A day on an Amazon cruise

A day on an Amazon cruise

A day on an Amazon cruise

 

I had been to the Peruvian Amazon a few times, but until recently I’d only ever stayed in a lodge. I had expectations that taking a cruise on the Amazon would be a more luxurious and more relaxing experience, with more time sipping pisco sours in the bar and chilling out in the Jacuzzi, but with less time to actually see the wildlife that I go to the Amazon to see. I quickly discovered on my cruise aboard the Delfin that I needn’t have worried. While there was time to enjoy the luxuries of my cruise boat, the days were far more packed with experiences than I had expected.

Our expert local guide knew the trails incredibly well.

When I met my guide Ericson in Iquitos, he explained that the Delfin has a reputation for keeping its passengers busy. It certainly doesn’t skimp on the luxuries, but it keeps the day full of activities. Passengers can choose to do as much or as little as they want. I was determined to do as much as possible, and after boarding my cruise I signed up to everything I could. 24 hours later, I realised just how busy the days could be.

My cabin on board the Delfin was wonderful, far surpassing the quality of any of the Amazon lodges I had stayed in, but I didn’t have long after I boarded to enjoy the luxuries onboard. The boat set sail along the Maranon River even before our cruise briefing began in the bar, and by the time we had enjoyed a welcome pisco sour and learnt about the activities for the next few days, we were mooring up on the banks of the river and it was time to head out to see the wildlife.

After just an hour onboard, I was back onshore beginning the exploration of the dense primary rainforest and any concerns I had about the amount of wildlife I would see taking a cruise were quickly quashed. Our expert local guide knew the trails incredibly well, and our little group saw anacondas, sloths, tarantulas and even a rare and fearsome bushmaster snake.

By the time I returned to the boat for a quick shower and an excellent dinner, I was very happy with how the day had gone, but there was still time for more. I could not resist the opportunity to join a night boat ride, observing nocturnal birds, frogs and caimans in the guide’s light. By the time I finally got back to my cabin after a long day, I was ready for bed and had no trouble sleeping in my air-conditioned cabin.

 

The wildlife in the Amazon gets up early, and it was no different for those of use staying onboard the Delfin.

After watching the sunrise from the deck of the boat, it was time to set off on an early morning skiff ride through the creeks that feed into the Maranon River. Macaws and toucans flew overhead while pink river dolphins played in the water.

 

While we explored, the boat continued its journey upstream, and we caught up to it in our fast skiffs for a delicious breakfast before heading out again. By now the day had warmed up and the wildlife was quietening down, so we cooled off with a dip in the river, trying to forget about the piranhas and caimans that inhabit the dark waters of the Amazon. Back onboard, there was no point changing out of my wet swimwear, as I had signed up for a morning kayaking trip. Heading back upstream on the skiff, I hopped into my kayak and began the paddle back to the Delfin, pausing to watch the birdlife flitting between the trees that lined the river shore. I was back just in time to have a quick shower and change of clothes before a well-earned lunch.

I had been on the Delfin for just 24 hours and it had been non-stop. Pleased with the amount I had already seen and done, and confident about how much wildlife I was going to see in the remaining time onboard, it was time to finally unwind and have another pisco sour and a siesta.

If you’d like to experience Delfin’s Relais & Chauteux style in one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, contact us – we’d love to help you plan your own Peruvian Amazon adventure!

 

 

Taking the Cable Car to Kuelap

Taking the Cable Car to Kuelap

 

Taking the cable car to Kuelap

In 2017 Peru opened its first cable car. Climbing up a steep slope, bypassing a winding road, the cable car makes access to one of Peru most important archaeological sites much easier. No, this is not Machu Picchu – the cable car to reach the iconic Inca citadel is still in the planning stages and may never get off the ground. This is Kuelap, the largest city of the Chachapoyas culture in a remote part of northern Peru…

Kuelap – one of Peru’s most inaccessible historical sites.

Chachapoyas means ‘cloud warriors’ in the language of their Inca conquerors, and it is well-earned name. The Chachapoyas culture was around for a thousand years before the Incas arrived, and they built their settlements high up in the cloud-shrouded mountains. Instead of building their capital in the fertile river valleys, the Chachapoyas people built a city on a high ridgeline which dominates the surrounding landscape. At over 3,000 metres above sea level and encircled by walls which still stand up to 20 metres in places, the Chachapoyas people ruled from their stronghold for over a thousand years until the arrival of the Incas. Built a millennium before work began on Machu Picchu, Kuelap remains one of Peru’s most impressive historical sites.

