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01st Apr 2016

Kerry to Rio: The Irishman backpacking to the Olympics

Joe Harrington

The trip of a lifetime.

I’m heading off on a well-worn path this Friday, April 1 as I embark on a backpacking trip from Miami through Central America and South America to Rio where I’ll work at the Olympic games.

It’s the dream.

Well, it’s my dream anyway.

I’ve wanted to do this trip since I read the book The Motorcycle Diaries *CLICHE KLAXON* when I was a teenager.

It seemed so exotic and like there was an adventure around every corner. FYI – I’m not planning a revolution of any kind.

I finally have enough money, and courage, to go and do it. I mention courage because I’m going by myself… I do have friends, honest, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do by myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ll be on the plane thinking “WTF am I doing?”, and that first hostel will be awkward when I turn around in the common area and have to approach strangers without seeming weird.


Flying to Guatemala

The trip starts in Miami which is the handiest connecting city to Central America, I’ll spend three days there before flying on to Guatemala on Monday morning.

You’d think a weekend in Miami is a nice way to start, but I expect it to be sweaty, hot with streaky sunburn as I haven’t been near the sun or a gym in the last… I don’t know… ever.

The flights from Dublin to Miami and then on to Guatemala City were only €580 which is reasonable enough. I used Skyscanner.

Once I arrive in Guatemala City, I’ll hang around there for a few days and then head north to Antigua. Here’s why.

Nicaragua – great bunch of lads

I’ll spend a few weeks visiting ruins, swimming in Lake Atitlan and climbing volcanoes in Guatemala before I head south to Nicaragua.

I’ll be travelling mostly by bus on the trip as I’m on a pretty tight budget, they’re cheap and cheerful… well, at least they’re cheap.

My friend was on a charity trip in Nicaragua a few years ago and he said the locals were the friendliest people he’s ever met so I’m excited about meeting them.

I’ll be in Nicaragua on my 30th birthday (May 12, mark the calendar) so my plan is to be on a hammock feeling the ocean breeze on my skin. Just like this boyo.


From there it’s onto Panama so the white linen clothes will have to be pulled out. I don’t have any, but my brother says I’ll be like the “Tailor of Panama” when I’m there. It’s the only Panama reference he knows.

To be honest, I don’t remember Pierce Brosnan wearing a Kerry jersey and O’Neill’s shorts…

Tailor Of Panama Pierce Brosnan © Columbia Tri-star

I plan on visiting old historic ruins, the famous canal, going on a trek to find hidden waterfalls in the jungle and hanging out in Panama City.

I’ve heard it’s pretty expensive because of all the Americans retiring there so I’ll have to be careful with my cash.

Those three countries will bring me up to the end of May, when I’ll take a boat trip from Panama to Colombia taking in the San Blas Islands on the way, it’s one of the things I’m really excited about.

The journey takes four days so you have to stop off on a three different islands along the way, it looks like paradise.


I plan on arriving into the Colombian city of Cartagena on June 1 and I hope to spend a week there before moving on to explore Pablo Escobar’s home city of Medellin and the capital Bogota.

I took lessons before I left from a guy from Chile called Gabriel (find him here) to get Latin American Spanish and I have a base level that should see me through most situations. I hope.

Colombia is apparently dangerous if you travel at night so I’ll be avoiding any bus trips after dark but a bit of common sense and I should be grand. Here’s a shot of Cartagena.

I have two months to do Colombia, Peru and Bolivia so it’ll be pretty helter-skelter for those eight weeks. After three weeks in Colombia, I’ll move onto Peru and that’s all about the Inca Trail and Machu Pichu.

You know the way photos rarely do an amazing sight justice? I’ve heard that that’s particularly the case with Machu Pichu.

I cannot wait to see it with my own terrible eyes (-2.0, -2.0), I’ll save some contact lenses for that day though. Your man from Twilight is going too.


Bolivia is amazing by all accounts, I don’t know too much about the place other than La Paz will be freezing in July, the Salt Flats will be surreal and I’ll cycle on the World’s Most Dangerous Road.

It’s the the Connor Pass on steroids, here’s a video I found on Instagram.

If I survive that cycle, I’ll go back to La Paz to get a flight to Rio de Janeiro which will cost somewhere between €400 and €500.

Live from the Olympics for JOE

I need to be in Rio for August 1 as I’ll be working at the Olympics for JOE, that’s why I’m splashing on a flight rather than taking a three day bus through the Amazon. I’d like to have done it but time will be too tight.

Rio for the Olympics Games though, what a privilege.

As you can see I don’t have too much planned and that’s the exciting part. I might bump into a group of people in a random place who are going to do something I haven’t even heard of and it might be the most amazing thing I ever do.

I’ll be posting weekly diaries here on JOE talking about the trip, the hostels, the people, the costs, the nightlife, the ups-and-downs and everything else along the way. Follow me on Instagram for photos and videos.

I’ll talk to you next Friday.

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