Thursday 26 June 2014

A Day (or Rather Morning) on Lake Titicaca and the Uros Islands

Straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca (pronounced "Lake Titihaha" by locals) is said to be the original birthplace of the Incans. It's the world's highest navigable body of water and won its infamy by its hilariously fun-to-pronounce name.

The morning is the best time to visit the lake and the Uros Floating Islands that sit in the middle of it - usually you can catch great lighting and good weather. Riding the reed boat is only ~10 soles, so hop on to get great pictures riding on the lake and bring your passport! You'll be able to get an official Lake Titicaca stamp on the second island. 

Many of the Uros people also sell souvenirs to tourists and are open to showing you their home (and letting you take pictures) as well.

Lake Titicaca and the Uros Islands are worth the morning visit if you can spare it!

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Inti Raymi, The Inca Festival of the Sun at Sacsayhuaman, Peru

Princesses, male virgins, llama sacrifices, and fire. What more do you need?

Inti Raymi, the Inca Festival of the Sun, enacts 500-year-old traditions of the Incan empire. Though the festival has become more touristy in recent years, it was once considered the most important ceremony carried out in Cuzco. This June 24th festival celebrates the Incan New Year and winter solstice when the sun is furthest from this side of the planet. Thus, the Incans would perform for the Sun God in order for him to come back.

There are two choices you can make leading up to the festival at Sacsayhuaman (3km from Cusco): 1) Walk the route with the paraders from the town to the hill or 2) Get to Sacsayhuaman early and secure a seat on the hill for a good view. It's highly recommended to go to Sacsayhuaman on another day when the ruins are opened, as it's one of the few ruins you can literally "slide" down!

As our hostel worker, tour guide, and waiter all gave us different start times the night before, we decided to hike up before 9am. Note: You can also take the scenic walk on the right side or no steps on the left side. Dealer's choice!

Admission is only 20 soles to sit on chairs on the same level of the festival, but for a more local experience, you can "tailgate" with community members by sitting overlooking everything. Luckily, we were able to secure front-row seats between the nicest families where we spent the next six hours or so enjoying the festival.

Though the show didn't start until 1pm, we had a blast with everyone in the crowd. Snacks were sold like a baseball game and everyone was more than happy to trade food back and forth.


Inti Raymi, the Incan Festival of the Sun, at Sacsayhuaman

After the sacrifice of the black llama, we headed next door as there was another festival going on with street food and even a bounce house. Tip: At any restaurant you go to, make sure you ask for "the menu." We paid 10-15 soles (even cheaper in most places) for a three-course meal consisting of an appetizer, a soup, the meal, and a drink - delicious!

Take a close look as the brown llama is kissing Lindsey!

Monday 23 June 2014

One Day Trek to Machu Picchu!

As the #1 tourist destination in South America, Machu Picchu draws over one million tourists annually. Though built around 1450, the Incan site was not discovered until 1911. Machu Picchu is one of world’s most iconic archaeological sites and in 2007, the site was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of World.

For the more hard-core outdoorsy folks, you can hike the multi-day 26-mile Inca Trail covering mountain, cloud-forest, sub-tropical jungle, Inca paving stones, ruins, and tunnels. It's quite an experience, but reservations typically need to be made up to 6 months (or more) in advance given that permits are only issued for 200 trekkers a day.

You can also look into one-day hikes to Huayna Picchu (as long as you book at least 2-3 days in advance or get up extremely early as it's restricted to 400 people/day) which allows you to hike to the peak that looks down on Machu Picchu. 

We did the simple one-day tour (thank goodness due to my altitude sickness!) with a 5:30am pickup from Cusco and a 6:20am Vistadome Train to Aguas Calientes, the base of where you catch half-hour buses to Machu Picchu. Orignally debating between the Backpacker train or the Vistadome Train, we were glad the former seats were sold out! With the comfy seats and breakfast and snacks of pancakes, grapes, jam, quiche, etc., the 3.5 hour train ride was a perfect experience with Vistadome. There is also an infamous fashion show by the staff of the train on the evening returns which is quite an entertaining experience in itself!

Note: Don't be so preoccupied with photos that you leave your bag (with passport, money, and return train tickets!) at the Temple of the Sun like me. You'll likely get it back as the security at Machu Picchu is quite good, but it'll be a stressful situation. 
Rise and shine on the Vistadome Train!

Machu Picchu it all its glory. Check off the life to-see list! :)

Sunday 22 June 2014

Pisac Market, Sacred Valley, Peru

If you happen to find yourself in the Sacred Valley of Peru and need to do some shopping, head no further than Pisac! A small Peruvian village at the Willkanuta River, Pisac holds a large market every Sunday and is well-known for its ruins that sit atop a hill. Just an hour and a half from Cusco by bus, it's worth a stop over on your way to Ollantaytambo or even just an afternoon trip.

For anyone looking to alpaca meat, head on over to the street of Calle bolognesi. Ayahuasca Arte Cafe is not only delicious, but credit card accepted and TripAdvisor approved!

A note for travelers is to take it easy given that Cusco is 11,150 foot above sea level meaning that altitude sickness affects up to 70 % of people. That night, that statistic included me!  At about 36 degrees Fahrenheit, I woke up freezing cold with shallow breathes. Bundling up with another jacket significantly helped, so make sure to stay warm, drink plenty of water, and take it easy to acclimate!  
Lindsey Dattels and me exploring Pisac from the Mercado to the Ruins

Saturday 21 June 2014

5 Things to Do in Lima, Peru

After last year's adventure to Ecuador, I was excited to return to South America to Peru, a traveler's top destination. After a night's sleep from a late night airport arrival, the day was spent exploring the capital city before heading off to Cusco for the one and only Macchu Picchu. If you're up for running around the largest city of Peru, here are five things you can do with a day in Lima:

1. Watch the Magic Water Circuit Fountain Show at Parque de la Reserva

Parque de la Reserva has easily become my new favorite place. More than a dozen fountains colorfully and even interactively light up a downtown park. Paid for by the Lima municipal government, the treasure of the night is the Magic Water Circuit (Circuito Mágico del Agua) in which water and light shoot into the sky against a background of music. Well worth the $1.50 admission and open after sundown Wednesdays-Sundays.  Truly magical!

A magical night watching the Magic Water Circuit Fountain Show!

2. Paraglide over Lima

This one is for all the adventure seekers out there! At Parque del Amor ("Love Park"), you can grab a parachute and literally...jump off a cliff!  For ten minutes, you'll glide over between Larcomar, a multi-level shopping complex, and the Pacific Ocean. Most of the guides only speak Spanish, so good luck if you don't (I don't either!). The ride and a DVD with a few photos will cost 205 soles (~$70US). Do this at your own discretion...some may consider the ride a bit sketchy!

 Paragliding over Lima. I'm much more scared that I look!

3. Explore Miraflores

The Miraflores District is the upscale neighborhood of Lima know for shopping, gardens, beaches and flower-filled parks. Think of it as the Beverly Hills (I was lucky to have a friend living here). Take some time to explore Parque Kennedy, Miraflores' central plaza, with its regular flea markets and art exhibitions and if you're up for a night out, head out to Calle de las Pizzas ("Pizza Street") once the sun sets.

Miraflores District. Photo courtesy of A Flâneur Abroad

4. Walk Around the Huaca Pucllana Ruins

It's the greatest juxtaposition to be in a city standing on top of ruins from 200AD. Huaca Pucllana, Quechu for "a place for ritual games" is built from staggered platforms out of adobe and clay. The ruins served as an important ceremonial and administrative center for the Lima Culture Society with eventual use by the Wari Culture. If you bring along a student ID, entrance is only 5 soles (~$1.50US).

 Monica Dykas and I take a tour of Huaca Pucllana

5. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art

For a less touristy crowd, take a bus to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Though it only has 3 rooms, the current exhibition of the intersections between locals and tourists in Cusco proves a solid visit. Again, bring along a student ID as admission is only 2 soles (~$.50US).

Outside the MCA

Lima's a great place to explore, so enjoy it all! What are your top five things to do in Lima?