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Journeedia | December 14, 2018

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Our 5 Travel Tips for South America

Our 5 Travel Tips for South America

Once you tell people you are going to travel to South America, they are likely to tell you that you have to be aware of pickpockets and that it will be dangerous to drive by bus, but that the food is going to be amazing. Although most of this advice carries a grain of truth, nonetheless everyone has to experience this diverse continent for themselves. Here is what we discovered and learned while travelling two months through Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil.

1. An unexpected cultural diversity

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“Experiencing South America’s culture is more than visiting Incan sites such as Ollantayambo or Machu Picchu – though they are mighty impressive. You’ll soon discover that in countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil people still very much embrace their cultural roots. And those are quite diverse, deriving from the indigenous traditions of the peoples first inhabiting the continent as well as European influences brought by the Spanish, the Portuguese and the French and mixed with African cultures. All of this finds its expression in the mostly colorful costumes and beautiful arts and crafts. If you find the time, make sure to participate in or watch one of the many festivals and parades with rhythmic music and folk dances.”

2. A culinary experience of the special kind

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“South America has many culinary highlights – some you might want to try, some you might not want to. In the Northern parts like Peru you find the typical Andean or Inca cuisine. We did not try llama or Cuy chactado, which is deep-fried guinea pig, but we went to a Cevicheria for some Ceviche, a mix from raw fish and seafood with lemon. In Argentina we had a great dinner at a Churrascaria, a steakhouse where waiters move around the tables with the skewers and slice grilled meat right onto your plate. Argentina is also a great place to enjoy pastries and other sweets. Alfajores filled with Dulce de leche are a must try! You will not be able to pass by the many panaderías without trying the cookies at least once. And while strolling up and down the boardwalk at Ipanema Beach, stop at one of the food carts for some Churros con chocolate. On top of that, don’t miss out on South America’s fascinating variety of beverages, like the wide selection of Argentinian wines from the Mendoza region, Peru’s Pisco Sour or Brazil’s famous Caipirinha. Just don’t miss out on South America’s great culinary art in general.”

3. A bus travel with obstacles and surprises

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“Bus travel is the way to get from A to B in South America – if you want to bridge short distances while in Quito or Rio de Janeiro or if you have to go all the way from Lima to Cusco (a delightful 20 hours by bus). The German Ministry of Foreign Office states that there are frequent bus accidents because of bad road conditions and overly long rides. Especially when taking a night bus, we learned that it is wiser to book a trip with one of the bigger and touristic companies, which are barely more expensive – just to minimize any risks. Of course the quality and comfort of the bus ride always depends on the region and country you are in. But in our experience, particularly on the most popular long distance routes, there are many different bus companies competing with each other – resulting in you being offered quite a good service including toilets on the bus, meals and onboard movies (which may or may not help you improve your Spanish). We almost always opted for the slightly cheaper “semi-cama” reclining seats during our trip – with the one exception, when we tried to catch a bus back from Valparaiso to Santiago de Chile: The festivities of Semana Santa were in full swing, people were travelling home to their families and every company was booked out besides the most luxurious (probably grossly overpriced) bus. We decided to enjoy the bed-style “cama” seats in our own curtained off compartment and made sure to remember, that while getting bus tickets on the day of travel should usually not be a problem, you might want to avoid travelling on national holidays.”

4. A certain danger everywhere

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“First off, we were lucky enough not to encounter any real incidents when travelling through South America. But stories of pickpockets and theft are quite common when talking to other travelers. They reach from scams such as mustard being squirted on your shirt or people coming up to you and asking for directions all the while going through your pockets, to actually being cornered and mugged. So just make sure to take in your surroundings – are you standing out as the odd tourist? Try not to look lost (even if you are). Do not carry valuable things such as your camera around too openly and always keep a close hold on your belongings. Guarding your purse by keeping it at your front may look stupid, but it is quite effective – this is particularly true at crowded places such as markets or train stations. In a subway in Santiago de Chile a woman cut open one of our bags – was she able to get anything out of it? No, because we kept it close to us. But we only realized she even tried stealing anything when we were back at the hostel and saw the big tear in our bag. All those things are not restrictive to South America – they can happen everywhere! And they should not taint your experience of the travel.”

5. A breathtaking altitude

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“Do not underestimate the altitude in some part of South America. La Paz is located at an altitude of 11,811 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu at 7,972 feet and Lake Titicaca lies at 12,500 feet. Our first stop in South America was Quito (at a moderate 9,350 feet above sea level) and it already hit us – a slight pounding in the head and a surprising shortness of breath. Luckily we got used to the altitude quite soon and though some of the symptoms stayed with us during the first parts of our travel, they had never gotten any worse. To avoid altitude sickness we were told to stay hydrated, meaning drinking a lot of water and preferably little alcohol. The locals also chew on the leaves of the coca plant, so you might want to try coca candies or coca tea. The main point is that you take it easy! Jumping at high altitudes just to get the perfect picture gets exhausting really fast.”

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