In 2008, a 23-year old English backpacker called Nikki travelled from the UK to Kathmandu, then onward to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and the rest of South East Asia. She fell in love with the spontaneity of backpacking life and decided there and then that she never wanted to go home. South America Backpacker is about Backpacker stories, tips, events & travel tales about South America.
Have you ever dreamed of doing something different with your life?
In January this year, my boyfriend and I decided to take a Yoga Teacher Training Course in Goa, India. The one-month course was a real challenge, one full of laughter, tears and some very sore muscles! By the end of the month, we found ourselves able to teach a one-hour yoga class, and guide the rest of the class through a 15-minute meditation. A feat that would have been downright impossible before taking the course! (You can read our daily diaries of the course here).
On the final day, exhausted and very proud of ourselves, our group sat in a circle with garlands of flowers around our necks, and thought about what we would do next? Clutching our new certificates in hand, we all couldn’t quite believe that we were now qualified yoga teachers, able to start careers as yoga teachers if we so wished. It took a while to sink in as we discussed our future prospects…
Some people had taken the course for personal reasons and had no intention of teaching, others were going straight back to their home country to start classes! Some of us (myself and my boyfriend included) weren’t quite sure what to do with our newfound skills. However, as we chatted with the other students, we slowly began to realise that a world of opportunity was now open to us…
A world of possibility…
We soon discovered a website called Yoga Travel Jobs, that listed volunteer, work exchange and paid job opportunities all over the world! It was really exciting to see all of the positions available in beautiful locations from beach resorts to mountain retreats… It seemed that Yoga Teachers were really in demand!
I discovered a volunteer position for a yoga instructor working at a grassroots non-profit organisation in Lima, Peru, teaching yoga to women, teens and children in an after-school program. I found an opening for a yoga and meditation teacher in a fun-sounding place called ‘Pipa’ in the north of Brazil, Rio Grande, at a yoga, party and surf hostel looking for a volunteer to teach yoga every morning in exchange for food and board. There was also a paid position for a yoga teacher at a boutique fitness studio in Cuenca, Ecuador. There were different roles to suit different personalities and different time-scales, commitment levels.
The requirements for some of the jobs state that you do not need to be a qualified Yoga Teacher, just have a good level of Yoga ability and be able to lead a class. There are also opportunities for non-yogis too, from kitchen staff, to English teachers, to actors and actresses!
The benefits of working abroad rather than just traveling from place to place…
When you stay in one place for a while, you gain a deeper insight into the culture of the country you’re living. You get to know people, from your local grocer to the people serving in your favourite coffee shop down the road. You’ll make local friends as well as fellow expats who are living in your area, and overall you will have a much richer experience of South America. Plus, thrown into a work environment – you’ll improve your Spanish language skills no end!
Many of the opportunities that we looked at offered free food and accommodation as part of a work exchange deal. However, if you are interested in a paid job with accommodation not included, renting an apartment in South America on a monthly basis can also be much cheaper than paying for a hostel every night.
The Yoga Community
As well as browsing the job opportunities, you can also join the Yoga Travel Jobs Community for free, which is a great way to meet like-minded people all over the globe. Here, you can chat with other yoga teachers, ask them advice about the locations of the jobs and get tips for teaching and volunteering. You can even join specific interest groups such as Stand Up Paddle Board Yoga (SUP)or Yoga Teaching ‘Writers’. If you fancy it, you can even create your own Yoga Community Group. Are you interested to learn Spanish with Yoga? Perhaps, you want to create a specific group for yoga with children? Or, maybe you are a Yogi who has a particular interest in diving? Whatever you’re into, here you can find someone who is as enthusiastic about it as you!
Who created Yoga Travel Jobs?
Nicholas Schneider is 29-year old German traveler and entrepreneur who loves to create inspirational online worlds for backpackers and digital nomads. He wants to connect like-minded people all over the word and support those who are keen to pursue an alternative lifestyle. We had the pleasure of meeting Nicholas five years ago in our office in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
So is Nicholas a yogi himself? When he started Yoga Travel Jobs, Nicholas had never before set foot on a yoga mat! He’s since been inspired by the amazing stories he’s heard from people using the website and is planning on doing his first yoga retreat in Thailand at the end of the year!
After creating a profile on the site, you can browse all of the job opportunities and join the Yoga Travel Jobs Community to start meeting people! (This is known as a Yoga Visa.)
With this membership, you can only browse jobs. To see the full description of the job and to contact the employer or submit a job application, you must register to the website and pay a small sign up fee for the whole year. (Therefore gaining a full Yoga Passport!)
So sign up now and discover all of the opportunities waiting for you!
Picture yourself standing on the side of a remote road in a foreign country.
You take a good look and breathe in your surroundings. Truckers taking a rest in the midst of their 24 hour international journey, jubilant children playing enthusiastically with a tattered football and a veritable army of snack-selling women waiting patiently to pounce on anyone who dares to slow below 10kmph, curiously all touting a choice of the same 3 items.
As the sun reaches its peak in the sky and you question your choice of shadeless spot, the thought crosses your mind that the day is half gone and you have moved nowhere so far. All of the possessions you considered important are stuffed in a 65 litre backpack which nestles snugly on your back, and with every passing moment you curse yourself more for packing three pairs of shoes. Three pairs?! What were you thinking. You’ve barely worn one.
Had you known that no sensible traveller gives a crap about what you wear you would be carrying a tote-bag right now instead of being slowly driven into the ground. The stream of locals surrounding you, who have become your closest friends over the past few hours, offer you anything from words of advice on which route to take to strange looks as they openly wonder what on earth these “gringos” are doing here.
A car approaches in the distance and immediately you jump into action. Thunderbirds are go. You pick up the sign you lovingly crafted with a scrap of paper and some markers and make yourself as prominent as possible in the road. The car gets closer – a pickup truck!
Your heart-rate increases as you see its only occupant is the driver, and you consciously begin to make eye contact with him, you know, to make yourself seem more personable. You are sure this car will stop for you.
This road has no turnings for two hours, he cant be going anywhere else. Even if he doesn’t want to talk he could just let you jump into the flatbed where you would gratefully collapse as the wind whips your face cooling your sweat, you can already feel it as you form a vivid picture in your mind.
And then he’s gone. No explanation, no words exchanged, just flew by as if you didn’t exist. Unfortunately this was just one of tens of cars that have passed you in the past three hours and there isn’t much time to dwell on your intense disappointment before a shabby Toyota comes speeding towards you. You immediately pull yourself together and resume your station, just as confident that this one really will be your ticket out of here.
As the car becomes clearer you see once again that its just one driver and no passengers. You hold the sign high and give him as wide a smile as you can muster and to your absolute delight he slows down to a crawl before stopping right next to you.
After a brief exchange where he establishes that you are unlikely to be a serial killer (and you do the same) he tells you he is going your way and to hop in. At that moment, all of the previous hours of dashed hopes well up inside of you like an erupting volcano and you literally jump for joy that another human is reaching out to you in a time of need. Have you ever actually jumped for joy before?
