Monika Clarke survives a crazy, epic holiday through South America.

As a model, travelling the globe is one of the perks I enjoy most. Getting paid to experience luxury hotels in tropical destinations makes those unbearable early wake up calls bearable. 

Experiencing culture has always been a love of mine, and where better to travel over Christmas than to South America? I had three and a half weeks to squeeze in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil.

First stop was the capitol of Chile: Santiago. Upon arrival I had to face my nightmare: my luggage hadn’t arrived. However, I was not going to let this influence my experience.

Santiago is an intriguing city that really comes to life after dark. The streets were full of vibrant people dancing, laughing, and drinking. The place to be during the day was Barrio Lasterria, an historical neighbourhood and popular tourist hub. But the highlight here was walking to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal, on which the 22-meter statue of the “Blessed Virgin Mary” stands.

We continued our journey to Cusco, Peru. We were excited to visit Machu Picchu, “Lost City of the Incas”. After hours of travel, our tour guide, Nancy, took us through the breath taking ruins of the 15th century city.

Our third destination, La Paz, Bolivia, is one of the poorest cities in South America. I was told we were lucky to have hot running water. Before I left for South America, I had just read Marching Powder: the story of Thomas McFadden, an inmate of San Pedro Prison. Due to this, one of my highlights here was standing outside the notorious prison, watching as the gates opened for visitors. From there, it was time to continue our journey to Uyuni.

Uyuni was a tiny little town in the middle of the Bolivian desert and, better yet, it was here that I was finally reunited with my luggage. Our tour guide, Mario, and driver, also Mario, took us through the salt lakes, where there was nothing but salt as far as the eye could see. At night we reached a hotel, also made completely out of salt, including the bed bases, walls, and floors.

That night, I fell sick with food poisoning, but our two-day car tour through Bolivia was to continue the next morning. This, combined with altitude sickness, left me lying across the back seat feeling sorry for myself. I missed out on the flamingo-filled lagoons and natural gas holes and didn’t eat for two days.

Monika clarke travelOnce we reached the border of Chile, we were taken to my favourite town of the holiday: San Pedro De Atacama. After eating an entire pizza, I felt like a brand new person. Riding around town on pushbikes was the biggest highlight of all of South America for me. We found alpacas, horses, and many little tourist hubs.

We then spent one and a half days in Buenos Aries, Argentina, which reminded me of Paris or Rome. It was stunning and full of beautiful people. I felt safe walking through the streets at night. During the day, we visited their famous cemetery and the colourful town of La Boca.

Last but not least it was time for Brazil. We were spending New Years in Rio. For me, it was at first very intimidating. We were constantly warned not to wear any jewellery, handbags, or anything of value, and to be careful when taking photos incase of being robbed. Miramar Hotel on Copacabana Beach felt very safe despite all of this as it was full of tourists and very family-orientated. 

For New Years Eve, the city dressed in White and the beach was closed off from traffic, filling up with party goers, families, and tourists. It was right there on the sand, a beer in one hand, that I welcomed the new year.

Our final destination was an old cobblestone town called Parati. Tucked away four hours outside of Rio, it was here that we finally took some time to relax after our cultural holiday. We relaxed by the pool, ate and drank, and walked to the town, where found the best Açai I have ever eaten.

After two and a half days of absolute relaxation and over three weeks of exploring South America, it was time to begin our journey back home to Sydney. And just like that, it was all over.

See the rest of Monika’s South American adventures here…

Follow Monika Clarke @monika.clarke on Instagram.


Monika Clarke