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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 snorkelling 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-crowded and as snorkelling 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, snorkelling 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


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

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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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.

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!

Top Tip:  We found taxi drivers in Buenos Aires to be less honest than we’d hoped for.  When leaving the airport (for a relatively short ride), three drivers in a row refused to put their meters on and attempted to charge us what we later realised was over three times the standard price!  Instead of hailing a cab from the airport, we suggest you book ahead with a company like Kiwitaxi transfers in Argentina, so you can not only be assured of a safe ride, but you’re able to ensure a fair price is locked in before you set off.

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.

We’d also planned on walking over to Paraguay but didn’t quite make it – go figure.  If only we’d read this food guide ahead of time, we’d have made a different decision!

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!

The Base of the Towers was our last stop in Torres del Paine before continuing on to the Argentinian side of PatagoniaOur one regret though?  Not making it to see the king penguins in Southern Chile!


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.

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.

Looking for other adventures in the region?  Check out these amazing itinerary suggestions for three weeks+ in Patagonia!


Know someone headed to Patagonia?  Pin this post to help them out…

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.

Activities Adventure Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia

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

September 14, 2017

Stretching across two countries, Patagonia is as massive as it is impressive; it’s almost overwhelmingly so, covering almost half of Chile and a third of Argentina.  For an area with such vast landmass though, the lack of people is incredibly obvious and to be frank, refreshing.

Though Patagonia envelops such a large area, there’s one in particular that nature-lovers make a bee-line to – Torres del Paine in Chile.  With its uniquely-Patagonian peaks towering over the park, expansive glaciers, cascading waterfalls, moody weather and interesting wildlife, it’s a dream destination for many.

They’d be right too – Torres del Paine is the stuff of dreams.

Having arrived into Punta Arenas and catching a bus to Puerto Natales, we hunkered down at the ChileTour Patagonia guest house, preparing for the coming days.  We were about to face what was to be one of our biggest physical challenges to date, the infamous W trek. (well officially almost the full W), but first it was time to meet our new friends, prep for the hike and enjoy a delicious homecooked meal.

Equally apprehensive as we were excited, we enjoyed a final night sleeping cosily inside before heading into the wilderness.

After months of planning, it was hard to believe that our first major South American bucket-list activity was just over the horizon.

Did it live up to our expectations?

Did it ever!

The next few posts will outline what you can expect from each of the hikes and will share with you all of the helpful hints we picked up along the way, so let’s jump right into it…

Hint #1:  If there’s a trip you book this year, make sure it’s to Patagonia!

Day One on the W Trek:  Refugio Las Torres to Camp Italiano

After our transfer into the Torres del Paine National Park, Javier, our guide, purchased our park tickets we headed for the main entrance where we loaded up ready for our first day of hiking and what an introduction to hiking in Torres del Paine it was to be!

Though most start with the hike to the most famous peaks in the park, we opted to save the most challenging hike to the end (a decision which proved to be a real savior).  Instead, we broke in our feet on what for most people is day two of the W trek – Refugio Las Torres to Refugio Los Cuernos, only we continued walking to Campamento Italiano (an additional 4.5km) because the refugio was closed for reservations.  Though it meant a night of camping and a longer day on our feet, it also meant we had an easier day following which was greatly appreciated.

The hike itself as the definition of ‘Patagonian flat’ – a term that we were to become very familiar with.  The terrain in Torres del Paine switches between undulating hills and rugged mountains, very seldom flattening out, hence this term was coined – it’s never really flat but it’s about as flat as you could hope for in this area.  Though the hills were at times challenging, they always resulted in the most gorgeous viewpoints out over Lago Nordenskiöld, many of which left us stuck in our tracks.

Though there were a number of unrelenting hills, the hike itself was absolutely manageable, even for myself (and I’m a bit of a couch potato).  It was long and by the 15th kilometre there was no doubt both Nathan and I were dragging our feet but without doubt, it was worth every step.

