A KALEIDOSCOPE OF CULTURES AND LANDSCAPES
Introducing South America
South America is life. Its lush equatorial jungles give breath to the world, and its cities bustle and pulse with vibrancy. This continent has both the largest river and rainforest on the planet, and cultures whose ancestral roots draw not only from the Americas, but Africa, Europe and Asia as well.
But how do you capture the spirit of a continent? Well, Titan’s Inside series calls upon our tour guides – the people who live and breathe local culture – to answer your essential travel questions. So, get ready to go on a colourful journey through the high points of South America, as told by our insiders.
Why South America is a dream travel destination
“All over the continent, you’ll find incredible natural wonders, vibrant cities, colonial towns steeped in history, world renowned ancient ruins, fascinating flora and fauna, indescribably beautiful beaches and an abundance of passion.”
Cassie values South America as such a fantastic travel destination for so many reasons. One of the biggest is the sheer variety of experiences it provides. The continent has 12 sovereign states – each one with its own history, culture and national passions – and each individual country has countless different attractions.
Can a trip to South America be life-changing?
“You can’t overlook the effect that Latin American people will have on your travel experience. Carefree, charming and full of charisma, they are some of the friendliest in the world!”
If you follow your dream and book a trip to South America, there’s every chance you will find it a life-changing event. From Cassie’s experience, the perspective of the Latin American people is all about enjoying life, not worrying about little things, and living each day in the moment.
“I think this is a wonderful outlook, and I’ve seen it make such an impression on international travellers during their visit to the region. And it stays with them once they return home. The vibrancy and passion for life is demonstrated everywhere you go and is completely infectious.”
In Cassie’s experience, when travellers get home from South America, they can often completely re-evaluate their life and choices, changing things for the better and realising what really matters – having a good time with loved ones.
Safety and South America
“There’s still a stigma that Latin America isn’t a safe travel destination – this concerns a lot of people prior to travelling there. While some areas of certain countries and cities are better avoided – as is the case worldwide – generally, Latin American countries can now be classed as very safe travel destinations.”
Every continent has areas that may be best avoided. But in the rush to gain readers and ad clicks, media publications can sometimes paint the Latin countries of South America as riskier than is realistically fair.
Just like in Rome, Barcelona or other big cities, it’s important to take basic precautions when in unfamiliar surroundings. Just follow these standard safety tips and you should stay safe on your travels:
- Keep your valuables hidden – as in Europe, don’t wave your expensive camera or brand-new smartphone around.
- Store money safely – think clothes with zip pockets, ankle wallets, money belts or bras with storage lining.
- Familiarise yourself with the city – guided tours and walking tours are a great way to get your bearings, as shown by someone who knows the best parts.
- Do your research – know where you’re going, and where may be better avoided.
“The benefit of an escorted tour means that your itinerary has been planned by local experts and you are always accompanied by local guides, so you can relax and just enjoy your experience.”
Is South America growing in popularity?
“Latin America still feels broadly unspoilt and unexplored by mass tourism. Of course, big icons like Machu Picchu and Iguazu Falls are getting busier by the year. But you’ll discover so many other magnificent sites in Latin America that don’t see huge volumes of international tourists.”
For Cassie, South America’s secret weapon is its authenticity. While some other global destinations are struggling to provide genuine and inspiring traveller experiences, South America does it effortlessly. The region is growing in popularity because it appeals to ambitious or experienced travellers who wants to discover something special. And that’s the embodiment of Titan travellers.
Let’s explore the best of South America from four incredible countries…
Colombia by Mary Palacio
“Although us locals can travel overseas, we realise that in Colombia we’re blessed with all weather types, diverse ecosystems, and good fruit and coffee throughout the year. So, why would we?”
Mary is a Colombian native who, after years working in corporate advertising and marketing, turned her hand to promoting her country instead. Driven by her curiosity – and love of culture, language and travel – Mary’s work shows tourists Colombia at its finest.
Think of a country unspoilt by tourism, where residents welcome travellers with open arms. This is visible in its coffee farms, which sometimes act as an authentic alternative to hotels. Alongside this, however, the country still has luxury accommodation for when you want to kick back in style.
