Brazil · City · Coast · Outdoor activities · South America

Paraty

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!

City · Peru · South America

Through Nazca to Arequipa

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.

City · Peru · South America

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.

City · Food · Peru · Restaurants · South America

àmaZ

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! 

City · Ecuador · Outdoor activities · South America

Ecuador – the land of ice and fire

Having spent longer in Colombia than planned, Ecuador became a bit of a whistle stop tour to see and do everything I had planned! I started in Quito, the capital, where I spent a few days visiting various churches and museums, including the Museo de la Ciudad and Basilica del Voto Nacional where you can climb up to the top under the roof, did a walking tour of the La Florestra area and saw some cool street art, and visited El Panecillo a huge statue above the city of the Madonna.

I also hiked up to the top of the Pichincha volcano. The TeleferiQo is a cable car which goes from 3117m in the city to 3945m – after that you can walk the rest of the way to the top which is 4600m. It took me just under 2 hours which is quite fast although I did need a few stops on the way to catch my breath as it was quite hard work and the altitude kept giving me a headrush! It was a really sunny, clear day and the views from the top were amazing though – I could see several other volcanos across the country, many with snow-capped peaks.

After Quito I headed to the Amazon and you can read about my damp adventures there in my other blog post.

From Cuyabeno I had a quick overnight stop in Tena before arriving in Baños which is an adventure town in some very green mountains. I visited the hot springs which pour out of the mountain and on a Friday evening were full of three-generations of local families. The next day I went canyoning which was really good fun! The weather wasn’t great but it didn’t really matter when you’re soaking wet anyway!

After Baños I headed to Latacunga where I climbed up to the refuge of Volca Cotopaxi, which at 4800m is the highest point that its currently safe to climb to. Unfortunately the weather was pretty bad with clouds rolling in and a mist engulfing the valley so any view of the surrounding mountains and volcanos was hidden. At the park entrance at 3200m it was only 10 degrees so I have no idea how cold it was at the refuge but it felt freezing! The wind and rain made the 45 minute walk from the car park pretty horrible, especially as the terrain is very gravely. Its hard to walk in the same as sand, although its actually volcanic ash, as for every step you take you then slip back down the slope a little. At least it makes going downhill fast which only took about 15 minutes! After that we walked around Latacunga Lake and had lunch before heading back into Latacunga.

The following day I went to Quilatoa with two French guys, Yannick and Fabien, where we walked around Laguna Quilatoa. The lake is inside a volcanic crater so walking around the rim was actually quite difficult and not very flat at all! We stayed the night in a cosy hostel which thankfully had wood burning stoves in all the rooms as it was very windy and freezing cold!

After being in the centre of the country, I decided to head to Montanita for a few days by the beach. Unfortunately though, the weather was warm but rather grey and cloudy so no sunbathing but lots of boozing and partying!

City · Colombia · South America

Medellín

I travelled by bus to Medellín on Friday morning which took several hours on windy roads through the hills but the views were once again amazing! Medellín was to be my final stop in Colombia which made me rather sad as this country has been amazing! 

My 6 days in Medellín were split into 3 parts. The first 2 nights I spent in El Poblado and went partying until late with people from my hostel on Friday and then went out drinking with Antoine who I’d met in my hostel in the coffee region. I did a few touristy things, visiting Plaza Botero, full of large Botero sculptures, and Museo de Antioquia which houses lots of Colombian art. 

Sunday and Monday were more chilled out – I spent a couple of nights in the Sheraton which was amazing to have a private room with so much space and even a walk in shower! I walked up Cerro Nutibara, an 80m hill in the middle of the city to Pueblito Paisa, a miniature version of a typical Antioquian town. The views along the whole city in the valley were pretty impressive. I also started Spanish lessons in the mornings as I haven’t been picking it up as quickly as I’d like. Although I can often understand people, I can’t always speak back! On Monday afternoon I tried to visit Parque Arvi with Vincent, a Dutch guy who I’d met in Cartagena. We got the cable car to Santa Domingo but the next cable car was closed for maintenance so we couldn’t go any further which was a real shame! 

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I stayed at the Black Pine hostel and continued lessons in the mornings. I was very lucky as no-one else had booked the morning group class so I was basically having private lessons. I also found time to visit the Jardin Botanical, do the famous Medellín walking tour (which was definitely worth while) and catch up with Rachel, who I’d also met in Cartagena, for a couple of nights out. 

Thursday afternoon was the end of my time in Colombia and I have loved this country! It is so diverse and people are so friendly and welcoming. There are so many things that I still haven’t done and would love to come back and do at some point in the future! 

City · Coast · Colombia · South America

Colonial Cartagena

Now the tour had finished, it was time for me to start travelling on my own which I was definitely feeling ready for. I decided to stay in Cartagena for a few more days and moved my stuff to Republica Hostel. I couldn’t check in yet but went for a walk around town visiting the Palacio de la Inquisicíon and Museo del Oro Zenú. The heat is oppressive, particularly in the morning when the humidity is high and just sitting around causes you to sweat!

After grabbing some sushi for dinner I headed to the bar in my hostel and met a few people. An American girl called Anna and I arranged to meet the next morning to go to the beach together. We headed to Bocagrande Beach and as the beach wasn’t amazing, paid for a boat over to a nearby island. The beach on the island was much nicer but everything was so expensive including finding somewhere to sit. Eventually we found a place to lie out on the sand but trying to get sone drinks was a bit of a disaster with waiters trying to charge an extra 30,000 pesos just for us to take a seat on the beach so we headed back to the mainland.

That evening there was a pool party in the hostel and I met more people – mostly solo travellers aged mid-twenties to early-thirties which is very good! However many other people are on 2-4 week holidays just travelling around one country rather than long travels like me. A bunch of us went out for dinner and then a few bars including a salsa club where everyone was so good, I didn’t even dare try!

On Monday a few of us got up early for a day trip to Islas de Rosario and Playa Blanca and unfortunately it was quite a grey, cloudy morning having rained in the early hours which is very unusual for Cartagena. In the islands there was an option to visit an aquarium but I went snorkeling which was more interesting and underwater was warmer! The boat then took us to Playa Blanca for lunch and we had time to relax on the beautiful beach. It was very crowded though as it was a public holiday but we didn’t have time to walk to the quieter part so just enjoyed the warm water and bought drinks from the walking sellers. That evening a large mixed bunch of us from the hostel went to Cafe del Mar on the old walls, Las Murallas, where the views of the sunset directly out to sea were stunning. Many of the group were leaving the following day, including myself, and there was a real ‘end of the holiday’ feeling to the evening which went on pretty late!