I remember when I first read Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and wandered into a travel agent and felt a bit scorned by the people there. I don’t know if it was because I was dreaming of travelling to a fictional place or because I was describing the sorts of things I really wanted to see and experience, rather than talking about place names, but I think they were being unhelpful, seeing as I had gone to them for their supposedly expert advice. Of course, now I realise there was probably only a very small chance these folk had been to South America, and if they had it was unlikely they’d stopped off in Colombia where the book is set, but I still think my starting point was a good one. Just probably much better designed for today than back – I won’t say exactly when.
So, when a friend’s university-age daughter mentioned she’d just read the same book and spoke vaguely of wanting to visit ‘South America’, I thought maybe I could offer her a little something more concrete to go on. With the really useful, specific advice on where to stay precisely provided by the Hotel Guru, thank goodness!
Relax in Historic, Fairytale Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena feels like it belongs in a different era, or possibly even in a fairytale. It was once an important, wealthy and fortified city on the silver and gold trade route, and it’s the impressive remnants of this wealth and fortification that UNESCO has World Heritage listed, and why Cartagena gets so many visitors. It feels like an exotic destination – it’s tropical, and the forts were built in part to protect from pirates! But it’s also a really relaxing place to visit, and one of the best things to do here is stroll around the Spanish colonial Old Town, then along the sea wall, then have a few mojitos in a café/ bar and do some people watching. Although this may make it sound small – it’s not, Cartagena is the fifth largest city in Colombia.
Where to Stay
The Conrad Cartagena is a luxury resort on the coast just outside Cartagena. There are the usual elegant, modern, spacious rooms and suites – some with their own private pools, but it’s the fantastic facilities which make this a really great place to stay. And while it might be charming to stay in the historic centre of Cartagena, if you can spare a few extra days here you’ll probably really enjoy the relaxed pace of the resort which really chimes with the relaxed pace of the city. Rooms start from around $170 per night.
Practical Details: The Rafael Nunez International Airport is only 11kms outside of Cartagena, and you can get a direct flight from many UK airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick and London City.
Drink and Dine in Mendoza, Argentina
Mendoza is a desert town, though you’d never know it from the beautiful plazas cooled by grand fountains and shaded by established trees. But the whole place is run through with irrigation ditches called acequias, which are like little canals running beside the roads. And it’s this kind of ingenuity which feeds the now famous wine industry of Mendoza. And it, like the city, is really flourishing – I was recently told by someone who can be trusted on these sorts of topics, that Mendoza is now one of the nine Wine Capitals of the World.
The Plaza Independencia is the heart of town, and the other plazas run out from there, and this, and the Av Arístides is where things start to liven up first come the evenings, and there are plenty of fantastic places to eat and drink and generally indulge.
As well as tasting the various vintages with your meal you can also tour the vineyards, of course, and arrange trips into the Andes to walk, ski, raft, or generally go on adventures.
Where to Stay
The Lodge Atamisque is a contemporary lodge hotel and winery set amid 700 acres of land in the Uco Valley, and surrounded by incredible views of the plains and the mountains. There are just six lodges, all beautifully decorated with natural materials and traditional artefacts – with plenty of glass to make the most of the vineyard location. Each comes with bedroom, sitting room and bathroom – the bath tub is located in an enclosed courtyard for both star-gazing and privacy. Plus each has a private terrace with jacuzzi. So it’s private, as well as breathtakingly beautiful. Rooms start from $220 per night B&B.
Practical Details: At the moment there aren’t any direct flights from the UK to Mendoza, but there are plenty of options involving a single change.
Have Fun in Bahia, Brazil
When the Portuguese landed on this gorgeous stretch of coastline with its sunshine, white sandy beaches, coconut palms and bright blue water, they were pretty impressed. They chose a spectacular peninsula located between what they called ‘All Saints Bay’ and the Atlantic to be their main port and the site of the New World’s first Slave Market, and built Salvador de Bahia there. So Bahia had Brazil’s first capital, and the ancient mix of cultures which gathered here – coming from Europe, Africa and the Americas – still shows, with elegant colonial Portuguese architecture and grand Catholic churches set against the sounds of African rhythms and the local religion, Candomblé, and lively streets where people practice capoeira and where festivals are a fairly regular occurrence.
Just outside the city is the Chapada Diamantina National Park, 375,000 acres of tropical forest covering mountains and concealing waterfalls, natural swimming pools and caves. There’s even a waterfall so high (380m) that the water never actually hits the ground – it’s vaporised by the wind. And, along the perfect stretch of white, sandy coast, important whale watching and turtle preservation is taking place.
Where to Stay
The Maitei Hotel is an elegantly designed property right against the beautiful Atlantic coast. It has just 17 rooms, so it’s quite small and homely, but its décor, with excellent art and stylish furnishings, make it seem luxurious as well. The restaurant specialises in local Bahian dishes and guests can enjoy candlelit meals on the veranda overlooking the sea. Rooms start from $189 per night including breakfast.
Practical Details: Unfortunately you can’t currently fly directly between any UK airports and Bahia, but there are plenty of single change options.
Into the Wilds of Patagonia, Chile
Patagonia is big, wild and exciting, a place of huge vistas, where the landscape could include a volcano and a glacier, barren steppe and a spectacularly wild coastline. In fact, in this instance, the word ‘spectacular’ probably isn’t encompassing enough. This is a landscape you need to really look at photos of. And I hope it excites you as much as it excites me…
Where to Stay
The Puyuhuapi Lodge is in Puyuhuapi, and is a gorgeous, 30 room lodge with contemporary décor, a fabulous spa and some of the most incredible views imaginable. The rooms are large, light and airy and feature plenty of wood and floor-to-ceiling windows. And the restaurant does too, along with healthy fare and an extensive wine list. Rooms start from around $280 per night including breakfast.
Practical Details: You get to Puyuhuapi via Santiago and Puerto Montt Airport, or Balamaceda, or Esquel or Osorno, and then travel on by road or rail.
Explore Little Known Arequipa, Peru
Just below the Aguada Blancas National Park in south west Peru, Arequipa was once Peru’s capital, but is now a relatively hidden gem. Surrounded by volcanoes, the city’s spectacular architecture, including an historic city centre and an impressive cathedral, sits majestically beside the Socobaya river. As well as the architecture, Arequipa is known for its vibrant night life, and is an ideal place from which to start your explorations into Peru’s countryside – the Colca Canyon is close by, which is arguably one of the greatest natural sights in South America, and you can even take a day trip up El Misti, a majestic volcano which towers over the city…
Where to Stay
Le Foyer Hostel is a hostel, in that it does offer a wide selection of room types, including shared dormitories, but it’s also got lovely smaller rooms, with wood floors, private balconies and simple, cheerful décor. It’s the roof terrace overlooking the city that will really impress you, though. You’re right in the historic heart of town, and the views are just exceptional. This is also where they serve a generous, American-style breakfast. Doubles start from $30 per night, and if you quote the Hotel Gurus you’ll save another 5%.
Practical Details: Arequipa’s local airport is the Rodríguez Ballón International Airport, which is only 10km outside town. Weather-wise, Arequipa is driest and mildest between May and September.
The Hotel Guru has done your hotel research for you. We’ve commissioned a collection of leading travel writers and journalists to offer their recommendations on where to stay, found out all the important, and minute, details about each property, and then cross referenced that with guides we respect. So if having a hot tub is important to you you can search by that, likewise pet-friendly properties and hotels with a great wine list.