In 2014, I spent five months travelling overland through South America with my then-boyfriend.
Even in summary, there is so much to say about this trip. It took hundreds of blog posts and thousands of photographs, as well as tons of social media bragging, to capture even just a small screenshot of the adventure!
In five months, we covered six countries and racked up hundreds of hours on buses, over twenty different modes of transport, and just about every extreme climate imaginable. Here is the briefest possible summary of it all, along with a timeline/index of all my blog posts…
Part One: Colombia
Easily our favourite country, Colombia’s biggest asset was in the element of surprise. We simply hadn’t been expecting anything much from it. Still a relatively new tourist destination – we visited areas that had only been safe for tourists for the past five years – Colombia had a wonderful element of discovery to it.
From Bogotá, we made our way up to the Caribbean coast to seek out the most pristine tropical beaches and watch the incredible Barranquilla Carnival amongst a crowd of locals, then headed overnight from Cartagena to Medellin and on to Salento and finally Cali. We loved the whole county, which was consistently stunning, but above all we loved the people. Colombians were the warmest, friendly and welcoming people we met.
Colombia highlights include snorkelling with a sea turtle at Tayrona Park’s La Piscina beach, the stunningly gorgeous mountain town of Minca, Cartagena’s beautiful old town, limonada de coco (coconut lemonade), and misty-mountained Salento which was, quite simply, one of my favourite places in South America.
12th Feb – Landed in Bogotá.
13th Feb – Went to the top of Cerro Montserrate in Bogotá.
14th Feb – Explored La Candelaria district in Bogotá.
15th Feb – Museo de Botero and Museo del Policia.
16th Feb – Catedral de Sal in Zipaquira.
17th Feb – Bus to Bucaramanga.
18th Feb – Paragliding in Bucaramanga.
19th Feb – Bus from Bucaramanga to Santa Marta.
20th Feb –Beach at Taganga
21st Feb – Camping and hiking in Tayrona National Park.
22nd Feb – Spent the day on La Piscina beach, snorkelling (saw sea turtles).
23rd Feb – Drop Bear Hostel in Santa Marta, an ex-cartel house full of drug hiding places!
24th Feb – Chill day.
25th Feb – Headed to Minca (in the Sierra Nevada mountains). Swam in the waterfalls at Cascades Marinkas.
26th Feb – Seven (seven!!) hour hike to the top of the mountain behind Minca.
27th Feb – Swimming in the natural pools near waterfalls at Pozos Azules.
28th Feb – Back to Santa Marta.
1st Mar – Barranquilla Carnival!
2nd Mar – Bahia Concha beach.
3rd Mar – Santa Marta to Cartagena by bus.
4th Mar – Explored Cartagena: old town, Getsmani, Bovedas, city walls, Castillo San Felipe, Bocagrande Beach.
5th Mar – Boat to Playa Blanca on Baru and slept in a cabana on the beach!
6th Mar – Another day on Playa Blanca.
7th Mar – Mud volcano near Cartagena.
8th Mar – Bocagrande Beach in Cartagena, then 13-hour night bus to Medellin.
9th Mar – Exploring Medellin – Botanical Gardens.
10th Mar – Exploring Medellin
11th Mar –Medellin to Salento – checked into gorgeous eco-lodge Yambolombia!
12th Mar – Five hour hike in Valle de Cocora in Salento. Lots of hummingbirds.
13th Mar – Horse riding in Salento, high up in the Colombian Andes.
14th Mar – Salento to Cali by bus.
15th Mar – Cali to Leticia by air (because there are no roads). Riverboat tour in the Amazon.
Part Two – Peru
Taking the road-less-travelled overland from Colombia, we sailed into Peru along the Amazon river. It wasn’t quite as glamorous as it sounds; the narrow riverboat was packed out and we sat on uncomfy seats for twelve hours watching a narrow band of green slink past under a slate grey sky, but it was the Amazon and it was the most adventurous way of reaching Iquitos, a city smack in the middle of the Peruvian rainforest.
From the Amazon, we headed via Tarapoto and Moyobamba to the coast, exploring Indiana-Jones-style ruins and tombs in Chiclayo and Trujillo en route to Lima. After a couple of weeks getting off the beaten track, we got firmly back on it after Lima, travelling from there to Cusco with the new hop on hop off bus company Peru Hop and taking in Paracas – home of the Ballestas Islands and about a billion sea lions – desert-bound Huacachina, and the Nazca lines along the way.
