Having visited South America twice last year, both times completely different to the other (the first being a retreat deep within the Amazon jungle) it has become my all time favourite place in the entire world. Period. There is so much untouched natural beauty and with its visually stunning landscapes, ancient history, vibrant multi coloured streets and characters to match it will leave you open mouthed and forever yearning for more.
Trust me on this one.
We opted to take the trip in November, with the continent usually at its warmest from October-April. Only having around 10 days to play with we decided to take the route of flying to Peru first, then Bolivia before finally finishing in Chile. Crossing off Cusco, Machu Picchu, the Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni) & the Atacama Desert (WOW OH WOW) as we journey around.
Ideally a good place to start or end your trip would be PERU. Although we were on a ‘vacay’ here i did meet lots of travellers who were beginning their South Amerian trip in here. Flights are always a little stressful for us being cabin crew as we travel the world on a standby promise. I recommend flying (if you live in the UAE) from Dubai to Sao Paolo with Emirates firstly, as that way you do the majority of the flying on our nice cosy comfy happy airline :) We however took Air Europa from Madrid to Lima, and then an internal flight (Avianca Airlines) to Cusco, so there are a few options of how to get yourself there, with the internal flights going every 30 minutes daily!
Firstly i’m going to have to write that altitude sickness? Yep, that shit is real. And a royal pain in the ass. It makes you feel like you’ve been on a 5 day bender, smoked 10 packs of cigs and then ran a marathon. Unable to catch your breath and barely able to climb a few steps without stopping for breaks you really do need a few days to aclimatise. Cusco sits beautifully high at 3,399 metres above sea level, hence the need to drink copious amounts of Coca tea, the peruvian answer to curb that altitude sickness ‘hangover’ feeling. (yes it is the raw ingrendient of Cocaine and no, it will not get you high.) I recommend staying at Hostal Malaqui where we spent 3 days, located right in the centre of the town, close to the famous San Pedro market and everything you need to see within walking distance. Warm showers, cute balconies and all the bare neccessities you need for those on a friendly budget. Use booking.com to secure a good deal before you fly.
What is so great about booking all your tours and trips here is that there are so many places offering them, you can compare prices between a few and see which suits your itinerary better. As we only had a short time here, we were unable to go for the 4 day inca trail hike, choosing instead to ‘inca rail’ (inca ‘fail’) it up to Machu Picchu instead. Combined with a trip to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and then on to the village of Aguas Calientes at the bottom of the site, buses will run every 30 minutes to transport travellers up to Machu Picchu, and you can opt to walk down, or along the inca trail once you reach the summit. The total cost of the tour is $250, including a one night stay in a hostel with breakfast in Aguas Calientes before you visit Machu Picchu, the train ride there and back which takes about 2 hours, and a day trip to Rainbow Mountain once your back in Cusco. TIP: if you wish to trek to Huayna Picchu, the mountain that towers over the ruins of Machu Picchu, the daily restriction for the number of people is 400 so you really have to book months in advance (also not for the faint hearted). Ensure you hike to the Sun Gate, the old entrance to Machu Picchu, which also for those like me who prefer to party than hit the gym, its a little challenging of a trek but the view from the summit is MORE THAN WORTH THE CLIMB.
Recommendations & tips for your Cusco stay;
- San Pedro Market (THE most colourful & vibrant market you will ever come across. Period. Here you can buy all the weird and wonderful things, ranging from multi coloured rainbow infused dream catchers to erm…dragon blood.
- GO SHOPPING. Crystal lovers, you will be in your crystal vibed hippie haven in this place, coming home loaded with rocks (if youre anything like me) at a seriously dirt cheap price. Rose Quartzaaa (BRING ME THE LOVE) galore, get your inner Zen on right here.
- STREETSIDE CEVICHE. Enough said. Mouth watering goodness.
- Pachapapa restaurant, great for the local peruvian cuisine of guinea/ alpaca. If that floats your boat and you want to taste some real authentic specialialty dishes. Amazing ambience in this cute little cocktail bar & restaurant located in the heart of Cusco.
- 2 soles chicken broth suppers ;) (just try it, take my word).
- Sacred Valley of the Incas.
- Machu Picchu (well i know thats a given, but just FYI). Also quick sidenote, dont forget to get your passport stamped upon leaving the site. We actually went armed with a bag full of party treats to celebrate our friends 30th once we reached the top. (What a bday celebration right?!) Mission truly completed. Magic moment.
- Rainbow Mountain. (make sure your altitude sickness has curbed before embarking on this trip, as otherwise you’re basically doomed).
- Make sure you check the breathtaking mountain views coming in to land in to Cusco by sitting on the right side of the aircraft. The Peruvian Andes providing a seriously jaw dropping backdrop to the flight.
- Ensure you get a picture with a local & their baby llamas wandering around the midst of the city bustle, just because. (also dont forget to tip them)
- DONT OVERPACK WHEN YOURE ONLY ON A ‘VACAY’. I had to endure some serious eye rolls from those hipster travellers eyeing up my three bag laden body armed with the entire contents of my wardrobe & the kitchen sink. Simplicity, is key. 5 years of packing and unpacking a suitcase and i still cant get it right.
After our stint in Cusco, i really felt it was too short, after just getting aclimatised & in to the pervuvian swing of things we booked a coach from Cusco- La Paz (word of advice, just fly. Although our coach was of premium cabin status with some seriously snazzy bed reclining seats, it took 2 days off our very short schedule…)
Tapping up part 2: Bolivia right now. MY OH MY.