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Street art of Valparaiso

We arrived in this famous port city after a 1.5 hour bus ride from Santiago. It is so close, yet a world away from the busy capital. We had booked three night’s accommodation at a little place (with lots of animals, including a friendly cat we christened Alegrita) in Cerro Allegre which, along with Cerro Concepción, are the most popular neighbourhoods to stay in Valparaíso. Why these two hills out of the 45 that make up the hillsides of the city? For their breathtaking views, the brightly coloured houses, – all different colours – the street art on the sides of both houses and walls, and the large number of excellent restaurants, cafés and bars.

Our time was largely spent walking the crooked streets looking at the colours, architecture and street art. From many vantage points we had panoramic views of the harbour, which was home to an incredibly important port during the Californian gold rush until the Panama Canal opened, negating the need to stop at Valparaíso and leading to the city’s decline. Now it isn’t even the most important port in Chile (that honour goes to a port two hours north of Valparaíso), but since UNESCO listed the historic centre of Valparaíso as a World Heritage Site in 2003 tourists have been arriving in great numbers.


Colourful houses in the hills


One of many funiculars

Walking around was a lot of fun and fortunately the city has numerous funiculars that allowed us to walk down the hills and get back up using the lift, with the oldest dating back to 1883! We went on a walking tour that took us to Plaza Sotomayor, where the impressive Armada building that houses the Navy’s Headquarters, the Héroes de Iquique monument and other historic buildings are located. Among the historic buildings is a fire station, one of 16 that operate in Valparaíso because the narrow, hilly streets are so fire prone! We then went down to the harbour, took a trolley bus through the ‘Plan de Valparaíso’ (the flat area of reclaimed sea at the bottom of the hills) and through the hills of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción.

Pablo Neruda lived in Valparaíso and one of his three houses is found on Cerro Bellavista, which is where we headed to one morning. We walked around Cerro Bellavista where there are many abstract murals in a number of streets that collectively make up the Museo a Cielo Abierto.


Plaza Sotomayor


Armada building


Sarah in front of some street art

We also visited Cerro Cordillera for the views from the Museo del Mar Lord Thomas Cochrane (named after the British Commander of the Chilean Navy during Chile’s War of Independence) from which we had great views of Plaza Sotomayor, the port and the hillsides. From there we walked down to the port, taking an inexpensive boat for a trip around the harbour. This was a really enjoyable half hour journey as we had beautiful views of the 45 hills of Valparaíso, could glimpse the neighbouring town of Viña del Mar, saw dozens of sea lions, black cormorants and other birds, as well as some of the Navy ships docked at the port. From the water we also spotted the controversial Congress building, which was moved to Valparaíso by General Pinochet, with its current location enshrined in the constitution.


Time for a boat ride!


View of Valparaiso from the boat ride


One of the port’s many sea lions

We had a lovely last dinner in Valparaíso at Casa Luisa and a final stroll through Cerro Alegre. The next morning we took a bus 1.5 hours to Isla Negra, the third and most impressive home of Pablo Neruda. The poet is buried here alongside his last wife as per his wishes.

We took a bus from La Isla Negra back to Santiago, where we took our flight back to Europe. This was the final stop in our 10 month Latin American adventure and it was wonderful to spend it in the colourful streets of Valparaíso and in the eccentric homes of Pablo Neruda. We are ready to be back in Belgium and have had an amazing time travelling through Central and South America. More adventures no doubt await in Europe!


Farewell Chile!


Group of sea lions


Beautiful street art in Valparaiso

Santiago de Chile


Santiago de Chile

We crossed into Chile from Mendoza, Argentina. We were lucky that we were able to cross the border at all, because during autumn/winter the weather in the Andes changes frequently and at short notice – one day the road between Mendoza and Santiago de Chile is open, another day it is shut. Indeed the day we crossed two busses behind us were prevented from passing due to weather! We were very lucky to get through! On top of that the views of the Andes during the bus ride were incredible. The snow-capped mountains, the windy roads, the clear skies, it was the scenery we had missed in Mendoza!


View crossing from Argentina to Chile through the Andes


The windy road with lots of traffic!

We were met at the bus stop in Santiago by Fran, a friend Duncan worked with in Australia. She generously allowed us to stay at her apartment in Ñuñoa: a lovely, safe part of the capital that has plenty of restaurants, artisanal beer halls and wine bars. We made a habit of frequenting HBH for beer and Vinocracia for some excellent and unique wines.

Our first foray into town saw us on the Plaza de Armas, the central square of the capital. This was not the most impressive square we have seen on our trip but we still enjoyed it. The square contains quite a mix of old colonial buildings, – reflecting the grandour of the capital – glass skyscrapers, and run down and abandoned buildings; it was odd seeing them side by side. We paid a visit to the Metropolitan Cathedral and went up the clock tower in the Museo Histórico Nacional to get a better view of the square covered in lovely trees.


Plaza de Armas and the cathedral


Iglesia La Merced

There are many buildings of note in the blocks surrounding the Plaza de Armas. We visited Iglesia La Merced with its red walls and beautiful interior.

We took a stroll through Parque Forestal that follows Río Mapocho to Plaza Italia and then to Barrio Bellavista. Barrio Bellavista is an area full of restaurants, bars, street art and artists. We headed to Patio Bellavista and saw some local artists decorating wine barrels as part of a public arts exhibition before continuing to one of the absolute highlights of Santiago for us: Pablo Neruda’s Santiago house.


