A Summer in South America

Four countries, 7 flights, 14 bus journeys, 2 boat rides, one train and 3962 kilometers. I can safely say that I survived and loved the wilder side of the Americas. Six weeks spent travelling in Latin America gave me a slice, although brief of the incredible sights, natural wonders and colourful cultures that South America offers.

THE TRIP

Peru was the first stop. It all began with a slight hiccup, arriving into Lima in the middle of the night to find that I had booked the hostel for the wrong month! I was thrown straight into negotiating in Spanish with a slightly confused receptionist and an angry travel companion, but in the end it all worked out. Surprisingly, this was the biggest problem we faced on the entire trip! Machu Picchu the ancient Incan city enveloped in the clouds attracts thousands of tourists every year. The historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu was undeniably one of the highlights of the trip. We climbed up Huayna Picchu, the mountain that stands in the background of Machu Picchu. The summit displays breathtaking views of the Incan citadel. Although the hike to the summit is slightly terrifying and rather challenging, it is arguably a ‘must do’ when visiting the ruins. Peru is a diverse landscape and aside from exploring the remnants of ancient civilizations there is plenty more to see and do. From sand buggying in desert oasis of Huacachina, to exploring the colonial white walled city of Arequipa, or the mysterious Andes in which you can get kitted out in Alpaca jumpers and socks, there is something for everyone.

fullsizeoutput_49c7

After spending two weeks in Peru we crossed to Bolivia at Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Throughout Peru and Bolivia, we travelled predominately using the bus company Peru Hop. This a new and highly recommended company run by two Irish men that fell in love with South America and simply couldn’t leave! Travelling with Peru Hop made our first backpacking trip a little less scary and much more efficient than the alternatives. We also enjoyed meeting many likeminded people on the buses, especially when faced with a long sixteen-hour journey. Whilst in Bolivia we visited La Paz the administrative capital and Salar de Uyuni the worlds largest salt flat. Unbeknown to us the day after we arrived in La Paz was independence day. No one could have prepared us for the madness that was to ensue, Bolivians certainly know how to party! With a slightly sore head we took the long night bus to Salar de Uyuni, even with our Alpaca attire we definitely felt the cold! We opted for a three day salt flat tour and were extremely glad we did so. The scenery was beautiful, vast and ever changing from snow to hot springs to desert.

IMG_5148

Salt flats in Uyuni

It took four flights from Salar de Uyuni to finally arrive in Rio de Janeiro, the carnival city. It felt liked we had entered a completely different continent, with the city appearing to be much wealthier and with a tropical climate. Rio is famed for being the Cidade Maravilhosa and it is undisputedly beautiful, but it was here that we felt the most concerned for our safety. We cautiously explored the sights with horror stories of other travelers etched in our memories. In Rio we stayed in Ipanema a trendy affluent neighborhood. Our hostel advised that we used Uber, the safest method of transport in Rio in order to navigate the cities sights. Armed with reliable advice on how to stay safe in Rio we came to love the city despite it’s reputation. The views from both Sugar Loaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer were incredible. After a few days we escaped from the bustle of the city to Illha Grande, an island roughly 70 km from Rio along the Costa Verde. Picture a paradise island with white sandy beaches and palm trees, that was Illha Grande! We spent a week hiking around the island, sunbathing, eating acai bowls and forgetting about real life. Illha Grande was the ideal place to relax and recuperate from our colds caught in the minus temperatures in Bolivia

IMG_5748

 

From Illha Grande we caught a boat back to Rio, then flew to Foz de Igauçu. It was here we first experienced the incredible waterfalls of Iguazu which straddle the border between Brazil and Argentina. The Brazilian side delivers an extraordinary panoramic vista whereby you can appreciate the full scale of the waterfalls. In contrast, the Argentinean side immerses you in the falls (quite literally), and the local raccoon community. From Puerto Igauzu we flew to Buenos Aires, our final stop. We were scammed by our taxi driver on route to our hostel but this was soon forgotten when we discovered the Malbec (so cheap and so good!). The capital city was distinctly European in style and we felt like we could have been in Barcelona. We particularly enjoyed visiting the markets in San Telmo, this was my favorite district lined with quirky shops and alternative bars.

