Iguazu Falls, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo: the final chapter in South America

I am now writing this post nearly a month after concluding my journey in South America. How I have managed to get so far behind is a mixture of being extremely busy and extremely lazy. I apologise to anyone who has been waiting to hear the conclusion of my adventures. Writing this post has been on my mind nearly everyday and perhaps I have been putting it off because I didn’t want to believe that chapter of my story is over. But now that I have been in Canada for nearly a month, I am starting to come to terms with my changing circumstances and lifestyle. While my adventures are not so varied, they are still exciting. I have been very fortunate to have experienced so much in such a short space of time and I’ll look back over this record in the future with happiness and nostalgia.

And so, now it is time to conclude the final chapter of my South American backpacking trip with a 10 day highlights of my time in Brazil. I had intended to spend two weeks in Brazil at least, but as is always the way, you never have enough time to do everything. Brazil is a huge country and I knew that there would be no way to get a flavour of the whole place in such a short space of time, so I limited myself to three popular southern highlights: Iguazu Falls, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Iguazu Falls

This spectacular natural beauty really does deserve a post of it’s own. I remember saying before I arrived in Iguazu that I’m sure the falls would be beautiful but I doubted they could compare to the awesomeness of Angel Falls in Venezuela – the first stop on my trip. This proud assertion couldn’t be more mistaken.

The falls sit on the border between Argentina and Brazil – luckily I had enough time to see them from both sides. Most travellers only see one side but I’m so glad I got to see both. I couldn’t pick a favourite side though. In Argentina you are above and below the falls, and the main attraction is the platform that comes out onto the top of the Devil’s Throat. From there you can see the huge mass of water come over the top of the falls and crash down into a foamy expanse at the foot of the cliff. This part of the national park is supposed to be the busiest but I think I must have chosen the perfect time to reach the end of the platform because there was plenty of space to enjoy the view. There is an opportunity to take a boat trip into the falls on the Argentinean side but I decided it was too expensive and I had been on a lot of boats recently.

The next day I crossed into Brazil, finally leaving Argentina, with some friends I had met in Peru and Bolivia. It wasn’t the smoothest of crossings as the bus driver forgot to stop at border control so we could get passport stamps. Instead, he left us 200 metres into Brazil on the side of the road with our bags. We walked back to the border, got our stamps and waited for the next bus. Luckily we were staying at the same hostel – a very cool Tetris container hostel – so we travelled together the whole way and went to the Brazil side of Iguazu together as well.

The Brazil side of the falls is just as spectacular. From there you get a panoramic view of the falls on all sides, ending with a platform that takes you into the middle of the base of the Devil’s Throat and covers you in spray. The weather was perfect on both sides but because of the spray, the Brazil side was covered in rainbows. I haven’t seen such intense rainbows before and they really added to the magic of the scene. We were very glad that we had gone when we did because it rained all the next day.

I can’t recommend one side more that the other, they were both amazing and equally priced. You don’t need to book a group tour to see either, the public buses are regular and inexpensive and the beauty of the falls speak for themselves. This was really one of my favourite parts of my whole South American experience. It’s definitely a must-see for any travel enthusiast.

Rio de Janeiro

From Foz de Iguassu (the closest town to the falls in Brazil) I flew to Rio de Janeiro – pronounced by Brazilians as “Hieo” instead of Rio. Annoyingly for the four days I was there, the weather wasn’t great. It was hot and humid and cloudy. I didn’t get to enjoy the famous crystalline beaches like I’d planned but I did get to know more of the culture than I had expected. I started out with a walking tour, as always, to get my bearings of the city and learn about the history. This was a pretty good walking tour by comparison to some of the others and so I decided to also pay for the food tour the same company offered. It was good value and something I hadn’t done up to this point in the three and a half months I had been travelling. Although I couldn’t name any of the dishes it was delicious food and interesting to see the Caribbean influence. I also tried a lot of coxinha’s while I was in Rio, which are shredded chicken and cream cheese, covered in a dough and then fried. They’re made in the shape of a tear drop but it’s supposed to resemble a chicken thigh, apparently. They are extremely unhealthy, but also extremely delicious.

Later I took the cable cart up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain just in time for the sunset. Unfortunately the clouds got in the way for most of it and I was taken off guard by the strong winds but it was still a beautiful place to see panoramic views of the city.

The next day I decided to take an early morning stroll along the famous Copacabana beach, despite the bad weather. I was very nervous of being robbed but I decided to take my phone anyway as I really wanted to take pictures. In the end I had no problems and there were others with their phones. I could almost imagine how busy that beach is in the summer but I don’t think I could have stood the heat anyway.

My final highlight of Rio was visiting the huge botanical gardens. They weren’t disturbed by the weather at all and, again, I could just imagine how lush and green they would be in summer. There is a sensory garden with lot of different smells for those with disabilities, a huge number of cacti, a large orchid greenhouse, a rose garden planted in a spiral formation, a palm tree lined path, beautiful and ornate water fountains and a Japanese garden which I’m sure is beautiful too when the lilies are in bloom. I’m not interested in gardening but I do love the colours and shapes of these kinds of botanical gardens, and this was probably my favourite part of Rio de Janeiro.