After Cusco – which was beautiful – and our Machu Picchu tour – which was spectacular – we headed back to Arequipa, and finally to Lake Titicaca on the border with Bolivia. Highlights include hugging a baby sloth in the Amazon getting a new tattoo in Lima, sandboarding in Huacachina, watching a gig in the smallest bar imaginable in Cusco, condor-spotting on our three day Colca Canyon trek, and, of course, Machu Picchu.
16th Mar – Sailed down the Amazon River to Iquitos in Peru!
17th Mar – Catch-up day in Iquitos. Three hours in an internet cafe blogging, laundry, booking things, sorting out a lost bank card. All the fun realities of travelling!
19th Mar – Quistococha zoo and lagoon just outside of Iquitos. Evening flight out of the jungle to Tarapoto.
20th Mar – Cataratas de Ahuashiyacu at Tarapoto – swam in the waterfalls.
21st Mar – Tarapoto to Moyobamba, swimming in the thermal baths. Night bus to Chiclayo.
22nd Mar – Mercado Modelo and Pimentel beach in Chiclayo.
23rd Mar – Tour of Sipan tombs and pyramids at Tucume near Chiclayo.
24th Mar – Bus to Trujillo, stayed next to Huanchaco beach.
25th Mar – Exploring the ruins at Chan Chan in Trujillo.
26th Mar – Exploring Huacos del Sol y del Luna in Trujillo. Night bus to Lima.
27th Mar – Walk along the cliffs at Miraflores in Lima. Evening at the Magic Fountains park.
28th Mar – ‘Day off’ in Lima – spent lounging on the roof terrace at Pariwana Hostel.
29th Mar – Exploring Lima’s old town centre and the catacombs at San Francisco church.
30th Mar – Another ‘day off’ in Lima!
31st Mar – Started travelling with the Peru Hop bus – Lima to Cusco via Paracas, Huacachino and Nasca. Full tour en route to Paracas with stops around Lima, at Pachacamac ruins, a lovely beach and an old hacienda.
1st Apr – Morning boat tour of the Ballestas Islands in Paracas to see a huge colony of sea lions.
2nd April – Enjoying the beach and Kokopelli Hostel’s pool in Paracas.
3rd April – Day trip into the desert near Paracas, then drove to Huacachina – oasis in the desert.
4th April – Dune buggies and sandboarding in the desert around Huacachina.
5th April – Fun overload in Huacachina! Sandboarding, pool, pisco and wine tasting tour, more sandboarding, followed by a huge dinner.
6th April – Day trip to Nazca for a flight over the lines.
7th April – Chill out day in Huacachina. Started the 26 hour journey to Cusco, with a stop in Nasca for viewing tower.
8th April – Bus to Cusco.
9th April – Shopping, walking, and acclimatising in Cusco.
10th April – Sightseeing and massages in Cusco.
11th April – Climbed the mountain beside Cusco to visit Cristo Blanco.
12th April – Chocolate making workshop at the Museo de Cacao in Cusco.
13th April – First day of the Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu: mountain bikes and white water rafting.
14th April – Second day of the Inca Jungle Trek: six-hour hike followed by hot springs at Santa Teresa.
15th April – Third day of the Inca Jungle Trek: Ziplining, followed by a three-hour hike to Aguas Calientes.
16th April – Climbed to Machu Picchu!
17th April – Chill out day in Cusco.
18th April – Free Walking Tour in Cusco. Live band in San Blas neighbourhood.
19th April – Haircuts in Cusco!
20th April – Easter Sunday in Cusco. Night bus to Arequipa.
21st April – Exploring Arequipa.
22nd April – First day of the Colca Canyon Trek – lamas, alpacas and vicuñas in the national reserve, stone forest, and colca valley.
23rd April – Second day of the Colca Canyon Trek – condor spotting, mountain biking, downhill hike into the canyon.
24th April – Third day of the Colca Canyon Trek – uphill hike out of the canyon, hot springs, return to Arequipa.
25th April – Free walking tour in Arequipa.
26th April – Arequipa to Puno by bus.
27th April – Floating islands tour in Lake Titicaca. Puno to Copacabana by bus.
Part Three – Bolivia
Another unexpected treasure, Bolivia was the cheapest country we visited, and one of the craziest, with ruggedly beautiful landscapes and a strong, proud culture. We had more adventures there than any country, from cycling Death Road – one of the most dangerous roads in the world – and running down a building in La Paz, to caving in Torotoro and visiting a real working mine in Potosi.
After crossing into Bolivia at Lake Titicaca, we spent a night on the spectacular Isla del Sol, before heading to La Paz for a week, then to Cochabamba and the Torotoro national park, where we spent two days exploring caves, canyons, mountains and genuine dinosaur footprints.
We spent ten days in Sucre, learning Spanish and generally relaxing after some hectic months of travel. Then we headed to Tupiza via Potosi. The last leg of our Bolivian trip was the four-day tour from Tupiza to the Salar de Uyuni, which was the biggest highlight of the country for me.
Other highlights include my lovely Spanish teacher David at the Bolivia Spanish School in Sucre, the night sky over Isla del Sol, cheering on Bolivar with the locals at a match in La Paz, hiking in Torotoro, visiting the “Wild West” in Tupiza, and watching the sunrise over the salt flats at Uyuni.
28th April – Boat to Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca.
29th April – Long walk around Isla del Sol. Evening bus from Copacabana to La Paz.
30th April – Catch up day in La Paz. Evening football match – Bolivar vs Blooming!
1st May – Labour Day in La Paz.
3rd May – Valle de la Luna, followed by the zoo just outside of La Paz.
4th May – Cycled Death Road with Adrenaline!
5th May – Extended city tour with Red Caps – had our luck read by a Witch Doctor in El Alto market! Night bus to Cochabamba.
6th May – Cable cars to Christo Blanco in Cochabamba. Evening bus to Torotoro National Park.
8th May – Trek to the canyon in Torotoro – dinosaur footprints, fossils, and jumping into the river!
9th May – Bus back to Cochabamba, night bus to Sucre.
10th May – Chill out day in Sucre.
11th May – Premier League Final
13th May – Siete Cascades, Sucre (seven waterfalls). Second Spanish lesson.
14th May – Third Spanish lesson. Evening football match – Sucre vs San Jose.
15th May – Fourth Spanish lesson. Evening fashion show (with Mr South Americas and Miss Bolivias!)
16th May – Final Spanish lesson, now fluent. Cooking class and drinks at Bolivia Spanish School.
17th May – FA Cup Final. Night out with a few friends.
18th May – Chill out day in Sucre.
19th May -Bus to Potosi.
20th May -Tour of a working mine in Potosi.
21st May – Bus to Tupiza.
22nd May – Hiking El Canyon in Tupiza.
23rd May – Hike to Valle de los Machos, El Canyon Inca and Puerta del Diablo.
24th May – Salar de Uyuni Tour, Day One. Wind, snow and a mini Machu-Picchu in the mountains!
25th May – Salar de Uyuni Tour, Day Two. Lakes, geysers, hot springs and snow.
26th May – Salar de Uyuni Tour, Day Three. Rock formations, black lake, and mummy cemetery.
27th May – Salar de Uyuni Tour, Day Four. The salt flats, followed by the train cemetery.
28th May – Uyuni – Chile by bus. Very long border crossing.
Part Four – Chile and Argentina
After a brief, four-day stopover in Chile, we switched to Argentina in search of the world’s best steak and wine; and we weren’t disappointed. Argentina was one of the wealthiest and most developed countries we visited, and most cities felt distinctly European or North American. But the lack in exoticism was made up for by a wonderful culture and an amazing cuisine.
Starting in Salta, we headed down to the wine region of Mendoza, then spent a week in the capital, Buenos Aires – one of my favourite cities in the world – before heading up to the border with Brazil and Paraguay to visit the spectacular Iguassu Falls.
These were one of the highlights of the entire five months, but other highlights from Argentina include the steak at Viejo Jacks in Salta, a bicycle wine-tasting tour in Mendoza, cheering on Argentina with the locals in one of the first games of the World Cup, learning to tango, the Biking Buenos Aires tour, bondiolas (enormous hot pork sandwiches), and experiencing the insane show Fuerza Bruta at it’s home in Buenos Aires.
Chile and Argentina Timeline
29th May – Calama – San Pedro by bus. Walked along the river in San Pedro.
30th May – Hiked around San Pedro.
31st May – Chile – Argentina by bus. Four hour border crossing.
1st June – Chill out day in Salta. Watched free street entertainment in the park (clown, mariachi band, and a singer).
2nd June – Cable cars up to Cerro San Bernado.
3rd June – Hiked Quebrada de San Lorenzo in Salta, overnight bus to Mendoza.
4th June – Arrived in Mendoza at 4pm, all you can eat meat buffet for dinner!
5th June – Aquarium and Serpentarium in Mendoza.
6th June – Biking around Maipu, tasting wines at different vineyards.
7th June – Chill out day in Mendoza.
8th June – Sam’s birthday! Trek at Cerro Alto followed by cake. All you can eat buffet again for dinner.
9th June – Parque San Martin in Mendoza.
10th June – Do-nothing day. Night bus to Buenos Aires.
11th June – Arrived in Buenos Aires. Chill out evening.
12th June – Thunderstorm in BA! Fine Arts Museum, followed by Afternoon Tea at Alvear Palace Hotel.
13th June – Biking Buenos Aires Heart of the City bike tour. Dinner at closed-door restaurant Io Sono Shokuhin.
14th June – Shopping in the afternoon, dinner and dancing at We Are Tango show in the evening.
15th June – San Telmo antiques market, followed by the awesome show Fuerza Bruta.
16th June – Chill out day in BA.
17th June – Overnight bus to Puerto Iguassu.
18th June – Arrived late in Puerto Iguassu, walked to the viewpoint of the Three Borders (Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil).
19th June – Iguassu Falls – Argentina Side.
Part Five – Brazil
From Iguassu Falls, we slipped across the border into Brazil and checked out their side of the stunning falls, before hopping a twenty nine (yes, 29) hour bus ride to Belo Horizonte so that Sam could watch England play in their last group game at Mineirao stadium.
In a series of painfully long bus rides, we then headed to Porto Seguro, Paraty and finally Rio de Janeiro. We were lucky enough to be in Brazil for the majority of the World Cup celebrations, and we were in Rio for the weekend of the final, which was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Brazil highlights include getting soaked in Iguassu’s Garganta del Diablo, swimming on our very own private beach at Porto Seguro’s Mutari, churrasquerias, watching Brazil lose to Germany with a crowd of locals, zip lining at Paraty Sport & Aventura, caipirinhas, learning Brazilian recipes at Cook in Rio, and visiting Christ the Redeemer.
20th June – Crossed to Brazil and went to Iguassu Falls Brazil Side!
21st June – Chill out day in Foz de Iguaçu, night bus to Belo Horizonte (29 hours!)
22nd June – Arrived in Belo Horizonte after 9pm.
23rd June – Walk around Belo Horizonte.
24th June – Sam watched World Cup match England v Costa Rica. Overnight bus to Porto Seguro.
25th June – Arrived in Porto Seguro.
26th June – Porto Seguro historic centre, walked along the beach.
27th June – Ferry to the beach at Arraial D’Ajuda.
28th June – Walked to the beach at Taperapuan. Cocktails on Paseo Do Alcool (alcohol alley) that evening.
29th June – Rainy – day off!
30th June – Ferry to the beach at Arraial D’Ajuda (again).
1st July – Bus to Taperapuan beach – watched Argentina match on the big screen.
2nd July – Bus about 30 minutes away from Porto Seguro to the beach at Mutarí – had miles of beach to ourselves!
3rd July – Chill out day, overnight bus to Rio.
4th July – Connection in Rio to Paraty.
5th July – Paraty historic centre and beach.
6th July – Bus to the beach at Trindade.
7th July – Bus to Penha to visit waterfalls in the Atlantic Forest.
8th July – Watched the World Cup semi-final, Brazil vs Germany, in the town square surrounded by locals.
9th July – Very full day – zip lines and treetop challenges at Paraty sport and adventure, cachaça tasting at Alambique Paratiana, swimming hole Poço Ingles, late lunch at Shambhala Lounge, and a massage and jacuzzi bath at Shambhala Spa.
10th July – Bus to Rio! Very long-winded journey across the city to Hostel Rocinha in the Rocinha favela.
11th July – Bus to Copacabana beach for a walk and to explore the FIFA World Cup fan area.
12th July – Exploring Santa Teresa.
13th July – Watched the World Cup final on the big screen on Copacabana Beach!
14th July – Moved across the city to Lapa district. Walked around Lapa and checked out the Selaron Steps.
15th July – Cooking in Rio cooking class, followed by visiting Christ the Redeemer by night.
16th July – Spent the day on Ipanema beach.
17th July – Flight home to the UK!
Whew! That just about summarises my 155-day South American adventure. But of course, there is so much leftover. So many untold stories that don’t quite fit into my blog posts, so many wonderful characters and friends we met, so many hundreds more photographs that never got shared, and so many beautiful, secret memories that I’ll keep all to myself.
This was my first ever backpacking trip, and it opened up a door to a whole new version of myself. I can honestly say that the trip made me braver and stronger as a person, and were some of the best months of my life. But the adventures didn’t stop there – after realising I could make my blog work as a full-time career, I kept travelling. And I’ve never looked back!