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Tips for South America Cruise Travel

Buenos Aires cabaret show
Don't Cry For Me Argentina

by Linda & Mel Coffman

Research is high on my list of things to do when preparing for a cruise to foreign ports. Guidebooks are naturally a good place to start, as is the Internet. However, one of the best sources of information is someone who's already been there. In my case, I began my research for a cruise to South America in my own kitchen by interviewing my husband. Mel has traveled extensively throughout South America for the past decade.

These are Mel Coffman's tips for cruise passengers visiting South America and particularly Brazil:

  • Take the time to learn a few phrases in Portuguese (Brazil) and Spanish (the rest of South America), especially greetings and pleasantries such as hello, please, and thank you. Don't hesitate to make mistakes; your hosts will appreciate the effort and be happy to assist you with the correct pronunciation.

  • My favorite restaurants in Brazil are the churrascarias—what we would call a barbeque. Those that serve rodizio-style bring meat to the table continuously until you turn over the small chit placed beside your plate to indicate you are full.

  • Be prepared to be the only restaurant patrons if you arrive for dinner before 9pm. South Americans linger over dinner, often well into the early morning hours.

  • Guaraná (pronounced gua-na-na) is a carbonated soft drink made using the Amazonian fruit of the same name. Try some—it's quite refreshing. (The local brand in the green bottle is Mel's preference.)

  • Brazilian Coffee, or cafezinho, is served strong, black, and with sugar in demitasse cups. Don't look for decaf. For coffee with milk, ask for café com leite.

  • Two of Brazil's best beers are Cerpa and Antarctica. Most Brazilians prefer tap beer, called chopp.

  • Brazil's national drink is the caipirinha, a mixture of sugar, crushed lime, and pinga (a sugarcane liquor that somewhat resembles rum). Again, try one; however, be prepared for the inevitable "morning after" if you drink more than two.

  • Belem, the gateway to the Amazon, has many fine restaurants and a fairly new cruise ship terminal. Taxi service is reliable and there are numerous markets for shopping.

  • Drink only bottled water. In Brazil, it's água com gas (carbonated water) and água sem gas (non-carbonated water).

  • Take care consuming fresh fruits, salads, and uncooked vegetables as cholera is not unknown in South America. You may even find warnings about it posted on your airplane. Good establishments are probably okay, but use caution.

  • Don't miss the opportunity to take in a dance club for elaborate performances of Tango in Argentina and Samba in Brazil.

  • The beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema are all about people. You'll find residents and visitors alike soaking up the sun, playing volleyball, bike riding, and kicking back sociably. Beaches are patrolled and quite safe. Take care not to get too much sun and swim only where you know it's safe—certain areas are known to be polluted or have a strong undertow.

  • Walk the beaches and enjoy the sights, especially the famous thong bikinis. Don't stare (the women are beautiful). Okay, go ahead and stare but wear sunglasses so you aren't too obvious.

  • Uncut semi-precious stones can be a good buy in Brazil, although you would probably be advised to purchase emeralds from reliable jewelers. Vendors in Argentina offer fine leather goods at reasonable prices.

When traveling in South America, use common sense and exercise the same caution as you would in any other part of the world. While I have never felt personally intimidated, crime isn't unknown. Leave expensive jewelry and other valuables on your ship or in a hotel safe. Better still, leave good jewelry at home. Carry only a credit card and the cash you need with you. ATM machines are plentiful and VISA and American Express are widely accepted. Viagem do bon! ~ Mel Coffman.

Cruise to South America - Escape the winter doldrums!

Photos © M. D. Coffman

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