My Top Salar De Uyuni Tips: Visiting the World’s Largest Salt Flat

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Salar De Uyuni Tips For a Picture Perfect Visit

For well over a decade I’d been looking at photos of Salar De Uyuni with it placed high on my travel wishlist. In fact, it was the #1 destination I wanted to visit in South America. At the end of May 2016 I finally traveled to Bolivia with my best friend Tay and finally had my chance to visit. I feel like we nailed our trip to the Salar, even though it was a bit miserable, not due to anything to do with Bolivia itself (having a sinus infection, and a toothache). After having visited I wanted to share my Salar De Uyuni tips with all of you! We ultimately chose to book a tour about 4 weeks in advance with Red Planet Expeditions, as Tay had a limited schedule due to her university classes and Red Planet appeared very reputable upon our research.

Research Tour Companies

There’s a few reputable companies offering tours of Salar De Uyuni. There are many fly-by-night open one day and disappeared forever companies the next. Plus there have been horrible accidents out there in the past. Make sure who you book with is legit.

That’s why we chose to give our monies to Red Planet. Their prices tend to run a little higher than other companies, but they have a long standing good reputation. We didn’t have the best guide out there, but we still had a great time and were comfortable and safe, and we just adored our driver Efrané.

Do Be Prepared For The Altitude

Bolivia is really high, and I’m not just referencing the blow. The Salar is pretty high in altitude. If you do the typical 3 day tour some of your other stops are even higher! Altitude sickness is very real and can be dangerous. It effects everyone differently. You can be the most physically fit person out there and still have it kick your ass. Take the usual precautions and check out this guide for tips to help prevent and combat altitude sickness. Some swear by chewing Coca leaves or drinking Coca tea to help deal with the effects of altitude sickness, although it has been studied little and findings are inconclusive. Of course we tried it, I mean When in Bolivia, right? Your best bet to stop altitude sickness is to get a prescription for Diamox before leaving home, or go into a pharmacy in Bolivia and ask for Soroche Medicine.

Sol De Mañana, Sol De Manana, Bolivia, South America

Tay on top the Sol de Mañana. Nearly at 5,000m (16,400 ft).

How many days?

The most common tours are a 3 day tour that take you to a number of spots in addition to the Salar. There are other options. If you have very limited time it is possible to take just a day trip out to the Salar. There are a number of operators offering 2 and 4 day tours as well. Longer tours from La Paz are on offer by some companies. Red Planet Expeditions even offers a star-gazing tour- personally whenever I make it back to Bolivia it will be in wet season, and I will most definitely go on a star-gazing trip.

Splurge For The Sunset

Many tour companies add an additional fee to stay on the Salar for sunset. Do it! The Salar is pretty during the day, but at sunset it’s straight up magic.

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The Salar at sunset 👌

Bring sunscreen

The sun is intense and the altitude amplifies it out there. Even though temperatures can be chilly you can get pretty fried out here.

Bring Warm Enough Clothing and also bring some clothing for warm temperatures

Don’t let Bolivia’s location just a hair south of the equator fool you, the Bolivian Altiplano can be a harsh environment. The high Andean-like altitudes can make the Salar downright freezing, even in their summer months. Of course I visited at the tail end of Bolivian fall, and it was cold.

But during the day it can get pretty warm. It’s best to dress in layers. In the summer expect warm days and cold nights.

Book In Advance in The High Season (if you don’t wanna wait around in Uyuni)

Visiting in the Bolivian winter is most popular as skies tend to be clearer. Tours with well established companies can book up well in advance making a hop onto a last minute trip a little more difficult and possibly a little more time consuming, especially if you’re traveling as a group.

However, sometimes you can score a deal on a discounted Salar Tour by hopping on a last minute departure. If that’s your plan, know that it could be immediate or it could take a few days before an availability opens up.

Laguna Hedionda, Salar de Uyuni Tous, Bolivia, Rainbow Mountains

The colorful mountains near Laguna Hedionda.

If you have dietary restrictions, advise your tour company in advance

If you vegetarian or vegan or have food allergies they can and will cater meals to your needs, just make sure they know. In Tay and I’s group we had 3 lovely Irish ladies, all three went vegetarian for their South America trip because they had heard that they shouldn’t eat meat in several of the countries because of illnesses that can be acquired. They had vegetarian dishes for every meal with no issues.

If Spanish isn’t your language, pay the extra bit for an English (or other language) speaking guide.

My second language is Russian. I always try to learn some basics in the local language everywhere I go to not look like a tool that expects everyone on god’s green earth to speak English. While I do know some Spanish, it isn’t my strong point. We ultimately decided to go with a company that offered tours in our language to get the most (information wise) out of it. I was glad we opted for it as my Spanish comphrehension is not good enough to have had a clue of what was being explained to us.

Know when to go

Depending on the state you wanna see the Salar in, you should try to plan accordingly. For clearer skies visit in late April through late October. If you want to see the Salar when it looks like a glorious mirror, plan to go December through mid March to mid April. Of course weather can have a mind of it’s own and dry spells can happen in wet season and rains can occur in the dry. Know that sometimes tours are impossible during the wet season due to heavy rains making areas inaccessible.

Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

Laguna Colorada.

Which direction works best for you?

It is possible to do the tour in reverse from San Pedro De Atacama, Chile and end in Uyuni. Figure out which direction will work best for your travel plans. Another thing to note is that from the Bolivian side you can start or end from either Uyuni (most common), or from Tupiza. We did the Uyuni to Uyuni loop.

Pack Well, pack strategically

You’re big pack will be bungeed to the roof of your vehicle, so have all your items you plan to use throughout the day inside your day pack in the car with you. Think cameras, batteries, water snacks, sunscreen, layers of clothing…

Bring Water

Altitude has a bad drying effect on your body and skin. Staying hydrated can help combat the effects of altitude sickness. The 3 day Salar tours will take you out into the desert and maybe beyond to San Pedro De Atacama in Chile which is one of the driest places on Earth. It is possible to purchase water in a few shops while on your Salar Tour, but it’s recommended to bring 1-2L per day per person. Personally I have a water filter so I just refilled my water bottle as needed each night at our accommodations, plus I drink a lot of water to begin with.

Arbol De Piedra, Bolivia, South America

Arbol De Piedra.

Bring Cash!

While most tours are mostly all-inclusive there are a few additional fees for entrance into certain spots, for use of some toilets, and some accommodations do charge for a warm shower. You also may want to purchase a few souvenirs. There are no ATMs once you leave Uyuni. A fee of 30 Bolivanos is collected for entrance to Incahuasi. 150 Bolivanos fee will be collected for foreigners and 30 Bolivanos for Bolivians is charged for entrance to Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa- the park that houses Laguna Colorada, Laguna Verde, Arbol De Piedra and more. 15 Bolivanos is usually charged for use of the hot spring. Toilets at certain sites typically charge 1 Boliviano for use.

What to pack:

Aside from the sunscreen, water and layers of clothing mentioned above.

Swimsuit: There’s a hot spring you’ll have the chance to take a dip in.

Towel: For showering or to dry off after the hot spring.

Shoes: Your tour will include some light hiking. I recommend something comfortable.

Flip flops: Or some other kind of easily washable and easily dried shoe. I personally brought my Crocs. When you’re on the Salar plan for salt to get everywhere.

Toilet Paper: Avoid having to find someone to spare a square and bring some TP with you when traveling. Plan for some bush wees, and if you’ve traveled much you probably know that it’s fairly common for public toilets to not have any toilet paper.

Sleeping Bag: Depending on accommodation types, or if you get cold easily bringing a sleeping bag is a good idea.

Camera + Batteries: Of course you’ll want to snap some photos to take home of your trip. Extra batteries are a good idea as well as some accommodations do not have electricity.

Torch/Flashlight/Headlamp: Like mentioned above some accommodations do not have electricity, and some just don’t have it at night.

Props: Okay, this is where I messed up, we forgot the props. You’ve seen the forced perspective shots if you’ve been researching coming here. There’s a reason why I’m using a boot so squash Tay in the photo below. Also note that if you look real close she in fact only has on one boot.

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Where does a typical three day Salar De Uyuni tour go?

Of course attractions and order of stops can differ from company to company, be dependent on weather and may be done in reverse if coming from Chile.

Day 1

  • The Train Graveyard
  • Colchani
  • The Salt Mining Area
  • Salar De Uyuni
  • Incahausi
  • Salt Hotel

Day 2

  • Valles De Rocas
  • Laguna Hedionda
  • Arbol De Piedra
  • Laguna Colorada
  • Solar De Mañana Geyser Basin
  • Termas De Polques Hot Springs

Day 3

    • Salvador Dali Desert
    • Laguna Verde
    • Either transfer to San Pedro Atacama, Chile or continue back to Uyuni, Bolivia

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

 

Want more inspiration to Visit Bolivia?

Bolivia is a beautiful country. I do want to come back and explore more of it.

10 Photos That Will Make You Book That Ticket To Bolivia– Visual stimulation that will put Bolivia on your radar.

 

Looking for more posts on South America?

So much to see on one continent!

How To Score A Cheap Galapagos Cruise– My easy steps to get a dirt cheap last minute cruise of the famous islands.

Rainbow Mountain Peru with Flashpacker Connect– Seriously one of the most amazing things on Earth, plus this company offers great tours.

Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu– Want to make the most of your Machu Picchu experience? Look no further.

Cusco on the Cheap: The Tambomachay to Cusco Walk– Visit these 4 easy to reach sites near Cusco on next to nothing.

13 Photos That Will Add Rainbow Mountain to Your Bucketlist– More inspiration to visit this slice of heaven.

 

Musings From My South America Adventures

The good, the bad and the ugly….

The Most Hilarious, Worst Travel Day EVER– I had a rough go in South America, but it all comes to fruition on a miserable day in Peru.

What Happened in South America Pt. 1– My account of what I did in Bolivia and Peru since I neglected write hardly a thing on the blog while I was traveling South America in 2016.

A Week Into Bolivia: Still Not Dead Or Mugged– I’d heard mostly bad things about Bolivia. I actually quite enjoyed the country.

