Panama Private Islands

Welcome to the South America Odyssey Blog

Panama Private Islands

Panama Private Islands

Coming soon to Odyssey Travel…Panama

Marc Harris, the MD of Odyssey Travels, will continue his quest to find the perfect beach retreat in January as he flies over to Panama. Marc’s mission is to explore a country where a couple of very promising luxurious boutique properties have opened.

Panama is often overlooked by the increasingly popular Costa Rica that has established itself as one of our favourite wildlife destinations in Latin America. Panama offers a different flavour and we think the following hotels could just fill a gap in the market.

Isla Palenque is managed by an extremely professional group that works with the absolute best eco-lodges and hotels of Costa Rica. Isla Palenque looks set to be another first class eco resort located in a haven for wildlife. This 400 acre desert island in Panama’s Chiriqui Gulf offers a mixture of accommodation options ranging from chic suites to tented rooms. The style is contemporary Panamanian with the use of local raw materials to create bespoke furniture. Everything is finished to a very high standard and for those seeking barefoot luxury with first class service then we anticipate this hotel to be perfect.

Whether you are looking to enjoy the days listening to birdsong whilst swinging on hammock or perhaps you prefer to take to the trail or venture out to the water for a spot of snorkeling. The lodge caters for all interests led by their inhouse expert guides.

Islas Secas is the second luxurious eco-lodge that we are really excited about. The collection of a 14 islands that is around 20 miles from the mainland promises luxury, exclusivity and an assortment of activities to explore the archipelago. Reaching the island is a 45 boat ride over calm waters as you escape civilisation and reach a Panama paradise. This luxury eco-lodge is 100% solar powered with sustainability at the forefront of all the design and ethos behind the property.

Whilst here fishing, snorkelling, stand up paddle boarding, whale watching and swimming in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Coba National Park are all available. Alternatively, kick back, relax and enjoy Panama as it should be.


Day of the Dead, explained by South America Odyssey.

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead, a traditional and deep-rooted ancient festival in Latin America has grown into an internationally recognised festival. The opening scene of the James Bond film starring Daniel Craig (Spectre) shone a light on the traditional Latin American festival.

Today Day of the Death is a synergy of  pre-Colombian, Aztec and Catholic beliefs and rituals. Families congregate at graveyards and reunite with deceased ancestors.

Day of the Dead was traditionally celebrated on the 2nd of November, but with globalisation and the close proximity to Halloween, the celebration, for many, has evolved into one celebration under the one banner.

31st October-Halloween has become a large festival in western culture filled with fun and games.

1st November- In Mexico today is better known as Dia de Los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) when families focus their remembrance and celebration on the younger infants and children that have deceased.

2nd November-This is the main day known as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) where traditionally families spend the evening at graveyards sharing stories, special food and drinks. The way in which celebrations are held varies substantially between the different communities and regions of Mexico and Guatemala.

What is the history of Day of Dead?

At over 3000 years old the festival has evolved very differently from its roots in pre-Colombian cultures where the festival lasted an entire month and was usually celebrated in modern Day August. It is celebrated across the continent of the Americas in a variety of ways.

What happens on Day of Dead in 2018?

Day of the Dead is now celebrated around Halloween and All Saints Day. In traditional communities in Latin America, especially Southern Mexico and Guatemala, families decorate their houses with alters, candles, traditional food and drinks associated with the festival. Around these very spiritual festivals families have parties, visit graveyards and honor and celebrate those that have passed onto another world.
In the western world children will dress up and play games for treats and try to play spooky tricks on their friends and families.

Recently a large scale parade has taken part in Mexico City that attracts both local and international tourists who wish to see this unique parade that combines traditional rituals with contemporary parties and celebrations. For a glimpse of what it looks like then take a look at the opening scene of Spectre, the acclaimed Daniel Craig Bond film.

Why do people paint their faces as skulls?