Until the construction of the French-built cable car, it was also one of Peru’s most inaccessible historical sites. The only way to reach Kuelap had been a five-hour hike from the highway that follows the course of Utcubamba River, or a two-hour drive on a winding dirt road that clung precipitously to the edge of the mountain slopes. Now it takes just 20 minutes by cable car from the small town of Neuvo Tingo, just a short drive from the highway. The views along the way are impressive as the cable car climbs over 1,000 metres in altitude, dropping visitors off at a new visitors’ centre just 20 minutes’ walk from the walls of Kuelap.

With the cable car in operation, there has never been a better time to visit. At the moment, there are still relatively few visitors to this remote part of Northern Peru, but that is bound to change. The cable car station in Nuevo Tingo looks like it has been dropped in from space and is largely an empty shell. Spaces are marked out for gift shops and cafes which have yet to open, and there were just a couple of visitors waiting for the cable car when I arrived. However, there is the capacity to take many more visitors to Kuelap, and visitor numbers are increasing rapidly. The ruins of Kuelap hold a unique sense of ancient mystery, often swathed in clouds and overgrown with vegetation. It is worth visiting now while you can have the site virtually to yourself.

We feature Kuelap in our Lost Peru trip – or can include it in a tailor-made holiday itinerary for you.

A week in Bhutan

A week in Bhutan

A memorable week in Bhutan

Paul Cook

Wendy and Anne Britt travelled with us to Bhutan in October, and told us “We fell in love with Bhutan, the nature, the people, the ethos, everything.” Bhutan is a unique place unlike anywhere else on the planet. Where else in the world is a country’s prosperity measured by its Gross National Happiness?

“We fell in love with Bhutan, the nature, the people, the ethos, everything.”

WENDY SCOTT

October is the ideal time to visit Bhutan. The monsoon rains have ended and the mountains are clear. Paro is the only international airport in Bhutan and the gateway to the country, with flight from Delhi, Nepal and Thailand. The trip Wendy and Anne Brit visited the highlights of Western Bhutan, starting with the capital, Thimpu, not far from Paro and then continuing over the mountain to Punakaha where they rafted along the Po Chhu and Mo Chhu river and then returned to Paro for what is the highlight of many visits to Bhutan, the hike to Tigers Nest. This ancient Buddhist monastery is perched on the side of a cliff only reached by a five hour hike. They gave us some great feedback from their trip and sent us some amazing photos.

“We loved the mountains, the space, the high tree line, the birds, the flowers, the tranquility, the attitude, the temples and monasteries, the people, feeling safe, never being quite sure what tomorrow would bring. The trek up to the Tiger’s Nest was tough, but with spectacular rewards. The white water rafting was a first, and loved it. Sharing temple moments with our guide and driver was very special, as was having the nuns in the nunnery way up in the mountains chant just for us with wishes for a long life. The visit to the farm with dancing, archery, cooking and lunch was a tiny insight into ordinary life in Bhutan. (We realise the dancing etc was not part of ordinary life, but everyone was so friendly and it was fun) Sitting in the early morning at Dhumra Farm Resort overlooking the river and the Dzong shrouded in mist way below us, with a scarlet minivet preening itself right in front of us – a memorable moment.”

WENDY SCOTT

“Given the way the system works in Bhutan, we know that money was being ploughed back into the system in many ways. It was good to realise that monasteries and nunneries, as well as children’s education, would all benefit in some way from our trip.”

WENDY SCOTT

Chiloe, Where Moving House Means Something Different

Chiloe, Where Moving House Means Something Different

Chiloe, Where Moving House Means Something Different

PAUL COOK

I didn’t really know a great deal about Chiloe before I went to Chile. I knew it was the second largest island in South America and that there was a great hotel there, but what I didn’t know is just what a unique place it is, and how different if feels from the rest of Chile.

“There were even daffodils breaking though the grass, which seemed wrong in September”

I was staying at Tierra Chiloe, which is one of the most impressive looking hotels I’ve ever stayed in. Many years ago I trained to be an architect, and was immediately struck by the harmonious blend of local materials and modern design principles. With its sharp angles and exposed concrete, the design is unrelentingly modern, yet it is clad in the wooden shingles which are commonplace on Chiloe and raised up on stilts like many traditional Chilote houses. Perched on a hill top, floor to ceiling sheets of glass take advantage of the impressive view out to sea. The attention to detail is carried through inside, with furnishings from traditional materials and artwork made by local craftsmen.

As I arrived at my hotel, the sun was shining, but a few minutes later the rain came down, bringing with it a dramatic rainbow, the first of many I saw on Chiloe. The west side of the island is exposed to the Pacific and swept by impressive storms, but a range of hills protects the eastern coast where almost all the population live and where Chiloe breaks up into an archipelago of small islands dotting a sheltered bay. The green rolling hills and unpredictable weather reminded me of Wales where I lived for several years. There were even daffodils breaking though the grass, which seemed wrong in September.

