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.

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. 

  

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 .

Quilotoa Loop

While travelling I have found blogs a very useful tool to guide you through each country and the Quilotoa Loop popped up as an experience not to be missed and having now completed it myself, I would say it was my favourite trek and activity in Ecuador.

After a good nights sleep and more falafels for breakfast we pack our small rucksacks with enough clothing and supplies to last four days, but not too much to weigh us down while hiking. This was posing to be quite difficult, as the weather can change at any moment on the loop, from hot sun, to rain, to freezing cold.

We load onto the bus at the bus main bus station and head to our first stop Sigchos, a little village 2 hours from Latacunga, and in the middle of high hills covered by little farms. It’s best to get the earliest bus possible which leaves at 7am, if not the 9am as there are only few buses that run to Sigchos. The earlier you start the better chance you have of avoiding the afternoon rain.

The bus zig zags around the green hills, up one and down the next for what seemed like forever.  Dose up on the ‘calms’ before if suffer with travel sickness. 

There was no chance of being alone on our first day trekking, the bus was full of gringos and their back packs. With just the screen shot of directions from a blog for us to use to navigate, and the other gringos to follow I felt more assured that we wouldn’t get lost. How wrong could I be…

Off we set, like sheep following the gringos in front that seemed to know their way. Quickly we learn that its best not to rely on others and check the directions regularly, as one missed turn can mean crossing a river without a bridge and wet boots.

The first days hike to Isinlivi is estimated to take between four and five hours, depending on your fitness and capability of following directions and is meant to be the easiest of the four days.

One of the highlights of the loop is meeting other travellers that you get to know over the course of the four days. Today would be the day that I meet one of my favourite travelling couples, Lana from Bosnia and Ana from Mexico.

Ana having recently injured her foot, meant that Lana had to carry by herself this massive rucksack – it looked like it was packed to last a month not four weeks. The first part of the trek was a gentle meander down the valley to the river, crossing the bridge and through the village. Really quite pretty and so far relatively easy.

Well the easy part ended after taking the turn after the school, as it was all up hill by a good 200m to the top of the other side of the valley. Following the path that was also used by cow and mules, muddy in parts and steep in others, but really pretty. Stopping to catch my breath and looking across the valley the view was amazing and so different to any other so far, with patchwork or farms.

We make it to the top after about two hours of walking just as the rain is about to start. On our way up we see some of the others from the group, who have taken a wrong turn, and start a long climb up a much steeper and tougher route.

Arriving at our destination Isinlivi after just over three hours of walking, we are happy to find a happy welcome at the Llullu Lama hostel, a beautiful styled hostel that reminded me of staying in a ski chalet in the Alps. Maybe that’s because its run by an Ecuadorean-Dutch couple, the European influence definitely coming through.

The real positive to Llullu Lama, wasn’t just the roaring log fire keeping everyone warm, but the jacuzzi, steam and sauna. Sadly the only the jacuzzi was working on my visit. But after a long trek, there was nothing better than talking to a group of strangers half naked while drinking beer.

After good evening meal and delicious breakfast we were ready for day two of trekking. The sun was out again, and I had stripped down to just shorts and a vest, meaning I had to carry everything else. A group of eight of us left the hostel at the same time, all with the same instructions.

We were all told to not follow the second instruction due to a landslide a few week previous, but to take a different route. Well, we may as well have not had the instructions as they made not sense from beyond that point. Instead of going down the valley to the river, we managed to go up, up and up and cross the valley at a different point.

This making the route much harder, but far more beautiful than if we had just followed the river. Luckily a local lady told us to look out for the winding path down. Which we did and we found the river and some other lost trekkers. Although we had gone a much longer way, we all enjoyed it. 

Well except for Thomas the French guy. Who hated the fact that we were talking in English and not Spanish, or French. We all laughed when he took a wrong turn and was then chased by a dog and shouted at by the owner.

