4 months travelling in South America: Our Route

Many people have asked ‘Why South America?’ and ‘Why start there?’. We knew that it wasn’t the norm to start a Round the World trip in Rio de Janeiro but we did and we loved it! Throwing ourselves in the deep end was the Misters idea, we don’t know Spanish, no-one else we know has been there, so lets go there! I knew that if I could make it through South America with minimal anxiety then the rest would be a breeze. We not only made it, we loved every second of this diverse continent.

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So I ask you… Why not South America? Here is our route with a brief summary on each town or city we visited. You will see any blog I have written on South America featured on this blog too for more in-depth information.

Brazil

Rio de Janeiro:
We split this into two stays, one in Copacabana and one in Santa Theresa/Lapa. You can enjoy your time sunbathing on Copacabana and Ipanema beach before visiting the Seleron Steps in Lapa. Don’t forget to tick off one of the wonders of the world: Christ the Redeemer.

Click for 5 Things to Do in Rio De Janeiro or our Review of Rio Forest Hostel blog

Ilha Grande:
Perfect island get away for the weekend. Known as the safest place in Brazil. Hike across to the world famous Lopes Mendes beach and enjoy the walking trails on your doorstep up to some incredible waterfalls.

Click for A Weekend in Paradise: Ilha Grande blog

Paraty:
The quaint town of Paraty is not to be missed! Try and visit on a Monday to enjoy Samba in the centre with all the local community at 8pm.

Sao Paulo
A mega city known for its incredible street art at Batman Alley (Beco du Batman). Take to the heights of a skyscraper building to see Sao Paulo in all it’s glory.

Curitiba
A colder and quieter town to escape the hustle and bustle of Brazil. The German Woods are a must visit to explore the Hansel and Gretel trail and reach the gingerbread and candy house at the top!

Foz du Iguacu
The place to base yourself for easy access to the Iguacu Falls (Brazilian Side) and Iguazu Falls (Argentinian Side). You can tick off One of the Natural Wonders of the World from your list.

Click for Best of Both Sides: Iguacu Falls blog

Porto Alegre
A great stop to relax and explore the town and local parks before crossing the border to Uruguay. We stayed longer than anticipated due to the fuel strike but Solar 63 Hostel was a great place to relax.

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Uruguay

Punta del Este
A sleepy ghost town in low season but I’m sure this place will come alive in high season. Be sure to visit the Hand in the Sand (Los Manos). If you want a tourist free picture, visit at sunrise or in low season!

Click for Punta Del Este: To do and To Stay Blog

Cabo Polonio
The town with no roads, no vehicles, no water pipes or electricity… that’s Cabo Polonio. It does however have a complete charm about the place with rancho hostels, beaches, lighthouse, solar power and an array of animals including the sea lions!

Click for Cabo Polonio: A Rustic Coastal Village

Montevideo
Home to half of Uruguay’s population. This is a big city to explore so I recommend renting a bike and taking to the Rambla to explore this city. Be sure to visit the Montevideo sign that we thought would be multi-coloured but it was just white haha!

Colonia del Sacramento
A sleepy town with boutiques, lighthouse and cobbled streets lined with sycamore trees. From here you can take the ferry across to Buenos Aires.

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Argentina

Buenos Aires
The city was rebuilt over 100 years ago and is super easy to navigate. The city is split between the historical centre where you will find the Pink Palace, Congress and the Obelisk and La Boca where you will find the colourful shacks in La Caminito.

Rosario
For an interesting experience head over to the Museum of Contemporary Art for Rosario. As we were full of cold and Rosario was pretty cold we didn’t hang around here much.

Cordoba
This city is truly beautiful with a hipster vibe going on with all the university students around. Feel the love at the amoCBA sign that means I Love Cordoba!

Alta Gracia
Great for a day trip to see Che Guevera’s childhood home. We visited the day after Che’s 90th birthday and bumped into his old childhood friend who happened to be visiting that day! The museum is free and has an English booklet to guide you round.

Mendoza
Wine and Dine for a day by experiencing the free wine tasting tours available in most wineries in Mendoza. There are also many treks up to view points of the Andes but just be sure not to get arrested for entering a private neighbourhood!

Click for Exploring Mendoza: To do and To Stay

San Juan
For a glimpse into the Triassic Period you can head over to Valle de la Luna on a 2 day road trip to see dinosaur remains, clay formations and literally feel like you are walking on the moon in Ischigualasto Provincial Park. There is also a different Valle de la Luna in San Pedro if you want to save this till later.

Click for Adventures to Valle de la Luna blog

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Chile

Click to find out about our experiences of Crossing the Border to Chile

Santiago
Head up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal which is the second highest peak in Santiago for views across Santiago. Don’t be too disappointed if it is cloudy from the top, this is the high levels of pollution and tends to always be like that.

Valparaisoย 
A day trip from Santiago to Valparaiso is well worth it to see the bohemian brightly coloured houses, the rickety elevators (ascensores) the port and the famous ‘We are not Hippies, we are Happies’ sign.

Copiapo
A quick stop through the town that was put on the map due to the trapped miners in 2010. There is now a museum that is open Thursday-Sunday that is guided by one of the trapped miners. This sounded really interesting but we unfortunately arrived on a Monday!

Antofagasta
Another quick stop going up North. A port side town that doesn’t have much going on but it is worth walking to Plaza Colon to see The Torre Reloj, a small replica of Londons Big Ben with the Chilean and British flags intertwined on the tiles.

San Pedro de Atacama
Visit the driest desert in the world and explore local ruins and hike up to incredible viewing points. The No.1 recommendation from us is to go Stargazing here! This was one of our top experiences in South America. This is where you can book and begin your Uyuni 3 Day Salt Flat Tour.

Click for San Pedro de Atacama: Driest Desert in the World blog.

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Bolivia

Uyuni
Your 3 day tour will take you to Lagunas, Geysers, Hot Springs, to see Flamingos and eventually to the Uyuni Salt Flats. You will have so much fun bouncing around the Jeep with a group of likeminded travellers. The Salt Flats are the best place to take your creative perspective shots that will definitely be Instagram worthy. You only need one night in Uyuni itself to freshen up and get a good nights sleep before heading on.

Click for Uyuni Salt Flats: What to Expect blog.

Potosi
Not for wimps or woosies! This was the tag line for the Working Mines Tour in Cerro Rico Mountain. We were very grateful that after two hours in the mine we lived to tell the tale. Health and Safety regulations do not apply here but well worth a visit. We booked through our hostel Koala Den (Koala Tours).

Sucre
We loved Sucre! Known as the ‘White City’ as every building is white. At every turn you will find beautiful parks and plazas. It truly is a delight to wander around with an ice cream!

La Paz
This place is crazy but you feel like you are in true Bolivia. For an opportunity to learn about the cultural beliefs of the Indigenous people, their fashion sense and all about San Pedro prison be sure to do the Red Cap Walking Tour. For those who enjoy an adrenaline rush; be sure to check out the Death Road Mountain Biking experiences. We booked through Barracuda and had an incredible experience!

Click here for Highway to Hell: Death Road, Bolivia blog

Copacabana
A beautiful sea side town on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in South America. Climb up Cerro Calvaio for the best views in town.

Isle de Sol
Take a boat over to Isle de Sol for the day. Be aware that currently it is only safe to visit the South of the island due to an ongoing conflict with the north.

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Peru

Puno

A port side city at high altitude! From here you can visit over 100 floating islands in Lake Titicaca where the Uros indigenous people live.

Lima

Visit the capital of Peru to see the ultra modern mega city. We mainly explored the Miraflores and Barranco districts.

Peru on a Shoestring Tour

From here we began our two week Peru tour with G-Adventures. We visited Nazca and discovered the Nazca Lines at a height! In a small plane we flew over large ancient geoglyphs that featured simples lines, geometric shapes and animals.

In the Arequipa Region we explored the Colca Canyon that is the best place to spot the Condors.

Then our finale of South America, Machu Picchu! 4 days of trekking the Inca Trail to reach this incredible wonder of the world.

Click here for Need to Know: Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

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So I ask you again… Why not South America? We learnt so much about the various cultures and so much about ourselves during this 4 months. What better way to start a Round the World Trip.

Go the Distance in South America,

Chloe

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Crossing the Border to Chile

From reading blogs about the Chile Border we were rather nervous about this journey. Our initial worries were about their strict policies which in all honesty make sense. Chile is very isolated from the rest of South America due to the Andes therefore, they are less prone to diseases from elsewhere. They want to keep Chile safe, hence the strict regulations.

On our coach, we received the guidance on what you cannot bring into Chile. The main rules are no fresh products, no dairy, no meat. Basically if it was in an unopened package this was okay. We debated beforehand whether we could take our opened packets of herbs and spices but we saw on the list that this was not allowed. A good idea is to donate your herbs and spices to the ‘free food’ at the hostel. Sharing is Caring after all.

Crossing the Border to Chile

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First Attempt
The second difficulty is actually getting across the border. In low season and winter months the road can often be closed due to snow. You can check whether the border is open on this website. However, if you are the first bus across in the morning, you may be the first coach to find out its closed! This is what happened to us. 3 hours in we had to turn back around. Luckily the CATA buses are like taking a business class flight with TV’s with many films and music to listen to.


If this does happen to you and you have to return to Mendoza, you are entitled to a full refund. Make sure you keep your initial receipt and ticket as proof and then they will refund you without issues, from the stand you initially bought the ticket from. At the time when the border was closed, the next day there was a strike going on, the next day England were playing, so three days later we set off for the second time.

Second Attempt
The views are incredible along the route, so be sure to take a day time coach and stay awake to appreciate the views. We decided to sit on the other side of the coach to take in different views seen as we had seen the first 3 hours of the journey already. On the CATA buses the seats on the right hand side (when sat down) are singles so I sat behind the mister. The right hand side honestly did have the better views, if you don’t mind being separated from your buddy for a while.

Mendoza to Santiago (2)

The border was an experience! Firstly, you all exit the bus and quickly dispose of any left overs from your pack up. You line up for your passports to be checked by border control. At this point you will be sniffed by sniffer dogs who do a very thorough job! This unnerved me a little at the time but it was fine. Then you cross the road to another building. This is where your main luggage is being checked through the conveyer belt off the coach and put back on at the other end.



It was at this point, a couple had tried to ‘smuggle’ (can’t think of a better word haha!) approximately 10 gigantic blocks of cheese into Chile. Now even before getting on the coach we were aware the big no no was taking cheese across the border. We heard about locals trying to bring across produce and that it would usually hold up the whole process. That definitely was the case for us too. While they were debating about cheese, we were stood in 3 lines while guards and dogs walked up and down. You can imagine what I thought this scene reminded me of!

Next up, our hand luggage went through the scanner before we quickly jumped back on the bus. The irony is, the bus driver then gives you lunch of cheese and ham sandwich for lunch!

Go in the Distance in Chile,

Chloe