Quito and Otavalo Market

The Ecuadorean capital was to be our penultimate stop before entering Colombia, we hadn't heard amazing reviews on Quito, there were a few things we were excited to experience in and around the picturesque city centre. Getting there from Montañita was fairly straight forward, and although the buses in Ecuador were definitely not the same standard of comfort compared with other South American buses, we still managed to get some sleep on the 10 hour night bus after changing at Santa Elena.

We arrived in Quito at 7.30am, and got in a cab straight to Hostel Revolution, a place we had been recommended by Marco and Angelina, a Swiss couple we had met on our Galapagos cruise. We opted for a private room, which was needed after a long tiring journey. The hostel itself was beautifully clean and run by a Dutch lady who was very informative on things to do in and around Quito, including getting to the Middle of the World site and Otavalo market. That evening we headed to Bandido Brewing, an old church that had been converted into a bar serving great beer and tacos.

The following day we headed into the beautiful historic city centre where we visited the lively Plaza de la Independencia, the Plaza de San Francisco and the many churches around the area. We went for a quick coffee at Cafe del Fraile on the second floor of the very quaint Centro Comercial Palacio Arzobispal, before heading to the amazing gold-clad Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús ($5 entry, no photography!).

We finished our Quito church tour with the impressive Basilica del Voto Nacional, a 19th-century church featuring ornate neo-Gothic styling and Amazonian gargoyles depicting sharks, monkeys, jaguars and other iconic species.

We then wandered through the colourful cobbled streets of the old town, including Calle La Rhonda, which was filled with craft shops and cafes. After a morning of exploring the centre of Quito we decided to venture into the Mercado Central for a traditional but fairly basic (and cheap!) Ecuadorian lunch of rice, chicken and soup. After lunch we walked to the commercial centre of Quito, which was more edgy than the historic centre, but had a nice park to wander through on the way back to our hostel. 

The following day we decided to visit one of the main attractions of the city: the Teleferico De Quito that takes you from the edge of the city centre up to the panoramic lookout point on the east side of Pichincha Volcano. To get there we took a taxi (which was advised) to the base of the cable car where we bought our tickets to the top. The ride took about 20 minutes, where we were given an incredible view of the expansive city that stretched across the long valley as far as the eye could see.

It was a lot colder at the top, being 3,945m above sea level, and so we made sure we wrapped up with warm layers before walking around the top and taking in the views. By chance, we bumped into the Swiss couple Margot and Flo who we had met on multiple occasions (including the Galapagos and Montañita), and so enjoyed catching up with them before travelling down together and sharing a cab back to the centre.

The Middle of the World

Ecuador is given its name due to its geographical location (literally on the equator) and so it would be rude not to visit the site which celebrates it's location at the middle of the world. Getting to 'The Middle of the World' from the city was a bit of an effort, requiring two busses through the busy centre and taking around 2 hours each way. On arrival we entered the site and headed toward the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, a huge iconic monument that marked the equator line. We headed to the top to get a great view of the surrounding area where we could see the North, South, East and West marked on the floor and the equator line running through the middle of the monument.

On the way down from the top we visited the exhibitions on each floor inside the monument, including a Science Museum which explained the effects of gravity at the middle of the world through interactive models, diagrams and videos. We had heard that the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo wasn't actually on the true equator line, and so we walked around to find what we thought was. We later discovered that we had missed the actual spot, which for future reference can be found inside the Intinan Museum (about 5 minutes from the 'official' site) where you can balance an egg on a nail due to the equal gravitational forces present at the middle of the world.

After a quick lunch at one of the tourist restaurants we headed over to the chocolate museum to learn about Ecuador's coco trade, and the processes of how coco beans are turned into chocolate. It was a nice end to our time in Quito, and after heading back to our hostel we arranged travel to the bus station so we could visit Otavalo, home to one of South Americas most impressive markets.

