Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

Cloud Forests, Hummingbirds and Wiñay Wayna: Springtime in Peru

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Patricia Hostiuck, Smithsonian Journeys Study LeaderA popular and respected naturalist, Patty Hostiuck is well-versed in tropical as well as polar ecosystems. She began her career in Alaska as a ranger; since then she has worked as a freelance naturalist and lecturer on numerous expedition ships. Patty, who has led over 50 trips with Smithsonian Journeys, has guided travelers to the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers, Chile, Costa Rica, Belize, the Galápagos, Iceland, Botswana, Australia and Borneo, among many other destinations. Below is a post about her most recent trip—this one to Peru.

In April, I served as Study Leader for Smithsonian’s Legendary Peru trip with a delightful group of guests, most of whom were not only first-time Smithsonian travelers but also first-time visitors to South America. Peru is a great country to begin one’s exploration of South America; it contains the greatest number of archaeological sites and boasts the most highly evolved ancient civilizations on the continent, including the Inca Empire. Machu Picchu was the magnet that drew most of these guests here, but as they have now learned, Peru offers other rewards—delicious and daring cuisine; breathtaking scenery and varied geography, from desert to mountains, cloud forest to lowland jungle; myriad wildlife and botanical wonders; friendly, authentic and down-to-earth people; and, yes, abundant shopping!—certainly a country worthy of repeat visits.

Our April visit turned out to be wonderful timing. In Lima, the capital, the weather was sunny and bright, lacking the gray garúa mist that predominates June – October, and the abundance of flowers was a tonic to those of us just emerging from winter. Although April is the end of the rainy season in the mountains, our weather nonetheless was splendid in Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. Highland terraced crops were like colorful patchwork quilts, while potatoes—which originated in Peru—were being harvested by colorfully dressed, hard-working Quechua people.

Machu Picchu’s high season for tourists is June – August, so it was a pleasure to explore the magnificent ruins in less crowded conditions. In addition, several species of orchids were in bloom including a towering red Sobralia and a dainty pink Epidendrum locally called “wiñay wayna” which means “forever young.” Due to its location in the Andean cloud forest, Machu Picchu and environs harbors a great diversity of hummingbirds. Feeders at our cloud forest lodge attracted energetic swarms of at least six species of these glittering avian jewels with colorful names like Collared Inca, Sparkling Violetear and Chestnut-breasted Coronet.

Peru lived up to all its promises, both cultural and natural, ancient and current. Smithsonian guests departed well-satisfied with their choice and already planning their next visit to South America. What will it be? Patagonia? Amazon?


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu. (Courtesy of Flickr user quinet.)

Sobralia orchids, Machu Picchu

Sobralia orchids add pops of color to the Machu Picchu landscape. (Courtesy of Flickr user Matito.)

Lama near Machu Picchu

Llama near Machu Picchu. (Courtesy of Flickr user Emmanuel Dyan.)

Hummingbird near Machu Picchu

Hummingbird near Machu Picchu. (Courtesy of Flickr user Ivan Mlinaric.)

Lima Cathedral

La Catedral in central Lima. (Courtesy of Flickr user James Preston.)

Cuzco, Peru

Cuzco, Peru. (Courtesy of Flickr user fortherock.)

Woman cooking on Uros Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Woman cooking on Uros Island, Lake Titicaca. (Courtesy of Flickr user pclvv.)

Click here to read more about Smithsonian’s upcoming Legendary Peru departures this fall and winter.

Uncovering Family History in Chile

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Jeffrey A. Cole has led over 50 Smithsonian journeys to Latin America since 1992. Jeff’s research and publications have focused on colonial South American history and civil-military relations in Argentina and Chile. He has taught Latin American Studies at Clark University, Tulane University, SUNY-Oswego, Cornell University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Smith College. Here he discusses a recent Patagonia Explorers trip to Chile.


Sometimes something really wonderful, and unexpected, takes place on a Smithsonian tour. In February 2012, on our last day in Chile and while visiting the port city of Valparaíso, our Smithsonian group visited a statue dedicated to William Wheelwright. Mr. Wheelwright, born in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, introduced steamship navigation, the telegraph, and other innovations to Chile in the nineteenth century. More importantly, on this occasion, his great-granddaughter, Margaret (“Peg”) Keirstead, had the chance to share her pride in his service with her fellow Smithsonian Journeys travelers. As we all lined up to have our picture taken in front of the statue, a Smithsonian banner proudly displayed, everyone reflected on the many ties between Chile and the United States, and how our histories are intertwined.

