La Paz, Bolivia

March 9th, 2017

La Paz, Puno, Lake Titicaca & Copacabana 

So from Cusco, Peru I had taken a 24-hour bus ride to La Paz with Bolivia Hop Company via Puno, Lake Titicaca and Copacabana. I highly recommend taking this bus company as you get the option to jump on and off whenever you want for a set price and the seats were super comfy.

Lake Titicaca was probably the only thing worth seeing. Known as the highest lake in the world, you can see people living on these floating straw islands. It was pretty amazing!

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I wouldn’t recommend visiting Puno as it’s just a city off the shore of Lake Titicaca but there’s isn’t much to see there. Copacabana is the main Bolivian town on the shore of Lake Titicaca and worth a short visit for the cathedrals and shore front.

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La Paz

There really isn’t all that much here, it’s quite a dirty city with a lot of traffic and pollution, so I don’t recommend staying here for very long. For all you thrill-seekers out there, I recommend doing Death Road, which is one of the most dangerous cycling paths.

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However, if staying for a night I do recommend an amazing café called Mundo Café. Opened by a Scandinavian guy, the Café has a mixture of healthy options including acai bowls, veggie burritos, Mexican bowls and a range of smoothies.

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If you do have time I would also recommend going on the cable cars, as the view is beautiful. There are also other attractions including the Witches market and the Valley of the Moon tour.

If you’re planning to stop over in La Paz for longer and have a higher budget then it’s worth splashing out on the Michelin Star restaurant, Gusto.

With some of the richest Bolivian flavours such as pink llama and eucalyptus with swiss mint, it’s sure to challenge your taste buds. Note this is probably outside of the typical back packing budget with tasting menus costing £39 for five courses.

Sucre

From La Paz it was another 14-hour overnight bus ride to Sucre. This is a city in the Southern sights of Bolivia and a definitely worth a visit if travelling through Bolivia.

Think colonial architecture, couples enjoying ice cream in the sun with cute lattes in cosy cafes.

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I stayed in the most beautiful hotel named Hotel Independencia, which was also situated really close to the town centre. However, if travelling solo and prefer to stay in hostels, one of the most recommended hostels is the Beehive hostel.

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Top things to do:

  1. Square Pedro of Anzúrez and Mirador Café
  2. Condor Café
  3. Rock Climbing
  4. Olga Molina Navajas for Saltenas

To get to the Square Pedro of Anzurez you have to walk up a little hill but the view is 100% worth it and I would also recommend having a drink outside at the Mirador Café over looking Sucre.

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The Condor Café was my hidden secret, the equivalent to Mundo Café in La Paz. I think I ate here for both lunch and dinner one day. The Australian owner opened this not for profit café and donates all of the profit to local communities in Sucre.

They specialise in vegetarian food but it’s super delicious and real cheap too. The honey-coated pancakes with chia seeds and strawberries are a must order!

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In the Confor Café they have an indoor climbing wall where you can practise and also book rock climbing lessons with a company called ‘Climbing Sucre’.

The rock climbing sessions are on an outside wall as opposed to in the centre. I couldn’t recommend doing this enough. It was scary I’m not going to lie, but you feel so accomplished once making it to the top. The combination of strategic thinking and lower body strength was truly a challenge.

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Another thing to do is to try the salteñas (savoury pastries) in Olga Molina Navajas. It’s quite a hidden place but you can buy them for £1 each and they taste absolutely delicious!

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Oh and one more thing…Sucre is the chocolate capital of Bolivia! So calling all chocolate lovers, you have to try the melted chocolate espresso for 60p in Para Ti Chocolates.

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Potosi

There wasn’t too much to do around here aside from the explosive mines. I personally did not choose to join this tour as did not agree with the miner’s working conditions. So I wouldn’t recommend including Potosi in your travels.

But if you do happen to stay here I recommend the hotel Libertator, which had clean comfy rooms and is located close to the town centre.

Salar de Uyuni

I have written a separate post for the Salt Flats in Salar de Uyuni which you can find here.

Lagoons

After the salt flats our next stop was San Pedro Atacama, Chile. We drove across the desert in our Toyota 4x4s, stopping off at some of the most beautiful scenic lagoons I’d ever seen.

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The Salt Flats

March 16th, 2017

This was by far my favourite part of the entire trip in South America. The Salt flats were just incredible, I remember being amazed at the images before going but when you get there it’s a completely different experience. I honestly felt like I was in heaven.

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Q: So what exactly is the science behind the salt flats?

A: Approximately 30,000 years ago, most of southwestern Bolivia was covered by a series of prehistoric lakes in the lowest point of the Altiplano plateau. The water leached salt from the surrounding mountains and these massive deposits remained when the lakes dried up. The Salar contains many important elements, including sodium, magnesium and potassium. It’s contains almost half of the world’s reserves of lithium (used in most batteries, cell phones and other devices).

