Big thank you from

Perfect end to perfect trip

Kayleigh's South American adventure concludes

Kayleigh on the Inca Trail

Kayleigh on the Inca Trail

THIS week Kayleigh McSweeney concludes her three-part series on her recent adventures in South America...

"I was hoping to visit the Salt Flats in Bolivia, but due to adverse weather conditions (it is winter in South America), a lot of the tours were cancelled, so in order to save time, and some money, I hopped on a 2 day bus down to Buenos Aires in Argentina. I had heard mixed reports on this city, but as soon as I arrived, I fell in love with it. It has such a huge European influence and a fantastic atmosphere. It felt good being back at sea level after so long too. I visited most of the main areas of the city, including a cemetery in La Recoleta which has impressive tombs and holds many well known names. Personally, after having visited Pere Lachaise in Paris, I was less impressed compared to those who hadn't.

"There are lots of little market streets in the Argentinean capital with a great vibe, such as pedestrianised Avenida Florida which holds a luxurious shopping centre as well as street markets. One of my favourite areas was in La Boa, home of the famous Boca Juniors Football Team. It was called 'el Caminito' and was a collection of colourful buildings influenced by the Italian immigrants. There were souvenir shops and restaurants, and live tango shows on the street which was great to see. I made sure to try the famous Argentinean wine (Malbec is the best), however, I don't eat red meat, so couldn't sample the famous steaks, but I heard good reviews. Even the Burger King had a specialty with five burgers in it!

"I took an overnight bus to Iguassu Falls on the border between Argentina and Brazil to visit the famous falls. They definitely didn't disappoint. There had been a lot of rain in the days before my visit, so water levels were 8 times higher than normal, if anything this made the experience even better as the waterfalls were more powerful. The scariest point was standing on top of the 'Devil's Throat' and watching the water rush down into a white mist, knowing that if I fell down, there would be no return.

"My next stop was the Brazilian coast, to Paraty and Ilha Grande, otherwise known as a paradise island with what is said to be Brazil's most beautiful beach, Lopes Mendes, and also a surfers' paradise. The great thing about travelling alone is that you're never really alone. You meet people in every place you go and travel with them too.

Kayleigh at Machu Picchu

Kayleigh at Machu Picchu

"When I went to the island, I was in a group of six who I had met in other destinations and we all stayed together from here until the end of my trip. The week we spent there was so relaxing, and the perfect end to a perfect trip. I even tried my hand at surfing, something I had always wanted to do. I managed to catch a few waves, despite the board banging me on the head because of the gigantic waves.

"When we got back to Rio de Janeiro, we did a quick tour of the main tourist areas, especially Christ the Redeemer, where we went up late afternoon, got a fantastic view of Sugar Loaf Mountain, and watched the city light up as the sun went down. It was truly spectacular. There were monkeys all over the place in Brazil, and in the TV lounge of our hostel, they were ready to pounce on you when you were eating. We began feeding them as they were so gentle when taking food from you, one even climbed up my arm to get some, and a baby monkey thought my bracelet was made from berries.

"On my last day, we took a trip to the famous Lapa steps to see the art work with all the tiles and mosaics which was impressive. Later that night we returned there for a famous street party, which was the perfect way to say goodbye to Rio. My last morning was spent recovering on Copacabana beach, which lives up to every expectation.

"My trip came to an end on Saturday August 20 when I flew home and came back to reality. It's fair to say I learnt a lot during my last seven months. One major advantage, from a language student's point of view, has been being able to learn to distinguish the different accents in the various South American countries, and learn the different words they use for certain things in each country, broadening my vocabulary.

"Despite all the stories you hear about people who have had bad experiences while travelling such a dangerous continent, I kept my wits about me and my head screwed on and thankfully I had no problems. Being a single female traveller, I could understand the concern my friends and family had over my decision to do it alone, but I truly had the time of my life, and I think being able to speak the language definitely benefited.

"It was sad to say goodbye to such an incredible continent and to all the people I met. I am so lucky to have so many amazing memories of my experiences and it's something I will always look back on and smile about. It's something I would encourage anybody to do, a once in a lifetime opportunity which allows you to discover yourself and throw yourself out of your comfort zone."

Ulster Star