My Top 10 Hostels and Budget Hotels in South America

Here are my top 10 places to stay while travelling through South America, all based on my own experience at the time of my stay during 2017.

Colombia

Casa Viejas – Minca – Colombia

£9 a night

Minca is a small village inhabited by 800 people at an elevation of 650m in the Sierra Nevada above Santa Marta.

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Casa Viejas goes into my top 3 favourite places is stayed during my 6 months in South America. The incredible views out across the valley where on a clear night you can see the twinkling lights of Santa Marta, the pure tranquility of just hearing the birds and the buzz of the jungle below. Waking up to this view every morning was such a treat.

Run by a French couple and their volunteers, Casa Viejas has the best breakfast in Colombia, served with fresh coffee straight from the La Victoria Minca that surrounds the hostel. Freshly filtered water is available, and with no wifi and evening meals served together it is great for socialising and getting to know your fellow guests each evening.

I recommend making the most of the tours available and visit the La Victoria finca via the water falls, and take in the unspoilt beauty.

Recommended – Accessible only by motorbike (with your backpack on your back is fun) or 4×4 this is perfect for travellers who who want to relax and enjoy nature and get away from buzz of the world for a few days

My Rating 10/10

 

Dreamer Hostel – Santa Marta, Colombia

£7 a night

Santa Marta is a city in Colombia. It is the capital of Departamento del Magdalena and the fourth-largest urban city of the Caribbean Region of Colombia,

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Dreamers is like being in an all inclusive resort, where you never have to leave.

Comfy dorms and beds, great shared bathroom with enough showers and toilets so you never have to queue (but avoid using the hand towel) there was a spate of pink eye going round when I was there.

There is Swimming pool  to cool off from the days heat or just chill and recover from your latest trek. There is tasty and well priced food available all day.

The location is perfect for visiting Parque Tayrona for either the day or you can leave your bags in the lock up and go off and explore further along the coast. Anyone doing the Lost City trek will find this a good base to start and finish. One of the best places to meet other travellers from all over the world with each evenings activities and organised day tours – really friendly staff that just makes the whole experience wonderful.

Recommended – Best place to start if you are a hostel virgin or just starting your trip and want to meet people and have some fun. Not for those wanting a quiet night.

My Rating 8/10

Ecuador

Lulú lama – Isinlivi, Ecuador

Price on request.

Isinlivi is a small village high up in the Andean mountains of Ecuador, it one of the town you stay in when doing the four day Quilotoa Loop.

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Lulu Lama is one of those hostels you walk into and think – is this really a hostel – it looks more like a ski chalet you would find in the Swiss Alps, with the wooden interior and burning fire keeping the place toasty warm.

The perfect place to spend a cosy night after a long days hiking . Super cosy dorms and private rooms, or splash out for the cottages that over look the valley.

There is a spa area where you will find a jacuzzi to relax those weary feet with a cold beer. Re count the days hiking with your fellow travellers over some home cooked food, laughing with those that got lost, followed by a game of cards by the fire .

Recommended – Single travellers and couples.

My rating 9/10

 

Hostería Izhcayluma – Vilcabamba Ecuador

£7.80 a night

Vilcabamba- Vilcabamba is a village in the southern region of Ecuador, in Loja Province, about 45 km (28 mi) from the city of Loja

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The perfect last stop in Ecuador before heading into Peru, this hostel definitely  makes my top 3. This is a hotel that offer dorms at hostel prices and the facilities are the best you can find at any hostel in South America.

A beautiful restaurant with an extensive menu freshly cooked for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a separate bar with pool table to unwind after a long days trek, and a swimming pool to soak up the days rays. The highlight and added bonus for all you yogis, is the free yoga each morning and afternoon.

The cabin style private rooms each with a private balcony are perfect for couples or families. The dorms each with 6 singles beds (not a bunk bed in sight) –  each with a mezzanine floor and an incredibly large bathroom.

There are self orientating treks of differing difficulty that surround the hotel and well worth trying out while there.

Recommended – Yogis, couples, families and travellers that need some time out from the usual backpacking and hostel life.

My rating 10/10

Peru

Eco lodge – Mancora – Peru

From £53 a night

Máncora is a town and beach resort in the Piura Region, in northwestern Peru. It is located in the Talara Province and is capital of the Máncora District.

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The perfect treat for a traveller who has been on the road a few months and needs some luxury and comfort at a good price.

My final top 3 of my stays in South America, a small and boutique hotel with only 5 rooms, set around a beautiful garden and swimming pool. The bright pink flowers against the natural wood and bright blue sky are so inviting, I could have stayed here for days.

Off the beaten track away from the hustle and bustle of the Main Street in Mancora – you have real peace and quiet to take stock, write your blog or catch up on life.

Freshly baked breakfast and a super french host to look after you, even Tofu the dog is there to give you comfort.

The rooms are simple and chic, with wood slated walls, grey slate floor and white linens. The enormous king size bed and luxury cotton linens make you just want to cosy up with Netflix or someone else and never leave.

The luxury of having, shampoo , conditioner and soap and freshly washed soft towels all makes this worth it for at least one night for any traveller in the need of some me time .

Recommended – Travellers in the need for some me time

My Rating 10/10

 

Loki del mar, Mancora , Peru

£7 a night

Máncora is a town and beach resort in the Piura Region, in northwestern Peru. It is located in the Talara Province and is capital of the Máncora District.

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Loki is more like walking into an apartment complex in the Costa del Sol , than a hostel that only costs £7 a night.

Promoted as a party hostel, the Loki group have hostels in all the major cities in Peru and in La Paz, Bolivia.

After my luxury 2 night stay in Eco Lodge I was in the mood to party for a few days and Loki did not disappoint.

Full of young 20 something travellers, the day I arrived there was water sliding and gladiator drinking games going on. The music starts at 10am and eventually finishes when the bar closes, which can be anytime the staff deem it no longer full enough to stay open.

The rooms are a good size, mixture of single beds and bunks each with on suite shower room and separate toilets. The Pool is a real bonus and ideal for cooling down in the 30 degree heat or jumping in and joining the many games that are played. The evenings come alive with themed nights, with the day guests from the rest of the resort that come and enjoy the fun.

Happy hour is 6pm to 9pm everyday and if you get beer cap in the bucket you get a free shot. This never happened from want I could see!! The menu is pretty good too and not expensive, with a mixture of local and western food.

Recommended – If you want to sleep then Loki is not for you.

My rating 8/10

 

Wild Olive Guesthouse , Huacachina, Peru

£10 a night

Huacachina is a village built around a small oasis and surrounded by sand dunes in southwestern Peru

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This was a little gem of a find, very clean with plenty of space to relax and unwind and catch up on Netflix. The main living area had 2 great big sofas and large tv, it felt like being at home.

The rooms were possibly a little small for 6/8 bunks, but still very comfy and clean, with great showers and hot water –  Which is all you need after a day of sand surfing in the desert.

There is a cute restaurant attached to the back that over looks the oasis and does great breakfast and food.

Recommended – all types of travellers

My rating 8/10

£6 a night

Magicpacker Hostel – Cusco , Peru

Cusco s a city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. It is the capital of the Cusco Region and of the Cusco Province. This is the main base for all travellers wanting to trek to Machu Picchu.

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The magic packer was my base for a few days before and after my Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. The rooms were all really big, with larger than usual really comfy bunk beds.

The rooms are all situated around large courtyard, that is perfect for chilling in the sun on bean bags, breakfast is included in the price and isn’t bad for Peru. Its situated just out of the main busy part of Cusco, which makes it much quieter without having to walk-up a hill to get away from it all.

The showers were the best I have had in all my travels in Peru, powerful hot water and plenty of them. There is a lock up for you to leave your large backpack when going on a trek for a few days.

Recommended – For all travellers

My rating 8/10

 

Bolivia

Hostel Wara Uta, sla del Sol, Yumani

£22 a night includes breakfast and Wifi

Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is an island in the southern part of Lake Titicaca

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At the top of the hill nestled amongst a few other hostels and homes, this little hostel of no more than 4/5 rooms is so idyllic set in a beautifully well maintained garden. The rooms are clean and most of the time has hot water. Its a good walk from the boat with a few hundred steps and steep accent to get to, but so worth it for the views and the friendly greeting from the owner.

The hostel is perfectly located for exploring the island and trying the best restaurant for miles. Las Velas is a cute little restaurant snuggled amongst eucalyptus trees at the top of the village, a great place to unwind with a glass of red and watch the sunset.

Las Velas is a one man band owned by Pablo, a gourmet chef who use to work in posh restaurant in Lima.

It runs without electricity, meaning each table is lit by candle light and set inside the front part of Pablo’s house. The kitchen is to the rear where Pablo cooks and prepares delicious dishes like steamed fresh trout in white wine or homemade lasagne, with his head torch as the only form of light.

