Tag Archives: Wildlife

Iguazu Waterfalls Brazil

After visiting the Argentinian side of the Iguazu waterfalls, we decided to spend the next day seeing the Brazilian side. We took the Crucero del Norte bus from the Puerto Iguazu terminal, which runs roughly every 2 hours, and costs 60 pesos each for a return ticket.

The process to get to the waterfalls involves going through immigration. You have to get stamped out of Argentina and then back in when you return, but if you are visiting Brazil for just one day you don’t need to get stamped in or out of Brazil. These buses will stop for the border control and wait for you to go through the process.

The journey takes about 45 minutes and the bus drops you off at the park entrance, but remember that Brazil is an hour ahead of Argentina so ensure you get the first one of the day at 8.10am Argentinian time to make the most of your time there. The good thing about visiting the Brazilian side is that you can pay the entrance, of around 100 Argentinian pesos, and anything else within the park, in Pesos, Reals or US dollars.

The Brazilian park is not as big as the Argentinian and there is only 1 circuit to follow. There is a bus that runs through the park from the entrance to the start of the circuit with stops along the way for additional extras you can do, from treks to boat rides, none of which are included in your entrance ticket.

However, what the park lacks for in size, it more than makes up for in views! From this side you are able to fully appreciate the sheer size and magnitude of the waterfalls, especially the Devil’s throat.

Iguazu (Brasil) - panorama of the waterfalls across the argentinean side

Iguazu (Brasil) - on the way to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) waterfall viewing platform

Iguazu (Brasil) - approaching Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) waterfall

Iguazu (Brasil) - Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) waterfall from the closest viewing platform

Iguazu (Brasil) - closer look into the impressive Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) waterfall

Iguazu (Brasil) - Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) waterfall from above at the highest platform

The whole park can easily be done in a couple of hours, and if you have time to spare it is worth going across the road to the bird park. Again, you can pay for the entrance and any food etc, in Pesos, Reals or US dollars Entry is around 70 Pesos per ticket. The park is a sanctuary for a large species of rescued and endangered birds, including a large variety of parrots, flamingos, toucans and many other strange species, and makes for a nice afternoon stroll. You can get real close to the birds, with walk through pens and cages and they are not afraid of humans, but obviously a “do not touch” policy is in place.

Parque das Aves (Bird Park, Brasil) - flamingos

Parque das Aves (Bird Park, Brasil) - grey crowned-crane birds

Parque das Aves (Bird Park, Brasil) - yellow-headed amazon parrots

Parque das Aves (Bird Park, Brasil) - macaws

Parque das Aves (Bird Park, Brasil) - tucan close up

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Posted by on November 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Serere Reserve

As mentioned in my Rurrenabaque post I was unable to go to the Serere Reserve as I got very ill with gastroenteritis, so in the end just my partner went. Here is his account of the 4 days/3 nights he spent there.

Out of the numerous options for the Amazon jungle, we had chosen to go into the Serere Reserve, as a couple of things appealed to us, such as: no set itinerary, a fully private cabin (most places only offer shared bathroom facilities), the fact that it wasn’t the Madidi Reserve where most places took you, which also meant no entry fees.

On my first day I was introduced to a guide who would join me on the boat ride to the reserve. We left Rurrenabaque at around 11am and it took 2 and 1/2 hours to get there with lunch served on board. It was very comfortable, especially as I was the only person going into the reserve on that day. On the way the captain spotted a group of river turtles resting by the river bank and we were able to stop for a few pictures.

River Beni - river turtles on the way to Serere Reserve

Once we reached the reserve, I was taken to my cabin located a short 15 min stroll away. The cabin was very big with bug screens and mosquito nets instead of walls and surrounding jungle blocking your views between the other cabins. My private cabin had 2 double beds put together and 1 single bed, all with mosquito nets and a bathroom. There was no electricity in the cabins and the only source of light was provided by candles.

