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Peru to Bolivia Border Crossing

From Puno we took an international bus to get to Copacabana, on the other side of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. The whole journey took around 3 hours including the border crossing. The buses all leave from the terminal terrestre in Puno, which is about a 10 minutes taxi ride from the town centre for 5 soles. The buses tend to leave at around 7am for the morning and then again early afternoon, so we opted for the morning departure.

To make things easy we had already bought our tickets the day before from an agency in town for 25 soles each and they provided us with the actual ticket, instead of just a voucher to then change at the terminal. One thing to note is that you have to pay departure tax at the terminal before being allowed out to your bus, this was only 1 sole per person and they give you a sticker to prove you paid.

The bus follows the road around the lake for the whole of the journey and makes for a nice view if you sit on the left-hand side of the bus. After about 2 hours you reach the border with Bolivia. From here you have to present your immigration form from entry into Peru, which is stamped. You then go next door and have your passport stamped out.

Once you are formally stamped out of Peru you have to walk along the road for 200m through an arch which signifies you are now in Bolivia. Along the way and on both sides you will find money changers, snacks and toilets. Once in Bolivia you will see a building on the left where there are a couple of guys behind desks stamping people in. The whole process is very simple just make sure you have a filled in immigration form at the ready. If you travel with any international bus company they will provide you with one at the start of your journey. As a note there are no fees to pay for either country if you are a european citizen.

Once ready we all re-boarded the bus for the final 30 minutes to Copacabana. Those who were travelling onwards to La Paz had an hour or so to wait for a different bus to pick them up and carry on their journey.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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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 – Tipon

On our last day in Cuzco we decided to visit the Inca site of Tipon, located 14 miles from the city. As we didn’t want to do a tour we decided to take a collectivo instead. The journey lasted around an hour and a half and cost us just over 1 sole each. The collectivo however, only goes as far as the entrance to the town, from here it would be a good 2 hour walk as it’s all uphill, so we opted for a taxi at a cost of 5 soles.

The road to the site is currently under renovation so the taxi dropped us off at the old Inca trail. This is a steep stepped climb of around 45 minutes to get to the actual site. Despite the hard climb it is worth it for the views.

Tipon - Inca ruins - steep step climb

Tipon - Inca ruins - landscape views

Tipon itself is a beautiful site filled with farming terraces, long staircases and water channels carved in bare stone.

Tipon - Inca ruins - stairs between terraces

Each level has pretty ornamental waterfalls and towards the top there is a main waterfall from where the large water system starts. Apparently, Tipon is the largest and most complete Inca hydraulic system currently known.

Tipon - Inca ruins - the aqueduct

The site is large enough to easily spend a couple of hours walking around, and if you’re up for it you can also hike further up the hill to the Pitopuqyo cemetery.

Tipon - Inca ruins - terraces and overview

To save money we walked back to the main junction which took us about 45 minutes. Once at the Pan-American you can get on pretty much any collectivo as they all seem to head towards Cusco. However, they have different drop off points, so its worth asking before getting on board.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 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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Machu Picchu

As we didn’t want to do the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu as part of a tour we decided to travel independently. We travelled by bus and collectivos from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo and after spending the day at the site we took the evening train straight to Aguas Calientes, the small town at the bottom of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu site with Wayna Picchu and Urubamba river

You have a couple of options for making your way to Mach Picchu, the first and most obvious is via a tour agency, the second is by tourist train from either Cuzco or Ollantaytambo and the third option is to make it as far as Santa Marta by bus, then take the hydroelectric train to just outside Aguas Calientes and walk for a couple of hours to the town. There are no roads to Aguas Calientes so you have to take the train one way or another, which is why it is so expensive.

Prices start from $35 to over $150 one way, depending from where you start your journey and the class of train you take. One thing to note is that they do not allow you to take backpacks on board the train, despite the fact that the Explorer train has racks for luggage storage. You are limited to small day-pack sizes per person of no more than a few kgs.

The town of Aguas Calientes is solely catered to tourism and is not worth spending time in. There are numerous places to stay in for all different budgets, with the cheaper options being located on the way up the hill to the thermal pools. The restaurants all offer pretty much the same food, however, if you opt for a “tourist menu” then calculate an additional cost of anywhere between 15% – 20% being added for tax, which they do not advertise.

To get to Machu Picchu you have 2 options, you can hike up for free which will probably take a good 2 hours or you can take the bus which leaves more or less every 5 minutes and takes 10 minutes. The cost for the ticket is around 23 soles one way per person and if you want to save money you can always opt to walk back down instead which takes about an hour.