 

Machu Picchu Tips- See the Wonder

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What you need to know to visit: My Machu Picchu Tips.

*This post contains affiliate links.

Planning to visit Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the world? My best friend Tay and I visited Machu Picchu in June of 2016, I came with low expectations and left impressed. Machu Picchu has rightfully earned its spot as one of the new seven wonders of the world. After our trip there I wanted to share some of the Machu Picchu tips we learned along the way (and even things we wished we knew but didn’t until after we arrived). Here are my Machu Picchu Tips!

Big changes to Machu Picchu starting July 1, 2017:

It has been spread through the news this month (June, 2017) that new changes will be put into place for visiting Machu Picchu. Starting July 1st tourists can only enter for a half day with an official tour guide. If you haven’t booked a guide in advance, there are official guides at the entrance who charge 100 s/. for groups of up to 4 people. Tickets will need to be purchased for the time slots of either 6am to 12pm, or 12pm to 5:30pm, however if wanting a full day at the park you can buy an entrance ticket for each time slot. From information I have read online it sounds like the tickets will remain the same prices. New rules will be put into effect as well, including the ban of selfie sticks, tripods, monopods, food & utensils, bags over 40 x 35 x 20 cm (16 x 14 x 8 in) in size, and more. To read more information on the upcoming changes read this article by Rick Vecchio of Peruvian Times. These changes are in an effort to help protect the historic site from the effects of the large volume of tourists who visit each year.

I have not yet tracked down information on how this will effect those wanting to hike up Huayna Picchu or Moñtana Picchu, if any at all. The official Peruvian Government’s Machu Picchu site referenced below in order to purchase tickets is down and has been for several days. As information becomes available I will update the following information in this post.

Buy your ticket in advance

Machu Picchu is very popular and for good reason. Since it is popular it is a ticketed site with only 2,500 tickets available each day. Tickets can be booked directly at http://www.machupicchu.gob.peThe website is available in Spanish, English, Portuguese and Italian.

As of May 2017 the current currency rate was 3.27 s/. Peruvian Sol to $1 US Dollar.

Fees are:

Machu Picchu Ticket:

Foreign Adult: 152 s/.

Peruvian Adult: 64 s/.

Children 8yrs-17yrs 77 s/.

Students with ISIC card 77 s/.

Children under 8yrs are free.

Wanna Hike? Purchase the correct ticket

Limited numbers of tickets are available for the Huayna Picchu Hike and the Montaña Picchu Hike. Huayna Picchu is available for hikes in the 7-8am time frame and 10-11am time frame. Tickets will be checked. Montaña Picchu is available from 7-8am and 9-10am. Only 200 tickets are sold for each time slot each day and they will be checked.

Tickets for either hike (include the standard entrance to Machu Picchu) are:

Foreign adult: 200 s/.

Peruvian adult: 112 s/.

Students with ISIC cards and children 8-17yrs 125 s/.

*These prices include ONE of the hikes (either Montaña or Huayna) NOT BOTH!

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The view from atop Huayna Picchu.

Book train tickets to Aguas Calientes or Inca Trail trekking tours in advance (especially in the high season)

Train tickets can be booked on Peru Rail’s website, prices are different depending on class and time of day. But I already know, it’s downright expensive.

Hiking the Inca trail is an option for getting to Machu Picchu. Different treks range from 2-8 days in durations and on average will set you back anywhere from 1470 s/. to 2615s/.($450 to $800 quoted online), ($200-400 average once in Peru) depending on the trek, duration and group size.

A cheap alternative to get to Aguas Calientes

There is a cheaper option to take a Collectivo from Cusco or Ollantaytambo up to Planta Hydroelectico and then walk for 2 hours off to the side of the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. Expect to pay about 30 s/. for a colectivo from Ollantaytambo to Santa Maria and another 20 s/. for a colectivo from Santa Maria to Hydroelectrico. From Hydroelectrico you will walk for about two hours before reaching Aguas.

If you manage to get ahold of a topographical map of the area before you leave Cusco you can opt to trek Mollepata, Cachora and Huanicapa if you’re feeling pretty adventurous.

Don’t skip Aguas Calientes

Ah, Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu, the jumping off point if you will. Most travelers seem to skip over Aguas Calientes and go to Machu Picchu on a day trip from Cusco or just spend a quick night there in transit to the famed site. Aguas Calientes is a sleepy little town set in a picturesque valley with a couple attractions of it’s own including a hot spring and a cloud forest hike. I spent two nights in Aguas Calientes and wished I would have had one or two more days there to have explored Aguas a little more.

Yes, you can find cheap accommodation in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is known to be on the pricey side in comparison to the rest of Peru which is well known as an inexpensive destination. But don’t fear, with some planning you can stay in Aguas for less. Hostel dorms can be found for as little as 30 s/. to 50 s/.($10-20) per night. There is even the Camp Municipal where you can pitch a tent for 15 s/ per night. Plan to book well in advance to find the cheapest deals on accommodation, especially when planning a visit during the peak season (May to September), you know: early bird gets the worm. Another great way to cut down on expenses is to hit the market or grocer before you leave Cusco and stock up on food. Food does cost more in Aguas Calientes (and boy is the restaurant at Machu Picchu expensive, but very good).

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Don’t forget to acclimate

Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes sit a little lower in elevation than Cusco, but don’t potentially ruin your trip by not giving yourself a few days in Cusco to adjust to the altitude. Altitude sickness is very real and can be dangerous.

Get your bus ticket (or allot enough time to walk to the park)

Roundtrip bus tickets can be purchased from a little building just across the bridge from the train station. The building has a sign that says ‘Venta Oficial de Ticket de Bus‘ on it. Adult return tickets are 79 s/. ($24), children 40 s/. ($12). The first buses leave at 5:30 am and the line to purchase tickets will be lined up long before then.

If opting to walk from Aguas Calientes plan for the walk up to take 60-90 minutes on average, and you will gain about 2,000 meters in elevation on the way up there.

Know the Park Hours

The gates to Machu Picchu open at 6 am and close at 5 pm everyday. Plan your bus or walk to the park accordingly.

Good things come to those who wait: The late afternoon at Machu Picchu. Most tourists will be at the gates as the park opens to catch that famed Machu Picchu sunrise and then already leave before 1pm. After about 2pm I felt like we almost had the park and all the llamas to ourselves, there was hardly a soul there! Plus that golden afternoon light on Huayna Picchu was to die for, not to take the glory away from the sunrise, but I was very happy we stayed open to close.

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When I posted this photo on Instagram I had so many people asking how I shot it with no one else in it but Tay. Well, because this was right as the park was closing. Late afternoon, I tell you what…(Although if you look real close on the right hand side of the picture you can see a line of people on a tour).

Machu Picchu Tickets for less

Did you know there’s an often overlooked cheaper option for entrance into Machu Picchu? There is an ‘evening’ ticket permitting entrance from 1pm to 5pm for 100 s/. per person. This is a good option for those that come from Cusco in the morning and go straight to the park and are only spending one night in Aguas Calientes before departing back to Cusco.

Best Time to Go?

May to September is the peak season and the time when Peru is most likely to have clear, more stable weather (Peru is notorious for having unpredictable weather, so expect anything any time of year.) October to April is the wet season with a tendency for more rain and a mist and sometimes even thick clouds that never break in the worst case.

Hiring a Guide

Having a guide is still not mandatory, although that may change in the future. If you would like to have a guide to take you through the park you can easily hire one when you arrive at the park. They will be vying for your attention as you approach the gate. Expect to pay around 140-160 s/. for a roughly two hour guided tour of the park for 1-2 people.

Don’t forget to bring you passport (and ISIC school ID card if you’re a student)

You will be ID’d when entering the park, make sure you have your passport on you when you present you ticket at the entrance. Anyone paying the discounted student fee must provide their ISIC student card at entrance.

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Budget Ideas:

No frills Machu Picchu budget with two nights in Aguas Calitenes tent camping not including food can be done for a grand total of 322 s/. ($99)!

Mini bus from Cusco to Ollantayambo: 15-20 s/.

Mini bus from Ollantaytambo to Santa Maria: 30 s/.

Mini bus from Santa Maria to Hydroelectrico: 20 s/.

Standard Adult entrance to Machu Picchu: 152 s/.

Two nights camping at Camp Municipal 30 s/.

Mini bus from Hydroelectrico to Santa Maria: 20 s/.

Mini bus from Santa Maria to Ollantaytambo: 30 s/.

Mini bus from Ollantayambo to Cusco: 15-20 s/.


Midrange Machu Picchu Budget with two nights in Aguas Calientes in a hostel, not including food: 710 s. ($218).

Mini bus from Cusco to Ollantayambo: 15-20 s/.

Train from Ollantayambo to Aguas Calientes: 185 s/. booked in advance in cheapest class.

Adult Machu Picchu entrance ticket incl. hike up Huayna Picchu or Montaña Picchu: 200 s/.

Two nights in Aguas Calientes Hostel: 100 s/.

Train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantayambo: 185 s/. booked in advance in cheapest class.

Mini bus from Ollantayambo to Cusco: 15-20 s/.


Comfortable Machu Picchu Budget with two nights in a B&B in Aguas Calientes, not including food: 1,140 s/. ($350).

Train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes: 280 s/. booked in advance in a midrange class.

Adult Machu Picchu entrance ticket incl. hike up Huayna Picchu or Montaña Picchu: 200 s/.

Hiring a guide for a two hour tour of Machu Picchu: 150 s/.

Two nights in Aguas Calientes Hotel or B&B: 150-230 s/.

Train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco: 280 s/. booked in advance in a midrange class.

*These are per person estimates. Hotel B&B estimate is the only exception, based on double occupancy.

Of course prices can go up quite higher than 1,140 s/. if you want to book the Hiram Bingham train ($447 each way depending on day!) and want higher end hotels or choose to book a full tour from Cusco.

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Just two girls, two llamas and Machu Picchu.

My last few Thrifty Machu Picchu tips:

-Book in advance for best deals on accommodation and trains.

-Prepare your own meals with market or store bought produce and goods.

-Haggle- This is almost a fine art in Peru, hone your haggling skills for the best prices in markets and on taxi rides.

