South America - tips

In short A very varied continent with lots to see, in particular for the adventurous hiker with a crush for either wildlife or Indian people. An amazing mix in between the densely forested Amazon and the almost "Tibetan" highlands of Bolivia. South America provides the visitor with the most varied landscape and people anywhere. Don't miss it!
Highlights Lots! Among places not to be missed are: Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia), Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Colca Canyon (Peru), Lago Titicaca (Bolivia/Peru), Galapagos (Equador), The Amazon (easiest and cheapest in Bolivia), Foz de Iguaz˙ (Argentina/Brazil), Atacama, Torres del Paine and Carretera Austral (all Chile).

For wildlife, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador are probably the best place of earth, possessing an amazing array of confident and photogenic birds and reptiles. On the mainland, try Rurrenabaque in Bolivian Amazon, the Patanal Swamp (Brazil), upstream Orinoco (Venezuela), the South Chilean and Argentinian Andes, or the easy-to-reach Peninsula Valdez where chances are quite good to see elephant selas along with penguins.

Finally, far down south, the Falklands (Islas Malvinas) are a British gem in the Southern Atlantic and possibly the cheapest way to see lots of penguins, and much less touristic than Antarctica itself. For the adventurous, these magnificent and very English islands are not as distant as they used to be, as flights are easy to catch from Puntarenas (Chile) or Rio Gallegos (Argentina). Seriously recommendable.

For photo samples: Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Galapagos etc., Chile, Argentina and Falkland Islands, Peru and Bolivia.

Slide shows: Peru, Bolivia, Falkland Islands / Easter Island, Venezuela Fishing (dk), Venezuela Fishing (eng.).

Articles (in Danish): The Falklands.

Places to avoid In general, the capitals and most bigger cities anywhere. The crime rate is frequently soaring and there is not too much to see. Cities like Bogota, Caracas and Lima are best left alone. Actually, as late as January 09, Caracas was named "the most dangerous place on earth"!

A possible exception could be La Paz or perhaps Quito which are actually quite pleasant but nowhere as relaxed or gentle as the towns on the countryside. In particular, the election of the severely anti-American Evo Morales in Bolivia and the Ecuadorian use of the US dollar as national currency has made life more dangerous for Western tourists.

Seasons In the tropical belt north of Equator, go for the "northern winter", in the highlands as well as the lowlands. The temperature doesn't change much but the rainfall does, and most places have summer rain.

In the tropical belt south of Equator, the "southern winter" is the best, at least until you reach Patagonia where you'd prefer to be there in the southern summer (October - April). In any case, check the guide books before departure.

Do's and don'ts Not much, however, beware that Latin American people and officials in particular are very keen on "looking good". Apart from the ever-present sun glasses, the dress code is more conservative than in Europe and people tende to spend an awful lot of money to dress nicely. In short, you should do the same - at least when crossing a potentially risky border. No big thing, just wear long pants, avoid the most shabby t-shirt, and remember to shave. Looking important may speed up things, while looking like a freak won't do you any good at all.
Visa Usually no requirements, unless you're Kiwi, Aussie or even Canadian. Most Europeans don't need a visa for anything but the Guyanas and Venezuela crossed by land.
Value for money From very good to not too good. The economy depends very much on the standard of living in the countries, and, not surprisingly, the Andean countries are much cheaper than the more developed Brazil. However, the costs in most countries fluctuate a lot with the fluctuating economy and, as an example, Argentina has become much less costly during a period of 18 months (since the collapse in Jan.2002).

In Bolivia, you can make a life for less than 15 USD a day, in particular at the countryside. In Patagonia, a tent and a sleeping bag will reduce your costs significantly. The most expensive is, of course, The Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, however, even at 100 USD/day, it's more than worth it!

Others Speak Spanish (and in Brazil: Portugese)! As simple as that. More than anywhere else in the world, South and Central America are regions where the value of your stay will depend on the contact with the locals. Only very few understand English, so do yourself the favour and do a bit of legwork back home, and your stay will be much more rewarding.

Furthermore, your own security will improve a lot, and, as a third benefit, it's much easier to distinguish yourself from the (often) very ignorant Americans who have made themselves quite a dodgy reputation in South America. Of course, not all Americans are George Bush-clones but, sadly, quite a few show a high level of ignorance towards other cultures, and the present Bush II administration doesn't really help the situation.

Another winner is to teach yourself a few facts about your national soccer team and, of course, the local ones. Who scored the important goals during the Mundial 2006 is much more important than thinking about economics for the next decade. In particular Mexicans, Columbians and, of course, Brazilians, will love you for that, in particular if you do it in their language. Unfortunately, in Venezuela, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, the national sport seems to be "beisbal" :o)

The difference from not speaking Spanish to doing it is quite amazing. South America may be the continent on earth where it's easiest to make new friends. Speak the language and miracles happen.

 

button12.jpg (5359 bytes)