Medellin and Guatapé

From Salento we took a small minibus (with aircon and wifi!) from the centre of the town that took us on the 6 and a half hour journey to Colombia’s second largest city. The journey took us through beautiful scenic mountains and lakes, although the roads were very windy so we were relieved by the time we’de arrived in Medellin. We were dropped at the main bus shelter in the centre and even though our hostel was close by we had been advised that the highways we not safe to cross at night - luckily there were many taxis drivers on the prowl for a good deal.

We had decided to book a dorm at El Alternativo Hostel in the charming district of Poblado - arguably the nicest area in Medellin for backpackers and filled with great bars and restaurants. Unfortunately they had double booked so we had to sleep in separate dorms for the first night, one of which was an 8 bed dorm with no air con and a room full of smelly treckers! The hostel however was decent, and had a great little roof terrace for breakfast and chilling before venturing off to explore the city.

We spent the first day exploring Poblado area, sampling the great cafes such as Ganso & Castor which did a great poached eggs on toast (something we hadn’t had in months!). The area felt very gentrified, with graffiti clad walls, trendy architecture and busy bars serving decent food and beers. There happened to be an Argentina game on for the Copa de Sudamerica, so we wandered into one of the busy pubs to watch the match with a bit of atmosphere.

One of the main attractions in Medellin is to take the Metrocable gondola to the top of the mountain to get panoramic views of the city, so we met up with fellow travellers Amanda and Daniel who were staying at the Black Sheep hostel nearby. As it was a clear day we managed to get some great shots of the sprawling city and surrounding mountains as we ascended.

We passed 3 stops before continuing some distance to the Parque Avri, an ecotourism park with a series of walking paths through the forest. We wandered around a few of the paths and trails, but to be honest there wasn’t much to explore besides a small food market near the entrance, and agreed the cable car ride was definitely the highlight. We decided to head back to visit the Parque Explora in the city center and explore the aquarium.

We took the metro again to the Universidad stop next to the Parque Explora, and headed to the entrance to get our tickets. We started with the aquarium where there was an array of beautiful Amazonian and tropical fish displayed in amazing tanks. We spent a while peering at pirannas and giant Arapaima, before moving on to the reptile house to see the various poison arrow frogs, lizards and even a giant anaconda!

After a couple of hours of exploring we grabbed a quick lunch at the museum cafe. As we headed off to leave we noticed there was an interactive science exhibition (mainly aimed at kids) where you could play around with different installations that explained physics. We basically acted like big kids for half an hour before realising that we were the only adults! We ended the day with a nice meal at Tal Cual in Poblado, and then ventured out to Parque Lleras, the party district of Medellin. The bars were all pretty tacky, but we enjoyed a leisurely bar crawl,sampling different cocktails, with the sound of Reggaeton blasting from every bar going, before heading back to our hostels.

City Walking Tour

The following day we had signed up to the walking tour - which we were told was one of the best in South America. We met in the city centre and the guide began with a very informative and engaging intro to himself and Medellin, with a brief history of the Paisas, (Medellin locals) and the infamous drug trades that stigmatised Colombia for many years. The famous criminal was how Pablo Escobar was refereed to, so as to not offend the locals within ear shot.

After the talk we walked to the Botero Plaza, where we saw the amazing, surreal, plump sculptures created by the famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero, who had donated them to the city.

We ended the tour by visiting the main square, a huge empty expanse, where we were told about the bombing that had taken place whereby someone had placed an explosive in one of the bird sculptures in which as a result a small girl had been killed in the crowds. The destroyed bird sculpture had been left as a memorial, as well as a new one donated and placed next to it, by Botera as a symbol of peace. It was a beautiful, yet sobering tale.

The tour ended at a small but bustling square where many locals were sat around chatting, the guide explained that this is the real Medellin, very social and friendly. we also learnt that the churches are strangely the meeting ground of prostitutes. After many walking tours in South America, this one definitely stood out as memorable and really informative.

That evening we headed over to the Black Sheep hostel where Amanda and Daniel were staying. They very kindly cooked us up an amazing Vietnamese meal and we drank beers while socialising with the other hostel guests. It just so happened that two other travellers we had met, Gary and Jack, were also staying in that the same hostel - we had realised by this point that the backpacking trail was pretty well established.

