Overseas France: Or Where You Can Find France Outside Of France

The days of colonial empires may be long over, though the United States, United Kingdom, France, Netherlands and Denmark continue each to administer a smattering of overseas territories.

Among these, France has arguably the most interesting and wide-ranging set of territories. Overseas France includes tiny St. Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Newfoundland (population around 6,000), the Caribbean overseas departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique, the smaller Caribbean “overseas collectivities” of St. Martin and St. Barts, the South American overseas department of French Guiana, the Indian Ocean overseas departments of Réunion and Mayotte, and French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Wallis & Futuna in the South Pacific.

Officially, overseas France is divided into “overseas departments” (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Réunion), “overseas collectivities” (French Polynesia, St. Barts, St. Martin, St. Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna), and New Caledonia, which has a special status unto itself.

There are also two uninhabited French territories – a vast, noncontiguous territory with the grand name of Territory of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, inhabited only by researchers, and, most curious of all, the uninhabited island of Clipperton, which sits off Mexico and is administered directly by the Minister of Overseas France.

Tourism is a huge economic driver in many of these territories. St. Martin, St. Barts, and French Polynesia are particularly well known to Americans. Francophone tourists are also familiar with the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, New Caledonia, and Réunion.


[Flickr image via Rayced]

Experiencing The Beauty Of The World’s Second Highest Peak: Cerro Aconcagua

Cerro Aconcagua, located in Mendoza, Argentina, is a mountain in Aconcagua Provincial Park. At 22,841 feet, the mountain is the highest in the southern and western hemispheres. In fact, aside for the Himalayas, it is the world’s highest peak.

To get to the park from Mendoza city center, take the Puente del Inca bus, which is 26.50 Argentine Pesos (about $6) each way. The excursion continues to be budget-friendly, as the entrance to Aconcagua Provincial Park is only 10 ARS$ (about $2). If you want to go to the base of the mountain, you will pay more, but only about $17 total. You can choose to simply hike the park for the day, as I did, or trek to the top of the mountain. This is only for the most fit of adventure enthusiasts, as the hike takes about 10 days each way and about three people die each year trying to make the ascent. Moreover, if you’re going to go this route make sure to leave some time before the hike to fill out the necessary paperwork.

However you decide to explore the area, just make sure you do it. The contrasting landscape of the park almost seems unreal, as lagoons, prairie, grey stone, fairy chimneys, rainbow-colored rock and snow-capped mountains all inhabit the same area.

For a more visual idea of my day experiencing the beauty of Cerro Aconcagua in Aconcagua Provincial Park, check out the gallery below.

Update: A commenter below points out that the Himalayas have over 100 peaks about 2,400 feet, and we acknowledge that encompassing all those into one can be misleading. Moreover, she posts a great guide for those who want to actually hike to the top of the mountain. Rest assured, it’s a glorious hike!


Video Of The Day: Venezuelan Skies Time-Lapse

This time-lapse video featuring Venezuelan skies and aptly named “Venezuelan Skies” just brightened my day. A recent addition to Vimeo with very few plays (5 total plays as I write this), this gem deserves to be seen. Upbeat music is paired with captivating images in this video. Swirling clouds in Venezuela and fog soar above beautifully colored scenery. Large rock formations are juxtaposed against vivid vegetation as the video continues. Once this video begins to near its end, the time-lapse transitions into the gorgeous nighttime sky, complete with the occasional blurred artificial light. Take the time to watch this video by monoelemento on Vimeo and you’ll be glad you did. Spoiler: there’s a helicopter!

Tips For Backpacking South America

Backpacking South America is a worthwhile adventure I recommend everyone to have at least once in their lives. Before I arrived on the continent, I was unsure of what to expect. To help prepare you before you go, here are some things I wish I had known before I left for my trip.

Know the Exchange Rate

The exchange rates vary considerably from country to country in South America. For example, while travelers can spend a lot of time in Bolivia and Peru, stretching their dollar very far, popular tourist cities in Brazil, Chile and the Galapagos Islands can be expensive. If you’re on a budget, look up which cities are the most affordable beforehand. For example, I noticed in Argentina that the farther south I went – basically the farther into Patagonia – the
more expensive things cost. For example, my usual chicken sub went from being 10 to 15 Argentine Pesos ($2 to $3) in Buenos Aires to 45 to 60 Argentine Pesos ($10 to $14) in Bariloche.

