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05

Sep 2017

Special Offer: Inca Trail

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Best foot forward, Inca Trail offer

The Inca Trail is Peru’s most famous trek: follow the footsteps of the ancient civilisation that created the ‘lost city’ Machu Picchu.

The trail can be accomplished in 4 or 5 days and we employ local people to guide trekkers along the way and camp in hidden-away campsites, away from the crowds. We first organised a trek along the Inca Trail in 1999 and have gathered privileged local knowledge every year since. Here are 6 reasons to trek with Venture Co:-

1. Local knowledge
Our team of guides and porters all live in the Sacred Valley area, between Cusco and Pueblo Machu Picchu. They are locals and know the area like the back of their hand. They can tell you the tales that the guidebooks don’t and use their experience to avoid the crowds.

2. Top guides
Our trek leaders are well versed in safety procedures and mountain first aid. They also know the plants, animals and birds that you’ll see along the way and can add a dimension to your trekking experience. They know how to introduce you to the altitude gradually so you’ll get the most out of your time in the Andes. Our guides carry satellite phones in case of an emergency.

3. Top equipment
Wilderness camping requires knowledge of what equipment works in the mountains and what doesn’t. There’s no substitute for experience and we have loads. Whatever the weather does we know your tent will do what it’s supposed to do and a hot meal will be ready on time, every evening. You take in the view and the experience, our team take care of you.

4. Delicious camp cooking
Anyone can rough it in the wilderness; the trick is to get the details right and trek like a king/queen! Our camp cooks will prepare delicious meals using locally-farmed vegetables, plus snacks and hot drinks, which will provide you with the energy you need for your trek.

5. Giving back
Apart from recruiting from local villages and buying fresh produce from them, we support the work of Ecoan,  a high-altitude reforestation programme, and have done since 1999. Needless to say, we abide by the strict Inca Trail guidelines that regulate porters’ working conditions, the care of the trail and the surrounding communities.

6. Special offer
200 permits per day are issue for the Inca Trail: and the permit system is closely controlled (quite rightly). Permits sell out quickly. We are offering a FREE PERMIT, saving you £125, for all itineraries that include the Inca Trail, that are booked before the end of September 2017. But hurry – permits sell out fast.

Ride to Machu Picchu

Local people met along the trail to Machu Picchu

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07

Aug 2017

Two tips to avoid a riding holiday nightmare.

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

1) Seasons
Going to your dream destination can turn into a nightmare if you choose the wrong time of year. So before booking your riding holiday make sure the weather conditions are right.

We see dates advertised for April in Kenya (heavy rain); June and July in Patagonia (snow and the ‘roaring forties winds’) and Christmas in Peru (sub-zero temps and snow) which are all evidence that someone hasn’t done their homework, or hasn’t experienced the ride themselves. Large countries can be particularly confusing: for example Brazil, the Amazon in the north (and in the northern hemisphere) has completely different seasons compared to the Rio Grande do Sul in the far south (southern hemisphere). You don’t want freezing temperatures instead of the sunny weather you had in mind. In the middle of Brazil lies the Pantanal, a zone of change between the rainforest and grasslands. If you choose to go riding to the Pantanal in November or December, make sure you’re a better swimmer than rider (The Pantanal is totally below water from end October till March). Some destinations, such as the Okavango in Botswana, are particularly confusing because there are several factors at play (local rainfall, rainfall in the mountains in Angola and the local level of the water table).

Sun or Rain? No guarantees but aim for the right season

Sun or Rain? No guarantees but aim for the right season

2) Destination knowledge.
Does the person speaking to you really know their stuff? Sending somebody on a trail ride is not the same as sending someone to a holiday resort. A trail ride will be your most fantastic holiday if the local organization is professional. Websites can make all sorts of promises, but there is absolutely no substitute for first-hand experience. Is the local organizer more motivated by your money, or genuinely interested in making your dream come true? Who is the trail guide actually going to be?

Go for it! If you’ve never ridden overseas, but have saddle-hours under your belt, then do it! It’s a real pleasure to see how things are done somewhere different: the breed is different, the tack and stable management system will be different, even the knots used will be different. But the end result will be the same as home, a well-mannered, forward going horse and a fantastic riding experience.

 

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07

Jul 2017

New rules at Macchu Pichu

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

An update on Machu Picchu tickets – new rules have been in place for a few days (July 2017).

The big thing to mention is Machu Picchu entry tickets now only give you four hours in the site – that’s probably enough for most people but it may be hard convincing everyone!