São Paulo

I left Rio on a rainy morning and arrived in São Paulo, the final stop on my destination, just as it was starting to get dark. It was a surreal feeling knowing that I wouldn’t be visiting anywhere else in South America. This would be my last hostel on the continent after staying in more than 30 in just four months. But I had something to look forward to in São Paulo, I would be visiting two friends who lived there that I had met trekking in Venezuela. So in a way, it would feel like ending at the beginning.

First I had a day to myself to explore the city and see some culture so I started with a walking tour – of course. The guide for the tour was one of the best I’ve had, although the route did seem to be based around areas where we could get discounts from their tour at rather than sights to see. It did, however, take us down the famous Batman Alley where you can see São Paulo’s most famous graffiti art. If you’ve followed along, you’ll know that I am a big fan of graffiti and murals so this was right up my street. We even got to meet one of the artists who was riding by on a bicycle!

I also went to the São Paulo Museum of Art on Paulista Avenue, one of the city’s most famous streets. Although the main exhibition on sexuality wasn’t to my taste, there was another interesting exhibition on the top floor that displayed the artwork on clear pieces on acrylic so it looked like it was floating, suspended in mid air. All the information about the artwork and artist was on the back of the piece of work so you would make judgements about the art itself before finding out more. The work ranged from 16th century to 21st century as you moved your way through the exhibition.

The next day, my friends Wyllyan and Aline met me at my hostel and whisked me away on a locals adventure to a food market in the centre of the city where I tasted lots of unusual, exotic fruit and then we had lunch in a restaurant upstairs in the market. The building was built like a London train station with a big, arched ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows. It had far more sophistication than any market I’ve seen in London.

After lunch we walked around the city centre, visited an amazing cathedral, went to the Japanese part of town (like chinatown in London), watched a weird 3D commercial film at the São Paulo Stock Exchange building and admired the architecture which resembled Gringotts Bank from Harry Potter, in my eyes.

The park we had planned to see on my final day in South America was closed because of a Yellow Fever outbreak so we steered clear of that. Instead, we went to Ibirapuera Park in the city which has a stunning lake, ducks and swans, lots of trees with brightly coloured flowers and people running or riding bikes. It reminded me of a tropical version of Victoria Park in London. It was very peaceful in the daytime but apparently at weekends it’s very busy.

Then we went to another art gallery which we browsed around and Wyllyan’s cousin, who worked there, took us up to the rooftop to see the amazing panoramic view of the city. São Paulo has more skyscrapers and cars than I’ve ever seen and from that viewpoint you could really get a sense of how immense in was.

For my final meal in South America, a place where I’ve tried a lot of new and delicious food, Wyllyan offered to cook spaghetti bolognese for me, as he knew it was my favourite meal and his family are Italian. So to pick up ingredients we went to a place called Eataly – well, I could have lived there forever. They had everything Italian you could eat: fresh pasta, fresh mozzarella, gelato, wine, pizza. I tried at least five types of mozzarella and watched them make fresh pasta by hand. This might not sound very Brazilian but São Paulo is said to have the biggest Italian population outside of Italy so this food has very much become part of Brazilian culture.

The meal was very delicious and before I knew it we were all in the car on the way to the airport and my time in South America was up. I was a mix of nerves and excitement as I sat on the plane waiting to take off – probably a lot more of the former than the latter. I had no concrete plans made for Canada beyond the first few days; I’ve never lived abroad before and I had used quite a bit more of my funds in South America than I had planned. I would no longer be moving place to place, meeting new people everyday but settling down in a town I’d never been to, where I knew no one and finding a job after five months without working. Yes, I was scared. But I also knew I was too scared to go back to London yet, without a plan or a purpose. In the four months I had spent in South America I had hoped some kind of divine idea would strike me about where I saw my life and my career going – but instead I think I buried the problem at the back of my head and enjoyed the time I had.

As you can tell, I’ve made it to Canada and I’ve been living in Whistler for nearly a month – so I haven’t completely messed up yet. But I’m far from what I’d call settled in. I’ll just have to patient and see how it goes. Who knows, I might love it here and never come back to the UK – but it’s far too early to make those kind of decisions yet.

48 hours is not enough in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aries, the capital of Argentina and my first stop after a month in Patagonia, is the sixth largest city in South America and far too big for me to cover in just 48 hours. Why did I spend such a short time in this beautiful metropolis? Unfortunately, I was a victim to my own ambition, trying to fit too many destinations into just four months. With only two weeks left of my South America trip and four destinations still to visit (Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo) I decided that Buenos Aires had more than enough attractions to warrant a whole trip to itself in the future. Also, the Latin America Art Museum (MALBA) which I really wanted to visit was closed for the whole of October – so I would have to come back.

Although I only had a short time in Buenos Aires, I tried to make the most of it and still managed to fit a lot of sights into just 48 hours.

