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Puno, Lake Titicaca and the Uros Islands

From Cuzco we took a direct overnight bus to Puno, which unfortunately arrived at around 4.30am. We had pre-booked the Quechuas backpackers hostel in Puno, so we took a taxi for 5 soles and arrived at what looked like a very closed hostel. After ringing the bell and waiting for what seemed like an eternity, the door finally opened and we were shown to a lovely room where we were instructed to just rest and check-in later. Feeling grateful and in need of some sleep we went straight to bed for a few hours.

The hostel turned out to be one of the best ones we stayed in during our trip. The owner was lovely and helpful, the price included breakfast and free tea/coffee all day and to top it all off, whereas some places would have charged us an extra night for the early check-in, Quechuas, gave the night and breakfast for free!

We planned to stay only 2 days in Puno, as the town itself is fairly small and there isn’t much to see outside of the lake. Also, as it’s a touristy place the food prices are quite high, although we were lucky enough to find Govinda, a set vegetarian lunch place for only 6 soles each.

There a few trips that you can do around Lake Titicaca, including the famous floating Uros Islands, Taquile Island and Amantani Island. We opted for the half day trip to the Uros, and in all fairness you don’t need more than half a day to see them.

I had done this tour back in 2008 and remember it as a fairly peaceful trip with not too many people around. It had had tourists but not hoards of them, and so I was looking forward to taking the trip again with my partner.

We discovered that you have 2 options to see the floating islands, the easy option is to book a tour for around 25 soles each, which includes all your transport and a guide. The second is to go to the port and buy a return ticket to the islands and pay the entry tax. Although, I am not sure as to how you would navigate from island to island if you wanted to.

For simplicity’s sake we took the tour. We were picked up at from the hostel at 8am and went to the dock to board our boat. Once everyone had arrived we headed off to the floating islands. The boat ride is around half an hour and the lake is so calm that you don’t feel like you are on water.

Lake Titicaca: on the way to the floating Uros islands

There are around 60 small islands in total, with 40 odd being located within easy reach of the tour boats. The people from Uros have adapted their way of life to cater for the tourists and a large part of their livelihood now comes from tourism. As a result the tour boats are evenly spread between the islands, with each one receiving 1 – 2 boats per day.

Lake Titicaca: approaching the floating Uros islands

Lake Titicaca: the floating Uros Islands

Each island has its own mini community with a leader and a few families. The women tend to make textiles and the men work on handicrafts and each island has its own little market of handmade goods.

Lake Titicaca: a community in the floating Uros islands

When you first arrive at your designated island you are greeted by the inhabitants and shown how they live, how the islands are formed, what they eat and how, at the markets, they exchange their goods such as fish for fruit and vegetables, which they are unable to grow. Although very much catered to tourists, the explanations are interesting and give you an insight to their heritage.

Lake Titicaca: floating Uros Island presentation

Once over you are invited to see inside their houses and even try on some clothes. You then have the option to pay 10 soles extra for a short ride in their reed boat to a main island. Alternatively, you can just get back on your boat as it has to go there anyway…

The main island I can only describe as hideous. It is almost looks like a floating commercial centre with small bars, restaurants and gift shops. It is totally out-of-place and must be new as I do not remember this from my last trip.

Unfortunately, the Uros islands are now far more tourism orientated than my last visit, so much so that each island seemed to have a boat located on its side. Although I understand the communities’ need for tourism I feel it is going too far and they are turning their pretty little islands and themselves into circus shows. A real shame as it used to be a lovely tranquil place….

Lake Titicaca: reed boat on calm waters

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Sacred Valley – Chinchero

On our way back to Cuzco from Ollantaytambo we decided to pay Chinchero a visit. We took a collectivo from Ollantaytambo to Urubamba for 1.50 soles each, at Urubamba we changed for a bus heading to Cuzco, via Chinchero for 5 soles each.

The views on the way to Chinchero are spectacular, with beautiful green and snow-capped mountains surrounding the landscape. When we arrived in Chinchero we felt like we were the only ones there. The bus dropped us off just outside the steep entrance to the town and until we arrived at the ticket check-point we saw no-one. Even once inside the pretty old stone-walled town we must have come across maybe 4-6 other tourists.

The site is made up of 2 sections, the old church and plaza and the ruins just behind. Again you are surrounded with beautiful landscapes and peace and quiet, it really feels like time has stopped in this little town.

Chinchero - main plaza

Chinchero - landscape panorama

We were lucky enough to arrive at lunch as we discovered that the church only opens from 1pm to tourists. The interior of the church is beyond words, photography is not allowed but I guarantee it will leave you with your jaw hanging. The whole interior is made of wood, but almost every single surface from wall to roof beam is hand painted with natural dye and the details that still remain to this day are beyond impressive.

Chinchero - church

Chinchero - bell tower and plaza with museum in the background

The town also has a little museum which is not included in the tourist ticket but makes for an interesting visit just to see how many intact ceramics were found at the site, including enormous water jugs.

Chinchero museum - huge ceramic water jugs

Chinchero also seems to be a textile center for the area and there are many good bargains to be had. However, if you are looking for a scenic place to relax for an afternoon then Chinchero is definitely the place!

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Arequipa and Colca Canyon

From Nazca we took an overnight bus with CIAL to the UNESCO site of Arequipa for 70 soles each. We arrived in Arequipa early the following morning and as usual had nothing booked. So we took a taxi to the Plaza de Armas for 8 soles and went looking around for somewhere to stay.

Arequipa - Plaza de Armas

We finally settled on Hostel Santa Catalina located just 5 minutes walk from the Santa Catalina Convent. As we were so close and it was still early we decided to pay the monastery a visit. The entrance is quite steep in terms of an attraction and cost us 35 soles each, however it was definitely money worth spent.

Once you go through the gates you enter a different world. It’s like a small town located within the large city of Arequipa! Inside the convent which was closed to the public for over four centuries, you can find cobbled streets, plazas, cloisters, kitchens and much more.

Arequipa, inside Monasterio de Santa Catalina - main plaza

Arequipa, inside Monasterio de Santa Catalina - plaza with fountain

The most striking thing about the convent is the colours. Each section has brightly coloured walls from deep blues to bright reds, and all the streets are lined with geraniums and potted plants. It really  is an amazing place and you can easily spend an entire afternoon wandering from quarter to quarter. Located about half way through the maze of little rooms and streets there is a tranquil cafe selling drinks and snacks.

Arequipa, inside Monasterio de Santa Catalina - inner streets

Arequipa, inside Monasterio de Santa Catalina - one of the passages

The rest of our time in Arequipa was spent relaxing in the city. It is a surprisingly pretty place with colonial building, numerous museums and a lovely plaza with the large cathedral with an intricate facade. What makes Arequipa stand out the most is the fact it is surrounded by impressive snow-capped mountains, including El Misti, Chachani and Pichu-Pichu.

Arequipa - Plaza de Armas in the evening

We had originally wanted to go and visit the Cotahuasi canyon as part of our time in Arequipa, but after speaking with the extremely helpful Peru information point on the main plaza, we realised that it would involve a 12 hour bus journey that would get you there at around 3am. We calculated it would take us more time to get there and back than the time we wanted to stay, so instead we looked at Colca canyon. Plus, apparently there are no condors in Cotahuasi and that was one thing we wanted to see.

The day before we were due to leave Arequipa I wasn’t feeling too good so in the end just my partner went on a day trip to Colca. The day trip cost 55 soles plus an entry fee of 70 soles to the actual town.

Colca Canyon - landscape views

Colca Canyon - the Colca River

The tour started with a stop at the view-point of Patapampa, from where you can see the Hualcahulca, Sabancaya and Ampato volcanoes. The tour then continued onwards to Cruz del Condor with a couple of more stops along the way.

Patapampa viewing point at 4850m with views of Ampato snow-capped volcano range

Once at the Cruz del Condor he had 45 minutes to walk around and take pictures, and he was lucky enough to see several condors in flight. Once the condor watching was over the tour headed back, with a pit-stop at Maca for views of the Colca canyon.

Colca Canyon - andean condor spotted at Cruz del Condor viewing point

After lunch the tour headed to Vizcachani to spot local animals including Alpacas and Llamas. Unfortunately, the hot springs part of the tour was missed out due to a couple of tour members needing to get back in time for a bus connection. All-in-all he enjoyed the tour and thought it was worth the money.

Once he got back we headed straight out to the bus station to catch our overnight bus to Cuzco.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Nazca Lines

From Huacachina we took a taxi back to Ica to catch a bus with Soyuz to Nazca; the tickets were 12 soles each and the ride was 3 hours. As I had missed out on seeing the Nazca lines when I was in Peru back in 2008, I was determined to now incorporate them into our trip.

We arrived in the town of Nazca at around 11am and headed of to the Inti Wuasi hostel, which we had chosen ahead of arriving. The hostel though turned out to be just ok, it is still being constructed and the place does not live up to the leaflets. However, we were tired and the location worked for us so we stayed the night.

Welcome to Nazca

Upon checking in we were offered a flight of the lines for the same day, but the price was too high for us. So after about 20 minutes of going backwards and forwards with the price we settled on $100 each with a discount on the room too.

We hurriedly got some food and were picked up within half an hour and taken to the airport. There, we paid our tickets and airport tax of 25 soles each and waited for a further half an hour to take the flight.

One thing we noticed about the airport was that there were several flight companies there, we are not sure if it would have been cheaper to go directly to the airport and haggle for a flight but as we wanted to move on the next day we took the easy route this time round.

At 1pm we boarded a small 4 seater plane. Note that prices are tier based, the smaller the aircraft the higher the price as it flies lower for better views, so always make sure you check which aircraft it will be. If you take the higher flight you will probably struggle to see the smaller lines.

Nazca lines - the whale

Nazca lines - the spider

The flight lasts for around 30 minutes and it does not matter which side you sit on as the plane does a loop around each set of lines. The plus side is everyone gets a good view, the down side is if you suffer from motion sickness it will kill you, as it did me.

Nazca lines - the hands and the tree

Nazca lines - the astronaut

In total there are 14 sets of lines to see in varying sizes, but unfortunately I only made it as far as number 5 – 6 before my motion sickness claimed me. Luckily, they are used to this and provide bags for such incidents. One thing that made it worse was the heat. We were flying at 1pm and the aircraft was very hot, so that mixed with the constant twists and turns really got the better of me!

Nazca lines - the humming bird

If you suffer badly from motion sickness it may be worth going to the viewing platforms instead. It may not be as great as you only see a set or two but at least you wont get ill.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Trujillo and Chan Chan

From Chiclayo we took a 3 and a half hour bus to the bustling city of Trujillo. Despite it’s size the centre has a town feel about it with pretty colonial buildings and a main pedestrianized road. The place felt safe both during the day and at night, and there are plenty of places to eat around the centre.

Trujillo colonial buildings on main plaza

Trujillo cathedral on main plaza

Our main reason for visiting Trujillo was the Chan Chan archaeological site and Huacas del Sol and de la Luna. We had booked ourselves in for 3 nights with the intention of seeing both, but unfortunately I was not feeling well for the first 2 days and as such we only had time for Chan Chan.

Nevertheless the Chan Chan site is very impressive as it spans across the coastline and encompasses around 28 sq km. This former city is now mainly in ruins expect for the palace which seemed to be undergoing restoration. To get to Chan Chan take a collectivo marked Huanchaco and asked to be dropped off by the entrance, the price is around 1 sol per person.

Our luck was against us when we went as the museum was closed, apparently this is the case every Monday. So we headed straight to the site. From the main road it is about a half an hour’s walk to the palace’s entrance and where you can buy your ticket. Entrance is 10 soles per person, however this is valid for 2 days and also allows you entry to the nearby sites of Huaca el Dragon or also known as Huaca el Arco and Huaca la Esmeralda as well as the museum.

Trujillo Chan Chan audience room

From the entrance you can choose to take a guide or simply follow the marked path. We opted for the latter and made our way around the beautiful site, in total we spent about 2 hours slowly walking through the various areas including; the main plaza, corridor of fish and birds, the ceremonial chamber, the audience rooms, the ceremonial well and the burial grounds.

Trujillo Chan Chan corridor of fish and birds

Trujillo Chan Chan audience room

Trujillo Chan Chan living quarters

Trujillo Chan Chan burial grounds

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Chiclayo and Sipan Archaeological Site

We originally wanted to stop for a couple of days in Mancora for a bit of beach time but, with the border crossing problems we had encountered and the fact we had already taken a detour, it left us short on time. So instead we opted to take a bus straight to Chiclayo.

We soon learned that unlike other countries we had visited, Peru does not always use main terminals for their buses, instead each company has its own office and bus terminal. As such, it is advised to always ask whereabouts in a city you might end up.

You could be excused for thinking that Chiclayo may be a bit of a run down area as you approach it. In fact, the outskirts of the town look something between half build mud shacks and industrial ventures. But as you come into Chiclayo you find the heart to be a different matter. The town is consists of pretty buildings centered around a central plaza with plenty of hotels, restaurants and shops, and surprisingly a large number of banks.

Chiclayo centre from the main plaza

Chiclayo Santa Rosa de Lima church on the main plaza

Our main reason for visiting Chiclayo was to see the archaeological site of Sipan and the respective museum in Lambayeque. Sipan was at the heart of the Moche civilisation and the site had been a treasure trove of discoveries with 12 royal tombs, including that of the famous El Señor de Sipan.

As we were short on time we booked ourselves in for an afternoon tour of the 2 sites for 25 soles each. What we didn’t realise was that for that money we actually got ourselves a private tour!

Our first stop were the ruins of Sipan, located about 40 minutes away. Here we were able to look around the 3 pyramids, which now due to weather erosion look more like giant mounts of earth, and the burial chambers in where the tombs were found. These were made up of 9 levels in total, representing a hierarchy of social status, with El Senor de Sipan being at the at the top and soldiers of importance at the bottom. There is a small museum located at the site and entry to the 2 places is 8 soles each.

Path through Sipan archaeological site

Sipan archaeological site excavated grave

After our tour of the ruins we headed back towards Chiclayo and went to the town of Lambayeque, where the Tumbes Reales museum is located. The place has been built to allow visitors to experience the finding of the tombs for themselves. The museum is distributed over 3 levels, with each level showcasing amazing gold, bronze and textile ornaments and artefacts found at the site.

Tumbes Reales el Senior de Sipan museum in Lambayeque

Unfortunately, no photography is allowed. They are so strict that all bags, cameras and phones have to be left at a luggage storage facility. Despite this strange regulation the place is truly worth a visit and you can easily spend 2 hours walking around from exhibit to mummy. The entry is 10 soles each and well worth it!

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Quilotoa Crater Lake

On our third day in Latacunga we booked ourselves onto a day tour of the Quilotoa crater lake. The day trip was again $35 per person and the schedule was the same as per Cotopaxi, pick up at 8am and return back by 5pm.

The tour itself is made of a couple of stops along the way, the first of them being the small and incredibly quiet town of Pujili. We stopped for only 10 minutes to take a quick look around the main square and learn about the style of architecture used, and the rope powered Swiss tower clock which chimes every 15 minutes.

Pujili - main plaza

Following this we carried on along a beautiful road through the mountains with stunning scenery, until we arrived at another pit-stop; the traditional houses of the indigenous people. We were shown a couple of the thatched houses that were dotted along the road and then invited to see the inside of one. However, what we came across was hard to accept.

Settlement near the main road between Pujili and Zambaua

Outside the house lay 2 near starved to death dogs and a wild falcon with clipped wings, in what can only be described as a triangular hand-made cage, which barely gave the powerful bird any space to manoeuver. It broke my heart to watch this majestic bird desperately trying to free itself from the cage. When I asked the guide why the bird was there, he replied that they had managed to catch the bird to display it for tourists who came to visit. In that instance I decided to not partake and turned off my camera and went back outside to wait for the others, needless to say without leaving a “donation” for the owners.

Our journey carried on until we reached the market town of Zumbaua, as it was a Saturday our visit coincided with the market. However, this was not a type of market I had come across before. At first it seemed pretty standard with the usual fruit, vegetable and clothes but as we wandered to the other side we stumbled across what can be best described as an animal cemetery.

Zumbaua - saturday market

The streets were littered with animal bones, and not just your usual chicken bones and odd steak bones, but rather half skull bones with teeth still attached. The smell of dead animals was also strong and everywhere you looked you could see hungry dogs chewing on animal skulls. Personally, I would not recommend this market for this reason and for the fact that it is not of any particular interest.

After a good half an hour of slowly being led through the market we moved onwards again to the view-point for the beautiful Rio Toachi Canyon. Apparently the biggest in Ecuador, the canyon has depths of up to 150 metres, and if you are feeling brave enough you can walk right to the edges of the ridges in the centre and feel as if you are flying above the canyon!

Rio Toachi canyon - panorama

Rio Toachi canyon - viewing point

After taking a few photos we finally headed off to our final destination; Quilotoa crater lake. Once parked we were led up the path to the view-point and were then told to stop and close our eyes. The guide then led us the last few metres with our eyes shut. When we reached the fence we were told to open our eyes, and were met with this amazing sight!

Quilotoa - the crater lake panorama

The whole of the crater is filled with amazingly blue-green water and from the view-point you can see all the way around the crater. When you do the tour you can choose to either do the standard descend down to the lake and hike back up, or you can opt to walk around the crater which takes around 6 hours. The one thing to bear in mind though is that the crater rim is at 3850 metres altitude and that does take a toll on your system.

I was not feeling up to doing either option as I was feeling the after effects of climbing Cotopaxi the day before, therefore I decided to just do a short walk by myself part of the way round the crater while my partner went down to the lake and back.

Quilotoa crater lake view from path

When he returned he said the views from the lake where not as impressive as from above, whereas the short walk I took I thoroughly enjoyed as the views from the rim are remarkable. I just wish I had been feeling well enough to do the circuit as I imagine it to have been truly worthwhile.

Nevertheless, the crater view-point offers everyone the opportunity to appreciate the beautiful surroundings, and when you have had enough of the cold wind you can pop into one of the nearby hosterias for a hot tea!

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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