With water glowing turquoise, a surprisingly still morning treating us to the best Patagonian weather we could ever hope for and not a soul to be seen, it was clear that we’d made the right decision in visiting the area during shoulder season.  At the season’s peak, we’ve been told that hikers dot the landscape like ants, at times following one another practically shoulder to shoulder.  By comparision, at times it literally felt like we had the park to ourselves, literally crossing paths with only two other sets of people on the way to our next stop for the night.

When you’re visiting paradise, it’s an amazing feeling to have it to yourselves.

Distance covered:  From Refugio Las Torres to Refugio Los Cuernos (12km) and Refugio Los Cuernos to Camp Italiano (4.5km).  Total 16.5km (or 17km allowing for photo ops).

Accommodation:  Camp Italiano.  This site is available free of charge (but reservations are required in advance) and guests are only able to stay for one night.  Services are limited but there is a small shelter that can be used to cook meals and long-drop toilets (that were surprisingly tidy).  To stay at Camp Italiano, you’ll need to carry your own gear in (tent, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, food, cooker etc) but if you can handle carrying your gear (or, if you’re more organised than us, ChileTour  Patagonia can organise a porter to help carry to load), it’s an adventure worth having.

Running water isn’t available at the campsite but there’s a gorgeous river running right past so there’s no shortage of agua for guests, you’ll just need to clamber down to get it!

Camping in the shoulder season was much more comfortable than we had expected.  With sub-zero temperatures and no ability to take a hot shower, we half expected to freeze but with quality sleeping bags from ChileTour, we were pleasantly surprised.  I wouldn’t go as far as to describe our sleep as a comfortable one but our newfound hiking friend, Thomas, slept like a baby so it’s definitely possible.

Hint #2:  Minimise what you carry wherever possible – every extra ounce will feel like much more after 15km+ of hiking!  Use a fleece or your bag as a pillow and be prepared to wear clothes again and again – your back will thank you for it as the hike goes on.

Whilst in Torres del Paine, expect to encounter a wide range of weather – from glorious sunshine to massive wind and snow, we experienced it all.  It’s an incredible place though and well worth putting the time into exploring; just ensure you’re prepared.

With day one under our belts, we mentally prepared ourselves for the French Valley (and what is known as being the second most challenging hike on the circuit).

How’d we find it?  Stay tuned for our next post!


Off to Patagonia?  Pin this post!

Torres del Paine's W Trek is a popular hiking route around Chile's best national park. Don't start at the 'Base of the Towers' though - we've figured out a better way to plan your active holiday. Camping guide, route info and pro tips included too!Is camping in Torres del Paine, Patagonia a good idea in the off season? Find out what we thought of our experience camping on the tail-end of winter. Itinerary guide and our first thoughts are included too.

Thank you to ChileTour Patagonia for hosting us on the first leg of our W adventure; as always, all thoughts are our own.  

Map credit:  Fantasticosur

Argentina Back Packing Chile Monthly Round-Up South America

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

September 6, 2017

As hard as it is to believe, it’s been a month since we left New Zealand for the start of our big South American adventure!

On one hand, time has raced by but on the other, we’ve started to find our feet here, making new friends and experiencing all sorts of amazing things.  Unfortunately, we can’t report a significant improvement in our Spanish but that will hopefully come with time!

Buenos Aires, Argentina

We started our journey was an unexpected delay in Buenos Aires which left us with 24 hours in Argentina’s largest city.  We spent much of that time sleeping off our jet lag (or attempting to, at least) with a little city exploration thrown into the mix.

I must admit, both of us left feeling pretty underwhelmed by our experience in the Argentinian capital but we’ve heard so many people rave about it that we’re excited to give it another chance once we finish up in Patagonia.

If you have any tips to help us make the most of this cosmopolitan city, we’d love to hear from you!

Accommodation:  Tribeca Buenos Aires Apartments @ NZD55.83 (USD40) for one night, booked incredibly last minute.

Santiago (and Valparaíso), Chile

Better late than never, we made our flight connection through to Santiago – a city that would surprise us in an altogether different way.  We’d not heard a lot about Chile’s largest city but were pleased to find it to be so modern and friendly.  Yes, the Chilian’s speak incredibly quickly (which makes learning Spanish next to impossible) but they do so with great smiles and a truck-load of patience.

Accommodation:  5 nights in a centrally located (Providencia) Airbnb  @ NZD36.20/night for both of us (USD26)

Activities:  Our intention in Santiago was to sleep off our jetlag (which hit us surprisingly badly) and practice our Spanish.  By the time we were ready to hit the city properly the rain had well and truly set in, limiting our activities.  We’ve heard great things about the views from Sky Costanera and Cerro San Cristobal and have also been told that the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is incredibly moving and informative (though some of this is only in Spanish).

The highlight of Santiago was our day trip to the colourful port city of Valparaíso.  If you’re wanting to make the journey, you’ll find our Valparaíso city and travel guide handy to help you get organised.

Onwards travel to Pucón:  Bus tickets purchased through Recorrido on Pullman.  Salón cama @ USD31.30 each (CLP19,600), leaving at 9.45pm and arriving the next day at 7.15am (9.5 hours).

Pucón, Chile

I was excited to venture over to Pucón, the adventure capital of Chile, but nothing could prepare us for just how much we’d love it there!

Accommodation:  2 nights in a Chilian Airbnb just out of the touristy part of town (a great way to practice some Spanish) @ NZD40/night for the two of us (USD28.70).

From there we moved to Chili Kiwi to meet others travellers.  What was meant to be only three nights ended up being two weeks!  We stayed in the hobbity hollow (@ CLP28,000/night for us both = NZD62/USD45) before moving into a four bed dorm which we were lucky to have to ourselves (@ CLP10,500 each = NZD23/USD16.80).  If you’re considering staying in a hostel for the first time, this is the place to do it!

Activities:  Pucón is all about the activities!  Horse riding, hydrospeeding, snowboarding, waterfall chasing, geothermal hot springs, kayaking, trekking through snow-covered national parks – we had a blast doing it all.  Had my fitness been a little (actually, a lot) better we’d had hiked up Volcán Villarrica to catch a glimpse of the molten lava inside.

Onwards travel to Bariloche:  We shared fuel costs and grabbed a ride to our next stop with some newfound hostel friends but had we travelled independently, we’d have caught a bus either via Osorno in Chile or San Martín de los Andes in Argentina.  It’s worth noting that buses in Argentina can be noticeably more expensive so be sure to compare the price of your journey.

Bariloche, Argentina

A favourite getaway destination for Argentinians, this substantial town (AKA San Carlos de Bariloche) sits on the side of the beautiful Río Negro.  Known for its chocolates, craft beer and snow dogs, it’s practically the Switzerland of South America.

Accommodation:  5 nights at La Justina @ ARS200/night each (NZD16/USD11.50).  Again we were lucky to have a 6 bed dorm (with ensuite) to ourselves for the whole time!  Leonardo, the manager, was incredibly helpful and generous and the hostel was warm and tidy.

Activites:  Aside from munching on lots of chocolate and steak (check out Alto el Fuego – yum!), Bariloche also offers lots of snow activities in the winter and beautiful hikes.  Check out the Circuito Chico, a loop taking in some of the best scenery in the area.  We hiked up Llao Llao (pronounced Shao Shao), took in the views up Cerro Otto (which can be accessed either by cable car or driving) and enjoyed the crystal clear waters of Lago Gutiérrez.

Onwards travel to Puerto Varas:  Bus ticket purchased directly through Andesmar Chile.  Semi cama @ CLP22,000 each (USD35), departing 10am, arriving 5.40pm (7 hours, 40 mins).

The last month has been a bit of a balancing act, trying to find the balance between travel and work but it’s been fantastic.  It’s not every day you get the freedom to travel around, experiencing a new culture whilst continuing to clock into work (for those of you that aren’t aware, Nathan’s continuing to work for the family business back home whilst I’m focusing on Exploring Kiwis).

As we head into our second month on the road, we’ll be aiming to improve our Spanish and build our fitness – with some massive hikes in Patagonia planned, we’ll need it!

Lessons Learnt on the Road

  • Who knew how much we’d appreciate being allowed to flush our toilet paper?  Most toilets in Chile have a rubbish bin strategically located for paper to be thrown away.
  • Packing cubes are a must-have piece of travel kit!  Because we have gear for both winter and summer seasons, it’s been great to be able to store the clothing we don’t need!  As a bonus, the packing cubes compress everything down a but extra which is appreciated when you only have 40L bags to work with in the first place.
  • Chilian’s talk really quickly and use a lot of slang; they’re pretty much the Ozzie’s of Latin America!
  • Everyone has been incredibly friendly and patient.  Though I don’t doubt there are some parts of the continent that aren’t quite as welcoming, it’s certainly not the scary place it’s sometimes made out to be.
  • It’s not as cheap here as we’d expected it to be – food is particularly expensive with prices sometimes rivalling New Zealand.
  • Chile is unbelievably gorgeous and reminds us a lot of home!
  • Figuring out our work schedule can be challenging at times.  Some days it feels like all we do is sit in front of the computer to make up for days spent travelling or out on activities – not that we’re complaining!
  • Getting out of bed when you’re travelling long-term in the wintertime can be a real struggle – the bed’s just as warm and snuggly at home but here we don’t have bosses to ensure we get up at a decent time.  We’re still working on getting to bed earlier and getting up at a reasonable time… Let’s see if we’re any better in a month’s time!

If you’re thinking about making a change, I’d encourage you to take life with both hands and do exactly that – I’m so pleased we have.

What a start to our adventure!

Check out our Recent Posts

Valparaíso: Chile’s Painted City on the Sea

Pucón – The Home of Adventure in Chile (and our new favourite hostel!)


If you’re thinking of heading off on an adventure or are looking to travel South America, why not pin this post?

After a month working as digital nomads in South America we've got some tips to share! We've laid out our itinerary, transport and costings to help you plan your own trip plus discuss the lessons we've learnt along the way. Headed to Chile and Argentina? Read our itinerary, transport guide, costings and top tips to help make the most of your South America travels. Whether you're working as a digital nomad or are on vacation, this will help you plan your trip!

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Pucón – The Home of Adventure in Chile (and our new favourite hostel!)

September 2, 2017

Sitting under the shadow of Volcan Villarrica (one of South America’s most active volcanoes) and on the shore of one of many lakes in the area, Pucón is a relatively small town in Chile that packs a massive punch.

This gorgeous spot is known as the adventure capital of Chile and offers the perfect combination of adrenaline and nature.  If you’re not careful, you might just blink and find an action-packed week has passed you by!

The Fun Stuff – Activities in Pucón

Huerquehue National Park

An easy bus ride from Pucon, Huerquehue National Park offers a variety of trails for nature-lovers and based on the photos we’ve seen, is equally gorgeous, whatever the season.

Entrance to the park is 2,500 pesos for tourists and the walk to the first lake inside the park is approximately 7km.  The day we visited, the tracks were overtaken with snow making it a fairly challenging hike but in the summer it would be a walk in the park (sorry, that pun was too good to pass up)!

Though some of our new friends gave us a ride in (thanks Lyle and Jackie!), buses are available from town – just chat with Chili Kiwi and they’ll send you on your way.

Horseback Riding

We’d already been told about the high quality of riding available in the region so when we arrived, this was one of the first things I checked out.

With beautifully cared for horses and an instructor that’s spent all of her life around these beauties, it was an easy decision to ride with Corina… and seriously, with views out over four volcanoes, you’d be hard pressed to find a better spot!

Hydrospeeding

Whatever you call it – riverboarding, white-water sledging, river surfing or hydrospeeding – it’s about as much fun as you’ll ever have in the water!

Though winter well and truly engulfed the day, we climbed into thick wetsuits and took to the river for a serious dose of adrenaline.  With a range of rapids, there were a number of occasions when we found ourselves gasping for air but the sense of accomplishment at the end of the run was amazing. Without doubt,

Without a doubt, it’s the best value extreme sport we’ve ever done.  The river is clear, the staff professional, the scenery gorgeous and the price is beyond good.  Adrenaline junkies, make sure it’s top of your Pucón must-do list!

Snowboarding/Skiing

It’s not every day you get to snowboard or ski on an active volcano but in Pucón, not only is it possible but it’s relatively affordable.

Lift passes will set you back 28,000 pesos each and by the time you arrange gear and transfers, you’ll be looking at around another 25,000 pesos.  The mountain itself has a few different runs and jumps but is really best suited to beginner to intermediate boarders.

Termas Geometricas

One of the surprise highlights of our visit to Pucón, was Termas Geometricas.  These stunning hot pools are dotted along a canyon and as natural stream rushes past, geothermal hot water keeps each of the 17 pools at their own constant temperature.

With the snow falling and steam rising all around you, you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive place to relax and soak away your worries.

And yes, we have been to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.  Believe it or not, this was much more impressive!


Kayaking/Stand Up Paddle Boarding

When you’re perfectly situated on the shores of a crystal-clear lake, even the chilly winter water can’t deter you from getting out there!

Our accommodation, Chili Kiwi, offers guests the use of their stand up paddle board and kayaks and with the volcano in the background and sun on your back, it’s a pretty magical way to spend an afternoon.  Guests can take them out to the nearby beaches or do as we did and enjoy just zipping around the lake.


In addition to all of these activities, there’s also a volcano to climb (it’s actually one of the main reasons people come to Pucón – on a good day, visitors will even see lava bubbling away in the crater) waterfalls to explore (Chili Kiwi will provide you with a treasure map – it’s well worth the hike), rafting, biking and more.

With all of the activities on offer though, you’ll definitely want a comfortable place to rest your head and prepare for the next days activities.

As luck would have it, Pucón is also home to the winner of the coveted ‘best hostel in Latin America‘ award and speaking from experience, it’s the only place in town we’d want to stay.

Where to Stay: Chili Kiwi – The friendliest hostel around!

Arriving into town we’d heard of the Chili Kiwi and knew we wanted to check it out.  After all, it’s not often you have the chance to stay in a hostel partially run by a fellow Kiwi in Chile!

What we didn’t realise was that our planned three-night stay in Pucón would turn into almost two and a half weeks of fun at the most friendly, social hostel around, resulting in what I imagine will be life-long friends.

There’s something special about this place.

It’s the kind of place you walk into to find someone baking cookies (true story!) and where everyone happily chats away to one another   There you’ll find a view would rival any top hotel and staff happy to share their insider knowledge about the town they love so much.

When we arrived, James, one of the owners, sat us down and took us personally through all of the activities in the region and his suggestions for the best restaurants, groceries and shops – as they do with everyone.

When a package didn’t arrive for us, Peter,  the other owner, drove me into town and spoke with the courier company to help ensure my gear would make it safely to me.

When Nathan needed a hair cut, Jean wrote down word for word (in Spanish of course) a description of the style he wanted.

For all of the funky rooms, toasty fireplaces and activities on offer, this is a place where they care about people to their very core.  A backpackers run by backpackers, for backpackers.  And maybe just the place for someone who’s never stayed in a hostel to give it a shot – I warn you though, it might just ruin you for life.

Pro tip – if your budget will extend to it, we highly recommend booking the hobbit holes – they’re private, warm and have incredibly comfy beds.

The Practical Stuff

Getting to Pucon

Your transport into Pucon will of course depend on where you’re coming from, but Chile being Chile, chances are you’ll arrive on a bus, like we did.

We purchased our tickets online for Pullman Bus through Recorrido and after visiting a copy shop in Santiago (to print a copy of our booking), we exchanged our paperwork for our actual ticket just before boarding at the terminal.

Santiago has two main stations, Terminal Borja and Terminal Sur; we opted for the second to allow ourselves a little more time in Valparaíso but either is fine.

The ride itself is comfortable (especially in Salón Cama seats) and came in at USD31.30 each or 19,600 pesos.  We were given a few snacks and drinks on the journey and drove continually through the night (save a few terminal stops)

Getting Around

Pucon is an easy town to walk around in but should you need to get a lift, you have a few choices.

Collectivos run relatively loose routes and can be flagged down at any stage (or hailed at set points in town).  For a flat rate of only 500 pesos each, they’ll drop you where you want to go, picking up and dropping others off along the way.  It’s an incredibly affordable means of transport and as the town’s quite small, a fast way to get around too.

For activities outside of town, tourist shuttles can be arranged through accommodation providers and booking agents.  These shuttles are fairly comfortable and will collect you either from your accommodation or a pre-designated location in town.

If you’re wanting to go further afield, bus stations are spread throughout the town (each company has their own office) and tickets can be purchased both online and in person.  The buses are comfortable and reliable, making both onward travel and local exploration a straightforward process.

When all is said and done though,

Is Pucón Worth a Visit?

In case you hadn’t figured it out already, absolutely – yes!

The town itself is drop-dead gorgeous whilst avoiding any sense of pretension.  It offers a range of activities to suit everyone, often at prices far superior to other adventure-capitals and plenty of restaurants in town to keep foodies happy.

For us though, the highlight of Pucón really was the people we met and that was made possible through our stay at Chili Kiwi.  It’s the one place in town where you’re practically guaranteed to make great friends and that’s worth a whole lot in our books!


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The best hostel in Latin America can be found in Pucon, Chile's adventure activity capital. This award winning backpackers welcomes travelers from around the world, offering amazing views, great activities and a friendly, inclusive environment. Find out why you should be planning a visit to Pucon to stay here! Pucon, Chile is known for its adventure activities but it's a must see in winter! This vacation destination offers amazing hiking, hot pools, snowboarding, skiing and more. If there's one place you visit, make sure it's Termas Geometricas!Thank you to Chili Kiwi for so kindly welcoming us to stay with them.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  We miss you already!

Chile Santiago South America Tours Valparaíso

Valparaíso: Chile’s Painted City on the Sea

August 15, 2017

“Valparaíso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.” – Pablo Neruda

Valparaiso is colourful, vivacious, chaotic and a little surreal.  It’s grungy, a little wild and the life of the party.  Only 115km from Santiago though, this port-town has to be seen to be believed.

Try as I might to sum it up, sometimes you just come across a description that fits perfectly.  This is Valparaiso to a tee…

Poets, painters and would-be philosophers have long been drawn to Chile‘s most unusual city. Along with the ever-shifting port population of sailors, dockworkers and prostitutes, they’ve endowed gritty and gloriously spontaneous Valparaíso with an edgy air of ‘anything goes.’ Add to this the spectacular faded beauty of its chaotic cerros (hills), some of the best street art in Latin America, a maze of steep, sinuous streets, alleys and escaleras (stairways) piled high with crumbling mansions, and it’s clear why some visitors are spending more time here than in Santiago. – Lonely Planet

Colourful houses perch precariously, crammed in next to each other on the port hills.  Funiculars shuttle locals and tourists alike whilst those that choose to amble the streets are rewarded with incredible works of art, found in the most unlikely of places.

It’s a bit of a mess but it sure is beautiful!

