Blog WH Travellers

Shandos ... planning a WH trip to South America

Shandos Cleaver and Joel Baldwin are a travelling couple from Sydney, Australia. Among other trips, they have travelled non-stop across Europe for 1.5 years and during Covid did a full circle around their home country. They’ve just returned from a 3-month journey across South America, visiting Panama, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Ecuador, plus the USA, and 38 WHS. As Shandos is the chief planner of the two, being goal-oriented and very organised in daily life as well, I asked her for her planning tips for WH travellers.

How do you proceed from a general trip idea towards a more detailed itinerary?

This depends on the trip. On about half of our trips we’ve fully planned (and booked) everything before leaving - such as when we visited India, China and Japan. I use an iterative approach, starting with a rough itinerary (which is probably too ambitious), then checking transport connections and opening hours (and usually needing to shuffle something), then starting to book (generally transport first, before hotels), then compiling detailed notes for each day.

On other trips, I’ve had a rough itinerary and notes on what we want to visit, but leave finalising the details and booking anything until the last minute - a few days in advance. This works best when travelling by car or during off-peak season, such as our trip to Mexico.

I think if you’re intending to tick off WHS and not have some narrow misses you need one of these two approaches - either thorough planning and advance booking (plus a little wiggle room for countries like India) or plenty of flexibility.

Do you use specific tools, apps?

During Covid, when actual travel wasn’t possible, I started using Airtable, an online cross between a database and a spreadsheet. I’ve got notes on all the WHS that we haven’t yet visited, plus data on travel warnings and Covid testing requirements, plus I put together a rough itinerary per country.

I also love to use Evernote and Google Sheets. This year I also started pinning on Google Maps - I love being able to see visually all the key places we want to visit in a city (plus it’s handy for picking out good restaurants in advance).

Did you find South America a difficult continent to plan for?

It’s both easy and hard. The easy part is that there’s plenty of long-distance buses, including across borders, and well-trodden backpacking routes to rely upon in many places. The situation with visas has also become easier in recent years, including for Australians.

There’s also some difficulties though! In most countries we needed to visit a telecommunications shop to get a new SIM. Argentina is frustrating due to the dual exchange rates, plus the inflation rate makes prices difficult to find out. Also, the distances are bigger than you realise - particularly in Brazil!

How long beforehand did you decide on this trip?

In one sense it was last minute, but in another way it had been a long time coming! We initially wanted to visit South America way back in 2017, and then in 2020 I started to plan a trip to Peru, which of course was cancelled. Then in early 2022, after visiting Mexico for 2 months, we were about to book flights to Peru, but had to return home in a hurry as our dog (who was staying with my parents) required surgery.

After our dog recovered from surgery, I wanted to finally travel back overseas with him, travelling first to the USA and Canada, then on to Europe. However, we’ve now decided it’s too risky to fly overseas again with him (especially with the quarantine when he returns to Australia). So we made a last minute decision to fly to South America, booking flights only three weeks out!

Did you book transport, hotels, and tours in advance?

We didn’t book much in advance, just the bare minimum, including our flights up to Peru, Peru Hop bus tickets and the all-important Machu Picchu entry tickets and train tickets. Everything else we booked on the road, including hotels.

We did change tack once we got to Argentina. Due to school holidays, we had to start planning and booking further in advance. Plus we also booked the rest of our flights, after realising flights both within and leaving Brazil are quite expensive, at least at the moment. However, we left some extra days for our time in Brazil, in case issues came up.

Which parts of the itinerary did you worry about beforehand, and how did they pan out?

Our biggest worry was missing out on seeing Machu Picchu. That’s why we started our trip in Peru - so we could plan our itinerary up to that point and book our tickets in advance, before we left home. Everything turned out fine, even the weather, although it’s surprising how disorganised things are for such a major site!

Whatever plans we had went entirely out of the window in Bolivia. Joel came down with a stomach bug that delayed us for a few days, then we got stuck in the town of Concepcion due to a blockade. We were meant to be returning to Santa Cruz and then taking an overnight bus to Argentina, but ended up stuck in the small town in the middle of nowhere for four days.

What were your 3 favourite (T)WHS of this trip?

The stand-out site for me on the trip was Iguazu Falls - it’s just such a spectacular sight! It’s actually two WHS, with separate sites for the Argentina and Brazil site. I preferred the Argentina side but you have to visit both.

Machu Picchu and Galapagos Islands were also both huge bucket-list items on this trip. Out of lesser-known sites, there are some amazing churches in South America, including in the Ouro Preto and Quito WHSs. 

The photos (courtesy of Shandos & Joel) from top to bottom show Iguacu/Iguazu WHS, the couple in Machu Picchu WHS, and the church of Concepcion which is part of the Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos WHS. Reviews of the WHS in their trip have already been published, such as San Lorenzo and the Cerrado Protected Areas

Els - 2 October 2022

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Michael Ayers 2 October 2022

Too bad Schnitzel wasn't able to add to his WHS count!

Nice work, the top Sites of South America are hard to beat!

Jay T 2 October 2022

Sounds like an amazing trip! Iguazu Falls really is impressive; both sites would be my favorite natural sites in South America. Hope Schnitzel is feeling better after surgery.