10 life lessons from travelling this year

airportIt’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I left England. It feels like a lot has changed in my life since the 30th of June 2017 when I was loaded up with all my possessions in Heathrow airport waving goodbye my mum and that easy lifestyle. I didn’t know how it would work out and I was especially nervous starting off in Venezuela. But now looking back I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’ve learnt a lot in the last 364 days and although from the outside I probably look the same as I did before I left, I feel different on the inside. So, I decided to share 10 lessons I’ve learnt travelling this year, hopefully you can relate to a few if you’ve been on your own journey.

1. Self-belief – travelling independently has taught me to believe in myself, as clichéd as it sounds. I decided where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do and I did it. Even when things looked a bit sticky, like crossing the border into Colombia on foot or getting to the front of a four hour border queue in Ecuador and being told I haven’t got the right passport stamp; I managed to sort myself out. I turned up in Canada without a job or a place to live and I figured it out. Just because others doubt you, doesn’t mean you should doubt yourself too.
img_2718

2. Language skills are really helpful – this is one of the most practical life lessons. Learning some Spanish along the way was really helpful. I was definitely ignorant thinking I wouldn’t need to speak the local language. To really experience the culture of a nation, you need to communicate in their language. The next time I travel somewhere new, I’ll take a short language course before I set off.

3. Things don’t always have to go to plan – being flexible and open to changing your plans helps you to make the most of travelling and life in general. In South America it was really hard to see everything I wanted to see in so many different places, in such a short time. Turning up in a town on a day when all the museums are closed; planning a beach day when it’s raining; trying to catch a bus on a day when there aren’t any; were all common occurrences when I was travelling and you just have to get on with it. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to change a situation, so make the most of what you can do, not what you can’t. (Hakuna Matata, basically but without the catchy song)

4. My worldly possessions don’t mean as much as I thought they did – I can be a bit of a hoarder at times, especially for mementos like ticket stubs. After having to carry everything I have on my back for four months I’ve realised, do I actually need all this stuff? Especially clothes – I don’t need tonnes of tops, dresses and shorts that I never even wear. I’m much more comfortable wearing leggings and jumpers anyway.

5. Desk jobs are really not for me – I kind of knew this before I set off on my adventures but travelling really confirmed it for me. I can’t just quietly sit at a desk doing the same thing everyday. It doesn’t fit my personality and I’m so glad I learnt this now rather than 10 years down the line when I don’t know why my life feels so unsatisfied.
img_8790

6. How to spend money more wisely – I still can’t claim to be any kind of budgeting expert. I’ve always spent money as fast as I’ve earned it but travelling definitely taught me (sometimes the hard way) that you can’t afford to do everything you want to do, even if you have the cash now. Travelling for five months without earning a penny means you have to consider what it’s worth spending money on and what you can live without.

7. I’m more outdoorsy than I thought – in the UK I was never interested in hiking or landscapes. My idea of a perfect day at home used to be watching movies and baking. Walking the dog was always a chore I resented and going for a run would be rewards with hours of doing nothing. Now I’m much more excited by outdoor activities and most of goals for the summer are around hiking and camping. My best memories of the last year have all been outdoors, especially teaching kids to ski.
img_0218

8. Working with kids is great – a perfect segue here. I’m never had a job working with kids before. I’ve volunteered as a sports coach and I’ve done the odd bit of babysitting for family friends but actually being paid to hangout with kids all day and teach them how to do something you love is great. I don’t know if I’d feel the same teaching children in a classroom environment but I’m tempted to try in the future.
8ae6f479-17ae-48c7-b31e-6a84dd03ddca

9. I have the best family in the world (but I already knew that really) – my family has been there for me the whole way through my travels, even when friends haven’t. My mum especially has been so supportive and helpful, whatever the time difference or situation; my auntie has to be the biggest fan of my blog, commenting on nearly every post, closely followed by my grandmother, and I couldn’t be closer with my cousin. Travelling on your own definitely has highs and lows but with my family behind me I didn’t feel alone.
img_0594

10. If you want to make a life change, you have to do it for yourself – this last one speaks for itself, really. A lot of people didn’t believe I could or would do all the things I’ve done this year. I wasn’t happy with my life before I left but through the life changes I’ve made I feel now I can determine my own happiness.

img_0174-1

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.

Ushuaia: the end of the world and the end of my Patagonian adventures

It’s not as apocalyptic as it sounds in Ushuaia. ‘El Fin del Mundo’, as Ushuaia likes to call itself, translates as ‘the end of the world’ but they’re using this title in a geographical sense as it’s the last city in the south of Argentina, closest to Antarctica. It’s also most travellers last (or first) stop in Patagonia. It rivals Torres del Paine for expensiveness and there’s a lot of attractions to spend your money on. Luckily, although maybe not for my bank balance, I had four full days to spend here so I had time to do all of them. I realised that I may never come back to Ushuaia so I should make the most of the opportunity and cough up some of my cash.

