IE Blog

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.

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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.
 
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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:
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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.
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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.
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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:
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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.
pantanal-kingfisher
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.
pantanal-hyacinth-macaw
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!

View the Brochure Now

 



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.
eating-ecuador

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.
galapagos-cruise-beach

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.



 

The Galapagos Islands have a total population of around 25,000 now. But when Bolivar Sanchez was growing up on the island of Santa Cruz in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were far fewer.

The International Expeditions naturalist recalls an idyllic childhood, swimming with Galapagos Islands animals and exploring the area on his father’s boat. Now an Expedition Leader on IE's Galapagos cruises, his life’s mission is introducing visitors to the myriad wonders of his native land and educating them about the importance conservation and ecotourism plays in its future.


We recently caught up with Boli for a conversation about how the islands have changed, why he loves the wildlife found in the water as much as that found on land, and what he hopes guests will take away from their trip to his island home.

What was childhood like for you growing up in the Galapagos Islands? Where did you live, and what are some of your early memories of interacting with nature?

My childhood in the Galapagos was a very special one. It was a very small, natural environment, with many close friends and no danger of any kind. We lived on Santa Cruz island, but I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend time in the highlands at my parents’ and grandparents’ farm. I also spent time traveling with my father, who was the captain of his own boat and used to take tourists around the islands in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I have many wonderful memories of swimming and playing with Galapagos Islands animals – sea lions, sharks, turtles  and penguins – and going fishing for lobster and tuna. The water was, and still is, my favorite part of the islands.

 
How have the Galapagos Islands changed since you were a boy?

I don't think the islands have changed that much, but the conditions have changed a lot. There are so many more visitors now, and therefore many more restrictions of all types. The Galapagos became an important  tourist destination. Of course that implies more travelers coming and more money for the communities, but also more pressure on the surrounding ecosystems.
 
Can you tell me a bit about your education in Earth Sciences, and how you originally became a naturalist guide?

I always loved the outdoors, so studying Environmental Science was great because it gave me an opportunity to be out there doing – and looking at – the things I really like. The outdoors for me means freedom. I guess I was born a naturalist, since I was born in a natural environment with no modern luxuries at all. So this naturalist thing was always in me.

boli-sombrero-chino 
I've traveled all over the world and have never been any place like the Galapagos. What makes these islands so special in your eyes?

There are many wonderful places on our planet, but there is only one Galapagos. Galapagos is special because it’s the only place I know where mankind and nature can co-exist in a friendly way. It’s the only place where humans can approach nature in a natural way, and nature shows no fear or concern. It is easy to love and respect nature after visiting these islands.
 
Can you explain the important role ecotourism has had, and continues to have, in Galapagos conservation?

Ecotourism is an important education and conservation management tool. It is the only concrete way to educate the world about having a love and respect for nature. It’s the best way to show our natural environment to the public, so that they can see it and love it more. People protect what they love, and you can't love what you have not seen yet.

galapagos-cruise-turtle 
One of the things that surprised me most about the islands was the amazing diversity of wildlife you see in the water. Can you talk about the Galapagos Islands animals guests will see while snorkeling?

The underwater world is an important component of our trip. It is closely associated to the land part, since the water provides the food for most of the Galapagos Islands animals. We have opportunities to enjoy the water and snorkel on every day of our IE trips. We swim with penguins and Galapagos sea lions, little sharks, sea turtles and rays. We have more and more scuba divers coming to the region, attracted by the friendly underwater conditions and the amount of sea life they find here.
 
As an Expedition Leader, what do you hope that people take away from visiting the Galapagos?

My goal is that every guest we have will go home, not only with thousands of pictures of the islands’ creatures, but with the best memories of our country and our people. But, beyond that, my real goal is to contribute to their education and love for nature. Hopefully they go home with a better understanding of the importance of protecting our planet and its creatures. Hopefully they will go home with a conservation message about all the good things we are doing in the Galapagos. Despite economic complications, Ecuador is putting a lot of money and effort into trying to protect our natural resources. We only have one known home – our wonderful blue planet – and we had better take good care of it!
 

 



Veteran freelance writer/editor Bret Love is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.




 

September 28, 2015

IE Unveils a New Look!


With expertise spanning four decades, International Expeditions is working harder than ever to be your quintessential source for immersive travel to Earth’s most compelling natural areas. But after all these decades, we thought it was time to make a few changes.

The first thing we needed was a new look – a fresh, clean design that would look as great on our brochures and website as it does on the shirts and hats our guides wear in the field and the flags flying over our ships in the Galapagos Islands, Amazon and Earth’s other wild waters. IE’s new logo features symbols of nature, an ancient motif and even our initials.

Most importantly, our updated motto speaks more directly to you! So now, we invite you to Discover Your True Nature.

This is more than a new tagline. On International Expeditions’ experiential adventures, you’re afforded deeply authentic nature and cultural immersion, and journeys that are truly transformative as you discover things about yourself and our world.

