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Six Months on the Road: Colombia and USA – San Francisco & Hawai’i

February 18, 2018

After countless night buses, flights, dorm beds, hikes, new friends and once-in-a-lifetime experiences our six month adventure throughout South America is over!  As I sit here, back in New Zealand, it’s hard to believe how many miles we’ve put behind us and just how much we’ve seen.

How lucky are we?

… but now we’re home, life kind of just goes on!  We’ve not forgotten about you though – as always, we’ve recorded our costings, route and suggested activities, only this time we’ve got a few stops up in North America for good measure too…

First time reading our monthly round-up?  We suggest you start with our first, second, third, fourth and fifth months on the road in South America before getting into this one.

Cartagena, Colombia

Our first introduction to Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, Cartagena was our favourite ocean-side spot (which I must admit, surprised us) in the country.  With colourful old buildings, an afternoon spent walking through its winding streets is a day well spent.  We found two nights to be more than we needed but there are worse places to spend a few days than Cartagena!

Accommodation:  2 nights in a 6-bed mixed dorm at Casa Torices Real @ COP29,450 each/night (USD10/NZD13.80) – we were lucky to have the room to ourselves but with a cold shower (that did actually come out with a touch of warmth), a dorm toilet with only a shower curtain to provide privacy from the rest of the room and a taxi required to get into town, it wasn’t the best value around.  Of course, hotels there would be much louder and more expensive, but we’d probably look elsewhere if returning.

Activities:  With such beautiful buildings, we spent the day wandering through the colonial streets, admiring Cartagena’s beauty.

Onwards travel to Santa Marta:  Organised through Juan Ballena, we got a shuttle from the office in Cartagena to the office in Santa Marta (USD23 each).  You are able to get a taxi/bus/taxi combo but it takes twice as long and doesn’t work out a heck of a lot cheaper in the end.  If you do decide to book, you can use the following promo code to save 5% on your booking ‘CARTAHELLYEAH!’.

Santa Marta, Colombia

Santa Marta is, for most people, a jumping off point to Minca and Tayrona National Park – for us, it wasn’t much more than that.  There’s a beach that’s flanked by oil tankers (doesn’t that sound delightful?) and a town that lacks the charm of Salento.  All in all, it wouldn’t be top of our list.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a 6-bed mixed dorm at Mareiwa Hostel @ COP30,000 each/night (USD10.20/NZD14.05) – the hotel wasn’t anything special but was reasonably close to the action in town and did have a little warmth in the cold shower.  It didn’t have a great social spot to relax but the beds themselves were comfortable and the hostel clean enough.  It wouldn’t be our top pick in town, but the price was right, as was the location.

Activities:  Very limited – we took a wander down to the beach (which really wasn’t anything special) and picked up some food in town.

Onwards travel to Minca:  COP8,000 each for the colectivo from Santa Marta to Minca – you can pick this up on the corner of Calle 12 and Carrera 9 (and pay in the little office before boarding the van).

Minca, Colombia

Up in the mountains, above Santa Marta, sits Minca, a sleepy forested town, popular with tourists looking to relax.  It’s clean, green and a lovely break from the hustle and bustle of the neighbouring coastal area.

Accommodation:  4 nights at Casa Relax Minca Hostal Boutique in a 6-bed mixed dorm @ COP35,000 each (USD11.90/NZD16.40).  The hostel is a little way out of town but it has a lovely relaxed feel to it (though the rooms upstairs could do with proper ceilings to help cut the noise out).  The beds were super comfy, breakfast was tasty and the setting was perfect – we’d recommend a stay for sure.

Activities:  Minca’s all about relaxing and getting amongst nature.  Whilst there, we hiked to Cascada de Marinka (COP4,000/USD1.35/NZD1.85 each) and also to Pozo Azul (no entrance fee).  Both of these walks can be accessed by moto-taxi but if you have a little time on your hands and a reasonable level of fitness, we’d recommend you hike.

The walk out to Pozo Azul is slightly easier than that to Cascada de Marinka but both are totally manageable with only Cascada de Marinka have a decent dose of hill-climbing towards the end – other than that, both hikes quietly gain elevation on the way there and of course drop down again on the way back.

If you only have time to visit one spot, we preferred Casada de Marinka – the hike was a little more involved, there were fewer people there, and the two beautiful waterfalls are set in a lovely tropical garden.

Pro Tip:  Be sure to take your swimming togs (bathing suit) so you can cool off – both Cascada de Marinka and Pozo Azul provide opportunities for a dip.  Be warned though, they’re both pretty chilly!

Onwards travel to Palomino (via Santa Marta):  Collectivo from Minca to Santa Marta (where it dropped you off) for COP8,000 each (USD2.70/NZD3.75).  Once in town, round the corner at the bus station and jump on the bus from Santa Marta to Palomino for COP10,000 each (USD3.40/NZD4.70) – these buses run constantly and you just pay onboard.

Palomino, Colombia

Whilst travelling, a number of people exclaimed that we had to visit Palomino, so that’s exactly what we did.  We were told that Palomino offered much of the beauty of the Tayrona National Park, but with the added benefit of having more comfortable and affordable accommodation.  Did we find that to be true?  We planned on staying for four nights and ended up cutting back to two so we’ll leave you to decide.

Accommodation:  1 night in a private room at The Dreamer Hostel – Palomino (be sure to book the right one – we booked Santa Marta by mistake!) @ COP110,000 each (USD37.45/NZD51.60) and then 1 night at the Palomino Breeze Hostal in a 6-bed mixed dorm @ COP35,000 each (USD12.35/NZD17).  Though we loved our first hostel, it really did hurt our wallets (and even at that price, it was a cold-water shower)!  The second hostel was very basic but it had a pool and did the trick for one night.

Activities:  We chose to chill out beside the pool but you’re able to head out tubing on a local river and can also catch the bus to Tayrona (though it’s closer to Santa Marta).

Onwards travel to Barranquilla:  Bus from Palomino to Santa Marta (COP10,000/USD3.40/NZD4.70) each – speak to your driver as he’ll be able to drop you off at the big roundabout in Santa Marta where you can get straight on a minivan to continue on.  From there, head into the office of Berlinas where you’ll get a ride in the van to their main Santa Marta office and a ticket right through to Barranquilla for COP20,000 each (USD6.80/NZD9.40).

