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Bolivia Brazil Chile Itineraries Monthly Round-Up Peru South America

Three Months on the Road in South America – Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru

November 13, 2017

Another month in South America is behind us and for the life of me, I don’t know where the time’s going!

As we have in previous months, this post is designed to give you a summary of our recent adventures and help those of you considering a similar trip plan your route and budget.

We’re a bit late on getting this month out so let’s not mess around – here goes!

If this is the first monthly round-up you’ve read, you may like to check out itinerary and costings for the first and second month we spend in South America first.

Ilha Grande, Brazil

Not much more than a stone’s throw from Rio, Ilha Grande is an island lying just off the coast.  Boasting gorgeous beaches (though due to the lack of beautiful sunshine, we didn’t manage to see them at their best), it’s a great option for some R&R.

Accommodation:  3 nights in a 6-bed dorm at Hostel Refugio @ BLR45 each/night (USD13.70/NZD19.80).  A good hostel with a substantial breakfast included.  A little walk out of town but as the centre is so small, it really isn’t far from the action.

Activities:  We booked a day trip island hopping out to Paradise Island and back along Ilha Grande through Equipe Athos (and were put on a boat with Tubarão Tour).  We were promised snorkeling gear and when it was withheld from us and we were instead greeted by a fairly aggressive skipper, it’s fair to say the day soured.  Most of the spots we visited were over crowed and as snorkeling was the main aim of our day, it’s fair to say it was a pretty big disappointment – at least we had our friends with us to make the day a good one!

Onwards travel to Paraty:  We booked a private transfer for BRL50 each (USD15.35/NZD22.10) whilst on the boat heading over to Ilha Grande (with Easy Transfer).  In retrospect, we could have arranged our own transfer ourselves but with absolutely no Portuguese and limited time, we were happy with our decision.

Paraty, Brazil

Our own private paradise, we stayed just out of the colonial centre of Paraty in a secluded bay, accessible only by boat.

Though we visited both Ilha Grande and Paraty, in our opinion one would generally be sufficient.  We personally liked the laidback nature of Paraty and would pick it as our preference between the two spots.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Happy Hammock Eco Guesthouse (dorms are also available).  Transfers in and out of the guesthouse are organised by Patrick and the team – contact them for further details.  Happy Hammock was a real highlight of our time in Brazil!

Activities:  From the guesthouse, we popped out on a number of free excursions – a hike to the neighbouring beach for lunch, swimming, snorkeling at night with bioluminescent plankton (wow!) and a day trip to the historical centre of Paraty.  Not to mention all that hammock time!

Onwards travel to La Paz:  Public night bus from Paraty to Sao Paulo on Reunidas Paulista (BRL92.60/USD28.25/NZD40.80 each) and then a flight from Sao Paulo to La Paz on Boliviana de Aviacion (BRL821/USD250.45/NZD361.85 each).

La Paz, Bolivia

We’d heard mixed things about La Paz – it seems it’s a place people love or hate.

Fortunately, we loved it!  It’s a little grimy and a little mad but it’s got a whole lot of character and a neat buzz about it.

Accommodation:  3 nights at House Wonderful @ BOB60 (USD8.30/NZD12) each/night.  The reviews online for this hostel were fantastic but unfortunately, reality didn’t match for us – when we returned to La Paz we found a different (and much better) place to stay so couldn’t really recommend a stay at Hostel Wonderful.

Activities:

Death Road Biking

The main reason for our visit to La Paz, the Death Road did not disappoint!  Hurtling down what used to be the most dangerous road in the world is not for the faint of heart but those that give it a go are rewarded with a tremendous sense of achievement.  We’re yet to meet anyone who’s done it and didn’t love it!  We rode with Barracuda and unreservedly recommend them.  BOB570 each (USD82.50/NZD119.15).

Red Cap Walking Tour

Walking tours can be a great way to help find your feet in a new city and with Bolivia’s intriguing political history, we decided to explore the city with the help of a local.  Red Cap are professional and affordable and do a great job of showing off the diversity of this unique city.  BOB20 each (USD3/NZD4.30) plus a tip (and please do remember to tip, otherwise the guides don’t get paid).

Onwards travel to Uyuni:  We’d heard horror stories about the night buses down the line so jumped at the opportunity to pick up reasonably priced flights.  Boliviana de Aviación (BOA) @ BOB536 each (USD77.55/NZD112).

Uyuni (& the Salt Flats), Bolivia

The jumping-off point to the world-renowned Bolivian Salt Flats, Uyuni doesn’t offer a great deal to travellers but its surrounding area certainly does.  Let me put it this way, nobody ventures down to Uyuni for the town itself.

Accommodation:  1 night in a triple room at La Rocka @ BOB50 each/night (USD7.20/NZD10.40).  The rooms here were comfortable but the toilets weren’t kept particularly clean – more a reflection of the few other guests staying there but not very pleasant all the same.  For the price though, we were happy enough.

Activites:  We booked a 3-night/4-day tour of the Salt Flats with Jukil de los Andes and were very happy with our decision. The addition of an additional night (most people seem to book 2n/3d) meant we got a lot more time on the Salt Flats and our volcano climb provided us with the most amazing views out over the flats.  Salt flats, train graveyards, cactus islands, volcanoes, lagoons, flamingos galore and more – these tours are diverse and so, so much fun.

Onwards travel to San Pedro:  The tour dropped us at the border between Bolivia and Chile and included a mini-van transfer into the city at no additional charge.

Arica, Chile

A quick stop on our way further north, Arica is a lovely seaside city.  Their weather is nice, the people are friendly and though we didn’t spend much time exploring, we did get a good feeling from the town.

Accommodation: 1 nights in a private room at Residencial Tres Soles @ ARS202.50 each/night (USD11.60/NZD16.40)

Onwards travel to La Paz:  Local bus @ CLP8,000 each (USD12.65/NZD18.25) including a delicious lunch – the first proper lunch we’ve been served on a bus (and still, the only one to date!)

La Paz, Bolivia

Our second visit to La Paz, this time we weren’t there to tick off activities but to recharge our batteries and soak up the city.  Our newfound hostel was a big improvement on the last one so we’d definitely recommend staying there.

Accommodation:  2 nights at Landscape – International B&B in a private double room @ BOB67.37 each/night (USD9.75/NZD14)

Activites:  We caught the red cablecar up to the El Alto markets (BOB3 per person/per ride) and though it was a way to fill the time, it really didn’t compare to the Chichi Markets in Guatemala.  The markets are worth a visit if you’ve got time on your hands but, to be honest, we preferred the tourist markets in the middle of town… that is unless you’re in the market for car parts, badly-made knock-off clothing and general household supplies!

Onwards travel to CopacabanaBolivia Hop.  This is a great service provided for travellers – for a set price, they’ll generally pick you up from your accommodation and will drop you at your next home-away-from-home.  We picked up the full pass which includes our transport all the way from La Paz, Bolivia through to Lima, Peru (with the exception of one side trip up to the Amazon).

Copacabana, Bolivia

A cute little lakeside town, Copacabana doesn’t offer a heck of a lot more than relaxation but it does it well.  It’s a nice place to spend a night or two and due to its size, it’s super easy to get around by foot.

Accommodation:  1 night in a private room at Hostal 6 de Agosto @ BRL40 each/night (USD5.75/NZD8.30).  Basic accommodation but good value for the price – we had a private bathroom with warm(ish) water and relatively comfortable beds – be sure to take singles for everyone in your group though as the double beds weren’t as good.

ActivitesAfternoon trip to Isla del Sol.  We caught the Bolivia Hop ferry over to what was known as the birthplace of the sun during Inca times.  The island itself was beautiful but the one hike from our dropoff point to that of collection was relatively quick – if you’re interested in seeing the island properly, we’d probably suggest spending a night there.  BOB70 (USD10.15/NZD14.65)

Onwards travel to Puno:  Bolivia Hop – they collected us from the big white anchor statue on the lakefront.

Puno, Peru

Puno was so much bigger than we’d expected!  It’s not a particularly memorable city but did have a busy main street serving up reasonable food (a ‘tourist menu’ will get you three courses for approximately PEN20 (USD6.15/NZD8.90) and it serves its purpose well, acting as the jumping off point to the floating islands.