The bright white landscape stretches for more than 4,000 square miles and the flat surface creates an optical illusion void of objects that help the eye understand perspective or depth of field. If the surface is wet, it turns into a shimmering mirror that perfectly reflects the sky. The region does not get much rainfall, but overflow from nearby lakes floods the flats during the southern hemisphere’s summer.

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As I joined a tour for this part of my trip it was all arranged for us. But if you are travelling alone I would suggest finding three other people to share a car with and also take some amazing photos!

The best time to visit the salt flats is springtime (September-November), as it is not too cold and there is more sunshine. However, I went around rainy season (March and had the unique experience of seeing the salt flats reflecting like a mirror.

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Some key tips before going:

  • Check the weather, as you want to be able to get the reflection for the best photos.
  • Wrap up warm (pack layers) and wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet
  • Pack sunglasses, hats, gloves and strong sunscreen
  • Make sure your camera is fully charged
  • Pack snacks and water (tours don’t usually provide water and so it’s essential to stay hydrated because of altitude sickness as you go up to 6000 metres above sea level)
  • Bring props for your photos and get creative!
  • This is a one a lifetime experience and I really recommend going for the longer tour and staying for sunset as you’ll want to spend as much time there possible

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Just outside Uyuni is an antique train cemetery which you will definitely pass through on the tour. The railway was built towards the end of 19th century and mainly used by mining companies until its collapse in the 1940s.

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Lisbon, Portugal

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Pink streets and Pasteis de Belems in Lisbon

July 11th, 2017

Bom Dia Lisbon!

Lisbon has become one of the top European cities to visit in the last few years – and after spending a few days here I can see why. With culture, architecture, fresh seafood and close approximation to the beach all at cheap prices it ticks all the right boxes.

 
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Accommodation
I stayed at the BessaHotel Liberdade (£170 per night) this is at the higher end of the price scale but I’d say it was good value for money. The bedrooms are very modern with a high attention to detail in interior design and the bathrooms are extremely spacious and futuristic. The hotel is located right in the heart of Lisbon close to the Rossio Square. Oh and there’s also an indoor pool and outdoor lounge area.

Neighbourhoods
The city is split into different neighbourhoods and everything is walkable distance. I saw Alfama in one night and Baixa, Chiado and Bairro Alto all in another night. Belem is the only one where you’ll need to take a train to get to.

  • Alfamathis is the oldest district in Lisbon surviving the 1755 earthquake. It has a strong medieval atmosphere with tiny streets, winding high up into the hills (travel tip: wear comfortable shoes as Lisbon is pretty hilly). You’ll find the Cathedral, Pantheon and Castelo Sao Jorge here.

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  • Baixa –this is the shopping and banking district of the city, located right in the centre of the city it extends all the way down to the Tagus River. You’ll find Praca do Comercio* (Terreiro do Paco) and Rossio Square here. *Praca do Comercio is one of the biggest squares in Europe-it is the stylish area in downtown Lisbon showcasing beautiful art work and sculpture, perfect for a romantic stroll (or a lonely one with your camera if you’re single like me haha)! Check out TOPO rooftop bar which is in this area.

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  • Bairro Alto – if you’re looking for nightlife, drinking spots and Lisbon’s best clubs here’s the place!
  • Chiado – the slightly “posher” part of Lisbon which sits between Baixa and Bairro Alto. With numerous boutiques and little restaurants here perfect for a more sophisticated evening (or at least the beginning of the night).

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  • Belemabout 10 minutes by train from the centre of Lisbon, Belem has lots to see and do but is far more relaxed. Set along the river you’ll find Torre de Belem, the Jeronimos Monastery and the Monument to the Discoveries. The Pasteis de Belem is also here, which is the birthplace of the famous custard tart.

Food
For food I would say the Time out market is obviously a must visit and secondly Palacio Chiado. Only read on if you’re looking to spend slightly more on good quality food with beautiful atmosphere.

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The Palacio Chiado is located in the Baixa neighbourhood (10 min walk from Time out market). It is basically an 18th century restored palace with 8 restaurants and bars inside to choose from. The architecture is beautiful, almost something like what you see in those Roman musuems. Spread over two floors there are plenty of nooks in which to chat or have a drink.

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I really recommend eating at Sushi Chiado (Prices range from 25-30 euros per person).

For cheaper options Maria Catita is perfect for steak and seafood. The octopus is a must order (not chewy)! For a more healthy option check out Organi Chiado.

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For yummy ice cream and good coffee Augusto Lisboa is the perfect place located in the Alfama area.

And of course dessert, when in Lisbon you must try the famous custard pastries (now for anyone who knows what Chinese ‘Dan Tarts’ are – they basically taste like these but better! Alcoa sell the best pastel de natas.