Recommended – for couples or groups of 3/4

My rating 8/10

Chile

Valle Mistrel – La Serena, Chile

£12 a night

Valle Mistrel is more like a hotel than a hostel, sometimes it make sense to pay a little extra to be in nice surroundings. From the front it looks just like any other small hostel that you stumble across, brightly painted and with sign posts with all the major cities with their distance.

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Behind the glass door, is large long and beautifully cultivated space. The reception area, what looks like use to be the living room to the original house, but now houses the new fleet of bikes for hire. I arrived in the middle of the night and made use of the sofa to kip until the reception was open. The night porter was a bit clueless.

This backs onto a large garden – come patio that follows the length of the building, where you will find most of the double rooms.

Plenty of seats too chill, and listen to the music that is piped from above, the trickle of water from the water feature and the Avery of birds all makes for a pleasant relaxing environment.

Each double room is clean and spacious, comes with complimentary soft white towels. Each with an ensuite and all the essentials you find in a hotel. The breakfast terrace over looks the Garden from the rear.

However, the new addition and the jewel in the crown is the incredible roof terrace, with bespoke furniture made of old furniture and the panoramic views of the whole city.

Just below are the new dorms, with the most comfortable bunk beds I have slept in yet. The only downside is no mirror in the ensuite .

Recommended – For all Travellers that like nice surroundings

My rating 9/10

The Beautiful City of Buenos Aires

The thought of having to travel 19 hours in a bus to get to Buenos Aires,felt like a waste of a few days. It was nice to be sat on the plane knowing it was less than an hours flight.

With my travel companions still in tow we arrive in Buenos Aires, a city that will become my most favourite capital city of my whole 6 month trip.

The hostel was located in Recoleta , only a 20 minute Uber ride from the airport. Voyage Recoleta Hostel is a an old 19th century 6 floor town house. It’s has a big kitchen, (perfect for cooking Christmas dinner) communal area, terrace and massive rooftop which was great for partying and getting to know the other guests.

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This would be our home for 10 days over Christmas and New year, and more importantly my birthday which was today 23rd December.

The only down side was the plug situation, in that the fittings were no compatible for any of our adapters and the hostel had run out. As you can imagine after a long journey this did not put me in the best of moods.

One hour later and £15 worse off I had found an adapter so I could charge my phone and iPad.

That evening by recommendation from Victoriano and Sebastian who had I had met in Ecuador we went to La Clotilde restaurant for steak. What a great choice it was too, great atmosphere full of locals diving into massive plates of steak and bottles or red wine.

Although I had dropped a hint about a birthday cake to the boys , I always knew they wouldn’t succeed, so instead they got me a chocolate brownie with a candle – very sweet of them. Though tonight would be my gift to them by taking them to their first ever gay club.

Let’s just say, Keno needed more dutch courage than Esteban or myself. So we walked around to find a bar that was open close to the restaurant. This was proving more difficult than we expected at 12:30am. You would have expected the city to still be alive, maybe we were in the wrong district.

Stepping out of the taxi at the club, more drinks were required before Keno would enter. Across the road there was a good looking crowd and great music coming from Avant Garten. Great outside space and really good cocktails the perfect place to get in the mood for dancing.

Finally, he was ready and we joined the queue for Crowbar, a large warehouse style club that was way to empty – meaning we were too early. A few rounds later and it starts to fill up, and I’m feeling really old.

The boys on the other hand are loving it. I go out for cigaret at the side of the club, to find another club which is playing much better music and full of guys more my type.

I soon realise that we have walked into the the wrong club, and ended up in what I would call a school disco for under 20’s, not the night I had in mind. I checked with the bouncer and true enough we should have been in Rheo Club. After some convincing and the door being kind to me and the mistake, I manage to get us into the correct club.

We danced all night finally leaving at 7am, but not before a kiss or two all round. I pulled some local hotties and both Keno and Esteban pulled a couple of girls. Leaving the boys told me that it was one of the best nights they have ever had. Result

Christmas came and went and was celebrated with the rest of the hostel and once the misty hangovers had cleared it was time to explore the city properly.

First on the list was the Recoleta Cemetery, an absolute must while in BA. Here you will find the graves of notable people like Eva Peron and other important people to Argentina, all buried in amazingly designed and sculptured tombs.

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Recoleta is a beautiful neighbourhood where the rich and elite have lived for 100’s of years. Puerto Madero is nice to visit for the day with a marina full of yachts and surrounded by bars and restaurants, very much the modern part of the city where the new money has moved to.

The Floralis Generica is a sculpture made of steel and aluminium and located in Plaza des las Naciones Unidas. The flower slowly opens at sunrise and closes again at dusk, it is just as stunning in the days sun as it is lit at night by coloured lights.

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New Years was only a few days away, but I needed to get out of the city and spend some time by the beach. My friend Darren flew in and we caught the bus 5 hours to the coast to relax in Pinamar. Along the coast there are many resorts where the locals go for holidays, they reminded me very much of the British seaside towns, just with warmer weather.

After 3 days, it was back to BA for New Years. The night started at Plaza Serrano, where we met up with Keno and Esteban, and the British boys you may remember I met back in Santa Marta in Colombia. James, Ed, and Max with the new edition Courtenay. Chris was absent due to a motorcycle accident in Medellin.

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Midnight came, with shots in our hands we welcomed in 2018. The square was packed, fireworks went off and a samba band started to play. Everyone was in the party spirit, dancing in the streets, drinking and enjoying life.

Bayside Club was our next destination, big Dj’s with few 1000 people and only 500 peso to get in, which is a bargain for NYE. Another 7am finish after lots of dancing to amazing music, with a really mixed and friendly crowd. I have to say being gay in BA is wonderful, no one cares and everyone just gets on. A wonderful city to be out and proud in.

Last day in BA and my last day with Keno and Esteban, so we saved the best till last. La Boca, an amazingly colourful area of the city by the docks. The birth place of Tango and so much of BA’s rich European history.

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La Boca was the first stop for many migrants coming from Europe. Here they would live together in large dwellings or slum like places. Italians, Spanish, Swedish so many nationalities came to Argentina and why so many today have European surnames.

I would recommend taking the La Boca walking tour for 300 pesos, and then enjoy the best ever steak sandwich at CABJ opposite the La Boca Stadium.

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It was an emotional goodbye to the Keno and Esteban after nine weeks of travelling together they were heading off to Uruguay and Brazil, while I headed further west to fly to Mendoza.

Lots of red wine drinking and some more white water rafting, zip lining and a the fantastic Cacheuta hot springs in Mendoza it was time to  say goodbye to Argentina and make the long bus journey to the border with Chile and travel to Santiago.

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Northern Argentina and the Iguazú Falls

Catching one of the very few passenger trains to still run in South America, requires some pre booking as it only runs four times a week. Two trains going north and the other two south.

Sadly we were travelling the wrong day to catch the train from Uyuni to the border town of Tupiza. Instead we opted for the early 6:30am bus, that was advertised to take 6 hours straight to the border.

What the old lady didn’t tell us when we booked it, that we would waste over an hour waiting in town no less than 2 hours away. She also fibbed about how frequent the buses run from the border into Argentina. Another 4 hour wait!!!

It turns out that you have to change busses at Tupiza and get a little shuttle bus for another 2 hours, take a taxi from the bus station to the border crossing and then get a stamp and walk across, to catch a 10 hour bus to Salta. Always so simple…

Salta is the first large city in Argentina from the border and a good place to spend a day or two to take it easy. There is a more western influence here, the population is much less indigenous compared to Bolivia.

Also the first city in South America where there appears to be a Highway Code. The city is one big grid system, with traffic lights only at the big junctions. Drivers quite happily give way to each other, it all terribly civilised.

My original itinerary would have taken me South to Rosario and then back North to the Iguazú Falls. Which would have taken days and days. Instead I found out you could go direct from Salta, or via Corrientes for a nights stop over.

Gaining back a few days, I decided that it would be nice to see another city. The thought of 22 hours travelling again was not something I wanted to do again so soon.

Corrientes is a beautiful city built in the banks of the Paraná River, old colonial buildings adorn the main squares in the centre, with a large shopping district to the East , while bars and restaurants follow the river line for quite some way.

Corrientes is known for its heat and humidity in summer months of January and February. It is also host to Argentina’s biggest carnival, where people from all around the country descend on the city for a week of parties.

Our first night we had planned to get drunk and go to a club. We actually ended up playing drinking games in the room and doing what all kids did today. Send snapchat messages of our antics. There was some hard slapping of the face and all manner of fooling around.

A normal Friday evening in Corrientes is sat with your friends on the banks of the river, with your cool box stuffed with drinks and food. While music plays out of the back of your car parked right next to you. Often competing with the car and group just a few meters away.

Toilet breaks are a short walk to the side of the river and the local shop does roaring trade in keeping the cool box full of booze. Curfew I am told is at 5am.

