I’ve been around Latinoamérica for a year and a half now, so I’ve had my fair share of latin adventures. Obviously this post is extremely biased. I’m basically judging and rating everything I’ve done on this side of the world. But I thought while I’m here, in my last month, I may as well put everything together. So what has been the best of the best for me here in Latinoamérica…
THE BEST HIKE
Contenders: Chapada Diamantina, Brazil; Torres de Paine, Patagonia, Chile; Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, Colombia; La Estanzuela, Monterrey; The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru; Cochamo, Chile; Chillan, Chile
Here we have culture and we have natural beauty. You can go on a hike to learn about the paths once taken by ancient civilisations or maybe you just want to be one with nature for a couple of days. So for these two categories-
The best nature-focused hike: Torres de Paine, Patagonia, Chile
The best culture-focused hike: Machu Picchu, Peru
Of these two selections, Patagonia is my personal favourite. I’m not sure if it was the fact it was my first hard-core experience (hard core meaning lugging around everything you need for six days -food, shelter and clothes) or the absolute beauty of the place. To this day I still say it was the most naturally beautiful place I have ever seen in my life.
THE BEST MUSEUM
Contenders: National Museum of Anthropology, Cuidad de Mexico; Museum of Tomorrow, Rio de Janeiro; Casa de Memoria, Medellin; Museo de Memoria, Santiago; Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador; Museo de Oro, Bogota
We have to divide these museums into science and history. They’re two very different styles providing unique experiences.
The best science museum: Museum of Tomorrow, Rio de Janeiro
The best history museum: Casa de Memoria, Medellin
Between the two mentioned places, I favour the Musuem of Tomorrow, just because the Casa de Memoria, Medellin, is quite a heavy experience. You need to be in the right mindset to enter it. However, of all the mentioned contenders, I visited this museum twice as I had a personal interest in specific history of Medellin.
To me, a good museum is one where I can enjoyably interact with the information and walk away from it with a few extra facts engrained in my memory. In the case of the Museum of Tomorrow, I walked away with a few extra hypothesis’ in mind as it offered plenty of thought provoking scenarios of our treatment towards our globe.
THE BEST LONG DISTANCE BUS RIDES
Contenders: Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico
I did a lot of bus travelling through Latinamerica. And I mean a lot. Over the course of five days I took a bus from Concepcion, in the mid south of Chile, to Lima, midway up the coast of Peru. This came to more than 70 hours on a bus in one week, not to mention all my other bus travelling adventures. I crossed the Chile, Peru border and the Chile, Argentina border over the Andes by bus and would have done the same between Argentina and Uruguay, if boat wasn’t the easier option. So which country gave me the best bus value, the most comfortable ride and the most enjoyable experience?
The best: Argentina
The worst: Colombia
Sorry Colombia. I’m not a fan of stating the worst, but even the Colombians know it. Colombia is super mountainous, which means the roads are very curvy! You find a somewhat comfortable position to sleep in and the next minute you’re knocked out of it. I’m not kidding, you’re turning corners every two minutes, the whole night! By the time I reached Colombia I thought I was a pretty expert long-bus-ride rider, but even I struggled. Although, I must admit they have great movies! Colombia was the only country that provided good WiFi and personal screens to select the movie you wanted.
So why did Argentina win? There was no personal screen, no WiFi, but there was food! Food always wins. The seats were comfortable, the sleep was pretty good and my tummy was satisfied. However, the Argentinian options were the most expensive.
To briefly mention the other contenders: Ecuador provided the weirdest movies on their communal screens; Peru had the bumpiest and slowest ride; Chile, Brazil and Mexico gave you just what you expected, but no more.
THE BEST RHYTHM
Contenders: Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina
What exactly am I referring to here? Song and dance. Who knows how to move their body? Who have an endless range of traditional songs? Who keeps the party going?
The best: Colombia.
Close second: Brazil
This answer is very biased. I lived in Medellin for five months, giving me the chance to see the extent of Colombian rhythm. And there’s a lot. Ever heard of Vallenato? Before Colombia I had no idea what it was, yet it is one of the most popular folk music in Colombia. Then there’s porro, champeta, bambuco, joropo, pasillo, mapale and more… yep more foreign terms. Of course you have your popular salsa, bachata and cumbia, which is what I danced basically every night of my stay in Medellin. But the amazing thing about Colombia, even if a Colombian doesn’t like to dance, they generally know exactly how they should move to all these genres. Don’t get me started on those who know how to dance, which is a large portion of the population. They know how to lead a girl across the dance floor and well, the girl beautifully follows. Then they turn to me, ‘so what’s traditional dance in Australia like?’ Ummm….
A good category to follow the previous one. It has the same answer, however, I have a unique reason why. So to clarify:
The best: Colombia.
