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May 23rd, 2017

Best wildlife experiences in Latin America

Chris Parrott

By Chris Parrott
Directors


Journey Latin America Co-founder Chris Parrott shares his best wildlife experiences in Central and South America.

Pink dolphins in Iquitos, Peru

Pink dolphin

Native to the Amazon River and its tributaries, the pink river dolphin is a unique sight. It's also a rare one. But fear not, we can help! To be in with a good chance, base your Amazon stay around Iquitos in the north of Peru.

In my experience, although many characteristics can be the same from region to region, the Amazon is extremely diverse as a destination and here in the north of Peru you'll have a totally different experience to that available elsewhere. Pink dolphin spotting is a case in point - from an Iquitos lodge or luxury cruise, unlike other areas, you'll be able to take an excursion to an area of the river where they are very frequently sighted. Here you'll also see the giant Victoria Regia waterlilies often associated with Manaus in Brazil, which are not seen in Peru's southern Amazon.

Spotting jaguar in the Pantanal, Brazil

Jaguar in the Pantanal

Seeing a jaguar in the wild is a rare privilege, and I know I'm extremely lucky when I say I've had this fantastic experience more than once. If you want to maximise your chances of spotting one too, my first tip would be to visit the Pantanal rather than the Amazon, as this huge area of wetlands in southern Brazil is prime territory for spotting large mammals as well as tonnes of birdlife. You are more likely to see jaguars in the southern Pantanal than the north of the region (both of my sightings were close to Refugio Ecologico Caiman). June to November is a good time of year to go as it’s the dry season, which means there is better access for vehicles and sightings are generally more common.

Tambopata clay lick, Peru

Macaw clay lick

The clay lick at the Tambopata Research Centre in western Peru is the largest of its kind in the world, hosting hundreds of brightly coloured macaws who come day-in, day-out to supplement their diets with the sodium found in clay. Boats are organised from the lodge at the reserve to take you to see the phenomenon for yourself. As the sun rises you'll see a throng of parrots take off from the nearby trees in unison towards the exposed clay wall of the river - a spectacular mass of colour. I would advise you to stay at least two or three nights to give yourself a couple of chances: while the parrots are extremely consistent in their behaviour, occasional cold fronts of wind can disrupt them.

The Galapagos Islands

Blue Footed Booby

The Galápagos is, famously, a wildlife lover's dream, and it doesn't disappoint - there's so much to see, all so easily spotted, and the animals are completely unfazed by your presence. You can expect to get up close and personal with giant tortoises, playful sea lions, basking iguanas and many more exotic species. Each island is also different to the last, both geographically and ecologically, so you simply can't get bored!

I went in November when it was relatively quiet, and although the sea is typically a little colder at that time of year it certainly didn't stop me diving in. There are just as many amazing creatures beneath the sea as above - some of my favourite memories are of spotting green sea turtles, watching blue-footed boobies dive-bombing into the water and looking on spellbound as sea lions darted about all around me, seemingly urging me to join in with their games. You may even see penguins swimming around in the mêlée.

Tikal’s howler monkeys at dawn, Guatemala

Tikal

Tikal, a ruined Mayan city shrouded in Guatemalan rainforest, is better known for its archaeological treasures than its natural ones, but put the two together and the result is truly magical. I stayed in a jungle lodge near to the site and awoke to the incredible roar of howler monkeys, but you can also arrange an excursion to climb one of the ancient pyramids just before dawn and watch the sun rise over the mystical scene to the sound of these incredible animals. The sonic boom of their calls has to be heard to be believed. And it's not hard - in fact, you only need to be within three miles of the monkey to hear it clearly!

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