Otavalo Market

Being one of the largest indigenous markets in South America and on the way to Colombia from Quito, Otavalo market was an obvious stop for us, particularly as we happened to be visiting on a weekend when we would catch it at its most bustling. To get there we took a taxi to the Terminal Norte in Quito centre and then took a 2 hour bus ride to the town of Otavalo. We had decided to stay the night so we could be up early to see the animal market. We checked into the Flying Donkey hostel in the centre of town before exploring the local area, grabbing a coffee at the surprisingly stylish La Cosecha Coffee overlooking Plaza de Ponchos, the main market square.

The following day we woke early and headed to the animal market on the outskirts of town. Just before we got there we noticed the crowds of people gathered in front of the main road, all congregating to get he best deals on chickens, pigs, cows and other livestock.

After wandering around the animal market we headed back to Plaza de Ponchos where the main market stalls were now in full swing. We had amazing roast pork and potatoes breakfast (typical in Ecuador) cooked by one of the local ladies, giving us the energy we needed to explore the many popup craft stalls that filled the entire town of Otavalo.

The market had a huge variety of produce, from fresh vegetables and grains to indigenous handicrafts such as masks, jewellery, clothing and textiles. It was a colourful feast for the eyes, and being there early meant we beat the majority of the tourist crowds which gave us a much more authentic experience of the market. We really enjoyed wandering through the narrow alleyways crammed with stalls and picking up a few gifts and souvenirs. 

By mid day the area had begun to get a little too crowded, and we'd seen all we wanted to see, so we decided to head back to the hostel, grab our bags and head for the bus station. Getting to Colombia from Otavalo was a little more complicated than most border crossings we had done on our travels so it took us a bit of navigating and asking around. After some help from the locals we eventually managed to find the bus from Otavalo to Ibarra, where we took another bus to the boarder town of Tulcan. From there we had to take a cab (the only way to reach the border) and cross over to Colombia by foot.

Having spent the majority of our time in Ecuador in the Galápagos Islands meant that we missed out some things we had wanted to do, such as Cuenca, Cotopaxi and Banos. It was a tough call to make, but felt that at this point in the trip we had to prioritise and allow for more time in Colombia, a country we were very excited to visit. Having said that, we had a great time in Ecuador, from whale watching in Montañita, visiting the beautiful historic centre of Quito and exploring one of South Americas biggest markets in Otavalo, we left feeling satisfied that we’d managed to fit in such memorable experiences before heading onwards on our travels.

Bolivia — Cities In The Clouds

After our incredible 3 day tour from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni we journeyed up through Bolivia towards Peru, stopping at a few key cities on the way. Bolivia is home to some of the worlds highest cities, many reaching over 4000m. Even though we had been gently climbing in height since Salta, and in the Salt flats we reached 5000m, we were still curious as to how the altitude was going to affect us. We were really looking forward to experiencing the traditional Bolivian cultures, and as Bolivia is one of the cheapest countries to travel in South America, it was a big relief for our travel budget after our relatively expensive time in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina.


The first Bolivian city on our list to visit was Potosi, located around 200km north east from Uyuni and positioned at the foot of the famous Cerro Rico mountain, once rich in silver ore. The altitude of Potosi is 4090m, making it one of the highest cities in the world. We arrived in the evening with other members of our salt flats tour group and decided to take the small local bus from the bus terminal to the centre. After cramming onto the tiny bus we made our way to the main square whilst flicking through the guide book for a decent hostel recommendation. As we walked up and down the streets we could definitely feel the altitude, but not long after searching we decided on Hostal Carlos V, which although lacked in atmosphere was still pretty good value.

Potosi has a fascinating history due to the adjacent Cerro Rico mountain, which contained an abundance of silver and tin. Potosi was founded as a mining town over 500 years ago, and by 1672 was one of the richest cities in the world under the rule of the Spanish empire. However, due to low silver prices the mine is now run by a workers collective who extract the remaining minerals from the mines. The working condition are pretty dire, and the life expectancy of the miners isn’t great, yet it has become the main tourist attraction for the city.