The skull image was first drawn by Jose Guadalupe Prosada as a means of mocking the upper class as the skull was put on a very well to do and expensive frock highlighting that we are all the same, despite how you dress, and life ends the same. Today this mask and look is known as La Catrina. La Catrina imagery can be seen everywhere during the festivities.

Mexico holiday during day of dead festival

For information about visiting Mexico during this unique period please contact South America Odyssey for the opportunity to get under the skin of this special time in Latin America.

A Tourist Guide to Cuba

An introduction to Cuba
We have put together this guide to introduce Cuba to you knowing that is very easy to get bamboozled by too much information. We hope this short guide will be enough to set you on the right course, without being too detailed. As such it is not meant to be definitive – for further details we strongly recommend that you look at our website or get in touch as we would be delighted to talk to you all about Cuba.

Cuba summary

A Cuba Holiday should be at the top of every intrepid traveller’s list. Cuba is famed for its revolutionary history and slow concessions to the 21st century, but it is beginning to change, and now is the perfect time to holiday in Cuba. This intriguing Caribbean island moves to a unique and mesmerising rhythm and we love it; we are full of ideas and tips that we would like to share with you.

Highlights of Cuba

The following locations have proven very popular with those that have travelled with South America Odyssey to Cuba. We know the pros and cons of each destination and if you have any further questions about these locations, as well as other destinations, please do get in touch as we would love to speak to you about them.

Landing into Havana and driving through the suburbs of this crumbling city always fills me with excitement and anticipation. Havana is a city like no other where so much has been written about it, but you need to go to experience it first hand to understand Havana. Music, old American cars, small taverns serving mojitos with their in house bands blasting out Cuban hits and world class museums and interesting architecture and more gives those visiting a plethora of options. There are lots to experiences and we suggest a minimum of three or four nights in Havana.

A small UNESCO World Heritage city with a vibrant music scene that comes together every evening to entertain locals and tourists. Trinidad is a pretty looking city that is also a great base from which to explore the nearby Escambray Mountains or the pristine nearby beaches. This small town was built on the back of a sugar boom in the area and the history of the city and how it thrived is particularly interesting. Two or three nights in Trinidad is essential on any touring itinerary of Cuba

The rural, sleepy and old fashioned area of western Cuba that is famed for growing the best tobacco in the world. Vinales is very laid back and whilst here you can rest, relax and explore this agricultural heartland that has not yet let modern ways of life seep into the culture of the region.

Cuba is blessed with miles upon miles of golden sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. If you fancy a few days on a beach then you are in a good place. Along the northern coast there are many large all-inclusive options, a couple are decent for three or four nights, but there are some areas that we never recommend. Near Trinidad you can visit the beaches during the day and retreat back to the city at night for some food and music. There is also a very small island for complete escapism where you can stay in a little bungalow on the beach.

Cuba FAQ’s

When is the best time to visit Cuba? The best season is from the middle of November to late April. During these months the weather is hot and sunny. May and June are beginning to get humid and September and October is the hurricane season and should be avoided.

Do I need a visa to visit Cuba? Yes, but for European citizens it is very easy and we can advise you on how to acquire one post booking. For American citizens it all depends on the purpose of your visit.

How do I get to Cuba? The main airport is Havana airport and there are direct flights from London Gatwick two times a week. There are also daily flights from Amsterdam, Paris and Madrid.

Are the hotels in Cuba outdated? In all honesty, yes. The majority of the hotels in Cuba are outdated, yet it all adds to the charm of being in a country that has not changed much. In Havana there are a couple of more comfortable “luxury” options that are comparable to a good 4 star hotel. Outside of the capital then accommodation usually comprises of a clean and comfortable ensuite with antique furniture and old art.

Has Cuba changed a lot and lost its charm as a tourist destination? Cuba has changed a little since our first visit in 2005, but nothing happens quickly In Cuba. You can still see the old American cars, listen to the music of the island and visit a country that for the main has not changed much for decades.