City walking tour

My usual first stop in any big city is to do a “free” walking tour (they call them free but you still have to tip a fair amount). They always help you to get your bearings of the city, it’s easy to meet people and you can get some good tips of what’s worth seeing during your stay. I perhaps wasn’t as prepared as I should have been for this walking tour, setting off with just 30% battery power on my phone, but it was interesting all the same and gave me a good excuse to spend ages having a long lunch instead of traipsing around the cemetery taking pictures.

I learnt about the Argentinean people’s thoughts and feelings around the Falklands War and how it affected their communities, saw the building voted the ‘ugliest building in Buenos Aires’ and compared that different types of architecture across the city (most people think there are European-style colonial buildings in Buenos Aires but there aren’t). Although I’ve been on some better walking tours across the course of my trip, I’d still recommend it as a good start.

The Pink Palace at sunset

After a good nap (I had arrived at 2am after a delayed flight), I went to see the famous Pink Palace and Plaza de Mayo. Just as I was approaching the palace, I saw the end of a changing of the guards kind of ceremony. The Pink Palace was not as spectacular as Buckingham Palace, of course, but it was still worth seeing. By the time I’d got there the sun was just starting to set as well so it added to the pink colouring. It is situated in a pretty plaza with bright white architecture surrounding it and it is a great place to view the sunset from for a few minutes of peace and quiet in the bustling city. It would have been nice after this to eat out in a classy restaurant but still on a strict budget I settled for a couple of gin and tonics in the rooftop bar of my hostel.

Ecological Reserve

The next day I was sure to make the most of my time in Buenos Aires by getting up early to run around the Ecological Reserve, located right in the city centre. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures from this as I was scared of getting robbed so I didn’t take my phone. This was an unnecessary fear as it wasn’t a remotely dangerous place to run. I didn’t realise before I set off that this was actually the same morning as the Buenos Aires marathon and the route I had planned would cross the official route multiple time. This was the first run I’d done in three months, despite telling myself and others before I left that I would be running all the time. I was a quite ambitious with my route and ended up running for over an hour and a half which was certainly more than I was physically capable of.

Once I reached it, the Ecological Reserve was a beautiful place to run around with serval lakes and beaches. The skyline in the distance was a nice contrast to the surrounding greenery of the park.

San Telmo Sunday street market

After a slow shower, I was already feeling the effects of running for too long, I headed out to the San Telmo Sunday street market – one of Buenos Aires’s most popular weekend attractions. The Sunday market continues further than the eye can see and must be more than 10 blocks long. I started in the middle walked up to one end and then all the way back to the very other end. It was exhausting but great. A real bustling artisan market and for once there was something different to Inca and Andean crafts. Buenos Aires has its own distinct style and this was clear in the market; it was filled with artist signs, music, leather works, handcrafted treasures, antiques and more.

Art museums

The street where the market finally finished opened onto the Museum of Modern Art of Buenos Aires (MAMBA) which I visited next. I like art museums but I don’t always enjoy modern art – I prefer the classics like Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh – but in the third floor of the museum I saw one of the best modern exhibitions I have ever seen. It was called ‘How to Entangle the World in a Spider Web’ by Tomas Saraceno and was created by eighteen colonies of spiders. There were so many times I kept wanting to reach out and touch the webs, just to check they were real, but obviously I wasn’t allowed to and couldn’t do that. The cleverly placed lighting and eerie scuttling sounds that were being played quietly in the background added to the intensity of the unbelievable exhibition and I felt lucky to have stumbled across something so outstanding.

Somehow I was still on my feet, though barely as I hadn’t sat down all day by this point, and I had to buy a bus ticket at the other end of town. I took the metro to the bus station and then decided, probably unwisely, to walk to the National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA). I was exhausted by the time I got there and although it had some nice pieces, it was nowhere near as good as the National Gallery in London or the art museum I had visited in Valparaiso. To be honest I was too tired to enjoy it and I spent most of the time taking pictures to examine more closely later.


All in all I had a very short but mostly sweet time in Buenos Aires. It is a very sophisticated capital city and definitely one of the places I want to revisit in the future. As the title of this post says, 48 is definitely not enough time to see Buenos Aires in all its beauty.

Santiago and Valparaiso: a cultural explosion

Having spent a more than a week away from civilisation in the Bolivian salt flats and the Atacama desert, arriving in Santiago and later moving to Valparaiso felt like a cultural explosion I hadn’t experienced so far in my trip. I had intended to only spend a day or two in Valparaiso but due to the Chilean Independence Day celebrations, I was unable to buy an earlier bus ticket so ended up staying four days in total. Instead of writing about the eight days in full, I’ll focus on the highlights and similarities between these two colourful cities side by side.

History and politics

My second day in Santiago was marked by a well-known turning point in Chile’s history. September 11th has a different meaning for most western countries, but for Chile this is the day that marks the beginning of the military coup and the Pinochet dictatorship in which 50,000 people went missing or were exiled from their country. I had read about the history of Chile in my LP Bible (Lonely Planet guidebook) and so I knew the basics of the history but visiting the huge cemetery of Santiago (the size of 200 football pitches) and taking a historical walking tour on this special day brought extra significance to this history.

