From Latin America

7 Tips For A Safe Latin America Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 30, 2010

Travel Guide

You’ve booked a Latin American vacation with a reputable tour operator or travel agent and you’re looking forward to enjoying your trip – maybe even relaxing a bit, right?  Well according to a ton of websites and articles out there, you just made the worst decision of your life!  Danger awaits you around every corner, and a long queue of people are poised to steal your stuff and do horrible things to you.  But, you are assured, you should try to relax and enjoy yourself…

Guess what; with the right advice and a little common sense, your upcoming vacation is going to be FINE.  You’re going to have a great time.  And if something goes wrong, you’ll be able to deal with it.  Why?  Because you know the deal with your vacation destination before you arrive and will have the correct advice before leaving home and all the necessary contacts.

Here are 7 tips to prepare you for your vacation so that you can just get on with enjoying your Latin American vacation once you leave your home country.

1) Get your body ready
Nope, not some punishing bikini workout, but getting all the immunizations and medications that you need for your destination.  Check with your local medical health-care professional and make sure you have all the right jabs up to date.  If you’re going somewhere with the risk of malaria, make sure that you get a course of medication; normally they require you to start taking the pills a month in advance.  Once you’re immunized, you can forget about it!

2) Overcome the language barrier, medically speaking
Prepare a piece of paper with any allergies, medical conditions or medications that you are taking in the language of your travel destination.  If you ever need to let anyone know any of this information, just hand it over.  No stress, easy!

3) Something could go wrong…but that’s ok!  Just have it covered
Arrange an insurance policy, but be careful about the small print!  Make sure that you are covered for all the locations that you will visit and all the activities that you want to do.  Once you’ve got your policy arranged, print out a summary of the details and keep it with your medical information slip, ready to hand over if you should ever need it (which you probably won’t). Even the best laid plans made by you, your hotels or your tour company can go wrong, travel insurance is a must and you should not just assume your nominal credit card insurance will cut it!

4) Send your travel itinerary to friends or family
Again, a simple precaution in case something should ever go wrong. If you are traveling with a reputable travel company they will give you a full rundown of your schedule and 24 hour numbers in an electronic document so you can print it out and carry it with you, and send it to friends and family so everyone knows where you are (only if you want them to know of course!)

5) Get to know your destination
What are the local customs?  How do people dress?  Are there any common problems that you should be aware of?  This can be great fun to research (much of this may be covered on the websites, blogs and articles that your travel company produce), but it can also dispel any myths about the dangers of certain destinations, as well as helping you make well-informed decisions on your trip without any agonizing.  Other good sources for information include checking the latest news from your destination country and guidebooks.  Your government’s website is also a good source of information, but remember that it will probably produce a long, terrifying list of worst-case scenarios.  Just read the information once, process it and leave it – you’ll remember it if you need to.

6) Travel with common sense!
Most of us are well equipped with common sense, thus foregoing the need for a long list of “do not” orders.  If you spend a little effort in preparation with the previous points, your common sense will be boosted by a little well-honed caution.  This will serve you much better than memorizing a list of “The Top 20 Deadliest Dangers Of Your Death-Trap Vacation” (seriously).

7) Take things slowly if you can, dont cram absolutely everything in!
It’s your vacation and you need to relax. Dont try to see everything in one visit and be crazily running around the whole time making mistakes, forgeting your belongings and accidents more likely. Some tour companies will try to sell you everything but the best ones will advise you to have a free day here and there, especially on a longer trip.  If you ever get the feeling that someone, especially a stranger, is getting pushy with you, you’ve got 100% authority to tell them to get lost.

Remember that things can go wrong…if you’re two blocks away from your home or on the other side of the world.  The trick is not to let the possibility of problems cloud your Latin America vacation.  Prepare well, make sure you book with the people in the know and leave your concerns at the check-in desk!

Do you have any extra tips for a safe Latin America vacation?  How do you get rid of travel worries? Do you have any stories, good or bad, about travel in Latin America? var host = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://secure.” : “http://”);document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + host + “wufoo.com/scripts/embed/form.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”));var z7x4a3 = new WufooForm();z7x4a3.initialize({‘userName’:’escapedtoperu’, ‘formHash’:’z7x4a3′, ‘autoResize’:true,’height’:’443′});z7x4a3.display();

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

 

How to Get The Most From Your Luggage Allowance and Avoid Sneaky Charges

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 29, 2010

Ever been left fuming when the smarmy check-in assistant at the airport slaps you with an excess baggage charge?  You’re not alone.  According to research, one in five travellers get caught out on vacation with their luggage.  However, all is not lost – not only can you easily avoid paying top dollar for your cases, you can play the system at its own game.   Here’s how.

