Coming up on two years in South America… figured it was time to give the lowdown on some of my favourite places, along with some best to be avoided. This is by no means comprehensive, I still have far more of the continent to visit yet, more a brief overview of some of the places I’ve been.
By far the most diverse, interesting, amazing, challenging, beautiful city I’ve had the privilege of spending time in (Note: I haven’t been to Brazil yet, so may yet find someplace to compare when there next year…). It’s not the cheapest place on the continent by any means, but nor is it overly expensive if you’re earning/travelling on hard currency. And if you can exchange $US on the “blue” market then you’ll be getting 30-40% more for your dollar, so it’s even more affordable.
Yes, BA is dirty. Yes, you need to watch your back in many areas of the city. But it just has so much to offer anyone visiting and living there. And if you’re a night owl like me then waking at midday, dining at 10pm, and drinking until 3am (and the rest…) is just perfect!
The place of legend, extremes, and so many books, poetry and other prose. Containing some of the world’s last, great wilderness areas, and communities that have learnt to survive the extremes that nature can hit them with. The most beautiful trekking I’ve ever experienced, and I didn’t even get to some of the more well known areas, that I will tackle when I get back there again. And it is “when”, not “if”.
After the chaotic mess that can be Buenos Aires, Sanitiago is clean, orderly… and some people regard it as a little boring. I can see their point, unlike BA there’s not much going on during the week, however it’s a very lovely city for a major city (so many in South America are not), and would be a great place if looking for a “normal life”, where you’re not going out drinking and dancing during the week.
The Incas weren’t wrong… one of the most beautiful places on the planet is certainly a centre of some kind of power. Whether it be from the gods, from the earth, or simply the power of rejuvenation from spending time in such a beautiful place breathing the cleanest, crispest mountain air imaginable. The town itself is great, but the country and trekking opportunities surrounding Cusco are world class, and not to be missed! I spent 4 months living here and still didn’t do half of what I wanted to.
The biggest disappointment by far… Before arriving noted that it was located right on the coast, “Great” I thought, I’ll get in some beach time… I’ve never seen an uglier beach in my life. And the city itself has suffered from so many earthquakes over the years, so the majority of buildings are modern, and it lacks any real soul. Add that to a pretty miserable climate, surrounded by desert… I would definitely recommend it as a place to avoid unless you really, REALLY have to go there for some reason (flight, embassy …etc).
I had heard so much about the women of Medellin before arriving, I was expecting great things. They were supposed to be the most beautiful in all the continent, friendly, warm, open… Boy, was I disappointed! I’ve never seen so much plastic in all my life! Plastic surgery seems to be a standard coming of age thing for women in Medellin, be it breasts or buttock implants. And while I met some nice people during my 2 weeks there, overall the women were certainly not warmer or more friendly than in most other places I had been too. Definitely overrated.
As to the city itself, the most accurate adjective I can think of is “pleasant”. They appear to be embracing all things American/western at the expense of their own culture. Not a huge fan.
You can tell that this fortress port city used to be an amazingly beautiful one. It still has its looks in many areas, a photographer’s dream in the evening light. However tourism is making a huge impact, with upmarket stores opening up, crowds of tourists at all hours, and the areas around the main tourist areas becoming a little seedier as more and more are drawn towards the money. Definitely a place to visit, but not somewhere I’d want to spend more than 3 or 4 days. Before leaving Australia I had been tossing up between Cartagena and Buenos Aires as where to begin my South American adventure. I’m extremely glad I chose BA.
I’m reminded a little of Cusco, and a little of Medellin. The old town area with its surrounding mountains is not dissimilar to Cusco’s old town, while the more modern parts of very reminiscent of Medellin, though there seems far more to do here than Medellin and it’s not quite as “Americanised”. The weather is extremely pleasant, most days in the 20s and sunny, nights cool enough for a light jacket at more. So that in itself is a huge improvement over Cusco’s zero degree nights!
And Ecuador being a small country, basing yourself in Quito you’re so close to Andes mountains, beaches and Amazon. I think I’ll be here for a little while longer yet…