I bought a one-way ticket to Ecuador in February 2013, and immediately realised that I wanted to spend a significant amount of time exploring the continent.
After vowing to myself that I could only leave South America when I was fluent in Spanish, I embarked on an eighteen month adventure through the following countries…
My first stop in South America was Cuenca, where I lived with a host family for five months teaching English. There were numerous weekend trips to places close by – Montañita, Vilcabamba and Gualaceo to name a few – but most of the time was spent in Cuenca’s crazy middle-class world of horse rodeos, fireworks in the school playground and dancing at the local nightclub inside a plane.
Ecuador’s a weird place.
To hear more about my Ecuadorian volunteering, check out:
For most people, the Galapagos islands are a once-in-a-lifetime destination. Except for me – because somehow I managed to visit TWICE.
Turns out it’s not as expensive as you’d think, if you do a little forward planning and employ some savvy tricks to get the best deals!
For some guides to Galapagos travel, check out:
Peru was a place filled with bizarre situations. From an unexpectedly dramatic three-day Machu Picchu hike to a motorway covered in striking fishermen, I could never predict what Peru was going to throw my way.
And let’s not forget the Valentine’s Day where I came down with the worst sunburn of my life.
For some of my favourite Peru stories, check out:
Ah, Colombia – my home from home. I ended up travelling through Colombia three times, working in all kind of capacities.
My favourite job was being a newspaper journalist in the once drug-fuelled city of Medellin, but I also volunteered at a community centre in the barrios, slept in a giant hammock, took Spanish classes, moved in with a Colombian stranger for a while, and drank a LOT of coffee.
To see some stunning Colombian scenery, check out:
My time in Brazil was manic, to say the least. I visited my cousin who lives on a mountaintop in the middle of the jungle (obviously) and ended up living in a tent for two weeks to help build her community project, before jetting into the madness of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
For more Brazilian travel tales, check out:
In Bolivia, I spent a month volunteering at an artificial limb clinic and took part in a San Pedro ceremony before moving to Sucre for a new stint as a librarian in a tiny rural village with no running water.
I also met a guy, and suddenly my travel plans changed somewhat…
To see my version of bizarre Bolivia, check out:
Although not technically in South America, my month of travels through Cuba felt just as Latino and Spanish-fuelled as the rest of the continent. I journeyed through Havana, Viñales, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara, my eyes widening with each new city and every Che reference.
Spoiler: there are a LOT of the latter.