Emily Luxton

Emily Luxton is an award-winning travel writer and blogger on a mission to explore the world through deeper, more intelligent travel. Seeking out adventure, cultural experiences, authentic cuisine and more, Emily is aiming to get to know the world through travel, and blogs about her journeys at Emily Luxton Travels. A lover of the great outdoors, sunsets, good food, good wine, and the odd bit of luxury, Emily's travel stories feature a range of different travel styles and trips - but the overall focus is always about deep travel.

Best Backpacker Towns in Colombia

Best Backpacker Towns in Colombia - Paragliding- NextStopLatinAmerica

Colombia is a backpacker’s dream. Lively cities, Caribbean beaches, fantastic nightlife, adventure sports, and incredibly low prices all add up to create an amazing travel experience. Backpackers love the big cities, especially Medellin for it’s fantastic night life and fun walking tours, but the real highlights of Colombia lie in it’s small towns and villages – and below you’ll find four of the best backpacker towns in Colombia.

Thanks to the country’s amazing diversity, all these towns are popular for very different reasons. From action-packed adventure sports, to stunning mountain scenery, to beautiful beaches – a trip around Colombia can feel like a tour of dozens of different countries. But wherever you travel, you’ll find welcoming locals, amazing food, and a real sense of fun and adventure. Don’t miss these four backpacker highlights…

Minca

One of my favourite backpacker towns in Colombia has to be Minca. A small village in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Minca feels wonderfully cut off from the real world – despite being just an hour’s drive from Santa Marta. Amazing hikes through cloud forest and lush jungle, stunning waterfalls and natural swimming pools, and fabulous sunsets over the not-too-distant ocean almost every night. Not to be missed!

Taganga

Colombia’s north coast is all about beaches. While the beautiful old city of Cartagena draws the major tourist crowds, backpackers prefer to head to Santa Marta and the surrounding region for a cheaper and more chilled vibe. The small town of Taganga, just next to Santa Marta, has a small beach with a great atmosphere and plenty of budget beach bars. Tagana’s nightlife is great, and the town’s hippy vibe attracts plenty of backpackers, but the beach isn’t all that stunning. For true tropical paradise, head into nearby Tayrona Park – where you can trek through jungles, spot monkeys and other wildlife, and camp on some of the best beaches in Colombia.

Best Backpacker Towns in Colombia - Taganga- NextStopLatinAmerica

Salento

Incredible mountain scenery, lush green valleys, sublime peace ,and seriously chilled out vibes make Salento is a must-visit for backpackers. Stay in one of the hostels just outside of town, like lovely Yambolombia, for a more relaxed experience. Salento is all about the countryside, from exploring the local coffee farms to horse riding through Andean valleys. The stunning Valle de Cocora national park – home to the world’s tallest palm trees – offers numerous trekking routes with the chance to see hundreds of beautiful, brightly coloured hummingbirds.

Best Backpacker Towns in Colombia - Salento- NextStopLatinAmerica

San Gil

In the Santander region between Bogotá and Santa Marta, San Gil is an ideal way to break up the lengthy overland journey to the north coast of Colombia. It’s also the capital of adventure sports. You can try your hand at white water rafting on rapids up to class 5 (the safety maximum), or go mountain biking and trekking in the incredible countryside. The big draw, though, is the paragliding – which can start from as little as $30 for a tandem flight. An unmissable experience in Colombia.

Tempted to book your flights right now? LATAM Airlines have some great deals at the moment – don’t miss them!

Exploring Peru’s Other Ruins

Huaca del Dragón, Trujillo

Over and over, as I explored the north of Peru, the theme song from Indiana Jones was playing on a loop inside my head. I just couldn’t help it. Looking around the giant sandcastle of a ruined Chimú city, and hunting down Moche tombs in the desert, it was hard to think of anything but the legendary be-hatted archaeologist.

The Inca city at Machu Picchu may be the only one anybody’s heard of, but Peru has quite a few more pre-Colombian ruins up it’s sleeve. Something I discovered on a tour of the arid, sand-swept north coast of the country, working my way around settlements and temples left behind by the cultures that came before the famous Incas.

