5 Stunning ‘Slow Travel’ Experiences in South America
Embrace slow travel – the difference between rushing to tick off lists and actually soaking up an unforgettable experience in South America.
Travelling ‘slowly and with purpose’ is one of the hottest travel trends for 2020. Proponents swearing that there’s simply no better, easier and more cost-effective way to ensure you have a truly enlightening experience abroad. Shunning those super-fast tours that offer you a new place every single day (and don’t allow you to responsibly contribute much to local communities) slow travel aims to turn the tourism world on its head. Enough with the ticks and the lists, they say.
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As part of our 2020 Vision, we’re introducing you to some of the fastest-rising trends in travel – so why not take it easy, next year, and come discover the startling benefits of slow travel in South America?
How Did the Slow Travel Trend Start?
The movement to ‘travel slow’ progressed organically from the slow food movement that took over Europe in the 1980s, a time when American fast-food chains were popping up everywhere. The aim was to preserve traditional cooking methods and recipes and, in much the same way, the slow travel movement aims, primarily, to highlight and preserve traditional, indigenous and authentic experiences. More a philosophy rather than a strict set of rules, slow travel entices you to dig a little deeper, skip the superficial ticking of ‘must-see lists’ and, while you’re at it, dodge the dreaded tourist burnout to boot.
Essentially, it isn’t just about how much time you spend in one place but also about what you choose to do with that time. If you normally plan on including four destinations per week of travel, why not make it two? Only stay a night in each place? Make that three. Struggle to fight the urge to tick every single highlight off your must-see list in one trip and then spend your entire holiday (literally) catching up with your plans? Don’t do that to yourself.
Travel to South America without a detailed list to tick off and then see how much more enjoyable and rewarding the experience can be.
What are the Benefits of Slow Travel?
Aside from the obvious benefit that you will no longer feel like you need a holiday after your overseas trip (sound familiar?) slow travel allows you to form a much deeper connection with your destination, helps you look beyond the ‘top 10 highlights’ and understand more of the local culture. If that’s not enough, it can save you a neat packet too and help reduce your carbon emission. When you’re taking fewer flights or train rides, and spending more time in fewer places, you will spend less by default (given transport costs add up to huge sums) and that will allow you to (slowly) travel even longer.
Best Slow Travel Experiences in South America
The five most common ways to indulge in slow travel are to:
- Get off the tourist trail and explore more remote locations
- Enjoy activities in nature and immerse yourself in pristine wilderness
- Eat local
- Stay local
- Tackle a road trip
Each of these slow-travel tactics aims to connect you more with your chosen destination and helps you tap into the local way of life, cuisine and culture whilst at the same time appreciate the unique flora and fauna that has no-doubt made it a desirable place to visit in the first place. Sometimes, whilst we’re busy rushing from highlight A to highlight B, we can so easily miss that point.
South America is the most vibrant, fun and colourful continent on earth (yes, we said that) and we think it’s tailor-made for slow travel experiences. The sheer size of the continent and kaleidoscope of destinations, hidden secrets and lesser-visited regions means idyllic slow travel experiences can be found everywhere, no matter where you go.
Here are the very best slow travel experiences you can have in South America.
1. Spend time in remote and unplugged destinations
Heading to a remote and unplugged destination used to just be a great way to cap off a whirlwind tour of South America. Nowadays, however, it’s becoming the very reason for it. When you step off the tourist trail, you have the best chance to disconnect from the hectic pace of your everyday life and, whilst there, enjoy an awe-inspiring experience. FYI: it also helps if the wi-fi connection is a little sketchy.
The most contemplative destinations in South America that offer unparalleled ‘soul rest’ are the wildlife-brimming (and humans-lacking) Galapagos Islands as well as a multitude of hidden spots in Patagonia. When you leave the tourist crowds at Perito Moreno Glacier, for example, and spend a few leisurely days on Chiloe instead (one of the oldest and most isolated communities in the far south), you will have a totally different travel experience.
Yet the most remote and unplugged destination you can reach from South America would have to be Antarctica. An expedition to the ends of the world will make you feel as if you have travelled to another planet. The deafening quiet of this pristine continent is food for the soul.
2. Immerse yourself in pristine wilderness
Going unplugged and immersing yourself in nature are two activities that tend to go hand-in-hand and although you can certainly enjoy plenty of ‘slowness’ in big cities, there’s no denying that wilderness experiences reign supreme.
All of South America’s best wilderness areas require a little more travel time to reach but that is undoubtedly part of the appeal. The Amazon Rainforest is probably the most idyllic, the nature-drenched immersion having a blissfully destressing effect on your soul. When your days are spent spotting sloths, toucans and monkeys from dug-out canoes along the Amazon River, it’s like the rest of the (frantic) world doesn’t even exist anymore.
Animal lovers, in particular, will instead fall head-over-heels for Brazil’s Pantanal, which is an entire wildlife cosmos of its own accord. The largest wetlands in the world boast a staggering concentration of Amazonian wildlife and, given the lack of thick (or tall) vegetation, it means this is a superior destination to spot elusive animals, like the very shy jaguar. Spend a week lost in this incredible pocket of tropical wilderness and you will emerge transformed.
The same can also be said for the Atacama Desert, a place that is immensely ethereal, almost entirely deserted and astonishingly beautiful. The Atacama is revered worldwide for being one of the top 3 places in the world to stargaze although, up until a few years ago, your only overnighting option was camping in a tent. Nowadays, however, you’ll find a handful of stunning eco-lodges that offer you the chance to soak up the whole experience in a little more comfort.
Because, to be honest, no-one ever said travelling slow meant travelling rough.
3. Place emphasis on local food and wine
This is inarguably one of the most enjoyable ways to practice slow travel in South America, given that local traditional cuisines are unmissable highlights of the continent anyway. Add to that some of the best wine-producing regions in the world and you should be immediately sold on this particular concept. Could slow travel in South America get better than that?
There’s an abundance of options to enjoy local food and wine when travelling and, aside from the obvious (simply choose to eat local, every day) you can also include some farm-to-table food tours, cooking classes and wine-tasting excursions in your (slow!) travel itinerary. The most rewarding regions for culinary itineraries are Patagonia (you’d be surprised to learn how unique and regional the Patagonia cuisine really is), Peru (Lima is an exceptional foodie city but amazing tastes are everywhere), Santiago (great foodie capital plus plenty of wine-making valleys nearby) and the Argentinian province and city of Mendoza, Latin America’s largest and best-known wine region.
4. Swap fancy hotels for eco-lodges, pousadas, estancias, fazendas and homestays
Swap the all-inclusive, over-stimulating 5* resort and choose smaller and more rustic lodges and farmhouse-stays and your immersive travel experience will be intensified no end. When you’re not surrounded by glitz and distractions, you have more time (and energy) to dive into the local culture whilst also getting to know at least one local family and gaining a deeper understanding of their unique way of life.
Cultural homestays are perhaps the most coveted experiences South America offers (aside from culinary ones, perhaps) and we’re finding more and more guests specifically seek out stays in farmhouses and traditional homes when planning their trip.
Argentinian estancias are traditional and often historic farmhouses which have been converted to host visitors, offering very authentic outback experiences. Many are still very much working farms (especially in the southern gaucho lands) so you can lend a hand if you wish, enjoying local gastronomic specialties and get a look-see into a way of life that has remained unchanged for more than a century.
The Brazilian fazenda and pousada is the farmhouse equivalent in the Pantanal region; age-old ranches that have been in the same family for countless generations, each one offering a very specific experience, be it culinary, outdoor activities or wildlife-spotting (so you have plenty from which to choose).
Head south into Patagonia and you can combine all the above-mentioned three experiences when you choose a cultural experience with the native Mapuche people. In the Chilean Lakes District, the region of La Araucania, you can not only enjoy a homestay in an indigenous village but you can learn all about their ancestral weaving methods and taste local dishes prepared with indigenous ingredients not used anywhere else. The Mapuche are some of the most traditional tribes facing real threats of extinction in South America and cultural tourism is one of the most effective ways to preserve it. See our four best estancia experiences in South America
The most popular homestay option of all, given the ease of access, is on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Here, indigenous Quechua families offer homestays on the island of Amantani, and although barely a word of English (and Spanish) is spoken locally, the warmth of the hospitality and the local’s eagerness to host visitors makes every encounter an unforgettable cultural experience.
5. Skip the plane and enjoy an epic road trip
Nothing is slower than a 4WD crossing the mighty Andes mountain range so if you’re looking for the epitome slow-travel experience, a road trip in South America is the way to go. Now, we’ll admit that this is one massive continent and it’s not like you’ll want to traverse it all by road. However, there are quite a few roads here rated among the best in the world by road-trip enthusiasts. It matters not whether you are at the wheel or whether you’d rather a local experienced guide take the reins. If anything, letting someone else drive will leave you free to enjoy the eye-popping landscapes you’ll be traversing.
The most epic road-trips in South America are:
- The Northern Route 40, Argentina (dramatic mountain ranges, deep canyons, raging rivers and some of the most colourful rocky horizons define the northern section of the legendary Route 40, which stretches for more than 5,000km north to south)
- The Carretera Austral, Chile (adventure seekers in search of wild horizons, potholes and expansive wilderness with not a soul in sight rejoice, for the only road connecting northern Chile and its southern counterpart, is out of this world)
- Altiplano Crossing, Bolivia (Cross the Dali-esque Bolivian Altiplano, spot elusive wildlife, otherworldly rock formations and multi-hued lagoons, before traversing the length of the spellbinding Uyuni Salt Flats. A distinct experience to be had here, depending on what time of year you choose to visit
- The Lakes District Route, Argentina (A leisurely and enjoyable multi-day trip exploring the magnificent Lakes District in Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia)
- Ruta del Spondylus, Ecuador (the latest addition to the South American road-trip map, the Spondylus is an 850km-long coastal road that starts in the Pacific hub of Atacames and runs all the way south to Guayaquil, passing traditional fishing villages where you can savour the best ceviche EVER, stunning surfing beaches, world-renowned archaeological sites and even an ecological reserve (Mache-Chindul) that is the last remaining tropical rainforest on the country’s coast. The Spondylus is a new government initiative, virtually unknown still and gets our tick of approval for off-the-beaten-path travels)
- The Puno to La Paz Road, Peru & Bolivia (from the shores of Lake Titicaca over the dizzying heights of the Andes, straight to the highest administrative capital in the world. This is one mountain route that’ll take your breath away and a trip that can be done in a single – long – day or split up so you can stop at ancient sites along the way – this is the road tripping stage of the popular La Paz to Cusco route)
- The Transpantaneira, Northern Pantanal (this road was meant to cross the entire Pantanal but, somehow, it stopped short at Port Jofre, the jaguar-spotting capital of Brazil. What you now have is 150km spectacular kilometres, more than 120 wooden bridges, and the wildlife-watching road-trip experience of a lifetime).
There are so many more slow travel experiences to be had in South America. You can plan your itinerary to coincide with an epic cultural festival, find alternative sites that are just as mesmerizing as the ‘big name’ highlights only quieter and more enjoyable. It’s also important to consciously include ‘free days’ into your itinerary, to gift you the freedom of travel spontaneity.
More freedom, fewer restrictions, more in-depth experiences, less box-ticking – this lies at the core of slow travel in South America.
And who wouldn’t want to feel that?
At Chimu, we can help you plan a slow, thorough and rewarding bespoke itinerary through South America and the Polar regions, taking into account your specific likes, wishes and travel methods.
Contact us to find out more.