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How to spend a weekend in Barcelona – 19 Dos and Don’ts

There are NINE UNESCO World Heritage sites in Barcelona. But did you know that there’s a museum of funeral carriages?

Nope? Didn’t think so.

Do not fear, Amber is here. To let you in on all the secrets of this wonderful city. To help you to avoid the museum of funeral carriages (and other places which may bore you to death).

I have plenty of tips for you if you want to see the best of this city. But before we get to the fun stuff, here are 5 things you shouldn’t do in Barcelona:

5 Barcelona Don’ts

La Rambla

I’ll never know why, but La Rambla is a tourist hotspot. Sure, it connects Plaça Catalunya with the harbour, but it’s just a boring street with a few market stalls and plenty of pickpockets. Oh, and don’t forget the drug dealers. Coffee shop, anyone?

Rambla del Raval

West of La Rambla, you have Rambla del Raval. Rambla del Raval and La Rambla are alike in that they’re both full of overpriced, low-quality restaurants.

Note: “Rambla del Raval” is just a street, whereas “Raval” is the name of the barrio (neighbourhood) itself. There are some great restaurants in the north of Raval, so I’ll share those in a moment.

Plaça de Catalunya

At the northern end of La Rambla, you have Plaça de Catalunya. Unless you need to go shopping, it’s not worth making the trip for.

The Beach

The sand isn’t real.

In fact, there were no beaches in Barcelona until 1992.

It’s ironic that one of the top ten beach cities in the world – according to National Geographic and Discovery Channel – imports its sand from Egypt.

A trip to the beach also involves getting hassled by salespeople peddling pub crawl wristbands. Once I actually bought one so that I would be left in peace.

Barceloneta beach

Passeig de Joan de Borbó

Do you want to be surrounded by other Americans and crappy food? Me neither. And I’m English.

When most people go to the beach, they grab something to eat on the way from Barceloneta metro station. Rookie mistake.

This street is called Passeig de Joan de Borbó. Don’t eat here.

For good food by the beach, check out La Heladería Mexicana (The first vegan Mexican place I’ve come across),  Bacoa Burger, Kaymana or Surf House Barcelona.

Dos

Now on to the fun stuff! Here are twelve of the best ways to experience Barcelona:

1. Feel the laid-back vibe in Eixample

Oh, Eixample. My girlfriend lived here before we moved in together, so I get nostalgic butterflies when I think about it.

Although Eixample is known as the “gay” neighbourhood, don’t be thrown off by the pride flags and naughty shops – it’s no gayer than a wander through London. In fact, it’s just as popular with the locals who come in for their breakfasts and evening drinks.

Tip: San Trop is one of my favourite bars in the neighbourhood. It’s so old fashioned that it looks like somewhere Hemingway would have thrown back a few. But I love it.

Head upstairs for a little privacy and the bartender will come up to take your order.

“Vintage chic”

2. Sagrada Familia

I hate myself for including this, but I must.

The Sagrada has been under construction for 136 years, and they’re estimating completion by 2026. Spaniards have a reputation for being lazy, but this doesn’t help their case.

Guess who was the architect?

Gaudi, of course.

Construction on the cathedral began in 1882, but because the local council didn’t approve it, no authority oversaw the project. Now they’ve been smacked with a 36€ million euro fine, most of which will go towards improving public transportation. This is rather poetic, given the fact that Gaudí was killed by a tram while on his daily walk to confession in 1926.

3. Port Vell

The marina is just south of La Rambla. It’s a great place to wander around in the day time or to do some shopping in the Maremagnum mall.

4. Spend a night in the old Civil War bunkers

Bunkers in El Carmel is, in my opinion, the best place to see the city in its entirety. Go up just before sunset, crack open a bottle of wine and enjoy the view.

The remains also have a pretty interesting history.

5. Drink in El Born

One of my favourite neighbourhoods is close to the Marina, Barceloneta beach AND the Gothic Quarter. It’s called El Born.

El Born has plenty of great bars and restaurants, but it’s much more than that. It’s the rare kind of place where you can have a chilled night or a crazy one.

Start at Passeig del Born and see what you find.

Tips:

Start the night with a carajillo (a short coffee with a shot of alcohol) at Quillo.

Then, grab a cocktail at Mamaine, a glass of Spanish wine at Casa Nova, or, if you’re in the mood for beer, wander slightly out of the area to BlackLab Brewhouse.

6. Eat with the locals

Bún Bò Vietnam

Here are, in my opinion, the best areas for foodies:

El Raval: This may be known as the “University area”, but it has some of the best food joints in the city. Get your health food kick at Flax&Kale, check out my favourite Mexican place Rosa del Raval, or swing by Betty Ford for one of the best burgers you’ve ever had. Go here in the daytime.

El Born: If you’re yet to fall in love with the city, get lost in El Born. There are plenty of places to eat here, but one of my favourites is a restaurant called “Casa Nova” – directly opposite the cultural centre. Sit by the open window area for the best people-watching spot in Barcelona. Great wine and tasty tapas.

Gothic Quarter: This area is the most touristy of the three, but it’s worth the crowds. I think it’s more exciting to discover this area by yourself, so I won’t give you any restaurant spoilers!

7. Transport back to medieval times in the Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter offers far more than something to eat.

Think narrow medieval streets, cute shops and pintxos restaurants (restaurants serving small sandwich-like tapas).

What’s not to love here? Get off at the Jaume I metro stop and spend a few hours getting lost.

Tips:

Grab a bocata or three (sandwich) at Conesa (they cater to vegans and veggies) or Bó de B (there’s a reason for the queue!).

There’s also a particularly cool café close to La Rambla called El Bosc de les Fades. Indoor thunderstorms kind-of-cool. It’s like something out of a fairy-tale.

8. Check out Barcelona’s nightlife

Barcelona knows how to throw a good party, although it’s not quite as crazy as Madrid – something which you might be grateful for!

Just remember that bars don’t get busy until midnight on weekends, and clubs sometimes even later – but they are open until 6am.

During the summer, head up to Montjuïc for the La Terrazza open air club.

Razzmataz is the biggest club in Barcelona with five rooms, or of course there is Opium or Shoko, or the more student-friendly hip-hop club Otto Zutz.

Opium is known for having the biggest DJ sets, but I would also recommend Carpe Diem Lounge Club if you’re looking for somewhere less-crowded.

LGBTQA+ friends also have plenty of options. Arena is a popular choice, or their sister club Aire – Sala Diana, which was designed for the lesbian community. Arena plays mostly house and pop music, whilst Sala Diana plays a combination of Latin music and pop music.

9. Passeig De Gràcia

I have fond memories of this area. In fact, I had to manoeuvre through the tourists every day to pick Biby up from work. It was also here that I realised I loved her, because I had packed her some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The sign of true love.

Even if you don’t have a Biby, there’s plenty to do here – besides the luxury stores. Passeig De Gràcia is also home to Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batlló and Casa Milà – two of the most otherworldly buildings in existence.

Although Gaudi began his career making lampposts and newsstands, the Spanish architect is now considered Catalonia’s face of modern architecture. This is sad, given the fact that when he dropped dead, his dishevelled appearance led people to think that he was a beggar. He did not receive any immediate medical attention.

You can see Gaudi’s work in passing without actually going inside. Many people buy the expensive entry tickets and get up early to queue, only to find that the building is too busy to enjoy.

I recommend including a walk around Passeig on any itinerary, so why not appreciate these casas from the outside?

10. Barcelona’s hidden markets

You’ve probably heard of the Boqueria Market (the huge market off La Rambla), but there are so many cool markets in Barcelona.

The first that springs to mind is Palo Alto Market. Palo Alto is an urban garden located in the courtyard of a former factory turned co-working space in the heart of Poblenou. But it really comes to life during the first weekend of every month, when it plays host to local artists, food trucks, musicians, and other artisans. It’s certainly more of an experience than a market.

I also heard that Mercat de Sant Antoni has recently reopened. There was a lot of talk about this place, so I would recommend checking it out. It spans an entire block in Eixample!

La Boqueria is open from Monday to Saturday, 08:00 – 20:30.

Palo Alto market is held the first weekend of every month, from 11am – 9pm.

Mercat de Sant Antoni is open from Monday to Saturday, 08:00 – 20:30.

11. Experience the creative side of the city

If you’re an art nerd, you’re in luck.

Barcelona is FULL of museums and art galleries – many of which are free on a Sunday! Woo!

Click here for a list of museums and their free entry times.

Or, if you’re more in the mood for an art gallery or two, click here for the TimeOut list.

