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The top 5 of Latin America

Looking back on our time in Central and South America I started to think of the best places we visited for value, beauty, experiences etc. So I thought I should compile a short list of the best countries we visited for some of the essentials:

1 – Value and experiences

For me I think Guatemala is top of the list for this. Not only is the country by far one of the cheapest that we visited, but it also seems to have an endless supply of places to see and things to experience. From the must-ride colourful chicken buses of “Guate,” as the locals call it, to the beautiful old city of Antigua surrounded by towering volcanos, to the endless Mayan temples buried deep within the northern jungles. Plus, let’s not forget the colourful markets where bartering with locals is definitely a fun game for both side, and where you can still walk away with amazing bargains.

2 – Relaxation and beaches

This category is harder as there are definitely 2 contenders for this spot, Belize and Costa Rica. However, for a slow relaxation pace you can’t beat Belize. As they say in Caye Caulker, “Go Slow”. From sandy white beaches stretching out into clear waters, coconut trees dotting the horizon and endless snorkelling along the barrier reef, Belize wins hands down. And if the empty country with less than 400,000 inhabitants still feels too crowded, you can always disappear to a small secluded Caye off the shore of the mainland.

3 – Adventure

Costa Rica should again definitely be considered for this, with cloud forests, sandy beaches and volcanos there is something for everyone. However, next door and working very hard to catch up is the underdog, Nicaragua. Although, the country does not yet have the same infrastructure in place that Costa Rica offers, it more than makes up for it in the variety of tours and experiences you can choose from. Whether you want to trek an active volcano, go rafting in the rivers, take a boat ride on a steaming lake or go boarding down the side of a volcano, Nicaragua offers it, and best of all at probably half the price.

4 – Diversity

Although we did not get to explore this country as extensively as we would have liked to, we could already see that Argentina deserves to win this category. In one country you can experience, salt plains, deserts, multi-coloured mountains, immense waterfalls, bustling cities, vineyards and glaciers. Now I know Chile also offers much of the same, and having travelled from north to south of it back in 2010 I do feel that it is a very close contender, but somehow I feel Argentina just pegs the lead on this category.

5 – Living history

Having now been to Peru twice, I still believe that it offers visitors a unique chance to glimpse history in modern times. With a large range of amazingly well-preserved sites and artefacts it allows you to experience both the Pre-Inca and Inca civilisations almost first-hand. Apart from the well-known sites of Machu Picchu and Cusco, there are numerous sites dotted throughout the country, from the museum of Sipan with the incredibly well-preserved mummies and their clothing to the relaxing Tipon complex. For me it still remains a truly memorable country to visit.

Of course if we had to do it all again we would visit every country, but these for us really stood out the most.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Salta

Our next main stop from Jujuy was Iguazu Falls, however it is located on the other side of the country. So we decided to head to Salta for a night, take in the sights there and then catch a bus to Resistencia, from where we would either go up through Paraguay or around it and straight to Iguazu.

We took FlechaBus for 52 pesos each and 3 hours later we arrived at the main bus terminal, where almost instantly we were approached by hostel promoters. One of them offered us a good price for a private room with breakfast and free taxi transfer despite the fact it was located just 5 minutes from the terminal. As we were heading back out the next day the Posada del Parque seemed a good choice and surprisingly it turned out to be a very nice small boutique hostel.

As we had time, we spend the afternoon walking around the town and taking in the sights. Salta is most known for the colonial buildings and it is quite a pretty town with big parks and plazas, pretty churches and plenty of restored old buildings. It also has quite a cosmopolitan feel to it.

Salta - cafe at the plaza 9 de Julio

Salta - characteristic building of Hotel Colonial

Salta - colourful facade of the San Francisco church

The next morning we headed to the cable car, or teleferico, for a view of the town from high up. The ride was only 10 minutes and the tickets were 20 pesos each to go up. The nice thing about the cable car was that you could opt for just a one way ticket and walk back into town. Again, the location of our hostel was perfect for this as it was only a few blocks away.

