Three weeks ago a gym buddy asked my for my “list” of things to do in South America. Her original request was along the line of extreme sports. You, guys who know me, know that I can be crazy, but I am not suicidal. He..he ..he. However, I do have a 2016 goal: to go out of my comfort zone. I am not sure yet what it means – or rather, I have a couple ideas but I would like to keep it on the down low for now…so watch the blog in 2016 for them.
I realized a few things that night:
- I never had a list of South America to-dos. I just love going there. Going to a country there and do nothing is perfect for me.
- This is an affirmation that South America is one rich continent, and I, along with a few I have met there, can never ever ever get enough. The bucket list is really until the day we die.
- South America has gripped a feverish hold in Singaporeans! Every other person who I have spoken to seems to want to go to South America.
I have done and visited some of the things below. Whatever I have not done will stay on the personal to-do list. It all depends on future opportunities, situations, and appetite for risks. For example, going to a mine is never appealing for fear of being trapped deep underground. Mountain biking and heli-skiing are also way beyond my skill set :). Perhaps you can go and let me know how it goes for you and share your pics (tag my Instagram @roaminjuliet please).
Anyways, enough of pleasantries, let’s get to the list, shall we?
1. Swimming with whale shark (Isla Holbox, July).
2. Dive or swim in deep cenotes in Yucatan Peninsula. Try to do it when you are alone. Damn creepy, but beautiful.
3. Mayan Ruins: of course one cannot miss the main ruins in Yucatan Peninsula – Chichen Itza, Tulum, Coba, and Uxmal in Ruta Puuc. I did an article for my ALMA LATINA column in Spanish on Ruta Puuc for Mexasing association.
4. Tikal: go in the morning for sunrise. Walk will start when it is still dark with armed guards. Then stay back in the evening. The place closes at 6pm (no more guards after 6pm and you stay at your own risks). Stay in the main plaza (temple 1 and 2) and wait to see the Milky Way. Walking back at night through the jungle is a good thrill. I did this with a local.
7. Rio Dulce and Livingston: the place to visit to get a taste of Caribbean Guatemala.
8. Off the Beaten Path Ruins: I am kind of obsessed with the Mayans. I stopped by in Quirigia on the way from Rio Dulce to Copan, Honduras, and I added Yaxha on the way to Tikal (on the way from the Flores airport). There are many more I could not fit in, by the way.
9. Roatan Islands: I did not go there as time was limited. I heard it is great for diving.
10. Copan Ruins: if Tikal is the New York of the Mayans, Copan is the Paris of the Mayans. I love Copan! I could spend days there.
11. Havana, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos: Cuba has stood still and has been a witness to the glorious 1950’s era of the Island. Go now before the country is completely opened and it loses its time-warp charm.
This list probably covers 1% of the Continent. There is so much to do and see in South America. One can stay there for a year and not see everything.
Note: My very first six-week South American adventure happened in 2006. I blogged about the experience in 2015 in one post. Thus, the link to that post will be repeated on the list below, and the entry is not as detailed.
1. Climb Aconcagua Mountain: this is really for the serious climber. But if mountains and climbing are your thing, this is a must do.
2. Patagonia: El Chalten, El Fitzroy, Ushuia, and Perito Moreno Glacier – the landscape of Patagonia is one of the most extreme, beautiful and barren. Whether you made the visit from the Chile or Argentinian side, Patagonia is a must.
3. Buenos Aires: an amazing and vibrant city, despite the crisis of Argentina in recent years.
4. Bolivian High Plains: get on a 4×4 trip which can start in San Pedro de Atacama desert in Chile through Bolivian Altiplano until Puno, Peru (highlights: Chilean Atacama desert (Valley of the Moon and Valley of the Dead), colorful lagoons with flamingoes and vacunas in the Eduardo Abaroa national park, the Uyuni salt plains, Potosi silver mine, and Lago Titicaca which is the highest lake in the world). I have plans to return soon!
5. Biking on the Deadly Mountain Pass in Bolivia (El Camino de Muerte) – a must for the truly courageous and adrenaline-junkies.
6. Paragliding in Rio de Janeiro: a friend did this many years ago.
7. Favela Tour of Rio de Janeiro: I gave it a miss because I went to Rio de Janeiro right before the World Cup in 2014. Every other day, there was news of clash between the Police and the Favela residents. This tour is not without risks, but there are others who have done it and it went fine for them.
8. Boat safari in Iguassu Falls: highlight! The boat went under the smaller part of the Falls and it was a RUSH!
9. Paraty: a friend and I took a bus from Rio de Janeiro to Paraty and on the way back we were stuck in traffic due to protests and demonstrations (for labor related issues). Our stay in Paraty itself was great! We chose a beautiful hotel and splurged on a semi-private boat ride to visit the various little islands and beaches. A great escape from the maddening cities.
10. Amazing beaches/diving at Fernando de Noronha archipelago: I cannot get this place out of my mind since I saw a documentary of it. I could not fit it in the last trip though.
12. Torres del Paine: perfect for hiking and glacier trekking in the Grey Glacier. Stop by Punta Arenas to visit some penguins prior to heading to the National park.
13. La Guajira: join a 4×4 trip to visit various Wayuu towns and communities in this amazing desert. Kitesurfing available at Cabo de la Vela.
14. The Lost City of Teyuna: join a 4-day (5- and 6- day trek is also possible) trek to Ciudad Perdida and climb its 1,200 steps.
15. Tayrona: must visit for beautiful beaches and blue-water sea.
16. Colonial Colombia: Colombia was an important region for the Spanish colonial power, and many cities/towns can attest to this rich history.
I have yet to go to Ecuador. This list is my to-do list.
17. Galapagos Island: I think no explanation is needed here.
18. Quito: to experience another Colonial city in the highlands.
19. Volcanoes such as Cotopaxi: for the fit and adventurous!
20. Otavalo Indigeneous Market: I am obsessed with indigeneous groups culture, handicrafts, and colourful outfits.
21. Trekking to Macchu Picchu along the Sacred Valley of the Incas. I chose a shaman ceremony the last time, instead of climbing the Huayna Picchu mountain. The latter is a good climb. Choose the climb and forget the shaman. Join the trek, instead of taking the train.
22. Other Incan Ruins around Cuzco: I visited Ollyantaytambo, Pisco, and Sacsayhuaman. All are exemplary examples of Incan architecture.
23. Nazca: take the flight to observe the giant patterns of animal etched on the desert floor.
24. Lima: Peru has taken the culinary world by storm. Make sure to allow a few days in Lima to sample the culinary creations of Gaston Acurio and his protegees.
25. Lago Sandoval: beginner’s level of Amazon experience. We stayed in a proper lodge. I would probably look at Brazil for my next Amazon experience, which I hope would be more challenging.
25. Punta del Diablo and Cabo Polonio: on my first trip to Uruguay, a local friend took me to Punta del Diablo to experience the sand dunes ride. It was fun.
26. Asados: it did not harm that he is also amazing in doing asados “BBQ”. Asados culture is also prevalent in Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. Since I have no blog on asados, I am posting a picture here.
28. Visit Angel’s Falls in Southern Venezuela. A visit to Venezuela is not yet in the works due to its political situation. Hope it will improve soon. Some people argues that away from Caracas the situation is fine. However, I would not put my family into the position of worrying about me by going into known-dangerous places.
If ancient civilizations and ruins are of strong interests, I went crazy in Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico. The latter two are in the blog. Food is also a big part of my trip. I had food posts on Colombia, Guatemala/Honduras, and Mexico here. The rest of the food discussion is interspersed within the other posts.
I hope this list gives you some ideas how beautiful, amazing, rich the South American continent is. The list is by no means the ends-all of what to do and visit in the continent. It is meant to be a starting point. I am open to more ideas for my own future trips. So, comments please!