My favorite hidden gems in South America

After a year traveling around Central & South America, these are the places I liked the most. Since they are not very well-known, I’d like to call them ”my hidden gems”.

These ”cities” are very down-to-earth and laid-back places where I have felt something special inside, like a bubbling feeling of happiness, calmness and fulfillness.

 

1. — Holbox – Mexico —

The beach at Holbox

The beach at Holbox

Sunset in Holbox

Sunset in Holbox

 

Shallow water, birds, and blue sky.

Shallow water, birds, and blue sky.

 

There is just something special about this small island outside of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. This island has a natural beauty – white sand, palm trees, shallow ocean, thousands of flamingos and pelicans. Most of the habitants work as fishermen and it’s considered a virgin tourist destination unspoiled by mass tourism. There is only a main square and a few streets which are made of sand and there are just a handful of ”cars” on the island. You sleep, eat, do some small excursions, go to small music events, visit small shops with handicraft and just relax. You eat and live cheaply here too.

 

2. — Isabela – The Galapagos – Ecuador —

The mainstreet in isabela... beautiful with sand!

The main street in isabela… beautiful with sand!

The tuneles

The tuneles

Bluefooted boobies

Bluefooted boobies

Beautiful surroundings!

Beautiful surroundings!


I love all the Galapagos islands,
but if I would have to choose one of them for living – it would be Isabela. although it is the biggest island it is the less populated of the habituated islands. Most tourists only come here for day tours so the ambiance feels very local. Also on this island, the streets are made of sand. It is very safe here. There are plenty of things to do and see here, you can visit lava tunnels, active volcanoes, you can snorkel with big tortoises, watch blue footed boobies, pink flamingos. It is not expensive here either.

 

3. — Jericoacoara – Brazil —

Enjoying life!!!

Enjoying life!!!

Windsurfers and a man playing capoeira-music

Windsurfers and a man playing capoeira-music

The streets are full with hantcraft stands

The streets are full with handicraft stands

Sunset in Jericoacoara

Sunset in Jericoacoara

A little street filled with restaurants

A little street filled with restaurants


This is like a bigger version of Holbox
, with more people, more shops and more activity, but still it has a lot of charm. This place is a paradise for windsurfers and kitesurfers. So yes, it is very windy but hey! – there are no mosquitoes :) If you get tired of the wind you can visit the Blue Lagoon, lovely calm lagoon famous for the hanging hammocks in the water. Jericoacoara is a mix of great people – during the day you’ll see all the active sporty people, and during the nights you’ll see all the musicians and the handicraftsmen out selling their work. There are always live music in a bar or a restaurant, always something to do. The main streets are of course – made of sand. :)

 

4. — Lagoa da Conceição – Florianopolis – Brazil —

Barra Da lagoa

Barra Da lagoa

View over Lagoa do Conceicão

View over Lagoa do Conceicão

Praia do Joaquina in Florianopolis

Praia do Joaquina in Florianopolis


This is a magical place
. It’s a laid-back neighbourhood with super nice surroundings. The area has a small town center and some of the island’s best beaches, and a lagoon that is surrounded by beautiful green hills. Surfing is a popular sport here. There is a lovely big mixture of all kind of Brazilians, but also a lot of Europeans that decided to stay or study here. The city Florianopolis has a lot of culture and bars to offer too.

 

5.  —  Isla del sol – Copacabana –  Bolivia — 

IMG_3168

Boats, beach, small houses and snowy mountains behind

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Clear water and hills with place for cultivation

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Local people in the south of Isla del Sol


This is an oasis in all the chaos between Bolivia and Peru
. This small island in the lake Titicaca is beautiful and super quiet. There is no noise, no cars, no rubbish on the streets. Not even lampposts (bring your head-torche). Beautiful sunsets and sunrises and the sky is super clear so you can see a lot of stars during the night. People live in harmony here with the nature and it’s surroundings. You can walk from the north to the south and see llamas and donkeys and some old inca-archaelogical sites along the way. Sweet local kids will offer you a little guided history about the history of Isla del Sol. There are a few small museums on the island too. I really enjoyed the landscapes in the south.

