La Paz Statue

Despite knowing very little about the city before my arrival, I knew I had to try and make the most of my 3 days in La Paz. I normally like to spend much longer in a city, but given the fact that I needed to get to Cusco for my Inca Trail booking, I was running low on time.

I had heard very mixed reviews of La Paz – words such as ‘dirty’, ‘boring’ and ‘dangerous’ are often thrown around when discussing La Paz and, quite frankly, my experience was so far from any of those descriptions (although I did make sure that I was careful, as always)!

My time in La Paz was weird and wonderful. I’m not a city girl and I was certainly bored of cities towards the end of my time in South America but La Paz felt different. It felt exciting. It felt real.

I experienced a culture so different to anywhere I’d ever visited previously and even managed to tick an item off my bucket list experience, so for that, I’m thankful to La Paz.

At 3,640m above sea level (or 4,150 if you’re in El Alto – a city in it’s own right), La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. You’ll find yourself catching your breath on many occasions – whether than be because you’ve just climbed a hill to your hostel at altitude, you’re gasping at the sight of a woman being thrown across the stage during a wrestling match or you’re simply in awe of the culture here.

RELATED: I visited La Paz as part of a 3 month trip exploring South America, you can see my entire itinerary here and find out how much I spent here!

3 DAYS IN LA PAZ

Where To Stay

I stayed at The Adventure Brew Hostel which I wouldn’t recommend. The breakfast was lacklustre, the hostel had no atmosphere and it’s located fairly far from the city centre – which is somewhat unsettling as a solo female traveller in a city that’s sometimes described as dangerous.

Everyone else that I met during my time in La Paz stayed at Loki Hostel and had raved about it, so if you’re looking for a hostel, I would definitely stay there! However, if you want to party (unlike me), Wild Rover is the place to be!

If you aren’t looking to stay in a hostel, La Casona Hotel Boutique looks lovely, yet still reasonably priced.

How To Get There

La Paz is easily accessible given the close proximity to El Alto International Airport. I booked a cheap flight from Uyuni to El Alto and then hopped in a taxi for 25 minutes to reach my hotel.

Bus travel in Bolivia can be somewhat harder than that of it’s neighbouring countries. Timetables are rarely online and staff rarely speak English, so it’s often difficult to obtain information about upcoming journeys. Protests can often affect road travel in Bolivia, so keep your eye on the news. To add to this, many of Bolivia’s roads are unpaved, so once you’ve finally got on a bus, the journey can be bumpy! However, it’s not all bad! If you’re travelling on a budget, the buses are very affordable and you’ll be treated to views of Bolivia’s stunning countryside.

DAY 1

Join a Red Cap Walking Tour

La Paz Museo San Francisco

Price – 3 USD (approx £2) plus tips

When I first arrive in a city, joining a free walking tour is one of my favourite things to do. Free walking tours aren’t allowed in La Paz, therefore tours are offered for a minimal amount but the tipping policy remains the same as a standard free walking tour – I chose the $3 Red Cap Walking City Centre Tour!

I had just arrived in the city after a super early morning flight from Uyuni and forced myself onto the 10am tour as I was short on time in La Paz and I knew I’d regret (the tour now runs at 11am which would have been very handy for me as I definitely needed a nap)!

The guides were brilliant, super engaging and full to the brim with interesting stories about the city. I know that I often recommend free walking tours, but this was one of the best ones I’ve ever done (especially combined with the ‘extended’ tour – more on that later)!

If you don’t fancy joining a free walking tour, these were my favourite stops on the tour….

San Pedro Prison

Price – Free

San Pedro prison is infamously one of a kind. What immediately struck me is how discrete the prison is; backing on to one of the picturesque main squares in the city and without a single guard in sight, I certainly didn’t expect the building in question to be a prison.

While the Red Cap tour guides did a great job of explaining the premise of the prison, if you haven’t read the book Marching Powder yet, you definitely should before your trip! Marching Power follows the true story of a British inmate who was arrested in Bolivia for smuggling drugs. The novel gives you a true in-depth account of a prison unlike any other in the world.

San Pedro prison allows families to live with inmates and inmates must pay for their cell/food/necessities – to do this, they begin businesses within the prison. Notoriously, inmates began ‘tour guide’ services for adventurous tourists who wanted to experience life within the prison. While these tours no longer exist, you can still marvel in the beauty of the building and listen to the crazy stories outside!

While a somewhat sophisticated, yet autonomous, economy has established within the prison, it’s still a dangerous place to be… but I won’t spoil any more stories – you’ll need to take a tour or read the book!

Rodriguez Market

La Paz Guitar Shop

Price – Free… unless you buy lots of food!

La Paz has an abundance of markets to explore… some of which are more crazy than others! To ease yourself into market life, head to Rodriquez Market first.

The food stalls in Rodriguez Market are typically run by Cholitas (traditionally dressed local women). We spent some time learning about these women, their lives and their clothes which was super interesting.

The guides gave us some street food recommendations which are friendly for Western stomachs and let us loose for a while to try some local delicacies – yum! If the high altitude is making you feel nauseous, be sure to pick up some coca leaves.

Witches Market

Market Stall in La Paz
Lama Fetus in La Paz, Bolivia

Price – Free…. unless you buy souvenirs… or… er… llama fetuses…

Now moving on to another market… somewhat more crazy than the last!

While the witches market is a great place to find souvenirs for loved ones, there are also some stalls covered in llama fetuses (the fetus are only sold if they are born dead or the mother has suffered a miscarriage – don’t worry, llamas aren’t killed to be sold in the markets), so avert your eyes if you’re of a sensitive disposition!

The Bolivian culture has a strong connection to Pachamama (‘mother earth’) and llama fetuses are often given to Pachamama when new buildings are erected. Burying the sacrifice under the foundation of the building brings good luck to the builder and residents!

Supposedly, the larger the building, the bigger the sacragice to Pachamama needs to be. Rumour has it that building developers would pry on homeless people, intoxicate them and bury their bodies instead of a llama fetus – let’s hope that’s just a rumour!

Plaza Murillo

Government Building in La Paz

Price – Free

Plaza Murillo is one of the most important plaza in La Paz as it’s home to the Presidential Palace, Congress of Bolivia and Cathedral of La Paz – so it’s definitely worth taking a wander around this square!

Given the political buildings etc., you may find yourself in the middle of a protest during your time here. There were a few protests happening while I was in La Paz, but they were all peaceful and caused no issues at all.

Join the Extended Red Cap Walking Tour

El Alto Sign

Price – 17 USD (approx £13)

As the walking tour I’d joined that morning came to a conclusion, I realised that a number of the people I’d become friends with had booked onto an ‘Extended’ Red Cap afternoon walking tour also!

Having had the BEST morning learning about this incredible city, I couldn’t say no to an afternoon of continued adventures! While the morning tour shows me the ‘highlights’ of La Paz, things were about to get rough and ready in the extended tour – this tour is great if you really want to experience Bolivian culture and learn more about the local way of life.

I would highly recommend trying to join the Extended Red Cap tour on a Thursday or Sunday so that you get to experience the huge flea market.

These are some of my favourite stops on the Extended tour…

Ride the Teleferico and Enjoy The Views!

La Paz El Alto Teleferico
La Paz from above

Price – 3 BOB for a single ticket (approx £0.33)

La Paz is split into two sub-sections, with the higher region known as El Alto. An impressive cable car has been installed between the main city of La Paz and El Alto which is easy to navigate and gives you great views of the rest of the city.

One of my favourite things about La Paz is that it’s surrounded by mountains and this is the best place to see them!

If you’re visiting on a Thursday or Sunday, you’ll also get to see the huge flea market from above whilst riding the cable car. This gives you a much better perspective of how huge the market is – you won’t quite believe it!

Explore the Flea Market

El Alto Flea Market From Above

Price – Free to window shop

Thursdays and Sundays are home to the largest flea market I’ve ever seen – it spans more than 100 blocks through El Alto!

The Red Cap guides will help you barter for anything that catches your eye. I found that the flea market was more interesting to experience for it’s sheer size rather than the goods on offer. There was a real random selection of goods on offer in the section that we explored, but we were assured that you could find anything and everything in this market – including cars!

Of you’re going to explore the flea market without a guide, keep your wits about you at all times and watch out for pickpockets. I am fully aware that I had a somewhat sheltered experience by having a guide and there are ‘deals’ in El Alto market that are somewhat short of legal.

Visit the Local’s Witch Market and have your Fortune Read!

El Alto Witch Doctor
El Alto Witches Market

Price – Free

Now you’re probably confused as to why I’d recommend visiting two witch markets in one day… the witch market visited earlier in Central La Paz could be seen as the ‘tourists’ witch market. Yes, there were llama fetuses on display, but for the most part, the market is fairly mainstream and you’ll find some lovely souvenirs for your friends and family.

El Alto is home to the ‘local’s witch market’, the place that the people of La Paz actually visit for their medicines/ailments/sacrifices etc.

The roads are cramped, somewhat dirty and you’re likely to leave with watering eyes as a result of standing too close to one of the fire burners crackling away outside a witch doctor’s door.

Our guide asked who would like to have their fortunes read in cocoa leaves by a yatiri (witch doctor) for a small fee and I couldn’t say no. I was presented with three fortunes:

  1. My family were all healthy but we were about to have a huge argument/dispute (this did happen)
  2. I will have issues at work within the next 6 months (presumably the travel blues I faced after returning from my 3 month sabbatical through South America)
  3. I would have lots and lots of babies in the future (hopefully this doesn’t happen as my maternal instinct only appears to cover small fluffy animals)

Overall, quite a gloomy fortune for me but somewhat better than another girl on our tour who was told that she would contract severe heart problems in the next 10 years…

Learn About the Culture in La Paz General Cemetery

La Paz Cemetery Artwork

Price – Free

We had spent so long being mesmerized by our guide’s stories about La Paz (and Bolivia in general) that the gates to the cemetery were closed when we arrived. After a lot of begging (and potentially a bribe… who knows…), a security guard let us in for a short amount of time so that we could conclude our tour.

As you’ve probably gathered from the mention of sacrifices and witch doctors already in this itinerary, Bolivia is a unique place. While the Spanish Catholic faith is strictly adhered to, Bolivians have their own subset of beliefs and customs which are truly fascinating, especially when you come from a secular family/country, like myself. So it only seemed right to end our tour in the cemetery discussing the Bolivian rituals and beliefs for the end of a life.

Watch (and Squeal at) Cholita Wrestling Matches

La Paz Cholita Wrestling

Price – 11 USD (approx £8.50)

Despite my insane tiredness from the early morning flight, I was having the BEST day with my new found friends and tour guides, so couldn’t say no to the next activity… watching Cholitas wrestling!

Cholitas are Bolivian women from the Aymara tribe famously known for their brightly coloured clothing including a wide skirt and bowler hat (which our tour guide earlier in the day explained has surprisingly British roots)! Two brothers in Manchester (cue the entire tour group looking at me to confirm that Manchester was in fact a place in England) began making bowler hats in the 1840s to sell to British railway workers in Bolivia; however, on arrival in Bolivia, they realised that the hats were too small for the British men’s heads. They tried to sell them to the Bolivian men but were unsuccessful, so they turned their attention to the fashionable Bolivian ladies who clearly loved the garment so much that it’s still a staple in their attire 180 years later!

While you’ll find most Cholitas selling goods on the side of the street, do not underestimate these incredible ladies. Work is extremely important within the Aymara tribe and these ladies run a multitude of businesses to earn money for their families. While I don’t exactly know how Cholita Wrestling became a ‘thing’, I imagine a group of particularly entrepreneurial women came up with the idea to lure people (particularly tourists) in and earn some more money!

