Tag Archives: backpacking on a budget

Money in South America

One of the questions we’ve found a lot of people asking before they go on a trip is “what’s the best way to take money abroad?” For a trip in South America ATMs are plentiful, except for a few, more remote places, so we’d advise using a debit card. Hopefully in this blog we can provide some useful advice as to why, based on our experiences. 

Worried about taking a card abroad

A prepaid cash card is an alternative that some travellers use to access their money abroad. Whilst they can be a useful backup we’d advise against them as your main access to money for a few reasons.

  • There are often quite a few fees involved in using a prepaid card abroad. Yes debit cards have them to, but they can be the same or lower than prepaid cards.
  • They can’t always be used for all types of transaction.
  • They have to be reloaded with money when you run out, which may not be as straight forward or cheap as it seems at first. Some cards can take up to five days to move the money around and charge you a percentage fee.
  • They come loaded either with your home currency, US Dollars or another currency that your provider offers. This means that you can suffer from bad exchange rates, especially if you’re travelling through multiple countries.

 IMG_7114

Before you leave

There are several important things you should do before you leave your home country.

  • Work out which debit card has the lowest fees abroad
  • Get some US Dollars (USD)
  • Get some of the local currency of the first country you’ll be visiting. Or even each one you plan on visiting.
  • Tell your bank you’re going abroad and let them know which countries.
  • Make sure you have a reserve way of accessing money, another debit, credit or prepaid cash card.

 

Where to get the foreign currencies

Use the internet to look up the best foreign currency exchange office in your local area. If Google can’t help you out, ask some friends or go on a message board. We’ve found it’s often easier to get some foreign currency before you head abroad. It’ll also give you peace of mind that you’re not at some dodgy street vendor’s mercy. For people heading through London we’d definitely recommend Thomas Exchange Global on the Strand. You can order the money online through their website and it’ll be there when you turn up. They offer excellent exchange rates on commonly used currencies and pretty good rates on the more obscure ones.

 

Debit Cards

If you’re going to take a debit card (we suggest you do) then head on over to London and set up an account with Metrobank. When we first opened our accounts with them they offered free withdrawals abroad. They do now charge £1 per ATM withdrawal or transaction (outside of Europe). This is still far lower than any of the other UK banks, and there aren’t any confusing percentage fees that keep adding up either. For example Lloyds charge an additional 1.5-2.99% non-sterling transaction fee on top of a flat fee, so on one of my transactions i was charged a total of £7.89 on a £150 transaction. Nearly £8 versus £1 is a no brainer really… Of course if you’re not based in the UK, Google the best cards for travel in your country.

 IMG_7117

Why USD

You should always have some USD on you. As the worlds base trading currency its easy to exchange pretty much anywhere in the world with good rates. After the USD then the Euro is probably the second best to have on you. Not only is the USD easy to exchange but in lots of countries, especially in tourist hotspots you can usually pay for a lot of things just with it without having to exchange to the local currency first. If you run out then many countries, especially in South America allow you to withdraw USD straight from ATM’s. As a rule your USD will be more useful in poorer countries or those experiencing economic instability.

 

ATM’s abroad

Withdrawing cash from ATM’s abroad isn’t of course as straight forward as in your home country and they react differently to different cards, so offering advice on which banks to use in various countries may not of course be helpful. The best thing to do is ask other travellers and use various machines until you work out which one is the best for your cards. Things to take into account are whether the ATM is going to add an additional fee on top of the one you’re already paying your bank and the maximum it’ll let you withdraw. There’s no point in saving a small amount of money on one withdrawal if you have to make three withdrawals instead of one from a different bank.

 

Let your bank know.

We’ve found a lot of people actually argued against this as they informed their bank they were heading abroad, only to find their cards blocked anyway. This is of course a worst case scenario which is why you should always have some local currency on you. With Metro Bank we have never experienced any problems with using it in over 20 countries. When you ring them up let them know your dates of travel (you can leave it open ended) and which countries you’re likely to be visiting. Lloyds did stop one of my transactions but sent me a text which would allow me to use the card unrestricted in that country if i replied by text. Annoying but i can’t complain too much for them being cautious and it only delayed me by 5 minutes.

 

Using your debit/credit card for payments.