We weren’t feeling particularly well due to the altitude, and were also unsure about the voyeuristic nature of the mining tour, so we decided to take it easy and casually stroll around the city, lapping up the beautiful yet run down architecture from Potosi’s glory days. We briefly visited the Casa de la Moneda de Bolivia (one of Bolivia's best museums) where we learned about the historical importance of Potosi’s National Mint where the first coins in South America were made.

We then wondered into the sleepy local market, well stocked with fresh fruit, vegetables and meat and watched the Cholitas (traditionally dressed indigenous women) hard at work. We grabbed a quick lunch of freshly made soup and chicken milanesa at one of the small market kitchens, which was tasty despite being the cheapest meal we’d bought in South America (roughly £1.60 for both dishes!).

After lunch we decided to take a tour of the Museo & Convento de San Francisco after reading that there were great views of the city from it’s very impressive rooftop. For 15 Bolivianos each (£1.50) we had a private tour guide who took us around the convents grounds and into the church, explaining the historic importance of the paintings hanging on the wall in broken Spanglish.

After taking in the interiors we ascended to the rooftop and walked along the narrow path that connected the roof to the central dome. Being amongst the domes and tiles was awesome, and we were really surprised to learn about that the curved terracotta tiles had been moulded from thighs of muscular workers! The view of the city was great, giving a really clear panoramic view of the ageing colonial buildings and the once lucrative Cerro Rico mountain.

We then headed back down and visited the catacombs, which had a subterranean river running through the middle of them. It was pretty creepy seeing so many bones and skulls of past priests, but it rounded off the tour nicely, which despite being short had surpassed our expectations for the price.

We found a couple of days in Potosi was more than enough time to recuperate from our salt flats adventure whilst lapping up the atmosphere of our first Bolivian city. The following day our hostel host explained that it was more cost effective to get a taxi all the way to Sucre rather than a bus, and within 10 minutes a taxi driver had pulled up ready to take us door to door. We had to make a stop to find two extra passengers, but after 15 minutes of our driver shouting ‘SUCRE!” 2 others got in and we were off! It was incredible value, working out at around £5 each, and we drove for around 2.5 hours, descending a few hundred meters in altitude to the city of Sucre.


Having read great reviews on Hostel Kultur Berlin we had booked a room a couple of nights in advance, meaning we were able to check in seamlessly on our arrival. Although Kulture Berlin is known to be a party hostel, we were luckily given an amazing little detached studio apartment in the garden area, giving us peace and quiet away from the bar. We spent the afternoon chilling in hammocks, drinking beer, updating our blog and researching the next stretch of our trip.

A few guys we had met on the Salt flats tour had also decided to checked into the hostel on our recommendation, and that night we went out for a simple dinner at the socially conscious Condor Cafe. After dinner we hit the hostels bar and club, which seemed to be one of the most popular in Sucre, with as many locals as tourists knocking back 2-for-one cocktails. It was a great feeling to be able to crash into our quiet little studio right around the corner once we were danced out!

The next day we headed out with Toby, (a friendly German traveler we’d met during our Salt flats tour) to explore Sucre and learn about it’s history. Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia (La Paz being the administrative capital), home to home to the executive and legislative branches of government and where Bolivia first gained its independence. It was a beautiful city, with most its architecture built from white stone, and we really enjoyed wandering around the pretty streets in the sunshine.

There are many churches in Sucre, so once we were ’churched out’ we headed to the Mercado Central, a popular spot for locals to pick up fresh produce. We decided to sample some of the freshly made juices (cheap and delicious in Bolivia) and spent a half hour or so people watching and wandering around the food stalls.

