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 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.

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