Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Being in Buenos Aires

Even though I live in Buenos Aires it is impossible to take this special city for granted. Buenos Aires is perhaps one of the most extraordinary cities there is, or at least one of the more spectacular cities I have ever visited. I thought a quick entry on Buenos Aires would do this blog good and perhaps be helpful to anyone planning on visiting the city.

In Buenos Aires, each barrio (or neighborhood) has something different, and often surprising, to offer to its visitors. One can walk in the colorful Boca neighborhood, visit the famous cemetery in Recoleta, relish a delicious Argentinean steak in any number of the high scale restaurants of Palermo, or listen to the melancholic sounds of the bandoneon playing the last tango of the night in a small bar in Almagro.

The different barrios are also connected to the world in their own particular manner. Boca is not only the colorful old harbor where Italian immigrants once resided, but it also the home of the legendary football club Boca Juniors, where Diego Maradona started his career. Debatably the best football player of all time – which can be argued (although not with Argentineans) – Maradona is unique in many ways, not least because of his goals in the World Cup of 1986 where the saying “Hand of God” chiseled itself forever into the jargon of the football world. Diego’s thrashing of the English on that fateful day – so I am told – was his own personal response to the war fought in the Falklands. Regardless of his motives, Maradona successfully put la Boca on the map, and with its many colorfully painted corrugated iron sheet buildings, and its world famous stadium, La Boca is a great place to visit.

Eva “Evita” Perón Duartes’ grave can be found in the Cemetery of Recoleta, a charming (and slightly gothic) looking cemetery filled with picturesque tombs and angelic statues. Catholicism in Argentina is of course the prevalent religion, and wealthy Argentineans have in the past chosen the most elaborate tombs imaginable. Evita’s remains were exhumed and reburied in the cemetery, while recently there were unsuccessful calls for her husband’s bones to be buried with hers. Funnily enough, Evita was originally a poor country girl who wanted to become an actress, but then turned into the country’s first leading lady and an angelical pariah figure for the poor. She was highly skilled with playing with the tax payer’ funds in order to make people think she was a great charity giver, but while supporting her husband’s (Juan Domingo Perón) political moves, she loved to dress up in the finest European gowns and adorn herself with jewelry. Her funeral in 1952 was an unforgettable event in the Argentinean history and the famous cemetery where she was buried is a national landmark. Its great place for visitors to pass a few hours, wandering among the many beautiful tombs and cornices belonging to the late greats of Argentina’s long ago.

Apart from these historical figures, the present Buenos Aires has an abundance of qualities that make it both a dynamic and fantastic city. There is a reason why it is called the Paris of Latin America. It is because it is beautiful.

There are plenty of old-style cafés and bars to be found on the corners. The fabled tango can be seen being performed live on the streets; many of porteños (the inhabitants of Buenos Aires) practice the dance themselves and go to milongas (tango dance halls) on the weekends. And the steak – well words fail even me. In order to understand the fabled beef of Argentina, you just have to try it. Even if meat is not your favorite thing, the city offers world-class dining with its ethnic diversity; with sushi, kosher and arab food being a few of the most outstanding examples.

Cultural activities and events, parks with handicraft markets, a public transportation system that works incredibly well (generally considered to be a miracle in Latin America) and a political activism that can be perceived all over the city, are just a few building blocks of the everyday routine of Buenos Aires. It really is a genuine mixture of Europe and Latin America (spiced with subtle Asian, African and North American influences). It’s a great place to visit, a great place to live, and a genuinely all round great place to be.

All the best


Friday, October 26, 2007

Ten Years in the Latin American Travel Game

Hello again fellow travelers. Recently Class Adventure Travel turned ten years old. It’s quite a monumental moment for us to tell the truth and both Karin and I feel very proud. Over the past ten years we have been working very hard to build up what we hope will one day become the preferred incoming tour operation company in Latin America. The journey so far has been fantastic and while the work has been hard, we have – over the years – traveled to so many extraordinary places, witnessed so many incredible things, and had the privilege to work with such great people that we both feel truly blessed.

It all started a little over 12 years ago when I was traveling through one of Ecuador’s innermost jungles, spending some time living it rough and experiencing the Amazon first hand. It was in the middle of some spectacular jungle trail – somewhere not to far from Misahuallí – (after being bitten by a spider and cured by a cacique!), where the idea first came to me to start a travel company in Latin America. It all centered around two of my deepest wishes; firstly that of turning my greatest hobby (travel, of course) into a professional way of living, and secondly trying to establish possibilities to help build a bridge between Latin America and the rest of the world.

I returned to Holland where Karin and I began working on getting some money together in order to be able to move back to Latin America and get a company started. Many people thought us crazy, the idea of starting a tour company in South America back then was not the type of initiative embraced for its financial viability. Eventually however, we managed to borrow enough money from a few friends and family members and were ready to get started. Against the advice of quite a few people, we both finally agreed that Peru would be the best place to begin. In the beginning of the nineties, Peru had just come out of a bloody civil war. Abimael Guzman, the leader of the notorious Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), had only been captured a few years before we chose Peru, and while stability had returned to the country, many still feared some form of Maoist revolution would come. These fears however seemed blown out of proportion, and with a phenomenal array of both natural and man-made wonders, a peaceful Peru was a tourist Mecca just waiting to happen.

And so we went to Peru, with little more than a couple of suitcases, a little borrowed money, and a couple of really big dreams. Karin and I opened our first office in Lima in 1997. The first year was incredibly difficult, and I often had to work other jobs in order to support us while Karin kept on working tirelessly on getting and keeping Class Adventure Travel off the ground. We came very close to giving up that first year, but luck was on our side and after one year, more or less, business began to pick up. At the end of that famous first year we had received a grand total of 27 passengers… The work experience was what made all the difference though!

The following year I returned to Holland to work for a few months in order to gain some more capital for the company while Karin continued working in Lima. By the end of our second year we were gaining ground, and while we weren’t making any serious money, we could finally consider the company to be fully self-supportive. It was finally beginning to look as though we were going to succeed and at the end of the second year we had actually received a total of 303 passengers.