 

¿Have you been to any of these places? ¿What was your impression?

 

~ If I would extend the list these cities would probably make the list too, all though there are all not ”hidden gems” since some of them are capitals.

• Cusco (Peru) • Puerto Maldonado (Peru) • Quito (Ecuador) • Rio De Janeiro (Brazil) • Salvador (Brazil) • San Cristobal De Las Casas (Mexico) • Isla Mujeres (Mexico) • Tulum (Mexico) • La Paz (Bolivia) and • Buenos Aires (Argentina).

Annonser

Last video of Mexico!

I have finally wifi where I’m sleeping (in Isabela island in the Galapagos) so I’ve had my computer on now for a while… I’ve been uploading this video (2 minutes and 39 seconds) for… 4 hours now… yep!

But in case my computer get stolen or something, I have some videos online.

This one is from my last weeks in Mexico, from Tulum and Isla mujeres, mostly water activities.. :)

Mexico pt.3 from sofia armenteros on Vimeo.

Leaving Mexico – how I feel and what I’ve learnt so far

DF - mexico city - from the airplane.

DF – mexico city – from the airplane. This is where it all started.

Hello!

Right now I’m sitting on the airplane on my way to Lima in Peru, but I’m heading for Quito in Ecuador, but there are no cheap direct flights there so… One night in Lima, yay! I hope to find a hostal or something instead of being 12 hours in the airport. We’ll see.

I left Isla Mujeres this morning at 9.40. At the ferry I met two guys who also were going to the ADO bus station to take the bus to the airport, so we shared taxi, 20 pesos each.

I feel empty. I haven’t really stopped to think so much what I’m leaving because if I do I will start crying. I have to look forward, to think about that I still have 150 days left of my trip, 75%.. and I will have lots of fun.  This morning I had to say goodbye to Duilio too, his airplane leaves this night. Yesterday, just the thought of never see him again, made me spear some tears. I’ll be visiting Argentina probably in July after Bolivia but before Brazil. Of course everything can happen until then, it’s still around 4 months left, but it’s easier to say “see you in july!” then saying good bye as if we would never see each other again.  We will see in July, how it goes, and not until then decide about our future.

Dandome un besito con mi niño..

Dandome un besito con mi niño..

So… yes, I’m sorry I failed everyone’s advice about not falling in love on the other side of the world…

Anyhow.
We have learned some things along the way.
This are some of them:

Always go to the doctor directly– it’s cheap and worth it, it will save you money and time in the end. Don’t self medicate yourself, you buy wrong medicine that can do it worse and it takes longer time to heel.

– Don’t have everything planned, you might want to change some plans along the way – i definitively would have stayed longer in mexico in some places if I hadn’t had my ticket to ecuador booked already

– There is always a second option, no matter what. Don’t go for the first.

– Always ask the locals where to eat – you’ll find the best places, good but cheap and not touristic!

– Oh, and there is a lot of good vegetarian Mexican food! Just be sure to ask if there isn’t any meat in! I forgot to ask last time when I ordered a lime soup and it came with fish, Duilio loved it, haha.

– Don’t book a hostel or hotel before your arrival!! There are plenty more then what internet says, a lot of posadas (like an older cute woman that rents out some rooms) and other apartments that aren’t on the internet.. Often much more economical!! And there is always place, when webpages like hotels.com or something says everything is booked. you can find other cheaper places that aren’t announced there.

– You can always bargain. I have had an mayan calendar from 550 pesos down to 200. My eyeglasses from 260 to 130. I could have had it for 100 but I felt too bad. Haha.

– Remember that there is always a cheaper choice. What costs in one place 100 pesos costs 50 in another.  The question is it’s worth it. If you have time, search the area for the best prices and compare. I generally got much better price or better tour etc when I did some research on place. There is also cheaper transportation, like minivans or second class companies instead of the ADO bus-lines… But if I’m going from a city to another with my backpack and stuff, I prefer to travel safe then cheap. But everything else, not ;)

– If you ask for directions here in Mexico – don’t rely on them truly. Mexicans want to seem as if they know, so they will tell you even if they aren’t sure… “yes, it’s four squares ahead and two squares to the left”… when you are there, you ask someone else for the place.. “oh, it’s 2 squares to the right and 2 squares right”… you will need to ask generally about 3-4 times before you find the right place.

Well.. that’s about what I had to say right now!
Do you have any tips?

Until next!

Scuba diving and raining in Isla Mujeres

Bontjour!

I don’t know what that came from, it’s getting messy in my head now with all the languages.

So I went out scuba diving at the reefs here in Isla Mujeres on Tuesday. When we were going out, we had to wait around one hour for the boat that was going to take us because the ferry with the gasoline had broken so the boat had to leave to another island to get gasoline.. haha, it’s always happening something when I go diving! Also, it was good weather when we left, but when we came back it was raining A LOT! Haha.

coral reefs in isla mujeres

coral reefs in isla mujeres

Divers and fish

Divers and fish

This time it was a small group, the dive master, an American guy and one guy from Paraguay. The American had 10 years of experience, but the Paraguayan  wasn’t certificated, only had some lessons before.. weird. But we were only 10 meters under the sea so it wasn’t that difficult. I can’t compare this to Cozumel, because that was magical.. but I saw lots of more fishes here, hundreds and hundreds everywhere! And I saw a turtle again, so cute :) We did 2 dives, around 1 hour each..

I got up with 1500 bars left in air, the new guy had to ascend about 15-20 minutes before because he had around 500 left. It’s funny because it makes me feel experiences even if I only have some hours of total amount of dive time.. haha.

Tortuga! :) a turtle eating in isla mujeres

Tortuga! :) a turtle eating

extremely many fishes!

extremely many fishes!

By the way, I have problems with my camera underwater… it started to zoom itself in all the time and I wasn’t able to zoom out.. Then when I recorded a video I wasn’t able to quit it.. etc etc. I don’t know what’s wrong.. but I think there is some manufacture problems.. I hope they don’t get worse, because I can’t send the camera somewhere or get a new one send back to me now while traveling!

So.. When coming back to the island it was really raining heavily. It was fun to walk around with wetsuit without problem when everybody was hiding from the rain, haha. It kept raining the whole day.

storm coming, lots of rain!

storm coming to isla mujeres!

You can't really see on this pic but it's raining a lot here :)

You can’t really see on this pic but it’s raining a lot here :)

 I also had problems with my eye, it was all red and irritated, hurt by light, and it cried all the time (thanks to the rain you couldn’t notice though but it hurt anyways).. I went to the pharmacy to buy some eye drops for it, 40 pesos… then I slept a long siesta, but when I woke up it was the same or worse.. all swollen too.. so we went out in the rain to the medical center. It costed 50 pesos to go to the doctor.

First, the nurses received me out in the open where the other patients where, and I had to weigh myself, see my high, they tried my heart beat, listened to my lungs etc… weird. Then I waited a bit for the doctor to receive me in her room. She sad I had conjugitis – like eye infection, she wrote a prescription for me to get at the pharmacy, like 25 pesos.. so it was cheaper than the other ones, haha. Haha, one funny thing is, that when the doctor was going to light my eye to see how it looked like, she used the lamp on her iphone.. haha. Not much medical equipment here!

So I had to take the eye drops every 6 hours for 4 or 5 days.. and after 2 sessions, I was already better! I was able to see again, hallelujah :) Haha.

Still, since it was raining, we didn’t do much more that day more than eat dinner, drink mate, and have fun in the rain. :)

It’s a pity we didn’t do the tour to isla contoy – we really wanted that on Wednesday  but since it was a chance it was going to rain, we didn’t want to pay 700 pesos for a rainy island trip… but when we woke up it was all sunny and beautiful and we went down to the beach, walked around half the island (it’s very small, 7 km the long side and 1 km the short side). Beaaaautiiifuuuul!! We stayed to see the sunset too.. amazing. Very good vibe here, as I said before!

Panorama over the rocks and the beach

Panorama over the rocks and the beach

Sunset and some fishermen

Sunset and some fishermen

 

Last stop in Mexico: Isla Mujeres!

So yesterday we packed our bags again, checked out and got to the bus to Cancún (104 pesos).  At first I had planned to spend some days here but no, it doesn’t interest me at all… to big and touristic. Instead we took a taxi to the Puerto to grab the Ferry that leaves for Isla Mujeres, a small island about 30 minutes from Cancun.  I think it was 130 pesos with the return ticket.

We had checked on the internet before to see if we could find a hostel or a cheap room, but everything was booked, and we could only find from 600 pesos and up. So when we got here we asked some local people working here if they recommended anything and they said where we could find a room for 400 pesos. But along the way, we bumped into a lovely lady that said she had double rooms for 300 pesos, with AC, private bathroom and wifi… sooooo… this is where we are staying at right now, Posada Suemy. :) Our only preferences were, no sand!! Hahaha…

Where we live from the outside. It's absolutely best to just walk around when you arrive at a place, that's how you get the cheapest and best accomodations.

Where we live from the outside. Sorry for the finger!!

Our room in Posada Suemy, 300 pesos at night, quite good.

Our room in Posada Suemy, 300 pesos at night, quite good.

After taking some showers, we went out to get to know the city, and it’s such a good vibe here!! We were both smiling and just being grateful that our last location in Mexico is great. It reminds us of Holbox, but a bigger version. The locals are really nice and sweet here and we are glad that the prices are in pesos and that the vendors speak in Spanish, haha.

We ate dinner at Poc-Tuc or something like that, just one square from here, with good food and affordable prices!! Once again happy to be able to eat until we aren’t hungry, about 150 pesos for both of us.

Next day: nothing planned! Haha. Just going to the supermarket and to update this blog. But tomorrow I’ll be doing some scuba dive! Oh, by the way, we also bumped into the Argentinian guy from Cordoba that worked in the restaurant where we used to eat dinner in Holbox, he is now here working with tours :) I’m so amazed that the world is so little, or mexico, haha.

Wandering around in Isla Mujeres.  We live in that pink  building on the left.

Wandering around in Isla Mujeres. We live in that pink building on the left.

I just like some front doors better then others. Like this one. So charming.

I just like some front doors better than others. Like this one. So charming.

Last days in Tulum, snorkeling and eating some fine cheap food!

I like Tulum. It’s very small and cozy.  You can decide if you want to stay close to the beach or in center of the town. We lived by the beach. It was nice, bathing, snorkeling, going out on boat tours… but it’s expensive around here though. As said, we got our cabaña for 400 pesos, but since we didn’t have internet we went to another hotel that had a restaurant with internet to have some dinner. We ordered 2 pizzas, 2 beverages and shared a desert, it costed over 600 pesos. By far the most expensive meal we ever had!! But we sat there for a couple of hours too uploading pics and stuff haha.

Our cabaña at Diamante K. It's windy by the beach, so all the sand comes in through the walls and lands on the floor.

Our cabaña at Diamante K. It’s windy by the beach, so all the sand comes in through the walls and accumulates on the floor.

Next day we went in to the center to eat dinner and to say good-bye to Miel, who is going to Guatemala and then all the way back to DF to catch his flight in the end of march. He is staying at the Weary Travelers hostel, good vibe there with nice people, much better then Lobo Inn where we stayed the first night, haha. I feel so sorry for those who don’t speak spanish or english, or both. They just can’t communicate! Haha.
At night we went out dancing in a bar quite close where a reggae band was playing, very good. First time we are going out since… can’t remember, Holbox I think! Haha.

Eating out at a Argentinian restaurant in Tulum, and it was soooo god!!! Long time ago I ate some "reel food". I had spinach and brie cheese risotto.

Eating out at a Argentinian restaurant in Tulum, and it was soooo good!!! Long time ago I ate some ”real food”. I had spinach and brie cheese risotto.

At the weary traveler hostel, saying good bye to Miel!

At the weary traveler hostel, saying good bye to Miel!

The day after we went into town again to hire some snorkel equipment, yes we got hooked :) We took a taxi to the Gran Cenote. The entrance fee there is 100 pesos. By the way, you can hire snorkeling gear here for 70 pesos… we rent it for 100 pesos in town, so we would have saved some money there if we would have known, but we used our gear at the beach later too just to get some value of our money! Haha.

Anyhow, the Gran Cenote, at first, we thought, “what? Is this supposed to be the big cenote?”… it doesn’t look so much on the outside, but once inside with the snorkeling gear, wow, such another world!!!! It sort of creeps you out sometimes, because your are at the surface and you only see a wall, but when you look down, it’s a cave. You can only see as far as the light let’s you, but I’m sure there is a lot to discover down there! Very cool. We stayed for 3 hours or something I think, we went down for a while to discover a part, got cold, got up, had some sandwiches and water, got warm in the sun, went down again… yeah, like 3 or 4 times. Nice day! Oh, at this cenote, I ran into Louie from hostalito in Cozumel! His parents from UK were here to visit him.  He is scuba instructor and living in Cozumel. The world is little!! 

At the Gran Cenote in Tulum.

At the Gran Cenote in Tulum.

Me posing underwater ;)

Me posing underwater ;)

Gallery from the snorkeling in Gran Cenote:


At night we went back to leave our gear (before 22 pm) and we asked for a cheap place to eat dinner, and they told us about a place just besides the Weary Traveler hostel, that has orange walls. Their logo is like a kebab (the meat on the grill thing). We got there and wow, so happy to find cheap local food again!! It felt like we were back in chiapas : ) Haha. So good to just order whatever you want, instead of always looking after what’s the cheapest on the menu. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore and the price was 113 pesos for both of us. :) You see the prices behind me at this picture.

Me and my orders, one tacos, one panuche, one salbute and one gringa. :) All vegetarian. So good!

Me and my orders, one tacos, one panuche, one salbute and one gringa. :) All vegetarian. So good!

This is how the very cheap and good place looks like from the outside. It's just besides the hostel the Weary Traveler, close to the ADO bus station.

This is how the very cheap and good place looks like from the outside. It’s just besides the hostel the Weary Traveler, close to the ADO bus station.

At night at our beach in Tulum. :)

Playing with the lights at night at our beach in Tulum. :)

Snorkeling in Tulum

Yesterday we talked with a guy at the tourist information point by the ruins of Tulum about a tour where you would get the entrance to the ruins, and later you go to a beach where you take a boat that takes you outside the ruins so you can get the photo there, and after goes to the reefs, lens you snorkel equipment and guides you there. That would cost 35 dollars, about 410 pesos. Without the entrance to the ruins, if you have a student credential, it would cost 350 pesos.

Having breakfast, long time we wate out... first time since holbox actually. And we miss chayas so much! haha.

Having breakfast, long time we ate out… first time since holbox actually. And we miss chayas so much! haha.

So we were going there in the morning today, we woke up around 8 and we were looking for a place where to eat breakfast first. On the way there we saw a stand where they sold snorkeling tours,  so we went there and asked how much it would cost, and they would do the tour for 250 pesos. We kept on looking for yet a place to eat breakfast, and passed by another stand where they had snorkeling tour, and they would do the same for 150 pesos. Wow! So worth it. We got that instead. Getting your own entrance the ruins will cost 60 pesos, so we saved around 200 pesos each. We are very happy! Haha.

In front of the ruins of Tulum.

In front of the ruins of Tulum.

The reefs are only 1-2 metres underwater here so you have a good view when you snorkel. :)

The reefs are only 1-2 metres underwater here so you have a good view when you snorkel. :)

Doing snorkel in Tulum

Doing snorkel in Tulum

It was fun to snorkel too, not the same as doing scuba dive, but still it’s a window to the other world, much closer than just to swim. Duilio was very excited haha. We saw small dishes, coral reefs, sea cucumber.. haha. Later we walked along the beach the way back, took a siesta, went down to the private beach, read our books… now I’m writing this and soon we’re going to eat something close by where they have internet. We are planning on staying here until Sunday and then go to Isla Mujeres or something. We’ll see!