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Posts Tagged ‘South America’

5 things I wish I knew before traveling to Brazil

I truly believe there is something for everyone in Brazil. Adventure seekers can spend a day barreling through the rugged Amazon rainforest on a Jeep tour. Beachcombers can lounge on Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana beach. Party animals can samba the night away at hot Brazilian clubs. Brazil is simply unlike any other place on Earth, and is still a surefire bucket-list destination for anyone seeking beauty and excitement.

But before you book your flight, check out my list of five tips that you’ll find handy to know before traveling to Brazil. It’s sure to clear up some common misconceptions and help prepare you for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure:

1) Embrace the Brazilian culture

I’ve traveled from Chile to China, and dozens of countries in between, but Brazil stands out as a true cultural gem. The 3.288-million-square-mile country was built on a foundation of indigenous Brazilian traditions, Portuguese customs, and African influences. These independent cultures have shaped modern-day Brazil, creating a unique mix of food, music, religion, and local sights. Visitors can view the intersection of African and indigenous Brazilian traditions by attending a capoeira performance — a Brazilian martial art that combines dance, aerobatics, and music. They can indulge in European sophistication by sampling pastéis de nata, a Portuguese custard tart, in a Brazilian café. Finally, they can feel the unbreakable union of a diverse country by attending a Brazilian national team football game. Brazil has embraced its past to create a nation that accepts all traditions. My only advice is to leave all preconceived notions at the door before traveling to Brazil, as it’s unlike any other Latin American country.

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Getaway Dossier: The side of South America you should see

Machu Picchu

We added three new South American tours to the Friendly Planet mix last week, so for my next Getaway Dossier, I thought I’d share my knowledge about all things South America to help you plan your next trip, whether you’ve already booked it or are considering one.

The most recognizable landmark on this continent is probably the Amazon River, but there’s much more of South America’s natural beauty and ancient history worth seeing. Here are my recommendations for the best things to see, do, and know about South America before the plane leaves the tarmac.

Weather: Opposites attract. Since South America is on the opposite side of the equator from us in the U.S., the seasons are a mirror of ours. When it’s summer here, it’s winter in South America, and vice versa. The most temperate times to visit South America are the spring and the fall, which is when the temperatures are the mildest.

The rainy season is in the summer (December to March). However, the rain doesn’t normally last long on any given day. Lima, located on the western coast, has moderate weather year-round with mild temperatures and cloudy skies. Rio de Janeiro, located on the east coast, is also temperate 12 months out of the year, making it a great place to visit.

In Machu Picchu on the southwest side of the country, and at the Iguazu Falls on the eastern side, the days are warm and humid. If you’re traveling anywhere with higher altitudes, dressing in layers is a must because temperatures will drop significantly at night.

Food: BBQ can’t be beat. South America boasts fantastic tropical fruits, such as coconut, mango, guava, pineapple, papaya, and more. And its seafood can’t be missed, especially in coastal towns. My absolute favorite thing to eat when I’m in Brazil is churrasco, also known as Brazilian barbecue.

Meat is cooked on huge skewers over an open fire. Then, waiters come by your table and slice it hot off the skewer right onto your plate. If your stomach is a bottomless pit, you’ll love this: When you’re ready for seconds, thirds, or fourths, just hit the button on your table and a waiter will be at your side with fresh, hot meat.

Restaurants that serve churrasco appear most typically in Rio de Janeiro and Iguazu, but can be found all over the country as well. If you’re not much of a meat eater, most metropolitan areas offer a varied range of cuisine.

Currency: Tip the right way. Three of the most common countries to visit in South America are Peru, Argentina, and Brazil, and each has its own currency. The currency in Peru is the nuevo sol; in Argentina, it’s the peso; and in Brazil, it’s the real.

In restaurants in Peru, an 18 percent service charge is included in the bill if you pay with a credit card. If you’re paying in cash, there isn’t a fee so you should tip between 5 and 10 percent. In Argentinean restaurants, tip 5 percent of the bill if your service charge was added and 10 percent if it wasn’t. Tip movie ushers and bus terminal porters 1 peso, and air terminal porters 2 pesos per suitcase. As for tipping in Brazil, a 10 percent tip is usually included in the restaurant bill, but you can leave more if your service was especially good.

Tip cab drivers no more than 10 percent, and tip bellboys, porters, or concierges about 1 real per luggage item or for any help they provided.

Iguazu Falls

Landmarks: It’s all about the falls. Iguazu Falls straddles the border of Argentina and Brazil, and consists of 275 smaller falls and islands. They’re believed to be 200,000 years old and are absolutely breathtaking. Be sure to see the falls from both sides. The Argentinian side at Devil’s Throat is the most famous place to take in the spectacular views. There are also boat and helicopter rides that take you up close and personal with this natural beauty (weather permitting). The falls might be the main attraction, but be sure to visit a fantastic bird sanctuary nearby. You can see dozens of exotic species of birds, as well as butterfly and hummingbird exhibits.

Culture: Appreciate the modern and the ancient. South America is a fantastic mix of old and new. It’s inspired by the traditions of its historical culture while keeping in step with modern society. This is one of the aspects that makes the continent so beautiful. When you visit, you’ll see wonderfully modern cities with every imaginable amenity. Then you’ll visit places like Sacred Valley, where the people still honor the traditions of their ancestors in their everyday life.

Don’t forget: Layers, layers, layers. You’ll probably be experiencing significant weather changes from one location to the next, so I’d say the most important thing to remember when traveling to South America is to dress in layers. Make sure you wear good walking shoes, and bring sunscreen and bug repellent. Much of South America is in the rainforest, so you’ll definitely be happy you brought these along!

The tours we offer to these destinations highlight the history and wonder of ancient South America, and the emerging culture of its cities. It’s a beautiful continent and different from anything here in the U.S. — that’s what makes it so special.

For the full itineraries on our three new tours, visit our website. And if you have any questions, write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

Why one traveler keeps coming back to Friendly Planet Travel

It’s the shout-outs of travelers like Sue Phillips of Solana Beach, Calif., who provide the motivation for me to continue to do my day job — designing extraordinary group tours to exotic destinations for adventue-seeking travelers like you.

She’s already been on three Friendly Planet Travel tours and has two more booked. Sue, I hope you’re taking advantage of our Refer-a-Friend program!

Sue came to my attention when she sent me an e-mail after returning from Friendly Planet Travel’s Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands tour. I copied it (verbatim) below.

“Fabulous trip! Can’t say enough for Friendly Planet tours. Everything is a shiny 5 stars! We’ve also been to China and Vietnam previously and they were amazing trips. We will be going to India with Friendly Planet in February and really looking forward to it. We are taking our 8 year old grandson in July to Mediterranean 3 Continents trip with Friendly Planet. He is very interested in Greek Mythology, so this will be a special trip!” — Sue Phillips, Solana Beach, Calif.

Sue, I’m delighted to hear that you keep returning to Friendly Planet Travel again and again! We work very hard to earn your trust, and everyone in the office sends you a huge thank you for your loyalty, and we promise to keep working hard every day to make your vacations special.

And be assured your grandson is going to be the star of his class when he returns to school in September. We’ll make sure of that. Thank you for your note, it certainly made my day.

The New York Times names Santiago, Chile the #1 city to visit in 2011

Casa de la Moneda in Santiago, Chile

On Sunday, The New York Times named “The 41 Places to Go in 2011.” I was delighted to see that Santiago, the capital of Chile, was named the #1 place to visit.

However, a lot places I thought would land on the list were left off. But I’m going to follow up in another post with a few places I think should have made the list.

In the article, The New York Times highlights how Santiago has made new investments in the arts and the modern museums it’s built in recent years.

One important aspect they forgot to mention was that Santiago is where Spanish colonial buildings and old churches are juxtaposed against the spectacular, snowy peaks of the Andes Mountains. Trust me, the setting is one that takes your breath away, and it’s an image of Santiago visitors cannot forget.

The Casa de la Moneda is one of Santiago’s and Spanish America’s most stunning pieces of colonial architecture. It also is the current seat of the Chilean government. But to find the pulse of the city, you have to visit the bustling Plaza de Armas.

Here the ornate baroque Cathedral Metropolitana, Post Office building, and the Natural History Museum inspire awe. You can also capture a spectacular panoramic view of Santa Lucia Hill, the site where Santiago was founded in 1541.

What also makes Santiago special is that it’s the gateway to many other wonderful parts of Chile, including the Patagonia region of South America, which covers parts of both Chile and Argentina.

Patagonia is a windy, wild, and gorgeous land filled with glaciers, lakes and wild plants, animals and birds. Parks like the famous Torres del Paine will make you feel like you’re in an issue of National Geographic.

Just a short drive from Santiago, you can visit one of the world’s favorite Chilean wineries, Conche y Toro. There you can tour the infamous “Casilla del Diablo” and the lush vineyards, and of course, sample wines that will make your taste buds sit up and notice.

When I traveled to this region to develop Friendly Planet Travel’s Patagonian Explorer by Sea tour, I found myself constantly awestruck by the beauty that abounds at every turn. I truly believe that every traveler who enjoys the natural world as well as earthly pleasures will find a great deal to love, in Santiago as well as the entire region.

