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A summary of South America

The beginning of the end... Or the end of the beginning?

all seasons in one day 25 °C
View Team Dora explores Latin America on nzdora's travel map.

The beginning of the end?
After a magical 7.5 months, part one of the dream is over, but what a part it was. We set foot in 19 countries, from ultra-modern Japan to 1950’s Cuba. We spent more time together on the trip than in our previous 5 years of dating combined and are much closer for it.

Because we both love numbers, here are some key ones:

  • 230 days or 33 weeks
  • 7 electronic devices MIA (3 phones, 2 cameras, 1 tablet, 1 kindle), plus Peter's phone
  • NZ$19,406 spent per person including flights (excluding immunisations, medicines and equipment from NZ) at an average of $68 per person per day (excluding flights).
  • 15 flights - 6 international, 3 stopover and 6 domestic
  • Ascended above 5,000m on Mt Chimborazo, one of four peaks which are further from the centre of the earth than the top of Everest
  • 34 UNESCO world heritage sites visited
  • 18 passport stamps from different countries, plus just-for-fun stamps at Machu Picchu and Galapagos Islands, and although we have no stamp we crossed the border into Paraguay when visiting the Itiapu Dam
  • Met up with 6 old friends (Ceri, Rosina, Luke, Michael, Morgan, Peter), and made many new friends

In November, at roughly the halfway point of our trip, we posted a summary of Central America http://nzdora.travellerspoint.com/53/. In a similar fashion, we'd like this blog to reflect our impressions of each country, indicate our favourites, and set out costs in NZD.

Here's the rundown since the start of December:

We'd had this diverse country recommended many times and it lived up to its reputation as evolving, welcoming and beautiful. We saw graffiti from a fresh perspective on a Bogota street art tour, before jetting it to Cartagena - a gorgeous colonial town crossed with a Gold Coast resort. Still in the North we saw jungle bordering Caribbean beaches at Palomino and the beautiful Tayrona National Park before we met Luke in Minca for bird watching. Another flight followed to Medellin to learn about Colombia's contrasting history, before we explored the coffee region, with giant palm trees and gunpowder games before we had to rush down to Ecuador.
Even though we had almost a month here we missed at least half of the country. What we did see blew us away - Colombians are proud of their huge positive changes and social projects, and are intensely happy to have both safety and the accompanying increase in tourism. The nature is diverse and beautiful and we want to visit again, time willing. Our rich experiences here cost each of us a paltry $45 per day - only El Salvador and Guatemala were cheaper.

Ecuador (mainland)
A country dealing in USD, prices seem to be higher… although we seemed to get away with it, again spending $45 each per day. Because of the prices we became more frugal and mainly ate fried chicken!

The famous Otavalo markets had an amazing selection of merchandise, but everything there was cheaper in Peru or Bolivia. We straddled the equator on Christmas in Quito, then cycled and rafted in Baños. We then ascended Mt Chimborazo for another cycle - but first had coca tea at over 5,000m - further from the centre of the earth than the top of Everest!
We didn't expect much from Ecuador and were pleasantly surprised - although we did travel on the cheap. We slowed down a little in Ecuador but still did a lot of activities in Baños. Ecuador was nice but didn't really offer anything which wasn't available elsewhere in South America, generally cheaper.

Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
Our favourite place on the trip, a week (beginning New Year's Eve) was enough to see inquisitive animals galore. We enjoyed private day tours around San Cristobal and Santa Cruz islands, and a snorkelling trip on a boat to Santa Fe.
Pricey even with care (although we made sure we actually experienced it) at $180 per person per day including return flights from the mainland. We would highly recommend Galapagos to even budget conscious travellers - you can save cash by not booking a cruise or hotels in advance.

After enjoying the beach, cervezas and ceviche at Mancora, we met Michael, Morgan and Peter in Lima. We caught up, explored, then flew to Arequipa. Here some of us struggled with altitude or tummy bugs while hiking down then up the stunning Colca Canyon.
We laughed (Morgan!) through white water rafting then moved on to Cusco to acclimatise for the five day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. To prepare ourselves, we visited Inca sites in the Sacred Valley, and enjoyed a cooking class. Then the hardest two days of the trek were up first, followed by walking, hotpools, ziplining, and even a hostel bed, before the epic final day up to, onto and exploring the unique Machu Picchu site itself. We bid Michael and Morgan farewell, then continued as three to Puno, on Lake Titicaca. We visited the floating islands, and dressed up on Amantani.