La Chascona

La Chascona is the house Pablo Neruda built for his mistress and third and final wife, Matilde Urrutia. The preserved building and the excellent audio guide helped give us a sense of Pablo Neruda the man, and we think we would have been firm friends had we lived at the same time! A man who loved politics – he was an ambassador, represented northern Chile in Congress, was a firm supporter of President Salvador Allende – as well as cartography, French literature and hosting parties and dinners. We learned a lot of his and his wife’s importance in Chilean history. When the military dictatorship took over Chile, La Chascona was flooded by military and vandalized. Pablo Neruda died only eleven days after the military coup took place. His funeral was the first open act of defiance against the new regime and his wife became an outspoken critic of Pinochet and a strong and vocal advocate for democracy.

The house also showcases the many artefacts the poet accumulated in his lifetime, as well as his library and his Nobel Prize, which he won in 1971. Our visit to this house was a without a doubt the highlight of our time in Santiago de Chile.


Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos

Another highlight was a visit to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, the Memory and Human Rights Museum that was created to share the stories of life under General Pinochet, who ruled as military dictator from 1973 to 1990. This was a spine tingling visit and catalogued the day of the takeover, the death of President Allende who was deposed, the decades of torture, kidnappings and disappearances, and the push to end the dictatorship through the ballot box. Hearing the first-hand accounts and seeing the video footage was powerful and haunting at the same time.


Palacio de la Moneda


University building near la Moneda

From this museum we walked through several barrios of Santiago to the Palacio de la Moneda, the Presidential palace where President Salvador Allende committed suicide as the military took the building, after launching ground and air attacks on the building all day. The current President must have been inside when we were there, as we could not approach La Moneda, so instead we walked around admiring the buildings in the centre of the city.


Artists hone their skills on wine barrels, how appropriate


The view from Cerro Santa Lucia with the Andes in the background

On a clear day we went up to a lookout point for views of the city. Cerro Santa Lucía is in the heart of the city and has a tower on top of the hill, providing beautiful views of Santiago and the Andes, with its several snow-capped peaks. There was also a nice spot at Plaza Pedro de Valdivia at the top, named after the first Governor and one of the founders of Santiago. Seeing the mountains behind the capital was a fitting way to end our lovely time in the Chilean capital.

We were flying back to Europe from Santiago, but we had enough time to spend a few days on the coast in Valparaiso, which will be the subject of our last blog from our honeymoon adventures!


Sarah and street art near La Chascona



Malbec is the iconic grape of Mendoza

Mendoza – an oenophile paradise where the wine flows as freely as the goodwill of the city’s citizens. People in Mendoza are very friendly; this may have something to do with being in such close proximity to some of the best wine in South America. We quickly fell in love with the relaxed wine capital of Argentina and had some incredible wine and food while we were there.

We booked a Bed and Breakfast called Alojarse en Mendoza and stayed in absolute luxury while in Mendoza! Despite the terrible weather – heavy clouds and mist, occasional rain – we found the city perfectly charming in autumn. Every street is covered with trees and their thick foliage had turned shades of orange, brown and red for autumn, providing beautiful scenery throughout the city. We visited the central square, Plaza Independencia, and the four surrounding squares, called Plaza España, Plaza Italia, Plaza San Martín, and Plaza Chile. The latter and the former were our favourites, with some nice tile arrangements, murals and statues complementing the tall trees in the plazas.


Sarah enjoying a glass of Mendoza wine


A grape from the vineyard

We quickly learnt the popular expression in Mendoza: Si no bebes vino en Mendoza, porque vino? (This roughly translates to: If you don’t drink wine in Mendoza, why did you come here?) Accordingly, we set about to book some wine tours soon after arriving in the city. On the advice of the owners of our Bed and Breakfast, we booked two tours with Trout and Wine tours, heading one day to the Valle de Uco and the second day to the Luján de Cuyo . The company provided an excellent experience that gave us access to premium tastings that are not open to the general public, in exquisite settings in cellars and rooms reserved for the more expensive tours. And while these tours were not cheap, we believe that they were well worth the money!


Wine wine wine…

Valle de Uco is one of the most famous wine regions in Mendoza. It is also the youngest. We visited three wineries in Valle de Uco: Atamisque; Sophenia; and Andeluna; at the latter we also had an exquisite lunch. At all of them we received impressive tours that covered the origin of the winery and its owners, the terrain, the picking and fermentation process, and their use of French and American oak barrels.

We started at Bodega Atamisque, run by a Frenchman. The winery is surrounded by stunning scenery, but due to weather we could only just see the mountain peaks through the cloud. It was the best view we would have of the Andes from Mendoza and the wineries during our entire stay there. It was also a promising start to the tour as we had delicious wine and cheese in a tasting room overlooking a room filled with barrels of wine.


Tasting room at Bodega Sophenia

We continued to Bodega Sophenia, and had an extravagant six course lunch at Bodega Andeluna in their restaurant overlooking the vineyard. It was a very picturesque setting and the wines were perfectly paired with the food.

The next wine region we explored was Luján de Cuyo, one of the oldest wine areas of Mendoza. We visited four wineries (as this region is closer to the city of Mendoza): Dominio del Plata, Renacer, Casarena for lunch, and finally Benegas.


We walked past many barrels of wine


And plenty of bottles to try!

Bodega Dominio del Plata was opened by Susana Balbo, the first female enologist in Argentina and one of the world’s most famous wine makers, who became known as the ‘Queen of Torrontés’. Torrontés is a white wine grape varietal found in Argentina, which we tasted at this bodega; it was really high quality. We enjoyed this type of wine along with the bodega’s malbecs and other grapes varietals.

The other wineries were equally stunning and beautiful. We finished at Bodega Benegas, an old vineyard where we tasted their wines in a cellar whose walls displayed the winery’s 19th Century Patagonian poncho collection.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Mendoza, largely thanks to the exquisite food and wine we had here. Next we moved on to the next and final country of our trip: Chile.