Is visiting Cuba good value? We think so. However, it is not a super cheap country. The good quality guides, renting reliable cars and staying at the best hotels can all add up and the government heavily controls prices. Food and drink in Cuba is reasonably priced.

How much does a Cuba holiday cost? As a guidance then a 12 day three/four centre trip with a private driver and guide would cost from £3,000/$3,900 per person.

How long do you recommend for my Cuba holiday? We suggest around 12 days as being ample to soak up the highlights of central and western Cuba. If you want to venture further east then 2 weeks is a minimum.
What should we expect from a Cuba holiday? We love Cuba, however it can be a tricky place to visit and a sense of humour is often required. Cubans are utterly fun and charming people, especially when not working, but things can take a while to get accomplished. The plumbing can sometimes break and occasionally there are electricity shortages for a few hours. But Cuba is wonderful and for those ready to experience something unique then you will love Cuba.

Don’t miss a puma sighting because of your old binoculars!

South America is home to scenes of dramatic landscapes, fascinating wildlife, colourful birds, beautiful cloud forests and all in all the great outdoors at its very best… The list could go on and on – it is so vast, with so much to see…

One thing is for sure, wherever you are travelling to on your South America adventure, the only way to make the most of it is to have some good binoculars – we can’t stress this enough…

From spotting the vibrant birds fluttering around Monteverde in Costa Rica, to glimpsing the specific quirks of the unique Galapagos wildlife, and to the ultimate South America wildlife spot of a rare puma in Patagonia –  you definitely don’t want to miss moments of a lifetime because you got a “bargain” pair of unfocused, blurry binos! Trust us – this is so important.

A good place to start when considering a good pair of binos is this article which gives all the info you need when choosing a perfect pair for your trip of a lifetime. In our opinion, not buying a good pair of binos for such an adventure is equal to going to Italy and not eating pasta or pizza… Something you will 100% look back on with regret.

A Tourist Guide to Brazil

An introduction to Brazil
Thank you for getting in touch and requesting information on Brazil. We have put together this guide to introduce Brazil to you knowing that is very easy to get bamboozled by too much information, therefore we hope this short guide will be enough to set you on the right course, without being too detailed. As such it is not meant to be definitive – for further details we strongly recommend that you look at our website or get in touch as we would be delighted to talk to you all about Brazil.

Country summary and map

Brazil is a colossal country in size that makes up more than half of the continents land mass. In
This staggeringly diverse country you will find some of the continents finest beaches, remote lodges in the biodiverse Amazon and Pantanal, charming colonial towns and pulsating cities. Brazil offers so much for everyone, and that’s why so many people fall in love with this special country and return regularly to continue their love affair.

Highlights of the county

The following locations have proven very popular with those that have travelled with South America Odyssey to Brazil. We know the pros and cons of each destination and if you have any further questions about these locations, as well as other destinations, please do get in touch as we would love to speak to you about them.

Iguacu Falls
The Iguacu Falls is a collection of 280 waterfalls and without a doubt one of the “big 5” tourist attractions in South America. Many colourful bird species and small mammals call this extraordinary place home. As well as helicopter rides you can water-raft, take a short train ride to where the Parana and Iguazu rivers merge or take an exhilarating speed boat ride under the falls. The best hotel worth staying in is Das Cataratas – a stunning hotel by Belmond is the only hotel located within the National Park giving you private early access to the Brazilian side of the falls before the crowds.

Rio de Janeiro
Rio is one of South America’s most iconic cities. It looks down on world famous beaches, vibrant communities and is a passionate city whose heart beats that little faster once a year during carnival.
A place where glitzy malls back on to run down neighbourhoods and the Cariocas (Rios residents) live passionately amongst the marvelling tourists. It comes alive on weekends where there are a couple of notable street parties with local food vendors, cocktail makers, and you can’t mention Rio without mentioning its love affair with football. A 5* stay is ensured at Belmond Copacabana Palace which looks over the famous beach – many stars have passed through its doors as noted by the “Hall of Fame” on the second floor. For a hotel away from the beach then the Sofitel is also a super option.

Wildlife spotting in the Pantanal is surprisingly easy when the seasonal flooding subsides (April-September) and the ecosystem of ponds, streams and lakes are prime locations to spot storks, capybara, caiman, parrots, puma and jaguars. Most of the area is privately owned by large farm conglomerates or international conservation programs making it the best wildlife experience in Brazil.
One of these private reserves is home to Caiman Ecological Reserve – this will provide an informative, traditional, comfortable base to explore the region from and is one of our favourite lodges in Brazil.

Amazon Rainforest
The colossal tropical rainforest sweeps across over half of Brazil offering a sanctuary for a multitude of flora, fauna and indigenous tribes. A stay here is about being in a beautiful habitat, rather than seeing lots of wildlife- as the area is so vast, the animals don’t tend to congregate around the lodges and people. Although hard to get to as you have to fly before settling into your lodge, it is worth the visit if you want to be surrounded by this rare and threatened ecosystem.
Enjoy daily botanical excursions from the comfort of Cristalino Lodge – our favourite remote hideaway deep in the forest.

Paraty and Buzios
These two towns are picturesque stop offs near to Rio De Janeiro and great for families.
Paraty is a charming little town that floods daily and is a great spot where you can explore the forests, soak up some Brazilian rays or wonder around the preserved historical centre. A picturesque spot ideal for families and those looking for more than just a beach due to its close proximity to the forest where you can trek, kayak, snorkel and much more. Stay at Casa Turquesa for a very comfortable stay in a friendly boutique hotel located within the UNESCO historically protected area.

In Buzios you can find an abundance of crystal clear waters and trendy eateries on this green peninsula a few hours north of Rio de Janeiro. Now trendy bars and up market boutique hotels litter this location that is used by urbanites to escape the hustle and bustle of Brazils cities at the weekend – the South of France of Brazil. One of our favourites is located close to the peaceful waters of the Ferradura beach. The Insolito is a boutique property with lush green gardens, all the mod cons and great views out over the bay.

This laid back beach location is slowly hitting the tourist radar due to its chilled out vibes, crystal clear waters and the friendly nature of the locals. Find a 17th century whitewashed church, stylish little bars, delicious seafood restaurants and miles upon miles of beach – an ideal spot for some escapism.
Villas Trancosas is a fantastic place to stay if you are looking for a romantic and stylish boutique hotel – a great base to explore the region from. Closer to the water and not as hip is Pousada Tutabel-a beautiful option with direct access to the beach, yet within easy walking distance to the town.

Brazil FAQ’s

When is the best time to visit?
Brazil is an all year destination but as it is so expansive, it really depends on your itinerary. The hottest time of year is late December – March and is the local holiday season so can get very busy. Avoid The Pantanal during the wet seasons (Nov-March) as mosquitos can be a problem – but if you are after beaches, then this is the ideal time to visit. Please speak to us about all the best time to visit as it all depends on your interests.

How much dos a trip to Brazil cost?
There is no easy answer to this one as all of our itineraries are designed from scratch to suit your interest and budget. As a general guide then a two week trip to Brazil would start at £4,615/$6,000 per person, excluding international flights.

What is the currency?
Brazilian Real – cash can be taken out from many ATMs at airports and in larger towns.

What is the language?
Brazilian Portuguese is the main language. English is widely spoken in the hotels.

What is the time difference?
GMT -3 hours

How do I get there?
A few airlines offer direct flights to Brazil, but others have European connections. Average flight time is 11 hours.

Neighbouring countries to combine with Brazil itinerary Iguazu Falls is a convenient pathway into Argentina for most visitors if you want to explore this similarly vast and diverse country. There are also direct flights to Peru taking 5 hours, if you wish to also explore the famous Machu Picchu and other points of interest.

Odyssey Travels  Africa Odyssey Tanzania Odyssey South America Odyssey