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.
Q (Sevananda): Hello Ilan! Other than Galapagos, Quito, Cuenca and Banos; what are the most awesome places to visit in Ecuador? Will be there from 29 Jan-31 mar 2015. Thanks!
A Ilan:

Hi Jose Manuel,

There are great places and when you get to Quito, head out to the Supermaxi or your nearest Libri Mundi bookstore and grab a copy of Ñan magazine (I’m the editor!), where you’ll find plenty of awesome travel ideas throughout the country. Of course, apart from those you mentioned (and I wouldn’t rule out the Otavalo area, which may sound commonplace, but there are great sites, like Zuleta), one needs to get a little adventurous. The Amazon Basin (río Napo) and the many lodges located on its shores are a truly unique experience, and I would place amongst those top Ecuador sites you mention. You also have Piñán, north of Otavalo. Few people ever go there, but I was just there and it is amazing.  The Machalilla National Park and Los Frailes virgin beach complex is also special; El Cajas, west of Cuenca; Loja, in the extreme south, the Valley-of-Eternal-Youth Vilcabamba, and the Puyango petrified forests; and if you want to get ‘expeditionary’, there’s Yanahurco, the Atillo Lakes, the Nangaritza River (Zamora), the Chimborazo area (Ecuador’s highest volcano at well over 6000 meters), you can also hop on a mountain train across Ecuador there’s a lot to do, depending on what you’re into.
Q Kerry: Hi Ilan, What is the best way to get from Quito to Mancora? I am on a budget so I am thinking a bus. How long would that take? Thanks!
A Ilan:

Hi Kerry,

Bus is actually the way to go if you’re on a budget. It can take over 20 hours if you do what most people do, which is get to Guayaquil’s Terminal Terrestre (Transportes Ecuador, Calle Juan Leon Mera, a block away from the Artisanal Market in La Mariscal)  and then from Guayaquil’s Terminal Terrestre (after a 3-4 hour wait, maximum), take southbound CIFA straight to Máncora (you can also divide your trip and see the sights in Guayaquil). This is actually the simplest route. You can also book a ticket to Huaquillas (Transporte Panamericana from Quitumbe), which takes less time, but you have to transfer to a bus to Tumbez and then travel to Máncora from Túmbez on another bus. It’s faster, if time is an issue, but more complicated. Any which way, make sure you get into the stopover city (Huaquilas or Guayaquil) in the day, to coordinate the connections more safely and effectively (this means traveling at night from Quito).
Q RAYMOND: My wife Amanda is from a small town called Libano. If I took the 10 day trip, would she be able to spend a half day in Libano?
A Natalie:
Hi Raymond,

Líbano is in the department of Tolima, located about halfway between Bogotá and the coffee axis city of Manizales. It looks to be about a 4-hour drive or so from Bogotá and a bit less coming from Manizales. If you are in either of those cities, you should be able to find transport that would take you there. You would probably have to leave fairly early if you’re only planning to spend part of a day there, as traffic can get pretty heavy in the mornings, but if you’re willing to sit in a vehicle for a few hours each way, it’s definitely doable.

Hope this is helpful!

Q Carrie: My husband and I will be arriving to Ecuador in January. We prefer to stay away from hotels and get really into the culture with homestays. Can you recommend either a website or families in Quito/Banos for more information on homestays? Thanks!
A Ilan:

Hello Carrie,

I’m not aware of any particular families that are doing this in Quito. Couch surfing is popular amongst backpackers, and increasingly popular in Ecuador as a whole, but it is also something I don’t have any experience with. I do know of a Spanish Institute that houses students with families, and people of all ages are enrolled. Maybe they have contacts of families wishing to host visitors in Quito. The school is called Simón Bolívar Spanish School +(593 2) 254-4558, and their website is www.simon-bolivar.com.

Q buzz: What is weather like in Ecuador?
A Ilan:

Hello Buzz,

Weather in Ecuador depends on where you’re going. In the coast (Guayaquil, Manabí) it is hot and humid. So you need to dress light. In the mountains (Quito, Cuenca), it is mild during the day (the sun can be very strong at midday, so bring hat, sunglassess, sunscreen) and it can get quite cool at night (definitely fit for a sweater or windbreaker), but it is never hot and humid. Most consider it spring-like weather.
Q Jon: We will be spending a few days outside Quito in late Oct, while staying at “Septimo Paraiso” and ecolodge near Mindo. We will be driving a rental from the airport. How do we find the start of “Eco-Ruta el Paseo del Quinde? — the old route to the coast.
A Ilan:

Hello Jon,

The Eco-Route takes you a few kilometers before the Mindo turn-off, which you take to Séptimo Paraíso (it is only a couple of minutes down the road). All of this is paved. A large portion of The Eco-Route is not paved, which is what makes it so special! To get to the Eco-Route you must cross the city  towards Mount Pichincha, the large volcano you see in front of you once in Quito. You must get to Avenida Mariscal Sucre, locally known as “La Occidental”. This is a peripheral highway that edges western Quito. The turn off to El Quinde Eco-Route is also clearly labelled Mena del Hierro (this is a small neighborhood that slopes up the mountain), it’s a very obvious overpass some 500 meters south of the El Condado condo complex (if you’re northbound, you don’t actually reach El Condado). If you’ve found the turn off, you should be on Calle Machala, climbing up the mountain, so to speak. You continue straight on a winding paved road heading towards the town of Nono. A wonderful visit, by the way, is the Yanacocha Forest Reserve. This is a 20 minute detour to your left a little before Nono — the detour lies some 10 kms from the turn-off point at La Occidental. Once in Nono, you must go left at the first intersection and then continue along for a very beautiful ride!

Q Olivia: Best way to get from Santiago import to a B&B in Vina del Mar.
A Eileen:

Dear Olivia,

Unfortunately, there is no public transportation directly from the airport in Santiago to Viña del Mar. You can hire a private car through one of the companies at the airport, which will cost you $160 US, one-way (per car, not per person). Another option is to either take a taxi, transfer or the Centropuerto bus (in descending order of cost) to the close by Pajaritos metro station. Here there is a small bus depot from which buses to Viña leave about every 15 minutes until approximately 9:30 PM. Your B&B should be able to either provide transportation or recommend how to get to their location from the Viña del Mar bus station, which is quite centrally-located.

I hope that helps!

Q Lily: Hi, Eileen, my daughter is going to travel to Chile in October this year on business. I am worrying about her safety. Is Chile a safe place? Can she take taxi around by her self? Sorry, I am a worrisome mother.
A Eileen:

Dear Lily,

Chile is absolutely a safe place, and it is definitely okay for your daughter to take a taxi. The application SaferTaxi, available for iPhone and Android, is a great option to order a known taxi, and does not cost more than a regular taxi. It is also possible for your daughter to ask restaurants and hotels to hail or call a taxi for her if she is concerned about doing it herself. There are also radio taxis that she can call, but this is easier for Spanish speakers, which I am not sure if your daughter is. Radio taxis depend on locations, so the first two options I gave are easier. Santiago is much safer than many major cities in the United States, though like in the US, a pinch of caution never hurt!

I hope I’ve put you at ease. I have been in Santiago for ten years, and have found taxis to be just fine.

Q Mike: Eileen, can one stay in Santiago as a base and take interesting day trips or overnight trips for adventure, site see, taste wine. What would you see/do?
A Eileen:

Hi Mike,

You can absolutely use Santiago as a base for day trips or overnight trips to a variety of locations. Santiago is well-placed between the mountains and coast, and is close to a few wine-producing valleys, and several good hikes.

Mountains: in season, you can easily take a day (or overnight) trip to one of the ski areas at Valle Nevado, La Parva or El Colorado. A slightly more tiring day trip (weather dependent) has you going close to the Argentine border at Portillo, where you can ski in the shadow of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America. The first three you can stay overnight, where Portillo only allows week-long stays.

Beach: Two popular trips are Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. Valparaíso is a UNESCO heritage site, a colorful, hilly port city with funiculars in several key spots to save you some walking up the many cerros (hills). Viña del Mar is flatter, has more beach access and is home to the country’s most well-known casino, as well as a very good archaeology and history museum, the Fonck. Slightly farther afield, but no less interesting is one of the main surf beaches in the country, Pichilemu, where big wave contests are held annually, or Maitencillo, a quieter, flatter beach town with good lodging and food options.

Wine country: The easiest access is via tour to the Casablanca Valley, but if you have a particular interest, you can pick and choose. There are bike tours, wine tasting tours and winery tours, or you can rent a car (and designate a driver) to go to several wineries on your own, but for this you should make reservations. If you prefer to see only close-in wineries, it is easy to get to Concha y Toro, Aquitania, and Cousiño Macúl though mostly public transportation from Santiago. If you have a particular interest in (for example) biodynamic production, check out small-producer Antiyal in Alto Jahuel. Several wineries have their own B&Bs to cater to those who’d like a weekend in the country together with their wine.

Hiking: The easiest access points for hiking near Santiago are at Parque Mahuida, where there is access to the national Chilean trail (sendero de Chile) or at Aguas de San Ramón, where there is a good day hike up to a waterfall. If you want to see the mountains from up close, but aren’t sure about hiking in them, take a drive (or bus) up to Cajón de Maipo, where you can decide to hike, or just have traditional Chilean meal (try the pastel de choclo, a kind of shepherd’s pie with corn, in season).

Hope that helps!

Q Ralph: Hi Illan, my wife and I are going to the Cotapachi area. I would love to do some fly fishing. I have all my stuff with me from our last home in Colorado. Any advice would certainly be appreciated. Cheers, Ralph
A Ilan:

Hi Ralph,

I imagine you are speaking of Cotopaxi (there is also a Cotacachi, which is near Otavalo, but in Cotacachi, I am not aware of any fly fishing), but in the Cotopaxi area, I know of a place called Yanaurco. This is behind the volcano, some three hours on dirt roads (4×4 required). But its a beautiful area and I’m told the fly fishing there is quite good.
Q Thomas: Hi Kevin! I’ll be in Brazil for whirlwind trip during the world’s biggest soccer tournament: Rio, Sao Luis, Salvador, Olinda, Chapada Diamantina and Fernanado de Noronha. Any recommendations on things not be missed? I’m especially interested in culinary and cultural experiences.
A Kevin:

Hey Thomas!

That’s a loaded question and yes, quite a whirlwind but a nice sampling of the country! Let’s see…in Rio there is a well-regarded newish culinary class you could take – I cannot vouch for it personally yet but it gets good reviews. It’s called Cook in Rio. In a four-hour class, you learn how to make some of the country’s most iconic dishes, including the Afro-Brazilian masterpiece known as moqueca (Bahian seafood stew) or Brazil’s national dish, feijoada (pork and bean stew), along with side dishes and caipirinhas! Also, I would try to escape some of the more touristy areas and go where the locals go. It’s not entirely void of tourists, but a local favorite is Bar Urca for the sunset.

