I have spent the past two years exploring nearly every nook and cranny of South America. Of course, I could have saved a lot of time by using a travel professional (such as www.latinamericaforless.com) organize my itinerary. However, in doing it on my own, and spending so much time in Latin America, I have discovered a lot about each and every country. Having now travelled through every single country in South America I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good grasp of all the countries. I feel like I know what each country has to offer, I also know what each country lacks. I have decided to explain what each of the South American countries does best and what it fails miserably at.

Argentina

Best

Natural Wonders: I know what you’re thinking. You thought I would write steak didn’t you? Oh, how wrong you were. The truth is that there is no country in South America with such amazing natural wonders as Argentina. Iguazu Falls and Perito Moreno Glacier may be the two most spectacular sights in all of South America.

Worst

Beaches: If swimming in bright orange river waters is your idea of a nice beach getaway then Argentina is the place for you.  If you’re looking for nice sandy beaches and calm waters you’ll want to head north to either Uruguay or Brazil

Argentina: Perito Moreno Glacier

Argentina: Perito Moreno Glacier – Click to Enlarge

Bolivia

Best

Landscapes: From the famous Salar de Uyuni down to the amazing death road and back up to the rugged altiplano Bolivia offers some of the most breath taking sceneries not only in South America, but the entire world.  In general, Bolivia remains on of the best countries to travel to on the planet, in my opinion.

Worst

Music: After months in Bolivia I’d be happy if I never heard another pan flute in my life. Don’t get me wrong, Andean music is beautiful; but there is only so much a man can take. I remember in the highlands someone told me the band would be playing a collection of their most traditional songs, which are about 15 minutes long each, I almost walked right up to the stage and broke each of the 13 different pan flutes of  varying sizes over my knee.

Bolivia: The Salar de Uyuni

Bolivia: The Salar de Uyuni – Click to Enlarge

Brazil

Best

Party: Without even stating the world famous Carnival, Brazil takes the honours for having the greatest parties.  A weekend on Lapa in Rio de Janeiro will prove the skill of the Brazilian party machine to anyone who visits.  When Carnival rolls around the party is taken to a whole new level as the entire country, and hundreds of thousands of tourists, hits the streets for a good time.

Worst

Meat: I was really looking forward to the famous “Brazilian Barbecue” on my first visit to Brazil.  The unlimited amounts of food was music to my ears.  The truth, however, is that with the exception of the sheered roasted beef most of the meat is beyond tough and very disappointing if you have just come from Argentina or Uruguay.

Brazil: Florianopolis

Brazil: Florianopolis – Click to Enlarge

Chile

Best

Wine: I know this is hard to say as Argentina also has great wines. However, other than the Malbecs the Chilean wines are better overall. The area between Santiago and the coast offers some of the best wine in the world.

Worst

Style: If you’re into mullets and stone washed pink jeans then Chile is the place for you. I’m not sure where this style of “ugly is the new pretty” came from, but it really has to come to an end.

Chile: Concha y Toro Winery

Chile: Concha y Toro Winery – Click to Enlarge

Colombia

Best

People: I really hate to use the term “best people” but I had to stick with the script, didn’t I? The truth is that in all of South America the Colombian people have been the nicest, most helpful, and most eager to engage in friendly conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to the supermarket and have had people offer me their spot in line at the cashier, that just doesn’t happen anywhere else on the continent.

Worst

Reputation: The truth is that the reputation is justified. This is a country still very much at war, still very much with a drug issue, and still very much a risk for tourists that aren’t careful. Things are, however, changing, so here’s to hoping that the reputation begins to follows suit because this really is an amazing country.

Colombia: Plaza Botero, Medellin

Colombia: Plaza Botero, Medellin – Click to Enlarge

Ecuador

Best

Volcanoes: Not only the famous Cotapaxi, which is the highest active volcano in the world, but also the “Black Giant” Tungurahua in Banos, are very impressive sights. Also, although not active anymore, the Quilatoa crater is a sight to be seen.

Worst

Buses: There are no real higher end buses in Ecuador. They are all the same and they all stop for any old Joe with a quarter on the side of the road. The time of travel can change by hours depending on how many people are waiting along the road to be picked up. You know that when the Bolivian buses blow yours out of the water there is room to improve.

Ecuador: Jungle near Tena

Ecuador: Jungle near Tena – Click to Enlarge

French Guiana

Best

Selection of Cheese: I don’t have too many great things to say about French Guiana, but after two years in a continent without good cheese seeing the selection at the grocery stores in French Guiana was like a dip in heavenly waters.

Worst

Transit system: There are no buses that run through French Guiana so you have to pay for a collective taxi, the price which runs as much as 20 Euros an hour. I ended up hitchhiking the country in protest (well that and I couldn’t afford the taxis). In the capital there are city buses that circle around. However, they only pass every couple hours. It’s borderline embarrasing.

French Guinanese Border

French Guinanese Border – Click to Enlarge

Guyana

Best

Hidden Gems: Many have never even heard of Guyana let alone places like Kaieteur Falls and the Rupununi Savannahs. However, these places are packed with beauty and there is never a piece of untouched nature all too far away.

Worst

Tourism Infrastructure: For a country with so much to offer there is hardly anyone offering it. The public sector’s tourism board is basically non-existent and little to no push has been made internationally to bring tourists in. Ok, this might be a bad thing for the country. For me, it was nice having a country to myself for a change.

Guyana: The North Rupununi Savannah

Guyana: The North Rupununi Savannah – Click to Enlarge

Paraguay

Best

Deals: I walked into a cafe in Asuncion that advertised free WiFi one day. I sat down ordered a water and a Sprite, and got to work. About 6 hours later I had eaten two mini-pizzas, a huge ham and cheese sandwich, drank 2 bottles of water, a sprite, and 2 beers and my total bill came to a whopping 6 dollars US. Also, if you’re looking to buy electronics in South America, this is the place to buy.

Worst

Tourist Attractions: I’ll be honest, there’s not a whole lot to see in Paraguay. Yes it is worth a visit, and yes I fully enjoyed my time there. But beyond Asuncion, the Chaco (if you have money), and Cerra Cora National Park there just isn’t a whole lot for tourists in Paraguay.
Below is a time-lapse video of an average day for me on the road, taken from Concepcion, Paraguay.

Untitled from Brendan van Son on Vimeo.

Peru

Best

History: Even beyond the famous Inca people Peru’s history is rich, perhaps one of the richest in the world. Peru is said to be one of the few places in the world where organized civilization was born so how could it not have a brilliant history. From Machu Picchu to the Chan Chan ruins, the history is lined up waiting for you to experience it.

Worst

Tourist traps: Walk around downtown Cusco long enough and you’ll get very good at saying no, or simply ignoring the hundreds of people offering tours and “masajes amigo? Masajes?” Peru has done well to use tourism to develop but there are times it feels like a show. Places like the Uros Islands should draw sentiments of amazement, but instead they can feel like a stage put together by actors working for tips.

Peru: Machu Picchu

Peru: Machu Picchu – Click to Enlarge

Suriname

Best

Cultural Diversity: From the indigenous people who lived here first to the marooned slaves that hid away in the interior to the European and East Indian settlers, just about the entire world is represented in this tiny country. It is amazing to see a mosque right next to a synagogue and it is amazing to see a girl behind the counter at MacDonalds speak 4 different languages without missing a beat.

Worst

Grocery Stores: I had never seen a country without proper grocery stores until visiting Suriname.  Yes there are little “convenient stores” everywhere, but “convenient” is really just a word for “we don’t have that much stuff” isn’t it?  Shopping for groceries in downtown Paramaribo is nearly impossible unless you like noodle soup and chocolate bars for dinner.

Suriname: Paramaribo

Suriname: Paramaribo – Click to Enlarge

Uruguay

Best

Meat: I’m sorry Argentina, and believe me your meat is amazing. However, Uruguay may do it just slightly better. They consumer more meat per person and they don’t mess with the traditional cooking styles as much. Uruguay, we men stand tall and proud in our barbeque “man aprons” and salute you.

Worst

Nightlife: I have to admit, the nightlife in Punta del Este was alright, but in Montevideo it was pitiful. A couple of bars strung out on a shady street for me does not constitute nightlife. Come on, this is Latin America we’re supposed to be getting sweaty and making bad decisions.

Uruguay: Colonia del Sacramento

Uruguay: Colonia del Sacramento – Click to Enlarge

Venezuela

Best

Mountains: If you’ve never seen the tabletop mountains of Venezuela check out this google image search for tepuis (the name of the Venezuelan table top mountains). They are stunning to look at and amazing places to explore. Since the tops of many of these mountains are difficult to access, or escape, there is life that exists on these mountains that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, and a wealth of life that has still yet to be discovered.

Worst

Safety Record: Hugo may have been the “champion of the people”, and it may be true that general statistics regarding the financial equality of the country have improved over the years.  However, the truth is that much of Venezuela remains quite dangerous for travellers.  Of all the places I was in Latin America, it was here in Venezuela I felt the least safe.  Still, it is one of the most physically beautiful countries on the planet, and I hope that the security situation can improve to allow tourism to expand.

Venezuela: The Mother Land, Socialism, or Death

Venezuela: The Mother Land, Socialism, or Death – Click to Enlarge

Conclusion

Agree with me?  Disagree with me?  I’d love for your opinions in the comment section below.


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