After over 4 years of courting, Karin finally decided to marry me in 1998; and when we returned to Peru from the wedding in Holland, things finally began to take off in earnest. We began to hire our first employees, we moved into a bigger office, and in the beginning of 2000 we formally opened our first office in Cusco. In 2003 we organized tours for over 2,000 clients, and it was time to start looking outwards to the rest of Latin America. Not only did Karin and I want to open new offices in other countries, we began thinking about moving to another Latin American country in order to get a new perspective on the continent. The options were many and we ended up traveling through Chile, Argentina, and Brazil looking for the right place to settle down.

It was in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that we opened our next office in 2004. Later that same year, Karin and I moved to Buenos Aires where we set up a regional head quarters for Argentina and Chile. In August that year our first daughter Edie was born – the first proud Argentine-Dutch member of our family. Please note Karin basically went through this entire expansion and emigration phase pregnant (Edie was born 2 months after we had arrived to Argentina)… She is a strong woman and most definitely more than my significant other half; without her this company would not have survived, I am pretty sure of that.

As our family grew – so did our company. We began to form alliances with a number of affiliate travel companies in other Latin American countries – and it wasn’t long before the company was able to offer tours across the continent. Most recently we opened a proper office in Costa Rica– a venture that will give us the opportunity to offer tours in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama, and will give our clientele the opportunity of undertaking the very best there is on offer in each of these Central American countries.

Karin and I celebrated the birth of our second daughter Noa earlier this year, increasing the number of family members to 4 (2 Dutch and 2 Argentine!). Noa just turned 2 months old, while Class Adventure Travel turned 10 years old. In retrospect it seems like quite a journey, although in everyday working life one hardly realizes what has had to happen for our little company to become what it is today… After ten years in Latin America, we have seen so many breathtaking places, have learned so much, we’ve grown, we’ve been graced with the presence of two incredibly beautiful daughters, and we’re delighted that we get to continue our adventure through this extraordinary continent together with all the wonderful people in our team.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: as an anniversary special – We have decided to knock 10% off all tours publicized on our website. The offer stands on all tours purchased before the 31st of December this year – regardless of when you’re actually traveling. It’s a good deal (at least I think so…), and our special way of trying to encourage all of you to travel to Latin America and witness some of the many beautiful things we have been lucky to see over the years. For more information take a look at CAT’s Special Promotional Offer on the Class Adventure Travel website. Hope you all like it; let me know what you think!


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Save the Bahuaja Sonene National Park

An urgent appeal to all fellow travelers. It has recently come to my attention that the Peruvian Government and a number of large multinationals are planning to reduce the size of one of the country’s key national parks by 200, 000 hectares. If the proposed bill – soon to be deliberated by the Peruvian Congress – gets passed, concessions will be granted to a number of gas companies in the Bahuaja Sonene National Park. As surreal as such a plan may seem, pressure from large wayward conglomerates has led the Peruvian Government to make some very poor decisions in the past, and it is not inconceivable that such a bill could be passed.

Located in the South Eastern department of Madre de Dios, Bahuaja Sonene (sometimes called the Tambopata Candomo Park) has historically been off limits to everyone. It is perhaps one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet, and is home to a number of endemic and endangered wildlife. The park is also home to an area of Amazonian savannah, the sole of its kind and unique to the area. Recently, members of an indigenous group, thought to be the Mascho Piro, were spotted living north of the park. This sighting makes the existence of indigenous groups living inside the secluded park extremely likely.

Not only it seems will this project endanger the extraordinary flora and fauna found in the reserve (much of which remains undiscovered), but it also seriously risks destroying an already endangered culture and threatening the health of members of indigenous groups who are still believed to be fatally susceptible to such maladies as the common cold.

200,000 hectares. I know it just seems like a figure, but let’s put it into perspective. Comparatively speaking, we’re talking about an area of land about the same size as Luxembourg, just a little smaller than Rhode Island. This isn’t just a few football fields – it is an enormous tract of untouched land. And not just any land either. We’re talking about what is probably the most biologically diverse environment on the planet – and in one fowl swoop, a group of backward greedy institutions would have this reduced by an area the size of a small country.

In a time when global warning is the most prevalent threat to the continued survival of us all, it seems that there are people out there determined to destroy this beautiful planet even further. The destruction of this beautiful park for financial gain – or any other gain for that matter – simply cannot be allowed. An appeal needs to be made to the Peruvian Government as soon as possible. They need to know just how atrocious and devastating this proposed bill will be, and they need to know the extent of the opposition towards it, so that when the bill gets deliberated, the right choices can be made. Currently there is petition online at I urge everyone to take a minute or two to sign this and get their voices heard. I would also encourage people to oppose the US-Peru Free Trade agreement which will give large US multinationals free reign to plunder the country’s many natural treasures. A petition against the agreement can be signed here - Democracy in Action. If anyone has any further information on this issue, and knows of ways which could help us unite against this bill being passed, please let us know.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Patagonia Expedition

Patagonia. There really is no way to describe this magical land in a manner that does the region’s beauty any justice. Patagonia simply challenges your imagination – and wins. You just have to go there and see the place for yourself. Soaring fjords, ice blue glaciers, pristine forests, and domineering snow capped mountains, combine to create what one can only describe as a land lost to the mind but found in the heart.

I love Patagonia and even though I have been there a number of times, it was with great excitement that I returned recently. The trip took a couple of weeks and while I initially traveled with an old friend, I completed the second leg of my last tour to Patagonia with my wife and daughter. The idea behind the trip was to map out one of the Fly-Drive Adventures we offer in the region; Fly-Drives are adventure packages that involve flying to a destination, picking up a car and driving around an entire region before flying back home. Experience has taught me that this is the best way to explore a vast territory like Patagonia and to add to the fun we decided to go one up on the fly drive and add water into the land/air equation by doing part of this trip on a cruise ship in order to explore the watery side of Patagonia as well.