While the wrestling was a very touristy affair, it was interesting to see another side to these women’s lives. I’m a bit of a wuss though and struggled to watch as they threw each other on the floor!

DAY 2

Enjoy a Lazy Morning

Price – Free

I decided to catch up on my lack of sleep from yesterday and treat myself to a lie in (something that very rarely happens on my travels)! It was a particularly rainy day in La Paz, so I decided to do some research for Day Three before heading out and exploring – we will discuss that in more detail later on!

Visit the National Museum of Ethnography and Fokelore

La Paz National Museum of Ethnography and Fokelore

Price – 20 BOB (approx £2.50) plus 40 BOB (approx £5) if you want to take photos

I’m not usually a huge fan of museums, but I’m even less of a fan of sitting around and doing nothing, so I had to find a rain-friendly activity!

The museum is home to a whole host of relics, weapons, coins, masks, fabrics and costumes from the pre-Hispanic era to modern day. My first day in Bolivia was a sensory overload, so this museum was a great way to learn about the culture in a much calmer environment!

My favourite part of the museum was the “3000 Years of Textiles” exhibit which showcases fabrics and outfits worn by the indigenous people of Bolivia. I studied textiles at school and love seeing how other cultures use fabrics/patterns/etc. so this was the perfect museum for me!

Take a Wander Down Beautiful Jaen Street

La Paz Jaen Street

While inside the museum, I met two lovely Swedish girls and we decided to spend the afternoon wandering around La Paz, exploring the little side streets and shops.

Jaen Street is known for being the most picturesque street in La Paz, filled with coloured buildings. While it’s only small, you should definitely have a wander, peek into the shops and grab a bite to eat.

Enjoy Good Food

Price – Depends how much you eat!

I was pleasantly surprised with the food options available in La Paz. Despite it’s hugely traditional and spiritual culture, the food options within the city are very diverse and you’re likely to find something to suit everyone’s preferences.

Like the true Brit that I am, I had been away from home for just over a month and was craving a curry. Luckily, two of the Swedish girls that I’d met earlier that day were also Indian food fanatics, so we hunted down Delhi Curry Lounge and had the BEST meal – unfortunately some of the more recent TripAdvisor reviews aren’t great but we really enjoyed ourselves and spent the night giggling away while devouring good food!

If I were to return to La Paz, I’d be interested in taking a food tour!

Other Options – Take a Day Trip

Price – Various

My second day in La Paz was extremely rainy and drizzly, so I had a bit of a lazy day and enjoyed wandering around and meeting new people. If I was more organised and had more energy, I would have taken a day-trip outside of the city. La Paz is great, but I had covered most of the sights within my hectic first day and there’s some real gems to be seen outside of the city, such as:

  1. Death Road – Although we will talk more about that later!
  2. Valle De las Animals & Moon Valley – See incredible natural rock formations that look like they belong in a sci-fi film – I wish I had visited Moon Valley!
  3. Tiwanaku – Explore the archaeological site of one of South America’s oldest civilizations
  4. Sajama National Park – Marvel in beautiful landscapes, including a sleeping volcano
  5. Coroico – Explore waterfalls and lush plantations in the jungle near La Paz

DAY 3

Cycle Down Death Road!

Death Road Tour Group La Paz

It took a hell of a lot of convincing for me to book a tour to cycle down Death Road. I hadn’t cycled in more years than I can count (unless you count cycling through vineyards in Luxembourg and Argentina…) and I have a fear of heights, what could go wrong?

I had messaged every person I knew hat had done the tour to ask for their opinions before finally running to the Gravity office and booking a trip. You can book a trip with Gravity (who I found to be the most reputable company) online via Viator here!

I won’t babble on about my experience here, you can read a full in-depth review of my day here! If you don’t have time to read that article (although I highly recommend it – spoiler alert: someone in my group fell of the side of the cliff!), just know that I fully recommend this day trip. You won’t regret it!

Have you ever been to La Paz? How would you spend 3 days in La Paz?

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Argentina is a huge country filled with incredible things to see. When planning my three months in South America, I knew that I wasn’t going to have time to fit in all of the wanders that Mendoza has to offer, so three days in Mendoza would have to suffice. With sprawling vineyards and some incredible experiences on offer, I certainly wasn’t going to complain with this compromise!

How To Get There

From Santiago, Chile

Despite the Andes mountains creating a barrier between Argentina and Chile, Mendoza is surprisingly easy to reach from Chile’s capital (Santiago).

Flights between the two cities take 55 minutes and are generally reasonably priced. Both SKY and LATAM provide daily flights between the two airports. when searching for flights, be sure to compare airlines and availability using SkyScanner. As you’ll be flying directly over the Andes Mountains, make sure you book a window seat and have your camera at the ready!

I opted for an even more scenic route – an 8 hours bus journey through the Andes! I paid £35 for a return ticket, booked on the morning that I was leaving – you can check prices and timings using BudBud (every South American traveller’s best friend)!

I opted to do the journey from Santiago to Mendoza in daylight to make the most of the views which was definitely worth it! Be sure to pay attention when you get to the crazy zig zag road!

For the return journey, I decided to catch an overnight bus which I wouldn’t recommend at all! Chile is a protected area and therefore the border crossings are very strict to ensure that no plant or animal based items are transported into the country.

I don’t mind long border crossings…. until they’re completed at 3am at the top of a freezing cold mountain! The border guards had very little interest in keeping travellers up to date with what was happening/causing delays, so who knows if I had a particularly bad experience or if all crossings from Argentina into Chile are this arduous!

RELATED: Wondering what you can get up to in Santiago? Read my itinerary here!

From Buenos Aires, Argentina

Likewise to Santiago, Buenos Aires has both bus and flight connections to Mendoza.

The bus journey takes circa 18 hours, so you may prefer to hop on one of the regular 2 hour flights between the cities. A number of airlines including LATAM and Norwegian operate on this route.

If you’re opting to take a flight, you should be aware that domestic flights tend to operate from Jorge Newbery Airfield (abbrieviated to AEP) and international flights from Ministro Pistarini International Airport (usually called Ezeiza and abbreviated to EZE). The journey between the two airports can exceed an hour, even with good traffic conditions, so be careful if you’re hoping to take connecting flights from your home to Mendoza.

RELATED: Mendoza is a great stop-off as part of a larger trip, see my full three month South American itinerary here!

Group of friends wine tasting in Mendoza, Argentina

Where To Stay

I had booked a shoddy-looking hostel at the last minute before boarding my bus which I knew wasn’t going to end well. After bumping into a lovely Irish couple on the bus, I decided to jump into a taxi with them and hope that their hostel would let me in!

I ended up at Hostel Lagares where the staff were absolutely brilliant and the atmosphere was nice and chilled. The common area has a TV with comfy sofas and hundreds of DVDs and the kitchen is fully stocked ready for you to cook – all round, a great place to meet other travellers!

They managed to accommodate the fact that I didn’t have a booking and allowed me into the basement room which appeared to not usually be available. This was great as I had a super clean room for 4 people all to myself!

My only issue with the hostel it’s proximity to the city center – I’m sure you can find hostels and hotels closer than this one.

Girl at Termas De Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina

Things To Do

On arrival in the hostel, I was overwhelmed by the booklet of things to do in the local area and local tour agencies. It turns out that Mendoza has far more to offer than just vineyards and I struggled to pick which 3 activities I could fit into my short trip!

I decided to treat Mendoza as a mini holiday within a backpacking adventure, so decided to splash out on a few organised day-trips with tour agencies!

Wine at Trapiche Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina

Cycling Through Vineyards

You can’t come to Mendoza without visiting a vineyard (or two… or three)! One of the most popular ways to visit the vineyards (especially within he backpacking community) is to hire bikes and do a DIY tour of your own.

We rounded up a group of people in our hostel who were interested in cycling through the vineyards one night and decided what time to leave the next morning.

We hopped on a bus to reach Maipu Bikes, who were highly recommended by our hostel as the best bike rental business in the area.

Bike rentals cost 500 ARS (approximately £7) for a full day (10am to 6pm). They provided us with a map of the Maipu region, gave us some information about each winery/vineyard and waved us off on our merry way!

Maipu Bikes also offer a happy hour from 6pm to 7pm with free-flowing wine…. just in case you hadn’t sampled enough during the day already!

If you would prefer to take part in an organised vineyard tour, check out these options:

Horseback rider, Mendoza

Admiring the Andes on Horseback

I booked a tour to explore the Andes Mountains on horseback and it was one of the most relaxing days of my entire three month trip through South America.

There were three options when booking the trip (I booked through Hostel Lagares) – a morning ride, an afternoon ride or a full day excursion. Given the small difference in price, I opted for the full day tour. I paid 2,200 ARS for the day (approximately £30).

I’m glad that I opted for the full day tour as the routes taken on the morning and afternoon rides were varied and the landscape was absolutely beautiful. Also, you begin to catch the sunset on the afternoon ride. While other tourists joined in for the individual rides, I was the only person booked on to the full day excursion, meaning I got to enjoy the area in absolute peace and serenity in between rides.

The full day tour offered a ‘BBQ lunch’ which consisted of a steak, salad, bread and an entire bottle of wine (which was probably somewhat excessive given I was the only person there)!

If you do opt for the full day tour, be warned that your backside will be sore the next day (especially if you were riding bikes the day before too)!

Unfortunately, I don’t have the exact name of the company that my hostel booked for me – however, this tour looks very similar!

If you are looking for other ways to explore the Andes Mountains, check out these options:

Group at Termas De Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina

Relaxing in Natural Hot Springs

What with all the physical activity over the last few days, relaxation was on the cards for day three of my time in Mendoza.

Aside from vineyards, the area is known for it’s natural hot springs; knowing this, I promptly booked a tour through Hostel Lagares to Termas De Cachueta.

There are two options when taking a trip to Termas De Cachueta – firstly, there is a thermal water-park which has great reviews. Secondly, there is a more traditional thermal pool complex – this is the option that I went for. If you are looking for ultimate relaxation, you could also book an overnight stay at the spa.

A full day at the spa plus transfers from your hotel costs 3,100 ARS (approximately £43). While this is one of the more expensive day trips that I took while in South America, you could tell why – this place was luxurious! You can book admission (without hotel transfers) online here.

Lunch is included in the price and consists of the largest and most extravagant buffet you have ever seen in your life!

Group of horseback riders in the Andes, Mendoza, Argentina

Explore the Town

Of course, you don’t need to go on extravagant day trips all the time, Mendoza’s main town should also be explored. Unfortunately, I got over-excited booking trips and

Have you ever been to Mendoza? What activities did you do?

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Latacunga Quilotoa Crater

Choosing the right hostels in South America can be a tough and everyone’s preferences will be different. There are so many things to think about – budget, location, facilities, same sex/mixed dorms – to name a few!

After spending three months travelling through South America, I managed to crack the code as to what hostels worked for me; it took some trial and error, but I got there! The main thing to remember is that everyone is different and what suits you may not suit someone else.

This post will give you a run down of the things I considered before making any hostel bookings in South America.

For full disclosure, most of the photos used in this blog post are taken from the HostelWorld website – I didn’t want to take photos of hostel rooms with other travellers/their belongings in them without their consent. Also, hostel rooms are normally much messier in real life!

RELATED: Why not also read my 3 month South America itinerary which outlines all of the hostels I stayed in?

Location – Close to the City Centre? Rural and Remote?