12. Check out this secret viewpoint

Everyone wants to get to the top of the city, and although Bunkers is my favourite spot, this one is certainly worth knowing.

You’ve probably seen or heard of the famous Christopher Colombus statue at the end of Las Ramblas, right?

Well, despite my opinion that Colombus was a bit of a nob head, this is a pretty beautiful place to take in the city one morning. It’s called Mirador de Colom and you can take a ride up to the top to see the tree-lined boulevard known as Las Ramblas – before the pickpockets and human statues swarm in for business. Most people don’t know about this viewpoint, but it’s the best one if you don’t feel like the trip to Bunkers.

13. Parc de la Ciutadella

Ah, Parc de la Ciutadella. The most verdant oasis in the city. This is one of my favourite parks in the world. Plus, it has a boating lake, a zoo and a rose garden! Take a blanket, a couple of beers and a speaker to see what Barcelona is all about.

14. Explore the magical Montjuïc

There’s so much more to Montjuïc than the museums and the magic fountain.

There’s a botanical garden, stadiums from the 1992 summer Olympics, and a beautiful municipal pool that overlooks the city (the one that was used in Kylie Minogue’s music video for “slow”, FYI).

There’s also a cable car that goes all the way up to Montjuïc castle – an old military fortress with awesome views of the city.

If that isn’t enough for you, I recently discovered that the hills are full of beautiful gardens and greenery. These span so far that you can actually get lost! If you want to discover these and explore the real magic of Montjuïc, keep an eye out for my next post!

How to spend a weekend in Barcelona – 17 Dos and Don’ts

These are my favourite ways to see Barcelona, but they might not necessarily be yours. Do you think I’ve missed anything off the list? Hit me up in the comments below.

The 5 Best Things to Do in Granada

The Alhambra, Granada

Most people visit Granada to see the Alhambra: the best-preserved Muslim palatial city in the world.

But fear not, there are plenty of other things to do!

Here are five things you should do in Granada (plus a bonus tip!):

1. Visit the Alhambra Palace

Inside the Alhambra

Phwoar.

I have to say; the Alhambra is one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen.

The fortress itself was built in the 13th-century when Granada was under Muslim rule. Later, after Granada’s surrender to the “Catholic Kings” in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella. It was here that Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition.

But one of its best-kept secrets is the hidden network of tunnels. These are closed to the public, but it’s interesting to think that the residents lived secret lives.

P.S. You’ll need to get your Alhambra tickets in advance to avoid any disappointment. Lame, I know.

On a pretty cool note though, you can book accommodation on the Alhambra grounds! More on that at the end of this post.

2. Explore Albayzín

Outside San Nicolas Mosque

The Albaicin (or Albayzín) is the oldest barrio in Granada – and one of the most enchanting barrios in Spain. Set on the other side of the Darro River, Albayzín overlooks The Alhambra and contains countless maze-like passageways.

Grab some paella at La Porrona, lose yourself in the winding passageways, or spend some time on Paseo De Los Tristes – a bustling promenade full of market squares, fairy-tale bridges, Moorish-style houses and street performers.

I would also recommend a quick visit to Casa de Zafra – a 14th-century Spanish-Moorish house and one of the best-preserved treasures in Albayzín.

3. Wander around the mosque

Granada Mosque

Granada is famous for its palaces and churches, but did you know that there’s a mosque hidden up in the Albayzín hills? Me neither, until I stumbled upon it by accident! Classic Amber.

San Nicolas Mosque

As I stood on the corner with the Calle Espaldas de San Nicolás, I noticed a white tower. I wandered down the winding passageways and found a beautiful garden overlooking the Alhambra. This is “The Grand Mosque of Granada”, as it calls itself, but its claimed historical presence seems to say less about religion and more about rivalry; after all, the lower town’s al-Taqua mosque has been functioning in Granada since the 1980s.

Albeit the controversy, it’s a lovely place to take in views of the city. And I’m an atheist.

4. Watch the sunset from San Nicolas

The Alhambra from San Nicolas

Mirador San Nicolas is a popular gathering-point perched on top of Albayzín. The point is named after San Nicolas because it backs onto the church of the same name, but its popularity has nothing to do with the church. It’s all about the view.

Despite having seen many incredible landscapes during my travels, this is one of my all-time favourites. There’s nothing like seeing the Alhambra Palace turn gold at sunset, glowing brightly against the Sierra Nevada mountains.

In another classic Amber moment, I recently read about the “magic fountain of youth” behind the San Nicolas church. Guess who thought this water fountain was a regular old water fountain? Well, now we know why I still get ID’d in Tesco.

Legend has it that an olive tree produced huge amounts of water, and those who drank the water became younger. Seems legit. Keep an eye out for the fountain called “Fuente del Aceituno”.

Hidden gem: There’s a restaurant called La Porrona just below the San Nicolas viewpoint, and the views there are INCREDIBLE. I’m planning on returning just for their vegetarian paella.

5. Enjoy the night

The Alhambra at night

Granada is one of the few remaining cities in Spain still serving tapas on the house. Best of all, tapas increase in quality and quantity the more drinks are ordered.

For this reason, Granada is less about “where should we eat?”, and more about where the night takes you.

Whether that’s Moroccan food in Albayzín, or tapas and wine in El Centro, you won’t be short for choice. Just remember that the locals eat after 9.30pm!

If you like to plan ahead, Lauren Aloise shared a great foodie guide over at Spanishsabores.com

6. BONUS TIP! Discover the lesser-known monuments

As well as Casa de Zafra, there are a few other hidden gems in the city.

Corral del Carbon is the oldest Arab monument in Spain. Located in the centre, this place boasts a colourful courtyard and a colourful history – visiting merchants laid their heads here when they came to sell in the local markets.

Palacio de la Madraza is also worth seeing if you’re into architecture. Once the Madrasah (mosque school) of Granada, it was founded in 1349 by the Nasrid monarch Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. It’s now part of the University of Granada, so you can take a peek inside.

How to get to Granada

Unless you’re hiring a car, there are two popular ways to get to Granada: by bus or by plane.

By plane: The airport is thirty minutes outside of the city. There are regular buses (3€), or a taxi costs around €15.

By bus/taxi: The bus station is located in La Chana in the west side of the city. A taxi is the easiest way to get into town at just €8, or you can get the N4 bus from the bus station.

Once you’re in the centre, everything is in walking distance!

Where to stay in Granada

I’ve got you covered, regardless of your budget. Here are my picks:

Splurge out

Parador de Granada: A luxury hotel set within a 15th-century convent on the Alhambra grounds. You can’t get closer than this!

8.7/10 on Booking.com

Alhambra Palace: Another luxury hotel set just outside the palace walls. The Moorish-inspired rooms and tilework look like they’ve come straight out of the Nasrid Palace! Pay extra for the city views, and spend some time at the terrace bar.

8.8/10 on Booking.com

Hospes Palacio de los Patos: A 19th-century palace that gets rave reviews from its guests. The hotel spa includes a sauna, Turkish bath and indoor pool. Massage and various beauty treatments are also available.

9.1/10 on Booking.com

Eurostars Washington Irvine: This contemporary five-star hotel is located just 400 meters from the Alhambra Palace. Plus, it has a pool and a sun terrace. What more do you need?

9.1/10 on Booking.com

Hotel Casa 1800 Granada: I think I’ll be staying here on my next visit. This 16th-century building is set up in Albayzin, but I won’t spoil the rest. Click on the link below to take a look for yourself – but only if you don’t mind some uphill walking!

9.2/10 on Booking.com

Mid-range options

Room Mate Leo: Although this is a three-star hotel, guests say otherwise. Expect beautiful views of the Alhambra and a rooftop terrace. They even lend you a MiFi device so that you can get free Wi-Fi around the city!

9.1/10 on Booking.com

Hotel Molinos: Located in the Realejo area of Granada, Hotel Molidos holds the Guinness World Record for the narrowest hotel in the world. It also has a rooftop terrace with views over the city. Realejo is the best neighbourhood to stay in if you’re looking for nightlife and lively restaurants.

8.3/10 on Booking.com

The Best Things to Do in Granada

I would recommend that anyone spend at least a day or two in Granada. In fact, I’ll be heading back next year to delve deeper into its hidden gems and mysteries.

Feel free to leave a comment below if you need any tips for your trip 🙂 Enjoy Granada!

How to See Machu Picchu for Less Than $30

I wasn’t going to see Machu Picchu.

I’d travelled through Brazil and Bolivia, but I still wanted to see Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. And Machu Picchu was an expensive detour. I knew that the train alone would cost between $150 and $850!

In fact, I saw that some bloggers spend at least $400 or $500 on their trip to and from Machu Picchu – but most spend MUCH more.

But then I thought to myself: the “Lost City of the Incas” is one of the most incredible archaeological sites in the world, so why don’t I try to get there on my own terms?

And I did.

Besides the entry ticket, I managed to get to and from Machu Picchu – including an overnight stay – for less than $30. I also travelled through South America for less than £2300, so I feel qualified to give you the advice you need to see Machu Picchu on a budget.

In this post, I’ll share my cheat sheet itinerary AND everything else you need to know to plan your journey to the citadel. Read on for your Machu Picchu cheat sheet….

Machu Picchu

How NOT to see Machu Picchu on a budget

First of all, there are two things to avoid if you’re on a budget:

  • Don’t take the train. The jungle walk alternative is definitely worth it.
  • Beware the tourist traps around every corner. Aguas Calientes, the “Machu Picchu town”, is a complete tourist trap. You think you’re looking at different souvenir shops and restaurants, but they’re all selling the same stuff. I’m all for supporting the local economy but…I’d rather give a hefty tip to the girl working in the market all day than the cheeky restaurant owners who serve rice and beans for ten times her wage.

Aguas Calientes, The Machu Picchu Town

How I saw Machu Picchu for less than $30

Now it’s time to reveal my Machu Picchu itinerary (I have never shared this before)!

Note: My friends and I chose to stop off at the Santa Teresa Hot Springs – a secret paradise on the Urubamba River. These waters have medicinal properties to treat skin ulcers, bone pain and rheumatism, and damn do they feel good!

If you’re in a hurry, however, you can get a minibus or taxi straight from Cusco (or wherever) to Hidroelectrica – the super-cheap method I chose for the first cheat-sheet itinerary below.

But how can you spend less than $30 on transportation, food AND accommodation?

Well, accommodation is incredibly cheap (you can get a private room for ten bucks), and there are plenty of ways to get to and from the site.

This is the cheapest way to see Machu Picchu:

Machu Picchu Itinerary A (not including a trip to the Santa Teresa Hot Springs)

  • Purchased the Machu Picchu tickets from the Cusco office.
  • Early rise in Cusco the next day.
  • Shared taxi/minibus to Hydroelectrica = $8 per person, 4 hours

Note: There are over 100 bends, so prepare for motion sickness by taking a pill or these babies.

  • Walked 6 kilometres along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes = 2.5 hours

Woo! You made it to Aguas Calientes! Here’s what to do in the “Machu Picchu Town”:

  • Dinner at San Pedro market = $2
  • Night in a hostel = $6 per person
  • Walk to Machu Picchu first thing in the morning, 1.5 hours (you can get the bus, but a return ticket costs $24)
  • Leave by 11 am
  • Walk back down to Aguas Calientes
  • Walk back along the train tracks to Hidroelectrica, 2.5 hours
  • Minibus back to Cusco = $8, 4 hours

Machu Picchu Itinerary B (including a trip to the Santa Teresa Hot Springs – highly recommended!)

  • Early rise in Cusco.
  • Taxi or minibus to the town of Santa Teresa = $8, 5 hours

Note: There are over 100 bends, so prepare for motion sickness by taking a pill or these babies.

  • Taxi from Santa Teresa to the hot springs = <$1 per person, 10 minutes
  • Enjoyed the hot springs for a few hours ($4) and had a packed lunch.
  • Taxi from the hot springs to Hidroelectrica = $0.50 per person
  • Followed the train tracks to Aguas Calientes = 3 hours.

Woo! You made it to Aguas Calientes! Here’s what to do in the “Machu Picchu Town”:

  • Dinner at San Pedro market = $2
  • Night in a hostel = $6 per person
  • Walk to and from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu = 1.5 hours
  • Walk back down to Aguas Calientes and walked back along the train tracks
  • Minibus back to Cusco = $8, 4 hours

Walking along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes

Notes:

  • Take your passport for the checkpoint at Hidroelectrica.
  • Many people walk from Aguas (the Machu Picchu town) to Machu Picchu. However, there are regular bus services. The bus takes 30 – 40 minutes and the first one leaves Aguas at 5.30am. You’ll see the ticket kiosk when you get into town, so buy them the night before if you plan on taking the bus. The bus stop is next to the ticket kiosk, but you’ll spot the queue straight away (See picture below).
  • To avoid an additional night in Aguas, go to Machu Picchu early and don’t spend hours there like we did! That way, you’ll have enough time to walk back to Hidroeclectrica and grab a minibus to Cusco (or wherever you need to go). We arrived back in Aguas in the late afternoon, which meant that it was too late to walk back to Hidroelectrica (don’t walk in the dark!), the train prices had risen incredibly, and our hostel owner had pushed the prices up. No bueno.

Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu Town

How to buy Machu Picchu tickets

You might be wondering why I didn’t include the entry ticket in my <$30 cost calculations. My answer is that it’s impossible to give you a solid number – Residents and Peruvians pay $26 and foreigners pay $47.

With that in mind, you can aim to spend about $55 for your entire trip if you’re Peruvian (or a resident), or $75 if you’re a foreigner.

But, you must buy your entrance ticket in advance. You can buy your ticket online, in Aguas, Cusco or any major city with a Banco de Nacíon. I would recommend booking online or in a bigger city like Cusco, because they do sell out during the high season (June to September)!

Click here for more info on tickets.

When to go to Machu Picchu

When to fly

If you’re planning on walking to Aguas Calientes (the cheaper option), I would recommend taking your trip in April or May; the rainy season will have passed and Machu won’t be as crowded as it is in the Summer.

April and May opening times: 6 am – 6 pm

If you’re happy to pay for the train, however, go in February when the Inca Trail closes. This is the wettest season so it’s not safe to walk on the train tracks, but the site is much less crowded.

February opening times: 6 am – 5:30 pm

When you’re there

Skipping forward to when you’re in Aguas: the best time to visit Machu Picchu is first thing in the morning – to have a chance of getting your train out of Aguas Calientes. If you’re not in a rush to leave the same day, the times are up to you!

Where to stay

There are hotels in Aguas Calientes that charge $800 or more for one night. It’s no wonder that some tourists spend thousands on a trip to Machu Picchu!

Although I don’t remember the name of my hostel, I just checked out Booking.com and saw 6 options under $9.00. You can easily book a single room for around $11.

Note: If you book using the link above, I’ll earn a commission at no extra cost to you 🙂

Where to eat

In Aguas Calientes:

Eat dinner at the market. When you first arrive in Aguas, you’ll see a big building on the corner on the left-hand side. This is San Pedro Market and you can eat here for less than $2. This saved us a lot of cash! Although there are plenty of places to eat in Aguas, they all offer the same meals at inflated tourist prices.

At Machu Picchu:

Take a packed lunch. There are two places to eat when you’re at Machu Picchu: Tinkuy Restaurant at the Sanctuary Lodge Hotel and the Machu Picchu snack bar. The prices are extortionate, so it’s better to take your own food.

How to see Machu Picchu on a budget

Phew! It took a while to get all that down.

I hope I’ve helped you to plan your trip, but feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below 🙂 Have a great time in Aguas!

The Ultimate South America Bucket List

Looking for the must-see places in South America? You’ve come to the right place.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

“Amber, you’re more of a ‘stumble-across places clumsily’ kind of girl”.

Yes, I am. But I also give the people what they want!

Oprah

https://imgflip.com/memetemplate/Oprah-You-Get-A

Yaaaaaas!

So, here’s the thing: If I were to go to the continent now that I’m more the wiser, I would definitely leave a few attractions off my list.

Here are ten places that still hit the mark for my South America bucket list:

The Ultimate South America Bucket List

1. Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, Peru

I’m not one for clichés, but Machu Picchu is one of the most breathtaking things I have ever seen in my life. I was also surprised to learn that although this is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the citadel was discovered just one century ago!

Where to find it: Peru, set high in the Andes Mountains.

Amber’s Tip: Save money by opting to do the three-hour hike from Hydroelectrico to Aguas Calientes (The Machu Picchu “Town”). Also, avoid looking at too many pictures before you go! The fewer photographs you see, the more gobsmacked you’ll be when it’s in front of you.

2. Iguazú Falls

Iguazu Falls

Wowzers. Niagara falls ain’t got nothing on this.

Iguazú Falls (or Iguaçu Falls) is the largest waterfall system in the world. I often wonder why travellers haven’t caught up on this.

Where to find them: You’ll find the Iguazu River on the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná.