Chile was torn between communist and socialist ideas, and a capitalist economic approach led by the military. I found it very interesting to hear the different sides of the argument. In Valparaiso I met the son of the butler to Pinochet (the dictator and president of Chile) and he told us another side to the story; how in private he had been a good man. The country is clearly still divided and although not a nice topic to discuss, Chileans are happy share their opinions on this controversial chapter in their history.

On my last day in Santiago I visited the Human Rights Museum which explains the violations the Junta (the military group in charge during the dictatorship) committed including torturing, abduction and imprisonment. Many thousands of people who went missing from Chile at this time have never been found. This museum is a must-see in my opinion and despite most of the exhibits being in Spanish, the free audio guide does a great job of documenting the turbulent period.

Architecture

I am no expert in architecture, in fact I know very little about it but it does interest me and it’s always one of the first things I notice about a new place. The architecture of these two cities is very different but still striking. I preferred the variety of Santiago to the famous colourful and distinct buildings of Valparaiso. In Santiago you can walk down a street and see 10 different styles of buildings all lined up next to one another, modern glass structures followed by colonial designs followed by ugly concrete flats.

The same goes for Santiago’s beautiful and eerie cemetery. I only spent a short time walking around this quiet and peaceful place but the differences between each tomb and memorial was fascinating. To begin with I felt very uncomfortable walking around and I didn’t want to be considered disrespectful to the mourners by taking hundreds of pictures. It was very easy to get lost in the maze of graves and memorials but this was part of the beauty and I left feeling that this seemed like a nice place to rest.

The architecture in Valparaiso throws a stark contrast on the colonial and sophisticated architecture of Santiago. The typical buildings are covered with corrugated metal sheets like you would expect to see used for make-shift roofs. The style is now protected by UNESCO and considered distinct to the city’s culture.

Valparaiso is a sprawling city build across more than 20 cerros (hills) and many have old elevators that you can ride to the top (only 5 are still in action). Made famous and rich as an important sea port for those on their way from Europe to California for the gold rush, Valparaiso is now quite a poor city struggling to recover from economic difficulties. The plan or flat area of the city by the port retains some of the early colonial buildings used during these stopovers and their antiquity is out of place now in comparison to the ‘modern’ bright and colourful residences.

Graffiti and art culture

Art and graffiti are the most striking aspects of Chilean culture in these cities. This is perfect for me as I’d always choose an art museum over a science or history museum.

It’s almost impossible to avoid the art and it’s importance in Chile; graffiti and murals cover most large walls and available spaces. In Santiago I stayed in Barrio Bellavista, the new bohemian area of the city with graffiti on every street surrounding the hostel. You only have to walk to the metro to see countless pieces and different styles. I had intended to search out more graffiti in Barrio Brasil but ran out of time as it was across town from my hostel. But even without trying I saw a lot of great artwork and whetted my appetite for Valparaiso.

Valparaiso is famous for its graffiti and it rivals Bogota for its frequency when walking around the city. Almost every building and wall has some from of graffiti, from tagging to huge, world famous murals. It’s embraced by the city and used by many businesses as a way to attract attention and increase tourism. I went on another graffiti tour here and I was lucky enough to get a solo tour as no one else signed up that day. I don’t think the tour was as informative as the one in Bogota but it was still very interesting as the guide was an artist himself so he was able to explain some techniques and styles with a lot of detail. I’d definitely recommend this over some of the other walking tours and you get a lot more graffiti-specific information and context.








In both cities I visited art museums or exhibitions – there were more that I wanted to see in Santiago but I ran out of time. On Monday all museums are closed in basically all of South America (very annoying for tourists) but luckily an Andy Warhol exhibition was open and free before 12pm. I’m not extremely knowledgable on Andy Warhol but I know his style and could name some of his works before entering the exhibition. Although most of the signs were in Spanish, I learnt quite a bit from the few English signs and the development of his work over time. His use of colour is so popular and this especially appealed to me.




I also visited the Museo de la Moda in Santiago which, although in the guidebook, was very quiet, almost deserted, and not the easiest to get to. This was a fantastic museum held in a house that a stylish family used to own. The museum was a mix of an exhibition from a Chilean designer, a showcase of the house as it was originally decorated and an exhibition of Princess Diana’s most famous dresses, including her replica wedding dress from Madame Tussauds in London. I loved this museum and I felt like I had uncovered a treasure many tourists don’t get to see. Perhaps it was because I felt like I had the museum to myself, but this was one of my highlights of Santiago. In the entrance hall there is a wall covered in video tapes and this really struck me as an innovative design idea – I’d love to try to recreate this in my own home.



In Valparaiso, with my extra, unplanned time, I visited the Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes held in the Palacio Baburizza. I had been told on a walking tour that the museum’s collection was formed by the second owner of the palace who had brought back art from Europe after each of his business trips and holidays. The museum has a large collection of impressionist and 20th century art which, although not mostly famous, is still very impressive. This museum was right up my street and I could have probably gone around twice the pieces were so good. Thankfully I was allowed to take lots of pictures though so I’ll be able to keep a good memory of them.