Accommodation:  1 night in a private room at Suite Independencia @ PEN30 each/night (USD9.25/NZD13.35).  This was a special price availed through our Bolivia Hop passes.

ActivitesAfternoon visit to Uros.  Here we visited locals living as they have for generations (more or less) on floating islands made of reeds.  I’m not entirely sure what I made of the experience to be honest – although the islands themselves were intriguing and we snapped some lovely photos we did feel very much like we were only welcome on the island if we spent up large.  As with any experience like this, I would have much more interest in interacting with the locals than simply being seen as an ATM.  Would I recommend others to visit?  Probably, as I do think I’d have been disappointed if I’d not experienced the community for myself, but I’m not 100% sold on the experience.  We’ll let you make up your own mind.  PEN35 each (USD10.80/NZD15.60).

Onwards travel to Cusco:  Good ol’ Bolivia Hop, by way of an overnight bus.  Once we arrived into Cusco, they organised taxis to take us to our individual hostels.

Cusco, Peru

The cultural capital of Peru, Cusco offers travellers so much – delicious food, unique cultural sites, unbeatable trekking and lots of adventure – it’s hard to tear yourself away!

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Magic Cusco Hostel, followed by a break to visit Machu Picchu and another night upon our return.  PEN20 each/night (USD6.15/NZD8.90).  I returned from Machu Picchu unwell and Esperanza very kindly let me sleep throughout the day at no extra charge.  She doesn’t speak a great deal of English but was very patient with us and incredibly kind.  Though the hostel’s a little way out of town, Uber is cheap and it’s worth staying out of the city to experience her hospitality (and to get a real duvet – oh my goodness!)

Activities:

Machu Picchu

Though there are plenty of reasons to visit Cusco, Machu Picchu really is the grand-daddy of them all.  This incredible site reveals more and more of its secrets each year but so much is still unknown.

There are numerous ways of getting to this historic site, from a comfy train to challenging, multi-day treks.  We opted for something in the middle – what we would consider the most exciting way to get to Machu Picchu – the Inca Jungle Trek.

We booked through Peru Andean Hop where our fee of USD240 each (PEN778/NZD348.45) included mountain biking, rafting, ziplining, accommodation for three nights, guides, food, transfers, entrance to Machu Picchu (along with a guided tour of the site) and the train back.

After biking, rafting, zip-lining and hiking our way to Machu Picchu (part of it along the original Inca Trail) we opted to catch the bus up to Machu Picchu (lining up from 3.30am – ouch!) for USD12 each.  It was a fairly costly bus ride but considering we arrived at the top feeling fresh and in time to make our 6.10am tour, it was well worth it.  At the end of our visit, we hiked our way back down the steps and our choice was totally reaffirmed – there’s no way I would have made it up all those steps at 5am!

With a new timing system recently introduced, we picked up some helpful tips (and almost came undone in the process) – stay tuned for our Machu Picchu post where we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know.

Onwards travel to Puerto Maldonado (the Amazon):  After returning to Cusco and spending a night recuperating, we caught a night bus (the best salon cama we’ve experienced so far!) with Excluciva @ PEN50 each (USD15.40/NZD22.25).

Lessons Learnt on the Road

  • Toilet paper is not a given.  We’ve found hostels and guesthouses in the cities supply toilet paper but as soon as you get out of a city, it’s not guaranteed.  We’ve always travelled with a little toilet paper as a backup but here it is sometimes an absolute necessity.
  • Hot showers in Bolivia aren’t always so hot.  Most showers in Bolivia employ a little electric water heater right on the shower-head.  Aside from the risk of electrocution, they’re unreliable at the best of times.
  • You do get used to putting your toilet paper in the bin!  I didn’t think it would happen, but it kind of has.
  • Bouncing around different currencies is difficult.  Even as I write this, I find it hard to convert between Soles and Bolivianos – thank goodness for XE.
  • We can afford to eat out again!  Bolivia and Peru are both significantly cheaper than our original destinations (Chile, Argentina and Brazil) so we can finally afford to eat out.  A good sized meal can cost as little as PEN8-12 each (USD2.45-3.70) if you look in the right places and even less in Bolivia.  We had initially planned on cooking for ourselves sometimes but we’ve actually found it really difficult to source fresh meat here so it’s not happening at this stage.

I remember when Machu Picchu felt like a distant thought on our Latin American journey so to not only have visited but to have it behind us now feels totally surreal.  We have lots more excitement on the horizon though with some more amazing hikes in Peru lined up and the most amazing cruise through the Galapagos.

Sometimes it’s hard not to pinch ourselves!

Check out our Recent Posts

EcoCamp Patagonia – Reviewing Torres del Paine’s Bucket-List Glamping

Pedra de Gavea – Just How Difficult Is Rio’s Highest Hike?

Salar de Uyuni Tour, Day 1 – So Much More than a Salt Flat

The Complete Guide to Paraty, Brazil – Paradise is Only a Bus Ride from Rio!

Our Previous Months on the Road

A Month on the Road in South America – Chile and Argentina

Two Months on the Road in South America – Chile, Argentina & Brazil


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Your guide to South America - Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru.  Accommodation, transport, activities and costings for everything from Machu Picchu to the Death Road.  The Salt Flats to the beaches of Brazil. Your guide to South America - Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru.  Accommodation, transport, activities and costings for everything from Machu Picchu to the Death Road.  The Salt Flats to the beaches of Brazil.


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Accommodation Chile Luxury Patagonia Reviews South America

EcoCamp Patagonia – Reviewing Torres del Paine’s Bucket-List Glamping

October 30, 2017

With the Towers piercing the dawning sky and the wild Patagonian winds swirling around, there’s no better place to be curled up in Torres del Paine than at EcoCamp.  Recently we had the pleasure of staying at this incredible property in an equally incredible part of the world.  Having read countless reviews online it was hard to imagine anywhere could live up to such exceptionally high expectations.

But it did.

Prime Position

Sitting atop a plateau, not too far from the start of the infamous W-Trek, guests to EcoCamp Patagonia find themselves in prime position to see the comings and goings of the park. 

First thing in the morning, the Towers, bathed in orange can be seen from the boardwalks around camp whilst those with eagle eyes might spot a puma in the nearby hills (it happened on our first morning so keep your eyes peeled!) 

By staying in the park, you’ll be treated to the very best of nature without giving up any of your home comforts.

EcoCamp’s Philosophy – Eco Through and Through

Not only was EcoCamp Patagonia the first fully sustainable accommodation provider south of the Amazon but they were also the first geodesic property in the world.

Leading the way in luxury and customer experience, they’ve also managed to prioritise environmentally friendly practises, something that is clear throughout the glampsite.

Though EcoCamp is the proud owner of countless awards (National Geographic Best Outfitter, TripAdvisor Greenleaders Platinum Level, Chile’s Most Sustainable Tourism Company and many more), as guests visiting the site, it’s clear that their sustainable practises extend far beyond awards and paperwork.

Composting toilets are used throughout the camp (to the untrained eye, they look and operate just like a normal toilet), lush-smelling biodegradable shower products are provided, reusable water bottles are available on-loan to avoid the use of single-use ones and energy efficient wood-burning fireplaces are used to warm up the domes.  The camp itself is powered by solar, wind and micro-hydro turbines whilst propaine gas is used to warm water for guests and though there’s no shortage of power, all guests are encouraged to minimise their impact on the local environment.

Activities to Suit Everyone

Each evening, guests come together in the community dome where a cocktail and delicious antipasto platters are served up as the following days’ activities are introduced.

In our excitement, we’d already planned out the activities we wanted to do during our stay (as a part of the ‘Patagonia Wildlife Tour‘) but plenty of information is given to help those who are unsure make an informed decision.

Generally, there are three options offered up – two that are considered challenging (they are after all based in a mountainous national park famous for its extreme hiking) and one that’s relatively low-key (great for the day after that big trek).

Alternatively, EcoCampers are able to relax in their domes, enjoying the scenery around the campsite (and that heavenly bed) but with the national park calling out, the temptation to get amongst the activities, for us, was too great to ignore.

Day One

Keen to rest our tired bodies after completing most of the W-Trek, we enthusiastically signed up for the Grey Glacier navigation.  On a clear day, this includes a boat trip right up to the glacier but unfortunately, with typically Patagonian weather, our navigation wasn’t able to go ahead.  Instead, we stopped at a number of viewpoints on our way to the glacial lake and keenly spotted icebergs as they inched closer to land.