In Sao Luis, don’t miss the day trip to Alcântara. This peaceful and fiercely-preserved colonial village is as pretty as a painting. The best restaurant in Sao Luis is Cabana do Sol. They do a great steak made from carne do sol (sundried meat). Of course, in Salvador, you are in the heart of Brazil’s Afro-centric culture and the food doesn’t disappoint. The aforementioned moqueca is my personal favorite Brazilian dish and this is Ground Zero. Try the one at Donana. Don’t forget to douse it in fiery Bahian hot sauce. Bahia’s most famous street food, acarajé (black-eyed pea fritters stuffed with vatapá, a creamy paste of shrimp, peanuts, coconut milk and dendê oil) should also not be missed at Casa Da Dinha. In Salvador, the Brazilian martial art-dance known as capoeira, developed over 400 years ago by Afro-Brazilian slaves as a means of self-defense, remains hugely popular. Part martial art technique, part acrobatics, part synced dancing, a capoeira class at the Associação Brasileira de Capoeira Angola will offer you all sorts of insight to Bahian culture. In Olinda, don’t miss the signature dish at Oficina do Sabor, a baked pumpkin stuffed with shrimp and lobster in passion fruit sauce. Amazing!

Now, on to Noronha – my specialty! The best restaurant at the moment is Mergulhão – try any fish dish they serve! – and it’s also a great spot for stupendous views and a sundowner. Another great spot is Varanda, which does great moquecas as well as a super interesting shrimp and rice dish with okra and wild saffron. For something more casual, O Pico is my current favorite. Brazil isn’t widely known for ceviche, but they do a Brazilianized version with fresh island fish and the option of add-on’s like maracujá (passion fruit), pesto or pimenta biqinho, a tangy pepper. In addition to the country’s best diving, one of the unique experiences you can have in Noronha is witnessing the opening of a sea turtle nest. This is a truly astonishing site. It’s seasonal, though. Contact the helpful English-speaking Adriana at Your Way for information on that and anything Noronha related.

I have never been to Chapada Diamantina, unfortunately. So, when you return home, you let me know how it was!

Enjoy Brazil!

Q Dan: You mention a favorite food that is vegan – since I am vegan, I am concerned that the overwhelming preponderance of meat in the South American diet may make it difficult to accommodate a vegan. Do you find this to be the case? Are there many vegan options in South America? I suppose if I rented a house and cooked my own meals, I could manage, but if I stay in hotels and eat at restaurants, that is the concern. While I have not yet made travel plans, I would be interested in traveling to Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Thanks!
A Terra:

Hi Dan,

Thanks so much for that awesome question. It was so great that it inspired me to dedicate an entire blog to the topic. Have a gander here and happy travels!

Q Chopra: I’ll be travelling to Peru next week. What is the quality of service on Cruz del Sur bus line?
A Terra:

Hi Chopra,

Cruz del Sur has the reputation of being the crème de la crème of bus service in Peru and for a variety of reasons. You experience will depend what type of bus you board and what level of seating you purchase.

Crucero Suite Buses:

— Double-decker bus fleet

— VIP seats that recline up to 160 degrees

— Regular seats that recline up to 140 degrees

— Newspapers, headphones, and a blanket and pillow

— A meal of breakfast, lunch or dinner. Be sure to let the company know if you have dietary restrictions, as they can make some accommodations (red meat, poultry, vegetarian or kids meal).

— Individual touch screen TVs so you can watch TV or movies and listen to music

— Personal reading lamps and seat belts

— Air conditioner or heater

— Two bathrooms on deck

Crucero Tour Peru Buses:

— Double-decker bus fleet

— VIP seats that recline up to 160 degrees

— Regular seats that recline up to 140 degrees

— Newspapers, headphones, and a blanket and pillow

— A meal of breakfast, lunch or dinner. Be sure to let the company know if you have dietary restrictions, as they can make some accommodations (red meat, poultry, vegetarian or kids meal).

— Communal TVs that play movies

— Wi-Fi and personal outlets to charge devices

— Personal reading lamps and seat belts

— Air conditioner or heater

— Two bathrooms on deck

Imperial Tour Peru Buses:

— Double-decker bus fleet

— Regular seats that recline up to 130 degrees

— A light meal or snack

— Communal TVs that play movies

— Personal reading lamps and seat belts

— Two bathrooms on deck

International:

— Double-decker bus fleet

— Regular seats that recline up to 130 degrees

— A light meal or snack

— Communal TVs that play movies

— Personal reading lamps and seat belts

— Two bathrooms on deck

According to the website, safety is a top priority and because of this a “land attendant” (think of this person as a flight attendant for buses) is available to help passengers at any point of the trip. Additionally, Cruz del Sur only allows its bus drivers to sit behind the wheel for four hours at a time. That means longer journeys will have two drivers who will alternate driving every four hours.

The buses travel both nationally throughout Peru to cities like Cusco, Puno and Mancora, and internationally to Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador. Some routes sell out quickly, primarily the Lima to Cusco route, so consider purchasing your tickets ahead of time online.

And remember, if your bus plans don’t work out, LAN offers a variety of flights to more than a dozen cities in Peru and gets passengers to their destinations safely, comfortably and in a fraction of the time of busing it. You can book your flight online, over the phone or in-person at one of the LAN offices.

I am excited you will soon discover this amazing country. Be sure to read the blog for tips and tricks.

Safe and fun travels,

Terra

 

 

Q jerry: Is it feasible for an older couple to drive from Quito to Cuenca? Is it safe? Thanks.
A Ilan:

Hello Jerry,

It is feasible, the roads are in good shape, but I should tell you that it takes around 9-10 hours to take the trip and there is a particular point (from Alausí to Ingapirca) that, depending on weather conditions, of course, becomes very foggy (when I say ‘very’, I mean really stress how foggy it gets, so I would suggest taking the trip in segments, overnighting in Riobamba (La Estrella del Chimborazo, La Andaluza, or Abraspungo are good places to stay), and then continuing on early in the morning to Cuenca so that the fog is more manageable at this particular segment.

Q Luis: Hello Kevin, my wife and I will be traveling to Brasil for the World Cup, can you please tell me more about getting a visa for this country? Thanks.
A Kevin:

Hi Luis,

Depending on what country you are from, you may need a Brazilian visa. Brazil operates on a reciprocal visa program. In other words, if Brazilians need a visa for your country, you need a visa for Brazil. Generally speaking, Americans, Canadians and Australians get hit with the highest visa fees. For the most update to date visa info, check out the Brazilian Consulate web site in New York: http://novayork.itamaraty.gov.br/en-us/visas.xml

Enjoy the Cup!

Q patricia: What is a good amount of days to see the city of Quito? Also, I would like to take the scenic train from Quito to Guayaquil. Is it a 4 day trip? I would appreciate any additional information.
A Ilan:

Hi Patricia,

One can easily take a week or two to be in Quito and take day trips to the nearby attractions without feeling like ‘it’s time to leave’, but in 3 days you can probably see most sites within the city and perhaps include a day trip to Otavalo, Mindo, Cotopaxi or Papallacta (which are close by, each very different from each other, but all very recommendable depending on what you’d be interested in). The scenic train is really beautiful, the accommodations on the train are spectacular, and it offers a unique view of the country. You will understand why they call Ecuador one of the most diverse places in the world. The scenic train is indeed divided into 4 days. It’s a package, and each night you stay in a different hotel or hacienda. I hope this helps in your trip planning!

Q David: Hi! I’ll be visiting Bogota July 16th through the 22nd. Are there any cool events happening in Bogota in this time frame?
A Natalie:

Hi David,

As I’m sure you know, the World Cup wraps up on July 13, so hopefully the city will still be in the midst of celebrating Colombia’s heroic, unexpected, underdog victory (we’re feeling cautiously optimistic here)! August is usually the big month for festivities and other events in the city, so July may be a bit quiet in comparison, but there’s still plenty to do, no matter what time of year you’re here.

If you want to learn a bit more about Colombia itself, the Feria de las Colonias will be happening at the Corferias convention center until the 20th. The event’s tagline is “See All of Colombia in One Day,” which might be a bit hyperbolic, but it does bring representatives from all of the diverse regions of the country to showcase the best food, products, handcrafts, sites of interest and traditions their regions have to offer. Since the goal is to promote tourism, there will probably be lots of glossy brochures and people in traditional clothing – and likely music and food from the regions. For a whirlwind tour of the country without actually leaving Bogotá, it might be worth stopping by.

Before you visit, I also recommend taking a look at the “monthly events” section of the blog Bogotá Brilliance. They do a fairly comprehensive job of gathering information about events happening in the city, particularly theater and arts events. The postings typically don’t go up until the beginning of the month, though, so they won’t have anything listed until around July 1. Check sometime after then, though, to see if there’s anything that catches your interest. Whatever you end up doing, I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time here in Bogotá!

Q GIESSEPIE: How much is an additional bag going to cost me? I’m flying to Quito, Ecuador, with LAN Airlines.
A Terra:

Hi Giessepie,

LAN’s economy class includes second piece of luggage free. For more information visit: http://flylan.us/1mzBYG8

Q Steven: What should I expect in terms of climate in Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu in early May? How safe is the water likely to be in 3 star hotels? What are characteristics of Peruvian cuisine?
A Terra:

Hi Steven!

You’ve asked some really great questions. May is a great time to come to Peru. While it will be autumn, don’t plan to see the bright orange and yellow leaves that typically come with a change in the climate.

Instead you can expect mild temperatures and partly to mostly cloudy skies in Lima. In May, the typical day will be in the mid to upper 60s (18-21C), with lows right around 60F (16C). While these temperatures may seem refreshing, I’d recommend bringing a light sweater or jacket as the high humidity on the coast (70-100%) can make it feel slightly cooler. It rarely rains in Lima, so wet weather won’t be a concern for you.

As far as Cusco and Machu Picchu weather are concerned, that jacket will come in handy. While you won’t have to deal with the humidity, you will be at a much higher altitude. You can expect a daily high of about 65-70F (18-21C). Once the sun goes down, though, you may need to bundle up; temperatures drop to just above freezing – about 35F (2C). In May, the rainy season in Cusco will have just ended. Skies could be bright blue; they could also be cloudy with a chance of rain.

Because Peru is a major tourist destination, the water is safe to shower and brush your teeth with and use for cooking.  Unlike some other parts of Latin America, Peru doesn’t have the problem of bacteria and parasites in its water. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The government heavily treats the water used in most major cities and it is for this reason that locals and tourists alike go for bottled water when they are thirsty.

Finally, Peru is making a splash in the international food scene. The Economist, a prestigious British magazine, just called Peru the “gastronomic mecca” of the world. And, Peruvian travel industry associations report that about 75,000 tourists come to Lima each year just to sample the menu. Some of the must-try dishes are:

:: Causa: This dish comes from the Quechua Indian work ‘Kausaq,’ meaning “that which gives life.” Causa, which is served cold and usually as an appetizer, is seasoned mashed potatoes stuffed with tuna, egg, chicken, shrimp or avocado and then topped with aji (a spicy dipping sauce) or black olives.

:: Ceviche: Considered Peru’s unofficial national dish, ceviche is raw fish or seafood marinated in lima, onions, cilantro and other spices. It’s always served cold and usually as an appetizer. Read more about it here.

:: Cuy: In short, cuy is roasted guinea pig. While the animals are considered pets in some parts of the world, Peruvians consider the rich, gamey tasting meat a delicacy.

:: Picarones: Think doughnut meets Peru. This fried dessert is made of squash, sweet potatoes and/or quinoa (so they’re totally healthy!) and then covered in with molasses. In short, it’s a party in your mouth!

:: Pisco Sour: This is an incredibly refreshing adult beverage made of lime, syrup, egg whites, and Peru’s ever-popular Pisco (a grape brandy). It may sounds like a strange concoction, but trust me, the end result is a beautifully crafted and classy cocktail.

