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

Island hopping through the main Galapagos Islands

Spend a week lying on world class beaches, island hopping and seeing wildlife that often feels straight from a David Attenborough documentary. The Galapagos Islands are a world famous nature reserve around a thousand miles from the mainland, but don’t let that put you off – this wonderful experience is far more accessible than you would think


If you combine this trip around the main Galapagos Islands with Scuba diving at Wolf and Darwin Islands in the Galapagos, this truly becomes the trip of a lifetime

Day trip to see the King Penguins in Porvenir, from Punta Arenas

I look back at this and do laugh to myself quite a lot.  My girlfriend was super keen to see the penguins and we had some spare time in Patagonia before one of our big hikes, so decided to head from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas and arrange one of the day trips to see the King Penguins in Porvenir.  Yes the penguins are cute, yes the Fernando Cordero Rusque Museum in Porvenir is worth a quick look, and yes getting a couple of ferries can give a chance to look at the landscape from the water.  Unfortunately though, my recommendation would be don’t do it mainly because:

  • You’ll be spending the full day travelling from Punta Arenas to Porvenir for roughly an hour looking at the penguins
  • The penguins, cute as they are, are roughly 80m (250 feet) away so you have to look at them through the telescopes provided / just squint a lot
  • Both the penguin colony at Useless Bay, the museum and the ferry stops can feel quite crowded, which is a bit of a sharp change after having vast areas to yourself in the areas around
  • The scenery is quite nice, but nothing compared to the sights to the north in Patagonia around Torres del Paine (see 3 very civilised days in Torres del Paine National Park for some inspiration), nor to the south around Ushuaia in the remainder of the Tierra del Fuego (see A trip to the end of the earth, 4 days in the Tierra del Fuego for further tips)
  • Even with the penguins, you could get far closer and see more, albeit smaller, penguins in the Beagle Channel next to Ushuaia
  • Punta Arenas felt far more industrial and quite frankly less to do that the more quaint Puerto Natales or the more bustling Ushuaia
  • [The trip from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas and back takes up the best part of a day either side of the day trip to see the penguins.  But, that is our own silly fault for planning that]

Not a fan!

A trip to the end of the earth, 4 days in the Tierra del Fuego

You typically read about Patagonia in its extremes  – how far south, how remote, how windswept and desolate.  The Tierra del Fuego is the extreme of Patagonia as the southernmost tip of the Americas and is as strange as it is alluring.  Mountains and volcanoes surround you as you arrive in Ushuaia, the southern most city on earth, and you find yourself in the centre of a big playground of glacial lakes, channels and echoes of past culture of the original Fuegian natives.  All giving you a chance to explore and feel what it must have been like for the first explorers, like Magellan and Captain Fitzroy, as they passed through this otherworldly place

Many only arrive in Ushuaia as their departure point for the Antarctic, yet find this little-known to be the highlight.  We opted for doing a combination of taking a tour company for their 4x4s etc as well as doing parts on our own and found that to be the right mix

Boat trip around the Beagle Channel in the Tierra del Fuego

The Tierra del Fuego – the southernmost tip of the Americas and as strange as it is alluring.  Mountains and volcanoes surround you as you arrive in Ushuaia, the southern most city on earth, and you find yourself in the centre of a big playground of glacial lakes, channels and echoes of past culture of the original Fuegian natives.  Make sure if you’re in this part of the world to check out the Beagle Channel from the water – you’ll be surrounded on all sides by the steep slopes of the Tierra del Fuego mountains and to see the seals land penguins living on the islands.  It really makes you imagine what it must have been like for Captain Fitzoy and other explorers as they first made their way through this new world

10 days campervanning around the South Island of New Zealand

New Zealand’s South Island has some of the most rugged natural beauty of anywhere in the world with world famous sites such as the fjords of Milford Sound, the Frans Joseph and Fox glaciers, and the adrenaline sports of Queenstown, yet is also super accessible by road and very compact to get around.  The combination of these factors makes it one of the most appealing places for a roadtrip and I’ve listed below a great 10 day itinerary to get the best of the island

Dunedin and the wildlife of the Otago Peninsular

I read in a few travel guides that the town of Dunedin is the highlight of Otago and this part of the South Island, but I think that is way off point.  The highlights of the South Island are by the far the areas of outstanding natural beauty and, even very close to Dunedin, is an area that should take priority – the Otago Peninsular with its beautiful coastline and wildlife of sea lions, penguins, southern fur seals and albatross to get up close with


Don’t get me wrong, Dunedin is a nice town with its student vibe, street art and the unusual crown as having the world’s steepest street, so definitely worth the stop over when traveling around the South Island.  Just make sure you also visit the Otago Peninsular