Day one: El Tren del Fin del Mundo and Tierra del Fuego National Park


Most people consider the train at the end of the world an expensive gimmick but for someone who had never been on a steam train before, I was really excited to experience it. The train is an important part of the penal history of Ushuaia (more on that later) and takes you through parts of the Tierra del Fuego National Park which you couldn’t otherwise see. The carriages are little three-seater compartments which made me feel like I was on the set of the Hogwarts Express (another reason I wanted to take the train) and there is an interesting audio guide which is played during the journey.


I had perfect weather for this day and halfway through the ride we were able to get out and take pictures of the train and amazing surrounding scenery – stamped by the clear impact of deforestation during the time the area was inhabited by the prison occupants. Instead of replanting, this area is left as an mark of the history of the city.

After the train ride, the minibus which had dropped me off at the train station picked me up and took me further into the Tierra del Fuego National Park. The bus dropped me off at the end of Route 3 – the most southern main road in Argentina. From there, there are a number of short walks you can do around the peat marshes and Lapataia Bay area. This is a beautiful place that you could easily spend the whole day strolling around. Annoyingly I only had a few hours so I couldn’t walk all the trails but the bits I saw were outstanding. I didn’t know anything about peat before reaching Ushuaia but it has a lot of positive benefits and it changed the look of the landscape from the rest of Patagonia.




Day two: The Beagle Canal cruise

The next day I shelled out for the most expensive day trip of my time in Ushuaia – a cruise of the Beagle Canal. I don’t know a huge amount about the Antarctic expeditions and navigations of the south but I do know that the Beagle Canal was an important part of the history of this period. It’s the only passage through Argentina and Chile out to the Pacific Ocean and I felt very lucky to be able to afford a boat trip along this notary route.

Most of the boat trips include a visit to the (weird) bird island, the sea lion island and the lighthouse at the end of the world. Only some include the penguin island (Isla Martillo), mostly because it’s the furthest away. These trips which include a chance to see the penguins are the most expensive but I decided that I hadn’t come all this way not to see them. It’s only just the start of the season where the penguins arrive so it was a bit of a gamble to go with this option but it was definitely worth it.

The (weird) bird island was the first stop and it was jam-packed with these seagulls posing as penguins. I was momentarily deceived before I remembered penguins can’t fly (thanks Madagascar movie). They weren’t the main attraction of the trip but still pretty cool to see and they were much better than the plain old white seagulls we get in England.

Next was the sea lion island which I thought was very impressive although quite quiet – only a handful of sea lions were perched on the rocky cliffs. They clearly don’t like the boats visiting them because they kept swimming away every time we got closer. It was the first time I had seen a sea lion not in a zoo (and I’m not even sure I’ve seen them in the zoo). They’re so much bigger than you would expect and their ‘lion-like’ qualities are interesting to watch.


Les Eclaireurs lighthouse was the next stop and it really has an unstated beauty. It’s not technically the last lighthouse at the end of the world but that’s what it’s famous for. The distinct red and white against the blue of the sea stands out starkly adding to the meaningfulness of the remote location. I took so many picture of this simple lighthouse – it’s situation is just mesmerising.


Finally we reached the penguins! The gamble was worth it because there were a fair amount of penguins to see. The island housed two types of penguins the Magellanic penguins and Gentoo penguins (I had to look this up because I couldn’t remember their names so I’m sorry if they’re wrong). The Gentoo penguins are bigger and just stood still in the middle of the island. I couldn’t see them so well from the boat but it was nice to see two types of penguins and really I was just glad they were there. The Magellanic penguins were a lot more active and spent a lot of time on the shore. We were really close to them at one point and could observe their flock-like nature as the swam and walked in groups. As always I wanted more time to see them but they were amazing to see and worth spending the extra money on.

Day 3: hiking to Laguna Esmeralda

I thought I had finished my hiking days in Torres del Paine but no. I heard about this popular and moderate difficulty hike to see Laguna Esmeralda – a blue-green lake surrounded by mountains. Although this sight is nothing new in my trip through Patagonia, I had heard a lot of people speak about this hike and I had time to spare so decided I would go to visit it.


What I didn’t know was that the hike is a VERY muddy one through peat marches, bogs and through a very muddy woods. To us English, it was definitely an occasion for wellies but I didn’t have any so hiking boots had to do. Thankfully I picked up a large stick to hike with near the start because I had a number of sticky situations were I was stuck balancing on a stone in the middle of a peat bog. Even when a guide told me I had gone the wrong route I stubbornly persevered and managed to find a route out.


After two hours of hiking through the mud, I eventually reached the lagoon and it was completely free from other hikers. I must have had the perfect timing because I could take all the pictures I wanted without obstruction. The lake was half-frozen and this made it stand out against the others I have seen. The surrounding mountains were clearly visible despite the clouds sitting behind them and I felt lucky to get such good weather.

Day four: the history of Ushuaia

On my last day I had to check out of the hostel at 10am which was quite annoying considering my flight to Buenos Aires wasn’t until 8:30pm. But the hostel did let me leave my big pack there during the day even if I wasn’t allowed to stay. This meant I had time to visit all the museums in Ushuaia and learn about the history of the city.

