Tag Archives: Valparaiso

My 7 Links: Revisiting some old favourites

Whoops. I appear not to have blogged since March despite having done a fair bit of travelling. My bad.

But thanks to Sophie, I’ve been inspired to get going again, as she’s nominated me to take part in Tripbase’s ‘My 7 Links’ project, which is basically a great excuse for me to have a read through my own archives and pull up some of my favourite old posts, I’d been meaning to do something like this for a while and now I have a good excuse to. Apologies to those of you who’ve seen these before, if not, hope you enjoy.

So, without further ado, here are mine:

My most beautiful post

Trekking Peru - the Huayhuash Circuit

Glacial lakes in the Cordillera Huayhuash

As any reader of this blog will know, I *love* mountains. And the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen are in the Cordillera Huayhuash, in the Peruvian Andes. The nine days I spent hiking there in the summer of 2009 was just one long procession of staggering views of deep blue lakes, shining white snow-capped peaks, lush valleys and breathtaking sunrises.

My most popular post

Palm trees by the beach in Tayrona National Park, Taganga, Santa Marta, Colombia

The stunning beaches of Tayrona National Park, just outside Taganga

I had a lovely, relaxing time in Taganga, Colombia, but I had no idea how popular this post would be as it’s not exactly a huuuuge tourist destination. But two years on it’s still one of my most read posts each week, getting more traffic from Google than any other post of mine, as well as more referrals from Lonely Planet. It’s just about to top 5,000 views and shows no signs of slowing up yet.

My Most Controversial Post

Office towers in Bogota Colombia

Not the prettiest buildings in Bogota

I’m not really in the habit of writing controversial posts. But another post about Colombia really annoyed a local. She wasn’t happy about me slagging off Bogota, and got quite cross in the comments box. But hey, you can’t love everywhere, and I still think it’s one of my least favourite cities in Latin America. The rest of the country is lovely though.

My most helpful post

Hostel in Valparaiso Chile

The fantastic Patapata Hostel in Valparaiso, Chile

Based on which links people click on, then my most helpful post by far is this one about my favourite hostels in Latin America. I was just trying to give a little love back to the owners of some of the amazing places I stayed in during my seven months there, and it’s nice to see that over 1,500 people have clicked through to their various websites.

A post whose success surprised me

Rice Terraces in Banaue, the Philippines

Rice Terraces on the road from Banaue to Sagada

I was quite pleased with my post about Sagada, in the Philippines when I wrote it. I certainly never expected it to be my first post to appear on the WordPress homepage. It gave me easily my biggest one day traffic to date, and also got the post more comments than usual. I have a feeling it was the photo of the stunning rice terraces that did it.

A post which didn’t get the attention it deserved

Swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines

On a post whale-shark high

Generally my posts about the Philippines did really well – but weirdly, the one about my favourite experience in the country, snorkelling with whale sharks is one of my least-viewed posts of all time. Reading back, I’m not sure I quite got across quite what an incredible experience it was.

The post I’m most proud of

Guanajuato from above Mexico

Guanajuato - my favourite town in Mexico

Impressions of Mexico was my attempt to sum up why I completely fell in love with Mexico during my seven weeks there in 2009. There are so many things I adore about the place, and even though I visited a further 18 countries on my round the world trip, it’s still my favourite. Lots of negative news reports have put lots of people off visiting the country, which is a real shame, as most of it is still very safe to travel in, and I’ve always hope this post can do a little bit towards combatting some of those negative perceptions.

…and the final part of the My 7 Links game is that I’m supposed to nominate 5 other bloggers to take part, but I can only think of two other travel bloggers I know who haven’t done this yet so that will have to do for now.

Jillian & Danny from I Should Log Off
Gillian from One Giant Step

Now that felt like a nice way to start writing again, promise it won’t be so long next time, as writing this has got me going again and I now have four more posts coming up, starting with my recent trip to Austria and Slovakia.

The Best Hostels in Latin America

Travelling for a year, constantly on the move, rarely staying more than three or four days in one place, where I end up staying makes a huge difference to my my stress levels. End up in a nice hostel, with things like comfy beds, warm showers, free breakfasts, a good location and a nice atmosphere keeps me far more relaxed and happy than when I’ve been unlucky enough to end up in somewhere lacking some or all of those factors.

Luckily, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised to find the vast majority of places I’ve stayed in have been brilliant. Finding the good ones isn’t too hard either – best of all is to get personal recommendations from other travellers, failing that, a quick look on hostelworld or hostelbookers gives a pretty good (and crucially, up to date) steer on where’s good. One of the main reasons to avoid using guide books is that new hostels are opening all the time, and in many places the best hostels have only opened recently.

Seeing as personal recommendations are the best kind, I thought I’d thank some of the best places I’ve stayed in by giving them a bit of a plug here – I make no apologies for the fact this list is entirely subjective (it’s not like I’ve been everywhere in Latin America, and I only ever stayed in one place in each town). But I reckon if you happen to be a budget traveller in any of these places and choose to stay in them, I hope you won’t be disappointed.

1. Casa de Dante, Guanajuato, Mexico

Me on Dante's roof

This one has pretty much everything going for it – Dante is the perfect host, welcoming new arrivals with a beer and a brilliant explanation of everything to do in the fantastic city. His mother is an amazing cook, and the free breakfasts (including fresh fruit, a cooked breakfast, delicious fresh smoothies and coffee) cooked by his mother are the best I had in any hostel by far. Add to that the peaceful roof terrace with views all over the city, and wonderful personal touches like the fact they fly flags on the roof for every nationality staying there on a given night (although let me know what Dante does if you happen to stay there and come from a small country he doesn’t have a flag for) and you have a real home from home.

2. Hostel Lao, Mendoza, Argentina

The Hostel Lao probably had the friendliest atmosphere of any hostel I stayed in. And it definitely had the friendliest (and possibly maddest) dogs too. There’s a huge garden (with a pool) too, and the weekly barbecue is really not to be missed – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that much meat (and the salads are pretty awesome too).

3. Casa Felipe, Taganga, Colombia

There can’t be many backpacker hostels in the world that have a chef who cooks posh restaurant quality food. Casa Felipe is certainly the only one I’ve ever come across. Great breakfasts too, and the rooms are really spread out, each with their own hammock, and with a lovely shaded outdoor seating area for chilling in, this is the perfect place to relax and recover after trekking to the Lost City. This is also one of the few where it’s definitely worth booking ahead – it’s always full.

4. Hostel Patapata, Valparaiso, Chile

Hostel Patapata

Valpo was my favourite city in Latin America, and a not insignificant part of my enjoyment was the wonderful Patapata. It’s in a big old 19th century townhouse on the best of the city’s hills, and is another family run place that really has a proper family feeling. Another place with great breakfasts too.

5. Albergue Churup, Huaraz, Peru

Huaraz sunset from Albergue Churup's balcony

Huaraz is a hikers’ and mountaineer’s town, and if you are either of those, Albergue Churup is the perfect place to stay. It’s really popular with the serious outdoor types, which can help if you’re looking to join up with people for activities. Best of all is the top-floor communal area, with huge windows giving perfect views of the mountains (and even better ones from the outside terrace), and a coal fire to keep you warm on the cold mountain evenings. Really hot showers are also an essential after a big hike, and they don’t disappoint. Yet again (bit of a theme developing here from me) the breakfasts are great (I can highly recommend the banana pancakes before a big day of activity).

6. Altons Dive Shop, Utila, Honduras

Alton's Dock

If you’re diving, this is the best bargain in the Americas I reckon. For a start, you get free accommodation if you’re doing a course. Even when you’ve finished a course, divers get a special rate, which was easily the cheapest I paid anywhere (just over $3!). And for that, you can get a room right on the dock, with beautiful views across Utila harbour. Hammocks on the dock are perfect for chilling too, there’s a bar right on the dock too and a weekly sunset booze cruise (more civilised than it sounds) and barbecue too. In fact if they just did decent Baleadas (yummy Honduran street food) I would barely have needed to leave the place the entire time I was there.

7. Camping Mihinoa, Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile

It’s in one of the best locations on the island, sitting right on the edge of the ocean facing some of the island’s most dramatic waves. The beds are comfy, the showers are hot, and there are not one but two decent sized kitchens. Marta is the perfect host too. And best of all, it’s the cheapest place to stay on what is a pretty pricey island.

8. Medialuna Art Hostel, Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena is HOT. Ridiculously so. And very humid too. Walking around the city by day is a sweaty and tiring experience. So what you need is a hostel with somewhere to cool down. The Medialuna has two: a pool in the downstairs courtyard, and a nice high roof terrace that frequently gets a breeze that’s missing at street level. Housed in a lovely, whitewashed colonial building, it’s one of the more beautiful hostels I stayed in too. One note of caution – out of all the ones listed here, this is one that can be a bit noisy at night.

9. DN Hostel, Bogota, Colombia

Bogota is COLD. In my first hostel I nearly froze to death, even in my room. The DN, on the other hand, comes with wonderfully warm, thick duvets, atop one of the comfiest bunks I’ve stayed in. It has a really friendly owner too, and is another place that does a great weekly barbecue.

10. Casa Margarita, Creel, Mexico

Margarita’s gets a bit of a knocking sometimes, because the staff can apparently be a bit pushy about tours (although they weren’t to me), and admittedly the rooms aren’t quite up to the standard of most of the rest on this list. But it earns it’s place here for one very good reason – value for money. It was the cheapest hostel I stayed in Mexico, and yet it included not only a two course breakfast, but also a huge three course dinner – unique amongst all the places I stayed in.

That’s it for Latin America now – posts on New Zealand, Australia & Indonesia will be on their way soon as I work through my backlog of posts!

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Furl | Newsvine

You can subscribe for updates by RSS or email using the links in the top right.

Highlights of Latin America

I had such an awesome time in Latin America it’s pretty hard to pick out favourite moments. But I’m going to give it a go anyway. Here are the best things I’ve seen and done over the past six and a half months, along with links to what I originally wrote about them.

Favourite City: Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso

Runner-up: Guanajuato, Mexico
Hilly cities with lots of colourful houses are clearly the way to keep me happy.

Favourite Capital City: Mexico City

Mexico City Cathedral

Runner-up: Santiago de Chile
Quite a contrast here between enormous, chaotic, slightly crazy Mexico City vs Clean, calm, orderly Santiago. But I could live in ’em both, I reckon.

 

Favourite Food: Mexico
Runner-up: Peru
Best street food in Latin America from the Mexicans, whereas the restaurants were at their finest in Peru.

Best course: Learning Spanish in Guatemala
Runner-up: Learning to Dive in Honduras
Who knew learning could be such fun? Learning Spanish enriched my whole experience in the continent, and diving was way more fun (and way easier) than I ever thought it could be.

Favourite activity: Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru
Runner-up: Cycling tour of the wineries, Mendoza, Argentina

Favourite Hike: The Huayhuash Circuit, Peru

The Cordillera Huayhuash

Runner-up: The Lost City, Colombia
Again, quite a contrast. The Huayhuash took me to the most stunning mountain scenery I’ve ever come across, and was the toughest walk I’ve ever done. The Lost City was less visually appealling and easier on the legs, but made up for it by being with the best group of people I’ve me on the whole trip.

 

Favourite Natural Wonder: The Copper Canyon, Mexico

The road to Batopilas, Copper Canyon

Runner-up: The Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Sorry Colca Canyon, you may be deeper but Mexico’s is way better. It also gave me my favourite journey, along the Copper Canyon railway. Meanwhile, Uyuni was like a trip to another planet.

 

Favourite off the beaten track place: Mexcaltitan

Calle Venezia, Mexcaltitan

I feel like a bad traveller. I was pretty firmly on the gringo trail the entire time. Except in Mexcaltitan, tough to get to, not a lot to see, but one of my favourite stops so far.

 

Best Night out: Sargento Pimientas, Lima, Peru
Runner-up: Mazatlan, Mexico
My last night in Lima was a chance to say goodbye to two good friends I’d been travelling with on and off since Colombia, accompanied by the best music I’ve heard in ages. Mazatlan on the other hand was an entirely random night out with three Mexican women who I was introduced to by a clown.

Favourite Beach: Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Tayrona National Park

Runner-up: Mazunte, Mexico
Sleeping in a hammock on the beach in Colombia was pretty close to paradise. Meanwhile the waves in Mazunte kept me entertained for hours.

 

Favourite Market: San Francisco El Alto, Guatemala
Runner-up: Oaxaca, Mexico
A pretty small hill town in Guatemala with the biggest, most sprawling market I’ve ever seen. Oaxaca was my favourite of the Mexican markets, especially for the crammed, smokey food section.

Favourite weird religious spectacle: Semana Santa in Guanajuato, Mexico

Semana Santa in Guanajuato

Runner-up: Meeting Maximon in Santiago de Atitlan, Guatemala
Catholicism may have its heart in Europe, but the way they do it in Latin America makes our version look pretty tame.

 

Favourite Country: Mexico
Runner-up: Peru
I’ve probably bored everyone I’ve met on this trip to death by going on and on about Mexico. But I don’t care. I love it.

Chile Round-up & Budget

Poor, underrated Chile. I didn’t meet a single backpacker in Latin America who reckoned Chile was their favourite country. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia…yes, frequently. Chile? Never.

They always start with a couple of obvious negatives that I must admit I have trouble disagreeing too much with – first off, it’s expensive. Compared to the rest of South America, that’s certainly true – however it’s still cheap compared to home, and anyway, it wasn’t all that hard for me to save money by eating out less, especially considering negative number two: the food. I’d been forewarned, but boy do the locals love their fast food. KFCs & McDonald’s everywhere, and a lot of rather greasy Chilean options too. Luckily there are plenty of decent foreign options (especially Peruvian), and the supermarkets are great, so I still ate pretty well despite the lack of great local cuisine.

The third negative I kept hearing is, I think, rather unfair. Santiago seems to get a bit of a bad time from traveller. I can kind of see why – it’s not the most amazing sights or museums, but despite that, I loved it. It’s got a stunning location, with the peaks of the highest point of the Andes towering behind the city. It’s a lovely city to wander around in, with loads of cafes and great shops to spend time in, and it’s clean, modern and safe too. The nightlife around the Bellavista area is some of the best I’ve come across as well, with dozens of bars and restauraunts spilling out onto the pavements. It even has it’s own uniquely Chilean form of seediness – the famous Cafes con Piernas (Cafes with legs) – a bizarre combo of strip joint and Starbucks, where besuited businessmen go to have coffee served by women in extremely skimpy bikinis, something I got to see after being dragged there by two Peruvians who couldn’t believe such a thing existed.

I’d even go so far as to say it’s the first place apart from Mexico City on this trip that I can actually imagine living in – helped in part by the fact that it’s one of the few places in the world where you have ski resorts 90 minutes drive one way, and a beach 90 minutes in the other direction.

Aside from Santiago, I’ve already noted that Valparaiso is one of the best cities I’ve been, and the landscapes of the Atacama desert were starkly beautiful. Best of all was the friendliness of the people, something I’ve found time and again in every country I’ve been to so far, but I have to say I think I found the Chileans the friendliest of all.

It’s yet another country I really want to go back to – in particular to explore further south, including the Lake District and Patagonia, especially the Torres del Paine national park, home to the region’s best hiking.

Anyway, that’s it for the round-up, onto more serious matters – the budget. Considering Chile is supposed to be the most expensive country in Latin America, and that I visited the most expensive places in the country (San Pedro, Santiago & Rapa Nui), I didn’t do anywhere near as badly as I thought. In fact, if it hadn’t been for buying a replacement camera, Chile would actually have worked out cheaper than several of the countries I’ve visited, mainly aided by my lowest activities cost yet, and all that hoime cooking kept the food spend down too. Sadly, the expense of the camera negated all my hard work at saving, and it meant the country did indeed turn out to be the costliest since my brief stop in the USA.
Accommodation: $12.13
Transport: $9.01
Activities: $3.15
Misc (including that Camera): $19.07
Food & drink: $20.40
Total: $63.77

And of course on to all those other numbers:
Funiculars ridden: 6
Buses: 3
Flights: 3
Taxis: 2
Cars: 1
Jeeps: 1
Cash withdrawals: 3
Phone calls: 2
Postcards sent: 2
Volcanoes climbed: 2
Beaches visited: 2
Laundry: 1
Beds slept in: 6
Canyons: 1
Deserts: 1
Moai seen: dozens
Cameras broken: 1
Cameras unable to be fixed: 1
Cameras bought: 1

And onto the people I met. Interestingly, this was the second country in a row I spent more time with locals than with foreigners. Chile was also the first country so far where I spent more time with Latin Americans than I did with gringos – more than half the people I spent time with were Spanish speakers, and it was a fitting end to my stay in the continent that my last few nights out were conducted almost entirely in Spanish (although I have to admit that was mostly chatting to the Peruvians, as I can barely understand a word Chileans say when they speak Spanish to me, which would be a bit of an obstacle if I were to decide to live there). On the gringo score, yet again Brits dominated the list, but surprisingly Chile was the first country where I didn’t meet a single USian.
Chile: 14
UK: 10
Brazil: 3
Germany: 2
Peru: 2
Australia: 2
Argentina: 2
New Zealand: 1
France: 1
Uruguay: 1
Venezuela: 1
Israel: 1

That’s it now for stuff on the individual Latin American countries – just a few general South American round up posts to come, and then on to New Zealand.

You can read all my posts about Chile here and see all my Chilean photos here.

Valparaiso Graffiti & Street Art

One of my favourite things about Valpo was the huge amount of fantastic graffiti and street art dotted around the walls of the city, which help make an already beautiful and colourful city even moreso.

Here’s a selection of some of my favourites:

You can see the full collection of my Valpo street art photos here

Gorgeous Valparaiso

Much as I love the great outdoors, I’m a city boy at heart. And I’ve been to some fantastic cities so far – Mexico City, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, Medellin, Lima, Mendoza & Cusco stand out – but Valparaiso (or Valpo for short) may just be my favourite yet.

I do like a bit of faded seaside glamour, and Valpo has it in spades. In the 19th century, it was the biggest port in Chile, and attracted immigrants from all over the world, particularly Brits & Germans. You can still see plenty of traces of that era – The ‘dissidents’ cemetary is full of graves that tell fantastic stories of all the Brits and Germans that found their way to the city is one of the best examples.

Valparaiso cemetary

Valparaiso cemetary

Elsewhere, the history of immigration to the city can be seen by the former volunteer fire companies, with one one for each of the main immigrant nationalities – the British & German ones sit right next to each other, and still maintain links to their home countries, as can be seen by the fire trucks donated by the home countries.

The British Fire company

The British Fire company

Valpo isn’t really a city to go admire its museums and galleries – rather, it´s one that reveals its charms best by wandering and wandering round for hours on end. The port itself, and the commercial heart of the city, lies on a narrow strip of flat land by the coast, and for me the highlight of this part was the wonderfully curvy trolley buses.

Valpo Trolley Bus

Valpo Trolley Bus

. Other than that, the city sits perched on a series of steep hills, most of which can be reached by rickety, often English built, ascensores, or funiculars that trundle up and down for less than a dollar a journey.

One of the many ascensores

One of the many ascensores

The hills are where my favourite bits of the city are to be found. They are mostly covered in houses clad in corugated metal, brightly painted, and with fantastic views out towards the ocean. I was lucky enough to have stayed in one, yet another fantastic South American hostel, the Patiperro, in the middle of one the nicest hills, Cerro Alegre.

Valpo houses

Valpo houses

One of the things I love about the place is the sense of being somewhere that was so grand back in the 19th century but that has faded – not into obscurity, but into its own comfortable, slightly dirty, but still glamorous present. It has a life and energy that many cities ten times its size would kill for.

The steps to the Patiperro

The steps to the Patiperro

There’s not much more I can say about the place – I didn´t do much, I didn´t see that many of the ´sights´ (although I did go to Pablo Neruda´s house, which the guidebooks make out to be fantastic for its artsy eclecticism – but to be honest, when you´re in such a fantastically electic city as Valpo, the poet¡s house just paled in comparison), I just wandered, and I fell in love. Oh, except for that feact it´s just hit me that the other city I adored was Guanajuato, which is also a hilly city with lots of colourful houses. If that´s all it takes to please me, can anyone suggest any other places round the world tjat fit that description.

On a final note, if you don’t have the time or the money to visit Valpo right now, you could do far worse than spend some time flicking through the pages of Corrugated City, a fantastic blog written by an English expat in the city that I’ve been reading and loving since my trip began, and is a way better introduction to the city than any guide book could ever be (and it’s not just helpful on the city – I followed his tips on how to make a substitute bacon sandwich when faced with Chilean ingredients and it worked pretty damn well).

You can see all of my photos of Valpo here