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South America - the highlights

ARGENTINA | Saturday, 23 September 2006 | Views [12447] | Comments [4]

Machu Pichu

Machu Pichu

After nine months travelling through South America it is now time to move on, so I though a retrospective might be in order.

Best Country

It has to be Peru, a country with world class sights, mountains, great trekking and a well developed tourist infrastructure; and it’s very affordable. The Andean culture is colourful and interesting and the people friendly. I spent two months there. Argentina, despite lacking big things to see was the one country I felt I could live. A nice climate, a cultured European society, great infrastructure and a relaxing pace of life made it a very difficult to leave. Colombia was a great surprise; vibrate cities and towns, great countryside and very friendly people.

Best City

I spent a month in and around Cusco, a very pleasant city with a lot to see and do in the area around it. There was a good travellers’ buzz there and lots of good cafes to while away the time between treks. Buenos Aires is another great city, great cafes and a relaxed European feel. Arequipa in Southern Peru is another gem, just as you imagine an American Colonial city to look like.

Best Journey

Going up the River Madeira a tributary of the Amazon to Manaus. The rivers define the Amazon area and the best way to get a feel for it is to travel by boat. It was the only way to appreciate the immensity of the area. For further details click here. Crossing the Andes was also a great thrill. In Bolivia the best trip was going down the Death Road from La Paz to Coroico. The established backpacker thing to do is to do this on a mountain bike tour, but for real gut wrenching terror the only way to do this route is by bus. At some points if you sit on the left hand side of the bus you could look straight down a one kilometer drop, with the wheel less than half a meter from the edge and no crash barrier. The route from Mendoza to Santiago in Chile is pretty tame in comparison but still one of the world’s great mountain journeys. Fantastic Andean scenery.

Best Great Outdoors

Trekking in the Sacred Valley Peru was a big highlight. I didn’t do the organized tours or the Inca trail but did some independent treks with my girlfriend. The best was from Urabamba to Lares (more detail here.) where on the second night we camped alone at 4200 meters and only saw only two other trekkers in three days out. There are some great routes and the mountains are outstanding. Colca Canyon in Peru is also a good place to trek.

Another great experience was the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. This unworldly landscape is just as amazing as the pictures promise, not to be missed. Click for more info and pictures.

Best Sight

For want of being accused of going for the obvious choice, it has to be Machu Pichu. Nowhere else did I feel such an immediate sense of place. These ruins were not only one of those places I’d always wanted to see but that I would never forget seeing them. Of course you have to choose your moment, getting up before dawn to take the ride up to the site is well worth it. At first you can’t see anything but as the mist clears and the ruins reveal themselves – it’s breathtaking. The setting of thick primordial forest on the mountains all around adds to drama of the scene. The number two best sight was the Galapagos Islands, one never gets over the abundance of wildlife around you nor how tame it is. Swimming with sharks and sea lions were particular thrills as was being on a beautiful white tropical beach with only giant lizards to share it with. Well worth the expense of getting there. Iguazu Falls is also an outstanding sight, particularly from the Argentinian side.

Best Museum

No question – The Lord of Sipan Museum near Chiclayo in Northern Peru. This is a museum that exhibites the finds from a number of tombs, the reconstructions of which you can also visit. This is the complete antithsis of tomb raider. You start at the top of the building (which is shaped like a pyrimid) then slowly descend with the exhibits being displayed in the order the Archaeologists removed the layers, millimeter by millimeter.  And what exhibits! I have never seen a muesum anywhere that has so much treasure in it.

One of the most unusual places to visit in South America and the only industrial heritage site that I know of is the former ‘Anglo’ meat packing plant in Frey Bentos in Uruguay. There is an excellent museum and guided tour, with the place being left just as it was when the place shut at the beginning of the seventies.

Best Hotel

Tricky, the standard of hotels and value for money is pretty good in South America. The Inka Fe Hotel (www.inkafe.com.pe)in Cusco was one of the best probably because the room we had was so nice, large with it’s own sun terrace on the roof.