After another very cheap and cheerful market lunch we walked up to La Recoleta hilltop where we found a peaceful bar overlooking the city to have a few beers and lap up the glorious sunshine. Although we had been treated to sun whilst in Bolivia it had been pretty cold, and we were relieved that the climate in Sucre was lovely and warm. Sitting at the top of the hill in deck chairs, overlooking the city with no real agenda made for a very chilled afternoon, and rounded off our 2 day stay in the city perfectly.

La Paz

After our short stay in Sucre we decided to take a night bus to La Paz. It was a white-knuckle ride (probably the hairiest bus journey we’d had in South America) and we unsurprisingly arrived early at a pretty inconvenient time of 5am. We had decided to book a room in Wild Rover Hostel in La Paz the day before, renowned as the party hostel of the city. After getting a quick cab from the bus terminal with two other travellers who were heading the same way, we arrived at the hostel, a little worried we would have to sleep on some chairs and wait to check in. To our luck the room was already prepared when we arrived, and we spent the morning catching up on some much needed sleep.

After a hearty late breakfast at the Wild Rover bar we decided to take a walking tour of the city. This was provided by the Red Cap Tours (another tips based tour) and we met at the Plaza de San Pedro where we learned about the gritty history of San Pedro Prison, and the corruption and drug trafficking that filtered through it's walls. We had read the book ‘Marching Powder’: the tale of a British drug smuggler Thomas McFadden who had spent time in there, and even personally run tours through the prison up until the early 2000's. It was interesting to see the centrally located Prison even from the outside walls, and although though there were still unofficial tours of the prison available, it was strongly recommended that we didn’t take one.

After passing through the central food market our guides explained to us more about Cholitas: broad, hard working, and fascinating women who are the integral workforce of the city. We learnt about the origins of their their iconic bowler hats, which according to the guides were shipped over from Europe in the 1800s to sell to Bolivian men, but as they didn’t fit their heads the merchants devised a plan to sell them to Bolivian women as the ‘height of fashion’ in Europe, and the trend stuck. We then walked on to the Witches Market, where weird and wonderful medicinal remedies overflowed onto the narrow streets. Our guides explained the reasoning behind the rather creepy dead llama foetuses that were strung up in the stalls, apparently which are used as offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and buried under newly built houses to bring good fortune.

The tour ended near the main square outside the beautiful cathedral, and we visited at an Irish bar where we were given a strange Andean drink, and we got chatting to other tour members about their experiences around South America. We found the tour really interesting as it was less about monumental sights and more about the traditions of the people that made up the bustling, culturally rich city of La Paz.

On our second day we decided to take one of La Paz’s brand new bubble lifts to the highest point of the city. As it was another clear day we got great views of the sprawling city and the snow topped Huayna Potosí mountain in the background. Once at the top there wasn’t much to do (unfortunately we had missed the giant El Alto market) so we wandered around and watch more Cholitas hard at work. We had previously learnt that in Bolivia the men tended to be drivers and desk workers and the women are the muscle - this was apparent as we watched a number of Cholitas throwing heavy paving slabs to each other to build a pavement. Overall we found La Paz to be a fascinating city, and a great way to be introduced to Bolivian culture. It was also a great launch pad to do activities such as the infamous Death Road.

Death Road

The North Yungas Road (known as ‘Death Road’) is a popular tourist attraction consisting of narrow, single-lane rocky paths with sheer drops on one side. Its notoriously known as the worlds most dangerous road. Built in the 1930’s, the 69km ‘Death road’ was the only link between La Paz and the Yungus region, and therefore many crowded buses and trucks overloaded with people would fall off the 900m cliffs, with an estimated 300 deaths each year. With the addition of another (safer) road 17 yeas ago, the death toll decreased dramatically, and is now mainly used by cycle tours and a few local daredevils. It’s still treacherous however, and cyclist fatalities tot up to 22 since 1995, the last one being only a week before we arrived. Despite this, we had an urge to overcome our fears and give it a go. We did lots of research on the best tour operator, and decided on Barracuda, one of the longest-running companies.

The following day we were picked up at 6.30am and taken to Little Italy, a small restaurant where we could get a decent cooked breakfast, and checked in with our guide before setting off in a minibus with 7 others. We drove for around an hour, winding up the enormous mountains and stopped at the summit for a rigorous safety briefing. We all got given a bike, which were top of the range with ridiculously sharp breaks and great suspension. Before setting off, we all had to try a sip of 95% proof alcohol, spilling a drop on our tires as an offering to Pachamama (the Andean Goddess Mother Earth).

We set off on the first stretch of the ride, and sped down the smooth, winding tarmac road with an incredible view in front of us. The first 15 minutes down hill were very enjoyable, and didn’t seem too scary at all. We then stopped next to a tunnel, and our guide explained that from here on, it was going to be a lot more difficult. The technique we were told involved letting go of the breaks, leaning back and letting the bike glide over the large boulders, a little counter intuitive once the paths got pretty narrow! After 5-10 minutes of riding we realised that it made sense however, as going slowly with the breaks on was a lot more challenging in terms of balance.

Half an hour later were were fully into the misty, treacherous Death Road experience. With 2m wide lanes and nothing to our left side but clouds and 900-200m drops, we definitely started to feel the fear as we descended down the damp path, dodging boulders and roots and trying not to look down! We stopped at 15 minuted intervals to check everybody was still present (!) and give our sore hands a rest from the blister inducing rattle from the handle bars caused by the steep, rocky road.

About half way through we got a bit more confident, and really started to enjoy the fantastic scenery and challenging mountain biking experience we’d set ourselves. We descended through the clouds into the warmer jungle climate, cycling through waterfalls, muddy sections and splashed across foot-deep river crossings, and after 3 hours we finally reached the bottom, relieved to still be in one piece but thoroughly glad we’d pushed ourselves to do it.

We got back in the minibus and drove to a small jungle lodge where we took a quick dip in the (not-so-inviting) river before we tucked into a buffet lunch with the other tour members and given our free Death Road t-shirt. Despite it being the worlds most dangerous road, we realised that the only danger is people being reckless, and if you treat the road with respect, its easy to have one of the best cycle rides of your life. For us it was an incredible cycling experience, although not one we would be too quick to repeat!

Whilst travelling through Bolivia there were a number of times we were caught short of breath; from hair raising road experiences to the exhausting altitudes of the worlds highest cities. Despite this, we found it to be the most culturally rich and authentic South American country we’d visited, and were surprised at how vibrant and bustling each city was. We particularly enjoyed learning about the Cholita culture, seeing the bountiful markets and taking in Bolivia's impressive mountainous scenery. Although the cities of Potosi, La Paz and Sucre felt relatively similar in terms of atmosphere, each had their own individual characteristics and architecture due to their geography, so after visiting all three we felt we had started to grasp an initial understanding of the fascinating Bolivian way of life.

Santiago and Valparaíso

After a 14 hour night bus we had left behind the landscapes of Patagonia and arrived in central Chile to visit a couple of cities that were on our travel list. First up was the capital city of Santiago, followed by Valparaíso, a small but charming city on the west coast. We had only done a little research on both, and so we're keeping an open mind, keen to see what the cities had to offer in terms of sights, culture and cuisine.


We hadn’t been in a big city since Buenos Aires and so were excited to experience the buzz of the Chilean capital. As we only had 2 days, (and one of them was a Monday where a lot of things are closed in South America) we decided to visit the cities highly rated galleries while they were open. Our hostel Santiago Backpackers was centrally located, making it perfect to visit everything we wanted to in a short timeframe.

Galleries and Museums

Our first stop was Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, a beautiful 19th century Beaux-arts style building home to Santiago's contemporary art scene. Luckily for us it was free entry to all exhibitions, and as we entered the main hall we were treated to a huge installation made out of suspended purple tissue paper. Making our way around the other exhibitions we came across a dark curtained room where Chilean artist Norton Maza’s dramatically lit installation depicting the rapture hung from the ceiling. We were very impressed with the variety and interest of each room in the Bellas Artes gallery, especially for a free exhibition.

The next cultural stop-off was the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Pre-columbian Art Museum). The museum had a fascinating collection of pre-columbian artefacts, categorised by the location of ancient civilisations of Central and South America including Mesoamerica, Isthmo-Colombian, Pan-Caribbean, Amazonia and the Andean regions. It was great to delve deeper into the ancient history of South America as we wandered around the beautifully presented exhibits.

From ceramics and masonry to beautifully intricate fabrics, it was really interesting to see such advanced techniques used so long ago. Also on display was an amazing configuration of threads called Quipu (or talking knots) that represented some kind of historical data using a series of knots and coloured strands, revealing the incredible sophistication of the ancient inca people.


We'd been advised by other travellers that the Tours 4 Tips walking tours were very worth while, so the following day we met our guide (dressed as Wheres Wally!) at 10am and made our way to the first of Santiago’s many famous food markets including Mercado Central and La Vega Central. We wandered round various fruit and vegetable stalls selling exotic fruits deemed too good to export.

Our guide explained the tight and often emotional relationships that occur between sellers and buyers, and how loyalty was an important part of market culture in Santiago. What we loved most was that people of all ages in Santiago met to haggle and bargain for the best fruit, veg and meat in the city, regardless of social class or privilege.

We decided to have lunch at the bustling Mercado Central with a few members of our tour group. It was packed with locals and heckling waitresses, and after choosing a place we were keen to try out the specialties including Machas a la Parmesana (Razor clams with cheese) and Pastel de Java (Chilean Crab Pie). Our waitress was a real character and recommended us local dishes and even smuggled us wine into Sprite bottles as she didn't strictly have a licence! There were big group hugs all round by the end of the meal and other than the razor clams - a required taste - we really enjoyed our traditional Chilean lunch experience.

Cementerio General de Santiago 

Our next stop in the Tours 4 Tips route was the main cemetery in Santiago, Cementerio General. We weren't sure if it was going to feel underwhelming after visiting La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, but in fact we found it even more interesting. Unlike Recoleta, Santiago’s main cemetery accommodates all social classes, using high-rise style buildings to house the less wealthy as well as grand and often over-the-top mausoleums to celebrate the rich and privileged. We were taken to the children's graves, including local child Saints, covered in flowers and toys. The final stop was the grave of the former president Salvador Allende where we were given a brief history lesson on Chile's turbulent and bloody politics in the 70's due to the rise in power of Augusto Pinochet.

We ended the tour in a bar where we were all offered a Terramoto, a Chilean cocktail consisting of sweet fermented wine and pineapple ice cream. It was definitely an interesting combination! Terramoto translates to earthquake in Spanish, and our guide explained that due to Santiago’s seismic location earthquakes were extremely common, and if we did experience one we were only to panic if the locals did!

Santa Lucía Hill

As the main viewpoint (Cerro San Cristobal) was closed due to maintenance we decided to walk to Santa Lucía Hill to take in the views of the city. On the way we picked up some amazing Gelato at Emporio La Rosa (obviously not as good as Nonnas) and made our way to the steps. Thinking it was just a view point, we were surprised to find a beautiful landscaped garden with crumbling buildings and walkways that snaked up the hill. From the top there was a decent view of the expansive city, and it was great to see the beautiful old Spanish colonial architecture dotted amongst the glassy skyscrapers.

Asian feasts in Santiago

We had experienced some amazing food in South America during our travels, but we had really started to crave Asian cuisine. As Santiago is a very multi-cultural city we thought we'd take advantage by visiting a couple of the Asian restaurants in the capital. Before our first meal we went for a quick drink at the W Hotel to get a view of the city by night. The Pisco Sours were massively over priced but the view was amazing, and it was great to see the scale of the city from such a height.

On our first night we decided to go to Rishtedar, a small but charming and well reviewed Indian restaurant located close to the El Golf Metro stop. We ordered up an Indian feast of popadoms, tikka masala, prawn curry and garlic naan; it was a real treat for the tastebuds after far too many empanadas and papas frittas!

On our second night we decided to visit another well reviewed restaurant called Vietnam Discovery for some more spicy flavours. The shabby entrance looked at home on the Kingsland Road in Hackney, but once in we were taken through a passage leading to an amazing Vietnamese themed oasis! The food and atmosphere was brilliant and even though not exactly a South American experience it was interesting to see that Asian food was just as popular in Santiago as it is in London.


Only 1 hour from the capital, Valparaíso is a popular city to visit due to its colourful buildings and vibrant bohemian culture. We had done a bit of research prior to arrival and had learnt that Conception was the best area to stay. Filled with amazing street art, steep steps and cosy cafes and bars, the area was a perfect base for our 2 day visit. 

Our hostel, Casa Volante, was located on the Fischer steps above a great bottle shop that sold regional craft beers. On our first night the hostel was hosting a small BBQ, so after a quick wander around the picturesque streets we took the chance to chill, drink local wine and beer and chat with other hostel guests about their travels.

The following day we were advised to take another Tours 4 Tips city tour. We had heard the afternoon session was more interesting, so after a leisurely lunch we met up with the tour guide in the central plaza at 2pm. We were taken to the docks where we were told about the historic importance of Valparaiso due to its ideal half-way location for cargo ship travelling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. After the opening of the Panama canal in the early 20th century, the port became more or less redundant. However, the city had become an UNESCO heritage site in 2003, allowing Valparaíso to retain its historic interest and charm. The colourful buildings and graffiti-clad walls with sunny ocean views made the city perfect for strolling around.

What we found particularly interesting was the impact that the port had on the architecture of Valparaíso. As we continued the tour up to Conception hill we noticed the all buildings were covered in colourful corrugated iron. We were told that this was due to the fact that cargo ships carried iron to add extra weight to their ships when sailing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, which was subsequently dumped in Valparaíso, making a perfect humidity-resistant material for covering their houses.

To prevent rust the iron sheets were painted with leftover boat paint, hence the bright colours. The tour was ended at a secret historic residence, where we were offered a Vino Pipeño (sweet wine) and were given the chance to ask additional questions about the city.

That evening we treated ourselves to a meal at La Conception, where we had pisco sours followed by amazing seafood dishes of crab ravioli and conger eel (a national delicacy) with a great view of the city. We then went to a small bar and drank Terremoto cocktails like locals! It was the perfect way to end our stay in Valparaiso, which although small had a lot of interest and culture; it had positioned itself as one of our favourite cities on our trip.

Santiago and Valparaiso were relatively short stop-offs on our travels up to the Atacama, but we loved the atmosphere and local culture of both cities. Santiago might not be as epic as Rio or charming as Buenos Aires, but it certainly made a lasting impression on us during our 2 days there. Valparaiso oozed charm and character, and was a great place to explore for a couple of days. From bustling food markets to amazing fresh fish, world-class galleries to colourful street art, our stay in both cities in central Chile had been short but very sweet.

Rio Redemption — Part 2

Into the favelas

'Rochina,' Rio's largest favela

After visiting three of Rio's many favelas, including the largest (Rochina) and most well-known (Santa Marta) we were able to see the complexity of the political issues of Rio first-hand. Five star hotels and mansions often marked borders between the rich city-dwellers and the favela residents, offering a cruel social contrast both visually and emotionally within various neighbourhoods of the city. Our tour guides we're very informative about the political history of Rio, explaining in detail how the favelas came to be through both racial oppression and geographic circumstances. 

It's a common misconception that all favelas are dangerous, violent, drug-run places solely for the underprivileged. The favelas we visited we're 'pacified' - meaning that the police and governments had taken back control of the area - and were therefore 'safe' to visit. This didn't detract from the very visible problems that the people faced, such as drug abuse, open sewage and lack of other amenities. However, what was clear was the enormous sense of pride the community shared for their homes. Brightly painted walls have been commissioned by artists, colourful tiles and local artwork and hand-written signage filled the streets. We left feeling a sense of admiration for the people who lived there, who against all odds, had managed to build a strong and tightly knitted community both architecturally and socially.

Favela Santa Marta

It was noted by the guides that the pacification of these more popular favelas could be for visual effect, a mask that the government has provided to hide the real problems of less supported favelas in Rio; problems that lie much further afield from the rich southern neighbourhoods that seem all too convenient to 'fix'. Having only been in Rio for two weeks we could only hope to scrape the surface of understanding such complex issues, but walking around the favelas and speaking to locals we began to have a better understanding of what it's like to live inside a pacified favela in Rio.

Hippie Market

Every Sunday the Hippie Market (Feira Hippie) fills the square near General Osório in Ipanema. With various stalls selling colourful and exotic hand-crafted items we loved wandering around looking at the painted ornaments, vibrant rugs and taxidermied pirañas - we only wish that we had enough space in our bags to buy everything!

Bloco on Ilha de Paquetá

We were told by our airbnb host Rafael that there was a 'Bloco' (a Brazilian street party) on a nearby island and that we could join him, although it started 'very early'. After cracking the first beer at 8:30am, followed by possibly the craziest queue we've ever faced, we managed to squeeze onto the boat that took us to Ilha Paqueta in a last-minute gringo costume. Once we arrived we realised that the early morning doesn't seem to prevent the Brazilian crowd from partying, with brass bands and beating drums becoming the center point for the carnage.

Fuelled with plenty of strong Caipirinhas, we managed to keep the dancing going throughout the heat into the evening before getting the boat back to Rio for some final drinks (randomly crashing some wedding shoot!?) and grabbing much needed Brazilian tapas before bed.

Jardim Botânico & Parque Lage

Jardim Botanico is located in the 'Zona Sun' region of Rio, and hosts a wide variety of Brazilian plants and wildlife. Although little underwhelming at first - as some of the areas were relatively barren due to the heat - there were many interesting things to see including giant Amazonian water-lillies in the main lake and tiny Marmoset monkeys jumping though the branches of exotic trees. 

A mile away from the gardens is the more architecturally impressive 'Parque Lage', an estate and public park built in the 1920s. We spent a morning wandering around the intriguing nature-filled subtropical forest that surrounded the mansion before stopping at the picturesque cafe in the central courtyard for a drink. Apparently the Snoop Dog music video 'Beautiful' was filmed here.

Dinner at Quitéria

One of the few things we had booked before leaving the UK, besides the fight, was a meal at Quiteria. It's a smart, upscale restaurant located around the corner from Ipenama beach, allowing us just enough time to see the sun go down before we made our way there. We did feel a little guilty about splashing out in such a lavish place in Rio, but seeing as the meal was a Christmas present (à la Stef!) we thought we'd see what the great reviews were all about.

The menu and wines we're delicious - a solid balance of French-style cuisine with traditional Brazilian ingredients, paired wines from all around South America and exquisite presentation. The restaurant itself felt minimal, almost Scandinavian, which is unusual for Rio, but we loved it. At the end of the meal we got to say hi to the chefs and get a cheeky photo as well!

Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf mountain was one of the key things we wanted to do in Rio, and leaving it relatively close to the end felt like a nice way to round off our visit. There were two separate cable cars to get to the top. The first stop gave a great view of the mountain, then once at the top the 360° views were arguably more breath-taking than from Corcovado. We aimed to see Rio from as many different perspectives as possible, but seeing it from Sugarloaf mountain confirmed that Rio really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.