So today is my last day of travelling which feels very strange as it has gone past so quickly! It’s a year since I started thinking about this trip and purchased the ‘Lonely Planet – South America on a Shoestring’ in order to start making ideas become a reality.
There have been times when I’ve found it hard being on my own but at the same time, it has been a brilliant, selfish, few months doing exactly what I want to do, when I want to do it! I’ve done so many different things, met so many new people and seen a large chunk of a massive continent! And, for those that know me well, some how managed to avoid a visit to A&E!
I decided to look at the stats of what I’ve covered and to be honest, I’m pretty impressed with myself:
- 135 days of travelling (120 of these solo)
- 8 countries across 2 continents
- 42 villages, towns and cities
- 19 UNESCO World Heritage sites
- 2 of the 7 Wonders of the World plus 2 natural wonders and 1 city wonder
- 19 days of trekking
- loads of different outdoor activities, including cycling, caving, canyoning and white water rafting
- 6 continuous weeks at over 2000m altitude
- 2 of the Top 50 Restaurants in Latin America as well as at least a hundred others
I realise that I’ve been terrible at keeping my blog up to date, but hopefully that’s something I can rectify in the next couple of weeks whilst job hunting back in London. In the meantime, if anyone wants any tips on where to go in South America or on travelling solo, I’d be more than happy oblige!
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When we arrived in Ilha Grande by boat from the mainland, the weather was warm but grey and cloudy which was rather disappointing. The island is predominantly made up of small footpathes of sand and no vehicles are allowed apart from working ones such as tractors.
Thankfully when we woke up the next day the sun was shining!! After breakfast we stopped off to buy things for a picnic and then walked through the forest for 7km.
The path led to several beaches but we pushed on until we reached Lopes Mendes – a 4km bay of pristine white sand and turquoise water. The view was beautiful and so peaceful. The water was freezing though as this was the Atlantic Ocean, but it was very refreshing after walking for a couple of hours. For the trip home we walked back to one of the other beaches and caught a speed boat which as the water was very choppy scared me to death!
On Wednesday morning we had originally planned to head to Rio but changed our plans so that we could stay on Ilha Grande for another day. This time we headed in the opppsite direction and came to Cachoeira de Feticeira, a beautiful 15m waterfall in the forest which a pool underneath that’s big enough for an invigorating swim. We then continued on to another beach for an afternoon of lazing in the sun before getting another, smoother, speed boat back to Abraão.
Basically an awesome few days hiking and lying in the sun which now that I’m near the end of my trip, I definitely needed!
From Foz do Iguaçu we flew to Rio in a couple of hours rather than talking the 24 hour bus! We had then booked a transfer to Paraty on the south coast. We had to wait a while for other people to join the transfer so unfortunately the whole day was spent travelling. However we arrived to find that the bar for out hostel was on the beach so went straight there for some cocktails.
Friday was a sunny day so we spent most of it on the beach. As I hadn’t been to the beach since Ecuador, and even then it was very cloudy, this was a very welcome chill out day, particularly after the late nights I’d had in Buenos Aires.
The town of Paraty itself is a very pretty Colonial town with cobbled, pedestrianised streets and beautiful white buildings with brightly painted doors and window frames. There are loads of little boutique shops and plenty of restaurants which makesthe standard very high and difficult to choose from each night!
Saturday was also a beach day but we went kayaking too. Sunday was grey again but warm so we walked around the town and having seen a lot of posed Insta photos being taken, we tried a few of our own!
On Sunday morning I flew from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu to meet Nick, who is a friend from uni and an old housemate. It was so nice walking into the hostel and seeing a friendly face having had to make new friends every time I moved somewhere new for the last 4 months! We spent the afternoon catching up over a few beers and planning the next couple of days.
On Monday morning, the rain was torrential but seemed to be easing off so we decided to brave it and headed to see the Argentinean side of the famous Iguazu Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
At the top of the Devil’s Hole there was a huge amount of spray flying into the air so it didn’t matter that it was raining! We followed the various walkways above the waterfalls and marvelled at the views, taking in the Brazilian side too.
On Tuesday morning after another wet start we took the bus over the border to Foz do Iguaçu. The weather had improved but we wanted to keep a whole day for Iguaçu Falls so instead we went to see the Itaipu Dam. During building the dam obliterated a set of waterfalls larger than Iguaçu but is the second largest hydroelectric dam in the world and powers nearly all of Paraguay’s electricity and 15% of Brazil’s.
Wednesday was a super sunny day and we decided to see the falls from a different angle and took a helicopter ride over the top! The views were amazing and you can really appreciate the size of the waterfalls as well as see the river stretching off in opposite directions on either side.
Once inside the park we followed the main footpath along the falls which gives lots of views of the Argentinean side. The path winds down the hill and gets closer and closer to the water until you can follow a walkway to stand right in front of one of the falls. The volume of water and the sound it makes is incredible!! Also the amount of spray means that you’re soaked as soon as you step onto the walkway but in the heat its very welcome!
We finished off the day with cocktails on the terrrace of the Belmont Hotel with a fabulous view of the other side.
Food and wine in Argentina has been on a different level to everything else in South America! Strong malbecs, juicy steaks and hot empanadas have all been tempting me and I have definitely been indulging!
It started in Mendoza, my first stop in Argentina, where there were so many great looking restaurants and I decided to treat myself. One day I went on a cycling wine tour through Maipu, one of the wine areas south of Mendoza. Throughout the day we cycled to 3 different wineries, trying a couple of wines in each one, an organic olive oil producer, and a craft brewer. Lunch was served at the second winery with proscuitto sandwiches and ham and cheese empanadas.
Dinner most nights has been steak – even if its not cooked exactly how I like it, its always tender and juicy.
There are also loads of ice cream places, mostly providing gelato style ice cream, highly influenced by the large number of Italian immigrants over the last century. The most popular flavour is Dulce de Leche and there are several variations too, all of which I can confirm are amazing!
Empanadas are everywhere and make a great snack or a few together for lunch. I’ve tried to find a cooking class to learn how to make them and there are a few around but generally pretty expensive so I might have to do trial and error at home!
The bus left Huacachina after lunch and stopped for a tour of a Pisco factory, which is the local spirit, normally used for making Pisco Sour cocktails.
The next stop was at a viewing platform just off the main road in order to see some of the Nazca Lines. The lines are various drawings and patterns spread across the landscape in southern Peru. They have been there for thousands of years having bewn created by the indigeneous tribe known as the Nazca. Today no one knows why they were created but most likely as images for their gods.
After spending the night on the bus and getting to see the sun rise, I arrived in Arequipa at 7am. After some breakfast and a shower I headed off to one of the city’s main attractions, the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. Having housed thousands of nuns over the years, the convent is huge and basically a city within a city, with its own streets, policies and way of working. The colours around this small city were beautiful and were really highlighted by the sun, although having outside walls made it very hot.
Leaving Lima, I started a bus tour called Peru Hop which gave me a set route from Lima all the way to La Paz in Bolivia via most of the main tourist stops. However the tour gave me the opportunity to make the journey my own by choosing which towns to stay in and how long I stayed in each one. It also does direct pick up and drop off from hostels and helps organise tours and activities so I felt it was going to make life pretty easy andhopefully give me the chance to meet other travellers.
The first stop off was a town on the coast called Paracas, a couple of hours drive south of Lima. I had decided not to stay in Paracas but there was time to do a boat trip around Ballestas Island which is full of different birds, including grey-footed boobies and penguis, and seals.
The next stop, which was also the final one of the day so the overnight stop, was Hucachina. This tiny town is an oasis in the dessert and the only activities here are sand buggies and dune boarding!
I had decided to stay in an ecocamp which meant some serious glamping with an awesome pool – good for some sunbathing after being so cold in Lima!
The bus from Huarez to Lima ended up taking nearly 10 hours as the Friday evening traffic around the city was so bad. I had originally planned to find a fun hostel for the weekend but as I still had no voice, opted for a B&B instead. I was staying in the Miraflores district which has plenty of bars and restaurants and is close to the tourist attractions in the centre.
On Saturday morning I headed into the city by bus. The bus system in Lima is very good with several fast lines on segregated lanes on the main roads and so can move around pretty quickly. Payment is via a contactless card similar to an Oyster which felt very modern, particularly after the bus system in Ecuador.
At Plaza Mayor, I just happened to get there in time to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony outside the Palacio de Gobierno, complete with marching band. After some lunch I walked through Plaza San Martin to the Museo de Arte which houses a real mix of different art from stone and textiles created by a variety of indigenous tribes, religious art once the conquistadors arrived, and more recent work, often influenced by European artists from the Impressionist onwards.