The best place to learn about Ushuaia is the famous Museo Maritimo y del Presidio (the maritime and prison museum) housed in the original prison. This is a huge museum and after spending two hours there I did start to lose concentration so I definitely could have learnt more about the maritime heritage and Antarctic expeditions but I focused on the prison section of the museum as I’d learn about this on the train trip.

In the start of the 1900s, the Argentinean government set up a penal colony in Ushuaia that was built by the prisoners themselves. It was modelled on other successful colonies such as the UK had started in Australia. I’ve never been inside a prison before and it was really interesting and eerie to visit. The building itself is amazing with five pillars of cells that convene on a circular space used for gatherings. One pillar has been repainted and holds the exhibition about the prison and other is left completely as the prisoners would have experienced it. In the first I didn’t think the place would be too bad to stay, in the latter I quickly changed my opinion. It was freezing and bleak and depressing. The hard manual labour in the forest cutting down firewood for the prison, reached by the train, seemed like a nice escape from this confined existence.

In the afternoon I also visited the small Fin del Mundo Museo which didn’t have much worth seeing expect a large stuffed bird exhibition which was very interesting. I also went to Historia Fueguina (a thematic gallery that’s a bit like Madame Tussaud’s). It was a really interactive way to learn about the history of the southern tip of South America and the cultures that existed before today. I would definitely recommend visiting it for the story of the native cultures and the exploration of the 19th century that brought Charles Darwin to the continent and helped to establish his Origin of Species.

And that’s it, before I knew it my time in Patagonia was over. I had amazing time with all types of weather and landscapes. I wasn’t sad to return to metropolitan civilisation as I really am a city-girl but I will look back on the adventures all the time and hopefully return in the future!

My dos and don’ts for hiking the world famous ‘W’ trek in Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine is undoubtedly the most famous national park for hiking in Patagonia and probably the whole of South America. Don’t feel embarrassed if you’ve never heard of it, I hadn’t before I started researching for this trip. What I didn’t know is that Torres del Paine is probably one of the most expensive national parks in South America, if not the most expensive. It’s not just the entry fees and transport, but you also have to decide between camping or staying in refugios (kind of like mountain lodges with dorm rooms). Food is expensive too unless you’re willing to carry five days worth of meals on your back for the whole trip. With all these different things to think about as well as route variations – you can go east-west or west-east and you can spend four or five days hiking – there’s a lot of preparation and planning that needs to go into doing this trek, even at the very start of the season in October.

I’m going share my experience of the ‘W’ from preparation to advice, including my favourite parts of the hike and some adventures along the way. As a spoiler now I’ll let you know it didn’t all go to plan but I did manage the whole route without getting lost once. However this blog could not be more aptly named for this post as throughout the five days hiking I lost more things than I think I have lost in my whole trip!

So, here are my dos and don’ts for successfully hiking the ‘W’ in Torres del Paine:

img_8699-1

Do book your refugios or camping spots more than two weeks in advance. I only started booking 10 days in advance and this caused me a few issues. The companies that own all the accommodation, Vertice and Fantastico Sur, can be very slow to respond to emails so it’s best to give them as much time as possible.

Don’t pay extra at the refugios for bedding (or other equipment unless you only need it for one night). You can rent a sleeping bag in Puerto Natales, the closest town to the park, for $3,000 pesos a day (£3.60). It might add weight to your bag but it saves a fair amount of money. The same goes for tents, hiking poles and any other equipment you might need.

fullsizerender-21

Do the route in four days instead of five. Most guides will tell you that the route takes five days and should go left to right. But unless you are extremely unfit, have a serious injury or have time to waste, then it wont take you five days. Save yourself one night of accommodation and do it in four. The park map has estimates for the time it takes to do the route so this can help with planning your stops.

Don’t pack more things than you need. Before you reach the park you should know if you are eating in the refugios or bringing your own food. The same goes for clothes, you’ll know how many days of hiking clothes you need. Any thing extra in your bag just adds weight to your pack and more weight means less fun. It also means more things to lose. Also, keep any miscellaneous items in bags within your pack as it’s easy to drop things along the way without noticing (headphones, padlocks etc…).

img_8820

Do bring your passport. The refugios and campsites will ask to see and take a photocopy of your passport and travel card for tax purposes so make sure you bring it with you. Put it in a safe part of your pack, inside a zip-lock bag if you have one. Also you can get a free passport stamp at the ranger office when you pay your park entry fees and as there’s not much for free here, take it when you can.

Don’t arrive in Puerto Natales on the weekend. This small town is ghostly most of the time but especially during the weekends. If you arrive during the week you can visit the offices for Vertice and Fantastico Sur to complete your accommodation bookings or ask any questions in person. The supermarket also gets very empty on a Sunday so the selection of snacks is very low.

Do go to the Erratic Rock briefing in town before the hike. A hostel and hiking rental shop called Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales give free briefings daily at 3pm in their hostel. These guys are experts and they gave me loads of great advice. They’ll answer all your questions. So highly recommend this!

Don’t lose your bus ticket before you’ve even left the town. This is just one for me probably but if you’re buying a bus ticket to Torres del Paine in advance from your hostel (recommended) then don’t lose it. Or panic and think you’ve lost it, run all the way back to hostel when it was in your bag all along. Put it in a safe place that you’ll remember (not inside your passport).

