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Archived Posts from “South America”

Machu Picchu-Peru’s Incan Wonder

14

September

Real travelers know that there are only a handful of destinations in the world that are absolutely can’t miss, must-see-before-you-die places, and Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes is definitely one of them.

Recently voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the ‘Lost City of the Incas’ sits in the high jungle (2,500 meters above sea level) 50 miles from the colonial city of Cusco. Even through the Spanish conquest and occupation of Peru, the city remained hidden from the outside world for centuries until an American archeologist from Yale University named Hiram Bingham in 1911. In the years following this monumental discovery, the public’s curiosity was aroused to an incredible degree, with National Geographic devoting an entire issue to it. Today, more than 300,000 people visit the site each year, with some choosing to hike the Inca Trail, a portion of the Inca’s extensive road network.

Travelers who visit the area have a wide variety of choices of accommodations, tours, length of stay, and more. One this is certain, though, almost every visitor will start in Cusco, and normally require a day or two to adjust to the altitude.

Cusco is a rapidly growing city, having tripled in population over the last 20 years to its current size of 300,000. It is an impressive city, and was the capital of the Incan Empire before the Spanish conquest. Art lovers and those interested in the history of the region can visit the Pre-Colombian Art Museum and the Museo Inka to browse through the artifacts on display. This artistic culture has remained, and many markets, shops, and street vendors populate the area selling handmade clothes, hats, paintings, and other pieces. The Spanish were many things, but respectful towards native art and architecture they were not. Unfortunately, the conquistadors had an affinity for destroying native buildings and replacing them with their own. Some original walls and structures remain, but for the most part, all the buildings in Cusco are Post-Colombian. They are beautiful, however, and the Plaza de Armas offers visitors the Church of La Compania de Jesus and the Cathedral, two of the best examples.

After acclimatizing oneself to the region’s thin air, travelers will then have some decisions to make as how to visit Machu Picchu. The more adventurous souls may choose to spend a few days hiking the Inca Trail. Guides are available to transport gear up the mountain, and will prepare nightly dinners for hikers. Others may choose the path of least resistance and decide to take the PeruRail train service. PeruRail offers several different lines for travelers to choose from.

  • The Backpacker is the no-frills, bare-bones train for those who just want to get there. ($73 R/T)
  • The Vistadome is the mid-range service, with large panoramic windows so photographers won’t miss a shot. The train is very comfortable, offering snacks and drinks, and is also the quickest. ($113 R/T)
  • Travelers looking for ultra-luxurious means of transportation will no doubt choose the Hiram Bingham. This service offers full meals with wine, guides, transfers, and afternoon tea at the Sanctuary Lodge at Machu Picchu. ($547 R/T)

Once there, visitors will be simply amazed at the beauty, sophistication, and natural wonder that this place offers. The weather on the mountain is temperamental, and can change on a dime. Oftentimes, tourists are disappointed upon first arrival due to clouds blocking some of the better views, only to be treated a few minutes later to them passing and the mountains and the ‘Lost City of the Incas’ being revealed in all its breathtaking splendor.


Brazil-The Meaning of Diversity

29

June

When most people think of Brazil, the first things that come to mind are the Corcovado—the giant statue of Christ over Rio de Janeiro, the miles and miles of white beaches, the snake-like wildness surrounding the Amazon river, and Carnival. These are certainly worthwhile attractions for any tourist, but there is much more to see in the world’s fifth largest country (in both size and population).

Brazil is a traveler’s paradise, offering a variety of activities, cultural and historical sights, and a warm and open society, at affordable (yet, increasing) prices. Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro are the usual jumping off point for most visitors, and are the most modern and cosmopolitan cities in the country. The northeast coast of Brazil is generally regarded as having the best beaches, best weather, and the city of Salvador is the seat of much of Brazilian history and culture. The Amazon river and rainforest is one of the Earth’s most valuable natural resources, and certainly one of Brazil’s most interesting features. Southern Brazil–the states of Parana, Rio Grande de Sol, and Santa Catarina—boast the highest standard of living, alongside more moderate temperatures, as well as a more relaxed, European lifestyle.

