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The Best of the Best in South America – 12 Experiences You Can’t Miss!

April 21, 2018

With a landmass of 17.84 million km², there’s no denying that South America is a big place; in all honesty, the continent is massive!  With so much to explore and so much land to cover, itinerary planning can very quickly start to feel more than a little overwhelming.

After six months spent covering a great deal of South America, we’ve narrowed down our top 12 highlights to help you plan your own visit.

Just so you know: Though we tried to put this list in order from our very favourite, it proved next to impossible to compare one to the next.  With that in mind, our list is very loosely organised from absolute must-see down.  Remember though, everyone will have different preferences (including us on the day you ask) and we really recommend all of the stops on this post as very best activities in South America!

1. Galapagos Islands: Ecuador

Our absolute South American highlight, the Galapagos Islands aren’t to be missed!

A visit to this incredible archipelago will take a sizeable dent out of your travel budget but it will be worth every single cent.  Our visit to the Galapagos was genuinely the best travel experience we’ve ever had – how can you put a dollar value on that?

We made the decision to sail in luxury with Ecoventura on the MV Origin and really believe this small-vessel expedition cruise to be the best way to see this unique ecosystem.  Ecoventura will get you away from the busier tourist spots and out to where the real magic begins (check out Itinerary B – we loved it), plus they’ll do it in style every step of the way!

For those of you travelling on a bit of a budget, we did make the time to join a standalone day trip and can hand-on-heart say it’s worth saving to join a cruise.  Flights to the island group aren’t cheap, then you’ve got taxes and fees to pay before you even consider the day trips which will set you back a fair chunk.  The cruises do cost more but they include incredible food, activities, naturalist guides and will ensure your visit is really one to remember.

Get yourself to the Galapagos!

2. Hiking: Huaraz, Peru

An overnight bus from Lima, Huaraz offers what we believe to be the best hiking in Peru and the most affordable, bang-for-your-buck hiking in all of South America.

Without doubt, Patagonia was amazing (don’t worry, you’ll find the region on our ‘best of’ list shortly) but we loved that the day hikes out of Huaraz were so incredibly beautiful and that they didn’t break the bank.

Staying in affordable accommodation in Huaraz, it was easy to catch a local colectivo to Laguna Churup and to join a tour to Laguna 69.  Both were beyond beautiful and must-sees whilst in Peru.  Too many people don’t go North from Lima but they’re seriously missing out – the two hikes we enjoyed here far surpassed any of the hiking we did elsewhere in South America (with the exception of Patagonia of course).  Be sure to hit up Huaraz (just remember to allow a day or two to acclimatize before taking on the tracks.

Laguna 693. Machu Picchu & the Inca Jungle Trek: Cusco, Peru

The undisputed icon of South America, this ancient Incan citadel draws tourists in from all over the world.

On a few occasions throughout our travels we heard people say that they’d be avoiding Machu Picchu due to its reputation as being ‘too touristy’.  Were they right in doing so?  In our opinion, absolutely not.

To stand in Machu Picchu was absolutely mindblowing and though it didn’t end up right on the top of our list, we’ll never regret having spent the time and money to visit the historic site.

There are a number of ways in which you can access Machu Picchu but no matter which way you do, a visit to the site will cost you a fair bit of money.  Hikes include the Inca Trail, Salkantay and Lares Trek, whilst the Inca Jungle Trek will see you take in a variety of activities on the way (including rafting, mountain biking, hiking and ziplining).  Alternatively, you’re able to catch a bus or train to Aguas Caliente and make your own way up to the citadel from there.

We were incredibly happy with our choice to take on the Inca Jungle Trek and would recommend it to anyone not looking to hike for days at a time, but still wanting to turn their Machu Picchu visit into a real experience.

Whatever you choose though, don’t skip past Machu Picchu!

Machu Picchu4. Exploring Patagonia: Chile & Argentina

Wild, untamed and unmatched, Patagonia is a special place.

The only reason it’s #4 on our list?  The expense of spending time in the region.  Is it money well spent though?  You bet!

Patagonia is an area spread between southern Chile and Argentina and though it envelops a large area, there are three key spots that we’d consider must-see.

Torres del Paine (accessed through Puerto Natales): Chile

The poster child of Patagonia, it was the Base of the Towers hike that first drew us to the region.  Torres del Paine is of course much more than its most famous day hike though!

We suggest you book accommodation around the W Trek and an additional stay at EcoCamp so you can really soak up the beauty that is this national park.  With a roaring fire and memorable eco-domes, EcoCamp will forever go down as one of the most unique, special spots in which we’ve ever had the pleasure of staying.

Torres del Paine lakeThe Perito Moreno Glacier (accessed through El Calafate): Argentina

Due to the cost of crossing over into Argentinian Patagonian and the expense of seeing Perito Moreno, we very almost didn’t make the trip.  We were so pleased we did though!

78 kilometres out of El Calafate, this icefield is home to the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water.  Whilst every other glacier in the world is retreating, Perito Moreno is actually advancing, making it particularly special.

Walkways weave around the glacier, allowing visitors to take it in from a range of heights and angles.  Boat rides are also on offer but as they need to allow a certain amount of space to ride clear of the calving ice, you don’t get a heck of a lot closer (and it’s expensive).  For those with especially deep pockets, you’re also able to hike on the ice – as much as we’d have loved to have done this, we just couldn’t see value considering the price (instead we’re going to do it down south in New Zealand where you can actually get into the ice).

We were more than happy spending the day observing the glacier from the platforms and were so pleased we made the choice to cross the border into Southern Argentina.

Laguna de los Tres Hike (accessed through El Chaltén): Argentina

At 26km (16miles), Laguna de los Tres is a fairly demanding day hike (especially once you get to the base of the Fitz Roy) but with an adventurous spirit and firm feet, it’s achievable for most able-bodied people.

If I made it up in snow like this, you can too!

The views at the top rivalled the hike we did to the Base of the Towers in Torres del Paine but this hike is a lot cheaper.  Accommodation in El Chaltén is affordable and the hike itself is free so all in all, it makes for a really well-priced visit.

Fun Fact: Did you know the Fitz Roy inspired the Patagonia logo?

Laguna de los Tres El Chalten5. Salt Flats: Uyuni, Bolivia

The Bolivian Salt Flats are seriously good fun!  We elected to spend three nights exploring the area and though the accommodation and food was incredibly basic, the landscape more than made up for it.

Over the course of your tour, you’ll visit multi-coloured lagoons, mountains and of course the salt flats.  You’ll meet flamingos, enjoy star-laden skies and warm yourself up in geothermal hot pools.

For all of the spots they manage to squeeze in, we believe this to be one of the best value tours in all of Latin America!

Salt Flats, Bolivia6. Iguazu Falls: Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

Spanning Brazil and Argentina, the Iguazu Falls are the largest waterfall system anywhere in the world and unsurprisingly, they’re incredible!

Accessible from both sides, the Argentinian side is the real standout.  Plan to go early and spend the whole day weaving your way around the walkways, spotting tropical animals and birds and riding the boat under the falls.

7. Death Road; La Paz, Bolivia

Our main reason for heading to La Paz didn’t disappoint!  The Death Road was slightly easier than we’d expected it to be, making it within reach of most people.