Amber’s tip: The consensus is that it’s better to see the ‘falls on the Argentine side. Although the Brazilian side offers panoramic views, there are more viewpoints and trails on the Argentine side.

3. Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

The Bolivian Salt Flats are one of the strangest, most unique places on earth. From pink lakes to bubbling geysers, smoking volcanoes and multi-colour lakes, a trip to the Salar is guaranteed to blow your mind. Interestingly, the setting – which is known for its “Martian” look – is also used to test Mars rovers in simulations.

The Atacama Desert

Where to find them: Just outside the little town of Uyuni, about 10-12 hours’ drive from La Paz.

Amber’s tip: Take a three-day jeep tour and ask your driver to drop you off at the Chilean border.

For more on the Salar and how to do it the RIGHT way, click here.

4. Huacachina Oasis

Huacachina

As South America’s only natural desert oasis, Huacachina is a fascinating town.

You’ll be captivated by the green waters of the Huacachina Lagoon, which, might I add, are thought to have therapeutic properties. If this doesn’t sound cool enough already, the lagoon’s shores are dotted with palm trees, bars and clubs. A wonderfully bizarre place.

Adventurers will also be pleased to hear that they can tear up and down the dunes on a Dune Buggy or Sandboarding tour.

Regardless of what you do when you’re there, I really do think that this is one of the most magical places in South America. But, like me, you might be wondering how it came to be in the first place.

Peruvian legend says the oasis formed when a beautiful princess was caught bathing in the waters by a local hunter. Humiliated, she dove into the water and wept. Her tears formed the oasis, but her humiliation has continued to curse the land, turning everything to sand. They say she still lives in the bottom of the oasis…

Where to find it: Four hours south of Lima, Peru.

5. Rio Carnaval

Two ladies enjoying Rio Carnaval

Rio really knows how to throw the best parties! The city itself should be on anyone’s bucket list, but Rio “Carnaval” deserves its own spot. Two million people fill the streets for days of parades, parties and open-air performances. It really is the biggest carnival in the world!

Copacabana, Rio

6. Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar)

Looking for the most breath-taking viewpoint in Brazil? Look no further than Sugarloaf Mountain. I’ll certainly be making another stop here one day. Make your way up to the summit with the two-stage cable car system – you’ll immediately understand why Rio was nicknamed the “Marvellous City”.

Sugarloaf Mountain Cable Cars

Amber’s tip: If you’re wondering how this compares to the view from Christ the Redeemer, it’s better! And much less crowded. The best time to go is in the evening to see the city light up.

7. Baños, Ecuador

Baños has a lot to offer visitors including lush cloud forests, wildlife, and activities such as zip lining, rafting and beautiful hikes. There also happens to be two must-see attractions here: “The Devil’s Cauldron” and “The Swing at the End of the World”.

The Swing at the End of the World

 

Venture up into the lush mountains in Baños, Ecuador, to find Casa del Arbol. The swing offers incredible views of Mt. Tungurahua, the nearby active volcano. But don’t worry, it’s only one of the most active volcanoes in South America!

Apparently, the volcano erupts once every couple of hundred years, killing the town’s population. Then, more people move in and the cycle begins again. Logical.

The Devil’s Cauldron

“El Pailón del Diablo” is a thunderous waterfall located along the Rio Pastaza, a tributary of the upper Amazon River Basin. It’s also a favourite of photographers. You don’t want to miss this natural wonder!

8. Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine is one of the best treks in the world. Located in Chile’s Patagonia region, the park takes its name from its granite towers and horn-shaped peaks called Cuernos del Paine. During summer, there are 17 hours of daylight to explore the bright blue icebergs and the grasslands sheltering rare wildlife. It’s a spectacular place.

Amber’s tip: Be there for sunrise to see the horns glow purple and red.

9. The Amazon Jungle

Amazon Rainforest

Also known as the “lungs of the earth”, the Amazon Jungle is the biggest in the world. Although the majority of the forest is contained in Brazil (60%), it also extends into Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Go swimming with Pink River dolphins, go kayaking or paddle boarding, or explore the wildlife on a jungle walk.

10. The Quilotoa Loop

The Quilotoa Loop

Quilotoa is an extinct volcano that blew up over 800 years ago, leaving behind the most beautiful crater lake in South America. The surrounding mountains have since become the most popular trek in Ecuador – for a good reason.

