Before I’d left all I’d heard was horror stories about central and South America. Robberies, hijackings, murders. People thrive off exaggerating stories, and they get worse each time they are told. However, I’ve never felt safer, even as I was getting escorted by armed police through Panama. You will see more trouble in any city in Ireland or England on a Saturday night than I’ve seen on this journey. Don’t get me wrong bad things can happen, but they happen at home as well. So don’t worry abo ut that. Get your flight booked and leave, you certainly won’t regret it.
After a short stay in Mexico we had 10 days in Cuba before travelling through Central America. South America was where we wanted to spend most of our time, the rest was just a bonus, and we stayed in South America about 6 weeks. 6 weeks seems a long time, but when there is a lot to see you need to be sharp and efficient. Something not normally associated with me. But when needs must, I can pull my finger out.
Cuba was an experience, but if I’m honest I wouldn’t rush back. It’s both good and bad. The people in my opinion are the hard to get on with, as you constantly feel like they are milking you for all you are worth. Travelling at times is a nightmare as it’s not built for bag packing. Finding basic life needs such as water, food and sun cream can be nearly impossible at times. It’s not the Cuba Che Guevara dreamed of.
The highlights of Central America are Guatemala and Nicaragua. The countries along the way are very similar, but these two offer something slightly different, and are half the price of Costa Rica.
Guatemala has Tikal ruins, Semuc Champey and the murder capital of the world, Guatemala City to offer. Tikal is depicted in the film Apocalypto. It’s the ruins of the Maya era. It is magical to see, the temples built in the middle of the jungle, lost for centuries make you realise there was once more to life then iPhones and the latest cloths.
Semuc Champey is a natural wonder. Beautiful blue pools which lead down the side of a mountains, surrounded by caves to explore. The Guatemalans are for the most a friendly nations. Even as I wondered about in my own in one of the world most dangerous cities I felt safe…ish. Your attitude can often depend on how safe you are, I was foolish to wander about at night on my own, but I wanted to see the countries for myself. I was glad I got home safe.
Nicaragua has a party spot called San Juan Del Sur. A little town built on the beach, it was a good place to visit, a huge Jesus statue overlooks the city on a Clift top, and it’s nice to see and offers a beautiful view. Often people’s highlight, but for me it didn’t compare to Ometepe. A volcanic island in the middle of a bull shark and alligator infested lake. It was wonderful. Renting bikes and kayaks to explore the island is a must. There isn’t much to do apart from adventure and explore, but I love it. The highlight for me wasn’t an apace but a person. Around 40% of the locals I encountered sold drugs, yet that had some charm in the way they done it, not at all pushy about it.
For me the highlight was the real Ronaldo. An 8 year old boy who is the head of a group of kids selling water and beer. He was charismatic and funny and his baby face and heart of a lion captured my attention. He jumped of a 30 meter bridge into a river to win our respect before selling us some of his products. If I see him in 20 years’ time on the news as a king pin of South America I will not be surprised. He was intelligent and brave, I hope in the future he finds his true meaning in life.
Colombia was our first stop in South America. Medellin, Tyrona, Taganga and Cartagena are a must. Medellin is a huge city of with good nightlife and a better football team. Athletico National is a must. One of the biggest teams in South America and the best fans. You’re only an hour away from Gutape, easy for a day trip to see something remarkable. A huge rock offering an amazing view of lakes and floating islands all around. For me the best is a small fishing village in the north east of Colombia. Taganga, there isn’t much there apart from an average beach and a few bars, but it’s still amazing. A Saturday night is amazing here and a must is to stay at Casa Moringa: a hostel in an old cartel house built on the side of a mountain.
If you go to Ecuador and can’t afford to go to the Galápagos Islands then head straight South to Montanita. The beach is fantastic, waves huge and food nice. A better version of Magaluf from Europe. It is only an hour away from the poor man’s Galápagos Island if wild parties aren’t your thing. Banos is nice to see for some adventure, but remember bring your coat, it’s nippy up there; Montanita is the beach life.
Be prepared for some terribly long bus journeys in South America. Me and my friends travelled about like bearded gypsies and trust me it can be done. It is almost essential considering the price of flying in South America. If you’re organised you can sometimes fly in country city to city for cheap, but we were never that organised so we only ended up doing this once. It can be almost the same price as a bus. But country to country flights are a pain in the ass; there is no Ryanair here. For the most part the buses are comfortable, but you might have everyman and his dog coming on to the bus trying to sell you tooth-brushes, food and medication.
Peru, Machu Picchu. Go and see it! Do I need to say more?! Ok I will. Huchachina In between Lima and Cusco. It’s tiny town where you can do the most wonderful thing. Sand Boarding is £8. We did it twice. Flying down sand dunes fearing for your life. What’s not to love right?
