtually every park or even alongside the road. But for a more up-close dose of cuteness you can also visit the famed Sloth Sanctuary in Limón.


SOAK IN REJUVENATING HOT SPRINGS

Costa Rica’s numerous volcanoes (see: Arenal, Poas, Rincón de la Vieja) are prominent features of the country’s dynamic landscape and popular tourist attractions. One of my favorite memories from my first visit was soothing my aching muscles after a long day’s hike in the waterfall at Tabacón Hot Springs, with a picturesque view of Arenal in the background. Other well-known hot springs worth visiting include Baldi, Eco Termales, and Titoku.

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SNORKEL/SCUBA DIVE CAÑO ISLAND

Most people don’t think of Costa Rica as a snorkeling/diving hotspot, but this island located 10 miles off the coast of the Osa Peninsula offers gorgeous white sand beaches and coral reefs teeming with marine life. The visibility is typically over 20 feet, and we saw huge schools of yellow and silver-striped Grunts, Amberjacks, and dozens of other species. Barracudas, Eels, Turtles, Rays, Puffers, and Parrotfish are often sighted, with Humpback Whales and Bottle-nosed Dolphins sometimes seen in winter months.

Whitewater Rafting Pacuare River
WHITEWATER RAFTING ON THE PACUARE RIVER

For more extreme things to do in Costa Rica, it’s hard to beat a wild ride down the Rio Pacuare, which National Geographic named as one of the best whitewater rafting spots in the world. Located near the town of Turrialba, this was the site of the 2011 World Rafting Championships. The fast-moving river takes you through incredibly scenic landscapes, as well as 11 different Class III and IV sections. It’s a serious workout, and serious fun! 

 


Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Rolling Stone to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.


 

With over 36 years of nature travel experience, International Expeditions has been committed to the tenets of responsible tourism from the very beginning. That means working hard to minimize our impact on the places we travel, selecting and training exceptional local guides to lead our tours, and sharing our appreciation of natural and cultural history with our travelers.
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But our commitment to ecotourism (which is defined as “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”) isn’t merely ideological. IE has a long history of supporting
conservation initiatives, including the Clean Water Project and Adopt-a-School Program in the Peruvian Amazon; the Masai Mara Project and East African Wildlife Society in Kenya; and Tiger Trust India.

The collaboration announced this month between International Expeditions, sister companies
Quark Expeditions and Zegrahm Expeditions, and The Nature Conservancy builds on our longtime dedication to protecting the planet. Working in collaboration, this partnership is designed to help raise awareness about the importance of preserving and restoring the natural world in which we love to travel.
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The Nature Conservancy

Appearing alongside Conservancy Managing Director Geof Rochester, executives from IE, Quark and Zegrahm held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on February 4 to announce the launch of the partnership, which will provide funding for the Conservancy’s projects in 35 different countries and all 50 U.S. states.

The Nature Conservancy was founded in Arlington, Virginia in 1951, with a mission to “conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.” Over the past 65 years, it has grown to become the largest environmental non-profit in the Americas based on assets and revenue. With over one million members, the Conservancy has protected more than 119,000,000 acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers, as well as operating more than 100 marine conservation projects around the world.

Pointing out that all of the companies involved in the partnership appeal to people who are passionate ambassadors and stewards for the planet, Rochester emphasized a pragmatic, science-based approach to tackling global environmental issues.

“These issues can be highly politicized and are very emotional,” he acknowledged. “We think it’s about your heart, but it’s really about your head. The work we do falls neatly into five buckets– mitigating climate change impact, protecting the world’s oceans, protecting the health of our rivers, protecting and managing land, and focusing on the plights of cities. The original definition of conservation was when we were doing work out [in the wilderness], but increasingly the battle will shift to cities.”

Rochester went on to outline some of the Conservancy’s most important projects, including working with the Chinese government on incorporating more national parks into their land protection laws; helping the fishing community of Morro Bay, California become more responsible sustainable; and overseeing 17 Latin American water funds that provide clean water to 17 million people, with a goal of adding 33 more over the next 10 years.

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Adventure Travel Partners

Asked why The Nature Conservancy chose to partner with IE, Quark and Zegrahm, Rochester pointed to the non-profit’s longstanding relationships with these highly regarded adventure travel brands.

“We’ve dabbled with the notion of providing curated, customized experiences for our donors and members,” he said. “We’ve worked with International Expeditions in doing those kinds of trips over the years. Seeing what else we could do together was the genesis of this. There are a lot of companies doing this type of travel, but I think we’ve found three of the best in the world. They’ve been on the cutting edge of how to take people to these amazing places around the world responsibly and sustainably.”

Van Perry, President of International Expeditions and Zegrahm Expeditions, noted that the three tour operators involved in the collaboration have been around nearly 90 years collectively. And each of them has their own education initiatives designed to help travelers understand the important role ecotourism can play in environmental conservation.
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In addition to the IE initiatives mentioned above, Quark Expeditions “actively supports sustainability and conservation projects around the world such as Polar Bears International, Clean Up Svalbard, Underwater Bait Setter, The South Georgia Heritage Trust, and Penguin Lifelines,” according to Marketing Manager Mariela Castro. “Expedition staff actively promote these organizations via educational materials, live auctions and onboard education. We raise over $300,000 per year and disperse this amongst the charities.”

Zegrahm Expeditions has a similar commitment to preserving wildlife and nature, and fostering an appreciation of the people and cultures we encounter throughout the world. To that end, they’re members of the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, and founding members of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (of which IE was also a founding member). Zegrahm also supports BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Program, contributing to their efforts to protect the world’s most threatened birds and their habitats.