Best Restaurant

‘Jacks’ in Cusco was easily the best. Good fresh interesting food served quickly by friendly staff, I often ate here twice a day. The Brazilian chain ‘Aipo and Aipim’ was also a great place to eat. They use the great concept of selling food by weight, so you fill your plate from their outstanding choice of salads and hot food and you only pay for what you want. The Colombian chain ‘Crepes and Waffles’ had some delicious things served up in stylish surroundings.

Best Food

South America is not noted for its gastronomic delights, and at times I thought that Chicken and Chips was the national dish in many countries. Certainly Santiago and parts of Brazil are fast food heaven if that is what you like. Still a few things stand out; Argentinean steak just about anywhere in the country is always wonderful. I’d heard of steaks that melt in the mouth but never eaten one until I came here. Ceviche on the North Pacific coast was also often very good. The best ones I had were in the Galapagos on Charles Binford Street in Pte Ayora. Empanadas in the Southern Cone countries were also excellent nearly everywhere, these are small pasties, usually baked with lightly spiced meat, pieces of boiled egg or olives in them. They vary slightly from country to country with Chile making slightly larger versions. Always good though.

Hidden Gems

Sucre in Bolivia is a lovely town especially if you go there after the cold and thin air of the Andes. A pleasant warm climate, fine white buildings and palm trees makes it like being suddenly dropped in the South of France.

Salento in Colombia was another lovely place, a colonial town with nice cafes and craft shops and the beautiful Wax Palm valley nearby.

Other impressions

Bars on the windows of houses. First seen as we approached the Mexican border at San Diego and omnipresent ever since.

An obcession with early nineties Western music particularly bands like Roxette and Guns and Roses. Every person on the continent must know the Bangles ‘Enternal Flame’ word perfect. In the Southern Cone countries, Robbie Williams is in ascendance.

Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool

The World Cup, which was a constant theme for the first half of the year. Only Latin American commentators could get so wound up over a goal, regardless of who scored it. Being in Brazil when they got knocked out of the Cup was quite an experience. This was total football, when not a person walked on the street or a car moved, a whole nation was watching T.V.

I always had some reservations about traveling in South America, partly because of the ‘aura of menace’ that seemed to surround it. Crime, gangs and rip offs seemed to be the sub text of many peoples experiences here. I have to say that I no problems at all, having had nothing stolen and not even being threatened let alone robbed. I met some people who did have things taken, often with some contributory negligence on their part, like leaving bags with credit cards on the luggage racks of night buses, but I never personally met anyone who had been mugged or robbed.

One of the best investments I made was joining the South American Explorers Club. The clubhouses in Quito, Cusco and Buenos Aires have been homes from home along the way and it’s been a great opportunity to meet some very interesting people. The libraries and trip reports have also been very useful. I would recommend joining to anyone spending time in the region, particularly if they are going to be in the cities with clubhouses. Click here for more details.

 

Tags: Travel Tips

Comments

1

Thank you for the very positive things you have to say about Peru.

  Francisco Sep 27, 2006 12:12 PM

2

I have never traveled to South America. The nearest I have ever been is Oklahoma, and as I had, I had been inspired by the Southern land scape, of which I had used for my book. Very much so resembling the one above, never previosuly observed by me before compossing my novel; an immensly beautiful range.

  Robert Feb 6, 2012 7:43 AM

3

This person obvously did not travelled well enough in South America. If all you could mention was the obvious choices, then you did it wrong.

One part in particular aspect stands out as terrible: food. True, south america is not known for its food (given that most of the world renowned foods are based on upscale concotions) Latin American food is all about tradition. Lots of places eat chicken and chips...but chilean, colombian and peruvian chicken all taste extremely different. And if that's all he ate and the ocassional restaurant, then he did not eat well there. You truly need a local person to guide you through local traditional food. The best spots usually wont be as glamorous as crepes and waffles.

  Roberto Nov 26, 2016 12:19 AM

4

This is mainly based on Perú I guess. Chile has manyany interesting places so does Argentina. Brazilian a huge land with beaches and mized culture. Bolivia mainly Indigenous heritage still going on. Lack of knowledge on this article.

  Nicolás Nov 26, 2016 5:57 AM

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