Worldwide //  South America

South America

Mr. Harper's Travel Guide

From the seductive pleasures of Rio to the call of the wild in the Amazon, Brazil provides riches of all kinds. The country covers nearly half of the entire South American continent and contains an extraordinary variety of landscapes, climates, cultures and peoples. 

Rio de ...

From the seductive pleasures of Rio to the call of the wild in the Amazon, Brazil provides riches of all kinds. The country covers nearly half of the entire South American continent and contains an extraordinary variety of landscapes, climates, cultures and peoples. 

Rio de Janeiro lies just within the tropics and offers all the pleasures of luxurious urban living in a startlingly beautiful setting. The vast ecosystem of Amazonia is about half the size of the continental United States. In the northeastern state of Bahia, Brazil’s mix of European and African blood is most readily apparent. To the south are miles of golden beaches where you can walk for hours and see no one. And more than 200 miles out into the Atlantic, the captivating tropical island of Fernando de Noronha offers world-class scuba diving as well as abundant fauna and flora. 

In Buenos Aires, it often seems that you have been mysteriously transported to one of the more desirable quarters of Paris. Or Rome. Or maybe Madrid, as most people seem to be speaking Spanish. There are elegant neoclassical squares, pavement cafés, ritzy boutiques and grand old hotels like the Alvear Palace in Recoleta that can compete with the best in Europe. Periodically, the Hermes- and Gucci-clad assemble in the elegant district of Palermo for the international polo championships. There, the accents of the more affluent citizens mingle with those from London, Seville and Greenwich, Conn. But then you notice the men with the ponies, the gauchos, with their flowing hair, ubiquitous ponchos, huge leather chaps, tooled silver belt buckles and faces tanned to the bone by the fierce sun of the pampas. Gauchos are mestizos, embodiments of the collision that melded the peoples and cultures of Europe and South America. 

Far to the northwest, in the high Andes, you find the same intriguing juxtaposition. Step through the massive wooden doorway of the wonderful Hotel Monasterio in Cusco, housed within a gold-embellished 16th-Century baroque monastery, and you are startled to see that the first layers of masonry are still the massive blocks that once supported Inca temples and palaces. And there, in an instant, is the history of an entire continent, its ancient splendor, its violent conquest and the fascinating and evolving hybrid world of today.

bird icon Recommended Luxury Hotels in South America

All Andrew Harper-recommended hotels offer impeccable accommodations and high levels of personal service. Only the best of the best make our list, so we rate them on a scale from bird icon 90 to 100.

Best Restaurants in South America

This handsome addition to the thriving Puerto Madero area has splendid water views, a sleek interior in earth tones and a dramatic wine wall. While the stated tradition of the kitchen is French, the results seem more like contemporary American. Regardless, the food is delicious and beautifully presented. Watch for dishes such as the starter of prawns with white grapes and seaweed, and a main course of Kobe-style beef with sweet peppers, black garlic and olives. The wine wall contains more than 1,200 bottles from 270 producers, including some of the best in Argentina. Closed Monday.

Alicia Moreau de Justo 1160 Puerto Madero Buenos Aires Three-course menu, US$40; seven courses, US$70

This sleek, wood-paneled establishment serves contemporary cuisine with Brazilian inflections. The restaurant is known for its large, coal-fired grill, so look for the celebrated charred tuna with tagliatelle and horseradish, and the delicious bife de chorizo (corresponding to sirloin) with rustic potatoes and truffled cream. 

Rua Dias Ferreira 233B Leblon Rio de Janeiro US$65

Almost anyone who has visited Santiago recently will suggest Bocanáriz. This time, I must agree with the crowd and wholeheartedly recommend this wine-focused restaurant two blocks north of Casa Lastarria. The 36 Chilean wines by the glass can be sampled individually or in one of 11 flights. I created my own flight of wines from the highly regarded Casablanca Valley, including a forceful Morandé Brut Nature, a light and spicy Nimbus Gewürztraminer and a rich and earthy Cono Sur “Ocio” Pinot Noir. Both the traditional chupe, a creamy seafood stew, and piquillo peppers stuffed with savory lamb stew served on a bed of meaty quinoa were outstanding.

José Victorino Lastarria 276 Santiago

This is perhaps Bogotá’s best Colombian restaurant. We ordered chef Leonor Espinosa’s nine-course “clasico” tasting menu. Courses ranged from a creamy, spicy and aromatic ceviche of tilapia to a delectable carimañola (Colombian-style empanada) stuffed with smoked rabbit to “black beef” with hominy, almonds and coconut rice.

Calle 27 # 27-75 Bogotá

This fashionable outdoor bar on the shore of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas is where affluent cariocas (citizens of Rio) come for caipirinhas and light meals (bruschetta, fondue) in leafy “Amazonian” surroundings. The prices are outrageous, but the views are memorable.

Avenida Epitácio Pessoa Ipanema Rio de Janeiro US$50

Aquí Esta Coco has long been a popular restaurant in the smart Providencia neighborhood. Having arisen from a major fire in 2008, it remains one of the capital’s most fashionable places, thanks to the loyal following of the Pacheco Baquedano family. We started with shellfish-packed empanadas, which were just delicious, and continued with the signature "mai mai" conger eel (which looked and tasted rather like North Atlantic loup de mer) in a fresh cream sauce with shrimp, mushrooms and ham. Closed Sunday and during the month of February.

Calle la Concepcion 236 Providencia Santiago

Azul Profundo is located in the lively Bellavista neighborhood. As the name — “Deep Blue” — would lead you to suspect, the spe-cialty is seafood, a suspicion confirmed by the nautical décor. The menu features fish from Chile’s 3,000-mile coastline — swordfish, sea bass, salmon, hake and flounder, plus yellowfin tuna from Easter Island — and the best way to order them is a la plancha, which means grilled on a cast-iron skillet. Nothing else is required, except perhaps a turn of pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon. A good way to begin is with ceviche or the selection of ocean-fresh shellfish. The perfect accompaniment is a crisp Sauvignon Blanc — Chilean, of course.

Calle Constitucion 111 Providencia Santiago

Claude Troisgros, a scion of the famous gastronomic dynasty, employs Brazilian ingredients in recipes informed by classical French technique. Expect dishes such as roasted sea bass with green apple, celery, lemon confit and shiitake-bacon consommé, or duck breast with passion fruit, caramelized endive and foie gras. Closed Sunday.

Rua Custódio Serrão 62 Lagoa Rio de Janeiro Three-course menu, US$105; four courses, US$125; five courses, US$145

A European-style bistro with black-and-white tile floors, dramatic chandeliers and tables set with crisp white linens, Fervor attracts an elegant crowd. Although it is a place to see and be seen, the food is the real draw. Fine meat dishes and seafood grills are the highlights.

Posadas 1519 Buenos Aires US$50

Owned by Rogério Fasano, a fourth-generation member of the renowned hotelier-restaurateur family, this fashionable establishment serves classic Italian cuisine. However, there are plenty of culinary clues to remind you that you are in Brazil. For example, you might find on the menu “Carioca-Roman” salt cod, right out of the Portuguese repertoire but enlivened with pine nuts and tomato. You’ll also be impressed with the wine list, which has a fine selection of Italian bottles, as well as surprisingly good Brazilian reds. The restaurant, with warm brick walls and well-executed lighting, is handsomely decked out with black-and-white pictures of the city.

Rua Aníbal de Mendonça 157 Ipanema Rio de Janeiro US$65

One of Cartagena’s newest restaurants, Bohemia serves contemporary Peruvian and Colombian cuisine. My innovative corvina tartare came with crunchy rice tinted with squid ink, and an aioli-based sauce. Huge and tender shrimp were served atop a hot “rock” made from coarse-grained salt. We enjoyed lunch in the leafy courtyard, but if the weather is inclement, diners can descend into the restaurant’s wine cellar.

Calle Nuestra Señora del Carmen 33- 41 Hotel El Marqués Cartagena

Santiago has its own version of noma, the famed Danish restaurant known for its unorthodox presentations and use of unusual seasonal, local ingredients. Occasionally, presentations at BORAGó went over the top — some dishes arrived perched in small trees — but almost everything on the reasonably priced tasting menu offered insight into unique Chilean ingredients. Our first course comprised a squid-ink breadstick coated in fresh garden herbs; a loco (Chilean sea snail) “sandwich;” and a briny, citrusy bite of piure, a local tunicate (marine invertebrate). Other memorable dishes included Valdivian venison tartare “hiding in a forest” of cenizo leaves; free-range Parral veal topped with scalded milk skin and tiny chaura fruit; and refreshing Atacaman rica-rica ice cream. Pairings of local wines were as audacious as the cuisine.

Av. Nueva Costanera 3467 Vitacura Santiago

Of the seven restaurants founded by brothers Jorge and Mark Rausch, Criterión is the most famous and formal. Colombian interpretations of French and Spanish recipes included scallop with creamy corn velouté, chorizo and fresh corn studded with Serrano ham, and shrimp in a foie gras sauce with asparagus and smoked mashed potatoes.

Calle 69A # 5-75 Zona G Bogotá

Tall shelves of wine run the entire length of this cheerful Cartagena classic, an airy white storefront restaurant frequented by locals and tourists alike. The menu includes Peruvian, Spanish and Italian dishes. We focused on the local seafood options such as an appetizer of sweet crab claws in a white wine and butter sauce, and red snapper served in a sauce of shrimp, coconut milk and diced tomatoes. The menu also has several meat-based dishes for those in a more carnivorous mood.

Calle del Colegio 34-60 Local 1 Cartagena

A Rio institution for more than 25 years, this lively restaurant serves a full menu of Japanese cuisine, as well as exemplary sushi and sashimi. Try the house specialty drink, a “caipisake,” a caipirinha made with sake instead of cachaça. Reservations can be hard to come by.

Rua Dias Ferreira, 256 Leblon Rio de Janeiro US$75

There is a saying that the only part of a cow Argentinians don’t eat is the moo. This is a casual, comfortable place — the light fixtures are made from wagon wheels; the kitchen is open; old wine bottles line the walls — to explore the pleasures of Argentinian beef. The cordial staff will help you make your selection, but the most appealing option for me always seems to be the sirloin (although the sweetbreads shouldn’t be overlooked). Order a fine Malbec, and you will enjoy a memorable evening.

Guatemala 4691 Buenos Aires US$35

Astrid & Gastón is actually the Chilean branch of a well-known Peruvian establishment, but pedigree aside, it is probably the best restau-rant in town. (In 2008, it was awarded this accolade by Santiago’s Guía Culinaria.) Also in Providencia, it is tucked into a small pink building with a bustling dining room flanked by an open kitchen. We were seated on the very pleasant upstairs terrace, which for some reason known only to locals seems to be regarded as a social Siberia! Fortunately, the food was superb and beautifully presented. The starter of grilled octopus was a lovely composition, arranged in the shape of a star and set on a potato purée along with tangy dollops of olive foam and dabs of pepper coulis. A main course of grilled turbot came with potato gnocchi in a zesty tomato sauce. The service could not have been more gracious. Closed Sunday.

Antonio Bellet 201 Providencia Santiago

The people of Buenos Aires love this typical parrilla (grill). Tucked away in the Palermo Viejo neighborhood, it has a comfortable, low-key atmosphere with dark wood, exposed bricks and a congenial (if noisy) bar. Start with the arugula salad, then go for the bone-in sirloin. Try it well-done, which in Argentina means slightly charred on the outside, pink in the center. And if you want to stick with tradition, order an indulgent flan for dessert. The wine list is extensive, the service friendly and unhurried.

Cabrera 5099 Buenos Aires US$45

In a business overpopulated with unrestrained egos, chef Rafa Costa e Silva is an exception. He could well be otherwise, as he is a wizard at taking favorite Brazilian ingredients and flavors and giving them delightful and innovative twists. Costa e Silva scours the local markets and works with trusted providers to create a menu that changes daily, supported by a fine selection of Brazilian wines. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Rua Conde de Irajá 191 Botafogo Rio de Janeiro Tasting menus, US$75 and US$95

Housed in a triangular Tudor-revival building a short walk from The Singular hotel, this friendly, stylish restaurant has a well-priced list of fine Chilean wines and a tempting menu of Mediterranean and traditional Chilean dishes. I opted for a hearty appetizer of grilled octopus with potato confit and olive tapenade, and a smoked Angus sirloin steak accompanied by pan-seared gnocchi topped with tomatoes and olives. Glasses of round, rich Sauvignon Gris and focused, elegant Cabernet Sauvignon made for delicious pairings. The roof terrace is too sunny for lunch, but on warm evenings, it has some of Santiago’s most enviable dinner seating.

José Victorino Lastarria 70 Santiago

Chef Rafael Osterling serves Peruvian/ Mediterranean cuisine — his original restaurant is in Lima — in a masculine, contemporary setting of steel and glass. I started with meaty grilled octopus accompanied by hummus, goat cheese, local potatoes and a well-balanced salad. And I couldn’t resist the 48-hour beef pot roast with a confit of carrots and wild mushrooms.

Calle 70 N° 4-63 Los Rosales Bogotá

This fashionable restaurant in the Anandá boutique hotel, with its open kitchen, exposed stone wall and tall ceilings, served perhaps the best meal of the trip. I started with a fresh and complex tiradito (akin to ceviche) of corvina infused with sambal, mango and coconut. My main course of “Pork Two Ways” ranks among the tastiest dishes I’ve ordered in recent memory. The juicy lacquered pork loin was accompanied by a savory 12-hour chicharrón, buttery green beans and creamy sweet-potato purée.

Calle del Cuartel # 36-77 Carrera 5 Cartagena
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