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The Llama Travel Blog

Vegetarian’s Guide to Latin America

Written by  Catherine
  • 25 October 2018

All across Latin America, meat reigns supreme. As a vegetarian travelling in the region, you will find your options pretty limited, depending on where you’re travelling. However, there are ways to avoid meat slipping onto your plate.

The first trick is to be mindful of the fact that Latin America culture does not embrace vegetarianism – far from it. In many cases people struggle to comprehend the concept at all. This means that you need to be specific about what you do not eat.

Buenos Aires in Pictures

Written by  Catherine
  • 21 September 2018

Buenos Aires is a sprawling metropolis on the banks of the Rio Plata. With its strong history of immigration (particularly from Italy), Buenos Aires boasts a uniquely European feel for a South American city. Long boulevards are lined with trees and beautiful buildings. Traditional cafes and tango clubs can be found on many corners, and the local population is as diverse and quirky as you'd expect to find in any big city. 

The Amazon rainforest is humming with life, from the large mammal species all the way down to the tiny frogs and insects. This is of course why so many travelers venture into the humid depths of the jungle. If you have a trip planned, these are some of the animals you might encounter while you're there.

Bolivia's Beautiful Highlands

Written by  Catherine

Looking out at the lake, the surrounding mountains were perfectly mirrored in the glassy water. The air was nippy - frescito, as the locals would say – and each breath in gave me a little jolt of energy. I sat on the remains of an adobe wall, now little more than a haphazard pile of bricks, and took in the scenery.

Peru is as diverse as it is beautfiul and like many destinations, the people you meet are as much a part of the experience as the sights. The Peruvian highlands, which encompass Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Lake Titicaca (and more) are home to indigenous people who keep their traditions alive, providing an important insight into how highland communities live. 

For visitors to Torres del Paine, Llama Travel offers two trekking options. The Las Torres Trek is a full day trek of approximately seven hours, crossing uneven terrain, including rustic rope bridges, while the Hike to Lake Sarmiento option is an easier 3 hour walk with gentle undulations.

In either case, you will be exposed to the unpredictable weather conditions of Chilean Patagonia, and packing the right equipment is key to your enjoyment of either trek.

If you are considering a visit to Latin America for the first time, you might not be fully aware of just what makes this region so wonderful. Numerous travel companies exist purely to show the world Latin America, so it must have something worth writing home about, right?

Indeed. It’s tricky to sum up an entire continent in a couple of points, particularly when that continent is as diverse as South America. However, there are certain threads which run the length and breadth of the region.

Ecuador is world famous for the Galapagos Islands – an archipelago which more-than-deserves its reputation. Not only is the wildlife there abundant and easy to spot, but Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was formed here, and to this day the islands are an important destination for scientists.

However, while Galapagos is undoubtedly special, there is more to Ecuador than these offshore islands.

Here are some of the features of mainland Ecuador which make it worth visiting.

Food and culture are intertwined and as eating is a universal activity, it is a great way to experience a new destination. In South America the individual dishes vary but there are some key ingredients which span the continent – maize, rice and meat. Many of the dishes below are served with one or more of these ingredients as a side dish. There is also variation between the coastal and highland dishes, mainly as the highlands experience cooler temperatures. There are endless dishes to try but if you’re not staying for long, you might not get to sample all of them. These are the dishes that deserve a taste whatever the length of your stay. 

Latin America is a beauty - culturally and landscape-wise. Our photo bank is brimming with images of the continent and now seems as good a time as any to showcase some of these photos. These photos reveal just how gorgeous Latin America's landscapes really are. 

The Amazon Jungle. Whether you visit it from Peru, Ecuador or Brazil, you will find that it is lush, and dense, and filled with lots of different plants and animals – the reason you are presumably visiting. You will also find that it can be very damp, if not outright wet, and brimming with insects. Make the most of your Amazon visit by being prepared. 

Santiago, the capital of Chile, is a cosmopolitan city, and arguably quite underrated. Surrounded by the Andes Mountains and the Chilean Coastal Range, it has a striking setting, fascinating history and a nice, modern feel. 

