Part 3: Buenos Aires

~By:  Marco

As we are waiting to board our plane to Buenos Aires, I have a scroll through the pictures of the past few days. The views still fresh in my mind. I feel absolutely spoiled. How can anyone not like traveling? How can you prefer a holiday where you just get drunk and lay in a chair for 10 days in a row and still be $2K down. With not knowing how you actually spent it. How do people go to the same place every year, over and over again? How can someone be satisfied with oiling up and their only goal be getting the best tan for the coming two weeks?

Walking 20 km a day totally disconnects you from everyone and everything. No phone service. No Facebook. No Instagram. Just an endless road of rocks and dirt in front of you. Surrounded by trees and mountains. That feels like relaxing. I feel I start to appreciate my surroundings a whole lot more. Nowadays, everyone is constantly on their phones. At school, at the bus stop. During their lunch break. Strangers hardly talk to each other, nobody even smiles or says hello anymore. Then suddenly, if you are doing a 20 km hike in the middle of nowhere, with people you don’t know, you’ve never seen before and most likely will never see again, you start to say hello, “How are you? How was your day?” Weird isn’t it?

After having one of my philosophical moments on the plane again we got this little treat from mother nature. Although I have seen many sunsets and sunrises, they always stay beautiful.

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Our last hostel was located pretty much in the center of Buenos Aires. Rock Hostel & Brewery is located right on ‘Plaza del Congreso.’ A beautiful area surrounded by parks, historical buildings and great architecture.  Furthermore, it has a great atmosphere to meet new people with a bar in the middle of the communal area with large sofas and cool artistic decorations. As the hostel name might suggest, every dorm room has the name of a famous rock artist and throughout the hostel ‘the rock’ is visible through the art on the walls. The hostel has a good rooftop to relax and get away from the noise of the city. The view isn’t great, as you cannot see over the walls (even us tall Dutch guys couldn’t) but great to wind down with a beer and escape the madness of the city. Talking about beers, one of the areas we tried out for nightlife is ‘Palermo.’ Later, I found a video on my phone featuring six people in a taxi yelling (you could barely call it singing) Oasis’s Wonderwall. I believe we had a decent night out.

 

The following day we decided to be a tourist. As the tourists do, we visit La Boca, which is known for its colorful houses. As you might expect, it wasn’t as amazing as all the beautiful Instagram pictures. Yes, it was beautiful. Yes, I can definitely recommend going. However, don’t expect the world. Go there for an hour when it is sunny and enjoy the walk and the city. A nice tick off the box, but absolutely not a ‘must go’ if your time is limited.

 

What I do recommend is eating the ‘Menuas Dias,’ which are what the locals eat. Try some of the amazing local dishes for real South American prices. You’ll find them pretty much everywhere in the city and are absolutely worth trying.

On my last day we got invited to an Asado by a fellow colleague who used to live in Argentina and now works for the same airline I do. As I stated in the beginning, the people in this part of the world are absolutely amazing.

Often people ask me, “What is the best destination you go to?” Or, “What is your favorite place?” I always say, “The crew makes the trip,” and I would say this is very applicable for a country or city too. The people make the country. To finish this trip with a typical Argentinean ‘Asado’ (barbecue) was the cream on top. The Argentine’s know how to do asados. I’ve never seen so much meat accompanied by no salad or anything green at all. Just lots of meat and lots of red wine. What else can you ask for on a last day? Well, it would be nice if I could actually understand a bit of all this Spanish. Hey, always keep room for improvement! Another thing travel has taught me.

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Check out parts one and two of Marco’s South American adventure and our other blogs about Chile

Follow Marco’s adventures on Instagram at Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon- I Love Pucon Hostel
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kGXXEyIOAm0J:www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/I-love-Pucon-Hostel-and-Backpackers/Pucon/270352+&cd=6&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b-ab

Bariloche – Universal Traveler Lodge Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Universal-Traveller-s-Lodge-Hostel/Bariloche/79005?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2&sc_pos=3

El Calafate-Hostel de las Manos
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-de-las-Manos/El-Calafate/38194

El Chalten-La Comarca Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/La-Comarca-Hostel/El-Chalten/59554?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2

El Chalten-Racho Grande Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rancho-Grande-Hostel/El-Chalten/16797?dateFrom=2017-04-21&dateTo=2017-04-22&number_of_guests=1

Rock Hostel & Brewery – Buenos Aires
http://www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rock-Hostel-and-Brewery/Buenos-Aires/69163

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas
http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Bus company – Andesmar
http://www.andesmar.com/

Patagonia, Part 2: Down Volcano Villarrica

~By:  Marco

PART TWO: DOWN VOLCANO VILLARRICA

When we packed our big backpacks at the beginning of this trip, I was wondering what the big round piece of plastic was used for. Due to my lack of Spanish, I had no idea and no one bothered to translate into either language I spoke. Now, all the pieces finally come together. We are going to slide down. With a big piece of plastic under our bums and the ice pick in our hands to steer (and brake!), we slide back down the volcano. As long as it took us to climb it, is was much faster sliding back down. A-MAZING! I reach the bottom with snow in my mouth, snow in my shoes and everywhere it can possibly go. Wauw!

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After being out and about the whole day, we peacefully fall asleep in our hostel. Soon, we are back on the road continuing our way further down south.

At San Martin we cross the border with Argentina, to finally reach Bariloche. As the weather was horrible we decide to make it a quick pass through and only stayed for one night. We quickly book a hostel through Hostelworld and are sorted for the night. After a short night of sleep behind us, we quickly prepared ourselves for the 25 hour bus drive which will bring us to El Calafate. Twenty-five hours.  I don’t think we realized how long that actually is. To sit. On a bus. Even after not seeing each other for over a year we could not fill the 25 hours with endless talks. Music, various naps and foremost Pisco, helped us get through the hours. The main reason why we are going to Calafate is because of the Petito Moreno Glacier. I can tell you everything about it, however, some things are better conveyed through pictures. The one thing I can tell you, it was definitely worth the 25 hour bus ride. Pictures tell a thousand words, right?

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The sound is unlike anything I have ever heard when those massive, massive, blocks of ice make their way into the water. Imagine thunder and then multiply that times ten. In-credible. Full stop. We stood there for hours. Carefully watching how those massive blocks of solid ice reacted with the elements. The continuous sounds of ‘thunder’ all around us. We all know that light travels faster than sound. But to actually see it for yourself, seeing those blocks of ice falling into the water and literally five seconds later hearing that massive ‘bang’. Very impressive. If you ever visit Patagonia, this glacier is highly recommended.