Close second: Brazil
Now why? I partied in all my contending locations, but what I noticed about Colombia and Brazil is that it was open for all. People of all ages wanted to be out and partying and they knew how to do it. At the end of one of my nights partying in Medellin, I was holding up a 80 year old lady who had been dancing and drinking all night. I’m not saying that drinking makes a party, it usually does have an key role internationally, but I’m talking about the desire to be out, to dance, to share food and drink and to carry the night away thinking about nothing else but the joy of that moment.
These four islands are very different! I can’t emphasise this enough: Chiloe is a very slow-paced, country-living island; Isla Grande is great for parties, hikes and adventures; Fernando de Noronha is your ideal honeymoon place and San Andres is a caribbean get-a-away with plenty of locals and plenty of tourists. So it all comes down to what exactly you’re after.
The best: Isla Grande, Brazil
I seriously just stared at the screen for ten minutes trying to figure out my answer. It came down to elimination. All islands provided a uniquely amazing experience. However, for me Chiloe was serene but a little too relaxed, San Andres was amazing but had too many hidden expenses and Fernando de Noronha was beautiful but also too chill. Although, at the end of the day, that is Island life. You don’t take life seriously. Relax, enjoy the sun and swim to your hearts content, which is exactly what I did in Isla Grande.
THE BEST BEACH
Contenders: Baia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha, Brazil; Playa Norte, Cancun, Mexico; Playa Blanca, Cartagena; Rocky Cay, San Andres; Playa Las Gemelas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro; San Carlos, Hermosillo; Asia, Lima, Peru; Baia Do Sueste, Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, Cabo San Juan, Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colombia
A few of these mentioned beaches are rated top ten in the world on Tripadvisor. In fact, Baio do Sancho, comes in first place. I went to heaps of beaches throughout my travels and there’s no way I can mention them all. But these contenders make the top of the list. So regardless of my “first place”, all of them were beautiful.
The best: Playa Las Gemelas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Close second: Rocky Cay, San Andres, Colombia
For me a great beach experience is plenty of swimming, comforting sun and good company. I’m not a surfer so all these mentioned beaches are pretty flat. Playa Las Gemelas came in first because there were slight waves to dive under, flatter swimming further out (yet still within the designated swimming area), a few fish swimming around and a good vibe. It was a small beach and not even the top recommended in Puerto Vallarta, but it wasn’t too crowded, which also meant there were minimal venders bothering my relaxation. (One thing that’s not great about South American beaches, there is often just too many people bothering your relaxing trying to sell you their product, food or service.)
Maybe the best way to decide this is -where did I put on the most weight? This shows firstly, I loved the food and always wanted more, but secondly, perhaps the food isn’t the healthiest. So I’m going to say this:
The most delicious food: Mexico
The best good and healthy food: Peru
The best fruit: Colombia
Yep, I definitely put on the most weight in Mexico. The food is amazing and the options are endless! Seriously, the people in the north of the country, don’t even know the traditional meals of those in south, because they’re too busy enjoying the amazing diversity they have themselves. I’m not just talking about tacos and burritos, but quality meat dishes, good soups and a range of salsas.
Peru’s up there because they know how to use their healthy ingredients well. Yes, most of their dishes will have two carbs -potato with either bread, rice or pasta, but they can definitely whip up a good seafood dish, bean concoction or balanced meat dish.
Also, I must give a mention to the Colombian fruit. There’s such so much delicious variety! The biggest and best range I’ve seen in the world.
THE BEST CITY
Contenders: Cuidad de Mexico, Mexico; Bogota, Colombia; Concepcion, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Salvador, Brazil; Lima, Peru; Monterrey, Mexico; Medellin, Colombia; Montevideo, Uruguay; Quito, Ecuador
I’m talking about big cities here, capital cities or very populated cities. The smallest mentioned is Concepcion, coming in with just under a million habitants living in Gran Concepcion, while the rest boast at least two million.
The best: Quito, Ecuador
Close second: Buenos Aires, Argentina
These two are extremely different cities, but both worth your time. I fell in love with Ecuador as soon as I flew into the capital city, just because of the sheer beauty of Quito. Honestly I did only stay close to the historic centre, in a very cute hostel with an amazing balcony view. The quaint buildings, scattered mountains and colonial roads are beautiful. Quito has actually been named a UNESCO Heritage Site. On the other hand, Buenos Aires is huge! It’s a whole other ball game, which means there’s plenty to do and see. From tango, to hip bars, to huge avenues, large parks and historical sites, it would be hard to be bored in this city.
THE BEST TOWN
Contenders: Guatape, Colombia; Pucon, Chile; San Luis, Argentina; Puyo, Ecuador; Quilotoa, Ecuador; Tuxtla, Chiapas, Mexico; Villa de Leyva, Colombia; Zipaquirá, Colombia; Guatavita, Colombia
Country-wise, for me the clear winner is Colombia. Five months in Antioquia, Colombia, gave me the chance to get to know plenty nearby towns, so once again a biased response. However, once you visit one, you kinda do see them all: the local plaza, the sound of trotting horses, country hats and a relaxed vibe. So let me give a specific answer:
The best town: Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia
This one is an interesting one and actually the most recommended town visit out of Medellin. I personally had a great time climbing the famous Piedra de Peñol, playing paintball in La Manuela, one of Pablo Escobar’s abandoned mansions, drinking delicious coffee in the streets and heading out to dance in a bar overlooking the plaza.
