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

Nights out and soaking up Havana

Wandering the historic city streets of Havana, feeling at times like you’ve been transported back to the old colonial Spanish capital yet with an otherworldly feel of being in a country that went on a different tangent to the rest of the world, siping mojitos as you move from one music filled bar to the next and sampling food from restaurants that in any other city would be a highlight for their architecture alone.  When you throw in the sheer friendliness and positivity of the locals, Havana, if done the right way, is a truly unique experience and, in my opinion, the best Old Town to visit in Latin America

Bali – in and around Seminyak / Kuta

Kuta and Seminyak are the places that most first time travellers to Bali spend their time looking for that idyllic beach vibe.  Problem is that they are becoming super commercialised and, to be honest, the beaches can be a little underwhelming compared to others in the region mainly because of the sheer number of fellow tourists and amount of plastic waste.  My tip would be to spend your time either to the south in the Uluwatu area for  some truly beautiful spots and to visit UluWatu itself and Padang Padang Beach, or just to the north in Cangu, which has a similar beach to Kuta and Seminyak but is worlds apart in vibe


All that being said, Seminyak in particular is worth some day trip visits as it has some truly world class restaurants and beach bars – Potato Head is in my view the best beach bar in the world, with Kudeta not far behind.  Sardines, Sarong and Mehra Putih are restaurants I’d also really recommend.  And . . . if you must . . . visit Kuta if you’re on a stag do or just generally want some dirty lash

Salzburg and its Festung Hohensalzburg Fortress

Salzburg is very pretty with its pedestrianised Altstadt alongside the fast-flowing Salzach River, the mountains in the distance and, of course, the Festung Hohensalzburg Fortress looming over.  Its certainly worth a visit  and should be included in a week-long itinerary for Austria, but, and I’m being a little brutal on the comparison here, it is also quite similar to various other European cities so doesn’t particularly have the unique factor.  As I say, certainly worth a visit, but, if in the area, I would prioritise the magnificent palaces and concerts of Vienna (see Palaces, Concerts and Cathedrals in Imperial Vienna), the beer halls and nearby Neuschwanstein Castle castle of Munich (see Munich Christmas Markets, Beer Halls and visiting Neuschwanstein Castle), Prague “The City of a Hundred Spires” (see The spires of Prague and a day trip to Karlstejn Castle) and even Ljubliana with stunning Lake Bled nearby (seeWandering Ljubljana’s Old Town and Castle) ahead of it


One top tip for Salzburg – be sure to enjoy one of the Festungskonzerte (fortress concerts) in the Festung Hohensalzburg Fortress.  Something just magical about listening to Mozart in that setting, but need to book ahead

Boracay’s white sand beach

Boracay is the all-too-classic story of breathtakingly beautiful beach and great relaxed vibe gets taken over by mass tourism and development.  If you’re up for a very busy party experience by a beach then you’ll have fun – the beach really is gorgeously white and with stunning sunsets to enjoy (although various spots in Thailand offer this at a better level).  Also, if you’re keen on a similar busy vibe for a base for kitesurfing, then go for it as the beach on the opposite side of the island is very good


But, if you’re not, I think you’ll be disappointed.  Half the beach venues in South East Asia offer comparable beaches, but without such overcrowding and with a more chilled out vibe.  They’re also a lot easier to get to as Boracay often has limited flights with a couple of changes.  The nicer hotels at the far ends of the beaches and over the headlands are an improvement, but you’re paying over the odds for what you’re getting.  I wouldn’t recommend for scuba diving either – I did my PADI Open Water course there, which was fun, but again there are so many better dive spots around South East Asia


Not a fan!

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