The majority of our travellers to Peru opt to visit the Sacred Valley – its appeal is well-established. There is rich Inca history, indigenous local culture, striking scenery and a relaxing ambience.  Whether you should go or not hardly warrants the question. How long you should go for – that’s a different thing. 

Over here at the Llama Travel offices, we often use the term “flexible group tours”, although what does this actually mean for you? Well it means that you get to pick and choose the places you want to visit, without being limited by a rigid itinerary. Unlike a traditional tailor-made holiday though, you pay group tour prices.

How does that work?

You've been dreaming about visiting the Galapagos and now your flights are finally booked. Your departure date is looming and packing remains on your to do list. What exactly do you need for a trip to the Galapagos? This is a common question we receive, and although each traveller's needs may be slightly different, there are a few staple items which will make anyone's Galapagos visit more pleasant and convenient. Here's what you should pack for a trip to the Galapagos. 

Hiking Chile's Las Torres Trek

Written by  Scott
  • 13 March 2018

Last September I visited Chile, and took on the Las Torres Trek. September is right at the start of the tourism season there, and it was only a few weeks after many of the hotels had re-opened. While there I discovered not only why the Las Torres trek is such a must-do, but why Llama Travel only offers this holiday from November to April. 

So you’ve decided that you want to go on a wildlife holiday in Latin America, but as you do more research, you realise that there are more options than you thought. Here we break down the main options, as well as the pros and cons of each.

Estancia Cristina is a remote ranch in Argentinian Patagonia. It boasts an amazing setting where the Andes Mountains cast shadows across the land and massive glaciers float on the surrounding lagoons. The crisp, fresh air here and the enormity of the landscape is well worth the early morning start! 

I have now made the journey between Cusco and Puno by coach, on the PeruRail Titicaca train and the Belmond Andean Explorer train. Whilst I have enjoyed all the trips, I found the Belmond Andean Explorer to be by far the most enjoyable, combining glamour, romance, luxury and service. It is not cheap, but it is very special.

A hotel-based stay is an increasingly popular option for Galapagos trips, thanks to its affordability and comfort. The islands are explored on a series of day trips and here Jordan discovers the island of North Seymour.

Llama Travel director, Luca Newbold, hadn’t visited Rio in 18 years, but when he did finally go back, he discovered a city more lively and inviting than ever. This is his account of his recent trip to Brazil’s most iconic city.

On visiting Machu Picchu, some people are content to wander amongst the ruins, while others are keen to get a different perspective on them. Climbing Huayna Picchu, the sugarloaf mountain which rises above the ruins, is a favoured challenge when it comes to seeking out an elevated vantage point. Becky, our  Australia sales manager did the climb on a backpacking trip a few years ago, and here she reminisces  on the experience.

The main area of Machu Picchu is quite compact and a three-hour tour of the site allows plenty of time to explore this. However, Machu Picchu is much more than just the main ruins, and there are several other visits that can be made in the area. My favourite of all of these is the climb up Machu Picchu Mountain. This is hard work, but immensely rewarding, with the best views in the area.

“Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.” - Mark Kurlansky

Hacienda Zuleta is a stunning and luxurious farmstay in the Ecuadorian paramo of the Imbabura province, outside Quito. It is a very special destination, as Catherine, our marketing executive discovered recently.

The Sol y Luna is a fabulous hotel by anyone's standards. Located in Peru's Sacred Valley, surrounded by the Andes, and Relais & Chateaux accredited, you know it's going to be a good experience before you get there. What you may not know though is that this isn't just any upmarket hotel. Set up by an intrepid and big-hearted French woman, it exists to support an education project in the valley, and to help improve the lives of the people who live there. Below is an interview with Petit (as she is known), the driving force behind the Sol y Luna Association.

