Standing on a soft-footed pyramid of sand, I gawp at the scene that surrounds me. On all sides, like an undulating mountain range, the seemingly endless landscape of sand dunes rises from the desert. In the near distance lies the tiny Peruvian town of Huacachina, a postcard-perfect bubble of exotic greenery centred on a desert lagoon.

Squinting through the heat haze, I spot people paddling their way across the lake, surreally crossing one of the world’s driest deserts in a rickety old pedalo. To say it’s beautiful simply doesn’t do justice to this stop on the South American Gringo Trail, and indeed, whoever first coined the phrase ‘an oasis of calm’ was, I’d like to think, inspired in some way by this hidden enclave of southern Peru.

The foreground, meanwhile, is anything but calm. Traversing the blocks of brilliant blues and yellows, accompanied by the roars of monster truck engines and screaming passengers, are the high speed dune buggies that have helped cement Huacachina’s reputation as an adrenalin-fuelled stop-off. It’s like watching a Micro Machines videogame come to life and I’m desperate for my turn.

Luckily, I don’t have to wait long. Strapped in, with revs surging through my body, our driver puts his foot down and we’re away, straight up the sand and soon making our own contributions to the desert screamfest. It’s like riding a rollercoaster without tracks as our expert navigator screeches around like Spider-Man, hopping from dune to dune, no angle too steep as we storm to the top of each windswept crest before plunging down once again at high speeds, only stopping now and then to give us a chance to fling ourselves down the slopes on sand boards.

In a year’s worth of Latin American backpacking, I’m hard-pushed to think of a few hours in which I’ve had more fun. It’s moments like this, I ponder, that make me love travel so much.

The desert speed session, however, means I’m nearing the end of my fortnight-long race between the Bolivian and Peruvian capitals, a hop on/hop off mission that had begun, the week before, in La Paz.

Sharing the honours of being Bolivia’s capital with Sucre, La Paz is a breathtaking city in more ways than one. Situated 3,650m above sea level, visitors flying straight into Our Lady of Peace, as La Paz’s full name translates, almost certainly get a taste of altitude sickness. But the shortness of breath is more than compensated for by the stunning surroundings.

Nestled in a valley floating high in the atmosphere, La Paz creeps up the surrounding peaks as if it’s a pool of civilization formed by spilled-over glacial waters. Traditional culture is alive and visible on just about every street corner, more so than in almost any other South American city. There’s certainly no way you could mistake La Paz for some faceless international metropolis.

Whether you’re window shopping for dried llama fetuses in the Witches’ Market, paying a visit to a cholita wrestling match, in which the traditionally-dressed women, complete with bowler hats, take to the ring, or simply wandering the streets, there’s no chance of thinking you could be anywhere but Bolivia.

The desert speed session, however, means I’m nearing the end of my fortnight-long race between the Bolivian and Peruvian capitals, a hop on/hop off mission that had begun, the week before, in La Paz.

Sharing the honours of being Bolivia’s capital with Sucre, La Paz is a breathtaking city in more ways than one. Situated 3,650m above sea level, visitors flying straight into Our Lady of Peace, as La Paz’s full name translates, almost certainly get a taste of altitude sickness. But the shortness of breath is more than compensated for by the stunning surroundings.

Nestled in a valley floating high in the atmosphere, La Paz creeps up the surrounding peaks as if it’s a pool of civilization formed by spilled-over glacial waters. Traditional culture is alive and visible on just about every street corner, more so than in almost any other South American city. There’s certainly no way you could mistake La Paz for some faceless international metropolis.

Whether you’re window shopping for dried llama fetuses in the Witches’ Market, paying a visit to a cholita wrestling match, in which the traditionally-dressed women, complete with bowler hats, take to the ring, or simply wandering the streets, there’s no chance of thinking you could be anywhere but Bolivia.

I’m starting my trip, however, with the city’s two main adrenalin challenges – one old, one new. Up first is one of the planet’s most famous backpacking experiences – cycling down the world’s most dangerous road. Given that label by the Inter-American Development Bank in 1995, due to the horrific number of fatal accidents, this stretch of the La Paz to Coroico road is thankfully not what it once was, due to a recent highway taking much of the traffic elsewhere, but it still makes for a white knuckle ride.

Starting at a shivery altitude of 4,700m, we bump and slide down the mainly gravel road, dropping almost 3,600m in the space of a few hours, desperately avoiding the sheer barrier-less drops, hoping there’s no oncoming traffic on the blind corners, averting our eyes when passing the numerous crosses and above all, trying to remember the wise words of our guide, “Just try not to ride like a wanker.” Fortunately, we’re wanker-free and succeed, reaching the bottom elated, exhausted and totally unprepared for the even scarier bit – driving back up the mountain to La Paz in the dark.

Next is an altogether different challenge. I’m to dress up as Spider-Man and jump out of a 17th floor window. Yes, you read that right. One of the newest and most amusing thrills on offer in Latin America is Urban Rush, which involves donning a superhero outfit before stepping, face first, out of a central La Paz building, 50m above the ground, for an abseiling/freefalling combo, all while some very bemused Bolivians look up from below.

Equal measures terrifying and hilarious, I’m relieved it’s only the views that are to die for.

Time is ticking, however, and I’ve a date with Lima. The tight schedule has meant I’ve decided to abandon my usual method of spending endless hours navigating the super cheap but anarchic chicken buses and trawling through hostel booking websites. I’ve instead signed up with Green Toad, a bus pass company that’s organized all my transport needs, accommodation and sightseeing highlights for not much more cash. With time of the essence, it’s an extra expenditure I never regret.

And so, stress-free, I’m duly picked up and delivered to Copacabana, the main Bolivian town on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I’ve splashed out, relatively speaking, on Las Olas, one of the continent’s most unique and stunningly situated hostels, where each room is a bizarre two-floored building, whether it be a giant egg or a fairytale tower, complete with stained glass windows, spiral staircases and unparalleled views across the bay. Once again, I’ve no regrets about spending the handful of extra bolivianos.

I pass the time wandering the sleepy streets, buying dirt-cheap hand-woven souvenirs I’ve no space for and regularly chowing down on the local specialty – trucha (lake trout). As enchanting as Copacabana is, however, I drag myself away from gazing dreamily at the sparkling waters of the world’s largest high altitude lake and jump aboard a boat to Isla del Sol.

Deemed of huge importance to the locals thanks to the legends depicting the Island of the Sun as the birthplace of Inca mythology, this little isle is dotted with tiny villages, ancient ruins and a maze-like network of walking tracks. Life there is undeniably basic (water, for example, is at a serious premium), but the natural beauty on display around every corner, normally perfectly framed by a grumpy llama, is consistently spectacular.