I am planning on heading to South America and Cuba for approx 4 months (although this is flexible) from February 2013, with variably 1 or 2 other people.
Planning on starting in Rio for Carnaval (aware this will be a big expense, but think it's worth it), and then stopping at Ilha Grande and maybe Paraty on the way to Iguazzu, Buenos Aires, through to Santiago, and then through Bolivia and Peru up to Ecuador, and possibly Colombia, before flying to Havana, and then back to the UK. This does not include Machu Picchu, but does include a few days trip into the Amazon.
We want to be able to stay most places for a reasonable length of time. Planning on the Cuba leg lasting for at least 3 weeks.
We will be staying in mainly cheap hostels, but ideally hoping to spend about £5000-6000 a head - does that sound realistic?
Has anyone recently travelled to Colombia? I am very keen, but the seemingly frequent terrorist attacks make me very nervous... if Bogota and the borders are avoided, is it possible?
Does anyone have any recommendations of where best to do the Amazon from en route? Or any good value companies?
Are there any (non-obvious) must-sees? Nice towns that people have been to? And does 4 months sound about the right timescale? Less or more?!
Thanks in advance!
You can see an awful lot in 4 months, but why not Machu Picchu? It is one of the main sights and sites in SA? It's not a great expense. Don't miss out Lima. Many do.
I was in Gran Canaria some decades ago and the Rio Carnival was on TV and it was costumed people endlessly passing by. I looked back hours later and it was the same, and late that afternoon, more of the same. They could not pay me enough to spend even a whole day watching this.
But lots of people do and rooms quickly fill up, even at exorbitant prices. It will take a good slice out of your budget. In you live near London, you will find the Notting Hill Carnival as good. Other countries have similar parades.
Colombia in recent years has become much safer and tourists do go there now. However it is still possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as it is in any country. Stick to the main cities and areas with lots of people in them, and be careful at night.
The biggest problem in Central and South America is petty theft, mainly pick pocketing. You might consider:
While very unlikely you will be actually held up anywhere, it does not hurt to keep a reasonable amount of money handy (with the rest hidden), say the equivalent of over £60 in small notes and if someone pulls a gun or knife on you, hand it over.
Insurance is not too expensive and worth considering.
Must sees? Some of the best places I have come across are on the way from one place to another. Travelling to Nazca to see the lines, I stopped at a small town overnight and it had a good sized market and even a parade late in the day.
From Santiago take a bus to Valparaiso just an hour away. I took the Underground to a mall outside the city. A very scenic trip.
Accommodation should not be too hard to find so keep your plans fluid rather than sticking to a strict schedule. Having said that, a flight to Havana is quite expensive so best booked early.
Colombia is by far my favourite country in South America and has been for several years now. It's a fabulous place and very, very easy to get off the Gringo Trail and into some really interesting places. Please do some research, I think you'll be blown away.
Cuba's extremely complicated political/social situation makes it one of the most unique destinations in the world. Absolutely fascinating if you're into history. If not, it's still a really fun place and if you "get it" it's an easy destination to become addicted to. Fair warning though... it's one of the most expensive developing nations in earth (that receives a pile of foreign tourists) so don't compare it budget-wise to Central/South America.