Mendoza la mas Bella!!


Dogs running through the vineyard

Rosario and Córdoba


Sarah at the National Flag Monument, Rosario

Four hours inland from Buenos Aires is the smaller version of the capital, Rosario. We had only one full day in this vibrant student city: an overcast Sunday, so probably not the most representative of the town in general, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.


Parque San Martin, Rosario

Famous for being the birthplace of both the country’s flag and Che Guevara (the events are unrelated), we set out to see the sites related to both events. Our first stop was at Parque San Martín; every city has to have one! This seems to be the city’s dog Mecca as we saw many dog owners come here unleash the hounds and watch them play energetically with each other. There were also plenty of beautiful buildings around the square and on the pedestrian street that leads from Parque San Martín to the National Flag Monument.

On the way there we made a quick detour to see the building in which Che Guevara was born. The building is an impressive apartment block, but besides that it was an unremarkable site (we have noticed on our travels that the birthplaces of famous people are often a tad underwhelming).


The apartment building where Che Guevara was born

Eventually we arrived at Plaza 25 de Mayo and saw the Monumento Nacional de la Bandera, the National Flag Monument, and other important buildings in Rosario, including Basílica Catedral de Nuestra Señora del Rosario. The National Flag Monument sits near the Río Paraná – which combines with Río Uruguay becoming Río de la Plata – and was constructed in 1957.

Argentina’s flag was created by General Manuel Belgrano during the Wars of Independence and was first raised in Rosario on 27 February 1812. We went up to the balconies of the monument to admire the surrounding views, then went back down to continue our stroll. We walked along the river walkway and found somewhere to have lunch, then kept walking around, down Boulevard Oroño which was blocked off for riders, roller skaters and people walking.

We found Rosario to be quite pretty, but not nearly as nice as Buenos Aires. Next we took a bus a couple of hours west to Córdoba, Argentina’s second largest city. We booked a dilapidated hotel that we weren’t pleased with at all, which was good motivation to keep us outdoors while we were in Córdoba!

Our first day was spent walking around the city. We started with the central square, Plaza San Martín (who else!), surrounded by a few colonial buildings including the impressive Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, known as Córdoba Cathedral. Within a few block radius of the city centre we discovered some lovely churches, university buildings, pedestrian shopping malls and pathways.


Cordoba Cathedral

The cathedral is an important site in Córdoba, being the oldest church in Argentina still in use, and has a beautiful interior, especially the ceiling. It also contains the remains of General José María Paz who was prominent in the Wars of Independence and born in Córdoba; his tomb is located just outside the entrance. Behind the cathedral is a monument dedicated to the man who founded the city in 1573, Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, the centre piece of a leafy square where people of all ages congregate to play chess.


Statue of Jeronimo Luis de Cabrera

In between the cathedral and the Cabildo (town hall) is the Museo de la Memoria. This is a haunting museum dedicated to the hundreds of people who were murdered or disappeared during the military dictatorship. The building the museum is located in is the former police building used for the torture of suspected communists or political dissidents. One room has photos of the victims; another photos of the pregnant women who were taken and their stories. The cells and the rooms used for torture are also on display. It was a very worthwhile museum to visit and probably our highlight in Córdoba.


Cuckoo clock, Villa Carlos Paz

We also took a quick day trip to Villa Carlos Paz, a picturesque village on San Roque Lake. Unfortunately it was raining pretty hard when we were there so we quickly walked to the giant cuckoo clock, the icon of the town that was built by German engineers living in Villa Carlos Paz and inaugurated in 1958, went to see the lake, and headed back to Córdoba. This town is meant to be stunning in the sun, but the weather ruined it for us so we will have to see it again in better conditions!

No doubt the weather impacted our appreciation for Rosario and Córdoba, but the towns nonetheless have beautiful buildings and important histories. Next we go to a city where even the worst weather won’t diminish our enjoyment: Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina and our last stop in the country before heading to Chile.


Monument in Cordoba for the Falklands/Malvinas War


Iglesia de San Francisco, Cordoba

Iguazu Falls

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Iguazu Falls

Upon seeing Iguazu Falls, Eleanor Roosevelt famously remarked “Poor Niagara!” While we haven’t seen Niagara Falls yet, we were very impressed with the chain of waterfalls that covers part of Argentina and Brazil.

We booked cheap accommodation near the bus stop in Puerto Iguazú in the province of Misiones and opted to fly from Buenos Aires. We could have taken the bus, but the ride is over twenty hours one way and we didn’t want to lose so much time (and to spend that time on a bus…) so we forked out the money to fly.

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Where the three borders meet

Iguazu Falls-48Puerto Iguazú doesn’t boast any notable buildings or sights, except for a viewpoint from where you can see the borders of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina intersect. This point is located where the Iguazu River joins the Paraná River, which flows through Argentina before joining with the Uruguay River to become Río de la Plata, finishing in Buenos Aires.

But luckily we were not there to visit the town, but to visit the falls. Following the advice of the owner of our hostel, we visited the Argentinian side first and the next day the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls.

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The Devil’s Throat

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A lady gives a monkey an ill-advised treat, despite warnings to not feed the animals

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A curious coati

A short bus ride took us from the terminal to the entrance of the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls. There are some 275 waterfalls that make up these famous falls. We took the train to the day’s first destination, Devil’s Throat, a massive waterfall through which the border between Argentina and Brazil passes. Along the pathway to the Devil’s Throat we passed several birds and hundreds of colourful butterflies. This was the first waterfall we saw and it was absolutely awe‑inspiring; the Devil’s Throat is 82 metres high, 150 metres wide, 700 metres long and forms a U‑shape. At the train station near this fall we saw dozens of coatis, and we would see hundreds more during our time around the waterfalls. We also spotted about five tufted capuchin monkeys swinging through the branches, very curious about us humans as they associate us with food!