Tasty national dishes like sanchocho help to put Colombia on knowing foodies’ must-visit lists, while attractions such as Tayrona National Natural Park are worth travelling for alone. It’s known for contrasting natural beauty, which spans north, south, east and west. But the country’s most valuable asset is without doubt its people.
Not everyone speaks fluent English (Spanish is the main language here) but this isn’t an issue thanks to the country’s excellent infrastructure and universal affection for its visitors. Above all else, Colombians are industrious – a trait which has fuelled both creativity and a strong sense of patriotism.
Highlights of Colombia
“Even when life conditions aren’t great, you’ll see people smiling in situations here. Hospitality like this extends from tiny alpine towns all the way to the Caribbean beaches, and it’ll stick with you long after your return.”
“From the cobbled streets of La Candelaria to politically significant sites like the Plaza de Bolivar, the capital city has it all. Embrace its alpine-meets-cosmopolitan charms and get your fix of culture and colonial era buildings.”
“Come here for Caribbean sunshine, contemporary and historic museums, high rise buildings and colour – lots of colour. With everything from blood-red sunsets to turquoise waters here, remember to bring your camera and capture the magic!”
Tayrona National Natural Park
“To many people, this defines paradise, and it’s not hard to see why. Pueblito ruins mix in with swaying palm trees, and there are also plenty of lagoons to help keep you cool even in sweltering temperatures.”
“The Cocora Valley is the only places in the world to see wax palms (skinny trees towering over 60 feet above the ground) in their natural habitat. Discover freshwater streams and rolling hills in one of the most verdant regions you’ll ever set foot in.”
“Replenish here before setting out to soak up Colombia’s famed rural scenery. As a coastal city, it’s home to a lavish marina and seafood so tasty you’ll order it time and time again. Fancy a spot of diving? Gayraca Beach is perfect for underwater adventures, with soft sand that’ll keep you warm when you get back to shore.”
What should I wear
Altitude defines the temperature here, so pack a variety of layers and lightweight beach gear. The coldest it’ll get on the tour is around 13 degrees Celsius, but you’ll also experience highs of around 35 degrees!
Essential suitcase fillers
- Waterproof jacket – rainy season falls around April—May and October—November. If you’re visiting at these times, it’s wise to prepare yourself for the elements!
- Insect repellent – mosquitos are commonplace here, particularly during sunrise or sunset. Aside from nets, spray is the best way to keep these little pests at bay.
- Sandals – lightweight and easy to pack, sandals are just as suitable for the beach as they are for longer walks inland.
What’s eating out in Colombia like?
Nothing gets your day started better than a cup of hot Colombian coffee. Like caffeine, lunch in Colombia is somewhat of a big deal. Many people take a two-hour break from work to eat with their families and squeeze in a short siesta before continuing with their day.
Dinner is the least important meal, with Colombians often dining on small portions which would be deemed a snack in many other countries. That said, there’s still lots of restaurants where you can fill your boots at all hours.
- Ajiaco – this speciality comes from the capital, Bogotá. It’s a delicious blend of chicken and potatoes, and tastes just as good on a summer’s afternoon as it does on a chilly winter evening.
- Empanadas – each region has its own variation on this tasty fried pastry. Try one whenever you visit somewhere new then see if you can spot the differences.
- Patacón – deep fried and deliciously crispy pieces of plantain.
What about tipping in Colombia?
Most Colombians tend to tip either very little, or not at all. This differs in the wealthier areas, with people tipping around 10% of the final bill.
Cultural etiquette in Colombia
- Table manners are important here. Keep your hands visible, elbows off the table, and wait until your host eats before you tuck in.
- Visiting a local at their home? Take a token gift, although don’t bring marigold or lily flowers as these are synonymous with funerals.
- Handshakes show strength of character in Colombia. Maintain a firm grip and don’t avoid eye contact, especially when meeting men.
What currency should I bring?
Colombia uses the Colombian peso, which divides into 100 centavos. Common note denominations include 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 pesos.
