This was not an easy list to compile, but a fun one. We had so many great times on our trip of a lifetime it’s hard to pick just 10, but these are the ones that brought tears to my eyes, made me feel free and made the times when it was difficult worth it. All photos were taken on our trip.
Swimming with sea lions in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
It’s hard to believe we almost didn’t go here whilst in Ecuador, but for a backpacker it can seem too expensive and best to put off for another, bigger budget trip. Actually it can be done on the cheap and if you choose your itinerary carefully, you could wind up on the snorkelling trip of your lifetime where you swim with turtles, sharks, manta rays and best of all, sea lions. On land they are grumpy masses of blubber, but in the sea they’re playful, cheeky and love nothing better than to swim alongside you. What a treat!
Sunset over Chivay in the Colca Canyon, Peru
We visited the charming town of Chivay on our way to the valley of the condors but the sunset really stole the show while we were here. After a long bus journey from Arequipa and an energetic stroll around the small market town and gorgeous mountains we couldn’t wait to collapse in bed before sundown, and then I glimpsed the reddish tint outside our window. I’m a sucker for sunsets and clambered outside with the camera. It was an unexpected stunner, the sunset I had been waiting for all my life. The mountains were the perfect backdrop for this epic light show of pinks, oranges, purples and reds. You never know when you’re going to get a good one, but when you do it can bring a tear to your eye.
Trekking across Isla del Sol, Bolivia
Another uncertain part of our trip, we’d heard of many people visiting this mysterious island in Lake Titicaca but we weren’t sure what was there. It’s turns out It’s a whole lot of nothing, but in a good way. No wifi, no transport other than boats, barely any flushing toilets or electricity in some parts. This was truly rural and peaceful.
We’d heard you could trek across the whole island in half a day so we left our bags on the mainland, took a late ferry over and had an unexpectedly good dinner by candlelight as we contemplated how to get across with no maps or signs. Luckily it was a straightforward and delightful hike through rugged mountain peaks, farmland and rural villages with indigenous people welcoming us with their warm smiles. Without a doubt this was my favourite hike of the trip and I’m glad the lack of tourist facilities didn’t put us off!
Spotting dinosaur footprints in Sucre, Bolivia
Whilst wandering round the captivating colonial town of Sucre, we spotted some flyers about dinosaur footprints and decided to check it out. We took a taxi to what looked like a quarry in the middle of nowhere, not quite sure what to expect. We paid our entrance and walked amongst a few tacky giant dinosaur models, feeling pretty ripped off, until we saw what the fuss was all about.
We peered over the edge of a cliff and over to the mountain across the way that appeared to have been sliced vertically in half, revealing dozens of pristine footprints. Millions of years was just enough time to push these once flat footprints up into the Andes, accidentally discovered by labourers making cement. You can really imagine everything that happened all those years ago when you witness this sight and it’s truly magical. This is soon to be made a UNESCO site, I’m so glad we got to witness this magical find before the crowds inevitably arrive.
Trekking across the Perito Merino glacier in El Calafate, Argentina
The south of Patagonia was a last minute addition to our trip, we were convinced we didn’t have time and thought we could come back on another trip. 3 days before Christmas we felt differently and decided to be spontaneous and book flights to El Calafate.
We spent Boxing Day trekking on the gigantic Perito Moreno Glacier, something I wasn’t going to do as I had done a glacier trek in NZ. This is a whole different kettle of fish let me tell you. Nothing will prepare you for the sheer size of it and trekking across it made me feel like I was at the end of the world. We were rewarded with a whisky & glacial ice in their makeshift bar on the glacier which was an unexpected cherry on the cake. 4 days isn’t much to take on Patagonia, but it was enough to make some pretty epic memories.
Whale watching in Kaikoura, New Zealand
Whale watching was one of things we were looking forward to most in New Zealand, imagine our disappointment when we arrived in Kaikoura to impenetrable rain and fog. We’d set aside 2 days here to enjoy the gorgeous countryside, mountains and a boat tour but couldn’t do any of it because of the bad weather.
