6 months trip of a lifetime around Latin America

My girlfriend and I went on a 6month trip around Latin America (excluding Brazil).  Started in the far South in the Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and, broadly, made our way up the west coast to the Yucatan Peninsular of Mexico.  Best large scale trip I’ve done, and wanted to share the overall itinerary and tips here to hopefully help those who are considering something similar

A few high level points:

  • Other than the flights there and the first hotel, there were only three things we booked in advance: the Inca Trail (which we knew we needed to for permits); plus for Patagonia a trip through Torres del Paine National Park and a ferry through the fjords (as we were going at peak season and only a couple of weeks after we landed).  Everything else, we booked when in Latin America and, in our opinion, that is the best way to do it – gives you the freedom to relax in the places you find that you love and be super flexible to do what you want to do
  • Total costs – my girlfriend and I went in our 30s, with no kids and on sabbaticals from work.  We’re not poor, but certainly not mega wealthy.  We didn’t stay in super expensive hotels (other than for the occasional splurge), flew economy and used a bit of common sense for timings of certain expensive items, but never held back on doing the things we wanted to do.  Some examples of big ticket items: US$5k for a week diving in the remote Wolf & Darwin Islands in the Galapagos; US$1.2k for 4 days in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia; US$800 for a helicopter trip to see the El Mirador Mayan ruins in the Guatemalan jungle; US$700 for the Inca Trail.  Total cost of the whole trip was US$34k each.  This included all flights, transport, hotels, activities, food, drink, guides, screwing things up, credit card fees – the lot.  Expensive, but so are most Experiences of a Lifetime
  • It’s not about trying to “do everything” – in a place as large as Latin America, you couldn’t even if you tried – so don’t think of things as a big tick box exercise.  Brazil, for example, we knew we couldn’t do justice whilst also trying to enjoy all the other amazing places we’d heard of, so left it for next time
  • In the similar vain, make sure you give yourself big chunks of time to chill out.  Not only to recharge the batteries, but also because most places are enjoyed when you spend time to soak up the feel for the place.  There were some places . . . like Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, Buenos Aires in Argentina, Isla Mujeres in Mexico, Bocas del Toro in Panama . . . where I could have spent weeks there just because the general vibe of the place was so wonderful
  • Safety – we weren’t robbed, but many people do either having a bag stolen or, unpleasantly, get robbed face to face.  Other than a couple of cities, we generally felt super safe the places we went and tried to just apply common sense to reduce our risks
  • Learn a bit of Spanish before you go – the app DuoLingo was great for getting us to a basic level that made a lot of difference.  But also don’t be afraid to pull out google for simultaneous conversation translations to really be able to have a conversation with someone – some long trips became some of our highlights just from being able to properly talk with the driver / locals.  I particularly remember a long taxi ride in Colombia where we went back and forward for 2 hours with the driver on everything from his home town to politics to football to his favourite movies to his family problems- never could have done that without Spanish or google.  In a similar vein, and using the right level of common sense, don’t turn down an invite for drinks / dinner / house visit with locals.  There are some truly unforgettable natural and cultural spots to see, but similarly an evening with a local family will be something likely to be just as unforgettable
  • Whenever checking out a place or must-do-site, its easy to get templed / churched / ancient site / beached out.  Always do a very basic bit of research to see if there is a more out of the ordinary way to experience it – by bike / drinking tour / kayaking / helicopter / whatever.  Thats what we tried to do, and I hope it reflected in some of the cool stuff listed below

Cycling and drinking craft beers around the Chico Circuit in Bariloche

The lakes and mountains around Bariloche are some of the most picture-perfect spots you can imagine, and the 25km hilly cycling loop of the Chico Circuit offers the perfect way to experience the area whilst sampling the beers from what also must be the most picture-perfect settings for a brewery in the world.  A must do experience if you’re staying in or around Bariloche

A day in Greenwich, London

Greenwich is one of the gems on a visit to London that has the added benefit of being less crowded than some of the more popular attractions in the centre.  You have the wonderful history of the Royal Observatory, the prime meridian of the world and source of the universal measurement of standard time, the National Maritime Museum, which in addition to its magnificent architecture also tells the story of when Britain used to rule the seas, and the Cutty Sark, the last of the greater clipper ships that sailed between Britain and China bringing back the riches of the East.  But its also about the cute village feel of Greenwich village, the wide open parks that surround Greenwich and the views across the River Thames, nearby skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and of central London


Maybe won’t make everyones’ list when trying to hit all of the famous sights of London for a weekend (see here for the top 10 and must sees for a 2 day visit to London – 2 days in London and top 10 things to do), but certainly a highlight for day 3


Extra tip 1 – be sure to also have a venture down to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel which is a tunnel only for pedestrians that connects Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs on the other side of the Thames.  You can easily find it right by the water and the Cutty Sark and is one of those fun quirky London things to check out


Extra tip 2 – Greenwich makes a cracking series of beers, called Meantime.  You can find the beers in many of the pubs in Greenwich, but its also worth a visit to the Meantime Brewing Company which is around a 15in walk along the river

The East Lancashire Railway Real Ale Trail

For train pub crawls across the North of England, most people will naturally turn to the Trans Pennine Real Ale Trail (and see further details here –The Trans Pennine Railway Real Ale Trail), but also consider the East Lancashire Real Ale Trail which is far quieter (less stag dos / bachelor parties), shorter with only 7 stations and includes some of the trip being on an old steam train.  Its a much more chilled out experience

The Trans Pennine Railway Real Ale Trail

Trains, local villages, real ales, lashed locals – a proper Northern experience!


Most people when they visit the North of England go to the usual sights of The Lake District, Durham, York etc, which are great, but for something more unusual for a tourist, consider the Trans Pennine Real Ale Trail, also known as the Trans Pennine Pub Crawl.  The idea is to take the Trans Pennine train route that passes through 9 local villages and towns scattered across the Lancashire and Yorkshire countryside and stop in each one to visit one of the local pubs for a beer.  The pubs themselves are cute and with a focus on real ales, but the overall trip itself has turned into something bigger than just the ales and you’ll find a real mix of people up for lash (partying) itorrelevant of what they’re drinking.  More than anything, its a great way to meet some of the locals outside of the standard tourist settings


To get started, you realistically want to start in Leeds or Manchester Train Stations.  The route itself technically starts in Staleybridge and ends in Batley, or visa-versa, but in reality you’ll be getting to the main city train stations to start and finish.  From there, just head off and keep an eye on the timetable.  You’ve typically got between 40mins and an hour between trains so plenty of time for a drink and maybe stay a bit longer for lunch.  Enjoy!


For something in the same theme, but a little quieter, shorter and involving an old steam engine, try The East Lancashire Railway Real Ale Trail

Cycling through Stanley Park in Vancouver

If visiting Vancouver, make sure you take the time to walk around Stanley Park – its a beautiful spot that really shows the best of this place with its stunning mountains and ocean setting.  Some basic tips:

  • The park itself is big – more than 10 times the area of New York’s Central Park – so I’d suggest renting some bikes for getting to see all the spots
  • Make sure you check out the seawall path – which you can now take bikes on.  I used to go running around there most days, and you often can’t even see the city – amazing considering how close it is
  • Granville Island – towards the end of the day, start to leave the park and head along the south shore past English Bay and Sunset Beach (for the great sunsets) and to Granville Island where there is a market and, even better, Granville Island brewery where make your way through the different varieties until it closes around 8pm

Rapid 2 week roadtrip around the US West Coast States

My favourite road trip – the contrasts of natural landscape along the way with snowy mountains, red / yellow deserts, and temperate rainforests; the tasters of the different culture snapshots of the US with conservative cowboys through to uber-liberal SoCal and Pacific North West; the sheer world-fame of some spots like Las Vegas, LA, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon; but more than anything – its a trip that is simply perfect for driving.  The distances involved, the way the US in particular is set up for the drivers and the scenery to take in in between the obvious highlights is just world-beating

It’s also a super high octane trip – 4200 miles / 6760km of driving – the sort of thing you rattle off in your 20s, when you have the energy, 2 weeks of vacation and are keen to see and do everything.  There’s something just so incredibly fun and fantastic about seeing one world-famous site one after the other in rapid succession – one day being in the likes of Yellowstone National Park, the next in Arches National Park, the next the Grand Canyon, the next Las Vegas, the next LA etc etc.  An exciting whirlwind that creates a feeling most will never forget . . . and in a way equally spoils / sets the bar incredibly high for any other trip

A bit rushed? – on the trip itself, we didn’t feel overly rushed.  Again, we had 2 weeks vacation and wanted to see as much of this part of the world as possible.  For example, I actually found a day / half day in each of the national parks perfect to do a basic walk, see the main attractions and get the feel for them.  But of course, it would have been nice to spend longer in each – perhaps take a 3 day hiking trip across one of them.  Or perhaps see some of the other pieces we of course missed along the way.  Ultimately, I always suggest avoiding the mass tourism standard experience on offer, and I shudder just thinking of trying to do this again, but in a part of the world that has world class sites one after the other, the gorging on them was great fun

A day sampling some of the microbreweries of Portland

Portland? Oregon? I mean it’s not usually top of the list of fun places round the world.  What if I told you it had the most microbreweries per capita?  (and most strip joints per capita of any city?)  Yep, give it a go – working your way through the various microbreweries in this super friendly, and very liveable, city is good fun and a pleasant surprise

Drinking in Portland was a small part of a whirlwind road trip around the Western US states.  See the itinerary and tips for this adventure here – Rapid 2 week roadtrip around the US West Coast States

Learning to love Guinness in the Dublin Guinness Storehouse

Some head to Dublin for the architecture, museums and literary haunts.  Sure, they are worth checking out if you’re keen to brave the weather in January, but the highlight at this time of year is undoubtedly the welcoming, great craic locals and heading to the Guinness Storehouse to learn to love the black stuff.  It’s a cliché for sure, but one that lives up to its hype.  Not a bad city for the lash / partying either . . .


This will be one of my shortest entries because I only visited for a weekend, don’t think I can do the city itself justice, nor add any particular killer tips. Only recommendation is the Storehouse.  Its fascinating to learn how the stout is made with the intricacies of the barrels, the ingredients, the roasting and even the different marketing campaigns they’ve used over the years, and then sampling the drink you’ve heard so much about in the top-floor Gravity Bar with its panoramic views of the city.  That free drink you receive at the end is one hell of an investment from Guinness considering, if anyone is like me, it’s led to a fan for life

Munich Christmas Markets, Beer Halls and visiting Neuschwanstein Castle

Nowhere does Christmas better than Bavaria.  Sipping on warm Glühwein as you wander around the oldest Christmas Market in Munich with its 140 stalls spread out across the central Marienplatz and with the ice skating ring nearby are wonderfully atmospheric; jump into the Hofbrauhaus Beer Hall for some oompah bands and great atmosphere; and the trip over to the Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle, surrounded in snow is practically the definition of fairytale.  Hard to think of a better experience in the northern hemisphere in December