We decided to continue partying through to the early hours of morning and go straight to the bus station for the 7am departure to Puerto Iguazú. This did not make me the most cheery of travelling companions thats for sure.

Arriving into Puerto Iguazú after about 7 hours of sleeping and watching Suits on Netflix. I was excited to have finally made it. The town itself is pretty small and is obviously catered towards the tourists that come and visit. We stayed at the Nomads Hostel Iguazú which was a stones throw from the bus station. (250AR/£6.5 per night)

Trying to avoid the expensive mass market offering for dinner we consult trip advisor and head for Gela Guela to try out a local dish. A mound of fried beef on a plate with, chips and a variety of dipping sauces.

The following day was a leisurely start with a slightly improved hostel breakfast than the usual stale bread pancake you get. There was a real bread roll and even a cake.

It’s a short walk to the bus station to get the bus to the falls. The bus is pretty regular and easy to find and costs 150AR/£3.90. 30 minutes later and we have arrived. Tickets for adults are 500AR/£13.17, but there is the choice to take the guided tour that includes a boat to the bottom of falls for 900AR/£23.70.

We opt for the normal entry and the 4 to 5 hour walk around the three different routes that are available to see all of the falls. Since arriving in Iguazú the weather has been at best, moist. Wishing for the sun to shine, we had to contend with the clouds and humidity.

The first walk takes us along the perimeter of the river, and give us a view of the falls that just gets bigger and bigger the further we walk round.

We take every opportunity to stop for the photos and the need to cool down, I’ve not known humidity like it. Thankfully we get quite close to the bottom of one end of the falls and feel the spray cover us and cool us down.

Next we climb up the steps to a platform that crosses above the gushing water so we are now walking above the falls. We see for the first time the expanse of the massive Iguazú River that feeds these magnificent falls. It was enormous and went on for ever.

Following the footbridge across the river towards the mouth of the falls, the clouds were getting darker and rolling in quickly. Arriving at the main platform, the sight of the gigantic river just fall off the cliff into a hole as wide as the Canary Wharf Tower is tall, is mind blowing.

Having got wet by the spray, the clouds decided to pour rain down that was so heavy every last little part of my body and clothing was soaked through. It was a fun end to a fantastic day.

Southern Bolivia – Life on Mars

Arriving back into La Paz, we bundled out of the bus with all our bags in the middle of rush hour traffic and legged it to the bus station.

The time was now 20:20, we had clearly missed our planned 8pm bus to Sucre and the last. Well so we thought , thankfully there was a bus at 20:30 with Trans Copacabana.

We bought our tickets , left our bags and were escorted round the back to the bus. Boarding a little worried our bags might not make it, we sat down in our seats close to the back.

Having been on quite a few busses over the last three months, I am becoming quite an expert on the pros and cons of bus travelling. Trans Copacabana was a real surprise. 30B cheaper than the others, the bus looked older than me, but the seats were by far the most comfortable yet. It was more like being on an old BA 747 business, without the miserable service.

However there was no toilet.

Perfect for the next 8 hours of sleeping. Except for the five kids that were asleep around my feet. A family had seemingly turned the back of the bus into their mobile home.

Sucre is a town full of beautiful colonial buildings and was once the capital city of Bolivia after independence due to its close proximity to the booming silver mines. It lost its importance after the civil war when La Paz became the capital.

Sucre is also known by another name, the ‘White City’ of the Americas, due to the buildings being white washed once a year. Classified as a UNESCO world heritage site, Sucre has maintained its original beauty.

A Walk up to the Recoleta view point is well worth it to get a good view of the whole city and see how far it sprawls.

Hostel CasArte Takubamba was a great little find.

Five blocks from the main square, through a little front door into a whitewashed courtyard with bright coloured art work on the walls. Breakfast was served in the garden daily and the dorm was a large size with two ensuite bathrooms.

Two days was enough to see Sucre, and visit some of the best museums Bolivia has to offer. Six hours further South was Potosí – the highest city in the world at 4100masl and once the great rich silver city.

Mining is still the biggest form of employment, but all the silver has long since gone, sold or taken by the Spanish. Now they many 1000’s of men nine for tin, copper and other minerals.

For 100b you can experience the conditions in a working mine, and spend a few hours with a guide taking you around.

As we wait to enter, we can hear the rumble of wagon full of rocks and minerals. Out of the black hole comes two young men pushing a good few tonnes to the pit.

Decked out in our hard hats, lamps, welly’s and overalls we walk into the mine entrance in the side of the mountain. Laden with our gifts – fizzy pop, coca leafs and 90% proof alcohol – that we bought from the miners market.

The tunnels are dark, damp and really dusty and get worse the further you go. With several levels above and below, there are many access points used to move the rocks, dirt and mineral through the levels.

Bits of wood are jammed into the holes to stop the roof falling into the tunnels below.

Being over 6ft, I am definitely not the height for a miner. Banging my head on a beam or the roof as we descend  further into the mine.

Keno on the other hand was the perfect height and build for pushing the wagons – which to prove his massiveness he tries to push along the tracks. Much to our amusement – his massiveness fails and he requires some help to push the heavy wagon along the tracks.

We are led down a series of ladders that take us 4 levels lower and navigate some tight and small passageways, sometimes on our hands and knees.

Our guide seeks out his mate that is leading a small group of miners. Through the metal gate and through a small hole one level above we find 4 miners at work. We are invited to sit down with the leader and discuss what life is like for the miners while being passed the bottle of 90% alcohol to sip.

Not surprisingly the conditions are not great , I find out the miner is my age and has been doing it for over 15 years, leads a small team of 5 men and is married with one child. Life expectancy is very low at up to 50 for men who work the mine all their life.

It is experiences like this that make me realise how lucky I am and how much I take for granted with what hand I have been dealt in life.

An hour flies by and we say our goodbyes. A lot less steady on my feet than before I follow the group out of the mine back to the clean and fresh air.

The following morning it was time to take another bus towards the Atacama desert and the town of Uyuni. A six hour drive through some of the most incredible landscape, of luscious greens against the reds of the deserts and mountains below the piercing blue sky. Definitely a journey to be carried out in the day.

Following the black tarmac road the bus turns the last corner out of the mountains and we are met with just an expanse of flat plains that carry on for as far as the eye can see. In the middle is a dark grey square, that forms into the town of a Uyuni as we get closer.

There isn’t much to see in Uyuni itself, it’s just a dropping off point for tourists to head out to the Salta de Uyuni – Salt Flats.

The three day excursion in a jeep is the best way to see all that this part of Bolivia has to offer. We paid 740B/ £77 for our guide with Blue line tours.

It’s a 10am start and we are in our land cruiser with 3 additional tourists, a couple from France and a German girl. I quickly realise that our guide doesn’t speak English – thanks god for my Spanish lessons.

The first stop is the train graveyard less than a ten minutes drive away. Along what use to be old train tracks are rusty old steam trains, once used to deliver goods across Bolivia.

Now it looks more like a playground for train lovers; with adults climbing into and on top of of the trains to get that perfect Instagram picture. It’s quite sad to see these once great machines just abandoned, sinking ever more into the sand as each year passes.

It’s back into the jeep and off to what we have all been looking forward to, and what I have seen so many pictures of – Salar de Uyuni – the worlds largest salt lake at 9000 square kilometres. The lower levels are saturated by water, but covered by a thick crust of salt compacted together, strong enough to support a vehicle.

After lunch we head out further onto the salt lake and the pure white is blinding, the suns reflection makes it look like there is water all along the horizon. It’s such a magnificent sight.

With our guides help we all take a series of funny pictures, where one of you looks like an ant by walking far away in the distance. I manage to capture me gobbling Esteban, while the boys insist on making it about how strong they wish they were.

Next it’s onto the random rock formation that sprouts out of the lake and has thousands of cacti growing. Mother Nature is just incredible.

As we progress further towards the Chilean border over the next few days the landscape and scenery drastically changes. The colours of the mountains are made of a bright red colour, mixed with blues and greens.

I can only describe it as like being on a set of Star Wars or what it could be like when man first steps on Mars. I can’t quite believe this is on earth.

The sulphar lakes, with thousands of flamingos flying away every time you get to close. The multitude of colours reflecting against the days sun. All quite frankly mind blowing and by far the most beautiful sights I have ever seen and will be remembered for ever.

Running through hot steam gushing out through holes in the ground, at Sol de Manana like Mother Nature is giving off some steam. Larger holes that have boiling hot mud, that looks like grey molten lava bubbling away at over 1000 degrees centigrade on the surface.

The only negative part about this 3 days tour, is the amount of tourists that follow each other to every stop and just ruin every picture opportunity. Oh, and I would recommend ending at the border with Chile. As the 7 hour drive back to Uyuni is quite painful.

Titicaca to La Paz

After four fantastic weeks it was time to leave Peru and head further South to Puno and cross the border into Bolivia.

Bolivia was always the country that I would use to get to Argentina, but it in fact it surprisingly turned out to be one of the most beautiful I would visit on this trip.

Arriving into Copacabana after a quick change of buses at Puno and crossing the border. Mid morning and we needed some bolivianos and a local SIM card before the boat left for Isla de Sol at 1pm. The currency here, was easy to translate back to pounds. Just had to remove some zeros.

Isla de Sol is positioned in the middle of Lake Titicaca and only has two boats a day, one at 8am and the second at 1pm. Boy oh boy do they pack us in. Determined on only sending one boat, more of us than the boat should really take were ushered on board.. 20B/£2 one way.

Welcome to Bolivia…

Arriving safe and sound, all be it tired from the long journey we walk up the jetty to find that our hostel was at the top of the steep hill. We were told it would take forty minutes to walk. We got very weird looks, a smirk, even a laugh when we asked for a donkey to take our bags.

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With the sun beating down and nothing but my weary tired body to carry all my 17kg, it was up the steep steps and the long winding walk to our hostel. Did I mention that this is the highest navigable mass of water in the world at 3812m. Well my lungs and legs knew it was.

It was all worth it to be greeted by the lovely owner of Hostal Wara Uta.

It is said that Isla de Sol was the birth place of the Inca’s and is now a beautifully preserved slice of old Bolivia. Once the most important religious place for the Andeans in the Sixteenth Century, it was believed that the sun and moon were created here many hundreds of years ago. The island has some important Inca ruins and you can visit Isla de Luna, known by the Incas as the Queen Island.

Although visiting the ruins may prove difficult due to an on going ten month fued between two tribes. The Ch’allampa in the North and the Ch’alla in the middle. A dispute over land and the rights to the Inca ruins, means that only the Southern part of the island, where the Yumani tribe live is accessible currently.

The North part of the island where the larger ruins are located are out of bounds, thanks to a group of men waiting at a check point, complete with red flag at full mast and a road block.

Not to worry there are still a few things to see in the South, like the little Inca house, and the walk to the highest point that gives you a breath taking panoramic view of the Lake and beyond.

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Also not forgetting the little gem that is Las Velas, a cute little restaurant snuggled amongst the eucalyptus trees at the top of the village, a great place to take a load off with a glass of wine and watch the sunset. Las Velas is a one man band owned by Pablo, a gourmet chef who use to work in posh restaurant in Lima.

Las Velas translates into ‘the candles’ runs without electricity, meaning each wooden table is lit by candle light and is draped with colourful table cloths. There is such a homely feel about the place. The kitchen is to the rear where Pablo cooks and prepares delicious dishes like steamed fresh trout in white wine or homemade lasagne, with his head torch as the only form of light.

Because everything is made fresh to order, be prepared to wait a while. We get comfortable in the cosy restaurant with some playing cards and bottle of good Bolivian red wine. The food is well worth the wait and its the perfect setting to spend an evening out of the cold.

The boat back to the mainland only leaves twice daily, at 10am and 4pm. We take the 4pm boat and manage to catch the bus to La Paz at 6pm. Advertised to take three hours and only costing 30B/£3.10. However what we are not told is the time it takes to cross the lake. Add on at least another hour for this.

Bungled into a little boat to cross the water, while the bus makes it over on a what looks like a floating piece of wood with gates. The bus slowly float across to meet us one the other side.

Arriving into La Paz at 10pm, we were lucky that our hostel was a five minute walk from the bus station. The Adventure Brew Hostel in La Paz is advertised as a party hostel where you get a free beer everyday after 7pm.

What could be better than that. It certainly made the Germans very happy.

While in La Paz there are two things I really want to do. Ride the Death Road and watch a Cholita Wrestling match. The Germans aren’t so keen on the Death Road, and need some coercion to book. They would never admit it, but they are chicken. We book for a few days time so they can get come courage.

Cholita Wrestling “what is that I hear you say..” Well it is one of the most ridiculous but funny sights I have witnessed and a must see for anyone visiting La Paz.

A Cholita is a woman native to Bolivia that predominantly lives in the countryside. She wears the custom dress, of brightly coloured knee length skirt, with several under skirts for volume. Tights, a blouse and a bright coloured shawl finished off with a hat . Depending on what part of Bolivia will depend on the size and shape of the hat.

And the position of the hat tells the men whether the Cholita is single or married. We are told on our walking tour, that the best asset a Cholita can have is big calfs. The men look for this when courting, as it indicates she can carry many items and children up the Bolivian hills. A pebble thrown at the feet of a Cholita shows that a man wants to court her.

No apps used here, just a simple sign with a pebble.

Now you have picture of a Cholita, the wrestling part is easy. Its two women in the ring pretending to wrestle. One always being younger than the other. Some of them really do take a battering and go down with some force. The knee protection an indication on how painful it can be.

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It is basically Bolivias version of WWF. The one from the 90’s where men dressed in lycra, had big hair and fake tan and rolled around a boxing rink. 90B/£9 is well worth witnessing this spectacle, the ticket includes a drink, popcorn and a gift. My gift proudly hangs on my rucksack.

La Paz itself is not what you would call a beautiful city, set in the valley high in the mountains. In fact the highest capital city in the world. It can easily be covered in one or two days. By taking the free city walking tour and taking a trip on the Teleferico that travels above the city as a key transport link. At night it is pretty spectacular to see all the lights twinkling for miles around.

The day had finally come, for us to follow on so many a travellers path and cycle down the ‘Death Road’. Only an hour from La Paz, there are plenty of companies that offer a full day. Prices can vary from the most expensive 900B/£92 to the cheapest 350B/£35. The more you pay the better the bikes. We opted for somewhere in the middle and paid 470B/£48 at Barro Bikes.

It was an 8am pick up from the hostel to get to the start of the road and meet our bikes and put on our incredibly fetching outfit, complete with knee and elbow guards. I have to admit the bikes had seen better days and I was jealous of the brand spanking new ones the group next door had.

Fully fitted out and with our working bikes we followed the guide out on to the road. The first thirty minutes are all down hill on a winding highway through the valley. It was head down for full aerodynamics and full speed ahead.

Some poor girl had hit a massive pot hole in the road and must have gone over her handle bars, as she was being attended to by the side of the road. This is definitely not for the faint hearted.

We make it to the start of the Yungus Road aka the ‘Death Road,’ and the road turns from tarmac to gravel, with bumps and holes all over the place. Looking out across the valley I can see the sandy coloured road bend around the edge of the mountain, far into the distance.

The guide takes off again and I’m the first to follow, zipping down the hill I follow his tracks as he knows the best route. Navigating the tight corners, with just a few bushes between me and the cliff edge and the hundreds of metres down to my death.

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With more than 20 cyclists, a bus and few lorries, this road has taken many lives. Thankfully the last was back in 2011, and in the last 6 years safety has improved. But one wrong turn or boulder at the wrong corner I could quite easily be a gonna.

The guide stops so we can wait for the rest of the group. Who I realise are miles behind. Poor Esteban has his second puncture of the morning and meets Keno and me and ask ‘how do you go round the corners so quick”.

I actually surprise myself at how little concern I have and just go as quick as I can for the remaining 2 hours of cycling.

The adrenaline and thrill of it all is incredible. I have never been this fearless before. As we descend further and further I de-layer more and more clothes as the heat gets too much under the days sun. We were lucky with the weather, only a few days before the route was covered in snow.

The guide stops at the most prolific corner for taking lives. I sit down and dangle my legs over the edge of the cliff edge, knowing that a bus and few lorries have gone over; pretty scary.

At the end some much needed beers are in order. A short drive and we arrive at the lunch destination with a swimming pool. Best chips in South America so far. Undercooked chips are very common in South America – so two helpings are required here.

After an hour of playing about in the pool with some of the group, it was time to load back into the mini bus and make the two hour journey back to La Paz. Fingers crossed we would make our 8pm bus to Sucre.

Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain. 

Day three of the Salkantay trek and with a slight hangover from the celebrations of the night before 7 am was an early start.

As with every evening Saul our guide would talk us through what we could expect from the next day. Day three was Saul’s favourite – walking through the jungle along the river, stopping at some fruit farms to try fruit and avocados.

Sadly after the consistent downpour over night we were told that the river path would be too dangerous to attempt due to avalanches. So we would have to take the road instead. Boring 

Our moods dampened by the news of our less than impressive route and the rain, we walked along much slower than previous days. As we turned the corner and see the avalanche over the other side which had wiped the path, we were all great full for our guide and his sense of safety. 

To access the fruit farm on the other side we had to climb down the side of the valley to a bridge made of what looked like straw and bamboo. I’m yet to cross a bridge in South America and be convinced its completely safe. This was no different. 

So one by one we gingerly walk across and up the other side to the farm, where we try the local grown produce of passion fruit and meet a playful puppy that had a knack for undoing shoe laces. 

After thirty minutes we were ready to continue our 16km walk to lunch. This time we carried on the same side and followed the path deeper into the jungle, thankful for the drizzle and the clouds that kept the suns heat at bay. 

The path meandered along the rivers edge, and at times dived deeper into the jungle, crossing waterfalls and rocks that glistened like gold and silver. Apparently a chemical reaction with the rock and water. 

Dotted along the route are little wooden shacks and places to rest where you can eat gigantic avocados in bread and drink fresh coffee for 5sol/ £1:50.

After five hours and 16 km of walking, we made it to the rondeavouz with our minibus to take us to lunch. Thats if this junk of metal would actually make it there. It had more holes and patch up jobs, than Trumps first year in office. But just like so many Americans we had to put our faith in this old rust bucket and it’s driver. 

Thankfully it got us to lunch and to our campsite for the evening in Santa Teresa. The best bit about the afternoon on day three, is spending a few hours in the thermal springs and a shower for the first time in three days. 

The Termales de Cocalmayo are positioned right next to the river Urubamba and consists of 4 large pools, the largest at the bottom being the coldest. The smallest at the top had water so hot, it was like stepping into a newly run bath. Two and half hours of absolute bliss. 

The only issue were the mosquitos waiting to bite you alive once you stepped out of the water for more than thirty seconds. 

That evening was pitched as the party night, where we would dance around a fire and drink lots and lots of booze. Pisco, rum and wine in no particular order. 

One would fall off a wall injuring his leg and another would fall face down, narrowly missing the smouldering ash of the fire. 

Hangovers a plenty the next day, it was time for zip lining – a first for me and I was super excited providing I could keep down my breakfast. 3km of lines high above the canopy of trees and an aggressively flowing river. 

The second zip was the best. The first to go, I was positioned upside down, looking up at the bright blue sky while the river and trees wizzed passed my head. On the third you get to try out your superman skills. If only I had my cape with me.

The fun was shortly over and it was time to join the remainder of the group and drive to Hydroelectric for lunch. Lunch was in a restaurant that clearly just caters for the the majority of the treks that go to Machu Picchu, the restaurant was rammed. 

Some of the other gringos had been bitten alive by mosquitoes and sand flies, with legs that looked like bright pink sponges. They were that bad, you could be mistaken for thinking they had chickenpox. 

Plenty of strong mosquito spray with deet is certainly required on these treks or just cover up your legs. Luckily they don’t like me or bite me, so I felt a bit smug walking around in my shorts.

The only issue I had was having to rely on a good amount of Imodium for the last three days. It would seem any food would need to go in and come straight back out again. Trying not to be to graphic here, but you get the gist. 

The next two hours and 8km of walking is along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, where we spend our final night of the trek. The tracks follow the river and wind around the base of Machu Picchu mountain, and every so often you here the horn of the train. 

Thinking it would be a good idea to walk through the bridge instead of along the footpath. We hear the distant horn of the train and had to leg it across the 300m bridge. Pretty scary as we wouldn’t have survived the 50m drop to the river. 

Arriving in Aguas Calientes we were all pretty shattered. Tonight we get to stay in a hostel and eat in a restaurant. We pray for pizza, but sadly it just more of the same, we just get to choose what meat. 

Wake up is at 4:15am as we have to be at the front gates of National Park for 5am when it opens. Still pitch black we walk the thirty minutes and join the queue that has already formed. 

I somehow lost my entry ticket, which we were given the night before. So I had to run back with the guide to print a new one. Thankfully I realised in time. What a plonker.

The gates open, and we cross the bridge and make our way to the start of the 3000 steps and make the climb to reach the entrance of Machu Picchu. After four days and 60km of walking this was bloody tough. Thank god we still had the morning fresh air to keep us cool. 

Doing it in the heat of the day would be pure hell.

After Forty five minutes, which seemed like hours I reached the top. Some of the group couldn’t face the steps so they paid extra for the bus. I say take the steps as its part of the whole magical experience. 

With the group reunited it was finally time to see what we had all been waiting for and the whole reason we walked 64km over five days. The magnificent wonder that is Machu Picchu. 

Climbing more steps we reach the first viewing platform which gives you a full view of the Machu Picchu mountain and the remains of the Inca city. Which I learnt still to this day no one knows the name of.

The next two hours are spent walking around with Saul while he tells us the fascinating history, and what each building once was and how important this city was and how it was never finished. 

There is the option to walk up to the sun gate, the original entrance and only access to the city for all visitors and goods. If after five days of trekking you still have the energy, you can walk up to the top of Machu Picchu mountain for $80 or the less gruelling Huayna Picchu opposite. 

I managed the thirty minutes walk up to the sun gate and was surprised how high it was. The city looked tiny from up here. We seemed to be higher than Machu Picchu mountain itself. 

After four hours of exploring, sadly it was time to leave this incredible sanctuary and make the two hour walk back along the tracks to Hydroelectric, have some lunch and meet the bus. For what I can only describe as the most torturous seven hour bus journey back to Cusco. 

If I had known how cramped and uncomfortable it was going to be I would have paid the extra $65 and got the train for four hours and the bus for two more. The cost varies depending on the time of the train. 

Back in Cusco and back with Keno and Esteban we recount our experience over a curry and plan to book Rainbow mountain for two days time. I certainly needed the two days to recover before I hike to 5000m.

It also gave us the opportunity to have a good night out in Cusco, with some of the guys from my Salkantay Trek. And of course practice my salsa technique… 

The Rainbow Mountain is a good two to three hour bus ride away and involves getting up at 3:30am. Loaded onto the minibus full of local Peruvian’s we make our way to the first stop at Checacupe for breakfast. 

From there it’s another forty minutes winding drive up to Quesiuno at 4326m. It’s then that I realise coming on a Sunday was a bad idea, there are hundreds of busses and good 1000 or so of people being heard up like sheep. 

Those that couldn’t manage the walk up could make use of the many horses available. Now I was getting use to this sort of height, I had no problem. The same couldn’t be said for Keno and Esteban who needed to take their time. Now I see why they opted for the Jungle “kids” Tour. 

At the top we were told we could only have 30 minutes before we would have to make our way down. They really need to limit the amount of daily tours, to make the experience more enjoyable. 

Sadly it had snowed that morning and the sky was grey with clouds, so the effect of the Rainbow wasn’t as impressive as I have seen on some Instagram pictures. 

Back down again first to the bus I managed to get few winks of sleep before everyone else arrived. One woman needed oxygen and wasn’t well, while another one had an argument with me about seating. I wasn’t in the mood for this today.

Something you learn quickly about South Americans is how precious they are about the seat on the bus. Best way is play dumb and pretend you don’t understand and don’t speak Spanish. No way was I moving this time. 

 

Cusco and the Salkantay Trek

 Travelling in Peru for three weeks, and experiencing the ever changing landscape from the desert and luscious beaches in the north to the bustling cities of Trujillo, Lima and Arequipa and the incredible sand dunes of Huacachina. It is finally time to arrive in the most visited city by any gringo – Cusco. 

The 1400 miles of travelling to get here has been long but impressive and well worth it – I hope .. 

Arriving into Cusco after another nine hours on a bus – this time the cheaper operator olturso, but the more expensive executive seats downstairs. Wider, more room and almost horizontal sleeping – all a plus and only 60pesos/£13

However, being downstairs you feel every bump and lump on the road as if you were the wheel – and Peru have some of the worst roads  in South America and are obsessed with speed bumps every few kilometres. Suffice to say I got no sleep and neither did Esteban. 

Yes after three weeks of travelling together I arrived into Cusco with the Germans. So maybe now is a good time to tell you a little bit about them. 

Keno and Esteban fresh out of school, taking a gap year before university are the most unlikely travel companions I would have expected to meet. But being away from the routine of normal life you do things differently. 

Keno is 19, into football, girls and more football. He is one of the most well mannered young men I have ever met. Esteban 18, is mix of French and Italian and has little more fire in him. He is an accomplished piano and hand ball player and wants to study chemistry. But he should really follow his dream and be a photographer. 

After three weeks they are like two younger brothers I never had. Also they remind me of what’s it’s like to be young, which is always good for the soul. 

The one thing we are yet to agree on is which Machu Picchu tour to do, Salkantay or Jungle. Me being pro trekking and seeing the Salkantay mountain and they were up for rafting, zip lining, Less trekking and Less days. Basically the easy option and the one for kids..  They would counter that with, “you have to be old to do the Salkantay” . They were clearly just chicken…

Having shopped around a few tour operators we finally decide and book through Peru Coca Travel. We managed to negotiate my five day Salkantay trek for $155 including zip lining and they booked their four day jungle tour for $120. A good $20-$30 saving. 

Before the trek started we had a few days to explore Cusco and see what all the fuss is about. 

Well if I’m honest and you know I always am – I couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about. Yes it has a nice plaza or two with a couple of old red stone churches, so some old Inca stones and tons of tourist shop selling tat.

Not to mention the hundreds of women and girls in the street asking every gringo if they want a massage. 

Thankfully our hostel ‘The Magicpacker’ was just far enough away from all the tourist stuff. It had the largest bunk beds and dorms I have stayed in so far, set around a main courtyard that was perfect for relaxing in the sun. And possibly the best hot showers. 

The next day we booked quad biking through the same agency, as there was little to do in Cusco, and the kids really wanted to do it. One hour away we arrive at the Sacred Valley of Moray and spent the next three hours tearing about the Peruvian countryside terrorising the locals. There is also a trip to the natural Salt mine, impressive to see terrace after terrace of salt that flows down from the hills.

 All before the hilarious moment Keno falls knees deep into mud, not once but twice. 

Four am and I get a tap on my shoulder – it’s the night guard saying my guide for my trek is here. I managed to sleep through my alarm, so I had to quickly get dressed and grab my bags and run, hoping I haven’t forgotten anything.

Arriving at the plaza for the bus there is a huddle of about 30 people and who do I see but Toby and his friend Aaron, whom I last saw in Mancora three weeks before. 

After two hours the bus arrives at the first stop Mollepata for breakfast and to be told who our guide will be. My group of 10 had Saul as our guide, a 36 year old Peruvian with long hair and a big smile and a funny sense of humour. 

Day one of the five day 63km trek consisted of starting to descend from 2900 metres up to base camp at Soraypampa 3850 metres above sea level. It was a three hour trek along the edge of the following irrigation stream the local farmers use with views of the Valley of Apurimac River.

Arriving at Soraypampa for lunch, I was surprisingly feeling ok – my breath was a little shorter than usual, but so far no effects from the altitude. Lunch was far better than expected with a treat of freshly made guacamole, chicken, veg and fries. 

The afternoon would be spent making the 2 hour trek 2600m up to the Humantay Lake at the base of Humantay Mountain. The consent steady climb up was tough, probably the toughest yet thanks to the altitude and the headache it was giving me. Every 15 minutes would require a stop to slow my breathing and heart rate. 

Reaching the top and the edge of the turquoise lagoon was exceptional, the blue and green colours of the water against snowytopped mountain was breathtaking. The best lake of the trip so far.

That evening would be our first night in a tent, and as I was travelling solo my tent friend would be Daniel from Germany. The next day was an early start and pitched to be the most difficult. So after dinner it was an early night. 

Wake up was at five am by the chef with a hot coca tea. We had thirty minutes to pack our bags before breakfast. Each person being allowed 5kg for the horses and the rest you take on your back. So packing light is very much recommended. 

Some didn’t get the memo, as poor Ludvic had 12kg on his back, that included a bottle of pisco for the celebration at the top of the Salkantay pass.

The trek up to the pass should take up to four hours to a height of 4600m. Halfway up Saul our guide said that there are two options we can take. The ‘Gringo Killer’ that had the best views or the easy route. Obviously we opt for the steep zigzag path of the ‘Gringo Killer’ for the the best views. 

Seemingly fully acclimatised, I pressed on with my fellow fast trekkers and made the pass in just over two hours. I was amazed at how quickly, Tara, Hannah, Daniel, Ludvic and myself made it to the top. 

Feeling pretty good with ourselves for making it in such good time and while we wait for Saul and the rest of the group, Ludvic cracks open the pisco and we down a shot. Obviously not before offering some to Pacha Mamma. 

Reunited with the group, Saul talks us through the Inca traditions and how important the mountains are and how they are respected and feared, by offering coca leafs and more pisco before we take another shot. 

Then I jump right out of my skin as this almighty cracking sound echoes around the pass and snow and ice starts to fall down the side of Salkantay. Thankfully we are far enough away to just watch and listen in amazement. 

It reminds you who is in charge up here – Pacha Mamma – and how she should never be taken for granted. 

Now late morning and the weather starting to turn it was time to start the one hour hike down to where lunch will be served. Following the flow of water down the gradual slope, the valley turned from rock to green and looked a lot like the scenery you see in the Scottish Highlands. 

After the usual lunch of some meat, two carbs, some veg and coca tea it was time to make the two hour decent to the camp at Chaullay for the evening. 

And when I say decent – I mean a gruelling steep trek, covered in rocks and scree, making it hard on the knees. At times we wished for a slight incline or flat part to give our legs a rest. But alas no, it was just down.

Finally arriving into Chaullay it was time to collapse and not move until dinner. Slowly one by one each of the group made it down and we celebrated with copious amounts of rum, pisco and wine. 

A great end to a great day. Definitely the most intense on the body, but much easier than I had expected and achievable for inexperienced trekkers. 
 

Human Bones, Ceviche and lots of Sand

Lima as the capital of Peru and is home to almost 10 million people, a third of Peru’s total population and is the only capital city in South America to have beaches. The two main areas where all the gringos tend to stay are Miraflores and Barranco.
The former resembling one big shopping centre filled with high rises and shop after shop. The latter much more beautiful and bohemian. I opted for the latter and booked in to The Point Hostel

Arriving at 6am like after so many night time bus journeys, I find the party from the night before still giving strong in the bar. With a handful of people still standing, and celebrating Peru’s win over New Zealand in the World Cup. Meaning Peru will be represented for the first time in 36 years. Definitely a reason to still party and also it would seem for the government to declare a national holiday. 

I on the other hand declined the offer of a drink and headed to bed to get some extra sleep. Which I know is so unlike me – but joining a inhibirated group is never fun for the soba one. 

After a few hours of sleep, I explore the local area of Barranco. Full of beautiful old houses, that were once and some that still are owned by Lima’s rich. The majority now having been turned into a cool cafe, bar, restaurant or hostel, with some but not all having been lovingly restored to their former glory. 

I do have to admit that my exploring stopped once I found the Starbucks. Finally a coffee that is not made from instant and resembles dishwater or tar. Two flat whites please…

The next day it was time to see what else Lima has to offer, and make the thirty minute taxi ride to the centre and old part of Lima. The German’s had also made it to Lima so they joined me in visiting the Basílica de la San Francisco and the catacombs.

Apparently you are not meant to take pictures while visiting… maybe my Spanish is not as good as I thought, or i just didn’t care for the stupid rule. It was interesting and beautiful in places, and the catacombs were less eerie than I expected. Yes there were the bones of 50,000 plus dead people, but all I thought was what a cool venue for an event or club.

Ooh and the delicious treat of Churros filled with vanilla or apple cream is a must afterwards. Simply called Churros San Francisco on Jirón Lampa a few minutes walk from the Basílica.

Back in Barranco and feeling quite peckish, I decided to try Rana Canta restaurant that was recommended as being the best place for Ceviche and Peruvian food. The walls were covered in pictures of what I would guess are famous Peruvians who have visited, a really simple but pleasing aesthic. The food speaks for itself, with many options on the menu mainly including fresh fish, shouting eat me again and again.

Which I would have if I’d had another stomach. Two courses was more than enough at around 45,000sol £10 a dish which was enormous. 

Ten weeks into my travels, my hair was in desperate need for a trim. But where would I find a good barbers in Lima. Well I thought “I would consult my trusty local guide app and ask one of the guys”. Turns out Mike from the US who lives in Lima, knows exactly where to go and with good hair I trusted his judgement. 

Cuppers 65 on the intersection Republica de Panama and 28 de Julio in fact reminded me very much of the typical barbers you find in Shoreditch London. Although they need a better waiting system, as one hour and half was a bit excessive, and the old guy keeping track was clueless. Me getting annoyed and making sure they knew I was, just isn’t the same in Spanish… I dont quite have the diva mannerisms down yet with the lingo.

After two nights of drinking on the trott, the last night should be a quiet one. Well thanks to Miguel from Colombia, it was not. I was invited to join Miguel and his friends at Dada bar which was hosting and independent film festival. Always fun when Donald Trump is being mocked…

Dada bar was once a house for the rich, that has been restored and turned into a fantastic bar and restaurant, with a more formal setting on the rear terrace and informal bar setting with pizza at the front. But it wasn’t cheap, with cocktails at 25sol/£5, but they were like goldfish bowls of Gin and tonic which was perfect. I even had the choice of a cucumber or lime. 

After few gold fish bowls it was off to a pub that has live music most nights. Aptly named La Noche de Barranco, it is made of three floors –  the basement where you find the live music, ground was just like a pub and the roof. Jugs of draft beer were freely flowing well into the early hours at only 70sol/ £1.60. 

By far the best deal on beer on South America

I would have spent all night there is it wasn’t for the call of dance and the short walk to the Dragon Club, where more gold fish bowls were consumed and lots of dancing.  My 6am wake up for the bus to Ica was not looking good. 

6am arrived and I walked into the hostel to pack my things and clean my teeth and wait for the Germans to wake so we can get our bus to Ica, six hours South of Lima. I would just sleep on the bus… The Linea bus company was fantastic, one of the most comfortable yet and only cost 45sol/£10 to Ica.