Do I need a visa to travel to Colombia?
British nationals only need their passports to enter Colombia for up to 90 days. Upon entry, you might be asked to provide proof of your journey home.Explore Colombia tours.
“Brazil’s multicultural mix involves not only cultures, but also ethnicities, arts, nationalities, cuisines and religions, among other factors. And its ways of integrating and sharing are like no other country’s.”
It’s hard to say what Brazil is best known for. The country’s name brings up connotations of football, rich beaches, shanty towns and carnivals, but it’s so much more than that. Native cultures blend with Portuguese and African influences, with the mix varying greatly depending on where in the country you visit.
Before arrival, most people don’t realise how big Brazil is. A two-hour domestic flight is thought of as short by locals! And all non-Russian Europe – including the UK – would fit within Brazil’s borders. With so much to see, why not get off the beaten track and discover a side not shown in documentaries and tour brochures.
Highlights of Brazil
“It does not take long before travellers realise that reality in Brazil is very different from the one often portrayed by the world media, particularly in terms of crime and poverty… It can be an eye-opener to a different perspective on the world.”
Rio de Janeiro
“Nicknamed the ‘Marvelous City’, Rio is a haven for music lovers and sun worshippers. It’s the birthplace of samba music, and has many bars and clubs celebrating one of Brazil’s proudest exports. Not only that, there’s a staggering 49 beaches within the city limits!”
Foz do Iguaçu
“Home to the world-famous Iguazu Falls, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is shared with Argentina. Take a ride beneath it on a rubber boat and take in the magnificent heights. You can also visit the Itaipu Dam which we share with Paraguay – a man-made wonder.”
“Manaus is the ultimate place to explore the equatorial rainforest from. Its rich wildlife, combined with the indigenous culture, will stick with you for life. Meanwhile, the Amazon Theatre is considered one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world.”
Salvador da Bahia
“This city is known for its strong African influence, which features in everything from the way people speak, to religion, cuisine and clothing. Try and catch a capoeira performance – a mixture of martial arts and dance developed by African slaves of old.”
“São Paulo is the beating heart of industry in Brazil. It’s a magnet for workers and immigrants, and has some of the world’s largest Lebanese and Japanese colonies.”
What should I wear
If you’re visiting touristy areas, like Rio, don’t bring anything too formal. People here follow a casual style, particularly in the summer. For visits in Brazilian summertime, pack similar attire to what you’d bring on a holiday to Southern Europe.
Essential suitcase fillers
- Beachwear– Brazilians take sunbathing seriously, so take your time picking a bathing suit you’ll be happy in.
- Shorts – you don’t want to overheat when you’re seeing all the sights. Dress light and don’t let the South American sun get the better of you.
- Tank tops – you won’t just be wearing these on the beach – Brazil’s samba scene is thriving (but you already knew that), and tank tops are perfect for when you want to bust a few moves.
What’s eating out in Brazil like?
Brazilians are social people, and going out for meals is a major part of their culture. Mealtimes start early, with breakfast occurring between 6:00am and 8:30am. Coffee is the most prominent feature, so make sure to sample the country’s renowned beans.
Like other South American nations, lunch is a big deal in Brazil. It’ll often involve a large hot meal – after a lighter breakfast – eaten with friends, family or colleagues. Dinner is a family affair, although Japanese and Italian restaurants are proving increasingly popular options. Bear in mind that meat here is often served rarer than the UK’s, and is a staple part of many Brazilian’s diet! But vegetarians and vegans can take advantage of a richness of salads and fruits too.
- Acarajé – this deep-fried bean pasty is a hallmark of Brazilian street food, often including prawns and chilis too. Eat it hot.
- Feijoada – you’ll find this national treasure across the whole country. It’s a stew of beans, sausages, and varying cuts of pork. Not only is it easy to make, it’ll fill you up for days!
What about tipping in Brazil?
Gratuity in Brazil is much the same as many western countries. A service charge may be included on the bill, but it’s always worth checking in case it’s not. Otherwise, a 10% tip is always appreciated as hospitality staff may have lower wages than most.