Moreover, don’t always think “roughing it” will save you money. Making use of the shelters on the “W” circuit in Torres del Paine and camping your way through the Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu are quite expensive. In fact, one night in a “refugio” in Torres del Paine will cost about $40 to $60 – and that only includes the mattress. Camping in the park is free if you bring your own gear; however, this can be tricky as the hike is difficult at times and you will have to carry your own
equipment. Moreover, to trek with a good company for the Inca Trail will cost about $500 to $650 for the trek.Likewise, bring a mix of US cash, debit cards, credit cards and foreign currency with you. It is not uncommon in smaller towns for ATMs to run out of cash, so it’s good to be prepared. Additionally, make sure to tell your bank and credit card company you’re leaving the country beforehand. If you don’t, you may find yourself with a frozen account.

Check the Weather for the Places You Want to Go Beforehand

While most people will check the weather for the first city of their trip, it is a good idea to check for each area when traveling in South America. For example, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, you may be able to walk around in shorts and tank top, while heading to Bariloche in the same country may require a hat and coat. Furthermore, don’t think that because it is a certain season in the country the weather will match that season in your home country. Autumn in Patagonia or Brazil is a lot different than autumn in New York.

Get Familiar with Photography

Traveling to South America, you will have many opportunities for extraordinary landscape and nature shots. Even if you don’t have a DSLR camera, I would recommend taking a photography course, or at least getting familiar with your camera’s features and how to properly use them. You may also want to practice at a park in your hometown at different times of day and night, to figure out what the best settings are.

Bring Your Sweet Tooth

In many places in South America, you will be surrounded at all times of day by delicious cakes, cookies, pastrys and candies. I especially noticed this in Brazil, where it is not uncommon to eat sweets for breakfast. In fact, at all of the Brazilian hostels I stayed in, treats like chocolate cake with sprinkles and chocolate sandwich cookies were served in the morning.

Try the Local Specialties

While there are many preconceived notions that exist on what “South American food” is like, each country, and even the different cities within a country, has their own local specialties. For example, Argentine empanadas are delicious; however, their ingredients differ from city to city. Additionally, in Brazil eating açai is more than just a treat, it’s a cultural experience. Ceviche in Peru, cuy in Ecuador, seafood stews in Chile, giant steaks and matte tea in Argentina, barbeque in Brazil – these are just some of the delicious options waiting for you on your backpacking adventure.

Prepare Your Liver

Not only do the countries of South America feature unique and appetizing foods, many are also known for their national drinks. In Brazil, you must try the caipirinha, a strong cocktail made with cachaça, sugar and lime. Moreover, Argentina is world-renowned for its Malbec wine, while the Pisco Sour, created using pisco and lemon juice, is typical of Peru and Chile. In Colombia, make sure to try aguardiente, or firewater, which is made from sugar cane molasses converted into alcohol. The proof is usually 60%, and many times sugar is added to make the drink sweeter.

Take the Bus

Bus transportation in South America is very good. While the popular bus routes usually take hours, the drives are very comfortable and scenic. Beautiful desert, mountain and lake landscapes that would be missed by taking an airplane can be photographed from your bus window. Another great thing about bus travel is you can usually travel overnight, saving you money on accommodation and allowing you to not waste an entire day traveling. Moreover, food, beverages and sometimes even champagne and wine are usually included in your ticket price. One tip: spring for a cama bus. This will allow you to recline your seat far back. Doing this, along with pulling down the leg rest in front of you, will allow you to almost feel like you’re sleeping in a bed.

Keep a Loose Itinerary

With such convenient bus transportation, keeping a loose itinerary is easy. You can arrive in a city, peruse the different bus routes and then figure out where you want to go. I’d also advise talking to other travelers in your hostel to get recommendations. For example, when I arrived in Bariloche, Argentina, I immediately went and booked a bus ticket to El Calafate, simply based on the fact that I had read this is what you were “supposed to do in Patagonia.” After talking to other backpackers in my hostel, however, I realized I was skipping over El Chalten, a hotspot for my favorite activity, hiking. If I had waited to book my ticket, I could have stopped there first and then moved on to El Calafate.

Plan Your Big Hikes in Advance

That being said, you should plan out any big hikes in advance. For example, if you want to trek the Inca Trail in Peru, you’re going to need to book it months in advance if you want to ensure you have a spot. Moreover, doing the “W” circuit in Torres del Paine, or even a shorter version of it, requires some beforehand planning. Will you camp, stay in a refugio, or book a nearby hotel? Are the refugios open when you’re going? If it’s high season, they may even be booked up. Where will you store your pack? Will you trek with it? I’d also recommend checking the weather, as this windy park can be difficult to trek in stormy weather.

No Matter What the Weather Is, Pack Layers

Like I mentioned above, the weather in South America is very different from city to city, even if you’re still in the same country. Additionally, while certain places may be hot during the day, such as desert areas, they can be freezing at night. It is also worth mentioning that the buses tend to be very hot or cold, depending on what the weather is outside. For instance, when taking an overnight bus from São Paulo to Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, I wore a tracksuit, figuring I would be warm enough if there was air conditioning. I ended up shivering all night long from the Artic temperatures of the bus. What was really funny was when looking around, I noticed everyone – including the bus drivers – had gloves and scarves on and were wrapping their coats around their heads. Despite this, the air conditioner was never touched.

Interact With Locals

While I believe this is a good idea no matter where you travel to, I especially recommend it for South America. In most places, it is really easy to meet locals, as they are very friendly. For example, when flying from Miami, Florida, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I sat next to a Brazilian girl on the plane. By the time we landed, I had made a new friend, was being brought to her house to meet her mom and was given a grand tour of the city. Likewise, at a bar in Buenos Aires, a local overheard me speaking English and was excited to practice his own as well as tell me all about the city’s history and must-see sites. I also noticed many people in South America tend to backpack around their own countries, so you’ll be able to meet a lot of natives in your hostel. Even though South America is often thought of as one culture, each country, and even each city, is very interesting and unique. For example, not all of Brazil eats the same exact foods or dances the same way. It depends what city you’re in.

Bring a Sense of Adventure

No matter what thrills you, you’ll find it in South America. Surfing Rio de Janeiro’s beautiful beaches, hiking glaciers or ancient ruins, hang gliding over picturesque Patagonia, trekking the Andes or Amazon and scuba diving the clear waters of Paraty – these are just a few of your options. If you think about it, simply backpacking South America is an adventure in itself, as you never know whom you’ll meet, what cultural discoveries you’ll make or where you’ll end up the next day. When I was in Paraty, Brazil, there was one night I felt particularly tired and lazy. Despite that, I went to the beach bar across the street from my hostel for a caipirinha, just to feel social. I ended up hanging out with locals all night, learning how to forró dance and going to the town’s signature nightclub, Paraty 33. It ended up being one of my most memorable nights of the trip.

Know Where You Need to Take Extra Precautions

I don’t care if you’re in your hometown, you should always be alert. Bad things happen everywhere, not just when you’re traveling. That being said, there are certain cities – and areas within cities – that you need to be extra vigilant in. When arriving at a hostel, I always make sure to ask the staff to circle the areas on my map that are more dangerous. For example, when in Buenos Aires, the hostel staff told my friends and I to be very careful when walking around in the southeast part of the city near La Boca. Not listening, a friend of mine not only went and walked around the area alone, but also made it obvious he was carrying a camera and stored it in his backpack – where it was completely out of his sight. It wasn’t surprising to me that by the time he returned to the hostel, his camera had been stolen. Moreover, on a bus ride in Bolivia, where you should always be on high alert, one traveler fell asleep with her DSLR camera sitting in her lap. Luckily her boyfriend was awake, because one local actually reached over to snatch it off her lap. He was able to stop the theft from occurring, but the situation could have been avoided if the girl would have been more cautious. Keep in mind, these are examples of petty theft. You also want to keep yourself safe from physical danger.

[photos via H.L.I.T., alexkerhead, Jessie on a Journey, Jessie on a Journey, Jessie on a Journey]

10 Free Things To Do In Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

For travelers heading to South America, Brazil is one of the more expensive countries on the continent. The popular Rio de Janeiro can be especially difficult to navigate on a budget. To help you plan a worthwhile trip to this beautiful area, here are 10 free things to do.


Although Rio de Janeiro is a city there are also a lot of natural experiences to be had. When I visited, one of my favorite activities I did was hiking Sugarloaf Mountain. There are two mountains encompassed in the walk and while it is not free to hike to the top of the higher mountain, you can trek about an hour up to the top of the smaller one. Keep in mind, it still isn’t “small,” and the hike will provide a beautiful setting as well as a physical challenge. In my opinion, the views from there were just as good as from the tallest point, especially because you could see a view of the bigger mountain (shown above).

You can also hike the trails of Tijuca Forest. One excellent spot to check out while there is the Chinese View. The spot gets its name from its cultural architecture as well as the many Chinese people who lived there in the past. You will be given an excellent view of the South Zone of Rio as well as Botafogo, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, Sugarloaf Mountain and the iconic Christ statue on top of Corcovado Mountain.Take a Stroll in Downtown Rio

In the downtown area, there are a lot of historic buildings, churches and the City Theater. Likewise, you’ll find the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB), the first bank in Brazil, which is now a museum. In 2010, it made the list of most visited museums in the world. Its programming includes exhibitions, theater, cinema and workshops. There is also a library, bookshop and cafe on the premises. Luckily, this museum is free to enter.

