Here are some of my favorite and least favorite things from my recent travels through Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.
Tour– Costa Rica white water rafting. From the start, this tour was extremely well organized with highly competent guides. Pick-up was on time, instruction was above average, the tour itself was enshrouded in cultural heritage including an open discussion of the environmental and sociological harms caused by United Fruit (don’t buy Dole or DelMonte products). The river was pristine, the rainforest lush, and the giant, blue, Morpho butterflies flying around added to the Garden of Eden feeling.
Coffee– Cafe Cristalina’s in San Pedro de Atitlan, Guatamala. This place locally sources their beans and cacao. They have a roasting machine right in the cafe which is always going, pumping out mouth-watering smells. The mochachino came complete with a cacao bean in the bottom of the cup. Mmmmm.
Drinks– Peruvian style Pisco Sours. Restaurant Moreno, Cusco, Peru. This was the most delicious drink I’ve ever tasted with it’s foamy egg-white froth on top of a tart lime or passion fruit pisco base. I went back on 3 different occasions telling Tim it tasted like heaven in a cup, more emphatically as the night wore on, of course.
Beer– Baguales, Puerto Natales, Chile. It’s hard to find good microbrews in South America. This place had 2, a light and a dark style. We drank our fair share of both.
Food– I think Bolivia wins this category. It’s difficult to choose, but a delicious traditional dish that stands apart for me is Mondongo, a slow cooked beef in a spicy red sauce served with hominy on the side. Sucre, Bolivia, Mercado Central. (I’m choosing to disregard the febrile gastrointestinal illness that we had around the same time.) Other favorites- Quinoa Soup, Koala Den Cafe, Potosi, Bolivia. Carribean Food in Costa Rica, especially smashed and fried platano crisps served with guacamole or frijoles, and El Salvadoran papusas-a cheese and meat stuffed pancake the size of your head for $1.
Desserts– Tres chocolates cheesecake, Amerindia, Puerto Natales, Chile. Patagonia is known for its German style bakeries and decadent cakes because of a large number of German immigrants to the area before, during, and after the World Wars.
Best Photo Op– Morning Sunrise over Fitzroy with a full moon in the backdrop. Machu Pichu was nice too, but there were so many tourists that it felt less like being in the mountains and more like being at Disneyland.
Best 360 degree vista– Ausangate Lagunas loop, Peru. You walk around lakes at 15,000 feet while looking up and all around at snow-capped mountains.
Best Camp– Maria’s. Cahuita, Costa Rica. It was a true treat to share this beach front campground with Howler monkey’s, hermit crabs, and a poison dart frog. The camp was slightly difficult to find, but once we got there, we were warmly welcomed by Maria, the property owner, who was happy to practice Spanish with us when we weren’t lounging around in hammocks. Maria added a special touch by lighting candles at each campsite at nightfall and delivering coffee to our campsite each morning.
Best Desert Coast– Pan de Azucar, Chañaral, Chile. The desert sculpted by the ocean, wind, and sand meets the ocean in a dramatic landscape that forms a safe nesting habitat for various sea birds, including Humboldt penguins. My favorite includes watching pelicans dive into the sea to fish and sea lions rest on rocks.
Best Tropical Coast– Cahuita National Park. Mega-fauna abounds here- monkeys, sloths, snakes, giant iguanas. There’s also white sand beaches with turquoise water perfect for swimming. It was the closest thing to paradise that I can imagine.
Best fauna– Flamingos in the Laguna Rojo, Bolivia. Seeing these with my own eyes was an actual dream come true. These magnificent birds live among the inhospitable salt flats, resting around 14,000 feet above sea level in the Atacama desert, the driest place on earth. Close seconds were seeing the 3-toed sloth, Monteverde, Costa Rica and the mountain, cold-weather loving armadillo in Patagonia. It was also a special treat to see a Quetzal, a brilliantly colored green bird with a tail feather nearing a meter long, and a metallic-sounding call that sounds like a train screeching on the tracks, Monteverde, Costa Rica.
Best 100% Aventura– terrifying Tarzan swing in Monteverde Costa Rica. The guides simply told me, “Don’t be scared,” before they pushed me off a platform about 5 stories off the ground. I screamed a sound that I have no idea was within me then laughed hysterically for THE REST of the day. In contention with this is the boat ride we took from El Salvador to Nicaragua. The waves got so big that the 20 seater-boat nearly capsized when the engine died, and the captain could be heard speaking very rapid Spanish apparently yelling at the assistant to take the awning down to stop the boat from catching the wind. When we got to shore the captain acted relieved and congratulated us on surviving.
Best City– La Paz, Bolivia. Sitting at 11,400 feet above sea-level, La Paz is nestled in the mountains and hosts a massive population with high urban density and a huge indigenous population. La Paz has excellent infrastructure providing everything you could want or need, including multiple gondolas, referred to as telefericas, for public transport. The city is always bustling and people hustling which makes it feel chaotic. It would be hard to be bored here with the availability of city life and mountain life mixed together.
Best town– San Pedro de Atitlan, Guatemala. This was a small town with not a lot going on but was culturally rich. Here we lived with Mayans, climbed to the top of the local volcano, and enjoyed expansive views over Lake Atitlan.
Best cultural experiences-Running with Chileans in Santiago, Chile. Running groups around the world seem to hold the same values-they are welcoming, supportive, and individuals enjoy challenging themselves as well as supporting friends achieve their goals.
Most gruesome but interesting cultural experience– Attending a llama sacrifice at the mouth of a mine and having llama blood smeared on my face for protection, Potosi, Bolivia.
Friends of the Nature Tours, Cusco, Peru. Don’t use them.
Slash and burn farming in Guatamala.
Child labor- mines, street vendors.
Plastic bags strewn everywhere in the wilderness but worst throughout Central America, with the exception of Costa Rica.
Stray dogs in Valparaiso, Chile. Ugh.
UltraFiord 100 miler- where I met Arturo, the man who died on course, just hours before he started in the worst-organized race with the least accountable race director I’ve ever encountered. Although the course is remote and spectacular, I do not recommend this race due to negligent oversight. Create a self-supported adventure if you want to see the area.