FullSizeRender(3)

Do make friends with the people on your route. On your first night, find out who is going in the same direction through the park as you and which campsites or refugios they are staying at. You’ll see them everyday for the next four or five so it’s much nicer if you get to know them.

FullSizeRender(1)

Don’t forget to pack a day bag. There will be at least three times when you can drop off your big bag at a refugio or ranger lodge and hike with a smaller pack for the day. I forgot to pack a smaller bag so I had to carry my packed lunch in a plastic bag. Hiking hands free is much easier and I was already carrying a huge water bottle around with me. One lady even asked me if I was hiking because I seemed so relaxed with my equipment (none of the gear but some idea).

FullSizeRender(2)

Don’t go crazy and eat a whole box of powdered potatoes if your reservations don’t work out. Because I arrived in Puerto Natales on a Sunday and didn’t managed to finalise my booking with Vertice – their refugios weren’t aware of my reservations. This meant on my second night of accommodation, where I had intended to have dinner, there wasn’t enough food for me. So instead of acting rationally, I bought a box of powered potatoes with a packet of cheese and salami from the mini market and ate the whole box as their only ‘hot’ option.

FullSizeRenderIMG_8590

IMG_8593IMG_8626

Do set off early on your Frances Valley day. Depending on what route your doing this could be your second or third day, but whatever direction, it will be a long day. For most people the views of the Frances valley and from the Britanico viewpoint (in the middle of the W-shape) are the best. If you set off early then you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the views and rather than rushing to make it to you next camp before sunset.

IMG_8739IMG_8768

Don’t miss any opportunity to climb up to the Torres base. I know that regrets are futile when you’re travelling but I regret not going up to the Torres base twice. It’s meant to be the hardest part of the whole route to hike but it’s also the hardest part to see clearly as it’s notorious for changeable weather. If you have time, go up twice to see the Torres because you never know when it will be clear enough to see the mountain tops. We rested when we arrived to the camp, ready to go up the next morning but in the morning there was a snow storm and we couldn’t see much more than an outline. Annoyingly it completely cleared up in the afternoon as we were leaving the park.

Do wear hiking boots. This sounds like obvious advice but I did actually see two people hiking up to the Torres in the snow with slipper-style pumps on. Just crazy.

Don’t fall into the mud. At some points the route is very muddy and boggy, especially if you take the Chilenos shortcut. I managed to get a little stuck in middle of a bog and while jumping with my big bag, fell flat into the mud. Thankfully I had my coat and water-cover on my bag otherwise I would have been very wet and muddy. Also don’t try to dry your muddy alpaca gloves by the fire and burn them so that you have to throw them away.

Do make time to really enjoy in the views and take as many pictures as possible. While you’re hiking to a schedule and you want to have enough time to get to all the sights each day, make sure you leave time to just sit and enjoy the views. There’s no point paying all that money to rush around the park and not enjoy the amazing landscape. Even if you don’t need the break physically, you’ll appreciate the time just to relax and stop as often as you like to take as many pictures as you want.

FullSizeRender(7)FullSizeRender(9)FullSizeRender(6)FullSizeRender(10)IMG_8680FullSizeRender(5)

El Calafate and El Chalten: the frozen heart of Patagonia

Geographically central between the Lake District and Ushuaia, El Calafate is a very popular stop for travellers and has always been part of my itinerary from the beginning of my planning back in 2016. When I first saw a picture of the Perito Moreno glacier in my LP bible (Lonely Planet guidebook) I knew I had to make time in my trip to see it. If I’m honest I didn’t even know it was in Patagonia at the start, it’s famous in it’s own right and travellers come from around the world just to see it, but combined with the nearby town of El Chalten, it’s actually the frozen heart of Patagonia.

Perito Moreno glacier

The famous Perito Moreno glacier sits within Parque National Los Glaciares – a large area of glaciers, mountains and woodlands. In total there are 47 glaciers and it’s the biggest area of ice outside of Antarctica – that’s pretty impressive. The only downside about these amazing glaciers is they are very expensive to visit. Even just an unguided bus journey there and back costs £19.40 plus a park fee of £21.55. There are all kinds of activities you can do like trekking on the glacier and kayaking in the icy lake but seeing as my budget wasn’t able to stretch that far, I went with the regular bus.


You also get the longest amount time to see the glacier if you choose the bus option and after some pretty crappy guides so far on this trip, I decided a quick visit to the Glaciarium (glacier museum) the day before would give me all the information I would need. It even had a cool 3D cinema where you get to see real footage of lots of different glaciers in the national park as well as learning how they’re formed.


Perito Moreno is the most famous glacier in the national park and one of the few glaciers in the world that isn’t shirking due to climate change (it has a cyclical movement instead). The museum has a great time-lapse video of the glacier breaking off and reforming through winter to summer that explains this really well. This movement cycle has allowed a great network of viewing platforms to be built around the glacier’s peninsula, so that you can take in it’s colossal size and shape from all angles year in, year out.