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The view from the Upper Trail

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Plush-crested jay

We chose to walk the Upper Trail before doing the Lower Trail, again following our host’s advice.  Along the Upper Trail we spotted a beautiful plush‑crested jay, also known as an urraca commún. We saw waterfall after waterfall, had panoramic vistas from many points along the trail and thoroughly enjoyed this easy walk with the incredible views of the waterfalls.

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Sarah on the Lower Trail

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San Martin Island, seen from the Lower Trail

After a couple of hours wandering the trail we headed through the Lower Trail down to the river. From here we purchased tickets to go on boat ride along the Argentine side of the river to the base of several waterfalls. We put on our ponchos, zipped our belongings into waterproof bags and hopped in the boat. The views from the water were amazing, but most adrenaline pumping was going under the giant San Martin waterfall! You were able to sense the enormous power of the cascading water by going underneath the outer part, and we all liked it so much they took us back in once more!

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View of the waterfalls from San Martin Island

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Sarah on San Martin Island

After that experience, we headed over to San Martin Island, which is not accessible all year round. When the water is high – the largest flow occurs in October – it is too dangerous to make the short trip across. But when the water is low – the smallest flow occurs in April, the month we were there – the crossing is easy. San Martin Island provided the best views of the waterfalls from the Argentinian side and we were very glad we could hop across to see it!

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Coati in front of the waterfalls

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Waterfalls from the Brazilian side

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The falls from the Brazilian side are amazing

The next day we headed to the bus stop, this time getting tickets to the Brazilian side of the waterfalls. This is a much shorter route (only 1.2 kilometres) but the views are more panoramic than the ones on the Argentinian side. We cleared immigration on the Argentinian side and the bus driver’s assistant took our passports to the Brazilian side for us and after the border crossing formalities we headed to the entrance of the falls, where we purchased our tickets and took a bus to the falls.

Coatis once again greeted us upon arrival, oblivious to the views behind them. We walked down the pathway and marveled at the sights before us, rainbows appeared at each turn above the water and we were lucky to have a much clearer sky than the previous day for these views.

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Rainbows greeted us at every turn

The Iguazu Falls are simply amazing and we were very lucky with the weather. The views are marked on our retina and we are very glad we made the detour to visit these waterfalls. We took a plane back to Buenos Aires, keen to continue exploring Argentina.

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Waterfalls from the boat

Our week (and a bit) in Buenos Aires

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Buenos Aire’s Congress building

As soon as we arrived in Buenos Aires we understood why the city is often nicknamed “the Paris of South America”. The capital of Argentina – and Latin America’s third largest city – was everything we had hoped for and more. The city has a European atmosphere, helped no doubt by the architecture, the cold weather while we were there and a love of wine and cosy cafes.

We booked a small room in San Telmo, city neighbourhood close to the city centre, other popular barrios and the metro. Walking around we quickly realised how easy the city is to navigate: the streets are in a grid, with the names only changing from north to south when they cross the avenue connecting the Plaza de Mayo with the Plaza del Congreso; each block has one hundred street numbers, which makes finding your way very easy; and the names of the streets are named after cities, countries or historical figures. Clearly Buenos Aires wants its citizens to be well versed in history and geography!

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The Thinker, Plaza Mariano Moreno

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The beautiful Congress building

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Plaza del Congreso

Every day, we spent hours walking around the streets of this large and beautiful city. After a couple of days we decided to go on a free walking tour, which allowed us to revisit a number of sites and get some background history. Our first stop on the tour was Plaza del Congreso, one of our favourite parts of the city due to the elegance of the Congress building – Palacio del Congreso de la Nación Argentina – and the plazas in front of it. Buenos Aires’ Congress building looks very similar to the US Capitol building in Washington D.C. In front of the Congress building are three plazas: Plaza del Congreso, with the beautiful Monumento de los dos Congresos (Monument of the Two Congresses) which includes a statue of horses that is reminiscent of the Monument aux Girondins in Bordeaux; Plaza Mariano Moreno named after an important figure of the 1810 May Revolution, which includes a statue of Rodin’s The Thinker; and Plaza Lorea.

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Don Quixote statue with Evita Peron on the side of a building in the background

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Palacio Barolo

Next we walked towards the centre, where we stopped at Palacio Barolo, a building inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, which was meant to become the final resting place of Dante’s ashes. Our next stop was Café Tortoni, a famous café which was named one of the ten most beautiful cafes in the world; we had already visited the café for a coffee the previous day and would return another night to watch a tango show. We also walked along Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the widest avenues in the world, where you can see a well-known 67m obelisk, a statue of Don Quixote donated by the Queen of Spain, and a building with the face of Evita Perón on two sides.


Tango at Cafe Tortoni

We then arrived at Plaza de Mayo, the centre of the city and home to some gorgeous buildings. On our walking tour we learned about the Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo, a group of grandmothers whose goal it is to find children who were kidnapped or born in detention during the Argentine military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. These children were often adopted out to allies of the dictatorship and would not even know that they had been adopted. The grandmothers raise awareness on the issues and through DNA testing have been able to identify at least 120 of these “stolen children”.

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Sarah in front of La Casa Rosada

The two most impressive buildings surrounding Plaza de Mayo are La Casa Rosada and the Metropolitan Cathedral. La Casa Rosada – the Pink House – is where the office of the President is located and has a statue of José de San Martin in front of it. The Metropolitan Cathedral has a mix of architectural styles, the most prominent being the 19th Century columned façade. The 12 columns represent the Apostles, and an eternal flame outside honours José de San Martin. The cathedral is beautiful on the inside and contains the remains of General San Martin, the liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru in the Wars of Independence. His mausoleum inside the cathedral is really impressive and there is a constant guard protecting his remains. We were lucky to be there when the changing of the guard ceremony took place and were amazed that his remains are so well protected inside a cathedral.

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Buenos Aires’ Metropolitan Cathedral

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Changing of the guard for San Martin’s mausoleum


Protest in Plaza de Mayo

The city centre of Buenos Aires also provided some interesting experiences. Being the city of perpetual protest, we were not surprised to see protests almost every day during our time in the capital. We ignored the many foreign exchange peddlers in Calle Florida – a shopping street – who are known for slipping in fake notes when exchanging money. The newly elected government allowed the currency to float freely, negating the need to use these dodgy guys as there is now barely any difference between the official and black market rates.

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El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore

During our stay in Buenos Aires, we visited a new barrio almost every day. Of course we checked out our own barrio of San Telmo, which boasts a large market that takes over several streets on Sundays, squares with tango dancers and lots of quaint cafes and restaurants, which we frequented with enthusiasm. We quickly found our local café, Café La Poesía, where we spent a lot of time reading throughout our stay. And it was clear that we were not the only ones in the city who love reading; never have we seen so many book stores as in Buenos Aires! Every block has at least one and some of them, including El Ateneo Grand Splendid which we visited on our first day, are in stunning buildings such as disused theatres. San Telmo is also home to the Iglesia de San Pedro Telmo, where we witnessed an animal blessing one Friday night; the parishioners brought their pets (mainly dogs) to the church and each one was blessed separately by the priest. Definitely one of the strangest things we did in Buenos Aires…


Street art in San Telmo


Guard protecting San Martin’s sword at the Museo Historico Nacional

From San Telmo we walked to many different districts, including La Boca: a district famous for being the barrio where tango originated. On the way to La Boca we passed by La Bombonera, the famous football stadium home to the Boca Juniors, and Parque Lezama. Parque Lezama is home to a monument for Pedro de Mendoza, a Spanish conquistador and the founder of Buenos Aires. In this park we also visited to the Museo Histórico Nacional (the National History Museum), which explains the Argentine War of Independence and showcases artefacts from the main protagonists, including General San Martin’s sword, which also has a soldier from the Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers protecting it. This prestigious regiment was created by General San Martin and acts in ceremonial functions and as the presidential guards. Once again we witnessed the changing of the guard ceremony for something associated with José de San Martin.

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The Pope overlooking La Boca

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Colourful buildings of La Boca

Eventually we made it to La Boca. The colourful buildings draw tourists by the hundreds and an equal number of people posing as tango dancers and selling photos and other vendors catering towards tourists. The latter were quite insistent and a bit annoying, but there is no denying the beauty of the buildings. Some of the balconies boast papier-mâché figures of famous people, including the current Pope, who is from Argentina. Although it is worth a short visit, the vendors and posers and tourist shops made La Boca feel very fake in our opinion.

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Evita Peron’s tomb

Buenos Aires has a really useful subway system, which we used to get to the Retiro and Recoleta neighbourhoods. At Retiro we saw the monuments at Plaza San Martin, including the Torre Monumental and the monument to the soldiers who died during the Falkland War (known in Spanish as the Guerra del Atlántico Sur) over the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas. From Retiro we walked to Recoleta, famous for the cemetery that houses the remains of the most famous and richest Argentinians. Here we saw the tombs and mausoleums of Evita Perón, Admiral Guillermo Brown (the Irish-born Admiral who created Argentina’s navy), and many Presidents and Generals from the Wars of Independence. It was a really interesting site, especially as some of the stories of the people and their deaths are fascinating.

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Recoleta Cemetery

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Tomb in Recoleta Cemetery

There are a number of art galleries in Buenos Aires and we visited two in Recoleta: MALBA (Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires) and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. MALBA was quite small and had more contemporary works, but we enjoyed their permanent collections and the works by Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera, and the Argentine artist Antonio Berni. More to our taste was the large collection in the Bellas Artes gallery, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It not only had many more Argentinian artists, whose work we were not familiar with, but it also featured many European artists whose paintings we enjoy. It was definitely one of the highlights of our time in the capital.

As we were eager to soak up the culture of Buenos Aires, we decided to see what was on at Teatro Colón, the main opera house and performance centre of the city. This theatre is one of the most famous in the world, and it is incredibly beautiful inside and outside. The Teatro Colón ballet company was performing Don Quixote and we were able to get cheap tickets in the “paradise” section: seats so high that you did feel among the clouds! We had a wonderful evening at Teatro Colón: the beautiful interior, the ballet production and the orchestra were all wonderful and next time we’re in Buenos Aires we will be seeing what’s on here again!


Inside Teatro Colon

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Teatro Colon

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Puente de la Mujer in Puerto Madero

We eventually got around to other neighbourhoods: Puerto Madero, the modern waterfront area of Buenos Aires with the Argentine Ministry of Defence building and the iconic Puente de la Mujer; the central districts of Monserrat and San Nicolas; Caballito (where we spent a couple of nights at our friend Laura’s place); and Palermo.