Salvador
Perhaps the most interesting and culturally exciting (and certainly the most historical) city in Brazil is the one called “Black Rome” in the northeast part of the country. The city, of course, is Salvador de Bahia, or just Salvador.

Long before Rio and Sao Paolo came on the scene, Salvador was the most important city in Brazil, and perhaps all of the Americas. Founded in 1549 by the Portuguese, Salvador wasted no time in becoming a major sea port, sugar manufacturing center, and seat of economic, political, and religious power. Unfortunately, it also became a major player in the slave trade.

Salvador was the first capital of Brazil until Rio replaced it in 1763. During Brazil’s fight for independence, Salvador was a key part of the movement, and now remains as Brazil’s center for all things cultural and historical. Salvador is the birthplace for many of the things that Brazil is renowned for. Samba, Carnival, and capoeira (a form of Brazilian martial arts mixed with dance) are all parts of the local heritage. Salvador’s downtown has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and is one of the safest parts in all of the country.

Rio and Sao Paolo
Salvador’s decline through the years was brought on by the rise of a new center of economic power, seated in Sao Paolo and Rio. Situated a short 6 hour drive from each other, the two cities are currently Brazil’s most important, industrialized, modern, and cosmopolitan destinations. Rio is by far the more interesting from a tourist perspective, but Sao Paolo, too, holds a certain charm, although Rio is certainly the more aesthetically pleasing and charming of the two.

Both cities are extremely diverse, boasting large populations descended from Germany, Italy, Arabs, Jews, and Asians. Of course, the largest groups are the Portuguese, Africans, and Mulattos.

Hordes of tourists visit for Carnival, but any time of the year will have plenty of cultural events, and much lower prices. During Carnival, it’s not uncommon to pay up to ten times more for hotels, apartments, and transportation. Although, these two weeks are certainly the most exciting and exhilarating of the year, they may not be for everyone, and tourists looking for a chance to take in more of the sites, and see the city at a more leisurely pace, should make arrangements for a month other than February or March.

Amazon
Cutting across roughly the top fifth of Brazil is the largest river, and the largest tropical rainforest in the world. Comprising 1.2 billion acres, the Amazon Rainforest is the home to staggering numbers of species: 2.5 million insect species, 2000 birds and mammals, 40,000 plants, and 75,000 types of trees. All this combines to make the forest the largest collection of diverse life in the world.

A trip to the Amazon is a trip into the beauty and majesty of nature, as well as a sobering trip into man’s inability to conserve and protect. Since 1977, around 15% of the forest has been cut down, and some projections state that within 20 more years, 40% of the forest will have been lost.

Still, traveling there is wonderful opportunity to relax, take in the beauty of the natural world, and see an important–and threatened—part of the world. Travelers with time to spare can take a cruise from Manaus, to the mouth of the river in a ferry. The trip can take up to a week, and it is not for the faint of heart, nor those who prefer a luxurious journey, but to see the river and forest up close, this is a must for adventure tourists.


Brazil is a huge and diverse country, and to only spend a week in the urban centers is to miss out on a wonderful opportunity to see one of the most intriguing places in the world, along with some of the friendliest and open people that can be found.


Argentina-Sporting Paradise

29

June

Argentina is much more than just the glitz and glimmer of its sophisticated capital, Buenos Aires. The country has a long tradition of being a sportsman’s paradise. . .and not just for futbol (although Argentines are certainly known for that)! Travelers interested in any outdoor activity will find what they are looking for, and more.

Argentina is big and diverse. From the deltas and pampas surrounding Buenos Aires, to the majestic, snow-capped peaks of the Andes, and from the semi-tropical northeast, to the arid expanses of the northwest, no one who enjoys sporting activities will be at a loss for entertainment, adventure, and excitement.

Fishing in Patagonia

Argentina boasts enough lakes, rivers, streams, and coastline, to make it a perfect destination for anglers, sailors, and anyone who enjoys spending time on the water. Although fishing is a year-round sport in most of the country, summer (late May-early September) is by far the best season, especially in Patagonia.

Early in the 20th century, brown and rainbow trout were introduced into the rivers and lakes of Patagonia, and since then have thrived extremely well. Beautiful salmon, perch, and freshwater dorado can also be found in this region. Anglers will be amazed at the size, beauty, and abundance of the fish in this unspoiled wilderness.

Patagonia is home to quite a few charming towns, which offer more than just a roof, meal, and bed. Bariloche, San Martin de los Andes, and Villa de Angostura are three beautiful towns that have offer a variety of accommodations, activities, and restaurants to satisfy even the most demanding traveler. In these towns, and in the surrounding areas, visitors will find world-class hunting and fishing lodges, centers to arrange guides, and outfitters offering high quality gear.

Skiing the Andes
Recently, skiing has become a huge sport in Argentina, and the country boasts numerous resorts scattered throughout the Andes, but two resorts in particular are stunning, world-class destinations. Cerro Catedral is located just a few minutes drive from Bariloche, and has just been renovated to make it the largest and most developed ski resort in all of South America. The mountain features 5000 acres of land available for skiing, with elevations reaching just below 7000 feet. With plenty of trails for skiers of all abilities, as well as a park and half pipe for snowboarders, Cerro Catedral offers a wonderland of adventure, in a beautiful location with all the amenities that travelers want.

Las Lenas is one of Argentinas newer resorts, built in 1983, and is the Mecca for expert skiers. Boasting a top elevation of 11,328 feet, Las Lenas is not for the faint of heart. Skiers will find 40 miles of runs with gradients from 12-53%, and access to explore the beautiful backcountry for those wishing to get off the beaten path. After a day of adventure, the resort has plenty of other ways to relax and have fun, including the highest-elevation casino in the world, discos, bars, restaurants, spas, and anything else that tourists could want.

The ski season in Argentina runs from June to mid-October.

Other Activities
Year-round in Argentina, lovers of sport will find something active and exciting to participate in. Horseback riding on the pampas, is always in season. Traveling to the northwest corner near Salta, one will find an arid, warm desert climate year-round, that lends itself to hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, and other activities that can be enjoyed under the hot sun. Of course, Argentina also has miles and miles of coastline with beach resorts scattered throughout which are extremely popular in summer.

In a land as big and diverse as Argentina, it is safe to say that whatever the active traveler is looking for, he will find in this unique and beautiful country.


Venezuela-Land of Passion

12

May

Venezuela, like all of South America, has seen its fair share of ups and downs, but history and politics aside, Venezuela and its capital Caracas, still remain great tourist destinations for those seeking something a little off the beaten path, a little more rugged, and a little more lively.Caracas (population around 5 million) on first sight is an architecturally uninspiring, sprawling urban center with looming concrete buildings built during the 70s dominating the landscape. Still, once in the grip of the city, visitors will find examples of colonial architecture mixed with a growing modern influence. Caracas has a well-known—and well-deserved—reputation as being dirty, but it is the people themselves that give the city its life and energy. Full of life, smiles, and a passion for good times, Caraquenos possess a warmth and friendliness that is not often found in large cities such as this. Another reputation that Caracas has is for having a high crime rate, and this too is a well-deserved reputation. Even in the nicer neighborhoods, locals use much care at night when leaving the house after 9 PM. Taxis are the safest means of transportation, although during the day, the subway is a cheap, clean, and efficient means of navigating the city. For the tourist, Caracas presents a variety of cultural experiences for all visitors. Not to be missed are:

  • Iglesia de San Francisco—the beautiful 16th century church where Simon Bolivar anointed himself “The Liberator” from the Spanish, and later held his funeral. Probably the best monument to colonial architecture in the city.
  • Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas—Caracas’ modern art museum, boasting works from such masters as Bacon, Picasso, Miro, and many Venezuelan contemporary masters as well. Perhaps the best modern art museum in South America.
  • Parque Los Caobos-a beautiful old park featuring huge trees planted to celebrate Venezuela’s independence, and a large working fountain help to transport visitors back to the Colonial years.

Visitors to Venezuela should not spend all their time merely in Caracas. . .not when the country offers so many other amazing opportunities to explore the beauty and friendliness of this land.

Isla Margarita is another destination worth checking out. Located just a short plane ride, or longer ferry trip away, the island Venezuelans call “the pearl of the Caribbean” feels light years away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. White sandy beaches and small fishing villages mix with sparkling hotels, casinos, and enough restaurants, nightlife, and opportunities for relaxation or adventure to satisfy any traveler.

Angel Falls is another sight that should be on any traveler’s must-see list. Located in Venezuela’s Parque Nacional Canaima—a protected area the size of Belgium—visitors will find the world’s tallest waterfall. Named for a U.S. pilot who discovered it, Angel Falls sends a vast torrent of water down 2,647 feet, or more than twice the height of the Empire State building. Seeing the falls, though, requires some effort. Although it is possible to charter a plane or helicopter and see it from the air, those wishing a closer experience must have an adventurous spirit. Due to the remote location, travelers must hire a guide and a 4X4 vehicle to make the 3-4 day trip which includes stops at villages and many different points to witness this majestic natural formation.

Venezuela is certainly an “off the beaten path” destination, but contains such variety that any traveler should find something of interest. Beneath its grimy exterior, Caracas is a sophisticated city boasting world-class arts and shopping, as well as restaurants and nighttime diversions aplenty. For nature lovers, or those looking for a more relaxing experience, Venezuela is a natural beauty with a landscape that is second to none. Finally, the people themselves are the real reason to visit this dynamic land. Able to smile and always ready to make a friend, Venezuelans are open, amiable, and visitor will find themselves infected with the festive spirit that is Venezuela.


Argentina-South America’s Best Bargain

11

May

Since the Argentine Financial Crisis that started the new century, Argentina has found itself as the hottest new tourist destination in South America, and is now one of the biggest travel bargains in, not only South America, but the world. That’s what happens when your currency gets devalued, and overnight a hotel room that once cost $100US now costs $35. It’s safe to say that Argentina wasn’t on too many people’s travel radar in the 90s, when a vacation there cost as much as one to New York, London, Sydney, or Paris. Not to mention that Argentina and its capital, Buenos Aires, were not nearly as developed as first world capital cities, but still cost the same! However, times have certainly changed.

These days, Buenos Aires is the South American destination for hipsters, backpackers, businessmen, and students of everything from art to economy, who go there to see what all the talk is about…an in Buenos Aires, there is plenty of talk! No one talks as much (or as loudly) as the Argentines. Fueled by strong espressos (or, cortados, when they are taken with a dollop of steamed milk) and wines from the Andes, the Argentines are nothing if not loquacious. All day and night, the bars and cafes are full of people smoking and drinking coffee and talking about everything from the IMF to the Rolling Stones. Certainly, Buenos Aires has all the Romance and style that anyone could want. Although it is dirty and loud, Buenos Aires provides a great setting and can make almost anyone feel like writing a novel, making a documentary, or setting up a photo shoot in any restaurant and street corner. Indeed, the sense of style is so pervasive, that one sometimes wonders if there is any substance to go along with it. Certainly, if one knows where to look, there is.

The barrios of San Telmo and Palermo are the two mas movidos (with the most life, or movement) but are vastly different in appearance and demographics. Palermo is made up of two parts, Palermo and Palermo Viejo. Palermo is the Manhattan of Buenos Aires, and home to the cities main shopping, eating, and nightlife. Palermo Viejo, is a smaller neighborhood, that features small plazas, cafes, and art galleries, all set along cobblestone streets, with tree-lined streets. San Telmo is located closer to the center of the city, and is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. Home to tango schools, the country’s only film school, and numerous antique shops, markets, cafes, and street performers, San Telmo offers visitors a bohemian lifestyle, set among some of the most charming architecture in the city.

Portenos (Buenos Aires residents) are a nocturnal species, and for the visitor, the lifestyle of the city can come as quite a shock. It is not uncommon for residents to eat dinner at 10 PM (or later) and then have drinks at a bar, before heading out to a dance club (boliche) at around 2 AM! Also not uncommon is for this behavior to be done 3-4 nights a week! One wonders where they find time to work.

Certainly any trip to Argentina will include at least one stop in Buenos Aires, but there are loads of other places to see in the world’s 8th largest country. Patagonia is a wilderness the size of France with a population density of roughly 2 people per square kilometer. Patagonia features an array of geological sights, such as glaciers, lakes, mountains, and wild, desolate land. The unique and beautiful towns of Neuquen, San Martin, and Chubut province lie in Patagonia, and are scenic wonders.

To the west of Buenos Aires is the Argentina wine country, which includes the cities of Mendoza and Cordoba. These cities are vastly different from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires, and boast some of the best universities in Argentina, as well as a wonderful mix of colonial and modern architecture, all set up against a backdrop of the Andes. Recently, Cordoba has been growing into something of the IT capital of South America, as many high-tech companies are moving in. Also this part of the country provides a traveler with the means to visit Argentina’s vineyards and bodegas. Situated in a perfect location for growing grapes and other agricultural produce, the weather is almost always mild and sunny in this region.

People who enjoy shopping will love Argentina. From high quality leather goods, to wine and handicrafts, Buenos Aires and Argentina have top notch malls, stores, and markets to attract and fulfill almost everyone’s shopping needs.

Although prices are still low in Buenos Aires (it is one of, if not the, cheapest developed capital cities in the world now) they are slowly rising—especially for tourists. Inflation continues to choke the economy, and although the government has paid off its foreign debts, the economy has still failed to achieve the rapid growth found in the neighboring countries of Chile and Peru. Petty crime is still a problem (President Bush’s daughters were the victims of purse snatching in San Telmo, even with the Secret Service watching), but there is little violent crime.


Colombia-A South American Paradise

09

February

Colombia is a beautiful South American country situated on
the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Colombia has a lot to
offer tourists and while there are some areas that you will want to
avoid, there are so many places that are safe and worth visiting.

Cartagena
The San Felipe de Barajas Castle in Cartagena, Colombia, is unbelievable. Visiting a castle up close and personal is really worth the experience. Not only is it educational, but there is so much history in those walls you can almost feel yourself being transported to another time and another place. This castle is one of Colombia’s oldest buildings and it was built by the Spaniards back in colonial times. Checking it out today is really amazing and a must if you are traveling the country.

San Andres Island
A beautiful beach in Colombia that every tourist should see is San Andres Island. This is the perfect place for romance or an adventure, or a little of both. Here you can relax on the sand and soak up the sun while drinking your favorite beer or cocktail. Or, you might choose to do something adventurous like kite boarding or surfing. There are lots of classy hotels in San Andres if you have an open budget, but if you are trying to save money there are also hostels and more affordable hotels.

Barranquilla
If you want to see where super famous Latin pop star Shakira is from then you should check out Barranquilla. Here you can learn some famous Latin dance moves and really shake your caderas (hips) like Shakira while getting down in any one of the cool discotecas Barranquilla has to offer.

Bogotá
The capital city of Colombia is Bogotá and it is dangerous, especially at night. There are many historical buildings and cathedrals to check out here as well as great restaurants. But, if you don’t speak Spanish and aren’t a native you might just want to stay in Bogotá for as long as it takes you to change planes and head somewhere else. Bogotá is beautiful and has a lot to offer, but it can be very dangerous for foreigners.

Santa Marta
Tayron National Park is unbelievable and for anyone interested in eco-tourism it is definitely worth a visit. There are more than 37,000 acres of mangroves, reefs, beaches, and even Indian ruins to check out. You will not only find the park educational, but also amazingly beautiful and peaceful.

Medellin
If you are in Colombia then you need to make time to visit Medellin where the Piedra de Penol exists. This rock formation is one of a kind and sits in the middle of the countryside. It will take an hour drive from Medellin to reach the rock and you will travel curvy roads. But once you reach La Piedra de Penol you will know it was worth the trip!


Ecuador-A Beautiful Country in the Andes

10

January

Many individuals talk about how beautiful South America is and that is the truth. However, countries like Brazil and Argentina are talked about more than some of the other countries like Ecuador. Ecuador, although smaller than Brazil and Argentina, is perhaps even more beautiful than both these countries combined. This Andean country borders Colombia and Peru as well as the Pacific Ocean and has three considerably different climates despite being small in landmass.

Few people would ever imagine that Ecuador has such diversity and to visit is simply amazing. You can have practically three vacations in one all in the same country. The jungle, mountains, and coast are all represented in this small country and each area offers different opportunities for travelers.

The Amazon
For example, visit the Amazon jungle of Ecuador and sleep in a tree house, take a ferry down the Amazon River, engage in an adventure in the heart of the jungle, and view the wildlife and plants that are indigenous to the area.

The Sierra
In the sierra the Andes mountains grace the earth and provide a beautiful setting for several cities, most specifically the capital of Quito. There are several volcanoes in this region as well that spout ashes and smoke every once in a while. A recent volcanic explosion in the tourist town of Baños covered the land with ashes, but this is not a common occurrence and it is safe to travel here. The tourist town of Baños is still an incredible place to visit for its hot water springs and waterfalls.

Otavalo is yet another tourist town in the sierra that is known for its artisans. A traveler can pick up all kinds of handmade goods like sweaters, gloves, bags, hats, as well as hand painted landscapes, silver jewelry, wood carvings, and much more. Haggling with the vendors can be fun and result in even cheaper prices than those already offered.

The capital of Quito is always busy and has a diverse population. Visitors can check out historic buildings and the famous El Panasillo, which is a huge angel monument towering over the city. Another place to visit in Quito is La Mitad del Mundo, which means the middle of the world. Here visitors can stand in both hemispheres simultaneously with the equator marked by a yellow line. Museums, restaurants, malls, parks, soccer games, concerts, and bull fights are just some of the other must see activities in Quito.

The Coast
Making your way to the coast you will feel a major change in climate. The cool nights and warm days of Quito and the hot, humid jungle are exchanged for sunny days with high temperatures. The breeze coming off the ocean helps tourists feel more comfortable, though. Guayaquil is the biggest coastal city and the principal port for the country. Salinas is another coastal tourist town that has the country’s most beautiful beaches and is dotted with high rise condos. Those looking for beautiful beaches yet a smaller town with a more laid back atmosphere should check out Bahia de Caraquez, Montañita, or Canoa.

And if mainland Ecuador doesn’t offer enough diversity for you then you can always head to the country’s Galapagos Islands that are a couple hundred miles off the coast. Flights and cruises are both available to reach the islands.

Ecuador offers tourists everything they could ever imagine and it is amazingly affordable as well. Those who speak Spanish will especially enjoy a vacation in this Andean country while those who don’t will find many Ecuadorians speak some English in the big cities and are always willing to help out. There are plenty of Spanish language schools throughout the country that can give a crash course to help you better understand your vacation.

If you are considering a vacation in South America you should definitely put Ecuador on the list of possibilities. It is beautiful, safe, diverse, affordable, and very friendly to tourists.


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