Written By Hayden Carlyon
Also published at www.austintoargentina.travellerspoint.com
My favorite spot in Mexico was Puerto Escondido. A busy little surf beach on the southern west coast with a good selection of accommodation, great food, happy hour drink specials and a good vibe. If you stick to the over priced toll roads the drive across Mexico is pretty easy. There are three main routes through Mexico, the West coast/Pacific Highway, the Central Route through Mexico City, and the Atlantic Coast. To be honest the pacific coast highway route that I took although nice was not as picturesque as I had hoped. The roads were windy and very few of them actually went along the coast. Most of the time was spent a few miles from the coast on roads with very repetitive scenery and loads of speed bumps.
Rio was my favorite place in Brazil. With its incredible setting, beautiful beaches and great nightlife it’s definitely worth spending a few days there. Florianoplis is also really nice, a beautiful island packed with great beaches. Lencois is a nice place for a change of pace. Plenty of hiking do, rivers, waterfalls caves etc and if you have a car you won't need to pay for the tours. Iguacu Falls. Definitely worth spending a day or two in this area. The falls on both sides, (Brazil and Argentina) are worth checking out but if your short of time you could probably skip the Brazilian side. The bird park across from the Brazilian side of the falls is also really cool. You can park there for free instead of paying the $12 at the Iguacu falls parking lot across the road.
Is really beautiful and a nice change of pace from Nicaragua. It's clean, has a good infrastructure and it's safe. It’s very Americanized too, so you can find all the comforts of home there. With good food, reasonable accommodation, beautiful beaches, beautiful women and a wide diversity of wildlife, it was probably my favorite country of the trip. Most of the west and the east coast beaches are really nice. In the west Playa Hermosa is a very relaxed little spot. Cahuita on the east coast was also really nice. The beach and surrounding areas are a protected national reserve and there are loads of animals in the jungle lining the beach. There are also a few decent bars and some great restaurants. If you saw Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala you will be disappointed with the Arenal Volcano but the lake next to it is nice.
Buenos Aires is a really nice city, it is easy to drive around, there is plenty of cheap accommodation, loads of great restaurants, bars and clubs. There are lots of markets scattered around the city on the weekends, also check out the Recoleta Cemetery if you get a chance. The drivers in Argentina are crazy so be careful. Fill up with gas before you cross the border it is a lot cheaper to buy gas in Argentina than it is in Uruguay. Beware, the Argentinian Police they are Super Dodgy.
Honduras and Nicaragua:
We didn’t see a lot of Honduras but Rotan was great, beautiful beaches, great snorkeling, fantastic diving and some great restaurants. The west bay is the most affordable area to stay in and if you like Mexican food the Cannibal Café is the place to go, definitely some of the best Mexican food of the trip. The drivers in Honduras a terrible so watch out. Nicaragua: As with Honduras we didn’t spend long here either. Nicaragua was my least favorite country of the trip. Granada was ok and I hear Ometepe is nice, the island with the twin volcanoes in the middle of lake Nicaragua.
Guatemala was one of the pleasant surprises of the trip. Before visiting it i didn't know a lot about the country, but there we definitely some great little towns and plenty of things to do, not to mention the fact that travel there is pretty cheap. Xela was a great little town and so was Antigua, but I suggest you spend as little time as possible in Guatemala city, its probably the most dangerous city that we encountered on the whole trip. If you do visit Xela (Quetzaltenango) make sure you have breakfast at the Black Cat Hostel near the town square, the guacamole omelets are unreal. It is definitely a great place to stay, if you need directions it is listed in most of the latest guide books. Definitely check out Antigua, it’s a really cool town with lots of old colonial buildings, bars and some great restaurants. A lot of people from Guatemala City go there for the weekends so it can be quiet busy but it still has a great vibe. Also make sure you take a tour to the Pacaya Volcano its well worth it, Being able to get so close to the lava made for a pretty unique experience being able to get so close to the lava made for a pretty unique experience.and for us one of the highlights of the trip.
Panama and Columbia:
It was all business for us and we drove straight to Panama City. The roads were excellent and being able to drive over 100kmph was a relief. Panama City is the nicest big city in Central America and a good place to get your business done and stock up on some US dollars. We found it hard to find accommodation there so it may be worth booking in advance. Columbia: With such a strong military presence, Columbia had somewhat of an oppressive feel to it and it is a lot safer than I imagined, even in Bogotá. Bogotá is a pretty cool city, drugs are readily available if that’s your thing and there are plenty of clubs and bars to check out. It is more than 2500 meters above sea level, so it is a lot colder than Panama City. Also, if you are considering shipping to Cartagena in the north then driving south, remember that Columbia is very mountainous. You will have to drive over 3 sets of mountains to get to Ecuador and the roads in Columbia are not great.
San Pedro de Atacama is nice little town with plenty of tours and things to see. The landscape around the town is really unique too, so its an interesting stop over on your way to Argentina or Bolivia. On a clear day the drive from San Pedro de Atacama over the Andes into Argentina is incredible. With flamingos, volcanoes, giant cactus, lagoons, and salt flats, it is definitely an amazing drive. Before you leave San Pedro you have to go through Aduana (customs) and Immigration there are signs as you leave town. There are 2 roads that go to Argentina so ask at the border which is the best road to take.
There is a desert that stretches from the border with Ecuador all the way down the coast to Lima. It is a beautiful drive through an arid wasteland of sand dunes, dusty plains and beaches. I really enjoyed the drive as it was my first time in the desert. The towns along the way are very basic but there are few decent spots to stop. There was an earth quake a few years back and some of the small towns still haven’t recovered. Pisco for example was just a pile of rocks when we drove through it at the end of 2007. Lima has a great vibe, the people are very gringo friendly and there is a good nightlife. Cusco is nice, a little overrated but still worth the visit. It is 3800 meters above sea level though and in the summer months it 's absolutely freezing. Machu Pichu is interesting but the train from Cusco and back is a rip off. Book in advance to get a backpackers ticket, $130 return. Be prepared to spend around $200us for the day.
Copacabana on Lake Ttikitaka is a really nice. It has a good tourist infrastructure, some good restaurants and variety of accommodation. If your driving from Cusco through to La Paz it's a good place for a stopover. The Bolivian Salt Flats in Uyunni are absolutely amazing. During the rainy season when the salt flats are covered in water they turn into a massive mirror and you can't tell where the sky ends and the earth begins. Definitely the highlight of the trip for me and probably the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It does vary a lot according to the time of year though, we went in January when it was covered in water and it was incredible. Fill up with gas before you cross the border it is twice the price in Chile.