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Posts in ‘Things to do in South America’

Football 2014 World Cup Venues – Brazil

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The 20th FIFA Wold Cup will be held in Brazil from the 12th of June till the 13th of July 2014.  It will be one of the largest and most spectacular events of the year.  Being Brazil, there is sure to be plenty of colour and excitement in this football mad nation.  There will be several new or redeveloped stadiums built specially for the World Cup in the twelve selected cities across the country.  The locations are spread out across this vast country stretching from the Amazon basin in the north to the banks of the River Guaiba in the south.

brazil wc

Here are the cities and what you can expect in and around them – besides football.

Sao Paulo – Areana De Sao Paulo

Capacity: 65,807
Climate: Highs of around 20ºC and chances of rain.

Fixtures: 12 June, Brazil v Croatia, 21:00; 19 June, Uruguay v England, 20:00; 23 June, Netherlands v Chile, 17:00; 26 June, South Korea v Belgium, 21:00; 1 July, Second-round, Winner Group F v Runner-up Group E, 17:00; 9 July , Semi-final, Winner Quarter-final 3 v Winner Quarter-final 4, 21:00.

Located on a plateau in the south-east, on the Atlantic coast, Sao Paulo is the financial and business hub of Brazil.  It has over 64 parks around the city, the largest and most symbolic of which is Ibirapuera Park, a beautiful leisure centre.  Sao Paulo is home to the fabulous Modern Art Museum.

Belo Horizonte – Estadio Mineirao

Capacity: 62,547
Climate: Dry and warm with temperatures around 25ºC most days.

Fixtures: 14 June, Colombia v Greece, 17:00; 21 June, Argentina v Iran, 17:00; 24 June, Costa Rica v England, 17:00; 17 June, Belgium v Algeria, 17:00; 28 June, Second-round, Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B, 17:00; 8 July, Semi-final, Winner Quarter-final 1 v Winner Quarter-final 2, 21:00.

Belo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon) is surrounded by the Serra do Curral mountains, which are part of the Parque das Mangabeiras – a protected reserve.  An unusual tourist attraction is a street optical illusion at the Rua do Amendoim. When looking at the street from the side, it appears to slope upwards, when in fact it is a downward slope.  Thousands of visitors flock here every year, turn off their car engines and watch in astonishment as their vehicle starts rolling up the street.

Fortaleza – Estadio Castelao

Capacity: 64,846
Climate: Daily temperatures of 30ºC throughout the year, benefiting from sea breezes.

Fixtures: 14 June, Uruguay v Costa Rica, 20:00; 17 June, Brazil v Mexico, 20:00; 21 June, Germany v Ghana, 20:00 24 June, Greece v Ivory Coast, 21:00; 29 June, Second-round, Winner Group B v Runner-up Group A, 17:00; 4 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 1 v Winner Second-round 2, 21:00.

A 'fortress' port on the north-east coast of Brazil, Fortaleza (Portuguese for ‘fortress') has 16 miles of beaches.  Its best known beach is the Praia do Futuro packed with restaurants serving up delicious regional cuisine.

Rio de Janeiro – Estadio Do Maracana

Capacity: 76,804
Climate: June and July are Rio's coolest months, with a peak typically 25ºC. Those months tend to be dry, but humidity remains fairly high all throughout the year.

Fixtures: 15 June, Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina, 23:00; 18 June, Spain v Chile, 20:00; 22 June, Belgium v Russia, 17:00; 25 June, Equador v France, 21:00; 28 June, Second-round, Winner Group C v Runner-up Group D, 21:00; 4 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 5 v Winner Second-round 6, 17:00; 13 July, World Cup final, 20:00.

rio de janeiro stadium

Located on the Atlantic coast and home to the iconic Estacio Do Maracana, Rio is situated on the Guanabara Bay.  The statue of Cristo Redentor dominates the skyline and is perhaps the best-known of Rio de Janeiro’s tourist attractions.

Brasilia – Estadio Nacional

Capacity: 68,009
Climate: Dry and fairly warm. Temperatures tend to peak at 25ºC most days.

