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The Bolivia Roundup

11 Jun

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  19

Cities/towns visited – Tupiza, Uyuini, Potosi, La Paz, Coroico, Copacabana, Isla del Sol and various little settlements in the southwestern part during our jeep tour.

Number of different lodgings – 10

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 6

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 3 plus a 4 day jeep tour.

Days of rain – 3

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1497.36

Average cost per day, per person (excluding the visas, which cost $135 each) – $32.30

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $8 – We were able to spend most nights in private rooms with private bathrooms.

Most expensive lodging – Both places we stayed in La Paz (Hotel Avenida, and the Adventure Brew B&B) were about $11.40 per person for a private room with private bathroom.  Adventure Brew was a much better deal as they had consistent wi-fi, pancakes for breakfast, and a free beer every night.

Least expensive lodging – $3.50 per person in a nameless hostel in Coroico.  We had a 3 person room with a shared bathroom.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $12.35 We ate out for every meal, and drank like fish. We had a mix of street food and restaurant meals, as well as a healthy amount of snacks… usually in the form of pastry.

Best

Hostel Adventure Brew B&B in La Paz.  There are two Adventure Brews, almost right next door to each other.  We stayed in the B & B because it was more chilled out than the actual hostel.  We had a private room/bathroom for $11.40 per person including a pancake breakfast (REAL pancakes!) and a free beer for each person every night.  They had the most consistent internet of anywhere we stayed in Bolivia.

Food – The food in Bolivia gets a bad rap, but truth be told, we ate pretty well there.  Perhaps it’s that we went in with very low expectations.  Maybe it’s just that the value is just so great.  It could be that half of what we ate was pastry, which was delicious.  Whatever it is, we have lots to say in the ‘food’ category!

Falafel at La Mia Pizza in La Paz – A hole in the wall that serves some pretty good falafel at cheap prices (15 Bolovianos for one huge sandwich).  It’s on Calle Illampu near the corner of Santa Cruz.  It’s just past a big outdoor/camping shop.  Look for the crowd of hippies outside.

4060 in Potosi, Bolivia.  Named for the altitude of the city (incidentally, Potosi is the highest city in the world at 4,060 meters, which is 13,320 feet!), the food at 4060 is definitely one of the better meals we had in our last 6 weeks in South America.  It’s a tad pricey for Bolivia, which means a plate will cost you about $8.  They have a big variety of dishes, both local and international, as well as a variety of smoothies and desserts to choose from.  It’s just off the main plaza, going uphill on Hoyos.

Alamos  in Tupiza on Avaroa Santa Cruz –

This massive heap of food cost all of about $3!

The food here is average for Bolivia, but the portions are gigantic and the prices are dirt cheap. The biggest draw for me was the décor…which was insane.  Walking into Alamos was like stepping into another dimension.  There are knick-knacks everywhere, most of which are western themed.  A huge steer skull with glowing green lights in the eye sockets stares down at patrons from the top of a wall that is plastered with publicity photos of celebrities, photos of tourists sitting in the booths, old movie posters, random license plates, and all kinds of other junk.  It’s incredibly entertaining.  Huge meals with liter beers will set you back about $5.

Inside Alamos.

When you find this guy, you’ve found the best chicken dinner in Bolivia.

Chicken place in Uyuni – Uyuni is a shithole.  Sorry, but it is.  The most redeeming thing about the place (other than the salt flats) was the fantastic chicken dinner we had for…wait for it…about $2.  We had huge plates of the standard rice and french fries with 1/4 of a chicken.  It was some of the best chicken I’ve had, ever.  It’s roasted on a spit right outside the restaurant, and is perfectly cooked.  Go to the corner of Potosi and Bolivar.  Head down Bolivar going away from downtown until you see the guy in the picture.  There’s no name.  We were the only gringos in the place, and some of us (gentlemen, I’m looking at you here…) had more than one plate.

Carla’s Garden Pub in Coroico – Just off the main square, towards the bus station, there are stairs leading downhill from town.  If you go down them you’ll run into Carla’s Garden Pub, a lovely place to while away an afternoon.  There are snacks, cheap drinks, hammocks, a cat, and wifi!  It feels more like Thailand than Bolivia and we spent a few afternoons drinking Tequila Sunrises as we watched the sun set over the hills.

Activity

4-Day jeep tour to the Salt Flats – I will write an entire post about this at some point.  We took a tour of south-west Bolivia through La Torre Tours, and started from Tupiza.  We saw some crazy landscapes, culminating in the huge salt flats outside of Uyuni.  If you have the time, it’s a great trip.  If you don’t, get yourself to Uyuni and just do a one-day of the flats, it’s totally worth it.

