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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Click image above for my Travel Pinterest Board

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.

Valparaiso 
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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Need to Know: Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The pinnacle of our South America travels lead up to the New Wonder of the World – Machu Picchu. A 4 day trek, following in the footsteps of Inca Kings, was a great way to say goodbye to Peru. The Inca Trail is known as the most popular route because the 4 days of trekking leads you directly to Machu Picchu. On the way you will explore ancient settlements, Incan ruins and come up close with nature.

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The History
The Inca Trail was used as a route of pilgrimage by the Kings (Incas) in the 15th century. This ‘royal road’ was only for religious and ceremonial purposes, making this an extremely spiritual place for those who walk in their footsteps today. Along the route, the Incas would conduct rituals to honour the mountains, the river and the earth. Machu Picchu was re-discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham and work continues to excavate and study the site.

The Logistics
In the run up to the trek I was bamboozled with the logistics! Do I need to carry all my belongings with me? If not, where do I leave my rucksack? How much do I carry? What’s the right footwear… the list could go on. Luckily, we had Manuel from G-Adventures to sort us all out!

You are given a duffel bag to put the clothing you would like to take with you, your sleeping bag and air mattress. The grand total is 6kg in your duffel bag. The sleeping bag and air mattress can be hired from G-adventures with a weight of 1kg each. We decided to just hire the sleeping bag so we had 5kg each for clothing and additional snacks. Worth noting that the tents do come with a roll mat already but the air filled one would give you extra comfort. The duffel bag is carried by the porters and you can carry your own small rucksack with all the necessities for a hike. The rest of your belongings are locked away with everyone elses in the hotel and you return to the same hotel at the end of your hike. Makes sense?

Inca Trail Start

Footwear was even debated within our team and it is honestly so difficult to say what is the best. I wore my Asolo Mountaineering hiking boots and didn’t regret it. They provided ankle support, they had great grip, were waterproof but naturally are heavier than trainers. We were fortunate with the weather throughout the hike with it only raining on an evening. A few of the team did slip in trainers walking down the many steps you will encounter, so if you prefer a lightweight shoe maybe go for trail running shoes.

The porters are absolute legends! Quite honestly, I feel it would be impossible to do the hike without their support. Between them they carry your tent, duffel bags and food for the whole trip. In 2002, Peruvian Government introduced Porters Laws meaning that the porters now have a minimum wage of 43 soles (approx. £7.50). Also, they can now only carry a maximum weight of 20kg on the Inca Trail. This is why you are limited to 6kg duffel bags to respect these new much needed laws that avoids overloading the porters.

The Journey
Day 1 was approximately 5 hours of trekking beginning at the floor of the Sacred Valley. You will explore ancient Incan sites along the way. It was incredible to see how forward thinking the Inca’s were with how they built their homes, stone paths and stored food for up to 20 years! The first day you stuck together as a group for the impressive explanations from your guide.

Inca ruins 1

Day 2 of the trek fell on my 26th birthday which was the most perfect day! Even though we were trekking for 11 hours, I knew I wouldn’t moan one bit as it was my Birthday after all. We were woken by porters with hot water bowls and ‘Happy Birthday’ was sang to me and even a gift snuck in the rucksack. This day we were able to walk at our own speed which for me meant steady and for the mister meant speedy. However, I had my new found friend Emmy by my side the whole day. Considering we were walking at altitude, we never stopped talking all day! ! We climbed up to the highest point of 4215 metres to Dead Woman’s Pass (Warmiwanusca in Quechua language).  This naturally occurring high point, when seen from the valley below resembles a woman’s body. I must admit hearing Duncan and Nathan shouting our names, waving and dancing, gave us the motivation to get ourselves to the top – the most rewarding moment of the hike! After endless up hill, we headed down the never ending downhill steps to the tunes of Take That and Spice Girls!

Dead womans pass

After a well deserved feast that evening, I was greeted by the chef with an epic Birthday Cake to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the team. This had been organised, without my knowledge, the first day of the Peru on a Shoestring tour, by Manuel! I still have no idea how they managed to steam a birthday cake in the middle of nowhere… but it was delicious and a perfect end to the day!

Day 3 leads to Choquequirao known as the Sacred Sister of Machu Picchu. This other lost city, that is believed to have been created around the same time as Machu Picchu, is actually bigger and more tranquil due to less people. Only 30% of this site has actually been restored. The views of the mountains, the detail in the ruins and the terraces are simply awe-inspiring. You can feel the excitement building, as you get closer and closer to the end goal!

Inca ruins 3

Day 4 is an early one, waking at 3am in order to be the first group at the checkpoint that opens at 5.30am. With a small breakfast making me feel more like a human, we set off with sore feet, aching legs and knees. At the Sun Gate you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu, a surreal moment that made most people a little emotional. What we had been trekking for was around the corner! Be aware that as you enter Machu Picchu there will be many people who have arrived on a bus… now as frustrated you could get by this, don’t let it ruin your experience. There is plenty of room for everyone and your stinky clothes, red faces and smelly feet will keep them away!

Side note: Before setting off on our round the world trip, my nephew expressed an interest in all the places we were going. We would sit on Google Images and search for pictures of Christ the Redeemer, Machu Picchu etc. He spotted a picture of Machu Picchu with a Llama and was transfixed by it and said I had to take the same picture! You never guess who wanted to join us in our postcard picture… take a look for yourself!

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At Machu Picchu you have a guided tour and nearly 4 hours to explore in total! It was magical, surreal, awe-inspiring and even spiritual. Considering how many people are within the grounds, it is a tranquil and serene experience. You can take your time and really soak up your surroundings, breathe in fresh mountain air and reflect on your past three days trekking.

Booking in Advance
If this sounds like something you would love to do, be aware that you need to book approximately 6 months in advance. Due to Peruvian law, there is now a limit on how many people can walk the Inca Trail a day. There is a total of 500 people allowed, with 300 of them being the porters and 200 hikers. We booked through STA Travel with G-Adventures on the Peru on a Shoestring Tour. With G-Adventures you can be reassured in the knowledge that the tour guide will be knowledgeable, funny and patient. The food will be divine and the tents and equipment will stand up to the elements.

Read my Planning: Peru on a Shoestring Tour here.

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I would like to dedicate this blog to our new found friends, Emmy and Nathan who had the most romantic engagement I have witnessed at Machu Picchu! It was a pleasure to be a part of your special moment, and we wish you a lifetime of happiness!

 

Go the Distance in Peru,

Chloe

Planning: Peru on a Shoestring

Something we have talked about for over a year now, is soon to become a reality. Up until Christmas the focus had been on saving, saving and guess what more saving! But then we stepped in STA travel last month to make some decisions. With the help of Jack at STA Travel Manchester and his two hours worth of patience, our flights were booked!

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Our Round the World trip covers; South America, North America, New Zealand, Australia, South East Asia, India and Europe… in just over a year! There will be plenty more blogs breaking all of our plans down into bitesize chunks. It will be interesting to see how much of what is planned… actually happens!

While at STA Travel our talks centred around our South America plans and Jack kindly informed us about the VISA’s needed for Machu Picchu. This is something we were blissfully unaware of. Only 500 VISA’s are granted a day and these are booked well in advance. Our hearts sank, thinking we were too late to book the Inca Trail. But as luck would have it there were about 7 available for 3 months into our travels (if we had left it much longer we would have had to take the Lares Trek instead).

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One of these dates meant we will be hiking the Inca Trail on my Birthday… so that was it! Big decision made and we now know we are definitely seeing one of the seven wonders of the world!

Through G-Adventures we have booked the 14 day ‘Peru on a Shoestring‘ experience. We will meet and stay with local families, visit Colca Canyon, surrounding villages and conquer the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu on a 3 day trek. Our meals, accommodation and transport are arranged. This will be a big change to our self-sufficient 3 months prior to this. It will be all hostel living and navigating the buses, up until this point.

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The Checklist that we have been sent literally looks endless. However, at a second glance there wasn’t much on there that we hadn’t thought off. Although were going in ‘dry season’, we have read not to presume it will be dry. Apparently it can feel very damp so cotton clothing and jeans are big no no’s. All of our trekking gear and waterproofs will go with us and the rest will stay behind, hopefully safe and sound!

Having the date booked for this has actually really helped us in planning everything up until Peru. We have been able to allocate time to each country on the journey up to Peru much easier, as we have no choice but to get to Lima in time.

I genuinely cannot wait for these stock photos to become our own pictures with the most incredible memories attached.

Go the Distance to see the world.

Chloe.