Tag Archives: Santiago

Highlights of Latin America

I had such an awesome time in Latin America it’s pretty hard to pick out favourite moments. But I’m going to give it a go anyway. Here are the best things I’ve seen and done over the past six and a half months, along with links to what I originally wrote about them.

Favourite City: Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso

Runner-up: Guanajuato, Mexico
Hilly cities with lots of colourful houses are clearly the way to keep me happy.

Favourite Capital City: Mexico City

Mexico City Cathedral

Runner-up: Santiago de Chile
Quite a contrast here between enormous, chaotic, slightly crazy Mexico City vs Clean, calm, orderly Santiago. But I could live in ’em both, I reckon.

 

Favourite Food: Mexico
Runner-up: Peru
Best street food in Latin America from the Mexicans, whereas the restaurants were at their finest in Peru.

Best course: Learning Spanish in Guatemala
Runner-up: Learning to Dive in Honduras
Who knew learning could be such fun? Learning Spanish enriched my whole experience in the continent, and diving was way more fun (and way easier) than I ever thought it could be.

Favourite activity: Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru
Runner-up: Cycling tour of the wineries, Mendoza, Argentina

Favourite Hike: The Huayhuash Circuit, Peru

The Cordillera Huayhuash

Runner-up: The Lost City, Colombia
Again, quite a contrast. The Huayhuash took me to the most stunning mountain scenery I’ve ever come across, and was the toughest walk I’ve ever done. The Lost City was less visually appealling and easier on the legs, but made up for it by being with the best group of people I’ve me on the whole trip.

 

Favourite Natural Wonder: The Copper Canyon, Mexico

The road to Batopilas, Copper Canyon

Runner-up: The Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Sorry Colca Canyon, you may be deeper but Mexico’s is way better. It also gave me my favourite journey, along the Copper Canyon railway. Meanwhile, Uyuni was like a trip to another planet.

 

Favourite off the beaten track place: Mexcaltitan

Calle Venezia, Mexcaltitan

I feel like a bad traveller. I was pretty firmly on the gringo trail the entire time. Except in Mexcaltitan, tough to get to, not a lot to see, but one of my favourite stops so far.

 

Best Night out: Sargento Pimientas, Lima, Peru
Runner-up: Mazatlan, Mexico
My last night in Lima was a chance to say goodbye to two good friends I’d been travelling with on and off since Colombia, accompanied by the best music I’ve heard in ages. Mazatlan on the other hand was an entirely random night out with three Mexican women who I was introduced to by a clown.

Favourite Beach: Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Tayrona National Park

Runner-up: Mazunte, Mexico
Sleeping in a hammock on the beach in Colombia was pretty close to paradise. Meanwhile the waves in Mazunte kept me entertained for hours.

 

Favourite Market: San Francisco El Alto, Guatemala
Runner-up: Oaxaca, Mexico
A pretty small hill town in Guatemala with the biggest, most sprawling market I’ve ever seen. Oaxaca was my favourite of the Mexican markets, especially for the crammed, smokey food section.

Favourite weird religious spectacle: Semana Santa in Guanajuato, Mexico

Semana Santa in Guanajuato

Runner-up: Meeting Maximon in Santiago de Atitlan, Guatemala
Catholicism may have its heart in Europe, but the way they do it in Latin America makes our version look pretty tame.

 

Favourite Country: Mexico
Runner-up: Peru
I’ve probably bored everyone I’ve met on this trip to death by going on and on about Mexico. But I don’t care. I love it.

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Chile Round-up & Budget

Poor, underrated Chile. I didn’t meet a single backpacker in Latin America who reckoned Chile was their favourite country. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia…yes, frequently. Chile? Never.

They always start with a couple of obvious negatives that I must admit I have trouble disagreeing too much with – first off, it’s expensive. Compared to the rest of South America, that’s certainly true – however it’s still cheap compared to home, and anyway, it wasn’t all that hard for me to save money by eating out less, especially considering negative number two: the food. I’d been forewarned, but boy do the locals love their fast food. KFCs & McDonald’s everywhere, and a lot of rather greasy Chilean options too. Luckily there are plenty of decent foreign options (especially Peruvian), and the supermarkets are great, so I still ate pretty well despite the lack of great local cuisine.

The third negative I kept hearing is, I think, rather unfair. Santiago seems to get a bit of a bad time from traveller. I can kind of see why – it’s not the most amazing sights or museums, but despite that, I loved it. It’s got a stunning location, with the peaks of the highest point of the Andes towering behind the city. It’s a lovely city to wander around in, with loads of cafes and great shops to spend time in, and it’s clean, modern and safe too. The nightlife around the Bellavista area is some of the best I’ve come across as well, with dozens of bars and restauraunts spilling out onto the pavements. It even has it’s own uniquely Chilean form of seediness – the famous Cafes con Piernas (Cafes with legs) – a bizarre combo of strip joint and Starbucks, where besuited businessmen go to have coffee served by women in extremely skimpy bikinis, something I got to see after being dragged there by two Peruvians who couldn’t believe such a thing existed.

I’d even go so far as to say it’s the first place apart from Mexico City on this trip that I can actually imagine living in – helped in part by the fact that it’s one of the few places in the world where you have ski resorts 90 minutes drive one way, and a beach 90 minutes in the other direction.

Aside from Santiago, I’ve already noted that Valparaiso is one of the best cities I’ve been, and the landscapes of the Atacama desert were starkly beautiful. Best of all was the friendliness of the people, something I’ve found time and again in every country I’ve been to so far, but I have to say I think I found the Chileans the friendliest of all.

It’s yet another country I really want to go back to – in particular to explore further south, including the Lake District and Patagonia, especially the Torres del Paine national park, home to the region’s best hiking.

Anyway, that’s it for the round-up, onto more serious matters – the budget. Considering Chile is supposed to be the most expensive country in Latin America, and that I visited the most expensive places in the country (San Pedro, Santiago & Rapa Nui), I didn’t do anywhere near as badly as I thought. In fact, if it hadn’t been for buying a replacement camera, Chile would actually have worked out cheaper than several of the countries I’ve visited, mainly aided by my lowest activities cost yet, and all that hoime cooking kept the food spend down too. Sadly, the expense of the camera negated all my hard work at saving, and it meant the country did indeed turn out to be the costliest since my brief stop in the USA.
Accommodation: $12.13
Transport: $9.01
Activities: $3.15
Misc (including that Camera): $19.07
Food & drink: $20.40
Total: $63.77

And of course on to all those other numbers:
Funiculars ridden: 6
Buses: 3
Flights: 3
Taxis: 2
Cars: 1
Jeeps: 1
Cash withdrawals: 3
Phone calls: 2
Postcards sent: 2
Volcanoes climbed: 2
Beaches visited: 2
Laundry: 1
Beds slept in: 6
Canyons: 1
Deserts: 1
Moai seen: dozens
Cameras broken: 1
Cameras unable to be fixed: 1
Cameras bought: 1

And onto the people I met. Interestingly, this was the second country in a row I spent more time with locals than with foreigners. Chile was also the first country so far where I spent more time with Latin Americans than I did with gringos – more than half the people I spent time with were Spanish speakers, and it was a fitting end to my stay in the continent that my last few nights out were conducted almost entirely in Spanish (although I have to admit that was mostly chatting to the Peruvians, as I can barely understand a word Chileans say when they speak Spanish to me, which would be a bit of an obstacle if I were to decide to live there). On the gringo score, yet again Brits dominated the list, but surprisingly Chile was the first country where I didn’t meet a single USian.
Chile: 14
UK: 10
Brazil: 3
Germany: 2
Peru: 2
Australia: 2
Argentina: 2
New Zealand: 1
France: 1
Uruguay: 1
Venezuela: 1
Israel: 1

That’s it now for stuff on the individual Latin American countries – just a few general South American round up posts to come, and then on to New Zealand.

You can read all my posts about Chile here and see all my Chilean photos here.