Guatapé

Guatape is a small, brightly coloured town about 3 hours bus ride from Medellin. After leaving with Amanda and Daniel from the terminal in the afternoon we arrived and checked into Lake View Hostel, ironically not looking over the lake but the nearby marshland. The hostel however was great, with very attentive staff and big, clean rooms.

That afternoon we decided to explore the colourful town, and walked through the main square and along the streets that were lined with beautifully brightly coloured houses with unique, intricate doorways. Cobbled streets and old street lamps made the area feel very rustic and as the streets were quiet we got some great shots of the Colombian architecture. We grabbed a cheap lunch in one of the many lakeside restaurant on Calle 32 that served authentic pork stew.

The main attraction in Guatape is to walk up the iconic Piedra del Penol, a huge rock about a 20 minute walk from the town and a steep 400m climb up the built-in staircase to get to the top. Tickets were quite pricey - but it was more than worth the 700 steep steps to the top, where we were greeted with picturesque views of the network of turquoise lakes amongst the green hills. At the very top there was a small bar serving cold drinks, so we grabbed some beers and waited for the sun to go down before heading back. As it had gotten dark we jumped in a cab back to the hostel. 

One of the perks of staying in Lake View Hostel is the amazing Thai restaurant located above the rooms. That evening we headed up to check it out, and ordered green curry and pad Thai, both of which were delicious, and a rare treat for South America. We stayed up drinking beers with the other hostel guests before settling into a decent nights sleep in the large, comfy dorm beds.

One thing we had heard you could do in Guatape was paint balling in one of Pablo Escobars abandoned villas. This turned out to be slightly tricker to book than we had thought, as there was clearly some controversy and rivalry among the tour groups. Luckily Amanda was very proactive and called around various places and finally managed to fit a group of 12 from our hostel into a trip from Medellin, allowing us to join the following day. We pulled into the roof of a crowded jeep and drove to the huge white luxury villa once inhabited by Escobar family.

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We spent 2 hours paint balling in a near by, purpose built arena which was fun but very hot. We were then given a tour of the ruins where we were taught about the history of the villas, and how Escobar’s family has been present for the raids. Escobar and the drug trafficking that was in full force during the 80-90’s had a devastating impact on Colombia, including Medellin and the surrounding area, as it was his home town which he refused to ever stray too far from.

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It’s hard to know if this tour was necessarily responsible tourism, as it somewhat trivialises such a dark period of the area’s past. The fact that we felt guilty doing it probably answers that question. To learn more about this point in Colombia’s history, we highly recommend the book Killing Pablo, which was the book that the hit Netflix show Narco’s was based from. 

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On our last day we decided to hire scooters from the place near our hostel and venture out to explore the surrounding scenery. We had borrowed a fishing rod from the hostel and a few lures, so we drove to a nearby river to try our luck. Unfortunately we didn't manage to get any bites, but the scenery was beautiful, and and we managed a swim in the peaceful, deserted river. 

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As we hadn’t had much luck fishing we headed to the nearby trout farm (which although was cheating we knew we couldn't go wrong!). After catching about 4, we headed back to where we left the scooter and headed back to the hostel. We hasn't left much time to get the bus, and so it was a little stressful as they were quite infrequent! Luckily we managed to catch the last one back to Medellin and checked into a private room in hostel El Alternativo for a much needed sleep.

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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.

48 Hours in Lima

During our trip we have tried to visit the capital of each county, despite sometimes hearing mixed reviews about a few of them. Lima was no exception, and being the largest city in Peru (with a population of over 8 million) we were curious to see what the capital had to offer. We had heard that the food was second to none, and being home to some of the world's best restaurants we couldn't pass up the opportunity to sample some of the best Peruvian cuisine. Good food also comes at a cost, so we decided to spend just a couple of days there so we didn't end up blowing our budget!

From Huacachina we got an early bus northbound along the coastline for around 4 hours before arriving in the main bus terminal at mid day. We found that one of the best areas to stay was Milaflores, a barrio on the south side of the city close to the coast. We checked into Family Backpackers Club hostel, a pink town house with quirky interior but a rather quite vibe. We dropped our stuff and headed out for lunch, keen to try some world-renowned sea food. Nearby was the well reviewed Costazul, a small pub-like seafood restaurant that seemed like the perfect place. We ordered seafood saltado and seafood pasta, which were both fresh and delicious, and a great welcome to the city of Lima.  

