The Other America
TERRAIN No matter what kind of holiday you’re looking for, you’ll probably have it in Brazil. A paradise that’s half-MTV and half-National Geographic, the wild calls out to Brazil travellers, and not only out of the bylanes of partying Rio. Take a trip down to Manaus, a bustling modern city in the heart of the rainforest, to begin your exploration of the Amazon. Manaus is both a pit stop on your way into the Amazon, and a city with a thriving local cultural scene, beaches and waterfalls. Tours upriver into the forest are available for anything between one and 15 days, so assess your mileage and stock up on essentials before you head out.
GO Climb into a hammock on the upper deck of a barge, and settle in for the ride! Most river tour companies offer three-night trips up the Rio Negro that allow you to take in forest reserves and the local wildlife. If you want to do a Fitzcarraldo, look for a good fortnight’s trip that will take you to the traversible limits of the jungle.
EAT Get yourself a drink of sugar cane juice to go with the tapioquinha, a sticky pancake tucumã palm fruit and cheese stuffing, or the hot favourite, the cassava-and-jambú broth known as tacacá, served piping hot in the cuia, a hollowed-out gourd.
DO Nothing engenders greater intimacy with or respect for the ecosystem of this wonderland like climbing a tree; suss out the safety protocols and environmental risk, and then choose a programme that will take you out to a good climb site on your river trip.
WEAR Embrace eco-chic with natural fabrics, earthy tones, handcrafted accessories and naturally treated leather. These look great clean and equally great with a hint of mud. Perfect for those forest strolls.
TERRAIN The Galápagos Islands are going to be unusually crowded this year thanks to the rush of Darwin tourists (it’s the great man’s 200th birth anniversary), so if natural history isn’t a burning passion for you, head up to the beaches at Bahía de Caraquez and Montañita instead. Montañita used to be a secluded beach visited mostly by locals but hotels have cropped up in the recent past – in spite of which it’s still pristine. When you’re done soaking up the sun, head to Puyo, which is the gateway into the rainforest in the eastern part of the country.
STAY There are plenty of places to shack up around the beaches but few boutique joints. If you can’t visit local friends, make sure your assistant checks your hotel on the Internet before you eel into Ecuador.
EAT A judicious mix of the exotic and downright gross can fulfill every touristy expectation you have, so go for the delicacy that is cuy asado, or roasted guinea pig. And while ‘Ecuadorian biscuits with Ecuadorian cheese’ may not sound like much in English, people all the way from the heights of the Sierra to the cafés in Quito will entreat you to bite into a national favourite, bizcochos with queso de hoja.
DO Put on your two-piece, pick up a surfboard and head out to the north end of Montañita. If you’re good you might even have a go at the international surfers’ competition next Carnaval.
WEAR Hit the surf and sands in gorgeous swimwear. Don’t forget the big, vintage-looking shades and a bright cheery tote. Slip your pretty feet into stylish thongs. After a dip, slip into a boho dress that flaunts your tan to perfection.
TERRAIN The depth and breadth of Argentina’s natural beauty draws worshipful travellers. But the glaciers, deserts, grasslands and parks meet their match in the history and beauty of Argentina’s thriving, spirited urban culture. Watching the sun rise over the Perito Moreno glacier in El Calafate is like a religious experience, but feeling the ground thunder beneath your feet at La Bomboñera in Buenos Aires leaves you one breath away from actual nirvana. Don’t insist on old chestnuts like Cordoba; Mendoza City in the heart of Argentina’s wine-and-olive-oil country, and Salta, nicknamed la Linda or ‘the Pretty’ for its spectacular colonial architecture and valley setting, both have just as much to offer.
STAY Argentina’s cities are choc-a-bloc with hotels that range from ultra-hip, like the Faena Hotel + Universe in Buenos Aires, to good old-fashioned haunts like the Four Seasons.
EAT You’ll need to keep up your strength with all the walking and the dancing. Eat the chori-pán (grilled sausage sandwich) off the streets, and grab a cigar with your Pampas-grass-fed beef steaks in an upscale parilla (steakhouse). Wash the carbs down with steaming yerba-maté tea.
DO Pray, beg, borrow or steal, but make sure you’re at the Boca Juniors-River Plate football derby, played bi-annually by turns at each of Buenos Aires’ legendary stadiums, El Monumental or La Bomboñera, to experience one of the world’s most passionate and beautiful sporting events. Pick a box seat over the stands; you need more than a tourist visa to be an actual participant in the rituals of the city’s footballistas.
WEAR Go all out and support your favourite team at the local stadium, in bright stripes and comfortably stylish footwear. Follow it up with a culture tour in vintage glamour, Evita style. Ruby lips and a flower in the hair perfect the look.
TERRAIN ‘I know loving me isn’t easy,’ writes Jeffrey McDaniels in his poem Caracas, ‘—the all-night/helicopter parties, the glow-in-the-dark/haircuts, but when I look at you/it’s like praying with my eyes.’ Don’t hitchhike down on your own. Glittering, vivid Venezuela is all about staying awake – and alert; about cable car rides into the Avila and museums by day; salsa dancing at El Maní es Así and frangipani and cocuy parties with close friends by night. Caracas proves that a city doesn’t have to package itself as a tourist destination to be alluring.
STAY Sure, you can put your feet up and gaze into gold-framed mirrors at the Hotel Gran Meliá and the trendy business hotels around the Plaza de Francia, but if you want something authentic it’s got to be a Mediterranean-style posada.
EAT Cheese-filled arepa (tortilla Venezuela-style) and tequeño (stuffed breadsticks) are snacks of choice in the tiny luncheonettes that dot the city. The haute cuisine of the Cuadra Gastronómica is eclectic and Italian-influenced. Hot tip: hunt up the Caribbean cuisine in downtown Caracas.
DO The San Juan Bautista festival takes place in the Barlovento region. The sound of the tambor drums and the carnival surrounding the feast of St John the Baptist resounds in Birongo, Curiepe and the coastal villages Chirimena, Caruao and Chuspa all day and all night for three days in June. A short flight from Caracas to the resort city of Higuerote will get you easy transport to any points on the coast. Make it a two-day trip to be at the party long after sundown.
WEAR Be the golden club goddess. Sheen or shine or bling. Keep it super short and simple. Dust yourself generously with some luminous powder, slide on skyscraper heels and unleash the Latina Chica in you.
TERRAIN The ancient walls of the Incas tower up out of the streets in the Cusco region, standing long after the colonial and new urban architecture that attempted to bury them out of sight have crumbled or been destroyed by earthquakes. Any experience of pre-conquest civilization in South America can be humbling and enlightening but nowhere is its majesty and mystery more in evidence than in Peru. If there is any place in the world where tourist overcrowding is justified, it has got to be Cusco and the Inca Trails snaking up to Macchu Picchu.
STAY The opulent Monasterio and Libertador are genuine historical attractions as well as great hotels.
EAT Peru’s cuisine is one of the world’s most diverse and cutting edge. The traditional cebiche (raw fish marinanded in lime juice) is both a staple and a gastronomic delight.
DO To walk the Inca trail you are legally required to be part of a certified tour. This means tents, so using your imagination and packing a full knapsack are heartily recommended. Do stay on the four-day trail for the most bang for your buck. Oh, and pack a poncho – and that’s not a pun.
WEAR Evoke imagery of the Incas and Mayas with tribal hints. Strong colour blocking, bold jewellery, feathers and fringes are your weapons for the fashion invasion.
TERRAIN As an oasis in a desert 20 million years old, you could say the area around San Pedro de Atacama town has a lot going for it. Bustling, with a tourist scene comparable to most cities in Western Europe, you can nonetheless feel the air in the mountains crackle about you thanks to the collusion of the minerals under your feet and the purity of the atmosphere. Do carry layers to wear. And prepare yourself for the shock of realising just how insignificant nature can make you feel.
STAY The slow hacienda life is best experienced in the tiny guest houses dotting the neighbourhoods surrounding San Pedro de Atacama, but the tony hotels in the town centre might appeal more if you prefer the company of other travellers – and tour guides!
EAT Find a fire in an open-air courtyard in any of the traditional restaurants here, tank up on cazuela and other soups and eat your fill of the rice-andmeat combos.
DO Approach by road from Santiago via Calama so that you don’t arrive in the middle of the night. On the other hand it’s worth keeping your eyes open in the dark at San Pedro – stargazing is one of the main attractions of the place.
WEAR Be a desert flower with blooming hues and long, flowy dresses. Walk on the sands like a graceful gazelle in your gladiator sandals. And don’t forget the shades!
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