Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences

When you are heading to a new location you think about the famous sights you plan to see. But often your best memories are of the little things that no trip planning could have anticipated.

From February through November of 2019 we traveled throughout Latin America. These are ten of our most memorable travel experiences from those ten months (in no particular order).

1. Riding Scooters in the Galapagos Islands

Woman riding an electric scooter

I may look like a nerd, but I just don’t care. This was the best day we had in the Galapagos.

We rented scooters in town and rode them into the countryside to visit the El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve on Santa Cruz Island.

Galapagos tortoise with grass in his mouth

We ran into this adorable guy at the reserve.

Galapagos tortoise crossing the street

This fellow couldn’t be contained. We saw him crossing the road on our way back to town.

Horse standing in the road

We also saw this free-range horse just walking down the road.

Read more about our four weeks in the Galápagos Islands here.

2. Spending Three Days in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

We took the bus from the capital of San Jose to the Caribbean coast. When we arrived in Puerto Viejo our first thought was “where the heck are we?” This place looked kind of rough. The name translates into “old port”, so that should have been a clue.

It didn’t take us long to see the charm. By the afternoon we were in love. The beach is just yards away from a wooded hiking area where you can see wild howler monkeys and sloths.

A beachside restaurant

Many restaurants line the beach and embody the phrase “pura vida” (pure life).

Sloth hanging upside down

We enjoyed a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center. The name is misleading because they rescue and rehabilitate many species. We learned that many sloths are injured or killed when they chew through electric wires.

The sloth above, who lives at the center, was just hanging around in the open.

Puerto Viejo is the most laid back place I have ever been and I hope to visit it again someday.

3. Visiting Machu Picchu

This is the only tourist attraction to make my top ten. I am not a big fan of Pre-Colombian history, so I questioned whether it would be worth the hassle and cost to get there.

It definitely was. There is something magical about this place.

A view of Machu Picchu

It is not quick or easy to get to Machu Picchu. You have two choices, hike for about four days (definitely not for the couch potato) or make your way to the town of Cusco, Peru then take a train to Machu Picchu Town (or Aguas Calientes).

Linda resting after the Machu Picchu tourIf you chose to get there through Cusco you need to become acclimated to the altitude to avoid altitude sickness, which I was surprised to find out can be deadly. While Machu Picchu is only 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level, Cusco sits at 11,200 feet (3,400 m) above sea level.

The train ride to Machu Picchu Town from Cusco takes a little over three hours and passes through the Sacred Valley of the Incas where you will be dazzled by one breathtaking view after another.

4. Exploring in La Cumbrecita, Argentina

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware” Martin Buber

How true this quote so often proves to be. While in Cordoba, Argentina we decided to take a side trip to a German-inspired hamlet called La Cumbrecita.

A foggy backyard

The day started out foggy but turned out to be sunny and temperate.

Wet dog on the shore of a creek

We spent some time playing fetch with this sweetheart in the Rio del Medio.

Steve standing on a rock in the river

We loved spending time climbing (carefully) on the rocks in the river.

photo of a pond

The reward for hiking down a rocky trail.

We saw people every now and then but were often alone on the trails. It was so peaceful and picturesque. It reminded me of how we would spend hours in parks or on nature trails when we were young. Time spent in nature can make you feel like you don’t have a care in the world.

Find out more about La Cumbrecita and Cordoba in “One Month in Cordoba, Argentina”.

5. Amaru Biopark

Imagine a hiking trail, a zoo, and a conservation organization in one. That is Amaru Biopark.

This park is built on a hillside and houses animals who have been rescued but cannot be returned to the wild. Because of its location, you will get quite a workout as you make your way through the park.

You will see so many beautiful animals, including African lions, which really made me scratch my head.

Female African lion

I would have loved to hear these animal’s stories, but I didn’t see any programs like that when we were there.

Squirrel monkey

Squirrel monkeys roam free in the park.

