The road trip to Bolivia: an experience like no other

The three-day Jeep tour from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia was hands down one of the best experiences of my life. Ever.

The company; the surroundings; the locals; the adventure.

I’d highly, highly recommend if you need to get from Point A to Point B – don’t fly, don’t take the bus. Take a Jeep. But, of course, choose a reputable tour with a good safety record.  (I’ve actually forgotten what agency we went with but I’ll pop it in here if/when I remember.)

On the way we passed Laguna Colorada, Laguna Misteriosa, Laguna Verde … lagoons so clear, lagoons full of thousands of flamingos. I know I’ve said it before but I’d never experienced anything like this before. Forget the lack of wifi, plumbing (take two rolls of toilet paper everywhere). None of it matters when this is what you’re looking at.

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We got to dine with the locals, watch football with them (something they take very, very seriously). The experience was very humbling. Everybody welcomed us with open arms and did the best to make us feel comfortable, despite the language barrier.

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We stayed in this salt hotel on our last night, before seeing the salt flats. I can’t say whether I was any more relaxed because of the nature of the hotel (or if I was just really tired), but it was undoubtedly cool. I mean, look at those bricks of salt! The beds are also made of them – for real.

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And here’s something I’d been dreaming of experiencing for years: Salar de Uyuni. The world’s largest salt flats.

We woke up at the break of dawn to experience the sunrise and it was just incredible. There was nobody else in sight (which was slightly scary when our guide had to leave us for an hour or so). Just 10,000 square kilometres of salt. And no, I did not try any.

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And, one of the last stops: Isla Incahuasi. More hiking was involved (it’s actually easier to name activities that don’t involve this).

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What to do in the Atacama Desert

To start off, let me just say, you don’t have to pre-book any of this.

Most of the time your hostel or hotel will have deals with tour operators so you’ll save some dollars if you just buy your tickets when you get there. There are so many companies, they’re competitive, and very frequent.

The weather varies out here in San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in the world, so a few things I recommend if you’re thinking of heading out this way:

  • Sunscreen
  • Rain jacket
  • Insect repellent
  • Torch
  • A rich moisturiser
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Portable phone charger if you’re into your tech (it gets so cold at some of these places that devices will just switch off)

I’m not actually joking, you can go from wearing two layers, to eight, to six, within the span of a few hours. It’s ridiculous. So pack in layers. And pack multiple items because they’re bound to get wet/dirty pretty darn quickly. Or, bring a bar of soap and be ready to handwash everything.

Anywho, without further adieu, here are some of my recs:

Moon Valley

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It’s just absolutely stunning. The Valle de la Luna is out of this world – on this tour you’ll get to explore the landscape, explore caves and crevices. One second you’ll be walking along rocky terrain, the next you’re slugging it up sand dunes.

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Be prepared for it to go from hot to cold just like that *snaps fingers*. Also ready to take some stunning panoramic photographs.

The Lagunas

Lagunas Miscanti y Miniques are, again, absolutely breathtaking (apologies – I’m going to run out of these adjectives soon, but honestly, everything here is sublime). Just look at these photos! The water, so crisp, the sky, so clear.

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Piedras Rojas

Okay, I can’t say this was my favouriteeeee tour, mainly because our tour bus broke down in the middle of the road and we had to wait outside in the freezing, roaring, chilly wind until a replacement came. I’d never felt cold like that day. It was horrendous.

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But again, just look at Mother Nature. And the flamingos!

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Geyser del Tatio

Okay, it may stink a little, but the whole thing is pretty damn cool. Just tons and tons of geysers.

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Cycling and Hiking in the desert

I’m not sure if there’s a specific name for this tour, but it was organised by one of the guys at our hostel. And let me tell you it was arduous. It was tiring. But it was all so worth it.

It involved a 15km hike, which featured a little dip in a nearby waterfall – again with the layers thing (I wore a swimsuit underneath some thermals, along with activewear). Then, a 35km ride through the desert. Oh boy was it tough. There was so much cycling on this trip and, of course, to accompany that, a lot of hilly terrain. A must-do – it really makes you appreciate nature and I guess, at the same time, contemplate your mortality as you’re dying for breath.

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Catching a little sun on Hamilton Island

IMG_9676  IMG_9684Apologies – I’ve been a bit slow at updating these photos, but I’m sure you’re already sick of seeing them all over Instagram. Another quality break thanks to Jetstar and their regular sales. We stayed at my boyfriend’s sister’s place and honestly had the best time.

A buggy all to ourself and an island to explore, we started to fall into a routine by the third day: wake up, drive to a watering hole, have a cocktail for breakfast, lounge in the sun. Sleep and repeat.

The food on the island is expensive and pretty bland to be honest, but let’s be honest, you don’t go to Hamilton Island for the food. No it’s for the massages and the swim-up bars and the crystal blue sea.

Some lookout spots I do recommend are One Tree Hill (we saw a beautiful sunset here the first night) and the top of Passage Peak – but be warned, it can get very, very sweaty.

Tasmania: Away from the mainland

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Wow, Tasmania is one beautiful state. Definitely more green and more lush than NSW, that’s for sure. I’ve made it my mission for a while now to visit as many Australian capital cities as I can (though struggling to come up with a reason to go to Perth).

But Hobart itself is a little eh. I mean it’s great if you’re there for a weekend, but any more days and you’re out of activities to do. I wanted to go around Christmas time specifically to get a glimpse of this terribly awesome Christmas tree at Salamanca square. It cost $35,000 and was billed as “modern” and “trendy”. Don’t think I’d use those words … “random” is more like it.

Though to say I didn’t enjoy my time in Tassie isn’t entirely correct. I loved the ferry ride to MONA. And the museum itself was original and again, random. This state really has a knack for randomness. The vagina soaps, the poo room … strange … but interesting.

The seafood was also amazing. We ate at the Drunken Admiral, which I highly recommend. The oysters are A+. For breakfast, you can’t go past Pigeon Hole – they specialise in baked eggs. They’re phenomenal. I had the baked eggs special (they have other variants on their normal menu but this was a special concoction). It had chilli, it had spice and the eggs were perfectly gooey. Again, five stars.

We stayed at the Mantra Collins, which was a pretty central location. It was easy to walk everywhere – to the wharf, to cafes, to dinner. But then again the city is so small that I think you can pretty much walk anywhere if you’re determined enough.

Where to eat in New York City

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And here it is – finally! A post dedicated entirely to what I ate during my time in New York City. Em and I ate and drank at about 60 different places in four weeks. I kept a detailed list on my phone to make sure this was documented accurately because, you know, food is life.

Before flying out we had a Google Doc with about two pages dedicated to cafes, restaurants and bars to check out – most of them recommended by friends and the Internet. Of course every now and then we’d stray off course and turn to trusty Google Maps (“a good Italian place with 4 stars or more within walking distance”) or Instagram (#nyceats).

I don’t know how to accurately compare food in NYC to food in Sydney because we did edit our list quite well but overall, food in New York = bigger portions (oh my god), generally more bad for you, more experimental. Continue reading

What to do when you’re in Boston (which is kind of like Melbourne in a way)

I didn’t take any photos on my DSLR during my time in Boston – oopsies. But that’s mainly because there is so much going on in the city, so much history, I didn’t even know where to start. So I just decided to take whatever I could on my phone and take each sight as it comes. Did you know Boston, Massachusetts (gee that’s a hard word to spell!), is one of America’s oldest cities and the home of several key events in the American Revolution? Like I said in my DC post: I know nothing of American history. So discovering all this was just fascinating.

Also like in DC, we stayed at the Hostel International, which is centrally located in Chinatown. It’s a bit funkier and modern than its Washington counterpart. There are more rooms and instead of communal showers there’s individual bathrooms – about 15 per floor. The hostel held a number of tours and pub crawls which was super helpful. As I said Boston is home to a lot of American history and one of Boston’s top tourist attractions, the Freedom Trail, is a great way to learn about it. A red brick road carved into the pavements of Boston and passes through about 16 significant sights, from Boston Common to Paul Revere House. You can actually do this as a part of a walking tour and I highly recommend it. There’s two options: north to south and south to north, so 50-50. You can choose to do both or finish the second half of the tour by yourself. The great part about the tour is that the guide is dressed in contemporary costume – whether as a loyalist or a patriot. It’s fantastic. They’re super knowledgable and make the experience very fun. We decided to do the second half of the tour by ourselves, resorting to the Internet every time we approached the next sight and it just wasn’t the same.

The tour that I did ended at Fanueil Hall, where the delicious Quincy Market is located. Everything from cobbler to Mac ‘n Cheese to fancy apple toffee, it’s a great place to grab lunch and I believe it’s open every day.

Of course when you’re in Boston I’d recommend checking out Harvard University (which is actually pretty underwhelming) and MIT. I left with more collegiate souvenirs than I had anticipated but whatevs. While in the area I’d highly recommend grabbing lunch at Alden and Harlow – the menu is fantastic with an emphasis on pork. It’s relatively cheap with mains going for $10-$20 and you should also definitely order the cold brew.

And while we’re on the topic of food, here are my other food recommendations for whenever you’re in Boston, sister city to Melbourne:

  • Sam La Grassa’s (44 Province St)
  • Pho Pasteur (682 Washington St)
  • The Salty Pig (130 Dartmouth St)
  • Abby Lane (253 Tremont St)

If you’re hoping to fit in a lot of shopping while you’re here the best bet would be Newbury St which is home to all your typical high street shops and boutiques.

Generally there’s not a lot of nightlife to Boston – it feels very suburban. If you’re looking to head out to a club or bar you need to bring your passport because a driver’s license just won’t cut it. There are a lot of comedy shows though so you best check what’s on before you head out.

Other highlights of the trip include the Fenway Park tour. I don’t know a whole lot about baseball (damn am I Jon Snow or do I just not know anything), but found it very interesting. We somehow booked just when the Red Socks were playing their away games.

I’d probably recommend about four days to do Boston. It’s probably nicer if you’re a bit older but tbh there’s not a whole of things to do.

Having a splash at Niagara Falls

If you ever decide to do Niagara Falls, definitely head to the Canadian side.

Niagara Falls is without a doubt one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. I feel like I accomplished something by simply staring at it.

To be completely honest there’s not a whole lot of things to do in Niagara Falls the city except visit Niagara Falls the attraction. I mean there’s two casinos, a theme park of some kind and about three IHOPs. Aaaaaaand that’s it. You can easily just do it all in a day but I’d recommend two so that you get to see the Falls both during the day and at night (with the light show!).

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The one thing you’d have to do though is the Hornblower Cruise (the Canadian version of the American side’s Maid of the Mist). You get to wear a super sexy red rain poncho as the ferry takes you by the gushing waterfalls. It’s such an amazing experience – I promise you #noragrets.

In terms of accommodation all of the hotels are more or less the same (unless you’re a Hilton/Four Seasons kind of person). They’re all on the main road and within walking distance of the Falls/two casinos/sort-of theme park.

I’m going to end this post with a fun fact: the first person to ever survive going over the falls was 63-year-old Annie Edson Taylor in a barrel. Yep.