If you are travelling around South America, Chile is probably one of your destinations, as the country has so many nice things to see and do. However, deciding what you should be doing in the capital can be tricky, so we are here to help!
During our 3 months trip in South America, Chile was the 5th country we visited and I’ll tell you what, once we got to Santiago, it was a complete change of scenery. I remember thinking that from all countries we had been to in the past 50 days, Chile’s capital was the one which most remind me of Europe. And I’m not gonna lie, it was good to have a little bit more of infrastructure for a change.
We flew from San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago with Chile’s budget airline, JetSMART. We traveled by bus around South America when and where it was possible, but in Chile it turned out that flying would be our best option in terms of time and money.
Santiago de Chile has a great metro system that can get you pretty much around all the main points in the city. Staying around city centre, doesn’t really mean you will be able to do everything walking, but if your accommodation is close enough to a metro station, you can easily get anywhere.
We have stayed in 3 different locations around Santiago, but my favorite was Lastarria, an apartment in Bellas Artes district, which is also a touristic area just a short walk from Universidad metro station. There were quite few nice restaurants, pubs, supermarkets and also public transportation within walking distance. We did pay a little bit more because of the area, but it was definitely worth it.
So, now that you know a few things, I will tell you exactly what to do in Santiago de Chile in 5 days. This is not an ultimate guide for the city, but you will get the most of your stay by following our Santiago de Chile 5 days itinerary. Enjoy!
On your first day I would suggest you to get familiarize with public transportation in the city and unless you are arriving first thing in the morning, just take your time to get to your accommodation and get ready for the next day. From the airport there are two bus companies that take you to the city centre, TurBus and Centropuerto, they have slightly different stops, times and costs, so make sure you check both.
If you got in Santiago de Chile early morning and don’t have enough time, get straight to one of our favorites things to do in any city: free walking tour. We have done ours with Strawberry tours and they have couple of free options that would cover most of the touristic points. The great thing about doing it on your first day is that whatever you liked the most you can go back later with more time.
If you have already done your free walking tour, reserve this day to go to Cajon Del Maipo, a mountain reserve with few outdoor activities. One of the highlights of this place is the El Yeso reservoir located by the Andes. Before deciding how we should get there, we have done our research and found online how to get to Cajon del Maipo by public transportation, however, we opted to go by a private tour we found at Viator. We have been using this website to book couple of tours around South America as they have pretty good deals. The day trip to Cajon del Maipo from Santiago lasted 9 hours and included some snacks, picnic and Chilean wine tasting. So that’s your second (or third depending on what you have done the day before) day filled with some pretty great views.
Get up early and head to Cerro San Cristobal, also known as San Cristobal Hill. We went all the way up by funicular, but you can also walk or get a cable car. Bellas Artes is the closest metro station (L5) to the funicular entrance. Once at the top, enjoy the amazing panoramic view of the city. There’s also a zoo if you are looking for something else to do when there. San Cristobal hill is located in the largest park of Santiago, so you definitely can easily spend half day just exploring it.
When you get down from the hill, get some lunch around barrio Bellavista where you can find plenty of restaurants and pubs. If you are looking for a nice rooftop to get drinks and watch the sunset, Azotea Matilde is the place to go; although it does have a great view, be prepare to spend a little bit more than other places.
This will be either your 4th or 5th day in Santiago depending on what you decided to do on your first day.
Today will be an opportunity to choose another tour around the city or just do what Greg and I did and walk around the parks, feeding dogs. One of the first things you will notice in Chile is the quantity of stray dogs you can find in the parks. As animal lovers, we couldn’t just let go the chance of spending some quality time with these so beloved four paws friends.
You will see that the government take a different approach and provide water, food and roof for the dogs all around the city, specially in the parks. So, you don’t need to be sad about it, but if you would like to do something extra, get some food in a grocery store and go have some fun; all dogs we have fed were very friendly.
After that you can visit the Mercado Central for some seafood and drinks – use L2 or L3 to get there and drop off at Puente Cal y Canto station.
Finish your Santiago de Chile experience with a blown mind view from Sky Costanera, a 300 meters high skyscraper, with a 360 panoramic view from Santiago. I highly recommend you to go a little bit before sunset and watch it from there. A really nice way to say bye to Santiago.
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You started to plan your trip around South America or you’re mainly interested in visiting Bolivia because of its beautiful salt flats. Then my friend, you are in the right place!
Bolivia was one of our destination during our 3 months trip to South America and we did not get disappointed. We visited La Paz and did a 3 days trip to Salar de Uyuni finishing in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. I can say for sure that Bolivia’s salt flats was one of the highlights of our adventure.
You probably have million of questions about how to get there, which tour company you should go with, how much does it cost, where you should stay, how to make the most of it and so on. In this post I’ll make sure you have all those questions answered and that you have an amazing time visiting the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.
What you should know before you go to Salar de Uyuni
The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is the largest salt flat in the world and is located in the southwest of the country. Besides being in a remote location, you can fairly easy reach it by travelling to its closest city – Uyuni. It can be quite warm during the day, but you better be prepared for the chilly nights ahead. Also, because of its high concentration of salt, you may have some stains on your shoes and clothes. Don’t worry it does come off eventually, but I would advise you to either use wellies or flip-flops if you’re up to put your feet in the water.
How to choose the best tour operator to visit Salar de Uyuni?
The first thing you have to know when deciding about which tour operator go with, is what you are going after? Is it price, is it a luxurious experience, is it safety? All these questions are very important when talking about South America, standards are very different than the ones in Europe and North America, therefore you have to be careful as you will end up having what you’ve paid for. I would strongly advise going with the most experienced company, especially during rain season as you can have some 4×4 not crossing over the flats because of getting stuck.
How much you will pay for a tour will depend on few factors: how many days are you going for, are you crossing all the way to Chile? Are you staying in a private accommodation? Do you want to have a private bathroom? Due to the amount of options available, the price range can be anything from £50 to £250 per person.
