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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
- 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.