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South America – by Charlotte McGennity

Working in the travel industry opens your eyes to a vast selection of destinations to visit and one of the places on the top of my list was South America.

We booked Peru, Iguassu Falls, Argentina and Brazil; we opted for independent tours in each destination which was a great option for us as it gave us the independence to still do our own thing but also had excursions with local knowledgeable guides.
We flew to Lima Peru’s capital but this was just a brief 1 night stop before we headed to Cuzco the starting point for our journey to Machu Picchu. Cuzco was once the capital of the Inca Empire and it is now known for its archaeological remains. We were advised to spend the rest of the morning resting to ensure we got acclimatised to the altitude. In the afternoon we had a tour of the city visiting Cuzco Cathedral and Sacsayhuaman ruins. The next day we transferred to The Sacred Valley for a 2 nights stay at the Relais & Chateaux Sol Y Luna, the hotel is in a wonderful location in the heart of the Sacred Valley and features beautiful individual bungalows set in lovely gardens. Sol y Luna has an activity centre offering a wide range of experiences to choose from, these include mountain bike hire, horse riding through the valley, kayaking, traditional Andean weaving, garden tours or cooking classes where you’ll learn how to make traditional Peruvian dishes. We opted for horse riding through the valley and also hired mountain bikes to explore the surrounding area. We went out on the bikes on our own and cycled through small traditional villages which was a wonderful experience and we were made to feel so welcome by the locals and very safe.

After our 2 night stay we left our main luggage at the hotel and just took a small overnight bag with us for our adventure to Machu Picchu. Early the next morning we met with our guide David and transferred to Ollantaytambo Station, before catching the train we visited the archaeological site of Moray.

We took the train which was heading to Aguas Calientas, we got off at KM104 and trekked with our guide the 13km to Machu Picchu. We hadn’t be walking for long before we came across our first Inca ruin, we sat and listened as David give us a mini history lesson and also took a moment to enjoy the beautiful scenery and take in the fact we were actually here. After several more hours hiking it was then downhill to Winawayna, we stopped for a quick lunch and then carried walking for several more hours this stretch was quite strenuous hiking but we finally reached the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu, we had done it we were finally there the moment we had been waiting for. I was slightly concerned that Machu Picchu would be full of tourists all arriving by the coach load but it wasn’t, David advised that the main baulk of tourists arrive first thing for the sunrise and by the time we reached there it was late afternoon and the crowds had left and the sun had burnt the clouds away so it was just perfect. We spent hours wondering around even coming across the odd Llama and just a hand full of people. We stayed until the sun started to set and then we made our way back our hotel The Machu Picchu Pueblo for a well-deserved rest, dinner and a glass of wine or two!
The next day we had a mini bus journey back to the Sol y Luna, on route we stopped off at Pisac. Pisac has a market where local Indians sell their merchandise as they have done for centuries, this was a wonderful place to browse and take in the local atmosphere. After another night in the Sacred Valley it was back to Cuzco Airport for the next part of our journey to Iguassu Falls.

Iguassu Falls are located on the boarders of Argentina and Brazil, the falls are twice the height of Niagara and stretch for over 1 ½ miles and make up the largest waterfall system in the world. We stayed at the Hotel das Cataratas for 2 nights; the hotel enjoys excellent access to the incredible falls and is surrounded by Rainforest. The rooms are of a very high standard with upgrades available to fall views and suites with balcony and separate living area. During our stay we fully explored the falls with excursions taking in the Brazilian side with a gorge walk with panoramic views of Devils Throat Falls. We had a guided walk on the upper and lower boardwalk, we also took a boat ride and got soaked but definitely a must for any visit and to make it extra special we had a Helicopter flight over the falls and surrounding Rainforest, this was by far the best way to see these spectacular falls, a memory that will last forever.

Our next destination was Buenos Aires here we had a 3 nights stay at The Claridge a great option for a 4 star city central hotel. Included in our stay was a city sightseeing tour, we visited the historic centre around Plaza de Mayo before visiting the vibrant streets of La Boca with the brightly painted houses and the famous Boca Stadium. We also visited Recoleta Cemetery in the exclusive Recoleta neighbourhood; the cemetery contains the graves of notable people including Eva Peron. We also took the opportunity to visit a typical Argentine Ranch here we experienced the Ranch lifestyle with horse riding, typical folk music, dancing and an amazing Argentine barbecue. Of course no trip to Argentina would be complete without seeing an Argentine Tango. We had dinner at Café de los Angelitos, the perfect place to see the Tango, it was like stepping back in time the small candle lit tables and wonderful food and a fantastic atmosphere set off for a wonderful evening and a great way to end our time in Buenos Aires.

Our last destination was bustling and vibrant city of Rio de Janeiro situated between the coastlines and backed by the mountains making this a beautiful city. We stayed for 3 nights in the Copacabana area and were within walking distance of the famous Copacabana beach. Within a 20 minute walk or a shot taxi is Ipanema, we really liked the feel of Ipanema with its stylish boutique style shops, fine dining and relaxed bars made this a great place to for dinner in the evening and if I was lucky enough to ever return to Rio this is the area I would stay in. We had a full day visiting Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain, we travelled by train through Tijuca Forest to the top of Corcovado, there we visited the amazing imposing statue of Christ the Redeemer that towers over the city something that has to be seen to be believed. After lunch we took the cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain here you can see the wonderful views all around this fabulous City. On our last evening we enjoyed a Samba show that captured the rhythms of the Rio Carnival, a great way to end our stay.

South America is wonderful and we have only sampled a small slice of it but we will definitely visit again as there is so much to explore.

by Charlotte McGennity.