South America Trip Report

Bolivian girl wearing red shawl and bowler hat

I’m finally back. After being gone for over a month, I have tales to tell and photos to share from my adventures down south. In today’s blog post I’ll give you an overview of my trip as well as a few tips for planning your own South American voyage.

South America trip photo of Valparaiso
Valparaiso, Chile

I’m far from an expert when it comes to traveling, but I have learned a few tricks since my last trip in February to Southeast Asia. Namely, a) procrastinating your photo editing means your photos simply don’t get edited and b) travel blogs should be broken into bite-sized chunks. While I still have several thousand photos from my Southeast Asia trip to go through, in comparison I am happy to report that I am over halfway done with editing the 10,825 photos I took on this trip.

South America trip photo of the Hand in the Desert
Hand in the Desert sculpture – Antofagasta, Chile

Furthermore, I have set up a blog posting schedule as follows: one blog post a week starting with a trip report for a specific city, followed by another blog the next week with photo-specific tips. If I have any special photo series to share – such as a black and white series of photos from the beautiful lagunas of the Atacama Desert – that will follow the next week. Learn from me, grasshoppers – get your editing done or it will haunt you for years. With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, here are the details of my trip:


South America Itinerary:

February 19 – March 25, 2019

South America trip photo of El Tatio Geysers
El Tatio Geysers, Chile

Cities visited:

  • Lima, Peru: 11-hour layover
  • Easter Island (a.k.a. Isla de Pascua): February 21-26
  • Santiago, Chile: February 26-March 2, and back to Santiago for the night of March 4
  • Valparaiso, Chile: March 2-4
  • Antofagasta, Chile: March 5 (drove through town on the way to San Pedro)
  • Calama, Chile: March 5 (drove through town on the way to San Pedro)
  • San Pedro de Atacama, Chile: March 5-9
  • Uyuni, Bolivia: March 9-13
  • La Paz, Bolivia: March 13-16
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina: March 16-23
  • Houston, TX: 14-hour layover
South America trip photo of sunset on Easter Island
Sunset on Easter Island

Best location on the trip: That would have to be Easter Island, hands down. This was my first visit to Polynesia, and while it took some time to adjust to the laid back ‘island life,’ the scenery was absolutely beautiful. Easter Island is only a five-hour flight from Santiago, and it is worth the commute.

Worst location on the trip: While I enjoyed every city I visited on this trip, there were some places I enjoyed more than others. Although it feels like sacrilege to say this, the city I enjoyed the least was Buenos Aires. The city is beautiful and functions like a well-oiled machine with restaurants, ATMs, and shops just like we have back in the USA. But that’s the problem – the city reminded me too much of New York and just wasn’t exotic enough to keep me interested. Of course the final city on my trip always receives brunt of my wrath no matter where I am. Hong Kong suffered a similar fate last year as that was the final city on my tour of Asia. I will allow that if I had known someone in the city to provide me with an ‘insider’ take, then my review of the city might have been better.

South America trip photo of tango dancers
Tango dancers in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Best experience on the trip: With the help of a local photographer in Buenos Aires, I arranged a tango photo shoot with experienced dancers. The photos produced were fantastic, and it got me excited about the prospects of setting up other photo shoots on future trips. For that matter, I would love to create a similar program here in NYC for other traveling photographers.

Some other highlights:

  • Finally seeing the moai sculptures of Easter Island up close and personal
  • Eating ceviche in Lima
  • Soaking in my own personal hot tub in Valparaiso
  • Photographing the clear blue water of the lagunas in the Atacama Desert
  • Drinking wine with my tour guides at sunset on the salt flats in Uyuni
  • Getting a ‘blessing’ from a witch doctor in La Paz
  • Dancing tango with a stranger in Buenos Aires

Worst experience on the trip: Again, nothing bad happened on this trip and I pretty much enjoyed every moment. The only dicey situation came when I had to drive across a river in the Atacama Desert because the road was out due to excessive rain. Driving on the roads in the desert turned out to be much more challenging than expected.

South America trip photo of the Uyuni salt flats
Salt Flats of Uyuni, Bolivia

What was definitely worth it: a private tour across the salt flats of Uyuni. I am not a fan of tours, and this was my first tour in years. But because this was a private tour, I could ask to stop where and when I wanted to for photos. In comparison, most of the other tours were four to eight people in a car and it was like a clown car exploding at each pre-arranged stop. Not my type of traveling.

What wasn’t worth it: The only experience I might have cut out was a wine tasting event in Santiago that – while educational in the extreme – wasn’t very fun.



South America trip photo of feet floating in a hot tub
Private hot tub at the Cirilo Armstrong Hotel Boutique, Valparaiso

Best hotel: Hotel Manavai on Easter Island. This hotel is a little slice of tiki paradise, complete with luscious gardens and a pool.

Worst hotel: Hostal y Cabanas Mangai Rapa Nui the hotel I originally stayed in on Easter Island. I nicknamed this hotel the ‘roach motel’ for the three roaches a day I found in my room every evening. I finally left after two horrific nights and moved to the Manavai.



South America trip photo of dinner at Peumayen Ancestral Food
Dinner at Peumayen Ancestral Food, Santiago

In general, the food was pretty bad on this trip. I like my food extra salty, and food throughout this part of South America lacks any salt or spice. On my next trip I’ll be bringing with me plenty of seasoned salt and hot sauce.

Best food: I ate at a restaurant called Peumayen Ancestral Food in Santiago, and it was the best meal of my entire trip. The restaurant serves a chef’s tasting menu of food from Chile. Each dish was delicious and the evening was an entertaining education in the history of Chilean food.

Worst food: Eating at Gustu in La Paz was the most revolting dining experience of my entire 44 years. I wanted to like this place because it is praised to the heavens by ‘foodies.’ But when a cheese-dusted bug larvae is the tastiest thing on the menu, you know you’re in trouble.


Safety, Transportation, and Costs

South America trip photo of men playing chess in Santiago
Chess players at the Plaza de Armas, Santiago

Safety in general: I always scare myself before trips by reading about the crime statistics of a given city. In particular, I was worried about Buenos Aires. The reality couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Every place I visited, including Buenos Aires, felt safe. I didn’t feel the least bit anxious as a woman walking the streets alone.

Transportation in general: It was easy getting around this part of the world. With the exception of some challenging roads both on Easter Island and in the Atacama Desert, driving wasn’t a problem. The subway is easy to navigate in both Santiago and Buenos Aires. And if you need a cab, I recommend the apps Cabify and Grab as these apps are used far more often than Uber or Lyft. The one public transportation challenge I had was in Lima. The traffic situation here (and in La Paz) is horrible.

Costs: I was completely spoiled by prices in Thailand, and in comparison, South America is very expensive. In particular, island communities like Easter Island and remote destinations like the salt flats of Uyuni, charge a premium just because they know they have a captive audience. I don’t regret the money spent, but if you are planning a similar trip then know that the days of South America being a low-cost destination are gone. Inflation and taxes has caused prices of just about everything to be equivalent with US prices.


Final Conclusions About South America

South America trip photo of a mausoleum in Santiago
Inside a mausoleum at the Cementerio General, Santiago

I had a great time on my trip, and would definitely recommend this part of the world to anyone looking to venture beyond the North American continent. That said, the world is becoming the same all the way around. In particular, I felt that Santiago and Buenos Aires were just like New York, and as a result, visiting these cities was less exciting of an experience. Perhaps my current travel cravings for more exotic locations could be better quenched with destinations such as the Amazon, Patagonia and the Galapagos Islands.

South America trip photo of a vicunya
Vicunya in the Atacama Desert, Chile

I’ll share all the details of my trip in future blog posts, starting with a trip report from my visit to Easter Island. In the meantime, I would love to get some feedback from any of you who have visited South America. What was your trip like? Do you share my sentiments? If you are planning a similar trip and would like a copy of my exact itinerary, drop me a line and I will be happy to send it to you. Oh, and don’t forget to check out my Instagram page (@KellyWilliamsPhotographer) where I am posting photos on a daily basis.  Happy travels, y’all!



South America trip photo of Valparaiso
Valparaiso at sunrise
South America trip photo of moai sculpture on Easter Island
Moai sculpture on Easter Island

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