The jungle trek for Machu Picchu was up there with the most enjoyable experience of my life. A 70km bike ride, 25km jungle trek, views to die for, zip lining and white water rafting. All topped off by the lost city, a wonder of the world. Machu Picchu. I wouldn’t lie to you, I thought it was going to be average, I went to say I’d done it, nothing else. My head nearly fell off when I got to Machu Picchu. It was absolutely mesmerising. Lost for 500 years, it will blow your mind. I’m competitive so I wanted to be the first to stand overlooking the great ruins. I ran the stairs and stood in the clouds before the sun awoke to see what man can create. It’s was eerie and mystical. If you’re fit enough I’d say be the first.
The few minutes on my own were amazing. With no one else there you feel like you’re the only person on the world. As I sat on the train home with people all around me sleeping from the hard days behind I had time to reflect how lucky I had been. Full of strange emotion, I felt proud and oddly sad. We’d just had the most magical 4 days and seen a wonder of the world, but now it was over. The memory will live forever though. A long time from know I’ll forget about the possessions I’ve owned and instead I’ll look back over the experiences I’ve had with a smile on my face. Machu Picchu has earned its way onto my leg in the form of a tattoo along with one from every other county. We spent a few more days getting massages and going out in Cusco before it came time to leave.
Amazon tour, salt flats and death road. Just some of the great tours on offer in Bolivia. As a country it’s bleak, ugly people with ugly attitudes. That’s a bit harsh but true. La Paz is the pinnacle of this. Though I’d the hub for all tours. The death road, which is decent, but something that is essential is a good bike, your life is at risk so pay an extra tenner for a good bike.
From here you fly to Rurrenbaque the best place in Bolivia. The flight is terrible, a plane smaller than your average car, but once you land in the jungle it’s all forgiven. You can spend a few days here before and after your tour of the Pampas jungle. Pampas tours can be sorted here, this is the hub for the juggle a 3 hour drive and 2 hour boat ride away from paradise. A tributary of the Amazon surrounded by jungle and full of wildlife. Alligators, Cayman, moneys, parrots, piranhas, pink Dolphins, anacondas. You can see it all.
Swimming in predator infested water is a rush, until you see a 4 meter Cayman in the water with you. Your life doesn’t flash before you because you’re too scared. It’s the best place in Bolivia, regardless of the mesmerising salt flats which is also a must see. This is the spot. A must see is the Jesus statue in Cochabama, which for me took the shine off Christ Redeemer. Shocking I know.
San Pedro in Chile is beautiful, and as you are surrounded by mountains you can see beautiful sunset and some of the best star gazing the world has to offer. Santiago is a poor man Buenos Aires. Sorry Chile. I wouldn’t lie.
Argentina and Brazil are is so big it’s hard to see it all. Salta, Patagonia, Buenos Aires and the wine region are the places to visit in Argentina. Number one is Buenos Aires, a huge city, nightlife booming, good food and two huge football teams. If you get the chance to see Boca Jrs or River Plate, do. It might be expensive but it will be worth your money. Whilst I was there as well as partying and seeing the city we built houses for the homeless which was one of the proudest moments of my life. The NGO is called Techo they do builds all over South America so if you’re heading out look them up.
Iguazu falls is a must from the Argentinean side; a natural waterfall which shows the power of nature. My time was cut short in Argentina and Brazil due to family circumstances though in Brazil a little gem often missed is flaurenapalis, 8 hours bellow Rio it’s a beautiful beach place for travellers. Rio De Janeiro needs no introductions; Christ Redeemer, Copacabana beach, Sugar Loaf Island, the favelas and much more. The view of Copacabana from Christ Redeemer is wonderful. Nearly as nice as the famous view from the top of the favela, a tour here is a must so do not leave Brazil without seeing one. I will return to Brazil in the future to finish my adventure here.
Loki, wild rover and mill house hostels are decent hostel for a party. They can be found from in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Argentina. And lastly, Ayahuasca the drink of the Amazon is worth looking into. I had it and will never forget it. Worshiped like a god, you will never think about life the same again. Make sure if you try it that it’s a proper set up. I will leave it there, if you’re intrigued YouTube: The Ayahuasca Experience. There’s a 23 minute video that will wet your appetite.
In the end the only thing that is guaranteed is death. This is my we are the envy of the gods, as any day could be our last, we are immortal which makes our time worth more than theirs. Time is your only currency, so how will you spend yours?
Will you spend yours dreaming of what could have been? Chasing money and possessions? Or collecting memories that will last forever. When you stand in the clouds on top of a mountain and look down, you realise we are all born to explore. It’s our divine right, it is our purpose. We are inquisitive creatures. The world is yours, go and see it.
By Sean Canning