For me, travelling means eating lots of healthy and unhealthy food, so finding a way to squeeze some exercise in while I am away is important. The trick is to fit it in without it feeling like you’re exercising. The easiest way to do that is to walk. It’s simple but effective. So when embarking on a recent trip to South America, I crossed these epic hikes off my bucket list.
Climbing Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, Peru stands out as one of the highlights of the trip. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s a truly magical place. In the middle of the Andes, 2,430 metres above sea level, it’s definitely one for the bucket list. Now, I’m going to be honest, I didn’t do the four-day trek through the Andes to reach Machu Picchu. Due to time restraints, I opted for the train and it was an incredible experience. But to make up for that I hiked to the top of Machu Picchu mountain and it was one of the most amazing life experiences. People I’ve spoken to who trekked for days didn’t end up doing the final climb so I’m glad that I did.
Machu Picchu mountain is 3,050 meters above sea level and takes about 1.5 hours to climb. The height of the climb is about 650 metres over an estimated 1,900 steps that vary in height. Only 400 people are allowed to climb it per day and you need to start the climb between 7 and 11am. There were times when I wanted to give up but I kept on going and I’m glad I did. The views from the top are spectacular and I felt like I was on top of the world! The altitude can really affect your breathing and you may experience other physical symptoms so make sure you give yourself a few days to acclimatise before you start the hike.
Lopes Mendes Beach, Ilha Grande, Brazil
Lopes Mendes beach is one of the best beaches in Brazil and some even consider it to be one of the most beautiful in the world. I have to agree! On the Island of Ilha Grande (meaning big island), three hours by bus from Rio De Janeiro lays a 3 kilometre stretch of paradise. We stayed at the largest village on Ilha Grande, Vila do Abraão where there are no vehicles except for a few emergency ones. So if you want to go anywhere you have to go by foot or boat. It’s beautiful and relaxing but it’s where most people stay so it can be pretty busy and it’s no Lopes Mendes.
If you’re looking for the easy way to get there you can catch a taxi boat from Vila do Abraão to one of the beaches near Lopes Mendes. That’s the closest they will take you because Lopes Mendes is a surf beach with lots of waves. But if you want to go on an adventure and you are up for the challenge, then put on your sneakers (or thongs – yes we hiked in thongs), pack some lunch (or take some money to buy a sandwich from the vendors on the beach), fill up the water bottle and begin the 3 to 4 hour hike to one of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the world.
The hike is around 6 kilometres long. Along the way we saw a snake slither past us and a few types of monkeys. We also heard some pretty scary sounds but we think it might have been one of the locals trying to scare the tourists. If it was they succeeded! Don’t be fooled by the first beach you cross, or the second. They are not, I repeat, they are NOT Lopes Mendes! When you reach the first beach, keep walking until you almost reach the end and you will see some rocks on your right that you need to walk up. If you’re unsure then ask a local. We stopped at a little restaurant at the first beach and treated ourselves to a cup of Acai, banana, granola and honey (we ate this every day on Ilha Grande) to give us a burst of energy. Another steep climb and one or two kilometres later you’ll reach a second beach. There’s a sign pointing you towards Lopes Mendes that you won’t miss. As soon as your feet hit the soft, white sand you’ll know you’re only a few hundred metres away. And then a little slice of paradise will appear and you’ll arrive in beach heaven! It was the perfect reward after a long hike in the heat. If you choose to hike back then make sure you allow enough time to get you back before the sunsets so you don’t get caught hiking in the dark. We love the beach and spent almost the whole day there so we ended up taking the taxi boat back. The last boat leaves at about 5pm so make sure you don’t miss it!
Trekking Through the Amazon Rainforest
We entered the Amazon rainforest from Manaus in Brazil and spent a night in a hut that we organised through Amazon Backpackers. We fished for piranhas, watched the sunset and sunrise from a canoe, saw our guide catch caiman, spotted some sloths, ate coconut grubs and trekked through the Amazon jungle. Along the trek we were shown medicinal plants, the Brazilian rosewood tree (used to create Chanel no.5), Acai trees and swung on jungle vines like Tarzan. There are so many different parts of the Amazon that will give you different experiences so do your research and find out what you want to do and see. My partner wanted to see tarantulas and I wanted to see pink dolphins but we didn’t allow ourselves enough time to trek to where the tarantulas were. We were there in August and because of the water depth, the pink dolphins had migrated to another part of the Amazon. We did see grey dolphins and it was still a great experience!
The trek we did was only about 2 to 3 kilometres long, but it was sweltering hot and we were dripping with sweat the whole time. We were advised to wear long sleeves and long pants because of the mosquitos, which didn’t help with the heat. Make sure you take lots of water and choose a trek where you get to see the sights you want.