Calling South Am experts: help with my first trip!

Jul 29th, 2008, 02:00 PM
  #1  
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Calling South Am experts: help with my first trip!

I'm planning a 10-day trip in late November and would like to visit South America for the first time, preferably in conjunction with one week at a language school.

I'm traveling with my cousin, and we're 30-something women who have previously gone to Spanish school in Costa Rica and Honduras. We're a little adventurous, in decent shape, with intermediate Spanish skills.

I'd love input on a great location in South America.

In our past trips, we loved being in locations where we were forced to speak Spanish (Honduras), where we had a rigorous classroom experience (Costa Rica), and where we had a range of cultural and outdoor activities easily accessible in the afternoons/weekends (both).

I also recently discovered an interest in indigenous culture while visiting Oaxaca, Mexico/surrounding area with my husband.

Right now, my short list is Cusco, Peru; Cuenca, Ecuador; and maybe Sucre or La Paz, Bolivia. I am open to feedback on these choices--or completely different locations.

I appreciate your thoughts!
mmb23 is offline  
Jul 29th, 2008, 03:08 PM
  #2  
 
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mmb23:

With only 10 days you must focus. From all I have traveled there, my top five places to spend those 10 days (and you would wish they were 100):
1 Peru: Lima, Cuzco and Macchu Picchu
2 Argentina: Buenos Aires, Calafate and Bariloche
3 Colombia: Bogota and Cartagena.
4 Ecuador: Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil.
5 Chile: Santiago, Vina del Mar and Puerto Varas or Torres del Paine.

And I have not mention Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay and Paraguay. You only have 10 days
Elprofe is offline  
Jul 29th, 2008, 04:06 PM
  #3  
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Thanks for your feedback! To clarify, for this trip I'm just looking for one location--not trying to squeeze three countries into one short trip.

I'd like to save Chile and Argentina for trips with my husband, who loves and food and wine and is interested in hitting those countries with me at some point.

If I were to hit your number-one, Peru, would 1-2 days at the start/end in Lima be enough? And do you think it's harder to practice Spanish in Cusco/Sacred Valley because of all the tourists?

Thanks again!


mmb23 is offline  
Jul 29th, 2008, 05:00 PM
  #4  
 
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We spent time in Cartagena this past January, and other than the English speaking guide that we hired, we heard virtually no other English spoken.

Cartagena is a beautiful city, we very much enjoyed our stay.

We paired it with a trip to San Andres and Providencia, I'm sure someone else can help you find somewhere in Colombia to suit your interests.

Medellin sounded like a great city, wish we would have made it there.
JeanH is offline  
Jul 29th, 2008, 05:31 PM
  #5  
 
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I'm sure as you discovered with your previous Spanish studies, what you get out of it depends entirely on the effort you put into it. If you go somehwere and then spend all your out-of-class time talking with other English speakers, you won't make any progress in Spanish. So if you're diligent about learning and practicing, you can do fine anywhere, even in Cusco with all its tourists.

That said, Cuenca has several language schools, and it's a very relaxing city in which to spend some time and study Spanish. Of the places you mention, that would be my preference.
Jeff_Costa_Rica is offline  
Jul 29th, 2008, 06:03 PM
  #6  
 
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mmb23:

Now I undestand better your plans. So lets go for number 1: Peru.
The best place to go to a language school is Lima. Take a look at http://elsol.idiomasperu.com/index.html. Take a 20 hour total inmersion course for a week (you will have to arrange the price). You can also look at Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola (great location in Lima and with a hotel-school at Cuzco) or Universidad de Lima to see if they offer spanish short courses. At Lima you will have the greatest opportunity to practice your spanish.
From Lima take an early plane to Cuzco. Spend that day at Cuzco (you will need to get used to altitude and the less oxigen. At the airport you will be offered a hot drink of coca leaves; drink it without fear; it will help you to get used to the altitude and it is not narcotic). Next day take the train to Aguas Calientes, close to Machu Pichu; spend the night there. Very early in the morning (5 to 6 am) take the bus to Machu Pichu (15 minutes drive) or climb (very steep mountain; two or three hours climb); you will have the best time of the day and the beautiful beautiful sunrise. After lunch return to Aguas Calientes and take the train back to Cuzco. If you can, spend another day traveling to the Sacred Valley from Cuzco; you will enjoy it. At Cuzco you can practice your Spanish with the local; but be prepared to use your English with the european tourists who will speak French, German, Russian, and so on, or you can practice your chinese with other visitors
Return to Lima and spend one or two more days.
Remember: the Peruvian cuisine is one of the best in the world. If you try to get a reservation with one or two months in advance, you can get a table to dinner at Astrid & Gaston. You can have lunch at Segundo Muelle; try the baby octopus and the seafood rice.
And ... back to your country.
If learning Spanish is very valuable to you, I would suggest to stop at Bogota (Universidad de los Andes) or Medellin (Universidad Eafit), Colombia, where the best spanish is spoken, and then fly to Lima. Bogota is a hub for South America, so you can easily find a flight that stops at Bogota and then takes you to Lima.
Elprofe is offline  
Jul 30th, 2008, 03:55 AM
  #7  
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Thanks for all the ideas! A few questions:

Jean, did you hire the guide before you arrived in Colombia, or once you arrived? Did you have any safety concerns, or just talk to to locals/read up before you left?

Jeff, I agree completely with your thoughts on speaking Spanish, but don't trust myself completely and thus love a great immersion environment. Can you tell me more about Cuenca, and what you enjoy there? Is there enough in and near the city to occupy us for the afternoons/weekends after class? The park (Cajas?) and ruins looked interesting. Also, would you start out with a day in Quito, and do you think Otovalo market is worth trying to see?

Elprofe, thanks for the Lima links. I hadn't thought about school there--I was focusing on smaller cities--but I will check it out. Of course, we couldn't miss Machu Pichu, and I appreciate your quick itinerary.
mmb23 is offline  
Jul 30th, 2008, 04:59 AM
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We booked our tours after arrival in Cartagena. We stayed at Casa la Fe in the old city.

My broken Spanish was enough for the person at the desk to figure out what I wanted, and she made the call to an English speaking guide.

I felt as safe in Cartagena as in any large city. That said, we were never out late at night, or hanging in the dicier neighborhoods.

I wish I spoke more Spanish, we literally went for days without hearing any English, other than ourselves. Even with that, we had no problems getting where we wanted to go or anything else.
JeanH is offline  
Jul 30th, 2008, 09:25 AM
  #9  
 
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mmb23:

You can go to Cuzco to learn spanish too. Take a look at http://www.machupicchuschool.org/; they offer stay with families that only speaks spanish. You can also look through Google and you will find many more options. Try the Universidad National de San Antonio Abad del Cusco; they are the largest university there and have a nice campus; they must have spanish classes for short stays.
Elprofe is offline  
Sep 26th, 2008, 08:59 AM
  #10  
 
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From your list I would definitely recommend Cusco! I took spanish immersion courses in Cusco a few months ago and I had a great time. It is a great city with a lot of culture and plenty of time to practice and learn spanish. Obviously it is the kick off point for Manchu Picchu which is a great experience but there are plenty of other fantastic shorter treks in the area to do as well. Lots of culture and history in the area too! the spanish school I studied at is called Via Spanish (http://www.viaspanish.com). Good luck and have fun!
Jason12 is offline  
Nov 12th, 2008, 08:30 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Sep 2008
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Wow! Tough question!

I am at work so I canīt go into as much detail as I want but for a simple recommendation I would say if you could go to only one country my favourite was Argentina.

The school I went to there was great and we went on a couple of cool excursions to Uruguay and the Iguazu Waterfalls! The school is called http://www.expanish.com

Send me a message if you need any more info. Enjoy
BenPaul is offline  

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