A journey through South America in 1987

Last modified 16.03.2022 | Published 23.09.19871980's, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, South America, Travelogue

Est. reading time:

This is the story of a five month journey to South America in 1987. My girlfriend Bo and I visited five countries on the continent, from Brazil in the east to Peru in the west, from Ecuador in the north to Bolivia and finally Chile in the south.


What we saw

Carrying our backpacks we travelled from the Atlantic Ocean beaches of Rio de Janeiro to the jungle of the Amazon. We climbed high up into the Peruvian Andes visiting villages and towns from Ecuador in the north to Bolivia in the south. We crossed one of the world’s most desolate deserts and made our way down to the Pacific Ocean and the stretched-out country of Chile.

Our means of transportation were mainly public buses and trains. On some occasions we stood our chances on the back of pick-ups, and managed to reduce the number of flights to two stretches.

We got robbed in Rio and caught dysentery in the Amazon. We attended a Spanish language school in Quito. In Peru we were appointed foreign correspondents for a magazine, and we looked down on bubbling lava from the edge of a volcano crater in southern Chile.

The trip lasted from September 1987 until February 1988. This story was published on my blog in 2012 and 2013 based on three sources.


The first and most important source is my own diary

I have not added anything and I have only removed some very private details. What is published is basically my daily diary. As such it may be viewed upon as a historical document, like many other travel stories on this blog. I have for the sake of the knowledge seeking reader added modern day hyperlinks to external information sources. (There was great fun using Google Maps and Street View to locate many of those hotels 25 years ago.)

I have split this diary-based travelogue into chapters, i.e. blog posts, in order to ease reading on a screen.

Some impressions did not fit into the day-by-day sequence so I wrote concluding remarks and retrospective thoughts as the countries went by. I include my impressions here, as in the original manuscript, at the end of each country. Looking back they actually make up pretty good summaries of how I assessed various aspects of the five countries we visited.


The second source is my letters home to the family

They are included in extensio along with scanned copies of the envelopes. My mother had kept the letters ever since 1987/88. I must admit I love those scans. They are all historical documents complete with stamps and all. I have taken the liberty of removing the name and addresses on the envelopes, and some private information in the transcribed and translated letters.

My letters home can be read in sequence, creating a shorter story. Hyperlinks refer to the blog post where they are put:

(1) Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
(2) Porto Velho, Brazil
(3) Manaus, Brazil
(4) Chachapoyas, Peru
(5) Chiclayo, Peru
(6) Quito, Ecuador
(7) Otavalo, Ecuador
(8) Cuzco, Peru
(9) La Paz, Bolivia
(10) Santiago, Chile
(11) Puerto Montt, Chile


SA 1987-88 Envelope-08 Puerto Montt

Envelope of my last letter home, from Puerto Montt


Thirdly I have included a number of my pictures

We shipped rolls of film back home. Most of my girl-friend’s films from the first three months of the journey didn’t make it. Reason? Customs “services” in South America x-rayed them. 

In addition they are presented on this page from Latin America.


The journey in 30 chapters

Here is the complete list of chapters with hyperlinks to the blog entry:

(1) Introduction: This is the story of a five month journey to South America. My girlfriend Bo and I visited five countries on the continent, from Brazil in the east to Peru in the west, from Ecuador in the north to Bolivia and finally Chile in the south.



(2) Brazil (1) – Rio de Janeiro: The departure from Norway and first adventurous and dramatic days in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

(3) Brazil (2) – Beaches south of Rio: Looking for beaches and old colonial towns south of Rio.

(4) Brazil (3) – Ouro Preto: Ouro Preto was the centre of the 18th century gold rush. We also visited nearby Mariana before continuing our journey to Belo Horizonte.

(5) Brazil (4) – Into the vast interior: The next legs of our journey brought us into the vast interior of Brazil. Key words are deforestation, gold rush and long stretches on bus.

(6) Brazil (5) – Manaus and the jungle: We had left Porto Velho on a bus. This chapter starts with our arrival at a boat landing on the Amazon and tells our story from Manaus and a trip into the jungle fishing flesh-eating piranhas.

(7) Brazil (6) – A Colombian sidestep: Moving west on the Amazon we made a quick trip into Colombia.

(8) Brazil (7) – Impressions: We have now been almost exactly a month in Brazil, thirty days more precisely. That is almost what we had planned or expected. It is time for a review of all the impressions I have.



(9) Peru (1) – The Amazon and beyond: This is the story of our travels in the Amazon region in Peru and its difficult connections. We had stayed the night in Leticia, Colombia, the twin town of Tabatinga in Brazil and were set for an onward flight into the Peruvian Amazon and the town of Iquitos. Our journey out of the Amazon and into the Andes had begun.

(10) Peru (2) – Crossing the Andes: The next week we continued across the Andes in northern Peru and prepared to move on up north to Quito, Ecuador. I also wrote a letter home.



(11) Ecuador (1) – The first days: We crossed the border from Peru in the south and went straight to Quito. We immediately found Ecuador to be an exciting country and with a lovely capital.

(12) Ecuador (2) – Otavalo: This is my story from the world’s most famous Amerindian market town, Otavalo, and a very interesting guided trip to the villages around.

(13) Ecuador (3) – Quito: We spent most of the following three weeks on an intensive Spanish language course in Quito, with a few breaks in between.

(14) Ecuador (4) – Towns in the Andes: After spending more than three weeks in the capital of Ecuador we turned south in the Andes Mountains to visit a string of mountain towns and volcanoes south of Quito. The towns were Latacunga, Ambato, Baños, Saquisili, Riobamba and Guapo. The volcanoes are called Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Altar and Tungurahua.

(15) Ecuador (5) – Impressions: More than a month (33 days) in Ecuador was much more than we expected when we arrived here, not to talk of what we said before arriving in South America. But it was worth it!



(16) Peru (3) – Lima and the long journey to get there: After a month in Ecuador we returned to Peru. We spent two days nearly continuously on buses from Riobamba in Ecuador to Lima, Peru over a distance of 1,700 km. Lima had some old colonial buildings, interesting museums, and we were twice subjected to the good old toothpaste trick.

(17) Peru (4) – First days in Cuzco: Christmas was coming up and we wanted to press on into the mountainous southern Peru, and away from Lima. We flew to Cuzco, the ancient capital of the once mighty Inca people.

(18) Peru (5) – Machu Picchu: Finally, one of the highlights of this South American journey was coming up. We were going to visit Machu Picchu. In addition we’re going to spend Christmas in a foreign land.

(19) Peru (6) – Puno, Titicaca and reed boats: The next leg of our journey through South America went to the town of Puno, right on the world’s highest navigable lake, Titicaca, 3,800 metres above sea level.

(20) Peru (7) – Impressions: Like in Brazil and Ecuador we stayed in Peru approximately a month (32 days) and I would like to summarise some impressions from our stay.



(21) Bolivia (1) – The Road to Bolivia: This is my story about the trip from Puno on Lake Titicaca across the Bolivian Altiplano on the road to the city of presumable peace – La Paz

(22) Bolivia (2) – Next days in La Paz: Our next few days in La Paz were actually quite lazy with little happening.

(23) Bolivia (3) – Leaving the country: Moving from Bolivia to Chile on the coast of the Pacific Ocean was no easy matter. For us it involved a long train ride across the world’s driest desert, with views of fascinating salt lakes, and with time consuming border crossing formalities.

(24) Bolivia (4) – Impressions: 13 days in Bolivia was unexpectedly little. Even less expected was the fact that we did not get anywhere but La Paz. Like I have said before, this has a number of reasons. One was our wish to get to Chile, a second Bo’s doctor’s appointment, a third was stiff prices and a fourth reason was a feeling of not finding tempting places to go.



(25) Chile (1) – Peace and prosperity in northern Chile: After 36 hours on the train from Bolivia we had a belated arrival in a country very unlike its neighbours to the east and north. We went about with the usual money exchanging activity, and visited the world’s largest mine.

(26) Chile (2) – We had some relaxing days in the capital of Chile: It was a wonderful city, much to see and with lovely summer weather.

(27) Chile (3) – The Lake District: Moving south from Santiago to the Lake District, an active volcano and a vacation within the vacation.

(28) Chile (4) – The German South: We are taking a closer look at the towns, lakes and islands in the German south.

(29) Chile (5) – The Central Parts: Back to central Chile for the last two weeks before the long way home from South America.

(30) Chile (6) – Impressions: Finally in this diary from Chile I will, as before, try to write down a few summarising views and impressions from what we experienced during our 43 days in Chile.


Read more

Click to read the next chapter about the departure and first days in Rio. View my Travel Map at Travellerspoint.

In South America we visited ten of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. I have posted separate articles on all my visited sites, introduced here

In Brazil we went to Rio de Janeirothe Historic Town of Ouro Preto and the Central Amazon Conservation Complex. In Ecuador we visited Quito, and the Sangay National Park. The heritage sites in Peru were LimaCuzco and Machu Picchu. We did not see any such places in Bolivia, but in Chile we went to the City of Valparaíso and the Churches of Chiloé.


Our guidebook


This copy of The South American Handbook was our invaluable source of information throughout our journey. It was very helpful, and upon returning home we sent them a letter with suggestions for improvements and corrections.

The reader will in the subsequent 29 chapters notice how I at the time was preoccupied with taking notes of prices, addresses, bus companies, distances, etc.; in short making a collection of tips for sharing with fellow travellers. They all came in handy for others at the time, and we were grateful for any little piece of practical information we could get hold on from others. There was no Internet at that time.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This