Barranquilla, Colombia

With flights out of Barranquilla, we always knew we had to spend a night there but we really weren’t planning any more than that.  In the end though, when we decided to move on early from Palomino, we figured we’d skip through Santa Marta and try our luck in Barranquilla – what a great choice that ended up being!  Our hotel was super comfortable and there were lots of yummy food options in the local mall.  Sure, it wasn’t what most of our travels were about but it was the perfect way to finish up in South America before flying on.

Accommodation:  3 nights in a private room at the Holiday Inn Express Barranquilla Buenavista @ COP78,375 each (USD26.79/NZD36.75).  This was the perfect spot to chill after a busy six months!  The beds were crazy comfortable and breakfast was filling – though it was a little bit of a splurge compared to the hostels we’d been used to, it was money well spent and great value.

Activities:  Absolutely nothing!  Though there are a few things to do in Barranquilla, it’s mostly an economic hub for the Caribbean side of Colombia.  For us, it was a place to recharge our batteries for a few days before heading up to the US.

Onwards travel to San Francisco:  Flights booked through Kiwi (click here to get a €20 on us!) at USD631.55 each (NZD870.40).

San Francisco, California, United States of America

Having visited the West Coast countless times before but never making it to San Francisco, we decided it was finally time to check out the city that we’d heard so much about.  Taking pride of place on the bay, San Francisco was everything that was promised to us and then some – it’s fair to say we fell in love with this incredible city.

Accommodation:  5 nights in a private room at the San Remo Hotel @ USD32.60 each/night (NZD51.80) and another 2 nights where we treated ourselves at Hotel Griffon.  Both hotels are well located, San Remo near Fisherman’s Wharf and Hotel Griffon being right on the water in the middle of town.

Make a difference.  Though we’ve seen homelessness elsewhere, we’d never seen it on the level that we did in San Francisco.  Expensive housing, a high cost of living, a relatively temperate climate and a lack of government support means the city has an exceptionally high level of people down on their luck.  You’re able to help though – when you leave a restaurant that offers free soft drink refills ask for a takeaway glass (commonplace in the US) or top your own takeaway cup up when you leave a burger joint.  Hang on to any leftover food, hotel amenities or articles of clothing that have been replaced on a US shopping adventure.  Anything you’re able to donate will likely be gratefully received.

Activities:   With so much to do in San Francisco you’ll be hard-pressed to tick all the boxes but if you manage your time well, it’s easy to fit a couple of activities into each day.

Alcatraz –  San Francisco’s most recognisable attraction,
Alcatraz Cruises is your go-to tour provider.  For USD37.25 per person (NZD51.40), they’ll take you over to the island and provide everything you need to explore the most iconic prison in the world… and yes, it really is a must do!  The audio tour that’s included in the trip is amazing – with background noises and sound effects, it genuinely transports you back to the prison’s heyday.

We considered both the day and night tours and found that each had their own pros and cons.  The day tour allows guests to explore the park on the island, giving them much more freedom to move about as they please.  By comparison, the night tour is apparently much more dramatic (can’t you just imagine the moody atmosphere in the old prison at night?) but it comes with a slightly higher price tag, less flexibility to do your own thing and that chilly San Francisco night air.

By the time we decided to book the night tour, the tickets had sold out!  Instead, we visited during the day where we happily spent half a day on the island and would suggest you combine it with a visit to Fisherman’s Wharf whilst you’re in the area.  There are also a number of other activities available in this part of town so no doubt, you’ll find yourself back there.

Biking the Golden Gate Bridge – Touted by friends as a must-do in San Francisco, we picked up our ‘deluxe infinity shifting priority hybrid bikes from
Wheel Fun Rentals and headed for the iconic bridge.  Though the names of the bikes sound complicated, in reality, they’re anything but; the gears shift smoothly, without any hang-time, allowing anyone to jump on and figure out the system quickly.  The bikes also come with a self-guided GPS system, taking riders through key routes and sharing interesting local information.  The ridge over the bridge itself is easy and bike lanes throughout the journey mean you’ll spend very little time on the road itself – yes, you’ll probably end up with a sore behind but the views are totally worth it.

Pro Tip:  If you’d like to cut the time you spend on your bike down, you can ride over to Sausalito (on the other side of the bridge) and catch the ferry back over towards the city.  Likewise, if you’re on a budget, simply turn around at the end of the bridge and bike back to save yourself a ferry ticket.  We really would recommend a trip out to Sausalito though, so if you don’t include it as part of your biking excursion, try to include it with another day trip (like we did whilst visiting the redwoods).

Muir Woods & Sausalito day trip – One of our must-do’s in San Francisco, we joined
Extranomical Tours to get up close and personal with the incredible redwoods.  The day itself was very relaxed, starting with a visit to the ferry building for breakfast and then a visit to the Muir Woods before heading to Sausalito and stopping off for amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and a breath of fresh air, making the whole experience a real highlight of our time in the city.

Big Bus Tours – For years Nathan has talked about jumping on a Big Bus Tour but it took us hitting San Fran for it to finally happen!  We loved the flexibility these tours offer – for 24 hours we were able to hop on and off again as often as we wanted, with entertaining, personalised commentary all the way.

Though it would be been great to have taken our tour on a fine day, it was a great way to see the city, even in the rain.  When you’re on the tour, be sure to jump off at Haight-Ashbury, the vibrant, summer-of-love part of San Francisco.

For those of you that grew up watching Full house, yes, you can check out the aforementioned houses whilst on the tour!

California Academy of Sciences – Not somewhere initially on our list, we were so pleased our CityPASS included tickets as it was literally one of the best, most interactive set of exhibitions we’ve ever seen.  With an incredible array of fish and marine animals, an amazing planetarium and exhibits to capture everyone’s attention, it was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon seeking shelter from the rain.

Even better, the Big Bus swings right past the entrance and continues on its way again so it’s easy to fit into your schedule.

Aquarium of the Bay – Again included in our San Francisco CityPASS, the Aquarium of the Bay is conveniently located at Fisherman’s Wharf and combines well with other activities in the area.  We spend around 1.5 hours at the aquarium, checking out their sharks, otters and other fabulous exhibits.

Scale-wise, it doesn’t compare to the Academy of Sciences but it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area, especially if you have a CityPASS and therefore, a free ticket.