I had five hours to wander around these platforms and take nearly 200 pictures of the impressive blue-looking glacier and it didn’t disappoint. It is just as spectacular in real life as it is in the pictures and even without blue skies it’s still stunning. I even managed to see a few chunks of ice break off – you can hear them crack and crash into the lake from most parts of the platform area. It’s a bit a strange to think I spent five hours watching a big ice sheet but unless you see it for yourself, you won’t understand its magnificence.

(I also got to see the condors that I had missed in Colca Canyon, Peru.)

Upsala & Spegazzini glaciers boat trip

Although I couldn’t afford to do the ice trekking, I could just about afford the boat trip Rios de Hielos (rivers of ice) where you get to see two other glaciers only accessible by boat (£86.22 + £21.55 park fees). It’s still pricey but there’s not much point in flying to El Calafate, paying to stay in hostels and not see what you’ve come to see.

I booked the boat trip through my hostel (America del Sur – hugely recommend them) and although no one else had signed but for this trip, I was excited to see something a bit extra to the Perito Moreno glacier. The trip includes a five hour boat ride through the Lago Argentina (Argentina’s largest lake) up to the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers.

The Upsala glacier is a very large glacier that frequently breaks off so you can’t get very close to its face. It does have the advantage of producing lots of icebergs which float towards the lake. Our boat stopped by one huge iceberg (remember you only see about 10% of its surface area above the water) which looked so blue. It was quite an amusing tussle to get past other tourists to take pictures but anyone who is used to commuting in London can handle it. With the glaciers and snowcapped mountains reflecting the light from all angles, it can be quite hard to get good quality pictures but with just an iPhone 6, I did the best I could and almost dropped the phone into the water multiple times.

Next the boat goes to see the Spegazzini glacier (named after an Italian botanist, I think) which it’s safe to get very close to. The boat was so close it was actually a bit nerve-wracking but it was amazing to see the glacier’s pathway from the top of the mountain range curve down the mountainside to join the river. At this point it started to rain or snow but I tried my best to get to decent pictures. In the end I settled on a video panorama as the best way to really capture its immense size.

Animated GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

The boat trip was worth the high cost to see these amazing glaciers which are otherwise inaccessible. It was definitely worth the hostel-cooked pasta diet I’ve been on for the last two weeks to afford it.

El Chalten: Hiking to Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre

Near to El Calafate is a small town called El Chalten in the northern sector of Parque National Los Glaciares. It has loads of great hiking trails and thankfully you don’t have to pay the expensive park fees to hike there. It’s also home to the world-famous Mount Fitz Roy which stars on the American Patagonia clothing company’s logo.

I only had two days set side for El Chalten so I knew I would have to make the most of my time there. I had already researched the routes and planned out which hikes I wanted to do – I decided on Laguna de los Tres to the base of Mount Fitz Roy and Laguna Torre to base of the Torre mountains. The first is the most popular and supposedly the most challenging so I planned to tackle this on my first day, leaving the slightly less challenging for second when I would be a bit more tired and stiff. It turned out the weather was much better on my first day so I’m really glad I did do the routes this way around.

I set off early on the first day, reaching the start of the trail around 8:20am and having already joined forces with a couple from the hostel. They were a really nice American couple who had already been to my next stops in Patagonia so we spent a lot of time talking about those destinations. We chatted most of the way and before we knew it we’d reached 9km out of 10km without much difficulty. But this is where it started to get steeper and snowy. Except some of the snow was melting so it was quite slippy. I tried to find climbing routes through the rocks instead of the snow but this did make me quite tired. It was another hour before we reached the top but it was so worth all the hard work.

The views were amazing, even with misty clouds hugging to the peak of Fitz Roy. In front of us was a big white bowl of snow which we later decided must be one of the lakes. We enjoyed our packed lunches and rested for a bit after four hours of walking without any real breaks. At this point a few other travellers reached the top, including one Brit who said there was another lagoon just the otherwise of a rocky mound in front of us. We had decided we’d skip this lagoon and started back down the way we’d come before changing our minds. I cannot describe how glad I am we did change our minds. The lagoon was so picturesque – a clear, turquoise pool that stood out beautifully against the white and brown surroundings. It just enhanced the beauty of mountains and it’s certainly a gem that shouldn’t be missed if you walk all that way.

On the way down three more people joined our group and so we were quite a chatty hiking party on the way back, despite tired legs. It was really nice to walk with company instead of on my own and I really enjoyed the 20km without thinking about the distance for most of the day.

The next day the weather really wasn’t as good and although I felt really tired, I still went out to hike to the Laguna Torre. I’d seen some pictures of the lagoon before but they were clearly on a sunny day in the middle of summer because when I did reach it, it couldn’t have looked more different. I met two German girls I knew after the first 2km and joined their group for the rest of the way. We were quite upbeat but it was hard to shake my disappointment about the weather – I was definitely grateful I’d had a sunny day previously to see Fitz Roy.

On the way to the lagoon there is a tree graveyard of burnt trees from a recent fire that devastated parts of the woodland – caused by a careless trekker who didn’t put out a cigarette properly. It was eerie and sad to walk through and the thought that someone could be so thoughtless only makes my personal hate of smoking stronger.

The lagoon itself has a glacier feeding into it and when we reached it there were large chunks of ice floating in it. The water was dark and murky, and clouds covered the Cerro Torres which was supposed to be the main attraction of the hike. Despondent, our lunch was eaten in the rain and after taking all our pictures we quickly walked back to town. The 18km were definitely felt more keenly on the second day and I was very glad to reach the hostel at the end.

One good day out of two is pretty good weather-wise so I’m happy. El Chalten is a great warm-up for Torres del Paine, my next stop on my trip and Patagonia’s most famous (and expensive) hiking area.

Atacama de San Pedro: desert adventures take two

My trip across the Bolivian salt flats and lagoons led me to the border of northern Chile, just a short distance from Atacama de San Pedro – the driest desert in the world. Having been in the desert in Peru a few weeks before and really enjoyed my time there, I was looking forward to the warmer climate and obscure landscapes. I didn’t get off to the best of the starts after finding I had booked the wrong dates for my hostel and so was made to pay for the night before my stay as well as three more nights (in the most expensive town of my trip so far). But the hostel was at least a nice place with an eclectic style and friendly staff. More bad news came when I was told that the full moon was making it too bright to do the popular stargazing tour throughout the entirety of my stay. Bummer.

Except for Chile turning out to be a very expensive country, this was the end of the bad news. My hostel had heaps of information on day trips and expeditions you could do from the town and fortunately some of them were half day trips so I could pack quite a lot into my three and a half days. The first thing to note is the food is much better in Chile than Bolivia (and more expensive) and I ate really well the whole time I was in the desert – lasagna, pizza and a BBQ. It’s funny how in remote places like the desert you can easily find some delicious food but in big cities like La Paz it’s really difficult.

Valley de la Luna

In the afternoon of my first day in the Atacama desert, I signed up to do the Valley de la Luna tour (it was highly recommended by the hostel and also the cheapest). If you’ve been following along closely you’ll know I have already visited a place with the same name in La Paz. I was assured that it was very different and that’s certainly what it was. The Valley de la Luna (Moon Valley) in the Atacama is a magnificent range of rock formations and sand dunes surrounded by so many different mountain ranges. With the guide, we hiked up the ridge of one of the rock formations and walked along the top surveying the amazing panoramic views. It felt like a scene out of The Martian, if you haven’t seen the movie it’s about a man who gets trapped on Mars, with the deep orange-red sands and the desolate landscape all the time framed by endless mountains. I think they should rename it the Mars Valley.




We also visited the Three Maria’s, a famous rock formation that looks like three Mary’s praying to God. It’s surrounded by a strange area of the national park which looks like it’s been dusted with snow, but it’s actually salt formations. After that we visited a canyon where you can hear the salt stalactites being formed, like a ticking or crunching sound, by the thermic energy from the volcanoes nearby.


The day finished with a stop at the Piedra Del Coyote lookout point to watch the sunset. I’ve watched more sunsets in this trip than I have in my whole life and some have been nothing too special but this wasn’t one of them. The pinks and peaches thrown across the horizon in the shadows on the mountains and volcanoes surrounding the canyon were beautiful and the perfect way to finish my first day in Chile.

Sandboarding take two

The next day I was up early, ready to tackle my nemesis from Huacachina, the illusive sandboarding. Yes, I signed up to have another go at the activity I had least enjoyed in Peru, not because it wasn’t fun but because we weren’t given a proper chance to try it out. I was determined not only to have another go, but to master it. In San Pedro you don’t have a buggy ride included in the package, just an instructor, a helmet, proper boots and an actual snowboard/sandboard. This was exactly what I wanted. To safely learn how to actually sandboard.

You are driven to a place called ‘Death Valley’ (very reassuring) and helped to choose a board and learn how to mount it. You’re then made to climb the sand dune with your board in hand – this was the only bit I didn’t like. Once you finally reach the top, the instructor explained some basic techniques and then one at a time you take your first ride (or slide in most cases) down the sand dune.

Animated GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

Although a little tentative at first, I soon got the hang of it and people were even beginning to ask me if I had been snowboarding before! I got more and more adventurous, going from steeper and steeper parts of the sand dune. I was disappointed to be coming to the end of the session all too soon (time flies and all that) and tried to really enjoy my last go down the dune. Relaxing just a little too much near the bottom I had a massive wipe out that later caused me a lot of neck pain – thank God for the helmet! I think it’s fair to say that sandboarding take two was much more successful, despite the big crash at the end.

Hot springs

In the afternoon I had booked to go to the hot springs which was definitely necessary after repeatedly walking up the sand dune and crashing at sandboarding. The hot springs were in a really nice location, in the bottom of a volcanic valley, and they had several different pools you could try out. Unfortunately at this time of year they weren’t very hot and the cold wind outside the pool meant I ended up staying in the same one for the whole time (nearly two hours – I was very wrinkly at the end). It was kind of like being in a wam natural swimming pool, very relaxing but not like the hot tub I was expecting and hoping for. Still I enjoying floating about there and I was glad of the excuse to do nothing else.

Piedras Rojas

The next day I was up early again for a full day trip to see the Piedras Rojas (Red Stones) which also included seeing some other landscapes such as more lagoons, salt flats and mountains. You’d think I’d had enough of seeing them but the hostel staff had also really recommended this tour so, after seeing some pictures, I booked it too. It was quite a long day trip starting with smelly, sulphurous salt flats before breakfast which looked completely different to Bolivia’s. They were dark in colour and if I remember correctly formed by the volcanic matter instead of an evaporated sea like Bolivia’s.

Next we drove on to a lagoon that had snow around its edges. It was extremely windy which meant that the water’s surface that was normal like a mirror was rippling instead of reflecting. It was a very light blue in colour but still pretty to see even when it wasn’t at its best.


On to the main attraction, next we went to the red stones lagoon. This was without a doubt the best lagoon I have ever seen. The water was a bright blue with touches of turquoise in the light. It was actually a salt water lagoon so that’s why it was so blue and the crusty salt shore formed amazing crystals. The red stones themselves were great but not as fantastic as the pictures I had seen. Apparently this is not the best time of the year to see them. I mean, they were red, but also a bit salty and dusty. The mountains that were the backdrop to the beautiful lagoon and red stones were amazing too. They looked like they were taken straight from a chalk drawing, with smooth lines that faded into nothingness. If you imagine the most ragged rocks imaginable, then these were the complete opposite. It was worth the whole day trip, just to see the mountains almost.




After this is was finally lunch time in a local village and we were shown how the local community uses cactus wood for building – I didn’t even know there was wood inside a cactus!

There is so much more to see in San Pedro de Atacama but as it was so expensive, I couldn’t afford (time or money wise) to stay there any longer. Next stop, big city time in Santiago and Valparaiso!

The epic Salar de Uyuni: Bolivia’s world famous salt flats

For the entirety of my trip, even during my planning before I left the UK, I’ve been excited about going to the epic Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats and Bolivia’s most popular tourist attraction. Just from searching the name on Google images you can see how awe-inspiring the landscape is. I’d been quizzing each traveller I’d met who had already been there on what it’s like and which tour company they went with to make sure I had a truly amazing experience when I reached the salt flats myself.

Getting to Uyuni and choosing a tour company

Catching a bus from Sucre was the start of my adventure to Uyuni. Bolivia has a national holiday which basically translates as ‘no cars day’ – due to high pollution levels, one day a year there are no cars, buses and lorries on the roads in all the towns and cities across the country for 24 hours. This day was planned for a Sunday that I had intended to use to travel so I was forced into getting a night bus the Saturday before. I was on the second bus leaving Sucre at 8:30pm and was lucky that my bus was practically empty, giving me two seats to spread out on. I had expected the journey to take about 10 hours, arriving around 6:30am so it wouldn’t be worth booking a hostel for the night. I fell asleep without much problem and hardly realised when we’d stopped around 4am. I assumed this was a toilet stop as we didn’t have one on the bus, little did I know we had already arrived in Uyuni and I needed to vacate the bus asap. I wandered around in the freezing cold ghost town wearing thin cotton trousers and flip flops thanking God I’d downloaded a map and had my Lonely Planet bible on hand to find a hostel nearby.

After lying in until just before 10am, I ate the hostel breakfast and made some plans for finding the right tour provider to suit my needs. Uyuni is a very small town in the desert where most tours of the salt flats start from and consists of hostels, restaurants and hundreds of tour operators all offering variations on the same trip. So I did some research and made a list of my requirements.

I was looking for:

  • A 4 days trip
  • An English speaking guide
  • A transfer to Chile included or available as an optional extra
  • A sleeping bag included or available to hire
  • A company with good reviews and reputation

With the help of the LP bible and TripAdvisor I set out with a list of four operators to talk to, but seeing and it as a Sunday and a national holiday, this was harder than I thought it would be. My first stop, Cordillera Traveller, had a charismatic sales attendant and a good price (1220 bs) but no English speaking guides available so I unfortunately had to rule them out early on. Next I spoke to Red Planet, a high-end tour operator. They only did 3 day trips but had everything else on my list for 1450 bs. Next up on my list were Esmeralda Tours but their office was closed all day so I couldn’t get a quote from them in time to compare them with the rest. Finally, Salty Desert Aventures, number 1 on TripAdvisor, offered the same as Red Planet for 1250 bs. I wasn’t as convinced by their sales advisor but the reviews were really strong so I decided after comparing them with Red Planet to go with them. This took up most of the day and wasn’t an easy choice but I hoped I had made the right one.

Day 1 – The salt flats

The trip started at 10:30am the next day when I met my group for the next 3 days who I’d be sharing a jam-packed Toyota Land Cruiser with. My group was made up of a Belgium couple, a French girl and a British guy – we were all aged between 21 and 26 years old. Thankfully they turned out to be a great bunch of people and we all got on really well, mostly bonding through our dislike of the tour guide. This was probably the only negative of the trip for me – our guide was an idiot – but at least it kept us laughing for most of the trip and we had a great driver so we could fact check his information at least.


The route for the tour is pretty standard and you soon realise that all the cars go the same way and stop off at the same places for the majority of the three days. The first stop is a train graveyard which was really interesting to walk around and people were climbing on top of rusty trains in all directions. We only spent a short time here before driving to Colchani where the local community manufactures salt from the salt flats. We were briefly explained how the process works and watched a local man package salt. I would have liked to know more about this but the manufacturing isn’t done on a industrial level so perhaps there wasn’t that much more to know.

After lunch in Colchani, we headed off to see the salt flats themselves. I was so excited to finally see them after months of anticipation and they did not disappoint. It’s dry season in the salt flats at the moment so we could see the amazing polygon shapes formed by the salt crystals and had ample opportunities to take lots of fun perspective pictures. I could have spent hours taking pictures here and not gotten bored of looking of the amazing salt planes. I can’t describe how truly spectacular they were but hopefully some of the pictures managed to capture their magic.



Next we went to Incahuasi Island which I would rename cactus island because it was covered in hundreds giant cacti – apparently they grow 1-2cm a year so they must have been hundreds of years old. The salt flats are caused by the evaporation of what would have been a sea within Bolivia so although not technically an island now, Incahuasi is surrounded by the salt flats like an island. We had plenty of time here to enjoy the amazing views, take pictures and relax in the warm weather before heading off to take sunset pictures on the salt flats. 

Although it was cloudy, I took some great pictures here and I was sad to leave the salt flats so soon; the day had felt like a matter of seconds for me. Too soon we drove out of the salt flats and onto our accommodation for the first night, a hotel made out of salt with salt bricks and a crumbly, salty floor.




Day 2 – Lagoons, flamingos and the desert

The next day we were back into the car and off driving south, away from the salt flats and towards Chile. I was disappointed to only get one day, basically half a day, in the salt flats but that’s just how it is unless you book a bespoke tour and I don’t think I would have enjoyed this on my own.


Now we were driving through high-altitude desert to lagoon after lagoon and rock formation after rock formation. The scenery was really impressive and like nothing I’d seen before on my trip or in my life. Although it did feel repetitive, they were all as amazing to see as the last and the novelty didn’t really wear off as they all had their own distinct differences. If I’m honest I can’t remember the names of all the lagoons but looking online, I think, we went to Laguna Cañapa first and saw loads of flamingos which we were able to get really close to. The lagoon was highly reflective and I could take some beautiful pictures of the surrounding mountains and volcanoes. At this point I wished I had my proper camera with me. Next we went to Laguna Hedionda (I think) which was similar but a much lighter colour of water so the reflection was different and the lagoon was larger. We had lunch here and the views were so tranquil that I almost forgot about missing the salt flats.


More lagoons followed after lunch with Laguna Honda up first and this was an even paler blue lagoon. The light sandy coloured shores made the lagoon look different to the previous two and I think this one was close to my favourite, despite or because of the lack of flamingos, I can’t decide.

Next was a quick stop at the Rock Tree, basically some rocks in the Desert of Siloli that look like a tree, but I thought the bigger rocks formations were more impressive.

Then we went onto the Laguna Colorada or Red Lagoon (much more helpfully named) and spent an hour walking around the large lagoon in the strong wind. The red colour is caused by the high concentration of red algae and sediments. It was distinctly different to the other lagoons and the offset of red with the surrounding yellow-green shrubs bordering the lagoon made the colour stand out beautifully.


The last stop before our accommodation was the Sol de Mañana Geysers. I’ve never seen geysers before and despite their being quite small, they were still quite impressive. We were free to walk around them however we pleased and I was quite nervous of tripping and falling into one. It was around this point that I realised I’d broken my Kindle, a generous donation from my brother for the trip. I was gutted but it is as least seven years old and had made it all the way around Russia and Asia, and now most of South America so it’s had a good life. Near our accommodation there were hot springs which we went to at night in the brightest full moon I’ve ever seen. This soothed the loss and my aching knees from being cramped in a car boot for two days.

Day 3 – One more lagoon then onto Chile

On the last day, which turned out to be a couple of hours really when you’re getting a transfer to Chile included in the trip, we went to see the Dali desert, named after Salvador Dali. The barren landscape was quite beautiful so I can see why people thought it had inspired his work. Our final lagoon and my final stop before heading across the border to Chile was the Green Lagoon, only it wasn’t green. It was pretty but apparently there needs to be a wind creating a current to see the green colour and the colouring more obvious between 11am and 3pm, not 9am when we visited.

It was just a short trip to the border after this, where I said goodbye to my fellow travellers and joined a bus to the Chilean border. I gave my remaining Bolivianos to the driver instead of the guide – he deserved them more – and waved goodbye to Bolivia, five days ahead of schedule.

Was the salt flats all it cracked up to be? (Excuse the pun)

In my eyes yes it was, and more. I hadn’t expected to see all the lagoons, flamingos, volcanoes, deserts and geysers, as well as the amazing salty landscape. I’d like to go back in the future with my family to see the salt flats in more detail for a couple of days and learn more about the origin, formation and composition. But at least I’ve left something to come back for. Now onto my last three countries of South America: Chile, Argentina and Brazil – the most expensive places on my list!

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.

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!