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 HallThis 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 FavoritesFavorite 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 SouthwickThis 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 FavoritesFavorite 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 RaubCo-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 FavoritesFavorite 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 GreenfieldIlan 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 FavoritesFavorite 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 SmithSince 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 FavoritesFavorite 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 GleesonIn 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 FavoritesFavorite 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
Peru is a really exciting time at Easter. The traditionally Catholic country hosts dozens of parades, festivals, carnivals and events.
Cusco, the city where you’ll likely start your Machu Picchu adventure, has some cool stuff going on around Semana Santa (Holy Week), with perhaps the most notable taking place the Monday before Easter. Thousands of Cusqueños and tourists flock to the streets to witness the procession of El Señor de los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes). Believers say he controls the earth and good fortune and can protect them from earthquakes, which are common in the Andean nation. The parade is spectacular and epitomizes the still present hybrid of ancient Incan beliefs and deeply Christian traditions.
As far as Machu Picchu is concerned, keep in mind that the wet season here in Peru is during the spring and summer months – typically November to April. January and February are the peak rainy months, and by Easter (the tail end of April this year) the rain should taper and could even be non-existent. The plus side to traveling towards the end of the wet season is that you will manage to avoid the heavy rains and the droves of tourists which means you can experience Machu Picchu in a much more intimate way.
When it comes to dance, the national pastime in Argentina is – of course – tango. If you meant to ask about tango, please check out one of our previous posts on where to take a lesson or practice in Buenos Aires.
As for salsa: it’s not a dance form that has any specific ties to Buenos Aires. For that reason, I’m not an expert on this, but I can tell you one related place I know that’s great: the Brazilian dance club Maluco Beleza, located in Congreso, where classes typically specialize in Brazilian dance forms like axe. A club more dedicated to salsa is Azucar, with salsa classes many days of the week. For fuller listings of salsa venues, classes, and clubs in Buenos Aires, check out Salsa Power’s listings for Buenos Aires.
Have a wonderful visit to Buenos Aires!
To my knowledge, you probably have to book a hotel for your arrival in Quito or Guayaquil independently. However, it doesn’t hurt to contact the major tour operators in Ecuador, which are Kleintours or Metropolitan Touring. They may offer a tour package around the Tren Crucero. You can find more information on Tren Crucero in one of our previous blog posts Train Crucero: Ecuador’s Luxury Railway.
First of all, it’s great to hear that you’re making your first trip to Colombia! It seems like you’ll have a decent amount of time to travel, which is good. While you’re here in Bogotá, I’d recommend spending a day or so in La Candelaria (also known as the “centro”), the city’s historic district. The neighborhood is home to some great restaurants and cafes, lovely architecture, and the central Plaza Bolívar. It also has many of the city’s best museums – I’d definitely recommend the Gold Museum and the National Museum, and the Botero Museum is worth a visit if you’d like to see work from one of Colombia’s most famous artists. If you have nice weather, be sure to head up to Monserrate – the view of Bogotá from the top of the mountain is incomparable. If you’ll be here on a Sunday, the Usaquén artisan market, in the northern part of the city, is also a fun stop. There are two good day trips north of the city as well: the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá, less than two hours away, and the picturesque town and lagoon of Guatavita, supposedly the site of the legend of El Dorado.
As far as Melgar goes, there honestly isn’t that much to do there – it’s mostly a place where city-dwellers go to relax by the pool and work on their tans. There are plenty of hotels with pools to enjoy, and plenty of places to go dancing at night if that’s your thing, but beyond that there isn’t too much else. It sounds like you’ll probably be busy enough with the wedding for that weekend anyways.
In terms of other cities, there are so many places to see, it’s hard to choose just one! Since you have almost ten days, you may be able to make it to two different places, depending on how you budget your time. I’d recommend choosing a particular region and then doing most of your exploring there, rather than trying to cover too much ground in two little time. One idea would be to fly to Medellín, spend a few days in the cosmopolitan city, and then go south to the stunning zona cafetera (coffee region), where you can hike and enjoy the outdoors and the country’s best coffee. If you’d rather spend time on the beaches, head north to the Caribbean coast – plan for a few days in lovely colonial Cartagena, then catch a bus (or flight) over to Santa Marta to spend time in the region’s beautiful mountain range, the small coffee-growing town of Minca and the famous Tayrona national park. No matter where you go, I’m sure there will be something for the whole group! Have a great trip!
Overall, I would say the answer to your question is yes. I, as well as several of my female friends, have traveled alone within the country and haven’t had any significant problems. Like many other Latin American countries, Colombia does have a “machista culture”, so you may get a bit more attention as a woman traveling alone (or just as a woman in general), but I’ve found it tends to be mostly that people are concerned about your safety and want to make sure you feel secure. If you take the same safety precautions that you would as a person alone anywhere else (don’t walk alone in unsafe neighborhoods, try not to show expensive jewelry or technology, be careful about transportation, etc.) you should be absolutely fine. I will say that, given that the overall level of English in Colombia is quite minimal outside of the major cities, you will have a much easier time if you can speak at least conversational Spanish. It’s certainly possible to travel alone without much Spanish, so don’t let the language issue discourage you, but being able to talk to local folks never hurts!
Thank you for your question. Christmas in Peru is a big holiday. The main celebration starts a night before. It is known as Noche Buena (Good Night). Religion plays an important role due to the predominantly Catholic population. Christmas begins with Misa de Gallo (Rooster Mass). After the mass, families go for dinner (mostly turkey dinner). At midnight, families celebrate the birth of El Niño Jesus (Baby Jesus), exchange presents and fireworks light up the sky. On the 25th, Peruvians have lunch with the rest of the family (members that were not present at Noche Buena).
The answer to this question will depend somewhat on where you’re coming from – some other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have direct flights to coastal Colombian cities, but if you’re coming from farther afield, chances are you’ll be flying into Bogotá before connecting to San Andrés. There are also flights to San Andrés from some other major cities: Cali, Medellín, Cartagena, Barranquilla and Pereira, although the flights are less frequent than those leaving Bogotá, so going through one of those cities might require a bit more planning. LAN Airlines and its affiliates operate many flights in and out of San Andrés.
Bogotá is such a huge city with so much happening that I think you can find fun places in just about any neighborhood! If you’re looking for nightlife, the most popular places are typically the Zona Rosa/Zona T (near Calle 85) and Parque 93 – however, many of the bars and clubs in these locations can be quite expensive. For more affordable options, I’d recommend heading to Chapinero, between Calles 40-60. That area has a huge range of bars and clubs, with everything from karaoke to reggae, and a slightly less upscale environment with more of a student vibe. Outside of nightlife, there always seems to be something happening in one of Bogotá’s many parks – the Parque Simón Bolívar and the Botanic Garden next door are always hosting concerts, fairs and other events. Corferias also has great events throughout the year, including the Book Fair and art expos. I know sometimes it’s hard to find out about events until they’re already happening, so I’d recommend following some of the city’s Twitter accounts to keep up with events (@idartes is a good one), and check the schedules at some of the many museums for other cultural offerings. You should also take a look at the monthly listings on the Bogotá Brilliance site, where they highlight some of the exciting events happening every month in the city.