Hiking the famous Inca trail to Machu Picchu requires you to book weeks (if not months) in advance and is quite expensive. We had no clue when we were going to arrive in Cuzco, and on top of that we're travelling on a budget - not the best combination... Luckily, there's alternative ways to get to to Peru's Holy Grail of Tourism - one of them being a 4-day hike on the Salkantay Trail; an old Inca path, supposedly offering the best views in the world.
No need for reservations, cheaper, best views in the world, ... What's not to like?
Well... We found out. Read on to find out more!
Arequipa, also known as 'the white city', is located in southern Peru and is the country's third most populous city. It's surrounded by three volcanoes with cute names: Misti, Chachani and PichuPichu. It's a nice city, but one of the major draws for tourists is the close-by Colca Canyon - a canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
After crossing the border from Bolivia to Peru, we spent a short time in Puno, a small town at lake Titicaca. We didn't see much of the town itself: we wanted to get to Arequipa, so we only stayed long enough to visit the Uros floating islands and Taquile.
Copacabana is a nice town next to Lake Titicaca, the natural frontier between Peru and Bolivia, and the second largest lake of South America (8.340km²). At an altitude of 3.820m, it's the highest navigable lake on earth. In it, lies the beautiful Isla del Sol, which we paid a visit.
From Rurrenabaque, you can also travel to the pampas, a completely different setting from the jungle. The pampas are wetlands savannah where you spend most of your time on a boat, spotting wildlife in the trees and on the riverbanks. No matter which season, if you do an excursion to the pampas, you'll see animals - a lot of them.
Rurrenabaque is a small town on the banks of the river Beni, in the Bolivian Amazon Bassin. It is an ideal starting point for trips in the jungle and the pampas. We spent four days in the National Park Madidi, three of which were part of a regular tour, and 24 hours of survival with only a mosquito net and a machete...
At 3600m, La Paz claims to be he highest capital in the world. It sits in a valley surrounded by the high mountains of the altiplano. The city is known among tourists for mainly 2 things: the infamous San Pedro prison, the most bizarre prison in the world, and the start of the Yungas road aka El Camino de la Muerte - or Death Road in English.
Cochabamba is a big town, famous for its Christ statue that is slightly larger than that of Rio de Janeiro. Apart from that, there didn't seem to be many interesting activities over there, so we went to the recently opened national park Torotoro, some 130km south of Cochabamba. Torotoro, which is Quechua for 'mud mud', is the smallest national park in Bolivia, but still a legendary place in the Andes with caverns, canyons and dinosaur tracks.
Samaipata is a small village about 120km from Santa Cruz de la Sierra. It has a constant stream of backpackers who use it as a starting point for excursions to Amboró National Park. We visited El Fuerte, a pre-Inca religious site cut out in the rocks, the Amboró cloud forest, and we tried to go find some Condors.
Sucre is a nice city with colonial architecture and white buildings, and by many considered the prettiest town in Bolivia. It is the constitutional capital of Bolivia. We did excursions to the Siete Cascadas and Cordillera de los Frailes, and in between, we spent our days eating, shopping, chilling out, and doing some tasks we hadn't had time for before, like doing laundry and updating the blog.
At 4.090m of altitide, Potosí claims to be the highest city in the world. It owes its existence to the Cerro de Potosí -usually referred to as Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain)- a mountain which is said to be made of silver. It's been exploited since 1545, back when the Spanish were in charge. The silver mines have been mostly depleted since the 1800's, but even still today, the mountain is mined for tin, zinc, lead, copper and silver - in some of the most appalling working conditions still existing.
Tupiza lies in the south of Bolivia, just above Argentina. Legend has it that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their end here, at the hands of the Bolivian army - and thereby ending their notorious string of bank robberies. We just went there for a cool horseback riding tour through the western landscape with red rocks!
With 10.582km² and more than 10 billion tons of salt, the bizarrely beautiful Salar de Uyuni is the world's second largest salt flat. Located in the Altiplano plateau in the south-west of Bolivia at 3.656m altitude, this thick, flat salt crust covers a surface about one third the size of Belgium. We spent three days in a 4x4, driving through this wild an remote scenery, mostly at altitudes between 4.000 and 5.000 metres.
San Pedro de Atacama is a small town in northern Chile, in the middle of nowhere. You'd think there's not much to do in such a desert-like landscape, but you'd be wrong! This small town is full of tourist offices that offer tours to several natural attractions in the surroundings. We went to the geysers, and to a series of lagoons.
Salta, nicknamed la Linda (the Beautiful) is quite famous for its colonial architecture. Unfortunately, we didn't see much of it: after just a quick stop there (one short night), we hopped in a rental car -together with 3 French guys- direction Iruya.
Road trip! Salta - Purmamarca - Humahuaca - Iruya - Laguna de los Pozuelos - Tilcara - and back to Jujuy... All in 2 days.
Cafayate is a town that's making its way in the wine industry, so it has many bodegas to visit. There's also the quebradas, rock formations with special colours and particular shapes. Because we already visited bodegas in Mendoza, and had seen the quebradas in Talampaya, we were considering to skip Cafayate and just move on to our next destination. But after hearing enthusiastic experiences of other travellers we met, we couldn't move on without visiting this place... which turned out to be a good decision!
Both Ischigualasto and Talampaya are UNESCO protected World Heritage sites in the middle of Argentina. They're important archeological and paleontological sites which cover almost 3.000km² together, but only a small percentage is open to tourists. Unique landscapes, fauna and flora could only mean one thing: we had to see it for ourselves...
Mendoza has several big export products, but it's almost a synonym for 'wine country'. In the area there are some hiking possibilities, but as most hikes didn't seem so spectacular, we limited ourselves to a culinary exploration of the place. The visit was short, and so is this blog post.
Very much unlike El Chaltén, Bariloche didn't really like to share its' beauty with us and threw up a thick screen of clouds, wind and rain - which unfortunately lasted for 3 days. Bariloche 1 vs. 2GoSouth 0?
Many travel guides describe El Chaltén as the real hikers' paradise, and some go as far as to say it surpasses Torres del Paine in beauty. So we went there and checked it out for ourselves. The Fitz Roy mountain dominates this region, and from it originated the town's name: the almost eternal scarf of clouds that surrounds its summit inspired the name 'El Chaltén' - the mountain that smokes.
After a well-deserved recovery day under the caring eye of our CouchSurfing family in Puerto Natales, we set out for our next destination: El Calafate. Why would you go to there? The town itself is nothing special, but nearby you can find Perito Moreno: a well-known glacier which attracts lots of tourists, who use El Calafate as their starting point.
From Puerto Natales, we set out to hike and camp in the National Park Torres del Paine, one of Chile's greatest assets. It's said that the park is the mecca for hikers with its well known W-circuit hike. Our expectations were very high...
Travellers tend to pass through Rio Gallegos on their way to other destinations; no one stays longer than necessary. This was our plan too, but things turned out quite differently - there's a very interesting place 'nearby': Cabo Vírgines.
Read on to find out more!
After we spent more than an entire day in transit (incl. 3 buses, 4 hours of waiting and some more waiting due to a tire 'puncture') we finally got to Foz do Iguaçu, the most southern point of Brazil. Our goal: visit the Iguaçu (BR)/Iguazú (AR) waterfalls on both the Brazilian and the Argentinian side. Was it worth the gruesome 26-hour ride?
Along the coast between Rio and Sao Paulo lies Paraty; a Portuguese colonial and Brazilian imperial town. Entering its historic city centre is like returning in time. The streets are paved with rough cobblestones, cars aren't allowed so carriages carry around goods and people, and the houses are all white with a few vividly coloured strikes around doors and windows.
Rio de Janeiro is the best known city in Brazil, but is it worth the fame? Our impression of the first few hours in 3 words: concrete, shady, danger.
Luckily, first impressions aren't everything. Rio has a lot more to offer - read on to find out!
After a nearly-missed 10 hour flight, 7 hours of waiting, an extra 2 hours of waiting due to 'maintenance problems' with the plane (very reassuring), and another 9-hour flight, our adventure finally begins!
First stop: Sao Paulo.
When you're backpacking, it is important to travel light. You gain mobility, have less trouble fitting in full buses, and your shoulders will be grateful. When you're hiking, a heavy backpack is all it takes to spoil the day. Ideally, you should stay under 10kg, but you can probably manage up to 15kg without too much trouble.
Read on to see the final contents of our backpacks!