South America Hostels - the view from Izchayluma Hostel, Ecuador
Rural but gorgeous view from breakfast at Izhcayluma Hostel (Ecuador)

As a solo female traveller, location was SO important to me. Nothing “bad” happened to me while I was in South America, but that didn’t stop me being cautious.

I used to meet a lot of people on free walking tours/activities and then spend the rest of the day with them… and sometimes our day-time fun slipped into dinner or drinks after sunset. Knowing I could end up walking back to my hostel alone in the dark meant that I wanted a centrally located hostel.

I was often booking hostels spontaneously with very little time to research the next destination. The great thing about most South American cities is that they have all have a main square, normally called “Plaza Del Armas”. If there weren’t many attractions in a city that I knew I wanted to visit/my hostel to be near, I tended to check a hostels proximity to this main square and hope for the best!

I found that Hostel World’s “distance to city centre” tracker fairly accurate (I think it monitors the Plaza Del Armas as the city centre in most cities). Where possible, I only booked hostels with that were 1km or closer to the city centre.

Social Scene – Party Hard or Calm and Relaxing?

South America Hostels - party area at Pariwana Hostel, Cusco
Party area at Pariwana (Cusco, Peru)

While looking at the location, you also need to consider what type of hostel you want to stay in.

If you’re into partying, South America has some incredible hostels for you. One of the most notorious party hostel chains is the Wild Rover which you can find in Peru (Cusco, Arequipa, Mancora and Huacachina) and Bolivia (La Paz).

Personally, I like hostels to have a bit of atmosphere but I avoid party hostels like the plague! I like to be up relatively early and ready for a full day of exploring which is difficult if your hostel has been playing loud music until the early hours of the morning and people have been stumbling into the room throughout the night!

The best way to determine whether whether a hostel will be right for you is to read the Hostel World reviews. For example, one of the hostels that I didn’t enjoy my time at during my trip is Pariwana (Cusco, Peru).

Currently, Pariwana has a 9.5/10 rating from 5,791 travellers which sounds pretty epic! However, on a quick read of the reviews, it is evident why this hostel wasn’t the right one for me…..

  1. Hostelworld Review – 30 July 2019 – “I really enjoyed this hostel. The beds were extremely comfortable and the bathrooms close. I had only one problem which was the volume of the music. I liked going to the restaurant except I was so uncomfortable because the music was blasting. I see no need for megavolume when you want to relax and eat.”
  2. Hostelworld Review – 26 July 2019 – “Very social hostel but generally respectful. If you DEFINITELY don’t want people yelling in the halls, don’t stay here. But it wasn’t that bad. There’s always a give and take between quiet, sad hotel and lively hostel where there will undoubtedly be a group of loud, drunk Austrians running around sometimes.”
  3. Hostelworld Review – 13 July 2019 – ” Slick hostel – big – well run – great beds – very clean – great amenities – beautiful courtyard – lots of activities – they have really nailed a lot of the small details. The only caveat is… the music. It is just so damn loud. They start blasting it early, and it continues at a consistent volume and intensity until very late… and it reaches into ALL areas of the hostel. After hearing despacito 8 times before noon I googled whether it was possible to have my ears medically sealed in Cusco.”

Of course, if you’re looking for a fun party hostel (like 5,791 other people are), this is the place for you!

Room Type – Gender and Number of Beds

South America Hostels - pod beds at Kokopelli Hostel, Paracas
Pod beds at Kokopelli Hostel (Paracas, Peru)

Some hostels offer “female only” dorms and, where possible, I would opt for these. I’ve never had a particularly negative experience in a mixed dorm, I just find that girls snore less than guys!

My next sentence will be a complete generalization based on my own experiences – it goes without saying that these won’t always be true… I tend find that mixed dorms can be a bit more social and lively and girls that choose female-only dorms tend to be more introverted. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve struggled to sleep because of people stumbling home in the middle of the night in mixed dorms, but that just didn’t seem to happen in female only dorms (despite the fact that females were often doing the stumbling in mixed dorms)!

Once you’ve decided what gender room you want to stay in (apologies fellas, there don’t tend to be too many “male only” dorms in South America, so that option may not apply to you!), the next thing to decide is the size of the room.

Other than personal preference, the main thing that will dictate the size of the room you choose is your budget. If you’re on a strict budget, the cheaper rooms tend to have more beds in them. I tend to pick rooms with 4-6 beds (8 as an absolute maximum) purely because this is my personal preference.

RELATED: If you’re not sure how far your budget will get you in South America, check out my budget for 3 months of travelling here!

What Facilities Are On Offer?

South America Hostels - Pool at Banana's Adventure, Huacahina
Pool at Banana’s Adventure (Huacahina, Peru)

Next thing to think about is the facilities you need the hostel to have! I’ve pointed out some of the common facilities below but of course there are many more!

Wi-Fi is normally a MUST in this day and age and most hostels in South America offer it for free. Check the hotel reviews to see how fast it works and whether it’s only available in certain areas of the accommodation.

If you are travelling on a budget, it’s often important to have a space where you can cook your own meals to avoid paying restaurant prices everyday. I also find that the kitchen is also a great socialising spot in the evenings! I would have been lost on Easter Island if I didn’t meet a lovely American couple in the kitchen of Camping y Hostal Tipanie Moana!

Most hostels in South America offer breakfast (often free). However, be warned that if you’re travelling through the region for a while, you will get very bored of bread and jam (which seems to be the standard ‘free breakfast’ offering); it got to the stage where seeing ‘incredible breakfast’ mentioned in a review would result in an instant booking! Without a doubt, the best free breakfast that I encountered on my travels was at Hostal Forestal (Santiago, Chile).

Despite enjoying quieter hostels, I love when hostels have low-key activities and events on. If you’re feeling social, it’s a guaranteed way to meet some like-minded people. Once again, Hostal Forestal excelled in this category! The staff were incredibly friendly and they hosted a cocktail night during my stay. We all hung out in the lounge area, playing cards, singing along to music and trying Chilean cocktails – perfect! If no activities are advertised online, photos of a cosy common area are normally also a good sign.

Some hostels also have great tour booking facilities which makes things a hell of a lot easier if you don’t have much time to spare. Hostel Lagares (Mendoza, Argentina) was great for booking tours. I had 3 days to make the most of my time in Mendoza and the helpful staff sorted out a last minute itinerary and made all of the necessary bookings for me – perfect! Generally, I like to do my own research and make my own bookings, but sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself and let someone else do the hard work!

Luggage Storage is imperative in some destinations. For example, if you’re thinking about doing any of the treks to Machu Picchu, you need to make sure that your hostel will keep your luggage safe while you’re busy trekking!

Now, enough of the mundane facilities, these are the ones you need to look out for!

Where to Search/Book

Galapagos Islands Las Grietas

Hostelworld is usually my first port of call when searching for hostels. I find that the reviews given are accurate and you can get a good feel for the hostel based on the information provided.

Booking.com is a great alternative. In comparison to Hostelworld, I find that there are normally less hostels listed on Booking.com, however it’s a great place to look for alternative cheap accommodation, such as:

  • La Posada (Latacunga, Ecuador) – 4 of us shared a huge private room which had 5 double beds for $10 each!
  • Hostal Pucara (Loja, Ecuador) – This was a pit-stop to break up some long bus journeys. There didn’t seem to be any hostels around, but I managed to book a large private room here for £9!

And of course, there are some special properties that can only be booked directly, such as:

  • Secret Garden Cotopaxi – the most epic hostel set in the middle of nowhere overlooking Cotopaxi volcano. Here you can enjoy free hiking tours, all inclusive food and enjoy an all round magical experience. Read more about my time in Cotopaxi here!
  • Izhcayluma Hostel – I had heard about Izhcayluma before arriving in South America and KNEW I had to visit! A bed in a dorm costs less than $10 and includes morning yoga classes. This is the ultimate place to relax.

Have you travelled through south America? If so, what dorm style suits you best?

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Vina Del Mar Beach and City Scape

There are so many great day trips available from Santiago, so if you find yourself with time to spare, you’ll be spoilt for choice! From the rough and ready Valparaíso to the gorgeous landscapes of Cajon Del Maipo, there’s something for everyone. Before arriving in Santiago, I’d never heard of Viña Del Mar but I’m very glad that I made the day trip!

RELATED: If you’re looking for anther day trip to take from the city, read about my time in Valparaíso here!

How to Get There

Thankfully, Viña Del Mar can be reached within 1.5 hours from Santiago, making it a perfect destinations for a day trip from the city.

Firstly, depending on where you’re staying, you’ll need to jump onto Santiago’s incredible Metro station and head towards Pajaritos (which is on line 1 – the red one). Using Santiago’s Metro system couldn’t be easier thanks to Bip, which is essentially the equivalent of London Oyster card.

A Bip card costs 1,500 CLP (approximately £1.50) and you can top up the card at all metro stations to cover your upcoming transport. Unlike the London Underground, no matter how far you travel, the price will stay the same. Prices per journey range between 610 CLP (approximately £0.60) and 750 CLP (approximately £0.75) depending on whether you are travelling at peak time or not.

Once you have arrived at Pajaritos, make your way into the main terminal to buy your bus ticket to Viña Del Mar – the two main bus companies are Turbus and Pullman.

As with all South American bus travel, I would recommend using BusBud to check timings and prices. You can even make online bookings when travelling in Chile.

As a word of warning – I was often told that booking online would result in higher prices than when booking at the ticket station throughout South America. I tended to avoid this advice and book online when needed to avoid any hassle at the bus station with my poor Spanish!

The journey from Santiago to Viña Del Mar takes around 1.5 hours – get comfy and admire the views!

Vina Del Mar Presidential Palace

What To Expect

Viña Del Mar is very different to both Santiago and Valparaíso. With Santiago being the stable parent and Valparaíso being the gritty teenager, Viña is the gentler, more fashionable, younger sister.

On arrival at the bus stop, I relied on the trusty MAPS.me app to lead me to the beach. I’d heard that Viña Del Mar was a classy destination where wealthy Chileans lived/holidayed, so it’s safe to say that I was expecting grandeur!

The walk from the bus stop to the beach was somewhat underwhelming. The street I picked to walk down was lined with shop after shop after shop (and not the Los Angeles Rodeo Drive kind).

Luckily, the city did live up to initial expectations as soon as I knew where to look! If you’re short on time, I would highly recommend either doing your research prior to arrival on where to go and what to see (I’ll speak more about this later!) or taking a walking tour to show you the hot spots!

Things To Do

The Viña Del Mar Music Festival

I timed my visit to Viña Del Mar really well… not. I visited one weekend AFTER the legendary Viña Del Mar music festival.

The festival is one of the largest in South America and is a very big deal! I saw footage of the festival while I was in Santiago and it looked insane. If you’re planning to visit Viña Del Mar in February, try and visit on the right weekend!

Don’t worry about there only being a few English speaking artists – after a couple of weeks in South America, you’ll be singing along to all of the popular Latin American songs. I still listen to my “South America” Spotify playlist more times than I care to admit!

Vina Del Mar Beach

Relax on the beach

Price – Free (depending on how many ice creams you buy…)

One of the main reasons to visit Viña Del Mar (outside of festival season), is to relax on the beach. If I lived in Santiago, I’d be hopping on the bus to Viña Del Mar every other weekend to relax on the beach.

I visited in February, arriving in Viña Del Mar on a very cloudy morning… obviously I was very disappointed with my decision. I even had to buy extra layers in a nearby shop! Rest assured… the locals told me that mornings are often cloudy and the sun comes shining through in the afternoon.

As always, the locals were right and the afternoon was SCORCHING! Moral of the story – if it’s cloudy when you arrive, give it a few hours and you should be fine!

If you’re looking for even more fun in the sun, check out the nearby beach towns of Reñaca & Concón.

Vina Del Mar Floral Clock

Snap some pictures of the famous flower clock!

Price – Free

This is one of those cheesey tourist attractions that you’ll end up doing, despite it not being on your “to-do” list.

Reloj de Flores is one of Viña Del Mar’s most photographed attractions, so get there early to avoid being bashed around the head by a selfie-stick wielded by an over enthusiastic tourist (I’m speaking from experience…).

Vina Del mar Wooden House

Admire the architecture

Price – Free

If there’s one thing that Viña Del Mar can offer, it’s lavish style buildings. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find pretty pastel coloured buildings reminiscent of a bygone era – despite the fact that Viña Del Mar is a relatively modern city!

Explore acres of lush greenery

Price – Free

One of Viña Del Mar’s most visited spots is Parque Quinta Vergara – a gorgeous landscaped garden filled with nooks and crannies to explore.

The park is home to the Viña Del Mar Music Festival and was still being cleaned up from the previous week’s antics when I arrived. So, unfortunately I wasn’t able to enter and explore the park.

However, I’m told that there are lots of things to see and do within the park, including exploring Palace Vergara which is a gorgeous building formerly used as the residence for the founder of Viña Del Mar.

Take a free walking tour

Price – however much you want to tip!

Would it be an Escaping Essex blog post about Chile without recommending Tours4Tips? Well of course not.

After experiencing the Tours4Tips free walking tours in Santiago and Valparaiso, it would be rude not to continue my loyalty in Viña Del Mar also! As always, the tour guide was great and it was the perfect way to spend 2-3 hours getting to know the city.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I felt a little bit lost when arriving in the city with limited time to explore. Taking a free walking tour meant that I got to see all of the hot-spots without getting even more lost!

Vina Del Mar Castle

Explore Cerro Castillo

Price – Free

“Cerro” (meaning “hill”) is a word that you’ll become very familiar with if you are travelling through the Santiago region of Chile!

This particular hill is home to some truly gorgeous buildings my favourite being the gorgeous pink Palace of Cerro Castillo (the Summer residence of the President of Chile). You aren’t able to enter the palace, but admiring it from the outside is nice enough!

Next up, take a wander around Brunet Castillo (Castle). The castle isn’t open to the public other than on a few selected days which you need to pre-book.

The area is so calm and quiet compared to the rest of the city…. which is impressive given that Viña Del Mar isn’t a particularly loud and crazy city (outside of festival season anyway)!

Vina Del Mar Stained Glass Window

Absorb the culture in one of the many museums

Price – dependent on which museum you choose

I didn’t have enough time to explore any of the museums but I am told that there are some really great ones in the area!

If I wasn’t already visiting Easter Island on my South American adventure, I would definitely check out Museo de Arqueología e Historia Francisco Fonck which is filled with finds from Easter Island. If you don’t want to pay the 2,800 CLP entrance fee, there’s a Moai head from Easter Island on display outside.

RELATED: If you are lucky enough to be visiting South America, why not check out my itinerary!

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Santiago Palace La Moneda

When compared to Santiago’s nearby counterparts (the likes of Rio De Janerio, Buenos Aries, Cusco etc.), Santiago doesn’t get half the attention that it deserves.

When researching my three month trip backpacking through South America, nobody appeared to gush about Santiago. On the other hand, nobody seemed to slate it either, so I came to the assumption that it would be an average city leaving me wondering “is Santiago worth visiting?!”

It turns out that I couldn’t be more wrong. Arriving in Santiago was the perfect way to begin my trip! So here’s a list of reasons why I LOVED the city and why you should visit Santiago ASAP!

Santiago Chile Cable Car

Ease yourself into South America

If you are taking an extended trip through South America, Santiago is a great place to start as it is far more “Western-ised” than other destinations on the continent – and therefore it’s a great place to ease yourself into the South American lifestyle!

Alternatively, I know travellers that have reached Santiago mid-way through their South American adventures who have enjoyed the city as it provides a break from the hustle and bustle of other Latin American destinations. In Summary, it doesn’t matter when you visit during an extended trip in South America, the European influences will win you over.

While I highly recommend learning some basic Spanish before visiting South America, you will find far more people that speak English in a city like Santiago than elsewhere in South America. For that reason, Santiago is often referred to as “South America Lite” on the backpacker trail!

Related: Read my full 3 month South America backpacking itinerary here!

View from Cerro San Christóbal

They care about their dogs!

Lots of cities are abundant with stray dogs but none are quite like Santiago, where you’ll notice that all of the dogs are friendly, well-fed and clean. There’s one simple reason for it – the communities looks after the pooches! A tour guide even told me that you might be lucky enough to see a stray dog wearing a raincoat in Winter… please excuse me while I book a trip to Santiago in Winter!

Wooden kennels are commonplace in Santiago’s parks and the dogs love to find groups of humans to mingle with for a while. On every walking tour that I took in Santiago, the group had a dog tag-along for a while! Surely this is a good enough reason to visit Santiago alone!

What’s more fascinating is they appear to know how to use zebra crossings and the metro!? Although maybe that’s just good timing/a coincidence on their part…

Santiago Cerro Santa Lucia

The perfect mix of urban jungle and peaceful retreat

Santiago is a city of two parts – of course there are plenty of urban jungle areas to explore but there are also acres of parkland too.

I spent a significant amount of time in Santiago compared to other cities in South America. While this was partly due to the fact that I was waiting for my flight to Easter Island, in the end it was because I loved the city so much!

With lots of spare time, I often found myself laying in one of the many parks reading a book with a ice cream – absolute bliss! This reminded me of the many parks of London – but with much much better weather of course!

Easter Island Tongariki Girl

Close proximity to some great destinations

Large cities aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (an opinion I began to adopt towards the end of my 3 month trip!), so the proximity to some incredible other destinations is what makes Santiago so special.

Santiago is one of two destinations (the other being Tahiti) where you can catch a flight to Easter Island – one of the world’s most remote and mysterious islands. If you have the time and spare cash, that trip is definitely worth taking!

Related: read my complete Easter Island itinerary here!

Two less rural choices would be the popular seaside towns of Valparaíso (where you can get lost in the winding streets to find some incredible street art) and Viña Del Mar (where you can relax on the beach or explore affluent neighbourhoods). Both destinations are less than 1.5 hour away by bus and can be done in day-trips from the Santiago if you are short on time.

Related: read about how to take a day trip to Valparaíso and all of the things to see and do here!

On the way to Vina Del Mar, you’ll find Reñaca & Concón which are much smaller beach towns if you are looking for the ultimate place to relax.

If you are looking for scenery, then Cajón del Maipo is the place for you! Around an hour away from Santiago, this enormous gorge perfect for picnics, hiking and hot springs.

For more adventure, in less than 3 hours (by public transport) you can head to El Colorado or Valle Nevado ski centers between June and October to hit the ski slopes.

After hiking and skiing, you may as well treat yourself to some wine – head out to the Chilean wine region for a taster session. Or if you have more time to spare, take an 8 hour bus ride across the Argentinian border to Mendoza for even more wine!

If you’re looking to head further afield, there’s plenty to choose from! Head North and you will find San Pedro De Atacama (home of the worlds driest desert – The Atacama Desert) which can be reached by a 2 hour flight to Calma and then 1 hour shuttle bus. Alternatively, head South and enjoy the glory of Patagonia (something I wish I had the time to see)!

Related: Read my ultimate guide to San Pedro De Atacama here!

Pina in Santiago Mercado

It has the coolest social scene

Not only did I stay in one of my favourite hostels in Santiago (Hostal Forestal) where I met tonnes of great people, the social scene in Santiago is one of the best!

The Bellavista region of the city is filled with great bars and restaurants but remember that the Chileans don’t eat dinner until around 10pm and the bars don’t fill up until much later – something my insane jetlag struggled to cope with!

Santiago Museo Chileno De Arte Precolombino

The history and culture is fascinating

Yes, Santiago has lovely dogs and a great social scene, but my interest in the city is much deeper than this. I highly recommend Tips4Tours’ free walking tour to learn about the history and culture of the city. From the 1973 military coup to the crazy traditions and burial plots of the Chilean people – there’s something for everyone!

Santiago Modern and Traditional Architecture

Drinking cocktails can be classified as “research”

Chile and Peru will both claim that they make the best Pisco Sour and that the drink originated from their country. While I don’t have the inclination to research the roots of the drink and come to a conclusion on it’s true origin, it would be rude not to test the delicious cocktails in both countries! It’s “research” after all!

And if you don’t fancy a Pisco Sour, Chile is famous for it’s “terremoto” (a.k.a. earthquake) cocktail which I highly recommend. Made with a sweet white wine and pineapple ice cream – what’s not to love! A terremoto is normally served in a 1 litre jug and is followed up by a half litre glass known as the “aftershock”!

Bellas Artes

There’s SO much to see and do

Quite frankly, there’s so much that you can see and do in Santiago that you would be here for days if I listed them all here; but don’t fear – you can read all about it here!

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Valparaíso Band Street Art

So why did I take a day trip from Santiago to Valparaíso? After I had exhausted everything there was to see and do in Santiago, I ended up with a few free days to fill. I opted to take a day trip to Valparaíso but you could definitely spend a night or two in this colorful city. Read on to find out exactly what Valparaíso has to offer!

RELATED: If you’re also visiting Santiago, find our my highlights of the city here.

Valparaíso Colourful Young Girl Street Art

How To Get There

Valparaíso is the perfect destination for a day trip from Santiago as it can be reached within 1.5 hours.

Firstly, depending on where you’re staying, you’ll need to jump onto Santiago’s incredible Metro station and head towards Pajaritos which is on line 1 (the red one). Using Santiago’s Metro system couldn’t be easier thanks to Bip, which is essentially the equivalent of London Oyster card.

A Bip card costs 1,500 CLP (approximately £1.50) and you need to top up the card to cover your travel costs – this can be done at most metro stations. Unlike the London Underground, no matter how far you travel, the price will stay the same. Prices per journey range between 610 CLP (approximately £0.60) and 750 CLP (approximately £0.75) depending on whether you are travelling at peak time or not.

Once you have arrived at Pajaritos, make your way into the main terminal to buy your bus ticket to Valparaíso. The two main bus companies are Turbus and Pullman – we opted for Turbus simply because they had a bus departing soonest. The journey was comfortable and pleasant enough!

As with all South American bus travel, I would recommend using BusBud to check timings and prices. You can even make online bookings when travelling in Chile.

As a word of warning – I was often told that booking online would result in higher prices than when booking at the ticket station throughout South America. I tended to avoid this advice and book online when needed to avoid any hassle at the bus station with my poor Spanish!

The journey from Santiago to Valparaíso takes around 1.5 hours. If you are travelling more widely through South America, enjoy this bus journey – it will probably be one of the shortest you take!

If you are feeling nervous about using public buses in a foreign country, you can always book a guided day trip like this one which also incorporates a trip to Vina Del Mar.

Valparaíso Colourful Houses

What To Expect

Affectionately referred to as “Valpo”, Valparaíso is known for being Santiago’s cooler, grittier little sister. With it’s abundance of street art, cool bars and trendy places to eat, you can see why it has become a Instagram aficionado’s paradise.