1) Find out the luggage allowance rules
This will take a little bit of preparation on your part.  Each airline has its own unique and frequently-changing set of rules.  If you have any hope of avoiding a nasty surprise at the check-in desk, you’ll have to go to the airline’s website and find out what they are.

  • Check weight and size limits for check-in baggage and carry-on items.
  • Find out which items are prohibited and in what quantities (for example, 50ml of specific liquids).
  • Some airlines also permit you to check extra bags for a relatively low fixed fee.  Find out restrictions and costs for this

2) Break the luggage allowance rules!
Ok, you’re up to speed with the airline restrictions and all the cunning ways that they will try and squeeze you for money.  Have you considered any of the following hacks to get around the charges?

  • Pick some of your biggest and heaviest clothes, and put them all on.  If you’ve got a jacket with lots of pockets, fill them to bursting; you don’t even have to wear it!
  • Family outing?  Everyone has a baggage allowance, and if you check with the airline you’ll see that parents can normally combine luggage allowances with their kids.
  • Check in people are not always unbending – if you are a little over the weight limit, and know you are, a nice smile and an apology often gets you checked in charge free!
  • Some items of specialist sports equipment can enjoy free check-in (for example, golf clubs on a couple of airlines), so try stuffing other items into the equipment cases.  If there are no equipment exceptions with your airline, it’s probably best to pay up-front as showing up to the airport unannounced with your specialist kit could result in some much larger fees.
  • Most airlines allow you a “personal item”, which can include a briefcase, camera, handbag/purse, laptop (in carry bag) or a multitude of other items.  Instead of stuffing a bulky SLR camera into your case, why not just carry it on-board?

3) Avoid the luggage allowance rules
If the airline has been too cunning in planning out its rules, you’ll just have to avoid them. Preparation is key here, so take a little time to run through the following steps.

  • Weigh your bags to check if you are within limits.  Use electric scales as manual scales can be a little inaccurate.
  • Avoid the whole debacle by sending your luggage ahead by courier to your destination.
  • Don’t pack anything that you can buy at your destination – toothpaste does exist in other parts of the world…
  • Leave out non-essential items by checking the weather where you are headed – maybe you don’t need that ski-jacket after all.
  • Prepare for the return journey – you’ll inevitably want to bring some things back from your vacation, so make some space!  Pack your bags and then take out 5 items that, on brutal reflection, you really don’t need.  If you need help, get someone else to pack with you and ask if you really need each item that you’re trying to cram into your suitcase.

Have you ever been caught out by luggage charges?  Do you have any other advice or tips for air-travellers?

 

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

7 Tips And Tricks To Make The Most Of Your Money On A Latin America Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 21, 2010

The last thing you want after returning from a relaxing Latin American vacation is to feel the veins throbbing on your forehead when you see your bank statement.

Hidden travel costs and charges are around every corner waiting to slap you, but with a bit of preparation you can breathe a sigh of relief when you check your post-vacation account balance.

Here are 7 easy to implement money-wise tips that will save you hundreds on your next vacation.

1) Credit and Debit Cards – your plastic best friends
Credit cards are widely accepted to make payments in larger hotels, better restaurants, souvenir shops and stores, and to obtain cash advances. They are also acceptable as ‘proof of funds’ at borders. There’s also an ever-growing network of ATM machines that make it very easy to withdraw cash in local currency.

Visa is the most widely accepted for both purchases and cash advances, followed by MasterCard. American Express is not as widely accepted but also a good option.

Advances are increasingly available using ATMs (cajeros electronicos), for which Cirrus, Maestro, Plus and Delta cards may also be used, plus you can walk into many banks and arrange a higher cash advance in certain countries (Peru and Colombia for example). The rate of exchange is often the most favorable, and long bank queues can be avoided.

2) Check to see if your bank is sneaky
Before leaving you should check with your bank or credit card company whether they impose any handling charges. Make sure you have a separate note of the number and validity of your cards, as well as the phone numbers to call should they be lost or stolen.

It may also be worthwhile advising your bank that you intend to use your card abroad (and in which countries). Some banks, if they detect an irregular spending pattern, assume the card to be stolen and suspend the account. Barclays in the UK have very tight controls on its cards for example, Barclays customers beware!

Check your account carefully on return from Latin America to ascertain that payments for the card are legitimate.

