TOP 5 OFF THE BEATEN PATH DESTINATIONS IN SOUTH AMERICA FOR 2016
While in no way a comprehensive list of the continent (Venezuela, Ecuador and the Guayanas are missing), these are our favorite off the beaten path destinations for 2015. Most of these destinations are a bit rough to say the least, but whoever is willing to forgo some basic comforts will be rewarded with a lifetime of great memories.
#5 La Rinconada, Peru
La Rinconada is the highest inhabited place on planet earth. At a staggering 18,000 feet above sea level, this gold mining town shows how far people are willing to go in pursuit of money and the allure of wealth. The city of 60,000 sits perched on the edge of a cliff, with glacier covered peaks at a touching distance. You can walk with incredibly friendly locals, who will be more than happy to show you the gold they’ve extracted that day, and they may even invite you to their house to meet their family and have a cup of tea.
La Rinconada should come with a word of warning; this is rough travel. 18,000 feet above sea level is no joke and the piles of trash lining most streets will turn many people away. If you are willing to look beyond the trash and brave the extreme heights, La Rinconada may be one of the least visited and most fascinating places of this planet.
#4 Goiás, Brazil
This is cowboy country, Brazilian style. Goiás is a giant state in the interior of the country and it is marked by an arid savanna like landscape, great colonial towns, incredible traditional Brazilian food, and quite possibly the friendliest locals in South America. Many travelers make it to Brasilia (which the state of Goiás surrounds), but those looking for another side of Brazil, one far from the hoards of tourists in Rio, should go to Goiás and get lost in this amazing land of red earth and cowboys.
#3 El Alto, Bolivia
El Alto, located high above the city of La Paz, is the largest indigenous city in the Western Hemesphere, as well as the highest city in the world (13,600 feet above sea level) with over a million people. The city is a chaotic place where massive open air markets flood into the already crowded streets, where one is met with curious stares and friendly smiles. You should come to El Alto if you are interested in indigenous South American culture; this is the modern day epicenter of it all. With the indigenous Evo Morales government, Aymara natives are rapidly beginning to embrace their indigenous roots which were for so many centuries suppressed by the Spanish and Mestizo elite. This cultural renaissance has transformed El Alto into a modern, 21st century indigenous metropolis.
Paraguay is lost in a bygone era. It’s a flat, hot, landlocked country in the middle of South America, whose charms come less from cobblestoned streets and old churches, but more from its people and their hospitality. There may not be many sights to check off, but that doesn’t matter when you are warmly invited to a restaurant opening complete with a fantastic blues band, taken to photography exhibitions or hosted by a family for four days for free. Most travelers skip Paraguay completely, but that’s their loss. Let them have the hordes of tourists and high prices, I’ll take my Paraguay the way it is.
#1 São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo is in the midst of a renaissance. Forget Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires, this is where you need to come if you want to see a true South American metropolis. With 32 million people in the metro area, there is no denying that São Paulo is somewhat intimidating. Yes, its expensive, the public transportation is crowded, and it doesn’t win many points in the architecture department, but get beyond the initial shock, and you surely will begin to fall for its dynamic energy.
São Paulo is about diversity; it has the largest concentration of Japanese people outside of Japan, there are millions of Arabs and Italians inhabitants, as well as neighborhoods where orthodox Jews rub shoulders with recent Korean and Bolivian immigrants. São Paulo’s diversity is best experienced through the gastronomic boom that is currently happening in the city. Burritos, shawarmas, curries and sushi can all be found within 5 minutes of each other.
São Paulo also has an incredibly vibrant underground culture and some of the best nightlife in all of South America. Brazilians play Mexican mariachi, jazz, blues, reggae and rock, the alternative art scene pops up everywhere across the city, old alleyways are transformed into canvases for artists, old factories are becoming galleries, and museums are constantly highlighting local Paulista artists. After a day of feasting on delicious food from around the planet and enjoying alternative art, you can finish off the night in an underground bar, where people perform improv theater, a faint scent of weed lingers in the air, and locals sip on dark Brazilian microbrews. São Paulo is hot, and you’d be crazy to miss it.