Other than the street art, I didn’t really know what to expect on arrival in Valparaíso. I was startled at the number of articles online that focused on pick pocketing and petty crime…. Thankfully, my time in Valparaíso was uneventful in that sense and I always felt safe. In fact, the locals are very friendly and always seemed to be looking out for tourists – one shop keeper told me to put my camera away in certain areas.

You shouldn’t expect tonnes of tourist attractions – Valparaíso is a city that you will just love wandering around, soaking up the vibrant colours and sights!

With such close proximity to Santiago, it’s easy to fit a trip to Valparaíso into a longer Chilean adventure, so why stop here? I’d also highly recommend trying to visit San Pedro De Atacama – you can read all about my Atacama adventures here!

Valparaíso We Are Not Hippies, We Are Happies Street Art

Things To Do

Take a Free Walking Tour

Price – Whatever you decide to tip!

Oh, am I recommending yet another Tours 4 Tips walking tour in Chile? Yes I am! In Valparaíso, there are three tours that you can choose from – “Valparaíso highlights” (as the title suggests, this shows you all of the hot-spots of the city), “Valparaíso Offbeat” (to show you all of the local’s favorite spots and hidden gems) and “Valparaíso Neruda’s Perspective” (to learn more about acclaimed poet Pablo Neruda’s life).

With limited time, I decided to take “highlights” tour to see what the city has to offer. Valparaíso is an absolutely maze, so I really enjoyed having a local guide me around! It’s so fascinating to learn some of the back-stories behind the graffiti and learn more about the city as a whole.

If I had a second day in the city, I would definitely take the Valparaíso Offbeat tour too – even if it’s just to meet more dogs! There are just as many well behaved street dogs in Valparaíso as there are in Santiago, so we had a few resident pups join us on our tour!

RELATED: I took Tours 4 Tips tours in a few Chilean cities – San Pedro De Atacama being one of them! Read my complete guide to San Pedro here.

Ride The Historic Funiculars

Cost: Less than £1

After only a few minutes in the city, you will learn that Valparaíso is HILLY. I’m not exaggerating here… this might be the hilliest city I’ve ever visited. While wandering around the city before our Free Walking Tour, we seemed to take every wrong turn possible, meaning we had to walk up the steepest hills to get anywhere! Luckily, the tour guides take you on much better routes!

Rest assured, there are 16 historic funiculars throughout the city which can take you up to the highest spots – the oldest was built in 1883, so these funiculars are steeped in history! Be sure to head to to the top of a few to enjoy the views and see what secret street art you can see from above.

La Sebastiana Museum

Cost: 7,000 CLP (approximately £7)

Pablo Neruda (Chile’s most renowned poet) had three properties throughout Chile which have been transformed into museums, La Sebastiana potentially being the most popular.

As I was limited on time, I didn’t get to visit La Sebastiana as I got too lost exploring the street art lined streets. If I stayed overnight, I would have definitely poppped in on my second day!

Try Chorillana

We had heard that chorillana was a traditional dish from Valparaíso – despite knowing very little about it, we got a recommendation from our walking tour guide and headed on our way to find some for dinner.

We ate at J. Cruz – a real local place, hidden down a dark alleyway who supposedly serve some of the best chorillana in town.

We ordered one large portion between three of us, still not knowing what to expect. Before we knew it, the largest pile of chips (french fries for you Americans), meat, egg and onions I’d ever seen in my life!

Even with three people, we couldn’t manage to finish it. The locals looked at cast us disappointing glances of course… we deserved the disappointment.

Get Lost In a Sea of Street Art

Cost: Free!

Valparaíso doesn’t have tonnes of “must see” attractions, which makes it the perfect destination to just get lost and wander! With street art on every possible surface, there’s always something to admire.

Plus, there are loads of great cafes, restaurants and bars to fall into when you get tired of walking! If that’s not a good enough reason to book a bus from Santiago to Valparaíso, I don’t know what is!

Have you ever been to Valparaíso? What was your favorite thing to do?

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Car Snow Capped Mountains San Pedro De Atacama

The Atacama Desert is known for being the driest desert in the world (how on earth do they measure that?!) but more importantly, for you anyway, it’s a hot-spot for travellers looking to explore all that Chile has to offer. There’s so much to see and do here – so without further ado, here’s the ultimate guide to ensure that you make the most of your trip to San Pedro De Atacama.

How To Get To Get There

From Santiago

If you’re travelling from elsewhere in Chile, you’re likely to be coming from Santiago (Chile’s capital).

Calama is the closest transport hub to San Pedro De Atacama and can be reached either by bus (circa 22 hours) or plane (circa 2 hours) from Santiago.

Given the length of the bus journey, I opted to book a flight. As my time in San Pedro De Atacama was relatively close to the start of my 3 months in South America, I booked the flight well in advance to secure the best price. On arrival in Calama airport, you will find a shuttle bus company which operates between Calama and San Pedro De Atacama. There are plenty of shuttles and they depart regularly, the journey takes around 90 minutes.

For bus travel, I recommend using BusBud (an absolute MUST website/app when travelling in South America) and Skyscanner for flights.

RELATED: Santiago is a great city and shouldn’t be skipped – read my 5 day itinerary here!

From Bolivia

If you are travelling in the opposite direction, coming from Bolivia, you can either use public buses to travel directly from Uyuni to San Pedro De Atacama (BusBud currently does not operate in Bolivia, so use Rome2Rio to determine the best bus company and timings) or book a tour via the Uyuni salt flats.

Uyuni Salt Flats tours are usually 3-4 days long and begin in either Uyuni or San Pedro De Atacama (ending in the opposite destination). Tours can vary in prices but as a general rule, the more expensive tour guides have much higher safety ratings. I booked via Cordillera Traveller and would highly recommend them but we will talk more about that later! 

RELATED: Bolivia isn’t just home to the impressive Uyuni Salt Flats. Cycling down the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” was one of my South America highlights – even if someone in my group fell off the cliff! Read abut my experience here!

Girl in Valle De Luna

The Best Time to Visit

Given that The Atacama Desert is allegedly the driest desert in the world, you’re unlikely to face rain no matter what time of year you visit – some areas of the desert have not seen rain in more than 400 years!

I visited in the Summer months (December – February) and it was perfect! Not only were the days warm and beautiful, the star-gazing visibility at night was incredible and not TOO cold. Even in the height of Summer, I didn’t find that the days were too hot to explore and the early morning wake-ups for some tours were made easier by the warmer night-time weather. However, this is the most popular time to visit, so tours and hotels will get booked up faster.

Given that San Pedro De Atacama is a fairly sleepy town, the Summer months don’t feel over-crowded, especially if you’re used to travelling in cities! If you are concerned about tourist levels, the “shoulder seasons” (September to November or March to May) will see less tourists and usually have pleasant weather too.

If you are considering a trip in Winter (June – August), you need to consider that some of the night-time activities (such as the incredible star-gazing) won’t be available due to the sub-freezing temperatures.

Atacama Sunset

Where to Stay

If you’re travelling on a budget, I stayed in Hostel Laskar which had super friendly staff and a good social atmosphere. However, if you book further in advance than I did, you can probably find somewhere slightly cheaper and closer to the town center.

If you have a bigger budget, there are some really gorgeous and unique properties in the area such as Alto Atacama Spa & Lodge, Hotel Cumbres, Hotel Poblado Kimal.

RELATED: I spent three months travelling through South America – see my full itinerary including accommodation here!

Atacama Sand Dunes

Tips on Booking Tours

There are plenty of online operators providing tours in San Pedro De Atacama ( Get Your Guide, Denomades and Keteka and are just a few). I would only recommend online bookings if you are time restricted and don’t want to seek local guides on your arrival.

If you have more time to spare, spend your first few hours in San Pedro negotiating with local tour guides. Online prices can be high and you are more likely to find a bargain or be able to negotiate a deal with local tour agencies.

With regards to picking local tour agencies, the general rule of thumb is to look around and pick the agency who are the most helpful and have reasonable prices. For the most part, the shops that you see in the town are just sales agencies who will book you onto the same few underlying tour operators.

The only tour that needs more thought and attention is the excursion into the Uyuni Salt Flats. Prices can vary for these tours and generally the lower the price, the lower the safety and hygiene standards. I highly recommend Cordillera Travller who have very high safety ratings and are the only Bolivian company to currently operate from San Pedro De Atacama. Having a Bolivian tour guide show us the towns close to where he grew up made it all the more special.

Valle De La Luna, Atacama

Things to Do

Now for the good bit! There’s a whole host of things to see and do in San Pedro De Atacama, so you certainly won’t get bored! In fact, you might suffer from quite the opposite, there’s too many things to do and walking into a tour agency can feel very overwhelming!

On the flight from Santiago to San Pedro De Atacama, I bumped into a couple that I had travelled with in Argentina which was a lovely surprise. Having three of us booking tours together meant that we could negotiate group deals between us – even though we didn’t all do the same tours! If you can find some friends to check out the tour agencies with, I highly recommend it! 

My itinerary looked a little something like this… 

  • Day One – Arrival in San Pedro Atacama, speak to tour agencies and a night time astronomical tour
  • Day Two – Morning tour of Valle De Luna and an afternoon free walking tour of San Pedro De Atacama
  • Day Three – Morning tour of the geysers of El Tatio and an afternoon tour to the salt lakes
  • Day Four – Depart Chile on a 4 day tour through Bolivia to see the Uyuni Salt Flats

The tour agencies are super helpful in planning your time in San Pedro De Atacama, but it’s good to go in with an idea of which tours you would like to do. So here’s an outline of the tours that I did… 

Astronomical Tour

Atacama Star Gazing Milky Way

Price: 20,000 CLP (Approximately £24)

My first tour ended up being one of my San Pedro highlights! We were picked up at 10:30pm and drove for around 20 minutes to a deserted area (away from the light pollution of the town) with a giant telescope to start our astronomical tour.

The stars were so bright and felt so close to us – something that I had never experienced before! The tour guide taught us about astronomy and pointed out the main star-sign constellations. I found it so fascinating that by the end of our tour, you could see how much the star-signs had shifted across the sky.

We got super lucky, as we could even see Jupiter! Obviously, taking photos of stars is ridiculously hard – while I only have the photo from the guide of me and the milky way, I will remember this night for a very long time!

Valle De Luna (Valley of The Moon)

Atacama Sand Dunes

Price: 15,000 CLP (Approximately £18)

As the name suggests, Valle De Luna is like something from another planet (although probably more like Mars than the Moon given the red toned landscape…).The tour will take you through some incredible rock formations that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before!

The tour visits various different areas of the Valley, each more impressive than the last, before finishing with a view over the famous valley sunset.

If you don’t want to do a tour, it’s possible to hire bikes and cycle to the Valley from San Pedro De Atacama. We saw people attempting this journey in the middle of the Summer’s heat and it didn’t look comfortable at all. If you are going to attempt this, make sure you have sufficient water!

Free Walking Tour

San Pedro De Atacama View

Price: Whatever you want to tip!

I found myself with some down-time after my Valle De Luna tour, so I decided to take the Tours 4 Tips free walking tour. While there isn’t all that much to see within the town, the guide was great and pointed out loads of cool restaurants, bars and cafes.

The food in San Pedro De Atacama exceeded all of my expectations. I expected a very touristy town with bleak food options; what I experienced was quite the contrary! There were some great options available – while the nicer restaurants are more pricey, they were certainly worth it.

The buildings in the town are all made from the same clay-looking material, so everything starts to look the same – I have never struggled with my sense of direction so much in a small town!

Geysers at El Tatio

Puppy Chile

Price: 18,000 CLP (Approximately £20)

The next tour on my itinerary was the famous geysers at El Tatio. This is one of the most popular tours in the region – and I’m sure I would have had a great time… if I made it that far!

The tour starts at 4.30am so that you reach the geysers in time for sunrise. Things started to go wrong from the outset when my tour bus was 2 hours late with absolutely no explanation. After 2 long hours of waiting in the hostel trying not to fall asleep, I climbed into the minibus and hoped that it would still be worth the trip. It’s a fairly long drive (around 2 hours), so we all took a well needed nap… when I woke up, our mini-bus was rolling backwards down a steep hill and then wouldn’t re-start.

We waited for over 2 hours to be rescued by another van, by which time it was too late to visit the geysers as they are predominantly active at sunrise. On the way back to town, we stopped off a tiny village where we could buy llama meat. Deciding to skip the meat feast, I met a local who had a really cute dog, so all is well!

Other people’s photos look absolutely magical and I will be sure to try and do this tour again if I ever re-visit San Pedro!

Fear not, if you are unable to do this tour (like me!), you can try and see geysers (albeit much smaller) on a 4 day Uyuni Salt Flat tour.

Salt Lakes Tour

Salt Lake Atacama

Price: I was given this tour for free – there was however a 5,000 CLP entrance fee (Approximately £6)

The tour agency were very apologetic for the issues with my Geysers tour. Given that I was leaving San Pedro the next day, I couldn’t book onto the same tour the following day. Instead, they gave me a free tour to the salt lakes that afternoon.

While Blovia’s Salar De Uyuni are the most famous salt flats, there are some salt flats to be found in Chile too. The best part about these ones are that you can float in the salty lakes – which I imagine is very similar to floating in the Dead Sea!

After trying to get all of the salt off of us, we headed to another view point for sunset (this time with lots of drinks and nibbles – yay)!

The tour was very basic, so I’m glad that I didn’t have to pay for it but was enjoyable nonetheless and a great way to see another natural phenomenon in the area!

Begin your Bolivian Adventure

Dakar Uyuni Salt Flat

Price: Prices vary, I booked with one of the more expensive firms who charged 115,000 CLP (Approx £130)

San Pedro De Atacama is the perfect place to begin the 4 day/3 night expedition through Bolvian countryside, ending with the famous Uyuni salt flats!

We booked our trip as soon as we arrived in San Pedro, knowing that we would be departing in a few days time. As mentioned before, this is the one time that you need to be careful with tour guides. There are horror stories about drunk tour drivers etc. but with some careful planning, you will be fine!

I booked with Cordillera Traveller who were excellent. They are a Bolivian company who pride themselves with great safety ratings and an excellent experience. While the tour guides often don’t speak English, you don’t need to be told much to enjoy the views. Before booking, you should note that accommodation in this area is very lacking and all tour providers use very basic local-run “hostels”.

Other Options

Salt Lake Atacama

There are a few more very popular options that I chose not to participate in:

  1. Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks) – If Valle De Luna wasn’t enough for you and you need more otherworldly landscapes, then the very popular Red Rocks tour is for you! Give it a google – the scenery looks phenomenal.
  2. Rainbow Valley – In a similar vein, I was running low on time so had to pick one incredible landscape to explore. Rainbow Valley is made up of colorful rock formations – I decided to save myself for Rainbow Mountain in Peru!
  3. Dune Buggying and Sand Boarding – Later in my South American adventures, I visited Huacachina (Peru) which is renowned for it’s incredible sand-boarding, so I decided to give this activity a miss in San Pedro De Atacama. Definitely book this if you aren’t also visiting Huacachina though!

Have you ever been? What was your favourite excursion?

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Easter Island Anakena Beach

Easter Island is one of the most remote islands in the entire world which obviously makes travelling to the island both pricey and time-consuming. Easter Island, therefore, remains a bucket list dream for some of the most die-hard travel fanatics!

If you’re weighing up whether a trip to Easter Island is worth the money and time, here’s a super handy guide to let you know exactly what to expect from a trip to Easter Island!

RELATED: If you’re wondering how you can access Easter Island on a “budget”, you can read my tips and tricks here!

Easter Island Tongariki Girl

Travelling to Easter Island

The most popular method of getting to Easter Island is the daily flights from the Chilean capital of Santiago. An alternative would be to catch one of the weekly flight from Tahiti. Both options take around 5 hours and as LATAM is the only airline servicing these routes, there is lack of competition from other airlines so costs can be pricey!

Being one of the most remote islands in the world, Easter Island can suffer from turbulent weather (it’s the first place I’d been where road signs showed the highest points of the island in case of a tsunami – not worrying at all)! With that in mind, make sure that you add some buffer time to your trip – my flight to the Island ended up being delayed by 5 hours and apparently this isn’t uncommon.

A more adventurous option would be to jump on a boat and ride the waves like the original explorers of the island – I’ve heard incredible stories of retirees chartering a boat themselves and making this amazing journey!

If you’re strapped for cash, look into making the trip on the Chilean Navy Aquiles ship. The ship usually makes this trip twice a year from Valparaiso (Chile) and takes 7 days. While the price is lower than that of a flight, you are obliged to return on the same boat which limits your stay on the island to just a few days (this is fine to see everything that the island has to offer, but is somewhat silly when it’s taken you 7 days to get there)! Be sure to look into this option early as navy personnel (plus their families) and Easter Island residents get priority when booking.

Finally, some cruise lines servicing the South Pacific will make a stop at Easter Island. Of course, cruises aren’t the most bank account friendly option, but this would be a great way to see more of the gorgeous Pacific islands!

RELATED: If you’re wondering how you can fit a trip to Easter Island into a longer adventure, read about my 3 month itinerary here!

Wild Horses on Easter Island

Accommodation

If you’re on a budget (like I was!), there are a few “hostels” on the island. I chose to stay at Camping y Hostal Tipanie Moana which has the option for you to pitch a tent (the cheapest option), stay in a dorm room (the next cheapest option but be aware that the beds sell out quickly) or a basic private room.

I had no choice but to opt for the basic private room on the basis that I didn’t have camping equipment with me and there was no availability in the dorm rooms. The room was comfortable and definitely one of the cheapest options on the Island.

Of course, with this being a destination favoured by luxury travellers, there are some incredible properties you can stay at if you have the money! I love the look of the Hanga Roa Eco Village and Spa.

Be sure to book your accommodation in advance as options are limited (especially when you are on a budget) and you won’t want to miss out.

Easter Island Ahu Tahai

Social Life

I travelled to Easter Island on my own and quite frankly, if you’re not comfortable in your own company, this is not the location for you as a solo traveller.

When the transfer to Camping y Hostal Tipanie Moana arrived at the airport, I quickly realised that I was the only English speaker within the group heading to my hostel and things were going to be very different to mainland Chile. The majority of travellers that I met were from South America and they spoke very little English. I had plans to learn Spanish later on in my trip to South America (Bolivia is the cheapest place to do it) but I really could have done with those lessons before visiting Easter Island!

The owners of the hotel could speak English… when they wanted to. When we all arrived at the hotel, we were sat down and given a full briefing of the Island and the owner gave a great translated version to me. Unfortunately, when asking questions to the hotel staff later on in my trip, I often got the feeling that they couldn’t be bothered to deal with me as my Spanish skills were limited.

There was one South Korean girl in the hotel who couldn’t speak either Spanish or English and I have no idea how she coped!

Thankfully, I met an older American couple in the hostel kitchen who took me under their wing like the daughter they never had for some of my time on the Island. Travelling alone on the island can be expensive, so I was very glad to have people to split the costs of car hire with.

Essentially, don’t expect to waltz into a hostel and meet tonnes of people like you will in the rest of South America (unless you can speak fluent Spanish)! However, if you are looking for somewhere incredible to relax and enjoy some alone time after living in the hustle and bustle of South American hostels, Easter Island is dreamy.

Two Moai At Easter Island Quarry

Getting Around the Island

Easter Island is small, at a mere 163km², it is a fraction of the size of Greater London (1,572 km²). To simplify matters further there’s a large portion of the Island that has no roads and is off limits to tourists unless you are willing to pay $500+ for a guide. My hostel owner mentioned these tours, but I wasn’t able to find anything about them online  – so maybe ask around when you’re on the Island if you think something in that area is worth seeing!

The areas of the Island that you are able to visit un-guided are easy to access. You can drive the main loop road of the Island in no time at all. Even if you stop and see ALL of the sights, you’ll be able to do this in one leisurely day.

The most common method of transportation is car; and unlike most other activities on the island, car rental prices are fairly reasonable, especially when split between a group. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, try a quad bike, and if you’re much fitter than I, hire a bike for a long cycle!

Consider the weather when if you do hire a quad bike or a bike. I visited in the middle of Summer (February), it was very hot, very humid and the UV rays were very strong. While most rental cars do not have air-conditioning, it’s nice to have a break from the sun beating down on you!

The roads are well-maintained and often fairly empty – even during peak seasons. We found that is was easier to bump into a pack of wild horses than a traffic jam (apart from at Anakena Beach which was very popular in the Summer)!

Therefore, even though there is no form of public transportation, getting around the Island is incredibly simple!

Easter Island Rano Kau

Dealing with “Easter Island Time”

One of the greatest things about Easter Island is the incredibly relaxed and chilled out way of life. This can also, of course be one of it’s downfalls.

As well as allowing buffer time for flight delays, maybe add some additional buffer time for activities. I decided that I wanted to try snorkelling while on the Island, I followed the guidance of the hotel owner to go out with a group led by his friend at 4pm that day rather than using the dive centres in town. 5pm rolled around and the boat still hadn’t left the port meaning I missed the traditional dance ceremony that evening….

Moral of the story – relax, take things at a calm pace and try not to cram too much into one day.

Easter Island Pea Bay

Wi-Fi

I had read horror stories online about the lack of Wi-Fi on the Island and had reassured my mum countless times that I would be without Wi-Fi for 5 days and she shouldn’t panic that I had died.

With that in mind, I was actually really impressed at the quality of the Wi-Fi on the Island! Of course, you couldn’t stream Netflix or upload a YouTube video successfully but for general messaging and uploading the occasional Instagram post (if you have the time to spare while it uploads slowly), the Wi-Fi was fine!

The hotel Wi-Fi was definitely better during the day (i.e. while people were out exploring rather than sitting in bed trying to use the Wi-Fi), so try and use it at less popular hours.

Some of the parks in Hanga Roa have free Wi-Fi but log-on success can be temperamental at best. I would have loved to have been able to sit in one of the parks over-looking the sea with the view of a Moai head in the background and face-timed my friends and family who are unlikely to ever visit.

Easter Island Palm Trees

Food

Food on the Island can be expensive but there are definitely ways to get around this.

Many people bring food to Easter Island from the mainland in cooler boxes. I’ve never seen so many cooler-boxes make their way around the baggage turnstile at the airport – there might have been more food than there was actual luggage!

The alternative is to buy food to cook from the local supermarkets on the Island. While this is more expensive than buying the equivalent on the mainland, it will definitely be cheaper than eating out every night!

The cheapest place to grab lunch on the Island is without a doubt “Club Sandwhich” which serves $3 tasty empanadas among other cheaper treats!

If you want to treat yourself, head over to Te Moai Sunset for great food and an incredible view of the sunset at Ahu Tahai (a must see on the Island, even if you don’t stop here for dinner)!

Easter Island Sunset

Activities

It goes without saying that the Moai statues are the main reason that most people visit Easter Island. The iconic statues may be some of the most famous monuments in the world (albeit for the younger generations, this may only be because of the great “you dumb dumb, you give me gum gum” line from Night at the Museum)!

I was concerned that visiting countless statues of heads would get tiresome, but I couldn’t be more wrong. The size, complexity and history of these statues was interesting every. single. time.

RELATED: Rest assured, there’s plenty more to do on the Island, so much so that I’ve written a whole separate blog post which you can read here.

 

Easter Island Aku Akivi

Protecting the Island

Respecting and protecting the Island are two huge concerns of the Rapa Nui people. There are countless signs on the Island asking you to stick to the roads/footpaths as to not cause erosion on parts of the Island unnecessarily.

Further to this, the re-cycling effort on the Island is second to none. After huge issues with rubbish in the past, there are now a multitude of bins that you need to assess and choose the right one for each piece of your rubbish – tourists are also encouraged to take large items they wish to dispose of back to the mainland as to not clog up the Island.

Touching the Moai or climbing on the Ahu (the raised platform that the Moai stand on) is strictly off limits and the penalties for doing so are huge.

While this might sound like a lot of rules and regulations, it’s for the best of the Island. Easter Island is such an incredible place, it would be a real shame for it to be ruined for future generations. Stick to the rules and have a great time.

Given the remoteness of the Island, I had always imagined that tiny planes accessed the Island… Once again, I couldn’t be more wrong. With Dreamliner planes dropping off hundreds of passengers a day (not that you would notice it at the tourist sites!), maintaining the Island is of the upmost importance.

Easter Island Ana Te Pahu

Safety

I think that the safety of a destination is truly summed up when one of the biggest threats you can find in your research is an injury from a falling coconut on Anakena Beach…

Overall Verdict

My time on Easter Island was truly incredible; it is a tropical paradise so far removed from the rest of South America (even the Galapagos Islands which seem over-run by tourists in comparison).

Yes it’s expensive, yes it’s time consuming to reach but boy is it worth it. Quite frankly, I’ve never been anywhere like it.


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Santiago Chile Cable Car

I could wax-lyrical about Santiago. Before visiting, I had heard that the capital of Chile feels like a European city and therefore many deemed it not “interesting” enough to spend more than a few days here. I couldn’t disagree more – Santiago definitely deserves your time.

I ended up spending more time in Santiago than I anticipated – partly due to waiting for my flight to Easter Island but mostly because I loved the city. There’s plenty to do in this fantastic city, so let’s get on with my itinerary!

RELATED: Read my full three month South American itinerary here!

Santiago – Day One

Check Into Hostal Forestal

I found hostels throughout South America to be somewhat lacklustre – especially after beginning my trip in Hostal Forestal. Located centrally beside a gorgeous park and looked after by some of the most friendly staff I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, Hostal Forestal was one of my favourite hostels in South America.

If you are travelling alone, this is the perfect place given the great social atmosphere and the activities organised by the hostel. This is where I had my first taste of a “terremoto” (a.k.a. “earthquake”) cocktail – an incredible concoction made mainly from white wine and pineapple ice cream!

Santiago Modern and Traditional Architecture

People Watching In Plaza Del Armas

One of the first places you will stumble across in any South American city is the “Plaza Del Armas” which acts as the main city square. There are lots of shops and restaurants surrounding the area, as well as beautiful architecture; but one of my favourite things to do is people watch!

Chileans are so friendly (as are the local stray dogs) and there’s always something going on in the square!

Take A Free Walking Tour (or two!)

Yes, this a standard Escaping Essex recommendation for all cities, but I really do mean it! On my first jet-lagged afternoon in Santiago, I opted for the standard “Santiago Highlights” walking tour given by Tours4Tips to learn a bit more about the city and work out where the top tourist destinations were.

Later on in my trip, I joined the “Santiago Offbeat” tour (also by Tours4Tips) which was super interesting, but more on that later.

Tours4Tips also offer free walking tours in other Chilean cities (I’ve tried them all!) so definitely check them out, even if you’re not staying in Santiago.

Santiago Palace La Monda

Feel Regal At Palace La Moneda

One of the spots on the free walking tour is La Moneda. This is a beautiful building steeped in history. One thing I wish I knew before arrival in Santiago is that you can apply to take a tour inside the palace if you email
visitas@presidencia.cl at least one week in advance.

If you aren’t able to reserve a place on a tour, simply admire the facade of this incredible building!

Unleash your Creative Side at GAM

The Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM) is a new exhibition centre within the heart of Santiago and is where the “Santiago Higlights” free walking tour ends.

It’s definitely worth spending some time checking out the ever-changing exhibitions after your tour. Plus, the centre is named after Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, so it’s only right to support #girlpower and take a visit!

Santiago – Day Two

View from Cerro San Christóbal
Cerro San Christóbal

Explore Cerro San Christóbal

Waking up to glorious sunshine on my first full day in Santiago meant one thing – head to Cerro San Christóbal!

Cerro San Christóbal and the surrounding areas are huge – you could easily spend a whole day exploring the area (which I did)! A series of funiculars and cable cars connect this huge area – or if you’re feeling more adventurous, a long hike/walk will take you to the peak.

Once you’ve reached the top of the hill, you will be greeted to incredible views across Santiago – the view puts into perspective how large the city is!

After admiring the view, make sure you carry on the cable car rides throughout this expansive green area. From a zoo to a swimming pool and a botanical garden, there’s plenty to see and do.

Apparently I visited in the “Month of Love” (February 2018) and there was a brilliant version of the famous Love Lock bridges seen in cities such as Paris – instead, hundreds of coloured ribbons are available to visitors, each representing a different love status – from moving meanings such as “Love Without Borders” to “Friend Zone” (which was my personal favourite)! 😂

Santiago – Day Three

Santiago Museo Chileno De Arte Precolombino

See History Unfold In A Chilean Art Museum

After soaking up the sun on my first day, I woke up on day 2 with the intention of doing something a bit more cultural! Luckily, Santiago is home to some great museums and Museo Chileno De Arte Precolombino (“Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art”) was my first stop.

This is a truly interesting museum with lots of artifacts to see. The well-presented displays take you through the various stages of migration to Central and South America giving insight to the ways of life, religion and culture.

Luckily with lots of English signage as it’s safe to say that my very limited Spanish language skills don’t stretch to art terminology!

Be Shocked By The Human Rights Museum

Next up on my cultural experience was Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (“Museum of Memory and Human Rights”) which was truly harrowing.

The museum focuses on the Chilean dictatorship in the 1970s-1990s. While I had been made aware of the conditions under the dictatorship during my free walking tour, this museum really highlighted the struggles of the era. I really recommend visiting.

Make sure that you have a few hours to spare and take time to listen to all of the audio guide sections. Parts of the museum were very hard hitting – including a video of a police office shooting a young female student in cold blood.

Santiago Mercado Central

Excite Your Tastebuds In Mercado Central

Despite the sombre mood, I managed to meet a group of other solo travellers within the Human Rights Museum who became firm friends for my time in Chile!

After the museum, we headed to Mercado Central to eat our way around the stalls, sampling incredible empanadas and fresh fruit! The perfect way to spend an afternoon with new friends.

After I developed the worst blister on my foot, everyone ended up visiting me in my hostel that night to drink/chat/dance the night away!

Santiago – Day Four

Santiago Cerro Santa Lucia

Cerro Santa Lucia

Another day, another beautiful hilled green area. Closer to the city centre and much smaller than Cerro San Christobal, Cerro Santa Lucia is a good choice if you have less time to explore.

A short uphill walk will give you great views and a beautiful fortress-like building to explore. This is a lovely area to explore, especially with an ice-cream in hand!

Parque Forestal Santiago

Relax in Parque Forestal

After a full-on few days in the city, I decided to spend the afternoon relaxing in a park near to by hostel reading a book – holiday bliss! One thing that can always be guaranteed in a February trip to Santiago is sunshine!

Enjoy A Night Out In Bellavista

Bellavista is the most popular area in Santiago for nightlife and rightly so! Be sure to stroll down and enjoy the restaurants/bars – just remember that the Chileans tend to eat/drink/party much later than their European counterparts – a typical meal won’t start until very late in the evening!

Santiago – Day Five

Pina in Santiago Mercado

Join Your Second Free Walking Tour

With time to kill before my departure from Santiago, I decided to do some more learning, so joined the “Santiago Offbeat” tour (also by Tours4Tips).

This tour offers a more in-depth look into local lifestyles. From the Mercado Central (“Central Market”) where locals buy their delicious fresh fruits and vegetable to Cementerio General (“General Cemetary”) where you learn about the Chilean burial beliefs and traditions.

Despite the fact I had been to the food markets earlier in the week, taking a tour highlighted how the market really fits into the local Chilean culture. The market stall owners all act as one big family, trading and helping each other. When an earthquake devastated surrounding areas (did you know that Chile suffers 3 earthquakes a day – albeit they’re normally very small), the market traders all got together to create food boxes for families in need. The family spirit in this market is unlike any other.

Santiago General Cemetary

Learn About the General Cemetary

Well, I know it sounds a bit morbid, but I promise it’s very interesting! The free walking tour will explain local life and Chilean views and traditions when it comes to death.

One thing that is heavily highlighted during the tour is the disparity between the rich and poor following the relatively recent dictatorship in Chile. While Chile is one of the most prosperous nations in Latin America, it also allegedly has one of the world’s highest rates of wealth disparity – something that wouldn’t be entirely evident from a trip to Santiago.

Bellas Artes

Marvel at Chilean Art

I don’t consider myself to be a huge museum-lover, yet here I am, recommending my third museum to you. In all honesty, I didn’t have much interest in visiting Bellas Artes but given the close proximity to my hostel (Hostal Forestal) and the fact that I had time to kill, I thought why not!

While there is a great selection of artwork on display (including some particularly disturbing exhibitions at the time of my visit), what’s more impressive is the building that houses the collections – especially the gorgeous glass-ceiling!

Santiago City Buildings

Re-Visit Your Favourite Areas

There were tonnes of places/areas that I ended up walking through/visiting time and time again. Santiago is made up of many different neighborhoods with Bellavista, Lastarria and Barrio Italia being my favourites.

Make sure you spend plenty of time pottering through your favourite neighborhoods stopping to enjoy all of the cute shops, cafes and bars along the way!

Optional Extras

Santiago benefits from being surrounded by some equally incredible destinations. In a day trip, you could visit nearby Valpariso or Vina Del Mar (although arguably both destinations are worthy of more time than just a day). Santiago is encompassed by the Andes, so there are plenty of beautiful mountainous areas to explore too!

For destinations somewhat further afield, hop across the Argentinean border to Mendoza to sample incredible wines. Within Chile, head North to explore the Atacama Desert or South for the beautiful region of Patagonia.

Arguably the creme de la creme of “nearby” destinations is Easter Island. Santiago is one of two places (the other being Tahiti) that flies to Easter Island, so if you’re in the neighborhood already, it’s definitely worth extending your trip!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post (however affiliate links may be used which mean I earn commissions on purchases at no extra cost to you) and all thoughts are my own.

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Packing for South America
Dressing for South America

If there’s anything that the above two photos proves, it’s that South America is a diverse continent with various landscapes, climates, altitudes and terrains to conquer! Given the variety, packing for an extended period can be very daunting, but do not fear, it’s super easy!

Considering this was my first time packing for a trip longer than 3 months, I think I did pretty damn well! Of course, everyone makes a few errors in their packing (did I actually wear that super pretty dress for Instagram photos? Absolutely not!) so hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!