Salta - panorama of the city from the Teleferico

I think if you are travelling this way in Argentina then Salta is worth a stopover, I am not sure we would have chosen to spend a couple of days there but it has a nice vibe to break up your bus journey and stretch your legs.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Our 10 Money Saving Travel Tips

We are now in our final phase of our Latin American travels with only a few more weeks left here in Argentina, before we move onto New Zealand. So I started to think about the different little things we have done during the last 8 months to try and save money along the way. In doing so I have come up with 10 tips that I hope may help you on your future travels.

  1. Cooking. You’d be surprised how much you can save yourself by cooking your own food, especially by batch cooking. Whenever you can go shopping at the local markets where you can batch cook few days’ worth of food for a couple of pounds! Plus, if you are vegetarian, gluten/dairy free or vegan you will find some countries do not cater very well for this, so cooking is a good way to ensure you know what are eating.
  2. Tupperware. A follow-up to cooking that may seem like a small thing, but if you can prepare and take food with you on long journeys or days out you will not only save money, but also eat healthily.
  3. Invest in a SteriPen. This has to be the biggest saver in terms of the environment and money. You will need to initially invest about £60 to buy one but you will never again have to buy water. I cannot even begin to imagine how many litres of water we would have had to buy if we didn’t have this little device. Instead we simply pour water from any tap into a flask, place the SteriPen inside and 90 seconds later the water is fully sterilised – perfect!
  4. Do your own washing. Again this is somewhere where the pennies add up. I know it’s far easier and more convenient to use a laundry service, but once you have spent £1 on detergent, you can wash your clothes for free for over 2 months at a time.
  5. Take the local bus. In every country there are tourist buses and local buses, however in some countries in Latin America there really isn’t much difference between the 2 except for price. Not only can you save yourself up to half the fare, but you also get to travel with local people and learn about the country you are visiting.
  6. Walk. It might sound obvious but your best form of transport is your legs. Unless it feels unsafe to do so, walking to and from places and around cities can save you a fortune and also help keep you fit!
  7. Menu of the day. On the occasions we do eat out, we never opt for tourist places; instead we head out to the local joints where food is generally tastier and cheaper. Plus, most have a menu of the day which consists of up to 4 courses and drink for what can sometimes be just a £1-2 per person. This also applies to local vegetarian places where sometimes you get more food than you can eat!
  8. Negotiate everything. Generally if you stay longer than 3 days in a place you can bargain a discount ahead of your stay. You should also always bargain at any market whether its food or souvenirs, and definitely bargain for any tours you think about taking. And sometimes if they seem like they won’t budge on the price the best course of action if to walk away, chances are they will come after you with a better price, and if not you will probably find it cheaper next door anyway!
  9. Take freebies. Whenever you happen to be at a nice enough hostel which gives you free soaps or even shampoos, make sure you take them with you when you leave. It might sound petty but we have yet to buy soap in 8 months!
  10. Learn some of the language. It might sound strange but if you can hold even a very basic conversation you will be treated less like a tourist and will probably find people more willing to give you a fair price.
 
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Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Peru to Bolivia Border Crossing

From Puno we took an international bus to get to Copacabana, on the other side of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. The whole journey took around 3 hours including the border crossing. The buses all leave from the terminal terrestre in Puno, which is about a 10 minutes taxi ride from the town centre for 5 soles. The buses tend to leave at around 7am for the morning and then again early afternoon, so we opted for the morning departure.

To make things easy we had already bought our tickets the day before from an agency in town for 25 soles each and they provided us with the actual ticket, instead of just a voucher to then change at the terminal. One thing to note is that you have to pay departure tax at the terminal before being allowed out to your bus, this was only 1 sole per person and they give you a sticker to prove you paid.

The bus follows the road around the lake for the whole of the journey and makes for a nice view if you sit on the left-hand side of the bus. After about 2 hours you reach the border with Bolivia. From here you have to present your immigration form from entry into Peru, which is stamped. You then go next door and have your passport stamped out.

