IE Blog

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.

patagonia-austral-parakeet
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.
patagonia-lesser-rhea
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. 

patagonia-magellanic-owl
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.
africa-safar-group
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.

gaapagos-cruise-snorkeling
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.

rhone-camp-group
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 La Estrella Amazonica 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.

View The Brochure Now

 


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


 

"When we eat, we travel.”

That’s the mindset of British writer, intrepid eater and Guardian Food editor Mina Holland, and it’s the motive behind her debut book The World on a Plate: 40 Cuisines, 100 Recipes and the Stories Behind Them.

To Holland, authentic, local cuisine is the best way to experience a place. The geography, history and spirit of a locale are often contained in its iconic food, with ingredients that typify the land and preparation that’s been shaped by historical necessity (like the pasty or the French baguette). Very often, she explains, the meals we eat abroad stick in our memories just as well (or better) than the places we browse. Those priceless paintings at the Louvre? Mostly forgotten. But not the almond pastries, the wine and the fresh cream! Those, you can practically still taste.

With this in mind, Holland journeys the world in 100 recipes, writing accessible, article-length synopses that take complicated culinary traditions and gradually reduce them into a few mouth-watering recipes. She treats 40 places with anecdotes, bits of history… and the occasional bad joke. Along the way are sidebars on key ingredients: pimenton, salt cod, rice, chili pepper, corn and cassava, to name a few. And while Holland gives much deserved attention to food-loving countries like France, Spain and Italy (each of these receives region-by-region treatment) she also spices her book with countries that don’t commonly appear on travelers’ bucket lists like Iran, Korea and Ethiopia.

Holland has a gift for making complex cooking very accessible, and her book would be a good read for the culinary curious, travelers eager to relive past journeys, or anyone wishing to be transported across the map in a single bite.

You can order this book at Longitude.com.

The floodgates of travel to Cuba are opening quickly, with commercial airlines and tour operators lining up to feed America’s insatiable appetite for the previously off-limits country. International Expeditions is one of the very few companies who offer a small-ship Cuba cruise that allow visitors to get off-the-beaten-path and see a side of the island relatively untouched by the mainstream tourist hordes.

We spoke with IE’s Destination Manager April Springer about her numerous visits to find out why a small-ship cruise is her preferred way to explore the island.
 
I know you've been to Cuba several times now. Could you tell me about your very first visit and the initial impressions you had of the country?

Arriving into Camaguey was an experience I will never forget. As we approached the landing strip, there sat a one-story, dilapidated airport. When the steward opened the door and I laid eyes on the stairs used to descend the plane I thought to myself, “What year is it? Where am I?” We made our way across the tarmac and into the airport, where the uniforms were very 1960s – blouses are too tight, fishnets and heels are the norm, and the men are all so mundane in their uniforms. Everything was worn and tired, but you immediately feel the calm. The people are all so relaxed, no one is in a hurry, there are no cell phones ringing, no one has ear buds in. This really set the pace for my first visit. No one is ever in a hurry: You move at the people’s pace, they don’t move at yours.
 

You've been to country 3-4 times now, right? Do you have a favorite memory or two of your time there that you can share?

In April of this year I had the pleasure of visiting Holguin. Not many American tourists make it this far down the island. While there, we visited Marian da Vita and raced in Cuban-style speed boats with a group of Norwegians, which was so much fun! Then in June of this year I rode in a 1960s helicopter to the island of Cayo Largo to check out the activities we will be doing on our Cuba Voyage program, and that was terrifyingly fun!
 

How has the island changed in the years since your first visit? 

Internet is making its way there slowly but surely. There’s a flourishing private enterprise, with new restaurants, bars, nightclubs, artists’ shops, etc. There’s property for sale, which is creating new casas – rooms or apartments for rent in someone’s home – all over the island. All of these things are steadily improving the lives of the Cuban people.
 
I think most Americans already know about the beauty and culture of Havana. But what lesser-known cities/towns in Cuba would you recommend people should visit?

My favorite town in Cuba, without a doubt, is Guardalavaca, but it’s a long drive from Havana. I think our Cuba Voyage program gives people a great chance to see more of the less-traveled parts of the island. You still get your time in Havana, but you’re not stuck in a bus for 10 hours trying to get there. Maria La Gorda is beautiful, and Cayo Largo is a very interesting island.

IE is one of the few companies in the world offering small-ship cruises of Cuba. How does that experience differ from land-based Cuba tours?

As you might imagine, the infrastructure of Cuba is not up to most American’s standards. The hotels quite often fall short of expectations. But with a ship, you know what you’re getting, day in and day out. I personally love that IE offers one night in a Cuban hotel prior to boarding the ship so that you can still get the experience of the authentic Cuban hotel stay. But then you board your ship and settle in for the next seven nights. Also, with the mix of meals offered, you get to sample the local offerings and experience Cuban dining. But for those nights when you’re just exhausted, you have dinner onboard and then it’s off to bed.
 
Can you talk about some of the more memorable natural attractions people can see during IE's Cuba cruise?

One very unique stop we make is at the Guanahacabibes National Park, which is at the westernmost point of the island and is one of the largest parks on the island. The park is home to 40 bird species and several local jutia and iguanas. I even saw my very first white-tailed deer in this park. We also have a visit to the turtle nesting and hatchery center in Cayo Largo, which is something you couldn’t do without the boat (or, alternatively, the terrifying helicopter ride).
 
Other than your job, what is it that keeps you coming back to Cuba over and over again? What makes it unique from other Latin American and Caribbean destinations?

I love the people, the lifestyle, everything! I would go even more often if it was possible. Cuba is not your typical tourist destination. It’s not overrun with tourists yet, and it’s very safe. I can recall walking down the street at 2 am after a musical performance and feeling totally safe. We think Las Vegas never sleeps, but the whole country of Cuba never sleeps! There is always something going on, whether it’s old men playing dominos on the street corner at 2 am or farmers up at 3 to beat the sun. I just love Cuba. 

Read April's interview with Travel + Leisure on what Americans can expect when traveling to Cuba.



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 people talk about the Brazilian Pantanal, it usually doesn't take long for someone to mention the fact that it's among the most biodiverse places on the planet. But what does that even mean? It means that there are more different types of flora and fauna found in the Pantanal than just about anywhere else in the world.

Obviously, with such a wealth and variety of species, no blog-length wildlife guide can be 100% complete. So instead, we’ll look at a few popular favorites, as well as some rare animals that lucky visitors might have a chance of spotting.

The Mammals of the Pantanal

Visitors will definitely be rewarded with mammal sightings in the Pantanal. But most people will only see a small fraction of what's out there. There are 236 different mammals species recorded in the Pantanal, including 75 small species, 68 medium-large species, and an incredible 90 different varieties of bats.

These are some of the most fascinating animals found in the Pantanal:
pantanal-capybara
Capybara

Typically weighing in around 75 to 150 lbs, the Capybara is the world's largest rodent. But, from a distance, the animal looks much more like a cross between a hippo and a pig than it does an oversized rat. Capybara generally live in large groups of between 10-20 and spend much of their lifetime in the water, where they feed on aquatic vegetation.
pantanal-jaguar
Jaguar

One of the area’s biggest draws is its high concentration of cats. The Jaguar is the third largest cat species on the planet, weighing between 130 and 220 pounds. There are only around 15,000 Jaguars left on the planet, which makes the high concentration in the Pantanal incredibly important. These large cats feed on a variety of meats, such as deer, capybara, peccary, agoutis, monkeys, and even tapir. There are three other cat species found in the Pantanal – Ocelot, Margay, and Jaguarundi – but they’re even more difficult to spot.

International Expeditions' Pantanal tour spends three nights region of Brazil - Meeing of the Waters State Park - where high jaguar density and increasing rates of habituation combine to give you a good chance at viewing these majestic cats in their natural wild habitat.
pantanal-tapir
Tapir

The Tapir is a favorite oddity for almost everyone lucky enough to spot one. But their erratic movement throughout the Pantanal makes them incredibly hard to find. They can show up almost anywhere… or nowhere. The Tapir looks like an Elephant crossed with an Anteater, but actually belongs to the same suborder as Rhinoceros. It’s also the largest animal in the Pantanal, weighing in at a hefty 500 to 800 pounds.

The Birds of the Pantanal

The Brazilian Pantanal is renowned as a birder's paradise. Its 75,000 square miles of land is temporary or permanent home to a whopping 1,000+ endemic and migratory bird species.

These are a few of the more prominent ones:
pantanal-jabiru
Jabiru Stork

The beautiful (yet awkward) Jabiru is the second largest flying bird in the Americas after the Andean Condor. They can often be seen stomping away at muddy shallows of water in the Pantanal, hoping to force insects to the surface for feeding. The Jabiru can grow as tall as 55 inches and have a wingspan as large as nine feet.
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Kingfishers

Perhaps the most prevalent of the Pantanal’s smaller bird species, there are 4 types of Kingfishers that spend time swooping the waters of the wetland region’s rivers and ponds.

The Amazon Kingfisher – green with an orange breast and standing up to a foot tall – is the largest and most common.

The Green Kingfisher is also a common sight, looking like a smaller (around seven inches) version of its aforementioned relative. Much more rarely spotted are the Green-and-Rufous and American Pygmy Kingfishers, which come in at about nine and six inches tall, respectively.
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Macaws

Two species of Macaw are frequently spotted in the Pantanal, although five may be found in the region. Visitors are most likely to see the beautiful Blue-and-Yellow Macaw, which grows to be about 30 inches tall. But if you’re lucky, you might also see the Hyacinth Macaw, which is a bright blue bird with yellow markings around the eye and beak. These birds are usually found in pairs, as Macaws generally mate for life.

Reptiles of the Brazilian Pantanal

As with the birds, reptiles are fairly ubiquitous in the Pantanal. There are around 80 different species of reptiles in the region, although you'll likely only see four or five of them on a visit.
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Caiman

There are an estimated 20 million Caiman living in the Pantanal, which is about half the total human population of Canada. From extremely small babies to full-grown adults, they can typically be found lazing around nearly any pool of water in the wetlands. A member of the Alligatoridae family, the most prevalent species of Caiman is the Yacare, which grow up to eight feet in length. Amazingly, despite their size and imposing image, Caiman remain among the Jaguar’s favorite meal choices.

Caiman Lizard

A medium-sized lizard, the Northern Caiman Lizard is a great find if you can spot one. These beautiful snake-like lizards can grow up to four feet in length. What makes the Caiman Lizard so interesting is that it spends the vast majority of its life in the water, with a diet that consists almost entirely of snails.

Big-Headed Swamp Turtle

One of the few turtle species that survive in the region, the Big-Headed Swamp Turtle wasn’t discovered until 1984. As its name suggests, it’s known for its disproportionately large head. If you see a young one, you’d be forgiven for thinking it looks more like a cartoon character than a living animal. Growing to around nine inches in length, this bizarre beauty is arguably one of the Brazilian Pantanal’s most colorful characters.

See the Wildlife of the Brazilian Pantanal

Join International Expeditions' naturalist-guided Pantanal tours on hiking, boating and even horsebackriding excursions designed to help you observe the rich wildlife of Brazil's Pantanal!

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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.

Scientists have just confirmed the existence of the 14th species of giant tortoises in Galapagos! The new species, Chelonoidis donfaustoi, is known locally as “Don Fausto.” The tortoises were named after a recently retired ranger, Fausto Llerena Sánchez, who spent 43 years at Galapagos National Park. About 250 of these tortoises live on the eastern side of Santa Cruz Island in an arid lowland called Cerro Fatal (Deadly Hill). Guests on IE's Galapagos cruises visit the highlands of Santa Cruz to observe another species of tortoises in the wild. 


According to the study published in journal PLOS One, the Cerro Fatal tortoises are smaller than other tortoises found on Santa Cruz, the Reserva species, but those differences were simply considered variations. Peaked scutes — the bony plates of the shell — are among the unique characteristics of the newly-identified tortoise species. Further genetic analysis led by Yale scientists revealed that the Cerro Fatal tortoise was not only its own species but also that although two tortoise types shared one island, they are not each other’s sister species. The closest relatives are from San Cristóbal, the easternmost island in the archipelago.


One-third of the 40 square kilometers the Cerro Fatal occupies is outside of the national park, which puts the tortoises living there at risk to dangers from agriculture and tourism. Their classification as new species will push the Galapagos Conservancy to prioritize their protection.

In recent years the cruise industry has been favoring a “bigger is better” approach, with heaps of publicity surrounding so-called mega-ships that carry 5,000 to 6,000 passengers. These “mega-ships” certainly have their place, and many make cruising an attractively affordable alternative for travelers on a tight budget.
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But there’s also a booming cottage industry of small ships and boutique cruise lines that offer a very different sort of travel experience from the mega-ships. From cruising the world’s most iconic rivers to voyages in the Galapagos, Cuba and Patagonia, there are myriad options to choose from, with prices ranging from ultra luxury to budget-friendly.

Here are five reasons why journalist and editor Bret Love believes that small ship cruises are the best cruises:

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More Elbow Room

The first (and only) time I took a big cruise – which was actually fairly small by industry standards, with around 700 passengers – I was so overwhelmed by the crowds that I actually felt a little claustrophobic for the first time in my life. Avoiding the jostling crowds at the buffet line, the ship disembarkation points and during excursions became an annoying distraction.

But the best small ship cruises carry less than 300 passengers, and International Expeditions’ small ship cruises to the Galapagos Islands, Peruvian Amazon, Ecuadorian Amazon and Northern Patagonia allow no more than 18-32 people total.

The experience is so different that it’s virtually impossible to compare the two. With one you feel like a nameless face among the huddled masses; with the other you feel like a treasured guest with room to roam. Which makes it much easier to find your own personal space to have quiet time or memorable moments.
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Everybody Knows Your Name

When you’re just one of over 5,000 passengers crowded onto a massive floating city, it’s unreasonable to expect four-star service.

For some travelers, sacrificing luxury and comfort in exchange for all-inclusive convenience and budget-friendly affordability is a fair trade-off. There’s also a lot to be said for the value of experiences where everyone from the restaurant staff to the cruise director knows your name (and, more importantly, your preferences).

Having a bartender who knows you want a Pisco Sour with your Happy Hour appetizers may not make or break your trip. But traveling with a company who makes you feel like more than just a number on a sign can definitely go a long way towards making your trip feel special.
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Connecting with Fellow Passengers

One of our favorite things about small ship cruises is the lasting friendships we’ve made on our travels over the years.

When you’re on a ship with just 30-40 passengers for a week to 10 days, you tend to get to know everyone on board to some degree. There almost seems to be an unspoken agreement that passengers will swap dining tables like a game of musical chairs, giving you plenty of opportunity to find out who you click with and who you don’t.

Inevitably, you’re bound to meet a handful of folks that share your same ideals. Especially on a nature-focused cruise, which tends to attract a certain type of traveler. Going on life-changing adventures with perfect strangers can create some surprisingly strong bonds. Perhaps you’ll even meet future travel buddies!
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You Can Go Where the Big Ships Can’t

I must admit to getting a perverse sense of pleasure from our small ship being able to slip into a tiny port and our entire group being able to disembark while the big cruise ships were still waiting for their Zodiacs to get lined up so they could transport passengers to shore.

But it’s even better when you’re cruising in places like the Amazon River and the Galapagos Islands, where those massive ships aren’t even allowed.

Trust me, there a few things that can make your shore excursion more stressful than trying to rush through it before teeming hordes of 5,000-6,000 people descend on a port city like vultures on a kill.
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Exclusive Experiences

 

Because companies like International Expeditions severely limit the number of people on their small ship cruises and typically have at least one naturalist guide for every 15 passengers, you’re virtually guaranteed to have intimate, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Whether you’re visiting a tiny village or ecotourism attraction that no other tour operator travels to, getting to see a rare endangered Amazon manatee that rangers rescued from poachers, swimming alongside Galapagos penguins or simply savoring a spectacular view with no other travelers in sight, the best small ship cruises create memories you’ll be telling friends and family about for years to come.

The only downside? Once you’ve experienced the alternative to mass market travel, you’ll probably never want to travel any other way again. 


 



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.



 

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