Where should I move to in South America?
March 15, 2011 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Where should I move to in South America? Beunos Aires? Santiago? Lima?

I'm 28 years old and before I settled down I need to live in a South American city. There are a number of reasons why, but mostly it boils down to these two: I want to get fluent in Spanish, and I want to play rock and roll with musicians who come from a totally different background than me.

So far I've been really interested in BA, mostly because of the college means that I could get a student visa and study - spanish and music most likely. Also I like BA because of it's huge garage rock scene.

I've also always been attracted to Lima, but I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's food scene, perhaps it's history, and maybe just because my best friend was born in Trujillo.

Recently I was talking with a friend of mine, an experimental pop musician from Brooklyn, and she said that her favorite South American city was Santiago. She said it was vibrant, really interesting, more so than BA.

I'm sure there are other South American cities that MeFites live in or have lived in that are amazing. I've got the money saved up, and I'm ready to buy my plane ticket and put in my month notices. So, where should I go?

Thank you so much!
posted by special agent conrad uno to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps before I move I should learn to spellcheck...
posted by special agent conrad uno at 3:19 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have any sort of respiratory illness at all, pass on Lima. It is damp, damp, damp and super smoggy.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 3:37 PM on March 15, 2011

I would take a close look at Colombia. Bogota, Cali, and Medellin are all super cool cities with a vibrant culture and extremely nice people. It's not the safest place to live but not a bad as the reputation.
posted by brorfred at 3:41 PM on March 15, 2011

I live in Cali right now! Been here for 7 months; I have visited Bogota and have plans to go to Medellin soon. Feel free to pm me if you want details/stories about anything.
posted by queens86 at 4:04 PM on March 15, 2011

Oh, and just checked your profile-- I am from Seattle :)
posted by queens86 at 4:05 PM on March 15, 2011

Why not get on a plan and spend a few weeks checking out each city for yourself? Where you live is a very personal decision and not one I'd want to make without ever having even visited the city.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:06 PM on March 15, 2011

turkeyphant, I'd love to, but I just can't afford that. Or rather, the 4K it would take to do a major traveling of South America, I could instead use to pay for a years worth of rent.

brorfred, queens86, I haven't looked at Colombia yet. I guess I should. Have you seen much of a goth rock scene there? I know it's an odd requirement...
posted by special agent conrad uno at 4:12 PM on March 15, 2011

Not that I have seen, but I haven't been seeking it out .. If you want to keep your cultural options open, you should definitely go to Bogota over Cali. I have only spent a couple days in Bogota but it seems like MUCH more of a cosmopolitan city in every sense. Definitely the most cosmopolitan city I have ever been to in South/Central America (not that I have been to all or even the majority). It's about 8 million, so close to NYC in terms of population. Also cold, so keep that in mind.
posted by queens86 at 4:25 PM on March 15, 2011

My friend just got back from living in Lima for over two years. She says Barranco in Lima is sort of Lima's Brooklyn, and having been there for a visit I'd be inclined to agree. It definitely has the artsy vibe you're looking for, and as a bonus it's quite beautiful. Another nice neighbourhood is Miraflores, but it's a little more upscale and has relatively more North American and European transplants (although this can help ease the culture shock if you're just starting out).

If your friend from Trujillo knows anyone back home, a personal connection can really make the difference (or so I'm told). Even just someone to help you figure out those unwritten local idiosyncrasies, like which neighbourhoods to avoid or how the public transit works.

Also, seeing as you're from Washington state: it never rains in Lima.
posted by AV at 5:23 PM on March 15, 2011

special agent conrad uno: "turkeyphant, I'd love to, but I just can't afford that. Or rather, the 4K it would take to do a major traveling of South America, I could instead use to pay for a years worth of rent. "

I don't really understand this answer - if you've got the money saved up to fly over there to move, how much more can it cost to travel round BA, Lima and Santiago for a few weeks before settling somewhere for the longer term? I'm sure you could do it for not much more than $500 and that would be money well spent...
posted by turkeyphant at 6:09 PM on March 15, 2011

Santiago is a lovely city. Plus Chile is one of the safest countries in South America. It has a high standard of living and I was told by the locals that the police are not corrupt. This was a warning, in fact. Don't try to bribe them if they pull you over for speeding!