After being loaded up and driving for a few hours, we warmed up on our bikes on a tarsealed road before taking to the original Death Road.  These days an alternative route is used for general traffic, making what was the most dangerous road in the world a whole lot safer.  You’ll still come across the odd big truck making its way up from the villages below but generally, the traffic is pretty tame – the opposite can be said for those cliff-faces though!

Death Road biking8. Into the Jungle

When we started planning our adventure through South America we knew we wanted to pay a visit to the jungle, we just weren’t quite sure where.  In the end, we elected to visit the jungle in both Ecuador and Peru and loved both experiences for different reasons.

Mashpi Cloud Forest: Mashpi, Ecuador

If you’re looking for absolute luxury in the midst of the jungle, Masphi Lodge is the place.  With delicious food, gorgeous rooms and dedicated guides, these guys know how to ensure you’ll have the visit of a lifetime.

With a number of fabulous rides (like the skybike pictured below – Nathan doesn’t love heights, can you tell?) and bird watching better than we found anywhere else the cloud forest offers lots of opportunities to spot the little creatures that make the Ecuadorian jungle so special.

Mashpi lodge skybikeThe Amazon Jungle: Puerto Maldonado, Peru

The most famous jungle in the world, the Amazon is a hotbed of biodiversity.

Knowing we wanted to stay right where the action was we booked into Amazon Planet where we soon found ourselves hunting out tarantulas, snakes and monkeys whilst making friends in the middle of the jungle!

Amazon Rainforest Amazon Planet9. Canyoning and Rafting: Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

So far, Nathan and I have agreed on most of this list.  Baños was the one place that divided us though!

If you ask Nath, he recons rafting in the area is an absolute must-do activity.  Me though?  I really rated the canyoning.  Either way though, these activities in Baños were affordable and amazing fun – no matter who you ask, we’ll both say they’re both worth doing!

10. Via Ferrata: Sacred Valley, Peru

By now you’ve probably seen the Skylodge Adventure Suites in Peru; the little cliff-side pods boast some of the best views around.  Unfortunately though, they’re often heavily booked and come with a price tag to reflect their uniqueness!

There’s good news though – if like us, you left it too late to consider booking a pod, the team takes day trips out from Cusco, allowing visitors to climb the via ferrata up past the pods and then zipline your way back down.

We thought the day trip offered great value for money and with spectacular views of the Sacred Valley, we really enjoyed it

Not quite brave enough to take on the via ferrata?  There is an option to hike up to the zipline.  Most of our group chose to do this with only three of us climbing.  The via ferrata was a real highlight though so if you can push yourself to climb, we really suggest you do.

11. Sandboarding: Huacachina, Peru

The only natural oasis in all of South America, Huacachina is undeniably touristy.  It’s also undeniably fun!

For a bargain-basement price, you can jump into a dune buggy for a good blat around the sand dunes before sandboarding your way back down some mammoth slopes.

Word to the wise – wear pants that you don’t mind getting damaged; Nathan went so fast down the dunes that he wore holes in his shorts!

12. Paragliding: Medellín, Colombia

Though a lot of Colombia left us wanting (if we’re entirely honest, which we always are), we really enjoyed our visit to beautiful Medellín.

Most of all I loved taking to the air with Dragon Fly for my second flight and Nathan’s first.

I find paragliding to be incredibly peaceful – with beautiful views and just a little dose of adrenaline, I really do believe it’s something everyone should have a crack at.  By comparison, Nathan (who we already know isn’t the biggest fan of heights) found it to be a little more nerve-racking.

Though our experiences were quite different, we both consider it a worthwhile activity whilst in the city.

paragliding in Medellin, Colombia


And there you have it, our top 12 South American experiences!

Our six months on the continent exposed us to so much fun, adventure, culture and of course, incredible nature.  Having seen and done so many amazing things (we didn’t even mention our visit to the Swing at the End of the World, our visit to Valle de Cocora, swimming with bioluminescent plankton or that time we went paintballing at Pablo Escobar’s crumbling old mansion, did we?) it wasn’t an easy list to put together but we can say hand-on-heart that you can’t go wrong including any of these amazing spots on your travel itinerary.

Which of these activities look like they’d spin your wheels?


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5 Comments

  • Reply Anisa April 21, 2018 at 7:03 pm

    It’s funny. I have been to South America many times but I haven’t done any of these. I do really want to go to the Galapagos! And I love your salt flats picture

  • Reply dorothyadele April 22, 2018 at 12:29 am

    As a result of your post, I am looking at South America from a new perspective. At the very least, you have me sold on the Galapagos.

  • Reply Rebecca April 22, 2018 at 12:36 am

    Oh my gosh, you did so much in South America! Isn’t it an amazing continent??

  • Reply theunend April 22, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    I can’t believe that you rode bikes on the Death Road!! I’ve seen videos of that road and it made me queasy. Happy to hear its no longer as bad as it once was. Patagonia is amazing and I can’t wait to do the Argentinian side. I’d add Easter island to your list – incredible island with a fascinating history.

  • Reply Mayuri April 22, 2018 at 6:28 pm

    South America has so many hidden gems! I have Peru and Columbia on my list!
    Great post and thanks for sharing

  • Leave a Reply

    Bolivia Peru South America

    South America Made Easy – Our Bolivia Hop/Peru Hop Review

    March 7, 2018

    We recently used Bolivia Hop and Peru Hop whilst travelling around this part of South America.  Their service made life a heck of a lot easier than the public buses that we’d become used to.  Read on for our honest thoughts on becoming Hopsters.

    This is a review you need to read if you’re headed to Peru! 

    Hopping Around Bolivia and Peru: How It Works

    The beauty of hopping your way around Bolivia and Peru is in the simplicity of it all.  For one reasonable rate travellers have up to a year to carry out their all of their adventures under the watchful eye of local guides.  All you need to do is figure out which route you’d like to undertake and decide how long you’d like to spend at each stop.  The tickets are flexible and you can spend as long at each stop as you like (or, should you prefer, you can race right on through).

    Whether you have a great deal of time or are just passing through Peru to see the highlights, there’s a ticket option to suit.  From single day itineraries to the see-it-all La Paz to Cusco to Lima pass that takes a minimum of 11 days (the option we chose) and everything in between; the question shouldn’t be whether you’ll join Bolivia Hop and Peru Hop, but which journey you’d like to take with them.

    How did Peru Hop come about?  Will and Conor, two Irish twenty-somethings, decided in 2013 that Peru was in need of a better tourist transport system and they set to work to deliver exactly that.  Peru Hop quickly found firm footing amongst travellers and in 2014 (with the addition of English-man, Pete), Bolivia Hop was added to their portfolio.  They’ve been working ever since to show visitors the best of both of these countries.

    What We Loved About Being Hopsters

    Having travelled broadly throughout South America on our six-month trip, we experienced the best and the worst of the continent’s transport system and can recommend the Peru Hop and Bolivia Hop passes unreservedly.

    There’s lots to love about these guys.

