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Argentina Back Packing Brazil Chile Monthly Round-Up South America

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

October 9, 2017

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

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

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

Puerto Varas, Chile

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

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

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

Puerto Natales, Chile

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

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

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

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

Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia

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

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

Activities:

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

El Calafate, Argentian Patagonia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buenos Aires, Argentina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Iguazu

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

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

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

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

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

Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

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

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

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

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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

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

Activites:

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

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

Lessons Learnt on the Road

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

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

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

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

Check out our Recent Posts

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

Patagonia by Horseback – The Perfect Alternative to Hiking

Day Two of the W Trek – Conquering the French Valley

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

and one for fun…

Why You Should NEVER Eat a Kiwi…

Our Previous Months on the Road

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


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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 (+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.
  • 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 rivaling 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 gettting 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!

Accommodation Activities Asia Back Packing Destinations Historical Sites Itineraries Sri Lanka Travel

Finding Our Way Around Sri Lanka… A Nine Day Guide to Paradise

January 31, 2017
9 day Sri Lanka Itinerary

Headed to Sri Lanka?  If so, snuggle up on your sofa and dig into Sarah’s post – it will give you all the basics you need to plan your trip and then some!  It’s a beauty of a post and will help ensure you maximise your time on this island paradise.  Happy planning!

I find sometimes the best trips, are the ones that allow for flexibility.  These trips generally require you to have a little more time and a little more patience especially when you run into challenges (because, really, who knows if you’ll find suitable accommodation for the night?) but they do always seem a little more rewarding.

Sri Lanka was no different – a friend and I packed our backpacks with a vague plan in place, a nights accommodation booked at the start (and two nights at a beach resort towards the end of our stay) and we hit the road.  Other than our lonely planet guide book, and our good attitudes we had nothing else planned or booked, and it was the best nine days full of laughter and exploration!

Sri Lanka is absolutely stunning, as are the people, who are definitely some of the friendliest and most helpful people I have encountered throughout my travels.  Sri Lanka holds everything a traveler desires – natural beauty that dramatically changes throughout the country, diverse culture, an interesting history and some beautiful historical monuments.


A Nine Day Sri Lankan Itinerary

  • Day One: Arrive in Colombo early morning, transfer to Kegalle to spend the day at the Elephant Freedom project & spice gardens.
  • Day Two: Bus to Kandy.  Sightseeing + Kandyan dancers & drummers
  • Day Three: Day trip to Sigiriya Rock & Dambulla Caves + overnight at Adam’s Peak
  • Day Four: Adam’s Peak Pilgrimage + drive to Nuwara Eliya and Ayurveda
  • Day Five: Bike ride around the tea plantations and train ride to Haputale
  • Day Six: Lipton’s Seat and a tour of the Dambatenne Tea Factory.  Overnight in Tangella
  • Day Seven: Beach Day!
  • Day Eight: Beach Day and then bus to Colombo
  • Day Nine: Ministry of Crab with an evening flight home.

Transport

Getting around Sri Lanka is an adventure!  Even though nothing is really far in terms of distance, due to the state of the roads, the mountainous areas, and the lack of infrastructure it is a time consuming and at times scary endeavour.

Buses:

Buses are the typical way to get around Sri Lanka but they can be an uncomfortable, stop-start experience.  Travel on buses can differ significantly depending on the journey you are taking.

Buses around town and between villages are chaotic and completely different from riding a bus in the western world.  With local music blaring, the colourful, rickety buses cruise down one lane roads jammed-packed with as many people the bus can hold (and then some) – all sense of personal space a distant memory.  Each bus is decorated around the driver’s booth with various posters, religious items, and sometimes even a screen for the passengers to watch movies and music videos.  It can be a slow journey with no official bus stops.  Instead, passengers wave down the buses, or indicate to the drivers where they want to get off, at which point the driver will slow down and the passengers will disembark whilst the bus is still moving (which can be tricky for a traveller loaded down with luggage – good luck!)  Air conditioning is a distant memory, instead ventilation is provided through opened windows and lunch is catered by the various vendors hopping on and off the buses, selling corn and boiled eggs.  It’s a totally unique experience and is definitely the cheapest way to get around with a typical bus journey costing around RS50 (Sri Lankan Rupees) – or NZD0.50/USD0.35 depending on where you’re from.