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As Calafate is more expensive than we budgeted, we decide to move up to El Chalten, which is about a 4 hour bus ride away. Nothing compared to our last ride. Funny, how travel shows you perspective. While a 4 hour bus ride before seemed tiresome, after those 25 hours it felt like a walk in the park. In Chalten hostels are cheaper, (and so are the beers) plus, there are a lot of free hikes. What’s not to like?

To start off easy, we began with the 18K hike of Torres Del Paine. The weather this day wasn’t on our side unfortunately. Very cloudy, which pretty much killed the view. Luckily, it’s just the start of a series of hikes and we can’t have it all, I’m afraid. Traveling wouldn’t be as satisfying either. You can’t always get what you want. All those Rolling Stones fans know what I am talking about! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S94ohyErSw)

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After we get back to the hostel, we quickly go to the local supermarket to buy some well deserved beers. And some dinner, don’t forget dinner. If you’re hiking around 20K a day, you will be hungry.   Bright and early the next day we got ready for our adult hike, the Fitz Roy Mountain, only 20.2 km.  After yesterday’s hike we slept like babies, or was it because of the beer?  I don’t want to bore you with our Dutch conversations. I mean, it’s not even a real language. Anyway, what it is was all about: the crazy views!

 

Sad as I was to leave those amazing views behind I was excited to move on to the last bit of our South America adventure. Buenos Aires! It will be a transition from those stunning views, relaxing atmosphere and long hikes, but I was sure it wasn’t going to disappoint.

Check out parts one and three of Marco’s South American backpacking saga and our other blogs from Chile

Check out Marco’s adventures on Instagram: Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon- I love pucon hostel
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kGXXEyIOAm0J:www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/I-love-Pucon-Hostel-and-Backpackers/Pucon/270352+&cd=6&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b-ab

Bariloche – Universal Travelers Lodge Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Universal-Traveller-s-Lodge-Hostel/Bariloche/79005?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2&sc_pos=3

El Calafate-Hostel de las Manos
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-de-las-Manos/El-Calafate/38194

El Chalten-La Comarca hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/La-Comarca-Hostel/El-Chalten/59554?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2

El Chalten-Racho Grande hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rancho-Grande-Hostel/El-Chalten/16797?dateFrom=2017-04-21&dateTo=2017-04-22&number_of_guests=1

Buenos Aires-Rock Hostel & Brewery
http://www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rock-Hostel-and-Brewery/Buenos-Aires/69163

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas
http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Bus company – Andesmar
http://www.andesmar.com/

Patagonia, Part one: Santiago

~By:  Marco

The 1st of December, a date that will never be the same for me again. A date which was the beginning of something new. Exactly one year ago, I had my first flight as an international flight attendant. It shaped me into who I am, and changed my perspective of life. On how we travel. Of what is out there.

Since then I have traveled to over 60 different airports – all around the world. To celebrate this one year anniversary, I wanted to explore a missing continent on my list: South America. Add a Spanish-speaking backpacking friend in the equation, and off I went. First stop: Santiago, Chile.

PART ONE: CHILE

At the gate I do a quick search of where I am actually going. Since this was a rather spontaneous decision, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I just booked the flight and that was it. I will see where it takes me. I find out that the area is called ‘Patagonia’ and after a quick image search, I start to smile. I always hate it when people smile at their phones, but now I am as guilty as everyone else.

Travel does funny things to me. I get a funny feeling in my stomach. The excitement of new places with new people is hard to match. As I walk towards the plane, I hear the oh-so-familiar final boarding call in the background. At the door I got assigned my seat–business class; hello job perks! I consider myself incredibly lucky, sitting there with a glass of champagne in my hand. The excitement in my stomach. Nothing booked, nothing planned. Just two weeks of adventures ahead. Why do people go to all-inclusive resorts again? I’ve never really understood.

After a smooth flight with actually a decent amount of sleep (probably due to the overflow of champagne), I meet my friend at arrivals. We have been friends since we went to school together in the Netherlands, where we both grew up. After school, he went traveling and I moved to the United Kingdom to work for my current airline. We hadn’t seen each other since, making the reunion even better.

My friend had met a family during his travels and without asking, an invitation was extended to stay in their guestroom. We were treated like family. The whole family lives close to each other. This resulted in breakfast at mum’s, lunch at a cousin’s and dinner at grandma’s. Even with me speaking zero Spanish, and them speaking zero English, you would be surprised how much fun you can have. Especially if you add in a few Pisco Sours (the local spirit). This particular family is possibly the most hospitable people I have ever met. Hearing the stories from my friend, it seems to be part of their culture. I wish we had a bit more of this in Northern Europe.

After being fed and watered, it was time to hit the road. We started with San Cristóbal Hill, one of the three hills of Santiago. I had just arrived from London where it was the start of winter and temperatures are just above zero. Here, with a clear blue sky and very little shade, the 25 degrees is quite a bit of change. A welcomed change. With one small bottle of water between the two of us (and the remnants of the Pisco Sour from last night still lingering) we definitely underestimated the 45 minute climb in the middle of the day. Luckily, we met a gardener on our way who happily brought us to a garden hose to fill up our bottle. Muchas gracias, señor! At the top, we enjoyed the incredible views over Santiago and some well deserved rest.

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On our way down we agreed on booking a night bus towards Pucón. As a backpacker, I can highly recommend night buses. It saves you a night in a hostel plus you cover the necessary miles. If you’re lucky, you can even manage to get some sleep. However I must admit, it is not the most comfortable way to spend the night but hey, we all know traveling is not always how it looks on Instagram, right? Plus it makes you appreciate the little things in life again.

After an 8 hour bus ride we arrive in Pucón. The further we go south, the quieter it becomes. The villages get smaller, the food becomes more expensive (as do the beers), and the tops of the mountains are covered in more and more snow. I remind myself of the fact that I only packed one pair of jeans and one sweater/hoody/jumper. Travel light they said. After we gathered some information from our hostel we decided to hike volcano Villarrica (pronounced Billarrica). One of the most active volcanoes in Chile, I find out later. At 6:30 the next morning we get picked up from our hostel to be kitted up, as it is freezing at the top. This being my first ever volcano hike, I must say I was pretty excited. Imagine a kid-in-a-candy-store smile.

On the way to the volcano my friend is speaking crazy-fast Spanish with the local guides. I am enjoying the time ‘on my own’. Carefully listening to what they say, to see if I can pick up any words I might understand. All the while enjoying the incredible views and mentally preparing myself.

The whole group takes the cable car up to the base of the volcano. But not us! If you do it, you have to do it right. As confident as we are, we decide to hike from the start. With an additional 30 minutes of hiking, the guide is taking the lead at a pretty speedy pace. And I find myself regretting our decision already. Luckily, it isn’t all too bad and we join the rest of the group at the base of the mountain. The pace changed. As fast as we initially hiked, we are slowly climbing now. Everyone climbs the mountain in one big chain. And you know, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

As we get higher and higher, the temperature gets colder. Heavy winds start to blow into my face which forces me to continuously look down. Step by step, meter for meter. Focused on the two feet in front of me. We slowly make our way up until suddenly, we stop. Used to the pace, I fail to react quickly and bump hard into the backpack in front of me. How exciting is hiking again?

As we slowly reach the top, I quickly put on my gas mask as the smell is now unbearable. The weird sulfur smell makes people gag. I am glad to finally be released of my heavy backpack. Curious by nature, I detrimentally walk to the edge of the crater. Within seconds I see lava squirting out of the crater below us. This is what I came for; this is what I wanted to see. I look around, taking it all in– snow is everywhere, mountains as far as you can see. Smoke is billowing out of the crater now. It’s crazy knowing boiling lava is right below me. I sit down and appreciate the view. It was all worth it: every meter, every step. Even hitting the backpack in front of me over and over again.

Then the guide brings me back to reality. We have to make ourselves ready for the trek down. Or at least that is what I thought……..

Check parts two and three of Marco’s South American backpacking saga and our other blogs about Chile

Follow Marco’s adventures on Instagram:  Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon:  I love Pucon Hostel http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kGXXEyIOAm0J:www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/I-love-Pucon-Hostel-and-Backpackers/Pucon/270352+&cd=6&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b-ab

Bariloche:  Universal Travelers Lodge Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Universal-Traveller-s-Lodge-Hostel/Bariloche/79005?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2&sc_pos=3

El Calafate:  Hostel de las manos
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-de-las-Manos/El-Calafate/38194

El Chalten:  La Comarca Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/La-Comarca-Hostel/El-Chalten/59554?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2

El Chalten:  Racho Grande Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rancho-Grande-Hostel/El-Chalten/16797?dateFrom=2017-04-21&dateTo=2017-04-22&number_of_guests=1

Buenos Aires: Rock Hostel & Brewery
http://www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rock-Hostel-and-Brewery/Buenos-Aires/69163

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas
http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Bus company – Andesmar
http://www.andesmar.com/

 

 