You take a seat inside the car where you learn your saviour’s name – Victor – and that he’s travelling with a particularly feisty terrier called Manolo. You ask inquisitively what brings Victor on the road? He answers you by removing his radio head unit to reveal a secret compartment packed with clothes; he’s bought these in a tax-free zone by the border and he’s planning on slipping them past customs for a quick profit.
You sit back and take in a breath of slightly musky air laced with a hint of tobacco smoke and dog hair. You look at your morally questionable driver, and then stare out of the window as you begin to pick up speed moving further and further from your most recent home, and the only word to describe what you’re feeling right now? Gratitude.
For me, this story (which happened to my friend and I three days ago) perfectly highlights why we decided to abruptly change the theme of our travels for something less predictable.
We had just completed 2 weeks of hostel-hopping and landmark-visiting in Argentina and, as fun as it was, we just wanted something a bit different.
Yes those waterfalls are spectacular, yes those rocks formations do have a lot of colours, but where’s the challenge? Moving from well-trodden place to place with groups of Anglos comparing pictures of the same sites no longer stimulated us, we needed to mix it up.
“I know, why don’t we try and hitch-hike from Argentina to Colombia?” I asked half-jokingly; after all, we both have flights out of Bogota in a month.
I was shocked by my friend’s enthusiastic response and before I knew it we were waiting by a petrol station on an exit route out of Salta, Argentina with a sign that simply read “Chile, Por Favor“.
Only later did we realise how monumentally naïve we were to think that it was likely that someone would take us from there all 8 hours directly to Chile, but that was the first step in a very steep learning curve.
As we developed our techniques for hailing a ride it quickly became apparent that we were essentially sales-people to the public, and the product? Us. Necessity required progressively increasing creativity during each of those fleeting moments of interaction with the passing vehicles. From multi-coloured signs, to dancing in the street and even placing ourselves suspiciously close to a police stop to ensure a trickle of slow-moving cars, we took each day as a clean slate awaiting innovation.
Hitchhiking in South America can teach you more than you think.
Something important to me about travelling is the truly flexible mindset. The ability to immediately change your plans when something pulls you in a different direction is a luxury often not indulged by people in “the real world” and can be the start of the greatest adventures.
Hitching can frequently present you with these opportunities; when you are offered a ride somewhere not exactly on your route, or even in the wrong direction. Say yes without obsessing over where you’re supposed to be going and just see where it takes you.
We have found ourselves in the cargo hold of an open-topped 18-wheeler speeding through the sinuous roads of the Peruvian Andes mesmerised by the sun-strewn landscape flying past after Rolando was kind enough to take us somewhere vaguely in the direction of Lima. Yes we had no desire to go the loading yard where he was to stock his truck with seaweed, and yes we needed our sleeping bags once the chilly night fell, but that was a journey we will never forget.
For somebody who constantly needs to have some sort of plan, I have found this new element of going with the flow truly invaluable and I hope to take a little of that home with me.
Putting aside the ego embedded in the fact that everybody likes to do something a little different on their travels – you know, have a good story – something dawned on us that compelled us to continue down this path.
We realised that almost all of the locals that we would usually come into contact with on our travels were in some capacity trying to sell us something; be it hostel staff, tour operators or street vendors – most conversations were centred around some sort of purchase.
Suddenly, we were meeting a cohort of people who had just invited us into their car without expecting anything in return. Oftentimes we found that after they would pick us up, they would feel a responsibility for our welfare and go out of their way to help us in any way possible, be it including us in their dining plans or helping us secure the next leg of our journey, we were truly moved by their benevolence.
We also noticed that sitting next to a complete stranger who has just performed an act of kindness for you breeds conversation of genuine interest. Who is this selfless person? Why did they of all people stop to help you out? We decided to take these opportunities to peer in to a new culture from a different perspective.
As an aside, having to make conversation rapidly progressed our Spanish from speaking un pocito (a tiny bit) to un poco (a little bit).
Of course, hitchhiking in South America is by no means for everyone, it takes those who are really prepared to put themselves out there and wade through the barrage of rejection that inevitably flies your way. The frustrating times can teach you patience and positivity; you can re-enforce your faith in humankind or throw it into question; you can experience the peaks and troughs of human emotion – and that’s just in the first 10 minutes!
Our journey is coming to a close, but yours could just be beginning, and all it takes is a point of the thumb, what have you got to lose?
About the writer: This article was written by Chaim Haber, a 26-year old backpacker (and hitch-hiker) from the UK. He is currently taking a break from his work as a doctor and is now continuing his journey in Colombia.
When backpacking to Bolivia most travellers want to explore the country’s Number One Tourist Attraction – Salar de Uyuni – the biggest salt flat in the world. As part of this adventure, you’ll probably also want to investigate the south of the country with its stunning arid sceneries, volcanoes and amazing coloured lagoons…
I have spent more than a year traveling and working throughout South America and I always try to find my own way through a country instead of booking a tour. In the end, it is not only more fun and adventurous, it will at the same time connect you to the locals who will be more than happy to teach you about their culture.
As I had some friends from Canada and Europe planning a visit to Bolivia I asked myself – why don’t we rent a car instead of booking with a tour group?
There are a couple of huge benefits of car rental…
I guess everyone who has ever rented or owned a car and explored a country this way knows how much freedom you gain being able to stop wherever you want and make your home wherever you park it.
Most tours range from one to four days, a car rental makes you more flexible regarding your time frame. You can stay as long as you want!
You can plan your journey to ensure that you are not in the same location as the tour groups at the same time. You can have ALL THIS to yourself!
As you can imagine, renting a car and heading out on a road trip in a country that you don’t know is exciting and a little scary. But rest assured that you’ll meet local people along the way who will help you with your journey and be excited to learn more about your culture too! Being able to chat with locals, cook together and play with their kids – all these experiences will be possible when you have the time to connect and stay a little longer at each place – a luxury that you often don’t have when travelling in a tour group.
We knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of shops along the way so we bought veggies, fruit, wine and snacks in advance in Sucre, our starting point, and some additional items in Tupiza. Make sure you bring enough water for the drive to be able to cook and to stay hydrated especially on altitudes above 4,000m!
Rent your car in Sucre
We started our adventure in Sucre, the white city of Bolivia, a lovely town with a mild climate and a perfect spot to plan the trip. Here we stayed in the wonderful Beehive Hostel and rented our car with the amazing people of BIZ car rental, a small & young business with brand new 4×4’s that allow you to drive over the salt flats, which not every car rental in Bolivia does. They also provide you with a lot of information to make you feel comfortable on the road. Just send them a message to receive a personal quote and they will get back to you as soon as possible.
We choose the Mitsubishi Montero Sport…
…but there are a lot of other cars to choose from depending on how many people you are and what’s your budget.
They are also very knowledgeable when it comes to direction and distance. Their rental package includes:
A 100 litre extra tank, as there are no gas stations in the south.
A shuffle will be provided in case you get stuck.
Two spare tires.
Hose to fill up the gas.
Maps and a GPS.
I did the drive twice with different groups of friends and the first one I did was a little more adventurous; we slept in the car and went a slightly different route from Sucre to Tupiza to Uyuni to Sud Lipez and back to Sucre via the Salt Flats. Both routes have amazing landscapes although the tour via Tupiza felt a little more adventurous. In the following I will explain the second route a little more in detail.
From Sucre we headed south towards Uyuni. The landscapes along the way are truly amazing and you will be impressed by the scenery of mountains, volcanoes and lagoons. On our way we passed through the city of Potosi, where you can stay for the night, but we kept on going to leave the bigger cities behind…
Uyuni is a small desert town with lots of hostels, restaurants and markets to stock up on food, water and gas.
From there you head further south while finding your way through different treks that more or less all lead the same direction:
The red lagoon is located at 4,200m and there are some basic hostels close by…
Around noon the colour red is most visible, but also around sunrise and sunset you can witness stunning views on the lake, which is filled with pink flamingoes. We spent two nights of the journey here and the next day was a perfect day trip down south to Laguna Verde and the Chilean boarder.
Only half an hour away from Laguna Colorada you will encounter the geysers. At this point you have reached the highest point of the journey, which is at 4,900m.
The green lake is located at the most southern point and almost on the Chilean boarder. We arrived at Laguna Blanca and from where we walked to the border.
It is a 2-hour windy walk with amazing scenery. At Laguna Blanca you can also find a small restaurant and hostel incase you want to spend the night.
The hot springs are located one hour away from Laguna Colorada, but we decided to stop by on our way back when we had the hot springs all to ourselves.
We chose to head back to Uyuni on a different route along the border of Chile, stopping by plenty more lagoons and volcanoes. This route is a little more challenging to drive but totally worth it. In order to stay on track we constantly asked drivers along the way who were always super friendly and helpful when it came to directions.
We drove to a tiny town called Chuvica and one of the guides directed us to a salt hotel for 35BOB (4.9US$)
In the salt hotel we enjoyed our first shower since a couple of days and relaxed a little in order to be ready for the next day and our drive on the Salar itself!
In Tunupa we watched a wonderful sunset and got up at 5am the next morning to enjoy sunrise on the salt flats which was indeed n unforgettable moment. Tunupa is named after the volcano which is close to the town and definitely is one of the highlights of the area.
From there we headed back to Uyuni to explore the train graveyard, which is a wonderful place to wander and explore and take some photos that look like a film set!
After a big breakfast we headed on back to Sucre, which is a 6-hour drive from here. We brought the car back and enjoyed another night in Sucre reflecting all what we had seen and experienced before heading back to La Paz.
General info for undertaking your own independent road trip:Driving
In general it’s pretty easy to drive, although once you leave Uyuni there are no paved roads any more. Nevertheless, you only drive off road in rare locations. That being said you don’t have to be a 4×4 expert to be able to do this trip!
I would defiinitely advise to be able to at least speak the basics in Spanish as the car rental and also the police officers along the way won’t speak English. The same goes for the guides, in case you get lost and you want to ask for directions. In the end knowing the language will enrich your experience as you’d be able to talk to locals along the way.
In general it is a touristic zone and there is no real need to be scared. I did it twice and we never felt unsafe even while sleeping out there in the nature.
We did our trip during the dry season, which starts in May and lasts until October. During the summer months, which are from November to April driving will be more difficult and I am not sure if I’d recommend heading south. However, this is the time to head to the Salar if you want to photograph reflections.
Things to bring along your South Bolivian Adventure:
Warm clothes: During the night temperatures drop below zero so bring layers.
Coca leaves: The highest point will be around 5,000m so make sure you acclimatise beforehand and bring some coca leaves to make tea, which will aid any altitude sickness.
Camping equipment: If you intend on sleeping in the car bring a good sleeping bag and a camping cooker along in order to make tea and be able to cook.
Water and food: Once you leave Uyuni or Tupiza there won’t be any markets with fresh fruit and vegetables, only small stores with the basic necessities.
Cash: There are only ATMs in Uyuni and Tupiza so bring along some Bolivianos in order to pay for hostels and gas, and the entrance fee of the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve of 150 BOB.
In general the costs of a car rental are higher than booking with a tour agency, but the freedom and the adventure you will gain are priceless. Driving through the south of Bolivia made me speechless countless times and we encountered probably some of the most stunning scenery I have seen in my life. So in the end I am glad we took our time to explore, wander and have the time to really appreciate the beauty instead of rushing through the region as some of the tour groups do.
We paid in total with 4 people around $1000 for the rental and additionally around $150 for accommodation, food and gas for 6 days for all of us. Incase you hadn’t guessed – IT WAS WELL WORTH IT!
I’ve been working for All Hands Volunteers (AHV), an NGO that addresses immediate and long term needs within communities affected by natural disasters – in this case in response to the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the west coast of Ecuador on 16th April, 2016.
One of so many destroyed homes in San Miguel.
Within a few days of the earthquake, AHV set to work building temporary shelters, carrying out demolition, rubble clearing and rebuilding in various communities in the affected region. It’s a one-of-a-kind working and living environment, with people arriving from all corners of the world to our beachside base in Canoa, lured in by a unifying desire to help. All Hands Volunteers is one of few organisations that welcomes volunteers regardless of their previous experience.
Volunteers at our base in Canoa.
Some stay for months, others can only spare a few days, but all contribute to the undeniable energy and unwavering work ethic here.
The majority of volunteers work in construction or preparing bamboo for the houses that are underway. In July, AHV began constructing permanent homes for San Miguel de Briceño, a community that was badly hit but has received little aid. The seismic-resistant houses have been beautifully designed using locally-sourced, sustainable materials – mostly bamboo, and a roof that incorporates recycled plastic – by an architect who worked with AHV in the Philippines.
As one of few Spanish-speaking volunteers I got involved early on in assisting the Beneficiary Coordinator with the task of deciding who we give these much-sought-after homes to. This would begin with visits to over 160 households to assess their living conditions and the disaster impact. Whilst my insatiable curiosity for anything and everything is what took me from a job in educational publishing to now building bamboo houses, carrying out community assessments was more up my street – I suspected I could contribute more in this way than I could with a drill or a machete. So, armed with a pile of surveys and a smile I donned my bright blue ‘All Hands’ shirt and set out into the cotton fields.
San Miguel de Briceño is a community with no water supply, a low literacy rate and high unemployment. Most families are headed by a man who works with a machete in the cotton or corn fields in harvest season, with an average family of 4 living on just $50 a week. I had a short amount of time with each household in which to elicit a great deal of information, and all in a foreign language.
The families saw this as their only chance to communicate their plight, convince me that they were the most deserving of our help and many, no doubt out of sheer desperation, could be somewhat ‘flexible’ with the truth.
I questioned and listened quickly and relentlessly, throwing sporadic, surreptitious glances towards my watch or the ominous dog/giant turkey beside me, as I enquired as to their income, sanitation, education, and the level of damage their homes had sustained. Under barbed wire fences and through corn fields I clambered, towards every makeshift shelter or tent I could make out.
I scribbled pages of notes from the hammock, broken toilet bowl, bucket or pile of rotten wood on which I was invited to sit on, watched on by wide-eyed children who played amongst the modest possessions that each family had salvaged. Whilst never knowing if the next person I met would be effusive, hesitant or indifferent, I could be certain that all would offer me something – a papaya, corn bread, a carrot off their floor… a piglet, perhaps.
For two weeks, I walked the dusty roads and fields of San Miguel de Briceño, its every bend, every shortcut, every family affiliation or feud now forever known to me, in a community I had never heard of a month before.
Emotions were set aside and new friends and faces reduced to figures once the evaluation stage came around, as we embarked on a complex and lengthy analysis of the data we had brought in. Though resources are limited, there are families that we can and will help, and as we give each the good news it is an extraordinary feeling.
Being able to provide a new start to a disabled widower with young children, who watched us work in awe for days on end, then seeing them step inside their new home for the first time. Sitting beside an elderly man and his bedridden wife and having them reach out to hold my hand as I describe the help we can give them, knowing that he’d recently had to pull down the home they had lived in their whole lives, piece by piece.
It is a magnificent thing to be a part of, with the construction phase provoking countless more touching moments, as we work together with the beneficiaries to understand their needs, or even ask them to point out where they’d like their new front door to be.
Volunteers at work.
For almost two months now, our trucks have been pulling up each morning and a bright blue army of volunteers has hopped out into San Miguel de Briceño. And with each day, a powerful exchange of kindness is taking place, one that I am certain will extend the overall outreach of our project far beyond the houses we are building.
A house won’t resolve water or literacy issues, but it will keep people safe and relieve financial pressure for some time. It will demonstrate alternative construction methods in a vulnerable region, whilst providing some employment for local people. And it will, we hope, give a much-needed boost to a community that has had its fair share of bad luck and felt forgotten for too long.
Our first home completed for Mariela and her two girls.
Inside view of the house – upstairs.
For more information, to apply to volunteer or to support the work All Hands Volunteers is doing, visit www.hands.org.
About the writer: Lily left London two years ago in search of adventure and never returned. When she’s not building bamboo houses in Ecuador or riding motorcycles in Myanmar she works as a freelance editor. Follow her on Instagram @lilyleftlondon or at lilyleftlondon.wordpress.com.
But whether you’ve dreamed about or have actually experienced some of these South American highlights, you’ve probably never contemplated walking in another country here: Bolivia.
Often scratched entirely from backpackers’ travel lists, Bolivia has an array of barely-known walking routes and undisturbed countryside aching to be admired. Often described as the ‘Tibet of South America’ for its range of high altitude treks, there are a multitude of accessible walks (many of which don’t need a guide) that combine incomparable diversity of Andean and tropical landscapes with the fact that you’re unlikely to come across too many other hikers en route.
An essential destination for the intrepid hiker, here’s a list of some of the routes for seeing Bolivia by foot.
1. The Alternative Inca Trail
Location: Reserva Biológica Cordillera de Sama near Tarija.
Time required: 2-3 days.
A short bus journey from Tarija, the walk begins in the Reserva Biológica Cordillera de Sama at 3,400m above sea level. It includes a circuit of the Tajzara Lakes, a 2000m descent down paved Inca trail, and panoramic views across La Valle de la Concepción, Bolivia’s wine region.
Reserva Biológica Cordillera de Sama
At certain times of the year, the Tajzara Lakes turn pink with the flamingos that migrate here. Before taking the path to the Inca trail, hike around the lakes to enjoy breath-taking views of cloud-topped mountains reflected on the water and wild camp on the shore beneath a showcase of brilliant stars. Once back in Tarija, a visit to local vineyards or evenings spent dining al fresco in the south’s balmy climate are a well-deserved, post-hike treat.
Recommendations: Without any accommodation or food options on the route, it’s essential that you take a tent and cooking equipment. For more information, check out trekking Bolivia’s alternative Inca Trail.
2. The Takesi Trek
Location: Starting from Ventilla, near La Paz and ending in Yanacachi.
Time required: 2-3 days.
One of the more popular routes in Bolivia that can be walked without a guide, the Takesi Trek also forms part of the numerous paved Inca trails that once raced across the Bolivian countryside.
Beginning at the lofty heights of 3,200m just outside of La Paz, the well-marked trail winds down into the sweltering rainforests of the Yungas region, ending close to the beginning of the infamous Death Road. Passing through a range of landscapes, from bare, high-altitude passes, to the steamy humidity of lush jungle vegetation, there’s no finer way to experience Bolivia’s diversity of flora and fauna in one walk.
Los Yungas, Bolivia
Recommendations: Although there is the possibility of accommodation, thanks to the trek winding through a series of tiny villages, don’t bank on it. Taking a tent and a stove is your best bet and food is most likely available to buy en route. Find more specific details here.
3. The Laguna Glaciar and Laguna Chillata Route
Location: Sorata near La Paz
Time required: 2-3 days
One of the most popular treks in the Sorata region, this walk requires acclimatisation to high altitudes but offers stunning, ice-capped views in return.
Beginning in the town of Sorata, the path passes through eucalyptus groves up to Laguna Chillata – a lake still revered for its supposed healing powers. After passing a night here, walkers reach the dizzy 5,038m heights of the Laguna Glaciar, where rose-tinged sunsets and sunrises, views of the imposing nearby mountain Illampu, and a glacier that seems to slip into the lake make up for the lung-busting effort of reaching such high altitude.
Laguna Glaciar, Bolivia
Recommendations: This route is possible without a guide, but you will need to be well-acclimatised and fit given the high-altitude walking and the fact that you’ll camp at over 4000m. Reports of travellers getting robbed around here have been common over the past few years, so ensure you check the situation with local people in town before attempting the trek. The bonus of using a local guide (which can often be arranged directly upon arrival in Sorata) is a) you’ll support the development of tourist infrastructure and increase wages for local people, and b) you’ll have a mule to carry your rucksack – an option you may wish you’d have taken if you do go it alone.
4. The Maragua Crater
Location: Two hours from Sucre
Time required: 2-3 days according to your route
With 2,000 year old cave paintings, dinosaur footprints, and landscapes that look like they’ve come straight out of “The Land Before Time”, Maragua is an unmissable detour from the Bolivian capital, Sucre.
There are two main routes, both of which hike through the strange yet stunning rock formation of the Maragua Crater, encounter dinosaur footprints, and finish in the village of Potolo. The 3-4 day trek starts with a visit to the Incamachay and Pumamachay cave paintings, whereas the 2-3 day option begins by descending a section of Inca trail. Both include passing through a number of tiny, Bolivian villages where it’s hard not to feel a lot further from civilisation than the two hours it takes to drive here.
Recommendations: Bear in mind that local tour companies such as Condor Trekkers (where 100% of their profits go to the local communities with whom they work) can offer reasonably-priced guiding services for this route. Given that much of the path is badly marked, this is a positive way of ensuring you support the local communities and avoid wasting time by getting lost.
About the writer: A former English teacher in Manchester in the UK, Steph Dyson left her classroom in 2014 to travel, volunteer and live in South America. Since then, she has worked with rural libraries in Sucre, Bolivia, taught English and helped run a campsite in La Paz, Bolivia and delivered workshops to young people in orphanages and albergues in Cusco, Peru. Join her as she shows you how to Travel Adventurously and Volunteer Meaningfully at Worldly Adventurer.
Rio is one of the most exciting, enthralling and beautiful cities in the world. The iconic images of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) and the unusually shaped sugar loaf mountain are famous worldwide, as well as the renowned beach resorts of Copacabana and Ipanema. Surrounded by tropical rainforest with overcrowded favelas spreading out into the hills, ramshackle housing communities and upscale neighbourhoods lie pretty much side by side. With arty, bohemian neighbourhoods, cool street art, great restaurants, entertaining beaches, pulsating nightlife, samba, carnival and a distinct ‘Carioca’ personality – you’d be mad to miss this, one of the world’s greatest cities off your Brazil travel list.
However, if the pace of the city gets a bit too much, and you’re needing a break from the heat and the crowds, don’t worry – the state of Rio de Janeiro is a nature lover’s paradise, and many incredible destinations are easily accessible within a few hours of the metropolis. With cleaner air, a more relaxed attitude and less to worry about in terms of personal safety, these nearby destinations are what makes the state of Rio de Janeiro one of the most diverse and interesting places to backpack!
Just 4-5 hours from Rio, you’ll find the beautiful colonial city of Paraty with its 17th and 18th century Portuguese architecture, whitewashed churches and cobbled, traffic-free streets. Once a strategic port for sending the gold mined in Minas Gerais to the empire base in Lisbon, Paraty was rediscovered in the 1970s as a touristic destination after being declared part of the Brazilian historic heritage in 1966. Although Paraty itself can get crowded during high season and weekends, the city itself is surrounded by national parks, unspoiled secluded beaches, waterfalls and jungle-clad mountains, perfect for those wanting to immerse themselves in Brazil’s glorious nature. Explore nearby sugar plantations, take a boat trip to nearby islands and coves or hike in the ancient ‘Mata Atlantica’ or Atlantic Forest, a place of extraordinary biodiversity, of which only 15% of original forest remains.
2. Ilha Grande
By no means a secret, Ilha Grande (Big Island) is a paradisiacal retreat just 150km (2-3 hours) fro Rio. Throughout it’s colourful history, the island has been a pirate’s hideout, a leper colony and an island prison. There are no roads, nor cars on the island and the biggest town (village) is the settlement of Vila do Abraão, home to around 3,000 people and a concentration of guesthouses, restaurants and bars. It’s easy to escape the throng of tourists in Abraão’s small dirt streets, as hiking trails head out into the hills on all directions leading into the rainforest to waterfalls, blue lagoons, and tropical, secluded beaches. If you have a week to spare, you can hike around the whole island in 4-5 days. Ilha Grande is perfect for snorkelling, diving, trekking or just relaxing amidst nature’s treasures.
3. Angra Dos Reis
Around 2-3 hours south along the coast from Rio, you will come across the town of Angra Dos Reis (meaning King’s Creek or Bay). Mainly a jumping off point for the island of Ihla Grande, the port town is a rather ugly industrial affair, but not so far away there are lots of beautiful beaches to explore, over 2,000 of them to be exact! The archipelago of Angra Dos Reis consists of 365 islands, (including Ihla Grande) making up part of the Fluminense Green Coast, which is a popular destination for holidaying Cariocas. Diving, boat trips, snorkelling and water sports are all possible here in this beach bummers paradise. If you’re feeling adventurous, canoe out to the secluded and peaceful island of Juruba where floating bars serve drinks and snacks to the visiting boats.
Less than two hours north of Rio, Búzios is a peninsula surrounded by beautiful beaches on all sides. Weekending ‘Cariocas’ (people from Rio) head to Búzios for fishing, kite surfing, sailing, golfing and scuba diving. Growing from a sleepy fishing village to upscale seaside resort during the 1960s, some refer to Búzios as the St Tropez of Brazil. Consisting of three separate settlements – Ossos, Manguinhos and Armação de Búzios – Ossos is the oldest and prettiest, Manguinhos is the most commercial and Armação is famous for it’s lively nightlife. With fine restaurants, posh bars and luxury pousadas lining the picturesque seaside promenade, a backpacker could feel out of place here.
5. Arraial do Cabo
Much more low-key and less touristy than Búzios, Arraial do Cabo is a more affordable and backpacker-friendly ‘beachy’ escape from Rio. Surrounded by glistening white sand dunes, amazing beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters, Arraial is famous for diving (rumoured to be the best in Rio state) and humpback whale watching. The working fishing port of Porto do Forno is a refreshing slice of authentic Brazilian seaside life.
6. Serra de Bocaina National Park
Situated in-between the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, this national park comprises of mountain 200,000 hectares of jungle, coast and mountain range, with peaks higher than 2,000 metres and gushing waterfalls. Trekkers will delight and the historic cobbled paths of ‘Trilha do Ouro’ (the gold trail), the main path through the park, built by slaves in the early 18th century to bring gold from Minas Gerais to the coast. The most famous, best-preserved stretch of the trail is the 100km over the Serra do Mar to the coast at Mambucaba. On this route, you’ll pass through virgin rainforest, high waterfalls, old farms along an undulating path that offers incredible views over the Atlantic Ocean down to Paraty.
About one hour from Rio, you’ll find this historical city nestled in the mountain range of Serra dos Órgãos (the Range of Organs) named for the way the peaks resemble the pipes of a church organ pointing into the sky . With a cooler climate than Rio and streets less crowded and pressured than Rio, Petrópolis, also known as the ‘Imperial City’ offers a more chilled out experience of a Brazilian city and is often missed by backpackers and international tourist, yet treasured by nature loving Brazilians. With original cobbled-stone streets in the centre, colonial mansions and neo-gothic cathedrals, days can be spent ambling around the city breathing in the fresh mountain air, popping into museums, drinking wine and listening to traditional Brazilian music and eating at retro restaurants. Just outside the city are spectacular opportunities for hiking to fresh mountain springs, trekking to waterfalls or rock climbing the interesting rock formations of the Serra dos Órgãos.
6. Ilha de Paquetà
An easy escape from Rio’s hustle and bustle, the quaint Ilha de Paquetà in Guanabara Bay is just over an hour’s ferry ride from the city, costing only 10 reals to get there. Instead of cars, the transport consists of horse-drawn carts, which adds a certain old-fashioned charm to the colonial streets, or bicycle, which you can rent by the hour for only 5 reals. Due to it’s close proximity to the city, the island gets crowded at weekends, so it is best to visit during the week. Measuring only 1.2km X 8km, the island is tiny with only four hotels, but rich in history and nature. Paquetá is one of only two places in Brazil where you can find the African Baobab tree, of which there are 20 on the island, the most famos being ‘Maria Gorda’ or Fat Mary. Kiss her and you’ll be granted years of good luck!
9. Parque Nacional do Itatiaia
Located on the border or Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states, Brazil’s oldest national park is ruggedly beautiful and home to a unique array of flora and fauna, as well as rivers, lakes, lagoons, waterfalls and Atlantic rainforest. Reaching to an altitude of 2,800 metres, temperatures in the park can be cold, particularly in winter (June), snowfall is not unusual in the highest parts. The road that runs through the park, the BR-485, climbing to 2460 metres is considered the highest road in Brazil, although it is now closed to cars. Visited by very few international tourists, you can go a full day hiking without passing another person on the trails in this wild and beautiful national Park. 3-4 hours by bus from Rio.
10. Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais
The colonial old town of Ouro Preto (meaning Black Gold) in the nearby state of Minas Gerais, used to be one of the biggest cities in the Americas during the gold rush of the early-mid 18th century, since then it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its extremely well-preserved Baroque and colonial architecture. 6-7 by bus hours from Rio de Janeiro, this escape requires an overnight stop. With it’s hilly, narrow cobblestone streets and picturesque houses, the town is a photographers’ paradise with many interesting museums and beautiful churches spread out across the rugged, hilly landscape. The town, once the catalyst of Brazil’s first independence movement enjoys a vibrant art and culture scene.
Let’s face it, haggling is rarely about the money. Sure, we might get fleeced some places if we didn’t bargain at all, and, yes, bargaining is part of some cultures. But most of the time, our efforts only end up saving us a few bucks here and there.
So we haggle for bragging rights, mostly, and perhaps because we believe that everything has an intrinsic “fair” price, a fixed cost for both local and traveler. At least that’s why I used to haggle so hard.
And I knew all the tricks, from asking for prices of random things to slyly grumbling to my friend in a “secretive” tone. I even had the walkaway down pat. And I still use these tricks on occasion because, well, taking the first price offered would be downright silly.
But after years of travel through dozens of countries, I don’t think of a “fair” price in the same way. No, I’ve realised that bragging rights and a couple of bucks come at a heavier cost to the person across from me.
So if you’ve ever questioned the idea of “fair” price or inwardly cringed at someone relentlessly haggling over a three-dollar t-shirt, here are a few things to think about.
1. Backpackers are rich compared to many locals
We are, comparatively speaking, rich. I used to balk at this idea, thinking, “Who, me? I’m not some rich dude.” The truth was, and is, that being able to visit exotic locales makes me rich, at least compared to many locals, some of whom, like the average Cambodian garment worker, make less than 100 USD a month. No matter how you slice it, that’s not a lot of coin. Now your veritable wealth is nothing to be ashamed of; just be grateful for your good fortune and graceful with how you interact with the world.
2. Remember the vendor is just trying to make a living
We are haggling with another person, a human being who is just trying to make a living— and not an opulent one. I’d bet that Bolivian orange juice vendor is not stashing away for his upcoming European tour. No, he probably pushes that cart up and down the steep streets of La Paz selling fresh-squeezed juice for 25 cents a cup to take something home to his family. Can you blame him if he tries to take home a bit more by charging tourists 50 cents? That’s not to say you should pay 50 cents if you know the going rate is 25, but be amiable about it.
3. What is a fair price?
We look like jerks haggling over a few dollars and cents. Listen, it’s 25 cents. Is 50 cents a “fair” price for sipping fresh OJ under a Bolivian sun? You bet. Is 3 bucks “fair” for a t-shirt that says “Angkor What?” Of course. And haggling in ways that suggest those aren’t “fair” prices does not make you look good. I know because every time I made some poor vendor desperately call after me just to get me to turn around and grace them with my two-dollar purchase, I was that jerk.
4. Better stories
We get better stories—and memories—by treating people humanely. Though I don’t tell it often, my favorite bargaining memory is of haggling for a four-foot wooden totem pole in Arequipa, Peru. After squeezing that lady out of every last cent I could, I got back to my hostel and realized what a jerk I’d been. So I went and bought a bouquet of flowers, which I took to her the next day along with the extra few bucks she had been trying to get me to pay. It’s one of the better memories of bargaining I have. Now you tell me if that isn’t a better story, too.
5. Accept that as a tourist, you will overpay
We will always get taken for a little extra anyway. You don’t have to like it, but you might as well get used to it. Think of it as a tax for being able to see the world, and budget a few bucks every day to a “getting ripped off at least a little bit” fund. That’s not to say that you should give up bargaining or knowingly overpay, but you should accept overpaying as part of the great adventure that is traveling. And if overpaying for your coconut water or your souvenir batik sarong is the worst part of your trip, you’ve done well, my friend.
About the writer: Conan Griffin is a traveller and teacher, a husband and father. He and his family live in SW Florida when they are not off on some adventure.
A local at ‘Casa Loma’ in Minca, a wonderful small mountain town in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia, gave us the tip to hike to a place called Cerro Kennedy, also known as ‘la Cuchillo de San Lorenzo’. A remote spot that provides amazing views of the highest mountains in the country on the one side and the Caribbean Coast on the other. If you love hiking, the mountains and camping this is your perfect two-day adventure.
Since most of the Sierra Nevada is not exploited by tourism yet, our journey felt like a big adventure into the unknown. A wonderful feeling.
Besides members of the Kogi tribe, a unique spiritual and indigenous community inhabiting amongst other tribes the Sierra Nevada of Colombia, we did not meet anyone along the way, so we basically had the view for ourselves.
During the hike we took some steep short cuts through the rainforest, which saved us a bit of time to set up our camp before sunset. On the way you find an amazing biodiversity and a lot of waterfalls.
Halfway through the hike up, clouds were rolling in and totally changed the set up. As we were on our own a slightly eerie feeling came up.
The stunning mountain range of the Sierra Nevada is the largest seaside mountain system in the world and possesses Colombia’s two largest mountains Pico Cristobal Colon and Pico Simon Bolivar. Ranging 5,700m above sea level, Pico Cristobal Colon is not only Colombia’s highest mountain, but also the world’s tallest coastal mountain.
Cerro Kennedy is an operating military base, once you see this place, you can be sure you have taken the right route. The soldiers were super friendly and let us camp close to their base without any charge.
If you don’t own a tent, there is also the possibility to stop by in San Lorenzo, which is not as the name implies a town, but there is a hostel that provides accommodation.
We left Minca around 6am in the morning to arrive at the top in the afternoon this gave us some time to relax before setting up our camp. In the afternoon clouds were rolling in and it was an amazing feeling to lie in the grass in the middle of nowhere, absorbing the sun amongst the clouds and enjoying an enormous view on the Caribbean coast.
Luckily we picked a clear day, which resulted in a stunning sunset view ranging all the way from Barranquilla to Parque de Tayrona. The sunrise view the next morning was a highlight as well.
The hike back to Minca provides you constantly stunning views of the Caribbean Coast of Colombia.
On our journey back to Minca we stopped by at a local, organic coffee farm to finally get a taste of the amazing Colombian coffee, a great treat after a long hike. For $2,50 you get a full tour of the farm and the coffee process and certainly endless coffee.
The hike up takes around 8 hours and 7 hours all the way back to Minca, if you are well in shape. The track is not marked at all so make sure to stick to the main path. Note that the nights are cold and we only stumpled upon one small store along the way, so make sure to bring enough clothes, food and water and in case you have difficulties with altitude bring some tablets.
Taking a moto for half an hour to the next little town is highly recommended and saved us an hour of hiking, but you can also hire a local driver for the whole way up and back. Make sure to leave early because you can only get clear views of the peaks in the morning and the evenings.
Side note: Since the Sierra Nevada home to more than 30,000 Natives from four different unique Colombian tribes make sure to treat this place with respect and also respect the ‘Elder Brothers’ that are taking care of this wonderful place on Earth, their heart of the world, by making offerings to the sacred sites to give back what actually was taken out of it.
About the Writer:
Regina Röder has traded home for the road nine years ago in order to seek adventures all the way from the wavy beaches of Australia to the mountains of Canada and lots of places in between. Her excitement and passion for photography and film production has driven her journey, but her love for the outdoors has always brought her back to her favourite two elements: The oceans and the mountains. Currently based in South America, she is looking forward to explore remote places, catch waves, climb mountains and chase sunsets while documenting her journey.
For many who visit South America, Bolivia is a country that is actively ignored; jettisoned from travel plans in favour of ‘safer’ and ‘easier’ countries. It’s viewed as a daunting place for many: inaccessible, dangerous, notoriously bad for your stomach, and ultimately, better avoided. Someone once told me that they were “travelling quickly through Bolivia to avoid getting ill” – as if it were possible to speed past any stomach bugs lying in wait.
But Bolivia doesn’t deserve this reputation. It’s a country that merits a slower pace of travel: time to learn Spanish – or even a native language – and become a part of the country, rather than another tourist merely fleeing through.
For me, volunteering was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in the past year and a half of travelling across South America. I’ve discovered that if you’re blessed with enthusiasm and an open, all-embracing mind, you’ll take Bolivia at the value of its warm people and incredible landscapes. More importantly, you’ll discover a fascinating and often over-looked country.
Volunteering is a chance to pause and breathe in your surroundings…
I had initially gone to camp at Colibri Camping: a small campsite run by a Bolivian-British family. The website boasted of stunning views across the colourful valley below, and further along the mountains towards the distant haze of La Paz. Having spent a few cold weeks in this frenetic, vibrant, yet ear-splitting city, I was ready for a few golden moments of tranquillity.
I had only intended to stay for a couple of days, but this all changed after chatting with the owners, Rolando and his wife Emma. I was sold on helping out on the campsite and teaching in the local school as part of their social enterprise Up Close Bolivia. After many months away from home, the chance to pass my days with a family who had blue-tacked pictures of Wallace and Gromit, Mr Bean and Queen Elizabeth II on the kitchen dresser, plus a seemingly unending supply of British tea bags, was also an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
Volunteering offers a radically new perspective on a place: raw, and more real.
Volunteering has taught me how powerful it can be as an opportunity to come face to face with the reality of Bolivian life. Unlike travelling, where you are often confined to just peering through the grimy bus windows and out into the crumbling adobe of the many communities you pass, when you stop to volunteer, you are invited into those houses, offered a chair, and given a class of refreshing, home-fermented chichi drink.
In Bolivia, rural life remains centred on the concept of a close-knit community, and volunteering offers such a rewarding insight into daily life for the people here. I passed my six weeks chatting with Doña Maria in her yellow-fronted shop on the main road of my new home, Jupapina; riding the trufis (minibuses) alongside the locals to get into the next town; engaging with the students who ranged from silent shyness to constant chatter in English in the school in Mallasa where I taught. Living within the very heart of rural Bolivia, for me, was an experience like no other, and one few visitors get to see. We were so close to the tourist hub of La Paz, yet life here was an utterly different world, unashamedly true to Bolivian rural life and culture.
At weekends, myself and the other volunteers would head into the city. La Paz divides opinion for those who visit: it is noisy, dirty and unapologetically so. But living in my own slice of paradise further down the valley and having the chance to pop in for a posh meal or to experience the nightlife was a perfect compromise. Accessible within 40 minutes from my base in the tiny village of Jupapina, La Paz’s administrative capital, with its eclectic mixture of quintessentially Bolivian culture with a growing European edge, was a new experience in a country otherwise so proudly South America.
Experiencing rural life is the most rewarding feature of travelling in South America.
My days were spent either promoting the campsite on social media, guiding guests to the tepees and telling them the secrets of catching sight of the viscachas in the evening – the velvet-furred, chinchilla-like rodents who spent dusk on the rocks beneath the campsite – or swapping between Spanish and English as I tried to teach dates, adjectives and confidence in my English classes.
Every moment offered something new: whether it was watching clouds of vibrantly coloured canaries and parrots fluttering across the campsite, or encouraging a tentative few words in English from a normally silent student. Every day was more fulfilling than the previous few months I’d spent on the road because, unlike purely travelling, I felt I was contributing to my surroundings, and they were so readily giving back to me in return.
What you learn will from the local people will be unforgettable.
I left Jupapina and the Valley of Flowers to continue my travels: onwards towards Rurrenabaque and then into Peru, where I would be passing my next five months volunteering for the educational charity Latin American Foundation for the Future in Cusco.
I had learned about the aspirations of people in this part of Bolivia, and how the social enterprise Up Close Bolivia was having such a powerful impact: guaranteeing a better start to the lives of local children in the Children’s Centre in Mallasa; supporting the bright, interested young people whom I taught in the school and who finished the six weeks presenting to their peers with levels of confidence in English that many had barely dreamed of but a few weeks previously.
Above all, I learned how friendly and warm the local people in Jupapina were, who never hesitated to speak to me or show how welcome I was as a participant in their community.
As much as I enjoyed my time as a tourist in La Paz, my six weeks volunteering was an experience that made me feel much closer, and more involved, with life in Bolivia. I’ve seen how travel can get you to a new country, but it’s only through volunteering that you will see that country’s heart.
About the writer: A former English teacher in Manchester in the UK, Steph Dyson left her classroom in 2014 to travel, volunteer and live in South America. Since then, she has worked with rural libraries in Sucre, Bolivia, taught English and helped run a campsite in La Paz, Bolivia and delivered workshops to young people in orphanages and albergues in Cusco, Peru. Join her as she shows you how to Travel Adventurously and Volunteer Meaningfully at Worldly Adventurer.
While not usually garnering the culinary acclaim reaped upon the hybridization of Peru or the asados of Argentina, Chilean food ranges in variety from the arid Atacama desert in the north to the perfect Patagonian peaks of the south. Traditional food mostly caters to workers and can be traced to humble origins, which results in ample quantities of tastiness at great value, especially for the ubiquitous set lunch menus found all over South America.
An agricultural breadbasket mirroring California across the Equator, Chile offers fresh seafood, solid produce, and great wine…
Chilean wine is world renowned.
Throw in the hip, trendy, cosmopolitan capital city of Santiago that is worthy of being a food destination in its own right, and Chile offers great eating options for the most frugal of backpackers to cutting-edge gourmands.
…is the starting point for any Chilean excursion, and it boasts a gastronomic scene that will likely rival the popularity of Lima and Buenos Aires in the near future. While not offering the same level of exoticism in its produce as its Peruvian counterpart, Santiago has innovative chefs offering new takes on traditional mainstays. Gaston Acurio’s Astrid y Gaston and famed Liguria are justifiably top restaurants, but great eats can be found at manageable prices.
Mussels for sale at Santiago Central Market.
Spanish-style tapas, middle eastern kebabs, and quality Indian food are just a few options that abound in the city, with the neighbourhoods of Providencia, Barrio Italia, Lastaria, and Bellavista all offering differing vibes and exciting food options for any traveler…
Trendy street art in the Bellavista barrio.
…sees pockets of Andean influence via potatoes and quinoa and the south brings German-influenced sauerkraut and beer halls as well as traditional huasco cordero barbecues of entire lambs to the table.
A Chilean Menu. (Cazuela is a type of casserole, beef or chicken) – There’s a lot of meat on this menu!
…offer grilled fish, questionable sushi (heavy on cream cheese), pasteles de jaiva (crab cakes), paila marina (seafood stew), and machas a la parmesana (razor clams baked with butter and cheese). Fast food joints almost always offer choripan (chorizo plus bread, basically small jimmies of hoagie rolls and sausage) and salchipapa (French Fries and franks).
More sophisticated traditional dishes include porrotos con zapallo (a white bean and pumpkin stew flavored with parsley and cilantro) and caldillo con congrillo (conger eel stew, a favorite of Pablo Neruda’s).
The majority of ‘Chilean’ restaurants throughout the country offer similar menus (which include the below dishes) always accompanied with ketchup and ají pebre, a hot sauce or pico de gallo-type mixture ranging from smooth to sweating-level spicy.
Chile Foodie Tips and Popular Dishes…
Chorrillanas are mountains of meat (usually beef or chicken, and sometimes hot dogs at lower cost places), melted cheese, and sometimes a fried egg on top of a bed of French Fries. These are enormous and are typically ordered to share. While definitely not vegan chorillanas are gluten free, which makes them healthy because cheese, like butter, is not a carb. Restaurants will often offer accompanying beer specials.
The famous chorrillana in Valparaíso, Chile.
Chile knows how to make a sandwich. These fellas are served on frisbee discs of white bread that are often as big as the plate they are served on and require a fork, knife, and a good attitude to tackle. Churrascos (beef, tomato, avocado, mayo, cheese), Chacarerros (the above with green beans), Barros Luca (a Philly cheesesteak minus the peppers and onions), and Ave Palta (chicken with avocado) are common combinations.
3. Lo Pobre
Any protein, typically chicken or beef but sometimes fish, can be ordered a lo pobre (in the way of the poor), meaning accompanied by French Fries and sautéed onions with two fried eggs on top. These are workers’ meals.
Chilean empanadas, if good, are without a doubt a highlight of its culinary scene. Sometimes fried but usually baked, these golden pastries are everywhere and are very inexpensive. The most common filling is pino carne, which is a mixture of beef, onion, hard-boiled egg, and olives.
The best of these have deeply caramelized onions and filling that hugs the doughy walls warmly. Other solid fillings include seafood, mushroom and cheese, Neapolitan (ham, tomato, and cheese), and ave (literally bird). Served steaming hot and with some potent ají, these are a real treat.
As with most truly great food, they are also best enjoyed from a hole in the wall spot where you just know that the lack of structure and flash leads to explosions of goodness. They are the perfect item: small enough to be a snack, hearty enough to make into a meal, and when good, unbeatable.
5. Pastel de Choclo
A Pastel de Choclo (corn cake) is a phenomenal combination of chicken pot pie and corn casserole. Served in the clay bowl it’s baked in, these are essentially creamed corn with chicken, onions, and raisins. They can be eaten sweet or savory and, in nicer restaurants, are substantial enough to be an entire meal.
Last but certainly not least are omnipresent completos, massive hot dogs slathered with avocado and mayonnaise that were a favorite of Anthony Bourdain’s in No Reservations. In the words of the legend himself every great food culture has its version of meat in tube form, and Chile is no exception. Best of luck!
Chileans also love dessert, and in particular give ice cream no rest, eating it at all times of day. Pastries are extremely popular and are usually filled in some form with manjar, a sweetened, condensed milk similar to dulce de leche. Alfajores are popular cookie sandwiches bathed in chocolate with a layer of manjar running through the middle.
Desserts are not the richest and are usually overly dry and with too little filling. Chocolate lovers will definitely go wanting everywhere but in Patagonia, where German immigrants left behind a trail of quality dark chocolate and strudel (called kuchen), although without any lederhosen.
Locals also highlight anything sweet containing lucuma, a pumpkin-like fruit, as inherently Chilean. If you’re looking for a dessert on the go, you can also try some of the toffee apples that are sold on the streets of Santiago!
Toffee apples – dangerously sweet!
7. Chilean Wine and other drinks!
Finally, no discussion of Chilean cuisine is complete without touching upon the various wines produced throughout the country. Robust Cabernets, spicy Carménères, and tart Sauvignon Blancs highlight a viticulture that provides incredibly cheap value for its quality.
Taking a wine tour is a great way to find out more about Chilean wine!
Beer lovers will feel lost amidst a sea of overly malted and hopeless blandness, so usually wine is certainly the way to go. Whilst in Santiago, you may also like to try the notorious ‘terremoto’ (the earthquake) which is Chile’s national cocktail. (So called for the shaking effects experienced once the alcohol suddenly hits you, so be waarned!) Terremoto consists of cheap white wine, pineapple sorbet and grenadine. However there is a wide variety of recipes which include or emit pisco, sugar and fernet.
Terremoto – Chile’s national cocktail.
While not the value of the Andean countries or especially health conscious, Chilean food is solid across the board. When all else fails, enjoying a cherimoya (custard apple) and a pisco sour with the Andes or the Pacific Ocean in the background never disappoints.
This itinerary was written by Max Nathanson – Following graduation from the University of Colorado, Max made good use of his college degree in political science and history and moved to Chile to work on a farm run by a crazy second cousin. What followed was an endless supply of adventures and empanadas that took him not only up and down the length of Chile but was impulsively extended to the rest of an amazing continent! He is all about sports, the outdoors, food, good beer, exercise, travel, family, friends, photography, reading, and the occasional game of table tennis. Check out his personal blog – The Active Holiday!