Here you can find some of the most known tour operators for the Salar de Uyuni with all details you need. Although these are very well known companies, we have done our tour with a different operator recommended by a friend. Andes Salt Expeditions offers budget to luxurious tours and have very experienced drivers. During our time crossing the flats we did see couple of other groups not being able to go and our driver was one of the few who made it through. Even tough we haven’t had a great experience with food, we would still recommend them.
So after choosing your tour operator, deciding when you’re going, now is time to know how to get there. As I said before, Uyuni is the closest city to start your tour to the salt flats. Uyuni is a very small town where you can find plenty of operators with the most variety of tours you can imagine. To get there, if you are based in La Paz, you should look for a bus company called Todo Turismo. Although I am sure there are many other bus companies going to Uyuni from La Paz, we did find Todo Turismo very reliable and extremely comfortable. We booked our tickets online, but if you are spending couple of days in La Paz and have some flexibility, you can buy it in the bus station too. This company has a night bus leaving at 9pm arriving in the Uyuni around 7am; it costs BS250 one way per person, including dinner and breakfast. Choose the VIP option to have some space and a very comfortable bed-seat.
If you are going to Uyuni from any other destination you can have a look at this website for buses and trains.
There is no real need to book accommodation in Uyuni, I would recommend you to stay in La Paz, get the night bus from there and start your tour as soon as you arrive in Uyuni. The tours normally leave around 10am allowing you plenty of time to even grab something else to eat. In La Paz we’ve stayed at York B&B which was very well located and easy to reach the bus station.
Make sure you have plenty of water on you and if possible stay on dry food only. Also bring some stomach medication, your hygiene products and head torch. There’s no grocery shops during the tour, the food is brought over from Uyuni and you only get fresh cooked meal during dinners.
Get dressed with couple of layers as during the night can get really cold. Bring swimming suit with you, if you planning to go to the hot spring.
Be aware that depending on your accommodation choice shower may be cold and all the hotels options work on power generator.
Bolivia is often in the route of any backpacker traveling around South America, however there’s not that much information on why you should visit it and what to do besides Salar the Uyuni and the Death Road.
We only had 3 days in La Paz, that by the way isn’t really Bolivia’s capital; the capital is Sucre. During our time in Bolivia we realized that we could easily spend a week around the country to make most of it, but since it was too late for any rearrangement, here’s a list of the 5 amazing things you could do when visiting La Paz:
What the heck is Cholitas wrestling? Cholitas Wrestling my friend, is the most peculiar and awesome local thing to do in La Paz. The show is in a non-touristic area of the city, so I would highly recommend you to book a tour – most Hostels will offer that.
So, you are still wondering what is that and why you should go?! Hold on, I’ll tell you! Cholas are how in the past people use to call the Bolivian native women in a pejorative way, nowadays its considered a crime to discriminate them and the Cholitas, how they kindly call them now, are free to go around and visit places that they weren’t supposed to go before.
They use a specific type of outfit; long puffy skirt, braided hair and a British male hat. If you are walking around the city centre you probably going to spot few of them.
Basically the Cholitas wrestling are those women fighting dressed traditionally. It’s definitely the coolest, weirdest thing you going to see in La Paz.
The tours run every Thursday and Sunday night, please go on Sunday as you going to experience that together with locals. It really is worth it!
2. Visit one of the largest flea markets in the world
Within La Paz district, the expanding El Alto neighborhood became its own city; at a higher altitude than La Paz, El Alto is considered one of the most dangerous places in Bolivia. So, why should you risk and explore it? Well, you definitely shouldn’t do it on your own, but when visiting El Alto you will be able to see one of the largest flea markets in the world.
The market starts as soon as you drop off from the cable car; if you do decide to go on your own, please remember to not have any valuable object on you, it’s recommended to not have even your original passport in this area as people can pretend to be police officers to steal from you. They also try to distract you in all possible ways, so they can “pick pocket” you. Greg was one of their victims; they spitted on him, so he would take his hands out of the pocket giving them free access to it, however we had been advised by our guide that this could happen and fortunately, Greg kept his hands where were and nothing was stolen.
You can find all sort of things at this market, from car’s parts to underwear and you sure can see how the local life is in here. Towards the end of the street there’s another witches market, bigger than the one in La Paz; if you are doing it with a tour they will tell you both, cool and creepy Bolivian traditions.
We’ve done it with the Red Cap walking tour, where we combined El Alto and Cholitas Wrestling on the same day. We had a great time with them.
3. Go to the public cemetery to see the best graffiti in the city
Bolivians are very attached to their family and although majority of population is catholic, they do believe in life after death.
The traditions around a funeral are enormous, from burying their beloved ones with all sort of things they used to like in life to not keep paying for their mausoleum after 5 years of the death, so the family member can finally move on into his next life.
So, with so many mixed and rich cultural values, the public cemetery in La Paz is definitely a must see “attraction”.
I believe this cemetery is different than most of the ones in other countries: it’s rather festive than a sad place. The government promotes a street art contest and the winners get a wall over there to present their best job. Instead of dark graves you will find a very colorful place. You can’t miss it!
4. Hike the former highest ski station in the world
Here’s where you realize global warming is a real threat. Chacaltaya mountain is at 6,000 meters above the sea level and used to be the highest ski station in the world.
All the snow that used to be there has melted and the ski station is now abandoned. We didn’t have to hike from the bottom of the mountain to its top as cars can go up to 5,500 meters leaving you with just a short distance to go by foot.
Because of the altitude, hiking can be harder than you think, so make sure you have plenty of water and either Coca leaves or floral alcohol to help you on the way. Going slow is also advisable.
The view from the top is surreal and if you manage to get there in less than half an hour make sure you go to the next stretch. The guide normally recommends people to stay no longer than 45 minutes around the mountain because of the lack of oxygen.
If you lucky, you may get to see a Bolivian celebration over there.
You may be wondering why we didn’t add Death Road to our itinerary in La Paz; well, we actually did.