Fixtures: 15 June, Switzerland v Ecuador, 17:00; 19 June, Colombia v Ivory Coast, 17:00; 23 June, Cameroon v Brazil, 21:00; 26 June, Portugal v Ghana, 17:00; 30 June, Second-round, Winner Group E v Runner-up Group F, 17:00; 5 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 7 v Winner Second-round 8, 17:00; 12 July, Third-place match, 21:00.

The capital of Brazil, it sits in the central highlands and is an ultra-modern city.  It has some amazing monuments, many of them tourist attractions located on the Eixo Monumental. Iconic buildings, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, such as the Palacio do Planalto (Presidential headquarters), the Supreme Federal Court and the National Congress with its two towers can be found in and around the area.  The Praca dos Tres Poderes connects the three buildings and is an attraction in itself, containing museums (the Brasilia History Museum, the Lucio Costa Space and the Oscar Niemeyer Space).  Other attractions are the sculptures, such as Os Candangos, the Marco de Brasilia and the enormous 286 metres high Flagpole.

Recife – Arena Pernambuco

Capacity: 44,248
Climate: Wet. It rains in Recife on average 224 days a year.  Temperatures tend to peak at 28ºC in June and July. Humidity is also usually high during these months.

Fixtures: 15 June, Ivory Coast v Japan, 02:00; 20 June, Italy v Costa Rica, 17:00; 23 June; Croatia v Mexico, 21:00; 26 June, United States v Germany, 17:00; 29 June, Second-round, Winner Group D v Runner-up Group C, 21:00.

Recife is located on the Atlantic coast and close to the equator amidst tropical forests.  Some of Recife’s most interesting sights are the 17th-century buildings of Dutch heritage. The Torre Malakoff, built in 1855, the Praca do Marco Zero, containing the “Rosa dos Ventos” floor mural by Cicero Dias and the new Centro de Artesanato (Handicraft Centre). A short walk away is the narrow Rua do Bom Jesus, formerly Rua dos Judeus, one of Recife’s main streets, adorned with its peculiar Dutch houses and art galleries. Other attractions include the Embaixada de Bonecos Gigantes (Embassy of Giant Dolls) and the Esculturas de Francisco Brennand Park on the port pier.

Salvador – Arena Fonte Nova

Capacity: 48,747
Climate: June and July are Salvador's coolest months, with peak temperatures at 26ºC.

Fixtures: 13 June, Spain v Netherlands, 20:00; 16 June, Germany v Portugal, 17:00 20 June, Switzerland v France, 20:00; 25 June, Bosnia-Herzegovina v Iran, 17:00; 1 July, Second-round, Winner Group H v Runner-up Group G, 21:00; 5 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 3 v Winner Second-round 4, 21:00.

salvador

Salvador is the largest city on the north-east coast and the first area to be urbanized.  Pelourinho, the historic centre of Salvador, is just one of ten locations in Brazil to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It boasts of many fine monuments, 17th-century Portuguese colonial houses, churches, museums and art galleries such as the Fundacao Casa de Jorge Amado, Museu Abelardo Rodrigues and the Instituto de Artesanato Visconde de Maua. Known locally as “O Pelo”, Pelourinho is a pleasing mix of indigenous, European and African influences.

Cuiabá – Esatadio Pantanal

Capacity: 42,968
Climate: Hot. The temperatures in Cuiabá are consistently high in June and July, rising to daily highs of over 30ºC. High humidity and thunderstorms.

Fixtures: 13 June, Chile v Australia, 23:00; 17 June, Russia v South Korea, 23:00; 21 June, Nigeria v Bosnia-Herzegovina, 23:00; 24 June, Japan v Colombia, 21:00.

The chief attraction in Cuiabá is the Parque Mae Bonifacia on Avenida Miguel Sutil. The park has five paths running through it, five recreational areas complete with gym equipment. Its greenery is typical of the Cerrado (the vast tract of tropical savannah that covers most of the state of Mato Grosso) and it is home to animals that live in this habitat, such as the sagui monkey and a host of other small primates.