We always knew the last part of the trek to Chigchilan would always be the toughest, what we haven’t planned for was the extra effort we had to put in earlier due to getting lost. The last part indeed was steep and long. But there was determination not to let Thomas reach the top before us. Even with his walking poles to aid him.

Arriving at the Cloud Forest hostel, the mist started to cover the village and the temperature drop drastically. Now we understood why we needed our warm clothes. The only warm room was the main common room, that was full of about 40 people and smoke from the log burner. Tonight would be an early night for sure.

Well not before a few beers with our fellow trekkers, discussing how we all managed to take different route to get here.
Day three and the day we would make it to the top of the extinct volcano Quilotoa and see what all the fuss is about. Having beaten the average time for the previous two days, we decided to take it easier today and walk with Lana, Ana, Joe and Faye.

This time we were not going to get lost. Mainly because it was so well signposted along the way we didn’t need our instructions. Along this route as before we had lots of local children, offering to show us directions for caramel or sweets and aks for their foto to be taken.

The cutest were brother and sister, Dennis and Viviana and their cousin Lesley. Not one of the children we met had what I would call a typical Spanish name, there were all western names. 

After about 2 hours walking across the most beautiful landscape, that looked like a patchwork quilt under a perfect blue expanse of blue sky, with the sun shinning strong. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

Stopping for some food, the other fellow trekker’s Holly and Dan caught us up and joined the group. So far most of the trek has mainly been flat or down hill, zig zagging along the valleys edge. This is where the fun begins, as we descend higher towards 3700m and the volcano crater rim.

Nearing the top of the sand track, I look back to see if I can see the others in the distance, but alas I cannot. Dan, Holly and myself had quickened are pace, and we could hear the sound of the dogs the others were disturbing as they descend upwards slowly. 

Reaching the top and seeing the expanse of green water that shimmered in the days sun was incredible. My first crater lagoon experience, and what a spectacular journey to get here. Pretty exhausted from the 4 hour trek, I rest and just take in the view.

Just then a cute little four year old comes up from no where, with the cutest smile saying “foto, foto” and sits next to me and starts pressing my selfie stick remote. “Otro, otro” meaning another. Even little kids out here on the top of a volcano know how to work an iphone.

Laura joins me with the others and we just rest and appreciate what we see before us. Also to rest, before the final one and half hour trek along the rim to the village of Quilotoa where we will spend the evening.

There are two options you can take around crater to reach the town. One that takes 5 hours and reaches the highest point at 3900m and the shorter 3 hour route. We opted for the shorter one as the weather was turning and we made it in one hour thirty minutes .

The alpaca hostel was our base for the evening, which turned out to be a great find. We got a room with two doubles beds for the price of a dorm. The log fire lit, we kept warm fully clothed under the three blankets, it was so cold. A night of playing cards around the log fire with our fellow trekkers Lana and Ana was the perfect end to a perfect three days.

Yes it was a meant to be four days, but we decided to not trek the final day to Zumbahua. Mainly because we were exhausted and most of it was along a road.

The following day it was back to Latacunga and goodbye to Laura as she heads to work on a farm for a month in the North of Ecuador and I continue South to Banôs

Exploring my Limits at 5000 metres 

Leaving Quito and Ronja behind Laura and I head to the nearest bus stop, to get the local bus to the most southern bus terminal 11km away. That’s how big Quito is… it sprawls on forever .

However as we soon realise the E2 bus we needed wasn’t as frequent as all the others, and we forget that travelling at 5pm on a weekday means rush hour in most cities. And when you are loaded with your backpacks – rush hour is not the time to be traveling on public transport.

Over the years I have moaned myself at tourists using the London underground at rush hour, thinking “why do it now, why not wait”. Well having being shunted about by the locals , the bus finally arrives, but it is full to the rafters.

