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.

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.