2018 was one of the best years of my life and I feel so fortunate that I had this opportunity to travel to so many incredible places in the world. During 2018, Shaun and I visited 16 countries in total across South America and Asia and we have had so many amazing experiences that we’ll remember forever.
South America amazed me throughout the continent with the best, most unusual and dramatic landscapes I have ever seen. And Asia continued to surprise and amaze me as it always has done. Now 2018 is over I’ve put together a list of our top travel experiences over the year.
It was impossible to choose a top 10, so here are our top 12 travel experiences of 2018!
12. Perito Moreno Glacier: Patagonia, Argentina
Down in the far South of Argentina lies the huge ‘Glaciar Perito Moreno’. The glacier is a popular attraction in the Argentinian Patagonia and despite being a very costly place to visit I’m so glad we did. You can get really close to the glacier and see and hear huge parts of the ice crushing dramatically into the water. The glacier is particularly unusual because it is actually advancing, rather than retreating like most glaciers worldwide!
11. Machu Picchu: Peru
Perched up at 2400 meters in the Andes Mountains of Peru lies the famous site of Machu Picchu. This 15th century ancient Inca empire site has been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and I can certainly say that it was one of the most impressive set of ruins I’ve ever seen.
10. Snorkelling in the Philippines
Moalboal, located on Cebu island, is a great spot for snorkelling and a famous place for swimming with millions of sardines which totally surround you as they dart around you. The amazing experience then got even better when a huge sea turtle swam past me. Gliding through the crystal clear water alongside a sea turtle was such a special experience for me especially as it was the first time I’ve swam with sea turtles, so this is my 10th favourite moment of 2018, and it cost us absolutely nothing!
9. The Atacama Desert: Chile
The Mars-like landscape of The Atacama Desert in the very north of Chile is the driest desert in the world. The landscape is absolutely amazing, it’s like being on another planet. Parts of it reach elevations of 4000 meters, so it leaves you breathless quite literally!
8. Iguazu Falls: Argentina
Situated in Iguazu National Park in the northern province of Misiones, Argentina, the huge Iguazu falls span across the border of both Brazil and Argentina and have been voted one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. I’ll never forget the power and noise of the huge cascades.
7. Experiencing a Japanese Onsen and a Korean Jjimjilbang
A Japanese onsen is a Japanese hot spring. As Japan is situated in a volcanic area, loads of onsens are scattered across the country. Visiting an onsen is such a relaxing experience but it also means leaving your clothes (along with your comfort zone) behind while you take a dip in the natural bubbling hot springs. I’m a water person and I love being in water for hours, so even though it took me a while to get the courage to strip down and go in, I’m so glad I did!
In Korea, bathing is also taken very seriously, Korean bathhouses are called jjimjilbangs and the one we went to in Seoul was called Silloam Sauna, a multi-storey buiding which featured hot and cold gender-separated baths in the basement and then many other floors which Shaun and I could experience together (in cute PJ’s which we were given to wear) like various saunas (from sitting in a freezer room to lying on top of boiling hot stones), plus entertainment lounges with a cinema, a gym, a cafe and even communal sleeping rooms. Basically Korean bathhouses go far beyond a quick soak – they are a popular place to relax, hang out as well as engage in a load of health & beauty rituals. Our experience of a Korean jjimjilbang was another crazy experience that pushed me out of my comfort zone but it was definitely a great cultural experience that I’ll never forget.
6. Seeing Orangutans in the rainforests of North Sumatra: Indonesia
Deep in the jungle of North Sumatra, we went trekking to see Orangutans in the rainforest around Bukit Lawang. Orangutans can only be seen in 2 places in the whole world; either in the rainforests of North Sumatra or in Borneo. Orangutans are such wonderful animals and it was so cool to see so many of them happy in their natural environment.
5. Going to the border of South & North Korea
We were intrigued to get a glimpse into one of the most closed countries in the world, so we took a day trip from the city of Seoul to the border of South & North Korea. The 2 countries have been separated since 1953 and it was unfortunately not a peaceful split. Many tourists are intrigued to learn more, as were we.
Our tour took us to the joint security area (JSA) and demilitarised zone of South and North Korea. The JSA is the closest point you can get to North Korea, and during the trip we got the chance to physically step into North Korea. The whole experience was surreal and a little scary but very insightful. Not only were we stood in one of the world’s most closed countries, but we were also at the most heavily guarded border in the world, between 2 countries technically still at war.
4. Cycling the worlds most dangerous road: Bolivia
Biking down Bolivia’s historically dangerous ‘death road’ was how I spent my 27th birthday. The North Yungas Road, aka the ‘world’s most dangerous road’ is known by this nickname for all the reasons I’m sure you can guess. It’s a 64 km bike ride descending 3600 meters down a gravelly road often no more than 3 meters wide, add rain and fog to the mix along with a sheer drop to your left hand side, it’s no surprise that around 300 drivers were killed every year on the road until 1994. The numerous gravestones which you ride past mark the many lives lost.
Thankfully, the government have now constructed a new 2 lane road close by which is well maintained and most vehicles use this. These days the few deaths that happen on the death road are from local workers and backpackers still using the death road. It’s a exhilarating bike ride for sure, but I was certainly glad when it was over!
3. The Amazon Rainforest: Ecuador
In Ecuador we visited the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve which is located deep in the Amazon jungle. During our 4 days here we had so much fun that this experience certainly deserves to be in our top 3 experiences of 2018.
As well as seeing loads of amazing animals, we had some really crazy experiences that we’ll remember forever. We jumped off a little wooden boat into the same water that we spotted caiman, snakes and piranhas in. We hiked through knee-deep mud chasing the sound of monkeys in the trees, and then we hiked through the rainforest in the pitch black at night searching for snakes, spiders and other creepy creatures. We also visited an indigenous village, where we met a Shaman who worked his magic to fix Shaun’s back with stinging nettles. And we spotted a giant caiman a few centimetres away from our wooden boat in the dark, all whilst being guided by a man who can speak to animals.
2. South West Bolivia & The Salar de Uyuni
The Salar de Uyuni Salt Flat spans further than the eye can see until the horizon disappears at the end of it, then there’s the lagoons that shine strange colours from red to green and blue, some are filled with flamingos, and snow capped mountains and volcanos rise above them creating picture perfect mirror reflections. At the same time your head pounds and your breath pants from the insanely high altitude. It’s an adventure for sure but one that shouldn’t be missed. We loved our 4 day tour of South West Bolivia and the Salar de Uyuni so much that this was our 2nd favourite experience of 2018. The landscape was so bizarre that Bolivia quickly become my favourite country in all of South America.
1. Hiking the W-Trek of Torres del Paine: Chile
Torres del Paine is a national park located in southern Chilean Patagonia, and the 5 day W-Trek rightfully deserves to be our top travel experience of 2018. The highlights of the trek include jagged mountains, brightly coloured lakes, glaciers, rivers and golden grasslands. The most famous sight of all being the incredible 3 rock towers which give the park it’s name.
Visiting Torres Del Paine was like a dream come true for me, the landscape is literally like nothing I have ever seen before. That moment standing in front of the impressive towers of Torres Del Paine, after 5 days of trekking in the wild land of Patagonia, will forever remain a highlight for me.