IMG_5991

People often ask why South America? It is true that it can be considered more expensive, and potentially more dangerous in comparison to other backpacking destinations. This being said I will always recommend South America as a continent rich with diversity and history, exuberant with life and passion. I only visited four countries of the fourteen that constitute South America, but you are missing out if you don’t go! I can’t wait to return and see the rest!

TOP TIPS

  • It can be cheaper if you plan a trip independently as opposed to using companies such as STA.
  • Learn some of the language. Knowing some key phrases can not only go a long way with the locals but can in fact keep you safe!
  • When in a new city the best way to get orientated is a free walking tour. Informative and affordable, as well as being a great opportunity to meet fellow travelers.
  • Download the app Maps.Me, it was a lifesaver! It requires no internet and it gives detailed and easy maps to follow.
  • Pre-arrange transport with your hostel when possible, especially if arriving late at night. It will save money and be the safest option.
Advertisements

WHY I LOVE AIR BnB

Canoeing on the waters of Puget Sound. Swimming in a private beach backing on to the Adriatic Sea. Drinking cocktails in secret bars in Rome. Why would you not book with Air BnB?

It is known that Air BnB has always received a torrent of bad publicity and criticism. This has been exemplified in websites and articles such as ‘www.airbnbhell.com’. These websites are contributed to by a growing number of disgruntled customers and hosts alike. Organised online communities and social media forums, that share horror stories give an eyeopening insight into the genuine issues that affect the customers of Air BnB. The company is attributed as the responsible party for pushing out locals out of their hometowns. Thus contributing to the soaring rent epidemics in cities such as New York and London. Air BnB has become renown for it’s poor customer service, as well as endangering guests and hosts with it’s lack of safety requirements. These are valid and serious issues which need to be addressed. If you have never used Air BnB it is easy to be deterred by the seemingly overwhelming negatives.

However,  in my opinion as a student who loves to travel, Air BnB  offers a unique, affordable and overall better quality accommodation option than the alternatives, for numerous reasons.

Firstly, Air BnB is affordable and gives you the best value for money when you share with friends. For example, last summer eight friends and I booked an apartment in the centre of Budapest. For this accommodation we were only paying £9 a night each. A shared dorm in a chain hostel without the luxury amenities, would most likely be the same price. The apartment was open plan, modern and as an added bonus… Instagram worthy! We had access to a fully equipped kitchen and laundry room which enabled us to cook our own meals and save money. We were able to comfortably explore Budapest from this location.

8 bed apartment in Budapest

The second reason why I love Air BnB is because it encourages you to visit districts neighbourhoods, and perhaps even countries you may not have considered before. When visiting Rome in the height of summer it was a struggle to find cheap central accommodation.  We stumbled across a room on Air BnB a 20 minute subway ride away in a residential area called Pigneto. I am so glad that we had the opportunity to experience this unique neighbourhood. After an exhausting and swelteringly hot day exploring Rome’s tourist packed sites, we spent a relaxed evening in Pigneto. The neighbourhood has an authentic, local and artsy feel. Pigneto is packed with an abundance of good restaurants and bars, at a fraction of the prices in the centre. In fact, one of last summers coolest finds was a speakeasy bar called Spirito in the Pigneto neighbourhood. It was disguised as a butchers shop in true prohibition style and it served up delicious cocktails and food. We spent the following morning looking around the cool boutiques, art galleries and coffee shops lining the streets.

IMG_6837

The Pigneto neighbourhood has been compared to as the Brooklyn of Rome

fullsizeoutput_2e0e

Spirito Speakeasy style bar

The next reason is the unique quirks that you don’t get when staying in typical accommodation, for instance the views and the facilities. Dubrovnik is an expensive touristy town meaning that we had to stay a 15 minute walk outside of the city walls. The walk was compensated with a spectacular roof top terrace with access to one of the best views of the old town. Other locations with unique views include Mljet Island in Croatia which I have spoken more about in Adriatic Paradise. In addition we found a great Air BnB in Washington State with breathtaking scenery. We stayed in the ground floor apartment of a 3 story house overlooking the bay. We had access to the private beach through the garden. We made use of the kayaks available in the house and were able to get a real taste of living on the west coast.

IMG_6052

Sunset from our rooftop terrace, Dubrovnik

IMG_5866

Private Beach in Sobra, Mljet

Furthermore hosts often have an extensive knowledge of the local area which can be another advantage of booking with Air BnB.  Our host in Mljet, Croatia invited us for coffee which was a nice opportunity to share travel tips and differences in culture. The host even helped us get from the ferry port to his apartment with his mother giving us a lift. Another host had set up a smores kit for us to enjoy upon our arrival. I have had many positive encounters with Air BnB hosts who are happy to help with directions and always offer their invaluable local knowledge.

img_7981

Free kayaks in our Air BnB Case Inlet, southern Puget Sound, Washington State

IMG_7938

Smores

IMG_7799

Beach house views in Puget Sound, Washington State.

IMG_7871

Back garden in our Washington State Air B&B

I have had great number of positive Air BnB stays. however it is important to note that I have had some experiences which weren’t quite as I expected.  The key to getting the most out of Air BnB is to keep your expectations in check. Remember you are not staying in a hotel! If something appears too good to be true, it probably is. You should exercise caution when booking with Air BnB as with any other accommodation.

TOP TIPS

  1. Read Reviews. It is important to look at reviews on the listings as they can highlight problems or issues with the property or host.
  2. Always message potential hosts. In order to see if they can meet your requirements and make the arrangements so there is no confusion.
  3. Never pay outside of the Air BnB website.

 

PURA VIDA

RUM, RACOONS AND RAINSTORMS- A DAY IN QUEPOS

The costal port town of Quepos is situated on the Pacific south of Costa Rica. Known as the gateway to nearby national park Manuel Antonio, as well as for it’s edgy, laid back, “I want to spend my gap year here and surf” feel.

We drove to Quepos from Monte Verde the Mountainous highlands. With little regard for our safety, our bus careered down crumbling mountain roads, as we left the cloud forests behind. The tantalising glimpses of the Pacific Ocean, did however compensate our anxiety ridden journey. We stopped of at El Rio Tarcoles, an emergent stop off point turned tourist destination by some lucrative locals. Under the bridge rested over 20 6ft crocodiles, a mere stones throw from the road. Apparently a local tradition was to entice the crocodiles by tempting them with meat.

IMG_1466

After settling in, we got a public bus from our hotel in the neighbouring port to the seaside resort of Manuel Antonio. The bus station itself an eventful occasion, a bin overflowing had a swarm of bees, one which stung a child. The natural response of this child’s parent was to set the bin on fire in the crowded bus station!   

Arriving during torrential rain, we didn’t complain for it was pleasant, warm and we needed the refreshment. Clutching  a coconut water freshly cut with a machete as long as your arm ( slightly alarming), we walked through jungle lined paths with howler monkeys scrambling over our heads, sloths sleepily hanging and the dense sound of the forest encompassing us. Finally an opening to a beach beating anything I had seen before. Clear blue water and pure white sand stretched before us nestled amongst with the lush jungle foliage backdrop.

IMG_1461

How could we resist but to scramble head long to the warm inviting waves of the tranquil bay. Paddling in the warm water was absolute bliss. Yet beware! Racoons were opportunistically ransacking peoples bags, scouting for a cheeky snack. Luckily our bags were unscathed, but some fellow beachgoers were not so fortunate. 