We left the boat tour to the last moment, the morning we were due to drive over to the west coast. Luckily the weather cleared that morning and gave us glorious sunshine. The whales must have been happy too because we spotted 5 of them! I didn’t think I would be so impressed- you only see the top of them after all- but they’re so huge and unlike anything i’d ever seen. When they prepare to dive down and flip their take on the air it’s truly magical. As if it couldn’t get better, we then spotted a whole school of dolphins and pilot whales playing together in the water!
Motorbiking through the mountains in Prachuap, Thailand
Heading to Asia after South America was truly like going to another world. Everything is done differently here, and one of the best examples of this for me is being able to hire a motorbike so easily in Thailand. You’re not bound by bus timetables or at the mercy of taxi drivers, you’re completely free to go where you want, when you want. In the small fishing village of Prachuap Khiri Khan, we found our home away from home. This gorgeous bay boasts a beautiful beach, striking mountains and a monkey temple and we loved nothing better than riding through town into the hills and along the bay with the wind in our hair. There aren’t many tourists here so you really feel off the beaten path which is a welcome change of pace to the rest of Thailand. This is one spot you should look out for on your next trip if you want to get a real taste of Thailand.
Bird watching in Keolado National Park, India
We weren’t expecting much of the 6 hour drive between Agra and Jaipur but were pleasantly surprised to find one of country’s premier national parks en route. We stopped on the dusty highway beside the entrance and wandered into the village to find a cashpoint; where our foreign faces were met with much confusion.
Miraculously we found an ATM and headed into the park where we paid such a cheap entry fee we thought perhaps there would be no birds to see. We hired a guide and a rickshaw and set off down the road where we soon found out what an absolute fountain of knowledge our guide was. Birds have been his passion for over 50 years and he knows exactly where to find each one. You name it, he finds it! In just one hour we saw owls, kingfishers, storks, quails, flamingoes, the elusive woodpecker, cranes, herons, eagles and so much more. By the end I still hadn’t seen a peacock so he took us into the bush, climbing under the thicket making the bird call until we caught up with a beautiful pair. As if that wasn’t enough, on the way back we spotted a gigantic boa constrictor; luckily quite away but terrifyingly large all the same. To be at one with nature with a professional allowed me the chance to see so much wildlife, I felt like David Attenborough!
Sailing through Bai Tu Long bay, Vietnam
I’d wanted to go to Ha Long bay in Vietnam for years, but when the time finally came i was disheartened to hear how over commercialised it had become, with hundreds of boats going out every day and disappointed tourists swimming or kayaking through rubbish.
Luckily with some research I found a great bay nearby, Bai Tu Long Bay that had similar scenery but with no tourists. It sounded too good to be true, but it was everything we hoped it would be and more. The very reasonably priced trip took us through unchartered waters, so peaceful and mesmerising in their uniqueness. We kayaked, swam, ate and drank with our new friends on the boat, learned how to make spring rolls at their plush new homestay in the village and returned the next day after cycling to a wild and stunning beach in the middle of nowhere. It’s rare to have such a magical experience with a hyped up tourist attraction, I’m glad we found the perfect way to experience this natural wonder.
Scaling the ancient Chateau d’Angers, France
The final leg of our trip was a road trip through France, and we could hardly believe that some of our favourite landscapes and villages in the world were on our doorstep the whole time. The Loire Valley is one of the most enchanting areas of the world, full to the brim of perfectly preserved castles and fortresses that have incredible stories of love and war buried inside their walls.
You can pick any of them and enjoy it, but my favourite was the castle in Angers, an impressive 9th century masterpiece with 17 turrets you can climb to the top of and look down into the cobbled street town below. This castle also houses the Tapestry of the Apocalypse, something I never thought would interest me so much, but really surprised me. It has over 90 intricately woven scenes that tell a fantastical story from the bible, but it’s really the detail I loved so much. The medieval history in France is such a joy to delve into, thankfully it’s just across the channel so I can go again soon!
So these are my top 10, well I think they are, every time I look through my photos or talk with friends I remember something else incrdible, jumping into the mud pit in Tolu, Colombia, climbing Teotihuacan Pyramid in Mexico, sunrise over Bagan, Myanmar, the list could go on, but those stories are for another time!
Want to visit one of these countries?
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