Moon valley, Chile
The best place to see the total solar eclipse in Chile
Have the adventure of your lifetime and experience a rare celestial event in one of the most beautiful settings in the world with Wendy Wu Tour’s Chile Eclipse itineraries this July. There’s no show like it on Earth. The drama of a total solar eclipse is a beautiful astronomical performance that will long remain etched in your memory. If you’re lucky enough to be in the narrow path of the moon’s shadow as it slips across the sun, you’ll be left awestruck by one of the most unique and rare experiences on our planet.   Fortunately, you can be that lucky. This July, in the second oldest city in Chile, La Serena, a total solar eclipse will occur. With Wendy Wu Tours, you can make sure you’re there to witness this fleeting but unforgettable celestial event.   Imagine the adventure of arriving to the seaside city of La Serena by private charter plane to immerse yourself in the inspiring beauty of the cosmos. Imagine finding yourself in Chile, with a pisco in-hand, as you wonder at the mystery of our solar system.   More than simply enjoying the eclipse, on Wendy Wu’s 8-Day Chile Eclipse Tour you will also acquaint yourself with the vibrant culture of this South American country and explore two of its most spectacular cities. Let the adventure begin… Day one: meet ‘the jewel of the Pacific’ On your first day, you’ll arrive in Santiago before transferring to the explosion of colour that is bohemian Valparaíso. This coastal city is eclectic, erratic and beautiful in its disorderly array of neighbourhoods that stack colourfully up climbing hillsides. Chile’s much-loved poet Pablo Nerudo fondly said of Valparaíso’s irregular style: “you haven’t combed your hair, you never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.” Tomorrow, you’ll discover the meaning behind Nerudo’s words. Day two: explore the captivating beauty of Valparaíso In 2003, the delightfully mad and completely stunning city of Valparaíso was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Funiculars take you from the seafront to the hillside neighbourhoods where houses painted in a rainbow of colours flank narrow, winding streets. By the time you’ve explored a little, you’ll have newfound affinity with poet Pablo Nerudo’s city. Stop by his house for a visit. Day three: sip in Santiago Head back to Santiago today before exploring beautiful vineyards and incredible Chilean wines. [caption id="attachment_46368" align="alignnone" width="600"] Sample some of the best wines Chile has to offer.[/caption] Chile is the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world, which would be surprising until you realise the country has been producing wine since the Spanish brought grape vines with them in the 16th century. Today, Chilean wines are much sought-after and you’ll be able to explore many of the varietals on this fascinating tour. Day four: time to eclipse Today is a day you’ll never forget. It begins with a one-hour private charter to the adorable seaside town of La Serena. From here, you’ll be taken to a private viewing area in the optimal vantage point of the Elqui Valley where you’ll watch this rare celestial event unfold. Many of us are lucky to witness a handful of total solar eclipses in our lives, but to watch one from such an incredible location is a true once-in-a-lifetime experience. [caption id="attachment_46369" align="alignnone" width="600"] Witness the breathtaking astronomical event.[/caption] An eclipse is not simply breathtaking, it is also fascinating, so to enhance this special event you’ll be joined by astronomy expert Dr Stuart Clark. On hand to answer any of your astronomical questions and to explain the event as it unfolds, Dr Clark will help to deepen your understanding of this magnificent show. Don’t forget your camera! Day five: discover Santiago’s boroughs Incredibly, 40 per cent of Chileans live in Santiago. This visually stunning city with the incredible Andes Mountains at her back is a thriving metropolis and home to 32 boroughs (comunas), each with its own unique personality.   Of course, you won’t meet them all in one day, but you can get under Santiago’s skin with a city tour that takes in some of her most beguiling assets. Visit the Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral, and the city’s commercial hub, Ahumada Boulevard, before making your way up San Cristobal Hill to admire that dramatic, mountainous backdrop.   Explore the street-side eateries and a lively night scene around Bellavista Road and Lastarria, while a visit to the well-healed neighbourhoods of Providencia and Las Condes will reveal world-class restaurants and high-end hotels Day six–eight: homeward bound It’s time to say farewell to the vibrant and colourful beauty of Chile, her people, and her eclectic cities, and start planning your next adventure with Wendy Wu Tours. The details: make it happen The incredible Wendy Wu Tours 8-Day Chile Eclipse Tour is truly an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The tour takes you under the skin of the destination and allows you to explore deeper with cultural and active experiences. Want to make the experience last longer? Wendy Wu has created three custom itineraries spanning 8 – 18 days.   All tours include: Return international airfares All accommodation Guides and entrance fees All transportation and transfers Internal domestic flights if applicable Private charter plane to a reserved eclipse viewing area Guided eclipse viewing experience with renowned Astronomer, Stuart Clarke   Prices start at just $6,980pp, visit Wendy Wu Tours or phone 1300 177 506 for further details or to book.
Street with flags
Exploring Chile: the best places to visit in the land of fire and ice
A narrow sliver of land between the towering Andes and the Pacific Ocean, Chile is blessed with natural beauty far beyond her size. Join Wendy Wu Tours on an adventure through this extraordinary land, from the fiery hues of the Atacama Desert in the north to the icy beauty of Patagonia in the south. Atacama Desert One of the driest places on Earth, the Atacama is exactly what you’d imagine Mars to look like. The simplicity of its shapes and colours affords the landscape a stark, crimson-hued beauty. Jagged triangles of rock form otherworldly valleys and ridges, while perfectly symmetrical volcanoes are brushed with the same red tones that shift to purple and black with the setting sun. [caption id="attachment_46394" align="alignnone" width="600"] Iconic sculptures dot the skyline.[/caption] Enjoy the beauty of this desert spectacular by simply staying in the hub of San Pedro de Atacama or venture deeper to find a more varied palette. Your vista of the seemingly endless rocky plains are broken only by azure lakes populated with salmon-pink flamingos, the white geometric patterns of a salt lake, or the yellowish billows of steam produced by the geothermal pools and geysers. The Atacama is also the ideal place to stargaze. The night sky here is staggering in its complexity, with galaxies, planets and constellations visible to the naked eye. The Atacama Desert is truly unlike anywhere you’ve experienced before.   Santiago de Chile Nestled in a bowl created by the Andes Mountains, whose peaks are easily visible throughout the city, cosmopolitan Santiago pulses with a love for life. Each of its vibrant neighbourhoods leaves a unique impression, from stately Centro (downtown), which is full of colonial architecture; to Bellavista with its relaxed and bohemian vibe; and boisterous Barrios Brasil. [caption id="attachment_46395" align="alignnone" width="600"] Experience Santiago de Chile's eclectic mix of neighbourhoods.[/caption] On the coast, 100 kilometres from the capital, the port city of Valparaíso has a ramshackle, roguish charm. Perched on the cliffs above the industrial seafront is the city’s UNESCO-listed historic quarter. Here, the cerros or neighbourhoods are full of narrow streets lined with colourfully painted houses, chic cafes and boutiques, and artfully dilapidated mansions with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Reached by funicular lifts, getting lost in this brightly hued maze is the perfect way to spend a day in the city.   Lake District Thanks to a long resistance to the advances of both the Inca and the Spanish, Chile’s Lake District was long a region of simple farming settlements and the indigenous Mapuche people. Much of its thick forest remains today, dotted with deep lakes and watched over by snow-capped volcanoes. Towns such as Puerto Varas, on the banks of Lake Llanquihue, charmingly blend in with their surroundings and offer a gateway to the gorgeous nature they reside in. [caption id="attachment_46397" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Lake District is brimming with culture[/caption] In summer, you can hike the forested slopes of Volcan Osorno and in winter venture down on skis. At the foot of the volcano you’ll find thundering waterfalls and lush greenery. Explore Chiloé Island, part of an archipelago just off the coast, which is home to pastoral landscapes steeped in folklore and, often, an enigmatic fog. Don’t leave without taking a photograph of Chiloé’s ‘palafitos’ (overwater bungalows), and spotting as many of the island’s 150 charming wooden churches as possible.   Patagonia Encompassing the tip of the South American continent, Patagonia is a region of wild grey seas, ice and rock. Its landscapes are pristine and, thanks to its huge scale, incredibly diverse. From the colourful town of Puerto Natales, you can cruise the desolate waters of the Ultima Esperanza Fjord to spot sea lions, snow-capped mountains and glaciers, before heading to Chilean Patagonia’s headline attraction, the Torres del Paine National Park. [caption id="attachment_46396" align="alignnone" width="600"] Cruise through the spectacular fjords.[/caption] Centred round a massif of towering granite columns, the eponymous Torres, this national park showcases the very best of Patagonia’s dramatic landscapes. Alpine valleys, grassy meadows, dramatic peaks, and sparkling blue lakes abound, all watched over by the mighty Grey Glacier. This is nature at its most magnificent, and totally unmissable.   How to get there Explore Chile with Wendy Wu Tours’ CHILE TOP TO TOE – 15 DAYS from $9180pp or call 1300 177 506.
