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

Scuba diving at Wolf and Darwin Islands in the Galapagos

8 days / 7 nights on one of the liveaboard dive boats sailing around the Galapagos Islands was an experience I’ll never forget. Whilst visiting the nesting sites of the Frigate Birds, Marine Iguanas and Blue Footed Boobies was super cool, it was the trip up to Darwin and Wolf Islands (to the north of the main Galapagos Islands) that was the highlight. The sheer number of Hammerhead Sharks we saw was mind-boggling, along with Manta Rays, Devil Rays, Sea Lions and Turtles. To add to the experience, spending time next to the sheer cliffs of these dramatic and isolated islands makes for a true feeling of adventure

Yes its expensive, but so are most trips of a lifetime

Taking a local boat around the Komodo Islands for 3 days

The Komodo Islands are best known for the Komodo Dragons, and rightly so because seeing these awesome creatures in their natural habitat while walking across the islands is a wonderful experience.  But, it’s actually the islands themselves that are the real star – jagged savannah-covered mountains meet bright white sand beaches across 30 islands surrounded by gorgeous turquoise waters filled with manta rays . . . indeed, truly awful


Best way to explore them is by boat for 3-4 days, either in luxury-style with an expensive live-aboard (around USD500 per person per day), or through chartering a local boat with a few other tourists from Labuan Bajo (the main hub you will fly into) for a fraction of the price.  The boat will be very basic and move at a snail pace, but it’s all part of the adventure and the surroundings more than make up for it, plus the crew will bend over backwards to make sure you have a great time.  Aim to give yourself a week in the Komodo Islands – for flexibility to be able to get great deals, and for some world-class scuba diving and snorkelling day trips from Labuan Bajo


Note that the recent changes in 2020, whereby entrance prices for visiting the islands will greatly increase, will obviously make this trip more expensive.  But I still recommend the above approach as it’s sailing round the islands that is the highlight experience – bite the bullet for the entrance “membership” and enjoy a truly world-class experience . . . hopefully with even fewer fellow tourists . . .

Ultimate relaxing in Spring Bay on Bequia Island

If you’re looking for that perfect Caribbean Tropical Island experience, Spring Island on Bequia in the Grenadines must come very close to the dream place you have in mind.  To quote the Lonely Planet for the Grenadines: “an island chain in the heart of the Caribbean, uncluttered by tourist exploitation, with white-sand beaches on desert islands, sky-blue water gently lapping shores and barely a sole around”; then for Bequia: “the most most perfect island in the whole Grenadines”; and then for Spring Bay: “on a quiet island, this is the quiet end” you get the idea


Its a fantastic experience exploring the island either by car / foot, or taking a boat around the island to check out some of the hidden beaches, which your hotel can easily arrange for you


To further deepen the perfect tropical beach vibe, I’d really recommend staying at The Sugar Reef Boutique Hotel.  Half the rooms are on the beach surrounded by the palm trees and not needing aircon with the gorgeous sea breeze, and half up the hillside in the beautiful French House showing off stunning views of the bay and Baliceaux and Battowia Islands.  Even if you don’t stay here, you can enjoy the superb Sugar Reef Cafe by the beach, sitting under the tall ceilings complete with driftwood chandeliers.  Wonderful hotel . . . wonderful beach . . . wonderful island

Luxor, Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Hatshepsut

Not everyone will have heard of Luxor, and it is certainly less famous than those Wonders of the World up near Cairo, but I found them the highlight of an Egypt trip.  Wandering through the exotic stone columns of Karnak, exploring the resting spot of Tutankhamun, gawping from one of the mountains above at the seriously underrated Temple of Hatshepsut, and finishing one of the days watching the sunset from a boat on the Nile.  A wonderful few days

Roadtrip up the Queensland Coast in winter

The Queensland coastline includes some of the highlights for the whole country and, with world-class beach experiences such as 4WDing on Fraser Island, sailing the Whitsunday Islands and diving the Great Barrier Reef, it is one of the premier coastal roadtrips in the world.  Throw into the mix the the hedonistic glitzy skyscraper Gold Coast, the natural phenomenons of the Daintree Rainforest and Atherton Tableland, chilled out islands like Great Keppel and Magnetic Islands, plus the very Australian quirky habit of needing each town to have its own “Big Thing” (think giant prawns, bananas, mangos etc), and you’ve got an unmissable experience


Itinerary below for a 3 week trip and 3 top tips:

  1. Go in winter – despite most of the Queensland coast being in the tropics, majority of people (Aussies and International) think it’s cold in June and July in Queensland.  Whilst it’s certainly colder than normal, the temperatures are very mild in the south and still very much warm enough in the north.  Go in winter – it’s cheaper and it’ll be a far more enjoyable experience
  2. Start in Brisbane or Sydney? – obviously starting in Sydney gives you more to see and includes the wow factor highlights like walking along Sydney Harbour (see the individual travel Sydney Harbour for more tips), the Blue Mountains (likewise the travel entry Train ride from Sydney to Katoomba and checking out the Blue Mountains) and wine tasting in the Hunter Valley.  But these highlights are clustered around Sydney.  The remainder of the New South Wales coastline between Sydney and Queensland is mainly beach towns like Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay, which are nice, but very similar to what you’ll get all along the Queensland coast and will be that bit colder in winter.  It makes sense to start in Sydney if you want to see the highlights around Sydney, less so for the rest of the New South Wales coast
  3. Can do in 10 days, but 3 weeks better – if you wanted to smash the key highlights of Fraser Island, the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef, you could do this in 10 days, but it would be hectic as it’s around 2,400km / 1500miles of driving.  The three weeks gives you plenty of chill out time and the opportunity to see some of the slightly more off the beaten track places like the Daintree Rainforest, Atherton Tableland and Great Keppel Island