After exploring the other side of the bay barefoot, we soon realised the abundance of hermit crabs necessitated the worlds worst combination of sand and trainers. We discovered another beach around the peninsula, with a wonderful absence of any tourists we thought ourselves lucky to find a private slice of paradise. After I bravely took a dip the strong current and powerful waves explained the empty waters. Whilst a wave knocked me off my feet dragging me under, my caring mother, oblivious to my potential danger continued to take pictures of the scenic panorama surrounding us. A reminder of the danger of relaxing too much in a place so wild.

Unfortunately the park closed at 5pm to provide a peaceful sanctuary for all the amazing wildlife. We left along the winding paths through the forest seeing a three toed sloth just hanging  wonderfully camouflaged right there from the tree, our first of that kind.  To round off a wonderful day we sat on the nearby public beach whilst the locals galloped their ponies and watched the sunset.

Dinner was an interesting affair we went to a restaurant recommended by our guide Brian, he seemed to be connected to at least someone in every place in Costa Rica. As the sun set the music got louder, a mixture of Jamaican bass and reggae roots played by colourful characters in the restaurant we ate at. I had the best fajitas accompanied by strawberry mojitos!!! A young, free and easy vibe permeated through the seafront restaurant, bars and clubs, oozing summer freedom. Even the tropical rainfall on our outdoor tables did not dampen spirits. A few too many strawberry mojitos and it was time to leave and catch the chicken bus back to our hotel, but that’s another story!

img_4139.jpg

 

 

ADRIATIC PARADISE

IMG_5780

CROATIAS BEST KEPT SECRET

The island of MIjet hugs the Dalmatian coast.  Known for its beautiful scenery and serenity, it is not the typical stop for a group of 18 year old inter railers. However, wanting to relax after three weeks of roughing it in European cities, MIjet seemed ideal. We were all glad we chose, albeit completely randomly, to visit this Croatian gem.

The AirBnB we used was situated in Sobra, a sleepy costal village in the north of the island. Our apartment had a private beach accompanied with panoramic views of the Adriatic ocean. This luxury came at £14 a night each. Fair to say we were very happy with our internet trawling.

Our first day was spent in the national park of MIjet. We arrived in Pomena port mid-morning after catching the 3 hour ferry from Split. Our hospitable AirBnB host took our rucksacks in his car and we were free to explore for the rest of the day.

It cost 50,00K, roughly £6.00, for student entrance into the national park, which included a boat trip to the island of St Mary. The park encompassed two salt water lakes, surrounded by forest trails and greenery. The day was spent lounging in the sun and swimming in the warm waters. We practically had the park to ourselves, unlike Krka Falls in Split.

Before we left to catch the late afternoon ferry to Sobra from Poláce, we took a boat to Sveta Marija, in order to eat lunch at the converted monastery. You could easily spend a week at the park swimming, cycling and canoeing. We wished we had more time here.

 

img_1118

We spent the remainder of our days eating fresh seafood at one of the two restaurants in Sobra, lazing at the beach and on our balcony recuperating from our past month of euro travelling and partying.

Mljet is a place for true escapism. Regardless of your age or budget it is an amazing place to visit to relax and unwind. Not as popular as other Croatian islands, you don’t have to contest with annoying tourists- you have it all to yourself !

Me and my friends only experienced a glimpse of Mljet island life, yet from what we saw we loved. I would recommend it to everyone… but I don’t want anyone knowing about real life paradise of course!

 TOP TIPS FOR MLJET ISLAND

  • Bring a book to help you chill out, internet is unreliable so you may as well disconnect for a while!
  • Don’t rely on public transport or taxis. We had the fortune of a helpful host who aided us with transport. You may need to consider a car.
  • Make sure you have enough cash, only a few businesses take card and cash machines are sparse, only located in ferry ports and big hotels.
IMG_5866.JPG
View from our Air B&B 
https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/6441509