Intercity buses are generally air-conditioned coaches that depart and arrive at typical bus stations.  The bus stations are hectic and full of people, and it can be a little tricky to locate your bus but don’t worry!  Your bus won’t leave on time, in fact it will generally sit there until they have sold all the seats, so you’ll have plenty of time to get organised.  These buses mostly use designated bus stops making the journey a little faster, and are super affordable with a 3 hour coach journey costing around RS860, (NZD8/USD5.80)

Trains:

Trains in Sri Lanka have limited routes and have been around since the British built the lines in the nineteenth century.  While they are competitively priced (at similar prices to the buses), they are far superior in terms of comfort.  Though the trains can be slower and there can be substantial delays on the lines, the views and scenery are definitely worth the wait, especially a train ride in the Hill Country.  This train runs through Kandy, Nanu Oya and Ella and whilst the weather wasn’t ideal the day caught the train, the views were every bit as spectacular as we were told to expect.

There are three different train classes, with second and third class being quite similar (the main difference being you can’t reserve seats in third class).  There are several different first class tickets you can get depending on your requirements and these tickets can be booked in advance.

It would appear that that first class tickets can get booked out fairly quickly though and as it turned out, we were more than happy with our third class tickets (which we took due to a lack of available seats at the time).  Fortunately we were traveling outside of peak season and had no issues getting a seat, so didn’t experience the overcrowding on the train which we’d heard can be less than desirable (not everyone ends up with a seat in these cases!)

Tuk Tuks:

Our favourite type of transport (and the most popular type of transport for short journeys), tuk tuks are readily available and can be a novel way to get around.  Make sure to negotiate your price before embarking on your trip as some drivers can and will overcharge you – don’t be scared to bargain with the drivers and if you aren’t happy with the price try the fifty or so other drivers waiting close by.  In general tuk tuks charge around RS50/kilometre, and in Colombo the tuk tuks are metered to ensure a fair fare.

Drivers and Cars:

This option is increasingly popular due in part to how frustrating the transport system in Sri Lanka can be.  You can hire a driver and a car for a one off journey or for your entire trip.  Hiring a driver makes your journey flexible and saves you time but be sure to negotiate as these drivers can be highly inflated – in fact for one of our trips we managed to knock over RS2000 off our journey.

Drivers that stay with you for the duration of the trip take a bit of effort to organise and prices vary depending of the quality and size of the car (and the types of accommodation you are staying in).  Many hotels will have a drivers room to accommodate your driver but if not, you will need to account for the additional cost of booking him/her a room.

Looking for a driver for your trip?  Blue Lanka Tours can help you organise your perfect trip including drivers.  Our friends used this company and though they were on the expensive side they were very happy with both the service and their trip overall.  Their driver, Roshan Liyange was knowledgeable and (in our brief encounter with him) we found him to be a very safe and thoughtful driver.


Accommodation:

Throughout our stay we stayed in various types of accommodation – hostels, home-stays, B&Bs, and beach cabanas.  Whilst the majority of this accommodation isn’t worth mentioning, the few that are we have included below.

Tangella: Palm Paradise Cabanas

Wanting a few days to relax and unwind before heading back to work made the Palm Paradise Cabanas the perfect choice.  The cabanas are set in gorgeous natural setting with a view to the ocean showing through the tropical trees and plants.  The whole area is beautiful and the cabanas had great facilities, providing a relaxing and tranquil ending to our trip.

The cabanas themselves were quite basic but very charming.  The one we opted for had no air conditioning which made it a little difficult to sleep at night due to the heat, however they had a range of options available and all rooms had several fans (plus the more modern villas and houses included air conditioning).

We were fortunate to have a cabana with views straight to the ocean and only a 200m walk to the sea.  It was so peaceful and relaxing going to sleep with the sound of the waves lapping against the beach – seriously, the stuff of dreams!

The beach itself was absolutely gorgeous – the ocean is a little rough but Palm Paradise also has a pool if you’re looking for calmer water.  Although the beach is open to the public, it wasn’t very busy and we enjoyed our time there.

Breakfast was included at the hotel and the food was fantastic!  Each day we had fresh fruit, orange juice, tea and coffee plus eggs of our choice.  There isn’t much around the hotel in terms of bars and restaurants, but the food is great at both the restaurants so there isn’t much need to venture outside of the grounds if you don’t want to.

If you’re looking for a place to unwind for a few days, Palm Paradise Cabanas could be a great option.

Colombo: Clock Inn Hostel

Clock Inn Hostel was perfect for our brief time in Colombo.  We just needed somewhere to sleep for a few hours, between our night out and heading to the airport to catch our flight.  It was a clean hostel, having several common areas and friendly staff.  Each bed had a reading light, and a locker assigned to them (which I always appreciate when staying in a hostel).