AsiaSF – If you’re looking for a unique night out in one of the most liberal cities in the world, a visit to AsiaSF will tick your boxes!  Proud supporters of the transgender community, these stunning ladies are the epitome of ‘fabulous’, performing to enthusiastic audiences whilst serving up delicious Asian-inspired meals.  Go equipped with a sense of fun and humour and you’ll have the best night out!

Take in a basketball game – An easy subway ride from the city, a basketball game is a fantastic (albeit expensive) way to spend an evening!  With the Golden State Warriors in fine form and games running frequently throughout the week, chances are you’ll be able to pick up tickets to a game at a relatively reasonable price with advance notice.  We paid USD80.40 (NZD108.85) each to sit up in the top stalls – they weren’t the best seats in the house (quite the opposite) but allowed us to enjoy the game and unique atmosphere.

Pro Tip – Leave your big cameras and bags at the hotel!  The stadium has a strict bag-check policy and having to make use of it will cost you USD10.  If you’re able to, it’s best to pop the essentials in your pocket and avoid the hassle.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom – Never ones to turn down a good rollercoaster, a visit to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom was a non-negotiable for us (well mostly me) on our San Fran trip.  We had a great day out at the park with new friends, racing around all of the best coasters in the park.  Our top picks?  The Joker (an amazing wooden/steel hybrid with lots of airtime) and Medusa.  I also loved Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth (but couldn’t talk the others into joining me) and would have loved to have gotten on SUPERMAN Ultimate Flight had it not been closed for maintenance.

Headed out to the park?  You’ll need a rental car!  City Rent-a-Car will sort you out for the day from their central Union Square location for only USD50.

Pier 39 – Popular with tourists, a visit to Pier 39 can cost you as much or as little as you like.  We enjoyed strolling along the wharf, people watching and of course, checking out the Californian sea lions.

The San Francisco Dungeon – If you’re looking for a comical introduction to San Franciscian history, the Dungeon might be the place for you.  With a couple of rides and lots of theming and on-point actors, this immersive experience is entertaining, if a little different to your normal tourism activity.  The rides themselves were a little disappointing if we’re being honest but the experience as a whole was worthwhile, especially on a rainy day.

Onwards travel to the Big Island, Hawai’i:  We booked from San Francisco to Oahu (and then on to Auckland, New Zealand) through Hawaiian Airlines for USD625.10 each (NZD861.55).  We then connected from Honolulu to Kona for USD82 each (NZD113).

Big Island, Hawai’i, United States of America

Tropical beaches, near-perfect weather and all of the benefits of cheap American shopping; we didn’t need to visit the Big Island to know that we’d fall in love!  When tossing up between Maui and the Big Island (also known by the state’s name, Hawai’i), we elected for the later for one key reason – mantas.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Mauna Lani Bay and 2 nights at Hilton Waikoloa Village.  Both hotels were absolutely glorious!  Mauna Lani Bay has access to fabulous snorkelling just off the beach whilst the Hilton Waikoloa Village had a massive lagoon, perfect for guaranteed turtle snorkelling.

Activities:  

Manta Dive with Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii – The main reason we visited the Big Island, this is the best place in the world to swim with these gentle giants.  Absolutely massive, with an undeniable grace, these harmless beauties are attracted to the surface at night to feed on plankton – we were just lucky to observe them in their natural habitat for 45 minutes or so.  We tossed up whether we’d snorkel or dive with the mantas and in the end decided to snorkel to save a bit of money (it cost USD123.40/NZD167.10 each).  With amazing views of them throughout the snorkel, we were more than happy with our choice, though we’re sure the dive would have been amazing too!

Morning Snorkel with Fair Wind Cruises – Touted as the best snorkelling on the island, one of the only practical ways to get to Kealakekua Bay (home of the Captain Cook monument) is on a cruise.  Fair Wind provide so much more than just transport though – snorkelling gear, delicious food (breakfast, lunch and soft drinks all at no additional charge), a fabulous boat (complete the high-water dive platforms and two waterslides) and stand-up paddle boards.  We love that they really follow through on their eco-friendly policies, encouraging guests to do their bit to help cut down on waste and providing them with environmentally aware alternatives.

Onwards travel to Honolulu, Hawai’i:  Hawaiian Airlines, USD82 each (NZD113).

Honolulu, Oahu, Hawai’i, United States

Having visited Oahu before, we knew it would be the perfect was to finish up our trip.  Plenty to do should we wish but no pressure to tick activities off either – we’d been before and no doubt we’ll go again.

Accommodation:  1 night in a 4-bed mixed dorm at the Waikiki Beachside Hostel @ USD47 each (NZD64.75) and then 3 nights in a private room at the Surftide @ AUD65.20 each (USD50.95/NZD70.25 – booked through Wotif).  By far the most expensive hostel we stayed at on our travels, the Waikiki Beachside Hostel was also one of the most basic – with gaping holes in the glass, a ranchslider that barely closed and rubbish trucks passing by at all hours, we couldn’t say it offered particularly good value for money.  Our move to the Surftide was the best choice we could have made.

Activities:  As we’d visited Honolulu a few times before and were at the end of a long trip, we wanted to spend most of our time on Oahu relaxing and that’s exactly what we did.  We did, however, manage to squeeze in a few new experiences!

Discount shopping – The Waikele Premium Outlets are a little out of Waikiki but if you have a rental car, they’re well worth a visit.  With lots of popular brands (new Levis jeans, Ugg boots, Clarks heels and a whole lot more made their way into my bag) at fantastic prices, be sure to pick up an extra suitcase to cart all of your bargains home.

Cage-free shark snorkel – This is literally the best thing you’ll ever do on Oahu.  Jump in with One Ocean and leave the cages to everyone else – you don’t need one!  The One Ocean team is made up of scientists and environmentalists and is on a serious mission to improve outcomes for sharks and to educate people about their plight.  Even with 50+ sharks in the water and no real protection from them, we felt incredibly comfortable.  If you’ve never spent time with sharks and are a little nervous about doing so, we guarantee a morning out with these guys will change your thoughts on them!

Drive around the Island and check out the North Shore – Possibly the most famous surfing spot in the world, the Banzai Pipeline is the best spot to catch massive waves and surfers with equally massive amounts of courage to take them on!

Hanauma Bay – One of the most popular natural attractions on Oahu, Hanauma Bay is a great place to learn how to snorkel.  The protected bay attracts all sorts of beautiful sea life and calm water conditions means it suits snorkellers of all abilities.  Unfortunately, the fish weren’t as abundant as we remember it being in the past but we were told by a local that if you get out beyond the waves (where few people go), that it’s much more impressive.

