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 — 

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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

Videos from Ecuador – Quito and the Galápagos islands

Ecuador – Quito from sofia armenteros on Vimeo.

Views of Quito – Some tests about being in the middle of the world – Homeparty with some reggeaton dance – Playing Jenca with my host and his friends..

Galapagos – Santa Cruz from sofia armenteros on Vimeo.

First video from the Galápagos, the island of Santa Cruz, las grietas, snorkeling, land tortoises..

Galapagos – the other islands from Sofia Engleson on Vimeo.

Second video from the Galápagos, visiting the islands of Bartolomé, Santiago, Isabela and San Cristobal. Snorkeling with penguins, turtles, sea lions, visiting volcanos, tunnels etc..

One day in Guayaquil together with the sweetest family

As I told you, I met this family from Guayaquil who also were going back with the same flight as me and offered to show me a little bit of their city this evening. The family also let me stay in their house in Guayaquil this night! I’m soo lucky!

Guayaquil is the largest and the most populous city in Ecuador. I thought it was going to be a much smaller city, but it’s actually bigger then Quito! Still it’s not the capital..

I woke up this morning in San Cristóbal with this eye infection again, similar as the one I had in Isla Mujeres in Mexico… So I was crying all the time the daylight hurt… If I would have been alone I would never have been able to walk around alone finding all these places because I couldn’t use my lenses and neither my eyeglasses, I had to wear my sunglasses all the time.. haha. And also the time was to short in this city, only one evening, so I wouldn’t had  the time get to know the city and find these places. It’s also quite unsafe to walk around in Guayaquil… I think it was meant for me to meet this wonderful family.

First, they fed me a good typical Ecuadorian meal at their home. Later we took the car downtown and visited the Iguana park, which is as you can hear, home to many land iguanas. It stroke me the difference of Galápagos, here both locals and tourists were touching the animals and even feeding them, even if there were signs saying that it was prohibited. In Galápagos, nobody would ever touch or feed them, everyone is very aware of the rules and the consequences. Anyhow.

Visiting the park of the Iguanas here in Guayaquil. They are green land iguanas, different from the ones in the Galapagos.

Visiting the park of the Iguanas here in Guayaquil. They are green land iguanas, different from the ones in the Galapagos.

After that we took a walk around the Malecón, the boardwalk close to the Guayas river. It’s really big and crowded! Also since it was Sunday and everything else is closed, people gather in el Malecon to take a walk.

A funny thing Patty told me, is that this area was really unsafe and ugly before. The old boardwalk from the 19th century had started to fall into the river itself and was an unsafe place with thieves, muggers, drug dealers etc…

But the ex-president of Ecuador, had the goal to create spaces that would encourage urban renewal.. but the government didn’t want to pay for it. So to make this possible, they created the Malecón 2000 Foundation, a private non-profit entity to raise money to build this boardwalk. This foundation consists of the most representative public and private businesses in the city and are the administrators of the park.

A beautiful idea! Now it’s one of the most visited and safest places in the city, with museums, restaurants, galleries, lagoons, parks for the kids, walk paths etc…

View from a mirador at the Malecon of Guayaquil and the Guayas Tall Ship. The boat with the marines of the city has just arrived, which only happens  twice a year. :)

View from a mirador at the Malecon of Guayaquil and the Guayas Tall Ship. The boat with the marines of the city has just arrived, which only happens twice a year. :)

From the malecón we walked to the north towards Las Peñas, which is a neighbourhood on top of a hill. All the old houses have been restored and painted in different colours making it the artistic centre of the city. It is beautiful, the stairs are numbered, there are round 430 steps up to the viewpoint over the city, and on the sides of the steps there are restaurants, art galleries, shops, discos etc. Very cozy neighbourhood.

Cerro Santa Ana, Guayaquil

Cerro Santa Ana, Guayaquil

On our way up to the top of las peñas, and you can see the city in the background. It was the first time there for their mother too :)

On our way up to the top of las peñas, and you can see the city in the background. It was the first time there for their mother too :)

Panorama view over almost the whole city of Guayaquil next to the Guayas river.

