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Ecuador Itineraries Monthly Round-Up Peru South America

Four Months on the Road in South America – Peru & Ecuador

December 17, 2017

A little over four months in and a little less than two months to go on this massive, diverse continent!  It’s hard to really comprehend just how much we’ve seen but at the same time, the more we speak to other travellers, the more we realise there is to see.

With flights home booked though, all good things must come to an end, so you can bet we’re making the most of the next couple of months.

As always, this post is designed to give you practical tips for your travels through Peru (and the Galapagos) – information regarding costings, transport, accommodation and activities – it’s all in there.

Isn’t it time you began planning your adventure through South America?

If this is the first monthly round-up you’ve read, you may like to check out itinerary and costings for the first, second and third months we spent in South America first.

Puerto Maldanado (the Gateway to the Amazon), Peru

An easy overnight bus (or short flight) from Cusco, Puerto Maldanado is the closest jumping-off point to the Peruvian Amazon.  A visit to the Amazon was always a ‘must-do’ in our eyes and as we made new friends and explored the jungle, there was no doubt we made the right choice in visiting.

Accommodation:  3 nights in a private bungalow at Amazon Planet.  We joined them for the ‘Native Program’ but they have a range of options available – all including food, basic drinks, a guide and activities.  The accommodation itself was comfortable (but not lux) – exactly what you’d hope for in the Amazon.

Activities:  Night jungle treks, boat floats, a visit to a local tribe and plenty of hammock-time, the activities at Amazon Planet were varied and interesting whilst still providing enough downtime in the heat of the day.  Read about our first Amazon experience here.

Onwards travel to Cusco:  Another night, another bus.  This time we paid PEN40 (USD12.35/NZD17.85) each for a salon cama seat (the equivalent of business class on a plane) on Superciva but weren’t quite as impressed.  The toilets were smelly from the moment we stepped aboard and the snacks were very basic.  If Excluciva is running that night, you can definitely expect a much improved service for only PEN10 more – with that said though, there’s not much to do in the centre of Puerto Maldanado so we wouldn’t consider staying an extra night to catch the nicer bus.

Cusco, Peru

With Macchu Pichu behind us, we had a few last activities and hikes to tick off in Cusco before moving on.  A uniquely beautiful city, and one that we came to know fairly well, it was a pleasure spending more time in the cultural capital of Peru.

Accommodation:  Though we enjoyed the first hostel we stayed in, Magic Cusco, it was a little out of town, so upon our return we decided to check another option out – Magicpacker Hostel.  They’ve got a great range of bed configurations available and it’s another example of a perfect social-but-not-party hostel – just what you need after a long day of trekking.  4-bed mixed dorm @ PEN35 each/night (USD10.80/NZD15.60) – fabulous hot showers and the biggest TV you’ve ever seen (running Netflix) included!  Don’t miss their PEN10 optional dinners too – it was one of the best meals we had in Cusco and not much more than USD3.

Activities:

Via Ferrata and Zipline

High above the Sacred Valley you’ll find the Skylodge Adventure Suites.  These infamous glass pods are attached to the cliff, providing brave guests with a chance to sleep under the stars in one of the most unique locations imaginable… unfortunately for us though, we weren’t the only ones that thought this sounded like a good idea – the pods were booked solid for months!

If, like us, you’re unable to spend an evening in the pod, there’s a great alternative available in the form of a day trip.  Geared up, you’ll climb over 400 metres, above the glass lodge and then zipline your way down through 6 different exciting lines; if you’re in reasonable shape it’s easily achievable (and the via ferrata can be substituted for a hike up should you prefer).

Humantay Lagoon Hike

A relatively easy hike, Humantay is one not to be missed!  For those not keen on the uphill hike, horses are available for a reasonable cost.

Rainbow Mountain Hike (Take One)

Before visiting, we’d heard a lot about the hike to Rainbow Mountain – some saying it was a must-see from Cusco whilst others said the colours are nothing like the over-saturated ones you’ll see floating around the city as touts try to book travellers on tours.

Keen to find out for ourselves (but not so keen to experience the altitude sickness we’d heard so much about) we’d initially joined the alternative trek which gets hikers much, much closer to the top of an different mountain in the same range.  Hikers here only have to walk for 45 minutes up (and 20 down) and have the space practically to themselves.

Unfortunately for us though, the mountains saw one of their first snows of the season which meant our private tour couldn’t even make it to the carpark, let alone to the infamous rainbow.  Instead, we spent the day checking out local historical sites and an awe-inspiring canyon.  Sure, it wasn’t what we went to see, but the canyon did go a way towards making up for that.