Entrance is USD7.50 each (NZD10.25) and the bay is open every day apart from Tuesday.  To get there, jump on the 22 bus for USD2.75 one way.  If you have enough exact change, pay for the return ticket at once (USD5.50) and you’ll be given a day pass allowing you to ride the bus elsewhere at no extra charge.

Diamond Head Luau – Just how I’ve been to Hawai’i so many times without ever attending a luau is beyond me!  This time though, we changed that, heading along to the Diamond Head Luau just down the road at Waikiki.

With a new ‘farm to table’ buffet offering, the quality of the food was top notch and in typical American style, served up with a smile.  Tickets included a range of Hawaiian crafts and traditional skills, three cocktails to kickstart the night, a fantastic show, delicious buffet and entrance to the aquarium at the end of the night.

Though we didn’t visit any of the following attractions this time around, we almost always do – be sure to let us know if you’d like help planning them; Pearl Harbour, Ala Moana Shopping Mall and the Dole Pineapple Plantation.

Onwards travel to Auckland, New Zealand:   Included as part of our flight with Hawaiian from San Francisco to Auckland – we chose to add a stopover in Hawaii at no additional charge.

Lessons Learnt on the Road

  • Big expectations can be hard to meet.  Throughout our travels we heard practically everyone rave about Colombia.  To be honest though, it really didn’t live up to our expectations; there was a lot we liked about certain spots (Salento, Medellín and Minca for example), but the Caribbean coast was a surprising disappointment.  Colombia was far from a bad spot, I think we’ve just learnt to temper our expectations.
  • There’s nothing wrong with heading back to a favourite spot.  In fact, doing so can be a great choice!  It certainly wasn’t the first time we’d returned to a favourite spot but after 2.5 years of visiting places that were new to us, it was a lovely change to revisit a part of the world that we already knew we enjoyed.

So that’s us, all done!  Six months of full-time travel behind us and incredible memories to last a lifetime.

Machu Picchu, Patagonia, the Iguazu Falls, a luxury cruise through the Galapagos Islands, white water rafting, ziplining, scuba diving, sandboarding, shark snorkelling and more.  We attempted to learn a new language (and were relatively successful in doing so) and made it through a whole bunch of challenges, hopefully coming out the other end better off for them.

We’re so grateful for the last six months and looking excitedly into the future.

One thing I know for sure; this isn’t the end of our adventure.

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Colombia Ecuador Itineraries Monthly Round-Up South America

Five Months on the Road in South America – Ecuador & Colombia

January 7, 2018

Our penultimate month in South America (that’s right, five down, only one to go!) was a welcome change from the backpacking we’ve been enjoying for the majority of our trip.  We returned to our Abu Dhabi roots and soaked in the more luxurious side of Ecuador – after all, nobody has the budget for five-star hotels for six months at a time but everyone loves a good treat every now and then!  For those of you operating on more of a budget though, don’t worry, there’s something in here to suit you too.

As always, we’re all about those ‘bucket list adventures’!

If you’re new around here, we suggest you check out our first, second, third and fourth months on the road in South America before starting on month five.

The Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

The highlight of our entire South America trip (and there have been lots of highlights so that’s not an easy feat) and potentially of our travelling career, our time in the Galápagos was incredible.  We’re not going to go into a tonne of detail here as there will be plenty to come, but you should know that it’s worth scrimping, saving and bending over backwards to make a cruise around this incredible islands work!

Accommodation:  7 nights aboard the MV OriginEcoventura‘s luxury ship.  Followed by 2 nights at Casa de Jeimy in a private room @ USD22.40 each/night (NZD31.55) on San Cristobal.

Activities:  Incredible animals and nature galore!  If there’s one place in the world where you can see a massive range of animals in their natural habitat, the Galápagos is it.  We swam with sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, reef sharks and marble rays.  We also got up close and personal with massive land iguanas, tortoises, whales, hummingbirds and my favourite, the beautiful boobies, all whilst relaxing on a luxury vessel with the most fabulous guests and staff.

We also intentionally checked out a day trip (as lots of the backpackers we’ve met along the way have talked about them as a cheaper alternative).  To be frank though, it didn’t compare, even remotely.  If you’re able to, we really would recommend saving more and getting yourself aboard a ship to see the outer islands.

Onwards travel to Quito:  Flying TAME from San Cristobal (SCY) to Quito (UIO) for USD193.30 each (NZD269.75).  It’s important to note that Ecuadorian’s get a discount on flights – don’t tick this box unless you’re eligible for the discount, otherwise you will be denied boarding.

Quito, Ecuador

The capital city of Ecuador sprawls out from North to South but it’s the historic town centre where you’ll want to spend most of your time.  Though the traffic is, at times, a real nightmare, we enjoyed spending a few days in the city.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Casa Gangotena.  Absolutely old-school charm, this hotel is a must in the city if you’re looking to splurge.

Activities:  A guided tour that took us through a local neighbourhood within Quito, showing us a side of the city that few visitors get to experience.  It was followed by a visit to the most iconic spots in the historic centre and the most fabulous museum.  If you’re in Quito, we highly recommend this alternative walking tour, ‘Live Quito like a local‘.

Onwards travel to Mashpi:  Organised by Mashpi Lodge – we joined a mini-bus of other guests, stopping at a local museum on the way.

Mashpi, Ecuador

Having already immersed ourselves into the jungle in Peru, we knew we wanted another experience along the same line.  Masphi offered the opportunity to do exactly that, but this time in the lap of absolute luxury in the cloud forest.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Mashpi Lodge – a National Geographic “Unique Lodge of the World”.  As you’d expect, it was absolutely incredible!

Activities:  Night cloud forest walks, a ride on their very own cable car (known as the ‘dragonfly’) and their skybike, along with hikes to cascading waterfalls, hummingbird spotting, toucan sightings and more.

Onwards travel to Baños:  Mashpi Lodge took us back to Quito and from there, we boarded a bus to Baños for USD4.40 each (NZD6.15).  We got our ticket at the Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe and jumped on the next available bus – they run frequently, all day.

Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

The adventure capital of Ecuador, Baños was always a must-see in Ecuador as far as we were concerned.  We loved it so much that we spent a full week there checking out all this vibrant little town had to offer.

Accommodation:  7 nights in a private room at Hostal Princesa Maria @ USD10.50 each/night (NZD14.80).  A quiet hostel, as long as you ask for a room upstairs.  Victor was an incredibly friendly host!  He didn’t speak a great deal of English but was happy to go out of his way to help.

Activities:  Our hostel organised for us to go whitewater rafting (USD20/NZD27.90 each) and canyoning (USD25/NZD34.90 each) with Expediciones Amazónicas – both were great fun and excellent value for money.  The team also had high-quality gear and well-trained, English speaking guides.

We also took local buses around town – we went up to Casa Del Arbol where we swung at the end of the world and also visited Pailon del Diablo (the Devil’s Cauldron – a stunning waterfall).

Onwards travel to Latacunga:  Again, buses are easy to organise on the day.  We caught the bus from Baños to the turn-off (a big roundabout) of Latacunga – just be sure to let the attendant know that you want to get off at Latacunga and he’ll point it out to you.  From there, taxi’s will take you into town (no more than USD4).  Unfortunately, I lost our receipt but the bus Quito-Latacunga was only a couple of US dollars each.

Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador

Though we weren’t planning on hiking in Ecuador, we decided to make a move to the Quilotoa Loop for Christmas, rather than spend another week in Baños (though we did love it there!)

We caught a local bus in the morning from Latacunga to Sigchos (USD2.30/NZD3.20) each and from there, hiked to our next stop for the following three days.

At the conclusion of the hike, we made the decision not to stay in Quilotoa (though it looked like a great little spot on top of the mountain), instead catching a ride with in ute back to Zumbahua (USD2 per person) and then a bus to Latacunga (another few dollars).

Accommodation:  3 nights in total across the loop in the following spots:

Activities:  Hiking, hiking and more hiking!  We hiked from each location to the next, always with the fabulous new friends we made on the loop.  Compared to the scenery we’ve seen on other hikes (and let’s face it, we’ve been spoilt by Patagonia and Peru), it wasn’t as spectacular but the people we met really made the trip!

Onwards travel to Bogata:  We were planning to catch a bus (all 34 hours of it!) but when it sold out, some of our new friends very kindly came to the rescue and helped us by letting us fly standby with them.  The flights are expensive normally so if you’re planning on taking one, definitely book in advance.  Alternatively, if you do plan on catching the bus, Cruz del Sur will take you all the way through (which was our preference to save on accommodation and lugging our gear from bus to bus), or you can take a combination of local buses (which would be cheaper but would take much longer).

Bogota, Colombia

After five months of travelling, all we’ve ever heard people do it rave about Colombia!  After a night in Bogota, I must admit, we were starting to wonder why.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the city (in fact it was nice to get back to the bright lights again), but it just didn’t wow us.  Rio?  You bet!  Lima?  What a pleasant surprise.  Bogota?  Aside from the gorgeous street art, it didn’t do a lot for us.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a 5-bed mixed dorm at Hostel Casa 32 DC @ USD7 each/night (NZD9.75).  The beds were comfortable but the bathrooms and kitchen were an absolute mess (and I’m not the cleanest person in the world, so that’s saying something!).  The people were lovely so it’s a pity that we can’t really recommend this hostel.  On the upside though, it was cheap!

Activities:  We joined the Bogota Graffiti Tour which was a fabulous way to see the more authentic side of Colombia’s capital city – it’s a tips only tour and certainly something we’d recommend doing whilst in town (just book online ahead of time if possible).

Onwards travel to Salento:  We caught a local mini-bus from Bogota to Armenia and then on to Salento.  It was straightforward but we learnt a few lessons on the way.  If you’re making the journey, we have full instructions for you here.

Salento, Colombia

A colourful little colonial town, buzzing with New Years excitement, wax palm trees reaching high into the sky, coffee plantations and hummingbirds buzzing around – what’s not to love about beautiful Salento?

Accommodation:  3 nights in a private room at Walker’s House Hostel.

Activities:  We hiked the Cocora Valley, completing the full loop (starting at the fish farm, taking in the hummingbirds and finishing with the palms).  It was a full day and relatively challenging due to the massive amount of rain they got the night before (and unbelievably muddy conditions) but it was well worth it.  Rides out to the Valley (and back) are COP3,800 each way (USD 1.30/NZD1.80 per person), the fish farm is COP3,000 each (USD 1.05/NZD1.45 including a bag of food), entrance to the park itself is COP2,000 (USD0.70/NZD0.95) and the hummingbirds are COP5,000 each (USD1.70/NZD2.50 which includes a drink).  Food and drinks are available at a few different points on the walk but we packed sandwiches and drinks to take with us, making for a reasonably cheap day out!

Onwards travel to Medellín:  Again, we bused but this time on a direct service which made life so much easier!  COP47,000 (USD15.75/NZD22.15) was all it cost us and full instructions can be found in our guide.

Medellín, Colombia

Ah, beautiful Medellín!  Colombia’s second largest city really is a world away from Bogota and an easy place to spend a fair amount of time in!

Accommodation:  1 night in a 4-bed dorm at the Samarian Hostel @ COP23,300 each/night (USD7.95/NZD11.20) with lovely travellers (but small rooms and cold showers!) before moving into a 5-bed dorm at BlackPine Hostel @ COP33,300each/night (USD11.35/NZD16) for 7 nights.  We loved BlackPine – a great location, clean and tidy, comfortable beds and awesome staff.

Activities:  Paragliding with DragonFLY (normally COP130,000) – absolutely amazing!  We also toured both Comuna 13 and La Sierra in what were memorable and interesting visits (COP70,000 each, all inclusive).

Finally, we headed out to Guatape with VIT Escobar Paintball and though we wanted to love our day, practically everything that could go wrong, did!  I’m sure a normal tour with them is great, but when things go wrong, they really do and for this reason, I’m not sure we could recommend them (more on this soon).  Guatape is lovely though and well worth a visit, either with another company or independently on the bus.

Onwards travel to Cartagena:  Flight with VivaColombia from Medellín to Cartagena.  Though we’re flying with a discount carrier, we have a fair few bags now (those llama blankets were too hard to ignore) so we’ve paid COP260,291 (USD89.60/NZD125.05) each.  This will be our last flight before leaving South America behind!

… and that’s all for another month!

Lessons Learnt on the Road

  • Always preload maps onto your phone.  I generally do but occasionally I forget.  We got a reality check in Quito though where we had no choice but to get into an unmarked, unregistered taxi.  Initially, the driver said he knew where he was going but 1/3 of the way into the trip he kept asking if we did (even though he had working sat nav).  We realised at that point in time, how vulnerable we were – for all we knew, he was driving us in the opposite direction in the dead of the night (as he continually said ‘two people, two people’ on the phone in Spanish…  I was terrified we were about to be mugged!  Had we had our maps loaded, we’d have been able to follow along on our phones and the ride would have been much more pleasant.
  • Long-term travel is tiring!  I’m not sure if it’s just because the end is near or because we’ve picked up the speed of our travel but we’re pretty tired now.  We’re making sure to allow ourselves some ‘down days’ where we just vege out because at this stage, we need them!

It’s hard to believe our time here is coming to an end.  With a month to go, we’re starting to think about jobs, housing and life back in New Zealand but the fun’s not over just yet… stay tuned for the rest of our Colombian itinerary along with San Francisco and Hawaii in the US.

Check out our Recent Posts

How to Get to the Swing at the End of the World: Baños, Ecuador

Salento Travel Guide: Buses to/from Medellín and Bogota

Comuna 13: Touring What Was Medellín’s Most Dangerous District

Our Previous Months on the Road

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

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

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

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

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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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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?

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

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

October 9, 2017

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

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

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

Puerto Varas, Chile

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

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

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

Puerto Natales, Chile

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

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

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

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

Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia

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

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

Activities:

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

El Calafate, Argentian Patagonia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buenos Aires, Argentina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Iguazu

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

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

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

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

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

Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

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

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

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

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

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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

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

Activites:

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

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

Lessons Learnt on the Road

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

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

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

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

Check out our Recent Posts

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

Patagonia by Horseback – The Perfect Alternative to Hiking

Day Two of the W Trek – Conquering the French Valley

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

and one for fun…

Why You Should NEVER Eat a Kiwi…

Our Previous Months on the Road

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


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

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


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Argentina Back Packing Chile Monthly Round-Up South America

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

September 6, 2017

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

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

Buenos Aires, Argentina

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

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

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

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

Santiago (and Valparaíso), Chile

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

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

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

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

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

Pucón, Chile

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

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

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

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

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

Bariloche, Argentina

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learnt on the Road

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

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

What a start to our adventure!

Check out our Recent Posts

Valparaíso: Chile’s Painted City on the Sea

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


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

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

5 Comments

  • Reply Ryan Biddulph September 7, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    Gorgeous!

    Both Chile and Argentina are high on our travel list. We want to enjoy the beauty and peace of each country, and since we are kinda fluent in Spanish, once we figure out local accents, we should be A-OK to chat a bit with locals. AFTER we figure out the accent thing LOL because I know each country has a different steelo de espanol.

    Patagonia is one of my dream spots. As well as Argentina’s capital, as I know a few digital nomads who rave about both iconic locations.

    Since I have only seen Peru in South America I definitely need to do some catching up 🙂

  • Reply Deborah Regen (@EcoTourLinQ) October 4, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    Chile is on my bucket list. I would especially enjoy visiting their wine growing regions.

  • Reply BecciAbroad January 26, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    Sorry to hear that you were underwhelmed by Buenos Aires 🙂 Thus, not the first time I hear that, and something similar happened to me when I first came here. I think BA is a place that you slowly, and as you get to know all its diversity, fall in love it!

    Next time you are around (hopefully there will be a next time), try to stay away another place than San Telmo/the center – Palermo, Belgrano etc. are so lovely areas and nothing like the center! Actually, I still don’t like the center, and only go there for business stuff.
    xoxo

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis February 21, 2018 at 8:46 am

      I think that’s a great point – we definitely needed to get out of the centre. I’m sure we’ll give it another shot in the future 🙂 Are you there often?

      • Reply BecciAbroad February 23, 2018 at 11:12 am

        I hope you will! I live here, and we don’t have current plans of leaving, so just give me a shot if you are around 😉

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    blogging Monthly Round-Up

    2016 in Review – 26 Countries This Year Whilst Working Full-Time

    December 31, 2016
    Exploring Kiwis 2016 Wrap-Up

    2016 – what a year!  When we moved to Abu Dhabi with plans to make the most of the travel opportunities, we never dreamed we’d get to travel quite as widely as we have whilst holding down full-time jobs.  Between us, we’ve explored 26 countries since the beginning of the year, starting off in Slovakia and ending in Norway.  We feel so, so fortunate to be out seeing the world – it’s both a reminder of how lucky we are to have these opportunities and also a reality check – the world is so much bigger than any one of us.

    Rather than doing the monthly round-up that I was attempting to do (I think we managed two bi-monthly ones and that was about it), I’m planning on putting an annual summary post together to look back on our highlights and the occasional lowlights.

    The Countries We’ve Visited in 2016

    Our Favourite Moments

    From tracking gorillas in the highlands of Uganda to partying for the first time in Ibiza, there have been so many highlights this year.  We finally saw the pyramids (and were blown away by them!) and soaked up the sights of Petra.  We spent seven weeks travelling through Europe over the summer which would have been an inconceivable thought as a teacher in New Zealand and have gotten to know Abu Dhabi and Dubai better.  Finally we’ve wrapped the year up travelling Norway in an RV having just spent over a week in Iceland – my new favourite country!

    In addition to all of the travel we’ve managed to squeeze in (around full-time jobs), it’s been fantastic to see Exploring Kiwis take off like it has.  I’ve long been passionate about travel and joining the travel blogging community has only served to further grow this.  We’ve gotten to know some awesome people through this community and also in meeting the fantastic people that run the many hotels, tours and activities that we’ve reviewed over the year.

    We’ve developed friendships in Abu Dhabi and I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled with two of these lovely ladies.  All things considered, it’s been an awesome year!

    Tracking the amazing mountain gorillas in Uganda. A once in a lifetime experience with these gentle giants

    A photo posted by Sarah & Nathan Chant ??✈️??? (@exploringkiwis) on

    Back in Venice today, such a treat. This town’s an absolute maze in the best of ways ???

    A photo posted by Sarah & Nathan Chant ??✈️??? (@exploringkiwis) on

    After hiking to a ‘secret spot’ that Nathan managed to track down on a blog, we were rewarded with the most spectacular private view of the lakes!