They sure know how to pack them in. No chance of us barging in for the ride. We have no choice but to take a taxi, which again because of the rush hour traffic, took an hour to go 11km and cost $10. We both left Quito moaning how taxi drivers try and rip you off. Make sure they put the metre on when you get in, it is always cheaper.

The bus to Latacunga was completely empty, it was just us and the disco lights above our heads. Only costing $6, we thought amazing no one to bother us. But alas we were out of luck. We should have known, no bus ever travels far empty. Like all busses it stoped every time someone stuck out their hand and until it was full.

We opted to stay at Hotel Central due to a recommendation about the friendly staff. What I wasn’t excepting was the seventies decour and bright blue bathroom suite, the place looked like the set of ‘Faulty Towers’.

The owner, the lovely old Arabic lady that emigrated to Eacuador 50 years before, however more than mad up for it. Treating us to a wholesome breakfast that included falafels before our big day and even made homemade hummus for our evening snack, at the request of Laura.

Travellling to the entrance of Cotopaxi national park was simple enough, by taking the bus for Quito from the main bus terminal in Latacunga and ask to be dropped off outside Cotopaxi Park. It was only $2 and takes 30 minutes.

Once we arrived there were a couple of white 4*4 trucks waiting out side the entrance. Here we negotiated $20 each for our guide to take us in to the park and up to the 5000m point of the Volcano, via the lagoon at 3800 and the climbers refuge at 4800m.

As you drive along the road the forest is dense with trees and shrub, but further into the park the pine trees start to thin out and there in front of you is the magnificent sight of the snowed topped volcano Cotopaxi. The size is impressive, as it expands for what seems like miles. The lagoon at the base was much smaller and less spectacular than I was expecting.

Excited about our climb we quickly leave after ten minutes and make the drive higher to the base of the volcanoes cone. From here it will be by foot all the way to the climbers refuge. The climb was slow, and zig zagged up the side of the volcano, the earth and rock turning from black and grey, to a red colour from the last eruption.

After thirty minutes the crunch of our feet on the red soil, changed to the crunch of snow ever increasing as we climbed further upwards towards 4800m. The air was getting thinner and my breathing faster. I had to stop and take a few big long breathes to control my breathing. The cloud started to clear slightly and you could see the white top of the volcano glisten in the days sun.

On reaching the climbers refuge after an hour of climbing, we stopped for a food break and to recharge our bodies for the final 200 metre climb to the glacier. We met a traveller from San Francisco that was attempting the summit at 6900m the following day, and would be spending the night at the refuge. This requires some pre training at similar heights and knowing how to climb across glaciers. Although only 1.5km to the summit, it takes 6 hours to climb.

This is something we were not prepared for, but walking to the edge of the glacier – we were ready. 200m again doesn’t seem that much, but when your this high it can hurt and is really slow. After another thirty minutes of climbing we made it, I checked my phone and it said 5011m. Whoop Whoop.

The sense of achievement when we arrived was incredible, Laura and I hugged each other as we were so happy we had done it. Our guide sadly had had enough and wanted to head back down quick sharp.

However not until we got the perfect shot… which was proving difficult due to the cloud cover being so thick. But alas the cloud started to part and the glacier started to shine brightly under the suns rays piercing through the days clouds.

The decent down was much quicker and more direct, but still had its effect with my heart racing quicker and feeling a little dizzy once in the back of the 4*4. Running the last few metres turned out not to be such a good idea. We headed down in the car, back though the Park, and our guide stops the truck. I turn to see the Cotopaxi in all its glory, the cloud having parted and leaving it naked for all to see.

It was back to Latacunga for some rotisserie chicken and potatoes, as this seemed to be the only cuisine in town, well other than ice cream and more hairdressers than tanning shops on an Essex high street. What I wasn’t expecting was the chicken feet in my chicken soup, but it was rather yummy once I removed them.

To be honest Latacunga isn’t known for it beauty, its probably one of the ugliest cities I have ever visited, but it had a great feel about it and sense of community. Every third resident was dressed in the local dress for the area, which included a fedora hat for both the men and woman. The women wearing such wonderfully colourful combinations of greens, purples, pinks and black.

Latacunga is also the best place to leave your heavy bags and do the 3 three or four day Quilotoa Loop a few hours away. Tune is for this and more tales of Ecuador.

Top 10 things to do in Colombia 

Colombia is so large, travelling from Cartaenga on the coast to Bogota the capital, is like travelling from Manchester in the UK to Paris. It’s such an incredible and fascinating country, that it would be hard to see and do everything unless you have few months to travel. 

To help you, I have pulled together my top 10 recommendations of what to see and do from my 6 weeks in Colombia, and even I didn’t get to do everything. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. 

1) Parque Tayrona 


Parque Tayrona has some of the best beaches that Colombia has to offer and is Colombias most popular national park. To get to the beaches you will need to hike a minimum of two hours, through the jungle and along the beautiful coast line. Make sure you take plenty of water with you, as its pretty hot and humid. 

I would recommend you leave you big bag at the Dreamer Hostel in Santa Marta and take enough for 1 night 2 days, and spend a night in the park sleeping in a hammock at El Cabo San Juan. If you get there early you can claim a hammock overlooking the sea high up on the lookout point, otherwise it will be a sweaty tent.

Expect there to be lots of other travellers doing the same. Alternatively you can book one of the many hostels and eco hotels just outside the park.

Make sure you take plenty of bug repellent as the mosquitos and sand flies are pretty ferocious here.

Getting to the Park

  • Shuttle from Santa Marta – most hostels provide a daily shuttle service to the park 15,000cop/£3.60
  • Local bus from Santa Marta – Take the bus headed to Palomeno and ask for the park. 10,000cop/£2.50
  • Taxi from Santa Marta – 30,000-40,000cop/£7-£9 

There are a few trekking options 

  • 6-7 hour round trip through the jungle via El Pueblito where you will find some indigenous locals. Access vis Colionas de Calabazo entrance and return via the coast route to the main entrance. 
  •  4 hour round trip along the coast. This is the same beautiful trek there and back and takes 2 hours. For a quicker route back follow the horses, as it only takes 1 hour 30 minutes through the jungle. 
  • To access this route via the main park entrance and take the minibus to the start of the trail.

     Costs 

    • Accommodation – Hammock 25,000cop/£6 – Hostel 25,000/£6 – Eco Hotel 163,000cop/£40
    • Park entrance 48,000cop/£12 (require your passport)
    • Minibus 3500/£1


    2) Minca


    For the ultimate relaxation, I recommend you stay a few nights in the mountains, in the middle of a finca (coffee farm) 1600m above sea level close a a little village called Minca. This hidden gem is relatively new on the tourist trail, so therefore a lot less commercial than its neighbouring tourist traps. 

    There are some Hostels in Minca, but take the extra 30 minute motorbike ride deep into the jungle and stay at Casa Viajes. You won’t be disappointed with the view, the hostel or the friendly staff. And it was the best cooked meal I had had at any hostel. To help you relax even more and switch off from the world, you wont find any wifi, although there is a computer to use if required.

    Make sure you take advantage of the daily organised hikes, yoga, bird watching and the tour of the La Victoria coffee farm. La Victoria is a self sustainable coffee farm that uses the nearby waterfall to power the coffee bean processing and supplies electricity for surrounding inhabitants, including Casa Viajes.

    Costs – 

    • transport from Santa Marta – 15,000cop £4 hostel bus – taxi from Santa Marta 60,000cop/£14
    • motorbike taxi up the hill – 20,000cop/£5
    • Accommodation – Dorms 34,000cop/£8.5 –  private room 89,000cop/£22 – Breakfast 10,000/£2.50 – Dinner 21,0000cop/£5

    top tip – take plenty of money as there are no cash machines 


    3) Water rafting in San Gil

    San Gil is the best place in Colombia to try out all the adventure sports like, rafting, bungee, rappelling, zip lining and mountain biking . Some of the cheapest you can find in South America, so make the most of it. I would recommend the rafting on the class 4/5 river, it was really well organised by Colombia Rafting, the rafting guides are all part of the national rafting squad. 

    It is a half day activity, with three hours on the river and an hour each way traveling, lunch is provided. If you haven’t experienced rafting before, this is the best place to try for your first time, as they use larger rafts so your are less likely to fall out.  However it does still happen so be prepared.

    Cost

    •  130,000cop £36 


    4) Watch a live football match 


    The Colombians are such a passionate nation and no more so than when it comes to their football. One of the highlights of visiting Colombia is going to watch a football game at one of the many stadiums in the big cities. I’m not a football fan particularly, but I loved the atmosphere, listening to the many chants the fans sing throughout the whole match.

    There tends to be a local team and the national team. Both give an incredible experience, although the level of football will differ massively. Oh and the Cerveza is alcohol free so don’t be fooled by the vendors. 

    Buying at the stadium is much cheaper than going on a organised tour

    Costs

    • Entry Price 25,000cop £6 
    • Organised tours 70,000cop/£17

    top tipbuy a football shirt for 25,000/£6 from one of the street vendors, as everyone will be wearing one.


    5)  Take a Salsa lesson in Cali –

    Salsa is the national dance of Colombia and everyone can dance it, all be at differing levels. You will hear Salsa or Regatón blaring from every bar, club and car in Colombia. Dancing Salsa is the best way to meet the locals. So take advantage of the many free Salsa lesson on offer when in Cali or request a private lesson. You won’t be disappointed. 

    El Viarejo Hostel has free salsa lessons for all guests.


    6) Barichara 

    If you get to stay in San Gil, then make sure you do the day trip to Barichara. A beautifully unspoilt village with cobbled sandstone roads, whitewashed single story buildings with terracotta roofs. This is by far one of my favourite villages in Colombia and with very few tourists.  Try and take the bus in the morning and have lunch at one of the cute restaurants around the square. 

    If you feel energetic then take the 5km, three hour hike to Guane and take in the spectacular views of the valley beneath. The road reminded me of Dorothy’s yellow brick road initially, but as we ventured further into the wilderness, it became more isolated and arid from the scorching sun beating down. I had visions of Jesus walking to Nazareth – don’t ask me why….

     You reach quaintest little Colombian village and if you have time, stay the night at the beautiful Casa Misia Custodia Hotel

    How To Get There

    • Catch a bus from the small Contra San Gil bus station on the corner of Calle 17 / Carrer 10. 
    • Ask for Barichara and the bus leaves every 30 minutes. 
    • The bus will take 45. Minutes
    • Costs 6000cop £1.50



    7) Cathedral de Sal 

    If you have a few days in Bogota then the Salt Cathedral is well worth the two hour bus journey 30km. You may wonder, why build a Cathedral hundreds of metres underground in a salt mine. All will be answered by the guide that will take you on a one hour tour. I was totally amazed at what man can still acheieve, an in in such a short time.

    How To Get There

    The B74 from Las Aguas bus terminal to Portal North was simple enough, you buy a plastic bus pass for 6500cop/£1.60 which includes your bus fare. Walk to platform 2 through the underpass to catch the B74, don’t wait under to sign that says B74 as it’s wrong and you will wait like me for twenty minutes before you realise this isn’t the stop. The bus network is pretty impressive and easy to use.

    After about 45 minutes your arrive at Portal Norte, and you go through the barrier to the intermunicipal platform and look for a bus with Zipa in the window. Get on and a young guy will take your fare once you are on the road (5000cop/£1.20). The bus takes about 45 minutes, once in Zipa get off around carrer 10a and then walk the rest of the way to the Cathedral. It’s a small town and easy enough to find the cathedral from the main square.

    Costs

    • Entrance 48,000cop/£11.90 one hour guide
    • Bus 5000cop £1.20 each way 



    8) Guatapé 

    Guatapé is one of those places that is on the tourist trail, but worth taking the two hour bus journey from Medellín. The climb up the 750 steps to the top of Piedra del Peñol (the rock) is worth it. The Stunning view of the Embalse del Peñol, a large lake beautifully sculptured by green peninsulares and home to some wealthy Colombians swimming in their pools. 

    From the rock you can catch a tuk tuk to the town of Guatapé, make sure you haggle the price, as 11000cop seemed a bit steep considering it was only 3km away. 

    Once in Guatapé you can take a boat out on the lake and visit some of the peninsulares or zip line across the water. Or do as i did, and sit and have their local dish of grilled trout while watching the action on the lake. 

    There is much too see in the town, it is full of the most beautifully painted buildings, little shops and cafes to meander around, but not for too long as the last bus leaves at 18:30


    How To Get There

    • Take the metro to Caribe Station – 4800cop/£1.19
    • Take a bus from the North Bus Terminal next to Caribe metro station. Buses leave four times an hour and cost 13000/£3.20
    • Entrance to the Rock – 18,000cop/£4.50
    • Tuk tuk 10,000cop/£2.50 (try and take it with other tourists to share the cost)


    9) Cascadas de Valencia 

    There are many waterfalls to see while in Colombia, some spectacular and some just meh. The dream is to swim under the waterfall and there is no better place than Cascades de Valencia. There are five waterfalls in total, with three that can be easily accessed and each having a clear pool of warm water to swim in. 

    How To Get There 

    • Either take a local bus from Santa Marta or Palomino that goes to Parque Tayrona and ask the driver for the Cascades and he will drop you off at the entrance. 
    • Bus 10,000/£2.50 – 15,000cop/£3.70 depending on where you come from
    • Entrance fee 3000cop/74p 


    10) Medellín 



    If there is any city that should be on your list while in Colombia, this city is it. By far my favourite city in Colombia, and one I would even consider moving too. The place is just so alive and full of energy, it has character, and not too impacted by the western world, unlike the Capital Bogota. 

    I would say that Colombians are probably the friendliest and kindest nationality I have ever met, yet the Paisans from Medellín are even friendlier and will go out of there way to help you.

    I have to admit it’s the not the most attractive of cities, but the people and vibe more than make up for that and in a way masks its ugliness. 

    It’s amazing to hear the stories and see for your self first hand what the city has been through over the last 30 years, and if ever a city has transformed and prospered the most in such a short time, then Medellín can show a lot of cities how its done.  

    Twenty years ago it was the most violent city in the word thanks to the drugs trade and the man that cannot be named ‘Pablo Escobar’. It’s is beacuse of this, the people of Medellín have such belief and determination in their city and own life, that it’s hard to stop or disagree with. It’s quite infectious. 

    In today’s Medellín I couldn’t have felt more safe walking around the City, obviously still being aware of my surroundings and understanding where to avoid, like in most big cities.

    They have a saying in Medellin “dont offer the papaya”. If you offer papaya it will be taken. This basically means dont give someone the opportuibity to take, as they will. It’s a nice way of making tourists think about their belonings and what they do.

    A great way to see the City and understand its past is to take the free city walking tour or visit Community 13, and witness the transformation yourself. 

