When I decided two years ago that I wanted to backpack through South America, I knew it would be an incredible adventure (mainly due to my older sister taking a similar trip a few years ago), but I never expected it to be just this good. I’ve already written about some wacky anecdotes that have befallen us thus far (check them out here), but as we’ve hit the halfway mark this week, we started thinking about various highs and lows. There have been many!
You can see our full route and all the places we’ve visited on this amazing little map (we’re using the TrackMyTour app).
Favourite city: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A mad, wonderful, huge metropolis, with gorgeous beaches and beautiful people. Nothing has come close to the electric atmosphere we experienced there – read about our samba street party here!
And I need to give a special mention to Sucre in Bolivia, a city of which we expected nothing, where we spent a few really relaxing and fun days with some new friends we’d made on our tour through the Salar de Uyuni in the best hostel of our trip (see below).
Least favourite city: Buenos Aires, Argentina
For all its hype, the first stop on our trip was decidedly underwhelming. With prices as high as London, hugely long distances within the city, and a rather snobby population, we quickly understood why the rest of the country has a negative attitude towards the porteños. We had incredible steak and enjoyed tango dancing (Anna blogged about that one, read it here), but we far preferred the rest of Argentina.
I’ve seen hundreds, nay, thousands of photos of the famous Bolivian salt flats, but nothing could have prepared me for the vastness of what seems like an endless mirror. I’m so glad we visited when the Salar was flooded, as the reflections took my breath away. We couldn’t tell where the sky ended and the flats began, and the horizon seemed untouchable. I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears when we arrived, and although we spent nearly 5 hours taking it all in, it could never be enough. Waking up at 4am to catch the sunrise was worth every bleary eye!
In second place I’d have to pick El Chalten in Patagonia, Argentina. We did three hikes in three days, and each viewpoint was better than the last. The bluest water you can imagine, flanked by snow-capped mountains and accompanied by reckless gusts of wind, these views had a different feel to them as we knew we’d hiked around 12km to see them!
5 hours of trudging through the snow, all uphill, with crampons on my feet and an ice pick in my hand… my thighs were on fire. It was all worth it though, as we saw real lava at the top and then sledded all the way back down on our bottoms!
The second was probably cycling through the Valle de la Luna in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, as the heat, altitude, and desert conditions meant we couldn’t really cycle for more than 10 minutes without needing to stop for water and breath. It was a true test of stamina, but we managed to cycle around 50km and saw some incredible and desolate landscapes as a reward!
Una locura indeed! Everybody parties on the streets, with parades, music, and dancing as far as the eye can see. We joined in until 6am, went completely crazy with all the rest of them, and then spent the 1st of January recovering on the beach.
Best meal (eating out): Calden del Soho, Buenos Aires, Argentina
It was our first night, and so we had to have steak and wine. And oh what a steak, and oh what wine!
It was SO salty that we could barely eat it, and we felt dehydrated for days afterwards. Plus there were cockroaches running around the floor of the restaurant…
Worst meal (home-cooked): An attempt at fried rice in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
The soya sauce we bought had no salt and tasted like vinegar, plus we overcooked the rice so it was just a huge bowl of stodge with no salt. It was awful!
Favourite new food: Empanadas.
Discovered in Argentina and available throughout Chile and Bolivia as well, we just love these baked (sometimes fried) pastries, mostly filled with meat, but with many other variations available. The best ones we had were in a teeny tiny restaurant in La Caldera, Argentina, as they were served with a spicy sauce, perfectly crunchy, and had the tastiest fillings!
We’ve only had the Chilean version so far, but we hear Peruvians battle for the better one. We can’t wait to find out once we reach there!
Favourite foodie experience: Wandering around the local markets in Bolivia (especially Sucre, read about that one here)
Such fresh fruits and vegetables, and such low prices! The fruit juices are spectacular too… my favourite one was a mango and passionfruit combo that we had in La Paz. 8 Bolivianos (£1) for 500ml, and if you ask the lady nicely for the yapa, she’ll give you a little extra once you’ve drunk half of it!
Toilet paper, hot showers, and clean clothes.
Favourite new word: Chiquitingo
It means a ‘quickie’ in Bolivia 😉
Favourite dance class: Forró in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – read about that one here. Closely followed by folkloric dancing in Sucre, Bolivia, taught by an unseemly teacher wearing a hat that said ‘DOPE’ on the back, teaching a grou p of teenage girls who were all supremely excited to meet us!
Best local festivities: Alasitas festival in La Paz, Bolivia
An amazing day in La Paz as we took part in the Alasitas festival. Everything is available in miniature: houses, cars, diplomas, animals… and then it is offered to Ekeko, the Bolivian god of abundance. We were lucky to receive some (fake) money directly from the mayor of La Paz, which we then had blessed by a priest and a shaman. This means we will have prosperity in our future! Fingers crossed…
Backpack essentials I’m so glad I brought: A pegless washing line for when we don’t have time to do proper laundry, and a headphone splitter so we can both listen to podcasts on busses and continue our obsession with the Hamilton soundtrack (Both were bought on Amazon).
Backpack ‘essential’ I didn’t need to bring: A handbag
I’ve only used it about twice, as we are hugely paranoid about pickpockets. During the day, we use a backpack, and in the evening, our phones stay locked in the hostel, and a bit of money can easily be stuffed into a sock. It’s much better for our peace of mind, too!
Best bus ride: From Buenos Aires to Iguazu (Argentina)
Our first long bus ride, where we received countless meals, champagne, wine, and had incredibly comfortable seats. The 18 hours passed in a breeze!
Worst bus ride: From Uyuni to Potosí (Bolivia)
There was incredibly loud music playing, dogs crawling around our feet, non-reclining seats and nerve-wracking mountain roads with a crazy driver, who insisted on overtaking small cars around bends and accelerating whenever we went downhill!
Best hostel: Villa Oropeza, Sucre, Bolivia
Hugely spacious, with a roof terrace, two kitchens, a lovely backyard, big rooms, and great showers, we cooked awesome food every night and loved chilling out in the hammock. All that for £6 a night… you’ve got to love Bolivia.
Anna woke up to the sound of me squashing cockroaches by the front door, we had to use the family’s shower, which had no hot water, and the dust in the room suggested nobody had stayed here for at least five years. We bolted around 7am.
Best feeling: Showering after spending over 24 hours on a bus (this happened quite often), and after spending 5 days in the jungle in Bolivia.
Worst feeling: Being eaten alive by mosquitos on our tour of the Amazon rainforest in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. Those mofos are superhuman, can bite through clothes (two layers, even), and are resistant even to tropical strength insect repellent! I’ve never been so itchy.
We’ve still got 3 months to go, and I cannot wait to explore Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia! Stay tuned…