The road to Rurrenabaque…

…also known as the “Death Road”, and that for decently good reason: The Yungas road to Rurrenabaque is quite famous and was actually well known for years as the world’s most dangerous road. Since 2006, however, the most critical part of the road has been replaced by a newer one, leaving the original route to brave downhill bikers like us. Our ride down the death road started on 4700 m above sea level and took us down through the stunningly beautiful scenery of the Bolivian cloud forest which, by the way, is supposed to be the country’s best coca region. The tour ended after a descend of more than 3000 m of altitude in a town called Coroico. Most people do the death road by bike as a day trip, however, as we felt brave, we pimped this adventure with another one: the bus ride to Rurrenabaque. Thus, after a humongous “lunch-dinner” in Coroico we got on our bus and off we went. If you google this bus ride, you will find that this part of the road is way more scary than the part we did with the bikes. To be fair, only the first few hours were nerve-wrackingly intense as we could actually see how close to the edge we were ALL THE TIME. And the edge usually was facing cliffs of several hundred meters of height. Thus, it felt like a blessing when the sunlight faded and we could not see anymore. And luckily, the ride went smooth, so we eventually arrived at Rurrenabaque’s bus terminal early in the morning. There we hopped on a motorcyle-carried wagon, which took us to the town’s French bakery. There we helped our strained nerves to recover, by feeding them the best pastries we have encountered since setting foot on this continent (we recommend warm apple and chocolate bread!). Strengthened by this hearty breakfast we started our “Pampa” tour. During this three day tour, we were almost eaten alive by the biggest mosquito armies you can imagine. In spite of that, though, we had a blast looking for Caimans, pink dolphins, monkeys, birds, Piranhas and Anacondas. After these “Pampa-days”, we had one night in “Rurre”, before continuing with a two day exploration of the “Selva” (the rain forest) of Madidi National Park. This park constitutes a big part of Bolivia’s chunk of the Amazon’s basin. There, our guide was Erlan, who back in the day, grew up in one of the native communities of the area, where he was sent out to survive in the jungle all by himself at the age of 12 for a couple of days to test his survival skills. Obviously, he had passed the test and now had a blast watching us clumsily trying to make our path through the rain forest, swinging on lianas, climbing over fallen trees and jumping (and slipping) over lake-like puddles. He also taught us lots about the forest: about plants that can provide potable water, about some that can cure illnesses of all kinds and about several others that should be avoided as they can harm and even kill you. He also showed us how to defend ourselves against a jaguar attack, but luckily, he never left us alone in the forest to put our newly gained knowledge to the test. After two days of tip-toeing (that is necessary to not scare off all the animals) through the forest, we got back to Rurrenabaque, where we swung onto mototaxis (motorbike-taxis), which brought us to the most minuscule airport, any of us had ever seen before. However, it functioned efficiently and soon after we were sitting on our plane back to La Paz – enjoying the amazing bird’s eye view of Madidi National Park.

When in Rurrenabaque
Where to sleep: Hostel Ambaibo – the rooms are clean and there is a pool to recharge your energy after the tours.
Where to eat & drink: The French Bakery – chocolate bread made in heaven. Our first and last stop in Rurre.
What to see & do: Do a tour of both – the Pampas and the Selva to discover the region’s fauna and flora most thoroughly.

The San Francisco of South America, located in dizzy heights

Arriving in La Paz was literally a “breathtaking” event for us. Some other passengers of our flight, however, were obviously even more awestruck as they simply collapsed upon their first “impression” of the city. Or maybe also due to its most protruding characteristic: its height of about 3600 m above sea level. After an almost sleepless night of horrible headaches and nausea, we were eventually able to start discovering this stunning city which spreads out on a plateau surrounded by mountains with snowy peaks and of mighty heights of over 6000m. Our exploration tour, though, was a slow-mode-mission, as sightseeing in La Paz involves climbing hill after hill which was quite a challenge for us three breathless and still altitude-sickness fighting backpackers. This reminded us of San Francisco – simple relocated to South America and in dizzy heights. In the end, it took us a whole day simply to slender through the various market streets where everything is sold from fresh fruits and vegetables, to hopefully fresh enough fish and chicken, to pastries (generally containing lots of cheese and sugar – yes, usually combined in one pastry) and even witchcraft equipment. The next day, due to the help of lots of coca tea and time, we finally felt way better and were ready to take our exploration to the next (altitude) level. Thus, we boarded one of the local telefericos, (cable cars build by the Austrian company Doppelmayer!) to El Alto, the city overlooking La Paz from an altitude of about 4200 m. There we enjoyed the great panorama, and a delicious lunch of chicken (the local top-top-top favorite food) and fried bananas at the local market.
The next day it was already time to leave La Paz behind and bravely conquer the famous Yungas road to Rurrenabaque, the gate to the Bolivian part of the Amazon basin.

