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).

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.

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!

My first real dive in Cozumel with Aqua Safari

So I got certificated with Aqua Safari, it’s a very reliable company with lots of years of experience.  I also went out on my first dive from a boat with them, it costed around 1100 pesos for two tanks. We went out like 1,5 hour from the center to the south, when our boat broke because of some water tank or something. While waiting for another boat to come so we could change to that boat to take us to the reefs, we had almost two hours to just chat and hear different diving stories. Very interesting.. It was a lot of Americans on the boat (12 to be exact), around 5 Mexican in the aqua safari crew, and me and another Swedish girl, Sandra. So funny that it was only americans and the other one was also Swedish!

Boat dive with Aqua Safari

Boat dive with Aqua Safari

So we were 14 divers and 2 dive masters down in the water at the same time. Quite many but it was such an experience. Just putting on your gear (even if I’ve just learned that the crew and other more experienced divers helped me with everything, really everything!).

When we jumped in the water and was going to descend, I really didn’t know what to expect. And I was amazed. It was really breathtaking. The most important rule in scuba diving is to always breathe, to never hold your breath because it can cause serious injuries, and I had to remind myself of it all the time. Underneath the surface lies a whole other world I couldn’t believe. It was layers and layers of corals, like a castle underneath. While “standing” almost at the bottom of it, and looking up, it was totally overwhelming. Woooow. We followed the dive master and got in holes of corals and it was like a completely different universe. We saw big turtles, box fishes, lobsters and other fishes I don’t know the name of. Awesome. We dived 80 feet, around 24 metres, so I wasn’t allowed to bring my camera since it can only be 12 metres or 40 feet underneath the water. With my open water certification I’m also only allowed to go to a depth of 18 metres, but they let me if I hold myself close to the dive master. Sooooo cooooool.

After 55 minutes we ascended and took the boat to another place and dived a depth of 15 meters. It was really current this place, totally different from the first. I couldn’t bring my camera then either, to bad. It would have been awesome to show you. But the American guy who had 25 years of experience, Ron, had a camera and he said that he would send me some pictures later, it would be totally awesome. So I will update this post later with some of the pics, until then, here are some pics from google so you can get the picture of how it was like:

The most beautiful coral reefs in the world. Pic from tropicaltravelersblog.com/

Beautiful picture from oceanfirstdivers.com/

When we got up from the last dive, it was raining and it was really windy.. but under the water you don’t notice that at all.

After getting back from the dive, I finally sent my postcards too! So many of you will now receive a post card. I haven’t been able to send them since there isn’t many post offices here, usually like one main post office with difficult open hours and really far away from where I am, but this was only one square from Aqua Safari.. so the postcards comes all the way from Puerto Escondido, like a month ago! And even Guatemala.. haha. :)

I got back to the hostel where Duilio was guarding our stuff and we took the ferry over to Playa del Carmen and directly took the bus to Tulum. We didn’t stay anything in Playa, it wasn’t at all an atmosphere I was looking for … I’m sure if you are 18 it’s great, or if you are there with lot’s of friends to party.. All the prices were in dollars, everybody on the street talking English, everybody was drinking or partying or shopping or laying on the beach.. I found it too American and too touristic. Worse then Cozumel.

 

Sunset when leaving the port of Cozumel, with the american cruises.

Sunset when leaving the port of Cozumel, with the american cruises.

We went directly to Tulum, and when we got out from the ADO bus station, we look around to see who to ask for a recommendation of a hostal… and who do we see? Pepe, from Holbox! The very Mexican guy that was in the Casa Maya gang. He worked here for a hostel called Lobo Inn, who had free bikes and internet, and a discount of the taxi there in the price, so we got there but they didn’t have any private rooms left so we had to sleep in a double bed but in a shared room, very weird. It was in a bad shape,  really hot and other people using our bathroom in the middle of the night… not cool. Also they were supposed to have a pool, which they had, but no water in it, haha.

The pool they promised us.. haha

The pool they promised us.. haha

Our backpacks. :) They are friends now, looking for a new place to stay. haha.

Our backpacks. :) They are friends now, looking for a new place to stay. haha.

