Hanging out in Rio de Janeiro

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

After spending a year and a half in Latin America, Rio de Janeiro was our final stop in the Americas before heading back to Europe. Rio is one of those epic, world-famous cities we always knew we wanted to spend some time in. While it is neither the capital nor the biggest city in Brazil (that would be Brasilia and São Paulo), Rio attracts the highest number of visitors of any city in the country. And we wanted to be part of that.

In my tourist fantasy, Rio was all about caipirinhas on Copacabana Beach, rhythmic samba music, boundless zest for life, and gorgeous Brazilians strutting their stuff on the powdery sands. And – oh my god – it’s all true! Continue…

The Guarani Missions of Argentina and Paraguay

San Ignacio Mini

A trip through South America, as spectacular as it is, can often feel like one long story of conflict and open war between the continent’s native peoples and European colonists. Even today, there is a very palpable tension between these groups.

So as we were passing through northern Argentina along the border with Paraguay on our way to Iguazú Falls, we were happy to discover a slightly different story. In the 17th century, Jesuit missionaries entering the area took a rather unique approach to conversion. They set out to create what some have termed a “Utopian” blend of native and European culture in methodically constructed communities referred to as Continue…

A Hop, a Skip and a Jump to Uruguay

Plaza with silk floss tree in Colonia del Sacramento

Uruguay is the smallest Spanish-speaking country in South America. Wedged in between its big brothers Argentina and Brazil, it is often seen as the stepchild of the continent and bypassed by many tourists. However, there are many reasons why travelers might want to consider a visit to Uruguay: a traditional estancia stay in the countryside, beach hopping and clubbing in Punta del Este or sand dune hiking in Cabo Polonia to name just a few.

Our reason for visiting was a lot more practical – we were in Buenos Aires and needed to replenish our supply of US dollars. Since dollars are easily obtainable in Uruguay and we had never visited the country, a trip seemed like a no-brainer. After all, getting there from Argentina’s capital is Continue…

Valparaíso, a City as a Canvas

Graffiti street art, Valparaíso

Grotesque faces glare down at me, others smile angelically and stare into nothingness. Tony aims his camera at a long-necked woman whose Medusa-like hair is a tangle of colorful strokes. I’m bombarded with supersized hummingbirds. Ahead, an ocelot roams through a forest of hot pink trees while a young Indian girl in red performs a tribal dance. No, this is not a dream. We are wandering the narrow alleys of Valparaíso, a city that plays the role of a canvas for urban artists. Imaginative graffiti and politically charged street art cover everything. The effect is spectacular.

Valpo, as locals call it, is just a couple of hours from Santiago. Its labyrinthine backstreets and passageways are spread out across a series of over 40 hilltop neighborhoods. Cerros Concepción and Allegre are the most popular hoods; they bring in Continue…

Surprisingly Cool Santiago

Patio Bellavista, Santiago

Santiago de Chile… quick, name one tourist attraction that comes to mind. Nothing? We had exactly the same response. Latin America’s fastest growing city is definitely not the first entry on most travelers’ bucket lists. We certainly didn’t have any expectations when we planned a 3-day stay in Santiago to wait for our flight to Easter Island. The giant metropolis of five million was just going to be another quick stop en route to a more exotic destination. But then something happened. We suddenly discovered we really liked the city.

It’s true, there are no world-famous monuments, no Eiffel Tower, no Pyramid of the Sun, no Taj Mahal, but there’s a subtle attraction to Santiago, a laid-back and easy-going vibe that spoke to us. In some ways, it reminded us Continue…

Puerto Varas

Osorno Volcano

“Aqui Kuchen,” announced the rickety roadside sign in a comical mix of Spanish and German. I started to drool as we drove past the rustic café in our rented Toyota Urban Cruiser. As if the cake sign weren’t distraction enough, the route along Lake Llanquihue was absolutely gorgeous making it more difficult for me to keep my eyes on the road. Snow-covered Osorno Volcano loomed tall across the water, partially hidden from view by giant conifers. I pulled down the visor and stole a glance at the picture-perfect cone we were about to visit. Talk about Fahrvergnügen!

We had arrived in Chile’s spectacular Lake District a few days earlier. The picturesque region, settled by German immigrants in the mid-1850’s, is a sprawling region of glacial lakes and towering volcanoes, quaint German villages and epic national parks. Not surprisingly, it is Continue…

Ushuaia: The City at the End of the World

Cumbres del Martial, Ushuaia

Half the articles out there about Ushuaia reference the “end of the world” or the “fin del mundo.” Yes, the title has become a cliche, but this is precisely Ushuaia’s claim to fame: it is the legendary city at the edge of the earth. In the old days, this is where they used to draw dragons and prophesy that sailors would sail into the abyss. In modern times, we’ve Continue…

Buenos Aires

Thomas in La Boca

After almost six months of incredible adventures in Peru, we’ve finally moved on to Argentina. Our first stop is the country’s glamorous capital Buenos Aires. We came to Buenos Aires with the specific goal of slowing down, staying in one place for a while, and catching up on work (yes, travel blogging is more than just traveling).

In real time (as opposed to blog time), we have been in Buenos Aires for over a month. To be honest, we have had some difficulty with the transition to Argentina. When we first got here Continue…

The Volcano, the Maiden, the Cloister and the Crepes

Arequipa's most famous volcano, Misti El Misti volcano rises behind Arequipa

You do have to wonder why anyone would think it’s a good idea to build a city in the shadow of not one, but three massive volcanoes. Hello, doesn’t anyone remember Pompeii? Apparently, the Spanish colonists had forgotten to read that chapter in their history books when they founded Arequipa in 1540.

Peru’s second largest city is strangely monumental considering it has been a magnet for natural disasters for nearly five centuries. Despite the volcanic rocking and rolling that periodically tests the city’s foundations, an impressive amount of the colonial-era sillar architecture remains. In fact, it might actually be that traditional use of the whitish, porous volcanic rock that has allowed the city to survive the quakes. It’s certainly those sillar buildings that have earned Arequipa its nickname, the White City, as well as its place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites Continue…

The Tombs and Treasures of Chiclayo

Tony exploring Túcume

If it seems from our previous posts that all of northern Peru is one vast burial site, that’s because – well – it kind of is. There is literally buried treasure everywhere. Unfortunately, a lot of it is being dug up by grave robbers who sometimes hit the markets to hawk their booty.

So in 1987, when archaeologist Dr. Walter Alva suddenly discovered a surge in black market plunder, he realized that those grave robbers had found something special. His quick thinking and investigative instincts led him to what has been labelled the King Tut’s Continue…