South East Asia has to be the premier world traveling region. A big call? For sure, but consider what genuinely world class offerings it can provide:
- World class beaches and coastal areas – think of THAT beach in Ko Phi Phi and HaLong Bay, one of the Natural Wonders of the World
- World class food – think Thai, Vietnamese, Malay and the genuine fusion into the mix with the large established Indian and Chinese communities
- World class ancient sites and history – think of the temples of the “8th Wonder of the World” of Angkor Wat, and the breathtaking site of the pagodas stretching across the plain in Bagan
- World class cities and party locations – think of Singapore as the city of the future and the Full Moon Parties on Ko Pha-Ngan
And all this in a place that is super safe, outrageously friendly, easy and cheap to travel in. A must for any keen traveler and the below itinerary will give you the highlights – enjoy!
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
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
Okinawa offers a very different style to the rest of Japan. Yes you still have the politeness, cleanliness and things, well, just working. But its all within the backdrop of semi-tropical trees and a culture quite different to that of mainland as the Okinawa island chain used to be the former Ryukyu Empire and only joined Japan in the 1870s
Not many places in the world have that developed vibe in the tropics, so it’s definitely worth a trip, especially if living in this part of the world and fancy a weekend away. Worth also picking up a few of the local’s habits – Okinawans are some of the longest living people in the world!
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 . . .