Relax on the Beach

Rio de Janeiro is home to many beautiful and worthwhile beaches. The most famous is probably Copacabana Beach, with impressive surrounding architecture, ornate sand art creations and many water activities and beach sports. This is a great beach to go to if you’d like to try stand up paddle boarding or play some beach volleyball. Ipanema Beach and Leblon Beach tend to bring in a more hip crowd, while Macumba Beach is a more secluded beach surrounded by forest. These are just a few of the choices of sand and sea you will have when visiting Rio de Janeiro.

Browse a Local Market

There are numerous markets and fairs to choose from when visiting Rio de Janeiro. First, there is the Hippie Fair in Ipanema, which occurs each Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in General Osório Square. Here you will find everything – handicrafts, souvenirs, art and typical Brazilian foods. There’s also the Rio Antigo Fair in Lapa, which happens on the first Saturday of each month. You can browse antiques, crafts and watch talented street performers. Additionally, each evening (except for Sundays), there is a night market near Copacabana Beach at 6:00 p.m. This market is smaller than the others, but features goods like clothing, souvenirs and art.

Go For a Jog Around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas

While jogging may not sound like the ultimate vacation experience, you’ve never done it around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. The area is very scenic and gets its name from its beautiful lagoon. It is one of the less commercialized areas of the city and features many parks, squares, trees and mountain views. Not only that, but locals in Rio are very into health and fitness, and jogging this circuit is a big part of their lives. Therefore, not only will you be doing something good for yourself, you’ll also be doing something cultural.

Visit the House of Rui Barbosa Museum

Located in the Botafogo neighborhood of Rio, this building has been open since 1849. The House of Rui Barbosa Museum, which is free to enter on Sundays, is an excellent way to view 19th century architecture and design in the city. Likewise, the museum works hard to preserve the memory of Rui Barbosa, a Brazilian politician, writer and jurist.

There are other free museums in Rio de Janeiro as well, such as the Casa Franca-Brasil cultural center, the Histórico Nacional Museum and the Museu da República (free on Wednesdays and Sundays).

Relax in Laje Park

This historical and naturally beautiful park resides in the Jardim Botanico neighborhood in Rio. Listed by the Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage, it features houses, trails, playgrounds, picnic areas and artificial caves. There is a also a café inside the house where they serve breakfast around the pool on weekends.

Take in the Views at Parque das Ruinas Cultural Center

Located in the bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa, the Parque das Ruinas Cultural Center was once the home of Laurinda Santos Lobo, famous Patron of the Arts from the Rio Belle Époque. In her ornate mansion rooms, Laurinda would bring together artists and intellectuals. These rooms, which are one of the projects architect Ernani Freire’s is most proud of, can still be viewed today. The best part of the visit, however, is the observatory. Here you will see views of Guanabara Bay and central Rio. To make the experience even more interesting, you can take a cable car to Santa Teresa from Lapa. While not free, the ticket for this costs less than $1.

Explore the National Library of Brazil

If you want to learn about Brazil’s history and heritage, this is the place to go. Inaugurated in 1910, the National Library of Brazil contains an expansive collection of about 9 million rare pieces. Peruse letters written by Princess Isabel, the first newspapers printed in the country and many other historical documents. Outside, you can enjoy the neoclassical building surrounded by Corinthian columns.

Take in the Beautiful Public Art of Lapa

In the Lapa area of Rio, you will find one of the city’s most unique sites: The Selarón Steps. Created by artist Jorge Selarón as a tribute to the locals of Brazil, these steps have become an iconic part of the area. In 1990, the artist began turning the eroding stairs in front of his house into a vibrant and colorful piece of art. Considering the project “never complete,” Selarón is still constantly changing the tiles today, many of which are hand-painted by the artist with an image of a pregnant African woman or donated from various parts of the world. After viewing the steps, make sure to take a look at the nearby Arcos da Lapa. The structure is an 18th century aqueduct that was once used to bring the residents of Rio de Janeiro fresh water. Today, it is used as a tram viaduct. You’ll get to see the 42 impressive double-tiered arches of the site as well as enjoy some history. Additionally, if it is night there is usually live music and entertainment on the streets.

[Photos via JessieonaJourney, JessieonaJourney, Rodrigo_Soldon, Jonathas Rodrigues, National Library of Brazil]