Highlights of 1 Year in South America

Last Tuesday we celebrated one year of travelling (and 10 days before that our blogoversary), all but four days of which were spent in South America. It’s an important milestone for us, as when we left the UK we had saved a years worth of travel funds to give us the chance to make Simon’s Line In web design business work. If we couldn’t make the digital nomad lifestyle sustainable after a year we planned to head to Asia to teach English.

Luckily we haven’t had to eat too much into our savings and we are nearing the point of breaking even each month. Our never ending voyage is set to continue – we have just moved onto Central America and have plans to visit Europe and North America in the summer.

It hasn’t always been easy (I’ll write about the challenges we’ve faced in the next post) but we have had many memorable experiences, and we don’t regret leaving at all. Here are our highlights of a year spent travelling as digital nomads in South America, visiting Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.

Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro – Brazil

Bonde in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro

Bonde (cable car) in Santa Teresa

We had a bumpy start to our new life arriving in Rio, but we were quickly won over by the charms of the Santa Teresa neighbourhood. Cobblestone streets, colourful graffiti and quiet plazas were much more our style than the high rises and busy beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.

Ilha Grande – Brazil

Lopes Mendes beach, Ilha Grande, Brazil

Lopes Mendes beach, Ilha Grande

Unbelievably in a year in South America we only visited the beach once. We spent our first week on the island of Ilha Grande getting into the swing of the digital nomad lifestyle and avoiding the cruise ship crowds by trekking through the jungle covered hills to discover waterfalls and long stretches of white sandy beaches. We would have stayed longer but we were shocked by the prices and there’s no WiFi.

Buenos Aires – Argentina

Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires

One of many cafes in Palermo Soho

We spent two months in Buenos Aires studying Spanish and attempting to learn Tango. It’s our favourite city in South America and the one place we’d definitely like to return to. We loved the graceful architecture, excellent vegetarian restaurants, ice-cream by the half kilo (the best outside of Italy), huge parks, unique music scene, many galleries, and the funky Palermo Viejo neighbourhood.

Learning Spanish

My favourite thing about Latin America is that Spanish is spoken almost everywhere. It’s a fantastic opportunity to travel for an extended period and learn the language. We both took classes in Buenos Aires to get us started and I’ve continued with conversation classes for one week stints in Sucre, Bolivia and Medellin, Colombia.

Horse Riding

Horse riding in Tupiza, Bolivia

Horse riding in Tupiza, Bolivia

From age 7-18 I rode every week, but in my 20s the high prices in England put a stop to that. One of my travel priorities was to get back into horse riding and for Simon to learn too. We have loved galloping through the pampas of Argentina, Wild West landscapes of Bolivia, the Andean mountains of Peru and to a hidden waterfall in Colombia. Simon has picked it up easily and we’ll definitely be riding more in Central America.

Iguazú Falls – Argentina/Brazil

Devil's Throat, Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Devil’s Throat, Iguazu Falls

Although we can often be disappointed by big tourist attractions, Iguazú Falls, one of the world’s largest waterfalls, lived up to expectations. Getting up close to such a thunderous volume of water is an incredible sight. We spent a few days exploring both the Brazilian and Argentine sides and taking a full moon walk to Devil´s Throat on Argentina’s bicentenary.

Couchsurfing in Small Town Paraguay

Most travellers don’t bother to visit Paraguay, which is part of the attraction – it’s not often that you get the feeling of having a country to yourselves. We enjoyed the Jesuit ruins at Trinidad but Paraguay isn’t about must-see sights or activities and we had our best experience in the small town of San Juan couchsurfing with a Peace Corp volunteer. Our host introduced us to locals and took us to some crazy events like Fire Ball (football with a flaming ball) and a cowboy festival that turned into a rave.

Road Tripping in Northwest Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate

Our best experience in Argentina was renting a car to explore the area around Salta. We loved the red rock canyons, giant cacti, vineyards of Cafayate, multi-hued mountains and pre-Incan ruins. Having the freedom of a car to explore the quiet roads past dusty villages and gauchos on their horses was an added bonus.

Bolivia’s Southwest Circuit and Salt Flats

Arbol de Piedra, Bolivia Southwest

Arbol de Piedra

When people ask us where our favourite place in South America is we say Bolivia. Argentina was a highlight as well, but Bolivia is unique and we had many incredible experiences there. Our jeep trip through the southwest from Tupiza to Uyuni was the most mind blowing – we spent four days at a dizzying altitude of between 4000-5000 metres passing deserts, colourful lakes, volcanoes, flamingos, llamas and giant salt flats.

Sucre – Bolivia

 

Mercado Central, Sucre, Bolivia

Mercado Central, Sucre

Sucre is probably the most liveable city in Bolivia. We fell for the sunny climate, white colonial buildings, cobbled streets, vibrant market and friendly people. It’s my top pick for Spanish classes too.

