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The List: 6 Top South American Travel Experiences

We experienced so much during our 3 month stay in South America, that it’s hard to pinpoint a few favourite experiences, but nonetheless we’re going to try.

1) Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru
This is kind of a no brainer. I mean, who doesn’t want to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?

Still, despite being one of the most photographed places in the world, Machu Picchu really is one of those tourist sites that has the capacity to shock and stun in person.

We’d been expecting that though…

What surprised us was the absolute beauty of the Inca Trail itself. From carefully laid ancient stones to Incan fortresses to the majesty of the Andes, there was awe-inspiring beauty throughout the 42 kilometre trek, not just at the end.

2) Living off the Grid at Lucas’ Coconut Plantation on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast
After barely making it over rough, rough roads in a 4×4, we reached Lucas’ coconut plantation by the Caribbean Sea. With no electricity, no wifi and no running water in sight, we were forced to sleep in hammocks, wake to the rising of the sun, bathe in a freshwater lagoon, and cook our meals over an open fire.

Never mind top travel experiences in South America, this is probably one of our favourite travel experiences of all time.

3) Chilling out on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro
Copacabana’s nice, but Ipanema’s where it’s at. While Copacabana is machismo jocks in banana thong swim trunks, Ipanema is the cooler, elegant and more refined older sister.

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White sand beaches, huge ocean waves, fresh acai smoothies, grilled shrimp on skewers and a never ending parade of Brazilian boys and girls enjoying the sun, made for several fantastic days by the sea. Even though Ipanema was one of the first beaches we visited on our trip, it remained one of our favourites.

4) Trying Ayahuasca on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia
I can’t really say that this was an enjoyable experience for us, but it was definitely one of the most uniquely South American.

Where better to try the Amazonian spirit vine, ayahuasca, than in the heart of the rainforest, or in our case, on the outskirts of Bogota in the garage of a Colombian Taita (or shaman). We had no idea what was in store for us, and boy did ayahuasca surprise us.

Definitely one for the books.

5) Bale Folclorica in Salvador de Bahia
Our traveling style doesn’t usually involve concerts, shows or performances. We’re much more likely to just wander the streets of a city or while away a few hours in a coffee shop.

We made an exception for the Bale Folclorica in Salvador de Bahia and are we ever glad we did. Astounding, emotional and colourful, I can still visualize the graceful and dangerous looking capoeira peformance to this day.

I only wish I’d been allowed to take pictures. 🙁

6) Staying in Favela Vidigal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
We ended up staying in the Brazilian slum, because we were trying to save money. Though we were a little fearful at first, staying in the favela turned out to be one of the best experiences of our trip.

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Walking distance from Leblon and Ipanema Beaches, no more dangerous than most places, and with a real sense of community, our stay in Vidigal forever changed our perception of what a favela was.

Kinda the whole point of traveling, isn’t it?

Have you been to South America? What are your favourite experiences?

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bear #

    Brazilian boys????? I kill you!

    January 15, 2014
    • ahah, she did mention the girls, too, I think (OK didn’t notice the girls much)
      GREAT list, fab experiences. Luca’s place sounds like something I would love to experience too. Thank you for giving me yet another incentive to return to Latino-land. Ole’ 🙂

      January 15, 2014
      • PS. Were you channelling your inner ‘Ahmed the dead terrorist’ there by any chance????

        January 15, 2014
      • Haha, thanks Laura for pointing out that I did mention the girls too. ‘Ahmed’ was getting a bit too riled up there, I think (kinda like when I mention INTER-MILAN to him) 😉 We, too have to return to South America at some point – still gotta cover Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile!!

        January 16, 2014
  2. Amazing photos and an excellent article. I like the fact you really tried to blend in the with the locals. It really shows the true character of the traveller, as well as experiencing the true character of the country and not simply from the viewpoint of the “tourist’s eye”.

    January 15, 2014
    • Thanks Derek! Somehow we don’t feel like we’re really traveling, unless we’re interacting with the locals somehow. There’s no way we would’ve found Lucas’ Coconut Plantation on our own – it’s not in any guidebooks (just word of mouth) – and it was only through some Colombians we met that we were able to go there.

      January 16, 2014
  3. What a wonderful roundup! This might sound like I am exaggerating, but I really do think you have one of the best travel blogs here on WordPress… it helps that the quality of your notations equal the quality of the pictures you feature! I’m amazed and a bit jealous that you stayed in a favela – when I was in Buenos Aires, I didn’t even enter one of the villas!

    January 16, 2014
    • Wowwww!! That’s the kind of exaggeration I like to hear!! Seriously, thank you so much…your comment really made my morning. 😀

      The favela was fantastic, and not what we expected at all. We had wifi, air conditioning, a washing machine – all you could ask for – for $30 per night…and believe it or not, the people who live in the favela didn’t even bother to lock their doors!!

      January 16, 2014
      • Of course!! I get really happy whenever I receive a compliment, so sometimes I have to remind myself that I ought to give out more of them!

        That’s amazing about the favela. My impression of the villas in Buenos Aires was that it was really safe if you were a resident there, because it was such a tight-knit community. The supposed danger came from tourists wandering in without anyone to guide them through. Hopefully someday I will make it to Brazil and stay in a favela as well! I think the photos of them are beautiful, the way the houses are built into the sides of the hills.

        January 17, 2014
  4. michaelparker1 #

    Amazing how you narrowed it down to only 6! I couldn’t agree more about the Inca Trail, We thought the inca trail itself was breathtaking and completely unexpected.

    January 16, 2014
    • We experienced so much in our 3 months there, it was difficult. Like seriously, we had to leave out Iguazu Falls!!! Wasn’t Day 3 of the Inca Trail just mind-blowing!? Sooo beautiful! 🙂

      January 17, 2014
  5. Wow this is an amazing list! Hiking up Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list forever. I just haven’t gotten around to South America yet. College really puts a dent in your pocket!

    Happy Travels,

    January 17, 2014
    • College certainly does put a dent in the pocketbook, and while Peru in general is very affordable, hiking the Inca Trail certainly isn’t!

      January 17, 2014
  6. Great highlights guys! I’ve been on three trips to South America and absolutely love it. I agree with you that the Inca Trail is amazing and I also love everything about Colombia. Your experience in the favela sounds great. I know what you mean about changing perceptions, we stayed in Soweto in South Africa and also felt the community spirit there. Thanks for helping to add some more places to my SA travel list!;)

    January 17, 2014
    • Oooh, 3 trips to South America! Wow! This was our first round, and we definitely hope to go back – maybe on a second RTW – to see Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. We accidentally drove into one of the townships on the outskirts of Cape Town, and I must admit I felt a little nervous at the time. Next time we go, I’d definitely want to do something like stay in Soweto.

      January 17, 2014
  7. Machu Picchu has to be one of my favourite destinations, although we didn’t do the Inca Trail. Maybe if we’d been a bit younger. We did have a jolly good look at Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil, though. 🙂

    April 16, 2014
    • It was simply glorious, wasn’t it!? Definitely worth it. Didn’t get a chance to visit Bolivia or Ecuador on this RTW. Perhaps on the next one. 😉

      April 16, 2014

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