Cultural etiquette in Brazil
- Brazilians touch, hug, kiss and stand near each other. Be aware that British boundaries tend to be considered overly formal and distant.
- Maintain eye contact whenever in conversation – it’s important if you want to be taken seriously.
- Punctuality is also different here – it’s normal to be 15 minutes or so late for informal events. So normal, in fact, that it doesn’t even require an apology!
- Avoid asking about earnings or how much clothes or accessories cost. It is considered rude. Just express your awe with its beauty, and hints might naturally follow in conversation
- Many Brazilians exercise outdoors or at gyms to show a good figure at the beach. But if you don’t have a gym-perfect body, it doesn’t matter. Nobody cares!
What currency should I bring?
The national currency is the Brazilian real, which is subdivided in 100 centavos. Bank notes come in R$5, R$10, R$20, R$50 and R$100 format. Don’t carry more money than you need, and be vigilant when you are taking money out of ATMs.
Do I need a visa to travel to Brazil?
British passport holders don’t need a visa to enter Brazil, but ensure your passport is valid for at least six months before entering the country.Explore Brazil tours.
Peru by Sofia Mostajo
“Peru has such an amazing culture, shaped by everyone from the ancient Amazonian tribes through to today’s population. That, alongside beautiful landscapes, and archaeological sites like the ruins of Pikillacta, makes me proud to call it home.”
As a Peruvian tour guide, Sofia has dedicated the last 20 years of her life to taking visitors around the country’s mountainous Cuzco region. She’s developed a passion for old Peruvian civilisations, such as that of the Inca Empire, and her infectious enthusiasm is shared with visiting Titan travellers.
Peru is rich in biodiversity – something Sofia is quick to recognise. She’s proud of the country’s reputation as a haven for endangered species, such as Andean mountain cats and titi monkeys.
Every day, she shows tourists a side to Peru beyond the lush coastlines of Paracas, and watches them fall in love with the country just as she did. It’s a trove of culture, hiking trails, geysers and lava flows, populated by welcoming people who’ll make you feel right at home.
Highlights of Peru
“Brave the mountain treks and you’ll be rewarded with views which will stick with you long after your return – Peru’s blend of heritage and natural beauty makes it stand out amongst other South American destinations.”
“This iconic Inca city is the highlight of many people’s trip to Peru. Machu Picchu remained unnoticed by former colonialists, and to this day remains a landmark of both mystique and beauty.”
“This is where ancient Peru meets the modern world. Huge Inca walls sit amongst Spanish architecture, as well as many other contemporary designs. It’s worth visiting for these alone, not to mention the clean mountain air!”
“High up in the Andes, this lake stretches over both Peru and Bolivia. According to myth, this is the birthplace of the sun. Catch it on a warm day and you’ll soon see why.”
The Lines of Nazca
“Best seen airborne, these unmistakable white lines have been the source of much mystery and debate for the best part of a decade. ”
“Tear yourself away from the beaten track and spend at least an afternoon exploring here. The canyon has the added attraction of the naturally heated La Calera Hot Springs – a truly cleansing experience.”
What should I wear
Dress tactically. Although temperatures remain fairly stable throughout the year, reaching the mid-twenties in summer and dropping around ten degrees Celsius come winter, alpine areas can get chilly. Wear layers you can shed, depending on what the day brings.
Essential suitcase fillers
- A lightweight waterproof – cool enough for when the sun shines through but strong enough to keep you dry come rainfall.
- Hiking boots – you’ll never reach Machu Picchu in trainers! Dress appropriately and watch the Peruvian Andes unfold…
- Sunscreen – even when the sun’s not out, UV levels can get surprisingly high. Don’t let sunburn ruin your travels – cream up!
What’s eating out in Peru like?
Lunch is the main meal in Peru and traditionally consists of two courses. Many Peruvian families eat out at lunchtime, so the restaurants tend to be quieter come dinner, which is usually made up of lighter dishes.
