South America is an overlooked travel destination for travelers from the United States who often think of first exploring Europe. However, this continent has so much to offer travelers. From European influenced cities, colonial architecture, incredible natural beauty, and unique wildlife to welcoming and friendly people, this is truly a location to consider. The US dollar is stronger than most currencies in South America, making travel to the continent occasionally more affordable than European or Asian destinations.
Santiago, the capital city of Chile, is a beautiful city surrounded by the Andes Mountains. One of the first things many US travelers notice when arriving is how modern, clean, safe, and vibrant Santiago is. It has a vast array of Spanish colonial history as well as some of the most contemporary skyscrapers in South America.
For the traveler with a disability, Santiago is also an accessible city. Hotels with accessible accommodations, curb cuts in the sidewalks to accessible public bus transportation make this city rather easy to navigate. One caution, there are not many accessible hotel rooms with roll-in showers, when making your hotel reservations in Chile and you need a roll-in shower, it is important to receive confirmation that the room does indeed have a roll-in shower versus just an accessible tub. The Marriott Santiago offers accessible facilities and roll-in showers for a place to start.
Santiago is also a very large city. Even though the main historical attractions are relatively near each other in the central city, getting around Santiago may be best using the public transportation or hiring an accessible van and driver.
To get a flavor of the local cultures of Chile, plan a dinner show at Los Adobe de Argomedo restaurant. This accessible restaurant serves local grilled specialties such as beef or salmon and features folk dancing and singing from various parts of Chile.
Outside Santiago beautiful valleys are filled with grape vineyards, avocado trees, apple orchards, cherry trees, pineapples, peach orchards, and vegetable fields. It is a veritable Garden of Eden embedded in the Andes.
Just south from Santiago you’ll find the city of Santa Cruz. This route takes you through valleys to a town known for its surrounding wineries. In Santa Cruz plant a visit to a gem of a museum, the Colchagua Museum. Once a private collection, this museum truly has something to suit everyone’s interest. From prehistoric fossils, artifacts from the native South American cultures, items from the Spanish colonial area, to cars, trains, buggies and machinery. This extensive museum collection has everything you ever wanted to know about the history of Chile. While the museum is fully accessible, the restrooms are an exception. Make sure you make a stop before visiting the museum.
The Mont Gras winery is located just a short distance from Santa Cruz. This fully accessible winery, including accessible restrooms, provides tours of the vineyard. The tour explains the wine making process in the region. If you go with a tour group, you may be treated to a private lunch in the hacienda-style winery, which features breathtaking views of the vineyards and surrounding mountains.
While in Santiago, a trip to the coastal cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar are necessary. Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This famous port city is practically frozen in time of its glory as a major port city. When the Panama Canal was completed, the ships stopped coming to the port and the city saw some desperate times. Known as the San Francisco of South America, Valparaiso is built on the mountains, which descend to the sea. The city features fancifully painted wooden houses and many historical building and monuments.
In contrast, Vina del Mar is the playground of the rich and famous of Chilean society. This resort city has an accessible casino with accessible restrooms as the focal point along the sea. Beautiful gardens, paths, and seating surround the sea and river, which flows through the city offering areas to enjoy the views. Atop of the hill overlooking the city is the president’s summer home. Looking like a European castle, the magnificent structure stands like a sentry guarding the city.
A trip to Chile would not be complete without time spent in the southern part of the country. The most accessible way to enjoy the astounding beauty of the fjord region and the Strait of Magellan is via cruise ship.
Chile’s stark and spectacular southern coast is the product of the world’s last ice age. Enormous glaciers, covering the southern end of South America, cut deeply into the continent and created marked valleys between mountains and oceans. Today, there are still many glaciers visible as you cruise along this dramatic coastal area.
These regions, rich in scenic beauty, offer an abundance of wildlife viewing. Nothing is more spectacular than watching a pod of dolphins as they follow your ship through the straits or a flock of penguins frolicking in the waves.
It is important when choosing a cruise, to inquiry if ports are tendered or docked. Many cruise lines will not allow people who use wheelchairs to disembark the ship if it is a tendered port.
Tucked into an inlet along the Beagle Channel of is the Argentine city of Ushuaia. The southernmost city of its size, a mere 750 miles from Antarctica, it is nestled against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks which astound any visitor. While in Ushuaia, visit the Tierra del Fuego National Park, which lies just ten miles west of the city and pay a visit to the Maritime and Prison Museum. The city began as a penal colony in 1884. The museum provides history and exhibits of this period along with interesting maritime exhibits, local art, and indigenous history. The museum is accessible and provides accessible restrooms.