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

Planning a trip to Peru or further afield into South America? Check out my other posts!

Peru:

Rainbow Mountain Peru with Flashpacker Connect. The lovelies at Flashpacker Connect will set you up with amazing, professional guides that are eco-conscious and knowledgable on the area.

Cusco on the Cheap: The Tambomachay to Cusco Walk. How to see four of Cusco’s nearby archeological sites in a day for next to nothing.

13 Photos That Will Make You Put Rainbow Mountain on Your Bucketlist. Eye candy that will make you wanna see it for yourself.

The Most Hilarious, Worst Travel Day Ever. Peru is a beautiful country, but I think I had one of worst days while I was there. In less than 24 hours I was in a train wreck, lost a tooth and fainted on a bus station floor. My misery is your hilarity here.

Bolivia:

10 Photos That Will Make You Book That Ticket to Bolivia. More eye-porn.

One Week in Bolivia: Still Not Dead or Mugged. Everyone kept telling me how bad Bolivia was going to be…

Galapagos:

How to Score a Cheap Galapagos Cruise! The secrets exposed! Who wants to see the Galapagos for less?

Got any Machu Picchu tips to add? Comment below or e-mail me!

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How to Score a Cheap Galapagos Cruise

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No way!

How to Score a Cheap Galapagos Cruise

*This post contains affiliate links. 

The Galapagos Islands are notoriously known for being an expensive destination. It’s a sought after, remote, well known and a world renowned destination. But did you know you can take a cheap Galapagos cruise for much much less than the advertised prices you see online?

The following tips are going to give you advice on how to get a last-minute cheap Galapagos Cruise.

Remember, that if you pre-book a cruise online you will most likely pay exponentially more money for it, however you get that comfortable feeling that things are squared away and all you gotta do is show up. But remember convenience comes with a price tag. (Remember back when I started out blogging and I wrote that post called ‘Must be nice, how do you afford to travel‘? When I really harped on how you pay for convenience? Well these ship operators out here really benefit from convenience seekers.) For example, one couple we met on our catamaran that did so because they had very limited time paid double what we did to be on our catamaran for only 4 days (we were on it for 8)! So to cut the fat and get to the goods, here it is:

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The S/C Solitario Jorge.

How to Take a Cheap Galapagos Cruise

4 steps that will help you get the best price on your Galapagos cruise. Plus a couple bonus tips!

1. Bring that Cash Money.

US dollars are the official currency in Ecuador. Bring the maximum dollar amount you’d be willing to pay when you’re going from agency to agency. You can book last minute cheap Galapagos cruises after you arrive in the islands, as well as at agencies in Quito or from Guayaquil. Personally, we ended up booking a super last minute deal in Puerto Ayora. We flew into Baltra, took the bus and ferry across to the island of Santa Cruz, were dropped off in Puerto Ayora, got a room for the night, met a fun couple staying there and headed out to the Charles Darwin Station with them for the afternoon, then came back to our hotel, changed clothes and headed out to score our cheap Galapagos Cruise.

30 minutes, 1 agency and $1,200 each ($2,400 total) later, we were set up to leave the very next morning on an 8-day, Tourist-Superior Class, all-inclusive, cruise of the Galapagos Islands with a private cabin on a 16 passenger catamaran, the  S/C Solitario Jorge in June of 2016- yep friends, that’s the high season! That comes out to $150 a day each for all accommodations, meals and activities.

2. Come with flexible time constraints.

Wanting to take an 5-day cruise but only booked roundtrip tickets that will put you on the islands for 5 days and it’s high season? Well that’s was your first mistake. You need wiggle room if you want to get a cheap Galapagos Cruise. If you turn up at a booking agent with rigid timeframes these guys will sniff it out.

We went into the agent we purchased from and asked which cruises were leaving in the near future and what their lengths and stops were.

3. Don’t be scared to haggle.

If you’ve been traveling Ecuador or South America prior to your Galapagos arrival you likely know this song and dance is just a way of life here. What’s the worst? The agent says no and won’t budge. There’s a plethora of agencies around Puerto Ayora (or Quito and Guayaquil if you’re still on the mainland), so you can always pick up and move along to the next one. Knowledge of the Spanish language here is beneficial. The agent I booked with only knew a few words of English, but I knew enough Spanish to communicate my needs and to barter a price with him.

4. Know what you want.

Are you willing to go on a more economical style catamaran trip? Or are you expecting luxury? Willing to share a cabin with a stranger/strangers? How many days? Which islands and locations do you want to visit? These preferences will of course make a big difference in what kind of price you’ll pay. I’m not fussed about much. We opted for a catamaran that could only take up to 16 passengers (small group is more my style anyways). We didn’t even ask if we would be sharing a cabin with anyone else because quite frankly, we didn’t come to the Galapagos to sleep in solitude- we came for the wildlife and the unusual landscapes. We did end up with our own cabin that had a private toilet/shower and air conditioning.

I knew I wanted a minimum week long Cruise. So when we found an 8 day catamaran to the eastern islands I was sold.

Bonus tip #1: The off season.

June to September and Christmas/New Years (late December and Early January) are the peak seasons. The benefit is that there are tons of ships, yachts and catamarans leaving daily, but prices tend to be a little higher. June to September is officially the dry and cool season and the best time for wildlife viewing. December to June is the wet season so more showers and warmer temperatures can be expected, but this is when the landscapes are most lush. My best friend’s parent spent 3 weeks in the Galapagos in February 2016 and scored an amazingly cheap deal on a last minute cruise seeing that it’s the rainy off season and that they had tons of time to play with.

Bonus Tip #2: BYOB.

Yup, bring your own booze! (or soft drinks if you enjoy them). On our catamaran a beer or glass of wine would set you back $3 a piece and a 8oz bottle Coke, Fanta or Sprite $1.50 each, which isn’t astronomical, but it adds up if you’re a drinker.

Bonus Tip #3: Ask to see your vessel before you pay.

Sometimes these offers for a cheap Galapagos cruise are too good to be true. If the price is rock-bottom and way lower than what would fall within the ‘normal’ price range for a cheap Galapagos cruise, it may be for a reason. There are passenger’s accounts online for being booked onto a problematic yacht, catamaran or ship. Anywhere from rooms that smell so awful you can’t be in it without gagging to downright dangerous damages to the vessel.

Don’t forget to tip the crew!

These guys bust their asses to make sure you have a great trip. It’s not required but it is very much appreciated. We actually are still good friends with our naturalist guide Andreas (he’s seriously one of the BEST guides I’ve had the world over) he even came to Alaska a few months later and stayed at our house (of course I missed him because I was off traveling again).

Galapagos, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cheap Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Cruise, Solitario Jorge, S/C Solitario Jorge, Galapagos cactus

What to be wary of.

Is the price too good to be true? It likely is. When shopping around expect 5 day cruise deals to come in around the $750 to $1,800 range depending on the cruise class. If prices are extremely low it can be a bad sign. It could include an unqualified guide, poor equipment or an unreliable ship (yes, the occasional shipwreck does and can happen out here). It’s a good idea when booking to ask to see the yacht, ship or catamaran before you agree to book.

Know what’s included. Typically most cruises will include meals, tours, and snorkel gear. Scuba trips and alcohol are usually an additional fee. Know before you pay. My cruise included meals, snorkel gear, and all tours. Scuba gear was onboard but did cost extra if anyone wanted to go diving, wet suits were onboard and available for an extra fee for the duration of the trip, and alcohol/soda was extra.

Galapagos, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cheap Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Cruise, Solitario Jorge, S/C Solitario Jorge, Galapagos Sea Lion, Sea Lion

Here are the unavoidable costs:

-$300-500 roundtrip from Quito/Guayaquil airfare. Let’s face it, you can’t swim to the Galapagos. It is possible to use airline miles to get out to the Galapagos, that would be the only possible cheaper way.

-$100 per person Park Fee (children are $50). Upon arrival at the Santa Cruz Airport you will be charged this fee that MUST BE PAID IN CASH. When we arrived there were a couple people that didn’t know and didn’t have cash to pay the fee. They were allowed to continue to Santa Cruz, but passports would held there at the airport as collateral until they returned to the airport with fee money in cash. There have been rumors for the last few years of it being increased eventually to $200 or $300 per person.

-$3.00-21.00 for the ferry+bus/taxi from the Baltra Airport to Puerto Ayora. Once you have paid your national park fee and grabbed your luggage, head outside and catch the free bus to the Itabaca Channel where you will get on the ferry that takes you across to Santa Cruz Island. When you get to the Channel, take your luggage and put it on the roof of the ferry and then get on. Someone will come around and collect the $1 fee. Once across to the Santa Cruz side you can either wait for the bus or grab one of the white taxi trucks. The bus will set you back $2.00 and drop you in downtown Puerto Ayora. A taxi should cost about $20 to Puerto Ayora.

-$10-100’s for accommodations. Accommodation costs can vary widely. You will likely need to stay at least a night before or after catching your cruise. There are a few Couchsurfing hosts in Puerto Ayora, so free accommodation is possible, a couple hostels offer rooms for as little as $10 per night per bed (although $20/night per dorm bed is average), private single rooms $25/n on average, $40/n on average for a double. Hotels can run the gamut from $50 to hundreds per night. Camping is possible typically with a guide and permissions from the national park (but this comes with a price tag).

-$1 on up for meals. Food costs can vary widely depending on your budget, where you want to eat and how long you’ll be on land before you get on your likely all-meals-included cheap Galapagos cruise. It’s possible to eat for as little as a few dollars per day as there are tiendas and even a supermarket in Puerto Ayora where you can purchase provisions and prepare your own meals. There is a street of local restaurants off the main road where cheap dishes can be eaten, usually a full meal will set you back $4. Expect to pay typical prices you’d pay in the US, Canada or Europe at restaurants in the main tourist area in downtown Puerto Ayora.

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But what about being land based and doing day tours?

If you’re on a budget and cruise prices even at last minute are too high for what you’re working with being land based is an option.

After quizzing my best friend’s parents, as well as numerous people I know back home who have gone to the Galapagos and did both cruises and land based activities the consensus was: it’s a once in a lifetime trip for most people, SPLURGE ON A CRUISE!

