Latin America is a vast and immensely diverse part of the world, comprised of more than 30 countries. Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean Islands make up this spectacular land. With a history of human activity going back more than 14,000 years, it’s no wonder Latin America still captivates the imaginations of those who dare explore within its borders.
From the tropical island paradises of the Caribbean, to the ancient Mayan ruins of Mexico and Guatemala, to the most biodiverse jungles on Earth of the Amazon Rain Forest. Latin America is one of the most magnificent and mysterious regions on our planet.
In this post, we´ll discuss LA, talking about its history, its cultures, and what it’s really like to live and travel in Latin America. In order to understand Latin America’s present, we must first understand its past.
Let’s go to LA!
Indigenous Cultures – Mystical Lure and Ancient Ruins
The Foreigner Effect
Music – Noise
One of the first things you’ll notice when arriving in LA is that most people you see have indigenous roots. Latinos commonly have black hair, light brown to dark skin tones and dark eyes. In general, Latinos are shorter than Europeans or North Americans.
Most are either purely indigenous or mixed blooded mestizos. Meaning their roots are a combination of European(mostly Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, or German) and indigenous. There are quite a lot of Afro-Latinos as well.
The indigenous culture and history can be seen in many aspects of daily life. There’s still a lot of natural medicine being used. Shamans can be found practicing their spiritual rituals and using Psychedelic Plants for various cultural ceremonies. Natives use traditional dress and produce beautiful handmade crafts. Some maintain their native tongue as well.
The region is covered from Mexico to South America with ancient ruins. Each structure telling a different story, pertaining to a different culture and a different time in history. Some ruins have an unexplainable origin and technical skill involved in their construction that still baffles modern scientists. Like the 100 ton carved monoliths found in Bolivia and Peru, which were perfectly chiseled and positioned in place, by tools that have been lost in time.
Some of the most fascinating and mysterious cultures of the region include the Olmecs, the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Incas. There beautiful stonework, pyramids, and sculptures remind us today of there once glorious past, filled with vast riches and advanced civilizations. The disciplines of astronomy, architecture, agriculture, medicine and other sciences, were all practiced and perfected here in Pre-Columbian times.
The Spaniards “discovered” Latin America in 1492 during Christopher Columbus famous voyage crossing the Atlantic Ocean. After he reached the Americas, the Spaniards and other Europeans quickly followed in search of wealth and glory.
They weren’t the first people to discover or inhabit these lands. The indigenous peoples had already been living in Latin America for thousands of years and the Vikings of Northern Europe traveled to North America, more than 500 years before the Spaniards arrived in the Caribbean.
The difference is that the Spaniards were successful in colonizing the Americas and soon brought back great riches to Europe. Eventually, making Spain the most powerful Empire of the era. Some of the first goods they brought back were potatoes, tomatoes, corn, cacao beans, tobacco, silver, gold and precious emeralds stones. These items changed history and turned America into a land of opportunity. Even today it is still seen as a vast exotic region, filled with amazing resources and wonders.
The impact of the Spaniards is seen in almost every city and village of Latin America.
The Spaniards introduced the Catholic religion to Latin America. Today, there are more than 400 million devoted followers in LA – nearly 40% of the worldwide Catholic population.
Almost all cities and villages are modeled after Spanish architectural design. With an impressive cathedral at the center of town, surrounded by a park with fountains and ornamental plants, and buildings in the traditional Spanish style.
Spanish is the predominant language of the region, with more than 400 million native speakers. Its spoken in more than 20 countries of Latin America, making it the second most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese.
Portuguese (a Latin-based tongue like Spanish) is spoken in Brazil. Its the sixth most spoken language in the world, with more than 200 million native speakers.
The Foreigner Effect
As a foreigner traveling to LA for the first time, you´ll notice many Latinos will be fascinated by you and where you are from, especially if you’re White or Asian. There are very few of these types of foreigners traveling around non-touristic areas.
If you go to big metropolitan cities like Mexico City or Buenos Aires, then there won´t be much of a Foreigner Effect, but when visiting smaller cities and towns, you´ll feel like a celebrity; special and unique. The locals will admire your skin color, your light colored eyes, your clothes, your accent, your height, your gadgets, etc. You will be the talk of the town. Everyone will want to meet you and practice English with you. Even if they only know three English words, they will want to say them. They’ll go out of their way to get to know you and take a few selfies as if they were hanging out with Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson.
Once I traveled to a small non-touristic town with one of my Japanese friends, who was on vacation. I think she was the first Asian that the people in town had ever seen. The locals stopped in their tracks, staring at her. They bought her soda, snacks and some children played music for her. They made her feel like a queen. It was really fun. She never would have been treated so special in her own country.
So, if you want to feel unique and get lots of attention, then go to LA!
In general, food in LA is delicious. Some common foods include rice, plantains (fried green bananas), yucca (a root vegetable similar to potatoes), avocados, mangos, bananas, pineapple, beans, meat, chicken, tamales, arepas, and corn tortillas.
The cuisine of Mexico and Peru is considered to be the best in the region. With the most variety and complexity of dishes and spices. Mole is a typical spicy and flavorful dish found throughout Mexico, it has many diverse regional preparations. Peru has more than 4000 varieties of potatoes and root vegetables, that are only grown in Peru. Ceviche and other exotic plates are found here, with a delicious fusion of Japanese, European and Indigenous cuisines.
You Will Get Sick
When first traveling here, at some point, if you spend enough time and eat the wrong thing, you will get sick. You’ll get diarrhea and or vomiting. This is because your body isn’t used to the bacteria found in LA. The food will turn your digestive system into a flowing mud-like spring.
This experience is nasty and disgusting, but don´t panic. It happens to everybody and medicine can be bought in any pharmacy. Pharmacies are on almost every city block and sell most medicines, without the need for a doctor’s prescription.
Fasting is a natural way to stop diarrhea. Just make sure you hydrate with pure water combined with lemon juice, sea salt, and minerals. No food coming in, then no food going out, right??
To prevent diarrhea, avoid drinking water from the tap, or eating spicy and greasy foods. Lemon juice can be added to salads and other foods, which can make it safer, by killing harmful bacteria.
Transportation in most Latin American countries sucks. Buses are always crowded, uncomfortable, and full of unpleasant smells. The roads are often in disrepair and in major cities, traffic can be horrendous. Babies will be screeching, the Latin music will be blasting, or they may be playing horror movies on their little television sets. For example, I watched Chucky on one long trip before, which didn´t help to calm my nerves!
It’s normal for them to stop constantly, ’cause there are no designated bus stops. Drivers will pullover, whenever anyone either wants to get on or off the bus. They also stop regularly to pick up vendors, who climb on the bus, attempting to sell their goods. Whether that be greasy fried foods, cheese bread, candy, peanuts, bottled water, soda pop, sometimes they even sell toys or band-aids like in this Video.
The worst is when the bus is packed to the max, with all seats and standing space occupied and you got a vendor squeezing through the crowd giving his long drawn out and annoying sales pitch. Oh well, everybody has to make a living and everybody’s got someplace to go, so it’s the nature of the beast.
The roads are not built in a straight line in the mountainous areas. For this reason, it can take a very long time to travel. You will not be traveling long distances as the crow flies, though as the bus rides it will seem like you’re taking forever. Especially if there’s road work going on, or a recent landslide is blocking the way.
One good thing about the transportation is you can take a bus to almost every city or town in Latin America. Transport is quite affordable, and there’s no need to make reservations. Just show up 20 minutes before you want to travel, buy your ticket and get on board. It’s also possible to buy tickets to other countries. For example, you could buy a direct ticket to Buenos Aires from Bogota. It takes about 8 days, crossing 5 countries and more than 5000 miles but you’ll get there eventually.
Music Being Played Everywhere and All the Time is the Norm
The other day I was in an underground parking garage at a huge shopping center. It was about 10:30 in the morning, Tuesday, and there was a Vallenato concert going on down there. I was thinking, don’t these people work?! I guess not. Over here, this is normal. There’s always a celebration, a football game, a holiday, an excuse not to go to work and to go out and party.
Latinos are Really into Dancing
If you like to dance and are good at dancing, then LA will be like heaven for you. Here, people start dancing in the womb. I commonly see fathers or other family members holding newborn babies on the dance floor, beginning early training for future dance parties. This happens in any restaurant, bar, or club. Dancing is a way of life, and one of the main courses taught in grade-school through university.
The most popular musical genres are salsa, merengue, reggaeton, and electronic techno dance music. Basically, any type of music with strong rhythmic beats, designed to move peoples bodies can be heard at any given moment. Most music is very sexual in nature and each region also has its own style of music, which is locally played.
Besides the high-volume thumping music, it’s common to always be hearing noise from car horns or vendors selling products either on foot or on trucks. Passing by with loudspeakers announcing the products or services they offer. They could be selling gas, yogurt, ice cream, fruits, buying scrap metal or offering any other random product or service. It seems like there’s always noise coming from a new source, in these crazy lands.
For those who prefer quieter places, you can travel to smaller towns. In small towns, there won’t be traffic, many salesmen, and there’s less music being played. Some towns are almost like going back in time. The more remote the town you travel to, the less noise there will be.
One of the quietest places I’ve ever been in my travels is in the desert. Remote deserts are the most peaceful places in the world. LA has many desert options in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, so take your pick!
I’ve written a great blog post about desert travel Here, check it out!
Big Modern Cities and Little Towns Surrounded by Nature
The striking contrasts, which can be seen daily, are why I truly love living in LA. I live out in the countryside, close to waterfalls and rugged mountains, but in just a few hours I can travel to the city and be surrounded by millions of people. It´s like traveling to the future or to the past in a short trip. The cities are very modern, with many multi-national companies setting up their operations. For this reason, it’s common to see international restaurant chains, Uber, and a wide range of other familiar businesses.
Another way to change scenery and climate here is by simply changing altitude. Traveling to a higher or lower altitude can change temperatures drastically. Very hot climates, with perfect year-round tanning weather or close to freezing temperatures high in the mountains, can be experienced in only a few hours of driving.
The great contrasts of LA will always inspire and keep me humble, with feelings of gratitude and admiration. The rich natural resources, amazing biodiversity, and stunning scenery, strongly overshadow the inconveniences I go through to live in this wonderful part of the world.
I don’t feel that LA is a particularly dangerous place to be. There is more crime on the streets, because there are many poor people here, but every place in the world has its own unique dangers. For more on safety while traveling, check out our other blog post 4 Crafty ways to be Safer while Traveling Abroad.
Depending on your budget, almost any type of environment can be explored or experience can occur in LA. From wild after hour nightclub parties in major cities like Medellin or Guadalajara. Exploration of small colonial towns lost to time and technology, where horse-drawn carriages and burros are the main forms of transportation. Extreme sports, like white water rafting, paragliding, or scuba diving in the Caribbean. Surfing the awesome waves of the Pacific Ocean on the West coast of LA. Taking Ayahuasca in the Amazon jungle, while listening to the sounds of millions of wild animals and insects. Hiking up majestic volcanoes or relaxing in therapeutic thermal hot springs along the Ring of Fire. Love and romance with some of the most beautiful and sexiest women(and men) on Earth. The possibilities are virtually endless. With so much diversity and adventurous options, the most difficult decision you’ll have to make is where to start your journey in LA!
LA has it all, for those who are ready to live life to the max, this is the place for you!