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El Castillo, Nicaragua. This is such an undiscovered gem of a town on the Rio San Juan, which is the natural border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. You can only reach it by river which means no cars – just bikes, or people walking the friendly narrow streets. The striking feature of this town is the Spanish fort or ‘El Castillo’ which was built next to rapids on the river to keep pirates at bay. As well as being an adventure just to get there, the town is surrounded by natural reserves housing incredible wildlife. Nicaragua is famous for its warm and friendly people, and here you can catch a local football or baseball match, enjoy fresh shrimp from the river washed down with a Toña or Victoria beer in one of the riverfront restaurants, or watch the local kids surfing the rapids using makeshift planks.
Belmond Las Casitas, Colca Canyon, Peru. I’ve only had the pleasure of staying here once, but it was unforgettable. Five-star luxury located in the Colca Valley which is home to pre-Inca agricultural terraces and fascinating indigenous communities and culture. Here every room has a private outdoor hut tub, Colca is famous for its stargazing so there’s nothing better than sitting in the hot tub while gazing at the stars, before an early start the following morning to see the flight of the magnificent Andean condors that nest in the canyon’s steep cliffs.
Crossing the Uyuni salt flats, Bolivia
There is probably no more memorable excursion to do in Latin America than the famous salt flats crossing. As it’s widely known as the salt flats crossing most people expect to spend two or three days on the salt, so are always pleasantly surprised or simply amazed by the non-stop visual spectacle of this excursion. Where to start? Red lakes, green lakes, white lakes, huge colonies of flamingoes, volcanoes (some smoking, others not), farmers grazing their alpaca and llama in fertile valleys fed by underground springs, fields of quinoa of all colours and Dali-esque desert rock formations. This geothermic land also creates natural springs and geysers and is home to small indigenous communities and centuries-old necropolises. And then, only then, you have the salt flats themselves. Dazzling white salt as far as the eye can see, with the horizon dotted with mountains and volcanoes. Words can’t quite describe the full sensory experience of this excursion.
Top Travel Tip
Be open-minded and positive. Take all things, even the unexpected (power cuts, transport strikes, missing sink plugs or sporadic hot water) in your stride. It is an adventure.
Top Packing Tip
Everyone always plans to but few actually manage to… travel light!