From the pounding surf of Rio de Janeiro to the driest desert on the planet, crossing South America is an incredible experience which packs in more natural wonders than anywhere else on the planet. In just seven days you can feel the spray from the world’s largest waterfall, walk through multicolored mountains and gawp at high altitude lakes en route through three incredible countries.
However figuring out a route across this diverse nation wasn’t easy. With a limited transport network and a surprising lack of information online, it took hours of trawling online forums, poring over maps and baffling bus timetables to work out the best way to travel from East to West.
So to save you going through the same headache, we’ve shared our seven day travel itinerary for crossing South America via some of the most spectacular and diverse landscapes on the planet.
I’m holding 3 coca leaves in my palm trying to decide what to wish for. Not an easy task when you’re standing at the gates of Machu Picchu, the most beautiful Inca site in the world. We’re offering up coca leaves to the goddess Pachamama or ‘Mother Earth’, an ancient ritual revered by the Peruvian people. Everyone places their coca leaves beneath a stone except me. I’m still struggling with my wish! There are obvious things to wish for, like a shower. After 4 days sweating our way up seemingly endless ascents deep in the Andes mountains, god knows we need it! Or a foot soak to soothe my aching toes which have pounded hundreds of gruelling but spectacularly engineered Inca steps.
Suddenly the first rays of sun burst over the mountain tops drenching the ancient stone walls in golden light. It’s the moment we’ve been anticipating for the last 43km. Every blister inducing step and rasping breath has been leading to this.
We stagger through the gate, dizzy from excitement and lack of sleep, our eyes feasting greedily on the mother of all ruins, her vibrant green tiers cascading down the hillside. My wish is forgotten, but really, what else is there left to wish for?
I’m standing on the edge of Rio de Janeiro’s famous Pedra Bonita getting ready to jump. Perfect crescents of white sandy beach meet twinkling blue ocean 500 metres below but the city’s beauty is the last thing on my mind as I’m focussing on the single 7-word instruction given during the world’s shortest safety briefing: “Just run as fast as you can”.
So I do…….despite every instinct in my body telling me not to, I run as fast as I can towards the edge of the cliff until the edge disappears and I’m jerked upwards, screaming and thinking about how I’m too young to die. The world spins, a blur of colour and nausea but then…….I’m flying! We whoop and spin skywards, thankful to be alive. The flourescent fabric balloons over our heads as we drift over colourful favelas trickling down lush hillsides beneath Christ’s outstretched arms. The city has never looked so beautiful.
It’s pitch black. The dense jungle around us is oddly quiet, the creatures lurking within biding their time, waiting until we glide by in our little wooden boat before continuing on their nightly business. The only sound is the gentle slap of a paddle in the inky black water as we navigate our way through a maze of tributaries.
Suddenly two eyes appear in the darkness, illuminated by the torchlight. We paddle towards them and before I can utter a word, our boatman Joe plunges his hands into the water and plucks out a 1 metre long baby alligator. Continue reading
Jetlagged we stagger out of our hotel lobby onto bustling Av 9 de Julio, squinting in the Autumn sunshine. A steady stream of office workers pass by, effortlessly glamourous even at this early hour. Towering above us a powerful black and white image of Evita is painted onto a scruffy concrete high rise, looking out proudly over her city. This is Buenos Aires.
The sultry Argentine capital was our first stop in South America and marks the moment we fell in love with this fascinating and mesmerising continent. Colourful, raw, passionate, gritty; Buenos Aires has a lot to offer travellers besides amazing food and nightlife. It’s varied neighbourhoods showcase the different sides of the city and deserve thorough exploration.
While city breaks can be tricky for backpackers travelling on a shoestring and Argentina certainly isn’t the cheapest South American nation, we found plenty of budget-friendly things to see and do in Buenos Aires.
Here are our top tips for visiting Buenos Aires on a budget. Continue reading