La Paz, Bolivia

~By:  Damir

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La Paz is a beautiful, historic, and cultural South American city that needs to be on every backpackers’ itinerary during their travels. Walking around La Paz at first might give you the impression that it’s just another large city in South America, but the more you spend exploring the city with its many markets and sights will gain you a realization of its cultural beauty.
Geography:
La Paz is located in the Altiplano (high plain) of west central Bolivia approximately 68km from Lake Titicaca. Many backpackers continue their travels through South America with a bus ride from Cusco, Peru through Puno and cross the border at Copacabana on their way to La Paz; some fly directly into La Paz’s El Alto International Airport. La Paz sits at approximately 3,650m (11,975ft) elevation which can definitely be felt as you walk up and down the steep streets of La Paz. Relax the first few days and enjoy the coca leaves and tea.
img_5217La Paz is nestled into a valley and overlooked by Illimani, the highest mountain in western Bolivia (6,438m / 21,122ft). This area of Bolivia has a highland climate including rainy summers and dry winters. The rain that I experienced while there in the summer is brief but heavy. It doesn’t rain the entire day but during the brief time that it does, it pours so make sure you bring an umbrella. I still remember walking around while it was lightly raining and thinking I would be fine. The rain fell harder and I kept walking down the steps into the city not realizing that I would need to walk back up all those steps both out of breath and wet.
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Government:
La Paz is the legislative capitol of the Plurinational State of Bolivia while Sucre is the main executive and consitutional capitol. It is the third most populous city with around 877,000 residents in the city after Santa Cruz and El Alto although the La Paz metro urban area is the largest in all of Bolivia with a population of roughly 2.3 million residents. The current president, Evo Morales, is in his third consecutive term. This is upsetting to some Bolivian citizens as their constitution allows only two terms. Towards the end of his second term, Morales changed the country name from Republic of Bolivia to the Plurinational State of Bolivia and was allowed to run for the presidency again as the name of the nation was different and he was never president under the new name.
Speaking of bureaucracy; let’s talk about the San Pedro Prison. Bolivia is a guilty until proven innocent country so if caught you can expect to spend eight years in La Paz’ largest prison, San Pedro, before having a trial. After the trial, the previous eight years does not apply to whatever sentence you get. The jail is run by the inmates. That is correct, the inmates run the jail. They hold regular elections to get representatives for themselves. The prisoners also pay rent for their cells which keep the elected officials maintaining law and order inside the prison. The prisoners have various jobs that allow them to make money in order to pay “rent”. The families of prisoners also live in the cells but the wives and kids are allowed to leave for school and work daily. There are around 1,600 prisoners that reside in San Pedro along with their families so as you can imagine the prison is very overpopulated. Politicians and drug lords can afford luxury cells while the majority live in basic single cells. Many think the prison is a better democracy than the country of Bolivia. Also another fun fact of the prison is that they have a contract with Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola send the prison tables, chairs, umbrellas for the exclusive right to advertise and sell Coca-Cola brand drinks within the prison. I was content with just observing this prison from the outside and moving away from it as soon as possible in order to not somehow end up walking inside it and getting stuck which has happened to other tourists.
Hostels:
The three most popular hostels are: Wild Rover, Loki, and Adventure Brew. We stayed at Wild Rover Hostel and it was a blast. Known as a party hostel, it definitely did not disappoint.
img_5185We were there during Australia Day so the fun was at an all time high every day. Australian passport holders stay for free at Wild Rover on Australia Day which in turn packed the premises with ‘Stralyans. The staff was very nice and accommodating and the bar/restaurant featured plenty of drinks and food (check out the beef stir fry on the menu). Be advised this is a party hostel and it does live up to it nightly. The hostel also offers a “free” city walking tour.
“Free” City Walking Tour:
The term free can be considered an alternative fact. While it was at one point free, the government put a ban on free tourism events so they do charge a very minimal fee and it is aboslutely worth it! Red Cap City Tours do a fantastic job explaining the culture and historical landmarks of La Paz that I will further explain. A guide from the walking tour will meet you at the hostel and then take you to the main sights and explain local culture.
Witches Market:
Referred to as “El Mercado de las Brujas”, the witches market is a popular attraction to many tourists. Local witch doctors sell potions for every possible ache you can think of. Many of the powders ensure luck, beauty, and fertility. They also sell dead llama fetus’. According to old Bolivian native religion, which has a focus on the Earth, for every construction of home or building the builders need to give back to the Earth since they are digging up the ground. When they take a part of the Earth away many people will bury a dead llama fetus to give back. They do not kill any llamas for this, they all die from natural causes. It is definitely a great experience to walk through the witches market. Walking through the witches market, you are not hassled to purchase items. The shop owners/workers simply engage into conversation about how your life is going and what could be better. They help explain absolutely everything from the miniature statues to certain remedies they have that could help you get whatever it is you are seeking. I did not purchase anything as I was just happy to be traveling and did not think I needed any remedies. However, if you do have your eye on a special someone, I suggest purchasing the “Follow Me” dust. Simply follow behind the person you wish to notice you and sprinkle them with your best salt bae impersonation and the dust will attract the person to you. I did not try it as I was confident enough in my alpaca sweater and headband look so I’ll let you be the judge to see if it works or not.
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San Francisco Church:
Located in La Paz’ city center, the Basilica of San Francisco is the main catholic church. Originally built in the 1500s, it collapsed in 1610 and was again rebuilt in 1784. The most important part of this church is that it blends native and Catholic art. The street in front of the church was the divide between the Spanish explorers and the native people of the region when this area was being explored. One side features more Spanish architecture while the other side maintains native culture. When the church collapsed, the rebuilding featured natives and the Spanish working collectively; bringing the area together and creating a beautiful church featuring amazing art. This is a large gathering area in town for locals with many markets and shops around the church.
This is the La Paz-El Alto cable car system. Opened in 2014, it helped lower massive bus traffic between the two cities. Currently it has three lines in operation with several more in the planning stage. It is a very fast and clean energy way to get between La Paz and El Alto. Hop on once and receive amazing view of La Paz from above. A one way ticket will cost you three bolivianos ($0.43 USD). I went on the red line with a group from the hostel just to check out the views of the city and it was a very fun trip. A short taxi ride from Wild Rover Hostel, it is worth it to live the local lifestyle and commute inside one of the cable cars. It takes just a few minutes to get to the top of El Alto and can be an enjoyable sight to see as a tourist.
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For the true adventurers: BIKE THE DEATH ROAD
The Death Road, also known as Yungas Road, is a 64km stretch of road from La Paz to Coroico. In 1995, the road earned the title “world’s most dangerous road”. The single lane 3m (10ft) wide road has very few guard rails with cliffs up to 600m (2000ft) that drop straight down. The road has not been used for vehicle traffic since 2006, because there was a newer, safer, and paved road built from La Paz to Coroico. Many backpackers and thrill seekers sign up with a travel agency to mountain bike down this road nowadays. I did it and it was an amazing mountain bike ride. The first 20km is on the newer paved road which is easy to ride down on. After the 20km paved section comes a short bus ride up a hill to begin the remainder of the old gravel road down. The cliffs, curvy roads, and views are breathtaking. A must do! This was so much fun riding alongside all my hostel mates. Separating from the pack with other guys, since of course we had to turn everything into a race. I still look back on it and agree it was one of the most fun tours that I’ve done in my life. Careful doing this in rainy season as landslides are common. Once we finished biking, we were taken to a hotel for a nice lunch/dinner before driving back to La Paz. On our way back, we were stuck overnight due to a landslide and cleanup efforts under way. Aside from the overnight delay, the bike ride was amazing!
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With its many options for tourists and backpackers alike, La Paz is a very vibrant and cultural city that you can spend a few days in before you head down to the Salar de Uyuni and see the salt flats. Also, as a personal favorite go have a cup of coffee with cake at “The Writer’s Coffee” in La Paz. It’s only a couple blocks away from Wild Rover and it will not disappoint you!
P.S. Americans – be prepared so you do not have a difficult time at Bolivian customs. Print off hostel reservations, flight/ bus information out of Bolivia, itineraries, and make sure you have $160 USD in cash with no cuts in the bills for the visa you obtain on arrival (bring back up $20 just in case, they are quite particular),  extra copies of your passport photo and yellow fever vaccination proof.
More to read about Bolivia, check out our other blogs

Throwback Thursday: The Land of Smiles, Thailand

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My mother hates some of the places I go. Every time the destinations get more remote, further from home, more off the beaten path. When I told my mother I was going to Thailand she wasn’t thrilled; it was my first time in Southeast Asia. I had wanted to go to Thailand since I was ten, something on television intrigued my little brain. “Don’t worry Mom, I will be fine”….my standard dialogue before every trip. Little did I know, on this trip would occur my most terrifying experience to date.

For our inaugural trip to Thailand, Anna and I wanted a few nights in Bangkok and then beach time. Ultimately we settled on Ao Nang beach in Krabi, as the price was right and we could take a day trip to Phi Phi island. We took the backpacker overnight bus from Bangkok down to Krabi, which included a 2 hour wait at a random hostel in Bangkok. Here, we met Steffen, who became our new friend over card games, while we killed time.

We finally arrived in Krabi after one of the most memorable bus rides of my life, which included the company of  three British girl, two Aussie boys and a lot of beer. The next day we met up with Steffen again and attempted to take the ferry to Phi Phi Island. However, after a night of buckets, we overslept and missed the boat. Looking at alternatives we decided on Riley Bay, a neighboring beach area, easily reached by long-tail boat.

After a fun day of sun, we decided it was time to head home, planning for dinner and more definitely more buckets. As our long-tail boat started back toward Ao Nang Beach a loud siren pierced through the air. The driver immediately turned the boat in the opposite direction, yelling “Safe safe safe.” A local girl on board explained that was the tsunami siren. Apparently it was the first alarm siren since it had been installed after the tragic 2005 tsunami.

