My recent 87 day tour of Latin America (26.4. to 22.7. 2023)

An initial selection of reports, photographs and videos from this trip was posted in about 30 posts created between May 2023 and February 2024 on my Facebook page.

- Three-leg flight from Cranbrook through Calgary and Toronto to Varadero, Cuba.
- Two weeks in Cuba with the 29th Canadian Che Guevarra volunteer work brigade.
- Havana to Santiago de Chile by plane with brief stops (changing planes) in Cancun, Mexico and Panama City.
- Four days in Santiago (with metro population of 6.9 million inhabitants).
- One day rental car short tour of the Chile Pacific coast (Cartageno, Algarrobo, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar).
- By plane to Buenos Aires (I happened to find a plane ticket cheaper than bus that would take 24 hours).
- Eight days in Buenos Aires (it's a huge city, the second largest metropolitan area in South America with 15.5 million inhabitants, e.g. 1.5 times more than in all of Bolivia). I stayed there in the historical San Telmo neighbourhood, just steps away from Plaza Dorrego with daily tango performances and Mercado de San Telmo. 
- By ferry and bus to Montevideo, Uruguay (via Colonia del Sacramento, about 4.5 hour trip).
- Three days in Montevideo (1.8 million inhabitants).
- By overnight bus to Porto Alegre, Brazil (12.5 hour ride).
- Three days in Porto Alegre (4.2 million inhabitants, the birthplace of participatory budgeting) and one day in much smaller nearby Nuovo Hamburgo.
- By overnight bus to Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil (20 hour ride).
- Foz means "ford" in English (so Foz de Iguaçu = Ford on the Iguassu River).
  This relatively small city (259 thousand inhabitants) is famous for the nearby Iguassu Falls, claimed locally to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world (although not included in the "official" seven wonders list), and the point where the boundaries of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet.
- 3 days in Foz de Iguaçu and at the Iguaçu Falls.
- By overnight bus to Asunción, Paraguay (5 hour & 10 min ride, 4 am arrival!).
- 4 days in Asunción (3.5 million inhabitants).
- By plane to São Paulo, Brazil (the largest metropolitan area in South America with 22.6 million inhabitants), with a one day stop there.
- By plane to Brasilia, capital of Brazil.
- 3 days in this city of 4.9 million, built (and became the seat of all Brazil's highest institutions) in the middle of nowhere in less than 3 years after its conceptual plan had been approved in 1957. It was claimed to be a futuristic city at the time of its construction. Still very impressive today.
- Flying to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, again with a short stopover in São Paulo quite far south (there was no other choice as there are surprisingly almost no international flights out of the capital Brasilia, and no bus line going across the border between Brasilia and Santa Cruz).
- 2 days in Santa Cruz (1.9 million inhabitants, the "commercial capital" of Bolivia).
- By overnight bus to Sucré (14.5 hour ride).
- One day in Sucré, the first capital of Bolivia, around 2800 m a.s.l., 291 thousand inhabitants, claimed by some to be the birthplace of capitalism together with the nearby Potosí and its gold mines that made Spain enormously rich and a world power for a period of time.
- By overnight bus to Cochabamba (8 hour ride, but there is an express bus twice as fast).
- One day and night in Cochabamba, 2560 m a.s.l., 1.4 million inhabitants.
- By afternoon bus (8 hour ride) to La Paz, over a 4500 m high ridge, then on a nice four-lane motorway on Altiplano above 4000 m.
- Seven days in La Paz/El Alto, in a hotel at 3675 m. For the first three days I had experienced altitude sickness. Then after acclimatization I made it to the top of the nearby Chacaltaya peak at 5435 m. 
  La Paz (1.9 million inhabitants) is located in a bowl with a bottom at 3640 m, and its satellite city of El Alto (another 1.1 million) is located above it, on the wide flat rim of the bowl at 4150 m, on Altiplano. People are walking slower in the streets in this oxygen deprived altitude than in lower lying places.
- By early morning bus to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca (4 hour ride at the height around 4000 m).
- Titicaca was the sacred lake of the Incas, and is the highest lying navigable lake in the world, with water level at 3820 m a.s.l.; with lots of open-net trout farms on both sides of the border, with trout introduced from Canada.