I did also visit the Noble Prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda’s house, La Sebastiana, but unfortunately I had a screaming child following me around the whole time who ruined the experience for me. It is quite small and very expensive to visit, and although it’s well-known, I don’t think it’s worth seeing. Perhaps save it for a rainy day.

The culture of both of these cities made the extended period of time I spent between them worth it and if I had more time and money, I would have liked to have seen more of Santiago. I could see myself returning here in the future, perhaps to study or just to explore the city more. It’s metropolitan and yet the snowcapped mountains and city parks give you more than enough space to escape.

A good thing I’ve had my fill of culture as for the next month of travel I’ll be in the countryside exploring Patagonia!

Sucre: the real capital of Bolivia

Before coming to Bolivia I had never even heard of Sucre. I thought La Paz was the undisputed capital of Bolivia and when I heard people talking about the city I thought it must just be another popular place tourists visited. I decided to add it to my itinerary just because of that and I choose a hostel from Hostelworld without much thought. I even managed to fly there because the last minute flights were so cheap. Little did I know that Sucre would turn out to be my favourite city in the country and one of my favourite cities from my entire trip so far. 

When I look back on my time in the charming city, it’s hard to pinpoint what it was I enjoyed so much about it – I only visited one museum in the five days I was there, the food wasn’t anything special to talk about, I didn’t do any exciting day trips and even the walking tour I paid for wasn’t that good. What I really liked about Sucre was the relaxed, sunny atmosphere and the heritage of the city reflected in the architecture. Although not a huge city centre, it had a calm and welcoming feeling that you’d expect to find in a European city. The people are used to having tourists wandering around and our activities don’t disturb their daily lives. I felt perfectly safe strolling around the city, sitting about in parks reading on my Kindle, getting juice in the market and catching the local buses (they only cost 15p!).


The one museum I did visit, Casa de la Libertad, was really interested and taught me loads about the history of Bolivia. The guide spoke perfect English and shared a lot of information that I hadn’t been able to find elsewhere in the country. Sucre holds the oldest university in South America, dating back to the 1600s. The city used to be the capital until a civil war with La Paz; it lost and subsequently lost it’s power too. The city still retains the national Supreme Court – the judicial centre of the country but the political power and the president’s palace moved to La Paz. The museum also holds one of two original Argentinean flags from its creation. The guide also explained about the many international wars Bolivia has had with this neighbours, Peru, Chile, Brazil and Paraguay, losing all and shrinking land mass considerably over time. The history of the country has interested me throughout my stay in Bolivia and Sucre was the answer to a lot of questions I’d had.


The hostel I stayed in also made my stay in Sucre relaxing and helped me to get over the illness and fatigue I’d picked up recently. Villa Oropeza Guesthouse really felt like a villa instead of a hostel, the staff were helpful and friendly, the rooms were nice and clean, the WiFi was strong (especially for Bolivia) and the bunk beds even had curtains for privacy. Most of all it was easily affordable at £5 a night. Finding a nice hostel is definitely an art and although I’d like to stay somewhere sociable, I’ve decided I like quiet, sophisticated hostels too.

Sucre is definitely a place I would recommend visiting and there’s possibilities to do a lot more with treks starting here to some great scenery nearby – unfortunately there weren’t any groups going on the day I signed up so I had to move on to the next stop on my trip. But getting ahead of the schedule leaves me more time for Patagonia so I’m happy about that.

10 best things to do in La Paz (and the surrounding area)

I spent four days in La Paz, the political capital of Bolivia. I had expected something quite different from La Paz but now that I’ve been there I can’t quite describe what that was. It’s not a metropolis like Lima and it doesn’t have the architecture of Quito. I’d probably say it’s closest to Bogota but without the economic development. Maybe a mix of Quito and Bogota. If I’m honest, I was probably a little disappointed by La Paz, although it was still interesting and unique in its own way.
Here’s my highlights of the best things I did while in La Paz:

1. Visit Chacaltaya and walk to the top – Okay so this first one isn’t technically in La Paz city centre but it’s on the outskirts and was part of a day trip I did from the city. It’s one of the impressive snowcapped mountains in the Cordillera Real range nearby. The minibus drives you almost to the top, passed colourful lagoons and wild flamingos. Then you have a short walk to the summit for amazing panoramic views. The glacier is melting there because of global warming but apparently people do still ski there – it used to be the world’s highest altitude ski area.

2. Go to the witches markets – La Paz is famous for it’s witches markets which sounds quite spooky – I had imaged dark shops with women in black robes and pointy hats. Other than the dead, dried baby llamas, it wasn’t too gross. It’s mostly filled with “potions” to help you with any problems you might be having from love life to cancer. There is an interesting tradition of hang your wishes from a little statue of a local man and burn a cigarette from his mouth to bring good fortune.