To be honest I had no idea what was in Huacachina, other than some sand dunes with an oasis in the middle. It was never on my original plan, but the Germans were keen and we were going the same way to Cusco. Arriving into Ica, we hoped into a tuk tuk for the final 5km to Oasis de Huacachina for 10sol. 3 guys and plus luggage in a tuk tuk was an experience to say the least, but we made it safely.

Arriving into Huacachina, I wasn’t expecting my breath to be taken away by size of the dunes, towering over the tiny little oasis. The pure white sand against the bright blue sky, was a sight you had to see for real to appreciate. These were not the same dunes I grew up with on the North Norfolk coast. These were mountains covered in sand.

We checked into the lovely Wild Olive, a surprise favourite hostel of the trip. The breakfast was either omelette, eggs on toast or pancakes with juice and coffee. A real treat when it comes to hostel breakfasts. The main comunal area had the comfiest sofas and Netflix, it was like being in a cosy home.

We booked our Sandboarding through the hostel for that afternoon, as its the best time to go, so you get to see the sunset over the desert. The dune buggy picked us upat 2pm on the dot – it’s what I would call a cross between a monster truck and and off road 4*4 with only a roll cage to keep you in. This was going to be lots of fun.

The expanse of dunes goes on for miles and miles, all the way to the horizon. The buggy takes us up and down the dunes effortlessly, each dune getting steeper every time. You can hear screams from all round the desert as buggys bound around the dunes like a theme park rollercoaster. 

Sandboarding was fun, but don’t expect to be going down the dunes like snowboarding. No this is down on your front, head first over the steep sandy cliff. Again each new dune would be higher and steeper and your would go as faster as what felt like 40 mph.

If you wish to sandboard properly, you can hire boards just like snowboards, but this is extra and you need to be with a proper instructor. 

After making the most of the hostel having a chilled second day, it was time to leave for another night bus and ten hours to Arequipa with Cruz del Sur – bagging my favourite seat number 4 – the boys sadly got a raw deal with the 2 behind that didn’t recline as much – note : never get the seats that back into the stairs. 

Arequipa was a real surprise and I would say the most beautiful city in Peru, also know as the ‘White City’ because of its white stone building and having the most non indigenous population in Peru. It also boasts to be the second largest city at one million, a fraction of Lima’s 11. 

Surrounded by three volcanoes that cover the beautiful horizon, and filled with lots of little gems to visit – this is a city not miss. The Santa Catalina Monastery was fascinating, which still has nuns living and practicing their faith inside today. It is a city within a city, built over 20,000 square meters of land that conceals the beautifully painted frescos and bright coloured courtyards and little homes that the nuns lived in, baked bread and made wafers.

The walking tour was a great way to find out about the city, the history and how it became the second largest city in Peru. I wish I could have spent a few more days to explore more, but sadly Cusco was calling another nine hour bus journey to get there. 

  

Hello Peru 🇵🇪 

As the most visited country by tourists in South America with over 3 million a year,  I was looking forward to seeing what peru had to offer. Its visited so much due to the history of the Inca civilisation that arrived in the 13th century and then destroyed by the Spanish some 100 years later. Most flock to its main attraction the ruins at Machu Picchu. 

However I have many many miles to cover before I get there.

It’s incredible how much the landscape can change by driving a few hours. Leaving behind the luscious greens of Ecuador, I was now in the north of Peru, which was just sand, rock, pretty barren with not much life. Except for where the sea hugged the desolate coastline, there was clear signs of life in small little beach towns.

Mancora is well known for its partying, surfers and just damned good weather, I knew I was going to love it here. Getting off the bus, I get into my first tuk tuk in South America and head to my Eco Lodge I had booked as a treat, having been in dorms for a few weeks, I needed this.

The Eco Lodge was a few minutes outside the main drag of the town, in a quiet little residential street. I was greeted by the Oriane the manager and the hotel dog tofu. The Eco Hotel is quite small with only 5 rooms, set around a beautiful garden and pool. The pink the flowers against the turquoise of the water and blue sky was just magical. 

The room was perfect, with a large bed and the softest white linen I have tucked myself into the whole trip. The white against the grey stone floor and wood panels walls gave a simple but chic look. 

The breakfast was also magnificent, with a big bowl of fresh fruit and yogurt, freshly baked bread that was still warm, fresh coffee made the Italian way on the stove. Followed by some yummy homemade sweet pastries. The best breakfast yet, by far and well worth $40 a night. 

I had been told about a couple of great restaurants that I must try, so I walked the short distance to the main street in Mancora, which is just filled either side with restaurants and shops. I reach the famous hostel Loki and opposite is the lovely restaurant Aqua

I was lucky enough to find a table on the terrace outside, which was now full and bussling atmosphere. One of the highlights of Peru is Ceviche, and here would be my first opportunity to try it. 

Ceviche In Coloumbia and Ecuador just isn’t the same, it more like soup. 

The menu sounded delicious, there wasn’t one dish I wouldn’t have eaten. I was super excited not to have flattened chicken, with rice and potato, a main staple for lunch and dinner in South America. 

The oyster Ceviche and seafood curry was absolutely divine. By far the best meal in South America. It did cost 45- 50sol £10 a dish, which to be honest is cheap for such high standard of food. 

After the fantastically delicious dinner I returned to my large comfy bed and watched Netflix for the night. A much needed quiet night to my self.

As I mentioned earlier, Mancora is one of best places on the Pacific coast to surf and kite surf. Neither being something I have ever tried or thought of trying. But when in Peru…. and after all this trip is about trying new things.

Getting into wet suit for the first time, was something of an experience. I ended up more like a mermaid to begin with, until I managed to get both my legs in the correct holes. My instructor on the other hand was more than happy, as it gave him more time to toke on his joint. Thankfully it didn’t hinder his teaching ability. 

After practicing how to get on the board on the beach, it was time to attempt to ride some waves. And these waves were not small. After being battered by six, and lots of tiring paddling back out to sea I finally managed to stand up and ride a wave. The sense of achievement and feeling was of pure delight. Again again I shout. 

Sadly my hour was up, but I managed one more wave and surfed all the way into the beach. 50sol/£11 for one hour is a bargain. Kite surfing was more and takes the effort of 3 days to learn for $100, which im told is still cheap.

Tonight it was time to try La Sirena d’Juan with my newly found friend Gaby from Lima. Gaby is a vegan, yoga-Pilates teacher and a complete nutter and I loved hanging out with her. Sirenna is rated as the best restaurant in Northern Peru, and it did not disappoint, the Nikkei Tuna Ceviche and grilled fish was devine and the service was impeccable. I could have been in a top restaurant in London. 

After two quiet nights, I decided to see what all the fuss is about and booked in to the Loki hostel for 2 nights. I had been warned about the constant partying till all hours, and it did not disappoint. With drinking games during the day and themed nights every night. I managed to get a large penis painted on my back with UV paint. 

I only went an won a third night free… the guys seemed to find it funny.

The hostel it self is pretty impressive and more like the whitewashed apartments and pool you find in Spain. The rooms were pretty big, although had little defence against the loud music. However hot Ben my fellow dormie more than made up for it. 

One of the highlights of travelling is meeting other travellers, all be it they tend to always be younger than me, either on a gap year or just finished school. Few are like me on a career break. I certainly haven’t found travelling to be a lonely experience, quite the opposite. Travelling alone forces you to chat to people and you know me, I never shy away from getting involved.

I have talked about bumping into the same people along the way before and how great it is. While sat by the pool, its only Toby who I met in Santa Marta and last saw in Minca Colombia that walks up to me. He is with a couple Ben and Jess who I first met in my second week in Medellín when paragliding. They happened to be staying at the same hostel. Was good to catch up and have some beers.

Bumping into the same people gives a new place a sense of familiarity. Like on my first day in Mancora walking along the beach I bumped into the two Germans I met in Baños. The ones with the flat tyre and their tops off. I invited them to party a Loki that evening. 

Staying a Loki was a lot of fun, and I met so many lovely people that were staying or working their as Volunteers. Like Yaniv the Israeli or Erik and Malte from Sweden. The Threeamigos Becky, Tom and Dave from Nottingham travelling together were all so much fun and great people to spend time with.

Staying at Loki isn’t for everyone, and if a party hostel isn’t for you, then I recommend you stay somewhere like The Point and take advantage of the Loki facilities by being a day guest.

After three heavy nights of partying, where one night didn’t I get back until 3pm it was time to leave Mancora and make my way towards Lima via Huanchaco. A ten hour bus journey South.

There were a few of us leaving at the same time, and all heading the same way. While some opted for the cheaper bus at 65sol/£15. I opted for the more luxury option on Cruz del Sol at 95sol/£22. I had seat number four, right at the front, right side and slept so well. Maybe it was the zop and not the seat 😂

The same cant be said for the guys that got the cheaper bus. It took them 14 hours, due to it breaking down for three hours in the middle of nowhere, the toilet not working and producing an odour similar to that of the guys sat near them. Sometimes it makes sense to pay the extra £5 for some luxury… even when on a budget.

