The new year always brings with it new travel plans and Mr A and I have christened 2016 ‘The Year of Adventure’. We already have lots of exciting plans in the making and are hoping to add more destinations to our list as the year goes on.
My favourite part about beginning my travel planning each year is that I get to write down all of the places I would love to go. Inevitably the list is always long and topping it are always one or two countries from my favourite area of the world: Latin America.
I’ve travelled to a number of different places in Latin America and no matter where else in the world I go, nothing can quite capture the joy, passion and excitement of these countries. As a visitor you really are spoilt for choice by the sheer amount of destinations and activities on offer. Rich and complex histories have left countries filled with amazing ruins and awe-inspiring architecture; breathtaking scenery from gorgeous mountains to isolated beaches provides days of adventures; and the wildlife which calls these places home is second to none. And don’t even get me started on the pulsing vibrancy of the cities, where you could get lost for weeks in the art, music and dancing.
It’s a place I fell in love with at the age of 21 and somewhere I will return to time and time again. So here, in no particular order, are my top five moments to date in Latin America:
Dancing a tango, Argentina
Mr A and I are big fans of Strictly Come Dancing. Let’s face it, watching celebrities learn how to dance is the only thing that keeps us all going through the long winter months. So on my #30b430 trip, one of the challenges which made it onto my list was learning how to dance a tango in Argentina. Mr A flew out to meet me for Christmas and New Year and we spent a few days feeling incredible intimidated by how amazing everyone seems to be at dancing. Seriously, we’d be eating lunch in a square in Buenos Aires and suddenly there was an amazing dance show going on in front of us. So it was with a feeling of foreboding that we shuffled into our first dance class. Luckily we had some very patient teachers who slowly took us through the basic steps. What I love about the tango is the serious control required to complete a routine. I quickly realised that it must take years to make it look so effortless. With the basic steps under our belts (kind of) we were let loose onto the dance floor. For about two seconds Mr A and I felt like we knew what we were doing before it all quickly unravelled and descended into chaos. Fortunately for us, the other couples were used to navigating around beginners and we were able to move slowly around. Dancing a tango in Argentina held all of the romance I thought it would and that first lesson has since led to many more, as Mr A and I joined a Latin American dance class in the UK. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be able to return to Argentina and put our updated dancing skills to the test…
The trek of a lifetime on the Inca Trail, Peru
If anything is going to make you feel on top of the world, it is walking through the Sun Gate and seeing Machu Picchu for the very first time after hiking for four days, at altitudes of up to 4,200m. It’s almost impossible to describe the joy I felt as I climbed the last stretch towards the top at 5am on the final day of our 26-mile trek. The previous three days had been filled with highs and lows as we had dragged our bodies to the top of peaks, only to spend the next few hours trudging back down into the deep valleys. But the incredible views of forests and mountains and the ancient Inca ruins that are dotted along the route made every single moment worth it. Looking out over the Inca city of Machu Picchu was an awesome moment and something I always recommend as a ‘must-do’ if visiting Peru.
Being blown away by Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni is one of those places that no matter how many times you see photos of it in books and on blogs, it will still completely and utterly blow you away when you see it for real. We were driving along in a jeep when our tour guide told us we were approaching the world’s largest salt flat. Suddenly our entire sense of perspective was completely lost as we became engulfed by a sea of white. As we stepped out of the vehicle to take the obligatory ‘standing on each other’s hands’ photos, I felt as though we were stepping onto snow. Except instead of the ground beneath my feet being soft and flaky it was rock hard and cracked from the sun beaming down on us. The next three days were spent being more and more amazed as we visited gorgeous pink and blue lagoons, which are home to thousands of flamingos; mystical geysers, which felt other-worldy; and natural hot springs, where we sat in pools of steam and watched the sun rise. All in all it was one of my favourite experiences of my #30b430 trip and a place I will never forget.
Experiencing carnaval, Colombia
Arriving in Cartagena feels like being welcomed to a European city. The colourful colonial buildings, complete with balconies and pot plants, could belong to any city in Spain. But the carnival feeling in the air is unmistakably Latin American. The Carnaval de Cartagena, or Fiestas del 11 de Noviembre, celebrates Cartagena’s independence day with, what else, but a beauty pageant to find the new Miss Colombia. In the run up to the event the city goes wild, with parties, music and dancing in the street. Young people fill the narrow passageways, armed with water bombs and bags of flour, and things get pretty messy pretty quickly. On the seafront colourful floats form a parade and crowds cheer as the potential Miss Colombias, dressed in sequins, feathers and glitter, wave and dance. My favourite moment was on the final night of the spectacle, at an open air bar. Everyone was dancing when the heavens suddenly opened and the crowds ran for cover as the rain poured down. After a few minutes we realised that the storm was unlikely to pass and one by one people began to return to the dance floor. We followed and within moments were soaked to the skin but, as the saying goes, there really is nothing as fun as dancing as though no one is watching. Especially in Colombia.
Watching the perfect sunrise, Chile
Travelling in South America gave me a renewed love for hiking and if there’s anywhere you’re going to trek in Chile it should be Torres del Paine. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life, with mountains, lakes and glaciers all vying for attention. The highlight of my visit was an early morning climb to one of the parks most famous sights: the Three Towers. The giant rocks stand behind an ice-blue lake and, after a slightly perilous climb up the viewing point in the dark, I snuggled deep in my sleeping bag, eating my morning porridge, and watched the sun light them up one by one, until they were glowing red. It truly was one of nature’s showstopping moments.