What is it that you have remembered from your travels overseas? You remember the Adventure. This isn’t just the zip lining, rafting and mountain biking, it’s whatever you as an individual distinguish it to be. It’s the meeting of people, the culture you absorb, it might even be communicating with someone in a different language, eating a foreign exotic food, or sharing a room with 15 other travellers . Your adventure is defined by what you perceive it to be.
My partner (Olivia) and I left the normality of work and day to day life to travel through South and Central America in search for an adventure of our own.
Salar De Uyuni – Bolivia
A country with no coastline would be one of my most undesirable destinations. Temperatures of extreme highs and lows and sitting at around 4000m above sea level makes the easiest of chores seem like a strenuous workout. But this country, land locked between Peru, Chile and Argentina has so much to offer and should never be overlooked.
The number one travel destination in Bolivia would be to journey to the salt flats of Uyuni. Having never seen a salt flat before it was an unforgettable and unique experience. I have never been to an environment which is both brutal and beautiful at the same time. Looking 360 degrees and seeing only flat abyss in every direction makes you feel as far away from normality as you can get.
Never settle for a day trip, to fully experience the wonders of this place you need to get lost in it (with a guide of course) on a 3 day tour with some locals and land-rovers. When you first arrive in Uyuni township there are many hounding tour companies desperate for your business, we heard some horror stories so you will want to choose wisely as this is a place you don’t want to end up with a dodgy guide.
We chose to go with one of the top recommended companies ‘Quechua Connections’. These local boys know and love their land. They will fill you in with astounding knowledge of the area, show you all the main attractions as well as some of their own hidden gems, all the while being in safe reliable hands, which puts your mind at ease.
Lagoons which change colour, flamingos feeding in their hundreds, salt flats that warp perception of any size and distance are all stop offs on this journey that covers 100s of kilometres. Although there is a lot of driving you can blink and go from dry salt flats to lush canyons where Lamas graze in the meadows.
After being on many tours throughout the world and coming from New Zealand which is the tour Mecca, the Uyuni salt flats, hands down is one of the most memorable tours I have ever done, if you ever get the opportunity, never pass it up.
Death Road – La Paz – Bolivia
If you googled ‘death road Bolivia’, read the facts and browsed the images, you may find yourself a little anxious about mountain biking an old Inka Trail just outside Laz Paz. Yes it’s true, this road is extremely dangerous, although a lot safer than it once was. Only six years ago did they prohibit cars and trucks from using this busy road whilst tours were being operated. There have been many deaths in the past, the majority from cars toppling over the cliff edge but the odd bikers have lost their lives too. In saying all this, the biking of death road is not as dangerous as it once was and a must for all adventure seekers when travelling through La Paz.
This experience offers so much more than your usual biking tour. You will ride from 3,500m above sea level down a vertical drop 67Km in length, reaching sea level in 3 – 4 hours. It’s the only sport besides diving that I have had to equalise numerous times before reaching the bottom. Due to the extreme changes in altitude you will deal with a huge variety of landscapes and temperatures, finding yourself freezing in the snow at the top and finishing in a pair of boardies, pool side at the bottom.
Death Road and Salt Flats toured with andestoamazon.com
Amazon Planet – Peru
Peru is one of the most desired travel destinations in the world. Machu Picchu draws thousands of tourists every day with it’s fascinating history, grand ruins and extensive views. This is a must see if visiting Peru, however this amazing country has much more to offer.
If you head east from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado you will find yourself a lot warmer, a lot lower, and on the edge of the Amazon river immersed in the Tambopata National Reserve.
The crew from Amazon Planet will show you how to get the most out of this fascinating place. The Amazon is not a relaxing holiday destination, it’s humid, rains a lot, bugs are everywhere and Olivia summed it up perfectly when she said, “everything is twice the size and trying to kill you”, snakes, spiders, bugs, trees, everything! In saying this, it’s the danger that makes it thrilling. Coming from New Zealand where nothing is dangerous and wildlife is restricted to glowworms and flightless birds, it was a unique experience to see monkeys swinging from trees, spiders the size of your hand, pulling caymans straight from the rivers and deadly scorpions camouflaging themselves on the palm trees above. However, there is more to this place than things that can kill you, there is history, fantastic conservation projects and amazing treks. The adventure here lies within the environment.
Amazon Planet tours www.amazonplanetperu.com
Puerto Veijo – Costa Rica
After having enough of the colder climate it was time to move to the coast and get a tan. Panama and Costa Rica were first on the list. The Caribbean, blue skies, clear waters, a slower pace of life, a rastapharean vibe and the constant offer of marijuana.
Puerto Viejo on the border of Panama and Costa Rica is a small coastal town which draws many young travellers for its surf and beautiful beaches.
If you’re a keen surfer you would be content spending weeks surfing the local beaches. There’s a heavy beach break and if you are starting out, it might pay to wait for a small day or hunt out another beach.
The people at Gecko Tour Adventures showed us the best way to get the most out of this area. One of the nicest things we did on this trip was visit the Jaguar Rescue Centre which is located just out of town. These guys do an amazing job of looking after injured and abused local wildlife. Enjoy the opportunity to have baby howler and spider monkeys crawl over you, have a toucan follow you around and get right up close and personal with the native sloths (one of my new favourite animals).
If travelling north, one of Costa Rica’s big adventure cards is white water rafting. Two hours north of Puerto Viejo runs along the banks of the Madre De Dios. Dependent on the rainfall the river consists of grade 3-4 rapids. It is a quality river with amazing canyons and a variety of rapids to keep things interesting, definitely worth doing – even the hard core Kiwi rafter would enjoy this experience.
Gecko Trail Adventures www.GeckoTrail.com
El Cuco – El Salvador
Nicaragua is a common and popular stop off with plenty of culture and surf to be found. El Salvador is less travelled by tourists due to its bad press about violence and crime rates. However do not let this fool you as it felt no less dangerous than any other Central American country. Some of the friendliest people you will ever meet and the best waves you’ll ever surf make this place one of the highlights of our travels.
El Cuco is a small coastal township at the southern end of the Pacific coast, five minutes south of the town is a resort called La Tortuga Verde meaning ‘The Green Turtle’. The beautiful and affordable accommodation sits right on one of the best surf beaches in El Salvador, offering all day beach breaks for all levels of skill. The most amazing thing about this stunning resort is the turtle program they have established here. La Tortugas Verde is a non-profit organisation with all proceeds going towards the rescue and release of the local turtles. From collecting eggs and even buying them off poachers, nursing the eggs until hatched and releasing the one day old turtles back into the ocean. They offer a special experience for their guests allowing them to help with the release of these baby turtles. In the five days we were here we were asked twice to help release over 100 turtles.
San Jose – Guatamala
After two months of travelling through Central America there have been numerous chances to try
my fishing abilities in foreign waters. But coming from a country where fishing is impressive and hard to beat I wanted a unique and unforgettable experience, something that encaptured this part of the world and added to the memorable adventure we were having.
A lot of fishing tours through Central America will do the token backpacker booze cruise, catch the odd snapper and leave you happy but never really satisfied, this didn’t really meet my needs.
I was lucky enough to be invited by Pacific Fins to San Jose, an hour outside of Antigua on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Pacific Fins is a game fishing resort that offers you a fishing experience that you could only dream of. When it comes to the big fish there is no comparison, these guys dominate. They provide the best staff, boat, crew, resort and most importantly the best fishing.
As much as I am keen on fishing, I lack the equipment, money and skill to tackle the big boys. This is where Pacific Fins stepped in, their experienced crew will do everything to make sure you hook into your dream fish.
Our day started a little slow, but the boys were not fazed, they stayed cool and chatted amongst themselves about new locations, different rigs and lures, reassuring us that we will be hooked up in no time. Sure enough by midday two sailfish were hooked and then a striped marlin closely followed. There is no greater thrill or rush than tackling one of these great beasts of the ocean. Although Pacific Fins take care of all your needs they also know when to back off, let you take on the fish, even though it doesn’t come easy to land one of these boys, but the reward is worth every aching muscle.
To top off this unforgettable experience, the skipper had one more surprise and asked if I wanted to jump into these deep waters and release one of the sailfish by hand. Realising that this opportunity would never come again I was straight overboard and had the fish by the sail and sword.
Watching this giant majestic fish swim away underwater was an experience no words could describe, adding to the already full memory bank of travels in Central America.
Fishing tour thanks to www.pacificfins.com.gt
Caye Caulker – Belize
As we approached the end of our journey, the drive of travelling wears thin, the amount of souvenirs start piling up, but you remind yourself that this time next month you will be back at work so every opportunity must be taken. Every town, city and country has something unique to offer, there is something that each place does better than anywhere else. When limited on time always look for this, ask around and do your research. Caye Caulker, off the coast of Belize has some of the most spectacular waters in the Caribbean, incredibly clear and stunning in colour. Making this islands top must-do adventure snorkelling and diving.
We went on a full day tour with Ragamuffin Tours, a well established company offering fantastic snorkelling for all skill levels. This tour offers three unique snorkelling spots, stopping in-between for refreshments and lunch and ending the day with rum punch whilst sailing our way back along the Caribbean reef at sunset. Olivia’s biggest fear is stingrays, so when she found out we were going to ‘shark-ray alley’ she was a little hesitant to take that first leap into the ocean, and sure enough, this place was inundated with 1-2 meter long nurse sharks (the non biting kind) and giant stingrays. But once you find yourself immersed alongside them, your fear becomes obsolete and you start appreciating the beauty of these peaceful creatures. Add a few friendly sea turtles in the mix and the grin from our faces lasted the rest of the week.
Auckland – New Zealand
So we arrive home, four months of living in and out of our backpacks, having visited hundreds of memorable locations within 14 countries. Family and friends constantly asking about our travels and what the highlights were? It’s hard to define but the highlight was the adventure, from the places, accommodation, food, tours, means of travel and most importantly the people you meet and the people you share it with. We found our adventure through South and Central America.
- Something you will never forget.
- Unique to everyone.