Capitals in South America
© Luke Kenyon
As one of the biggest cities in South America (and once known as the wealthiest in the world), Buenos Aires is the cultural and sporting epicentre of Argentina. There is everything from crazy nightlife and street performers to meat buffets and street crime all thrown into the one huge, dirty metropolis. In the upscale area of Palermo you can find high-end fashion and expensive restaurants. South near the docks is the famous area of La Boca home to not only the most patriotic football fans in the world, but a fashionable art scene with distinctive buildings lining the streets. In the heart of the city surrounded by a fragmented bus system is San Telmo housing antique stores and street markets, selling everything from live chickens to 19th century thrones. All over the city are huge parks that create relaxing areas for that afternoon mate and somewhere to digest the obscene amount of meat eaten at the buffets.
You are in for a surprise when coming to Santiago. The city is either surprisingly dull when going to some of the conservative suburbs, or surprisingly attractive when venturing into neighbourhoods like Bellavista and Barrio Brasil. Though those areas can seem a bit scruffy at the edge, they boast a down-to-earth bohemian vibe. The streets are either filled with abandoned shops with graffiti or artsy fashion stores and there are great eateries around every corner, ranging from fancy hip sidewalk cafes to charismatic restaurants.
A big ghastly mismatch. Yes, the first impression of Bogota will probably not be pretty, but it is a city that grows on you. The fairly high altitude at 2640 m makes the climate like eternal fall, chilled, and with warm rays of sun. The old quarter, La Candelaria, has heaps to keep you busy with during the day, while the surrounding hills will offer great views over the city at sunset, before you hit the bars. So while there are not many reasons to come to Bogota in the first place, there are lots of reasons to stay a little bit longer if you do.
Nobody will claim that Quito is pretty, but it does have its charm if you scratch the ugly concrete surface. The city is spread out along the valley at the foot of the Pichincha volcano, which certainly gives you some nice views. The old town (centro historico), which has been an UNESCO heritage site since 1978, has its fair share of colonial buildings and more than a handful of wonderful old churches. Check out the unfinished and rather drape neo-Gothic church, Basilica del Voto Nacional. Instead of having the usual mythical figures, the spires are decorated with Ecuadorean fauna, like Galapagos tortoises and penguins. Quito is not the best place in Ecuador, but neither is it as horrible as its bad reputation.
Most of the time, there isn't too much exciting stuff happening in Cayenne, except for sitting at a café on the central palm-filled square and watch life go by while drinking a coffee or pastis. The city centre of the capital of French Guiana is small and has a few pretty colonial houses, but nothing too noteworthy to see. The old fortress is pretty much decayed, but from this hill you do get a view over the river and the city. The market, however, is an exciting place and represents the population of this part of the world well: a mix between African, Asian, Amerindian and European.
During Carnival time in January/February, the normally mellow Cayenne totally livens up. The carnival has a unique tradition of Touloulous and Tololos: women wear masks and dresses that make them totally unrecognisable. They invite and seduce men into dances, without the possibility for them to refuse. This tradition and the carnival are on the rise and getting bigger every year.
Arriving into Guyana you feel right away a different vibe than in the neighbouring countries. All off a sudden, you have arrived in the Caribbean, just without the beautiful beaches. Most Guyanese are from either African or Indian descent and from cars and shop windows you'll hear Soca, Chutney, Bollywood or Reggae music. A strange worldly mix. The colonial history of Guyana is still very evident on signs, with streets and areas bearing Dutch or English names. Some colonial buildings and houses are well maintained or renovated with the St. George's Cathedral, Town Hall and Parliament buildings as the masterpieces. It's a pretty laid-back city but a lot more active and with a lot more hustle and bustle than the capitals of the neighbouring Guianas. A great day in Georgetown could be sightseeing the colonial buildings in the morning, eating a curry for lunch, watching a Bollywood movie in the afternoon and party at night with rum and Soca music.
Pretty Paramaribo is a colonial jewel. The old town is full of well-kept colonial houses with front porches, steps leading up to the front door and white-washed wooden walls. No wonder it is now protected by UNESCO. The Dutch colonial history is very present in all the names you see. The Palmentuin (Palm garden) is a pleasant place for a stroll and the St. Petrus en Paulus Cathedral is supposedly the tallest wooden building in the world. Fort Zeelandia is a great place for a lunch unless you feel more like an Indian Roti or some Indonesian food at the colourful market. Paramaribo is furthermore one of the few places in the world where you can see a mosque and a synagogue peacefully next to each other. Hopefully, Paramaribo will be able to keep its charm after the big plans they have for changing over the Waterkant (water front).
Modern Montevideo is a pleasant place with leafy boulevards and plazas. The old town has pretty colonial buildings, but the end part of town, at the peninsula, is unfortunately a bit decayed and is home to drug addicts and street bums, making it a less appealing place to stroll. The Mercado del Puerto is a haven in this part of town. This market building has been transformed into a collection of restaurants that are a very popular lunch place, especially on the weekends. Also on weekends, there are several markets to explore and you can head to one of the river beaches or go people watching at one of the Ramblas, the (river) beach side promenades. As far as tourist attractions go, the Teatro Solis stands out being one of the oldest theatre buildings in South America and is definitely worth a visit.