The Secret to Hiking in South America

The Secret to Hiking in South America


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Chewing coca leaves might not sound like the best idea in the world, but in Bolivia and Peru, it’s an art form. For centuries, these leaves have been boosting the energy of Andean farmers, laborers, and explorers; keeping them going through the hard times and the good. However, like any art form, there’s a trick to it.

It’s Not Cocaine

Before we get chewing, it’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the coca leaf. First, coca leaves are absolutely nothing like cocaine. Instead, they’re more like a shot of espresso, if the caffeine high lasted half the day. Your heart will get pounding, you might sweat a bit and suddenly feel the urge to climb a mountain. Your mouth may also go numb. That’s about it.

It’s Still Illegal Pretty Much Everywhere

Despite being widely consumed across much of the Andean region, coca leaves are illegal under international law. The United Nations, 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, prohibits the use of coca leaves for everything except scientific and medical purposes. However, this prohibition is ignored in Peru and Bolivia. Countries who have been lobbying for the leaf to be legalized internationally. Along with these two countries, possession of the leaf in small amounts for personal consumption is legal in Argentina and Colombia. The leaf is technically banned in Paraguay and Brazil, though enforcement against individuals with small amounts is unusual. Even so, respect for local laws should always come first.

While you’re in the Andes, why not try the region’s most awesome survival plant, the frailejon?

In virtually every other country on the face of the Earth, coca leaves are treated no differently than cocaine. While coca tea can be found on sale in commercial, neat little boxes in Peru and Bolivia, you’ll face possible arrest and drug trafficking charges if you try to take them to a country like the United States. There are more than enough horror stories of innocent travelers being treated like criminals in the U.S. for merely carrying coca tea, so don’t risk it. Only chew coca in the countries where it’s legal.

You Won’t Feel Much…At First

Many first-time coca chewers are disappointed after their first try, with the effects being mild at best. This is because, like many substances, coca leaves just don’t seem to give users much of a buzz until your system has gotten used to them. So if you’re not getting anything, try again in a few days. However, scientific evidence that proves coca leaves improve physical performance is shaky at best, leading many researchers to conclude the leaves don’t do much at all. This, of course, flies in the face of the experiences of generations of Andeans. Either way, don’t be surprised if you don’t find coca leaves anywhere near as stimulating as you may expect.

Not All Leaves are Equal

After sampling a few coca leaves, you might notice some massive variations in effectiveness. This is normal, and as a general rule of thumb, you can expect leaves to be pretty mediocre around tourist areas, such as Cuzco. Generally speaking, the best leaves are fresh, dark green, and flexible.

Check out Chewing Coca Leaves: The Secret to Hiking in South America at https://survivallife.com/chewing-coca-leaves-south-america/
Photo by Logga Wiggler

It Can Have Some Nasty Side Effects

On the flip side, if you chew coca leaves while hiking in South America, you might still experience some adverse side effects. Some of these include exacerbating asthma, worsening heart conditions, and raising blood pressure, while potentially impacting the sugar levels of people with diabetes. If you’re pregnant, stay away from cocoa, and even after giving birth, don’t chew coca leaves until long after you’ve finished breastfeeding.

While we’re on the topic of hapless tourists, my first experience of coca leaves was pretty unpleasant to watch. On a hiking trip in Peru, I watched a fellow gringo shovel a few handfuls of coca leaves into his mouth, and munch them like a koala. A few minutes later, he was outside, face covered in green goo, coughing up stems. Part of the problem comes down to the language barrier: you don’t chew coca leaves per se. Instead, your objective is to suck on the leaves, gumming them to draw out the alkaloids.

Speaking of surviving the Andes, check out this insane survival story of the passengers of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571.

Remove Stems

Once you’ve got some nice, pliable leaves, the first thing you’ll want to do is remove the stems. Do as locals do, and fold each leaf in half, peeling the bulk of the stem from the end. Try to get as much of the stem as possible, without breaking the leaf in two.