My best friend’s parents spent 21 days in the Galapagos, 12 were onboard a ship, the remaining were spent doing day trips around the islands. While they said they enjoyed the day trips they did, they felt the cruise was a much more valuable experience as being land based and day tripping out can really limit your options as to where you can realistically visit.

Another thing to remember that if you do decide to ultimately stay land based that you will be paying for your accommodation, meals, and tours. Tours can range from $50-$200 per day, (most hover around $100 pp/per day), accommodation can range from free if Couchsurfing to $25 per night for a private room and up to the hundreds of dollars per night range, and of course meals will range depending on your preferences. This can rack up to the same cost or more per day than a last minute cruise would cost you if you’re not careful with your expenditures.

Some savvy traveler’s report doing all this on less than $50 per day per person. Which for two people comes out to less than the cost of one person per day on the catamaran I went on. A great comparison to read is Flora the Explorer’s trips to the Galapagos on both land based and cruise trips. She really highlights the pros/cons of each.

It is possible to fly to/or out of either Baltra or San Cristobal and take ferries between the main islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana and Isabela and create sort of a DIY super cheap Galapagos cruise. You can do day tours from each location to get a mixture of different areas and islands. Each of those four  islands offers free hiking, areas you can snorkel independently and of course wildlife hasn’t cashed in on charging fees to view them, however visiting other islands beyond those four listed you usually need permissions from the national park and be accompanied by a guide. Wanna check out ferry schedules and costs? Read this post.

Galapagos, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cheap Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Cruise, Solitario Jorge, S/C Solitario Jorge, Red footed booby, red foot booby

A red footed booby.

How I feel about the cheap Galapagos cruise I took?

We were both very happy with our catamaran trip of the Galapagos. I feel we saw all the wildlife and all the landscapes we had come to see.  I actually do not feel a need to ever go back to the Galapagos and for good reason: because we saw so much. I don’t feel we missed anything at all. Of course we didn’t get to experience the western islands of the Galapagos because the cruises were on their three week trips to the east (The national park allows boats in the east for 3 weeks, and then the west for 3 weeks to give wildlife breaks from the boats). I was thoroughly happy with what I experienced in the eastern islands. We had an amazing guide who was knowledgable on anything Galapagos (he was born and grew up on Santa Cruz). I was also impressed with how well regulated the park is and what is being done to conserve the environment and protect it from the impacts of tourism.

two birds, birds flying together, two birds flying, long tailed Galapagos bird, white bird with long tail Galapagos, red-billed tropic bird, Phaethon aethereus, Galapagos, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cheap Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Cruise, Solitario Jorge, S/C Solitario Jorge

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The Most Hilarious, Worst Travel Day Ever: Nicole Gets In A Train Wreck

The most hilarious worst travel day ever, Machu Picchu, Peru

#failing, or #flailing, you decide…

The Most Hilarious, Worst Travel Day Ever

I had a crappy time in Peru last year, that’s no lie. It’s not Peru’s fault, and I’m certainly not going to write a post telling you not to go to Peru because I had a shitty time, for fuck’s sake there’s enough travel bloggers that have a shitty time in a certain location and write posts telling everyone else they shouldn’t visit it either. Peru actually is a beautiful country with so many insane landscapes to fend off any traveler’s heroine like travel addiction.

So, before I start telling my story, I’ll break down the pros/cons I found while traveling in Peru. Peruvians, I know you’re a proud people and I’m not trying to piss any of you off!

Peru Pros:

-Unreal mountain landscapes in the Andes.

-Vinicunca. I got to visit with a great guide before the irresponsible tourism went full fledged, so my experience is likely very different from someone trekking today.

-Machu Picchu. I’m usually not enthralled with famous spots. It’s one of the seven new wonders of the world. I prepped by turning up in the morning with the expectation that I would hate it. I didn’t- it’s quite well managed and does in fact look exactly the same as on the post cards.

-Huacachina. What a fun desert oasis. A pleasant place to spend a couple days.

-Peruvian Amazon. Okay I didn’t get to visit myself, but the general consensus I got from other traveler’s was that it was worth the visit.

Cons:

-Difficult to communicate without proper knowledge of the Spanish language. This is not something to hold against Peru or that I’m even complaining about. If you have limited or no ability to speak Spanish communication will be a hurdle.

-High altitudes. Not all of the country is high altitude, but most of the tourist draws in the country are high in the Andes. This is something to be aware of and proper steps to avoid and/or alleviate altitude sickness should be taken.

-Driving. Peruvians as a whole are crazy behind the wheel. Sorry to all you good driving Peruvians to generalize about that. When your taxi driver is cut off and nearly slammed into for the 10th time in 5 minutes and keeps apologizing about his countrymen’s terrible driving etiquette and continually shaking his head muttering Peru, Peru, Peru it’s safe to say that driving in Peru is a nightmare.

-Bad mountain roads. Roads into the mountains that are somewhat considered off the beaten path are downright terrifying. Narrow roads on the edge of a cliff with a sheer vertical drop thousands of feet down paired with lunatic like driving makes for a death-defying ride.

-Taking a long bus between cities. At some stations we found this to be a maddening and confusing experience. When going from Puno to Cusco we bought our bus ticket and then tried to board the bus. They wouldn’t let us on. What we gathered was that we had to go to a window and pay some kind of fee or tax to get a stamp on the ticket. We did so and came back and were still not allowed on. We then had to go back to a different window and pay something else to get a hole punched in the ticket. What these fees were for? Who the fuck knows, but it could easily be charged within the purchase of the bus ticket and alleviate the confusion.

-Unchecked and irresponsible tourism. Yes, places like Machu Picchu are heavily guarded and ran quite well. Up and coming destinations are not. When we were at Vinicunca we could see it was on it’s way to catastrophe. We had an experienced and respectful guide that explained how the mountains got their unique color, was very aware of the environmental impacts and what should be done to alleviate them. He was very adamant about the importance of staying on trail. There weren’t tons of tourists yet when we visited in June of 2016, however later in the day you did see larger tour groups trekking up, who had people nearly keeling over wheezing for air (they likely were too impatient to acclimate back in Cusco), many were wandering off the trail and some were even trying to climb up on the mountain!

So here we go, the story: The Most Hilarious, Worst Travel Day Ever

To give a preface to the story: I had a sinus infection while traveling in Bolivia where I started my travels in South America last year. Sinus infections can cause tooth pain so I catagorized the pain I had been suffering to that. But it never went away on the left side. At 3:30am the day I was about to go into Machu Picchu it became apparent that my tooth had abscessed. 

I suffered through the pain to see Machu Picchu with a plan to get the tooth right the fuck out of my head the next day.

That night Tay and I went back to our hostel in Aguas Calientes. In case you don’t know any Spanish, Aguas Calientes means hot water. I proceeded to take the coldest shower ever in the history of the world in a place called hot water. WHY IN THE LITERAL FUCK IS THE WATER SO COLD?!? I think the metal on the tap had a sheen of ice on it. Tay of course thought this was the most hilarious thing she ever witnessed and snap chatted my entire rant as I used her hair dryer in an attempted to melt the ice off my body. All I wanted after a day of pain and trekking up Huayna Picchu was a shower, a hot shower, fuck I’d take lukewarm at that point. Really, the place should be called Aguas Muy Fucking Frio.

Fast forward to the ass crack of morning the next day. I’d hardly slept because of the pain. We had to be over at the train station to catch our train to Ollantaytambo at 5:30 am. We walked over with our backpacks and got on the train.

I was so unpleasant to be around that I was sure Tay hated me. A cheery couple sat across the table from us. Shortly after we all sat down I finally dozed off, but not for long.

SCREEEEEEEECH! BAM!

Bags go flying off of shelves, people scream, the coffee cart topples over in a split second shitstorm of events…..

Ladies and gentlemen, this is where Nicole gets in her first train wreck, like a literal one.

Really, can this day get any worse?

We were stopped there on the tracks. The staff looked frantic, passengers are shaken up. After a few minutes the announcement was made, we had hit a vehicle parked on the tracks. It would be a few moments before we started moving again and of course Peru Rail was apologizing for the accident.

About 20 minutes later we start moving again. This time I cannot fall back asleep.

A short while later the boyfriend across the table jumps up out of his seat, binoculars in hand. (Remember when I said that a cheery young couple sat across the table from us?) He is dead staring through the binoculars out the window and proclaims, “that’s a nice female!”  The girlfriend immediately pops up and begins fumbling for her binoculars. All the while Tay and I are gawking out the window trying to see what nice female he’s talking about.

Upon the realization that they’re losing their fucking minds over a duck, Tay and I are facing each other, eyes watering suppressing our laughter. We’ve known each other long enough that we know that the other one is trying to control themselves to not loudly blurt out, “HA! Virgins!”

*Birders are a breed of people I don’t understand. Who gets that excited over a fucking bird?

Finally, survived minor train wreck aside we arrive in Ollantaytambo.

I had already googled, pre Hostel-Aguas-motherfucking-frio departure. There aren’t but a couple dentists in Ollantaytambo and it’s currently Saturday. “There’s no hope!” I’m kinda yelling/lip quivering in a I’m-in-so-much-pain kind of way to Tay.  “We need to get to Cusco. NOW.”  Tay was on it, she had a taxi driver lined up and bartered in price in two shakes of a llamas ass. We slide into the backseat and we’re off. My Spanish sucks but I knew enough to tell him “Muy diente dolor, necessito dentista por favor!”  About 75 near death defying incidents and record time later we were cruising the streets of Cusco looking for a dentista office that looked open.

We eventually found a Dental Consult office open. Tay paid the driver and we hauled our bags upstairs. I explain upon walking through the door “Necessito diente extractcción!” Tay begins explaining more in Spanish to the staff as they whisk me behind a curtain and into a dental chair. (Tay speaks far more Spanish than I do). Tay comes back and says that they’re calling the dentist in as I’m opening and rifling through drawers inspecting equipment and cleanliness. Tay, eyes rolling announces to everyone in the office in Spanish that I’m actually a dental hygienist in Alaska and nosing around, I’m sure she even threw in there that I’m embarrassing her.