    • Medeilin Free walking tour – Real City Tours meets at Alpujarra Metro station morning and afternoon. This requires online registration.
    • You pay a tip at the end of the tour, based on the experience – normally 30,000cop/£7 per person

    Where to Stay

    • Sugar cane Hostel – chilled and relaxed vibe – 31,000/£8 for a dorm
    • La playa Hostel – more of a party vibe but not too much –  39,000/£10
    • Airbnb  from 39,000cop /£10 double room – ideal for a longer stay 
    • treat youself  – Dann Carlton Hotel 

    Where to eat

    • Malevo – Argentina steak – really cute and perfect for a quiet dinner for 2 or dinner with friends. The Steak was amazing, with a good selection of Argentine wine. The Argentinian staff were really friendly and welcoming. 
    • Cafe Zorba – Pizza and Humous with a really lively atmosphere, it’s gets really busy at weekends.
    • Lenteja Expresa – great little vegetarian place that does quick and easy food.
    • Verdeo – Vegetarian , with amazing iceream. The resataurnat is set on the second floor, with a great open feal and lots of plants to make you feel relaxed. It has a real scandy feel to it. Amazing food too.
    • Mondongoz – the perfect place to try out the typical Paisan cuisines. Full of locals and a great atmosphere.
    • Chiclayo Cocina Peruana Envigado – the best place for ceviche in Medellin 

    Where to Drink 

    • Victoria Regina – probably the coolist bar/restaurant in Medellin. Tends to have live music at the weekends.
    • Chiquita – little kitsch and camp bar with really fun decor. Good to start the night here for drinks.
    • 37 Park – great place to sit outside amongst the trees drinking sangria – gets lively at night when the music is turned up. 

    Where to Dance

    • Victoria Regina at weekends is perfect – they often have live music and is always full of locals and ex pats. 
    • Son Havana – best place in town to try out your salsa moves – its small and is full to the rafters with locals on Thursdays and Saturday when they have live salsa bands. 
    • Salon Amador – where the hottest people hangout for a night of dancing until 3am.


    Silento 

    Now I never managed to get here, but everyone else that I met had recomended it and said it was wonderful and one of the higlights of their trip. Its full of Coffee plantations and has some of the best trekking in Colombia. 

    Hello Ecuador…

    Quito and Climbing Volcanos 🌋

    I finally left Colombia and made the twenty two hour journey from Cali to Quito. Crossing the border was simple enough, just remember to get your exit stamp from the Colombian side and walk across the bridge to Ecuador and queue for the entry stamp. This can take some time depending on the time of day, I queued for an hour at lunch time.

    Arriving in Tulcan you immediately see and feel how much more poorer this border town is, compared to Colombia. All the buildings are run down and there are a lot more street vendors. The seven hour bus to Quito was only $6, however the buses are much like the buildings here. They have seen better days and they are constantly stopping to pick up and drop off locals or food sellers during the journey.

    On the road I am instantly taken in by the staggering scenery, the bright blue sky, against the grey rocky mountains that scale many 1000 of metres above you. Passing through Otavalo I see my first snow capped Volcano, ‘Volcán Imbabura’ towering over the town and the water from the lake bekow glistening in the evenings sun. Not much protection for the people of Otavalo if she was to ever blow her top, maybe it’s an extinct Volcano…

    Arriving in Quito, it’s late and we haven’t booked a hostel, so I use my rough guide in iBooks for a recommendation . Bluehouse Hostel seems good enough, and after a $8 taxi ride we make it to a large house that would have once been owned by a rich family in the one of only two areas its safe to stay, centre-north.

    Laura , Ronja – our new German traveller friend – and myself luckedout with a private room with an ensuite and balcony for the price of a dorm. Which we had for our entire four day stay. Bluehouse was a great place with a really chilled vibe, and mostly friendly staff. 

    I say “mostly”, because the miserable dwarf like woman, that just shouted was not nice. We nicknamed her ‘Orc’ . Breakfast of , fruit, porridge, toast and coffee is included in the $10 price and you even get a towel.

    Not having wifi for 24 hours meant I hadn’t had a chance to see what the local guides were like in Ecuador. To my surprise, they were more attractive than I had imagined. 

    After getting the usual increase in messages, primarily because of being one of only a handful of gringos that seemingly use the same local guide app.