3. Watch the Cholitas wrestling – although the Cholitas wrestling is completely touristy and staged, it’s still really funny to watch. The local women who dress in the traditional outfits are called Cholitas. The outfits include big skirts, two plaits and a black hat – not exactly the best fighting attire. But the made-up arguments and difficult stunts make for an exciting viewing experience and a fun yet cold evening out.

4. Stay at the Wild Rover for a night – The Wild Rover is a popular, Irish, party hostel. I’d recommend staying here for at least one night because it’s really sociable and busy. I met lots of nice people here and watching the boxing match with an Irish fighter in an Irish hostel had a great atmosphere.


5. Get a smoothie in the market and ask for yupa – I love smoothies and in the markets here (and in most of Bolivia) you can ask for any combinations you want – my favourite is strawberry, blackberry and pineapple. Once you’ve drank about half, you can ask for your yupa which basically means extra smoothie for free! They are so fresh and cheap, I went a couple of times.

6. Ride on the cable cart – La Paz has four different lines of cable cart and they are considered public transport across the city. The cable cart isn’t anything too special but it gives you good view of the downtown and the line I took (orange or red – I can’t remember) goes over the city’s huge cemetery.

7. Go to El Alto and see just how big the market is – El Alto is a large district in La Paz and considered by the local people a city in its own right. It has a huge market which runs everyday across the whole area with thousands of stalls – you can find everything here from car parts to hiking gear. A lot of the products are second hand or imitations but that’s not important to the local people who need low prices.

8. Search for interesting graffiti – I saw a lot of great artwork and graffiti in the city and I would have really liked to have done a graffiti walking tour here if there had been one like Bogota. You get the impression they have the same tactics to cover large walls with commissioned work to improve the environment rather than having lots of tagging. Look out for some of the creative artwork here, ot’s really high quality in places.

9. Go to the Valley del Luna – I also visited the ‘Moon Valley’ as part of the day drip with Chacaltaya. It’s located in the south of the city and it surrounded by loads of deep red and yellow mountains. The rock formations are really interesting to see and walk around. They’re made of clay and caused by erosion of the softer sand over time.

10. Ride on the old local bus – They have some funky looking local buses which are the oldest and cheapest type of local transport in the city. You can hop on and off at any time and flag them down on the street without being at a bus stop. They look a bit like jazzed-up American school buses from the 80s but they’re a fun ride if you know where you’re going.

Desert days in Huacachina & Nasca: the good and the bad

I’d never been to a desert before and to be honest I didn’t realise there was so much desert in Peru. But there is, in fact Nasca’s highest sand dune is taller than England’s tallest mountain! I’m going to spell Nasca as the locals do in Spanish instead of with a ‘z’ as English speaking countries do – just in case you were wondering. Before I go into detail about these two stops on my trip, I want to let you know that I was really disappointed by Huacachina – a place I had really high hopes for – and I was really impressed by Nasca – previously only known to me vaguely because of the world famous Nasca lines. This post will be one of contrasts, the good and the bad (but not the ugly). I don’t want to dwell on the negative too much but I would like to share some of the lessons I learned.

Huacachina

After three days in Lima, I caught a six hour bus to Ica, the nearest city to Huacachina. I decided to stay in Ica firstly because the buses stop there and it would be easier to get to a hostel than taking a mototaxi to Huacachina in the dark. And secondly, because I thought it would be easier for me to look at the options for sandboarding and buggy ride trips in town.

A few weeks ago someone showed me a video of their friend skiing down the sand dunes and I really wanted to try this. I did ask one tour company in town but I soon gave up and booked the standard trip with my hostel – later realising that it was much better to speak to the tour operators in Huacachina instead of Ica. I also let the language barrier get to me, instead of sticking to what I really wanted to do, I gave in because I didn’t want to struggle in Spanish, even though skiing is the same in Spanish. This was a big lesson for me because as it turned out the trip I booked wasn’t very good and certainly not good value.

So the trip costs 60 soles which is about £15 (this probably should have been a giveaway) for a 2 hour buggy ride and sandboarding combined trip (this is a pretty standard package). The hostel minibus drops you in Huacachina two hours before, a nice idea if I had known about this free time I wouldn’t have rushed to eat my lunch before. Here I had some time to take picture of the amazing sand dunes and the oasis in the middle of the small town. It’s a great view and probably the best part of the trip.

When I went to the tour operator for the start of our trip we had to wait quite a long time for a group who were running late – the first occasion of time lost from our 2 hours. Then the tour operators spent some time rearranging everyone to balance out the buggies but finally we were off. The buggy ride was exciting and our driver was zooming up and down the dunes – at this point I was having a pretty good time. We stopped to take loads of pictures and the sand dunes looked amazing.

We hopped back in and after a quick run up went off a huge dune – this is where the problem started. It was like something out of a comedy sketch. There was a loud bang and the driver turned his head to the left to see if the wheel had gone flat and at the same time the wheel and the axel bounced passed the buggy on the right. Not an easy fix. The driver rung for another buggy to come pick us up and this meant more waiting and more time wasted. At the time it felt like it would be a funny story to tell but not so much after. We could see a group nearby taking turns to sandboard down a huge dune and I was excited to get a go myself.


