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Latin America

Latin America

Mystical city


The city of Tikal was a crucial economic hub for the Mayan civilisation, but mystery surrounds its demise.

Why Mayans fled Tikal, academics still don’t know. The city, located in northern Guatemala, enjoyed great economic prosperity from 800 A.D. until 950 A.D. That is when its long and illustrious history ceased. Experts have cited droughts and political instability. But like with much else on the site, nothing can be said for sure.

Tikal’s archaeological heritage is less doubtful. The settlement, situated in the Petén region in a complex habitat of wetlands and forests, became a national monument in 1931 and a national park in 1955. UNESCO listed it in 1979. The city’s postcard factor is inescapable, with the two rising temples characterising its revered architecture. Many archaeologists cite it as the largest excavated site on the American continent. Continue Reading…

Latin America

High and dry


The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the world’s most arid place, where some areas have never seen rain.

In the mid-1990s, NASA set up an automatic environmental station in the most arid part of the Atacama Desert. Over five years, it recorded a miniscule two millimetres of rain that fell close to midnight. It was so slight that nearby weather stations did not even register it.

Welcome to the driest place on earth. The Atacama Desert, located in the north of Chile, is so arid that some adults here might never have seen rain. It covers 965 kilometres (600 miles) from Bolivia’s southern border, west of the Andes Mountains, and down towards central Chile. Some riverbeds have been dry for 120,000 years. The annual rainfall here is about 0,004 inches. That translates as four inches of rain per thousandth year. Continue Reading…

Latin America

Breaking the ice


In southern Argentina, the Perito Moreno glacier fluctuates so freely that it indirectly submerges land areas. When it will strike next, nobody knows.


Spread out across a plain in Patagonia, as if with a butter knife, the Perito Moreno glacier is an intriguing subject ­for tourists as well as glacial geologists. For tourists because of its undeniable beauty, characteristic shape and accessibility; for scientists because of its free-ranging movement and its effect on the surrounding geology. Continue Reading…

Latin America

The never-ending storm


The Catatumbo Lightning is a continuous thunderstorm that has unfolded at the exact same location for 500 years. But why it happens, no one is able to explain.  

For up to 250 nights a year, people living by Lake Maracaibo are treated to mother nature’s own fireworks show. From late afternoon to the early morning hours, they can witness a storm of constant flashes and thunderbolts, seen from as far away as 40 kilometres (24 miles). “It lights up the entire area,” says Alan Highton, a local tour specialist. “You can walk around as if it was daytime.” And the next afternoon, it starts all over again. Continue Reading…

Latin America, Nature

Chop and change


Amazonian deforestation has been greatly reduced in recent years, but changes to Brazil’s legislation on natural protection areas have filled conservation groups with skepticism.

Everyone wants a piece of the Amazon. Last year, the Brazilian government made changes to the forest code, an old law that determines how large an area Amazonian land owners are required to leave untouched. The farmers, represented by the powerful agri-business sector, demanded the legislation be relaxed, so they could develop more land, produce more goods and expand their business. Environmental NGOs argued that more deforestation would further threaten the rainforest’s biodiversity. In the end, the changes appeared to be a compromise between the two sectors. But conservationists were not happy. Continue Reading…

Latin America, Nature

The living museum


Despite being taken of UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger in 2010, the endemic species of the Ecuadorian Galápagos Islands still face serious threats.

Some call it a ‘living museum’ and a ‘showcase of evolution’. Some 600 kilometres west of Ecuador, a cluster of more than 100 islands house what is perhaps the most endemic group of species on earth. It’s a place where marine iguanas and giant tortoises hang out on volcanic rocks and beaches, next to a rare melting pot of marine life. But it’s also much more than that. Continue Reading…

Latin America

The mirror


Besides making the biggest mirror on the planet, Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest flat of salt – contains minerals that could transform the Bolivian economy. 

Nowhere can the experience of nothingness offer so much. When Bolivia’s salt desert is covered by a thin layer of water, the sky is mirrored to perfection across its 10,000 square kilometres; the sky and the earth melting together on the horizon. With nothing else around, you are practically walking on a surface of clouds, captured in what is best described as a surrealistic vacuum. Continue Reading…

Adventure, Latin America

The lost world


Deemed “inaccessible” by explorers until the late 19th century, Mount Roraima’s mystical nature and endemic wildlife continues to fascinate scientists and hikers alike.


There turned out to be no dinosaurs on top of Mount Roraima. But when the first expedition to climb the 2,734-metre-tall mountain returned in 1884, with tales of unearthly rock formations, strange, unknown animals and samples of 53 undiscovered plants, speculation of what other undiscovered species might exist on the mystical plateau could well be forgiven. Continue Reading…