And if you’re interested in booking a tour, our Patagonian Explorer by Sea spends two full days exploring Santiago. The other 10 days are spent visiting Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Cape Horn, Magdalena Island, and Valparaiso. But flip over to our website for the full itinerary.

Besides Santiago, The New York Times lists 40 other locations, and I encourage you to read through the entire list. They point to some obvious and not-so-obvious locales that might pique your interest. Some of the countries they suggest, such as Thailand, Italy, Japan, Turkey, India, Egypt, Morocco, and China, are already Friendly Planet favorites. We offer plenty of inexpensive options for travelers wishing to explore. You’ll find all the information you need on them at our website.

Thanks to the editors at The New York Times for bringing attention to Santiago and the 40 other places they researched. And keep your eyes peeled to the blog to see the places I think should have made their list.

All fun and no crowds: Skip Rio and head to Olinda, Brazil for Carnaval!

Everyone’s heard of Carnaval in Brazil, just like everyone has heard of Mardi Gras in Louisiana. When you think of Mardi Gras, you think New Orleans. And when you think Carnaval, you think Rio.

Now I’m about to change how you think.

Carnaval just doesn’t happen in Rio. It happens all over Brazil, and there are many ways to participate. Many people say that a lesser-known city, Olinda, has one of the most traditional Carnaval observances. In addition, Olinda’s Carnaval doesn’t have the overwhelming crowds, which gets you closer to this Brazilian experience.

These points were recently driven home to me by our webmaster, Cameron Clark and his equally talented photographer girlfriend, Amy Steinfeld, who went there this February. It was his first Carnaval. He flew into Saõ Paulo, and traveled to Olinda, Recife, Trancoso, and back to Saõ Paulo in 10 days. Four out of the 10 days were spent celebrating in the streets of Olinda. Cameron captured some amazing photos that I’m about to share with you here.

In his slideshow (below), he gives us some background on his trip, including a bit of the history of the frevo. The soundtrack to the slideshow is a recording of the frevo, which originated in Olinda. Grab a cold drink (trust me, you’ll want one) and start the show. You’ll be transported to the rosy pink colonial homes and sun-kissed beaches of Brazil.

CARNAVAL: Olinda, Brazil

We don’t have a tour to Olinda (at least not yet). But that’s no reason not to share this fabulous destination and Cameron’s experiences with you. After you’re done watching the slideshow, if you find yourself interested in a South American experience, we do have the Patagonian Explorer — one of my personal favorites — Incredible Argentina, Exotic Ecuador, and three other tours to choose from. Meanwhile, enjoy Carnaval!

Amazing Peru: Machu Picchu and the end of the road

As the last part of my Peru series, I want to tell you about one of the most amazing sights in the world: Machu Picchu.

FP_Peru9.JPGWe woke up early for our train ride to Machu Picchu, which was a very scenic and memorable experience on its own. Once we arrived at the base village, with the Urubamba River running right through its center, we took a bus to the top of the mountain.

Once again, this bus ride alone was amazing and the anticipation continued to build on this 25-minute ride on a road that snaked its way through the mountain. As the bus arrived at the top of the mountain, we took care of the admission formalities and began our hike to the actual site of Machu Picchu.

The terrain and steps just to get to a viewable height was difficult to navigate even for me, and as we got to the knoll for our first views, it was amazing. We were level with the clouds, and could see the entire site of the ruins from our vantage point.

FP_Peru15.JPGAfter some guided touring, my girlfriend and I explored for about an hour and a half independently. There were many different trails to investigate, each of them marked with the difficulty level. We were surrounded by thousands of people walking around in awe. Llamas were also plentiful, chewing the grass and keeping the site free of overgrowth.

FP_Peru16.JPGIt felt as if we were literally a five-minute walk from the surface of the sun, and I had the sunburn to prove it (even though I did use lotion).

Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay forever, and we made our way back to the bus which took us back down the mountain.

We were off to Puno. On our drive, we again experienced the vast differences in the regions of Peru. Some of the areas we traveled through were desolate. And some were roughly populated by humans who raise of llamas or cows. We also saw the ice caps on some of the distant mountains.

Once we arrived in Puno, we went out on Lake Titicaca and visited the floating islands of Uros. This island floats 30 meters above the bottom of the lake, and is made of woven weeds and naturally floating vegetable roots.

We continued on deeper into the lake to visit Taquile Island, close to the border of Bolivia. Again we saw many ice-capped mountains in the distance. On Taquile Island, there was a huge festival with music, drinking, and food. We ate lunch on the island, enjoyed the views from high above the lake, and eventually headed back to Puno by boat.

My Amazing Peru trip was coming to an end, and it was bittersweet. After 11 days on the road, I was happy to get back to my own bed, but I was sad to leave the beautiful country, friendly people, and wonderful scenery that I had the privilege of visiting.

If you have any questions about Friendly Planet Travel’s Amazing Peru trip, I’d be happy to answer them. You can leave them in the comments here, or send me an e-mail. And for some more photos of my incredibly journey, have a look at the Friendly Planet Travel Flickr page.

More Amazing Peru

Yesterday I told you a little bit about my recent trip to Peru with Friendly Planet Travel, and I have so much more to tell. When I left off, we were at the incredibly beautiful Ballestas Islands.

The next day we flew into Cusco. The high altitude began to take effect, but I chewed on cocoa leaves that I bought at the airport, which helped somewhat. After checking into a hotel in the middle of town, we had some time to relax and acclimate before taking a walking tour of the city.

During the walk, we visited an old Incan temple converted to Spanish. We continued to walk to what we were told is the “most important church” in South America.

After the tour, we stayed up and enjoyed some authentic Peruvian wine with our guide and some of our group members. Helpful hint: Wine in the hotel is about 8 USD per glass, but there is a store around the corner where you can get a bottle for 5 USD.

From Cuzco, we headed to the Sacred Valley, stopping at the Pisac market on the way to pick up some souvenirs. Then we were back on the bus for a drive to the Incan ruins of Ollantaytambo, located at the foot of a spectacular mountain. These buildings are what protected the strategic entrance to the lower Urubamba Valley, also known as the Sacred Valley.

The temple area is at the top of a series of steep terraces, which helped provide excellent defenses. Stone used for these buildings was brought from a quarry high up on the opposite side of the Urubamba river — an incredible feat involving the efforts of thousands of workers.

FP_Peru6_small.JPGThe complex, still under construction at the time of the conquest by Spain, was never completed. This was a very interesting sight, which was also discussed in the book that I read while on trip (and I’m still reading: “The Last Days of the Incas”).

After visiting the ruins, we had lunch in the small village below, and I also saw one of my favorite sites on the whole trip: a small monkey riding on a dog’s back! Even our tour guide said he had never seen anything like it. Looks like one of the town’s many strays was adopted … by a monkey.

FP_Peru14_small.JPGWe then headed back to our hotel in the middle of the mountains for the remainder of the evening with the anticipation of visiting Machu Picchu starting to build … which seems like the perfect spot to leave you today. So make sure you come back tomorrow to hear all about it!

Amazing stories from Amazing Peru

As many of you know, I just got back from an incredible two-week trip to Peru on our Amazing Peru.

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While I was there, I kept Friendly Planteers back home abreast of our adventures through Twitter.

And of course, I took a ton of photos, a few of which I posted on the Friendly Planet Travel Flickr page. Now that I’m back, I can’t wait to tell you all about it. So keep your eyes here on the Friendly Planet Travel blog this week, because I’ll be sharing a new experience each day, beginning today!

During my two-week travel experience of Peru with my girlfriend Kelly, I truly got a sense of many different parts of the country and the different people that make up the unique Peruvian culture.

Starting with Lima, there was a great urban atmosphere that changed slightly as I traveled through the different boroughs that make up the city.
With English as my only verbal form of communication, and Spanish as the Peruvian language, hand signals and laughter were a universal way to correspond between nationalities; and I never felt uncomfortable or out of place.

As an American in a foreign country, I was still able to take public taxis, walk the streets at night, and thoroughly enjoy myself in Lima.
A bike tour of the city, facilitated by Bike Tours of Lima gave me a better sense of the history and different aspects that make Lima the city that it is now.

Driving south along the Pacific coast, from Lima to Ica, the landscape changed from urban to desert after only a few miles. Having never seen a desert before, I enjoyed the great views and the vastness, with constant views of the ocean along the way.

Just south of Ica, we visited the ancient city of Nazca: home of the famous Nazca lines.
I sat in the co-pilot seat as a five-person prop plane flew me over the Nazca Desert so that I could witness, first hand, the unique qualities that make these vast drawings, of unknown origin, such an attraction.

Further north, I visited the town of Paracas so that I could see the Ballestas Islands, a.k.a. “the mini Galapagos.” In a speed boat, a few miles off shore, I witnessed many different birds, seals, and even penguins. There were literally hundreds of seals, swimming, sunning, and sleeping amongst the thousands of birds and dozens of penguins. Besides the amazing wildlife, the islands themselves also had beauty and uniqueness as the current and waves splashed through the tiny caves and crevices.

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For more incredible photos of my Peruvian adventure, don’t forget to have a look at the Flickr page. And stay tuned, because tomorrow I’ll fill you in on more of my trip to Amazing Peru.