Curitiba – Estadio Da Baixada

Capacity: 41,456
Climate: Relatively cool and comfortable with the temperature usually peaking around 20ºC.

Fixtures: 16 June, Iran v Nigeria, 20:00; 20 June, Honduras v Ecuador, 23:00; 23 June, Australia v Spain, 17:00; 26 June, Algeria v Russia, 21:00.

Curitiba is one of the cooler cities in Brazil which even saw snow fall this year.  It has a charm of its own. Nowhere is this more evident than in the historic part of this town, with ‘pedestrian only’ Rua das Flores and the lively Largo da Ordem square – right in the colonial heart of the city.  One of the main tourist attractions is the Museu Oscar Niemeyer, a wonderfully imaginative eye-shaped building.

Manaus – Estadio Amazonia

Capacity: 42,374
Climate: Difficult. Tropical heat with tropical storms. Highs of 40ºC and thunderstorms.

Fixtures: 14 June, England v Italy, 23:00; 18 June, Cameroon v Croatia, 23:00; 22 June, United States v Portugal, 23:00; 25 June, Honduras v Switzerland, 21:00.

The capital of the state of Amazonas, Manaus is the furthest north of the host cities.

Confluence

The location of the city of Manaus is one of its most remarkable attractions: the confluence of the rivers Negro (Black) and Solimões (how the Amazon River is known in this part of Brazil).  The Encontro das Aguas is where the black waters of the Rio Negro meet the muddy yellow flow of the Rio Solimoes.  The two rivers flow side by side for more than 6 km, their waters divided as though by an invisible barrier.

The Teatro Amazonas is a symbol of the golden era of the city and is the city’s leading cultural and architectural landmark and easily recognisable, thanks to its dome, which is covered with 36,000 green, blue and yellow glazed ceramic and glass tiles, all of which were made in Alsace, France.

Natal – Estadio Das Dunas

Capacity: 42,086
Climate: Humidity is a major problem with an average of 97% humidity in the middle of June.

Fixtures: 13 June, Mexico v Cameroon, 17:00; 16 June, Ghana v United States, 23:00; 19 June, Japan v Greece, 23:00; 24 June, Italy v Uruguay, 17:00;

The unique and special attraction of Natal is its stunning dunes.  A fact reflected by the stadium’s name – Estadio das Dunas. Then there is the magical coastline, a delightful beach complete with cliffs, great surfing conditions, crystal-clear lakes, dolphins and sea turtles.

Porto Alegre – Estadio Beira-Rio

Capacity: 48,849
Climate: It can get chilly 10ºC at Porte Alegre in June and July with highs of 19ºC.

Fixtures: 15 June, France v Honduras, 20:00; 18 June, Australia v Netherlands, 17:00; 22 June, South Korea v Algeria, 20:00; 25 June, Nigeria v Argentina, 17:00; 30 June, Second-round, Winner Group G v Runner-up Group H, 21:00.

Porto Alegre sits on a huge freshwater lagoon called Lagoa dos Patos (Lagoon of the Ducks), which is 174 miles long.  From the subtropical climate to the cultural habits, Porto Alegre is fairly different from the other state capitals in Brazil. It was the destination of thousands of immigrants from Portugal and Italy – like many other cities in Brazil – but also from other European countries, particularly Germany and Poland.

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The Sun is Shining on Brazil

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The title may sound rhetorical.  The very mention of the name Brazil and sunshine springs to mind.  During the coming year it will be very much in the global limelight.

Three of the world’s largest events are due to be held in Brazil.  In a few days the Rio Carnival will begin.  The FIFA World Cup 2014 will kick off in a few months from now – in June to be precise.  This will ensure that thousands of football fans from around the world will pack the stadiums and beaches of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.  Barely will the dust and excitement have settled when the 2016 Olympics will put Brazil right back on the world’s front pages.

football

Brazil is a large country stretching roughly 4,800kms from north to south and 2,700km from west to east.  This is a vast country of golden beaches, lengthy stretches of ocean front, towering mountains and millions of acres of jungle.  Her boundaries cover an amazing array of geographical features that can be broadly categorised as the Amazon River Basin in the north and the Brazilian Highlands in the south.  The mighty Amazon, and its tributaries, serve more than a third of this area, which is so large that ocean-going ships can travel 3,700kms upstream.

The other watery aspect to Brazil is its coastline that runs for about 7,500kms.  This is probably the most popular and well-known feature of the country.  The indigenous Tupi-Gurani Indians call Brazil “Pindorama,” which aptly means “land of the palm trees.

While Brazil’s naturally diverse landscape is rich and varied, it is her beaches that make it such an attractive and magnetic tourist destination.  These sunny, sandy havens can be found the length of the country but it is the south-central regions that have the most famous and highly visited beaches including the legendary Copacabana.

rio

Copacabana is located in the city of Rio de Janeiro.  Its beautiful sands extend for miles.  However, it is the 4km stretch known as the ‘balneiro’ that is world famous because of its hedonistic and totally relaxed social traditions.  That, by the way, is only the day to day feature of this amazing beach.

Rio de Janeiro and by association Copacabana celebrates New Year every year in the most sensational way.  It is among the largest in the world.  The fireworks display runs for almost half an hour, while the revelry involving music and dancing can continue till well past dawn.  In fact, the spectacle bringing in the New Year is the single largest Brazilian attraction.  It is estimated that more than 2 million people from Brazil and all over the world pack the sands during that night.

Another massive event is the Rio Carnival.  This flamboyant, colour splashed, over the top six-day party brings the whole city (and country) to a standstill.  From 28th February to 4th March nearly 5 million people will watch, dance and sing through the streets of Rio de Janeiro.  These huge displays of fantasy played out on the streets are fuelled by time, effort and money.  So large has the event become that it is probably “The Greatest Show On Earth.”

carnival

The Copacabana is not the only attraction in Rio de Janeiro.  There is also the iconic Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Christ Statute (one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World) and numerous historic parts of the city.

A visit to Rio de Janeiro is always a high-spirited affair.  It is also stunningly beautiful and full of contradictions.  Rio de Janeiro is a captivating city and worth every moment spent in discovering it.

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Boredom at the Beach

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Summer is finally here!  This means one thing…its time to hit the beach!  I know a vacation in the sun and sand sounds relaxing, yet this relaxation can soon turn to boredom.  This is why whenever I head to the beach for a break I try to find things to keep me busy.  The typical beach activities are always nice;  reading, swimming, sun bathing, and just simply strolling the beach.  Even with all the classic activities, I sill get jaded by the second day.  This is why I like to spend one day doing something a bit more stimulating.

The white sands of Longboat Key (Flickr by RTC1)

The white sands of Longboat Key (Flickr by RTC1)

Florida Beaches

Having grown up in Florida, heading to the beach for a family vacation was always a yearly tradition.  Every Labor Day my family and I head to Longboat Key on the Gulf of Mexico.  Every year we look forward to lounging about in the sun, however it gets too hot to sunbath for hours on end.  So, one of our favorite things to do is collect seashells.  In Longboat Key there is a sand bar close to shore and every year we snorkel for sand dollars.  One year we found hundreds of dead sand dollars on the sand bar!  I enjoy shelling so much, that one time on a trip to Clearwater we actually took a tour that took us to an island to hunt for seashells.  It was a fun way to mix up the usual humdrum at the beach. continue reading

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Weird Foods: More Than Just A Photo Op.

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I can’t say it enough, (and I do, often) food is one of the best and most informative ways to experience a new culture. However, after hearing about a friend’s recent (strange/gross/wild) cultural eating experience in Peru (exactly what that was, we’ll come back to in a moment) I’m starting to think that it’s not just the variety of authentic cuisines that helps to define a new place, but often the experience of stepping completely outside of your (culinary and otherwise) comfort-zone in the process.

Deep, I know. But think about it for a minute, if someone offered you fish eyeballs, pig hoofs or alligator at your local diner, would you even think twice about saying no? Probably not.

So what is it that gets us crazy travellers to embark on weird and wild culinary adventures? Perhaps it’s the desire to become a part of a new place, a new culture, a new experience. Because, as any traveller knows, food isn’t just about filling your belly with calories it’s about embarking on a cultural experience.

Here comes dinner? - Shazari

Here comes dinner? - Shazari

Take my friend’s trip to Peru for example. She’s southern California born and bred, vegetarian, and an organic food junkie. What could have possibly made a girl who diligently washes each grape before digging into the bunch try (gulp) guinea pig at the local Peruvian market? continue reading

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Global running series to which only the super-fit need apply

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There are marathons, there are Iron Man contests – and there is the Asics Eternal Running series.

On December 6th, Buenos Aires in Argentina plays host to the South American leg of this global racing series in which competitors are faced not only with a 12km circuit but a series of obstacles along the way.

Every 700m along the course, runners have to negotiate a variety of challenges, from cargo nets, inflatable barriers and all manner of other hindrances to their progress.

Having already completed stages in across the world in destinations such as Australia and Miami, the Argentinean event is the latest step in an event that grows in popularity every year.

Along with the main event, spectators will be kept entertained by the imaginative fancy dress on display and a variety of music playing along the way, as the course winds through some of the city”s most historic avenues and squares.

Active and Adventure – Air Activities – Enjoy an exhilarating helicopter ride over New York or a serene hot air balloon ride over the Australian outback.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18839244-ADNFCR

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Celebrate the New Year Brazilian style

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Revellers from across the world gather in Rio de Janeiro every New Year”s Eve to see out the departing year in style.

On the December 31st the city famed for the annual Rio Carnival is as alive with light and colour as at any time of the year during the celebration known as Reveillon.

The focus for the party is, of course, Copacabana Beach, where a four kilometre stretch is given over to three massive stages featuring traditional music from Brazil and modern rock tunes, along with bars, tents and all manner of other party paraphernalia throughout the day and night.

At 19:00 local time the fun really kicks off with live guests and big name DJs taking to the stages as two million partygoers descend on the iconic beach to soak up the atmosphere.

Along the beachfront, major hotels such as Copacabana Palace and Le Meridian hold all-night balls, serving champagne breakfast in the wee small hours to their white-clad guests, so dressed in observance of a deeply entrenched religious custom (and one which, if not adhered to, will make you stick out a mile).

The spectacular midnight firework display is only really the beginning as the party goes on until sunrise the next day, ringing out the old year and welcoming the new.

Special Interest – Nightlife – From an extravagant meal to an eerie ghost walk – plenty of things to keep you entertained after the sun goes down.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18801129-ADNFCR

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Folklore capital of Peru celebrates its foundation

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Each November the city of Puno in southern Peru celebrates its foundation with a lively pageant of dancing and traditional music.

The celebrations draw on an ancient legend that says the first Incas emerged from Isla de la Sol on Lake Titicaca (the world”s highest lake), created by the sun”s rays. To this day the sun is still held in reverence by the people of this mountainous area.

Geographically, the city of Puno is remarkable due to it being squeezed in between the banks of the lake and the neighbouring mountains. It sits on a strip of land less than two miles wide, and the pressure of expansion has forced its boundaries up onto the foothills.

Lake Titicaca itself is home to the man-made (but very naturally constructed) Uros Islands, built from reeds and existing quite separately from the mainland with their own distinct culture and customs.

Now they are opening themselves up to tourism which is lessening the cultural divide between islanders and those on the mainland.

This is a city with folklore and history, not to mention fascinating scenery and unique ways of life. Visiting during the Pageant of the Founding of Puno is the best way to see it in all its glory.

Culture and Sightseeing – City Tours – Whichever city you are in these tours will help to ensure you do not miss a thing.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18800899-ADNFCR

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Following the footsteps of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – A Patagonian Adventure!

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After a very long stint in Buenos Aires (everyone I have ever known has gotten stuck there for weeks and weeks beyond their intended stay – might have something to do with the Argentinian Men, the electric atmosphere of the city, the incredible nightlife and….well, the Argentinian Men…) I decided it was high time that I head south and see what all the fuss was about.

The vast and hostile terrain that makes up Patagonia, the southernmost point in both Argentina and Chile is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sights there is on this earth. Snow-capped peaks, vast mountain lakes, glaciers, fjords, not to mention the wildlife – penguins, whales, sea lions,…and did I mention the penguins!? They are so cute – like miniature black and white people with funny stumpy legs!!

In order to get a sense of the scale of the place – it takes 50 hours to get from Buenos Aires to the tip in Ushuaia by bus (luxury bus that is) – Immense!…I cheated, however and flew down to Punta Arenas on the Chilean side (in my defense… it was only just the end of winter, and many said it was the only way of getting there at all! Turns out wasn’t, but this made me feel slightly less guilty at the time).

Punta Arenas was a rather depressing little town – very grey, crumbling and weather beaten…perhaps what you’d expect from such a harsh climate. Puerto Natales (my actual destination) was the same. From a tourism perspective, it is simply a jump off point for Torres del Paine National Park and the ferry ride back up to Puerto Mont through the Chilean Fjords (a stunning trip, so I’m told). I was on my own at this point in my travels, and there was absolutely no one else around –well, apart from 3 incredibly brave German girls – only 13 years old – that were on the adventure trip of a lifetime in their school holiday exchange break. They adopted me as a ‘big sister’, and we decided to go off trekking in the Torres Del Paine national park for a couple of days. It was spectacular – despite our 8 hour trek yielding nothing but fog-ridden views and knee deep snow. Occasionally, I would drop back from the girls and take it all in – space, as far as the eye could see (which was a long way when the fog cleared intermittently!), beauty, nature at its most powerful, and there I was – practically at the end of the world!

I soon left Puerto Natales and made my way back into Argentina, anxious to see the Perito Moreno glacier. The nearest town, El Calafate was far more bustling and welcoming and the hostel (run by friends of friends back in Buenos Aires) was a home from home (the Argentine people are among the kindest I have met in my life – generous, hospitable and above all fun!).

I didn’t have much time to spare, so I organised an ice trekking trip for the very next day – a little expensive but something I had always wanted to do! It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life! There I was, trekking on a real life glacier, crampons and all! My little group followed the guide in single file as he took us on a walk up and around the glacier, explaining as we went about how they worked, the dangers, etc. I have never seen ice so blue, so pure, so white – and looking out from the top of the monstrous slab of ice that was moving, living, breathing: I felt like I was in another world.

Perito Merino Patagonia

I did a bit more trekking in El Chalten National Park and then, deciding to forgo Ushuaia (another 18 hours south-west), headed north to see the whales and the penguins in Peninsula Valdes, Puerto Madryn and the lakes and ski resorts of Bariloche.

I had never before been so close to such incredible animals – my little boat was entirely surrounded by whales as far as the eye could see – almost close enough to touch! When we got back to shore, I wanted to go out again and again! Instead, however, I headed over to a different part of the peninsula to see the penguins, sea lions and elephant seals – fascinating! I just sat and watched for hours until it was time to go home.

My final stop in Patagonia (for now, at least…) was Bariloche in the lake region. Probably the least ‘alternative’ stop of all – it reminded my of a Swiss alpine village with chocolate shops aplenty, beautiful mountain lakes and even a ski resort a short distance from the town. It was, in a word, idyllic; it was extremely hard to tear myself away from the ease and comfort of it all (I even indulged in a little spa activity while I was there!)

Patagonia is a nature lover’s paradise – its raw beauty is undeniable, and this, coupled with the simplicity of life within the boundaries of the region soothes the soul (without wanting to sound too cliché or cheesy). I felt refreshed, alive, and invigorated after my stint there and would recommend it to anyone travelling in the South America region. I myself have vowed to go back one day to the very tip of the world – Ushuaia – to experience the Ferry trip and perhaps even hop on a cruise to Antarctica.

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