Friends, grilled guinea pig and epic dance-offs: My Contiki experience

I remember when I received an email from Contiki asking me to join them on their first trip to South America.

I nearly choked. I hysterically called my roommate, who had to eventually hang up on me because all he could hear was, “SOUTHAMERICACONTIKIFREAKINGOUTOMGHELP.”

Upon receiving the itinerary, I was sceptical. Nine days to do ALL THAT? My excitement was blighted by concern. And then fear of flying. And a job offer from a company I love working for.

I’m so glad I took the trip.

There are a few reasons why Contiki is one of the most powerful tour operators in the world. Our FAM trip was built exactly to replicate a typical Contiki tour, and while the whole thing wasn’t pulled off without a few problems, I’d happily book another tour with them.

The Pros

The friendships: By day 2, our little group of 30 had become tight. We poured in from all corners of the world, and by the time we left, we all had earned a few couches to crash on.

The experiences: We danced tangos, consumed pisco sours, sampled grilled guinea pig, and hiked ancient Inca sites. We were blessed by shamans and introduced to people we would never have met otherwise.

We’re actually helping the economy: I was initially plagued by a weird sense of exploitation; that my presence in Peru was actually negatively impacting their economy. However, while at Machu Picchu, our amazing guide Gaby graciously thanked us for coming. She explained that our visits and our dollars have actually allowed her to help keep her Quechua heritage alive. I had never thought of it that way.

You can cover a LOT of ground in a short amount of time: By the time we were halfway into the trip, I was bewildered by how much ground we had covered. Literally. I remember thinking, “We still have 5 days left!” and being comforted by this fact. I’d kill for that time back now.

Myself with Maggie and Mike. Love these guys!

The Cons

South America works at its own pace: Things get delayed, answers are hard to find, and nobody rushes around with an urgent sense of need to get things done (except perhaps in Lima and Buenos Aires). Relax. Enjoy the fact that things are slower here–it’s a refreshing feeling.

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Things don’t always go as planned: We had the frustrating experience of missing our flight to Brazil, and sitting in an airport for five hours waiting for answers from the airline when the whole thing could have been resolved by them in a matter of minutes (see previous point).

Our Contiki guides handled it perfectly, were super apologetic, and none of us actually cared much in the end. We spent a little more time in Buenos Aires, and partied in Lima instead.

One of my favourite shots, lifted from Alexis. Hopefully he doesn’t sue me. Please don’t sue me.

It can get exhausting: After being sick and not sleeping very well, I was a walking zombie by the time I returned home. Most people handled it just fine, but I’m a notorious insomniac and others may have similar difficulties. I recommended loading up on drowsy anti-nausea pills. You’d be surprised how often those come in handy.

Overall, I’d book another trip with Contiki any day—their travel style fits me perfectly. The opportunity to meet new folks and have a little taste of a place is too good to pass up, and at least now I have a better idea of how South America works if I should ever return. I hope I do.

This video by vlog master Corey Vidal sums up the Contiki camaraderie perfectly! Watch for my sexy tango face. You’ll love it.

  • October 18 2011

    I have been fixated on a picture of my feet, concrete, and water… the water being the Panama canal. But now I want to learn something new, see Machu Pichu, and… well….try to master….. EPIC!…. Tango face…. (too FUNNY) :-)

    Thank you for posting :-)

    • October 20 2011

      Totally just like the Zoolander face ;)

  • October 18 2011

    There are definitely pros and cons to Contiki. I started out my first solo trip in Europe with a 10-day Contiki trip through Berlin, Prague and Vienna–I realized that it’s not quite my style (mostly because I am anti-social ha!) but it’s a great experience for a lot of people. Glad you enjoyed your trip!

    • October 18 2011

      its totally not a trip you want to go on if you are anti-social! hahaha

      I have done three Contiki tours (Europe, Australia and NZ) and I have loved each one of them. The one I did in Europe was my favorite! :)

      • October 20 2011

        Contiki FTW! Nope, not for the anti-social

    • October 20 2011

      Bahaha, like I said, totally don’t believe you’re anti-social! The fast-paced lifestyle is a bit jarring for sure.

  • October 18 2011

    Gah this post makes me want to travel! I loved the video, especially your “sexy face”. Off to Google Contiki tours now!

    • October 20 2011

      I have a feeling you’d LOVE Contiki, Cam. :) You should go for it if you get a chance! Next summer vacay?

  • October 19 2011

    I wish I had both the funds and the vacation time to take a contiki trip like right now. because hearing all about your adventures has totally got me sold. Seems like a great way for me to travel… though I’d need some recoup time when I got back before heading back to work, as I am also an insomniac, and do get exhausted from being around lots of people. . .

    damn being a veterinarian. it really gets in the way of life sometimes.

    • October 20 2011

      Damn those careers! Take a sabbatical. ;) Is that even possible?

      • October 20 2011

        I don’t think it is with my job. . . I know specialists take them, but that would mean 4 more years of schooling minimum :P NO THANK YOU.
        Maybe I’ll get knocked up, give the kids up for adoption, not tell anyone, take maternity leave, and come back to work and say the kid died. . .

  • October 19 2011

    Great tango face! Contiki is great but does appeal to a particular traveler. If you’re in your early twenties and are easing into traveling, I think Contiki is a good way to start. It’s what I did when I went solo for the first time in New York. We covered a lot of ground and got a good overview of the history and city of New York (i.e. went to Harlem..I wouldn’t have gone otherwise) but it was pretty exhausting! If I am a tour (or conference for that matter), I always make sure to book out a few days before or after the trip to explore the city on my own terms and do the shopping/eating that you don’t usually get to on the tour.

    • October 20 2011

      Yep, seems to be the way most people ease themselves into travel! That’s basically why I chose studying abroad. And nowadays I’ll rarely take a press trip without booking a few extra days on location. That downtime is NEEDED!

  • October 20 2011

    This sounds like a marvelous trip – ilness and fatigue notwithstanding. I have never even stepped foot on South America, but I would undoutedly love it if I did.

    • October 20 2011

      I’m positive you would, without a doubt. :) It has “Sabina” written all over it!

  • October 22 2011

    I’d like to give Contiki a try, might be something to consider now that I’m in Oz! Even better to work for them!

    What you were saying about the tourism vs. exploitation… that’s something that I’ve thought about a lot. Did you feel like even though you were “helping out the culture” as your guide said, that it felt like it was forcing them to turn to the biggest ways to earn money (similar to how we tend to strive for the corporate world in N. America) or did is seem legit? I’m only asking because it’s something that I’ve thought a lot about but being that I haven’t really traveled in any of these type of destinations I’m not sure what to believe! It’s a bit like how in Australia they do a good job talking up the Aboriginal history and apologizing yet most of the drunks on the street that are lost and homeless are Aboriginals. Doesn’t do them much good in the flesh it turns out, ya know?

    Just a thought, not to be controversial or anything :)

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