Bacalar

After yet another night bus- we arrived in the early hours of the morning in bacalar, the lake of seven colours. Arriving at our hostel knackered- our hearts dropped as the hostel was dirty, staff unfriendly and everyone seemed to be ill. We swiftly went to look for other options and luckily found a lovely hostel down the road with an available room. Sadly the weather wasn’t great initially but the lake was still stunning. We went for a little explore on the lake with a pedalo- but returned when it started to rain. Hopeful that the rain would stop we booked a stand up paddle board tour for sunrise the next day. Paddle boarding was so much fun and calming way to start the day. The water looked like a mirror as the sun rose, we made our way to bird island where the birds sounded like pigs. Before heading to the black cenote, a sink hole that is so deep all you can see is black. The difference in depth throughout the whole lake creates so many different colours, varying from crystal clear turquoise, deeper greens, electric blues and completely black.
We also visited cenote azul, which is connected to the main lake by underground waterways. It was so beautiful- almost perfectly round and about 100m in diameter. The water is so fresh and was so nice to swim in. In typical fashion the sun only shone on the day we were leaving but the lake was still beautiful, and somehow unbelievable that it even exists.

San Cristobal

Another long a gruelling night bus to get to San Cristobal- it turns out that Mexico is very mountainous which makes travelling by road very tedious. San Cristobal is a fairly sleepy town- however pretty touristy. Offering numerous tours and day trips from the town. We decided to go on the canyon tour as it was quite different from other things we had seen. On the canyon tour we saw spider monkeys, crocodiles and lots of bird it was stunning- and gave us a real feel for the Mexican countryside.

Whilst we were in San Cristobal there was a huge religious procession which went off for the entire time we were there- which was great lots of interesting traditions to see. However the constant fireworks going off all day and all night got slightly trying!

Puerto Escondido

Having arrived into Puerto Escondido after a night bus- which was so windy it was almost impossible to sleep. We were happy to have arrived! We were staying in a small surfing area of Puerto Escondido called La Punta. The pacific sea was really rough and so warm! We decided to take surf lessons whilst staying in Puerto Escondido- as neither of us had tried it before and we were both really missing doing exercise. The surf lessons were intense, two hours of fast paddling- attempting to get up, getting knocked off and getting back on. We woke up the next day pretty stiff! So spent he day lying on the beach in the sun to recuperate. Sadly that evening it looked like had got sunstroke and ended up being ill for a couple of days.
We also got all of our clothes washed and dried for us- such a treat! We caught up with some people we had met in Oaxaca a few days before which was fun. We also went to a great yoga class on the rooftops overlooking the sea.
The absolute highlight of Puerto Escondido and it will probably be a highlight for the whole trip was releasing baby turtles at dusk on Bacocho beach. It was incredible- we felt very lucky to have been able to witness such a beautiful thing. They looked so tiny, eagerly approaching the huge ocean- the brave little things!

Oaxaca

Widely regarded as the culinary capital of Mexico, Oaxaca offered an exciting array of new foods for us to try. From tlayudas, which look like a Mexican version of pizza, to its famous balls of stringy cheese, quesillo, Oaxaca was the first cuisine to receive UNESCO culinary heritage status. With a number of excellent markets, we never struggled for places to eat.

Alongside the food it had an easygoing atmosphere and a charming old town set around a large square. While here we met up with a girl who Rose studied with at uni, who is living in Oaxaca with her Mexican husband.

One of the highlights while we were in Oaxaca was a day trip to the petrified waterfall, Hierve el Agua. A bit of a pain to get to, it was luckily well worth the visit. First we took an hour-long ride on the local bus to the town of Mitla. This was followed by another hour’s journey on the back of a pickup truck through the mountains. We arrived to an incredible view of both the waterfall and the surrounding mountains, with only four other people there. Above the waterfall is a mixture of natural and artificial pools, which were great for escaping the heat.

Puebla

The Spanish colonial city of Puebla is a short bus ride southeast of Mexico city. The journey there was stunning: we snaked through mountains and passed the active Popocatépetl volcano, which was billowing smoke. Puebla is really cute, the old town is an UNESCO world heritage site and it’s obvious to see why. Every street is pretty, boasting different colours and often adorned with patterned tiles. There are also countless churches and an impressive cathedral. There wasn’t a huge amount to do in Puebla, so we took the time to have some quiet days and visit a couple of museums. One of the main things Puebla is famous for is a dish called mole poblano. Mole is the name used for a number of different sauces in Mexican cuisine. Mole poblano is the most famous, made from an apparently ancient recipe, and consists of lots of different chillies and chocolate. We gave it a try, it was pretty good, but quite rich and definitely not something you would eat every day. After only a brief visit, we were heading of on another beautiful journey to the city of Oaxaca.

 

Mexico City

After a long flight from Rio we arrived in Mexico city to a noticeable change in temperature. Going from spring to autumn and to an altitude of 2250m was something of a shock to the system.

We were staying in a neighbourhood called Coyoacán, which is where the artist Frida Kahlo was born. Although a little way out from the centre, it easily made up for this through its excellent food markets and charming atmosphere. It also meant that we were in an ideal location to visit Kahlo’s old house which has been turned into a museum.

One of the most interesting features of the city is its wonky buildings. Initially we thought this might be due to some dodgy architecture, but it turns out the city was originally built on a lake, and is gradually sinking at a rate of around 10cm a year. Despite this, the buildings themselves are quite stunning, including an enormous national palace and a Spanish-looking cathedral. Unfortunately though, one of the main Aztec temples was destroyed in 1521 to make way for this cathedral.

We were lucky enough to stumble across an Aztec ritual taking place in the middle of the city. Hundreds of people were dancing along to drums in traditional dress, with lots of incense burning and conch shells being blown. Although we had no idea what was going on, it was so interesting to see.

Before we left Mexico City we took a day trip to see the remains of the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, around 25 miles away. Established around 100BC, it was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with over 150,000 inhabitants at its peak. The remains of a number of the city’s pyramids still exist and made for a fascinating day out. Climbing up the pyramids of the sun and the moon offered impressive views of the whole site.

It was refreshing to finally get some decent local food with more than one vegetarian option. Plus, the addition of chilli and enough avocado for an army was a real treat! We were excited to eat the rest of our way through Mexico.

Rio de Janeiro

Rose’s mum’s cousin Vik has lived in Rio de Janeiro since the 70s. She rents a couple of rooms through Airbnb so we decided to rent one of her rooms and catch up with her!

Rio from start to end was stunning: the city is incredible, the mountains, the sea and the many vistas made every venture out of the house beautiful. The weather was lovely on our first day so we decided to head up to see Christ the Redeemer, having spotted him numerous times from afar looking over the city.

We got the tram up to the top of Corcovado mountain. As we approached the summit we excitedly looked up to get a glimpse of the iconic statue up close; however, all we saw were clouds! We later found out that this is a regular occurrence at the peak of the mountain, so we waited it out in the hope the cloud would move on. Luckily it did and the cloud actually broke through Christ the Redeemer, therefore creating a cross-like cloud formation as a backdrop. We also visited Sugarloaf mountain, named due to its resemblance to the cones of sugar the country used to produce.

We were then struck by some of the worst weather we have had while travelling, raining for around 48 hours non stop with a heavy, rainforest-type rain. Luckily Vik organised a lovely Sunday lunch with her family and us.

We thought we had to check out Copacabana, due to it being so well known and its reference in numerous songs and films, despite the insistence from many people it was not worth visiting. Arriving on the long stretch of beach you can probably imagine what it was like: absolutely teaming with people and a current so strong you cannot even swim. Not to mention the fact that the water is supposed to be so polluted that swimming isn’t advised.

We absolutely loved our time in Rio, it’s an infectious city and probably out favourite so far. The best thing we probably did was visit Santa Marta Favela. We went on a tour run by Vik’s friend, Thiago, an ex-dancer who lives there. It was such an insightful experience, everyone we met inside the favela was friendly and welcoming, we were even invited for coffee in someone’s house. Santa Marta is a pacified favela, which means the police have reclaimed it from drug dealers and are stationed inside in an attempt to reduce crime. Theoretically there are no drug dealers living there anymore. This does not mean, however, that the people who live there like the police, and it can be hostile between the people and the police. The people are pretty open about preferring living in favelas run by drug dealers than the police as they feel safer. The new issues between the people living in the favelas and the government is that they pay taxes, the same amount that people in proper houses pay. This is contentious, they regularly get power cuts and they have dirty sewage water running through the favela uncovered. It’s sad that the stigma attached to the favelas are so negative, we had a wonderful time there and found the experience enlightening.

Ilha Grande

Ilha grande is a small island with no motorised vehicles just off mainland Brazil. We stayed for 5 days. Arriving in another tropical storm, luckily nothing in our bags got wet. We stayed at a gorgeous little guest house just outside the town and managed to enjoy the rain from our veranda lying in a hammock.

With the weather forecast saying it was due to rain every day we were there, we woke feeling apprehensive about what we would do—luckily it looked like the weather had broken. We decided to hike to an old and now disused prison on the island. We walked along the same route the prisoners would have taken after arriving at the island’s main port. It was a 17 km round trip of mountainous jungle, but we had a great time, even though we were soaking with sweat for most of it.

Ilha grande is particularly famous for one of its beaches called Lopez Mendez, which was once voted in Vogue’s “top 10 beaches in the world”. The only way to get there is another long walk or a boat trip followed by a shorter walk. We opted for the lazy option and took the boat there. Needless to say it was beautiful. No sun loungers or bars in sight, just white sand and crystal clear blue water. We called this day our honeymoon day: spending the day reading, swimming, body boarding and sadly burning in the very intense sun!

We also took the opportunity to do some snorkelling. Attempting to avoid the crowds, we opted instead to try a spot away from the well known places. This proved much better and we spotted a number of different types of fish, including a stingray.

We adapted quickly to the easy island life, and before we knew it our time in this paradise was up and we were heading to Rio. Our next and final stop in Brazil.

Paraty

Paraty is a small, old colonial town on the coast between São Paulo and Rio, considered to be one of the world’s most important examples of Portuguese colonial architecture. Interestingly, the cobbled streets are designed so that when there is a high tide the sea water cleans the streets—which you can see in one of the photos!

Paraty was very wet when we were there. However, on the one dry morning we had, we took a local bus to the town of Trindade, next to the best beaches in the area. After enjoying a couple hours of sunshine, the heavens opened and a tropical storm ensued! Despite the rain we didn’t let it dampen our spirits. We still had fun and even managed some swimming in a natural pool.