To find your way around this unique city we suggest you join a walking tour to help get your bearings.  The city is fabulous but there are some areas that you probably don’t want to venture into.  Joining a local first will help give you the confidence to head off exploring on your own after the tour.

Good news travels fast and after a few people recommended Valpo Street Art Tours we planned our day around making it to their afternoon tour.  If we weren’t so jet lagged we’d have preferred to join their 10.30am tour (leaving us the rest of the day to explore) but sometimes you just can’t fight your internal body clock so the 3.30pm tour was the one we decided upon.

The tour itself was absolutely fantastic.  Eddie, our guide, was full of knowledge and passion.  He shared with us everything we could hope to learn – from the origins of graffiti in New York City in the seventies to the uniquely Chilean spin locals put on it now.  We came away with an understanding of the materials and processes involved in making this amazing works of art and a massive appreciation for the artists that pour everything into their projects.

Is Valpariso Safe?

It’s fair to say the port area doesn’t offer visitors much – it can in fact be a dangerous part of town.  By all means, make sure to visit the city but keep your wits about you, as you would anywhere.  Try to avoid walking on the flat parts of town when it gets dark and limit the amount of cash you take with you.  Don’t wander the city with your camera around your neck (unless you’re on a tour as they’ll ensure you only visit the safer areas) or your phone sticking out of your pocket.

We comfortably walked from the bus stop to the meeting point of our tour – it took approximately 30 minutes and we felt more than happy doing so.

Once it got dark though we hailed one of the local buses which took us directly back to the bus terminal.  Doing so is easy – just stick your arm out on the main road and jump onto any bus… they all head in the same direction.  You’ll pay 280 pesos for the pleasure and be there in a snap.

Chances are, walking would have been fine but why run the risk?

Getting from Santiago to Valparaiso

Getting from Chile’s capital to Valparaiso is a relatively straightforward process, even with minimal Spanish.  We used this helpful transport guide to get there but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll summarise the journey.

Though there are several spots from which you can catch an intercity bus, it’s easiest to do so at the last bus stop in Santiago city which is also conveniently a metro stop.  You’ll find Pajaritos on the red line, most likely in the direction of San Pablo.

As you exit the metro, simply follow the signs towards the ‘Bus Transfer’ area.  Once there, you’ll find the ticket counters directly in front of you and the buses to your right.  The main providers that run this route (Turbus and Pullman) do so every 15 minutes or so and there were plenty of seats available when we were there so there’s really no need to book in advance.

At the ticket counter we’d suggest asking for one of the following depending on your needs:

“Un boleto de vuelta a Valparaíso, por favor” – a return ticket to Valparaíso please.

“Dos billetes de ida y vuelta a Valparaíso, por favor” – two return tickets to Valparaíso please.

“Un boleto a Valparaíso, por favor” – a ticket to Valparaíso please.

Or you can do as we did and have your request pre-programmed onto your Google Translate app as back-up.  As it turns out, my accent is indistinguishably off so being able to flash my request up on the screen was invaluable (just turn your phone to the side to display it in an easy-to-read size).

Tickets can be purchased one way or return but they are cheaper if purchased at the same time.  We found a one way trip to be 5,700 pesos each but the return portion was only an additional 3000-and-something pesos (sorry, we threw out the ticket – silly us!)

If you do opt for a return ticket, you’ll be given an open-ended one.  When you’re in Valparaíso and are ready to head back to Santiago you’ll just need to approach the ticket desk, pass them your ticket and ask for

“La próxima salida por favor” – the next departure please.

Just don’t forget to get off again at the first major stop, Pajaritos (pronounced pa-ha-ri-tos) ready to catch the metro back home.

Valparaíso is unlike anywhere else we’ve ever been.  It’s gorgeous, a little crazy and undoubtedly real.  This city doesn’t try to hide who it really is, instead it embraces it and we’d encourage you to do exactly the same on your trip to Chile.

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