Rediscovering Lima, Peru

Written by  Mari

Our Sales Supervisor, Mari, is a Peru native, born and bred in Lima. She returned recently for a holiday and was pleasantly surprised by how the city has changed

Returning to Lima after 3 and a half years and seeing how much it has improved and grown was mind blowing. To many people Lima is just another city but to me it is a place that holds many great memories with family and friends. Some people think there isn´t much to do there, but Lima has well preserved archaeological sites and museums, not to mention a great gastronomic offering with many Michelin Star restaurants. In fact, Lima’s Central restaurant was voted 4th in the World’s 50 Top Restaurants in 2016.

The joys of rural hospitality seems to be a theme which runs the length and breadth of the world. The further outside the cities you get, the friendlier the people become, and oftentimes, the more inviting the landscapes become too. Latin America is a friendly part of the world to begin with, and boasts a diverse set of landscapes capable of inspiring awe and setting one at ease simultaneously.

Apart from that though, spending some time outside the cities provides a glimpse into a different side of the place you’re visiting. Perhaps this is why hacienda (or estancia) stays in Latin America are becoming ever more popular. We now offer 3 separate opportunities for you to get a taste of hacienda life, ranging from an afternoon excursion to a 3 day/2 night visit. And here they are…

After so many years living in the UK, my annual visits to Brazil tend to be more about food than anything. To be fair, it is not just me, I think it’s a cultural thing, or my family is just crazy, who knows? It suits me! Numerous queries about menus, restaurants, barbeques and dinner parties’ start flooding in as soon as I book my flights, coming from everywhere: my mum, dad, other relatives, friends…

Recently back from Peru having successfully completed the Salkantay Trek (read the day by day account here), Graham has a few tips for those planning on trekking in Peru.

Reaching the famous Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu, on foot is high up on many travellers’ bucket-lists. Whilst the accomplishment brings a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction it is an extremely challenging endeavour. Here are some tips to help you prepare for one of the most famous trekking expeditions in the world.

Graham, a member of the Llama Travel sales team was lucky enough to be sent on the 4 day Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu, a popular alternative to the renowned Inca Trail. This is his account of a magnificent four days.

During my four days of hiking the Salkantay Trail – the lesser known, but none-the-less stunning route to the fabled ancient city of the Incas, Machu Picchu – I was struck by the sheer beauty and diversity of the environment. We ascended ancient Inca paths guarded by majestic snow-capped peaks; navigated our way down rocky mountainous dirt paths in a throng of mule packs, and traipsed along valley paths enveloped in tropical foliage. This is a blow by blow account of the trail.

7 Reasons to Fall in Love with Peru

Written by  Catherine

Latin America is a special part of the world, and each country offers its own gems. As the original Llama Travel destination though, Peru will always hold a special place in our hearts. Furthermore, as one of our most popular destinations, it is clear that our high opinion of Peru is widely shared. If you are wondering what all the fuss is about, read on for the reasons everybody loves Peru.

Last December, I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in the depths of wild Patagonia, the vast, almost-unpopulated area found in the very southern end of South America. This unique area is known for its varied landscapes, amazing birdlife, and the feeling of being completely cut off from reality. One could easily spend months exploring this part of Chile and Argentina, but here, in no particular order, I have outlined my top five, unmissable Patagonian experiences.

Suzi Livingstone, Llama's Operations Manager, spent a few nights in the lap of luxury in the Tierra Atacama hotel, our superior hotel option in the Atacama.

On my recent trip to Chile I was lucky enough to be able to stay at the Tierra Atacama (Llama Travel's superior hotel option in Chile’s Atacama Desert, ), situated in the tourist town of San Pedro de Atacama. Having worked with this hotel for some time, I had pretty high expectations when I arrived. I’m glad to report that Tierra Atacama exceeded my expectations, by a long shot.

Food and culture go hand-in-hand, and it follows that eating is a very important aspect of travel for many people. I, for one, find eating the weird and wonderful food of other countries to be among the most enjoyable aspects of travel. I love food in general, and I also love adventures, so culinary adventures are right up my alley. There is little I find more enjoyable when travelling, than sitting myself down at an unassuming little spot off the main drag, and indulging in whatever dish comes recommended by the staff.

