Vacation city recommendations?
July 24, 2014 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Warmish in late November, good for walking, inexpensive. Somewhere in South America?

I'm thinking of taking a trip in late November or early December. I'm female, American, 30, and will likely be alone. I speak Spanish well (aside from not knowing much slang), have gotten by in Italy, and could probably function in a Portuguese-speaking country.

The best trip I've taken was a week alone in Amsterdam. I stayed in a hostel and picked one or two things to see per day, then set out on foot and stopped by anything that looked interesting on the way. I'd be happy to go back there, but I'm looking for options that might be cheaper and/or warmer. Seasonal affective disorder hits me every winter so it would be nice to be able to wear sandals and capris, even if the ocean isn't warm enough to swim in. Beach access would be a plus but is not a strict requirement.

I might only be able to stay a few days, so this is probably not the time to fly to Australia from the east-coast US (DC metro area).

Things I like:
- art museums; favorite is modern, least favorite is portrait galleries
- street markets
- ruins and old houses/churches that are open to the public
- architecture in general; I'm currently very interested in buying and renovating a house
- gardens and arboretums (arboreta?)
- antiques
- pedestrian-friendly with lots of casual/street food sprinkled among points of interest

Things to avoid:
- hewing to a timetable and constantly checking public transportation schedules
- massive, tightly packed crowds (hello panic attacks)
- camping; I need daily access to modern indoor plumbing

That said, carrying all my stuff in a backpack the whole time would be fine. I'm interested in something like Mayan or Aztec ruins but not sure how to handle transportation to remote locations or arranging tour guides (if necessary) as a single traveler. Joining a tour group for a day would be fine, but I don't want to be stuck with a group of strangers for my whole trip.

posted by ecsh to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Consider Bolivia! If you really want warm weather, look into the tropical region. Santa Cruz de la Sierra is a lovely city you could use as a base that I think would fit a lot of your criteria, and you could schedule some day trips from there, but I am not personally familiar with the region beyond a brief stay there.

If you're willing to compromise on weather, I would enthusiastically recommend La Paz, which is in the Andes. There is a great contemporary art scene, the central parts of it are very pedestrian-friendly, and it has wonderful food and a ton of street markets (some more touristy than others). You can book a day tour to visit the nearby pre-Incan ruins at Tiwanaku. In a few hours by bus you can get to Copacabana, which is a small resort town on Lake Titicaca, and I'd suggest spending at least two days there (depending on your schedule) if you want something quieter. It's very friendly to foreign tourists but a lot of Bolivians also visit, many to go to the pilgrimage site of the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana which you would probably enjoy. You can also take a boat to Isla del Sol from Copacabana to do a day hike and see more arcaheological ruins.

It's been a few years since I've been to Bolivia and I wasn't doing all conventional tourism, but I did do some as a solo female American traveler and I have experience in other parts of the country as well. Feel free to MeMail me if you're interested.
posted by futonrevolutionist at 8:53 AM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: I've been to Central America, not South, and I can tell you that it is absolutely beautiful but if you're looking for cities to be in, stay away from most of the capitals. I love Mexico City, and it has all of what you're looking for (as well as an amazingly simple to understand and use public transportation system). Only caveat is safety. My friend and I were travelling alone as two young women, and we felt relatively safe (the only issue, btw, is nighttime. At least it's like that in the areas you want to visit). Don't know what it would be like for a solo female traveler.

There's a beautiful central park, markets, museums, the Frieda Kahlo gallery, and it's close to some awesome Mayan ruins. Weather is nice all year round - it won't be warm in November, but it won't be cold (I was there in January - t-shirt during the day, sweater at night).

You didn't mention how long you have to travel. If you have more than a week, you can take a few-hour bus ride west, south west or south east and hit other nice areas of Mexico (Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido which is a beach town, and a town to the west I can't for the life of me remember the name of).
posted by alon at 9:53 AM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: Buenos Aires! It will be springtime there - last November when I visited there were beautiful Jacaranda trees in bloom all over the city. The city has a European feel, with lots of stunning gardens, architecture, great museums, and some excellent cathedrals and cemeteries to explore. If you want to get your beach fix Uruguay is a short ferry ride away and would make a nice side-trip. The food was awesome, crowds are not too bad if you avoid public transportation during rush-hour, and I felt safe as a solo woman, although there are definitely neighborhoods you will need to avoid after dark. Bring your American money to trade on the black market (the unofficial exchange rate is really favorable for tourists) and it will definitely be less expensive than Europe (though not as cheap as Bolivia or Central America.)
posted by horizons at 10:39 AM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: I love Bolivia, but La Paz is definitely not someplace to go--at any time of the year--if you want to luxuriate in a warm sunny locale. Average highs are in the 50s (upper 50s during warmer months) and average nighttime temps in the 30s (upper 30s during warmer months) year round. I don't particularly care for Santa Cruz for tourism (it's on my list of "nice place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit there" cities) but it would be warmer.

My out-of-the-box suggestion is going to be Campeche, Mexico. It will definitely be warm but less oppressive than mid-summer. The historical parts of the city have been named a World Heritage Site, it's got a good collection of museums for a city its size (about 200,000), and it's well situated to arrange day trips to Mayan ruins in the interior. In town has an extensive waterfront promenade, but no beaches directly in town (the closest beach is about 5 miles away but easily accessible through public transportation). The general opinion is that beaches on the Gulf side of the Yucatan peninsula are not as nice as beaches on the Caribbean side. Still there's plenty to do for a short stay, and it's not a "tourist town" like the inside-the-box alternatives such as CancĂșn or Playa del Carmen. All in all, I think it would be a good option for someone who speaks Spanish and wants to do some walking around and exploring rather than just lying on the beach all day drinking fruity drinks.
posted by drlith at 11:01 AM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: You should definitely go to Buenos Aires! It's a big enough city to keep you plenty busy. I stayed there for about a week last January. We had a AirBnB in Palermo, which is a middle class, yuppie neighborhood. Tons of boutiques, great food, bike lanes, outdoor markets.

You can take a day trip (or overnight) to Uruguay, Colonia del Sacramento is a UN Heritage site and only a ferry ride away. Montevideo is a very cools city that is very different than Buenos Aires and I really enjoyed seeing it.
posted by Gor-ella at 11:36 AM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: San Miguel de Allende?
posted by biscuits at 1:30 PM on July 24, 2014

I came here to also suggest San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 7:04 PM on July 25, 2014

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