We often call the US a cultural melting pot. And it is, since it was the destination for so many peoples from Europe, Asia, and Africa. For the same reasons, South America is an amazingly diverse stew of 385 million people who can trace their roots to Spain, Portugal, Africa, as well as Italy, Germany, Poland, Syria, Lebanon, Japan and many other points of origin. And each of these peoples have brought their own ways to enjoy food, celebrate their faiths, remember their origins and pass along their art, music and dance. Below are five memorable ways to interact with the locals in South America.

5. Visit the largest coffee plantation in Ecuador…in the Galapagos!
Rich volcanic soil makes the islands of the Galapagos perfect terrain for growing coffee, sugar cane, and all sorts of fruit. And since there’s no better way to chat up a new friend than over a cup of coffee, stop to visit a local family on their plantation. You can do that with Classic Journeys on Santa Cruz Island, where expert local guides introduce travelers to the family that owns the plantation. Learn about their organic, sustainable operation, and enjoy the chance to taste the products grown and made on the property.

Coffee plantation in the Galapagos

4. Get your hands dirty working alongside an acclaimed potter in Peru’s Sacred Valley
Urubamba, Peru is known for its colorful local markets. It’s also the starting point for an exploration to visit with locals in a remote highland village. For guests traveling with Classic Journeys, it’s also where famed potter Pablo Seminario welcomes them into his studio. That means that in one day, travelers can visit a village unchanged for hundreds of years, meet with kids in a local school, wander alongside colorfully dressed townspeople, and then roll up your sleeves in the pottery workshop of one of Peru’s most renowned ceramists, who even has a permanent exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum.

Potter in Peru

3. Wander from vineyard to vineyard with a wine expert in Argentina’s Mendoza Wine Valleys
Even if you’re not a confirmed wine-lover, you’ve probably encountered wonderful Argentinean wines over the years. Get a close-up look at the art and science of wine-making with an agronomist who’ll take you from vineyard to vineyard, down local country roads. Travelers with Classic Journeys are welcomed by a vintner who explains the winemaking process and then learn about cultivation of the region’s pre-eminent grape varieties.

Argentina vineyard

2. Have a head-spinning day in Rio de Janeiro when you take a walk in a teeming favela, swivel and sway samba style, and then cook Brazilian specialties with a local chef
Start your day with an immersive, close-up look at contemporary life in Rio. Rocinha is the country’s largest favela, a steeply sloped and densely populated community that developed from a shantytown built by former slaves. By some counts, almost 12 million Brazilians live in favelas, and Classic Journeys local guides make it easy for travelers to rub shoulders with residents in the teeming streets to get a close-up look at this way of life that most tourists never see. Everywhere, the sounds and tempo of samba are in the air, and so you’ll want to stop at a local school for a fun lesson. Later in the day, join a chef in her kitchen to tie on an apron and cook some of Brazil’s favorite dishes. It’s a terrific hands-on experience that culminates in a fantastic dinner that tastes all the better for having helped in its preparation.

Colorful doors in Brazil

1. Watch gauchos in action on a remote Chilean ranch and savor the incredible aromas and flavors of a traditional outdoor lamb barbecue
The scale of this cinematic place could leave you with the feeling that it would be nearly impossible to live in Patagonia. In fact, there’s a hardy population who live and work here. Visit a working estancia—a vast ranch where the sheep, cattle and horses drastically outnumber the gauchos who tend them—and you’ll get a firsthand look at life on the pampas. If you like, Classic Journeys guides can arrange for you to climb into the saddle for a guided look at the land on horseback or on foot. Either way, you’ll see how the gauchos go about their work with demonstrations of sheep shearing and the way they team up with shepherd dogs to control their flocks in the wild terrain. You’ll especially love this time at the estancia because it is an unforgettable glimpse into how man and nature coexist in ways that are unimaginable back home. Cap your day with a gaucho barbecue, with the centerpiece a succulent lamb grilled over open fires. It’s a traditional feast that perfectly captures the rustic, natural spirit of the day.

Estancia in Chile