Starting in Chiclayo, a dusty coastal town that rarely seems to see foreign tourists, I worked my way down the part of the coast that most visitors skip, tending to fly straight into Lima before travelling south to Cusco. On the outskirts of town, a stretch of dry and unassuming desert is home to a surprising secret; the Sipan Tombs of the Moche people, a pre-inca culture from 100 – 800 AD. When I visited during April, the air was parched and hot, and the intense sun beat down on me as I headed out into the barren landscape to inspect what appeared to be a tall, sandy hill. In fact, this was an adobe pyramid containing fourteen tombs, all filled with skeletons, gold, pottery and other artefacts.

Sipan tombs, Chiclayo

There was certainly more to see than at Machu Picchu, since more relics had survived here, and there also were far less other visitors around to see it. As I explored the eerie, lunar landscape and the excavated tombs beneath a hot tin roof, the Indie theme popped into my head, and from then on I couldn’t shake it!

A little way south, I found myself in the larger town of Trujillo. More popular than Chiclayo, and with a great beach at nearby Huanchaco, Trujillo was a really fascinating place – and it was teeming with incredible archaeological sites. At the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna, more Moche tombs on the edge of a one-time city, the original carved walls still survive in incredible condition – thanks to being buried beneath a mound of sand for centuries. Still humming the Indie theme, I dived into a fascinating complex of tombs, each sealed within the other like a Russian doll – aiding preservation beautifully –  to discover incredible carvings where the original paintwork in red, white, blue and yellow still survives. Seeing centuries old paint still intact despite being abandoned to the elements was truly breathtaking, and the ancient Moche temple – a site of human sacrifice at one time – was absolutely fascinating.

Huacas del Sol y de la Luna

Last, but by no means least, were the ruins of Chan Chan. A city built by the Chimú culture around 850 AD, this huge complex of adobe buildings is now spread all over Trujillo. I found most of the various temples completely deserted, like the Huaca de Dragon, a pyramid shaped temple completely covered with carved images of dragons which have been expertly restored.

Huaca del Dragón, Trujillo

Again, I was humming that familiar track as I made my way into the final stop. Nik An Palace is the heart of the city of Chan Chan and the largest structure still surviving. Huge sand walls, some with the carvings restored and others still hidden by centuries of sand build up, surrounded an amazing complex of rooms and courtyards that was absolutely incredible to explore.

Nik An Palace, Trujillo

Peru’s most famous culture were the Incas, but they were actually the last of many different cultures, all of whom have left their mark on the country. Exploring some of the lesser known ruins, and having most of them almost to myself, was really exciting and gave a fascinating insight into the country’s history – one which many visitors tend to miss.

With connecting flights from Lima to both Trujillo and Chiclayo via LATAM Airlines, those ruins in the north of Peru could be closer than you think.

Best things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Atacama Desert- NextStopLatinAmerica

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the driest non-polar desert in the world, and the unique geography of this stark region is a huge tourist draw. San Pedro de Atacama, a small town not far from the borders of Bolivia and Argentina, is probably the best place to explore the region – with plenty of facilities for tourists in town and some really amazing sights very close by. You can reach the town by flying into nearby Calama on an internal flight with LATAM Airlines, then taking a bus or taxi to San Pedro. Here are some of the best things to do in San Pedro de Atacama…

Valle de la Luna

One of the most unique sights close to San Pedro is the Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, named for it’s strange lunar landscape. The valley is filled with bizarre sand and stone formations which have been carved by wind and water over centuries and which can be found in a beautiful range of colours and textures. Salt left behind by dried up lakes create stark white deserts and strange outcrops that look like man-made sculptures, making this a truly unique place to explore. Aim to visit at sunset to see the Valle de la Luna at it’s best.

Valle de la Luna- NextStopLatinAmerica

Star Gazing

Without doubt, the best thing to do in San Pedro de Atacama is stargazing. In fact, the high and dry Atacama desert is considered one of the best places in the world to stargaze – which is why many international observatories and super telescopes have set up shop here. Tourists can visit some of the observatories, take a guided stargazing tour, rent telescopes, or simply lie on the ground and look up at the stunning night sky. It’s an increidble experience.

Explore Chile’s pre-Columbian History

Machu Picchu may be South America’s most famous ruin, but it’s far from being the only one. The arid Atacama region means artefacts have been exceptionally preserved, so there’s plenty for history buffs to explore in San Pedro. Don’t miss the fascinating pre-Columbian archaeological sites of Pukará de Quito and Aldrea de Tulor just outside of town, and head to the fantastic Museo Gustavo le Paige to find some stunningly well preserved artefacts including ceramics, textiles, and shamanic paraphernalia.

El Tatio Geysers

The Atacama desert is skirted by the Andes mountain range, where several active volcanoes have a distinct and volatile presence. Not far from San Pedro, you’ll find the El Tatio geysers, one of the highest elevation geyser fields in the world, where more than eighty geysers and a hundred gassy fumaroles can be found ringed by volcanoes. The geysers at El Tatio put on a spectacular show, making this an absolute must-do in San Pedro, so don’t miss it. Get up early and dress warmly; the best time to visit the geysers is around 6am when it can be freezing cold.

  Geysers El Tatio- NextStopLatinAmerica

These are just some of the best things to do in San Pedro de Atacama and the surrounding area. There are dozens more adventures awaiting in this strange and fascinating landscape of stark contrasts and surreal beauty – making this small town an unmissable stop on any tour of Chile.

Five Reasons to Backpack Chile

Los Flamencos National Reserve, Chile- NextStopLatinAmerica

Chile is a country of extremes. In the north, they have the world’s driest desert – the Atacama – while in the south lie the mountains and glaciers of the famous Patagonia region, and the west coast offers spectacular beaches. Adventure sports, colourful culture, unbelievable natural landscapes, and an amazing cuisine – this country has it all. Not to mention some of the best wines in the world! Here are my top five reasons to backpack Chile…

Underrated Santiago

Often overshadowed by the more famous natural features in the north and south, Chile’s metropolitan capital in the centre of the country is one of the most underrated cities in South America. Backpackers love the trendy bohemian neighbourhoods like Bellavista, LaStarria, and Barrio Italia, while tourist attractions like the teleférico – cable cars – over the city and San Cristobal hill offer stupendous views. The infamous La Piojera bar is a must-visit; try the house speciality terremoto, “the earthquake drink”, a world-shaking mixture of wine and ice cream.

Treks Galore

Chile offers some of the best hiking and trekking trails in the world. Up and down the country, there are hot springs, glaciers, caves, lakes, mountains, and so many more incredible natural phenomena – making hiking in Chile an absolute dream come true! Trek through the mountains of Patagonia and the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile’s most popular attraction, where you can complete the famous W Circuit. Adventure lovers can hike Volcán Villarrica, an active volcano, or to the remote geysers and altiplano lakes of Chile’s highest national park, the Parque Nacional Lauca. And in the north, the aptly named Valle de la Luna in the Atacama desert offers a whole different style of trekking.

Penguin-NextStopLatinAmerica

Penguins

If you think you have to head all the way to Antarctica to see some Happy Feet, think again. Chile’s southern-most regions are home to four species of penguin. Rockhopper, Humbolt, Macaroni and Magellanic penguins can be found all around the south of Chile, but the thriving sanctuaries at Isla Magdalena and Seno Otway are among the best places to get an up close look.

Penguin- NextStopLatinAmerica

Seeing Stars

The Atacama Desert in the north of Chile has become known as one of the best places in the world to observe the skies. In fact the Atacama night skies are the clearest in the southern hemisphere, and many international observatories are based here. In San Pedro de Atacama, a small town that’s popular with backpackers, it’s possible to visit nearby observatories or simply rent telescopes. But you don’t need to, as the night sky is utterly sublime even when viewed with the naked eye.

Atacama Desert- NextStopLatinAmerica

Secret Beaches

Long, skinny Chile is practically all coast, but being so far south people often forget about the incredible beaches in this amazingly diverse country. Which means many of them are still relatively unspoilt. Head to Bahía Inglesa in Caldera for turquoise waters, or to Punta Choros to spot marine life including dolphins and Humboldt penguins. Surfers love Punta de Lobos beach near Pichilemu, one of the world’s best left points. The water off the coast is often frigid thanks to the Humboldt current swinging in from Antarctica, but the beaches are tranquil and the waves in many spots are perfect for surfing.

Beach in Chile- NextStopLatinAmerica

If that’s not enough to tempt you to Chile, maybe the current deals from LATAM Airlines will – check them out now!

The Best of Peruvian Cuisine: Unmissable Dishes

Potatoes in Peru-peruvian cuisine- NextStopLatinAmerica

Peruvian cuisine is enjoying a bit of stardom around the world at the moment, and it’s easy to see why. Incredible flavours, plenty of heat, and a really eclectic mix of styles and influences all create an amazing cuisine which is considered one of the best in the world. If you’re visiting Peru, make sure you don’t miss any of these traditional dishes…