I do lots of weird stuff that embarrasses Tay. I wasn’t about to get Hep C. I definitely don’t know what the standard of care or sterilization procedures in Peru are. Luckily they had an autoclave and everything was tidy.

About 30 minutes after we arrived a dentist walks in and begins explaining that she will give me anesthesia and will begin the extraction. I told her that I knew the tooth had extremely twisted and curved roots. Working in dentistry I’d seen X-rays of my root apices and knew that tooth in particular would be a son-of-a-bitch to get out. She elevated the tooth, I could painlessly feel the pop of the ligaments being snapped and the pressure release from the draining of the infection. Then the forceps come out, the extraction begins. She’s pulling and twisting with all her might to no avail. We keep having to do more anesthesia because it keeps wearing off due to the infection. Finally after about an hour of her probably getting the hardest workout of her life, she gives up. She’s going to call another dentist who does extractions far more often, a surgeon she knows.

Dentist #2 arrives, introduces himself and gloves up. He begins reefing and pulling. About 30 minutes in he says we have to go over to his office across town where he has better access and a better variety of instruments. Soon we’re all piling into dentist #2’s small car with Tay and I’s backpacks loaded in the trunk. It looked like a clown car there were so many of us. We’re laughing,  I’m flicking my half extracted tooth around with my tongue….

About a half hour later we pull up to dentist #2’s office. It’s nice. They sit me back, I have both dentists pulling on the forceps, both of them nearly with their feet on my forehead for leverage, and finally the tooth launches out of my head. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in my life- trust me Tay could vouch for my excitement* as I sat up and yelled “YES!” Amazingly they managed to get my crazy tooth out in one piece.

The most hilarious, worst travel day ever, Nicki's worst travel moments of 2016

Good riddance tooth #15, you’re an asshole.

*I’m known for being emotionless.

Dentist #2 quickly gives me my aftercare instructions and two prescriptions, an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory. He had already called a taxi to pick us up and bring us to the bus station. Did I forget to mention that Tay and I were catching a 17 hour bus to Ica, Peru that night? I did. We have a 17 hour bus ride ahead of us. The shitshow ain’t over.

I then asked for the grand total for my extraction. Everything I had read online regarding having a tooth extracted in Peru explicitly said to negotiate a price beforehand. By the time we made it in to get my tooth pulled I was in enough pain that I didn’t even think of that. Plus, what was I gonna do? Barter with potentially the only two dentists willing to work the weekend and go somewhere else in the short window of time we had? The bill? 100 whole Peruvian Sols. That’s roughly $30 US. Worth it.

After nearly 3 whole hours of 2 dentistas extracting 1 tooth, we head to the bus station

Finally we make it over to the bus station. We already had printed tickets so all we had to do was wait. Plus I had to go pick up my prescriptions. There was a pharmacy in the bus station, of course, it’s fucking closed. I go outside and look for a taxi driver to take me to the nearest farmacia. I hop in, we stop only a couple minutes up the road, I hop out hand over my scripts, I walk out with my meds and get back in the taxi. I plop back down next to Tay in our seats waiting for our boarding time. Then it hits me: I’m going to faint.

I get this strange aura when I’m going to faint (usually). My ears start ringing deafeningly loud. My vision goes kind of dark. I start to cold sweat profusely. That’s when I know I’m about to go down. At this point I turn to Tay and tell her “I’m going to faint, don’t freak out. I’m going to lie down on this filthy bus station floor for a few minutes and then I’ll wake back up and I’ll be fine.” Tay is just looking at me all confused. So I push my backpack outta the way and laid down with my head propped up on it.

Then I awoke to the loud bustling of the bus station. I open my eye, I’m facing toward the seats, I see Tay’s leg. Then I see about 17cm deep worth of dust bunnies. I swear they’re alive and moving. I quickly pop up and sit down in the seat next to Tay. She’s looking at me like, what in the literal fuck just happened? And I’m just sitting over here playing it cool with 27 years worth of dust caked to my left side*. Tay gets up and says “Uh, I’m gonna go try to find you some ice.”

*We can file this under ‘things that Nicole does that likely embarrasses Tay’.

Tay returns after a bit with a frozen water bottle, as she went into every tienda in the station and the only ice she could find was a frozen water bottle in the back of a refrigerator. Then the golden hour was upon us. It was time to board our bus!

Thankfully we paid for fully reclining seats and I passed out in my swollen, bloody, filthy agony for the next 17 hours with a frozen water bottle on my face.

17 Hours Later I woke up in Ica and finally my worst travel day was over!

I immediately took a shower. At least you guys can all laugh at my misery.

Wanna read about and see the better travel days I had in South America?

Rainbow Mountain Peru with Flashpacker Connect. These guys will set you up with great, professional guides and you won’t have to right a scathing blog post about how everyone else shouldn’t go there just because you had a shitty time

10 Photos That Will Make You Book That Ticket to Bolivia. A little Bolivia inspiration for you.

Cusco on the Cheap: The Tambomachay to Cusco Walk. How to see four of Cusco’s nearby archeological sites for cheap!

13 Photos That Will Make You Put Rainbow Mountain on Your Bucketlist. Visual stimulation that will make you wanna see it for yourself.

What Happened in South America, Pt. I. A little about what went down in Bolivia and Peru.

One Week in Bolivia: Still Not Dead or Mugged. Everyone kept telling me how bad Bolivia was going to be…

Cusco on the cheap: Tambomachay to Cusco Walk

Tambomachay to Cusco walk, Cusco, Sacsayhuaman, Sacsaywaman*, Cusco, Peru, Inca

Cusco on the cheap: Tambomachay to Cusco Walk.

*This post contains affiliate links.

In May 2016, my best friend Tay and I set out for a trip that would take us through Bolivia and Peru. The Tambomachay to Cusco tramp was our first day trip we did while staying in Cusco.

Cusco: Peru’s biggest tourist trap.

And I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way: Cusco is your jumping off point for your Sacred Valley adventures.

All over Cusco you’ll see tour operators selling ‘Cusco City Tours’ that include stops at Tambomachay, Pukapukara, Q’enqo and Sacsayhuaman. But did you know you can do this tour on your own for next to nothing (aside from the cost of your Boleto Touristico, of course).

First things first: you need a Boleto Touristico (Cusco Tourist Card) to enter the sites. There are reports online of travelers visiting the four archeological sites before 6:30am and entering without it… I’m not a morning person, so I opted to pay for it. Not to mention, you need this card to get into 16 sites around the Sacred Valley including:

Sacsayhuaman

Q’enqo

Pukapukara

Tambomachay

Chinchero

Moray

Ollyantaytambo

Pisac

Tipo

Pikillacta

Museo Siteo Qoricancha

Museo de Arte Contenporaneo

Museo Historico Regional

Monumento Pachacutec

Centro Cusco de Arte Nativo

The Boleto Touristico will set you back S/130 (~$40USD). Yeah, I know it’s spendy, but this gets you into 16 sites and is good for 10 days… Your only other option is to pick up a partial ticket, each one of these will cost you S/70. So if you plan to see more than one group of these sites it makes sense to just purchase the full ticket.

Partial Boleto Touristico Cards:

1. Sacsayhuaman, Q’enqo, Tambomachay and Pukapukara. Valid for 1 day.

2. Museo Historico Regional, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Museo Siteo Qoricancha, Centro Cusco de Arte Nativo, Monumento Pachacutec, Pikillacta & Tipon. Valid for 2 days.

3. Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero & Moray. Valid for 2 days.

Exchange rate: S/3.25 Peruvian Soles to $1 US Dollar as of April, 2017.

You may purchase your Boleto Touristico at COSITUC office on 103 Avenida del Sol in the centre of Cusco, or at any of the sites listed on the ticket.

Now that we got the tickets sorted we’ll move on to your options to get out to the 4 archeological sites nearest Cusco: Tambomachay, Puka Pukara, Q’enqo and Sacsayhuaman.

Getting there:

Tambomachay is the furthest site from Cusco- it sits 8 kilometers (~5 miles) from Plaza de Armes in Cusco, mostly uphill.

Option 1: Take the bus.

Take ‘Servico Rapido‘ Bus from city center to university- Cost: S/.70.

From the University: Take ‘Señor Del Huerta‘ Collectivo from the university to Tambomachay- Cost: S/2.

Option 2: Take a taxi.

Taking a taxi from Cusco’s city center to Tambomachay should set you back about S/20 (with some strong haggling).

Option 3: walk.

If you’re bound and determined, want some exercise or just too flat broke for the S/2.70 for the buses, you could realistically lace up them shoebaru’s and march your happy ass up the 8k to Tambomachay and then walk the 8k more to get back to Cusco.

*Taking public transport to start your trip to Tambomachay will set you back a grand total of S/2.70 per person, not too bad, that’s under $1.

Tambomachay:

First stop, yay!

In Quechua Tambomachay means ‘guesthouse cave’. Archeologists are still a little stumped as to what the purpose of this site was exactly. Three theories are that it was a temple for water, a spa for Incan politics or a defensive outpost. Whatever its original purpose was, have a look around at its intricate canals, aqueducts and waterfalls that run through its terraced rock.

Tambomachay, Tambomachay to Cusco walk, Peru, Sacred Valley, Cusco

Tambomachay.

*Side note: There’s usually llamas roaming around the entrance to Tambomachay. There was a girl there who was desperately trying to selfie with one and it wound back as hard as it could and shot a torpedo of spit right on the side of her head. I swear it looked like it almost knocked her over. It was all I could do to suppress my laughter, my eyes were tearing up. She should’ve known better as llamas have this reputation, but there were a lot of people watching and I felt a little bad for her.

Once you are finished taking a gander at Tambomachay walk back out towards the road, hang a right when you get back to the main road and walk about 300 meters give or take and you’ll arrive to Pukapukara. It will be on the opposite side of the road.

Pukapukara:

Pukapukara’s stones you will notice have a reddish color to them. As such, the Quechua decided to derive its name from its red color particularly at sunset, Pukapukara means ‘red fortress’. This is yet another Incan archeological site that doesn’t have a clear answer as to its original purpose. The likely theory is that it was built during the reign of Pachacutec as a military headquarters. From Pukapukara make sure to take some time to look at the views down into the surrounding jungle.