When the replacement finally came we hopped in, went over a few more dunes before stopping at the top of a beginner slope to collect our boards. Most people go down lying on the board head first unless they know how to stand up. I laid down for my first go and it was really fun. On my second I wanted to try standing up even though I had no idea what to do. I lasted about two seconds before slipping onto my bottom. I slid most of the way down. But I was ready to go again and master the technique. Disappointingly, just like that our time was up and we were rushed back into the buggy to see the sunset from a viewpoint. I didn’t want to see the sunset, I wanted to sandboard. I wasn’t quite aware that it was the end, I thought we might get another go after the sunset but no.

I got some great pictures but I felt like a phoney to say that I had been sandboarding when it only lasted for 10 minutes. I was definitely disappointed by the trip to Hucachina and although I didn’t stick to my initial idea of independently finding a tour, I don’t feel like it was my fault that I had a bad time. What makes it even more annoying is that I spoke to a couple recently who had stayed at the same hostel as me and managed to go skiing with help from the hostel staff!

Later in my trip I’m planning to go to the Atacama desert in Chile so hopefully I’ll get another chance to try and master the standing technique.

Nasca

My trip to Nasca started much better with a 10 soles (£2.50) bus along the coast. I arrived in Nasca at lunch time and although I got massively overcharged by the taxi to my hostel (rookie error forgetting to ask the price before the journey) I was excited to book my flight over the Nasca lines as soon as possible. The host at my hostel in Nasca, Nanasqa Hostel, was great! A super accommodating, 30 something, local guy who was still building and improving sections of the hostel. He booked the flights for me straightaway and even ordered me a takeaway lunch to the hostel – a delicious quarter of chicken and chips.

In the afternoon there was a trip on offer at the hostel and because I didn’t want to just have spent the day travelling, and I was still annoyed about Huachina, I signed up. It included tour of the Cantallo aqueducts, the pyramids of Cahuachi and the Cemetery of Chauchilla. If I’m honest I didn’t know much about what I had signed up for but I was glad to get out of the hostel doing something – and they were mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide. 

Our tour guide turned out to be our host’s father who drives you to the sights, says some information in Spanish and waits in the car for you to have a look around. Luckily there were two Venezuelans in the group who could translate for me and even without the translations the sights were really interesting. And without a story behind them I was free to invent my own, imagining the people of the time building and using the aqueduct, trading and doing business in the pyramids and preparing the burials at the tombs. 

By the time we finished the five hour tour, a beautiful blue and orange sunset led us back to the hostel across the bumpy desert track – the drive was as good as the tour. The pyramids and tombs were completely in the middle of nowhere so there’s no way I would have been able to get to either on my own. This trip was a great example of expecting nothing and seeing loads of really intriguing ancient sights instead. 

The next day I was up early for my flight and despite a slight hiccup where I needed to transfer some money to my bank card to pay for the flight on the sketchy airport WiFi, it went without a hitch. I paid $90 for the flight and airport transfer in total. Due to safety concerns I was happy to be going with the most established company flying even if it wasn’t the cheapest.



The flight lasts just 30 minutes but you get to see 14 signs and some extras that the pilot points out. The plane looked the same as the small plane I’d taken in Venezuela to get to Canaima national park so I wasn’t worried about the plane sickness. This time we had headphones where you can hear one of pilot’s instructions as he points out the lines and figures. Each figure is circled twice so both sides of the plane can take pictures which is great – I didn’t want to miss a single one.








When the flight was over I was sad because it had been so much fun to tip right over in the small plane and see all the amazing markings with my own eyes instead of photographs. Although it’s a super touristy event, I would 100% recommend it. I flew with AeroParacass and they were really good. Until you see it for yourself you can’t truly understand how fascinating the lines truly are and a big thank you to my Uncle Phil who suggested adding it to my list!

Next I’m going to Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, before doing the classic tourist 2 day trek in Colca Canyon – it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and the second deepest in the world (so my guide book says). Expect amazing pictures!

Lima: the old and the new

To follow neatly on from my last post, if I thought the night bus from Ecuador to Peru (Cuenca to Máncora) was going to be long then the bus from Máncora to Lima was going to be mammoth. 23 hours is a long time to be on a bus with complete strangers where you have to watch your possessions all the time. Thankfully I’m a great sleeper so I did manage to snooze through most of it and I actually spotted some friends from Colombia on the bus so it wasn’t all bad. With severe sunburn (typical gringo) and sand literally everywhere, I was looking forward to getting to Lima – the only place on my trip that I’ve actually been to before.

Lima is the most developed capital city I’ve visited yet and the prospect of being somewhere more cosmopolitan was definitely appealing after two nights in a beach hut with rumours of mice. It’s been a great adventure going to lots of different kinds of towns and cities but Lima felt much more in my comfort zone. Although I have been to Lima before, it was a long time ago and I stayed inside the sports complex for almost the entirety of my stay. Now free to explore for myself, I decided to split my stay between the centre of Lima in the historic part of town and Milaflores, the sophisticated, modern area.

