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

Tayrona National Park and staying in a bit of paradise nearby

Yeah the National Park is nice – you can walk through the jungle areas to get to the beautiful beaches, and don’t get me wrong it is indeed nice – but it gets pretty crowded.  My tip would be to stay in one of the chilled out beach hotels in the fantastic area just past the eastern end of the park, where the river meets the sea

The hotels themselves are lovely, and the nearby beach between the sea and the lake is gorgeous.  We ended up extending our stay for 4 nights because we liked it so much and headed over to the park for two of the days, avoiding the rush of a day trip from Santa Marta.  Search for Maloka Barlovento for the right spot.  We stayed there and would recommend

Nearby you also have two super things to do – firstly, and easiest, is Cartagena’s wonderful Old Town that ranks as one of the best in Latin America and see more tips at the travel entry Soaking up the Cartagena Old Town.  But the highlight is the 4days / 3 nights Hiking the Lost City Trek where you trek through the jungle to the mystical Lost City.   And have a look at how it can all come together in a itinerary for 3 weeks in Colombia

One last tip – “Cayman Aguja” is a sign you’ll see put up all along the shore.  It isn’t a type of cayman, its an American Crocodile!

10 day roadtrip around Tasmania

Tasmania is one of the jewels of Australia for its rugged remoteness, world-class natural landscapes, unique history and fewer tourist numbers compared to some of the other famous sites.  It also has the added benefit of being far smaller than some of the other parts of Australia, which makes it ideal for a week-10day road trip.  The itinerary below gives you the highlights of this wonderful little island


3 high level tips:

  1. Could do in a week?  You could do this itinerary in a week by shaving off Port Arthur and the Tamar Valley, but it will feel a little rushed.  10 days far better . . . and don’t make the error most people make which is dropping the west coast – it is the highlight of Tasmania
  2. UNESCO rate Tasmania – the high scores give an idea for just how impressive Tasmania is, and in particular the West Coast.  But don’t only take my word for it.   UNESCO have 10 potential criteria for a site to be designated World Heritage, with only one of the criteria needed to be met.  The Tasmanian Wilderness Area in the south west part of Tasmania meets 7 of the 10 criteria which, alongside Tai Shan in China, places it at the top of all sites in the world.  Really is quite a remarkable place to visit
  3. Tasmania or South Island New Zealand?  The two are often compared as they’re relatively close and similar sizes which, considering the world-class natural landscapers of the South Island, gives you an idea of the quality on offer in Tasmania.  Broadly, I’d say that the South Island just nudges it from a natural sites point of view based on its snow capped mountains, glaciers and fjords, but Tasmania clearly wins from a cultural significance point of view and might just shade it based on its more compact size for a roadtrip and its lower fellow tourist numbers

Shark Bay’s Monkey Mia – keeping an eye out for dolphins and bilbies

Shark Bay is huge – the UNESCO World Heritage listed site is 1500km / 930miles long and is a pristine Australian paradise of turquoise lagoons, white sand beaches, towering cliffs and very little development.  This gives it that wonderful Australian wilderness vibe and also the opportunity to see some of the wildlife including the Kangaroos, Eagles, Bilbies (Rabbit-Bandicoots) and, the highlight for most people’s trip, the dolphins that come for morning feeding in the beach of Monkey Mia.  A must-stop if driving the West Coast


Top tip – remember not to put any sunscreen on your legs as it irritates the dolphins eyes.  You won’t need the sunscreen anyway as its early in the morning