Q Will: Would it be realistic to plan a driving trip leaving from Puerto Montt, and ending up in Torres Del Paine, of course crossing in and out of Argentina where necessary? We have 7 days total for this portion of the trip. My worry is we may spend too much time in the car and not enough exploring but would we end up missing a beautiful drive if we instead flew into Coyhaiqe?
A Eileen:

Hi Will,

It is realistic that you could do that drive, but it really depends on what you are looking for. There is a lot of empty space in Patagonia, but that is also part of the beauty. If you take the most direct route, you’d be driving north in Chile, through the lakes region and then out of Chile and on to Argentina’s unpaved Ruta 40. It is about a 2400 km drive, much of it unpaved, and fairly slow. I do think you could make it in seven days, but you would spend much of it in the car.

However, you’d see parts of the Argentine Lakes region as well, which is equally beautiful to that in Chile. If it were me, I’d take three or four days with a car around Puerto Montt (assuming that Puerto Montt is a fixed point on your trip), exploring the area around Pucón, and taking a trip down onto Chiloé, to see the stilted houses, eat area food (like curanto, a type of clam bake cooked in a pit), etc, and then come back up again and fly elsewhere.

You could then fly to Coyhaique, and from there, rent a car, see only about half the distance, in Argentina, and still get to Puerto Natales (for access to the park, which is three hours further), before your time ran out, and probably significantly less jangled re: unpaved roads.

There is another option, though it would require some precise planning on your part to make sure you reserve a space beforehand on a once-daily (in summer) ferry. Here, you would take a ferry from Puerto Montt to the town of Chaitén, which has been rebuilt since a recent volcanic eruption and lava flow, and from there drive south to Coyhaique and then finish up the trip as planned. If you do this, you wouldn’t go to Pucón and the other lakes region hotspots, but you would save yourself the backtracking up through Chile and then back down in Argentina to get to the same latitude you were at earlier.

Let me know if that clears things up or muddies the water. I would choose one of the options that involves less off-road driving, but to each his own. No matter what you choose, it will be a very memorable experience!

Q Richard: How do I make Chilean empanadas de horno?
A Eileen:

Hi Richard,

I’m not surprised you’re looking for a good empanada recipe! The classic Chilean recipe has pino, or seasoned ground beef and a hard-boiled egg inside. If you were in Chile the easiest way would be go out to one of your favorite empanada places to get one, but at home, you’ll have to do it the slightly more complicated way.

One of my favorite go-to websites for cooking Chilean food is that of Pilar Hernandez, En Mi Cocina Hoy. Here, she gives her best empanada de pino recipe, first in Spanish and then English. Of course, you can also try whatever other filling you like, like cheese and mushrooms or swiss chard, but Pilar’s recipes are a great place to start.

Happy cooking, and buen provecho!

Q Kathy: Hi Bridget! Would you happen to know how Oktoberfest is celebrated in Argentina today? What is the history and significance of the celebration in Argentina? When does it start and end?
A Bridget:

Hi Kathy,

Thanks for your question. The truth is that I had never before heard of any Oktoberfest celebrations in Argentina – it’s not traditional here. But then I did some research and found out that there is, in fact, a big festival associated with Oktoberfest each year in the town of General Villa Belgrano in Cordoba. Since 1964, a huge beer festival is held over eleven days in the city’s specially designed ‘Beer Park.’ There’s free-flowing beer, of course, served from the barrel into mugs, plus lively music and classic German dishes from sausages to apple strudel. Cultural highlights include a parade and the election of the National Queen of Beer. It sounds like the place to be this October in Argentina! Happy travels.

Q Claudia: I heard that LAN operates a shuttle bus to Vina del Mar. Is this still the case or no? It is for a Canadian client so I’m looking for the easiest way. Thank you!
A Eileen:

Hi Claudia,

LAN does not offer shuttle service between Santiago and Viña del Mar.

Q Evelyn: We have bought tickets with LAN to go from Santiago to Punta Arenas. Does LAN operate a shuttle from either Vina del Mar or Valparaiso to the airport in Santiago? If so, how much does it cost. Thank you.
A Eileen:

Hi Evelyn,

LAN does not offer shuttle service from Viña del Mar or Valparaiso to Santiago airport.

 

Q Moira: Hi Eileen! Does LAN Airlines still have a mini bus that goes to Vina Del Mar for their passengers?
A Eileen:

Hi Moira,

LAN does not offer shuttle service between Santiago and Viña del Mar. There are however several easy options for a variety of budgets that will get you where you need to go.

You can easily take one of two shuttle services that will get you to a nearby bus terminal where you can catch a bus to Viña del Mar. The two services are the TurBus and Centropuerto buses. Both leave from the airport approximately every 15 minutes, and both will take you to the Pajaritos bus/metro station. They cost 1,400 CLP and 1,300 CLP, respectively (about $3). Buses to Viña del Mar depart from the Pajaritos station about every 20 minutes, from a variety of companies, and cost usually cost between $4 and $7 dollars.
Another easy (but pricier) option is to take a private minibus or taxi. There are services that provide this route at $70 per person, with a two-person minimum.
Q Sara: We would like to travel from Rancagua to Vina del Mar, then to Pichilemu, then to Talca. We will take a LAN flight into Santiago. Is there a LAN shuttle to Vina?
A Eileen:

Hi Sara,

Although LAN does not offer shuttle service between Santiago and Viña del Mar, there are several easy options for a variety of budgets that will get you where you need to go.

You can easily take one of two shuttle services that will get you to a nearby bus terminal where you can catch a bus to Viña del Mar. The two services are the TurBus and Centropuerto buses. Both leave from the airport approximately every 15 minutes, and both will take you to the Pajaritos bus/metro station. They cost 1,400 CLP and 1,300 CLP, respectively (about $3). Buses to Viña del Mar depart from the Pajaritos station about every 20 minutes, from a variety of companies, and cost usually cost between $4 and $7 dollars.
Another easy (but pricier) option is to take a private minibus or taxi. There are services that provide this route at $70 per person, with a two-person minimum.
Q Carlos: What is the allowed luggage I can carry on my flight?
A Natalie:

Hi Carlos,

Thank you for your question. Everything you need to know about baggage is provided on this page.

 

 

Q JCC: Is Easter a good time to visit Machu Picchu? Weather, local holidays, number of visitors?
A Terra:

Hi JCC!

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.

Q greg: I’m going to a school in Buenos Aires for 2 weeks to learn Spanish. Where can I learn to dance salsa near there?
A Bridget:

Hi Greg,

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!

Q Peter: Hi, I am interested in coming to Eucador and take the 4 day Tren Crucero. Is there a tour package that also includes several days lay over in Quito and/or Guyaquil?
A Ilan:

Hi Peter,

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.

Q Pete: I will be staying in Salinas from 1/20 – 2/26, but would like to visit Cuenca and possibly Quito. How would I contact someone in Cuenca who might show me around? I enjoy woodworking and have read about Ed Konderla but don’t know how to contact him. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
A Ilan:

Hi Pete,

I can refer you to a friend, jpverdesoto@gmail.com, who knows people in Cuenca that can show you around. You can also check out the publication called Ñan when you arrive in the country (you can find it in all major bookstores in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca). It has information on what to do in Cuenca. Ñan 4 and Ñan 7 are specifically about Cuenca, with interesting information that you can use on the road. I actually don’t know where Ed Konderla is currently showcasing his work. He used to have a store at Esquina de las Artes, but does not anymore. Maybe by contacting Esquina you can find more information. Here is their phone number: 593 7 2831118.
Q Cindy: Hi Natalie! Our family is traveling to Colombia this June for our brother’s wedding. It is the first time trip and we want to combine the wedding with some recommended sight seeing. We will be there two weeks, 11-25 June 2014. We arrive in Bogota on the 11th. The wedding is in Melgar on the 14th. What do you recommend for us in Bogota? What do you recommend in Melgar? What other cities do you recommend us to visit in Colombia after the wedding between 16 Jun & 25 Jun. I realize this is a very open question, but there is so much to see do and so little time and we would love to hear your recommendations to make the most of our two weeks. We are 11 people, ages 23-60. Thanks so much!
A Natalie:

Hi Cindy,

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!

Q Donna: Is Colombia safe for a single woman traveler?
A Natalie:

Hi Donna,

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!

Q Allison: What is the story behind Christmas in Peru?
A Terra:

Hi Allison,

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).

Q Beth: Daytime temperature in Chincha Alta?
A Terra:

Hi Beth,

Chincha Alta is located on the coast so the temperature can rise to 30-35 C (86 F) during the day. However, sometimes it can also drop to 20 C (70 F).
Q Altie: If I would like to visit San Andrés, what airport do I fly into? What major city is it located in?
A Natalie:

Hi Altie,

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.

Q Hugo: I live in Bogotá, but I don’t know any fun places around. It seems like you know Bogotá very well. Do you have some reccomendations?
A Natalie:

Hi Hugo,

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.

Q Anna: What is is the best way to travel city to city in Colombia? Are there cheap buses, trains, or flights?
A Natalie:

Hi Anna,

There are many ways to move between Colombian cities, so the “best” way may vary depending on your priorities and the distance you’re traveling. Though Colombia isn’t an enormous country, overland travel times are much longer than you might think by looking at a map, as traveling through the mountain ranges takes a long time – for example, going from Bogotá to Cartagena takes less than two hours flying, but is almost a full 24-hour trip if you go by bus. If you’re moving within a particular region (between coastal cities or around the coffee region, for example), buses are by far your best option – they’re relatively cheap, pretty frequent and usually clearly marked. Every major city has a large bus terminal serving national destinations, while small towns typically have bus service to the closest city. Bus fares vary depending on day, time and whether it’s a holiday weekend, but are generally affordable – a round-trip from Bogotá to Cali during a normal week might be between US$30-45. Colombia’s terrain makes train travel a huge challenge, so there isn’t any sort of internal train system for anything but cargo. However, don’t always count out flights – LAN Airlines and its affiliates often have great sales with very low prices for domestic flights. If you’re going a longer distance, like to the coast, it’s definitely worth paying $20 more to save yourself the 20 extra hours you’d spend on a bus.

 

Q Mixay: We’ll be in Buenos Aires for NYE. Can you recommend what to do. We are 2 fun loving couple from NYC.
A Bridget:

Hi Mixay,

That’s an excellent question, and one I’ve been asked many times in the years I’ve lived in Argentina. In fact, I’ll be devoting an upcoming Only In South America blog post to this very topic, listing specific recommended options for the upcoming New Year’s Eve in Buenos Aires. Allow me to explain a little of the cultural background – December and January are, of course, the middle of summer in Argentina, and many Buenos Aires residents are on vacation from school and work. Those who can afford to do so often leave the city at this time to vacation at the beaches in Uruguay or along the Atlantic coast. This means that New Year’s Eve in Buenos Aires is relatively low-key, with most locals attending house parties or making dinner reservations at restaurants hosting special events or offering festive New Year’s menus. Of course, the club scene will be in full swing, too, mostly attracting a twentysomething crowds who stay up all night on the dance floor. Since you didn’t tell me specific details about your age, budget or nightlife preferences, I’ll give a general recommendation: since the sun will set late in the evening on December 31st, enjoy the warm weather with a stroll through Palermo Soho or San Telmo, then stop for cocktails around 9pm, then move onto dinner around 10 or 10:30pm (make the reservation well ahead of time.) Then you’ll be toasting the New Year at midnight with the locals, and you’ll have the option to continue the celebrations well into the morning, if you want to – bars and restaurants will be open late. Look for my upcoming blog post for my list of recommended New Year’s Eve venues this December.