Spend two to four days walking the ring-shaped road from the Panamericana to the backcountry of Cotopaxi province. Along the way, you’ll encounter snow-capped volcanoes, a crystal-blue lake (that the local people believe has no bottom), and colourful indigenous markets. But perhaps the best thing about the loop’s isolation is that it brings you into contact with the Kichwa-speaking indigenous people and their centuries-old way of life. For many, the Quilotoa Loop is a highlight of their trip.

Amber’s tip: You don’t need a tour guide, but it is a nice way to support the local economy. I would also advise taking a stick to fight off the dogs. Click here for more on that.

The Ultimate South America Bucket List

You might be a little surprised right now. Why did I leave so many hotspots off the list? What about Isla del Sol? The Galapagos Islands?

If you want to know why, drop me a comment below.

What’s your favourite spot in South America?

8 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting the Bolivian Salt Flats

[This is the final post in a 4-part series. If you’re new here and have yet to read about my disastrous experience in the Bolivian Salt Flats, click here to read part 1: “That Time I Got Stranded in The Bolivian Desert”.]

I did a lot of research before I went to the Bolivian Salt Flats and the Atacama Desert, but my trip was still a mess. Experience definitely trumps the internet in some cases.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of tips that would have completely transformed my trip. Here are 8 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia:

Before you visit the Bolivian Salt Flats

  1. Do NOT pre-book a tour!

It frustrates me to see so many bloggers advising their readers to book in advance. A quick Google search will show you that the big tour operators are charging over $200 per person to pre-book a tour. Shockingly, Banjo Tours charges $1525 if you’re on your own, but I’ve heard that other people have paid this much as part of a group! TripAdvisor recommends one of these rip-off companies (because they will receive a commission, of course) but take my word for it and pay a driver when you’re in Uyuni. Unless, of course, you’d rather spend $1525 than $50? Finding a driver is easy-peasy – the streets were lined with reasonable drivers when we got into Uyuni. Your tour will also include food and accommodation, so there’s nothing to worry about.

Important: You CAN find drivers that understand English for this price.

  1. Don’t listen to everything you read.

My favourite part of the tour – by far – was the Eduardo Avaroa National Park. Some bloggers incorrectly state that you’ll only visit the park on a four-day tour, but I did so on a three-day tour. Just ask your driver for his itinerary before you hand any cash over.

  1. Pack everything you need.

There are no pharmacies for tampons or medical emergencies. There are no stores for the last-minute bits you didn’t pack. In particular, I would recommend first aid supplies, Imodium, and PLENTY of water. Water will not be provided during the tour, so I recommend grabbing as much as you can from one of the little stores in Uyuni.

  1. Take CASH!

Most, if not all of the ATMs in Uyuni will reject your card. You’ll also have some surprise expenses – to pass checkpoints on the tour (at least 200BOB), to use the toilet (depends on your bowel movements hehe), and even to use the shower.

  1. Take spare batteries for your camera.

Assume that you will not be able to charge your electronics in the accommodation. Seriously, there were two charger points in the entire hostel I stayed in. To make things worse, the hostel managers chose to turn on the electricity for a very brief period. It became a race to charge my electronics AND have a three-minute shower. Did I mention that I also encountered a scorpion in the shower? No? Click here for more on that.

  1. Give yourself time to acclimatise

The Salt Flats are um, pretty high up. You’ll need a few days beforehand to acclimatise.

If you’re suffering when you arrive, don’t panic. You can ask for Soroche Medicine in a pharmacy. I’d also recommend drinking the coca tea (it really does help). Just don’t cross the border with it – coca leaves are used to make cocaine, so most countries’ laws don’t distinguish between the two!

  1. Pack enough clothing

Given the soaring daytime temperatures, you’ll be surprised to learn that the weather can drop below freezing at night. Pack enough warm clothing and your own sleeping bag – the hostel duvets won’t be enough! A silk sleeping bag saved me on countless occasions during my three-month trip in South America.

  1. Get travel insurance

This is perhaps the most important tip on the list. Please, please get travel insurance. You may think that the worst accident would be a sprained ankle, but vehicles have overturned in the past. Bolivia, generally, can be a bit dangerous – even this idiot had travel insurance!

A car, Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats

8 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting the Bolivian Salt Flats

Follow these tips and I guarantee that you’ll enjoy your trip a little bit more. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below 🙂