Feature

Exploring South America: Refreshing escapes and inspiring rebirths

Uruguay: Hedonism meets high art; Argentina: The wild northwest; Colombia: Medellín’s makeover; Ecuador: Hiking the highlands

Uruguay: Hedonism meets high art
“Never mind the bikinis”—Uruguay’s Punta del Este is no longer just a place to get some sun, said Genevieve Paiement in The New York Times. These days the so-called St. Tropez of South America is offering a “different kind of eye candy” than the bronzed bodies on its beaches, as an art scene has sprung up all around the peninsula. At the recently opened Playa Vik José Ignacio, a beachfront eco-retreat where “guest rooms double as art installations,” Uruguayan artists were “given free rein” to express their aesthetic visions. For his colorful suite, Pablo Casacuberta drew inspiration from graffiti artists, while Eduardo Cardozo’s “minimalist casita” centers on a rustic fireplace molded from mud and hay. Near Maldonado, artist Pablo Atchugarry is honored with a museum and sculpture park hidden among rows of trees. Along Manantiales’s main strip, Galeria del Paseo is the “go-to gallery” for contemporary works.

Argentina: The wild northwest
Argentina’s Noroeste, or northwest, offers a taste of the “real South America,” said Colin Barraclough in Condé Nast Traveler. Visitors to this sun-drenched region will find ancient ruins, adobe villages, valleys of “kaleidoscopic” color, and the “stirrings” of an Andean cultural renaissance. The land itself is “more akin to Peru or Ecuador than to the fertile plains of the Pampas,” yet its 4,000-foot elevation ensures a “perpetual spring.” No matter what time of year travelers arrive, they can take in the views from Salta’s Train to the Clouds, a “spectacular high-altitude rail ride across canyons, salt pans, and gullies.” They can explore the “tiny hamlets rich with colonial architecture” in Quebrada de Humahuaca, a 100-mile-long gorge that’s been inhabited for 10,000 years. They can taste the Calchaquí Valley’s wines, which are giving those of Mendoza, the country’s “viticulture heartland,” some serious competition. Always, they should make their way back to Salta, “a big city that feels like a small town.” There, “shaded backstreets” invite afternoon strolls and singing gauchos can turn any night out into a “musical jamboree.”

Colombia: Medellín’s makeover
“No longer the pariah of Latin America,” Colombia’s second-largest city is embracing its second shot at life, said Nancy Trejos in The Washington Post. When drug lord Pablo Escobar was still alive, the phrase “mayhem on Medellín’s streets” had a far darker connotation than it does today. It’s been nearly two decades since Escobar was brought down, and the city’s streets at night now often feel like a loud party. The days are brighter too, as new parks, museums, and clubs open across Medellín. Cable cars originally built to connect the poorest neighborhoods to the rest of the city have been extended to Parque Arvi, a new “ecological playground” atop one of the mountains that ring the city. Here, at about 8,200 feet above sea level, visitors can canoe or ride horses while taking in “spectacular views.” At the bottom of the mountain, Museo de Antioquia invites art aficionados to peruse more than 1,000 works donated by famed sculptor and painter Fernando Botero, a Medellín native. At night, visitors can sip aguardiente, the “anise-flavored national liquor,” and dance until the sun rises at salsa club El Suave. On the dance floor at Mango’s, the crowd of midgets, go-go dancers, and “shirtless men with six-packs” might not even notice dawn.

Ecuador: Hiking the highlands
Hoofing it across Ecuador, it turns out, is a “wonderful way” to experience the country, said Curt Brown in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Our tour with Vermont-based Country Walkers led us on a trail across the “hilly Andean highlands” that links eight estates dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. For eight days, we hiked from hacienda to hacienda, starting in Quito, Ecuador’s capital. Along the way, we bunked at three historic haciendas, mixing “at times grueling 12-mile days with luxurious nights.” We trekked through eucalyptus forests, walked along the rims of volcano-crater lakes, chatted up farmers working in their corn fields, and waved at children walking to school. At each hacienda, we were greeted by “roaring” fireplaces, “sumptuous” meals, and hot-water bottles tucked between our sheets. Our “hands-down favorite” had to be Zuleta, a Spanish colonial inn situated in a high valley between volcanic peaks. Steeped in history, the hacienda features pre-Incan ruins, an organic garden, and rooms adorned with antiques and roses. Upon leaving, the hacienda’s dogs followed us down the cobbled streets and past the area’s “tidy homes.” With the “air crisp and clean and the countryside passing by at just the right pace,” we hated to bid this haven farewell.

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