    A photo posted by Sarah & Nathan Chant ??✈️??? (@exploringkiwis) on

    What did you get up to today? Was it as much fun as this?! Canyoning with @iris_adventures – amazing!! #Croatia #irisadventures #yallagopro

    A photo posted by Sarah & Nathan Chant ??✈️??? (@exploringkiwis) on

    Back at school again and already dreaming of my next adventure ☺️ #Nepal #adrenalinejunkie #yallagopro #gopro #pokhara #paragliding #flying

    A photo posted by Sarah & Nathan Chant ??✈️??? (@exploringkiwis) on

    Challenges

    Though there have been some incredibly memorable bucket-list-ticking moments in 2016, it hasn’t been without it’s challenges.

    Living away from home, we miss our family, friends and our two cats, so, so much.  We hate missing out on watching kids grow up and on those special occasions.

    Nathan managed a few trips home for work and spent some quality time with his family but I haven’t been back to New Zealand in the year and a half we’ve been in Abu Dhabi (though was fortunate to have my Mum and Stepdad visit) and the more time goes on, the more I wish I was jumping on that plane with him.  It was especially disappointing to miss out on his Mum’s wedding to her long-time partner!

    April marked the first year without my Dad which was particularly challenging.  It’s times like those when you really wish you were home with family but everything’s a balancing act and right now, it’s worth going through those challenges to be here.

    What a Year!

    I still pinch myself when I think about some of the incredible things we’ve seen and done – we’ve worked hard to make this all happen but there’s also no doubt that we’re very fortunate.

    There’s still a lot of this world to see though and I can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring for us.  Hopefully another adventure or two!

    What are your 2016 highlights?  What do you have planned for 2017?

    1 Comment

  • Reply These Kiwis are Off Exploring - Nathan and Sarah's Next Six Months of Adventures - Exploring Kiwis May 6, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    […]  We’ve loved emersing ourselves in a new culture, connecting with like-minded people, having the opportunity to travel more and jumping into this crazy-fun world of blogging.  I’ve grown, both personally and […]

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    Abu Dhabi Africa Dubai Expat Life Holidays Monthly Round-Up theme park United Arab Emirates

    Where has the time gone? Another ‘Monthly’ Round-Up

    June 1, 2016

    How on earth is it June already?!

    The plan was to jot down what we’ve been up to over here each month but considering my last ‘monthly round-up’ was posted at the beginning of March, I think it’s fair to say I’ve been pretty unsuccessful in doing so!


    The past three months have been a whirlwind of travels, work (school for me, price-lists for Nathan), brunches, socialising and for a week, family (yay!)

    Nathan arrived back in Abu Dhabi, having spent a month or so working in New Zealand.  He had a great time catching up with our friends and family (not to forget our cats!) but it was nice to have him home again at the end of it all.

    We were fortunate to get out of the UAE on two occasions since our last general update, on both occasions to Africa (which is incredible considering before those trips, we’d never set foot on the continent).

    Our first trip away took us to Eastern Africa – Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.  It was a mind-blowing trip that left us feeling incredibly humbled.  If you’re interested in checking out our itinerary, you can see the key places we visited in this post.  The highlights of the trip were based around the amazing animals we saw – all of the ‘big five’, not to mention tracking highland mountain gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild (the stuff of dreams!), swimming with wild bottlenose dolphins, diving to spot seahorses and trying to avoid the killer croc that almost landed in our boat whilst cruising the Nile!  You can read about the differences between our Masai Mara and Murchison Falls safaris here too.


    Our second journey to Africa took us to Egypt where we spend a whirlwind three nights exploring this unique, vibrant country.  We spent a night in Cairo and two in Luxor, where we were memorised by the incredible history found throughout the country.  Looking back, it’s hard to believe how much we managed to squeeze into our three nights (which was really only two full days) there – we visited Sakkara, home to the oldest buildings (which also happen to be pyramids) in the world, where we also climbed down inside a pyramid, rode camels and Arabian horses to the Great Pyramids of Giza, explored the Valley of the Kings and rode a hot air balloon over the Nile (and that’s only scratching the surface!)  We found the Egyptian people to be warm and welcoming and had no concerns whatsoever in regard to our safety.  I don’t doubt that having a fantastic driver/guide helped, but we have no reservations in recommending others visit this incredible part of the world.


    I’m a bit behind the ball with blog posts (stay tuned for posts on our Masai Mara safari, Ugandan adventure and Egyptian exploration) but you can find our photos on Instagram if you’re keen for a peek before I find the time to get writing.

    Back in Abu Dhabi, I’d been watching the newest coaster at Ferrari World pop up and the implementation of a teachers’ special made the call of a new coaster far too hard to ignore!  Along with three friends, I headed back to the theme park and, I’m pleased to say, came away feeling quite differently about my experience there (read my thoughts from our first visit here).  Flying Aces is a welcome addition to this indoor park – the initial climb was fantastic and a number of slow loops pull you right out of your harness – certainly a ride that doesn’t suit everyone, but I was a happy camper!  Whilst there I had another zip around on Formula Rosa (the fastest rollercoaster in the world) and again, felt much more positive about it.  The roughness that we experienced our first time riding it was gone, making way for a smooth, incredibly fast (yet comfortable) ride.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the engineers had given the cars a once over, but regardless of what made the difference, Ferrari World is now a much better option for thrill seekers… I will be watching with anticipation to see what the other new rides look like.

    My friend from back home arrived so we had a great time showing her around the UAE.  Together, we managed to squeeze a trip to Aquaventure in (the waterpark over on the Palm, in Dubai) and we have a fantastic day splashing around and racing down the slides!  Nathan and I enjoyed Yas Water World but if we had to pick a favourite, I think it would have to be Aquaventure – it was seriously impressive!

    We made the trip over to Dubai a number of times in the last three months and are finally starting to feel like we have a sense of direction there! It’s a big city and like all of the UAE, the off ramps tend to loop around which means you often drive in the opposite direction to where you should be going before the road loops back around.

    The more time we spend in Duabi, the more the city seems to be growing on us! The architecture there is mind blowing and it’s nice to get out of Abu Dhabi; even driving an hour down the road feels like a mini holiday.

    We spent a night in the city to see Armin Van Buuren play one of his Armin Only gigs.  We’d seen Armin play a few times in the past and though the production was good the music wasn’t particularly to our taste.  Regardless, it was a well overdue night out and Nath’s excited as we’ve booked in to see one of his all time favourite DJs over the summer.