Pukapukara, Pucapucara, Tambomachay to Cusco walk, Peru, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Inca

The red fortress.

After you’ve finished taking in the views from Pukapukara, it’s time to move on down the hill to Q’enqo. It’s a nice gradual walk down hill to Qenqo from Pukapukara, although it’s a somewhat long one at 4.7k or 3 miles. If you aren’t feeling up to walking, or its pissing down rain on you, you can always opt to take the Señor Del Huerta Collectivo down to Q’enqo. It shouldn’t set you back much more than S/1, from reports online (I opted to walk as it was a very nice warm day.) You can expect one of the collectivos to pass in that direction roughy in 10 minute intervals.

Q’enqo:

Q’enqo is one of the largest wak’as (holy place) around the region of Cusco. Its name means ‘labyrinth’ in Quechua, although it is unknown what Q’enqo’s original name was. Archeologists believe this was a site where death rituals took place.

After Q’enqo you will go back out to the main road and continue on down back toward Cusco for roughly 1.7k (about 1 mile). Your next stop will be quite obvious to spot.

Q'enqo, Q'enko, Tambomachay to Cusco walk, Cusco, Inca, Sacred Valley, Peru

Tay in Q’enqo.

*I know for a fact that there are toilets here at Q’enqo to use. Tay used them and subsequently she’s now missing the ‘Peruvian Amazon’ section out of her Lonely Planet Peru….. Bring toilet paper!

Christo Blanco:

Not an Incan site per se, but you have to go past it to get to Sacsayhuaman. Christo Blanco, means in Spanish- you guessed it: White Jesus. This of course is the big landmark you can see looming over Cusco on the nearby hill when you’re down in town. The Christo Blanco was a gift given to Peru by Palestinian refugees. From Christo Blanco you’ll have great views into Cusco.

When you’ve finished up peering down into Cusco just walk around front the statue and over a little hill and Sacsayhuaman will be in your view. It’s about another 1k walk, you can do it!

Sacsayhuaman:

*Yes, Sacsayhuaman is pronounced like sexay-woman.

You’ve made it to the massive complex of Sacsayhuaman! Make sure and take the time to really observe the structure of the walls. These boulders all seem to be jigsawed together without mortar and so tightly together that you can’t even slide a piece of paper between them. Sacsayhuaman actually pre-dates the Incas. Its believed to have been built by the Killke who were in the area prior to the Incas between 900 and 1200 AD. However the Incas did continue to build onto the site well in to the 1300’s. It is disputed as to whether Sacsayhuaman was a fortress or a sun temple.

Sacsayhuaman, Inca, Sacsaywaman, Cusco, Peru, Sacred Valley, Tambomachay to Cusco Walk

The puzzling walls of Sacsayhuaman.

Inca’ed out yet for one day? Continue along the steep path back down towards the city, yay stairs! 

How much time do I need for the Tambomachay to Cusco Walk?

Well, this depends. While someone who is fascinated by archeology and the detail in Inca sites may need more than a day to see all these sites, someone who is more causally checking out the ancient sites may do this walk in 3 hours. Personally we did this trek in about 6 hours on our self-guided tour.

Tips for the Tambomachay to Cusco walk

Bring water, duh.

Bring layers- Cusco can range from nice and warm to downright cold.

Bring a snack/lunch- don’t worry if you forget, there’s a couple places to grab a bite to eat on the way down.

Bring/wear sunscreen- With that thin O2 at these altitudes sunburn can happen.

A guidebook- You’ll see plenty copies of Lonely Planet: Peru being lugged around. Another great is Exploring Cusco by Peter Frost (you can also pick one up in Cusco bookstores).

Small change- to pay for the bus and the whatnot.

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

Looking for more activities while in Cusco and in Peru?

Read some of my other posts for ideas!

Rainbow Mountain, Peru with Flashpacker Connect.

13 Photos That Will Put The Rainbow Mountain on Your Bucketlist.

…and coming soon:

Moray, Maras and Chinchero Day Trip.

Getting to Aguas Calientes.

The Machu Picchu Guide.

Wandering the Sanddunes of Huacachina.

Peru for Cat-Lovers: Lima’s Cat Park.

The Floating Reed Islands on Lake Titicaca.

Puno Nights: Mixology fun!

More on South America?

10 Photos That Will Make You Book That Ticket to Bolivia.

Have you done the walk from Tambomachay to Cusco?

13 Photos That Will Put The Rainbow Mountain On Your Bucketlist

This post contains affiliate links.

13 Rainbow Mountain Photos That Will Put this Destination At The Top of Your Bucketlist!

*I received a one-day guided trek to the Rainbow Mountain with Flashpacker Connect, for coverage on this post and this post here. These guys are great, trust me. 

Ever been a place where you have to rub your eyes and blink a few times to determine if what you’re seeing is right? That is the best way to describe the Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain) trek in Peru. You’ll start the trip from Cusco 3 hours away and pass several villages before arriving at the start of the trek.

Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca, Peruvian village

Leaving the village at the starting point.

After breakfast we left the first village just after sunrise and began to gain some elevation. Even from the start you can feel it even after being at elevation for 3 weeks.

Rainbow Mountain Peru, Vinicunca, Rainbow Mountain, Peruvian village, llamas, Rainbow Mountain in photos

A short distance into the hike you pass a small villages with llamas grazing  all around.

Soon you end up in a wide valley where you come across another village.

Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca, Rainbow mountain in photos

The pops of color begin!

As the hike goes on you start to see more and more pops of color. Mineral deposits are responsible for the brightly colored strips of Earth here.

Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca, Rainbow mountain in photos

Tay getting a glimpse of the ‘7 colors’.

Vinicunca gets its name because it displays 7 colors. The word Vinicunca means ‘seven color mountain’ in Quechua.

Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca, Rainbow mountain in photos

The closer you get the more prominent the stripes of color become.

As we continued on I was really starting to feel the altitude which probably made it seem all the more a psychedelic experience.

Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca, Rainbow mountain in photos

Gasping for air as we made it to the iconic view of the mountain.

Then there it is, the view we had been waiting for. Making all the efforts and lack of oxygen worth it. It looks like a giant slice of rainbow cake, only better.

Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca, Rainbow mountain in photos

The view opposite Vinicunca

From the viewing spot you have a great 360º view all around.

Rainbow mountain peru, vinicunca, rainbow mountain, peru, instagram etiquette 2016, top 10 in travel 2016

This little dog has the right idea.

Even the animals in the area stop to take it all in.

Rainbow mountain Peru, Vinicunca, Peru

Beyond the Rainbow Mountain

We happened to make it to the top in good time and continued on past the Rainbow celebrity in the range.

Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca, Rainbow mountain photos

Like hell on a lollipop.

It’s real, I swear… It looks like something out of Alice In Wonderland.

Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca, Rainbow mountain in photos

Starting the descent back down.

After a couple hours at well over 16,500 ft/5000m I was ready to start back down. But kinda not, I mean look at this place.

Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca, Rainbow mountain in photos

High altitude lakes.

Would you endure the strenuous efforts for these kinds of views?

Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca, Rainbow mountain in photos

Tay leading the way back.

Ready to book your trek to the Rainbow Mountain?

Check out Flashpacker Connect* for prices and availability. I can’t recommend them enough, and our guide Abel was amazing. He was well versed on the area. Plus Vinicunca is notoriously difficult to find.

However, there are reports out now of people doing self-guided hikes up here. If you are experienced and understand the dangers involved I could see that doing this on your own would be a good option for you. But realize that this is at a fairly high altitude and this is a very delicate landscape up here. Don’t ruin it for every one else by being an asshat.

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

Still in Planning mode?

Read my Rainbow Mountain post here! There’s even some tips on what to bring and what to be prepared for.

 

 

10 Photos That Will Make You Book A Ticket To Bolivia

10 Photos That Will Make You Book A Ticket To Bolivia

High altitude, mountainous, flat, poor, wealthy in culture, landlocked and at the shores of Lake Titicaca. Bolivia is a land of contrasts and juxtapositions. Who’s ready to book a ticket straight to La Paz?

Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia, 10 photos that will make you book a ticket to bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

Watching the Sunset Over Salar de Uyuni.

The Salar was a blinding white sight to see in the day light, but the real magic opened up as the sun began to creep down over al that sodium and create a spectrum of color.


Copacabana, Bolivia, 10 photos that will make you book a ticket to bolivia

Copacabana, Bolivia.

Climbing Bolivia’s Cerro Calvario for an aerial view of Copacabana and the panorama of Lake Titicaca.

High up here is the perfect spot for a sunset, or some star gazing. Just be careful at night- there have been reports of muggings around here. We were nearly attacked by a dog, but at least my tripod was there for protection.


Laguna Hedionda, Bolivia, 10 photos that will make you book a ticket to bolivia

Laguna Hedionda, Bolivia.

Salt, flamingos and colorful mountains at Laguna Hedionda.

Surrounded by a Mars-esque landscape and a lake of saline icy water and rainbowey mountains to boot.


Bolivia, 10 photos that will make you book a ticket to bolivia

Salvador Dali Desert, Bolivia.

Landscapes That Remind People The World Over of Salvador Dali’s Famous Works.

In an arid, barren desert you’ll find the most unusual rock formations.


La Paz, Bolivia, 10 photos that will make you book a ticket to bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia.

A Vibrant Capital City With A Bad Rap.

I heard so much negative in regards to La Paz from other travelers we met on the road. Yeah, government protests, road blockades, the dust and the pollution all can get annoying- but views like this certainly make up for it. Make sure to catch a ride up La Paz’s Mi Teleferico at sunset for a lovely sunset over this high altitude mountain valley.


Laguna Colorada, Bolivia, 10 photos that will make you book a ticket to bolivia

Laguna Colorada, Bolivia.

When The Laguna Runs Red.

An oddity in terms of lakes- reddish pink water with flamingos marching through its crimson aqua and llamas grazing around the shores.


Death Road, Bolivia, 10 photos that will make you book a ticket to bolivia

The Winding Death Road, Yungas Region, Bolivia.