Playing With Monkeys in Samaipata – Bolivia

In the chilled mountain town of Samaipata we visited a small wildlife refuge and discovered that monkeys love Simon. He ended up with one on his head and another leading him around the garden!

Spotting Wildlife in the Amazon – Bolivia

Capybara, Pampas, Bolivia

Capybara

Our pampas trip in the Bolivian Amazon region had its ups and downs but it’s hard to complain when you are canoeing so close to hundreds of alligators, capybara, turtles and squirrel monkeys.

Cusco – Peru

 

View from our hotel in San Blas, Cusco

View from our hotel in San Blas, Cusco

Cusco is the most touristy place in South America and the only place we saw tour groups in shiny buses, but the ancient Incan city is gorgeous and it’s easy to escape the crowds by wandering aimlessly. It’s also the launching point for a visit to Machu Picchu, which we enjoyed despite feeling it was overrated and overpriced.

Circuito Magico del Agua, Lima – Peru

Fountain at Circuito Magico del Agua, Lima, Peru

Fountain at Circuito Magico del Agua

Most people don’t like Lima but for us it was worth visiting just for the wonderful vegetarian restaurant Alma Zen and the Circuito Magico del Agua (Magic Circuit of Water). It’s a park full of many different water fountains that’s only open at night to take advantage of the colourful light displays. It’s a fun and unique night out.

Volunteering in Rural Peru

Quechua woman cooking up a vat of potatoes, Peru

Quechua woman cooking up a vat of potatoes at a community event

Simon’s 30th birthday treat was staying at a comfortable mountain lodge far away from it all in the Peruvian Andes near Huaraz. After a few days reading by the fire, enjoying glacier views and horse riding, we came to an agreement with the owner and exchanged creating a website for their NGO for accommodation and food -  we ended up staying for nearly three weeks. It was an interesting experience to stay in a rural Quechua community with no cars, helping out at the local school and attending a community event complete with 50 cooked guinea pigs (we didn’t partake!).

Tropical Fruit

Weird chontaduro fruit, Colombia

Weird chontaduro fruit, Colombia

I enjoyed açai juice in Brazil and fresh orange juice from street carts in Bolivia but nowhere beats Colombia for tropical fruit. The range is incredible and I made it my mission to try as many weird fruits I had never heard of as possible. Best of all fresh juices are varied and very affordable and you can buy pre-cut mango, pineapple or watermelon for just 1000 pesos ($0.50) on streets everywhere.

Jardín – Colombia

Cafes line Jardin's plaza, Colombia

Cafes line Jardin’s plaza

We didn’t explore Colombia as much as we had planned after spending two months in Medellin, but our first stop was an excellent choice. You won’t find Jardín in the guidebooks, which is part of its charm as we were the only gringos in town. There are many pretty villages to explore in the coffee region near Medellin, but we chose Jardín for the chance to horse ride to La Cueva del Esplendor – a waterfall within a cave. Mostly we just loved chilling in the town’s colourful plaza and people watching.

Meeting Other Travel Bloggers

Bloggers lunch at Verdeo, Medellin

Bloggers lunch in Medellin. Left to right: Roman, Scott Kobewka, Lainie of Raising Miro, Us, Go Big Mike, Miro

The best thing about having a travel blog has been feeling a part of a community and making connections with many inspiring people through Twitter. In the last year we have met up with many of them including the bloggers behind The Future is Red, Cate and John, Tourist 2 Townie, Rucksack and Roll, Girl Ventures, Fluent in 3 Months, Go See Write, Go Big Mike, Scott Kobewka, Locationless Living, Go Backpacking, LL World Tour, Raising Miro, Career Break Secrets, Lost World Expedition, Breakaway Backpacker and Globetrotter Girls. Wow!

We have even been recognised by readers a couple of times!

We definitely find meeting other bloggers more interesting than other travellers we meet on the road. They are usually doing really interesting things and can understand the challenges of balancing work and travel. We are looking forward to meeting many more this year, especially at the TBEX travel bloggers conference in Vancouver in June.

Trail Wallet

Have you been to South America? Leave a comment and tell us your highlights.

47 thoughts on Highlights of 1 Year in South America

  1. I can’t believe it’s been a year! The ride you guys have been on has been amazing and I’m really happy that it’s still going strong. Here’s hoping my plan to be in South America in Nov 2012 holds up. Saudi Arabia isn’t all too bad at the moment, though.

    • Thanks guys. I can’t wait to see how you get on in South America – not long now! Let us know if you have any questions.

  2. What a fantastic trip. What great people who seem to love life at it’s best. Unsuperficial and unpretentious. Keep going you two. Love reading the blogs. Planning our trip to NW Argentina at the moment. You are an inspiration.

