After deliberating for a while on what my first blog post should be, I’ve decided to write about my latest traveling experience.
Since the memory is still fresh, and it’s also one of the trips that describe best my way of traveling, I’m going to present you one of the most challenging and exciting trips I’ve experienced so far.
Europe, Africa, and South America in a Single Trip
I like discovering new places, adventure in exotic locations and combine as many elements in a single trip as I think are achievable in terms of time, finance and overall travel value. I would go to each corner of this Earth, and, even if some places aren’t as appealing as others, I think it’s good to experience each place at least once. Therefore, most of the time when I plan my next trips, I don’t choose a very specific location.
I’m always waiting for a good deal, especially if it’s about traveling to a different continent, and act pretty fast when that deal presents itself. This is the case also for this trip.
Starting from a Good Deal
Looking through my usual travel deal sites, I’ve found an interesting offer, connecting Africa to South America and returning from South America to Europe.
This double open-jaw flight involved flying from Casablanca, Morocco to Rio de Janeiro, Brasil (via Lisbon) and returning from Sao Paolo, Brasil to Madrid, Spain (again via Lisbon).
The offer was a bit unusual, and judging by the fact that I live in Romania, was not exactly ideal. However, the price was pretty good: around 270 USD. Therefore, I’ve decided to buy it.
Soon after this, I was buying the extra flights from/to my location (Cluj-Napoca, Romania), and adding Bergamo/Milan, Marrakesh to my travel list.
I won’t go now into much detail about how to find great travel deals and how to book them. I will soon dedicate a separate article and describe in more details this process and offer you some useful travel tips.
South America Internal Flights
Having the extra flights booked now, I’ve started planning the trips inside South America. This part was a bit challenging since usually the flights inside South America aren’t very cheap and it seems that some of the airlines are not very reliable.
After reviewing most of the available options, reading a bunch of posts and using various flight searching tools, I’ve decided to go with LATAM.
From a total of twenty days allocated for this trip, there were about eleven days for South America. So I’ve decided to stay four days in Rio, three in Buenos Aires (of which, one for visiting the Iguazu Falls), one day in Santiago de Chile, one day in Montevideo and two nights in Sao Paolo.
This wasn’t necessary my first choice for dividing these days. However, this was the most efficient schedule, taking in consideration the flights cost, the airline routes and maximizing the time spent visiting. In total, after buying about fifteen flight segments (for the entire trip), I’ve reached to a total cost of around 1250 USD. Overall, not bad, I would say.
I always book my accommodation ahead, especially since don’t want to waste precious vacation time on looking for accommodation, but also for saving money. In general, I use some of the popular booking platforms like booking.com or hotels.com, which overall offer great service.
There are, of course, multiple alternative platforms, like airbnb.com, that can offer good value accommodation. However, most of the time I avoid apartments or locations that don’t offer late check-in or early check-out since this can add a bit of overhead and can potentially affect the trip schedule. Sometimes, due to some delayed flights, you may arrive late in the evening, so it’s better to know that somebody will be at the check-in desk when you arrive. If you are staying for a longer time in the same place, apartments might represent a good option though.
Another thing that I want to mention is that I don’t like spending too much on accommodation, so I rarely stay at a four-star hotel. I’m not staying like a hippie either, so I generally choose a medium level accommodation.
Anyway, the overall accommodation price (for a place in a twin room) was around 400 USD, for 18 nights.
I wanted to give you all these details to have a better understanding of what type of accommodation I’m using and the cost associated.
In the end, the accommodation is very personal. Some people may prefer staying at four or five-star hotels while others will very much enjoy a bed in an 8-bed dormitory room.
Normally I’m not a big fan of guided tours. I like exploring things my own way. However, sometimes there are tours that offer you good value and help you save a lot of time. There is also the safety factor, which for some locations may require extra attention. In these situations, a travel agency can save you a lot of overhead. Guided tours are a good way of meeting new and interesting people, too.
That being said, I’ve decided to book a two-day trip across Morocco, having as main target the Sahara Desert in the Zagora region. Also, I’ve booked two more tours (one day each) in Rio de Janeiro. One was focused on discovering the city, Corcovado mountain with the famous Christ’ statue, Tijuca rain forest and other interesting places in Rio. The other one was in the Rocinha favela, the largest favela in Brazil.
I’m not going into many details now on how you can find great value tours. This will be the focus of another post.
In terms of cost, these tours added an additional cost of around 150 USD to my trip.
Definitely, one of the parts I hate the most is searching for transfer options from the airport to target destination, usually the accommodation location.
There are many things you need to consider: cost, safety, comfort, speed, payment method and baggage transportation.
If the place has good public transportation, like you would find in most airports in Europe, most of the time the best option is to take the public transportation.
For places where the public transportation is not very appealing in terms of comfort and especially safety, taxis and prepaid transfers can represent a good option. Depending on the place, you may even have to haggle with the taxi driver to get a good price since many of them don’t want to turn on the taximeter.
The return transfer, the one back from your hotel to the airport, is usually a bit easier since you may have alternative options, e.g. you can replace taxis with Uber.
Like most of the previous topics, this requires a separate article. I will also try to create dedicated material for specific places.
For now, I will just say that I only booked one or two transfers online, but documented on all the options before beginning the trip. Also, I’ve found a few better options on-site, but it helped me to know the alternatives for taking an educated decision.
I don’t have the exact cost for transportation, but this included multiple buses, trains, subways, using taxis and Uber. There were also trains and buses connecting cities for which I didn’t have direct flights (e.g. Marrakesh to Casablanca or Bergamo to Milan).
Now let’s jump to the fun part, the real trip. Although there were moments when I was a bit exhausted, the trip itself was amazing.
Enjoying some time in Italy and the Italian food
I’ve begun the trip with a couple of nights in Bergamo, Italy. I arrived in the evening and visited La Citta Alta, the Old Town, treating myself with one of the best pizza I’ve eaten so far and some good Italian wine.
I can’t get enough Italian food. It was the second time in that year when I was in Italy, and like always, the food was amazing.
The second day was dedicated for re-visiting Milan, with its famous Duomo. The decision for re-visiting Milan had to do mostly with the fact that it was a new city for my travel companion, but also because I like seeing places again, in different conditions. And I didn’t regret a thing, especially since I was lucky to see a real football match (soccer for my American readers ☺) on the famous San Siro stadium.
After the short, but intense and wonderful, stay in Italy, it was time for a more exotic place: Morocco.
Famous for the Jamaa el Fna square, where you can see everything from exotic spices and colorful clothing to snakes and monkeys, Marrakesh represents a symbol of traditional Morocco. This is where my Moroccan trip began.
I could write multiple pages only about Marrakesh but this isn’t the focus of this article. Any of these places deserve a dedicated article so that you get a better taste of each specific area.
After one night in Marrakesh, I left on a two-day tour through various areas of Morocco. The tour included driving over the Atlas mountains, seeing the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, famous especially from the movies in which appeared and reaching to the Sahara desert in the Zagora region. Some of the interesting parts of this tour included riding a camel and sleeping in a Berber desert camp.
I would return at the end of the tour in Marrakesh, spending the night there, before leaving for Casablanca.
The next day, we took a premium bus to Casablanca, for which we paid a very reasonable price. There’s a lot of romanticism about Casablanca mainly due to the classic movie. Of course, the movie wasn’t even filmed here. However, there is a Rick’s Café restaurant designed to recreate the bar made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
From my point of view, Casablanca it’s not a very touristic place. One day was more than enough for visiting the city before we left Morocco for another exciting destination. It was time to trade the desert sand for the sandy beaches of Rio.
From Sahara to Copacabana
We were now going to engage on the route that made this trip possible. So we flew from Casablanca to Rio, with a short layover in Lisbon.
There were around six hours initially between the connection flights, so we planned to re-visit Lisbon. However, due to some delays, we ended up having only two actual visiting hours. Even so, it was nice seeing Lisbon again, in another circumstance.
After another ten hours of flying, we arrived in Rio de Janeiro.
I was a bit concerned about safety since there are many crazy stories related to Rio. I was mostly counting on my friend to remember his Krav Maga lessons. However, I’m happy to say, there were no unpleasant incidents during our stay here. We enjoyed a lot the time in Rio, which indeed is an amazing place.
During the time spent here, I had plenty of activities. I went on the tours I’ve mentioned when talking about planning this trip. The view from Christ the Redeemer is truly breathtaking. I would say one of the most incredible views I’ve seen so far.
And there are many other interesting places like Tijuca forest or Selaron Steps. Let’s not forget the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.
The favela of Rocinha, the largest in Brazil, was another interesting place. We got the chance to see how people leave in an apparently chaotic housing system. We also met some nice people, too. Overall it was a great experience.
I would say the four days spent in Rio were overall an amazing experience. I would write more about this in a future article.
We left Rio for another great city in South America, Buenos Aires. Here we spent 3 days, of which, one was scheduled for visiting Iguazu Falls.
Buenos Aires is, like most people say, a European style city. It’s very crowded and animated, especially at night. Palermo district has some amazing parks and it’s a good nightlife area. It’s most likely a great place for taking tango lessons. In my case, not being much into dancing, this aspect was not my primary focus.
There were also some things I found a bit disappointing. I’m a big fan of steaks and being in Argentina, was expecting to eat the best Argentinian steak. Although I ate in a good reputation restaurant, selected based on the great reviews, the overall experience was disappointing. The meat was good quality meet, however, I ate better Argentinian steak in Europe, for the same money or less. I don’t even want to mention the sides which, in general, are less than average.
Overall, I find the food in South America a bit disappointing.
As I said before, while staying in Buenos Aires, I dedicated a day for visiting one of the natural wonders of the Earth, Iguazu Falls.
I took a plane early in the morning and another one back in the evening. I’ve only visited the Argentinian side. If you only have time for one side, the Argentinian side it’s more impressive than the Brazilian part. Or at least, that’s what the reviews said. So, due to my limited time, I only went to the Argentinian part.
I can’t recommend visiting this place highly enough. It’s really impressive and, like most of the other places deserves a separate article.
Santiago de Chile
I must admit that Chile was not on my list. It popped in while planning my route from Buenos Aires to Montevideo (using LATAM). I had to choose between a longer layover in Santiago or spend a night there and go the next day to Montevideo. In the end, I choose to spend one night in each city.
Overall it was a good visit. I would recommend maybe staying two days in Santiago, especially if you want to climb the San Cristóbal Hill. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the extra day for this. But, I’ll do it next time.
Chile has itself a lot of interesting places. It’s definitely going to be the focus of a more extensive trip in the future.
After the day spent in Santiago, I’ve continued the marathon with a day in Montevideo, Uruguay.
I’ve visited Ciudad Vieja (Old Town), the port and the modern barrio of Punta Carretas. Overall, I found Montevideo an overpriced and not very exciting place. Of course, this was my personal experience and for you can be different. I recommend that you stay for one day only, maximum two if you’re the lazy type.
After the marathon of five days, on which I’ve traveled intensively, I’ve rested for two days in Sao Paolo.
One may say that the largest city in the Americas is not necessarily the best place for relaxation. Like Rio, there are also safety concerns, that demand some extra attention. But overall was a good stay, with no incidents.
I’ve stayed mostly in the modern part of Sao Paolo, close to the Paulista boulevard. Along with business centers, there are a lot of bars, restaurants, shopping centers and parks so it can be a good option for spending one day or two.
Back to Europe
After the South American marathon, it was time for me to return home. But not before spending one day and a half in Madrid, Spain.
I’ve been a couple of times before to Spain but never been to Madrid. This was a good time for me to get to know Spain’s capital.
I really had a good time in Madrid. The food and the wine were excellent. I was surprised to see how crowded the city can get on a Saturday night. I found it to be more crowded than London and similar to Hong Kong or New York on Saint Patrick’s day.
It was time now to return to Cluj-Napoca, Romania, after staying another night near the Otopeni Airport.
Overall this was an amazing and challenging trip. The experience gathered in my previous trips helped me a lot.
I’ve tried to offer you some costs examples so that you have something to compare with when planning a future trip.
There aren’t many websites where you can find actual costs. Whenever possible I’m going to offer you the costs associated with my trips.
The overall cost for this trip was around 2600-2700 USD. This includes the cost for everything: transportation, accommodation, tours, food etc.
I didn’t get the time to write here about all the things I’ve learned from this tour. There are valuable lessons that I’m going to share with you in my future posts.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this article and found useful information while reading it.