Expanding on the theme of things that we’ll miss about traveling in South America, here’s our list of some of the best places we visited.
This one is really difficult. I think the way I’m approaching this category is by awarding for overall quality. This means that the kitchen was awesome, that the rooms and bathrooms were super clean, the beds and pillows were comfortable, that the design of the hostel allowed for maximum social interaction and simultaneously minimum disturbance during sleeping hours (practically impossible), and that the staff were super nice and went way beyond the normal call of duty. For each one of those considerations there is a place that was a cut above the rest, with Palm Tree (Medellin), La Villana (Santa Marta), Sayta (Bogotá), Elefante Rosa (Buenos Aires), Running Chaski (Cochabamba), Arequipay Backpackers (Arequipa) and El Patagonico (Puerto Natales) coming to mind. But when we talk about true, overall excellence there is no better than Dolce Vita in Sucre, Bolivia.
Runner-up: Avalon in Vilcabamba, Ecuador (and a quick shout-out to Las Olas in Copacabana, Bolivia – even though it can’t be counted as a hostel it was probably the nicest place we stayed during the year)
The biggest city we visited during our trip also turned out to be our favorite – the answer to this one was always Buenos Aires. The city offers so much that I can’t imagine anyone not finding their niche there. I love that place and can’t wait to go back.
Runners-up: I’m having a hard time narrowing down from Arequipa (Perú), Medellin (Colombia), Valparaíso (Chile) and Cuenca (Ecuador)…
A lot of people have already been asking us what our favorite place on the trip has been. Normally, this is the type of seemingly-easy-but-almost-always-too-difficult-to-answer questions that I kind of dread after a trip. But pleasantly The Wongenbergs agree 100% that Ecuador was the best place we visited. The country has it all, for incredible value, and is small enough to really pack in a lot of places in a short amount of time.
Runner-up: Colombia (probably, specifically, the mountainous center part)
BEST CENTRAL MARKET
One of the reasons that Arequipa is in consideration for best city is because of the San Camilo Market. We will never forget the rows of juice stands, the papas rellenas outside, the heaping piles of fresh fruit and vegetables, and the organized way the place is laid out.
Runner-up: Mercado 10 de Agosto, Cuenca, Ecuador
BEST MULTI-DAY HIKE
The Torres del Paine Full Circuit was one of the first things we did in South America. Yes it was way too crowded. And yes I was frustrated by certain things that came with that. But after 12 months we have yet to find the same kind of beauty that was on display mile after mile in that stunning location.
Runner-up: The Quilotoa Loop outside of Latacunga, Ecuador
BEST DAY HIKE
It was a very wet and foggy slog through some strange landscape, but what else should you expect when you do a day hike to a high altitude moor? The Páramo de Ocetá outside of Sogamoso, Colombia was an adventure and a great day out.
Runners-up: Valle de Cócora outside of Salento, Colombia
BEST ACTIVITY WE PAID FOR
Los Túneles Day Tour on Isabela Island, Galapagos
Runner-up: Renting a car in Salta, Argentina allowed us to see some pretty amazing landscapes and one incredible museum (James Turrell at Colomé)
BEST LOW COST/FREE ACTIVITY
La Lobería on the San Cristobal Island (Galapagos) was amazing. For $5 we rented snorkel equipment and spent several hours on the beach and in the water with sea turtles and sea lions. I went for a walk further up the coast and saw amazing bird life and many, many more turtles in the surf. A great day.
Runner-up: Baños bike ride to Pailón del Diablo
Encebollado in Otavalo Market, Ecuador
Runner-up: Curanto in Achao, Chiloé (Chile)
BEST HOT SPRINGS
Llahuar in the Colca Canyon (Perú) was great for many reasons, but the thermal pool right on the river put it over the top. We loved this place and often recommend it to fellow travelers.
Runner-up: the Termales de Polques on day-two of our Uyuni Jeep Tour