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Must dos
The Pantheon of the House of Braganza (Panteão da Casa de Bragança) is located in the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon which is the final resting place for many of the members of the House of Braganza, including Portuguese monarchs and Infantes of Portugal.

For that mandatory sunset photo, which I believe every traveller should want to see I would 100% recommend going to the observatory decks in Miradouro da Senhora do Monte.

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Of course visiting the Rossio square (in Baixa neighbourhood) is a must. Here’s one for the keen photographers and Instagrammers. Lisbon’s famous pink street. If you type ‘Cais do Sodré’ google maps should take you there! Happy snapping!

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Located a 5 min walk from the pink street is the Time out market. With a range of fresh cuisines to choose from, you’re spoilt for choice. The market is beautifully located just off the Tagus river front (again perfect for those romantic walks and photography opportunities).  I think the fact that there isn’t one of these markets in London makes it all more special.

 

 

Planning South America

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The Top things you need to know for planning your South America trip…

Where do I even begin…my first solo trip to South America! It was extremely exciting and in the run up to the trip, I don’t think I even had the fear until I landed.

Along with writing my individual blog posts for each country I thought this post would be useful for those planning their trip to SA. I mean, after all it is a whole continent! It took me a whole month to plan my 2 month trip in South America. I started off by speaking to a lot of friends who had already been and also researching online.

Now if you’re like me and a total excel – type A geek you’ll naturally want to create your own excel spreadsheet. But if you’re not I would still suggest creating one to have all your ideas/budgets/links together in one place.

So here are a few things you’ll need to think about in chronological order…

Step 1: Injections

I’d suggest if you’re planning last minute, make injections a priority as some of these can take up to 1 month before you can leave the country.

Step 2: Route

Once I had that sorted I started to plan my route and which countries I wanted to hit. I started from Peru and ended in Brazil but you can start in Brazil and go vice versa.

After much contemplation I decided on the following route:

PERU > BOLIVIA > CHILE > ARGENTINA > BRAZIL

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As I didn’t want to be spending all my time on overtime buses or planes I missed out Columbia and stuck to five countries in the two months. Bear in mind, Brazil is massive and there are so many things to do and see there alone.

Step 3: Cities/Towns

So now that I knew which countries I wanted to cover, I decided to research around which cities and must-see sights I wanted to see. You can check my individual blog posts for each country but here is a brief summary of the cities and sights I covered and highly recommend. Some of the most recommended must do things are as follows:

PERU: Lima-Miraflores Cusco-Machu Pichu, Rainbow Mountains

LAKE TITICACA and COPACABANA

BOLIVIA: Sucre Uyuni -Salt Flats Lagunas

CHILE: San Pedro Atacama-driest dessert in the world Valley of the Moon

ARGENTINA (for the steak of course): Salta, Buenos Aires (Tango shows), Iguazu Falls (Argentine and Brazilian side)

BRAZIL: Florianopolis (beaches) Buzios (Cabo Frio beaches) Rio (Christ the redeemer, Sugar loaf, Lapa steps, the Two Brothers Hike, Ipanema and Copacabana beach) Ilha Grande-Lopez Mendez beach

If I had more time I would have definitely gone to Columbia, Ecuador and Patagonia too!

Step 4: Budget

Now that you’ve determined which countries you want to hit and how long you’ve got it’s time to see how far your £££ can stretch. You can alter the amount of time you spend in each country depending on how much money you have saved up. Generally speaking as you go further south (countries such as Chile, Argentina and Brazil) the more expensive it gets. However, places like Cusco can get quite pricey too due to it being such a touristy area.

Step 5: Flights and Insurance

Book flights and travel insurance (World Nomads is the best)! Once this is done, there’s no going back!!! Time to get excited!

Step 6: Book the Must See Things

Budget done, now all you need to do is book the top tourist things you MUST DO. For example, I know the Inka Trek to Machu Pichu books up so quickly and you’ll probably need a month to book in advance. However, if you’ve got under a month -not too fear! Check out my Peru blog post which talks about which company I used to do the Jungle Trek to Machu Pichu.

Step 7: Accommodation

I’d suggest only booking the first couple of nights of accommodation in advance and then free style it from there. You’ll meet so many other travellers and will change your plans if you book too much in advance. However, do research the best hostels/hotels before going out there! If you are travelling alone I definitely recommend staying in hostels as this is really the best way to meet people!

Step 8: Pack

I’m not going to put a detailed description of what to pack as there may be guys reading this but if you are a girl (or a guy) and you want further advice in want to pack, give me a holllllaaa! The only thing I would suggest is to check the weather, some people seem to imagine the whole of SA to be sunny every day. Well that definitely wasn’t the case for me. Just imagine going through different seasons of the year and you’ll be fine!

Now get planning…

K xo