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 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

 

 

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