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

IMG_3152

Clear water and hills with place for cultivation

IMG_3148

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

Packing tips – Items I wouldn’t travel without

While being on the road for almost a year, my backpack has changed a few times. I’ve bought a few new things, and sent home some other things.

At least I noticed that I don’t need to have everything with me the whole time. It really depends on where you are going, if you are changing between different climates and temperatures. Most things you can buy along the way if you really need it, then you don’t have to carry it around the first time and it’s probably cheaper too.

I’ve been in warm and cold big cities, hot beaches with surf and scuba dive, high and cold mountain tops… And I’m glad I had something (not everything!) for every occasion with me. While traveling in hot summer climate, I really thought it was a waste of place to bring my fleece jacket everywhere – but I really needed it on the cold cold night bus journeys.

But maybe I wouldn’t have needed to bring a sleeping bag with me, because I only used it like 3 times during 8 months. It would probably have been better (lighter and less space) to just rent one when I needed it. I also brought my rain jacket with me, but I sent it back after 2 months because I hadn’t used it even once, and it was literally just a waste of space. Instead I bought a thin plastic rain poncho for 2 USD which was even better because I could have it over my backpack too, haha. Just something to keep in mind! Anyhow!

Here are some items I’ve used a lot and would never travel without, things I’m like “omg I’m so glad I brought this with me!” haha.

Macbook Air 13” – perfect travel computer, light and good enough for editing pictures and videos, writing blog entries, watching film and tv-series ;) A little to small hard-disk for storage, but it depends on how long time you are traveling. I know I couldn’t have been without a computer at least, but a lot of people travel without!

USB-memories – for storage.  I prefer USB memories to hard disks because I feel it’s less chance to break and also I don’t like to have everything in just one place. Generally for electronics the prices are getting lower and lower, but in under-developed countries it’s still the same prices as we had maybe 5 years ago.  (for example in Sweden a 16 gb USB memory costs the same today as a 8 gb USB memory costed a couple of years ago). So depending on where you are going, it might be cheaper or the same price in your own country!

panasoniclumixA waterproof camera – Panasonic Lumix FT3 Waterproof and Shockproof Digital Camera – at first I didn’t like this camera so much because everything is pretty much automatic, but I got to LOVE it. It has great quality, great futures and great colors, you barely need to edit them. Love that it’s shockproof (2 meters) and waterproof up to 12 meters (40 feet) and has  a GPS! Then you know at what height or depth you are in. Perfect for adventure tours, hiking, climbing, snorkeling, beach, rain!

ultra-silA foldable waterproof daypackSea to summit Ultra Sil Dry Day Pack – Perfect to bring with you, doesn’t occupy much space in the backpack but so useful. Not too comfortable when it’s heave, because of the thin strips, but it’s perfect as a daypack – also it’s waterproof so it’s perfect for surfing, snorkeling and scuba dive-trips, but also for the beach or when it’s raining. I’ve used it so much!

 

Flipflops – I bought mine for like 4 USD in Mexico and it’s the most used item I have. Sometimes you just don’t want to have the supercomfy and ugly teva-sandals or trekkingshoes, just easy flip flops to wear the beach, around the city, or just in the house or to the shower

Travel towel – I prefer the normal towers, but compared to the space it would occupy – not worth it! Also I use the towel as a “protector” from insight around my bed when I’m in hostels. (hate knowing people are watching me while sleeping haha) 

LMF-spork


Spork
Light my fire – after 4 months it broke, so bring a couple of them! I used mine so much, sometimes if you bring your own meal/snacks on the bus ride, to the tour or to your room, and you really need a spoon or a fork for it. Perfect!!!

 

LeathermanA multi-tool – Leatherman. I’ve used mine so much!!  To cut up apples, open cans, open sodas, filing my nails, tighten loose screws, cut threads for the bracelets.. etc!

 

A couple of meters of thin rope
– To hang up washed clothes to dry, but also to hang my travel towel around my bed. Sometimes to tie something to my backpack. Very good to have! 

