So here we are, halfway into our fourth year of this around-the-world adventure and we find ourselves back in the US. But this journey isn’t over yet!
It’s been a fun romp around Latin America for the first half of 2017, exploring bucket-list destinations like Machu Picchu and the Galapagos. We love roaming around Latin America and have just calculated that we’ve now spent over 16 months throughout 16 different countries within this region. Yet it is once again time to move on.
Back in December 2016, we begun our fourth year of Roaming Around the World with a one-way ticket to Ecuador and no exact plans on where to go after that. We had actually ventured over to Ecuador with an intention to slow our travels. Yet that somehow turned into a grand Andean adventure, before we ultimately made a last-minute decision to return to Mexico for the fourth year in a row.
This post gives a little peek behind the scenes about how this year’s journey has evolved and where we’re excited to roam around next!
Our Andean Adventure & How Plans Progressed
We posted our last travel update back in March, as we were making the final preparations for our journey into the Amazon. It was an adventurous independent trip navigating down the Napo River (take a look back at our Amazon Adventure here), but we finally reached what is said to be the largest city in the world not connected by roads: Iquitos, Peru. We found Iquitos to be such a unique place in the world. This floating village was among the more interesting highlights.
We then took a quick flight to Lima, which connected us to Cusco. What a beautiful city! But, like many who make their way to this town, our main purpose was to use it as a staging ground to get to the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. We, of course, took the most adventurous route possible by embarking on the Jungle Trek!
(You can read our full Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu blog here.)
From there we had a horrible experience tackling Rainbow Mountain in the rain, before ultimately having a nice bus trip down the Andes towards Puno. That was our connection to Bolivia!
Onward to Bolivia
Reaching Bolivia marked the 63rd country we’ve now traveled to and it’s actually the only new-to-us country that we’ve visited all year! But it seems we may have picked a good one, as Bolivia really stunned and delighted. Our first stop: Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. We were impressed by the remote beauty of Isla del Sol, which made for a great intro to the country.
We continued by bus to Bolivia’s busy and bustling capital, La Paz. I’m not sure what we loved more here, (A) that the city uses cable cars as their public transportation system, or (B) that the busy intersections are filled with crossing guard zebras that help you get across the road. You decide. Here’s a video of each:
Yet the main reason why we stopped into La Paz was for the challenge of Death Road! Mountain biking down this treacherous road is one of the most extreme adventures around the world. But we did it …and survived!
(Our full post all about Death Road Bolivia is here.)
Next on our Bolivian itinerary was the humble mining town of Oruro. We stopped here mainly to use it as a transport connection to catch a Southbound train. But our day here turned out to be a pleasant surprise in experiencing a local Bolivian town.
Our final destination in Bolivia was Uyuni, to check out the famed salt flats. Wow, wow, wow! This 3-day off-road trip far surpassed any expectations we had and was so much more than just the salt flats themselves. That’s next on my list of things-to-blog about. So expect a detailed article, video, and loads of pictures of all the incredible landscapes we found there. But to sum it up in one word: amazing.
Returning to Argentina
We had spent over a month roaming around Argentina back in 2015 and were excited for a brief return. Although this time we were exploring its Northern fringes that we’ve never been to before. This is cowboy country and the area also boasts some incredible landscapes.
But this part of Argentina is also home to a wine region. We took advantage of that, renting bikes to visit as many vineyards as we could, while doing plenty of sampling along the way. The town of Cafayate made for a great place to stop and
drink relax for a few days after coming off of a busy travel itinerary.
This Is Where Our Plans Changed
This brings us to mid-April and we would need to be back in the US about two months later (now) to attend a friend’s wedding. We thought we had the perfect plan: there was a 16-day repositioning cruise from Valparaiso, Chile to San Francisco, USA that we had been keenly watching. If you’ve been following our blog for a while, then you know that we love to take advantage of those last minute repositioning cruise deals that transit one continent to another. It gives us the opportunity to relax in luxury for a few weeks for what amounts to a crazy bargain that’s usually even cheaper than a coach flight.