    • The buses are in good nick.  Though the sizes and types of bus vary, we always found them to be clean, tidy and comfortable.  All buses come equipped with bathrooms (for #1s only, so you can be sure the bus won’t stink at the end of a 12+ hour journey) and TV screens playing modern, English movies (I can’t tell you how much we came to appreciate this after all of the Spanish-dubbed movies we saw on other bus rides!)
    • Guides accompany you on all journeys.  Having spent months in South America trying to figure out things for ourselves in a language that we were anything but comfortable with, it was a breath of fresh air to have well-trained, friendly English-speaking guides onboard all journeys.
    • There’s the option to stop along the way at points of interest.  Public buses travel straight from one stop to the next, with only very brief stops for food along the way (sometimes, not even that).  By comparison, Peru and Bolivia Hop specifically allow time at certain spots that might be of interest, either including a visit to them free of charge or an optional excursion for a nominal fee.
    • They pick you up from your hostel and drop you off at the next one.  To make life easy, Peru Hop will either drop you at your hostel (presuming it’s within the central zone of each town/city), saving you a taxi fare.  In Cusco, where they aren’t legally allowed to take the bus onto the city’s historic streets, they’ll pay for your taxi.
    • Your passes get you discounted accommodation and activities.  Though you’re free to organise your own accommodation and activities, we almost exclusively used the companies Peru Hop recommended.  #1, as Hopsters, we received discounts (in some cases, fairly substantial ones) #2, we knew they’d always be able to drop us off at the hostels and #3, we knew that by booking official excursions, we knew the bus would always wait for us if our tour was delayed.
    • Absolute flexibility or locked-in plans?  The choice is yours.  Once you’ve decided on your pass of choice, it’s entirely up to you how you plan out the journey itself.  The online system for Peru and Bolivia Hop is easy to use and clearly shows which buses have availability, allowing you to book onto your bus of choice and to easily amend your booking should you wish to.  You can do as we did, and adjust your plans as you go, or lock in set dates from the get-go.

    Reviewing our Bolivia Hop/Peru Hop Itinerary

    With a fair bit of time up our sleeves, Nathan and I decided to book on the most involved Bolivia and Peru Hop itinerary – we had the time and the flexibility so we were determined to see as much as possible whilst travelling at a relaxed pace.

    The following is our no-holds-barred review of each of the spots.  Keep in mind that each of these are based on our personal thoughts – we always know of some other travellers that would disagree with what we’re about to say, so consider all of your options when booking your route.

    Bolivia Hop

    La Paz – 8/10

    The starting point of our Bolivia Hop trip, we enjoyed the hustle and bustle of this vibrant South American city.  It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and I certainly enjoyed it more than Nathan, but we both had a great time hanging out in what felt like a very authentic place.

    What to do:  The Red Cap Walking Tour around La Paz and the Death Road with Baraccuda

    Where to eat:  Cafe del Mundo – seriously good Western food at affordable prices

    Where to stay:  Landscape – International B&B

    Copacabana – 6/10

    This sleepy little town on the shores of Lake Titicaca is a great place to recharge your batteries for a day or two.  There’s not a heck of a lot to do there but maybe that’s half the beauty of the place.

    What to do:  An afternoon trip to Isla del Sol

    Where to eat:  El Condor & The Eagle Cafe – though it was closed by the time we made it there, it was highly recommended.

    Where to stay:  Hostal 6 de Agosto – Simple but well-priced.  Given the opportunity though, we’d have loved to have stayed at La Cupula.

    Peru Hop

    Puno – 4/10

    We wanted to love Puno and the Floating Islands, we really did.  Compared to the other incredible parts of Peru though, we found it to be somewhat disappointing though.

    What to see:  An afternoon visit to Uros; the Floating Islands

    Where to stay:  Suite Independencia

    Cusco – 9/10

    Known as the cultural and historical capital of Peru for good reason, it’s easy to spend a great deal of time based out of Cusco, exploring the region.

    What to do:  The Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, Humantay Lagoon, via ferrata and ziplining + a side trip up to Puerto Maldanado and into the Amazon Jungle!

    Where to eat:  Maikhana – the best Indian food we had in South America

    Where to stay:  Magicpacker Hostel

    Arequipa – 8/10

    What to do:  We weren’t feeling well so just explored the town but rafting and hiking the Colca Canyon are both popular with visitors to the region.

    Where to eat: Pasta Canteen and Crepisimo

    Where to stay:  Flying Dog Arequipa

    Huacachina – 8/10

    The only natural oasis in South America, Huacachina is undoubtedly a tourist town but it’s unique and definitely worth a night or two.

    What to do:  Sand buggy riding and sandboarding – so much fun!  On your way to the next stop, you’ll also swing by the mysterious Nazca Lines.

    Where to stay:  Wild Olive Guest House

    Paracas – 5/10

    A quiet seaside town, Paracas is known for its beach and beachside excursions.

    What to do:  Visit the Ballestas Islands (known as the poor man’s Galapagos) and spend an afternoon at the Paracas National Reserve

    Where to eat: Fruzion and Restaurant Paracas

    Where to stay:  Los Frayles

    Lima – 9/10

    A real surprise to us, Lima seems seldom talked about when compared to cities like Rio, Buenos Aires and Santiago, but it should be!  This underrated capital quickly became one of our favourites.  With a striking coastline, world-class restaurants and a chance to top up on any shopping you need, it’s well worth spending some time in the city.

    What to do:  Paragliding over the beach

    Where to eat:  Chili’s – flashbacks to our time in Abu Dhabi!

    Where to stay:  Lima House

    Peru Hop & Bolivia Hop: Are They Good Value For Money?

    As with anything, value is in the eye of the beholder.

    Compared to public buses, a Peru/Bolivia Hop pass does seem expensive, absolutely.  Compared to a tour though, it’s very well priced.

    Yes, you can find transport at a lower price in Peru; none of the buses though will give you access to the benefits that we discussed earlier in the post.  The big question is how much value you place on each of those benefits of course.

    PS: Did you forget what we loved about Peru and Bolivia Hop?  Here you go…

    • The buses are in good condition
    • English-speaking guides accompany you on all journeys
    • There’s the option to stop along the way at points of interest
    • They pick you up from your hostel and drop you off at the next one
    • Your passes get you discounted accommodation and activities
    • You can lock plans in or be flexible

    Keep An Eye Out For This One Thing…

    Because the buses run on set timetables, there is the odd occasion whereby you won’t be able to get the bus you’d like, on the day/time that you’d like.

    Once the bus was full and on another few days, there simply wasn’t one running.

    It really wasn’t a problem as we were travelling in such a flexible manner but if you’re tighter on time, be sure to check the schedules and lock in your most likely days to ensure you don’t miss out.

    Who Is The Peru and Bolivia Hop Service Best Suited To & Would We Recommend It?

    Anyone that wants to travel in comfort, safety and ease!  It’s especially well-suited to first-time travellers, those that don’t speak a lot of Spanish, those on tight timeframes (who has time to constantly figure out buses when you’re only travelling for a little while?), solo travellers and anyone that would like that extra little bit of support.

    It was such a treat for us to leave the bus stations behind and know that everything was taken care of with Peru and Bolivia Hop!

    Would we recommend Peru and Bolivia Hop?  You bet!


    1 Comment

  • Reply honeymoonbug April 4, 2018 at 7:20 am

    The excitement of hopping around Peru and Bolivia cannot be described in worlds. The tourist people are ensured to have nice pastime and recreation by visiting these locations.

  • Leave a Reply

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    Backpacking South America: The Best Hostels – Tried and Tested!

    March 3, 2018

    If you’re planning a long-term trip through South America, or are simply travelling on a budget, you’ll need to keep an eye on your accommodation bill.  Thankfully though, backpacking doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be scraping the bottom of the barrel – quite the opposite!

    Throughout our six months in South America, we were delighted to find a number of incredible hostels and would recommend each and every one of them.