We docked up at a random pier, the three of us were unsure where we were or what to do next. Off the dock I luckily found someone who spoke enough English to explain the situation. There had been earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, a wave was coming and we could find shelter at the school up the hill. A little ways from the water, we decided we were safe enough to stop at a 7-11. If we were gonna die we needed a beer and chips, please don’t judge. With our backpacks loaded with provisions we continued up to the safe zone.

At the school we found several local and tourists, everyone huddled together praying and hoping for more information. Here we found Kung, a wonderful Thai girl, who had a heart of gold and the most beautiful head of jet black hair. After a few minutes we had made friends and she invited us to wait out the warning at her friends place near by. Maybe it was her amazing smile, but the three of us immediately trusted her and found ourselves welcomed into a Thai home.

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We found other tourists here two from Germany, two from Switzerland and another American plus Kung and her friends Peta and Gurth. Together we waited out the night, with chicken sandwiches and good conversation. We bonded together sharing our stories and praying for good news. About this point I realized my mother, if she had caught wind of the tsunami she would lose her mind. There was no signal, it was jammed, the tsunami warning had killed the signal.

Finally hours later, the all clear was given, it was time to consider; where are we, how do we find our hotel? Kung’s friend,a local bartender, graciously piled all of us into the pick up truck and drove us back to Ao Nang beach, otherwise we would have been lost. Later, I got 5 frantic voicemails from my mother, she woke up and turned on the news…”Tsunami in Thailand’! I am pretty sure she lost years of her life in worry that morning. I assured her when the signal returned, I was actually alive, we were safe.

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Fast forward two days later, checking into our flight back to Bangkok at Krabi airport; we find Kung, Gurth and Peta, sitting waiting for their flights. Hugs exchanged, we added each other to Facebook, promising to keep in touch. Years later we have now been to Thailand five (me) and seven (Anna) times more, every single time we have seen Kung. We once correlated business trips in Germany and met for dinner. This memory is why I feel in love with Thailand. This country is called the land of smiles for a reason, we have found the brightest of all the smiles in a friend named Kung. Many people ask, why we continued to return to this country so often. First impressions are everything, my first impression of Thailand was this….

 

Way too Wanderlust Recommends

THAILAND. GO!

Goin’ Up, On a Tuesday: Los Incas, Lima

One of the first things we do when arriving in a new city is check-in on Facebook. I know this sounds silly and I definitely believe there is much more to life than social media, but Facebook always has so many random ways of helping. Many times I have found friends in the same city, allowing us to meet for dinner or drinks. Here is also where the recommendations begin to pour in; after our check-in at Lima Peru, the obvious suggestion was go to Pizza Street!

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After an afternoon of pisco sours and massages, we were starving and in desperate need of more pisco (one can never have too much, hmm ok you can, they are sneaky). As luck would have it, Pizza Street was about a 3 minute walk from our hostel in the Mira Flores district of Lima. The street is lined with your typical tourist restaurants, hosts holding menus enticing you with free drinks and the “best food in town.” This was not our first rodeo and I typically have a good eye for which restaurant will serve slop attempting to pass as edible cuisine. Towards the end of the street, we found Los Incas, which didn’t have the standard tourist trap appearance and promised a free pisco sour, #winning!

We surveyed the menu and immediately found ten items which made our mouths water and stomachs growl. We decided to share three plates so we could have a sampling of all the tempting choices. A man at a neighboring table suggested Causa which is a traditional Peruvian dish of chicken salad, avocado and potato. He also informed us that we had chosen the best restaurant on the street and this was his third time dining here this week. He explained many of the establishments on the other side of the street shared a kitchen and therefore churned out the same ‘tourist slop.’ So our choices were set: Lomo Saltado, Causa and a salad, in an attempt to pretend we are healthy.

Each meal was delicious and we kept sneaking extra bites even after our tummies were full. With an extra pisco sour we closed out our night. Our bill did take quite a few minutes to acquire, however this is South America and they live by their own set of rules regarding time. Apparently Pizza Street becomes quite the party after the dinner rush, however with an 8 am flight looming the next morning, we decided to go to sleep early. Even though we wish we could have stayed to play, we had many adventures awaiting us in Cusco.

Way too Wanderlust Recommends

Los Incas: Calle San Ramon 228, Lima Peru

Cambodia Part 2: Siem Reap

~By:  Amanda

Waking up refreshed a few hours later it was time to enjoy the party scene in Siem Reap. We started the night at our new favorite place Charley’s with a few glasses of sparkling wine. We found Temple Bar for dinner, the colorful atmosphere grabbed our attention and we settled at a table facing the street, perfect for people watching. The drink menu had quite the interesting selection of shots, including the “Red Hospital Set” because nothing says “lets get drunk” like fake syringes full of red junky alcohol. Ultimately, we chose a bucket of some fruity sounding concoction, which showed up with flowers floating on top.

We spent the rest of the night charging up and down Pub Street testing out every bar. Pub Street is the Siem Reap equivalent to Khaosan road in Bangkok. We ventured in and out of all the divey bars drinking delicious local beers for next to nothing and enjoying the music. Pub street is fun, but nothing compares to Khaosan road in Bangkok, for us at least, and I am pretty sure nothing ever will.

Our last full day of our trip needed to be chill before we headed back to cold and snowy NYC.We spent the morning relaxing at the pool, enjoying wine and cheese from the convenience store down the street. The interesting thing about Siem Reap is that they attempt to cater to the western cultured visitors by having available proper English biscuits and decent wine and cheeses in both convenience stores and restaurants. I am not sure how I feel about this, since on one hand after 30 days of Southeast Asia it was nice to have something different, more like the flavors from home. However, my motto (besides YOLO) is “When in Rome” and nothing annoys me more than complainig visitors who have an inability to adapt to something new. Feel where you are, and learn about it; otherwise, why leave home?

Our calm morning left little time for a full day’s excursion. So after (you guessed it) another google search, we found a distillery which makes flavored spirits from rice wine. After getting lost three times, we finally found a tuk tuk who knew where the Sombai Distillery was located. Before your free tasting, the guide gives you a tour of the shop and explains the history of the liquor and their distillation process. The liquor is sold in intricate bottles hand painted by young artists in Cambodia. After the tour we were given a tasting of all eight flavors. It was difficult to choose a favorite from the unique combinations. The good news was buying a few of these finished out the gifts I needed to purchase for friends and family back home. Its rude to travel a month and not bring home something for mom and dad, and well, they like alcohol— the apple didn’t fall far from the tree!

For our last supper we wanted traditional Cambodian cuisine. Our hotel recommended Viroth’s restaurant which also had a nice rating on TripAdviser. Viroths’s was fancy enough to have white tablecloths and higher priced than most places we would have selected on a backpacking trip, but on your last night you might as well go all out. Even then, the bill didn’t touch what I would have spent on a similar meal in Manhattan. Pretty much everything on the menu sounded amazing and we ordered like it was our last meal, because YOLO! I couldn’t possibly remember what we ordered, but I know we considered licking the plates. Overdoing it on the food and wine made us sleepy and we called it an early night.

Red-eye flights leave late, so we still had a full day to kill before heading to Seoul to make our connection back to the US. We only had a hotel until 12 noon, but it wasn’t a problem, as the hotel promised to hold our luggage while we killed time. We had 26 hours of travel ahead of us, plus a long day in one of the most hot and humid countries in the world. As much as we wanted to do that waterfall tour, I couldn’t bear to fly back sticky and smelly. Our only option was to get massages in the cool, air conditioned spas and day drink. Life is hard.

We headed back to Charley’s once again for much needed lunch and sparkling wine. Nachos, that what I rememer, yummy nachos. After about three glasses of heaven we started getting ideas. The walls of Charley’s are covered with custom placards, which they will create for $20. We decided that we needed to commemorate the end of our trip and be immortalized at our favorite bar. We indulged in one last massage while our plaque was being created. We returned to find our plaque just the way we requested and hung it on the wall, toasting with one last sparkling wine.

We learned there was an annual puppet parade that evening in celebration of the community’s efforts for the arts. The timing correlated perfectly and would end just before we needed to grab a tuk tuk for the airport. We settled in at a patio table in a bar along the route and at dusk the parade began. The giant ‘puppets’ are paper mache and are lit from within, so that they glow in the night. It is proper, but not required, to give donations so choose a couple of favorites and throw them a couple of bucks.

After the lights and music died, we scampered back to our hotel and collected our bags for the airport. Mr. Makara was not available to make the airport transfer, but the hotel staff informed us that it should cost no more than $5 for a tuk tuk. Locating a driver on the street, I verified the price. We enjoyed the last crisp breeze of a tuk tuk ride as we sped back to the airport.

Upon arrival the airport, I handed the driver a $10 and asked for $3, giving a dollar tip for each of us. He immeditaly began to argue, “No no no it was $10 total, $5 per person.” No, wrong! I refuse to be swindled. I kindly offered to get the policeman nearby to assist with handing the disagreement and the tuk tuk driver quickly changed his tune and gave me the proper change. Never feel bad for standing up for what is right. I know it was only $3, however the principle of the matter is, he was trying to cheat us.

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Checking in for the flight, I felt the sadness I always do at the end of a trip. I began to wish I was back in Singapore, fresh as a daisy, my backpack still smelling like it hadn’t gone through a tsunami of smells. I considered all the amazing moments over the last 5 weeks, savoring the details about each unique culture that makes up southeast Asia. I already couldn’t wait to explore more of Indonesia and Vietnam. Being on limited time, we had only scratched the surface. Of course, we would be back to our beloved Thailand, but the next trip was not planned until September, seven months away. Taking it all in, I realized….. this is why I travel, I go, this is my calling. I can never get enough and so the life of the nomad.

Check out part one of our adventure, Cambodia, exploring the temples of Angkor Wat

Way too Wanderlust Recommends

Charley’s: 98 Hospital Street, Siem Reap Cambodia +855 12 181 4001

Temple Bar: Pub street, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sombai: 176 Sombai Road, Siem Reap, Cambodia +855 09 581 0890 www.sombai.com/en

Viroth’s Restaurant:  246 Wat Bo Street, Siem Reap Cambodia +855 12 826 346 www.virothsrestaurant.com

Cambodia

~By: Amanda

As much as I love traveling in a large group, you get to see things from a much different perspective when traveling with only one or two other people. I was fortunate to experience Angkor Wat this way, one of the world’s most beautiful sites, which is how I suppose the universe intended. Touching down in Cambodia at the end of a very long backpacking trip through Asia, my party light was extinguished, and it was time to be spiritual and calm to see one of Buddhism’s largest monuments. Don’t get me wrong though, I still had a complimentary beer on the flight from Bangkok.

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Cambodia has one of the most efficient visa processes in the world. Utilizing a visa upon arrival program, with an assembly line that made me shiver; I thrive on efficiency. The visa forms are dispensed on the in-bound flight. Because we had done our research, we had our $35 and passport pictures ready. We were in and out in less than 15 minutes— on-ward to fun! Strategizing properly for once in our lives, we hit the ATM asap since we were in need of local currency, as they don’t take Thai baht in Cambodia. What they do take is USD. Seriously, it’s actually preferred. The ATMs offer the option to choose between Cambodian Riel or USD. Choose $$$, as everywhere accepts the Riel, but we definitely got some disapproving looks.

 

For accommodation we choose the Damnak Kunthea Villa, which had an amazing pool and balcony area, so we could secure our tans before flying back to NYC. The hotel provided a complimentary shuttle from the airport, which is where we met Mr. Makara, who was soon to become our new best friend. After settling in at Viva Restaurant, we sat down to plan our next few days. They had a margarita happy hour, so we ordered drinks and nachos and got our google on.

Guided fancy tours for Angkor Wat were far out of our price range. The best way to visit the site is to hire a tuk tuk driver for the day. Our hotel offered the services of Mr. Makara and we determined this was the best option within our budget, plus his tuk tuk was pretty. Two options were offered: the extended tour and the short tour. But the short tour still covered a great deal of ground and most of the important ruins. My memory is fuzzy from a year of beer, but I believe the cost for the short tour was $20-25 with an additional $5 for the sunrise tour. Trust me, pay the extra $5 and get out of bed for the sunrise over Angkor Wat! I know you are tired, but stop drinking buckets early for one night and see some culture. If I can, so can you!!