3) Get the right ‘balance’ of local currency vs US dollars
It is not advisable to try to acquire Latin American currency before travelling. If a currency is
available in High Street banks or foreign exchange outlets the exchange rate is usually very
poor (nor will they be interested in buying any Latin American currency back when you return).
Strikes notwithstanding, you should be able to change dollars and / or travelers checks at the
airport or border upon arrival but try to avoid changing in the actual airport itself as the rate will be very poor. A good option would be to take a small amount of local currency from the airport ATM.

In Latin America, small denominations of US $ cash are often as readily accepted as the local currency, so keep a bundle of small bills as backup. If travelling between neighboring countries in Latin America any surplus local currencies can usually be exchanged into the next local currency, but normally only at border posts, the next big town across the border or airports, and nearly always at a loss.

To avoid getting scammed on your currency exchanges, check the Internet for the latest update on rates and write down how much to expect back in the new currency when you hand your money over.

4) Travelers Checks? Nope.
Traveler´s checks are increasingly less favored by travelers who find their use cumbersome in
comparison with bank cards. Traveler´s checks are becoming harder to cash and the charges are creeping higher.

There are a lots of alternatives, so if you you want to be smart with your money, this probably is not your best option.

5) Eat, sleep and travel local
Even though the cost of living in Latin America differs enormously between countries and can fluctuate wildly over time within a single country or region, services directed at tourists (e.g. hotels and restaurants) are more expensive.

The price of restaurant meals in Latin America varies as much as it does in Europe. At the bottom end of the scale, cheap, filling and often none-too hygienic meals can be obtained in markets, often for just a couple of dollars. This is usually the best source of regional food, but be aware of the high risk of stomach upsets. Modern snack bars, often of the fast-food variety, are much safer and cheaper, if uninspiring. A bit more up-market, you will find restaurants with pleasant decor, uniformed waiters, and menus offering both international and local dishes, but you will pay accordingly. Ask your tour operator for their suggestions.

6) Tipping – A little goes a long way (but sometimes too far)
It is impossible to give firm guidelines regarding how much to tip a provider of services in Latin
America, as the cost of living varies widely from country to country. However, it’s extremely uncomfortable to be caught out in a situation where you should or shouldn’t be tipping, especially as it is the major source of income in some jobs. But you don’t want to be taken for a ride by a crafty local – there’s nothing worse than getting scammed.

Be sure to get some advice on tipping situations in your destination – your travel agent / tour operator or a good guide book will provide you with suggestions for situations in which tipping is expected, and how much.

Whatever the amounts and situations, be sure to have to have small-denomination coins in local currency. You’re not likely to get change from tipping a large note, and foreign currency won’t be much use to the majority of people.

7) Bargaining – fight for your discount
Bargaining is normal procedure in most street and indoor markets, though no fair generalization can be made about the amount by which the price can be reduced. Shed any inhibitions you had about a pricing debate, and enjoy the negotiation!

Tourists can usually expect to have to pay more than locals. In Peru, the asking price is often 50% more than the vendor is prepared to accept, while the Otavalo Indians in Ecuador and street traders in Bolivia rarely come down more than 10%. In Guatemala, some traders will reduce their prices by 30% and others hardly at all.

Many street vendors are extremely poor, so respectfully bear this in mind when relentlessly hammering down prices.

Have you got any money-saving tips for travelling in Latin America? Do you remember when you ended up spending way too much money, or you avoided spending anything?

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

6 Options For Contacting Home When Travelling Latin America – For eGeniuses And Technophobes Alike

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 20, 2010

So, the Latin America vacation plans are set. Tickets are booked, packing is done, dog has been left with the neighbours. All the vaccinations have been injected (ouch), visas are arranged and there’s no sign of political unrest on the television. What have you forgotten?

Oh, that’s right – you’re leaving Mum behind, and she’s worried that you’ll never come back. And all your friends keep asking you to let them know about your adventures. How are you going to keep everyone updated?

You may be escaping the country for a well-earned Latin America vacation, but you’ll probably still need to send word back home. Here are 6 options for keeping in contact when travelling, no matter if you’re a iWhiz or you have trouble finding the on-switch on a computer.

Low-tech options for staying in contact while travelling
Get confused working a microwave? These are for you…

1) Postcards
Ahhh, postcards; the classic option. Who really needs more than a couple of sentences to say that you’re still alive and wishing that the recipient was there? You should be able to find postcards all over the place on your travels, but you can always take some with you just in case. If you’re really organized, you can even pre-fill the addresses.