It was without pretense that I began this latest adventure with Lambert – an old friend and new travel companion. Lambert is quite possibly the wittiest Dutchman in Argentina, and it was without reserve that I started this journey with him. Together we boarded a flight in Buenos Aires, excitement and a little trepidation setting in. Four hours later we were coming in to land over the peaks surrounding Ushuaia. Ushuaia is the most southerly city on the globe and is often described as the place at the end of the world. In my mind’s eye, I have always envisioned this city as being out-of-the-way, coldly forlorn, and as far south as one could possibly travel without climbing in a boat. As a result it is hard for me to realize that – give or take a little – Ushuaia is only as far south as my own hometown in Holland is north. With a chilly climate, an adventurous atmosphere and a remarkable Patagonian oddness about it, Ushuaia feels a lot further away than it probably is. After numerous travels – it still remains the best feeling; to climb off a plane and into another adventure…

In the past, Ushuaia town has been home to a penal colony, a missionary stronghold, and a naval base for the Argentine Navy. Following the economic crash in 2002 in Argentina, Ushuaia’s popularity as a tourist attraction sky rocketed – people could now afford to travel here. Travelers from all over the world come to Ushuaia for its scenery, its amazing hiking trails, and of course because it is perhaps the most economic and convenient place in the world to start an adventure to Antarctica. Ushuaia is also of course home to the fabled Lighthouse at the end of the world – made famous by Jules Verne’s novel of the same name.

After a bay tour and a couple of nights in a reasonable hotel – Lambert and I had taken in about as much of Ushuaia as we possibly could. As our plan revolved around the drive up north through Patagonia we looked around for a good car to rent and eventually managed to find a Volkswagen Polo for a good rate. Not what we had in mind exactly when we set off, but it turned out to do an excellent job. We left Ushuaia – driving through some jaw-dropping Patagonia landscapes – and headed towards Rio Grande. Lakes and mountains line the roadside and upon reaching Rio Grande, expansive plains reach out towards the horizon. Rio Grande is located on the northern tip of the island of Tierra del Fuego and while it is described as the Garden City of Argentina, its industrial nature did not attract us, mildly put. After spending an evening exploring the city we climbed back in the VW the next day and continued onwards into Chile.

After crossing the ever-impressive Straits of Magellan we made our way on towards Punta Arenas – the southernmost city in Chile. The residents of Punta Arenas – as well as most Chileans – are rather vocal about their belief that Punta Arenas is actually the most southerly city in the world. As far as the grounds for this claim are concerned I am unsure. Punta Arenas clearly lays at least a degree north of Ushuaia. And the argument that Ushuaia is in itself not a city is rather groundless. By every differing measure discerning a city from a town Ushuaia comes up as the former (and strangely enough – though I may be misinformed – Chileans gauge a city as any urban settlement with a population of over 5,000 inhabitants). Clearly the title belongs to Ushuaia. Punta Arenas however, is not without its charm and although the weather was rather miserable as Lambert and I entered the city – the many rustic buildings and colored tin roofs gave the city an aura of tranquility and repose. In its own peaceful way, this city has survived the ups and downs of history as a port on the Magellan Straits, and has emerged, a couple of hundred years after its modest beginnings, as though nothing much had ever really changed. The occasional horse drawn cart is visible, as is the age-old look on a few of the local faces which suggests an awkward indifference towards out-of-towners. But all in all Punta Arenas was a worthy and comfortable stop-over.

Lambert and I took a few days exploring the city and getting to know its charms before dropping off the Polo and trading it for a more suitable vehicle for some of the off road driving planned for later on during the trip. I picked up a Mitsubishi Double Cab Turbo Diesel and we set off once again, reentering Argentina before proceeding towards Calafate. The drive took us once again through some absolutely stunning scenery as we crossed over the Andes. The small town of Calafate is home to some of the world’s most impressive glaciers. Named after a yellow flowered scrub that thrives in the region, the small town of Calafate boasts idyllic views over Lake Argentino and the Los Glaciers National Park; the white capped peaks of which tower in the background and promise sites and scenes of unimaginable beauty.

The day after Lambert and I arrived in Calafate, I went to the town’s small airport to pick up Karin and our daughter Edie who had just flown in from Buenos Aires. Lambert then returned to Buenos Aires on a plane later that day in order to return to work – and Karin, Edie and I set out together for what was to become the second leg of this Patagonian Adventure.

The Three Musketeers, we set off for the Los Glaciers National Park – and more specifically to the beautiful Perito Moreno glacier. The cliff face of this glacier forms a giant wall of imposing ice that – from horizon to horizon – looms precariously over the shadowy river below, and has the effect of being at once both frighteningly beautiful and hazardously surreal. Surrounded by snowy peaks and rolling forests of lengas and ñires, this glacier could quite easily be from another planet. We’d chosen the right time of the year to visit and – with the warmer temperatures – we could literally hear the ominous cracking of the glacier reverberating across the valley. Quite often huge blocks of ice detach themselves from the cliff face and collapse into the river below, creating a thunderous noise and monstrous splash. The spectacle of seeing these “ice bergs” break loose is an experience that no words can ever quite describe. Somehow, due to the distance, and the radiant light that deflects off the ice the actual size of the glacier and of the blocks that fall off seem far smaller than they really are; the huge cracking noise, followed by the enormous thud as the ice hits the water and the immense waves caused by it, take you by surprise and in some strange way make the hairs in your neck rise and send a tingling feeling down your spine. After that, what’s left is awe and silence.

The following day we began driving some 4 hours from El Calafate, north towards El Chalten – a small sleepy town that lies at the foot of the impressive Cerro Fitz Roy.