- Ceviche – this is Peru’s national dish, and simplicity at its best. Marinade some sea bass in lime juice, onion, salt and hot chillies. Fry or grill it, before serving it up with creamy sweet potato, some crispy onions and boiled corn.
What about tipping in Peru?
Although most restaurants include a 10% gratuity on the bill, it’s custom to add on an extra 10% or so, depending on whether the service has been good or not. It varies from region to region, though, with people in cosmopolitan urban areas, like Lima, being more likely to tip than those in rural towns.
Cultural etiquette in Peru
Peruvians are known as being polite and happy to help, especially when it comes to foreigners. Roughly half the population are Amerindians – make sure to refer to them as “indigena”, or natives, rather than “indios”, which is a derogatory term.
- Greet people by saying either “buenos dias”, which means good morning, or “buenas tardes”, which means good afternoon.
- Whenever you leave somewhere, it’s polite to say “adios”, the Spanish word for goodbye.
What currency should I bring?
Peru uses the sol, which subdivides into 100 céntimos. You can get small denominations of the sol, with coins representing 1 and 5 soles. Most ATMs in Peru dispense 100 and 200 soles banknotes, although some offer 10, 20 and 50 soles notes as well.
Do I need a visa to travel to Peru?
British passport holders don’t need a visa to get into Peru if they’re visiting for tourism.Explore Peru tours.
Chile by Alicia Rojas
“What makes me really proud about living in Chile is the resilient spirit of its inhabitants. It makes me feel that this is the place where I belong.”
Alicia is a multilingual professional tour guide who has worked all around the world. She specialises in trekking, particularly in Chile’s mountainous Patagonia area. While many travel for wild destinations like this alone, Alicia is quick to point out the country’s broader appeal, including the rich variety of destinations, climates and cultures within one territory. Not only that, Alicia is fiercely proud of Chile’s diverse culture and dramatic landscapes – and the buoyant national identity is a trait she sees reflected in the personalities of many Chileans.
In one trip to Chile, you can experience everything from the cosmopolitan city of Santiago, to the magnificent lakes and glaciers of the Patagonian wilderness, to the incomparable landscape of Atacama Desert – and that’s just scratching the surface.
Chile’s capital, Santiago, shows visitors a more sophisticated, metropolitan side, compared to the country’s simpler agricultural towns. Hike up Cerro San Cristóbal and marvel over panoramic views of the city, or simply sample local wines and dine in fine restaurants. A recent resurgence in Latin culture has seen an explosion in salsa-themed bars, clubs and festivals popping up in the city, contributing to its vibrant reputation.
Contrastingly, you’ll find that rural areas, such as the lakeside town of Puerto Varas, are more relaxed. Scenic wonders like the Osorno Volcano are the primary attraction here, stretching high into the skyscape. That’s the diverse beauty of Chile – there’s so much to discover, no matter what area you pick.
Highlights of Chile
“From the big city to the wine country, the Pacific coast and the Andes, Chile offers endless possibilities of astonishing landscapes and culture.”
“Big cities, vineyards, Pacific coastlines and the Andes mountains – Chile isn’t short of top-tier attractions. Take Maipo and Colchagua, provinces both known for wine cultivation and, even better, within driving distance of the city of Santiago.”
“Visit the Atacama Desert for anything from mountain biking to stargazing, or just enjoying the mix of archaeology and ethnic communities, both of whom add some mysticism to such a secluded destination. The red plains here are otherworldly – like something from Mars! It’s such a far cry from my personal favourite area, the Southern Patagonia mountains…”
Southern Patagonia Mountains
“The wilderness in Chilean Patagonia wields this power, which in my opinion is the most breathtaking experience visitors can feel. It’s not just the animals or plants, it’s a combination of both nature and culture which makes it a must-visit. National parks, like the Torres del Paine, comprise everything from pale blue lakes to pumas and foxes. Visits here can be so remote that you feel a million miles from western civilisation.”
“Otherwise, there’s Easter Island, a Chilean-Polynesian destination in the best possible sense. Although it’s well over 3,000 kilometres from mainland South America, the stunning Moai statues will make every second of the trip worth it.”
