Recap of My 8 Months in South America
Miami Travel Blog› entry 83 of 84 › view all entries
August 6th, 2008 – by: AndySD
Now, on to the lists:
Best Experiences of my trip, in order traveled:
1. Sailing trip from Portobelo, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia via the San Blas Islands
2. Trek to Ciudad Perdida
3. Carnaval de Blancos y Negros
4. Hiking to Kuelap and traveling the backroads in northern Peru
5. Macchu Pichu and back through the strike
7. Hiking the W in Torres del Paine
8. Iguazu Falls and the Jesuit Missions
9. Southwest Bolivia and Salar de Uyuni
10. Pampas tour in northern Bolivia
12. The savannah and jungle in Guyana
13. Trek to Mount Roraima
14. Upriver to Angel Falls by boat
15. The Llanos
My Favorite Cities, in the order visited:
1. Cartagena, Colombia - colorful colonial buildings, a walled city, and a massive fortress
2. Bogota, Colombia - the most pleasant and inviting of the big cities, modern enough but still retains its traditional Colombian character
4. Iquique, Chile - perhaps the most beautifully set city I visited, with old mansions, nice beaches, and mining ghost towns
5. Valparaiso, Chile - a truly unique place and very cultural place with colorful houses stacked precariously on hillsides
6. Sucre, Bolivia - just a nice place to spend time and also the street food capital of South America
7. La Paz, Bolivia - where else can you see Aymara Indians eating at Burger King and a Witch´s Market selling llama fetuses next door to a Hard Rock Cafe
Honorable mention: Cuenca, Buenos Aires, Fishing villages on island of Chiloe
Worst Cities, places that you can´t wait to leave, again in the order visited:
1. Panama City, Panama - oppressively hot, dirty, and noisy, with chaotic streets overcrowded with cars and run down buses
3. Tocopilla, Chile - expensive, overpriced and with almost nothing to offer
4. Pueto Montt, Chile - perhaps the best feature of this city is the modern shopping mall
5. El Calafate, Argentina - merely a place that wastes your time when you come to see the glacier, the center is dominated by a garrish new casino
6. Uyuni, Bolivia - a stark contrast to the beauty of southwestern Bolivia, try to spend as little time here as possible
7. Asuncion, Paraguay - hot and sketchy, what there is to offer in the city shuts down real early and shanty towns flank the oppulent government buildings
Things I would have done if I could have (but for lack of money mostly, was unable to):
1. Isla Gorona, Colombia - Colombia´s version of Alcatraz with supposedly excellent diving and wildlife
3. Isla Fernando Noronha, Brazil - a beautiful island tropical paradise that seems lost in time
4. Antarctica - the final and most costly frontier
5. Galapagos - people who visited said that the amount of wildlife and the close interactions that you have with them are truly remarkable
6. Easter Island - mysterious giant statues on a remote island
7. Isla Mocha, Chile - a Chilean marine biologist that I met who has been everywhere in Chile told me that this was the most impressive place he has seen in the country, and for Chile that means a lot
My thoughts on each of the countries that I visited:
Colombia - Overall I would have to say that Colombia was my favorite country that I visited on this trip; it has virtually everything to offer, beaches, mountains, jungle, rainforest, ancient ruins, and great cities. Because of the past violence between the drug cartels and the ongoing internal conflict with the FARC Colombia gets a bad and unjustified reputation safety-wise. In my travels through the country I encountered no problems and found the friendliness and helpfullness of the Colombian people to be amazing.
Ecuador - Proceeding south from Colombia I visited Ecuador, a much poorer and more indigenous country. For my travels in Ecuador I stayed in the middle of the country, in mountains, and was rewarded with beautiful mountain views, snow capped volcanos, and small indigenous villages. The cheap price of gasoline, about $1.50 a gallon, results in lots of cars on the road and a hectic character to many of the cities, but also a fair amount of societal advancement but still pales in comparison to Colombia.
Peru - I found Peru to be much more indigenous and lost in time than Ecuador.
Chile - By far the most modern, and richest country (looking at the GDP) in South America, Chile is a country where things work and things run on time (about as much as you could realistically hope for at least), sure there are still strikes and protests but nothing of the sort of other countries.
Argentina - While not as modern as Chile, Argentina is still leaps and bounds ahead of Peru, Ecuador, or Bolivia. The difference between Argentina and Chile is that on the surface things seem to work and run smoothly but many times this is merely a facade. The strange thing about a country this size is that everything seems to revolve around Buenos Aires, perched on the far eastern edge of the country, from the news to flights, to distribution.
Uruguay - For better or worse I made to Uruguay in the off-season so I didn´t get to experience the world famous resorts of places like Punta del Este. But I did get to see the beautful colonial town of Colonia and Montevideo in itself was nice, although a bit reminiscent of a more run down Buenos Aires. The highlight of my time in Uruguay were the deserted stretches of beaches up the coast towards Brazil. With hardly any tourists to spoil it, there are small fishing villages, some old fortresses, vast starry skies to be seen; but I got the impression that this all is somehow overrun with tourists during the summer as populations surge, prices rise, and things fill up well in advance.
Brazil - I had originally intended to travel up the coast of Brazil but after experiencing the costs of transportation in Brazil I quickly had to decide against that. With gas costing a bit under $6 per gallon, a 12 hour bus ride in Brazil costs about $50-60, quite the difference from the $1 per hour it costs in most other countries. The parts of Brazil that I did get to experience, the Amazon and the little panhandle in the south were very interesting and I traveled through some very isolated areas. The shear amount of water in the Amazon, it was the wet season and the water level was up 12 meters in Manaus, and the vastness of the whole region were mind-boggling. Days spent on the riverboat were dull but sleeping in a hammock surrounded dozens and dozens of Brazilians was definitely a unique experience.
Paraguay - I would say that Paraguay, along with Guyana, was the most surprising country that I visited.
Bolivia - Bolivia was my second favorite country, both for the natural beauty that it has to offer as well as its indigenous culture. Of all the things that I saw on my trip I would say that the single most impressive thing would have to be the scenery in southwestern Bolivia. The culture of the indians is also something special and the clash between modern progression and the roots and continuity of the traditional past meet head on in La Paz, one of the most unique cities I have ever been to. Politically the country is currently the center of the clash between the indigenous supported president Evo Morales and the richer more modern-looking people of the eastern parts of the country. The tumultous history that has seen 106 different presidents in its 188 years of existence will certainly continue if the number of daily protests and strikes is any indication.
Guyana - Probably the most unique country I visited in comparison to the other countries, perhaps it is the years of British influence that has so vastly changed this small parcel of land. While I didn´t make it all the way to Georgetown, I can say that the interior of Guyana with the Rupuni Savannah and the Iwokrama Forest is very pretty and in almost pristine condition. The country itself reminded me more of the Bahamas than South America.
Venezuela - I would say that Venezuela is one of the more bizarre countries in South America; with the amount of resources at its disposal there are so many strange things that just don´t seem to make any sense. There is a half hour time difference between its neighbors, a fixed exchange rate that has led to the creation of a quasi-legal black market, absurdly cheap gas (3 cents per liter, 12 cents per gallon) that leads to smuggling and contraband, the amount of corruption in the police forces, the trash strewn cities and countrysides, and even national parks, absolutely frigid buses, and just a general uneasiness that most people can feel when traveling throughout the country. Couple that with 37% inflation since January and crazy expensive prices and you get something rather subpar. However, it is hard to demote Venezuela too much because it contains some of the most beautiful scenery in all of South America but when considering everything else, it is far from a pleasant place to travel in and I met very few people who had many good things to say about the country as a whole. In many ways it is a shame because it could be so much more.
I could go on in depth about each country but I think I´ve said enough to give you the gist of things, but if you have any questions feel free to ask. I´ll write one more entry on my thoughts about the trip and the things I´ve seen and experienced as a whole, along with my ten favorite photos of the trip.
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