The Best of South America Part 2: Travellers Share Their Tips

To celebrate the launch of our free ebook South America Highlights we asked other travel bloggers to share their favourite places and experiences on the continent. In Part 1 we heard their top tips for Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil and now in Part 2 we move on to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. For exhilarating adventures, colourful festivals, remote treks, hidden surfing beaches, and wildlife encounters read on…

BOLIVIA

Mountain Biking Down the World’s Most Dangerous Road

Mountain biking down the Dangerous Road, Bolivia

Mountain biking down the Dangerous Road, Bolivia. Photo by Anthony Bianco.

Chosen by Anthony, The Travel Tart

I like travelling on unroadworthy forms of transport and risking my life on dodgey things like Cairo cabs and flatulent camels. However, I may have been a bit crazy by choosing to ride down the world’s most dangerous road on a mountain bike but it’s one of the most rewarding and exhilarating adventure experiences I’ve ever done. It starts at 4000 metres above sea level near La Paz (sometimes in the snow!) and finishes in tropical rainforest. Knowing that there is a 600 metre drop if you ride off the road makes you feel alive! I was pumped for days after this ride – and I wanted to do it again!

Carnaval in Oruro

Carnaval in Oruro, Bolivia

Carnaval in Oruro, Bolivia. Photo by Michael Tieso.

Chosen by Michael, Art of Backpacking

One of the craziest parties in the world is in Oruro, Bolivia for Carnaval. It’s ten days of non-stop partying, dancing, and drinking with nearly half a million people. Part of the celebration is to throw water balloons on unexpected people. Since I clearly look like a foreigner, I was targeted on a constant basis. We had an all out war with locals vs foreigners. A few hundred locals rushed at us with hundreds of water balloons flying towards us. We were ultimately defeated and ran away throughout the streets of Oruro. Carnaval in Oruro is insane. I definitely recommend it.

Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Did you want a pinch of salt? Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Photo by Jarmo.

Chosen by Jarmo, Arctic Nomad

If you were told that you absolutely need sunglasses and sunblock SPF 50+ to visit this place, you’d probably think of an amazing hot beach, but you’d be wrong. While those things are critical for survival here, it can actually be quite chilly at the salt flats of Uyuni. Salar de Uyuni is one of the most flat places on earth, it’s basically just a desert made of pure salt that reflects sunshine like nobody’s business. Even with sunglasses your eyes start to hurt; it’s just white as far as the eye can see; it messes up your sense of perspective and offers great opportunities for some wacky photos, especially during rainy season. It is a one of a kind place which you shouldn’t miss if you happen to be in Bolivia.

PERU

Trekking to Kuelap

Kuelap, Peru

Kuelap, Peru. Photo by Married With Luggage.

Chosen by Warren and Betsy, Married with Luggage

One of our greatest memories in South America was our 4-day trek to Kuelap. We hiked through the forests and high altitudes of the Andes of Northern Peru, slept with families in small villages, and encountered a broad variety of birds along the way. However, nothing astonished us more than the man-made wonders we encountered.

During a particularly long day of hiking (9 hours) our guide asked if we were interested in seeing something “cool”. We stepped off the trail into an ancient village of the Chachapoyan people which was mesmerizing to stand in the midst of what was once a thriving village and now to see how the forest has reclaimed it.

The highlight of this adventure was saved to the end for when you arrive at the enormous fortress of Kuelap. Built into the top of a mountain ridge and more impressive (it stretched for over half a kilometer) than anything we have ever seen. It will boggle your mind to imagine how the Chachapoyans were able to construct this fortress and the wonders that have yet to be excavated. Absolutely one of the true joys of South America.

Dr. Cabrera’s Stone Museum, Ica

Dr Cabrera's Stone Museum, Ica

Dr Cabrera’s Stone Museum, Ica. Photo by Family on Bikes.

Chosen by Nancy, Family on Bikes

As I think back over our three years on the road, there were a lot of things we saw that intrigued me, but I never thought a bunch of rocks could capture my imagination so thoroughly. But then, I never thought I would see 20,000 extraordinary rocks intricately carved by some ancient civilization either. All it took was one quick look inside the door of Dr. Cabrera’s Stone Museum in Ica, Peru for me to want more. My curiosity had been piqued – what were all those carved stones anyway?

Some people feel they were carved by some ancient civilization as a way of passing information on to us; others feel they were carved by some poor farmer eking out a living in the desert. Regardless of who carved them, their mysteries captivated my imagination.

Hiking in the Cordillera Blanca

The heart stopping road to Vaqueria, Cordillera Blanca

The heart stopping road to Vaqueria, Cordillera Blanca. Photo by Leigh McAdam.