After a refreshing shower I followed the signs to the main house, where I was introduced to staff members. I was told that my guide was currently out on a walk with another group and once he got back, we would decide on what to do the next day. In the meantime, the guide who came with me on the boat offered to take me on a canoe ride on the lake, located just in front of the main house. The boat ride was really nice and we managed to see a great variety of birds, including the Serere bird.

Serere Reserve - the Serere bird

Serere Reserve - sunset over the San Fernando lake

Later, I joined the group of three, who had come back from their walk and would be leaving the next day, and met my guide Domingo, who spoke both spanish and english. As the group was leaving, they wanted to go for an early walk the next morning, which I wasn’t too keen on, and besides I actually had no watch (or any other device) that could help me wake up. However, the next day I realised that there was actually no need for one as I woke up to the sounds of the howler monkeys at around the same time that they left for their walk.

After breakfast, I joined the group for a bit of jewellery making. After they left another person came to the reserve and it was just the 2 of us for the remainder of my stay. Later the same day we crossed the lake and went for a 2 hour medicinal plant walk, spotting more wildlife along the way. During this time I was voluntarily bitten by a fire ant and also learned about some of the plants. When we got back we had our dinner and decided to go out on a night lake tour to spot caimans and alligators. We got lucky and even managed to spot a boa constrictor.

The third day was definitely the day of the monkeys. On the two walks that we did we were able to spot big groups of cute squirrel monkeys, a couple of groups of capuchin monkeys and a group of red-faced howler monkeys. We finished the day with a short trip on another lake to spot more bird life, see the rescued and successfully released spider monkeys and enjoy yet another amazing sunset.

Serere Reserve - capuchin monkey

Serere Reserve - cute squirrel monkey

On my last day, we went out on a morning walk and spotted a capybara group. As the wind direction allowed as to stay undetected the animals got really close and I was hoping they would actually walk right into us, but suddenly one of them got spooked and they all vanished.

The days at the reserve were very relaxed with breakfast usually at around 8am. You would then go for a walk, come back at lunch, and the meal would be ready when you arrived. If any new people arrived you would have some time for them to “catch up” and then we would go for another walk. Dinners were by candlelight and were usually after your last walk of the day.

Serere Reserve - lake in front of the main house

At the time of my stay, there were two 5-6 month old rescue spider monkeys with an adult that always seemed to find its way back to the main house each time it is released into the jungle, an adopted pair of macaws and additionally a 10 cm tarantula walking around the ceiling.

Serere Reserve - spider monkey by the main house

A few useful notes if you are heading out into the reserve: make sure you have a good repellent, a strong flashlight, binoculars are always handy and a high-zoom on your camera. Other than that, just enjoy the flora and fauna.

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Posted by on November 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Arequipa and Colca Canyon

From Nazca we took an overnight bus with CIAL to the UNESCO site of Arequipa for 70 soles each. We arrived in Arequipa early the following morning and as usual had nothing booked. So we took a taxi to the Plaza de Armas for 8 soles and went looking around for somewhere to stay.

Arequipa - Plaza de Armas

We finally settled on Hostel Santa Catalina located just 5 minutes walk from the Santa Catalina Convent. As we were so close and it was still early we decided to pay the monastery a visit. The entrance is quite steep in terms of an attraction and cost us 35 soles each, however it was definitely money worth spent.

Once you go through the gates you enter a different world. It’s like a small town located within the large city of Arequipa! Inside the convent which was closed to the public for over four centuries, you can find cobbled streets, plazas, cloisters, kitchens and much more.

Arequipa, inside Monasterio de Santa Catalina - main plaza

Arequipa, inside Monasterio de Santa Catalina - plaza with fountain

The most striking thing about the convent is the colours. Each section has brightly coloured walls from deep blues to bright reds, and all the streets are lined with geraniums and potted plants. It really  is an amazing place and you can easily spend an entire afternoon wandering from quarter to quarter. Located about half way through the maze of little rooms and streets there is a tranquil cafe selling drinks and snacks.

Arequipa, inside Monasterio de Santa Catalina - inner streets

Arequipa, inside Monasterio de Santa Catalina - one of the passages

The rest of our time in Arequipa was spent relaxing in the city. It is a surprisingly pretty place with colonial building, numerous museums and a lovely plaza with the large cathedral with an intricate facade. What makes Arequipa stand out the most is the fact it is surrounded by impressive snow-capped mountains, including El Misti, Chachani and Pichu-Pichu.

Arequipa - Plaza de Armas in the evening

We had originally wanted to go and visit the Cotahuasi canyon as part of our time in Arequipa, but after speaking with the extremely helpful Peru information point on the main plaza, we realised that it would involve a 12 hour bus journey that would get you there at around 3am. We calculated it would take us more time to get there and back than the time we wanted to stay, so instead we looked at Colca canyon. Plus, apparently there are no condors in Cotahuasi and that was one thing we wanted to see.

The day before we were due to leave Arequipa I wasn’t feeling too good so in the end just my partner went on a day trip to Colca. The day trip cost 55 soles plus an entry fee of 70 soles to the actual town.

Colca Canyon - landscape views

Colca Canyon - the Colca River

The tour started with a stop at the view-point of Patapampa, from where you can see the Hualcahulca, Sabancaya and Ampato volcanoes. The tour then continued onwards to Cruz del Condor with a couple of more stops along the way.

Patapampa viewing point at 4850m with views of Ampato snow-capped volcano range

Once at the Cruz del Condor he had 45 minutes to walk around and take pictures, and he was lucky enough to see several condors in flight. Once the condor watching was over the tour headed back, with a pit-stop at Maca for views of the Colca canyon.

Colca Canyon - andean condor spotted at Cruz del Condor viewing point

After lunch the tour headed to Vizcachani to spot local animals including Alpacas and Llamas. Unfortunately, the hot springs part of the tour was missed out due to a couple of tour members needing to get back in time for a bus connection. All-in-all he enjoyed the tour and thought it was worth the money.

Once he got back we headed straight out to the bus station to catch our overnight bus to Cuzco.

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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Pisco, Ballestas Islands and Tambo Colorado

We took an overnight bus with Cruz del Sur, as they were running a promotion, from Trujillo and arrived in Pisco the next morning with no idea as to where to go. The first surprise was that the bus left us on the Pan-American outside Pisco, instead of dropping us off in town. We later learned that this apparently is the norm with every bus company.

We weren’t sure how to proceed and luckily saw a couple who were waiting for an onward bus, so I headed over to ask for advise. They were nice enough to not only tell us the prices of the taxis but to also recommend the hotel they had stayed in. Armed with the information we took a taxi and headed into town to look for somewhere to stay.

The first thing that hits you when you enter the town is how much destruction is still visible following the earthquake of 2007, where buildings once stood there are now pile of rubble or flat patches of land and roads are still obstructed with piles of bricks and building materials. Despite this you can also see how tourism is helping re-build the town as hotels seem to rise up from the rubble.

We drove around for a while and looked at a couple of places, but in the end settled on our suggestion, Hotel Residential San Jorge, as they offered the best price despite seemingly being a 3 star hotel. We were repeatedly advised not to go out at night as the town is not overly safe, and as such we headed out for a late lunch and to book a tour for the following day.

Pisco itself is not much more than a base for the nearby attractions, including the Ballestas Islands and the archaeological site of Tambo Colorado. After some negotiating we managed to book ourselves in for a morning tour of the islands followed by a private afternoon tour of Tambo Colorado, for 80 soles each. When you book the island tour you can opt to also do a tour of the Paracas National Reserve, but we decided to skip this.

At 7.30am the next day we were picked up and driven down to the town of Paracas, the launch off point for Ballestas Islands. After a quick registration and paying the 6 soles each for entry we were off by speed boat to the islands.

Before reaching the islands the tour stops at a nearby shore where the “Candelabra”, a large cactus shape is engraved in the sandy banks, similar to those of the Nazca lines. There are many theories on the origin and meaning, but the most impressive fact is that due to the extremely low annual rainfall, the shape has remained almost intact.

Paracas - Candelabra - pattern similar to Nazca Lines

As you approach the islands you start to see why they are such an attraction. There are literally thousands of birds flying around, from Peruvian pelicans to Peruvian boobies to Guano Cormorants. Everywhere you look there are clouds of birds around you. However, the islands are also home to penguins and sea lions and we were lucky enough to spot a lone endangered South American fur seal on the rocks.

Islas Ballestas - flocks of birds

Islas Ballestas - Peruvian boobies resting on rocks

Islas Ballestas - penguins

Islas Ballestas - sea lions

Islas Ballestas - South American fur seal

After our tour we were dropped off back in Pisco and grabbed a quick lunch before our next tour to Tambo Colorado.

Located 48km from Pisco, Tambo Colorado is supposedly one of the best preserved Inca sites along the coast of Peru. This is again due to the extremely low rain fall which has helped to not erode it.

Tambo Colorado - front facade overview

Tambo Colorado - view from above

Although not very big, the site is impressive due to the fact the walls have retained some of their original paint work. As you wander around from chamber to chamber you can still see the reds, oranges and whites that were once used to paint these walls.

Tambo Colorado - visible original colours

Tambo Colorado - one of the rooms with preserved coloured wall

Another impressive sight at Tambo Colorado is the women’s bath which is still almost entirely intact. You can still see where they would have heated the water and then poured it through into the bath. The original irrigation system is still very much in order.

Tambo Colorado - baths

You wont need more than an hour maximum at the site, including a quick look through the small museum, but it is worth seeing for the fact that it is still very much as it was during the Inca times.

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Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Cahuita Sloth Sanctuary

On our way back to San Jose, for our flight to Caracas, we decided to drop by the nearby sloth sanctuary just outside Cahuita. We learned that the centre had organically grown from a nature reserve to a sloth sanctuary as more and more people brought orphaned and injured sloths to be cared for.

During the tour of the centre with our guide we met some of the permanent adult residents, who had either been too injured or had been cared for since young, and were now unable to survive on their own in the wild.

Cahuita sloth sanctuary: Our guide with a resident two toe sloth

We learned that there are 2 types of sloths residing in Costa Rica, the 2 toe and the 3 toe sloth. They are different in size and as the name suggests they are distinguished by the number of toes they have. However, the easiest way to tell them apart is via their colourings:

2 toe sloth:

Cahuita sloth sanctuary: Resident two toe sloth

3 toe sloth:

Cahuita sloth sanctuary: Resident three toe sloth

We were then shown to the sloth nursery and met some of the current little sloths being cared for. They are so adorable that you could see how hard it was for people to not reach out and just hug one!

Cahuita sloth sanctuary: Sloth nursery

The last part of the tour, and in keeping with the sloth way of life, was a gentle canoe ride around the lagoon, where we got to spot wildlife and generally just soak up the tranquil surroundings.

Cahuita sloth sanctuary: Lagoon ride

The sanctuary is solely funded by tours and donations, so if you are in the Cahuita area make sure you drop by, as you will never get this close to a sloth in the wild.

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Posted by on July 12, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Manuel Antonio National Park

During our stay in Quepos we decided to visit the National Park of Manuel Antonio. I had visited the park 6 years ago when I had spent some time in Quepos and was keen to see it again.

Since my last visit they had obviously had an influx of visitors as the entrance had been moved to a small road off the main street, and the old entrance on the beach now served as the exit. We arrived a little after 7am and found crowds of tours at the entrance gates. 6 years ago at the same time I had been waiting alone for the park ranger to turn up to let me in…

The park has obviously greatly improved in terms of trails, signs and the facilities available like showers and toilets. We did almost every trail available taking in most of the park which took us until 12.30. It can get quite hot in the late morning and despite being in the shade for most of the walk we still managed to slightly burn our exposed shoulders, which we did not expect.

Manuel Antonio National Park: new path

The main difference I noticed between now and before was the distinct lack of wildlife. We did get lucky and come across a family of white face monkeys crossing on one of the trails, but apart from that we rarely saw any other animals. Whereas 6 years ago there had been monkeys in virtually the whole park jumping through the trees screeching at each other, along with lots more birds and giant iguanas all over the beach.

Manuel Antonio National Park: white face monkey

Can you see the crab? 

Manuel Antonio National Park: spot the crab

The beaches were still as beautiful as I remembered them but we were unable to make the most of them as they had changed regulations and you were not allowed to re-enter the park if you decided to go out.

Manuel Antonio National Park: quiet beach

As we had no lunch with us we had to leave and couldn’t come back in. I found this incredibly hard to believe as surely they could just stamp you in and out and allow you to fully enjoy the day at the park.

Manuel Antonio National Park: beach through trees

So unfortunately after we had lunch we had to instead content ourselves with the public beach which unfortunately is not as calm to swim in.

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Posted by on July 4, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Crocodiles at Tarcoles River

We had a tip-off that we would be able to see crocodiles at the Tarcoles bridge, so on our way to Playa Hermosa and Quepos we kept an eye out for it.

As we neared Tarcoles we crossed a very large bridge and saw people looking over the railings and thought this must be it. We drove across and turned back around as parking is only available right before the bridge when coming from Tarcoles.

Once parked we noticed the brown sign with crocodiles and felt assured that this must be the right spot. We walked about half way back over the bridge and peered over on the right hand side and spotted a crocodile in the grass.

We thought we were really lucky to see it until a group of tourists on the other side motioned us over saying we really had to see that side, so we crossed and leaned over….

Tarcoles river: crocodiles

We could not believe how many were just lying there asleep in the mud! More so we couldn’t believe that there was cattle around them! The poor cows did not seem too happy about sharing their space with these creatures and seemed to know exactly where they were and give them a wide berth.

Tarcoles river crocodiles: sleeping couple

It was definitely a worthwhile stop just to be able to see so many of these large creatures relaxing in the afternoon sun, despite the traffic just above their heads.

Tarcoles river: crocodile relaxing

On our way back we stopped to ask the police patrolling the bridge why the cows were in the same field and were told that they do not eat them, as their main diet is fish and small animals. Even so I have to say I would not like to attempt a swim here especially with this guy below!

Tarcoles river: crocodile waiting for dinner

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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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La Fortuna / Arenal Volcano

After a couple of days in Santa Elena we headed out towards the active volcano of Arenal next to La Fortuna. The road from Arenal to the town of La Fortuna is back to back with expensive resorts and thermal spas which have been constructed with a view of the active side of the volcano where even today you can see the indentations made to the ground by previous eruptions.

Arenal Volcano: lava on the active side

The town of La Fortuna itself is not very big but seems to have been built up for the sole purpose of catering to the tourists arriving to see Arenal. For good quality and very affordable accommodation head to Gringo Petes Too, the original Gringo Pete offers the same facilities and prices but the newer, number 2, has bigger rooms and better facilities. We managed to get a private room with bathroom for only $14 per night and still had views of Arenal and Cerro Chato.

La Fortuna: view of Arenal and Chato volcanos from the hostel

During our time there we explored Arenal via the Silencio trail, which allows you access at the bottom of the volcano but not as far as the lava fields. We later learned that there were many access routes around the volcano as historically the land had been privately owned before it became a national park, as such, there are numerous “trails” with different costs and entry areas.

Reserva Mirador El Silencio: map of trails at the reserve

The Silencio trail takes you through a deep forest route which is great for seeing wildlife except you have no time to stop as there are hordes of mosquitos waiting to feast on you. The views from the view points are nice but not spectacular, partly because you have to get very lucky during the wet season to see the crater clear from clouds.

Reserva Mirador El Silencio: view of the Arenal

All in all it was a nice day out but I am sure it would have been better during the dry season and spectacular had it been active.

The next day we decided to visit a butterfly and frog conservation located on the outskirts of town. We had wanted to see one of these in Santa Elena but it had been closed for refurbishment.

The butterfly centre is made up of 4 large outdoor areas, each one with different climates for the various species. It is a beautiful experience to walk through and have all these colourful butterflies fly around you, some of which are also impressively large!

Butterfly Conservatory: owl butterfly with open wings

Unlike some places there was no time limit on the time you could spend there and we soon realised a couple of hours had gone by as we tried to photograph the butterflies.

Butterfly Conservatory: butterfly on a bench

We later headed onwards to an organic farm called Margot that we had seen on the tourist map, which was literally located at the end of a road. We weren’t sure as to what to expect and were slightly disappointed to discover they didn’t have a shop but soon cheered up when we discovered an all you can buffet of organically produced foods, including pork!

As we only eat organic meat this was a true treat for us, our first pork in 4 months, and needless to say we made sure we had our stomaches were truly full before leaving!

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Posted by on June 23, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Santa Elena / Monteverde

The Monteverde region of Costa Rica is home to a large area of cloud forest broken up into 2 main national parks; Monteverde and Santa Elena. They are located just a few kilometres apart and offer pretty much the same activities such as; canopy tours, suspension bridges and butterfly conservation areas.

We decided to head into Santa Elena instead of Monteverde as we had read that it was a little smaller and therefore received fewer visitors enabling you to have a higher chance of seeing wildlife.

The road to the area is unpaved, unmarked and unlit. We arrived from Liberia and up until you leave the pan-america highway you know where you are going. The minute you turn off you are left constantly second guessing which turning you should be taking.

The road goes through the mountains and is hazardous at the best of times, however we had the added joy of underestimating how long it would take us to arrive and ended up heading through the mountains in the dark.

When we finally arrived in Santa Elena we checked into Eddy’s Cabinas just past the main road and basically crashed out. The accommodation was centrally based and very good value with free breakfast, plus you got discounts on tours if you booked through Eddy.

The following day we decided to visit the national park of Santa Elena which is $10 p/p to get in and spent the better part of the day walking the various trails through the park. The path for the most part is paved or partly paved and unless it is raining is fairly easy to do.

Santa Elena National Park Height

There wasn’t a lot in term of wildlife around but we did spot quite a few birds. The park makes for a really nice day out especially as the temperatures in the cloud forest are a good few degrees lower, making walking enjoyable instead of an arduous task.

Santa Elena National Park

The next day we decided to do the suspension bridges in Santa Elena with Selvatura, a total of 8 suspension bridges located at tree height. We booked through Eddy and got a small discount of $3 each making entry $27 p/p. This time we also decided to rent a pair of binoculars from the tour company so we could hopefully spot some of the more elusive birds.

Longest suspension bridge in Santa Elena

The weather at this height in the cloud forest changes constantly and you could be in sunshine one minute and drizzle the next. Nevertheless we ended up spending the whole morning going from one bridge to the next trying to see rare birds. We got lucky and found a couple including a Quetzal and a 3 Wattled Bell Bird which makes a noise like “bonk” when it calls out.

Female Quetzal Bird

Procnias tricarunculata or 3 watled bell bird

When we finally arrived at the last bridge we were greeted with a unique sight. A male howler monkey walking along the railings of the bridge. We were able to get some shots before he made his way back into the trees.

Howler monkey at Santa Elena

The area is beautiful and you could easily spend more time there but it’s not cheap, especially the activities which range from $30+ p/p. Plus, you absolutely definitely need a 4×4 to get around on those roads!

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Posted by on June 22, 2012 in Uncategorized


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