Top 4 Tips for your Machu Picchu Adventure! 

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I am very lucky to say I have visited Machu Picchu not once, but twice! The first time was on a guided tour, but this time, I organised everything myself.

Guided tours are efficient but they are costly, however if you research in advance, you can book Machu Picchu without forking out for a guided tour.

1. Book your train tickets well in advance

This is going to be the most expensive part. Most people start their adventure to Machu Picchu in Cusco however the main train station is a 90 minute drive away in Ollyantaytambo. It is very easy to get a cheap shared transfer there and back.

It’s important to decide which train company you want to go with and what you are willing to pay. You can splurge all out with some companies, but we went with PeruRail, which still set us back nearly £200pp for a return ticket! Luckily we got an economy comfort ticket which included food/drink and a glass roof to soak in all the scenery. The return train went to Poroy station, which is only a 30 minute taxi-ride to Cusco, which was a relief as Ollyantaytambo is much further.

Note: there are multi-day hiking opportunities to get there as well if that’s up your street.

2. Book your Machu Picchu entry tickets through the official website also well in advance

There is only one official website to buy tickets. There is a limited number of tickets to enter Machu Picchu each day. Choose either to go in the morning or the afternoon. You can buy tickets when you get to Cusco, but it is worth to have this organised so not to disappoint.

3. Stay overnight in Aguas Calientes

It is majorly touristy and more expensive than Cusco, but it is important to get a good night’s rest before you explore one of the Wonders of the World! I returned to the hot springs (where the name Aguas Calientes comes from), however the price had doubled since I went four years ago and I also got a rash when I went in the water…so I had to get out after 15 minutes. Not sure whether I would recommend that one…

4. Are you bus-ing it or hiking it?

I hiked the many many steps up the mountain to Machu Picchu the first time – it was brutal, and I had no intention of doing it again. However, the bus situation has become out of control; instead of a few soles to catch the bus up or down, it is 12€ EACH WAY for a 20 minute journey. These buses are the only transport to get up the mountain. They have obviously found a way of milking the tourists’ money. Anyone with mobility issues, young kids, or who just doesn’t want to hike has this as their only option. Not only this, but if you’re getting the bus to get to there for sunrise, you are going to have to queue from 2am for a 5:30am departure!! We saw people sitting in the queue all the way up the main street in town! I could hardly believe it…

After hearing all this, and debating it for several days, of course we hiked. I did it once, I was sure I could do it again. It was just a shame that the bus situation was the reason why.

See my next post for the hike up to Machu Picchu!

 

 

South America: Sacred Valley, Peru 

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This was my second time in Peru and I loved it even more the second time round! I completed the Salkantay Trek four years ago, which meant I had already visited Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu but I was so glad to be back in this amazing country.

I spent a day visiting the various sites around the Sacred Valley, as last time I only really hiked in the area.

The surrounding area of Cusco is at high altitude, however, in comparison to where we had just come from in Bolivia, it was so much lower. So my altitude sickness had gone and I didn’t feel out of breath whenever I had to climb stairs or walk anywhere. This was a massive relief for me but the rest of the tour group did struggle as this was their first stop in South America. I did empathise as I remember having terrible altitude sickness in Cusco on my first trip and had suffering quite badly in Bolivia the week before!

We were picked up at the hotel and made our way to Chinchero, the first stop. Here we visited a centre where we learned about the traditional techniques of dying alpaca fur and weaving it into beautiful clothing and homeware. We then visited the nearby Spanish church which was built over an Inca religious site.

We then visited Moroy to see the Inca terraces. The three that they have excavated so far are only a handful dotted around the region. Some more complete than others. The terraces being a large-scale experiment on farming using different altitudes to grow a range of crops – amazing that this was being done centuries ago.

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The next stop was the minas del sal where we learned all about the salt mining in the area – very different to the salt in Bolivia! It was so warm here and it was lovely to walk around in a t-shirt for the first time during the trip and not in a combination of thermals + t=shirt + jacket + coat!

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We then went to Ollantaytambo to climb up the ruins to the Templo del Sol. A lot of steps, but we made it to the top easily – thanks to acclimatising to the altitude! We would be back the next day to catch our train to Aguas Calientes.

It would have been better to have spent more time at this site, but our guide said it was a long drive to Pisac, and we were pushed for time as we didn’t want to get there for it to be closed! Some people in the group just didn’t care/listen to his instructions and took ages to get back to the bus because they were taking a million and one selfies.

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We got to Pisac and were the last ones allowed in, and we were chased out half an hour later by the security guards! Pisac is massive and unfortunately we were only able to see a small part to the ancient city.

In hindsite, the Sacred Valley has so much to see and do, and if I were to do this tour again, I would split it up into two days; this way there is more time to explore Ollantaytambo and Pisac without the feeling of being rushed. Either way, make sure you don’t miss out so that you can experience the beauty and rich history this region of Peru has to offer!

South America: the other Copacabana

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When I revealed the big itinerary to my family and friends of my upcoming South America trip, the one part where everyone stopped was – wait, Copacabana?! Isn’t that in Brazil? But you’re not going to Brazil?!

