Meet The Insiders

When you really want to know about a place, you ask a local. That’s the idea behind our team of South American Insiders. These on-the-ground experts are always out and about, looking for the experiences found only in South America. Got questions? Fire away, and enjoy the benefits of some good, solid, insider information.

About Terra Hall

This American journalist traveled to places many Peruvians have never heard of, stocked her kitchen with fruits that look like they're from a sci-fi flick, and re-enrolled in school so she can say phrases beyond "¿Dónde está la biblioteca?." Whether it's paragliding over the Malecon, where Lima's green coast meets the royal blue sea, or rappelling 300 feet into a canyon, everyday in this country is an adventure.

Terra Hall's Favorites

Favorite Peruvian food: Vegan lomo saltado
Favorite outing to date: Hiking along the edge of a mountain, later followed by repelling 300 feet into a canyon and exploring an abandoned mine now inhabited by bats
Favorite neighborhood: Barranco, for its bohemian vibe and artisan shops

About Natalie Southwick

This Boston-raised and Chicago-educated journalist never felt so at home as she does in Bogotá. In just over a year, Natalie swam in the jewel-blue Caribbean near Santa Marta, chowed on ceviche in Cartagena, hiked through misty wax palms in Salento, ogled dinosaur fossils in Villa de Leyva and danced salsa into the wee hours in Cali.

Natalie Southwick's Favorites

Favorite food: Ajíaco
Favorite coffee shop: Juan Valdez Café
Favorite hidden gem: José Celestino Mutis Jardín Botánico in Bogotá
Favorite place to spend all my money: Usaquén Sunday market

About Kevin Raub

Co-author of Lonely Planet’s Brazil guide and coordinating author of the Brazil section of South America on a Shoestring guide, Kevin has–not surprisingly–traveled extensively across Brazil. He learned to dive in Fernando de Noronha, sought after the perfect moqueca from Espírito Santo to Bahia and swam with pink dolphins in the Amazon. Kevin also regularly tweets about his adventures @RaubOnTheRoad.

Kevin Raub's Favorites

Favorite São Paulo Restaurant: Maní
Favorite Beach: Praia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha
Favorite Bar Snack: Coxinhas at Bar Veloso, São Paulo
Favorite Ecotourism Destination: Bonito, Mato Grosso do Sul

About Ilan Greenfield

Ilan is a musician, composer, writer, translator and art enthusiast living in Quito with his wife and two children. He also created an Ecuadorian travel magazine christened ‘Ñan’ (or ‘road’ in Quechua) with a close group of colleagues. He says that Ecuador is as small as a peanut on a world map, but at the same time, the whole world fits snuggly within it. He certainly has a lot to tell and many reasons to invite you to come to Ecuador and, as they say, ‘take the plunge’...

Ilan Greenfield's Favorites

Favorite beach: Los Frailes
Favorite restaurant: Los Tiestos, in Cuenca
Favorite Galapagos Islands: Fernandina, the youngest, and Española, the oldest!
Favorite Ecuadorian band: Of course, that would have to be my band, the Swing Original Monks… check us out…

About Eileen Smith

Since moving to Santiago eight years ago, Eileen has sat with huasos at a rodeo in Futaleúfu, eaten chancho en piedra near the river in Talca and bought olives in Punta de Choros. As a travel writer, she dispenses advice for a living, so feel free to ask a question!

Eileen Smith's Favorites

Favorite beach town: Pichilemu
Best hiking near Santiago: Parque Mahuida, or Aguas de San Ramón
Favorite spot for lunch in the Vega Chica: Tía Ruth’s
Best place to buy souvenirs in Santiago: Pueblo Los Dominicos

About Bridget Gleeson

In the name of travel journalism, Bridget has been up to the highest cliffs of the Andes, down to chilly sea level at the end of the earth in Tierra del Fuego, and right in the center of the crowded dance floor at tango clubs in Buenos Aires. She fell in love with Argentina and its people and is happy to share what she learned with her fellow travelers.

Bridget Gleeson's Favorites

Favorite Tango Song: Niebla del Riachuelo (Cobián & Cadícamo, 1937)
Favorite Wildlife Experience: Whale-watching in Península Valdés
Favorite Café in Buenos Aires: Any of the 73 bares notables (historic bars) designated by the city
Favorite Cultural Experience: A traditional asado with choripán, Malbec and good friends

Your Latest Questions & Answers

Q Amy: Do you know of any hotels/apt. in the 3 star range that are safe to stay in Rio?
A Kevin:

Hi Amy,

There are plenty! And Rio is generally safe for tourists. Just use common sense as you would in any large metropolitan area in the world and don’t take anything of value to the beach and you should be fine. As for hotels, I don’t know about 3-stars but decent midrange options include Margarida’s Pousada in Ipanema, Oztel in Botofogo, and Casa Beleza and Casa Cool Beans in Santa Teresa.

Keep in mind, Rio is very expensive, so what you consider midrange at home might be considerable cheaper than midrange in Rio.
Enjoy paradise!
Q Kim: Hello Eileen, my name is Kim. I’ll be traveling to Santiago next week and will only be there for a day. What are your recommendations in regard to sightseeing? One place on my list to visit is San Cristobal Hill. How can I get there from the airport?
A Eileen:

Hi Kim,

Wow what a quick trip to Santiago. Provided it’s not a Monday (museums are closed), I’d recommend going to Cerro San Cristobal, and then coming back down and walking down Parque Forestal to is Bellas Artes, and it would be great if you had time to check out that neighborhood and/or museum, before heading further south to Lastarria, a pleasant cobblestoned mostly pedestrian neighborhood with loads of restaurants. From here you can easily get to the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center (GAM) for folk art and photography exhibits. If you’re looking for a traditional place to eat, try the Mercado Central, or for a more locals-only approach, the Tirso de Molina market across the street. In busy areas, take the usual precautions with phones, wallets and cameras.

To get to any of these places from the airport is simple. You can take the CentroPuerto, a bus that costs about 1500 pesos from the airport to the Pajaritos or Los Héroes metro, or you can book either a transfer or a private taxi to your hotel. If you are going straight to Cerro San Cristobal, take the metro to Baquedano and cross the river and walk north on Pio Nono.

Hope that helps, and have a great trip!

Q Jeff: After Cartagena, should I go to Medellin or stay on the the northern coast and explore the Santa Marta area? I have about a week to spend in Colombia, then off to Peru.
A Natalie:

Hi Jeff,

The answer to this really depends on what you’d like to get out of your week in Colombia. Both Santa Marta and Medellín have tons of attractions and activities, so you could easily fill a few days in either city (though you’re wise not to try to do both). If you’d like to have a more relaxing week, I’d recommend going to Santa Marta. It’s just a few hours up the coast from Cartagena, so it’s easy to get there, and it’s a laid-back beach town with great restaurant options and plenty to do at night. The stunning Tayrona National Park is just up the road and you’re close to the Sierra Nevada and the little coffee town of Minca, so if you’re the outdoorsy type you’ll be in heaven there.

If you’d rather have more of the city experience after Cartagena, then Medellín might be more fun for you. The city has world-class museums, parks, cultural activities and, of course, nightlife. There are some nice towns nearby that make for good day trips, or you could spend your time just exploring the city. The only catch is that you would definitely have to fly there, either from Cartagena or through Bogotá, as traveling from Cartagena to Medellín overland is a long and not terrible comfortable ride.

Either way, I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time here in beautiful Colombia!

Q Irene: Hi Kevin! I will stay in Manaus from the 10th to the 28th of February (Carnival included!), any particular suggestion apart from the typical boat/jungle trips? Thank you for your help!
A Kevin:

Hi Irene!

My biggest recommendation for Manaus would be to have a meal at Banzeiro, one of the best and most interesting restaurants in Brazil. Chef Felipe Schaedler marries indigenous ingredients and French technique with stunning results. Order his award-winning ribs of tambaqui, a tasty river fish!

Banzeiro 

Rua Libertador, 102
011-55-92-3234-1621
www.restaurantebanzeiro.com.br

Enjoy!
Kevin
Q Tricia: My husband and I are planning our 5th wedding anniversary and we would love to explore Peru for this special occasion. My husband is a chef and I myself a foodie. Where do you recommend we plan our multi-city trip? We would also like to see if escaping to the jungle via Puerto Maldonado, (Inkaterra hotels), and we definitely want to spend sometime in Cusco then head to Machu Picchu. What type of itinerary would you recommend for the culinary and adventure enthusiast?
A Terra:

Hi Tricia!

I’m really excited to hear that you not only want to see Peru’s sights, you also want to savor it’s food. Peruvian cooking is among the most flavorful and diverse cuisine you will find in all of Latin America and it’s all thanks to the varied landscape. La costa (the coast), la selva (the jungle) and la sierra (the mountains), mean you won’t grow bored of the epicurean offerings.

I would recommend that you visit each of the regions to really get an authentic taste for Peru.

La Costa – Lima, Peru

First and foremost, try the seafood. Restaurants buy freshly caught fish, shrimp, crab, octopus and squid each morning and cook it up in their restaurants throughout the day. Be sure to sample ceviche in a quality cevicheria (they close by 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., so go for lunch). Be sure to save room for arroz chaufa (stir fried rice with seafood) and the fried calamari.

Another typically limeño dish is lomo saltado. Strips of tender beef are sauteed with juicy tomatoes and flavorful onions and served atop a bed of crunchy fries. Rice accompanies this savory dish that swims in a soy sauce gravy. Order it a lo pobre (for the poor), with a fried egg and plantains, for a little Afro-Peruvian influence.

La Selva – Puerto Maldonado, Peru

One of the greatest experiences about being in the jungle is tasting fruits you will never find on your grocery store shelves. The Amazon is one of the most biodiverse environments on the planet, so naturally some out of this world produce grows there. Try everything you can get your hands on, including cacao (the fruit chocolate comes from), acai and camu camu.

La Sierra – Cusco, Peru

Food is incredibly difficult to cultivate in this region of Peru given the severe altitudes. For this reason chefs have learned how to get really creative with flavors and resourceful with ingredients. One such dish is rocoto relleno. These peppers, which pack a spicy punch, are stuffed with rice, meat, vegetables and/or cheese. The ingredients blend together for a marriage complex flavors and textures.

Another must-try is not for the faint of heart. Cuy, also known as guinea pig, is an Andean delicacy that adventurous eaters look forward to trying.

To really get in touch with your inner foodie, consider coming in September. That’s when Latin America’s largest annual food festival, Mistura, takes place. Chefs from across Peru gather in Lima to show off their very best creations. While the Mistura 2015 date is yet to be confirmed, it will likely take place during the first two weeks of September.

Some resources just for you:

Q Deb: We have 5 days in Buenos Aires. What are some of the must-see things to do that are not the general tourist activities?
A Bridget:

Hi Deb,

Your question inspired an entire blog post titled Top 5: Off the Tourist Circuit in Buenos Aires. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Q claudio: Any cool list of things to see and do in Rio? Thank you.
A Kevin:

Hi Claudio!
Too many to name! But I have written a few blog posts in recent months touting some of my favorite Rio highlights and hotspots. Check them out: Rio de Janeiro Off the Beaten Path and 5 Days in Rio de Janeiro.
Obrigado for reading!

Kevin
Q Duncan: I will be arriving in Ushuaia on 12 February 2015 and leaving on 09 March 2015 with a goal of hiking and camping. Can you recommend any areas of interest?
A Bridget:

First of all, that’s a great time of year to go to Ushuaia – it’s a magical part of the world, in my opinion! If you want to hike and camp in the region, the most obvious choice is Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost national park on the planet. Compared to other parks in the southern cone, like Torres del Paine, Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego doesn’t see huge numbers of visitors, which is part of what makes the experience special and the landscape so pristine. The park features glaciers, lenga forests, ice-blue lakes, waterfalls, thick forests, and beaches along the Beagle Channel. The park is a hot spot for birdwatchers, and home to Andean foxes and graceful guanaco. Don’t miss the Senda Costera, a popular coastal hiking trail. Camping is basic; you’ll want to bring all your own equipment. For more information, check out Moon’s guide and a useful article by travel writer Wayne Bernhardson, an expert on the region.

Q Margaret: Is there an online shop that can send me a string of Chilean lapis lazuli? Kicking myself for not buying the earrings and strand on sale at the Airport when I left Santiago on 28 October.
A Eileen:

There are many stores that sell lapis lazuli in Santiago, a few of which have online stores. Try Lapis Lazuli House. Faba, which is another good option for online (or in person) shopping. Other stores may also have online shops, or be able to ship something to you as well.  I hope you’re able to pick up what you are looking for online at one of these shops!

Q Mary: Hi. My husband and I are flying into Guayaquil for 4 days of business training with Young Living and wanted to see more of Ecuador for a few days. What can you recommend? If we go to Cuenca, what’s to see there? How about the Galapagos Islands? Can we get a flight from Guayaquil to the Islands and are there touring boats that we can join for a few days? Other ideas? Thank you, Mary Ann
A Ilan:

Hi Mary Ann,

As you mention, from Guayaquil, Cuenca is about a 3-4 hour drive and it is a beautiful Andean city that you won’t regret visiting. The historic center is truly a great place to wander about, pedestrian friendly with low adobe-wall and tiled-roof houses and pretty squares. Also, enquire about the Inca ruins at Ingapirca, about an hour north of the city. Guayaquil in itself is a very tropical urban city. There are some nice outdoor outings, like Cerro Blanco (a forest reserve about 20 minutes from downtown Guayaquil) and a very interesting ‘theme’ park, Parque Historico. For the Galápagos Islands you need to research in terms of your preferences. There are cruise tours (although the word ‘cruise’ here is a little misleading; boats can, by law, only hold 100 passengers, so most operators are small, 16-passenger yachts), expensive ones do offer more comfort and, above all, they operate correctly (in terms of safety measures, adherence to National Park regulations, etc.). Flights from Guayaquil are available (that is actually the only way to get to the islands), although prices are high.  You can also get to the main port towns (Puerto Ayora or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno) stay in a hotel and take day tours from there. You don’t get to the more remote places, but there is plenty to discover, as well. Depending on what you’re into, you can also visit Quito, the capital (flying there is the best choice) and check out its historic center, visit the Mount Cotopaxi reserve or perhaps a train ride across the country. I hope that gives you some ideas. The nice thing about Ecuador is that everything is close by.

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