With an incredibly early morning planned, we opted for a namaste evening of shopping, massages and exploring the city. Stumbling upon Charley’s, we decided to have a quick night cap before heading to bed. While it doesn’t seem like much from the outside, once inside you definitely feel the western influence on this bar. Don’t judge; after a month of Southeast Asia we were ready for something that felt more like home. Much to our delight sparkling wine was on the menu for $2.50. I love bubbles! A recent Buzzfeed quiz told me that if I was a drink, I would be champagne. I accept this.

The next morning before the sun even considered peaking over the horizon we were out of bed and meeting up with Mr. Makara. The hotel staff had packed us a to-go breakfast and we set off in the dark towards Angkor Wat. Since Angkor Wat is considered a sacred Buddhist temple it is important to keep in mind the attire you choose for that day. It is highly offensive to wear reveling clothing or show an excessive amount of skin. Ladies this means no tank tops, a short sleeve shirt works nicely or bring a pashmina to cover the shoulders. Short dresses and shorts are prohibited as well.

 

We soon realized half of the other tourists in Siem Reap had the same plan to see the sunrise that morning and we joined a convoy of tuk tuks headed down the road. At the entrance of the Angkor Wat complex, you are required to pay the $20/pp entrance fee into the ruins. Discounted 3 and 7 day passes are available. Be forewarned, the entrance fee to Angkor Wat will rise to $37 for the day pass as of February 2017. This process was a complete mess and several lines of anxious tourists spiraled backwards, creating a huge crowd. Angkor Wat entrance fees must be paid in cash and once again, they want those green USD.

 

A throng of activity welcomes you as the tuk tuk pulls up to the parking area near the big temple. Mr Makara dropped us off and pointed to the general location where we could find him later. Thank God that tuk tuk was an easy to spot bright green. With the crowd, we crept through the dark towards the Grand Temple. In hindsight a flashlight would be a useful tool to stash in the day bag. Luckily the iPhone has a fantastic flashlight function and in unison our cell phones lit the path.

 

We all settled down next to a lake forward of the main ruins and waited for the sun to creep over the horizon. The sky began to lighten and highlight the ruins in pinks and oranges with hints of purple, creating a beautiful outline of the temple against the sky, which soon faded into a blue as then the sun poked over the horizon. With the sun now shining over the landscape we set out to explore the ruins, starting with the main temple. The architecture of this ancient structure is fascinating, considering the intricate detail they used with such little technology. I mean, they didn’t even have an iPhone flashlight.

After getting all the Instagram worthy photos we needed from this temple, we retraced our steps to the parking lot and found Mr. Makara napping in a hammock rigged up on the tuk tuk; not a bad way to kill time. We set off for the next part of the tour and while interesting and wonderful, all the temples began to run together. The day had grown hot, plus this ancient culure seemed to have a thing for stairs. Towards the end, we were more delighted by the stray dogs napping in the street.

Exhausted and sweaty after a long morning, it was time for lunch and a beer. By this time we had been exploring for about 6 hours. Honestly, unless you’re a history enthusiast or that person who must see everything, the half day tour will suffice. It gets hot midday and the exhaustion of getting up at 4 am and climbing a million steps will inevitably get to you. I was highly impressed by the precision of the architecture, the details of the faces depicting ancient gods and the sheer size of these temples, but I really like lunch too. Even after a month in southeast Asia, spring rolls never get old and we washed them down with the local beer. It was time for our afternoon nap and we headed back to town to succumb to exhaustion.

Read about the Angkor Wat after party in part 2, exploring Siem Reap

~By: Amanda

Way too Wanderlust Recommends

Damnak Kunthea Villas: 112 Wat Damnak, Krong Siem Reap Cambodia +855 78 792 976 www.damnakunthea.com booked via www.booking.com

Viva: #697, Group 10, Mondol 1 Svay, Siem Reap Cambodia +855 63 963 151 www.ivivasiemreap.com

Charley’s: 98 Hospital Street, Siem Reap Cambodia +855 12 181 4001

Cambodian Visa Info:  www.tourismcambodia.com….for Americans www.evisa.gov.kh

Speakeasy Sunday: Kennedy’s Irish Pub and Curry House, San Francisco CA

Everyone loves a good dive bar, the carefree atmosphere, the peeling paint, the bartender who doesn’t know how to make a proper Manhattan or know the year for their second rate boxed wine. Often times these bars have less than stellar ratings, but you have to learn to read between the lines. Just because the bathroom is not plated in 14K gold, doesn’t mean they don’t fry up amazing chicken wings or a crazy bartender whose antics will keep you laughing all night. Dive bars  are a place where you can relax, feel comfortable and spend the afternoon, watching sports or chatting with friends. That is why we created Speakeasy Sunday to highlight those ugly stepsister venues,  the places you should go, the hidden gems who don’t have a  stick up their butt.

I love Indian food;  people who don’t are just weird. Ok, it can be really spicy, so maybe not weird, but definitely missing out. With my belly full of spicy happiness, I can now sit back and recommend this unexpected jewel in San Francisco. We started off Julie and Sean’s combo birthday with zero plans as usual. We consulted Thrillist to find the best place to eat within walking distance from our hotel.

What we discovered was a combination Irish pub and Indian restaurant, called Kennedy’s Irish Pub and Curry House on Columbus Ave, only a few blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf. The name itself is intriguing enough for a visit. When we found out they served $4 PBR tall boys, we were in. This interesting open floor plan has a typical Irish pub on one side and a random arcade game room on the other, but in the center of the bar is an out of place white linen restaurant which operates as a separate entity. You order your drinks at the bar and then bring them over to your table while contemplating how to carb up for the night without hitting full food coma.

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We ordered our usual Indian spread of chicken tikka masala, veggie samosas and more than enough garlic naan for a party double our size! Everything was so delicious and we were unable to finish the generous portions. It was heartbreaking not taking the leftovers but we didn’t want to be the people bar-hopping with the strong smelling food and no one wanted to be in charge of more than our own coat.

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The service was wonderful and the yummy Indian meal was at such a fair price that we put this restaurant at the top of our “can’t wait to return” list. It was the perfect place to carb up before starting our dive bar crawl.

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~By: Amanda

Way  too Wanderlust Recommends

Kennedy’s Irish Pub and Curry House:  1040 Columbus Ave. San Francisco, CA 94133 +1 415 441 8855 www.kennedyscurry.com

 

The Fourth Region of Chile

~By:  Julie

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“Where are you from?” That has been the hardest question to answer since I was a little girl. I’ve never felt like I was “from” anywhere. My parents were Californians that moved to Tennessee for just long enough to make it my birthplace and we picked up our nomadic lifestyles again shortly after. I hated that question when I was a kid as there was no quick response and I didn’t like the attention. When I was 12 years old, I moved to Chile. I stayed in Santiago with my mother and siblings for 6 months while my father branched out to find the perfect home for us up north.

By the time I was 13, we moved to the coolest house I’d ever lived, which was a block from the beach, directly between the twin cities of La Serena and Coquimbo. This was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere. Maybe it was that adolescent time when you’re finding yourself or it was what I learned from the people I met that made me feel like this was my true “home.” I always say that my passport is from the United States but my heart beats for Chile.

I’ve never met a person traveling through that didn’t fall in love with the 4th region. We have everything you could need. We are safely nestled between the glorious Andes mountains and the sea that Pablo Neruda so often referenced. It’s just directly on the bottom of the Atacama Desert, known as the driest desert in the world, but not dry enough that you don’t have interesting wildlife and nature. It’s kind of a secret oasis on its own. Being between two smaller cities instead of one big city is a plus because it keeps the feeling more quaint.

The fourth region is home to so many famous wineries, pisquerias, the Valle de Elqui, the home of Nobel peace price winner Gabriela Mistral and at even at one point in history a landing spot for the infamous pirate Blackbeard. There are a few reasons you should either hop on the 45 min flight to La Serena (LSC) or book your 8 hour lay flat bus seat:

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1. First things first— food! Order la reineta frita for lunch at El Mar Adentro in Peñuelas. Peñuelas is a quaint little fisherman village located between the main cities. You can watch the fishermen make their nets with their hands and feet. Take a minute to watch the colorful boats also being handcrafted. It’s incredible and humbling.

2. After lunch, head down town La Serena for shopping in the main square. Here you can find beautiful silver jewelry and lapislázuli stones, alpaca sweaters and even out of the ordinary gifts for the person who has it all. Make sure to grab some homemade manjar sweets and catch some live Andean folk music on the streets.

 

3. At night stroll the Avenida Del Mar and hop in the various restaurants and pubs serving traditional pisco sours, a South American classic cocktail that Chile specializes in making with pica lime juice. Eat as many french fries as you can. This is my favorite country for French fries, especially a lo pobre which comes with a fried egg on top!

4. If you work your way from the lighthouse all the way down the Avenida Del Mar and you still have space for dinner, I highly recommend Gladys’. She’s a dear friend of my family and makes incredible empanadas and just about anything you can think of.

5. Take a whole day in Coquimbo and start at the Fisherman’s Warf. There, not only can you buy fun trinkets, coca tea and jewelry but it’s also a fully functioning and very active fresh seafood market. There you’ll find the freshest ceviche and incredibly huge empanadas stuffed with literally every meat of your choice.

6. Take a boat tour from the fisherman market in Coquimbo out to Isla de Lobos and yell at seals and penguins sunning on the rocks. It’s a short 2 hour tour but absolutely worth the price. When we did it, the Captain loved us so much he invited us into the wheelhouse to steer the boat!

7. You can walk to Coquimbo’s main square from here to see some interesting art sculptures, and more trinkets and jewelry stores around Plaza Prat. There is a pretty cool interactive museum called the Centro Cultural Palace Coquimbo where you can learn about the history and culture of the region, and where they showcase some of the best local photography and art. You can also see where the US Navy docks for fleet week once or twice a year.

8. Take some time to check out Blackbeard’s Point. There are some fun history facts on placards, a giant old canon, a cute cafe and lots of places to go hiking out on the huge rocks. (My sister got engaged here!)

9. There are so many day trips you can do from La Serena, for instance, if you want a nice beach day, grab a boogie board and head down to our white sand beach named Totoralillo! It’s absolutely beautiful! If that’s too crowded, head to Tongoy. Either way you choose, the water will be freezing, so suit up or just enjoy a day of tanning and eating more empanadas!

10. For a good hiking day trip, head north past all the wineries, and stop at El Puntoclaro for a photo opportunity and take in the expansive scenery. When I first moved to Chile this dam didn’t even exist! It’s incredible to see the change. Make sure to stop and get a scoop of Lucuma or chirimoya ice cream or get both, you’re going to burn it all off anyways!

11. Head east inland on route CH-41 to the famous Valle de Elqui to explore the beautiful valleys and mountain sides covered in vineyards, and along the way, stop in the little town of Vicuña where Gabriela Mistral was born. There is so much history and so many sites to see. Look closely because you can see houses built of mud that look like they are held up by nothing but sticks. You can see locked doorways leading into the mountain. Take as many fresh juice stops as you can, because nothing beats fresh watermelon juice on a hot day. Across the street you can see one of my favorite colorful cemeteries with the most priceless view of the mountains and fruit and vegetable filled lush hills.

12. You can do the Valle de Elqui as a day trip, but what I really recommend is camping over night. This valley is famous for being clear 360 days out of the year, which is why there are quite a few international observatories tucked away into the mountains. Surrounded by the peaks of the Andes, at night in the pitch black with no light pollution you can spot satellites and planets with crystal clear clarity and the shooting stars just never seem to end. My friends and I just laid flat on the ground all bundled up in a circle and took it all in with complete silence.

13. If you’re fortunate enough to have locals for friends, see if you can get together an authentic Chilean asado (barbecue). Chileans are very easygoing and hospitable; it’s quite easy to make fast friends with whole families. Grill an assortment of chorizo and steak over an open flame while drinking maté and watching a beautiful sunset. And get ready to bundle up, because once the sun sets… its freezing! It warms up pretty quick in the morning and make sure to try and take a dip in the glacier melted river. There is no way water could possibly be cleaner.

Chile is as long as the United States is wide, making it so diverse, there is literally something for everyone! Every time I go back it feels like home, buildings change, streets get bigger but the vibe never changes. The bread is always hot and fresh, the fruit is always grown to perfection, the people are always welcoming. Two years ago I was able to bring my close friends and they all fell in love with the fourth region just like I did so many years ago. Two of my best friends even fell in love with each other on that trip, which makes my home town even more special.

Read more about Chile: