Chris Talks About South America
I ask my friend Chris "Camel" Cannell about his experience in South America and in particular the standard of accommodation, Internet access and levels of security. He replies:
I did Chile, Bolivia & Peru. Accommodation is the same pretty much wherever you go if you stay at 'gringo hostels'. There is generally free internet at gringo hostels and plenty of internet cafes in any city or town. You can save money by staying at non-gringo hostels and homes but you need to speak Spanish or at least be with someone who can.
You have to always be wary but you will find most place are 'safe enough'. My definition will be skewed on security though as I used to live in Southern Africa so I am used to dodgy-ier standards. Always watch your back, never leave a bag unattended, and never have leave yourself or any of your property in a vulnerable position. Do a bit of reading and chatting with other travellers and you will learn everything you need to know. The more dangerous places that I am aware of (I didn't go to either of them) are Brazil in general and Lima. Peru as a whole is safe enough, Lima can be risky. Some people get taken advantage of, other are fine.Chris Talks About South America
Chile is nice but along with Argentina (haven't been there) are the most expensive countries to visit in South America (they have relatively good economies). Bolivia is my pick of the litter as La Paz is one of the most amazing places to visit!!! Mountain bike down the 'Death Road', salt flats, and heaps more!!! Peru is also awesome but a little more expensive, and it has its dangerous parts. Machu Picchu is a must see before you die and there are plenty of other Inca ruins around Cusco and Machu Picchu Town.
Generally with South America, you start somewhere and end somewhere. I went from the north of Chile into Bolivia via the salt flats to La Paz. La Paz to Machu Picchu via Lake Titicaca and Puno in Peru, and then back to La Paz. All on a bus! Buses are much better than our long haul buses (the biggest seats you will ever see on a bus) you just have to keep your bags inbetween your feet for the whole journey.
My girlfriend spent 3 months teaching English in the South of Chile so went to Argentina and Patagonia and loved both of those places (Patagonia in particular). I don't ordinarily advocate Lonely Planet guides for traveling, but pick yourself up one for whatever route/place you are going to end up. It will have everything you will want to see in it and will warn you of all the dangers. Remember that you are only 1 or 2 days away from anywhere you want to go via bus. Plane travel anywhere in South America is SOOOOO expensive its not to be considered unless you have a short time frame.
Do a 3 or 4 day Salar de Uyuni trip in the salt flats (hooning around one of the driest desserts in the world in a rickety-old Landcruiser!!! AWESOME!!!!). See La Paz. The city is the highest in the world and is built on the sides of mountains. Do the Death Road cycle (69km down hill mountain biking from 5000m to 1000m! That inspired me to get back on my bike here!). See Machu Picchu and do the Inca Trail. There are about 5 different Inca Trails. Most people do the 'Royal Inca' trail but that is capped to a certain number of people each day and can be hard to get on. Don't worry about that particular trail unless you really want to do it. You can arrive in Cusco and book one trail then. We did what is called 'The Jungle Trail'. One day down hill mountain biking + a little white water rafting as an optional extra (awesome fun), 2 days hiking and one day at Machu Picchu itself. If you do the Jungle Trail or one of the others you get the opportiunity to climb Huayna Picchu (the nose of the Inca face - google it). Only 400 people a day get to climb it and I soooo reccommend it. Also the back side of Huayna Picchu has the head of a condor (a lesser known feature at Machu Picchu but was one thing that blew me away), and you won't get a pass to Huayna Picchu if you take the 'Royal Trail'. An Inca trail will cost you 1/2 price if you buy it in Cusco, but do the research as some times of the year are very busy.
So my must-do list was La Paz, Salar de Uyuni & Machu Picchu. There is so much more that you can do so do some reading and work out what particularly interests you. One thing I will say is that I wish I could have spent another day at Machu Picchu itself. I managed to climb Huayna Picchu, the giant condors head, and the Inca bridge and a couple of other things but I still missed out on the sun gate and all sorts of stuff. Also, there is this 13-site pass you can buy in Cusco that has all these museums and Inca sites. I would have liked to have seem more of them. Also also, there are a nunber of significant Inca sites surrounding Cusco that you can do on a tour. All that being said, if you are heading to South America to do cocaine and party, Inca Ruins quickly become pretty drab - Lou and I love them but Brent who we also travelled with got bored quickly with the ruins.
Roger Keays is an artist, an engineer, and a student of life. He has no fixed address and has left footprints on 40-something different countries around the world. Roger is addicted to surfing. His other interests are music, psychology, languages, the proper use of semicolons, and finding good food.