We love travelling, but one of the things that we (nearly) love more than that, is speaking to people that have been out there and done it.
In this interview, we’re speaking to Claire from Tales of a Backpacker about her experiences in South America.
The fact that you’ve travelled through South America on your own for 10 months on your own is amazing and something that we definitely applaud! What would be your number one solo travelling tip?
Thank you – I loved it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat! My top solo travelling tip is simply to do it!
So many women are afraid to travel alone – because they think it’s dangerous, their families tell them its dangerous, they’re worried about being lonely – but it really is a fabulous adventure, just give it a try.
I found people to be so friendly and kind to me, even more so after they realised that I was travelling alone, so don’t be afraid to talk to people.
That said, always follow your gut. When you’re alone you have to trust your instincts and if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
If there was one piece of advice that you wish someone would have given you before you started travelling through South America, what would that be?
Take less stuff! I packed so many things I thought I might need and ended up throwing away a lot of it, or just carrying it around for months on the off-chance I might need it.
Chances are you’ll be able to buy whatever you need while you’re travelling so don’t stress about bringing every single thing with you.
Hostels are often cheap and easy solutions in South America, do you have a favourite story from staying in one? (Good or bad).
I’ve had a couple of bad experiences, but nothing to stop me staying in hostels — it generally has to do with other travellers not caring about other people in their dorm, I think if everyone respected each other it would be a lot better!
On the whole, I had many more positive experiences than negative.
The best story was probably at a hostel at Iguaçu Falls which had a happy hour with free caipirinhas.
That was a great way to meet people, and I ended up hanging out with a lovely group of people, one of whom I became good friends with, and we met again in Mexico, in Spain, and in London a couple of weeks ago. You really can make lifelong friends when you travel!
More and more people in the UK are turning to street food from other cultures instead of venturing into chains like McDonald’s and KFC. What was the best street food that you found in South America, and where did you get it?
I love street food, it is so tasty and so cheap! Probably my favourite street food was arepas in Colombia, they are incredibly tasty — very simple thick corn flour pancakes, usually filled with cheese or stuffed with chicken and other fillings and cooked on a griddle.
You could buy them from sellers on the street, and my Colombian friend’s dad taught me how to make them at home too, but you need a special flour which isn’t that easy to get at home, unfortunately.
I also had lots of coxinha in Brazil, they’re like big deep-fried chicken croquettes. Grilled meat kebabs always go down well too, as long as you’re not too fussy about what kind of meat it is!
The Palm Trees in Cocora Valley in Colombia are mesmerising. What would you say was your favourite part of the country?
Colombia was my favourite country in South America, there are so many beautiful places to choose from.
The Cocora Valley is certainly up there, but I also found San Agustín really interesting as there are statues dotted around the countryside left behind by a civilisation who then disappeared and no one knows why. Tayrona National Park is gorgeous, and the Lost City trek through the jungle was really special.
However, probably my favourite place in Colombia was a tiny village called Guadalupe in the Santander region.
The village is like many others in Colombia, but close to the village are natural plunge pools called Las Gachas – I’ve never seen anything like it.
You’ve often discussed different ways of travelling in your blog, which is something we always advise. What would be the best way to travel through South America on a budget? Did you find in a particular country had the best services?
On a budget, buses are definitely the best way to get around. Buses in South America are cheap, usually fairly comfortable (although certainly not luxurious!) and you get to see so much more of the country than you would flying from city to city.
Peru probably had the best buses I used, although I heard Argentina and Chile also have high-quality ones.
The worst was probably in Bolivia, as the roads there are a nightmare and some of the minibuses in Colombia were horrendous – packed in like sardines whizzing along on really windy roads.
I suffer from motion sickness so had to keep stocking up on Dramamine for the journeys!
Probably the most memorable transport I took was a slow boat down the Amazon River in Brazil, where I slept in a hammock strung up in the boat alongside a couple of hundred other people – it was definitely an experience!
When it comes to border controls, and passing through them, is there any piece of advice that you could give to make these situations a little less daunting?
Have all your paperwork in order, that’s probably the top tip.
Don’t overstay your visa as that can cause problems getting an exit stamp, and don’t forget to get an entry and exit stamp at every border.
Make sure you have some proof of onward travel that’s within your visa time limit for the border entry, although it’s quite rare that they’ll ask for it at a land border crossing, you don’t want to get caught out.
Also, cross during the day so you don’t have to navigate your onward trip in the dark when you’re tired.
Border towns aren’t the nicest places to be, so you need to have your wits about you!