Another option is to get a couple of your travel photos printed as a postcard alternative – try taking the memory card of your digital camera to a printing shop, and then scribble a message and a sending address on the back with a postage stamp!

Remember that in most places it costs more to send something in an envelope; postcards are your cheapest option.

2) Pay phones/Call centres
A long time ago in a galaxy far away, people used landlines to talk to each other. Believe it or not, this still happens and you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a payphone.

To get the best possible deal with land line calls, you should probably buy an international calling-card. Post offices, call centres or even your hotel will sell cards that give you a better rate when phoning home.

Medium-tech options for staying in contact while travelling
You’re not afraid of a couple of gadgets. Bring it on!

3) Cell phones
Most of us know how to work a cell phone these days, and probably have our own. You’ve got a couple of options for using it abroad; get an international talk plan from your current network provider, or pick up a SIM card in your destination country.

If you go down the talk-plan route, be wary of excessive call fees, and find out if you can get a tariff that allows you to call a limited selection of numbers for cheap. Also check out other network providers – now might be a good time to switch for a better deal.

To get a calling plan in your destination country, you’ll have much cheaper options for calls within the country that you’re visiting, and quite possibly when calling home. You can even use your current cell phone in some cases, but most likely you’ll need to get it unblocked. Ask your tour operator for advice on this, or any local vacation friends that you make.

Either way, text messaging will cost you a lot less than calls, so get those thumbs warmed up and practise communicating in 140 characters!

4) Email
If you don’t have an email account already, it’s easy and free to open one with companies like Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail; a Google search will give you the link to get started.

Gather email addresses from friends and family to get your mailing list ready and send them all a test message before you leave to check that all the addresses work.

If you really want to make life easier for yourself, try making a group on your email program to avoid typing all the addresses in every time; the program help files should provide instructions on how to do this.

High-tech options for staying in contact while travelling
You’re reading this on the internet after running a search for it – these options should be no problem!

5) Blogging
Blogging is an alternative to email. Instead of sending a message to someone, you post stories, photos and videos on a unique page on the internet and your friends and family can visit it to see what you’re up to.

Here are the simplest options to get a travel blog set up. All these options are free. If you’d like to be handed a travel blogging program on a plate, try websites like Matador.com or Travelblog.org.

If you’d rather choose a more personal looking blog but don’t feel like writing an essay every time you post, Tumblr is an attractive, simple option for short posting. If you’d like the whole shebang for longer posting in an easy to setup format, try Blogger.

6) Skype
You want to make free calls to anyone anywhere in the world. So what’s stopping you?

Skype is a revolutionary program that allows users to make calls over the internet completely free between computers, or very cheaply to landlines or cell phones internationally. You’ll find the program installed in most computers in Internet cafes around the globe.

You can register for a free account on the website http://www.skype.com but to be able to make completely free calls the person that you want to contact must have a computer with the program installed as well. Clear, simple instructions are on Skype’s website to help get you started.

What do you think is the best way to stay in touch with friends and family from abroad? What are your experiences with these options? Are there any options missing from this list?

Author: Steve Mellor – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Nicknames To Listen Out For On A Peru Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 19, 2010

Did you have a nickname in school or college, or even one that has stayed with you to the present day?

In Peru people are very fond of using nicknames which will often follow them throughout life, not just at school or college. Known as ‘apodos’ or ‘motes’, nicknames may be based on where someone is from, a physical characteristic, a play on their name, a term of affection or any other number of sources.

Oy, Fatty!
Some nicknames based on physical characteristics may be seen as derogatory or even offensive in the west, but in Latin America it is often just a case of “say what you see”.

Therefore nicknames such as “gordo” (fatty or chubby), “flaco” (skinny), “negro” (black), “chino” (Chinese), "Chancho" (piggy) and “peludo” (hairy), are fairly commonplace, and do not have the same negative connotations as elsewhere. Another common example is that someone with green eyes will often be known as “El gato” meaning “The cat” due to the fact that green eyes are unusual in Latin America.

These nicknames are also often softened by using the diminutive which is done by adding “ito” or “ita” depending on whether the target is male or female, so gordo becomes gordito, flaco becomes flaquito, and so on.

Eeey, Gringo!
There are a number of nicknames based on where someone comes from in wide use in Latin America, and these can be derogatory or not. Some of these relate to people from a certain country, others for people from a certain city. Probably the best known of these is the term originally used by Mexicans for North Americans, but now widely used throughout Latin America for almost anyone from both North America and Europe which is of course “Gringo”, or the feminine version “Gringa”.

What do Latinos call other Latinos?
Others widely used in Latin America are “Porteño” for someone who hails from Buenos Aires, “Chilango” for residents of Mexico City used mainly by people from Northern Mexico. “Carioca” is for those born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, whilst "Chapin" refers to someone from Guatemala. Boricua is a term for Puerto Ricans (also called Puerto-Riqueños), whilst in Costa Rica they call each other "Ticos" and "Ticas" for men and women respectively.

On a side note, people in the United States refer to themselves as Americans but in Latin America that term can be used for anyone in the New World as of course it is all “the Americas” in both the northern and southern parts of the continent. A little care needs to be excercised with the term as well, given that it is really the indigenous peoples who were the original “Americans”.

A particularly famous nickname is that of “Che” given to the Argentine revolutionary icon Ernesto Guevara by his Cuban counterparts. This comes from an expression commonly used by Argentines in their speech. You too can be a revolutionary if you hang out in Buenos Aires for long enough…

Other commonly used terms amongst Peruvians for girls include: chulita, mamita, mamisonga, mami, bebota, nenita and nena. For boys common terms are: papito, bebo, chulito, nene, nenito and machito.

Finally there is the wonderfully inventive art form of nicknaming soccer players. Try “La pulga” (the flea), “Buitre” (vulture), “Polilla” (moth), “El Brujo” (the wizard) and “Tulipano Negro” (black tulip).

What did you just call me?
Whilst on a vacation to Latin America you may well be referred to by one or more of the nicknames described above. Whilst some are less flattering than others, the best solution is not to take offence but just go with it, as these are commonplace and most likely not meant to offend.

Have you heard any other nicknames on a Peru vacation? What would your Peruvian nickname be? Leave your comments below!

Author: Steve Mellor – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

4 Ways to Ensure a Unique Peru Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 15, 2010

If you want to find out how native Peruvians live and what is important to them, you'll have to look off the beaten track. Here are some suggestions for places and activities for tourists who want to encounter the native or 'indigenous' side of the country on their Peru tour or vacation.

Ollantaytambo, a unique town in the Sacred Valley of Peru
A town in the Sacred Valley of Peru where you may come in contact with indigenous people going about their daily business is Ollantaytambo (called Ollanta by the locals). The town is laid out much the same way as it was during the time of the Incas. You travel for one and a half hours by a min-van which runs between the town and Cusco or you can take a combi from Urubamba’s bus station. Ollantaytambo is one of the rare examples of a well-touristed town which still maintains a focus on its indigenous community. Once there, you can visit the ruins which have great religious significance, as they were the last and largest structures for defense where the Incas defeated the Spaniards in battle. Tours can be led by guide or self-guided with a book that can be purchased in the market below the ruins. The tours concentrate not on the battles but on the architectural significance of the canyon and temple walls and the fountains that still function. You can also hike the hill known as Pinkullyuna which has Inca storehouses and overlooks the main ruins. The views are spectacular and the hike, climbing steeply up the valley sides, will be a workout that you won't regret.

Vicos in the central Andes of Peru
Living in ten neighborhoods in the central Andes of Peru near the city of Huarez in the community of Vicos is a group of 800 Quecha families. These families live along the highest
mountain range in Peru and use its natural reserves for their subsistence. An ecotourism project supported by the Mountain Institute has seven guesthouses next to the farmer’s houses, which were selected for their panoramic views and the diversity of the crops produced. Visitors to the area are rotated among the guesthouses with no more than three days at one site. Other attractions in this area include agro-ecotourism, hot springs and mountain climbing with Quecha guides.

Santo Tomas- Iquitos

Native villages near Iquitos
Near the town of Iquitos can be found several villages that remain untouched by modern development, including San Andrés, Santo Tomás and Santa Clara. Any of these towns can be reached by taxi from Iquitos. San Andrés is home to a National Park that is mostly forests in the high altitude, with high jungle, caves, rivers, reed beds and swamps. Aside from the local indigenous population, visitors will have no shortage of options to get in touch with nature. The vegetation that is predominant includes palms, cedars, mountain walnut trees, miniatures willows, ishpingos, choloques and quinas while the fauna features armadillos, vampire bats, spectacled bears, turkey hens, mountain tapir, deer, pumas, jaguars and the cavern catfish.

Helping children, a social project
Another way to meet Peruvians is through a social project. One of these is the “Casa Hogar Villa Martha” that is located in the Pacahacamc district of Lima and gives a new home of hope of a new life to physically and emotionally abandoned children. The purpose of the home is to give needy children education, protection, love and spiritual and moral support so that these children can become responsible human beings capable of taking care of themselves in the real world once they leave the home. The Villa Martha open its doors to volunteers and provides food and lodging for those who want to spend some time there helping out with the children. Peru has no shortage of social and development projects in all parts of the country – if you're visiting through a Peru tours company and you'd like to get involved, speak to your Peru tours operator for options.

When considering options for your next Peru vacation, try something different and visit a town more remote than the typical tourist locations or consider getting involved in a social project. Any of these will make your visit more unique than vacationing in the typical tourist spots.

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

How To Fall In Love On Your Chile Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 14, 2010

Chile is an amazing, diverse, beautiful, mind-blowing, thought-provoking country. If Chile was a person, you’d really, really want the chance to get chatting to it in a bar. However, just like breaking the ice in a bar conversation, it’s difficult to get to take the plunge and get to know a country properly. Most people make do with being a spectator, rushing between different tourist sites to take photos. But there is another way. You can end your Chile vacation knowing that you’re a different person for your travel experiences, that you’ve fallen head-over-heels in love with the country. How do you do it?

The key lies in getting to know the Chilean people as much as possible before you leave. The more that you can strike up a connection with it’s people, the more Chile will deliver. Try the following four steps before you get on a plane.

1) Break down the language barriers
Spanish is the most widely-spoken language in Chile, and you won’t have much hope of connecting with people if you don’t speak it. Tapes, books and videos are good, but no substitute for real conversation. Book yourself onto an evening or weekend class a month or two before your trip, roll your sleeves up and get chatting pronto!

2) Get some background on the Chilean mentality
A great way to get in touch with social themes and the attitude of a population as a whole is through its art. Try reading; books by some well known Chile authors such as Isabel Allende or poems by poets like Pablo Neruda are a good start. You could also get your head around some lyrics by listening to musicians such as Violeta Parra. In many examples of these people’s work you can see representations of a national mind-set that transcends words and will give you a greater affinity for Chileans.

3) Do some digging on what Chileans like
We’ve all got points of national pride and beloved topics of conversation, and the people of Chile are no different. Try subscribing to a Chilean news website – you’ll be able to find sites that discuss articles and features in English. Armed with a clear picture of what’s holding people’s attention in Chile and what Chileans love to talk about, you’ll find yourself getting into a lot more conversations.

4) Try to meet a Chilean before you leave
This can be tricky, but you’ll be able to cover all three points above at once if you can meet a Chilean living in your local spot. Try searching for international associations, language schools in which Chileans might work, or clubs and societies related to Latin America. It’ll be a great opportunity to try and bend your ear around the notoriously difficult Chilean accent…

Imagine getting into an enthusiastic conversation with a Chilean about their local history, or the state of their national football team. It’s not as hard as you think, and more rewarding than you can imagine! Chileans will open up to you if you take an interest in them and their country, and have the courage to break the ice in conversation. Tour companies can provide you with great destination opportunities on your Chile vacation, but only you can make the difference between being a sightseer and falling in love with Chile and Chileans for the rest of your life.

How do you prepare for a Chile vacation? Do you have any amazing experiences to share?

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

5 Things You Must do In Medellin, Colombia

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 13, 2010

If you’re either looking for options for a Colombia vacation or are trying to decide where to go for a Latin America vacation, you’ll be delighted with your decision to visit Medellin.

However, Medellin is a Colombia destination that is commonly know for a lack of tourist things to do, so why should you visit? For the lack of tourists, of course! For an opportunity to get to know a Colombian city that isn’t over-run by sightseers and where you can get a genuine feel for the country and its population, Medellin is a great option.

You’ll have a great few days in the city, which could include any of the following activities:

1) Watching a world record-sized flower parade
Medellin is known with its temperate climate as the City of Eternal Spring, making any time of year good for a visit. However, you can see the best of Medellin in early August, when the Festival of the Flowers (Fería de las Flores) is scheduled; a series of parades, concerts, speeches, craft sales and impromptu parties.

2) Rock climbing the easy (or hard) way at El Penol
A two-hour drive from Medellin is the imposing free-standing rock of El Penol. A breathless climb up some steep steps carved into the giant stone face will take you to the top, presenting some spectacular views. More adventurous types can arrange for the equipment to attempt a rock-climb.

