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

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).

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.

Being in the middle of the world!

So I woke up at 7 this morning and had some breakfast and then started my journey to Mitad Del Mundo. It’s a small village around 35 km north of Quito, and it’s exactly in the middle of the world, where the equator is, latitude of 0.0.0.0!

I went to take the metrobus to the station la Ofelia, where there are buses that goes to Mitad del mundo.
Apparently, there was a marathon that day, so the metrobus was closed. Instead I took the trole (yes, there are metrobus, trole and eco via, which are all the same but from different companies, so they have different names, and they are pararell but on different streets) to the terminal Y and from there a bus to the ofelia and from the ofelia the other bus to the mitad del mundo. It wasn’t difficult, but not so easy. Even knowing were to jump of from the bus is difficult here since they don’t say it out loud so you have to ask the locals. But tourists find their way here, I guess with organized tours. I paid 75 cents to get there since I had to take 3 different transportations (every one costs 25 cents).

The museum of Intiñan, not to easy to see from the outside!

The museum of Intiñan, not to easy to see from the outside!

I went directly to the intiñan solar museum, it’s where the real center of the world is. The entrance fee is 4 USD and you get a guided tour there in the “museum”. They show you some typical animals, life, clothing etc from different parts of Ecuador and from the indigenous tribe, but the most funny part is about being exactly in the middle of the world.

There are experiments, like to balance and egg on a nail, which is easier here in the middle then in the north or the south. Also just to walk on the line of the equator with your eyes closed and arms strengthen out is almost impossible! So difficult compared if you are just one meter on either side of the line. Also exactly here in the middle, if you have a sink where you put water, and then you open the cork, the water just falls straight down, without any spinning. But if you do it on the south, the water spins towards the clock, and the north, with the clock, and that’s just a couple of meters from each other. So cool!

Totems from all over the world, at least south america, that worship the sun. :) Recognize anyone??

Totems from all over the world, at least south america, that worship the sun. :) Recognize anyone??

Me and Maximiliano at the latitud of 00.00.00!

Me and Maximiliano at the latitud of 00.00.00!

Yaaay! I managed to balance the egg on the nail! :)

Yaaay! I managed to balance the egg on the nail! :)

Another thing is that here at the equator line, they don’t have different weather stations, it’s always the same weather, and there are no differences in the hours of sun during the year, the sun always rises at 6 in the morning and down at 6 at night.

I met up with Maximiliano, a couchsurfer that lives in Mitad del mundo. We went to the “city” and monument of Mitad del Mundo (entrance fee 2 USD and 3 USD to climb up to the monument). This is a big area with restaurants and stores built around the equator-line, and it’s painted in the ground where the line goes, what’s south and north etc… BUT – with the use of global position system technology it has been determined that the actual equator is 240 metres north to the monument area – which is at the museum intiñan. Haha. So this is totally a bluff! But they are actually planning on doing a new monument now on the real line.. we’ll see!

In front of the monument of the middle of the world, but the false one! 400 metres wrong.. haha.

In front of the monument of the middle of the world, but the false one! 400 metres wrong.. haha.

The false middle of the world! Picture taken from the monument.

The false middle of the world! Picture taken from the monument.

Yummy Paila Ice cream!

Yummy Paila Ice cream!

Haha. We had some coffee, and I had a tree tomato smoothie – it’s a fruit from here, so it’s not a tomato! Haha. We also had some ice creams typical from here, Paila, and they were so yummie!

Maximiliano had to swing by his home because he had some guys over to fix his internet (he had been without internet for 4 days). After it was fixed, we danced a little bit of salsa and he showed me the basics steps in cumbia and reggeton too. Haha. Can you imagine, me dancing in the middle of the day like that! Yep… it’s getting better! Also he put some music over on a memory so I will now be able to listen to the differences between salsa, cumbia, reggeaton and merengue. :)

After that, we took the car to the teleferiqo, which Maximiano also never had visited, haha. The telefériqo is a ride from the city center to the east side of the Pichincha volcano. And it’s beautiful!!! You have a view of all Quito from there, and the surrounding mountains and volcanos are magical. We were about 3830 metres above sea level, just were the clouds were!  Because of the altitude and the wind, it’s much cooler up here, but not that extreme as they had warned me for, haha.

Happy 3800 meters above Quito :)

Happy 3800 meters above Quito :)

Found some Lamas chilling in the mountains.

Found some Lamas chilling in the mountains.

View from the mountain... beautiful!

View from the mountain… beautiful!