  3. Awesome year wrap up!! We are going to use these highlights as our must do, as we venture down south! It was such a pleasure meeting you guys and hope our paths cross again.
    Oh, Miro loves the capybara pic! Were can we get one??? Can’t wait to get to Bolivia..
    Until our next meet up, much love to you two!!!!
    Lainie + Miro

    • I am sure Miro will love all the animals in the Amazon. It’s amazing how close you can get on the pampas trip. Enjoy!

  4. Looks like an amazing year to me ;) Glad that Sucre made it on your list as well. We decided on Sucre but having a hard time finding an apartment to rent for our 91 Days.

    Ahh Europe … get in touch if you need information on Valencia, Western Ireland or Berlin… lived at these place and could help with info, etc.

    • I wish we had stayed longer in Sucre. Good luck with the apartment search. You could try asking on the Sucre couchsurfing group.

      Valencia seems like a great place to live for a while but this year we are just visiting the UK and Italy. Maybe next year though.

  5. Sounds like an amazing year! Congratulations and such awesome memories and photos! We love this continent as well, and your post brought back a lot of memories. I especially liked hearing about Paraguay and the fireball. It was one country we never got to, but will when we go back.

    If you are ever in Roatán, Honduras and need a place to stay, we will be here until June. We have an extra bed, and would love to meet you guys and share stories of adventure.

    • Thanks so much for the offer Pete, we’d love to take you up on it but I don’t think we’ll get to Roatan until the end of the year. We may ask you for tips though!

  6. Great round-up, you had such an amazing year! Happy to hear that you’re breaking even now with your earnings & spendings. Love that you’re taking your time – just like us :-)

    Looking forward to reading how you like Central America and hope to explore Vancouver’s vegetarian restaurant scene with you in June!!

    • Well, we aren’t quite breaking even every month but we are getting there. I think it’ll be easier in Nicaragua! Vancouver is going to be lots of fun!

  7. Looks like some great highlights of South America- some of which I’ve been to, some I’m intending to visit during the second part of this year as I start my travels through the parts of South America I have not yet been to! Need to get planning! I have enjoyed reading your blog and sounds like you’ve had an amazing time so far. Keep enjoying :-)

      • Am very much looking forward to it, and to having the time to travel at whatever pace I choose as my last few trips have been within set time frames. I enjoyed visiting Nicaragua- was there as part of a trip through Central America last summer, but only got to see a few places: Ometepe Island, Granada and Leon. All lovely, interesting places to visit. Also la laguna de Apoyo near Granada was a nice spot to swim/relax.

      • This is going to sound seriously like an excuse but I swear it’s not:

        I am not yet comfortable with my level of savings, I’ve just become debt-free in November. You can read a small post on my financial situation here:

        http://manvsclock.com/february-financial-report/

        I’m extremely close to booking it though Erin and there’s no way I’m not doing it this year. A one-way ticket will be bought within the month! Torn between Asia and South America as a starting point you see :)

        Yes I remember relating to you both at the beginning of your journey. We’re from a similar kind of city with regards to climate (Manchester-Newcastle) and it got the cogs in my head ticking. I’m glad it’s been a good year for you both :)

        • Well, it’s a good idea to get as much savings as you can. Asia will be easier on your budget – the Indian subcontinent and SE Asia at least. Good luck with the saving!

  8. Congratulations!!! What a beautiful wrap-up.
    I am here in Medellin, after being on the Coast for 2 weeks…
    I am very interested in taking Spanish lessons here, or maybe somewhere in Zona Cafetera or Villa de Leyva, but Im not quite sure how to find a legit teacher. Would you recommed where you went in Medellin?? This language barrier isn`t as fun as I thought it would be. I just bought a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book in Spanish, with my goal being able to read and understand the dang thing by the end of my 4 month trip in South America.
    All the best!

  9. Just wanted to say I have been following your blog a while and it has proven directly helpful on numerous occasions, most notably the posts on Circuito Magico del Agua which I wouldn’t have visited otherwise, the review of the pampas and jungle tours, and the idea of doing the longer Uyuni tour from Tupiza. I also hope to contact the couchsurfer you met in Paraguay when I get there. I’ve already done Central America and I am sure you will have some great experiences there.

  10. Yay! San Juan made it on the best of South America list! It’s quite hard to compete with beautiful Brazilian beaches, jeep treks through spectacular scenery in Bolivia, and Buenos Aires!!!! But we made it! Whoo hoo! I’m glad you guys had a good time. It’s about that time of year again for the Fiesta Vaquera and pelota tata (flaming ball). Erin, congrats for writing one of Lonely Planet’s favorite blogs!

  11. Pingback: Never Ending Voyage Best Posts of 2011

  12. Pingback: Highlights of Year 2 as Digital Nomads.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> <p>