THE BEST TOUR
Contenders: Free Walking Tour Arequipa, Peru; Free Walking Tour Valparaíso, Chile; Wine Tour Mendoza, Argentina; Chiflon del Diablo Mine Tour, Chile; Free Walking Tour Medellin, Colombia; Tequila Tour, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Guanajuato Callejonadas Tour, Mexico; Catedral del Sal, Zipaquira, Colombia; Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert, Chile
These are the first ones that come to mind. I’m not referring to museum tours, nor private tours friends have given me, nor ones related to a particular hike, but ones where a guide shares his knowledge about the location I’m touring. ‘Free’ Walking Tours are honestly sometimes the best way to get to know a city … or at least the city from the perspective of the guide. So keeping that in mind:
The best tour: Free Walking Tour Medellin
Happy tour: Tequila Tour, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
I did the Free Walking Tour in Medellin twice… mainly because I was living there. But I also thought it was good enough to go again with my parents. It’s something my dad called infotainment. We got a perspective of Medellin from an educated Paisa (someone from Medellin) looking towards the betterment and good of his city. The whole four hours is kept entertaining with interesting facts, stories, historical events and banter.
Also, I couldn’t not mention the tequila tour. I’m sure you can guess why I’ve called it “happy”. They were quite generous with their tequila samples.
THE BEST UNIVERSITY
Contenders: UCSC, Concepcion, Chile; Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Medellin; Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, Mexico; Tec de Monterrey, Mexico; University de Concepcion, Chile; National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico
I only ever studied in UCSC, Concepcion, but I did have the chance to walk through the other mentioned universities and suss out their internal politics.
The best: Tec de Monterrey, Mexico
It could be the on campus ‘bambi’ that sold me (seriously a deer just sitting in the field), or the many flags hoisted in representation of the current international students at the uni, or the implanted big screen in the university field, or the unique architecture, or the enthusiasm of my guide (obviously a current student), but I was super impressed. It appeared to be the well invested in its student life, encouraging students to be on campus, and so learning while they’re there.
THE BEST STUDENT LIFE
Contenders: Medellin, Colombia; Concepcion, Chile; Hermosillo, Mexico
Obviously you know what I’m going to say. There is 100 percent no doubt about it. I lived the student life in Concepcion, Chile. I kinda saw it in Medellin and Hermosillo, but obviously the winner is –
The best: Concepcion, Chile
Concepcion is practically a student town, which is what makes the student life amazing. Throughout the entire year I lived close to universities, in the second semester I actually lived in a suburb called ‘barrio universitario’. So you can imagine just how many students are roaming around. This makes for good bars, good parties, youth activities and good vibes.
THE BEST SPANISH SPEAKERS
Contenders: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador Peru, Colombia, Mexico
I’m no native Spanish speaker, so where could I understand and respond best with the spanish-speaking locals?
The best: Mexico
Tied second: Colombia and Ecuador
The worst: Chile
Yep, another very biased answer. I had four months practice living with Mexicans. Young Mexicans by the way. Young talk is a whole other ball game. So by the time I got to Mexico I was comfortable talking and understanding almost all Mexicans. So why didn’t the famously clear Colombian come in first place? This rating requires me to consider the whole country. Although Mexicans from north to south speak very differently, I understood them. Colombians on the coast speak very differently to the distinct yet clear Paisas (from Medellin), making the costeños harder to understand. However, even the costeños are ten times better than the Chileans. Nine months in Chile and if I go back I think I would still struggle. Chileans know they are the hardest to understand but I think they’re almost proud of this fact.
PERSONAL FAVOURITE COUNTRY
Contenders: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico
How do you even make this decision? Simple. It’s the feeling you get being in the place. What most relates to you, brings you the most excitement, makes you the most comfortable?
For me, the clear winner is Mexico.
I’m not sure if actually living in the place negatively influences my decision. My Mexican travels was a two month enjoyable experience. Living in Concepcion and Medellin really made me see how the city functioned -the good and the bad. Yet I never saw too much ‘bad’ in Mexico. I don’t mean bad bad, but conflicting to how I personally believe things should work. However, since I did live with Mexicans, I feel like that shows me something of how they were brought up. And this I could relate most to. This made me comfortable both as I traveled around the country and learnt about its diverse, interesting culture. I loved its food, I connected with the people and I gathered a positive attitude from the community.
Writing this post made me super nostalgic. I realise how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to do all these things and honestly, will forever cherish all these experiences -the good and the bad.