“Located 120 kilometres or so from Santiago, Valparaíso’s labyrinthine alleyways, art galleries and hillside views make it a charming stop from the harbour to its historic old town. Houses here often comprise shades of red, blue and yellow, and are occasionally flanked with compelling street art!“
What should I wear
As temperatures in Chile can vary drastically, it’s important to pack layers. Santiago is consistently mild, although winters can reach as low as 2 degrees Celsius. Northern and southern Chile are both warmer and colder respectively – certain parts have seen summer temperatures reach around 36 degrees.
Essential suitcase fillers
- A waterproof jacket – depending where you visit, it’s always best to be prepared for a few rainy spells.
- Thermals – in mountainous regions you’re more exposed to the elements, so keep yourself warm and comfortable.
- Jeans – out of the wilderness, most people wear jeans, a lot. Fold up your finest denim and you’ll have no troubles fitting in with the locals.
What’s eating out in Chile like?
Before we look at dishes, let’s get one thing clear – portions in Chile are big. When you’re in a restaurant it’s always worth considering sharing a starter with whoever you’re dining with, that way you can leave more room for the tasty mains.
- Meat-lovers should order a pastel de choclo, a hearty Chilean beef and corn casserole, and a must-eat whenever on the menu.
- Curanto is a concoction of meat and seafood originating from Chile’s Chiloe Island. It’s traditionally cooked in a fiery pit in the ground, giving it a worldly edge over many other foods.
What about tipping in Chile?
In restaurants and cafés, it’s customary to leave 10% gratuity. If you’re travelling as a group then certain costs, such as porters and bellboys, may already be included on the bill.
Cultural etiquette in Chile
- When greeting people, do so with either a handshake, a warm hug, or a kiss on the right cheek, depending on your relationship.
- Always greet the head of the household, or the most senior person, first
- Never click your fingers at anyone or beckon with your forefinger.
- Don’t flick your chin, in Chile this means “I couldn’t care less”!
What currency should I bring?
In Chile, the national currency is the Chilean peso. Notes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 and 20,000 pesos, although it’s best not to take large amounts of money out with you. People use credit cards a lot here, so notify your bank before travelling so you can use local ATMs.
Do I need a visa to travel to Chile?
British citizens visiting Chile for under 90 days don’t need a visa, only their passports.Explore Chile tours.
Touring South America
““In my opinion, Latin America is definitely best experienced in an organised group tour. The abundance of different attractions and activities in the region can make it difficult to choose the best things to do and places to go. Even a third-time visitor to South America might struggle!”
An organised tour takes away the risk of missing something unmissable. And as well as the recognised highlights, Titan tour guides will also throw in some lesser known gems that make special holiday memories. The escorted aspect also has a huge impact – all Titan’s South America tours are accompanied by someone experienced in local travel.
This will be either a UK Tour Manager with a local guide, or one of our locally based, expert Tour Managers. No matter where you travel in South America with Titan, you will always get local insights you just cannot get independently.
“It’s the small things you will notice most: getting insider knowledge on a hidden gem Brazilian BBQ restaurant that’s down a dodgy looking – but actually very safe – street in Rio. Or perhaps being shown the best and quietest corner of Machu Picchu to get that all-important photo. It may even be the best local place to get your laundry done for a bargain on tour!”
Rest assured, Titan tours don’t rush you around all the time. We factor in plenty of free days and afternoons for you to rest, recharge and explore independently – so you have the freedom to put your local guide’s recommendations to good use.
“When you get home and tell your friends about your trip to Machu Picchu, expect to spend five minutes talking about the ruins themselves, and 45 minutes describing the wonderful time you had with your local tour guide!”
Titan tours are designed to include a reasonable amount of walking. But if a tour guest informs our guides of any kind of disability or mobility issues in advance, an alternative solution can be found.
Some of the tours take place at altitude. This, and local climate differences, can make some treks slightly more challenging for European visitors. But our guides are always on hand to assist.
Feeling adventurous? Experience South America for yourself.Explore South America tours.