The must-see sights of Galapagos National Park
There’s a spot in the Pacific Ocean that holds a special significance to anyone with a deep appreciation for the natural world, discovers Daniel Down. If Charles Darwin hadn’t observed the unique wildlife of the Galápagos, namely its famous finches, and made deductions that helped him formulate his great theory of evolution by natural selection, we’d still be ambling around saying how incredible it is that all life was created 6000 years ago by an omnipotent being. [caption id="attachment_44555" align="alignleft" width="1000"] paradies galapagos[/caption] Besides making a scientific pilgrimage to the islands, you should go to see their otherworldly landscapes and abundant endemic wildlife.   To get there, catch a flight from the Ecuadorian capital Quito to Baltra Airport just off Santa Cruz; stay at Red Mangrove Eco Lodge in Puerto Ayora, for example, and organise a tour through the lodge, or book a cruise with transfers straight to your boat from the airport.   Incorporate just a few of the ideas into your itinerary to witness the great natural wonders of the Galápagos National Park, and indeed, the world. El Chato – Giant Tortoise Reserve You’ll need a guide to enter this part of the national park that’s been set aside for the Galápagos’ most iconic animal, the giant tortoise.   Weighing up to almost half a tonne these magnificent, ancient beasts do what they have been doing for millions of years in the wild, namely extending their long necks very slowly to nibble on grass; a captivating experience that you’ll take an unnecessary number of photos of. Snorkel León Dormido With 150-metre-high buttresses of rock rising out of the ocean, the sight of León Dormido alone is worth making the trip out to this remote spot off the coast of Isla de San Cristóbal. But you should also come to snorkel with eagle rays, hammerhead sharks and turtles. Climb Volcán Alcedo You feel like you could be on an alien planet on the slopes of Alcedo Volcano. Emerging from the heart of Isla Isabela, take a guided walk to see big groups of giant tortoises sitting in pools in a landscape of craters, ancient lava flows and fumaroles spewing hot sulphuric gases. Puerto Egas / Las Tintoreras The black igneous rock seems to come alive in another of the archipelago’s most famous sights: that of countless scaly black marine iguanas clinging to a surf-battered shoreline, warming up in the sun before swimming off to dive and graze on algae.   See this endemic lizard at Puerto Egas on Isla Santiago, or catch a boat out to Las Tintoreras (pictured above) off the coast of Puerto Villamil.   Some species of the iguana also sport red blotchy skin and the occasional dollop of turquoise. Tortuga Bay On the central island of Santa Cruz you can hike along a paved, 2.4-kilometre path through the scrub to reach the pristine crescent of white sand at Tortuga Bay.   Here, marine iguanas patrol up and down the beach like miniature dinosaurs. While the main beach is closed for swimming, you can take a dip in a nearby cove, often with reef sharks. Darwin Lake They like naming things after the bearded Victorian here, and Darwin Lake in the shadow of the mighty Darwin Volcano, is a spectacular sight reached via a two-kilometre hike from the shore of Tagus Bay on Isla Isabela.   An old volcano caldera has created this near circular saltwater lagoon, only separated from the sea by a thin sliver of land. The Charles Darwin Research Station Scientists have been using this facility, at Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz, to study and conserve the islands’ unique biodiversity since 1964.   Pay a visit to get hands on with specimens and get up close to giant tortoises at the centre’s breeding program.  
La Paz, Bolivia.
How to spend 48 adventurous hours in La Paz, Bolivia
You’d think the fact that La Paz is a city located at the bottom of a canyon would be its most interesting feature, but trust me it has so many more. The capital city of Bolivia, La Paz encompasses the colourful lifestyle and unique landscape of South America perfectly. The city will leave you in love with Bolivia’s bright and bold culture, and a dose of fresh and crisp air. While travelling across South America, I can honestly say I wasn’t as excited to visit Bolivia as some of the other nations on my itinerary.   La Paz is a city that you don’t really expect too much from and has a reputation of being unsafe, but boy did it prove its worth! It is the highest administrative capital in the world sitting at more than 3500 metres above sea level. With Mt. Illimani as its backdrop, the city’s landscape is nothing like you’ve seen before. The higher you climb, the more stunning the view. [caption id="attachment_44367" align="alignnone" width="600"] Residential neighborhood in La Paz Bolivia[/caption] The rich culture, the unbelievable history, the vibrant atmosphere, the friendly people, the mouth-watering food and the incredible landscape, La Paz has all the characteristics of a must-see city. Although some more northern parts of the city are deemed unsafe due to theft, the majority is full of curious tourists like yourself and a helping hand. Manoeuvring around is quite the adventure, and the best part is, you can do it all in 48 hours. Day one: 7.30am: Death Road Mountain Biking One of the major attractions of La Paz is Yungas Road, also known as Death Road, and you can’t visit the city without giving it a good run. It was built in the 1930s as the only route from La Paz to Coroico, although its narrow, high and sharp turns soon made it a deadly path for travellers.   The only way you should conquer the road these days is with a mountain bike. There are a few different tour groups that offer excursions, though I would highly recommend Gravity Assisted Bolivia. They’re pricey but safe, provide great detail along the way, and the day is organised well. Once breakfast at Cafe Del Mundo is ticked off, you’re in for a long bus ride, hours of mountain biking and a trip to the La Senda Animal Refuge. Price is $174. 10.30pm: Pollos Copacabana Day one is jam-packed and the only way to finish it off is with a good late-night feed. Pollos Copacabana is the most popular fast food restaurant in Bolivia and you must experience its deliciousness. Its burgers are fatty, its chicken is greasy and its plantain chips are the bomb!   [caption id="attachment_44368" align="alignnone" width="600"] Ornate alley in old town La Paz Bolivia.[/caption]  11.30pm: overnight stay After a massive day, you’ll want to hit the sheets for a good night’s sleep before another early morning. My personal hotel recommendations include Hotel Rosario, Stannum Boutique Hotel & Spa or Presidente Hotel. They are clean, conveniently located close to shops and restaurants and have friendly and knowledgeable staff to help with any questions you have.   If you have a bit more energy then you should head straight to Wild Rover Hostel, the number one hostel in La Paz. Its bar is loud, its atmosphere is buzzing and makes for a very fun night meeting fellow travellers. Just don’t go to bed too late! Day two: 9.00am: HB Bronze Cafe South America boasts some incredible coffee. Luckily for you, HB Bronze Cafe recently popped up in the centre of La Paz and stocks some of the most incredible coffee beans from not just SA, but all around the world. Each coffee is brewed and served in its traditional way, so the baristas put on a bit of a show. 11.00am: walking tour I’m a massive fan of walking tours. In La Paz, Red Caps is known for its incredible walk through. They’re informative, quirky and very well organised. Plus, only cost $4! My tour starts at Plaza San Pedro and then continues on through the major markets of La Paz, San Francisco Church, Plaza Murillo and a complimentary drink at Sol y Luna cafe.   The guides are passionate about their city, the nation of Bolivia and, what they admit is, their crazy history. My favourite part of the tour? San Pedro Prison. Second favourite? The incredible chorizo sandwich you’ll down for lunch at the Rodriguez Market. 2.00pm: Cementerio General It sounds a bit funny, visiting a cemetery while on holiday, but you won’t ever see one quite like this. La Paz’s main city cemetery is vibrant and loving. The cemetery is so full that the graves are being stacked on top of each other and the street art on the side is big and bright.   The best time to go would be during Day of the Dead celebrations at the start of November. The best way to get there is by bus and during the day, as it isn’t located in the safest of areas for tourists with pickpockets and gangs lurking at night. 3.30pm – cable cars   [caption id="attachment_44369" align="alignnone" width="600"] Cable car, La Paz.[/caption] One significant feature of La Paz is its cable car system Mi Teleferico. It’s not only the most efficient way to get around the complicated city, but also the most impressive. The view of the canyon is second to none. To make the most of your trip, head on up to El Alto and visit the Flea Market, which is one of the biggest in the country.   Beware though, there are known to be pickpockets throughout this part of the city, so wear your backpack in front and pack away your camera. 5.30pm – Cholita Wrestling Show You can’t leave La Paz without heading to a Cholita Wresting Show. It’s the WWE of Bolivia and is quite the night out! It’s best to book a tour through your hotel as you want to go in a group and with locals. NOTE: Wrestling shows only run on Thursdays and Sundays so time your 48 hours wisely!