It was the perfect way to spend the day before taking on the mammoth trek that brought us to Torres del Paine in the first place.

Day Two

The highlight of our visit to Patagonia, day two saw us take on the challenge of the towers – the jewel in Torres del Paine’s crown.  It was difficult.  It was amazing.  It was an absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience and definitely one for your adventure bucket-list.

To learn more about our experience, be sure to read our review of the hike to the Base of the Towers.

Time to Relax

Once your activities are done, there’s plenty of space to unwind with your new-found friends (there’s nothing like undertaking a challenging hike to bring a group together!) in the community domes and in the peak season, yoga is even offered to help relax tired muscles and rejuvenate the soul.

There are plenty of times we’ve travelled in the past when we’ve come back more tired than we started.  EcoCamp provides the perfect balance of adventure and relaxation though, ensuring that all guests come away fulfilled and recharged – if only we could be as dedicated to looking after ourselves in our everyday lives!

Inside the Domes

With a range of accommodation options, glamping here manages to be absolute bucket-list material whilst still being within reach for your average traveller.  From the attainable standard domes (where shared board is available for singles) to the luxurious suite domes, all guests get to enjoy the camp’s incredible hospitality, food and activities, at a price point to suit.

During our stay, we had the pleasure of staying in one of EcoCamp’s premium suite domes.  I’ll never forget walking in the door and seeing our new little home-away-from-home for the first time; with geodesic patterns lining the ceiling, an expansive (and incredibly comfortable) bed taking pride of place in the room and the fireplace roaring away in anticipation of the chilly night to come, it was incredibly clear that we were in for a treat.

Our dome was equipped with a fully functioning bathroom – complete with the most glorious, piping hot, rain shower – exactly the ticket after a long day out on the trails.

The EcoCamp Patagonia Team

The staff at EcoCamp are the best of the best.  From the guides that personally learn each of your names to the waitresses that enthusiastically exchange travel stories over dinner, the team in Torres del Paine instantly make their guests feel at home, as if part of one big, happy extended family.

Nothing was ever a problem and even in the depths of the national park, we experienced service on-par with (if not surpassing) all of the five-star properties we’ve stayed at in the past.

It’s funny as when we checked in, we were told that EcoCamp was almost an ‘anti-hotel’ but with care and attention like we were all shown, they’re certainly holding their own against the big boys of the industry.

World Class Cusine

The food on offer at EcoCamp is top notch – there’s no other way to put it.  With fully trained chefs personalising menus and a creative barman knocking up delicious concoctions, there was never a shortage of incredible treats to enjoy.

Each morning, as guests munch on a fabulous breakfast spread, they decide upon their evening menu.  With options like the following, making a decision is easier said than done!

  • King crab cannelloni with a king crab sauce
  • Pork sirloin with a honey and mustard sauce and Dauphinoise potatoes
  • Chicken supreme wrapped in bacon and stuffed with tomato, cheese and basil, served with quinoa and vegetables

It’s hard to believe meals like these are available in the depths of a national park!

Lunches are just as gourmet with a selection of breads, meats, cheeses and salads on offer, ensuring that guests are well fueled throughout a busy day of activities.  From quinoa salad filled with roasted vegetables and fresh chicken breast to mozzarella, ham and smashed avocado rolls, everyone is free to make exactly what they want, and trust me, you’ll want to make it all.  Throw in a brownie, muffin, dried and fresh fruit and a selection of nuts and you’ll start thinking that lunch might just be the highlight of your day out!

As delicious as EcoCamp’s food is though, you’d be wrong – nothing beats a day out in the national park.

EcoCamp Patagonia – The Epitome of Bucket-List Travel

There are some experiences that stay with you long after you leave and, for us, both our hike to the Base of the Towers and our stay at EcoCamp, fit squarely into this category.

We were amazed by the level of care and detail that both the staff and facilities offered and genuinely couldn’t fault a thing.

Get your pen out team – without a doubt, it’s time to update your travel wish-list!


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Torres del Paine Glamping at EcoCamp - bucket list accommodation in Patagonia.  Read our review to find out just why this is the one anti-hotel that you HAVE to visit. Torres del Paine Glamping at EcoCamp - bucket list accommodation in Patagonia.  Read our review to find out just why this is the one anti-hotel that you HAVE to visit.

Thank you to the team at EcoCamp for so kindly hosting us.  We had the most incredible time but as always, all thoughts are our own.

Adventure Brazil Rio de Janeiro South America

Pedra de Gavea – Just How Difficult Is Rio’s Highest Hike?

October 26, 2017

Just how challenging is the hike to the summit of Pedra de Gavea? On a humid summers day in Rio de Janeiro, we found out firsthand.

By now you’d think we were slowly adjusting to all the hiking – we’ve certainly done our fair share of challenging walks in South America. Between making it through the majority of the W-Trek and up the Fitz Roy, our hiking boots and hiking poles have well and truly been broken in.

Trekking in such chilly conditions didn’t prepare us for what was waiting in Brazil’s most vibrant and misunderstood city though – the world’s biggest monolith, standing tall amid the tropical low-laying clouds was to provide an entirely different challenge for us.

Dressed only in t-shirts and shorts/sports leggings, this hike instantly felt different from our Patagonian treks.

For a start, we caught the metro to the base of the walk (such an easy access point to the trails in Torres del Paine would be unimaginable) and the many, many layers of warm clothes were suddenly a distant memory.   When once we stood shivering as we caught our breath, we now wiped sweat from our brows and guzzled water in a bid to reintroduce some much-needed fluids into our systems.

How Difficult is the Hike to Rio’s Tallest Vantage Point?

I can’t lie – it’s not an easy hike.

The weather makes it a challenge.  The gradient and never-ending trudge upwards makes it difficult.  And that’s not even to mention the free-climbing!

After hiking uphill for a solid few hours, travellers are greeted with what feels like an almost-vertical rock wall.  Let’s face it, it probably wasn’t that extreme but that’s certainly how it felt at the time!  Ropes and ladder rungs help hikers navigate further upwards and before long, they’re greeted by a boulder scramble, edging ever closer to the summit.

Nearing the summit, hikers are rewarded with the most amazing views out over Rio de Janeiro – views that are so good that the hard work and suffering is very quickly forgotten!

From there, there’s one last bout of free-climbing – approximately 35 metres, followed by the final hike to the top.

With aching legs and gusty winds (not to mention, a thunderstorm brewing in the distance), Nathan and I decided to set up camp on the lookout and let our friend Becky continue without us.  It was a decision we’d later come to regret but with clouds descending, we thought she’d have more luck making it to the top without us and of course, we were more than happy with the views we’d been left with.

Understandably, our regret set in the moment we saw Becky’s photos – seriously, look at that view!!

What goes up must come down again and so we began our slow, boulder-climbing, ladder-grabbing descent back to Rio.

What to Take on a Hike up Pedra de Gavea

  • Hiking poles for the trip back down (if you have dodgy knees like me or just need an extra boost)
  • Plenty of water – three litres was the recommendation and I drank most of it easily
  • Good quality food – both lunch and snacks to keep you going
  • Shoes with good grip – hiking boots if possible which also offer ankle support
  • Layers – during the hike itself we didn’t need much in the way of clothes but sitting up the top, the wind picked up and the rain started to fall so our fleeces were put to good use.

We had an amazing time hiking up Pedra de Gavea and though it was a challenge, it was well worth it.  The views were amazing, the jungle was beautiful and we even spotted a group of monkeys!

Though this hike wasn’t originally on our radar, I’m so pleased we added it into the equation and would certainly encourage others travelling to Brazil to do the same.


If you’d like to book an organised tour up to the summit of Pedra de Gavea, we recommend joining Alexis at Discovery Hostel.  He was an amazing guide, taking care of us every step of the way. 

Though hikers are able to summit alone, it’s not recommended unless you have a fair amount of climbing experience.


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Rio de Janeiro is home to an amazing hike with incredible views. It's challenging, including free-climbing but worth every step. One for your bucket list next time you're in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro is home to an amazing hike with incredible views. It's challenging, including free-climbing but worth every step. One for your bucket list next time you're in Brazil.

Thank you to the lovely Becky for supplying her photo at the summit of Pedra de Gavea and for being such fabulous company throughout the hike.

Bolivia Eco Tourism South America Uyuni Salt Flats

Salar de Uyuni Tour, Day 1 – So Much More than a Salt Flat

October 26, 2017

Uyuni, a remote part of Bolivia, draws tourists into Salar de Uyuni to take all manner of creative, perspective-bending photos of its seemingly never-ending horizon.  Whether in the dry season, when the salt flats crack and splinter, or the wet season, when reflections make it difficult to tell land from sky, there’s much more to this region than we initially realised.  Find out how we spent our days with Jukil de los Andes on our Salar de Uyuni tour…

For those looking to explore the salt flats, a range of tours are offered from Uyuni, with something to fit all timeframes and budgets.  The most popular tour from this desert town covers off the major sights over the course of three days/two nights, but everything from a single day trip to four days plus are available.

Though we were initially booked on a three day tour, we added another day at the last minute and couldn’t have been happier with our decision; it resulted in a lot of additional time on the salt flats, an opportunity to snap some gorgeous reflection shots and gave us a birds-eye view our over the expansive Salar de Uyuni after climbing one of the local volcanoes…

More on that later though – first up, let’s take a look at our first day on the salt.

Salar de Uyuni Itinerary – Day 1

Train Cemetry

Though trains once used to run between inland Bolivia and their port town, the country’s rocky history with Chile rendered the railway all but useless many years ago.  With their seaside land commandeered, Bolivia unwillingly become a landlocked country and their trains that once lead to the ocean, now lead nowhere.

This is where those trains came to die.

Fortunately though, the Uyuni tours have brought these old locomotives back to life (so to speak) and if you’re lucky like us, you’ll find yourself there with the majority of the tourists gone and the place practically to yourselves.

Last Minute Supplies

Before stopping off for lunch, we had time for a spot of shopping; everything from souviner salt and plastic dinosaurs (for that perfect salt flat photo) to lama jumpers and knock-off sunnies was available at surprisingly reasonable prices. 

If you’re looking for a little llama or Godzilla prop for your photos, it’s certainly not worth dragging your own around from home when you can pick one up on the spot for BOB15-20 (approx USD2.20).

Entering the Salt Flats

Once you’ve put a fair bit of salt-laden ground behind you, you’ll come across the two first major Salar de Uyuni attractions; the Dakar Rally monument and the infamous international collection of flags.

I must admit, I wasn’t expecting to be particularly blown away by either of these sights but when you’re standing in the middle of what feels like an ever-reaching salt flat, it’s hard not to pinch yourself.

Yes, they’re touristy but they’re also pretty amazing to see!

Salt Flats – The Main Attraction

The crowning glory of these tours, who hasn’t seen a creative salt flat photo online by now?

Salar de Uyuni seems to stretch on endlessly and, thanks to its incredibly flat surface, provides great opportunities to take mind-bending perspective photos.  Be warned though, its bumpy, cracking surface is like sandpaper to the skin and whoever is photographing your group is likely to spend a large amount of time laying flat against the salt – we suggest you wear jeans and a fleece to offer your skin some protection.

Stay tuned for our photography guide to the salt flats so you too can take perfectly focused perspective photos!

Pink Skies and Pink Birds – Sunset Magic

One of the main highlights of extending our Salar de Uyuni tour to four days was to be found as the sun started going down.

The three-day tours gap it from the salt flats pretty quickly, not only limiting your time to take the perfect perspective photos but robbing visitors of the opportunity to take beautiful reflective photos by the lagoon bordering the salt flats.

In the rainy season, the salt flats become an incredible expanse where it’s hard to tell what’s ground and what’s sky.  Clouds reflect in the water, with colours as vivid as the real things.  Unfortunately though, not everybody gets to experience this amazing phenomena… unless of course you book a four-night trip to get a sneak peek of it!

Stargazing

With the city lights a distant memory, we made our way back onto the salt flats and soon found ourselves enveloped in absolute darkness.

I thought I’d seen stars clearly before in the past – I was wrong.

The Milky Way instantly popped out in front of us, as clear as day.  Countless stars twinkled away above us in a moment of pure magic.

Between the stars and the sunset, you have reason enough to ensure a stay out on Salar de Uyuni – believe me, racing off after you take your daytime salt flat photos will mean doing yourself out of an amazing experience.

Reviewing the Finer Details

Accommodation

Though the accommodation provided on our tour was basic, it was adequate.  It certainly didn’t rival some of the amazing places we’ve stayed in the past but the beds surprisingly comfortable and the rooms warm.  As we selected the entry-level tour, we weren’t expecting 5-star accommodation (and nor did we get it) but we were fairly comfortable.

Our first hostel was well located right on the side of Salar de Uyuni so we could make our own way down to take beautiful sunset photos.

The trade-off though?  We were left without any showers and bathrooms that couldn’t exactly be described as clean – especially in the morning when we awoke to find the water had been shut off (to prevent pipes from freezing) all sorts of interesting remnants in the toilets.  Eeeek!

Food

Lunch

Having expected a packed lunch of sandwiches on the road we were pleasantly surprised when we were dished up quinoa, beef, roasted potatoes and steamed veggies for lunch, along with Coke and water.  The fact that we all went back for seconds (and thirds and fourths in Nathan’s case) speaks for itself!

Dinner

With our standards raised from lunch, dinner wasn’t quite as memorable. 

Perfectly cooked pasta was accompanied by an onion-heavy vegetarian bolognese sauce and parmesan cheese. 

Anyone that knows me well knows that onion and I aren’t the best of friends (that’s the understatement of the year!) so I ended up eating cheesy pasta (which was actually better than it sounds). 

Fortunately for us the group next to us couldn’t eat all of their sausages and very kindly offered us some. 

Pro Tip:  If you’re headed out on this tour and meat is a substantial part of your diet, we’d recommend asking if it will be provided or if it’s possible to supply your own to be cooked.

Driver & Car

Having heard horror stories about unsafe driving and cars breaking down left, right and centre, we knew that choosing a company with reliable cars was essential.  We certainly weren’t interested in wasting half a day waiting for our 4WD to be repaired.

It was with caution then, that we checked the Land Cruiser over trying to find fault.  We couldn’t though!

For the duration of the tour, Ivan, our lovely Bolivian guide, drove with caution and care.  He didn’t speak a great deal of English but with our friend Becky on hand to relay what she could and Google Translate filling in the gaps, we made it by just fine.

It would have been great to have had a better idea of exactly what was coming up the next day so we could have dressed appropriately but with our gear on the roof, it was never far away.

Though we thought we knew what to expect from our Salar de Uyuni tour, we were pleasantly surprised by just how diverse and stunning all of the sights were.

There’s no doubt in our mind that booking the four-day itinerary was the right decision for us.

Keep your eyes peeled for the highlights from the following days on the salt flats!


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How long should you spend at the Bolivian Salt Flats? Find out why we recommend the four-night itinerary at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Flamingos, reflections, salt for days and perfect perspective shots - a must for your South American vacation. Day one at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.  Find out why we recommend a four day itinerary and what we got up to on the first day of our visit to this amazing region in South America.


Thank you to Backpacking Becky for supplying a couple of her beautiful photos.  A massive thank you also to Jukil de los Andes for hosting us on this tour – as always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Brazil Eco Tourism Paraty South America

The Complete Guide to Paraty, Brazil – Paradise is Only a Bus Ride from Rio!

October 24, 2017

Perched on the shore of Ponta Grossa, skimming its own privately-accessed beach, Happy Hammock is the perfect spot to forget all of your worries. Here, we spent two nights (which wasn’t nearly enough) checking out what Paraty has to offer and falling asleep in their name-sake hammocks…

An easy 25-minute boat ride from the colonial town of Paraty, Happy Hammock is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the two monstrous cities this sleepy town sits in the middle of.

With the ever-constant waves lapping at the shore and the distant drone of boats passing by, it’s not difficult to slip into a fabulous state of relaxation. This place is made for it!

What to do in Paraty/Ponta Grossa

With Happy Hammock as a base, guests easily avoid the trappings of local hotspots, instead having the best of Paraty practically to themselves.

We’re not ones to sit back and do nothing on holiday though and being in such a secluded spot, we had wondered if there would be enough for us to do.  Of course, we needn’t had worry – you can do as much or as little as you like there!

Swim with Bioluminescent Plankton

We’d first heard about this natural phenomena in Puerto Rico but due to the full moon during our visit (light pollution makes them much harder to spot) and the inability to actually swim with them there, we decided against paying to join a tour. It was a right decision but something I’ve wanted to do ever since.

Imagine our excitement when we found out that, directly off the dock, visitors to this Paraty guesthouse are treated to an underwater bioluminescent light show. Not only is it free but this natural marvel is literally in stumbling distance!

With someone standing guard and water that felt warmer than the air, we couldn’t resist jumping in two nights in a row. Though we were initially hesitant, all of our reservations slipped away once we put our goggled-heads in the water.

With every kick of our feet and wave of our hands, countless tiny fluorescent dots swirled around us in the darkness.

If there’s one reason you visit this region, make sure it’s this!

Wander the Historical Centre of Paraty

With its cobbled streets and historic churches, a visit to Paraty is a little like taking a step back in time. Built by the Portuguese to flood intentionally once a month (in a bid to clear out the sewerage that would have once been pushed out onto the road), the town’s whitewashed buildings and colourful front doors make for a great afternoon out.

Long gone are the garbage problems but the charm of the historical centre remains.

Hike Across to Praia Vermelha

An easy 30-minute hike from Ponta Grossa will put you out on the shores of Praia Vermelha, a pristine white-sand beach that other tourists pay top-dollar to visit on day cruises. Instead, plan to arrive before 2.30pm and you’ll have the beach practically to yourselves before the makeshift pirateships arrive.

There’s a lovely spot for lunch and though it is expensive, the servings are generous and the food tasty – a portion of fresh battered fish and a root-vegetable chips, each suggested for two, very happily went around three of us.

Relax in Paradise

With hammocks in ready supply and the sound of the waves crashing below, it’s hard to drag yourself away from the comfort of the front deck. Hummingbirds flit around as guests curl up with a good book or one of the National Geographics sitting inside.

It’s fair to say, life by the bay is pretty good.

Where to Stay in Paraty

Though I doubt it needs to be said at this stage, the Happy Hammock is hands-down the place to stay on the coast.

In some ways, this eco guesthouse is relatively simple. The showers don’t always run particularly warm (as they’re at the mercy of solar-heating, as you’d expect) and you won’t find a bedside lamp in sight. Wifi is nonexistent and and the closest accessible shop is back in town.

Honestly though, none of this is an issue – the exact opposite in fact. Happy Hammock absolutely shines in its simplicity and with Patrick at the helm, nothing is a problem.

Home cooked meals are a given and are adapted to suit the needs of his guests. The look of fear in my eyes when we were told a vegetarian meal was coming up that evening resulted in the addition of chicken for me (how sweet is that!) and when our friend Becky explained that she had a few allergies, he was careful to exclude those foods from our meals.

Snorkelling gear and a standup paddle board is available for use at no charge and the boat in and out of town is so affordable that making a trip is really isn’t a problem – why you’d want to leave is beyond me though!

If you’re looking for an international WiFi device, we highly recommend the SkyRoam. With it, you can connect up to five devices at a time and get reliable WiFi practically anywhere you can get cellphone reception, all at a low daily rate… and yes, it works at the guesthouse.

Getting to Paraty

From Rio

Easy Transfer offers reliable and surprisingly affordable transfers direct to Paraty.  Though it’s possible to get on a local bus, the transfers weren’t much more expensive and it meant we didn’t have to make our way through Rio with all of our bags.

From Ilha Grande

Again, private transfers are offered by Easy Transfer and though we found out that it would be a little cheaper to do it ourselves (after we’d purchased our ticket), we wouldn’t have saved much money.

From Sao Paulo

We made this journey in reverse (flying out of Sao Paulo) but doing so was simple. To get to Paraty from the city simply book yourself a seat on a local bus (they only offer one class but they’re comfortable enough).  We travelled from Paraty to Sao Paulo by public overnight but and then purchased a ticket for the airport bus once we reached the Sao Paulo bus terminal.  The airport bus cost practically as much as our longer journey but it got us to the airport quickly and safely.

Getting from Paraty to Ponta Grossa

Once you’re in the township, Patrick will have organised a private transfer for you on his boat. Keep an eye out for the little white boat and his skipper – he’ll make sure you, along with all your luggage, get to the guesthouse safely.  Should you wish to pop back and forth, the boat is available around the clock, with a slight surcharge for journeys made after 7pm.

Don’t Make Rio & Iguazu Your Only Stops in Brazil!

When our lovely Maria returned from Brazil singing the praises of Happy Hammock and Paraty, I was instantly convinced that this little slice of paradise deserved a spot on our travel wishlist.

Having now visited ourselves, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is one of the most relaxing places we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

The food, the company, the outlook – it’s all perfect.

Sure, the water in the showers doesn’t run piping hot (it is after all warmed via solar panels) and getting to the shops to pick up forgotten items isn’t the easiest of things to do, but there’s magic in its seclusion.

Though we loved Rio and Iguazu and enjoyed Ilha Grande, we wholeheartedly believe that no trip to Brazil is complete without a visit to Paraty.

Happy Hammock, Paraty; giving the happiest place on earth a run for its money since 2015.


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Not far from Rio de Janeiro, Paraty is Brazil's best-kept vacation secret.  This guide shares where to stay, what to do and what to expect.  Snorkelling with bioluminescent plankton, standup paddleboarding and plenty of relaxation, this colonial town is one you don't want to miss whilst in South America. Not far from Rio de Janeiro, Paraty is Brazil's best-kept vacation secret.  This guide shares where to stay, what to do and what to expect.  Snorkelling with bioluminescent plankton, standup paddleboarding and plenty of relaxation, this colonial town is one you don't want to miss whilst in South America.


Thank you to Patrick at Happy Hammock for hosting us for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are 100% our own.

Argentina Back Packing Brazil Chile Monthly Round-Up Patagonia South America

Two Months on the Road in South America – Chile, Argentina & Brazil

October 9, 2017

Another month has been and gone here in South America and with lots of new experiences under our belts, it’s hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

If you haven’t been following our travels, here’s a run-down on our route, key expenses and highlights of the last month or so…

You’ll find our previous months’ itinerary and costings here too.

Puerto Varas, Chile

With a few days to spare, we caught up on some work at our hostel and purchased the last few items we needed for Patagonia. Puerto Varas was a pretty little town but didn’t hold a torch to Bariloche or Pucon.  With that said, Puerto Montt held even less appeal for us and really was just a place to visit a mall (to buy hiking poles) and to fly out of – pleasant enough but not somewhere we’d recommend staying.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a 5-bed dorm at Margouya Patagonia Outdoor @ CLP7,600 each/night (USD12/NZD17).

Onwards travel to Puerto Natales:  Public bus from Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt and then taxi to the airport (a bus transfer is available but we ran out of time). Flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas with Sky Airlines (CLP24,624 /USD39.43/NZD55.25 each) and then bus to Puerto Natales (CLP7,000/USD11.20/NZD15.70 each)

Puerto Natales, Chile

The jumping-off point for Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales is a quaint little town, buzzing about with hikers and adventure seekers.  There’s not a lot to do in the township itself beyond stocking up with gear and visiting the few restaurants (Mesita Grande is a real winner for pizza and pasta) but it’s a nice place to relax in between hikes.

Accommodation:  Whilst in town we stayed with ChileTour Patagonia in their guesthouse – this is only available to their trekking clients and includes home cooked meals – what a treat not having to cook!

Activities: Alongside our visit to the nearby Torres del Paine, we also went on a horse trek through the rugged Patagonian landscape –  something we’d definitely recommend on a still day.

Onwards travel to Torres del Paine:  Private transfer by ChileTour into the park.

Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia

Our first South American bucket-list adventure, Torres del Paine was everything we hoped for and more!  Though it was at times a challenge (aching muscles, sore feet and sub-zero temperatures) the hiking was one of the most rewarding things we’ve ever done in scenery that was, without doubt, the most gorgeous we’ve ever seen.

Accommodation:  1 night camping at Camp Italiano (free but be sure to reserve your spot), 1 night full-board in Refugio Paine Grande (organised by ChileTour Patagonia) and 3 nights at EcoCamp (pricing depends on the package selected)

Activities:

Onwards travel to El Calafate:  Though EcoCamp can organise transfers directly to El Calafate, we returned to Puerto Natales in their van and then caught a shuttle and bus a few days later.

El Calafate, Argentian Patagonia

Home to one of the biggest glaciers in the world, we really went back and forth as to whether it was worth visiting El Calafate. In the end, we did and it was the best decision we could have made! Not only was the Perito Moreno glacier one of the most impressive natural sights we’ve ever witnessed but the township was abuzz with energy and a great little stop on the way north.

Accommodation:  1 night before visiting El Chalten and 1 following at America del Sur Hostel in a 6-bed dorm @ ARS185 each/night (USD10.60/NZD15).

Activites:  A visit to the Perito Moreno glacier which cost ARS450 in return transport (through Cal Tur) and ARS500 for entrance into the park itself.  Once you’re in, there are a variety of boardwalks that offer incredible views out over the monstrous glacier.

Though you can pay extra to ride a boat near the base of the glacier we decided against it (they don’t get particularly close due to the danger of icefall) and didn’t regret the decision – even the boardwalks are amazing!

Visitors are also able to walk on the glacier itself but be prepared, the ‘big walk’ will set you back big time at a whopping ARS6,200 each (USD356/NZD501.60).  There is a smaller ‘minitrek’ available but it still costs ARS3,600 (USD206.70/NZD291.30) and according to reviews, really doesn’t include any time on the actual glacier.

Our friend Backpacking Becky did the larger of the two and said it was incredible but our budget just didn’t extend that far so we were left listening to her stories!

Onwards travel to El Chalten:  Bus with Cal Tur ARS900 each (USD51.50/NZD72.90 – return included back to El Calafate)

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires was a bit of a surprise for us. Though we expected to absolutely fall in love with Argentina’s capital, it just didn’t happen for us. For what felt like months we heard bloggers and fellow travellers rave about BA but when we left, we felt a little underwhelmed by the city if I’m being honest (and I always am!)

Though the city felt much safer than we half expected and we had some lovely days out, for the most part, we weren’t really inspired to explore.

What did you think of Buenos Aires? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Accommodation: 2 nights in a 4-bed dorm at America del Sur Hostel Buenos Aires @ ARS202.50 each/night (USD11.60/NZD16.40)

3 nights in a three-bed private room at Circus Hotel & Hostel @ ARS238.50 each/night (USD13.65/NZD19.30)

Activites:  San Telmo Markets and lots of wandering around.  Unfortunately, the rain put a stop to most of our plans but we were quite happy just to take it easy.

Onwards travel to Iguazu:  Flight with Andes from AEP (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery) to IGR (Cataratas del Iguazú/Mayor Carlos Eduardo Krause Airport) @ ARS2115 each (USD121.25/NZD171.40)

 

Iguazu

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, services the most popular side of the Iguazu Falls.  There you’ll find three main routes around the falls, each with significantly different views – all are worth checking out!

Accommodation:  2 nights at Casa Tres Fronteras in a private double room @ ARS209 each/night (USD12/NZD17)

Activites:  ARS500 entrance to Iguazu Falls (Argentinian side) and ARS550 for the boat ride under the falls.

Onwards travel to Foz do Iguaçu:  Public bus @ ARS25 each (USD1.45/NZD2)

Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

Though we’d planned on accessing the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls (which apparently offer amazing views out over the entire falls area), we had such a great time on the Argentinian side that we spent the day relaxing and saved our pennies instead.

Accommodation:  1 night at Casa Celia Wernke in a private double room @ BRL34.70 each (USD11/NZD15.50)

Onwards travel to Rio de Janeiro:  Flights with Azul (IGU to VCP and VCP to SDU) @ BRL394 each (USD124.80, NZD176.45)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

With a little trepidation, we only booked three nights in Rio from the get-go.  We couldn’t have been more wrong though!  We absolutely fell in love with the city – vibrant, exciting and surprisingly safe (at least, so we found), we had an absolute blast.

Accommodation:  5 nights in a 6-bed dorm at Discovery Hostel @ BRL45 each/night (USD14.20/NZD20)

Activites:

  • Ipanema – Head out for a surf or do as we did and watch the sunset from atop the rocks at the Copacabana end of the beach.
  • Copacabana – An absolute icon, here an umbrella will only set you back BRL5 for a day and beach chairs BRL10 each, so get comfy and enjoy the beach.  On the days we visited the waves were strongest on the left side of the beach so we’d suggest heading right towards Ipanema.
  • Christ the Redeemer – For only BRL61 each, guests can catch official shuttle vans up to the top of this Wonder of the World and gain entry for as long as they wish.  It’s currently not safe to walk to the summit so this really is the most reliable and safest way to see Christ the Redeemer up close.  The views are amazing and it’s well worth the trip up.
  • Museum of Tomorrow – Free of charge on Tuesdays this intriguing museum includes a great range of digital artefacts and manages to be both interesting and thought-provoking.  This was a great way to spend a quiet morning in Rio.
  • Lapa Steps – A perpetual favourite amongst tourists, the Lapa Steps are beautiful.  Go hunting for a tile from your home country and see what you can spot.  We found three from New Zealand!
  • Parque das Ruínas – Beautiful views out over the city, an easy walk from the neighbourhood of Santa Teresa (and it’s free)
  • National Historical Museum – Not quite as engaging as the Museum of Tomorrow, the National Historical Museum is still home to a range of interesting Brazilian artefacts.  It wouldn’t be top of my list for a short stay but if you’re there for longer, it’s worth seeing.
  • Olympic Mural – Vibrant art in what used to be one of the rundown parts of the city.
  • Pedra da Gávea – A challenging but rewarding hike that includes a degree of free-climbing.  It’s a full day-trip so be sure to equip yourself with everything you need – in particular, sturdy shoes and 3L of water per person.

Onwards travel to Ilha Grande:  BRL95 each (USD30/NZD42.50) for private transfers with Easy Transfer, including hostel pick-up and delivery to ferry terminal (approx 2 hours) along with ferry ticket (approximately 45 minutes).

Lessons Learnt on the Road

  • Travelling friends are the best.  After an amazing stay at Chili Kiwi, we’ve met up with a number of newfound friends on the road, each to varying degrees.  One thing remains the same though – it’s been so nice seeing familiar faces again and having others to travel with.  We’ve just left Jess and Simon and are now on the road with Becky for around a month – good times!
  • Supermarket service here is super slow!  Having now spent the last two months in Chile, Argentina and Brazil, it’s fair to say that the supermarket service is the slowest we’ve ever experienced.  It’s obviously not a major problem, just go with plenty of time to spare.
  • Chile and Argentina have an accommodation tax that’s added onto each night of your stay but as a foreigner, you won’t have to pay it.  Be sure to show your passport/PDI entrance paper to save 21% on all accommodation.
  • Drones might not be worth the hassle here.  We brought our Mavic with us in the hopes of snapping lots of amazing aerial clips but we’ve found the majority of places either aren’t worth flying or can’t be flown (due to local regulations and/or safety concerns).  We knew we wouldn’t be able to put it up in Chilean Patagonia, for example, due to strict laws protecting the national park but hadn’t really accounted for the fact that although we could fly it in Rio, but would prefer not to in case someone decided they’d like to pinch a drone post-landing for themselves.  It’s a fair bit of weight and money to be carrying around in our bags considering how little it’s being used.

So far South America really hasn’t been anything like we’d expected.  The people, for the most part, are warm and understanding when it comes to our lack of Spanish, the streets feel relatively safe and the places we’ve visited so far have been incredibly diverse.

We’re so pleased we ventured over to this part of the world and can’t wait to see more!

What’s up next?  More of Brazil, Bolivia, a quick trip back into Chile (to visit San Pedro where we’ll be using these helpful tips) and then on to Peru.  Bring it on!

Check out our Recent Posts

Day One of the W Trek – Rain, Wind Gusts, Sub-Zero Camping & Lots of Smiles!

Patagonia by Horseback – The Perfect Alternative to Hiking

Day Two of the W Trek – Conquering the French Valley

The Base of the Towers – The Jewel in Torres Del Paine’s Crown

and one for fun…

Why You Should NEVER Eat a Kiwi…

Our Previous Months on the Road

A Month on the Road in South America – Chile and Argentina


Planning your own trip to South America?  Pin this post to come back to it…

Costings, transport, accommodation and activity guide to Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Find out what we did over the course of our second month in South America, complete with a full budget to help you plan your adventure. Including Iguazu Falls, Rio, Patagonia and more! Costings, transport, accommodation and activity guide to Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Find out what we did over the course of our second month in South America, complete with a full budget to help you plan your adventure. Including Iguazu Falls, Rio, Patagonia and more!


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Activities Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia South America

The Base of the Towers – The Jewel in Torres Del Paine’s Crown

October 1, 2017

Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia offers a number of world-class hikes to travellers keen to brave the elements. The most famous (and challenging) walk in the national park, the Base de las Torres (Base of the Towers) offers spectacular views amongst some of the most incredible natural scenery in the world. We took up the challenge and were rewarded a hundred times over for our efforts.

Setting off bright and early from EcoCamp, we were literally the first group on the trail, allowing us to set a comfortable pace and really soak up the morning air.  Thanks to its handy location at the start of the hike, visitors can maximise their time cuddled up in bed whilst still getting a big headstart on those coming from Puerto Natales for the day – a double bonus for our glamping crew.

“Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning” – Proverb

I must admit, in the days leading up to this hike I was incredibly nervous and the pink-tinged sunrise didn’t do much to set our minds at ease. Though I try my best, I’m not the fittest wahine around and even on a fair-weather day, the Towers were to present a massive challenge – both in body and mind.

Summoning a positive attitude, we began putting the kilometres behind us – something that was easily done on the flat but not so much so on the first major incline of the day.

The hike to the Towers can be divided into a few key sections, each unique from the other.

What Can You Expect on the Base of the Towers Hike?

The First Climb

After an easy warm-up on the flat, hikers are greeted with their first big climb and though there are small breaks where it evens out, for the most part it’s all uphill for a solid hour or so.  We took our time and made it up surprisingly easily but it was hard work, without doubt!

Solace

At the crest of the first incline, hikers are treated to a (gratefully received) rest. The track heads downhill towards the El Chileno campsite where, during the season, toilets are available (as is accommodation should you wish to break the hike into two days).

Not Your Average Walk in the Park

For the next two hours, the trails weaves through the forest. After the initial climb, this is an easy hike over undulating land. You’ll continue to gain elevation (so don’t get too excited about taking it easy), but in the big scheme of things, it’s a pretty cruisey part of the track; even if you’ve never hiked before, you’ll manage this section fine.

The Final Push

Just after the forest clears, you’ll be greeted with the final climb to the Base of the Towers.  This hike will certainly make you earn that amazing view you’ve come for – saving the best (or worst) ’till last.

Starting with a 30-minute climb through the last of the forest, hikers approach the moraine, where the scramble begins.  On the day of our hike, there was significant snowfall in the area which meant the path that would normally be made up of rocks and boulders was practically unrecognisable.  Instead, we tentatively made up way along the line of the moraine, skirting our way over to the Towers.  Though the snow resulted in a few minor slips, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually easier on our knees as we didn’t have to pick our way up and over rocks (but we’d love to hear from anyone who’s completed the hike without snow).

Though the snow resulted in a few minor slips, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually easier on our knees as we didn’t have to pick our way up and over rocks.

Have you completed the hike without snow?  If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts on tackling the last of the moraine!

With aching muscles but an unmistakable electricity in the air, we rounded the last bend and finally caught sight of the three towers right in front of us.  Peeking out through a veil of cloud, we couldn’t believe our luck – we’d been warned that on days like ours, hikers sometimes miss out altogether on seeing these granite monsters!

Honestly, we could not have asked for more.

Not only were we treated to the most amazing Winter-Wonderland scenery all the way up, but with a touch of blue sky, we stood marvelling at the infamous icons of Torres del Paine.

Though we were very fortunate to have the towers practically to ourselves (a privilege that would be absolutely unheard of during peak season), we had followed a set of little footprints all the way to the top.  Crossing our fingers, we’d hoped that it was a sign that we might get a glimpse of the resident fox and continuing on our lucky streak, that’s exactly what happened.

Standing under the towers, it was hard to believe that with all of our planning, dreaming and hoping, we were finally there in person.

We’d made it!

Do You Need a Guide to Climb the Towers?

Though it is physically possible to make it to the summit of the hike without the assistance of a guide, we would certainly recommend one.

Just days earlier, we’d been told about a pair of hikers who had made it almost to the end of the moraine just to have to turn back – with heavy snowfall they couldn’t find the track to continue safely through the maze of snow and under-cover boulders.  I couldn’t imagine the disappointment in getting that far only to turn away at the last hurdle.

Throughout the day our guides coaxed us along, sharing encouragement when it was needed and leading the celebrations when we’d pushed ourselves that little further than we thought possible.  They each shared a great deal of knowledge with us and knew exactly when we each needed that extra little boost.

Without our guides, I am absolutely certain that I wouldn’t have made it to the top.

They encouraged us to walk at our own pace and step by step, we slowly chipped away at the challenge ahead of us.  We certainly didn’t break any speed records for our ascent but their patience, persistence and belief in us was invaluable.

In the middle of summer, when the path is well-worn and the snow we experienced is nowhere to be found, it would be possible to complete the hike successfully without the assistance of a guide but even then, I’d suggest booking one in.

This hike is anything but easy so why trust it to anyone but a pro?

We decided to spend our evenings relaxing in luxury at EcoCamp so booked into their ‘Patagonia Wildlife Tour‘ – this allowed us to choose our own activities each day which included their own amazing guides.

If there’s one hike you do in Torres del Paine, make it this one!

Though the hike was difficult, with the mantra ‘slow and steady’ our whole group managed to make it up to the summit together.

Without doubt, the hike to the Towers was difficult but it was also one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.

If you have the opportunity, absolutely go!


Thinking about hiking to Base de las Torres?  Pin this post for future reference!

The Base of the Towers in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile is one of the most iconic hikes in the world. Find out how challenging it really is, whether you need a guide and exactly what to expect on this incredible trek. The Base of the Towers in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile is one of the most iconic hikes in the world. Find out how challenging it really is, whether you need a guide and exactly what to expect on this incredible trek.

Thank you to EcoCamp for hosting us on this hike.  Without doubt, we’ll never forget our experience!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia South America

Day Two of the W Trek – Conquering the French Valley

September 23, 2017

With our first full day hike in Torres del Paine behind us we slowly rolled out of ‘bed’ (if you can call a sleeping bag, ground mat and a lumpy jumper-come-pillow a bed) and psyched ourselves up for day two out on the trails.

Being our first experience of multi-day hikes, the need to pour tired bodies back into dirty thermals and to squeeze aching feet back into muddy boots was a new one for us.  I know I’m not making the experience sound glamourous because I suppose with the lack of showers, running water and electricity, it was anything but – but without doubt, it was an adventure and one we were very excited to be on.  Even in our sleepless, dirty, aching state!

Because we’d walked further than most the day before (to Campt Italiano), we were able to leave our proper pack-up until after we returned from the French Valley – what was to be the second most challenging hike on the W-Trek.

For those hiking through from an earlier part of the W Trek, it’s safe to leave your bags at the rangers station for the climb itself and something we’d definitely recommend you do.

With our trusty hiking poles in hand, we began the 2.5km hike to the French Glacier Lookout.  The path up was often uneven, at times resembling a rock scramble more than a traditional hiking track, so our poles really proved their worth.  The climb up to the first mirador was relentless but absolutely worth it when we were rewarded with incredible views back over Lago Nordenskjöld and up to the French Glacier and Los Cuernos.

The night before, we’d heard parts of the hanging glacier above break off, the thunderous sound echoing throughout the valley but to stand so close to it was unreal.  Periodically we’d see chunks of ice and snow tumble down from the glacier, setting off little avalanches that devoured everything in their path.  Where else can you find yourself so wrapped up in the power of Mother Nature?

When we finished our descent, we were pleased to have our tents still out for a little lie down before heading off again.  With 7.5km of ‘Patagonian flat’ ground in front of us, the remainder of the day was manageable, if a little slow at times (sorry Thomas and Javier for slowing you both down!) with a fair few drinks breaks and photo stops dotted in for good measure.

This part of the park has an interesting history, having been badly affected by fires in the not too distant past.  What has resulted is a massive section of dead forest; ghostly fingers reaching towards the sky.  It’s a surreal feeling walking through the park, knowing just how long it took to grow in the first place and then considering how long it will take to establish itself after suffering at our hands.

