Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Travel superlatives

In the past 100 days I've been traveling around Peru, Colombia, and Brasil, I have had so many incredible experiences, seen a ton of unforgettable places, taken many worthwhile risks, and met endless fascinating characters. I decided to compile these "best of" lists to share with you, because of all the things I've seen and done, these are the ones that stick out the most in my memory. If you're planning to travel to any of these countries, these are not to be missed.

Key: (Peru-P, Colombia-C, Brasil-B)

P: I'm torn between Máncora, a pretty and lively surfing and party town, and Huanchaco, whose beach isn't as pretty, but whose locals are so cool and whose nightly beach bonfires so fun that they make up for it.
C: Hands down, Cabo San Juan, located in Parque Nacional Tayrona. Tan by day, swing in your hammock by night.
B: Despite being overrun by Israelis, the island of Morro de Sao Paulo just might be the most beautiful place I've ever been.

P: Ceviche! Obviously. It's even better than you thought it would be.
C: Oh its a tie between the refreshing fresh juice smoothies (made from maracuya, lulo, or mango) or the delicious arepas, filled with cheese or meat and smothered in butter
B: Acai bowls-- frozen acai berry sorbet, topped with fresh fruit, honey and granola.

P: It's not easy to decide, because Peru has a lot of really gross foods, in my opinion. But the top choice is definitely cuy, guinnea pig, the plate of food that smiles at your creepily while you eat it. Runner up is anticucho, grilled beef heart on a stick, with a potato on the end. It actually tastes okay-- I'd choose it over cuy any day, to be fair.
C: Hormigas culonas, aka toasted ants. They are a super popular snack food in Bucaramanga, but I really can't figure out why. Careful, they are believed to be an aphrodisiac!
B: In Salvador de Bahia, try the typical Afro-Brasilian street food acarajé. It's made with a deep fried dough made of black eyed peas, which is then stuffed with unidentifiable vegetable and/or meat goos, and topped off with whole shrimps still with their shells and feet and faces. Maybe you'll love it, but I hated it.

P: The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Everyone says that the alternate trails are just as good, and maybe they are. Buuuut I doubt it. Splurge on the real one if you can! Those were 4 of the most fun, challenging, and rewarding days of my life.
C: Trek to the Ciudad Perdida. You will sweat like a beast, but the scenery is unbeatable, the local culture is so interesting and worth learning about, and arriving at the city itself is a total high.
B: Wellll... I didn't really do any. But if I had it to do over, I would take a boat tour through the Amazonian jungle! I hear the trips are absolutely amazing.

P: Cusco!
C: Bogotá!
B: Rio de Janeiro!! Though Sao Paulo is great too... just a tad more expensive.

P: Cusco. It's a magical city. Explore it together.
C: Cartagena! The only city I wished I had a boyfriend in, because it's practically constructed for holding hands and walking around.
B: Rio de Janeiro. Because then your big strong man can hopefully protect you from getting beat up and robbed. (Tasteless joke?)

P: Huanchaco. The locals are very friendly beach bums! Too bad Peruvians are so short.
C: Santa Marta. Hang on the beach and you'll be scooped right up. Usually not in a creepy way.
B: Everywhere, especially during Carnaval. All those caipirinhas and all that heat make things quite flirtatious!

P: Huevón! A funny way to call someone an idiot. It's kind of like Argentina's boludo.
C: Chévere! Or... bacano! (both mean ¨cool¨)
B: Legal! (Pronounced "legau"'-- means ¨cool¨). Also, beleza! (means anything from ¨right on¨ to ¨hello¨)

P: Peru is a country full of native people and ancient ruins, and I probably barely scratched the surface. A good starting point, though, is in the outskirts of Cusco. Start by hiking into the surrounding hills for an afternoon, and get lost. Even better, venture by bus to the spiritually-rich Sacred Valley to visit the many old villages and archeological ruins.
C: Learn about the Wayuu culture in La Guajira by venturing off the beaten path into the desert. Head first to the capitalof Riohacha and then to Uribia to see the daily indigenous market. Then find a guide and make your way to Cabo de la Vela, a remote fishing village way out in the desert. (Get one of the gorgeous handwoven mochilas!) If possible, try visiting a rancheria, a traditional Wayuu community.
B: Head to Salvador de Bahia, the center of Afro-Brazilian culture, and experience some of the country's best music, dancing, and food! Just be careful-- this beautiful colonial city is one of the country's poorest and most dangerous. Hold on to your wallet, and go anyway.

P: Other than the obvious Machu Picchu, try heading to Tucume Pyramids in the Lambayeque Valley (outside Chiclayo) and climbing up to the highest viewpoint overlooking the adobe pyramids, built by the Sican people around 1100 AD. If you're lucky, it will just be you, alone with your thoughts... and a few vultures.
C: Take a drive from Manizales to Pereira in the Zona Cafetera, for stunning views of the coffee and banana trees growing in the mountains.
B: Visit Christ the Redeemer, the massive Jesus statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro. Not only is the statue itself impressively massive, but you'll enjoy outstanding views of the entire city, beach, and beyond.

If I think of more, I will add them. And if YOU, dear blog reader, think of a category you'd like me to add, leave it for me in a comment and I will do my best!


ALS said...

I love your blog, but I'm a first time commenter.

I wanted your opinion about Tayrona. Do I need to bring a mosquito net? Just how rustic is it?

Also, are they checking for yellow fever vaccinations? Did you find it necessary to get vaccinated before starting your trek?

Hi, I'm Erica. said...

Thanks ALS! Oooh I love new readers and commenters, happy to know people are out there reading this mess!

Tayrona has several different campgrounds to choose from. Some of them provide mosquito nets (namely the ones closest to Arecife-- I think Paraiso is one), so you can ask for those and possibly pay a bit extra. The rest do not seem to offer them. I survived without one, but got bitten a lot despite being bathed in repellent. Bring at least that, if not a net of your own. Kind of your call, although as far as the cool factor, you might look like a huge nerd being the only one using a net.. then again, everyone else will be jealous.

Someone told me they stayed in a cabin in Tayrona, so aparently that is an option, but I will be honest, I never saw any. My experience was quite rustic, with stinky but functional hammocks for rent (not as glamorous as it sounds, but makes for good blogging), and places to pitch your tent. Showers are communal and always cold.

There's only one massive camground at the end in Cabo San Juan. It's the best beach, but it's also the most expensive, it's often full, and they don't have any mosquito nets. So if you walk all the way there (45 minute hike from Arecife), either have your own tent, or be prepared to be told its full and walk back. Put your name on the wait list and they will give you a spot the following day.

En fin, Tayrona is gorgeous, and its rustic nature is part of the fun! It's full of both hippies and families, and there's not much to do (other than the all uphill hike to the indigenous community of Pueblito) but enjoy the scenery, get a tan, and eat delicious, albeit overpriced, fresh fish.

Oh, and check out the nude beach at the end of Cabo. But careful! Someone almost drown while I was catching rays. Sketchy waters.

Hi, I'm Erica. said...

Oh, totally forgot about the yellow fever question. Though all the countries I visited required the immunization, and I carried the little yellow card around with me, no one ever asked to see it... not even the Brazilian embassy. (Man, those guys are idiots.) Anyway, it's not a bad idea to get it, although in my case I could have gone without. Your call.

ALS said...

Thanks so much for your advice. We are leaving for Tayrona (from New York) this Friday and are still trying to make plans. And we got the Yellow Fever shots, just because I'm neurotic.

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