After our ride we went to a mall and had some pasta for late lunch/early dinner, then he drove me home we said goodbye. What a day! I had a great time!  I’m so lucky he met me up there and joined me the whole day. I love couchsurfing.  : )

I was really tired when I got home, but no time for sleeping! I had a shower and then me and Bogar went over to his brothers apartment who lives just around the corner, they are neighbours J Since I bought this good coffee but Bogar didn’t have a coffee pot, they invited us over to have it there. And the coffee was sooo good! Haha.
Gimena and Anita from yesterday were there too, so sweet and funny girls! We talked about the differences in Spanish, so now I have a list of Ecuador/quito-spanish I will upload soon. :) The girls left and Carlos who also lives in the apartment arrived, we talked yesterday at the party and he lived in Sweden for 6 months about 10 years ago, weird!

We listened to La oreja de van gogh, drank coffee (at least I did) and played Jenga and then a card game called something with eight.  ;) Haha. Perfect last day! I had lots of fun and I’m glad I didn’t loose (it was expected since it was my first time, haha, but no, bogar lost all the times, haha).

Playing Jenga :) Love it!

Playing Jenga :) Love it!

Oh. I really like Bogar and his friends. I have really really enjoyed their company and I would really like to spend more time with them and get to know them all better. If I was living in this city, this is the kind of people I would like to hang out with.

I’m leaving Quito with the feeling of not enough time again. Damn it. I have to come back!

 

I LOVE QUITO!

Haha. I know.. I fall in love in everything. 

This is my last day in Quito, and I’m so sad. Damn me who had to buy my flight tickets so much ahead!! I love this city and I would have loved to stay a little longer…

Since I didn’t have so many days here and there was a lot to do, I haven’t had time to write any posts! Sorry.. now it’s late and I have to wake up in 6 hours, but I will do this post now so I don’t forget my impressions. It’s going to be long!!

Quito is a colonial town in the middle of the mountains. It’s around 2800 metres above sea level, so the weather is quite cold here. During the days it’s around 25 degrees but at night it can be around 10 degrees. But I don’t find it as cold as San Cristobal in Mexico. The cities are similar because of the clime and the mountains, but the people aren’t the same. San Cris is more of a hippie place and this is a capital city. And it’s so clean here! Really beautiful. And the air is so fresh!

View over the hill and the beautiful houses.

View over the hill and the beautiful houses.

People here are very friendly and calm! Really relaxed. What strikes me the most is that everyone here dress very well and are very beautiful. Generally, I feel bad when I say this, but Mexicans aren’t that good-looking. I find everyone here good-looking (almost). Also, besides some young boys around the age of 8-10 who works in the center cleaning shoes, I haven’t seen so many more poor people. They don’t come and beg you for money or to buy things here. Very relaxed.

I arrived here on Friday. There is a new airport here, the old one was in town, and the new one is about one and a half hour away. The funny thing is that they haven’t really managed to have any good connections, so you have to either take a bus to the old airport and from there the bus to town, or take another bus to a terminal and from there change to a trolley. I took the last one, and along the way we had problems with traffic and were stuck around 40 minutes, haha. It costed 2 dollars. On the “airport bus” I met a guy, Hermal, who was going sort of the same way as I was, so he helped me at the terminal of Rio Coca to change to the Eco Via (like a trolley, 25 cents) who took me to the place where my host lives. We spoke along the way and it turns out that he is also on couchsurfing!! Haha, so fun.  Also, a tip is: do not take the eco via with a big backpack on your back! It’s sort of impossible to get out when it’s crowded. Thankfully people are very helpful here and they all helped me to push my way out and to scream to let me out, haha. : )

My host Bogar, he laughs so much that his head got blurry, haha. Behind him is his own designed furniture, cool huh!

My host Bogar, he laughs so much that his head got blurry, haha. Behind him is his own designed furniture, cool huh!

Got home around 18, or to my host Bogar. He lives in the center, close to the Mariscal, in a new and  fresh apartment, very artistic and clean. He is super super sweet, laughing all the time. I felt so welcome! He made the bed, lended me blankets, and two towels! Such a luxury for a backpacker to feel some good towels instead of the thin travel-towel. Haha.
He also let me try Pan de yuca, a bread made of yuca, a root typical from here. We had the thought of going out to dance salsa, but I was really tired and we went out for a walk around the mariscal area. This area is considered the center of the entertainment with a lots and lots of pubs and discos, I grabbed some food and then we had an early night home.

I slept soooo good! It’s cold at night, but the house is warm.. Still I had lots of blankets and I slept like a baby. I was so tired.. and I can say this was one of the best nights sleep I had during my trip haha.

Next day we went out to buy some breakfast and then I went to the historical center to go to a couchsurfing meeting that was going for a walk around there.

I bought the greatest coffee here, one of the first coffee shops in Quito, still using old grinds...oh!

I bought the greatest coffee here, one of the first coffee shops in Quito, still using old grinds…oh!

If you only need 1 egg, you can buy it here if you want... haha.

If you only need 1 egg, you can buy it here if you want… haha.

Typical food from ecuador; quimbolitos, humitas and other stuff.. mmmm!

Typical food from ecuador; quimbolitos, humitas and other stuff.. mmmm!

I took the trolley into the historical center, and two people are standing next to me talking about some meeting to the Otavalo market today. I had just read a post about that on couchsurfing, so I listen a little bit more and then ask them if they are from couchsurfing, and yes! They were also going to this meeting. The world is little! So I had help to find my place to the meeting since Gabriela is from Quito.

Having some ice cream and coffee at a great café. I tried two new tastes, Taxo and Maracuya. MMm!

Having some ice cream and coffee at a great café. I tried two new tastes, Taxo and Maracuya. MMm!

We were 2 spanish, me and Francisco, one Australian girl, Nancy, and four Ecuadorian, Maxi, Erick, Gabriela and Danna. We walked around the town for like 6 hours. The historical center here is one of the best preserved centers in americas. It was also the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978!

We visited Plaza Grande, the church of San Francisco, the street la Ronda, The basilica, 2 different museums (free), and so on. And Quito is so beautiful! Narrow streets uphill and downhills everywhere surrounded by big mountains. Is magical.

Lots of doves at the Plaza de San Francisco.

Lots of doves at the Plaza de San Francisco.

Panorama of historic center of Quito

Panorama of historic center of Quito

Panorama from the basilica.

Panorama from the basilica.

The gang in the basilica :)

The gang in the basilica :) Me, Danna, Nancy and Erick

I came back home around 18, hanged out with Bogar, and then we went to a birthday party at bogars friends house close to the historical center. And wow!!! Such an experience. I’m amazed about how good they all dance, they have it in their body! I’m so damn jealous. I’m like a statue!

Bogar had said to me before that no couchsurfer leaves before they have tried salsa, and when he invited me, I got like all sweaty and tense and red and cramped and panic… I always get like this when people ask me to dance with them here, and I started to think why the hell am I reacting like this? I know it’s because I can’t dance this, and I don’t want people to see how bad I am. But why should I care if I embarrass myself or what people think of my dancing? So… I took a deep breath, and got up on the floor! And I learned the basics of salsa and merengue! And it was fun! But soooo difficult!!! Haha. Yet I actually got some compliments that I was a lot better than other Europeans or americans that try salsa for the first time ;) Haha.

And oh, all of Bogars friends are so nice and sweat! But the dancing.. damn it, it’s so sensual! The reggeton I mean.. I got a little bit familiar with it on youtube in mexico, haha, but I hadn’t seen it like this… it looks exactly like 2-3 am in the morning in Sweden when the discos are closing and the ones that have hooked up for the night are dancing erotic and warming up each other for the night…. The difference here is that it’s totally normal, the boyfriend dances with another girl, the girlfriend with another boy, or girls with girls, even boys with boys (well, these people are really good friends, haha).. and no harm! It’s just for fun, they all laugh, it’s a dance, not something sexual.

Dancing reggeton :)

Dancing reggeton :)

I, who didn’t understand the meaning of the music of reggeaton at all, found it totally…. Monotone and really bad, have started to like it a lot! Now when I listen to the music, I see the dance, and totally get it! Weird!

Oh, another thing I found fine here, is that here at the party, they had like this bucket with Mojito, who everybody drinks from. Then when it’s finished, they gather in some dollars from everyone, and go to the store to buy more.. and so on. Not as egoistic as in Sweden so to say. Everybody gets as drunk as everyone else, haha. Also, they start really early!! Mainly it’s illegal to buy or drink alcohol here after 12 am, so you can’t buy alcohol, neither in the stores or at the discos! But of course they know the loopholes and which stores appear to be close but aren’t… haha. : )

Ecuatorian home party. Mojito!

Ecuatorian home party. Mojito!

Anyhow. Since I was going up around 7 am, we had an early night. Still I had lots of fun! I’m so glad I had the chance to experience a typical Ecuadorian home party! :)

 

What I’m planning on visiting

Hello again!

My mother commented that my grandmother wanted to know my itinerary. So cute!
Maybe it’s interesting for you to know where I’ll be blogging from too.

Since I’ll be away for almost 7 months, this itinerary will probably (and hopefully) change a bit, but this is what I have in mind now:


You can see the full map here.

Mexico:
Mexico city
Oaxaca
Puerto Escondido
San Cristobal De Las Casas
Palenque
Merida
Tulum
Playa del Carmen
Cozumel
Cancun
Isla Mujeres

Ecuador:
Quito
Galapagos islands
Guayaquil

Peru
Lima
Aucallama Huaral
Paracas
Huacachina/Ica
Nazca
Arequipa
Chivai
Cuzco
Puerto Maldonaldo
Puno

Bolivia
Copacabana
La Paz
Uyuni
Villa Tunari

Brazil
Iguacu
Rio de Janeiro
Sao Paolo