In Rochester’s eyes, this unique collaboration shows the promise of deeper partnerships between conservation organizations and ecotourism operators. “It’s such an obvious connection,” he said, “that I was thinking, ‘Why didn’t we do this 10 years ago?’ I think it provides a platform and a model for these sorts of large-scale partnerships to fund conservation projects.”
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How the Parnership Impacts Travelers

Between now and December 31, 2018, International Expeditions, Quark Expeditions and Zegrahm Expeditions will each donate a portion of their proceeds on qualifying bookings to The Nature Conservancy, with a minimum guaranteed contribution of $244,650 by each company.

The travelers who make those bookings will receive a one-year membership to TNC, but International Expeditions Media Relations Director Emily Harley suggests there will be other benefits as well.

“Where the guest experience will be most impacted is through enhanced pre-travel informational materials,” she says. “We're also looking into ways to integrate The Nature Conservancy's projects into our itineraries wherever possible. We offer small-group travel in approximately 15 of the 35 foreign countries where the Conservancy does work. As this partnership grows, we believe it will add a lot of enhanced visibility to these projects and conservation efforts in general.”

One of the most exciting prospects for the partnership is that the tour operators may be able to incorporate Conservancy researchers into their trip itineraries. Special guests such as Joan Embery and Jeff Corwin enhance some of International Expeditions’ East Africa safaris, and Penguin Lifelines founder Dr. Tom Hart leads Quark guests on landings and lectures in Antarctica. Future “scientist-in-residence” offerings may allow travelers to learn directly from the world’s leading conservation experts.

The partnership will not only mean improved engagement and greater funding for The Nature Conservancy’s 600 scientists and myriad conservation projects all around the world, but deeper travel experiences for those who choose to travel with the companies involved. The ultimate goal is not just to raise awareness about the importance of preserving and restoring the planet’s precious ecosystems, but to raise the money for the essentials actions that can make our world a better place for future generations.


Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Rolling Stone to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.


Between February 4, 2016 and December 31, 2018, International Expeditions will contribute 0.5% of the retail price of a direct sale within the United States of a tour, vacation package, or expedition by International Expeditions, with a minimum guaranteed contribution of $244,650 to The Nature Conservancy. The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the land and waters on which all life depends. More information about the Conservancy is available by mail at 4245 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Virginia 22203, by phone at (800) 628-6860, or at www.nature.org. A "direct" sale shall not include any bookings for non-US customers, any travel agent, special interest or group bookings, or any cancelled or refunded bookings other than cancelled bookings for which the entire tour, vacation package, or expedition price is retained by International Expeditions; and the price of a tour, vacation package, or expedition shall not include any taxes, fees, or incremental purchases such as, but not limited to, air fare, park fees, extra hotel nights, trip extensions, etc. 

** Upon completion of your IE journey you will be enrolled as a member of The Nature Conservancy and receive a complimentary one-year membership and subscription to Nature Conservancy magazine. You will be responsible for continuing your membership beyond the first year if you wish to remain a member. This offer is only available to U.S. residents who are not current members of The Nature Conservancy. Allow 8-12 weeks for magazine delivery after qualifying. Offer sponsored by The Nature Conservancy.



 

With over 1,800 species, of which 139 are endemic, the birds of Peru are spectacularly diverse.

But the Peruvian Amazon is a perennial hotbed of avian activity, with around 575 species identified within one 5,500-hectare section of the rainforest (by comparison, only 700 bird species are found in all of North America).

Here are few of our favorite
Amazon birds you’re likely to see during International Expeditions' Amazon River cruises:
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Black-Collared Hawk

Found in Central and South America as well as Trinidad & Tobago, this beautiful bird of prey inhabits subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical swamps. It can be identified by a white head tinged with buff, with black shaft streaks on the crown; a bright cinnamon-rufous body that grows paler on the chest, with a black crescent on the upper breast; a back with black shaft stripes; and black tail feathers barred with rufous. You’ll often see them swooping down to feed on fish, small lizards, insects and rodents.
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Capped Heron

This colorful bird is found in many parts of Central America and South America, typically around rivers, swamps and freshwater lakes. The species is noteworthy for the brilliant blue and pink colors on its beak, bright yellow feathers on its neck and underbelly, and long, skinny plumes coming off its head that make it look like a refined distant cousin to Africa’s famed Secretary Bird.
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Dusky-Headed Parakeet

A common sighting in both the Amazon and domestic bird cages, this verdant green, blue and grey neotropical parrot is also known as the Weddell's conure or dusky-headed conure. They prefer semi-open wooded habitats in the Western Amazon, but are also often seen in coffee plantations and in colonies around the Lima coast. Social, energetic and entertaining, they tend to be found in pairs or small groups, feeding on fruit, seeds, flowers and insects.
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Golden-Headed Manakin

One of around 60 species of manakins found in the American tropics, the Golden-Headed Manakin is a colorful cutie typically measuring about 3.7 inches long and weighing less than half an ounce. Females and juveniles look similar to female White-Bearded Manakins, but adult males are black-bodied with a golden cap, white and red thighs, pink legs and yellow bill. Commonly found in low elevation forests and plantations, their jumping, sliding mating ritual and buzzing zit-zit call are a wonder to behold.
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Grey-Headed Kite

This beautiful raptor species is found in open woodland and swamp-like forests ranging from eastern Mexico and Trinidad down to Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. The adult has a grey head and legs, blue bill, black upper body, white underbelly, and a black tail with two or three white bars. They are often spotted on high perches while hunting for reptiles, frogs and insects, with a striking profile and a distinctive mewling keow-sounding call.
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Hoatzin

Also known as the Canje Pheasant (or punk-rock bird), Hoatzin are genetically enigmatic, and there’s been intense scientific debate about their evolutionary connections to other species. The pheasant-sized bird, whose chicks possess claws on two of their wing digits, is also called the Stinkbird due to the manure-like odor caused by its unique digestive system. Their noises are just as odd, including a bizarre variety of groans, croaks, hisses and grunts that are often associated with its body movements.
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Jabiru Stork

The tallest flying bird in Central and South America, this species also has the continent’s second-longest wingspan (after the Andean Condor). Found in the Americas from Mexico down to Argentina, east of the Andes, they’re typically found in large groups near rivers and ponds, where they spend much of their time feasting of fish, mollusks and amphibians. Measuring four to five feet long, with black heads, white-feathered bodies and a vibrant red neck pouch, they make striking photo subjects.
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Macaws

From Blue-and-Yellow and Scarlet Macaws to Green-Winged and Chestnut-Fronted Macaws, these New World parrots will easily rank among the most colorful birds you’ll see in the Peruvian Amazon. More often than not you’ll hear them squawking loudly long before they come into sight, usually flying over in mating pairs. You may also spot them in groups in the trees, feeding on seeds, nuts, fruits, leaves, flowers and stems.
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Motmots

Passerine birds related to Kingfishers and Bee-Eaters, these neotropical forest-dwellers are known for their colorful plumage, large bills and long tails (some with a racket-like tip) that they use for wagging at predators and, in the case of males, attracting mates. Living in colonies of up to 40 paired individuals, Motmots typically nest in riverbank tunnels, and feed on everything from fruit and insects to frogs, lizards and other small prey.
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Puffbirds

Shy and secretive by nature, these tropical tree-dwelling insectivores can be found from Mexico down through South America. But, with their preference for forested habitats, their greatest species diversity can be found in the Amazon Basin. They may lack the iridescent colors of their cousins, the Jacamars, but the Puffbirds’ loose plumage, short tails, and brightly-colored bills and eyes give them undeniable appeal. They rarely vocalize, preferring to sit still and quiet while waiting for insects on which to prey, but you might hear their repeated, high-pitched whistles at dawn and dusk.
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Toucans

From the 11.5-inch tall Lettered Aracari to the 29-inch Toco Toucan, this family of around 40 different species can be found throughout Central and South America and rank among the most popular sightings in the Amazon. Perhaps it’s their bright markings and huge colorful bills, or perhaps it’s just the fact that it reminds people of a favorite childhood breakfast cereal. Regardless, you’re almost certain to see them, either nesting in hollows or feeding on fruits in the Amazon trees

Ready to add these incredible species to your life list? International Expeditions offers year-round Amazon River cruises along with land-based options. Check out IE's signature 10-day Amazon Cruise or the 7-day Amazon River & Rainforest Tour, named one of Fodor's Best River Cruises of 2014.


Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution to National Geographic. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.

I’m a big believer in the benefits of travel with kids. I took my daughter on her first vacation – a road trip to Florida’s St. George Island – two weeks after she was born. As she got older, our annual daddy-daughter trips took us further from home, to the Caribbean, to Central America, and finally to International Expeditions' Galapagos Islands cruise last year.
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“Don’t be afraid.” If there’s just one crucial life lesson I hope to pass down to my daughter, these three words sum it up perfectly. So often in life, fear is the biggest obstacle that prevents us from pursuing our dreams. Traveling adventurously opens our eyes, minds and hearts to nature, wildlife and culture, and also pushes us outside the comfortable bubbles of our daily life.

Travel is notoriously great for education and bringing families closer together. But it also helps kids to become less fearful, more outgoing and gregarious. By encouraging our children to get out of their comfort zones, explore new places and try new things, we help them develop tools that will prepare them for a healthier, happier, more vibrant adulthood.

Here are seven great family tours that IE has to offer for parents and grandparents who travel with kids, all geared towards those who love nature and wildlife:

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The Amazon

The Amazon Basin covers 2,720,000 square miles – around 40% of the South American continent – and features the world’s largest rainforest. The Brazilian section has been plagued by pollution and deforestation, but the Peruvian Amazon remains pristine and is home to a stunning array of wildlife.

IE’s Amazon Riverboat & Rainforest Tour offers families a chance to see two sides of the region, spending three nights aboard La Estrella Amazonica and one night in the forest at Ceiba Tops Lodge.

Along the way, you’ll visit the Manatee Rescue Center and Monkey Island (a private reserve), visit Ribereños villages, go on a canopy walk 10 stories up, and see animals ranging from monkeys and sloths to a bevy of beautiful birds spanning every color of the rainbow. Looking for a more in-depth experience? IE also offers 10-day Amazon River cruises.

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Belize

Though it doesn’t get as much attention as Costa Rica, Belize tours offer an amazing array of adventurous activities for families, particularly those who travel with kids interested in history, culture and wildlife.

The coast around Hopkins Village is the heart of Garifuna culture, which can be traced back to enslaved Africans who shipwrecked in the Caribbean hundreds of years ago and gradually made their way west. It’s also close to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (which contains the world’s densest jaguar population) and the Belize Barrier Reef, both of which offer excellent wildlife-viewing opportunities.

The western side of Belize is rich with Mayan history, including the spectacular ruins of Caracol and Xunantunich and the archaeological treasures found inside the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave.

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Brazil

Spanning more than 81,000 square miles spread acrossthree countries (Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay) the Pantanal is the world's largest wetland. Remote and fairly inaccessible from major cities, it’s also a
UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the remarkable biodiversity it contains.

The Meeting of the Waters State Park area is known as prime mating ground for the elusive jaguar from June through October. The best opportunity to see (and photograph) these normally solitary animals comes from taking a boat ride down the river, as they’re known to relax on the shore when water levels are low at the end of the dry season.

While jaguars may be the star of the show, they’re far from the only animal attraction the Brazilian Pantanal has to offer. The region boasts over 230 mammal species, including capybara (the world’s largest rodent), tapir and 90 different species of bats. It’s also a birdwatcher’s paradise, with over 1,000 endemic and migratory bird species, as well as 80 species of reptiles.

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Costa Rica

Ever since focusing on the preservation of the country’s prodigious nature and wildlife, Costa Rica has been a trailblazer in ecotourism. From Tortuguero National Park (on the Caribbean) and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (in the central highlands) to the beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park (on the Pacific coast), nearly every part of the country has a haven for nature lovers to explore on a variety of Costa Rica tours.

For nature lovers who travel with kids, the Osa Peninsula is an awesome place for an adventure. About a third of it (164 square miles) is protected as Corcovado National Park, which National Geographic has called "the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity.”

Corcovado is practically packed with wildlife, including all four Costa Rican monkey species, two kinds of sloths, two types of anteaters, collared peccary, caiman, crocodiles, and poison dart frogs. It’s also home to rare species such as the Baird’s tapir, jaguars and harpy eagles. The waters offshore offer frequent sightings of sea turtles, dolphins and humpback whales, who breed there each winter.

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East Africa

One of the greatest things about traveling with kids is the opportunity to introduce them to the things that you’re passionate about. And in terms of the positive benefits of nature and wildlife conservation, there are few places better to illustrate the ethos of ecotourism better than the safari circuit of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

It’s difficult to overstate how impressive
East Africa’s national parks are. From the expansive elephant herds of Amboseli National Park and the tree-climbing lions of Tarangire National Park to the vast numbers of wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, impala and buffalo who make the annual migration north from the dry plains of Serengeti National Park to the ample grass and water supply of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, there are many reasons this area should be on every wildlife lover’s bucket list.

For kids, a safari drive through any of these parks is like watching their Lion King fantasies come to life.

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The Galapagos Islands

Teaching kids about Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution from a textbook is one thing. Taking them to the remote Ecuadorian islands in which he researched and developed that theory, based on the differences in finches and tortoises on the various islands he visited, is another thing entirely.

To describe Galapagos Islands cruises as educational doesn’t really do it justice. It’s an overwhelming experience (in a good way) to go from island to island, hiking, kayaking and snorkeling through various different ecosystems along the way. For those who travel with kids, it’s hard to imagine a more rewarding vacation experience.

Coming face to face with an inquisitive Galapagos tortoise, finding yourself surrounded by marine iguanas or sea lions, and
swimming with Galapagos penguins leaves an indelible impact on adventurers of any age. But the opportunity to share that experience with your children is priceless, creating memories sure to last a lifetime.
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Panama

Though not traditionally recognized as a haven for wildlife, Panama is an isthmus of mountains, rainforests and tropical coastlines that serves as a crossroads for animals from North and South America. As a result, it offers an impressive level of biodiversity.

Crossing Gatun Lake may reveal iguanas, sloths, crocodiles, white-faced capuchins, howler monkeys, spider monkeys and endemic red-napped tamarins. A boat ride through the 320,000-acre Chagres National Park (which protects the Panama Canal Watershed) offers chances to spot a diverse array of birds, including herons, egrets, cormorants, kingfishers, toucans and ospreys. Snorkeling Bastimentos Marine National Park offers a chance see a rich variety of aquatic life.

For those with children interested in science, visits to the Smithsonian Marine Lab and the Frank Gehry-designed Biodiversity Museum should prove illuminating.

Regardless of which trip you choose, travel with kids is a great bonding experience for parents and children alike. Seeing nature and wildlife in person is so much more impactful than seeing it on a TV or computer screen, inspiring people of all ages to protect this world we all love to travel.


 



Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Rolling Stone to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.

 

Wherever you go on the East African safari circuit of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, the Maasai people are a near-constant presence.

You’ll see the brightly colored reds, blues and purples of their Shúka (sheets worn wrapped around the body, one over each shoulder, then a third over the top of them) standing out vividly against the landscape, whether in small mud-thatched villages, more modern towns or the vast open spaces on which they continue to graze their cattle, as they have for more than 500 years.
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While it may be the region’s prodigious wildlife that draws most nature travel lovers to East Africa, it is the Maasai people who provide its distinctive cultural flavor.

So it’s worth learning more about these semi-nomadic pastoralists before you visit, and visiting one of their traditional villages if at all possible while you’re there. For us, it proved to be one of the most memorable experiences of our East African safari.


A Brief History of the Maasai

The Maasai are a Nilotic people indigenous to the African Great Lakes region, with roots that can be traced back to South Sudan.

According to their oral history, they began migrating south from the lower Nile Valley north of Kenya’s Lake Turkana sometime in the 15th century, ultimately arriving in their current range between the 17th and late 18th century.

Many of the ethnic groups that had established settlements in the area were either displaced or assimilated by the Maasai, who also adopted certain customs from them (including ritual circumcision and social organization focused more on age set than descent).

By the mid-19th century Maasai territory included the entire Great Rift Valley as well as the lands that surrounded it, and its people had become as well known for their strength as warriors (using spears, shields and clubs that could be thrown accurately from up to 70 paces) as they were for their cattle-herding.

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Understanding Maasai Culture

The Maasai people have a patriarchal social structure, with elder men making most of the decisions for each group and the number of cattle and children a man has determining his wealth. Men often have several wives, each with her own house, but the women must build their own houses (fashioned from sticks, cow dung and thatched roofs) every five years due to termites.

Boys are expected to shepherd the family’s cattle (which provides their three main food sources: meat, milk and blood), while girls help their mothers gather firewood, cook and handle most other domestic responsibilities. Both sexes have historically undergone a ritual circumcision known as emorata, although the practice is gradually waning due to criticism from Maasai activists and foreigners alike.

Adolescent boys who undergo the procedure (which is performed without anaesthetic using a sharp knife) are expected to do so in silence, as crying out in pain brings dishonor. Afterwards they are known as Moran, and sent to live in a manyatta (or village) built by their mothers for many months, during which they make the transition to becoming warriors. You’ll likely see many Moran alongside the roads in Kenya and Tanzania in their distinctive black clothes and white facial markings, offering to pose for tourist photos for money.

The
Maasai culture is renowned for its music and dance, in which a leader (known as the olaranyani) sings the melody while others sing polyphonic harmony on call-and-response vocals and make guttural throat-singing sounds to provide rhythmic syncopation. The warriors’ coming of age ceremony, known as eunoto, can involve 10+ days of singing, dancing and ritual, including the competitive jumping for which the Maasai are perhaps best known.
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Threats to the Maasai Way of Life

Problems between the Maasai people and government authorities date back more than 100 years, to when a pair of treaties with the British reduced Maasai land in Kenya by 60% to make room for ranches for colonial settlers. In Tanzania in the 1940s, the pastoralists were displaced from the fertile lands around Mount Meru, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Ngorongoro Crater.

Much of the land taken from the Maasai was used to create many of the world’s most famous wildlife reserves and national parks, including Kenya’s Amboseli, Masai Mara, Samburu and Tsavo and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, Tarangire and Serengeti.

More recently, the Maasai have resisted the urgings of the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle and send their children to government-approved educational facilities. According to our guide, this is because the Maasai believe that most people go to school to learn how to become rich, and they believe that they are already wealthy due to the richness of their culture and lifestyle.

Non-profit organizations such as
Survival International are currently working with tribal leaders to help the Maasai regain grazing rights to their historic lands and resist government efforts to force them to adapt to modern notions of “progress.” With more than 1 million Maasai estimated to live in these popular ecotourism hotspots, here’s hoping their rich, distinctive culture and lifestyle continues to thrive for many centuries to come.
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Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 21 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution to Rolling Stone. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.


 

When most people think of Patagonia, the first things that come to mind are stunning scenic vistas, dramatic mountain landscapes and mammals such as foxes, guanacos and pumas.

But the
birds of Patagonia are equally impressive, surprisingly abundant and relatively easy to spot amongst the region’s open plains and sparse foliage.

Here are 10 of our favorite avian species you’re likely to see on a
Patagonia tour:
patagonia-andean-condor
Andean Condor
With a maximum wingspan of over 10 feet, this New World vulture strikes an imposing silhouette as it soars above the plain in search of carrion on which to scavenge. With a lifespan of around 70 years, the Andean condor is black with a white ruff at the base of the neck and, in males, large white patches on the wings and a dark red comb on the crown of the head.

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Austral Parakeet
Also known as the Austral conure or emerald parakeet, this colorful bird can be found in woods and scrubland ranging from the southern tip of South America north to Temuco, making it the world’s southernmost parrot species. Measuring nearly 14 inches tall and found in flocks of 10-15 birds, the Austral parakeet is green and lightly barred, with red markings on the forehead, belly and tail.

patagonia-chilean-flamingo
Chilean Flamingo
Closely related to the American flamingo and greater flamingo, this endemic species is large (measuring 43-51 inches), has grey legs with pink joints, a bill that’s more than 50% black, and pinker plumage than the greater flamingo (but less pink than flamingos found in the Caribbean. They prefer large flocks and crowded conditions for breeding, laying one egg in a pillar-shaped mud nest on the ground.

Hooded Grebe
Found in isolated lakes in the southern part of South America, this medium-sized (around 13 inches long) grebe is one of the most critically endangered
birds of Patagonia due to climate change, the introduction of trout and salmon, and predation by kelp gulls. These beauties are easy to identify, with a white and dark grey back extending up to a black head with contrasting white forehead, bright red eyes and a reddish-brown peaked fore-crown.
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Darwin's Rhea
Also known as the lesser rhea, this large (35-39 inches tall, weighing up to 63 pounds) flightless bird is a frequent (and unusual) sight along the roads to/through
Torres del Paine National Park.  Like their cousins, the ostrich and emu, they have small heads and bills and long  necks and legs, with spotted brown and white feathers and large wings that help them run at speeds up to 37 miles per hour!
patagonia-long-tailed-meadowlark
Long-tailed Meadowlark
Native to southern South America and the Falkland Islands, the long-tailed meadowlark is easily mistaken for its much more endangered cousin, the pampas meadowlark. Measuring 10-11 inches, with long tails and pointed bills, the males are strikingly colorful – dark brown with black streaks, bright red breast and throat, and white and red markings around the eyes and head. They’re commonly spotted in the open grassland, where they nest and forage for invertebrates. 

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Lesser Horned Owl
Also known as the Magellanic horned owl, this relative of the great horned owl measures around 18 inches long, with broad wings and plumage in varying shades of grey and brown. The large head includes a black border around the face, white stripes above the yellow eyes, and two ear tufts. Smaller than the great horned owl, the Patagonian species has a distinctively deep hooting call consisting of a double-note follow by a loud vibrating sound.

patagonia-magellenic-penguin
Magellanic Penguin
One of four penguin species found in Patagonia, Magellanic penguins are medium-sized (24-30 inches tall, weighing 6-14 pounds), with white abdomens, black backs, two black bands between their head and breast, and black heads with white bands that run from their eyes to their throat. Nesting under bushes and in burrows on sandy, rocky shores, these penguins have seen a steady population decline and are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.

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Magellanic Woodpecker
One of our favorite Patagonian sightings, these stunning birds are among the largest woodpecker species in the world, averaging 14-18 inches in length and weighing up to 13 ounces. Found in forests along the Andes in Chile and southwest Argentina, both the males and females have black bodies with white wing patches and grey bills. But the male has a vivid red head and crest, while the female has a black head with crimson at the base of the bill.

patagonia-southern-caracara
Southern Crested Caracara
The second largest species of falcon in the world (average 20 to 26 inches long, 2 to 3.5 pounds, with a 47 to 52 inch wingspan), this brilliant bird of prey is fairly common in Torres del Paine National Park. They’re mostly dark brown, with yellow-orange legs and bill, white throat and nape, and white/brown-barred chest, mantle and tail. It’s distinguished from the similar Northern Caracara by the extensive barring on its chest, lightly mottled or barred shoulders, and dark barring on the pale lower back (which is black on the northern species).

Talk to IE's Patagonia Wildlife Tour Experts

Ready to see the birds Patagonia first hand? International Expeditions offers comprehensive Patagonia Tours, exploring both Chile and Argentina, as well as a Puma, Penguins & Whales tour and birding-intensive options.



Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 21 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution to Rolling Stone. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.
 

Photos courtesy of Claudio Vidal, Enrique Couve and Charlie Weaver.

“There is nothing more I ask of this life than this moment, exactly so and suddenly, forever seems like too short a time.”

Cuba, This Moment, Exactly So is exactly the right book for travelers in this moment. The immersive coffee table book drops its readers right into the heart and soul of Cuba, the next best thing to traveling there in person. Drawing on more than 50 trips to the island over the past 20 years, award-winning photographer Lorne Resnick presents over 250 passionate and heartwarming black-and-white and color photographs vividly depicting Cuba, the “Pearl of the Antilles.”

Interleaved with Resnick’s photos are 30 poignant micro-stories by Brian Andreas. Pico Iyer, who has written a novel about Cuba, introduces the book. While the vibrancy of Resnick’s photos and the overall production quality of the deluxe volume can’t be emphasized enough, the portrait of the “sassy, maverick Caribbean island” that Iyer expertly paints in prose, along with Andreas’ pithy captions, could be worth the whole collection itself.

But it is the mix of words and pictures that really communicates the dynamism of the country. The title of the book derives from the first of Andreas’ prose poems, printed on a transparent overlay that cannot subdue the spirited play of the two boys splashing in the image underneath. “There is nothing more I ask of this life than this moment, exactly so and suddenly, forever seems like too short a time.”

Cuba, This Moment, Exactly So
also expresses the uniqueness of the island nation’s present situation. As the political environment softens, as talks between Cuba and the U.S. open, as travel restrictions ease, there is a sense that the island is on the brink of change. Seemingly frozen in time by its long isolation, Cuba is apt to evoke nostalgia in the traveler. Now, as the moment seems to be passing, and the nation finally moving forward, it feels essential that writers, photographers, artists and travelers are there to capture and appreciate the people and culture as they are, in this moment, exactly so.

 

You can order this book at Longitude.com.

Choosing your next adventure can be challenging. Where should you go? Which tour should you take? How long do you travel? These are just some of the questions you'll want to answer when planning your trip. To help you choose the right tour and make the most of your next vacation, here is a list of essential tips to keep in mind.
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Pick the right destination

Where you travel can often make or break a trip. However, narrowing hundreds of countries down to one can be a challenge. Make sure you take into consideration important factors including weather and time of year. For example, while late summer is a great time of year to visit most destinations, you may want to wait until later in the year to visit India. While less expensive for the budget conscious traveler, summer is also India’s monsoon season. Other factors - like high-water and low-water season in the Amazon - may also impact some of the activities available on your journey. Whatever the case, you may want to put in a little more work than just spinning a globe to decide.

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Choose a tour based on your interests

Do you get seasick when on a boat on choppy waters? Do you like nature tours that involve a lot of wildlife sightings? Is there a particular aspect of a destination's culture you find intriguing and simply MUST experience? These are the types of questions you'll want to answer when deciding on a tour. Choose travel that caters to your interests, rather than one based simply on price or availability. If you find that IE's small-group tours don't fit your interests or schedule, our Custom Travel Team has options as varied as guided tracking in Namibia to visiting vineyards in Patagonia!

galapagos-reading
Choose a tour based on your personality

Almost as important as choosing a tour based on your interests is picking one based on your personality. Do you like some downtime in your schedule for sitting on the beach or enjoying a few happy hour cocktails? Do you love the personal attention and deeper exploration of a small-ship cruise? Do you prefer a scheduled itinerary where most of your itinerary is planned out? International Expeditions makes every attempt to keep small-group itineraries flexible with a variety of activitiy options crafted to get you deep into nature, plus time to soak up the local color. While most tours will have enriching daily lectures, you can always opt-out and enjoy time to relax.

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Do your research

While you don't have to buy every travel magazine on the rack, do your research before choosing a tour. Doing some research even before choosing a destination and tour can help narrow down the possibilities. Picking up some reading material and talking to a travel expert can provide valuable information that dictates your trip, such as exchange rates, peak/off-peak times of travel, weather, language and flight availability.

cuba-meals
Know what's included

Read the fine print. It's here that you'll often find out information about meals, transportation, excursions and tipping. While International Expeditions’ nature tours are essentially all-inclusive and include these things in the package price, many tour operators don't. If your vacation package doesn't include transfers, pre- and post-cruise accommodations, baggage handling, restuarant tips, entrance fees and things of that nature, the cost of your tour can go up fast! Make sure you have all of this pertinent information before choosing and booking an adventure.

 

December 29, 2015

10 Simple Green Travel Tips

Once upon a time, responsible travel essentially boiled down to the old adage, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”

But as the science of conservation and studies on the effects of mass tourism on destinations around the world have become increasingly advanced, a clearer picture has begun to emerge. New definitions of sustainable
ecotourism emphasize the benefits to both the ecology and the economy of a place.

The idea is that responsible travel should do more than merely “leave no trace.” These days, the ideal is that we travel in a way that makes a positive impact on indigenous nature, wildlife and culture. By making smarter choices on where we travel, how we travel and how we engage with local communities, we can leave places just a little better off than they were before we arrived.

Here are 10 simple tips that can help you minimize your negative impact when you travel:

ecotravel-suitcase
Lighten Your Load

These days, overpacking has become an expensive habit. Airlines are charging more than ever for baggage fees, and heavy bags also reduce the plane’s fuel economy. Pack lighter by focusing on moisture-wicking safari-style clothes that can be washed in the sink and line-dried in a matter of hours. On International Expeditions' Amazon cruise, laundry service aboard Amazon Star is free of charge!

Conserve Water

Water shortages are becoming increasingly big problems, both in the U.S. and around the world. So reducing our usage should be a goal both at home and abroad. Simple ways to do this include taking “Navy showers,” re-using your towels for several days (as you presumably do at home), and turning off the water while shaving and brushing your teeth.
 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

It’s amazing to consider the amount of waste we create when we’re not conscious of our consumption. Plastic water bottles are bad for the environment, so take a refillable BPA-free bottle with you (which also saves lots of money in airports). Hotels throw out all soap shards when you leave, so try to use just one bar and take leftovers home to use later. After you finish using maps or brochures, put them back where you got them. And though it can prove difficult in certain countries, try to recycle whenever possible.

Green travel buy local products
Buy Locally Made Products

One of the great things about responsible tour operators is that they can help you connect with local indigenous communities. If you see identical assembly line-style souvenirs at similar shops, chances are they weren’t locally made. It’s worth taking the time to seek out local artisans and craftsmen from whom you can buy directly. It also gives you an opportunity to ask them about their craft, learn about their culture, and engage on a deeper personal level.

ecotravel-fish-market
Shop Responsibly

There are unscrupulous people who have no problem selling ancient artifacts or products made from endangered species and precious hardwoods. When you shop, make sure you read labels and ask questions, such as “What is this item made of?” and “Do I need special documents to take this home?” For more information, take time to familiarize yourself with WWF’s Buyer Beware Guide. It may not be against the law in their country to sell these items, but you can vote with your wallet by refusing to buy them.


Conserve Energy

Most of us don’t vacuum our bedrooms or clean our bathrooms every day at home. So why do we waste energy (and harsh chemical cleansers) letting others do so when we travel? We typically leave a “Do Not Disturb” sign on our hotel room door for the duration of our stay, or simply ask Housekeeping to do anything but refill soaps/shampoos/etc. Also, never leave the lights, AC/heat or television on when you’re out of the room.

Green Travel watch where you step

Be Conscious Where You Step

In places such as the Galapagos Islands, there are well-marked trails and naturalist guides ensure that visitors stick to them. But national parks all around the world are reporting more and more damage caused by careless tourists. If you go hiking, it’s crucial to adhere to the established trails to avoid harming native flora. Also, consider taking an empty bag and picking up any trash you spot along the way.

ecotravel-east-africa
Embrace Indigenous Cultures

Some people travel regularly, but never leave their all-inclusive hotel to explore the local area. Be a traveler, not a tourist: Take time to immerse yourself in the music, art and cuisine of the native culture. Accept and embrace the differences that make it unique. Get to know the locals and how they view life. You might be surprised at the things you learn when you open up your mind to new ideas!

Green Travel Embrace local customs
Respect Local Customs

Different cultures around the world have very different traditions, some of which may be quite different from yours. In many Muslim countries, women are forbidden to show more than a sliver of skin. In other cultures, being photographed is akin to having your soul stolen. Take time to learn and respect these traditions, or you may risk offending the very people whose culture you’re there to explore. Also feel free to talk to your IE guides about their native cultures, as these knowledgeable locals can provide layers of deep understanding and insight.

ecotravel-conapac-delivery
Give Something Back

Whenever we travel to a new destination, we take a piece of that experience with us for the rest of our lives. Why not make an effort to give something back in return? Many of the world’s developing nations have people desperately in need of basic necessities that we often take for granted. Non-profit organizations such as Pack For A Purpose can help you make a big difference simply by packing school or medical supplies, which can go right to organizations like Adopt-A-School (a long-time IE partner in conservation). 

 

International Expeditions also makes it easy to give back when you travel, with conservation and community projects in Peru, Ecuador, Africa and beyond. Just by traveling with IE, you are raising awareness for the protection of Bengal tigers in India, providing clean water in the Amazon and so much more. Learn how you can help and more about our commitment to conservation, and about our partnership with The Nature Conservancy.


 


Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 21 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution to Rolling Stone. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.

In the travel world, you simply can't talk about Peru without mentioning Machu Picchu. 

The great Inca ruins are an absolute must-see – the type of destination that every person should have on their bucket list. The ancient city is a bona fide world wonder, and the surrounding scenery is absolutely stunning as well. Machu Picchu is completely worthy of all the praise it receives. It’s blessed with mystical beauty, historical significance and cultural relevance as well.

But few people realize that Machu Picchu isn't the largest, oldest, or even the most important archaeological site to be found in the Andes. Here, we'll take a look at some of the many lesser-know Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley of Peru.

Pisac_Gihan-Tubbeh
Pisac

Found at the western end of the Sacred Valley, Pisac is one of the largest, most impressive ruins to be found anywhere in the Americas.  Basically, Pisac is an entire mountain that has been carved into terraces. The Sacred Valley as a whole was a crucial agricultural region, and Pisac was likely the most important center for agriculture in the entire Inca Empire.

Pisac translates to “Partridge” in the Quechua language. The archaeological ruins are shaped in the form of the bird, but the form is really only visible from the air.

Moray_Alex-Bryce
Moray

The circular-shaped Moray ruins– found on top of one of the passes into the Sacred Valley– are some of the most interesting ruins in the country. 

Shaped somewhat like an amphitheater, they are a visual marvel to behold. But what's really great about them are the theories behind their existence. The round ruins are cut about 100 feet into the earth's surface, which causes the temperatures to vary greatly from top to bottom. 

Local guides will tell you that the top of the ruins can be as much as 15 degrees cooler than the bottom. They tell visitors that high-altitude plants like potatoes could be grown at the top, while more tropical fruits and vegetables could be grown on the bottom. Some archeologists have hypothesized that the Inca people used Moray as a sort of test plot for their agricultural experimentation.

Ollantaytambo_Charlie-Boyd
Ollantaytambo  

The ruins of Ollantaytambo are found on the hills surrounding the town of the same name.  For those adventurous souls hiking the entire Inca Trail, these important ruins are the starting point of the trek.

What makes Ollantaytambo so special is the fact that much of the city's original Inca walls remain intact, and some of the ruins’ stone work is beyond incredible. Many of the rocks that form the terrace walls are the size of three or four people, and the construction scale of it all is almost unfathomable. 

Ollantaytambo is world renowned as an important location for summer solstice festivities. There’s a large mountain shaped like the face of a warrior looking over the town, and only on the date of the solstice does the light pass directly over the face's eye. It's an impressive thing to see.

WINAY-WAYNA_Cedric-Lienart
Winay Wayna

Winay Wayna is arguably the most underrated of all the Inca Ruins in the Sacred Valley of Peru.  Its lack of notoriety is probably due to the fact that these ruins can't be accessed by car or train. They can only be seen while making the hike along the Inca Trail on foot. 

In some ways, with its houses built within a set of agricultural terraces, Winay Wayna looks a little like a miniature version of Machu Picchu. Many archaeologists believe that this location once served as a checkpoint and rest stop along the Inca Trail.

Vitcos-Rosaspata_Gihan-Tubbeh
Vitcos

This is another one of those seriously underrated ruins that often gets overlooked by tourists. But the historical significance on Vitcos far outweighs the scenic beauty of its location. 

Many historians argue that, were it not for Vitcos, American explorer Hiram Bingham might never have found Machu Picchu hidden in the Andes (with help from indigenous farmers) back in 1911. After all, it was this archaeological site that was one of his most sought-after finds.

Vitcos was originally an Inca settlement, and the ruins feature some of the most incredible stonework you’ll see in Peru. It’s also home to what many believe to be one of the most important Inca shrines, a beautifully carved white granite rock known as Yurak Rumi.


Llactapata

When the Spanish army was chasing the Inca people out of Cusco and the Sacred Valley of Peru, the retreating Manco Inca Yupanqui deliberately burned this ancient city to the ground. He was hoping to deter the advancing Spanish troops from continuing their pursuit. His plan was fairly successful: the Spanish never did discover the stone-paved Inca Trail, which we now know would have led them to other ruins (and priceless treasures) in the Sacred Valley and beyond.

Sitting at 9,000 feet above sea level just 3.1 miles west of Machu Picchu, Llactapata is another fascinating archaeological site that can only be seen by hiking the Inca Trail.
 
machu-picchu

See More of Peru's Sacred Valley

Join International Expeditions' Machu Picchu & Cusco Tour for a survey of vibrant Andean markets, a community program teaching traditional art and textile-making techniques and, of course, the famed ruins of the Sacred Valley.


 



Hailing from Alberta, Brendan Van Son is the professional travel photographer and writer behind Brendan’s Adventures. His freelance work has been seen in outlets such as the BBC, National Geographic Traveler and The Guardian.

Photos: Moray - Alex Bryce; Ollantaytambo - Charlie Boyd; Pisac & Vitcos - Gihan Tubbeh; Winay Wayna - Cedric Lienart


 

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