South America: 15 checks on your summer bucket list
Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Summer break is a great time for college students to accomplish some travel goals.
If you have several weeks off, you can see quite a bit of any continent. This four-part bucket list series will detail how to take on South America, Asia, Europe, and the United States in a short amount of time.
This piece on South America will focus on three must-see places in each of the following countries: Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Power up your printer, make a copy of this list and start jotting down notes that will help you create the travel summer of your dreams.
Air, lodging, and food
Flights will arguably be your largest expense, so get those out of the way by flying into and out of the major airport that costs the least. You may want to purchase two one-way tickets and then either travel over land there or take small, intercontinental carriers. Google Flights is an excellent site that spells out how much flights are to and from any city, with a map to help visualize your journey. Passengers originating from Atlanta, for example, may find more inexpensive flights to Lima, Peru, than they would to Buenos Aires, Argentina. But if you're flying from Houston, for example, you may find direct and cost-comparable rates to a variety of South America destinations.
Once you're there, it's best not to spend much money on lodging. Consider Couchsurfing, a site that matches travelers with residents who have a free couch to sleep on. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (or WWOOF) is another excellent resource where you may find work-stay programs with advance booking. And while hotels are often not budget-friendly, hostels can serve as an affordable alternative. Check out Hostelworld to find the perfect digs in your destination city.
The food in South America is to die for, and you can eat while still watching your wallet. If you stick to restaurants and food stalls swarmed by locals, you should be OK. You can also consider shopping at markets and having outdoor picnics rather than expensive meals that include table service.
1. Rio de Janeiro
Rio is a sprawling city of 6.3 million residents located in the southeast corner of Brazil. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, so it pays to pick up a few common phrases before you go. When you're there, spend time people-watching on Copacabana Beach and taking the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Be aware of peak seasons, especially if you're on a budget. This means you may want to skip Rio in August when the 2016 Olympics will be in town.
If you're into kitesurfing or wanted to try it, there are few places in the world that's more suitable than Jericoacoara, or Jeri, as the locals call it. This is a small fishing village in the northeastern side of Brazil, a very relaxing place to completely disconnect from the world.
3. Iguacu National Park
Over in the southwest corner of Brazil is Iguacu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The park is worth a visit just to see the native plants and animals, but perhaps the most impressive is Iguazu Falls on the Argentina side, which is one of the world's largest waterfalls.
4. Buenos Aires
Switch your language guidebook from Portuguese to Spanish when you enter Argentina, and then visit the exciting capital city of Buenos Aires, a thriving metropolis of more than 3 million people. Consider a free tour with an experienced guide and make sure to check out the daily tango performances at the Galerias Pacifico mall. You'll also want to check out the Bosques de Palermo, an expansive park where you can people-watch and even go on a rowboat ride.
The city of Mendoza is in the central-west portion of Argentina. It's a region best known for growing grapes, and they're famous for its red wine. You can take a tour of multiple wineries through places like Ampora Wine Tours and Trout & Wine Tours, as well as explore more adventurous outdoor activities like whitewater rafting, with guidance from Potrerillos Explorer.
Cordoba is an eclectic and historic city in central Argentina known for its many museums, art galleries, and cathedrals. Don't miss a visit to the Iglesia Catedral, as well as the Museo Historico Provincial Marques de Sobremonte.
7. Machu Picchu
Known as one of the wonders of the modern world, Machu Picchu should be on the bucket list for every traveler. It's a formerly inhabited Incan city that sits high in the Andes Mountains, and wasn't discovered until 1911 when an American archaeologist stumbled upon its ruins. Today, you can get to Machu Picchu by hiking the multi-day Inca Trail (which is strenuous and you'll need a guide, so it's best to join a tour group), or by train via PeruRail. This trip needs to be booked months in advance, and it's best to avoid the peak crowd months of July and August.
Cusco is an ancient city in the Andes Mountains and, because of the high elevation, it's a popular stopping point for travelers heading to Machu Picchu. It's especially a good place to get acclimated to the altitude. Incan culture is thriving, and you can see a variety of colorful alpaca clothing, unique architecture, and Andean cuisine. Be sure to visit the cathedral and main plaza.
9. Amazon Rainforest
Lovers of all things nature would be wise to spend time checking out the Peruvian Amazon, the largest river in the world. To get there, fly from Lima into the town of Iquitos, then board a riverboat for a cruise down the river. This should be booked in advance through a tour company. Visiting the Amazon is wonderful during any time of year because you're sure to see fascinating wildlife around every corner, even in the rain.
10. Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is a deep lake within the Andes Mountains and known as a sacred place for the Andean people. The largest lake in South America, it sits on the border of Peru and Bolivia and is about 30 minutes driving distance from La Paz, Bolivia. Travelers on a budget can buy a pass for the Bolivia Hop, a bus that will take you from La Paz to Lake Titicaca and even into Peru. Spend a few days on the lake and consider taking a boat ride and staying on an island. Home stays are available with advance booking.
11. Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world, measuring a whopping 4,633 square miles. It's highly recommended to go with a reputable tour company for this experience. Many tours will start in the town of Tupiza.
12. Yungas Road
Thrill-seekers will get a huge kick out of Yungas Road, whose very narrow paths make it known as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Make sure you have all your wits about you before venturing. If you can stomach it, consider taking a bike tour down the cliff-side terrain.
13. Torres del Paine National Park
Located in Chile's Southern Patagonia region, Torres del Paine National Park is one of the country's treasures, with mountains, glaciers, and low-lying fields. Consider hopping on a group tour to maximize your time in this park through Intrepid Tours or G Adventures. The hiking here is insane—but rewarding—so be sure to bring the proper clothing and footwear.
14. Valle de la Luna
Travelers looking for things to do on the northern edge of Chile can check out Valle de la Luna, a.k.a. Moon Valley, a sweeping desert landscape that looks like something from outer space. This is another place you'll want to use a tour to see. You can find these tours in advance or by talking to locals in the nearby town of San Pedro de Atacama, which is a destination unto itself.
15. Easter Island
Rapa Nui, more popularly known as Easter Island, is a tiny volcanic island—14 miles by seven miles—nearly 2,300 miles off the coast of Chile. A flight from Santiago will get you there in about five hours. The island is known for its stone moai statues, built by Polynesian settlers around the 11th century. The best time to go is between December and March, which is the island's summer season. Be sure to check out cave paintings as well as the statues, and indulge in some picturesque hiking. You can find a variety of organized Easter Island tours on VisitChile.com.
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