When in La Paz
Where to sleep: So far we are still looking for a nice place, let us know if you are more successful than us. Here are some potential places in La Paz.
Where to eat & drink: The local markets – proper restaurants are not so easy to find – Burger King and some Chicken fast food places where the main recommendations for “good restaurants”.
What to see & do: Chew coca leaves and take the teleferico up to El Alto for a great overview of the city.

Big city life in Santiago

We got to Santiago on a Saturday and took it easy during the day in order to fully indulge in the city’s pulsating nightlife. Due to doing that quite thoroughly until the next morning, we kind of had to take it easy the next day too. After having sufficiently recovered, we started our sightseeing tour. We, of course, hiked up the San Cristobal hill, Santiago’s major tourist attraction, had a lovely fish and seafood lunch at the Mercado Central, strolled along the shopping streets in the city center and spent lots of time laying around in the city’s many parks, usually while enjoying delicious ice cream. The ice cream was necessary, as despite it being fall, it was still really hot. We furthermore explored Santiago’s outskirts, by hiking in Parque Natural Aguas the Ramón and Parque Mahuida, from where we got impressive overviews of the sheer size of this huge city, of the not less impressive layer of smog covering it and also of the snow-covered peaks of the Andes surrounding it. Moreover, we had a great time exploring the city’s various “comunas” (that’s how the different neighborhoods are called here), of which many have squares full of constantly crowded bars and restaurants. After 5 days in this beautiful and slightly European-vibed city, we were relaxed, happy and ready for new adventures in Bolivia.

When in Santiago de Chile
Where to sleep: The Princesa Insolente Hostel – quiet, welcoming and clean!
Where to eat & drink: Mares de Chile – delicious fish and seafood and super friendly servers in the Mercado Central. Plaza Nuñoa – a favorite after work spot for locals with lots of bars and restaurants.
What to do: Nightlife in Bellavista – the #1 party area. Parque Natural Aguas the Ramón – scenic hike to a beautiful waterfall.

Relaxing days with lots of grape juice in Mendoza

Our visit to Mendoza was originally not on the agenda but just a view too many fellow travellers told us tempting stories about this capital of wine, situated in mid-west of Argentina. Trusting their judgement, and also, having been out of Argentina for almost 10 days, and thus already missing alfajores, dulce de leche and the world’s best asado, we went back. This time, to Mendoza.
While here, we once rented bikes for a day to paddle from winery to winery in Chacras de Coria, one of the two major wine regions around Mendoza. We not only tasted great wines that day, but also learned about how (organic) wine was made and much more. But to be honest, most of it we will have to learn again some day, with less wine tasting involved in the process.
We also explored Mendoza’s many plazas and parks of which Parque del General San Martín is especially nice, for instance to enjoy a bottle of wine while watching sporty locals rowing in the park’s lake. We furthermore went for a hike up Cerro Arco, a hill just outside the city from which we could have enjoyed a great view for sure, if it had not been for the dark and thick rain clouds blocking it. It was still a nice walk that ensured we got our “shower” in the end…
To make the most of another rainy day, we opted for a spa day in the Termas Cacheuta. That turned out to have been a great decision, as we spent lovely, relaxing hours in the hot waterpools there, spoilt our skin with multiple mud treatments and, of course, also overendulged with lots of delicious food at the spa’s grand buffet. Having been backpacking for so long, it has been a while since we have felt so thoroughly clean as after this day in the pools.
After this relaxing day we felt like action again so we took the next best bus straight to Las Vegas. However, not the one in Nevada, but the one in Potrerillos. This town is located close to Mendoza and no, it is not the place to go if you are looking for never ending parties. Instead, due to the lack of people and the abundance of nature and hills around here, the place is great for outdoor activities. So after having been woken up by the host’s eagerly crawing rooster, we went for a hike around the hills and had an awesome picknick at a perfectly located hill overlooking the town. Soon enough we were looking forward to some big city life, though and booked our bus tickets to Santiago de Chile – and off we went.