Life on the move isn't always as exciting, and being the first big city we'd arrived at in quite a few months we decided our first afternoon should be spent doing admin. This included a much needed visit to the hair dressers (it had been around 5 months and Joe's hair was turning into dreadlocks). They did a really good job, and luckily didn't end up with a mullet that was a high risk in Bolivia and Argentina. As Stef had half an hour to kill, it only seemed fair that she got her nails pedicured and painted ready for the beach whilst waiting!

(Note: Not Joe's nails pictured below!)

On our first evening we researched a few places to eat, and came across Panchita, a restaurant located in the Milaflores district. The restaurant is famous for generous servings of grilled meat and fish and a bustling atmosphere. We arrived at 7.30pm and got some Pisco Sours in the bar area whilst waiting for our table. The restaurant was pretty big, with many tightly packed tables, but the waiters were still very attentive and personal. We ordered a ceviche starter to share, which was fantastic with beautiful chunks of perfect seasoned fish and corn sides. For mains we had the swordfish skewers with Andean vegetables and the Soupa de Langostinos that came in a huge bowl with generous servings of large shrimp. It was a fantastic meal and the food and service was just what we'd hoped for in Lima.

The next day was set aside for sight seeing around Lima, and we decided to visit Parque Kennedy in Milaflores, a small but pretty park known for its many resident cats that had claimed the area. It was quite strange seeing so many cats roaming around the park, but they seemed very relaxed there, and the locals didn't seem to mind, with many of them sat contently petting them.

As with most cities we've visited on our travels we decided to take the free walking tour. We met with other members of the group and headed to La Cachina bar to get a free craft ale to kick off the tour. We were all given name badges, which was a bit dorky but helpful to get to know the others quicker. After the bar we all jumped on the local bus and headed to the Plaza Mayor de Lima in the historic centre. In the plaza were many beautiful buildings including the Cathedral de Lima and the Government Palace of Peru. As it was a Saturday we were able to catch the changing of the guards in the palace, which had drawn a pretty big crowd of locals and tourists alike.

After the main square we walked to the Monastery of San Francisco where our guide gave us a brief history of Lima, including the conquest of the Incas by the Spanish. He also explained how the architecture had been destroyed by heavy earthquakes, meaning many of the buildings had been rebuilt 2, or even 3 times. After a quick snack break (where we took advantage of the fresh churros!) we headed to a beautiful old railway station with a glass ceiling and intricate metal arches. Our guide explained that it is now used as a royal post office. 

The tour was concluded in the central market, where we sat down and were told about the various types of Pisco, a brandy made from distilled grape wine, including Puro (pure), Acholado (blend), and Maracuja (passion fruit) Pisco. We got to sample each one, some being more pleasant than the others, but it was a nice gesture from our guide and interesting to sample the different types. Overall the tour wasn't quite as interesting as other cities we had visited, but the effort the guide made was very apparent, and we still got to see a few sights we otherwise would have missed by ourselves. After our tour we headed to the Barranco district and wandered around the boutique shops and quaint cafes.

That evening we met up with Daniel and Amanda, an Australian couple we'd met a few times before in Peru who are doing a similar trip (you can follow their great blog here) and headed for some dinner. As we were in the city of world-class food we wanted to treat ourselves and so headed to La Locanda, a restaurant situated inside the Swissotel in the San Isodro neighbourhood with great reviews.

On entry we noticed the restaurant was pretty fancy, and felt a bit under dressed, but the waiters seemed friendly and quickly sat us down at our table. We decided to share two starters, grilled octopus and ceviche, which were both delicious. For main course we ordered the short rib cannelloni (recommended by the waiter) and the pork shoulder with vegetable risotto. The presentation was amazing, and the flavours didn't disappoint.

After our fantastic meal we headed to the Parque de Reserva, a centrally located park with many water fountains, and we haggled down a taxi as much as we could and made our way there in a hurry before it shut. We thought it closed at 9pm, but on arrival we realised we had an extra hour which made it a lot less stressful. After paying 10 soles each we walked through the entrance and were met with an amazing 40 meter high illuminated water fountain with classical music playing around us. 

As it was late we pretty much had the place to ourselves, and spent a fun hour waking around the various colorful fountains. Some of them were interactive, including a timed fountain that you could walk inside of, and one that even arched right over you to create a tunnel. It was a great way to end our short time in Lima.

(Photo Credit: Daniel Tran

On our final morning we had booked a bus to Mancora at 2pm, and so headed for a breakfast in the nearby Buenavista cafe for a great view of the ocean. We wandered through the Parque Isaac Raban to the cafe perched on the hilltop overlooking the sea. We ordered apple pie, corn bread and hot chocolate and relaxed and watched the surfers in the distance before our long 18 hour bus journey to the northern beaches of Peru. 

For us, Lima was never a key stop-of during our trip, and although short, we felt 48 hours was enough to fit in everything we wanted to do. The food was by far the highlight of our visit, and definitely the best we'd had in South America, making it worth the trip for that alone. Seeing the water fountains at night was a nice bonus for us, and it was nice to enjoy an evening with friends we had made on our travels. We were glad we stayed in Milaflores, as it was a nice and safe area, but the city just didn't to have the vibrancy or interest of Buenos Aires or Cusco, and so we didn't feel too bad that our visit was short but sweet.

Galapagos Planning in Mancora

Before heading to the much anticipated Galápagos Islands we needed some time to research the different options for cruises, diving and day trips, as well as work out a budget to keep our expenses minimal. To do this, we wanted to stop off in a place not too far from Guayaquil airport, and Mancora, a relaxed surf town in the north west coast of Peru, seemed like the perfect choice. We got a comfortable overnight bus (Cruz del Sur) from Lima that took 21 hours, and arrived at the small, slightly run down town just before lunch.

We checked into Laguna Surf Camp, a hostel located a stones throw from the beach, and complete with grass huts, hammocks and a small pool. It was the perfect stop-off for which to do our research. The only downside of the hostel was the absence of the owners, who didn't seem to be around at all for advice or help on what to do in the area. This didn't matter too much as luckily there was wifi so we could crack on with our research for the Galapagos.

The following day we took a break from research and headed to the beach. We stopped off at Green Eggs and Ham for breakfast, a wooden clad house in the beach serving excellent breakfast options. We then strolled down to the left side of the beach away from any crowds and sunbathed and swam for a few hours.

That evening we headed to Aqua for food. It was one of the best restaurants in Mancora, although due to the size of the town we weren't expecting anything amazing. On arrival the place was full, and we sat down and ordered some cocktails while we decided what to have. We ordered the tempura prawn starter followed by the seafood curry, which were both really tasty! It was a nice surprise to have such great food in an otherwise fairly basic town. The following day we took a bus with CIFA to Guayaquil where we were to get our flight to the Galápagos Islands!

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires was much talked about during our travels, so we were keen to find out what made everyone love the city so much first hand. After arriving from Colonia by ferry we made our way in a cab (BA yellow cabs are fast and cheap) to our apartment in Palermo. We had opted for an AirBNB apartment to give us a bit of space after staying in quite a few shared dorms. The apartment was great and came with everything we needed plus a balcony with a great view and even a rooftop pool! With 9 days dedicated to exploring Buenos Aires, it was the perfect launchpad for us to see the city we were so eager to visit.

The Historic Center

On our first day we headed straight to the centrally located Plaza de Mayo and took in the many impressive, politically important buildings including the Piramid de Mayo, Casa Rosada and the Metropolitan Cathedral. We then walked past the Obelisco, an iconic spike-shaped landmark, before ending up in a small square in front of the Teatro Colón for lunch where we befriended by a baby parrot!

We ended the day with a meal at Las Cabras, a traditional Argentinian Parilla (Steak House). Wanting to try everything, we ordered the 'Completo', the must try dish. It arrived on a huge tray! The chorizo pan, chicken escalopes and steaks were really delicious, the intestines and blood sauce were definitely a required taste and the quantity of food was completely obscene! (we had to doggy bag it). We left feeling totally stuffed having definitely had the ‘Completo’ Argentinian meat experience!

Palermo

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Palermo is known for being a stylish, trendy and upbeat area with world-renowned restaurants, lively nightlife and some beautifully well-kept parks in the north of the district. As the weather was good we decided to walk around the Largos de Palermo and Tres de Febereo Parks, which had tranquil lakes and a very impressive and picturesque rose garden. We also visited the Japanese Gardens, which was very therapeutic (although a little overpriced).

Spanish Class

Since arriving in South America we had wanted to improve our Spanish skills. After a recommendation from fellow travellers we decided to book ourselves in for private tutoring with a charming BA resident named Yanina. Neither of us had any prior Spanish-speaking knowledge so it was challenging, but great to have one-on-one lessons with our wonderful tutor. After the lesson we were offered some Mate (pronounced Mat-ay), a traditional bitter tea and important part of Argentinian culture. As Brits and big tea fans we appreciated the tips in Mate etiquette and were fascinated by the meticulous preparation!

Tango

Our Spanish tutor had given us lots of good recommendations for authentic tango bars in Buenos Aires, so that evening we headed to El Boliche de Roberto, a cosy and traditional looking bar in the Almagro neighbourhood. We were a little surprised to discover it was a singing-only tango night, but we grabbed a table at the front, ordered a beer and waited for them to start. The duet were totally captivating from the moment they began, with beautifully harmonious tango ballads that the locals heartily sang along to. We sat and watched for a few hours, completely enthralled by the music.

The following night we decided to try out Yanina's second recommendation: a 'tango disco' night at La Catedral, a club in the same neighbourhood of Almagro. Neither of us are natural dancers so we decided to take Tango lessons. The teachers initially seemed pretty unsympathetic to beginners, but after a few attempts we eventually got the steps right and had a fun hour circling the dance floor. Once our lesson ended we watched local couples dance well into the early hours. There was also a band that made an appearance, playing typical South American music with flutes, guitars and drums accompanied by traditional tap dancing.

Recoleta Cemetry

One of the main attractions in Buenos Aries is the famous Recoleta Cemetery, a town-sized graveyard filled with decadent graves dedicated to the rich, famous and elite Argentinians. The extremely rich even had mausoleums built for themselves and their families, from small rooms to full-sized chapels where people could visit and pay respect. It was fascinating to see how much money and effort had gone into the resting places of the deceased. We spent a couple of hours walking up and down the narrow rows of the cemetery, peering into the creepy cobweb covered graves and tombs.

Close by in the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas was the Floralis Genérica, a giant metal solar powered flower sculpture designed by architect Eduardo Catalano. Unfortunately after a mechanical failure the flower petals no longer open and close, but it still looked great

MALBA

As the weather was looking a bit grey on one of our days we decided to visit The Latin American Art Museum (MALBA) to get a taste of old and new artworks throughout South American history. We really enjoyed all the exhibitions, ranging from Inca artefacts, European-influenced paintings depicting the simple life in the Andes to more weird and wonderful mechanical sculptures and abstract art.

Our favourite exhibition was entitled 'Marcados' (Marked) by artist and photographer Claudia Andujar, a Polish Jew that had been liberated from Belson concentration camp as a young girl. She had embarked on a project later in life to help immunise the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon. The provocative and moving black and white portraits were taken once tribe members had been immunised and given a numbered badge, and questioned the ethics of being 'branded' for either life or death, drawing comparisons with Nazi concentration camp badges.

San Telmo

The bohemian barrio of San Telmo was next on our list, and we spent an afternoon wondering down the old colonial streets, peering into the many eclectic antique shops in the area. We had a quick coffee in Bar Plaza Dorrego, one of the oldest bars in San Telmo that overlooked the cobbled plaza.

We then stumbled into Pasaje La Defensa, a restored two-story mansion tucked away from the main street with a beautiful tiled courtyard and terrace filled with small cafes, artist studios and antique shops. We spent an hour strolling around the the sun-filled space, taking photos and enjoying the peace away from the crowds.

La Bocca & Lanín

When researching things to do in Buenos Aires, images of La Boca always cropped up, so we were keen to visit the area despite reading that it had turned into a bit of a tourist trap. Although the shanty-town style buildings made from brightly coloured timber and corrugated iron were really eye-catching, the atmosphere was a little tacky. It was a shame to see that a once traditional part of the city had fallen to cheap souvenir shops and locals flogging photo opportunities, but was worth a visit non-the-less. 

After seeing the main streets we didn't hang around too long, so after taking a few snaps we decided to visit a gentrification project we had read about on Lanín Street. On arrival we were greeted with an amazing street lined with mosaic-tiled houses fronted with colourful yarn bombed trees. It was definitely the coolest street we'd seen in Buenos Aires. From Lanín Street we decided to walk 20 minutes to the nearest metro (Constitution), but as we made our way we definitely felt unsafe and were lucky to avoid trouble before we reached the station. We later found our walk in a map of areas to avoid (worth a look if you are visiting BA).