3) Get a dose of internationally-renowned art
An internationally-known sculptor from Medellin, Fernando Botero is famous for his over-sized human figures. Visitors to Plaza Botero can see and interact with his sculptures, as well as seeing other works in the more formal setting of Museo de Antioquia.

4) Get to know the world’s biggest drug dealer
If you don’t know who Pablo Escobar is, then you probably aren’t aware that people sell illegal drugs for money. Tour operators give visitors an opportunity to get to know the hometown of the infamous Colombian, who was killed in a shootout with police in 1992. The tour will include a visit to Escobar’s grave at the local cemetery, passing by the former headquarters of his cartel (now ironically a drug rehab unit), the roof where he was shot and the collection of private planes that still litter the local airport, part of his $20 billion legacy that was eventually seized by the Colombia government.

5) Taking to the skies
If seeing Medellin and the surrounding area at street level just isn’t your thing, then tour operators offer the opportunity for paragliding flights. Those without the necessary know-how to pull strings and ride thermals can take a tandem flight, sitting back and enjoying the view while their pilot does the hard work.

A city with an interesting mix of culture, history and influences, Medellin will be the destination to give you an insight into a real working city on your Colombia vacation.

Have you visited Medellin, or done any of these activities? What were your experiences?

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Latin America / Escaped to Peru

Peru Vacation Horror Stories and How To Avoid Them

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 13, 2010

To paraphrase, "It Happens". If you are traveling independently things won't always go according to plan on your Peru vacation and often the best you can hope for is that the disaster happens to someone else. However, you can always reduce your chances of being the unwilling star of an unfolding travel nightmare by learning from other people's experiences or by having a Tour Operator take the strain. If you decide to go DIY here are 4 classics horror stories and advice to help you avoid a similar fate.

Please remember that 99% of people never encounter problems but as with any foreign country, forewarned is forearmed!

Horror story #1: Peru moto-taxis – vehicles from hell
If a force of evil was ever represented through vehicles, it would probably look a lot like a moto-taxi. Many people think that the whole experience is thrilling and funny but for others it may not be. Speeding recklessly through traffic and polluting the air as much as four to five real cars, there is very little reason for their existence. To add to the fun, one unlucky traveller fell foul of a scheme where drivers partner up with thieves. A taxi drove past him slowly with two people inside; one hopped out and robbed him, afterwards jumping back into the moto-taxi which sped off.

How to avoid the horror: Tourists can avoid problems like these by traveling in authorized taxis taken from your hotel or the airport, having taxis pre-organised by your restuarants, staying clear of bad neighbourhoods and keeping valuables hidden in transit.

Horror story #2: Peru Border crossings – from the frying pan into the fire
Another classic location for scams is when crossing between countries. In a common example, one couple was scammed crossing the border from Peru to Ecuador. They were told by someone who said he was from the only bus company that could take them across the border. He added that he could help them get the bus and the company was sending people to pick up travellers from the bus stations. Instead they were led on a merry dance to a market, then to a car park. Finally the scammers were 'picked up by the police', after which the couple had to pay the scammers several hundred dollars in order to 'cover fines'.

How to avoid the horror: With the benefit of hindsight, the advice is to never trust or follow a stranger in a border area, and to make all decisions at a border slowly and cautiously, asking for opinions of multiple people. Better still have an organized crossing with a guide and your own transport.

Horror story #3: Peru Hotel Experiences – the fine art of Peruvian customer service
Arriving late one night at the bus station an arranging to stay at a hotel with a double room, private bath and toilet, a couple were treated to a fine example of the dark side of Peruvian service. They arrived at the hotel and there was no room for them. They were forced to sleep on the floor of the common area with no privacy, take showers in the filthy workers room, and use the public restroom that had no mirror, soap, or light. They complained to the management, but it was no use. The owner said she did not speak English but during the conversation hid behind her associate and translated the conversation, saying in English at the end, “You are only two, millions come here.”

How to avoid the horror: Use websites such as tripadvisor.com to check out the real stories behind the glossy hotel brochures or select a travel agent to do the work for you. If you end up having a bad experience, you can take your revenge on the same pages to warn the "millions of others". If you choose to book through a tour company that has well-established relationships with hotels, you will add that extra level of guarantee.

Horror story #4: Climbing mountains the unpleasant way
One couple hired a guide to climb the volcano Chachani near Arequipa along with two other people. The mountain has a height of 6,000 meters and people need to acclimate themselves. The guide claimed to be of an international standard. However, the climb, which should have taken eight hours took them fourteen as the guide climbed extremely slowly and did not pay attention to the two other people who were not trained to climb such a height. He did not listen to the explanation of their struggles, and was very rude. This will definately ruin your holiday!