- One day at Copacabana and Isla del Sol (Sun Island), at 3820 to 4000 m.
- By overnight bus to Cusco, Peru (12 hour ride with a 1.5 hour stop in Puno on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca).
- Four days in "the heart of Inka empire", in Cusco (497 thousand inhabitants, 3300 m) and Machu Picchu (2438 m, 400 m above the Urubamba River/town of Aguas Calientes). By bus and train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and back (it's only 75 km, but a 4-5 hour trip one way with all the stops).
- By overnight bus to Lima (22 hour ride).
- Four days in Lima (11.2 million inhabitants), on top of a steep cliff, about 100 m above the ocean.
- By overnight bus to Máncora, Peru (22 hour ride).
- Two days in the small seaside resort Máncora on a Pacific Ocean beach.
- By minibus to the town of Tumbes (2 hours), then about 25 km in a shaking motorcycle rikshaw (tricycle), and the last 5 km to the Aguas Verdes border crossing with Ecuador by a border service authorized or run taxi. From there by another taxi to the town of Haquillas, Ecuador.
- Ecuador - the only Latin American country I had visited before this trip, 15 years ago. Now I just made a quick dash through it, checking out some of the places I visited before.
- By bus to Loja (from Haquillas, later the same day I crossed the border) - a scenic roller-coaster 5.5 hour ride, from about the sea level to just over 2500 m and then 350 m down to Loja).
- Three days in Loja (287 thousand inhabitants, about 2150 m a.s.l.) and nearby Vilcabamba (at about 1550 m, in the Longevity valley favoured by US alternative life-style expats). The bus ride between Loja and Vilcabamba takes one hour.
- By morning bus to Cuenca - another scenic roller-coaster 4.5 hour ride through lush mountains, up over 3000 m.
- Four hours in Cuenca, at 2560 m, population of 445 thousand.
- Evening 45 minute flight to Quito.
- One night and day in Quito, capital of Ecuador (2 million*, although Wikipedia estimates Quito Metro population at 2.8 million), listed at the altitude of 2850 m, that of its historical downtown (a former Inca city, the oldest capital of South Am.), but its newer densely built-up neighbourhoods climb up the slope of an active volcano till at least 3200 m, and its new airport is at 2400 m.
- The daily life in the streets of Ecuador looked about the same as 15 years ago when Ecuador was considered a haven of safety. I have not registered that there was a violent prison uprising at the time I was passing through Ecuador, and that some aspects of the safety situation have been changing dramatically very recently as narcotrafficking gangs from Mexico and Colombia have infiltrated Ecuador as witnessed by the August 9 public assassination of a presidential candidate in Quito under police protection. Not registered because this time I have not visited Ecuador Pacific coast, in the ports of which the gangs seems to mainly operate.
- Short evening flight to Bogotá, Colombia.
- 52 hours in Bogotá, capital of Colombia (11.5 million, at 2600 m - almost as high as Quito, but confined in a wide flat valley, not yet climbing much up the slopes of the surrounding 3200 m mountain ridges, as Quito and La Paz do, except for some churches/viewpoints).
- Colombia was the only country of this trip where I managed without getting any local currency in cash, due to the shortness of my stay and easiness to pay for everything by a credit card.
- Flight to the Island of Aruba, again with a changeover in Panama City (because the only daily direct flight was twice as expensive!).
- Six days in Aruba: small Island (total population of 106 thousand, mostly of African origin) in the Caribbean Sea only 29 km off the coast of Venezuela; independent country that is part of the Kingdom of Netherlands with two official languages, Papiamento (which developed from an Afro-Portuguese creole over the last 300 years) and Dutch; with Spanish and English compulsory at school, most Arubians are fluently trilingual, and some quadrilingual (among themselves they seem to speak mostly Papiamento, in the presence of tourists Spanish and English amazingly intermixed); almost constant strong south-east trade winds, pleasant to survive in permanently hot humid weather (32°C/28°C - afternoon/night), but unpleasant when swimming, lying on the beach or cycling against the wind; highest point is 188 m a.s.l., although most believe/claim that it is much more prominently visible 165 m high extinct volcano; all drinking water is obtained by desalination. 
- Direct flight by WestJet to Canada.

- * The population numbers given above are the 2023 estimates from

- When leaving Canada I only had an airticket to Santiago de Chile and no other arrangements. The rest of the trip I have planned on the go, somewhat inspired by Che Guevara's two 1950s trips north from Argentina. My maximum goal was to tour all South America. In the end I managed to visit only nine out of all 13 South American countries, two Caribbean countries, and transited through Mexico and Panama. I did not get to Venezuela and the three Guaynas (Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) "hiding" beyond Venezuela on my mostly ground tour. I found that I need a visa for Venezuela which seems to have to be obtained in advance, and I was running out of time anyway. And I could not find any cheap flights from Ecuador or Colombia to the "Guyanas" as they mostly included several stopovers in Panama, USA and/or Europe. Visiting Aruba was an interesting, but in the end not very cheap, replacement for nearby Venezuela.

- I have tried to cycle whenever possible, using rental or free bikes (available in three of the places I stayed). I cycled through Montevideo, including all its Atlantic (or more precisely Rio de la Plata) waterfront; from Foz do Iguaçu to Iguassu Waterfalls and around the city; all over Asunción and its Paraguay River waterfront; on a bad free hotel bike around Cochabamba; along the shore of the Lake Titicaca and up just over 3900 m; along almost all of Lima Pacific waterfront both at the sea level and on the city edge 100 m higher; in four days I cycled along more than half of Aruba's coastline (both between the wave-line and expensive hotels on the finest white-sand beaches, and on the rough rocky roads of the undeveloped north/northeast coast), and on many interior roads including in cactus forests and on narrow challenging trails in cactus and thorny bush growths.

- I waded in the cold autumn wild Pacific Ocean in Cartageno, Chile, and its warmer but still wild incarnation in Lima, and finally swam in it further north in tropical Máncora. I swam in the cooling Atlantic Ocean on an already empty beach in Montevideo (at least to me it already looked like an open ocean, but technically it is still considered Rio de la Plata, or Silver River - a several hundred km wide river mouth between Argentina and Uruguay. And I swam in the warm Caribbean Sea in Cuba and Aruba.


- Entry immigration control requirements:
 The only country where I was asked to present upon entry a Covid vaccination certificate was Bolivia. I do not know what would happen had I not been vaccinated. Face masks were required in the La Paz teleférico system ("Metro in the sky" - an excellent aerial cableway system of 11 interconnected lines), and most Bolivians still wear masks everywhere.
  In Chile, Paraguay, Colombia and Aruba address of one's temporary residence (hotel reservation) must be given. Moreover, one is not allowed into Colombia and Aruba without showing a paid exit ticket - this is pre-checked by the carrier bringing you into the country, and by the previous country exit passport control (Ecuador for entry into Colombia, and Colombia for entry into Aruba, in my case). For Aruba one has to fill in advance all these data into an online form, and get an approved Boarding Qualifier (to be shown in my case to the Colombia exit control, Copa airline that brought me to Aruba, and the Aruba entry passport control).

- Major airlines operating in Latin America that I have never heard about before this trip: Copa (Panama) and LatAm (multinational). There are also dozens of smaller airlines.
- Long-distance bus service is offered by hundreds of competing operators, mostly co-operatives. Intercity bus terminals are very busy and colourful places, sometimes also serving as marketplaces..
- I fell in love with Brazil's public transit systems because all seniors 60 and older can ride city buses and subways for free, including foreign nationals.

- Wall plugs (phone and laptop charging): Latin America has many differing electric grid systems, using 50Hz or 60Hz, with voltage 120V and/or 220V. Often there are wall plugs for both voltages in the same room or building. Varying voltage is not an issue as modern phone/laptop charging adapters are happy with any input voltage from 100V to 240V. Wall plugs have several different shapes, but only in Argentina had I to buy a new wall-plug adapter. In all other countries I visited, the wall plugs are either identical or compatible with the North American ones, or one can do with the two-round-prong wall-plug adapter for Europe.

- Hot water: Hot water taps in the wash-basins can be found only in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and in some places in Brazil (and in the Cuban hotels). In all other countries I visited there are only cold water taps (even at 4000 m in Bolivia), and hot water is available only in the shower where it is electrically heated directly in the shower head. Except that in tropical Máncora and in Aruba there was no hot water even in the shower, but in those places the "cold" (unheated) water coming out of the shower could be warmer than the "hot" water coming out of the shower in La Paz. Because it is tricky to regulate the temperature of such directly heated shower heads - the larger the flow, the smaller the temperature. Living in La Paz for some time seems to be a good way to get hardened. Some people there are wearing sandals without socks even on below-zero nights. I do not know how is the hot water situation in expensive tourist hotels.

- Except in highly tourist destinations, one meets very few people speaking other languages than Spanish/Portuguese (or Aymara, Quechua and other native languages). So some knowledge of Spanish/Portuguese or a good translation app is needed.

- My fast-paced tour through the South America was at least good enough to get some understanding of the region and become acquainted with all the capitals (and a few other areas), and to be now able to visualize much better the events reported in the news from there. I got the impression (possibly superficial) that this subcontinent has roughly three distinct regions:
  ` The south (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil) looks predominantly European in people faces in the streets and the architecture, with native component in small minority, not always visible. Although Brazil has a large visible minority of African origin.  
  ` The centre (Bolivia and southern Peru) is overwhelmingly native. Except for tourists, it is exceptional to see any European resembling face in the streets, everything is run by natives and looks native. Except that these natives may actually mostly be mestizos. A very native looking guide in Machu Picchu told me: "There are actually no pure Indians left, we are all mestizos - natives mixed with the Spaniards." Central and northern Peru is not so completely homogenized, there are some predominantly European neighbourhoods in Lima, and lots of black African origin people and communities in northern Peru.
  ` Paraguay seems to belong partially to both of the above. It apparently has a native majority, but in Asunción these natives live mostly in slums, visibly different from the upscale European looking neighbourhoods - very different from the Bolivian style complete homogenization of all the inhabitants and their living conditions. 
  ` The north (Ecuador and Colombia) also seems to have a large native majority, but no complete homogenization of faces as in Bolivia. And no pure native culture, as everyone's culture seems to be more influenced by the proximity of the Hollywood.
This observation of mine applies at least to the part of the subcontinent I visited, as I preferred the cold mountains to the vast hot and humid Amazonian jungle. And did not get to the very southern tip of the continent due to incoming winter. And the far away Easter Island (Chile) and limited-entry Galapagos (Ecuador) also administratively belong to the South America. 


I have encountered on my trip two proofs/indicators of climate change/global warming in the high Andes:
1. That 5435 m high peak of Chacaltaya used to be covered by a glacier until recently. Hiking to its top looks easy at first glance as this hike starts at the height of about 5200 m - there is a twisting scary looking road from El Alto leading that high, that even a 10-person van carrying us there was able to negotiate. But ascending on foot those remaining 240 m to the peak at that altitude was about as demanding for me as hiking up vertically 1000 m at the altitudes around 2000 m. This road was built in 1940s to access an astrophysical station built there at the same time (a large area around the station is dotted by cosmic gamma ray detectors). At the same time also a big mountain hut and a ski lift was built going onto the the Chacaltaya glacier, which served as Bolivia's only downhill ski area for decades. Now as a consequence of global warming, the glacier is completely gone, and there is only some occasional snow dusting of the shaded southern slopes of the mountains. And a few abandoned rusting supports of the ski lift are still remaining there.
2. Only for the last 10 year the tour operators in Cusco, Peru offer a new tour destination - a hike to the ridge of the Rainbow Mountain (Montaña de Colores). The peak of this mountain is at about 5200 m (the hike starts somewhere above 4700 m and ends on a viewpoint a little bit above 5000 m). The mountain got its name from the bands of rocks of different colour perpendicular to its ridge that together look like a rainbow. It was discovered only in 2010 because before that it was also covered by glacier/snow all year round. Now it's completely bare.

Canada has also welcomed me back with a severe weather event - my last flight (originating in Calgary) could not land in Cranbrook because of zero visibility due to the nearby forest fires. So we were brought to Vancouver for the night, and my adventure continued for one more day and I was able to make an unplanned visit to my favourite Richmond Nature Park with already plenty or ripe blueberries of many varieties. Next morning the smoke cleared enough for our plane to make a safe landing in Cranbrook. (Just two days later my grandchildren came for a visit for almost two weeks - that was another reason I had to interrupt my South Am. tour. And for finishing this trip report only after they left.)