Thursday, 15 August 2013

Salar de Uyuni

The Salt Flats of Bolivia lie near the border to Northern Chile. You can book tours to go and visit them from La Paz and other Bolivian towns. Some of the most popular are three day tours which leave from Uyuni. You can get buses to Uyuni quite easily. I got an overnight bus from La Paz and stayed in Uyuni for the night. Be prepared though, hostels are more expensive here and it is cold!

The actual tours, you go in a small group of four or six in a 4x4 and spend the entire tour with those people.As you travel at your own pace, you don't really see many other people when you are driving over the flats and through the mountains.

There are not many things that separate the different tours and it really is hit and miss as to who it turns out. The one that I was on, the second night there was no hostel booked for our group so we had to stay in a really horrible hostel. I was feeling very well either so I was not impressed when we got told we had no where to stay. The guides you have don't necessarily speak English so try and make sure you travel with someone who is fluent in Spanish. Even if the tour operator says the guides are bilingual it isn't necessarily so.

You do go through some stunning countryside, it's a shame you can't get out and walk around a bit more. You are pretty much in the 4x4 all the time. I opted to get a tour which dropped you in Chile which was good. You got picked up at the border and taken to a near by Chilean town.

I thought the tour was a really good way of seeing the sights and crossing the border. I wouldn't do anymore than the three days though.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Machu Picchu

A magical place at the top of a very long flight of stairs!

Being there for sunrise was breathtaking.Watching the clouds and mist clear to unveil the ruins is a fabulous sight. Below is a little video of some of the workers restoring the site.

My guide Nilton finishing off his guided tour of Machu Picchu

Before I went to Peru I booked my trek to Machu Picchu well in advance because I saw all the warnings about tickets being booked up in advance, people not getting onto tours etc. This is incorrect. I did a five day Salkantay Trek which ended up at Machu Picchu and included a tour. I booked it through Go To Peru - DO NOT USE THIS SITE. We were told incorrect information about what we should take on the trek, how much baggage we could bring etc which meant us forking out more than we thought. Also, even though we had paid for the trek 3 months in advance, they had failed to book our return journey transport from Machu Picchu back to Cusco.

Agua Calientes is the town at the base of Machu Picchu and you can only leave by train; there are no roads in or out. The trains go to Ollantaytambo which is fairly close to Cusco or Hydro Electric, no where near. We had to get a bus from Hydro Electric back to Cusco. So what should have been a five hour journey turned into a 12 hour one. Even though, when we paid for our trek, we were told our train tickets to Ollantaytambo had been booked, not the case.

It was a real shame because after such a great trek and meeting lots of cool people, it was spoilt because on the last day, we had to stay up until about midnight sorting out our train tickets with our guide. And because we could only get a train to Hydro Electric and then a bus to Cusco it meant we had only a couple of hours to look around Machu Picchu rather than the whole day. Gutted.

All the other people on our trek managed to get train tickets and most had only booked a week in advance or even days and paid a lot less than we did. Best way to play it if you don't want to get screwed over, get to Cusco and sort it out from there. Talk to other people in hostels about treks they've been on. Even if you have to stay in Cusco a few days to get on a trek, it's worth and there is plenty to do anyway.

Watch out for the old altitude sickness too. It's worth trying to get something in the UK to take over. I felt rotten and was vomiting a lot because I hadn't got used to the altitude. It was only for a few days but I felt I missed out a bit.

This all sounds negative but it's not meant to be. The actual trek was one of the best adventures of my life. Loved it. The mountains are breath taking and the walk took me through such varied countryside it was amazing.

Saturday, 10 August 2013


Cusco is vibrant and buzzing place. It's the gateway to all treks to Machu Picchu. There are lots of tour operators that provide various packages to go and see the historic site. I wouldn't worry about booking a tour until you're in Cusco, just haggle a bit to get a good price and make sure they have booked you onto the train out of Aguas Calientes and then from Ollantaytambo to Cusco.

I stayed in couple of hostels in the town. The first was El Tuco which has a little way out of the centre but it was quiet, clean and friendly. There is a small kitchen where you can cook and there is a fairly large supermarket just a little way down the road. It's also not very far from the bus station which if it's light you can walk but it's fairly cheap to get a taxi there in the dark. The second hostel was the Pariwana Hostel which is a big hostel. It's a clean and the staff are helpful and friendly. There is no kitchen but there is a fairly cheap restaurant there which serves European food. There is also a good range of rooms if you wanted to treat yourself to one with a bath! It's quite nice after a trek to Machu Picchu! Also, just down the street there is a good laundry service which is cheaper than the one at the hostel.

Around the main square in Cusco there are lots of shops and restaurants. I went to Jack's Cafe which I thought was going to be a bit cliche but actually it was really good food, large portions and fairly priced. As you walk around Cusco you will stumble on many delights. Markets, street artists and music.