Culture

These 9 South American Trip Ideas Will Have You On The Next Plane South In No Time

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South America has something everyone can enjoy. The fourth largest continent in the world is home to a vibrant blend of Latin American and Indigenous cultures, fantastic food, fierce football, chocolate, coffee, rainforests, music, romance, and passion. Most of it comes at affordable prices, and most of us already speak the language — so really, what are you waiting for?

The continent is also home to majestic levels of ecological diversity, attracting millions of tourists each year to traverse its jungles, climb its towering peaks, and swim in its crystalline seas.

From the world’s highest waterfall and largest river to the longest mountain range and largest rainforest, a vacation to any one of South America’s 12 countries is a totally unforgettable experience from start to finish.

Island-hop in Ecuador’s Galapagos  

Snorkeling with Galapagos green sea turtle, Santiago Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
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It’s a challenge to uncover a more bucket list-worthy trip in South America than the jaw-droppingly spectacular Galapagos Islands. A chain of 19 islands and dozens of islets formed after a series of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, it’s a magical place that will linger in your mind long after leaving. But be sure to visit with a trusted tour operator as they’ll provide a knowledgeable guide and you won’t want to miss out on any of the fascinating information.

Do you have the ganas to snorkel in turquoise waters with hammerhead sharks, graceful manta rays, playful sea lions, and turtles? Yeah, thought so. You’ll also see giant tortoises in their natural habitat, hike an active volcano, and spotting wildlife is easy. If you’re more the adventurous type, go kayaking in deep blue lagunas.

Backpacking along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast and Coffee Regions

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There’s a reason Colombia is consistently voted among the happiest countries in the world; it offers a spectacular combination of breathtaking biodiversity, Instagram-worthy beaches, and friendly people. Just a few hours’ flight from the US lies Colombia’s Caribbean coast and coffee region. It’s an easy trip that can be tackled in two to three weeks on your own, via the affordable and safe buses that ferry tourists and locals around.

Fly into Cartagena, the sparkling colonial jewel of the country which is comprised of pastel-painted buildings and lively nightlife. From there, catch a bus along to Santa Marta where you can arrange trips to the isolated town of Minca. Nestled in the Colombian Sierra Nevada mountains, Minca offers amazing views overlooking the Caribbean seas and unique backpacker hostels.

Then, head back down the hills to uncover some pristine coastal rainforest at Parque de Tayrona, a protected national park filled with monkeys, lizards, and parrots where you can camp or spend the day. The beach-bum town of Palomino on the coast is also worth a trip — tubing down a river and sunning yourself in a hammock are the main attractions, along with hikes to nearby indigenous communities in the mountains. Next, it’s on to the coffee country in Salento, a rural town that offers serene mountain views, amazing architecture, and paisa hospitality with a smile.

Cruise the Amazon River Through Brazil’s Rainforest

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Exploring the Amazon jungle sounds like a difficult task right? But if you opt for an eco-friendly river cruise, you can uncover the areas’ mysterious wildlife from the comfort of a chill boat. You’ll have the chance to see the magical meeting of the waters, where the sediment-filled River Negro mixes with the black, nutrient-rich Amazon River. Wake up early to watch the sky turn from pink to orange. Go on adventures to spot multi-colored macaws, blue butterflies and Amazon kingfishers. The Brazilian Amazon is also the only place on Earth you can see pink dolphins!

From your boat, you can hop on kayaks or canoes to explore further into the flooded forests to see monkeys hanging from trees or giant sloths lounging on branches.

Get Cultural in Paraguay

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Lesser-known and understated in its beauty, Paraguay is perfect for the explorer keen to find a road less traveled. You won’t see tourists at every landmark here, and it’s not a country for those in search of lively bars and pumping adventure, but you will find exotic lakes, thriving nightlife, artisan workshops, and impressive colonial towns. The terrain is varied and exciting with the subtropical Atlantic Forest in the east and the dry wildlife of Chaco on the other side of the country.

Visit Patagonia

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Few places on the planet are as magical as Patagonia, which as long tempted travelers after pure adventure. Situated at the southernmost tip of South America, Patagonia is dotted with dramatic glaciers, towering forests and pristine lakes. But even though it’s 400,000 square miles of breathtakingly barren land, with a bit of forward planning you can cover a fair amount of ground and see a lot. For organized trekking and established tourism, head to the national parks in the northern lake districts of Argentina (Los Glaciares) and Chile (Torres del Paine)

Spot Jaguar in Guyana

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This lesser-traveled South American country with a strong Caribbean culture borders Brazil and Venezuela and is working hard to shed its reputation as turbulent and hard-to-navigate after years of political strife. Today it’s much safer and is rich in dense forests and colorful ranches, meaning that travelers who don’t mind the rustic edge can enjoy one of the continent’s best-kept ecotourism secrets. Take the pressure off organizing something yourself and head to the area with Steppes Travel who’ll take you to search for jaguars in the Iwokrama Rainforest, paddling in the world’s highest free-falling waterfall, Kaieteur Falls, and visiting the colonial capital city, Georgetown.

Get Wet and Wild in Brazil’s Iguazu Falls

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The Iguazu Falls are world-famous waterfalls of the Iguazu River which flow through Brazil and Argentina, situated in lush and protected land that’s teeming with incredible wildlife. Do the falls yourself, as part of a long expedition through Brazil, or on a flying visit to the area from Sao Paulo or Rio. Feel the spray of the falls on your face before heading into the steamy Amazon for excursions into the jungle as well as piranha fishing and pink dolphin-spotting.

Drink All The Wines in Chile and Argentina

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If you’re up for seeing a lot in a little amount of time, and its style, culture and cuisine you crave, head to Argentina and Chile. Wine-lovers start off in the artistic region of Santiago, with its snow-capped mountains and vibrant markets. Later it’s onto Casablanca Valley, Chile’s fastest growing wine region, and the ambient World Heritage port city of Valparaiso, before a visit to magnificent Mendoza, where the famous Malbec wine is produced. After a stop-off in the relaxing area of Estancias, you’ll finish up in Argentina’s energetic capital of Buenos Aires, where you’ll be able to immerse yourself in its enchanting streets and mix of European and Latin culture, with a dance at a tango bar or rich meal of steak and red wine. Heaven.

Uncover the Best of Bolivia and Argentina

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Immerse yourself in some Latin American culture with an adventure through Bolivia and Argentina. Tick the Bolivian Uyuni salt flats off your bucket list before taking in the incredible Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth which boasts flamingos bathing in mineral lakes and an everlasting supply of cacti. If you’re into colonial architecture and eclectic cities, this trip also takes you to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where you’ll dine on great food and explore some incredible neighborhoods as well as La Paz, a city renowned for its incredible markets.

So what are you waiting for? Book your trip to South America!

Here’s Why Chicago Should Be On Everyone’s List Of Must-Visit Cities

Culture

Here’s Why Chicago Should Be On Everyone’s List Of Must-Visit Cities

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If you don’t have Chicago on your bucket list, you’re sleeping on the vibrant metropolis.

The city has an enviable lakefront that runs 18.5 miles along the city skyline, a museum campus (and a number of other art and educational institutions nearby) that you could visit for years and still find something new, and dining options that run the gamut from Michelin-starred to hole-in-the-wall mom and pop shops. 

If that’s not enough to get your there, this might be:

For $2.25, you can take the CTA train into the city.

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Whether you’re flying into O’Hare or Midway, each airport offers a direct route into downtown Chicago. From there, you can easily transfer to any of the other train lines, buses or Metra (servicing the suburbs) to get where you’re going and oftentimes, get downtown just as fast as driving. Save yourself the headache of traffic and trying to find your rideshare—as well as cash—by taking the train into the city. Once you’re there, hop into a cab or transfer like a local.

Speakeasies and Cocktail Bars Aren’t Just a Fad

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They’re a historical part of the city. In 1921, the bar now known as The Green Door Tavern opened as a restaurant. Over the years, the restaurant was sold and renamed the Green Door Tavern. During prohibition, a green door would let people know that they could find a speakeasy inside. According to the Green Door Tavern’s website, many of the original fixtures found at the bar are from the 1920s. It’s easy to get caught up in the history of the first floor, but if you keep walking towards the back, and take the steps into the basement—you’ll find a woman with an iPad next to a bookshelf. Leave your name, head back upstairs and wait for The Drifter to call you. Once IDs are checked (again) you’ll find yourself in a tiny room that feels like you’ve stepped into an old-timey circus. Tarot cards are used as drink menus, you can play drink roulette by selecting a $10 fortune cookie that contains your drink order and every hour a different performer takes the stage. It’s easy to imagine one of Al Capone’s cronies posted at the bar grabbing a drink between jobs.

But The Drifter isn’t the only speakeasy worth visiting. In Wicker Park, The Violet Hour, considered the birthplace of artisan cocktails in Chicago, is worth the wait. Just be sure to follow the house rules.

Comedians Are Made in The Second City

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Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mike Meyers, Steve Carrell, Chris Farley, John Candy and most of the funniest names in entertainment came out of world-renowned The Second City, a comedy club, theater and school of improvisation.

To date, it has not produced a Latinx show on its mainstage (a disappointing trend in entertainment). However, actress/producer Vanessa Garcia is working to change that with “La Carne Asada 2: The Seasoning,” performed inside the venue’s Judy’s Beat Lounge. The sketch show for Latinos by Latinos is performed mostly in Spanish with deeply Latino characters and tropes. It sold-out its summer show dates and recently added new fall dates.

Garcia was inspired to write a sequel to last year’s sold-out run of La Carne Asada after a conversation that implied that Latinx content was not headlining stage material. With that in mind, the show is a statement about quality Latinx-centric and minority-centric content being as entertaining, engaging and mainstream as any headline show.

It’s a Magical Place—No Really, Magicians Are As Common As Bartenders

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In a profile piece on magicians for Chicago, Kevin writes about how the art of magic is taught mostly from books, and Midwest Magic in the suburbs is one of the largest magic shops in the world. It’s no wonder there’s been an uptick in magic-themed venues and entertainment. For an intimate, upscale experience head to the Magic Parlour at the Palmer House Hilton. In one of the gilded rooms, you’ll see close-hand magic performed by Dennis Watkins.

To see several acts in one place, head north to the Magic Lounge. The entrance is marked by a sign that reads ‘laundromat.’ Walk inside and start enjoying your night with a drink at the bar where a raised platform features a magician while you wait for your show to begin. Once ushered into the seated venue, various magicians will rove the aisles to keep guests entertained before the start of the first act.

Latino fans will get a kick out of Luis Carreon. The award-winning magician peppers his act with jokes that riff on Mexican culture.

It’s A Sports Fan’s Dream

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Between the Cubs and Sox (MLB) rivalry, Bears (NFL), Bulls (an NBA franchise synonymous with Michael Jordan and six league titles), the Sky (WNBA) and three recent titles between the Blackhawks (NHL), sports are an integral part of the city’s DNA—and that’s just the professional teams found within the city limits. Head to the suburbs if you want to see the Red Stars (MLS) play. It’s worth the drive considering four members of the Women’s World Cup Championship team play for the local league. The Chicago Fire, the men’s team, also plays at the same venue.

Even if you prefer a different type of entertainment, you’re not really experiencing the city if you don’t have some kind of sports encounter. Worst case scenario, you can eat really well since all the stadiums have local dining options in-stadium—like Big Star at the United Center where the Bulls and Hawks play— which is also across the street from the Cubs’ Wrigley Field.

READ: A New Incubator Is Opening Up In Chicago’s ‘La Villita’ And Will Embrace The Neighborhood’s Mexican Heritage

Puerto Vallarta Has Long Been An LGBTQ-Friendly Travel Destination And Here’s Why

Culture

Puerto Vallarta Has Long Been An LGBTQ-Friendly Travel Destination And Here’s Why

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Puerto Vallarta is one of the favorite Mexican tourist destinations of the LGBT community. There are hotels, bars, nightclubs, beaches, and even drinks specifically for LGBT travelers, and due to the safety and welcoming environment for these guests, it is the first city in Mexico to receive the Gay Travel Approved distinction by GayTravel.com.

But why PV? What made Vallarta Mexico’s top gay destination?

Let’s start back at the beginning.

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In the south of Puerto Vallarta you will find the “Old Town,” also called “The Romantic Zone,” the tourist area favored by expats and foreigners who want to soak up local traditions. The Old Puerto Vallarta is also considered the gay neighborhood since 1980, when the gay community and retired Canadians and Americans bought land and properties in order to create gay-friendly businesses. Today there’s a wide variety of attractions with this focus, including bars, restaurants, stores, nightclubs, and both budget and boutique hotels.

In this zone is nestled the popular beach Playa de los Muertos, which, although not exclusively gay, for the last 20 years has been known as a gay-friendly beach (also called Blue Chairs, because of the many blue chairs placed by a gay resort which bears the same name), mainly in the high season, from November to March.

Why is this pristine beach the LBGT meeting point? Because the gay-friendly beachfront hotels in the area causes—and guarantees—a concentration of LGBT tourists, bringing a multicultural ambience where members of this community will be respected without discrimination. In the morning they can socialize and enjoy the party atmosphere, and in the afternoon walk holding hands under the dazzling sunset, in a romantic atmosphere free of hostility. Such is the high demand for LGBT-friendly vacation spots that the area has been extended to include the green chairs and as far as the north coast, in the elegant Oceano Sapphire Beach Club, owned by gays.

But it’s about more than just the beach.

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Unlike certain countries, laws against homosexuality never existed in Mexico. There is, however, a strong macho culture and religious influence which disapproves it—nonetheless the locals show respect. Under these circumstances, the growing community has led LGBT organizations to work to promote a change of culture in the pursuit of equality. Their work has gotten results: they have achieved recognition of gay rights, and implemented laws against the provocation and incitement of hate or violence against LGBTs, and also to guarantee equality in employment and public accomodation and services. Even more, in 2013 Puerto Vallarta legalized civil union between LGBT couples, followed by same-sex marriage in 2016.

This city organized its first Gay Pride March, and has hosted the Pink & Proud Women’s Party—the equivalent lesbian celebration—for the last four years, with assistance from the local Canadian and American communities. The multiple events in support of the LGBT community have marked out Puerto Vallarta as the “Mexican San Francisco.”

Now, there’s a giant and flourishing LGBTQ tourism industry that welcomes people from around the world.

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For the last 10 years, the number of LGBT visitors has increased in Puerto Vallarta and Jalisco, and in order to meet demand, the number of LGBT-friendly resorts and touristic attractions has also increased. Now three of every 10 hotels in Puerto Vallarta are LGBT-friendly, and most also offer weddings and other symbolic ceremonies.

Bars, nightclubs and other amenities are already focused on this market, and there are also tours—like the Gay VIP Bars Tour—and even drinks—like the Gay Tequila and the Gay Energy Drink—to make these guests feel extra welcome. As a result, Puerto Vallarta now hosts International LGBT Business Expos, with important conferences and events, including fashions shows, beach parties and music festivals to celebrate this booming market.

Puerto Vallarta remains the gateway to Mexico for many LGBTQ travelers.

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Some other cities have recognized the demand, and are now attempting to attract LGBT tourism to their destinations. Puerto Vallarta is not letting it happen: diverse businesses—no matter the sexual preference—are joining forces to create organizations to promote this targeted brand of tourism. The market gives consumers what they want, and they have identified this growing target and will not let it go.

Beyond the marketing, Puerto Vallarta became a platform to support gay rights, and the LGBT community knows it and feels welcome here. What really keeps the LGBT community hitting Puerto Vallarta is the activism, respect, and freedom they find in this beautiful paradise.