2015: Our Year of South American Travel in Review

2015 - Our Year of South American Travel in Review

2015 – Our Year of South American Travel in Review

2015 marked the fulfilment of Yasha’s deepest desire: to be back on the road – full time! After ten months of teaching English in Santiago de Chile, we left there just before Christmas 2014, and have been travelling since.

January 2015

From Santiago we drove south in Chile, mostly following the coast. We took several detours inland to visit National Parks, but we always came back to the ocean.

We still vividly remember our difficulties visiting the Nahuelbuta National Park to see the araucaria trees. Don’t get me wrong: the park is beautiful, but it wasn’t a good place to go with a vehicle as big as our Berta. Had we have known how many of these stunning living fossils we would encounter later on in Argentina, we might have skipped that one.

Monkey puzzle trees seen from Piedra del Aguila look-out

Monkey puzzle trees seen from Piedra del Aguila look-out. Fire haze clouds the distant view.

Our last stop on the coast was Valdivia , which we loved. Then finally, we left the coast for Chile’s famous Lake District. We fell in love with our camping place, right on Lago Ranco , because, for the first time, we had grass underfoot. You wouldn’t believe how special such a small detail is, until you’ve been missing it for so long. Chile is generally quite a dusty, dry place!

For once a nice GRASSY camping spot at Lago Ranco

For once a nice GRASSY camping spot at Lago Ranco

February 2015

In late January we crossed to Argentina’s Lake District , which is directly across The Andes. This proved to be an excellent decision: by travelling in Chile most of January we missed the peak holiday season in Argentina, and then we spent most of February in Argentina, which is the main holiday month for Chileans. So we missed the huge crowds of holiday makers in both places. Meandering through this area from south to north, we met some other overlanders, and were welcomed and helped by locals.

Lago Correntoso Argentina

Lago Correntoso Argentina

Then we headed north, staying close to the mountains. The scenery we found was truly rewarding: unspoilt rivers, lakes and water falls, lovely camp sites, some snow-capped and active volcanoes as a backdrop, and countless araucaria trees!

lightly smoking Volcan Copahue

lightly smoking Volcan Copahue (several kilometers away the air still smelled of sulfur)

We had to return to Chile at the end of February to collect Juergen’s new passport from the Australian embassy in Santiago.

March 2015

Undecided as we often are, we went north to La Serena, as we had heard that it is a lovely city. We took an inland route, avoiding Ruta 5 and its tolls. We weren’t disappointed with the route, or the city.

La Serena: Palacio de Justicia and cathedral

La Serena: Palacio de Justicia (now municipalidad) and cathedral

While we were in La Serena we decided to cross Paso Agua Negra back into Argentina. First we spent some time in Valle de Elqui, famous for its small hamlets with vineyards, and its clear sky. Finally we were ready to take on the pass – that’s when disaster struck and wiped out our plans.

Valle de Elqui: green fields and vineyards nestled between arid mountains

Upper Valle de Elqui: green fields and vineyards nestled between arid mountains

April 2015

Due to the devastating floods in Chile, we had to wait in Valle de Elqui and then La Serena while roads were cleared and repaired. Ruta 5, Chile’s main highway north, was interrupted. We were finally able to leave La Serena at Easter in the direction of Antofagasta.

Along this stretch we came face to face with the devastation that descended on places, and the people who call them home. By comparison, our difficulties became small and almost insignificant.

Beautiful evening light above the Salar de Atacama, bringing out all the colours

Beautiful evening light above the Salar de Atacama, bringing out all the colours

From Antofagasta we turned inland once again, through the Atacama Desert, to take Paso de Jama into Argentina. But first we revisited San Pedro de Atacama , which is known as Chile’s second most important tourist destination (after Santiago/Valparaiso).

Lagoon with flamingos, the dark hillside is shaded by cloud - lovely contrast!

Paso de Jama: Lagoon with flamingos, the dark hillside is shaded by cloud – lovely contrast!

There are good reasons for this: the dry Valle de la Luna; the Salar de Atacama (Chile’s largest salt flats); and the colours of the mountains are simply stunning.

May 2015

Back in Argentina and we were retracing our steps from 2008! After some time around Purmamarca and San Salvador de Jujuy, we drove south towards Salta.

The Seven Coloured Mountains stretch in all directions well beyond Purmamarca

The Seven Coloured Mountains stretch in all directions well beyond Purmamarca

From there we went west towards Cachi, and south on the Ruta 40 to Cafayate. We had driven this route in 2008, but this time around we were even more fascinated by the roads and the landscape, with its colourful and strangely eroded rock formations, fertile fields and vineyards, all surrounded by dry shrubs and cacti.

RN40: Quebrada de Las Flechas (flechas are arrows in English = fitting name)

RN40: Quebrada de Las Flechas (flechas are arrows in English = fitting name) between Cachi and Cafayate

Once we left Cafayate, the famous wine region, it was all new to us. Our first new discovery, the ruins of Quilmes , was an interesting bit of history.

June 2015

Winter was coming, with frost most nights, and we were still driving south. We hadn’t planned it that way. But the month of June was filled with many highlights, almost too many to list!

Again we stayed close to the Andes. We explored the Shincal ruins, a southern outpost of the old Inca kingdom; drove the Ruta del Adobe towards Tinogasta ; explored the sand dunes near Fiambala (made famous by Dakar rally cars racing across them); took an amazing day trip up the Paso de San Francisco ; visited a second Valle de la Luna, the World Heritage listed Ischigualasto Provincial Park .

Ruta de Adobe: the beautiful Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Andacolla

Ruta de Adobe: the beautiful Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Andacolla

And, since we had photographed so many shrines dedicated to this regional saint, and happened to be nearby, we visited Difunta Correa’s main shrine .

Paso San Francisco, Argentina: golden dry grass enhances the colours of the mountains on the puna (high plateau)

Paso San Francisco, Argentina: golden dry grass enhances the colours of the mountains on the puna (high plateau)

July 2015

Late June saw us back in Chile – something we had not even foreseen earlier that year…
Several things had led to this decision; the frosty nights in Argentina were only one reason.

Another was that a good friend from Australia was coming for a visit. We did our best to show him as many interesting sights in and around Santiago as we could fit into his 10-day-stay.

Pisco Sour with Pete

Pisco Sour with our friend Pete (there’s one waiting for Juergen)

Of course we included Valparaiso – we could return time and again and never be bored by this quirky city. Pete is also fascinated by street art so, based on our previous visits, Juergen took him on a tour to see many of the StreetArt highlights , which are away from the town centre.

Valparaiso, as seen from a hill: colourful, old, new, every style you can imagine

Valparaiso, as seen from a hill: colourful, old, new, every style you can imagine

August 2015

As far as ‘overland travel’ is concerned not much happened during August. Yasha flew to visit family in Australia (our final reason for returning to Santiago), and Juergen hung around in Chile waiting for her.

Horcon, Chile: the cosy handcrafted house of our new friends.

Horcon, Chile: the cosy handcrafted house of our new friends.

September 2015

We were all (Yasha, Juergen, Berta) re-united and eager to leave Chile for what we think is the final time – although it is not the first time we have thought that. It had been snowing heavily on the mountains and we were lucky to find a narrow window between two weather fronts to cross Paso Libertadores into Argentina.

Our truck exiting Tunel Cristo Redentor and entering Argentina.

Berta exiting Tunel Cristo Redentor and entering Argentina. (There was a line in front of us)

Our plan was to meet up with German friends in Uruguay in October, so we crossed Argentina from west to east. Typically we hadn’t planned or read much in advance, and didn’t take the direct route… Of course, we discovered some real gems along the way. One of these, Alta Gracia (a real surprise to us), led us to explore the Jesuit estancias around Cordoba . The Alta Gracia story became our most popular post of the year!

The courtyard of the Jesuit estancia in Jesus Maria.

The courtyard of the Jesuit estancia in Jesus Maria.

October 2015

Uruguay is our third country for this trip to South America. We spent some time in Montevideo – we needed a visa for Brazil. While waiting for it to be processed, we wandered the streets of the city. The old Art Deco architecture and the street art fascinated us.

Montevideo: two nicely restored buildings along Avenida España. I love the classic Art-Deco facade of the left house.

Montevideo: two nicely restored buildings along Bulevar España. I love the classic Art-Deco facade of the left house.

After receiving our visa we met up with our friends, and left with two trucks to Brazil. We soon noticed that that our ideas about “slow travel” differed, so we said a friendly good-bye to our German friends and returned to what we do best: slowly exploring a region, taking secondary or tertiary roads . We headed into the mountains and were overawed by what we saw, including Canyon Itaimbezinho.

Further down along Canyon Itaimbezinho. The trees on top of the mountains are mature Araucaria trees - just to give you a reference to the canyon's depth.

Further down along Canyon Itaimbezinho. The trees on top of the mountains are mature Araucaria trees – just to give you a reference to the canyon’s depth.

We also discovered that being over 60 had its advantages: in Brazil you don’t pay to enter national parks!

November 2015

We travelled further west through Rio Grande do Sul and continued to feed our fascination with things Jesuit by visiting the mission of São Miguel , before crossing to Misiones province of Argentina to visit 3 more missions.

Our plan at this point was to continue through Misiones and re-enter Brazil at the Iguaçu Falls. But plans are made to be changed! It had been very humid and rained a lot in Brazil, and this had continued in Misiones, so we decided to head south instead.

Ruins of the Jesuit Mission of San Ignacio, as seen through the trees from the entrance

Ruins of the Jesuit Mission of San Ignacio, as seen through the trees from the entrance

We are glad we did, because along the way we learned about maté , and were able to visit the Iberá Wetlands , which are very unique and teeming with wildlife.

Iberá: have you ever seen a dragonfly with dark coloured wings? Beautiful!

Iberá: have you ever seen a dragonfly with dark coloured wings? Beautiful!

[Now we have another reason to be glad about this decision, as the entire region was hit by devastating floods just before Christmas.]

December 2015

Surprisingly, we are back in a city we once swore never to return to. This is now our third visit to Buenos Aires (not counting Juergen’s drive through in 2014 on his way from Uruguay to Chile). And on both return visits we have found a little more to like about it.

Buenos Aires: Casa Rosada, the seat of the president

Buenos Aires: Casa Rosada, the seat of the president

… and 2016?

Well, you’ll just have to come back and see what we’re doing! However, we do have some loose plans: in January we have a volunteer position on a farm in Uruguay. Sometime after that we want to return to Brazil and see more of that amazing country. We are hoping that their rain season will come to an end by mid-March. And later in the year, we would like to add Bolivia to our South American experiences.

What are your plans for 2016?
Any travel plans you want to reveal???

Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with nearly 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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42 Responses

  1. Patti Morrow says:

    What a year! So many great stops in South America. I loved the Ruins of the Jesuit Mission of San Ignacio and the colorful homes in Valparaiso juxtaposed against the sea.

    • Yasha says:

      Thanks Patti. It was a great year in many ways, including all the lessons learnt from travelling full time. Valparaiso is a city you can return to again and again, and still find it new and interesting.

  2. For some reason I always seem to miss South America in my planning. That will have to change! I particularly like the overland idea since photography is one of my passions. Loved your shots. Well done!

    • Yasha says:

      Over-landing is definitely the best way to see this continent – especially for a photographer. You can stop any time you want – and the sights you find on the roads less travelled are often the most amazing.

  3. I’ve enjoyed following your adventures in South America and look forward to reading more in 2016. Your photos are always stunning!

    • Yasha says:

      Thanks Rachel. Juergen is our main photographer – I manage the point-and-shoot when he’s driving. It’s lovely that you compliment the photos – I’m always telling him he is a fantastic photographer.

  4. What a year you’ve had! I just went to Colombia, Argentina and Chile for the first time this year and am really enjoying beginning to discover South America. I definitely want to return to Chile – I was in the Patagonian part only – so enjoyed reading about Santiago and Valparaiso. I want to see the Atacama Desert too – so many places to get too! I fall asleep driving so have to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t involve me doing much if any driving so that’s a challenge!

    • Yasha says:

      There really is so much to see on this amazing continent. The long distance bus system in Chile is very good, so I would recommend that if you can’t drive. The advantage of driving yourself is of course the ability to stop and look, or take a turn, whenever you want to. So if you can travel with someone else who doesn’t have a problem with driving, that would be the best option.

  5. Thanks for sharing this portrait of life in a camper in South America! Great that you can travel so slowly and upclose~

  6. So fun to catch up with your newsletter and see the places you traveled to and through in 2015 as well as your beautiful photos. Like you we’ve found that travel “plans” are best when written in pencil to be rewritten as circumstances, weather and preferences all have their parts to play. Here’s to 2016 and more amazing travels ahead for all of us!

  7. Wow! Looks like an amazing year. Cheers to 2016!

  8. Shelley says:

    What a great year. We have yet to visit South America, but your overland slow-travel with Berta sounds like an ideal way to go. Love your photos.

    • Juergen says:

      Maybe give it try! There are certain advantages as opposed to bus or plane travel. You can stop where ever you like, be it for a photo opportunity or something interesting you want to see. In the meantime you can find companies renting RVs in both, Chile and Argentina .

  9. Igel & Paola says:

    Already a whole year – again! Congrats!! And hopefully we meet again somewhere on this beautiful planet earth. Greetings from Algarve… Igel & Paola, Rambo & Caramba, now in the “Big Blue”

  10. Emily says:

    Magnificient photos! I loved the wrap-up of your year. Did I miss the number of kilometers you drove?

    • Yasha says:

      Hi Emily, Thanks for visiting. Glad you liked the photos. We don’t actually keep track of kilometres, but Juergen checked our oil change stickers and he made an educated guess at around 25000Km. We do travel quite slowly and stop a lot!

  11. Donna Janke says:

    It sounds like a wonderful year. Your photos show such beauty and diversity. I look forward to finding out where you wind up in 2016. My 2016 is not mapped out so I am not sure where it will take me, other than knowing I will be in Panama in January.

    • Yasha says:

      Panama has some lovely places. I know you’ll enjoy it. It’s always good not mapping too much out – the surprises are the best thing!

  12. Having just finished traveling around Colombia for 6 weeks and seeing all kinds of drycamping/boondocking spots we would love to return in some kind of campervan. Our Motorhome is 28′ (8.5m) and we feel that it is too big for the type of travel that we would like to do south of Mexico. So some time in the future I think we will look for a smaller vehicle and head south. I love the way you travel and the beautiful pictures of the places you have visited, that is our kind of travel. One day!

    Ruth

    • Yasha says:

      The same thing happened to us in Turkey. We were in a rental car for a couple for a couple of weeks – after our last trip to South America – and we kept seeing wonderful places for camping. We will return there to do it like that sometime. It is just the best way to travel.

  13. Michele Peterson ( A Taste for Travel) says:

    You’ve seen and experienced so much in 2015! i love that photo of the Salar de Atacama and of course your stalwart steed, Berta coming through the tunnel as well.

    • Yasha says:

      So many beautiful places to see on this amazing continent. We are so happy we came back for a second look. We just keep finding lovely places – even in areas we visited in 2008-9.
      Berta is a gem – couldn’t do it without her!!!

  14. Amazing and inspiring! I’ve hit close to 40 countries and still no South America yet (sad I know). I need to change that in the coming year.

    • Yasha says:

      We’ve been in South America for a total of 3 years (2 trips), and we feel like we have only just started… It’s a great continent with much diversity.

  15. Now I’m homesick… missing southern Brazil and our trips around Uruguay, Argentina & Chile.
    Santiago is a city that we consider to settle. We love the weather, the food, the people, the wine…
    For 2016 our “Master Plan” is to keep exploring South East Asia. Maybe head to South America on the end of the year.
    Cheers,

    • Yasha says:

      I’m happy to have made you homesick for this beautiful continent! There is always so much more to explore, and just when you’re tempted to think everything is starting to look the same, you drive around a bend in the road and are gobsmacked again by the view.

  16. Meg Jerrard says:

    Sounds like a spectacular 2015! Can’t wait to follow your updates in 2016 – I haven’t yet been to Uruguay so looking forward to hearing about your experiences on the farm. And you’ll love Bolivia, we had such a fantastic time, though just make sure you leave a few days to adjust to the altitude – wiped us out for a good 5 days before we got used to the height of La Paz!

    • Yasha says:

      Thanks Meg. We’ve experienced quite a bit of altitude over time in South America and we don’t always respond well to it. If we head up to the Salar de Uyuni, our plan will be to take it slowly and increase altitude in small daily limits. Thankfully that’s possible for us in Berta.

  17. Oh dear god, I want to go so bad!! All I have to do is get a drivers licence. I thought I would do Central America in one trip, but I have been back 4 times and still not made it to South. This is inspiring though. Especially Chile.

  18. What an incredible year! We are planning to be in South America late next year and now I’m even more excited for our trip! I will definitely be digging deeper into some of your guides. Thanks for the recommendations!

    • Yasha says:

      You are very welcome. We write for people just like you, to encourage them to go places they’ve never heard of. I hope you will enjoy your trip and we’ll get to read about it.

  19. What an amazing adventure for you two and Berta. My husband, daughter and I have only been to Colombia in South America but would love to visit the rest of this region very soon. It’s really amazing that you travel around in Berta, I’m not sure we can travel like this but am in awe of you both.

    • Yasha says:

      For us it is the only way to travel. It gives us complete control over our time and how we spend it. There are almost no deadlines, no alarms to get up in the morning, and nowhere we have to be! Once we tried it we were totally hooked.

  20. Kate says:

    What a year! It sounds like you’ve really explored some great places in South America. I know some of the places you’ve mentioned in Chile from travelling there in 2007-8. I didn’t travel as slowly as you have. I wish I had the time and money to do a few months rather than a few weeks. It is a landscape, culture and experiences that I love. I will go back one day and you’ve given me some great inspiration here

    • Yasha says:

      We are happy when we inspire – it is our greatest joy. Travelling like we do is not expensive in terms of money, but if you have something else to do it is expensive in time. We are lucky that we have nothing else we particularly need to do. But we still have to work and earn to feed ourselves and our thirsty Berta!

  21. Kathrin says:

    this looks like a truly amazing year! Unbelievable how many things you’ve seen. I’d love to travel through Argentina one day, too. But there is almost every country on my bucket list, anyway :D I wish you all the best for 2016! I’m looking forward to read more about your adventures.

    • Yasha says:

      Thanks Kathrin. It is hard to decide where to go next because there are so many options. You just have to go – and see what happens next!

  22. Shobha says:

    Wow! I would love to spend a year (or two as it seems you will do) in South America. I went briefly to Brazil this year past and loved it so much I’m returning in February for Carnival. But I’ve not been anywhere else in South America.

    • Yasha says:

      Hi Shoba, thanks for commenting. We will spend a year, or two, or three… here in South America. We have no plans to leave here anytime soon. I suppose you’ll be heading to Rio for Carnival? We still don’t know if we want to go to that city – it’s awfully big!!!

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