Distance covered:  Camp Italiano to Mirador Francés (5km round-trip) andCamp Italiano to Paine Grande (7.6km)  Total 12.6km (but boy did it feel like more than that after the day before!)

Accommodation:  Paine Grande.  Our first stay in a refugio was a welcome respite from camping on the ground the night before.  We slept in a four-person dorm and were provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner, all of which far surpassed our expectations.  Our rooms were nice and warm, as were the hot-water showers (even if you did have to press the button a few times to keep the water flowing).  It’s worth noting that the dining area wasn’t heated up so we’d recommend you wear your winter woolies downstairs where you head down there.  All in all though, a great option if you’re staying in the park and what an incredible spot to wake up to!

How Difficult is the Hike up the French Valley?

I can’t lie, by the time we got to the first lookout (after an hour and 10 minutes), we were breathing pretty heavily!  Though some choose to climb even higher to Mirador Británico, it simply wasn’t possible when we visited – the snow-cover wouldn’t have allowed us time to make it to our accommodation with certainty.

With that said though, within 5 minutes at the mirador, our breathing was back to normal and any memory of the climb was a distant memory so although I wouldn’t describe the hike as ‘easy’, it’s definitely do-able!


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Find out what it's like to hike to French Valley in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile. What to expect and the truth about your required fitness. Find out what it's like to hike to French Valley in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile. What to expect and the truth about your required level of fitness. Is this a holiday to suit every traveller? Find out!

Thank you to ChileTour Patagonia for hosting us on this section of the W Trek.  All thoughts are our own.

New Zealand Oceania Off Topic

Why You Should NEVER Eat a Kiwi…

September 21, 2017

Put your fork down and back away from the kiwi.

I mean it!

As we’re travelled more and more, it’s come to our attention that the majority of the world doesn’t really know what a kiwi is.

This is a kiwi…

Whereas, this is a kiwifruit…

When we introduce ourselves as the ‘Exploring Kiwis’ we often get quizzical looks.  You can almost see the cogs starting to turn…

Why would they name themselves after a piece of fruit?  What next?  The Adventuring Bananas?

With that in mind, it’s time we set the record straight for our international readers.

Kiwis aren’t food…

So, What is a Kiwi Really?

A kiwi is a small, flightless bird that is endemic to New Zealand.  That means that not only is it native to the country, but it is not found anywhere else in the world.

They’re special little things.

Fun Fact:  You might even have noticed that kiwifruit look surprisingly similar to our little kiwi birds.  It’s no coincidence that the Chinese gooseberry flourished down in New Zealand and was appropriate renamed ‘kiwifruit’ due to its similar exterior.

Due to Aotearoa’s geographic isolation and lack of native mammals, kiwis lived for years without any major predators.  Over time, they adapted to their environment – without any real threats, there was no need to fly, no need for good eyesight – and now, millions of years on, they remain genetically unchanged.  Unfortunately, however, their environment has changed significantly due to human settlement and these quirky characters have long been classified as endangered.

An average of 27 kiwi are killed by predators EVERY WEEK. That’s a population decline of around 1,400 kiwi every year (or 2%). At this rate, kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime. Just one hundred years ago, kiwi numbered in the millions.

A single roaming dog can wipe out an entire kiwi population in a matter of days

Approximately 20% of the kiwi population is under management.

In areas under where predators are controlled, 50-60% of chicks survive. When areas are not under management 95% of kiwi die before reaching breeding age.

Only 20% survival rate of kiwi chicks is needed for the population to increase.

Kiwis for Kiwis

Fortunately though, things are improving for some kiwi populations.  On the Coromandel, where kiwis live in a controlled area, free of predators, their numbers are doubling every decade.

… But can I call you a Kiwi?

Absolutely!

As our national bird, icons don’t get much more Kiwi than the kiwi.

When you visit our neighbours across the ditch in Australia, you’ll call them Ozzies.  When you refer to a New Zealander, you’re welcome to call us Kiwis – a name that has become so entrenched in our culture, it’s hard to imagine being called anything else.

To help you get to know these interesting little creatures a bit better, here are some kiwi facts to help you on your way…

  • They’re known as honorary mammals due to some of their habits and physical traits.  They have nostrils at the end of their long beaks, have feathers that resemble hair and lay massive eggs – proportionally they have some of the biggest eggs around, with babies being 20% of the mothers size (humans by comparison are only 5%).
  • Kiwis are nocturnal birds, spending the day sleeping whilst hunting at night.
  • Though you’re incredibly unlikely to find a Kiwi in the wild yourself, you never know.  Moonless nights are your best opportunity – a couple of hours after the sun sets or just as it’s about to rise.  Don’t let us get your hopes up though; neither Nathan or I have ever managed to spot one in the wild.
  • Part of the ratites group, these ancient animals can’t fly. You may be familiar with some of their larger cousins though – the ostritch, emu and another New Zealand giant, the extinct moa.

So, now you know.  We’re not named after a fruit at all, but a gutsy little flightless bird and a pretty cute one at that.

Though we can’t answer the age-old question of which came first – the chicken or the egg – we can say with absolute certainty that the kiwi came before the fruit!


Figure it’s time others know what a kiwi really is?  Pin this post to help them out…

Around the world people mistakenly think they're eating kiwis. Kiwis are actually New Zealand's national bird - a flightless, unique creature and the very reason New Zealanders are referred to as Kiwis. Around the world people mistakenly think they're eating kiwis. Kiwis are actually New Zealand's national bird - a flightless, unique creature and the very reason New Zealanders are referred to as Kiwis.

Thank you to WallpaperWeb , AgroProducts and ScienceDaily for supplying the images used.

 

Activities Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia South America

Patagonia by Horseback – The Perfect Alternative to Hiking

September 20, 2017

Patagonia is a popular destination for nature-lovers to explore by foot but not all are up to hiking over challenging terrain – there’s a reason the term ‘Patagonian flat’ was coined after all!

For travellers looking to enjoy the local scenery without having to clamber up and down mountains themselves, horseback riding is a great alternative.

You’ll enjoy stunning scenery, experience the infamous Patagonian weather first-hand, make friends with the most gorgeous horses and best of all, your feet will thank you for giving them a break when all is said and done!

Where Can I Ride in Patagonia?

We rode with Pingo Salvaje on the outskirts of the Torres del Paine national park, enjoying the views that the region is known for, without the additional cost of park entrance (which is always a bonus when you’re trying to stick to a budget).  The horses were amongst the calmest that I’ve ever ridden whilst still having the ‘up and go’ that so many commercial trekking horses seem to lack; these beauties were a pleasure.

There is also riding available within the boundaries of the national park, both for pleasure and to assist tired trekkers coming down from the Base of the Towers, but remember, you’ll need to account for the additional cost of entering the park (which is well worth doing at some stage).

Plan Your Visit Well

The winds in Patagonia can be brutal so I would suggest trying to book your horseback adventure for a day when the winds are at their lowest.  Because we had a tight window of opportunity, we rode in crazy winds regardless and though the horses handled it well (they’re incredibly used to it), at times it wasn’t the most comfortable of experiences.

We were pleased we chose to go ahead with the ride regardless but had we the option, it would have been even better on a slightly less windy day.

As always (at least in Patagonia), ensure you’ve got a wind-proof jacket to help keep you toasty warm and some comfortable gloves.  With those two things, we were warm even with the wind whipping up around us.

After hiking the majority of the W Trek, our legs were well and truly ready for a break and riding ended up being the perfect way to get out and make the most of the incredible scenery whilst giving our aching bodies a chance to recover.

If you’re travelling through Puerto Natales in Chile and either aren’t up for hiking or are just looking for a day off the trails, we’d certainly suggest saddling up and seeing this part of the word from a slightly higher vantage point.


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Torres del Paine by horseback in the way to go! The park is a favourite amongst hikers but nature-lovers can get outside and be more comfortable in the process. Explore Patagonia on horseback for an exciting ride through the most amazing scenery in Chile. Torres del Paine is a favourite amongst hikers but nature-lovers can get outside and be more comfortable in the process. Explore Patagonia on horseback for an exciting ride through the most amazing scenery in Chile.Thanks to Pingo Salvaje for so kindly hosting our ride.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

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