Would we recommend the alternative Rainbow Mountain trip?  As long as the weather is clear, absolutely!  At this point in time though, there is no way for tour providers to check the conditions up the top of the mountain – this means that some guests will find themselves on a long car ride (at a relatively high price compared with the original Rainbow Mountain) that results in a distinct lack of rainbow at the end of it all.

Rainbow Mountain (Take Two!)

Returning to Rainbow Mountain, but this time the original version, I had another crack at making it to the top and this time was successful!  With the help of a horse (for PEN60/USD18.20/NZD26) and a bit of trekking, I summited in time to soak in the incredible views.

Though some rave about Rainbow Mountain, the valley that it sits within really is just as incredible and well worth a visit.  Glaciers hang not far from the summit, the Red Valley peeks out from around the corner and, of course, the rainbow coloured mountainside takes pride of place.

Onwards travel to Arequipa:  Rejoining Peru Hop we travelled overnight, leaving Cusco late and arriving into Arequipa in the early hours.  Our Peru Hop tickets were organised ahead of time in a package so none of our travel with them had a standalone price.  If this is your first time in South America or you’re just looking for an extra touch of safety, comfort and convenience (sounds good, doesn’t it?), they’re the way to go.

Don’t take our word for it – Find out what another traveller thought of the Peru Hop experience too.

Arequipa, Peru

With our plans to hike the Colca Canyon dashed thanks to a couple of head colds that we just couldn’t shake, for us, Arequipa became a place for some serious R&R.

The town itself is gorgeous and a significant departure from the hustle and bustle of Cusco so it ended up being a great place to spend some time.  They have plenty of pubs and little restaurants serving up great food at reasonable prices and some beautiful old architecture, so it’s definitely a spot that deserves more time than the quick connection some give it.

Accommodation:  3 nights in a six-bed mixed dorm at Flying Dog Arequipa @ PEN26 each/night (USD7.80/NZD11.30)

Activities:  Known for it’s relative proximity to the Colca Canyon and for affordable and fun rafting, there’s plenty of reasons to stop for a few nights in the city – both to enjoy the outdoors and the lovely township of Arequipa.

Onwards travel to Huacachina, Ica:  Peru Hop once again.

Huacachina, Peru

A mega-touristy little town, built around South America’s only natural oasis, we didn’t really know what to expect upon our arrival.  We’d been warned off staying there over the weekend due to the all-consuming noise that emanates from a few of the bars so intentionally planned our stay to avoid Friday and Saturday night.  In doing so, we found Huazachina to be a surprisingly charming place to spend a night – yes it’s set up for tourists but sometimes there’s no harm in that.

Accommodation:  1 night in a 10-bed mixed dorm at the Wild Olive Guest House @ PEN29.65 each/night (USD9/NZD12.85).  A great hostel with comfortable beds, clean bathrooms, great showers and a massive Netflix-playing television – our favourite hostel in Peru.

Activites:  After relaxing around the oasis, we hit the desert for some serious dune bashing and sandboarding fun (booked through Peru Hop at PEN50/USD15/NZD21.45 each).

Onwards travel to Paracas (via Nazca):  Good ol’ Peru Hop to the rescue again – this was a long day on the bus but thankfully it was broken up with a few strategic stops (lunch with a view and a quick look at some of the Nazca Lines).

Though we didn’t take to the air, we’ve heard great things about jumping on a Nazca fight to see the Nazca Lines in all their glory!  If you have the time and the money, it sounds like it would be a great addition to your itinerary.

Paracas, Peru

A quiet little seaside town, Paracas is home to a national park and is one of the best place to break the long journey from Huacachina to Lima.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a 6-bed mixed dorm (one of which we were alone and the other there were four of us) at Los Frayles @ PEN30 each/night (USD9.10/NZD13).  Though we didn’t use it, the property has a lovely pool and Peru Hop’s passenger discount means you get a much nicer hotel for the price of a hostel.

Activites:  Quad bike tours of the national park are available, as is paragliding off of the sand dunes.  We relaxed for a couple of days choosing only to join Peru Hop’s free tour out to the park.

Accommodation Eco Tourism Peru Puerto Maldonado (Amazon Jungle) South America

Amazon Planet: Your Ticket to the Peruvian Amazon

November 26, 2017

The Amazon, without doubt, is a real bucket list destination for any nature lover.  With an ecosystem like no other, it’s one of the last true wilds in the world.

When we initially planned our visit to South America, we did so with a loose plan and a number of must-see spots in mind – Patagonia, Iguazu, Galapagos and of course the Amazon.

Did it live up to our expectations though?  We spent three nights at Amazon Planet putting them through their paces to find out.

Into the Wild – Activities Galore

With a range of programmes available to guests and a well-structured timetable, there’s plenty of time to make the most of your Amazon experience whilst still unwinding in this gorgeous jungle paradise.  Every morning an activity heads out whilst hammock-time is scheduled following lunch until the day cools down when a number of afternoon/evening activities come into play.

Books and board games are available throughout the day and happy hour does an excellent job of helping to form new friendships amongst fellow adventurers.

Let’s face it though – nobody’s in the Amazon with the main goal of playing cards, and good thing too – there’s plenty to do!

Upon arriving, we were introduced to Alejandro, our guide for the duration of our stay.  Throughout our time at Amazon Planet, he proved himself to be approachable, friendly and incredibly knowledgeable.  Alejandro had an incredible knack for recognising distant birdcall and barely noticable creepy-crawlies, bringing the jungle to life for us.

Jungle Walks, Day and Night

Throughout your stay at Amazon Planet you’ll be presented with many opportunities to head into the jungle – take them all!  With unique plants and incredible wildlife, you ever know what you’ll see whilst wandering the jungle.  The guides are exceptionally talented at identifying the vast variety of bird calls out in the jungle and easily spot the smallest of creatures, making every jungle walk a real chance to see new treasures.

When night falls, it’s time to grab your flashlight and go hunting for creepy crawlies!  Tarantulas, scorpions, frogs, caterpillars, snakes, lizards and more – there’s no shortage of beasties to catch your attention.

Alternatively, hop aboard the Amazon Planet boat on the hunt for caimans, the shy cousin of the alligator.  We were fortunate enough to spot a number of these small reptiles!

Generally, the animals we spotted in the wilds near Amazon Planet were smaller than we’d imagined – it’s not the place to find anacondas, for example, and though sloths are known to hang about in the region, they’re notoriously hard to spot.  Unfortunately, piranhas aren’t generally found in the fastmoving Madre de Dios River (but they can be spotted on the Tambopata programme!), nor are the pink river dolphins, but the few animals we didn’t see were soon forgotten in the buzz of excitement as we uncovered new ones.

And best of all, even if you don’t see much (though we promise, you will), Amazon Planet has a fantastic way of guaranteeing you’ll meet a bunch of local cuties – the Taricaya Ecological Reserve.

Taricaya Ecological Reserve

The only Amazon property in Peru to have their own ecological reserve, Amazon Planet really walk the talk when it comes to conversation.  Attracting biologists, vets and volunteers from the world over, they work together to ensure that local animals that are in need of some extra TLC are well looked after at Taricaya.

Not only do they release populations of native animals back into the wild, but they give those that are unable to reintroduced back into their habitats a fantastic life.

For visitors, it’s a real treat knowing that you’ll have the chance to see a variety of incredible animals, regardless of whether or not you spot them in the wild, but it’s even better knowing that some of the funds from your stay go towards running such a worthwhile operation.

Canopy Walk

Looking for an adrenaline rush (beyond tarantula spotting)?

Take to the skies, or the top of the Amazonian canopy to be exact, for a birdseye view of the surrounding rainforest – just remember to check your fear of heights at the door.

Nestled into the top of an ancient kapok tree, a 90-metre long suspension bridge stretches out to the viewing platform, 45 metres above the ground below.  The views out over the surrounding area are fantastic and being amongst the canopy really gives you a sense of the scale of the jungle.

Visit the Ese-Eja Tribe

A short ride upriver from Amazon Planet, lives Enrique, his wife and sometimes, his children.  Enrique and his wife span two very different generations – his father lived within the Amazon, completely immersed in a traditional, native way of life, whilst his children live during the week in the city, attending school in the hopes of joining the modern workforce as well-educated individuals.

We’ve attended a number of ‘community visits’ like this one now and, to be honest, some have been incredibly worthwhile and some have, quite simply, felt uncomfortable or inauthentic.  It’s fair to say that although we give these experiences a fair go, we are somewhat skeptical when approaching them – you just never know what you’re going to get and we certainly don’t like intruding where we’re not genuinely welcome.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth in this case though!

Enrique and his wife, despite the language barrier, did an amazing job of sharing their culture and customs with us, all with the biggest, most welcoming smiles.  Of course, we couldn’t communicate directly (as they spoke Quechuan) but a good giggle is universal as it turns out.

Over the course of the morning, we learnt how to make a bow and arrow (and eventually got better at shooting them), watched them start a fire using traditional methods, and learnt about their local foods, medicines and clothing – all of which comes directly from the rainforest.

Best of all, we left feeling connected to the local people, which is what an experience like this should be all about.

Boat Float

With the sun slowly disappearing over the horizon, where better to be in the Amazon than drifting gently downriver in the current?

The team at Amazon Planet organise for inflatable kayaks and boats to be taken upstream where guests jump in and spend put in some serious relaxation time.

Hunger Pangs – Food at Amazon Planet

Though you’ll be square in the middle of the jungle, the food at Amazon Planet is anything but rustic.  Banana pancakes and scrambled eggs for breakfast, fresh fish (caught locally) and delicious yuca fries for lunch and delicious steamed chicken and rice parcels for dinner.  Every meal is fresh, locally sourced, hearty and served in multiple courses.

As we near the end of our time in Peru, we can comfortably say it was amongst the best cuisine we’ve had during our time in the country!

It’s hard to go hungry out there but should you, additional snacks are available.  That’s not to mention the soft drinks and selection of beers and cocktails, all available at very reasonable prices.

A Place to Rest Your Head – Accommodation

With a busy day of jungle adventures behind you, a comfortable place to unwind is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Each bungalow at Amazon Planet is set back, away from the main dining quarters, along wooden boardwalks (perfect on those rainy Amazonian days).  The rooms are relatively basic but include high-quality mattresses, private bathrooms and a space to relax – ours had both a sofa and a little balcony with views out to the river.

Every day our room was cleaned and our water bottled topped up – a service that far exceeded our expectations in the middle of the jungle!

Transport: Getting to Puerto Maldonado from Cusco

Getting to Amazon Planet from Cusco is a relatively straightforward process and with the option of both buses and flights, there’s something to suit all budgets.

Overnight Buses

If you’re looking to save some money and have plenty of time on your hands, there is now a direct bus route servicing the region. Years ago it would have taken days to reach your final destination but now the journey runs a relatively comfortable 10 hours.

The route between Cusco and Puerto Maldonado is operated by Civa and Cruz Del Sur – both of which can be booked online through BusBud.  We rode with Excluciva (PEN50/USD15.40/NZD22/65 each) on the way there and Superciva (PEN40/USD12.35/NZD18.15 each) on the way back.  On both occasions, we booked the 1st floor (which is their salon cama offering – similar to business class on a flight) but found the Excluciva service to be far superior.  If you have the option to book on Excluciva, we’d definitely recommend spending the few extra dollars.

Flying

If you’d prefer to get to the Amazon via a more direct route then flying becomes your most efficient option.  A number of airlines offer fares to the Amazon, including StarPeru, Avianca, and LATAM, but we suggest you check SkyScanner to ensure you get the best price available.

Regardless of how you choose to arrive in Puerto Maldonado, Amazon Planet will organise someone to meet you at your point of arrival and for your transport to their offices on the outskirts of town.

Amazon Planet – Your Home in the Peruvian Amazon

Our stay in the Amazon was all about getting back to nature; to lay in bed with the sound of the evening jungle rains beating down, to explore the undergrowth, hunting out unique animals and simply soaking in the sights and sounds of one of the most incredible ecosystems in the world.

Amazon Planet offers all of the personal, homely touches that you’d hope for in the jungle but would never really expect.

Sure, the lodge isn’t the pinnacle of luxury, but it does exactly what it sets out to do – provide an amazing experience with caring, knowledgeable staff and many of the comforts of home.

The Amazon was on our South American bucket list, and for good reason, it’s retaining its spot there as a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Only, is it once-in-a-lifetime if you’d go back in a heartbeat?


Thank you to Amazon Planet for hosting our stay for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  We joined them for the 3 night ‘native’ programme which we highly recommend.

Activities Cusco Hiking Peru South America

Hiking Laguna Humantay – Cusco: More Than Machu Picchu

November 23, 2017

Cusco is known across the world as the gateway to Machu Picchu, the most iconic of all the Inca sites.  With so much to see in this region, those skipping through whilst only visiting the Lost City of the Incas are only tapping the surface of what’s on offer.  

Join us as we explore many of the day trips that Cusco has on offer and prepare to extend your time in this amazing city! 

First up, Laguna Humantay (also known as the Humantay Lagoon).  

Can’t wait to find out what else we did in Cusco?  You’ll find more ideas in our monthly round-up (our Machu Picchu itinerary and the other amazing activities we did.  Looking for more still? Check out this fabulous guide to Peru’s historic capital.

Nestled into Humantay Mountain, under towering mountain peaks and hanging glaciers, sits Laguna Humantay – one of the most incredible bodies of water we’ve ever seen.  Unbelievable hues of bright blue and green shimmer in water that feels somewhat out of place sitting atop a mountain.  This otherworldly sight

It’s little wonder that centuries ago, the ancient Inca’s believed this to be a sacred place – even now, with tourists gathered around, you can still feel the magic.

What to Expect on the Hike to the Humantay Lagoon

I have a real love-hate relationship with hiking.  When it’s flat or sloping gently downhill, I love it.  When I’m clamping up steep, unending tracks – well, I don’t need to tell you how I feel about it.  I’m not the fittest person around and I really do find it a challenge.

Without a doubt though, the views at the top of Humantay are worth the relatively short slog up to the top.

Leaving the mini-van at Soraypampa (3,900 metres above sea level), the hike begins, varying from a gentle slope to fairly demanding until trekkers come across the lagoon at 4,200 metres above sea level.

As you hike, you’ll enjoy views out over the surrounding valley and Salkantay, the namesake mountain of the popular multi-day hike in the region, headed for Machu Picchu.  The area itself is gorgeous which certainly makes the hike all the more manageable.

The altitude and elevation gain is enough that hiking is more challenging than at sea level but if you take it slowly and stop for breathers along the way, it really won’t feel any more difficult than any other uphill hike you’ve done.

As always, after a couple of breaks and a good chance to catch your breath at the top, any suffering is soon forgotten!

Top Tip:  Should you require (or just prefer) assistance to get to the top, horses are available and as a local leads you up, you don’t need any riding experience.  The horses in all of Peru were in great condition, the service is reasonably priced and you can decide when you arrive (both at the base of the trail, and part way up), making this a great way to get to Laguna Humantay should you need a hand.

Practical Details Relating to Your Laguna Humantay Hike:

  • Pick up is offered if your accommodation is relatively close to Plaza de Armas.  We were amongst the first to be collected at 4.45am from Magic Packers (a hostel we highly recommend).
  • The total drive is approximately 2.5 hours in each direction – this is broken up with breaks for meals.
  • Both breakfast and lunch are included for participants in Mollepata.  Breakfast included bread, fruit, fresh eggs and tea/coffee/juice whilst lunch was a delicious buffet.
  • Take plenty of water as there’s nowhere to refill bottles or purchase new ones once you start the hike.  Drinks are available for purchase where you stop for breakfast though and also at the base of the trail; they’re surprisingly affordable so don’t race out to stock up the night before if you’re short on time.
  • A hiking stick is offered to each participant but as we had our own hiking poles from our Patagonian hikes, I used those.  Nathan decided not to use either and was absolutely fine.
  • Drop off is to a central plaza, not far from Plaza de Armas – your guide will point you back in the direction of your accommodation or help you hail a taxi if required.  Cabs in Cusco are affordable and generally reliable so getting around is easily done.  Uber is also freely available should you prefer.
  • When you book through Exploor your voucher is issued and you have five months to decide when you’d like to book your hike in, making it the perfect way for friends and family to gift you an amazing experience (rather than more stuff that you don’t need).  At only USD45 including breakfast, lunch, transport and guide, this is amazing value too!  You’ll just need to allow PEN10 (USD3/NZD4.50) each for entrance to the community.

If there’s one day hike you do from Cusco, we highly recommend you make it Humantay.

Bang-for-buck, no other hike has ever compared to the beauty of this track and with the addition of horses, it really is attainable for the vast majority of travellers.

The views speak for themselves and if the water looks like this on an overcast, gloomy day, imagine them on a beautiful clear-sky day…


Off to Cusco or know someone that is?  Pin this post to refer back to it!

An easy day trip from Cusco, Peru, Humantay Lagoon is easily the best short hike in the region. The stunning blue green lagoon becons hikers after approximately an hour of walking uphill and the valley throughout rewards with incredible views. Definitely one to include in your Machu Picchu itinerary (or if you're doing the Salkantay Trek you'll have the pleasure anyway)!An easy day trip from Cusco, Peru, Humantay Lagoon is easily the best short hike in the region. The stunning blue green lagoon becons hikers after approximately an hour of walking uphill and the valley throughout rewards with incredible views. Definitely one to include in your Machu Picchu itinerary (or if you're doing the Salkantay Trek you'll have the pleasure anyway)!

Thank you to Exploor for hosting us for the purpose of this review.  All views, as always, are entirely our own.  We highly recommend you book your trip to Humantay Lagoon through Exploor.

Bolivia Brazil Chile Itineraries Monthly Round-Up Peru South America

Three Months on the Road in South America – Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru

November 13, 2017

Another month in South America is behind us and for the life of me, I don’t know where the time’s going!

As we have in previous months, this post is designed to give you a summary of our recent adventures and help those of you considering a similar trip plan your route and budget.

We’re a bit late on getting this month out so let’s not mess around – here goes!

If this is the first monthly round-up you’ve read, you may like to check out itinerary and costings for the first and second month we spend in South America first.

Ilha Grande, Brazil

Not much more than a stone’s throw from Rio, Ilha Grande is an island lying just off the coast.  Boasting gorgeous beaches (though due to the lack of beautiful sunshine, we didn’t manage to see them at their best), it’s a great option for some R&R.

Accommodation:  3 nights in a 6-bed dorm at Hostel Refugio @ BLR45 each/night (USD13.70/NZD19.80).  A good hostel with a substantial breakfast included.  A little walk out of town but as the centre is so small, it really isn’t far from the action.

Activities:  We booked a day trip island hopping out to Paradise Island and back along Ilha Grande through Equipe Athos (and were put on a boat with Tubarão Tour).  We were promised snorkelling gear and when it was withheld from us and we were instead greeted by a fairly aggressive skipper, it’s fair to say the day soured.  Most of the spots we visited were over-crowded and as snorkelling was the main aim of our day, it’s fair to say it was a pretty big disappointment – at least we had our friends with us to make the day a good one!

Onwards travel to Paraty:  We booked a private transfer for BRL50 each (USD15.35/NZD22.10) whilst on the boat heading over to Ilha Grande (with Easy Transfer).  In retrospect, we could have arranged our own transfer ourselves but with absolutely no Portuguese and limited time, we were happy with our decision.

Paraty, Brazil

Our own private paradise, we stayed just out of the colonial centre of Paraty in a secluded bay, accessible only by boat.

Though we visited both Ilha Grande and Paraty, in our opinion one would generally be sufficient.  We personally liked the laidback nature of Paraty and would pick it as our preference between the two spots.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Happy Hammock Eco Guesthouse (dorms are also available).  Transfers in and out of the guesthouse are organised by Patrick and the team – contact them for further details.  Happy Hammock was a real highlight of our time in Brazil!

Activities:  From the guesthouse, we popped out on a number of free excursions – a hike to the neighbouring beach for lunch, swimming, snorkelling at night with bioluminescent plankton (wow!) and a day trip to the historical centre of Paraty.  Not to mention all that hammock time!

Onwards travel to La Paz:  Public night bus from Paraty to Sao Paulo on Reunidas Paulista (BRL92.60/USD28.25/NZD40.80 each) and then a flight from Sao Paulo to La Paz on Boliviana de Aviacion (BRL821/USD250.45/NZD361.85 each).

La Paz, Bolivia

We’d heard mixed things about La Paz – it seems it’s a place people love or hate.

Fortunately, we loved it!  It’s a little grimy and a little mad but it’s got a whole lot of character and a neat buzz about it.

Accommodation:  3 nights at House Wonderful @ BOB60 (USD8.30/NZD12) each/night.  The reviews online for this hostel were fantastic but unfortunately, reality didn’t match for us – when we returned to La Paz we found a different (and much better) place to stay so couldn’t really recommend a stay at Hostel Wonderful.

Activities:

Death Road Biking

The main reason for our visit to La Paz, the Death Road did not disappoint!  Hurtling down what used to be the most dangerous road in the world is not for the faint of heart but those that give it a go are rewarded with a tremendous sense of achievement.  We’re yet to meet anyone who’s done it and didn’t love it!  We rode with Barracuda and unreservedly recommend them.  BOB570 each (USD82.50/NZD119.15).

Red Cap Walking Tour

Walking tours can be a great way to help find your feet in a new city and with Bolivia’s intriguing political history, we decided to explore the city with the help of a local.  Red Cap are professional and affordable and do a great job of showing off the diversity of this unique city.  BOB20 each (USD3/NZD4.30) plus a tip (and please do remember to tip, otherwise the guides don’t get paid).

Onwards travel to Uyuni:  We’d heard horror stories about the night buses down the line so jumped at the opportunity to pick up reasonably priced flights.  Boliviana de Aviación (BOA) @ BOB536 each (USD77.55/NZD112).

Uyuni (& the Salt Flats), Bolivia

The jumping-off point to the world-renowned Bolivian Salt Flats, Uyuni doesn’t offer a great deal to travellers but its surrounding area certainly does.  Let me put it this way, nobody ventures down to Uyuni for the town itself.

Accommodation:  1 night in a triple room at La Rocka @ BOB50 each/night (USD7.20/NZD10.40).  The rooms here were comfortable but the toilets weren’t kept particularly clean – more a reflection of the few other guests staying there but not very pleasant all the same.  For the price though, we were happy enough.

Activites:  We booked a 3-night/4-day tour of the Salt Flats with Jukil de los Andes and were very happy with our decision. The addition of an additional night (most people seem to book 2n/3d) meant we got a lot more time on the Salt Flats and our volcano climb provided us with the most amazing views out over the flats.  Salt flats, train graveyards, cactus islands, volcanoes, lagoons, flamingos galore and more – these tours are diverse and so, so much fun.

Onwards travel to San Pedro:  The tour dropped us at the border between Bolivia and Chile and included a mini-van transfer into the city at no additional charge.

Arica, Chile

A quick stop on our way further north, Arica is a lovely seaside city.  Their weather is nice, the people are friendly and though we didn’t spend much time exploring, we did get a good feeling from the town.

Accommodation: 1 nights in a private room at Residencial Tres Soles @ ARS202.50 each/night (USD11.60/NZD16.40)

Onwards travel to La Paz:  Local bus @ CLP8,000 each (USD12.65/NZD18.25) including a delicious lunch – the first proper lunch we’ve been served on a bus (and still, the only one to date!)

La Paz, Bolivia

Our second visit to La Paz, this time we weren’t there to tick off activities but to recharge our batteries and soak up the city.  Our newfound hostel was a big improvement on the last one so we’d definitely recommend staying there.

Accommodation:  2 nights at Landscape – International B&B in a private double room @ BOB67.37 each/night (USD9.75/NZD14)

Activites:  We caught the red cablecar up to the El Alto markets (BOB3 per person/per ride) and though it was a way to fill the time, it really didn’t compare to the Chichi Markets in Guatemala.  The markets are worth a visit if you’ve got time on your hands but, to be honest, we preferred the tourist markets in the middle of town… that is unless you’re in the market for car parts, badly-made knock-off clothing and general household supplies!

Onwards travel to CopacabanaBolivia Hop.  This is a great service provided for travellers – for a set price, they’ll generally pick you up from your accommodation and will drop you at your next home-away-from-home.  We picked up the full pass which includes our transport all the way from La Paz, Bolivia through to Lima, Peru (with the exception of one side trip up to the Amazon).

Copacabana, Bolivia

A cute little lakeside town, Copacabana doesn’t offer a heck of a lot more than relaxation but it does it well.  It’s a nice place to spend a night or two and due to its size, it’s super easy to get around by foot.

Accommodation:  1 night in a private room at Hostal 6 de Agosto @ BRL40 each/night (USD5.75/NZD8.30).  Basic accommodation but good value for the price – we had a private bathroom with warm(ish) water and relatively comfortable beds – be sure to take singles for everyone in your group though as the double beds weren’t as good.

ActivitesAfternoon trip to Isla del Sol.  We caught the Bolivia Hop ferry over to what was known as the birthplace of the sun during Inca times.  The island itself was beautiful but the one hike from our dropoff point to that of collection was relatively quick – if you’re interested in seeing the island properly, we’d probably suggest spending a night there.  BOB70 (USD10.15/NZD14.65)

Onwards travel to Puno:  Bolivia Hop – they collected us from the big white anchor statue on the lakefront.

Puno, Peru

Puno was so much bigger than we’d expected!  It’s not a particularly memorable city but did have a busy main street serving up reasonable food (a ‘tourist menu’ will get you three courses for approximately PEN20 (USD6.15/NZD8.90) and it serves its purpose well, acting as the jumping off point to the floating islands.

Accommodation:  1 night in a private room at Suite Independencia @ PEN30 each/night (USD9.25/NZD13.35).  This was a special price availed through our Bolivia Hop passes.

ActivitesAfternoon visit to Uros.  Here we visited locals living as they have for generations (more or less) on floating islands made of reeds.  I’m not entirely sure what I made of the experience to be honest – although the islands themselves were intriguing and we snapped some lovely photos we did feel very much like we were only welcome on the island if we spent up large.  As with any experience like this, I would have much more interest in interacting with the locals than simply being seen as an ATM.  Would I recommend others to visit?  Probably, as I do think I’d have been disappointed if I’d not experienced the community for myself, but I’m not 100% sold on the experience.  We’ll let you make up your own mind.  PEN35 each (USD10.80/NZD15.60).

Onwards travel to Cusco:  Good ol’ Bolivia Hop, by way of an overnight bus.  Once we arrived into Cusco, they organised taxis to take us to our individual hostels.

Cusco, Peru

The cultural capital of Peru, Cusco offers travellers so much – delicious food, unique cultural sites, unbeatable trekking and lots of adventure – it’s hard to tear yourself away!

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Magic Cusco Hostel, followed by a break to visit Machu Picchu and another night upon our return.  PEN20 each/night (USD6.15/NZD8.90).  I returned from Machu Picchu unwell and Esperanza very kindly let me sleep throughout the day at no extra charge.  She doesn’t speak a great deal of English but was very patient with us and incredibly kind.  Though the hostel’s a little way out of town, Uber is cheap and it’s worth staying out of the city to experience her hospitality (and to get a real duvet – oh my goodness!)

Activities:

Machu Picchu

Though there are plenty of reasons to visit Cusco, Machu Picchu really is the grand-daddy of them all.  This incredible site reveals more and more of its secrets each year but so much is still unknown.

There are numerous ways of getting to this historic site, from a comfy train to challenging, multi-day treks.  We opted for something in the middle – what we would consider the most exciting way to get to Machu Picchu – the Inca Jungle Trek.

We booked through Peru Andean Hop where our fee of USD240 each (PEN778/NZD348.45) included mountain biking, rafting, ziplining, accommodation for three nights, guides, food, transfers, entrance to Machu Picchu (along with a guided tour of the site) and the train back.

After biking, rafting, zip-lining and hiking our way to Machu Picchu (part of it along the original Inca Trail) we opted to catch the bus up to Machu Picchu (lining up from 3.30am – ouch!) for USD12 each.  It was a fairly costly bus ride but considering we arrived at the top feeling fresh and in time to make our 6.10am tour, it was well worth it.  At the end of our visit, we hiked our way back down the steps and our choice was totally reaffirmed – there’s no way I would have made it up all those steps at 5am!

With a new timing system recently introduced, we picked up some helpful tips (and almost came undone in the process) – stay tuned for our Machu Picchu post where we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know.

Onwards travel to Puerto Maldonado (the Amazon):  After returning to Cusco and spending a night recuperating, we caught a night bus (the best salon cama we’ve experienced so far!) with Excluciva @ PEN50 each (USD15.40/NZD22.25).

Lessons Learnt on the Road

  • Toilet paper is not a given.  We’ve found hostels and guesthouses in the cities supply toilet paper but as soon as you get out of a city, it’s not guaranteed.  We’ve always travelled with a little toilet paper as a backup but here it is sometimes an absolute necessity.
  • Hot showers in Bolivia aren’t always so hot.  Most showers in Bolivia employ a little electric water heater right on the shower-head.  Aside from the risk of electrocution, they’re unreliable at the best of times.
  • You do get used to putting your toilet paper in the bin!  I didn’t think it would happen, but it kind of has.
  • Bouncing around different currencies is difficult.  Even as I write this, I find it hard to convert between Soles and Bolivianos – thank goodness for XE.
  • We can afford to eat out again!  Bolivia and Peru are both significantly cheaper than our original destinations (Chile, Argentina and Brazil) so we can finally afford to eat out.  A good sized meal can cost as little as PEN8-12 each (USD2.45-3.70) if you look in the right places and even less in Bolivia.  We had initially planned on cooking for ourselves sometimes but we’ve actually found it really difficult to source fresh meat here so it’s not happening at this stage.

I remember when Machu Picchu felt like a distant thought on our Latin American journey so to not only have visited but to have it behind us now feels totally surreal.  We have lots more excitement on the horizon though with some more amazing hikes in Peru lined up and the most amazing cruise through the Galapagos.

Sometimes it’s hard not to pinch ourselves!

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Your guide to South America - Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru. Accommodation, transport, activities and costings for everything from Machu Picchu to the Death Road. The Salt Flats to the beaches of Brazil. Your guide to South America - Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru. Accommodation, transport, activities and costings for everything from Machu Picchu to the Death Road. The Salt Flats to the beaches of Brazil.


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