    On their way back from visiting family in Spain, my mum and stepdad swung by Abu Dhabi and spent a week with us. It was such a treat having them here with us!


    We’ve also been branching out and trying a range of restaurants recently – as much as we love Chilli’s and PF Changs, its been great to broaden our options and explore more of Abu Dhabi in the process.  We treated ourselves to the fanciest meal of our lives at the Ritz, enjoyed the atmosphere and amazing pan Latin food at BU!, munched on burgers and crazy shakes at the U-Turn Diner and experienced an Emirati fusion Iftar taster too.

    In mundane news, my word visa come through (I cannot tell you how exciting this is) which has meant that we can now start the process for Nathan’s visa.  We’ve managed fine without having them but life will be easier once they’ve both come through.  With my visa, I’m now a proud holder of an Emirates ID and UAE drivers licence (you can read my practical guide to converting my NZ licence to a local one here – it’s not exciting but will be helpful for other newbies).

    School’s been incredibly busy with our students preparing for (and sitting) their SAT assessments and reports that need to be finished. Last night we celebrated how far they’ve come though, with a graduation evening – they’ve had an awesome year!

    Nath’s been busy with work and by all accounts Chant has had a big few months which is awesome news!

    As we wrap up our last few weeks at school and work, preparations for our European summer continue. I’ll pop our initial plans here – if you’re going to be in those areas or have any recommendations, we’d love to hear from you! Most stops aren’t set in stone quite yet so feedback would be much appreciated.

    1 Comment

  • Reply Jessica Lee December 29, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    Amazing round-up and amazing pictures! <3

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    Monthly Round-Up

    Our First Monthly Round-Up: Dreaming and Doing

    March 5, 2016

    In a bid to keep everyone back home updated and as a personal record our of time away I’m going to have a crack at jotting down what we’ve been up to each month – hopefully life doesn’t get in the way of me doing so, but I guess it’s not a bad thing if it does.

    As it’s still close to the beginning of the year, and I can’t really remember exactly what happened in each month, this first round-up post is going to cover off the beginning of the year…

    We saw the year in in Bratislava, Slovakia, having travelled through parts of Central and Eastern Europe.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard stories of Europe from my mum and dad so it was a bit surreal to finally be visiting some of the places that I know they’ve held dear to their hearts.  The one thing we’d hoped for on our travels was snow and fortunately we hit the jackpot in Budapest on the final days of our trip!

     

    Upon arriving home the post-holiday blues struck but we fought back by booking another trip and finally visiting Ferrari World.  We’d been watching their newest coaster, Flying Aces, rise from the desert since we first arrived in Abu Dhabi and though I’d hoped to wait for it to be finished, I couldn’t resist the call of Formula Rosa any longer (though in retrospect, we should have hung on a little longer.)

    We soon found ourselves back in the swing of work; school has been crazy busy for me (though is starting to settle down again now) and Nathan continued working hard as ever.  The transition from working in a factory filled with people to working from home has had its challenges but when I come home and he’s in his trackies, dancing around the lounge to trance, I figure it can’t be all bad!

    Missing our cats, we put our names forward for some short-term fostering and soon after met Panda.  It was awesome having kitty company again and we really enjoyed having him with us for the month.  I don’t doubt we’ll take another cat on once we’re back from our next trip – the house isn’t quite the same without one.

    We also enjoyed a couple of fun weekends out.  We taxied into town for brunch one day at Etihad Towers (the all-you-can-eat Abu Dhabi institution that it is) and finished off with a relaxed walk past Emirates Palace and down the Corniche and the next day we following a number of top golfers around the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship just over our fence; I can’t even tell you how nice to was to feel such luscious grass under my feet again!  In the hope of seeing flamingos, we went kayaking at The Mangroves another weekend with friends from school and though we only saw them at a real distance, it was great getting out and about in the cooler weather.

     

    The highlight of the past two months (with the exception of the tail end of our European holiday) would undoubtedly be our visit to Jordan over the mid-term break.  Whilst there we visited the Dead Sea, Petra and Wadi Rum and enjoyed chatting to many of the locals.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget riding camels and donkeys through the Lost City of Petra (which has aptly been referred to as the “rose-red city half as old as time”), floating in the surprisingly warm waters at the lowest point on earth and waking up amongst the quiet in the desert after spending the night in a bedouin camp.  For the most part, Jordan ended up being great value for money (yes we got caught a couple of times in tourist traps, but you live and learn) and one of my real travel highlights.

     

    Upon returning to Abu Dhabi, Nathan set off for New Zealand again – he’ll be there for five weeks this time around but I’m trying my best to keep busy by hitting the gym in preparation for our next adventure (bring on Africa!!)  It’s much nicer having him around, but being here by myself is a good reminder that I can get by just fine by myself which is somewhat empowering.

    These past few months were rounded up with a fabulous day out wake boarding with a friend from school (and her friends) – though I loved it, my arms and shoulders certainly protested!  I couldn’t believe how much more difficult it was riding on a continuous loop (compared to going behind a boat of on a straight line) but it was a good challenge and a fun day.

     

    What will this month bring?  More time in the gym (ugh, I don’t understand how some people seem to genuinely enjoy it!) and before too long, our first trip to Africa.  Nathan tells me he’s probably never been more excited for one of our holidays so you know we’re onto a good thing!  Me on the other hand?  I get excited about all our travels!  One of my friends is making the move to Abu Dhabi as well so I’m looking forward to welcoming her, and of course giving Nath a big cuddle when he arrives home.

    So far, it’s been a year of planning and putting our dreams into action – of course living away from home comes with its fair share of challenges and sacrifices, but I feel very fortunate to be living this life for now.

    PS: We’re also currently planning how we’ll spend our summer – so far we’ve booked a cruise that leaves from Venice and travels around the Greek Islands and stops by Turkey.  We’re also planning to explore Italy whilst we’re there, along with visiting Croatia and hopefully Spain.  If you have any must-sees in this area (or can suggest another itinerary), we’d love to hear from you!

    2 Comments

  • Reply Emma @ Adventures of a London Kiwi March 6, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    What an amazing start to the year – and it’s only been 2 months so far!

  • Reply Ed | Dubai Travel Blog March 27, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    That’s quite an adventure! So much can be done within that short period of time.

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