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!

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!

How to Survive the Bolivian Salt Flats

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Definitely a highlight of our entire South America trip, the Bolivian Salt Flats are a must in South America – but it is important to read up and prepare before you go! Here are our top tips to survive…

1 . A good 4-season sleeping bag.

We brought our own for the trip and they were necessary for the Salt Flats. It got to -20 degrees Celsius on the first night, with my water bottle freezing, however inside my sleeping bag I was very toasty! Some tour companies will let you rent some, but it’s always good to have your own.

2. Water and snacks

We were told to bring enough water and snacks to last us three days – for everything. We ended up bringing more than we needed as they did actually provide us with some drinks at lunch and hot tea in the evenings. However, if you run out, there are not many places along the way to restock. All meals provided were good – we ate well and didn’t starve!

3. Wrap up warm

Wear thermals, even in the day it is cold. Layer up as it can get warmer/colder quickly

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4. Take it slowly

The altitude in some places is very high. We slept on the first night at 4800m, which resulted in massive headaches and me needing to go on oxygen for 5 minutes upon arrival at the refuge. Most people on the trip were altitude sick at some point. When you are able to go off and explore the sites, refrain from walking too far. Although it would not normally be strenuous, with so little oxygen, our bodies tire much more easily and we end up paying for it later in the day. If you push yourself too far and need to go straight to Uyuni due to illness, your entire group (6 of you) have to go together, meaning the rest cannot complete the tour – you need to push through as best you can!

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5. Go in the hot springs

First day, crazy windy, freezing. Getting changed into my swimsuit outside and sitting in some springs? Nope. I would rather keep warm in my clothes. However, I was eventually persuaded, through fear of FOMO and it looking clean. It was worth it as my bones and muscles really warmed up in the natural springs, and it made a difference for the rest of the day!

6. Brush up on your Spanish

This wasn’t relevant as a fluent Spanish-speaker, but I can see the issue if you don’t have anyone in your group who can speak Spanish. Our driver spoke several languages including Spanish, Quechua and some broken English. He spoke all the time in Spanish with us, and it would have been impossible to understand his advice, his knowledge as a guide, his jokes or anything really, without Spanish. It would have been much less enjoyable if we had no clue what was going on. Luckily 4 out of 6 of us spoke Spanish, so we were able to translate for the English-speakers.

7. Research your tour company carefully

We had heard many horror stories of drunk and dangerous drivers, rip-off tours etc. so we carefully chose a reputable company that was a little more expensive but that we knew would look after us and get us there in one piece!

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Our awesome guide, Casimiro!

8. Have an amazing time

It was a blast, and we saw so many things on the three day trip – not just salt flats but cacti as old as 1,000 years, lagoons, volcanoes and crazy rock formations.

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9. Book a nice hotel to stay in when you get to Uyuni/San Pedro

We were the only ones staying in Uyuni after the tour – everyone else went straight on to Potosí/Sucre/La Paz. We booked a lovely 4* salt hotel, with a warm shower and comfy bed. We ate at a fancy restaurant and had an early night (before watching Game of Thrones of course!). This was all I needed after roughing it for three days in the salt flats. An 8-hour bus journey to Sucre would have been unbearable after all that!

Next time…on to Sucre – the capital of Bolivia!

 

South America: Geiser del Tatio

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Alarm ringing at 4am, it is freezing in our desert-home abode with no heating. I have thermals which keep me from being unbearably cold, J. decides he doesn’t need thermals and will be fine (that goes so well….).

The geysers are at the highest altitude yet of the trip, this means two things – freezing and altitude sickness. Unpleasant.

This tour is considered one of the most popular, so guesses are it would be the best. However, in comparison to the incredible geysers in Iceland (which are free by the way), I felt a bit disappointed – especially after the amazing Piedras Rojas tour the day before. The cost was considerable too (10,000 pesos each!).

We spent an hour at the hot springs area however the hot springs have been closed for the foreseeable future due to a health and safety issue. So we were stuck, waiting around in the cold for an hour doing nothing, as there was no alternative. You would have thought they would have considered an alternative arrangement?

Anyway, it was absolutely freezing, even with thermals, so I don’t know how J. survived. (note: he wore thermals for the days after this…).

The tour only lasted for the morning, so we had time to have lunch before our other tours. However, due to a sandstorm, they had to be cancelled, a real shame. Unable to reschedule as it was our final day in San Pedro, we were at least able to get our money back.

However, it gave us time to stock up on water, snacks, warm clothes and mentally prepare for Bolivia, which everyone kept advising us was going to be freezing, isolated and crazy – we couldn’t wait!

Vamos a Bolivia…

How to celebrate your birthday in the Atacama Desert

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We scheduled our South America trip for August. It was the summer holidays meaning I had the whole month off from work but also my birthday. I did not want to be on a bus/train/plane on the day, but rather doing something different.

The day was spent in the Atacama desert on the Piedras Rojas tour. This was the best tour of the trip, a whole day thing which was tiring but worth it.

We left at 7am, early but not as early as some other tours we did! Our first stop was the Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons which are home to three different types of flamingo. However, in the deep mid-winter, the majority of the flamingos had gone off to somewhere a little warmer, while the remaining few decided to hang out as far away from the humans as possible! (Entrance fee of 2,500 pesos).

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It looks warm but actually it was freezing!!

After a warm breakfast of eggs, coca tea and bread, we headed into the mountains to another lake. No flamingos this time, but it was spectacular. Surrounded by snow, it was freezing, but worth it (2,500 pesos entry again). Here James very kindly put snow down my back, what a nice thing to do on my birthday…. (hmmm…).

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Caught in the act!

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So much snow!!

The next stop was by far the coldest and most windy – las piedras rojas – which is where the name for the day trip comes from. This lake, so high in altitude, was frozen, and we spent half an hour jumping up and down on the ice.

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On the frozen lake!

After lunch, we visited a little church and stopped on the side of the road to take some pictures with a sign showing we were on the Tropic of Capricorn which was pretty cool! I was not expecting that to happen in the tour!!

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I made a wise investment in some baby alpaca wool gloves in Tacapao village, which would help me survive the cold days and nights in the Bolivian Salt Falts.

Dinner was going to be a fancy meal, but San Pedro was just a little too expensive. I was happy with our usual 5,000 pesos meal deal. Altitude sickness meant loss of appetite and I didn’t feel like I was missing out.

It was an incredible birthday, packed in with so much to see. It was really special. Exhausted but the alarm was set for 4am the next day for the Geyser tour…