Feria de Mataderos

Another tip from our Spanish tutor was to visit Feria de Mataderos, a traditional Gaucho market about an hours bus ride from Palermo. After figuring out the bus system we jumped the 55 bus across town and arrived at the unofficial flea market not far from the beginning of the market. We wondered past the various stalls selling everything from delicious local delicacies to hand-made musical instruments and brightly coloured woollen blankets.

Tigre

Tigre is a small town an hours train ride north of Buenos Aires. It’s a popular escape from the bustle of the city, and we were recommended to go by our airBNB host. Unfortunately we’d timed it badly as we visited it on a Monday where pretty much everything was closed aside from a short boat tour showing life on the waterways. We managed to sneak into the museum grounds to get a few photos, but to be honest we left feeling a little disappointed with Tigre.

Bomba de Tiempo

We had been recommended to go to the popular drumming show by fellow travelers we'd met in Brazil. We had intended to go on the previous Monday, but as it was cancelled we had to wait a week. It was well worth the wait! We made our way to the Ciudad Cultural Konex, an open-air music venue in Almagro, and by the time of the show was about to start an eager crowd had already filled the space. The drumming was sensational and the crowd, including ourselves, we're loving it. Once it finished we randomly bumped into two people we'd met on our travels, so we joined forces and set out for the after party.

With its combination of European-esque style and it's Latin American soul we fell hard for Buenos Aries, and we couldn't have enjoyed our stay more. From elegant buildings and tango culture to amazing culinary delights and wild nightlife, we found BA to be a fascinating city of layers and surprises: for us it was the perfect introduction to Argentina.

Florianópolis

After a 12 hour Semi-Leito (half sleeper) bus from São Paulo we arrived in the city of Florianópolis, our last stop in Southern Brazil. Florianópolis is composed of a long, thin island (Ilha de Santa Catarina) with a built-up city centre bridging the mainland in the West, and the popular tourist areas located in the East and North.

To avoid the crowds our first stay was in Campeche, a small beach-side neighbourhood located in the more secluded Southern area of the island. The hostel in Campeche, although a little shabby, had a peaceful family feel and lovely host. However, it was a little quieter than we expected and didn't offer anything to do nearby without catching a bus or two (which were a little time consuming without timetables to check). On the plus side, we were pointed in the direction of some lovely remote beaches.

Highlights of Campeche included visiting Praia do Saquinho beach, reached by a 30 minute walk from Praia da Solidão at the Southern point of the island (with it's own resident beach horse!), and a great Monday night out at the Green Go party with cheap drinks and decent music. There was also a fantastic South African/Brazilian food truck called Chakalaka Street Food around the corner selling amazing burgers, hot dogs and 'crazy potato'.

We had a bit of difficulty getting a ticket to Uruguay (our next destination) as only a few buses ran per week, so consequently we ended up staying an extra 2 nights in Florianópolis. We took advantage of this by moving to the Barra de Lagoa area, a more upbeat part of the island that hosted some the best surfing beaches. We stayed at the Barra Beach Club hostel which was fantastic, with a great location overlooking a small beach, free surfboard rental and a buzzy social scene at the hostel bar during the evenings.

During our stay we realised that Florianópolis is less about sit-down culinary experiences and more about food trucks. In the evenings taco stands, burger trucks, gelato stalls and craft beer vans all congregated in Lagoa da Conceição at the Food Truck Parking Lot, a popup situated next to an empty concrete pool claimed by skaters, making it a perfect social eating and drinking spot. The food was cheap and tasty, and the experience was reminiscent of the food truck scene we were both used to back in London.

During the last few days of our stay we managed to get some good surfing practice in to burn off the calorific street food we'd been eating. We headed to Praia da Barra da Lagoa, a nearby beach that offered both surf lessons and cheap board hire. The waves were small but clean and perfect for beginners, and we enjoyed some easygoing sessions on rented 8ft foam boards.

Although we were initially a little underwhelmed by Florianópolis, after 5 days we understood why it was so popular: a devoted surf and skate culture. The chilled atmosphere, consistent swell and great nightlife makes it the perfect setup for the younger crowds and surfer lifestyle. It was nice to pause from cultural sight-seeing and just enjoy a more easy going pace. We ended our stay with a great night out in Malam club in Lagoa da Conceição with a few others who were staying at the hostel.