Next day they had a private room available but it would cost 400 pesos with discount… So we took advantage of the free bikes thing before check out and went to the beach to see if we could find any cheap cabañas. It usually costs from 600-1500 pesos to be here by the beach, but we got a discount, 400 pesos for a cabaña just by the beach.

The room is very simple, only a bed with a mosquito net and a table. It’s half open so lots of sand gets in here with the wind, haha, and we can hear the ocean in here.  So nice. But we only have light from 19-23 in our room, and no other electricity to charge our cameras and stuff, but we can do it in the restaurant, which is beautiful. Soooo relaxed. And we have our own private beach with the beach chairs, finally! Hahaha. Very good! It’s called Diamante K.

Our cabaña! A lot of sand blows in but I love that it is rustic.

Our cabaña! A lot of sand blows in but I love that it is rustic.

Our beach at Diamante K :) Love the colour of the sea and the white water!

Our beach at Diamante K :) Love the colour of the sea and the white water!

Just before a wave.

Just before a wave.

Hahaha, such a funny pocture.

And during a wave.. Hahaha, such a funny picture.

Water splash!

Finally we managed to take the picture with a water splash!

So…. Time to have enjoy our last week in Mexico!

Last days in Holbox

With lots of shells in the beach in Holbox!

With lots of shells in the beach in Holbox!

Right now I’m sitting in Cozumel, I have just arrived here, and there is internet in the hostel! Woho! Haha.

I went here directly from Holbox, so I stayed 6 days at Holbox.. and I could have stayed more. I really don’t know where the time goes.

Today I took the ferry from Holbox to Chiquila to go to Cancun. I took it at 13 (80 mxn pesos), the bus to Cancún at 14 (104 mxn pesos), then from Cancún the bus to Playa del Carmen (48 mxn pesos) and then the ferry to Cozumel (156 mxn pesos), arrived around 19.30. The hostel where I’m staying is called Hostelito and is really good here. Very nice and clean!

Yesterday was the last day of the Carnival, and the men dressed up as women and ”danced” and ”sang” haha. So fun. I will upload some videos later.

Last day of the carnival, the men dresses out as women and dance and sing.. but they are not that good as women

Last day of the carnival, the men dresses out as women and dance and sing.. but they are not that good as women

Another dancing group in the carnaval :)

Another dancing group in the carnaval :) Women though.

We ate dinner at the beach, Doña Diosa or something, so expensive and not so good. Don’t recommend that. But there is another place in one corner of the Plaza, with cool green paintings, that’s totally recommendable and affordable. :)

Eating dinner at the good place.. hungry men :) And Miel has such a funny face.. haha

Eating dinner at the good place.. hungry men :)

But I can really recommend where to eat breakfast: Juguera La Chaya. It’s close to the beach to casa Maya, and they have breakfast packages that are very affordable, but also a meny, which also is cheap and good! Totally the best place to eat breakfast!

Breakfast at Chayas, the best in town! :)

Our third breakfast at Chayas, the best in town! I’m having fruit salad with granola and yoghurt, and Duilio is having a torta. mmm :)

 

Sunset and the moon that's total different from sweden, here it looks like a smiling mouth!

Sunset and the moon that’s total different from sweden, here it looks like a smiling mouth!

Oh and I’ve seen so many beautiful sunsets in Holbox. That’s why I have so many pictures from it haha.

So I totally recommend to go to Holbox! Do it now before it gets too touristic. Today when I arrived at Playa del Carmen I oooonly heard english here, there are so many americans here! So many people, hotels, deals and stuff… so yes. Holbox will probably not be a calm paradise for so much longer. Sadly.

How to get to Holbox? There are buses from Merida (once a day) and from Cancun (three times a day). You go to Chiquila and take a ferry from there to Holbox.

 

Paradise and carnival in Holbox!

Ah, this island is amazing. I don’t know why or how, but time just passes by. : )
Like this morning, we were sitting eating breakfast, and some of the ones we have hang out with lately passed by and asked if we had any special plans today… our answer “Well… the plan was to eat breakfast and then go to the left side of the beach… then we don’t know”.. haha. You get quite lazy here! But it’s weird that time disappears. I have had to do some stuff, like go to the pharmacy, take out money, go to a chiropractor, or just go online to put this up in the blog, but….. I haven’t done that yet! Haha. When we got here we said we would stay for 4 days, we are supposed to leave tomorrow, but I think it will be on Tuesday instead. I have to be in Cozumel on Thursday to start my diving lessons.

The beach at Holbox

The beach at Holbox

The island of Holbox

The island of Holbox

Breakfast! Yummi :)

Breakfast! Yummi :)

Day activity: Miel is sleeping and Duilio is sawing his pants because they got to big..

Day activity: Miel is sleeping and Duilio is sawing his pants because they got to big..

The carnival of the island has started now, it’s so sweet. At night there are live bands, dancers, small stands that sells food, children dressed as different things… very cozy, you really feel the small town-feeling here. Everybody knows each other. In the main plaza, people stand in groups dancing.

Carnaval! Young girls dancing and singing in the street.

Carnaval! Young girls dancing and singing in the street.

By the way, it’s so funny, everyone here drives a sort of golf-car here, and this morning there were like 4 cars in the same place on the street, and we commented “uuuy, so much traffic today!” , haha, and it’s funny when you think about it , because 4 cars being in the same place isn’t that much compared to the big cities.. but after being here a couple of days then it feels like that. :)

And also, Holbox sounds english, but it means a black hole in the mayan language, meaning to the sweet water holes in the sea.

So.. we haven’t done that much, every night we go out to the main plaza to have dinner and watch the live bands, or we go to the hostel Casa Maya where Miel is staying and hang out with the people there.. during the day we eat, go to the beach, sleep, read, write, talk, walk… I don’t know really.. but as I said, time passes by!

Entertainment at the beach. it's really not easy!

Entertainment at the beach. it’s really not easy!

Sunset over Holbox beach

Sunset over Holbox beach

Dinner out :) I had some potatoes  filled with vegetables and Duilio had cheese fondue thing with meat..Dinner out :) I had some potatoes filled with vegetables and Duilio had cheese fondue thing with meat..

Some drinking at hostel Casa Maya.

Some drinking at hostel Casa Maya.

 

 

Arrived at Holbox

God afternoon!

Right now I’m sitting in the balcony here in Holbox. Holbox is a small island in the Yucatan peninsula in Quintana Roo state. It is only 54 km wide and has a population of 1500 people. All the streets are made of white and very fine sand. They are colourful cabins everywhere and the ocean is really green. It’s like a hidden paradise, veeery peaceful and calm. There isn’t really anything to do here but to visit other small islands where there are some birds and sometimes sharks (but it’s not the season now). People here are very friendly and relaxed.

We took a second class bus at 23.30 from the bus terminal in Merida (the only one who leaves for holbox from merida, every day 23.30) and arrived at Chiquila (the harbour) at 5 in the morning. It was the worst trip ever, the driver had so high music all night and it was freezing, it was the coldest ride I’ve done so far. The trip was about 6 hours and costed 186 pesos, so it’s not so much anyways… Tired, we arrived and took the ferry over for 80 pesos around 6am and was here 6.20 or so. We watched the sunrise, beautiful. I thought everyone would be asleep at 6 in the morning, but no, the whole island was awake!

Sunrise in Chiquila

Sunrise in Chiquila

Sunrise in Holbox

Sunrise in Holbox

We wandered around trying to find a hostal, but sat down instead and ate a 2 hour-long breakfast. Later Duilio joined us and we left our bags at a place and walked around trying to find something cheap but ok. And we did :)

Having breakfast at the beach at 7 in the morning

Having breakfast at the beach at 7 in the morning

This is we live :)

This is we live :)

 

Outside our apartments it looks like this. All the streets are made of sand. :)

Outside our apartments it looks like this. All the streets are made of sand. :)

Later we went to the beach for a couple of hours. Endless green water and white sand. Haha. When we got tired, we ate some at the main plaza, then I washed my clothes and went to find a hair removal saloon. Well, it was actually the only hairdresser here on the island, who also had hair removal among other specialities, and since I couldn’t do the bikini wax at the hair saloon, we went to her house just beside the saloon, and I got waxed in her sons old room.. haha. Funny.

Anyhow! Time to do something else. See you!

Shallow water, birds, and blue sky.

Shallow water, birds, and blue sky.

Bird eating fish. I saw when he killed the fish.. huh..

Bird eating fish. I saw when he killed the fish.. huh..