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Tag Archives: Peru

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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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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Huacachina Oasis

From Pisco we decided to go and visit the oasis of Huacachina, located next door to Ica. We took a bus with Soyuz for 4 soles each and an hour later we arrived in the city of Ica. From the bus terminal we jumped into a taxi for 7 soles and were in Huacachina less than 10 minutes later.

We had been referred to the Salvatierra hostel and after taking a quick look we checked in for the night. We then headed out to take a look the oasis. Unfortunately, we were not overly impressed with what we saw. We knew it was going to be small, but we had not expected it to be that small!

Huacachina oasis - view from sand dunes

There is basically one road around the very small lake where most of the accommodation and restaurants can be found. From here there are literally a couple of small side roads and that’s it. The whole thing is pretty as it is surrounded by huge sand dunes, but to the say the lake area is a “summer resort” is really pushing it. Another thing that hit is how unclean the lake area is, we saw bottles floating in the water and the old changing room area is littered and smells.

Huacachina oasis

On the plus side, if you climb the dunes you get views across the desert and if you make it up to the top for sunset you can experience the sun setting over the oasis and surrounding sand dunes, which is really pretty.

Huacachina - desert around the oasis

Huacachina - sunset over sand dunes

We stayed the night as we had already paid but to be honest the whole thing can be done in a  couple of hours, including a lunch. There are 2 activities that you can do in Huacachina, sand boarding and taking a ride in a dune buggy. Again you could easily incorporate these activities as a day trip.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Pisco, Ballestas Islands and Tambo Colorado

We took an overnight bus with Cruz del Sur, as they were running a promotion, from Trujillo and arrived in Pisco the next morning with no idea as to where to go. The first surprise was that the bus left us on the Pan-American outside Pisco, instead of dropping us off in town. We later learned that this apparently is the norm with every bus company.

We weren’t sure how to proceed and luckily saw a couple who were waiting for an onward bus, so I headed over to ask for advise. They were nice enough to not only tell us the prices of the taxis but to also recommend the hotel they had stayed in. Armed with the information we took a taxi and headed into town to look for somewhere to stay.

The first thing that hits you when you enter the town is how much destruction is still visible following the earthquake of 2007, where buildings once stood there are now pile of rubble or flat patches of land and roads are still obstructed with piles of bricks and building materials. Despite this you can also see how tourism is helping re-build the town as hotels seem to rise up from the rubble.

We drove around for a while and looked at a couple of places, but in the end settled on our suggestion, Hotel Residential San Jorge, as they offered the best price despite seemingly being a 3 star hotel. We were repeatedly advised not to go out at night as the town is not overly safe, and as such we headed out for a late lunch and to book a tour for the following day.

Pisco itself is not much more than a base for the nearby attractions, including the Ballestas Islands and the archaeological site of Tambo Colorado. After some negotiating we managed to book ourselves in for a morning tour of the islands followed by a private afternoon tour of Tambo Colorado, for 80 soles each. When you book the island tour you can opt to also do a tour of the Paracas National Reserve, but we decided to skip this.

At 7.30am the next day we were picked up and driven down to the town of Paracas, the launch off point for Ballestas Islands. After a quick registration and paying the 6 soles each for entry we were off by speed boat to the islands.

Before reaching the islands the tour stops at a nearby shore where the “Candelabra”, a large cactus shape is engraved in the sandy banks, similar to those of the Nazca lines. There are many theories on the origin and meaning, but the most impressive fact is that due to the extremely low annual rainfall, the shape has remained almost intact.

Paracas - Candelabra - pattern similar to Nazca Lines

As you approach the islands you start to see why they are such an attraction. There are literally thousands of birds flying around, from Peruvian pelicans to Peruvian boobies to Guano Cormorants. Everywhere you look there are clouds of birds around you. However, the islands are also home to penguins and sea lions and we were lucky enough to spot a lone endangered South American fur seal on the rocks.

Islas Ballestas - flocks of birds

Islas Ballestas - Peruvian boobies resting on rocks

Islas Ballestas - penguins

Islas Ballestas - sea lions

Islas Ballestas - South American fur seal

After our tour we were dropped off back in Pisco and grabbed a quick lunch before our next tour to Tambo Colorado.

Located 48km from Pisco, Tambo Colorado is supposedly one of the best preserved Inca sites along the coast of Peru. This is again due to the extremely low rain fall which has helped to not erode it.

Tambo Colorado - front facade overview

Tambo Colorado - view from above

Although not very big, the site is impressive due to the fact the walls have retained some of their original paint work. As you wander around from chamber to chamber you can still see the reds, oranges and whites that were once used to paint these walls.

Tambo Colorado - visible original colours

Tambo Colorado - one of the rooms with preserved coloured wall

Another impressive sight at Tambo Colorado is the women’s bath which is still almost entirely intact. You can still see where they would have heated the water and then poured it through into the bath. The original irrigation system is still very much in order.

Tambo Colorado - baths

You wont need more than an hour maximum at the site, including a quick look through the small museum, but it is worth seeing for the fact that it is still very much as it was during the Inca times.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 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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