    After sifting through, I reply to Danilo, a Brazilian who lives in San Fransisco but is on vacation for one day in Quito. Sounds mad right, 12 hour flight for just a day!!!

    Anyway we agree to meet and see the city together, taking in the many colonial buildings and stunning Church’s and Cathedrals, like La Compañía de Jesús. We even stumble across a mass taking place inside the extravagantly gold decorated La Compañía. Interesting to see so many young families in the congregation, very different to the blue rinse brigade back home.

    After what was probably my most expensive lunch on the trip so far at $20, we decide to try out one of the 6 best locations to see the whole of the city. 

    1. El Panecillo, Old Town
    2. La Basílica, Old Town
    3. Parque Itchimbía, Old Town
    4. Guápulo, centre-north
    5. Parque Metropolitano, Northeast
    6. El Teleférico, Volcán Pichincha

     The Basílica del Voto Nacional was the closest and it is hard to miss when exploring the City.

    As Quito is the second highest seat of Government after La Paz at 2850m, it’s best to take your time when walking about. Poor Danilo was having a tough time walking up the hill to the Basílica.

    Paying the $1.50 for entry, I was pleasantly surprised at how high you could climb to get the best view of the city. I imagined just taking the stairs to the first level, and that would be it. Oh no you walk across narrow wooden planks that cover the eaves of the inside roof, and up a few ladders to the top of one of the main turrets. It Reminded me of Tom Hanks being chased in the film ‘Angels and Demons’.

    From the top, you can see and take in the expanse of the city that just goes on for as far as the eye can see, or until a steep mountain or Volcano gets in the way. Which I soon come to realise, there are a lot of in Ecuador. I bid Danilo farewell, and give him some tips for his trip to london in December. ‘Sink the Pink’ being a must.

    The old town of Quito is small enough to do in one day, as most of the points of interest are there. However there are plenty of day trips to take advantage of to the surroundings areas, which can be booked at most hostels. 

    The closest Volcano to Quito, is Volcán Pichincha. Still an active Volcano last showering Quito with ash back in 1999, it has two summits and two posible climbs. Ruca being the easier and Guagua being the harder, but both reaching 4700m at its summit. Ruca can be accessed easily by the Teleférico, which takes you to 3947m/12,950ft – this would be my highest altitude yet.

    After a twenty minute ride up on the Teleférico, the city gets smaller and further away, the cloud got thicker and the air thinner. To think I still had to climb another 700m was daunting, but the excitement of trying to achieve it drove my determination and I had Laura to keep me company who was equally as excited.

    The advice is not to attempt the summit after 11am, otherwise you will be coming down in the dark as the suggested round trip time is 5-7 hours, depending on your fitness. Thankfully both of us are in pretty good shape and the climb was quite gradual, climbing ever higher with the clouds parting and forming around you all the time.

    As we got higher, our pace got slower and the vegetation disappeared to just grey rock, it felt like we were walking across ‘Mordor’ with Frodo and Sam. This is when I learn that Laura and I are massive Lord of the Rings fans. As we get higher, the terrain is more difficult, with steeper climbing. One wrong foot and it’s goodby from me.

    The cloud gets thicker and the temperature drops as we get to the top. No sooner had we made it, but we had to come straight back down due to a hale storm with hale stones the size of marbles falling from the black sky, and the rumble of thunder getting ever closer. We were not prepared to see out a storm 4700m high, where anything could happen.

    A bit disappointed we couldn’t enjoy our achievement a little bit longer, we make the climb down on the advice of some pro climbing Germans. We managed to reach the summit in just over three hours and made the decent in under two hours. As a first time climber, I would definitely recommend Pichincha to get you ready for some of the higher peaks.

    Still quite giddy from our achievement, that evening we hatch a plan to climb Cotopaxi the highest active Volcano in the world and take the four day Quilotoa Loop.

    Stay tuned to see if I make the 5000m climb