Wandering Chile (Part Two)

Punta Arenas (2 nights) >> Puerto Natales (2 nights) >> Torres del Paine (2 nights) >> Puerto Natales (1 night)

After a quick trip to Mendoza over the border in Argentina, we returned to Santiago for our flight on 1st December 2018 down to Patagonia.

As you can see, it’s pretty far south.

We were really excited to see snow-topped mountains, glaciers and penguins. Particularly Jonny, who was starting to melt in the Santiago sun.

Punta Arenas

Our first stop was Punta Arenas, a sleepy town with colourful houses. It took us a moment to adjust to the cold by putting all the clothes we had on, especially in the evenings.

An artsy shot, perfect for a canvas, of the pier in Punta Arenas.

Punta Arenas seemed most famous for King Crab. We tried this in the seafood empanadas in the local market and my absolute favourite was the King Crab lasagne.

Said seafood empanadas.

Sounds a bit weird but King Crab lasagne was one of the best things I’ve tasted! Try it at the restaurant La Cuisine.

Our main reason for staying in Punta Arenas was to visit Magdalena Island, home to a huge population of Magellanic penguins. It was a long 2 hour boat ride to get to the island and the weather was awful. When we arrived we had about an hour to roam the island with the penguins which was really fun, despite the wind and rain.

Queue the pingu theme tune. Just look at them!! 😍

The trip in total was quite pricey and had we realised we were going to get to see penguins two more times during our trip (in much better weather) we may not have splurged. However, they were amazing to see! Even the penguin who backed up to me to have a poo, the cheeky critter.

A penguin backing up to you to defecate is good luck right? The little shitter.

In Punta Arenas, there was a great chocolate shop decked out in Christmas decorations to help us begin feeling festive being away from home.

Sara’s Mecca.

Puerto Natales

Next we took a bus to Puerto Natales, the nearest town to Torres del Paine national park. This town felt much bigger and busier. It was a useful base to prepare for our multi-day hike through the national park.

We went to a talk provided by Erratic Rock which gave lots of tips for hiking in Torres del Paine. One tip was to put all your stuff into plastic bags because the weather changes so frequently you won’t have time to keep putting on a rucksack waterproof cover. They also strongly advised bringing walking poles to help in the wind, mud and for steep climbs. Plus to save your knees. We dutifully went and bought some after.

…and then celebrated our purchase with a pre-hike treat 😋

Using the excuse of a 3 day hike to treat ourselves to a crepe at Creperia Cafe & Te

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine is a national park in Chile and most commonly people opt to take a day-trip, or hike the w-trek or the full o-circuit.

The W and O circuit marked out thanks to Goats on the Road travel blog.

You need about 4-5 days to complete the w-trek and all accomodation needs to be booked in advance. We only realised quite late into our trip just how popular this hike is and how fast the limited options for accommodation get booked up. Even if you bring your own tent, you have to pre-book a pitch.

We managed to book two nights, the first night in a dome and the second in a tent that was provided. Even for this, it was very very expensive!

The most expensive accommodation of our entire trip. To avoid this, book early peeps!

This is what a tent on a ‘platform’ looks like.

We just carried our day packs for the 3 days and managed to complete more of a u-circuit in the time we had. It was completely worth it as the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. In total, we walked 60km, 6-8 hours per day.

Day One – we walked from the boat drop off at Camp Paine Grande up to the first mirador (view point) of Glacier Grey, then back down and around to Camp Frances.

I vividly remember on day one, getting to the view point and seeing Glacier Grey for the first time, the first proper glacier I had ever seen.

In the background you can just about see the huge glacier.

There was only one issue I encountered which was on day one of the hike, the sole of my trekking boots decided to collapse. By the evening, even with blister plasters, I had 8 swollen blisters and my feet were in agony! Thinking off my feet (lying down to be precise), I considered how I was going to walk the next 2 days. We went to the small camping shop to see if they had insoles so I could line my boots for at least some cushioning. No surprises when they did not. Though, a little gem came to me when I saw a pack of sanitary pads on the shelf. The shop keeper realised what I was thinking and burst out laughing, “you’re the first person to suggest lining your boots with sanitary pads”. I swear, it was like memory foam! And that’s how I got my feet through the next 2 days!

These literally saved my feet. Best insoles ever.

Day Two – Camp Frances to Refugio Las Torres Norte (missing the middle of the w-trek to Camp Britanico which everyone said was amazing).

The trail was absolutely stunning, being so varied in landscape. In fact, we would proudly argue it was the nicest hike we’ve ever done! And that’s with multiple blisters on my feet.

Day Three – Refugio Torres del Norte up to the 3 towers and back, which is where the park gets its name ‘Torres del Paine’. This was the longest hike of the 3 days. One part was through windy pass – we were so glad we brought our poles to avoid us being blown off the mountain.

Crossing windy pass!

The view at the three towers. 9.5km uphill to get there and then all the way back. It was totally worth it

The celebratory beer at the end was truly magical.

Aaaa the sigh of relief that my memory foam trainers were only a bus ride away.

We returned to Puerto Natales with a day to recover before crossing the border into Argentina to go to El Calafate.

Up next, wandering Argentina!

Wandering Mendoza, Argentina: An almost Useful Gringo Guide

Green Mendoza

Mendoza (3 nights)

I wasn’t too bothered about coming here before we went. The main reason gringos go to Mendoza is because it is the wine capital of Argentina. Sara enjoys a tipple now and then so she was excited to visit. For me, after being there it turned out to be one of my highlights. I’m now an alcoholic.

We started from Santiago in Chile on a mega scenic bus journey. You’re surrounded by huge mountains and snaking up the pass to the border is an eye opening activity in itself.

Scenes

The border really was a piece of cake compared to the Chilean border. There was a freaking owl in the rafters too. I told the bus driver in Spanish about it but he couldn’t care less. Or I said something offencive by accident.

We stayed in a reasonably priced, quality place called Hostel Alamo in a fairly big but dated room. The guys who worked there helped us out fitting in what we wanted to do in a short space of time, plus we had a BBQ with them one night (the first of many Argentinian BBQs.. and I thought Brits knew how to BBQ!)

If you can’t beat ’em…

We spent a day touring vineyards with some other gringos on bikes (the unmotorised variety). We tasted so much wine and sadly I don’t remember anything about the day now..

But thankfully we took a load of photos, it looks like we had a nice time. It’s exciting that there is no problem with getting sloshed and cycling on the side of a fairly busy road as a group. Silly, I mean silly not exciting!

Not exciting

Sara was well up for a sunset horse ride which meant I was to face one of my single greatest fears.. horses. Horses. HORSES.

Jonny – Age 19

Horses have a freaking mind of their own, if Hernandez the horse wanted to chuck me off at any point he could. Hernandez has a mind of his own and that’s what terrifies me. Anyway once I faced my fear I had a great time taking in the mountain scenery whilst putting in zero effort with only mild chafing. Of course we had a BBQ at the ranch after the riding.

Chafing

He could be thinking anything

I preferred this Mendozaian dog

TOP TIP – Blood sausage. It’s not that nice. It’s a soft, mushy sausage made from animal bumholes. They’re like Bounty and Milky Way in a box of Celebrations, they’re always the last thing left at the end of the BBQ.

The headline act for me – Argentinian Steak. They say not to meet your heroes (Meat your heroes?) but I would disagree. The steak was everything I imagined and more. It was love at first sight. It was a holiday romance that I’m gutted had to come to an end. I will remember the first kiss, the very first time I placed my lips upon (around?!) thee. You were a.. rare find. Quite the dish. I’m certain you had no feelings for me, but still I let you inside. And when you had nothing left to give, I just paid and left!

Love story aside, you could get a delicious steak dinner for 2 with a bottle of Mendoza Malbec at a relatively fancy place for $30. I know, heaven is cheap.

Sara likes steak now, our relationship is now perfect

Overall In Conclusion Mansell Experience Quick To-The-Point Travel Rating Points Score – 10/10

Perhaps slightly enhanced by my holiday romance with a steak dinner, I thought Mendoza was a proper south american highlight, plus there was a load of fun, active stuff we didn’t do! Take me back!!

Watching me out the corner of his eye 😭

Wandering Chile (Part One)

San Pedro De Atacama (5 nights) >> Santiago (1 night) >> Pucon (3 nights) >> Valparaiso (2 nights) >> Santiago (5 nights)

Apologies for the long delay in blog posts, we’ve been determined to continue writing after non-stop travelling, exploring, eating, drinking and being merry. It was Christmas and New Year after all.

After our salt flat tour back in November, we were kindly dropped off in San Pedro de Atacama in the very north of Chile. It is also one of the driest deserts in the world. Before heading to Patagonia, we decided to spend a bit of time exploring more of Chile. It’s funny as besides Patagonia, the rest of Chile was never on our bucket list of places to visit but we are so so glad we took more time to take in more of what Chile has to offer.

The exceptionally long and thin chilli shape of Chile!

Home to one of the world’s driest deserts, more volcanoes than you can name, geysers, glaciers, hot springs, snow-topped mountain ranges, colourful seaside towns and stunning national parks, Chile packs a lot.

Our top 9 experiences in Chile.

One thing we had couldn’t get used to, was seeing evacuation signs for volcano eruptions, earthquakes and/or tsunamis everywhere we went!

We spent a month travelling through the country from the Atacama desert in the North to Torres del Paine national park in the South.

Atacama Desert

We arrived in San Pedro in the Atacama desert in mid-November. The heat of the midday sun was a welcome relief from our chilly last night in the salt flat tour. We quickly shredded our warmer clothes and embraced the sunshine.

We had 5 nights in San Pedro and took it leisurely, exploring the nearby parts of the desert by bike. First, we explored the Pukará de Quitor ruins. They aren’t quite as impressive as the Sacred Valley in Peru but to be fair these ruins are much older, pre-dating the Inca’s.

Indiana Jones.

The best part was the gate to a small cave, thankfully Jonny brought a head torch as it got narrower and darker the further we ventured in. Finally, we exited the cave only to find it was a dead-end opening and had to clamber back through. It was still cool to explore, especially without a tour group or guide.

We also cycled through a nearby canyon called Devil’s throat which seems to be a popular name in South America as it is also the name of a view point at Iguazu Falls. You can only go into the canyon by bike or on foot which made it pretty epic.

Cycling through the ‘Devil’s throat’.

Valle de Luna is part of the national reserve in the Atacama desert. We took an afternoon trip to see this moon-like landscape. It was about $20 each for the tour which was maybe a little on the pricey side but we appreciated the transport as the reserve is big and we went to lots of view points.

Exploring the Moon or possibly Mars.