Peru cost us $72 per person per day - including several tours, great food and even better company. It was largely touristy, but easy to experience the high quality attractions. We also splashed out more often on food, choosing to eat at touristy places more often rather than sticking to the $2-3 local fare which is on offer everywhere.

We began Bolivia in Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. From here we thoroughly enjoyed a two day trip to Isla del Sol - where the Incas believed the sun was born. After stopping in La Paz, we biked down “death road” before continuing on a deadly bus to Rurrenabaque, a town in the Amazon. Here we enjoyed an inexpensive 6 day Amazon tour with our favourite guide Jose.
We saw the largest Jesus statue in the world at Cochabamba, saw dinosaur footprints in rugged Torotoro national park, then settled down in Sucre. This had the prettiest architecture (yay for Peter) and is the wealthiest city in Bolivia. Sucre also had surprisingly interesting history as the seat of the revolution of the new world against the Spanish. We then toured the silver mines and the mint at Potosi, witnessing the harsh reality for the locals.

The salt flats tour speaks for itself through (Peter's) photos - but our best call was listening to Peter's pleading for an extra sunset tour.
We found Bolivians hospitable, and poor but happy. The food was very bland and carb-heavy (rice with potatoes and sometimes also chips). There were, however, many excellent attractions in the country with generally young, budget travellers who were usually adventurous and friendly. We would recommend it to anyone who can do without the luxuries and who wants to see great variety at low cost. It was also surprisingly easy to travel through, and we just turned up at bus stations and towns and found seats or accommodation easily. For $58 each per day our Bolivian trip included regular activities/tours and most of our shopping and gifts.

We stayed four days in San Pedro de Atacama. The landscapes in the Atacama desert (driest place in the world save Antarctica) were truly unique, and oddly enough it rained for us.
In Chile we appreciated all the things about being in a first world country - although we paid good money to enjoy the good food. Despite undertaking very few activities and cooking for ourselves, we spent $60 per day each.

We were fortunate to hit Argentina shortly after a rapid 45% devaluation in the peso. Consequently we enjoyed fine wines and tasty empanadas (meat pastries) at low cost in the Salta region. After visiting the coloured mountains, and the wine region at Cafayate, we bussed across the top of Argentina to Puerto Iguacu, where we stayed for visits to the extensive and phenomenal Iguacu falls.
At $59 each per day, we enjoyed ourselves and did a little shopping. I would expect prices to shift less in tourists’ favour as the peso settles. A fantastic, easy and pretty country where kiwis will feel at home.

We saw the world’s second largest dam, Itiapu (Laura! it was impressive), and then the Brazil side of the impressive Iguacu falls. Communication was difficult as many Brazilians don't speak English or Spanish.
We sent Peter back to Argentina, then went on to the modern and wealthy city of Sao Paolo (although there were many homeless), where we splashed out on good food and managed to unknowingly stumble upon a million person political protest - and feature as ignorant tourists in the L.A. Times (http://www.latimes.com/world/brazil/la-fg-brazil-impeachment-20160313-story.html)... before returning home.

Brazil cost just $67 per person per day, which was excellent value considering the lovely food in Sao Paulo and a fair bit of shopping. We look forward to coming back but not to being unable to communicate again.

Top 5 places & experiences
Since returning home, everyone has been asking about our favourite parts of the trip. Here goes a debatable (chronological) list or two...
Cities & towns: San Juan del Sur (Nicaragua), San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico), Mazunte (Mexico), Guatape (Colombia), Sucre (Bolivia)
Experiences & trips: Nagaoka Peace Festival Fireworks (Japan), Spanish school and host family at San Pedro la Laguna (Guatemala), Day of the Dead (Mexico), Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu (Peru)

This is merely the end of the beginning…
Many more life & travel adventures to be had. Watch this space

Love you all,

Posted by nzdora 08:55

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wonderful summary and very useful to others planning to go there too! Love Linda

by Linda Webb

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