Cooking Classes and Food Tours in Latin America
Take a look at some of the exclusive gastronomic experiences we can offer to inspire your upcoming journey.
Our story of adventure is about to begin. Here, on the Eastern edge of the great Andes Mountain range, the Amazon’s vastness expands seemingly in all directions. This is truly one of the world’s great ecosystems. If we are to feel truly refreshed, even changed, by our travel experiences, what better way to do it than to get off-grid, and paddle into otherworldly places. When we land we meet our river guide, Diego. He is a sinewy man with generous eyes. He smiles in our direction, with an easy confidence. You get the sense that he has done this many times before: taken adventurous souls into Ecuador’s Amazon.
While we have arranged a river houseboat for our journey (with comfortable sleeping quarters), it is the canoe portions on the river that seem to set the scene and tug at our hearts. Canoes are as old as civilization itself, dating back to around 8000 BC. There is something about plying one of the Amazon’s great rivers under manual power, led by guides whose families have lived here for 1000s of years. We are on the Rio Napo, one of the many tributaries that feeds the mighty Amazon River. Endlessly recharged by its source in the Andes, the Napo flows east, crossing through Peru and then into the Brazilian jungle.
It is remarkably quiet here.
When no one is talking, you hear only the soothing sounds of paddles in water. But it is never long before a bird takes off from a branch and cuts high, or cuts low across the water. With over 1500 species of birds, Ecuador offers more bird diversity than any other country in the world. Before arriving, we talked much about Ecuador’s incredibly colorful macaws. The brilliant reds, greens and blues of their plumage, and how they like to fly in twos. It would seem even birds enjoy “the buddy system”.
Diego points at some section of jungle. A rustling, low in the tropical branches. Is it a jaguar I ask? Could be, he says, but probably not. Historically, Ecuador’s jaguars lived in large numbers along Ecuador’s Pacific coast, but loss of habitat (coastal deforestation) has stressed these populations. With a hint of pride, Diego notes that efforts to protect jaguars on the Amazon side of the Andes mountains, as well as in the Cloud Forest, are working. Perhaps we will yet catch site of one of these majestic cats at water’s edge.
A journey to a place like this has become more desirable in the last couple of decades, as we seek out untouched places. But still, it doesn’t get the numbers that, say, Costa Rica does. Perhaps the longer flight and the “exoticism” of South America are perceptual barriers. This place though. It’s the real deal. It’s about as remote as you can get in the Amazon. It transports you to planet Earth millions of years ago. Before Twitter. Before the wheel. Before language.
One thing is for sure, without our guides, we wouldn’t last a week. But this serves to heighten the magic of it all. From the moment we hopped into the small plane that spirited us from Quito, over the Andes, we have been trusting others. And at the heart of this trust, lies the very best of us all. It has a way re-orienting your soul. We are being welcomed and shown around. And this is a special honour, a new bond. Which … foreshadows an amazing thing that will happen in the days ahead. An indigenous community will host us in the jungle. The Huaroani people. We will get to meet and spend time with a great story teller whose family has lived here for thousands of years.
Will we eat meals together? Will kids be running about and perhaps show us their jungle backyard? Will we share in some daily tasks? How do the Huaroani maintain their way of life, despite the vigorous encroachment of industry? Perhaps above all, how to orient our minds so that we are being respectful.
All of these questions go to the heart of why we are here. To reckon with the modern world and reconnect with the needs of the planet. This delicate balance that so many of us walk – being both part of the modern world with our devices AND trying to be better citizens of the world – this balance has so much to do with kind of stories we tell ourselves.
If the future health of our planet hangs in the balance, then perhaps we ought to be listening to those who have found a way to respect and care for the natural world.
This is why we have come here. To rediscover what ails and heals us. Behold …. The Amazon.
Under this umbrella, we are connecting visitors, keen to make a positive impact, with Latin American NGOs that are actively helping struggling communities to prosper. We see this as an important 21st century story: how people from many walks of life are using their travel dollars to shape a better world.
In the 1950s, the passenger plane set world travel in motion. 70 years later, you can book a flight at the touch of a button and 1 billion people travel internationally every year.
Our travel dollars really do have a huge role to play in creating change. As a travel company, the more we can link travellers with the work of NGOs, the more we can spread awareness, create a bridge between different societies, and drive sustainable tourism practices. This is particularly important for combatting the corporate exploitation of delicate natural resources (which disproportionately harms indigenous communities and the less affluent).
Travel clients who choose to work our Travel With Purpose concept into their itinerary have all sorts of options, ranging from shaping a journey that has net zero environmental impact, to doing actual volunteer work. Supporting a local community while visiting a new place makes an extraordinary adventure even more meaningful.
Whether you’re planning a honeymoon or a family vacation, we can suggest different ways to Travel With Purpose. Two examples of NGOs that we partner with who have volunteer opportunities are Lifting Hands Foundation and San Vicente de Paul Children’s Shelter.
Lifting Hands Foundation, based in Costa Rica, seeks to improve the quality of life of people living in high social risk communities, through volunteering and donor support. We change the lives of men and women and, at the same time, sensitize our family of volunteers and donors. Lifting Hands teaches workshops and weekly lessons on different topics, looking for sustainability and long-term impact.
Founded in 1876 in Quito, Ecuador, San Vicente de Paul Children’s Shelter is designed to guarantee quality temporary reception for boys, girls and adolescents according to their stage of development and specific need. Dedicated staff and volunteers provide for 70+ young people who all eventually will be found a family to live with.
Increasingly travellers are seeking responsible travel. More than a niche choice, we see this as a growing trend with moral dimensions. On-the-ground, we’re also seeing more and more boutique lodges in areas of pristine natural beauty opting to use local, eco-sustainable materials as well as architectural plans that blend buildings into the landscape for an unobtrusive presence. Many are also committed to providing stable, well-paid employment and business opportunities for local communities. Luxury tourism can and should be a positive force in the economic development of travel destinations. Your Latin Excursions itinerary puts these principles in motion.
As a travel company, we encourage our clients to bring their own reusable bottles, straws, coffee mugs, and to eliminate the use of plastic; reducing the amount of waste left behind at the destinations they visit. Together we can create a better planet for future generations through responsible adventure travel. Latin Excursions’ special access to rare experiences in fairly wild, pristine places are largely thanks to locals and property owners who truly care. Let’s support them and leave no mess behind.
As soon as Latin Excursions’ founder Eric Sheets heard about Reyna, he was booking a flight to go meet her. In the video above, Eric is on Reyna’s Montemar eco-property talking with Reyna about her vision of how tourism and habitat protection can share a purpose.
Rewind though. When Reyna first arrived in the Galapagos she opened the island’s first environmentalism-focused elementary school named Tomas de Berlanga. The idea was to leave a sustainable education model aimed at educating young people about the conservation of the Galapagos Islands. Once Tomas de Berlanga was operating well, she shifted her focus to opening a boutique hotel named Montemar. The idea was to demonstrate a model of eco-sustainable building in fragile environments. 70% of the materials used in her construction are locally sourced, her property protects seasonal migration routes for the Galapagos Tortoise and the Montemar grounds are a working bio-farm. Reyna’s environmental building designs are meant to inspire business owners and policy-makers to benchmark and incorporate eco-sustainable design.
While visiting the Galapagos, your itinerary can include staying at Montemar. This is how we change the world: by using our travel dollars to support local visionaries who are protecting their country for future generations.
If we are to become well-spoken advocates of protecting the world’s oceans, we have to stake out a part in our brain that knows something about what happens under the waves. So … what if you could witness numerous marine species, together in one spot, doing what all living creatures do: putting together a meal?
About a decade ago, during our own travels through the Galapagos, we heard through word of mouth that a certain fisherman or two were willing to take travellers in their own fishing boats, at just the right time of day, to witness one of the most amazing sights in the animal world: a marine feeding frenzy.
We jumped at the chance, and found ourselves meeting a gracious fisherman named Juan. Employing only sustainable fishing practices, Juan makes most of his income fishing yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, wahoo, amber jack and Galapagos grouper. Juan says he is also increasingly finding folks like us who will pay him to transport us to the San Louis Seamount, the place where we will throw on our masks and get into the water. A “seamount”, we learn, is an underwater mountain formed by volcanic activity, a biological hotspot hosting a diverse array of aquatic life.
When we arrive, there doesn’t seem to be much going on. Of course, we know it is all happening below the water’s surface. We aren’t far offshore. You can see lots of Galapagos shoreline. Everyone is excited to get snorkelling as we suit up and defog our masks.
Once in the water, with our trusty snorkelling guides, we are quickly met with a world of colour. Numerous species of fish. Turtles lazily swimming the warm waters munching on the odd thing and friendly marine iguanas also known as Sea Dragons. We snorkel in these shallow reef waters for a while in anticipation of the Main Act that is about to follow.
Fast forward about 45 minutes and we are now in a slightly different spot. All of us in the water. And then … it just begins. Larger fish and sea lions begin to corral thousands of smaller “bait” fish. The sea lions show off their agile athleticism darting through the water with playful grace, like experts in a great dance, a ballet of sorts. Marlin have arrived. And they are not small fish at all.
It seems to be picking up pace. A ray shows up. A second one. Wow. They are truly exotic looking creatures, with their sleek wingspans and effortless gliding that seems to tap directly into the laws of physics. I promise myself I will learn more about rays as soon as we’re back to wifi.
Despite how close we are, we all feel remarkably safe. None of these creatures are interested in us. They are interested in their favourite scrumptious lunch.
A blue-footed booby all of a sudden breaks the surface above, diving for its lunch. Other boobies follow suit.
You’re left with the distinct sense that an ecosystem like this … is just that. A remarkable system. A natural system. Multiple species participating and playing their role, their effects mutually reinforcing, ensuring the ongoing health of this underwater community.
Latin Excursions invites you to come with us to the San Louis Seamount in the immaculately well-protected Galapagos Islands. This experience is a great way to help local fishermen support their families. Any outdoorsy person seeking authentic, locally connected luxury travel experiences will find a treasure trove in the Galapagos Islands. This place widens your soul.
Latin Excursions is a proud founding member of Safe Travel Pathways, a grass-roots organization that acts as a COVID-19 clearinghouse of certifications, accreditations, and stamps so that people can identify the companies following internationally accepted health and safety guidelines. Our aim is to empower travel planners and travelers by providing them the means to connect to a network of Safe Providers (businesses operating at the highest international safety standards) that have passed stringent guidelines. Travel and your needs may have changed, but our attention to detail and commitment to client satisfaction remains. We cannot ensure a Covid-free environment but we can minimize the risk by working together.
We believe travel and tourism should be based on a commitment to people and planet. We treat locals as partners, we only work with travel operators who pay people a living wage or better, and we ally with travel innovators working to protect habitat.
Take a look at some of the exclusive gastronomic experiences we can offer to inspire your upcoming journey.
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