Breakfast was included but unfortunately I’m not able to comment on the standard as I slept through the allocated time! The only downside for some would be the unisex communal bathrooms where the wasn’t much room inside the showers to get dressed.


Activities and Sightseeing

Kegalle and The Elephant Freedom Project

Kegalle is located between Colombo and Kandy – the main reason people head to this area is to visit the famed Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.  After doing some research on the Elephant Orphanage we decided that it wasn’t the place for us and after some more research we found out about The Elephant Freedom Project.  The EFP claims to hire Elephants from their owners to give them a chance of freedom away from the logging industry and other terrible work many elephants see on a day to day basis and though it’s not perfect, the elephants certainly get a better life than they would elsewhere.

At the project you volunteer for the day, starting your day by mucking out the elephant enclosure, before walking with the elephants in the village.  After a home cooked meal (that you’ll help prepare,) you will bathe the elephants in the river before bidding farewell to the team.

If you’re wanting to spend time with the elephants, be sure to do your research.

Kandy

Arriving at the bus station (with no accommodation booked) we headed to the tourist information located next to the train station to ask them to ring ahead to the Burmese Rest.  This guesthouse sounded unique – there monks look after the guesthouse whilst tortoises wander the courtyard.

Unfortunately the tourist information centre wasn’t able to give us their opinions on accommodation, or ring ahead to see if they had space but after negotiating a price with a tuk tuk driver, we headed there regardless to see if we could secure a bed for the evening.  Unfortunately they were undergoing restoration work and were unable to accommodate us so our tuk tuk driver whisked us off to our second choice of accommodation which thankfully had room for us.

This little expedition gave us our first glimpse of a Sri Lankan city – Kandy was bustling around the bus station and the centre of town, and we were in fits of laughter as our tuk tuk weaved in and out of traffic.  The city itself is set around a gorgeous lake and a stroll around the waters edge to the centre of town was a great way to settle in, although we were a little nervous of the monkeys darting from tree to tree!  Once in town we explored the Main Market and the busy centre, before heading to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, and attending an early evening Kandayan dance performance.

Sigiriya and Dambulla

Both of these sites are included within Sri Lanka’s ancient cities and we were disappointed that weren’t able to explore this area more due to our limited timeframe.

Sigirya is an immense rock that is thought to have once housed an ancient civilisation – it’s a beautiful site that takes around half a day to explore.  The grounds and various frescos are gorgeous and the climb to the top of the rock, though relatively steep, is manageable.

Dambulla is a rock temple that, despite its throngs of tourists, is still an important holy place.  It was an incredible site and one not to be missed.

Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak is a mountain located in central Sri Lanka, famed for the ‘sacred footprint’ (though just who the footprint belongs to will differ depending on your religions beliefs).  You will find this footprint in a rock formation near the summit of the mountain but to get there you will first need to trek to the top with many pilgrims and tourists.  With the mountain rising to 2,243m, it can be a challenging walk and the roughly 5200 steps will see your legs shaking at the bottom, regardless of your fitness level.

Nuwara Eliya & Hauputale

Both of these places are located in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country.  This whole region is absolutely stunning, with lush green scenery and tea plantations as far as the eye can see. The frequent fog gives the area an almost mystical feeling, but once the fog lifts you will be in absolute awe of the beauty that you find yourself surrounded by.

Both places (and the whole region for that matter) offer ample opportunities to visit tea plantations and to see the inner workings of a tea factory.  We found this experience very informative and intriguing.

In Nuwara Eliya we hired bikes from our accommodation and rode through the town sometimes referred to as ‘Little England’.  Here we biked past old English gardens and colonial houses, before hitting the tea plantations.  It would have been a tranquil and serene experience if it wasn’t for all the traffic and tuk tuks honking their horns!

We loved getting lost through the tea plantations and would have loved to explore the area more, only we had a train to catch.

In Hauputale we headed to Lipton’s Seat and the Dambatenne tea factory.  Lipton’s seat is a lookout from which Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his land.  The 7km walk is one not to be missed – walking through the tea plantations you are surrounded by their beauty and the many tea pickers in the area.  At the end of the walk, you’ll come across a lookout – unfortunately for us though, we were meet by a valley of fog.  The walk, however, was absolutely stunning and something we would do again, regardless of the weather.

Tangella

When people think of Sri Lanka they will often think of it’s striking beaches.  Spoiled for options we decided on Tangella Beach to end our trip with a few days of relaxation.  It was a fantastic way to end our visit to this beautiful country – the beach was quiet and absolutely exquisite!  If we had more time in Sri Lanka, we would have definitely spent more time exploring the coast and the many activities it has to offer – we’d recommend you do the same.


Restaurants and Night Life

Curries are the staple dish in Sri Lanka and they are incredible – colourful and flavoursome, with huge servings, they offer great value for money.  Each curry normally comes accompanied with rice and variety of small dishes (usually consisting of spiced veggies and dhal).  You can find great curries everywhere and if you’re wanting to stay close to home, your guest house can usually serve you food if you order before a certain time.

Bake House (Kandy)

Located in the centre of Kandy this is a famed restaurant with many locals and tourists eating side by side.  Whilst the décor of the place is dated, the turnaround is fast, the dinning is pleasant and the food good.  The front of the restaurant serves as a bakery if you want to grab something for the road otherwise you can buy a good curry inside the restaurant.

Slightly Chilled Lounge Bar (Kandy)

This bar, formerly known as Bamboo Bar (some tuk tuk drivers still know it by the old name), has a great vibe and you will find it filled with both tourists and locals.  The bar has a range of food and serves standard English fare as well as a variety of other cuisines.

ll Mare (Anantara Hotel, Tangalle)

Being quite partial to good food we decided to splurge towards the end of our trip at this fine dining restaurant.  The view was gorgeous, perched on a cliff edge overlooking the ocean and beach below, the Italian menu is as authentic as the Italian manager who runs the restaurant that specialising in perfectly fresh produce.  The food is beautifully presented and delightful – we could have eaten everything on the menu!

Ministry of Crab (Colombo)

Located in the Old Dutch Hospital, this is an upmarket area, surrounded by lovely restaurants and a few shops.  Ministry of Crab is a modern eatery owned by two former Sri Lankan cricketers, and you guessed, it they serve crab.

Whilst the restaurant have other options on the menu, generally people come for the crab.  Here you choose what size crab you want (ranging in size from 500g – 2kgs), and the style you want.  It can be a messy process getting the meat out of the shells but they’ve got this covered – just prepare yourself to don a bib.

I can recommend the garlic chilli crab and the avocado crab salad (which was a combination of crab meat mixed with wasabi mayonnaise served in half an avocado).  With that said, all of the food was amazing and I would whole heartily recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in Colombo!

Floor by O! (Colombo)

We stumbled across this place as the rooftop restaurant we wanted to dine in was absolutely jammed packed and this bar/restaurant was conveniently located downstairs.  The menu is jammed packed with food from all around the world and whilst the food was good, the atmosphere was even better.  Being some of the only tourists in there, we were well looked after and almost like D-list celebrities, everyone wanted to talk and dance with us.  The DJ had the dance floor packed, spinning tunes ranging from pop to old school RnB and hip-hop.  It was an amazing night and I only wish we remembered the name of the club we visited afterwards, as this had us out until 6am with they’re great drinks and tunes!


Is Sri Lanka Really Worth a Visit?

Absolutely!  Sri Lanka is the perfect mix of culture and beauty.  It somehow strikes the balance between being familiar enough to suit the newest traveller, and vibrant and exciting enough to hook the most seasoned backpacker in.  Sri Lanka really does offer something for everyone and for this reason, I’d highly recommend adding it to your travel wish-list… or better still, booking your flights right away!


Headed to Sri Lanka?  Don’t Leave Without These Tips!

  • Due to old British colonial laws pubs and restaurants won’t serve alcohol between the hours of 11am and 2pm.
  • Ladies beware, it’s very hard to purchase tampons in Sri Lanka.  As these can be very hard to source, make sure you stock up beforehand.
  • Ask if your accommodation has hot water before booking as it’s common in Sri Lanka to have cold water showers.
  • If heading to the Hill Country be sure to pack a rain coat – it rains a lot.

Ready to Book?  What you Need to Know about Visas in Sri Lanka

Most people will require a visa to visit Sri Lanka but you can apply online for an electronic visa and it’s a fairly straight forward process.  They take around four days to process and cost around USD40.  To find out more information or to apply for a visa head to the official visa processing site.

Happy travels!


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9 day Sri Lanka itinerary

Back Packing Central America Chichicastenango Guatemala

A Flourish of Colour at the Chichicastenango Markets, Guatemala

January 19, 2016

The Chichicastenango (ChiChi) markets are held in the highlands of Guatemala twice a week and though it’s a bit of a trek out there, it’s well worth the effort. Each Thursday and Sunday this sleepy town comes to life in a flourish of colour, as it plays host to the largest market in Central America.

We were fortunate to visit the ChiChi Markets on a festival day; the festive dancing, firecrackers, music and floats certainly made it a day to remember!

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The markets welcome both locals and tourists and we were pleasantly surprised to find so many Guatemalans browsing for fresh ingredients and traditional clothes.  It would seem that this market serves the locals first and foremost which makes it that much more appealing for a traveller wanting an authentic experience in this stunning country.

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We elected to take a shared shuttle from Panajachel to the markets, leaving at 7am and departing ChiChi at 2pm.  We could have caught a chicken bus which would have been significantly cheaper, but as we only had the one day (and had limited Spanish), we wanted to be sure we’d get to the right place in a reasonable timeframe.

We booked through Lake Atitlan for approx USD20 (return) each and were happy with their service, though there was a bit of confusion upon pick up as they were a little late.  The trip itself was about 1.5 hours out of Panajachel, through the winding roads of Guatemala, with gorgeous views almost every step of the way.

If you have a good command of Spanish and plenty of time to spare, you could choose to catch one of the local chicken buses, as seen in the pictures below.  I don’t doubt they’d make for an exciting ride!

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We’d definitely recommend you plan your time in either Antigua or Panajachel to co-ordinate with a day at the ChiChi Markets!


How to get to and from the Chichicastenango (ChiChi) Markets, Guatemala - itinerary guide

Antigua Back Packing Central America Guatemala

Amazing Antigua

January 18, 2016

Antigua, the stunning ex-capital city in the central highlands of Guatemala, welcomed us into the country with open arms.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site, set amongst the mountains of Central America delivered much more than we’d ever expected on our first visit to this part of the world.

With an unassuming beauty, thanks to the city’s architectural Spanish Baroque influence, worn cobbled roads, ruined colonial churches and friendly, welcoming Antiguans, Antigua stole our hearts almost instantly.

Many people choose to use Antigua as a base from which to learn Spanish.  Possibly for this reason, the locals are incredibly patient with foreigners, but it is important to note that Spanish really is the main language throughout all of Guatemala so the more you can up-skill yourself on the basics, the better (I learnt some key phrases and words on Duolingo; it’s now my go-to app when I need an introduction to a new language).

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During our time in Antigua, we stayed at the Yellow House and we’d highly recommend basing yourselves there.  Antigua isn’t massive so it was an easy (and flat) walk into town and we had plenty of restaurants and sights close by.  It was a steal at USD15/night for the both of us in a private room (with shared facilities) and included a delicious and generous breakfast each morning.  The hostel was clean and tidy, the guests were respectful and the hammocks hit just the spot!

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Guatemala security

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Our fabulous included breakfast at the Yellow House, Antigua

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The view from our room and breakfast perch

We spent our time in Antigua wandering around, taking in the sights and practicing the little new-found Spanish we’d picked up… oh and chocolate, we ate our fill of chocolate!

Guatemala is of course well known for it’s cocoa beans and the Choco Museo will not only give you a conclusive run-down of this plant’s history in the area, but will also have you making chocolate tea, a variety of hot chocolates, and of course, chocolate from scratch (including roasting and grinding cocoa beans).  We elected to do the ‘beans to bar’ tour which took about two hours; it was great fun and an excellent way to meet people (we kept bumping into some of our tour-companions weeks later over in Belize!)

Looking back now we wished we’d done some hiking in Antigua – we’ll just have to save it for another trip!

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When in Guatemala… make chocolate!

Having been warned off Guatemala whilst flying into LA, there was a slight degree of trepidation arriving into the country… after-all most New Zealanders would struggle to point Guatemala out on a map, let alone know people that have visited.  Choice to head to Central America for us was certainly a bit of an unknown but as soon as we pulled into Antigua, late in the evening after over 24 hours of travel, we knew we were onto a winner!

If you too are planning a trip to this beautiful Central American country, we suggest you check out this fantastic Guatemala travel guide.  If you’re not currently planning a trip there – what are you waiting for?!

PS: Check out the gorgeous town square where we spent many hours people-watching and soaking this city in.  I dare anyone not to fall in love with Antigua!


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Antigua, Guatemala is the best place in the world to learn Spanish. This beautiful town is the perfect introduction to Central America, filled with coffee shops, beautiful streets and helpful people.

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