Celebrity Edge
Celebrity Edge is the ship that will change cruising forever
For Celebrity Cruises®, the name for its newest ship was obvious. Set to launch in December of this year, Celebrity Edge® is the ship that will change cruising forever.   This revolutionary ship is like no other before – every design element was pushed to the edge of possibility, and carefully considered to exceed all expectations. And that it does, with some of the most attainable luxury, innovation and transformational concepts at sea. Everyone gets a view – and a King sized bed ‘Some resorts have a beautiful view, ours has thousands’, Celebrity says of its suites on board Celebrity Edge®, which feel more like modern urban apartments than ship accommodation. The largest suites in the entire Celebrity fleet, Celebrity Edge’s Iconic Suites are located high above the bridge, making guests feel on top of the world – or perhaps at the edge of the Earth – with panoramic views, two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and an outdoor area with hot tub and day bed. The breathtaking two-storey Edge Villas are the first of their kind in the Celebrity fleet – boasting one bedroom, two bathrooms, private terraces, floor-to-ceiling windows, plunge pools and personal butler service. While those in the Edge Staterooms can, with the simple touch of a button, transform the entire stateroom into an ‘Infinite Verandah℠’. The floor-to-ceiling window retracts, allowing even larger living space and access to sea breeze whenever one likes. So long, pokey cabins and portholes!   The beauty of Celebrity Edge® is that all staterooms and suites offer a luxurious experience, due to its thoughtful design which allows for a king-size bed in 99 per cent of the rooms. There are also a number of interconnecting options, making it easier for larger families to comfortably travel together in a variety of accommodation options. Add to that twice-daily housekeeping, custom-blended bath products, and Celebrity’s eXhale™ bedding with exclusive Cashmere mattresses. Take a trip through the Garden of Eden Outside of guest sleeping quarters, the public areas also have an edge to them. No expense was spared, from a seven-tonne chandelier in The Grand Plaza that is the central gathering space, to 7000 square feet of glass in Eden, a space resplendent in lush greenery that transforms from day to night. It has a café and bar, indoor and al fresco dining, activities such as yoga, cooking classes, wine tasting and pairing, and artistic performances that are integrated into an unforgettable dining experience.   [caption id="attachment_44018" align="alignnone" width="1500"] First to ever be designed in 3D by world renowned architects and designers[/caption] Entertainment like you’ve never seen before ‘We’re not pulling back the curtain, we’re taking it away’, Celebrity says, with all aspects of the ship possessing a wow-factor, be it with performance, immersive or aesthetic. Though if you prefer to sit back and enjoy the spectacle, the entertainment at The Theatre has four shows that will keep guests on the edge of their seat, with transformative stages, projectors, spiralling staircases and aerial rigging. There’s an actual Magic Carpet hovering above the water But if that’s not extraordinary enough, make like Aladdin and take a Magic Carpet ride on board Celebrity Edge®. This unique feature is the world’s first cantilevered platform on the edge of the ship, 13 storeys above sea level. Transforming into different spaces, depending on which level it is on, the Magic Carpet can be a dining room, pool deck, or space for enrichment talks and workshops, with the added thrill of feeling like you’re soaring over the ocean. Private cabanas, martini hot tubs and film-inspired food Up on the pool deck, a 22-metre lap pool is flanked by sun lounges, private cabanas that overlook the ocean, and a couple of two-storey martini hot tubs (as in, they are shaped like a martini glass) offering a sky-high soak. The jogging track winds its way around a living Rooftop Garden, where you can feast on a barbecue grill, enjoy a cocktail, listen to live music and experience A Taste of Film, where the food is inspired by the film. [caption id="attachment_44019" align="alignnone" width="600"] Every design element was pushed to the edge of possibility, and carefully considered to exceed all expectations[/caption] Cuisine from around the globe Indeed, food, glorious food is a key part of the cruising experience, and onboard Celebrity Edge®, world class dining is at your fingertips. Gone are the days that it is all just about gluttonous buffets. On board Celebrity Edge® guests have the exciting choice of four complimentary dining options! Choose between new American with global influences, refined French cuisine, Mediterranean fare and rustic Italian, with ample spots to relax with a drink, whether it be at the dazzling Martini Bar, country club-style Sunset Bar or the glitz and glamour of the Casino Bar.   Rivalling some of the world’s most luxurious hotels, the Celebrity Edge® is cutting-edge design, a refreshing new-look cruising experience that brings luxury to everyone. Details To find out where Celebrity Edge® is sailing, visit http://www.cruising.com.au/ Or call 1800 270 747 for more information.    
visit Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine explora hiking
7 reasons to visit Patagonia this year
Few places in the world are as wild and untouched as Patagonia. But that’s not the only reason to go there, writes Louise Southerden.
Tulum beach, Mexico.