Once you are formally stamped out of Peru you have to walk along the road for 200m through an arch which signifies you are now in Bolivia. Along the way and on both sides you will find money changers, snacks and toilets. Once in Bolivia you will see a building on the left where there are a couple of guys behind desks stamping people in. The whole process is very simple just make sure you have a filled in immigration form at the ready. If you travel with any international bus company they will provide you with one at the start of your journey. As a note there are no fees to pay for either country if you are a european citizen.

Once ready we all re-boarded the bus for the final 30 minutes to Copacabana. Those who were travelling onwards to La Paz had an hour or so to wait for a different bus to pick them up and carry on their journey.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Long-term Travel: Comfort versus budget

I remember reading on almost every long-term travel advice article that you should always budget in fortnightly or monthly treats. It had sounded like a good idea but I also thought that I didn’t need really need it. I would be fine with travelling on a budget, not a tight cant-afford-to-go-over-by-a-pound budget, but nevertheless a budget. I could survive in cheaper hostels and buying all my own food and cooking as I go and making our money go further.

However, I have noticed that as time has gone on I have relaxed our budgets per country slightly. I have not yet gone over my estimates, but I am finding myself getting closer and closer to the limits with each country. At first glance I simply thought that South America was just more expensive than Central America, and to some degree that is the case. After all the travelling distances are further and that costs more.

Yet on closer inspection I have found that my daily expenditure is slightly higher. Thinking more about it I have realised that in the last couple of months I have tended to opt more for en-suite rooms instead of being content with shared bathrooms. I have opted for the slightly nicer hostels, and at times even a hotel. This month alone I have noticed that we have even eaten out more, rather than cooking to save money. I even found myself splashing out on an expensive meal!

In perspective when I say eating out, I don’t mean spending a fortune but rather making the most of the delicious vegetarian set meals that Peru has had to offer. And at only £2 -3 per meal it hardly sounds like I’m blowing the budget, yet these things do add up.

So why has this started to happen? Why I am no longer content with the basics?

Well, as I lie on a nice orthopaedic mattress and my first non-lumpy pillow in months, I have to admit that I enjoy some creature comforts, and that maybe if you’re travelling long-term you just have to allow yourself some basic comforts to sustain yourself.

So whereas I may not be up to splashing out on a regular basis for treats, I think I may just have to come to terms to relaxing my ideals on the expenses and allow a slightly higher level of comfort during our future travels.  After 7 months I feel I deserve a comfy mattress, a fluffy pillow and a few more meals out, after all it shouldn’t all be hard work, should it?

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Galapagos Island Hopping and Travel

The one thing we could never find information about was island hopping in Galapagos. Unless you want to do a cruise or tour of Galapagos Islands there isn’t a website that I could find which would categorically list out what can and can’t be done if you choose to island hop Galapagos instead. As such, I have created a series of posts dedicated to explaining how we spent 10 days island hopping, what tours we did, which are on the menu and most importantly what to expect!

This first post covers getting there and a rough guide as to what to expect, I will then be publishing posts per each island that we visited, with outlines of what we did but also what else there is to do. I hope this provides anyone looking to island hop with enough information to make you feel like you’ll know what to expect.

Arriving in Galapagos

You can fly from either Quito or Guayaquil into Galapagos and there are several airlines that offer flights including, AeroGal and LAN. Your first entry point into the Galapagos Islands will probably be the small island of Baltra whose main purpose is to serve as an international airport base. The other entry point is the airport on San Cristobal Island.

Before leaving Guayaquil you will be asked to fill in a form and pay $10 tax. Your bags will also be scanned before check-in and then tagged. The reason for this being that no vegetables, fruits, seeds or animal products can be taken into the Galapagos. Your bags will be constantly searched at each entry and exit point when you travel between inhabited islands. You can however take products such as cereal, pasta, biscuits etc, and if you do bring a small supply you will save yourself a few dollars as shops are very expensive in the Galapagos, due to everything needing to be imported.