A few eating places we liked in San Pedro included El Huerto which served homemade Chilean food in a lovely garden setting. The burgers at Burger Garden were exceptionally good, served up from a food truck. For lunch, the small cafe on the intersection of Carcoles and Domingo Atienza served the best Empanadas, honesty they were the size of calzones! The Rustica one had goats cheese, tomato and fresh basil in 😋

We’d both highly recommend doing star gazing. The Atacama desert is both one of the driest and highest (in terms of altitude) deserts, making it one of the best places in the world to observe the stars. In San Pedro there are lots of tour companies selling star gazing tours but we opted to go with Space for their excellent reviews.

The observatory we went to had 9 telescopes and an expert who talked us through the star constellations, the life of star, navigating using the stars and the differences in the northern and southern hemispheres. Through the telescopes we saw nebulas, the rings of Saturn and the moon up close. The observatory also had pods for giant telescopes to be installed which could be controlled remotely.

Observing the moon.

On our last day, we splurged on a day at the pool and spa at Hotel Cumbres to relax.

Pretty nice, eh?

Pucon

To get from the Atacama desert to Pucon we had to first fly to Santiago from Calama airport, and then take a 12-hour bus. Pucon is in the heart of the Lake District and the town itself has a village or ski resort feel.

Wandering Pucon.

We stayed in Chili Kiwi hostel which is one of the best hostels we have stayed in. They have a tree house, camper vans or hobbit rooms you can sleep in. We couldn’t recommend this hostel enough and we met some great people there too.

Hobbit life.

The highlight of our trip to Pucon, and one of the main reasons we came, was to summit Vulcan Villarrica. This is one of Chile’s most active volcanoes. It took about 4-5 hours to reach the top and it wasn’t easy walking in thick snow and battling strong winds.

Exhilarating, exhausting and epic. Climbing Volcano Villarrica.

At the summit, we had to wear gas masks from all the sulphurous smoke pouring out from the crater. You’re only granted a few minutes to let your achievement soak in, before the best part – sledging down!

At the summit and on the edge of the crater!

Hike up. Slide down ….weeeeeee

The next day we had an even harder day, deciding which of 16 steaming hot springs to relax in.

Aaaaaa …and relax.

Valparaiso

We took the overnight bus from Pucon direct to Valparaiso. Valparaiso is a coastal town, famed for its street art and colourful buildings. We met with an old colleague and friend, Teo, and spent the next few days wandering the streets, admiring the street art, going in ascensors (funiculars) and drinking beer (and gin).

Colours, creativity, craft beer and good company in Valparaiso.

One of the funny moments of my trip was when I thought I ordered fondue and received a mountain of cheesy chips! Not what I was expected but they did taste good!

This was intended for one person! Remind me when I get home to diet and exercise for the rest of my life!

Santiago

We actually went to Santiago three times going between Pucon, Valparaiso and Mendoza but it wasn’t until the third time we really got time to explore the city.

On our very first stop we only had an afternoon. We have this strange habit when arriving in a big city, to visit a big shopping centre. Possibly for some Western comfort or for the air-con, but we really enjoyed going to the Costanera Centre, a giant shopping centre. We devoured a meal at Hard Rock Cafe, watched a film at the cinema and bought a few new clothes.

On our second short stop we managed to squeeze in a visit to Concha y Torro, by just going to the end of the metro line. The wine brand famous for one wine in particular Casillero del Diablo. Although this vineyard was geared up for tourists we still found it interesting. Even the over hyped devil’s cellar experience (Casillero del Diablo means Cellar of the Devil) was fun.

Visiting our first vineyard, the home of Casillero del Diablo!

In the evening we managed to meet up with two travellers, Sanne and Charlotte, from our Jungle Trek in Peru. We went to the Kross bar in Bella Vista where Jonny became quickly became acquainted with the endless craft beers on offer.

Salud!

Finally, after we came back a third time to Santiago did we begin exploring the city. We strolled around the artsy shops of Italia and had a vegan meal (mainly for some veggie goodness).

The next morning, we took the free walking tour in the morning to get to know the city.

A few signs from our walking tour.

Meeting some other travellers on the tour, we had lunch and spent the afternoon with them going up the funicular to the view point and a mini version of Christ the Redeemer statue (Cerro San Cristobal).

Chileans know how to make a sandwich!

View ❤️

On our last day we spent relaxing at the public open-air swimming pool Piscina Antilén which has panormanic views of the city.

Open-air swimming pool with a view in Santiago.

Next stop, a quick few days in Mendoza (famous for Malbec) and then onto Patagonia for part two of Chile.

 

 

An almost useful gringo guide to Bolivia – that time we spent 10 days in Bolivia and didn’t even get our stuff nicked

Lake Titikaka (brief tour) >> La Paz (3 nights) >> Pampas (2 nights) >> La Paz (2 nights) >> Uyuni Salt Flats tour (2 nights)

Original expectations of 10 days in Bolivia:

  • Get pickpocketed
  • Get mugged
  • Get shot
  • Get incredible pictures on the salt flats

Reality of 10 days in Bolivia:

  • Not being a victim of any crime
  • Struggling to walk up hills at altitude
  • Experiencing the most amazing downhill bike ride
  • Fishing whilst surrounded by nonchalent caimans
  • Swimming with dolphins whilst surrounded by nonchalent caimans
  • Throwing a dying pyranha at a caiman whilst surrounded by nonchalent caimans
  • Getting fairly underwhelming photos on the salt flats
  • Being surrounded by incredible scenery; huge mountains, vivid lagoons, active volcanoes, sprawling deserts

Puno (Peru) , Copacabana & Isla del Sol

The first stop en route to Bolivia, and our first night bus. Being a gangly 6ft4 gringo stuck on a night bus made me forget about the cost efficiency of being transported somewhere and being able to sleep at the same time. I had no choice but to assume the fetal position. We took a short boat ride on the Peruvian side of Lake Titikaka to the so-called “Floating Islands”, as opposed to, of course the ones that don’t float. There’s a group of people that live on the islands because generations before them realised they wouldn’t have to pay tax.

Definition of living off the grid

So we caught up with the island gypsies and their homes made of reeds, paired with their solar panels! The islands were small enough that you can indeed feel them floating.

More bussing to Copacabana for “Isla Del Sol” where we had the option of jumping on the top deck/roof of the small boat for the ride of unknown duration to the island. Us keeno Gringos jumped right up and it was Arctic up there with the wind, for an hour!! After a small hike on the island where a young boy chased me down for money for using the toilet, we opted to let the Gringos that missed out on the top deck last time ride shotgun!

Sara stop! Let’s take this photo so the rest of the gringos overtake us as get the seats on top of the boat waaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!

Isla Del Sol

Overall In Conclusion Mansell Experience Quick To-The-Point Travel Rating Points Score5

Perhaps marred by the rushed night bus tour approach, I still wasn’t dying to write home about Lake Titikaka, even though Titikaka is a great name that I love to say out loud frequently.

La Paz

I was so nervous about getting my stuff nabbed or being punched in the face. I carried around my normal phone and wallet, but I also had my almost matching decoy phone and wallet ready to hand over in case of robber emergency.

“GIMME YOUR STUFF”

“Oh, no, not my stuff. Not my old worthless phone, and my wallet with the expired Tesco clubcard nooooooooo”

“TO THE ATM YOU WITHDRAW MONEY”

Ahh crap I need to work on that bit.

Enjoy the Clubcard waaaaaaaaaaaaaah maaaaaaaaaate

From La Paz we took a tour to cycle down “Death Road”

Dayum

No “death” occurred, in fact it was an incredible downhill bike ride with seriously epic views. There were steep drops on the side of the road facing the valley, but the roads were wide enough to avoid “death”.

If I were Prime Minister of Bolivia I’d rename the road to “Actually not that bad, nice view road” or ANTBNVR for short.

In truth we didn’t do an awful lot more in La Paz because we stayed in a party hostel called Loki which was a bit of a black hole. Free drinks if you come to the bar, free drinks if you stay at the bar, more free drinks if you stay at the bar longer. It was great!

Yep, I got a free drink for wearing this.

We walked around the main areas, but because the city is at 2,800m above sea level, we looked like old aged pensioners who smoked 40 a day their entire lives anytime we went uphill. We did the free walking tour, took one of the cable cars that web across the city, and ate and drank with our newest travel fwiends.

Overall In Conclusion Mansell Experience Quick To-The-Point Travel Rating Points Score – 9

Enhanced by the fact that no death occurred, La Paz was frikkin awesome, mostly because of death road.. we missed out on watching local women wrestle and snorting copious amounts of coMichaelcaine

Bolivian Pampas

We decided to go check out nature, after a recommendation from some traveller dudes we met in Peru. We flew across the country, drove for a few hours, and there it was.. Nature. I couldn’t believe it.

Nay-Chur

We spent a lot of time cruising up and down rivers spying on caimans (at night we could see their eyes light up like jewels when we used the torch) and wondering why said caimans weren’t interested on snacking on the capybaras, the biggest rodent in the world. Capybara is notoriously difficult to say without using an Australian accent.

We had the opportunity to swim with the pink river dolphins, again, not eaten by the caimans. I’ve watched a lot of nature programs and expected real life nature to be brutal at times but nooooooooo. Every animal in the Pampas is clearly vegetarian. Sara took a swim “with the dolphins” but it was more of a swim with the caimans. She’s so brave. I stayed put in the boat. Too many nature programs.

We also went pyranha fishing. I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected. At one point, an Irish lady had great success, caught a pyranha then just crashed like a computer. I took charge of the situation but noticed the hook had pierced through the eye of the fish, it was really jammed. After ripping half of its face off, I wanted to put the fish out of it’s misery. I began to smash the rest of it’s head against the side of the boat over and over whilst shouting ” WHY WONT YOU JUST DIE” Pyranhas have spikey bellies and backs which added to the spectacle by making it really hard to grip. Eventually I asked the boat shall I just throw it at a caiman, to which they replied “Yes definitely” I was expecting it to be like the thing at the start of Return of the Jedi that eats everyone. What actually happened was I threw a direct shot with the fish landing on top of the caiman’s head, and the caiman did nothing. Nothing at all. I finally got to experience brutal nature, or at least I got to be brutal, in nature.

Not a pyranha, in hindsight I should’ve put the fish really close to the camera to make it look massive

Overall In Conclusion Mansell Experience Quick To-The-Point Travel Rating Points Score – 9

I’m glad we did nature.

Salt Flats

I tried to avoid setting any expectations for the salt flats. The flats were one stop on part of a 3 day tour and when we got there on day 1, we were blown away, it was too windy. No wait that’s not true, let me start again.

The salt flats were incredible. The elevation doesn’t vary by more than 1m over more than 10,000sq km whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat. At some angles you can’t see anything but salt desert. At other angles it’s freakin volcanoes!

Loved it here.. also strippers aren’t allowed to squat and pee at the salt flats

We were looking forward to getting some funny snaps, but sadly our “guide” was a lazy, unenthusiastic shit. Even so, he couldn’t detract from the experience which legitamatiely blew our minds.

On the other days we spent most of our time in a fully packed Jeep, crusading through the desert like desperate paparazi ready to snap photos of unsuspecting landscapes. We stopped at lagoons which were different colours, because of biology and that. I expected the photos I’d seen of the lagoons to have been photoshopped to fake, overcoloured hell, but the water in the lagoons was actually amazingly vivid. At one lagoon, the water looked like water. It was because the wind wasn’t blowing and biology couldn’t do it’s thing.

Looking back, wowzas it was damn cool. The photos don’t capture how freaking windy it was though!

We also went to see a geysar field (I still don’t know how to say that ruddy word, is it “geezer” it can’t be, no way!). Lots of highlights here including a friendly Australian man falling into boggy, bubbling geysar muck which after realising he hadn’t been burned to death was hilarious.

After that, our “guide” dropped us at the border to Chile which was the most strict border we’d experienced. They were mostly checking for food and stuff but I shat myself when they got my drone out! It was fine in the end, just looooooooong. We also got to see some other darn gringos incredible salt flat photos and videos!! There’s a lesson there somewhere!

Don’t grow up 🙃

Overall In Conclusion Mansell Experience Quick To-The-Point Travel Rating Points Score – 8

Being cramped in a Jeep with as many gringos as humanly possible (see our name in the world record book) for the duration of the tour made me not give a 10. The landscapes were the best I’d ever seen. I guess it isn’t the landscapes fault there were too many people in the Jeep. Maybe I should give a 10. But then how does the system work? I guess scoring from my own experience makes most sense. So an 8 is right. Maybe “Overall In Conclusion Mansell Experience Quick To-The-Point Travel Rating Points Score” isn’t snappy enough.

Written by Jonny, currently alive and well in Chile.

A Traveller’s Backpacking List: The Absolutely Necessary, The Handy and The “Sounds Useful” but Never Actually Used Stuff to Take in Your Backpack

We’re often asked “How do you pack for 6 months?”. Well if backpacking has taught us one thing, it’s how to pack a bit more savvy. Space and weight is everything because like it or loathe it you have to carry your backpack and its contents everywhere you go.

Sara is a self-confessed over-packer when it comes to her backpack and sees the error of her ways only once she is on the road, ditching items at every opportunity. Jonny on the other hand is pretty cautious to begin with, but often realises something he left back at home would in hindsight have been useful to take.

So where is the happy middle ground?

We’ll give you an insight into the absolutely necessary items to take, the handy bits and the things we thought would be useful but barely get used.

We should note we are in not in any way endorsed by any of the brands or suggested items below, nor do we receive commission.

The 22 Necessary Items

Here are the essentials that we wouldn’t travel without:

  1. A backpack! We’d recommend investing in a reputable backpack with an adjustable back. We both have Osprey backpacks: Women’s Kyte 66l and Men’s Atmos AG 65l. For our last trip we bought cheap Karrimor backpacks (under £30) and they fell apart quite quickly, plus they were really uncomfortable.
  2. An unlocked mobile phone with as much storage as you can afford. You’ll want the storage for travel apps, photos, downloading offline maps etc. Make sure you enable cloud storage and regular back-ups! It helps if your phone is unlocked so you can use local SIM cards. Tip: If you’re coming from the UK, we’d recommend getting a Three SIM card as they allow roaming to a lot of countries now at no extra cost.
  3. Obviously your passport & travel insurance (make photocopies and keep these in a separate bag). We tend to email ourselves copies of any important documents so we can always look them up.
  4. A Pen – this one is so easy to forget. However, you’ll need a pen for border crossings to fill in the immigration forms.
  5. A portable charger is very handy when you’re travelling so that you can charge your phone.
  6. A worldwide plug adaptor with USB ports – we bought this one. Jonny also bought extra long phone charging cables so if the plug socket is in an awkward place the cable will reach.
  7. Headphones (& a splitter if travelling as a couple) – for long journeys music, films and podcasts make the time pass much more quickly. As a couple we also have a headphone splitter so we can listen and watch things together.
  8. Luggage organisers & dry bags – these are so handy! We line our backpacks with a large dry bag (we had an incident before where all our stuff got wet from a boat ride so we learnt from that). The luggage organisers or packing cubes make finding items a lot easier as you just have to pull out each organiser rather than everything item one by one. We pack all our tops into one bag, underwear in another etc. We also have smaller dry bags for our day backpacks.
  9. Ear plugs & eye mask – for long-haul flights, overnight bus journeys, noisy rooms, snorers etc.
  10. Camera – your phone camera is likely to be good enough but if you use your phone a lot it could be a drain on battery. We have a Go-Pro for adventure activities and an Olympus E-M10 mirrorless camera which makes it much more compact than your standard SLR which is ideal for travelling. We also carry a spare battery for the camera.
  11. Head buff or wrap – these little beauties double up as a bandana, scarf, headband, eye mask, sweat band. They are ideal for trekking too when the weather is unpredictable.
  12. Day backpack – we have 25l day backpacks for daytime or short trips where we can leave our big backpacks in a hostel. Sara also finds it useful to take a small cross-shoulder bag for evenings out or daytime sightseeing.
  13. Sunglasses & sunscreen – hoping we don’t need to justify these!
  14. Bank cards – ideally one credit card (we use Halifax Clarity) and a debit card like Monzo or Revolut which are more travel friendly. All of these cards minimise the bank fees for withdrawals. In general we keep the two cards apart (one in a day bag, one in our big backpack) so we still have one, if the other gets stolen.
  15. Hand sanitiser – so many times there are toilets without soap (and sometimes water) to wash your hands.
  16. Micro-fibre towel – ideally one that packs down small and dries quickly.
  17. Lip balm – come rain or shine, wind or snow, you’re likely to spend a lot of time outdoors. We find our lips begin to suffer without lip balm.
  18. Pocket tissues – just really handy if you get the sniffles, spill something or for some toilets. They are also sometimes hard to buy in remote areas.
  19. Basic clothes – as an minimum: 3x T-shirts, 1x shorts, 1x long trousers/leggings/gym pants, 1x warm long sleeve fleece or top, 4x of knickers/boxers, 1x thin long sleeve shirt, 4x socks (trekking, trainer & normal), 1x sandals/flipflops, 1x swimsuit, 1x trainers/trekking shoes, 2x bra (sports & normal). In reality we take more clothes (see the handy items for the rest!).
  20. Mosquito repellant – it can be hard to know when these pesky critters will be about and you definitely don’t want to get caught out!
  21. First aid kit – this contains fairly basic items like plasters, anti-diarrhoea tablets, pain-killers, antihistamine, antiseptic wipes and decongestants.
  22. Raincoat & backpack rain-covers – keep you and your stuff dry. We both also have waterproof trousers for trekking. We’ve upgraded to good waterproof jackets for this trip due to the amount of treks we’d be doing. Sara has a North Face jacket and Jonny has Rab but there are many out there!

Some of our essential items.

Packing everything into luggage organisers or packing cubes is so helpful to find items. It also helps keeps clothes crease-free if you roll them!

14 Handy Items to Take

These next items have evolved during our travels. We’ve found them very useful.

  1. Travel apps – we download offline maps on Google maps and maps.me is useful too for directions. The Kindle app with Kindle unlimited is brilliant for downloading all Lonely Planet guides for the places we intend to visit. For budgeting we use Trail Wallet (iOS) or Trabee Pocket (Android). For long journeys we use Spotify and Netflix. Booking.com has been useful for almost every accommodation we have stayed at. To blog our travels we use the WordPress app. TripIt has been good to have all our flights and accommodation in one place. Google translate is still bit flaky but can really help you out. Also having online banking as an app, social media platforms and other language learning apps are useful too.
  2. Wash stuff – all your wash stuff like a toothbrush, shampoo etc you can normally pick up as you go which is why we’ve decided to not put them in absolutely necessary. We use a bar of soap instead of shower gel because it’s cheap and lasts longer. Lush produce great shampoo bars which are compact and last a long time too. We bought soap boxes/tins to carry them in. Remember to consider the weight as well as the space bottles of lotions and potions take-up. Don’t forget to bring tweezers, a nail file and nail clippers.
  3. A sewing kit – useful if you rip a hole in your clothes or bag. We’ve used the sewing kit more than we thought we would. Usually you can replace items but not always the same day.
  4. A cap or sunhat – keeps the sun off your face/neck when you’re in the sunshine. Neither of us brought one from the UK but we realised we needed one almost instantly! Particularly useful for safari or boat trips where it’s tricky to keep reapplying sun cream.
  5. A tablet or iPad – a bigger screen for us to watch things together and helpful for research.
  6. Menstrual cup – this one is specific to ladies and we know it sounds gross. However, it helps save space, avoid having to buy sanitary items (& pay the tax!), it’s good for the planet (reusable) and actually works!
  7. Spare small micro-fibre towel- if you like to wash your face every morning or have long or thick hair it may be useful to carry a hand-size microfibre towel around.
  8. Tea-bags – we’re British okay?!
  9. Playing cards – great for socialising and for long waits at airports/bus terminals.
  10. Hair bands/bobbles – we both have long hair so they are useful for hot climates. These are also useful if you need to secure something like your soap dish.
  11. Extra clothes – on top of the essential clothes listed above we both have brought short pyjamas, 3x more knickers/boxers and socks (7 in total, enough for a week), a second pair of shorts, extra warm top, thin long sleeved top and swimwear (2 in total). In addition, Jonny has 3x extra t-shirts (5 in total), 1x shorts (3 in total) and Sara has 1x t-shirt (3 in total), 4x strap tops, 2x dresses, 1x leggings (2 in total), 1x maxi skirt, 1x cardigan. She also has trainers and walking shoes 😅
  12. Reusable water bottle – we’d suggest one that collapses so that if it cannot be washed out for a while so it doesn’t become cumbersome to carry. For example, Sara has this one.
  13. Head-lamp or torch – can be useful depending on what you’re doing. We’ve got one between us and only used it a handful of times for exploring caves or at night. We use the torchlight on our phones primarily.
  14. A chiffon style oversize scarf/sarong/blanket/beach towel/wrap – this thing has so many uses. I purchased mine in Asia and it has surprisingly lasted well. They are cheap to buy when travelling but I use it as blanket on a long journey, a scarf when it’s cold, to lie on the beach and to wrap around me as a sarong. If you’re not sure what I mean, this should give you an idea.

Handy items to bring.

The “Sounds Useful” But Never Actually Used
  1. A pen knife – we may have used this once or twice to cut up some fruit or open a bottle of wine. Honestly though, if you’re staying in hostels it’s not normally hard to find one to borrow. It’s the same with the ‘spork’ (a spoon, fork and knife in one) we brought too.
  2. Elastic string – a travel site once recommended bringing this to make a washing line. We used it once in 6 months.
  3. Duct-tape – useful if your bag rips but then we’d use the sewing kit. Never used!
  4. Mini immersion heater aka water boiler – in principle this sounded great and was recommended in a travel packing list. Plug it in, put it in a mug of water & get instant hot water! We bought this one. It’s never been used.
  5. A notepad – we use our phones for notes or as a diary now and back this up on the cloud. We find a notepad just takes up unnecessary space.
  6. That extra top– Sara is especially guilty of this: I brought 2 extra tops (on top of those listed above) which I really didn’t need. In fact, I haven’t even worn all the clothes I took and we’ve been travelling for a whole month. Luckily as you travel, you start to appreciate which clothes you really need and can opt to ditch items. It also depends on the climate on what you’ll need. We’ve bought new clothes as we’ve needed them.
  7. A marker pen – we thought this might be useful. It does come in handy for labelling food in a shared fridge but normally a hostel will have a pen you can use.
  8. Sleeping bag liner – we’re a bit on the fence about this one. For the vast majority of our accommodation (dorms or private rooms) we have not needed it as bed linen was provided. There are rare occasions where they provide a warm duvet in hot weather so the liner is preferable or it’s freezing or dirty so again a liner is useful. We both still have ours with us on our current trip have used it 0 times. On the last 6-month trip we perhaps used it 5 times.
  9. Travel guidebooks – these can take up a lot of space. We ditched our Lonely Planet guide and stuck to the Kindle app for all our travel guides.
  10. Make-up & jewellery – Sara’s downfall: I always take a small bit of make-up and jewellery with me and always end up barely wearing any. Luckily it packs down quite small.

A few of the items that we barely (if ever) use.

Hopefully this either answers the question of what do we pack or helps you pack for a trip!

Tips for couples

Travelling as a long-term couple, we decided to create a shared email address and have a joint bank account to pay off our credit card. We find it makes travelling easier for us. It also means, we can both log into the majority of our travel apps with the same details so both of us have the same information.

Other Comprehensive Packing Lists

There are some very in-depth backpacking packing lists out there. We particularly liked this comprehensive one by Gap Year and our friend wrote this excellent website with simple travel tipslp to help travellers prepare for a trip (which includes a downloadable packing list).

Whatever you pack, don’t be this guy…

How not to pack 😂 this was taken when I was naive to backpacking and had a ridiculous amount of bags!

10 days around Cusco, Peru: Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

Cusco (4 days) >> The Sacred Valley (1 day) >> Palcoyo (1 day) >> The Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu (4 days) >> Cusco (1 day) >> Puno (a short tour en-route to La Paz, Bolivia)

We started our trip to South America on 20th October 2018. A grand total of 36 hours to get there, we flew from London to Cusco with layovers in Toronto and Lima.

Our first stop was Cusco in Peru.

Cusco

When we arrived it was 7am, we were tired and had to adjust to a whopping 3,399m above sea-level. We were aware of potentially getting altitude sickness but it’s difficult to describe how very real adjusting to the altitude is. Walking up hills was a struggle!

The old town of the city was very picturesque. We spent a few hours on the morning we arrived and the next few days wandering the streets, visiting an Inka museum and chomping down Empanadas and the Peruvian stuffed potatoes.

The charming historical city of Cusco – once capital of the Inka empire.

Peruvian cuisine: quinoa in EVERYTHING from soups to chocolate to ice-cream, it’s always on the menu. Potato is also a staple (did you know over 4000 types of potato grow in Peru?!) so it’s served as homemade chips, in soups, stuffed and baked. Empanadas are everywhere (like a pasty) – they are cheap, tasty and filling! Then there is coco tea – made from the same leaves that also produces cocaine, this drink actually aides altitude sickness.

We spent the first few days in Cusco trying to take it easy and adjust to the altitude. We explored San Pedro market and booked the Sacred Valley and Palcoyo day trips plus the Machu Picchu trek.

Exploring San Pedro market, an indoor market selling souvenirs, alpaca jumpers, fruit, veg and hot meals.

Sadly after day 3, Sara was really struggling with a cold she had caught on the plane and chest pains so we went to see the Doctor for oxygen, altitude sickness pills and flu treatment. Thankfully, within a few days she was feeling back to normal.

Eurgh, well this sucked! No matter what age or fitness you can suffer from altitude sickness. Flying from sea-level to high altitude, with a weakened immune system, can really have an impact.

Due to our breathlessness from the altitude, we decided to be lazy and get a taxi up to Christo Blanco that watches over Cusco and the Inca ruins of Sacsayhauman, pronounced “sexy woman”.

Christo Blanco and Christo Blanco, just kidding, it’s Jonny. Uncanny.

The Sacred Valley

We took a one-day tour of the sacred valley exploring Chincero, Moray, the Salt Mines, Pisac and Ollantaytambo. It was great to see so much in one day! We were also shown how the alpaca wool can be dyed naturally which was a lot more interesting than we thought it would be.

Spending a day in the Sacred Valley, we learnt about making garments out of Alpaca wool.

The salt mines looked pretty awesome against the mountains.

Palcoyo

Similar to rainbow mountain, however Palcoyo is far less touristy. We actually read about this in a Wanderlust magazine before we went. The drive to the Palcoyo was long at 3 hours but the views from the mini bus were awesome. Palcoyo is even higher altitude than Cusco, at 4,700m high. It was cold and there was some snow on top of the mountain. The colours on the mountain range were stunning and we saw barely any tourists.

Worth braving the cold to see the rainbow colours of Palcoyo.

The Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

This is an alternative 4-day trek to the famous Inca trail to Machu Picchu. We decided to book the trek with Peru Andean Hop after reading this blog. It’s a lot cheaper than some of the other treks, includes different activities and boy was it fun! We absolutely loved this trek.

Day 1: Downhill mountain biking and white-water rafting. Sadly for the downhill biking we didn’t get the views we were hoping for as it was wet and foggy- in fact we all got soaked! The white water rafting made up for it though, even when our guide’s oar snapped so we still had fun navigating the rapids!

Kitted out for 2 hours downhill biking.

Day 2: An all day trek (walking on part of the original Inca trail) followed by soaking in hot springs. Then it was dinner, drinks (including our first Pisco Sours!) and a wee party in Santa Teresa.

Starting our hike at 8am, we walked through the jungle to part of the original Inca trail.

Stopping briefly to put face paint on, drink a shot of Inca tequila, hold a parrot, stroke a puppy and learn about the 4000 types of potato in Peru we were ready to continue our trek.

Hiking photos.

Walking over a bridge (that looked like it could fall through at any minute), hiking up a mountain to a view point, stopping for lunch… we didn’t finish hiking until 6pm!

Just before we reached the hot springs we had to sit in a small basket to be pulled across the river! The hot springs were pure bliss after a full day trekking.

Day 3: Zip-lining in the morning and trekking in the afternoon. We stayed in Aguas Calientes for the night which is the closest town to Machu Picchu.

The morning was spent going down 5 different zip lines across a canyon 🙌

The 3rd day trek was was a little less interesting along the train track to Aguas Calientes, plus it poured it down! What’s more you had to keep your ears pricked to jump off the tracks when the train came!

Day 4: The last day was dedicated entirely to the breathtaking Machu Picchu. We also got tickets to Machu Picchu Montaña (purchased in advance).

We had to start queuing for the bus from 4.30am! When we got up to Machu Picchu it was seriously foggy, we couldn’t see anything. All we could do was hope and pray it would clear…

Thankfully 🙏 the mist and fog did clear. WHAT A VIEW 👌

Not quite sure how we managed it but we also climbed the 2,670 steps to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain. The views were incredible!

The cost of all the 4-day jungle trek, including meals, accommodation, the train back and Machu Picchu mountain was $240 per person. Not bad at all.

We were lucky to have an incredible group of people for our jungle trek which made it all the more fun!

Our group arriving at Machu Picchu 🙌 and about half of us who also climbed Machu Pichu Montaña.

Puno

We took an overnight bus from Cusco to Puno.

Puno is located on Lake Titicaca and one of the main attractions is the floating islands. We visited as part of a 24hr tour from Cusco to La Paz in Bolivia. We booked the bus tour through Peru/Bolivia Hop. It involved an overnight bus, a tour in Puno to the floating islands, and then once across the Bolivian border a visit to Copacabana and Isla Del Sol before arriving in La Paz, Bolivia.

The floating islands are man-made by indigenous Peruvians from tree roots and lots of reeds. They live on the water and use boats made out of reeds to get between the islands.

Standing on the floating islands you can feel the reeds move under your feet. These islands really are floating!

Next stop was Copacabana in Bolivia. The border crossing Peru to Bolivia was really easy with British passports.

Bye bye Peru.

If you get the chance to go to Peru and have more time, other travellers we met highly recommended Arequipa and the Colca Canyon.

Our next trip: Wandering South America!

After our 5-month trip to Asia, we decided to spend some time back in the U.K. with friends and family (plus a couple of short holidays in Cape Verde and Dubrovnik).

Now we’re 3 weeks in to our second big trip, this time around South America!

Prep for our trip to South America.

We have an ambitious route, starting in Cusco, Peru and making our way down through Bolivia and Chile into Patagonia. By Christmas 🎄🎅🏻 we are aiming to be in Buenos Aires and Rio De Janeiro for New Year’s Eve 🎆.

In January, we have a flight booked from São Paulo over to Quito, Ecuador to start exploring Ecuador, Galápagos Islands 🐢and Colombia. Finally, we’re planning to head back to the UK in March via Toronto, Canada for a few days 🙌

Our ambitious South America route – so much to cover! Created using triphappy.com

This trip has been hard to pack for as we’ll be experiencing hot and cold weather plus high-altitude, something neither of us have ever experienced before!

Why South America?
    It’s a huge region we have never explored before.
    There is so much diversity and incredible sights from Machu Picchu to the Salt Flats to Patagonia to Galápagos Islands – it ticks off a lot.
    Travelling between countries in South America appears fairly straightforward, although we are prepared for a number of lengthy bus journeys!
    With British passports, we’re super lucky not to need any Visas.

We cannot begin to tell you how excited we are!!

Off we pop to South America!!

If anyone has any suggestions for places to visit, stay or eat at we’re all ears! We’d love to hear your suggestions 😊

Sara & Jonny

The Mansell Wanderers