Riding horses outside of Tupiza. Photo by Bryan of http://www.happytobehomeless.com

Horseback riding – You can’t ride horses for this cheap anywhere else in South America.  We went on a 4 hour ride outside of Tupiza, near where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their demise.  Incidentally, make sure you check around and find a place that will give you helmets…our ridiculous cowboy hats would not have done us much good had we suffered a fall.

Worst

The worst is really a relative term in this case.  There were plenty of completely mediocre, and some downright awful, places we encountered…but…it’s Bolivia and that’s just how it goes.  There wasn’t anything in particular here that we could really single out as being more terrible than was tolerable for the situation.    Except maybe the freezing cold showers.  Especially the one in Uyuni.

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The Argentina Roundup

28 May

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  43

Cities/towns visited – Mendoza, Bariloche, El Bolson, Esquelle, El Calafate, El Chalten, Ushuaia, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Salta, Humahuaca, Purmamarca, Cafayate, Angostaca.

Number of different lodgings – 12 hostels and a couchsurf

Flights – 1

Bus journeys –  26

Combi/collective/taxi  rides – 9

Bike Rentals – 1

Days of rain – 4

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $5522.62

Average cost per day, per person – $64.00

Argentina is not as cheap as it used to be.  Our ‘Local Travel’ category of the budget was by far the biggest chunk of spending here – long distance buses are triple the cost that they were in 2009, and flights are as expensive for foreigners on the domestic airlines.

Average lodging cost per night – $15.35 per person.  Hostels were pricey in Argentina compared to other places in South America.  We ended up in dorms often, though we went for a double room, even with a shared bath, in a few places.  You could do cheaper, especially if you are willing to stay in the party factory dorms, or sacrifice location or cleanliness.

Most expensive lodging – Reina Madre Hostel in Buenos Aires – a private room with shared bathroom was $23.25 per person.  The second most expensive was the Freestyle Hostel in Ushuaia which was $20.50 per person for a DORM.

Least expensive lodging – $9.30 per person for a dorm room in a little hostel in Angostaca.  We got stuck there overnight while on a road trip through northern Argentina.

Average food/drink cost per day (per person) – $14.30 – We consumed an obscene amount of cheap empanadas, usually for lunch.  We often cooked dinners in at the hostels because of the high cost of eating out.  We did go out for dinners sometimes though, or ate at the hostel when they had an asado night.

The Best

Empanadas!

Hostel Empedrado in Mendoza.  They have private rooms as well as dorms, clean bathrooms, TWO kitchens with plenty of cookware, a small pool, hammocks, free glass of wine every night, free empanada making class, good wi-fi…and FREE LAUNDRY!!!  It’s just an overall winner.  It is a little bit outside of downtown, but not more than a 10 minute walk.  You can book online, and if you’re headed there in the summer make sure to ask for a room with air-conditioning since some only have fans.

Hiking up to Fitz Roy in El Chalten. Looks like a fake background…but it’s not, it’s just a bad exposure!

El Chalten – Yeah, the town.  If you like mountains you will LOVE El Chalten.  There are multiple day hikes that get you way out into the hills with some of the most spectacular mountain scenery we’ve encountered.  Take your time and spend more than a hot second there, you won’t regret it.

Big Ice Tour in El Calafate – Even though we got ripped off by the travel agent who sold us our tour, this still goes down as one of our favorite activities.  It really was worth it, especially if you’ve never been on a glacier.  If the cost is too steep for you, look into a trek on the Viedma Glacier out of El Chalten.

Taking a break from biking in Bariloche

Biking around the Circito Chico in Bariloche – We haven’t gotten around to posting about this ride, but it’s a 25 kilometer ride around beautiful meditteranean colored lakes just outside of Bariloche.  You can rent a bike for the day and set out at your leisure.  There are many places to stop along the way for picnicing, swimming, or just gawking at the scenery.  The bike rental will only set you back about $18 and you can get there with public transportation.  Your hostel should be able to reserve you a bike, otherwise any travel agent in town can also, just make sure they don’t charge a commission for it.  You’ll get a map from the bike place, but don’t worry, it’s a loop and basically impossible to get lost.

The Worst

We really loved almost everything in Argentina, and the one major exception was Hostel Pudu in Bariloche.  We heard that it was fantastic, and perhaps it used to be, but now it’s just run down despite the bright and shiny website.  One of the hostel owners spent more time getting high with the guests than doing other things…like cleaning the bathrooms, which were disgusting.  There was a pretty high price tag for a dorm room, and I have to admit to sheer laziness or we would have moved after the first night.

The Uruguay Roundup

6 May

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  15

Cities/towns visited –  Colonia, Montevideo, Punta del Diablo

Number of different lodgings – 3 plus a couchsurf

Local bus journeys – 8

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 0

Boat rides – 2

Bike rentals – 1

Days of rain – 1

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – 1,228.50

Average cost per day, per person – 43.88

Average lodging cost per night – 38.40

Most expensive lodging – Hostel del Diablo – $41/night for a private room with bathroom and a patio looking out to the sea.

Least expensive lodging – Willy Fog Hostel and El Viajero  in Montevideo were both $13 per person for a dorm room, including breakfast

Average food/drink cost per day (per person) – $20.15  We ate out for pretty much every meal, and drank a healthy amount of beer and wine.  Lunches we generally had empanadas on the beach, but we went to basic restaurants most nights for dinner.  We could easily have spent a lot more on food and drink, but we chose mid-range restaurants with only a few exceptions.

Best:

Best. Empanadas. Ever.

* Empanadas – Kiosco Alba at the end of the ‘pier’ where there are trinket vendors.  These go down as the best empanadas we had in all of South America.  They are made fresh to order and are STUFFED with fresh fish, or ham and cheese.  They are fried, yet they aren’t greasy.  They are incredible, and there was always a wait, but it was well worth it.

Mmmmm…grilled meat….

*Parilla meal – Huge slabs of grilled meats are typical in Uruguay, especially in Mercado del Puerto.  It’s incredible just to walk around and marvel at all the grills going at the same time, and you have more than a dozen choices for lunch.  We ate at La Chacra with our couchsurf host, and had some of the best steak we’d had on the trip thus far.  A tad pricey, but well worth it.

We took a break from biking to take photos with the massive Montevideo sign

* Bike ride along La Rambla – Do yourself a favor and rent a bike at Bicicletta Sur on Aquilas Lanza and Durazno.  For a dollar an hour you can spend all day cruising up and down the coastline, stopping for ice cream, empanadas, and whatever else catches your fancy along the way (like the giant Montevideo sign above…).  There is a well maintained path for both pedestrians and bikes.

Playa Grande in Punta del Diablo

* Playa Grande in Punta del Diablo – It’s already a super chilled out beach town, but we hear it can get pretty crowded during high season.  To get away from the masses, head over to Playa Grande, just a few minutes walk up the coast.  You’ll find an expansive beach that you’ll have nearly all to yourself since most people don’t want to make the trek over the sand dunes.  If you walk all the way out to the end of the beach you’ll be at the beginning of a nature preserve where you can marvel at the foliage and maybe even spot some sea turtles.

Worst

* El Viajero Hostel in Montevideo.  It was clean, well located, and had a good breakfast but all of those things can’t make up for terrible layout and a bad staff.  The room we had didn’t have a window, which made it swelteringly hot in the night.  In addition, the rooms all faced the open courtyard where people hung out until all hours of the night – the noise was deafening.  The staff was indifferent at best, downright obnoxious at worst.  We left after only one night.

6 Months!

2 May

It’s our 6 month anniversary of being on the road!  Time certainly does fly…We’ve spent a half a year tromping around South America, yet we still feel that we’ve just barely scratched the surface of this amazing continent.  We could spend years here, but we’re heading off to explore another part of the world next week.

We still have some catching up to do on country-specific ’round-ups’, but in the meantime, here’s a quick breakdown of our travel stats from the first 6 months:

Average cost per person, per day (not including Antarctica) – $43

Continents – 2 – South America and Antarctica

Countries visited – 6 – Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador

Towns or cities visited – 53

Beds slept in – 56

Bus rides – 101

Taxi or combis – 34

Boats – 25

Planes – 6

Swiss Army knives lost – 3

Random weddings attended – 1

Empanadas consumed – we should have kept track…the number is probably in the high hundreds.

Regrets – 0

Our next leg includes Turkey, Israel, Jordan, India and Nepal; if you’ve been to any of those places don’t be shy, leave us some tips in the comments!

The Chile Roundup

23 Feb

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country – 61

Cities/towns visited – Santiago, Vina Del Mar, Valparaiso, Banos Morale, Pirque, Futaleufu, Puerto Montt, Valdivia, Niebla, Pucon, Puerto Varas, Puerto Natales, Fruitillar

Number of different lodgings – 11

Flights – 1

Local bus journeys – 29

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 2

Metro rides – 57

Long distance bus journeys – 1

Bikes rented – 1

Days of rain – 3

Dangerous encounters with Mother Nature – 1

Things we lost – Justin’s Swiss Army knife (left in carry-on luggage accidentally and TSA took it) and Ashley’s fleece on a bus in Valparaiso.

Moving Box Bet – Pancora erizos

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $5177

Average cost per day, per person – $42.40

We had 2 big expenses in Chile that really bumped up our spending.

1)      $280 ($140 per person) reciprocity fee for flying into Santiago.  You can avoid this by bussing in.

2)      We took a few weeks of Spanish classes that cost us $705 total.  Chile isn’t the cheapest place to take classes, but it was where we had the apartment and the time to do it, so we think it was very much worth it.  Our Spanish was pretty terrible at the beginning of our trip, and while it’s still not excellent, it’s much improved.  At this point we are able to understand others, and make ourselves understood in most situations, including social situations.  We went to Escuela Bella Vista and were very happy with them.  We had very small classes (the first week was just 3 of us, the second week we had 5 all together) and each week we had 3 different teachers, which was great since each of them had a different style and spoke a little differently.  We’d highly recommend this school if you are in the area and looking for a class.  They can also arrange home-stays and apartments, even for as short as a week, if needed.

Average lodging cost per night – $12.68

*This is a little skewed because for 5 weeks we were fortunate enough to be staying in a friend’s apartment and didn’t incur lodging costs.  If we average the cost for just the 25 days we paid for lodging it ends up being $31.46 per night.  Rooms in Chile are expensive compared to Peru, especially in Patagonia.  In larger towns we’ve managed to find hospedajes where we can have our own room for the same cost as staying in a hostel dorm.  In Patagonia we didn’t have as much luck with this strategy, and as a result we ended up spending most nights in a 6 bunk dorm room.

Most expensive lodging, per person – The Erratic Rock, Puerto Natales, approx $18.50 per night for a shared dorm.   We could have stayed somewhere cheaper, but the Erratic Rock is locally famous for their hearty breakfasts (Omelets! Homemade bread and jam!) and helpful explanations for trekking in Torres Del Paine.

Least expensive lodging per person – Campsite at Refugio Chileno in Torres Del Paine, $9.75 for one campsite with 2 people.

Average food/drink cost per day (per person) – $14.

* In Santiago we predominantly cooked at home, though we did eat out for lunch most days while we were in Spanish School.  We had a few nice dinners out, but generally we found the food in Chile to be ‘meh’.  Most places we’ve stayed in had well-equipped kitchens, which make it easy to stay in and socialize with everyone else who is cooking in.  We drank a LOT in Chile.  We bought a lot of wine and beer at the supermarket, went wine tasting outside of Santiago, and had a few debaucherous nights on the town that really increased the daily average in this category.

The Best

Accommodation

Adolfo’s in Futaleufu.  It’s an actual house complete with a living room furnished with super comfy overstuffed furniture, cable tv and a maid who makes scrambled eggs to order as you sit down to breakfast.  They have a golden retriever named ‘Gringa’, and another scrappy little pup named ‘Pichhu’ who will loyally follow you around town if you are good to him.  A great comfortable place that really feels like home.

Casa Aventura in Valparaiso.  Lonely Planet doesn’t give it a great review, but it was one of the cheaper places we found (for booking online before we went, you can find cheaper if you go and wander around but we were only there for one night and didn’t want the hassle of walking around looking for a place).  They have clearly done some work since the LP review came out and there are sparkling new bathrooms, a nice upstairs lounge area, and huge rooms that are filled with light.  The people who work there were very helpful in giving us a route to walk to see the best of the street art, and the breakfast is good with eggs and fresh fruits.  My personal favorite thing about this place is that THEY RECYCLE!  They have bins set out for paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, and they actually take the time to take it all down to the recycling center.

Food

Tiramisu (Isidora Goyenechea 3141) in Santiago.  Delicious pizzas!  We had great huge salads, real bruschetta, and good wine here.  It’s packed at lunch so be prepared to wait for a table.

I don’t really know what it’s called, but in Niebla, just outside of Valdivia, there is an amazing market of sorts that is filled with vendors selling empanadas by the dozen, grilled meats, fish, steamed clams and mussels, cakes, pastry, and beer.  We stumbled on it randomly while looking for the way to the beach, and were so impressed by the food that we went back…twice!  When you get off the bus in Niebla just walk towards what looks like a marketplace and you’ll run smack into it.

Delicious Express  – Pasaje Galvez 358, just uphill from the Shell station (and just downhill from Casa Aventura) in Valparaiso.  These were easily some of the best empanadas we had in Chile, and they have dozens of fillings to choose from.  They are big and made fresh to order.

Drink – Mote con Huesillo.  So good!  It’s sold at little stands on the streets everywhere.  It’s a food/drink of grain and peaches served in the sweet broth it’s cooked in.  It’s served cold and is both refreshing and a perfect light snack.  The quality varies from place to place, so if your first is sort of ‘meh’, try another one somewhere else.

The Worst

Austral Glacier Travel Agency.  BEWARE!  They are recommended by the Erratic Rock, which we very much liked, so we let our guards down and were blindsided by a huge overcharge for the one thing we let them book for us. They claim they don’t add commission for their bookings, and they came so highly recommended that we didn’t do our due diligence with price-checking before we put the money down, and we didn’t check that they were using the correct exchange rate for the currency conversions from US Dollars to Argentine Pesos to Chilean Pesos.  Stay far, far away from this dishonest place.

The Peru Roundup

31 Dec

We’ve been meaning to start posting about how our budget is working out, and we finally decided that the best way to do this is not by the month, but rather by the country.  In addition, we want to be able to highlight some of the places we really loved (or in some cases, really didn’t).  To that effect, we present the inaugural “roundup” post – a compilation of our budget and travel statistics for each country we visit.

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country – 19

Cities/towns visited –  Lima, Cuzco, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, Pisac, Arequipa, San Juan De Chuccho, Sangalle

Number of different lodgings – 8

Flights – 1

Local bus journeys – 20

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 11

Long distance bus journeys – 2

Days of rain – 2

Weddings attended – 1

Antibiotics needed – 1 round each (sinus infections)

Moving Box Bet – Anticuchos

The Budget

*Air travel is not included in this budget*

Total US dollar amount spent – $1,335.93

Average cost per day, per person – $35.16

Average lodging cost per night – $15.73

– We stayed entirely in hostels with a private room, often with a private bath. On our last night we stayed in a dorm in Lima, but we were the only ones in that room, so it was essentially private.

Most expensive lodging – $25.90 Hitchhiker’s Hostel, Lima

Least expensive lodging – $5.51 Rivelino House, San Juan De Chuccho (Colca Canyon)

Average food/drink cost per day (per person) – $8.18

* Generally, breakfast was provided by the hostels.  We often self-catered lunch by going to the markets, or went out for a set menu.  We ate out for every dinner.  We consumed very little beer and wine, mostly because we were hiking regularly so we weren’t going out to bars much.

The Best

Accommodation –  Estela de Oro in Arequipa.  Another traveller told us about this gem of a place, and it was easily the best of our time in Peru.  It’s really more a hotel than a hostel as the rooms are huge, all with private bath,  flat screen television, and great internet access.  The rooms come with lovely fluffy towels, little bars of soap, and a pretty standard breakfast of tea/coffee, rolls and jam.  We paid only 50 soles a night, which was a HUGE bargain considering the comfort level.

Huge, delicious steaks.

FoodRasa Nostra, also in Arequipa, and only for meat lovers.  Rasa Nostra is located on Bolognesi, between Sucre and the Plaza de Armas (and right around the corner from our favorite hostel).  They have incredible set menus for dinner, most of which involve a colossal amount of Argentine-style grilled meat (think perfectly cooked steaks, chorizo, etc), french fries, and a salad bar.  A full meal was about 15 soles, more than we’d paid generally, but a total steal for the amount and quality of the food.  The restaurant itself is quite nice, and was packed for both lunch (when they have a cheaper set menu that is more traditional with a soup, entrée, and drink) and dinner.

Empanadas at the market in Arequipa.  Clearly Arequipa treated us well.  If you head over to the main market, there is an empanadas stand just inside the center entrance.  They were the best empanadas we had in all of Peru, especially the chorizo ones.

Prasada in Cuzco.  Prasada serves up delicious vegetarian dishes, including a mean falafel sandwich.  They also make great fruit smoothies.  You can find Prasada on Choquechaka, near San Blas.

The Worst

Accommodation

Hostel Joe in Aquas Calientes.  Based on the review in Lonely Planet, we expected this place to be basic, but tolerable.  In reality, it was awful.  Filthy hallways, questionable sheets, and a definitely sewage-like odor.  Do yourself a favor, pay a little more and stay somewhere that understands the basics of sanitation.

Oasis Paraiso in Sangalle (the ‘Oasis’ in Colca Canyon) – This is one of the more expensive places to stay in Sangalle, and clearly it has seen better days.  The rooms/huts are in various stages of tolerable, the bathrooms leave much to be desired, the bar area is literally falling apart.  The pool was ok, and the staff was nice enough, but not nice enough to make up for the condition of the place.  It looks good when you enter (lovely gardens, all the trees, the pool, etc) and it took us a little while to realize how run down it really was.  There are at least 4 places to choose from in this village, so even if you’re exhausted, suck it up and keep moving.

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