IE Blog

Costa Rica is relatively tiny, as countries go. With a total area of around 19,700 square miles, it’s smaller than the state of West Virginia. That’s precisely what makes the ecotourism hotspot’s legendary biodiversity – which includes approximately 894 species of Costa Rica birds – so impressive.

From the wet plains of the Caribbean coast around Tortuguero National Park to dry northern lowlands, from the mangrove swamps the line the Pacific to the cloud forests of the central mountain range, Costa Rica provides a stunning array of habitats for wildlife.

But the country’s diversity of birdlife can actually be traced back millions of years, to the time when North America and South America were completely disconnected. Over the eons, a series of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions gradually tied the continents together, with Central America becoming a sort of land bridge between them.

Avian species from both the north and south were drawn to the lush neotropical climate in the middle. As a result, there are now more species of Costa Rica birds than there are in the United States and Canada combined. These include approximately 600 resident species, of which 19 are threatened and eight are endemic.

Here’s a brief introduction to some of the
myriad bird species you should watch for during your Costa Rica tour:
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Birds of Prey

Ranging in size from the tiny Pearl Kite (nine inches long, weighing just three oz) to the massive King Vulture (which can reach over 10 pounds and 32 inches, with a wingspan of six feet), Costa Rica’s raptor species are varied and plentiful.

They all share common traits, such as great vision, strong talons for catching and holding prey, and curved beaks for tearing flesh.

Species from this family you’re likely to see include the Red-tailed Hawk, Swallow-tailed Kite, Crested Caracara, and Osprey. If you visit the Osa Peninsula, be on the lookout for the increasingly rare Harpy Eagle, one of the world’s largest and most powerful Eagles.

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Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds rank among the world’s smallest avian species, with most measuring just three to five inches. But it’s impossible to imagine a visit to Costa Rica that doesn’t include daily sightings.

They seem to be almost everywhere, flitting amongst the flowering bushes at practically every resort and national park. The feeders at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve gift shop are a great place to see dozens of them in one place.

There are dozens of species found in the country, including the earth-toned Brown Violet Ear, the distinctive Green-breasted Mango, the aptly-named Long-billed Hermit, the brilliantly colored Violet-crowned Woodnymph, and the diminutive Scintillant Hummingbird, the smallest species in Costa Rica.

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Parrots

Found in most of the world’s tropical and subtropical regions, there are nearly 400 species in the parrot family (which includes Cockatoos, Macaws and Parakeets). They all share common traits, including curved bills, strong legs, vivid colors, and an upright stance.

They’re considered among the world’s most intelligent birds, and the ability of some species to imitate human voices and other sounds have made them popular as pets. Unfortunately, this ability has also increased the level of exploitative parrot trapping. Along with hunting, habitat loss, and competition from invasive species, this has led to a sharp decrease in wild populations over the last few decades.

There are dozens of pretty Parrot species you might be able to spot during a visit to Costa Rica, including Crimson-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets; Great Green and Scarlet Macaws; and Blue-headed, Red-lored, and White-crowned Parrots.

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Resplendent Quetzal

Considered by many people to be among the world’s most beautiful birds, the Resplendent Quetzal is a member of the Trogon family whose range stretches from Chiapas, Mexico south to western Panama. It’s the national bird of Guatemala, and was revered as divine in Mesoamerican mythology (where it was associated with the "snake god,” Quetzalcoatl).

The body of these largely solitary birds measures 14-16 inches long, but males also have a fantastic streaming tail that can measure more than two feet. As their name would seem to indicate, the quetzal’s colors are extraordinary: Their green bodies boast iridescent shades ranging from gold to blue-violet, with red breasts, spiky crests, and tails that include white, black, green, and blue-violet.

They’re primarily found in montane cloud forests, but can be difficult to spot. Look for them feeding on fruit and avocado trees, or listen for their distinctive call, a treble syllable that sounds like a kyow (similar to a whimpering puppy) repeated monotonously.

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Toucans

Closely related to American Barbets, Toucans are a family of brightly colored, large-billed birds from the Neotropics. There are about 40 different species in the family, including Toucans, Aracaris, and Toucanets, but certain species of Woodpeckers are also related.

Toucans can range in size from 11 to 29 inches, from 4.6 ounces to 1.5 pounds. But all of them are fairly short and strong, with small wings (since they live in forests and daily travel long distances). Their most distinguishing characteristic is their large, colorful bill, which comes in a diverse array of rainbow colors and features serrated edges that almost look like teeth.

Toucan species you may see feeding on fruits in the rainforest canopy include the Collared and Fiery-billed Aracari, the Emerald and Yellow-eared Toucanet, and the Chestnut-mandibled and Keel-billed Toucan.
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These are obviously just a few of the hundreds of Costa Rica birds that keen-eyed birdwatchers may see during International Expeditions' Costa Rica tours. There are dozens of other species of Egrets, Guans, Herons, Honeycreepers, Ibises, Kingfishers, Manakins, Motmots, Owls, Tanagers, and Waterbirds just waiting to be spotted. But hopefully this gives you a taste of what makes Costa Rica a must-see bucket list destination for bird lovers from all around the world.

 


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.



 

Peru is a magical land of stunning contrasts. It’s a country with bustling cities (such as Cusco, Trujillo and Lima) and remote natural wonders (including Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon and the Amazon).

It’s a country with thriving culture, ranging from the Quechua of the Andes Mountains to the innovative chefs who led to Peru being named the World’s Leading Culinary Destination for the fourth straight year at the World Travel Awards.

It’s a country where you can be spotting wildlife in the tropical rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon one day, and ascending 8,000-foot peaks to see the archaeological wonder that is Machu Picchu the next.

Peru has a special significance to all of us here at International Expeditions. It was here that we launched our first ecotour 36 years ago, and we remained deeply involved with community-focused initiatives such as the Clean Water Project, Adopt-a-School Program, Iquitos Education Project, Amazon Medical Project, the Amazon Center for Environmental Education & Research, and the ACEER Canopy Walkway.

What follows are just a few of our favorite places to visit in Peru:

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Arequipa

Founded in 1540, Peru’s second most populous city is a must-see for history lovers and colonial architecture aficionados. Its 332-hectare historic center, a
UNESCO World Heritage Site, is filled with beautiful building designs, including Arequipa Cathedral, La Compania Church, and the gorgeous main square (a.k.a. Plaza de Armas). Other can’t-miss sights include the Monastery de Santa Catalina, which was built in the 16th century and was closed to outside visitors for 400 years, and the Santuario Andino Museum, where you’ll find mummies of four young girls archaeologists believe were sacrificed to appease the Inca gods.
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Colca Canyon

Divided by Southern Peru’s Colca River, this is one of the world’s deepest canyons at 10,725 feet (more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon). Its valley is rich with indigenous cultures: The Spanish colonial towns are inhabited by the Collagua and Cabana peoples, who maintain their rich ancestral traditions and cultivate stepped terraces dating back to before the rise of the Incan Empire. The area is also full of wildlife, including herds of Llamas, Alpacas, and the rare (and very shy) Vicuñas. Keep an eye to the skies to watch for the 10-foot wingspan of the massive Andean Condor

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Cusco

Cusco is an excellent place to familiarize yourself with the cultural traditions of the Quechua people, whose ancient approach to agriculture, architecture, and textiles has been the heart and soul of the Andes region for 600 years now. The Quechua are known as master weavers, turning the remarkably soft fleece of the alpacas and vicuñas they raise into vividly colorful clothing, rugs, and tapestries. Soft alpaca fleece is one of the world's most prized, durable fabrics, and the Quechua products you’ll find in Cusco are available in 22 earth tones and myriad dyed colors.

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Lake Titicaca

Considered South America’s largest lake in terms of volume, Lake Titicaca is located in the Andes at an elevation of 12,507 feet on the border between Bolivia and Peru. There are five major river systems that feed into the lake, and its 41 islands include some that are densely populated. The area’s most famous residents are the Uros people, whose villages are floating artificial islands made from reeds so that they could be moved if under threat. Make sure to visit the island of Taquile, whose gorgeous textile art was proclaimed a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO.

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Lima

Lima is both the capital and largest city in Peru, and its Historic Centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The city features myriad exceptional examples of colonial architecture, many of which can be seen during a
guided walking tour, including the Cathedral of Lima, the Convent of Santo Domingo, the Monastery of San Francisco, the Palace of Torre Tagle, and the Plaza Mayor. Dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, these landmarks showcase a range of Spanish influences, including Baroque, Colonial and Neoclassicism.
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Machu Picchu

An archaeological wonder built in the mid-15th century at the height of the Inca Empire,
Machu Picchu is an iconic landmark that inevitably winds up on practically every world traveler’s bucket list. And with good reason: The 8,000-foot mountain-top location is stunning, and the estate (which archaeologists believe was built for the Inca emperor Pachacuti) is impressively expansive. The famed Inca Trail to get there is actually three overlapping trails varying in length and difficulty, and provides numerous different breathtaking views along the way. Fair warning: Permits are limited to 200 hikers per day, and you’ll want to give yourself time to acclimatize to avoid getting altitude sickness.
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Manu National Park

This biosphere reserve, which was named a a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, contains over 1000 different species of birds (more than the United States and Canada combined). From Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Hoatzin (a.k.a. the Punk-Rock Bird) to Macaws and Spix’s Guan, the 11,800-square mile park is a burgeoning hotspot for birdwatchers. But its stunning biodiversity doesn’t end there: With ecosystems ranging from tropical rainforests to montane grasslands at elevations of nearly 14,000 feet, it’s also home to diverse wildlife such as Jaguars, Pumas, Giant Otters, Brazilian Tapir, Capybaras, Spectacled Bears, two species of sloths and 14 species of monkeys.

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Northern Peru

Trujillo, which was founded in 1534, is widely considered Peru’s cultural capital. It’s also a great starting point for
exploring northern Peru’s pre-Columbian ruins. The adobe brick pyramid known as Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun) was the largest pre-Columbian structure in Peru, with a base measuring 500,000 square feet. Though Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) is considerably smaller, it’s beautifully decorated and riddled with rooms in which archaeologists found ceramics, jewelry and polychrome paintings (many of which can be seen in the Huacas de Moche Museum). Don’t miss the nine-square mile complex of Chan Chán, the largest adobe city in the Old World and the capital of the Chimu Kingdom.
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The Peruvian Amazon

The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world, with its basin covering nearly 40% of the South American continent (2,720,000 square miles). Although the Brazilian section is plagued by pollution and deforestation, the more pristine Peruvian Amazon is home to an extremely diverse range of wildlife, including 262 species of amphibians, 293 mammal species, 806 types of birds, and around 2,500 different butterflies. International Expeditions offers numerous different ways of exploring the Peruvian Amazon, including land-based exploration and small-ship Amazon River cruises aboard La Estrella Amazonica.
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Sacred Valley

Located near Cusco in Peru’s Andean Highlands, the Urubamba Valley was held as sacred by the Incas for its plentiful natural wealth, which includes lots of fresh water and rich, fertile land for growing various food crops. These days the “Sacred Valley” is a major tourist attraction that features a number of important archaeological sites, including the terraced mountains of Pisac, the underrated Winay Wayna, and the remarkable stone masonry of Ollantaytambo (which is also the launching point for
trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu).
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Find Your Favorite Part of Peru

Travel to Peru with International Expeditions to discover the very best of this diverse country.  Drawing on decades of experience, IE offers small-group tours and custom private travel options for wildlife enthusiasts, families and foodies alike.

View IE's Amazon River cruise brochure online.


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.
 

It’s easy to fall in love with Argentina, which seems alive with passion and bursting with beauty. This huge South American country spans the extremes: Fiery deserts sprawl across the north, lush pastures and vineyards rule its center, and the south is a jagged, jaw-dropping land of rock and ice.

To give you a little taste of what awaits you, take a look at our picks for the Top 10 Things to Do in Argentina. Tour Argentina and we dare you not to fall in love too!

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Marvel at Iguazu Falls

A mighty, imposing spectacle, Iguazu Falls is in the far north of Argentina and is shared with Brazil. These thundering waterfalls are among the most magnificent natural attractions in South America, drawing in countless travelers every year.

The falls are fringed by thick, lush rainforest –
Iguazu National Park – which means there are not only plenty of cascades to gawp at, but a whole jungle to explored as well. This subtropical paradise is home to over 2,000 species of vascular plants, and wildlife such as tapirs, howler monkeys and jaguars.
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Tango, Tango, Tango!

Tango is the fire in Argentina’s belly. This passionate dance is inescapable here: It’s performed all across the country at shows, in clubs, and even on the streets. This is without a doubt the best destination in the world to watch some tango, and learning a few steps was definitely among my favorite things to do in Argentina.

One of the top spots to watch tango in Buenos Aires is Plaza Dorrego in the San Telmo neighborhood. An infamous street market is run in this area each weekend, and the square at the end of its stalls holds street tango performances for the duration. It’s impossible not to be mesmerized by these dancers. Towards the end of the day you may even find yourself pulled out onto the floor to be shown a couple of moves.

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Go Hiking in El Chaltén

Patagonia is a playground for hikers and El Chaltén is one of the most popular bases for trekking in this region. There’s a reason why this little village in Los Glaciares National Park is known as the National Capital of Trekking – rocky, soaring mountains can be viewed from everywhere here.

Trails in this region mainly focus around mighty Fitz Roy, one of the most impressive peaks in Los Glaciares National Park. There are day hikes aplenty here; amble up to Laguna Torre or Laguna de los Tres for stunning lake and mountain views.
 
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Sample Fine Wines

Although neighboring Chile is often praised for the quality of its wine, Argentina produces around four times as much. The Argentine region of Mendoza is one of the most popular places in the country to try a tipple. Many travelers choose to base themselves in the city of Mendoza, from which they’ll take day trips out to the vineyards that skirt the city.

One of the most iconic wine experiences is to cycle the Los Caminos del Vino in Mendoza’s Maipú area. Here you can cycle between a number of different cellars, trying samples of wines along the way and basking in the glorious, often sun-drenched, surroundings.

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View Wildlife on the Valdés Peninsula

If you’re into marine life, you would be crazy to miss UNESCO World Heritage Site Valdés Peninsula while traveling in Argentina. Located on the eastern shores of the country, this blip of land protruding out from the rest of the coast is home to breeding populations of the endangered Southern right whales, plus Southern elephant seals, Southern sea lions, penguins, orcas and dolphins.

The best time of year to visit the Valdés Peninsula is from September-February, when many of the species listed above will be in the area. Hop on a whale watching tour in October, look out for Commerson’s dolphins with their calves in November, and head Punta Tombo, also in November, to check out Magellanic penguins in their hundreds of thousands waddling around on the beach.

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Explore Cueva de las Manos

Estimated to have been created between 13,000 and 9,500 years ago, the Cuevos de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) is among the most important pre-historic sites in Argentina. Hand prints are stenciled all over the walls here, thought to be created by early hunter-gatherer groups in the region.

The hands are just one part of what you’ll find here. Depictions of animals and humans are littered across the cave, offering a fascinating glimpse into life in Argentina thousands of years ago. The site is in the country’s Río Pinturas region and was given UNESCO Word Heritage status in 1999.

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Photograph Perito Moreno Glacier

It’s impossible to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier and not be amazed. This massive glacier in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park forms an 18-mile river of ice through the region and dwarves everything that comes close to it.

As one of the most famous attractions in Argentina, the glacier can be easily reached and there are plenty of walkways nearby from which you can get some good pictures. Keep your ears pricked while visiting: Seeing the glacier is one thing, but hearing huge chunks of ice fall off its side is an even more spellbinding experience.
   
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Venture Into the Untouched North

Frequently overshadowed by the sublime scenery of the south, Argentina’s far north is comparatively quiet. Here the scenery blends with and spills into neighboring Bolivia and Chile; harsh desert, barren flats and scorching dry heat. That might sound pretty inhospitable, but few corners of Argentina are without beauty.

Stop by the beautiful colonial city of Salta, brave the rickety Tren a las Nubes (Train in the Clouds)– one of the highest railways in the world – and marvel and the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a valley in the Jujuy province characterized by vivid, multi-colored striped rocks.

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Visit Ushuaia

It’s worth visiting Ushuaia just so you can say that you’ve been to the end of the world– the very far southern tip of the Americas. That said, it’s also worth going to witness the gateway to Antarctica. In Ushuaia, adventure is palpable.

If you’re not lucky enough to be able to cross the seas to Antarctica, never fear – Ushuaia has plenty in store for you. Go skiing and snowboarding, book a wildlife watching cruise down the Beagle Channel, or simply feast on the finest seafood in the city’s many restaurants.

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Go Sightseeing in Tierra del Fuego

Speaking of Ushuaia, the area this city calls home is Tierra del Fuego, one of the most spectacular regions in Argentina (and South America, for that matter). The jewel in Patagonia’s crown, the magnificent scenery of this area has mesmerized travelers for centuries.

Of course, this Top 10 list is merely a taste of the many things to do in Argentina. But once you get a taste of this remarkably diverse country, I’m fairly certain you’ll fall in love.


Explore Argentina's Diverse Wildlife & Landscapes

Join International Expeditions' new Argentina Tour combining Iguazu, Ibera Marshes and Valdes Peninsula, or peruse our custom travel options!


British travel writer Emma Higgins has been traveling solo for over three years and has lived in Spain, Canada and Thailand, collecting tales along the way and sharing them on her blog, Gotta Keep Movin’.
 

Scenario 1: Morning-dulled parents drag themselves out of bed to prepare breakfast for their equally tired kids, two otherwise bright and inquisitive children. Long days apart find them making the best of their brief evenings together, but usually not all together, and often more preoccupied with homework, work work, family administration and keeping the rising tide of laundry, dishes, garbage, bills, and untidy rooms at bay. It’s a daunting, thankless, seemingly endless grind.

Scenario 2: The entire family surrenders to the freedom and challenges of the road. As a unit, they share and sharpen their children’s bright inquisitiveness, with group excursions focused on the discovery of new people and places. Gone are the weeks of repetitive routine (unless a constant stream of new experiences can be considered regular).

Sure these two snapshots may smack of cliché – sedentary home life stinks, while travel liberates. But, as is often the case with clichés, there’s more than an ounce of truth to them.

Traveling with kids may not be for everyone. In some cases, either the parents or the kids (and sometimes both) just don’t have the right temperament for international family travel. But for those who see the world as an incomparably rich learning environment, there’s no denying the allure and advantages of ecotravel for the entire family.

With that in mind, here are nine key benefits to brood on when pondering the positive impact that travel can have on a fami
ly:
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Traveling With Kids Brings Families Together

This is a line from the oft-sung psalm of a huge majority of traveling families: Travel as a family creates time and space for interpersonal bonding unlike almost anything you can do at home. Strip away the tangles and pressures of everyday life and you suddenly find yourself able to appreciate one another more fully and live life more deeply, all as a step in creating a robust family dynamic. The result is a more understanding and self-supporting family intimacy.

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Family Travel Establishes Trust

An essential ingredient of healthy family bonds is deep trust. Travel takes you out of your collective comfort zone and teaches you to rely on yourself (when others need you as an anchor) and on one another. This is true of any travel group, but especially profound in family clusters. Kids learn that their parents really do have their best interests at heart. And parents often discover an affecting depth of character in their children.

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Family Travel Creates Shared Family Memories

“Remember that time…?” is the “Once upon a time” of hilarious or revealing (and probably embarrassingly entertaining) stories about family travel snafus. When the tale is shared with others, it has likely become a point of family pride about working through a problem or overcoming adversity, always as or with the support of family. And then there are the private tales, all sturdy foundation blocks of a strong family that favors memories rather than mere possessions or achievements.

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The World Is the Best Classroom

The late Keith Bellows, the award-winning editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler, believed that “Learning happens between the poles, not just between the ears.” And the overwhelming anecdotal evidence, some of it even scientific, supports the notion that travel can provide incredible opportunities for learning. The world really does become your classroom– a present-day version of the belief that it takes a village to raise a child
.
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Dealing with Difference Builds Character

We live in a world of ever-increasing cultural complexity. In your own hometown, you probably have neighbors whose ethnic origins span the globe. Learning how to thrive with such diversity is a distinctly 21st-century challenge. But that kind of learning still happens in a place you call home. Hitting the road, however, puts you in the role of the visitor. And learning, as a family, about difference from this perspective gives rise to new talents and character strengths.

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Traveling with Kids Opens Doors

When you travel as a family, you open yourself up to unexpected friendships. Kids frequently find common ground more easily than their parents, although their parents are often more than happy to follow suit. And in many cultures where kids are adored, your children can be matchless icebreakers. There's nothing wrong with using them in that way, too. Sometimes all that stands between you and a lifelong friend is a good excuse to talk.
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Traveling With Kids Helps You See the World Anew

Children don’t view the world the way adults do. They’re not excited by the same things. And when they are excited, they show it with an intensity that baffles adults. Kids just haven’t yet learned adult inhibitions or restraints. So always listen to their desires. It’s easy for adults to think they should be teaching, but there’s much to learn about the world (especially how fun it is!) when seen through kids’ eyes. And few things are more fun for all ages than getting face-to-face with wildlife on a Galapagos Islands cruise or seeing monkeys in the Amazon!
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Family Travel Helps You Appreciate Your Adult Partner

The more travel time you spend with your kids – the biggest benefit of family travel experiences – the more you’re reminded why you love your spouse or adult travel partner. So there’s nothing wrong with jealously seeking time alone with him/her. Everything comes into play: trust your kids to make the most of newfound friends or experience-managers. And then show your renewed passion to your partner with an intensity that might just baffle your kids.

 


As a writer, Ethan Gelber has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, a focus on keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. He started The Travel Word blog and is co-founder of travel content curation site Outbounding.
 

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.

Bird watching in montverde
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.

Squirrel Monkey manuel antonio national park
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.

Snorkel Scuba Dive Costa Rica
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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Travel to East Africa
Join International Expeditions in on an African safari, discovering the region's fascinating wildlife and culture!
IE offers small-group Kenya & Tanzania safaris, as well as custom safari travel crafted to match your interests.


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.


 

“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.

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