Copacabana, the Brazilian beach which even has a song named after it. However, the Copacabana I was going to was not in Brazil, it was in Bolivia. The more off-the-beaten-track kind-of Copacabana. It is only a few hours north of La Paz, and sits beautifully on Lake Titicaca and a short drive from the Peruvian border. It is a great stopover for travelers making their way into/from Peru and enjoy the laid-back lakeside lifestyle.

We decided to stay the night to break up the journey from La Paz before a long overnight coach journey to Cusco. That alone was worth it. After grabbing lunch when we first had to find our hostel.

The hostel was on an unmarked road and I couldn’t get online directions to it. After a lot of guesswork, asking anyone and everyone along the way, we climbed (crawled) up the massive hill to the hostel. Of course it had to be the one most furthest away! With a 20kg rucksack on and the high altitude, it was a struggle. Note: just get a taxi in future.

We dropped our bags off and had a quick look at the room. Although the climb up the hill was brutal, and we would have to do it later when we got back, the views were incredible of the lake – especially with our own terrace.

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We raced down the hill to catch the boat to hike the south-side of Isla del Sol. The sun was shining and the hike was beautiful. It was a one-hour boat ride each way, so by the time we got to the island, I was exhausted, and still had to hike an hour up and around the thing!

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Copacabana has many options for food and drink, and its restaurants on the lake-front with sun terraces are a big hit. The food is nothing special by any means – but it is cheap and the sunset was the best of the trip.

You could also just stay an afternoon in Copacabana between La Paz and Cusco to make the most of Isla del Sol – this is the most popular option; however we enjoyed having a extra day there to relax and enjoy a bit of the sun. Even though it was still not that warm, it was the warmest it had been of the entire trip as we were bit by bit edging farther north and closer to the Equator.

Next stop, Peru!

 

An Afternoon in La Paz, Bolivia

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When planning the itinerary with the intention to travel from Chile, through Bolivia and into Peru, it was difficult to avoid La Paz. It is the easiest and in our case, the most affordable way to cross the land border into Peru, coming from Sucre and the Salt Flats.

However, reading up about La Paz beforehand, and hearing accounts of travelers who had just come from there, it did fill me with a mix of wonder and anxiety about what I would find there.

We had an afternoon to see the main sights before continuing  on our journey to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. La Paz is a stark contrast with the capital, Sucre; poverty much more striking and its size is overwhelming. Only a 50 minute flight though, we got there very easily and the taxi drove us straight to our hostel no problem.

Our hostel was on the main street in the centre and close to restaurants, a church which we would visit and the market. The hostel was cheap but cheerful, and they cleaned our laundry which was in great need of being done!

An afternoon in La Paz was more than enough. Everything was in walking distance. Our first stop was the Iglesia de San Francisco – a guided tour was included and it was a fascinating place to visit, especially for its incredible murals and paintings. We also rode up the teleferico (cable car) which, for a few bolivianos you can hop on and really appreciate the grand scale of this city. We walked around the market but nothing stood out to us, except for the dead llamas hanging above one or two stalls…

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On the Church roof…

La Paz was the one place on the trip where I did not feel safe at all. A lot of poverty and you didn’t know who you were going to bump into on the street. There were political protests where people were sitting in the roads all day, meaning no traffic could circulate. Mostly peaceful except for one area where the protest was more lively. It came with some relief that our BoliviaHop bus collected us early the next morning to move on to our next destination…

We actually had a good time in La Paz, but I was very weary the whole time. I do urge anyone considering travel there to read up on what to expect and be prepared!

Next stop…Copacabana (the Bolivian one)

 

Bolivia: Why you shouldn’t miss out Sucre

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La Paz and the Salt Flats – that is the basic itinerary for most travellers to Bolivia that we met along the way – yet Bolivia is such a diverse country and what better way to see a slice of its history than by visiting its capital?

Sucre is so small compared to the giant La Paz, however it has a lovely charm and it would be easy to spend a few days to weeks roaming its streets. In comparison to La Paz, Sucre and Uyuni are much safer places to visit and I never once felt uneasy there.

We arrived at the bus station in Sucre and bargained for a taxi – 50p each for a 30 minute taxi journey – okay..? It turned out our taxi driver had no dashboard – it was on the wrong side of the car and didn’t work and he had to wind the windows down to be able to open the doors. We shared the ride with two Swiss guys, who informed us that they had just quit their stressful jobs and felt liberated – of course they were teachers (ha!). The car managed to get there in one piece to our hotel! Welcome to Sucre…

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Despite the rather crazy taxi journey, Sucre is home to beautiful colonial architecture and museums which are well worth visiting. The Museo del tesoro on the main square is worth a visit if you are interested in the history of mining precious metals in Bolivia and its jewellery. We arrived just after the museum opened in the morning and received a private tour of the museum included in our ticket.

On our first morning however, we left our hotel to the sounds of a procession of some kind in the street. Bolivia really likes brass bands, especially with processions we found out during our trip.

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Just a procession, in the street, holding up the traffic, totally normal…

We spent just one day in Sucre which we felt was sufficient – but it is worth visiting the most beautiful city in Bolivia!

Mooching around Madrid [Part 2]

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Despite being a capital city, Madrid goes at a much slower pace than the likes of its counterparts. Weaving my way through the crowded pavements, the locals do not walk, they seem to wander aimlessly, with no destination in mind, and no awareness that there are other people trying to get past. They kept reminding me that I could actually take my time.

I did not pack my days with itineraries, but I had an idea of the activities I wanted to do. I have collected some of the highlights of my trip!

Highlights of my week

Spa afternoon

For my first day, I booked a trip the the Hamman Al-Andalus baths to de-stress and have a good start to the trip. My favourite spa in Spain, I have been to the Madrid location before as well as the one in Granada and I highly recommend going. Make sure you pack a swimsuit!

Day-tripping

Smack-bang in the middle of the country, Madrid is so well connected to other cities by public transport. I took a high-speed train to Córdoba in Andalucia; usually a 4-hour car journey, however after rolling out of Puerta de Atocha station, I was in the sunny south of the country in only 90 minutes! There are loads of other day-trip options, Córdoba is quite far! Most people go to cities like Salamanca, Toledo, Segóvia. However, I have been to these places before and Córdoba was at the top of my list.

El Palacio Real

During my first visit to Madrid, I had attempted to visit the Royal Palace, to only learn it was closed – it is often closed for important events. This time, better informed, I made sure I checked availability online and booked my tickets in advance. The palace is beautiful and fascinating if you are interested in Spanish history and the royal family. The armory collection is particularly impressive too. Don’t miss the temporary exhibition (this was an extra 1€ to my ticket). Not many people seem to choose this option as I was the only one in there when I went in, but I was glad I did; I learned all about Carlos III and the exhibit was brilliant!

Museo Reina Sofia

Free to students and there is a cat cafe next door. Definitely a good museum choice for people like me who still have a valid student card and are cat-mad. There are much fewer queues here than the famous Prado (which I still have not been to). It is a massive museum and has a range of temporary and permanent exhibitions. Most famous for the museum where you can see Picasso’s Guernica. Nevertheless, I absolutely loved the temporary exhibit about George Herriman and the Krazy Kat illustrations and from the permanent exhibit on war, I learned about the extreme poverty in Las Hurdes in the 20th century, through Luis Buñuel’s shocking documentary, Las Hurdes: Land without Bread (1933).

Opera

Researching online before my trip, I discovered that they were showing my favourite opera, Carmen (Georges Bizet) during the dates that I was there. Okay, I have seen this opera twice already, but third time is the charm, right? Plus, I had only just purchased some opera glasses in an antique store a few weeks prior and needed to test them out… I had a great time at the opera, and although it was the one thing I splurged on, it was absolutely worth it!

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Way, way, way up, but I had a great view!

Templo de Debod

I had been here before, but I loved the sunset over this Egyptian Temple that I had to go back. It is a popular place to see the sunset as it is so beautiful, so don’t be late!

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Madrid has so much to offer and I feel like I made the most of my time there. From the highlights mentioned above to the little things like: speaking Spanish with anyone and everyone, sitting outside a café munching on pan con tomate and sipping a warm Colacao for breakfast and walking everywhere – something I dont get to do much at home, made it a great autumn getaway.

What do you think of Madrid? Let me know in the comments!

p.s. apologies for the lack of photos, I had to factory reset my phone and lost most of my photos, including ones of all the cute cats 😦

Robyn

 

Mooching around Madrid [Part 1]

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Eight weeks long, the first and also the longest half term in the school calender finally came to a close last week. The first 2 months as an NQT have been tough,  but having my little trip to Madrid kept my head above water.

I booked cheap flights on a whim earlier in Spring, knowing very well that neither J. nor any of my friends would be able to accompany me. The Ryanair scare of thousands of cancelled flights did not affect me and I was still able to go.

This was not only my first time back in Spain since my Year Abroad and but also the first time I have done solo travel in two years. I visited Madrid on my own before flying home two years ago; three days in summer was not enough to make the most of the city, so this time I booked 5 days to make the most of my time off.

I have travelled alone so many times over the last 5 years and really enjoyed it: Paris, Madrid, Porto, Wroclaw, Warsaw, Lisbon… but admittedly, it was something that took a few days for me to get re-accustomed to. I chose my hostel in particular as from the reviews, it was very sociable and friendly, but unfortunately it was anything but. Frustrating, as when I have travelled alone in the past, the hostels have really been a highlight of the trip.

Even after having spent a total of 8 days in the Spanish capital, I cannot say I have done everything, but that was not my intention. I did what I wanted in my own time. I saw some museums, slept during siesta, did some shopping, did the day-trip I wanted, splurged on that opera ticket, went to a spa, went to the cat café. I actually did quite a bit but it was not rushed. That is the beauty of going to a place and having the time to do it slowly, you don’t have to rush and cram everything in.

So I am home now, mentally preparing myself to go back to work tomorrow and also for the next seven weeks before the Christmas holidays. At least it is Bonfire Night tonight!

Stay tuned for Part 2

Weekly blog posts about my South American adventure published every Sunday!

Robyn