Upon arrival in Baltra you will be requested to pay the national park entrance fee of $100 per person. At this point you will also be asked for the form given to you at the time of departures. You will be given a receipt which you will need for your departure so ensure you keep it safe.

The airport of Baltra itself is very small and services are very limited. Be prepared for a rather long wait to reclaim your bags as each bag needs to not only be manually disembarked from the flight, but also needs to be checked over and sniffed by a police dog. Only after this process is over you can collect your bags, and you will need your bag receipt to do so.

Note that there is currently a new terminal being built.

Getting from Baltra to Santa Cruz Island

Free shuttles run from the airport to the ferry dock. Once at the dock which is located about 10 minutes away you will have to board a ferry for $0.60 each to literally cross the small channel that seperates Baltra from Santa Cruz.

Once across the channel you have the option of taking a taxi for $25 or a bus for $1.80. There is only one route to Puerto Ayora so unless you really want to splash out I would recommend taking the bus which is direct anyway and takes about 45mins.

Tell the driver where you want to be dropped off and they will tell you when to get off and where to go. If you have nowhere booked then head all the way to the centre as most places are located within a block or two from the port. There are enough lodging options in Puerto Ayora if you want to try and bargain for your stay in person. We had pre-booked but found a cheaper place whilst walking around despite it supposedly being high season.

Travelling in Galapagos

As mentioned before, airports are also located on both San Cristobal and Isabella mainly for internal flights between the 3 islands. The prices for these short flights can range from $100 upwards and are operated by www.emetebe.com.ec

Alternatively, you can travel between Santa Cruz, Isabella and San Cristobal by daily boats. You can either take the ferry for $25 per person or ask to go on a tour boat for $30 each. The only real difference is the time, the ferry for example will leave Isabella at 5.30am to return to Santa Cruz, whereas the tour boat will return at 2.30pm. You can book tickets either via your hotel or at any agency and can book as late as the evening before, however they are all dependant on space so try to plan ahead if possible.

The other way to see Galapagos outside of the cruises is to do day trips. The vast majority of these leave from Santa Cruz and prices vary greatly depending on where you are going, and to some extent with whom you book. Be prepared to bargain for every tour as saving even $5 on each tour can add up to a free night’s accommodation!

The islands you can visit from Santa Cruz include:

  • Floreana (as a tour)
  • San Cristobal (independent or as a tour)
  • Santa Fe (with or without San Cristobal as a tour)
  • North Seymour (as a tour)
  • South Plazas (as a tour)
  • Isabela (2 – 3 nights on the island as a tour or independently)
  • Bartolome (as a tour)

Accommodation in Galapagos

Santa Cruz has the largest selection of accommodation in Galapagos from budget hostels to upmarket lodges and there should be something to suit most budgets. However, this is the Galapagos and as such you have to be realistic in both your budget and your expectations. You can find a good hotel room from $35 – $40 per night and as most people only stop for a couple of nights you can usually get a good deal if you stay more than 3 nights.

Isabella is a fraction of Santa Cruz and accommodation is more scarce, however as most people stay in Santa Cruz the prices in Isabella are lower and we paid $20 per night in a posada.

We didn’t visit San Cristobal but met a couple who had and it would seem that it is similar to Isabella in terms of size of inhabitants and prices.

Eating in Galapagos

Regardless, if you are vegetarian or not you will find something to eat in the Galapagos. Despite being small in size the inhabited islands have a fair selection of food, although not very cheap. Meal prices will set you back from around $8 per person if you eat in local eateries and around $20 – 25 for a pizza.

If you can bring food to the island and cook for yourself at least once a day like we did you could save yourself up to $60+ each per week. For example we spent $20 on pasta and tomato sauces in Guayaquil and with that catered for 8 meals for the 2 of us, saving us an around $150 during our stay. It’s worth considering…

Safety

Galapagos is a relatively small community and as such there is no real crime or sense of danger when walking around any of the islands. However, having said that, a certain level of vigilance should always be observed when travelling.

The Islands

There is an obvious difference between the uninhabited and inhabited islands and that is mainly people and rubbish. Despite it being a National Park with controlled tourism and population levels, the inhabited islands did disappoint us a bit as there was rubbish on the roads in the towns, and I don’t just mean the odd can of coke but small mounts of rubbish here and there. It is a shame that despite priding themselves on recycling so much they don’t keep the islands as clean as they should. On the other hand the uninhabited islands were spotless and luckily the animals had their original living conditions with no human additions around them.

Other points

Depending on when you go you could find that the water temperature varies a great deal. If visiting during the winter months – July to September, you will need to rent a wet suit for snorkelling as the water is very cold. Wet suits can be hired from most tour operators or dive centres and prices range from $5-8 for the day.

Snorkelling gear can also be hired at a cost of $5-10 depending on which island you are on. Ensure that you always check your equipment beforehand as the masks can sometimes be old and leak. Also, if going on a day trip, take fins with you from your tour agency which are free as most boat trips we went on didn’t have any available.

If you plan to island hop and would like to see a few of the islands then you will need a minimum of a week, as there are plenty of free activities to do on each of the islands.

The following posts will cover the islands that we visited with what we did, what there is to do and tips for your time in Galapagos, enjoy!

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Art of Travelling

We have officially been travelling for over 6 months now and I am still amazed by how many people we meet along the way who seem to think that we are just on an extended holiday, rather than a new life style. Don’t get me wrong, travelling is definitely better than working 9-5 Monday to Friday and running around all week trying to ensure you have everything done on time, to ensure yourself some rest time on the all too short weekends.

However, one thing people don’t seem to realise is that travelling is not just something you decide to do to see places. It actually takes a lot more dedication and planning to pull it off. I’m not just talking about the preparation that is involved in a long-term travel, which believe me is a lot, but the actual day-to-day living. There are many aspects to travelling that people don’t think about, such as the daily management of a limited pot of cash with no top-up options!

When you are on holiday you can afford to take out your credit card and add a treat, knowing you can pay it off with next month’s salary. However, when you travel you have to be aware of all your outgoings and sometimes that means knowing when to rein it in. For example, cooking saves us money which allows us to travel for longer. Another thing is learning the art of bargaining, sometimes even saving just $5 on accommodation can mean eating out instead of cooking every day.

The key aspect though is that something has to actually switch in your mind to be able to travel. We noticed that the first 3 months we were basically “holidaying,” we were in the country with an itinerary and we kept thinking about home and comparing things to other trips. Not only this but our attitude was somewhat different, we were not quite embracing each place, but more passing through them.

At the 3-4 months stage we started to really feel like it was taking its toll on us, we even started to think about maybe taking a break. We felt tired with the constant moving, the unpacking and re-packing and the always thinking ahead to the next place. We were basically burning out.

Towards the 5th month we noticed another change, we finally let go of the expectations of travelling and started to think about only where we were. We stopped planning about the next place and worrying about what we would do and where we would sleep. We stopped thinking we had to fit everything in, just because we were lucky enough to be here travelling.

We still had a vague idea but we weren’t chained down by the thoughts and as such, we started to feel more free in ourselves and embraced where we were. The biggest change was we stopped thinking about what to do next and simply enjoyed what we were doing at the time. We finally started to travel and live on a day-to-day basis.

Travelling has now turned into a new lifestyle, similarly to when you start a new job, and you spend the first few months feeling your way round the place before you start to feel part of it and settle down to your new role. Travelling is no longer about cramming things in to see or places to be but rather enjoying the daily activities or lack of if we so decide. The pace in our minds has finally slowed to be able to embrace travelling and not just be on an extended “holiday”.

Although we do not tend to think about what will happen when our money runs out, it has left me wondering how we would ever adjust to a “modern” lifestyle again, or simply if we would want to.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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