South America, Travel Advice

12 Fun Cultural Differences discovered during my trip to South America

June 2, 2012 • By

With exception of a few port stops on a cruise that I took, I had never been anywhere south of St. Augustine, Florida for any length of time. That is, until earlier this month. I didn’t have any expectations for South America. I knew it would be a different experience; that I would have to struggle to recall my high school level Spanish so that I would be able to converse with anyone that I had to interact with. Luckily, I managed enough broken Spanish coherently enough to make it through my visit. Along the way, I learned some interesting things that will leave a lasting impression upon me about the time that I spent in the beautiful cities of Lima, Peru, Santiago, Chile and the beautiful Easter Island.

  • We took a day trip to Valparaiso, Chile a beautiful port city just an hour and a half outside of Santiago. We were pleasantly surprised to witness a blast from the past. fully operational post WWII streetcars! Built by the Pullman Standard Company of Massachusetts between 1946 and 1952, these streetcars have the distinction of being the oldest running cars in the world.


  • Bottled water comes either with or without gas; meaning you can buy either the mountain spring version or sparkling, seltzer water. Personally, I hate drinking anything that bubbles or make me belch. Be sure to check the label because they were all stored in the same case on the same shelf.



  • Personal space seems optional at best. I am used to huge chasms between me and the person ahead or behind me in line. So, there was an adjustment. Not every culture has the same perception of personal space as you do.



  • Driving is like being in the middle of the Indy 500. I couldn’t believe how close the drivers are behind one another….I mean inches…remember the personal space thing? However, not once did anyone have an accident. You will hear the car horns blasting continuously, I suppose that is their way of keeping one another in check. Ironically, the craziest driver is usually the safest because he knows to keep moving to maneuver through the chaos. They queue up like ants in a colony each going about their own way, in a straight line, some may veer off course momentarily, but eventually finds his way.



  • PDAs (Public Displays of Affection) are quite common. People are not afraid to show the one that they love affection. I thought it was very romantic and not done to draw attention. It was just….real.


  •  Gas or Service Stations have real, live attendants. I found that out when the tour guide had to stop and fill up his van. It reminded me of my childhood when my Dad would pull up to a station and be asked “How much?” and watch them as they walk around to clean his windshield. I smiled at the memories and the fact that gas was about 30 cents a gallon back then.  Hey, wait a minute!



  •    Alleged corruption in Lima government led to the fact that it only has one highway and no underground rail transportation. It is difficult to get around unless you are willing to ride the independently owned and ubiquitous combis. Combis are no joke. Your feet may actually touch terra firma before they drive off. It is very cramped and uncomfortable looking, but it is the only form of transportation for most, so they deal with it.


  •  Inca cola is the most popular soft drink in Peru. Coca Cola decided to enter the market with a big ad campaign to counter Inca’s popularity and failed miserably. So, they did what every American conglomerate worth their salt would do. They bought out Inca Cola! You will be hard pressed not see ” A Coca Cola Brand product’ stamped somewhere on most beverages in South America.


  • There’s a lot of infrastructure rebuilding or maintenance, particularly in Santiago where there appears to be more affluence. The buildings are a delightful mix of traditional baroque, greco-roman influences and starkly modern architecture.


  • Vina del Mar hosts the world’s largest fireworks display in the summer. Certain areas of the river is drained to accommodate the onslaught of thousands of visitors to this city of 300,000 residents.


  • Peru is a desert with little or no rainfall, therefore, the land is barren. Corporations seized the opportunity to provide/sponsor green spaces and maintain them throughout various parts of the country in return for the chance to advertise their company in said landscape.



  • When visiting Easter Island be sure to visit their lone post office before you leave if you want to get your passport stamped. Also, you may want to mail postcards back home so that you can use their official postage stamps and get the Easter Island seal affixed as a cool souvenir that you will enjoy for years to come.