The photographs in the South America section of the web site are the product of a nine-week visit to the continent in October to December 1996. During my visit, I traveled through Ecuador, including the Galápagos Islands, Perú, Bolivia (for a brief stopover), Chile and Argentina.
Obviously, there have been many changes in South America since my 1996 visit. Argentina and Ecuador, in particular, have had serious financial difficulties and have had to substantially devalue their currencies (which may make these countries more of a bargain today). Readers are encouraged to supplement the information on this website through more current sources. There are a number of links below for current information.
I went to South America without making any advance travel arrangements, other than my flight from the U.S. and the first three nights hotel reservations in Quito (my first stop). As a result, I used travel agents along the way to make my arrangements. Several stand out:
Enchanted Expeditions (then known as Angermeyer's Enchanted Expeditions) in Quito for touring the Galápagos Islands. See information below.
In Miraflores (Lima), Perú, I used Hada Tours (Av. Dos de Mayo 529) for making arrangements to visit Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Puno, the Floating Islands and on to La Paz, Bolivia. The people I dealt with are no longer there, but Hada Tours is an established travel agency in Perú and has offices in both Miraflores and Cuzco (and perhaps other parts of the country as well).
If you find yourself in Puntas Arenas, Chile, I can highly recommend Mr. Gonzalo Tejeda of Patagonia Antartic (Waldo Seguel 443; Tel. 56-61-249289 / Tel-Fax 56-61-226334). He speaks excellent English and did everything he said he would do and he did it on time. Mr. Tejada recently (February 2007) informed me that his company now also owns a tourist class hotel centrally located in Punta Arenas (Hotel Carpa Manzano). I have not personally stayed there, but if I were heading back to Punta Arenas I would certainly check it out.
In Quito, Ecuador, I stayed at the Hotel Café Cultura. The hotel is located on Calle Robles at the corner of Calle Reina Victoria). It was clean, conveniently located, the staff generally spoke serviceable English and the rooms were charming. It is in the New City, a short walk from the Parque El Ejido and the South America Explorers Club. The hotel had a secure room to store luggage, so I was able to leave my large bag there and take only a smaller bag to the rain forest and the Galápagos. Café Cultura appears to have been substantially upgraded since my October 1996 stay. It is now listed as one of the 50 best budget hotels in the world, according to their web site, which has lots of photos and other information about the hotel.
While in Ecuador, I spent five days in the rain forest. I stayed at La Selva Lodge, with which I was very pleased. It was not cheap (about $780 in 1996) for five days, but that price included round-trip airfare from Quito, all meals (the food was excellent) and two guided walks a day into the rain forest. It did not include rental of knee boots (which you will definitely want to have – I was there in the so-called "dry season" and it was very wet and muddy). (Some members of our group thought the Lodge had oversold itself a bit as an "international class hotel" and were disappointed with the very basic accommodations: cold water only and no electricity in thatched huts. I was not expecting an "international class hotel," and thus had no complaints on that score.)
In the Galápagos I stayed for seven nights on the M.V. Beluga, a 110' steel-hulled motor yacht, which was very comfortable and well-appointed. I made the arrangements through Enchanted Expeditions (then known as Angermeyer's Enchanted Expeditions) at their offices in Quito. In 1996, a discount was offered for members of the South America Explorer Club. The tour price included airfare and everything else, except liquor and tips. I was very pleased with Enchanted Expeditions and the Beluga. (In addition to the tour expenses, the Galápagos Islands charge a $100 entry fee to help preserve the islands, a very worthy cause.)
It is always a good idea to check the U.S. State Department's Travel Warnings & Consular Information Sheets early on in your travel planning. You can learn which countries require entry visas and whether there are any safety warnings that apply to your intended destinations.
Another important web site to check early in your planning is the Travelers' Health page maintained by the Centers for Disease Control. They have up-to-date information on infectious diseases for all areas of the world, plus information about required and recommended vaccines.
At the time of my 1996 visit, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Perú did not require Americans to obtain entry visas in advance. For the latest information, and to obtain a visa if you need one, I recommend Zierer Visa Service, Inc, which will navigate the bureaucracy for you (for a fee, of course). I have used them several times over the years for travel to other parts of the world and have always been satisfied.
While in South America, I generally used my U.S. bank card in cash machines to get local currency. This procedure worked very well and I generally got a better exchange rate than local money changers offered. To get the latest exchange rates for 164 different foreign currencies, check out Oanda.com's FXConverter.
World Heritage Sites: A listing of more than 700 sites chosen by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. A good checklist for the traveler – collect them all!
If you're planning an extended or unstructured stay in South America, you should consider joining the South American Explorers Club. They have offices (club houses) in Quito, Miraflores (Lima), Cuzco and Buenos Aires with friendly, English-speaking people who can help find accommodations and assist in other ways as well. They also have lots of information about things to do and places to see and you will meet other travelers if visit their club houses. (In addition, at least as of 1996, Enchanted Expeditions offered a discount to members that more than made up for the membership fee. Double check if such discounts are still available.)
To keep up with the latest news (in English or Spanish) from South America and specific countries, visit South America Daily.
The Usenet news group rec.travel.latin-america has an active readership and is a good source of up-to-the-minute information about South America (this link requires a news reader such as Outlook Express or Netscape). You can post specific questions and get quick answers from other travelers who've been to the places you are considering. This is also an excellent place to learn about the latest prices, bargains and possible hazards.
For beautiful photographs from Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca (and other interesting parts of the world as well), visit Steve Underwood's CULTUREFOCUS.COM. This is a very well designed site and the photos are sure to entice you to travel!