The group had visited Cape Horn on a beautiful morning, had walked among more than 100,000 penguins on Magdalena Island in the Strait of Magellan, and had enjoyed beautiful weather in Torres del Paine National Park, but this sharing of a personal connection to William Wheelwright in Valparaíso might well have been the highlight of the trip; it certainly was for Peg.

Smithsonian Journeys - Valparaíso, Chile

Smithsonian travelers pose in front of a statue of William Wheelwright, an important early steamship and railroad entrepreneur in South America and great-grandfather of Peg Keirstead (in the very back wearing a gray shirt).


Find out more about our Patagonian Explorers trip here.

Magical and Legendary Perú

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Jeffrey A. Cole has led over 50 Smithsonian journeys to Latin America since 1992, including 26 to Peru and 20 to Chile. He has also directed lecture series on South America for the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program in Washington. Read more about traveling with Jeffrey Cole.

Perú is a magical place. For most Smithsonian travelers the goal, the prize I should say, is to see Machu Picchu with one’s own eyes. My wife and I went to Machu Picchu in January 1980, when the means to get there, the accommodations, and other aspects of the infrastructure were far less than they are now. Machu Picchu was one of the first places we visited that turned out to be better than we had hoped it could be; it still is, though we must now contend with some 2,000-2,500 other visitors each day.

But there is a great deal more to Perú. Perú was the richest part of the world in the 16th and 17th centuries, and it was a very wealthy country in the 19th century. Perú is not a developing country, but one that has been at the apex in the past and will be again.

The cultures that eventuated in the Inca Empire of the 15th and 16th centuries stretch back 5,000 years and more, and feature the magnificent Moche of the north and the enigmatic Nasca of the south. The Andean peoples who faced the European invaders in the 16th century have not disappeared, but rather have successfully resisted efforts to alter their lives for a half-millennium.

For me, Perú is fabulous archaeology, a testament to the ability of human beings to adapt to diverse ecological challenges. It is also the opportunity to walk around the courtyard of the National History Museum and speak to the portraits of the viceroys whose correspondence I read for my dissertation. Perú is wonderful Chinese food, eaten in a “Chifa,” the legacy of the Chinese immigrants who came to Perú to build the railways in the 19th century and stayed to work on the cotton plantations in the north. It is also home to Peruvian Fusion Cuisine, which is taking the culinary world by storm. Perú is the myriad faces one sees along the way, reflecting the peoples of South America, Europe, and Asia. Perú is discovering that Google is available in Quichua, the language of the Inca Empire!

But most of all, Perú is a wonderful 15-year-old girl in Ollantaytambo, whose hair I cut for the first time in her life in September 2001, just days after 9/11, and who – through that ceremony – became my god-daughter. The Smithsonian Associates on that Peruvian trip joined in the festivities, as we were all in need of something to take our minds off of the events in NYC. Hilary (she was named after Mrs. Clinton) now corresponds with me by e-mail, but we try to see one another in person as often as possible, usually in the shadow of the ruins of Ollantaytambo, where her ancestors were building a fabulous temple to the sun when the Europeans arrived.

Enjoy Perú in all its aspects.

I’ll leave you with the Quichua admonition, repeated daily: “Don’t Lie, Don’t Steal, and Don’t be Lazy.”

Learn more about our Perú tour and our study leader, Jeffrey Cole.

Book: Columbus, The Four Voyages

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Cover image - Columbus - The Four Voyages.This week’s travel read is Columbus, The Four Voyages. Most of us remember Columbus’ famous expedition of 1492, but many of us have forgotten that Columbus returned to the Americas three more times.

In these later voyages, Columbus continued to try to prove that he could get to China, where he wanted to convert the people he met there to Christianity. These three later voyages, all to the Caribbean and nearby regions of the Atlantic, were more violent than his first and contribute to his controversial legacy.

Biographer Laurence Bergreen captures each voyage in rich detail, recreating these adventures and providing the context and perspective needed for each of us to draw our own understanding of what Columbus’ expeditions mean to the world at large.

If you’d like to sail some of the waters Columbus sailed, now’s a great time to book your adventure in the Caribbean with Smithsonian Journeys.

Book of the Week – State of Wonder

Friday, August 26th, 2011

State of WonderOur book partner, Longitude books is always searching for new books to inspire and inform your travels.

This week, they’ve recommended you curl up with State of Wonder – A Novel, by Ann Patchett. A master at creating stories the reader can disappear into, Bel Canto author Ann Patchett brings the Amazon to life with a story of the epic journey of a pharmaceutical researcher who travels there to locate the body of a colleague who died there under mysterious circumstances. The vivid jungle backdrop plays its own pivotal role in the mystery that unfolds.

Click to plan your own Amazon adventure with Smithsonian Journeys.