They have a commitment to public arts and museums as well as good nightlife. My only complaint was that I found the food kind of bland and they only serve instant coffee. You have to go to a strip club to get a decent cup. They call it "coffee with legs." *shrug*

Before planning my visit to Santiago, I did some research on Buenos Aires but it just sounded more dangerous than I was interested in being careful.
posted by keeo at 6:30 PM on March 15, 2011

Seconding the idea of visiting each city and checking it out first. Fly into Santiago or Lima (flying into Ezeiza in Buenos Aires will cost you US$120 if you have an American passport, entering Argentina by land will cost you nothing).

Bus travel between Santiago, Lima and Buenos Aires is far cheaper than flying and much more comfortable to boot. Hostels are cheap to stay in, on the order of US$15-35 a night. I've only been to Buenos Aires and Santiago, but the vibe (and accent) are very different. See which one you like, or better yet, spend a couple months in each of them. I spent the bulk of my time down there in Buenos Aires, and I wish I'd spent longer in some other parts of the continent.

Buenos Aires has a goth scene, although they call them darkys there (which us Southerners visiting found somewhat awkward). But really South America has more goths than America does, so they're probably found in numbers in Lima and Santiago as well.

Get ready for the accent to throw you for a loop, too.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 6:35 PM on March 15, 2011

I'd assume that costs are going to vary widely between countries (they certainly did when I spent my time in SA in 2003) and within each country, so you'll want to take that into account. I really enjoyed both Bolivia (very cheap) and Ecuador (cheap) when I was traveling, but the political situation may weigh against those countries. I know that Quito has a rock scene, don't know about La Paz.

Also, don't overlook Montevideo, Uruguay. I thought it was a lovely city, and it had a surprisingly vibrant art scene at the time (and better steaks than BA, in my opinion).
posted by seventyfour at 7:19 PM on March 15, 2011

PorcineWithMe, Thanks. I did some further research on this and you're totally right. I do not want to live in Lima.

turkeyphant, I have always assumed flying around the place + staying in hostels to be prohibitively expensive. I've actually looked into bussing around South America, and this seems affordable.

I'm now very seriously considering flying into Santiago, bus to Mendoza, bus to BA, and ferry to Montevideo (hat tip to seventyfour), staying for a week in each area. Then deciding.

I wonder if I can mark all of these as Best Answer?

Thanks to everyone!

also, lefty lucky cat, thanks for the info on the, er, goth scene!
posted by special agent conrad uno at 1:22 AM on March 16, 2011

I lived in Lima for a year and loved it. I visited Buenos Aires for a week and didn't love it. On the other hand, what I look for in a city and what you look for are probably not the same. I'm sure Bs.As. has a much better music scene and stuff, but that definitely exists in Lima too. (I was only exposed to it indirectly, but it's there if you look for it.) One thing I didn't like about Bs.As. was how expensive everything was compared to the relatively cheap rest of South America that I had been to (including Lima). Of course, cost of living is one important thing to consider.

Also, if you're interested in going for language reasons, and I think this is important, the Spanish spoken in Bs.As. is quite different from standard Central/South American Spanish. Not different enough to be mutually incomprehensible, but it's not what you learned in school, and if you come back talking in that dialect, Spanish speakers will know where you learned the language.

In Lima, as was mentioned earlier, Barranco is the "arty" district. Miraflores is supposedly more upscale, but I would say that the adjacent San Isidro is even more fancy schmancy. Miraflores and Barranco are both pretty, calm, seaside areas, but Miraflores is definitely more developed. In any case these districts are none of them incredibly far from the others. There are also places where you can find teenage/grungy/underground scene around the little alleys in downtown Lima.

In constrast to a previous commenter, I didn't notice Lima being incredibly smoggy (but there is a lot of car exhaust along major roads). And while the wintertime is gray and overcast, and damp I guess, the warmer months (of which there are many) are not that way, and my memories of what Lima is like do not jibe with that description.

Also, as an earlier commenter said, it's true that it almost never actually rains in Lima. I think it did once or twice the whole year I was there -- and after so long without it, it was positively comfortable to stand out in the rain. But, I should note, while it doesn't rain, it does "garĂșa" in the winter, which is like mist or wet fog or sometimes even up to and including sprinkles. And I think this is what the previous commenter must have meant by calling Lima "damp." But, like I said, I would not characterize Lima that way. Maybe it depends on when you go. The summertime (northern hemisphere winter, remember) is quite comfortable, sunny, and beautiful. (FWIW the weather when I was in Bs.As. was great too.)

Also, one last thing to consider is that some Spanish speakers are prejudiced against Bs.As. for what they perceive to be Argentinians' sense of superiority/arrogance/etc. I hadn't really heard much about that at the time I visited the city, but I have noticed it more since then. And it kind of does fit with my experience of the city -- the culture seemed somehow more superficial, focused on fashion and looks and having nice things, much more than, say, Lima, or Guayaquil (which I also visited briefly and loved and hope to go back to someday myself). But maybe that's the kind of culture that a city needs to have in order for a more substantial counterculture to thrive.

And, by the way, I'm sure there are universities in pretty much every major city, so it shouldn't be a problem getting a student visa, although the visa process itself might be easier from some countries than others.

If you'll allow me to talk up Peru for another quick moment, you said you're not really sure why you're attracted to it, maybe it's a history thing, etc. (A) There's definitely that. They say that visiting Peru turns every tourist into an amateur anthropologist. The cultural history is just so deep, and there are relics and ruins of that everywhere. It was one of the cradles of human civilization -- obviously the Incas are the most famous, but they're just the most recent tip of the ancient iceberg. (B) Natural environment. Peruvians say that Peru has a little of everything. Deserts, mountains, tropical rainforest, glaciers, beaches, marine life, penguins, llamas, macaws, anacondas... the amount of diversity of flora and fauna within a relatively small space is just amazing. (C) Peruvians speak a very standard dialect of Spanish. The accent and grammar that are used there are very normative and not recognizable as being from any particular regions -- there is, however, a lot of slang, and a lot of regionalisms in terms of the vocabulary. (D) Some of which is terms for food items. Peru has its own cuisine, which it is very proud of, and which is quite varied and pretty tasty. They don't have, for example, Mexican food. Vegetarian food, if that's a concern, is widely available if you know where to look, but not necessarily immediately obvious -- other than, for example, the abundance of tropical fruits. Fresh fruit juices/smoothies are offered at pretty much every restaurant and cafe (except Chinese restaurants).

One last thing to consider when you're thinking about moving somewhere is the climate. To me, that's really important. One of the biggest reasons I chose to live in Lima was the climate (and the cost of living). Guayaquil is similar, but even more tropical (hotter, a longer hot/dry season, and a more rainy wet season). Santiago is too cold for me in the winters. (I've been there in the winter and it was just cold. I felt like I was back in Ohio.) I've heard good things about Colombia but I haven't been there myself. In addition to the climate, the language issue is a big thing to consider if that's one of your main reasons for going. I would shy away from Buenos Aires mostly for that reason. The other places that I went in South America (which includes all over Peru, a couple cities in Chile, plus Guayaquil in Ecuador) were not nearly as regionally specific in terms of dialect.

But it's definitely worth doing! Don't let indecision paralyze you; go somewhere. Anywhere is better than nowhere! I'm sure it'll be a great experience.
posted by jef at 4:43 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older How to like what I'm doing or do something...   |   Help Me Date in Vancouver! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.