I can’t really explain why I’ve always wanted to visit Easter Island; I guess I just can’t resist a good mystery, and Easter Island holds plenty of these. The big-headed men staring down at the island residents and passing tourists have seen many things in their lifetimes, and I wanted to learn more about who they were, and how on earth they got there.

Gary Finnerty, our Sales Manager, spent 6 months travelling in Latin America before finding himself on Llama Travel's doorstep. This is his account of his time in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

“I will never forget it.” Those were the words uttered by a friend which convinced me that I should visit Torres Del Paine National Park, a natural wonder at the bottom of the earth. Coming from a seasoned traveller, I trusted her word - all I knew was that I wanted to visit Patagonia, I knew very little about the geography or what it had to offer. The more I learnt about it the more excited I became.

The journey from Ushuaia was a long but fascinating one, the landscape changing dramatically along the way and with a river and border crossing to keep things interesting. I arrived into Puerto Natales late at night and travelled to the park the next day.

Strolling up the street towards the local market, the din of buyers and sellers negotiating deals gets louder as you approach the entrance. On the block leading up to the large covered area, the pavements burst with temporary stalls and once inside, the intensity of a local market in full swing hits you.

A stall laden with colourful fruit catches your eye, and next to it, one astonishes you with its variety of root vegetables. Further down the aisle you can buy fruit smoothies and milky drinks and then you turn a corner and are suddenly confronted with a hunk of meat hanging off a hook, a pig head resting on the corner of the counter and the distinct smell of raw meat.

All You Need is Ecuador

Written by  Catherine

Catherine! Un gusto conocerte! This was a phrase I heard over and over again in Ecuador, always with the emphasis on gusto – it was a genuine pleasure to meet me. Contrary to how this might be construed, it says more about the Ecuadorian people than it does about my likeability as a person (although I am charming).

I crossed the border into Ecuador at 5am on a dark, but already warm and sticky morning. Going through immigration was a shock to the system, ejected from the dark morning into the harsh fluorescent lighting, to stand in line for a passport stamp while babies cried and a group of teenagers on a school trip shouted excitedly over one another. It was not a particularly pleasant experience, but it was soon forgotten. Back on the bus, I could not bring myself to doze, overcome as I was by the sensation of being in a new country.

The Zika Virus is a hot topic at the moment, and many travellers and potential travellers to South America are wondering what the outbreak means for their travel plans. Here we answer some frequently asked questions about the virus, helping you to make informed travel decisions that are right for you. 

We are very pleased to announce that Llama Travel has been awarded first place in the Top Tour Operator category of the Wanderlust Readers’ Awards 2016, out of 484 entrants.

The awards, which are well-known in the travel industry, cover categories including Top City, Top UK Destination, Top Emerging Destination, Top Country, Best Guidebook and Best Equipment Brand – all things travel-related in other words. The awards’ uniqueness lies in that the winners are chosen based on satisfaction scores by Wanderlust Readers themselves, not number of votes.

One of the great benefits of working for Llama Travel is that I am able to visit some of the most beautiful places in the world, and in my opinion there is no place more magnificent than the Torres del Paine National Park, in the south of Chile.

The park is most famous for the Paine Massif, a towering collection of rocks that rise up to the sky, scraping heights of 2,800m and so creating an incredible sight on the horizon. However, this blog is not about the magnificence of the park itself, if it was it would be a lot longer with a lot more superlatives. It is instead about the Rio Serrano hotel, Llama Travel’s choice of hotel and a personal favourite of mine.

Llama Travel’s Travel Consultant Matt has travelled all over South America, from the dense jungles of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest to the colonial cities of Colombia, but for him, a certain volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean will always be a particularly special place. Read on to see why Matt thinks that the Galapagos Islands are as extraordinary today as they were when Darwin first set foot on them almost 180 years ago.

South America is a land of incredible vistas and astounding cities, but for me, the best thing about South America is the amazing animals that live there. From the long limbed Jabiru stork wading through the wetlands of the Pantanal, to the scuttling red Sally Lightfoot crabs that scamper the shores of the Galapagos Islands, and cheeky capuchin monkeys that swing through the treetops of Costa Rica, South America is a wildlife lover’s dream. The below list of my particular favourites only scratches the surface of the spectacular spectrum of wildlife that call the Americas home.

Brazil, with its beautiful beaches and colourful cities, has much to offer the adventurous holidaymaker. But for a unique and really fulfilling experience, I would recommend delving deeper inland and spending some time in the Brazilian Pantanal.

The region known as the Pantanal fills an extensive area in central Brazil, and is home to the largest wetland on earth. What makes it so special is the amount of wildlife found here: thousands of species live in this ecological sanctuary. The largely open landscape means that wildlife sightings happen all the time: a giant anteater will stumble out of a thicket, its bushy tail trailing through the grass; red and blue macaws launch out of the treetops, gliding in pairs; water birds and red-necked jabiru storks dive into water pools, feeding on trapped fish.

Just about everyone who visits Peru goes to Machu Picchu and loves it. You can visit on a day trip from Cusco or the Sacred Valley, and this is fabulous. It’s a long day (the Llama Travel excursion starts before 6am and you get back to Cusco around 9pm), but very satisfying. This includes a beautiful train journey, an in-depth guided tour of Machu Picchu and a great lunch in the restaurant next to the ruins. As Machu Picchu is quite a compact site, you visit most of the important parts of the ruins on the guided visit. So, given that you can visit Machu Picchu and see many of the significant sites in on a day trip, why would you want to spend a night there? Well, lots of reasons…

Llama Travel’s Sales Manager Graeme has always been a fan of travelling in comfort and style. For his latest blog he has reviewed some of his favourite superior hotels in Peru, from location and facilities to dining and atmosphere, and why in his opinion they are worth every pound of their upgrade supplement!

“I like my comforts when I travel. I always have. When I check in to my hotel, I like to know a very comfortable bed is waiting for me, the minibar is stocked, room service is a phone call away and most importantly a bathroom with a fantastic shower and soft white bathrobe will make the long flight dwindle away and energise me for my holiday ahead.

I’ve written about some of our choice superior hotels for those of you, who like me, like a little bit extra.

Llama Travel’s Travel Consultant Charlotte recently had the pleasure of taking her first trip to Argentina and Chile. It came as no surprise to her that the glaciers were vast and beautiful, Torres del Paine was magnificent and awe-inspiring and that Buenos Aires was elegant and thriving. Something that did come as a surprise to Charlotte was just how much she loved the Chilean Lake District. So much so that she has decided to make it the subject of her first blog from her Patagonia travels. Read on to see why Charlotte thinks the Chilean Lake District is more than worth a visit.

Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago at the end of the world, has been a beacon to explorers since the days of Magellan and Darwin. Lying off the southernmost tip of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego encompasses a scattering of islands across the stormy South Atlantic and the Strait of Magellan. The islands of Tierra del Fuego, including the desolate Cape Horn and the Diego Ramírez Islands, are the forerunners to the frozen expanses of Antarctica, and exist in very harsh subpolar conditions. The largest island in the archipelago is Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, a rugged region of mountain ranges and steppe, fringed with glaciers and dramatic coastlines.

All travellers passing through the US are required to fill in an online form to obtain authorisation for a US Visa Waiver. The form can be found here: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov

This will take you the US Department of Homeland Security web page where you can apply. Once there, please click on the New Application button and follow the instructions. 

Although this can be filled in up to 72 hours before travel, we recommend that you fill in this form as soon as possible so any issues can be identified immediately. Please make sure that this form is filled out for all the passengers on your booking.

Please note that although you can fill in all the details requested on the online form only the fields marked with a "*" are required. If you have any questions about this please don’t hesitate to contact us.