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Sophia Constant

Where have you recently returned from?
Colombia, a country that is culturally immersive from the get-go. I had travelled there as an adventurous 18 year old staying with a family that welcomed me into their home, so I already had a real connection with the country and its humble people. My latest trip was an adventure into the coffee region, hiking through the towering palms of the extraordinary Cocora Valley, rafting, quad biking and wandering around quaint little villages dotted through the lush valleys. I then spent a few nights in Cartagena, one of the most enchanting cities on the continent, where a boat trip took us to Las Islas de Rosario y Baru to eat fresh fish on a secret little paradise island, followed by snorkelling and lazing in the sunshine. It was an epic trip and the people I met along the way made the experience even more fascinating.

Most memorable foodie experiences in South America?
La Olla de Felix in Buenos Aires was a fantastic experience for me. I had met the chef and owner Felix through a friend who invited me there for dinner. Each day he goes to a local market to pick fresh produce, writes his menu on a blackboard and cooks up a delicious feast for his guests. I happened to be there at the same time as an Argentine opera singer who stood up and performed an aria for us off the bat – it was stunning.

 

What’s the most offbeat experience you’ve had recently?

A four day riding trip in Argentine Patagonia. We set off into the mountains passing vast shimmering lakes and listening to the thundering of cracking glaciers in the distance. And we didn’t spot another person for four days. Led by a gaucho who looked like he never travelled by foot, we journeyed to an incredibly basic outpost that was our home from home in the heart of the Patagonian wilderness. We were 4 girlfriends sleeping under thick poncho rugs in bunk beds, with one other room featuring a big table to sit round and a huge open fire to cook on. The experience completely transported us from our day to day lives; switching off and getting back to nature and feeling the elements acutely made it so special – a raw and beautiful escape to the depths of uncharted countryside. One of those moments that you never forget was being startled by a herd of wild horses galloping up to nosy at ours, intrigued as to why their peculiar relations were festooned with saddles and bridles! The curiosity of these wild creatures was fascinating to witness.

Most unspoilt place you’ve been to in South America?

To me Bolivia is less well-trodden than many other South American countries, although the whole continent still feels very undiscovered and natural, which is why I’m so drawn to exploring it. In Bolivia I felt I was able to get an authentic cultural insight and see the country’s true colours. From the bizarre and bustling markets in La Paz to the extraordinarily beautiful Salt flats of Uyuni and the thick jungle of the Amazon, Bolivia is as scenically diverse as it is culturally intriguing. Meeting communities on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca was a highlight and completely eye-opening. This is also a beautiful spot for some R&R on an adventure between Peru and Bolivia.

What experience of local life will you never forget?

Easter Day in Bogota with a devout Catholic family, before I could speak Spanish. Communicating with a few basic words and a lot of smiling, I followed the family to church, where we stood for a three hour long service. I was fascinated by the gathering of people, the singing, colour, spirituality and the pomp of a traditional South American Catholic service. Returning home for lunch I was exhausted but felt so fortunate to have experienced such an amazing insight into local life and the importance of religion in Colombia. However, to my surprise it wasn’t over yet! An hour later I was then taken on another three hour procession around the city, walking behind the idols of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. I couldn’t believe my eyes at the way this is celebrated so differently in the UK. It was a fascinating experience that I will never forget.

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Best South American Road Trip

A five day road trip in Argentina from Salta into The Puna, the high-altitude plains of the Andes. The scenery in this region is out of this world and seems to change at every turn from cactus fields to salt flats, azure lagoons and volcanoes. Traversing such stunning landscapes and meeting amazing characters in remote Andean communities along the was was awe-inspiring. It was the best road trip I’ve ever been on.

 

Favourite South American tipple?

The Pisco Sour – up there with Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca as one of the finest things I experienced in Peru. I also love Torrontes wine from the high-altitude vineyards of Cafayate in North-West Argentina, enjoyed best when gazing up at the Andes.

 

Best souvenir?

Textiles. Whether its collecting beautiful hand-woven alpaca scarfs from the eclectic and colourful markets of Cuzco, or tackling the vast, city-like Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala to source stunning, intricately designed belts that last a lifetime, I can’t get enough of the beautiful colours and materials that seem to come from the most remote regions, where creativity and entrepreneurship prevail. Textiles also make for fabulous and unique presents and are a wonderful reminder of my travels when I’m back at home. Every time I’m in Argentina I buy a new pair of Arandu ‘alpargatas’ (espadrilles) as they’re the comfiest shoes I own and come in brilliant colours.

 

Where is your next adventure?

Mexico is at the top of my list – I’m dying to explore the crumbling old colonial city-centres, indulge in authentic homemade delicacies (tamales every day…), stay in sprawling traditional haciendas and see the Mayan ruins first-hand in the depths of the jungle in the Yucatan Peninsula. A country with such flavour and individual personality from region to region – the discoveries in store are endless.

 

Why PSA?

Such a passionate team of South America experts is rare to find, and PSA delivers immersive, cultural and high-end experiences to travellers who really value that level of knowledge and planning expertise – it’s the style of travel that I am passionate about. Having great independent contacts and connections throughout the continent is what makes PSA really stand out. I believe that the people we meet on our travels have a huge influence on our understanding of foreign countries and cultures, and that this can be deeply enhanced when experienced with the right person on the ground, which PSA executes to perfection.

 

Must read before you travel?

Anything by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. His beautiful stories will transport you to South America and show you its true beauty, spirit and colour. Reading Love in the Time of Cholera will add such depth to a discovery of Colombia and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

 

The best guide you ever had?

My private guide in Cuzco and Machu Picchu was absolutely fantastic and a true expert in his field. The depths of his knowledge on the history of Peru was astounding and he shared his stories with genuine enthusiasm and passion. He really brought the Incas to life for me and made my exploration of these stunning sites even more fulfilling than I could have imagined.

 

What experience couldn’t be found anywhere else in the world?

Sailing around the Galapagos Islands seeing rare wildlife up close – a real once in a lifetime experience.

 

What inspired you to travel to South America?

Stories of intrepid explorers like Colombus venturing to wild foreign lands, or Shackleton’s hair-raising voyage to Antarctica. Following in these adventurers’ footsteps and experiencing the wildernesses that they explored has always been the inspiration for my South America travels.

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