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Top Five Cultural Experiences in Latin America for 2019

Getting underneath the cultural skin is often a reason our clients give us for the purpose of their South America Holiday. The team at South America Odyssey have (eventually..) agreed on our top five cultural experiences that we think you should consider for 2019.  Have a look at our list, or for further ideas about the many other different experiences please do get in touch.

  1. Oaxaca Artisans

Oaxaca is situated in southern central Mexico, and is an absolute gem in terms of history & gastronomy. This UNESCO protected city has leafy plazas, historical cobbled streets, bustling markets and a distinctive indigenous feel. This gorgeous city rates as one of the teams favourite Latin American cities. Outside of the city you will find some of Latin Americas most skilled and recognised artisans. Crafts range from black pottery to Alejibres. Zeny Fuentes, an artisan with a small alejibre workshop is a must visit for anyone  interested in the local customs, beliefs, art as well as seeing first hand the work of an internationally renowned artist.

  1. Cuban Jazz & Salsa

A Cuba holiday is not complete without an evening soaking up the unique rhythm of the island listening to the local musicians entertain, Cuban style! Think big bands, lots of brass instruments, super vocalists and  Cubans enthralling tourists with their elaborate silky salsa skills.

  1. Argentina Asado

An Argentine Asado is a pilgrimage for meat lovers with a thirst for a long afternoon getting your chops around arguably the worlds finest cuts of meat, all washed down with copious amounts or red wine. There are some fantastic estancias (ranches) where you can feast like a local, and enjoy local music and good company. A perfect Sunday afternoon on an Argentina Holiday.

  1. Trek to Machu Picchu

For those lucky enough to secure the limited permits to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu then you are in for a special four days. As you ascend through the Sacred mountains over ancient cobbled roads and through crumbling Inca fortresses and towns you learn about the ancient Inca civilisation and its ingenuity. The trek is special, and although it is well on the tourist radar- it remains a highlight for many of us in the office.

  1. Amazonian Indigenous Tribes

A interaction and cultural exchange with a remote Amazonian indigenous tribe, done the right way, can be a very special experience for those with an interest in anthropology. There are many indigenous communities across the continent of Latin America ranging from the Kogi in Tayrona National Park (Colombia) to the Hurayos in Iquitos (Peruvian Amazon). There are some very interesting and sustainable initiatives in joint partnership between local tourist companies, and the local indigenous.

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.

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