Ultimate Travel Library—Central & South America

* Indicates a book that appears in our feature "Around the World in 80+ Books" published in the April 2002 issue of National Geographic Traveler.

*Andes, photographs by Pablo Corral Vega, text by Mario Vargas Llosa (2001). Ecuadorian photographer Corral Vega travels the entire length of the Andes—nearly 5,000 miles (8,047 kilometers)—and discovers a stretch of remarkable human and geographic diversity.

Bluestocking in Patagonia, by Anne Whitehead (2003). In 1895, young Australian schoolteacher Mary Jean Cameron set sail from Sydney to join an experimental socialist utopia deep in the interior of Paraguay. Traveling alone via mailboat, paddle steamer, steam train, and horseback, hers is an extraordinary journey—and that was just the beginning of her adventures. Author Whitehead follows in the footsteps of this fascinating woman who ended up spending six years in South America, first in Paraguay and then Argentina—and whose portrait now appears on the $10 Australian bill.

*In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin (1977). Let's face it: Chatwin was weird, but brilliantly so. This book, launched around a childhood fancy for his grandma's scrap of giant sloth skin, takes him to the "uttermost part of the Earth," from Rio Negro to the Chilean town of Punta Arenas.

The Motorcycle Diaries: A Latin American Journey, by Ernesto Che Guevara (2003). After they quit their jobs, a pre-revolutionary Guevara and his friend Alberto journey across South America on an old motorcycle. The duo encounters a variety of people—workers, lepers, and members of polite society—as they adventure through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela.

*Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone, by Mary Morris (1988). Emotive, gutsy Morris deserves a place on one of those morning TV talk shows. Her memoir of living in the Mexican town San Miguel de Allende and her travels around Central America highlight the challenge of residing in a foreign land, and the lessons in self-understanding that come from such an escape.

*The Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas, by Paul Theroux (1979). The delight in Theroux and his many books is that, although he's a curmudgeon and a complainer, he's fun to read. It's amusing to watch him hopscotch train-to-train from Boston to the tip of Argentina, stopping in dozens of annoying (to him) places on the way.

*Road Fever: A High-Speed Travelogue, by Tim Cahill (1991). Tierra del Fuego, Chile, to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska (15,000 miles [24,140 kilometers]), by truck in 23.5 days? Better pack the No-Doz. Better yet, read Cahill's killer diary of his Guinness Book of World Records-making road trip and be glad you're at home. This book ups the ante on driving "vacations."

Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice, by Mark Plotkin (1994). "Every time a shaman dies, it is as if a library burned down," writes Plotkin. The famed botanist journeys by canoe and traipses through the thick jungles of Suriname, Venezuela, Guyana, and French Guiana, cataloging the region's diverse herbal medicines. His gripping account is part action-adventure tale, part conservation plea, warning against the dangers of cultural and ecological exploitation.

Travelers' Tales, Central America, ed. by Larry Habegger and Natanya Pearlman (2002). Sparkling with contributions from the likes of Paul Theroux and Rigoberta Menchu, this collection of stories features true travelers' tales from Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The stories range from baseball heaven in Contra-era Nicaragua to El Salvador's surfing scene both pre- and post-civil war. A sturdy, candid introduction to the at times tumultuous, yet gracious countries of Central America from the outside in.

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