The bus arrives in Trujillo, the third biggest city in Peru and not terribly attractive, so most gringos head thirty minutes in a taxi to the Huanchaco on the coast. Again another fantastic place for surfing. 

I arrived at the Frogs Chillhouse hostel and find Keno and Esteban the Germans making breakfast. Now this wasn’t a coincidence this time. We had agreed we would meet here and spend a few days. 

The hostel is perfect for budget travellers, it was clean, two great roof terraces with a fantastic view of the sea and the daily sunset. The fully equipped kitchen was good for cooking all meals and saving some money. 

Which after Mancora I desperately needed to do…

Huanchaco’s highlights are the surf and its pier, and it only being a fifteen minute bus journey from Chan Chan. An archeological site over 20skm with ten palaces and temples that date back to pre Inca times of the Chimú civilisation and the largest city in the Americas 600 years ago.

First found in 1960, the city of Chan Chan has been slowly rediscovered and restored. With the largest of the ten palaces being excavated to showcase how the Chimú people would have lived 600 years ago. 

Walking around and listing to our guide – the cutest old Peruvian lady you just wanted to put in your bag and take home she was so small – I was fascinated at what I was told. How they worshipped the moon and the sea, and understood the connection between the moon and tides. Sadly the Chimú civilaization was completely destroyed by the Incas as the Inca’s were by the Spanish 200 years later.

The entry was only 30sol/£6 and the guide was an extra 50so/£11 for a group of five. Well worth the extra money. The entry ticket also gains you entrance to the sun, moon and dragon temples a short taxi or bus ride away. Sadly I didn’t have time to visit them, but heard from Ana and Lana it was worth it.

It was time again to think about making the rest of the nine hour journey to Lima. Keno and Esteban were heading the same way but via Huaraz. A trip I had to decline, as I cant do everything – as much as I would like to. We would see each other in Lima.

Baños, Cuenca and the South of Ecuador

Back being a solo traveller having said good bye to Laura I head to Banôs. We said we would meet up further down the route.

Thanks to a couple of blogs I learned there are two options to get to Baños from Latacunga. Either a taxi to the main highway and flag down the Baños bus from Quito or take one of the many buses to Ambato. Then take a short taxi to the North bus terminal and get a bus from there to Baños.

I chose the latter and got lucky, as I got to Ambato and said Baños, I was put on a bus to Coca from the same station that went via Baños. The bus left in 5 minutes so I had to hot foot it to the terminal. Total journey was 7 hours costing less than $10

Arriving into Baños at 9pm, I decided to make the 15 minute walk on foot with my bags. What I didn’t account for was it all being up hill. I was booked into hostel ‘La Casa del Molino Blanco’, I think only because of the breakfast that was included. It certainly wasn’t for the atmosphere or Friendly staff.

I should have asked Holly, Dan , Lana and Ana where they had booked, as they too were all in Baños for a few days. Like so many of us doing the same route through South America.

Baños is a well visited town on the gringo travel circuit due to its adventure sports, hot thermal spring baths and the active volcano ‘Tungurahua‘. Oh and of course ‘La Casa del Árbol’ for that Instagram picture.

I booked a bike for $6 for the next day, to cycle the ‘Ruta de las Cascadas’ to check out seven waterfalls along the route, which I was told would be down hill all the way.

This indeed turned out to be mostly true, but some of the route is along the main highway. So if your are a nervous cyclist this might not be for you.

It was great to be on a bike, as appose to on my feet. Although the slight up hill really takes it out of you at 1850m above sea level. The first 5 waterfalls weren’t that spectacular, but the valley and the river was.

I stopped a few times too look at the many zip lines that were strung along the banks of the river. Looks so much fun, but it would have to wait for another day.

Cycling into Rio Verde I come across two guys that I recognised from my bus from Quilotoa to Latacunga. Maybe because they had their tops off it made them stand out. So of course I had to stop.

Sadly one of them had a flat tyre and their bike hire company hadn’t given them a repair kit or a spare tube. I thought about offering mine – but what if it happens to me.!!!

Rio Verde was less than 500m, they would surely find a shop there to help them.

I carry on and come to the fast flowing river ‘Rio Verde’ and stop to take a picture. Two guys then asked me to take a few pictures of them. Hang on a second… I get a sense that these too are more than just friends. Gay-dar alert.

It turns out over lunch in fact Victoriano and Sebastián are a couple, and they live in Buenos Aries and were kind enough to invite me to lunch at a lovely place called Miramelindo. We then spent the rest of the afternoon together at the waterfall.

The highlight of this tour is the impressive ‘Pilon de Diablo’ or ‘Devils Cauldron’ waterfall. Walking down the steps to the base of the waterfall, the intensity and sheer power of the water hits you. You see the water cascading over the rock face and feel the full force of Mother Nature, while getting soaked by the spray.

Also high above you can walk along the wooden suspension bridges and see the fierce flowing Rio Verde disappear into a small hole in the rock and descend into the spectacular waterfall.

After a night of drinking cocktails and shots with Victoriano and Sebastián, all I could manage the next day was the short $1 bus ride up the hill to ‘La Casa del Arbol’. Entry $1.50

Surprise Surprise I bump into Holly and Dan, all little underwhelmed by what we see, we make sure we get the important shot for Instagram and play on the swings like kids. It turns out we are on the same bus to Cuenca that evening.

Sadly Ecuador doesn’t celebrate Halloween like we do, so no excuse to dress up. Instead they celebrate ‘Day of the dead’ on the 1st November. Celebrating those that have passed, by gathering at the local cemetery, offering respect and flowers while listening to live classical music which could be heard across the whole of the town.

A nice and more positive way of remembering those that have passed.

Ten pm had arrived and it was time to get the bus to Cuenca. This would turn out to be possibly the worse 9 hrs of my life. So far..

No leg room, windows that didn’t close and that rattled with every bump – something you learn quickly in South America is that their roads suck – and a seat that barely reclined. I got no sleep what so ever.

To make it worse, the bus was overbooked so there were locals standing in the isle and they still let more on. No wonder gringos get robbed on busses in Ecuador. It’s a massive problem so always keep your bags on your lap or around feet.

Arriving into Cuenca at 4:30 am, I had to wait at the bus station for my hotel reception to open at 6:30. Yes a hotel and my own room, hurrah .. Mainly because Cuenca was fully booked due to the weekend of festivities. The red satin duvet told me this room is not meant for one.

Cuenca turned out to be my favourite city in Ecuador, with its beautiful colonial buildings and magnificent ‘Cathedral of Immaculate Conception’ or ‘New Cathedral’.

I was lucky to be in Cuenca for the weekend, as from 1st – 4th of November the city comes alive to celebrate the ‘Day of the Dead’ and also celebrates its independence from Spain on the 3rd November.

The city was full of Ecuadorians from all over the country, here to experience the fantastic music, food, art and antiques festival that was sprawled along the banks of the ‘River Tomebamba’ and taking up every square and green space available.

The food festival had food from all over South America with at least 200 different tents offering a delicious delight.

The other highlight of Cuenca was, it was the first city I had visited where I could run along the banks of the River Yanucay. It was perfect for running 5km and nice way to start the day. On weekdays in the morning you can find a local Japanese resident that does Tai Chi where many other residents join in.

Conscious that I had been traveling 8 weeks now and only managed two countries, I booked a bus to Vilcabamba.

After much recommendation I booked into the ‘Hostería Izhcayluma‘ where I would meet Dan and Holly again. Thankfully Hosteria Izhcayluma ran their own bus service from Cuenca to the hostel which was $15 and takes 5 hours, two less than the public bus.

Izhcayluma was magical and exactly what I needed, a place to relax and to do free yoga each morning and an extra session in the afternoon for $5. The dorm was lovely, sleeping 6 and only $9 a night. Three beds downstairs and three more on a mezzanine above. It had real log cabin feel to it and the stone shower was enormous and a real luxury compared to most hostels.

Definitely one of my favourite hostels of the trip so far.

Taking advantage of the yoga in the morning, it was a ten minute walk past the pool to the most beautiful Shala I have practiced my downward dog. A view of the valley and mountains that surrounded us and just the sound of nature to relax you.

After a few days of relaxation and trekking the time had come for me to make plans to leave Ecuador. After two fantastic weeks it was time make my way to Peru.

From Vilcabamba it was a 45 minute $1.50 bus to Loja, and then a eight hour $10 night bus to Piura in Peru. The bus company I used was Amazonias and it was pretty good for Ecuadorean standards.

Getting off at passport control and walking across into Peru, was really simple. The whole process took 45 minutes at 4am.

From Piura it was my final 5 hour bus to my first stop in Peru – Mancora .

I can’t tell you how excited I was to be spending a few days by the sea, have sand between my toes and hot sunny weather .