We had the tour booked and everything ready to go on the infamous Death Road in Bolivia, however just 4 days before we had planned to cheat death, a fatal accident happened right there.
We were in La Paz during the rain season and the Death Road is more tricky than usual. We actually didn’t believe that accidents could really happen since is one of the biggest tourist attraction in the country …until it happened!
We opted to cancel our tour for 2 reasons:
1. Dying was really a possibility
2. We wouldn’t enjoy ourselves as much as we would like
Why do I say that? Because after knowing that somebody lost their life in a tour that was supposed to be fun, you realize that you may be so scared, that won’t be a pleasant experience at all.
We did hear from other travelers that it was a good tour and that few people actually fell during the time, but nothing worrying. We also heard that there’s more deaths than what is out in the media. We obviously can’t confirm whether it’s true or not.
For us, the safest option was not to go, do I recommend it? If you are confident enough with your bike skills and if the weather permits, yeah sure! Otherwise I think it doesn’t worth the risk.
As I mentioned before, Peru is big and it’s not cheap or easy to get a plane from one city to the other; therefore, we found this great company that combines transportation with local tours, Peru Hop. It isn’t the cheapest option, but for sure gives you good value for money and a big plus – safety. We started using Peru Hop in Lima and went all the way down to La Paz; yep, there’s also a Bolivia Hop and they have just started the business in Ecuador as well. If you use their services, in most of the cities you have a hotel pick up and drop off and many discounts for tours, restaurants and accommodation.
Tip: you’ll get an information booklet via email once you buy your tickets; check available discounts before booking accommodation.
If you would like a 10% discount for Ecuador Hop leave your email in the comments and I’ll happily send it over to you
Best things to do in Lima
You definitely don’t want to skip the capital of Peru and that’s definitely not what we want you to do, so we have put together a detailed article about it and the cool things you can do while visiting the city, however I’ll tell you the best things to do in Lima over here as well:
1. Walking tour
We booked our tour with the Incan Milky Way and it was a great experience; using local transportation and learning the history of the city is a great way to start exploring Lima.
2. Watch the sunset from Larcomar shopping mall
Larcomar is a sort of underground shopping mall in Miraflores neighborhood. It’s a really fancy place with a beautiful view towards the Pacific Ocean. It has a park at the top where you can relax and see a beautiful sunset.
3. John F. Kennedy park area for food
Miraflores is an up scale district of Lima, where most of hostels/hotels are located together with shops and restaurants. Around the Kennedy park area you will find a cool street full of nice places to eat, pick one and have a great Peruvian lunch/dinner.
The advantage of using Peru Hop is that they have a route that goes exactly through the great cities you can visit in Peru, Paracas is one of them. A small coastal village close to a National Park, it’s a one night town that is still worth seeing.
1. National park tour
Getting the tour to the national park with Peru Hop is a great way to see the desert plus beautiful views along the way.
2. Mila beach
It’s the nicest beach in town, most of locals prefer to spend the day over there rather than the main beach in Paracas. It’s a crowed place as you can imagine, but great for a relaxing afternoon or early morning. You can either get a taxi or go with a tour.
3. Dinner at Miski
It’s not a restaurant with all the Peruvian dishes, in fact, it’s a pizza place that only opens for dinner, but the atmosphere over there is great and you may get some live music too. Discounts available via Peru Hop.
Huacachina is an oasis in the middle of the desert, a tiny village surrounded by sand. There’s not much to do here, but you can’t skip that!
1. Buggy tour + sandboarding
It’s an obligation to do the buggy tour, it’s adventurous, fun and you even get to sandboard. The tour with Peru Hop starts at 4pm and last for about 2 hours. Plenty of time for really cool pictures.
2. Mosquito rooftop bar
Mosquito bar is a nice restaurant with a rooftop where you can enjoy the view and the food. Make sure you put repellent on!
3. Paddle boat
As I said, there isn’t much to do around the village, but if you still need something else to do, hiring a paddle boat to go around the tiny oasis in town would be a great option.
With Peru Hop, you will also have the opportunity to do a quick stop at Nazca and check all the huge drawings in the ground and be wondering who actually did it. There’s nothing much around Nazca, so that’s why this is just a passing by stop.
Arequipa is one stop before the famous Cusco! Here you can start to feel the altitude and would be a great city to cope with it. There’s also few things you can do around Arequipa, check it out:
1. Walking tour
As you can see, we love walking tours. It’s truly the best way of knowing the city you are in and then decide where you want to spend more time. We’ve done this tour with Free Tour Downtown Arequipa.
2. Witches market
Apparently in South America it’s very common to have, sometimes even more than one, witches market; it’s not as scary as you would think and nowadays is more like a local market than anything else, however in Arequipa when walking around it, you can still see people telling somebody else fortune. Worth a visit!
3. Visit Mundo Alpaca
Mundo Alpaca is the most famous company to buy real alpaca clothing. It’s real and expensive, but besides shopping you can go around and see amazing textile exhibition done by locals for a competition, see and sometimes feed the alpacas and also watch how locals do the so detailed textile frames.
Tip: I know you probably want to eat something local and immerse in the amazing Peruvian culture, but there’s a pizza place in Arequipa called Da Giancarlo, the owner is around and make you feel so welcome; I won’t even start to tell you how delicious our pizza was. Go give it a try!
Bonus tip: We haven’t done it, but there’s also the Colca Canyon in Arequipa, if you are into hiking, check this tour in the agencies.
Best things to do in Cusco
1. Walking tour
the Incan Milk Way tour also happen in Cusco and it’s very informative, so make sure you book it online and get to know this Incan city better.
2. Visit the Incan Museum
If you love history and after the walking tour would like to know more about the Incas, the Museo Inka is a great way to start. It’s walking distance from the main square and cost only P/10.
3. View the city from Cristo Blanco
If you are looking for a viewpoint other than the famous Cusco Hotel, go to the Cristo Blanco, a statue of Jesus Christ on the top of the hill. You can either go walking which would take you around 40 minutes to 1 hour from the main square or just get a taxi for P/60 return.
