Time to head south on the Inca trail

Stephen McCabe

Credit: Stephen Mc Cabe. The amazing Inca Trails and wonder of South America are just a breath away.

For some people the idea of backpacking and students represents a tacky idealism of Thai full-moon parties, fluorescent revellers and the proverbial buckets of whiskey.

And, while there can be no denying the allure of Thailand and its exotic treasures are a draw, they are a far cry from the rugged challenge that South America offers up.

Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer, The Patagonian Glaciers and the Salar De Uyuni, South America conjures up many iconic images. While not as easy to traverse as places like Thailand it is well and truly worth the effort which rewards handsomely.

Deirdre Mullins, RTE’s resident globetrotter/travel journalist, has travelled throughout South America and has written extensively about all it has to offer: “Everything about the place is amazing. It’s beautiful and should be on everybody’s bucket list. The only issue is deciding where to go”

Depictions of Columbia through TV and film suggest a country devastated by crime, and the Narcos suggestion of Drug lords, however, the Colombia, which has emerged from the violence of the cartel wars and has developed itself as a major tourism hub.

According to Mullins, “Colombia is going through a renaissance right now. The security situation is under control and places like Medellin and Bogota are open for business. Twenty years ago, people might have been more hesitant to go there”

Cartagena its the most visited city and the site of the first Spanish colony on the American continent. Situated on the Caribbean coast the city is vibrant and teeming with energy.

“The Salar is breath-taking” says Mullins “Time your trip during the wet season you’ll get the see the world’s largest mirror as the sky is completely reflected in the white salt which is perhaps one of the most breath-taking sights anybody will ever see”

The Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia is the world’s largest salt flats spanning over 4000 square miles.  It was formed about 40 thousand years ago  transformations of several prehistoric lakes.

No trip to South America would be complete without conquering Machu Picchu – the 15th century Incan citadel which stands 2500 metres above sea level. Getting to it is no mean feat and involves a vast trek usually departing from Cusco.

Mullins warns of Altitude sickness, which can be rough: “There are ways to get to Machu Picchu without doing the Inca Trail” says Mullins, “But why would you want to do that when you’re literally retracing the footprints of The Incas. When you get to the top the sense of accomplishment is beautiful”

While it’s undeniable that some of the more traditional student backpacking stomping grounds are easier to navigate these are just some of the many wonderful highlights which await perspective backpackers.

It is by no means a comprehensive list and each person can individually cater their journey to suit their needs.

For those seeking out a true adventure while accessing some of the most interesting sites in the world, South America should be your next port of call.

Image Credit: Stephen McCabe