Chosen by Leigh, Hike Bike Travel

Many years ago three of us, my husband, girlfriend and I, ventured to Peru to spend 10 days hiking a loop in the Cordillera Blanca, a spectacular range of mountains located north of Huaraz, the staging point for our trek. The drive to the starting point was memorable – and the most dangerous part of the whole trip (see photo). We got dropped off, in what felt like the middle of nowhere. But within minutes, men appeared looking for work. My husband’s minimal Spanish along with a map was enough to find someone who knew the route we wanted to do.

The next day we headed off with our donkey driver, two donkeys, and all our own gear including tents, cooking fuel and enough food for all of us, for 11 days. It was a trip that rewarded with truly spectacular scenery every single day. And there wasn’t a westerner to be seen for the first seven days. Now you can do a similar guided trek for several thousand dollars though I’d still choose to do this one self-guided.

Huanchaco

Huanchaco, Peru

Huanchaco, Peru. Photo by Ordinary Traveler.

Chosen by Scott and Christy, Ordinary Traveler

On the coast of northern Peru, lies the surfer town of Huanchaco. This town is truly a Peruvian hidden paradise, great for backpackers, surfers and upscale tourists alike. Still, this small coastal town has not yet been overrun and built up like some of the other tourist towns in South America. If you are in the area, don’t miss our favorite hostel, Hostal Naylamp, and the restaurant at ‘My Friend’ hostel. This restaurant features mouth-watering, traditional Peruvian dishes and fresh fruit juices.

Peruvian Amazon

Raymond with an anaconda, Peruvian Amazon

Raymond with an anaconda, Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Raymond Walsh.

Chosen by Raymond, Man On The Lam

While I haven’t been to very much of South America, my favourite place so far is the Peruvian Amazon at the tail end of rainy season. Taking a dugout boat through lush jungle normally landlocked in the dry season, and spotting pink dolphins, monkeys, sloths, and the odd piranha along the way was beyond what I expected.

The highlight was when our boat took us to a local home which acted as an impromptu shelter for abandoned or injured animals – including this anaconda. His bowels were in fine working order though – he proceeded to crap all over my leg shortly after this photo was taken.

Trekking in the Cordillera Huayhuash

Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru

Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru. Photo by Jack and Jill Travel.

Chosen by Jack and Jill, Jack and Jill Travel

It was a mentally and physically challenging experience for both of us. The 10 day trek around the Cordillera Huayhuash mountain range in Peru took us through remote Andean villages and numerous passes, the highest of which was a 5000 m pass. The scenery was amazing and breathtaking (quite literally). It was one of those experiences we look back on, shake our heads, and go ‘Can’t believe we were crazy enough to do that!’ If you’re into mountain scenery and trekking, then Huaraz, Peru and its gazillion miles of hiking trails just can’t be missed.

Zorritos

Zorritos, Peru

Zorritos, Peru. Photo by Bodes Well.

Chosen by Angela and Jason, Bodes Well

We didn’t have a plan when we crossed the Peruvian border from Ecuador, but within an hour we stumbled across this beautiful stretch of Pacific. There were several things that just made this place magical- the birds, the hairless dogs, the driftwood art, the amazing sunsets. But mostly, it was an appreciation of its beauty and peace. We spent a week longer than we expected here, but we could have stayed longer.

ECUADOR

The Galapagos Islands

Iguanas in Galapagos Islands

Iguanas in Galapagos Islands. Photo by Hecktic Travels.

Chosen by Dalene and Peter, Hecktic Travels

As we wrapped up our cruise around the Galapagos Islands, we commented that all we had left to see were dolphins. Within ten minutes of going below deck, we heard our guide’s voice bellowing throughout the boat: “Dolphins! Dolphins!” We ran up top and stood mesmerized for fifteen minutes as a pod of six frolicked and raced beside us.

It was the perfect ending to a magical five days of island hopping in which we encountered every animal that Charles Darwin made famous. From swimming with sharks, following the colorful marine iguanas, and watching baby sea turtles scratch their way to the top of the sand, each moment was memorable, each stop caused our jaws to drop further.

Nothing in our one year tour of South America compared to our time in the Galapagos Islands as we experienced the mystical, other-worldly animals that inhabit them.

Misahuallí

Local boys, Misahuallí, Ecuador

Local boys, Misahuallí, Ecuador. Photo by Jasmine Stephenson.

Chosen by Jasmine, Jasmine Wanders

One of my favorite spots in South America is a teeny town in the jungles of Ecuador called Misahuallí. The town is inhabited by a pack of surprisingly smart and naughty monkeys. They can be found stealing leftovers and bags of chips from local businesses, unscrewing drink bottles to slurp up the remaining contents, and teasing the stray dogs wandering around town. The only thing they fear are the huge snakes wrapped around the necks of some of the local children. Aside from the in-town entertainment, there’s also a beach along the banks of the river, a waterfall nearby, and a few indigenous areas you can venture to. I’ve never been to a town so small and yet so fascinating in my life – it’s truly worth the trip.

New Year’s Eve, Ecuador

Jason and Aracely on New Year's Eve in Chone, Ecuador

Jason and Aracely on New Year’s Eve in Chone, Ecuador. Photo by 2 Backpackers.

Chosen by Jason and Aracely, 2 Backpackers

One of our favorite experiences in South America was celebrating New Year’s Eve in Ecuador. This is an extremely unique experience for those new to South America and more specifically Ecuador. Get ready to say goodbye to the old year, Año Viejo, by burning life-size dummies and dolls throughout the streets. The tradition helps resolve the past year’s regrets, failures and frustrations, so you may enter the new year with great hope. And of course, you can’t celebrate anything in Latin America without loud music and excessive dancing.

The Chapel Of Man Monument, Quito

Miro at The Chapel of Man Monument

Miro at The Chapel of Man Monument. Photo by Lainie Liberti.

Chosen by Lainie, Raising Miro

Hands down, the highlight of our short time in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito, was our visit to Oswaldo Guayasamin’s: The Chapel Of Man Monument. From our first step in the nation’s capital, the importance of his work to the collective consciousness was clear. Reproductions of Guayasamin’s art were everywhere, sucking me into the haunting images, eyes begging for justice, stories of human suffering being told as though the cheap reproduction posters that hung in every hostel and restaurant throughout the city were a cry for help.

La Capilla del Hombre or The Chapel of Man Monument was designed by Guayasamin himself specifically to house his collection of paintings that pay tribute to the indigenous peoples of Latin America, and their suffering spanning the pre-Columbian world through conquest, colonization and integration. Upon entering the ‘The Chapel of Man’ we felt the heaviness of the larger than life primal images, feeling overwhelmed by the surge of raw collective anguish. Miro and I both were struck with emotions, and on more than one occasion, I viewed the powerful images through misty eyes.

Banos, Ecuador

Banos, Ecuador

Banos, Ecuador. Photo by Stephanie Yoder.

Chosen by Stephanie, Twenty-Something Travel

You know all of the cool adventure sports you’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t because they cost ridiculous amounts of money? Banos is the place where you may finally get your wish. A sunshine filled small town in the Ecuadorian Andes, Banos specializes in adrenaline. Here I was able to go white-water rafting for $45 for two people, and bungee jumping for $20! The real reason I fell for Banos though was the gorgeous backdrop, beautiful atmosphere and the delightful thermal baths.

COLOMBIA

Colombia

Morning in Cartagena, Colombia

Morning in Cartagena, Colombia. Photo by World Travel for Couples.

Chosen by Adam, World Travel For Couples

When we think back to our time in South America, one place stands above the rest – and that is Colombia. It has it all – big, cosmopolitan cities, beautiful beaches, clear water, mountains, history. But what really sets Colombia apart from everywhere else we’ve been, not only in South America, but the world, is its people. The smiles on the faces of Colombians are contagious. They always seem happy and are always willing to lend a helping hand. They want travelers to realize that their country is not the drug addled war zone that it once was. So if you are planning a trip to South America, ignore what you’ve heard and go to Colombia.

Cali

Cali, Colombia

Salsa dancers in Cali, Colombia. Photo by Ayngelina Brogan.

Chosen by Ayngelina, Bacon is Magic

Colombia is an amazing country and the people are so warm and want to show tourists that they do not need to be afraid. One of my favourite cities has been historically known as one of the most dangerous but I never encountered any issues and found the people to be incredibly friendly.

I ended up staying in Cali, Colombia for a month because it is also the home of salsa dancing and is famous around the world for its footwork. During the day I went to salsa lessons and at night practiced in the salsa clubs. But the most amazing thing was seeing the children at the World Salsa Festival who obviously had been dancing since they learned to walk.

Caribbean Coast

Koralia sunset, Colombia

Koralia sunset, Colombia. Photo by Inspiring Travelers.

Chosen by Andrea and John, Inspiring Travelers

A major highlight of South America for us was Colombia, particularly the beautiful Caribbean Coast. Some people rave about Cartagena, which didn’t really appeal to us, but the region near the Parque Nacional Tayrona was gorgeous and relatively unspoilt. We made friends with some friendly young locals and spent our time enjoying drinks by the beach, exploring the park and eating delicious food. The sunsets are incredible and it’s so quiet and peaceful, with minimal access to things like internet, that we could really relax.

Riding a Chiva in Medellin

Medellin Chiva

Medellin Chiva. Photo by Over Yonderlust.

Chosen by Erica and Shaun, Over Yonderlust

One of our favorite things to do when visiting a new country is to participate in the customs and traditions that they have to offer. Boy did I get us into an experience for sure. Our Couchsurfing host brought us along to a Christmas work party on a Chiva, or in other words, a pimped out school bus full of dancing, drunk, happy Colombians. All I could think about was that I had been missing out on celebrating Christmas like this my entire life – CON GUSTO! What a way to bring in the special day!

San Gil

San Gil, Colombia

San Gil, Colombia. Photo by Jeff Blum.

Chosen by Jeff, Lengthy Travel

One very memorable experience in South America was my visit to San Gil, a small but pleasant city in the Santander region about seven hours north of Bogotá. It is known as Colombia’s adventure sport capital and while I was there I hiked, swam, went white water rafting and tried parapente (paragliding) for the first time (see my video). But, more than the activities or natural beauty, it is often the people you meet that make the difference and I was fortunate to meet Eliana via Couchsurfing. Besides being incredibly friendly (as so many Colombians are) she is also very knowledgeable about her city and region and made herself my personal tour guide.

South America Highlights coverWe want to give a big thank you to all the travel bloggers who took the time to share their favourite places and experience in South America. It’s an amazing collection and has us itching to get back to South America and explore some more.

Don’t miss Part 1 of The Best of South America where more travel bloggers share their top tips for places to visit in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil.

For even more ideas of places to visit in South America get your free copy of our new ebook South America Highlights.

Trail Wallet

What was your favourite place or experience in South America? Leave a comment and let us know.

29 thoughts on The Best of South America Part 2: Travellers Share Their Tips

  1. Pingback: The Best of South America Part 1: Travellers Share Their Tips

  2. I spent 9 months backpacking in South America in the mid-90’s and was lucky enough to hit almost all of the above spots. I missed out on Huanchaco, Peru and that picture makes me want to get on a plane today. Waves look perfect!
    I ended up moving down to Chile 13 years ago for the skiing and snowboarding and never looked back. Powder in August anyone? If you are in Chile or Argentina between July and September, a snow trip should be on your list. I added a link to my name above for more details on how to ski powder in August.

      • Erin, if you make it back, be sure to check out PowderQuest Tours, http://www.powderquest.com for snowboarding in South America. After my backpacking trip thru SA, I loved Chile so much I decided to move here (in 1999) and start up PowderQuest. It’s been a great experience.
        I live in Pucon, Chile, a must stop for anyone traveling through. Volcano, hot springs, class 3-5 rivers, trekking, fishing, mountain biking and very good places to eat.
        Best of luck!

        David

    • Thanks for your contribution Ayngelina – I love your colourful photo of the dancers. We’re the same – we spent a year there but it feels like we barely made a dent.

  3. Now you’ve done it – I’ve just got to visit Bolivia and Salar De Uyuni. I live in Utah, and Salar De Uyuni just begs comparison with the Bonneville Salt Flats!

    Really enjoyed reading about favorite places!

    • Bolivia was our favourite country in South America and the Salar de Uyuni was a definite highlight (we featured it in our ebook). We’d highly recommend a visit.

  4. Great post, guys. Love the photos. I’ve only been to Peru in S. America, but Bolivia and Colombia are next on my list. Would LOVE to bike the world’s most dangerous road (not sure my husband would come with me, and pretty sure my father would kill me) and visit the salt flats. Excited for your South America guide. Afraid it will give me too many ideas, though! Take care!

    • Thanks Ellen. There are so many incredible things to do in Bolivia and it’s really reasonably priced for all the adventure activities and tours to the salt flats and Amazon etc. Hope we give you lots of ideas!

  5. What a treasure trove of info!
    Thanks so much for asking for my input. South America is such an interesting continent to explore – physically and culturally – plus it’s so much more reasonable to visit price wise than Europe or North America. Love the people we’ve run into on the three trips we’ve done and hope to take advantage of some of these tips.

    Terrific idea Erin & Simon!

  6. Oh wow. South America is somewhere I’m so excited about seeing. And this post has just helped get me even more excited. Thanks for putting it all together, great work :)

  7. Thanks for asking me to contribute to this guys! That’s a great collection of things to see/do in South America. In total I’ve only spent maybe six months in South America so far, still so much to see. I’m pretty sure Colombia is going to be my next destination there.

  8. This post is fabulous!

    I just started following your blog! It’s loaded with so much great information and inspiration and you two, are such a beautiful couple! Congrats!

    My family and I will begin traveling to Peru soon, the Ica Museum with the stones is so fascinating! Thank you for putting together this information!!!

    -Molly

  9. I lived in Cordoba, Argentina for 3 months and used it as a base for traveling. It’s the 2nd largest city in Argentina, but still maintains a “small town” feel while boasting a fabulous party scene as well. I definitely recommend going to Cordoba!

    Also, if you get the chance, I would NOT pass up hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It was an unforgettable, hardest-thing-I’ve-done-in-my-life, magical, beautiful, educational (etc etc) experience!

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