We’ve only paid with card a couple of times as often there are hefty percentage costs for paying with your card abroad. It’s also worth remembering that some places only accept Visa or Mastercard, not both. If you set up a MetroBank account you’ll receive a Mastercard Debit card. Occasionally this can cause a headache as most people are only used to seeing a Mastercard Credit card and will try and charge you a higher credit card transaction rate. Just let them know it’s debit.

 IMG_7121

What if my card gets cloned or stolen.

This a worry to everyone, and worse when you consider you could be thousands of miles from home. As long as you’re always safety conscious and keep your main card and your backup separate then the worst this should be is a headache without stranding you abroad. Card cloning is probably a bigger problem is your home country than in South America. In the UK we’re used to ATM’s dotted outside all along the high street.  In South America you’re more likely to find them inside a bank with a couple of security guards in constant attendance. This makes it much more difficult for crooks to set up a system to copy your card.

Some country advice

IMG_7120

Peru

We’ve found that Peruvian ATM’s don’t seem to charge for withdrawals as a rule. The maximum we can withdraw at one time in 700 PEN, equivalent to £150 GBP. ATM’s are usually found inside banks, if the bank is closed there will be a door accessed by scanning your card through a reader. If you’re worried about doing this, just wait for someone else to open the door on the way out. USD are easily exchanged, can be withdrawn from ATM’s and can be used to pay for tours and transportation such as planes and intercity busses.

Chile

Chilean ATM’s did charge us for withdrawals as a rule, but did allow us to take out fairly large amounts in one go. The USD isn’t as accepted as readily as elsewhere in South America due to the strength of Chile’s economy. In especially touristy spots such as San Pedro de Atacama or Torres del Paine national park USD can be used to pay for most tours and activities, just ask.

Bolivia

Some Bolivian ATM’s charged us but not all, other nationalities had different experiences. Your money will go a long way in Bolivia so you won’t be making lots of withdrawals. If you have a lot of USD then chances are you’ll never have to go near an ATM anyway, just exchange it for Bolivianos. Some places actually prefer you to pay in USD but be aware that the exchange rates can be pretty bad.

Argentina

At the time of writing Argentina has been experiencing a period of economic unrest. As such they have introduced numerous sanctions to try and stabilise their economy. These are aimed at their own citizens but affect  tourists just as much. If you’re really interested there are lots of economics articles that will explain it much better than i can. The point is you can’t withdraw much in one go from ATM’s and it’ll probably cost you a fair bit. Don’t be worried though as there is a black market for USD as Argentineans try and ride out the crisis. The Blue Dollar rate will save you 30% or more on your trip to Argentina. Take as many USD as you are comfortable taking and exchange them for the much better Blue Dollar rate on the street. If you run out of USD, pop into Chile or Uruguay to withdraw more. Be aware that the Blue Dollar trade is illegal but exists in a grey zone. As long as the police don’t physically see you exchanging the money they don’t care. They want dollars over pesos as much as anyone else.

Uruguay

We didn’t spend much time in Uruguay, only visiting Colonia. However the shops and cafes there allowed us to pay in USD, Euro, Argentine pesos as well as the local currency. We only tried one ATM and it did charge us quite a bit, but this may not be the rule.

Paraguay

Again we only visited Paraguay briefly. From what we understand the USD is easily accepted. We weren’t charged for our ATM withdrawal and we could withdraw USD. As with Bolivia your money will go a long way. We withdrew £40 for our day in Paraguay, we still had over £30 at the end of the day.

Brazil

Brazil gave us the most hassle when it came to withdrawals. Some ATM’s won’t allow you to withdraw cash. I don’t mean some banks i mean some specific machines. The best thing to do is to try every machine in each bank you visit, when you find one that works remember which one it was. Santander didn’t charge us for withdrawals. The USD is best exchanged into the local currency in cities but tours in more touristy areas can be paid for with it.

Colombia

You can usually withdraw between 300,000 and 600,000 COP in one go from an ATM (£75-£150) BancoColombia ATM’s were really easy to use and didn’t charge us any additional fees. They also allowed us to withdraw the upper amount of 600,000 COP. The ATM’s are nearly always inside a bank or a lobby for use after hours. These lobbies always have excellent air conditioning, great for cooling off when you’re out and about!

Top Sights Bolivia

Uyuni Salt Flats
Uyuni Salt Flats

Uyuni Salt Flats
If you’re planning on heading to Bolivia then i’m sure a salt flats tour is already on your list of things to do. Driving across the salt flats or standing on one of the islands for sunrise is a truly unforgettable experience. If you’ve got the time we’d definitely advise that you do a 3 day salt flat tour with a border cross to/from Chile. Whilst the salt flats are great there is so much great scenery in the area that you really shouldn’t miss. The Bolivian altiplano with its sapphire lakes, smoking volcanoes, flamingos and llamas in droves are equally as picturesque as the flats. It’s cold, the air is thin, the ride is bumpy and uncomfortable and we’d see it all again in a heartbeat.

IMG_0907

The White City: Sucre
Sucre, the Bolivian capital city is definitely the nicest in the country. If you just woke up there one day you’d be surprised to find out you weren’t in a particularly beautiful Spanish city. The city received huge amounts of money when nearby Potosi was still producing silver and as such the entire town center is a UNESCO world heritage sight. Apart from the fact that the people are friendly and the food is good there are plenty of things to do in Sucre to keep you occupied. There is a chocolate factory, jurassic park and cemetery. A lot of backpackers choose Sucre as a place to stop and learn Spanish for a few weeks due to its inexpensive prices.

IMG_0429

El Cerro Rico: Potosi
The mountain that looms above the mining town of Potosi once produced most of the silver for the Spanish Crown. Whilst the silver has now been mostly mined out, the “mountain that eats men” is still the single largest employer in the city. If you fancy it, tours can easily be arranged all over town. If you don’t fancy going into the mines Potosi is still worth visiting. As one of the highest cities in the world the air can be quite thin but don’t let this put you off. The old Spanish mint, now a museum, offers excellent guided tours explaining the history of the city. There is also plenty of opportunity to tuck into Llama in virtually every restaurant.

DSCN0876

Death Road: La Paz
If you’re seeking adrenaline then Death Road is a must do. Even if you’re not an adrenaline junkie then death road is still a great day out, easily arranged from La Paz. The views as you shoot down what used to be the most dangerous road on the planet are breathtaking. If you’re used to mountain biking then this is not a particularly technical descent, I found the biggest distraction was the view. If you decide to do the road, then the only company we’d recommend is Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking. Whilst they’re the most expensive, you’ll get great bikes and the guides take you through every stage of the descent. At the end there’s the opportunity to do a zip line and visit an animal rescue centre with excellent hot showers.

Squirel Monkey

The Pampas: Rurrenabaque
The Bolivian pampas are a quick 40 minute flight from La Paz, followed by a 3 hour bus and boat ride to get to your tour operators lodge. The amount of wildlife in the pampas is truly amazing. Whilst we were there we saw five species of monkey as well as caiman, turtles capybara, hundreds of species of birds, piranha and pink river dolphins to name a few. If you want to get some photos of amazing animals then the pampas is definitely the place to go. We spent three days drifting the rivers in our boat in brilliant sunshine taking hundreds of photos, stopping only to swim with the dolphins and catch some piranha for dinner.

IMG_4534

Lake Titicaca
The world’s “highest navigable lake” straddles the border of Bolivia and Peru. Whilst we found the towns around the edge of the lake to be fairly forgettable, Titicaca itself is beautiful. On the Bolivian side a trip across to Isla del Sol is the highlight. The small slow boats take quite a while to reach the island, but you can sit on the top deck and enjoy the sun. The island has a collection of incan ruins and there’s a pleasant hike you can do from one end to the other if you feel the need to stretch your legs. Don’t forget to eat some trout, available from every restaurant, cafe, house and street vendor…

IMG_0039

The Bolivian border
The border between Chile and Bolivia at Laguna Verde is an experience that we thoroughly enjoyed. Driving up out of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, you will arrive at a small concrete building in the middle of nowhere. It’s made all the more fun by the road barrier to stop you sneaking into Bolivia, as there’s unguarded open altiplano for miles all around the border post. As long as you’re not suffering from the altitude too badly you’ll find this is one of the more unique ways you’ll ever change countries. A short drive from here is Laguna Verde. At 4,300m with a towering volcano, flamingos and llamas it’s the best welcome to Bolivia.

Our Little Oasis: Huacachina

After our flight over the Nazca lines we decided to head for a bit of sun and sand in nearby Huacachina. Laying back on the sand, maybe a quick dip in the water and all over 25 miles from the coast. The oasis of Huacachina is now well established on the backpacker route for those interested in sand boarding and dune buggy rides.

IMG_4800

The Ica desert, whilst not enormous benefits from gigantic sand dunes that have attracted tourists seeking the thrill of sand boarding. Having done some in San Pedro, Sam and I couldn’t wait to give it another go. Lauren was more excited about lying back in the sun with the local turtles.

IMG_4815

Whilst all the hostels and travel agents in town offer sand boarding expeditions, we quickly noticed that the equipment was a bit rubbish. Most of the “sand-boards” on offer were in fact home made and you were meant to lie down on them like a sledge.

IMG_4785 IMG_4795
Sand-board Peru is one of the only places to offer proper boards (well maintained) and the focus of the trip is the sand boarding. Most other agencies put their emphasis on the sand buggy rides. The buggy rides are good fun, but be prepared to be thrown about in the custom made vehicles. It’s not uncommon to turn up for a tour and find the police doing spot safety checks on some of the buggies.

IMG_4794

After a quick re-introduction, we set off to the big dunes. The size of these monsters made the ones in San Pedro look like a children’s play park. We spent 3 hours moving between increasingly large dunes in the sand buggy as the sun set. Sam and I were soon reacquainted with getting faces full of sand, but at least we had a set of wheels to get us back to the top again.  We finally finished with a bit of starlight boarding back into town.

IMG_4787

Even if you aren’t interested in sand based activities then Huacachina is still a nice place to stop for a couple of nights. All around the edge of the oasis there are plenty of bars and restaurants. The accommodation options aren’t great, but most places are fine for the short amount of time you’ll be there.

IMG_4804
It’s also a good place to go and visit a couple of Peruvian vineyards. Whilst no where near the scale of Concha y Toro in Chile these vineyards have plenty of history and are also all producers of pisco.

IMG_4760
After our wine tasting we headed for a pisco tasting, with everything from pisco cream to double strength pisco. In our group we had several Peruvians, two Aussies, three Brits and a Korean and as a result we all exchanged our words for “cheers” in various languages. However when we tried to teach the group the meaning of “bottoms up”, were pretty sure our Spanish translated as “arses in the air”…whoops. Ten glasses of pisco later we left (on unsteady legs) with several samples in hand.

 

Condors and Cliffs: Colca Canyon

After our days at Lake Titicaca we headed to the Colca Canyon, one of Peru’s most visited attractions. With a depth of over 3500m, Colca Canyon is over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. Yet another high altitude and sheer cliff experience for Lauren!

The bus from Puno direct to Chivay at the end of the canyon is another great scenic drive where there’s a chance to see flamingos, alpacas, volcanoes and high altitude vistas. We must have finally reached our limit, whilst all the other tourists were snapping away on their cameras Lauren and I watched a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad. Lauren commented that snapping photos of llamas must be as funny to the locals as tourists taking pictures of sheep in Britain is to us.

IMG_2778

At the highest point on the journey there’s a chance to get out at an old Inca way station. The Incas used to leave small stone cairns to the gods here to ask for a safe journey. There are hundreds of them spread all over the top of the pass with towering volcanoes (worshiped as gods) in the background.

IMG_2486

Sadly they were all knocked over when the road was built and all the ones in the photo have been subsequently built by passing gringos. Go us!

IMG_2489

IMG_2763

Colca Canyon has two main attractions, hiking and condors. This is one of the few places where you’re all but guaranteed views of Andean condors – you might see one or you might see a hundred. Whilst the hiking opportunities are meant to be great we weren’t all that interested so decided on just the condor trip.

IMG_6879

We imagined we were pretty lucky as within 10 minutes of us turning up there were over twenty condors flying directly over our heads on the thermals.

IMG_2634

IMG_2673

The adults are black and white whilst the juveniles are a brown colour.

IMG_2609 IMG_2647

With a wingspan of around 10 feet (Almost Iain and a half) it is one of the largest birds in the world. The Incas believed them to be sacred as they were capable of flying above the tallest mountains, which they considered to be gods, so the birds feature heavily in native arts and crafts. A final fact is that they are reported to live for over 70 years.

IMG_2675

IMG_2666

There was also a hummingbird darting around. I was desperate to try and get a photo with one of the worlds smallest birds and biggest birds in, but alas wildlife just won’t pose properly.

IMG_2727

The Colca valley was one of the most important fertile valleys for the Inca empire, but habitation in the valley predates the Incas by thousands of years. Every patch of soil in the valley has been terraced and given over to farming for hundreds if not thousands of years. The word “colca” refers to a type of cylindrical building built into the cliff sides to keep grains and potatoes cold. There used to be hundreds all over the canyon, so Colca Canyon is literally the canyon of colcas.

IMG_2748

The town of Chivay is particularly small and most people just use it as a stop off before heading on a canyon tour. If you’re stopping by, make sure you head to the thermal baths. Ask the locals or a taxi driver, as you want to go to their one, not the tourist baths. Even at the local baths there are dedicated tourist pools. We managed to spend a good six hours lazing around, they’ll even serve you alcohol in the pools so you don’t have to get up for your pisco!

If you do a condor tour then you’ll probably get taken to one of the tourist baths for a quick thirty minute dip. It isn’t really long enough to enjoy such a nice experience, so we just went and sat by the river in the sun instead.

IMG_6996

Stalking the Street Art in Valparaíso

As mentioned in our previous post we took a few days away from Santiago and travelled to Valparaiso. Valparaíso is one of Chile’s major cities and seaports.

IMG_8903

A section of the city is now a UNESCO world heritage site and in recent years more and more artists have taken residence here. With stunning architecture and street art to be discovered on almost every corner, it was hard not to spend every afternoon strolling around and photographing everything.

IMG_8664 IMG_8741

From Santiago, Valparaíso is about 60-90 minutes away on a bus. We recommend taking the Metro in Santiago to Pajaritos and taking one of the buses from just outside the station. (This way you skip a lot of the Santiago traffic!) They are very frequent, about every 10 minutes, so unless you are travelling at peaks times there is no need to book in advance.

Once in Valparaíso we stayed just inside Cerro Conception, the UNESCO area. Some choose to stay in nearby Viña del Mar, famed for its beaches and connected to Valparaíso by local bus or metro, a great day trip if not staying there, but we preferred the rugged charm of the Fischer Steps.

IMG_8701 IMG_8745

Apart from taking a day trip to Concon, read more about that here, we spent many hours exploring the hills. There is so much street art it is impossible to find it all, but certainly during daylight hours Valparaíso is safe enough to explore to your hearts content. Here is a handy map to get you started – this map can be picked up in most hostels and tourist information desks.

Map of Valparaiso

It’s hard to do the place justice in words, so here are a few of our favourite finds in photos.  In our next blog look out for our very own walking tour of Valparaíso street art, which will tell you where to find some of the below.

Sandy Shoes: A Visit to Concón and Las Dunas

After the snow, wind and rain of our days in Patagonia, we were pleased to find the sun shining in Santiago. Naturally we did the only sensible thing and made our way to the coast, to Valparaiso one of Chile’s major cities and seaports. With its UNESCO status and with street art to be discovered on almost every corner Valparaiso is a charming place to visit. Valparaiso and all its charm deserves an entire blog to itself so for now here is just one of the things we got up to during our stay…

IMG_8895

On the advice of a good friend, we decided to take a trip to Concón to visit Las Dunas (The Dunes). Although not mentioned in our guidebook we were keen to try out a local’s recommendation, as often these turn out to be the best and most memorable experiences…and this was definitely one of those times…

One morning we jumped on a local bus marked Concón, paid for our tickets and hoped for the best. We had no idea where to get off or if the bus would take us to the dunes but we figured we would work it out as we went. The bus driver was clearly running behind schedule, so we held on tight, closed our eyes on the hairpin bends and made it to our destination in half the expected time. About 30mins.

IMG_8799

Despite our fears, you can’t miss the dunes. When you see them jump off the bus near the Jumbo supermarket (they all seem to take the same route) and cross the road and you’re there.

It doesn’t look like much but once we began to ascend the first dune our excitement grew. It was a bit of steep scramble…

IMG_8804

But once we made it over the top, our perilous bus journey was forgotten, and our jaws dropped in amazement.

IMG_8985 IMG_8973

Naturally we filled our afternoon photographing and pulling our best poses.

IMG_8821IMG_8849

Boys will be boys…

IMG_8868 IMG_8891 IMG_8885

With water reserves running low we started to wonder if we would ever find civilisation again….

IMG_8816

Truthfully we were never more than a 30-minute walk away from the main road, but once on the dunes enjoying the silence it was easy to forget.

IMG_8852

All posed out, we made our way down the opposite side of the dunes, towards the sea, and took in the views of Valparaiso and the rocks.

IMG_9017 IMG_8897

IMG_8912

We also took the opportunity to free ourselves of the extra weight we’d picked up along the way, before flagging down another bus back to Valparaiso.

IMG_9045 IMG_9048

Part 2

When our good friend Sam joined us in Santiago we decided he had to visit the dunes so once again we set off for Concón.

IMG_2780

This time we picked up a dog along the way…

IMG_9020

Cue more posing…

IMG_9015

A break for some lunch…

IMG_9040

Then some motorcycles ruined the peace and quiet. But the puppy thought chasing them was great fun! And honestly we quite enjoyed watching them…

IMG_9057 IMG_9031 IMG_2799

We were amazed just how much the landscape had changed the second time around. It certainly proved to us sand dunes really do move a lot in a few days. Take a trip and see for yourself!

Living at the Foot of a Volcano: Pucón

After our rainy days in Puerto Varas and Chiloé, the days we spent in Pucón continued in a similar vain. For the first few days we wondered if there even was a Volcano…the clouds pretty much obscured all the mountains around. In fact at night the fog obscured everything further than 5ft. Though the signs in town assured us the Volcano did in fact exist…

IMG_8396

On our first night we experienced our first Volcano related excitement. To the sound of an air raid siren we jumped to our feet and were ready to grab our packs and make a dash for it. Luckily I’d photographed this handy sign earlier that day…

IMG_1406

Though upon studying the local population and their lack of panic we established fairly quickly this siren was a very regular occurrence…in fact they use an air raid siren to signal midday…seriously they do!!!!??? Reassured we went back to dinner and cracked open a bottle of wine.

After a few days the weather cleared and from the little town of Pucón we got some lovely views…

IMG_8430IMG_8306

Despite us moaning yet again about the weather…we Brits do love discussing the weather after all…Pucón is probably the best place to head if the weather is less than fantastic. If you’re bored of drying out your boots by the fire after yet another hike in the rain then Pucón is definitely a good place to hold up for a few days.

IMG_8348

Even if just to see this dog help move a sofa...
Even if just to see this dog help move a sofa…

Pucón, near to Volcan Villlarrica, is popular tourist destination and offers a variety of sports and activities to its visitors…and the best bit the majority of these activities can be enjoyed even in the rain! Who cares if its raining and miserable if you’re sitting in a deliciously warm thermal hot spring, or if your zip lining through the wilderness. Switch your walking boots for a wetsuit and go cannoning or rafting. You only have to walk down the main street in town to realise just how many activities are on offer here.

IMG_1417

For those less active or for those who just fancy some down time, a trip to the hot springs is a must. We recommend taking the first bus to Los Pozones as it’s likely you’ll have the entire place to yourself. Iain and I had the pick of 6 or 7 pools and only had to share them with two tiny ducks.

IMG_1418 IMG_1422

Buses to Los Pozones can be picked up from Buses Caburgua, in the centre of town on the corner of Uruguay and Palguin. Pay the driver on the bus and it’s only a 30-40min drive to the springs.

IMG_1426

 

 

A Few Lazy Days in Bariloche and Puerto Varas

After a few days hiking in El Chalten and a 30hr bus journey we arrived in Bariloche. With the weather set to be pretty poor for the next few days and with Bariloche having a fair amount on offer within walking distance, we settled in for a few days of relaxing, blogging, eating and sampling the chocolate.

Bariloche is famed for its natural beauty but with the weather turning pretty miserable and having done our fair share of hikes over the past few weeks, we settled for Bariloche’s next best things, restaurants and chocolates. And what’s better than good chocolate, good cheap chocolate! It being the week after Easter most chocolate was reduced by 50%!

IMG_1326

 

Despite our few days being fairly quiet there is plenty on offer to do in Bariloche: there are lots of hikes and lots of organised tours available in the nearby areas. On the one decent afternoon we strolled though the town and lake, and were lucky enough to see sights like this…

IMG_1331

As for the rest…we got, pretty much, up to date with our blogs and spent our evenings sampling the locally brewed beer. We highly recommend anyone visiting spend an evening at Manush, a great atmosphere and delicious food and beer!

IMG_1334IMG_1332

After Bariloche, we set off for Chile and this time we intended to start exploring the country…unlike our brief trip over to visit Torres Del Paine. So we planned two nights in Puerto Varas.

IMG_1356

Puerto Varas is 12 miles from the much larger Puerto Montt and is located on one of the largest natural lakes in South America, Llanquihue Lake.

IMG_1337

Once again the weather was mixed…the first afternoon we arrived was brilliant sunshine, but on our only full day there it didn’t stop raining!

IMG_1375 IMG_1377

IMG_1362

We don’t seem to be having much luck with the weather in Chile so far! I guess this is what we get for travelling in off-season! So due to the weather yet again we failed to make it out to the National Park, but we did manage to get a pretty good view of the Volcano over the lake…

IMG_1338

Despite the weather Puerto Varas is a lovely place to spend a few nights. With an excellent selection of restaurants on offer and its fair share of Argentina’s natural beauty, it’s certainly worth a visit. We can assure you it made a pleasant second introduction to Chile and a lovely start to our trip through the country. Next stop the island of Chiloé…

How to travel: Buses in Argentina

Argentina is HUGE! I know this might seem like an obvious statement, if you glance at a map for a moment it’s obviously a big place, but maps just don’t get the point across. Coming from a small island in the North Atlantic, it’s very hard to get my head around the distances involved in travelling Argentina. 18, 24 or 32 hour journeys are a matter of course when traversing the world’s eighth largest country. In the course of a week we’ve gone from deserts, cacti and 30°C heat to snow and -2°C on Antarctica’s doorstep. How you’re going to get around this country is one of the first things travellers are going to think about, hopefully this will help.

Buses / Coaches
Unless you’ve got limited time and lots of money then you’re going to be using buses as your mode of transport. Certainly if you come from Britain this is not a pleasant prospect, my experience of busses in the UK are either “rail replacement” or school trips. If this is your expectation then prepare to be very pleasantly surprised.

I felt writing this on a bus would ensure I could write an accurate account of what to expect. I’m currently sitting in what could be best described as a leather armchair, it reclines by 160°. I have my feet on a foot rest and someone has just brought me a glass of wine. This beverage indicates that my evening meal should be here soon, first the cold course then the hot. Sound good?

IMG_8232

Classes
There are multiple classes of coach in Argentina from ordinary single deck with or without air conditioning to full 180° recline, WiFi, steaks and Cognac. Depending on the length of your journey it’s usually better to fork out a bit more cash for comfort, remember this is probably going to be your nights accommodation. I would always suggest that if you plan on sleeping then reserve a “Cama” seat. Usually this is a larger seat with good cushioning for the head and around a 150° recline, you’ll know straight away when you get on the bus as there are only 3 seats to a row instead of 4. In most cases you will get meals and a few drinks included with this seat. If you’re in doubt just ask when you book your ticket, most companies have pictures of their seating options at their offices.

IMG_8243

Semi-Cama are one step down from this. 4 seats to a row, not as spacious and they don’t recline quite enough for a “good” sleep. That isn’t to say that these aren’t comfortable. For journeys during the day or short hops where you’re not trying to catch a nights sleep, they’re absolutely fine and usually a good bit cheaper. You might get offered a biscuit and coffee but not always.

IMG_1304

The top end bus travel seems to be called different things depending on the company, so if you really want it, ask at the desk. Cama-total or Super Cama seating are the 2 that we’ve come across. As Cama-total would suggest the seat converts into a flat “bed”. Champagne and a nightcap is provided for parting with that extra cash. A word of warning for this fully reclined seat though, remember it is still a seat and not a mattress meaning you could wake up more stiff than if you were in Cama seating.

Tickets
Before heading off to buy your tickets, i find its a good idea to have a clue on prices and timings. At some of the bigger bus terminals there will up to 30 companies so it’s better to know which one you’re going to before you get there.

http://www.plataforma10.com/en-US

This website is invaluable for planning your trip around Argentina. Whilst it’s possible to buy tickets direct through their website, we generally just use it as a reference tool. Whilst we’ve found a specific service isn’t always running the prices have been correct on every occasion. Upon deciding which bus you want to catch, you can head straight to the relevant booth at the bus terminal and have a hassle free experience (especially useful if you have limited Spanish).

IMG_8241

Companies

One of the questions i researched a lot was which companies are good to travel with? They’re all fine, sure some are cleaner than others or offer newer coaches, but so far in 2 months in Argentina we haven’t had a single “bad” experience. If you’re really worried just ask other travellers who they used on a specific route. In northern Argentina we used FlechaBus almost exclusively and never had a problem, I wouldn’t say they were the best but there was nothing to complain about. Certain companies specialise in certain routes and generally therefore offer the best service on that route. For trips to Bariloche from BA for example ViaBariloche are meant to offer excellent options.

IMG_8233

Food

As I’ve already mentioned with Cama and above you usually get meals thrown in. If you’re counting on this to be your main form of sustenance on a 24 hour journey you might be disappointed. The food is certainly edible, we haven’t had any problems and its always nice to get a hot meal before you try and sleep. If you’ve got any dietary requirements then the safest option is to bring your own food.

IMG_1305

Safety

We can’t say we’ve had a problem or met anyone who has whilst on the buses. Obviously bus stations are a place to be wary of your bags. If you place bags in the luggage hold then you will generally get a receipt and there’s plenty of space under and above your seat for hand luggage. As the buses are travelling such long distances and everyone is just trying to get some sleep it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any problems.

Toilets

Yes the buses have toilets and they’re generally pretty clean at the start of a journey. (Lauren advises all girls carry toilet paper as after the first hour it’s usually gone!)

Price

Prices are quite expensive for the busses. Don’t expect to travel across the country for £10. Here’s an example of average costs on some of the more popular routes (1st May 14*)

Buenos Aires – Puerto Iguazu: 850 ARS, 106 USD, 63 GBP

Buenos Aires – Bariloche: 1150 ARS, 144 USD, 85 GBP

Buenos AIres – Rosario: 200 ARS, 25 USD, 15 GBP

Buenos AIres – Mendoza: 650 ARS, 81 USD, 48 GBP

 

*With the current inflation in Argentina I’d expect these prices to be wrong quite fast.

 

How Much Should You Save and Budget for South America?

Expanding on my first blog on How to Budget for Backpacking and Long-term Travel, I thought it would be good to provide some more detail on how much we budgeted for our trip in South America….

Loosely we used the £1000/$1600 a month rule as a basis

With an outward flight booked just before the start of March, we at least wanted to last until Christmas, 10 months later. So using the rule above,  £10,000* each sounded like a good total to save.

*It took 2 years of scrimping but we got there!

In more detail…

Once we browsed a bookstore we used the following prices as daily spends (all in US dollars, correct as of Sept 2013). We used these as a further basis for our budget…we took the comfortable (upper) daily budgets then we planned for a month in each country …

 

  Total for 30 days
Argentina $50 (Basic) $80 (comfortable) $2,400
Bolivia $15 $28 $840
Brazil $55 $85 $2,550
Chile $40 $60 $1,800
Colombia $50 $90 $2,700
Ecuador $25 $40 $1,200
The Guianas $65 $90 n/a*
Paraguay $30 $50 $1,500
Peru $25 $35 $1,050
Uruguay $30 $50 $1,500
Venezuela $60 $70 $2,100
Grand Total $16,140/£9,595

 

*Not on our itinerary.

So here the £1,000 a month rule works out pretty well…

However given that we hope to stay for longer and also get to Central America we will be trying to stick to the basic budget when actually travelling. For the last two months this basic budget has been going pretty well….Brazil during Carnival was a real test…but we are just about sticking to it.

Not saved as much as you’ve hoped/or want to stay longer?

Seems simple but spend less time in the more expensive countries and like us stay longer in Peru and Bolivia! In the end we settled for 2 weeks in Brazil as opposed to 1 month – this saved us an awful lot of money but meant we had to be super organised and keep our plans concise.

Hope this table is helpful to start planning your trip!