Between the protests and the shootings, it was a country not to be missed.

From visiting the world famous archaeology site Machu Picchu, a close encounter with a favela shooting and a run in with local protests in Peru, I have certainly experienced more than your average hustle in Latin America.

Stranded in Peru

From the world’s deepest canyons to the highest navigable lake in the world, my family and I were enraptured to begin our trip in South America’s third largest country, Peru, and we got a little more than we bargained for.

Home to the Incan Empire, we began the four-day trek to reach the lost city and discover for ourselves the ingenuity of this ancient civilisation. On the last day as we reached the sun gate, the clouds parted and I had my first glimpse of Machu Picchu; it was enough to leave my mouth agape.

We had had some trouble reaching Machu Picchu because of local protests against the tourism of Peru. When we boarded an overnight bus to Puno (the city home to Lake Titicaca) we didn’t realise that we would wake up in the middle of nowhere – left standing on a dirt road wondering what to do next.

Feeling lost, scared and a little worried, everyone on the bus began walking along the road towards the town. Passing the protests was an unnerving ordeal, with men and women throwing whatever they could find on to the road. A sight I will not soon forget was a man in the middle of nowhere walking with a sign that read my sister’s name.

The anonymous man was in fact our tour guide and welcomed us into his home for some food until our boat arrived to take us around Lake Titicaca. Luckily, we were only there for a day and got out on the next available bus.

The beaches and gangs of Brazil

When we landed in Brazil, we took no time acquainting ourselves with the renowned beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Copacabana and Ipanema are famous for the most iconic beach culture that the world knows. Whether you’re a millionaire or backpacker, no one cares; the beach is a shared space that brings everyone together.

What a beautiful place Rio is, from the favelas tumbling down the hillsides, lush jungle high up the mountainsides and the beloved Christ the Redeemer statue. But when your guide cancels the walk through the favela you had planned earlier because of a gang-related shooting, it’s best to lay low.

Chile for family time

The final chapter of my trip was a three week stay with my mother’s family in a little beach town called Penco, Chile. My extended family includes six uncles and aunties, 13 first-cousins and five second-cousins.

If there is one main value that the whole of South America shares it would be the importance of family and living a life surrounded by it. Living in Australia with my mum and dad and two siblings, it’s hard not to feel a bit lonely coming home with a large family waiting across the ocean.

Travelling through Peru, Brazil and Chile is an experience that has undoubtedly changed my perception on life. I am humbled by its struggle, enriched by its beauty and heartened by its family values — South America is a life changing place on earth.