The entry to the site costs 128 soles per person and the ticket is valid for 1 day only. If you want to climb Wayna Picchu too there is an additional cost to pay. Tickets are bought in the main plaza in town, not at the site entrance. There is a policy of no food to the site but if you take a small backpack they wont check it, and I would recommend taking snacks at the very least as the food at the small shop has extortionate prices, think 10 soles for a bottle of water! Just make sure you take your rubbish back out with you as there are no bins inside.

We spent the whole day at the site and managed to see pretty much everything, although we didn’t opt to climb Wayna Picchu. Instead we climbed to Inti Pukku, the entrance gate for the Inca trail, which provides amazing views and is at pretty much the same height as Wayna Picchu – except it’s free to do!

Machu Picchu overview from Inti Pukku Inca gate

Machu Picchu birds eye view from Inti Pukku

The site tends to get very crowded, so to avoid hoards of people try to visit early in the morning. If you are going to climb either Wayna Picchu or to Inti Pukku try to do it before lunch time as the temperatures get very hot.

Machu Picchu site and Wayna Picchu mountain

The site has plenty of areas for you to relax in, from terraces to covered benches if it rains and the views from the side terraces of the river below are pretty impressive!

Machu Picchu view of Urubamba river from terraces

Machu Picchu is definitely a worth-while place to visit once in your lifetime, but unfortunately the Peruvian authorities know this and charge very high prices for you to be able to take advantage of it.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Sacred Valley – Ollantaytambo

We decided to visit Machu Picchu by ourselves, instead of joining a tour and therefore headed out from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo. We took a collectivo from Cuzco to Urubamba for 4 soles each. From Urubamba we took a taxi collectivo to Ollantaytambo for 3 soles each.

Our plan was to take the train to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo that evening, leaving us with the whole afternoon to grab lunch, look at the site and book ourselves a hostel for our return.

The collectivo dropped us off at the train station so we left our backpack in storage for free until that evening. Heading up towards the plaza we found a nice hostel called Calicanto and booked ourselves in for our return. We walked a little further up and found a vegetarian restaurant for lunch, so far so good!

After a filling lunch we went and did a full tour of the Ollantaytambo site. The site is built across 2 adjoining mountain sides which offer views across the mountains.

Ollantaytambo - Inca ruins - landscape and view down from terrace

One thing we noticed is that most of the tours that came and went only did a small part of the site, which is a shame because the right hand side has a lovely corridor built into the rock face along with a restored house showing how the area would have looked back in the Inca times.

Ollantaytambo - Inca ruins - view from path on a side of slope

Ollantaytambo - Inca ruins - houses on the slope of mountain

At the base of the site you can find some ruins including fountains, aqueducts and houses. Also from the entrance you really get an idea of just how large the site must have been.

Ollantaytambo - Inca ruins - overview

Ollantaytambo - Inca ruins - view down onto the city and the valley

We were extremely lucky because as we started to head out of the site, after a couple of hours of roaming around, it started to rain! Perfect timing…

We spent the last couple of hours in a cafe waiting for it to stop raining, before heading out through the cobbled streets of the town for a short tour of the town.

Ollantaytambo - cobbled streets with Inca walls similair in character to Cuzco

We then grabbed dinner and headed off to catch our evening train to Machu Picchu.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Tambomachay, Puka Pukara, Qenqo and Sacsayhuaman

On our last day in Cuzco, before heading into the Sacred Valley, we decided to go and see the nearby archaeological sites of Tambomachay, Puka Pukara, Qenqo and Sacsayhuaman.

The sites are located one after another and can easily be seen in a day. We took the collectivo for Pisaq and asked to be dropped off at Tambomachay, the furthest site from Cuzco. The collectivo cost us 3.50 soles each and took about 15 minutes.

Once at the site we bought our tourist ticket for 128 soles each. The ticket is valid for 10 days and allows you entry to all the marked sites in Cuzco and the Sacred Valley. You cannot pay for each site entry individually, you either take the full ticket for all sites or choose between a city tour ticket or a Sacred Valley ticket, each for 70 soles.

Tambomachay consists of 2 main areas; the top with aqueducts and farming terraces and at the bottom a main fountain with 2 channels that were used as ceremonial streams.

Tambo Machay - Inca ruins

Across the road lies the site of Puka Pukara, formerly a military control post and sleeping quarters for the entourage of the Incas. Although a very small site nowadays, the views are beautiful. You can see across the landscape from the former control tower and across to the site of Tambomachay.

Puka Pukara - Inca ruins - overview

Puka Pukara - Inca ruins - landscape views

From here we jumped onto a collectivo heading back to Cuzco and paid 1 sole each to be dropped off at the next site, Q’enqo.

Q'enqo - Inca ruins - overview

When you first arrive at the site it seems like nothing more than some large rocks and a couple of small rooms. However, as you start to walk around and indeed from the top of the site you get a really good view of just how big and important this had been. In fact the site used to be an amphitheater with underground galleries for ceremonial purposes, including an altar.

Q'enqo - Inca ruins - inside the ceremonial chamber, altar on the left

From Q’enqo we walked about 15 minutes to the last site, Sacsayhuaman or Saqsaywaman, depending on your origins. For me this is the most impressive of the 4 sites. Built over 77 years the gigantic fortress walls consist of almost megalith stones which fit together without any need for mortar. In fact the precision with which they fit together is truly impressive, especially when you consider the largest weighs 70 tons!

Sacsayhuaman - Inca ruins - the walls with Cuzco in the background

Sacsayhuaman - Inca ruins - the walls close up

The site consists of 2 sides and you can walk through some of still standing doorways up to the top terrace which offers views across the city of Cuzco.

Sacsayhuaman - Inca ruins - main plaza

Sacsayhuaman - Inca ruins - landscape view with the walls

You can add a final site to your itinerary for free, the white Christ (Cristo Blanco). This is a statue that sits atop a hill opposite Sacsayhuaman and again offers visitors views across the city. As the weather was turning we skipped this and instead followed the path back down to Cuzco.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Sacred Valley – Pisaq Market

We arrived into Cusco early in the morning on Sunday, following our overnight bus from Arequipa. We checked ourselves in and as it was still only 9am we decided to head straight out to the Pisaq Sunday market. We took a collectivo for 5 soles each and arrived in Pisaq around 40 minutes later.

I had visited Pisaq market 4 years earlier and had memories of colourful and interesting stalls lining the cobbled streets of the small town. So we made our way into the market and re-walked the streets I had previously done. I soon started to notice a difference in the stalls.

Pisac market - main street

Whereas in the past they had been filled with interesting metal works, antiques and tourism items, something like Portobello meets a tourist market. They now seemed solely focused on selling the same tourist items from stall to stall.

Pisac market - colorful stalls

Although still as colourful as I remembered, it now felt like it had lost some soul. Like the stall owners had sold out and opted for commercial tourist items instead of originality.

Pisac market - more colorful stalls

After walking around for an hour or so we decided to head back feeling slightly disappointed.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Cuzco

I had fond memories of Cuzco (Cusco in Spanish) as I had visited this beautiful UNESCO city back in 2008 and I was looking forward to seeing it again.

We arrived on an overnight bus from Arequipa and had pre-booked 2 nights at the Samay Wasi hostel, located at the top end of the San Blas area. The nice touch was that they picked us up at 5am from the bus station and gave us a free breakfast upon arrival. As our room wouldn’t be ready for a few hours they even let us freshen up in a dorm area.

The staff was really lovely and even had our backpacks waiting for us in the room once it was ready. However, once we checked in to our room the lovely surprises ended. It was freezing in the room and at night despite the heavy blankets we had to go to bed virtually clothed to try to stay warm. There were no heating facilities anywhere in the hostel, even the common areas, and after our pre-booked 2 days there we were happy to move.

We found Samanapata Backpackers located a few roads down, closer to the San Blas plaza. Not only was it cheaper and warmer but the location was much better. We had numerous restaurants on our doorstep, including several cheap vegetarian places. In fact it actually worked out cheaper to have the set menus than to cook!

In total we spend 8 days in Cuzco, 6 days to see to the city and the nearby Inca sites and a further 2 days when we returned from Machu Picchu.

Cuzco - road to San Pedro market

Cuzco itself has not really changed much since my last visit. It is still as beautiful. The roads around the historic center are cobbled and lined with old Inca walls which now form the foundations of the new hotels, restaurants and numerous other buildings. There are pretty plazas dotted throughout the city and an array of places to eat to suit every palate.

Cuzco - one of the cobbled-streets

Cuzco - famous Inca wall

As for the Plaza de Armas, it is still as breathtaking as ever. Surrounded by the impressive cathedral, churches and arcades it is a hotspot for tourists and locals alike to relax on the benches or have a drink at one of the beautifully carved wooden balconies overlooking the plaza.

Cuzco - Plaza de Armas

Cuzco - La Compania de Jesus on Plaza de Armas

Cuzco - Plaza de Armas at night

 
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Posted by on October 14, 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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