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Puerto Madero

Palermo is the best place to eat and drink, and we had some excellent meals here. As Argentina is renowned for its steaks we lined up a number of steak restaurants to try. We soon found out that Argentinians can eat amazing amounts of meat! While we always shared one steak between the two of us, we saw some of the locals sharing various massive meat platters between the two of them! Our favourite (yet also most expensive) meal was at Don Julio in Palermo, our Bife de Chorizo was delicious and we had the best wine of our stay in Argentina here! We tried a variety of other steak restaurants in varying price ranges which were all excellent too: La Cabrera (which has a 40% discount on EVERYTHING on the menu between 7 and 8 pm), Parilla Peña (doesn’t look like much but excellent relatively cheap steak!), La Brigada (where they cut your steak with a spoon), Gran Parilla del Plata (a cosy San Telmo parilla), and Las Cabras (where we shared a parilla with Laura and her friends to change things up). While all the meat was absolutely delicious, we certainly needed a break from red meat after all that!


From the market in San Telmo

In every neighbourhood in Buenos Aires we found typical sights of life in Argentina. We saw the famous dog walkers of Buenos Aires, with up to 15 dogs strolling the leafy streets of the capital. Many of the dogs wore vests and outfits to protect them against the cold (and to be fashionable, of course). We saw large and small protests almost every day and taking up an entire neighbourhood or more. We saw people drinking mate – a type of infused caffeine drink that is by law Argentina’s ‘national infusion’ – everywhere: in the plazas and parks, walking their dogs, always in the company of friends as this is a very social drink that is usually shared. We even saw knife sharpeners in the streets or Caballito one weekend, blowing on some device that made an eerie, high pitched sound to let people inside know they could bring knives to the street to be sharpened. Buenos Aires was a great place to go and watch people living out their lives in such a different fashion to other countries.

Buenos Aires was without a doubt our favourite large city from our trip. We were kept constantly busy, all day and all night, admiring the buildings, plazas, art galleries, museums and cultural events. We look forward to returning another time, as there is plenty left to see and do in the capital of Argentina!

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Statue of San Martin in front of La Casa Rosada

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Street art of Eva Peron

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Church at Recoleta


Cafe La Poesia, our regular

Two brothers in Natal


A cocktail cart on Ponta Negra, Natal

Natal is the launching point for Brazil’s northern beaches and the continent’s largest source of prawn exports, which means it excels in delicious seafood cuisine. It was therefore fortuitous that Duncan’s brother, Alasdair, had decided to move to the capital of Rio Grande do Norte with his fiancé Nilton. We made the detour to see them as they informed us they would likely get married during the two weeks we were visiting, but as our flight to Brazil approached it seemed less and less likely that the wedding would go ahead while we were there… Undeterred, we resolved to enjoy the pristine beaches of Rio Grande do Norte and their company.

The name of the capital of this northern state, Natal, is Portuguese for Christmas, so named because it was founded on 25 December 1599. While there remains precious little of the colonial architecture in the city centre, the city has many beautiful beaches, some of which we were lucky to visit, and delicious seafood.


Ponta Negra beach, Natal

The first beach we went to – also the beach we returned to the most – was Ponta Negra. Ponta Negra is known for its iconic sand dune called Morro do Careca that is flanked by trees all the way to the ocean. On this beach we saw vendors selling all sorts of items from carts along the beach: cocktails, food, paintings, massages, odds and ends for the house, the list is endless. We purchased some crepes from one of the passing vendors, but otherwise ate and drank at the barracas on the beach, where you can also rent tables, chairs and umbrellas to enjoy the beach.

While we were lazily lying on the beach, we witnessed many Brazilians using the beach for sport and exercise. Next to the Ponta Negra beach there is a permanent court for volleyball or footvolley, an alternate version where the use of hands is forbidden, forcing players to use their heads, feet, knees and shoulders. We also saw many kids playing soccer on the beach and adults playing frescobol, a sort of beach tennis.


Going down the sand dunes… at speed!

One day the four of us went on a dune buggy ride, a popular tourist activity in Natal. Due to the large number of sand dunes there are many buggy drivers who take tourists out for the day. You can chose to have a ride ‘with or without emotion’ and although we didn’t ask for it, based on the death‑defying moves our driver was doing we suspect that Al and Nilton requested a double dosage of emotion! It was quite the adrenaline rush, at some points we were going sideways down the big sand dunes and some of the areas in which we drove were akin to a half pipe for dune buggies!


A beach seen on the buggy ride

During the buggy ride we got to see lovely views of Natal: the sand dunes, the beaches and the ocean. We also spotted a buraqueira (a Brazilian burrowing owl), an owl that is active in the daytime and lives in the sand dunes. We stopped at a number of lagoons where we could get a coconut water, go for a swim or do some activities, like boarding down a steep hill into a lagoon. For lunch we enjoyed a lovely buffet lunch where we could help ourselves to all the seafood we could ask for!

One of the beaches we drove along in the buggy was so gorgeous we made sure we returned. Genipabu is one of the most beautiful beaches near Natal and many dune buggies ride along this stunning beach. There are many barracas to choose from and we had some delicious prawns and caipirinhas at one of these. We watched camels walking along the beach and went for a swim in the warm water, the perfect way to spend a day.


A horse rides along at Genipabu beach

We really enjoyed eating on the beaches or eating with views of the ocean. Natal is the prawn and cashew capital of Brazil, if not all Latin America. Why the cashew capital? Maybe because the city has the largest cashew tree in the world, which we of course visited one afternoon.

Being in the prawn capital of Brasil we of course ate a lot of seafood. Natal has many delicious seafood restaurants, which we ate our way through. We went to a relatively new restaurant called Nau, but our favourite by far was a restaurant called Camarões, which we frequented on several occasions during our stay. The dishes they serve are easily big enough for three people, so it’s lucky we all were hungry whenever we visited Camarões!!