Top Tips

  1. Take your route into consideration carefully – Before using my packing list as your bible, check out my 3 month itinerary to see what I got up to! If you’re heading to places like Patagonia or doing hikes that require you to bring your own camping equipment, you will of course need to factor this into you packing plans.
  2. The hard and fast rule when it comes to packing for a trip of any length is that you don’t need half as much as you think you do. Make a list of everything that you think you will need, get everything ready to be packed and then re-assess and put half of it away!
  3. Laundry is not an issue in South America. As long as you’re not in the middle of an arduous trek, you will be able to find a launderette on every street corner! What’s better is that all of your laundry will be done for you, dried and neatly folded for just a few dollars.
  4. Make sure that there is some spare space in your bag. While it may be tempting to pack that extra pair of shoes, I can guarantee that you’d rather bring home some souvenirs (no backpacker manages to leave South America without a fake Alpaca wool jumper).
  5. Remember that you can buy items along the way! Unless you have very specific requirements, all toiletries can be purchased as and when you need them. In respect of cheaper items that you only need for a brief period of time, buy them en route and then gift them on to a fellow backpacker – I purchased a woolly hat for my time in the Uyuni Salt Flats but barely wore it, so ended up gifting it to a fellow traveler who was heading to colder climates than me.

Without further ado, here’s everything I packed for 3 months in South America!

Bags

  1. A comfy backpack and daypack – I highly recommend the Osprey Fairview 70 which is a 57L backpack with a detachable 13L daypack. For men, the equivalent is the Osprey Farpoint 70 (both of which are very popular on the backpacking scene – and for good reason)! The best thing about this backpack is that it opens up fully like a suitcase, so you don’t need to stick your arm the entire way into the bag to find the thing you were looking for at the bottom. You’ll be the envy of everyone in the hostel!
  2. Small Cross Body Bag – When travelling in cities, I preferred to use a small cross body bag like this one. When travelling between destinations, it slotted nicely into my day-pack and didn’t take up any extra room!
  3. Packing CubesPacking cubes will become your BEST friend. This was the first time I had used them and now I won’t travel without them!
  4. Bum-Bag – Okay, a bum-bag (or “fanny-pack” for all of the Americans) isn’t the most stylish item you can bring, but it is very handy! I brought mine with safety in mind (i.e. keeping some cash close to me in case of being mugged – which thankfully didn’t happen) but I ended up using it as a place to handily store my camera while hiking!

Clothes – Outerwear

Your choice of outerwear will be fundamental given the range in climates. Get it wrong and you could either be very cold or the complete opposite and end up carrying around a huge coat that never gets worn.

If you really don’t have enough room in your bag to bring outerwear from home, you can find lots of outdoor clothing stores in places like Cusco (your base for starting the Machu Picchu trek) but be aware of inflated prices.

  1. A good quality rain jacket – It can rain a lot in the Andes, so a good quality rain jacket will be your saviour (no matter how ugly it may be). Pick something lightweight that will break the wind to keep you warm but be easy to pack away when not needed.
  2. A warm fleece/hoodie – The comfier and warmer, the better. I tried to pick a fleece that was a bit more stylish so it didn’t feel like I was just wearing ugly hiking gear all the time!
  3. Gloves – Gloves will definitely come in handy on high altitude hikes where temperatures drop (or if you’re clumsy like me, it will save your hands from scratches and cuts if you fall over…).
  4. Multi-use scarf – I purchased a travel infinity scarf  which turned out to be a great investment! Not only is it an additional layer to brace the cold with, the secret pocket means you can keep your valuables (phone and credit card etc.) close to you and I used it as a pillow on bus journeys!
  5. Headband – A cute headband is super handy to cover up greasy hair on multi-day hikes where showers are a distant dream!
  6. Sunglasses – While they are the polar opposite of the last few items, make sure you have some quality sunglasses for your trip. And make sure you don’t sit on them and break them within your first week of travelling (speaking from experience here).

Clothes – Bottoms

When it comes to bottoms, variety is key. Bottoms can be hard to layer so you need to be prepared for a multitude of different climates, I survived just fine with the following:

  1. 2 x shorts – I packed two pairs of lightweight denim shorts (blue and black) for the warmer climates. If I could do it all again, I would probably swap one pair for a sportier style – cycling around the vineyards of Mendoza in denim shorts wasn’t particularly pleasant!
  2. 2 x jeans – I stupidly bought two pairs of jeans with me. In cooler destinations, I lived in my trusty black jeans (the ASOS Rivington are my jeans of choice) and the grey pair lived at the bottom of my bag for the entirety of the trip. Unless you’re a jeans lover, only pack one pair!
  3. 2 x sports leggings – South America is filled with incredible hikes, so make sure you’ve got at least one comfy pair of leggings. If you’re going to do the 4 day Inca Trail, don’t worry about only having 1-2 pairs, everyone is in the same stinky boat!
  4. 1 x thermal leggings – If you’re planning on doing any high altitude hikes, it’s advisable to have some thermal leggings to sleep in!
  5. 1 x lightweight flowy trousers – I am very glad that lightweight flowy trousers seem to be all the rage right now – these are dreamy if you are in a warm destination but want to be a bit more covered up – plus they take up no room in your backpack!

Clothes – Tops

Packing clothes for your top half is much easier. Essentially, you need to pick items that are easy to layer. Don’t bother bringing your favourite jumper as a warmer layer, you’re bound to pick up a “backpacker jumper” whilst on the road!

  1. 3 x normal t-shirts – In hindsight, 2 t-shirts would have been fine but female t-shirts tend to be so lightweight an extra one doesn’t hurt! I ordered this ASOS multi-pack for 3 cheap and cheerful t-shirts that I wouldn’t mind damaging/losing.
  2. 2 x sports t-shirts – Of course you need some sports t-shirts to go with those sports leggings while you’re hiking!
  3. 2 x vest tops – The art of layering requires some basic under layers – I recommend this ASOS multi-pack.
  4. 1 x long sleeve top – This will come in handy for layering on the cooler occasions. While on the Uyuni Salt Flats, I think I wore 5 layers of tops throughout the day so I could adjust as necessary!
  5. 4 x lightweight “nicer” tops – So far my packing list has been very very bland. To save my sanity, I chose to pack 4 light weight nicer tops which I could wear with with a whole range of bottoms to feel a bit fancier for dinners/nights out/exploring cities!

Clothes – Other

Now for all the added “extra” bits and bobs…

  1. 1 x lightweight Summer dress – This is a real necessity in warmer destinations! Pick a lightweight dress that you can both wear in the cities or use as a cover-up on the beach.
  2. 1 x playsuit – Here’s where I admit my stupidity. I had visions of being “that girl” who had a change of outfit and wore beautiful clothes for Instagram. I packed a lovely red playsuit that sat at the bottom of my bag for the entire trip because let’s face it, I’m not “that girl”.
  3. 14 x underwear – I decided to take 2 weeks worth of underwear but I know a lot of girls travelled with a lot less! As already mentioned, laundry facilities in South America are plentiful, so don’t pack too many, it’s just a waste of space.
  4. 4 x hiking socks Hiking socks are an necessity if you plan on doing any walking. No matter how comfy your shoes are, the socks can make a huge difference!
  5. 4 x bras (2 normal + 2 sports) – I packed one nude bra, one black bra and 2 sports bras to cover all bases.
  6. 1 x bikini – I spent more time in the mountains than by the beaches, so 1 bikini was more than enough for me!
  7. Sleepwear – Take some dedicated pyjamas if you want to… or just use your leggings and normal t-shirts to save space in your bag!

Shoes

I took a very limited shoe selection. While it was absolutely fine, I would consider packing a pair of lightweight comfy trainers so that walking shoes weren’t my only sensible option!

  1. Walking boots/shoes – I opted for walking shoes rather than boots as I wanted to be able to wear them in cities too. I opted for a super comfy North Face pair which I highly recommend! To save room in your bag, always wear these when moving destinations or tie them to the outside of your backpack.
  2. Flip-flops – I picked up a £0.90 pair of flip flops from Primark which I intended to mainly use in the hostel showers but I ended up living in them for most of my trip! Finding a pair of comfy flip flops is fundamental!
  3. Sandals – I packed one paid of nice sandals which I intended to use as my everyday shoes in the warmer destinations. Unfortunately, they gave me HUGE blisters on day 2 and I never wore them again!

Travel “Necessities”

This is the one section where I probably did over-pack. Luckily all of the items are very small and I didn’t know what to expect from my trip, so wanted to be prepared for all outcomes!

  1. Currency, Debit & Credit Cards – I took some Chilean Pesos for the first leg of my trip alongside a credit card with no foreign transaction fees (I opted for the Santander Zero card) and my normal debit card for back-up.
  2. Passport and ID – While your passport is a given requirement, I also took my drivers license to use as ID without the risk of losing my passport while out and about!
  3. Copy of Documents – Keep a copy of your passport and your travel insurance documents
  4. Torch – This is a necessity on some hikes which require very early starts. Most people opted for a more convenient headlamp, but I found a torch to be just fine!
  5. Water bottle – I bought this incredible Brita water bottle which filters dirty water before my trip and LOVED it. Unfortunately, a rather violent horse ride saw it fly from my bag and into the wilderness never to be found again.
  6. Travel microfibre towel – Okay, they aren’t the nicest things to dry yourself with but a microfibre towel is a MUST while travelling. My towel was accidentally taken by another traveller while I was in Chile and I learnt they are a lot harder to find and much more expensive overseas! Take two just in case!
  7. Padlocks – Invest in some good padlocks to keep your bag safe on long bus journeys and also to keep your locker safe in hostels.
  8. First Aid kit – Hopefully you won’t have to use it, but it’s best to have a small kit like this one just in case!
  9. Medication – Be sure to bring enough of your normal medication to see you through your journey. as well as some precautionary tablets such as painkillers and Imodium. Check with your doctors to see if you need any other medication for your trip – I brought malaria tablets for my trip to the Amazon Jungle. If you are affected by altitude sickness, it may be worth getting some Diamox before your trip too (I didn’t).
  10. Insect Repellent – Mosquitoes LOVE to bite me, so insect repellent is a must for me!

Gadgets/Electronics

Electronics are a very personal matter, so take as many or as few that you think you need. As a solo traveller, I tried to keep my “flashy gadgets” to a minimum and opted to take my point and shoot camera as opposed to my DSLR. I thought about bringing my kindle but instead downloaded the Kindle app on my phone which worked really well!

  1. Phone + charger + sturdy case
  2. Go-pro camera + charger + spare batteries
  3. Normal camera + charger + spare batteries (the Canon G7X is my weapon of choice)
  4. Various memory cards
  5. Headphones
  6. Portable charger
  7. Universal plug sockets

Toiletries / Cosmetics

The thing to remember with toiletries is that you can usually find whatever you’re looking for whilst travelling. So unless you have very niche needs or requirements, bring the bare minimum to get you going and then re-stock when necessary.

Lots of tour guides for hikes will tell you that you need to bring toilet paper with you. Don’t bother bringing it all the way from home, stock up when you’re in South America (I tended to just take as much as I think I would need for day hikes from my hotel)!

  1. Hairbrush
  2. Comb
  3. Nail clippers
  4. Small scissors
  5. Tweezers
  6. Shampoo
  7. Conditioner
  8. Deodorant
  9. Toothbrush
  10. Toothpaste
  11. Make-up
  12. Make-up remover
  13. Sun cream
  14. Moisturiser
  15. Razor

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post (however affiliate links may be used which mean I earn commissions on purchases at no extra cost to you) and all thoughts are my own.

Danielle1

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