How to avoid the horror: Ask other travellers for recommendations when selecting guides, or only hire guides from respected agencies. Also try to avoid the temptation to cut costs, especially if you are undertaking a potentially dangerous activity such as mountaineering or remote trekking. A better-paid guide will generally provide a better level of service.

Many of these problems come from independent travel, trying to move around too quickly with little preparation and trying to bring costs down to accommodate a small travel budget. A good alternative if you're short on time is to book through a tour agency with a good level of local knowledge and a strong network of trusted tourism contacts. This way, you'll only be reading Peru vacation horror stories, instead of writing them.

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

5 Quirky Traditions To Watch Out For On Your Peru Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 11, 2010

Random. Surprising. Frustrating. Strange.

If you've ever taken a Peru Vacation, one or all of these of these words will float into your mind sooner or later. If you were expecting to encounter life in the same form as back home, you'll be in for a shock. Why is Peru so different?

It could be thousands of years of civilizations steam-rollering over each other, each leaving their own mark on the population and its behaviours. Peru today is an anthropological melting pot with modern and colonial Spanish influence in towns and cities while in the countryside Inca and pre-Inca cultures dominate day-to-day life.

As a result of this cultural mega-mix you'll bear witness to some quirky, and often disturbing, practices on a Peru vacation. Here are 5 common ones to watch out for.

1. Two Bulls, a ladder and a cross on the roof
Something that is very common in the highlands is the placing of two ceramic bulls on the roof of the house. The roofs of traditional houses are covered with red clay tiles and as you wander the streets of cities like Cusco, Pisaq and Ollantaytambo look up and you will see many pairs of bulls sitting side by side.

The most traditional bulls come from Pukara on the altiplano between Cusco and Puno and two bulls side by side (male and female) are said to signify various things; they keep the house safe with a blessing to the “Apus” (the Inca mountain gods) and ensure wealth, health and unity of the occupants. The bulls may be combined with a ladder and a cross allowing an easy passage to heaven when the time comes. This is a curious mixture of Inca and Catholic symbology, but one that is typical of many things Peruvian.

2. Red plastic bags on sticks
As you drive through the Sacred Valley of the Incas near Cusco you will see lots of red plastic bags on the end a very long bamboo sticks projecting from houses. These are signs! They say, "We sell Chicha," a maize or corn based alcoholic drink which is very (and in some cases, a little too) popular in the countryside.

On Sundays you will not only see the red signs but the effects on the people drinking Chicha as they stagger around small towns and villages mumbling and being overly friendly or abusive to tourists depending on what sort of week they have had.

It is said that, as yeast is expensive, people spit into the brew to make it ferment. To add to the fun, it is said that in some parts of Peru and Bolivia a severed dead baby´s hand is thrown in too for good measure. Make mine a double…

3. Babies shoes hanging inside or underneath the car
When you are taking a taxi, public bus or even some private cars in Peru you may notice a small shoe hanging by its laces. This is mostly done within the car, which makes sense (who wouldn't want a memento of their kid when on the job?), but sometimes logic is stretched when people hang the shoes underneath the car. This shoe is from the first born in the family and is said to bring wealth and luck to the family and aid family unity (a recurring theme it seems!).

4. Chewing Coca leaves
This is a very common habit in the countryside but you will see it in town markets too when country people come in to sell their goods. It is an Inca tradition where people build up a ball of Coca leaves in one of their cheeks and allow the resultant liquid to seep into the blood stream. The alkaloid ingredients of the Coca plant, containing around 1% actual cocaine, allow the fanatical chewers to fight fatigue, hunger and cold more easily and therefore work harder in the fields.

Many people will chew the leaves when they are not working hard, maybe when they are just sitting around chatting, and while it is not necessarily an addiction many people will go through 300 to 400 grams a week. Is that bulge in your cheek coca leaves, or are you just pleased to see me?

5. Decorating graves
When you are traveling by road you will inevitably see graveyards in nearby fields and often there are shrines at the side of the road where people have died in traffic accidents. Around special public holidays such as Todo Santos these graves are decorated by family members with many articles that the deceased used to enjoy. This ritual often happens on the birthday of the deceased person too. Things are placed on and around the grave like football related objects, model cars or dolls, photos, beer or rum bottles, favorite clothing, families may play favorite music etc.

Have you seen any of these traditions on your Peru vacation? Are there any others that you can think of? Just send us your comments in the form below:

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America