In the coming months, you'll also see a new, more functional website and enhanced benefits added to our loyalty program.

What’s not changing at International Expeditions?

  • Maintaining the high level of service and experience you have come to expect from us

  • Maintaining the same phone number, same physical address and the same web address

  • Maintaining the same ownership and dedicated team you've come to count on for great service


While you can always count on IE for an unrivaled experience, exceptional guides and superior itineraries, the real reward is in discovering your true nature…gaining something valuable from your travels, becoming a more informed person, and being empowered to protect Earth’s natural wonders.

We hope you love our new look and logo, and that you’ll join us soon to discover your true nature!

 

One of the main reasons people love nature travel is the allure of seeing wildlife in its natural habitat.

When traveling with International Expeditions, chances are you’re hoping to bring home a suite of stunning images that capture the essence of the place you’re visiting and the wildlife you encounter. You want images that help you remember your experience in greater detail, and perhaps share those details with others.

Practice ultimately makes perfect. But these 10 simple wildlife photography tips can help improve your pictures dramatically:

charlie-photo-patagonia
Get outside and have fun!
We’ll get to the technical stuff in a second. But if you’re not going out and using your camera on a regular basis, you’re not getting the shot. It’s important to be both physically on the ground and mentally and emotionally in the moment. Your senses must be attuned to the environment around you. Great wildlife photography starts with truly being in the moment and experiencing the power of nature all around you. 

Patience is Your Friend
Nature is unpredictable. If you want “the perfect shot,” plan to wait for it. Patience is by far your greatest ally when going for great wildlife shots. You may even need to come back day after day in order to get what you want.  Sometimes animals need to get used to you before they’ll act normal with you around
.
photographing-whale
Know Your Subject

To capture that special image, it helps to be familiar with the animal’s habits. What kind of habitat do they like? At what time of year are they most active? When are they breeding and nesting? What do they eat? You want to be able to predict your subject’s behavior to some degree, so you can find it and be ready for that perfect shot.


Be Aware of Their Habitat
Many times, wildlife photos look like they could’ve been taken in a zoo. Not only do you want to know where to find your subject, but it helps to integrate their habitat into your photo to help tell a story. All too often, budding wildlife photographers bemoan that they don’t have the biggest, longest lens available. A 500mm or greater lens will help you get certain incredible shots. But don’t forget the power of stepping it back a bit to showing them in their native habitat.
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Take Advantage of “The Golden Hour”
Photography is all about the light. Remember to use it to your advantage. The“golden hour” is that 30 minutes before and after sunrise and sunset, when rays of sunlight are slanted and full of interesting reds and yellows that add richness to your picture. In general, wildlife tends to be on the move – and therefore more visible – around sunrise and sunset. If the light isn’t coming in from the right direction, try moving around to see how you can re-compose your shot to take advantage of that less-than-ideal situation.

Don’t Hesitate to Press That Button… Repeatedly!
Remember that even the most experienced photographers may take hundreds of photos to get “the perfect shot.” So shoot a lot! Many animals move fast, and you might miss some incredible action if you’re too conservative in the number of pictures you take. With the incredible number of images that can be stored on one 16 or 32GB memory card these days, you shouldn’t hesitate to press that button over and over again. You can always edit/delete later. 
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Know Your Camera Gear
Your best wildlife photography opportunities aren’t going to last long.  You’ve typically got 10-30 seconds at most to get an action shot before everything changes. It helps to know your camera and lenses well, so that you can make quick adjustments. What is the minimum shutter speed that will give you a sharp image? What about your aperture? Play around and practice with your equipment as much as possible beforehand so you’re ready to capture that instant when the action happens.


Understand Rules of Composition
Learn about the “Rule of Thirds” and the “Golden Ratio,” and practice them until they’re embedded in your sub-conscience. Also, consider ahead of time what kind of shots you want. Do you want to frame the animal in its larger habitat, do you want a close-up portrait that fills the frame, or perhaps both? It always helps to have a general idea of what you want to accomplish before you’re on the ground.

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It’s Not ALL About the Megafauna
Photographs of big, awe-inspiring animals are incredible, and something every wildlife photographer treasures. But remember that there is a lot more to Nature than just Bald Eagles, Elephants, Lions or Grizzlies. Some of the very best wildlife photographers use Macro or Zoom lenses to focus in on the little things that often go unnoticed. Having an eye for detail can really help your shots stand out.

Make Yourself Comfortable
You’re going to be out in nature, and you’re going to have to be there for a while to get the shot you want. Dress appropriately, use sunscreen and remember to bring plenty of water.  If you’re completely comfortable, you’re that much more likely to stick around and be there for that perfect shot.
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One final note about responsible wildlife photography: Remember that these are wild animals you’re photographing. Getting your desired image should NEVER impact an animal’s well-being or sense of comfort, its right to survival, or the survival of the habitat on which it depends.


Personally, I frown on using captive animals for photography. Likewise, feeding them or baiting them is considered an unethical practice and could land you in jail or see you on the receiving end of a stiff fine.

Finally, keep in mind the impact you’re having on their habitat just by being there, and work to minimize that impact. Your goal as a wildlife photographer should be to capture the best image possible of wild animals living their lives naturally, without harming them in any way. Take only pictures, and leave only footprints! 


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A former archaeologist, Jim O’Donnell has consulted on community natural resource planning issues, permaculture development projects and wilderness protection movements. In addition to his blog, Around the World in Eighty Years, his writing and photography have appeared in National Geographic Maps, New Mexico Magazine, Perceptive Travel and more.


 

The gem of Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park is part of the Sistema Nacional de Áreas Silvestres Protegidas del Estado de Chile (National System of Protected Forested Areas of Chile), bordered by Bernardo O'Higgins National Park to the west and Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park to the north. Encompassing 242,242 hectares and averaging around 150,000 annual visitors, it’s one of the largest and most visited parks in Chile.

Here are five reasons why the park should be on every nature-lover’s bucket list:

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Grey Glacier & Lago Grey

Grey Glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the world’s second largest contiguous ice field outside of the poles. At just 270 square km, Grey Glacier is one of the smallest in the region. But, as you walk along the shore of Lago Grey, it looks massive, feeding into the opposite end of the lake. Calved icebergs float all around, glowing with a brilliant blue hue that seems to radiate from within. Blue ice is formed from the compression of pure snow, which ultimately develops into glacial ice over centuries of extreme pressure. When sunlight hits an iceberg, the light is absorbed, and what little light is refracted appears blue to the naked eye. You’ll be spellbound watching these massive floating gems changing color with the shifting of shadows and light, as they mirror the majestic peaks of the famed Paine Massif behind them.

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The Birds of Patagonia

With its myriad lakes, alkaline ponds and reed-fringed lagoons, Torres del Paine offers plenty of opportunities for avid birdwatchers to get their fix, with around 120 different species to be found. Colorful species such as the Austral pygmy owl, Austral parakeet, Long-tailed meadowlark, Magellanic woodpecker and Thorn-railed Rayadito can often be seen surprisingly close-up. Predatory birds such as Caracaras and massive Andean Condors are also regularly spotted in the area, soaring overhead in search of an easy opportunity to scavenge the remains of carcasses left behind after a Puma kill. For rarer sightings, the aptly-named Laguna Los Flamencos is one of several places within the park where you may see pink flamingoes feeding in the shallows. And the odd, emu-like Rhea (which is related to the ostrich) can often be seen as you drive along the park’s scenic roads.

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The Flowers of Patagonia

The Patagonian flora is not the first thing you’ll notice during a visit to Torres Del Paine National Park, whose larger-than-life scenic vistas are dominated by massive mountains, expansive blue skies, vast fields and huge animals (including Guanacos and the soaring Andean Condor). But those who take time to notice the little details will see many of the 400+ plant species sprinkled across the Patagonian steppe, forest and Andean desert found within the park. From the blazing red hues of Chilean Firetree and Common Sorrel to the vivid yellows of the Dwarf Paramela and Lady Slippers, from the sweet purple tones of Fuegian Edelweiss and Lupine to seven different orchid species, the colorful flowers of Torres del Paine prove big things come in small packages.

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Guanacos

From Red and Grey Foxes to Huemul Deer and Pumas, Torres del Paine offers more than its fair share of fauna to keep wildlife watchers on their toes. But the most ubiquitous species by far is the Guanaco, also known as the Patagonian Llama. With heights that can reach over four feet and weight of up to 200 pounds, Guanacos are the largest of all Chilean wildlife. Their reddish-brown coats stand in striking contrast to the park’s green flora, and their fur is prized for its warmth and soft, woolen feel. Guanaco herds are a frequent Torres del Paine sighting, typically made up of around 10 females, a dominant male, and their offspring. Winter (which is summertime in Patagonia) is a wonderful time to visit the park, as you’ll likely get lucky and spot a baby Guanaco feeding amongst the grasses, sticking very closely to its mother.

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The Paine Massif

Everywhere you go in Torres Del Paine, its three granite peaks loom large, rising 9,350 feet above sea level and joining with the Cuernos (“Horns”) del Paine. The surrounding valleys, rivers, glaciers and lakes may be in the scenic foreground, but these “Towers of Blue” for which the national park is named dominate every view, exerting a magical, magnetic pull that’s difficult to describe. Watching the sunrise painting these majestic mountains in vivid hues of red and orange, as the lightening sky turns a deep shade of blue and reflects on the milky surface of Blue Lake and Sarmiento Lake, it’s impossible to ignore the overwhelming grandeur of Patagonia’s most monolithic natural wonder.

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Talk to IE's Patagonia Tour Experts

Ready to explore Torres del Paine National Park and more of Patagonia? International Expeditions offers comprehensive Patagonia Tours, exploring both Chile and Argentina, as well as a Puma, Penguins & Whales tour. Our Travel Planners, like Charlie Weaver (above), can also create custom travel options

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