    The Best Hostels in South America – The Top of the Pack

    Most Social – Chili Kiwi Lakefront – Pucón, Chile

    Chili Kiwi was the first South American hostel to really win us over and it did it in a big way!  During our 2.5 week stay (that’s right, it was that hard to leave), we made friends for life.  With friendly staff, a great range of accommodation options (we especially liked the hobbit holes), a stunning lakeside location and enough activities to keep you entertained for weeks, you’ll find it hard to pull yourself away from Pucón’s best hostel too.

    Whilst travelling, we’re always on the hunt for hostels where travellers are friendly and keen for a chat but happy to let everyone sleep when the time comes.  Chili Kiwi was the epitome of what we look for – a social hostel, yes, but not a party hostel – perfect!

    Best Breakfast – Discovery Hostel – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Though Discovery Hostel is so much more than a fabulous breakfast, it’s hard to think of much else as you pull up a chair first thing in the morning!  With pancakes, cinnamon sugar french toast, fresh fruit, sauteed veggies and the most incredible fresh-from-the-oven banana bread, it’s an included breakfast that goes far beyond what you’d expect of a backpackers.

    Aside from the breakfast (which we’re still dreaming of), we loved the location of the hostel (super safe, near the metro) and found the hostel itself to be very social.

    Most Idyllic Location – Happy Hammock Eco Guesthouse – Paraty, Brazil

    A 15-minute boat ride from Paraty, Happy Hammock, set on the shore of a semi-private beach, provides the most incredible hostel views imaginable.  With friendly hosts (who are particularly adept in the kitchen) and plenty of hikes and swimming spots close by, it’s the perfect place to relax.

    Best of all though?  Once the sun goes down, Happy Hammock turns on the magic!  Guests are invited to done mask and snorkels and jump off the wharf where bioluminescent plankton light up the sea.  Though we only planned to swim on the first night, we couldn’t resist a dip on the second night too… Should you pay them a visit, you’ll see why.

    Best City Location – BlackPine Hostel – Medellín, Colombia

    Set in the leafy suburb of Poblado, BlackPine is the perfect hostel for travellers new to backpacking.  With incredibly respectful guests, comfortable beds, tidy bathrooms and smiling staff, you’ll get a great nights sleep without breaking the bank.

    With hot showers (which are in short supply in Colombia) and a choice of yummy cooked breakfasts each morning, BlackPine is a great place to relax.  Should you wish to go further afield though, they’re well located close to a range of low-cost restaurants (hunt out the Mexican – you don’t regret it) and the metro.

    Best Showers – Magicpacker Hostel – Cusco, Peru

    Any stay in Cusco is bound to be action-packed with so many amazing hikes, archaeological sites and activities in the region.  At the end of a busy day, you’ll need somewhere restful to recharge your batteries and Magicpacker is exactly the ticket.

    With some of the best showers we encountered on our travels, a massive TV set to stream NetFlix, social guests and the most fabulous dinners offered (on certain nights of the week), it very quickly became our home away from home.

    Best Chill Space – Wild Olive Guest House – Huacachina, Peru

    Situated right on the edge of South America’s only natural oasis, the Wild Olive Guest House is a super comfy option for travellers.

    With comfortable sofas, another massive TV, friendly guests and a delicious included breakfast (you even get to order off their menu – oh the choice!) it really is a great place to relax in what’s considered a bit of a party town.

    Most ‘Worth the Effort’ – Llullu Llama – Quilotoa Loop, Isinlivi, Ecuador

    The first stop for us on the Quilotoa Loop, a three-day hike, ended up being a real highlight of our time on the trail.  The hostel itself was incredibly comfortable and served up hearty food and tasty cocktails, perfect to refuel our energy stores.  It also had a lovely spa (though we didn’t think to take our swimmers!), an unbelievably massive (and gorgeous) St. Bernard and best of all, it attracted a social, friendly group of travellers.

    We hiked for the next two days with our newfound friends and though we didn’t find the hike itself to be quite as impressive as we’d expected, we had absolutely no regrets, largely thanks to Llullu Llama and the new buddies we made there.

    Honourable Mentions

    Snuggliest Fire – Margouya Patagonia Outdoor – Puerto Varas, Chile

    There’s nothing like a roaring fire when it’s chilly outside… it’s even better when it’s right in your bedroom and lit by someone else each night!

    Margpuya Patagonia Outdoor provided respite from the cold whilst being a comfortable, social hostel.  The rooms themselves were a fairly good size and there were plenty of activities on offer through the front desk, along with staff that were always happy to help with local bus information.

    Most Helpful Staff – La Justina – San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina

    Though we arrived late to La Justina, Leonardo, the manager, was ready and waiting with lots of information to help us make the most of our stay in Bariloche.  Throughout our stay, Leonardo extended every kindness to us, and to our two friends who were free camping in town – he didn’t need to but it was so very much appreciated.

    The hostel itself was comfortable with a great chill-out area and an expansive kitchen.  The beds were comfortable and whilst we were there, the hostel was quiet enough that we got the dorm to ourselves – awesome!

    Best Spanish Practise –  Hostal Princesa Maria -Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

    Though travellers are emersed in Spanish whilst in South America it’s remarkable just how little Spanish is spoken in hostels.  On the occasions when we did come across someone who only spoke Spanish, it was often fast and in unexpected contexts, making it difficult for us to understand.

    What a treat it was then, to meet Victor, the owner of Hostal Princesa Maria.  He spoke Spanish slowly, simply and with a great deal of patience, making us realise that our Spanish really had improved, we’d just not had the chance to put ourselves through our paces at the right level all that often.

    The hostel itself was well located, close to town but out of the noise of the main square, and provided access to well-priced activities with professional guides – really though, Victor was the shining light of the property.

    Best Value – Landscape – International B&B – La Paz, Bolivia

    La Paz was a city that really surprised us – it was a busy, hectic South American city but without doubt, it had a real soul.

    Located a bit out of the tourist centre, Landscape International provided excellent accommodation at very reasonable rates; so much so that we didn’t have to think twice about upgrading to a private double room – a real treat on our trip.

    Beautiful Location – Casa Relax Minca Hostal Boutique – Minca, Colombia

    A 15-minute walk out of the centre of town, Casa Relax Minca was a lovely escape from reality.

    With friendly guests and plenty of assistance from the staff in planning our day, it was the perfect base from which to explore the local area whilst chilling out.

    Pro Tip:  If possible, request one of the rooms downstairs (if you’re there for the weekend) as the rooms upstairs don’t have their own ceilings, which means that the sound from the lounge transfers over.  Don’t let it put you off though, it’s a great hostel with respectful guests – just book a room downstairs if it’s Friday or Saturday.

    Bucket-List Views – Refugio Paine Grande – Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia

    Though it was far from our favourite hostel based on facilities, you just can’t beat Refugio Paine Grande for its incredible location.

    Right in the middle of Torres del Paine, Chile’s iconic national park, we experienced some of the most incredible hikes we’ll probably ever have the pleasure of undertaking.  At the end of a big day out on the trails, there was nothing better than snuggling up, knowing that such incredible beauty was just beyond the window.

    Backpacking in South America – You don’t have to rough it…

    Accommodation in South America can be both cheap and cheerful.

    Without a doubt, we encountered our fair share of disappointing hostels but with our tips, you can skip right to the best of the best!

    Even if you’ve never backpacked before, we’d implore you to give it a shot.  With a real community of like-minded, respectful travellers on the continent, staying in South American hostels needn’t be a scary thought – quite the opposite, a great hostel is an opportunity to meet new friends whilst saving money and staying in comfort.

    … and that’s muy bueno!


    If you want to save travellers from bad hostels, pin this post so they spot the good ones! 

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    Ecuador Itineraries Monthly Round-Up Peru South America

    Four Months on the Road in South America – Peru & Ecuador

    December 17, 2017

    We’re a little over four months in and a have a little less than two months to go on this massive, diverse continent!  It’s hard to really comprehend just how much we’ve seen but at the same time, the more we speak to other travellers, the more we realise there is to see.

    With flights home booked though, all good things must come to an end, so you can bet we’re making the most of the next couple of months.

    As always, this post is designed to give you practical tips for your travels through Peru (and the Galapagos) – information regarding costings, transport, accommodation and activities – it’s all in there.

    Isn’t it time you began planning your adventure through South America?

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

    Puerto Maldanado (the Gateway to the Amazon), Peru

    An easy overnight bus (or short flight) from Cusco, Puerto Maldanado is the closest jumping-off point to the Peruvian Amazon.  A visit to the Amazon was always a ‘must-do’ in our eyes and as we made new friends and explored the jungle, there was no doubt we made the right choice in visiting.

    Accommodation:  3 nights in a private bungalow at Amazon Planet.  We joined them for the ‘Native Program’ but they have a range of options available – all including food, basic drinks, a guide and activities.  The accommodation itself was comfortable (but not lux) – exactly what you’d hope for in the Amazon.

    Activities:  Night jungle treks, boat floats, a visit to a local tribe and plenty of hammock-time, the activities at Amazon Planet were varied and interesting whilst still providing enough downtime in the heat of the day.  Read about our first Amazon experience here.

    Onwards travel to Cusco:  Another night, another bus.  This time we paid PEN40 (USD12.35/NZD17.85) each for a salon cama seat (the equivalent of business class on a plane) on Superciva but weren’t quite as impressed.  The toilets were smelly from the moment we stepped aboard and the snacks were very basic.  If Excluciva is running that night, you can definitely expect a much improved service for only PEN10 more – with that said though, there’s not much to do in the centre of Puerto Maldanado so we wouldn’t consider staying an extra night to catch the nicer bus.

    Cusco, Peru

    With Machu Picchu behind us, we had a few last activities and hikes to tick off in Cusco before moving on.  A uniquely beautiful city, and one that we came to know fairly well, it was a pleasure spending more time in the cultural capital of Peru.

    Accommodation:  Though we enjoyed the first hostel we stayed in, Magic Cusco, it was a little out of town, so upon our return we decided to check another option out – Magicpacker Hostel.  They’ve got a great range of bed configurations available and it’s another example of a perfect social-but-not-party hostel – just what you need after a long day of trekking.  4-bed mixed dorm @ PEN35 each/night (USD10.80/NZD15.60) – fabulous hot showers and the biggest TV you’ve ever seen (running Netflix) included!  Don’t miss their PEN10 optional dinners too – it was one of the best meals we had in Cusco and not much more than USD3.

    Activities:

    Via Ferrata and Zipline

    High above the Sacred Valley you’ll find the Skylodge Adventure Suites.  These infamous glass pods are attached to the cliff, providing brave guests with a chance to sleep under the stars in one of the most unique locations imaginable… unfortunately for us though, we weren’t the only ones that thought this sounded like a good idea – the pods were booked solid for months!

    If, like us, you’re unable to spend an evening in the pod, there’s a great alternative available in the form of a day trip.  Geared up, you’ll climb over 400 metres, above the glass lodge and then zipline your way down through 6 different exciting lines; if you’re in reasonable shape it’s easily achievable (and the via ferrata can be substituted for a hike up should you prefer).

    Humantay Lagoon Hike

    A relatively easy hike, Humantay is one not to be missed!  For those not keen on the uphill hike, horses are available for a reasonable cost.

    Rainbow Mountain Hike (Take One)

    Before visiting, we’d heard a lot about the hike to Rainbow Mountain – some saying it was a must-see from Cusco whilst others said the colours are nothing like the over-saturated ones you’ll see floating around the city as touts try to book travellers on tours.

    Keen to find out for ourselves (but not so keen to experience the altitude sickness we’d heard so much about) we’d initially joined the alternative trek which gets hikers much, much closer to the top of an different mountain in the same range.  Hikers here only have to walk for 45 minutes up (and 20 down) and have the space practically to themselves.

    Unfortunately for us though, the mountains saw one of their first snows of the season which meant our private tour couldn’t even make it to the carpark, let alone to the infamous rainbow.  Instead, we spent the day checking out local historical sites and an awe-inspiring canyon.  Sure, it wasn’t what we went to see, but the canyon did go a way towards making up for that.

    Would we recommend the alternative Rainbow Mountain trip?  As long as the weather is clear, absolutely!  At this point in time though, there is no way for tour providers to check the conditions up the top of the mountain – this means that some guests will find themselves on a long car ride (at a relatively high price compared with the original Rainbow Mountain) that results in a distinct lack of rainbow at the end of it all.

    Rainbow Mountain (Take Two!)

    Returning to Rainbow Mountain, but this time the original version, I had another crack at making it to the top and this time was successful!  With the help of a horse (for PEN60/USD18.20/NZD26) and a bit of trekking, I summited in time to soak in the incredible views.

    Though some rave about Rainbow Mountain, the valley that it sits within really is just as incredible and well worth a visit.  Glaciers hang not far from the summit, the Red Valley peeks out from around the corner and, of course, the rainbow coloured mountainside takes pride of place.

    Onwards travel to Arequipa:  Rejoining Peru Hop we travelled overnight, leaving Cusco late and arriving into Arequipa in the early hours.  Our Peru Hop tickets were organised ahead of time in a package so none of our travel with them had a standalone price.  If this is your first time in South America or you’re just looking for an extra touch of safety, comfort and convenience (sounds good, doesn’t it?), they’re the way to go.

    Don’t take our word for it – Find out what another traveller thought of the Peru Hop experience too.

    Arequipa, Peru

    With our plans to hike the Colca Canyon dashed thanks to a couple of head colds that we just couldn’t shake, for us, Arequipa became a place for some serious R&R.

    The town itself is gorgeous and a significant departure from the hustle and bustle of Cusco so it ended up being a great place to spend some time.  They have plenty of pubs and little restaurants serving up great food at reasonable prices and some beautiful old architecture, so it’s definitely a spot that deserves more time than the quick connection some give it.

    Accommodation:  3 nights in a six-bed mixed dorm at Flying Dog Arequipa @ PEN26 each/night (USD7.80/NZD11.30)

    Activities:  Known for it’s relative proximity to the Colca Canyon and for affordable and fun rafting, there’s plenty of reasons to stop for a few nights in the city – both to enjoy the outdoors and the lovely township of Arequipa.

    Onwards travel to Huacachina, Ica:  Peru Hop once again.

    Huacachina, Peru

    A mega-touristy little town, built around South America’s only natural oasis, we didn’t really know what to expect upon our arrival.  We’d been warned off staying there over the weekend due to the all-consuming noise that emanates from a few of the bars so intentionally planned our stay to avoid Friday and Saturday night.  In doing so, we found Huazachina to be a surprisingly charming place to spend a night – yes it’s set up for tourists but sometimes there’s no harm in that.

    Accommodation:  1 night in a 10-bed mixed dorm at the Wild Olive Guest House @ PEN29.65 each/night (USD9/NZD12.85).  A great hostel with comfortable beds, clean bathrooms, great showers and a massive Netflix-playing television – our favourite hostel in Peru.

    Activites:  After relaxing around the oasis, we hit the desert for some serious dune bashing and sandboarding fun (booked through Peru Hop at PEN50/USD15/NZD21.45 each).

    Onwards travel to Paracas (via Nazca):  Good ol’ Peru Hop to the rescue again – this was a long day on the bus but thankfully it was broken up with a few strategic stops (lunch with a view and a quick look at some of the Nazca Lines).

    Though we didn’t take to the air, we’ve heard great things about jumping on a Nazca fight to see the Nazca Lines in all their glory!  If you have the time and the money, it sounds like it would be a great addition to your itinerary.

    Paracas, Peru

    A quiet little seaside town, Paracas is home to a national park and is one of the best place to break the long journey from Huacachina to Lima.

    Accommodation: 2 nights in a 6-bed mixed dorm (one of which we were alone and the other there were four of us) at Los Frayles @ PEN30 each/night (USD9.10/NZD13). Though we didn’t use it, the property has a lovely pool and Peru Hop’s passenger discount means you get a much nicer hotel for the price of a hostel.

    Activites: Quad bike tours of the national park are available, as is paragliding off of the sand dunes. We relaxed for a couple of days choosing only to join Peru Hop’s free tour out to the park.

    Onwards travel to Lima: Our last journey with Peru Hop went smoothly, as did all the others – they really made getting through Peru easy for us! Again, we had a short stop on the way through, this time to visit a colonial homestead that was once involved in the local slave trade – it was hard to imagine life in the tunnels (and nor would anyone want to) but it was eye-opening to gain some insight into the history of the area.

    Lima, Peru

    Though we’d heard people rave about many cities in South America, Lima isn’t often one of them… but it deserves to be!

    Accommodation: 3 nights in a 6-bed mixed dorm at HosteLima @ PEN23 each/night (USD7/NZD10). The staff at the hostel were lovely but it had a slightly strange vibe about it when we were there – if returning to Lima, we’d likely look elsewhere (but the price was right so we wouldn’t rule a return out).

    Activities: We spend our days in Lima recharging our batteries after a serious of quick stops on our Peru Hop journey. The city has some great shopping (and we were well due some new clothes after months of backpacking), vibrant communities, fabulous food and beautiful views.

    Looking for more adventure? We’d have loved to have gone paragliding off the clifftop but at USD80 for less than 10 minutes, we decided against it – if your budget allows, it looks like great fun!

    Onwards travel to Huaraz: Another overnight bus, this one on Cruz del Sur (booked through BusBud, 10.30pm departure) for PEN80 each (USD24.30/NZD34.70). For once, all of the seats on the bus were salon cama and cheaper tickets were available for those that booked earlier, so if you see them online, be sure to snap them up!

    Huaraz, Peru

    A buzzing town, Huaraz’s streets really came to life in the evenings. Huaraz itself isn’t much to write home about but it is home to some of the best hiking in Peru.

    Accommodation: 3 nights in a private room at Hostel Akilpo @ PEN35 each/night (USD10.60/NZD15.20). A super comfortable guest house but there was a fair bit of noise outside most nights (as I’d imagine there would be in many parts of Huaraz).

    Activites – Hiking:

    Churup

    Totally unknown to us before our visit to Huaraz, Churup will forever go down in my memory as being home to some of the clearest water we’ve ever seen!

    The hike itself starts with a reasonably steep ascent up a neverending set of steps before flattening out and then finishing in another climb. The steeper parts of the track feature rubber covered ropes which can be used to hoist yourself up and though it would be a relatively easy hike (climbing aside) at sea level, it’s a bit more difficult at altitude.

    Laguna 69

    The hike that brings many travellers to the region really was one of the most beautiful day hikes we’ve ever seen. Cascading waterfalls, impressive cliffs and an all-consuming valley, we couldn’t believe nobody had told us just how amazing the hike to the lagoon actually was!

    Though the hike itself was longer than Churup, the include was much more steady. Don’t let the lesser slope fool you though – it’s still a challenging trail due to the high altitude at which you’ll find it.

    We suggest you book all your hiking through Abel at Caleb Expeditions – they’re by far the most recommended agency in town. Abel is generous with his time and information and knows the region like the back of his hand.

    Onwards travel to Guayaquil, Ecuador: Getting to Ecuador was quite the journey but catching buses saved us a lot of money. Again, both buses were booked online through BusBud.

    • Day bus from Huaraz to Trujillo with Linea. PEN40 each (USD12.15/NZD17.35)
    • As we arrived into Trujillo in the afternoon and didn’t leave until close to midnight, we popped into the Ugarte Guest House between buses. For PEN10 each (USD3/NZD4.35) we were able to store our bags, relax using their internet and have a shower before continuing our journey.
    • Night (and day!) bus from Trujillo, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador with Cruz del Sur. PEN150 each (USD45.55/NZD65) for 18 and a half hours aboard. The seats in salon cama were comfortable and included a basic breakfast and reasonable lunch. Though it was a long journey, it was much more manageable than it might sound.

    Guayaquil, Ecuador

    The largest city in Ecuador and the gateway to the Galápagos, Guayaquil doesn’t exactly inspire visitors to the region. Maybe we were just staying in the wrong part of town but based on our experience (and that of every other traveller we’ve spoken to that’s been to the city), we’d encourage you to skip on through as quickly as possible.

    Accommodation: 1 night in a private room at Residencial Turistico Guayas @ USD11.20 (NZD16) each.

    Onwards travel to San Cristobal (Galápagos Islands): Flying Avianca, AV1636 @ USD207.58 each (NZD296.75).

    The Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

    The Galápagos, what can we even say?

    A bucket list destination for many, it far exceeded our expectations to the point that I would easily call it my favourite travel experience to date – not just within South America but of anywhere I’ve been.

    We sailed aboard the MV Origin for seven glorious nights and then enjoyed another two staying on San Cristobal.

    Because the cruise fell in the middle of this monthly round-up, I’m not going to include all of the details here (as this post is already well overdue and an experience as amazing as this deserves our full attention) but in the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of the photos from our first day of cruising.

    Lessons Learnt on the Road

    • Orange juice can be hard to find! In cafes and restaurants you’ll likely find freshly squeezed fruit juice (and it is a treat) but it’s next to impossible to find in supermarkets and small stores – nectar instead is preferred in South America, and though it does the trick in a squeeze, it really doesn’t compare for us.
    • There’s a knack to sleeping on night buses… sleeping pills. Initially, we tried not to take anything to help us sleep but after a few restless nights, we gave in a picked up some sleeping pills. They’ve made all the difference and make these journeys much more manageable! We’ve found availability to be significantly different between countries and even within them – in Peru, for example, we struggled to get anything other than herbal options in some pharmacies whilst others would supply us with medication normally only available with prescriptions.

    As with all of our months on the road, there have been some real highlights but the highest of them all was, without doubt, our cruise through the Galápagos.

    Stay tuned for more on that soon!

    Check out our Recent Posts

    Hiking Laguna Humantay – Cusco: More Than Machu Picchu

    Amazon Planet: Your Ticket to the Peruvian Amazon

    and one of my travel related musings – Oh, You Count Countries, Do You?

    It’s been a quiet month on the blog as it’s been a busy month of travel – stay tuned for further updates!

    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

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

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    Accommodation Eco Tourism Peru Puerto Maldonado (Amazon Jungle) South America

    Amazon Planet: Your Ticket to the Peruvian Amazon

    November 26, 2017

    The Amazon, without doubt, is a real bucket list destination for any nature lover.  With an ecosystem like no other, it’s one of the last true wilds in the world.

    When we initially planned our visit to South America, we did so with a loose plan and a number of must-see spots in mind – Patagonia, Iguazu, Galapagos and of course the Amazon.

    Did it live up to our expectations though?  We spent three nights at Amazon Planet putting them through their paces to find out.

    Into the Wild – Activities Galore

    With a range of programmes available to guests and a well-structured timetable, there’s plenty of time to make the most of your Amazon experience whilst still unwinding in this gorgeous jungle paradise.  Every morning an activity heads out whilst hammock-time is scheduled following lunch until the day cools down when a number of afternoon/evening activities come into play.

    Books and board games are available throughout the day and happy hour does an excellent job of helping to form new friendships amongst fellow adventurers.

    Let’s face it though – nobody’s in the Amazon with the main goal of playing cards, and good thing too – there’s plenty to do!

    Upon arriving, we were introduced to Alejandro, our guide for the duration of our stay.  Throughout our time at Amazon Planet, he proved himself to be approachable, friendly and incredibly knowledgeable.  Alejandro had an incredible knack for recognising distant birdcall and barely noticable creepy-crawlies, bringing the jungle to life for us.

    Jungle Walks, Day and Night

    Throughout your stay at Amazon Planet you’ll be presented with many opportunities to head into the jungle – take them all!  With unique plants and incredible wildlife, you ever know what you’ll see whilst wandering the jungle.  The guides are exceptionally talented at identifying the vast variety of bird calls out in the jungle and easily spot the smallest of creatures, making every jungle walk a real chance to see new treasures.

    When night falls, it’s time to grab your flashlight and go hunting for creepy crawlies!  Tarantulas, scorpions, frogs, caterpillars, snakes, lizards and more – there’s no shortage of beasties to catch your attention.

    Alternatively, hop aboard the Amazon Planet boat on the hunt for caimans, the shy cousin of the alligator.  We were fortunate enough to spot a number of these small reptiles!

    Generally, the animals we spotted in the wilds near Amazon Planet were smaller than we’d imagined – it’s not the place to find anacondas, for example, and though sloths are known to hang about in the region, they’re notoriously hard to spot.  Unfortunately, piranhas aren’t generally found in the fastmoving Madre de Dios River (but they can be spotted on the Tambopata programme!), nor are the pink river dolphins, but the few animals we didn’t see were soon forgotten in the buzz of excitement as we uncovered new ones.

    And best of all, even if you don’t see much (though we promise, you will), Amazon Planet has a fantastic way of guaranteeing you’ll meet a bunch of local cuties – the Taricaya Ecological Reserve.

    Taricaya Ecological Reserve

    The only Amazon property in Peru to have their own ecological reserve, Amazon Planet really walk the talk when it comes to conversation.  Attracting biologists, vets and volunteers from the world over, they work together to ensure that local animals that are in need of some extra TLC are well looked after at Taricaya.

    Not only do they release populations of native animals back into the wild, but they give those that are unable to reintroduced back into their habitats a fantastic life.

    For visitors, it’s a real treat knowing that you’ll have the chance to see a variety of incredible animals, regardless of whether or not you spot them in the wild, but it’s even better knowing that some of the funds from your stay go towards running such a worthwhile operation.

    Canopy Walk

    Looking for an adrenaline rush (beyond tarantula spotting)?

    Take to the skies, or the top of the Amazonian canopy to be exact, for a birdseye view of the surrounding rainforest – just remember to check your fear of heights at the door.

    Nestled into the top of an ancient kapok tree, a 90-metre long suspension bridge stretches out to the viewing platform, 45 metres above the ground below.  The views out over the surrounding area are fantastic and being amongst the canopy really gives you a sense of the scale of the jungle.

    Visit the Ese-Eja Tribe

    A short ride upriver from Amazon Planet, lives Enrique, his wife and sometimes, his children.  Enrique and his wife span two very different generations – his father lived within the Amazon, completely immersed in a traditional, native way of life, whilst his children live during the week in the city, attending school in the hopes of joining the modern workforce as well-educated individuals.

    We’ve attended a number of ‘community visits’ like this one now and, to be honest, some have been incredibly worthwhile and some have, quite simply, felt uncomfortable or inauthentic.  It’s fair to say that although we give these experiences a fair go, we are somewhat skeptical when approaching them – you just never know what you’re going to get and we certainly don’t like intruding where we’re not genuinely welcome.

    That couldn’t have been further from the truth in this case though!

    Enrique and his wife, despite the language barrier, did an amazing job of sharing their culture and customs with us, all with the biggest, most welcoming smiles.  Of course, we couldn’t communicate directly (as they spoke Quechuan) but a good giggle is universal as it turns out.

    Over the course of the morning, we learnt how to make a bow and arrow (and eventually got better at shooting them), watched them start a fire using traditional methods, and learnt about their local foods, medicines and clothing – all of which comes directly from the rainforest.

    Best of all, we left feeling connected to the local people, which is what an experience like this should be all about.

    Boat Float

    With the sun slowly disappearing over the horizon, where better to be in the Amazon than drifting gently downriver in the current?

    The team at Amazon Planet organise for inflatable kayaks and boats to be taken upstream where guests jump in and spend put in some serious relaxation time.

    Hunger Pangs – Food at Amazon Planet

    Though you’ll be square in the middle of the jungle, the food at Amazon Planet is anything but rustic.  Banana pancakes and scrambled eggs for breakfast, fresh fish (caught locally) and delicious yuca fries for lunch and delicious steamed chicken and rice parcels for dinner.  Every meal is fresh, locally sourced, hearty and served in multiple courses.

    As we near the end of our time in Peru, we can comfortably say it was amongst the best cuisine we’ve had during our time in the country!

    It’s hard to go hungry out there but should you, additional snacks are available.  That’s not to mention the soft drinks and selection of beers and cocktails, all available at very reasonable prices.

    A Place to Rest Your Head – Accommodation

    With a busy day of jungle adventures behind you, a comfortable place to unwind is exactly what the doctor ordered.

    Each bungalow at Amazon Planet is set back, away from the main dining quarters, along wooden boardwalks (perfect on those rainy Amazonian days).  The rooms are relatively basic but include high-quality mattresses, private bathrooms and a space to relax – ours had both a sofa and a little balcony with views out to the river.

    Every day our room was cleaned and our water bottled topped up – a service that far exceeded our expectations in the middle of the jungle!

    Transport: Getting to Puerto Maldonado from Cusco

    Getting to Amazon Planet from Cusco is a relatively straightforward process and with the option of both buses and flights, there’s something to suit all budgets.

    Overnight Buses

    If you’re looking to save some money and have plenty of time on your hands, there is now a direct bus route servicing the region. Years ago it would have taken days to reach your final destination but now the journey runs a relatively comfortable 10 hours.

    The route between Cusco and Puerto Maldonado is operated by Civa and Cruz Del Sur – both of which can be booked online through BusBud.  We rode with Excluciva (PEN50/USD15.40/NZD22/65 each) on the way there and Superciva (PEN40/USD12.35/NZD18.15 each) on the way back.  On both occasions, we booked the 1st floor (which is their salon cama offering – similar to business class on a flight) but found the Excluciva service to be far superior.  If you have the option to book on Excluciva, we’d definitely recommend spending the few extra dollars.

    Flying

    If you’d prefer to get to the Amazon via a more direct route then flying becomes your most efficient option.  A number of airlines offer fares to the Amazon, including StarPeru, Avianca, and LATAM, but we suggest you check SkyScanner to ensure you get the best price available.

    Regardless of how you choose to arrive in Puerto Maldonado, Amazon Planet will organise someone to meet you at your point of arrival and for your transport to their offices on the outskirts of town.

    Amazon Planet – Your Home in the Peruvian Amazon

    Our stay in the Amazon was all about getting back to nature; to lay in bed with the sound of the evening jungle rains beating down, to explore the undergrowth, hunting out unique animals and simply soaking in the sights and sounds of one of the most incredible ecosystems in the world.

    Amazon Planet offers all of the personal, homely touches that you’d hope for in the jungle but would never really expect.

    Sure, the lodge isn’t the pinnacle of luxury, but it does exactly what it sets out to do – provide an amazing experience with caring, knowledgeable staff and many of the comforts of home.

    The Amazon was on our South American bucket list, and for good reason, it’s retaining its spot there as a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    Only, is it once-in-a-lifetime if you’d go back in a heartbeat?


    Thank you to Amazon Planet for hosting our stay for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  We joined them for the 3 night ‘native’ programme which we highly recommend.

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    Activities Cusco Hiking Peru South America

    Hiking Laguna Humantay – Cusco: More Than Machu Picchu

    November 23, 2017

    Cusco is known across the world as the gateway to Machu Picchu, the most iconic of all the Inca sites.  With so much to see in this region, those skipping through whilst only visiting the Lost City of the Incas are only tapping the surface of what’s on offer.  

    Join us as we explore many of the day trips that Cusco has on offer and prepare to extend your time in this amazing city! 

    First up, Laguna Humantay (also known as the Humantay Lagoon).  

    Can’t wait to find out what else we did in Cusco?  You’ll find more ideas in our monthly round-up (our Machu Picchu itinerary and the other amazing activities we did.  Looking for more still? Check out this fabulous guide to Peru’s historic capital.

    Nestled into Humantay Mountain, under towering mountain peaks and hanging glaciers, sits Laguna Humantay – one of the most incredible bodies of water we’ve ever seen.  Unbelievable hues of bright blue and green shimmer in water that feels somewhat out of place sitting atop a mountain.  This otherworldly sight really does feel too good to be true!

    It’s little wonder that centuries ago, the ancient Inca’s believed this to be a sacred place – even now, with tourists gathered around, you can still feel the magic.

    What to Expect on the Hike to the Humantay Lagoon

    I have a real love-hate relationship with hiking.  When it’s flat or sloping gently downhill, I love it.  When I’m clamping up steep, unending tracks – well, I don’t need to tell you how I feel about it.  I’m not the fittest person around and I really do find it a challenge.

    Without a doubt though, the views at the top of Humantay are worth the relatively short slog up to the top.

    Leaving the mini-van at Soraypampa (3,900 metres above sea level), the hike begins, varying from a gentle slope to fairly demanding until trekkers come across the lagoon at 4,200 metres above sea level.

    As you hike, you’ll enjoy views out over the surrounding valley and Salkantay, the namesake mountain of the popular multi-day hike in the region, headed for Machu Picchu.  The area itself is gorgeous which certainly makes the hike all the more manageable.

    The altitude and elevation gain is enough that hiking is more challenging than at sea level but if you take it slowly and stop for breathers along the way, it really won’t feel any more difficult than any other uphill hike you’ve done.

    As always, after a couple of breaks and a good chance to catch your breath at the top, any suffering is soon forgotten!

    Top Tip:  Should you require (or just prefer) assistance to get to the top, horses are available and as a local leads you up, you don’t need any riding experience.  The horses in all of Peru were in great condition, the service is reasonably priced and you can decide when you arrive (both at the base of the trail, and part way up), making this a great way to get to Laguna Humantay should you need a hand.

    Practical Details Relating to Your Laguna Humantay Hike:

    • Pick up is offered if your accommodation is relatively close to Plaza de Armas.  We were amongst the first to be collected at 4.45am from Magic Packers (a hostel we highly recommend).
    • The total drive is approximately 2.5 hours in each direction – this is broken up with breaks for meals.
    • Both breakfast and lunch are included for participants in Mollepata.  Breakfast included bread, fruit, fresh eggs and tea/coffee/juice whilst lunch was a delicious buffet.
    • Take plenty of water as there’s nowhere to refill bottles or purchase new ones once you start the hike.  Drinks are available for purchase where you stop for breakfast though and also at the base of the trail; they’re surprisingly affordable so don’t race out to stock up the night before if you’re short on time.
    • A hiking stick is offered to each participant but as we had our own hiking poles from our Patagonian hikes, I used those.  Nathan decided not to use either and was absolutely fine.
    • Drop off is to a central plaza, not far from Plaza de Armas – your guide will point you back in the direction of your accommodation or help you hail a taxi if required.  Cabs in Cusco are affordable and generally reliable so getting around is easily done.  Uber is also freely available should you prefer.
    • When you book through Exploor your voucher is issued and you have five months to decide when you’d like to book your hike in, making it the perfect way for friends and family to gift you an amazing experience (rather than more stuff that you don’t need).  At only USD45 including breakfast, lunch, transport and guide, this is amazing value too!  You’ll just need to allow PEN10 (USD3/NZD4.50) each for entrance to the community.

    If there’s one day hike you do from Cusco, we highly recommend you make it Humantay.

    Bang-for-buck, no other hike has ever compared to the beauty of this track and with the addition of horses, it really is attainable for the vast majority of travellers.

    The views speak for themselves and if the water looks like this on an overcast, gloomy day, imagine them on a beautiful clear-sky day…


    Off to Cusco or know someone that is?  Pin this post to refer back to it!

    An easy day trip from Cusco, Peru, Humantay Lagoon is easily the best short hike in the region. The stunning blue green lagoon becons hikers after approximately an hour of walking uphill and the valley throughout rewards with incredible views. Definitely one to include in your Machu Picchu itinerary (or if you're doing the Salkantay Trek you'll have the pleasure anyway)!An easy day trip from Cusco, Peru, Humantay Lagoon is easily the best short hike in the region. The stunning blue green lagoon becons hikers after approximately an hour of walking uphill and the valley throughout rewards with incredible views. Definitely one to include in your Machu Picchu itinerary (or if you're doing the Salkantay Trek you'll have the pleasure anyway)!

    Thank you to Exploor for hosting us for the purpose of this review.  All views, as always, are entirely our own.  We highly recommend you book your trip to Humantay Lagoon through Exploor.

    1 Comment

  • Reply Marco J. November 23, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Great article and lovely photos!! Cant wait to get to know the lagoon myself 🙂

  • Leave a Reply

    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 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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