Panorama view over almost the whole city of Guayaquil next to the Guayas river.

I’ve told you before that there is a Barcelona team here too, right? Josue is a football fanatic and knows everything about them. They are based here in Guayaquil and were founded in 1925 by a Spanish immigrant who decided to name the club after his hometown Barcelona in Spain. A funny thing is that they have only played once the Spanish Barcelona football team, and it was in 1987 for the opening of the Ecuadorian Barcelonas football stadium… and guess who won?? The Ecuadorian Barcelona!!! Haha, yes, 2-1!

Me with the t-shirt of the Barcelona football team.. of ecuador, of course!

Me with the t-shirt of the Barcelona football team.. of ecuador, of course!

Even if I’m from Barcelona.. I’m a Real Madrid-fan if I have to choose.. I was sort of raised to hate barça… but now I can say that I’m a barcelona fan, but of the team of Ecuador! ;) Haha!

I’m amazed that they are both footballs teams with the name of Barcelona, and that their shield is almost exactly the same!! So weird!

BSC Barcelona Sporting Club (ecuador)

 

FCB Football Club Barcelona (españa)

At night, I was really tired in my eye and it hurt a lot. Patty lent me her room to stay in to rest my eyes in the dark for a while. They came with a wet towel and a bowl of ice water to help me bring down the swelling…. Oh, so lucky to be here and have someone taking care of me. Later, the father and mother of the family came into the room to say a prayer for me. So sweat. They kneeled and put their hands on my shoulders and on my eyed and prayed to the Lord to heal the eye for me and get me healthy to keep on traveling. It was so beautiful, and it actually did feel a lot better afterwords. I’m amazed.

I had a good nights sleep, and next day it was better. The mother had made breakfast for me (6 in the morning), and the father gave me a goodbye-gift (a dvd and something to read about faith). I’m the one who should give them gifts!! They even paid the taxi for me back to the airport.

I’m totally amazed about how great people can be. I’m speachless.  I’ll never lose faith in people, that’s for sure! And I will definitively return this favour to someone else when I get the possibility to do it.

Last day in San Cristóbal

This morning I woke up early and had some breakfast out in another place… I’m glad they have “dietetic breakfast” here, which means fruits, yoghurt and müsli. I’m a little tired of bread or fried things in the morning.

Full and happy, “Barriga llena corazón contento”, I started walking towards La Loberia, a beach that is home to a large sea-lion colony and nursery. suddenly I’m in the airport?! It’s like 10 minutes away from the city.. Strange! Haha. Well, it’s good to know where it is! I go back again to find the right way, and about 20 minutes later I reach the shore.

unfortunately there aren’t almost any sea lions there… but some pelicans and sea turtles. Also, I met the family from the tour to Leon Dormido yesterday.. they are soooo sweet! It’s a brother and a sister, their parents and their grandmother. They live in Guayaquil and are also leaving with the flight tomorrow, and they offered to show me around there tomorrow, I really do have luck sometimes! : )

I think this one was sick... we thought it was dead at first but when the water came with a wave it moved its head... since you are not allowed to touch the animals you can't help them either... :(

I think this one was sick… we thought it was dead at first but when the water came with a wave it moved its head… since you are not allowed to touch the animals you can’t help them either… :(

Snorkeling with a sea turtle :)

Snorkeling with a sea turtle :)

With Patricia on the beach of la loberia

With Patricia on the beach of la loberia

And with Jesua, the younger brother :)

And with Jesua, the younger brother :)

We took a lot of pictures together, I don’t know why but they were like.. “Take a picture of me and Sofia”, first one with the son, then one with the father, then one with both, then one with the sister, then one with the whole family but changing the photographer so everyone gets one when they are in the pic… haha. I’ll upload the pics with the whole family when they send it, so you can se what a beautiful family they are!

After la Loberia I went to Cerro Tijeretas, which is a hill close to the Darwin interpretation center, with a spectacular view of the town, harbour and the beaches… And while walking that road around the hills, it started to rain, like a lot lot lot.. haha. I was totally soak wet. I’m so glad I have my waterproof backpack, it’s the best thing I’ve brought with me, always useful when I’m going to the beach, diving or just walking when it starts to rain etc..