Head lamp – had a normal flash light in the beginning but bought a head torch for the Inca Trail. You usually need a flashlight and your hands free at the same time – like when packing or searching for something in the dark hostel room or hiking at night/early morning with hiking poles.

packing-cellsPacking cells – I just love them to organize my backpack. If I’m looking for something, I just have to take out the packing cells and open the one I know where my item is in. I always see other backpackers stuff laying around everywhere on their bed or on the floor, super chaotic unorganized. I like to have my stuff ready to go. I have one small for underwear and swimwear, a 2 L one for warm clothes/socks/union suit (which I never have to open in warmer countries), another 2 L one for my tops and t-shirts, and one 6L for pants, shorts, dresses, skirts and my fleece jacket.

Pad Lock – You will definitively need one or two. I have a cable lock pad – perfect for locking the backpack in plenty of spaces and also into a chair or a pole in the bus or the train. I also have a regular one for hostel lockers etc and for my daypack.


Foldable tooth brush
 – Takes less space and get’s less dirty! Works perfectly fine too!

A few clothing items I’ve used way to much and which is totally worth to have with you wherever you go –

A light cardigan/long-sleeved shirt – even in the hottest countries it sometimes get a little bit chilly. Also good to have a little protection against mosquitoes or direct sunlight. Sometimes you also need to cover your shoulders to enter a church.

Union suit – for cold nights and chilly bus rides. I used it as a pyjamas while sleeping in tents or in rooms where it was under 10*C inside at night. Not just an extra layer, but also perfect in the morning when you don’t want to put on freezing cold clothes direct on your body – just put the clothes on top of the union suit. Also on the damn cold super air-conditioned night buses between cities – would have died without it! And I even used it in the tropic jungle – it got a little chilly to sleep outside in the hammock!

Cap – When the sun is high and burning it really helps – especially to not be blinded by the sun but also to cool your head/hair a little bit. Also good to cover up your greasy and dirty hair when you haven’t been able to take a shower in a couple of days. And to have under your winter hat in sunny winter days.

For women:

Really light dress – For all occasions. Good to have to the beach above your bikini on your way there and from there, or when you are at home or at the hostel – takes 1 sec to put it on and it’s really comfy and light.  And also if you want to dress up a little bit in the city you can just add a belt or a necklace to it.

Leggings – Good to prevent mosquitoes, ticks and other insect bites at night and if it’s a little chilly and still want to have a skirt, or if it’s cold you can have them under your pants. Would never travel without leggings! 

Tampons – I actually brought a reeeally big pack with me (like 100) and I’m glad I did, because first of all, they don’t sell it every country/city, and at least in south America, where it’s not to common – it’s more expensive then in Sweden! And only boxes of 8 or something.

I hope this helps someone out there! (?)

Safety tips and how to avoid getting robbed

No place on the planet is completely free from safety risks, including your own home.” – the first lines on ”Stay Safe” on wikitravel.

And that’s true.  You might feel that the world out there is more dangerous and unsafe than at home, but in fact you are more likely to have problems at home then out traveling. In my very safe home country Sweden I’ve got robbed of two cameras and one iphone over the past years. During this year of backpacking in central and South America I’ve yet had no problems at all. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but maybe it’s because I’m more alert and “follow” a few common sense-rules.

Here are a few safety tips about how to avoid getting robbed:  

Be aware – I know you think you always are, but you’re probably not while sightseeing. Look around and trust your instinct. Be aware if someone is following you. Have you seen that man before today? Also, get familiarized with the common picket pocket tricks.

Don’t show off your values – don’t have your wallet in the back pocket, don’t walk around with your phone in the hand etc

Don’t have your backpack on the back in subways or crowded buses (if they aren’t locked). Hold it tight in your lap or on your belly.

 Lock your backpacks – Don’t make it easy. I have a small padlock on my daily backpack when I travel and I have an adjustable cable lock from Pacsafe on my big backpack.

Blend in – try not to look like a foreigner. It’s of course difficult if you are a white and blond girl in Kenya, but try not to look like a typical tourist with the hat and the camera around your neck. Don’t look like you have money. Try to look like you know your way around there. Avoid looking lost, even if you are. Don’t fold out a map when you are on the street. Ask a police officer, or walk into a store and ask for directions.

Keep a low profile – don’t draw unnecessary attention to you. Don’t wear jewelry, try not to talk louder than necessary in public – you probably have enough attention as it is just by being a foreigner.

Separate your sources of money – don’t have it all on you or in the same bag. If they steal something from you, don’t let them take everything. I actually have three different moneybelts when I travel with all my stuff (one around my neck with passport etc, one hanging from the belt inside my pants with money, and then what looks like a regular belt but has a small pocket inside where I keep safety money in case they rob me of everything (but my clothes, hopefully). Also, have a wallet with enough “daily” money to make robbers satisfied so they don’t come looking for more. When I’m out for the day I of course don’t bring all the money with me, I keep it in different pockets/places/bags at my accommodation.

Don’t walk alone at night – especially in narrow alleys, dark parks or poorly lit streets. Stick to public and well-lit areas.

Do not accept food or drinks from strangers – it can be spiced with drugs. Keep an eye on your own drinks and food aswell, never leave it unattended!

Know the area you’re traveling to – ask a local (hostel worker, host, friend etc) if there are certain neighborhoods notorious for crime.

Do not hail taxis from the street – call one in advance. If you have to hail in a taxi, choose wisely – only take taxis clearly identified with official markings and go with older drivers – they are more experienced, more reliable and less tempted to get quick money then the younger ones. Also, do not ride with the windows rolled down, and don’t show off your values there either! And always ask for the price before getting in to the taxi if they don’t use a taximeter.

Don’t leave your belongings unattended in public areas. Sometimes you might need to go to the toilet while waiting to board your bus, you could ask another backpacker to guard your backpack for you while you are gone. I also lock my backpack with the adjustable cable lock in the benches at the bus station if I have to go.

Don’t leave your belongings unattended in hostels. I’ve heard plenty of hostel stories. Never happened to me, but I try to be careful. Don’t leave any values like your iphone, mp3, passport etc out in the open. And if you leave your clothes there, don’t miss them when they’re gone. It’s often the moment that makes a thief. I always lock my backpack with a padlock, even during night when I’m sleeping just beside. If there are lockers in the hostel where you can store your backpack, do it. If there are smaller lockers for valuables, keep them there. I had one padlock on the locker and one on my daily backpack inside the locker, where I kept my usb memories, computer, passport etc.

Last one – If threatened – don’t resist. Better safe then sorry. No item is more important than your own life. Just let go. (I know I would probably need to bite my tongue of to not to start arguing against them… I hope I never come to that)

 

 

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!

How to save money for traveling

Save for the booty!

When I finally decided that I was going to travel, and I made a rough budget about what I thought this trip would cost me and I looked over my economy. To do the trip I wanted, I needed around 40.000 SEK more (about 5700 USD). I had some freelance jobs planned in, so I thought that I might be able to save up 10-15.000 SEK before leaving (all though, it didn’t work out because I got sick in chicken pox when I was supposed to do the freelance job, and another time I was stuck in Zürich because of a snowstorm, so no money there). The rest was about cutting expenses, selling things I own, and getting jobs during travel.
I noticed, that when you are short of money, you get creative!

Every day was ”How am I going to survive this day without money?” (preferably, saving money instead). Usually, money just disappears every day, one banana there, one coffee there… not ok!!! Having future economy problems helps you keep and eye on your account and notice how much money that just ”disappears”.

Expense Reports

TIPS: Write everything down! Every expense, no matter how small it is! It really helps to see where your money is going.  After a month, review it, see what you can change/cut, and stick with it. Is that pack of gums at 7-11 really necessary? Remember what the purpose is – to save money for the trip of your dreams (or a trip, anyways).
Also, do this while you travel too! I’m bringing a notebook with me where I’m going to write eeeeevery expense.  No income = need a total control over my budget.

Here are some other ideas of how to save money for traveling:

Cutting monthly expenses:
Big saver: You can go and live with your parents again, maybe ask them nicely to stay there for free and you could save most of your income. Or, if that seems slightly too much, get a coherent. This does actually cut your monthly rent with 50% and is a fair deal. (I did the second option, he he)

Other stuff you can cut down;
– Transportation card (do you need to take the metro or can you bike/walk it/share ride?)
– Training (run outside, strength training at home, both for free etc)
– Phone bills (just stop texting and calling everybody all the time, put a limit on the phone),
– Electricity (turn your lights off when you leave home and just have the lamp on in room where you are in, saves quite much in the end of the month!)
– Food (Don’t eat out! Always make lunch boxes!! It’s not so difficult, you must have an afternoon a week you can plan in to cook, do 2-3 different plates of the same raw materials and freeze it in!)
– Party (exact how much money do you spend on alcohol/club entrances every month? This is a big thief. Cut your expenses. Is it really necessary to pay such an over price for a beer? Here in Sweden it’s so much cheaper to drink at home, invite some friends over instead! Or just stop drinking! At least, start thinking. Out partying to forget your life or saving that money to live your life?)
– Shopping (Why the hell do you need a new pair of shoes if you aren’t going to be able to wear them while traveling???)

Sell your stuff:
If you have a car, a bike, clothes you don’t use, a laptop, etc. Everything counts and e-bay is hot now!! (Swedish: blocket och tradera!) . Just check at the attic and I’m sure you’ll find things you haven’t even thought about for 5 years. Do you really need them if they have been in the storage forever? Every penny counts!!!

Well, that’s just a start!

Also, you can cut your expenses during travel.
Of course, everything depends on the reason why you travel, but this works for me:

If you don’t want to live in hotels or do the typical touristic thing, but rather have an experience with local people and their community, you can volunteer; for example stay at a farm and help the owners there for 4 hours a day, and get free accommodation and food.  I signed myself up at workaway , a community where local businesses can sign up and ask for help from volunteers all over the world. Most of them are free to volunteer, some of them you pay a symbolic payment of 2 dollars or something. I got in contact with both of the places I’ll be volunteering at there. Sign up at http://www.workaway.info/, it costs 22 euros for 2 years.

Another way of having an experience with locals but without working for it, is to do CouchSurfing. If you haven’t heard about it before, briefly – you ask a local if you can sleep on their couch while visiting their town. But it’s not about getting free accommodation, but more about opening your mind, exchanging thoughts and sharing experiences. Lovely!

Sketches

Some old sketches from other creative times of my past

As I mentioned, I got a little bit creative when I didn’t have money. I had the idea of selling things to friends at home and tourists along the road to earn some extra money for the day. I thought I could sketch people up, so I would bring my pen and notebooks to make small sketches and sell for like 5 USD or something. That would give me food for a day. The sketches wouldn’t need to be that good either, it’s mostly about giving something back if you ask for money, so it doesn’t feel like you are begging for it. Also I had the idea of taking pictures of texts that was ordered of friends/future costumers through e-mail, for example, holding up a sign ”Happy Birthday First Name Second Name!” in a cool place like Macchu Picchu, or just writing it in the sand of a great beach. Isn’t that a good idea?

How it has worked out for me? I did sell my apartment and cleared my loans and got a little bit over to be able to do my trip, but I also lost some of my saving-money-energy. I won’t need to bring my sketchbook overseas, sorry to tell you that, haha. It bugs me that I really was focused while being broke, and today I see my cash withdrawals everyday and get really disappointed of myself and my bad discipline.  So writing this posts really gives me a new push up to myself. Time to shape up! No more income for 200 days – I HAVE TO!

Do you have any more tips about how to get your costs down and save money?

 

Inspiration

Some places I’ll be visiting soon!

Teotihuacan, Mexico

Chichen itza, Mexico

Diving in Cozumel, Mexico

Galapagos islands, Ecuador

Colorful Guayaquil, Ecuador

Volunteering in Eco Truly Park, Peru

Fly over the Nazca Lines, Peru

Walk the inca trail and visit Machu Picchu, Peru

Visit a small rural village, Peru

Visit the amazonas rainforest

Salar de Uyuni, Salt lake, Bolivia

Volunteer at Inti Wara Yassi, wild animal refuge, Bolivia

Igacu falls, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil