Latin America has long been touted as a popular destination for ‘millennials’, whoever they may be. Mesmerising scenery, eclectic cultures and fabulously low prices have led the region to become known as something of a backpackers’ paradise. But what about everyone else? Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just young people who can have the trip of a life time on this unique continent – the proliferation of high class hotels and tours means that more established travellers can enjoy luxury experiences that would be simply unaffordable in Europe. With this in mind, our Digital Manager Sarah Mann, who spent 2015 living in Bolivia, invited her Dad to share his experiences of travelling through Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.
What were your first thoughts when I told you I was going to Bolivia?
My first thoughts were that it was a country I didn’t know anything about at all! I had no idea what it would be like to live there, what amenities you would have access to, whether it was safe. As I found out more, though, I thought it sounded really, really interesting.
Why was that?
I suppose it felt quite remote and off the beaten track – a real adventure. The culture looked so different and unknown. Bolivia isn’t a country that gets much attention over here for current affairs or travel.
Would you have ever travelled to South America if I wasn’t there?
Probably not. I wouldn’t have had the confidence! I don’t speak Spanish and it seemed difficult to plan a trip there as Bolivians don’t put as much travel information online as we do over here.
What did you friends think when you told them where you were going?
They thought I was pretty adventurous. So did I! If you hadn’t already been there we might have been quite nervous about what to expect, but to be honest we never felt unsafe at any point during the trip. I watched my stuff in busy places, but that’s the same anywhere. I don’t know how the ‘danger’ stereotype has persisted for so long because the reality is mostly the complete opposite.
It would be fair to say your Spanish is fairly ‘rustic’. How did you find navigating Peru, Bolivia and Colombia armed only with the ability to ask for two beers and count to a hundred?
First off, I’d like to say that learning 100 numbers is pretty impressive. But I found it much easier than I had expected. Not many people speak English in the less touristy locations, but learning just a handful of words and phrases for shops and restaurants was absolutely fine. Everyone was really receptive to body language though – your mother even managed to haggle with a taxi driver!
How did you decide where to visit and how far ahead did you plan your trip?
Well, we wanted to walk the Inca Trail. It was something we’d read about and we’d known people who had done it – it looked like an iconic, mystical walk, a challenge but a real one off experience. And you do need to book that several months in advance, so the rest of our research was based around that. I used Lonely Planet a lot and travel connections were a big factor in choosing where to go. I think what puts a lot of people off is the lack of travel information online, such as not being able to book long distance buses. Once you arrive, you realise that there will be no problem catching the bus, but it’s so different to over here that it seems like a big risk to take when you only have a couple of weeks to do the trip.
How did it differ from your more regular trips to Europe?
We learned to be much more flexible! Buses won’t turn up when they say they will, but they will turn up at some point and once you accept that and learn to just go with it there’s no problems. In fact, I personally benefited from the lack of fixed schedule when I broke my tooth on a Saturday night on a stray piece of seafood shell. The dentist came out on a Sunday morning especially to fix it!
Also, the hotels were excellent value for money. It’s not just hostel dorms crammed with backpackers – we stayed at some really high quality places for far cheaper than we ever could in Europe.
Many people are put off by the idea that Latin America ‘too dangerous’ – congratulations for surviving. How did you do it?
Thank you. But despite what I read in the guidebooks, I never felt unsafe during our trip. It didn’t feel so different to Europe and we took no more precautions than we would take on holiday anywhere in the world. As always, there are certain areas to avoid, but I’d definitely recommend others to take the usual stereotype with a hefty pinch of salt. Go see for yourselves!