The Old 

From my Lonely Planet guide and Hostelworld research, I found a converted 20th century mansion turned hostel to stay in for the first two nights. Always a risk going by the pictures, I was delighted to find the hostel just as fancy and antiquated as I had hoped. It had wooden panels, original black and white floor tiles and high ceilings with detailed coving. I felt like I was staying in a boutique hostel for the price of a budget hostel.

The hostel also had a great location next to the MALI (Museo de Art de Lima), one of Lima’s most impressive and popular art museums. This was my first stop and it’s clear why it’s so famous, even the building housing the museum is a work of art. If you follow me on social media then you might have seen a preview of the museum at the time. It’s packed with art from pre-colonial times right up to modern art. I learnt a lot about the Inca and Wari cultures and the free audio guide app and WiFi really enhanced my experience of the museum. They also had a temporary exhibition about Nasca and the lines which I’m hoping to visit during my time in Peru. Even if museum’s aren’t your thing, I’d definitely recommend visiting this one.



In the afternoon I had signed up to the free walking tour offered by the hostel. By a random turn of fate, I was the only person who had signed up so I got a personalised, solo walking tour. Pam, who does the tour, showed by around the historic centre, suggested street food and drinks to try and explained about the politics behind the protests in Peru at the moment. I even got to see some of the protests while I was there, but this did mean we couldn’t go to the main square because the police had closed it.




The next day, following Pam’s suggestions, I went to visit the Catacombs under the city at the Convento de San Francisco. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take any pictures and I’d accidentally joined a Spanish tour group so I can’t share that much about it. There were a lot of skulls and bones lined up in graves under the church. If my translation is correct (my Spanish is still awful), people often think they were tortured or prisoners but they’re not, it was an honour to be buried here. There is also a dusty, decaying library which has a copy of the bible dating back to the 14th century and looked like it could be in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

After this I went to explore China town. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was, my maps seems to be contradicting each other but I just kind of wandered around. Once again I was the only tourist bumbling around but Lima is quite a safe city so I didn’t feel too concerned. It’s nice to be able to explore without time pressures or feeling anxious about getting lost. By this point it was lunchtime so I went to a Chifa (Chinese restaurant) and had chufa (chicken fried rice, basically). It also came with a chicken noodle soup and dumplings so for just 8 soles (£2) I was very happy and full. On the way back I visited the main square which was back open and saw the cathedral and president’s palace – both stunning buildings set around a beautiful square lined with bright flowerbeds and palm trees.

The centre of Lima was really interesting and bustling – the closest place to London so far. I’m really glad I stayed here for a few days because most tourists just stay in Milaflores and miss a lot of the culture and heritage of this 500 year old city.

The New

Even just from stepping out of the taxi by my next hostel I could tell I was in a completely different part of town, with shopping malls, skyscrapers, expensive flats and touristy restaurants on every street corner. The department store nearby was even selling MAC make up.

The hostel staff suggested one of the best sights was walking down to the clifftops where there’s a large shopping mall built into the cliff and you can walk along the top to a park and lighthouse. I’ve been struggling with the suitability of some of the clothes I packed for hiking and my pack-a-mac has a hole already so this sounded like a good idea. It was a great shopping mall with amazing views, all the best hiking shops (Colombia, North Face, Salomon and more) but what I realised was that I couldn’t really afford to buy any of the things I wanted. It’s not that I don’t have the money now but I don’t have a job or any income. One of the cheapest coats was the same price as 10 days of accommodation here or a three day hiking trip. And when it comes down to it, I know which one I want more. This was a sobering fact and made me feel a quite downbeat. I love shopping and the feeling when you buy something new that you really like; I’m a consumerist at heart and it’s hard not being able to afford anything expensive. But that’s the price to you pay to have every day as a weekend and it’s definitely worth it.

I did continue walking along the cliffs to the lighthouse, views are free after all, and despite the grey, cloudy skies it was a beautiful view. The drop to the beach is quite steep and so you have a clear sightline out across the sea and along the clifftops. A sense of calm returned as I remembered how nice it is to just walk along without worrying about your possessions or the evening closing in.

The next morning was my last few hours in Lima and so I went early with a couple of Americans from the hostel to see Huaca Pullcana, a pyramid-shaped temple dating back to 400AD in the centre of the city, only recently rediscovered in the last 20 years. We managed to successfully join an English tour group this time (yay!) and we learnt all about the Lima people who lived here before the Wari tribes. It was such an interesting contrast to see such an important and interesting archeological site surrounded by modern skyscrapers and glass building. The old and the new continues to battle for prominence through out the city and it’s so interesting to see both sides. 



Once again I had a great time in this capital, despite others telling me there wasn’t much to do or see here. On the way back to the hostel I had an amazing ‘firewood’ chicken sandwich with the best chips ever and a yummy smoothie at La Lucha, and I left Lima feeling sad to go. But it was time to move on and wow have I got some exciting things planned for the next week or so. Stay tuned for sandboarding in Hucachina and a flight over the Nasca lines.