When in Mendoza
Where to sleep: Hostel Mora – best breakfast we have ever had in any hostel so far plus a great location.
Where to eat & drink: Bodega Pulmary – an organic winery and a great place to enjoy a delicous lunch.
What to see & do: All the bodegas in Chacras de Coria of course – best explored on bicycles. Perfect for a rainy day or if you need some relaxation – Termales Cacheuta.

Valparaíso – The paradise valley?

… maybe! For us, not so much, but we heard, that it used to be quite a great place for love-hungry sailors back in the day – maybe that’s where the name comes from!
As you may have noticed by now, we were not the biggest fans of Valparaíso. But to be fair, it has its nice areas: The colorful houses of the UNESCO protected old town are charming and some pleasant time can be spent in roof top cafes and bars, overviewing, well, the “beautiful” port of Valparaíso. Some beers probably would help to increase the city’s flair, however, make sure not to just buy some cans of beer and drink them on the streets – that could earn you a substantial fine as drinking in public is a felony unless its New Years Eve or the major national holiday.
We enjoyed the free walking tour through the town as our guide was able to point out some interesting details about the city’s history. For instance, that prostitution used to be a major business in the city which can be recognized by the meaningful names of some neighborhoods like happy and pleasure hill. Also, we learned a lot about the omnipresent art in Valparaíso: Graffiti. Furthermore, we expanded our culinary horizon once again, when he took us to one of the best Empanada places in town – a stuffed pastry of which we prefer the fried version (we have dumped all our health consciousness by now).
We also went to explore Chile’s supposedly #1 beach town (according to our guide book) – Viña del Mar. We strolled along the beach for a while and decided to like it – at least more than Valparaíso.
Despite really having tried to like this place, we never found out why so many backpackers come here and sure enough we could not help but feel quite happy to board our bus to Mendoza (Argentina).

When in Valparaíso
Where to sleep: Hostal Tricontinental – very friendly host and safe location right across the police station.
What to eat & drink: Try a “Chorrillana” – that’s Valparaíso’s most popular dish and especially great if you like onions and french fries. The healthier choice would be to dine at one of the fish restaurants in Portales and try some Ceviche – raw fish in lemon juice, and again: lots of onions.
What to do: Free Walking Tour – friendly guides make sure you get to see Valparaíso’s nice corners…

The never ending search for the path in Cochamó Valley

If you want to stay in Cochamó Valley, you will have to first earn it: go to Puerto Montt, take a bus to Cochamó, then a cab to the trailhead and then hike for around 4 hours to the camp grounds or the Refugio. If you come with quite some luggage, you can rent a pack horse. We did, mainly because it just sounded really cool to rent a pack horse. We were happy we did in the end, because the trail into Cochamó Valley, which took us through amazingly beautiful rainforest, was quite an obstacle course due to recent heavy rains. The valley, which is surrounded by mighty granite walls, is a paradise not only for trekking, but also for passionate climbers, especially because many of the routes have not been climbed yet. When hiking here, it is wise to bring some kind of GPS device – the paths are not well marked and we ended up getting lost repeatedly in this humongous green labyrinth. However, talking to some fellow hikers and climbers, we found that that happened to everyone. Getting lost was not a bad thing though as it showed us just some more hidden corners of the valley which we had not planned to see. Most hikes here are quite challenging not only regarding finding the path but also because they are steep and often exposed. The most amazing hike we did was up Cerro Arco Iris. This hike lead to a fantastic overview of the whole valley and surrounding mountain ranges, however, it also included some serious climbing which at home would have been categorized as a via ferrata for sure. This place is super remote, and thus, on clear nights, the sky is overwhelmingly crowded with stars. On our last night we thus sat at a camp fire with some new friends, happily glancing at the sky above.
We had a wonderful time here but now, after some of the most intensive hiking of our trip so far, our legs are looking forward to some relaxing days on the coast. Also our clothes are soooo ready for laundry service after all the muddy trails.

When in Cochamó Valley
Where to stay: Refugio Cochamó – family-run mountain hut offering delicious homemade food in a spectacular environment.
What to do: Cerro Arco Iris – rewards advanced hikers with an unforgettable view.

San Carlos de Bariloche – a heaven on earth for outdoor lovers

For everyone crazy about the outdoors, Bariloche is a wonderful place. We LOVED it. If you like hiking, biking and kayaking, prepare for long days!
We started out with renting bikes and doing the Circuito Chico, a 30 km bike trail along the shores of the amazingly scenic lake Nahuel Huapi.
This route took us to some stunningly scenic viewpoints and made us decide to extend our stay for a bit. Once along the route we traded in our bikes for kayaks and paddeled around for a while in the crystal clear but icy cold water. Back in the city, we then had to take the hardest decisions of the day: which should be the first chocolate and ice cream manufactory to pick and which flavors to taste? Sugar shock shaken but satisfied we then continued to explore the rest of Bariloche’s center and eventually some more chocolate stores.
We topped off our first day here with watching the sun set over lake Nahuel Huapi and sharing, once again, a tasty Argentinian pizza. These normally come, like everything else, in huge serving sizes. That’s because people here love to share orders, no matter if it’s pizza, beer or anything else.
The next couple of days we spent mostly hiking, enjoying marvelous views and of course, tasting some more artisanal chocolates and ice creams. We also discovered, that hitchhiking is a great way to get around, as sometimes the buses just won’t come or hardly serve specific areas.
When we left Bariloche, we all agreed: We would be back here! For instance, skiing one of the volcanoes in winter would definitely be an amazing experience.

When in San Carlos de Bariloche
Where to sleep: Punto Sur Hostel – homemade bread for breakfast, free pasta nights combined with a central location and nice staff
Where to eat & drink: Rapanui – just one of the many chocolate stores in town where you can indulge in tasting delicacy chocolate as well as amazing ice cream.
What to do: Circuito Chico – rent a bike to get the big picture perspective on the areas beauty. You can buy a combo package and rent a kayak along the way as well.
And… don’t miss out on the amazing hiking which comes at any level you want. Our favorite one was Cerro Lopez – a steep hike which rewards with stunning views over lake Nahuel Huapi.

Patagonia – a moody paradise at the end of the world

El Calafate. We arrived in El Calafate on an almost sunny and not especially windy day. For Patagonia late season standards this was rather perfect weather. El Calafate is a very touristy but neatly designed town which is equipped with lots of mountaineering shops and plenty of restaurants.
When we arrived in the afternoon, we still had enough time to go see the nature reserve just outside of town on the shores of lake Argentina. Apart from flamingos, a myriad of other birds live here which we clumsily and more or less unsuccessfully tried to identify. But they were pretty birds for sure.
The next day we went to see Perito Moreno, the huge and famous glacier just 80 km outisde of El Calafate (that equals an approximately 1 1/2 h bus ride). We spent an awesome day at the glacier during which we observed some impressive glacier calvings (that is the event of massive pieces of ice breaking off the main glacier into the water undeneath) and went on a boat ride on lake Argentina. The highlight of the day, however, was our little hike on the glacier. Equipped, of course with crampons and ice axes (mostly in the save hands of our guides, but sometimes we could borrow them) we explored the glacier. Our guides were lovely fellows who made sure we only looked down into crevasses without falling in. Our perfect day ended with a glass of whiskey on glacier ice rocks and a delicious alfajor (we have already told you about these awesome cookies in one of our recent blogs).

When in El Calafate
Where to sleep: Bla Guesthouse – friendly and helpful staff at good prices.
Where to eat & drink: Ananda – a lovely situated restaurant overlooking lake Argentina and serving big portions at decent prices.
What to see: Glaciar Perito Moreno – if just seeing it from the distance is not enough for you, opt for tour operator Hielo y Aventura to get a close up and hands on experience.

El Chaltén. Just a three hours bus ride away from El Calafate is the tiny town of El Chaltèn, the undisputed hiking capital of Argentina and also a metropole in terms of capricious and crazy weather conditions. During the 4 days we spent here, we hiked around 20km on average per day and were able to experience 4 seasons to their extremes, sometimes even within a day: We got sunburned while sunbathing on green meadows, fought our way through pouring, almost horizontal rain and eventually even got snowed in heavily on our last day. The views we got, however, especially the ones during the sunny time windows, were uniquely breathtaking and more than enough of a reward. Despite all the experienced beauty, after 4 days of hiking in El Chaltèn, we were exhausted enough to almost look forward to the 24h bus ride to Bariloche*.

When in El Chaltèn
Where to sleep: Apartments Complejo Como Vaca – as chances are high you will have some rainy days, it’s great to have your own little refuge where there is enough space to hang up your cloth to dry – this place will provide you with all that!
Where to eat & drink: Cafe Matilda in El Chaltén – a place to enjoy home made meals and pass the time till the rain stopps or at least lightens up.

* Sadly our thrilled anticipation for the relaxing bus ride vanished and transformed into horrified consternation at the sight of the bus.

Welcome in the capital of steaks, tango and alfajores

Despite the 20 hours bus ride that took us to Bueos Aires, we arrived rather fit and of course already hungry for some Argentinian steaks. On our first day we strolled through the various parks of Palermo, a rather fancy neighborhood of Buenos Aires. This turned out to be quite a hiking training as every time we got out of one park, there was another one waiting on the opposite side of the street. If it hadn’t been for these up to 18 lane streets seperating the parks we wouldn’t even have guessed that Buenos Aires was a city of more than 3 million inhabitants.
The next day we set out to see some more of the city’s “barrios” (neighborhoods). We started our tour in Puerto Madero, a charming part of town, which combines elements of an old harbor with modern architecture. Just a few blocks away we then found our most favorite place of Buenos Aires: the “Reserva Ecológica de Buenos Aires”. Here crocodiles roam while locals have picnics on the shores of Rio de la Plata.
Eager to accustom to local habits, we went for a late dinner. So by the time we got the menu, we were starving and we were only stopped from ordering 1kg of steak each by the server’s horrified protest. In the end, we shared only 2kg of delicious steaks, grilled to perfection on the parrillada (that is the typical grill every trustworthy Argentinian restaurant must have for any reasonable meatlover to enter it). After dinner, we just had to follow the crowds on the streets to arrive at Plaza Serrano, a square full of busy restaurants, bars and clubs. Despite our late dinner, we were still too early, as most Porteños (that are the locals of Buenos Aires) were just ordering their dinners. Nevertheless, we happily barhopped our way around Plaza Serrano.
The next day, feeling slightly awkward, we went to see the city’s most famous attraction, the cemetary in Recoleta. This used to be THE place to be buried for anyone who could afford to build a little palast instead of a tomb stone and furthermore apprectiated to be “visited” by thousands of people every day. We strolled through the alleys of impressive but sometimes also slightly scary tombs, trying, like everybody else, to find the grave of the famous Evita – Eva Peron Duarte. We had expected this to be easy, however, the guidebook’s advice to “follow the crowds”, turned out not be very helpful. Probably due to the dim weather, we did not find any crowds to follow and everybody we asked seemed to run after someone else until finding out that that person was just as lost. Eventually though, we not only stumbled upon the grave but had also made new friends during our awkward “treasure hunt”. In order to make it easier for you, if you ever look for it, here are the coordinates: -34.588355, -58.393738
As it was Sunday, our next stop was Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo, where a weekly market attracts many tourists who, like us, walked through the numerous stands where artisanal work is sold along with an array of antique pots and other stuff which we “sadly” had no room for in our backpacks. Thus, we moved on and for the rest of the day strolled along the “caminito” in La Boca, a purly touritsty but still cheerful part of town. After having a beer while learning some Tango moves, we all were ready for “homemade” steaks – and really, the meat here is so good, even the three of us were not able to mess it up!
Colonia del Sacramento is a picturesque town in Uruguay and luckily only a 1h speed boat ride away from Buenos Aires. Thus, we took our chance to touch down on Uruguaian soil and went there. Apart from cafés, restaurants and bars there is not much there. Nevertheless, we had an awesome, relaxing day just laying in the sun on the shores of Rio de la Plata, the interesting colored body of water shared by Argentina and Uruguay which sparkles in all shades of brown. Furthermore, we not only tried some Uruguain steaks and wine but also, for the first time, some maté. Drinking maté, which is immensly popular in numerous South American countries, is not at all comparable to having a normal cup of tea. It is a highly complicated ritual which we still haven’t managed to conduct to perfection, but we are working on it. Maté itself is a very strong herbal tea which is quite bitter. In fact it is so bitter, that it only starts tasting really good if consumed in combination with Alfajores, the wonderful but super sweet cookies found in every shop in Argentina and Uruguay. These cookies have been an important part of our diet ever since entering Argentina and we are seriously considering to open an import business in Europe. But back to our story: so upon returning to Buenos Aires, we already had to get ready for our next destination: Patagonia!!!

When in Buenos Aires
Where to sleep: Alvear Palace Hotel – here’s a place you can stay in if you have more money than us – we saw it, fell in love with it and hope that one day we earn enough to afford it! 🙂
Where to eat & drink: La Choza – premium steaks and huge portions at fair prices in the heart of Palermo. La Confitería Ideal – good place to enjoy a Tango show.
What to see: Reserva Ecológica de Buenos Aires – here you can take a break from the big city life of Buenos Aires.

Foz do Iguaçu – Superlatives of happiness and waterfalls

When boarding our plane to Foz do Iguaçu last Sunday we found ourselves joined again by fellow backpackers which all were excited like us to see one of the new seven wonders of Nature: the mighty Iguaçu Falls.
We had enough time here to see the falls from both, the Brazilian and the Argentinian side, to eat some of the best meats we ever tasted and to explore some of the other sights in and around the city.
The first day we spent chilling at the hostel’s pool area and exploring the town a bit on the search for an open restaurant to have dinner at. This turned out to be quite a challenge, as most restaurants are closed on Sundays.
The next morning the bus 120 delivered us directly at the entrance of Iguaçu National Park. This park on the Brazilian side gave us the big picture panoramic perspective on how vast the whole area of the falls really is. We wandered along the trails, enjoying the breathtaking views. This would have been a purely peaceful activity if it had not been for the mean little beasts called coaties, frequently attacking us from ambush to steal the cookies from our backpacks. We solved the problem by eating all the cookies ourselves and were thus able to continue blissfully along the park’s path.
Supposedly, waterfalls make people happy by producing negative ions. We don’t know whether those ions, the sheer amount of cookies we ate or simply the sight of this glorious natural wonder were the reason for our enthusiastic jollity, but in the end, who cares.
Pushing the edges of an already perfect day to make it even more amazing, we had dinner at the churrascaria Bufalo Branco, where we spent hours joyfully giggling while enjoying the best meats we had ever tasted in our entire lives (seriously, no exaggeration here!).
The next day our exploration continued on the Argentinian side. As recommended by our hostel’s staff, we booked a guided tour in order to ease the boarder crossing formalities. However, we had not considered that this would also encompass having to run after our guide Juan, holding up a yellow flower-patched umbrella. As this crossed seriously with our idea of a good day, our paths quickly separated from the group to explore the park at our own pace and preferences. We discovered the falls from various different but all impressively beautiful close-up perspectives: we went on a speed boat ride which took us near enough to the falls to get a thorough shower, a welcome cool-down; we hiked different trails in the park and looked down into the devils throat, the “garganta del diablo”.
The following day we went to see “Parque das Aves”, the bird park of Foz do Iguaçu, to see some toucans, flamingos, parrots and other feathery creatures. We used the rest of the day to stroll through town and expanding our list of “must-try” Brazilian typical snacks, the much loved “Salgados” and “Dulces”. Due to our exhaustion caused by the heat and all the rather sugar and grease loaded foods, we had to stop at every happy hour offering bar along the way back to our hostel. This helped to recharge our energy enough to make it back “home” eventually.
On our last day we reloaded our backpacks, stocked up on bananas, chocolate, cookies and water and boarded our bus to Buenos Aires. Argentina here we come!

When in Foz do Iguaçu
Where to sleep: Concept Design Hostel – a great backpacker choice with a nice add on: a free Caipi every night OR Viale Tower – a bit more luxurious: here you can enjoy your drinks in the pool on the 13th floor with a view over the whole town
Where to eat & drink: Bufalo Branco – no question, the best meats ever
What to see: The main sight really are the falls, but make sure to see them from both sides.

Here are some highlights captured during our stay in Foz do Iguaçu:

Ubatuba: picture-perfect beaches and lots of Pizza

Still marked badly from the blood-thirsty vampire mosquitoes of Ilhabela, but confident to survive any other mosquitoes thereafter, we arrived in Ubatuba.
We had decided to come here not only due to the city’s awesome name but also because it offers more than a 100 beaches, some of them among the best in Brazil. As our first day started out quite rainy, we decided to drive to Paraty, a nearby charming little city with a beautiful old town area full of historic buildings and souvenir shops. Some of these have a clear specialization: the famous local Cachaça of which they carry a myriad of different ones. When we had tasted and bought enough Cachaça the day brightened up and eventually even the sun came out a bit. Thus we decided to visit the magnificent beach of Trindade. Here people can stroll along the beach or relax in the “natural swimming pool” formed by the ocean.
By the time we got back to Ubatuba, we were full and satisfied with all the day’s impressions, but physically starving, so we opted for a local favorite: Pizza – and because we felt super hungry: Pizza Rodízio (all you can eat pizza).
The next day we decided to visit Cedro beach, a small beach strip located in the midst of the rainforest which made the list of the top beaches of Brazil. This is a hidden oasis, with a small restaurant and a tiny place renting out snorkeling and other water equipment.
On our last day we went to Vermelha beach, a popular surf spot in Ubatuba, which by the way is known as the “surf capital” of the region. Relaxed and tanned, almost like locals, we then made our way to the city’s bus terminal: After all São Paolo was already waiting to be explored.

When in Ubatuba:
Where to stay: Pousada Residencial Vista Mar – a great option for everybody who likes to wake up to breathtaking ocean views.
Where to eat and drink: Pizzaria Sao Paulo – we know: Ubatuba for sure has plenty of awesome restaurants but for some reason we always ended up with having Pizza (which is nothing to be ashamed of here – the locals LOVE pizza!). This place was our favourite though.
What to do off the beaten track: Cedro Beach – a swimming, snorkeling and stand-up paradise.

Here are some highlights captured during our stay in Ubatuba:

Waterfalls and vampire mosquitos on Ilhabela

When visiting Ilhabela our most treasured item was a family sized bottle of mosquito repellent. The mosquitoes on Ilhabela, called “borrachudos”, are one of the meanest in the world and will wound you bloodily like vampires – no kidding: you will bleed on Ilhabela. But as the saying goes: no pain no gain. Apart from those little beasts the beautiful and tropical paradise feeling starts as soon as you have put on a layer of sunscreen topped with one of mosquito repellent.
We spent two full days here: on the first we hiked the “Toca Waterfall Trail”, stopping to take a dip in each of the five river pools along the way. Later we visited Vila, the island’s main town, for the carnival parade which was most impressive for its though and persistent carnival actors who “sambad” their way through pouring rain. To round off our day we enjoyed a lovely calamari and Caipirinha midnight snack at Cheiro Verde, a restaurant favoured by many locals.
The next day, we went for another hike, this time to “Cachoeira da Laje”, a much frequented picknick spot, for locals as well as mosquitoes. More ambitious and tropical climate approved hikers can pimp this hike by continuing through the rainforest for three more hours and will be rewarded with the opportunity to recover at the breathtaking Bonete beach. On our way back we checked out some of the Southern beaches of the island which are the most loved ones by locals and Brazilian visitors but too well loved for our taste. Thus, we made our way back to other less crowded beach strips. When leaving Ilhabela behind the next day we got reminded by a super heavy shower that it is wise to keep the rainjacket on top of our backbacks and to have everything stored in a “rain-save” way. Well, lets say we learned our lesson AND our rain equipment was put to the test thoroughly. All clothes have dried by now, the mosquito wounds are still healing, but great memories were made to stay.

When on Ilhabela:
Where to stay: For all that prefer full hotel service, Guanumbis is a good option. An interesting alternative on Ilhabela can be Airbnb.
Where to drink & eat: Cheiro Verde – great seafood at fair prices and a locals’ favourite.
What to do: Cool down in the five pools of the “Toca Waterfall Trail”. But ALWAYS make sure to reapply mosquito repellent after every dip.

Here are some highlights captured during our visit on Ilhabela:

São Paulo – one of the greatest cities of all times

… probably though, only according to the number of inhabitants.

To be honest, São Paolo does not convince with looks and chances are not very high to fall in love with it at first sight. Therefore, it is not a common backpackers’ destination. However, it still came as a surprise to us that we were the only guests at the hostel we had booked. We have never experienced having a hostel all to ourselves, so for anybody eager to have that experience too, go try São Paolo.
But the city does offer some more reasons to visit: the Mercado Municipal was probably our favorite. Some trustworthy “Paolistas” (that’s how the locals are nicknamed) told us that it is pretty much obligatory to taste one of the famous and frighteningly mighty “Brazucas”. These prize-winning sandwiches are filled with a ridiculous amount of mortadella and are sold by the restaurants on the first floor overlooking the busy market hall. Patrick and I (that is Nicky in this case) shared one of them and could hardly walk afterwards. But this is efficient eating for sure: until late in the evening we did not feel the faintest bit of hunger. In order to recover from this feast, we layed down in the shades of Parque Ibirapuera. By the time we had digested it at least partly, we refreshed ourselves with a “Sorvete”, a fruity popsicle delivered to lazy park visitors by busy sellers carrying around their coolers throuh the park. In the shades of the trees of Parque Ibirapuera we almost forgot for a while that we where in the midst of a city, home to more than 12 million people!
Despite its lack of beauty during the day, São Paolo convinces with a myriad of restaurants, bars and night clubs to choose from. There are so many, it was a hard choice to pick one. But we ended up with a lucky pick, having dinner at Tomyam, a great Thai restaurant.
After one full day in São Paolo, however, we all were not unhappy to leave again to set out for our next destination: Foz do Iguaçu.

When in São Paulo:
Where to sleep: An adventurous backpacker’s option is the Sports Villa Hostel. And for those seeking more comfort and luxury, the Central Park Flat Jardins is a good choice.
Where to eat & drink: Tomyam – delicious Thai food in a stylish atmosphere.
Where to party: D-Edge – the place to be after midnight.
What to do: Mercado Municipal – an experience for all senses.

Here are some highlights captured during our city tour of São Paulo:

Summer heat and marvelous views in Rio de Janeiro

The first thing we did when arriving in Rio was to strip off our winter jackets: even at night it was about 30 degrees warmer than in Rome, where we had departured from. We spoiled ourselves with staying in a hotel right at the Copacabana.
Our first day in Rio was pronounced a lazy beach day on which we thoroughly compared the two most loved beaches of Rio: Copacabana and Ipanema. Our evaluation included various parameters: the beach itself, the color of the ocean, the waves, the views and of course the frequency of Caipirinha sellers asking if we needed a refill. We prefered Ipanema (just like most locals do) but we advise everyone to make his own judgment. The lazy beach day was perfectly rounded off with enjoying a marvelous sunset on Ipanema beach. People here love their sunsets and applaud the sun when it does a good job with coloring the sky in all shades of gold, red, orange and yellow. Trusting the advice of some locals, we set out to hike up the “Trilha Dois Irmãos” the next morning. In order to do so, we took a bus to Vidigal, but somehow ended up in Rocinha, one of the largest Favelas in Brazil. Luckily however, with a little help of some friendly Cariocas (as locals are called here), we made our way to Vidigal, where we switched to another local transport system: motor taxis. For R$5 which equals about €2, some guys provided us with a helmet and brought us up through the Favela to where the hike begins. My driver took me on a nice and relaxed sightseeing tour, trotting behind Lisa’s and Patrick’s fast and furious bikers. Eventually though, we all arrived and started our way up the path to the top. After 45 minutes, we could enjoy a stunning view over the “marvelous city”.
In the afternoon, we explored the charming districts Lapa and Santa Teresa where we had a typical Brazilian dinner, followed by a couple of typical Brazilian drinks. During the next days we got to enjoy some more stunning views from the Corvcovado and the Sugarloaf Mountain.
Another highlight was of course the “carnaval”. Despite that locals our age prefer carnival parties in Lapa to the famous parade in the Sambódromo, we had to go see this spectacle first hand. Thus we dressed up appropriately ridiculous and made our way there. For those who forget to buy tickets in advance, our advice is to team up with a local who knows whom to ask in some darker street in order to arrange some tickets at a fair black market price. The atmosphere in the Sambódromo was hypnothising, as were the costumes and passionate carnival dancers. We stayed at the Sambódromo till the break of dawn, and left only when we were exhausted enough from all the impressions and sambamoves to make sure we would sleep during most of the busride the next day. It took us to São Sebastiao, the port to Ilhabela.

When in Rio de Janeiro:
Where to sleep: Copacabana Sol Hotel – friendly staff, perfectly located and great breakfast.
Where to enjoy: Luciano Drinks at Ipanema beach – they make the sunset even more stunning.
Where to eat & drink: Bar do Minero in Santa Teresa for a typical dinner.
What to do in Rio off the beaten track: Hike to Trilha Dois Irmãos – an amazing view point that is definitely worth the effort.

Here are some highlights captured during our stay in Rio de Janeiro:

Exploring Rome

Our journey began with an overnight train ride from Innsbruck to Rome. To add some adventurous touch from the start, we opted for a regular cabin instead of a sleeping one. Nevertheless, time passed fast and soon we could enjoy a typical “Italian breakfast” with a really “grande capuccino” and a delicious “brioche con marmellata” but in a very unitalian way: sitting down, like only “people from the North” do, according to our hotel host Gianluca. Afterwards our discovery tour of Rome started. We explored the city only on foot, already in our South American hiking attire which attracted quite some suspicious glances from fashion-conscious Italians. No need to take the metro here: the real charm of Rome is found in all the tiny alley ways and there are a myriad of fascinating ruins found in between the main and most known sights.

When in Rome
Where to sleep: Yes Rome B&B – a great option for backpackers.
Where to eat & drink: An Italian coffee at La Casetta della Madonna dei Monti – a cozy place where great drinks and snacks meet Italian hospitality. Homemade pasta and pizza at Taverna de Pasquino – a wonderful restaurant for a typical Italian dinner.
What to do in Rome off the beaten track: Giardino degli Aranci – a fantastic place for a scenic view over the city.

Here are some highlights captured during our city tour of Rome: