Fascinating Small Cities of Latin America
The big capitals of Latin America can be over-exhausting, chaotic or even restless. Fortunately, there are also characteristic small cities and towns that do not lag behind in terms of diversity and charm. We take a closer look at a couple of them from Peru to Argentina.
SAN CARLOS DE BARILOCHE: INTO THE SOUTH
A south Argentinean city located in the middle of a national park in the Lake District near Chilean border would certainly be far from the cities you know! This mountain town, flourished on the southern shore of Nahuel Huapi with Lake German merchants coming from Chile in the mid-1800s, makes you a bit disoriented with its Alpine architecture. Outside the tiny city center, neighbourhoods hidden among trees are lined up. Around Bariloche, where the Patagonian Andes start, there are plenty of activities that will amuse nature lovers both in the summer and winter. In addition to extreme sports such as trekking, mountaineering and paragliding; Bariloche is a ski resort as well, thanks to peaks like Cerros Cathedral, López, Nireco and Shaihuenque that are over 2,000 meters high. Not surprisingly, there are many chalet hotels in the region with amazing lake and mountain views.
WHILE IN BARILOCHE >> Stop by the huge chocolate store Rapa Nui to spoil yourself; take a boat tour at Nahuel Huapi Lake and see Los Arrayanes National Park that has inspired Disney’s movie Bambi with its 600-year-old trees; get from Bariloche to Puerto Varas on the Chilean side, by crossing the Andean lakes by boats and buses of Cruce Andino.
CUSCO: HEART OF THE INCAS
The capital of the short-lived Inca Empire, which ruled for 100 years in the 15th and 16th centuries, might have been filled in with the colonial style buildings of the Spanish conquerers, but the city still retained its old grid. Even the four ancient cobblestoned streets that emanate from Plaza de Armas still exist, symbolically stretching out to four provinces of the Inca Empire. Although most travellers come here only to see Machu Picchu, there are many hidden treasures to be discovered in the Sacred Valley and the surrounding mountains, which is an hour away from the city. Instead of taking the expensive touristic train, the latest trend for the archaeology admirers (the fit ones of course!) is to take a 2-3 day trekking through the Incan roads up to Machu Picchu or Choquequirao, the untouched version of Machu Picchu.
WHILE IN CUSCO >> Have a lunch in the colorful Mercado San Pedro; if you have a week, take turistico bolleto (tourist ticket) to tour around 10 Incan ruins with discounted prices; in Museo Machu Picchu see the artefacts stolen by Hiram Bingham in 1911 when he discovered the site, later to be sent back by the Yale University in 2011; collect handcrafts from the Pisac market on sundays; discover Peru’s pre-Columbian civilizations at the Museo Inkariy in Calca.
COLONIA DEL SACRAMENTO: A COLONIAL NUCLEUS
This old Portuguese colony, situated 180 km west of Montevideo on the shore of the Río de la Plata, is perhaps the least known of Latin American small cities. It is still partially surrounded by walls and only one-hour away from Buenos Aires by ferry. Being a UNESCO World Heritage site, Colonia turns into the backyard of Argentinean tourists during the summer with its charming with cobblestone streets, antique cars still in circulation and a small dock, where Uruguayan mate sippers are spotted in the sunset. However, you may have difficulty finding a place to stay during the summer season (between December and March). Some colonial houses of the city have been turned into tiny historical museums that are worth seeing. Thanks to the Swiss immigrants cheese makers who settled here, Colonia also has a local cheese that bears its name.
WHILE IN COLONIA >> If you are in Uruguay in mid-spring (namely in November), enjoy jazz, tango and folk music at Festival International de Colonia; stop by Barbot, an artisanal beer producer where some nights live music is played; visit the farm of cheese maker La Vigna, 60 km outside of Colonia, to rent the guest-rooms for a few nights and to get away from it all.
SUCRE: MOUNTAINS OF SILVER
This small snow-white colonial city was enriched by the Potosi silver mines, which are engraved into our memory with the book “Open Veins of Latin America” written by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. The wealth accumulated by the rush to silver is still felt here. Today, tourists usually come to learn Spanish. Bolivia, along with Ecuador, is where the most affordable high-quality Spanish courses of the continent are provided. That makes Sucre one of the most lively small cities of Latin America. Sucre has been in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1991. It is still considered to be the constitutional capital of the country and hosts the Supreme Court of Justice. The center of the government, on the contrary, is in La Paz. This situation has created an endless contest between the two cities. One of the best higher education institutions of the country, Francis Xavier College, is also here and has been active since 1624.
WHILE IN SUCRE >> Take a seat at Cafe Gourmet Mirador in Recoleta square to have panoramic city views; visit the unusual textile and handicraft museum Museo de Arte Indigena of ASUR (Anthropologists of the Southern Andes); learn more about the precious stones and mines of Bolivia in Museo del Tesoro located in Plaza del Mayo 25, the city’s main square.