Tag Archive | south america

Spending 36 hours in the Peruvian Amazon

The Amazon has always made me ponder what it would be like there. This interest must have stemmed from childhood and all the projects we did on the Amazon. Back then, it was a world away from my classroom! I think it is also the vastness, the infinite and sometimes odd animals that call it home and the mysterious natives that still reside there.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to see a cinch of the Amazon in my travels around Peru albeit only 36 hours but it was enough to leave me wondering what the depths of the Amazon hold.

The canopy above us
  • Day 1
    When picking which tour to take in Peru, I knew that I wanted one that went to the Amazon. We flew from Lima to the town of Puerto Maldonado in eastern Peru. Lima was quite cool in October, I even needed 2 jackets! Once we stepped off the plane in Puerto Maldonado though, we felt the humidity slap us in the face. We were brought by bus to the nearby office of the lodge company that we would be staying at. Here, we were each given a duffel bag to pack the belongings that we would need for the next 3 days. You may be wondering why we needed to pack our things into only a duffel bag, our trip to the lodge would be by a small boat!

    Must haves:
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Long sleeve shirt (I brought a linen shirt which worked perfectly)
  • Long pants and socks (for exploring!)
  • Binoculars (something I didn’t take)
  • Shorts and tshirts for hanging around the lodge
  • Reuseable drink bottle
  • Wet wipes
  • Camera
  • Torch and batteries
Getting into our boat

After driving for 30 mins through rural streets and through forest by bus convoy, we arrived at the river where out boat was waiting. During the boat ride we met our guides who would be with us over the next few days and got our serving of fried rice (chaufa) wrapped in banana leaf. We spotted cabybaras on the way! We arrived at our beautiful lodge 30 mins later. There was a main dining area for all our main meals (which were delicious!) and lounge area. It was an eco-lodge (woohoo!) where all the running water came from rain tanks and solar energy was being used to power the lights at the lodge. Everything has to be brought to the lodge via boat (and rubbish back to town).

Our rooms were beautiful! House in a wooden structure, our common walls didn’t touch the ceiling meaning that we could hear all our neighbours! Each room had an ensuite bathroom and our rooms had 1 side of the room that didn’t have a wall and looked into the rainforest. My room was the last one in our block so I had 2 sides of the room that looked into the rainforest. I was so ready for my immersive night experience!

After we settled in, our group gathered for an afternoon walk through the rainforest. We were given gumboots to wear for all our rainforest walking adventures. The walking path we took was around our lodge so was already cleared which left me wondering why gum boots were needed (anything they weren’t telline us about?!?). We didn’t see many animals but could hear them. Our local guide explained some of the plants along the way and their traditional medicine uses and also gave us some general information about the rainforest.

My room

The part of the rainforest that we were walking through wasn’t as dense as I would imagine other interior parts of the rainforest would be. The trees which were hundreds of years old, branched out above us and their trunk also branched out around us. As night started to fall, fireflies started lighting up around us and the sounds of the night animals and insects started. And so the night shift animals begin.

Once it was completely dark, our guide got us to play a game! We each had to stand 2km apart from one another along the path and switch off our lights. The group was dropped along the path and so started out 10 mins standing alone in the dark. I could hear branches cracking around me and obviously immediately thought it would be a jaguar. It was here, I also decided that the human eyes are rubbish at seeing in the dark. The canopy scattered the moons light around us playing tricks on my eyes when i thought i could see something. Reality was, i could not see anything.
Our group members from the front then started picking everyone else along the way back to our guide and back for dinner!

After dinner, our guide told us that we would now try and spot some tarantulas! Our group were not so calm when our guide showed us all these burrowns on either side of the path that we were on where the tarantulas might be. He managed to coax one out of its nest for us to see- my gosh, it was huge! All of a sudden, standing in the rainforest with nothing but our torches didn’t feel so safe after all. We were glad to be heading back to our lodge.

After our creepy crawly session, I wasn’t so keen on sleeping closest to the rainforest anymore! Nevertheless, I went to bed listening to the cacophony of nature around me with a smile on my face and was so thankful to be there.

Main dining area
  • Day 2
    We were up nice and early- breakfast at 5am so that we could leave our lodge at 5:30am! It was also my birthday today! We headed onto the boat for a short ride through the misty and cool morning and got off for a 30 mins walk to a catamaran. This morning, we were going prehistoric bird, macaw and giant otter spotting. Lucky for us, we were able to see all this morning! The rainforest is definitely more alive in the morning. Our guides also fished a piranha for us to see- no-one was going to be sticking any body parts into the water anytime soon. As we headed towards 10am, the sun was really turning up the heat! We were all sweating so much that butterflies started landing on some of us. We were told that alot of the birds (and butterflies) supplement their diet by eating clay for the salt so I guess we were just salty deliciousness for them.

    We went back to the lodge for lunch and then hung out until mid afternoon. During this time, I was sitting in my room when heard some commotion in the trees. With my camera ready, I was able to capture the little monkeys moving past my room in the trees!
    We headed out again for a food plant tour and tried some local beverages. Once night fell, we piled into our boats again to go caiman spotting. We did see some little ones and I was amazed at how our guides would see them from our boat in the middle of the river!

    Back at the lodge for dinner, I was surprised with a birthday crown made out of leaves and cake! Not a birthday that I will be forgetting anytime soon.

    Exhausted, we all headed to bed quite early as we were in for another early morning wake up call the next day. The weather had cooled down enough to doze off for another night to the sounds of the wild.
Mushrooms growing out of a log
  • Day 3
    Today was our last day in the Amazon. Another early morning exploration session, we set off at 5:30am after breakfast, this time to catch the morning feeding from the birds. The most magnificant coloured macaws, parrots and toucans were spotted this morning. The brighest and most beautiful colours and colour combinations flying through the sky and trees! I love the colours of nature.

    We headed back at 9:30am to get our duffel bags and loaded up our boat to head back towards Puerto Maldonado where we collected our suitcases and repacked. We said a tearful goodbye to our guides at the airport- who were such a wealth of knowledge and welcomed us to their part of the world with open arms and warmth.
    Thank you Rafa and Darwin!

    Have you been in the Amazon? Do you want to go? What did you love most about your experience?

    Peru Tour: Intrepid Travel
    Amazon experience: Baawaja Expeditions

Day trip to Valparaiso from Santiago, Chile

Streets of Concepcion Hill

When figuring out how many days I would spend in Santiago, I was advised by friends that I should also visit Valparaiso- the bohemian art town 1.5 hrs north from Santiago. So, I booked myself into a one day tour that would take me there but also stop along the way for some wine tasting and a quick stop in Vina del Mar (not long enough for a beach stop but also it was still super cold!).

Picked up at 8am in the morning in a minivan, I met my new tour group which was a mix of an array of international travellers. After driving our of the bustling city centre, we hit the dry mountains just outside of Santiago. If you had forgotten about how hilly Santiago was, this was a great reminder. The motorway takes you into tunnels that go through the mountains and on the otherside, so. much. more. greenery. The hills were now filled with vineyards. We stopped for a coffee and bathroom break (complete with llamas) before piling back into the bus bound for Vina del Mar.

When we were just outside of Vina del Mar we were able to get sweeping views at Valparaiso- houses scaling up the mountainside and not a spare patch of land to be seen. The houses in Vina del Mar were fabulous- so grand and beautifully designed. Our first stop was the flower clock- functional clock on a bed of flowers. Can’t say it was very overly exciting but pretty and colourful and the only time I have seen such a clock.

Next, we took a short drive to the local fish market and then got to see some sea lions out the back where the pier was! Gosh, they were huge and so nimble in the water. I’d never seen any before so what an experience to get so close to them!

Next, driving to Valparaiso!

Valparaiso is a hilly city and famous for its furniculars around the town which are a fabulous idea for increased mobility around town. The town is also famous for its street art and houses the Chilean legislative congress and navy. From the images I saw on Google before the trip, I couldn’t wait to be surrounded by colour and let the inner artist (or lack of) revel in the street art.

Originally a port city, Valparaiso’s coloured houses were a way for fisherman to find their own way home. At it’s roots, this town was born from hard workers

Iglesia Luterana de La Santa Cruz de Valparaiso

The area of Concepcion Hill is the main tourist attraction and seems to be more developed and happening compared to other parts of the town (and even Santiago). It would have been nice to have spent some time closer to the water where more of the Governmental buildings are. The down town area is more grungy and less polished but there appears to be some nice architectural buildings to see as well.

Back in Concepcion Hill, there were houses with their front facade completely painted, block colours and older buidlings that had some artistical charm. I liked the contrast between place to place which I think adds to the feeling of different puzzle pieces fitted together to make this Hill. There were some stores with local handicrafts and also sellers on the paths around the town. I was surprised that there weren’t more stores, cafes and restaurants. I became aware of the disparities in society in Chile on my trip but don’t know enough to write anything further. Perhaps this is related? Or maybe it’s left like this so as not to disturb the bohemian life?

In total, we spent about 2 hours walking around Concepcion Hill but I really would have liked to spend a day further wondering the streets and hanging somewhere looking out over the water.

We had a lovely lunch break overlooking the water. Obviously seafood was my choice! After lunch, we started our drive back to Santiago and stopped in Casablanca Valley for some wine tasting.

To be completly honest, I’m not a very big wine tasting fan. I’d been on local wine tasing tours but have never been wowed into buying any wines. This hard critic, is not easily pleased!

It was quite a long day so I was happy to be dropped back where I could quickly have some dinner and go to bed. It was nice to see so many different things but I think if I were to go back, I would actually skip Santiago and stay out on the coast instead!

Is there anything else you would recommened to do in Valparaiso? Let me know in the comments.

Octopus and spinach raviolo

Being prepared for Machu Picchu- from Aguas Calientes, Peru

Hidden among the clouds, Machu Picchu, is on many people’s lists. Nestled in the peak of the Andes, it’s a wonder how the Incan’s managed to build such extensive structures so high up in the 15th century and the true purpose of the site still remains a mystery to this day. Machu Picchu was abandoned during the time of the Spanish conquest and laid forgotten to the outside world (apart from the locals) until 1911.

On the train between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes

The trek was never on my bucket list so I was one of the bus-ers up the mountain to this site. I was on a group tour with Intrepid travel for my time in Peru. A few days prior to coming here, I was down and out sick with a bug mixed with altitude sickness. By this time, I was eating little but managing and just really wanted to take in this special day! It would have been a shame if I was still unwell.

On this particular trip, we arrived in Ollantaytambo by bus from Cusco and then took the train to Aguas Calientes (not all in 1 go).

Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is mainly a tourist town with restaurants and hotels dotted up the mountainside. I’m sure the prices are all quite competitive as this town lives off tourism. I was still on my soup diet so had a delicious chicken soup. There is a very expansive market from the train station up the mountain into town for all those souvenirs and alpaca goods although I was saving myself as we had packed a duffel bag and left all our luggage back in Cusco. On the afternoon that we arrived in Aguas, some of us went to the hot springs at the far end of town to try them out. They don’t call this town Aguas Calientes for no reason! There are plenty of places along the main tourist hill heading up to the hot springs where you can rent a towel. Just remember to bring bags to bring your wet swimmers/clothes in.

The buses onwards and upwards to Machu Picchu start from 5:30am and let me tell you- I have not seen a town so awake before 6am. Tickets were time marked so simply turn up just before departure time to get your tickets stamped. These shuttle buses run all day until the site closes.

The winding roads are the ones the bus take from Aguas Calientes!

On this trip, our group had 6am tickets so there was no rest for the wicked. We all got onto the bus and weaved up the mountain- the ride took about 30mins although we couldn’t see much. I’ve been told that you should be praying to the weather gods before you even land in Peru that you will have good weather on the day that you visit. We were alittle anxious, having wind up the mountain and all we could see was the morning fog. Apparently, sometimes this fog lifts and sometimes it doesn’t!

When we arrived, you will need to line up again to get your tickets stamped.
BEWARE: There are only toilets outside of the Machu Picchu site so make sure you go before you enter (you will need to pay to access these toilets)

We arrived super early and had 3 hours to spare in the site before our guided tour started. Our group decided to head towards the Sun Gate which would be a return walk of 3 hours. As you might already imagine, the walk isn’t flat the whole way- add some incline and altitude- make sure you take it easy if you haven’t acclimitised.

Speaking of altitude, Machu Picchu is around 2430m above sea level. If you’ve spent some days in Cusco prior, which is 3300m above sea level- you should be sweet. Ollaytaytambo and Aguas Calientes are at lower altitudes compared to Cusco. I will write about altitude sickness is another post.

The view when we got to the site just before 7am- heading to the Sun Gate!

On our way to the Sun Gate, we passed all those trekkers who you had the Inca Trail coming into the site. After stopping for a million pictures along the way, we ended up at the Sun Gate although, there was still fog when we reached it so couldn’t really see much of the surrounds.

On our way back, the fog started to lift causing us to take even MORE pictures. Watching the fog lift and reveal just exactly how high up you are was breathtaking. The pictures here just don’t do it any justice.

Some tips!
– wear and bring sunscreen. You’re high up – protection is required
– wear a hat and sunglasses
– good pair of walking shoes
– bring water. There are no stalls inside the site- you will need to bring everything you need.
– no eating allowed in Machu Picchu- fill up at breakfast and bring some snacks for the ride back to Aguas Calientes.
– don’t forget your camera!

The fog lifting

Is Machu Picchu on your list? Do you have anymore tips to share?