Setting a South American pace

“Which do you prefer: a tightly packed itinerary, or an open schedule with plenty of free time?”

It’s one of the most important questions to ask when you’re planning a trip—especially if you’re with a travel buddy—up there with “Museums and cultural sites, or off-the-beaten-path local spots?” and “Four-star hotel or youth hostel?”

Chris and I have been talking a lot about the pace of our traveling lately. While we’re pretty well matched as travel partners, it’s one area where we have to communicate and compromise a bit. I tend to be more of the go-go-go, check-off-the-list, get-all-the-best-pictures, FOMO-driven type, while Chris…Chris would prefer to skip that 6:30 a.m. walking tour. Neither is the right or wrong way to experience a new place—just different.

Our U.S.A. road trip was, on the whole, pretty fast-paced. We hardly spent more than a day or two in one place before we were off to the next destination. While we certainly worked in some down time—and I can’t say that I would necessarily change anything—it was definitely a whirlwind. Two months isn’t as long as it sounds for a country as big as ours!

So, from the start, we’ve tried to adopt a slightly more laid-back approach to this South American half of our adventure. There’s two main reasons:

  1. That’s how they do it here. Just browse a few travel forums on getting around in South America as a “norte americano,” and you’ll understand: Peruvians (and, from what I understand, most Latin American cultures) move at a much slower pace than Americans.

    Travel advice down here always includes tips like, “Go ahead and expect every bus and plane to be delayed.” Or, “Make sure to ask for your check at restaurants, because they won’t bring it to you otherwise.” I have yet to experience this extreme, but I read stories about travelers waiting two hours to get their change after paying for a beer, or learning that “just a minute” could mean anything from an actual minute to several days.

    We knew that making tight travel plans was a recipe for disaster (and stress), especially in this culture, so we chose to give ourselves plenty of room for plans to change. And—more importantly—deliberate time for rest and relaxation. It’s the Peruvian way, after all, so it seems only right that we try to adapt. 🙂

  2. Getting around in a foreign country simply takes more time and energy. In the U.S., while you may encounter weird things like not being able to pump your own gas in Oregon, you generally know what you’re getting. The specific places might be new to you, but the systems and processes are more or less the same.

    In any other country, this is not the case. Social cues/customs, currency, language barriers, cuisine….a different culture comes with SO many more things to think about and adjust to—and suddenly something as simple as going out to dinner requires a lot more mental effort. Of course, when you’ve paid hundreds of dollars to fly to a different part of the world, you feel the pressure of wanting to see and do everything that you can while you have the chance—but I’ve learned from experience that it’s all too easy to wear yourself down VERY quickly. With two months down here, we knew that a slower pace was going to be necessary for our own sanity.

All this to say: we’ve been taking it pretty easy in Peru so far. After arriving in Lima, we basically spent two days sleeping in and taking afternoon naps…and slowly exploring some of the city in between. On our first day, all we did was stroll around the Miraflores district (where we were staying), absorbing the sights and sounds and checking out the oceanfront parks.

Oceanfront Miraflores
Miraflores district


Kennedy Park 

On day two, we joined a few people from our hostel on a free walking tour of downtown Lima. Our guide, Franco, walked us through several of the major sights (including a changing of the guard at the Plaza de Armas), taught us a little about the city’s Spanish and Incan history, and even gave us all a taste of Pisco (the local liquor) as a parting gift.

Changing of the guard at Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas


Central Lima
The church where the Spanish first evangelized the Incas and brought Catholicism and the Spanish language to the South American continent

After all that plus navigating the bus system to get back to our hostel, we were MORE than happy to relax for the rest of the day.

Our time in Cusco has been pretty similar (okay, except for one big day trek, but I’ll get to that later). And I’ve been SO glad for this slower paced traveling. I haven’t navigated a foreign country on my own (a.k.a. sans parents/tour guide) since college, and that was only in Europe. South America is a whole new continent, and one that comes with a language barrier and a host of new worries: drinking contaminated water, getting scammed (because two tall, pale, English-speaking young adults with backpacks, we basically have a target on our foreheads that says “turistico”), altitude sickness, etc.

In my last post, I admitted that I was nervous. And this first laid-back week has been EXACTLY what we needed. Using bottled water to brush our teeth has now become a habit. We’ve learned a few key Spanish words that make it easier to get around. Slowly, I’ve felt more comfortable eating out and trying local foods without worrying about getting sick. And when Chris got struck with some altitude sickness in Cusco, we had plenty of time to take it easy until his symptoms subsided.

I don’t think I’ll ever be the 100% laid back, go-with-the-flow traveler….but so far, Peru has taught me that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with picking the things that matter the most to you, focusing on those, and using the rest of your time to relax and soak in the experience.

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