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FOOD AND DRINK
South America's broad ethnic mix reflects in its cuisine, which blends African, American Indian, Asian and European flavors and influences. Each South American country possesses regional specialties; however, some culinary traditions and ingredients stem across the continent. Meat has always been prominent, as are rice, beans, corn, potatoes, cheese, peppers and seafood.
Brazil's fertile lands, coastal areas and Portuguese heritage serve up dishes like caruru (a condiment of okra, onion, dried shrimp and toasted nuts cooked with palm oil), feijoada (a simmered bean-and-meat stew), moqueca (seafood stew), and pão de queijo (cheese bun). Fresh local fruits, cakes, puddings and cuscuz branco (milled tapioca pudding sweetened with coconut milk) are all popular dessert options. Cachaça is Brazil's native liquor and the main ingredient of the national drink, caipirinha.
Peruvian cuisine has strong Incan roots and utilizes native crops of the land, such as quinoa and kiwicha. However, the varying geography, climate and culture of the country have given rise to regional favorites. Well-known dishes from the coastal areas include ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juice and spices), pollo a la brasa (marinated, roasted chicken) and sancochado (a hearty beef and vegetable broth). In the Andean region, sample guinea pig, alpaca and pachamanca, a roast cooked over stones in small holes in the ground. Peru's national drink, pisco (a powerful grape brandy), mixes with egg whites, lemon juice, sugar and bitters to make a refreshing pisco sour cocktail.
Argentina's fare is a cultural blending of Mediterranean influences that uses a wide range of local livestock and vegetables. Meats are typically prepared asado (barbecue)-style, including lamb and goat which are eaten more frequently in Patagonia. An array of vegetables makes common side dishes as well as empanadas (small pastries with a variety of fillings). The savory condiment chimichurri (a sauce of herbs, garlic and vinegar) tops most dishes, while the syrupy paste, dulce de leche, sweetens cakes and other desserts. Argentina produces fine wines, but mate (a brewed herb drink) is also traditionally consumed.
In Chile, European cuisine (typically of Spanish roots) combines with Chilean ingredients to produce a variety of recipes. Seafood is a consistent part of Chilean diet, and is fried, baked or turned into soups and stews, like paila marina, a zesty seafood soup. Other local favorites include curanto (food cooked in a hole in the ground covered with hot stones), marraqueta (crunchy bread), pebre (a salsa-type condiment made of spicy aji peppers), and an array of superb wines produced in the region.
Along with exquisite coffee, try Colombia's ajiaco, a traditional potato soup typically served with cream, capers and avocado that are mixed in just before eating. Enjoy a hearty bowl of fanesca, an Ecuadorian soup made of beans, grains and salted cod that is served before Easter, or taste Venezuelan street fare like arepa (bread made of ground corn) or cachapas (corn pancake).
South America is one of the earth's most bio-diverse continents where natural wonders, stunning landscapes and vibrant wildlife coexist.
Brazil features a variety of ecosystems teeming with flora and fauna, and the country is home to the planet's most known species of plants (55000), freshwater fish (3000) and mammals (over 520). Encounter jaguars, pumas, ocelots, monkeys and large anaconda snakes, as well as aquatic wonders like piranhas and pink dolphin (the world's largest river dolphin). The birdlife is just as varied ranging from colorful toucans and parrots to flightless rheas and penguins. In the Atlantic Forest, find moist forests, tropical savannas and mangrove forests while the Pantanal wetlands and the cerrado savanna host 3500 and 10000 plant species respectively.
As the largest tract of tropical rainforest in the Americas, the Amazon has unparalleled biodiversity. About 60% of the rainforest lies in Brazil, and it is a haven for 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants and some 2000 birds and mammals. Exotic yet harmful creatures also reside in the Amazon, including black caimans, cougars, electric eels and poison dart frogs. Roughly 60% of Peru is covered with Amazon jungle, where much of the country's wildlife resides. Peru's other important fauna are the great Andean condors found principally in Colca Canyon and the rich marine life of Ballestas Islands, including endangered Humboldt penguins and sea turtles.
With four UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Los Glaciares, Iguazu National Park, Peninsula Valdes, and Ischigualasto/Talampaya National Parks) Argentina possesses a wide range of flora and fauna. Caimans, otters, marsh deer and hundreds of birds vie for attention in the Ibera wetlands. Most of Patagonia contains shrubby bushes and plants suited for growth in dry conditions; however, the coastal life is spectacular with sea lions, elephant seals, penguins and whales. The Andean highlands are populated with jaguars, pumas, monkeys, llamas, vicunas, guanacos and Andean condors. In the central grasslands, giant anteaters, armadillos, pampas foxes, hawks and falcons all inhabit the area.
Bolivia is another eco-rich country with varying altitudes that result in an array of ecosystems. The desert-like Antiplano region is limited to cacti and short shrubbery yet tortora reeds grow on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Typical fauna occuping the region includes alpacas, llamas, vicunas, majestic condors and sly Andean foxes. The low-lying tropical forests and Pantanal are home to a wide range of rare species such as caimans, giant river otters, jaguars, spectacled bears, tapirs, monkeys and diverse bird life. Bolivia contains several natural parks and reserves, and it is also considered the birthplace for chilli peppers, peanuts, yuccas and several varieties of palms.
Despite its small size, Ecuador maintains a verdant supply of biodiversity. In fact, 15% of the world's known bird species can be found in the continental area. Conservation is a major concern for the country and indexing its biological treasures is far from complete, but currently on the list are 16000 plant varieties, 106 reptiles, 138 amphibians and 6000 species of butterfly. Ecuador owns the Galapagos Islands, a region of distinct fauna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well-known as the birthplace of Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Observe colorful marine iguanas, whales, green turtles, sea lions, fur seal and a variety of birds including blue-footed boobies, penguins, waved albatrosses and pelicans.
Habitats in Venezuela range from Andes highlands and llanos grasslands to cloud forests, rainforests and coastal mangrove forests. Over 25000 types of orchid grow in the country, and animals include manatees, river dolphins, crocodiles, capybaras and a large bird population with species like ibises, ospreys and turpial. Like much of South America, Colombia has a high number of wildlife from Amazon and Andean origins within its borders.
MUSIC & DANCE
Music and dance are crucial elements that comprise the cultural backbone of the South American spirit. From melodic panpipes high in the Andes to spicy samba on Brazilian beaches, music and dance can be found everywhere in South America.
Brazil is best known for spectacular Carnival celebrations alive with colorful masqueraders grooving to intoxicating samba, a mix of Brazilian and African rhythms. Listen for sounds of bossa nova (a fusion of samba and jazz), choro (zippy instrumental style similar to polka), axé (blend of Afro-Caribbean rhythms) and sertanejo (a popular genre that evolved from música caipira).
Argentina popularized the sultry steps and sounds of tango, which has a multitude of influences including Cuban, Slavic, Spanish and Italian. Many sub-genres of the popular Argentine rock blares across radios; however, those in favor of European classical music will enjoy a performance at the world-renowned Teatró Colón in Buenos Aires. Argentine folk music (folklórica) is uniquely extensive with dozens of regional dances, and there's even folk-rock to bridge the gap between folklórica and Argentine rock.
Peru's music is a fusion of Spanish, Andean and African styles and rhythms. Andina (highland) music incorporates sounds of bamboo panpipes, quena flute, and guitar-like charangos. The country beats to música criolla (Creole music based on European and African influences) that stems a variety of genres including Peruvian vals, tondero, festejo, polka, zamacueca, landó and the favorite marinera, as well as popular dance styles. Bolivia and Ecuador's musical traditions also credit Andean influences. Although cumbia and vallenato are popular throughout Latin America, both musical genres hail from Colombia.
Music in Chile ranges from folkloric to popular and classical. Hear the tonada, a traditional Chilean song type with Spanish roots, or learn the cueca, the country's national dance. Venezuela's music originates from African, indigenous and European (especially Spanish) roots, but also incorporates modern American and Caribbean rhythms. Around Christmas, sounds of gaita (a popular style of Venezuelan folk music) fill the air, however, the guitar-like cuatro (the national instrument) and the waltz-like joropo (national dance) can be enjoyed throughout the year.
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