Can’t really believe that this is our final blog post, and I’m writing this just before we head to Lima airport to wait for our flight home. 8 months seemed like a super long time when we first planned this trip, but time has flown so quickly. We’re not ready to come home yet! South America was a great place to end our travels, it’s so different from everywhere else we’d been, and despite our troubles with the language (we may have slightly failed at the task of learning Spanish before we arrived in Chile…) it has far exceeded our expectations.
As you could probably tell from the last blog post, we were feeling pretty mopey about leaving New Zealand, and honestly, when we first arrived in Santiago, all we wanted to do was hop straight back on a plane, and spend our last 6 weeks in NZ. That probably did have something to do with the horrible jet lag that came from a 16 hour time difference between the two countries though, so after a few days of not really doing much but feeling sleepy, we started to properly explore Santiago. Throughout our trip we’ve come to realise that the big cities generally aren’t for us, and we much prefer those that are smaller, as they tend to have more charm. We did enjoy Santiago though, and found that despite our extremely poor Spanish, the people were really nice and always willing to help us out. And we also discovered our ridiculous love of empanadas.
From Santiago we caught a bus towards the coast, to cool, sunny Valparaiso. It’s such an awesome city, with street art around every corner, and a relaxed, easy vibe. We spent 2 days here and loved it, finding more out about the city using the free walking tour, and hunting out the fantastic murals.
Our third and final stop in Chile was a 24 hour bus ride away from Santiago, in San Pedro de Atacama. We originally only intended to spend about 4 days here, before moving on to Bolivia, but due to the unforseen weather complications of a snow covered desert, we actually spent a whole week in San Pedro. And we absolutely loved it! There’s so much to do around the Atacama desert, even on a budget when you don’t want to pay for tours. For a number of days we hired bikes, and headed out into the desert, exploring Valle de la Luna, Valle de la Muerte, and the immediate area around San Pedro. Valle de la Luna in particular was beautiful, the landscape is incredible and genuinely does look like the surface of the moon.
San Pedro definitely spoiled us with its sunsets, they were spectacular, and made the surrounding mountains and volcanoes glow pink in the fading light.
After spending about a week in San Pedro waiting for the snow to clear and the normal border pass to Bolivia to open, we realised that it probably wasn’t going to happen, and we should just cut our losses, take the ‘alternative route’ tour, and not lose anymore time in Bolivia. Turns out we made the right decision, as the day after we left it was announced the route would stay closed for the next 2 weeks. So at least we weren’t the only ones to miss out on the Laguna Colorada and geysers that tours normally visit on their way to the Uyuni salt flats.
Our time in Bolivia started really well, with our 4D/3N jeep tour to the Salar de Uyuni. Despite having to take the alternative route, and so only being able to visit 2 lagunas on the first day, we had a fantastic time. We were travelling with two lovely guys we’d met in our hostel in San Pedro, which made the whole experience even more enjoyable. It was also pretty handy that we knew 2 of the other people in our 6 person jeep well, because on the first day we ended up getting stranded in the snow covered desert/tundra until 12:30 at night, in -10 degree temperatures. I have definitely never been so cold as when we were waiting to be rescued from our broken jeep, but it certainly added to the adventure!
The next day a replacement jeep arrived for us, and we continued our tour, stopping at a number of places including Laguna Negra, and the train cemetary in Uyuni, before staying the night in a hostel made of salt.
After a surprisingly good nights sleep on a bed constructed entirely of salt, we got up at 5am, ready to finally see the Salar de Uyuni. The salt flats have been in my top 3 list of things to see for quite some time, so I was getting pretty excited on the short ride over to our sunrise spot, and the morning lived up to the hype. We had loads of fun playing around with perspective shots on the salar, then climbed the Isla Incahuasi, an island in the middle of the salt flats that is absolutely covered in cacti.
We spent the next week in Bolivia ticking off a number of cities; Potosi, Sucre having a lot of fun with a bunch of people we’d met in San Pedro, Cochabamba (where both of us unfortunately endured our first bout of food poisoning on this trip. Though once we were better we made sure to take full advantage of the largest open air market in South America), La Paz and it’s brilliantly vibrant festival, and Copacabana. A firm favourite and a great way to spend our last night in Bolivia, was our trip to the Isla del Sol, in Lake Titicaca on the shores of Copacabana. This is what was thought of by the Incas as the birthplace of the sun, and it was gorgeous. We spent a day being exhausted by the island’s miradors but rewarded by the views of the lake from the top, and did some of the best star gazing ever, as most of the island doesnt have electricity, and so is light pollution free.
From Copacabana we jumped on an 11 hour bus and headed across the border to Cusco, Peru, our 13th and final country. Even though reaching Peru was tinged with sadness because it marked the final two weeks of our travels, there was a silver lining, because we had planned to meet our 3 pals Ella, Nacho and Luke, in Cusco to do some trekking. It was great to be reunited with them after so long, and to hear about their travels through the South American countries that we had been unable to cross off our lists.
We spent a few days chilling out and aclimatising to the altitude, before organising our trek to Machu Picchu. After enquiring at a number of travel agents, we figured that actually doing a trek ourselves, without a tour, would be significantly cheaper. So we decided on our route, rented our camping equipment, and got an early night in preperation for the 5 DAY hike we were about to start (I really don’t know what we were thinking). The Salkantay trail crosses the Salkantay mountain pass at 4600m, descends down into beautiful cloud forest, and then rises up again on the Inca trail, where you can spot a distant view of Machu Picchu. Once we’d arrived in Aguas Calientes, we saw in the market that you can buy t-shirts that say “I survived the Salkantay trek”….and they were definitely justified. There were multiple occasions during the many climbs up and down 1000 meters where I felt there was a high chance my body might give out (not dramatic at all). But the beautiful views of the impressive Salkantay mountain, the fun of camping, and the sense of achievement at the end made the whole experience worth it.
After a rest day in Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu that is famous for it’s hot pools, we visited the iconic Inca site. And it was absolutely stunning. Unfortunately there was a mix up at Ella and Nacho’s hotel, and so the receptionist failed to wake them at 4am as requested (as neither of them had an alarm). Sadly this meant that Anna, Luke and I had to set off without them, as we had no idea why they had not turned up at our designated meeting spot. Despite the late start, we were so set on arriving before the crowds that we powered up the steps for 2,000 feet without stopping. Despite feeling like I might cough up a lung, we were rewarded with seeing Machu Picchu uncrowded by the swarms of tourists that would descend within the next hour. Visiting one of the new 7 wonders of the world was a good way to round off our travels.
So that’s it. 232 days of travelling, 3 continents and 13 countries, done. We’re in complete denial that it’s over, and I think the post travel blues are going to hit pretty hard in the next few weeks. But for now we’re excited to come home and see our family and friends, be able to drink water straight from the tap, enjoy consistently hot showers, and have decent cereal with actual milk. It’s the little things.
A & K