4. Hike the rainbow mountain
Don’t miss it out, although most of the pictures online don’t show the true colors of the mountain, it’s still an amazing thing to see. The hike is a bit sharp due to the altitude – once you get to the top you will be higher than 5,000 meters above the sea level. They do offer horses ride in the beginning of the hike which I honestly do not recommend. I unfortunately had to do that in the last bit of the mountain and it broke my heart as the horses get as tired as we do. Go slow on your pace and be in peace with your conscious. We’ve done it with the agency recommended by Peru Hop, it was USD 30 including breakfast and lunch. They also have oxygen tank to help you out if needed. They were pretty professional which make our day a great experience.
I know you are looking for all the information to get to one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. Machu Picchu is amazing and was definitely one of the highlights of our three months trip around South America. There are few things you need to be aware when visiting:
1. You don’t need to trek if you don’t want to.
2. You can do it on the budget.
3. Aguas Calientes is the base town of Machu Picchu, not Cusco.
4. From Aguas Calientes you still have to climb up, but it can also be done by bus.
5. It can be tricky to buy the right tickets.
Because of that, we have done an ultimate guide to visit Machu Picchu on the budget. All you need to know before heading to the most famous Incan ruins; how to buy your tickets, how to get to Aguas Calientes, how to make most of your day in Machu Picchu and more.
We hope you have got enough information to start planning your trip to Peru. If you have any question, please leave a comment here and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
If you’re planning to see this particular wonder of the modern world, but you’re afraid it’s going to be too expensive, it doesn’t have to be! Below, you’ll find tips on how to visit Machu Picchu cheap. This trip involves taking a bus, van and walking; you’ll find plenty of agencies selling it in Cusco centre, but not much can be found online – the tour is called Machu Picchu by Car. We didn’t pay for the full tour, but just for transportation as we wanted freedom of choosing our accommodation and length of stay. To make this guide easy to read, I included short breakdown menu:
This is the cheapest way to visit Machu Picchu, but before you start planning and booking your trip there are few logistic considerations. Here is all you need to know to get to Machu Picchu on a budget.
Cusco is the closest, major city to Machu Picchu and the one Tours By Car originate from. There’s an airport here, but you’re most likely arrive by coach from Lima or Arequipa. Aguas Calientes is the closest town to Machu Picchu and it’s not accessible by car, only on foot or by train. Hydroelectric Station is where the road to Aguas Calientes ends and the van from Cusco leaves you (around 3pm). From here you’ll walk on and around train tracks to reach the town of Aguas Calientes. It takes around 8 hours on the van and 2 hours walking (3 hours if you count photo stops). The trek is mainly flat, but I recommend you take hiking boots, as it can be muddy; plus stomping on little stones around train tracks will be painful. You should reach the town around 6pm.
As I said, Aguas Calientes is the closest town to Machu Picchu and the one you’ll need to book accommodation in, for at least one night (if you buy the entire tour, not just transport, accommodation will be included). From here, you’ll need to take a bus or walk up to the entrance of the site. Bus costs $12USD one way and takes around 10-15 minutes.
Drivers do not sell tickets; an office is located just around the corner from the bus stop and you can pay by cash or card. If you choose to walk instead, it is steep and will take around one and a half hours.
Is it safe to go to Machu Picchu by car
Accidents don’t happen often, but they do happen. Part of the road is unpaved and in some places very narrow (see video below). Paved part is a single carriage in both directions. Often, the carriage closer to the mountains has obstacles, like fallen rocks and mudslides. Most of the road is full of sharp curves and you’ll be told to take a motion sickness pill not to vomit on the way (buy and take the pill, trust me!).
Around 15 vans went on the day we did. We survived and I would do it again, but if you ask Sara, she probably wouldn’t. Undoubtedly, the train ride will be safer, more comfortable and much more expensive. The choice is yours.
When to go to Machu Picchu
During wet season (December – March), in very extreme circumstances when rain is persistent and heavy, the site may be completely closed. The risk of closure is really small, but nevertheless it can happen. We did it in January and our experience was a little scary – due to heavy rain, a bridge on part of the paved road collapsed a few days before and the van had to cross a river/waterfall. On top of that, we were asked to be at the meeting point to go back to Cusco an hour earlier than normally. The driver explained that the water on that river is “higher” later in the day and it may not be possible to cross, if we go as previously planned.
As you can see, there are some risks associated with wet season, but on the other hand, there are fewer visitors and that will add to the comfort of sightseeing and availability of tickets and transport. We don’t have the experience of dry season, but we read online that tickets are sold out months in advance and queues for Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu bus are so long, you need to wake up at 5am to be able to get there for 7am. The ride takes 10-15 minutes, so we’re talking about an hour and a half of waiting in line.
First you reserve your tickets and are given a number; after that you need to redirect your web browser to payment page, retrieve your reservation using the number you were given and finally pay. Tickets are date and name specific and you’ll need your passport to prove your identity at the entrance. You do not need to be part of a tour, nor do you need a tour guide to visit; everything can be done independently. The website is in Spanish only and we couldn’t pay with Mastercard (Visa only). I’m not sure if Mastercard isn’t accepted at all or this was just a problem we encountered.
Which ticket to Machu Picchu should I buy
There are three different types of tickets available:
Machu Picchu – single entrance to the site of ruins only. Once inside, sightseeing follows a circuit which leads outside the complex. You may take as much time as you wish, but going against the circuit’s direction will not be possible, so no coming back. Once outside you will not be allowed to re-enter.
Machu Picchu with Waynapicchu mountain – two entrances are allowed on this ticket, one to visit the mountain and the other to visit the ruins. When buying this ticket, you’ll need to choose entering Waynapicchu between 7-8 or 10-11 in the morning. Both slots are limited to 400 visitors. Earlier slot will not allow enough time to see the ruins before the mountain climb, so you’ll need to come back. Later slot will allow enough time to see the ruins before the climb, but it is said that the complex is more quite in the afternoon, so it may be a good idea to climb the mountain first and re-enter to see the ruins after. The climb and the view are truly amazing and well worth extra time and money.
Note: If you choose to add the mountain to your visit, it will be difficult (may be impossible) to go back to Cusco by car the same day – you may not make it back to Hydroelectric Station in time for pick up. Additionally, you’ll need to organize baggage storage. In this case it’s better to spend another night in Aguas Calientes and not rush your visit.
Machu Picchu with Machupicchu mountain – we did not get this ticket, so I can only assume that same rules, as in case of Waynapicchu, apply and you’ll be able to enter twice; however, this is only speculation. Entrance to this mountain is also restricted to 7-8 or 10-11 in the morning and 400 visitors per slot.
How much will it cost to go to Machu Picchu by car
Machu Picchu + Waynapicchu mountain ticket = US $60
Van from Cusco to Hydroelectric Station = US $23
Lunch on the way to Hydroelectric Station = US $5
Motion sickness pill = US $1.20
2 nights accommodation for 2 people, with breakfast in Aguas Calientes = US $34.48
1 way bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu = $12
1 course meal for 2 people with drink = $16.97
This is the cheapest way we found to travel and see Machu Picchu, but there are certainly other options available. Please come back to see what else we did on our 3 months trip around South America and if you have any questions, send us an email.
Are you going to spend some time in Peru? Wondering what are the best things to do in Lima? What to see and where to go? Below you’ll find my recommendations of what not to miss in the City of Kings.
As a tourist, you should be based around historic centre of downtown, or upscale district of Miraflores. We’ve chosen the second option and we would do it again, if ever coming back. The neighborhood is safe to walk around, even after dark; there are also plenty of restaurants, bars, etc. You’ll be within walking distance of the Pacific Coast, so make sure you watch at least one of the spectacular sunsets here! As usual, we started with a walking tour, as we would in any city. Here’s a list of best things to do in Lima:
Free Walking Tour
A walking tour will provide some basic information about the city, country and culture, but it will also give you an idea on where to go and what to see. Moreover, guides often share tips, interesting facts, rumors and recommendations not available online. I can highly recommend this particular company – Inkan Milky Way. They have two meeting points (Miraflores and downtown Lima), but both groups will merge into one in the historic centre at the beginning of the tour.
Kennedy Park (Miraflores)
Here you’ll find shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and even young Peruvians battling in rap contests. It’s unofficial centre of the district and a lot of “life” revolves around this place. It used to be famous for the large population of cats living here, but nowadays you may spot only one or two, as authorities removed the animals.
This huge shopping mall is located on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There is a pleasant seating area/park on the roof, which (because of the location) is at street level. Bikers, skaters, pedestrians and even dogs can find a spot to enjoy this place and you can watch a beautiful sunset here. Apart from shops, there are many cafes, bars and pubs and your regular big brands are all here too: Burger King, KFC, GAP and Sunglasses Hut among many others. Sort of a “home away from home”.
Plaza De Armas (old-town Lima)
The most important square of the city, with the Presidential Palace, main Cathedral and few other impressive and important buildings around. There’s a lovely fountain in the middle of the square and if you’re lucky enough to be here on the 4th Sunday of July, water is replaced with Pisco (Peruvian national alcoholic drink) and you can get drunk for free. Sounds great, doesn’t it?!
Basilica and Concent of Santo Domingo (old-town Lima)
A beautiful church, with amazing history, just few steps from Plaza De Armas. As an added bonus, you may climb to the top of the Bell Tower for panoramic view of the city. Entrance is possible with a guide only and you’ll need to pay 15 Soles. You’ll also need to wait for the next available tour, but I assure you it’s worth it!
If you like great views from atop, you’ll love cable car in Bogota. Check out our post about this awesome city here.
Magic Water Circuit (Parque de la Reserva)
After dark, Parque de la Reserva comes alight. Synchronized water fountains, sound system and colorful lights are teamed up to perform a great show for you. Tourists and locals, kids and adults, couples, singles and families quiet down to enjoy 30-45 minutes of extraordinary “ballet”. Some cool pictures can be taken here too! Shows start at 7, 8 and 9pm, every day. Entrance is 4 Soles.
For an even better light show, visit Medellin during Christmas. You can read all about it here.
Basilica Nuestra Senora Del Rosario
Some disagree, but nevertheless, this church is considered the smallest in the world by many. Mainly due to the fact it has all the features of a regular sized church. It’s not really a tourist attraction as such, but if you’re in the historic centre of Lima, you may as well have a look, as it’s certainly interesting.
That’s all for the City of Kings, but be sure to come back soon and read more about Peru. It’s coming soon!
Galapagos isn’t really a destination, which many people would consider cheap and in fact for most of us, including me and Sara, it’s pretty expensive. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most exciting destinations in the world, especially for wildlife; after all it’s claimed 50% of archipelago’s land species and 20% of marine species cannot be found anywhere else in the world. We spend 5, truly magical days here and below I share the most valuable travel tips on how to visit Galapagos on a budget.
To make thing easier to navigate, below is a small menu:
There are no international flights to the Galapagos and even if you buy a ticket originating abroad, your final flight to the islands will be from Quito or Guayaquil and you’ll go through immigration and customs in those cities. To get the best deal, we use a combination of 3 flight search engines: Momondo, Skyscanner and Google Flights.
Tip: If you’re traveling with a partner, searching for and buying two single tickets, as oppose to searching for and buying two tickets, may be cheaper – if only one ticket is available at a cheaper price you will not be able to buy it (or even see its price) if you perform a search for two tickets.
If you have some time to spare in Quito, check out Sara’s post: One Day in Quito
Before your flight
Checking in online will not be available at all and prior to doing it at one of the airports in Ecuador you’ll need to obtain the Transit Card ($20 per person). There are designated booths at the airport, where agents issue these cards. Official rules require you to have proof of return flight, accommodation and travel insurance. Although we were asked only for the proof of return flight, I do recommend you have insurance and accommodation booked, as you never know how strict these checks will get in the future. Our stay was via AirBnb with a local host and to make sure there are no problems entering the islands, we also booked a hotel, which we canceled once we got through entry point at the airport. Booking.com is pretty good at offering free, last minute cancellations and this is one of the options I recommend. Tip: hold on to the transit card, as you will be asked to present it when leaving.
Arriving in Galapagos
At the time of writing this post, there were only two airports you could arrive in Galapagos from mainland Ecuador – Baltra and San Cristobal. On arrival, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to the Galapagos National Park: $100 for foreigners from outside of South America and $50 for foreigners from inside the continent (when arriving in Isabela Island you’ll need to pay additional $10).
Baltra is an island where only an airport is located and it’s connected to Santa Cruz via bus and ferry (you cannot avoid taking neither bus nor ferry). Once on Santa Cruz island, you’ll need to take another bus or taxi direct to your accommodation or to one of the towns – unless you have plenty of time and money, Puerto Ayora should be the only town you consider for accommodation, as this is where all tours and boat transportation originate from. Cost: bus from the airport to ferry terminal in Baltra- $5; ferry from Baltra to Santa Cruz – $1; bus from Santa Cruz ferry terminal to Puerto Ayora – $5
Although we did not arrive in San Cristobal, airport is just a short distance from the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and taxi will cost you only $2-$4 (if the driver asks for more, he’s likely taking advantage of you).
Tip: choose Santa Cruz (Baltra) as your arrival point to and San Cristobal as departure point from the Galapagos. That way, you will not need to come back to Santa Cruz, just to fly back to mainland Ecuador, saving yourself ferry ticket ride.
Getting around Galapagos
You can easily walk from one end of the town to the other in 30-45 minutes. This is true for all three major towns in all three islands on which you can stay: Santa Cruz – Puerto Ayora town, San Cristobal – Puerto Baquerizo Moreno town, Isabela – Puerto Villamil town.
In towns and within close proximity, a taxi should not cost more than $2-$3 per ride. As example, I’ll give a ride we took from our accommodation in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal) to Playa Loberia – $3. Tip: always agree the fare before getting in, as taxis do not have meters.
As mentioned earlier, on Santa Cruz Island, a public bus runs from the airport ferry terminal to Puerto Ayora through towns of Bellavista and Santa Rosa – you may decide to take it, if visiting tortoise reserve – El Chato (details in “What to do in Galapagos” section). On San Cristobal, a bus runs from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, all the way to the highland town of Progreso – there’s nothing of interest there, so you’re unlikely to take it.
Most inter-island travel takes place by boat, which takes around 25-35 passengers. A trip costs $30 one way from Santa Cruz to Isabela and from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal. There are no direct ferries linking Isabela and San Cristobal islands. Both trips take two to two and a half hours and departure twice a day: Isabela to Santa Cruz 6am and 2pm; Santa Cruz to Isabela 7am and 2pm; Santa Cruz to San Cristobal 7am and 2pm; San Cristobal to Santa Cruz 7am and 3pm. There are plenty of tour agencies on each island, from which you can purchase the tickets.
Small boats offer rides within the port area and cost from $0.50 to $1. You will need to take one of these to get to your ferry boat, when doing an inter-island travel or a tour.
Where to stay in Galapagos
My recommendation is to stay, AT LEAST, 2 full days in each of the three habitable islands: Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal. This is the minimum you’ll require to appreciate what each island has to offer and it will be difficult to experience it with tours originating from just one island. If you still choose to stay on one island only, Santa Cruz in the middle of the archipelago, will give you the most options in terms of tours.
Residents offer rooms with shared or private bathroom with kitchen facilities, so you can make your meals yourself and not overspend. For even cheaper alternative, there are plenty of hostels, which should have kitchen facilities too. Markets are available in each city you’ll be staying in: Puerto Villamil (Isabela island), Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz island) and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal island).
Tip: AirBnb, Booking.com and Hostelz are your best options for finding accommodation.
What to do in Galapagos
You could probably spend two weeks in this island and not be bored, but let’s stick to budget; here, you’ll find one of the best snorkeling/diving opportunities in the world and I suggest you take full advantage of it. As we did not stay here, we could only do a tour originating from Santa Cruz and little snorkeling we did, resulted in sighting of a sea turtle and few colorful fishes, so don’t make the same mistake we did! Stay in the island, go on a snorkeling/diving specific tour and give yourself a chance to see sharks, manta rays, sea horses and turtles, which are seen by tourists on regular basis.
If you can spare some extra time and money, a boat tour of the harbor area will give you an opportunity to see Blue-footed Boobys and, if you’re lucky enough, Galapagos penguins.
Tip: there are many other activities available in the island, but similar stuff can be done on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal – these are slightly cheaper to stay and go around.
Tip: at the time of writing this post, there were no ATMs nor a bank in Isabela, so withdraw all the cash you’ll need in Santa Cruz or San Cristobal
Santa Cruz island
As this is the main hub of the Galapagos and most centrally located island, tours from here depart to all other destinations in the archipelago.
Charles Darwin Research Station and Visitor Centre
Located around 10-15 minutes’ walk from Puerto Ayora’s harbor, it’s a work place for many scientists, who are trying to preserve plant and animal spices found in the Galapagos. You’ll find giant tortoise in breading enclosures, here. Entrance is free.
Playa de la Estacion
On the way to Charles Darwin Research Centre, it’s a rocky beach with just a short stretch of sand, but if you go early enough you beat the crowd, it should be quite pleasant. Its also a good spot to watch the sunset.
A long (around 1200 meters), beautiful stretch of peaceful, sandy beach. There’s a small, very shallow, sea water enclave, where snorkeling is possible and we managed to see an octopus here. You may walk here from Puerto Ayora and it shouldn’t take longer than 40 min. We took a boat and it was $20 per person to go and come back, plus $0.50 per person, each way for the taxi boat.
A tortoise reserve located near the town of Santa Rosa. It’s like a big park and these giant creatures are totally on the lose! While completing a walking circuit, you’ll also enter three, short lava tunnels. There are no paved paths, but if it’s wet and your shoes are not suitable for this, you can borrow rubber boots here. Please remember that you’ll be entering home of these animals and act respectfully. Authorities of Galapagos recommend to keep a distance of at least 2 meters to any wildlife. Entrance is $5 per person and you’ll get free organic tea or coffee with that.
Tip: if you have time and money, rent bikes in Puerto Ayora, take the bus to Santa Rosa (bikes can go with you) and come back by bike. It’s a really good way to visit this place.
This is a series of three, pretty deep pools, within a narrow rock formation. Getting from one pool to another, requires crossing some sharp rocks, so I recommend you take your wet-shoes. When we got here, it was really crowded and felt more like a water-park with kids jumping in and screaming; we didn’t see many fishes. To get here, you’ll need to take a water taxi to the other side of Puerto Ayora’s port, which will cost $1 per person each way. After that you’ll need to walk for around 20 minutes, passing through a nice beach – Playa De Los Alemanes. It’s a short, but pleasant stretch of sand and you may spot some manta rays here.
Located just 30-40 minutes walk from the port of Baquerizo Moreno, or a $3 taxi ride, it’s a rocky beach with good stretches of sand, as well. Big population of sea lions live here and the young can be very playful and curious. With your snorkeling gear, enjoy an underwater swimming show, but be extremely careful not to touch them, or let them touch you, as your scent can easily make their mother reject them. Some colorful fishes can also be seen in this area.
Playa Punta Carola
Some rocks here, but mainly sand and, if you’re lucky, you can be bumping heads with a sea turtle while snorkeling. When we were here, a group of 5 of them could be spotted, two at very shallow water, just few steps into the water! Located around 30 minutes walk from the centre of town.
Playa De Oro
This is another beach located very close to the centre of town (only around 10 minutes walk). You can spot some sea lions here and lay down on the sand, but if you short on time, the other two are far better.
Note: most open air, public beaches and swimming spots are open from 6am to 6pm and park rangers will excuse you after the opening times. Only beaches within town may be occupied after 6pm.
Four nights, double room with private bathroom in Santa Cruz – $111.73
Two nights, double room with shared bathroom in San Cristobal – $43.57
Island entry fee – $100 (per person)
Transit card – $20 (per person)
Baltra airport bus – $5 (per person)
Baltra ferry – $1 (per person)
Santa Cruz bus to Puerto Ayora – $5 (per person)
El Chato tortoise reserve entry fee – $5 (per person)
One day bike rental – $15 (per person)
Bus from Puerto Ayora to Santa Rosa with bike – $1.50 (per person)
Breakfast in a restaurant (average price) – $15 (per person)
Lunch or dinner in a restaurant (average price including drink) – $30 (per person)
Taxi to the airport in San Cristobal – $3
Isabela island tour + ferry ticket – $120 (per person)
Ferry from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal – $30 (per person)
Water taxi from Puerto Ayora to Tortuga Bay (return) – $20 (per person)
Water taxis (per ride, within port area) – around $1 (per person)
Altogether, we spent around $1115 per person for 6 days and you may think that’s not really “on a budget” travel, but cruises of Galapagos start at $1700, excluding flights.
There are many more activities available on and around all 13 islands of the Galapagos, but I tried to stick to budget, so did not include most of them. I hope I gave you enough information, but if you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch, as I’m sure you will want to do everything just right here.
That’s not all we experienced in South America. Check out our posts about major cities in Colombia: Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin and Cali.
You gonna have a stopover in Quito before heading to Galapagos or another place in Ecuador and wondering if there is anything to do in this city?! I’ll tell you right now, THERE’S PLENTY TO DO!
In fact, Quito is definitely not a one day city, but we didn’t know that, so had to combine most of the cool stuff in only one day.
First things first, as I’m saying in most of our posts about South America, please make sure you are in a safe neighborhood and do ask at your hotel/hostel, if it’s safe to walk around at night.
We stayed at L’Auberge Inn, a nice hostel with a fair enough location. They have their own restaurant which is a plus, as you don’t need to go out during the night searching for food. The only downside is that you can hear everything in the room next to yours. Other than that, it’s a 20 minutes walk to the main attractions and it’s all good for a couple of nights.
What to do in Quito in one day?
We have done two tours in Quito, one after the other, the free historic walking tour and the middle of the earth tour, this last one is paid – $10 per person.
In the first tour we visited places like Plaza Grande, San Francisco Church, La Compania de Jesus church, Numismatic museum and Calle La Ronda; wandering around the city is great, but make sure you go on the top of one of these churches: Metropolitan Cathedral and/or La Basilica del Voto Nacional to have a panoramic view of the city. Having only one day, we didn’t manage to go, as we had to decide between lunch or the view. Well, I was hungry, don’t judge!
Plaza Grande, Quito – Ecuador
Plaza San Francisco, Quito – Ecuador
Metropolitan Cathedral, Quito – Ecuador
Calle La Ronda, Quito – Ecuador
Numismatic museum, Quito – Ecuador
Presidential Palace, Quito – Ecuador
Middle of the earth is an hour drive from the city centre of Quito. It’s a park with guides and they will show you all the nice tricks you can do being on the equator line.
On your way back, if the weather permits, go to the teleférico (cable car), another nice view of Quito and the ride itself must be great.
There are other amazing things to do in Quito that we haven’t done, here’s a list of it, pick your favorite ones and have an amazing time in of the highest cities in the world:
El Panecillo (it’s recommended to go up there only by taxi)
La Capilla Del Hombre and Museo Guayasamín
Parque El Ejido
Walk up to Itchimbía (where Quito’s orange sign is)
Don’t forget to be hydrated and take your time to go around, as it takes a while for your body to get used to the altitude.
If you wonder what to do in 2 days in Cali, you no longer need to search. In our 3 months trip around South America, Colombia was our first destination and we have spent 2 days in the salsa capital!
I fell in love with Cali on the very first day; we stayed around bario San Antonio, a nice and very pretty neighborhood in Cali. I would say that most of hostels are around this area and if you want a hippie cafe or restaurant, you will find loads over here as well.
You may also want to check our post about Cartagena
First thing to do in Cali is book yourself a free art and salsa tour and also free historic tour, all done by a great company called Free Tours Cali. Paul will guide you around the interest points of Cali and tell you all about it with so much passion. I’m not getting any commission recommending him, it’s totally unbiased recommendation.
If you more into doing stuff on your own, although I do not recommend that, here are the interest points you should look for when in Cali.
Always remember to be safe no matter where you are, it’s not different in Cali; if getting a taxi, it’s better to book it via Easytaxi or Uber and avoid walking alone on empty streets during the night.
Best things to do in Cali
La Ermita Church – A small yet beautiful cathedral in the historic centre of Cali.
Bario San Antonio – As I said before, bario San Antonio is a cute neighborhood full of nice houses, restaurants and cafes. On the top of the hill, you will find the San Antonio church and have a beautiful view of part of the city and its orange rooftops.
Mercado Alameda – Want to eat like a local?! Here’s the place you are looking for, Mercado Alameda is a little bit more outside of the touristic points of the city, however over there you can feel like a local for real. Hundreds of fresh fruits, vegetables, fishes and you may not be familiar with quite a few of them. Inside the market there’s also a food court, where you can have a huge, delicious Colombian lunch starting from 14,000 COP.
Plaza Jairo Varela – It’s a modern square with a giant trumpet on it, the cool thing is, inside of each part of the monument you can hear different instruments of the so famous “Cali Pachanguero”, the song that became an unofficial anthem to the Calenos (people from Cali).
Bario Granada – If you’re looking for a proper night out in Cali, full of salsa music until the sunrise, right next to the plaza Jairo Varela, there’s the Bario Granada, where you can party hard. Zaperoco is one of the most recommended “high end” salsa club in this area; to go there you need to dress up, therefore we haven’t visited.
If partying hard is not your thing, you can stop by one of the most famous salsa bar in Cali, La Topa Tolondra, it’s around 5 minutes away from Granada. There’s also the Punto Bare bar right next to it, where they have live music, but for locals, the place to go dance is the first one.
Thinking about visiting San Andres in Colombia? Check our ultimate guide
What to do in 2 days in Cali
Our second day in Cali was atypical, as it was the end of the year and Calenos were celebrating Pacific Day, a street fair with music and food from the Pacific coast. Most activities take place in a square in front of San Francisco Church; it’s a great place to feel like a local. If you not as lucky as us, I would recommend to see cats sculptures scattered around the city. The most famous one is at Gato del Rio.
For the afternoon, if you are looking for a nice view of the city, you should go up to Cristo Rey hill. Do it with HERE WE GO tour agency (not a commissioned recommendation), they are really good and it will feel like you’re going out with a friend.
There’s another thing that I would like to do in Cali if we had the time – The 3 Crosses Hill also known as Loma de la Cruz. You have to get on one of the two trails early morning and not come back later then midday, as it can be dangerous. It’s an hour hike, but the view must be astonishing!
This is it for Cali, a short sweet stay which left us wishing for more. Too bad we didn’t have the time.
Hope you enjoyed it and got enough information for your 2 days in Cali.
If you don’t have enough time to spend in this amazing city, this post can help you with the top attractions of Medellín; what are the best things to do and how to get to each of them.
Our day in Medellín was atypical, as it was December 24th. We couldn’t get a walking tour, which is always our favorite thing to do once in a new city: understanding the historic context and going to places that only locals would know, gives us the real cultural experience.
Medellín is much more modern than Bogotá; the metro line is pretty easy to use and takes you to most of the tourist points. In any city in South America it’s really important to stay in a safe neighborhood, so make sure you check if your accommodation is in a good area.
We stayed in Laureles, next to the Stadium metro station; it’s an excellent neighborhood for first time travelers, there are plenty of hostels, restaurants and transportation around. Our accommodation was Hotel Punto 70, it’s more like an apartment than an actual hotel, good enough location and price, nothing fancy. In fact bed sheets were really poor, but it was alright for one night stay.
San Antonio is the station where all metro lines meet and from there you can go to the historic centre, El Poblado. In this area you will see one of the main attractions in Medellín – Botero square, where 19 replicas of his sculptures are placed right in front of a beautiful cathedral; there’s also “Yo amo Medellín” sign not far. Once you are in this square you are walking distance from all other attractions: Museum of Antioquia, La Candelaria church, Bolivar park and Medellin Cathedral. You can spend the morning wondering around here and have a nice Colombian lunch in one of the many restaurants you will find here.
In the afternoon head off to Medellín cable car for a nice view and also a walk around Arvi park. The cable car is not designed to be a tourist attraction, as it serves as public transportation for the people who live in the communities up the hill. To get here, you need to take the metro to Acevedo station then change to the cable car and head to Santo Domingo Station; another change need to be done here and then your final stop will be Arvi station, right in front the entrance of the park.
Wondering what to eat when visiting Colombia? Check our post about the Colombian food in Bogota
At the entrance there’s a handcraft and local produce market; we haven’t walked around the park as we went up quite late in the afternoon, but the view from the cable car was pretty nice!
Because it’s was Christmas Eve, we went back to our hotel to get ready for the festivities. Medellín is pretty big on Christmas and the entire city is covered with Christmas lights. If like us, you are lucky to spend “navidad” in Medellín, read Greg’s post to find out what to do during Christmas.
It’s a short post as it was a short day, we definitely wish we could have more time to spend exploring the city. The few things we saw was enough to make us wish to come back.
If you have any question, let me know by commenting on the post!