It all starts before you even take off. The butterflies in your stomach as you research places to visit (finally!) and that nervousness that comes right before you leave, so strong it even manages to wreak havoc on your sleep the last few nights at home. This is especially true if you’re touring South America for the first time and truer still if travelling alone.
Did I forget anything? Did I pack enough underwear? Will the kids remember to feed the cat?!
Oh my…am I even ready for this?
Excited & Grounded – Arrival
Something really peculiar happens to many travellers on a cross-Pacific flight to South America: the nerves magically disappear. In their place comes a heightened feeling of excitement and awareness, of being grounded and totally in the now. The moment I land in South America, I feel much more conscious of my surroundings, of where I am and what I need to do. I can clearly recall the plan to get that taxi, or meet that tour rep and reach my hotel. The arrival in South America is always in one of the continent’s capitals (Lima or Santiago, usually) and because I need to de-stress from the abovementioned planning stage, I always include a few days in town to get into the groove of it all, not only of South America but of travelling in general.
Even if South America isn’t a new travel destination for you, arriving there always feels new and amazing, overflowing with possibilities. Imagine if you step off that plane for the very first time! You’d do well to include a few days in whatever city acts as your best entry-point to soak up your surroundings, get your ‘cultural bearings’ and take those first tentative steps into the continent.
Read our Guide to Santiago
Read our Guide to Lima
Overwhelmed– Patagonian Andes
No matter where on the continent you choose to first cast your eyes on the magnificent Andes Mountain range, you’re guaranteed to feel utterly overwhelmed. My tip is to do so in Patagonia, at the very southern end of the continent, where mountains seem to tickle the heavens and the sheer grandeur of the landscape makes one feel incredibly, immensely, insignificant. French novelist Gustave Flaubert once famously quipped that ‘travel makes one modest – you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world’ and I often wonder if he’d ever been to Patagonia. I bet he had, at least in his dreams. It’s one of the few places on earth that can overwhelm all my senses.
Patagonia is a nature lover’s paradise, a place where it’s the wildest of nature that rules, not man. Should you ever feel like we’re on the brink of ruining this wonderful planet of ours and think there couldn’t possibly be a place that can make you feel the awe-inspiring force of nature then Patagonia is what you need to experience.
This place is medicine for the soul.
Learn more about the amazing Wildlife of Patagonia
Inspired & Philosophical – Galapagos
Plan a trip to the Galapagos Islands and you’ll no-doubt come across 1001 literary odes to this incredible place. You’ll learn that this archipelago of wildlife-brimming islands is an animal lover’s dream, an enchanted place where creatures are unafraid and curious; a place so stupendous it enticed Charles Darwin to concoct his theory of evolution. Yet what every piece of literature fails to mention is that the Galapagos have the ability to turn you into a philosopher too, one who has an insatiable hunger for knowledge and new discoveries, for learning and experiencing. And although you’ll read much about the animals (as you should) you’ll be equally inspired by the unreal landscapes of the Galapagos. These seemingly unforgiving volcanic islands offer so much shelter and protection to so much life. An isolated and remote paradise that makes you feel at one with nature. Now that is a feeling worth the trip.
I left the Galapagos wondering if this is what the whole world would look like if man had never evolved and there’s not a place on earth that has ever made me think that.
One sensational archipelago, 13 astonishing islands – read Your Island by Island Guide to the Galapagos
Frustrated, Accepting & Happy – Bolivia
If you think I’m only going to wax lyrical then you’ll be in for a surprise: travelling through South America makes you feel every emotion known to man, the good and the not so desirable and I’m not about to leave the latter out.
I love Bolivia, I really do. I love crossing its resplendent Altiplano and diving deep into its remote Amazonian jungles to chase dolphins. I love mingling with the photogenic locals, most especially in rural areas where they’re not so used to tourists. I get the thrill of my life crossing the multihued Altiplano and I love spending days exploring the islands of Lake Titicaca.
But Bolivia can do my head in, at times, and can certainly be a challenge to the uninitiated.
Lying right across the heart of the infamous Gringo Trail, Bolivia is a bottleneck of tourism in South America and, being the poorest country in this central region, means that here is where you’ll find the most incessant beggars, most frustrating delays and most ‘fluid’ of customer services (sometimes it’s there and sometimes, well, not). A land where 9am could potentially be 11.30am (if you’re lucky), where the roads are crap and closures common, where scam artists dress up as police and where cash – not credit card – is still king.
So why do I love Bolivia? Because Bolivia teaches you to let go – in the most literal sense. Let go of expectations, of self-imposed restrictions, of strict itineraries and plans. Bolivia is the epitome ‘go with the flow’ destination in South America, one that doesn’t let up until you do. So give up, eventually, one does. And that leads to the kind of happiness that only comes from true acceptance.
And that is one truly beautiful feeling.
Relaxed & Appreciative– Amazon Rainforest
A visit to the Amazon rainforest, for most people, is a journey of unrivalled appreciation, first and foremost. At the risk of sounding esoteric, one feels simply blessed to be there, to live among this most ethereal of worlds, falling asleep to the sounds of mysterious creatures and walking among luscious wilderness which could, potentially, hold the key to our collective wellbeing. The Amazon is the ultimate antidote to stress, among the most peaceful places on earth and the one that manages to disconnect you from the madness of our hectic modern world. And we all know how good it is to step away, even just for a few days. Mostly, though, one feels simply grateful to have the chance to experience this magical place and one is left wondering what would happen if everyone on earth, politicians especially, could experience being immersed in this intrinsic beauty. Would the whole world join forces to protect it?
I think so.
Discover why the Amazon is so important
Cultured & Open-Minded – Festivals
A journey through South America is a journey of immense cultural appeal for many people and that’s why so many travellers choose to coincide their trip with one of the continent’s most famous festivals. Be it the Day of the Dead in Mexico and Bolivia or the grandest Carnival of all in Brazil and the ancient Inca festival of Inti Raymi in Peru, injecting a serious dose of culturalness in your journey will enlighten all your senses and teach you much about these fascinating cultures. Join the crowds at a prominent festival here and you’ll feel at one with the people, appreciative of their long-held traditions and even more open-minded than you already are. Because as much as South America is about outstanding natural highlights, it is mostly about its beautiful, warm and welcoming people, proud of their ancient origins and worthy of your time.
Read more about the Most Inspiring Cultural Festivals in South America
Determined – Antarctica
Antarctica is that one destination on earth that manages to make you feel all the above-mentioned emotions simultaneously and with a most heightened level of intensity. Moreover, Antarctica has the ability to literally change the way you feel, about the world you live in and your role in keeping it healthy and preserved. We’ve recently blogged about the most common environmental changes people make after visiting Antarctica and that’s because this pristine and overwhelming place turns most people into environmental warriors or, as we love to call them, ambassadors. Head down to the farthest reaches of Antarctica from South America and you’ll feel like an old-world explorer yet somehow a bit apprehensive about all the hype. Except you get there and discover it’s better than you ever imagined. Clearer, whiter, grander and more imposing than any photo could ever convey. A world that seems strong, powerful and incorruptible yet a place you know to be so fragile and endangered. And all this is what makes you feel so incredibly determined. Determined to protect this glorious corner of the world and all the hardy and fascinating creatures that thrive in it.
Ready to take yourself on an emotional rollercoaster you’ll never forget?
Talk to us.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 13 years. She’s tour guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and is now in the midst of a 5-year motorbike odyssey from Germany to Australia.”