Casapueblo, Uruguay

Our favorite highlights of south america All created by man

Ok, we- humans destroy a lot, we kill animals and our environment. But sometimes we create. And when we do, it can be pretty incredible. Here is a list of the most impressive human creations in South America

  1. Casa Pueblo in Uruguay

It reminds me a bit of architecture that I saw on Lanzarote from Cesar Manrique: big, white and fascinatingly futuristic. Casa Pueblo was constructed by Carlos Paez Vilaro as a summer house and workshop. It took him 36 years to finish it. The artist passed away already but his family still lives in a part of the house, the rest is a museum and a hotel! It’s truly magical and it’s situated just by the water which makes it even more enchanted. Every evening at sunset they have a nice peaceful tradition of playing one of the poems written by Vilaro and some music. We enjoyed that moment a lot because it was just so relaxing and full of pure, silent joy. It also felt like the white walls were a canvas for the colors of the setting sun. Incredible!

  1. Mechanic flower – Floralis Generica in Buenos Aires, Argentina

It’s an unusual gift from an architect, Eduardo Catalano, for Buenos Aires. The steel flower opens its petals every morning to close them in the evening just like a natural flower would. It looks very fragile and gentle but at the same time it’s actually massive- 23 m high and 18 ton. Since building it in 2002 there were many issues with the mechanism and when we were there the pool underneath it was covered and under maintenance, but even so it was worth seeing it.

  1. Incan Empire- almost everywhere

We didn’t like standing in line to Machu Picchu and the crowds there manage to kill any magic in the place but… it’s not the only one. Incas ruled areas from North Argentina to South Colombia and they created really many cities, left many incredible artifacts and even mummies. All of their constructions were one of a kind and the majority was situated on a slope of a mountain which automatically assures you there is going to be a nice view from each one of them, and a good work out to get there.

  1. Street art- whole South America

Street art was very present in our whole travel really. It all started in Argentina when we arrived in Buenos Aires and we saw murals everywhere. It was just incredible for us that there artists get payed to paint on the buildings and that they get recognition for it. Each of the masterpieces was signed and some even with a web page. The art was not only beautiful but also made us think about so many issues in South America. It was political, cultural and funny, it was everything. The passion in the street art didn’t change all over South America. We saw some incredible masterpieces everywhere, especially in big cities. The bigger the city, the brighter and more daring were the murals.

  1. Wine- Argentina, Uruguay

Both Argentina and Uruguay produce amazing wines. Argentina is already very famous for it. Unfortunately Uruguayan pride- Tannat is not so popular. It’s a shame because it’s definitely one of the most delicious red wines we have ever had, very deep and dry. When it comes to Argentina we were very positively surprised with fresh, white, fruity Torrontes.

 

  1. Textiles- Bolivia, Peru

Especially in Bolivia and Peru we saw a variety of incredible textiles of all kind- ponchos, capes, blankets, carpets and all you could think about. They were all incredibly colorful and they told us a lot about local culture. Many of them were showing funerals, chicha production (corn beer) and other community events. The form and colors were all changing depending on the region and subject.

 

  1. Christmas lights-Colombia

Colombians say it’s a pity that Christmas lasts only one month- December. It really does! On the first of December EVERYONE has to have lights everywhere. The bigger, flashier, brighter the better. In big cities like Bogota, Cali, Medellin they create tiny villages of light. They are truly incredible and surprisingly they don’t have that much to do with Christmas anymore. But it still has the atmosphere of Christmas maybe because of the booze & food stands and the crowds surrounding it. Obviously the weather is far from winter snow and cold.

 

Salt Flats

A year in South America. How much does that cost? And why so much :)

In 368 days we traveled through Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and we paid short visits to Ecuador and Brazil. In total we spend of 24 938 euros for the two of us.

Can you do it cheaper? Yes, for sure. We met a guy who was only eating rice and sometimes for the variety leftovers from other people. We didn’t do that. We also didn’t drink water from fountains and we didn’t sleep in parks. We did volunteer every now and then. You can always volunteer more. It’s a reasonable budget of two people that like good food (mainly cooked ourselves during the travel), don’t mind sleeping in dorms but sometimes get a double room and definitely don’t go for drinks every other night. OK let’s break it down then:)

Which country was the most expensive?

As you can see below Peru was the most expensive country. We spent 75 euros per day with the two of us. In total 5227 euros over 70 days. That’s because we did a very expensive Salkantay trek and we went a bit crazy on very fancy dining and we bought a cheap laptop (around 200 euros). We also didn’t do any volunteering. Honestly speaking I definitely feel Argentina was the most expensive country. We spend 65 euros per day for us two but we saved a lot by volunteering there for a month out of 99 days in the country. During the month on the farm, where we volunteered, we didn’t spend anything as the food and bed and rats were all included:) Otherwise the budget per day would be much higher. While expenses in different parts of Peru are comparable, in Argentina they are really different. For amazing colorful mountains and delicious wine in the North we paid way less than for omnipresent ice and coldness in the South. In Patogonia for a bed in a dorm in low season (so in total winter) we paid around 18-20 euros while in the north for that price you can find a nice private room with private bathroom.

 

Which country was the cheapest?

Bolivia. No doubt about that. Food, local transport and hostels are ridiculously cheap! And fun. While Colombia or Uruguay can be compared to Europe, Bolivia is definitely the furthest we got from the western world. The typical Bolivian Cholitas, their outfits and their hats- incredible. And I still can’t forget the dead baby lamas for good luck… On average per day we spend 45 euros so over 48 days “only” 2346 euros.

Salt Flats

What were the budget breakers in South America?

Well definitely Patagonia in Argentina. It’s one of the most beautiful things to see there but it’s really expensive. We went there in low season and it was still quite pricey and the variety of food was just ridiculous. We went there mentally prepared to eat instant noodles and potatoes and that was already difficult to find. That I’m not going to mention that we bought the most expensive pack of pasta there for 5 euros (nothing fancy just pasta).

Another one would definitely be Machu Picchu in Peru. We spend 843 dollars with the two of us to do an organized Salkantay trek to get to Machu Picchu. You can definitely do it on your own but Machu Picchu is still really expensive. Especially if you want to get a train to get there and then a bus and then maybe sleep somewhere close…

Machu Picchu, Peru

We also didn’t deny ourselves a paradise experience on the islands of San Andres and Providencia. We couldn’t cook there so we had to eat out every day and even though it was really cheap (around 5 euros for a meal) but it’s still not as cheap as something you cook yourself. We also didn’t go there to chill on the beach and count the seals. We went diving. Even though a two tank dive is only around 45 euros it’s still quite a lot of money for two people for more than one time.

One time we also decided to pamper ourselves with renting an apartment. We wanted to spend Christmas in a flat not in a dorm and we didn’t want to share a kitchen or bathroom. As a matter of fact, we didn’t even have to share a bathroom with each other.

OK, so on what did we spend all that money?

Accommodation was the most expensive part. We spend 6334 euros. We slept in many places. Countless dorms, some private rooms, sometimes a tent and a few times even a hammock which we definitely don’t recommend. A few times we went crazy on nice private rooms like in Minca for a room with a terrace and a nice view or Christmas when we rented a whole apartment for just the two of us. If we only slept in dorms we could probably cut the budget by 2000 euros.

Medellin, Colombia

To get from one place to another we spend 6212 euros. That includes also our flight to Buenos Aires from Paris (780 euros for both of us) and our flight from Colombia to Barcelona (1059 euros for the both of us). In South America our main mean of transport were local buses which were cheap everywhere except for Argentina. There for a 24 hour bus ride we paid around 130 euros (imagine in Peru an overnight bus was around 40 euros). And you need a 24 hour bus to get anywhere in this huge country. Colombia was the only country where we decided to fly around a bit since it was sometimes even cheaper than a bus!! God bless their Viva Colombia (Colombian Ryanair).

Food is not far behind. We ate for 6180 euros. Most of the times we cooked ourselves (really around 85%). But when we ate out we didn’t go to the cheapest places. We preferred to spend a bit extra to get good quality food. We also went for a few dates and a few drinks. Nothing too crazy. Well maybe except the 2 times we went for super fancy dining in Lima🙂

On tours, museums, fees and all things that you could call tourism we spend 4381 euros. Definitely a big part of it was our Salkantay trek on which we spend 843 euros and an 8-day kayaking tour through the amazon for 562 euros.

Jandirk took also an intensive Spanish course for a month, 4 hours a day which cost us 363 euros.

448 of our precious euros went for peeing in public toilets, medicine, books and other little things that out of the sudden became big money :O

On equipment we spent 966 euros that includes our new laptop, clothes that we bought along the way and other little things.

Alto Bonito, Salamina, Colombia

Our tips to travel cheaply.

  1. Keep track of every peso, euro, dollar spend. It’s the most important thing! For all of our expenses we have a spreadsheet to keep track and understand on what we spend our money and why. It helped us to be conscious with our spendings
  2. Sleep in dorms, always choose a hostel that has a kitchen! Those two saved us a lot of money. Even in cheap Bolivia eating out is more expensive than cooking yourself
  3. Volunteer when you can! It’s an awesome way to meet the locals and their culture and save a lot of money on accommodation and maybe even food. We volunteered chasing chickens on a farm in Argentina (WWOOF) and in hostels in Colombia and Panama (via Workaway)
  4. When you go to Argentina try to take as much US dollars as you can. You save a lot of money exchanging dollars on the streets for the blue dollar rate. And it’s not as dodgy a business as you would think. No one will slice your throat when you do it. At least we didn’t have any problems... ever
  5. Do your research! Check how much things should cost, ask the locals! We always checked how much a bed should be or a taxi or anything. Otherwise people will let their imagination loose with their prices and you won’t even know
  6. Try to use local transport!
  7. Try to travel off season
  8. If you speak Spanish try to use it to be a translator for tours! It’s definitely a big save up when you can do tours for free because you can translate. I did that during the Lost City trek

On our blog you can also find detailed budgets from each country:) if you still have any questions we will happily answer them:)

Lost City hike, Colombia

Top TEN things we saw in South America (well one in Central)

„What did you like the most?” is THE question everyone asks us. So here we go, our top 10 of South America (and a tiny bit of Central). And all of these ten places we loved differently but equally as strong.

1. Off the beaten track to Choquequirao

That hike was absolutely the number one among the hikes for us. It was hard, painful but truly magical. While Machu Picchu is a beehive full of tourists, where you can’t walk around freely, it’s noisy and you can forget about peeing for some time, Choquequirao is peaceful and mystical. There are almost no people and the site is way bigger then MP so we could walk around freely and we saw just 3 people during the whole 1.5 day of walking around (yeah that’s how long it takes to see it). It’s also for only 40% excavated so the stones and terraces disappear in thick vegetation. When I even start to think about it I would like to go back and do it all over again.

2. Omnipresent ice in Calafate

The immense glaciers in Calafate were definitely one of a kind. The tourist attraction number one, Perrito Morreno, was breathtaking, huge and looking at the pieces breaking off was better than a football match. And it’s not so touristic in the winter…:) The Titanic-like pieces of glaciers floating around were just surreal to see, a bit like islands of blue ice in the middle of nothing. And hikes near Chalten where you could just walk around and see dry glaciers just like that was stunning!! I even miss the cold when I write it.

3. Under and above water wonders of San Andres and Providencia

Well, in San Andres we didn’t see any wonders except for garbage and general chaos. But Providencia was all we were hoping for and more!! Gorgeous beaches, water in 50 shades of blue and FOOD!! Everything we tried there was absolutely delicious and it was definitely the best we ate during our trip (except for super fancy restaurants in Lima). The best of it all was the diving: sharks, stingrays, crabs, families of fish and all just sooooo close and soooo many.

4. Warmth of the people and originality of the coast of Uruguay

Without a doubt people from Uruguay were the most educated of all nations we met. They knew so much about history of any country including Poland that I wish I could send all my future babies there for school. Not to mention people were genuinely interested in us and wanted to talk and talk and talk and … drink mate:) The coast has obviously stunning beaches with mostly hippie architecture (recycle houses, Heineken bottle floor etc) and cute little penguins and sea lions. In September you can also spot whales.

5. The Lost City of Tayrona

Simply incredible! When I googled it I was really not impressed but live, it’s another story. It’s immense, breathtaking and magical:) it’s so surrounded by thick vegetation that it gave us a feeling of a hidden place worth all the sweat and pain during the hot, dusty trek to it.

6. Charming little frogs and nature in “Mouth of the Bull”- Bocas del Toro

From Bocas we didn’t expect much since it’s very touristic. But we were positively surprised. Our hostel was so cute, charming and comfy, food was delicious and little red-dotted frogs stole our hearts. Not to mention we saw a huge boa and stunning green forests everywhere. And that’s just because we didn’t stay on the main island but went to Bastimentos.

7. Lakes and mountains around Bariloche

Even though when we were there it was covered in ash after a volcano exploded in Chile, it was an amazing region to see. The town itself looks just like a Swiss mountain village so nothing too special. But the surroundings!! Insane!!! Lakes and mountains everywhere and really many! In between them forests. Pure nature.

8. Kayaking adventures in the Amazon

That was probably the craziest thing we have done. Observing crocodiles not even from a distance actually:P fishing piranhas all the time, getting bitten by all those crazy mosquitos and all that accompanied by noise from all types of monkeys. To fall asleep in that chaos of nature with stars above our head and fireflies was really one of a kind. Just priceless.

9. Wine drinking and colorful mountains in the North of Argentina

If we lived in Cafayate we would become alcoholics! And that drinking different wine every day (yep there is plenty). Not to mention really close from the wine there are colorful mountains and canyons.

10. The villages in the coffee region

Those stole our hearts. Calm, colorful, green and the locals were as colorful as the houses. Warm and friendly. We found one of the best hostels to volunteer in and definitely the best Airbnb. We made friends that hopefully we will see again. We even started drinking coffee :).

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Pancakes for a bed- voluntourism

“Where do you come from?” and “How do you pay for this?” are two of the most common questions we get. For the second I’m often tempted to say that I earned it with my body working in the red light district. But let’s face it, with the look that we have now, no one would believe it anyway so we just have to answer with the truth- we saved it. But what if we didn’t have the money…

We met a lot of fellow travelers that focus their backpacking around voluntourism, so volunteering while they are travelling. And we actually spend 2 of our precious months volunteering as well. It saved us money but more importantly we got to stay longer in one place, we felt needed, we learnt a lot and we met amazing people. We had time to actually get to them and understand them and that is the best thing you can get while travelling- new friends.

But how do you do it? Where do you find the spots and what do you actually have to do?

What kind of volunteer opportunities can you get?

What can’t you do would be a shorter list. You can work in a hostel, in any type of wildlife preservation, with kids, with people from the slums, you can teach people yoga, you can heal them. Whatever floats your boat.

How did we find our volunteering opportunities?

Our first volunteering experience was in Argentina on a farm and to get that we used WWOOF.P1030959~01
It’s mostly made to find farms although you can also find teaching opportunities and possibly other things depending on the country you
search in. We don’t use it anymore because every country has its own chapter which means different rules per country, totally different web page each time and obviously a brand new fee as well. It ends up being expensive compared to other communities out there. Unfortunately, the Argentinian chapter was unorganized, the web page was unbelievably terrible to search through (the idea of wordpress still hasn’t occurred to them), the list of the farms was not actualized so we were sending emails to people that had long forgotten what WWOOFing even was. And if they had new farms you actually first needed to contact WWOOF to get their details to write directly to them. That I am not going to mention that there was no feedback about the places so the hosts could write you would sleep in a mansion with a pool and a spa for teaching English for 3 hours and no one would even verify if it’s true.

The two other times we volunteered we did it via Workaway, it’s a much better idea because it’s worldwide so you pay only once for 2 years. And you can have a couple account so if you travel with the two of you, you don’t have to have an extra account. And the places have feedback so the chance that you will end up with a psychopath is much lower. Workaway offers any kind of work really, farms, hostels, construction, schools etc. We also subscribed for Helpx, which is practically the same as workaway and many of the hosts are actually on both.

What do you get for your work?

That’s the question you always need to ask to your potential host. Because it depends. Typically for working in a hostel you can expect a free bed in a dorm (that’s what we got) and maybe a breakfast (we had it in one of the hostels). When WWOOFing it is more common to get also other meals. With other projects it varies, sometimes
you get a bed, sometimes a hammock, sometimes not even a place on the ground. So always ask!

But?

When we were first thinking about volunteering we thought people would wait on us with open arms and everybody would respond to our messages just because we want to help. Nope, there are plenty of people who want to volunteer also many freeloaders who want to stay and take advantage of the fact that something is for free. wpid-img_20150418_141132.jpgIt’s a big business from both sides so some people don’t even respond or places are booked few weeks in advance. So to be sure you get something you always have to write to a few hosts and always a few weeks before. Don’t forget that some people earn money off the “volunteers” by for example charging a fee. So you have to pay to actually be able to work for free, because you cost money, because they need money for the food and for animals. Sometimes it’s true but many times it’s just a way to earn money off the naïve ones. We realized that when we were going through volunteering options of Volunteer Latin America and some were costing seriously thousands of dollars for a month and unless they are planning to ship you food from home or built a zoo from nothing, it doesn’t cost that much. Volunteer Latin America claims that they also have many other projects that they don’t put online and you need an upgraded account to reach them so we did that and then the only thing they did is to ask many questions about what you’re eager to pay and bla bla bla and then they only send us a list of emails that we could write, from which most of the projects were with a super high fee that we obviously didn’t want to pay. What’s more many of the hosts they have are on Workaway anyway so… 🙂

For those of you who plan on volunteering but didn’t know how, I hoped I helped. If anyone would have any questions, it won’t be hard to contact me to ask them

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How much does it cost to travel in Argentina? Our budget and tips

Short answer would be: a lot more than you think! Somehow we tend to think that the whole South America is cheap. Unfortunately it's not. Countries like Uruguay, Chile and Argentina are as expensive as for example Holland.
During our 99 days in Argentina we spend a total of 6827.52 euro which means that our budget per day was 34.48 euro per person.

 

Where did we go?
Our trip like many others started in Buenos Aires where we stayed for two weeks than we went close to Mar del Plata, here we stayed for a month volunteering. Afterwards we hit budget-breaking South of Argentina (Bariloche, El Bolson, Calafate, El Chalten). Even though out of season it was really expensive. We have also visited Iguazu Falls and the North of Argentina from Salta up to the border with Bolivia.

How did we travel?
The most expensive part of our budget was transportation (2735 euro) which includes our flight from Calafate to Montevideo. But the real budget breakers were the buses which are extremely expensive. There is no way to get a better deal when booking beforehand or just a promotion like in Europe. The buses are organised in classes depending on the service and chair that you choose. So you can decide to just sit and starve or to have a chair that will lean almost like a bed and have all the meals (don't expect anything delicious, they are worse than on the plane). Unfortunately on long distances it's impossible to find only sitting seats so you are forced to travel "business class ".
Example: Bus from Mar del Plata to Bariloche was 1298 pesos (around 131.29 euro)

Where did we stay?
On accommodation we spend 1659 euro spending 37 days in private rooms, one month in our wwoofing and the rest in dormitories. Definitely the most expensive region was Patagonia where for example in a dorm in Calafate (out of season) we paid 18.34 euro per person per night. To compare for 30 euro per night we had a double room with private bathroom in Cafayate in the North of Argentina.

What did we eat?
We spend 1362 euro on food, mainly cooking ourselves but we were not really saving on ingredients and we ate a lot of Argentinian meat:) we also didn't deny ourselves wine:) especially in Cafayate where we bought a bottle of wine every day.
Good bottle of wine: around 7-10 euro.

What else did we spend our pesitos on?
1071 euro went for entrances to national parks, wine tasting, tours (for example to see glaciers by boat in Calafate we paid 130 euro per person).

P.S. Exchange rate used 1 EUR = 9.887 ARS

Our tips:
1. Transportation is just insanely expensive so it's a good option to hitchhike! Just don't forget that Argentina is huge and it takes hours to travel through it.
2. Take as many US dollars as you can- exchanging dollars on the blue market will save you a lot of money. When the official dollar is around 8-9 pesos on blue market you can get even around 13 pesos. Euros are also ok.
3. When taking dollars is not an option transfer money to yourself using Azimo. It's a bank which charges you 2.99 euro to send money and you can send up to 800 euro. It gives you a very good exchange rate which is in between the official and the blue one. It's a big game changer especially because we couldn't withdraw more than 150 euro per time and the Argentinian banks were charging 55 pesos per transaction.
If you have time, volunteer. We did it for a month and during that month we almost didn't spend any money and it was a lot of fun. We learnt a lot about the culture and the country. We used WWOOF Argentina but you can also try HelpX or Workaway. The advantage of the last two is that you can create a couple account and pay less then for two individual ones and that you pay for two years and it's for the whole world. With WWOOFing the rules differ per country.

If you have any questions or you would like to take a look at our spreadsheet, let us know:)

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Dry, dry west

After many tiring hours in the bus we finally reached Salta, a city magnificently trapped between mountain peaks in far north-west Argentina. Salta turned out to be our favorite city in Argentina due to well kept colonial architecture, nice atmosphere and most of all the feeling of safety. And if that wasn't all it also had everything that we wanted (except for an exchange office but who would need one when there are so many people changing precious dollars illegally). After a few lazy days in Salta we decided to explore the region dominated by splendid, dry, colorful valleys. And there was no better place to enjoy colors than Cafayate. This small town situated south from Salta was one of our favorites. Amazing wine which is produced here was our guilty pleasure difficult to resist and leave behind, and so were the valleys in the surrounding. Intensively pink, red and green colors created through many years by different minerals and fossils were unbelievable. And so is the origin of the valley which was created by movements of the tectonic plates. Quebrada de las Conchas (the name of the valley) has many interesting points like El Anfiteatro where many local concerts are organised due to acoustics of the place and it's undeniable beauty or Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) where we could climb a bit and enjoy the red rock formation in a more vertical way:)Quebrada de las Conchas
From Cafayate we decided to visit Las Yungas which is a diverse forest stretching from Argentina through Bolivia to Peru. On the Argentinian side it's rather remote. To reach our hostel (Aldea Luna) we took a bus for 1.5 h and than walked for another hour through the mountains, rivers and generally everything that makes a good work out and makes you sweet. Obviously in such a place there is no internet or electricity or any another comfort standard in Europe. Aldea Luna is run by a nice family and it's a private natural reserve. Over there we tried what I would call paid volunteering so we were helping a bit in the garden and house and paying for our stay like in a hostel. Unfortunately it turned out to be a bit of a disappointing experience just because there was no feeling of a community for us and it felt rather weird to pay and work a bit. It felt that it was more about our money than our effort and work so in final end we decided to leave after a week which was way shorter than we planned. But even though that week was enough to meet fun people from different parts of the world and even one polish guy, Jacek who is currently travelling around South America just like us. We expect that he is freezing in a tent and we are almost freezing in hostels 🙂
After Las Yungas we decided that we would go up to eventually reach Bolivia instead of going down and to Chile. We just felt that we wanted something totally new, less European and maybe more chaotic and adventurous:)Bolivia seemed to fit in our criteria.
Going further north we visited a few villages closer and closer to Bolivia like Tilcara, Purmamarca and Humahuaca all of which had amazing valleys and mountains of 7 (Purmamarca), 14 (Hornocal, Humahuaca) colors. But more importantly the people that we were seeing were changing along the way, replacing European features for more indigenous ones, which made us more and more excited for the new, Bolivia.

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