But things weren’t lining up perfectly for us to embark on this cruise from Chile. First of all, Heather actually just started a new online job. It was a job she had applied for a long time ago while we were slowing our travels. Then all of a sudden, right in the middle of our Andes adventure, they emailed her and said “you’re hired” and we need you to start tomorrow! The timing was horrible, but we couldn’t let this opportunity slip by. We need additional income sources in order to continue our travel, so a part-time online job with flexible hours is something she couldn’t ignore, no matter how inconvenient the timing. The position requires being online for 4-5 hours per day, which would be nearly impossible to maintain on a 16-day cruise. Wifi on ships tend to be extremely slow, spotty, and crazy expensive.
Also the cruise we were looking at never dropped in price as much as we had hoped. It did get down to about $1,000, which is still a heck of a deal for a 16-night cruise, but the gratuities and some really hefty port taxes would raise the actual price closer to $2K per person. Paying $4,000 for a lux lift back to the US was simply too hard for us to swallow, particularly since most of the stops along the way were South & Central American ports we’ve already been to before. We had our hearts set on taking this cruise, but sometimes you gotta know when to pull the plug. It was time. For us, if we are able to find flights that are cheaper than the cruise, than that significantly undermines the value that a repositioning cruise can otherwise deliver on.
We started looking at other options, but eventually the cruise sold out! So that made the decision for us. That is the very real risk you run by waiting until the last-minute to get a good deal. Prices often drop way lower, but they also can go up, or sell out entirely. It’s always a gamble.
So we now needed to completely abandon our cruise dreams and begin scouting out affordable flight options. Anyone who has flown to the Southern half of South America, knows that those flight routes are not cheap. Typically you’re looking in the ballpark of about $1,000 USD between the US and anywhere South of the Amazon.
As we scrambled to find an alternative plans, all signs pointed us back to Mexico. We had been craving tacos, Cinco de Mayo was approaching, and perhaps most importantly, we were able to find a $200 flight that went all the way from Lima, Peru to Mexico City, which was still available even a week before the flight departed. Such a flight and price is almost unheard of for the 6-hour intercontinental trip.
Additionally, we had always wanted to explore the colonial towns of the Mexico’s Central Highlands. When we roamed around Mexico last year, we had initially planned to visit that region but ultimately ran out of time. It left a lingering curiosity that needed to be fulfilled. This would be our chance. I had been eyeing the colorful town of Guanajuato and found a perfect place to settle down for a month. We need good wifi to survive with our online jobs, which we were not finding in South America. But this place in Guanajuato had a blazing fast connection, and the price was right. We simply had to book that flight and quickly grew excited for our shifted plans to return to Mexico!
The only hiccup in that plan was that Northern Argentina is quite the distance from Lima. It’s a 3,500-kilometer trip (over 2,000 miles). For perspective, that’s about the same distance as driving from Chicago to San Francisco! Flights were crazy expensive, so we would need to cover this distance by public buses within a week’s time. And so this is the point in our Southbound journey that came to an end. We instead made a big U-turn to travel Northbound back up towards Lima.
Our Plans Changed Yet Again
With one week remaining in South America, we had a lot of ground to cover on our way back to Lima. But we found a great route through Chile. Utilizing comfortable overnight buses would even allow us a few days to explore in some of the destinations we would be passing through. We were most excited about exploring the high altitude Atacama Desert in Chile. This is an exotic location we’ve always wanted to travel to. But Mother Nature had other plans in store for us.
We departed at 1:00 am for the overnight bus ride from Salta, Argentina to the border of Chile, an 8-hour trip. After a beautiful sunrise over the high Andes, we reached the border and discovered that it was closed due to a snowstorm. We waited. And waited. And waited. Until the bus driver finally decided to turn around and bring us all right back to where we had started, a full 24 hours earlier. Very frustrating. And so our Chile plans vanished right before our eyes.
There was no way into Chile unless we were to have waited a few days for the border to only “maybe” open back up again. We couldn’t gamble on that. We needed to make progress North on that 3,500-kilometer journey back to Lima or else we would jeopardize missing the flight we booked to Mexico.
And so this sent us on one of the longest and miserable series of bus rides of our travels.
Argentina has some of the nicest buses in the world. Some buses are almost as comfy as a first class airline seat. In Argentina, we’ve ridden buses with leather seats, full recline, seat back TVs, and even stewardess who bring you wine. But the only buses available for our revised route, unexpectedly back across Bolivia were completely another story.
It was midday when we boarded our first 2nd-class bus, so we didn’t realize these buses were not climate controlled. We hadn’t prepared our clothes properly and most of our cold-weather gear was stowed underneath.
Meanwhile all the Bolivians we were traveling with were boarding with layers upon layers, and stacks of thick blankets to help them survive the frigid night ahead. They were all fully prepared to cross the Andes under the cloak of darkness. The bus did not have any heat at all, leaving us literally shivering in the middle of the night during the sub-zero temps. In an effort to stay warm we embraced each other, rubbed our hands together, and wore our small backpacks around our bodies in attempts to trap what little body heat we had. It was horrible and absolutely zero sleeping took place. We were borderline hypothermic.
Thankfully the baby in front of us that peed all over our legs momentarily provided some added warmth. But it soon froze up. I finally found a hole in my seat cushion, which I expanded, to try and keep my wet feet warm. These series of buses lasted nearly 3 full days without a break. It was all a major low point for our trip. Uggghhh. The things we do for travel. We couldn’t wait to get to Mexico, but we had a few more stops along the way.
Back to Peru
We finally arrived safely to the town of Arequipa, which was such a pleasant reprieve from the previous few days of hell on wheels. Arequipa was yet another beautiful colonial town in Peru, and one that we initially had no intentions of visiting.
But we really we were excited to add the nearby Colca Canyon to our South America itinerary. At 3,270-meters (about 2 miles) deep, this is one of the deepest canyons in the world – twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! The massive crack in the earth was impressive. But it was the majestic condors, one of the largest birds in the world, soaring through the canyon that really impressed us!
We then had a final 18-hour bus ride to Lima, which was a peace of cake, compared to our previous journey. It was in Lima that we filled up our bellies with one last bowl of the country’s delicious ceviche. Then it was time to catch our flight back to North America!
Roaming Around Mexico
We really enjoyed our Andes adventure, yet there was something comforting about being back in Mexico. Those rough bus trips and some of those adventure travel stints had worn us out a little. So it was nice to be able to unwind in a familiar setting, despite being in completely new-to-us locations. Mexico was exactly what we needed.
We decided to book a month-long stay in the colonial town of Guanajuato. What a colorful city! It seems like there’s something always going on here, so it made for a fun and festive place to relax while catching up on work for the month of May. We’ll be writing more soon about all the things to do in Guanajuato.
From there, we decided to check out some of the other cities within the area. We first ventured to postcard-perfect city of San Miguel de Allende. Sure, the city is undoubtedly beautiful, but what really stuck out to us was the food there! We may even dare say that SMA has some of the best restaurants in all of Mexico.
We then ventured over to the expat haven of Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala. What a beautiful, easy, and relaxing place to hang out for a few days!
Our final destination brought us to Guadalajara, which we had initially planned to simply fly out of. But once we started seeing all there is to do there, we had to plan to stay for a few days. And we were so glad we did. Guadalajara was a pleasant surprise for us and we’re going to try to write more about it in an upcoming post.
Now roaming around #Guadalajara! We initially only planned for a brief stop into Mexico's 2nd largest metropolis simply because we have a flight to catch here. But then we started researching how awesome this place is and decided to explore it for 4 full days! First on the list is wandering around the historic city center. Off to explore more!
Where We’re Roaming Around Next!
First we’re planning to spend a little time back here in the US-of-A visiting friends & family. Our main motivation for returning now is to attend a good friend’s wedding, yet it’s always nice for us to linger for a while. But you know we can’t sit still for long! We already have a 5-state road trip planned later this month.
That brings us into July where we’re excited to celebrate Independence Day in the US for the first time since 2013!
By mid-September we have another wedding to attend in the US, this time in the Midwestern state of Indiana. So we were trying to figure out what to do with ourselves for 2.5 months without straying too far.
We had contemplated returning to Mexico. But as much as we love Mexico, we find that we keep on going back there as a crutch. Plus it’s gonna be hot, hot, hot over the summer. We want something new, a place with mild temps, and not too far from all these weddings in the US. And Heather really wants to see a moose in the wild.
That’s when we started pondering about our neighbors to the North. We questioned whether our budget travel ways would be able to support a decent standard of travel there. But after some researching, it was settled.
This summer, we are thrilled to be roaming around Canada!
Where We’ll Be Roaming Around Canada
Our Canadian summer is going to begin in the Maritime provinces!
In early July, we’ll be flying to Halifax, Nova Scotia! That’ll be our base for a month. From there, we’re planning a one-week road trip to explore Cape Breton Island and Prince Edward Island. Coastal hiking, kayaking, Celtic culture, vineyards, brewpubs, lobsters, and oysters are awaiting our arrival.
From there, we’ll be riding the rails through New Brunswick and into Quebec. We’ll be roaming around historic Quebec City for a few days before settling in our next temporary base.
That’s when we’ll be positioning ourselves in Montreal for an entire month to experience the French-Canadian culture and to finish out the summer festivals popping up in this lively city.
From there, we’re be embarking on our third and final road trip of the summer by venturing into Ontario. We’re still working out all the details on our exact route there, but our main focus is exploring Algonquin Provincial Park. If Heather hasn’t seen a moose yet by this point, we’re not leaving Algonquin until that happens.
We know that we have some lovely Canadian readers and perhaps even more people who have traveled through these areas. So if you have any recommendations for us throughout Eastern Canada, we’d love to hear from you! Our itinerary is fairly set at this point, but we’re still working out all the details of exactly what we’re doing in each of the exciting destinations we’re passing through. So please drop us a comment with any “must-do” activities, as well as places to eat and drink! 😉
Why Canada, Why Now?
It wasn’t obvious for us at first, but Canada is kind of the perfect place for us to spend the summer without straying too far. We’ve been to Canada many times before beginning our nomadic ways, but have only visited Ontario. Yet as the second largest country in the world, there’s a lot more to explore than this one province!
Plus, 2017 is Canada’s 150th anniversary. So what better time to explore the country! There are celebrations occurring all throughout Canada this summer to mark the occasion.
Yet perhaps one of the best perks traveling through the country during “Canada 150” is they are giving the gift of Parks Canada Discovery Passes! This is a free annual pass that is good for entry into all of Canada’s National Parks and Historic Sites. And this giveaway is for anyone who wants one. Really! All you have to do is complete this form, and they’ll send you a pass in the mail. So cool! We’ve got ours!
Thank you Canada!
We already have over a half-dozen Canadian National Parks on our list to visit this summer. So this free pass will certainly help us to keep within budget.
Speaking of which, we had initially thought that Canada may be too costly for us to linger there for nearly a quarter of the year, but we’re finding ways to make our journey throughout the country surprisingly affordable. And Eastern Canada seems to be particularly full of value! First, there’s all the free National Parks. We’ve scouted out seafood feasts for under $10. And we’ve even scored a great looking one-bedroom monthly apartment rental for $700, and it’s in one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Montreal. Sure, it’ll be nowhere close to our low cost of living in Mexico. Yet we’ve been pleasantly surprised to see what we can afford North of the border.
We’ll be sure to share all of our value finds along the way, here on the blog and on social media. As most of you already know, we’re most active on Facebook, so make sure you’re following our Facebook Page for regular updates.
Where To After Canada?
Our Canadian agenda brings us into mid-September. We have absolutely no plans booked after that, but we do most certainly have some crazy ideas swirling through our heads.
These days, we’re making major travel decisions a few months in advance. So we’ll be spending the next couple of months deciding on whether or not we’re going to act on those crazy plans. If we do pull the trigger, it will undoubtedly be our biggest adventure yet!
But we’re not fully committed at this point, so we don’t want to speak too soon. We really need to assess our mental & financial stamina before making this decision to potentially move forward. Yet I am giddy at the thought of what a Year #5 of Roaming Around the World could potentially look like for us.
Until then, happy travels this summer to you all! Cheers!
-John & Heather, Roaming Around the World