Enjoy your holiday!

Q Ivy: Hi Kevin, I found your blog while reading up on food truck laws in Sao Paulo. Have you heard of any updates on legislation regarding this?
A Kevin:

Hi Ivy!

I haven’t heard any updates yet…legislation moves sllllooooowwwwwllllyyyyy in Brazil! But what it is happening is that some of São Paulo’s best restaurants have taken matters into their own hands, offering their gourmet wares on the sidewalks in front of their establishments a few times a month. Examples include the city’s best Brazilian restaurant, Tordesilhas, which offers the Amazonian specialty tacacá on the sidewalk once a month in an event known as “Tem Tacacá na Tiete” (“There’s tacacá on Teite Street”); the city’s only gourmet Mexican restaurant, Obá, has begun offering cochinita pibil, chicken and beef tostadas and margaritas (as well as Thai) on the sidewalk on the third Thursday of every month; one of the city’s best spots for ceviche, Suri, does ceviche and cocktails (no open container laws!) from a sidewalk window in the restaurant every Sunday; among others. In Rio, an American artisan pizza maker named Sei Shiroma has been creating a nice buzz as well, serving authentic Neapolitan pizza in his mobile pizzeria called Ferro e Farinha (“Iron and Flour”) – Brazil’s first! You can follow is whereabouts on Twitter each night here (@Ferroefarinha).

Bom apetite!

Q vandevenne: What is the best time to visit Chile from north to south in one month?
A Eileen:

Thanks for your question. When to visit Chile depends a bit on what you’d like to see and do while you’re here. The north is warmer and drier (the Atacama, the driest desert in the world crosses parts of it), and the south is cooler and rainier, with snow in some places. If you want snow and snow-related sports, certainly our winter (June, July, August) are a good time to come, and the north is lovely that time of year as well (though with cooler temperatures).  One thing to consider is that if you are planning on crossing between Chile and Argentina, in the winter it is recommended that you fly, as the high mountain passes can be closed due to precipitation.

If you’d rather do more hiking in the south, such as through the Valdivian rain forest, then summer (December through March) is a more popular season, though it can rain at any time of the year. The area around Santiago (where there is also good hiking) and in the north are drier most of the year. The beaches in the north of Chile have warmer water and all the sunshine you’d ever want in the summer months.
There are also a few important events that happen in Chile, that happen in the spring and fall. In September, there is the national holiday, which is the 18th of September. This is considered the unofficial beginning of spring, outdoor barbecues, and kite-flying, and traditional foods. This is celebrated all over Chile. And March and April are when the vendimias, or wine-grape harvest festivals are at different wineries and wine valleys such as the Colchagua valley, which is not far from Santiago.

In the end, it depends a bit on what you’re looking for, sports and outdoor activities, warm weather or cultural events. Hopefully you’ve gotten a better picture now of some of what each of the seasons have in store for you on your visit to Chile.

 

Q lal: We are looking for a vegetarian tour in Peru. Can you please advice?
A Terra:

Dear Lal,

Many travel agencies and tourist restaurants in Peru have vegetarian options. Make sure you make them aware of your dietary requirements.  Two good options for vegan, vegetarian and organic food are Alma Zen and Raw Cafe in Lima or Greens in Cusco. You can also read my blog post on organic shops and restaurants in Lima to learn more about it.

Q Hi: Hi Karina! Lately, I’ve been learning a lot about food in other cultures. What is your favorite Peruvian dish?
A Terra:

Hi Alycia,

My favorite Peruvian food is certainly seafood. I love a very similar dish to Ceviche called Tiradito. Compared to Ceviche, this dish has a chili sauce on top of it. I also love Arroz con mariscos (rice and seafood) and Pulpo al Olivo (octopus with olive sauce). I hope you’ll come to Peru and try them out!

Q Mark: I was blessed to visit Machu Picchu in 1982. Is it still as beautiful as it was back then?
A Terra:

Dear Mark,

Thankfully, it is as beautiful as it was when you visited it. I would say it’s event more organized now. The archeological sites are better protected because they’ve limited the number of daily visitors. For that reason, I would advice you to buy tickets in advance. You can check their availability here.

 

Q Jacqueline: How long does it take to acclimate to Lima’s air pressure? I’m in Florida now.
A Terra:

Dear Jacqueline,

Many people think Lima is a high-altitude Incan city, but it is actually located on the Pacific coast at sea level. It should take you about a day to acclimate, but it depends on a person. Some people don’t get altitude sickness, but I would recommend taking it easy on your first day. Avoid meat and only eat light food since digestion slows down at this altitude.

Q Sally: Returning to Buenos Aires in November. My 4th time; my 3rd time with my boyfriend, who is a Porteno. I want to go hear a female tango singer someplace where there are no tourists. A neighborhood cafe. Suggestions, please.
A Bridget:

Hi Sally,

This sounds like an excellent plan for an evening in Buenos Aires. The answer to your question certainly depends on what’s happening during your specific dates of travel: there’s plenty of authentic tango around town, but not necessarily one or two places you can go any night of the week to hear it. Performers move around. If you want to avoid tourists and tango shows, do what the locals do and check out the city’s official cultural calendar for complete listings of upcoming performances at all kinds of venues, from historic bars and cafes to theatres and outdoor concerts. Also take a look at VuenosAirez , another great online resource that lists cultural events. Milongas, or tango clubs, are another place to catch some real tango music – see what’s happening on any night of the week at www.hoy-milonga.com. Have a wonderful visit to Buenos Aires!

Q Maria: I would like to travel to Ushuaia from Lima, Peru. Which is the best way to make this trip?
A Bridget:

Hi Maria,

As you can see by looking at a map of South America, Ushuaia is about as far south as you can get. Flying to Peru is really the only reasonable option for covering the ground between these two cities, unless, of course, you have the time and desire to travel overland. LAN Airlines and its affiliates offer the most convenient flight combinations between Ushuaia and Lima, with connections at EZE (Ezeiza) in Buenos Aires. The quickest itinerary starts with LAN Airlines Flight 4977, which leaves Ushuaia at 12:35 pm, connecting in Buenos Aires, where you’ll switch to Flight 2428 and arrive in Lima at 11:05 pm. Explore similar flight combinations with LAN at www.lan.com. Have a wonderful trip!

Q David: Do you need visa for Argentina?
A Bridget:

Hi David,

Argentina has a fairly relaxed policy for foreigners entering the country: you don’t need a visa if you’re visiting for ninety days or less, just a valid passport. However, citizens of the US, Canada and Australia must pay a reciprocity fee before traveling. Currently, the fee for US citizens is $160. Go to the Provincia Pagos website, enter your credit card information and personal information, then print and save the document proving you’ve paid the reciprocity fee. Keep this paper with your passport: you’ll be asked to show it before boarding a flight into Argentina, and again when you reach migrations at Ezeiza, Argentina’s international airport in Buenos Aires.

Happy travels!

Q Mary: We will have a 24-hour layover in Buenos Aires in December on our way to Ushuaia and an Antarctic cruise. We want to get a good overview of the city but also know we will probably be tired. We also need to get to bed early because we need to be at the airport around 5 am the next day. What would you recommend?
A Bridget:

Hi Mary,

First of all, Ushuaia is stunning – your travel plans sound exciting! I think it’s smart to attempt some sightseeing in Buenos Aires, though I’m certain, as you said, that you’ll be tired. First: do you already have hotel reservations for your the one night you’ll be in Buenos Aires? If so, I’d suggest contacting the hotel now and asking about early check-in. If you’re able to land in Buenos Aires and go straight to the hotel, I’d advise doing that: you could rest for an hour, take a shower, have something to eat, or at the very least, drop your bags off. Second: if I only had a day in Buenos Aires, I’d enlist the experts to help me make the most of my time. Check out the websites of BA Cultural Concierge or Buenos Aires Concierge – either of these recommended local guides can plan a private, tailor-made afternoon tour for you depending on your interests, so you won’t have to worry about navigating the city or trying to follow a guidebook. Third: even if you need to get to bed early, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a memorable dinner at one of the city’s best parrillas (steakhouses.) With only one day in Buenos Aires, I’d go with something traditional, like La Brigada in San Telmo or Don Julio in Palermo.

I hope your 24 hours in Argentina’s capital city are wonderful. Wishing you safe onward travels to Ushuaia and Antarctica!

Q Jon: What is the best way to get from Quito or Guayaquil to Mancora, Peru without flying through Lima? Are there any shorter flights into northern Peru?
A Ilan:

Hi Jon!

Ecuadorians have increasingly been making Mancora a destination for a week-long getaway. It has become a true road-trip experience for Ecuadorians from both Quito and Guayaquil, crossing the border at Huaquillas (past Machala) into Tumbez and down to Mancora. The ride is some 6 hours by car without stopping; you can also take a bus from Guayaquil’s Terminal Terrestre ($30 round-trip, approximately), which would take some 8 hours to complete. For the car ride from Quito, add a day (the 7-8 hours from Quito to Guayaquil and overnight). Flying of course is much more expensive, but there are trips to Tumbez and Piura that are available from Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, and then you need to travel out to Mancora which is not too far. Travelling from Lima to Mancora is much longer than from Guayaquil, although it is about the same travel time as Quito-Mancora.

I hope this helps!

Q Tara: Hi Eileen, I am currently traveling Ecuador, Peru and Chile. My parents are coming to visit me from the U.S. and are flying into Santiago the week before Christmas. We are spending a day or two in Santiago and then the rest of the week in Valparaiso. After which we want to head down to a family friend’s house in Coyhaique, Chile (Patagonia). What is the best (most economical but also allowing us to see key spots) way to get down there? Is it best to fly from Santiago to Balmaceda airport, rent a car and take day trips out from Coyhaique? Or should we be flying into another point and driving to Coyhaique from there? Further more, is it best to fly into Patagonia or would it be better to take a bus down from Santiago? I want to make sure they get to see some beautiful places in Patagonia while there (outside of Coyhaique), but they are only there for one week and I need some guidance in regards to planning – what the best mode of transport is (both to and around Patagonia) and where the best launching off point is. We can start or end near Coyhaique, that is not an issue for us. Thanks so much!
A Eileen:

Hi Tara,

Thanks for your question, and it sounds like an incredible trip.The area around Coyhaique really is stunning. As you mentioned, the best way to get down to that part of Patagonia (especially if you are short of time) is to fly to Balmaceda. Buses to that part of Chile leaving from Santiago have to go through Argentina and then come back into Chile, and even via the most direct route possible (which is not what the bus would take), it is more than 1200 miles, much of it on Argentina’s unpaved Ruta 40.

So flying to Balmaceda is a great option. If you rent a car from there, you could easily visit Cerro Castillo (just a few hours outside of Coyhaique), the Capillas de Marmol (“marble” caves) in Puerto Tranquilo, and many other smaller areas of interest. You will still see Patagonia, and the Region of Aysén is one of the country’s most stunning areas, with turquoise lakes, and jagged peaks. Of course, Patagonia is tremendous, and would take many weeks to see all of, even superficially, but basing yourself in Coyhaique is a great start.

Enjoy your trip!

Q Michelle: What is a not too miss experience for a luxury traveler in Buenos Aires?
A Bridget:

Hi Michelle,

Where to even start? When money’s no object, you can really experience the glamour of Buenos Aires. It’s difficult to choose just one, so I’ll give you a short list of some of my favorite high-end experiences in a few different categories.
Tango: Get tickets to Rojo Tango at the Faena Hotel + Universe, the over-the-top Phillipe Starck-designed hotel in Puerto Madero. Go for drinks before or after the show at the Library Lounge.
Tea: Have for afternoon tea at L’Orangerie, the elegant French restaurant at the landmark Alvear Palace Hotel, then stroll down Avenida Alvear to peek into some of the city’s finest designer boutiques.
Theatre:  Go to the ballet or symphony at the spectacularly restored Teatro Colón, considered one of the most opulent theatres in the world.
Food & wine: Splurge on steak at Francis Mallmann’s Patagonia Sur, try innovative Argentinian molecular gastronomy with wine pairings at Aramburu, or see and be seen at the ever-fashionable Casa Cruz.
If you’re seeking more guidance, contact the well-connected experts at Mai10, a boutique agency specializing in tailor-made luxury experiences.

I hope you have a wonderful visit to Buenos Aires!

Q Jahman: Kevin. I will be in Rio de Janeiro Oct 6-19. This is my third trip so I’ve done most of the touristy things already. I would like to know the area as a native. What do you recommend?
A Kevin:

Hi Jahman,

Have you had sunset chope at Bar Urca? This is a favorite of locals and quite a scene watching the waiters dash back and forth across the street loaded down with ice-cold chope to the seawall where everyone sits and relishes in the fact that they all live in Rio de Janeiro! If you want to hang out on a beach void of gringos, you’ll need go to Barra de Tijuca and beyond. Prianha is a favorite but it’s on the far end of things. For something closer, try Joatinga, between São Conrado and Barra. Also, instead of taking a touristy Jeep tour into the favelas, why don’t you linger there a little bit longer and really get to know the people? Folks like Favela Experience and Favela Adventures can both get you down with the people (my next post for LAN’s Only in South America blog is about my experiences in Rocinha – check it out this Saturday!). And while all the tourists flood Lapa on the weekends, pop over instead to Old Lapa, and join the cavalcade of very serious music aficionados taking in the sights and sounds at TribOz, an outstanding and intimate music club. But, remember, finding things these days that only Cariocas know about is a tall order indeed.

Q Justine: Hi Eileen, I was just wondering what time in the evening the buses stop operating from Metro Estacion Pajaritos to Vina del Mar? Thanks!
A Eileen:

Hi Justine,

Thanks for your question. There are four different companies that run to Viña del Mar from metro station Pajaritos. They are Cóndor, Linea Azul, Pullman and TurBus. The last scheduled bus departing for Viña del Mar is at 10:20 PM. There are departures every 20-30 minutes all day long. If for whatever reason, you find a bus to Valparaíso that suits your schedule better, you can easily arrive in Valparaíso and then take a bus or taxi from to Viña del Mar, as they only about 10 minutes apart.

Hope that answers your question!

Q Michelle: Are the trails in Iguazu National Park truly wild as you say or are there distinct paths wide enough for two people? I am going with my husband, but I recently hurt my knee and am in a brace and crutches. I hope to be walking without the crutches by the time I go, but I will be a slow walker. What would you recommend? Is it “wild” wild, or “national park” wild? I have my heart set on seeing the butterflies in spring!
A Bridget:

Hi Michelle,

That’s an excellent question, especially as it relates to the broader topic of accessibility in Argentina. Whether it pertains to someone who’s in a wheelchair full-time – or someone like you who’s simply recovering from an injury – many public spaces just aren’t yet equipped the way they should be, a fact that creates problems for some travelers. But for now, let’s talk specifically about Iguazú. The national park’s jungle-like vegetation certainly feels ‘wild,’ but the series of wooden catwalks – particularly those that lead between the most notable outlooks – are well-maintained. According to the official reports in Argentina, 90% of the park’s walkways are accessible to people with disabilities or physical limitations. Still, you’ll want to plan carefully to make the most of your visit. Some of the paths are pretty narrow; when the park sees its biggest crowds at peak times, navigating these paths could get uncomfortable for a visitor on crutches. But if you’re off crutches and just need to walk slowly, I don’t think you’ll have any problems. Another factor, in your case, is the weather. This is a rainforest, after all, and when sudden showers fall on the wooden walkways, the path can get a little slippery. But that’s a small hazard that pertains to everyone. Just use caution and try, as much as possible, to plan your walks during less crowded times (i.e. when the park first opens as opposed to the middle of the afternoon.) And lean on your husband for support! I hope that you both have a wonderful visit to the national park: it’s one of my favorite places in a country I love so much. Buen viaje!

Q Dan: Hi Natalie, I hope all is well. I have read your blogs and various exchanges and I have found them very informative, thank you! I have just moved to Bogota (to live with my girlfriend, a Colombian native) and I am keen to immerse myself in it asap. There is a big issue though, I don’t speak Español… I appreciate this is a significant factor and I am addressing it. I have been practicing with my girlfriend & studying. However she is very busy and I feel a tutor may be the best option for me to learn quickly. Can you recommend anyone or do you know anyone? If not, can you recommend any other avenues that maybe worth exploring in bid to improve my Latin tongue. Any assistance with this matter will be greatly appreciated.
A Natalie:

Hi Dan,

First of all, welcome to Bogotá! It’s a wonderful city with tons of things to do, but it can definitely be intimidating if you don’t speak the language. It sounds like you’re trying to get a start on it practicing with your girlfriend, but fortunately there are plenty of other places to practice as well. One really popular place is a weekly event called Gringo Tuesdays (look them up on Facebook) — it’s a language exchange held at a bar on Tuesday evenings for people who want to practice different languages. They have everything from English to Japanese, and all you do is go in and pick a table for the language you want to practice. There are plenty of native Spanish speakers willing to talk to you, and it’s a fun way to meet people as well. If your budget is tight, Couchsurfing is also a great resource — there are always lots of people willing to help teach Spanish, and often they’ll be fine with exchanging Spanish lessons for English ones. This would be a good way to find an informal tutor, as well, if you’re willing to pay a little.The government has also started an initiative to promote Spanish schools across Colombia, so if you want a more traditional classroom environment, their site(SpanishinColombia.com) will also have some helpful resources for you.

Buena suerte!

Q patrick: I am going to Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, for the first time and want to take in both the rainforest and the city. Is there a company I should use to help me do that in 10 days? Staying right in Rio de Janeiro. Any help appreciated.
A Kevin:

Hi Patrick,

Just to clarify, do you mean you will stay in Rio for 10 days and want to visit the rainforest in the city? Or do you mean you have 10 days to see Rio and the rainforest elsewhere? As an Insider for LAN Airlines and its affiliates, I am pleased to report you’re in luck either way. If you meant the former, Rio itself has a wonderfully preserved rainforest smack dab in the middle of the city! Parque Nacional da Tijuca is just 15 minutes from Copacabana Beach and offers some wonderful urban hiking opportunities through Atlantic rainforest. If you meant the latter, it’s very doable to spend four days or so in Rio and four in the Amazon, leaving the other two days for travel. If you are staying in higher-end hotels, I would say you don’t really need an agency as the hotels will take care of everything for you. If you are more independent or the backpacker-type, you’re going to need one to handle the logistics in the Amazon – Amazon Green Tours has a good range of tours. For a great lodge take a look at Uakari Lodge in the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve – probably my favorite place in all of the Amazon. If you want to combine your obvious love of beaches and rainforest in one convenient marriage, seek out Alter do Chão, where a relaxing white-sand river beaches are framed by a dramatic jungle backdrop.

Q Francis: Are the folks as friendly as projected?
A Ilan:

Hi Francis,

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that Ecuadorians are friendly. As far as stereotypes go, on the coast (Guayaquil, Manabí, Galapagos) people are considered to be very extroverted, and in the Andes (Quito, Cuenca), we expect people to be more reserved. It goes with the climate. But Quiteños also have a reputation of being excellent hosts. They are helpful, used to travelers, and when communication isn’t a barrier, curious and interested… In certain Andean villages, in rural communities, even in towns like Otavalo, you may encounter a shyer demeanor, but usually it just takes a little conversation for most people to open up. At the end of the day, Ecuadorians like to smile!

Q Chhavi: How can I reach Montemar from Santiago airport?
A Eileen:

Hi Chhavi,

Thanks for your question.

Montemar is located in Reñaca, just to the north of Viña del Mar, on the coast. You have a few different options to get to the coast from the airport, depending on how you prefer to travel. Using public transportation, you can easily take one of two shuttle services that take you to a nearby bus terminal (Pajaritos) where you can catch a bus to Viña del Mar. The two services are the TurBus and Centropuerto buses. Both leave from the airport approximately every 15 minutes, and both will take you to the Pajaritos bus/metro station for about $3 US. Buses to Viña del Mar depart from the Pajaritos station about every 20 minutes, from a variety of companies, and cost usually cost between $4 and $7 dollars. From Viña del Mar, take a local bus that says Reñaca from outside the bus station (less than a dollar), or take a taxi (less than $20) to your final destination.

Another easier (but pricier) option is to take a private minibus or taxi. There are services that provide this route at $70 per person, with a two-person minimum, leaving from the airport.

Q Henry: I want to prepare Brazilian BBQ for my girlfriend, but I have trouble finding Brazilian recipes online. I want to do some beef and pork on skewers. Can you please help me with the spices?
A Kevin:

Hi Henry,

You’re in luck: Brazilians don’t generally season their red meat for a traditional churrasco (BBQ) with anything other than rock salt. What makes it Brazilian are other elements such as cut (picanha – hard to find outside Brazil but a good butcher should be able to duplicate it), how its served (passed around amongst attendees as individual bite-sized pieces rather than being served has one large hunk of steak to each person), the soundtrack (samba!) and the drinks: Bone-chilling cold beer and caipirinhas). For chicken skewers, you can season with fine salt, pepper, garlic or herbs like thyme. Fennel seed also enhances the flavor. Some Brazilians also marinate their chicken in white wine for 12 hours before hitting the grill. For pork (I wouldn’t say pork is all that common at Brazilian BBQs), a safe Brazilian bet is to marinate the pork for a few hours in a mixture of equal parts water and dry white wine with a few tablespoons honey and salt and pepper to taste.

I feel a warning is in order here: If you are doing this to impress a girl, it must be said pulling off a Brazilian BBQ without being Brazilian is a tall task indeed. I always default to the nearest Brazilian to run the grill! Good luck!

Q Pam: What are some of the best Brazilian dishes?
A Kevin:

Hi Pam,

Where to begin? Brazil is a amalgam of flavors and influences that will leave no taste bud unturned as you eat your way through the country. With over 4500 miles of coastline, the sea plays an obvious important role, as does the extensive pampas in the South, where beef is king, and widespread African roots in the Northeast and the indigenous dishes of the Amazon. Along the way, Brazil’s significant immigration population, hailing mainly from Italy, Japan and Germany, have kneaded a potpourri of recipes throughout the years. My absolute favorite dish in Brazil is moqueca  (check out my blog post on it here) but there is loads more where that came from, including one of the world’s best cuts of beef (picanha), most interesting jungle treats (açaí) and most exotic inventories of tropical fruits. Bom Apetite!

Q Pete: Where are the best beaches in Salvador?
A Kevin:

Hey Pete,

Salvador is a big urban city, full of color and culture, so if you are asking about Salvador proper, most of the beaches are urban, such as Porta da Barra and Praia do Farol da Barra. That’s not to say they aren’t nice, but they will be crowded and less clean than if you venture out of town a bit. About 40 minutes east of the city center, you’ll find more idyllic sands, such as Piatá, Itapuá, Stella Maris and Flamengo, which become more idyllic in that order, though stronger tides are also present. My personal favorite spot around Salvador is further afield in Morro de São Paulo, an island located about two hours south via speedboat from Salvador. Here, you’ll navigate sand alleyways (no cars) though an postcard-perfect village leading to numerous pieces of paradise. And then there’s Boipeba next door – far quieter and rustic. You won’t be sorry!
Q Guy: I am interested in attending a World Cup Soccer (Futbol) game in Brazil if the USA qualifies. Where I would go would depend on where they will be playing as new stadiums have been built in several cites. Is this feasible? Can I afford it ? (I saw one of your answers to a question that indicated Brazil is expensive). I have spent considerable time in Central America (Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica) but have never been to South America. Can you give me some good advice?
A Kevin:

Hi Guy,

Can you afford it? I’m not sure about that. How much money do you make? Kidding. Brazil is considerably more expensive than any other country in Latin America with the possible exception of Venezuela – and prices will rise considerably during the World Cup. You will need to fly between most World Cup host cities and domestic flights are generally expensive any time of year, let alone during a world-class event like this. It will also be difficult to follow a specific team as the first round of ticket sales are happening now yet we don’t know any of the teams besides Brazil, Japan, Australia, Iran and South Korea – and we don’t yet know where and when any teams will play other than Brazil. So, that means you will likely have to resort to securing tickets from a second-hand vendor down the road (after we know the specific schedule), which will of course drive up your costs. The light at the end of the tunnel is that the Brazilian currency, the Real, has tumbled lately against the dollar, losing nearly 45% of its value over the last two years, and is expected to continue it’s downward spiral for the time being. So, Brazil has become a little less expensive this year for tourists. Don’t be surprised, though, if prices rise in country to make up the difference.
Q David: The Pantanal sounds phenomenal: When is the best time to visit Pantanal and Bonito, and when is the high season and low season?
A Kevin:

Hi David,

The Pantanal is indeed phenomenal. This swampy region has two seasons: Rainy (December to April) and Dry (July to November), each with it’s own pros and cons. I prefer the dry season, mainly because its logistically easier to get around the region (many areas are accessible by boat or plane only in rainy season) and because during this time, water sources are limited, so wildlife tends to congregate en masse around what little water they can find, making animals easier to find/spot. And I just don’t like being rained on all the time! In Bonito, this isn’t as important and you will spend most of your time in some form of water or another during your whole stay, anyway; but you will want to consider prices. Bonito is expensive all year-round, but especially so during the high season (December to February) during the Brazilian summer.

Q Eve: I’ve heard Quito is really dangerous. Our flight lands at midnight or 1am at Quito and we’ll need to take a taxi in the middle of the night. We’ve got one day to tour the Central Historic district, but I worry about the safety of my teen-aged daughter and also being robbed. What are your thoughts?
A Ilan:

Hi Eve,

I understand your concerns traveling to a foreign land and arriving at night.  Unfortunately, I do not think you have too much to worry about. Quito is not as dangerous as you may imagine it to be.  As South American cities go, I think it is quite safe, you just need to take the common sense precautions that you would traveling anywhere.

Taking a taxi from the airport should not be a safety concern.  Once you exit the customs area you will see a booth where taxi rides are coordinated.  From inside the airport someone can assist you in getting a taxi, one that is registered with the city and safe for travel.  So, approach the booth instead of just going outside to flag down a taxi.

With Quito’s new airport this year, it will seem that you are quite a distance from the city, and this is somewhat true (its not a great distance, but it does take 45 minutes to get to the main areas of the city).  You won’t see much at night and that may cause some anxiety, but I assure you that tourists are arriving every day in your same situation and they make it just fine without incident.

Q Lisa: Hi Lance…we wondered if you could help us. We have about 39 days next summer. We were thinking of an itinerary which involved taking in the inca trail, Lake Titicaca, the salt flats in Bolivia etc. However, we saw that in Ecuador you can see humpback whales and this has inspired us to change our plans a little to try to fit this in with our original plans – do you think this could be combined with the other things we want to do or are we just trying to do too much? We will be flying from the UK and can either come in via Ecuador or Peru. Hoping you can enlighten us in some small way. Kind regards Lisa and Jim
A Ilan:

Hi Lisa & Jim,

39 days is a long time and I don’t know what your priorities are.  Whale watching is a popular activity from June to September and I will offer you some information on that.  I’m not sure that it really takes much time out of your schedule, though you would have to veer off the Inca Trail to get to the coast.  The trip, though, could be well worth it.  I recommend traveling to the Machililla National Park area to the coastal town of Puerto Lopez.  Many whale watching excursions leave from there.  You only need one day to do this, but you will want to spend at least a few more days in the area, I would think.   You can combine your trip with a visit to Isla de la Plata, and to the National Park itself which covers not just the water, but a large land area as well.

Generally, whale watching is a one-day trip leaving from Puerto Lopez bound for the island.  You see the whales on the way out and the way back and spend about 3 hours on the island, I believe.   This visit is still on my To-Do List, but I have the information that could make it a good (and safe) trip for you.  Here it is:

I suggest that you contact Cristina Castro with the Pacific Whale Foundation in Ecuador.  She can recommend a safe way to see the whales (there are many opportunists who may not be certified to offer tours, but Cristina will put you in touch with those who are). Send her an email at: cristinacastro@pacificwhale.org

Also, a reputable place to stay in Puerto Lopez that can also organize a tour is MANTARAYA LODGE.  They have an office in Quito through their agency, Advantage Tours. Their phone is (02) 336-0887/8/9.  First, send an email to the owner, Raul: raul@advantagecuador.com and visit the website.

And as an alternative if you don’t want to come so far up the coast, there is a good option in the Salinas area, which is on the Peninsula closer to Guayaquil (a more southern location).   Consider contacting Ben Haase.  He apparently has a Museum of Whales at Av. General Enriques Gallo, Between calles 47 y 50.  His number is (04) 277 8329 / 7335 and his email is bhaase@ecua.net.ec.  I interviewed him once for an article on whale watching over the phone.  He is as knowledgeable as anyone about the whales in Ecuador.

Again, I cannot personally endorse the services I mentioned above, but I am giving you the first-person or go-to persons in the area of whale watching in Ecuador.  These are all reputable sources.

Let me know if you have more questions.  Good luck!

Q Erica: I am on a flight to Santiago using American Airlines. Is the shuttle that LAN offers from Santiago airport to Vina del Mar available to me? What would be the cost, and approximately how long does it take?
A Eileen:

Although LAN does not offer shuttle service between Santiago and Viña del Mar, there are several easy options for a variety of budgets that will get you where you need to go.

You can easily take one of two shuttle services that will get you to a nearby bus terminal where you can catch a bus to Viña del Mar. The two services are the TurBus and Centropuerto buses. Both leave from the airport approximately every 15 minutes, and both will take you to the Pajaritos bus/metro station. They cost 1,400 CLP and 1,300 CLP, respectively (about $3). Buses to Viña del Mar depart from the Pajaritos station about every 20 minutes, from a variety of companies, and cost usually cost between $4 and $7 dollars.
Another easy (but pricier) option is to take a private minibus or taxi. There are services that provide this route at $70 per person, with a two-person minimum.
Q Sharyn: Best time of year to visit Buenos Aires? What sights should one visit?
A Bridget:

To fully appreciate Buenos Aires, you’ll want to be able to walk around, ride bicycles, sit in outdoor cafes and have empanada picnics in the park – that’s why the best times of the year to visit are in spring (roughly September-November) and fall (late February to May.) Winter (June-August) isn’t very harsh – Buenos Aires almost never sees snow – but daylight hours are much shorter, and when temperatures dip, you’ll probably be restricted to indoor activities. Note that in mid-December through mid-February, temperatures soar and many locals leave the city for the beaches; this also means that some businesses close for a few weeks. January is my least favorite time to be here in Buenos Aires – a fact that can be surprising to international tourists who are looking to escape cold temperatures in the northern hemisphere. It’s a tradeoff, but not a great one – you’ll enjoy the city much more when it’s not so uncomfortably hot.

As far as the sights you choose to visit, it depends greatly on your interests. I almost recommend that travelers attempt to see some of the old (the historic neighborhoods downtown, in Congreso and further south into San Telmo and La Boca, are key for sightseeing) and some of the new (the stylish and much more modern neighborhoods that fall under the ‘Palermo’ umbrella – this is where you’ll find some of the best opportunities for dining, drinking and shopping.) Major sights that most visitors wouldn’t want to miss include the Parisian-style boulevard Avenida de Mayo, lined with magnificent architecture and historic cafes, the Casa Rosada (presidential palace), the beautiful old Mercado San Telmo, and the art museums and lovely parks of Palermo, including MALBA. More than particular sights, I recommend that you try to have a few particular experiences: watching tango dancers move to live music in a milonga (tango club), eating a full Argentinian dinner in a parrilla (steakhouse) and, of course, taking time to walk or cycle around the city, stopping whenever the mood strikes to look at street art or have a coffee. A lot of the charm of Buenos Aires exists in the side streets and at cafe tables. Have a wonderful trip!

Q Bob: What is the biggest celebration in Brazil? Is it a good time to travel to Brazil?
A Kevin:

Hi Bob,

There’s no question Brazil’s biggest party is Carnival, normally held in February, where millions take to the streets in Rio de Janeiro and not that many less in other big Carnival cities like Recife and Olinda. Is it a good time to visit? Well, that depends on your perspective. If you want to tick the box off of attending one of the world’s greatest parties, where there’s dancing in the streets until dawn, color costumes and jaw-dropping parades, samba from sun up to sun down, then by all means, book your flight! But keep in mind, Brazil is exorbitantly expensive on a normal day, so you can imagine the jacked up prices during Carnival. You must also be a fan of crowds – even beautiful, sweaty, sun-kissed Brazilian crowds – and be willing to part with your wallet or camera as pickpockets are magicians during this time.

If you want to throw yourself in the mix, the dates for 2014 are Feb. 8-12. Saúde!

Q Kevin: Which month is best to visit Easter Island as far as avoiding “crowds”? Weather is not a concern. Thanks!
A Eileen:

Dear Kevin,

Thanks for your question about avoiding the crowds on Easter Island. While it is true that there is more tourism now than in previous years, due to improved air connection via LAN Airlines and its afilliates, Easter Island really does not feel crowded, other than at Tapati, a festival which takes place in February every year. In general, the most crowded time of year on the island is from January to March, as many people are visiting the southern hemisphere from the northern hemisphere to escape the northern winter, and make a stop on Easter Island, especially as a side trip from Chile or Peru, or on a round-the-world trip coming from or going to Tahiti.

Chileans also visit Easter Island, and as they are generally on vacation in January and February, these months see more visitors. You may also wish to avoid the middle two weeks in July, which are usually the school holidays, and a time some Chilean families choose to travel.

That said, it does not ever really feel crowded on Easter Island. During the low season, if you take a tour, your small group could still feasibly run into another small group at, for example, the Tongariki sunrise. But in general, Easter Island retains its tranquil, unhurried feeling most of the year, and especially so in April through June, and August through December.

I hope that answers your question!

Q b: What is the offical language of Argentina?
A Bridget:

The official language of Argentina is Spanish.

Q Brittany: Where can I buy alpaca yarn in Bogota, Colombia, at a good price?
A Natalie:

Hi Brittany,

This is a bit of a tricky question, as alpacas aren’t really native to Colombia and so finding/buying yarn here is going to be slightly more complicated than it would be in neighboring countries like Ecuador or Peru where the fuzzy creatures are common. I would suggest looking in neighborhoods like Chapinero and Galerias that have a number of craft and other arts supply stores. It also might be a good idea to talk to vendors in Candelaria or at the Usaquen market — some of them sell alpaca products and they may be able to give you even better advice about where they purchase their yarn or even sell some to you. Good luck!

Q Stephen: Flying into Coyhaique and driving to Punta Arenas. Can you help me with what is along the way to see and do?
A Eileen:

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for your question about driving from Coyhaique to Punta Arenas. It sounds like you were planning a road trip down through Chile, but as you probably noticed, there is no road that goes all the way down through Chile! It doesn’t make your trip impossible, but you will have to skip over into Argentina (and back to Chile) to make it all the way.

Coyhaique is a peaceful town, surprisingly warm in the summer, and has great access to fly fishing, as well as cruises to Laguna San Rafael to the glacier.

Going south from Coyhaique, you come across a series of parks and towns, on the Carretera Austral (southern highway). The road is paved to Cerro Castillo, the location of a small mountain topped with giant granite spires that give the national reserve its name (castle hill, in English). From here (on unpaved roads), you’ll continue south to Puerto Tranquilo, where you can visit the “capillas de marmol,” a set of striated limestone caves in the water. You can take a motorboat or a kayak out to see them.

Most people going to Punta Arenas would, at this point, take the ferry across the Lago General Carrera/Buenos Aires (lake) to Chile Chico, which puts you squarely on Argentina’s Ruta 40, which, like the Carretera Austral, is unpaved. However, if you’d like to stay in Chile just a bit longer, you can continue down next to Cochrane, another small town, and do the crossing later, going around the azure Cochrane Lake (called Pueyrredón in Argentina). Here you will cross into Argentina, as while there is more road to traverse further to the south in Chile, this is the last motor-vehicle transitable crossing to Argentina, and no road continues down Chile to Punta Arenas.

The surroundings of Ruta 40 are beautiful, turqouise lakes and peaks in some places, and stark in others, but the roads are often of loose gravel or washboard surfaces. It’s a joy to travel in this part of the world, but a slow one!

On Ruta 40, you will pass through the town named Perito Moreno (not the glacier, this comes later), and about a hundred miles south of that, there is a famous cave with indigenous hand prints, called the “Cueva de Las Manos.” Continuing on, the road passes several large lakes, including Viedma and Lago Argentino, and passes El Calafate, a city from which you can visit the Perito Moreno glacier (on the Argentine side) at the Parque Nacional de Los Glaciares.

You cross back into Chile near Puerto Natales, from which you can access Torres del Paine national park, which is one of Chile’s most-visited national parks, where there are more than ten days of trails through the Patagonian steppe and past numerous colorful lakes and several glaciers. You can spend just one day to hike up to the towers themselves, the granite formations for which the park is named. Your final destination, Punta Arenas is just three hours from Puerto Natales.

It should be the trip of a lifetime!

Q gail: What is the cost of public transportation in Ecuador?
A Ilan:

Gail,

Public transportation in Ecuador is very cheap and very accessible with varying degrees of security concerns.

Taxis are cheap.  In Quito, they are required to use a taxi meter which starts at $.35 and runs about $.01 every ten seconds or ten meters (more or less).  Minimum is $1 even if the meter does not get to that limit.  In Cuenca, though, taxis do not have a meter system.  You simply have to negotiate.  If you know the city you begin to learn how much it costs, though you are subject to a little more abuse since there is no meter, particularly if you are a foreigner.  Guayaquil officially has meters, but if you look gullible the driver may refuse to use it using whatever pretext.   Rates should be comparable to Quito.

Note: There has been concern about express kidnapping with taxis in Guayaquil.  Though not frequent, US embassy personnel, for example, are forbidden from hailing a cab on the street.   If you want to be super cautious, call a recognized taxi company. But if you are walking about the streets, this is not practical.

At night, in Quito and Guayaquil, taxis turn off the meter and raise their prices.  This is not legal, but nobody enforces it so you have to deal with it.  Also, it would be recommended, especially for a woman, not to travel alone in a taxi at night.  Also, keep in mind there are a lot of illegal taxis even in Quito.  Some are yellow, some not.  Do not get into a taxi that is not yellow.  The legal ones are always yellow and now, in Quito, they have designated paint schemes that denote territorial regulation (green, red, and black highlights…the new system has not really been implemented just yet).  Also, legal taxis have a municipal registration on the windshield and some marking, usually on the doors, to indicate which cooperative they belong to (there are nearly 200 cooperatives in Quito, alone).

Taxi rates to and from the new airport in Quito are high due to the distance.  The rates are supposedly set and average $25-30 from airport (no taxi meters for airport travel) to urban Quito city limits (this is enforced particularly when you depart from the airport).

Buses from the airport are much more reasonable economically – $8 one way, leaving every 30 minutes and dropping you off at the old airport location in North Quito (the old airport is being converted into a city park and convention center).  Now, once you arrive in Quito you will need to take a taxi from the old airport, and since many arrivals are at night you will have to negotiate that ride.

Buses in Quito (or any other city) are an economic alternative.  City buses cost a matter of cents for each ride – either $.25 or $.35.  In Quito, there are some fixed lines called the Ecovia and Trole which run up and down the main corridors of the city.  Again, they are very cheap, but can also get very crowded, in which case you need to be very aware of pickpockets or in the case of women, some physical “accosting” could be a concern (just be alert).   You can also ride buses outside the city (provincial buses).  I have never been comfortable with the safety aspect of that, though many do it.  And drivers proceed with few concerns for public or personal safety.  So, rider beware.

Q Kathy: Can we bring pets from the US to Ecuador?
A Ilan:

Kathy,

The short answer is yes.  How that is done, I really don´t know offhand.  But, I would like to refer you to a community of North American residents, some of whom are probably very familiar with the details.  Do this: Go to the Gringo Tree website  and check out the many discussions.  Sign up for the daily emails, and through this network get in touch with someone who knows.   You can actually post a question and you will get responses, I promise.  The local expat community is very good about helping one another with this kind of information.

Q tana: Are there flights from Galapagos to Salinas?
A Ilan:

Hello Tana,

There are no direct flights from Galapagos to Salinas.  Flights go straight to Guayaquil, and from there you can hit all other major points in Ecuador.  But, Salinas is also quite close to Guayaquil. You should just get ground transportation to the Santa Elena Peninsula where Salinas is located.

In fact, I have never heard of anyone flying to Salinas.  You fly to Guayaquil generally.


Q al: How is the city of Guayaquil?
A Ilan:

Hello Al,

What can I say, exactly….Guayaquil is a large city spread out over a large area with water all around.  It’s the largest city in Ecuador built around natural estuaries and rivers that dump into the Gulf of Guayaquil.  It’s a warm, humid city, flat (unlike Quito’s other large cities which are in the Andes Mountains).  Like all Ecuadorean and Latin American cities, it has its extremes of well-to-do areas and poverty stricken areas.  As a port city it has a lot of commercial activity.  It is the business and commercial center of Ecuador, whereas Quito, as the capital, has more of a governmental focus.

Guayaquil is a fun place to visit.  It has all the attractions you would imagine.  First, it has a well-located international airport and international chain hotels, as well as local national chains and of course, boutique options.  It has great restaurant and shopping districts and good tourism activity has built up around the city’s historical core, stimulated by the Malecon 2000 – the principal boardwalk that was constructed over a decade ago.  This part of Guayaquil is great for walking around.  Attractions and activities are within walking distance in this part of town.  Be sure to check out the Cerro Santa Ana Hillside and Las Peñas neighborhood, which sits at one end of the boardwalk.

But also get out of the area and explore the Samborandon area across the bay.  It has more restaurants, shopping, and tourism.  But if you want to hit the beach, you will need to travel about 30-40 minutes from the historic center or airport towards the peninsula of Santa Elena.  From there, you go north as far as your heart desires to see more great Ecuadorean coastline.

For a visitor, Ecuador in general is fairly affordable and that goes for Guayaquil, too.  All in all, I think Guayaquil is a great place to visit in terms of climate and variety of activities.  And LATAM Airlines Group offers daily flights into Guayquil from national and international destinations.

Q Robert: What is the temperature range in Buenos Aires?
A Bridget:

Hi Robert,

Buenos Aires enjoys a pretty moderate climate, except during the city’s summers, which last from about December through early March. Then, the temperatures can burn to a sweaty 90 or 100 degrees each day. Keep in mind, too, that most places in the city aren’t air conditioned, so you’ll experience the heat a lot more here than you might elsewhere.

During the rest of the year, the weather mellows out considerably. In Argentina’s autumn, from March to June, the average low dips down to the upper 40’s and the average high, the low 70’s. It very rarely snows in Buenos Aires, even in the middle of the winter, which stretches from about June to September. It does get chilly during this time, but average lows are still in the mid-40’s— nothing too extreme.Spring is arguably the pretties, most pleasant time of year here, when all of the trees are flowering, and the average temps fall between the low 50’s and low 80’s.
You can see more specific weather data here.
Enjoy your trip!
Q Jenn: August 7-20: We are spending a day in Bogota, followed by 2 days in Medellin, then 5 days in Leticia. We want to do a tour in the Amazon (can you recommend a tour guide/tour group). Any suggestions for “must do, must see”?
A Natalie:

Hi Jenn,

That’s a lot of ground to cover, so I hope you’re planning on drinking lots of Colombian coffee! I haven’t been to Leticia yet, but it’s definitely on the list, as it’s supposed to be amazing. You can find tons of tour companies operating there, as it’s a very popular spot, and almost all of them will be nature-based given the location. I would take a look at More Local or Mantaraya Travel – both are Bogotá-based businesses run by good folks who take their jobs seriously and care about sustainability. Sumak Travel, a British eco-tourism company, also operates in Leticia and might be worth a look. There are also plenty of independent and smaller operators working there in Leticia, so depending on how strong your Spanish is, you could even wait and just pick one when you get there.
In terms of other recommendations, it looks like you’re going to be in Medellín around the weekend of the flower festival, which is spectacular. Be sure to check it out if you’re there at the right time. For nature-lovers, Parque Arvi (at the top of the cable car in Medellín) is a can’t-miss. It’s a huge, stunning park that could take days to explore fully. In Bogotá, make sure to check out Monserrate, the Gold Museum, the historic La Candelaria neighborhood, and stop in at least one Juan Valdez! It seems like you’ll be here during the Festival del Verano (Summer Festival), which takes place in Parque Simon Bolívar and is essentially two weeks just packed with outdoor events. If you have a few free hours, try to stop by the park and check it out. Bogotá itself doesn’t have much else in the way of outdoorsy activities, but there are some beautiful parks and hikes just a few hours outside the city. Andes EcoTours is another great company that operates around Bogotá, so if you want to get out of the city for a few hours, take a look at what they have to offer.
Have a great trip!
Q Mafe: Which restaurants do you recommend that aren’t so expensive in Buenos Aires?
A Bridget:

Hi Mafe,

One of my favorite places in the city is Las Cabras, a great “parilla” (literally “grill” but used by locals to label meat-centric restaurants) that also happens to be one of the best bargains in the city. The restaurant is over in the upscale Palermo neighborhood, but the food’s very reasonably priced. I’d suggest getting a “penguino” of house red wine (typically, Malbec); that’s the Argentine version of a carafe. Here, the house wine is often served in a ceramic pitcher in the shape of a penguin, a nod to the animals inhabiting the southernmost shores of the country. For food, you can start off with empanadas and then follow up with a “parilla mixta” or mixed grill, which consists of an assortment of tasty grilled meat— delicious and very classically Argentine! Be sure to arrive by 8:00 p.m. if you want to nab one of Las Cabras’ coveted outdoor tables, in a pretty garden. Thanks to its affordability and quality, Las Cabras is a locals’
favorite!

Over in Recoleta, Cumaná is a great, affordable spot to sample traditional Argentine fare, like empanadas and locro, a hearty bean-and-pork stew. You can find more cool spots in Recoleta in my
blog post on the neighborhood.

Happy dining!

Q Robert: Where is the 3 River City? Is it near Concordia? How big of a city is it?
A Bridget:

Hi Robert,

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of a place named 3 River City in Argentina. Perhaps you’re thinking of Três Ríos, in Brazil? I’m familiar with the province of Entre Ríos, in Argentina, which is where Concordia is, but I cannot locate a city named 3 Rivers (or Tres Ríos) there. I’m sorry I can’t assist you further, but if you send me some more specifics, I would be happy to help. You might also check in with our Brazilian insider, Kevin Raub.

Thank you.

Best,
Andrea

Q Sebastian: Is Buenos Aires the best place to go if I want to learn how to Tango?
A Bridget:

Hi Sebastian. Buenos Aires is the birthplace of tango—the music and dance originated in its port communities back in the 1890’s—and today it’s more popular than ever in Argentina’s capital. See my recent blog post for more info here. For whatever encouragement it’s worth, I’ll tell you that I started taking tango lessons in Buenos Aires a few months ago and love it! I arrived here with no experience, and now I feel comfortable attending tango concerts with locals and dancing. Enjoy it, and good luck!

Q Richard: What are top 10 authentic Peruvivan restaurants in Lima?
A Terra:

Hi Richard. In my opinion, the most authentic restaurants in Lima are:

  • Amaz (Amazonian food) located in Avenida La Paz 1079, Miraflores
  • Chez Wong (Nikkei food) Calle Leon Garcia 114, San Isidro
  • El rincón que no conoces (creole food) Bernardo Alcedo 363, Lince
  • El Cordano (Peruvian food) Jr Ancash, Lima Downtown in front of the House of Peruvian Literature
  • Don Alfredo restaurant (seafood) located in Calle San Eugenio 991, La Victoria
  • AlmaZen (vegetarian and organic food) in Recavarren 298, Miraflores
  • Central (signature cuisine with Peruvian ingredients) Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores
  • Astrid y Gastón (signature cuisine) located in Cantuarias 175, Miraflores
Q Dipak: I am spending 3 nights in Bogota and 5 nights in Cartagena – any hidden spots/restaurants I should check out? Also, what day trips do you recommened to take from Cartagena?
A Natalie:

Hi Dipak. First of all, it’s great that you’re visiting both Bogotá and Cartagena – the two cities are very different but each wonderful in their own ways. As far as restaurants are concerned, both cities have world-class options, with lots of international food in Bogotá and plenty of seafood in Cartagena. For Bogotá: Andrés Carne de Res is always a favorite with out-of-towners (check out my blog post about it!), but there are tons of good restaurants in the Zona G (near the mountains between Calle 65-78, roughly) and the Usaquén neighborhood. Crepes and Waffles is a chain restaurant, but it’s crazy popular for good reason – it’s delicious! The city is so huge that you can spend years discovering all the hidden spots, but a few places I’d recommend checking out are: the gorgeous, huge Parque Simón Bolívar, the charming Usaquén neighborhood (go on a Sunday if you can!), the quirky artsy neighborhood of La Macarena (also packed with tasty restaurants), and the free Museo Nacional (built in a former prison). Also, check out the Bogotá Eats and Drinks blog – Diana has lots of great info, and she even runs food tours! For Cartagena: Ceviche is a must there. Head to La Perla or La Cevichería (once visited by the great Anthony Bourdain). La Sandwicheria also serves up great lunch food, and the wall-top Cafe del Mar is the best place to sip a cocktail and watch the sunset. There’s also great gelato a block from the cathedral – look for the place with a photo of Bill Clinton on the wall. And don’t forget to buy an arepa de huevo from a street vendor! As far as day trips go, you can’t miss Playa Blanca, and I’ve heard the Islas del Rosario visits are worthwhile, too. If you’re willing to go a bit farther, the stunning Tayrona national park is just a 4-hour bus ride up the coast, and the lovely colonial town of Mompox is 5 hours away. Hope you have a great time!

Q LIZ: What is the exchange rate between U.S. dollars and Argentine pesos? What is the weather like in August?
A Bridget:

Hello, Liz. Right now, the exchange rate between U.S. dollars and Argentine pesos is 1:5.27— or $1 for about 5 pesos and 27 centavos. Keep in mind, however, that exchange rates are always fluid and can change daily. The best way to keep track is by consulting the XE Currency Converter website. August falls in the middle of Argentina’s winter season, so it’s generally chilly, though exact conditions and temperatures vary throughout the country. (Argentina is vast, so it includes a variety of climates.) In the north of Argentina, around Iguazu Falls, for instance, August is considerably warmer than it is further south, near Ushuaia, where snowfall is heavy and the temperatures much colder. In Buenos Aires, August temperatures average in the 50’s and 60’s °F. Safe travels to you! I hope you enjoy your trip.

Q Salvador: What is the best time to visit Chile in terms of weather and what are the main attractions? Thank you.
A Eileen:

Hi Salvador. The best time to come to Chile really depends on what you’re looking for. In the winter, which is June, July and August, the weather is cooler, and most people would stick to the ski slopes or go to the north, which is warmer. World-class ski areas near Santiago include Portillo, Valle Nevado and El Colorado. In the north (where the weather is good all year), La Serena is a popular city from which to explore the surroundings, such as Isla Damas (wildlife viewing) and some of the lovely nearby beaches, such as Guanaqueros, as well as trips up into the Valle de Elqui. Other big attractions in the north include observatories, and the clear sky and unusual rock formations, flamingo viewing and geyser visits accessible from San Pedro de Atacama, the desert outpost most easily accessed from Calama. There are other beaches to the north of Chile as well, especially near Iquique. All of these can be visited all-year-round, but of course, the temperatures will be higher in summer, which is December through March, approximately. If you like hiking, forests and a wetter climate, you’re better off visiting in the warmer season, which starts in September, and really gets into swing in November, with high tourist season being January and February, but the shoulder seasons being equally pleasant to visit. That is when tourism to the south takes off, from the adventure sports (and hotspring) capital of Pucón,  to the Lakes Region, headed up by Puerto Varas, including visits to the Todos Santos lake. Further south is the large island of Chiloé, with its stilted houses and mostly seafood-based cuisine which is specific to the island. Even further south, using Punta Arenas as a jumping-off point, you can go on cruises, visit glaciers, the gigantic national park of Torres del Paine, and see guanacos (cousins to the llama), and rheas, which look like ostriches. There are several-day hiking trips, horseback riding, and stays in ecodomes also available. March is when grape-growing and harvesting wraps up, and there are several easily-accessible harvest festivals from the various wineries in the Colchagua, Casa Blanca and other valleys close to Santiago. Hope that gives you an idea of when and where to go!

Q virginia: What is your opinion of closed door restaurants? Are they worth the price? Are they easy to get into? Which ones do locals like? Are there better places to eat for less money and less pretentious? Thank you!
A Bridget:

Hi Virginia. Closed-door restaurants—or “puertas cerradas,” as they’re known in Argentina—are a great way to sample some authentic food and meet new people. Typically, the puertas cerradas are set in the homes of local chefs, with a limited number of seats available, and the restaurant owners usually prepare a set, fixed-price menu, sometimes with wine pairings. Given that small setting, the closed-door restaurants often have the feel of a cozy dinner party, with guests mingling and the chefs often coming out between courses to chat. I’ve been to several and loved the experience. They are easy to get into, so long as you plan ahead and make reservations in advance. Some popular ones include:

  • Casa SaltShaker, which is run by two American expats out of their home in Buenos Aires’s trendy Recoleta neighborhood, has just 12 seats available and serves small plates paired with wine.
  • Treintasillas has, as its name suggests, 30 seats and is run by Argentine chef Ezequiel Gallardo out of his home in Colegiales, a residential neighborhood north of downtown Buenos Aires.
  • Cocina Sunae serves Southeast Asian food, in Buenos Aires.
  • Ituzaingo Resto is the most popular closed-door restaurant in Mendoza. It’s run out of a private home and serves a hearty six-course dinner, mostly Argentine food, paired with wine.

Enjoy your visit!

Q Cristian: Hello. Where can I find a delicious cevichito?
A Terra:

Hi Cristian. I recommend you to try El Morocho, located in Malecon Grau 1191, Chorillos (open from Monday to Sunday from 12 am to 6 pm) just above the fisherman’s wharf. The house specialties are ceviche, pulpo a los 3 olivos (octopus with 3 olive sauces) and chaufa de mariscos (Chinese rice with seafood). I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Q colleen: Is a trip to Ischigualasto Provincial Park worthwhile? What is the best way to get there from Mendoza or Santiago?
A Bridget:

Hi Colleen! If you’re interested in dinosaurs or archaeology, the Ischigualasto Provincial Park is definitely worth a few days of your time. The UNESCO World Heritage Site looks like a rugged moonscape—in fact, it’s often called Valle de la Luna (or Valley of the Moon)—and is the site of discovery for some of the oldest-known dinosaur remains. It is also the only place on Earth where nearly all of the Triassic period is represented in the ground. You’ll notice the unique rock-deposit colors in clay formations; they look like tall sculptures standing in file along the ground. The simplest way to visit the park is to either rent a car or take a guided tour. The closest Argentine city to the park is actually San Juan, which sits about 98 miles north of Mendoza. You can rent a car in Mendoza and drive up to San Juan, continue north to the town of San Agustín, and then take the newly-paved routes 510 and 150 to access the park. Once inside, you’ll be able to explore the park’s 25-mile-long Circuito Vehicular, a paved loop that encompasses the heart of the park. From Mendoza, you could visit the park as one long day trip. Another option is to go guided. San Agustín’s Paula Tour and Turismo Veza both offer tours to Ischigualasto Provincial Park. Have a great trip!

Q Navi: What is the best way to get from Quito to Cuenca without flying?
A Ilan:

Navi. In December I drove to Cuenca from Quito.  It’s a long drive and I stayed overnight in Riobamba, which is about half way.  The roads are fairly decent, though between Riobamba and Cuenca there is a portion that can be very foggy.  Driving in Ecuador requires vigilance.  Some people would not be comfortable doing it, in which case the only alternative is for someone else to drive you.   Buses are cheap, but they take a long time and you never know what you get in terms of the driver.  Many do not have a sense of personal or public safety, but most get to and from in one piece. And it is far more inexpensive than renting a car.  A good compromise could be a personal taxi or chauffer service that may be able to take you.  I cannot recommend one, unfortunately, as many are informal services.  You should consider these options based on who your travel companions are.  If you are alone, a bus might be the best way to go for safety reasons. If you want to rent a car, the typical international agencies (Hertz, Budget, Avis) are available at the airport, but other local options exist as well.  Costs vary, but they are comparable to U.S. prices, perhaps a little cheaper, but not a lot.

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