Rain!

Rain!

Raining a little bit!!

Raining a little bit!!

In a view point in cierro tijeretas..

In a view point in cierro tijeretas..

Hiding from the rain....

Hiding from the rain in Punto Carola….

After the hill, I visited Carola point, Mann beach and the Charles darwin interpretation center, where you can learn about both the geological and human history of the islands, history etc.

One thing a guide in Isabela told me, is that the Galapagos is moving around 6 cm every year, going more and more towards the south east…The archipelago is now located in the Nazca plate, which is moving to the south-eash, diving under the South American Plate.. so when they get there they are dragged into the water.. Biologists have found old Galapagos-islands under the water… meaning that in the future, these islands that are the Galapagos today will all be drowned.. I got sad when I heard this, but you shouldn’t be, because they will come new galapagos islands! This location always gives birth to new islands, because it’s on top of a hotspot where the Earth’s crust is being melted down by a mantle plume, creating volcanoes.. :) They don’t know how when the first island was created, but it could be from 8 to 90 millions of years ago… The youngest islands, Isabela and Fernandina, are still being formed, they both have had volcanic eruptions the past years..

At night I went out with Patricia and Jesua to a place called ”Iguana Rock”, that’s where my divemaster told me I should go yesterday… but it was quite dead there, generally San Cristobal is a very calm and relaxed place, not so much party. Since our flight was leaving next morning (oh yeah, apparently we had the exact same flight) we had an early night.

With the siblings Gonzales.. as Jesue said "Look, we have the same hair color!" haha. We do :)

With the siblings Gonzales.. as Jesue said ”Look, we have the same hair color!” haha. We do :)

Diving with sharks again in Leon Dormido!

I had some breakfast before I went to dive. The guy from yesterday also happens to find me there while eating breakfast.. typical….good though that his friend also was with him. :)

Since I was the only diver, I joined another tour group that was going to snorkel. So it wasn’t a regular dive, but more of a normal tour with diving. We visited Lobos island, where the other snorkel and I checked my equipment and how much weight I needed. I have had different everytime! Haha. The divemaster, Jens (I know, very unusual name for here, but very typical in Sweden! Haha), gave me three tests to do underwater together with him. To clean the mask, to drop and find the regulator and to establish buoyancy. It felt very good to do it before a dive actually!

Snorkeling with pink fishes.

Snorkeling with pink fishes.

After that, we snorkeled a while at the beach and then we went to el Leon Dormido, also called Kickers rock. It’s some vertical rocks made of ashes If I understood it right. Erosion has split the rock and given it it’s characteristic shape of with it’s got it’s name from. There are two vertical walls about 150 meters with a channel in the middle where all the sharks loves to get in to.

From the boat. Impresive!

From the boat. impressive!

the cliffs of Kickers rock/Leon Dormido

The channel in between the cliffs of Kickers rock/Leon Dormido

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With my divemaster Jens, just about to jump in :)

 

We dived around the whole rock and in both channels and saw some marine fauna, octopuses, mollusks, hammerheads, black tipped sharks, Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, sea lions and I think an eagle ray… and of course, a loooooot of other fishes! Unfortunately, I don’t know their names..

It’s really something to swim that close to sharks.. we saw some black tips that were about 2,5-3 meters, which is unusually big here! The hammerheads might have been 4 meters.. and there were smaller ones about 1,5-2 metres. Actually, I’m not afraid to dive around them, just excited.. Maybe it’s because the dive masters aren’t afraid, then I don’t feel like I should be either. But when the sharks do some turns around you and it seems that they are looking straight into your eyes, then it is sliiightly scary… haha. But they don’t do anything. Even the fishes aren’t afraid, around them, only if they get really close to their mouth they swim fast away.. they are more afraid of the sea lions then the sharks!

Such an ugly fish hidden in a hole. He had many many small pointy teeth too.

Such an ugly fish hidden in a hole. He had many many small pointy teeth too.

A nice mix of fishes.

A nice mix of fishes.

Shark and fishes. :)

Shark and fishes. :)

Galapagos shark!

Galapagos shark!

Between the two dives we stayed at a beach for an hour and had some lunch and siesta. The sun was really burning, but while it was, it started to rain. Haha. The weather is so weird here! It really changes in a splish splash. Anyhow. It was a very nice day. I felt very comfortable with Jens, and it was funny to be the only diver, then I could stay in the water until my air was low, instead of going up when someone elses is. : ) He also said that I was quite good for being so new, that he notice that I love it. Hehe. Yeeep!!

I was the only diver, hurray!

I was the only diver, hurray!

At night I was really tired. I had some gooood vegetarian dinner at a place called Mockingham bird or something like that, 8 USD. :) And they had internet! I had my computer with me since I had plans on going to the cyber café, but instead I surfed while eating dinner. It’s weird because almost no one was on this restaurant, but if you walk just a block down to the malecon, there is a restaurant there that has a sign of ”wifi”, and there it’s full with people and computers! Well well..

I dissed around 6 calls from this guy who told me he loved me yesterday and had an early night tonight too, watching some more tv-series. Davids cousins were going out for a walk at night, but I was reaaally tired. I fell asleep around 23 and woke up at 7.30. So good to sleep!! (Full with mosquito bites even if I woke up to put on some repellent like 5 times this night)

San Cristóbal – the home of many sea lions!

After a quite unpleasant boat ride here from Santa Cruz, I finally arrived, about 2 hours late. David was helpful as always to help me find a place to stay here, so I’m staying at his aunt house, who rents out rooms, and I got a special price. : )  Poor Davids cousin who had been waiting for me at the port all the time. We had problems with the engines, so we had to go much slower.  She showed me to where I will be staying, it’s called Rocas y Cactus, and it’s in the barrio Cactus. I have a quite big room and a clean bathroom :) Still no internet though, haha.

The boat we took from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal.. Packed with people.. all sweaty... it was supposed to take 1,5-2 hours but it took 3,5 hours instead... haha

The boat we took from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal.. Packed with people.. all sweaty… it was supposed to take 1,5-2 hours but it took 3,5 hours instead… haha

View over San Cristobal from my balcony

View over San Cristobal from my balcony

San Cristobal is very calm and relaxed. It’s smaller than Santa Cruz but bigger then Isabela. A good mix. I still love that people say hi to you on the street even if they don’t know you! :)

I went to eat at a place in the malecon, the street closest to the beach, and took a walk there. There are soooo many sea lions here!!! And they make such a funny noise! I’m really surprised, I had no idea they sounded like this! I mean, there is one noise I recognize, because it sounds like the seals, but they also have another sound that is a mix between a sheep and someone who is really really disgusted and is about to puke or something. Haha.

Maybe you only see rocks... but what if I said there's at least 30 sea lions visible here? Haha.

Maybe you only see rocks… but what if I said there’s at least 30 sea lions visible in this pic? Haha.

Little sea lion drinking/eating or whatever you say....

Little sea lion drinking/eating or whatever you say….

After that I went home for a siesta. Later I got down to book the diving to Leon Dormido, which they say it’s the best place to dive here in San Cristobal. The dive shop is also one of Davids cousins. Hehe. Almost all his family is living here :) Since I was the only diver, it cost me 160 USD….. waaaaay to expensive for me, but since it’s the last dive I will do in a very long time….. Well well.
I have actually counted about how much I have spent here in the Galapagos, and it’s about the same amount per day as I spent in Mexico. So it’s really good! Until this 160 USD.. haha. But still, I thought that Galapagos was going to be much more expensive.

Later I went down looking for a cybercafé.. and I ran into the guy from Isabela who was driving the car to the volcano.  We had some dinner at the malecon together with his friend. Then we walked around the malecon again together with even more sea lions, they all get up there at night.. and it smells quite much!! Haha. Anyhow.. this guy starts to tell me that he want to be my loved one and explains how much he loves me. We have only spent a couple of hours together, maximum, and I was not at all interested, so I felt quite uncomfortable.. I went home to watch some tv-series and sleep.

 

Last day in Isabela and in Santa Cruz – visiting the volcano, doing night snorkel etc..

I had some early breakfast at Aloha Betsys (so good and much cheaper than the other places… really my favorite place on the island.. At 7.15, the tour guy picked me up there to go to the volcano Sierra Negra.

It’s the second biggest crater in the world, but the biggest one that is active, since it had it’s lasts eruption in 2005. It is huuuuuuuuge! The trail is around 8 km there and then the way back, and it’s not a very easy terrain, and the sun gazing… and my legs that hurt from yesterdays climbing.. hehe. I was so sweaty, like as if I had been showering… but it was great! I really loved the walk!! And I met some great people and had nice chats (since we were walking for like 7 hours,..haha)

In front of the biggest active crater in the world!

In front of the biggest active crater in the world!

Thumbs up! :)

Fascinating surroundings.

Panorama del volcan

Panorama de  Sierra Negra

I got a text from J that he was on Isabela too with a daily  tour group, and that he could take me with him back to Santa Cruz.. I had in mind to take the boat next morning, but as he said “The boat for Santa cruz leaves at 5 in the morning tomorrow, or you could come back with me this afternoon for free and we could do night snorkel in Santa cruz…” haha. An offer I can’t refuse! So when I got back from the volcano, all dirty and sweaty, I passed by my room to get my stuff, paid for the room and met up with him to go back.. He greeted me as his girlfriend… I think I was Davids girlfriend on my way here, and J on my way back… haha.

Oh, and on the way back we saw dolphins, and they jumped!!!! It was amazing, I got it on video too, so happy!!

El delfin saltando!!!!

Jumping dolphin! Finally on picture!!

Jas con su grupo en la lancha hacia Santa Cruz

en la lancha hacia Santa Cruz

When we got back in Santa Cruz he helped me to find a gift for David, then we split up to go home to leave our things and then we met up to do the night snorkel. We went to get some dive lamps and the gear, then we took the boat taxi to one of his friends boats to get wetsuits and stuff and then out in the night… sooooo beautiful to go by boat at night in the port there between all the boats with small lights and the reflexes in the water… amazing really. And the sky was so clear you could se millions of stars, amazing!! Unfortunately, the water was not was clear as the sky… so we didn’t see any sharks around there, but we saw many lobsters, and also brought a few back for the friend who lent us his boat. Once again, an amazing experience! I’m so thankful!

Me after my first night snorkel :)

Me after my first night snorkel :)

Next day I was supposed to leave for San Cristobal in the afternoon, but David said it would be better if I took it the next morning, so he could talk to his family in San Cristobal and we could say a proper good bye with the gang today and stuff.. He also told me some big news he just had found out about, that he is going to be a father! Congratulations :)

I went to Tortuga bay, finally. It is a big beautiful beach with white sand and lots of iguanas :) It made me think of the Caribbean cost of Mexico.. hehe. I was really tired and tried to have a siesta at the beach under some trees, but the mosquitos bit me so much I had to leave.. haha. On the way back I had clouds, woho, because you have to walk around 30-40 minutes to get there, which I did in the sun on my way there.. hehe.

Panorama over Tortuga bay

Panorama over Tortuga bay

There are so many here!!!

There are so many here!!!

I went home to have some siesta and waited for David to come home from work, but he didn’t.. I got a little bit worried, waited for some hours but then I went to internet to upload pics to the blog and to skype with Duilio, and hadn’t heard anything from David still… no answer in the phone or anything. Around 22ish he calls me,  says he doesn’t know where he is.. I got a little bit worried, but apparently he was with his friends who got the news today, and they had taken him out to celebrate right after work. Maribel or Kiara wasn’t at home and I wanted to do something so I met up with J. We had some deep talk, he also said that he feels that he can tell me things he doesn’t usually tell people, mainly since I’m not from the islands but speak Spanish.. Another guy I met at Sierra Negra, the volcano, opened up to me too about his wife and father etc…
I feel really glad I give that impression to people.

So… that’s it. And I’m sad to leave Santa Cruz…. Why is it that I always have to leave when I start to feel at home? It hurts. And all the amazing people… It’s weird that their lives will keep on here in the islands, while I’m not here… I wish there was 10 Sofias so I could live in different places at the same time.