Ushuaia, even though it has some steep streets, is a moderately easy city to navigate with a wheelchair. It also has unique shopping, restaurants, coffee, and chocolate shops. Curb cuts abound but some of the sidewalks are paved with cobblestone or in poor repair in areas. There may be some bumpy places, but the city is worth the adventure.
Puerto Madryn is located on Argentina’s Atlantic coast in the famous region of Patagonia. This port city looks over the Nuevo Gulf and its abundance of wildlife. Colonies of sea lions, elephant seals, and penguins abound in these fertile waters. The best place to get close and personal with the local wildlife is the nearby reserve of Punta Tombo. This area is home to one of the largest Magellan Penguin colonies in South America. Estimates of the number of penguins are upward of 2 million.
Punta Tombo features a wheelchair accessible wooden path. You are allowed to wheel up to the penguin nesting area where the adult penguins, just back from the sea, can be found feeding their newborn chicks. The exciting part of this reserve is the penguins do not seem to mind their human visitors and continue along with daily life. The reserve has accessible restrooms and a light refreshment area.
Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, overlooks the north shore of the Rio de la Plata where the waters of the mighty river meet the Atlantic Ocean. The “Old City” has a classic and inviting European charm and elegance. There are broad boulevards, peaceful parks with refreshing fountains, stately plazas, and imposing monuments dedicated to respected national heroes.
Although not as accessible as some other cities, Montevideo has made accessible modifications to some of its national monuments such the Independence Square and the Cathedral. Sidewalks lack curb cuts in many areas along with bumpy paving makes for some challenging mobility. However, do not let that keep you from enjoying this laid-back jewel. Consider hiring an accessible private driver to provide transportation while visiting Montevideo.
Buenos Aires, considered by many to be the Paris of South America, is like a love one can never forget. From the tango music echoing down the cobblestone streets of San Telmo to the aroma of Argentine beef cooking on a grill, there is something undeniably seductive about this grand city.
There are many accessible activities in Buenos Aires however, crumbling cobblestone sidewalks and curb cuts in disrepair makes navigating the city without accessible transportation challenging. Any tour of Buenos Aires should begin at the Plaza de Mayo, the heart of the city. Around the plaza is the Casa Rosada where the president holds meetings; the accessible Catedral Metropolitana home of the mausoleum of General Jose de San Martin, the liberator of Argentina and many monuments.
Other accessible “must sees’ in the city include the Cementario de la Recoleta, where Evita Peron is buried; the San Telmo neighborhood and the famous La Boca area. Enjoy an evening at one of Buenos Aires famous Tango shows. The Carlos Gardel Tango Show has an accessible venue with an accessible restroom and features an exciting live orchestra, dancers, and very good singers.
Take a day tour outside of the city to the pampas area of Argentina, learn about the gaucho lifestyle, and take in the fresh air of the beautiful countryside. One accessible gaucho ranch to visit is the Estancia Santa Susana. This ranch features a live gaucho show, a traditional Argentine BBQ, and a museum of the hacienda to glimpse the romantic past of the estate owners.
Upon returning to the city, do not forget Buenos Aires is also famous for shopping. Stroll down the accessible Florida pedestrian street for bargains on leather goods and all the latest styles. The street ends at the famous Mall Pacifico home to all the designer stores.
With one taste, the smell, the sights, and sounds of Buenos Aires, it is all too easy to begin a lifelong affair with this city. You must pull yourself away from the city and visit one of the most astounding natural wonders of the world, Iguazu Falls.
The falls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are located in the subtropical forest of northern Argentina. The mighty falls consist of more than 250 individual falls spanning 2 miles. Accessible networks of catwalks, trails and a train to allow you to easily explore this national park area. The most amazing falls is the Devil’s Throat. At 262 feet high, this fall is the most spectacular. Accessible catwalks take you right to the edge of the falls, allowing you to experience the sheer power and beauty of this fall. While viewing the falls, be prepared to see exotic wildlife such as the Coatimundi, the Capuchin monkey, parrots, toucans, and hundreds of bird and butterfly species.
The most accessible place to stay is the city of Puerto Igauzu, which lies just outside the national park. There are accessible hotels with roll-in showers. It is necessary to prearrange accessible transportation from the airport to your hotel and from your hotel to the park.
South America is a huge and diverse continent. These travel highlights are merely the tip of the iceberg. Our neighbor to the south is much more accessible, safe and affordable travel destination for people with disabilities, chronic illness or has difficulty walking. The opportunity for a successful adventure in South America is quite possible.
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