Cerro Fits Roy imposes itself upon the valley that surrounds it like a dark and dangerous dictator – tall, jagged, absolute, and unquestionable. Under a deeply blue hued sky, the towering peak of granite stone and snowy cliff face presents a truly awe-inspiring site. A few lesser peaks surround Cerro Fitz Roy – and while not as tall – they are equally astounding. A number of treks and trails are available in the park – most of which are truly extraordinary I am told. Of course trekking with an infant is not a viable option – still the 4x4 afforded us the luxury of driving to areas of the park we would have been unable to see otherwise. And so, following a day of sightseeing around Cerro Fitz Roy, we found a small hotel in El Chalten and called it a day.

The following morning we rose early in order to set out for Chile – this would be the second time I’d be entering Chile on this journey – and the second time I’d be crossing directly through the Andes. Passing through the desolate Paso Cancha Carrera crossing in the morning we were graced with some amazing views of Cerro Castillo before continuing onwards to Torres del Paine National Park.

The Torres del Paine National Park is simply breathtaking. Glaciers, lakes, woodlands, and the iconic jutting peaks combine to create what is without a doubt some of the most stunning natural scenery I have ever seen. The large towering granite massifs are much like Cerro Fitz Roy – Jagged peaks jutting up towards the heavens. The highest massif, Cerro Paine Grande, is even more imposing and impossible than Cerro Fitz Roy. The mirror-like lake below the peaks so perfectly reflects their towering grandeur that if you close your eyes ever so slightly and open your imagination a little, the peaks and their reflection take the form of giant islands floating in a flawless sky.

Careful: this is one of those truly wonderful places; take some time to look, really look at what spectacular beauty lies rolled out before your eyes, breathe the fresh air rolling over the hills and allow yourself to feel grateful to have been granted some time in this raw and overwhelming nature. You need at least three days to uncover only the very beginning of what is possible to see in the park. We drove around and admired the sites for three perfect days – and were it not for the fact that we were on a tight schedule and had to get to Punta Arenas in order to board the Mare Asutralis cruise liner – we could quite easily have remained in the park much longer.

We left for Punta Arenas mid-morning and were in the city before lunch. I had just enough time to drop the car off at the rental agency before we all boarded the Mare Australis for a five day cruise that would end in Ushuaia. On board we met some other very good friends: Marc, Zoe and their daughter Asante. We all got to know each other in Lima, Peru where we all lived and made fun trips together. We followed each other to Buenos Aires a couple of years ago. Meanwhile our family situations have changed and Asante and Edie have become friends, so it was a natural choice to make this trip together again.

We initially set out towards southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego through the Straits of Magellan. The Mare Australis is a comfortable ship, and while Karin and Zoe were initially worried that Edie and Asante might suffer from sea sickness – their worries were completely unfounded. On our first evening, a pale moon lit the sky above the fabled straits as we smoothly sailed onwards.

We woke early the next morning to the sight of an indescribable sunrise over a calm and tranquil fjord. We proceeded onwards to the Marinelli Glacier in Ainsworth Bay where we were invited aboard one of the smaller zodiacs in order to get a closer look at the weird and wondrous ice formations.
The voyage continued amid a never ending display of sights and scenes of Patagonian delight. We traveled up the Pia fjord and then up the northwest arm of the Beagle Channel and through the enchanting Glacier Alley.

If you make this cruise, do not shy away from the cold, but dress up warmly and go out on the top deck around midnight, when the sky is clear and if possible during full moon. It is a very strange feeling standing on top of that ship, moving steadily through the icy waters, snow-peaked mountain ranges on either side of the channel, a pitch black sky filled with thousands of stars and everything bathing in that milky light of the full moon…Wow. The Mare Australis has a telescope up there and I can tell you looking at the moon, just watching it, seemingly so close by, you almost feel like you can touch it. I forgot I was freezing and almost missed the last round at the bar.

We then made our way through the Beagle Channel past the Cape Horn where Pacific and Atlantic seas converge. We spent a morning exploring the Cape Horn National Park. We stood on the tip of the island and looked south towards Antarctica. One day I will travel there with my family. We however turned around, boarded the boat, and were back in Ushuaia the following morning. After 5 days on board the ship – climbing into the airplane back to Buenos Aires felt almost unnatural. This had been another incredible trip down south.

Patagonia – that never ending place of magic and wonder. It will definitely not be long before I travel there again.

Take care travelers


Friday, August 17, 2007

Earthquake in Peru : How can WE help

As you will probably know by now, Peru was hit by the worst earth quake in the past 50 years last Wednesday evening, August 6th at 6.40 pm Local Time. Epicenter was 60 km off the coast of Ica, some 200 km south of Lima. 2 consequent quakes, the first of which measured 8.0 on the Richter Scale and the second 7.6, shook the whole South of Peru for 2 minutes and destroyed the cities of Ica and Pisco and their surrounding areas almost completely. Thus far 510 people are confirmed killed, 1600 injured, 17,000 houses destroyed and over 85,000 people homeless or otherwise affected by this tragedy.

Having lived in Peru for nearly 7 years, this hits Karin , myself and the CAT Team in a very direct way as lots of people are suffering right now. We have a lot of friends and colleagues in the area, so our thoughts are with them and their families at this time as we hear more terrible stories on the news.

Besides the human side of the catastrophe, we've also received news that there are many tourist sites have been damaged in the Paracas/Pisco Area, including the famous Catedral de Paracas , and the Mummies Museum...we still don't know the latest situation of "El Candelabro" or the Ballesta Islands.

At CAT we all have been extremely lucky as so far our team members, families and friends in Peru were saved from this dreadful experience. One of our team members has her family living in Ica but apart from their house being destroyed, miraculously they too were spared. Still many, many people are in direct need of help and as rescue operations are starting , we would like to call for your help as well to help the people in the Ica and Pisco region. Please click on the following link to see what you can do to help relieve the worst anguish for those most in need:

If you can, please be so kind to cut and paste this html banners in your blog or e-mail signature to let people know how can they help.

Peru Earthquake. HELP needed!!

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If this banner format doesn't fit you, please find other variations here:

Thank you very much in advance for your generosity; the people in Peru will be better of thanks to you.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Iguacu – Nature’s Monument to the Mystery of Latin America

In a way, no South American Travel Blog would be complete without an Iguacu entry. Like Machu Picchu, the giant falls have become both an integral part of Latin America, as well as an iconic representation of the type of beauty so often found within the continent. I think everyone finds something in Iguacu. However, it all depends on the individual, and whether they experience a life altering realization, a subtle understanding of nature, or even just a quiet peace of mind, people both lose and find themselves in this jungle waterfall wonderland. Over the years, I have traveled to Iguacu a number of times for both business and pleasure and am always amazed. And amid bromeliads, vines, orchids and a kaleidoscope of brightly colored butterflies, the mighty falls never fail to impress me with their reckless beauty.

The name Iguacu derives from Guarani and translates as “Great Water”. It’s a very apt description to say the very least. According to local tradition I am told that the falls were created when a Guarani god fell in love with a beautiful young girl in the area and decided to make her his wife. Listless in this regard however, the young girl took off with her lover in a boat and headed downstream. The god’s wrath was apparently terrible, and in order to avenge himself he broke the river Iguacu and created the falls which sent the young girl and her lover to a watery grave. It seems like a rather elaborate way to extract revenge – I agree – but when looking out over the falls and appreciating their sheer immensity it’s easy to gauge how annoyed the deity must have been. All I can say is that she really must have been unbelievably attractive to evoke such a wonder.

The falls themselves consist of 270 separate cascades that stretch in white veiled patches for over 2.7 kilometers with vivid green jungle sprouting spectacularly between the waterfall segments wherever it can. The Garganta do Diabo or Devil’s Throat is perhaps the most impressive of all the falls and with a U bend shape, it stretches for over 700 meters. The fall marks the division between Brazil and Argentina and is best seen from the Brazilian side, but best experienced from the Argentina side as you’re much closer to the actual falls. A raised platform on the Argentine side leads one out over the river for almost a kilometer right up to the very edge of the Devil’s Throat. The lookout point is so close to the falls that you can almost touch the billowing clouds of mist that rise up from the depths and obscure the view of Brazil across the river. Its rather magical standing right there and feeling both the immensity and power of the river as it falls right by you.

I enjoy Iguacu from both the Brazilian and Argentine sides – both have their merits, and it is generally recommendable to spend time on either side in order to get a better feel for the falls. Both the Brazilian and Argentine side offer a number of different activities, with everything from jungle walks and abseiling, to adventure rafting and helicopter rides available. The Macuco Safari offered on the Brazilian side involves a spectacular hike and drive through the surrounding forest down to the river where you board a large outboard motor speed boat and make your way up river to the falls. The drivers – all fully professional – skillfully maneuver the boat directly under the falling water in what can only be described as a heart stopping yet life changing experience. It changes ones perspective and I loved it. The Helicopter flights are also very worthwhile – the view from a thousand feet above the falls is utterly unbelievable and the pilots are skilled at taking the choppers as close as possible to the falling water.

From a regional point of view, the falls lie between Brazil and Argentina; while another of the area’s famous sites – the great Itaipu Dam – lies between Paraguay and Brazil. The Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant is the largest of its kind in the world. It’s well worth seeing for no other reason than the sheer size of the dam is mind boggling. I am very pro hydroelectric power as it’s a great way to generate clean energy – and while the dam itself looks like a bit of a concrete abrasion on what is probably one of the most beautiful parts of Latin America – one needs to take into account the fact that the plant supplies Brazil with close to 25% of its power needs, and Paraguay with almost 97%. That is a lot of clean energy. The dam is rated at one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World – and with enough concrete to build 210 giant football stadiums, and enough steel to build 380 Eiffel Towers; it is hardly any wonder why.

Three settlements in three different countries converge around Iguacu and give the area a distinctive feel and vibe. While you’re on the Brazilian side you feel very much as though you are in Brazil. The same holds true for the Argentine and Paraguayan sides, and this is strange as one could almost argue that the three settlements are so close to one another that they practically make up the same city. Brazilian Foz de Iguacu is the largest, and within the lively city it is easy to find samba, capirinhas, and colorful attitudes. The Argentine side is home to Puerto de Iguassu – a tranquil, safe, cheap, and much smaller town where you can eat a great Argentine Parilla (Barbeque). The Paraguayan settlement is a trade free zone called Ciudade del Este and is a haven for counterfeit watches and knock-off computers – it’s a bustling town, rougher than the Brazilian and Argentine sides, but a great place to go if you’re looking for a good deal. All three towns are connected by bridges and separated by border control posts giving them a feeling of both unification and detachment from one another. Most tourists choose to stay on either the Argentine or Brazilian side – visiting the other side for a day.

Regardless of what there is to see and do in and around the falls, it is the falls themselves that remain very much the central attraction to the area. I’ve heard it said that Iguacu is at once both mind numbingly large, and jaw dropping beautiful. I guess Iguacu will always remain one of those places where you just can’t seem to fully appreciate its immensity and beauty. There is simply too much to see there. The falls – I feel – are just way too big and way too beautiful to ever really be understood and respected in the way that they deserve to be. For the most part all we can do is visit, gain what we can personally from seeing one of natures most spectacular sites, and then leave knowing that there are still places on earth that remain a mystery.

Keep on Traveling


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jose Luis talks about Lake Titicaca

Hello to you all. In order to again attempt to try and diversify this blog I’ve decided to publish an entry written by CAT’s Marketing and Communications Officer Jose Luis Pastor. Jose Luis is our very own Peruvian man of mystery, and being a well accomplished travel enthusiast, we here at CAT are always eager to hear his latest take on South America’s numerous travel destinations. He recently traveled to Puno and Lake Titicaca, and – like so many others – came back raving about the place. He wrote the following piece about the area which I found to be fantastic. I hope you guys find it to be as useful and informative as I did.

– Bart!

Jose Luis talks about Lake Titicaca

On my last trip to Puno and Lake Titicaca the increase in quality and quantity of lake side accommodation impressed me – as well as how Puno’s ever-friendly people are doing such an incredible job in maintaining a level of sustainability whereby both culture and environment benefit from tourism. As you may know, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and is usually included in tour programs as a complement to Cusco and Machu Picchu; Puno and Titicaca however are much more than just that.

Steeped in legend, the lake is said to be the birthplace of the Inca – they say that the children of the Sun and Moon were sent out to found the empire from its waters. With a mysterious past, the area has its own mystic personality and appeal. And looking out over the majestically blue waters of the Lake you can feel it. Less than an hour from Puno in a comfortable boat, one arrives at the Floating Islands of Uros. A seemingly odd miracle of ancient invention, the Islands of Uros are in fact manmade – having been put together by tortora reeds in ages past. The ingenuity of the islanders never ceases to amaze me – they have their own schools, markets and even their own mayor. It is an extraordinary culture that flourishes on an absolute marvel of ancient engineering.

The Uros however, are just the entry way to the wildly diverse and beautiful universe that makes up Lake Titicaca and her culture. There is Taquile Island, which is filled with quaint island houses and cobble stone streets. There is the island of Amantani, where a local family took me in and where I got to wonder at Pre Incan temples dedicated to the earth’s fertility. And finally there is Suasi Island; an island shrouded in mythology and filled with friendly faces willing to tell you something about their ancient past. Everything about Titicaca is commendable and after traveling on its mysterious waters I am always comforted and awed by the beauty of Peru. Titicaca is fantastical and if you get the chance to go, I must recommend it.

- Jose Luis

Information on Lake Titicaca

If you’re traveling to Lake Titicaca – then the best time of the year to travel there is between May through to October when warm day time temperatures are coupled with mildly cold evenings. The seminal event on the region’s calendar is the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria. Celebrated for 18 days in February, Puno transforms itself into the folklore capital of the country. On the main day of the festival, the Virgin is led through the city in a colorful procession that includes both Christian and pagan icons, while troupes of musicians and dancers take to the streets, performing and dancing throughout the city.

If traveling to the region it is highly recommendable that one spends an evening on either of the Islands of Suasi, Amantani, or Taquile. All are distinctive and unforgettable and make a trip to the area very well worth while. For more information on Puno and traveling to the deep blue waters of Lake Titicaca please visit -

Until next time - take it easy and keep on traveling.


Monday, March 26, 2007

The Hacienda Cantayo

While in Peru recently I was offered the opportunity of spending a weekend away from Lima down south in the Hacienda Cantayo. I’d heard great stories about this enchanting hotel located on the outskirts of Nazca, and so naturally I jumped on the invitation. Owing to the famous and mysterious Geogylphic Lines located on the plains outside the town, Nazca has grown to be rather popular with tourists and hotels have been sprouting up around the area ever since I started working in Peru. Of all the hotels in the area however, the Hacienda Cantayo is easily the finest. Besides being exceptionally comfortable, it has a number of subtle charms that give it a distinctive and noteworthy character. So remarkable in fact is this little hacienda that I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s blog entry to its review.

Now, a few of you may remember an article I wrote a few months back regarding flying from Lima to Ica and on to a flight over the lines before returning back to Lima the same day. While this is still a very credible travel option and highly recommendable for those pressed for time, the Hacienda Cantayo makes the long and tedious bus ride very worth your while.

Surrounded by the ubiquity of the Nazca plains, the Hacienda’s lackluster surrounding only adds to its charm. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to claim the hotel is perfect because it’s not. Like most places it does have its flaws. Where the Cantayo however excels is in its seemingly inane ability to put all its guests at complete ease. I don’t know whether this is due in some part to its old world charisma, lavish comforts, or because of its oasis-like setting; but upon walking through the Hacienda’s heavy hardwood gates a sense of tranquility melts you over. Something about the white washed walls and the fresh scent of bougainvillea put one at complete ease; it’s an oddly comforting experience and feels strangely like déjà vu or maybe a dream.

Whatever the reasons it became immediately apparent to me that the hotel was a little more special than I’d been told. Arriving at dusk I ambled through the outer corridors as I was shown to my room. I don’t know if this is just me – but a hotel room without a television is something I’ve come to greatly admire. Traveling half way around the world to sit and watch your favorite television shows just seems crass and unimaginative to me. There is no room for that kind of behavior at the Cantayo; the rooms, while very comfortable, are sparsely decorated and functional. The idea I imagine is that – unless bathing, relaxing, or romanticizing – the Hacienda’s rooms essentially cater for sleeping purposes. All other activities can be done elsewhere.

Following a look around my room I ventured out briefly onto the grounds. I couldn’t see very much of the gardens as the sun had already set by this time. It seemed peaceful enough though and as I walked out further passing over a few fences I could quite literally feel my stress levels decreasing – that was until I tripped over an ostrich. It was quite possibly the last thing I’d been expecting to find in Peru, let alone trip over. The Hacienda Cantayo actually has a whole flock of Ostriches (kept behind a fence ofcourse), and after the poor bird and I had finished screaming at each other in dumb founded shock, I noticed that Giant African birds were not the only animals the Hacienda includes within its sanctuary. Llamas, alpacas, horses, monkeys and an array or other animals live in a sectored off corner of the grounds. By day they’re a fantastic diversion for the kids, and at night a bit of a hazard for those silly enough to walk into their living area.

I returned to the Hacienda and bee-lined for the bar needing a little something to dull both the shock of just having met the world’s largest bird, and the pain from having tripped over it. The barmen cooked up a magnificent pisco sour and by the time my food had arrived I’d settled down substantially and was falling back into the tranquil hacienda groove. The food was much better than I’d expected – a prime cut of Argentinean beef cooked to perfection in the Peruvian desert. The restaurant itself has a great hacienda-like vibe to it, and with saddles on the wall and a welcoming fireplace with some comfortable looking sofas I felt very much at home.

Being close to the Nazca Lines, tours run straight from the hotel directly to the airport – where passengers board a light aircraft for their flight over the lines. I’ve flown over the lines enough times in the past to know them fairly well. They still however hold a lot of attraction and I never get bored seeing them again. Following the flight I returned to lodge and spent the rest of the day lounging by the hotel’s phenomenal swimming pool. I believe this swimming pool has actually featured on the cover of guidebooks. However, it’s not the sprawling pool waters as much as the giant ficus tree that towers above it that serves as the main attraction. I spent the better part of an afternoon lounging about beneath this amazing tree while enjoying both the clear blue water and the hotel’s excellent pool side service.

The Hacienda Cantayo really is the perfect getaway for anyone traveling to Nazca. A world within a world, the Cantayo serves as a sanctuary and provides the type of comfort and service you’d expect from a hotel in a 19th century novel. I was sad to leave on a Sunday after breakfast and as I made my way back to Lima it began to dawn on me how the Cantayo could just be one of the best hotel finds in the country. I think I may be heading back there soon and strongly encourage anyone traveling to Nazca to consider staying in this fine establishment.

All the best to you travelers


Monday, March 05, 2007

Matilde Talks about the Inca Trail

Good day everyone. In order to diversify some of the travel views and opinions brought forward in this blog I decided to begin posting a few travel insights and chronicles written by some professional travelers who work with me in Class Adventure Travel. For this first entry I would like to introduce Matilde Miranda. Matilde was recently promoted to Regional Manager for Peru and Bolivia in our company. After 4 short years of outstanding performance (she began as a trainee back in 2003) she will now be in charge of ensuring that all clients traveling through our company to Peru and Bolivia will be kept in the very best of hands. Matilde is incredibly dedicated, has a great work ethic and a charming personality, and will no doubt be exceptional in her new role. Matilde recently wrote about the following piece about the Inca Trail which I found it to be both informative and creative. I hope you all enjoy it and find her advice about the trail useful. – Bart!!

Matilde talks about the Inca Trail

As ancient as the mysterious ruins that lay at its end, the Inca Trail was originally created as a passage for the high priests and Inca royalty between Cusco and Machu Picchu. I suppose I was a little apprehensive and yes – slightly intrepid – upon arriving at the start of the Inca Trail for the first time. The flashy backpacks, outfits, experienced guides, and the seemingly endless mountain path that stretched out before me, all made me wonder whether I’d been foolish to think I’d be able to finish the trail. It was however exciting; and with low cloud cover and something electric in the air, we set off for what would be a four day trek to the lost citadel of Machu Picchu.

The trail begins harmlessly enough, and with high spirits you pass along the shores of the mighty Urubamba River before the rough Andean landscape slowly gives way to a progressively more jungle-like environment. Inca Ruins mark the way, and as the trail continues these ruins increase in frequency, size, and what I like to refer to as ‘jaw slackening wonder’. While a lot of bonding is done with the group both on the trail and in the campsites, I also found it to be a deeply spiritual experience where I was able to set my own pace and get in touch with myself.

It isn’t that easy either, but on the morning of the fourth day on the trail we rose early in order to arrive at Machu Picchu a little before sunrise. As an early morning bright-orange-sun rose above a misty Machu Picchu, tears quite literally filled my eyes. Neither words nor photographs will ever be able to capture the beauty of that site and the wonder of that moment. It is simply extraordinarily. And I had done it; the hard work, dirt and sweat were all worth it. I was on top of the world looking down on one of her more awesome sights. I knew then that not only was I able to complete the Inca trail, but that I would quite likely be there to complete it again soon.

Information on the Inca Trail

If you’re interested in doing the Inca trail then one should make reservations at least two months in advance as the Peruvian government only permits 500 people to head out on the trail daily. The best time to visit the area – and undertake the trail is between April and November as there is far less rain during this period. If however, you don’t mind a bit of rain and enjoy a little more solitude during your hike then you may prefer to undertake the trail outside of this period. For more information on the trail and other hikes in the area you can visit –

Monday, February 19, 2007

New Bridge to be Opened to Machu Picchu

Good day fellow travelers. As I am sure some of you already aware, a new bridge is about to be opened near the base of Machu Picchu. I thought I’d address this issue in my latest blog entry and ask what exactly it is this bridge will do for the region, what implications the bridge has for Peru’s most sacred site, and what can we do about it?

Sometime back I heard that the mayor (now former mayor) of Santa Teresa – a small town less than a stone’s throw away from Machu Picchu – was planning to have a bridge built crossing the Vilcanota River. This bridge will be inaugurated in February. As I began to wonder about the implications this bridge might have on Machu Picchu and tourism in the region, a storm of arguments arose in the international media regarding the issue. On the one hand people argue that the bridge has the potential of so over-crowding Machu Picchu with tourists that both the hallowed ruins and regional ecology will be destroyed; on the other hand people are arguing that the residents of Santa Teresa – long cut off from the rest of the world – deserve a bridge with which they can more easily reach Cusco and make a living. In Peru the dispute over the bridge is very heated, and so with this blog entry I thought I’d attempt to tackle the problem in order to hopefully shed more light on it for those of you who are interested.

Traditionally there has only been one way to reach Machu Picchu, that being by taking the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Picchu. In reality there is another way – through Santa Teresa – but in order to get there one has to travel over a network of very nasty roads. The 20 or so hour drive from Cusco to Santa Teresa leads through jungle swamps and over cliff faces with drops so unimaginably high that sky diving aerialists would shudder in fear. This route has been the only road the residents of Santa Teresa have been able to use to take their produce to Cusco. One does however need to take into account the wider repercussions the bridge could have on the ruins, the region, and even the country as a whole.

The base concern presented against building the bridge is that it will bring in such an influx of tourists that both the ruins and ecology of the region could be badly damaged. Remember that one of the major sources of Peruvian income is tourism, and a that the major source of Peruvian tourism is Machu Picchu.

The price of crossing this bridge on a bus from Cusco is estimated to cost somewhere in the region of four US dollars. Anyone who has ever been to Machu Picchu will know how much of a price cut this is on the train ticket. The amount of people traveling to the ruins is estimated to shoot through the roof with figures this low. The development of a new tourist infrastructure needed to cope with such an influx of tourists in the area would of course also be hugely detrimental for the ecology of the surrounding area, as well as for the ruins themselves. And so understandably many environmentalists/cultural activists are calling for the bridge to be closed – perhaps even destroyed.

Machu Picchu currently receives over 4000 tourists a day, that’s just shy of 1,500 000 tourists a year. It is hardly a wonder that UNESCO is currently in the process of changing their classification of Machu Picchu to an Endangered World Heritage site. The UN group is in fact at the moment engaged in talks with the government that would have them drop the number of tourists permitted to enter the site from 4,000 to 2,500. If anything this shows how dire the problem already is. With the new bridge however, the number of visitors could likely so overly surpass the current levels of tourists visiting Machu Picchu that the ruins may quite likely disappear, making the many efforts that people have made towards their preservation futile.

Another argument against the construction of the bridge is that it provides a much shorter route for local Coca Farmers to transport both coca paste and cocaine to urban areas, from where it is transported and shipped overseas. Still, some people argue that a more accessible road to open up this region would hardly make the transport of drugs easier, but would more likely make it harder as police and military would be able to make their presence more felt in the area.

And so this is how it stands. On the one hand we have a national treasure that is under threat, and on the other we have a group of people who are effectively being denied the right to an easier way of life. It’s a tough argument and both sides have their points. I would of course choose to preserve Machu Picchu at all costs, but there’s also the real need of a community trying to develop itself in order to better the lifestyle of its people. So I guess a compromise between the two arguments would be the best result of this dilemma – a compromise I have heard a few people talking about already.

One feasible solution would be to open the bridge and disallow tourists the right to cross it. This would benefit both the people of Santa Teresa and the majestic ruins themselves. This approach would however also deny those who would be otherwise unable to afford getting to the ruins a chance to see them.

Obviously losing Machu Picchu is a nightmare Peru will never actually allow – the country relies too much upon it economically. What is worrying however, is how long it will take to put the effective wheels into place that will advert this tragedy. If it takes too long, how much of an impact will have already been made?

It is a complex situation with many differing arguments and points of view. Please take my points of view and opinions as they are – a means with which to more clearly envision the depth of what could be a difficult situation for Peruvians and travelers alike. For those interested in finding out more I suggest you look into the following websites:

I hope that some of you may have found this helpful and interesting. If anyone out there has a point of view regarding the situation please feel free to post a comment and we can further discuss it.

To all you travelers out there – Keep on discovering!


Monday, January 29, 2007

The Nazca Lines and Back to Lima in One Day

Good day again to you all and a very happy and belated new year! I wish you all the very best for the year and hope that you all manage to get out and travel to some extraordinary places in 2007. It has been sometime since my last post – and this is mostly due to the fact that we’ve been busy working on the new class adventure travel website – It is also partly due to the fact that my family and I have spent a lot of time traveling around Latin America looking out for new tours, destinations, and new offices for CAT – in such places as Chile and Costa Rica. My first entry for the year however concerns itself with the Nazca Lines and how getting there, seeing the awesome sight of the lines, and getting back to Lima can now be done in one day.

Approximately 2000 years ago the Nazca Culture – for one reason or another (the theories are endless) – decided it would be in their best interest to carve giant geometric designs, patterns, and stylized animal figures into the surface of a rather flat, inhospitable, and barren plain. Whether in fact the Nazca people created the lines to appease the gods, or whether they made them simply in order to confuse us is largely immaterial, especially as the reasons behind their creation have been debated for so long that any hope of finding a concrete explanation for their existence seems to have disappeared. What hasn’t disappeared however, are the lines – and after 2000 years they are as resplendent, mind boggling, and impressive as ever.

The town of Nazca lies about 450 kilometers south of Lima and the amazing geoglyphs, located on the plateau outside of town never fail to dazzle me. What does annoy me is that if you’re on a limited time frame it’s a difficult site to see. Traditionally one has always had to take a bus from Lima to Nazca which takes roughly seven hours. It actually took me nine hours to get there by bus a couple of years ago. What this means is that unless you really want to spend some time exploring the region –you’re looking at a two day trip at the very least. If the bus is fast you can get there and back in 14 hours. It’s a large price to pay considering the Cessna flight over the lines only lasts 30 minutes. This rather time consuming, line viewing haul is no longer necessary though.

I recently discovered – to my pleasure I should add – that it is now possible to see the Nazca Lines in one day from Lima. A flight in the morning takes you to Ica – where you board a Cessna and fly directly over to the Nazca Lines. The trip over the lines lasts a little longer owing to the distance, and after returning to Ica one can enjoy a little seafood lunch, lounge about comfortably at the swimming pools at Las Dunas hotel, and even try some famous Huacachina sand-boarding before returning to Lima on a late afternoon flight.

I did this trip recently and found it to be not only a great way to get to see the lines, but also found it to be rather relaxing. It’s a little fast paced, but you are given plenty of time to sit around and catch up on some reading. I’d recommend this trip to anyone pressed for time while traveling in Peru, as well as for those who like to get things done comfortably and quickly. On the other hand there is a lot to be said about Nazca and other sites in the area. The Hacienda Cantayo, located on the outskirts of town, is possibly one of the finest hotels in Peru and is definitely one of my personal favorites. Another reason to stay in Nazca is to see the rather eerie - although fascinating - ancient bone cemetery of Chauchilla on the outskirts of town. So there are things to see and do in the area if you want to take your time. It is however, nice to know that we now have the option of getting down to Nazca, seeing the lines, and getting back to Lima in a day.

I hope this helps anyone interested. Keep on traveling!


By the way, I noticed that you can now find the Nazca Lines on Google Earth if you look hard enough. For those of you interested, search the Nazca Plain that lies in the vicinity of 14°41'00" S and 75°07'00" W.