“It seems Chiloe is due to change, and it is worth experiencing it while it retains its isolation”

PAUL COOK

There was something of the Welsh atmosphere that carried on in the culture of Chiloe as well, with its people asserting their difference form the rest of the country and nurturing a unique culture. Chile is not really known for its indigenous communities. Much of the rugged country was largely uninhabited before the arrival of the Spanish, and the interaction between the Spanish settlers and the dominant Mapuche community in central Chile was not a harmonious one. However, on Chiloe the first arrivals were the Jesuit priests, who built the first churches and paved the way for a more peaceful settlement of the islands which mixed the Spanish and indigenous cultures. Today, the traditional wooden churches remain, many of them preserved as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the myths and traditions of the community remain strong.

Everywhere I went on Chiloe my guides told me the local legends, which mix traditional indigenous and Spanish beliefs. Phantom ships are said to sail the Pacific, while mermaids patrol the beaches and demons inhabit the forests. On this isolated island, the sense of community is strong, with villagers helping each other and sharing resources and work. They even have their own word for it – minga. This can cover a variety of communal events, but which is most famously associated with the tradition of moving house, which can mean something completely different in Chiloe. When it is time to move house, the entire village works together to literally move the entire building to a new location, mounting it on wooden rollers and pulling it behind a team of oxen, or even floating it across the water to its new location. The tradition is not as common in the current generation, although I was told of a recent case where a house was moved to prevent it from being seized by the banks!

At the moment, the ferry from Puerto Montt is the only way to reach Chiloe, but a bridge from the mainland is due to be completed in the next few years. Like many such projects, the bridge is being greeted by the people of the island with a mixture of hopefulness for the prosperity it may bring and trepidation for the threats it could bring to the unique environment and community. It seems Chiloe is due to change, and it is worth experiencing it while it retains its isolation.

You can read Paul’s various blogs from this journey if you’d like to know more, he’s always happy to chat about Chile if you’re considering a trip here.

Other Chile blogs by Paul include:

Santiago, Parks and Politics

Santiago, Parks and Politics

Santiago, Parks and Politics

PAUL COOK

Everything in Chile revolves around its capital, Santiago de Chile. With over seven million people, nearly half of country’s population live in the city, with many more in nearby towns and cities. As a visitor, there is no getting away from Santiago. It is the only international airport, and with its central location you are bound to have to pass through a few times. During my time in Chile, I had a short time to discover what there is to see and do in the city.

“so had arranged a tour of Santiago
by bike”

It is often said that Santiago is a good place to live, but not a great place to visit. An efficient metro means Santiago avoids the gridlock common elsewhere in South America, and with its strong and stable economy crime and corruption is uncommon. With its mix of 19th century architecture and modern high rises and its temperate climate, only the occasional glimpse of the distant snow-capped Andes reminds you are no longer in Europe. I wanted to get a little beneath the skin of the city to see what makes it different, so had arranged a tour of Santiago by bike. I’m a keen cyclist, but rarely get to ride in South America. However, Santiago is largely flat and with its good network of cycle lanes, there are plenty of other bikes on the road. With my young and enthusiastic guide Stefano, I set off on what was called the “Parks and Politics” tour to learn what makes Santiago tick.

We started with an easy ride through Parque Florestal, which is a notable and much-loved feature of Santiago, running the length of the city along the course of an old river bed. My guide pointed out the many fine pavilions, museum and fountains, but what really stood out on a warm spring day was how busy the park was. As Stefano explained, most Chileans live with their family until they are in their late 20s, so the parks are one of the few places they can find privacy and young couples occupied the park benches and picnicked on the grass.

“My tour happened to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the day Pinochet took power, and so everyone in Santiago was talking politics.”

PAUL COOK

Locking up the bikes, we joined the students in the nearby GAM Cultural Centre. This massive modern building is a landmark of Santiago, but Stefano explained how its history reflected the chequered political history of Chile. Built by volunteer labour to act as a showcase of the country’s culture, it had been taken over by Pinochet’s secret police and later largely abandoned before before it was rebuilt and reclaimed by a new generation. My tour happened to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the day Pinochet took power, and so everyone in Santiago was talking politics. My tour concluded with a cycle into the centre of the city and the political heart of Chile, the Presidential Palace. 45 years early President Salvador Allende had made his farewell speech from inside as bombs fell and Pinochet’s soldiers advanced. Today, at the end of a peaceful sunny day I watched the crowds gathering outside the restored palace to lay flowers at the base of the former president’s statue and felt I understood the city a lot better.

You can read Paul’s various blogs from this journey if you’d like to know more, he’s always happy to chat about Chile if you’re considering a trip here.

Other Chile blogs by Paul include: