With so many countries and different places to explore in Latin America, planning a travel itinerary is not always a straight forward business. The more you read about the region, the more you realize how spoilt for choice you are regarding places to visit.
To provide you with some ideas on possible routes through Latin America, as well as a few tips about where the must-visit areas are, we have developed this interview series in which we discuss real life travel experiences with recent visitors to Latin America.
This week, LatinTravelGuide.com caught up with Saam Ali – a UK backpacker, travel writer and founder of moneypigz.com – to discuss the highs and lows of his 11-month trip round South America.
Latin Travel Guide (LTG): Saam, many thanks for joining us today. Would you like to start by telling us why you first decided to go backpacking, and what it was that led you to choose to visit Latin America specifically?
Saam Ali (SA): It had always been a dream of mine to go on a long backpacking trip, but after finishing university I’d gone straight into working life and so never really had the opportunity. After doing that for a few years, and not necessarily having the best time at my job, I decided it was time to get away.
I looked into a few different travel destinations, but eventually opted for South America as it seemed a bit different from places like Thailand and Australia where many of my friends had gone. I’d also previously had quite a lot of contact with Spain and already knew that I was really into the Latin lifestyle and culture. From what I had read and heard, South America also seemed to have plenty of opportunities for trekking and other fun outdoor activities, which was something I was really excited about.
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LTG: Talk us through your travel itinerary. How long were you away for and where did you go?
SA:It really was the trip of a lifetime and I think it took me about 11 months to complete. My aim from the very beginning was to work my way from the northern most point of the continent, right down to the very southern tip. Beyond that, I’d not really planned that much and just made plans along the way according to what people recommended to me.
My aim was to work my way from the northern tip of South America, right down to the very south. Beyond that, I’d not really planned much
I started my trip by flying into Bogota, Colombia, but I didn’t stay there too long before moving across to the city of Medellin, where I went to study Spanish for a while. From Medellin, I went straight up to the Cartagena in the north, touring along the length of the Caribbean coast until I reached La Guajira province, which borders with Venezuela. After reaching my goal of getting to the top of the continent, in Punto Gallinas, I headed down to San Gil, then back to Bogota on to Ecuador.
I traveled through Ecuador relatively quickly, but spent a bit more of an extended period in Peru. Afterwards, I went through Bolivia, Chile and down to the Ushuaia region in the south of Argentina. Finally, I made my way back up through Argentina via Patagonia, then onto Buenos Aires, along the Uruguayan coast and into southern Brazil, where I caught my plane out of the region.
LTG: You clearly visited a large number of sites during your trip. Were there any attractions or places you missed, which you now wished you’d had time to visit?
SA: To be honest, not really. I didn’t travel that much through Brazil, but that was kind of deliberate. Brazil is like a whole continent all by itself so I wanted to save exploring it properly for another trip. Aside from that, I was just really lucky to be able to experience pretty much all the major highlights of South America. Honestly, it was an itinerary to die for.
Honestly, it was an itinerary to die for
LTG: Of all the places that you visited, where was your favorite and why?
SA: That’s a tough question because I really did see and so many amazing things! So much so that by the time I reached the really big tourist attractions, like Macha Picchu in Peru, they didn’t even seem anything that spectacular anymore because I’d spent months seeing incredible stuff every day. Out of those, there were still some definite highlights for me, which I’d say included: climbing up to 5,800m in the Andean mountains; seeing the sun rise over the Paramount pictures mountain; and spending some time with the Wayuu people in La Guajira.
Scenery wise, my favorite place has to be Torres del Paine, a national park in Chile, where I did a 100km trek
Scenery wise, my favorite place has to be Torres del Paine, a national park in Chile. I did a 100km trek there over five days and it was honestly breath-taking. One time which particularly stands out in my mind is when I left my tent one night and happened to gaze up at the stars…It was absolutely amazing. We were about 50 miles away from the nearest source of artificial light so you could see just about everything in the night sky. It was completely lit-up: just full of billions of stars, and all sorts of different colors. It’s difficult to describe how amazing the sensation was, but it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I think about it now.
LTG: One subject that we get a lot of questions about from our readers is the cost of these sorts of trips. What was your rough daily budget and did you find that this was enough to pay for all the activities you wanted?
SA: I think the trip cost me around about £1,000 (USD 1,400) a month, including flights, activities, food and accommodation. I stayed mainly in cheap places, like hostels or with couch surfing places, as I wanted to keep most of my money for activities. On the budget I had, I was able to do a load of different things, like several mountain treks, jeep safaris, scuba diving training, motor biking etc. The money goes a long way when you’re travelling; you can live very comfortably on a £1,000 a month.
LTG: And did you work while you traveled or did you fund it all from your savings?
SA: I worked hard and saved a lot before I left to make sure I had enough to cover all the things I wanted to. But towards the end of the trip I did start to think about how I wanted to be doing something a bit more productive and how I didn’t want to return to the UK completely broke. I considered the idea of teaching English, but that didn’t really make much sense with all the moving about I was doing. I also had my travel blog which was getting some traffic, but not enough to start making money.
I had more success with ‘matched betting’, which I was doing for about couple of hours a week and making about £50 or so each time. It was actually doing this that first got me thinking about helping others to do this – it is a bit of a complicated technique and information about offers was hard to find back then – and this eventually led me to co-found our matched betting company on my return home. That was a great, and unexpected bonus, of the whole travelling experience.
LTG: Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to others planning on a trip to the region?
SA: My main advice for those going to South America is to definitely make an effort to learn the language. This is one thing which I put a bit of time into right at the beginning of my trip and it definitely paid off. It made it so much easier to interact and mix in with the locals and learn much more about Latin culture. That enabled me to get so much more out of the whole experience than I would have done if I was just hanging out with other foreigners the whole time. It was a huge asset and really helped me to get the very most out of my time away.