Morning ticket- you must enter between 6 am and midday. You have four hours in the site, from the time you enter.

Afternoon ticket- enter anytime from midday onwards and you have four hours from the time you enter. Note the site closes at 17.30

However, to confuse things, they are currently allowing afternoon tickets to be used from 11 am (even though it says from midday! This may change).

Macchu Pichu seen from the Sun Gate

The actual guided tour of the main ruins lasts about 2 ½ hours- we have no way of changing that, the park guards are on every corner with whistles, pushing people through on a set circuit to meet that timing. The circuit is carefully structured so that it spits you out through the exit with no way to escape into the rest of the ruins. Thus you cannot take the guided circuit then stay for another 1½ hours; they have designed it to make this impossible. To do things like walk up to the Sun Gate, or the Inca Bridge, you need to do so before stepping onto the circuit, so you basically have 1½ hours before the guided tour to explore independently.

Rumours that they are in talks with Disney World to provide moving walkways are currently unfounded!

Extra climbs:
Huayna Picchu tickets: you get 2 hours to climb Huayna Picchu, separate to your 4 hours for Machu Picchu. You must start the Huayna Picchu climb between 7 and 8 am, or 10 and 11 am, according to your ticket.

Machu Picchu Mountain tickets: you get 3 hours to climb Machu Picchu Mountain separate to your 4 hours for Machu Picchu. You must start the Machu Picchu Mountain climb between 9 and 10 am.

Remember both of these options sell out in advance, Huayna Picchu especially.

Do you need a guide?
Yes for the first ticket. If you buy two tickets, either a morning ticket and afternoon ticket, or tickets for two separate days, you do not need a guide for the second time you visit but you will be asked to present evidence that your first tour was with a guide (we will arrange that). It is not possible to buy two tickets for the same morning or same afternoon.

If trekking in from the Inca Trail: your Machu Picchu entrance will be for the day after reaching the site. Four hours from whatever time you enter. Currently, as you come into Machu Picchu from the trail, our guides manage to get you some time at the Watchman´s Hut to take photos and see the ruins from above. There has been no mention of changing this.

Machu Picchu at sunrise

Machu Picchu at sunrise

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26

Jun 2017

10 Reasons to go to South America

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Galapagos Islands, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Look at the back of any of the guidebooks in Waterstones and you’ll notice that the only one that says “the most exciting continent on the planet” is the one for South America. It goes on to say that if you’re jaded or bored with life, it’s the place to go.

Here are ten reasons to go:
1) It’s a super colourful continent: the people, their clothes, the food, the views, life itself is all in full colour.

2) The music: whether it’s Tango, Salsa, Merengue, pan pipes, drums or a mix, music fills the air wherever you go.

3) The Andes: the longest mountain range on earth; stunning high mountains to be looked at, trekked on, climbed, feared or admired.

Green macaxs

Green macaxs at a clay-lick in the Amazon

4) Waterfalls: The Angel Falls, Venezuela (world’s highest) and Iguassu Falls, Argentina/Brazil border (huge) are both very impressive.

5) The Amazon: The largest rain forest on earth; enormous, wild, the most diverse ecosystem there is, the Amazon river itself, anacondas, monkeys, morpho butterflies, tribal people, medicinal plants, canoe trips ………

6) Islands: Los Roques, Venezuela is a Caribbean paradise. The Galapagos Islands off Ecuador are renowned for the tame wildlife and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Easter Island in the remote Pacific off Chile is famous for its carved head statues with mysterious origins.

7) Beaches: Caribbean, Pacific, Atlantic. Miles and miles of beaches for all tastes, from chilled and calm with thatched huts, to big wave surfing, to the much feared Cape horn at the end of the world!

8) Crazy politics; no continent has a more fascinating political history, filled with revolutions, wars for independence and larger than life characters like Ché Guevara and Evita.

9) The vast diversity of landscape: you can experience coast, mountains, desert and jungle all within a few days. It’s got it all!

10) The X factor: South America just seems to put a spell on people; an undefinable, infectious magnetic pull which draws you back to it again and again, and may be incurable requiring several return visits!

11) One for luck: 2 new ‘wonders of the world’: Machu Picchu, Peru and Rio’s Christ The Redeemer statue, Brazil. In fact, when it comes to ancient cultures and sites to explore Indiana Jones style, nowhere comes close.

Tempted? Why not go and find out for yourself.

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26

Jun 2017

Self-drive in Africa & South America

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

For the independent traveller looking for adventure in Africa or South America it’s been very tricky or impossible to find a) a reliable vehicle and b) an affordable one. Venture Co is pleased to announce that we can provide self-drive cars and 4X4’s throughout sub-Sahara Africa and throughout South America.

Malawi and Zambia, for example, are perfect countries for this popular holiday option. Driving is on the left hand side of the road and your UK driver’s licence can be used for a period of up to 3 months; that would be a long holiday!!

Fully-equipped 4X4 ready to go

There is a choice of vehicles at your disposal from saloons to full-equipped 4X4’s complete with pop-up roof-tent. I began my working life as a driver/guide in Africa and can offer advice about the most suitable vehicle to use and assist you in route planning if needed. We can even suggest camp sites and hidden-away spots that aren’t in the guidebooks. We provide the necessary backup for you whilst in the country as part of our service.

The same applies in South America and in 2017 our most popular route, would you believe, is a trail around the Atacama in the far north of Chile: stunning country, engaging culture and absolutely beautiful scenery.

In India I think you are better advised to hire a car and driver. Driving on the sub-continent remains a dark art and it’s much more relaxing to sit back and let someone with local know-how interpret the rules of the road.

To give you an idea about prices you’re looking at about £120 for a good saloon and perhaps £250 for a top of the range 4X4, fully equipped with camping gear. Rates are per day.

I think the 4X4’s are particularly good value for couples or even two couples: they come with rooftop tent and bedding, all the catering equipment you need for independent living including gas cooker and a gas light, car fridge / cooler, water jerry can, high-lift jack, spare wheels and unlimited mileage. All you need to do is turn up! No lodge fees, no guide fees and you’re completely independent! It’s not for everyone of course, but if you enjoy setting your own pace, going where you please and stopping when you like, then a self-drive holiday is a realistic possibility now.

Crossing Borders
In South America there’s no problem crossing from Chile to Argentina, for example; additional documentation is required, but it’s either free or comes with a nominal charge. In Africa it’s also possible to combine 2 or 3 countries and the additional doc’s are about £150 per country. The thing to remember with both continents is to try to return the vehicle to the same place you started. One-way hires can become a bit pricey.

None of these suggestions are written up on our website because no two itineraries are the same. Do please call us and we can get the wheels turning.

Access to the Atacama Desert is easy nowadays.

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22

Jun 2017

Where can I swim weith my horse?

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Beach rides are one thing, but it’s not always possible to swim with your horse on a beach. Maybe the currents aren’t safe, or the access is too shelving or rocky, or perhaps the surf’s a bit violent. Here are three unexpected places where you can swim with your horse:

Uganda
Not an obvious choice, but the Nile has a couple of lovely quiet coves where you can get in to the river and wade out to a depth where you can swim. The current is gentle and the water is warm; what more could you want! Ride to the source of the Nile.

 

In Patagonia the horses do the swimming, riders cross by boat (cold water!)

Spain
You might think you can swim with your horse in the Mediterranean, and you’d be right! There are beaches well away from the ‘bucket and spade brigade’ where the beach goes gently into the sea and horse and rider can swim together. But the hidden fact of this ride is that on several occasions before you reach the sea the rivers form big pools with easy access for horse and rider. You can in fact swim “fresh” and “salt” all on the same ride.

Botswana
Motswiri in The Okavango Delta is perhaps the ultimate place to ride: outstanding guides, fast, fit horses and more water about than you know what to do with. It’s probably fairer to say there are “wading opportunities” rather than full on swimming, but a week in the Delta will see you thoroughly splashed and well-soaked!

riding-canter-through-shallows-2

Cantering in shallow water, Motswiri, Botswana.

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17

May 2017

A brief history of Guinea Pigs

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Guinea pig, or “cuy” as they’re called in South America, is a traditional dish in the Andean region of Peru and Ecuador. The taste is compared to rabbit, thought delicious, and though difficult to accept for people in other countries who regard guinea pigs as pets, the cuy is a staple of Andean cuisine.

 

They are called “cuy” for the sound they make cuy, cuy.

 

The cuy has a place in pre-Colombian Inca tradition: consumed only by the nobility or used as a sacrifice and a means of foretelling the future via the entrails, there is a long history of the Guinea Pig (Cavia porcellus) in South America.

 

Cuys are today raised commercially and form a nutritious part of the Andean diet. They grow to an astonishing 4 Kg. They are an important part of the Novo-Andina cuisine; cuys are prepared in various ways according to region, but in Peru, they are usually served with potatoes or rice and a savory, spicy sauce. In the Huancayo region, the cuy is preferred fried with a sauce of pepper and achiote. In Arequipa, it is prepared baked as cuy chaktado and in Cuzco, it is baked whole, as a small suckling pig, with a hot pepper in its mouth. In Huanuco, Tacna and Cajamarca, the preference is also for friend cuy.

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16

May 2017

Self-driving Holidays

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Imagine approaching watching the migration from your own 4X4!

4x4 car hire

4X4 with roof-tent and all camping equipment. This pic is from Malawi, but could be any country south of the Sahara

Hiring a 4X4 along with all the camping and off-road equipment is a fantastic way to explore. Recently Venture Co has broadened our offering to include just about every country in Africa, all of South America … but not India! Driving in India remains a hidden art! Much better to hire a car-and-driver combination.

 

Africa

A DIY safari in countries such as Malawi, Zambia and Namibia are brilliant: you have the independence to go at your own speed, the countries are safe and hospitable and the adventure really comes to life if you’re planning the route, shopping stops and overnight camps.

Camping holiday Africa

Enjoying the nightlife, camping in Africa

Multi-country self-driving holidays in Africa are now a reality too: a cross-border permit, allowing you to take a car from its home country into a neighbouring one are straight forward to arrange and add a modest $150 (give or take). The volume of traffic on the roads is a fraction of the UK’s and this is particularly so in rural areas and National Parks. Most vehicles come with a satellite connection so that if you do need to call the cavalry, they know where you are. Above all, people in rural Africa are really friendly and welcoming.

 

Self-driving in Africa is excellent value for families particularly if you combine some camping nights with a few lodge nights. We can provide detailed route notes, campsite and lodge reservations and reliable vehicles. But a word of warning: demand exceeds supply, so you need to plan about a year in advance.

4x4 hire Namibia

Dune 45 in the Namib Desert, Namibia. Easy to access by road in a hire car and fantastic to explore at your own pace.

South America

The roads are excellent, but the distances vast, so it makes sense to plan 2 or more centres into your itinerary, and fly in between. For example, if you begin in Buenos Aires and spend a few days exploring this absolutely fantastic city, then you don’t need a car at all: public transport is cheap, brisk and really efficient. Fly on to Patagonia and collect a hire car to explore the national parks and glacier parks; drive on to Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost point of mainland planet Earth. Drop off the car and fly to Santiago to explore the winelands, or further north to the Atacama Desert and explore the desert’s wonderful, and unexpected, hidden gems.

 

But a word of warning: the lurking risk with driving in South America is vehicle theft. This is of course an insurable risk, but be aware of the excess, which can be onerous. Three are several major car hire companies in South America and we can guide you through the pros and cons.

 

India

What a wonderful country! Old India hands often say they feel slightly daunted as soon as their plane comes in to land; but as soon as you get on the plane home, you begin planning your next trip! India never quite finishes with you. I have tried both self-driving and the car-and-driver route. I do not hesitate to recommend the car-and-driver option. Indian roads, and the rules that apply, are as mysterious as the subcontinent itself. Much the best to let someone else interpret the mayhem while you sit back, plan the route and call the shots.

Driving holiday India

The shool run! You see it all on the roads in India!

 

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10

May 2017

Six Feet in the Andes

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Six feet in the Andes

We’re often asked before/during/after a ride to some far off country, ‘Can we do anything for the local equine welfare needs?’ And the answer is of course, “Yes”.

Client number one: Robin sets to work

So this trip wasn’t actually about feet at all, it was about teeth. And the story begins with a rider who went on the “In the Footsteps of the Incas” ride last summer. This is a stunning ride that begins in Cusco, which is high in the Andes (3,000 m) and goes up even higher. The panoramas, views and vistas just have to be seen to be believed: huge mountains, tiny tracks, permanent glaciers around you and the colourful, evocative Inca culture all about. The horses take us way away from the traditional tourist centres and you really do see a part of Peru that is rarely visited by westerners.

 

The horses we use aren’t the pampered Pasos that Peru is famous for; the Paso was bred to be a plantation owner’s horse and carry him around (tölt) without jiggling him or his clothes. The Paso is a lovely breed, but specialises in low altitude environments. We use something altogether different. I first met Edwin in 1999 when he had just a few horses and earned his living by carrying scientific equipment for archaeological expeditions. He was really taken with the idea of carrying guests into the mountains and 18 months later the first BHS group arrived, and it’s been our most enduring ride ever since, as many of you will attest.

 

Edwin believes that his horses are the remnants of the Conquistadores horses from 300 years ago: they are smaller than Andalusians but have the same strength of character. They are brave and big-hearted and really do give 100% on these high, challenging trails. In the absence of DNA testing I choose to believe Edwin: compact Conquistadores’ chargers!

Under supervision, Edwin tries his hand

Cusco is not a booming economy, but it’s doing OK. Consequently the standards of equine welfare are not what we have in Blighty. I think Edwin’s horses are just about the only horses in the Sacred Valley that have an anthelmintic strategy in place. Local horses are rarely groomed and tack is made to fit, rather buying new tack for a new horse as we tend to do. I have seen a mule shod by tipping it onto its back, holding a foot at a time and working at ‘table-top’ level! Teeth are just neglected due to the shortage of vets (and the expense) and the total absence of an equine dentist. Different standards and different practices.

 

Jody was one of the riders on the last “Footsteps of the Incas” ride and she also happens to be a vet. She spotted the correlation between some of the horses not eating like a horse and consequently not being good doers; she joined the dots and identified the need. Returning to the UK she raised funds to fly Robin Earnshaw (equine dentist) to Peru armed with equipment and knowledge and prepared to share both. Robin generously donated his time and expertise.

 

Some of Edwin’s horses are a little long in the tooth, to use an apposite phrase; to this day I can’t tell an old tooth from a young one, and those dealers who casually walk by a horse, flick its lip and say “Seven years old” are surely making it up as they go along! Edwin’s horses range in age up to about 20 yrs old. The day was appointed and Robin was there in full regalia; his eager audience included local vets, a university professor and a human surgeon!

Edwin (far rt) and ‘students’ with Robin (pink shirt, centre)

Over the three days Robin was able to explain the basic anatomy and theory of equine dentistry and teach basic hand floating skills which, with practice, will enable the participants to provide routine dental maintenance. Following basic hand floating practice he demonstrated how to fully balance a mouth and he performed a partial extraction of a fractured tooth in one of the older horses.
The dental health of all the horses was generally good – better than one would find in the same sample of untreated horses here. Robin attributes this to the diet which is quite limited in Peru and much closer to a natural diet compared to what we feed our pampered pets here in the U.K!

 

So one man, two feet, helped one horse, four feet, making six; with a nod to Dervla Murphy!

But the audience was receptive, and all 16 horses benefitted. Edwin benefitted from the gift of the equipment, but the real gift was the intangible, the know-how, the gift of knowledge.

 

Good on you Robin and Jody; above and beyond the call of duty.

 

[P.S. You can make a difference on an overseas ride: redundant bits, grooming kits and any equine equipment will be gratefully received by your host stable. But different destinations have different needs: call us for specifics.]

 

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13

Feb 2017

Galapagos Islands and Amazon Jungle: Our Man in Ecuador & Galapagos.

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Galapagos Islands, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Galapagos

Paulina Vivanco exploring the Galapagos Islands

Actually, she’s a woman, but I’m sure author Graham Greene will forgive me.

Making things happen and organising perfect tailor-made trips in Ecuador is tricky: first of all everything is discussed in Spanish, so for non-Spanish speakers, you’re at a disadvantage while exploring ideas. Secondly, things change quickly: good places go bad when a key person moves on; brilliant new places sprout up; bad places go bust. To know all this and to be able to offer first class, reliable trips in Ecuador you need your finger on the pulse.

In 1998 the idea of Venture Co began in a ceviche bar in Quito, Ecuador. The country is our spiritual home! At that time we met Paulina Vivanco who was running a conservation charity with links all around the country. We began a working relationship with ‘Pauli’ that continues to this day, almost 20 years later. From her office in Quito Pauli maintains close contact with all parts of Ecuador, from the lodges in the Amazon Basin, to the wonderful haciendas in the Andes Mountains and most crucial of all, the yachts that sail around the Galapagos archipelago.

The hardest single thing to do from the UK is to keep tabs on the Galapagos yachts. Yachts demand regular (expensive) maintenance and a shiny website doesn’t necessarily mean a top notch, English-speaking guide when you finally arrive in country; nor does it mean the yacht is as good as the website promises.

This is where Pauli, as a local resident, hears all the local news and is able to interpret it for us. She is brilliant at listening to a brief, interpreting what will suit a particular person and coming up with perfect, personalised travel itinerary. Pauli handles all our Ecuador & Galapagos travel arrangements and you can speak to her at Paulina@ventureco-worldwide.com and of course, meet her when you visit Ecuador & Galapagos.

Pauli Banos

Paulina visiting Napo in the Amazon Basin

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