 

A blue-headed parrot

The aviary lets you get up close to many beautiful birds.

If you go, don’t make the same mistake we did. Our first visit was in the afternoon. We were slowly working our way around and thoroughly enjoying the animals when we looked at the map and realized that in several hours we hadn’t even reached the halfway point.

We backtracked so we could get out of the park before dark and returned earlier on another day so we could enjoy all it had to offer.

Overview of Cuenca

You can get some amazing views of the city from the entrance to the park.

This is highly recommended if you visit Cuenca.

6. Visiting District 13 in Medellin

District 13 (Comuna 13 in Spanish) is a poor neighborhood in the foothills of the Andes that less than 20 years ago was the most dangerous neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Many people associate the violence in Medellin with Pablo Escobar’s drug empire, but urban militia like FARC were also causing extreme problems, especially in District 13.

In 2002 the government initiative called Operation Orion freed the district from the scourge.

While it is still poor, it is now a popular tourist stop due to an abundance of street art like this colorful lizard:

Colorful mural of a lizard

There are many small, tourist oriented businesses and young people form dance troupes to earn cash.

A dance troupe and tourists

A series of escalators carry people up the mountainside. At every step, you are greeted with smiles and warm hellos.

At first, Steve was a little apprehensive because of the area’s past reputation. He kept his camera in its case for a while. Then he slowly started taking pictures but would quickly put the camera away after each picture.

At one point I turned around to look for him and he was surrounded by several children and was sharing his pictures with some local children.

Steve and kids looking at his camera

Seeing the positive changes to this once forsaken neighborhood impacted me in a way that very few of our travel experiences have.

Be sure to check out our post “10 Reasons You Should Visit Medellin, Colombia”.

7. Sand Surfing in Huacachina

On our way to Machu Picchu we stopped at a tiny oasis town called Huacachina. It is basically a small lake surrounded by huge sand dunes.

There are two things to do in Huacachina; party and sand surf. Our party days are behind us, but we were excited to give sand surfing a try.

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

The lower dune where some people walk up and surf down.

Dune buggies on sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Dune buggies take people to the higher dunes.

One method is to ride a board that is similar to a snowboard down the dune. We novices chose the easier method, which is to lay on your stomach on a board and fly down the dune head first.

But before you can do any of that you need to get to the top of the dune on a twelve-person dune buggy. It is guaranteed to be an exciting ride.

Both Steve and I figured it would be relatively safe to sand surf since we were on sand. Unfortunately, Steve found what might have been the only rock in the dunes and got a six-inch cut on his arm.

8. Visiting Santa Cruz Cemetery Manga

This memory is not a typical travel memory. We love to explore cemeteries for the history and art. Early in our travels, we went to Montmartre Cemetery in Paris and it was so compelling that it ruined us for other cemeteries.

That doesn’t mean we’ve stopped visiting them, but we haven’t found another one that comes close to Montmartre.

So we approached this visit as something to do. What a shock. This cemetery is in bad repair and you can see below:

Cemetery crypt with black tarp

As we continued exploring we were shocked to see open crypts with either cloth bags or exposed bones. Perhaps the saddest and most bizarre sight was a tomb with a skeleton lying on top.

Tomb with skeleton on top

Even with the disrepair, there was beauty to be found.

Flowers on a tombstone

Ant Stories

Many years ago I read about a family with young children who visited the Grand Canyon. The mother was a little dismayed when they returned home and all the kids could talk about were the ants they had seen in the hotel parking lot.

Thinking about this I realized that it is sometimes the little things, things that you can’t anticipate and could happen anywhere, that stay foremost in our minds after a trip.

I have started to refer to these as “ant stories” and here are two of my favorites from 2019:

9. Come In and See My Cat

One day Steve and I went to the neighborhood of Getsemani in Cartegena, Colombia. This neighborhood was once plagued with drugs, prostitution, and violence. It is now a safe, authentic neighborhood that attracts many tourists, often looking for street art.

Mural of two colombian women in traditional dress

Mural of a woman’s face

While I was taking these pictures a local man heard Steve admiring a cat outside his door, and invited him in to meet his cat (below).

Cat sitting on a chair

10. Maybe Later

In several touristy areas, we have been annoyed by people who stand in front of restaurants and try to get you to go inside. They are referred to as bringers.

Even when you say “no, gracias” or indicate that you just ate they won’t leave you alone.

It took a while but we finally discovered the magic words that make them happy and gives us some peace.

While walking through Machu Picchu Town we were being bothered as usual. When we said no to one bringer he said: “maybe later”.  We replied, “maybe later”. He broke into a huge smile.

We looked at each other with glee. We had found the magic words. We would never be driven crazy by bringers again!

That’s Not All Folks!

I hope you enjoyed this look back at our ten months in Latin America. These memories and many others have enriched our lives beyond our expectations.

While the memories are priceless, they did come at a cost. You can find out what we spent in “Our 2019 Latin America Travel Costs”.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image: llama at Machu Picchu

 

 

 

Our 2019 Latin America Travel Costs

With our second year of full-time travel under our belts, it is time for a recap. This post details our Latin America travel costs from February through November of 2019.

When Steve and I first toyed with the idea of traveling the world full-time I was very grateful to Never Ending Voyage and A Little Adrift along with other bloggers who generously shared their travel costs on their blogs.  It is my hope that seeing how affordable and attainable full-time travel can be will inspire you.

Why We Picked Latin America

After returning to Florida in December 2018 we assumed we would spend 2019 continuing to explore various cities in Europe. Then we watched the stock market take a nosedive during the month of December to finish the worst year in ten years.

Knowing that many parts of Europe and the U.K. can be expensive I checked out Price of Travel for an alternative. You can see their list of 137 cities ranked by how costly they are to visit.

The first half is dominated by cities in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The bottom half contains cities primarily in Western Europe, the U.K., Australia, and the U.S. and Canada.

We decided that Latin America would be a fiscally responsible choice for 2019.

Since our travel philosophy is to go with the flow (hence the name Wind and Whim) we did not detail the locations or related costs. We knew we would start in San Juan, Costa Rica then visit Panama City. After that, it was anyone’s guess.

The Budget

We traveled internationally for eight months (243 days) in 2018 and spent $38,900. This averaged to $160 per day. You can read the details in this article.

We decided on a budget of $45,600 for 2019. This came out to $148 per day for the 309 days we were traveling.

We have been scheduling our stops in four-week intervals for the most part. Our basic four-week budget breaks down like this:

Four Week Basic Budget
ItemBudget
Lodging$1,500
Food$1,300
Transportation
& Activites
$1,000
Total$3,800

In addition, we have annual costs like evacuation insurance, vaccinations, and international drivers licenses. You can see the total budget in the next table.

So What Did 10 Months Cost?

Here are the cities we visited with the actual and budgeted costs:

LocationActual CostBudgetOver (Under)
San Jose,
Costa Rica
$4,200$3,500$700
Panama City,
Panama
$2,900$3,500($600)
Cartagena,
Colombia
$3,700$3,800($100)
Galapagos Is.,
Ecuador
$5,500$5,000$500
Quito,
Ecuador
$2,400$3,100($700)
Cuenca,
Ecuador
$2,800$3,800($1,000)
Various Cities,
Peru
$6,100$3,800$2,300
Buenos Aires,
Argentina
$7,200$7,700($500)
Cordoba,
Argentina
$3,100$3,800($700)
Medellin,
Colombia
$4,000$3,800$200
Flight back to U.S.
$100$400($300)
General
Expenses
$2,900$3,400($500)
Totals$44,900$45,600($700)

As you can see we came in $700 under budget at $44,900. This is just over $145 per day.

General Expenses are items that cover the year or aren’t related to a specific place. This includes things like:
Evacuation insurance from MedJet  $1,100
Vaccinations $600
Supplies $500
Virtual mailbox subscription $200

Here is a breakdown of our costs by category:

CategoryCost
Lodging
$15,400
Food$13,600
Transportation$8,800
Activities$3,400
Supplies$500
Medical$2,200
Office Related$200
Telephone$500
Other$300
Total$44,900


We not only spent less per day than in 2018, but we stayed in budget!

A few notes about this analysis:

* All costs are in U.S. dollars.
* All costs are for two people.
* It only includes expenses directly related to travel.

The following items are not included:
* Stateside medical insurance
* Routine medications and visits to doctors
* Base cost of our AT&T cell phone plan
* Storage of our possessions in the U.S.

Our style of travel was higher than backpacker level and definitely under luxury level. I would classify it as three-star.

Our lodgings were clean and comfortable, often stylish, and almost always had a kitchen and a separate bedroom. Most of them had a clothes washer. Our meals were either cooked at home or eaten in mid-level restaurants.

A modern living room opened to a balcony
Our fantastic apartment in Medellin had two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, and a huge balcony. It was only $1,350 for four weeks.
Cost By Location
LocationTotal CostDaysCost per Day
San Jose,
Costa Rica
$4,20028
$150


Panama City,
Panama
$2,900

28$104
Cartagena,
Colombia
$3,70028$132
Galapagos
Islands,
Ecuador
$5,50028$196
Quito,
Ecuador
$2,40028$86
Cuenca,
Ecuador
$2,80027$104
Peru Tour$6,10029$210
Buenos Aires,
Argentina
$7,20056$129
Cordoba,
Argentina
$3,10028$111
Medellin,
Colombia
$4,00028$143
Flight to U.S.*$100
1$100

Subtotals
$42,000309$136
General
Expenses

$2,900309$9
Totals$44,900
309$145

* The flight back to the U.S. was inexpensive because we used points from our Chase credit card. The full cost was $600 including baggage costs.

Notes On Budget Variances

We were over budget in:

San Juan, Costa Rica – because of two side trips We took two side trips to beaches while we were San Juan. One was to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Coast and the other to Jaco on the Pacific Coast. We enjoyed the change of pace at both of them. The total cost for 6 days was $1,600 or $267 per day.

A sloth with a baby hanging from a branch
Mama and baby sloth hanging out at our hotel in Puerto Viejo.
Man and woman throwing shaka sign
With my instructor in Puerto Viejo for my very first surf lesson.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador – because of a side trip While visiting the islands we spent most of our time in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. In order to see more of the famed wildlife, we spent a few days in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island.

The water taxi trip to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno was a bit of a nightmare. The captain was trying to avoid an approaching storm. In spite of his best efforts about half of the 40 people on the boat got seasick. Fortunately, the trip back to Santa Cruz Island was much smoother. Even so, the experience made us decide not to visit any more islands.

In spite of the rocky boat ride, we enjoyed our three days in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno which included two hikes to secluded beaches and a few cool experiences in town.

A woman and a sea lion on a beach
A morning hike led us to La Loberia where it was just us and the sea lions.

These 3 days cost $688 or $229 per day

It is well known that visiting the Galápagos Islands is expensive so we budgeted extra for it. We spent four weeks there and feel that it was far too long. You can read about our experiences in Is A Land-Based Galapagos Trip Right or You?

Peru Tour – because of  a bus tour, a visit to Machu Picchu, and the flight from Cuenca to Lima

Our four weeks in Peru cost $6,100, $600 more than our four weeks in the Galapagos. The reason for this was that we started in Lima, spent 19 days visiting various towns in Peru, and went to Machu Picchu.

At $900, our flight from Cuenca to Lima was the most expensive we have had since we started traveling. From there we took a Peru Hop tour bus which went from Lima to Cusco, a distance of 685 miles or 1,100 km.

The Peru Hop tour lets you chose among several routes and spend as little or as much time as you want in each city. We spent 18 days in a total of 5 cities before heading to Machu Picchu.

The tour took us to several towns we would never have visited on our own including Paracas and Huacachina, an oasis town that introduced us to dune surfing.

A small lake surrounded by palm trees and sand dunes
We had never seen anything like the oasis town of Huacachina, Peru.

Even though we ended up spending sixteen hours in a decrepit little town in Peru because of a protest I would recommend Peru Hop. You can read about our experience with the protest, which included using the worst restroom we have ever seen in Stranded on the Road in Peru.

Peru Hop and Machu Picchu Costs
ItemCost
Flight to Lima$900
Peru Hop bus$400
Train to Machu
Picchu Town
$300
Machu Picchu tour$300
Accommodations
$1,400
Food$1,000
Total$4,300

The remaining time in Peru was spent in Lima and averaged $160 per day.

We were under budget in:

Panama City, Panama – because of a great deal on lodging  The cost was lower here because we got a great deal on an apartment in a new complex. We paid only $700 for four weeks in a one-bedroom apartment with a washer and dryer in a golf community.

The downside was that it was about 15 minutes from the city and we had to take a taxi everywhere even the grocery store.

Sunrise over a golf course
Sunrise over Panama City and the Panama Canal as seen from our balcony.

Quito, Ecuador – because of illness Both Steve and I felt a little ill not long after we arrived in Quito. At first, we thought it was altitude sickness, but when it lingered for more than a week we determined it was intestinal. I love being under budget, but not for this reason.

Cuenca, Ecuador -because of an inexpensive apartment, low transportation costs, and low activity costs

Since we went to Cuenca from Ecuador the flight was inexpensive ($100). From what we saw, flights within a country were inexpensive, while flights between countries were not.

We found the town to be very walkable. Tours, taxis, and food were all inexpensive. Cuenca is a popular place for U.S. citizens to retire, partly because the cost of living is low.

Buenos Aires – a two-month stay meant lower transportation costs

Both lodging and food were considerably less expensive than you might expect in a city that is nicknamed the Paris of South America. There wasn’t anything in Buenos Aires that we considered expensive.

Our time in Buenos Aires we took a side trip to Iguazu Falls. At $400 per day, this was our most expensive side trip because it involved flying from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu. Even so, it was well worth it.

Crowds of people on a boardwalk at Iguazu Falls, Brazil
Our side trip to Iguazu Falls was definitely worth it.

Cordoba, Argentina – because of low food, transportation, and activity costs

The first reason our expenses were low in Cordoba was that we ate most of our dinners at home because almost all the restaurants closed from late afternoon until 8:00 or 9:00 pm. The second reason is that we went to Cordoba from Buenos Aires so the cost to fly was low. And the third reason was that our activity costs were low because quite frankly there wasn’t a lot to do in Cordoba.

While in Cordoba we took a five-day side trip to the small towns of La Cumbrecita and Villa General Belgrano. The daily cost was only $130 and included 3 days at a spa.

Was It Worth It?

Absolutely!

Latin America was not at the top of our list before December 2018, and in the beginning, we didn’t love it. But we stuck with it and fell in love with several places including Buenos Aires and Medellin.

Machu Picchu was an experience of a lifetime and worth the effort and expense to get there. It is truly a magical place.

Even the places we didn’t love so much had many positives and I am glad to have experienced them.

We came home with many happy memories and a few scary ones. Best of all, we met so many friendly and inspiring people along the way.

Further Reading

You can see what we spent during our first 8 months of full-time travel in Europe in 2018 in The Bottom Line: Our 2018 Full-Time Travel Costs.

Also check out Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences.

Happy traveling,
Linda

 

Featured image by Jason Leung on Unsplash