Having locals show us around was great because they took us to the local eateries where we could get delicious meals very cheaply. These restaurants either charge you once and are all-you-can-eat (unless you don’t eat everything on your plate, in which case you get fined for wasting food) or charge by the weight of the plate. These restaurants serve a range of different local dishes, including carne de sol, feijoada, queijo de coalho, plenty of fish, lots of meat, a large array of unique fruit and plenty of prawns.

At night we explored some of Brazil’s incredible music. The first night in Brazil, Al and Nilton took us to a Maria Rita concert, a famous samba singer and the daughter of Elis Regina, one of Brazil’s most famous singers.

We also went to a forró club. We both enjoy listening to forró music, which Duncan first heard in Natal during a visit in 2010. There are several forró clubs in Natal and we went to a popular one near Ponta Negra. This was a lot of fun and while we didn’t try to emulate the dancers we enjoyed watching people dancing and listening to the forró bands playing in the different rooms.


Natal’s sand dunes

Forró music comes from Northeastern Brazil; its name possibly comes from the English expression “for all” which was used to classify certain music events when American troops were stationed in Natal during WWII. Another theory posits that the word comes from another Portuguese word, forrobodó meaning “big party”. Whatever the origin, the music predates the name and mainly involves the triangle, drum and the accordion. It’s a really fun type of music to listen to and to watch people dance to.


Fortaleza dos Reis Magos


Newton Navarro Bridge

We also paid a visit to the city’s fort; Fortaleza dos Reis Magos (Fort of the Wise Kings) was built in 1598 and occupies a beautiful spot on the coast of Brazil. From the fort you can see the Newton Navarro Bridge – one of the largest suspension bridges in the country – and the city skyline, and from the walls we could see dolphins and turtles swimming in the ocean.

Al and Nilton also took us for a long weekend to Praia de Pipa – which means Kite Beach – where we stayed at a really nice hotel that Al and Nilton have stayed at in the past. The hotel, Pousada Coco Fresco, is “guarded” by six well fed cats that are not at all bothered by the Common Marmosets that come into the different areas looking for food. These beautiful monkeys are tiny at around 18 centimetres in height and have cute white tufts around their ears. The common marmoset is found in Northeastern Brazil and it was the first monkey we saw in South America!


Pipa Beach


Baia dos Golfinhos

While in Pipa we ate at the many good restaurants that ply the tourist trade and took afternoon walks along the beaches once the morning showers had cleared. We walked along Praia do Centro, to Praia dos Afogados one day, more romantically known as Praia do Amor. Another day we set off for Praia do Madeiro, a beautiful beach, and passed by the Baia dos Golfinhos where we saw dolphins keeping swimmers and surfers company. For some reason there seem to be more Argentinians and other foreigners who call Pipa home than Brazilians, contributing to a very different feel compared to Natal. But it’s clear why they come to this part of the world: the beaches are beautiful, there is plenty of green nature around the beaches and the cliffs have different colours that beautiful contrast the sand and ocean.


Pipa, Brazil

When we returned to Natal after our visit to Pipa on a Monday, Al and Nilton called the notary’s office to check on the date of the wedding, and were told they could have the wedding that Wednesday, only two days later! We were so happy that we would be there for the special day!!

Frantic phone calls ensued. They had the venue, which was free that night, and in one and a half days Al and Nilton did what took us more than a year to organise! The outcome was gorgeous. During the day we went to the notary’s office and had the official ceremony, followed by a really fun and raucous night at a lovely venue in Natal. Both gents scrubbed up wonderfully on the day and we all had an excellent time. We felt really lucky to be part of their big day.

As the married couple plans to remain in Natal we shall no doubt be back quite soon to enjoy more prawns, beaches and buggy rides!


Natal city, seen from the fort


Natal’s fort


Sarah on Brazil’s coastline


Sarah walks along a beach near Pipa

Top 5 things to do in Peru

We spent over four weeks in Peru and loved every second of it! Here are our top five things to do in Peru.

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A llama strolls through Machu Picchu

  1. Machu Picchu

A Wonder of the World, this beautifully preserved Inca site will spellbound visitors. The harmony in which the ruins sit with the surrounding environment, the numerous sites and the inquisitive llamas will keep you entertained for hours. Constructed in the 15th Century and revealed to the world in 1911, this site seems to absorb tourists and we found that they do not obstruct the amazing views offered in this marvel (we were there at the end of low season though, high season might be a different story). The walk from the bridge to the entrance of the ruins may be tough but completing it really made us feel we had earned the right to see the ruins. The walk to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain was equally tough but we were rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of the ruins.


Salkantay Mountain, seen the second day of the trek

  1. Salkantay trek

We completed a five day Salkantay trek – named after the sacred mountain we visited on the second day of the trek – which finished with a full day at Machu Picchu. Although the trek was at times very challenging because of the distances covered and especially because of the altitude, we loved every moment of this hike. Come prepared though, the last thing you want is a cold night’s sleep or blisters. The scenery along this hike is breathtaking – colourful wildflowers, glaciers, lakes, snow-capped mountains, cloud forest – and the activities only made the trek more fun, especially the zip lining and the much needed dip in thermal springs after the third day walking.

  1. The food!

Peru’s cuisine is absolutely outstanding! The favourite meals we had were along the coast; some of the fish dishes we had were spectacular. The ceviche is incredible, and the food we tried in Lima – Latin America’s Gastronomical Capital – was sensational. Add to this some decent Peruvian wine and plenty of pisco sours and the senses will be overjoyed at the tastes on offer. While we did try cuy (guinea pig) in Cusco we weren’t the biggest fans, but plenty of other people love Andean dishes such as cuy and alpaca. Be sure not to miss visiting one of the restaurants of Peru’s most famous chef Gastón Acurio; we visited several in Lima and Cusco and loved every one of them!

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A condor soars in Colca Canyon

  1. Colca Canyon

The second deepest canyon in the world is found a little outside Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city. We embarked on a two day trek, although it is possible to go on a more leisurely paced three day trek. While walking you can see condors circling above you and in the distance, riding the thermals. The views of the canyon are incredible and on top of that we got to see lots of vicñnas, llamas and alpacas at a national reserve on the way back to Arequipa with snow-capped Andean volcanos in the background.

  1. Chan Chan Archaeological Park

The ruins of the capital of the Chimú civilisation are a wonder to behold. The carvings that remain and the adobe walls show the artistry of these people and how big the civilisation must have been. A stone’s throw away from Huanchaco – a peaceful fishing town where reed boats are still used – this is a must do in northern Peru.

Salta La Linda


Catedral de Salta

We took a bus from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta in Argentina. The drive there was breathtaking, filled with gorgeous landscapes and stunning scenery. We went from the desert through rock formations, arriving at salt flats before plunging into multi-coloured valleys; it felt like every time we looked up the landscape had completely changed. The multi-coloured mountains were our favourite part; emerald greens, brownish reds, yellows and pinks combined in beautiful patterns adorned the mountain faces.


The bus ride to Salta has lovely views

Our border crossing was another easy one, with Chile and Argentina desks right next to each other (although we had actually driven a fair bit inside Argentina before arriving at these immigration offices). After the 10 hour bus ride we finally arrived in Salta and our first impression was very positive; it was a warm evening and the streets and parks were full of people enjoying their weekend.

The full name of the city is Salta La Linda (Salta the Pretty) and the town certainly boasts a beautiful central square and some beautiful churches. We spent our first day walking around the city centre admiring the buildings.


View from behind the cathedral

We walked the two blocks from our hostel to the 19th Century Catedral de Salta with its beautiful blue cupola, the most striking structure on the Plaza Central. Two blocks away we found Iglesia San Francisco. It has a beautiful belfry made from cannons used in the Argentine War of Independence, which was unfortunately partially hidden due to renovation work. The cathedral and church are both beautifully lit up at night. We also walked past the San Bernando Convent, the oldest building in Salta that began as a hermitage in the 16th Century.


Iglesia San Francisco

Unfortunately one of our days there was washed out by heavy rain, which we used to relax and sample some of the local wine and salami – not the worst way to spend a rainy day. The next day we explored Parque San Martin (named after the liberator of Argentina) and had a drink on the central square to people watch. We wandered the pedestrian shopping streets and found that, due to the atmosphere and architecture, they made us reminisce about Europe.


Street of Salta the Pretty


Salta has a very European feel

While we absolutely found the buildings beautiful – both during the day and at night – the thing that blew us away in Salta was the quality of the food and wine. South of Salta is the wine region of Cafayate, which is second in the country only to Mendoza. We also had our first long-awaited taste of Argentine steak… We had the tastiest steaks we’ve eaten in a long time at a restaurant called El Viejo Jack! Meat lovers will drool at the food served up in Argentina! We also had plenty of empanadas, which Salta is renowned for. If the food and wine is anything to go by, we are going to thoroughly enjoy our time in the country!

Our love for Argentina kindled, we had to leave the country. We had tickets to fly from Salta to Natal in Brazil, where Duncan’s brother lives, after which we return to Buenos Aires to continue our Argentinian adventure!


Building next to Iglesia San Francisco


Duncan at the cathedral


Sarah posing against a building

Top 5 things to do in Ecuador


Swimming with a sea lion in the Galapagos

  1. Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands were without a doubt our favourite part of Ecuador, if not of the whole trip. There really is nowhere else on earth like it! The animals are fearless – you are just part of the scenery. The number of species endemic to the islands is staggering. The beauty of the environment and the number of animals you see snorkelling and walking makes every hour special and different. We visited this archipelago on an 8 day cruise on a beautiful boat, where we were spoilt rotten! The cruise was probably our favourite activity from our 8 months away so far and left us wanting more.

  1. Otavalo market

Our first stop in Ecuador was an explosion of colour. Not only for what was on sale at the market – which takes over half the city on Saturdays – but also for the colourful local costumes. We bought a number of beautiful quality items for very little money and spent the rest of the time people watching.


Crimson-rumped toucanet seen at Refugio Paz de las Aves

  1. Refugio Paz de las Aves near Mindo

We saw a large number of birds in this wildlife sanctuary, including the beautiful Andean Cock of the Rock. The number of birds on display makes this particular spot near Mindo very special. The family who run the wildlife sanctuary are also lovely and keen to share their knowledge and passion for birds with visitors.


Devil’s Cauldron waterfall

  1. Baños

The adventure capital of Ecuador is hemmed in by mountains and boasts a large number of activities, from thermal springs to white water rafting. We did both and took in some of the many waterfalls that are found in and around Baños. This is a beautiful part of the Ecuadorian Andes and well worth a visit.


Quito’s Basilica

  1. Quito

The churches and colonial buildings in Quito are the most impressive in Ecuador. We loved visiting the inside of the churches and cathedral, even if we weren’t allowed to take photos in many of the most amazing sites. The word opulent does not do justice to the amount of gold that sparkles inside these churches. We also enjoyed the spectacle of the changing of the Presidential Palace guards, which takes place every Monday at 11am in Quito’s central square and which the President himself attends whenever he is in town.


Marine iguanas in the Galapagos