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!

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.

24 hours in São Paulo

Although not at the top of our list of places to visit, São Paulo was a convenient stop-gap between Rio State and Uruguay. Having heard mixed reviews about the sprawling concrete jungle (such as traffic and lack of tourist attractions) we had some reservations about what to expect on arrival. We took a 6 hour coach from Paraty in a Catarinense bus with scenic views, aircon and comfortable reclining seats. We zigzagged along the smooth highways soaking up the ocean views on our left and steep green mountains on our right.

After entering São Paulo, we started to get a sense of how massive the city is. Luckily they have an excellent subway that took us straight to our chosen neighbourhood of Vila Madalena. After getting lost when looking for our accommodation, we were helped by a local lady, Katharina, who very kindly walked us to the tranquil Zen Hostel and even invited us to her amazing penthouse apartment for drinks on their roof terrace that evening (which we found very refreshing for a big city). It was lovely to chat with Katharina and her partner Matthias, and they had useful tips for places to eat and drink and offered us some great tasting beers!

The area of Vila Madalena is located in the West of the city, and boasts very visible bohemian street art, numerous small galleries, lively bars, cafes and some great restaurants. After a delicious all-you-can-eat breakfast at La Da Venda we spent a good few hours strolling around the steep graffiti-clad streets filled with quirky details such as 'guerrilla gardening' on lamp-posts and handpainted signage.


The most popular street to visit was Beco de Batman, a cobbled alleyway filled top-to-bottom with street art. The brightly painted walls attracted photographers and models alike for an 'urban-feel' fashion shoot. After taking some snaps of our own we visited a few of the independent art galleries that were dotted around the area. 

After a good few hours walking we decided to take a well-earned break at the highly rated Coffee Lab. The place had a very relaxed vibe with an extensive and descriptive menu to please both connoisseurs and novices (ourselves), and we enjoyed a freshly aero-pressed coffee and a mean iced latte with finely chopped dates.

Our bus was leaving at 11.30pm that evening, so we decided to grab a pizza; apparently São Paulo has some of the best pizza in the world due to it's large Italian community. However, as we were about to set off for Carlos Pizza, we were met with the most torrential rain we'd ever experienced. Consequently we had to wade shoeless through a river of fast-flowing water to get to the restaurant! We arrived soaking wet but the whole experience was a lot of fun. We left São Paulo feeling pleasantly surprised after an enjoyable and unexpectedly eventful 24 hours.