Diverse, vivacious and utterly unique, South America offers some of the most exciting cultural adventures in the world. Alongside the classic travel highlights, there are plenty of ways to get off the beaten track and immerse yourself in local life. From exploring Lima’s food markets to cruising the Galapagos with local fisherman, here are the experiences you must not miss….
The cultural institution of Buenos Aires, the tango is far more than just a dance. As you head out into the lively, colourful streets, you’ll realise in an instant that music and rhythm is simply a part of the Argentine lifestyle. This joie de vivre is something that they are all too willing to share; Buenos Aires now offers countless ‘tango experiences’ to tourists – where you can watch professional dancers or take a lesson in one of the city’s most popular clubs. However, if you want to get away from the crowds and meet the locals, you’ve got to head for a milonga. Sprawling all over the city, these events are basically informal gatherings where people of all skills and abilities gather to celebrate this beloved and iconic dance. From moonlit performances on cobbled streets, to secret venues hidden behind crumbling facades, there’s no shortage of tango experiences in Buenos Aires. Head over late, grab a chair if you can and let the locals show you how it’s done – one visit is never enough!
While Colombia is brimming with unforgettable cultural excursions, some stand out among the masses. Palermo is a verdant coffee and farming region which, despite its incredible beauty, is oft-missed from the average tourist itinerary. Located in the Quimbaya region in the north west of the country, a few days there will make you feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Best experienced from a rural homestay, local families in the area are willing to host visitors to offer a taste of their lifestyle. By taking part in the coffee production process, milking cows, tending crops or helping the family to prepare local delicacies, you can immerse yourself in Colombia’s rural tradition. Perhaps the best part of this unique experience is the evenings; sharing a delicious meal with your hosts after a day of work and sipping strong coffee on the veranda at sunset.
Lima is, without a doubt, the foodie capital of South America. Following years of relative obscurity, its international profile has skyrocketed and visitors now flock from all over the world to taste its culinary offering. Despite this popularity, there are still plenty of authentic and immersive food experiences to be found within the city streets – if you know where to go. To get the best out of Lima, you need to be up for sunrise. Head to the local fruit and vegetable market and watch it come to life; get to know the stall vendors and hear their stories. By 7am, the market is a feast of colour and chatter as families and local chefs arrive to stock up and meet their friends. While the market requires an early start, you are unlikely to have to share the scene with many tourists and, providing you ask permission, most vendors are happy to be photographed. Once it starts to wind down, duck into one of the side street restaurants to sample some delicious local delicacies – La Picanteria comes highly recommended.
Considered a wildlife destination first and foremost, it can be hard to know how to tap into local life on the Galapagos. It is also increasingly difficult to travel there sustainably, as large cruise operators muscle their way onto the scene. However, one way to get the best of both worlds is to travel around the islands’ hotspots with local fisherman. Not only do they know the waters and their inhabitants better than most, they are also happy to discuss their daily routines and community traditions with curious visitors. Get their perspective on the wildlife and landscapes that surround you; then visit a local reforestation project, where you can give back to the ecosystem and the people that call it home. While it may not seem like an obvious ‘must-do’ in South America, travelling with the Galapagos fisherman sheds light on a hidden community relatively overlooked by tourism and the international travel scene. Allowing them to showcase their continuing efforts to protect their islands is sure to prove unforgettable.
Chile is a cultural melting pot. From the barrios of Santiago to the colourful street art of Valparaiso, it houses people from all walks of life. One of the most intriguing groups is the Mapuche community – Chile’s indigenous people, who represent just nine per cent of the country’s population today. With their focus on the natural world and self discovery, their way of life stands on a firm foundation of history and ancient tradition. To be introduced to them yourself, Lake Budi is the perfect place. There are two small towns on the lake shore – Puerto Saavedra and Puerto Dominguez – which are predominantly inhabited by Mapuche people. Usually keen to open their doors to visitors, they will lead you in culinary workshops, teach you about herbal medicine and demonstrate traditional fishing and farming techniques. Above all, staying with a host family facilitates open and engaging conversations, offering you a real insight into their worldview and philosophy. Whether you want to immerse yourself in nature or learn some new skills, spending time with the Mapuche people is a unique way to see another side of Chile.
Visiting Valparaiso, Chile – Street Art tour in Colourful Valparaiso