A Cruise Down The World’s Most Dangerous Road.

Ever start a bike ride high in the mountains with frozen mud puddles and gale force wind only to end a few hours later in a steamy jungle? If you can stomach it, you’ll have your chance here.


Bolivia, 10 photos that will make you book a ticket to bolivia

Inside A Volcanic Crater, Bolivia.

Sulfur Steaming From The Inside Of A Crater.

The Bolivian Altiplano has no shortage of volcanos. Nothing like meandering through sulfur stenched plumes and piles of snow.


Arbol de Piedra, Bolivia, 10 photos that will make you book a ticket to bolivia

Arbol de Piedra, Bolivia.

Winds Whip Past Purple Mountains And Carve The Most Unique Of Sculptures.

Bolivia’s Arbol de Piedra- which translates out to stone tree was created by this.


Isla Del Sol, Bolivia, 10 photos that will make you book a ticket to bolivia

Isla Del Sol, Bolivia.

Walk Like Incan.

Among ancient Inca sites on the Island of the Sun on glimmering Lake Titicaca.


There’s so much more to Bolivia and I feel like we barely scratched the surface in our short time there! Of course I want to re-visit during the wet season to get a glimpse at that salt flat as a giant mirror and see the other areas I didn’t quite have the time for!

Who’s Been to Bolivia? What was your favorite spot?


10 photos that will make you book a ticket to bolivia

^^ If You Like It, Put A Pin On It ^^


What Happened in South America Pt. I

Machu Picchu, Peru, South America Pt. I

South America Pt. I: Tay & Nicole Adventure again- toothaches, sodium sunsets, hell on a rainbow lollipop and a trainwreck.

As if now, I’m back in Alaska.

Back in Alaska and not even home a week and I’m already on a plane as I type. But only to Fairbanks from Anchorage. So I’m not leaving the state yet….

For a little bit at least, until August 29 that is. Then I’m off to Tajikistan to kick off my partial Silk Road adventure, so far by myself. You know because 90% of people around me have never heard of Tajikistan, most no one can point it out on a map, and well most everyone around here assumes ‘Stan=death. Mostly in part to the fact that the only two ‘Stans they’ve heard of are Afghanistan and Pakistan, which we all know have marred reputations. I’m pretty sure most people in the US aren’t even aware that there are any other countries that end in ‘Stan.

So as of now I’ve been back at work, I’m scrambling trying to learn as much Russian and Persian (Yes, Tajik is related to Persian, or so they say is a dialect of it along with Dari and Farsi, and Russian is still widely used since it was part of the good ol’ USSR) as I can before leaving so I don’t look like a moron over there. Although I probably will anyway since I don’t have the memory capacity to retain much of any language I’ve attempted.

So let’s talk about my South America trip that just ended….

As you probably noticed, over the course of nearly two months of traveling I only managed to post twice ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (I would have used that Kanye shrugging ‘just sayyyin’ GIF here, but I don’t know and don’t care to search for a GIF that I can freely use. Plus I think on that Facebook trending thing a while back I saw the motherfucker is broke and bankrupt. And his loins are most likely quivering at the prospect of a lawsuit. Although the joke would be on him seeing that I don’t have the money some big site would have, you know like Buzzfeed, Matador Network or Elite Daily who love to post clickbait garbage.)

Yup two posts. That’s all I could do. Much of the trip I was exhausted, in pain, having too much fun or didn’t want to deal with the snail paced Internet to update everyone. Plus let’s face it, I paid my own money to go there. Only a couple of activities were sponsored and I made a point to fulfill my obligations to them. I wasn’t on a press trip, so again ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

I started by flying to Colorado for roughly 22 hours to pick up Tay before carrying on to La Paz, Bolivia. We landed at 5:30 in the morning, cleared customs and hopped in taxi bound to the city center to find a hotel room to crash for a couple hours. Driving into La Paz at sunrise is a must do. I don’t feel as though I need to describe it, just do it sometime.

The sunrise in #LaPaz, #Bolivia this morning. Definitely one of the prettiest cities I've seen.

A photo posted by Nicole Smoot (@adventuresoflilnicki) on

That very same night we were headed down to Uyuni on an overnight bus to start our 3 day Salar De Uyuni tour. The Salar was just as strange and vast as it looks in the photos, well maybe a little more so in person. The real magic happened at sunset out there, don’t miss that part.

The next couple days included a canyon, strange rock formations, even that fairly famous one you may have seen: Arbol De Piedra, a drive up into a volcano that gave me my first tryst with altitude sickness, the Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde.

Laguna Colorada, Bolivia, South America Pt. I

The tour? Definitely worth it. However with that said, I’m not sure that I’d go back. And not for any bad reasons, I just saw it and I’m good. Ok, so a big part of this is the fact that I don’t hold up too well in extremely dry arid locations. And this is about as dry and arid as it gets. Ok, I think you would 100% convince me to go again during the rain season to see the Salar as a giant mirror.

Yes, I wound up with a sinus infection due to the dryness. Yes, it was unpleasant. Plus, it also masked the horrific toothache that would really come to fruition the day we hiked Machu Picchu…. But I’ll bitch about that a little later.

After the Salar we went back up to La Paz where we based for a couple of days. Most everyone we met in the Salar was traveling from Colombia down to Chile or beyond, so they had already experienced La Paz. We’d only had a short half day exploring La Paz before the Salar tour, so this was our time to really see it.

I actually liked La Paz.

La Paz, Bolivia, graffiti

There’s so much hate and dislike for this city. Yeah, the pollution sucks, the dust doesn’t help and the constant blockades and government protests make for gallivanting the city to be a giant pain in the ass. But once you look past that, La Paz is a magical place. It’s where I got my first taste of South America… Well ok, maybe second- We had a layover in Lima on the way to La Paz and some asshole farted on the bus that takes you from the plane to your gate. Like rotten egg, make your eyes water with a side of mucho caliente bean and cheese burrito kind of fart. My mouth was open. That was my first taste of South America technically, it was unpleasant and slightly traumatizing.

But anyways, La Paz is interesting in a frenetic, chaotic, fire crackers and maybe a rifle shot in the air kinda way.

The must do’s if you’re in La Paz are definitely the Teleferico (cable car) to the top- El Alto at sunset, El Mercado De Las Brujas (the Witch Market) and just have a wander around. The graffiti is pretty cool too.

Next, we shot down the Death Road with Barracuda Biking as a day trip. I think that was 100% worth it. But I love dangerous things, probly at a slightly unnatural level.

Death Road, Bolivia, South America Pt. I

Then our final stop in Bolivia was Copacabana, no not the one from the song. That ones in Brazil. Nope this ones on the highest navigable lake in the world: Lake Titicaca. This was yet another place that seemed to get a bad rap from people we met further south in Bolivia.

The start of a nice sunset over #Copacabana on #LakeTiticaca, #Bolivia from atop #CerroCalvario.

A photo posted by Nicole Smoot (@adventuresoflilnicki) on

Ok maybe we liked Copacabana a lot more because we stayed in what is in my opinion one of the coolest fucking hotel room ever. Hotel Cupula. Remember this place if you’re planning to visit. We had a small kitchen a nice comfy bed, beautiful windows that looked out over the lake, a stained glass skylight, oh and a fire place! At $44 a night for a suite I thought this was a steal (split between the two of us, of course). They have a dorm if that’s out of your price range though.

We went out in these zorb like things on the lake and laughed hysterically like 5 year olds. We hiked Cerro Calvario for sunset, and late at night too to shoot the Milky Way. And we went to Isla Del Sol, but we did that the wrong way so don’t do Isla Del Sol how we did. Go for a full day! We went for a ‘half day’ in the afternoon. Huge mistake. This only gives you about 45 minutes on the island. We spent more time on the ferry than on the island. We should have researched that better. You live and learn, right?

zorb, Lake Titicaca, Copacabana, Bolivia, South America Pt. I

From Copacabana we headed over to Puno, Peru on the other side of Lake Titicaca. Another place we were told to not bother stopping for.


Here’s my take:

Puno, peru, floating islands, south america pt. I

Floating Reed Islands

Really you can see Puno in one day. You should spend a day there. It isn’t that bad. Plus the floating islands are pretty amazing. I think max two days in Puno though. Any more and I’d probly be clawing my way out. We did however meet two awesome ladies in Puno from Washington and had a blast with them. Especially after we ended up at Pacha Mixology Bar. They have these weird shots that look like egg yokes and all kinds of other fun drinks. We’d later meet up with them in Cusco and Aguas Calientes as well.

Pacha mixology bar, puno, peru, south america pt. I

Shots at Pacha!

From Puno we made way to Cusco. And we all know why everyone goes to Cusco!

We wandered the city, we took the bus to the ruins of Tambochay and walked to Puka Pukara, Qenqo, Sacsaywaman and a stop at the Cristo Blanco before walking right back down into Cusco. We spent a different day with Alex, who we met in our hotel and went to Chincherro, Moray and Maras with her.

Moray, Peru, south america pt. I

Moray

Then came the Rainbow Mountain. One of the posts I did manage to write. I think Vinicunca was the highlight of Peru for me personally. Don’t get me wrong Machu Picchu is indescribably beautiful, but there was just something about the Rainbow Mountain. Maybe that it’s so unique and strange and well, unknown. But not for much longer, it’s been found out and people are headed there in droves. I’m glad I got in when I did. With that all said, I’m not sure that I’d return to the Rainbow Mountain either. It’s amazing and I have nothing bad to say about it. But the altitude is brutal up there. The highest you’ll go to view the mountain will land you at just under 17,000 feet. I live at sea level people. I know earlier I said I had my first tryst with altitude in Bolivia, but this is where I could really feel it. I wasn’t up long enough to truly get sick, but when your hiking, sweating and feel like you could puke, spray diarrhea and pass out, you know it’s coming.

vinicunca, rainbow mountain, peru, south america pt. I

Before chaos ensued we were back at the bottom, had lunch and were back on our way to Cusco. A white knuckled ride on a narrow road just inches away from sheer vertical drops down the side of a mountain. I’m so glad we slept on the way there.

Next we headed off to Aguas Calientes, in order to do Machu Picchu.

Yes, it really does look just like the pictures. It lived up to all the hoopla and more. Tay was getting pretty frustrated with lack of enthusiasm about going. I lack enthusiasm on purpose though. What if you build something up in your mind, then get there and it doesn’t live up to your expectations? You get disappointed. So, my theory is that if you’re just consistently pessimistic, you’re more often pleasantly surprised. Which Machu Picchu was a very pleasant surprise. But you wanna know what was unpleasant? The toothache I hiked it with. There I was awake at 4am with the most intense pain I’d ever felt radiating from the top of my head to my collar bone. I have an extremely high pain tolerance, and that was unbearable. But I had two options: A) deal with the tooth that day and forfeit my only chance to go to Machu Picchu or B) suffer through and take care of it tomorrow.

I opted to procrastinate. Do I regret it? Not a bit.

The next morning we were back on the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. This time sitting across from a chipper young couple who were way too excited about birds. I about died laughing when the boyfriend leaned over and said ‘that’s a nice female’. You two have got to be virgins. I know that sounds judgy, but hey more power to you guys. At least you made me laugh, that is before we got in a trainwreck.

No, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. We just hit a vehicle that happened to be on the railroad tracks. It was enough to jolt everyone awake, send a few bags flying and tip over the coffee and tea pots. No casualties.

Once back in Ollantaytambo my mission was to find a taxi to take us straight to a dentist in Cusco to get my tooth ripped out of my head. Bueno dentista por favor, muy dolor. He knew.

In record time we were dropped on a street corner in Cusco and motioned upstairs to a dental office. 3 hours later, lots of anesthetic, $30 and a high five later I was one tooth lighter and about to plant my ass on a bus for 17 hours to Ica, Peru.

IMG_6568

But really, don’t have a tooth abscess on a trip. It’s the worst.

Finally the next morning we arrived in Ica, from there we’d hop on over to Huacachina where I’d go do dumb shit considering I had a tooth pulled the day before.

I only really planned to slowly walk up the sand dune so that I could look at the little oasis of Huacachina below. Well I did that, then Tay talked me into a dune buggy right, which unbeknownst to us included sandboarding, which I did too. Probably the worst part of it was that the dune buggy had zero suspension. How I didn’t blow the bloodclot out and get a dry socket I’ll never know.

After Ica and Huacachina we made way to our final destination together, Lima.

We didn’t do much in Lima. Which was okay, we were both exhausted. Plus I wasn’t so motivated. It was just so dreary and gray out. We wandered around Miraflores a little, we ate, we went and peered over the edge of the cliff down to the beach. We planned poorly and forgot to make a reservation at Central to eat at one of the best restaurants in the world. We even found the infamous cat park in Lima. We weren’t too upset though. From here we split ways. Tay went back up to Colorado. And I, made a short jaunt north of the equator up to Panama. I booked it the day before I left, I wanted to spend a few days somewhere warm before I headed back south to Ecuador to meet Grant and finish the trip.

#Gato in the #flowers at #ParqueKennedy in #Miraflores, #Lima, #Peru. There were #cats everywhere!

A photo posted by Nicole Smoot (@adventuresoflilnicki) on

Who has been to Bolivia and/ or Peru? What did you think? I’ll be back with part 2 soon!

Rainbow Mountain Peru with Flashpacker Connect

Rainbow mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca

Rainbow Mountain Peru

A perfect place hid deep in the longest mountain range on Earth, the Andes. It was so beautiful I almost don’t want to share it with people.

Want to visit a magical place that has been more recently discovered by travelers and doesn’t have quite the mass crowds like other famous Peruvian sites?

I did.

A little over a week ago Tay and I visited the Rainbow Mountain (also known as Vinicunca) in Peru on a day trip with Flashpacker Connect. As I am sitting in the airport waiting to catch a flight to Panama I can say that the 1-day trek to Vinicunca was the highlight of my time in Peru. I now wish we had the time to do their 2-day Rainbow Mountain Trek, or better yet: the full Ausengate Trek.

Vinicunca is in the Willkanuta Mountain Range, which is nestled in the greater Andes Mountains. The closest well-known place is Cuzco. Little information is out there on the Rainbow Mountains, in fact, prior to the trek I wasn’t entirely sure where they were even located, aside from being three hours from Cuzco.

The trek begins early, or late depending how you look at it. Abel, our guide, was outside our Cuzco hotel 2:30am. We hopped in the van and off we went. Originally the tour that day had filled up, but once we got in we were told to spread out and sleep because it would only be the two of us, as the remainder of our group had missed their flight.

Three sleepy, bumpy hours later we arrived at the start of the trek. As soon as we hopped out of the van we saw the massive nearby Ausangate Mountain towering over us as the sun began to peak above the horizon and as we walked towards the local homes we were surrounded by hundreds of llamas and alpacas!

Rainbow mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca

At arrival you will be served a hot breakfast to get your day started. Flashpacker Connect has arranged with the local families in the area to prepare meals to start and end their hiking trips into the Rainbow Mountain (this helps bring some of the tourism money back into the local community). Our breakfast included coffee, tea, bread, peaches and scrambled eggs. Once everyone is awake and ready the hike begins.

The start of the hike climbs steadily up until reaching a wide open green valley. Once you reach the valley the hike eases up a bit and is fairly flat for about the next hour of trekking (which I was okay with, seeing I live at sea level).

Rainbow mountain Peru, Vinicunca, Peru

What I didn’t know signing up for this trip was that the entire hike is extremely colorful. Oh, and there are llamas all over! Many of the mountains on the way have splashes of bright reds, greens, teals, oranges and purples. You’ll have plenty of time to stand around enjoying all the colors as the trek starts and ends at very high altitudes, so it’s a lot more difficult than it appears. By the end of the hike you will climb above 16,500 feet! That’s well over 5,000 meters for you metric users.

Rainbow Mountain Peru, Vinicunca, Peru, Rainbow mountain

To make things even more comfortable, along the trail simple outhouses with squat toilets have been set up every so often. I mean, I didn’t do the Inca trail, but I have heard the horror stories.

Rainbow montain Peru, outhouse, Vinicunca, Rainbow mountain

Pretty soon the hour (give or take) is up and you begin to gain elevation again, this time non-stop until you reach the top. Pretty soon you’ll be able to make out the sides of the rainbow mountain that you’ll recognize from the pictures.

Rainbow mountain Peru, Peru

You actually climb the adjacent mountain to the rainbow mountain to take in the wonderful 360º panoramic views. But you’ll notice once you get up there that the mountain range continues on with its rainbowey, bright colors.

Rainbow mountain peru, vinicunca, rainbow mountain, peru, dog

And if you manage to summit in good time, you will get to continue to trek a little further to some more incredible views of the range.

Rainbow mountain Peru, Vinicunca, Peru

Beyond the Rainbow Mountain

After the trek back down you will have lunch at one of the local houses before heading back to Cuzco. Our lunch consisted of soup, quinoa, chicken and vegetables.

Reasons to book with Flashpacker Connect versus other companies you will see advertised all over Cuzco:

  • They only take small groups up, no more than 6 people per trek.
  • You go with well informed and experienced guides. Not only could Abel sprint this whole trek, he also educated us on what gives the mountains their colors, and if your a geology junkie or chemistry nerd you definitely will love this part.
  • You leave horribly early, but you wanna know why? This place isn’t exactly a secret anymore, it’s by no means crowded and crazy, but the secret’s out.. You will summit before others get the chance.
  • They are eco-conscious. They aren’t going to let you go walk across the mountain that everyone is going to view. Sadly, with some of these bigger groups of people we saw coming up later after us, the people aren’t all staying on trail and trying to walk up on the mountain…. Don’t be like the morons at Yellowstone ruining it for everyone else.

What to pack:

Rainbow mountain Peru, Vinicunca, Peru, rainbow mountain

  • Layers! Granted it is winter south of the equator right now as I write this…. due to the altitude this area isn’t known for being very warm. However, you will warm up as you start moving. I went with a t-shirt, long sleeve, hoodie and a insulated shell jacket. You can strip and add as you need. A rain jacket was recommended in case of rain, however, I did not bring mine as my shell jacket was waterproof.
  • Backpack, because duh. Bring a rain cover, just in case.
  • They recommend at least 2 liters of water per person. You may need depending on your water consumption.
  • Sunscreen. The atmosphere is thin at these elevations.
  • Accessories: sunglasses, hat, gloves.
  • Camera, and all the gear that comes along with it.
  • Hiking shoe or boots.

Tips:

Rainbow mountain Peru, Vinicunca, Peru, rainbow mountain

  • Make sure to give yourself some time to acclimate at high altitude before attempting this trek. I had been in high altitudes for 13 days prior to the hike (we started in the Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia and made way up toward Cuzco) and I still felt the altitude on this hike… slight dizziness towards the top, little appetite, still sucking wind and having to take frequent breaks. Tay lives at around 10,000 feet in Colorado so she was much faster and she only felt a little head pressure. And no, being in great shape doesn’t help you. Just give it time to adjust.
  • Try to book in advance, these treks fill quickly especially in the peak season (June-August).
  • The current rate for the 1-day Rainbow Mountains trek is $175 USD per person. If you feel you need it, for an additional $75 USD a horse can be provided to carry gear.
  • If you’re interested in longer treks, Flashpacker Connect offers the Rainbow Mountains on a two day camping trip ($375 USD pp), a shortened 3-4 day Ausengate trek ($575 USD pp), as well as the 6-day Ausengate trek including the Rainbow Mountain.

I have been on many amazing adventures, and the Rainbow Mountain Peru easily skyrocketed near the top of the list. Where is your next adventure?

Rainbow mountain Peru, Vinicunca, Peru

Click here to visit Flashpacker Connect’s website to read more or book a trip. You can also find them on Facebook and on Instagram, or drop them a line: flashpackerconnect@gmail.com!

* I received a one-day tour of the Rainbow Mountain with Flashpacker Connect in exchange for a review post of the tour on adventuresoflilnicki.com.

Rainbow Mountain Peru, Peru, Vinicunca