Continent in Focus: South America

I am continuing my Continent in Focus series with the wondeful continent of South America. My instagram page, @my100by40, is updated daily with a different theme related to the continent in focus of the week:

  • Monday’s: An Underrated Gem
  • Tuesday’s: A Place I Would Return to
  • Wednesday’s: A UNESCO Site
  • Thursday’s: Most Impressive Place
  • Friday’s: A Photo in Nature
  • Saturday’s: A Photo of Architecture
  • Sunday’s: My Most Favourite Place

The Candidates

Having Chilean heritage with family still over in Chile, travelling to South America always ends up with spending a few days or weeks in Chile. But having them centrally located in Santiago, means I haven’t really seen much else of the country. For this reason, full disclosure, Chile is not making it on my list of highlights because Santiago, in my opinion, isn’t that special.

Regardless, of the 12 nations in South America I have been to three other glorious nations, so 4 in total. Note: Geographically, Central America and the Caribbean islands are usually considered to be part of North America. Further, French Guyana is not a sovereign state.

An Underrated Gem: Lima, Peru

All travelers to South America have Peru on their itinerary. It has many bucket list destinations and even UNESCO sites; Cusco, Machu Picchu, Nazca Lines, Rainbow mountains, Lake Titicaca.. the list goes on.

But what about its capital city, Lima? Admittedly, I knew nothing about Lima and didn’t really expect much. But, it was actually a really cool city. It has everything you want from a cool, vibrant capital city – trendy neighbourhoods, good restaurants and bars offering the national drink, Pisco Sour (don’t tell the Chileans), archaeological sites in the middle of the city and upmarket shopping centres, like Miraflores which is on the top of some amazingly pictureseque coastal cliffs.

Lima was also named the City of Kings during the Spanish conquest of South America. It serves as a place where the Spanish could serve the Spanish throne from the new lands and it became the “capital” of Spain in South America. The city was also founded on the day of the Catholic holiday “Three Kings Day”. The nickname didn’t stick, the native word Limaq became the new name but the Spanish couldn’t pronounce the “q” and so it became Lima.

Because of this history, there are some amazing colonial buildings in the Plaza de Armas in Lima. The Government Palace, the Cathedral of Lima and government offices are all located here. With a fountain from 1651 in its centre.

Plaza de Armas, Lima

Don’t forget to try “Inca Kola” which was a drink of choice of the Inca’s………… I think?

A Place I Would Return to: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazil was the first South American country, outside of Chile, that I visited. And Rio was the first city in Brazil. The city, whose name in Portuguese means river of January, is so named because Portuguese settlers landed here at Guanabara Bay on 1st January 1502.

Rio de Janeiro’s nickname is “a Cidade Maravilhosa”, meaning the wonderful city and it really is. For me, everything was amazing; the beaches were beautiful, and I don’t just mean Copacobana Beach, the sea was warm, the views were amazing, the food, the caipirinhas and all the nature. There is something for everyone.

Vista do Pão de Açúcar – The view from Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Rio’s “Must Do” list include:

  • Enjoying the view from Sugar Loaf Mountain. Some people suggest going at sunset which gives you great colours but make sure you have a good camera that takes good sunset pictures.
  • The Christ Redeemer Statue on Corcovado Mountain. Built in 1931 and listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, the statue is 38m high and stands on one of Rio’s famous geographical features; its hilly jungle. Views over Rio are said to be super impressive here but I, of course, was met with a jungle produced-fog.
  • The beaches.
  • A Samba show or Carnivale or both.
  • Hiking in the forest.
One of the New 7 Wonders of the World; the Christ the Redeemer Statue.

A gentle reminder for anyone wanting to learn Spanish before a trip to Brazil… don’t. Brazilian’s speak Portuguese and Brazil is one of the four nations in South America whose official languages is not Spanish. Points to who can name the other 3 (Hint: 1 of them is an overseas territory of a European nation)!

A UNESCO SITE: Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, the famous site of the Incas. Built around 1450, it is proof of the Inca Empire’s power, ingenuity and achievement during its height. An amazing city built high in the Andes Mountains. Its location: stunning, its mysteries: amazing and its architecture: one of the reasons it is named a UNESCO site.

The mysteries surrounding Machu Picchu are many. The main one being why was it built? Archaeologists continue to investigate to find possible answers. Was it built to host ceremonies, religious processions or military reasons to protect the Empire? The reasons could go on. And why so high up in the mountains? I mean the views are definitely worth it.

Stunning mountain scenery

For me, despite the rain it was a true sight. I recommend being a little fit before going here because ‘2013 unfit’ me was unable to climb to the top to get that iconic photo of Machu Picchu. But, I did my best….

Spoiler: this may not be the last time this is featured in this list.

Most Impressive Place: Iguazu Falls, Argentina & Brazil.

Straddling the borders of “Las Tres Fronteras”, the three borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is probably one of the most impressive sight’s I have seen in all my travels; Iguazu Falls.

Although there is no direct access to the falls from Paraguay you can visit the park from both the Argentinean and Brazilian sides. About 2/3 of the 275 waterfalls are on the Argentinean side which means you need to be on the Brazilian side to view them. However, viewing the Brazilian portion of the falls from Argentina is very worthwhile. Yes, that means staying over night here and trust me you will want to do this amazing place, deep in a lush, glorious, jungle setting, some justice and take your time here.

The photo above is a Brazilian waterfall as viewed from the Brazilain side. The path up to El Garganta del Diablo, A Garganta do Diabo or The Devil’s Throat was too wet for us to go up to. So we were taken to a spot where we could be right under one of them. Amazing and it just got better the next day when the sun came out…

The Argentinean Falls from Brazil

The waterfalls were created during a huge volcanic eruption that left a giant crack in Earth and left us with all this beauty and wonder to be impressed by.

A Photo in Nature: the Andes Mountains, Argentina and Chile

The Andes Mountains stretch the entire length of the South American continent from Venezuela and Colombia in the North to the “End of the World”, southern regions of Chile and Argentina. They are the longest mountain range in the world and contain the world’s highest volcanoes!

They also act as a natural border between Chile and Argentina. If you are ever doing a transcontinental flight in South America choose a window seat. Forget all that advice you hear about the aisle seat being the best seat. You are going to want to see these majestic mountains from above! This shot was taken from a Premium Economy window seat on LATAM Airlines flying from São Paulo, Brazil to Santiago, Chile

A Photo of Architecture: Machu Picchu, Peru

Surprise! Another entry for Machu Picchu. 2,430 m above sea level, high in the Andes Mountains, the Incas mysteriously built this structure for purposes unknown. There was no known written language which means we can now only guess how and why they built it.

The stones used for construction weigh over 50 tonnes and were, presumably, pushed by hands up the mountain an/or chiseled out of the mountain itself. In addition, the many plazas, terraces, walls and buildings blend seamlessly into the mountain and are so concisely cut that mortar is not needed. Machu Picchu also aligns perfectly with some astronomical events such as the solstice sunsets.

Did you know that when the Spanish conquered Peru, they never found Machu Picchu? This is why it is sometimes referred to as The Lost City of the Incas. Given its remote and isolated location, and the fact it is quite a journey to get there nowadays, its not hard to see why.

Most Favourite Place: Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil

I know this has already made my list but visiting Iguazu Falls lets such an impression on me that it has the title of my most favourite place in the World. Just look at me here – unedited, unfiltered, raw, embracing all the elements including the splash from the waterfalls. Loved every minute of it.

Excuse my 2013 looking self.

These photos are all taken from the Devil’s Throat lookout point. A pathway on stilts, that is on top of one giant waterfall and right at the foot of another waterfall and gives you uninterrupted views of so many waterfalls. A city of waterfalls.

Approaching the Devil’s Throat

Best time to visit is during the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. Summer can unbearably hot for some and winter doesn’t have as much water flow.

Iguazu Falls are twice as wide and taller than Niagara Falls. I will admit I have not been to Niagara Falls, but Iguazu is going to be really hard to beat. Even Eleanor Roosevelt was reported to have said “poor Niagara” when she visited. Looks like I did it in the wrong order.

Honorable Mentions

Underrated Gem: The ruins of Ollantaytambo, Peru. On the way to Machu Picchu you can visit another amazing site from the Incas.

A Place I Would Return to: Buenos Aires, Agrentina. The Paris of South America.

Architecture: Another surprising architectural feat is the city of Santiago, Chile. A whole city, rather a whole country, built right on top of a very active fault line. Chile has had its fair share of the world’s most powerful earthquakes yet a major metropolitan city stands strongly and enduringly.

Well I hope you had as much fun reading as I did reminiscing about South America! Stick around for next week for another post, 7 different places of the same themes, in a new continent…. NORTH AMERICA!

You can follow me on Instagram for more photos and information @my100by40 .

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