5 best beaches in Mexico, without the tourists
Forget the clichéd Cancun beach experience. Escape the crowds (and drunken tourists who can’t handle their tequila sunrises), with these suitably secretive places to soak up Mexico’s heat. Playa Carrizalillo beach [caption id="attachment_16525" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Playa Carrizalillo beach, Mexico.[/caption] Where: Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. Why: Puerto Escondido might be better known for having one of the best surfing pipelines at Zicatela Beach, but tucked away just a few minutes past the city centreis a little beach that’s the makings of a tropical holiday dreams.   Not unlike the set of blockbuster film The Beach, Playa Carrizalillo is like the smaller, more rugged cousin of Thailand’s Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh Island - minus Leo.   Sitting snugly under a thick canopy of rainforest trees in between two rocky headlands, this beach remains calm all year round. Best for: Lazy swimmers and snorkelers. Getting there: Playa Carrizalillo is a straight 15-minute walk west from the city centre of Puerto Escondido. However it’s worth taking a taxi since the route is a busy highway and the taxi fare will only cost you 30 pesos (about $2.50 AUD).   To get to the beach you’ll then need to trek down 167 steps, but as the sweat begins dripping keep in mind that a small canteen awaits at the bottom offering Coronas and ceviche. Tulum beach [caption id="attachment_16527" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Tulum beach, Mexico.[/caption] Where: Yucatan Peninsula, Quintana Roo. Why: Ok, we have to admit that many tourists have now cottoned on to this stunning stretch of coastline, but we couldn't discuss Mexico beaches without mentioning it.   Tulum is an idyllic spot to take a breather and enjoy what the New York Times has described as "the perfect spot for a yoga holiday".   However if you’d rather spend your time at the beach soaking up the rays with a beer than in downward dog, there’s plenty of space to do just that as the entire length of Tulum is lined with chalky white sand and sparkly waters.   Tulum is also home to some of the most interesting Mayan ruins, sitting atop a 12-metre-high cliff edge, overlooking the spectacular Caribbean coastline. Best for: Yogis and history buffs. Getting there: The section of beach that features Mayan ruins is located about one kilometre east of Highway 307.   The roads in Tulum are pancake flat it’s worth renting a bicycle and working off those tacos. Most beaches are within a 20-minute cycle from the city centre. Bacalar lagoon [caption id="attachment_16523" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Bacalar lagoon, Mexico.[/caption] Where: 40 kilometres north of Chetumal, Quintana Roo, or about 240 kilometres southwest of Tulum. Why: While not technically a beach, this lagoon is perhaps one of Mexico’s most underrated and spectacular swimming holes.   Also known as ‘the lagoon of seven colours’, Bacalar is a vast expanse of water that appears to be speckled in varying blue hues and pearlescent greens.   It’s not hard to see why buccaneers fought viciously over this land for years. Best for: Pirates of the Caribbean fans and nature lovers. Getting there: Most travellers happen upon Bacalar by chance, but for those in the know the only way to get there from Tulum is via a two-and-a-half hour bus ride with ADO. Isla Holbox Island [caption id="attachment_16524" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Isla Holbox island, Mexico.[/caption] Where: The island lies about11 kilometres off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Why: As untouched as it is naturally beautiful, the biggest development here is the sand roads that weave across the island.   As a result, Isla Holboxis a sanctuary for wildlife, home to almost 150 different species of birds, as well as gentle giants of the sea, whale sharks, which you can swim with.   It’s also worth noting that the water here is much darker than in other parts of the Caribbean because it’s mixed in with the Gulf of Mexico.   The island itself is teeny tiny, spanning just 40 kilometres by three kilometres - a good thing given the absence of any street signs.   But no need to worry about getting lost - every beach is roughly two minutes from the city centre…if you can even call it that. Best for: Nature lovers, twitchers and those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of Cancun. Getting there: Ferries operate between Isla Holbox and fishing port of Chiquila, approximately two-and-a-half hours from Cancun.   If travelling from Cancun, head west to El Ideal and watch out for signs to Isla Holbox.   travelyucatan.com Troncones beach [caption id="attachment_16526" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Troncones beach, Mexico.[/caption] Where: 32 kilometres northwest of Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, or 280 kilometres north of Acapulco. Why: Nestled between the Sierra Madre mountains and the Mexican Riviera, Troncones is a peaceful little surfing and fishing village.   But despite its appeal and laidback charm, most tourists still seem to congregate around the built-up resorts of nearby Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo.   However we’re not the only ones to appreciate this quiet achiever - famed artists Damien Hirst and Julian Schnabel regularly retreat to Troncones for respite and inspiration. Best for: Beach bums looking to do nothing more than swing in a hammock under a palm tree. Getting there: Colectivo vans run between Zihuatanejo and Troncones every half hour. Otherwise many accommodation providers also offer transport services from the airport at Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa.  
Galapagos island fauna flora sights travel adventure
Take a boat trip through the Galapagos Islands
Leave the bucket-list brigade far behind on a boat trip through the mesmerising Galapagos Islands. They’re here. But then, I knew they would be. There’s your number one problem with a bucket-list destination, right there: bucket-list travellers. They’re like moths to a flame.   They’re crowding me now at San Cristobal airport, their cameras knocking me in my solar plexus, hydration hoses dangling from their brand-spanking-new Kathmandu backpacks, flicking my arms like hungry mosquitoes. They’re a water-resistant, lightweight Gore-Tex army. [caption id="attachment_36591" align="alignleft" width="1000"] The jagged volcanic landscape of the Galapagos.[/caption] They talk loudly too, but then there’s so much to tell. Anticipation is heavy in the air, like humidity. After all, just on the other side of the immigration man with the Inspector Clouseau moustache, there’s a world of crazy-looking animals created, surely, with Instagram in mind.   A flotilla of tourist boats – more than half the visitors to the Galapagos will travel by boat at some stage of their journey – will ensure cyberspace records another bucket-list inclusion being ticked efficiently off the list. Done! [caption id="attachment_36592" align="alignleft" width="1000"] The dazziling water of Bartolome Island, Galapagos.[/caption] What’s next? Machu Picchu?   But this is not my first rodeo. Bucket-list destinations, I’ve discovered through trial and error, must be approached with a very carefully planned strategy. You want them to live up to all the hype, don’t you? Who wants to be a witness to a deity worshipped half to death?   If the only way to see the Galapagos is by boat, then why not get a boat which carries the least amount of people with the most style (the newest and the fanciest vessel would be nice)? And why not get a boat that’ll take you on a route through the Galapagos Islands that differs from the norm, to bypass all the gawkers? [caption id="attachment_36590" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Sally Lightfoot Crab on the Bartolome Island in the Galapagos.[/caption] That’s precisely why I’m stepping aboard a Zodiac in San Cristobal’s tiny harbour, just 10 minutes’ drive from the airport. It’s taking me to the MV Origin, a shiny blue ship furthest from the shore that offers up space for just 20 guests (with 14 crew). There’s a bar on the top sundeck, a bubbling jacuzzi on the back deck and floor-to-ceiling windows in my cabin so, even when I’m reclining, there’s not a chance I’ll miss a single creature across the whole Galapagos.   The MV Origin offers two routes – I’ve opted for the Southern and Central Galapagos program, which will take me across five islands of the group on a journey of eight days and seven nights. [caption id="attachment_36587" align="alignleft" width="584"] Sea lions bask in Galapagos glory.[/caption] Sea lions are sprawled out on the concrete jetty in the mid-morning sunshine like itinerants sleeping off a big night; on the ride out to the Origin, metre-long frigate birds bombard the blue waters around us hunting fish, and a pod of five dolphins surf the bow waves of our Zodiac like they’re part of the free extras offered, along with the open bar. The sun’s shining high above and the bucket-listers are still at the harbour buying T-shirts with giant tortoises on them and spare memory cards. From my lofty position here on the top deck, with cool towel on forehead and welcoming cocktail in hand, everything looks exactly as it should. [caption id="attachment_36593" align="alignleft" width="1000"] A Galapagos giant tortoise strolls though its day.[/caption] The Galapagos are one of the world’s most romanticised island groups. Ever since Charles Darwin ventured here in 1835 and used his observations of the islands’ extraordinary endemic animals to formulate his theory of evolution (which he based on natural selection of animal and plant species), the Galapagos have been cast as practically mythological. They sit in 45,000 square kilometres of Pacific Ocean straddling the equator, almost 1000 kilometres from the nearest landmass (Ecuador, to which they belong). This kind of isolation once made the Galapagos an ideal hideout for the planet’s most notorious pirates but these days, ironically, it’s what attracts travellers by the planeload: over 180,000 will make it here this year.   And yet, despite these ever-increasing numbers, within hours of stowing away aboard the good ship MV Origin, I feel blissfully lost at sea. As we leave the bustling port of San Cristobal behind us, with its lunar-like volcanic landscape devoid of almost any vegetation at all, not a single boat follows. A warm northerly breeze sweeps across the decks, I scan the horizon and see nothing but sea, and I feel the kind of anticipation only a voyage by sea can bring on. [caption id="attachment_36596" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Mangrove warbler (Setophaga petechia aureola) male, South Plaza, Galapagos Islands[/caption] It still comes as quite a shock, however, when a pod of transient orcas rushes at us as we start our voyage to the island of Española. One moment the sea is as blue as the sky above, the next it’s a mess of black and white, as creatures the width and length of transit buses come right up under the ship, surfacing just beside us. Our guide, naturalist Peter Freire, says that this sort of thing is what we should be ready for here in these islands he was raised on. “I tell photographers, you don’t need the big zooms; here, the animals come closer than you’ve ever seen before.”   As we arrive at Punta Suarez on Española, we step over marine and land iguanas battling over the placenta of a just-born sea lion. Beside them, blue-footed boobies perform the world’s most elaborate courtship ritual. When I snorkel in the afternoon, sea lions somersault over the top of me, and Galapagos and black-tipped reef sharks touch my legs as they fish the waters beside me. Later, as we walk across a barren ridgeline above a stunning white coral beach, great frigates fly right in among our group as they attack the nests of red-footed boobies, trying to steal the fish they caught to feed their young. I feel less an observer and more a part of the lives of these creatures; in fact, in a week, the only creatures that seem bothered by my trespassing at all are the rare pink flamingos I glimpse on the island of Bartolomé. [caption id="attachment_36598" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Swimming brings you even closer to the Galapagos' unafraid sea fauna.[/caption] But while so much is written of the vast numbers of rare creatures that inhabit the Galapagos, far less is known of the islands’ physical attributes. With their stilted vegetation and sharp volcanic landscape, the Galapagos Islands are no clichéd tropical paradise, yet warm blue water laps onto a thousand hidden bays of perfect white-sand beaches where few visitors ever step.   On my second day at sea, I take a paddleboard over the top of rainbow-coloured coral at Gardner Bay as eagle rays and green turtles swim beneath. I paddle to a long beach, where I sit for an hour as reef sharks, turtles and rays pass me by, just a metre or so from the shore. [caption id="attachment_36597" align="alignleft" width="584"] Prickly pear cactus, endemic in the islands.[/caption] Some of the Galapagos’ most famed visitors were less than flattering in their observations of the island group. Darwin himself noted: “The country is compared to what one might expect the cultivated parts of the infernal regions to be”. But I find the harsh outlines of these islands captivating. One afternoon we climb right to the top of a volcanic caldera, and look down across ancient lava flows to an isolated blue-water bay. On another, I stand atop a paddleboard and ride through sea caves created by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago.   I like that we do most of our steaming by night. Each morning I wake to a weird and wonderful new world at anchorage. Small cruises bring on a certain kind of selfishness, and in the Galapagos I think it’s accentuated – when I see another boat, its presence grates on me. I’m really not happy again until they’ve moved on. Even on my own boat I start to crave the sanctity of dawn, when I walk to the sundeck with a cup of tea to watch the stars fade out high above me. Here, I’m free from small talk, with only the creatures of the sea feeding below me for company. And it’s mine, all mine. [caption id="attachment_36599" align="alignleft" width="584"] The rare flamingos of Bartolome.[/caption] While each shore excursion reveals islands of rare creatures, I find myself looking forward more and more each day to returning to the ship. It has become my whole world, and I like the sense of security that comes with shrinking my existence down to these sturdy slabs of timber and fibreglass set on an open ocean. After each dinner, I retreat to the top deck to watch the stars shoot the whole way across the night sky.   Though we have an itinerary, life at sea follows far less rigid timeframes, with activities revolving around the sun rising and setting. We visit quaint fishing townships sprinkled throughout the Galapagos (only 25,000 people live here), but largely, life revolves almost entirely around the moods of the ocean. [caption id="attachment_36586" align="alignleft" width="1000"] A sleepy baby sea lion goes for maximum cuteness.[/caption] And then it’s done, and I’m deposited back to the queues at San Cristobal airport with lungs full of salty air. The window seats are all gone, claimed by the bucket-list brigade, and the flight is delayed two hours from Quito, but I find I care less now about any of that.   In my mind, the wind’s still blowing across the deck and the sun’s still streaming down on my face; and I know the creatures captured on my memory cards aren’t nearly as important as a mind cleansed by the infinity of all that ocean. Details: Galapagos Islands Getting there Fly to the Galapagos Island from Australia with either LATAM or QANTAS, via Santiago. Latin America specialist Chimu Adventures offers a range of Galapagos trips and can also create tailor-made itineraries including international flights from Australia, transfers and trips on the MV Origin. Playing there  The MV Origin runs two seven-night itineraries – the Southern and Central Route, and the Western and Northern Route – departing every Sunday year-round from San Cristobal island. All visitors to the Galapagos must pay a US$100 Galapagos entrance fee, which you can pay on arrival. The US dollar is the official currency of the Galapagos Islands.