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The eternal lightning storm of Catatumbo

The eternal lightning storm of Catatumbo

Receiving lightning strikes 28 times per minute, 10 hours per day and 280 days per year, Catatumbo, Venezuela is far and away the most electric place on earth. Residents near the spot where the Catatumbo River flows into Lake Maracaibo have grown used to the phenomenon which has continued unchanged for centuries and is known locally as El Relampago de Catatumbo. No one is completely certain why it occurs, but current consensus seems to be that it has something to do with the meeting of the hot, humid coastal winds of Maracaibo meeting the arctic air from the surrounding Andes. Photo: Fernando Flores Photo: Ruzhugo 27 In addition to the one-of-a-kind lightning storms, Lake Maracaibo - an enormous brackish inlet which used to be South America’s largest true lake – is also home to so fantastic birds, wildlife and scenery...as these photos attest. Photo: Fernando Flores Photo: Fernando Flores Unfortunately the Relampago takes place in a notably unstable region of an …
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Mi Teleférico: La Paz’s brilliant urban cable car network

Mi Teleférico: La Paz’s brilliant urban cable car network

The world’s highest and longest urban gondola system has transformed the way people commute in Bolivia’s capital. At 11,913 feet, La Paz is the world’s highest capital city. Clinging to the sides of a natural depression in the Andean escarpment, it really is one of the most incredible cities on earth. Endless shanties and skyscrapers hang from ochre cliffs and canyons, with snow-capped Illimani an ever-present backdrop. Open image in new tab to view full-size version. But its dramatic location, coupled with decades of poor urban planning, mean that it’s also a commuter’s nightmare. When I lived there I took hour-long walks in the thin altiplano air to avoid having to use city’s the overcrowded and sluggish buses, minibuses and trufis (more about the these some other time!). That’s all changed with the introduction of Mi Teleférico, a network of fast, silent cable cars that criss-crosses the city and connects La Paz with El Alto – a massive satellite city that’s more than 1,500 feet …
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Video: Discover the Galapagos' underwater secrets

Video: Discover the Galapagos' underwater secrets

Charles Darwin based his Theory Of Evolution on the terrestrial observations he made in the Galapagos. This gorgeous underwater film details what he would have seen if he'd been able to witness the islands' underwater wonders. The film features incredible footage of hammerhead sharks, marine iguanas and countless birds, fish and other sea creatures, so watch and enjoy... If you're the bookish type why not read about Darwin's finches, the unlikely poster girls (and boys!) of the Theory of Evolution. If you want to see this watery wonderland for yourself you'll be glad to know that our Galapagos island hopping itinerary includes two different snorkeling excursions. If you're a seasoned SCUBA pro check out this article to find out more about the Best SCUBA sites in South America...including a few in the Galaps, of course. Full credit to filmmaker Dustin Adamson for allowing us to post Darwin's Dream on our blog.
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Galapagos highlight: Charles Darwin Research Station

Galapagos highlight: Charles Darwin Research Station

See Galapagos giant tortoises in all stages of development – from tiny babies to adult behemoths. Plus a breeding program for land iguanas and other informative exhibits. The Charles Darwin Foundation is an international non-profit which has been working with the Ecuadorian government since 1959 to provide scientific knowledge and assistance to help conserve the Galapagos’ unique ecosystems. In addition to the invaluable scientific work there is a small visitors’ centre at their HQ near Puerto Ayora. Great things happen in this building. (Photo: Les Williams) You will encounter adult Galapagos giant tortoises at several points on your Galapagos adventure, but the Charles Darwin Research Station affords you the opportunity of seeing them at all stages of growth from unhatched eggs to full-grown adults. It is quite incredible to see the young hatchlings which weigh as little as 1.8 ounces and measure only 2.4 inches. Remember: the hatchery is about far more than pleasing tourists: …
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WATCH: Epic drone footage of the wonders of South America

WATCH: Epic drone footage of the wonders of South America

Of late we've covered some fairly weighty topics: the Jesuits in South America; the Zika virus and the history of the Panama hat to name but a few. And that is as it should be: we take South America seriously and we know you do too. But everyone needs a spot of indulgent, schmaltzy travel-porn once in a while... Which is where this beautifully shot, edited and produced 3-minute film from Tom Montefiore and Adam Humphrey comes in. Don't be fooled by the unremarkable title ("South America by drone") this is landscape videography at its very best. If you can't travel right now, this is the next best thing. And if you can travel it'll make choosing where to go and what to see... Now that you've watched it, how many of the locations could you identify? And how many have you actually visited? Full credit to filmmakers Tom Montefiore and Adam Humphrey.
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Zika virus: All you need to know

Zika virus: All you need to know

The Zika virus has been dominating headlines for the past month or so and we thought it wise to post a summary of what we know about the virus and what it means for our guests. The basics Zika virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This is the same mosquito that transmits dengue. (There are also recent reports that it may be transmitted through sexual intercourse and blood transfusions, although this appears to be far less common). The most common symptoms of Zika virus infection are mild fever and skin rash, usually accompanied by conjunctivitis, muscle or joint pain, and general malaise that begins 2-7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. The vast majority of cases so far have been in Brazil. Because the Aedes mosquito occurs throughout the Americas (except continental Chile and Canada) it is expected to spread further. The good news Only one out of four infected people develops symptoms of the disease. Among those who do, the disease …
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Chilean architect scoops prestigious Pritzker Prize

Chilean architect scoops prestigious Pritzker Prize

The Chilean architect famous for re-imagining low cost housing in Latin American cities and for rebuilding the city of Constitución in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami, has been awarded architecture's highest prize. Alejandro Aravena's work is not 'beautiful' in the strictest sense of the word, but his buildings and ideas have dramatically transformed several Chilean (and Mexican) cities dramatically, and many see his philosophy of 'participatory design' (involving communities in the design of the cities and buildings they will live in) as the future of urban architecture. Half a good house   This was a technique he first tried in Iquique, where he asked residents of a proposed low cost housing scheme for their input. Facing revolt and hunger strikes if he persisted with high-rise blocks (the only financially feasible plan), Aravena hit upon the idea of building "half of a good house" instead of a bad house. In other words, Aravena provided families with 860 …
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Favorite South American plazas: Plaza de Mayo

Favorite South American plazas: Plaza de Mayo

Anyone who has spent any time in South America will know that the heart of every village, town or city is its plaza. A plaza can be anything from a tiny grassy meeting place in the rural hinterland to an elaborate marble expression of nationhood, but it is always a place where people come together. Photo credit: Juan EDC The Plaza de Mayo is surrounded by several of Argentina's most important buildings: notably the Cabildo (the old colonial HQ), the Casa Rosada (the 'Pink House' which is the official presidential residence) and the city's main cathedral. The plaza itself is decorated by the Piramide de Mayo (built in 1811 to commemorate the May Revolution a year earlier) and a grand statue of independence hero General Belgrano as well as towering palm trees and soothing fountains. Photo credit: Diego Torres Silvestre These days it usually has a relaxed and convivial atmosphere, but over the years it's played host to some very important events in Argentina's history. The 1945 …
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Villa Epecuén: Atlantis of the Pampas

Villa Epecuén: Atlantis of the Pampas

In its heyday in the middle of the 20th century, Villa Epecuén was one of the hottest domestic tourist destinations in Argentina. Porteños flocked to the small town 350 miles from Buenos Aires to bathe in its curative, salty waters. But in 1985 the lake that was responsible for the town's very existence would lead to its demise. Villa Epecuén was established in the 1920s on the shores of the lake of the same name. Lago Epecuén is, after the Dead Sea, the second saltiest body of water on the planet and the town's baths and spas used to draw in as many as 20,000 tourists a season. Villa Epecuén was able to support 280 businesses and a permanent population of 1,500. Life was good, until... In November 1985 the area received a particularly heavy rainstorm that caused a seiche (standing wave) in the lake. The seiche broke a dam and eventually burst through a retaining wall, flooding the lakeside streets. At first residents hope the waters would recede before any real damage was caused, …
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Lima más arriba: Incredible aerial photographs of Lima, Peru

Lima más arriba: Incredible aerial photographs of Lima, Peru

A decade ago Lima photographer Evelyn Merino Reyna was invited to go paragliding with a friend. The rest, as they say, is history. Evelyn's was a severe case of 'love at first flight' and she has spent most of her time (and money!) since then photographing her hometown from microlights, helicopters and paragliders. Evelyn is the first to admit that 'everything looks beautiful from above' but her project is about more than striking images and catchy desktop backgrounds. Her work has two serious goals. First, she wants to highlight the rapid urbanisation which has seen Lima grow from a small city of 650,000 souls in 1940 to the megalopolis of 10 million that it is today. Her photos of garbage recycling depots and rampant soil erosion may look beautiful, but the story they tell is not. Her second goal is to focus on the importance of the ocean, not just to Lima but to Peru and the world at large. She is one of the founding members of Pacificum Peru, a "movement that seeks to …
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In pictures: The sheer magnificence of Northern Patagonia

In pictures: The sheer magnificence of Northern Patagonia

Many first time visitors to Patagonia assume that the further south they venture, the more spectacular the landscapes they will encounter. In some ways this assumption is entirely correct: the rugged, raw beauty of Torres del Paine, Tierra del Fuego and El Calafate is indeed very hard to beat. But the more northerly (and thus more easily accessible) sections of both Chilean and Argentine Patagonia are picture-postcard-pretty too.  Known as The Lake District to some, it really is the kind of place to which words do no justice, so I'll stop rambling and let you take in the jaw-dropping magnificence of the photo gallery below. Simply click on the thumbnails to view in full size. Or sit back and let autoplay do the work... Happy (armchair) travels. [gallery ids="7890,7885,7886,7887,7888,7898,7889,7900,7893,7902,7892,7894,7899,7901,7891"]
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Why the tallest structure in LatAm is in the remote Amazon

Why the tallest structure in LatAm is in the remote Amazon

Forget the skyscrapers of Sao Paulo, Santiago and Buenos Aires, the tallest man-made structure on the South America continent is situated in the remote Amazon rain-forest, over 100 miles from the Brazilian town of Manaus. Admittedly there are no offices or apartments in the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory (ATTO). Instead it was built for purely scientific purposes as a joint venture between the Max Planck Institute  and the Brazilian Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia. The 325-metre (1066 ft.) high tower is equipped with machinery and instruments which will collect data that is designed to enable us to make better decisions about climate change in the future. Its research objectives include: Collecting data on the influence of the vast, largely untouched rainforest on the climate. Understanding sources and sinks of greenhouse gases such as CO2, methane and N2O. Investigating the formation of aerosols which is important for cloud formation. Investigating the transport …
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