Having a Ball with the Catalyst

Now, select somewhere between 10-15 choice leaves. Pile them neatly, and add the catalyst. Traditionally, powdered limestone is used, though I’d strongly recommend against this. Limestone can strip the enamel off your teeth, and cause a real headache for both you and your dentist. Instead, opt for something gentler, like a bit of bicarb soda. Bicarb does a perfectly good job of activating the alkaloids, and won’t destroy your dentistry.

Once you’ve added a small amount of catalyst, roll the leaves up like a tiny little cigar. Fold the ends if needed, and keep the package nice and tight – again, without damaging the leaves. What you should be left with, is a little ball of leaves packed around a small amount of bicarb soda.

Be a Sucker, Not a Chewer

Finally, you’re ready to try your coca. Insert your little package of leaves into the corner of your mouth. Ideally, you want it lodged between your cheek and molars. Leave it there for a few hours, giving it a bit of a loll or gentle chew every so often. Throughout the day, expect your mouth to go numb and get filled with bitter flavor. It might not sound fun, but the boost of energy can be well worth it and may save your life in a survival situation. After a while, you might even start to enjoy the taste.

What do you think? If you’ve tried coca leaves for yourself, then we’d love to hear about your experience. Let us know in the comments below.

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7 surprising reasons

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination


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7 surprising reasons

Looking for a better way to spend your winter instead of staying inside all season long binge-watching Netflix? No offense to the binge-watchers out there—it certainly has its time and place! But after awhile, don’t you crave something a little more… adventurous?

Sure, you could travel to the beaches of the Caribbean, along with every other coworker in your office. Who wants to lay out on a cramped beach or wait in a long line for a cocktail?

Traveling just a little further south—south of the equator, in fact, takes you to a continent basking in the warm, golden rays of the sun, but also filled with many natural phenomena just waiting to be explored. This place is full of magnificent mountains, wondrous waterfalls, and amusing animals. Don’t believe it? Here are seven reasons why South America is the ultimate winter destination:

 

1. Escape from the bitter cold to a continent with both tropical and temperate climates.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

While those wallowing in winter in the Northern Hemisphere are freezing, South Americans at or below the equator are enjoying warm weather conditions.

Ecuador, while partially in the Northern Hemisphere, straddles the equator, giving the whole country a tropical climate year-round. It’s particularly pleasurable January through May, most of which are cool months for Europe and North America.

Just below Ecuador is Peru, known for its mountains, lakes, and Machu Picchu. November through April is considered the “wet season,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to visit. On the contrary, during these months the trails are much quieter—better to enjoy your scenic surroundings. Conservation work takes place on the Inca Trail during the month of February, but it is still possible to reach Machu Picchu and explore the magic of the ancient site.

Patagonia (made up of Argentina and Chile) is at the base of South America. Here the climate is more temperate during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months, perfect for hiking Chile’s Andes Mountains or kayaking across Argentina’s many lakes and rivers. Peak traveling season for Patagonia is January-March, but if you want to avoid the crowds while still escaping the cold, consider visiting during November or December.

 

2. While everyone back home is skiing, snorkel off the shores of the Galapagos Islands.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

You’ve heard of the Galapagos Islands, right? They make up an archipelago just off the coast of Ecuador famous for century-old tortoises and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

But these islands are more than just pieces of land in the Pacific Ocean—they are teeming with life, both flora and fauna. Want to know an amazing way to see all that these islands have to offer? Climb on a bike! Starting at the top of San Cristobal’s highest point, cycle your way down from the highland cloud forest that covers the top of the island to La Loberia, a beach home to a large sea lion colony and nursery.

Ready to get up close and personal with the cute and cuddly creatures as well as other marine life? Snorkel or scuba dive around Isla Lobos and watch the sea lions catch a meal. Afterwards, cruise to Kicker Rock to swim some more with turtles, tropical fish, and maybe even some sharks at the remains of an underwater volcano.

Want to see a volcano on land? Try hiking Sierra Negra Volcano, which rises nearly a mile above the ocean. As you ascend, the vegetation changes before your eyes from full flora to a barren lunar-like landscape. Its caldera is one of the largest in the world—seven miles wide! Bird enthusiasts will appreciate the opportunity to see Galapagos hawks, short-eared owls, finches, and flycatchers in this region.

These are just some highlights of the many ways to explore the Galapagos Islands. Enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime trip island-hopping, something that only a handful of people will ever have the chance to do.

 

3. Explore beautiful mountain ranges without all of the ice and snow.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

Sure, you will see some snow-capped mountains while hiking in Peru, but thankfully the snow stops at approximately 4,500 meters in mountain ranges close to the equator, allowing for exceptional exploration! Start your journey in the ancient Incan city of Cuzco (not to be confused with a certain grooving emperor) in the Andes Mountains. Make your way to Sacsayhuamán (meaning House of the Sun) fortress, an awe-inspiring archaeological site that represents a set of jaguar’s teeth. Each massive “tooth” is perfectly fitted and can weight up to 130 tons.

If the idea of exploring Sacsayhuamán is enticing, just wait until you hike to Machu Picchu. This centuries-old Incan city is mind-blowingly advanced for its age. How and why did they build the tall walls and carve the magnificent terraces and ramps? It’s a mystery we’ll probably never know the answer to, but part of the fun when exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

Can’t imagine going all the way to South America without seeing the Amazon rainforest? Well, forest fans—rejoice! The Amazon Jungle extends into Peru, providing perfect wildlife viewing for any adventurer. Motorized canoes glide you down the Tambopata River, one of the many headwaters of the Amazon, into the forest basin. Tropical birds like the macaw fly overhead through the canopy as howler monkeys fill the air with their call. The diverse flora includes many medicinal plants. There truly is no place like it anywhere else on earth.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a visit to Peru without kayaking on Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and the highest in the world that is still navigable. The lake’s colour is a deep blue unlike any water you’ll have ever seen. Make your way across the immense body of water to Capachica Peninsula, then hug the shore line, grazed by sheep and shadowed by ancient remnant agricultural terraces. For those seeking a more thrilling vacation, consider all that Peru has to offer.

 

4. You don’t have to travel to Antarctica (or be freezing!) to hang with penguins.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

At the bottom of South America lies a completely different land than that of Ecuador or Peru. This is Patagonia, a vast area of land that starts in the plains of Argentina and moves to the mountains of Chile, finally reaching the edge of the world.

What’s a better way to start your trip than with a visit to Magdalena Island, home not to humans, but to Magellanic penguins. Hike across the island, exploring all the nooks and crannies. Cameras are essential for this hike—you don’t want to miss out on capturing the tuxedo-wearing bird and other wildlife!

Hiking continues for a special trek, the legendary four-day “W” hike! This journey inside Torres del Paine National Park takes you across granite peaks, snow-clad mountains, glacial lakes, and the thick Magellanic forest. On the first day of your hike, you’ll come across the stunning Torres del Paine (that’s ‘Towers of Blue’)—three monstrous mountain peaks rising to a height of 3,000 feet and thought to be the highest natural cliff faces in the world. These natural wonders are breathtaking.

After completing the “W” trek, give your legs a rest and let your arms do some work. Kayak across Grey Lake, known for its grand glaciers and immense icebergs.

If cycling is more your speed, you’re in luck, Argentina’s landscape provides a better terrain for bikes. Ride through the valley basin of River de las Vueltas, viewing river vistas and waterfalls along the way.

 

5. Even kiddos need to “get away” sometimes!

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

These days, it’s more important than ever to get kids outdoors and spend time with their families. With all of the distractions in our lives—from technology to school work to work projects—it can be hard to find enough time to bond with our loved ones.

Want the chance to get away as a family? Embark on a family-friendly adventure to Peru! Together you’ll journey through the Amazon rainforest with some incredible wildlife viewing opportunities. You might spot a capybara, or macaws perched atop the river banks or hear the howls of troops of howler monkeys from the tropical forest canopies above. Hike to Las Salineras and learn about salt production, and explore the ancient Incan cities of Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

What could be better than a vacation that gets the kids active, and also educates them? Not to mention, it’s a ton of fun!

 

6. Heat things up while visiting Ecuador’s volcanoes and hot springs.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

Maybe you like the idea of adding some rest and relaxation into your adventurous trip? Ecuador is the place for you.

Begin your trip at a ranch on Cotopaxi, learning about Ecuadorian farm life. Try your hand at milking cows, take in the serene scenery surrounding the ranch, or just curl up with a good book that you’ve been meaning to read.

The next day, pick up the pace as you cycle down Cotopaxi, which, by the way, happens to also be a volcano. The views on your way down are unparalleled—the Valley of Volcanoes provides vistas unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

Ready for a hike? After traveling into the heart of Ecuador’s rainforest, you’ll find yourself hiking through waterfalls, making your way to the Papallacta highlands and cooling yourself off at the same time. At the end of your day, soak in a steaming hot spring that is right outside your lodging for the night.

At the end of your trip, fly out of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. But before you leave, consider enjoying some free time in this historical mountain city.

 

7. Biking is way more fun when you’re under the golden sun!

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

Want the best of both Peru and Ecuador? You got it! Enjoy seeing highlights from both countries as well as island-hopping around the Galapagos Islands.

An important part of any trip abroad is to take in the culture around you. One of the best ways to get up close and personal with the locals is via bike. While in Peru, cycle through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the once great civilization of the Andes Mountains before they were conquered by the Spanish. Speaking of the Andes, did you know they stretch all the way from Venezuela to Chile, making them the longest mountain chain on land?

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

On your cycling excursion, ride through breathtaking scenery, dotted with local villages and surrounded by the massive, green slopes of the Andes. Finish your ride at the small town of Pisac, a typical Peruvian village. A must-see is the colorful mercado artesanal, a fresh market full of local fruits and vegetables.

Finish your time in Peru with visits to Machu Picchu and Cuzco before departing for Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands are just a plane ride away and will enthrall you with their lush vegetation, diverse marine life, and peculiar land animals.

 

Quiero visitar América del Sur? Want to visit South America?

Your South American winter adventure is waiting for you. Don’t have the same old winter holiday as everyone else—embark on a journey that both challenges you and feeds your soul. Get in touch today to see how easy it is to plan the winter trip of your dreams, or sign up for our free email course if you’d like to know more about adventure travel in South America.

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5 Personality Types Who Love to Trek in South America

5 Personality Types Who Love to Trek in South America


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Ever wondered who takes an active vacation trekking in South America? The type of folks who will be your fellow adventurers on an active tour of Peru or Patagonia?

The answer might surprise you—because there is no one answer. We see an endless panoply of unique and interesting individuals, but they do share a few common traits: Openness, curiosity, enthusiasm, courage, and more than a little love of adventure.

Over the years, we’ve identified a few general personality types that many—not all, of course—of our guests tend to display. Take a look at our list and see if you can find yourself or someone you know in one of them. Let us know in the comments if you think we’ve hit the nail on the head with any of them, or know of a type we missed.

 

Aaron the Adventurer – Age 56

5 Personality Types Who Love to Trek in South America

Aaron is a bank VP by day, with a corner office overlooking a bustling cityscape. He’s a classic adventure personality, escaping the stress of his job with active weekends hiking, biking, and kayaking. Each year, he plans one extraordinary adventure to test his limits, to pit himself against Mother Nature and all she has to offer. Last year, Aaron spent 12 days hiking and kayaking the fiords of Norway.

This year, he’s trekking somewhere new—Patagonia and the infamous “W” trek in the Torres del Paine National Park, a four-day journey through snow-covered mountains and sheer granite cliffs, summiting at one of the most incredible and widely recognized mountain landscapes in the world. At a height of 900 meters (about 3,000 feet), the “Towers of Blue” are believed to be the world’s highest natural cliff faces.

Even that isn’t enough for intrepid Aaron. He’s going to strap on his crampons and shoulder his pick axe to ice climb Grey Glacier in Chile before exploring Argentina’s breathtaking Perito Moreno Glacier. He’s debating a third week to explore Northern Patagonia and the Ring of Fire, the volcanic belt in the Chilean Andes.

 

Culturally Curious Carl and Christine – Ages 48 and 47

5 Personality Types Who Love to Trek in South America

Carl, an architect, and Christine, a social worker, met 25 years ago on a cultural tour of China during their last year at university, and they’ve always shared a passion for cultural travel. They’ve recently made the last tuition payment for their daughter’s university education and decided to celebrate their new financial freedom with their first couples’ holiday in 13 years—a cultural exploration of Peru seemed like the perfect fit.

They’ll begin in Cuzco, in the heart of the Incan Empire, visiting the archaeological marvels at the “House of the Sun.” They’re excited to hike the Lares Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and watch the morning sun break through Inti Punku, the Sun Gate. They’ll even do some trekking through the Amazon rainforest.

What really speaks to their heart, though, is travelling through the farms and villages of the Andes, especially visiting the Quechua people near Lake Titicaca and experiencing their ancient culture, unchanged over the centuries.

 

Bucket-List Betsey – Age 61

5 Personality Types Who Love to Trek in South America

Betsey recently retired from her job as a public school administrator and is excited to begin checking items off her bucket list. She was widowed four years ago, but refuses to let her single state prevent her from taking part in the lifetime adventures she always dreamed about. She’s excited to visit the Galapagos Islands to snorkel with the gentle reef sharks, hang out with the marine iguanas, and visit a few giant tortoises.

One of the best parts for Betsey is being part of a congenial travel group—the thought of finding suitable travel companions on her own nearly derailed her plans. She’s excited for the opportunity to meet new people who share her passion for travel and unusual destinations. Spending a few days at a gorgeous seaside lodge and photographing a few friendly dolphins on her journey are just icing on the cake.

 

Zest-for-Life Zoey – Age 33

5 Personality Types Who Love to Trek in South America

Everyone knows a Zoey. Ours is a city planner in Chicago who lives for stolen weeks away from her cubicle. Single and fun-loving, Zoey loves nothing more than escaping the city and trying new things, preferably far away from the bustle of urban life. She takes a few short getaways during the year and saves for one exceptional adventure each year. Last year, she did the glaciers in Jasper and Banff, but this year, she’s looking for some fun in the sun.

Zoey and two friends are heading for Ecuador and some lifetime adventures—like cycling down Cotopaxi Volcano, hiking the Amazon rainforest, marveling at a cloud forest, and soaking in some amazing hot springs. They’ve got their cameras ready in case they spot the elusive spectacled bear in the grasslands around Quito. They plan to end their excursion with an Ecuadorian street food tour of that ancient mountain city, because what’s better than street food if you want to get to know a city?

 

Globe-Trotting Gabe and Grace and their children Ethan and Amelia – Ages 41, 39, 11, and 8

5 Personality Types Who Love to Trek in South America

Gabe and Grace own a commercial real estate company—the hours are long and the business tends to consume their lives. They love to unwind and reconnect as a family with international travel. Their last two trips were two-week DIY tours of Italy and France, but the planning process, arranging all the details, was so labor intensive, that quite honestly, the trips felt almost like work. This time, they want an interesting, exciting adventure vacation that the whole family could enjoy in a completely stress-free way.

It’s no surprise that our Capybara Peru adventure fits the bill. Everything from logistics to meals are arranged for them so they are free to immerse themselves in unforgettable experiences like motorised canoe rides through the Amazon rainforest (with night-time excursions to spot the nocturnal caiman), shadowing macaw researchers, exploring the Incan ruins of Cuzco, kayaking Lake Titicaca (and learning a few dances from the Quechua people), and even taking a guided tour of Machu Picchu. That Gabe and Grace get a free afternoon in Cuzco while the Active Adventures staff entertains the kids is an almost unbelievable bonus.

They’re even planning to extend their trip for a few days to explore the history and culture of Lima—not to mention the gastronomic delights (Lima’s long been recognized at the food capital of South America).

 

Ready to Embark on an Adventure of Your Own?

Did you recognize yourself in any of our South America travel types? Or find inspiration for your next active adventure holiday?

Why not get in touch today to see how easy it is to arrange the perfect South American adventure trip for you, and even your family? And if you’re not quite ready to chat with a member of our team, sign up for our free email course. You’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about the amazing experiences waiting for you in South America.

N.b. Characters are fictional and do not match those in images.

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