Travel

Planning my 6-week trip to Latin America: The birth of an epic journey! (2019)

It’s funny, you know. As I think back on the last few months, I notice just how amazing the organic development of life can be.

A little while ago, I posted an article on one of my life list items: Climbing Machu Picchu. It’s been one of the top items on my must-do list since 2012. It was a goal I set myself to complete this year – come what may.

As I started looking into the logistics of the trip though, this one goal turned into something much bigger.

Originally, I planned to meet up with some friends in New York to fly down to Peru and hike Machu Picchu. I thought I would fly right back to Europe after that, or perhaps make a stop in Mexico to meet a few people on the way there or back.

It was meant to be a simple journey. Nothing epic. Just the accomplishment of a goal I set myself a long time ago. It seems life had other plans.

 

Budgeting and booking my flights

 

Whenever I start looking into a journey, I always start with flights and accommodation. The reason for this is that in the case of long distance travel, these are likely to take up the majority of the budget. Perhaps 30-50%.

This year, I gave myself a budget of 4,000 Euros for all of my travels. So, anywhere I wanted to go and anything I yearned to do, needed to stay roughly within that budget.

I already had a European road trip planned to get me from Prague to Barcelona via Naples, Nice and Monte Carlo. The budget for that was roughly 300-500 Euros. That meant, realistically I had about 3,000 Euros to play with for my Machu Picchu trip (assuming I also wanted some smaller trips in between).

My dates were somewhat fixed as my potential Machu Picchu crew could only join me from 20 September onwards. I, therefore, started with my trusty Skyscanner site to see what the rates were looking like for one way Barcelona-New York flights.

As it so happens, the day I started looking for flights was actually a couple of days before Valentine’s Day. This meant there were some epic seasonal sales going on. It also spelled the start of a massive expansion to my original plan.

You see, my first flight from Barcelona to New York City was meant to cost around 400€. However, due to the sales it cost a whopping – wait for it – 145€ including taxes! 

Goodness me, was that a happy surprise, or what?! 😀

Since I now had some extra cash to spare, I started looking for further destinations to squeeze in. I wasn’t on a time crunch, so why not?

 

Planning the extended itinerary

 

With a little more money to play with than expected, I decided to make the internet my playground for a few hours. I started thinking who and what I would like to see.

Cuba and Mexico were top of the list, so I started there. However, after some extensive research, I decided to admit defeat on Cuba. As I would be flying via the US, the visa situation seemed rather expensive (almost 100 USD extra) and the criteria for obtaining a visa were very restrictive for a 4 day stop.

I also had to consider that I would be arriving slap bang in the middle of hurricane season. That meant landing in Havana had the potential to mess up my onward journey too. We couldn’t have that, so for those reasons I decided to say “bye bye Cuba and hello Mexico!” for the time being. (Don’t cry too hard for me Havana – I’m sure I’ll get to you someday!)

Moving further south to Mexico next, I decided to visit Monterrey, Mexico City and San Luis Potosi. I originally wanted to explore Puerto Vallarta and Veracruz too, but 2 weeks just wasn’t enough to enjoy all of those places at a leisurely pace.

As I also had a budget to consider, I decided to think about my priorities. Since I know a good number of people in Monterrey and San Luis Potosi, I knew I really wanted to stop by to see them. After all, it’s not every day this girl lands in Mexico. Admittedly, I also find it far more enjoyable exploring foreign places with friends who are locals too!

The Peru leg of the journey was naturally going to be centred around Cusco. That didn’t take too much thought. I didn’t plan to explore too far outside the Machu Picchu area, so I just needed to get to Cusco. Flying via Lima from Mexico City was the cheapest option in that respect.

As I was looking at flights to get back home to Barcelona though, I found them to be ridiculously expensive (around 700 Euros). So that raised the question… could I squeeze anywhere else in and get back to Barcelona more cheaply that way?

To find out, I did a bit of reverse engineering by using the useful “everywhere” search feature on Skyscanner. It turns out Buenos Aires has pretty reasonable one way flights to Barcelona around 330 Euros.

However, getting directly from Peru to Argentina wasn’t the cheapest option. That being the case I took another look at the list of Latin-American countries available. I did have a friend in Chile… might that be an option?

Eventually, I settled on a short 3 day layover in Santiago. It turned out to be around 100 USD cheaper than a direct flight from Lima to Buenos Aires. Plus, it was within day travelling distance from the Valparaiso area, which I’d heard good things about.

Et voila – that seemed to be the end of my travel plan. I mean, the itinerary was really looking great! That is until I found out you could do cheap(ish) day trips to Uruguay from Buenos Aires…

Oh go on then, twist my arm – if I’m going to be doing a trip like this, I might as well make the most of it, eh?!? 😉

 

Keeping an eye on cost

 

So, after all that flight booking, how much of my budget was actually going to be left?

Well let’s see. My final itinerary and travel cost (in Euros) was looking something like this:


Claudia’s LATAM Itinerary – 2019

Barcelona -> New York: 145,53 EUR

Newark -> Mexico City: 139,65 EUR

Mexico City -> Monterrey: 27,81 EUR

Monterrey -> Mexico City: 39,58 EUR

Mexico City -> San Luis Potosi: 83,18 EUR

San Luis Potosi -> Mexico City: N/A – return flight

Mexico City -> Lima: 196,63 EUR

Lima -> Cusco: 50,25 EUR

Cusco -> Lima: N/A – return flight

Lima -> Santiago: 71,07 EUR

Santiago -> Buenos Aires: 113,37 EUR

Buenos Aires -> Colonia (Ferry to Uruguay): 76,91 EUR

Buenos Aires -> Barcelona: 330,93 EUR

Grand Total: 1274.91 EUR


That meant I would have approximately 1700 Euros left to book my accommodation and activities. Let’s see what could be done with that!

 

Booking my accommodation

Does this accommodation include the hunk? 😉

 

I am usually a big fan of Couchsurfing when I travel to new places. However, given that final plans showed I was travelling part of the way with my bestie Ashley, I also needed to take her preferences into account while booking accommodation.

(Plus, it seems the purpose of Couchsurfing isn’t that well known in Latin America, so I felt better playing safe than sorry.)

In Monterrey and San Luis Potosi, I had the good fortune of knowing people I could stay with. This always helps when you’re travelling on a budget.

In the rest of the places, I decided to go for a mix of hostels, hotels and apartments.

Booking.com was my first port of call. It usually is, as I’ve been with them a number of years and so have the benefit of being a Genius Level 2 member with them.

Among other things, that entitles me to around 10-15% discount, free breakfast and free room upgrades (at selected properties) – yaaay!

 

Choosing hostels in Mexico City, Mexico

Last year was the first time in a long time I booked a hostel again. I was meant to travel to Krakow with my friend Marco for an impromptu weekend away. Unfortunately, they had an airport strike in Italy, so his flight got cancelled and he couldn’t join me in the end.

Despite that unfortunate incident, however, it was the greatest solo trip I’d had in a long time. I had so much fun exploring the city, meeting new people and discovering some amazing food too!

Since I was going to be solo in Mexico City, I decided that for that leg of the journey I would book a hostel too. It’s just the best way to meet people and find out what to do in a new place. Especially since the hostels tend to have great services for letting you know what’s going on on a budget.

I’m not really a party person anymore, so I decided to stay away from the (in)famous “fiesta no siesta hostels” in the city.

After some research, I eventually decided to go for two different hostels that caught my eye. Specifically two, as I planned to be passing through Mexico City twice.

 

Mexico hostel 1 – Casa Pepe Boutique Hostel

My first choice was the Casa Pepe Boutique Hostel. I loved the look of the bunkbeds giving you your own private space with curtains. It also had a very central location, looked really crisp and clean and, most importantly, looked like it had lots of activities as well!

I also managed to find a first hand review of it on YouTube, which is always useful. If you can speak some Spanish, you can check it out below:

 

Mexico hostel 2 – Casa San Ildefonso

Although I had every confidence that I would love Casa Pepe tremendously, I also knew that sometimes it is really rewarding to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. That being the case, I decided to try a different hostel for my second stint in Mexico City.

This time I decided to go for the Casa San Ildefonso. It’s also located in the historical centre of the city, however, it has quite a different vibe to it.

Instead of being modern, trendy and youthful like Casa Pepe, this hostel instead promises to take you back to the old colonial days.

I have to admit it was the courtyard that got me on this one. I mean just look at how pretty it looks!

 

A note on selecting good hostels

One thing I find very important when booking hostels is to carefully read through the reviews they have. I usually try to look for posts which give indicators on safety, cleanliness and distance to important attractions first.

These are the most important criteria for me as, especially when you are travelling alone, safety is of primary importance. Hygienic factors also play a part in keeping you healthy on a long trip and location is key if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. In my case, I just don’t enjoy commuting long distances, so I like to be near everything – if I can afford it.

After safety, cleanliness, and distance, I also look for reviews talking about comfort indicators. For me, these cover aspects like noise levels, bed comfort and food quality.

Although I can sleep through mostly anything, a quiet(ish) location close to the centre is preferable. Beds are super important to me and I tend to look for places with good mattresses and fluffy duvets. You’d be surprised what a difference that can make.

Lastly decent food is a big plus for me too. Places with good food included in the price are always awesome (and keep the budget down too as you don’t need to pay extra for it each day).

Personally, I’ve found that with these basic criteria at hand, I usually land on winners every time. Feel free to adjust them as you need and I’m sure you’ll get lucky finding the right places too!

 

Choosing a hotel in Cusco, Peru – Sara Wasi Hostal

Landing in Peru, I will have my friend Ashley joining me. That being the case, I made sure to spend an afternoon with her sussing out our hotel and hostel options in the Cusco area.

Eventually we landed on the Sara Wasi Hostal. (I found it kind of a misleading name actually, as it’s actually a hotel haha!)

I have to say we didn’t really see any options that really stood out for us in Cusco. It primarily seemed to offer cheap, durable and no-nonsense accommodation. However, I suppose that makes sense with all the tourists running through it at lightning speed.

Apparently the Sara Wasi Hostal has amazing breakfast, with lovely staff and the beds look super comfy too. That being the case, we decided that’s really all we needed and booked it immediately, once we agreed.

// On a side note: I don’t know why, but I somehow imagined the architecture to look really different in Peru. This hotel definitely reminds me of mountain hotels back home in Austria and Switzerland though – very interesting indeed! //

 

Choosing a hotel in Santiago, Chile – Patio Yungay Bed & Breakfast

Moving on to our accommodation in Santiago, Ashley and I again opted for a hotel.

This time we decided on the Patio Yungay Bed & Breakfast. We really liked the slightly rustic, traditional and quirky look and feel it had to it.

The food again looked delicious and the reviews were pretty good. It was a little more expensive than some of the other options we found, but in the end it was the one we both agreed on, so we went with that.

 

A note on travelling with other people

I always find it interesting to travel with other people, because you really do learn a lot about them by doing so. You need to negotiate different things like your food, accommodation, and activities, which can be a very fun (or sometimes taxing) experience.

However, the one thing I have found to be most effective in keeping a group together, is keeping options few and simple. It helps to have one person organising a group and then pre-selecting 3-4 accommodation options based on criteria the group have agreed are important. That way there likely won’t be an extensive back and forth and you can keep the planning moving.

The other thing I find very useful, is planning for downtime away from the group. Personally, I like to be with people a lot. However, I am also a person who really really values her personal space at times too. It’s for that reason that I booked in time for myself solo in Mexico City, as well as in other cities throughout this trip too.

 

Choosing an apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina

For the last stop on the journey, I decided to book an apartment for the time I was spending with Ashley and wing it for the rest of the time I was alone. I had a few ideas which might take me outside Buenos Aires, so wanted to keep myself flexible.

Originally Ashley and I booked an apartment in Downtown Buenos Aires as it looked like the most central place to be. However, as luck would have it, my landlady is actually from Buenos Aires and so had another suggestion: Palermo!

My dream for Buenos Aires had been to get a huge apartment with an infinity pool and treat myself for the end of the trip. I’d heard about this from other travellers who had said it was super cheap to afford this kind of luxury there.

However, the one thing I hadn’t thought about at that point was the weather. Apparently due to the location of Buenos Aires in the south it actually has summer and winter upside down.

That being the case by the time we arrive, it will be that funny in-between time where it isn’t quite hot, nor cold and it rains a lot. It also happens to be the season where all the outdoor pools are still closed (Useful tip for anyone interested: They open in November!)

We still managed to get a cute apartment with a rooftop pool though. It may not be open, but the views may still be worth it. Let’s see!

 

Keeping an eye on cost – part 2

You’ll probably have realised by now that I’m not a particularly go where the wind takes me kind of traveller. That’s really because I have three priorities when I travel… diversity of experience, cost and comfort.

One thing I have learned in all my years is that you can absolutely get all three. However, in order to do so, you really should plan ahead.

When you plan ahead it does take away a bit of the spontaneity, yet it also almost guarantees you the most options to ensure diversity of experiencer and comfort at the very best best price!

So, at this point, we’ve already established that flight costs for this trip were 1275€. On top of that, accommodation costs for me now added up to the following:


Claudia’s LATAM Hotel Itinerary – 2019

Casa Pepe Boutique Hostel: 50€ (3 nights)

Casa San Ildefonso: 37 € (2 nights)

Sara Wasi Hostal: 72,84€ (6 nights)

Patio Yungay Bed & Breakfast: 87.41€ (4 nights)

Apartment in Palermo: 51.5€ (4 nights)

Total: 298.75€

(+ Budget of 100€ to sort ad-hoc accommodation end of trip)


Add that total to my flight cost and that meant I had approximately 1,300€ left to play with. I have to say I was pretty much in awe when I first calculated this.

I’ve travelled a lot in my 32 years of life, but I’ve gotta say I find it quite impressive that you can traverse through 6 countries, across 6 weeks, on less than 2,000€ in this day and age. That’s pretty impressive!

I also have a funny feeling, I may not actually use my entire 3,000€ budget. Mainly because I am only travelling with a 30l backpack, which means I can’t actually go shopping for things on the way.

Secondly, because the things I actually enjoy doing while travelling usually don’t cost a lot.

 

Planning activities in Latin America

I’m the kind of person who really enjoys getting local when I go travelling. I want to see the streets and the markets, eat the best local dishes, go hiking on a mountain or enjoy a relaxed evening by the sea.

I’m not the person who goes to tourist attractions, for the most part, and I think that’s really how I end up saving a lot of money.

My primary interest when travelling is learning about the different people, cultures, lifestyles and mindsets of each new country.

That for me is the real essence of travel. That for me is what’s exciting, stimulating and ultimately grows my own thoughts and actions over time.

On this particular trip, however, there are definitely a few items I’d really like to try and achieve if circumstances permit it.


Mexico

Monterrey – Hiking to the Cascada Cola de Caballo, eating tacos at my favourite taquito stand, walk down the Santa Lucia river walk

Mexico City – Visit the pyramids of Teotihuacán (City of Gods) and take a free walking tour around the city

San Luis Potosi – Visit the Xilitla Magic Gardens


Peru

Cusco – Hike Machu Picchu and Humantay Lake, go white water rafting and explore Cusco city


Chile

Valpariaso – Explore the street art in Valparaiso, catch a dinner show with traditional food and dancers


Argentina

Iguasu Falls – Hike the Argentinian part of the Iguasu Falls, which are meant to be spectacular!

Buenos Aires – Explore the city, watch a Flamenco show and taste some famous Argentina steak


Uruguay

Colonia – Day trip from Buenos Aires to Colonia de Sacramento to check out the UNESCO historic centre

 

I decided not to book the activities in Latin America in advance, mainly to keep an eye on my budget. From what I have heard, prices online are significantly higher than those you would pay locally.

The other consideration I had was the weather. Since it seems to be a little unstable during September and October, I thought it better to get there first and then see if the weather is good enough to permit outside activities in particular.

That being said, using this approach, there is always the risk that there won’t be any places left to reserve by the time I arrive. However, I also have faith that everything will work out just the way it should.

Plus, you’ve always got to leave space for a little unknown adventure, haven’t you? 😉

 

Buying travel insurance

The final piece of planning I am going to cover here is travel insurance.

I have to admit I’m usually pretty carefree when it comes to my travel insurance. When I’m on a short trip I don’t usually feel the need to buy it. Especially if I’m simply going to be in a city where most conveniences are available.

My chances of getting ill are usually low, I don’t really travel with valuables, and in case of flight cancellations and such the cost isn’t so extreme.

However, in this instance, I felt that it would be better to get travel insurance. This was primarily due to the duration of the trip (6 weeks is not that short), the high number of connecting flights and also because I am not familiar with the local healthcare systems.

In some places pharmacies provide everything you need to get over an upset tummy or infections that need antibiotics. However, in case something else happens while hiking or doing other outside activities, I felt it was prudent to make sure I’m covered.

Thus, I got my health insurance from Worldnomads.com for just under 200€.

I read some really good reviews on it beforehand and also found that it would cover me for the altitude necessary to hike Machu Picchu. Interestingly, not all companies do this, so it was good I caught this before booking.

You learn something new every day, don’t you?

 

Final words

In this article I’ve attempted to take you through my journey of booking a 6 week trip through Latin America. My trip starts in 2 weeks and I am super excited about it, especially since I started planning for this trip way back in February.

Although I’ve travelled a lot in the past, it’s never been on such an extended trip and definitely not through this many countries. That being the case, I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how this whole trip pans out.

I’ve tried to cover the parts of planning that I have found most important to insuring a basic structure and flow to the trip and ensure I can stay within my budget fairly easily.

However, do let me know if you think I’ve missed anything or would like to know anything more.

With that said:

Here’s to an epic journey through Latin America  in 2019. I’m pretty sure it’ll be one to remember! 😀

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