As I was feeling much better, despite still not being able to talk, I took myself out for dinner to an awesome Peruvian restaurant called àmaZ, where all the dishes are inspired by the Amazon. More details on the amazing food in a separate blog post.
On Sunday I had a fairly chilled out day wandering along the coastal path and had proper Peruvian ceviche for lunch, although I’ve decided that I’m not a huge fan.
Monday was my last day in Lima so I visited the cathedral and Archbishop’s Palace as well as some more pre-Colombian ruins called Huaca Pucllana, made from adobe and clay. Located right in the centre of the Miraflores area, they were originally in a pyramid shape.
Whilst in Lima I decided to treat myself to dinner at àmaZ, where all the food is inspired by the Amazon. It is also listed as one of the up and coming restaurants by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants so I thought definitely worth a try! I sat at the bar and started with a Pisco Sour, a cocktail made from the local spirit Pisco. It contains egg white and lemon juice as well as Angostura Bitters so is quite sour (who would’ve thought!) but is very yummy!
The restaurant serves many of the starters in half portions so I decided to try one as an appetiser with my cocktail. I chose Amazonian Snail, which was served back inside the massive shell! In many ways this was much better than French snails which have been enveloped in garlic butter, as I could taste the delicate but earthy flavour of the snail itself and it definitely was rubbery, just slightly chewy.
As a starter I had tuna and passion fruit ceviche. Served with very soft avocado which balanced the acidity of the passion fruit, this was the best ceviche I have ever had!
For main course I had Amazonian fish cooked with onions and tomatoes inside a bamboo leaf. Soft and delicate, all the flavour remained in the juices floating inside the leaf. I asked the sommelier for a suitable glass of white wine to accompany the dish and was given a Spanish white Rioja, which I’m not usually a fan of, but it went very well with the fish and the slight acidity and sweetness from the tomatoes and onions.
After all that food, I was sadly far too full for dessert as they looked amazing!
So an expensive meal for Peru but relatively cheap compared to London. A cocktail, glass of wine, bottle of water, appetiser, starter and main course all came to a grand total of £45. A fab treat for me!
After three days staying at Kamala Beach Lodge in Montañita, I was feeling a bit broken. Going to bed once its already light and doing shots before breakfast will do that to you apparently! As I’d lost my voice completely and had a bad cough and aore throat, I decided to take it easy until I was feeling better and able to socialise again.
I took the overnight bus from Guayaguil in Ecuador to Trujillo in Peru which took 18 hours including the stop at passport control. The bus was much nicer than everything else I’d travelled on so far and it had been only $10 more to go first class so I had a seat that reclined further, my own tv as well as dinner and breakfast. Thankfully I slept most of the way and got to Trujillo at 9am.
I had booked into a hotel for the night and was able to check in straight away. I had a wander around the colonial old town and then went to visit some pre-Colombian ruins outside the town called Chan Chan. As the city is very near the coast, most of the walls are made with adobe bricks containing a lot of sand and its the largeat ruin in the world of adobe. Many of the decorations appear to be made from compacted sand and are quite impressive particularly as they are so old. Many of them are now refurbished but some are still the originals.
As I was still feeling rubbish, I decided to change my plans slightly and rather than taking a couple of night buses as I headed to Lima in order to have more time for activities during the day, I took the buses during the day instead. My next stop was Huaraz which meant travelling back into the mountains from sea-level, up to 3000m. The views from the bus during the 8 hour journey were amazing as Huaraz is located between two mountain ranges, Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra. I was staying in a lovely little guesthouse called
where I had breakfast on the sunny roof terrace both mornings. Even from here in the town, the mountains are amazing and the two ranges give a beautiful contrast to each other.
On the one full day I had in Huaraz, the weather was really sunny so I felt that I had to do something outside, particularly as I’d changed the plans and was rather disappointed that I wasn’t feeling up to doing a couple of full day treks that had been on my list – the dry air because of the altitude was also really not helping my cough. I walked up and out of the town for 2 hours to some pre-Colombian ruins which looked very striking with the white hills behind them. Unfortunately the trek had left me feeling exhausted so to get back into town I jumped into a collectivo, a beaten up old minibus that acts as a cheap bus!
Next day was the bus to Lima.